Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In the (relative) cool of the night

The heatwave arrived and day time was not for fishing. By the same token long summer evenings are not made to be spent watching telly or surfing the infernalweb, so I threw some barbel gear in the car, picked up a couple of chocolate bars and a bottle of pop from the Spar shop and hit the river. Still low, probably been up and dropped since last week, I had the stretch to myself again. After a red hot day it was a muggy, cloudy evening with a light westerly that died away after dark. I was quickly set up and fishing by nine thirty. It wasn't long before slow pulls started showing on the downstream crab Pellet O rod. I had a horribly slimy premonition. Sure enough when the pulls stopped and I wound the bait in it had been engulfed by an eel about a foot long. A new hooklink was required.

I had gone back to fishing with the PVA stocking bags. Mainly because I didn't have time to thaw out some feeder mix for this last minute session. I also like the way the freebies are closer to the hookbait. But I suppose there are times when fish might hang back from the free offerings, when a feeder could be a better bet. Or you could attach the bags to the lead instead of the hook to achieve a similar result.

While watching the rod tips I heard a disturbance on the far bank and saw a falcon fly up to the tops of the trees where it glided around in a faltering manner. At first I thought it was a kestrel, but I soon realised it was catching insects. The first hobby I have seen in the valley. Travelling light I didn't have my binoculars with me to get a better look.

Twenty minutes after the first eel it's twin came along to the same rod. And they say eels are in decline... The air temperature was 23 when I arrived and it wasn't falling fast. There was no need for my fleece until eleven, and even then it wasn't really essential, not even when the sky cleared a little and a few stars appeared.

Darkness saw a few sharp taps, and more than a few more violent raps as Nora and her mates flitted around over the water in search of the numerous flies. Those bat bites really can rattle the rod and get the adrenaline flowing. At eleven the adrenaline flowed for the right reason as I hooked and swiftly landed an eight pound barbel. The fight was unspectacular apart from a couple of attempted runs. On returning the fish it needed no resting. Low levels and flows, hot weather and high water temperatures keep anglers off the river. Fishing isn't always hectic, but barbel can be caught, and if landed in short time they come to no harm. That's my experience anyway.

At midnight another silvery eel hung itself on the downstream rod. They certainly like the crab flavour pellets. All the while the other, upstream, rod fished a 10mm Tuna Wrap. A couple of twitches were all the action they produced. Hard to imagine the eel's didn't fancy them given their catholic taste. While I have caught on the larger Tuna Wraps they haven't been the best of barbel baits. I don't think I'll be bothering with them again.

By half past one the rod tops had stopped moving so I headed for home, the car's thermometer reading 20. Maybe it's worth putting an overnighter in while the nights are still so short and warm? It would certainly be a pleasant way to spend a night. Or perhaps I ought to try and catch some 'proper' eels somewhere else?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Veni, vidi, blanki

Coincidentally Martha Reeves is in the UK - just as the radio weather forecasters say we're heading for a heatwave! The last few days have been pretty warm, but it's supposed to be getting hotter still. I managed to make my getaway on Thursday evening and was set up well before dark after a red hot sunny day. After a warm night, when I didn't need the bunny suit or sleeping bag, just lay under the bedchair cover, Friday dawned dull with tench rolling and tail slapping, both in my swim and well out of casting range. Hopes were high. Alas they were to no avail. When the afternoon grew sunny there were fish splashing about near the inaccessible reedbeds. Some were probably carp, but I have a feeling some were tench spawning. Whether they were spawning or not they certainly weren't picking up my baits.

I spent a fair amount of time watching a pair of grebes building a nest, diving down for weed and even twigs, dragging them quite some distance. I also gained a new friend in the shape of the mallard duck that had visited my swim on another occasion but now was much more bold. No messing about, straight on the bank to mop up my spilt hemp then waddling over to my bivvy with a greedy look in her beady eyes. After peering over the bedchair she ducked (cough!) underneath it for a look around, then a circuit of the outside of the bivvy and back again. I tore up a slice of bread and she had no qualms about taking pieces from my hand. I then placed a whole slice on the edge of my bedchair. This was soon snatched and taken away to be devoured.

