Sunday, 3 March 2013

When Plenty is quite Enough


A couple of weeks ago it was decided it was time to crack the Leam

What one might call the middle river upstream of Leamington had consistently got the better of the rusty river angling skills (and what puny skills they were related only to catching nets of small fish in a 'that was a good day's fishing' kind of manner)

The river at the time was starting to fall from flood proportions and was about 0.5m above normal. Last weekend a late evening visit produced the usual owl-related entertainment but I don't recall having a proper bite with the river about a foot above normal

This weekend I felt it would be spot-on. 250mm up and probably with plenty of colour still in it to keep the feeding confidence of the fish high

As the river is a task for late in the day rather than early, the dawn visit on Saturday had to be canal-orientated, and so it was. The journey there should have acted as a warning. A barn owl scattered some early rising jackdaws and wheeled across the dual carriageway. It's huge moth-like form so distracting close-up as to make one question one's driving concentration but soon became a memory as the car careered toward the venue; nothing, surely, could match that sight. The prospects however seemed good with the heavy colour of a fortnight past having dropped-out of the water until, kneeling at the water's edge to scoop water for the bread feed, it became apparent that the visibility was almost too good extending to at least a foot down and, on the particular stretch, would potentially prove the kiss of death...and so it proved.

Soon after, a male sparrowhawk, with his sleek and unmistakable flap and glide flight and slate-blue back, drifted past just above mid-water and disappeared to the right following a line just inches above the towpath as he contemplated breakfast

Two hours passed and no bites but (there was a big BUT) as per the previous post, something unique occurred as I sat wondering if anything at all swam under the surface, as not even crayfish bites were evident, I happened to glance to my right where a wide turning bay was just in view by a large tree. Against that dark backdrop three large birds on the water with a hint of white caught the eye. "Canada's", I internally muttered and glanced away, they were often here, but, in doing so, one slipped under the surface in an naturally accomplished manner, a natural assassin. A double-take then had me convinced, they were goosander. Now I couldn't begin to work-out how many hours had been spent in isolated locations on canals early in the morning in the lifetime to date but never before had goosander been been on the agenda ('nearly said 'menu'!), as a truly wild bird with a healthy distrust of man. Being a sawbill they are fish-eaters but, not being blessed with mouths in heron-like proportion, they don't offer much of a threat to the inhabitants of the North Oxford Canal, given that the majority of them are probably over 4 ounces in weight and therefore not on the menu (there - squeezed it in!) for the fine-mouthed goosander

More internal rumination at this point, "I shalln't be amused if they catch one!"...and catch one they didn't. In fact, within just a few minutes they flew to my left seeking stretches with more snacklihood revealing their number to comprise two males and a female. Beautiful birds and perfectly evolved for their lifestyle including the rather odd habit of nesting in tree-holes of course

Soon a skylark was singing in the distance as spring threatened it's intentions reinforced by the somewhat feeble attempts to pronounce itself present by a yellowhammer. The chances of life underwater had slipped-away by 9am and after collecting fresh moss for the lobworm collection the warmth of home seemed irresistable

Later in the day a long overdue trip to the tip offered a few spare minutes to pre-bait three likely-looking Leam swims with a mixed liquidised and mashed bread mix accompanied by the mildly unhealthy Lady Burton who 'needed the fresh air' and, by 4pm it could be resisted no more, although the water was a touch clearer than expected with visibility 9 inches down.

The three pegs were re-fed on arrival and I perched myself in the most comfortable of them to run a small 'Topper' through. I did this for an hour and then intended to change to the lead as the light faded and try the other two swims before returning here to fish into dark.

The peg had surprised with it's depth previously and the rig was set well over 6 foot as a 6 ounce roach came on the third or fourth trot through and then one bumped-off on the strike but soon the float buried in that all-consuming chub-like manner and a fish of just a fraction over 2 pounds was drawn to the net with the power of the Avon rod too much for it, thankfully, in this snag-lined stream

As light started to fade it was time to wander to swim two, a shallower stretch will sunken rushes evident and with the main flow tight across, a chance therefore of some interest closer-in. The intention was to give it just 15 minutes or so in each of the other options having reverted to single-swan link-leger

