Friday, 18 April 2014

Going Back Again, Again and Somewhere New

5am bathroom floor, Lepisma saccharina, Silverfish. An omen? 
 This past weekend, with the house to prepare for estate agents, it was to be one or two pre-breakfast sessions followed by paint, plants, timber and turf

Saturday I peaked a little early and had time to wander well out into the wilderness before first light to a formerly favourite area prior to direct and easy access being cut-off. Walking until fish could be seen topping and then, having found them, deciding to carry-on a little further to a, then, favourite peg; albeit that was somewhat difficult to define with landmarks having been decimated in the past 20 years

This is a fascinating landscape with the ridge & furrow that lines so much of the eastern North Oxford Canal falling away into a gentle tree-lined valley. Just the kind of place I dream of living in a tiny thatched cottage with woodsmoke barely perceptively drifting across the shades of green...and then suddenly we're jolted back to the present as a large fish crashes to my left in a very non-roach-like manner. "Maybe bream have moved-in", was the thought, and, having introduced a fair helping of mash expecting instant action before the sun burnt-off the bites, another sizable fish topped. The big fish were here, but this was no big fish peg in the past; sure it held its share of what we described as 'bonus fish' in the old days but nothing over twelve ounces, and lots of them

Topping big roach
In went the float, and sat there. Then it twitched and dragged and twitched again. The mill-pool-perfect surface became like ginger beer as a crayfish troupe marched in and proceeded to jostle for crumbs, catching the nailed-on rig in their articulated armour and sending their tiny microtench-like bubbles to the surface


Eventually the float rose dramatically, as it does, and stayed there long enough for it not to be a signal of crayfish. A strike met with the somewhat frantic distress of a hybrid of something over a pound

Fish continued to intermittently top, one leaping fully clear of the water within two feet of the fed area; a roach around the pound mark. Although spawning fish had been sat amongst previously in the, now two-year, big roach campaign never had this kind of activity been witnessed. Usually it had been a bigger shoal of smaller fish constantly splashing around but in this area the cut is more of a channel than a bowl in cross-section and as such I suspect much of the activity occurs deeper down out of sight

Soon, a second bite and more challenging fight. This fish was, without being in anyway bream like, more sedate than the hybrid and, as big roach tend to, strove hard to disgorge itself in the remnant roots of ripped-out bank-side trees. Lively was not the word but netted at the third attempt it was

I knew this guy (I use the word 'guy' here not to suggest this fish was male but in the 'here's your meal guys' manner of waiters and waitresses these days to suggest neutral gender). I even knew the name, Francis Lee, and what he or she weighed 1-7-3 (although THE Francis Lee was male it could be a female name of course)

Now this was spooky and yet it only just dawned on me in writing this that I could be accused of sliding that slippery slope to knowing the names of the fish I am in pursuit of, but no, over 50 pound-plus canal roach now and this the first time I have suspected such an occurrence; so its going down as a fluky experience rather than a sign of being uber sad


Franny was weighed at 1-6-14. He or she'd lost some weight! Not only that but research showed it was caught from the same peg on exactly the same day last year and photographs appear to confirm that, yes, it probably was the same fish as can be seen here: http://floatflightflannel.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/going-back-for-more.html

This really is one chunky roach
This spring is far advanced on last year as the photographs of the barrel-chested attacking mid-water fish demonstrate. The shade of bank-side vegetation was straw-coloured in 2013 but this time it is already a lush green

I'd like to say the story ended there but no, the bites ended certainly but then I drifted into wonder if not wander-land and, having tidied-up, went further into the wilderness in pursuit of newly arrived migrants, mammal tracks and large topping fish...and got them all. Blackcap in full voice just a few feet away but could I see it in the burgeoning hawthorn?, no. Rabbit excavations, otter spraint and molehills. Another presumed big roach swirled a hundred yards on from the day's chosen peg

