Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Avon Roach — It's a Jungle Out There!

It was a crazy scheme. Insane really considering what we both suspected we'd find out there in the wilderness. Nevertheless, enthusiasm got the better and us thinking that low, clear water would afford the best chance of spotting fish over clean gravels in country so remote and inaccessible that the populations hardly ever see an angler's bait, off we trotted armed with very little gear, and even less idea...

Over the stile and into the woods it looked bad. And, it just got worse and worse and worse until we finally exited the woods and made our way into the meadow where worse became worst. Nettles up to  your neck, cow parsley over your head and at the fertile soil of the river bank a continuous unbroken strip of the tallest, toughest and most impenetrable vegetation of all.

It was why came to be fair. Because we knew no-one else had. Now it was abundantly clear only a madman would...

Having to strike a new path almost the whole way we reached the top of the stretch about an hour after setting off from the car park — about a 3/4 mile walk so you can calculate our average speed without even thinking! It was, to make matters worse, really hot and humid in the trapped air between the stalks and we were sweating our guts out!

Tramping a slot across the bankside strip of most rampant growth we came to the edge of the water and peered over. It looked fabulous — to a naturalist that is. It was beautiful to us too, but to anglers the sight of thick cabbages over shallows and lilies lining the banks ten feet deep is not good. Can't fish in that!

Plan 1 — choose a nice spot and fish how you wanted was abandoned at first sight. Plan 2 — beat a peg out wherever possible and fish however you could — was put into operation.

It's over there somewhere!

Baz Peck decided to try a couple of possible swims up from the railway bridge while I went downstream a little way and attempted to find one down there. I failed and had to resort to prior knowledge gained in wintertime, beating a path to a place where I knew the bank had a gentle slope to the water rather than a vertical 4 foot drop.

Well, almost nothing could be seen of that bank but it felt familiar underfoot, a nice comfortable niche was soon made and fishing commenced at last. Bait was bread because from prior experiences of  wintertime fishing along the stretch at our disposal today, having never caught a single roach or dace who are by far the predominant species further downstream, I believed that chub and large ones too, were the the predominant species here because that's all I'd ever caught then.

Those experiences were clearly flawed because roach were what I caught now and when I managed to locate a small promontory upstream and fished off it awhile, the story was the same there. Roach and more roach.

It was good to see them even though they were the average stamp and no more. The larger fish are very hard to find in these middle stretches of the Warwickshire Avon. I've plugged away at it every summer and winter for years but never yet had a single fish above a pound, but Baz fishing during the winter of 2011 managed to locate a shoal, took a number at that watershed weight and topped his catch with a two-pounder. They are there, but this particular area is so densely packed with small fish that it's almost impossible to wade through them all.

The top half of this fishery holds curious populations. Down in the millrace there's one of the best dace fishing spots in the entire country and through the season large numbers are easily possible with big weights late February and March. Dace are found throughout but dominate that particular area whilst roach come into their own further upstream where 20lb catches are feasible. Amongst them are lots of small chub with large fish relatively rare.

So far as anyone knows it holds no perch whatsoever and no bream either because none have ever been seen on the bank but with plenty of deep slow water you'd think both would be commonplace but they seem entirely absent. It does have its carp and is supposed to hold barbel too but as far as I know none have ever been caught. Eels, occasional gudgeon and pike pretty much round the thing off.

When I finally stumbled across Baz by following his tracks back down through the nettles, frightened a basking adder on the way who zipped off into the overgrowth in alarm, the story was the same. Small roach, a few chublets but nothing exactly exciting. Pitching upstream of him a little way I then fished faster shallower water than I had thus far hoping that it would improve matters. Just a few feet deep it seemed to offer a chance of something better just out of difference.

Looking upstream toward the shallowest water in miles
First cast the bread settled, the tip twitched and slowly inched down — the perfect roach bite. A fish was on and it felt a really good one but it got stuck in trailing weed. Then I saw the big broad back, silver flanks and impressive length of what would be easily the largest roach I'd ever hooked here. All I had to do now was bank it!

It came out of the weed under sustained pressure and with racing heart and trembling legs I readied the net. It was easily over a pound, well over half a pound more and possibly that two!

Quite how it turned into a 2lb chub I don't quite know... There's never usually any confusion but I swear, viewed in clear water beneath the weeds it looked just like a giant roach in every respect. I suppose refraction warped its apparent shape and the sun gave it a silvery glint. A beautiful perfect uncaught fish it was, though not what I wanted in my net with the adrenalin rush I'd hoped to sustain through the after-catch rituals, in rapid decay!

Then the real roach began to show but as usual, they were the usual. A disk of bread might be a small but powerful magnet to roach but casting one into these shoals and hoping for a specimen seems like attracting a very small needle in a vast haystack. Possible, but unlikely. I don't know what's to be done except abandon ledgering bread altogether here and begin a serious campaign of trotting through a constant downpour of hemp and maggots. That might be best — feed the small fish off over the first hours and give the specimens a chance to show in the last...

At least the day had shown the bones of the river and I now knew things that aren't easily appreciated in winter — the subtleties of its various deeps, shallows and pace. All useful stuff to any angler and often the kind of knowledge that leads to future success so as with all reconnaissance, never was it wasted time.

All we had to do now was get back to civilisation!

And that truly was a waste of time when it should have taken ten minutes but took three-quarters of an hour!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Triple Crown — Three British Records in One Year!

Yes, I've held two British records for some time, possibly three, but without knowing it...

The penny dropped yesterday. Whilst going through my photos I realised that I've caught probably the largest of their types ever documented in this country!

