Sunday, 30 October 2016

Trip Recorder

With bream dominating the last few canal sorties it was with no little excitement that a long-planned trip to the River Wye with some of The Stillwater regulars crept up on us

The other three went down a day earlier and I was able to join them on the Wednesday for three days' barbel hunting

To give this some context, from my own personal perspective this trip was neither my first barbel hunt nor was it my first to the Wye but those previous excursions were as a young teenager after a barbel on the River Severn (managing one of just one pound four ounces) and the one to the Wye was on a baking hot day, with the river gin clear and consequently only a handful of salmon parr to show for it.

To all effects this was to be my first barbel trip to the Wye.

HonGenSec had arranged Wye & Usk Foundation tickets to different beats each day, together with b&b accommodation. All we had to do was turn-up, cough-up and attempt to bag-up.

The scenery was always likely to be spectacular between Hereford and Ross-on-Wye and, apart from being a couple of weeks early to catch the autumn trees in their fully multi-coloured splendour, it didn't disappoint.

On the first day, with the river conveniently up, a few barbel were taken to nine pounds plus and, when I arrived the following day the higher water had become coloured and chances seemed high.

We chose swims under the advice of the landowner but, it being my first visit, I misread the water and fished it badly. I also lost three fish due to hooks coming-off, not being used to their power I had to seek the knot advice (and a degree of emotional counselling) of the others over lamb and mint pie that evening, but contented myself with a couple of run of the mill chub. The river fell around seven inches while we fished.

Next day the river had dropped further and much of the colour dropped-out too. One or two more interesting birds were about - nuthatch, little grebe, goosander - but nothing really unusual apart from the sheer numbers of pheasant on the land. Clearly a shooting party or two were due.

The river was generally shallower than I anticipated and, in the absence of noteworthy features, went for the edge of the main flow putting down a bed of hemp and small pellets over the top with two 8mm red pellets on a size 12. As the water cleared I eased-off the groundbait feeder and swapped to straight lead and loose feed.

Late afternoon the tip whacked over with little warning and we were in. The new 1.75lbs t.c. 'barbel rod' was doing its business and, giving the fish very little opportunity to get started, it was soon in the net. HonGenSec had pointed-out that it couldn't be called a barbel rod until it had caught one, against which there is no counter-argument, and it was now true to its name.

The bruiser went 7lbs 8ounces on the scales (a p.b. by 6.4!) which caused a yahoo of delight to ripple across the stream, landed and unhooked, rested, photographed, rested again and gently returned, this was quite the beauty I expected it to be, albeit there was some historical damage to the scale pattern on the left shoulder. The surprising feature of the fish, for me, was the relative size of the barbules and the clearly visible sense organs in and around its mouth. I can't imagine a barbels eyes have much to do with its feeding habits.

A chub of 3lbs then fell to bread which I had been feeding down the inside under a small willow (you didn't think I could fail to take any did you?!) before, right at the death, the tip was wrenched into activity again and a second hard-fighting barbel was dealt with. This one just 3.2.

It had been hard fishing although four other barbel and four chub completed the gang's catch.

More pie that evening, this time chicken and leek, left us somewhat bloated leading into day four (or three for me), especially those of us who couldn't resist pudding after the entertaining lady-lady subliminally messaged us whispering "Sticky toffee pudding" in HonGenSec's ear. It would have been offensive not to.

Apart from achieving the aim of the trip in landing a proper barbel from a river that would struggle to be more different to my local River Leam the day had passed without any lost hooks. Things were starting to fall into place...or so I thought.

On the final day the water was clearer still, in fact tantamount to clearasil without a spot of colour evident, and groundbait was out of the question as hemp and pellets came to the fore.

We had a false start at one stretch which, being little fished, couldn't accommodate four of us on its available pegs and so returning to different pegs on the venue of day three we went about tackling the inhabitants. Big fish were evident with numerous surface crashes which soon became i.d'd as salmon. I dread to think how many but clearly they could make sport difficult in those numbers, and they did.

