Friday, January 30, 2009

Topsy turvy world

With a cold, and wet, front approaching I thought I'd have a try for a barbel or two before it arrived. The day had warmed up nicely by the time I finished my morning errands but even by the time I was turning the car to leave my street I wasn't sure where I was going! Reasoning that it might be warmer if I headed south that was the direction I headed. Sure enough the reading on the car's thermometer crept up slightly as I travelled down the motorway. It was around eight degrees which would make for a grand afternoon and evening.

However, once I crossed the 'border' the trend reversed. I was stunned to see it plummet a whole four degrees before bouncing back to 4.5. Getting out of the car a chilly easterly cooled me down as I put on my bunny suit and boots. After walking the banks of Dog Turd Alley, and taking the water temperature (5.7) I planned to walk upstream and fish three or four sheltered swims on the way back.

<rant> This stretch is popular with dog walkers, as you may have gathered. So I put the trenching tool I carry in the car into my bait bag so I could remove any offending (and offensive) canine leavings should there be some in a swim I wanted to fish.

The culture of dog walkers in urban areas has changed so that you regularly see them picking up their pooch's poop in a plastic bag, yet when they let their hounds run free in the countryside they also let them leave their shit anywhere they like. In an area that is frequented by anglers and birdwatchers, not to mention other dog walkers, this makes the muddy path an unpleasant obstacle course.

The first swim I dropped into was one I've caught from before, but not at this time of the season. As the level was a good eighteen inches up and the river nicely coloured it looked worth a try. I was still setting up my rods when a springer spaniel burst through the undergrowth and began barking at me, it's owner baying for it's return somewhere in the distance. I tried the friendly 'Hello, boy' approach, but when it wouldn't shut it's yap I loudly told it to 'go away' - or something like that... The first spaniel was soon joined by another which was of a more friendly disposition. After more baying from the unseen owner the two animals disappeared. A few minutes later an apologetic own appeared, dogs on leads. Much as I like dogs it's the owners that annoy me. </rant>

While the water was just about warm enough to give me hope I still opted for winter tactics and attached small bags of mixed pellets, with micro pellets included, to both hooks. I wasn't expecting to have to recast too often as I would be fishing slacker water close to the bank, so a minimal amount of feed would suffice for its attraction properties. The downstream rod was baited with a single 8mm crab Pellet-O, with the upstream rod having two S-Pellets to, so the thinking went, to leak off oils and add further to the attractive trail wafting down the flow. Probably rubbish, but it was a plan!

Winter bag and 11mm S-Pellets

I gave the swim an hour and an inactive half before packing the gear and moving sixty yards or so downstream. This is not so much a roving approach, where you travel very light and fish every likely looking swim for a few minutes. I think of it as being nomadic. I set up camp for a minimum of half an hour or as long as three hours, then pack it all away and move to another swim. Sometimes I'll bypass a few swims before reaching the next one I like the look of. Sometimes I'll move a few tens of yards sometimes a couple of hundred. Sometimes I'll go back to the car and drive somewhere else.

The second swim was one I hadn't fished before but it had a nice crease with a long tail. It looked the part and both baits were swung out a few feet from the bank. Again it was sheltered from the wind, this time by the remains of nettle and balsam rather than bushes. In the distance a small flock of fieldfares flew to the top of a bare ash tree. A reminder that the small signs of spring are still mere hints at what is to come.

Winter's still here

There was a muddy plateau at the water's edge so I set up camp on the grassy bank above it. After three quarters of an hour, as the light was fading, I stood up to stretch my legs. With my back turned to the river I heard something moving in the dried remains of the bankside undergrowth. I spun round and saw just one rod and the other bankstick doing a Tower of Pisa impression. I leapt towards the river and spotted the rod lying on the plateau. Luckily, whatever had caused this failed to hook itself, or I might have also heard a splash - just as I might had I set the rods up right on the river's edge!

