Sunday, 3 January 2016

Clattercote Roach, Pike and Tench — Unexpecting

Yet another mild day forecast for the next. A piking session at Clattercote Reservoir planned. And Tesco fishmonger's slab a broad expanse of scrubbed stainless steel on New Years Day. Luckily there's a single pack of sardines hiding amongst the smoked haddock and Vietnamese river cobbler in the reduced rack, and besides, I'll take along a few worms. Should the sardines prove a bad bet, then I'll wangle fresh baits.

But I find Mark Wintle extolling the roach potential of this venue on Fishing Magic forum. Apparently it holds fish well into the two pound bracket and the average stamp is high. The venue record stands at 2lb 10oz according to the Canal & River Trust and given the size of the venue it seems more than plausible. Too much information for me to ignore. I think I'll grab a pint of caster on the way down.

It's painfully low. All the pictures I'd seen beforehand had shown water lapping at the boardwalks but today there's bivvies pitched on the beach below and just a few feet of water out front where I'd planned to float fish. However, there's plenty of depth to be found off the rocky dam...

Martin nabs an ideal peg for fishing two pike rods. Certainly the one I'd race to if I were about to do the same. Setting up to his right, the depths found by the ledgered sardine sleeper are surprising. The line enters the water at near 45 degrees for a shortish lob out and I have plenty of depth to work close up with caster. But I find myself snagging rocks too often for comfort. So I move around to easier prospects within shouting distance. 

Seems a good bet. Four feet of water and a nice clean shelving bed. Very occasionally I'm spotting lazily rolling fish between our positions. Certainly not carp. I fancy they might be large roach. These signs occur always along a line two rod lengths out from the dam. No further, no nearer. And one occurs just a few yards to my right. That's where I concentrate. 

Martin scores a small pike in the morning. Looks like it might prove a good day for runs. Perhaps one of those twenty-pounders we've heard about will trip up later...

However, by mid-afternoon further runs have not come and it's looking grim on the pike front. As for the roach front, well, I'm certain that every free offering I've chucked about the float still sits on the bed ignored. And so I decide that I must go tough it out on the rocks and fish right in the middle of the line of signs I've seen and where they were most frequent. 

As the light begins to fall, finally I have a bite and reel in a very small roach. Martin steals it, holds it in his capacious net, and rigs up a live bait rod. Of course, I think my roach sport is about to begin. So I change the shotting to fish more actively on the drop rather than motionless on the deck. It doesn't quite happen, though an hour later I do get another equally tiny blade. It's desperate stuff!

But then a fish rolls nearby and I spot it clearly. A good sized tench...

Perhaps it was them all along, eh?

There's a dilemma. Should I consider tying a larger hook straight to the four pound mainline? This size 18 will hold a tench of any size should it find a good hold but the 2lb hooklink will struggle should one take the bait.

I don't bother now that I'm catching small roach regularly and thinking large ones may turn up around dusk...

And what's the chance of tench feeding early January? 

Martin comes over and sits behind. A fish rolls in the swim. Down low all I see is the swirl but up high he spots it clearly. It's another tench. 

Of course the next bite comes and I hit what I initially think to be the good roach I've fished all day for. But that's what you get for expecting. For a few brief seconds there's the illusory sensation of just the right kind of middling weight without any great power driving it, but then things do get heavyweight. There's a very strong lunge for the deeps when I know I have tench problems on my hands. But the hook didn't set well. Off it comes.

Oh dear. I can barely see the float by now. It's too dark to be fiddling about changing hook. But I just know that the next bite will come soon enough and it likely won't be from roach! And sure enough, when it's so very dark that the float is seen better by looking slightly askance rather than directly at it, away it slides and a risky bout commences. 

I think I stand half a chance. So does Martin. "Keep the rod high and the line vertical!". He's right. The nearer fish comes the greater the risk of disaster. These rocks are 45 degrees of trouble. Nevertheless, the fight is dour, uneventful, and well-controlled despite the light tackle. Well. It is till the fish finally comes up in the water and the float emerges, when, it suddenly decides enough is enough, stops pussyfooting about, and charges back down to deep water and the safety of the bed...

