Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Happy Anniversary

Going back(wards)
Some people can tell you the exact dates that they caught their personal bests, some even know the dates of other big fish captures. I honestly couldn't manage to recall even the years in which I caught any of my PBs. It's not something I find important. However, there is one date associated with fishing that has long been etched in my memory. The date I caught my first double figure pike. It's not the fact of the catch that makes it memorable, it's because, when written a certain way, the date is palindromic. 28/2/82. If I was American then it would have had no significance to it at all. 2/28/82. Meh.

Eagle eyed readers will have twigged that I caught my first double figure pike, two of them in fact, thirty years ago today. As I have been fishing the same drain system I started 'seriously' pike fishing on back in 1981 it seemed fitting to drag myself there to mark this anniversary.

I can't say I was brim full of confidence, or particularly eager, when I got out of bed at quarter past five thsi morning. A quick check on the interweb to see what the weather had in store for me was cheering. It was set to be dry all day. With that in mind I removed my brolly from the quiver before loading the car. When I'd got everything sorted and was locking the back door the light from my head torch revealed tiny glistening spots falling earthwards. I got the brolly and slung it in the car.

I'm starting to get a little tired of doing the same old same old on the drain. It was fun working on a fresh approach earlier in the season, but now it's become a bit of a routine. Lamprey on one rod, macky on the second, and something unlikely on the third. Cover both margins and move about a bit. It works well enough. It's got to be mechanical though.The thought of catching a bigger pike than I have had so far this winter isn't enough of a driver, I want to be learning something.

Despite the persistent mizzle I worked  a bit of a sweat up trekking to my swim and getting the baits out. It must be getting warmer because I spotted a snail on the move. When I came to pack up my rucksack was alive with small slugs and fat caterpillars. The invertebrates are waking up. The pike were too. Before I had my third bait in the water the lamprey was away. I connected briefly with a smaller than usual jack that charged around like a mad thing before shaking itself free. Going on my recent one-jack-days I feared that would be my lot.

The gods smiled on me after an hour or so when something picked up the headless joey. This time the strike met with a firmer resistance. There was no charging around. There was no fight at all. This one merely wallowed and let itself be dragged over the net. It looked to have been in the wars so maybe it knew what was in store when the steel went home. At first glance I put it around thirteen pounds. Lifting it I wasn't so sure. The scales, indeed, upped my estimation a little. Would I get one more to mirror that day back in 1982?

On the unlikely-bait rod I was going for the big one. I'd put a half pound dead bream in the cool bag last time out and bottled it. When it had thawed sufficiently to sink today I'd cast it to the far margin. My legs don't turn to jelly when I get a run, not even at the big pike meccas, but when this bait started to move I admit I thought about getting exited. Briefly. The float was heading upstream when I wound down anticipating the rod being pulled from my grasp by leviathan. It was not to be. An eight pounder with eyes bigger than its belly had snaffled the bream. Or tried to.

The mizzle had threatened to stop a couple of times and the sun had made a half-hearted attempt at breaking through. The forecast had been way off the mark. I had a few bits of work to do and  a customer due to collect a repair in the afternoon. As usual when I have to get back I'd not taken any food. Twelve was my cut-off point and when it came I wound the rods in satisfied with the morning's sport.

History hadn't repeated itself. I didn't manage a brace of doubles. The combined weight was about the same though -  a pleasing symmetry of sorts.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Sometimes I don't read my own instructions. Yesterday I whipped a rod up in black as standard only to discover when I came to do the lettering and consulted my work sheet that it should have been whipped with ruby thread. So I had to do it all again...

Anyway, I've started work on a series of blog posts about fishing photography. Simple stuff, I hope, that might help improve some people's picture making efforts. Call back in  day or two for the first one.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Another jack day

A warm dry day was in the offing and I was in two minds where to fish. In the end I took the line of closest resistance and hit the drain again. It was running off just the way I like it when I arrived and I soon had the two standby baits of lamprey and mackerel in the margins with the don't-know-why-I-bother sardine on the third rod.

Other people do well on sardines. I can remember just a couple of fish falling for them. In my list of useless baits they are neck and neck with smelts. Mind you my biggest deadbait-caught pike took a smelt. That's about it though! Still, I live in hope that a sardine will one day pull a similar rabbit out of the hat.

