Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The 21st Century Entertainment. A Cautionary Christmas Tale


Great Uncle Dubious originally came to England from the Mediterranean in 1963. Where he lived they hunted, and hunted as though they sought to emulate the way the Americans hunted Martha

Dube though was different. While he ate well he always earned his crust and obtained his food in the conventional manner. He kept pigeons, and turkeys in December, and lived a simple life here, as one might have expected

Since retirement though something was wrong. He was restless and somehow wanted more from his bird keeping. He experimented with foods. He had tried all the traditional options - pigeon peas, bread, corn, millet, etc., but somehow those doves always stayed the same, so he started to experiment. It became an obsession. Years passed, and while certain ingredients made those birds glow and take on a sheen (varnish was good), nothing really worked but one day on the advice of 'big' Dave, a  diminutive five-foot champion breeder of racing pigeons, he obtained some hitherto widely unknown ingredients and started to feed his birds crumbs with an increasingly high content of them

Slowly, over time, he noted that the pigeons became rounder and larger, a few became extremely large, and he wondered. Soon Pinky, his best ever showing dove with many champion awards behind her, but now also retired, became so large that she was claimed to be the biggest ever seen in captivity, but Dube remained restless, something was still lacking


Eventually though, Stan next door, Gerry down the road and even Brian, who had no interest in pigeons at all, though liked his finches, were seeking Dube's recipe. So, to do them a favour as he didn't want to give his secret away ("Let the b*****s work it out for themselves", he said to Aunt Dube. "It'll break you, all this madness", she said, "D'u hear me? Break you I say") he made more magic crumbs and gave them to his friends. They too grew large pigeons and Brian had a little success too.



One night during a frightful electric storm that kept him awake and yet fired his imagination my Great Uncle had the brainwave to end them all. He would feed his magic crumbs to wild pigeons and improve their lot

Now we should not suggest Dube was the reckless sort as that would be misleading, strangely adventurous at this time of life maybe, and egged-on by his friends with his recipes certainly, but no he didn't blindly start feeding the wild pigeons without some research. It did not take him long to discover via his teenage nephew on Gaggle, the online bird forum (there is one?! Oops), that woodpigeons were not particularly well protected by law, indeed they were agricultural pests. They were also booming in numbers and a little experimentation and intervention with his local population could only help them become healthier, and bigger

It took a while but in the countryside near his house pigeons grew. Of course there were so many of them that he couldn't supply the feeders which ran dry by lunchtime each day!

Dube went into production. The wood shed was converted into a dry store and much banging and crashing occurred deep into the night, day after day. Brian came to help and soon Dube was producing his magic pigeon food by the hundredweight (can we still say that? Perhaps I mean 50kg or something)

Brian let it slip that he too had started keeping a few pigeons and that they has become even larger than Dubes. He felt it was probably that there were less of them and they could bully the goldfinches for the crumbs. Meanwhile, at the back in the dried-out and colourless gorse stems those goldfinches quietly became thrush-sized


Other pigeon fanciers wanted his food, he set up a company to produce enough crumbs to sell on the open market and racing pigeon enthusiasts found that their birds could now break those long-standing records without any risk in front of the drug testers

A young dutch avian palaeontologist, C. Kuyt-De Bono, declared this to be a disaster in the making ("I told you!", said Aunt Dube), but no one listened

Despite the hectic life my Uncle had acquired late in his three score years and ten he never stopped in his own quest and continued to feed the wild pigeons nearby from the feeders in his garden. The ground was bare where they had eaten everything that existed within 20 metres (metres, yes that's better) and their droppings nourished the surrounding wider area causing Dube to get a little nettle rash around the bottom, of the garden

In the first winter it was found that the birds didn't eat so much, and Dube, having produced so many magic crumbs to meet summer demand, was able to stop production and survive off his existing stock until the following March. A pattern started to develop and over a period of pigeon time he realised this would hold back his production year round, he became more money-orientated than before but now he had employees to support and Aunt Dube had become accustomed to a more comfortable life funded by these rather amusing rotund doves.

Brian meanwhile was perplexed. His dabbling with doves and progression with pigeons had produced an anomaly. A cross-bred bird that was vigorous in growth up to a certain middle size, that ate like mad, seemed to have a rapid metabolism and was as hungry in winter as summer. He mentioned this to Dube in passing. Love Doves he named them, as they were curiously heart-shaped due to their natural pigeon chest and appealed to those who sought solace in something consistently amenable to their attentions


One bright morning Mr & Mrs D were woken by shotgun fire. This was not unusual. They lived next to countryside and the adjoining farmer often allowed one or two hunting types to take a few birds for the pot in return for the occasional brace of pheasant or partridge being hung in his porch as a surprise on rising from their slumber. The sound of gunfire sounded somehow closer this time and more regular, in fact Dube would not have been surprised had he peered through the gap in the curtains to eye piercing sunlight to see two gun-toting bird blasters.


"Seven", he yelled, "SEVEN!?". "There are seven of them shooting our pigeons on our land!", he added. My Aunt was apoplectic, the doctor was summoned (who knocked at the door with a 'rat a tat tat' of course). The police were called and the gentlemen with the guns were encouraged to disperse. Dube used rather more urgent language and it sounded from a short distance as though ducks might've been involved

That Friday night in the Cock & Pullet, Dube and Brian contemplated the situation. Here they were with a whole burgeoning bundle of birdy information and it was so exciting. People in the local area were changing the face of pigeon size, they became bigger and bigger where they were fed the magic crumbs and those that remained wild in truest sense, further afield, stayed the same. Furthermore people were prepared to poach them

Brian had an idea. "Dube?", he enquired, "Why don't we buy the field next to your house?". "Why on earth would we want to do that Bri?", came the reply. Brian explained...the beer flowed...and eight weeks later they had it, their own field. Flyers were issued by post, email, web (and pigeon) and bookings were taken. The newly named 'P3' doves (Love Doves would never have cut it) were released into the field to add some wider interest and the pigeons Dube had fed next door in his garden were there too, in ever greater number, together with enlarged specimens of other species that benefitted from the Magic Crumb(tm) crumbs as a consequence

They got planning permission for a shop and sold their increasing range of bird food while the punters flocked (no, really) to shoot there, the bird meat didn't taste great compared to the pigeon they knew of old but they were much easier to hit due to their size so they appealed to both experienced and beginners of the shooting fraternity, and Dube joked that one day, if they carried-on like this, they wouldn't be able to fly at all! They had recreated the dodo!

