Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Lake #23 The top of the pyramid.

I have for the last two weeks been banging my head up against the brick wall that is Coombe Abbey lake. I think describing it as a brick wall is perfect as what I have been trying to do there is as tough as brick is hard! As I had said many times before, myself and this lake have had an up and down kind of relationship over the years, but of late we've been doing alright. That was until the predator season came along and now it's all turned to rat shit... 

Even with this water teeming with pike of all sizes I find myself fishing only for zander. If you believe anything written of Coombe and zander in the past twenty years, you would think that there is loads of the damn things right up to record shaking weights. Well, the reality is that things here have settled down on the zander front and I think that the pike outnumber the zander twenty to one, and that's being conservative. Then if you will, think of the classical ecological pyramid with millions of prey fish making up the wide base of the pyramid and a smaller amount of predators forming the tiny point at the top. Now if that pyramid had a shiny little flash of light glistening right at the top that would represent the zander. I am sure you see where I am going here. Hence I have been seeking a very small amount of very special fish in a massive lake full of not very special fish and it ain't been going well.

So far I've spent time staring in bushes as the rain has been coming down so hard that I had to turn my back on the lake...

I've sat watching motionless rods all day, only to find my bite alarms have succumbed to the damp...

I have also spent hours scanning the huge expanse of water looking for signs of predation...

And so far all I have achieved is to read a book whilst I waited!

Truthfully right now I find myself thinking that the time I spend trying to winkle a single run from this lake is just time wasted. I could wait day and night until Christmas and not receive one bleep, let alone a run. From what I have heard on the grapevine it;s not been going well for any other anglers pursuing them either and so far if I am right, the grand total of zander caught this season totals the daunting number of one! Right now for me that is just not appropriate or conducive to what time I have to spend on this foolhardy quest and as a result I have decided to leave it alone.

With my Coombe zander quest shelved for now I need a bit of pepping up so decided to head back to the lake I now refer to as Area 51 that I fished recently for sturgeon, hoping for a run or two. Every time I visit this anomaly of a fishery it has a weird feel to it. Take this resident duck for example...what the hells with that hairdo!!!

The fishing and captures on this occasion were relatively normal. The sturgeon failed to show but I did not lack action. By noon I had actually run out of bait as a steady run of low double figure carp kept me very busy stuffing my oversized baits into their mouths with gay abandon.

It kind of made me wonder about the intelligence of carp as this lot were more than happy to force my match box sized cubes of luncheon meat in their cake holes, along with what can only be described as some very agricultural rigs attached to it. These stupid blighters made the now popular carp fishing term of 'riggy' redundant. Thirty-five pound braid... not a problem! Size two choddy hook... not a problem! two ounces of luncheon meat... nom nom nom (sorry for the use of 'nom nom nom' I am ashamed of my use of this terrible consumption reference as I hate it, but it does kind of work in this case)

In between random runs I found the rest of my time filled trying to repel my borders against a rather over confident goose. There is is a flock of farm yard geese that waddle around the lakes constantly all day long. Most have a healthy respect for personal space but there is one who thinks nothing of coming blatantly right up and rooting round in your bag, then when you try and shoo him off this cheeky gander just stares you out like you done him some wrong. 

He was a damn nuisance sticking his head were it did not belong, and on at least one occasion found himself in pretty bad situation from his general inquisitiveness..!

Even though I did not actually catch any of my target fish it was nice to get some action after spending so much of my valuable angling time chasing ghost fish in some pretty awful weather. So I suppose this trip did actually serve purpose and has pepped me back up. But even with my renewed vigour I wont be rushing back to Coombe after zander any time soon and will instead change my venue in which to look for a big Zed.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Effective vulgarity wins over artistic romance for me.

