Saturday, 18 April 2020

Three Weeks In…The Hiatus at Home


A Long Season Behind & a Long non-statutory Close Season to Follow

There was a time when life was simple

A time when a close season was accepted, when fishing was uncomplicated and when people knew where they stood

They knew right from wrong, in a sense

The glorious 16th. Of spring fishes, sharp mornings, misty views, gritty eyes and the heartbeat of uncertainty

Those of unfathomable feathered feats of migration would start to trickle in. A few waders, the odd martin or swallow; overwintering chiffchaff and blackcap might start to sing, boosted by a far greater number of visitors and, conversely, some would leave; redwing and fieldfare most notably, but they can also be noted hanging around seemingly far too long (7 fieldfare in a mature garden aspen just 2  weekends ago)

Wildfowl leave and wildfowl return; cetaceans follow prey into the waves warming coastal waters and, somewhat intriguingly, become spotters’ fantasy sightings

Frogs, toads and newts; snakes and lizards; invertebrates; fish; every living thing becomes caught-up in the palpable swell of Spring

Except this year, 2020, when we British humans are to be denied our Spring


Questions are begged

"But what about the League?!"

Liverpool, perhaps Coventry City, Celtic, Dundee Utd, Cove Rangers they could all be declared champs and not many would be bothered but when it concerns tight current positions like those of Leeds, Crewe/Swindon, Raith Rovers, etc., plus the numerous also rans seeking promotion and those trying to drag their legs from the rubber towel holder of relegation, what’s to do? Well okay the, disrespectfully so called, lower leagues have been scrubbed but firstly, does it not seem quite incredible that none of the leagues seem to have rules set-out under the heading “Massive Disaster Contingency Plans”, especially as the majority of them survived at least one and probably two World Wars?

Surely the simplest solution is that if a delay of more than ‘X’-weeks occurs the places each team occupied at the time of suspension will be their finishing positions. If the rules state it there is no doubt and everyone goes into it with their eyes open, but to take decisions in multi-million pound situations mid-flow could/would result in complete chaos with the legal system being swamped with claims and counter-claims arising therefrom. One would think they’d be ready


So that’s just one issue in this crazy COVID-19 world of isolation. I’m told there may be others


For F, F&F though there are bigger fish to skin and many ways of frying a cat (to use dear old Psycho’s method of phraseology. For the can’t be bothered at heart, he once said, “We could see the carrot at the end of the tunnel”) and some of those creatures will be positively contributing to this, the Hiatus at Home, while others will suffer

Research, conservation, breeding, crime, birth rates, death rates, sales, mental illness, wealth, etc., will all have wildly swinging fluctuations of fortune and we’ve just got to bite the bullet and make the most of what we have without any great release other than conversation, community spirit, siege mentality, gardening, home decorating, health and fitness, families being drawn together, helping each other, playing games, cooking. Blimey, sounds quite plausible actually.

So, for our part, it’s been a case of writing up angling notes, imagining what one might need to prepare for and what options might present dependent upon the timing of our release.

Revisiting those notes is always rewarding, not least because the number of hopeless trips become apparent and being confined to literal gardening duty seems nicely profitable in comparison to those

One aspect, it being a Bloggers’ Challenge season, is the noting of those slightly more special fish. There’s a little schedule that qualifies a fish in FFF-land and anything above gets underlined in red. So it’s quick to glance through and see how successful a period has been in terms of fish that have hit the mark of being noteworthy, albeit they all get noted anyway

They’ve become known as Stone-fish


PB’s merit a red box around them. Any type of PB. Best for rivers, canals, lakes; best for individual watercourses or lakes or of course the actual overall, indisputable, species, ‘with knobs on’, Lifetime Personal Best

PB’s came along like mornings when the Float & Flannel elements of the Blog were growing and the first Bloggers’ Challenge entered was underway. A few years on, a PB has become more of a rarity as the number of pyramid topping species has racked-up. Indeed, it’s become more a case of seeking epic moments than PB’s in their own right.

But is this right? Is angling all about breaking previous barriers?


The Bloggers’ Challenge  is all consuming.

The inner competitor breaks-out of dormancy and influences every move.

What points-scoring fish do current conditions suggest the most likely? Catching it is uplifting but there are many, many failures and its easy to look back at a year via the notes and (lack of) underlining to see the fact

Some nice fish have been to grace the net, certainly, but the whole period has been more about quantity and filling the scoreboard with ‘nice fish’. The final part of the plan, this current river close season from mid-March to mid-June, was to have been the icing on the cake but of course, chances are it won’t now happen at all


Post-Coronavirus I envision a world quite different

When nature bites humankind on the proverbial, there is usually a quick return to whatever normality is, and it’ll be different things emerging from this pandemic that will stay with us. Sadly however, it will probably be the easy things that have little effect on people’s everyday lives that will be retained

In reality of course its the more fundamental far-reaching changes that need to become the norm, family, community, walking, supporting nature, growing food; all locally undertaken. British holidays, and, as the air now clears, a massive reduction in air and car travel, and so on

Personally it strikes me that if this lockdown has taught us anything surely it is that we’ve lost touch with the natural pace of life. The increasingly confusing, rushed, frantic daily grind that is neither natural nor healthy, nor sustainable is the new black. A place of darkness driven by the constant search for economic growth. More of this, more of that and less/no actual time to simply live. A pace careering to an inevitable collision with mental health and physical issues, which all begs the simple question, “Why?”.