After the disturbance of clambering up and down the bank I wasn't too hopeful of another bite from the margins, but I thought it was worth another forty five minutes. By now it was dark. Although the sky hadn't been clear there wasn't thick cloud obscuring the stars and thin sickle moon, but they all had fuzzy edges. There was a ground frost forming on my rucksack and quiver, and an encrustation of ice on my landing net pole. I wasn't cold though, which was odd.

Shortly before the time limit I had set myself expired the downstream, crab pellet, rod tip pulled slowly down a few inches and eased back equally slowly. The process was repeated. It pulled down a third time and I picked the rod up feeling the weight of a fish. I was expecting a chub in all honesty and the initial stages of the 'fight' convinced me. Then it woke up. It was obviously not a chub. Not the biggest barbel by any means, but a plump one and most welcome given the circumstances. Nice to catch from a 'new' swim too.

Second of the year - getting bigger

I'd obviously made some correct decisions, but should I have fished a different stretch with bigger fish? I might easily have blanked there and blamed the conditions when it would have been poor location. Still, I now know not to write this venue off when the water is cooler than 6 degrees. I gave the swim another three quarters of an hour before my final move.

The last swim of the night has produced fish for me in the past, but not this time. By eight thirty I was getting the urge to sit in a warm car for the drive home. The thermometer was now reading just 2 degrees and I'd had to scrape a thin layer of ice from the windscreen. Heading north again the thermometer reading began rising reaching a maximum of five. I thought birds flew south to reach warmer climes? It was all a bit back to front.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blue skies and birdsong

The first feint signs of spring are starting to tentatively appear. Last week there were mallards mating, collared doves chasing each other, and a magpie adding twigs to an old nest. This afternoon the sun shone with more warmth than it had since before the winter solstice and birds, mostly great tits, were making a happy racket when I got out of the car in the deserted car park.

I'd expected to see a few more anglers on the bank on a sunny Sunday afternoon with the season's end set to leap out and take us by surprise like it does each year. But no. The banks were deserted on my chosen stretch. The gear was dumped in a fancied swim, the thermometer chucked in the water. There'd been rain in the night and I had braced myself to find the river bank-high and cold. It was up a couple of feet all right, coloured slightly and flowing at a moderate pace. The thermometer said it was a cool 4.5c. I was glad I'd packed the chub gear.

For a change I cast a couple of lobworms out on the upstream rod, and fished closer in and straight across with the cage feeder and cheese paste. Although three ounces wouldn't hold out on a long chuck there was hardly any debris coming down to drag the rigs out of position. It looked hopeful. I got a bite early on to the paste, but failed to connect. Then it went quiet.

It was nice to be out in the fresh air again, soaking up the sun without having to be bundled up in warm clothes. A few bites would have improved things though. It wasn't until the sun had sunk below the tree line that the paste rod started to indicate some fishy interest. Nothing positive but my hopes rose. By now I had noticed that the water level was higher than when I set up. It hadn't risen much though. Last night's rain was slow coming into the system.

With it still fully light at five thirty I swapped the worm over to an 8mm crab Pellet-O with a golf ball sized mesh bag of mixed pellets on the hook. It hadn't been out half an hour when the tip got bouncy-bouncy and I hooked a fish. Not a big fish, probably a chub - possibly a small barbel, which fell off half way to the net. This prompted me to swap the paste rod for one fishing two S-Pellets.

It was six o'clock by the time the stars were fully bright. Another cheering sign that winter is on the wane. Looking at the water level it was clearly rising faster than it had been, and the rod tips were taking on a slightly greater curve against the increasing water pressure. On the plus side, the water temperature was creeping up. While I was rebaiting the upstream pellet rod the other rod tip jagged down in chubby fashion. Oh well. With the pellet recast I picked up the S-Pellet rod and found the daft chub had hooked itself!

Job done

As the main reason for turning out was to blow the cobwebs away and cure my cabin fever a fish meant it was mission accomplished.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gratuitous cultural dogs

I've been idly Googling (without which I'd probably have got all the following completely wrong!) and browsing the unreliable and US-centric Wikipedia and for some reason started looking for paintings after stumbling on a Nathan Altman portrait of Anna Akhmatova. How I came to stumble on that I really don't know, but it brought me to this portrait with a dog which I think is particularly doggy.

