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...