I was fortunate enough to hook a barbel early afternoon that I lost to another weak knot and then endured similar misfortune when I had to tighten the clutch to keep a fish out of the nearside bank but failed to re-adjust quickly enough as it headed back upstream and the hook pulled. None of us had anything in the clearing water that day.

We did however enjoy that disconcerting feeling of a river-keeper on the far bank with a shotgun eyeing-up a mink on our bank but we survived without injury, and so did the mink.

A lovely few days, great company, target achieved, even if the fishing was, I am told, below par; picturesque, exclusive access venues; a cracking b&b; great pub food and a chance to borrow The Lady Burton's land rover which was 'necessary' for the visit. What more could an angler want!

Not on a Trip.

Back with feet on towpath this was the last weekend of late early starts before the clocks help us out by donating that extra hour and as always the canal is a risk. Sunday morning it lasted all of 20 minutes before Earl E Riser entered the lock just 70 yards away, cranked the gears with impeccable passion and washed all life through Leamington Spa and into Warwick.

Definitely not a Trip.

Hydrologically blasted from the cut the Leam took on a certain appeal, and in search of more bread from Sainsbury's, the deeper previously neglected sections above Newbold Comyn sprang to mind.

Great idea that was. Four pegs later - not a sniff on bread and so plan C was hatched.

Almost a Trip.

My usual streamier haunt, unaffected by those romantic Victorians in search of the grand public realm and causing falsely deep water, subsequently unnaturally coloured by canal overflow, thought about playing ball. A roach of seven ounces first cast promised much but no more. The third swim ejected 2 roach, 2 dace and a gudgeon and that was that.

Staying in bed was a better option in hindsight. Though I would not have made the cashier's day when explaining that I'd been fishing and ran out of bread, quite why that was so funny I've no idea. Nothing that day was funny.

A Trip to The Hilton

Midweek offered a few opportunities for early visits to canals before work and on the first of those I met up with Russell Hilton of, the now very sadly defunct, 'Tales of the Towpath' blog. He was up from Devon for a few days' and wanted to have stab at some big canal roach and hybrids.

We headed for an area that occasionally produces the odd very big roach and hybrids up to 3lbs but it was very poor. Russell though did hit the bottom half of the target with a hybrid of 1.14 and a skimmer. For my part I had to content myself with a 2lb zander and 1lb perch on small dead boats ('dead boats' indeed, now there's an idea!)

The big roach may have eluded us but at least Russ could go home with a bit more confidence in the canal lift method having achieved half of his aims persevering with it

A Confirmed Trip

Next morning, having heard he words 'North Oxford Canal' emerge from Russell's lips it was inevitable that they would filter through the cranial planning process and be granted consent

At the extreme east end of that very cut I felt the chances of the target roach to cut through the building angling gloom was possible, if not likely

'Mild' is hardly the word for this current spell of weather. 'Silly' is more accurate. 10 degrees C when I landed on the towpath and tip-toed past the boats. Water visibility was around 5 or 6 inches and I had two hours to play with.

Two hours was far too long as it transpired. A good lift bite and solid resistance after twenty minutes fishing, with various crow species announcing the arrival of the day, was all it needed to confirm the plan had worked. No bream fight this one and the eventual glimpse of red brought an irresistible urgency to the pursuit such that no other catch can match.

The line and tightly held stomach could relax with it aquaplaning over the rim of the net and into meshed safety.

1.9.11 of wondrous beauty, that sits proudly second among what is already becoming a really satisfying campaign-list of pound plus canal fish, was the result.

25.7 ounces

A Trip on the Way to a Visit

I had a meeting to attend at 09.30 on Thursday and so, it being right next to the Grand Union on my old match fishing stamping ground, I couldn't decide what to do beforehand. So I resolved to go fishing.