There is a long history of dogs in art. Bonnard was fond of including hounds in his work, the Futurist Giacomo Balla famously painted a dachshund in motion, Francis Bacon painted a scary dog and Lucien Freud has also included dogs in many portraits throughout his long career. Possibly the most piteous dog in art is that painted by Goya.

That's the cultural interlude concluded...

Wind chill

I didn't fancy another session on the river with strong winds forecast for Thursday. A day sat under a brolly with the kettle by my side seemed like a much better option. I was sure to get plenty of action on the commercial - even if it was from small carp.

Cosy, cosy

It certainly was windy. Although the air temp was over eight degrees the chill factor was considerable. The wind was also blowing from an awkward direction for the swim I wanted to fish. So strong was it that the only way I could catapult maggots out was by doing it from the peg upwind!

Things started off well with a sucked maggot on the first cast. I didn't get another bite for almost four hours. This was from a small roach. Coincidence or not, the bite came after the heavy cloud cover had thinned and the day brightened. In fact bites started to come at intervals of fifteen minutes to half an hour during the afternoon. Maybe fish had just found the bait. Surprisingly none of the bites resulted in carp. It was mainly small roach, plus one rudd that had a much more orangey hue to its back than usual - like a goldfish. I've heard of 'golden' rudd, so I guess that's what it was. The photograph doesn't paint an accurate picture.

Not your average rudd

I'd been hoping for perch and a couple did come along, but not as big as I would have liked. One took the bait when I'd dropped the rig in the margin, and was so small it would have done for a livebait if it hadn't fallen off. The other wasn't much bigger.

Four sessions this week should help me bear the stress of building up of the batch of blanks that arrived yesterday. The weather prospects for the next few days look unsettled so the rivers might, or might not, be worth a try. It's the subzero night time temperatures that put me off - and that white stuff coming out of the clouds.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Third time unlucky

This morning saw me heading to Liverpool to visit the Harrison rod factory. I've got my timing to a fine art now and manage to arrive just as the kettle is boiling. The topics of conversation with the staff cover the usual angling stuff (like tarty carp reels for tarty carp anglers) - and guitars. Today Andy had his pride and joy with him...

Rockin' round the rod racks

By the time I returned home the rain had eased off and the day was warming. As I sat drinking a mug of tea after my lunch I got a text to say the barbel were on the chew. I hadn't planned to fish, but with the window of barbel opportunity still open a crack I hastily threw the gear in the car and set off. EH was sat where I'd caught last night's fish. Not sat in my swim, but actually where my bait had been. The river had dropped a good four feet, was still dropping and, while still coloured, was not flowing so strongly and the leaves and weed had abated to a manageable level.

I set up twenty yards or so upstream in a spot I have caught from before. The water temperature was down a touch at 5.6c, but EH was getting bites and landed a couple more barbel, biggest about seven pounds, a chub and a trout. All on pellets. I wasn't getting a touch. The rain came through in waves putting a damper on what would otherwise have been a pleasant afternoon to sit watching the rod tips.

Just after six my upstream rod tip started a slow bounce just like the bites EH had been getting. No line was being taken when I pulled into a fish. Definitely a barbel and bigger than my first one of the year. It rolled a couple of rod lengths out - turing on it's back showing its white belly and open mouth in the light of my Petzl as the hook pulled free. Hooks never pull free from barbel...

Oh well. Bait back out and another shower arrived. The closing theme tune of The Archers coincided with the rain stopping, so I packed up having not lost any leads for a change. I'd gladly have lost a dozen to land that one fish. I've two more free days before I have to start building rods. I haven't a clue what to do though. It's tempting to have another try for a barbel or two, but it's turning cooler again.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Down, up. Up, down.

