Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pick of the year

Well, that's another year's fishing over. For the first time in a long time ending in a big freeze. Although I had been hoping for some prolonged cold weather to target chub this winter I hadn't wanted it this cold for so long - and predicted to continue. I nipped out mid-morning today and it was -2c and foggy, by late afternoon it was still -2c and foggy!

At least the fishing this year didn't grind to such a complete standstill as last year did. I started barbel fishing later but caught more, larger and for longer. The year had started slowly, but I made more better decisions and was more flexible than I have been in the past, so carried on catching fish by shifting my targets. You never stop learning.

Spring and summer were difficult owing to the ever changing weather with hardly two consecutive days the same. Even so I managed to catch some nice fish. After a season of bad timing on one river in 2007 I managed to get it right more often than not this time round, as my barbel results show. But where have the chub gone? Usually a few have come along to the barbel rods. This season (so far) they have been a rarity.

I'm not making any firm plans for the coming year but I do have a couple of new venues in my sights. If I can up a few more PBs along the way I'll be happy. Then again, I'll be happy if I catch more often than I blank. Unfortunately for the blog the issue of publicity bans cropped up this year and will be a factor in the coming months too.


That doesn't stop me looking back at some of my fishy highlights of 2008.
  • Barbel - 14-03 [pb]
  • Bream - 11-02
  • Carp - dnw
  • Chub - 5-09
  • Dace - 0-07 [pb]
  • Golden Orfe - 2-00 [pb]
  • Grayling - dnw, but bigger than the one I caught last year! [pb]
  • Perch - 3-05
  • Pike - 16-02
  • Roach/Bream Hybrid - 5-06 [pb]
  • Roach/Rudd Hybrid - 3-04
  • Roach - 1-10 [pb]
  • Rudd - dnw
  • Sea trout - dnw [out of season]
  • Tench - 7-04 (m) [pb], 9-03 (f)
[pb]= personal best, dnw = did not weigh (i.e. small!),(m) = male, (f) = female

Quite a satisfying list by my standards.

All the best for 2009.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Icy margins

Although it was quite sunny there were still thin slivers of ice on the shady parts of the bank showing where the water level had been a day or two earlier. No two days are the same on the river. Low clear and cold, and the bites were harder to come by. It took a couple of hours of casting the liquidised bread-filled feeder and its attendant lump of cheese paste before a bite registered. Once more it was a delicate affair. This set the pattern for the session.

The days are growing noticeably longer now, just a week past the shortest day. For those who care to look for these things there have been buds on some trees for a while now. In fact it's the development of buds that helps force the leaves from the trees, but it's at this time of year that the buds become really evident. It won't be long before there are green shoots appearing to cheer us up. Talking of leaves, the river should remain free of them come the next flood. Looking across at the brown carpet under the trees on the wood opposite I could see a distinct green band of grass and plants washed clear of leaves between the river and the top of the flood line.

Shortly before the light began to fade bites came at shorter intervals, but where still short, gentle pulls followed by a sharp springing back of the quiver tip. My other rod was fishing a single red maggot on a size sixteen in conjunction with an in-line feeder. The hope was that it would cause fish to hook themselves. Maybe it would have done had anything tried eating the maggot. Not one was so much as sucked.

The sun had warmed the afternoon, but once the sun got low in the sky the temperature plummeted. It was soon crisp underfoot and the air temperature at ground level below zero. Despite this my feet were nice and cosy in my new boots. So that was money well spent! The temperature above ground level dropped too, but about an hour after darkness had fallen it rose again. There was no cloud cover to cause this but when I returned to the car at six thirty there was no frost on the roof or windows only dew.

I'd left a few bites on the of chance they would develop. None did. Yet when I came to wind the paste rod in to pack up there was a chub of about three pounds on the end which required the disgorger to unhook. I really can't get my head round chub fishing.

I’m supporting Angling Unity

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Festive Fun

Some weeks back I got it into my head to go pike fishing on Christmas Day. If only for the morning. Waking early it still seemed like a good idea, so I got out of bed, snaffled a couple of slices of toast, grabbed some bait from the freezer and set off along the deserted roads. Deserted apart from dog walkers and nutters out jogging. Have these people nothing better to do on Christmas Morning? That's irony, folks!

Yes, it is a pike float!

Needless to say the lake was deserted when I arrived well before daybreak so I took my time and ambled along the high path with my head torch lighting the way. As I approached the swim I fancied, one I first fished almost twenty years ago (or is it longer?), I heard rustlings in the trees near the water's edge. Deer. I've often seen their point hoof prints near the shore and spotted an occasional one on the far bank during daylight. I turned my head to peer into the darkness and the light from my Petzl was reflected back in half a dozen pairs of glowing pinpricks. Although I knew full well they were deer eyes it was still quite unsettling - something deep in the primaeval part of my brain was saying, "Wolf!"

Nothing stays the same for ever. The last time I had fished this particular swim it had been subjected to some pruning by anglers who had 'discovered' it. Back in 2006 I'd had a few productive sessions there. It was a bit cramped and the overhanging branches made casting difficult, but not impossible. The bush to the right could be fished round by stepping to the left, the brambles on the edge of the water to the left provided some cover. Further to the left the water was inaccessible making a close-in cast in that direction worth a punt. I got three baits out in darkness knowing the swim had been opened up a bit more since my last visit. When it came light I saw the full state of the devastation.

The bush to the right was no longer. A pile of branches being its mortal remains. The overhanging branches were also long gone. To the left the brambles were a memory, and where you would previously have had to pull branches aside to go further along the bank was a cleared path to a new swim. What a mess that was. Bankside bushes stripped out, trees brutally pruned behind and the bank well trodden mud. There seems little point in creating the swim as it's so close to the original one it opens up no fresh water. I guess the fact that the bank was level was the reason as the original swim was less paddled to a mire. On further inspection I noticed the swim to the right looked like it also received more pressure, it too being a muddy mess. It all makes me wonder what feeling for the natural world these people have. The next thing we know there'll be fisheries with gravel paths to the flat concrete swims and mown grass all around...

I feel like proposing a ban on saws at the next AGM

Apart from the obvious fact that the area was getting a lot of pressure the insensitivity of the 'anglers' who had done the clearance was depressing me. One time back in 2006 I was set up in 'my' swim when an other angler arrived and cast across one of my lines. While this was annoying it shows how well concealed the swim was just a few short years ago as he said he hadn't seen me. The only tidying I ever did was to cut a few stems of grass to stop them interfering with my drop-offs. Now, with the bush gone and the gap wide enough to accommodate two anglers, I was in full view of anyone approaching the swim. I just can't see the sense of it. Leaving the swim cramped discouraged people from fishing it and kept it as a bit of a banker. Needless to say I was glad when I'd had enough of blanking today. Even my new bite alarms didn't bring me any luck.

A Billy's Special

While silently cursing the environmental vandalism I was also bemoaning the standard of piking in the North West. While the chances of a twenty pounder are better round here than they were a couple of decades ago, it's usually a case of fishing for one or two runs a day - half a dozen if you're really lucky. If you can face blanking time after time trying to catch a biggie then good luck to you. It's not what I call good fishing. Piking in other parts of the country I know that you can expect to get ten or more runs in a session, with a high percentage of the pike being doubles and a chance of a twenty among them. Not every time, of course, but often enough. Such a day round here would be the highlight of a couple of seasons. It's no wonder I'll be back on a river fishing for something else next time out.

That was what I was doing on Christmas Eve. It was mild again, but the river was cooler than it had been. As usual I'd missed the window of barbel opportunity, but the chub were active. I'd elected to take some bread and cheese paste along with the barbel baits. With the water temp 6.4 it was borderline barbel conditions. Fishing two rods the S-Pellet was getting a bit of attention - from chub, but the bread flake was getting more. As it started to go dark I switched to the paste and it was a bite a chuck. But I couldn't connect with any of them. The twin isotopes did make a big difference in spotting the slow pulls though.

Eventually a chub of between three and four pounds made a mistake on the pellet rod. I had saved a blank, which was nice after a run of poor efforts. The bites continued on the paste right up until I packed up at eight. The pellet rod had signalled a sharp chub rap then gone still. I suspected the rig was snagged but was concentrating on trying to hit bites on the quivertip so left it where it was. When I came to wind it in to go home the rig did feel snagged, but came free with a good steady pull. It felt like I'd picked the snag up and was dragging a branch or something across the river. Funny thing was the branch kited upstream at one point. Then it pretended to be a small barbel as it hit the shallows and made a surge for freedom. The beam of my headtorch lit up a pair of big white lips and a second chub, a few ounces heavier than the first, slid over the net.

