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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

On the dark(ish) side

I spent over an hour and a half walking along a stretch of my local canal bringing back happy memories of my teenage fishing years. The spot I caught my first pike on a deadbait from, the bend where I caught a net-full of small perch and the next bend that seemed a mile away where I caught a perch of a pound that got my name in Angling Times and a Kingfisher Guild certificate!

I was also reminded why the place now drives me mad. Drifting mats of reeds broken up from the margins and rafts of dead reeds, both of which drift around with attendant outriders of single stalks hanging subsurface in order to catch your line when you are lure fishing. Or in my case today, fishing with a fly rod.

The bane of mobile canal fishing

Some six or eight years ago I gave pike fly fishing a whirl, even built a rod for the job but I was never really happy with it and stopped selling it. I wasn't too sure that pike could be landed quickly enough on fly gear. Having been assured that they can, by people whose judgement I trust, I'm getting the urge to give it another go. So I rustled up a blank I thought might be suitable and dug out my fly lines and 'flies'. The rod certainly casts a 10 or 11 weight well enough - even better in an experienced caster's hands. The canal is always a banker for a jack or two, especially on a warm and sunny spring day like today when something sparkly usually does the trick. So that's why I was there having a walk. Trying to find a fish to put a bend in the rod.

I tried lots of spots, each one should have had an eager jack lurking in the side waiting to nip out and grab a lure. But not today. It was a grand day to be out though, a buzzard mewed and soared overhead, lapwings and shellduck were in the ploughed and harrowed field at my back, frogs croaking in the reeds, blue skies and fresh green leaves on the hawthorn. I could have easily stopped out all afternoon, but I had somewhere to go and someone to meet.

Something sparkly

It always makes me laugh that pike flies are tied to look nice when they are dry, when what matters is what they look like when wet. That tinselly lure looks like nowt when it's bedraggled, but in the water it comes alive. Fished on a floating line it's weighted head gives it a pulsating rise'n'dive action. One that jacks can't resist. But not today!

Something sparkly in the water

I think I can see the appeal that fly fishing has for some people. There are lots of gadgets, gizmos and gunks to collect, not to mention the flies themselves, and there is a pleasure in the casting itself. In some ways it's like golf, though - a good walk spoiled! It's certainly an inefficient way of catching fish. Why put all that effort into repeatedly casting when a juicy maggot will catch trout for fun? Some people obviously like to make their leisure hours more like hard work...

Anyway, the good news is that my knee appears to be working properly. So, sod all that rod wafting, it's time to sit behind the buzzers again!

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A grand day out

Well, I bought my maggots on Saturday, but by the time I'd got home after idling in the tackle shop, and learned how to use my new toy (of which more at a later date) it had started drizzling. The prospect of catching a few chub didn't appeal all that much so I postponed my next session until Sunday, which dawned less warm than I'd hoped and rather breezy. Monday was taken up foraging for a new washing machine - the smoke that had billowed from the old one suggesting it had finally spun it's last. Tuesday I'd be on the bank at dawn. That plan lasted until I remembered I had a phone call to make...

With the air temperature having made it into double figures for the first time in ages seeing three other anglers sorting their gear out in the car park when I arrived was no great surprise. Spying a rod rest that had been left behind I let the other anglers move off before pouncing. It's always a good omen to find some tackle at the start of a session!

Not being sure what conditions I'd be faced with after my long drive I packed two barbel rods, my tip rod and a float rod. The usual pellets were accompanied by lobs, dendrobenas, cheese paste, maggots and liquidised bread. I was rather loaded up as I braved Dog Turd Alley. I managed to avoid the turds but was pursued by spaniels at one point. This time I walked on past the alley itself to a spot where the river deepens below a riffly stretch and a crease cuts across from the bank I was on to the opposite side of the river. A bush in the water upstream to my left and one overhanging to my right gives plenty of room to spread the baits out.

An 8mm crab Pellet-O went upstream with a small bag of pellets, while downstream I cast a maggot feeder with a lobworm on the hook. Although the river looked to be a foot or so up it was fairly clear, but with a greenish tinge suggesting snow melt and it was dropping. However the thermometer read an encouraging 6.1c.

Settling into the swim I decided to bag up some pellets and while rummaging in my bait bag for the pellet tub and stocking-filler I thought I saw the quiver rod bounce. Maybe I'd knocked it. With the pellet tub between my knees idly bagging away the rod bounced again. Definitely a fish. It did it a third time and I struck, flinging some half-bagged pellets and the filler to the ground, and connected with something that was pulling back, trying to make it to the downstream bush.

