Thursday, 28 February 2013

Till the very bitter end of name that fish.

This break wasn't about me and fishing, it was about us, and having a rest. The fact that we were staying next to a huge broad full of big pike was incidental. 33lbs though! That just can't be ignored can it..?! and 33lbs is the weight of the biggest biggest pike caught in recent years from this broad...

The information regarding pike caught from this broad is as secretive as the bitterns that supposedly reside in the marsh alongside it. The men that brave it week in and week out through the winter are as  protective of their captures as they are hardy enough to catch them in the relentless cold. I know, because I spoke to one face to face at the end of a wind swept jetty the other day. Whether it was my dedication to be out in such atrocious conditions that endured me to him I will never know, but my friendly wave as he passed me on his way back to the marina inclined him to change direction and throw me a rope so he could stop for a momentary chat. Turns out things were not good. The broad had been frozen recently until when a change in the wind and sun had combined forces to thaw it; since then nothing significant had been landed. "The weather conditions were the worst they could be" he said, but when I broached how well he had done this winter the conversation stalled, and rather than restart it he instead opted to politely say his good byes, sparked his ancient outboard back to life and preserved his secrecy.

That conversation was one that was to echo through my mind as I pushed myself to the very point of defeat by the cold. For the next four days it would only be a case of how much punishment I could take whilst I waited for an encounter.

I have a slight infatuation with broadland pike. How many hours I have spent engrossed in the pages of The Pike of Broadland by Stephen Harper probably should not be recounted. Needless to say it is a lot. If you have ever read it or one of the many other books written on this subject, you will know that in the big pike water stakes the broads is the tortoise to all the new waters hares. Look back through the recordings of big pike captures in the UK and something becomes apparent - waters rise and fall in their reliability to produce big pike. Whether this is to do with angling pressure or whether its just the way these things happen in nature, the fact remains that in most cases a water producing big pike does not last forever. With the broads it is different as they are not one but many waters interlinked. They change with the growth of the reeds that make up a large part of their geography, and as they do old parts disappear and new ones are formed. If you have any knowledge of this water I know you will not hesitate to agree that there are fish in this vast waterway that have no knowledge of man whatsoever, and I think they are what makes it such a special place to pike fish..

The general geography of the broads and where those weather beaten men fish in relation to this little adventure were irrelevant. As to truly explore this water and the system to which it is part, a boat is a necessity, and not having time to use or access to one I found myself truly high dry.

My whole theory for my terra firma based quest however rested upon the idea that even fish need shelter in bad weather. Therefore me having access to five boat packed marinas where life could hide seemed to make my target areas very simple. Or so I thought...

No matter how stringent I was about my plan, the romantic idea that the huge reed bed that flanked the marinas seemed the more classical back drop by where to catch a monster pike. My first attempt was squandered here watching a gaudy florescent floats bobbing around in the waves.

I finished that outing back in the mariners where I had scampered after the wind began to cut right through my many layers of clothing. Something inside my head needed to see that physiological boost of a float dipping under in order for me to be able to keep up what already seemed like sheer madness after only a short few hours. A bite I did get, not from a crocodile of a pike but instead from a blade of a roach I had caught using tackle I would normally only use in sheer desperation on a winter canal.

Not one to give up I again readied myself for the Arctic conditions early next morning, gathered my tackle and threw back the curtains to see snow on the ground! The day before the odd flurry here and there confirmed that winters icy grip still held firm in these parts, and over night it would have seemed to have carried on with slightly more consistency.

This time I was headed right into the deep of the marinas in search of pike, and as I walked along the hard concrete banks I could felt the snow rolling under foot. This was not flakes of snow but rather frozen rain! It sounds insane but this was not postcard style ice crystal formed in the high in the sky but it was instead droplets of rain frozen by the freezing north east wind as they fell to earth.

Twice that second day I pushed my self to the very limit of what my body could take. I made my way through no less than three large marinas as I searched for both predator and prey, and not so much as a the slightest dip of a float had come the ether my pike or my scratching rod alike. 
The wind and cold had become so bad that I covered as much of my skin I possibly could, as a few moments re-baiting had left the fingers on my right hand a unsettling shade of blue and seemingly almost frozen.

Three sessions of practically nothing and I was getting desperate. As I ate what can only be described as a superlative steak in a broadside restaurant later that night I chatted to Jacky. Honestly I had been pushed right to the very limit by the lack of action combined with the constant struggle to be out fishing and was about to ether just leave it alone or seek solace in some sheltered dirty commercials arms. But somehow Jacky talked me round and the next morning I would again cast into the frigid water.

