Monday, 30 December 2019

The Pre and Post Christmas Rush


Sinking into the marsh, subsequent steps no deeper than before but each consistently sucked in by the peat-like soil, slowed the walk but did not diminish the enthusiasm as the river was to be at a high level and, with the summer weed now ripped-out and flushed through by a month's heavy rain, the opportunity to apply pole feeder tactics in slack water was irresistible

'Anything that swims' would be in order, as the first priority is to avoid a blank, but there would be that Peter Stone-style aim to pick-out a bigger fish, as always

Choosing a slack below a bridge where the main flow hurtled to the far bank, toward the overhang of hawthorns, the water appeared steady with barely any flow and, closer in, flowed against the main torrent but, there was an 'eye' to this back eddy, centrally, where the water stood still

The essential of offering an attraction of feed on the river bed in such circumstances is limited to a bait dropper or swimfeeder and, with the most recent rain at that time having been cold, this needed to be in limited quantity. The introduction of a single chopped lobworm plugged with a minimal but heavy mix, containing a sprinkling of worm extract, would be introduced and only for the first three lowerings of the rig, after which the ear would make decisions on the state of play

Bites would be expected to be early and consistent, if they came at all should there be any fish in the slack, and sure enough this came in the shape of a rare river gudgeon, and a surprise boost in Challenge points. The marker quivered and disappeared with a disproportionately positive vigour as compared to the size of this tiny mottled brown visitor, which weighed in at just 0.54 ounces on the mini-fish scales

Adding challenge points at the time of year, and with such weather affecting all possible options, is largely an exercise in luck, most of it bad, but the great thing is that the flood, if it produces anything, often produces pleasant surprises, unseasonable species being one of them but also bigger fish than we might anticipate

Ones natural reaction approaching such a situation is to think that anything will do and therefore be happy with a little fish of any species simply to rescue the day from a blank but regularly this can be found to be a negative and pessimistic attitude. That's not to suggest that big fish will be caught from each and every slack. Indeed, some of them won't appear to hold any fish at all but on average it seems every other trip might throw up something a little more interesting. This past week, for instance, a chub of 4lbs+, an eel of over a pound and a string of pristine hand-sized roach have sprung from different swims on various days

For a few weeks the canals locally had been like milky tea, the lakes shocked into the dormancy of winter by the first cold weather and rivers in and out of the fields with varying degrees of turbidity, pace, level and temperature

The most recent rain, a brief but violent downpour on a Friday, of the increasingly prevalent 'climate change'-driven type, was warm, as the weather turned, and, although the river was rising, it was not now carrying much debris. Consequently the fish were more obliging. Simply more hungry, and, thankfully, a series of chublets and roach came to hand in the ensuing couple of hours accompanied by the incessant twittering and wheezing of starlings on the wires, and the occasional whistling of teal



Rocky Res would be the location as temperatures were expected to be steady and mild for a couple of weeks

Bleak Midwinter, and windswept at even the most enticing of times, this was not a place for the tentative, sensitive nor indeed the unprotected angler

Visits must be preceded by careful analysis of wind direction and speed plus the likelihood of rain, otherwise the most uncomfortable, nigh-on unbearable, sessions are bound to be endured

The first visit was to be the now standard winter stillwater roach approach of maggot feeder and closely positioned two inch heli-rigged hook-length, also loaded with maggot, usually double but part of a constant merry-go-round of hook-bait options in search of a 'killing' combination

HonGenSec beat me to it on the first trip, as usual (albeit biteless at that point), but, even though there were a few carpers and pikers ensconced, swims were going aplenty

Ultimately it became apparent that my negativity in hook size would come to haunt me, catching four fish and losing five due a surprising interest from tench in just 5degC water temps [no one tell Len Head!]. The best roach was 12ozs, for each of us


Next trip and HGS was well in front of me and had 5 or 6 roach to 1lb before I'd even turned-up.

The approach was to be different this time, and new. I recalled having a tube of 'sticky mag' in the bag and, combined with a slider rig, this was to be the challenge of the day fishing into 10' of water at around 20-25m. How this would take me back!