One more task then, as the sun came fully up suggesting an uncomfortable trot back in all the early-frost-proof thermal gear, to photograph a stand of wild cowslip between well-trod towing path and waters edge


At risk of boring the odd reader (are you odd?, that's not very nice is it?, but I leave you to decide), the next (Sunday) morning was equally and contrastingly engaging

There isn't much of the canal east of the Brinklow centre that I haven't fished but being caught out by the retreating time of sunrise I needed a short journey and, like most, the stretches nearest are those fished least so I headed off with a plan in mind only to find white van man in my parking space and peg, the cheek! Two bridges further on I started to walk back towards home and into the unknown, never had the peepers clapped on this wide and enticing bend but this general part of the canal had never been prolific, with the occasional skimmer and a few roach, and so the suspicion was that any bites would be precious. The morning was to prove equally avian as piscine however

The bird song is mind-blowingly loud and the challenge of reminding ourselves of, and sifting the sounds for, a diagnostic melody is upon us as the warblers arrive in series. Quite a nice list stacked-up but the unusually confiding pair of moorhens that joined me on the bank for a bread breakfast was the highlight. All anglers, canal or otherwise, will recognise the moorhen as a nervy bird more likely to avoid proximity to us than approach closely but not these two, oh no. "Okay, so what have got then?"' was clearly their motto and up they sidled and flicked until just 7 or 8 feet away and devouring bread-mash like a shoal of bream. Knowing glances were exchanged and photographs taken, of them that is, I assume they couldn't...well anyway, moving on...


Back in the water, pre-match pennants had been swapped in the form of three handfuls if mash deposited just short of centre, this being the outside of a bend, and, frankly, nothing happened...and the bird list grew

Soon though hiviz-clad wolf-lady approached from the left, really, really slowly, with two dogs way off in front, in fact by this time sniffing around my tackle (steady!) and nudging my elbows, etc., still she moved with the speed of a beached yellow submarine, staring at the ground. Closer she crept, the dogs jostled and trampled, 15 yards, in-ear headphones now visible, 10 yards, 8, 7, then "Whoah, sorry, I didn't see you. I was listening to my book and...! SORRY, really sorry, come-on you two!", Homer would have been proud at the demonstration of shock only he could have matched, and off they went, very, very slowly

Chiffchaffs and various finches, my second swallow of the year and jackdaws over head disturbed the ensuing silence when, looking back at the float (yes that was what I was here for!) it lifted and battle, some battle, commenced. Obviously I was using the new rod and starting to understand its capabilities but this was different. If it was a roach it was a record, if it was a bream it was on speed and if it was a tench it was nothing if not very unusual. It had to be the last fish to enter the equation, a hybrid, and of course we are into the period when in 2013 the big'uns showed in number and increasing magnitude just as they were about to

"Chiffchaff, chiffchaff, chiff", imaginative it ain't, evocative it is.
This was some fighter and it reminded me very much of a scrap between a mink and a large eel I witnessed on a backwater of the Great Ouse in the 70's, first one was on top and the eel was out on the bank then the other was on top and dragged the mink back in the water, no prizes for guessing the victor though and the same applied here as eventually even this three pound two ounce eleven dram specimen ran out of juice and slid over the rim and toward expectant scales. Brilliant, I almost love hybrids as much as real fish, almost

Suddenly the focus returned and so did the action, another outrageous lift bite, another outrageously hefty canal fish tussling under the water. Unmistakable by fight this time as a big old bream and, sure enough, he was and, with line wrapped around its pectoral fin, not at all easy to contain. In the net to which it only just fitted this was the archetypal old battle-worn fish with scars and a damaged dorsal to match, a survivor. The rod showed additional depth of strength this day and it really is the all-round perfect big canal fish model