At long last the air temperature had reached double figures. So I was surprised to find the river deserted yesterday (Sunday) afternoon. The water temperature, however, had dropped a touch from Friday. The level, if anything was lower too. The river really was showing its bones. The rise in air temperature was due to a strong south westerly that was due to bring heavy rain down from Scotland later.

I set up in a sheltered swim to fish a slack, hoping for a chub or two. I didn't fancy trying to spot bites on a quiver tip bouncing around in the wind. The tip rod fished a cage feeder and flake on the crease, the maggot feeder rod was cast into the slack and fished using a bobbin for indication. It made a pleasant change not to be bundled up to keep warm.

It was almost half past two when I got set up. Around three I heard a bird, a wagtail as it turned out, making a commotion over on the far sand bank and looked over in time to see a sparrowhawk glide low over the river and up into a tree downstream on my bank. A while later it reappeared, this time it swooped low again right under my rods. It's amazing how close wildlife comes when you sit still. A cheeky little wren, and it did look small even for a wren, perched on my landing net, fidgeting for a few seconds before flitting away into the dead grass at the water's edge.

The chub weren't as active as the bird life. I thought I'd move downstream to brave a windier spot before it went dark. When I had both rods cast across the river, easily holding with 30g in the sluggish flow, both tips started pulling down as the wind blew on the lines with some considerable force. Spotting bites might be problematic.

As it turned out the one bite I did get was simple to spot. As on the previous session it was a massive slack-liner. The tip going straight and the line dropping in a bow. This was to a lump of flake that the chub had wolfed well back. When I felt a few light spots of rain I started to pack up. I didn't fancy getting caught in the forecast deluge!

The rain didn't arrive until well into the night, and can't have lasted long as it was fine when I woke this morning. I hadn't planned on fishing, but it was still warm but forecast to turn cold again from Wednesday. Today or Tuesday might be the best chance of a barbel. I got held up by a customer calling round so set off after two o'clock.

As soon as I saw the river it was obvious it was well up. Closer inspection suggested it was carrying at least five, possibly seven, feet but already falling. The thermometer read 6.1c - up almost three degrees on yesterday. Such is the pace of change on a spate river. While walking the bank looking for a fishable spot I spied a salmon doing its best to keep out of the flow in it's weakened post-spawn state.

A spawned out salmon

The spot I chose to fish was slower water on the inside of the bend. Given the strength of the flow, and the leaves and weed coming down, I only cast my baits about a rod length out. One rod fished a couple of S-Pellets in conjunction with the ubiquitous mesh bag of mixed pellets. For the upstream rod I opted for a change. Something I used to do quite often in winter a few years back was to hair rig a lump of paste around a paste coil. So the upstream rod fished that.

I'd put the banksticks right at the edge of the water so I could check on the speed the level was dropping. The photo below was taken after just three quarters of an hour. I'd guess the river was falling at least two inches per hour. From as low as it gets to six feet up and dropping back in less than twenty four hours!

On its way down

There wasn't much in the way of major debris coming down the river, but a loud splash on the far side was the result of a bankside collapse dumping a large lump of wood in the water. It's no wonder the topography changes year on year.

The sky was overcast, small but close together clouds scudding north eastwards, the light starting to fade when the downstream rod tip pulled over in a more assertive manner than the leaves had been causing. Then, to my amazement, the baitrunner quietly creaked into life. The heavy flow made the fish pull harder than its weight. A fish of about six pounds. Really solid and in lovely condition. The first barbel of the year, the first in almost two months, the seventy fifth of the season. A better result than this time last year when the barbel famine ran from October until the final day of the season!

First of the year

I gave it another hour before heading for home. The sky had cleared. The air temperature was on the way down and dew was forming on the rods. Tomorrow might be good. Pity I have places to go and things to do. Then again!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Line loading

Yesterday I noticed that I had a lot of line twist on my feeder reel, so today's job was to load fresh line. The first task was to remove the twisted nylon. I bought a battery operated Berkley line stripper many years ago, and this has proved an invaluable tool stripping 100yds of line in no time at all - and without any effort.

