Saturday, 24 September 2011

Big Perch Quest - The Blenheim Experience - Feeling the Pinch (pt1)

Despite over shooting our M40 turn off by two whole junctions through excessive fishing talk then making a hasty turn about and a HTC app assisted re-route through the outskirts of Oxford, Lee and I got to the palace dead on time. It was dawn and the whole Capabilty Brown landscaped valley that the palace sits in was shrouded in thick mist. There we met with Keith, who's birthday bash it was, Pete Shilton, Martin Roberts and Dave Fowler.

We motley crew made our way through the iron gates and down the winding way to Blenheim's half -timbered boathouse. Compared to the palace itself this was nothing more than a bogshed, but I would comfortably live there in style! We chose our boats and sculled fully laden out into the blurred blue half light of an Oxfordshire dawn...

I'd taken the bare minimum kit having learned a few sharp lessons in the past about boat etiquette, practise and clutter not least of which was when my brother and I once had an illicit nights fishing on a cabin cruiser moored a couple of hundred yards offshore, a teenage enjoyment terminated early in my getting in the heat of a very fishy moment, a size 2/0 worm hook with its bait-keeper slashed shank impaled right through the thick flesh under the thumb and without any means on board of cutting the thick wire or getting ashore till the tide turned and finally ebbed away as the boat was not ours and was nailed to the floor with a long thick chain - a five minute job at the hospital to remove but a whole nights pain and potential blood poisoning for me!

This boat of ours was an absolute punt to row and the un-greased rowlocks squeaked and squealed like a pair of fractious clangers but slowly and deliberately but we got to our first destination, the Grand Bridge, by taking turns at the oars.

The bridge is noted as something of a perch hotspot and is certainly one of the grandest swim I have ever seen, the massive stone central arch towering high above the water and framing the landscape beyond. We set up noisily - there seems to be no way to avoid this - and proceeded to fish casting our pike deadbaits backwards into clear water and our worms for perch toward the massive stone piers.

I half expected the worms to get immediate attention as they are one the baits that do tend to, but for an hour we got just a single bite between us when lee noticed a dip and retrieved a damaged bait. However in the other boat at the bridge, Keith had a sub ten pound pike very quickly, followed by a missed take and then a pike a little smaller than his first which coughed up the bait he had lost on the missed strike.

Dave and Martin were fishing some way out from the bank in the distance. Phone calls soon confirmed that they'd also seen very little action either, in fact they'd no bites at all nor had they seen any signs of any fish whatsoever...

We moved away from the bridge to a shallow area and fished in the margins and there we saw our fist signs of fish - a large swirl off my end of the boat followed later by a patch of erupting bubbles, however nothing came of casting to either and eventually we were on the move again, this time to an area that offered deep water and tree lined banks with shady margins under which we hoped a few perch might be hiding against what was becoming a sunny day now that the mist had burned off and revealed a clear bright sky

There I had my first bite but struck nothing, the worm coming back undamaged and with the hook point buried, nevertheless it was at least a bite of some sort. Then minutes later I had another sail away bite striking into a firm heavy weight that got off two seconds later but that didn't matter, we had clearly found some fish after hours of trying but it came of something of a disappointment ( a nice phrase for it...) to find out on the very next bite just what kind of fish we had found...

However we soldiered on moving once again when we realised that all the bites were were getting in this area were due to an infestation of signal crayfish. Another infestation became apparent along that bank - a tree stripped clean to the twig by a large gang of mean looking cormorants, that other great unloved interloper in the world of English angling.

The heart sinks when you are faced with such creatures especially on a day when the lake really seems devoid of fish life but you can't blame them, they came not of their own accord but through the back door of bad land and fishery management over successive generations, a tradition of failures and mistakes that has left many tracts of the countryside out of whack with its natural balance but one which those with the most cash and clout when it comes to these matters seem hell bent upon continuing so long as they can get away with it...

Come lunchtime we were desperate. No-one else on any boat had had even a single bite in well over six hours and that from a grand total of probably twenty different locations covered between us all since Keith's early and short-lived pike luck. Come early afternoon we were five resigned to a resounding blank but only one in the clear

I ate my lunch whilst we were moored off a delicious looking bed of reeds watching a great crested grebe feed its young with a seemingly unending supply of miniscule perch. She was a great fisher it must be said - calm assured and productive in her unceasing hunt but here amongst the beauty and grandeur of Blenheim, it seemed that great or not, an anglers lot was toil and struggle.

What would the afternoon bring? More of the same or by some flash of inspiration or stroke of pure luck would we at last stumble upon some even half-decent fishing? It couldn't get any worse because half-decent was a whole lot more than we had had thus far...

Part two in the pipeline...


  1. Jeff, can the cormorants really make that big a dent in a body of water that size?
    We have them here, too. I just got back from 5 days at my favorite high country lake- I took a photo almost identical to yours, three cormorants in the high bare branches!
    But I spent those 5 days catching large numbers of rainbow and brown trout- and some lovely large browns at that-
    Mind you, there were only half-a-dozen cormorants at a lake one mile long by 300 yards wide... and several ospreys and a pair of bald eagles.
    Are cormorants truly a problem in England?

  2. The cormorants you see in my photo are only the less timid of the seventy or so that were perched in that tree, the rest were scared away by us going past!

    I'm no expert on cormorants Steve, my mind is open on the subject of whether or not they have a seriously detrimental effect upon fish stocks. My rational mind says that they do not affect biomass in terms of depletion of volume as the removal of say 300 large perch in any given year will then result in an explosion of fry that survive their cannibalistic parents and make up the shortfall in term of sheer weight to the tune of those 300 large perch, however this could be wrong headed thinking...

    The grebes, who are not seen as a problem have always occupied the same niche - exploiting yearling fish who are their preferred prey - and the lake had more grebes than cormorants.

    The cormorants do take far larger fish - the very fish that anglers target. They are blamed for destroying the specimen roach fishing on a number of famous stretches of English rivers. As for Blenheim, it was noted in its heyday as one of the premier perch fisheries in the country but the numbers of large perch caught has been observed by anglers who really do know what they are on about, to have declined steeply just as soon as the cormorant gangs arrived inland from their natural homes on the cliffs of our rocky coasts in pursuit of food that they could no longer get from our depleted overfished seas.

    I think the problem with both cormorants and crayfish is that they exploded on the scene at roughly the same time and seriously upset a finely tuned balance that had been struck for hundreds of years past.

  3. Ah, I hadn't understood the sheer number of fish-eating birds you encountered there...
    Our cormorants are fun to watch as they pull up a large trout and then juggle it around to go down head first- but they are few.
    Several hundreds of them could certainly wreak a bit of havoc.
    Our fish- trout included- gorge on crayfish; it's a very effective lure to catch the big ones