Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Extremes of Frosty Days

How often do we venture out into the wild early or late in the day and witness something for the first time?

On consecutive recent days events have been enjoyed, brought about by conspiring circumstances, that I don't recall experiencing previously, mostly influenced by the effects of temperature

First I decided to visit a stretch of canal I hadn't fished for around twenty years, and, going further back, probably 13 years before that to the previous visit. A good catch back then, believe it or believe it not, was high ounces so the prospects weren't great set against that context. However the zander-induced proliferation of big fish in the canal generally ensured that it was likely to be one bite, one fish wherever I went on a morning with clear skies anyway, so what was to be lost by trying this place with the better haunts either too coloured or too often visited recently? Very little.

The path went past a small boatyard, small by modern standards, where boats were moored two and three abreast such that some of them edged into the centre of the canal. It was very tempting to set-up here and, when a genuinely surprising number of small roach started topping as I wandered past, I thought more than twice and even came back to the spot before continuing. Pegs beyond the boats also had topping fish and a 30m long reedbed opposite was just too enticing, especially as, beyond that point, the prospects appeared some what less than exciting.

The fishing was interesting but unexciting, marginally eclipsed by the bird life (and almost by the continuous dog life)

It was cold. No frost on arrival but then it formed on and around the kit as the morning took hold. To my right in the marina mouth I watched the ice form, there only, through the mist of my own breath but, with a decent pull on the cut as it discharged the rainfall from a fortnight past into the Avon, no ice formed in the narrow channel I had chosen.

The promiscuous dunnock showed its true self with three individuals singing and frolicking in the dead ruderal & hedgeline opposite, at times passed by a variety of tits, finches and thrushes. Most of the time the peak of a thermally-lined cap cut-out any potential action above eye-level but for no known reason I did at least once lift my gaze briefly at precisely the moment a probable wader flew rapidly by and took a steep right-turn through the hedge into an industrial estate and a small stream behind me. No great distinguishing features on this middle-sized bird which left me perplexed, maybe it wasn't a wader, anyway I'll never know and sometimes that's a good thing; keeping the uncertainty of it all to the fore.

A few small fish and a bumped specimen later and my enthralment in this long-lost stretch started to wane with the deathly chug of a narrowboat emanating from the gloom past the boatyard. The boat cut through like a non-Newtonian fluid and swept past me taking a million pieces of wafer-thin ice with it. Minutes later every speck of ice had gone; pulled cleanly to the west on the flow, and, to the 11am dog walker, it would simply have seemed a perfect mild sunny morning as the temperature crept up to a peak of 7 or 8C.

'Never watched that unfold before

Next day saw me back. I'd deposited some bread 25 metres to my left and was set to give it a go but this time when I arrived the marina was already frozen in part and spread across the whole patch during my stay

The bread from the previous morning really did the trick...crayfish heaven! Twitch after twitch after twitch soon had me scurrying for another peg safe in the knowledge that all the crays were piled-up in one spot. The second produced two small roach before the lure of the birdlife again had me drifting-off shrub, tree and skyward as the gentle 'pheep' of a male bullfinch aurally illuminated the frost, accompanied by his rich rose-red barrel-chest, high in a hawthorn

The temperature rose more steeply than yesterday and soon the ice, which was threatening to creep toward me, started to subside and by the time I headed back to see if my car had been clamped or ticketed it had been completely consumed back into the body of towing water and, by then, probably, dumped in the avon (the ice that is, not the car)

'Never seen that before

Unperturbed by a lack of angling success, that same day I had to shake-off a residual river fishing desire on the Leam. It was about half a metre up but starting to show signs of clearing after the melted snow. My footprints were the first to appear in the deposited silt of a river that had been over 2m above normal a few days prior and whole lobs presented in numerous swims for a few minutes each produced little other than an increasingly serious shortage of swan shot and hooks!

Eventually, as dusk fell, I settled into a swim where a gentle glide had formed following substantial bank erosion caused by the preceding floods. Tap, tap, tap-tap was the best bite I had and, an hour after dark, the distant honking of geese was accompanied by the sudden shocking brightness of the phone screen indicating the The Lady Burton considered it time we had dinner, and she was right.

As my eyes became re-accustomed to the dark, and the 'one last cast' ritual undertaken in plummeting temperatures, I was conscious, as I often am on this venue, of a passing tawny owl. They had been tooit too-ooing as usual for some time and had now become active. A massive bird flew past me above the river and commenced that typical bird-like rapid braking with its wings as it headed into some dense trees...'CRACK' came the sound and, within a split second, a loud splash as something hit the water. '**** - the owls gone in', I inwardly exclaimed as I leapt to my feet and trained my now faultering head-torch on the murky surface only to see the branch it had obviously tried to land-on float swiftly by! The owl, unseen and probably smirking as only owls can at my panic on its behalf, had itself floated off to seek out another perch...which is more than I managed

Sunset over the Leam
'Never known that happen before!

