Friday, November 27, 2009

Back on-line

The new PC is plugged in and the router has finally arrived. It hadn't been set up right, so getting back into gear took a bit longer than expected. But now I have a whizzy new computer and a great big screen that makes my blog look awful! Sorting that out is probably beyond my capabilities, so my apologies to everyone who has been viewing it like that for ages. [I've managed to make it look right in Firefox - but it's gone worse in Internet Exploder... So if you browse using IE, tough!]

It should look something like this

Anyway. If anyone reading this tripe has e-mailed me recently there's a good chance I've lost your contact details (or won't be able to find them). If so please send me an e-mail to so I can update my contact list.

Still no fishing as I've a few rods that I am able to complete (another order of rings has failed to materialise in full so it's two steps forward, one step back).There's snow forecast for the northern Pennines, which means I might have to sneak a session in before it melts and cools the river too much, or I might head south and try a warmer river - or go pike fishing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No internet = no fishing + no blogging

I'm trying to get a new computer up and running and connected to the interweb - so far without success. The old one I am using for this is on its last legs! So no fishing until it's all sorted out, and no blogging either.

Orders through my webshop will be experiencing delays in processing during this period and e-mails will go unanswered for a while. I would be grateful if any sent in the last few days that have not yet had a reply could be resent when I announce my cyber-return on here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Spate rivers really are forces of nature, as the floods in Cumbria this week clearly illustrate. When it comes to fishing them they can be tricky to get to grips with at times. The day after my last session the Ribble was over its banks. There'd been little rain since the river had risen so it would have dropped by the time I arrived on Friday afternoon. How much it had dropped by remained to be seen.

My first impression was that the level was about four feet up on normal level. The tideline of beech leaves in the car park showed where it had peaked. I decided to walk the stretch and see where was fishable. As I went up river there was flotsam hanging above my head in the lower branches of a bankside tree, and more flotsam in the field. My guess was that the level had dropped some eight feet since its peak.

There are plenty of molehills in the field, some near the bank's edge had obviously been over-topped by the river, a couple had what I took to be escape holes. Poor old moley must have been flooded out. As long as the moles had made it to the surface they would have been okay. I once watched one swim some distance along the edge of a reservoir I was tench fishing. Moles are good swimmers. The beach (which was underwater) looked worth a try, but then so did a couple of creases closer to the car park.

Making my way back to the car I saw another angler coming along the river. After chatting for a few minutes we went our separate ways. Expecting him to head for the bend I used the opportunity to fish one of the spots nearer the car. A flock of goldfinches flew up and across the river as I made my way to my chosen swim. The ground was firm where I put my chair, which made a pleasant change from sinking into leaves or silt. The flow in the edge looked to be just the right pace with a slight crease being formed by a gentle bend in the river. With the level having dropped so much I expected the leaf problem to be minimal. Most would have been lifted off the margins and should all have been dropped by now. If only.

As I sat tying bags and drinking tea the rod tips gradually pulled down. The downstream lead dragged, all six ounces of it. The upstream lead didn't move. That one was only three ounces and I had a horrible feeling I knew why it hadn't shifted. After recasting the downstream rod a couple or three times, stripping the line of leaves, I had to move. The upstream rod was snagged solid. The lead came adrift and the hooklink cut through when I pulled for a break. After retackling, this time with a rig incorporating a Hair Rigger to fish a lump of luncheon meat, I wound in the leaf strewn downstream line and set off intending to fish a slack below some rapids. The other angler would be on the beach if he had any sense.

Easy luncheon meat rigging

The day was warm again, late November shouldn't be giving air temperatures in the low teens. There was a strong westerly blowing, but moving upstream the far bank took the edge off it. When I threw my thermometer's sensor in the river it gave a reading of ten degrees. If I could find a barbel in a spot where my rig would hold out success was guaranteed. They had to be on the chew.

I couldn't believe it when I saw the slack was occupied. The angler hadn't caught yet, although he said leaves weren't a problem. Lucky sod! I carried on, my right hip starting to nag. The bank was slippy in places after the rain and I think I had jarred my leg sliding awkwardly at one point. I was wishing I had left my brolly in the car to lighten my load.

