Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The clocks have gone forward and at last it's warm enough to work outside without a fleece and woolly hat. In other words it's definitely tench time. So what am I doing? Sitting here twiddling my thumbs waiting for blanks and fittings. No work to do and not fishing? Nope. Also waiting for customers calling, one every day this week. When the rivers are open this kind of enforced idlesness is no big deal as I can nip out late on and get a session in, but there are no stillwaters locally where I can fish into dark, not many I want to fish in daylight either to be truthful.

There's a real lack of decent stillwaters round here. There's the canal where I first started fishing when I was about eleven, but it's not what it was judging by a few sessions I had there about five years ago. There are some deep and cold reservoirs, a few small sandpits - one of which is a carp syndicate, one complex is a no-fishing nature reserve and another a 'leisure attraction' with caravans and jet-skis. There are also a couple of clay pits, one of which I vowed never to return to after a Labrador swam through all four of my lines many moons ago. Go elsewhere and there are gravel pits galore. Anglers in the Midlands (even Cheshire with it's meres and sandpits) and further south, not to mention East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, don't realise how lucky they are.

If there was a decent water or three within half or three-quarters of an hour or so from here where I could get an evening session going into dark, or an overnighter, in every so often I'd be laughing.

A gravel pit hours from home

The tedium got so bad today that I was reduced to mowing the rolling grasslands of my immense estate. Sheer desperation. Oh, how I long for a long hot summer to scorch the grass (moss) of the lawn and kill it so it doesn't need mowing. Why can't these genetic engineers genetically engineer a grass that cuts itself? Or maybe tiny sheep that could be let loose upon the lawn to keep it in check? I've considered a small herd of guinea pigs.

Yesterday, after finishing the varnishing on the refurbed boat rods, I stripped down a four piece rod I'd built up as a pike fly rod (I must have been bored that week too) only to find it was a bit too stiff, stuck the sections on the lathe and ground them smooth then fitted a new handle to start turning it into a barbel stalking/creeping rod. Whether it will come to anything I don't know, but I could leave it in the car with a small reel loaded with 30lb braid and use it for a sneaky session here or there either for barbel or pike. I want to see what a certain thread colour will look like on a matt grey blank for another project too. Basically I just felt like tinkering! But until the rings I'm waiting for arrive I can't take that project any further.

I suppose I ought really be stuffing catalogues into envelopes. That, however, is a prospect even less appealing than mowing the rest of my grasslands.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Handling qualities

With my 'good' knee still giving me a bit of grief I've been staying away from the water this week, so I have time to get on with plenty of work. Pity I'm still waiting for blanks to turn up. However, that means the rebuilds and repairs get done quicker as I tend to put off work like that until I have plenty of time as you can never be sure what it will turn out like. One of this week's jobs has been fitting cork handles to a set of four Fox boat rods.

Over the last couple of years or so there seems to have been a swing back to cork for rod handles. Ironic that this should come about at the time supplies of decent quality cork for the job are going into decline.

These particular rods are being rebuilt because the owner didn't like the slim Duplon and the small reel seat. There are lots of well made blanks being produced in the far east, they say the best come from Korea but China is supposedly catching up fast. The finished rods, however, are often fitted out with less than brilliant rings and fittings, and 'gloopy' varnish. Not all, but a fair proportion. A shame the blanks aren't available as some are really very good indeed. Still, it provides me with a bit of work rebuilding them for anglers who know how they want their rods to be.

In the carp world the trend recently has been for ultra slim handles, to the extent that many are now built with just shrink tube for a butt grip. Back in the Dark Ages when we fished with fast taper fibreglass rods this wasn't a problem as the butt was more than an inch in diameter and gave you plenty to grab hold of. On a modern carbon rod the diameter is much less and, I find, feels 'wrong' in the hand when casting. I suppose these handles look pretty sat on rod pods. Which is what seems to matter most to a certain breed of angler these days.

The fashion appears to have crossed over to pike rods though, and these Duplon handles, while nice and hard, are (were!) very slim. The owner also found the length a tad too short. Nothing wrong with keeping rod handles short. But there are limits. As in most things connected with fishing tackle there has to be a compromise. The customer wanted the handles extending by an inch and a half - which actually worked out at just a quarter of an inch more than my standard boat rod handles.

When stripping rods down it's surprising what you find underneath the fittings and epoxy at times. No surprises with these four. As with many mass produced rods built in the far east the reel seats were fitted over cardboard tubes rather than the spaced rolls of masking tape that most custom builders use. Nothing wrong with the tube method provided it is done correctly. This means having sufficient glue to seal the tube to protect it from water ingress, and enough space allowed at each end for the glue to bond the reel seat to the blank. I guess it is a fast and simple way of doing the job.