Not expecting much on what I see as the GUC 'proper' (i.e. from south of Whilton Locks to London), as I was not certain of the impact zander had yet had that far down, I set-up in an area I once had the pleasure of watching the great (no misuse of that word here) canal angler Billy Makin and former world champion Ian Heaps have a little post-match competition on some bream pegs opposite trees. Those trees are now replaced with concrete and boats and increased width. In fact it looked more breamy than back in the '80's. (Bill won by the way but that was never in doubt frankly)

Bream did not for a change dominate proceedings this time and two nice roach, just creeping into the challenge by dint of magnitude, and absolutely immaculately presented, brightened that cloudy morn.



Non Trips

Two further visits to that long neglected part of the world were dominated by bream to two and half pounds however and shall remain largely of no more note other than to say that The Old Duffer once again graced the Grand Union with his now rare, but no less skilful, presence to take two of the slimy blighters from my swim

The Long Trip

Current 2016/17 big canal roach campaign - Top Ten:
(All GUC except *NOXC)

Sunday, 16 October 2016

A Soggy Situation

The Prologue.

In the F, F & F post "The Ring around the Bullseye" somebody claimed the biggest of canal roach to be 'loners'.

Whoever that was clearly didn't give the statement due consideration and must've drifted into blogging autopilot.

It can't be confirmed as a fact without aqua-vision and as such must surely be complete speculation but what ejit would write such drivel?!

What I intended but didn't put across accurately was subtley, and yet at the same time fundamentally, different to the message that Jeff Hatt, that currently idle angling idler, picked-up and ran with. The key word I actually wrote was that really big canal roach, and by this I mean those of 1lb 10ozs or more, are "...loners".

Mr Hatt took that, quite rightly, as meaning they lived alone but, equally rightly, pointed-out that roach always live in shoals and that he had himself observed small groups of truly big canal roach loosely accompanied by a few of around a pound. In my case however, with the canals I fish being murky and therefore visually impenetrable, there is no such experience to fall back on but I believe he is right and that it is unlikely that those fish will be loners in that sense. Certainly when on those rare occasions that fish fitting the category above have graced my life I have, every time, harboured a feeling that there may just be one or two more to be caught immediately thereafter.

So what did the word 'loner' mean if not that?

What I meant, but lazily failed to convey, was that they have all been loners when caught. There would be no others following them into the net. Thus the prospect of catching another appeared to be nil. That is not to say they weren't shoal fish but somehow the likelihood of catching more than one at that size was negligible probably because they would have been irretrievably spooked by their lifelong school mate's frantically sudden disappearance.

If The Boy Wonder manages to perfect his aquatic filming we might get some proof. At present it's tantalisingly close but not quite there.


Friday evening.

Having just nipped-out for the obligatory beef curries there is a shroud of autumnal sharpness shrinking over the country side. Not cold enough for frost, damp enough for fog, or sufficiently overcast for rain but, quite distinctly, autumnal.

The weather in the morning should be cloudy with the prospect of rain from 9-ish for maybe a couple of hours but with the wind turning to south-east from easterly.

This forecast confirms that the stretch of GUC I visited for the first time and took the first prize roach of the campaign from will be in ideal condition as the last two weeks before the clocks change run down.




Mild. Overcast. Still.

Up the Junction?
'Peaked early and sat ready to pierce the surface at first light and in this peg one needed to be.

A canal junction. Once it came alive it would be mayhem.

The fish knew this too.

The first half hour was more frantic than usual though, as the fish, apart from one individual prime roach (not a loner, two others primed as tackle was set-up), made desperate efforts to get caught before the tell-tale tug of the water drawn to left or right commenced.

Firstly bronze bream to 1.14 and then hybrids up to 2 pounds 6 ounces (they sure do fight!) slipped over the rim and gave up.

Somewhere in that lot is a roach of 1.4.6, taken second fish of the day
After the two biggest hybrids the action came to an abrupt halt. I fed again but then that dreaded tow started and the arrival of the first narrow boat was signalled.

