Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Leam Comes Good

Wren observes action with intent
 Today a somewhat reluctant response to the alarm with more storm conditions forecast resulted in the perfect day's fishing on the Leam, in fact by far the best yet experienced

Two chub of 2-3-14 and 2-6-6 on the lead...

...and then a 10 yard move to try the 'pin and a 9BB topper in the ideal glide as the already 2'6" high water rose some 8 inches further during the morning which produced a further three chub of 2-6-6, 2-6-6 (yes, really!) and the prize of the day at 2-12-13 all on mashed bread and flake.

A few roach to 6ozs, a dace and a minnow completed the catch of around 13lbs and at last the Leam performed as I had always hoped it might

There are days when you feel you have really achieved something and those when it just so enjoyable you don't want to go home, but a lack of food with me sent me home in hunger, more than anything, as the two hour trip had become five hours long!

The best session for many a day topped by nuthatch and treecreeper at close quarters

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Birds and Fish do Mix, Eventually

Sun rising on the swollen river

The Leam was two feet up today and falling. Two inches in the time I enjoyed at it's side in fact but 1.5m lower than at it's post-storm peak.

Parps and I have been fortunate enough to agree exclusive terms for a short stretch of what I would describe as the upper-middle river for the next five years. Pegs have been identified and carefully created without any obvious loss of cover, some even given names...tree hole, willow, the pipe, rush bed...nothing too imaginative though!

Thus far my partner has only managed to be ill at the critical times and so I have been sussing it out on my own. Three visits now and two chublets below a pound to show for them plus the rod pulled out of my hand well after dark on the one occasion

This morning those new pegs were starting to be exposed again after the floods by the falling water. A slack below a fallen tree was initially intended to be targetted with bread but on approaching the river bank it was clear that this frosty morning would be more than just a fishing opportunity this festive season as a flock of seventy or eighty golden plover rapidly wheeled in a synchronised flashing of brown and then white as they sought safe morning foraging in the water meadows downstream, ready for sunrise

As I settled in the silt-covered margins wrens churred and complained at my presence and a pair of wild duck took flight from the next field down. Pheasants crowed to celebrate the dawning of a clear day as the water spilled through the far side of the swim leaving somewhat slacker water close-in and leading down to an aquatic chicane created by opposing bushes at its termination. The glide seemed perhaps a touch too turbulent to be of any great benefit to the catch but it was comfortable and there seemed to be enough steady water in places to make the pursuit worthwhile

A couple of handsful of mashed bread went in by my feet in the hope that the flakes would dissipate through the swim under their own steam and the peg was searched from head to tail over the ensuing couple of hours before the need to wander overcame me. Avian fortune had been on my side while I nursed the swim to a couple of faint tappy unhittable bites with winter flocks of pied wagtail, blue and long-tailed tits landing close-by in search of sustenance. A robin and an expectedly nervous pair of dabchick also used the peg as a commute to their destinations

Dabchick behind (part of) bonus moorhen

Dark, but a hint of rising sun on the face of this somewhat flukily captured long-tailed tit 
Venturing upstream, the carcass of a pound perch cut-off by the receding waters had lost its eyes and a pair of snipe were flushed from the path to reacquaint themselves with the earth in an apparently frozen marsh further from the water after rapid, low, zig-zagging flights. Quite a surprise but not the greatest of the day

A few pegs were tried but insufficient slack was generally evident at this water level. What was obvious however was that with another foot or so off the level there would be some tempting glides in need of searching for roach with balsa or small avon

Blue tits twenty feet above my head, tricky shot
Soon the top of the stretch was reached at a fallen willow and the return trip offered two opportunities that looked different when viewed from an upstream direction; again no interest from any inhabitants but as I stepped into the next reed-lined spot a blue striated water bird flew from under my feet and, with down-curved blood-red bill and trailing legs, sought its escape mid-river before sharply angling right into the bank 30m upstream - water rail - a not uncommon bird but rarely seen except under extreme circumstances such as these

One final muddy promontary was selected for the last hour before yet another festive family lunch, seriously I have never put on any weight in my entire adult life but this Christmas it'll kill me if I don't, and probably if I do . At this point a moment of wonder as I found a tub of small worms and on they went. Taps ensued and then a proper bite which I actually connected with and a severely scale-challenged chublet came to hand - last cast. Phew, that was close!

