Thursday, 20 December 2012

High and dry looking for that one moment of magic

Like most men I have the potential to drive my other half potty, and after a few hours of frantic Christmas shopping followed by a stop off at the local European style super market I was guilty of doing just this. I hate that snippy state we all get into at this time of year, and I for one often end up getting so frustrated over all the fervour for just one day, that I just have to escape. Luckily Jacky felt the same and suggested I maybe should go off for a few hours and leave her in peace. Me being the obedient type, she did not have repeat herself before I was pulling on my coat and slipping out the door with rod and bag in tow.

Two hours till dusk, a selection of juicy lob worms in my bag and the river was calling. I knew we had a bit of rain the day before but honestly never thought the effect would be as bad as it turned out. The land everywhere is sodden and it doesn't take much to get the rivers rising, but this takes the mick.

It looked like a weeks worth of rain was charging through the river as I crossed the field, and I won't deny almost turning tail, but truthfully I actually fancied having a crack at this familiar area when it was flooded out. I have an intimate knowledge of the banks and thought a couple of the areas where I normally sit might actually have turned from pegs to swims.

Getting close to the river though turned out to be a monumental effort alone. I hopped from island to island trying to avoid the deeper water, and after a detour probably equivalent to ten times the length of my normal route, I was sitting atop a mound in front of a nice slack water.

There is little need to go into the ins and outs of  two hours of debris catching on my line. What I can say is there was certainly fish in the slack and I did receive one tentative bite. More of this little session was spent watching the river rise out of the corner of my eye. For safety's sake I had earmarked a couple of tufts of grass a little up the bank, and as the minutes ticked away, they slowly disappeared from view under the rising water.

I eventually came to the conclusion that this was just not worth the risk, and decided to make a move towards home. This was the point when I realised that although I had be watching the water rise to my right I had neglected to watch it flanking me from the left. The water had risen up a drainage ditch along the edge of the field and spilled over in a old trench which dissected the field, and had left me very much marooned.

Landing net pole in hand, I carefully felt my way through the shallowest water, or so I thought. One step a little off course and my right boot went fully under the water, and trying to correct my mistake the left one got the same treatment. Feeling water now seeping through my thermal boots, my feet were certain to get a soaking, so off I went double time trudging through the water as a quick as possible.

Looking back over the now flooded field I could see the river had covered at least a quarter more of the low lying field than it had when I arrived. Even with a soaking wet feet I still think it was worth checking out that slack water, as there was always a chance that the heavy flow could of forced a lot of the rivers population into that tiny little area.

That following morning had been when I was really expecting to get out onto the river, but my experience the night before had luckily confirmed it would more than likely be a waste of my time, so a change of tack was in order. Having only thirty something lob worms as bait my only real option was to go and continue testing the waters on the tiny woodland fishery which I suspect might hold some decent perch.

Nestled in a spinney surrounded by trees this fishery has, as far as I am concerned, all the right ingredients for monster perch; no competition from other predators in or out of the water, huge amounts of prey fish and not too big. Partly the reason for targeting this water is that more than five years ago I myself caught a three pounder here, and then the following winter a fishing buddy of mine did the same. I was never to sure if it was the same fish but either way it proved the water more than capable of such fish.

I know the fishery's owner very well, and when I spoke to him on the subject of perch he firstly confirmed that from time to time big perch do turn up in matches, and secondly that this spring just past was a bumper year for spawning, or as he put it "the water were black wi fry". On a visit earlier this month I landed two perch of one and half and two pounds on a freezing cold day when the water was still muddied up from the feeder stream flooding over, so now it was clearing I really fancied my chances.

Maggots would have been a good addition to my bait as they would have concentrated the smaller fish and drawn in the perch, but with only limited worms at my disposal I opted to use a technique that has worked for me before. Fishing a whole split worm on the hook and flicking out a chopped up worm every twenty minutes to half an hour seems to be enough to attract perch via the scent of those chopped worms, whilst not quite being enough to attract to many swim ruining carp of which this lake has many.

With all my best efforts it seemed that still thawing pool was proving to be frigid in more ways than one. Through the morning there had been some intermittent topping by the silvers but that seemed the full extent of the activity. I stuck with the plan and concentrated all my attentions of the single orange top which slipped in and out of the shadows on the mirror like surface. 

My first bite came two hours in when my float buried instantly, leaving me connected to a powerful fish which was at least double the size of the current UK perch record. It didn't take too long to get off my hook either - three powerful runs towards the last vestiges of the lily pads and it was free. Happy with a little action the loss was not that hurtful, as carp held no interest today.

