Monday, 26 October 2015

One of Those Weekends

Sometimes detailed planning just works...

Adam's apple kept time with a swelling heart like a drummer driving the urgency of the message.

The breeze slept, furled by the rampant calm, as the mist stretched from the silence as if an inverted cross-section of marginal weed, it's mycelia fading into the chill as it rose.

Youthful passion had been expended here in silver sparkle and a powerful yet golden dullness, and treasure had been dug, but now this would be a new beginning. A venture of expectation and imagined unknowns. The temptation, the chase. The uncertainty, the rising excitement.

Those of a certain yet unpredictable maturity that shoal together could be relied upon here but, one score years on what would exist, if anything?

Mallard, magpie and moorhen made way with cacophony and splatter as dawn arrived; a pair here, perhaps as many as fifteen there and so I sat, among the scent of damp moss, warmed by hope.

The purpose of revisiting this wide, deep water of industrial provenance would be to cast some gain upon the scoreboard of challenge to my contemporaries. A game that has now taken on a striking reality, as fish after impressive fish is recorded and value awarded, has gripped me with its unfolding array of options and possibilities.

Bronze bream, the quarry, had lived here in trade proportions and, as the aquatic and riparian habitat appeared unchanged from distant memory, optimism grew fat. Would they too?

It was a risk. To introduce free offerings equating to two full slices of blue-wrapped finest would be either excess or success but that is the way of things now, matched with a lump of flake and a elaborately decorated crow quill indicator. Death or glory, yes, but the goal, a fish of over three pounds in weight, would cope.

Foot and paw traffic was frequent on this well-worn, neatly maintained route, and each of three canines appeared in fear of this towpath intruder; from Jack Russell through Black Lab to long-bodied, short-legged fat little mutt, all strangely nervous with owners claiming they 'had not seen an angler before'. Well maybe the stay-aways were wiser than I?

We would see.

Action and a strike twenty minutes after dawn, a fish on and a good fighter. A roachXbream hybrid of two pounds precisely. The warm-up act for the unexpected, due to occur next.

Soon the water would give-up its jewel. Not quite, but approaching, the fish of a lifetime and an unexpectedly marvellous event. A beautiful beast of a canal roach fought for its freedom long and hard against the soft rod which sought to tame it

One pound eleven and a half ounces of canal angling perfection
Bronze bream were here, as was clear from rolling fish, and, soon enough, after another hybrid of just over 2 pounds one was on. Hard fighting are these fit Grand Union fish but the anticipated three pounder registered at just 2-11-0

At this point as things slowed I recalled hooking and losing two carp about six pegs further on back in the 1990's. Could they still be on the same peg? It certainly looked as I remembered it

More bread was thrown to the edge of a bush and within five minutes one was hooked, its yellow body spinning under water like some kind of electric lure for the pike one could only imagine. After a spirited effort he lay in the, only just large enough, net - gasping and spent. A slender baby carp. Not your modern day washed-out, fished-out, disrespected, commercially-pimped tramp of a carp but a genuine wild fish naturally spawned and grown with no help from man. The first canal carp I could recall for around 20 years...and it set the mind racing to larger specimens and another visit

At 3-7-8 not the largest ever caught but worth a handful more points
In all just five canal fish of four (or three and a half) species for twelve pounds. Canal angling is clearly dead and buried, no doubting that

The previous day, when internet-less after and while moving house, I struck lucky at another old Grand Union canal haunt on a peg I had not fished before, taking a further p.b. canal perch at 2.11.0 just five minutes after starting at dawn, and some half pound bigger than the one set just eleven days ago, together with a then best GUC roach of 1-7-0. A record which of course would stand for just one day.
Monster 2-11-0 canal perch
Then best GUC roach at 1-7-0
These were preceded by finding some GUC rudd, at last. Topping in that spitting and slurpy way of theirs, and landing a best on the day of 12 ounces

So, plenty of points added to the challenge board over seven days and a reasonable buffer to the next man in the shape of the inestimable Mr Hatt. The remainder of the challenge is going to need some careful planning having missed-out on some 'summer' species earlier-on in the season.

Thankfully, mild weather seems to be settled-in for a few more days yet, so may the quality of angling continue!

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A Future in the Past

Decades ago The Old Duffer, now officially retired from the angle (unless I can tempt him from time to time), used to take me to all manner of mysterious venues. Most times legally, sometimes questionably so

A vast cauldron of bubbling tales sit as yet to be rediscovered in my mind but they would range from being peppered with buckshot by a shooter oblivious to our presence but nevertheless, one would assume, aware of the towpath; through my falling-in to various parts of the Great Ouse system three times in one week at the age of around 12 years and spilling the beans into the grass when knocking them off the camping stove, scraping them up and eating them; to crashing the car into the back of a van when I was supposed to be ‘off sick’ from school and advising the WPC when I was interviewed that I thought we were doing, “About 40mph” after being strictly informed I should only answer questions I knew the answer to otherwise, “Just say you don’t know”. It was a 30 zone