Two ounce roach made to look like bait fish
I could go on and on, and on, ("You already have!", you may cry), so entertaining were these two mornings. I actually tried other pegs with further events involving jack russells, muntjac and jays ensuing but I'll stop here. Second biggest ever North Oxford Canal bronze bream, fourth biggest ever all-waters hybrid and seventh biggest NOxC roach in four hours of activity, you just can't beat this fishing lark can you?! April was the month last year and so it is proving again

Saturday bird list:
Chaffinch
Magpie
Mallard
Moorhen
Blackcap
Blue tit
Swallow
Cormorant (x3)
Greenfinch
Blackbird
Song thrush
Carrion crow
Rook
Woodpigeon
Chiffchaff
Reed bunting
Heron
Mistle thrush
Great tit
Wren
Robin
Pheasant
Green woodpecker
Goldfinch
Bullfinch
Jackdaw
Indet gull

Sunday bird list:
Chaffinch
Greenfinch
Goldfinch
Blue tit
Great tit
Wren
Moorhen
Mallard
Carrion crow
Jackdaw
Heron
Goldcrest
Stock dove
Woodpigeon
Pheasant
Robin
Blackbird
Song thrush
Rook
Great spotted woodpecker
Swallow
Blackcap
Chiffchaff
Jay
LBB gull
Silver bream
Roach
Muntjac
Rabbit

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Quiet Morning by the Water



First swallow today, so its now official

Best fish - a roach of 1-1-3, which was immediately pasted onto the Idler's Quest (is that guy Jeff Hatt dead we ask ourselves?!)/FF&F spreadsheet of pound-plus North Oxford Canal roach

 
The sun rose rather too sharply for the fishes liking this morning, and the action was over as soon as it began, with just two skimmers and two hybrids to add to the actual quarry

Skylarks were tentatively venturing into the air and running through snatches of their song and the farmer's wife ran the perimeters of all the fields opposite (twice) with a particularly wired spaniel as if in training for a marathon. 


Chaffinches sought territories around the ash trees.



A tremendous smell of fox emanated from one of the three pegs I tried and a remarkably heavy dew sparkled upon the tips of the grass in the early sunlight

 
A swan cleaned-up the remnant bread pellets that surfaced as I struck them off against phantom crayfish bites with one of the armoured critters making it to the top only to drop off, thankfully, as it witnessed the shock of daylight

 
Yes, you guessed it today is Wednesday and therefore fishing day. Well actually it was not because as The Lady Burton is in hospital Friday having an irritation removed, no not one of our children but a cyst between tooth and sinus (I know, 'sounds painful!), so it was just a pre-work session for a couple of hours. I am hoping to squeeze an hour or two in Friday though, once she's ensconced

Many times over the past years 35 years had I trod this path, I suspect around fifty times in fact, and little had it changed. More boats certainly; moored boats back then were something of an event, now though they are something of an expectation...and the 24hr Emergency Potter was still in residence which is always comforting (you never know when the handle might come off your mug) although the union flag bunting was being removed so I assumed a trip abroad beckoned. Another pair of buntings, the reed variety, flitted into bank side vegetation perhaps in search of a nest site now that herbage is in the initial throes of impending rampant growth, I wonder if they could be related to the buntings that frequented this place in the 1980's?

 
Today was a recce really, trying to determine how far the shoals had spread as they move out to find suitable spawning substrates but the clear early skies taught nothing, roll in the cloud later in the week!


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Isn't the Real World Brilliant?


Just yesterday, for the umpteen time, it was confirmed - the world is brilliant!

Rain was forecast - no rain, a good start.

Cloudy, breezy (the latter not forecast), dull and mild. What more could the springtime angler and naturalist wish for?