When insufficient glue is used and water gets to the cardboard it will go soggy, rot, and the reel seat work loose. It's not only cheap rods that are built like this. I have repaired one quite expensive 'American' lure rod that had a handle come loose that had been fitted in this way.

As can be seen a careful spiral cut is made round the reel seat so it can be 'peeled' off the rod. The application of heat from a heat gun also comes into play. These reel seats proved to be made from a softer plastic/composite than I have come across before. Being so slim, the heat soon transfered to the underlying glue and I was able to slide the remains of the seat down off the blank without having to cut the whole seat. With thicker reel seats this is rarely the case - more so if masking tape rolls have been used and the accompanying extra glue bond between blank and reel seat.

The blanks cleaned up nicely where the whipping on the rings had been, which made the refitting of the rings much easier. Even the screen printing which the owner wanted removing came off easily with some thinners and elbow grease. Had that been under a layer of varnish it would have required some fiddling and fettling. The cork and reel seats went on easily, so everything went smoothly. Not always the case with jobs like this. Sometimes unexpected horrors are discovered that cause headaches.

All that remains now is to slap some varnish on the whippings and the rods will be like new again!

If my knee improves, the wind abates, and things generally warm up I might get to go fishing next week. I bet a big pile of rod blanks descends on me from on high to prevent that though...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Flexible chub rig

During my less than successful attempts at intentionally catching chub last winter I wanted a rig that would allow me to vary the length of the hooklink and still take the force of a fair cast. My first rig failed the casting test as the stop slipped. The rig I eventually settled on is shown below. As well as having a variable hooklink it can also be used as fixed or running by sliding the Grippa Stop up or down the line.

The main line is 6lb Daiwa Sensor as it's tough and cheap. The leger link is lighter than the mainline, and preferably lighter than the hooklink too, the hooklink being Reflo Power Line in 0.15 for flake, paste and worm, lighter for maggots when I feel the need. Hook pattern and size being chosen to match the bait.

The snap link on the end of the leger link allows the cage feeder to be swapped to a maggot feeder or bomb as required. I carry a few of these links, with a loop on the other end, to make retackling easier in the dark after a feeder is lost to a snag.

All pretty self explanatory I think.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The finishing post

Apologies in advance for a long and rambling post, but I packed a lot into the final two days of the river season. With a bit of a result on Thursday it would have been foolish to fish elsewhere on Friday. Saturday would be more of a problem as that river was bound to be busy on the final day as would my local river. I'd kip in the car Friday night then play it by ear. So it was with this half-plan in mind that I set off after snaffling a bag of fish and chips to see me on.

There'd been some light rain earlier which was forecast to move away and leave the final day and a half of the season dry - but windy on Saturday. Sure enough as I drove past the Lion's Den there was a line of brollies down along the 'hot' stretch. Nobody on the opposite bank though, but I wanted to get back where I'd left off and try to fish the swim that had been occupied on Thursday. Four cars in the car park suggested there might be a problem. Sure enough the swim was taken - by a bloke who had just moved in to it... Chatting to him before heading on upstream he revealed that he'd be moving after an hour or so as he had to be away early.

This session was to start like the previous one with a long walk to the other side of the fallen willow. I dropped my gear some twenty yards from where I fished the other day and went for a wander. As I reached the next likely looking swims the rain came back. So I went back to my gear and erected the brolly. I'd fish there until dark, maybe move a few yards down for an hour. The rain didn't last long. The sky was overcast and the wind light. The river wasn't much different to the day before, a tad warmer and maybe slightly less coloured. Still good though.

Nothing happened. Not a twitch. Nowt. I went and fished one rod in another spot for half an hour or so but it didn't feel right. At seven fifteen I packed up and headed downstream hoping the swim I fancied would now be free. It was. An eight mm crab pellet went down towards the overhanging branches, two S-pellets to the upstream crease. Chub pulls started to materialise, first to the S-pellets then to the crab. The takes to the crab pellet were real rod rattlers. The tip flying round as far and with as much force as a barbel generates when it heads for the sea. The difference being that before the baitrunner gave line the tip would spring back just as quickly, the rod literally rattling in the bite alarm.

After each bite I'd leave it a while and wind in to check the pellet was still intact. Even though I'd replace it if it was. Nine o'clock would be my set time to move. At ten to the downstream rod slammed round and back again. Should I wind in and move? Should I hope the bait was still attached and leave it where it was? Should I do the right thing and rebait and recast? I did the latter.