Species list:
Bullfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, dunnock, blue tit, great tit, robin, song thrush, blackbird, magpie, carrion crow, woodpigeon, collared dove, mallard, mute swan, lesser black backed gull, black headed gull, tawny owl, pheasant, canada goose. Rabbit. Roach, roachxbream hybrid, perch.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A Roach Trip goes wrong. Very, very, wrong.

Saturday, 6.15am, snow

6.30am, snow

6.45am, snow

"Aah, let's go anyway, it's the only chance I'll have"

...and go I did.

A few weeks ago during the New Year mild spell a couple of unseasonal tench enlivened proceedings on a wide North Oxford Canal bend never before fished; well, others had fished it, but I hadn't

So yesterday, in the snow, I ended-up there again, albeit two or three pegs to the left

I had recalled some big fish crashing in this area, the culprits unknown but probably not roach, however I still fancied there might be some big roach in the area and, being without any lobworms, it was to be bread all round

Plumbing-up offered a pleasant surprise for, though the depth was not as great as the narrower stretches, it was deep well across against the far shelf at around 11m.

Water clarity perhaps a touch better than could have been expected with visibility about a foot down  
Bread flake had not been presented before at this distance and it was likely to prove tricky to get the bait out there without it falling-off from under the initially snow-covered green mushroom I refer to as a brolly. 7m out was also fed, that being the deepest point, and, after 10 minutes on that line, I was soon tempted across after a large fish rolled just one peg to my left but again not a roach, so what were they? I had been tempted to think chub, as a few lived not far from here many years ago, but, although that seemed unlikely in the cold light of morning, no other obvious options presented themselves from experience

The bread I had was a touch stale and it took three attempts to get a hookbait over the feed but a couple slices I had steamed did the trick and straightaway I struck into something hefty. In fact I have only experienced this phenomenon once since returning to fishing and that was the very first time I tried the lift bite method and large flakes of bread on the pole when a bream of exactly three pounds had risked a nibble; the strike hit a fish so large that when I lifted the pole the float stayed where it was and the elastic just stretched...and stretched!

Battle commenced. No fast, furious fighter this fish but clearly a heavyweight for this canal. After much aquatic chugging, burrowing and plodding-around the defendant became somewhat more animated when close to the net and it took a good while to drag a bream over the landing net. 3-1-0 it went, and a North Oxford PB by an ounce...good start

At this point a small brown bird alighted on some dead willowherb opposite and slightly to my left. "Troglodyte", I thought [Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)], and as it proceeded to strip seeds from the plant I very quickly had to backtrack. This was no wren, an out and out invertebrate devourer, but at the same time I could not see any diagnostic features and so took a series of long telephoto lens shots for later scrutiny
A redpoll. If anyone out there in blogland recognises this as anything other than the 'lesser' variety please do let me know

Regular tremors of the float occurred throughout the session as well as outrageous bites as bream came to the net at regular intervals together with two that slipped the hook and they all fought with some gusto it has to be said, which is often true of canal bream of course

As an old friend not seen for at least 20 years, who passed by, commented, these were largely old fish. There was certainly something 'funny' about them but I couldn't quite put my finger on it; something that made these fish, in varying degrees, not quite bronze bream. Two of the two pounders fought with that additional vigour of hybrids and the scales were, well, more roach like in places; and then there was the Roman nose-like mouth shape of the big'un; something is bugging me about them but, for the time being, they are bronze bream until proven otherwise

Not a roach to be seen but the catch certainly knocked all previous bream records for the canal, for my part and my memory at least, into a cocked hat. The 5 chunky fish weighed 10-14-0 and the prospect of a big bruising redfin in their company remains to live on as a hope for another day, as certainly it is not unheard of for such a dream fish to accompany nets of bream and such like on occasion
In case you thought I was fishing a touch heavy - that's not a yellow-tipped float giving some scale to the fish! The 'bream' on the right in hindsight is probably a hybrid explaining why it fought like one
Duncan (the passer-by) informed me that he had noticed more bream in the canals recently but cited stretches of the Grand Union and conjoined GUC and Oxford canals rather than the North Oxford per se. So I think I can quietly risk remaining justifiably pleased and, at the same time, more than mildly staggered by this catch. I recall very rarely more than a bream or two in catches since the days when Hillworton Wide was the place to go for the species pre-1980 before boat activity took it over and the stand-out catch of skimmers in a match taken from a different wide bend in a short evening competition was just 6lbs, although, as anglers familiar with the canal will know, 6lbs was quite some match weight from the North Oxford in the past

The activity in the swim was equally surprising with numerous feeding fish betrayed by much bubbling and blowing and, had I not been restricted, as I was, to bread I feel a bigger weight was quite possible but that will now have to wait for another day

Plenty of width but an otherwise unremarkable swim alive with bream
This is a good spot for a good bird list too and the first drumming great spotted woodpecker of 2013 was heard to the north together with bullfinch and green woodpecker in an almost forgotten incidental list when concentration on avian fauna was not at all high on the agenda

So the start to 2013 continues in a rich vein interspersed by blanks and the next brief two-hour session this very morning saw me wandering an unbelievably boggy canal bank I had never before set eyes on in the hope that I could track down that elusive roach in excess of 1-4-12. January and February had always been something of a nemesis with some seasons not a pound of fish registered on any day in their whole length. Again, unusually, an early bite resulted in yet another 2013 12oz roach, tempted of course on bread flake, coming to the net and two missed bites. Incidentally, on this trip, I trialed a Warburtons extra thick (green) loaf but it was just too thick and doughy, I'll be back to the blue in no time but if you don't ask the question you don't find out!