Better than a blank

Although a couple of accidental chub is nothing to get excited about the enjoyment I got from the session was immeasurably greater than that of waiting for one of my drop off alarms to sound. The frustration of missing bites to the paste was a perverse kind of pleasure. I'm coming to understand the adage that says anglers start out fishing for the most, move on to fishing for the biggest, and end up fishing for the most challenging.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A right carry on

Saturday came (wetly) and went. I pottered a bit. By lunch time on Sunday I was climbing the walls with frustration. I threw some gear together and headed for the river for a short session. As I got out of the car I received a text "The barbel are feeding". EH had just had one, and a couple of others had been out too. The river looked good. Up but dropping, coloured, and warming above seven degrees. I dropped in a peg that was being vacated and found the leaves weren't too much of a problem.

Although it was windy, very windy, it was warm. EH moved upstream of me after losing one too many rigs. Then it began to rain. Just spits and spots at first, but I thought I'd stick the brolly up anyway. Would the locking mechanism lock? Would it heck. After a minute or more of shoving I lost my rag and gave it one mighty push upwards - with which the pole came away in my hand. Bugger.On inspection the threaded brass insert was still attached to the pole. It's merely a push fit into the top part of the brolly pole - which is made of plastic! What a load of rubbish. It's never been up to much at the best of times and has a tendency to collapse in a strong wind.

Unable to get anything to grip the brass insert and unscrew it from the pole I was in a quandary. After thinking about it for a while I rammed the insert back in place as hard as I could and managed to loosen the main pole from it. I pulled the pole back out and unscrewed the insert. As the brolly has a rear position for the pole I decided to use that. This worked well until it came to putting the pole in the ground and pegging out the umbrella. Looking back I should have hammered the pole into the ground then slid the brolly onto it. But I didn't. Instead, with a little help from EH I managed to get the thing into some form of protection from the rain. Even if it was swinging around in the wind.

EH landed a nice barbel, and then a chub as he was packing up - a fish which I recognised as one I'd caught last month. It's one that looks a fair bit heavier than it is when you weigh it! My baits were untouched. having only planned a short session my rations consisted of one Nutrigrain bar. Despite moving up a peg for half an hour after the brolly did its collapso act, I had had enough by quarter past six when the rain came back. If I'd taken more nosh, and the brolly hadn't been in self destruct mode, I'd happily have sat it out considerably longer.

Having packed two parcels on Monday morning I set to mending the umbrella. This didn't take long. A few seconds with a hammer managed to persuade the recalcitrant bit of brass back into its plastic home. How long for I have no idea. The parcels were collected and on their merry way by two o'clock. I could have sneaked away to the river but chose not to as I would be free from Tuesday afternoon onwards and could get a less hastily arranged session in. Or so I thought...

Tuesday morning was taken up dropping off a rod repair then foraging in Asda. When I got home I found an e-mail telling me that one of the two parcels I had sent out on Monday had arrived at the wrong address. The courier's label didn't match the address I'd written on the tube so it wasn't my fault. Obviously the other customer would be in a similar situation. The afternoon that should have been spent fishing has been spent on the phone to couriers and customers trying to sort the mess out. As the couriers close for Christmas at lunchtime tomorrow this isn't likely to get resolved until next year. A happy bunny I am not.

Season's greetings to you all...

I’m supporting Angling Unity

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review - Tica Sportera 3507SR (and other ramblings)

I would have been out fishing today if my plans hadn't been scuppered by flu ridden delivery drivers. I had it all planned, rods out for Christmas Wednesday and Thursday, fish Friday. Wednesday went well and the courier arrived early. If that was repeated on Thursday I might even manage to snatch a few hours on the river before and after dark. By five thirty yesterday I was still waiting. Then I got a phone call to say the driver would be late - as if he wasn't already. Ten minutes later another call to confess that there was no driver, they were short-staffed owing to 'flu' and they couldn't collect until Friday. So here I am, twiddling my thumbs and waiting. So I thought I'd fill my time rambling on here.

Back in August I wrote a review of the Okuma Epix Pro EPB30 Baitfeeder on this blog. It's a nice little reel that has it's body and spool in proportion - something I like in a reel. I mostly use the Okumas for perch fishing, where the freespool option comes in handy when there are daft carp about. For barbel fishing I also find that feature useful, especially when using two rods, but for that I use Shimano Baitrunner 3500Bs which I have reviewed on Barbel Now. While I have used the Okumas for feeder fishing for chub and roach I find they are a little slow on the retrieve. Not much of a problem on a river or when fishing at close range (as most of my perch fishing is) but on a long chuck it seems to take ages to get the feeder back for a refill.

Spools L-R: Shimano 4000, Tica 3507, Okuma 30

For a long time my tench fishing had been done with Shimano Aero Baitrunners of some description. The size had always been the same even though the model numbers had changed over the years. Originally they were 4000s, latterly 8000s. All take the same spools. A 4000, for example, takes the 4500 spools - the only difference being their capacity and the width at the spool lip. The smaller Aeros, however, are really the same reels with noticeably smaller spools. I have never seen any advantage in this. If I want a smaller capacity reel it's to use with lighter lines and lighter rods - so I want a reel that is smaller too. Anyway, the 4000/8000 Aeros are ideal for use with mono lines of 12lb and upwards to maybe 18lb. They are a popular size for carp and pike fishing. Personally I don't think they are robust enough for piking (maybe the more recent and more expensive models are) and prefer other reels, but that's for another blog.

In 2007 I decided that I wanted a slightly smaller freespool reel for my tenching and bought myself three Daiwa Regals. After just a short period of use I realised they were a bit flimsy for me. The bale arms bent for one thing, and one had started to sound a bit rough after I'd used it for a session on a river. I persevered with them until the end of the tench season, having had no trouble with them, and managed to palm them off on someone during the winter. In April this year I replaced them with three Tica Sportera 3507s. Initially I was unsure of how these relatively cheap reels would perform, but after landing a lot of tench on them, and playing a big carp on one for a long time before I lost it, I have grown to like them a lot.

Top: Shimano 8000RE Bottom L: Okuma Epix Pro 30. Bottom R: Tica Sportera 3507SR

They are not much larger than the Epix Pro 30, but considerably smaller than the 8000 Shimano - and therefore than the 5000 Shimano that has a similar sized spool. For close to medium range casting with lines up to 10lb they are spot on and balance nicely on an Interceptor or similar rod with a test curve of 2lb or less. The drag is surprisingly good, the bale arms don't bend, and after a fair bit of use they still feel smooth and satisfyingly 'solid'. Maybe not quite as smooth as the Epix Pros, but on a par with the Shimanos.

The line lay may not be as nice as on some reels, but I can't honestly say it has hindered my casting. They are not reels for distance fishing anyway. Even on the longest chuck I find they whip rigs back in quickly enough. If I ever get round to doing that roach fishing I keep threatening to do their spare spools will be getting loaded up with five pound mono. In the meantime it's 10lb. Should I need to cast further for tench or bream then it will be out with the heavier rods and on with the Aeros. Horses for courses.

Why the Tica range of reels isn't more widely stocked I can't say. All their reels I have seen in the upper price brackets (which is still a lower bracket than the top ranges of other manufacturers) have looked and felt as well constructed as the Sporteras. That's a Tica I bought for my chub fishing last month, for example. Bigger sizes of the Sportera are also available and even if you are not on a tight budget they are worth a look.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fashion victim

The morning's rain had cleared up, I was bored and had some new fishing boots to try. The last time I'd bumped into EH on the river he'd been wearing on a rather toasty looking pair of Baffin boots. I'd been managing well enough for a few years without the need for thermal boots - after the disaster of the Wychwood boots - but the last few weeks had made me think that warmer footwear was called for again. Yesterday I purchased a pair of the Baffin Outbacks from Ted Carter's (as I was in credit with them) and wanted to try them out even if the temperature had risen.

These boots are made for walking

So off to the river hoping that it might be up a little and warmer than of late. It was certainly up - about five feet up. Before I'd arrived at the river the rain had set in again. I dumped my gear, put the brolly up to shelter it and chucked the thermometer in while I went looking for a spot where I could avoid the leaves that I could see coming down in the current.

The day was much warmer than I'd become accustomed to and even with just one fleece under the bunny suit I was getting hot. My feet were cosy in the new boots which proved to be perfectly all right for walking in, although not giving as much support as my usual boots they weren't uncomfortable like 'the boots from hell'!

