Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Fyshes of The River Leam

The River Leam has a certain hold over me it has to be said. Not that I have, as yet, in around twenty sorties to its sometimes uncomfortable banks, had a good catch or even a seriously noteworthy individual fish but it is the wider engagement and enjoyment that drags one passively within its thrall

This past weekend, before the Virtual Gentleman had introduced and then released me from canal perch heaven, a morning was spent dropping lobworms and bread into various attractive swims which concluded with the angler needing to avoid the three to four ounce roach every cast in the hope of fooling one of their larger brethren of a more established year class into having a nibble. It is some change that has occurred that finds the weight-building yet slender and easily swung to hand roach of the match angler's dreams being shunned in favour of something more fruity and ample

Two swims, with the river at a declining a perfectly coloured level after the previous rains, produced small but strongly resistant dace and roach on baits aimed at pound plus fish of any species daft enough to succumb until I suddenly burst with the enthusiasm to fish an obvious peg I had always walked past as being, well, plainly too obvious. Here the roach were even more prevalent and anyone who was of a mind to sit and fill the keepnet for a few hours over the weekend would have been made-up, as they say in some regions (and on the stage), at the level of sport as the water hit it's peak of fishability for the first time this season

Clearly, in the selected domain, no one else had twigged this fact as there were no pegs that had been fished, save the obvious one, and the tall ruderal needed trampling to create pegs anywhere else. No stalking undertaken by the summer visitor here methinks

First cast in the obvious swim with a tail of lob in the hope of catching one of the, thus far neatly avoided but supposedly resident, specimae unawares produced my best Leam perch yet at a measly 12-14 ounces (not weighed, too muddy, couldn't move, boots stuck), but a fighter in the strong current. Then plenty of bites on a small topper running through the 3-4 foot deep glide toward a small raft and teasing the float either side of it whenever possible in that secretly-held hope that a leviathan monster thingy lies in wait just behind didn't, but (the royal) we did have the pleasure of a couple of perfectly formed ten ounce roach before, having switched to a 1.5 swan link leger, the trigger that often makes me up-sticks occurred - a snagged rig and lost tackle

I had told myself I would try another swim, just briefly, before leaving for the day which had been cut into perfect form by last years' apparently incessant raging floods and this was the opportunity to try it. Creeping through the growth and carefully depositing a lobworm over the rushes into the undercut just beyond I felt no action until I sought to retrieve the source of anticipated temptation from the flow at which point a couple of gentle taps and the most almighty of swirls resulted in - nothing. The wozm came back unaffected and the fish undisturbed. Gut feeling says it may have been an opportune strike by a pike but we'll never know

That was the last of the action for the day leaving me full of questions and a burning need to return. Having made the spot eminently more fishable though not exposed I departed for the pleasures of the paint roller

Wednesday, arrived as darkness fell at the perfect undercut peg. Threw in three hands full of mashed bread and wandered downstream with single lobworm while it settled and the great chub of the Leam moved in, or so I dusk-dreamt

Tap-t-tap-p-tap-tap, over and over, and nothing to strike at. Again I could have, and would in the past have, relented and offered just the end of a lobworm; the lob, the worm or even perhaps the obwo middle bit but no a fully spelt and sized lobworm would bring the unexpected and as expected I returned, with nothing to show for the walkabout, to the perfect swim

A large piece of Warburton's best was wrapped around the shank of the hook just sufficient to gently sink against a single swan shot right under the rod-tip, silently and without a ripple. And nothing occurred

The beast in the field opposite became drawn to my ill-perceived concealment giving me away to first a magpie and then a cock blackbird which cried-out its shrill alarm overhead as it crashed into the bushes downstream to hide from the dark until the morn came and Cat Stevens serenaded him back into the open as if never before

Given that my method was tantamount to freelining I found it difficult to remain in contact with the bait in the increasing gloom but as I lifted the rig to refresh what was expected to be a limp and soggy bait - resistance. A surge. The perfect peg, whilst perfect in terms of its depth, flow and ease of access thereto, was only three metres wide between bank and opposing rush bed which, combined, defined the channel. I leaned into the fish and soon realised it to be my first river chub of the season and suitably sized at 2-0-13 though no match for the 1.5lb tc rod of course

The slim fish was gently returned a few pegs below and back we came for more, not expecting anything; it is a statement of fact that I have never had two chub from the same Leam swim in those previous twenty trips

The darkness continued to descend (as I have found it tends to during the evening) and I settled-in for what I intended to be an hour's committed concentration