Of course they aren't pure breeds, you'd have heard all about that some time ago if they'd been, so there's no chance they might be ratified because the English don't do with bastards and mules and certainly don't keep records of them. However, the Irish take them very seriously indeed and their official body, the Irish Specimen Fish Committee, accept claims for both roach x bream and rudd x bream hybrids and ratify the largest as official national records. 

Absurdly, those hybrids caught in Northern Ireland are not eligible for British Rod Caught Fish Committee records because there aren't any such kept by them, but pure species from the same country are because it's part of the UK. So Northern Irish anglers can submit claims for any pure bred fish they catch to two national committees and half breeds to one. However, the UK record for roach was caught in Northern Ireland, but the official Irish record is half its weight and hails from Drumacritten Lake which is believe is in County Fermanagh, also in Northern Ireland...

There must be good reason for such an anomaly, but if there is I can't imagine what it might be.

I've always argued that the BRFC records shouldn't include Northern Irish fish because it makes no sense at all to set fish hailing from two entirely separate land masses against each other just because they're joined politically when they're divided by an entire sea!

It's an absurdity very nearly as ludicrous as my submission of a Coventry caught claim to the Irish list because Northern Irish captures are eligible under their rules, Northern Ireland is part of The Union, I'm British and Coventry is in England. Yet that is almost how it works the other way around, with an Irishman in border country able to take his boat onto Quivvy Lough, anchor up in the middle, cast into the UK, and claim a record standing here in Coventry!

Seriously though — I do think we should take hybrids just as seriously as the Irish do. We should at least have a record for our common roach x bream hybrids and rudd x bream too, even though they are far, far rarer captures here.

Rudd x bream hybrids are very tough, hard-fighting fish who'll test the skill of any angler. I know. I caught one last year and it had me at the very limits of my skill and my tackle groaning under the strain. Easily as powerful as the tench caught at the same place, same time, it was thought to be one for most of the fight. Only right at the last and nearing the net did I twig it wasn't. If only there were more of them here, I'm sure they'd attract a loyal following as a sport fish and perhaps get on the list...

That fish, my only specimen ever, almost certainly wasn't the largest ever caught in England at 2lb 13oz  8 drams but I cannot find a record for a bigger one, so I'm claiming the gong!

Err, hang on though — my claim is redundant before I even make it! The Irish have loads of them and their record is much larger than my capture, and given that it was caught in the River Lagan, County Antrim, which is in the UK...

Ah well. Only two records then!

But hold up, NO! They don't appear on the British list and it's an Irish record only.

I retain my crown!

Thing is none of them count. But, the fact remains that they are caught by anglers (whether they like it or not !) and if one is caught and recognised and there are no other contenders then official list or not, it is an indigenous species (well two combined...) and therefore a British record notwithstanding.

I do expect to keep my new records for silver bream x bream and silver bream x rudd, and especially the latter, for a lifetime. The Irish don't have them (so far as I know!) and they are rare fish here. Mostly because they aren't recognised for what they are, and how would anyone recognise a silver bream x rudd when the lake it came from is to most who fish there 'full of hybrids' who are actually pure-bred silvers?  

If anglers can't recognise a true silver bream for what it is then how the hell would they ever recognise their cross breeds?

The only reason I think this fish a rudd x silver bream is because I do know what a real silver is made of nowadays and therefore kind of recognise when it's in a mix with another species and cannot imagine it being anything else. It's got the right scale counts for a silver bream but silver bream are so called for very good reason — they're 'silver' and more so than any other coarse fish but their rival in silveriness, bleak — but this one one wasn't. 

It was golden-hued with purplish fins.

They can't mix with crucians or carp (who knows, they might!) therefore it's either a freak, or what I say it is — a British record silver bream x rudd at 13oz ...

As for silver bream x Bream, well I think I've caught a few of those now, one just the other morning, but I think this fish from Stratford-upon-Avon is the best and sets a new British standard at 2lb 14oz. There's no chance it isn't a record if it is one because there aren't any other contenders positively identified — but proving it is is difficult and quite tricky because I failed to take a proper mat shot and crucial detail such as that found in the anal fin is obscured by fingers. The eye is right and scale counts though difficult to make are still possible and good to go — certainly not a true bream and no sign of roach there I'd say.

And anyhow, even if the claim is thrown out (by whom?) then I have a back-up in the form of what certainly is a bona fide silver bream x bream hybrid of 14 oz caught very next cast and pictured above a true silver bream caught from the same shoal just five minutes later still.

The picture is the best possible illustration of the difference between a silver bream and one of it's mixtures in that there appears to be no difference whatsoever except that of size. But the hybrid just has too many scales.

Hang on, though...

Thinking it one thing I hadn't considered the alternative — that it might be a silver bream x roach instead in which case..........

It's a fourth British record in one year! Hoorah!!!

Shame they won't be taken seriously by the BRFC. But I will be submitting claims because hybrids are important fish requiring recognition and study.

Maybe I'll also submit to the Irish claiming them all as fish caught in Northern Ireland, because technically, they actually were. I don't think it'll wash — the Irish committee at least have the good sense when it comes to fish in recognising the geographical unity of a land mass over its political division and will allow the Irish Sea into the equation — but they'll find the irony amusing, I reckon.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Avon Barbel — Ace in the Hole

Of all the fish that swim there is just one that I pursue only for the chance of a really huge specimen and that's barbel. With roach for instance, the largest fish is always there in the back of my mind but actually, I'm far more concerned with the why and wherefore of the species, the tricks, tactics and tackle refinements required to be competent and how to improve upon mere competence and go on to become not only an excellent all-round roach angler but the very best in the country. In short, my approach to roach is that of a wannabe olympic athlete! 