After about half an hour I dropped into the only fishable slack I could find. The usual big slack was a churning cauldron and a nice glide that can fish in a flood was a moving wall of leaves. The water was warmer than it had been on Tuesday, 4.6c and rising slowly. Not warm enough to make me confident of a barbel, but good enough to give me hope of a chub. A pellet went out nonetheless, and then a lump of the cheese paste - both fished without any further attraction. Fishing a small slack it seemed unlikely that freebies would draw fish to the swim, and any fish in the slack would have no trouble finding a hookbait. That was the theory. It didn't match with the practice.

When I picked up my lovely new boots I also bought another pack of Drennan isotopes. I had one on my quiver but was sure I was failing to see small bites after dark when I had no point of reference for the isotope. Fitting the tip with two light sources is supposed to solve that problem. When I get a bite I'll let you know if it does...

Twin isotopes on the quiver

Although it felt quite mild after dark (funny how a temperature that feels mild after a prolonged cold spell can be the same as that which made you chilly at the start of autumn) my heart wasn't in it and I packed up after three hours. It was being restricted to where I could fish by the leaves that did it for me. There were some tasty looking spots that I reckon would have held fish, but where a rig would have been wiped out by the leaves in minutes. Quite annoying. Not much chance of things improving tomorrow either. Pity. I'll just have to make time to fish later in the week, by which time it's supposed to have warmed up even more. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Living the dream?

I don't know how I missed the return of Steve Harrison's blog. There's some interesting rod and tackle talk on there.

I noticed that I get a few mentions in despatches - have a read of the entry for December 10th for example. That might give me an excuse to nag Steve to produce a couple more specials for me the next time I visit the factory!

However, I would say that if anyone's living the dream it's Steve - I might have time to go fishing but I don't have a yacht, a motorbike, a Porsche, a.... Then again, I don't want them. I must be easily satisfied.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Chub crazy

I was fishing for chub, but I must have been crazy...

First of all I carted all my gear to the river, walked up and down the stretch, in the 'heat' of the afternoon sun, took the water temperature then carted my gear back to the car and drove elsewhere. The elsewhere didn't look like it had seen the sun all day as the bank was frosty and rock hard. For some reason the river was a tad warmer though.

I started off on the maggot feeder. At least the leaves were less of a problem than last time. Occasionally the tip would pull down slowly then spring back as the feeder moved. A couple of times it pulled down more sharply before springing back. Far more fishy. The next time it did that I struck and was amazed to find the size sixteen had connected with something wriggly rather than a leaf. It was quite a surprise to see a small, out of season, sea trout (a first) in the net. After dark I went over to a cage feeder with liquidised bread and alterneated cheese paste and bread on the hook. All to no avail.

Despite intending to fish until six I'd had enough by half five. The ground temperature was below freezing and my tootsies numbed. There was a hint of frost on the car roof, more than a hint on the tackle that had been exposed to the air, yet the car's thermometer read 2c.

There are more cold nights to come, according to the weather people, before warmish rain arrives towards the end of the week. I'm not sure I can face any more of this failing-to-catch-chub madness though!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Whose daft idea was that?

Over a week without wetting a line and I was going stir crazy. I really must have been mad to venture out today! Once the sun had warmed the world up it was a lovely winter's afternoon to be on the still-frozen bank. Hardly a breath of wind, bright sunshine, clear blue sky. Great stuff.

Cold cows

The river was up, coloured, and cold. Although it was just a shade over 3c it was carrying snow melt. Not conducive to any sort of fishing, not even the chubbing I intended. Once the sun dropped behind the horizon the air temperature plummeted forcing me to perform the daft balaclava/woolly hat double act.

The first swim I fished was a nightmare of leaves. The rise in the river level had picked them up and was bringing them down in such numbers that a bait couldn't be held in place for more than a couple of minutes. I thought I'd picked a spot just out of the main push of water, but hadn't. Shortly before dark I moved down to a slacker spot and fared rather better. It still wasn't ideal.

Cheese paste and even maggots failed to produce a genuine bite. It was grim. The sparkly stuff started forming on the tackle during daylight. The landing net, still damp from last week, was more like a tennis racket by the time I called it an early night at half five.

Stiff and sparkly

Fishing has been likened to a drug. It certainly induces some kind of altered state of consciousness to make people think they are enjoying themselves sitting in the dark in the freezing cold. And to think, it's not so long since I was bemoaning the air temperature dropping to single figures when I was getting back to my car!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hook pulls and received wisdom

I was wasting an hour in my local tackle shop earlier today when a rep from a well known tackle firm came in touting his wares for next year. He had a couple of barbel rods with him so I made a nuisance of mysel ( as you do) and managed to give the heaviest one a bend. Looking at the ticket on the rod it said it would cast six ounce leads on rivers like the Trent. "Tip's too soft," says I in typical diplomatic fashion. "That's to stop hook pulls," says he. "A soft butt prevents hook pulls," I replied without thinking. He gave me a look that said, "You don't know what you're talking about, mate". I changed the subject!

It's been going around for years that a rod with a soft tip prevents hook pulls. I've fallen for it myself in the past. But think about it. The only time you are going to suffer a hook pull is when there is no 'give' left in the rod or line. If things have arrived at that point the rod tip will be bent to its limit and have no reserve of cushioning. A soft tip can only prevent a hook pull if the rod isn't being used to it's full power. So maybe on a match rod, with light line, a soft tip will prevent hook pulls. But on a barbel rod? I think not.

A soft tipped barbel rod will struggle to cast a big feeder easily, and when playing a fish the tip will soon be bent past any usefulness as a cushion. If the rod has a stiff butt to compensate for the tip when casting that same butt will be too stiff to act as a shock absorber when the tip is fully bent playing a fish. The angler will then have to slacken the drag on his reel more than is necessary in order to prevent hook pulls.

Take the other road where the rod tip is stiffer and the action comes progressively down the blank into a softer butt section. Here the tip will not 'collapse' when casting or when playing fish. You'll be able to utilise more of the power of the rod more smoothly. The rod will act more like a spring for longer and probably never reach a lock up point unless you are snagged. So hook pulls will be much reduced.

I'm sure that this trend for soft tipped, stiff butted rods is why a lot of anglers seem unable to put a decent bend in their rods when playing fish - they are playing them entirely 'off the tip'. If your line is balanced to the rod you are using, and that rod bends progressively, you really can lean into fish without fear of hook pulls.

The only time a soft tip might be beneficial is when a fish is under the rod tip ready for netting. The angles involved mean that the butt cannot easily come into play if the fish makes a sudden dash. By the same token when a fish is being drawn to the net the tip will be well bent over, too. My solution at this stage is to knock the anti-reverse off. That last dash for freedom can then be made against a backwinding (but controlled) reel. The other option, which I also use, is to drop the rod tip to give the fish a little line. Playing fish is a dynamic operation - you shouldn't be relying on the equipment to do all the work for you.

It was carp rods which first utilised the soft tip/stiff butt combination and it was sold to anglers as providing great casting potential with fish playing ability. The truth of the matter is that it's a poor design for a casting rod (you need a rod that stiffens rapidly, but smoothly, from the tip), and equally poor for playing fish (you need a rod that stiffens slowly, but smoothly, from the tip). In neither case do you want a rod that bends easily then stiffens suddenly in the butt. At least that's my take on things.

One more thing. The barbel rod had unnecessarily large rings and a Duplon handle. I think it might be aimed at failed carp anglers...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sparkly stuff

Fancying a change of scenery today I headed for a stretch of river I last saw during the summer floods. My how different it looked. The banks were bare and access to the water much easier without the head-high balsam and nettles. In fact there were half a dozen spots that looked to be worth a dabble. Although I had intended to fish upstream I plonked my gear in the penultimate peg at the downstream end of the stretch. I was planning to catch chub so the slacker water appealed to me.

The water temperature was up two degrees from Tuesday, the level up maybe a foot and there was a touch of colour. The day had turned pleasant in the sun and with hardly any breeze. For the first hour I was quite warm after the walk from the car, but when the sun neared the horizon I got the first hint of impending frost.

Just because I could, I cast a pellet rod out to fish the faster water at the tail of the crease, more in desperation than hope, and fished the tip rod upstream with the cheesy paste. Not much happened. Okay, nothing happened. The only indications were from leaves hitting the lines.

I was treated to an air show though. First a Eurofighter roared overhead, then a small single-engined propeller driven 'plane crept southwards just before a microlight slowly hove into view preceding a powered hang glider. I had a horrible feeling that would be my entertainment for the day.

Even when the isotopes were glowing brightly no bites materialised. I was beginning to think that I had made a bad swim choice when I heard an odd noise to my left. It sounded like something had blundered into a branch. When I looked I saw my pellet rod had shifted forty five degrees in the rest. Maybe a bird had flown into the line?