One final question:
Could CORVID-19 be caused by a flock of rooks?


Seat photograph: Copyright Florian Müller





Tuesday, 24 March 2020

A RECORD BREAKING WET WINTER


The winter of 2019/2020 will no doubt be recorded as "the wettest since records began" in due course. Everything must be labelled thus in the 21st Century; biggest, smallest, worst, best, hottest, coldest, was Ben Stokes' Ashes hundred the best innings ever? Does it really matter?

The rivers only returned to anything like normal level toward the start of the beleaguered close season following what seem to have been interminable grey skies accompanied by heavy rain

Locally in fact, in terms of human impact, it wasn't that bad but certainly the situation once the ground became inundated was such that each time it rained the rivers were quick to rise with any additional precipitation finding no traction on the land. Thus it was difficult to predict levels from one day to the next. Throw into the equation the further determining factor of falling or rising water temperatures and it made for a quite unfathomable mix on the constantly warm angling front.

On one occasion at the water, that time approaching normal level but still with a strong tow and silt-coated banks, littered, thankfully, with barely any man-made litter, a great tit struck up a seranade. It's urgent 2x2 tune as if summoning passengers to the ark this winter had conjured in the minds of many a joker.

The View from Here throughout the Winter. Fishing into Cold Tea. 
Collectively and collaboratively, for FF&F and Artificial Lite, it had been preordained that the rivers would be targeted through the whole winter to support our forthcoming film but, never being tardy in the acceptance of a challenge, it was immensely taxing and thus worthwhile in a personal satisfaction sense when something actually happened.

It wasn't so much getting bites that was the issue but the late Peter Stone's influence over the perpetual search for those bigger fish in the swim was certainly stretched like no.6 pole elastic in a carp fight at times.

Checking weather forecasts, river levels, predicting whether water temperatures were increasing or simply increasingly cold were daily events. If they were rising and the target river was falling, then we'd be erecting our aerials for barbel on meat, if not it would be anything that swims, usually with lobworms.

Selecting swims took a good deal of wandering the banks, but some cracking (looking) options were identified and became so called 'go to' places dependent upon the above factors combined with wind direction.

As for the rest of the tale? Well, it's currently being narrated and edited.

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So, season over, it has become customary to take up residence at Rocky Res. Not the prettiest of backdrops to illuminate the quality of the fishing, which has never been better, but for a few bites and the chance of decent tench (regularly up to five or six pounds), roach averaging 12ozs but often over a pound and other mix'n'match treats along the way, it's a veritable fishing sweet shop with the word 'STRIKE' running through it much like its sugary seaside namesake.

...and strike we did.

A number of us from the Warwickshire Bloggers Angling Syndicate (WBAS), took the opportunity to move toward our second anniversary, with a few bites, the winter having been so tough for all of us.

The first few minutes, waiting for that first run on goal, always seem interminable and when utilising the now standard short link heli rigs for roach the opportunity that presents itself is often blasted over the bar.

Slowly we get into it and memory serves to advise that with a suitably balanced set-up the strike isn't actually important. If the feeder and bobbin are suitably matched a dropback indication confirms the fish is hooked as it's moved the feeder; similarly the bobbin repeatedly bashing against the alarm is a fair sign too!

Beyond that, the only interest was in the fish with no bird life of note to occupy the inter-bite lulls, and it was undoubtedly the latter, the bites, that stimulated endocrine system to ooze adrenaline as, on a couple of occasions, a fish was being played to the tune of the second alarm, singing like a canary in need of a good slap. Baitrunner engaged, rod thrown off the alarm, fish going who knows where!

The wind stiffened into its own adrenaline trigger between events as dense showers billowed across the valley like a stage curtain caught in the flatulence of an open fire exit. 

First time, a sight unimaginable to me just a few years ago. A roach of 1.6 sharing the bunk with a 5lb tinca. This followed later by two tench of 4.12 and 3.9, the one seemingly cradling the other. The ripped old net ('tempted to put "man" there!) was straining into shock but on neither occasion were fish lost and the effectiveness of the method was emphatically confirmed.




Soon of course swallows and martins will be coursing and swooping over the ripples. Warblers will be warbling on maximum volume and everything will seem fine again; while, at Rocky Res, it certainly is giving that impression already. 24lbs 8ozs of roach and tench followed by 14lbs in less that two hours on a subsequent visit is not to be sniffed at and not a fish under about half a pound.

