Sunday, 30 March 2014

Spring Wound Decided Tight

 The dawn chorus was at aspirin pitch and the first visiting Chiffchaff chirped out his monotonous yet evocative song among the myriad jubilant voices

The first rippled and later plate glass aquatic plateau joining wooded bank to a still winter-muddied footpath was conversely mysteriously still

Eventually a small perch was tempted to try to steal a massive collection of gentles but that was all, and soon, before the unavoidable rising sun impacted events, a new perch of my own was sought

This time song thrush and goldfinch respectively repeated and twittered their way through the early morn in the revised location but with again no life under the surface it seemed

Then the distinct 'clop' of a topping roach. A good size, not huge, but big enough to whet the thereforeto diminishing appetite

Soon enough after, as a Dunnock struck up its brief warble in the hedge that now hinted at the greenery to follow as a backdrop, a companion of that excited fish was on. It felt a good one

A new rod is like a new bat to the cricketer. Cherished and perfect for the job in the mind but would it be in the action? Good in the shop is no guarantee of anything in the spotlight of the battle. All of the old gear, light and lighter still, 11' and 13' models, soft and not so soft, had now been slowly discarded and an immaculate 12' imposter installed in their wake

The curve superb, the strength understated, the tip to middle bend giving young rutilus more than a run for his money.

0-14-2 he went, a touch dishevelled on the one side but now the hope of more was set-in

Then the idiocy not experienced for many a year as Misty Blue tore past taking the towpath with it and pushing the Severn bore equivalent to the fore

Words were exchanged, not with the culprit but with CRT. The rest will be history

A distinct, though surprisingly not deathly, cloud grew from the depths and within minutes those finicky residents became confident breakfasting beasts. We were in again, this time a weightier fight and the rod curved deeper into the butt section cushioning every nod and run of the fish without a sign of risk of a hook pull. At last the ideal tool identified, purchased and in use. This one was 1-1-3 but a touch challenged in the propulsion department with some damage to its back leaving only part of a lucky Nemo-esque dorsal fin intact on this slightly foreshortened version of man's best fish

Another quickly followed at around 11 ounces before the coloured reverted to clear and all was still again

What prospect a raked swim one wonders? What prospect indeed?

The trio of tasty roach
24 hours later, or was it 23, or even 25?, I can't work it out, it was time to unleash 'project lift bite' on a stretch of the Grand Union. I had fished here last at the age of twenty-odd, some twenty-odd years ago then, and it was hard but there were tales, and no doubt tails, of bream (together with the rest of the fish one would assume) to be had if one were to walk that bit further and, being bedecked with very little kit, that would not present a problem

I had recalled reedmace and rush beds on the inside of the canal here and, sure enough, they still remained so I set-up in the first gap on what was quite a wide stretch to fish just near-side of middle and introduced three hands-full of bread mash

What ensued could only be described as instant chaos. There were so many fish in the swim initially that the float never settled as the line was being battered constantly by fins and bodies except when registering a bite with extravagant runs and severe lifts. Yes, spring was here

Apart from the best canal catch since returning to the sport at 13lbs 12ozs the other first was three great crested grebe on the canal. Now it was clearly and literally stuffed with fish as they were topping right, left and centre so the fact they were taking advantage of that was no surprise but that they were happy to swim by an angler was another matter given their reluctance to come too close on stillwaters

The first twenty or so casts resulted in this little lot:

 ..and then it died. I was home again by 9am

Hybrids to 2-8-0, bronze bream to 2-2-0, roach to 11ozs, silver bream 10ozs and one little rudd. Most enjoyable!

First decent silver bream for quite some while
Bream dna in all of these but the hard fighting hybrid, top centre, was the fish of the day
Yes, spring is without doubt sprung!!

Friday, 28 March 2014

The Big Roach Session

Canals with natural banks, I love 'em, but not so good for big fish on the North Oxford as they are shallow across
Having been introduced to an area known to be inhabited from time to time by giant canal roach by Lure of Angling host Danny Everitt some months ago it was time to give it another go, or two

First time round, with Danny hauling out zander at a pound and half a throw, the cut was very clear but this time it seemed touch more coloured, not perfect for the bread flake method but certainly better, and on arrival the sight of roach topping to the left of the access point was comforting, albeit they weren't near where I had intended to fish

Sadly the bread line was plagued with crayfish that constantly dragged the bait around and pulled on the line. After not very much experience it is quite easy to tell the cray-bites from the fish. This time however I had a roachified back-up plan and had been introducing casters to my right, quite heavily in fact for a canal but given that these fish seem to start at well in excess of a pound it didn't seem wrong