Well, maybe they had. The prophecy just needed to be fulfilled



As the venture grew it became apparent that other entrepreneurial individuals some distance from Fat Dove Fields were setting-up their own centres supplying released birds fed on Magic Crumb, a few of them started shops and sold Dube and Bri's product as well but, not long after, rumours filtered in the community. The RSPFB (Royal Society for the Prevention of Fat Birds) were making noises, and they weren't cooing. They claimed that feeding wild birds suped-up (or souped-up? Some debate online - you decide) feed to change their physical state contravened applicable legislation but couldn't quote it. Nevertheless due to their huge grass roots following things started to became a little hairy, not to say feathery, for the dynamic dove duo. Public opinion started to move against them as their leader, none other than Joe himself, suggested at the very least perverting the natural course of bird evolution and introducing captive bred, not to mention hybrid, birds into the wild was at best morally reprehensible and at worst ill-eagle. He suggested Dube and possibly Brian would soon be up before the beak for winging-it so long without legal advice or proper licensing


Those words would surely come back to haunt them. Word was on the air waves that birds were flapping around the countryside nationwide in an injured state due to the voracity with which the shotgun merchants had taken to blasting these poor defenceless balls of fluff, they could not all be found and eaten. Foxes were seen to proliferate

The man and woman in the street now knew about this. Birds were so visual, and everyone loves a robin at Christmas, but suddenly those naturally round red-breasted thrushes were somewhat threadbare around the wing-pits due to their bulking-out. It had genuinely reached a stage at which no standard old-fashioned bird food could be purchased and even the feeders had to be enlarged and reinforced to accommodate the hefty avian invaders in any gardens where they were fed 


Dew Gooder, the local Parish Council Chair, summed it all up when he stated on the record in Fat Dove Fields very own Parish that (and I quote), "If they had been fish or something no one could see or cared about it wouldn't matter, but because they're birds it's just too much, it has to stop"

...and stop it did.



Merry Christmas All, no nightmares please! Just a bit of fun, I think.





Tuesday, 23 December 2014

THE LAST FESTIVE GASP...A Search for Big Leam Roach Commences


A couple of hours before and into dark this afternoon, in and around the last minute festive splashing-out, saw the last of the 'first meadow' pegs on the new River Leam stretches tested

Much shallower at around 6 feet, and with the colour dropping rapidly out now, I wasn't too sure what to expect. The deeper pegs would probably have been a better bet but these constant 20 to 40 mph winds have been affecting the water and air temperatures had been high for a few days so it was worth a shot, or so I thought

Depositing the bread feed into the swim I sat back and fixed a view on the float. Previously I had noticed instant bites on each occasion I had used the pole here, except once, so immediate confidence should have been high but I was touch flaky on the subject as the wind buffeted the pole which I had to hold high to control the rig

The line speared, taught, into the water some 10 metres above a part fallen willow and I hoped that fish sheltering there would move up onto the feed but deep down I knew the bread approach was an all or nothing, early doors-only method. (Cliché after cliché? My word Float Flight, what is going-on!)

Two casts before a bite, the shock!, but then the float sank down a hole and a fish was on. Only a two ouncer, and the smallest fish from the stretch thus far, but a start. Every angler needs a start

Next put-in met with another sail-away bite but this time it fought back and made the most of the flow here on a narrow peg where the speed of current was greater than in the deeper wider pegs downstream. From the polite nodding fight I suspected roach and sure enough Lord Rutilus surfaced as I drew him in front of me away from the fed area. He looked a cracker and would go over a pound for sure. Another perfect fish without even the merest hint of scale or fin damage

This was the second largest roach from the Leam in three years trying (beating one only an ounce or so smaller just a month ago into third) albeit generally targeting chub, but now that the pole is proving effective for them I might just revisit some swims that might suit it to see what can be achieved with a more refined method without the problem of 'tappy' bites on a quiver-tip...and with ten days or so of relaxation ahead who could possibly resist?! Well not his angler for sure

A further fish of around seven or eight ounces was followed by two smaller ones and then the action subsided. One missed bite and one fish pulled-out of to add to those banked was not a bad return for just over an hour's pole fishing while I could still see but the tip with a lump of crust produced not even a tap after dark and it was off to the shops again to finish the list just as the clouds burst and drenched me on the walk back...great!

The roach biggest weighed in at 1-1-6
(Photos a bit poor today. Not sure quite why but not much focussing going on there it seems...and quite literally no birds to report at all)

Monday, 22 December 2014

More time. Less fish?

Two trips down the river this weekend, both p.m. and both in swims I has fancied from previous visits but at ten minutes door to gate it ain't no hardship

Saturday was spent trotting bread under a balsa in what appeared the perfect smooth water glide, up to and beyond a bush, and then a link-leger into dark under the bush with two reasonably decent bites, one missed, one pulled-out, and therefore no fish

Ever-present family of swans slip past backwards in the dark...why?
The seed was sewn however and with the river falling to inversely reflect a contrary increase in air temperature predicted on the Sunday all seemed to point to an unavoidable opportunity. Shopping was pulled-in early with Parps and I waltzing into the shops as soon as they opened and Sunday's first gentle indoor net as he builds up for next cricket season between ten and eleven this would leave a good slot after dropping The Old Duffer and The Old Trout for a show and then night out just after lunch

Having enjoyed running a float through with the centrepin, but sadly not having anything to show for it, I decided to revert to the new pole method which had been reasonably successful a fortnight ago tempting a nice chub first put on the pole and then a sequence of roach

Slowly the tactic is starting to evolve into something worth using regularly and, if anything, it seems slightly more productive than the standard techniques, largely because, in a river dominated by 3 to 12 ounce roach hitting their bites on the 'tip is a recipe for certifiable frustration

A peg was chosen at the end of a mid-river crease where a glide started and I intended to pole-fish that line. The river was still two foot six above normal and nicely coloured with a few smaller roach topping from middle to far bank. An added bonus was a nearside slack downstream of the peg behind a rush bed which I would drop a link leger into as a sleeper option (wit' lobs on't t'hook)

Somehow I wasn't quite 'with it'; the wind was painfully awkward, despite not hitting the water as such, and I was easily distracted. Fifty fieldfares flapped their staccato randomly undulating flight overhead and buzzards mewed as the rode the gusting breeze over the paddocks off the far bank with an eye out for the local bunnies. Other things drew my attention. Dog walkers, wrens, car headlights in the distance, anything but the fishing. On dropping in however a sail-away bite resulted in another first cast chub on the hook, probably around a pound and a half, and in taking one too many joints off the pole too quickly I allowed it to bury itself in rushes under my feet before I had it beaten!

A series of nice hand-sized and just swingable roach followed, and maybe during the forthcoming holiday I may just ditch the effort to seek slightly larger samples and try maggot under a waggler just to see what is in really in there

While the breeze subsided I decided to have a hot drink and triangle of pork pie, only a Pork Farms  jobbie but welcome none the less. Head and tail of lob meanwhile were lowered into the slack while the pole was rested in the field for the time being. As I tightened the rod tip dived toward the surface and a good fighter was on. Ten feet of murky water and a light avon rod helped and hindered the prey but soon it was at the surface and what I thought to be a guaranteed 2.8.0 perch, angry with its erect dorsal flagging capture (and later stabbing my index finger) was netted.