After the swim had settled and another two hours passed, out of now where I got a single stern bob on the float before it headed out into the lake. I must of hit hundreds of these classic perch bite this year alone but this one when struck contacted nothing. Both halves of my worm were gone though, which hinted a perch was somewhere scoffing its free meal. 

A quick recast and that magic moment came again exactly as before, and as I watched it sink away I paused giving this one a little more time to engulf the bait before I struck into a certain perch good perch. Whether it was the contrast of little activity or whether I am growing in appreciation of the perch's fight I don't know, but the the scrappy battle was a joy, and the first glimpse of that spiky dorsal was breathtaking.

Nowhere near the biggest perch I have caught this year but certainly one of the most appreciated  It was maybe a pound and a half or more, but more importantly it was the right sort of perch; big head, deep body and young. I have come to look for this sort of perch in these more commercial lakes as I think they are a good measure of what the water could hold. Even if they are still a few years off becoming a monster, there could be fish with the same genetics a few years older hanging around, and not just that, there's always the ones that spawned them.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A shameful lack of respect

Since I was a knee high to a grasshopper, when I first came into our most beloved of pastimes, many aspects have changed. Some have changed for the better and some for the worst. One which has changed for the better as far as I am concerned is the way in which the majority of anglers treat fish once they are captured.

Not long after coming into fishing I obtained the most barbaric keep net from a car boot sale, which had obviously been hidden away in someones shed and was dried up, stiff as a board. It was the knotted construction of this iron maiden which we now know to be harmful to fish that made it such a savage device. Gladly I can say that I never really kept much in it before I snagged it in the canal and tore it to bits trying to get it back.

Nowadays, thank god, fish care has transcended into a religion. Every possible aspect of how we can care for our quarry has been invented by the fishing tackle industry. It could be said that their motivation is not just for fish safety but for profits, who cares, because every new unhooking mat and state of the art net sold means that any fish that coming into contact with them stands a better chance than it did thirty years ago.

We anglers too have come along leaps and bounds. The way in which we treat fish in most cases is nothing less than reverent. I watched two teenage lads whilst on a popular carp lake earlier this year; when they hooked and landed a small carp, the two of them broke into action of which I could not commend highly enough. One kept the fish in the water in the huge net whilst the other readied the massive cradle mat by sousing it in fresh lake water. Their treatment of  this rather small carp was truly amazing and quite honestly the people we have to partly thank for it are those munga mixing southerners from Korda. Their modern and forward thinking TV series Thinking Tackle drums into the avid audience on a daily basis that fish should be cared for above all else, and good on them for it.

It is not the specimen angler or the pleasure angler though that has sparked me up to write this. It is instead the another group of anglers and the TV shows that promote them that are about to take some flack from me!!!

I watch all angling programs no matter how bad they are. Jacky will attain to this I assure you. I am of the belief that somewhere in the monotonous drone of even the seemingly most irrelevant of angling programs, could be one shining gem of information that might be of some use to me.

So the other night I spotted two new episodes of Fishing Gurus on one of the satellite channels. At this point I must say that even for me the first series of this was hard to watch, with its less than captivating presenters. This has changed  though in this new series as the producers of the show have made the wise decision to get that eternally overenthusiastic chappy Dean Macey in to try and enthral us a bit more. This new ruse has worked and Dean now brings a little tempo to this awkward watching show.

Anyway back on the subject. In the first episode Dean fished with a favourite presenter of mine, Ali Hamidi and they bagged a load of small carp which were treated as if they were their new born children. Mr Hamidi even landed a very nice carp, and this thing was treated as if he were lifting whatever was inside the Ark of the Covenant out. The second episode starring one Mr Steve Ringer though showed some fish treatment which I will now state is nothing less than a shocking, disrespectful and not only damaging to the fish but our sport as well.

If you have ever watched any televised fishing matches you may have noticed that when a competitor catches a large carp it is lowered onto their keep net in their landing net, and then ejected by pulling the loose net so the kipper rolls into the water. Now this is about as far as respectful to their catch as most match fisherman is prepared to go, and frankly I get the impression they only do that so as the don't lose the big one should it flip out on the way down.

Where my issue lies is when they catch any carp between 1-4lb. I have watched it again and again on loads of televised matches and programs relating to match fishing. Any fish in this size bracket are scooped up quickly in the net, grabbed out behind the fins and then dropped probably three feet or more tail first into the anglers keep net.