Never did a week go by without an event and of course those happenings, and often mishap-enings, were compounded on club bus trips to far flung glamorous and grim locations (in equal measure) under which circumstances the frequency of perfectly-baked recipes for amusement in half-baked situations would beggar belief in today’s hermetically-sealed world

The Boy Wonder and I are now able to take advantage of those experiences on a regular basis. This past Saturday for instance we decided to travel a little out of Feldon to a stretch of canal that I used the frequent on a weekly basis, initially for pleasure and then for matches and practice. Some excellent times were had back then but this blog has never been about self-promotion and it isn’t about to start now, so I’ll stick to the point

The venue was always good for some not-so-easy-to-catch roach in the 2 to 5 ounce bracket, perch around the same size and occasionally the odd skimmer would show-up. Most pegs could produce between one and three pounds of fish and four to five pounds would usually be enough to win a match, or, perhaps, around two pounds in an evening competition

One area though was rarely pegged for a number of reasons and it was this that we would sometimes head for when pleasure fishing. I do recall not having the best of ‘luck’ there myself as, being a relative novice at the time, bream fishing was a little beyond me as I was much happier snatching smaller fish from the two margins. The Old Duffer though was quite adept and appreciated the laying-on technique and feeding necessities for skimmers

When we tried to quietly roll-up at dawn on this revisit we were a tad early and so went for the easy option of the known parking arrangements and the best peg from years ago, which we would share. This rather than risk being unable to park at the target bridge and missing prime time

This was TBW’s first dawn trip of the season and it was something of a test. Anticipating a potentially good day with the water the ‘right’ colour of murky green, cloud cover and boundless optimism we piled the bread mash into the channel (my job) and worm feed down the near shelf (his job).

From first cast it was action all the way as quality roach, then the occasional hybrid and then bream to just under two pounds followed in processional order to the net. In fact we were taken aback when a two ounce fish had the temerity to get in the way!

Soon the boats started to get active and The Boy was overwhelmed with a need to find out what was lingering over the worm feed before it was too late. The answer was crayfish, and certainly there had been plenty causing false action down the middle earlier-on. Soon though he managed to connect with some stripeys but they weren’t huge with the biggest around the half-pound mark. Good canal points for him though to go with his best roach yet of 8ozs

Packing away, and on the way back to the car, thoughts and conversation turned to that school boy and ecologists favourite…poo. We somehow managed to avoid quite a number of bank deposits either side of our shared pitch in the semi-gloom. Quite some luck as it seems there was a dog poo bag shortage locally. As we walked back however the larger specimens had been sprayed bright orange which we figured was a way of embarrassing the dog owners that had placed the offending lumps the day before.

“They should spray the owners orange”, we exclaimed, almost in unison. Hopefully this tactic will have some effect but it's sad to say there are certain areas of canals which are easily accessible where it is nigh-on impossible to find sufficient gap to sit in but, on the bright side, the schoolboy humour would have been absent without the dollops.

Dogs bottoms aside we hung exactly fifteen pounds of mixed species and sizes under the scales after three hours fishing with TBW adding points for roach and perch to The Bloggers Challenge

Sunday was an odd one

We didn’t fancy getting-up early again, so, with The Lady Burton otherwise engaged for the morning, and the only other excitement packing boxes for the house move we sloped-off down ‘our bit’ of the Leam

Setting-up in the swim that produced a big perch for him last winter, Parps got on with the task of dropping lobs into the six foot deep hole under, unusually, an overhanging hazel. Meanwhile, as has become standard practise, I struggled to muster even the slightest hint of a bite elsewhere.

“I’ve got one!”, he called, just minutes after settling-in and a quite beautifully deeply-coloured perch just under the pound nestled in his landing net when I went to see.

What seemed like seconds later I heard some attempt to communicate another event and clambered up the bank again. As I reached field level he staggered out of the shade of tree and now wilting nettles, mouth hanging open and arms away from his body in a fixed shrug. Dazed.

“Wassup?”, I queried

“I just had a great big pike on and it’s bitten my hook off. It took the worm but why would it take a worm? Pike eat fish don’t they?”

“Well, yes, but they are predators and will take anything that moves and looks edible. It won’t have gone far he’s probably still in the same place. So you’ve a good chance of getting him again”

Back in went the worm but slightly too far from the fed area so he wound the wriggler back and just as it was about to be lifted from the water, sure enough, “Crash!”, the monster carnivore took it again and soon enough it was in the net.

There in its mouth was the first shiny hook it had acquired which gave us the distinct pleasure of removing both and returning him, all one pound eight ounces of him, and TBW’s first ever pikelet, unharmed to the stream

Who says Crabtree is fiction? Not in our house it ain’t

Sunday, 4 October 2015


Since returning to angling, now some four years ago, the purpose has been to fulfill a number of aims

Firstly, if the intention was not to return to match fishing, it would need to be engaging as otherwise the couple of false returns I had attempted to the sport would increase to three and that would probably be that

Secondly, it would be intriguing to discover how much canals had changed since my ten to fifteen year canal match angling obsession abruptly ended in burn-out in the 1990's

Thirdly, the prospect of fishing for anything that swam on match-type methods and baits was unattractive and, without the associated competitive element, futile in the extreme

Fourthly, the methods and baits employed would have to sit comfortably with my own beliefs and ethics. Not necessarily traditionalism for its own sake but retaining a reasonable modicum of decorum (too many 'ums).