More mash was added both after the fish and now and then as time slipped by until, some while later, a sign of life with a more gentle bite than I had been used to and a chub of just over a pound was soon spooned out and returned with the least of fuss. The risk had been taken to return it where I comfortably sat, given it was a relative tiddler, in fact my smallest Leam cub to date I suspect, as my headtorch was waning and I could otherwise see myself marooned in the field affeared to move in case the next step took me into irretrievable, and distinctly wet, trouble if it completely failed

Just over an hour into dark I was beginning to contemplate home and a roaring stove with the realisation that I hadn't quite put enough layers on and the chill creeping through to the neck upper back like myceliae of a spreading fungal attack. As they say in the US I hunkered down (we don't really have word for that, do we?) and reverted to mind over matter and absolute stillness until, on tweaking the bait for perhaps the fiftieth time of the session, it was ripped out of my hand by the actual quarry...I assume...the fight was brief and savage; and so I became, as the line parted and literally shot into the tree to my left like a bullet seeking an identified target. A further volley, though this time of verbal abuse, filled the immediate and by-now freezing air as I tried to make sense of the sudden loss of what would without doubt have been the fish I had sought since starting this affair with this small and intriguing stream

By now though the landing net had frozen into lace ice and so a quick dash back to car to tootle home and replenish the body's warmth was in order, and with it the opportunity to ponder what had just happened. In the cold dark of night (okay I admit, illuminated by various dials) it became clear that the rod had locked-out and the clutch hadn't been lightly set to suitably respond. Cue a revisit to Tony Miles' bible and next time I set the clutch to come into play at that very time when the rod fails you and the fish bottoms it out to its benefit

In match fishing times it had been so easy to back-wind when necessary and hope for the best as often, in the old days, playing a big fish for ages would be counterproductive and it genuinely was sometimes better to lose them but now losing them is failure and landing them is all

This is learning the hardest way and, for me certainly, I don't learn until something this dramatic has happened to make it sink in

At the end of last season a chub of 3-13-0 was no match for the same rod in post flood conditions so what size might this fish have been I wonder? It is to easy to say it was this big or that big but the fact is unknown, who's to say it wasn't wrapped up with weed too? There's no way of telling but one thing is certain, the mystery of this little river gets to you and its got me good and proper

Monday, 18 November 2013

A Lure of a Virtual Gent (or The Big Roach Hunt gets Upstaged)

The urge to seek-out new canals has taken hold as this one becomes big roach free with it clearing at the onset of colder weather

"Are you going to meet your virtual friend?", said Parps. If it were him of course, a twelve-year old, meeting someone he'd only communicated with online there would be no question, he wouldn't be going at all (and the police would be involved). He'd considered calling the police to say I was meeting someone I didn't know in a car park by the canal before dawn and then thought better of it as we'd managed to predict their advice unaided

The contact had lured me with tales of roach over a pound and a half, even nudging two, and perch over two. Now, I may be vulnerable to such an approach, it's true, but I'd never have believed I would cave into the attraction quite so meekly in years gone by. I have become so accustomed to fishing alone in some fish-forsaken rat-hole or other that the prospect of fishing with someone else has become almost a non-starter but the fact was this was a mission to further expand the canal roach knowledge and seek-out new frontiers to boldly go where no roach angler had knowingly gone before and to come back to this earth wiser with another stretch of another canal at least partly sussed for the future

I somehow arrived at the rendezvous five minutes early, but then I'd woken at 02.15 and barely been able to get back to sleep after allowing the dreams of the previous day's suicidal Leam-ing roach and what might, or might not, happen on the next trip to drift into surreal view. Big chub, bream, roach and perch, they'd all be on the agenda - and nothing under 2lbs! This semi-sleep/semi-awake state would linger for hours until I needed to respond to the alarm which woke me with a jolt at 05.50

If ever it were possible to dupe me into something dubious, the prospect of big roach from unlikely surrounds was always going to be a good starting point. The tales are there to be read on Danny Everitt's ever-engaging, and no less informative and entertaining, blog The Lure of Angling in episodes of which he had accidentally, by his own admission, taken roach well over the above size as a by-product of a heavy duty lobworm-based perch assault on a very actively-used canal

We arrived somewhat too early at the pegs of choice and Danny generously explained the drill gleaned from those previous visits while we waited for enough light to set-up. While doing so the decision was made on my part to combine my now relatively standard heavy bread attack with a version of Danny's perch method using a light link-leger on the wand close-in to my right. Danny wanted to contrast this with a zander rig down the middle and perch rig under a long-standing moored boat to his right, both on the float, and so the traps were set