Where the hook-link breaks three or four inches above the knot, and we part company.

Ah well. Eel at Christmas. New Year tench...

Caught unexpecting again!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Canal Roach and Eel — Slow-n-Easy

A couple of spare hours Saturday evening just had to be used up fishing. The mild overcast weather demanded it. It won't last... Surely it can't last? But while it does it is an unusual opportunity that must be taken advantage of. 

Grassy Bend once more. And further trials of the helicopter rig with lobworm bait. 

I'd set up in the same swim as last time but was struck by the attractiveness of a boat some way along. Don't know why she was calling me but she was. Should this swim not be good then I would surely follow my nose and fish there instead.

It was hopeless where I'd sat down. In start contrast to the previous session the bobbins did not drop and all I got for my initial hopefulness was a little tremble of the left hand rod top. 

So off I went to 'Slow-n-Easy' to see precisely why she called...

This time around I cast the worms to positions a few feet off the middle and stern end of the hull and over the top went handfuls of hemp, five or six broken worms, but far fewer maggots than before because most by now had turned to floating caster. I chucked in what I had. They were no use after.

And there I sat to wait things out.

About an hour in and without the slightest indication of fish a portly fella turns up on a stroll out from the pub and it turns out he's an angler, his young son is fishing off the pub bank, and he's trying to establish the whereabouts of Tusses tackle shop half a mile up the towpath. No need to go any further. And so we strike up conversation about fishing and he sticks around a while longer...

Out of the blue the stern rod arches over bending into the butt before I get my hand on the grip when I pick it up against a hugely powerful and heavy fish tearing off down the side of the boat and taking a great deal of line with it. My immediate thought is 'male tench' but there's something worrying about the angle of the rod which is straightlined against my best effort to put a bend in it. I just cannot do a thing right there and then.

But the fight is soon over when abruptly the line falls limp and I'm believing the 2lb hook-link snapped. Casually walking up the bank winding in 20 yards of slack I find the rod veering toward the near bank and then realise that the fish is still on. 

I speed up the retrieve and regain straight contact when all hell breaks loose...

The rod jerks like some demented death metal headbanger and the tighter the line, the more neck-breaking the breakneck rhythm of this astonishing kick drum hammering becomes. 

Slow and easy this is not! 

But close contact is hard to maintain. The fish rips line off the spool one direction only to go into immediate reverse when all goes slack. Nevertheless, the hook hold is good because frantic winding throws me back in the mosh pit every time. But now it's tearing up and down directly beneath the near bank revetment trying to find a snag...

I dismiss the few species it might once have been and arrive at the only one it can possibly be — when I know that I don't stand a chance in hell of banking it. 

This roach tackle is just not capable of tiring such a monster before it surely does find some small solid thing to wrap its tail round when it will smash the flimsy line. I consider plunging the net down so it can find that and tangle itself up in the meshes, but I'm too far off to grab it. If it tears back up that way then I think it my only real chance!

The vicious pounding that the rod is trying its level best to absorb is becoming worrying now. Beneath my feet there's no real sensation of weight or linear power. Just the one of being attached to a furious ball of violent energy. Something must give. And of course, something does...

Winding in the rig I find just a single float rubber on the line. The rest is gone. The failure point is the line at the point of contact with the bead protecting the knot to the feeder. The hook-link held up. But the stress point with this rig is where the swivel meets the bead and I guess the crazed head shaking just weakened the 3lb line by degree till it gave out. 

In all the time I've fished these canals I always wondered when the day would arrive when I'd finally hook one. Thousands of hours spent dabbling with all kinds of baits that might attract one yet I'd never yet succeeded in luring one of these elusive secretive creatures and feared the moment when I finally would. But that moment had arrived and my worst fears were confirmed. On the day I was fatally undergunned. 

George Burton's account of his successful tussle with such an unexpected beast chimes with mine. Though I did not see the fish, the fight was so very unusual that I was convinced about what it was in the heat of things, and when George recounts that same jack hammer fury then I'm absolutely certain.