Today was not to be the day for the sardine surprise though. It was the lamprey head in the near margin that got picked up after an hour of daylight. The bobbin dropped off but the float wasn't moving when I stood up and grabbed the net. A sheepish dabchick dived  a few yards from the float leading me to think it might have caught the line. However, when I approached the rod the float twitched, then as I got to the rod the float shot off downstream. My strike met with the now too-familiar faint resistance, and a chubby jack of five or six pounds, lightly hooked in the scissors, was soon in the net. I should have checked which side it was lacking a pectoral as I caught  a similar sized one-pec pike earlier in the season.

Shortly after returning the fish and recasting the flow stopped. I'm becoming less and less confident of soaking deadbaits in the drain when there's no flow. I still made the effort to move the baits around and work my way upstream. It was a lovely day to be out once the sun began to shine and take the edge off the strong westerly that was blowing.

By three the flask was empty and my confidence almost shot. I'd worked up quite a sweat by the time I loaded my gear in the car and set off for home and a ponder over what to do next. Option one is go pike fish somewhere else. Option two is to do a spot of river fishing. Option three is have a break and wait for tenchtime!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Moths and midges

All manner of trials and tribulations have kept me away from the water this week. A week when temperatures rose and rain stayed away. I really wanted to get out on either Tuesday or Wednesday, but even Thursday proved to be out of the question. With the temperature set to drop again I reckoned that Friday might be worth a shout and dropped everything to make sure I wet a line.

Driving slowly along the rutted track in the dark there were moths being picked out by the headlamp beams. It was pleasantly warm, and the lack of wind made a welcome change after seemingly constant strong blasts this winter.

The fact that the drain was running through pretty fast came as a surprise. At least there didn't appear to be much in the way of surface debris drifting down. Even so I made sure all three baits were dropped in the near margin until it came light. When it did I got another surprise. The pumps had been switched off. One bait was quickly cast across the drain.

This was my first time fishing in the new boots. They aren't as comfy from the off as my last few pairs have been. I managed to get out for a couple of walks over the weekend to start the breaking in process. Although the grass was far from lush, it was damp with overnight rain, and it was a joy to spend the day with dry, and warm feet. Even if they were a little sore.

As the day brightened the dawn chorus became a battle of bird song. Wrens were making their racket, distant great tits were chinking, a robin was singing from a high hawthorn branch, and two dunnocks were staking out their territories in duelling banjo style - one on each side of the drain. The one behind me would sing its song round and stop, the dunnock opposite immediately responding. A cloud of midges danced over the ditch behind  where I was sitting. There'll be test match cricket in England before we know it.

The baits hadn't been out long when a Delkim sounded and a bobbin dropped just as I'd poured out my first cuppa of the day. As I got to my feet I saw a moorhen guiltily leaving the scene of its crime. I walked to the rod and double checked before resetting the bobbin. I sat back down and finished my drink.

Shortly after I saw something move out of the corner of my left eye. I looked round to see a stoat, maybe fifteen feet away, stood up like a cobra checking me out. After a couple of seconds it bounded across the bank and disappeared in the straggly grass. The area is well populated with rabbits, so no doubt the stoat makes a good living.

A growl from the sounder box made me look to the rods. The bobbin on the one in front of me fishing to the far side was twitching and the float was gone. Net in hand I crept low to the rod not quite making it before the bobbin dropped off. The slackened line caused the float to pop to the surface in the middle of the drain. I though the bait had been dropped so began to tighten to the rig. As I did so the float shot upstream and across. I wound faster and made contact. It was one of the smaller fish which scrapped well for its size, and despite the large growth that was pushing through the skin on its left flank.

As the photo shows, the fish's left pelvic fin is disfigured. Not the prettiest fish by any means, but surviving, although possibly not for long.

It was still early and my hopes were fairly high. I must admit that when the drain is still I am happier to have a livebait swimming around. I think the pike are more active, at least in winter, when there is a flow on. It might also draw them up the scent trails from the deadbaits. Pure speculation, but confidence is a funny thing.

Still, it was a grand morning to be outdoors. Not too cold, not too hot, dry and windless. As the morning wore on that changed. A heavy mizzle came in from the west slowly obliterating the horizon. Then around noon the wind picked up. Luckily the mizzle didn't turn to rain, and it had cleared on the wind by the time I decided I'd had enough at two.

The season is drawing to a close and I want to get as much pike-time in as I can. But the river is starting to call me too. What's a poor boy to do?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Newer boots

Clean and new with old, dirty and leaky hiding behind!
Back in the summer of 2010 my trusty Chiruca boots began to let in water, and eventually with autumn approaching I was forced to look for a replacement as the ones I had were nowhere to be found on the infernal web. A great shame as they were ideal, and lasted well with no TLC. I did some investigating and came up with what looked to be a good alternative. I even managed to find a local supplier and go try them out. They were really comfy and looked as well made as the Chirucas. I was assured that they were fully waterproof, despite the gusseted tongue not being made of leather.