The beach was well covered in water. Some deposited debris seemed to be a little further from the water's edge than when I'd walked up earlier. The flow looked as if it would be pushing the dreaded leaves across and away from where I intended casting my baits. The bank I set up on was the terrace. Previously firm ground with grass and other vegetation. Now it is covered in a layer of sandy silt. One good thing was that the deep layer of leaves which had covered the beach had been replaced by silt. There can't be many more to come down the river.

Each successive flood reminds me that the river is constantly changing. Obvious things like dead trees appearing and disappearing. There are more subtle changes like sand banks changing shape and moving downstream. The silt that's deposited in the slacks must be the remains of rocks that have been ground fine as they roll down the river. I've not experienced it myself, but I've been told that at the height of a big flood rocks can be heard moving against each other as they are shifted by the current. Looking at debris on the banks you can see how sharp edges are ground smooth on everything from branches to bricks to bits of plastic. Come spring and the silt will be consolidated as next year's growth sprouts through it. As one bank erodes so another is extended.

With my chair's legs sunk in the silt the baits were cast out. Meat upstream, boilie down. The first casts went a little too far and the rigs soon shifted as leaves dragged them out of position. Dropping them closer they held for longer. I'd been expecting a rod to pull over as soon as I arrived in the swim. Four hours later things weren't quite going to plan. I should have had a netful of barbel with the water so warm and coloured. Maybe the flow wasn't strong enough to push the fish close to my bank. If my hip hadn't been troublesome I might well have packed up and headed for a different swim or another stretch.

At least the evening was warm and dry. In fact the wind dropped after dark, which was good as the sky cleared a little and the air temperature began to fall. So did the water. I noticed there were fewer leaves on the lines. The boilie rod was cast further out and more downstream. It held for longer. Even so my confidence was waning. All thoughts of barbel gone from my mind I let my eyelids rest while I psyched myself up to face the lengthy limp back to the car.

I'd only been thinking a few minutes earlier that I hadn't had a take that ripped line noisily from the reel for a while when the aching hip was forgotten as I jumped out of the chair and picked up the boilie rod. I guess any leaves on the line came off during the fight, which was pretty good with the extra water in the river. To net the fish I'd had to step down from the terrace and onto the beach, then paddle out a foot or two so the net could reach deep enough water. The silt was quite well compacted and I didn't sink up to my ankles as I thought I might. The barbel saved a blank, and wasn't a bad one at a few ounces under nine pounds. There would have been a photo of it on the mat here if the battery in my compact hadn't chosen the moment I pressed the shutter release to die on me.

The level was dropping well. Another couple of hours and it would be spot on. Every time I moved my hip hurt. I'd give it another half hour, but no longer. At half past eight the rods were stowed in the quiver, the chair strapped to the ruckbag and both loaded on my feeble frame. Off I set, only stopping for a couple of brief rests on the way, passing no other angler. I'll be dosing myself with Ibuprofen and doing some work for a rest before hitting the river again.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More bloggy stuff

Checking my web stats again I saw a few visitors had come from Chris Ponsford's site, so I clicked through to find out why. I met Chris at the Tackle and Guns trade show a month ago and it turns out he said some nice things about me in his 17/11/09 blog. You can find Chris's site here, and I've added a link to his (infrequently updated) blog on the right. He takes some fine photos. I hope he won't mind me sticking one here to brighten the place up.

Leaping salmon by Chris Ponsford

Some blogs on Blogger feature a 'next blog' link. In the past this was purely a random link but now the feature (usually) takes you to a blog of a similar nature to the one you are visiting. I waste many an hour surfing the 'next blog' link. A lot are US based and/or flyfishing oriented. There's good and bad, as with the whole of the blogosphere, but there is some really nice stuff to read or, more usually, look at.

As this blog doesn't have the Blogger link I've added it to my list of fishy blogs. Click on Random Blog to start your journey into a fishy timesuck.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Barbel karma's gonna get you

Work plans went out the window today. But as one window closes another opens. The sun was shining with heavy rain predicted to be on the way. The chance was too good to turn down. After lunch I was on my way, dazzled by the low sun. Yet again I was spoiled for choice and couldn't decide where to go. In the end I parked in an empty car park well up river. Taking advantage of the deserted bank I went for a walk to suss out a floodwater swim I'd been told about.