Arriving at the extreme eastern end of the North Oxford Canal at (just after) dawn, ('forgot my wallet...no one's perfect) I wandered to various legally(?) fishable spots, as defined by CRT signage but fancied none except an area which was otherwise strewn with waterborne detritus. So I settled instead in an area I recalled had produced match-winning bags of up to 5 or 6lbs of caster roach back in the 'dim and distant', a spot usually precluded as an option these days due to moorings but by chance no one was making it their home today

The action was as instant and frantic as Sunday had been with good bream to over two and a half pounds and hybrids to over the pound immediately taking advantage of the bread windfall. For me of course the net of just short of 13lbs was however capped by a roach of 1-1-3 (photo above) but, the weirdest thing - a dress-making pin with a white head was protruding centrally through the lower jaw of one of the bream (it may have been the biggest one, I don't recall) with the head inside its mouth. The pin, protruding below like a rigid elongated barbule, left me initially thinking I had a first for science cyprinid, but no! So long had the grotesque adornment been there that the wound had healed like a well-established ear piercing. How this could have occurred is quite beyond the imagination


It has been clear to me since last spring that the good fish reside in the marinas and only exit in numbers to spawn; this is now underway and slowly I expect the shoals to be more prevalent away from those winter harbours of fish and boats until they then start to retreat again later in the year, especially it seems as the colour drops out


Greenfinches were trilling their exuberant song from some willows, reed bunting 'tested' and fresh otter spraint was to be found under the bridge

The morning had begun, and apparently ended, in just half an hour and so based on the absolute fact that this method is all or nothing I moved 200 yards and on the way passed a pound roach dragged from the water that very night by a predator of some sort, maybe the otter, "This might perhaps be a clue", I muttered to myself and sat down immediately beyond in the hope that the red-finned brethren remained

Sure enough, up popped the float and a definite and solid roach was identified from the fight. A flash of it under the water caused me to swear aloud as the enormity of the potential catch dawned. Try though it might to get into nearside roots the new rod had it neatly tamed and into the net it slid

No time to waste here as the fish was photographed, weighed and returned in a matter of minutes. At 1-9-4 it was the third biggest canal roach of the FF&F quest by just 7 drams and would prove the highlight of a day littered with noteworthy events and peculiarities.


Another roach of 0-14-13 followed immediately before that swim also died and I moved again another 100 yards after just half an hour in the swim

This time the action was slower but after fifteen minutes, sat among the blooming violets, a bite came and another really good roach at 1-1-10 graced the net before it was immediately released after a quick weighing and an approaching boat drew a chug-chugging curtain across proceedings


Wandering back, two mating frogs were in the margins; very odd on a busy motorway of a canal such as this. Very rarely have I seen frogs on canals and then just the odd apparent commuter

Come the evening Parps fancied a dabble and so we chose a relatively plain but easily accessible stretch of the Grand Union in the hope of a bream for him and, in his now customary style, he beat me in three of our four challenges - most fish, highest weight and most species. The latter was debatable but because my third species was a hybrid he won that on grounds of purity! That his species included a first for him in the shape of a small silver bream and then an immediate replacement pb at 8ozs added to the allure as he beamed with pleasure throughout the session, even when he lost a couple of fish. We shared a keepnet in fishing the same swim and mustered 9-13-0 between us in two hours.




 Chiffchaffs chiffed and chaffed around us, partridges chucka'd and magpies chacked as a robin persevered through it all with his wistful song from high in a hawthorn to our left.



We pondered the sounds of the natural world:
"If you stop talking and just listen for a moment can you hear any sign of human activity?", I said, "No I can't!", came the reply.
"Sometimes when I sit here I think how great it would be not to be able to hear traffic noise but it's very unusual for it to be this quiet"
"Yes you wouldn't really know humans were around would you?".
"Well no, apart from the canal, the fence, the cables, the road and the fact that 5000 years ago this would have been woodland, you wouldn't have a clue would you?!"

The smell of spring is now around us as herbage is trampled under foot to create comfortable pegs but the pleasure of it all was lost on two lorry drivers I encountered earlier in the day who all-but engaged in a brawl in the middle of the A45, entertaining - yes, wise - no

So, if Carlsberg made days this is the kind of day they would make. Enthralling from start to finish, but sleep is in desperate need. Goodnight all