Less than twelve months later they were cracking and letting in water - not just through the cracks but through the 'waterproof' tongue. This winter they were not only useless for paddling, they also let in water when walking through heavily dew-laden grass. A bunny filled with joy I was not.

I decided to ask  for recommendations on The Pikers Pit and the boots that got the most kudos were Le Chameau Mouflons. I resisted buying off the web, and today I stopped by a local stockist to inspect a pair. I'm glad I did, because the size I have always found to fit me well in all other boots proved to be rather too snug. First impressions are good. But they were of the leaky pair. If these boots don't stand up to my neglect I'll be seeking retribution on The Pit!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Sunny afternoon at work

One of the great things about running a cottage industry is that you get to do all kinds of new and interesting jobs - usually when you could be out enjoying yourself on a glorious late winter day.

My Lureweave meshes used to arrive all nice and green only requiring popping in a padded envelope and posting out to eager customers. That was until a batch turned up white.

I dyed some up using the washing machine, with reasonable, if a little pale and inconsistent, success. Then when I last went to get my usual dye from the local DIY store I found it had been discontinued. I bought what they had and the results were rather on the pastel side. Not very macho.

A phone call to the netman got me the advice I was after and now I'm kitted up to do a better job. With a consignment of meshes arriving yesterday afternoon and the sun shining today I fired the boiler up, calculated the dye requirements and set to work.

You'd expect that if you keep using the same dye-filled water that the outcome would be progressively paler. It didn't work that way. The second lot that went in came out darker than the first. The third lot was lighter but not as pale as the first. No two batches have been the same. However, they are all acceptable.

As soon as they are all dried they'll be available in my webshop.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Weather report

Solid water on Friday was bad enough, not that I would have been able to fish had it been open, but Saturday was decidedly miserable. I'd driven through a light, sporadic rain to the tackle shop to collect a rod for repair. When I left the shop I nearly ended up on my arse as the rain had frozen on hitting the cold concrete. When I got home my car was glazed with clear ice. The rain was driving in from the south east and freezing on the upstairs windows making them look like they were decorative rippled glass. I'm glad I wasn't trying to fish in all that!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Let them eat cake

The monkeys can starve when the forecast fits my preferences. With an afternoon meeting scheduled and sun predicted to shine I made an early start. Now it's February early is earlier than it was. It's starting to come light by seven now. There was just enough light when I arrived to see the sheets of cat ice drifting on the flow after I'd cracked the puddles on the track to the drain. Memory plays tricks as time passes, but I recall always doing okay when the drain was pumping leaving ice clinging to the remains of the marginal reeds. I had high hopes.

Reminder to self: fit replacement butt cap.
I settled in to a spot where the ice floes were likely to be least troublesome, dropping the baits in the near edge to keep problems to a minimum. After a short while a light breeze rippled the surface and was enough to disperse the last of the film of frozen water. I began moving baits around.

Despite the ice disappearing there was a lot of reed stems coming along with the current, and a few branches, which made it difficult to hold a bait in the far side. For the first time I had cause to remove the float from a rig and fish a straight leger with the rod tip sunk. This did the trick. Not that the pike were impressed.

A textbook winter's morning followed a subtle sunrise in a clear sky. A few layered clouds adding little drama to the distant glow. In keeping with the weather, bright, bright sun and a clear blue sky, a mixed flock of fieldfares and starlings headed east. Spring may be showing it's face with sprouting daffodils, but the winter migrant are still here and winter flocking birds not going their separate ways to nest just yet.

The morning wore on, and warmed a little, the pumping easing around eleven, I carried on moving the baits around, up and down the drain. Ten minutes after the final move of the headless joey mackerel the bobbin dropped off and the yellow-topped float began to drift to midstream. The fight was unspectacular and I soon slid a fat five or so pounder over the net cord. Three quarters of an hour later I was on my way back to the car. The first pike of another month had saved a blank.

If there is a correct way to hook a mackerel head, this is it.
This is the time of year when an urgency afflicts my fishing. Time is at a premium now with six weeks of the river and drain season left, and the pike season on a couple of the waters I fish. If I was a more motivated person I'd make a big effort to clear the decks of work and go fos a big push on the pike front. But I'm not work motivated, I'm idle and easily distracted by things I like doing... Fortuitously Hopkins and Holloway have failed to supply me with any size 20 rod rings and with my stocks all gone I can't build any more rods for the time being. How will I be able to occupy my time until the rings arrive?