Never having used sticky mag it was a bit of a challenge to even get it to work, but it did, and very effectively too. It was easy to roll 20 gentles into a ball and fire them out with a standard catapult. It did require a bowl of water to swill the fingers in, as the stickiness was staggering. I had imagined it would be like a cornflour-type thickening agent but in use it seemed more like powdered toffee, or the like. So adhesive was it that the bait became rigid under its power

My recollection of the slider rig (it had been a while) wasn't the best and I did suffer with tangles, however subsequent seeking of advice from experts, a couple of errors with shotting and casting technique are now resolved. I think the hook bait was attached directly to the float for 50% of the session! Not good, but maybe you gotta make mistakes to learn sometimes (I keep telling myself!)

The upshot of the session was that HGS kept trotting along showing me roach of ever-increasing size, to over the pound mark, in fact, while I kept plugging away. It was during one of those chats that I actually had a bite and landed a very respectable perch of a pound thirteen. Later came the light-bulb moment that this might even have represented more unexpected challenge points

It did, sixty-odd of them!

Another 10oz roach followed but then the dark set-in early with heavy cloud and mist. HGS had by then quit for the heated car seat option but his catch of nine roach, all over ten ounces, for a total catch of around seven pounds, would do more to keep the home fires burning than any amount of hot food

Next day, the third visit, there could be no excuses. I knew where the bigger roach were, the rig, the slider episode was out of the system and I had doubled-up an eleven foot 1lb t.c. rod prior to the holiday and matched them to alarms and bobbins. The heli-rigs would be back in action!

Arriving just after sunrise, the light southerly would again be from behind the chosen spot, if it was free. Again there was total cloud cover (very much akin to the Dutch 'Total Football' but without the game itself being in anyway involved...unless a perch was caught, obviously) and no one else there, (a Saturday!), again, the water was around 5degC

Pilfering a few rocks from the bank, the rods were set-up perfectly (this time). Maggot at first, then a few flavours proved nothing until bites started to emanate. Inquiries at first then full-blown backdrops; never frantic but regular and generally hit-able

Firstly roach, in fact the first fish was over a pound and followed by a couple of twelve ouncers

Then the tincas moved in, inexplicably smaller than the average summer fish initially, at two and half pounds, but cracking fish to take in Christmas week

Not one, but two bailiffs, approached me at various times to see if anything was stirring and both were genuinely pleased that the answer was, "Yes", as the lack of bums on seats bivvy bed-chair thingies demonstrated that things could only have got better

Then a passing couple or two. It was a dead-end. They had to come back so it was easy to lose count, honest. Suspected as angling husbands and non-angling generally frozen partners suffering the event in the hope of ending-up somewhere warm later, maybe?

My final visitor however was actual angling royalty in the ever-upright form of 1960's England International Hubert Noar; now in his seventies; still match fishing on canals; still seeking bigger fish than the youngsters, albeit more so with perch than roach these days, it seems, and still drawing more than his fair share of what we used to call 'coin', I suspect

"Didn't expect to see you here!" he said, binoculars at the ready in case the regular passage migrant from Norfolk, a bearded tit, should emerge from the reeds

We reminisced

Old names, old techniques, preferences and, as always with anglers of this stature, a couple of nuggets; gems, if you like. Apparently back in the heyday of the middle Great Ouse, when anglers from Rugby Federation, it is fair to say, dominated, it seems Hubert used to come to Rocky Res to practice the unique long float technique into surface drift-affected deep water rather than driving for ninety minutes to the actual venue between matches. It paralleled my own experience, teaching myself to fish bread punch in readiness for a Grand Union Canal NFA National in North London by using the Leicester Arm of the same canal, it would be similarly clear, in the early mornings at the very least, and, sure enough, it worked in that manner too.

Suddenly - resounding bleeps on both rods at once

I struck into what was clearly a better tench on the left-hand rod combined with a solid drop-back on the right-hand rod leaving the alarm bleeping constantly. Hubert was desperate to help-out so I let him pick up the r.h. rod and he held it until I had netted the tench and soon it was joined by a good roach in the same landing net

A quick weigh put the tench at 3lbs 8ozs and the previously unmolested form of the freshly minted roach at a cracking 1.5.3, and (just) more unexpected Challenge points

Best tench of the day
"I expect you'll be doing a film about this place next then?!", he enquired. Very much matter of fact

"No, I think there are plenty of people who know more about this place then I do Hubert", came the reply. His response was indeed flattering, yes, but, I have to say, very much wide of the mark

According to my build-up of notes (no keepnets allowed) the catch comprised 5 roach and 4 tench for a total of exactly sixteen pounds with the smallest fish again eleven ounces.

Quality fishing at one of the best stillwaters in the area

Best roach of the day

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all, let's hope the fishing is on the up at last!

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