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.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A simple twinge of fate

What I think I like most about barbel fishing is how civilised it is. There's no need to rise early! Being self employed this means I can get half a day's work, or more, out of the way then go fishing. I know some people manage to go fishing before work, but for me that has a number of drawbacks. If the fish are feeding it means that work gets pushed back because I can't drag myself away - usually to the point where it's not worth starting work at all. If they are not feeding then I'm usually tired and ratty for the rest of the day. Yesterday work was out of the way by noon when I headed for the Post Office and the chippy. I was on the road shortly after one - complete with boots!

It was strange driving down the motorway in sun so bright I had to drop the visor down, and rain so wet I needed the wipers on. By the time I reached the river the rain had cleared and the sky was blue. Better still the river was looking nice and muddy, but pushing through at a fair old pace. My intention had been to enter the lion's den and fish one of the popular swims, but I drove on to a point downstream where I could look at the river and get my fishing gear on - on drives longer than an hour I usually get changed when I arrive at the water.

There was a cool wind blowing so the bunny suit was required. For the hell of it I walked upstream for a look at the river. I spied out four or five spots that looked eminently fishable on the slower side of creases. Things had changed since I last fished the stretch towards the end of last season. A big old willow had cracked, part falling in the river, creating a fishy looking feature, the other falling across the path. It all looked quite inviting. So did the overgrown and deserted nature of the stretch. I was developing a twinge that suggested the call of the wild might need answering.

Back to the car and on with the mountain of tackle then take the easy route along a farm track to the upstream swim I fancied. Sure enough, by dropping the rigs in the slower flow I was able to hold out with three ounces, almost completely free of debris, while the main flow charged past in mid river. I spent over two hours in that first swim, scurrying into the bushes when the twinges got to critical mass... Just a chub knock or two were had, but there were fish about and I was sheltered from the wind.

Another glorious October day by the river

It was still light when I moved down a swim for a similar result in terms of bites. Here my radio was competing with a tractor working on the other side of the river into darkness. Oddly, I didn't notice the engine fall silent as theme tune to The Archers started, but I did hear it fire up once again when the tune played at the end of the show. Thanks!

Half an hour later I moved again. This was quite a chore in the dark as I had to get past the fallen willow. Some gear I carted the long way around it, some I dragged under the bough, taking three trips in all. With both rods fishing again I was sweating a bit. The swim was deceptive underfoot. What appeared to be a tangle of plants creeping across the earth was actually suspended over a drop and I nearly lost my footing a time or two. There was another chub tap but I wasn't confident. I moved again.

This move entailed packing everything away and negotiating the winding and slippy path through the tangle of nettles and balsam. I was looking for a swim about half way back to the car. When I dropped my gear down I was surprised to find that I had actually walked past that swim and was in the one nearest the car park. I couldn't be bothered going looking for the swim I'd had in mind and determined to give this one a go for an hour or so, then drive to the stretch I'd originally intended fishing for a couple of hours before midnight. Before casting out I swapped the snake for a single 8mm crab Pellet-O. I'm not sure why. I just did.

I noticed that the wind had died down. Although the sky was clear it didn't feel cold - even after I had been settled in and stopped sweating. Like last night it was great to be by a river after dark just enjoying being there. It's that time of year when the Himalayan balsam lives up to the name I knew it by as a child - the popper plant. The seed pods are ripening and every now and then in the still of the night I would hear seeds pattering through the dying stems of thinning undergrowth.

Thinking about a move at half nine, which would give me at least an hour and a half further upstream before a midnight finish I rested my eyes. They sprung open when I heard a rustling in the dead stems. I looked round expecting a rodent, but saw my downstream rod was arched over and the front rest was doing it's Tower of Pisa act.

I braced myself against the fish that was thumping away on the end of the line and somehow managed to get down the bank to the flat bit by the water's edge without slipping on my backside or sliding into the river. Then battle commenced. All I was doing really was hanging on while the barbel used the current to its advantage. A couple of times it got in the main flow, but slowly I made some progress and gained some line. At one point it came to the surface making thin, splishy-splashy sounds suggesting it was a middling fish made to feel bigger by the extra water in the river. That was until it surfaced again. Tiring, laying on its side in the light of the silvery Petzl it had a deep golden flank and looked extremely long. Another short run against the clutch and I gained the upper hand.