But with barbel, if they don't run big, and by big I mean there must be the realistic chance of a sixteen pounder out front, then I'm not interested in being there in the slightest. My attitude to barbel is that of a high roller poker player — the stakes must be worth the losing or it's not worth the playing. 

Consequently, I'm prepared to fish very few places for them and settle on very small areas of vast stretches where things feel right. Locally there's just three venues on the Warwickshire Avon that hold my interest, one being Lucy's Mill at Stratford upon Avon where I've fished seriously for barbel and barbel only, just four times but banked two double-figure fish around the twelve pound mark, lost a third in the same size bracket or better but suffered only one blank session. It's a one bite venue and after it comes, banked fish or not, you go home because a second is very unlikely, however, that bite will almost certainly be from a double and maybe a very large barbel indeed so the cards are right. 

There I'll fish the whole while expecting a vicious rod wrencher at any moment certain it will come, and even sure more or less exactly when. On the second and third venues things are likewise. I have an internalised knowledge of each built from fishing experience, of course, but also there's an instinct at work that say's "this swim will pay" and said it loud and clear in the very first moments I ever clapped eyes on them. 

Smitten at first sight — you might say...

But love actually.

Yesterday I returned to one of my lovers. As pretty as ever I slid uncomfortably into her deep tight hole and filled it. One rod, one rest, one net, a box of meat and a penknife. There's hardly room enough for me amongst the equipment and have to sit on the butt of the rod on a mean little muddy ledge just to fish, but once in and arranged as best can be, the fishing is electrifying. 

My first session in this nook swim saw three huge bites, two chub hooked and banked, but one monster of a fish that I simply couldn't put the brakes on who stripped too much line off the reel too quickly for comfort, was heading for the sea when she stopped, turned, relaxed, when the knot failed at the hook for no reason I could fathom at the time. 

Nevertheless, the swim burned itself into my soul and every time since I've expected miracles from her.

Martin upstream teasing his meat through shallow fast water was having success with both chub and barbel chomping the pork every hour or so. Taps and knocks every now and then kept me alert but those savage lunge bites were not developing. Daylight robbery... the Spam plucked from the hair over and over. 

I can only do an hour or so before cramping up so went fished the next peg along. I don't like the swim — it's not got sixteen pounders in it nor the chance of them. I tried a new bait when I found a crushed snail and a squashed slug on the footpath.

Fishing two rods now I mounted the slimy mess on the hook of one, cast out and after five minutes got a really good twang but no hookup. I went and found more pathkill and some live ones too but didn't have the heart to smash the pretty ones open for their meat and released them in the grass.

Retiring both rods when bites failed to show after that first hopeful sign, I then went upstream on a phone call to photograph a successful angler with his catch. An impressive looking pristine barbel approaching nine pounds.

I went back down the hole for another hour where bites once again were quite frequent but so wary that they couldn't be hooked. Nevertheless, the Avon is a river where barbel bites in daylight hours during summer from anywhere but the shallowest, fastest or most turbulent water and usually in its many navigation weirs are often at a premium and so bites of any kind are a good sign for later in the day. 

An old fella we'd met in the carp park at start of play said he'd been fishing the river now eight days in succession and hadn't yet had a single one! That's typical. It comes alive only after dark in many places when it's warm and bright.

It wasn't happening. Another move in order, Martin and I went on a hike downstream carrying half my tackle each. He just leaves his where it is! Never had an item stolen though, so it seems that at least anglers can be trusted... 

This new swim looked good to my eyes but something wasn't right — the obvious lack of a sixteen pound barbel or the chance of one. I fished it an hour but like the old timer, didn't get a single indication of any kind.

Martin in the meantime had another worth the trouble weighing. A near double-figure fish at 9lb 14oz.

Back down the hole the pattern was that I'd experienced the whole day long and there didn't seem to be a thing to done about it. Big meat, small meat, some as big as your head meat, long hairs, short hairs, number 1 crop hairs, the response was the same. Pluck, bang, tug, knock, twang, but no lurching rod bending lunge and no chance it seemed, of one coming.

Whilst about it I thought about how best to tackle the swim on a night session. Hatched a plan to build a little platform on adjustable legs that I could sit on and fish for longer than an hour. Thought better of it and decided a garden trowel would make that ledge more amenable. Thought better of that too when I realised that would make my love attractive to others!

Even made comfortable it would be tricky still. Landing a big fish there means getting in the water for the elbow room that would afford, whilst staying on the ledge is a suitable fighting stance for nothing larger than small chub. Shallow in the near margins, but deeper a few feet out, it looks easy enough but getting in a river at night is not best practice no matter how safe it might seem by day...

We had to leave by 5:30 so I wouldn't gain the benefit of approaching darkness today and timing down the seconds to close of play knew that sixteen-pounder wasn't to come. Nevertheless, I love it down the hole so don't mind at all. I'll happily fish there in anticipation of the fractional second of an uncomfortable hour on this day, that day, one Summer, that Summer, when it surely will. 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Canal Tench — On The Wrong Wavelength

The weather appeared spot on for a night session on the canal. There's a six-pounder I just know is about and want to catch more than anything this summer and the combination of threatening rain and warm humid air seemed just so for a bit of hectic sport.

