Sunday, 29 March 2015

BIG Challenges All Round

I hadn't prepared myself for the break. So consumed was I by the challenge of the River Leam that the somewhat sudden end, even though I was working towards it, caught me napping. Captivated, enthralled, enthused, maybe even obsessed and possessed, I had been by its secretive charm but now it had come to a close

Improving temperatures over the past three weeks or so tempted me to spend some time birding and plumbing some pegs on The Stillwater (yes I did say "stillwater", it may be something of a shock to my regular reader but it is true) more out of fancying a walk in the sunshine than anything else

Last Sunday was glorious of course. I was severely overdressed, having arrived before the temperatures soared, and lost about a stone during the day's wandering. Something I can ill afford

I found some enticing pegs in areas I hadn't been to for some time and a number of interesting birds, the highlight of which, though I wouldn't have found it myself as it wasn't on my walking route, thanks to another generous birder's 'scope was being able to view (and he confirmed as) a white wagtail. Frankly I couldn't have i.d'd it without some guidance as the heat-haze we were peering through barely made it recognisable as a wagtail...or even a bird! Nevertheless, a lifetime first it was, I'm told   

From the lawn: Pied not White...the murky underside is the give
away, even though the nape/back interface here is quite crisp
After enjoying the sight of a small foraging flock of tree sparrows, which is never anything less than an absolute pleasure, I found a swim I felt might do the job for the spring. A little weedy it was, but that makes two of us, and I was hopeful that if I could get the fish feeding there they might help to clear it over the forthcoming poaching months until June 16th obliges us with the mental moral right to continue to do the same until this time next year when we revert to doing so guiltily, as we do now

So the plan was hatched to concentrate on the stillwater, intermingled with the canal when conditions we were too poor to be exposed on an unforgiving lake, until June

In parallel with all this however came discussions with south-west blogger, talented angler and catcher of goldfish Russell Hilton of 'Tales of the Towpath' with a view to establishing a bloggers challenge for 2015/2016.
Russell's idea had gradually been honed in discussion with myself and Jeff Hatt (who took part in previous challenges until they petered-out two years or so ago and was full of sage wisdom, as ever)
The final challenge is very engaging and has me fired-up already with still a month to go until the mid-close season starting pistol fires.
Of course the only way these things can succeed is through the honesty of the participants and one thing I have learnt since starting this middling blog is that the level of integrity among angling bloggers is set very high and this gives me, and I hope many others, the confidence to get stuck in and take part in what promises to be an excellent event, with points available for 20 species across each water type of rivers/drains, stillwaters and canals relating your best fish to the British record
In trials it has proven perfectly possible that an angler seeking a wide number of species of relatively modest size might challenge the water/species specialist with four or five really big fish so, as planned, we hope it genuinely will prove a challenge for bloggers across the whole spectrum - from out and out specimen hunters to those who simply like to write about the pleasure of angling.
Personally I fall somewhere between the two (tending to fish certain appealing venues for larger than average fish), and I suspect most of us do, so I expect this to suit our category of angler rather nicely.
I will leave Russell to explain the machinations and how to enter here:
and I very much hope you are as enthralled by the prospect as I and the Boy Wonder are
- - - - - -
Seven days on and The Stillwater campaign has now reached the fifth session (15 hours) and has yet to give up any secrets of the, not so, deep. Increasing air temperatures through the week, water which is no longer cold to the touch and latterly, and certainly today and yesterday, windy conditions that can only serve to bring spring time to the sub-surface world ever more quickly. So I remain optimistic that soon the tip will wang round or the plunge into the depths, be it quiver or float, sometime soon
One brief (overslept!) Grand Union visit produced little of value except the unusual experience of a canal rudd around eight ounces and some unremarkable roach
Meanwhile life is not all about (lack of) fish. I preoccupy myself with my favourite bin's, a treasured possession, scouring the water every twenty minutes or so to see what has moved-in or has appeared overhead. An old pair of reasonable quality 8x40's are ideal for this task. They give just enough magnification, aren't too heavy to carry with the tackle and let a good deal of light in when needed at those awkward times of day; so much so in fact that it is as if a light has been switched-on when raising them to straining eyes
Signs of the changing season came in the form of chiffchaffs with this early arriving warbler singing and suddenly apparent all over the countryside last weekend, and sand martins have reached us too, flicking their delicate yet effective brown wings against the wind into which they face, just above the water's surface, making consumate headway against the odds. It's truly amazing they find enough to eat when they first fall upon us with little invertebrate activity evident to the human eye
The week has produced an interesting if not mind blowing bird list but today I got to to thinking about mammals...
How often does one see an array of mammal species, or even any (other than brown rats), while dabbling at the water's edge? Rarely, yet the signs are often there. At my peg and as I pottered back windswept this morning, with the forecast heavy rain hinting by gentle splashes on the personal rain detector (bald patch) I found evidence of shrew and badger (both in my peg), fox, muntjac and mole. I could probably have found vole or field mouse too with a little more effort and yet, in terms of actual sightings, it's was as though they didn't exist