Holding back on information was clearly not one of Danny's strengths and the general, yet deep, angling chatter between us was most illuminating, not least in that we seemed to be in agreement, despite having grown-up in totally different angling worlds, in our views on the subject as far as we were able to explore them in the space of a couple of angling hours with its associated attractions and distractions

By the time I had clocked the true clarity of the water however my confidence in the bread had subsided sufficiently to relegate the method to an exercise in simply feeding-up the resident crayfish. I have not yet known this approach work unless there was at least a tinge of colour in the water, ideally clarity to around 8" down, and my gut feeling was that if the venue was this clear whenever I visited again some fresh and plump casters would undoubtedly be the order of the day as one of those baits which will attract and then hold feeding fish (roach) for a long period, albeit it takes a couple of hours minimum to achieve the situation. I had braced myself for a procession of boats but in fact we had but one quite gentle cruiser-by that barely rippled the water and certainly did nothing to enhance the turbidity

In this time Danny had quite literally been hauling out zanderlets of a pound or more on kit geared to deal with the double-figure fish he suspected existed here and when his fifth fish, which happened to be a pound and half perch, was returned to slightly diesel-filmed water, the former match fisherman in me felt somewhat shell-shocked. He then took one or two on the inside line and at this time I too had started to get bites on whole lobworms, losing the first and then missing three consecutive wraparounds of the tip from fish that hadn't fully taken the bait and when the worm returned it was on each occasion only then hooked at one end. Surprisingly no prizes are being given for reasons why they weren't caught

Eventually, after Danny's swim had died, I did at last manage three cracking perch from this undoubted dead cert location with baits fished very close to the near bank. The first went 1-6-0 followed by fish of 1-9-0 and, after some debate about it's actual weight, the point of the three fish pyramid was initially pencilled and then inked-in at a weight of 2-1-0; a severely hump-backed primitive-looking fish the like of which I had never seen before, but my Guide advised that this form of fish was quite commonly caught here along with others sharing genetic defects in their scaling. Great fighting fish they were too and the bigger two made for entertaining sport on the wand which looks as if it might struggle to tame a bleak but copes admirably with the challenge and has always to date held strength in reserve

Not built for speed these fish but do they survive in the austere canal environment! 
Despite the lack of roach in the net, in a trip which served more as a recce for the species than anything else, a catch of three perch for exactly five pounds in a twenty minute period toward the close was not to be sniffed at and for that to include the first 2lb canal perch I had ever seen, let alone caught, was, as Eddie Cochrane or more recently The Sex Pistols would have said, 'something else' bringing as broad a grin as this miserable so-and-so ever manages to his woolly mug. The roach attack was persevered with for around two hours without so much as a piscine nibble though the same could not be said for their crustacean counterparts who had a free feast worth shelling-out for

The Neanderthal of the fish world resplendent with extra armour behind the eyes
Danny kindly offered to take the trophy shot with some alacrity but with equal and contrasting resignation did not further the question when I declined. I like the fish to take the stage, this being an unwritten born-again angler law, having been quite the opposite in my match fishing days

The reminder to take Parps to his Rugby match overtook my mind after a little short of two and a half hours and, as I headed back and offered some bits of part-punched bread to the ducks, I pondered the fact that we could quite easily have spent at least as long again, and more likely many days, discussing the convergence of angling ways and our experiences but the pleasure of such a visit and the topping of it with the PB canal perch made it all the more enjoyable. Not virtually a good fish this one but a real good one and the only hint of the need for the police, as it turned out, would have been to separate hybrid ducks fighting to the death...and Danny turned-out to be a real gent, more so than I could have imagined, well-versed, well-read and well-mannered; the littl'un needn't have worried the biggest risk was being dragged in by the predators. Later that day at the Rugby match one of the Dads said he'd told his nippers not to walk close to the canal edge as there were canal sharks that would try to beach and drag them in if they got too close(!), this might just be the place he referred to

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Perfect Time

This week there has been that nip in the air that catches the throat and makes you think am I ill or is it going to be winter soon?