With the old line removed the next task is to load the fresh line. To hold the spool I use another Berkley product, a Dog Bone Spooler. And odd name, but the photo below might explain how it came about. This is a spring-loaded spool holder that you grip between your ankles as you wind the line onto the reel.

Dog Bone Spooler and bulk spool of line

Ordinarily this is used with the reel on a rod butt. As you can see in the next photo I have modified a rod butt to make this easier. The length of handle has been shortened to a minimum and a single leg ring taped on in a position that puts it directly above my feet when sat winding the reel.

Berkley line stripper, and modified rod butt

The set up in use

The second reel seat is there to take another reel when swapping line from one reel to another, for example when reversing braid to extend it's working life - either by swapping it between spools or onto a different reel. When using the butt section with a multiplier the ring is taped to its very end so the line doesn't touch the blank. One day I might get round to whipping two rings permanently in place - or maybe fitting roller guides.

This butt section makes life a lot easier and a couple of people who have seen it have asked me to make them one. I made a better looking job on those than my own developmental prototype.

Friday, January 09, 2009

River 4, Feeders 0

Things had warmed up a touch. There was no frost this morning. Not that it was warm. It still made me feel like wetting a line again and I was walking the bank eating a still-warm sausage roll by quarter to one. The river was low, as low as it gets, clear but with a greenish tinge in the deeper spots. There was a cool breeze coming off my back and ruffling the water towards the far bank. Unusual as the wind tends to funnel up or down the valley. The sky was overcast. Not bad conditions.

I selected a swim midway between the popular end pegs and cast out one rod fishing an in-line maggot feeder with two red maggots on a 14, and a cage feeder loaded with liquidised bread, Hemp and Hali Crush and a good dose of corn steep liquor with a pinch of flake on a 6. The bank was still rock hard and pushing the banksticks in was a trial. Downstream on a shingle bank there were icy puddles still. A thaw is slow in coming.

A simple mix for the cage feeder

After quarter of an hour or so I decided to recast the flake rod. Winding in the feeder it came to a halt in mid river. I tried upstream and downstream pulls to free it before the weak link on the feeder snapped. Having struggled to tie four pound links with cold fingers in the dark in the past I now carry a few made up links consisting of a hooked snap-link at one end and a loop at the other to speed the process. One was attached to the swivel on the main line, a new feeder clipped on and filled, then the hook rebaited and the rig cast out again.

I'd seen a big black bird flap up into a tree on the far bank and while watching to see if I could tell what it was (crow or woody) I spied a buzzard wheeling beyond the trees. Not so long ago buzzards were unheard of in these parts, but they are a fairly common sight these days. Still a fascinating sight to watch, even so. As it wheeled it came closer and I was leaning my head further and further back to keep it in view. When my neck was straining too much I gave up and looked back at the rod tips. The quiver was straight, all tension gone, and the line hanging limp. I wound in the slack like a mad thing and connected with something that I was dragging towards me. Then it went solid in the same place the first feeder had been lost. Bugger.

Opening the bale arm some line was taken so it was a fish, and it was still hooked. More pulling from above and below failed to make any impression. I started a straight walk back. Something gave and I carried on walking back to keep it on the move, then began to take up the line while walking towards the landing net. A chub appeared. In the clear water it looked quite small at first, but as it came closer it began to look bigger, and bigger. Whether it was the cold water, 3.6c, or the fight had been taken out of it while snagged, it did nothing and was netted without hesitation.

I'm not very good at catching chub, and equally inept at guessing what they weigh. For some reason chub can look fat, but weigh light. Possibly the flabbiest fish around. This one looked plump, and apart from a slightly deformed dorsal fin, was in superb condition. I wasn't going to bother weighing it, but seeing as it was the first deliberate capture of the year I did. It weighed seven ounces more than I'd have guessed.