Later in the day she returned. I hung on to my bread this time, but threw her a couple of dendrobena worms. These must have been a bit dry or spicy, because she had to go for a drink of water after devouring them before coming back hopefully for more.

Where's my lunch?

There was a little more visible tench activity in the evening, again failing to be matched with bobbin activity. Given that I had seen more tench during this session than the previous two I decided to stay put for a second night. There had been rain in the afternoon and the evening and night were muggy. A couple of bleeps to the margin boilie rod awoke me at three, but I managed to focus my eyes just in time to see the bobbin dropping back. Liner. Out with the last of the hemp, rebait the rigs and recast.

Saturday morning was quite still, the sky grey and a light mist blurred the distance. A couple of tench showed over the bait and even closer in. Still no pick ups. After breakfast I caught up on some sleep then packed up at eleven. As I hit the road rain arrived. With nothing better to do, and with thoughts of tench fishing starting to fade I set off to look at a couple of fisheries for a new challenge.

One was reputed to hold crucians and tench. It looked a bit of a hole in the ground to be honest, but it might be worth a chuck. The other was an ancient pool deep in the countryside holding a stock of wildies. I saw one carp caught, and another angler who had a load of carp (many small ones) cruising and crashing out in front of him. This was a much nicer place to be, especially on a damp midsummer afternoon with rain beginning to clear, warm drips falling from the trees and mist over the fields of wheat. I could see how carp fishing appealed to people when it was all carried out on waters such as this - but with fewer anglers about.

A vision of the past

My nostalgia isn't shared by everyone. I'd been prompted to seek out this pool by a conversation with a carp angler who had said it was a lovely place. He then went on to say that if it was his fishery he'd drain it, remove the numerous native carp and replace them with thirty big fish. Why do people want monoculture fishing? What's wrong with a bit of variety?

I've got a bit of work to get done this week, so I'll be playing it by ear dependent on the weather. I might have one more desperate try for a tench or two, or I might give those wildies a try, there's also a rudd pit that's come back on my radar. Then again a certain river I called in at looked rather enticing. If it does turn hot, with muggy nights I suppose the eel rods could get some use. Thank heavens all waters aren't chock full of twenty pound carp.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The shortest night

With all the work I could get done out of the way, and the T20 World Cup finals over in short time I was getting twitchy as I hadn't wet a line since Monday. In anticipation I'd prepared some hemp and fancying a dusk into dark session thought I'd fish the feeder for a change, so I'd tipped in some crushed halibut pellets to soak up the hemp juice and form a binding, and attractive, mush. Originally I'd planned to set off around eight, but by the time the Archers was over I could stand it no more. An hour later I was walking the banks of a deserted stretch of river that didn't seem to have been fished much during the first few days of the season.

The river was painfully low, bare rocks showing that are usually betrayed by the disturbance they create on the surface, and hardly any flow on the bend. Small fish were topping and splashing, so it didn't look as 'dead' as it can. The level had obviously been higher judging by the damp line on the rocks and there was a slight peaty tinge. I wasn't expecting action until dark so took my time setting up.

I'd tried to travel light by leaving the rucksack behind and putting everything in my bait carry-all. It didn't really work and I felt more disorganised than usual. By quarter past eight I had two feeders out, one fishing an 8mm crab Pellet O and the other a piece of fake maize for a change. It wasn't long before the maize was replaced by a 10mm Tuna Wrap. I'll save the plastic baits for a time I know there are plenty of barbel to be caught.