Well it's likely to be neither just yet but it IS the prime time of year to fill one's net on a canal
Over the years the first two weeks in November have often been shown to be the optimum period to hit the towpath and catch unbelievable bags of fish. This year of course it has happened to coincide with many of the previously low rivers being boosted by an influx of rainwater making them an attractive proposition too

In fact this November has not been ideal thus far with it being a touch colder than recent history would have suggested and therefore the canals have been a trifle clearer than make for prolonged catching of net-making fish

This being the case it has partly set me off on a quest to tackle some small streams, in this case the River Leam, and partly to make sure I have a perchy back-up plan on canal sessions

Thus far (we've been at it around a fortnight) the river fishing has got the better of us with the best fish a pristine a 10oz roach accompanied by a little few perch and all of whom fell for the tail of a lob, next we will be tackling them with bread flake but, more than this lack of notable fish on lobs, the untamed banks have been something of a shocker. Yesterday for instance I would have had to create a swim wherever I had wanted to fish and in fact the swim I ended-up on was barely fishable due to lack of proximity to the waters edge, the water level itself and snags. Still once its dropped another 8" we should be well in for the odd chub and at this current rate, with no more rain on the horizon, that could be this weekend

Canal-wise, the decision to revisit the peg of the holy rutiloid grail was made some six weeks after the event which was rationalised internally with the following reasons:
  • It had been long enough not be over-zealous
  • I had recovered from the shock
  • The fish might have done the same
  • Were there any similarly sized school-mates to be snaffled
  • The weather seemed right (wind direction and speed are crucial here)
  • I wanted to see what other monsters the bend held which might be susceptible to the odd giant lobworm/snakey thing
The, as usual, brief session after dawn and before work produced a relatively instant response from the resident roach, as has become customary with the now heavier initial feed, with a very nice fish of 1-4-6 soon in the net after an unusually bream-like fight having fallen to bread on a 10m pole presented just beyond middle, and was followed by another bite but sadly this second solid feeling fish of the morning shook the hook after just a few seconds

That pretty much concluded that action on bread within half an hour in an area with a low fish population on this occasion and so a change to the wand and lobworms cast near-side of middle to the right was keenly made

Bites were instant. I had put quite a handful of chopped dendras and lobs and fish had found them in some numbers. I have found dendrabenas (are the littl'uns dendrabeanie babies?) previously to attract too many small perch so this time I increased the ratio of lobs and put more of both in

First fighter on the supple short tip rod was a perch almost exactly matching the roach for size at 1-4-11 and with a chunk apparently bitten out of it's sail-fin


Immediately after a real digger took a giant lob and took a bit more landing than I have been used to of late. Eventually a larger than standard stripey hit the bottom of the net and seemed a bit more useful with his dorsal shield than many of his cousins have proven over the years. A quick weigh before going gently into the keepnet showed this fish to be (fractionally) a canal PB at 1-13-11. It's beginning to feel as if the 2lb canal perch is something of a barrier however.


At this point what appeared at long distance to be a small young moorhen could be seen floating on the water. It was at an awkward angle back over my shoulder from where I was watching the tip but I was sure I had seen it dive under! If I had it was certainly no moorhen. Some while later the bird came close enough to i.d. as a dabchick, quite an unusual find for this canal which carries very little suitable life for such tiny diving grebes to seek-out due to its lack of vegetation and associated aquatic invertebrates. As it approached and I looked away it disappeared as only grebes can, they can submerge as much or as little of themselves as they need to and, although no weed was present on this canal, can often leave themselves with just the top of their head above water within a weedbed while any perceived threat passes by, or over, which couple with their irresistible chuckling laugh makes them quite adorable little chaps and chap-esses

The trip concluded with a small perch and then another good one of 1-4-2, and two decent unseen lost fish - as is usual when fishing whole lobworms of course

This weekend Danny Everitt of The Lure of Angling blogspot has invited me to try 'his' stretch of water where very big canal roach have been a by-product of his perching activities so it will be very interesting to see how those bruisers respond to the heavy-duty mashed bread method, if at all...can't wait, can't sleep and fingers crossed for bites!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Wide Options Narrowed (or The Big Roach get Bigger)

Cracking the glass ceiling caused a rapid repair to the metaphorical understairs cupboard contemplating zone. From thence some noteworthy conclusions were drawn
Sadly however, a month or two ago, all records for 2012 and 2013 literally disappeared in front my very eyes from the screen of my iPad together with a lifetime's list of pound-plus canal roach. 'Sadly' as a word is of course no true reflection to an avid lister and recorder of the feeling of loss at this event. Apparently it was something to do with my phone and tablet syncing but not being backed-up to the cloud, and all that clap-trap, however it has continued to happen arbitrarily since so I'm not so sure

Anyway, cue a watershed decision not to let 'the system' have control of my information henceforth and the subsequent investment in a set of superb moleskines; one for the initial returning dabblings of 2010 and 2011; one for what remnants of 2012/2013 I can glean from the blog (thank goodness for the idea to commit so much of it to that!) and one for general species records but, as that one is red, mainly for roach