If only it had fallen to a zander rod then I'd have banked it for sure...


Friday, 18 December 2015

Canal Roach and Perch — The Grubs Don't Work

I could tell that the dogs needed their serious weekly walk but I had plans to get my serious weekly fishing done so I thought I'd combine both and take them to the open space at Grassy Bend where they could run themselves into the ground and I could get a few hours in . The idea of fishing bread was out of the question because it demands my full attention and having dogs about makes that impossible. Then I thought about going after zander. No need to concentrate very hard with them apart from keeping baited hooks out of canine gobs. But I plumped for two rods fishing helicopter maggot feeder rigs for roach. 

I have had some encouraging success trialing this approach on the Coventry Canal where a couple of good hybrids fell, but both times I tried it on the North Oxford it proved useless. Nevertheless, I thought I'd learn something because I'd shortened the hook links to three inches down from six or seven and added an inch of tubing to keep them stiff. I really need to make this approach work if I can because it allows fishing to be conducted during spells of heavy boat traffic and throughout the day where effective bread fishing requires being up at dawn just to get an uninterrupted hour in. 

I need an answer! 

The weather is mild and heavily overcast with intermittent rain. It is perfect even if it's grim. The approach is simple. Cast out the rigs, tighten up and attach bobbins, chuck a handful of hemp and a handful of maggots over each. And wait. 

An hour and a half later without a touch I'm beginning to believe the approach a poor one and maggots next to worthless. Wishing I'd brought a float rod and a loaf of Warburtons along I occupy myself taking pictures of nothing happening just to entertain myself. Might as well practise something worthwhile...

I'm tapping my Timberlands to that infernal tune again. The ground beneath is getting rather sticky, but then I look down and there's a lobworm. This is the third time this has happened now.  I know it is simply that worms respond to tapping by crawling out of their burrows — a habit that buzzards exploit and that old time bait collectors called 'worm charming' or even better, 'fiddling' —  but I can't help thinking this is a sign.

I resist the urge to use it. But this time I do put it in the baitbox for later. Because if these damn grubs don't work soon enough it's going on the hooks instead!

But the trial is not yet over. A trial requires persistence. Another hour and I'll know if maggots are worth persisting with... 

The picture above is no fake. I was trying to get myself 'in swim' together with two yampy springers running about like lunatics in the same shot. A big ask. What I didn't bargain for was that the first bite of the afternoon would come just as the camera's 12 second self-timer began beeping the last second countdown. Good timing, and the very reason I take so many selfie-style establishing shots.

No one ever took a photograph of a 2lb roach bite...

But no one ever took a worse selfie with a small perch!

Nevertheless, the bite was the classic twitch and drop helicopter rig one. Maggots have their stay of execution. And I've a lobbie in reserve...

But nothing happens after. The bloody maggots are just no good and that juicy worm is exerting an ever greater pull on my gut. Just as soon as I detect a fall in the light levels I open the box, halve the poor thing, nip tail and head on either rig and cast them out.

The response is absolutely instant. Within seconds of clipping up the bobbins the right hander drops to the floor. A roach hybrid. The left hander drops while I'm unhooking it. A perch. 

The grubs don't work, they just make it worse. These fish were there the whole time but ignoring them! 

Maybe they were preoccupied with hemp?

Yet another hybrid. But at least it's got roach in it...

Perhaps. But the worms do work and make it better. The rest of the session is a blur of dropping bobbins and frantic Estelle fuelled worm fiddling securing fresh supply of this wonder bait of which I get a further two that I quarter to make eight baits just to keep pace. Unfortunately, not one bite is from a roach. All thereafter are perch around the pound mark and I believe there's seven or eight or nine of them who've tripped up...

Now all this begs a few questions, not least of which is why I have never fished for perch this way. But actually, and more importantly, why it is not seen as an essential part of perch fishing...