What a picturesque spot this had been though. Surveyed by typical canal architecture the junction with its weeping willow and neatly trimmed verges was certainly a joy to be part of.

The Kingfisher peeped, mallards scrapped and swans hissed in search of fragments of my bread. All was normal on the cut.

Passing that rarest of canal inhabitants, an angler, as I wandered back with rain cloud confusing the horizon, I was regaled with enthusiastic tales of carp. So that's another target for the future that HonGenSec might just find appealing.



Rain forecast from 7 or 8am

It was a rush to get there and set up before it started. The cloud was thick in the direction of travel but with the orange glow of impending sun still evident to the north. I stuck with the plan to head east and as I got out of the car it started spitting.

I tried to find a suitable swim but so many moored boats sent me back to the car and onto Plan B, a plan that didn't exist until that moment.

Arriving at my peg in the cutting it was so dark as to be a literal headache to see the float and with water clarity probably a touch too deep I did wonder whether a soaking was worth it.

It was also likely that there would be no chance to move swims once camp was built.

Mash was introduced and the rain drops grew larger; enhanced and supplemented by huge drops from the over-arching tree cover. A few leaves adorned the shimmering berippled surface but by 9.30, when the downpour had peaked, autumn was confirmed as suddenly, their leaf nodes strained beyond holding by the weight of water, the branches lost grip of their life-giving attachments and began to recoil into winter.

It took a few minutes but slowly bites started and ultimately, in no rush, 5 bream, as peas in a pod, made a nice net of precisely 10lbs to the ounce.

By now the rain was so heavy as to preclude the walk back so I amused myself talking to passing dogs. Quite a collection today. Cockers & Springers, a giant Jack Russell (more of a Jonathan Russell really), mutts, mongrels and Co., but thankfully only Ollie showed any interest in the bait and by then it mattered not.


(All Grand Union Canal)

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Dream Time?

When James Brindley was commissioned to build the first great canals of England, including our local Oxford Canal, little forethought could he have had for the service he would be providing for this hard-pressed early twenty-first century population.

I was chatting to The Dog recently on an occasional return to the nest from his own pioneering bio-geographing and he was contemplating taking-up an individual sport. "You're too talented not to play cricket", I said, "Your trouble is you're too much like me, you don't like people".
"Your not far off the mark there", he replied.

Of course that was as big a sweeping statement as one could imagine. There are of course many people we like but it is certainly true that that particular attitude that people adopt in groups is a turn off for many of us.

Along the canals I see many many loners. I see people simply seeking to get away. People who need space. They may be boaters, walkers, runners, cyclists, dog owners, heaven forbid even the occasional angler(!), but they all seek one thing, and very little of it involves the transportation of coal.

As an angler it is so massively irritating to get an early boat especially at this immediately pre-GMT time of year when private early morning space is so short, but, you can see that same 'lost in the escapism of it all' look in most boaters eyes at that time of day, and one can't begrudge them long as they slow down!

Yes Brindley and his cohorts delivered escape to a reasonable swathe of a wide community. Where else can you go where everyone says good morning as they pass?

To the present day user that escape is as important as the original civil engineering feat itself in its own way.


So yesterday, following a reliable tip-off, the cross-hairs scanned for roach of a similar flavour to last week's, i.e. very tasty, if not tastier. 

The hints of the hedgerow suggested it was time.

But those that fondle the rudder needed a rudely early fix and within 20 minutes of dawn two such deviants had passed leaving us with nothing but silt soup to behold

The Boy Wonder however had other plans anyway. Underwater filming was on the cards. While I struggled for next to nothing on the fish front he digitally captured roach and perch. More importantly though he confirmed something that has troubled myself, and indeed the hopefully temporarily retired Blogfather himself, Jeff Hatt. What actually happens to bread mash when a boat goes through or when locks open nearby? The answer is quite enlightening and goes to explain why it is so difficult to re-focus fish in a swim after such an event. All of the fluffy mash gets washed away...completely, not just a few inches...and spread far and wide. All that is left are the little harder less buoyant fragments of crust that are contained by the undulations of the bottom (at the risk of sounding like Miranda Hart)

So a decision was made there and then. In future when a boat passes or a lock opens I will move at least 50 yards and start again

I just knew TBW would come in useful one day. All-but 15 years it took.