Strangely the weather man disagreed with my prognosis, his charts showing no rain whatsoever till late afternoon on the morrow. They should get out the office more and smell the skies instead of tracking it remotely. It was going to rain within hours, not tens of, and sooner on the morrow than he thought

Well, I settled in around 1:30 AM ignoring my own weather sense, trusting to his, and intending to fish through dawn and well into morning. On arrival I was dismayed to find the hot spot a scum trap, the water smothered in plant debris and amongst it all, that vile willow silk that accumulates on the line and jams in rod rings. I should have turned tail there and then...

First problem was the blue starlight attached to my float. They look bright enough close up but far off they become near invisible, the short wavelength of light emitting making them appear dimmer the further off they're cast. It was useless and the willow silk a bloody nightmare, jamming in the tip ring exactly at netting distance giving me little chance against a fish requiring a bit of stick, close-up.

I persevered with the two problems an hour or more then rifled through my slum of a fishing bag for a replacement light. Dead, dead, dead. Every one was past its sell by date, but then one of just the right length of lightwave was found tucked into a nook and looked promising.



The red glow is just the wavelength needed. Amazing how far off a red light no matter how dim can be seen, which is why they decorate tall structures with them I suppose — so that planes don't crash in low and occluded light...

One problem solved I sat back to fish in comfort, and it was very comfortable sitting there in daywear with no one about and not a breath of wind to disturb the tranquil peace. Then a huge ripple spread across the black water. A big tench for sure because carp just don't do that around here...

I would have enjoyed the tension of the wait if it weren't for the willow silk. In the water for ten minutes was about as long as it could stay without accumulating more than was safe. I tried everything but in the end settled on frequent recasting when I found that made it slightly less of a problem.

Then it passed down through the rings and made its way and then trapped itself behind the third from last. Teasing the stuff away from the line with fingernails, and when they proved useless, teeth, I pulled the line and...


"Holy Fricking Shit!"

A wreck. The rod tip dangling like a limp dick, it's flexing carbon stiffness flaccid and impotent. A hundred quids worth of expensive carbon with its lovely tactile full cork butt and sexy whippings down the pan in an instant. A moment of horror.

They can flex all day long, can't they? But they don't like straight line compression against even the smallest strain, and will break against five pounds of line force, won't they?

I should have known better — it wasn't the first time it'd happened.

"Oh no, here it comes!"

I pack the gear and head off just about the very cusp of dawn. It falls in big spattering gobs and feels slippy underfoot on newly dampened earth. They just cannot get it right what with their mainframe computers and state of the art gadgets when all anyone needs is a pine cone, a well versed weather eye and good strong nose for what's coming along. Rain. Of course this had to happen just as wasn't and was predicted, suffering a disaster out in the dark in clothing failing to anticipate the inevitable on bad advice.

Boats huddle there set against the bank like painted driftwood, hard to make out one from the other with their lights extinguished. We reach the junction where the gloom lightens with approaching streetlamps. The woods are not pitch black as they were — nor so brooding and oppressive to walk through now the light is coming up.

The rain has released the smell of industry into the air. I take deep sniff. As we enter the deserted main street the dogs tear around the corner and disappear into the little close of houses and I notice the odour of woods replaced by that of tarmac. We reach the end of the towpath.

Dumping the tackle in the stairway corner I make my way to the kitchen. The dogs itching from the damp rub their flanks against the sofa rolling crazily about on the rug. We bring the outside to the inside, the oak floor glistening in sodden trainer and padprints. They escape the open door...

I order the errant dogs — "in!"

"Ah crap, out of tea!"

But, it tastes as good as it could considering it took two to make it up to strength. I hestitate to drink the stuff it looks so dishwashy. Fishing a brace of cold damp teabags out of the 'used pot' on the kitchen work top next to the sink I chuck them in the mug and pour scalding water over in the hope of a half decent cuppa...

"Not so bad... not so good" 

Clearly on the wrong wavelength I hit the sack.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Canal Tench — Unglorious and in Vain

From whatever age I began to fish for tench I've always held that the first day of the season, the 'Glorious Sixteenth,' must be reserved for them and them only. Whenever that age was, it was very long time ago and in those days the close season really meant something to anglers because they couldn't fish at all and so the end of it truly was cause for celebration, not just a long past-its-sell-by date marking the end of a rather eccentric but typically British silly season. 

The only reason we can't fish rivers March through June is because of the hilariously absurd catch twenty two situation where scientific evidence is required to scrap that license exclusion but cannot be got because anglers must fish rivers at that time to provide the evidence but are not allowed to. So far as I'm concerned the term 'close season' no longer has currency because the season for coarse angling continues throughout the year without stop except where the water moves of its own accord. A nonsense — and if anything nowadays it is the 'non season.'

Anyway, I digress before I even begin. I still do go tench fishing to this very day on the sixteenth of June. Yesterday was no different but the squally weather was horrible for tench fishing how I like it (which is dead still and flat calm) at midnight of the fifteenth so I decided instead to go when the weather seemed to be heading for perfection, which was midnight of the sixteenth. 

I cast my line at the last second of the day and shouted 'Hooray!' but unlike the past when a whole lake would erupt with cheers and fireworks and whatnot, there was no one around to share the moment with but Oscar the dog.

It was a beautiful quiet night though and inky black too because the street lamps of the lane behind were extinguished for the first time in memory and thin high cloud masked the moon and stars.

I expected bites immediately, but sat there expectantly watching the dull red glow of a handmade night fishing float for the first three hours without so much as a sniff of one. I knew they'd come though, they always do where I was fishing.