If dropping them three feet was not bad enough the fact that they drop them tail first quadruples this terrible habit. We all know how fish breathe, and we all know that fish are kind of evolved to move generally one way through water. So should the fishes gills be open at the moment that it hits the water then all that pressure of the fall combined with the impact of the water is more than likely going to hit those life giving and very delicate gill rakers. Which can't be good for them! I know someone who reads this might say something along the lines of, well fish jump out of the water, and they have to clean out their gill raker's from time to time. So before anyone says it I will state this firstly; like us and blinking, fish will automatically close their gills to prevent damage, and secondly even if they are doing on purpose to possibly clean out there gills, they are doing it to themselves.

Time and time again this practice can be seen on all sorts of match fishing programs. Some garner massive audiences and this makes it even worse because any aspiring young match anglers, or even old ones, will see it and think nothing of doing it themselves next time they catch a similar sized fish.

Quite honestly I can't believe how lazy this is. How much effort does it take to simply turn a fish around, and if they are so lazy as the cant be arsed to bend over a few feet, the fish will at least go into the water in way that it might not get damaged.

The other nasty bit of treatment I have seen again and again on these types of programs is when they come to the weigh-in;  fifty, sixty or even seventy pounds of fish at a time are poured from keep nets into weigh slings like they were pouring water down a drain. The only thing is water don't get hurt when that gets casually poured. But fish do! It is no wonder that when fishing commercial venues you see some of the most deformed and ragged looking fish you are likely to ever encounter.

Now I know that both of these bad habits go on at every match run across the UK week in and week out. So how much effort does it take for the high profile anglers which influence the match scene and getting paid to do so, to start trying to do something for the good of their section of our sport which could improve the way fish are treated country wide.

As for the fisheries whose commodities these ill treated fish are, well they must be mental. I work in private industry and if we treated our products as badly as they let theirs be treated we would be out of business in a matter of months. So it just makes financial sense for them to change their rules so no fish are dropped into nets, and at weigh-in's their stocks are treated with a lot more respect by the participating anglers.

There is no doubt in my mind after this little tirade, that of all the differing sectors of angling in the UK,  match fishing is ten or more years behind everyone else in the way that they care for their captures, and if they are not careful it will be them drawing more flack onto our sport by anti angling organizations.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Windows of opportunity

Options once winter sets in round these parts can become very limited, the formation of ice being the singular reason. Last winter every bit of water in the UK that did not move fast enough had a lid on it for a good long while. For me and every other angler in the UK this meant we became a rather dedicated bunch of chub anglers. Now I do love catching chub, and last week I did just that. Since then though something occurred to me; with the worst of the weather still to come there will be plenty of opportunity for cheese paste shenanigans when no still waters are fish-able, so any opportunites to fish non-running water should be grabbed with both hands before those opportunites freeze up. Luckily my epiphany came just before what could be one of  last windows arrived, and just as a new stretch of canal had opened up to me.

For the longest time I have been doing some work for a company whose premises are not far away from a very nice looking bit of canal. Every time I have passed over it on my way, no matter what time of year, the sight of it has made me salivate. The worst thing was there was literally nowhere to park my car as the road which I have viewed it from is narrow and fast. This was until the other week when I took my normal route, only to find the business that was next to the company I was working for had shut down and a large car park had appeared in its place. I will not deny actually cheering and maybe jumping up and down a bit upon seeing this wondrous and beautiful bit of freshly laid tarmac. Hence a plan began to formulate!

From fishing the same canal many miles away from this new section I knew that it could have a fine pedigree. Everything in this canal seems to grow big, and carp especially thrive in it. Though it was not them that interested me on this occasion. Zander, of which I can say with some certainty grow to very respectable sizes, were more the order of my visit and boy did this place look like zed heaven.

Arriving at first light I knew the weather for once was on my side. Cloudy skies and a nice ripple on the water to impart a little movement on my baits. It was racking up to be just right. I hit the tow path passing a group of residential boats close to the bridge. In the past I would have targeted such an area thinking it would definitely hold fish, but a while ago whilst grubbing around on a different canal whilst the water was very clear, I was able to see under some permanently moored boats only to find the lack of  movement had caused the sediment to build up under them, leaving only inches of water beneath. Ever since seeing that I have never been quite convinced of these areas.

Moving on I came to an area of hard banked canal; by this I mean both sides have the metal retaining sheets on both banks. This sort of area always seems to me a bit stark cover wise and just does not give me the confidence to sit and wait for a fish to pass by, so I moved on looking for something a little more fishy.

What I saw next though was like an oasis. After a small reed bed the hard bank ended and a mixture of hawthorns, dog rose hips and brambles spilled out over the canal. Beyond it the hard bank started again and created a hundred metre long section of cover.

The other thing I liked about this cover was the distance it over hung the water. Most overhanging plant life barely gets over the marginal shelf. This however protruded five feet in places right into the boat track, giving both depth and cover, which as a far as I am concerned are perfect winter Zander haunts.