I had thought about it all night and as best I could figure my final chance lay in me finding the most sheltered spot on the entire broad away from the relentless and savage north easterly wind. So the next morning I began to look for a fishing spot in way totally different to how I normally would. Simply I walked around the waters edge paying no attention to the water itself and instead concerned myself only with how comfortable it was for me. 

In the corner of the broad is a lobular marina and here I found that the wind was buffeted away from the water by a couple of skeletal woods. It was certainly warmer but not by much. Now I had my area I now had to find my and this wasn't easy due to the masses of yachts and cruisers moored up for the winter. Soon enough though I found a free spot and began to set up. Only a matter of minutes after sitting down sliver roach broke the surface scattering and they were followed by the huge gaping maw of a big pike and I was flabbergasted. This was it, shangri-la, the place I was looking for, and hell did it look risky...

There was certainly fish here, but those two posts filled me with a terrible feeling of dread. I have done a lot of stalking of carp in tight spots but this was different. Carp you can hit instantly and hold, pike though need a little time to run before striking and also make surging runs once hooked. Bearing these things in mind I at first only dared cast my dead mackerel half way between the bank and the post to my right.

Using the finest pole float I had in conjunction with a size 22 hook and one pound line, I plumbed up a reasonable deep area about a metre of the boat to my left. Fishing just off the bottom and scattering minimal amounts of pinkie over the float began to stir some interest. The bites were very slight to say the least, only sinking the fine bristle half way. But soon enough I began to catch fish. Roach, perch and the odd skimmer mixed in for good measure.

All the activity had to rouse old essox again and it did when once again swirls of scattering prey fish appeared around the right hand post. Reacting to this I put on a small roach and suspended it half way off the bottom, sadly to no avail. Then when all had gone quiet I flicked the mackerel out again this time much closer to the post.

The little fishes confidence again rose and After a while I was quite absorbed in catching them and as always that's when something else happens. I caught sight of the float drifting away from the corner of my eye and was on that rod so fast. I held on for as long as I could letting the fish run for at least a few feet but it was going toward the post and I had no choice but to strike and try to hold it. My hard strike was met with a quick and decisive run right under the yacht beyond the post. I lent on that fish as hard as I could giving so much side strain the fibres of the rod were audibly creaking. Then the inevitable happened! my hook hold from the early strike was obviously not too good and with all that pressure I was exerting combineed to pull my hook hold free. I felt the exact shake of that pikes head that dislodged the hook. I saw the big oily swirl on the surface as the pike found freedom and instantly my trace found the wooden post just at the surface. Trace, weight and float, the lot was gone as was the fish. The only good I can say came of that moment of madness was that the pike did not get tethered around the post.

Sense took over at this point and how painful it was. There was certainly a chance of another run but the risk was to great by far.  The next one could get snagged and I did not want that at all. So the pike rod was put away for good and I carried on just after the the small fry.

Even unable to pike fish I was having fun just getting bites in such cold weather. Then amongst the roach and perch I made a very unusual capture. Being someone who has studied British fish since I was very young, it's not often I catch a fish that I don't know the identity of pretty much instantly, but as I swung this one in it did not look right. At first I thought I may have caught an alien top mouth gudgeon but close investigation proved its identity to be something else.

I figured it out after about two minutes of looking it over and it really is a first for me, and maybe the last one I ever catch. So I think I will extend a challenge to anyone who read this blog...

Tell me what species of fish you think it is by leaving a comment. 
Once everyone has had a go, all right answers will be put in a hat and I will draw out a winner who will receive one of the last four bottles of my much sought after semi-hallucinogenic 2011 homebrew, ladybird wine.

After that last session I knew the reality of the pike fishing was that they were where the prey fish were and the prey fish were where I could not safely fish for pike. So I let my last chance slip me by because I know I will be back and maybe when I am the pike might be in open water.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Double bluff, triple bluff, warzone.

It is seemingly always the case that when you go to a certain place to catch a specific fish, you inevitably end up catching every other species in the water other than the one you are actually trying to catch. A year or maybe two ago I went to a commercial lake in an attempt to catch a big perch, and on that occasion using only humble worms I landed well over a hundred pounds of plump carp, much to the annoyance of every one on the lake who trying to catch carp using some very specific baits. Not long after  I was discussing this topic with Jeff when he confirmed he too had encountered the similar situations and promptly proclaimed 'why do all these anglers go to these fishery and try and catch carp! they should go and try to catch perch then they'd catch carp!'. It was this sentiment that rang through my mind as I mulled over how to get my lined pulled during the weekend. 