The church clock chimed nine. Bag packed, chair strapped to it, wind in the upstream rod. With my back to the river so the light from my head torch wouldn't shine on the water I was putting the hook in a rod ring to break the rod down when the alarm bleeped twice. I spun round cursing the chub. The alarm bleeped again. Maybe the fish was hooked? Another bleep and I dropped the rod I was holding and 'struck'. Chub on! A few initial thumps as per usual for a chub then it came easily. Under the rod tip it woke up a bit and proved surprisingly difficult to get up to the surface. When it did it had a typically big gob. As it slid over the net I saw it had a hell of a gut. It also took a while to slide over the net cord. Was it the long fat chub that had previously eluded me? Looking down on it as I staked the net out I thought it might be. I kept telling myself it was good five to save disappointment.

Now I had to unpack everything to get at the tripod and camera, and the scales. When on dry land the chub was even more impressive than it had been in the water. A good length and the fattest I have seen. The needle of the Avons described a full 180 degrees and some. I lifted the scales again to make sure I had read them right. Yep. It doesn't look much in the photograph, but chub rarely do for me.

Long and fat - the fish, that is!

Once photographed I was soon returning the most impressive chub I've seen. Not without mishap. The patch of mud that my right foot sank into over the top of my boot had looked very solid. Just as it had the last time I stepped on it. Fool.

With all the gear packed away for the second time in fifteen minutes I was on my way to what turned out to be the final swim of the night. The week's fishing was starting to take its toll on me. Apart from an aching back I was starting to doze off and the prospect of wrapping myself up in the sleeping bag was very attractive. At half ten that was what I decided to do.

Half an hour later I was cosy in the back of the car by the side of another river. I soon drifted off. My mind must have still been working because when I woke a couple of hours later I couldn't get back to sleep trying to plan for the last day. The wind was picking up. When the alarm sounded at five thirty I was awake again. The wind was now roaring through the bare branches of the trees. I was still undecided. I really wanted a crack at the Lion's Den but couldn't face the crowds. The Burdock swim is a reliable spot. I got up, put on my bunny suit and boots, and carried my gear to the peg. I felt rain so put the brolly up. The rain was just a few spots and soon passed. The sky clearing and the sun shining warmly I left the brolly up to keep the wind off my back.

Still feeling dozy I had my alarm switched on. The swim is too tight to fish two rods. Well, I have fished two but the upstream rod has only produced one smallish barbel. The place to cast to is some twenty yards downstream. An awkward cast given the surrounding willows. Willows that have been trimmed back since last year, since July in fact. The area has seen a fair bit of 'swim clearance'. It's obviously been seeing some attention this season. I noticed what looked like barrow tracks to one swim. Quite why I can't fathom. There's a stile to traverse by the car park and the swim is less than a hundred yards away. Still, just like rod pods, if you have a barrow these days you have to use it...

I'd settled in and it was time to put the kettle on, then fry the bacon later. Disaster! I had two gas bottle to choose from when I packed the food bag. One was three quarters full, the other about a fifth. I could visualise the fullest one sitting at home where I'd left it. I made the brew then had to ponder whether to fill the flask or cook the bacon. Reasoning that I could drink cold water but that uncooked bacon sarnies wern't too attractive the bacon won out.

My attention elsewhere I heard a single bleep. The rod had leaped out of the alarm! There's a strong flow in this swim, being on the outside of a bend. All you can do is hang on during the initial stages and allow the barbel to tire themselves on a long line against the bend of the rod. When they tire you have to lead them upstream. Brute force gets you nowhere. Steady pressure brings them up slowly like a dead weight. Everything went to plan and a weary barbel was drawn upstream of the net and allowed to drift down into its folds.

At the start of the week I was wondering if I could make it to ten doubles for the season. By the end of November I had caught eight and ten for the season looked easy. But then I'd thought that in October 2007 when I was on four and suffered a famine until the final night of the season. Now, with less than a full day to go I was on nine. Was this plumpster number ten? The scales said it wasn't. It was my 90th barbel of the season though - meaning that one in ten had been double figures, which I consider a decent percentage. It also meant I hadn't blanked at season's end, which is always satisfying.

Plump, but short

The wind continued to howl, the sun was bright and warm, I fancied a change of scenery. As the days have lengthened so the prospect of sitting in one swim all day wasn't too appealing. After managing to boil enough water to fill my flask I packed up at half nine, the stretch still devoid of anglers. I wasn't sure exactly where I was heading except it would be downstream. On a whim I stopped to look at a length that I have walked a couple of times but never fished because of the difficulty in accessing the river bank to fish and partly because of the cattle. It's not that I'm scared of cows or bullocks, it's the fact that the car parking is in the field and cattle damage cars. This time the field's only occupants were some far off Canada geese.

