The Stillwater is tough.
So tough that a bite is at the very least a pleasant surprise and, more often in fact, something of a shock.
A couple of weeks ago I felt that floundering feeling when I wasn't enjoying my fishing enough as it seemed to have become directionless and predictable. Too many stretches of canal had turned clear and the banker stretch, although in perfect trim, could only be enthused over so many times.
A decision was made.
Target roach on all venues.
It started with blanks. In fact Monday would have been my sixth consecutive, but no one said it would be easy.
The Stillwater was too still, however I did see some quality fish topping at dawn which gives me future hope, but wind and colour are required.
The hours I whiled away on the banks were exceptional for bird life however and precisely fifty species were listed topped by a fantastic winter visiting firecrest plus a few brief glimpses of an otter bubbling it's way eastward in search of that which I could not find. That tiny bird was the harbinger of what we Burtons call a 'Let's Weep!' moment, such as I last felt when discovering my first ever Dartford warbler in Dorset. Magical.
No bites ensued in two visits and the next thing to make me emotional was meeting a good old friend or two by chance in the tackle shop. About fifteen years they reckon it had been. Cue selfies, tales of days gone by and, I'm told, Facebook may subsequently have been involved, though that is beyond my oldfangledness.
On a tip-off I decided to fine-tune the roach method on another pond where I might get a bite before returning when conditions would be right in search of the prey of palpitations.
As I used to think as a match angler..."You learn nothing if you're not getting any bites".
Arriving before dawn, good fish topped all round with the increasing light and just occasionally some real specimens rolled too.
Fishing two rods at 30m with maggot feeders it was second cast with each rod that the action started and continued unabated until I cut the flavouring from the feeder by way of a reverse experiment and the bites immediately ceased. Amazing proof.
Archie Braddock - you were right, as we're my informal mentors. I was tempted to call them Mentors A & B but that implies a hierarchy so I'm going with Mentor P and Mentor I. I suspect they will become MP and MI in no time...oh, they already have.
Roach, Rudd and a solitary perch completed a lively two hour session with nine pounds of fish which included the golden prize of a rather sneaky p.b. Rudd of 1.2.
Next day the air was a little less welcoming at three degrees but I had a couple more things to try out and so headed to the same peg again. This time for a quarter short of two hours but the hoped-for big roach showed themselves for the first hour of daylight once more.
Second cast again with each rod and two fighters were on the bank. Initially disinterested, but increasingly keen to get away the closer to the bank they came, the unmistakable fight of unseasonal tench was upon us. One could have been lucky, two worthy of comment but to take four up to 5.2.11 was just plain silly. Add to this two roach and three perch, all around ten ounces each and the sixteen pound catch in one and three quarter hours summed-up a commercial-esque(!) session I could never have seen coming.
The second tench, or tenchlet at 1.6, carried festering growths in the roots of its fins and so I slipped it back and thus avoided infecting the keepnet. Photographs are now with the holding club and their experts are on the case to pursue it further. Deer stalkers donned and magnifying lens in hand as I write no doubt.
I think the wind is on the rise in a few days' time, so, having ironed-out a few wrinkles in the method, it's back to The Stillwater to try to tempt the untemptable but until then this alternative is too good to miss for December. Those bigger early-priming roach are there to be had too. The lake is the source of the roach p.b. on stillwaters at 2.1.8 of three decades ago, the best of a magnificent brace and a day when, just minutes later, The Old Duffer nabbed one for himself of 2.0.8 to confirm the venue pedigree.
This morning with, again, very little time to play with, it was back to attempt to tease out those bigger roach that had been active early, a fortunate by-product of this rig-testing industry. It had been a brief frost yesterday evening but, with temperatures due to soar up to 6degC before dawn with some cloud and rain in the early hours, the likelihood of tremulous tench yet ravenous roach became too tempting to ignore.
On arrival it was actually seven degrees but the breeze was biting and I'd forgotten my trousers, or at least my thermal over-trousers, and had to sit like some old(er) boy with a jumper over my thighs looking distinctly as though my carer had cleared-off in search of someone more spritely.
I fancied two options:
A maggot feeder at 30-35m and a flavoured maggot feeder at 60m, both with maggot hook baits.
4 bites to the flavour in 2.25 hours fishing, all hooked and landed. Zilch on the other. Now there's no doubt that Archie, MI & MP were right.
Encouraging one pound fish to the bank with a slightly over-gunned rod and careful use of the clutch has been interesting in that it has really enabled the identification of the fish by fight characteristics quite easily
So the week ended with a less numerous catch but a nice weight of eight pounds-odd comprising this lovely, yet thermally confused, tench of 5.9:
A probable roach X rudd hybrid of a gnats under a pound:
and two of these chunky footballers:
With an approaching ten days or so to tackle various venues, and the weather looking settled there's genuine optimism in the air, and the water I hope