This was one a chubster of a perch, very wide for its length, but it must've swallowed a tennis ball as it went 28.5 ounces on the scales; which was on the one hand disappointing and on the other quite brilliant as it beat the river p.b. by around six ounces and was the second Leam p.b. from the stretch in around three weeks



A veritable pig-perch but quite a beauty nevertheless
At the close the local barn owl screeched just once as it left to quarter the river margins and rough grassland further afield in its massive winter vole-producing range. The net was lifted and three pounds ten ounces of quality fish were carefully returned to the cold water in this the shortest of days, though without a photo as I was rather keen to get away on this occasion

The quite incredible, nay delightful, annual display of Christmas lights in the local village made the single track lanes akin to motorways in weight of traffic with every under twelve, and quite a good number over, visiting to absorb that festive feeling. I however, wishing to avoid the melee, comforted myself in the prior sunset




Monday, 15 December 2014

Crave New World

Jack of all trades
Despite seemingly being reasonably able to turn my hand to most angling methods with varying degrees of success I am particularly poor at making good decisions in respect of likely venues

From the age of about twelve my angling was very much cast in a match angling context and, absolutely love it though I then did, it is no way to teach an angler how to understand seasons & conditions in relation to individual species

There were certain obvious situations to avoid. The weed choked summer river or drain for instance, a recently dredged canal or severe flood conditions spring to mind but these would even be obvious to the non-angler, although there can be merit even in some of those apparently uninviting circumstances of course

Selecting a stretch of river, canal or pond because of its seasonal bias to summer rudd or clear water winter pike would pass me by

For me it is more about the methods and techniques that might winkle a fish often somewhat against the odds. The tiny hook and finest of lines to avoid a blank for the team on an all-but fishless January canal; a hemp line contrary to popular belief on a North Oxford Canal evening match; a ludicrously light rig fished treble-depth and held tight for the slowest of slow drops seeking bonus roach on warm-water summer canals. This list goes on, but all of these scenarios were artificially induced by the constraint of having to fish the peg gifted by the mystery of the draw bag; a case of having to; win or lose, death or glory, the approach to the random peg was the sword by which the match angler did, or died

Top match anglers at the peak of their sport have an edge. It might be a complete method they have perfected or as little as a slight variation on a theme used by all. Some will occasionally succeed when the circumstances allow it. Others increase their own odds by being ahead of the game in as many key departments as possible but when the matchman or woman is on form, flying, high in confidence, he or she just knows what the next step is, what change to make. It is instinctive and rarely lets him or her down...until something changes to remove the advantage and they must change with it or be proven briefly to have been extremely lucky and not that good after all, and, I have crossed rods with those too of course

Having spent the recent few years pursuing fish larger than the match angler would consistently target on similar venues, I hesitate to use the phrase 'specimen fish' as that would simply not be completely accurate, it is undoubtedly apparent that the level of pure angling skill generally purveyed in match angling far exceeds that of other branches of the sport. The ability of some anglers to extract decent catches in superficially the most unlikely of swims is quite beyond belief. Indeed I personally have lost count of the times that great, or, at least, exceedingly good, anglers have achieved this kind of incredible feat before my very eyes. Of course it isn't possible to catch what isn't in front of you but that really is not the point

In big fish circles it is more a case of utilising that same unshifting self-confidence and applying it to a method, bait or water that the angler believes in. Top specimen hunters think nothing of casting what they consider to be the killing bait and rig to the spot they know will produce that fish of a lifetime and then waiting an inordinate amount of time for it to happen. Contrast this with top class squatt fishing at its peak when 200 canal anglers sought 3lbs plus of small roach to gain superiority. A method that required a recast if the float had settled. In an attempt at real time as you scroll down, it went like this:

Feed, 

Cast, 
Mend line, 
Refill catty pouch by touch,

Strike,



Plop fish in net,
Rebait, 

Feed, 

Cast,
Mend, 
Refill pouch,
Strike,



Plop...
And so on, minute after minute, hour after hour for four or five hours. Sometimes 'feed' and 'rebait' could be interchanged. A hundred plus fish to far bank waggler tactics would be ideal, and later on to the pole of course

The key was to get the inter-feed timing such that the last fed squatts were hitting bottom as the next feed hit the surface, a constant stream in fact. Well, that was the simple part of the theory anyway

Now though it is the variety of methods, rods, reels, poles, species, conditions, etc., that this particular angler is getting to grips with and, while many years competing with and against the aforementioned cannot fail to rub a little all-round craft into the piscatorial pores I cannot change the fact that I do tend to target the right thing at the wrong time. What I mean by this is that I might wake-up with the heady excitement of a river roach session buzzing around my skull to then forget that same river is gin clear, perhaps barely moving and that I ought really seek-out a pike in the morning (not the afternoon), and so forth

Certain favourable conditions are being grasped however. The turbid, high but falling river water in rising temperatures post-flood takes no thought as it is an instant draw, but, largely due to the fact that it triggers ticking that 'difficult challenge' box in my angling mind, even though I must surely soon realise that it is in fact one of the easiest times to catch fish of many species, it just doesn't look as though it should be! Frosty banks are a great time for canal roach, this also has not passed me by

I can only put it down to the fact that I do not yet know enough of the information floating around this complex world I now reside in. Certainly I read a lot from certain sources; books in preference to magazines and blogs in preference to manufacturer's websites; but even though I know for instance that tench are spring feeders in cloudy conditions perhaps best caught at dawn rather than at night but certainly appearing to feed in bursts, I do find it very hard to apply it when my mind says, 'I do fancy some bream today'.

As with the many new things that we have to get to grips with in life it tends to become more clear eventually if one immerses oneself long enough in its essence and, as a bird is not fully fledged as soon as it hatches, so must I retain the patience to let it all osmose into the blood and ultimately become second nature, perhaps the original Mr Crabtree could help me out here?