I've been off the carp fishing for a few years now, but I feel a relapse is on the cards this year. So why not head off and try and get that first carp of the year under my belt by doing a spot of perch fishing on my mates woodland lake, and hell, if a big perch happened along, well I would just have to live with it wouldn't I.

My confidence that the double bluff would work was high, and why shouldn't it of been; every time I go perch fishing on a lake that contains carp they usually stick their nose in at some point. Only thing was that I did not predict the lake pulling a farcical triple bluff on me, leaving me agog.

You see I began fishing for perch to try and catch a carp, but couldn't seem to raise a bite from a carp whilst fishing for perch. So in the end I settled that a perch would do, so started trying to actually catch perch. But in trying to catch perch I instead caught chub. How chub got in the lake or equation I don't know, but it was chub that I caught. Five of them in fact and every one was long, cold and ever so thin.

The best was just over three pounds, but all were so long that if they were river fish two might have been five pounds right now.
I left not unhappy but slightly confused and pondering what I might need to do to catch a carp using this double or triple bluff technique. Maybe fishing for barbel or bream might catch me a carp! 

The 'chuble duff' wasn't to be my only session this weekend, as a previous date to fish a chalk stream had been called off and the day was still marked down for a spot of angling. So the day was duly used to go and check out a new fishery I fancied for something a little different.

Different it certainly was, which soon became apparent upon arrival at this seemingly war torn fishery....

Ascending the long rutted drive in a non four wheel drive was an experience alone but when we arrived at the parking the scene was really set.... on the edge of the car park amongst the rusting empty containers of various unidentified chemicals was a patch of burnt earth not that dissimilar to the shape of a human body. It was not that hard to imagine the blackened bones of a fallen resistance fighter filling that space. And we were only at the car park!!! 

As I scanned around the fishery it only seemed to get worse. A pair of mongrels bred of mongrels seemed to be picking at the scraps of god only knows what in the long grass to the left of the lake. What seemed like a tyre fire or barricade burnt constantly behind a sinister old building.

If an armoured Toyota Hilux loaded with militia men brandishing machine guns suddenly appeared on any of the random dirt tracks around, it would not of surprised me one bit. In fact I had my plan in place ready for such an occurrence, were I would simply offer Andy over as hostage or sexual slave, whichever they preferred, in exchange for my freedom and possibly a days fishing if they were prepared to throw that into the deal.

I love the smell of napalm when I'm fishing
The general feel of this fishery very nearly inspired me to call this post something along the line of 'The art of rebellion angling by John Conner'. Conversely the chap who came to meet us was a really nice bloke who could not of been more helpful really. He pointed us in the right direction, gave us the full low down on all recent captures and of what was in the lake.

Ready to have a few casts we made our way to a quiet corner of the lake and began unpacking our kit. About five minutes in a shot gun sounded from the next field; shots rang out intermittently throughout the rest of the day. Whoever was pulling the trigger was dug in hard and doing his very best to kill every living thing in that field.

Our nervous smiles had gone by dinner time and even with little action we were becoming quite amused by the herb fuelled antics of a couple of chaps over the lake. One seemed to chuck his feeder onto the island every time he cast out, the other, every time he hooked so much as tiny roach, let it run through his mates lines.

It must have been mid afternoon when the next strange occurrence unnerved the pair of us. From somewhere beyond the no mans land where the shot gun was still smoking, something let out a call neither of us had ever heard before in our lives. I mean I have heard just about every strange noise you can hear on a dark night fishing in the woods, but this sounded dreadful! It was a guttural sound that built up slowly into a shrieking gargle. It sounded neither human or animal for that matter. My best guess would be a human horse hybrid and not a cool mythical centaur way either, but the opposite way round,  like a humans body weighed down with a horses head, and this sounded like it did not deserve or want to be alive, locked awaya in whatever held it hopefully captive.

All day we waited, swapping between big pieces of meat and chunk of oily mackerel and herring hook baits, But not one sturgeon felt inclined to pick up our baits. One thing that did keep us going was the relatively regular liners we both seemed to be getting, which I have been lead to believe is a common occurrence whilst trying to catch these prehistoric beasts.

The water was very cold still and not much in the lake moved at all. In fact we did not see one single fish top all through the day. Then just as the sun sank towards the horizon the lake seemingly came alive and the wind dropped. Not long before this I took a shot in the dark by casting out a big worm and after only minutes of being in the water had garnered some interest, but not from what we sought. After loads of sharp and dropped runs a float rod I had with me was deployed and the culprits soon became evident. The lake as well as having a few sturgeon and load of carp was heavily populated with perch, which I would dare say are totally ignored by most anglers and were well up for an evening feeding session.