Badger latrine...nice! Somehow I lost my pic of fox poo, how sad
Shrew hole 
Muntjac hoof prints 
Anyway enough of this, I'm off to plan the attack for the Bloggers Challenge 2015/16. Only 33.5 sleeps to go until the 00.01hrs May 1st start!

Monday, 16 March 2015

The End

As the river season floats away, a little ripple of interest these past few days with water at last at a steady winter level having been too low between deluges right through since October. What a contrast to last winter when the level was not at 'normal' through the whole period!

Air temperatures have gently risen two fleeces from a month ago and a four inch rise in river level on Friday caused a torrent of wishful thoughts, having enjoyed a roach windfall these past days

Although word on the bank had it that roach were again suffering pre-breeding ravenosity I fancied the day searching for a chub. Paddling against the flow as usual

Mid-afternoon was the best start time I could manage with the preceding whirlpool of Mother's Day prep and work to attend to. I pulled-up in the bay expecting to be unable to park however only one other angler had bothered, a sign of these sad egotistical times if ever there was one to behold. It made me happy, then it made me sad in equal measure

A long initial meander through the increasingly rough grassland saw a deep hole appeal to me as a somewhat contrary starting point and base, but I remembered I had taken our wide-mouthed friends there before, albeit not to any noteworthy size. So it was here I set up and trotted a 5AAA balsa-bodied topper at two rod lengths in mid-stream; a work of art under the wayward control of a philistine

The depth varies greatly where deep-holes exist on the Leam making them very taxing for the float angler; not only is there the depth to contend with (this one was around ten to eleven feet) but they are often quite steeply bowl-shaped such that the bait is only near bottom as it leaves and then reaches upstream and downstream slopes. The river, adorned with fantastically old creaking and splitting veteran willows as it is, is also remarkably but commensurately snaggy. The aquatic scrub-like bed must be festooned and pebble-dashed with lost line and shot. My own swan shot bill per annum must exceed £15, and I am as tight as a dabchicks ear never casting into the gaping mouth of the overhang except in the desperation of those lifeless winter days

Second trot with a pinch of flake and the float dipped. The Trotter arced and, just as quickly, relaxed. The mild irritation at potentially wrecking the opportunity was soon glossed over however when, two trots later, it went down again, this time more positively and the difference between hitting a fish on an Avon or with the subtlety of the new jewel of the rod collection became apparent. Taking a fish on an avon at short range is very bang, crash, wallop, usually resulting in the need to feed and move on; with this piece of sublime wonder however the quarry can be drawn away from its counterparts and it is only at the net when one sometimes wishes the immediate power of the Avon could be brought to bear. The key of course is to encourage out and then beat the fish in midstream so that its rubber-rimmed gape is gasping air before it gets sight of the bank and its associated escape roots. It can then be lead flank-down to safety without concern

At a pound eleven this chub was a nice start to the day. Two further tentative bites came but then, quiet. I re-fed and wandered into the wilderness, pegs I had never before seen, finding a freak glide of faster water created by a tree fallen diagonally toward me from upstream on the far bank such that the two feet of surface between the tip of the branches and the near bank was the only area of its full thirty foot width that was discernibly moving

I crept forward on my knees anticipating all sorts. Shallow water, a clear run and, perhaps,...chub. Unknown, unseen and unwitting(?)