Lying in the folds of the mesh the fish lost some of its length, but was still the deepest barbel I had seen for some time. I leapt up the bank to get the scales out and grab the sling and sack to wet in the river. This time I did end up on my arse going down the bank - and nearly in the river too! When I popped the hook free I was surprised to find it was the one that had been fishing the single small pellet. In my daze I had completely forgotten which rod was fishing which bait.

It was difficult to keep the scales steady and the needle was flickering wildly between a very impressive weight and one almost as impressive. I remembered that I had bought myself a pair of 'S' hooks from the DIY shop for just such an occasion. I put one over the 'V' of the spreader block of my landing net, and hung the scales on it. Success. The needle settled. Not beyond the mark I'd guessed it would, but close enough for rock and roll. I was happy. I almost smiled.

Sacking the fish in the margin it was obviously in no distress so I dried my hands, had a cup of flask tea and set up the tripod. The bank was sloping quite awkwardly and I struggled to get things as sorted as I would have liked. It would have to do. No matter how well the fish had been photographed a picture would never do it justice. There was something about it's bulk that no two dimensional image could ever capture.

That'll do nicely

I popped her back in the sack to be carried back down the bank for release. I thought I'd try and get a snap of her going back, but once her head was out of the sack she was away. Sod that final move, I'd stick it out where I was until I'd had enough. That was a little over an hour later. Maybe I'd have caught something else if I'd stayed longer, but what the hell? I'd a new PB under my belt, and a really belting fish it was too.

The journey home was notable for the attack of the dopey fly. Where it came from I'm not sure. I suspect an escaped maggot. This creature first crawled across the windscreen evading my swipe at it. It's next move was to land on the side of my face. Luckily there wasn't any traffic about as I swatted at it in surprise and zigzagged across the carriage way. Then it laid low, leaving me hyped up anticipating it's next blundering move. This was to land on my head. Missed it again! More time passed waiting for another assault. I heard buzzing to my right. Then it was on my head, from where I flicked it to my neck. I had it on the back foot (or feet - it having six of them). I felt it's body squish under my hand and roll to the floor.

At last I could relax and reflect that if the fish had weighed what I first thought it might I could possibly have lost my urge to barbel fish. As it didn't I still have the pleasure of increasing my personal best in increments to look forward to. Does fishing get any better?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A bit of a waste

It was a glorious autumnal afternoon as I readied my gear. Then the phone started ringing. I wasn't in a rush so I answered it, not that it got me any business as I don't stock Fex pike rods. I finished loading the car and set off.

Autumn in the valley

There were three cars parked up when I arrived at the river. No worries, I'd put my Smartcast in and wanted to give it a run through a swim I hadn't fished before. Usually I drive to the river kitted up and ready to hit the ground running, but today I had to call at the Post Office en route and my fishing boots were still covered in mud from the last session. As I was still running early I could get changed at the river. I opened the tailgate to spy the rod quiver, bait carryall, chair and rucksack plus my fleece and bib and brace. No boots. No boots! "Oh, ffff-fiddlesticks." That phone call must have distracted me when loading the car.

It was fine and the grass wasn't too wet, but I had a horrible feeling that my feet would soon get damp and cold. I wasn't driving all the way home and back again for my boots. A plan was hatched. Not a very appealing one, but a plan. The only good thing was that I hadn't set off for an away day and I could face just a short session. The plan was to fish until my feet were uncomfortable.

I ran the Smartcast through the swim a few times and found it to be completely different to how I'd imagined it would be. Quite interesting in fact, and well worth a few hours. One bait fished the crease and the other the tail of the slack. When the sun sank too low to light up the trees the chub knocks commenced. Nothing conclusive though, but there were obviously fish around. Maybe there'd be a barbel or two down there.

Bad moon rising

At dusk proper a bat appeared, and after dark a tawny owl settled in a tree to my right and began too-witting. It stopped and then flew upstream to carry on its noise making, answered by a too-wooer. After some minutes it flew back downstream too-witting as it went.

