Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Big Pit Bream & Tench - Outrageous Fortune

To be honest, my fishing since January has been difficult. I've hardly banked anything of note and lost every single fish that clearly would have been, had I the good fortune to. But Fortuna has turned her back to me, and it seems I am destined to lose whatever I am about to gain. She favours the brave, but I have not been brave. Where I should have trusted in my knots, lines and rods and turned the tables in my favour from the outset, I've pussyfooted with the fish, and lost them because of it.

She's forced my fate, and I must ponder upon it...  

Saturday morning I'd had a couple of hours down the cut with George Burton, and then returned home for a further session through to evening time with Martin Roberts on a local pit after tench and bream. I'd had success in the morning banking a personal best canal bream, so I wanted then to bank an overall best for the species from this pit on the same day, 'thinking' that would be quite something...

Farting about with Martin's new Spomb 
Thinking in fishing should be conducted after the fact and prior to new adventures, but doing should be practiced on the bank, doing, and nothing besides. I should not have thought about that possibility, I should have got on with doing what is required to achieve it, but without wishing for it. I wished for it, and that was a big mistake. My mind was thereafter clouded by the idea of being lucky, and luck has no place in success of any kind. 

When I used to be a metal detectorist, I once had a partner who believed wholeheartedly in luck. I abandoned luck early in that 15 year career and focussed upon honing technique, because technique is what gets you success there, whereas a belief in luckiness leads only to constant disappointment when it fails to materialise. It is a golden circle. Good technique leads to more signals, more signals leads to more finds, more finds leads to better finds, and better finds leads to better technique.  But luck can only lead to more luck, and most of it bad, because if you believe in luck and trust to it, unluckiness is always more commonly encountered than luckiness ever is.

Velvet spider mite about his business.

One day my partner was close to tears. We were working a large arable field that had been harvested of a crop of spuds. This gives a series of flat topped mounds that you'll walk along from one end of the field to the other all day long, getting to one end, turning, and walking down the next in the series. I was doing what I always did, which was to keep the search coil as close to the soil as possible, which means sweeping it across the entire mound and down each side but never allowing the coil to rise on the end of the sweep. It must always be touching the soil and wearing itself down against the grits and stones. 

His hardly ever was, but he couldn't be told. He'd swing up at the end of the sweep so his search coil was only working effectively over a third of the ground, whereas mine was working across three thirds of the ground. Not surprisingly he thought I was the luckiest detectorist living, because I always found three times as much as he did. Simple arithmetic took care of that, but luck had nothing to do with it. 

It flies! 
We'd been on the field for an hour, made three or four complete passes of the field along our adjacent strips, and I'd found loads of good things. He had not, but worse, my apparent luck had so completely discombobulated him that he was following what I was doing, but hardly concentrating at all on what he himself was doing.

Unsurprisingly, his luck was out that day, and he was doing very badly indeed.

At the end of one pass he was visibly in pieces. We sat down at the headland and there I tried to reason with him, but he was unreasonable, calling me a few choice names, trying hard to compose himself and make light of it, but actually, he was close to breaking down under the crushing weight of his atrocious fortune. 

I came up with an idea.

Instead of taking our next strips up the field as we had, which was to complete two, both move up two, I would give him my luck, by choosing to move up only one, but him three, so in effect he would find whatever I would have, and I would find whatever he would have, on the next pass.

He walked out into the field, and along my strip, but with a new found confidence that my luck would now provide for him. His technique was suddenly transformed and he passed that coil over the ground to perfection. A third of the way across I heard an excited yell. He'd found a Medieval hammered silver coin, and a really beautiful one at that. Half way across he yelled out again. He'd now found a gold coin, a Victorian sovereign, and again, a mint example. By the end of the pass he'd found a few more encouraging bits and pieces, whereas I had found almost nothing whatsoever. His coins turned out to be the best finds of the entire day...

Now was that lucky, or what? 