I walked to the river and the banks had been cleared. This work had revealed some tasty looking swims. Most more suited to summer fishing, at least to my eyes. Shallow streamy stretches lined by rushes, and similarly shallow runs with tangles of branches. I went back to the car, removed the brolly from the quiver to cut down on weight, and set off. Two baits were put out close in in a spot where the river narrowed. I had a slower crease upstream and more pacy water below it. There wasn't much depth but there was enough colour to give me confidence.

The wind really was blowing, barrelling up river creating small white capped breakers. The rods were bouncing in the rests, I felt like I was getting rosy cheeks. After less than an hour I wanted some respite. A wander further downstream found me some even more inviting, slightly deeper, swims under large trees. One had clearly been fished for chub in recent days. There were tell-tale crusts of bread on the bank. I was soon back with the rods.

As crab pellets had been doing the business I decided fish them on both rods. The S-pellets were removed and three crab pellets took their place. Because the hair had been tied to accommodate two 16mm pellets (and I'm lazy) I threaded on two 12mm crab pellets sandwiching an 8mm pellet between them.

Crab Pellet-Os

It wasn't long before the tip of the rod fishing the big bait signalled a chub pluck. Even under the trees the wind was sapping my enthusiasm. Two swans sought the haven offered by a cow drink on the far bank to rest from struggling against the wind. A hare lolloped across the field opposite while a lapwing wheeled and called above it. Had it not been for the wind I could have spent some time working that area. The big bait was taken again, this time the chub was hooked. A real beauty. Bold and brassy. Not quite a five but, as always with a first fish from a stretch, still pleasing. Time to go seek shelter.

A chub

By now I was feeling peckish. Back at the car I chanced frying some bacon on the last of the gas. It just made it. The flame flickering and dying just as the fat began to crisp. I reckoned that further on down river I could get out of the wind in one of the swims I'd fished a few weeks ago. Sure enough they were sheltered. I couldn't believe there was only one angler on the stretch - getting blown about in a productive, but exposed, swim. He was welcome to it!

Rods out I started to nod off as the swim was not only sheltered but getting the full benefit of the sunshine. I awoke to hear a car boot closing. Another angler had arrived with the same idea as me - to get out of the wind. I'd had one chub pluck, nothing conclusive though. With three, maybe four, swims that were out of the wind the new arrival chose to fish the one directly below the bush I was fishing to. Another move was called for. I wound the rods in and took one to check out a swim I hadn't inspected before. It was pretty interesting. Four or five feet of slower water close in with a neck down area in the river just above. It was protected from the wind too. It didn't speak to me though. I went back to my swim, packed the gear and headed for the car.

By now it was half four. I'd have time to look at the Burdock Swim again and if it was taken to head on to where I'd fished the previous two days. Driving down the lane to the river I saw what looked like sheep droppings all over the track. Sure enough as I drove into the field there were sheep everywhere. Ewes and their young lambs. Some of the lambs were tiny things and completely unaware what a car is. They made no attempt whatsoever to get out of the way. Quite the opposite. They walked towards the car. Further into the field where the track is quite deeply rutted there were lambs aplenty. They were small enough to make use of the ruts to shelter from the gale! I managed to drive round the lambs and reached the still deserted car park. It was going to be an interesting drive back dodging lambs in the dark!

Almost twelve hours, many miles of driving, and a bit of bank tramping later I had a bait back out where I'd started the day. Although surrounded by scrub and trees I put the brolly up to make for a pleasant last few hours. I was, by now, feeling the full effect of almost five days of fishing. Fresh air, sleep deprivation, exercise. I was starting to flag and could easily have headed for home. Not least because the food, like the gas, had run out.

At long last the wind started to drop as the light faded. The radio weather forecast predicted Sunday would be a day of light wind and high temperatures. Obviously... I was listening to an interesting Profile programme on R4 when the brolly suddenly lit up with a bright green flashing light and the air was rent by a high pitched wail. Either aliens were invading or I had a take. The rod being hooped right round rather hinted that aliens weren't involved.

The fight was a repeat of that from the first fish of the day. There was one difference. The weight I was trying to draw upstream felt heavier. The fish looked to be just as well filled out, but longer. I staked the net while I sorted the sling and sack. Taking the weight of the fish as I lifted the net by its arms it felt satisfyingly heavy. In my head I was guessing at eleven pounds. I was only an ounce out. My biggest off the stretch and number ten for the season. For the second time this swim had ended my season on a high. The fish was sacked briefly before the photos were taken.