----

So (why does everyone start sentences with "So" these days? I blame the scientists), approaching the end of the rifling through of various venue options, Google Earth, forecasts, river levels and the like; a break, a distraction, was required. Blogger's Challenge points had rarely been boosted through the muddy months and canal perch was one column needing to be populated with a two pounder, as a minimum, 100 points available to the taker if it exceeded two pounds and three ounces.

Cue a jolly to the banker swim. The journey brought a definite hint of a chill and it started to influence the inner workings. Parking up this was momentarily lost a the unbridled beauty of the song of the thrush accompanied the preparation as the extra layers initially felt bracingly cold against the skin. It rang out through the trudge to the waterside until he became consumed by a new urge. 

Caster feed and lobworm chopped in half, and both sections impaled, against the resistance only a lobworm can display, on a delicate little size 8 forged heavy metal hook would be the tactic on my beloved 10' wand. Now usually when you snap the tip off a rod the whole thing becomes quite useless but 2" off the tip of the wand, damaged in transit, and neatly cut back to what was the penultimate eye actually improved things for this exquisite little tool in the bigger fish stakes.

No need for anything elaborate here. Simply drop the lead to the right, quiver straight out and wait for the enquiries to start while sprinkling caster heavily (for a canal) over the top. Always been partial to casters have big perch.

Poised for that first bite and suddenly that clarion of small bird alarm calls, as, sure as strike follows bite, silent death. A female sparrowhawk on her early morning sortie. A smash and grab raid before breakfast. Without a whisper she was over my head and through the confined invisible, impossible (impassable even) tunnel of a route through the facing hedge and out of sight, not a feather ruffled nor a wing beat. 

Soon enough, a few tentative pulls and then the fish was clearly fully committed. A sharp strike in the hope of setting hook into boney mouth and the typical 'digging' run of a decent perch ensued. After quite a battle, the rod again served the purpose with ample reserves and this beauty was there to behold. Laying spent and sparkling under the blanket of heavy cloud


On the scales 35.3ozs, or 2lbs 3ozs 5dr to give it a precise conversion.

Points in the bag and a parallel apology to dear old Ben Henessy, whose 100 pointer this would usurp by just a quarter of an ounce, was certainly in order! (Still feeling guilty Ben).

That's the precis of the story anyway. As luck would have it, in the short session the following list of perch, tempted by an unexpected feast, from this apparent super-shoal went as follows:
2.3.5, 8oz, 6oz, 2.1.5, 1.2.10, 1.14.0 & 1.3.0 plus roach that moved in at the end of 4ozs and 10ozs.

Those latter suspects came as a complete surprise, so involved had the perching become but they did trigger a little reluctance to leave, even though bites had generally tailed-off significantly.

As an angler however, that feeling of confidence that a bite could come at any moment never wanes. It is probably the greatest cause of being late for whatever follows. One more cast. Well maybe another then, if I put it just...there.

Now why did I spend all winter on the rivers exactly?


Monday, 30 December 2019

The Pre and Post Christmas Rush



PRE-CHRISTMAS

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


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POST-CHRISTMAS

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

1.1.5
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
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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all, let's hope the fishing is on the up at last!





















Thursday, 21 November 2019

Lights, Camera, Action or The Written Word?


The recent foray into film with fellow blogger Eric Weight of Artificial Lite represents quite a departure from the usual F, F&F fare. It has caused less time to be available for writing, and certainly less to say, as the focus has sharpened elsewhere. Combine that with the Blogger's Challenge running this season and opportunities for the wide angle of variety found so absorbing in angling is hugely diminished.

The release to date of three films, all accessible across the tabs at the top here (popcorn extra) has put our combined little worlds into a whole new orbit, it seems. What started as a kernel of an idea during a chance encounter on the banks of Rocky Res one sunny morning, zoomed into an idea to keep the pair of us amused and then, a little while after initially putting Big Canal Roach on YouTube, it must have had some kind of boost somewhere as views rocketed and, before we could gather our thoughts, our little film, made initially to challenge our own aspirations, hit 1000, then 5000, then 10,000 and, now, closing-in on 25,000 views.

It's a job to know what to make of this. Many of the comments have cited calming, nostalgic, easy viewing as a heart-warming feature. Others like, what we like to think of, as the original, perhaps even unique, type and  flow of information. Certainly though, the fact is that many videos, while claiming to be of the 'how to..' type actually pass surprisingly little useful information on and often concentrate on the product and/or the 'wow, look at this/me' factor.

All this is fine of course, in its place, but it wasn't for us.