Bites came to an end. My toes were beginning to complain. Although it was a lovely night to be on the river I'd had enough. If I'd had my fishing boots on I'd have moved swims, but tramping through damp grass would have aggravated my tootsies. When I got back to the car I threw my gear in the back and turned the heater up to blast warm air on my feet as soon as the engine was running. Ten minutes down the road the heavens opened. I drove through rain that really bounced off the tarmac and consoled myself that although the session had been a bit of a waste of time I'd not got completely soaked. Not a complete waste of time as I had learned a bit more about the river's topography and had another swim noted down for the future.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Underneath the branches

It took me an age to get on my way yesterday. The road to the motorway was closed and the Sunday drivers were out in force with the sun shining and the day better than many we had during the summer. Given the weather I was surprised to find only one car parked up when I arrived at the river. Naturally the angler was in one of the swims that I had in mind to start out in. Not to worry there were others. So I went for the long walk confident there'd be nobody else on the stretch.

Imagine my disappointment when I rounded the last bend to see an angler casting out in my banker swim. It turned out he'd parked up at the next bridge downstream and walked up. Never mind the 'under the tree' swim was free. It had changed a bit since I last fished it. There has been some bank erosion and the platform of earth beneath the branches might not be there for much longer.

Underneath the willow

I had cunningly planned ahead with a new tactic. A barbel rod went out to the downstream raft of rubbish while I set up a tip rod to fish a maggot feeder on the crease created by the upstream bush. I'd fish for whatever might like a bunch of three maggots on a size fourteen until an hour or so before dark then put out a bigger feeder on a barbel rod fishing two plastic casters. Fishing the tip would get some bait down, attract small fish and draw the barbel in. With the river almost back to normal level and carrying a mere hint of colour I thought this might be worth a try.

Bites came immediately, the first fish landed being a small chublet. I hadn't blanked... The second fish was a grayling, my second ever and a new PB. I don't know what it weighed but it was a bit bigger than my first! On release it swam around upside down. So I fished it out and gave it a 'torpedo release'. That did the trick. A minnow followed, then a slightly smaller grayling which I torpedoed back and watched swim happily away.

The Lady of the Stream

I was first introduced to the 'torpedo release' by zander anglers. Apparently in Holland this is the preferred way to return zander - another species that can prove problematic to revive. What you do is throw the fish head first at the water as if it was a dart. It sounds awful to anglers brought up to hold fish level in the water until they regain their strength and swim off, but for zander, and it seems grayling, the torpedo release appears to revitalise them more quickly. Maybe it's the shock factor or maybe it forces water over their gills. Whatever the reason it's worth a try.

Plenty more bites were had, all from plump little minnows, so I swapped the rods over and cast out the big feeder in anticipation of some dusk barbel action.

Shortly before dark Roland came out to play. He's the only drawback to the 'under the tree' swim. Oddly, when it had gone dark he disappeared. I wasn't too far behind him in leaving the swim, as around eight I decided on a move to a spot I have fished before and really fancy for a barbel. Despite a clear sky, and a bright shadow-casting moon, the night was pleasantly mild. Or it was until I'd been settled in the new swim for about an hour when a chilling wind sprang up. One bait was fished close in and down to a bush, the other recast occasionally to the far bank and mid river. One chub bite to the close in rod was all I got. Shortly after eleven, feeling that nothing more was going to happen, I headed for home before the mist that was threatening to descend closed in.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blast from the past

I can remember the days when a Terry Eustace pike rod was to be aspired to. It took me a while to scrape the cash together get myself a Big Pike blank and build it up myself. The rod, built on one of the last of the dark brown blanks, soon became a favourite. When carbon came along, and I was still hard up, I sold all my glass pike rods; bar two - one of which I had broken and one which I had butchered. Parting with the Big Pike was the hardest of the lot.

Even today the Eustace Pike and Big Pike rods still have a following (the brown ones being preferred to the black ones), and I occasionally get them to refurbish or modify. It's no coincidence that the most popular pike rods in my range are the P-1 and the BB350 - 2.75lb and 3.5lb test curve respectively just like the Pike and Big Pike!

Those were the days

Usually the Eustaces are showing signs of wear and tear but the three butt sections I'm working on at the moment don't show much. I'm not one for preserving rods, but the Big Pike is not only in excellent nick, it's a very old model where the 'weave' in the glass is visible and is more a honey-brown colour. It's actually the first I have seen like this and, although I'm no tackle collector, I would have left the rod as it is. But the customer is always right. All three rods are so old they have sliding rings that never held reels securely so, as the owner of the rods wants to actually use them for fishing, I'm fitting screw reel seats to the rods and re-corking the handles.