To my amazement there was a fish on the end of the line. A chub had hooked itself. Not a big fish, but welcome nonetheless. Maybe the swim is worth another look sometime after all. For some reason my heart wasn't in it, and I packed up three quarters of an hour later so as to avoid the rush hour traffic.

Crossing the stile there was some sparkly stuff on the step. When I got back to my car there was plenty more of it on the car's roof. It was turning frosty. And it's forecast to stay that way for a few days at least. I might get some maggots tomorrow and see what they produce.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A turnip for the books

If everything went smoothly I'd be on the river by four. I had a couple of rods to pack up and send out today, and a few deliveries were due. I was up with the lark, the lark that gets up late, and had the rods packed and collection arranged before the first brew of the day. By eleven all my deliveries had turned up. The courier would be here by two, I could make some pack-up and fill the flask, then go to the Post Office and top up the petrol tank on my way to the river. By three I was reduced to doing the Hoovering...

When the courier eventually arrived the light was starting to show signs of fading. I did the Post Office and petrol run then thought, 'Sod it'. I knew I'd arrive in the dark but so what? Before I left I checked the 24hr weather forecast. It would go cold after dusk then warm up later. It was certainly getting colder and colder as I neared the river. It was just 2.5c when I got out of the car. I'd wrapped up well with an extra fleece, and I'd dug out my Osama Bin Pikin' balaclava which I pulled down over my ears, then put my usual woolly hat on top. Luckily there was nobody else on the river to see me looking more like a tramp than usual!

I took the water temperature and decided not to bother with a barbel rod. 3.8c isn't exactly barbel friendly conditions. That didn't bother me though, as the reason I wanted to fish was to get the benefit of my early Christmas present to myself that had arrived this morning. A blender. I burnt out the last one a couple of years ago trying to grind down halibut pellets. Now I had need of a new one to make liquidised bread. Eager to try the new toy out I'd liquidised half a loaf, and spiced the results up with some Hemp and Hali Crush. It looked the part. Not only did I want to try the bread out, I wanted to have another play with my new reel. We never grow up, do we?

My new reel with freshly liquidised bread in the background

The first couple of casts were made with a plain lead and a knob of cheese paste. Bites came straight away. After that I switched to a cage feeder and swapped between the paste and bread flake. The bites were quite short and sharp affairs. I've still not got the knack of this quiver-tipping lark. Then one bite was really positive - to the flake - and I landed a fish of about three pounds.

Bread flake - nothing more simple

The sky was clear and there was a very gentle breeze blowing from the west. It was one of those nights when you could hear all sorts of noises. The first were jackdaws disturbed on their roost, closely followed by owls hooting. Then I heard something I hadn't heard on this stretch before. Coming from the wood on the far bank were the unmistakable grumbling grunts of badgers. It all adds to the great experience of being by a river after dark.

Just before seven cloud cover started to appear in the west, gradually moving closer and shrouding the stars. It began to warm up and I thought I might as well fish on until nine. More bites came to both baits, but I couldn't connect with them. A few minutes before nine I had a twitch to the paste that bounced the tip back. I'd been trying to fish for slack liners with a bend in the tip but it wasn't panning out right. I decided to leave the tip as it was and see if the extra bow in the line might encourage a hittable bite to develop. Seconds later it did just that. This chub was a plump one and weighed just under four pounds. I'd stop a bit longer and have another try with the slack line.

Again bites came shortly after the feeder hit the deck, but they were quick ones. I put my right hand on the rod and hooked my index finger under the line. I saw the tip twitch, felt a pluck on my finger tip and struck - all at once. The fish was hooked. When I switched my head torch on to land the fish I saw that a light precipitation was falling in the almost still night air. As soon as the fish was returned I called it a night. It had been fun, I felt like I'd made progress, and I'd christened my new reel. Not bad for three and a half hour's fishing.

The last one returned

Back in the car the air temperature had risen, as predicted, and rose even more by the time I arrived home. The forecast being so accurate really was a turn-up for the book. The weather's supposed to warm up a bit over the next few days, but it's going to take a while for the river to be warm enough for a good chance of barbel. I expect I'll be getting more chub fishing practice in next time I'm out.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fish, chips and cheese paste

Losing a fish always spurs me on to try again as soon as possible. For once I managed to resist my natural urge to do this in the face of excellent conditions early in the week. There was work that needed completing, which took longer than anticipated. It was Thursday before I headed back to the river on a severely blustery day. It was quite warm for November - the car's thermometer reading an almost tropical 11C. Once outside the wind made it feel much cooler. This meant that I wrapped up warm to roam the banks for an hour or more, and worked up quite a sweat in the process.

The lion wasn't in his den, nor were any of his pride, so I decided to fish the same swim I had fished a week previously. There had been next to no rain since I was last there and the once muddy bank was firm and dry. The river was a little lower and maybe a bit clearer, but a couple of degrees warmer. Ideal. I put the brolly up to keep the wind off me and it was nice to relax as the day faded to night.

By eight o'clock my confidence was waning. The swim wasn't giving me good vibes. I packed up and drove to the spot where I had lost that fish on the Sunday. Things felt much better there. I was sheltered from the worst of the wind by the remains of the nettle beds, and the river looked right. Not boiling or swirly, but steady. With the baits out, I sat back and relaxed. It would only be a matter of time. It was not to be. Two or three savage drop backs to the upstream rod - chub in all likelihood - and that was it.

By eleven I was getting tired, but wishing I'd planned things better and packed my cooking gear and sleeping bag. The thought of driving back the following day in an increasingly strong wind held no appeal for me. With the weather set to turn cold the Friday would probably be my last good chance of a barbel. I'd have to pass.

Friday was spent pottering on some small jobs. It was indeed windy again and I was glad not to be fishing. Strong winds sap my enthusiasm when I'm fishing, even if they are warm. It's the relentless battering that wears me down. When today (Saturday) came around all that was forgotten.

During last week I bought myself a reel to use on my quiver tip rod. Not that there was anything wrong with the Epix Pro I'd had it teamed up with. It's just that I like to have reels dedicated to rods and that one belonged elsewhere. Besides, boys like shiny new toys! Playing with them at home isn't nearly as satisfying as playing with them on the bank. There was only one thing to do.

Off to the tackle shop for some maggots. The guy who served me thought I was mad going fishing. The temperature was down to about 6 and the wind hadn't abated. I was the fifth customer he'd had by ten o'clock. He was anticipating a slow day.

It was no surprise to see just one vehicle in the car park. Even less of a surprise that it belonged to the only other idiot who would be daft enough to be fishing on such a day! EH was in his usual swim, and catching fish as usual. I would have set up further away from him, but the wind was less strong in the lee of the bend. One good thing about these last few days of strong winds is that the trees are almost completely bare now. Leaves should be less of a problem in the river for the rest of the season.

Although my primary aim was to catch chub I still chucked a pellet out for the barbel. With my thermometer reading 6c in the river, which was warmer than the air temperature, there was a chance of one. The chub rod was rigged up with a maggot feeder and two reds on a 16. After an hour the tip hadn't moved and the maggots hadn't been sucked. I'd recast a fair few times but to no avail. EH had caught a couple of nice chub on bread flake. Taking up his offer of a few slices of Warburton's finest and some liquidised bread for the feeder after swapping the blockend to a cage feeder and the 16 to a 10 I eventually got a bite.

Around three o'clock a small herd of roe deer strolled through the wood on the far bank, their hooves rustling the dry leaves as they went. Similar noises can be heard in the woods during the summer, but the green leaves hides the animals causing the disturbance. I've seen deer by the river before and always wonder where they lie up during the day.

The bread flake wasn't working wonders so I put on a knob of cheese and garlic paste I had concocted the other week and stuck in the freezer. Some forward planning on Friday had seen this removed from it's icy resting place to thaw out in readiness. Week old Danish Blue, mixed into frozen pastry mix, with a sprinkling of garlic salt. Yummy!

First chuck with the paste and I get a bite. A typical short stab of the tip bringing back all those bad memories of my earlier attempts at chub fishing. I persevered and kept getting bites into darkness. The temperature was starting to fall but the wind showed no signs of joining it. I'd been draining my flask rapidly and as I had only intended fishing until six I had no food with me.

As six o'clock arrived the wind dropped. It was still chilly, but no longer unpleasantly so. Another half hour wouldn't hurt. A few more unhittable bites later I started to pack my gear shortly before half six. With just the rods and net to clear away I noticed the isotope on the quiver bouncing merrily. I picked the rod up and felt a fish thumping and heading downstream. I got the net ready in the water's edge and took my time with the fish. I was pretty sure it was a decent chub. Then the line went slack... As with the lost barbel almost a week ago it could have been knot failure, but this time I think it was a cut-off. Ho hum. Back in the car the thermometer read a positively Arctic 3c - which sank to 1.5c before I reached the chippy.