A fine mid-afternoon 6lbs 8oz river bream after the height of the Warks Avon floods. Anything is possible under such conditions. 
Firstly, one of the driving forces was that it doesn't matter who markets the rod you use, it need neither influence the achievement nor the pleasure of the pursuit. The kit we show in use is above budget/entry level but not in the expensive bracket, it's lower mid-range 'specialist' kit on average, or quite old, and perfectly adequate either way. The only extravagance was the centre-pin, which was a 50th birthday gift, and the only other thing we might habitually spend that bit more on would be line, as poor quality in this critical link is not to be entertained, but even in this department we see no need to advertise the fact, all quality tackle firms offer good enough lines, and, even for the beginner, tackle dealers will be quick to point out stock to meet the need.

Nothing is fixed, and anglers, above all others perhaps, will have their own preferences on tackle choice. We could easily have had the chance to catch more fish for the camera had we fished with match tackle, we would have lost more chub in some of the types of snaggy swim we were concentrating on in the knowledge that fish were likely to be present, but that would be misleading the viewer into believing this could be a sensible approach when it certainly would not be. "Hit and hold" is essential in such circumstances, both in terms of levels of success in landed fish and also fish welfare. We don't want to leave any fish tethered to roots, etc., due to inadequate or under-gunned tackle

Secondly, the making of any video had to be a pleasure in itself and this is where the 'bang, crash, wallop' manufacturer-type approach certainly didn't fit the bill. It had to try to stand alone even in the absence of any angling interest. Ideally though it would be a case of combining both aspects in a mature manner and one that would sit neatly in the 'roaring fire and nip of single malt' category, maybe even stretching to a puff on the old pipe.


Conversely, while one might always aspire to something of the quality of that benchmark in angling films know simply these days as "Passion", we preferred to avoid the retro-vintage tackle/eccentric country boys approach.

As Eric put it when we discussed the lack of a proper net bag one day, "It's just a bloke going fishing. I don't care if you've got a bin liner with your net in. That's the point". This is the ethos that encapsulates all of the above.

It's just a bloke going fishing.

So, Big Canal Roach having been released, we set about truncating the process as that took far too long, we felt. Not least in editing time, 90% of this for Eric.

Then, suddenly, dilemmas. Lots of them. The reception for the first effort - would it become a milestone round our necks? How would we move forward? Should we just stop there? What could we do that we know enough about to, a/. Be convincing, and, b/. At the very least match it in all other respects?

To give it a parallel in popular culture, imagine The Jam, or the like. Cracking, intense, true, passionate, heartfelt, real debut album, "In The City", when they really meant it, with no record deals in place as songs were written; then confronted with the need for follow-up albums after they've put everything into the first but there's nothing comparable left to share. The eye comes off the ball, so things get more far-fetched, more experimental and less real. In their case there's a contract and a deadline, it's now a living and everything depends on it, cue "This is the Modern World".

Thankfully in our case the only pressure we felt was a combination of our own desire and regular requests for more from commentators.

We put everything into the roach offering without holding anything back for the future. We did have a loose list of half a dozen ideas we might have considered a series but we never sat down and planned them in that manner. It was far more of a, "Let's try it with this one and see how it goes" approach.

The idea of a shorter, "What about this neglected misunderstood fish", silver bream option, though it always going to be of lesser interest, broke the potential for our heads to slip into a metaphorical noose 'early doors' by purposely deviating from the initial philosophy somewhat. For a start, it wasn't winter and it included more asides, especially with the rudd incident knitted in there, albeit unintentional, but that's fishing isn't it? Things happen and, more regularly than not, it's not what you might previously have planned or wished for.


The third offering was enhanced by two factors, mainly Eric's imagination, particularly in respect of the nostalgic element, and the first use of underwater footage. The latter, being my department, I have more to talk about and what a fascinating period that was. Thankfully in this respect at least, unlike the current one, it was generally a dry winter thus enabling a good deal of experimentation to be undertaken with the benefit of clear water. Angle of camera when settled, location, depth of field, scale, flow, ,varying waters were all to be resolved and dealt with. I estimate it took 20-30 hours of film to produce the few seconds of footage, twenty of those until we even saw a chub! Gudgeon, minnows, roach, dace, even a tench and then perch were all 'caught' prior to a chub sucking a piece of flake up in the murk and, even to this day, not a single view of the actual hook bait!

The main benefit of the sub-aquatic camera was the lens into a different poorly understood world. The difference in natural food levels between the Avon and the Leam for instance was an eye opener, the Avon having been polluted in recent years, and the step-up from those in winter to a shallow reservoir in spring was beyond belief where the array of life was falling over itself, so densely was it populated.

The camera we used wasn't expensive, I think £60-ish, but it saved straight to a micro SD and could film for a few hours, laying down the data in short segments which made for easy reviewing and labeling.

All of the above was very simple, which it needed to be in my case, and added a new dimension to the angling as well as the real purpose. No longer did I personally expect the fish to line-up, regimentally, as a tidy shoal awaiting their breakfast for instance, and a more chaotic scene is now imaginable as various dabblings are made.

So what of the future of video for Artificial Flight?