Just before dawn the red tip finally made its way under, I struck into what I really thought would be a tench, steeled myself for the cut and thrust, but got only flap and plod. Nevertheless bream are often followed by tench in the dark hours, and so I cast back to the same spot and sat back to await the first tinca of the new 'anti-non season.'

The bite when it came came fast. Just seconds after I'd sat down I was up and at it, but once again, a slab. Ah well, this wasn't the plan at all. Sure enough, the next cast barely had time to cock before it was away and under. I felt the same sluggish resistance for a second and then it was off the hook.

Sunset at sunrise on the Coventry Canal

And that was pretty much that. The bites ceased as suddenly as they'd come — three in the three minutes it takes to land and unhook two bream and lose a third, but only three in the full six hours. I stayed on to see if light would bring the tench around but they never showed. My 'Glorious Sixteenth' was nothing but wholly unglorious and in vain.

Not that it matters much nowadays when there's another day as glorious, tomorrow...

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Angler! Know Your Feathers! — Round 1

The hunter gatherer wanting some form of buoyant weight for casting a small bait mounted on his hand carved deer bone hook, who then stripped a feather found laying next to the water, tied it on his horsehair line, cast it out and sat back to await events made a truly great innovation. He'd have quickly realised that not only did it work as desired but also lent the advantage of making bites from hard to catch fish very easy to see, introducing the crucial element of skill to what was always beforehand only a matter of allowing stupid fish time enough to gorge themselves.

By the simple act of employing a quill, the sport and art of angling was born...

And no doubt shortly after, the close season!

Of course we all know about quill floats. Those are the ones that only tweedy traditionalists use these days, but really, all the crystal wagglers, avons and pike pencils on tackle shop shelves are nothing more than manufactured synthetic quills because the principle of employing a tough light shell containing a large bubble of trapped air is exactly same and of course they work in the same fashion.

There's nothing new in angling!

Because I make my own floats from swan and goose quills I have to gather as many as I can for the entire season's supply at moulting time, which is right now for those birds. Along the way I find a lot of other feathers too, have quite a collection of many species and their feather types, and what I don't need I sell on to all kinds of people besides anglers and for all kinds of uses and purposes.

So, on the eve of the new season I thought I'd devise a quiz over three rounds to take your mind off the fact you can't fish till midnight (but should be prepared enough by now!) with the prize of a set of hand-made goose quill floats for you to win, use, and lose whether you want them or not!

I'll start with these four specimens from different species. They are from common birds related in their feeding habits and when fishing you'll see one usually en-route, one high in the sky, one occasionally though very briefly, but one very rarely ~

Answers are of course the species first and foremost, but extra information about which actual type of feather it is will serve as tie breakers and if anyone knows what's so very special about the properties of one of them, then we have an expert ornitho-piscator to contend with.

But anyhow. Remember where your float came from, make thanks to the long dead genius who invented the thing whenever you cast, and because of it I do hope you'll enjoy ...

Tight lines, wet nets, tomorrow!

Round 2 next weekend

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Canal Silver Bream — The Early Bird

Dawn fishing in summer is wonderful isn't it? The most romantic of all fishing experiences ever committed to print, it appears in every good book on the subject of coarse angling because there's nothing to compare. Mind you the conditions have to be just so for it to work — cold overcast or windy weather are not going to cut the mustard, I'm afraid. As a literary device it has to be conducted during a balmy spell of dead still anticyclonic weather with bolt clear skies overhead and below there must be a certain kind of billowing mist, not fog, rising off the water. Only then do we have a recipe for romance.

Approaching Bridge 11 Coventry Canal pre-dawn
Getting there by car and fishing out the boot is no good either. You have to walk at least a mile or peddle a bike six or more, in the dark, and with the rod strapped to the crossbar because arriving full of expectation right at that time when the north eastern horizon begins to glow is everything and that's only increased by the physical act of doing it under your own steam.

I knew just by opening a window on the world of midnight that thing were going to be just so by 3am and that's why I stayed awake just to arrive at the right time, because if I'd slept I might have missed it. I don't know if it makes any difference to the fishing though. There's a great deal written that it does but I find it hit and miss, sometimes the best time of day, often dead flat, nevertheless there's something electrifying about that first cast into a sud-flecked mirror surface that cannot be bettered.

It made not a jot of difference. My patent pending home-made night fishing waggler with its easy-to-see plain white peacock body and red chemical light attachment cocked and stayed cocked. Only when artificial light was no longer necessary did it finally slide away. Not the obligatory tench of dawn fishing legend and lore, nor the hoped for silver bream I'm afraid, but a nice big bronze one instead.

There's romance lost then!

Full daylight at sunrise improved matters when a few more bream were banked including one fish that makes up for the lack of what I went for because it is at least half a silver bream — what I reckon has to be a 'genuine' hybrid with its distinctive silver bream head but bronze bream body.

You might want to take a good look at its head if you're confused about what are the defining characteristics of true silver bream. That's what the head does look like with its big bulbous eye positioned almost at the top of its skull and very close to the end of the snout. There's far too many small scales on the flank for it to be confused with a silver bream though, whose scales are far larger and fewer not to mention much brighter.

Here's a simple ready-reckoning field test for true silver bream and possibly their hybrids. Hold your finger over the eye and move it up and down so that its width appears exactly that of the eye. The eye (the eye socket actually) will fit into the length of the head from end of gill plate to tip of snout from four to four and a half times over but never ever more, the distance from eye to snout is always one eye width or less and the distance from eye to top of skull half an eye width or less and those rules hold true when they are quite small or even very large specimens.