My first thought was a barbel, then I remembered the light rod I was using and changed my mind to chub. Which was what the slate grey fin that emerged confirmed. I'd chosen to fish a lob worm partly to tempt a chub but also to see if there are any perch in the stretch. Half an hour and a fish on the bank. A chub would do. Not a bad start.

Still no 'five' this season

Although plump enough it was in a bit of a state. As the photo (not too clearly) shows some of its scales seemed to be covered in a thick brown mucus, but on trying to scrape it off it proved not to be slime but something beneath the scales that was raising their texture.

On recasting I began to get non-stop tiny tremors on the quiver. Some would almost look like decent bites, most would not. I thought minnows might be the cause, but when I examined the worm after a while it had been bitten half way through at the tail. Minnows with minuscule knives?

I switched the lobworm to two dendrobenas, thinking a smaller bait might encourage whatever was down there to take a proper hold. The vibrations of the tip continued until I struck at one and found the smallest minnow I think I have ever seen impaled on the hook. The dendrobenas were mere tubes of worm skin. This time I rebaited with a single, but larger, dendrobena.

I'd just wished an attractive dog walker on the far bank a good afternoon when the quiver sprang purposefully into life. The strike met sold resistance. Then something leapt from the water. I'd hooked a spotty creature. A rather thin, and out of season, brown trout.

Spotty Muldoon

The worms didn't produce anything more, but were still getting pecked at. I crammed four or five red maggots on the size eight and gave that a try. As soon as the rig settled the tip came alive. I struck into something that pulled for a second then fell off. In an attempt to see if they really were ravenous minnows I swapped the size eight for a fourteen with two red maggots. It didn't take long for a plump minnow to be swung to hand.

Greedy guts

Although it was frustrating knowing there was probably a shoal of the greedy litte beggars mopping up my maggots, sucking at my hookbaits, and driving me mad with their tip twitching antics I stuck at it missing most bites, hooking a few more minnows. On the point of giving up the maggot fishing I remembered how I had put up with this in the past for one or two of the bites to turn into grayling. I carried on enduring the tap-tap-tap of the Chinese Minnow Torture.

It struck me that there might be some better fish hanging back downstream of the minnow shoal concentrated on where the feeder was landing, picking off what maggots the minnows missed. The next cast went a bit closer to the overhanging bush. The tip was still when the rig settled. Then it registered a proper bite and I was playing something more substantial. At first I thought it was another chub, until it started jagging when I considered a perch. The flash of silver finally said grayling. One that would obviously require the scales. Not a specimen in most people's books, but when you haven't caught many grayling, and none that were worth weighing let alone setting up a tripod for, it was a nice fish.

The first self-take of the year

It didn't take long for the minnow hordes to discover the feeder was landing somewhere else and I was soon back to the constantly trembling fibreglass. I got a friendly wave from another lady dog walker. Again on the far bank. The tip kept trembling. Some noisy fieldfares flew overhead, quite high. The river was warming. The tip rod started bouncing. Another grayling, smaller by about a pound, was unhooked and returned.

All the pellet rod had caught was a long length of heavy mono that was easy to remove from the river. It was lightly caught up in the upstream bush's branches and hardly attached to anything downstream. It must have been lying on the river bed the full run of the swim - some twenty yards or more. I can't understand why the angler who lost the line lost so much of it.

What to do after dark? With the constant feeding of maggots I decided to try fishing a couple of plastic casters over them on one of my barbel outfits for an hour. This failed. The pellet rod was also immobile. The evening was warm. By the time I settled into another swim downstream, the swim I caught my last barbel from, I was wishing I could have stopped the night. This new swim was, like the banks themselves, much drier and firmer than last time out. So I set up on the 'plateau' by the water's edge. Tucked down the bank there it was nice and cosy. If I'd had a bedchair I'd soon have nodded off.

All afternoon I'd been listening to England's good progress in the hastily arranged third test from Antigua. I'd give it until the close of the West Indies innings or close of play, whichever came first. Pleasant as it was sitting by the river my confidence had ebbed away. When the last wicket fell just before nine I called it a day. It had been enjoyable. Although the minnows were frustrating it was almost like being a kid again. Sometimes getting bites and landing anything is all you need to satisfy the soul. Even a small, and unexpected, PB can do the same for you.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Low, slow and cold

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

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

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

Home made polyball bobbin

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

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

A spotty thing

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

I’m supporting Angling Unity

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