Number ten

For release I put the fish in the landing net where she lay upright, gills working slowly, her head out in the flow, the mesh supporting her body. After a minute or two she moved her body gently from side to side and slid out of the net disappearing deep into the darkness.

Time to chill after sorting out the mess my swim had become. I rebaited and recast. I might as well. The spirit was willing to sit it out until midnight, but the body wanted some scran and to fall asleep. At eight thirty the rod was wound in and the river season was over for me. All that remained was to negotiate the sheep and hit the tarmac. Sure enough with acres and acres of grass to go at they were congregated along the track. At one point I had to get out of the car to shoo the dopey bleaters away.

Who says sheep are stupid?

My right hip hurts, my back aches and my 'good' knee is giving me gip. It's been a great end to the season but I'm all fished out - for now!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Three down, two to go

Catching barbel is fun no matter what their size, but catching big ones is more fun. With half a dozen modest fish under my belt already this week it was time for an away day. Not knowing what the river would be like I called in for some maggots en route. As soon as I saw the brown water I knew they were surplus to requirements.

Two other anglers were chatting in the car park by the riverside and one of them was a tench fishing acquaintance I hadn't seen since I bumped into him on this length of river last winter. It turned out that he was suffering a barbel famine and was off chubbing. I'm not sure why he was moaning about the lack of barbel after his golden summer of 24 doubles though! I hadn't planned on fishing the Alley, but it looked good, and there were just the two other anglers on, plus a roving chubber.

First of all I'd walk upstream, well past the Alley, to fish a a spot that looks like it's mid way between access points on the map and so I had usually approached from the other end. It turns out to be a much shorter walk going upstream. D'oh!

I spent an hour with a lump of meat fishing a slack behind a bush. A spot I hadn't tried before but looked the part. Tucked down the bank the wind was going over my head and I felt the full benefit of the warm air. The sky was bright but cloudy. Another grand day to be on the river bank. With the water coloured, up a foot or so and over eight degrees I was brim full of barbel confidence.

The first move involved fighting my way under a big old fallen, and chopped up, willow. Under this was the remains of a barbed wire fence and a stile. Over the fence and there was ditch to negotiate - with tree trunks for stepping stones. Going back in the dark might be fun! Now I was in familiar territory. I dropped in below a run of willow bushes, the meat going on their edge and a single 8mm pellet (crab, naturally) being dropped in downstream just in front of some overhanging grass. I sat back and relaxed.

No need to always fish 'beachcaster' style

The fieldfares are still around, although it won't be long before they head north again. A noisy flock of twenty or so flew into the top branches of a tall willow on the far bank before flying off to roost. Watching swans grazing in a distant field is a peculiar experience. What's more surprising, when you know what a performance they make of landing on water, is how easily they do it on dry land. Luckily the majority of them stayed where they were and didn't become a flotilla of white annoyance going up and down the river all night.

I have little faith in luncheon meat. It was changed to a couple of S-Pellets by half four. Originally I'd intended to move before dark. However, the swim gave me confidence and I sat there until seven. The only action being a slow chub pull to the S-Pellets. I packed the gear and braved the fallen willow. I thought that carrying all my gear over the 'stepping logs' would be more troublesome than it was. The fence proved to be the sticking point. Literally! Once through all I had to do was avoid falling off the path that follows the crumbling bank edge.

The swim I had in mind to fish next was occupied. Not a big deal there are plenty to chose from, and I chose the Gate swim that I have caught from before. By the time I reached it I'd worked up quite a sweat. The baits were positioned as before, the S-Pellet upstream to a crease, the crab pellet down to trailing branches. At eight there was a tap or two to the S-Pellets. This then developed into what looked like the tip action you get when a chub has hooked itself and isn't swimming off. I pulled into the fish. Or I would have done had there been one there. Instead the hook flew into the grass at the water's edge and refused to pull free. I slid down the bank, flashing the light from my Petzl everywhere and making a bit of a commotion to free it.

A fresh bag of pellets was applied to the hook and the bait recast. I'd give it half an hour on the off chance I hadn't scared any fish in the swim off then move again. Time to make up some more pellet bags. That done the pellet bucket was put back in the carry-all and I relaxed again. Hardly five minutes had passed when the isotope on the downstream rod became a blurry shooting star describing an arc towards the water. The baitrunner whirred into life and I grabbed the rod, stopping the spool with a finger before knocking off the baitrunner.