On the bright side I know my paste works, and the reel seems to be just what I was looking for. On the gloomy side I don't think I can get back to the river until Thursday at the earliest. I expect to be ratty and irritable until then.

Of course things might pan out differently.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Extremes of sweet and sour

Come January 5th 2009 the Specialist Anglers' Alliance will be no more. It will have become part of the Angling Trust - the great hope for a unified voice for angling. I'm sure most anglers couldn't care less, but some do. It was the last ever SAA meeting today. I attended the meeting as I have been doing on a regular basis for nigh on nine years now, and as usually the PAC was well represented. Pike anglers have historically faced more threats to their sport than other specialist, which is probably why they are more politicised. There are two benefits I have gained from attending these meetings. One is the free lunch (which isn't free as I have to pay for my fuel to get to the meetings), but as they have been held the other side of Loughborough and finish around two o'clock I can manage to call in somwhere on my way home for a few hours fishing! That was my plan today.

Driving along side the Trent it looked good. About three feet up and well coloured. I headed for the spot I last fished in July. The floods that I had driven through back in September had made a few changes, and anglers had made a few more. There were now about four new pegs in the area I like to fish. One looked enticing, but more recent floods and rain had made it a bit slippy-slidey at the water's edge. I went back to the car to get my fishing gear on and discovered I had done it again. I'd forgotten to throw my blasted boots in the car...

Not fancying sliding around near deep water in my street boots I jumped back in the car and headed elsewhere. The lion's den would be equally muddy and probably packed out on a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon. Sure enough the car park was brimful, the next access point would have let me fish from less trampled and grassy banks but there were two more cars there than I would have liked to see. The third spot was far less busy, but borderline muddy. There was one peg I could fish from in comfort, only I'd have to chance the mud near the water if I hooked a fish and especially if I had to return one. The grass was wet though and my street boots were already getting damp. Undeterred I got my tackle and set up in the swim. A swim that had a nice pace, a willow at the downstream end and a crease above.

A wintry sunset

With the baits out it was time to take preventative action to stop my feet getting too cold. I have taken to keeping a few cheap carrier bags in my rucksack. They come in handy for putting rubbish or damp slings and sacks in. Amongst other uses. This time they made boot liners! I won't pretend my feet were toasty warm, but at least they didn't feel cold and damp.

Who needs Thinsulate?

The air temperature soon started to drop when the daylight began to fade. The sky was clear. The weather men and women were forecasting a frost. The water, however, was much warmer than I expected at almost 9C. Despite the lack of heavy colour at this venue I wasn't despondent. I'd have been really confident if I'd had my fishing boots and more up for a move or two. I'd stick it in the one swim until eight or nine - or when my feet got cold.

After dark a fish crashed out on the far side of the river and downstream. This buoyed my hopes. What the fish was I haven't a clue, but it sounded to be a reasonable size. I'd been watching The Plough slowly falling behind an almost leafless alder since darkness fell when I noticed clouds extinguishing the stars. The air seemed a tad warmer too. The two baits had been in for almost two hours at this point when the upstream rod tip sprang straight, then slowly pulled down a touch. I picked the rod up and took up the slack to feel a fish charging downstream. When I got my act together and applied some pressure it thrashed on the surface in midstream and carried on down with the flow. I was gingerly making my way down the bank, keeping just enough pressure on the fish when I felt a discernible 'ping' as the weight went from the line and the bend from the rod.

The hooklink had parted, seemingly at the knot. I have no explanation for this. The rig was tied the same way as always. The braid has landed me two PB's this season. It must have been a poorly tied knot, unless it was a cut-off. Either way I reckoned that was it. I'd blown it.

An hour later the tip of the downstream rod pulled down a little, bounced, bounced again. At first I thought it was a small barbel. Then it gave up and I knew it was a chub. A long and lean specimen that I weighed out of curiosity. An ounce short of four pounds I'm sure it could have weighed nearer five had it been as chubby (pun intended) as some I have caught.

Consolation prize

When I pulled my forceps from the rubber band I secure them under on my net float to unhook the fish there was something wrong. I had one finger in a handle ring but the thumb was groping vainly about. When I looked it was because the damned thing had snapped! I had my 'lucky' forceps (which must be 30 years old and have been lost, and found, twice in their time) in a side pocket of my rucksack so I didn't struggle to unhook the fish. One more item for the shopping list, though.

Buy cheap, buy twice.

I'd forgotten my boots, lost a fish through tackle failure and my forceps had snapped. What more could go wrong? Only the batteries in my radio dying before I could listen to The Archers!

Inspired by the arrival of the chub I fished on until the church clock struck nine. Then I packed up and headed to the car where I removed my improvised boot liners and looked forward to the heater blasting my feet with warm air on the drive home - which it did while the thermometer reading fell from 6 to 3.

There's probably still going to be chance of barbel early in the week before the frosts arrive. Unfortunately for me I don't think I can get to a river before Wednesday. That smelly cheesepaste I concocted last week might be getting an outing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Into the lion's den

It's something I've been avoiding for over twelve months. Fishing a stretch of river that gets hammered but holds some very big barbel. I don't like having anglers on either side of me when fishing close in. I'm also not a fan of dog walkers with large, unrestrained hounds. A time or two I have set off intending to brave the stretch and bottled it. This session nearly went the same way.

Setting off after doing some work in the morning and eating a bag of chips for lunch I was in a relaxed mood as I arrived at the riverside car park. Having driven through showers, with more forecast, I thought I'd park up, check the river level then throw the thermometer in the water while I put my fishing togs on. As another shower had arrived the waterproofs were required.

The river wasn't quite as high as I'd anticipated, maybe a foot or more on. There was a touch of colour but clarity was good enough to see the leaves going downstream six to ten inches below the surface. With well over three hours before dark I had a wander along the river. I've not fished near the car park before and saw a few spots that looked like they'd be worth dropping a bait in. It was quite a temptation as little walking would be involved, but I'd set off to fish the other stretch. Back in the car and ten minutes later I was pulling up by a couple more cars. Expecting to see a few anglers in the hot swims I decided to go have a look and if they were occupied go elsewhere. To my amazement given the warm day and the state of the river, which was 7.4C by the way, the swims were empty - although well trampled, and muddied by the recent rain. I retraced my steps, grabbed my tackle and headed back to the river.

One valuable lesson that barbel fishing has taught me is to take my time picking a swim. A couple of them looked okay. One was a bit swirly for my liking, and the other had just a little too much pace. The problem of the leaves also had to be considered and after much deliberation I chose a swim that had a current deflection which I hoped would send the majority of the leaves out from the bank allowing my margin fished baits to remain in place for a decent length of time. I reckon if barbel are pressured that leaving your baits alone once cast out is a good idea.

I took my time tackling up and retied both rigs. One went a few yards upstream, the other about fifteen yards downstream. With the baits out I settled down to a brew and a bite to eat. A sparrowhawk swooped along the bank behind me, a dabchick scuttled across the river when it spotted me then worked its way slowly up the far margin, and a kingfisher zipped over the water in a streak of vivid turquoise.

By now the rain had eased off, but I left the brolly up to keep the breeze off me. Two dog walkers passed me by, their animals mercifully leaving me alone. Still no anglers arrived and it was getting dark. The baits stayed put.

After the light had gone the silhouette of a tackle laden angler headed downstream on the far bank. I was listening to the radio, taking in the world's affairs of the day and thinking to myself that fishing makes a lot more sense than worrying about collapsing economies when I heard the zuzzzz of a baitrunner. With both rods being fished horizontally on two rests, rather than beachcaster style on one, it took a second or two to realise which reel was spinning. The single 8mm pellet had been picked up after almost two hours. Whatever had picked it up felt heavy.

Some people claim that they enjoy catching five and six pound barbel more than bigger ones because they give you a better scrap. Well they do charge around the swim like fish possessed. Changing direction many times and with speed. But for me the heavy plod of a bigger fish is what gets my adrenaline flowing and induces a feeling of anxiety not knowing how big the fish might be, or if it will stay attached long enough to put it in the net. When a big barbel makes a run it does so with a steady certainty and power that a five pounder could only match if grabbed by a twenty pound pike!

This fish came grudgingly upstream, pulled a bit of line on a short run into the flow, then popped up and slid towards the net. Almost there it woke up, turning, diving and running back into the flow with a single splash of its tail. Back up on the surface, after a couple more short runs upstream, I had most of it in the net. Fishing with a bit of a drop to the water always makes netting fish tricky. I thought the fish was going to swim over the net frame, but it didn't. A lift and the whole of it's body was in the mesh. Phew!