After three quarters of an hour's work with a penknife the parallel glass butts were ready to be revitalised.


I suppose it's some consolation that my work can be undone and the handles returned to their original spec quite easily because of the parallel butt construction of the rods. Had the tapered blank continued right through the handle it would have meant removing the rings and destroying the original finish on the whippings and the blank. It would have been a lot less hassle though!

Much as I liked the Big Pike in its day, having run line through one and given it a bend more recently I have to say that nostalgia really isn't what it used to be... Glass rods are heavy and floppy in comparison to carbon. Maybe not as horrible as rods made from panda fodder, but pretty bloody awful nonetheless! Some people still like them.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

No two days the same

I thought I'd walk a length I'd not seen before, and although I spotted a couple of interesting slacks decided to go to familiar ground. It was a pleasant walk in the sunshine, with birds singing as if it were spring, albeit a bit muddy underfoot.

Not fancying the prospect of fishing the same swim as last time I set up about fifty yards downstream. The river was up and dropping, the colour was also dropping out of it, but the temperature was stable. I wasn't bursting with confidence, I wasn't demoralised.

Soon enough something picked up one of my baits and bounced the lead down the river. Whatever it was fell off. Then I started finding snags. After an hour I moved down about twenty yards. There it was even more snag infested. I landed two smallish barbel and lost two more when the rig snagged up. One rig I got back with a straightened hook but minus the lead, the other snag claimed the lot. A few more rigs got fouled up and I was fast running out of leads.

The weather was a bit odd. The warmth of the day brought the bats flitting about wel lbefore dark. With the sky still clear it went quite cool when the sun sank below the hills, a mist rising from the river and the damp fields. But it was forming and clearing so I thought I'd have a chance of a fish when I saw some clouds moving in from the west. Indeed, that was when the action occurred. Eventually the clouds moved further eastwards. That was when I called it a night and drove away through a heavy mist with the air temperature down to 8 from the afternoon's high of 14.5.

With conditions changing as rapidly as they do on spate rivers success and failure can be decided by a mater of hours. One thing's for sure, it's no good relying on the EAs Rivercall as by the time you phone it the level has often changed. Angler reports on the internet aren't much more reliable. The times I've returned from a river and read a report that conflicted with my own experience are too numerous to mention. No. All you can do is keep an eye on the weather and trust your own judgement.

Today I shall be working. I'll probably read that someone's been bagging up tonight...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Up and down like the proverbial...

I didn't blog Sunday's session immediately because not much happened. The river was dropping, up about five feet and peaty stained, but the newly deposited logs and clumps of leaves on the bank showed it had been considerably higher. The afternoon was sunny and warm, which accounted for there being a few anglers on the banks. Not all had been catching, but at least one had.

I decided to fish the 'flood swim' I'd fished the last time the river was up. Nothing happened, except the river continued to drop. Although the sky was clear it took a while for the air temperature to start falling after dark. I was glad I'd planned ahead and donned the bunny suit when it did though. When I decided to move upstream a hundred yards or so the sky was filled with stars. It wasn't long before the upstream rod started bouncing and I was briefly connected to a fish that fell off. A small one stayed hooked on the downstream rod a bit later, but when the mist rose over the river I called it a night. The car's thermometer read 4.5 when I set off for home, the river had been 10.8.

I was treated to a display of shooting stars while I sat watching the isotopes. One of which was the most spectacular I've ever seen. On clear nights like that I often think of how our ancestors must have stared at almost the same starry sky. With no street lights to cast the orange glow on the horizon, and with no knowledge of the universe it's easy to imagine how myths and gods could be created.

Two days later and I was able to get away after an early tea. On arriving at the car park a departing salmon angler told me the river was rising, an awful colour, and that I'd be better off going back home. I crossed the field eagerly with a spring in my step! The level was down on Sunday by about three feet, the flow manageable to fish on a good chuck, but best of all the water, which had looked like strong, milk-less tea the other day had had milk added. It was a lovely muddy colour with next to no visibility. Taking the temperature it was 11.2. Woo hoo!!