----

So, with angling time out of the question due to dodgy weather forecast and Christmas shopping to undertake this past weekend, we set about trying-out Parps' spotting scope with a vengeance and off to Pitsford Water we headed

The causeway was iced as we set-up viewing towards the nature reserve to set the ball rolling and the breeze did little to keep the shivers at bay. The flask helped however and we were well down the coffee in no time as we picked through the more common wildfowl and checked them in the book to give him some confidence in the i.d's


Teal, mallard, wigeon, then cormorant and onto great crested grebe, etc., plus that ever-pleasurable winter diving bird the male goldeneye. A host of wintering mute swan were dotted around the periphery of the vast acreage of water but one looked somewhat too busy to the naked eye in the distance and this was where the 'scope really came into it's own as first finding and then focus revealed a great while egret with its impossibly snake-like neck and huge yellow bill stalking the margins up to its knees in icy water. Only my second ever and the littl'uns first of course

We added coot and moorhen, black-headed and common gull, grey heron and lapwing before we felt the urge to check-out the opposite side where the visitors feed the birds. Saints fan and his partner were somewhat intimidated by approaching ye olde farmyard goose but as soon as it became realised that it would not come closer than about two feet they too found their feet and scattered bread crumbs to all and sundry. Gulls seemingly the most adventurously opportunistic foragers in the circumstances plucking feed from the air

A couple who decided to feed them from the car however got a touch more than they had bargained for when a group, of mainly mallard, set siege to the vehicle and were trying to get into the passenger seat to get first shout


A whisper of a diver at the dam end of the res. from another passing father and son however sent us scuttling in that direction before we had to head off to the shops and a quick search of the water found it fairly settled close to a bright orange buoy mark 'D'. Just too far to photograph successfully but close enough to view and confirm the species as great northern on account of its more massive bill, short and uber-chunky neck and hints of chequerboard on its back. Not a first for myself but a welcome rarity nevertheless and certainly the boy wonder's debut Arctic Loon - a somewhat appropriate alternative name in his case

Difficult to see but it's halfway between the buoy and the right-hand edge of this poor long-distance photograph.
 'D' for Diver, could it have been anywhere else?!

Here we also added little grebe and shoveler to the list together with a few common passerines and went off home happy as the sunlight burst through and cast a glow on a robin and mistle thrush over bare rusty Northamptonshire soil where we had parked


 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Vagaries of Natural Fortune, or, Always Something to be Happy About


So there we were back again on the new stretch, Parps with sections of lobworm on the crease of nearside slack on his trusty twin-tip Avon quiver and myself on the new experimental method in a glide running up to a raft

The Leam was at 0.65m which equates to about 0.4m or 16" above summer level and still carrying a nice amount of colour but not enough to prevent us being wary of breaking the skyline as we moved around

While I prepped the new gear I dropped a piece of bread on the tip close-in to the raft and immediately had a roach of seven ounces. Subsequently the rod was quickly thrown up the bank as I could see my preparations were to be interrupted. We were sharing a keep net placed halfway between us as we felt today could produce a few fish and to see the ultimate catch might just be worth sharing

Parps was flicking regular chopped wrigglers into the crease and let them settle in the slack and sat back to await his first bite

Meanwhile a heron flew up across the trees barking as it did so and a wren whirred it's little round clockwork wings as it traversed the water from rush bed to rush bed

First cast once I'd organised myself resulted in a early bite and some resistance. I drew the fish upstream away from the swim without breaking surface and P was there ready to net whatever it proved to be. A chub, as it happened, just over two pounds and a nice start

With each feed another bite came, but not rushed, just steady; and I was under the impression that it was once the folded bread hook bait became fully soaked and expanded that the fish took a gastronomic interest

My companion of the angle was starting get bites and lost two fish with soft action rod doubled over that had me wondering what the problem might be. Of course his adversaries were likely to be footballers and so the possibility of the hook not lodging appropriately in their bony mouths was always a possibility, if not a probability. I offered a few words

A sparrowhawk at one point whooshed over my left shoulder, the turbulence evident in the sound of its wing and tail feathers, twisting to maintain a course on track towards gathered thrush species in the scrub beyond. The local family of swans previously referred to glid (new word) past without so much as a ripple and their number, at four, was now stable it seemed, the cob uttering that odd 'whoopa' sound they make when excited

Two or three further nice roach were then rounded off by a beauty of thirteen ounces before Parps lost another two or three good fish and it was time to pay him a visit again. I allowed him to proceed as before and then struck at the bite for him which was quite positive, without being savage, and a fighter was on. Between us one pound six ounces of angry perch was deposited in the net, and all was well. I suspect it was just the strength of strike that was lacking but another lesson had been learnt and his all-important angling experience widened for future reference when needed

By this time it was approaching dark and we decanted ourselves into the one swim to try a big lump of crust into darkness in the hope of a big ol' rubber lips, nothing was doing as the fieldfares crashed into hawthorns seeking roosting opportunities for the night and so we gave it a few more minutes and then packed our last few items away and undertook the obligatory weigh-in and photo session, and a nice picture the make in the gentle flash of a remarkably good quality camera phone


As I reintroduced the catch to the water, catch - water, water - catch, Parps massively whispered 'Dad!, Look!, Owl!' along the bank and of course as I looked up it was gone but from his description it was our friend Tyto alba, the barn owl, often seen on our own stretch half a mile or so further downstream
 
We had mustered six pounds of nice fish between us, and not a sprat among 'em, in the receding high waters and I'm not sure whether the highlight for the boy wonder was his best ever perch or the owl but it probably doesn't matter; either way the pleasure was huge and he chattered all the way back to the lane bursting with enthusiasm for life and all that it could throw at him

----
 
So today found me there again. The method had worked and it was time to refine it further
 
A heavy frost awaited me however and the stream was now clear to over a metre down under the bread ball test leaving me less than hopeful and sure enough I was right to be sceptical with only one quick rap of the tip in my fourth of fifth swim on a light quiver tip
 
 
Company today was again the heron, of which I attempted a long-distance wide-angle shot (okay so the phone camera isn't that versatile!), and his tiny partner in Piscean crime the kingfisher
 
The is no doubt what the highlight of the morning was though (sorry hornet!)...as I crept through the villages on frosty roads a shape suddenly was upon me as it ambled onto the verge and then bounding in the lack-lustre, "Please don't hit me. I'm not that fast", kind of manner which only the badger, of British land mammals, can display. It made it to the other side following which I, and probably it, breathed more easily
 
So you'll have gathered by now that nothing was caught but it did offer an option to wander into the unknown and suss-out future swims within the new boundaries for plotting the downfall of some unsuspecting inhabitants once there is some more water on and tinge of fishy colour.
 