On my way along the river I passed a sad and sodden pink teddy bear, face down in mud, lost and forlorn. I can understand how footballs end up in rivers, but some of the other stuff (there's a broken toy keyboard on another stretch) make you think alien abduction is involved. The swim looked inviting, but maybe needed a bit more water. The level was still up about eighteen inches, probably having risen a tad since Sunday, but dropping slowly with a nice touch of colour still.

Half an hour after arriving I was setting up in a favoured swim at the top of the bend. I liked the look of the flow patterns. A boilie was cast out downstream on the crease line while I tackled up the other rod from scratch. It had started to rain so the brolly went up. Another reason for choosing this swim was that it felt more sheltered from the strong, and chilling, westerly. Lacking an ability to peg the brolly down that was a consideration. The tip of the first rod bounced back then pulled down as the lead shifted. I'd chance leaving it. The hook wasn't even tied on the second rod when the first tip began a merry dance. Then the rod hooped over and the reel started spinning. That hadn't taken long. It was only a tiny barbel but it meant I hadn't blanked and my run of luck was continuing. The rain even stopped!

Another blank saved

With two baits in the water I settled down to the customary bag filling exercise. A few were filled when the bucket lid blew off the rucksack and rolled along the bank towards the water. I ran after it and picked it up. As I turned round my brolly tumbled past me. And into the river. It was only in the edge, in an eddy that I thought was shallow. It was on its side. It would be easy enough to retrieve. I walked towards the umbrella to see it roll, the pole rising like Excalibur held aloft. Then it sank gracefully from sight. The eddy was deeper than I thought.

Now I had to try and get the blasted thing back. I wound in one of the rods and started casting around the slack. Ten minutes of fruitless casting and retrieving later I gave up. At least I now knew a bit about the slack. It might be worth fishing at certain levels. The bait was recast to mid river on the crease and I sat back to consider that my bad luck with umbrellas this season must be my punishment for catching too many barbel. I wasn't too bothered about losing the brolly. It was old and the cover was past its prime, pulling away from the rib ends and looking papery thin. The Gardner screw in pole was more heartfelt a loss. More rain fell and I zipped up the pockets on my ruckbag then tightened the cord round my jacket hood. It pulled right out. Now it would blow off my head and I'd get no shelter at all from the rain.

As I pondered which brolly to risk next time out - the amazing collapsing one (which lead me to buy two new ones, of which there is still no sign of a replacement for the exploding one) or the brand new heavyweight 45 incher - the downstream rod tip pulled over. The reel spun again and as soon as I felt the weight I knew this was no baby. The power was incredible. Line ticked off the spool with the rod hooped to its limit. Either someone had stocked mahseer or I'd hooked my brolly. I tried to get below the brolly (I'm sure that's what it was) to alter the angle of pull. As I did so the line grated and parted. The day was not going well. Another rig lost.

With a fresh rig tied and a bait out again I was restless. I don't know why because the swim looked good. It just felt wrong. The level had dropped an inch or two and I fancied a different swim. I moved the rods downstream. There were no leaves coming down to speak of, just a bit of slimy grass-like stuff. I reckoned a six ounce lead would hold well out. The rain had ceased and the sky looked clearer upwind. It only took ten minutes for a bite to materialise. True to the form of the day the rig was irretrievably snagged. Once more I retackled.

At ten to five, as the light was going, the same rod bounced. This time all went well and a small barbel was unhooked at the edge. Ten minutes after recasting the boilie rod was away again. This felt a better fish, but there was something not quite right. It was dark now so hard to see the line, the rod tip suggested that the line was entering the water rather closer than it should have been. Then everything went solid. The line was round something. I walked downstream and pulled to no avail. Back to the swim and put the rod back in the rests. Baitrunner on and line was taken. I took the slack back up and had a brew. A little line was taken then nothing. The brew finished I picked the rod up and felt for the fish. Nothing. I pointed the rod at the snag and took a step backwards. Movement. Another step. More movement. It seemed as if I was pulling the snag towards me. I began to pump line back on the reel and the snag kicked a little. The fish, as they often do after being left to find their way out of a snag, didn't fight. Not a massive fish but bigger than the other two put together.