I don't know about that, but it was an extraordinary turn of events that neither proved nor disproved the existence of luck. Unfortunately, this all went to his head and served only to cement his belief in luck, because clearly I had enough luck on my side that I could actually afford to give it away! Imagine what would have happened to my partner had I not turned the tables. It would have killed him, or he would have killed me, because I certainly would have found both those coins, if I'd not...

A clutch of mallard eggs that Martin found whilst messing
about in the bushes looking for the robin's nest

But, it was actually improved technique that did it for him, the fact that two desirable objects were in his path on that pass and not mine having nothing whatsoever to do with luck, because all metal objects in the ground, no matter how delicious they might be, are all the one thing, and that is trash. Whether they be gold, silver, brass or bronze, their value is entirely a matter of our aesthetic appreciation of their cultural form and their historical inscriptions, and the market demand for the same. Remove the signs of their significance, crush those coins, scrape away the sovereign's heads, or break them in two, and value only remains in their gross weight as scrap. His coins were in great condition, they were valuable, but one swipe of a power rotovator's blades and they would have been reduced to the level of bullion.

That's £50, rather than £500...

Which is about what he made that day. 

To a good detectorist, the fact of eventually finding good material is entirely a matter of numbers. Find enough, and some of enough will be always be good, and a small fraction of enough, excellent. Winnow enough wheat from the chaff and eventually you will find a pearl laying amongst the grains. How it got into the harvest is neither here nor there, the laws of probability do not disallow such a thing, in fact they predict it if well-heeled females occasionally dally in cornfields, and they do from time to time, so therefore it will occur, in the end.

Luck, has nothing to do with it. 

Fortune though. Now there's another thing entirely. Fortune is real enough because we are creatures who are variable, changeable, given to thought and action, take chances, make decisions, break promises, succeed and fail, lie and cheat, fight, win, love and lose. Lady Luck is not Fortuna in disguise, Lady Luck is a cheap and trashy pickpocketing whore who controls the fate of the lost and the desperate, and the cash stealing wheel of roulette is the only wheel she spins, but Fortuna is a graceful blindfold virgin without vice or malice, who controls the fate of nation states, empires, peoples and races, and who blindly throws the rich into abject poverty yet propels the abject into unthinkable (but perhaps destructive...) prosperity, with a turn of hers.

Lady Luck is on the take, but Fortuna giveth and taketh away...

There's the essential difference.

We set up in a peg large enough for two. We fished two rods each, but like me and my detecting partner on that field, we had a rod each to the left and a rod each to the right, Martin, me, Martin, me, hence my drawing of parallels between the two days out. The approach was similar, and as fair. Though Martin is certainly not an 'unlucky' chump, so the parallels stop there!

But the parallels between fishing in big pits and metal detecting in big fields, are striking. This is because big pits once were big fields because the gravel extraction companies buy field systems from farms next to rivers, use the existing farm tracks for vehicular access, remove the topsoil from the fields and then scrape out the valuable seams of gravel beneath. Bodymoor Heath for instance, a 47 acre gravel pit on the Kingsbury Water Park complex, was, in Victorian times, a series of 5 small fields bounded by tracks that by the mid-twentieth century would have had all the internal hedgerows removed, leaving one large 47 acre arable field more suited to modern farming methods and exactly the kind of field I became so used to searching. As a fishery, it is exactly the same shape as that one large field, and the same shape as the old Victorian system of five fields bounded by farm tracks.

This pit has different history though. It is unusual. Martin commented upon an odd thing that he'd observed about this pit during his own research, so I thought I'd check it out, Sure enough, he was right. The gravel was extracted by digging out the interior of what appears to be an ancient mill system on the Victorian map, so the main river bed used to meander through what is now the south-western part of the pit, and an arm (looks like a millrace) used to flow past the north eastern bank and rejoin the main river at the northern end. That it was also re-sculpted some time after flooding, when it was drained down and the lake bed re-modelled to create an interesting fishery, with large submerged gravel islands and bars created and various other features made, like sunken trees thrown into the margins as fish refuges (I learned this from the bailiff) makes it quite unlike most modern gravel pits. 