I expected a take as soon as the first bait had settled, but it was not to be. In fact it was almost an hour before the upstream rod jag-jagged and the baitrunner spun. A fish was on, then all went solid. After a bit of heaving and walking up and down something gave. The paperclip had opened out and a small barbel was soon unhooked and released.

Another hour passed before the downstream rod took off resulting in a slightly larger barbel. While I was sorting the rod out for a recast I heard the upstream baitrunner creaking and I pulled into something more substantial. This fish I let run down with the flow away from the snaggy area. It took a bit of effort to get the fish back upstream to the net, and a bit more to lift it ashore. After weighing the fish was sacked and I noticed the stick I had pushed in at the waterline on setting up was submerged. After sorting out the chaos and getting two fresh baits in the water I took a few snaps during a lull in the rain and returned the lively fish.

Note the new jacket...

Two more small, but cute, baby barbel came along later. Then around nine thirty the heavens opened and the wind got up. I was cowering under the brolly watching the rod tips pulling round slowly under the weight of leaves collecting on the lines. When the rain eased I decided to make for home. Both rigs had been dragged out of position and were festooned with leaves and twigs. When I'd started fishing there had been very little 'washing' collecting on the lines. Checking the level it had risen almost a foot in three and a half hours.

Ironically, I had only been discussing with someone the misery of packing up in the rain that very morning as we commented on how warm it was. And here I was doing just that a few hours later. I hadn't needed the bunny suit though. The air temperature was still 12 when I reached the car.

I much prefer a river that is just starting to come up for barbel rather than the much touted falling water level. I think the increase in flow and colour spurs them on to feed. By the time the river begins to drop they are almost replete. On a spate river timing it to hit the rise before it gets difficult to fish is both critical and difficult. The window is a narrow one. This time I'd managed to get it just right. The colour was good, the temperature was up, and I got there before the rubbish started getting washed into the river. Once the debris gets to the stage it had when I packed up it's time to seek out spots where you can shelter your line from the main push of water.

It's a funny thing. You might imagine that a few good sessions on the trot would make me want to take a break, recharge my batteries, even take time out to decorate the kitchen. Not so. It makes me want to replenish the PVA mesh, top up the pellet bucket, refill the flask and get back out there!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Fish Prints from Chris Turnbull

I've never been one for hanging pictures of fish on my walls. Most fish prints I've haven't struck me as worth having. I was, therefore, quite surprised to find myself tempted to keep and frame a print of Snag Swim Barbel that I had told Chris Turnbull I would return after writing a review of it.

You can read my brief review on Barbel Now or get a better look at Chris's prints at his new website -

Leaving the comfort zone

Although I have already caught more than twice as many barbel this season as I did in the whole of last season the average size has dropped considerably. This is down to where I've been fishing. With over 50 fish from the Ribble in the last few weeks, and with the rivers all carrying extra water, now I had a day free it was time for that trip away that I had been promising myself. Despite my good intentions a heavy shower while I was drinking my postprandial mug of tea almost dissuaded me from loading the car, but it soon passed, the sun shone again and I was on my way.

Even so, I drove through rain and doubted the wisdom of my trip. Would the river be fishable? It was, and the sun was shining again as I walked the banks. Then it clouded over as I tackled up. That was to set the pattern for the evening - sun and showers, and the night too (without the sun..). I would have taken the water temperature, but the battery was flat in the thermometer. Still, the river was not too high, a muddy brown the way I like it, and not many anglers were about. I picked a swim on the heavily fished stretch I usually avoid. It's all or nothing on this river now. I want to catch one of it's biggies, and this is where they hang out.

Both baits were dropped in the margins to avoid any debris coming down the river. If fish are pressured I think it pays to leave the baits in for as long as possible and avoiding weed and autumn leaves helps this cause. A 'snake' went upstream and a couple of Monster Crab and Mussel Tuff 1s downstream.

Raining again

Baits out, brolly up and I set about tying some fresh hooklinks. Good job too, because when it got past six I decided to recast in readiness for the anticipated dusk feeding frenzy. The downstream rig was snagged solid. A firm pull saw everything gone with a clean cut on the end of the braid. Commencing to retackle I spotted a frayed section of line a few feet from the end. If I hadn't snagged up I wouldn't have noticed that. Once retackled I put a single Tuff 1 on the hair and cast - more accurately, swung - out the rig.