Lesser redpoll, bullfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch, long-tailed tit, robin, blackbird, song thrush, starling, dunnock, magpie, jackdaw, carrion crow, woodpigeon, feral pigeon, mallard, moorhen, mute swan, cormorant, black-headed gull  

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Inside Line on Bread

Having set-out options for 2013 the year had not got off to the greatest of starts what with the snow, ensuing high water levels and suspended sediment in rivers and canals punctuated by a number of blanks in the first few trips so it was with some relish that this last weekend offered a few opportunities to try the approach I had decided would suit for 2013 in earnest and unencumbered by too many constraints

Late Saturday evening a trip to the North Oxford Canal just before dark, and, it was hoped, after the last boat, enabled the widely accepted peak time to be tested as darkness descended and took hold

A splat of thawed white crumb from a home liquidised loaf started the session as the inside line of the outside of a bend was targeted. I waited over an hour for a bite and didn't have one but, on deciding it was time to quit, I lifted the float out to find a hard-fighting fish on - my makeshift beta-light set-up had actually precluded me seeing the bite! An interesting battle in the dark was won by the no.6 pole elastic and a roachxbream hybrid of fourteen ounces was admired in the headlamp glow and slipped back into the murky depths 30 yards to my right. Buoyed by that capture another few 'casts' were made but nothing exciting followed and so I departed after introducing the remainder of the bread mix on that same line and vowed to return at dawn to make use of this rather feeble pre-baiting ritual

While sat there in the dark I was conscious of a white shape coming towards me from the left. Then there was a crash as if a pile of wooden poles had fallen to the ground, at which point the white shape stopped dead. Soon however the shape started coming closer again and as it approached it took-on a more square form in the gloom until a man in a red coat carrying a large white box appeared slipping and sliding all over this particularly swamp-like towing path! We exchanged pleasantries and to this moment I can only assume he had been shopping for some kind of electrical item and misjudged the time it would take to get home...we'll never know the truth of course, but it certainly was an odd one...if the crash really was him falling over or dropping the box I do hope he'd bought plenty of glue

Next morning the water looked somewhat more 'bready' than the previous night, visibility had improved to about 5" below the surface and that greenish tinge that our canal often takes on in the winter was about it. Two lines were attacked; one replicating yesterday's on bread and another at 8-9m with lobworm. I also introduced some crumb into a swim under an overhanging tree 30m to my left after I had been there half an hour but started on last night's bread-line without feeding for 15 minutes 'just in case'

Again it was an hour, almost to the minute, when the first bite regsitered on bread flake and it was a really pronounced unmissable lift at that. The strike met with a really strong fighting fish, much as the night before, but more so. Eventually a flash of bluey/silver broke the surface and I was for that moment convinced that this at last was that roach over a pound and half I had been seeking for much of the previous year...but it wasn't done yet. I was fairly confident it would not be a 'two' and when it appeared again I was somewhat deflated to see it's more bream-like shape and dull fins - another hybrid of 1-10-0 was confirmed on the mud-covered bank

An unintentionally soft-focus hybrid, a steamed lens and no cloth were responsible...and not a roach
Soon after, a roach of 12ozs came from the same bait and then it went quiet so I re-fed and tried the lobworm line which produced something small immediately followed by something quite meaty both of which pulled-out on the retrieve for no apparent reason, I may not have given them time to get the piece of lob down. So I re-fed the lob swim and headed off to the overhanging tree

As the tree hung so far out into the canal it only took 7-8m of pole to drop a piece of flake under it and no sooner had the float cocked and the shoulder sunk below the surface, leaving the red tip visible, than it suddenly returned to the shoulder and a strike into another twelve ounce roach proved the only bite at this location in two visits during the three and a half hour early morning session

The main swim was good for third 12oz roach, a 3oz'er and a 6oz perch on lobworm before boat traffic put paid to the level of excitement

3 roach of between 0-11-11 and 0-12-11 and yet the photo makes them look so different 
 This was the first time I'd tried these baits 'in reverse' (lobbies across, bread close) but this is likely to be dictated by whether the swim is on the inside or outside of a bend...or good old gut feeling of course!...but it worked quite well resulting in six fish for 4-10-0 including four for four pounds

'Happy with that. I think this method will be worth pursuing for a while and see how it evolves

Later on Sunday I couldn't resist an hour at and after dark on the falling, and very slightly clearing, River Leam to the tune of another roach of 8 ounces, again on flake and a number of tappy indications. Frost in the morning - nine degrees in the evening, the climate is out of control.

A river roach with colour washed-out by the flash and the flood
Woodcock and two tawny owl added to the entertainment after dark, brilliant!