This is not true of bronze bream whose eye will appear far smaller relative to the head size the larger they grow. I believe this is because the eye of a bronze bream reaches a certain maximum size long before its body ever does, rather as in human children, whereas the silver bream's eye continues to grow in proportion to the growth of the fishes body.

Imagine a full grown adult male of our species with eyes the size of Marty Feldman and you'll get the picture...

I packed down around 6:30 when I thought it unlikely I'd get a proper silver and besides, I had a new bird to take care of back home, asleep now snuggled up cosy and warm beneath a swan down quilt but who'd open her mouth wide and beg me just as soon as I got home and woke her...

Before I'd that pleasure though, there was silvery looking thing floating under the far bank brambles that had caught my eye. It might have been a white carrier bag but looked like a bloated corpse of what would be a mighty roach or even mightier silver bream. So, I took the rod along and proceeded to cast after it.

Eventually I snagged and teased it near bank where it was gingerly maneuvered into a carrier bag of my own punched with holes to allow water to escape. I flopped it onto the bank and proceeded to take scale counts and stuff like that because the head was that of a silver bream. However the body had become so bloated and distended with gas that it was the shape of no fish I know of and had split the skin both sides with the scales fallen away so I simply couldn't total them up properly. However, the complete count from dorsal to lateral line was possible to make and was correct...

Head of a silver bream — body of a who knows what?

Appearances were no guide. It was the hue of death with all the colour of its fins and opacity of its scales vanished leaving only the ghost of pearlescence behind. Nevertheless I took a couple of scale samples home because when weighed it was exactly two-pounds eight-ounces, and if a true silver would be a leviathan at 85% of the British record for the species.

I don't think it is though, but can't work out what else it might be. Don't even know what use the scale samples would be to anyone, but they're something else to clutter my mind with, I suppose...

When I arrived home the chick was asleep as predicted, but when tapped on her cosy nest shot out like a jack-in-the-box, mouth agape, showing the arresting pink of her throat, and demanded my full and immediate attention!

And being such an early bird, naturally, she got my worm.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Afore Ye Go — One in a Million

We arrived outside the locked gates long before opening time having calculated and allowed for the M25 but found it flowing along smoothly. It had been raining for days and was still falling now but predicted to break and clear around midday leaving us a dry afternoon but would remain overcast the whole day which we all agreed was what we wanted hoping it might extend the morning feeding spell and keep it going right through till closing time. Come 7:00 AM open they swung as a club member arrived so we followed on behind not to fish but for a speculative first look at the water in question — Harris Lake.

What we saw was not exactly what we'd bargained for, in fact it was something that would condition the entire day and change all our plans radically because the lake today was not what I'd become accustomed to fishing. Where before it had always been stirred by the activities of feeding fish to the colour of weak milk tea, to our genuine horror and dismay, it was absolutely gin clear...

I thought the rains may have fed the stream-fed lake with so much new water that it had all but replaced its entire volume and coming in cold it may have put the fish down to the point where they'd stopped moving and feeding. The bed of the entire margin of the lake was visible up to three feet down. Despite the warm air it may as well have been mid-winter the way it looked so we'd have to fish fine & far off because there'd be no fishing tight to the reeds today.

Martin chose to ledger over a large bed of spodded in bait from the Railway Bank while Danny Everitt and I walked around to the opposite bank in search of signs of fish that were eventually found when we spotted a few small patches of bubbles arising in the swims below the big silver birch at the island gap. Having seen nothing anywhere else this had to be the place to be, though given the conditions I thought things would be all but impossible even for the relatively easy tench let alone the tricky crucian carp.

For a while it remained calm so bite registration was fairly easy at three rods lengths distance and first cast over a handful of bait my float rose slightly and slipped under for the first fish of the day who at first might just have been the target when I saw a flash of gold...

"Dan, crucian! "

... but within ten seconds clearly wasn't when it began to take line and create problems close up where the only advantage the clarity would lend us became apparent when I realised tench could be netted early by guiding them straight into the easily visible meshes of a deeply submerged long handled net waiting right at the bed of the lake and without having to tire and surface them first.

A plump golden tench slipped back to gin clear water...

It wasn't long before Dan had one too, so at least we'd chosen something like a good place to be but then the wind picked up creating a ripple through our swims that looked as if it would persist the whole day long making things even tougher than they were already. We'd both discovering a cut off point beyond which fish would not venture but that point just happened to be just a little too far off for comfort and that combined with the ripple proved to be the most immediately trying and eventually tiring thing imaginable when wanting to strike at small indications on the float tip. It was just very difficult to discern them at the best of times and when it was at its worst, almost impossible to see anything less decisive than a huge lift or complete absence of red tip above water.

Under the circumstances, for the first time in my life I really wished I had a very long and expensive pole to fish with rather than a rod because that would have been at least half the answer... 

The resident tern entertains me expertly picking floating casters from the surface. Conditions may not seem half as bad as I make out here, but the camera is zoomed right in, the float is miles off and this is as calm as it ever was 

The worst thing was that crucians began to prime here and there proving they were feeding too but seemed impossible to catch. There was nothing to do but persist and put up with it because at least they were there to be caught if only we could work out a way to beat the conditions. I could imagine my entire rig — shot, line, float, hook and all — visible between surface and bed and though a tench came by now and then and tripped up in greed...

I couldn't imagine crucians falling for it.