And the moral of the story is, never put all of your bread in one basket

Saturday, 28 December 2013

'Tis the Season to be Chilly

The numbing of the fingers and toes is that bit more sharp and sudden when birding than angling but a lack of decent footwear for the purpose doesn't improve matters and neither do receding storm water levels, leaving the odd hidden mud or water-filled foothole, enhance the possibility of dry feet over a period of waterside prowling

By way of a change, it was time to revert to the original plan on Boxing Day and punctuate the angling-dominated posts with something different but still of the countryside

The Dog had taken dubious possession of a remarkably good quality 'mighty midget' spotting telescope care of Santa and, as his tripod was in Cornwall, mine came into play upon request. 'Play' being the operative word as the attachment I had wasn't entirely a snug fit and there was about an inch of slack in the mechanism, but we got there with some careful targetted jiggery and pokery

Instant success with a female goldeneye by the dam wall after a touch of confusion when the wintering diving duck appeared to stay under for around 15 minutes, bringing the unlikely but perfectly possible prospect of an unlucky kill by old Esox lucius to mind, the place apparently being well populated; but, no, we'd simply missed it when unsucessfully intermittently inspecting all of the loosely assembled great crested grebes for the chance of a red or black-necked imposter

The waterbody is split by a County boundary following the original line of the river unfortunate enough to have been dammed to build it, and which zig-zags through maps defining the two halves of the currently (sorry) treacly contents. Searching for records for the site is always entertaining, not to say, irritating, as they can appear in either County list

A busy and vocal treecreeper foraged on the thinnest of lichen-clad branches in scrub below the dam as a blue tit 'sipped' its progress throught those same bushes. These were the easy ones, but so long away from the cut and thrust left us needing the pocket guide quite regularly, this being the first determined spot of ornithology by an english stillwater for perhaps two years, certainly on my part, but we got there

The aftermath of the storm, and with more to follow, provided the substrate for tell-tale tracks on the paths, most of which were perforated by little deer hooves. Larger dog prints and the various sole prints of previous walkers marked the path to a deep-cut bay where two larger pink-hued white shapes among the innumerable coots and tufted duck gave away the presence of drake goosander. More closely inspected they were indeed both accompanied by ginger-headed, grey-bodied mates. A solitary male pintail bobbed around among those more prolific species in a heightened state of awareness at our distant, but no doubt obvious, presence as a flock of pochard dived for their lunch, here and there, in the chilled melee

By now the gentle breeze was starting to get through the lack of layers. Had we been roaching the cold would not have penetrated the interminable cocoon but when walking we were a few layers short of a thermal gateau, more of a moist fruit cake really, but enough of such admissions. Wet and unwebbed feet didn't help the situation but by keeping active and leaving The Dog to his scoping from time to time it ensured the retention of enough warmth for a fair stab at the entertainment. Next time preparation will be more thorough

A few jolly festive anglers merrily chatted by their cars as their alarms sat idly-by, waiting for the majority of the turbidity to drop out of the water. A fairly long-term dream we feared

Hen bullfinches raided the nettlebeds for leftover seeds with sun-powered blinding undulating flashes of white as they skipped ahead of us on narrow paths between marginal willow carr on the one side and hawthorn hedge on the other. Finely-barred wren and demure dunnock scuttled and skulked among the damp ruderal festooned with droplet remnants of an early receding fog. The peep of redwing and chuckle of fieldfare entralled our freezing ears as we stumbled, both literally and soggily in my case, upon a fall of apples but most of our resident turdidae failed to show with only the seasonal robin keeping up the family obligation of being represented on the ornithologists' list

Goldeneye proved to be everywhere, but unusally around the perimeter, presumably due to the water colour, with around twenty individuals counted and each group dominated by one sex or the other. Separate flocks of the two common goose species rowdily announced their imminent arrival mid-reservoir to be closely pursued by a handful of larger gulls which settled between the more hefty bodies, stretching and arguing over floating room

Soon the customarily dead iPhone (they really don't cope well with winter do they?) sent us rushing to the car park as we realised we might be late for a family lunch out. We just got there in time and belated list-making ensued whilst orders were placed; thirty-three we made it. 33 enjoyable but hard-earned species, all the better for the challenge and possibly the best option for outdoor engagement in the next week or so one might suspect

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Small River Chub and Roach

The big canal roach hunt is temporarily shelved with the North Oxford having relinquished it's usual strong colour to the invading cold nights and a distinct lack of roach in some usually key areas. There are still the deeper stretches to go at but, for now, the distraction of early evening River Leam chubbing has taken hold

Last season, and perhaps for part of the season before (I don't recall), the written advice of Tony Miles was implemented with as much commitment as one could muster for the cause and many things were learnt, not least likely swims and a knowledge of the venue which of course is fundamental to all angling quests

Having dallied with the syndicate water earlier in the season and then canals until an appropriate chill hit the air coupled with the most recent downpours, perhaps as long as a month ago, set the mind racing in another field, as it were

It was easy last season to say that the Leam is not the river it once was but who am I to make such a claim after just a few months trying to learn methods never before known? The river, in fact maybe rivers generally, are rarely in good shape for the optimum angling opportunity to present itself. Catching the colour and flow of falling river in perfect circumstances is very much down to luck and the likelihood of these factors merging together on a weekend are nothing less than pure fluke, but recently they did and things were good all along the river when, where anglers bothered, apparently there were good catches of roach to be had as their inhibitions were cast aside