Meanwhile I suspect the canal will call again, a good heavy frost never bothered those hardy residents

Saturday, 29 November 2014

A New Adventure is Underway



 
Two weeks ago Pat delivered new licences for Parps and myself which enable us to wander further into the Leam valley in search of a literally deeper experience

This tiny, in width, river is hideously deep in places. I know of no other river like it, split as it is by a somewhat incongruous sluice at Eathorpe pumping station, meandering through the best countryside Feldon has to offer and which it has of course itself created by its own efforts through geological time

I thought the stretches I had spent the last two to three seasons tackling were surprisingly deep in certain pegs but first impressions of this new stretch double those deepest areas and, with over two feet of water on, must be approaching twenty feet surface to bed in places

The charm though is certainly wider than the watercourse

The birdlife is often surprising and never less than entertaining, particularly in the colder months and after dark, and even the fungal blooms are engaging

The fishing however is tough but that's how we like it. It makes the few red letter days all the more warming

The Leam is not a river to covet in pursuit of a net full, except perhaps in the town reaches the urbanossity of which does not draw these two anglers in. That said we do not attack it with maggots and so we do purposely limit potential for higher numbers of smaller fish but conversely maximise the chances of the prey fighting-back if the tip or the float indicate sufficiently positively

With The Dog twice at the mercy of the surgeons knife and long-distance journeys being involved this past fortnight, things have been at best disjointed and at worst a shambles but I have managed to get in a couple of brief visits, once accompanied by Parps, to suss-out the new canvas onto which we hope to apply that fish-oil paint

As with many rivers, excluding perhaps those in fenland, the adjacent terrain is contoured and fascinating. One bank can be low and grassy, the other steeply banked and, at this time of year, festooned with decaying willow-herb or, perhaps, tree-lined. Rushes burst out of the flow wherever the depth allows and cattle-poached pasture banks form conveniently comfortable terraces on which to sit



The flow can vary from slow to quite pacey dependent upon the depth and relative width of the length

The first brief attempt comprising a few hours spent in a glide leading to a deeper pool resulted only in numerous initial tappy small roach bites on bread but a few lob sections thrown into the pool itself resulted in an immediate p.b. perch for the river of 1-6-14 followed by four or five around the 5 - 6 ounce mark. At the time these were quite boldly marked individuals but the ongoing turbid water will soon have changed that as they take on the shade of a cup of white tea, with stripes



Highlight of the late evening though was a synchronised flying display by a pair of woodcock, reasonably unusual for Warwickshire and the Feldon landscape (though more so in spring and summer), as dusk fell and they burst from bankside ruderal to orbit a nearby group of trees and then disappeared overhead to the east; their ridiculously long bills and chunky duck-like bodily proportions unmistakable against a dusk sky

A second short visit produced a cracking roach of exactly one pound on two legered lob sections in a rising river some 0.6m above normal. This fish beaten only by one of 1-4-11 two years ago from this river



So even the limited time on the bank between personal crises had produced enough encouragement to suggest worthy potential once the venue has been grasped and some experience gained. Thus a visit today was inevitable, not to say necessary, armed with research on a method for use in swollen rivers which produced instant roach and perch to lob tails followed by three other perch, the largest ten ounces.

The river was alive with quality roach though, as they topped with abandon all morning while I experimented, more of which in the future if it is proven to be successful after more refinement

This past week's study of the water levels and weather forecasts suggested a falling river at perfect height and flow and so it appeared. I, however, need to get my act together if it is to be taken advantage of this weekend as, tomorrow afternoon, we go again

Combined bird list:
Grey heron, mallard, moorhen, pheasant, woodcock, raven, carrion crow, jackdaw, magpie, woodpigeon, stock dove, kingfisher, green woodpecker, mistle thrush, song thrush, blackbird, fieldfare, redwing, robin, starling, wren, skylark, blue tit, long-tailed tit, chaffinch

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Autumn in Full Flow


The rate of decomposition of aquatic plants has been quite surprising and given that the daytime temperatures have been more akin to a poor summer and the first noteworthy frost only bit this week this appears to prove that, unlike the triggers our so called intelligence would have us believe apply to such events, it is not simply heat that controls the reaction of life to the seasons

On the stretch of the Leam that Parps and I have the rights to the arrowheads were slipping into browning dormancy some weeks ago and now, it always seems sudden, the bulrush is losing its bottle green shade in many stems, and ‘cabbages’ break up into slimy, khaki folds as, with the oncoming winter, they prepare for that which will ultimately leave only the rhizome intact


Ten days ago the first seasonal redwings sipped in panic as they burst from foraging to the shelter of thick hawthorn in the nearby Warwickshire countryside and only this past week their erstwhile companion the fieldfare followed a similar pattern as a flock of forty took an undulating course parallel to the Fosse

The gnawing sound on stems being trimmed becomes ever less frequent whether I sit bankside or walk quietly near water and the family of six swans on our stretch is reduced to four by the ravages of predatory instinct and the need to feed the next generation of ‘higher’ species

Yesterday morning a train of five jackdaws sky-jacked a quite massive cronking raven as it headed out to the meadows, its Maltese cross profile as evident as ever it could be in this fascinating individual. How long before we become blasé about their presence in the central and east midlands much as we have with the buzzard, and yet at the same time we worry about the loss of species? Strange times indeed

I read recently that the great ecologist Edward O Wilson was marking the start of the MEMO project to build a shrine to the species which have become extinct since the dodo began the decline, now known widely as the sixth mass extinction, on the ‘Jurassic Coast’. A thirty million pound investment in what, to my mind, could prove to be the most powerful reminder to us (in Britain at least) that it really is time to act. Human life created the issue and, if it is possible to reverse the collapse, surely we owe it to the earth to urge it back to fitness

(see here www.memoproject.org)

 
Speaking of counter-intuitive increases in populations as I was, I am seeing, preceded by a deep dull drone, regular hornets in many locations now and yet, until about three years ago, I could only recall one dead individual noted on a bathroom window cill during a survey of a rural house a decade ago. A friend of mine had a swarm take up residence in her porch just a month ago but while they seem somewhat breathtakingly repulsive, with their bloated wasp-like appearance, they are apparently quite docile and unlikely to attack unless, like the bee, they are provoked to such a degree that they feel the need to defend themselves – such as at food sources or nest sites. In fact there is only one documented record of anyone seeking medical attention after a hornet encounter in the whole of Europe! So, like the buzzard and then the raven, is the hornet expanding in Britain having been restricted to southern counties in the past? Well yes, according to the Natural History Museum, it is indeed as they say ‘a known fact’ that hornets are spreading from their historic stronghold around the Exeter and New Forest area

 
The wet weather towards the end of this week has pushed the Middle River Leam level from the standard summer range of 0.25-0.3m to a positively healthy 0.75 over the past two days and with this in mind fresh vigorous lobworms were obtained and are added to the bait range with the obligatory bread. So with a simple Avon quiver set-up and the contrary, but still relatively strong, sun bursting across the field and in through the windows a plan was hatched

Roach, chub and anything else daft enough to be fooled would be the target. The spaniels seemed to know too but they, with live lamb on the agenda, would be staying to bathe in that same sunlight from indoors

On arrival, the afternoon sun was starting to slide behind a comforting blanket of light cloud while two herons took flight and barked, as only they can, their raucous contact call. As I sauntered to the water’s edge kingfishers piped and their neon blue streaks abounded. Jackdaws jack-ack-acked as, in their fluster, they exploded from the wood with fears all their own…and all was well in the valley