There are a few ideas floating around and one we are about to embark on sparked by the recent seemingly interminable rain and flooding, an exciting prospect, for me at least, and one I'm immensely looking forward to starting imminently. Quite what it will bring that's different and progressive in our film making remains to be seen, but I'm sure we'll come up with something however basic it may be.

After all...it's just a bloke going fishing!











Friday, 4 October 2019

Gold Mines and The Wrath of Zeus



The recent distinct chill on leaving Chez Flannel signals the start of the Bloggers Challenge proper in the vortex that is the space between the ears.

A change of rules this year, and so far it's proven quite intriguing.

If someone catches a fish bigger than the previous best of that species it gets 100pts, and the prev best a %age of that new top weight. So, covering all regular species right down to bullhead and spread across rivers, lakes and canals, there is plenty to target, year round.

What it does mean is that no one can sit on their laurels and, in fact, for me it's very much been the usual approach of piling fish onto the leader board, no matter how small, and then trying to better them as the year moves on.

In the last challenge of 2017/18 I recall setting a  series of unexpected P. B's but as I was starting that competition with the PB bar set very low that wouldn't have been difficult. Now that they are set, and some have since been further improved, none have been broken to date this time. It's a struggle therefore to pick out highlights but a river tench of 4lbs 3ozs from the Fens and a cracking Grand Union roach of 1.12 stand out at present.

On the downside, perpetual champion, James Denison, has been laid-up by a serious back issue (and, no, that's not an injury caused by old copy of Financial Times) so his challenge hasn't really fired-up as yet but we all know the threat he'll pose when fully functional so it's useful to get a head-start!

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The Driving Seat
The Lady Burton and I recently agreed the impulse purchase of a little 'pre-loved' river boat moored on the Nene which will trigger a serious change of scenery for us on available free days.

The FF&F bus hasn't been to the Nene for thirty-five years but I'm sure it will soon be able to find it unaided. It's far enough away to feel like a holiday, yet close enough for a quick visit or indeed to get back from when The Boy Wonder sets the house on fire.

Nene fishing it seems is very much unchanged from the old days, I'm told. Plenty of small fish, mainly roach and skimmers with proper bream, chub and even barbel in places...and still the odd river carp.

River Angler TV has taken a hammering, and its creator, Mark, has been very helpful in pointing the noddle in the direction of some good tickets to consider, fishing locations and the like.

From this coming weekend the Nene challenge will therefore commence. No preconceived ideas in place, it'll simply be a case of prepare for anything, and be prepared for any thing. The lure of weir pools and backwaters however maybe too tasty to ignore for long!

The marina, one might imagine, would hold good fish, possibly larger than the river from past experience, and so a beady eye-out for rolling fish will be kept. The margins are certainly teeming with one and two ounce fish of various species, much as one would expect in a pool with a gravel base.

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A Long Weekend on Rising Rivers

Friday:
Arrived to the kind of car park I have a real love of...empty...just after dawn my minf set on bream with the possibility of a barbel or a carp

The early autumn rain earlier in the week had caused a rise and colouring of this most sullen of Warwickshire Avon stretches. The sort of murk, pull and flush that usually triggers those fascinating river bream to feed (please excuse the unintentional toilet metaphor!)

Wandering the field edge looking to avoid dodginess underfoot I became conscious of an unexpected brightness in the air and looked up to find all of the willows where the bream live looking like this...



So, immediately stumped as I was by confusion and a lack of ideas, this was the thought process:
"What the...?!"

"That's shocking, all that habitat 'tidied-up' and there was a major colony of that moth here"

"Where's the camera?"

"The shoal will still be here though, they never move..."

"...but how long ago were they cut down? It wasn't this week"

"The river could be strewn with invisible branches"

"I'll move back to the unaffected stretch"

(setting-up) "Maybe I should've gone somewhere else?"

The forecast showers hurtled down and the accompanying, surprisingly fierce winds, hurled the rain sideways into the new and remarkably flimsy brolly as the fish, if they were present, stayed in their sleeping bags with their woolly hats on, as The Lady Burton likes to imagine them. Sometimes the peerage rests ever so lightly on her finely sculpted candy floss shoulders.

Yes, I should've gone somewhere else.

Five hours of inactivity later it was time for lunch and to receive the usual unwelcome at the 'community store', where you are looked upon as a criminal while handing over your hard-earned cash if you weren't born within a rod, pole or perch of the door.

After an hour spent eating some very nice smoked salmon and seafood slop between two slices of corrugated cardboard (and trying to apply for boat insurance online via the phone) in the sun I, decided to spend the afternoon in a known barbel haunt in the hope of a double.

I was using the River Wye groundbait stodgy mush stuff I concocted 7 weeks or so back, and they didn't like it. Nothing but the odd sharp chublet twang.