We both went as fine as we dared. Danny abandoned his waggler and went over to the lift method employing an old windbeater onion float with a long antennae and after a while stopped playing with all other baits but caster feeding a constant trickle and with a single on the hook. I stayed with my usual rig but tied on a much finer hooklength, moved the bulk up as far as possible without ruining the presentation and stuck with a tiny prawn section fished over regular but sparing caster feed.

Small, but a hard nut...
By noon I'd banked a three more tench up to five pounds but I'd a case of impending eye strain so went up the leeward end where the water was flat calm for a well earned break.

Again fishing far off, at least I could see bites there and they came along soon enough. Even at ten rod lengths  small movements could be made out and eventually the float rose in the water half an inch when I struck into not the hoped for crucian but yet another tench. 

Martin who was nearby came over when he saw what a struggle I had with it! A tremendous fight and for a while I believed I'd hooked a big girl well over six-pounds only to be confronted with the smallest yet. You have to respect tench when they fight as hard as they do even if they're a bit of a trial when after something less difficult to bank but far harder to hook. 

After that the bites vanished and all was still. The sun came out briefly and it was warm and bright for a while. Then Baz Peck suddenly turned up at my side down London way on work but dropping by to see us there. As we chatted my phone rang, Danny calling to announce the best possible news after nigh on six hours of struggle...

"Jeff, a big crucian...!"

As I mentioned in the preamble to this blog post, if and when you catch a crucian at this venue and given enough hard work you certainly will then it is bound to be your new personal best so hours of effort are amply rewarded. Sure enough this fish was Danny's best by a good margin and a great looker too. 

Handshakes and back slaps all round then!

Needless to say I had no choice then but go back around and resume battle against the wind abandoning what after initial promise had become a very comfortably pleasant but totally unproductive peg that I knew full well wouldn't improve.

Martin persisting on the Railway bank had yet to bank a fish and though he was plagued by line bites wasn't hooking up to true ones if indeed he was getting any. He too reported crucians topping and bubbles appearing but despite visible signs was having a very hard time of it. 

As soon as I resumed I'd yet another tench to contend with... 

They are lovely fish and in great condition too but at Harris there's a point where you begin to believe that's all you will ever catch. After my seventh at a steady rate of one per hour I began running experiments in desperation having little to lose by them and hopefully something to gain.

Despite my rig's normal propensity toward showing alarming two, three and even four inch lifts of the antennae, even tench were not producing them today. Yet Danny's crucian bite when it finally came was a big decisive lift on what was actually a very similar set up.  

Fish were acting cagily over bait, knew there was something decidedly iffy about it because they could see it so easily, and taking it gingerly if they even bothered to try so I slid the trigger shot from its usual position an inch from the hook right down to the top of the spade end. It looked silly but first bite was a nice big lift!

"Ahh! ... not another bloody tench"

A golden near five pounder

On Birch Bank (it's about time someone named it!) we finished the day beaten up by the strain of watching far off floats but Danny took a further two small crucians amongst the tench for his day-long and is it transpired correct strategy of fine line, meagre feed and tiny bait, whilst Martin over on Railway Bank did manage a tench or two by his heavy-duty approach, in the end.

It was absolutely knackering!
I caught tench and only tench. Not even a roach, rudd or bream came by for me and that I thought unusual because they do usually. It was so desperate that if Martin had had a rake and rope in the boot of the car I wouldn't have hesitated to go fetch it, chuck it out, stir things up and tip the balance in my favour. I even considered chucking soil in but looking about the green sward couldn't see enough of it to make the required difference unless I started digging up the banks!

I guess the conditions we faced were highly unusual ones for what is almost mid-summer on a lake usually coloured enough by now to fish right under the staging in two feet of water or even less and certain should you be quiet enough that the fish won't know you're there at all. And that was sufficient to put the whole trip out of kilter.

I'll wind up with this thought for you to contend with should you be considering a visit soon ~

Because not a single crucian besides Danny's hard-earned trio was caught between twenty skilled anglers fishing all kinds of various baits, methods and approaches for what stacked up on the day to a grand total of no less than 260 man hours of solid concentrated fishing, from the opening of the fishery gates at dawn till their final closing at dusk — that's just one crucian in every eighty six and half, or if you'd like it explained in really horrifying terms, every 5,200 man minutes or 312,000 man seconds. But, if Danny had wound up with just the one rather than a trio then the decisive bite would have occurred within a fraction of one second out of very nearly a million! 

It was long way to travel for tench of a size I can catch from my local canal and where such a stamp is quite remarkable, not ordinary, but not a long way to go for great big crucians because it's one of the only options available in the country and though the numbers can tough to beat even when you're getting it half right, they're simply appalling otherwise.

So, don't make our mistake — phone and seek assurances that the water on Harris Lake is well-coloured... 

Afore Ye Go!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Afore Ye Go — Marsh Farm Crucian Carp

It's the angling world's most famous crucian carp fishery without any shadow of a doubt. Holding fish to eye-popping size, Marsh Farm offers the angler not only the chance of breaking the British record for the species but the certainty of bettering their best. Almost without exception, every angler I know of set their own record there and if they ever considered beating it twice over would have to return finding it almost impossible to better on home waters because so few do hold fish to compare to even its average stamp let alone it's largest.

PB number 1
A complex of lakes set in the Surrey countryside at Milford, there's crucians in every one but very large specimens probably in only two and on any weekend in Spring and Summer the banks will be lined with anglers hell bent on bettering that difficult-to-beat PB.

But don't be fooled by reports...