I all-but trod on a field vole as it scurried underfoot into waterside rush margins where cattle and sheep had broken the bank into terraces as it dropped toward the water. But it was not him I sought. For me it was the waterscape that drew me in search of undercuts, slacks and glides; and therein, I dreamt, the aforementioned quarry

Recently I had discovered an undercut with overhanging grasses and hoped it would offer steady water under these first suitably raised water levels of the colder months, but it was not to be; the water gently, admittedly, boiled and surged through the channel and I would need to wait for levels to fall, or rise considerably more, for this area to came back into play
 
An enticing slack I had harboured far from complementary thoughts about when approaching from the opposite bank in the past suddenly seemed all the more attractive downstream of a substantial bed. As the main flow cut past the outside of the shelter, it cried-out for a stab at its likely refugees. Heads, tails and indeed the haemorrhaging middles of a series of unfortunate lobworms were offered to its inhabitants, and, cast after cast, bites ensued. Roach, perch around 12 ounces, then a river best (though far from exceptional example) of 1-1-3 battled and failed to get under the decomposing but, at the same time, high water-animated rush stems. Then another roach before the closing gloom of the evening pushed me back to my prepared bread swim to engage in the last rites of the angling day at the head of an awkward to access shallow gravel run


Last weekend I had been buzzed by a tawny owl elsewhere on the river just minutes after briefly observing its barn-dwelling cousin hunting over rank bankside vegetation. An incoming message from mission control had lit me up in the dark and the enquirer came for a closer look, delaying his fly-by with a brief hover and eventually alighting over my left shoulder until, as I reached for the camera he slipped with the flow and out of sight. This week was to be little different, a male buzzard had landed in bare branches on the opposite bank but soon realised there was a bigger predator already here and silently flapped north and away from this imposter but, as darkness fell and before the evening hoot commenced, another tawny owl swept in from behind willows to my right and settled ten metres in front of me. This time I managed to reach the camera but the owl, wiser than I and fearful as to survive, saw this as an invitation to drift back from whence he appeared and to my horror the gadget slipped from my grasp, bounced down the grassy bank and settled part-submerged in the water. As I write it sits upside-down, stripped-down as much as is possible, next to a radiator – in hope, whether vain or not is yet to be revealed

Although another two small roach were quite taken with the bread after dark the swim wasn’t ‘right’ and I decided to tidy-away and weigh the perch with a heavy dew coating everything at hand


Next week. There's always next week.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Bread head to Zed head


In the dim and distant, the short stretch of canal ventured to this dull dawn would occasionally produce a cupro-nickel adorned weight in local matches but it's rush-fringed banks flattered very much to deceive the matchman of yesteryear. The best catch I recall was around three pounds of silver skimmers and often in winter matches catches were limited to those in the range of twelve ounces to a pound and a half; summer ones were often won of the farthest end peg, with the colour dropped out of the water overnight and the nervy inhabitants pushed-along with anglers' footsteps

I have passed these pegs and failed to be drawn-in by their long forgotten potential ten, or maybe a dozen, times in the past 2 years but this very day lax and amnesic events, in equal measure, lead to camp being set-up slap-bang in the middle of that very place

A new pole, over-gunned with new fangled puller bungs and heavy duty elastic, was the draw to the canal as a post-purchase test waggle and the option to use the travel Avon quiver was there as back-up if the worms had survived a five weekdays in the car

The freak event was threefold. Last Sunday I managed to step 6 inches left of where I have sat many a time over the past two winters and went up to my left thigh in the River Leam. Fortunately it wasn't too cold and I managed to fish-on for an hour in wrung out clothes before the masking effects of three small fish and the flask started to wear-off and I felt it was starting to get silly. So the wellies went into the porch to dry and consequently were left behind when departing for the canal today, which with the benefit of hindsight was good, as I have since discovered they were still soaking. The result of this little distraction was that I had to walk to the peg in my Scarpas which was okay to a point; the point being reached when water started to seep in which also happened to coincide with the aforementioned rushy bend

As is so often the case now the banks were unfished and unkempt so a little gap was sought and one or two strategic stems bent over to allow access for shipping the matt finished, yet super-slippery, beast in and out, aided by a neatly positioned remnant of fence behind. Investment in end caps for all of the four largest joints enabled roving with the smallest pole for the job and even though we had inherited some savage looking elastic the experiment had to be completed to understand the difference between the usual no6 and this stuff, the like of which I last saw on It's a Knock-out (albeit everyone on that show may well now be banged-up for all I know, or care) whereas this stuff certainly wasn't going to be taking any prisoners if indeed the hook held through it's apparently fearful red power

Obviously to the pre-summer (self-imposed close season) reader the actual method wasn't going to change as big roach would be the initial quarry closely followed by perch on the worm if circumstances pointed that way. So three handfuls of mashed bread, crusts and all, hit the surface with a splosh and a splat 10m out and there the float sat with quite massive pastry-cuts of sliced bread on the hook and it wasn't until we'd got down to the 20mm disc that bites occurred you wont be surprised to hear. The first one pulled-out and I immediately blamed the elastic of course. Second one was not in the same bracket though and staunchly drew 8 or 9 inches out of the sadly stumpy tip (no1's still awaited). This was a fish with the right attitude but not that of hybrid, and not the slovenliness of a bronze bream. It certainly felt like a roach, and it was. A good one. It proved a worthy adversary as it hit the near shelf trying to take full advantage of every overhanging root, stem and branch in striving for it's William Wallace. It did fail, for the time being though, despite the lightest of hooking in it's upper, outer lip.


1-4-6 of battling beauty
The first boat passed at 07.30 just half an hour after dawn and this fish followed, closely chased by another at just under a pound, before the traffic rendered the channel a less than attractive option but, soon, a corvid-powered fracas drew the attention across the damp pasture to the far hedge where a female sparrowhawk was pursued my the mob until she found shelter within a suitably dense hawthorn and they resorted to gathering on nearby posts, wires and dead branches until they lost interest, and drifted back to their morning ground-level foraging as ravens wheeled and tumbled overhead

Four lobs were chopped and introduced under a nearside overhanging ash to my right and whole lobs on a size 6 with a single swan link dropped in after them. Bites came in an instant and it soon became noticeable that the fighters were down the shelf not under the actual bush

 
The first fish put up a tremendous fight, a perch of 1-6-14, and from that moment forward the tip was regularly twanging with perch and then a burst of lost fish when, every time, the lob had wrapped over the hook point! Soon though a heftier specimen with an altogether deeper, more doughty action and the, now familiar, rasping of line along it's erect dorsal as it twisted beyond sight. A zander predictably flashed at the surface and a p.b.-nudger it appeared too. Unusually in my experience of North Oxford Canal zander it indulged in some surface thrashing before flopping into the submission position for netting. These fish are always immaculately presented, confirming their rapid ascent to top predator role in this devastated, devastating and still evolving ecosystem