Sticking a bankstick through the V of the spreader block the barbel could rest in the water without any chance of escape while I wetted the weighsling and readied unhooking mat and camera. The batteries in the camera were flat, so the spares were pressed into service. While I was sorting everything out I managed to step on the bulb release a couple of times and take pictures of nothing...

Take one

Eventually, after just five minutes or so, I lifted the net to the mat, popped the hook free and squeezed the fish into my sling. I managed to hold the scales steady enough without additional support from the landing net pole to read off a very satisfying figure. Another notch on the rod butt! I carried the fish in the weighsling to the next swim downstream where I could get to the water's edge to release it. As usual no nursing was required and she slid into the remains of the marginal reeds and out of sight. By now I was covered in slimy mud, sweating but satisfied.

Take two

Slowly, I sorted out the devastation in my swim, rebaited both rods and recast. It was a great night to be out. Warm, dry and quiet. Even the rats I'd expected to be disturbed by were keeping a low profile. I heard a noise behind me and turned to see an angler. He'd just turned up for an after-work session. After a chat he wandered off, came back and set up a couple of pegs upstream. A while later I saw a headtorch coming towards me from downstream. Odd, nobody else had walked past me that way. This bloke, it turned out, had used a downstream access point. He was blanking, trying to fish across the river and struggling to hold out because of the leaves. The silhouette walked back up the far bank, my flask began to grow cold. I packed up. The upstream angler hadn't had anything and we both agreed that the river was picking up a little pace.

To be honest I hadn't expected to catch on my first venture into the lion's den. While it hadn't been one of the 'lumps' that inhabit the stretch the fish has given me the confidence that my rigs will work on the stretch for the supposedly cagey barbel that live there. I'll be fishing there again, but whether I can face it when it's busy is another matter.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Back to the grindstone

Rather belatedly here's a pic of the Eustace rods I was working on with their shiny new reel seats and silky smooth cork.



Something else I'm doing at the moment is assembling a fly rod kit for a customer. It's an expensive Sage blank which was supplied with (to my mind) some rather average fittings. I've swapped the stripper guides for a couple I think are smoother, the tip ring was a slack fit and the fighting butt and pre-shaped handle somewhat ugly. So it has become a bit more than a straightforward assembly job. The blank and the Struble reel seat (covered in tape for protection while I was lathing the cork) are nice though!

Work in progress

Next on the 'odd job' list is the strip and complete rebuild of three Armalites - including a fettling job on badly worn spigots. Joy...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

You never can tell

The overnight rain had cleared and the day turned sunny but breezy. With havy rain and gales forecast I thought I'd get an afternoon/evening session in. The river looked bob on, up a little on Tuesday with a hint more colour, but much warmer at 8.5C.

I dropped in to the big slack and put a barbel bait in the deep channel and fished a maggot feeder downstream. A half-moon appeared long before dark, wagtails worked the far bank perching on stones and singing. The high bank kept the wind from chilling me. After three-quarters of an hour the bites started coming to the maggot rod. When I dropped the feeder slightly further down the swim they increased in frequency. Delicate bites that pulled the tip down slowly and were all missed when I struck, the maggots either sucked or missing.

Towards dusk fish started topping in the swim and around it. Dace sized fish. The bites grew more sporadic. I reckon it was dace giving me the bites and they had moved up in the water. When I looked at the swim and the flow rate I thought it would be a good place to run a float through. Pity I'd left the float rod at home.

By five thirty the sky had clouded over enough to obscure the moon. I moved to a banker barbel swim which was also well sheltered and put two barbel rods out. It was eight thirty when I packed up in the predicted rain, the wind rushing through the half-bare branches of the trees on the far bank. Some of the gusts were uprooting the brolly and I had had just a few tentative chub pulls. Shining the beam of my head torch into the margins it seemed like the river was colouring up.

I'd have put money on catching a fish or two under the conditions. It just goes to show, you never can tell. And Emmylou agrees.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Chub by design - and by accident

Fired up by my new-found ability to catch chub I was back on the river on Monday fishing a new swim. I'd also packed my float rod as I fancied trotting a maggot with the water so clear. This proved to be a frustrating move. I'd loaded the old 501 with fresh line and couldn't make a decent cast with even a four BB Loafer. Like a fool I'd put the whole of a hundred yard spool on the reel. By the time I'd realised the solution the light was starting to go. I fancied a move. The gear was packed away and I headed to my usual spot to find the two favoured pegs occupied. The first two casts with the feeder rod saw crushed maggots from a spot mid way between the two 'hot' pegs.

Because the river had been warming on Sunday and was getting warmer still I had put two barbel rods in the quiver. I was falling between two stools really and not fishing either the tip or barbel rod well. On darkness the angler fishing upstream left for home so I dropped in his peg and concentrated on the tip rod. It took a while for bites to materialise, but they did eventually. The idea I had for improving my feeder rig worked to a degree, but needs modification. I caught three chub, two small ones and one about three pounds before I called it a night at half past eight. I had to be up early to go and steward a pike match - of all things.

I set the alarm on my phone for 6.00 and my bedside alarm clock for the same time. The phone went off first and after shutting it up I checked the clock which read five. I was confused. Then I realised I hadn't changed the time on the phone when the clocks altered! Back to sleep. I awoke again, before the alarm and looked at the time. Five past five. The blooming clock must have stopped or something. Digging my watch out it read five to seven. Damn. Then I put my glasses on and had another look. Five past five. I'd had the watch the wrong way round. When the alarm finally did go off it was at six o'clock...

The match was to be fished with deadbaits and lures only. I didn't expect much to be caught so my plan was to sit by my car sorting out my chub tackle; removing line from the 501, tying up PVA bags of pellets, making another adaptation to my feeder rig and so on. Within seconds of the 'all in' there was a shout for a pike to be weighed. Off I set with the scales and Steve, my co-steward, with the clipboard. Before we'd logged the first tiny pike another two shouts had gone up! This set the scene for the day. We hardly got any rest having to dash round the lake, about fifteen acres and a good fifteen minutes walk to do the full circuit, at all too frequent intervals.

I did get to sort the tackle out eventually, but every operation was interrupted by a call to weigh a fish. In the end we logged sixteen or seventeen pike - my weigh sling had more pike in it in one day than it had in the last four years!

I'm no fan of pike matches, but this one (which I have helped steward in the past) is well run. The fish are retained in the angler's landing net until a steward arrives when it is weighed and returned. Most of the participants know what they are doing and those who are less experienced are willing to take advice. It's also a match run as much as a social event with teams travelling from around the country - the same old faces every year by all accounts - and they are there as much for the get-together in the bar the nights before and after the match. There's not a lot at stake financially so runs aren't left to ensure the pike are hooked.

A monster is returned to the lake

Once the 'all out' was called I was in my car and off to the river, arriving just after dark. There was one angler on the bottom peg and as I knew who it was from the van in the car park I went for a chat with him before setting up. He'd had a few barbel and said I could drop in his swim as he was due for packing up. He landed a barbel as I was talking to him, a fish of six or seven pounds - his best of the session.

With his rod out of the water I stated arranging my gear in the swim while he packed his away. Then I cast the first rod out with an 8mm crab Pellet-O. Before Eric had sorted all his gear out or I had got my second bait in the water a chub of three or four pounds had hooked itself! Once I was alone I put the thermometer in and noted the river was even warmer than Monday.

Action wasn't hectic but in a little under three hours I landed another chub of a similar size to the first one, an eel and three barbel - the biggest just on eight pounds, the smallest of maybe two pounds trying to drag the rod in as I was packing up completely tired out and ready for my bed. All that walking round the lake was more exercise than I'm used to these days.

When I got home I found an interesting slug on the garage wall.

Interesting if you like slugs

A batch of rod blanks has just been delivered. I'll not be fishing for a few days now. Probably just as well as I need the rest.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Chub by design

Chub are a fish I have always struggled to catch intentionally. Decent sized ones at any rate. I have fished for chub I could see and they have always ignored my baits. I have quivertipped and touch legered for them without consistent success. The only way I have managed to catch them has been by fishing water slack enough to allow the use of a light bobbin indicator. However, I did catch my first five pounder after thinking it out. I'd been getting chub bite after chub bite when barbelling one night on the Ribble and I determined to return the following night with my irresistible chub paste and hit every sharp rap I saw. It worked, but it was difficult. Since then I have been threatening to fish for chub 'properly' when the river is low, cold and clear. Today I actually got round to doing it.