In my canal angling past perch were seen largely as makeweights but were very rarely fished for specifically and the only times I could recall taking a net on casters could be counted on the fingers of one finger. This however was not only a quality roach venue but also a cracker for perch and, in fact, the venue of my own canal PB. So I shouldn't really have been surprised when I had couple of good predators of the spiked and striped variety by presenting three shells on a fine wire 14 and a super delicate dibber rig with just 5no12 shot down the line in the deeper water

On weighing they were deceptively light as I was convinced they would trouble the PB but they were nevertheless good canal fish at 1-12-8 and 1-11-13. These were backed up by another fighter at 1-0-8 plus five fish of around the 3-6oz bracket comprising also roach and a hybrid

Wednesday, with rain forecast later, I thought I'd try it again and intended to approach the bread method a little more gently on the feed. It seemed to work, eventually, with a scarred bream of 1-14-6 producing a very rutiloid lift bite but, being too ploddy in the fight, he was sussed, if not landed, soon after he was hooked.

But, bread-wise, that was that, so it was back to the casters but closer-in this time. Again heavily fed but with two or three red maggots capped with a caster on the hook this time, and more peas in the perca pod ensued. 10 fish for around 10lbs were banked in three hours but capped by four fish for pretty well exactly 7lbs

That evening I fancied another go between the cold storms in a dreaded easterly breeze, and hard it most certainly was with one 6oz hybrid on double red maggot and an equally sized by fungus-laden bream on bread before darkness sent me scuttling back past the emergency 24 hour potter's boat, thank god for him

This latter visit was a strangely enjoyable session to a never-before fished 1/4 mile stretch against all the odds of weather, fading light, no previous knowledge and, as the session wore on and the breeze subsided to nothing, a lack of topping fish and yet that challenge of 'extracting fish from a puddle' was somehow more enjoyable than the perch brothers had been earlier in the day

Lights in the distance now prominent in the fading light. Fishing against the piled bank in the hope of greater depth
Bird of the day? Well there were two; a very characterful mallard duck in the a.m., the job of which it seemed was to announce the arrival of food to other waterbirds and to inspect anglers' floats for signs of being animate; in the p.m. a drake mallard which spent it's time as darkness descended zigzagging down the canal, bank to bank, presumably surveying it's newly set-up territory for imposters

So, not having tracked-down canal roach in any numbers since the end of the river season there is work to do yet but with all this cold rain and hail I think we'll be sticking to canals this coming weekend too

Monday, 17 March 2014

Three Fingers of Close Season Red-eye

With such an entertaining river season behind us but not forgotten the prospect of lake fishing seemed somewhat tame by comparison but, with other commitments, it was the only logical step

The forecast seemed good predicting a mild day with a westerly breeze and cloud until mid-afternoon on Sunday. The next in a string of mild warm days

That being the case, and recalling that tench do not respond to heavy bombardments of feed, half a pint of casters were introduced into eleven feet of water on Saturday evening together with a few red maggots. At this time the moon was glimmering like a white sun across the rippling surface and illuminating the expanding concentric rings of the fly larvae and pupae sprayed on the water

The following morning, to keep things simple, a version of the lift-bite method that had been deployed on the canal for the past two seasons, which took some setting-up in that depth, was adopted with two red maggots stopped onto a barbless 14 with a red rubber one

The bird life was quite a distraction and I knew things were heading in the right direction as a pair of great crested grebe took up residence in a 20 yard radius of the swim indicating that the feed had attracted small fish

Three head-banging perch around the 8-10 ounce mark were soon in the net after a 8am start (yes, I know...well the alarm was set for 5.30 but for the wrong day. At least I'll be up early on Wednesday!) and, as I have very little confidence in still-water angling whatsoever due to a general lack of experience of it, I was somewhat surprised to get such an early response

The forecast had been proven to be somewhat awry as the sky was largely blue with the sun on the water from the moment of arrival. This was brought home when a large flock of gulls drifted up from the east over the canal towards me and then slid-off to the south. These birds, which would have roosted in their thousands at Draycote Water, brought my attention to a small thin area of cloud that slowly moved across the sun

Immediately a heftier fish was on. Not having caught many net-able still-water fish other than roach and bream, and those not for many years, it felt perhaps like another perch but much bigger. The challenge of small stream chub had taught the technique of allowing the rod to do all of the work and not giving any line; this stood me in good stead this time too, albeit it with a fifteen foot inherited power match rod through the rings of which the line creaked and whined, as a dark olive/bronze flank turned on the surface by the end of the keepnet, the target snared. This fish was not going to trouble the best lake tench taken from gravel pits under more challenging circumstances back in the '80's of 3-14-0 but it would run that one fairly close. It was quickly followed by another of a very similar size, the two went 3-7-13 and 3-8-14.