Bending, bursting spring branches had to be knelt on and twined with others above the dicotyledons of future botanical resplendence pushing through the warming woodland floor

This would work, definitely. This would work

A generous crust was dropped into the slack a touch further out to check for buoyancy against the shot. Perfect, it drifted down like the real thing. Into the flow it went. No more than eighteen inches from the near edge, nothing fed, just the bait. So far back was I that only the crimson quivertip overhung the water, so restricted was the swim

The line drew vigorously from the spool, flicking my fingertip, as the crust was dragged by the current toward the prey, or so I hoped. It came to rest. I gently tightened that little bit of slack.

A twitch, a short pull, a tap. A nod and a wink to the angler now poised like the proverbial coiled spring. A definite curve round. Three inches, six inches, increasing speed, nine inches. Whack! Salar-esque he leapt from the water and, in that related momentary lack of control, headed for the undercut. I frantically walked on my knees toward the edge and gained some outward leverage, drawing him sufficiently to avoid what would have been inevitable. He surfaced and headed net-ward with that characteristic upright head-wagging gait

It didn't matter what he weighed. Leech-infested he may have been but he was fooled, and, as was only to be expected with those improbable constraints, the prospects henceforth would be wrecked

Or so one might have thought...

I took the fish back to my keepnet to join his brother and went to sit down and run the float through a few more times there, but as I crouched down to do so something made me stop and back to that tiny accelerated and now baited glide I went

The same process produced an immediate fighting fish. Not a chub though. No, this felt like an angry roach but with a somewhat juddering action. First impression when visible under water was rudd, then roach, then both from various angles. Examination in the net evidenced traits of each species but with the mouth damaged on one side that key feature could not be relied upon. The colouration though was distinctly that of a roach emebellished with highlights of rudd and the deep back was evident. A river first this, a ruddXroach hybrid just a gnat's whisker under a pound. I hadn't seen such a monstrosity since they were ill-advisedly stocked into the Stratford Canal in the 1980's, and love it I could not, p.b. though it may have been

Another small chub came from the same hole before darkness started to fall and I headed for three swims I had taken the target species from before to round the season off, one way or another

There would be no holding-back. Large chunks of crust balanced against two swan shot simply nipped onto the line four inches back from a size 4 hook to give that gentle fall was the teaser. The first of these further swims was the most productive chub swim I had yet found on the stretch I had signed-up for in the autumn. Nearly every time I had dropped in there I had been fortunate enough to add one to the day's summary, sometimes the only one to write-up through this tough period since New Year

First 'cast' along the face of the near bank produced nothing on the drop as the supposed temptation drifted in the current and so it was allowed to come to rest three or four feet out from an undercut in the steady flow and I poured a hot drink with the diminishing north-easterly eating into my face, the steam blew itself out immediately on leaving the cup. The warmth was welcome as was the ensuing initially twitching enquiry that then boomed into a wrap-around "I'm having that!" bite. The strike was a little odd, the line was under a briar and initially I thought the fish had come off the hook but as I tightened I realised the fish was moving toward me in its escape bid. On regaining contact the fish had not headed root-ward but was midstream and deeper. A good fighter too but as I flicked the headlamp from red to white the batteries were low and the fish was difficult to visualise in the failing beam. By hook, and landing net crook, it was landed fairly uneventfully though and the best fish of the day, and for some time from this stretch, was soon wriggling in the net obviously filled with belief. The hook had fallen out into the mesh as is so often the case and on weighing it went 2-8-0 and boosted the day's catch to 5 fish for 7-11-0

Next peg produced nothing on a similar basis

The last peg had given-up its first chub to me only fairly recently. It was deeper and deserved, I felt, the remaining bread mash to be introduced at the outset as I would be sitting here until it announced the season end with one more fish

It was sheltered here and the water was still. Woodpigeon panicked with the cracking of wings as only they can in the dark as I moved into position. I flicked the crust out to mid-river but had to increase the lead to three swan in order to hold in the area I imagined the feed would have settled

Second cast - a gentle pull, brief hold and slack. I guessed the line must've been compromised by an obstruction underwater and as I wound in it was indeed temporarily hooked-up

Out it went again and this time no mistake, a typical chub take. Nothing else was having this bait either, clearly! This fish was soon under control, netted and weighed-in despite the failing lamp at a touch smaller than the last, 2-4-0

9-15-0 of fish (one more ounce!!) was as good a seasons' end as I could recall. Suddenly everything had come together this past week on the Leam

For now though the riverine inhabitants can do what they do best to keep their numbers up and new challenges lie ahead

Two recent tip-offs have started the cogs whirring...