The river was indeed low, cool and clear. It was borderline barbel friendly at 5.7C when I set up. A barbel rod was cast out - just in case. Then it was out with the tip rod. This started life as an Interceptor with a spliced in carbon quiver. The solid tip was way too stiff and last winter I removed it and spliced in a glass quiver which is much more like it, and still gives a fairly progressive bend into the rod tip proper.

I still had some maggots left over from Friday's failed roach session, and I had bought a fresh half pint yesterday to use as hookbaits. As soon as I hit the road I realised I had forgotten the loaf I had also picked up for bait. I stopped at the Spar shop and rectified that error, buying a Twix and a Mars bar to sustain me as I hadn't packed any food, only a flask, and was intending to be home early enough to cook something hot.

It was three by the time I got to the river and there was nobody about. The swim I fancied had a new feature since I was last there. A huge branch had been deposited right by the water's edge where you fish from. The banks also had a fresh layer of sandy silt. Each flood changes the river a little, or a lot.

It felt a bit odd to be fishing the river with five pound line, four and a bit pound hook and lead links and a size fourteen hook. Two red maggots and a 1.5oz feeder completed the set up and resulted in a sharp bite on the very first cast. Eat your heart out Stef Horak! The second cast was less successful resulting in a snagged, and lost, feeder. Third cast lucky. A more positive bite materialised but was still missed. It looked like I still couldn't master the quivertip.

After about three quarters of an hour an angler who had been fishing upriver stopped to have a chat. I refilled the feeder and recast. The bait had hardly settled when I struck and felt resistance. Not massive resistance but a fish had definitely been hooked. It was a chub of about two and a half pounds. Success! Two casts later and there was a pluck. I left it. The tip pulled down again and this time there was more resistance and I backwound a turn or two. Once netted the chub looked like it might make four. I nearly didn't bother weighing it though. When I lifted it into the sling I realised how chunky and solid it was.


I've caught bigger chub, but catching that one by design was more satisfying than any of the others. It was also nice to have to play the fish on suitable tackle and not merely wind it in on barbel gear. Having someone on hand I took the risk of passing him my camera for a couple of snaps. When I slipped the chub back it gave a cough, if fish can cough, and expelled a cloud of red maggots. It had been on the bait all right.

Things went quiet, my spectator headed home for tea, darkness fell, and the rain arrived. Only light showers, thankfully. The night was staying warm, and the river temperature was rising slowly.

Another chub of a couple of pounds or thereabouts came along, followed by an unseaonal eel. I was starting to feel peckish and considered a half-six finish. Then thought better of it as another shower passed over. At twenty to seven I got a dithery bite, struck and connected with something small. In the light of the head torch it looked like a chublet so I swung it to hand where I realised it was a dace. I thought I'd weigh it out of curiosity - not being a good guesser of dace weights. Far from a large fish it didn't quite make half a pound. But as I'd never seen a dace that big before it was still a personal best!

They don't have to be big to be the biggest

Half an hour later my stomach told me it was time for home. A pity because I was enjoying myself and the river had just reached 6C - barbel temperature. Still it had been a successful few hours. I'd caught a new PB, and got the urge to catch more chub by design. I already have an idea to improve my rig...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or treat?

It must be nigh on forty five years since I first sat by running water with faith, hope and a toy fishing rod given to me by an aunt and uncle. Why they bought me that outfit, complete with red and white plastic 'bob' float in Ross on Wye I have no idea. Nobody in my family fished. But I sat there at the edge of a crystal clear rivulet only inches deep waiting for the float to sink. Even at that short-trousered age of four or five I was aware that the silver paper my dad had put on the hook was a poor bait, and that there were no fish to be seen. That was also the first time I had to make 'one last cast'. I was entranced.

That blind faith and irrational hope that a fish would come along against all the evidence and odds was what I experienced today and sparked this burst of nostalgia for my little metal rod with black plastic rings, handle and integral reel that I can't remember ever 'fishing' with again, although I did play with at home until it eventually broke.

Work had kept me away from the bank for most of the week, the recent night time frosts having pushed thoughts of barbel from my mind when I missed that slim chance last weekend, but I had to get out and wet a line somewhere. I had three options; perch on a commercial, chub on a river, or a speculative roach session on a pit. Reasoning that the roach fishing might be more interesting I set off with that in mind. I also fancied a session sitting in one swim making cups of tea!

With temperatures set to fall once more after dark and my intention being to fish at least an hour after the light had gone I wrapped up well. I also put on the Wychood boots I had bought about three years ago and hardly worn since as they were (are) uncomfortable to walk in. They are warm though, and walking wasn't to be much of an issue. After thirty yards or so I was reminded what is wrong with the boots. It's hard to explain. They simply don't fit where they should. The foot part is fine, the laced up bit is okay. It's the bit in between that flexes. Once sat down and not moving they're great!

These boots aren't made for walking

It being a sunny day there were a few pikers on the water. Two of them fishing the spot I had in mind which rather scuppered my plans. So I started plumbing up a couple of swims past them. There was a lot of floating weed in the margins, and some drifting about, nonetheless it was difficult finding a really clear patch to cast the feeders. After a while I found a slightly less weeded spot a good cast out and put out a few feeders of maggots before attaching the hooks. Further down the bank I could see that there was still pond weed reaching the surface in places. It will be a month or so before the weed is really on its way out.

Two rods fished feeders and maggots, one fished a 10mm pineapple boilie. This third rod was cast out and left in one place while the feeders were reloaded, hooks rebaited and rigs recast at intervals. Even in the 'clear' area I was picking up weed on every retrieve. Admittedly much of it was accumulating once the feeder started moving, but I couldn't be certain the rigs weren't buried.

All marked up

At first the wind was coming out of the north, but I had settled in with a bush to my left and was sheltered from it's chilling effect. All set up and on with the kettle. My brewing equipment hadn't been used since July. This was more than apparent when taking the sugar tub out of my mug revealed and encrustation and some furry stuff. After pondering the health benefits of this I boiled the kettle and poured the boiling water into the mug to stand for a few minutes. Then I swilled it out and wiped round. It smelled clean enough, so the kettle went back on for the first of many brews.

Around three thirty the wind dropped and swung round to come off my back. As the air temperature was starting to drop this seemed to make it feel less cold. I was expecting it to turn really chilly at dusk, but cloud cover had moved in and the temperature held up. It was five to six when I had my one and only indication. A single bleep on the left hand rod that didn't develop into anything. When I wound in for a recast after leaving things to see if a bite might develop the maggots didn't look to have been sucked. I'd tried my tricks but there were no fishy treats for me this Halloween. I gave it another half hour and, all hope having faded, I packed up hatching a plot...

The plot was, as it was still fairly warm, to call in at a car park swim on a river, take the water temperature and spend an hour or two hoping for a barbel. As I headed to the river the car's thermometer showed the air was cooling, the gritters on the road suggested it would cool some more from 4C later. The river was low in level and temperature at a chilly, but not hopeless, 6.3C. Nonetheless I decided to carry on for home.

Things are set to warm up over the next few days. The barbel might be beckoning again.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The end is nigh

Air and water temperatures are falling, frosts are on the way, and the clocks go back tonight. The end of easy barbel fishing is imminent.

Hoping that the rain of Thursday had fallen in the right places, and with the encouragement of petrol being less than £1.00 a litre when I filled the tank, I set off down what proved to be a congested motorway. A sunny Friday afternoon made sure of the slow progress and a later arrival at the river than planned. The popular pegs were well staked out, but the Rat Hole was free. I thought I'd give it another blast having finally caught a barbel from it last Sunday. Unlike Sunday the swim lived up to its name with rustlings and squealings, not to mention splashings and swimmings. Roland wasn't on his own.

Unfortunately the rain must have fallen in Spain, or somewhere else away from the river, because the level was low and the clarity good - if you like clear water. The temperature wasn't too bad, but lower than earlier in the week. There would still be a chance after dark.

While I was setting up an angler I had met before stopped for a chat - he'd expected more coloured water too. After a few minutes set off and set up somewhere well away from me, unlike the bloke who arrived shortly before dark, tramped noisily up and down the bank and ended up fishing on the downstream side of the willow I was fishing to. There were only three of us fishing this bank...

Shortly before Kermit arrived a kestrel had dipped over the river, up over the willows and down onto a patch of dried mud where it started to have a dust bath until it spotted me and flew off over the recently seeded field behind me. The willows are almost stripped bare now meaning that the flocks of long tailed tits working up and down the river are easy to watch. They are lively little birds and soon flit away. Wrens are lively too, and surprisingly noisy for such tiny creatures. One entertained me singing in the branches for a few minutes. I'd have taken a photo but I'm rubbish at wildlife photography, as the picture of a merganser (or goosander?) below illustrates perfectly!