Martin fished both his rods at about the same distance, say fifty yards and both off the edges of the gravels islands left and right of the swim. I fished my right hand rod close up, say twenty five yards over ground-bait, and my left hand rod as far out as I could cast it, which was about 90-100 yards with the soft rod I was still using, not yet having sorted out the long range rod and its rig to my satisfaction, but still wanting to continue with my long range experiments in the interior of the lake.

It was very cold, Bitterly cold for the time of year. We spread our options across the four rods so that all were fishing differently, some over ground-bait, some over none. One on mini boilies and a PVA bag of pellets, one fishing the fake corn/worm cocktail that Martin has had two fish on from this pit, this year, so far, but without feed, and one fishing two pieces of real corn over loose feed of corn and hemp.

Busy robin picking up maggots for his young brood
We got just the one bite all day long between both of us, and four rods between us fishing, but guess what? Just as it had on the previous weekend, the single bite came to my long-range rod fishing a helicopter style maggot feeder rig fending for itself out there in acres of open water, but without any other ground-bait to support it but that contained and supplied by the feeder itself. 

The fish was heavy. Another great weight at range. My experience of fishing at distances over fifty yards in coarse lakes is almost non-existent, and thinking back I believe the furthest I have ever fished, and actually hooked a large or powerful fish, to be no more than fifty yards at most. Therefore hooking and playing such fish at 100 yards or more, excepting my sea fishing experiences where hooking fish at ranges greater than that is routine, but where the rods and reels and lines are capable of skull hauling even the largest and most powerful of fish, is entirely outside of my ken. I simply have no clue how best to go about it...

And it is a very different kettle than hooking the same heavy or powerful fish up close, because all the angles, except the one that comes straight in, are decidedly in the fish's favour, but not the angler's. 

I didn't notice what was happening, it was so slow. The fish was a bream, there was no doubt about that, but it was a very heavy bream indeed and was going to be that personal best I'd wished for, and by quite a considerable margin. The fight was absolutely typical of the species, and I recognised it straight away for what it was (unlike last week's lost fish that I am still unclear about) though it was far more ponderous and weighty that any I'd experienced before. The rod was carefully pumped, the fish moved a yard or so in, the rod top thumped a few times at the top of the pump as the fish fought back, the rod was wound back down, and pumped again. This continued for a minute or two but the fish was coming in at a good rate, unlike last week's event. But I didn't notice what was happening, because I was looking up at the rod top watching for nods.

When I eventually realised the fish was now coming into the area, within thirty yards or so of the bank, where the angles are finally on the angler's side, I saw that the line had veered well off to the right and the fish was heading for the overhanging bushes along the bank. Only then, and with the rod low and pulled around very hard to the left, did I finally pile on enough pressure to correct what was fast becoming a dangerous line. The fish's head turned in toward me quite easily, I retrieved a few turns onto the reel, but it was too late, because it then found, or rather the rig caught, one of those aforementioned sunken trees twenty yards from the bank, and there it all went rock solid.

I couldn't tell if the fish was off, or tethered. There was no indication that things had gone either way, the rod top was now motionless as I slackened off and put it in the rest. After a few minutes I picked it up and straight lined to the snag in an attempt to pull the rig out of it. It gave, and back came the entire rig, but minus the two hook-links, both of which had parted company with their clips and were gone without trace, both helicopter fixings having slid down the trace and jammed against the bead protecting the knot at the feeder swivel.

The offending article, trashed...
Thankfully the fish had escaped, but would have even if I had lost the entire rig down there, the hook-link and attachments sliding easily up and off the tag end of broken line. It's clear though, that I cannot ever use a two hook rig again in water that may contain unknown underwater snags because apart from my late decisions, the trailing hook was obviously what cost me this fish and perhaps last week's too. It is also clear as day that the shock leader that I'll need to attach in the future to get real distance must be seamlessly joined to the mainline and without obstructing knots that would cause the hook-link to jam solid as it slid up the line on a breakage, tethering the fish, and causing its inevitable doom. 