The fish wasn't moving. I thought I felt the line pinging off something. Maybe it was snagged? I kept the pressure on and then the fish thrashed on the surface. Now it was coming upstream. Relief! It felt like a decent one too. The first time it came to the net it looked a scraper double. The net was wrapped over itself and I had to flip it free. The fish powered off again, and again. When I slid it over the net I had to slide it further than I'd anticipated. Looking down as it rolled on its back in the mesh it was deep flanked, broad shouldered, solid and immaculate.

The net was staked out while I got the mat, sling and camera sorted. Then the fish was lifted ashore in the net, unhooked, weighed and four quick photos taken. It's a shame we don't have long to look at fish when they are landed. Some of them are worthy of admiration. But that's why we photograph them I suppose. Back in the water as soon as her tail was free of the folds of the sling she powered out into the river. Is that the best part of catching a big fish?

Broad shouldered, solid and immaculate - the fish, that is!

I needed a rest after all that! An hour later I was on the move again. It was a quiet night. Not much traffic along the lane. While still mild it was turning cooler. The moon was high and hazy behind the clouds. The flask was all but empty. The fish weren't biting. Quarter to eleven and I packed up making plans for the final two day assault.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On the tourist trail

I was in hunter gather mode this morning after visiting the Post Office. Among other things, I hunted down some pork pies and gathered a packet of frozen peas as I roamed the supermarket! Those tasks complete I filled my belly with sausage and mash then made two corn dog butties and was on my way.

After lugging my tip rod and a pint of maggots to a coloured river yesterday I almost left them behind. Reasoning that I might as well throw them in the river as leave them to turn into casters I took them back again. The river had dropped - in level, colour and temperature. Having arrived around two the maggot feeder seemed a good option. The upstream rod fished a piece of Spam for a change.

Although the day was overcast it was warm, almost 13c, and the wind light again. Only one regular was on the bank, just having a look before fishing so I let him have the swim I fished yesterday - he'd been blanking and I felt generous. Besides, I was going to fish upstream anyway...

It wasn't long before the double red maggots were picked up by a small brown trout. A blank saved after a fashion. An hour or so later on an identical bite produced something that fought differently and felt a bit bigger. I was hoping for a big chub, but it was a small barbel. Definitely a blank saved this time.

They look a bit different from this angle!

The next bite was identical. It produced another sea trout, as did the following bite to maggot. I've said it before that I don't understand why people fish for these spotty creatures. They fight like mindless idiots, dashing all over the place with no sense of purpose and then they cartwheel out of the water for no apparent reason. Maybe when they get bigger they are worth standing in a river wafting a stick and a bit of string about for like two loonies on the river today.

A tourist

By the time the third trout of the day had been returned it was time to prepare for dusk. The tip rod was stowed and a pellet rod broken out, the bait cast to the area the maggots had been going in. Things were quiet. It really was a joy to be out on a day that was almost warm. Lambs were playing King of the Castle on a pile of hay, their plaintive bleats echoing along the quiet valley. Bats were on the wing as dusk fell, no doubt feasting on the glut of small flies that had been drifting past all afternoon.

There was a slow, deliberate pull down of the rod tip followed by a sharp spring back to the meat. Probably a chub backing off with the bait then dropping it. The next bite came after dark to the pellet. A tip bouncer that resulted in a three pound chub. Half an hour later the tip did it again. This time it was a hard scrapping, but smallish, barbel. I'd heard there was a kinky one in the stretch. If that wasn't it there must be two.

Another for the oddity list

Thirty minutes later and the tip bounced for a third time. Another barbel, but normally proportioned and straight of spine, if a little smaller. The evening was warm enough for me to have to remove my woolly hat for a few minutes. I was getting the urge to dust off the bivvy and do an overnighter. By nine I thought it would be a good time to leave. Back at the car and the thermometer showed it was still 12 degrees. On the drive home the cloud started to clear and the big, bright moon was shining again.

Not much work to do tomorrow. I should be out and about after lunch - if not sooner. If only I could make up my mind where to go.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On the home straight

Today turned out better than expected - weather-wise and work-wise. By the time my courier called to collect I'd got the rods whipped up that needed doing and the sun was shining after a drizzly start to the morning! What's a boy to do on the final Tuesday of the river season? Butties were hastily made and gear hurled in the back of the car.

Driving into the valley the blue skies had a real springlike look to them. The sky was a warmer blue than of late. The grass in the fields was greening up and the trees hinting at buds with a less stark appearance. The river was up a good foot and carrying colour. That there were only three cars in the car park amazed me - especially as two were game anglers. I was purturbed to see the familiar figure of EH heading back to his van, though. It was only five o'clock and he'd had enough of blanking. Still, it meant I could fish his swim, over his bait!