This morning therefore two bridges were on the mind as I trekked through the country lanes, misty and shrouded in the cloak of night but I ended-up at neither when I found another to be more devoid of boaters' cars than usual and found space to wiggle the little roach bus into.

Weighted down and ready I peered over the parapet to see decent fish topping in an area past a moored boat and there I headed.

Now this was not to be a lengthy sit down. The sky was clear and there was no cover so it would be a case of whatever we could muster before the sun froze the fish.

This turned out to be very little. Combined with the hopeful, if weak, calls of two pairs of bullfinches, the fish were frantically feeding, and so were the crays, but after a roachXbream hybrid of around nine ounces and two bream, largest 1.12 - sudden death. Notably no roach.

The opposite side of the bridge was tree-lined and so, without any hesitation and as yet no water movement, a new swim was prepped with mash and in went the cane-tipped float. Again action was furious, but short-lived with no cloud cover. Three bream to 1.15 and two roach around ten ounces each plus a couple lost and missed in an hour was capped on the day by a fleeting willow tit moving right to left through the far bank thorns, its distinctive call preceding a decent view.

Things were now getting tricky but 60 yards to my right I was able to find yet more cover that would see me out for today, or so I thought.

From that, assumed last, swim three more bream to 1.13 fell quickly to the flake offerings leaving a total catch of 12lbs 3ozs at that moment in time. Another entertaining early morning's action on this ever more bream-dominated canal, the Grand Union.


I fancied a wander.

Those at home had other plans and there was time to spare with the sun being prominent as it was.

Two flights of locks were investigated for likely pounds and likely they were, punctuated as the walk was by a 'chissick-ing' group of grey wagtails and hedges festooned with autumnal fruits.

Sussing that one solitary boat had quite a number of locks to grapple with and rise up through, and with nothing coming down, the kit came out again and, in twenty available minutes, another hybrid and a seventh bream took the overall catch over fourteen pounds but again no roach.

The lack of roach does not trouble me nor will it put off another visit as an overcast day might just produce something more interesting at some point but, for now, I shall concentrate on other areas as the search for the holy grail progresses

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Ring around the Bullseye

Why it needed the second set of scales I've no idea. As always they both proved each other to be faithful. There should never have been a doubt.

It is essential to be certain in those breathtaking, almost heart-stopping, moments in life. No times to be taking risks, or being rushed, or in any way glib these.

There had been no sign of life being present until that tell-tale stick of cane stood up as sudden as an adjacent thunder clap...and stayed there. That is always a sign of confidence, and confident it was.

Confident, powerful and unrelenting.

Conditions were perfect for the situation. Overcast, a drift in the air but the water flat calm, mild and with water visibility around ten inches. The 'peeu, peeu' of a flock of winter-visiting siskins fleetingly filled the air above the trees and the Grand Union was in fine fettle for whittling out the odd roach.

Odd it was.

Odd in being alone. Odd in its fighting spirit. Odd in the singularity of the bite.

Above all though odd in its size.

Roach of, what this regular colder weather campaign targets as the true quarry, upwards of one pound four ounces, trying to determine the ceiling, are so difficult to track down. Each stretch requires searching until areas are identified and that can be revisited irregularly through to March. At least three weeks between trips and the pressure doesn't tell on them.

To find fish over that size is another matter and in the experience of these tales of F,F&F it has become clear that:
A/. The fish are often loners (at that size);
B/. The fish are always first to be caught of a morning;
C/. They always feed before the sun breaks over any shade, and,
D/. They're fighters!