I'd used a two hook rig in the first place as an experiment. I'd seen them used elsewhere and they were successful, even though the majority of fish were caught on the bottom hook. It was now an experiment that had run its course and proven itself a liability not only on this lake, but I think, all lakes. I'll never trust them again having lost two very good fish on consecutive weekends, and probably because of them on both occasions. It's too much like trusting to luck, and you can't trust her...

Allowing the fish to go out out a slow kite to the right and eventually reach a place where snags might be, well that's entirely my fault. I should have realised earlier, and bullied that fish along a safe line home in good time. But I failed to. I wasn't clear headed enough to try when I should have, but I won't make the same mistake again and have the wheel of fortune thrown against me for a third, or is a fourth time now?

If one thing is becoming increasingly obvious about long range fishing, it is that there is no point in being timid about things just after the fish is hooked. The longer the fish is allowed to do what it wants, the further out of your control things can become, and then it's too late to correct things easily. I should not have lost this fish. It wasn't power or weight that was against me. Up-close I would have fearlessly had that same fish under my control come what may, or lose it regardless. No, it was angles that I allowed to get out of my control that cost me the fish, and an irrational fear of losing the fish far out, that lead to that. 

I wasn't unlucky though. My fate was entirely avoidable. Fortuna favoured me for going out on a limb and doing something I have never tried before, and rewarded me with the gift of a great fish, but she took it away from me, once again, for behaving like a fool and not forcing the fight. 

Outrageous Fortune...?

She is that!

But Lady Luck...? 

That tramp doesn't enter into it.


  1. A cracking read that!

    Fortune favours the brave indeed, but after that it's down to you.

    A second big loss in two weeks would have me chewing the carpet.

    Flip luck a wink Jeff and she'll turn for you.

  2. I'm glad I'm not an 'unlucky chump' and you aren't either mate.
    When fishing at any range 'take no prisoners' that's my motto.
    Better result next time.

  3. Ugh :(

    Tough luck Jeff

    The two hook rig caused me all sorts of concerns on Linch, I wouldn't dream of using it in some swims on there due to the amount of weed but when I did start catching I did actually have quite a few fish on the top hook as well as the lower one so I thought it worthwhile and the swim was clear enough to allow it. It could have been the feeder swinging below the fish that caught up too though.

  4. Jeff

    If I'd been fortunate enough to write something that good I would then immediately quit blogging, fantastic!

    I'm sure we all know the Gary Player story? When told he was lucky by an interviewer he replied, "Yes, and you know what? The more I practice the luckier I get"

    Keep at it, eventually one will stick

  5. A great read, but on much of it I totally disagree - I am lucky! Yes I have good technic and think about my fishing, but inveriable I will catch good fish where others catch average. My River Anker record barbel in January is a typical case. First fish off that river sitting with the existing record holders son as my witness and the first bite off the river is that 15lb-4oz fish. Yes I had the right tackle and unlike your related episode I did land it, but there were snags about and smaller fish I could have caught.

    That is just one example but I have many similar experiences over the years to convince me that luck exists and although it can be improved on you do need it in the first place.

    Remembar as previously mentioned in my blog - 10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish. Then I would add that 10% of those successful anglers catch 90% of the big fish - they are the lucky few!

  6. Jeff, when I lost the first tench I hooked there last year right at the net, it turned out to be largest I would hook all season. Possibly the largest I've ever hooked?

    Lady luck may have her wicked way with you many times at that lake, but sometimes fortune can step in and make it all worth it.

  7. Luck: Where preparation meets opportunity.

  8. Without luck fishing would be devoid of meaning.

    Excellent read Jeff.

  9. http://theriverangler.wordpress.com/

    Great read Jeff. Where would we be without a bit of luck sometimes. I seem to get my fair share of bad luck, having lost a few monsters in my time but I do believe it will balance out.

    I tend to agree with the Gary Player quote. If you've got a good all round approach then you've just got that slightly better chance of getting lucky.