I suppose that right now I should be regaling a tale extolling the virtues of fishing a pristine chalk stream using a beautifully crafted centrepin reel and of how the line flows from the spool like silk, before my vintage style hand made topper float is pulled from sight by a lady of the stream. But I can't! I simply can't, as the truth is I tried to fulfill this romantic notion that I had created in my head and failed dismally. It wasn't that I didn't try and it wasn't that the fish weren't there, because they were. It is just a simple case of I am no trotter! and the worst of it is that I have the technique and the skills to send a float sailing down stream smooth as I like.The bare fact is that after very little trying on my part and only a few finger sized fish, I discarded the artistic and embraced the vulgar. Within an hour of arriving on the river Itchen my float rod was set aside and a forty two gram block end feeder crashed into these hallowed waters shattering the tranquility forever.

By playing to my strengths and fishing a way I felt more comfortable I turned what I felt was going to be a bad morning on its head instantly. I picked a swim no angler trotting in their right mind would fish, loaded an almost gross feeder full of wriggling goodness and let rip. Straight away dividends was paid; every cast the tip rattled round attached to one of the hordes of grayling nailed to the opposite bank.

I think to say the water was shallow and clear was an understatement. As I was fishing a deeper gully on the exit of a bend far across the river, I had a huge shallow mound no more than a foot deep which extended so far from the bank that I reckon not many anglers would have bothered with this one. But temptingly all across the shallows if you looked hard enough you could see small to medium sized grayling holding in indents and behind patches of weed.

I  was happily enjoying regular sport from grayling, but  I knew it was only a matter of time before another interloper shoved in, so I wasn't disappointed when I struck and something silver shot from the depths like a cruise missile. Every time I see this happen I am always amazed. Trout anglers pay a fortune and invest huge amounts of time to chase sea trout on rivers throughout Wales and the South, often failing to catch one for huge amounts of time, and here I am lobbing maggots out wholesale and the damn things can't get enough. Six of these deranged fish took my baits in the first swim alone and everyone made such a fuss it was unreal.

"The worst day on the Itchen is like the day of a lifetime on any other river" someone said to me the other night regarding this river and he is exactly right. This was exactly why we upped sticks and left an area that was producing constant bites and insane amounts of fish. We hadn't travelled all this way to just catch loads of average sized grayling and a few sea trout. We wanted to catch something special and with the Itchen setting such a high bar for what is special, it was a case of getting onto the area that is capable of producing such a fish.

With that in mind we dropped down to fish the gin clear run off the weir pool. I have fished this area a few times before and have only ever caught trout and grayling, but I do know from other sources that it contains some very special fish. Though what I already knew hardly prepared me for what I saw. At the tail of the run where the bottom shallowed towards the surface, a shoal of two to three pound chub hung in the flow. Two to three pound chub aren't that special you will think, and you're right, but they provided a handy point of reference against which to size the other inhabitants of this area.  One of those monster chub looked to be at least twice as big as the little two-pounder, so was maybe five to six pounds. The other one was markedly bigger than the other! So conservatively could have been seven plus even in late summer condition and it wasn't even the chub which were that shocking, it was the roach.

Three roach all over two pounds repeatedly circled along a very specific route, stopping behind various clumps of weed to rest intermittently. At first I thought they were immature bream like the ones that were hanging out in a slack upstream but soon enough their red fins became obvious and they morphed into roach. It was Andy that bagged this swim and as we watched the roach and chub, two huge koi carp rose from the weeds to make our eyes bulge even more. Not wanting to possibly detract from what Andy hoped to do I headed off above the weir to fish what I consider to be both the best and worse swim on the entire fishery.

The M27 swim is where the oasis-like feel of the Itchen and reality collide. It is by my own admission the noisiest swim I have fished ever. The east bound carriageway thunders constantly over the river on the fish-able side and between the sounds of wailing engines and truck sidings flapping in the wind, you can barely hear yourself think. Add to that the fact that every truck that passes by quite literally shakes the ground for hundreds of feet and you have a very strange experience involving a beautifully river and the UK transport network.

Though as bad a place as it is, there is no doubt that it is a fish magnet. My theory is that the constant thunder of traffic, shelter of concrete and deep run all serve to make a very safe haven for resting salmon and shoals of everything alike. Once ensconced the feeder was dutifully filled and swung into the flow. The first fish to oblige were just mediocre grayling, but soon enough the tip hoofed round and a real dirty fighter was on the line.