A 50g cage feeder was all that was required in the slow summer flow

The wind was light and the sky cloudy, but it being the day of the Summer Solstice darkness was a long time coming. At eleven it was as dark as it would get. Few bats were seen, and fewer chub pulls. Unusual. My intention was to fish until about one. By midnight my hopes were starting to fade when I heard the sweet sound of a baitrunner spool spinning and saw the downstream pellet rod arced over for the first time this season. There was a satisfying steady pull on the end of the line, it felt like it might be half decent. A couple of runs and I was starting to play the 'guess the weight' game. When the fish hit the light from the Petzl it looked smaller than it felt. In the net I wasn't sure. Three months since I'd last seen or weighed a barbel and my powers of weight estimation had deserted me.

The scales revealed the answer, just on nine pounds, maybe a shade over. Not a bad way to kick off the river season and nice to get a bend in a rod again after a couple of blank tench sessions. Would there be more barbel to come?

Off the mark

As it turned out there wouldn't. There was a slight sign of hope when the same baitrunner burst into life when the adrenaline had worn off and my eyelids were starting to droop half an hour after returning the barbel. That turned out to be a chub of some three or four pounds that soon gave up the fight. By one I was wide awake again and decided to give it another hour. By quarter to two I'd had enough and began to tidy the inessentials away. As I did so drizzle started to fall. Time for bed.

Driving away I turned into the village to hear a loud metallic rattling and screeching sound coming form some part of the car. I pulled over and shone the head torch underneath expecting to see something dragging on the road. There was nothing. I set off again and the noise quietened until I turned another corner when it came back only to fade away on the straight. At the next bend, crossing a bridge, the screeching started as I turned the wheel, then shut up and came back as I turned the other way over the bridge. Once more I pulled over for a look. Nothing to be seen. Having had a wheel bearing fitted last week I decided to take the wheel off. None the wiser I put it back. I'd set off again and if the noise was there I'd call the AA. Off I went, there was a bit of a squeal then it went. Round some bends and silence. I drove home expecting a wheel to fall off at any moment. By the time my head hit the pillow at 3.30 dawn was cracking a smile

Back to the mechanic today for an inspection I think. Cars? Can't live with them, can't fish without them. The most important bit of tackle you have.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thought for today

I have long thought that fishing and art are interchangeable. For me at least. Both provide a never-ending quest, filled with challenges to be overcome and problems to be solved. Listening to the radio today I heard someone quote Albert Einstein.

If you think of the following in terms of angling it makes a lot of sense. It is the mystery of luring often unseen creatures of unknown size from an alien medium that leaves us in awe of them when we succeed.

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."

Monday, June 15, 2009

In-line maggot feeders

Over the last two tench seasons I have been doing well with in-line maggot feeder rigs. I can't say for sure that they are any better than heli-feeder rigs, both have caught me plenty, but they do work well. Nowadays there are commercially available models, but the new Drennan ones only start at 56g but I have been quite happy with smaller, lighter feeders. For one thing 30g is quite enough to hook fish using short hooklinks and a tightened baitrunner, and for another I don't always like putting too many maggots out around my hookbait. Extra weight can come in handy for casting into a headwind or when adding a PVA bag to the rig. For this reason I have knocked up some 50g feeders. While I was doing so I took some photos to illustrate the process.

I start out with a large Preston Innovations Quick Load Feeder of the desired weight. The tools required are simple .

Tools and materials

The only materials required are some soft plastic tube - that from a camera bulb release is a perfect fit for a size 10 Power Swivel - and an optional tail rubber. The first job is to cut off the swivel, remove the cap and flick out the remains of the swivel attachment. Then bore a hole in the bottom of the feeder and another in the cap.


The key to a glueless assembly is to make sure the hole you make in the bottom of the feeder is just large enough to accept the plastic tube. Bore it slowly and carefully. I start out using the point of my penknife, follow up with the augur, and finish off with the reamer. When the tube won't quite fit, stop. By twisting the tube slightly you can 'screw' it through the hole and when you pull it straight the tube expands from a partially twisted state and locks in place. A smear of superglue around the join does no harm.