Patience pays

By now I was considering when to fish until. If it started raining I'd pack up immediately, if not then I'd listen to the Archers before packing up. The upstream rod was fishing closer in than the downstream rod that had produced all the bites. I swapped them round and cast the upstream rod further out. At six twenty the upstream rod gave the inimitable performance of pulling down and springing back repeatedly as the lead was dragged downstream by a fish. Only a little one this time. After recasting the boilie I put a bigger lead on the downstream rod and cast that further across too. All was quiet. The Archers closing theme tune faded away. I began to wind in the downstream pellet rod. The rig was half way back when I caught sight of the other isotope performing it's upstream-bite performance. The rod I was holding was put in its rests and I wound down on the other rod. It took a while to take up all the slack but the fish was on. A second seven pounder.

I was tempted to chuck out again, but didn't. No sooner was I on the road home than I wished I had done. For the middle of November it's unseasonably mild. When I arrived the thermometer read 12, when I left it said 11. The river's in good nick, still eight degrees plus and nicely coloured. The barbel are feeding. Like my good fortune the weather can't last much longer.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On the move

Saturday evening saw me doing something I hadn't done for a long time. Twisting up some pike traces. That done I removed my bait tubs and barbel box from my rucksack and replaced them with my cooking gear, drop-back alarms and pike box. Then I checked over my pike quiver and rods before going to bed early. All I'd have to do would be fill water bottle, throw the bacon and bread in the rucksack and get some deadbaits out of the freezer. I was going to have a day on a stillwater taking it easy. I must have been full of anticipation because I woke just before the alarm on Sunday morning. Then I turned the alarm off and considered my next move. Back to sleep. I knew the barbel were feeding on Friday. The river would have risen a touch with Friday night's rain but would be dropping back again. The leaves should have flushed through. An afternoon session might be productive.

The morning passed quickly with a little work then I swapped out the pike gear for the barbel stuff. Piking can wait until the barbel are hibernating. Lunch was the bacon I'd intended taking fishing. There wasn't much in the way of pack-up so it was honey sandwiches to accompany the flask. I was on my way on a still and warm afternoon. But with no idea where to head for. Somehow I ended up on the bleak stretch, another car following me into the muddy car park. I managed to park on firm ground. The other guys struggled a bit. After a chat we went our separate ways. I headed downstream to a spot I fancy when the river is up as much as it was. The level was falling steadily, hard to tell by how much when you haven't seen a stretch recently.

My baits were out as the church clock struck two. They held nicely on the crease and very little rubbish was collecting on the lines. Tiny fish were topping in the slack, with occasional larger swirls that could have been made by bigger fish feeding on them. Further down the river and angler was catching steadily on the float. I wished I'd picked up some maggots on Saturday as I'd half planned to do.

About an hour before dark I heard a wader calling as it flew upriver. As I spotted it I saw it jink and hit the water, disappearing. Most unusual for a wader. A split second later I saw the sparrowhawk that had been chasing it veer across the river and up into the trees behind me. Then the wader reappeared and flew back whence it came calling in continued alarm. I'm not great on identifying waders, especially at distance in the gloom against a dark river bank, but I think it was redshank.

That was all the action there was before dark. The clock struck five and a move was called for. My original plan was to walk upstream of the car park and have a try there. Back at the car my plan changed. The river higher up still would have fallen more, the leaves that had been an irritation on Friday should be non-existent, I might be able to hold out further across if I fished the same swim again. How to get there? I chose the scenic route for no particular reason other than it was easier, if longer.

It seems odd turning up to fish an evening session in the dark. But arriving at six o'clock is actually a fair bit earlier than I get to the river during the summer. It's not without its drawbacks though. You don't have time to get your casting muscle memory tuned so you can hit the same place reasonably accurately like you can when fishing an hour or two in a swim in daylight. You can't always read the flow too well either. So long as you know the swims it's not too bad though.