This very long and lean chub did everything it could to get into every weed bed in the entire swim but patience wore it down and eventually it went into the net, where it did the oddest vibrating I have ever seen from a chub. That fish released upstream I again cast to the exact same spot and this time I never got the rods on the rest. If the bite was savage and sharp the fight was unbelievable. I at first thought I'd hooked another salmon but an amazing cartwheel jump revealed a big brown trout was the culprit.

After the trout the swim seemed to die a death, though this did coincide with the sun being at its highest. It was around then that I got the call from Andy who had been persevering with those infuriating chub and roach. He had on the float hooked and lost the biggest of all the chub in the weir run off. I know the feeling he just gone through only too well. You hook a huge fish in very pacey flow and the damn thing just holds flank on, with the whole pressure of the river on it before flicking its tail and sticking far too much strain on your very light outfit.

Not long after this I too dropped down to the weir and fished above him. Though honestly I should have known better with all the bream around in the swim. From the moment my rig went in those dammed bream knew the food was around. Their whole demeanor changed and I watched time and time again as they circled round my bait picking up freebies. It was not them that I wanted but the single large roach that had broken away from its companions and joined up with the bream. But that was never going to happen! The moment I looked away the rod was nearly wrenched into the river by a rather dozy bream. It was however very interesting to see what happened when the hooked fish panicked. The shoal broke up flying in all directions, only to reform and wait off down stream the roach included. By the time I had unhooked the bronze bugger and released it away from the swim, the damn things were back on the spot, head-down like nothing had happened.

By late afternoon I was done trying to avoid the bream whilst picking out a single roach and was a bit lost for what to do. I was tempted to fish the barbel swim but not having any gear suitable I gave it a miss. With only an hour or so left I decided to just return to the motorway swim and sit it out for another chub or a big roach on the bread feeder. Putting my bank sticks back in the previous holes I settled into the worn swim thinking it would just be a case of whiling away my last hour watching a motionless tip in a used up swim.

First cast the feeder touched down on hard bottom and I put the rod down. Moments later the tip slowly bent round as if a huge clump of loose weed had snagged on my line. Anyone who has ever fished a chalk stream will be familiar with the massive chunks of weed which randomly come down like icebergs through the day and dislodge your rigs constantly. Picking up the rod I gently began to haul back my rig only to find the weed hugging the bottom and moving up stream some serious intent. It was a little surprising that my weed clump had suddenly turned into a mystery fish. Having seen carp in this swim before and from it's laborious fight, I suspected I was about to get turned around and spanked when a carp woke up, but no it just plodded around until it saw a weed bed, where it dived straight towards. Even more surprising was the fact that could stop it and my five pound line held. Maybe it wasn't a carp after all. With no salmonid acrobatics and it being far too big for a roach, identification was simple. It was a chub and a good one at that judging from its length when it rolled on the surface. With nothing but clear water between me and it the result was a forgone conclusion. With another decent chub in my net is was made up but when I went to lift it over the reeds the net pole began bending worryingly and I soon found out why...

This chub was in a different league to the first. It was around the same length but with a head bigger than my fist, shoulders to match and it seemed twice as thick as the other one. I think the term I used to Andy when I gave him a call to come help photograph it was 'Goliath'. Seeing the size of it I was shocked to find it only weighed 5.7lb but like all the fish we had caught it was very lean and still in summer condition. 

From examining the fish we both agreed where it was lacking body mass was in its stomach. This one like the other had a lot of feeding to do before winter, which makes sense as for months now it had only been non nutritional fly anglers on the beat. Given the overall size of this chub I think realistically that it could easily pack on a pound to a pound and half before Christmas. Which could make its top end weight close if not seven pounds.

The pictures we took didn't really do the fish justice but that was down the fishes poor behaviour. I'd rested it for a good while before the photos as it seemed very dazed and that consideration came back to haunt me as you can see from my top behind the fish.

The chub was a fine way to end an already productive trip back to the Itchen, but I wont deny that the sight of those giant chalk stream roach is burnt into my mind and I still can't believe that neither of us came remotely close to hooking one. It is as I said before, the Itchen like many Southern chalk streams, set such high bars for what is a good fish that a fish of a lifetime back home is just an average fish on these wondrous rivers.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Dinosaurs and dysentery.