The cloud was still across the sun as I was distracted by a wader rising erratically high into the sky from the opposing phragmites bed. The second member of the pair of snipe became visible too until they careered off to the north in their excitement. As the gaze reverted to the float it immediately lifted with intent and this time a notably weightier specimen battled against the odds. It was soon close to the net but persevered in it's desire to escape delaying the netting process for a short while but, soon enough, it was beaten and at 4-6-14 it would certainly trouble the unexpectedly caught PB from the French Drove drain in the 90's, a fish taken on a 3.5m whip and a 26 hook in the flukiest match win I can recall that tipped the organiser's dial scales at 4-7-0. 2 drams I ask you, but this one wasn't 4-7-0 and that is that

Soon after the sun reappeared and bites ended apart from another 10 ounce perch

I called The Lady Burton and she brought the boy wonder over to help weigh the fish. We got the hurry-up from the bailiff at this point but the fish were shielded from the sun and not out of the water any longer than necessary for the obligatory weigh-in and blog-shot

In weighing the catch we noticed a group of small bright blue irridescent beetles on detached dead bulrush stalks as they emerged from their hibernation and became increasingly active in the spring conditions

We are not blessed with big fish waters in the Feldon landscape but to tease few good fish from relatively difficult naturalised venues which are bigger than the average stamp is a quest that will continue to provide amusement in a Peter Stone-type manner for some time to come I am sure, but why are the fish not as heavy here as in some other parts of the country one may ask? I believe it may be a geological issue but more of that some other time

Friday, 14 March 2014

My Back End. A Resume of the End of the River Fishing Season

My back-end.

Wednesday the mist quite literally descended on another coarse season, at least for this angler, and, as the greens begin to emerge through the browns, what is certain is that 30 years ago, when he last regularly set foot on riverbanks, he would rarely have found himself there in winter and even less likely in floods, preferring the alternative challenge of a canal to the liquid soil that is the inundated natural watercourse

That anyone ever endeavoured to discover what is now known about the good possibility of catching fish under such circumstances is beyond comprehension, but do it they did, probably due to the need to eat in prehistory, and now we are able to take advantage of that knowledge

For only two weeks of this winter has the River Leam been at its 'normal' winter level and yet the catches this angler has enjoyed have been of great interest, even if only to himself. At times, were it not for proof elsewhere, one might have wondered whether 'normal' level meant flush with the tops of the banks.

So the past couple of weeks, with the river quickly reaching a comfortably fishable state and the fish, according to the textbooks, undoubtedly ravenously feeding, a number of visits needed to be made before the opportunity slipped away and, on next inspection, the river banks would be chest-high in vegetation and the channel awash with rushes.

At this point we need to remember that my now favourite small river is no Trent of the '80's either in size, species variety, fish population or any other respect apart from holding water for that matter. It's fish are also quite difficult to catch.

Every available opportunity to get on the Leam's banks has been taken over the past two weeks and some of the best roach and chub fishing of the season within the above constraints has been there to enjoy.

 A last week catch. Chub to 3-1-11, Roach to 0-11-10.
One surprising aspect of the winding course is its depth in certain pegs. In some pegs the river is all-but as deep as it is wide and, bearing in mind that a 6 foot deep peg this week would have been 11-12 feet deep a month ago, Parps and I were staggered as we fished into dark to find the margins alive with fry in our headlamps. How could they have survived a period of five months of extreme raised levels one might ask, but then we do have to recall that these species have been around far longer than we have and they might just have evolved some coping mechanisms by now. Even armed with that knowledge it still seems incredible however.

So we've tried a few new things over the past few days...Parps tried fluorescent pinkies in white bread groundbait but only succeeded in catching minnows, but, as a new species to him, he was mildly amused by that. At the same time it has been impossible to catch roach on a float with bread flake whereas they could be caught with a static bait so long as one was prepared to wait for the hittable bites among the taps of fish pulling crumbs off the hook bait. That has been entertaining too but the main lesson to be drummed home by a concerted period of attention to the river has been that short sharp attacks on the unsuspecting inhabitants are by far the best approach. After two or three hours things start to tail-off and cannot be resurrected in its limited confines; this, combined with the obvious peak times at dawn and dusk, provides some obvious answers.

The short stretch that we now have exclusive rights to has proven unfishable quite regularly but the past couple of weeks have produced a couple of chub at just under and just over 2lbs and it currently further adds weight (sorry) to the conclusion that a two pound chub is very much the standard and one over three pounds seem to me to be a good'un. I wonder if anyone else has any contemporary experiences to compare with that on this lightly-fished watercourse?

2 pounders above and a three pounder below
After two seasons, or winters in reality, on the river much has been learnt and a simple effective approach while travelling light has been settled-upon...and then just yesterday a guy comes down to try drop-shotting, now there's an idea!