Even though we hung on till the very end as all anglers are prone too, that last bite never did come and we eventually left the war zone fishery. It might seem odd considering the atrocious conditions I have described but I really want to go back once it warms up a bit. I know I might not have painted it in the best light but something I can't quite put my finger on attracts me back. Though when I next go I might blend in a bit better if I were to bring half an ounce and an AK47 along with me for camouflage.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Quiet and simple punishment till spring.

I think I am often guilty of forgetting that fishing is not just about chasing specific species or bigger fish. The element of relaxation involved or simply just being alone in the quiet of the country side somehow is forgotten. Mind you familiarity does bred contempt, hence the more time you spend fishing the less likely you are to appreciate the simplest things.

Having just spent the last two weeks firstly preparing for, then exhibiting at one of Europe's largest trade fairs, I find find myself  rather overdosed on humanity. Quite simply should I have to speak the same tired sales shite to another prospective customer well... I may go mad! In a very spectacular falling down moment might I just add.

Through this twelve day angling absence the things that have kept me going were the notions that it can't go on forever, and that once it was over I would seek solace outdoors away from work, fishing. Following this I would spend the rest of my weekend possibly watching a movie or dining out. Then weather permitting I might even not go to work on the Monday and instead, like some skiving kid on the wag, head off fishing whilst most went to work.

I wrote the previous two paragraphs before the weekend and before I went fishing. Since then I did exactly as I planned fishing a full day on Saturday and bumming off work Monday as well hoping both would be relaxing and enjoyable. Which nether session really lived up to!

Saturday we opted for a last minute stretch change and in a moment of shear madness decided to fish the recreation ground over the lido. Big mistake! The as usual inconsiderate Stratford rowing club were out in force and although over eighty percent of there boats were coxed, they all seemed unable or simply did not care to give any of the many anglers fishing this stretch so much a millimetre of space.

Their reluctance to share the river with us got my blood boiling very quickly indeed, as time and time again oars smashed up our swims making fishing barely possible. But on the bright side the Avon looked a fine colour and the roach which we sought did seem to be interested. If only we could keep a line in long enough to hook one.

Boat foam!
The roach though enquiring around my bread baits regularly, seemed very non committal.  I can't even think of a single occasion in the past when I have had so many bites and never connected a a single fish. By dinner time I had had enough. The rowers were driving me crazy and the roach were pushing me over the edge so I was very ready to move.

Spending the afternoon on a second usually reliable zander stretch, we did find peace and quiet. The fishing here though was much like the mood of the area, quiet! The river conditions had me convinced of some daytime zander action but the cold water seemed to be again hampering that.

The single and only bite came just after dark fell when a solitary twang of a rod fished into a deep slack on the opposite side of the river hinted that something did actually swim in the Avon. I had been waiting all day for some real action so every effort was made to try and convert this tepid gesture into a fish. But not a Jimmy bean came from it and that ended what could only be described as a torrid days fishing.

Monday I fared no better ether. Once again for about the hundredth time this winter the Avon was out of action as it lapped roads instead of banks. The back end of the season is one of my favourite times to fish the rivers and this winter that has no been an easy pastime. I get the impression just about every angler feels the same and would confirm that this has been a terrible end to the 2012- 2013 river season.

With the whole day at my disposal I planned to visit a canal to again fish for zander. After a night of snow flurries I stuck with my idea and made my way to the grand union to find it in a far worse condition than the Avon was.

Quite literally it looked like I could have walked across it there was so much dirt suspended in the water. The picture I took did no justice to how off-putting the water looked. I knew even if I did fish I wouldn't have much confidence given its current state, and  so moved on.

My last option was to head off to a friend's fishery and spend the day as men have done for hundreds of years; staring at a float as a worm wriggled below. The only poop in my plan was that it was February and quite honestly I do not find February to be my favourite of months.

Why should I dislike a month so much you will probably ask. Well here it is! February like September is a change over month. Unlike September though were fish suddenly begin to realise winter is coming and they must feed hard to prepare for the soon impending chill. February hints at Spring arriving although the temperature as we currently see fluctuates rapidly from cold to a little less cold. Yes, nature shows signs of life here and there...
Fields show signs of green
Daffodils begin to pop up
Snow drops bloom
Winter aconite suddenly colours the winter wood

But like this little flower, every living thing still finds the weather a bit too cold and would rather stay wrapped up asleep for a few more weeks until winter finally shows us its back.

Just like the shy blooms littering the woodland floor, the fish residing in my friend's lake refused to come out and play in the cold, and I soon resorted to scratching for bites. And I hate scratching for bites especially when I am half freezing to death waiting for spring to arrive.