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Trotting at the Backend

A heavy downpour was forecast for three solid hours this afternoon so I planned to be camped before it set-in. Given that I've managed to rip my waterproof bib and brace in four places this winter I even carted the umbajig the quarter mile plus to the armchair peg imagined in the minds eye

I counted about 15 spots of rain.

Since the year that Mr Fish was blamed for the hurricane that turned Sevenoaks into Ratherlessoaks they have been so cautious haven't they?

The air has a feeling of impending excitement about it at present though...

All manner of rustling, squeaking, singing and tweeting in the countryside, and a preponderance of bugs, unseen since October, crawling over me and the gear

Just on the off-chance the trotting rod was slotted into the bag. Bought some weeks ago, it hadn't yet produced so much as a bite, so out of sorts has this little river been until the past few days. If last weekend was peak winter fishing for the Leam there was the slim chance of a bit of action today too with air temperatures likely to be 8degC all afternoon and into dark. The prospect of the first fish on the rod was unavoidable

I headed for a distant swim. A gully with over-hanging bushes around six feet deep and through ran the avon float, the flow was a touch too slack but the slower the bait was eased through on the 'pin the better the fish liked it. Alternating this with a light 2AAA link leger fish came steadily in the clearing water until about half an hour before dark when things reached an abrupt end, coinciding with panicking moorhens under imagined or real attack by an assailant upstream

First trot through with flake was immediately taken by a small Chub and the immediate impression of the rod was just that...impressive. I've written before about the twelve footer I bought for bigger canal fish which could surely not be bettered and this, a 13' specialist trotting rod with a useful two foot extension, is equally perfect for its task. On the third trot the float sunk down that hole again and this time a better fish was on. It took a while to tame and the tip action of the rod extended to the middle as a chub, I initially underestimated at 1-8-0 but weighed-in at 2-2-0, tested it considerably more in its attempts to get under the near bank and then into some branches overhanging to my left

I had been searching for this discontinued model of rod for many months after reading some praise of it and it's been more than worth the wait

Only two fish were below six ounces in weight and I honestly don't think any of them had seen a hook before. Very few bites were missed with the enthusiasm of the fish for feeding much greater than had been the case since around November as water temperatures continue to creep up
A lovely catch just one more fish short of seven pounds, there were fourteen though the photo shows thirteen, their friend found his way back in rather too quickly! Roach to ten ounces and three chub to go with them

Tackle-wise, since rebuilding the set-up on returning to the sport, I am very pleased with the range of rods collected, all of which perfectly suit their applications it seems. In terms of reels however I am still struggling a touch, apart from the centrepin which, as Parps would say, is 'epic'
Birds came into the upward-straining plantation to roost. Fieldfare in their crashing chaotic manner sought the most dense bushes, woodpigeon at high speed whooshing with air brakes locked into the trees and pheasant, accompanied by ear-bending and shocking crowing, at close range to the hawthorn

Jackdaw, buzzard, blackbird, redwing, robin, reed bunting, skylark; long-tailed, blue and great tit; wren, treecreeper, moorhen, mallard,  kingfisher, chaffinch and bullfinch completed the set for the afternoon
Very, very enjoyable indeed

Three days to go...

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Penultimate Hurrah

The curtain is about to close on another river angling season and the Boy Wonder and I, like, we are certain, many others, still await our Rod Licences yet soon we will be obliged to buy more of these mythical permits. I do hope the price will be reduced by the savings made in not producing them last year

Although my own angling activity has been as regular, if not more so, than 'normal' the weather has been such this past month or so that sessions have largely been blank or producing just the odd fish, usually a chub of 2lbs it seems

I have been losing a lot too. Not fish, but items. I left a tub of lobworms in a lay-by, a bait dropper on the bank which I retrieved three weeks later (yesterday), and my bestest rubberised roach fishing landing net (which reappeared a fortnight later)

Since targeting those bigger then average fish I have been surprised how many are actually landed as compared to match fishing. I would say I have found I lose on average around one in ten fish but (I can't confirm it) I think in matches I would probably have lost around twice as many bigger fish. Smaller hooks, lighter lines, less powerful rods in tight situations, etc, etc., all contribute of course

My keenness to get on the riverbank has meant a high number of very short sessions of late, some of them less than two hours duration, but this has provided the opportunity to try a wide range of methods on various and varying lengths of river. Pole, float & link leger have all played a part and bread and lobworms have both produced some entertainment. Until yesterday however the level of that interest was limited to the odd fish or perhaps a few roach on the pole, and I mean few!