So I started loose feeding pellets and cubelets of meat which happened to coincide with the river taking on the task of a drainage ditch with dirty water and debris from a downpour driving through.
The tip though whacked round and the clutch was giving a touch of line before I reacted. The usual surging run interspersed with relatively easy pumping of the rod indicated a spirited but not huge barbel had taken the plunge.



Soon in the net, he went 6lbs 13ozs and made the first day-off worthwhile. Nothing of note ensued apart from a very active and successful Kingfisher and, at dark, while packing stuff in the car, a voice, "Y'alrightmate...you'ad'oat?". "Just one", I replied, "'You done any good?". "Yeah, I just had a nine five, I wondered if you'd come and photograph it for me".

So, sliding more sideways that actually moving forward in the wheel marks now sodden from showers, the bus trundled to his swim and the deed was done. 3 deeds in fact as, in the first one, mateyboy looked somewhat unprepared, his eyes in a state of blinded flux waiting for the flash. 

He'd arrived two hours before sunset and completed the business he booked-in for. Only to be admired, that approach. 


Saturday/Sunday:
...and then it started to rain, and before we could draw piscatorial breath the rivers were getting distinctly wider. So the weekend proved a washout apart from a trip to the marina to sort out paperwork, etc. In fact, I don't recall Saturday actually happening. 

This included selecting a mooring. There were 6 free albeit it seems a bit of a 'park where you can free for all' in reality, rather like unallocated spaces in a complex of flats but we did find out that the central pontoon is occupied by a few anglers with boats. We had the lamp on them in no time and within minutes realised the angling potential of the marina itself. The result of this being that if we catch anything to even half the size they suggest we'll be happy!

Monday:
HonGenSec had been scheming. Stillwater Barbel and Chub for the challenge was the offer. £7 a day, proper cafe, nice surroundings. Some textual negotiations ensued and before I knew it, there we were. Brollies at the ready. Flowing aerated water, that distinctly off-putting commercial water colour, manicured banks and hook-blind pet carp cruising the surface.

But we were focused. Oh yes, we could blank-out the neon signs and gold-encrusted cash registers.

I hadn't realised quite how many pet barbel there were in the puddle and expected catching one to be a fluke, but no, fishing different methods we both had two and HGS's were the best two at a cuddly 5 and 6lbs, losing another, compared to two juveniles at 3.15 for myself. A couple of nice pet crucians and roach were further reward however and at least we can now move on from that grotesque spectre, Challenge points bagged, and put it behind us!


The rain commenced around 3.30pm and, once started it continued. This was a forever cloud that culminated in such heavy rain on the following day that my four minute drive to work started with me walking to the car in a few spots and after two miles it was so intense the  road was heavily awash as to drag the car sideways on invisible tarmac at every concealed lake of rainwater. Thankfully the brakes did work at the roundabout and it was neatly circumnavigated as we sailed cautiously round, spinnaker unfurled.











Thursday, 22 August 2019

Tesco's finest. The River Wye.



It may come as a surprise, or maybe as much as a shock, to see the headline here, but fear not, this ain't no advert...

The self-styled Stillwater Barbel Group annual August Wye trip was into its last day. The main group had been there since the beginning of the week when I joined them late on Wednesday, having had to work the morning due to a pressing deadline.

The river was falling from a small rise and rain was predicted on the middle of three days. The Wye, being a spate river, runs low and clear with more difficult fishing between the rising, colouring and falling of the water after rain upstream of wherever it is one might be having a dabble.

Arriving at the first day venue to find little caught, and the storm that sent Mr Tidy scuttling home early, as well as causing me not to be too concerned about having to work, to have been another inexplicable figment of a weather forecasters' imagination, was both a relief and a worry, of sorts.

Arriving, just as the afternoon feast was about to be prepared, the, by then, well-practiced routine unfolded. Given the kind use and, as it happened, unnecessary shelter, of a nearby salmon hut, life could have been made simpler but, unhindered by such luxury, an Alice in Wonderland-type scene, both physically and metaphorically, manifested before the eyes of, this, the observer.

Table, chairs, 3 gas rings, plates, cups, cutlery; steaks of both beef and gammon, par-boiled potatoes (were there carp here?), sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes and a huge bag of pre-chopped onions. Not to mention the remnants of Mr Tidy's annually hand-made, and exquisite, pork pie.

Thankfully The Lady Burton had donated a loaf of her best homemade granary bread; Bluebell had donated 6 of her richest garden-bug based eggs and a four-tin pack of baked beans completed the contribution of the FF&F delegation.

That feast concluded without excitement but the following day it was far more daring.

Halfway through cooking Ms Y Walker happened upon us, complete with pooch.

"You're a bit early", was the perhaps obvious quip.

 Lacking bankside kitchen worktop space it soon became apparent to the observer (me) that getting all this food ready was not as simple as first appeared. Even with three rings ("give it three rings!") the food was necessarily cooked in relays, so where do you put it all during the process? The only real option was on the ground or on bags, tubs of bait, etc.