The sky was clear, no rain forecast until I'd be long tucked up in bed, no cars parked up meaning my swim would be free so I left the brolly in the car to lighten the load. The level had indeed fallen. I wanted to position myself further downstream than Friday. The bank, though, was deep in leaves. Even with the legs of my chair at full extension I was sat too low. The silt was also a mess. In the end I put the chair well back on almost firm ground, but had to sit with my feet in mud. An hour after packing up downstream I was cast out again. Not without trouble.

Winding in my downstream rig it had found the rock pile I was hoping held a fish rather too well. The hook had parted company with the line. That needed replacing. More annoyingly the other rig, which I'd hoped to cast straight out, maybe with a fresh bait on, had got tangled up on the walk to the swim. Try as I might it would not untangle. Sweat was running down my forehead when I arrived at the swim, I was hot and bothered, my specs steaming up making it impossible to see the knotted line. I had to cut and start again. With two baits cast out it was time to cool down and have a brew.

Again the rigs were holding easily. Again nothing much was happening. No chub or eel bites to make me leap up in anticipation. England got hammered by the South Africans and I was beginning to feel the river was going to hammer me too. The night was particualrly black. There wasn't much I could make out in the woods. But it was mild and windless. Not unpleasant. I'd give it three hours or so. I was leaving the baits out for almost an hour at a time. Nothing of note was collecting on the lines and even three ounces was holding well enough.

At ten to nine the downstream rod, with the Oyster and Mussel boilie, began doing a chub dance. The fish felt more like an eel, but was indeed a chub of a pound and a half, or thereabouts. I rebaited, put on a fresh pellet bag, recast and sat back down. This cast I chanced a little closer to the snags. It only took five minutes for the tip to pull down and stay down. Then the ight and sound show started. Immediately I pulled into the fish I got the feeling it was decent. Certainly no chub. As it rolled ready for the net the size of it's mouth suggested a scales job would be called for. With the net laying in the edge I got the sling and scales. As I stepped forward to dunk the sling my left foot sank through what had looked to be leaves on the bank but turned out to be quickleaves. Like quicksand but leaves. My foot was damp and cold.

"A double's a double"

Although the fish looked, and felt, heavier she only just scraped over the ten pound mark. Rather lean of belly she was. The fish was popped back in the net rather than messing around with the sack while I got hot and bothered again finding somewhere solid enough for the bulb release to work. The fish felt really cold as I held her for the camera. A few snaps and back she went. Out went a new bait to the same spot and time for a brew.

There wasn't much tea left. Surprisingly my wet foot wasn't cold so I wasn't miserable, but the honey sandwiches hadn't been too filling and hunger was setting in. I clung on for an hour more. The boilie rod tip had pulled down and sprung back shortly after being recast. I had a nagging feeling I knew why nothing more had materialised. Sure enough it was snagged solid when I came to wind in. Oh well. It hadn't been a bad session. I'd put some effort in and caught.

A nice run of settled weather wouldn't go amiss right now, even if it means the river going low and clear. I could get that stillwater pike session in, or do some serious chubbing. But the weather is predicted to be unsettled this coming week, so it's looking like barbel fishing will have to be slotted in when the time is right. If that fits in with work commitments.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Lancastrian Salt Circle

My morning was spent dealing with a customer and visiting the bank. When I returned home it was lunch time, after which the sun broke through and spurred me into action. I was spoiled for choice as to where to go and what to fish for. A stillwater roach session was considered. Or would it be a short pike session on a drain, river roaching or barbelling? My customer had had a few barbel on Wednesday. That decided me. There'd be colder conditions for the roach and chub later in the winter.

Yet again a silver trail led up my rod quiver to a missing pellet and a chewed boilie. It's time to get the salt out and ring the floor where the quiver stands. That'll sort the buggers. With winter on its way I have switched to my Korum Ruckbag. I don't need the extra carrying capacity of my Aqua rucksack as I'm now wearing the bunny suit and waterproof bib and brace from the off. My fleece gets folded up and stuffed into the chair which is clipped to the bag. And very nicely it all carries too.

I wasn't sure what state the river would be in. There'd been rain since Sunday, but dry spells too. At first glance it looked to have risen. But when I arrived at the swim I'd fished last it had dropped some eighteen inches. I carried on upstream, disturbing a female goosander that winged her way upstream, and fished two rods close in where the water was slower than the main push. I spent three quarters of an hour tying up bags of pellets and watching the upstream rod tip, the rig cast a little further out, gradually pulling down. The spool on the baitrunner turning ever so slowly as leaves gathered on the line. I wasn't convinced by my swim selection so the rods were moved, followed by the rest of the gear.