So what was different about Sunday March 8th 2015?

There had been various false dawns over the past three weeks or so when I had managed to convince myself that tomorrow would be the day when the fish (by which of course I mean the roach) would feed and adorn the occasional capture of the larger fish with intermittent sparkles of silver and ruby

The colour might have been right, the temperature maybe, or the flow levels, or perhaps even my own availability to fish but somehow until the day before today it just didn't happen

A few days ago though frosts were avoided by that perfect insulating blanket of cloud known in the FF&F household as 'night night cloud' (don't ask). Consequently day time temperatures rose too. Colour was falling out of the water such that I was concerned it might then be too clear but, most importantly, a strong wind got up, forcing that warm air into the subsequently increased surface area of water and suddenly there we had it. Perfect conditions. Not Saturday, no, but Sunday, yes, it all clicked...or maybe plopped...into place

Saturday I ventured forth twice with Parps besieged by his ongoing illness I was again undertaking the pursuit alone in the early morning (though his is still gloating over his first Angling Times Kingfisher Award from last week with 'that perch' so I was quite happy not to keep being reminded about that!). It wasn't by any means a bad morning losing what felt like a really good chub in the incredibly snaggy swim I'd previously taken my Leam p.b. from a season or two back and then taking one of two pounds from another peg before breakfast called, with another gentleman of the angle queued up to jump into my grave the moment I reeled in for the last time

Later that same day I did manage to drag the (not so) littl'un down to another stretch in search of a chub and, as per usual, he sneaked one chublet out while I watched a tip constantly do its job of quivering under the continuous attention of sprats. Another blank

Sunday though was but one sleep away. The temperature overnight was tantamount to illegal and the wind continued to blow. The water running through the valley was noticeably warmer to the touch and, revisiting the same swim as the previous morning, I had hoped to entice the big brother of the one that got away the day before

A third of a Warburton's toastie was mashed and potted the night before in readiness and a good percentage deposited behind a fallen branch at the head of a steady glide. Bites were immediate and positive. Fish topped with unusual abandon

I knew immediately this would be the annual event. That day when the out and out roach angler, not concerned with size, would fill his or her net. It is a rare event on the middle Leam that conditions conspire in this manner but this, at the eleventh hour, would be this season's example

I also knew that the next day I would suffer my annual regret that I no longer chase anything that swims for the sight of a net of quality roach, such as these were soon to prove to be, cannot be beaten

For now though the thrust is to pick-out the bigger fish and so I awaited the wrap-around of the rubber-lipped quarry only to find that constant alternating between crust on a 4" tail and flake on a 15" tail produced roach on the latter and, eventually, once suitably whittled, roach on the former

I was having to sit on my hands in expectation that at some point a proper pull round would occur and only twenty to thirty minutes in round it did indeed go. Smooth as silk, not at all savage and in the immediate aftermath a small chub could be seen rotating under the surface...or could it? Soon it was round an invisible snag in this snag-pit to end them all. Slack line was given in the time-honoured fashion and action resumed. The chub came to the surface and that involuntary intake of breath occurred to me, as very few things in life can cause, when chub became roach, a large, chunky, river p.b. challenging roach

A cracker indeed. 1-3-7 of rare small stream beauty that would not quite take the crown from one an ounce or so its superior two seasons ago

Perseverance ensued. Two more introductions of feed at 30 to 45 minute intervals but no more of his or her school mates succumbed

On the return trip with about two handfuls of mash left I introduced them to a very shallow glide and again had roach but this time the tip did whack round and a strongly fighting chub of 2-5-5 took great advantage of every stem of grass and thrust of flow before sliding into the safety of the deep blue net

A lovely mornings' reward, around 6 to 7lbs of fish. Surely double figures, and maybe the traditionally sought stone of roach, were on the cards to the suitably geared-up all-rounder, but that angler was not me,  nor was it last year.

Yes, I do miss that one thing, once a year

Five days to go...