I didn't race to cast out but it wasn't long before I had two rods out. Almost immediately I had a tentative enquiry to the downstream rod fishing my now obligatory single 8mm crab pellet. Five minutes later the rod top started bouncing and a small barbel of a couple or three pounds was soon returned. Of the months I've fished for them this season only December has been completely barbel-free. A small achievement - but much better than the lengthy barbel famine I endured last winter. Especially considering how cold this winter has been.

Only a baby - but a March barbel nonetheless

The woods opposite were alive with bird song of all sorts, including the first green woodpecker I've heard this year. Well before sunset the owls started their hootings. Sunset is coming later now, the heat went out of the day well before the sun had gone but when it stays light until after six-thirty it lifts my spirits. Once the clocks change it will be light until almost eight and spring really will be here. I even carry on working later when the evenings lengthen - which makes for more fishing time by getting more done each day.

As the sun set the stars came out in a crystal clear sky, not much later the moon shone brightly casting an eerie light across the fields and the tree tops. I was, of course, listening to the final test match from the West Indies and it was gripping stuff. As the tea break was coming to its end the downstream rod bounced again. This barbel was a little bit bigger than the first. The upstream rod had been motionless. Both remained immobile for another hour. Had it not been for the cricket I'd have packed in. The air temperature had dropped considerably to about 3.5c from the daylight high of over 10. The water temp was a pretty steady 6.7c, so action could have been more hectic.

I'd had a recast of both baits at eight. Ten minutes later the downstream rod came alive for a third time. This fish held station against the well bent Chimera 3, giving occasional thumps for a few seconds before everything went slack. It felt like the dreaded cut hooklink as I could still feel the lead as I wound in. But no. The hook was still attached. However the pellet had gone and the pellet stop was broken. I can only assume the fish had never been hooked and was pulling on the pellet lodged in the corner of its mouth.

A fresh bait was rigged on the hair, a new stop attached and the hook nicked into a PVA mesh bag of pellets. Again it was just ten minutes before the rod was bouncing. Another juvenile was netted and returned. By now all my gear was covered in dew and the moon was making me squint. Funnily enough I wasn't feeling cold. The test match reached its climax and I packed up.

Four more days of river fishing left for this season. Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

All work and no play

The penultimate week of the river season has been spent working. Trying to knock my catalogue into shape and building rods. I bought a pint of maggots yesterday (Saturday) when it was still mild but didn't get the chance to use them as I wanted to get a set of pike rods fettled. Today the wind is howling and when it's not been raining it's been hailing. Sod that for a game of soldiers! Come what may (and that's supposed to be some slightly warmer, if not drier, weather) I'll be out later in the week over the last few days. One day when conditions are favourable is worth a week when they are not. That's what I keep telling myself...

A soon as it's fit to go outside and take some photos I'll be putting some rods up for sale. The 'bream' rods I built last year never got used. So they'll be going. I also have a set of three 1lb 10oz Interceptors that are surplus to requirements and I could be tempted to part with a 1lb 4oz Torrix that I built for display and have used a couple of times.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Review - Sensas Easy Loop

Some time ago I mentioned a new toy. It was a Sensas Easy Loop. Two of them actually as there are two sizes in a pack. They look a bit like a cross between a small green, deformed, hockey-stick and a crochet hook. How they ever came to be designed I don't know, they are fiendishly clever.

Sensas Easy Loop

The smaller size makes loops that are good on the end of a hair rig and the larger one loops that go well on the end of a hooklink. The instructions are not too easy to follow and there is a bit of a knack to using the tool. But once you have the knack you can tie loops faster than you can by hand - small, neat, 'same size every time' loops. When you get the length of spare line that is required correct you can tie up quite short hooklinks.

I tested a loop tied with two twists in some 10lb braid against the hand-tied figure eight loop I have been using for some time on my hooklinks. I ran the test three times in fresh lengths of braid and the Easy Loop knot survived every time. I was so impressed I bought myself another pair to keep in my stillwater box.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The madness continues

Saturday morning was spent annoying match anglers in the local tackle shop while I was picking up a pint of red maggots and a tub of 12mm crab Pellet-Os. It being another warm day I expected the river to be packed out on a Saturday near the season's end. It was busyish, a foot up and coloured, a little cooler, but barbel had been caught. The peg I fished on Tuesday was free. It seemed as good a spot as anywhere to settle in. I'd taken three rods with me, the two usual Chimera 3s and a mongrel that I wanted to try out. One of the Chimeras cast a single 8mm Pellet-O downstream and the mongrel cast another upstream.

I sat down, tidied my gear and poured a brew from my flask. The cup wasn't half drained when I heard a baitrunner whirring and looked up to see the Chimera tip pulled over. Ten minutes in and I was returning a six and a half pounder to cat calls of derision from another angler whose swim had died!