The move had put me on the beach, or rather up the bank from it as the river was still a good foot or more up on NSL. The willow was on dry land today though. The bank was covered in freshly deposited leaves and other vegetable debris, with a covering of silt in places. Quite a difficult surface to walk on. I was just in time to switch the radio on for the start of England's first match of the South Africa tour (a twenty-twenty evening match) - SA being two hours ahead of us. Sanity has returned and I can again fish and listen to cricket.

Almost back to normal

As the light faded so the sky clouded over. There was rain forecast to move in later. I was hoping it would be much later, but it wasn't. Up with the ancient umbrella (my broken one has not yet been replaced) to discover a new hole in the cover. Near the pole, so it won't let water drip on me directly. I was glad there was no wind as this brolly went into retirement when the loop at the top where guy ropes attach broke off. I poured myself a cup of my flask tea, I use QT instant tea with milk in my flask, and I thought how similar the colour of the tea and the river were.

Now it was dark and rainy. The wind seemed to be picking up, coming off my back for a change, putting a bit of north in it. Rain had reached the cricketers too. I poured another full cup of tea and contemplated my tactics. Hope was fading although the rigs were holding out well. With the water temperature quite low at 8c I am in winter mode and like to leave baits out as long as possible. Every so often, at least thirty minutes, I'd move the baits around the swim. Not having any clues as to where the barbel would be with the level as it was, and not being able to hold out where they usually were, that seemed like a good strategy.

With one sip taken from the cup, the radio barely audible above the pattering of rain on the taut nylon of my brolly I heard a faint whirring sound. The isotope on the downstream rod, which had been cast further downstream still, wasn't where it should have been. It was much nearer the water and the rod was arced right over. Somehow I put the cup down without spilling the tea and grabbed the rod. There was a fish on, but it wasn't a big one and was easily dragged over the net. I left it in the margin while I finished off the brew before it went cold.

With a fresh bait cast out I took shelter once more. England were handed victory courtesy of Messrs. Duckworth and Lewis, and I felt I had been too. At eight I packed up. The recently dropped silt made the usual path out of the swim rather slippy to negotiate fully laden so I took an alternative route. Here the incline up the terrace was less steep but the silt soft like snow. So I used the snow climber's technique of digging the toes of my boots in to make steps. It worked a treat and I was up on the top of the bank without mishap. The rain was easing. the wind, however was not. The further I walked from the lee of the escarpment the stronger the wind blew. What rain there was in the air was coming almost horizontally. Back at the car the wind was howling through the beech trees.

Driving up the lane, the rain stopped completely and the thermometer reading a degree warmer than when I had arrived I wondered if I had left too soon. On the motorway, as rain lashed across the carriageway and the car was buffeted I thought not. Back home and it was warmer still, rainless but windy. Maybe I had. But best not risk it. That wind was going to get worse - and it is Friday the 13th!

Monday, November 09, 2009


For the first time in ages the day dawned dry and stayed that way. There had been sunshine between the showers all week, but as soon as I thought I'd get the gear together another heavy shower would set in. So I spent the week working. Sunday was too good to miss as the temperature soared and the sun shone. Well, got pleasantly warm.

Things didn't go smoothly. First of all there was a strange smell rising from my rucksack as I packed the flask and food. This was traced to my lucky cap. It wasn't exactly savoury to start with but the mould growing on it put me right off wearing it. Another cap was thrown in to take its place. Then I got the rods out and found one boilie gone and the other chewed, a shiny mess of dried slug slime encasing it.


I knew the river would be up and coloured. Earlier in the week the barbel would have been feeding hard, the mess of leaves would have made fishing difficult so I wasn't too worried about missing out on that pleasure. The car park was empty, which surprised me with the sun shining after a week of rain. I'd have plenty of river to go at. The level was high, about four or five feet up. There was a spot I fancied would be fishable and sheltered from leaves. That was where I headed, looking for other likely places to drop a bait or two in later.