It could be anything...

There was a bit of weed coming down the river, but not enough to cause problems like the leaves did the other night. Not enough to dislodge a three ounce lead in fact. Unfortunately nothing fishy dislodged the leads either. About half past eight Kermit packed up (noisily) and wandered off bemoaning the fact that 'they weren't having it'. Maybe I'd have a chance after the swim had quietened down after another hour or two now?

Despite logic telling me I was wasting my time I had a feeling a barbel would make an appearance. It wasn't to be. Although the sky was clear and the air temperature down to just six degrees I stuck it until my flask was cold at half past twelve. I wasn't surprised to find the river deserted as I walked back to the car.

There might be one half decent window of barbel opportunity before the forecast cold spell arrives next week. I think it will only open a crack though.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Leave me alone...

Listening to the weather forecast for today I was glad to be able to get work boxed off early enough yesterday to hit the river before nightfall. This isn't an option for most people now the nights are well and truly drawing in, so I wasn't surprised to have the river to myself, but I was surprised to find a branch pushed in the bank as a makeshift bankstick.

Noddy or poacher?

The river looked really good. Well up and coloured with not too much pace. The deposited leaves on the bank showed that it was falling. Unfortunately they suggested that the water would contain plenty more, blown in from the woods along the valley by the recent strong winds. I set up in a swim I hoped would see the bulk of the leaves avoiding my lines. After three quarters of an hour it was apparent that I had guessed wrong.

Fetching in the washing

I moved upstream to a point where the main flow pushes across the river at quite an angle with much slower water between the crease and the bank. I'd taken the water temperature when I first set up. It was a couple of degrees down on last week, reading single figures for the first time this season. In a month or two I'd be overjoyed to see the thermometer reading 9.0, but the drop in temperature might just make the fishing hard. However, in the new swim I saw the river was warming slightly. This gave me hope, and a really savage chub rattle that actually bounced the rod in the rest cheered me even more. So long as I could dodge the leaves I'd be in with a chance.

The rod tips were taking longer to pull over with the line's load of leaves in this swim. I was watching the down stream tip take on a gentle curve when it pulled down decisively, and before I could grab the rod the baitrunner was spinning. It took a while to get the fish to the net with the extra water pushing through, even in the slacker area, but not too long. I thought I might have another double resting in the net, but the fish proved to be on the lean side.

A result in difficult conditions

I'm not sure why, but I moved the rods upstream about ten yards shortly after landing the fish. The first bait hadn't been out for five minutes when the rod slammed over, the baitrunner whizzed, I struck in to nothing and wound in a severely tangled rig. What had happened was a complete mystery.

The sky had been cloudless when I arrived, the stars coming out after dark. However, cloud cover had built up and the air temperature held fairly steady. The wind picked up though; a herald of what was predicted for today, causing a chill factor on my neck. By eleven I felt it was time to play Dodge the Cow Pats and head for the car.

Had I been able to hold a bait out for longer further out in the flow I'm sure that more babrbel could have been had. The conditions were pretty good apart from the debris coming downriver - not just leaves and twigs, but less savoury items too. The obligatory football was spotted heading for the sea while it was still light. Where do they all come from?

Monday, October 20, 2008

A long day out

Sunday was the first day of the two day Tackle and Guns Show for the tackle trade. That meant heading back down at Stoneleigh where I'd been for the PAC Convention a few weeks ago. It's a good day out, partly to see what's new in the tackle world and make new contacts, but as much to meet up with old friends - and Neville Fickling.

As usual there wasn't a lot setting the fishing world alight. Lots of 'new' bait and firms bringing out their version of existing products. Fex do indeed have a multiplier coming out. It's a smallish low profile reel in both left hand wind and right. The fact that they are dropping a lot of their large pike lures and introducing a range of small and medium sized hard plastic baits, some small soft plastics and a range of nice feeling light lure rods suggests to me that the European market is where their real sights are set. They'll also be able to target the lure dabbler in the UK with this sort of stuff. I guess a mass market makes more sense to a big firm than selling specialised niche products like big jerkbaits. The rods were actually quite tempting for perch. Really soft tips with a bit of steel lower down. I didn't like the handles though.

I spent some time on the Hopkins and Holloway stand and discovered there is still no sign of the trigger grip reel seats I'm waiting for. They had some interesting new handle fittings to look at, and a 50mm guide for people who like training hamsters to jump through hoops.

The new products that most impressed me were possibly the smallest on show. New fake maggots and corn! The Enterprise maggots catch fish, but they are not a very convincing imitation. The ones that Anchor are launching under the Carp Logic brand are something else. On the stand they had a couple of tubs filled with them, sneakily dusted in maize flour, and apart from them not wriggling they almost had me fooled. The corn looks like any other fake corn, but both baits are very slow sinking. I managed to blag a pack of each, so the tench will be having a look at them next spring!

Good enough to eat

The Korum stand had a few new items that I hope to be playing with soon. Their big, heavy open-end feeders look the absolute dogs. Pity they only go up to five ounces... The smaller ones should be good for chubbing too. I might have to scrounge a selection along with a tripod and some other goodies.

After a couple of hours walking round in circles, and chatting to people I was in the car park a little earlier than I'd planned where I spotted one of the saddest personalised number plates I've seen for a while. I had to snap a piccy.

I wonder if the owner is a pr4t?

Time to hit the road and head up the A38 to the Trent and the stretch where I can park by the river. The first time I fished there the river was up about four feet on what I found this time. It looked totally different. There was one guy trotting a float down a nice big crease sheltered from the strong wind, and another fishing the tip further upstream on a straight. I had a chat with the second guy and he was moaning that it was hard work because it was too windy and there were a lot of leaves coming down. When I saw he was casting downstream to the middle of the river I wasn't surprised he was struggling to hold out for long.

I droppered some pellets into the same swim I fished last time as there was a crease and some shelter from any debris coming down the main flow. Before I had my second rod rigged up I'd had a chub rattle. The leaves didn't bother my rigs, but neither did any more fish.

A nice mix of pellet sizes and breakdown speeds

Out of the wind it was a really warm day. The air temperature was 14.5 and the river 11.7. Very promising. Nonetheless I only gave it a couple of hours then put my gear in the car to drive the length looking for a new spot.

The lazy way of roving!

Despite looking at a few swims I didn't really fancy any of them. I parked up and walked the downstream section. I kept telling myself I'd just look round the next bend and ended up a long way from the car. This wasn't good for my hip which started grumbling. There was something nagging me to go and have a try for one of my latest capture's big sisters. An hour and a half later I was loading myself up like a Sherpa for the walk to the swims I fancied. There was one car parked up, so I guessed the 'Rat Hole', a noted producer of big barbel, would be occupied. Sure enough it was. By a pike angler! I carried limping on to my second choice swim. At least I knew the piker would be gone when it went dark.

One bait went downstream and close in, the other across to a bush. The level was down about six inches on Thursday and some colour had dropped out, but I was still confident. Nothing had happend before dusk then as I was thinking it might be time for the head torch to go on my head I heard a whoosh-whooshing coming upriver. Before I could take evasive action the rod fishing across the river flew round and the baitrunner whirred madly. I managed to flick the line off the young swan with no harm done and recast.

An hour into dark and I still wasn't happy. Into the Rat Hole - which proved devoid of rats, thankfully. With one bait to the overhanging willow downstream and one on the upstream crease I settled in for the duration. Zip. Nada. Nowt. By ten the wind chill, although the wind was warm, was making me think of home. So I put the brolly up. That was more like it. An hour later and I was about to sit down after stretching my legs by walking round the brolly and the swim lit up with red flashing lights and a high pitched whine filled the air. Yes, I had put my bite alarms on as I thought I might nod off having been up and about from early doors.

I conected with an obviously not-too-big barbel which charged around the swim, including around my other line a couple of times. There was a right mess to sort out before I unhooked the fish. Such was the tangle that I managed to cut the wrong line to let me lift the net ashore. The fish (which was about ten pounds lighter than I was hoping for from the swim) was released, and fifteen minutes later I had two more baits in the water.

There was heavy cloud cover keeping the air temperature up but no sign of rain. I could happily have stopped until dawn if it hadn't been for a lack of food and drink. At midnight I turned into a pumpkin and packed up. The walk back to the car did me no favours and I was walking like a sheep with foot rot - limp for a few yards then stop, limp for a few yards then stop. You get the picture. Sheep have the advantage that they can save face by nibbling some grass each time they pause so it doesn't look like they're in pain. Sheep are sensitive about these things... The thermometer in the car read a positively balmy 14.0.