2-11-14 was 14 drams over the previous p.b. and it certainly made the
net for rounder fish forms up to 4lbs look somewhat inadequate 
It was clearly the case that these fish wanted a large bait and two lobs brought instant responses from the sail-finned mercenaries of murk. Two or three undoubtedly bigger fish simply let go of bunches of worms with the hook fully masked by flesh of worm, one of them was really solid but remains untroubled, perhaps to fall on future quests

Soon a flock of sipping and churring long-tailed tits were all around, then just as suddenly. silent and gone; leaving just the ubiquitous wren to fill the morning with his tnt-sponsored song

What started with the bread head on as a roach session to test the pole (and brought forward some very useful information) became an equally, if not more, enlightening zander event and has set the mind racing in the manner only the real world can


An experimental 10-15-0 mixed bag was about half the potential given the prey on (and off) the hook during the four hours' activity and should have blown the previous 13lbs-odd NOXC record well and truly out of the water, but the fact it didn't makes it all the more enticing and the p.b. zander with top ten canal perch and roach make me wonder why so much time has been spent on a low and clear river to date

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Pleasure of the Gloom


The deep-bend's resident pipistrelle fluttered blinking into the light at its usual time on Sunday night but didn't hang around (sorry!), heading towards the village and no doubt the insects around and over its streetlights. The tawny's were particularly vocal; the male too-it, too-ooing and female shrieking across the little valley that seems to have become my own over the past two winters. Not so much my own at present though as late developing river anglers busily create pegs like badgers digging setts and reaping new bedding. No doubt the frosty weather to come will thin them out though and the armchair swims they have created will be welcome then for the winter, if only as clean areas where fish might shelter in floods!

Kingfisher, jackdaw and raven, lesser black-backed gull and canada goose plus the ever-present woodpigeon flew over or by as the wait for a greater level of darkness was warmed by the flask and punctuated by the occasional comical broken-voiced bleating of sheep as they sought comfort for the night

The stream hadn't fished well today but there were odd fish to be had. At dawn an early chub just under two pounds brightened proceedings but the supporting act peaked at just a four ounce roach and a dace of similar maturity

Four swims were tried, with two of those newly and carefully made without full exposure to the quarry, in strategic spots, but running a float through was rendered all but impossible in most due to the lack of flow associated with such a long dry period


The decision was (eventually) made to return in the evening when four swims were primed with some bread feed, two of the swims were further new ones and neither mustered so much as a single fish, just a few taps of the tip, whereas those that were fished in the morning produced a few little roach and then, well beyond sunset I glanced away from the tip when mashing some more bread only to revert to the betalite illuminated tip to catch it in a fearful curve and disappearing under the water among the rushes!


There was clearly no need to strike, it was simply a case of clinging-on and thankfully the fish, while a bit of a bruiser, did not retaliate particularly wildly and was soon in the waiting net. At 3-5-2 however it usurped last weeks brace and moved into 2nd place in this river's list behind a fish of 3lbs 13ozs getting on for two years ago (he must be a four pounder by now!) but soon after a rig lost on a snag was enough to draw the evening to an abrupt conclusion and off we trotted with the owls still ringing in my ears




Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Start



It's that time of year again

Peak season and yet I am having to force myself to get out there having not set foot on the bank, rod and reel in hand, since May. The spring trip to the Highlands and the end of the school summer holidays being the markers for an instinctively respected close season

Three trips to our local small stream have produced very little piscatorial excitement but a rather wider range of mammalian entertainment has helped things along and in the process pegs have been created in otherwise dense nettle and rush. Top for amusement was a persistent little chap fighting his way through the waterside vegetation at dusk like a small unseen cartoon character in a wheat field; when his head and, eventually, his whole body appeared after some half hours' scurrying, the shape of a brown rat was more than a little disappointing when I had gone from mink to polecat to stoat in my mind of possibilities. "Boo hiss scum bag, get back in the rushes, it's my bread", I disrespectfully suggested

Juvenile reed bunting. Intrigued at my presence

The wild seems rather more lively than it was this time in the previous two years but then I had not taken to the river bank on those occasions when the canal seemed more appropriate. Not so this time around, although I do believe that might change in a few weeks.

A barn owl swung round the bottom tree hole like a giant moth as the rat charged around. I crept up the bank but it was already gone, odd though it seemed; then a sudden crack and unowl-like noise as it lifted off with an unstruggling snack in its grasp and settled on the old gate to devour it, out of view



A family of swans could, despite their muteness, be heard to shuffle for positional comfort behind midstream rushes to my right. Six of them there had been two weeks ago when I took my accomplice Parps and the The Dog, who was briefly visiting, to suss-out the state of 'our stretch'

In the descending gloom one evening Parps plucked the landowners exclusive rights letter from my pocket as we sat deep among the rushes, more in search of a little interest than anything else, then he scanned the rod licence receipts which stated that they would be issued within 10 days...bought in March, still waiting. At least we have the proof. And then there was the 'proper' licence, a book, that enables us to fish a longer stretch of our favourite little river. They always fascinated me too, the venue maps, the match dates, the record fish, the old-fashioned sounding officials' names. Now at the tender age of 12 he suddenly qualified for them all

Tremendous colouration on this clear stream perch

I've also been pondering the syndicate water and a somewhat brash and successful bid on a pole on eBay did little to arrest my burgeoning drive to pursue the angle

....

Now, some three weeks and around six trips later, nothing much was to report on the hook. Chub to 1-14-5, roach to ten ounces with the highlight undoubtedly a dazzling dace of 5 ounces 14 drams, a proper little beauty on free-lined bread. A lot of small topping fish were evident but the stream was low as it gets and quite clear encouraging predatory perch and pike to strike where deeper pools existed



A perfect photo opportunity presented itself as a kingfisher settled 8m in front of me on one occasion but as I started to reach for the camera the inability to resist striking at a sudden bite got the better if me. That presented an interesting little conundrum, does that mean I actually prefer fish to birds? Well it's probably more that a trap was set and then tripped that made the bite so unavoidably enthralling as compared to the prospect of a kingfisher picture I suspect. In fact I know


Then just this last Sunday evening a quick-fire evening session when three swims not too distant were primed with a total of six slices of bread and then rotated 20 minutes each, at a time when daylight would be limited by the onset of dusk, formed the entertainment

The first of these was a narrow, busy little glide immediately upstream of, and feeding directly into, my favourite winter peg, which, as yet, is completely overgrown. At about four feet wide it ain't no big river peg but there was always the chance of a single decent fish before the necessity of the chaos surrounding its capture forced one to move on

Getting the bait in place was a challenge but, hiding below the tips of the rushes and flowering water bistort, a lump of flake was neatly flicked sideways into the bulrush-lined and punctuated channel, gravel imagined below

One thing obvious in this late summer escapade has been the positivity of the bites as compared to winter, especially from roach, they are all but unmissable, yet all but unhittable beyond November