The field that had been mown a few weeks ago was now short but lush grass, and in the distance it was being grazed by sheep. Sheep in the valley are a sure sign of winter. The cattle are in their sheds to prevent them churning up the land, while the sheep's dainty hooves do less damage. Across the water a few leaves were clinging on desperately to the trees on the lower slope of the bank, the high branches that catch the wind now stark and bare.

With the river so high I was set up on the first terrace of the bank, my baits dropping on, or just past, where my chair would normally be placed. The rigs held out pretty well with the main flow angling across the river. For a change I had one rod baited with a lump of luncheon meat. A sure fire floodwater bait. So I'm told.

I'd normally be sat beyond the willow

Occasionally a rig would shift. Few leaves were fouling the line though. But no bites materialised. A kingfisher alighted on a lone hogweed stalk to my right then zoomed off, low across the water. A grey wagtail landed and wagged its tail. A lightning fast thin brown streak passed from right to left turning into a wren when it stopped. As the light began to fade it happened. The tip of the meat rod began to jag down. As I reached for the handle it stopped. Then jagged again. It had to be a chub. That's all I ever get on meat. It sure felt like a chub when I tightened to it. But it wasn't. It was an unseasonable eel.

The river was on its way down. Dropping at least an inch an hour. The leaves becoming less and less of a problem. For some reason I wasn't happy. At twenty to six I packed the gear as the mist began to rise from the water and headed downstream. Hovering at sheep-level was a pall of mist, the air above it clear showing the warm lights from houses on the ridge to the north where the river had flowed in the distant past. A belated bonfire burned in the distance, having resonances more to do with the coming of winter than the punishment of a terrorist. There's something ancient about the valley after dark.

The spot I most fancied fishing was below a big slack. The bank quite steep, but grassy. I think I'd left it too late, though, as the depth was less than I'd have liked and the level seemed to be falling faster. That's one problem of moving after dark when the river is on the way down or up, you can't get a good look at the flow patterns. This is made more difficult when you don't know the stretch all that well. There is a spot I know, but no longer have a ticket for, where I'd have been confident, and happy, to fish with the river as it was. Or I would have a few years back. It could have changed since I last fished it.

Although the sky had cleared I wasn't feeling the cold. My feet were warm. Even so my heart wasn't in it. By eight I'd had enough. Partly it was because I didn't have much confidence in the swim, or the options open to me. Also niggling away at me was the urge to spend a day by a stillwater for a change.

The car's thermometer read 5.5c, rising a couple of degrees as I left the river. It didn't seem that the forecast frost was likely. When I looked out this morning it had arrived. The cloudless blue sky and still air suggesting winter is on its way.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Time waits for no man

All too soon I find myself writing again on the passing of a well known pike angler. Barrie Rickards, who died yesterday, was of an earlier generation than James Holgate, but that makes it no easier to come to terms with. I didn't know Barrie all that well, but like James he put work my way when times were hard, asking me to do the diagrams for John Sidley's River Piking book. I also fished in his company a couple of times and he photographed my first zander (a double), the picture subsequently appearing on the cover of a zander book he wrote with Neville Fickling.

Of course I knew of Barrie long before I met him. I'd read many of his articles in Angling magazine and, like so many pikers fishing in the late 'seventies Fishing for Big Pike was my handbook. It is worth noting that this book was written in collaboration with Ray Webb, to whom Barrie always due credit and reminded people that it was Ray's name that took precedence (on the spine and inside if not on the cover). Yet everyone refers to it as being by Rickards and Webb, when the reverse is true.

The Word

The influence of that book on modern pike fishing is immense. It was first published in 1970, a year before Buller's monumental Pike. Yet today when we compare the tackle and tactics recommended in both books Buller's appear archaic, those of Webb and Rickards do not. In fact the rigs they described (maybe with minor tweaks) are still used pretty much universally. With Fishing for Big Pike Barrie Rickards became seen as the father of modern pike fishing. There is much to be said for that, but you can read Barrie's take, written in 1997, on how modern piking evolved in this article.