My, what a big mouth you have

Losing two feeders in two casts decided me to move down a few yards so I could bring rigs, and hopefully fish, back without mishap. I could still cast upstream to the same spot but without getting into trouble. That was the plan. The maggot feeder had hardly settled after the move when the tip tap-tapped and I missed the bite. It was a promising restart though.

By now the wind had dropped and it felt quite mild. It wasn't, but we become accustomed to low temperatures after a couple of weeks of them. My feet were nice and warm in my Baffins though! Time for the third, and now decidedly cold, sausage roll and a brew.

The sky began to clear. The Evening Star shone brightly. A full moon rose. Just before five when it had got darker than I thought the isotope on the maggot rod tip signalled a bite. The fish wasn't doing much as I wound it in. Then it came on the shallows and began to turn cartwheels. A sea trout.

I had been contemplating trying for trout on the fly this spring after reading a few trouty blogs, but quite honestly these last three I've caught have put me right off the idea. I've caught trout before (browns and rainbows) and they have always struck me as daft fish. They don't fight properly. They charge all over the place, changing direction on a whim like bluebottles do when buzzing around a room. Then they start leaping. Not like pike do, with purpose, but pointlessly. I'll stick with tench and bream come April.

A silly sea trout

There was quite a covering of frost on my rods and tackle box by the time I recast. Another hour and I'd pack up. I'd started alternating between flake and cheese paste and shortly before the appointed hour I thought I spotted a bite to the paste. One more cast. A cast that sent the feeder flying unfettered by line. Damn. I was sure the line hadn't been tangled. On with a fresh link and feeder then check the line was free. This was when I discovered it to be frozen in the rings. That must have caused the crack-off. I sucked the rings to de-ice them and readied myself for the cast. Another feeder headed for a watery resting place. Feck. The line had frozen again. If it hadn't been the last cage feeder in the bag I'd have given it a third attempt, but I was scuppered now.

The grass was quite crunchy as I walked back to the car. The car white over with frost, the thermometer reading -2.0c as I fired up the engine and set the heater going while I changed my boots. A more hardy soul was still fishing as I drove away. Maybe he'd got glycerine on his rings?

There's warm, wet air forecast to move in over the weekend. I doubt the barbel will get moving for a few days though.

I’m supporting Angling Unity

Friday, January 02, 2009

Low, slow and cold

There's only one thing to do when the sun shines for the first time in a few days and melts away the frost. Go fishing. So I was surprised to have the river to myself. After such a spell of cold dry weather it was now well and truly down to summer level, running clear and a chilly 2.2c. But the afternoon was warm - until the cloud came in and extinguished the sun.

There was cat ice in the slack margins, and the water cold enough for the salmon to have donned their furry white winter jackets. There were a few sorry looking salmon mooching about the shallows and a couple that had expired. No really big fish that sometimes show up.

I put two rods out, one fishing a cage feeder and bread flake the other trying the in-line maggot feeder again. It took a couple of hours for bites to start developing. Short slow pulls on the quiver tip when I switched to cheese paste and faster stabs on the maggot rod. One bite to the single red maggot resulted in a snapped hooklink. I forgot the size sixteen was attached to a 2lb 12oz hooklink...

Home made polyball bobbin

There was so little flow that I tried using a bobbin on the paste rod to slow the bites down. Of course I didn't get a bite while trying it, and as soon as I reverted to the tip I'd get a pull!

For the first time in ages darkness wasn't accompanied by a ground frost. Not even by dew forming on the rods. Although it wasn't exactly warm, the temperature held up. It was at half five that I managed to connect with a bite on the cheese paste. The bite was no different to any of the others, but I connected. Only a small fish. Nonetheless a surprising one. An out of season brown trout. Was this the reason the bites were difficult to connect with, or were the others from chub? I'll never know.

A spotty thing

Half an hour later I was on my way home, trying to think of somewhere I can go to catch some fish by design. Not that the session was wasted. I'd walked the banks taking advantage of the low, clear water to scope out some spots for future reference. I think I've sussed a couple that look like they might be worth putting a couple of baits in at some time.

I’m supporting Angling Unity