I'm not certain how many sessions I've enjoyed on the Leam over the past year or more but I estimate it, against the loss of records for 2012/13, at around 20 or maybe it was only 15 but somewhere in that bracket for sure, and those usually short, sharp sorties were an average of no more than 2 hours long. Many of those estimated 30 to 40 hours bankside were spent fishing bread flake combined with mashed bread feed for chub and big roach. The target being to crack the 4lb Leam chub barrier so regularly breached by Mr Miles and his conspirees back in the heyday of this short yet intriguing water course

Mist descends on the valley
35 hours produced 6 chub and 1 notable roach to the novice small stream angler. Then, as I often committed to writing at that time, the venue was regularly well under par with low flows and clear conditions, and consequently I only recall taking two chub earlier than 30 minutes before actual sunset - both just over 2lbs as it happens. The other four came around or after dusk when I would occasionally fish for an hour into dark by which time I'd either caught one and killed the tiny restricted swim with the commotion or no bites had ensued and the roast dinner took over the immediate thoughts

So apart from the optimal conditions three to four weeks back, when as it happens I was trying to avoid roach and later regretted it!, the river has fairly quickly reverted to that same situation and catching decent fish in daylight has become a challenge

Saturday I ended up in the fortunate situation of having from dawn until just after lunch free to really have a go at the river and I had convinced myself in a previous evening session (which produced chub of 2.1.0 and 3.4.0 to link legered large flakes while watching what appeared to be good roach rising in the moonlight at an inaccessible area of the swim) that to return with a small cage feeder on a carefully spool-clipped cast and filled with liquidised bread was the way forward.

Two pounds of lipless chub

Difficult to see in this dreadful photo but two parallel lines 4-5" apart on both flanks set this fish apart
 And work it did but nothing over 5-6ozs was taken in a major experimentation session messing around with hook sizes, tail lengths, shot on the tail, etc., until I had convinced myself that a 20mm bread punch (I didn't want to go any smaller anyway), a nine inch tail and a simple link-legered approach was probably about the best I could do. Of course I knew that the chances of bigger fish were going to be scuppered by the timing of the visit, and so it proved, but nevertheless the option of trying this at dusk instead of the usual chub tactics will now add to the variety of options on offer. I also intend not to use the 11' Avon as the tips seem just a touch too stiff for roach and so the Wand will no doubt get an outing soon and we just pray that the 4lb chub does not appear on the evening (it will of course!), having said that the wand has coped admirably with hard-fighting fish over 2lbs thus far and so maybe I shouldn't unduly worry. I'm also pondering the option of a baitdropper using a short pole for certain baits to be fed, particularly chopped worms for perch if I can decide on a swim for the approach. This may be a better bet in daylight as perch seem to me to be the least bothered fish when it comes to feeding outside the hours of darkness, apart perhaps from pike

So the day produced around 3lbs of small roach, with one dace and one minnow, and the only decent bite I had was on the very last cast as I was putting a knot in the liquidised bread bag. Apart from picking up the flask I can think of no more sure-fire manner in which to conjure that elusive bite!

Pristine little fella
The greed!
Sunday evening I was back for a last minutes of daylight chub session in a swim I had seen last year but not seriously fished under then heavy flows. It offered a good flow under the rod-tip in a reasonable depth, an eddy to my right on the inside and another opposite behind a rush bed. I could just about make-out the C's painted on the water by the ghost of Mr Crabtree in various locations. I have figured with this early evening tactic that the best thing to do is to fish very close to the peg initially and gradually work ones way further away from oneself as time progresses on the basis that if you fish the very end of the swim first and are lucky enough to take a fish then it will decimate the rest of the peg in the time taken to force it upstream

So, first drop in, having introduced mash in various strategic locations, was in the eddy to my right and as I tightened to the swan shot the tip just continued to bend round after I had stopped winding the reel, I struck and felt nothing. Dropping in again produced an exact replica bite and soon a chub of a pound four was being reintroduced to the water with thanks for his boisterousness

Already an isotope was in order as it had taken a few minutes to walk to the peg but half an hour later as my casts had become increasingly long and searching, albeit by small degrees, another relatively gentle bend of the tip resulted in a good fight from a fish which took me under a submerged branch and after some cajoling eventually came out on a slack line only to then take me into the rush bed just 3m in front of me! This time a good ol' heave brought it out on top and across the surface into the waiting net. A perfectly formed chub of 2.13.0 and causing enough chaos to send me scuttling back through the descending mist after snagging on an invisible bush in the dark and losing everything that mattered soon after

The most recent victim
Already the short chub list, or chub short-list, equals that of last winter with six taken but as it gets colder, and the winter properly sets in, I really fancy this just might be a more interesting campaign than last year with another stretch to assess on the horizon with deep holes linked by fast-flowing gulleys. Meanwhile the cage feeder for roach tactic will be deployed after dark to see what redfins we can tempt, if any. I took one over a pound last winter and as The Old Duffer says. "Where there's one...there's one".