Aye, eye!

Just over half an hour later I caught sight of the mongrel's tip stabbing repeatedly down and I pulled into a heavy feeling fish. Then I remembered the rod wasn't as powerful as the Chimera. It had a lovely through action though. This barbel was little heavier. I changed the rig over to fish one of the larger Pellet-Os. Just before 5.30 that bait was taken. Alas, I pulled out of the fish. My fault entirely, I should have tied on a fresh rig with a bigger hook and a longer hair. I swapped the mongrel for my other Chimera which was rigged like this and replaced the S-Pellet that was on the hair with a fresh one.

Dusk was falling but the action dried up. A few chubby rattles and taps but no proper bites. Darkness settled in and it stayed nice and warm. A good hour into darkness a three pound chub picked up the downstream bait, then a few minutes later the upstream rod started bouncing. This was to be the biggest, and last, fish of the session at seven pounds. I fished on for two more hours before winding in. I didn't fancy a late night as I planned to fish again on Sunday.

I was up with the lark on Sunday morning. A lark that had had a lie in... Even so I was on the road by nine. With the weather forecast to turn cold again I wanted to spend as much time on the bank as I could. If I had a plan it was to fish one venue for a few hours then hit the big fish stretch into dark. My plans changed and I ended up driving to a spot I hadn't fished since September last season - almost a year and a half ago. I set up in a swim near the car park that I had fished before and had a bite straight away on the maggot feeder. Then nothing more, even though the water was encouragingly warm at 8.3c and carrying a little colour.

The sun was shining, birds were singing, larks ascending. I was tucked away in the willows and sheltered from the still cool wind. Pleasant as it was I wanted bites. So I went for a walk downstream. Things had changed considerably. Swims I hadn't been able to see for the vegetation the last time I ventured this way had been made accessible. And they all looked inviting!

The first one I settled in was a rare old sun trap. There was enough heat in the midday sun for me to strip off the bunny suit and the fleece. However, it only took a wispy cloud drifting in front of the sun for me to put them back on again. It's still not summer. Like the majority of these swims it had overhanging bushes at either side, slackish water under the rod tip and the main flow creating a crease beyond the bushes. A bite came fairly swiftly to double maggot. A small chub.

Small but pristine

A switch to lobworm resulted in a positive bite and a fish that jagged like a perch before turning into another chub, a little larger than the first and with a throat full of mashed red maggots. There was a robin quietly singing in the bushes to my left. I threw some maggots towards it and it began to pick them off one by one, flying into the willows to eat each one in peace before returning for another. While I was relaxing watching the robin's comings and goings I noticed some fishing line in the willows. I untangled and removed most of it, including the rig that was attached.

Carbel rig

There are carp in the stretch, I've caught one, so I guess it could have been a carp rig. My guess is that it was used for barbel though. The short hooklink suggests an angler who either buys his rigs ready tied or can't think beyond carp rigs for anything - or both. I know short hooklinks catch barbel, but longer ones work much better. And there really is no need for a fixed rig like that on a river either. Still, I have another lead in the bag!

I planned to move again at four. That was when the quiver tip tapped again. Undeterred I moved anyway. After dropping my gear in one swim I moved it again to a more open swim with a bush directly upstream to my right and another a good few yards downstream. The flow was slow under the rod end, but not slack. It was an hour or more before I had a good pull to the lobworm. The strike unbelievably failed to connect. On inspecting the hook I saw the worm was balled up over the point.

The last of the clouds cleared from the sky and, as the sun lowered towards the top of the far bank, the air cooled. A cock pheasant chased a couple of hens about the field of sprouting crop on the other side of the river. A hare ran silhouetted along the ridge line. Two signs of spring as sure as the larks, lambs and motorcyclists I had seen and heard earlier in the day.

Another sign of spring

The isotopes were almost aglow when I started getting finicky plucks on the quiver tip. They weren't enough to make me stay. But I was unsure where to move to. I'd try the big fish stretch. This meant packing the gear in the car and a bit of a drive.

It was an hour later that I was setting up one rod in the Rat Hole by the bright light of a crescent moon. Even though I was out of the wind, now dropping in strength, I was getting chilly. After a couple of hours with the last of the tea in my flask cold, my nose colder still, I packed up. When I was putting the rods in the quiver I realised why my nose was so cold - there was some of that dreaded sparkly stuff on it. Back at the car the thermometer read 5.5c, but the roof would have made a nice skating rink for small animals. The gritters were out on the road home. My plans for a frantic end of season barbel campaign look to have been scuppered for now.