Finally, having been interested in large match-caught roach during the early 1990's I fancied targeting them more specifically if they could still be caught

How the past four years have evolved has been enthralling, not least due to the magnetic fields that have also drawn me both to the enigmatic yet tiny River Leam and The Stillwater over the past three of those years

On the face of it the attractions of this triumvirate can be put very simply:
■ Canals - mainly to chase roach of over a pound.
■ R. Leam - because it is 10 minutes away; to see if it's glory days continue and pursue a 4 pound Chub from it.
■ The Stillwater because if I had a bite it was likely to be a P. B. and it had contained big roach in the past.

This might look like a thinly-veiled recipe for a specimen hunting 'career'. Indeed by some interpretations that could be the result and that is a question of definition.
To me a specimen hunter is one who seeks to catch the biggest fish of chosen species by design with a view to a record breaking example if at all possible by whatever (legal) rod-caught means

For myself however the challenge is not that. Certainly there is a crossover in that I am intentionally seeking bigger fish than the procession of one to six ounce fish, with the odd bonus, a stick float or waggler and maggot approach might produce but it is simply that which appeals to me - bigger fish

Richard Walker, Peter Stone, et al, championed the possibility that anglers could consistently catch bigger fish before and soon after I was born. Yet as a boy, youth and young man I read very little of their writings as it was Kevin Ashurst and Co., that sparked something in the competitive psyche back then, when I would never have believed that the sheer number of decent fish one can catch if one actively avoids the littl'uns could be possible.

Recently I have invested in some old books by various authors of yesteryear, largely now passed away, to try to understand what it was that made them tick, what methods they used, why and what they sought to achieve. Walker and Stone as well as David Carl Forbes and John Etherington have been scoured and digested leaving one thing clear, they were all able to selectively target larger fish of many species, regularly, if not always to order.

Match fishing taught me that if you were lucky enough to draw a known big fish peg they would not always feed and often, if they did, it would be due either to favourable climatic circumstances or carefully feeding for a number of hours before some of the fish would be tempted (or both). They were also likely to have been fished for two or three times per week by all-comers. Pretty much the first thing to become apparent when seeking those bigger than average fish was when they feed, and match hours of 10am to 3pm or perhaps 9am to 1pm are clearly not conducive to success when those more experienced and therefore reluctant fish are least circumspect at dusk and then dawn. Many of the 'bonus' fish we would have sought, particularly on canals back in the 1980's and '90's, would perhaps have been only four to ten ounces in weight in any event.

Time of day is clearly crucial, as is the deterrent of clear skies and sunny weather, but one thing to stand out as a particularly interesting factor is the (apparent) crudeness of rigs when hunting those cracking fish that might just grace the landing net. The belief that the odd no7 styl or no13 shot and their disposition in relation to the hook could be critical in getting bites in matches is replaced by absolute proof that a BB nailed to the bottom gives better bites from much bigger fish! Temper this with the realisation however that fish under the pressure of match conditions in the middle of the day are not so responsive as at daybreak or sundown and it doesn't take a great deal of concentrated thought to realise that catching fish ain't gonna be easy, so it's fair to say this can't be seen as I direct comparison but it is nevertheless fascinating.

My ever-increasing but still limited experience has already resulted in the realisation that line thickness, amount of lead on the line, hook size, etc., are only relevant as deterrents if they are not suitably balanced with, or against, the chosen bait such that it behaves sufficiently naturally to fool the larger fish in the swim. This is no less evident than when using a chunk of bread crust balanced to slowly sink against a swan shot or two to tempt chub from the stream of course but the porcupine quill, with a single AAA or at least a BB laid-on, can also produce incredibly positive sail-away bites from better fish that would think, or nibble, thirteen times at a pinkie or a squatt on a 26 hook (and then be lost!).

So rigs don't need to delicate at all, they just need to match the intention.

Puzzling innit?

Bloggers Challenge Update:
The Boy Wonder was excited to land his first bream of the season at 1-9-0 from the Grand Union Canal last Sunday. Fishing a tight peg, we ended-up with line wrapped round each others rods in the process!

For my part, I managed my first few silver bream of the campaign the best of which went 0-14-8, a nice example and equivalent of a pound roach in my eyes

An eight ounce roach from The Stillwater added a couple more points midweek.

Yesterday, a cracking Grand Union Canal roach of 1-6-0 (a GUC personal best) followed by one of precisely a pound only added half an ounce and a point.

Whereas a bronze bream of 2-3-0 added precisely four for increasing the species weight by fifteen ounces. So very little progress there.

New species/waters now required I suspect.

Mouse training update:
Both dead.

No respecters of the time you put in training them these rodents. No sooner have you got them literally eating out of your hand than they fall off their wheel all stiff-like.

On the search for a new 'un now.