Use the curve the tube has taken on while coiled up to your advantage. Get the alignment right and it will angle both the mainline and the hooklink downwards which should improve presentation and help pin the line down above the feeder.

The hole in the cap should be a loose fit to allow the cap to slide easily along the tube. Slide on the cap and trim the tube to a length that suits you and allows easy filling of the feeder. The tail rubber on the end of the tube prevents the cap sliding up the line when you are filling the feeder. Again a smear of superglue around the tail rubber can be advantageous.

Before and after

That's about it. All you need now are to add some maggots... and some tench!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Life is short

I suppose it's inevitable as you grow older, but I've lost two good friends in the last year. Two blokes who were like chalk and cheese but bonded by a shared enjoyment of fishing. I met them both for the first time back in the early 'eighties when piking on various venues in the north west of England and south west Scotland.

Dave Standing was what is often known as 'a character'. Always ready with a witty (or not!) quip, always looking on the bright side of life and never known to be miserable. Nothing phased him. One time he did an entire slideshow in reverse order to an audience who didn't know him from Adam. After a few slides they were rolling in the isles!

James Holgate, who died last night, wasn't scared of stating his opinions in print, but in person he could come across as reticent and stand-offish, even humourless. He was often asked to do slide shows and always said 'no'. Yes, he was shy and quiet, but when he got to know you he would reveal his funny side (it was James who sent me the Nasty Mice picture and many more - some potentially libellously) amusing pictures and e-mails.

I owe James a lot when I look back. He bought rods off me when I was starting out in the rod building lark when I'm sure he didn't really need them. It was James who published my rig book, the royalties from which helped me out while DLST got established, and, of course, he started Pike Fisherman (which turned into Pike and Predators) opening up a whole new market for me. I am eternally grateful for that.

That James and Dave used to fish together on a regular basis for many years would seem an odd pairing (I'm sure they infuriated each other at times!) but they did. That's part of the magic of angling. I'll remember them both, often.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What on earth is that?

It's a float!

I like to think I'm nothing if not versatile... My efforts at float fishing didn't last long. The tench weren't showing, so I was on a loser to start with. What was interesting, however, was that setting the float revealed a depth of around eight feet, while using the plumbing rod suggested six. For the most part plumbing with a marker rod is done to find changes in depth, so accuracy isn't all that critical, but if it shows a depth of three feet when it's actually five it might affect swim selection. I might take the Smartcast next time and compare that to the plumbing set up.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Feathered friends

A few weeks ago I watched a pair of coots feeding their scruffy looking brood. I eventually counted there to be six chicks. At that time they were spending most of their time hidden under the trailing branches overhanging the margins. Occasionally one or two would venture out to greet mum or dad to get a beakful of food. Even at that size the adults would admonish a chick by harrying it and appearing to peck at it. As the day wore on they became braver, and sometimes five would come out into the open water. There always seemed to be one that hung back. I didn't expect all the chicks to survive.

Now they are considerably bigger and braver, and there are still six of them, and they still get told off by their parents. And there is still one that spends a lot of time on its own - which is why there are just five youngsters in the photo below. They must be half grown now. Still taking food from their parents in a noisy rush each time one pops to the surface, they follow them round the lake but have learned to dive and are discovering what boilies are!

Family life

Although the coots were entertaining, it was a pair of great crested grebes that provided me with the more interesting sight. Grebes eat fish, so it took me a while to realise that a pair which were some way off making upward stabbing motions, stretching their necks sharply in all directions, weren't doing it for exercise. They were taking advantage of an evening hatch of insects. Opportunistic feeding.

I also had a close encounter with a mallard. A particularly forward female that flew into my swim and mopped up every spilled hemp seed it could find while it's mate stood guard at the water's edge. This made me happy because it left next to nothing for the rats to feast on after dark and they pretty much left me alone.