An easy trick to turn is what you'll have been led to believe — do this do that, set up, chuck out, sit back and await the inevitable but despite the reputation created for it by the media as a day ticket venue with big fish on tap, in reality it's not quite so easy and the truth far less palatable because where crucians are concerned, many will go away empty handed.

On my first trip to Harris Lake I failed to understand how to even go about 'serious' crucian fishing though I'd experience of catching them less than seriously elsewhere. I had large fish that were clearly them priming in my swim yet couldn't get them on my hook and through lack of knowledge went home with just a 4 ounce baby on my score card.

However, on that day even those in the know struggled and from a lake brimming with anglers most blanked outright, just a handful succeeded to bank one and only the most determined and skillful managed more. I doubt if there were more than ten crucians caught between thirty anglers and every one that was caught was quickly signaled around the lake by word of mouth. Everyone knew what was caught and where and that seemed very important at the time...

That was lesson number one. These fish were pressured in a way that is quite out of the ordinary for crucian carp, a fish overlooked most anywhere else as the accidental by-catch of a mixed net and ignored as a viable target. Here, every single soul around the lake fished for just one thing and it was clear it'd been fished this way around the clock all summer long and for years on end. Those crucians were as clued up as a crucian could be so I really did have to set out my stall next time around to fish expressly for them and nothing else with everything besides regarded as their inevitable by-catch and making all my future decisions and adjustments with them in mind.

Fishing tight to the margins for miniscule bites  is hard work
The second problem was the by-catch. On the specimen day ticket lake, Harris, that will certainly be tench. And what hard fighting tench they are! This in itself is a trouble because landing a three pound crucian is one thing, an equivalent male tinca quite another...

So, do you go as fine as feasibly possible in order to get those crucians biting, or do you fish heavy and bank the lot?

By my second trip I'd learned my lessons having previously tackled up very delicately for crucians but snapped up on lots of tench, so I made the compromise that really matters. I balanced the tackle throughout, stayed fine, but decided upon a better strategy for landing those troublesome tincas.

They might be something of  a nuisance but at six-pounds plus well worth fishing for in their own right

The tench there have a habit of seeking the reed beds in the final stages of the fight, just like chub they head for the snags under the near bank. I found that bullying would have me out of control with an enraged fish where gently teasing it along and having it tire itself as far as possible in open water gave a greater chance of landing it and avoiding the pain of retackling time after time. It would have been far easier to fish 6lb pound line throughout, of course, but I was certain that would have cost dearly in terms of my chances with the educated target.

Without tench the lake would be a cakewalk in terms of sitting it out for those legendarily hard to see let alone hook bites that crucians give. You'd just fish till the signs of fish being about arrived and then proceed to strike at any small movement until you hooked one or two and got your eye in with the pattern on the day. This is nigh impossible because the vast majority of bites you will get will not be from crucians so reading patterns is very hard work confused by the fact that early signs with tench can seem identical to those from crucians so striking at what are actually line bites can result in foul hooked tench which given their pugnacious nature when properly hooked are an unsavoury prospect when hooked in the tail...

I got around this problem by developing what is now my standard canal roach rig but was created at Marsh Farm across those two sessions, mistake by mistake, success by success. It shows only true bites when set up correctly and better still, it distinguishes between those from tench and crucian.

When a fish picks up the bait the float rises in the water — when it drops it again it sinks back down — but line bites don't happen that way with it so there's absolutely no confusing one with the other.

Tench bites lift and then zip under while crucian bites are a pattern of lift and drop, so all I had then to do was wait a while to see which it was, and if it was crucian not a tench playing with the bait I'd ready myself to strike at the next small lift and on the rise.

These problems when thought about, worked through and answered with appropriate tackle adjustments and fight strategies worked brilliantly. That second trip I managed to bank every tench hooked with two 'fives' and a six-pounder amongst them, but also three crucians graced my net including that inevitable PB which was beaten three times over in succession.

And number two...

What was also remarkable about that session was not only that I went on to catch more fish than anyone else around the lake but actually caught almost as many fish as the entire field combined yet the banks were lined with really good anglers. It was a cakewalk for me that day (I thought I'd cracked it wide open...) and the fella to my immediate left didn't get even a single bite yet I was there with a bend in my rod all morning long, and that's the third problem with Marsh Farm.

Followed swiftly by the third ...
Not only do you have to set up to fish well and devise strategies that lend you that critical edge, you must also seek to find the fish too because Harris is incredibly 'peggy' with even adjacent swims let alone different areas of the lake producing startling differences in fortune between equally skilled anglers.

Luckily crucians are carp after all, cannot resist showing themselves and will prime in any swim where they are actively feeding. Those are the swims where you must be fishing. They also like to be where tench are feeding so patches of bubbles are a good sign, in fact the reason I chose the swim where I had such good fortune was because at first light it was the one where large patches and tracks of them were spotted rising.

Anglers arriving and filling every available peg on a weekend morning is too much company!
From my limited experience but sharp eyed observance of patterns and trends when there, I would say move along if you don't see a crucian topping close by soon enough. But moving along on a weekend session is going to be difficult with the banks crammed by eleven and club members fishing from dawn so I would also recommend visiting mid-week and getting there when the gates open to day ticketers at 7am.

Firstly you'll be in with a chance of securing a good peg by observing fish movements before choosing your swim but also because arriving late will give you less of a chance because Harris tends to fish very poorly come afternoon, a fact I observed and that was confirmed by a regular club member who fishes the place once a week throughout summer.

As for the fourth problem — and one that I'd not imagined could arise let alone be bargained for !

Well, my third session report from Marsh Farm will go into some detail about that...

Expect it soon enough.