The tip pulled quite hard and a strike met with reasonable resistance and a bit of a battle until, clinging-on and giving nothing, given the swim, a good roach popped into the waiting new landing net (all we need now is a decent handle), he weighed 0-11-14 and was a welcome start



Prior to baiting the swims I had chatted to an even less bedecked angler than myself who had been freelining lobs to good effect in the afternoon sun, taking some nice chub, roach and perch plus, he suspected, a couple of small zander but, having thought it through since, I suspect they may have been ye olde daddy ruffe

Second peg was a former cattle drink, now overgrown, and a favourite for a single good fish when conditions and extant vegetation suit. Barely had the hook hit the deck when the tip formed an animated arc followed immediately by the kind of aquatic commotion reserved only for chub. Hit and hold did the trick and the fella's rubbery lips appeared from amid the nearside rushes to find the greenery of the net. Scales applied, he went a nice 2-15-14, just a ha'penny short of 3lbs and the best of the short campaign thus far



Peg three was to be the one I fished into dark having fed it further before settling into the cattle drink. It was an awkward lie, in fact lying would probably have been a better bet had I been blessed with something to lie on

A gentle glide of around 5m wide across to a long bulrush bed opposite with some submerged cabbages inside was always looking good for a quality fish before sloping-off indoors. A rapid series of taps ending in a gentle pull brought a three ounce roach to hand and on dropping back in very close under my feet, so to speak, a gentle but determined bend was pulled into the tip by another fighter which, with less in the way of danger to navigate, was given a little more time before being drawn to rest. This one was a little more full of frame than the first (which surely would have gone 3.4.0 to 3.8.0 midwinter) and a very similar weight at 2-13-8. He was gently returned via the net to recover and find his way back into the flow



Knowing the evening's action would be brief in such restricted swims I decided to return to the cattle drink but, true to form, it produced nothing else and I hit the road to indulge in some Heavy Soul...how such brilliance could have eluded me for so long is beyond me, ruffling my old feathers for sure. Did you think I should?


References:
Heavy Soul - Paul Weller, Island Records, 1997
Peacock Suit - Paul Weller, Go Discs, 1996

Saturday, 3 May 2014

What Constitutes a Good Day?


An impromptu possibility Wednesday morning was ignited by a somewhat startled little owl standing on the edge of the road as I headed out, remarkably blotchy bundles of feathers that they are. If a silverfish was an omen last time out surely this could be one this time, or so I had hoped

I figured that owl was worth about 25% of what could be considered a good day

A peg was selected that The Old Duffer used to frequent prior to his canal angling retirement. Relatively narrow but with a vegetated natural bank across and grass neatly manicured by fluffy, big eared, powder-puff-tailed Roman imports to sit on

A lot of small fish were topping and the bird song was almost so prolific as to make some of the species i.d. confused by the noise

Little happened initially and I fed another swim in a marina mouth as Plan B after about half an hour, having wet a line at about 5.30am. On returning to the swim and casting in the lump of punched bread the float did some strange gyrations and a two ounce roach had somehow managed to swallow a bait about four times the size of its mouth. A few casts later a similar thing occurred but this time it felt like a good-sized fish but without much much fight, it soon appeared near the surface. A black shape from the depth of reasonably clear water and those curvy fins unmistakable as a tench. Only the third I had ever seen from this cut, having taken two back at new year 2013...and suddenly, on seeing me, it took flight...then it was interesting! The nearside shelf soon became clouded as the slippery customer sought refuge in it's silty bed, and among rocks and roots beneath my feet. First one way then the other but somehow it was possible to limit the line it took and the baited area was not ploughed through. After what seemed quite a few minutes, but probably wasn't, the fish tired and was drawn towards the, suddenly tiny looking, big roach net


This took the percentage of a good day up to 80% minimum on the joint ticket of rarity and size

Overhead a pair of warblers, possibly chiffchaffs, chased wildly over the water perhaps in shared celebration of the capture resulting in one actually hitting the surface but managing to shake itself clear and escaping into the bushes, only to be pursued again

A trot along to the other peg indicated a serious infestation of crayfish with fine fizzing bubbles covering the still canal top over the fed area and sure enough the action under the water confirmed it. After a few minutes it was decided to return to the first peg but to little avail

The temptation of a never before fished area the other side of the nearby road bridge grew greater and, as I made my way there, the paleness of the far shelf was evident in this tree-lined darker cutting contrasting with the relative open airiness of the starting area. Soon after introducing both bait and feed a hand-sized silver bream obliged and was reintroduced to the water some fifty yards to the right

Then, an unusual event for this canal, a genuine bow-wave of a far side fish off the edge of trailing brambles. Seconds later a dark shape drifted in the same direction under my nose. A three pound fish. Species unknown.

Within seconds a positive bite, as a blackcap struck-up its liquid song in opposing scrub, and a more than decent fight. Again unusually for the canal the need to allow the centre-pin to give line off the ratchet took hold as this powerhouse fish took flight. What could it be, another springtime mega-hybrid perhaps?

No delayed confirmation this time however as the first time the fish broke the surface, not something I encourage of course(!), it exposed it's whole self to view as its flank gleamed that of a massive chub. A CHUB!

Only a week or so ago a friend asked if this, to all intents, crude bread fishing method ever caught any carp. Well the answer was 'no' (as they are not numerous in the canal and I tend to fish it down the middle, whereas canal carp of course tend to patrol far bank shelter) but it has to be said that an undoubtedly, by sight, three pound plus fish far outweighed any canal carp I might, or rather might not, have caught

I'm sure I will have stated this before but north oxford canal chub are, while statistically less rare that tench, very, very uncommon. In the 1990's there was one peg on some brambles where they would very occasionally show, some five or six miles east, but I don't recall anything above a two pounder and, other than that only two fish spring to mind, one around a pound and one just under two above Hillmorton Locks

This fish only just fitted the net and as the connection, pole to net thread, was somewhat dodgy I lifted the net itself with two hands from the water...and wondered.


Three nine it went, three nine. I keep repeating myself. Did I say it was three nine?

All those hours spent chasing River Leam chub and here was one, dare I say, caught by accident from the bloomin' cut that would sit second on that river list! What a beauty though and as chunky as a tin of pedigree chum...with scales

So, as by this time we were up to around 150% of a good day, 'one more cast' was risked. A proper and surprisingly quite instant bite after the commotion brought a roach of half an ounce under the pound into the bizarre early morning equation. This alone would have been 20-25% of a good day under normal circumstances.


As I mused my way back home, and ultimately to work, I pondered the conundrum; although football managers believe it is possible to have more than 100% of something the rest of the sane world realises this is impossible, but had it been achieved this exceptional morning?

'No!', I decided...it must have been 100% of a very good day, very good indeed.