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:


Mend line, 
Refill catty pouch by touch,


Plop fish in net,


Refill pouch,

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



  1. 'Frosty banks are a great time for canal roach'.

    I can only add that snow on the already frosty banks is even better, George. If it hurts to unhook a fish then that's about right. The biggest roach I ever caught and the one that alerted me to the Oxfords' potential, very nearly caused me frostbite! Bring on a cold snap. Not so cold it freezes nine inches thick, mind. Just cat ice will do very nicely...

  2.'re a braver man than I then Jeff!