The early morning smiles and elation of achieving my target had faded long ago. It had taken less than thirty minutes from the initial cast for one of my rods to stutter into life and sound a steady run. My strike had met solid and oblivious resistance from a fish which just plodded around the lake. That sedate fight too fast became a distant memory as the battle turned nasty and the sturgeon went ballistic unable to escape my constant pressure. The fight over, the fish continued its rage slapping me senseless as I tried to hold it for a picture.

Now though my day had changed... The action had slowed as the sun rose high in the sky and something was wrong,.. very wrong! 
A cold sweat crawled across my body and signals were being sent to my brain that indicated not all was well. I felt awful, like I had ingested a couple of live eels, one residing above my belt and the other below. I soon found myself in that terrible state when all your mind can comprehend is illness; all other thoughts had fallen from my mind. After muttering to my companion Martin asking him to watch my gear, I walked away from the lake sucking in air and wiping beads of sweat from my forehead, desperately seeking sanctuary. But at the end of the short but very long journey what I found was far from comforting. I've been to plenty of festivals in my life so have borne witness to some pretty inconvenient conveniences, but this one at this time made all those others seem like an en suite at the savoy. None of that mattered to me now, I just needed to be in here. Panic was now upon me and I fumbled at my clothes barely freeing them before waves of sweet blessed relief passed over my body. As if I had just taken a shot of heroin, comfort and euphoria coursed through my body. I had never been so happy to be in such a bad place as this.

Still enjoying the after shocks of relief I pondered how I had come to be in this position. Obviously something I had ingested was the perpetrator. Time, I surmised, discounted the previous days consumption so all that remained was today's fodder. Was it that sausage roll around ten or possibly the pepperami that followed it? Maybe Martin had poisoned that toffee crisp he had given me by way of revenge for me catching the first sturgeon. No, these were stupid thoughts as all that had come vacuum packed and still chilled. It had to be now to some microscopic germ that had piggy backed its way in somewhere along the line.

Air never smelt so good as it did when I stepped out of that fettered blue plastic hell hole. It was how people must have felt leaving some god forsaken solitary cell in prisoner of war camps. Even that momentary happiness was short lived as the sickness continued to wrack my body for the next four hours. The only thing I could imagine was how good it would have felt to be home, but my range was so depleted that even the end of the drive seemed too long of a journey for me to manage right now. All I could do was stick this out, let it pass and try to resist the idea of curling up on my unhooking mat clutching my guts whilst whimpering softly. This will probably be the only time I will ever say this but thank god the fishing was slow as inactivity was what I need right now, and inactivity I got.

Happily my episodes by late afternoon had abated and just as I was coming round the fish responded as carp after carp greedily forced my oversized chunks of meat into their mouths. Even in my weakened state I began to enjoy the day again and by the time the next sturgeon, a small diamond, turned up the colour had returned to my recently pallid skin and I could smile again.

Having stuck with one particular line all day I was rewarded with a third and final sturgeon not long before we left. Though this one was to turn out to the hardest battle by far. I have read that these prehistoric fish are one of the hardest fighting fish in freshwater and as my bite indicator went off I was about to have this confirmed. Dehydrated and weak I took it easy as the fish just circled round endlessly, but this could have gone on forever as far as the fish was concerned. More pressure meant more fight and more thrashing! I've thought about how to describe how these fish fight and the best I can come up with is it's like a cross between a barbel and a pike. 

Eventually it went into the net and I won't deny that in my state I was relatively happy about that, but I was even more happy to land my second decent sturgeon of the day. Which once again gave me heap of hassle on the mat just to finish me off for the day.

The next day I was wrecked! Both the illness and the fishing had taken their toll on me. Lying of the sofa I did crack a wry smile at the thought of retuning as there are fish four times the size of my biggest in those lakes and I really fancy a tussle with one of those monsters. Although I think from now on I will call an end to all bank side picnics for the foreseeable future.