So this one was no different, ticking all those boxes and more

Once in the net the enormity of the accomplishment is consuming. Shaking hands, beating heart (naturally!), shortness of breath and, frankly, a mild sense of panic. The question of whether to continue or simply flee to the humble abode, knowing, just knowing.

No other fish can cause such symptoms in this particular angler. The past year or two have produced fish of other species that should have, but somehow it just isn't there.

So how does one make them appear their true size in photographs?

Like this?
Or like this?
The latter I suspect.

And what did he weigh one might ask? One pound, fifteen ounces, five drams. 

A truly magnificent fish from any water and Grand Union p.b. to boot, this very morning. 

What is it about big roach?

Monday, 3 October 2016

Losses and Gains; Swings and Roundabouts; Snakes and Ladders and The Like

Dank dawn
As the hook pulled-out for the third successive time it was time to question all in life.

The scapegoat was the hook. Ripped from involvement and cast aside. Replaced by a smaller, bright, young, more attractive model. 'Twas ever thus.

No further losses. Youth is the future.

A steady, regular, intermittent fluting cut the dawn air. Out of sight but consuming the mind.

Curlew pitch it was, but no upturn toward the end. The likely comparison call note was golden plover. Anything is possible here within a stone's throw of Draycote Water and a dried pea throw of an extensive escarpment running south-east.

A move, and into the target straightaway. Three roach in as long as it had earlier taken to have a wash and, in clearing water, these beauties were approaching their winter peak. Thickening of gut, sparkling of scale and fighting fit. Not the usual washed-out complexion from this oft deeply murky canal.

1, 2, 3 or, more precisely, 1.1.14, 1.3.6 & 1.3.0. Yet the last one is the only one that looks big. The angle of the shot is all.
Visibility had increased from nine inches depth to around eighteen since last Sunday. Three days. Much more clarity and things could become rather too challenging.

The shoal found, the boats increased and the end was upon us.

No sooner had the beginning drawn it's draughty early morning breath than it was wheezing the end through funnels and smoke as a steam narrowboat forced it's industrial scale prop past with deep thumping kinetic drive.

That earlier sound stiffened the ears again but this time multiple calls and, overhead, five plover hung on the breeze contemplating decent. So it certainly wasn't a curlew then. They drifted north and out of sight over the high hedge that had protected all that mattered from the early wind.

Returning yesterday to trial underwater filming in cahoots with The Boy Wonder we found aquatic visibility still at around 18" at first light. The sun would rise promptly without any cloud cover to assist in the attempt but limit fish feeding.

Two roach gave themselves away to the baked sensation. The first just eight ounces; the next established it's position twice in also being runner-up to date in the current big roach campaign list

I cannot recall a more perfect canal specimen than this. 1.4.10
The filming needs work but the principle is firmly established. Switching the camera ON before filming for an hour will make results improve, we fear.

Big Canal Roach Campaign current list:

The above takes us back to the first year of this obsession when the fish averaged around 1lb 2ozs on the North Oxford Canal until, during some kind of death wish session, 3 handfuls of mash were introduced at the off. After that change to increased feed fish over 1.8.0 became regular.

Recently, perhaps the equivalent of half that volume has been used so there's an area that might improve things. There must be a limit though and over forthcoming visits we'll find out.

Yesterday evening, an hour before and after sunset picking-up on the long-established River Leam 4lb chub hunt, and 20 minutes into dark this:
High on the Leam list at this weight and with the fight to test the tackle to its limit but the clutch was set just perfect for the bang-crash-wallop event in a swim just 2.5m wide, and full of potential banana skins, and within seconds he was banked and not best pleased about it.

Three pounders are not that common on this small river and it makes a nice start to go with the 2.12 fish of a fortnight ago.

Having ditched the membership I had last season in favour of stretches further downstream the clear difference in weight is immediately confirmed. If there is indeed a four pounder out there this is surely where it will come from and the 3.13 fish taken had three years ago will be that big by now - if dear old Lutra lutra hasn't had nabbed it yet

Parting thought...
It's tough being a spaniel