Should I of had any previous knowledge of the Zander hot spots I would of had no problem digging in and waiting out the entire session on one spot. But this being my first probing attempt here I reverted to that technique so common amongst canal Zander anglers, swim hopping. Thirty to forty five minutes spent in one fishy looking spot after another is usually enough to get a hint of any fish present. Doing this can have some very interesting results. I have in the past spent an entire morning roving from one swim to the next getting zero interest. Then on the first cast into a new area, and before I've even got a second rod out, the first one has shot off. I have even very occasionally found large numbers of mixed sized fish shoaled very tightly in one small area which has resulted in multiple runs and some absolutely insane sport.

Today however this was not to be the case. Swim after swim was tried. The far ledge boat track and near side shelf were all fished. I found three or four other sweet looking spots which all convinced me that zander would be at home, but for the whole session my floats spent their time in that most cruelest of places, above the water!

It was kind of killing me by the end of the morning, as for more than ten swims fished all I had received was one single bit of interest where my float moved all of a a foot and a half then stopped dead. This stretch looked just right, the conditions were spot on with low light, coloured water and the likes. I too had done my part! The bait was fresh, my rigs were good and on any known bit of cut I know I should of smashed them up.

Maybe this was just one of those places to good to be true, but by the time I was getting ready to go all sorts of clandestine things were going through my mind. Had British waterways been up to their old tricks or had the local migrant workers been pulling double shifts in the area. Though I know at this point I can't make any snap judgements about unknown fish populations and whether I should come back again, what I do know is that a bit more research may be in order before I do come back as right now my fishing time is a highly valuable to me, and I am not sure if I can afford to waste it on such whims.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

After the floods have passed.

The Avon has got my attention. For the longest while she had fallen from my mind, whilst other far away rivers and moody lakes have preoccupied me. But now she has changed from a memory to a target again with a monumental discharge of power which has turned my eyes back toward her.

The slow sedate flow is gone and the level has risen violently, bursting bank, covering field and fence as the familiar channel in which it flows was unable to cope with days of rain. The entire country has been reminded of how water governs our lives. Gone are the picture postcard images only to be replace by scenes of disaster and woe.

Unlike most who would rather get away from the frigid water sopping through their lives, I find myself intrigued by it. The flood plains now call to me and I have been watching for an opportunity to explore and see it in a different way. I do not want to see her as I always do, I want to cast into new slacks or differing pools which are only temporarily there; to play whilst she is a different mood.

Sense over valour has prevailed though. When midweek I ventured near, I found banks still very submerged. It's not that I did not want cast into the flooded water or that I did not feel confident to wade through the flooded meadow, it was more what I knew of this stretch!

Last year I sat on frozen banks in total silence as the evening drew in and from nowhere, the bank no less than twenty feet upstream crumbled into the river reminding me of how undercut it was. With no other reason than it was no longer able to support its weight, a sizeable chunk of dark brown Warwickshire mud, grass and all slid into the river. How many times I had sat atop that bit of earth with not a single thought to it's stability I could not have recalled if I tried, but what I did know was that I had sat there. Witnessing such a thing has ever since acted as a reminder to probe the ground I intend to sit on carefully with a bank stick before I settle in; should that bank stick suddenly dive deep after half a foot or so, then I always move back a little more, extending my landing net as I do.

No fish is worth your life, and for me this day alone in the half light it was easier to walk away. Giving the old mother Avon a few more days to temper herself, a nearby fishery I suspected might hold big perch came to my aid, and after plying its chocolate waters with left over grubs and a few lob worms, my suspicions were confirmed a little. That bitter morning a landed two nice perch of one and half, and a little under two pounds along with a rouge chub, proving that I will return again for a bigger perch.

Two more days passed before I ventured back to the river and when I again found myself looking over the fields. The water was again hidden within cuts on flat land and although the river was back where it belonged, signs of the floods remained. Just over the barbed wire fence a tide mark of debris marked high water and my normally straight path was today more of a game of hopscotch, as I traversed from mound to mound.

Though familiar at first glance, a few moments watching revealed my timing seemed quite right. The water flowed right to left but the currents were like a jigsaw put together all wrong. In the past my knowledge of some of the swims have lead me to believe that should I fish blindfolded, I could get my baits in the right place (if I did not fall in first that is). Today, however, the swims were new and I had to again think how to best fish these old haunts.