Thankfully I know that, at the time the glass ceiling was breached, 37 rutilii in excess of a pound had been enticed from the murky depths, for which I thank the industrial revolution generally. Since that time, brightly I thought, individual records of each trip had been made but some of them had also subsequently been lost so there are definite gaps in the record however a few of those relate to sorties to the Grand Union and conjoined Oxford and Grand Union between Napton on the Hill and Braunston (that's another story!)
In compiling a resume on rolled moleskin it became apparent that this year individual captures over the 2012 PB of 1-4-12 (and the average of 1-2-4) had become quite regular. The average for the year must be around, if not higher than, 1lb 4ozs but the facts will never be entirely known now, although I do realise that henceforth the record can be recalculated to determine loose figures to hang a somewhat woolly and holed hat on

The change from liquidised bread, to mashed bread, to quantities of mashed bread as feed around March/April this year has had a notable impact on results, and the number of fish over last years PB is already past five.
This apparently simple change has been the most striking during the big roach quest
I have commented before on the problems with being unable to sustain bites over a decent period on bread with this feeding technique but it is by now certain beyond doubt that the downside is comfortably outweighed in fish above the 2012 average. Fish that were 'of dreams' last year have become sufficiently regular in 2013 to confirm that around three mashed bread satsumas on arrival are the key factor in weeding out the also-rans
It is no less easy to put together a weight of roach however, and, for that, the previous line of thought of a slightly more 'little and often' approach would still be the preferred choice but with the prospect of really big canal roach currently perfectly possible on every trip it is rare that this tactic be adopted unless prevailing conditions suggest it may fail (usually based on water clarity)
In many ways it feels as if the two-pounder came a little early in proceedings. Here we are less than two years into pursuit of the largest of the species, with a formerly unimaginable barrier broken, and yet with the follow-up list well behind, over half a pound in fact, which, in a species that doesn't grow too large, represents a considerable gap in results
Certainly it is perfectly possible that the biggest was a fluke, the last or at least one of a tiny group of monster roach I just happened to cross paths with, it's highly likely in fact, but it has been so noticeable that the largest fish at any one time has been a small incremental increase on its forerunner that it makes this one stand out at being in excess of half a pound bigger than its nearest rival at 1-9-11

The back-up list would nevertheless have been unimaginable pre-2012, and fanciful until April this year, but on two occasions since no less than two fish over the 2012 average have been taken in one session, but, with mention of the word 'session' comes the predicament

The North Oxford Canal benefits from various factors that make it a waterway able to produce these kind of results:

  • It is relatively deep in a good number of stretches,
  • (almost) always carrying some colour in at least one of the two key lengths (which I separate as above and below Hillmorton Locks), and,
  • has a generally low fish population, but,
  • a high relative predator population together with,
  • a correspondingly low range of successful species; these could be listed simply as Bronze Bream, Roach, Perch and Zander, with Silver Bream a little way behind.
  • It also snakes on its winding course through the Warwickshire countryside such that, no matter how horrendous the weather, there is always somewhere worthwhile that one can find sufficient shelter to fish
All of this serves to demonstrate that the canal has the capacity to hold bigger roach and, in roughly equal measure, provide the circumstances for their capture
The downside though is that it carries a high level of boat traffic and, while it is deep, it is also generally a touch too narrow to cope as a fishery, as compared to say the Ground Union in Northants where, on a decent peg, it is possible to resume catching straight after a boat. Fish seem to scatter when a boat passes and it is very time consuming to bring them back onto the feed, it can take as long as an hour and the chances of another boat, or in fact numerous boats, in that period is high which reduces chances to close to zero. When fishing with bread this is even more of an issue but is exacerbated by the fact that the heavier one feeds at the outset the shorter the initial catching period will usually be because the fish can be fed-up (in the falconry sense) within minutes
Evenings are not much better as narrowboats currently have no idea of when to stop moving and a recent trip met with boats after dark making a mockery of the effort
So, it is very much a case of starting at first light and continuing until the boats start but, on those days when the boats are lenient to the angler, it is very clear from experience that when bites are forthcoming immediately the session starts they will end with the rising sun. The heavy bread feed and 20mm-plus punched flake generally limits caught fish to those over 14ozs and the littl'uns only get a look in when they have whittled the bait down to something manageable but it is abundantly clear that what equates to one and a half to two slices of bread being thrown-in at the outset quickly encourages those roach over the pound and, more often than before, over 1lb 2ozs to have a go
Roach of 1-8-5 and 1-5-8 together with a hat-trick silver bream of 0-14-13. Quite a catch!
Soon I will try upping the initial feed even more, expecting it to kill it before I've started, but I would have expected that with the current level of feed so who knows? Secondly, the hook bait can be increased to over 25mm and that will make a logical combined step. Nothing ventured...