Then I tied up PVA mesh bags of pellets until I ran out of mesh. Out with the tub of mesh and make a start on reloading the bag filler. Almost done and I'm disturbed by a baitrunner whirring angrily. The PVA is slung in the bait bag and I lean into a fish on the downstream rod. It feels the pressure and heads out into the main flow and steadily upstream. This is more like it! The fish gets a few yards above me then I turn it. Line is taken from the clutch, the rod bends. No eight pounder, but probably no real monster either. The six ounce watch lead rises through the murk and into fresh air. The barbel rolls almost ready for the net. Then it's mine.

Lying on its back in the net it has that width behind the gill covers that barbel develop when they get beyond the ten pound mark. Sling ready I lift her ashore, pop the hook out and read the scales. A bounce to 12, then back a few ounces. Two quick snaps of her lying on the sling and back she goes at a spot downstream where I can get to the water. Before I get here free of the sling she's already fighting to get back home. Sliding into the water she slips downstream, turns to face the flow and sinks out of sight.

I was too lazy to set up the tripod

An angler had turned up on the opposite bank shortly after I had got settled in. After asking if I minded him fishing across from me he threw some groundbait in, set up his rods and net, then wandered off for a chat with another guy upstream while he let the bait work its magic. Although he wasn't a floppy hatter and his rods weren't cane (in fact he was a Realtree junky - even his landing net pole was cammoed up) his reels were centrepins. Not my approach, but each to their own.

I hadn't realised how annoying centrepins are. When he did eventually cast out they would click loudly as weed dragged his baits down the river. Each time I would spring towards my rods thinking it was one of my baitrunners making the noise. Thank goodness he didn't get a barbel take while I was there! Thankfully he had the decency to switch the ratchet off when he reeled in. Even when weed is collecting on my lines my baitrunners rarely make a sound. Unlike some people who adjust them to match the flow, just stiff enough not to give line, I screw my 'runners up as tight as I can without fear of a fish dragging the rods in. Unless weed is dragging my baits out of position I let it collect on the line. It doesn't mask the bait, and at close range will not be so far up the line as to make netting a fish difficult. You don't catch fish while you are taking the 'washing' in!

In terms of fish the hours of darkness were uneventful. I didn't hear any fish being landed on the other bank, and I had no more action by the time I packed up at eleven. The highlight was a vague off-white shape lazily flapping across the river towards me like a giant moth, pausing briefly over the downstream rod at eye level, turning upstream and away along the river edge. A close encounter of the barn owl kind. I'm sure many a birdwatcher would have paid handsomely for that experience. There is more to fishing than catching fish, but without the prospect of catching a fish or two I'd never have been sat by a river side, in the dark, on a rainy night in October.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Counting chickens

There'd been plenty of rain on Tuesday and the river was up, as expected. Higher than anticipated but plainly dropping. The colour was excellent and my confidence was sky high.

With nobody else on the bank I dropped into a proven floodwater spot and took my time setting up. I put out the same two Tuff 1s that I'd wound in at the end of my last session, close in and slightly upstream. The second rod was rebaited with a 'snake', a bag added , and as soon as the rig hit the water the other rod tip started stabbing downwards and the front rod rest toppling over. I got the second rod in the rests and the baitrunner on just before the first rod hit the deck!

It had taken all of five minutes to put a fish on the bank. A fish that had fought a good 50% above its weight too. This time I rebaited and added a bag of pellets before recasting. It was a whole quarter of an hour before the downstream rod lurched over - this time the bankstick collapsed before the baitrunner whirred. Somehow I failed to connect. Not to worry. With the prevailing conditions I was sure of a mega-haul of barbel.

The day had started wet, turning fine and sunny in the afternoon. After dark the heavy showers arrived, accompanied by a strong, gusty wind. The air temperature was only 12 as I arrived. The drop in air temperature being one possible reason why the bats were absent at dusk as they had been on my last session - a sure indicator that winter is approaching.

When I noticed how quickly the river was dropping, over a foot in three hours, my confidence ebbed away, especially as there were a lot of freshly fallen leaves fouling the rigs. By ten o'clock I had packed up. The cows had had enough of the weather too and had taken shelter behind a hedge. The roads on the drive home were awash in places, the car's thermometer reading a meagre 8 degrees - the first time it's dropped to single figures this season - maybe the bats have it right when they hibernate...