So, what next then? Well, literally next, we are back to canals and the odd appropriately naturalised still-water including the syndicate water, which to date has been baffling largely due to heavy colour which should be dropping out now, but, as far as river fishing goes, there is a distinct temptation to extend the stretches of the Leam we can access beyond that currently available to us come next season, so that needs further investigation.

For this angler though the highlight of the river season was the very last thing to happen.

At 7.15pm fishing in heavy mist that had descended unnoticed in the infrared glow of my head-torch, and very little other than odd micro-dace-like taps on the tip to amuse me and apart from trying to identify night flying birds by call...and failing, there was a splash and slopping sounds just down to my right, As the positioning was adjusted to gain a view a quite huge curving dark shape broke the reflection of the sky on the silvering surface. As it cruised past just four metres or so in front of my eyes the finest sight since the (too oft mentioned) two pound canal roach formed in words in my mind - a quite massive dog otter had entered the water from its daytime lie right next to me and headed south down the river. This was one camera opportunity I could not miss, but miss it I did; as I reached for it this superior predator, and survivor of 5000 years of human persecution, dived in an instant panic of self-preservation to resurface downstream past a concealing bush at which distance it was too dark to get a focus and the chance was lost

The scene through which it swam
How long before the next bite? Fifteen minutes.

Thursday, 6 March 2014


A crisp overnight frost had turned the usually hideously wet towpath into something approaching solid ground as I made my way towards canal-sized bronze bream heaven

I hasn't revisited this area, another wide bend, since snaffling two unseasonal tench two New Years' ago

No big roach had been taken here before and I fancied a go at canal bream on the pole and bread flake

The rising field opposite would shield water from the morning sun somewhat later than more exposed areas and, knowing the sunlight immediately turns the bigger fish off, a few more minutes activity could be looked forward to than had the decision been made to fish elsewhere on a day promising blue skies

As it happened in the event a creeping thin blanket of cloud kept bright sunlight away but nevertheless there was also the likelihood of boat traffic and that would cause a similar result with a low population of good-sized fish that seem distinctly reticent to suffer daylight and disturbance

On arrival some bread was soaked before setting-up and the bottom of the far shelf was found at 10.5m where three blobs of mash were hurled across to the spot. No need to cup them as spreading it around a square metre or so is preferable when seeking big fish

Second put-in what felt like a bumped fish (crays were also present) could easily have scuppered the whole session, given that they are necessarily brief, but then genuine surprise as the orange and black cane-tipped float neatly rose out of the water and we were into a good fish, somewhat plodding and bream-like in its action

As it approached the location of the net the no6 elastic failed me somewhat and the fish, now identified as a roach well up there on the biggest canal specimens chart, bombed around under my feet until it eventually tired sufficiently to be drawn into submission

Not the tidiest of fish with a mark on one side and many discoloured scales but tipping the scales at 1-5-2 it stood seventh on the all-time FF&F canal list and the first decent canal roach for some months of course

Again the biggest fish came first and was all-but followed by one that slipped the hook just three inches from the net of around the pound. Two skimmers around 12 ounces and a half-pound hybrid came later, interspersed by a further nice roach of 0-13-11

At times the bird song was deafening with a good number of species all in full voice at the same time but only skylark was really of any interest.

The first boat predictably killed-it and, despite also feeding a line at 6m on the inside of the bend, no more bites came and the car called when the second boat appeared half an hour later (which bizarrely sounded its horn but I had found my alarm clock quite successful too and was well awake by then, the roach made sure of that!

Wednesdays are now the day as, on Doctors orders, I have to relax...what a shame, all that time by the water. So where to go in the afternoon?

The rivers were dropping and looking at the Env Ag website the Leam looked promising and I knew from now quite extensive experience on the short stretch I have fished that roach would be keenly biting there too

Wandering the whole field one accessible peg stood-out as offering the steadiest flowing least turbulent water. Precisely the sort the roach would settle into and so the usual idea of baiting numerous swims was deserted and just the one concentrated upon

Like the North Oxford Canal the River Leam in its middle reaches above Leamington  Spa is not exactly alive with fish but there are usually some better specimens to be enjoyed with a careful attitude.

A topper and centre-pin produced nothing in the first hour but then a change to a link-leger produced instant bites and a two perfect roach of 12 and 11 ounces graced the net. The larger fish are usually the only ones to provide hittable bites and so it proved as I fished-on into dark amid the barking muntjac, hooting owls and mystery unseen plops.

The session ended with four good roach but still, after two winters in their pursuit, still only the one over a pound

I am sure that a maggot approach would result in a wider catch of smaller fish but personally, until now, I have remained more interested in targeting the slightly bigger ones. This coming weekend being the last until June however tempts me to try it just to see what might be present...minnows, probably.