After a few probing casts of a light rig, where I watched diligently as the weight skipped across the river bottom before snagging on old weed, I spotted not far from the rod tip the tiniest of eddies, no bigger than a metre in width where the current deflected off a slight jut in the reeds.
Just lowering the bait into the water I saw my worm waft in opposition to the flow, and the tension in the line went as the lead made bottom, the bow of the line indicating my bait, now on the bottom, was possibly upstream.

How in such flow the rod tip registered such a half hearted enquire is a miracle, but the rod tip did judder just once hinting at some interest. I nearly struck the second, but just stopped hand on cork and said to myself 'next time' which took no time to come at all. We have all heard the popular saying referring to a barbel bite as a three foot twitch. Well this was a three centimetre twitch, and I hit it at one point five.

Every moment of the spirited fight was enjoyed, and the satisfying sight only a small chub of a maybe two pounds vilified my choice of casting into the temporary eddy at my feet.

I do not often chance a second fish from such small features. But given the power of the current between this eddy and the rest of the river it seemed perfectly plausible there could be a whole shoal of chub crammed in it. A short interlude and a few broken worms flicked tight to the bank and I again lowered the bait into the opposing current. 

Another tinkle came and went before I checked to see if I had been robbed, and I had! So pushing my luck I recast, set the trap and waited. Longer than before it took, but there is not many chub, no matter how fickle can resist the allure of a worm in fining water. The bite was the identical to the last. Only this time on the second twink down the white tip never sprang back. The fight of these chub in the more powerful flow was impressive, but unusually for the chub of the upper Avon they pulled none of their normal dirty tricks instead opting to hold out in the flow rather than dive into every available bit of rush.

This slightly larger one proved me right concerning the presence of more fish in the tiny eddy. But it was also a clear signal to move on downstream and spend the last hour or so fishing a favourite old swim, which I was convinced would certainly flow differently in my favour and would be a great last swim as the light went.

From the first cast to the last, fish were very interested in what I was offering. The only problem was that the quick and half hearted rattles were not caused by chub, but rather perch and if the chub bites were shy these could drive a man insane for sure.

Not one of those quick rattles were connected, no matter how quick I tried to hit them or how long I waited. These perch had robbery down to a fine art. Somewhere in the rash of violent tugs the tip pulled round very slightly, as if a tiny bit of weed had hung up as it passed by my rig. Even if I am just reeling in I give my rod a tiny strike just in case it might be a fish and on this occasion it was. A third chub smashed up the swim before broaching my net.

After that it really turned into one of those one last bite things. By the time the sun dipped below the horizon I was still getting bites, even though I could barely see the white tip of my rod in the dark. Even unable to hit those pesky perch and with my hands numb from the cold, it was well worth being on the river to see the sky first turn dark blue, then purple as night fell.

Even after a Saturday night fuelled by rum and cokes I was always going back the following morning despite knowing how cold it would be after a clear night. The one thing that kept me ever confident was that I knew the fish were on the feed. 

In a new swim however, it was no chub who struck first. With the turbulent flow close to my feet a large eddy was accessible by fishing my rod tip pointing skyward, lifting my line well over it into the slack. I had already stuck at a very perch-like rattle before recasting, and just as the weight touched down I fancied the slight nod of my rod tip indicated another may of attacked the worm as it fluttered down. Nothing more happened though and suspicion grew that once again I had been turned over.

My little flick of the rod just before reeling revealed the rig may of snagged up on some unseen obstacle. This was in part true as the hook was in fact snagged in the mouth of a pike who had grabbed the falling bait. For the first few runs it was all good, and even using a relatively light outfit I felt sure I stood a chance with this toothy critter. That was until it did a very unseasonal jump over on the far bank and revealed itself as an nice size jack of maybe five pounds or more. I survived the first bit of acrobatics but on the second my line stood no chance as it thrashed its head and severed my line like cotton.

I think the reason I cast back into the same spot was because I wondered if its prescience may have in some way hampered any other fish present, and that may of been true, as after only moments the tip once again went before I hooked another chub of two to three pounds.

Three more swims I fished after this one and no more fish were landed. Then thinking it was about time to get off, I chanced that pesky perch hole again wondering if on a different day their confidence may have grown overnight.

Straight off I missed two wicked bites which I am still kicking myself for missing now as I write this. They were the only proper bites I had in two different occasions in that swim, and somehow in a fumble of hands I struck both as the tip was going the wrong way. One fish I actually felt vibrating up the line for shortest of time before the rig popped clean out the water.

Even with that hint of regret of missing what could have been a nice river perch, I am glad to see that one of my favourite stretches of the upper Avon is showing no signs of suffering from the recent floods, and now I find myself really looking forward to those short cold winter sessions and maybe rooting out a five pounder here or there.