Cue the farce.

Three of us became aware of an equivalent contingent of fox red yellow labradors approaching, having formed a kind of advance party split from their so-called handlers.

HonGenSec and I immediately saw the potential here but Des, Les...Wes was oblivious, stooping as he was with his back to them, dispensing veg onto his plate full of tasty meats.

On the ground.

"Mind your plate Wes"

"Wes move your plate"

"WES, THE DOGS ARE COMING"

Quick as any man approaching his four score years and ten could react, the plate was scooped-up before the salivating pack could pounce. Frankly they didn't appear to have been wanting in nourishment, such was the message from their suitcase bodies, but they circled the area licking up spilt morsels like a pod of dolphins rounding up bait fish.

----

There had been a shortage of bags suitable for hemp at Chez Flannel prior to the trip and so lateral thinking decreed a recently emptied resealable museli bag a suitable, and suitably capacious, alternative.

I imagined a row of pre-loved museli bags lined up in the freezer holding 2 pints each of perfectly individually polished seeds.

It was a good bag. Much tougher than your average supermarket sandwich bag and more robustly sealable. As most anglers are aware, keeping hemp fresh for two days without sealing and refrigerating as long as one can is all but impossible, unless you happen to be roach fishing in Iceland (a potential Toyah album title perhaps?).

On the last day of the trip, a day bequeathed as an extra by Mission Control, HonGenSec and I, then deserted by the Mountain Goat and Des, Les...Wes, left the Assassin's B&B after the usual hearty breakfast and, expecting a colouring, rising river, arrived at the Wye to find the water unchanged. We selected swims but at that moment I had that irresistible urge that makes one wish you'd stayed closer to home fifteen minutes longer.

I soon found myself behind the salmon hut wondering what manner of bitey bugs might be disturbed by my rummagings.

This being a posh place I couldn't bear to leave anything behind and so I emerged from the undergrowth clutching toilet roll in one hand and the formerly empty hemp bag, now leaden, in my left. 'Tesco's finest', displaid to the couple who walked by at that very second (why, oh Wye?).

"'Morning", I announced figuring an air of confidence, rather that the air filled with buzzing flies, might help distract their thoughts.

It didn't, Mrs Couple averting her gaze rather too abruptly to have that urgent need to inspect something far off that didn't exist, and no doubt battling the suddenly growing queasiness in the oesophagus.

After 12 noon or so the river did start to rise and it rose at the measured rate of 1"/20 minutes until sunset, when the tide turned. The colour intensified and, by mid afternoon, the power of the Wye became evident.

First weed and twigs, perhaps the odd dislodged log; then branches and, ultimately, two whole trees, one still in leaf, were swept south on the torrent. By this time we had both decamped and taken up new safe positions where the bankside topography would enable a gradual creep higher as the levels rose.

The increasingly rushing river ripped through from a third of the way across to the far bank, but the nearside third was steady with the eye of the building eddy easily reachable and indeed holdable with a 60g feeder and my secret concoction.

Bites were immediate, consistent, declining and finally regular, as dusk closed upon an excellent three and a half days.




This time we caught the weather and conditions right. Each time the F, F&F bus goes to Wye it seems to improve. Privately (so don't share this) I'd like to think we get better at working the river out, but in reality I'm certain it's more a case of catching the river right than any kind of improving skill.

As I stood up to gather the widespread kit, a feeling of dampness overcame me in a department not without incident this same day. A massive orange slug had fallen down the back of the chair and I had been sat on it for forty minutes or more. The slimy undesirable, indescribable gungy mess has soaked through to the skin. Beautiful.



As I trudged, dragging my reluctant self, back to the car and ultimately home, I was reminded of those events earlier in the day; the bag of Tesco's finest leaning against the rear wheel to be picked up, packed away and, later, properly disposed of.



Next August I hope to be back again for what has become an annual and quite irresistible pilgrimage.








Sunday, 28 July 2019

The Intentional and Unintentional Roach Angler

Strange Roach?!
The, so-called, tench campaign out of the system, it was time for a new challenge but not before the usual period of indecision when confronted by the sudden ditching of a plan, and this was an end as abrupt as Thomas crashing into the Fat Controllers house at breakfast time

For a start, no feelings arose as a guide for that next step. Nothing at all in fact. So we had a few canal dabbling sessions (resulting in some tenchlet's strangely enough, I'd only had 3 tench in a lifetime minus 10-15 years on the Oxford canal, yet in two trips another six were added with only two over a pound). 

Good signs. I'm certain most of these 'exotic' canal captures come from adjacent fisheries that, over time, for various reasons, end-up with their contents mingling with the established fish populations of the canal. In this instance they have obviously since bred successfully

So that was an interesting interlude but, to be frank, it produced insufficient water to float this angler's boat

Then a chance chat (while clearing the car of the spare gear) with Committee Keith provided the answer, the Lure Wizard then concurred and Bailiff 1 soon confirmed without any necessity for a preemptive retaliatory strike - big roach were being caught at Rocky Res.