The action was certainly non-stop but from small over-excited fish. I hooked one of the sharp bites and saw a flash as the fish spun under the water in a manner which only dace can achieve and just as suddenly it was gone. Frantic tapping and pulling continued until I had a reasonably proper bite and struck into something a touch more solid, which being a shallow swim, immediately rolled and splashed on the surface revealing itself as a decent roach. It fought well in the flow, as river roach tend to, and took a while to come to the waiting submerged net partly due to a touch more care being taken than had been afforded the earlier chub. He/she/it was a deep-bellied perfectly-formed example of the species and, as I tend to with any roach over a pound, wasinitially over-estimated in size but when quickly dropped on the scales was confirmed as an exact replica of my largest canal roach at 1-4-11

The commotion lead me to seek-out peg three where a similar sequence of events ensued brought to a halt by this time a small dace

By then there was just sufficient light to allow the return journey to first base to be made; for a betalight to be attached to the tip and to settled-in for the first hour of darkness with that comforting glow hovering over the water, just into the shade of the steeply sloping far bank. Quiet however it was not! As the owls struck-up their now anticipated chorus, and as is also customary one flew low over the water in complete silence to my right and disappeared into the increasing gloom of the wood while his mate or, at the very least, competitor continuing hooting from a distant Cupressus

Half an hour later, as the pungent smell of a farm fire wafted through the valley, I became conscious of the falling temperature and hats were exchanged for a higher 'tog'. No sooner had I looked back at the tip than it slammed round and that instantaneous, instinctive reflex of striking found me attached to my own substantial foe in the dark. standing quickly up and initially without any illumination other than the reflection of the light sky on the water (metaphorical) gauntlets were thrown down onto the now rippling surface (besides, they're new gloves). This was going to test the rod and myself; with minimal vision and little experience of such situations to call on all that could be done was think 'hit and hold' and trust the Avon to do the rest

At this point my secondary angling aim from 2012, which had been scuppered, partly, by the terribly wet year, came to mind in a somewhat fateful fashion. Could it be 4lbs? It felt it, or I willed it to feel it, but of course I couldn't really be sure. My only previous experience of such fish was on the pole from the Oxford Canal with a carp rig, the only comparison to which was that I was on one end and a chub was on the other

Under what felt like extreme pressure (how would you get a six pounder out of a peg like this?!) it still managed to dally briefly with some roots but the tension drew it clear and into open-ish water, then it seemed to be mine and the net seemed tempting as a way to draw things to a swift close but it shot-out into the main current to take on an altogether superior fighting capacity. It being the wrong side of a central reedbed left only one option, more pressure, and that worked as the surface erupted and the fish slid over the reeds and into the now expectant gape of the landing net

An iPhone flash photo doesn't do it justice, but here it is

So, some battle, but how big was it? With the 4lb target hanging over proceedings the scales which weigh ounces added an extra dimension...'61.0oz' it read...soon it dawned that 64 ounces would be enough, and, though it wasn't 'enough', it was certainly plenty as my biggest river chub slipped back into the depths. It was quite a slender fish that would comfortably have pushed 4-4 to 4-8 fully nourished but of course the peculiar advantage of missing a target is that it still exists to be beaten however with only 11 days of the season to go is it really possible from the Leam? Whether it is or it isn't, plenty of hours will be put in before the close I'm sure

...and with some scale
Species list for the weekend:
Rabbit, roach, chub, dace, perch, zander, chaffinch, goldfinch, yellowhammer, robin, blackbird, song thrush, fieldfare, nuthatch, dunnock, great tit, blue tit, starling, woodpigeon, magpie, carrion crow, rook, raven, jay, sparrowhawk, barn owl, tawny owl, mallard, moorhen, canada goose, goosander, black-headed gull, common gull
(4 oz zander and 14oz perch from Sunday morning trip to N Ox C)


  1. Loving the writing, not sure about the "no threat" of the goosander, they have emptied many a waterway around here

  2. You got me going there Ian...

    Apparently, according to research, goosander generally take fish up to 10cm (I reckon thats under an ounce) but occasionally up to 36cm in game fish and 30cm in general coarse fish. The reason for the size difference, it seems, is that it's the girth of fish that matters and coarse fish are generally chubbier (excuse pun!). Furthermore eels up to 46cm have been taken.

    So now we know