It is interesting to note that Webb and Rickards came to prominence without catching numbers of thirty pound pike. Of course it could be argued that there were fewer thirty pound pike around when they were fishing, and that is undoubtedly true, but the point is they wrote about their fishing and the photos they took of pike served to illustrate that what they were saying had merit. Their reputations were built on that basis. Today's piking heroes (for want of a better phrase) are building their reputations on the numbers of big pike they have caught rather than the knowledge they have passed on.

Webb and Rickards made a point of stating what they had caught as evidence that their methods worked. Fishing for Big Pike set out to bust a few myths and propose new theories (feeding spells, hotspots and the effects of barometric pressure for example) - so evidence was required. Writers who followed perhaps took this to extremes. Neville Fickling's first (and subsequent) books contained a detailed list of every pike of more than twenty pounds that he had caught at the time of publication. I'm not laying the blame entirely at Neville's feet, but while a list of big pike lends weight to an argument it does not guarantee that the argument is correct. Neville could simply have spent a lot of time fishing poorly on very good waters! Experience isn't necessarily measured in pounds and ounces.

What the writings of Barrie Rickards, Martin Gay, Jim Gibbinson and others following in the footsteps of Dick Walker all shared was an analytical approach to fishing. They looked at what was going on and rather than dream up fanciful explanations they applied logic. That all three of those mentioned were academics as well as anglers no doubt played it's part. I think that is the most important lesson I have learned from their writings - not to accept received wisdom and to think for myself. Will we see their like again?

Tributes: FishingMagic; Pike and Predators

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


You might call it being a tackle tart, I call it aesthetics! Not being able to face another session of gales and leaves on the line, and with no blanks to build outstanding rod orders, I spent Sunday and Monday doing odd bits that needed finishing and making a start on my 1.75lb Torrixes. I had the handle spec decided on a while ago - DPS with carbon spacer, a stainless collar at the rear and cut down Duplon cones, the butt grip being slim tapered Duplon and the butt cap stainless steel. The rings are lightweight Fuji SiC. So far so good. The only thing to be decided on is the colour of the tipping I want to put around the handle for a slightly tarty look. On my 2.5lb Torrixes I used aquamarine, and very nice it looks too. Should I do the same again or go for something different? On the subject of the 2.5s I wasn't happy with having the Fuji butt cap straight on the blank It's functional but looks better on a thicker blank. So I slid some X-weave shrink wrap over the butt, redid the whipping and pushed the butt cap back on. I'm still not sure. The shrink might look better with a small stainless button. It won't be as practical though. No glue has been used on the butt cap so it'll be easy to swap. Both X-weave and plain shrink is available on custom builds either as butt grips or full handles for anyone who is interested.

X-weave shrink and Fuji butt cap

While I was at it I put the name of the rod above the grip, on the underside, as part of a new discreet lettering option I've come up with, which I also used on a new spod rod I built for myself a few weeks ago. I haven't been using massive spods or aiming for the horizon when tench fishing. When I'd used my marker rod, built on a 3lb Ballista Slim blank, for spodding I found it easier than with my heavier rod. I selected a 3.5lb standard Ballista for the job. As an experiment I whipped it with dark green thread and tipped the handle whippings with metallic lime green. I keep looking at the rod but can't make my mind up if I'm happy with it. The dark green whippings look nice. A change from black yet dark enough not to be garish - in some lights it's hard to tell they are green. Even so I couldn't bring myself to tie the Torrixes with that thread. The lime might be a little bright. At least on a spod rod it'll soon be covered in gunge!

With the handles fitted and the rings tied on the 1.75lb Torrixes I whipped keeper rings to the left hand side and tipped one in aquamarine, one in lime green and one in electric blue. I am now pondering. The lime is losing out so far. Having looked at the other metallic colours available I might give forest green and dark burgundy a try. There's no rush. I don't need the rods until March!

Multiple choice

As I type this the parcel that I have been waiting in for has just arrived. Time for a sandwich then out on my errands, which will probably keep me busy until it's too late to visit the river and battle with the elements. Tomorrow will be a day of waiting for couriers calling to collect parcels. So it looks like gloom and despondency on the fishing front this week as the sun breaks through the clouds.

PS - As I bit into the aforementioned sandwich a parcel full of unexpected rod blanks arrived. The fishing front is looking even more depressing.