Okay, that's interesting, but it's summer. We don't fish for roach in the summer!

But hang-on a minute, The Old Duffer used to.

In the late 1970's the holiday destination for anyone who was anyone in angling from our part of the world was the Great Ouse. A sixty-mile/80 minute trip to, what we then considered, angling paradise. Catching fish in the heat of July and August was boosted by early and late sessions combined with all day trips using a single bait, in fact, as far as the hook went, a single bait

In those days the (roach) pole was in its, early stages of renaissance but, as with all things angling, the technique would ultimately transform many an angler into a fish catching machine

The Old Duffer was one of them

I can see it now - iconic 22' Shakespeare pole (very dark brown/black with gold taped bands and a white wrap on the centre of the handle); Ivan Marks bristle float, black and slenderly bottle shaped like the Milo 'Siro' that would follow in the '80's; classic Mustad 90340 barbless hooks ("You can't use barbless hooks, all the fish'll get away!", "Not as long as I pull back they won't!"); bait waiter, comprising metal baitbox-shaped square 'hoops' on a bank-stick; a circular 'spoon' landing net with handle to match the (roach) pole and a ring around the base, like one section of a keepnet; a wicker basket ('seatbox') and, finally, a bag of just-cooked hempseed, as fresh and gorgeous smelling as possible.

There are many good tales emanating from the use of hemp in fishing
¬ It drugs the fish!;
¬ It only works at harvest time;
¬ You should cook it in 'bicarb' (bicarbonate of soda) to make shells go black to contrast with the white shoots. 'Problem being, cooking in bicarb also turned the shoots brown so we soon sought non-other than, then World Champion, Ian Heaps' advice, "Cook 'em in sugar", he commented, and so we did. Not just black with white insides, but they also tasted good (I'm told!).

In 1976 we had a summer like 2018. Wall to wall baking sunshine. The Old Duffer was fishing with the above gear and trickling in a few grains per slow run through, the river being low, until the roach were sent into what can only be described as a frenzy. Ultimately they were so mesmerised by the bait they were literally eating anything that floated past within the feeding zone; leaves, flies, feathers, nothing was safe. It was only roach though with just the odd hybrid amongst them and generally 3 to 6 ounce fish with occasional bigger ones. Thirty pounds and six ounces of them, culminating with the fish so close they were simply swung to hand

...and so it proved everywhere we went. There was barely a venue where hemp didn't work under those conditions and it appeared to draw the fish from a good distance but, as the Somerset Shubunkin noted recently, they were fish one wouldn't even suspect to be there were it not for this, the most magic of baits.

Armed with these memories and the knowledge that big roach could be drunk in on the rocks, off
we set with 10m pole and a few grains per 'cast', maggot on the hook but immediately small rudd were pests. A swap to double caster produced a, string of perch in the 3 to 6ozs bracket and then slowly but surely bites on hemp started to occur just tentative at first but with a bit of fiddling with the depth combined with the breeze, and therefore an undertow striking-up, it wasn't too long before perhaps every third bite was a proper one.

First fish was a 12oz beauty (and another thing these hemp roach were immaculate, strange for a heavily fished water)


The list I jotted down went like this:
12ozs, 9ozs, 7ozs, 8ozs, 2ozs, 1.0.0, 2ozs, 6ozs, 7ozs, 10ozs...and...1.3.10, 13ozs, 1.1.0, 14ozs.

The best of the lot
Those last four fish all taken with a mid-depth bulk and a few droppers, held tight against the pole as it settled and all of them taken with ferocious bites on the drop; just as I had to leave.

Unfortunately the next fish in the sequence was dear old Cypry, leaving the rig and elastic looking like a schoolgirls multi-coloured string collage.

It was time to go anyway. Back in the day, hemp was one of the most successful baits I used, so quite why it has taken so long to remember this when I'd had such confidence in it is beyond me, but then, many things are it seems.

So, to add mystery to the mayhem, I went to the canal. To an area of the Grand Union I could rely on for bream, and big ones. Feeding maggot over groundbait towards a tree opposite for those beauties  but with a separate hemp line near side of middle to the right, purely as a change method.

Needless to say, I had one small perch that must've been irritated by a grain of hemp for some particular reason and then a huge canal roach of 1.12 on the double maggot bream rig.

Fourth biggest ever canal roach...by accident!
The all-time F,F&F best canal roach list now looks like this:

  1. 2-3-10 (2013) Oxford
  2. 1-15-5 (2016) Grand Union
  3. 1-13-0 (2015) Oxford
  4. 1-12-0 (2019) Grand Union
  5. 1-11-8 (2015) Grand Union
  6. 1-10-0 (2017) Grand Union
Fishing. It simply makes no sense!