Fishingwise it was pretty much like last time. I fished the same spots, with the same rigs and caught a few more tench to keep my hand in. The females I caught, however, were nowhere near as fat as the two I had last time out. Solid, but not podded up. I should have come home before the rain set in, the temperature dropped and the tench stopped showing themselves on the surface. I've caught tench in the rain, but it's been warm rain. One day I'll learn something and it will stick.

The in-line feeder scores again

Monday, June 01, 2009

Gotta get outta this place

Last week, being a short one following the Bank Holiday, saw me unable to get away tenching. Infuriating as the weather was warm and settled. The red eyed blighters must have woken up. The Saturday after my trip south for the bream I'd bought a pint and a half of red maggots which were residing in the fridge - on the off chance that I could have sneaked away. Last Saturday I bought another pint on the same premise. Sunday morning and I cracked. I had this week planned out, but I could stand no more thumb twiddling resulting from a lack of blanks to build on (Harrison's are short-staffed so are playing catch-up). The gear found itself getting readied.

I was expecting the first few hours of daylight to be the key time, so there was no rush to get set up well before dark. With dusk coming around ten, now summer is all but here, I had no need for a large food bag and set off after tea. Driving through the verdant late spring landscape in the early evening light, sillaging under way, the hawthorn blossom faded elder flowers taking its place, anticipation was high.

Just as the roads had been quiet so the lake was deserted. I had my pick of swims so headed to the south west corner which the warm north easterly was blowing in to. I took my time plumbing, then baited up two spots with some hemp cooked that very afternoon, laced with a light mix of pellets and old maggots. for the night I placed an in-line maggot feeder on the close in patch which had been baited by catapult, a method feeder with two grains of fake corn on the more distant patch and a 10mm Tutti with a bag of Hemp and Hali Crush to an unbaited clear patch.

Darkness was slow arriving as I lay back scanning the water from under my Aqua Rover Brolly - just big enough to cover the bedchair and fine for a warm dry night. The wind had dropped, but not died away so the brolly was welcome. Around eleven I was surprised to see tench rolling over my bait and in the general area. This went on for at least an hour, but the alarms didn't sound. Nor did they disturb my slumber.

I woke at three thirty to the sound of a coot chasing away a pair of grebes. There was a red glow low on the horizon and it was starting to slowly come light. A few birds were singing and as the day grew brighter as I drank the first brew of the morning so more joined in the chorus greeting the dawn. A tench rolled. I rebaited all the rods, the boilie on the helicopter rig being swapped over to a couple of plastic casters and the lead to a feeder. More tench rolled and tail-slapped. It was fully light. Having seen tench moving closer in than my closest baited spot I wound in the helicopter rig and added a small PVA bag with a few maggots in to mask the hook and beat the weed. A new trick for me, but one other tenchists have been using for a while.

PVA bag adds buoyancy and keeps the hook point clear of weed while providing added attraction

The bobbin on the helicopter rod lifted to a tight line, then dropped back as I got to the rod expecting the spool to commence spinning. As I was about to settle back on the bedchair it rose again. This time it stayed up and the rod top twitched. I lifted the rod and felt a fish on the end. Initially the fish came easily until it hit the margin when it woke up big time. I was convinced it would be a male, but it wasn't. It was a well filled out female.

Fit to burst

Had the bag done the trick? I wound in the in-line feeder and added a bag to that before recasting both rods. Two hours later, with the water sparkling in the sunlight, that rod was away. Another well filled out fish was soon landed. By now the rolling had abated. Three hours later I was on my way home after breaking this year's tench duck following another instance of that mysterious inspiration to fish an unplanned session.

April I could (just about!) live with being tench free, May shouldn't have been - but I suppose I didn't get the chance to put enough time in to find the fish (I blame the Bank Holidays - and bream!). Here's hoping I can make the most of June before the spawning urge overcomes the tench.