None of that fiddling about with disgorgers down the throat or finding the hook hold all over the random place. Each and every single one was hooked squarely and securely in the lower lip. Very clean and tidy. Surgical, you might say.

Also, why did I not realise earlier in my long life that I was an expert worm fiddler?

I could have made a bleedin' fortune!

But most importantly of all. How can I fish worm but avoid perch when it is roach that I'm after?

That is the question...

PS. If you're thinking the lobs don't work for roach, then think again...

Dan's opposite experience

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Canal Roach — Forks at Dawn

Do anglers dream of electric roach?

Thinking about this challenge I've set myself. You know, the (catching the) impossible one of banking roach over two-pounds in weight from lake, canal and river and before March 15th. Well, it seems more and more possible the more I think about it. I guess that reducing 'the impossible' to the lesser rank of 'the improbable' is only a matter of thinking things through and then taking it down a peg to 'the possible' when a peg or two further to 'the probable' is just a matter of application.

If the fish are certainly there no matter how thinly spread, then they certainly can be caught by design. 

But exactly where and exactly how? 

Stratford town waters do hold a few very large roach. This is documented fact . They have cropped up in matches from time to time. I went there with Judy on our annual Xmas shopping trip. Of course I hate boutique shopping just as much as any other man unless it's about tool boutiques and the materials tools are designed to work upon. Therefore part of our annual trip is about me using the tools of this trade upon the materials they were designed to work upon. Which is fish. 

By taking a brief couple of hours out of our day I manage to stay out of her shopping hair by go getting myself tangled up in some other more enjoyable problem at Lucys Mill . It's a family tradition that I just cannot bring myself to break with...

But I wish I had last Saturday!

Setting up at one of my best chance pegs I think fishing may not be at all easy. The water is choppy and I don't know if the rod is going to cope with the buffeting. A few minutes later there's a great crack, a splintering groan, when I turn about and witness a large tree fall into the head of the swim with a splashy crash...

You may remember it was a windy day? No doubt it was a named storm that passed through given that every little blast of winter normality is now to be dubbed thus... 

It wasn't violent enough to be anything other than an annoyance to the tourist (unless you were on a boat passing under a weakened tree at the precise time it fell on your bonce and killed you stone dead) and even to an angler it was quite entertaining.

If I ever had a bite at The Mill then it went unseen what with the rod tip bouncing about all the while. Up to the Recreation Ground where I pitch up where the wind is least. I get a quarter of an hour respite during which time I catch one small roach till the wind veers and comes directly upstream when I'm forced off. 

Last chance is the 'S' bend at the Lido because there's an island there that should shield me. There I have two half-pound roach and both give the most unlikely bites. Massive rod-wrenchers they were.  Unusual for a fish that takes bread so delicately and warily under the usual run of weather. Just as well because otherwise I'd never have seen the little delicate plucks that roach ordinarily give.

No luck on the river two-pounder front though. And it was not expected given the atrocious conditions...

Whenever a comment is posted on Idler's Quest then I get notification of it in my inbox. This one came through yesterday, but despite the alert this comment does not appear on the post. Some sort of Blogger glitch, I guess. But it does need to be published because it contains news of a very important capture indeed if you are Jeff Hatt currently looking at the North Oxford as his best chance venue for a 2lb canal roach. 

I'm not at all surprised that such a fish was banked there. I've narrowed down the impossible to the probable precisely because of such captures. What is surprising is that it was caught by Jim Hogben but not George Burton!

A third angler fishing the NOXC for roach? Never. 

And succeeding to bank big ones into the bargain? Blimey. 

That's no small beer, let me tell you. And Jim's fish is up at the top of the pile too. I believe it ranks at equal third place alongside those banked by George and myself at the same weight and below George's famous 'two' and my infamous near miss at one-fifteen-eight. If three anglers can manage that kind of a fish on a tough venue where roach of any size are caught at a rate of about one-per-man day, then you just know that I had to get cracking at Grassy Bend...

And I did. And it was very interesting if it wasn't exactly successful. And I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. Or the next day, I promise.

Tomorrow morning you see...

Forks at dawn.