Monday, 29 July 2013

A Case of the Trots — Chub on the Wye

Having set my heart and mind on a quest to understand the full gamut of possibilities offered by various forms and styles of trotting bait, I've decided to run a series of case studies that might be of use as notes to myself and a more thought provoking technical study to other anglers than my run-of-the-mill diary style posts. I want to look at the subject in-depth, think critically about the problems encountered, write up what I've learned about a range of different venues, the different approaches necessary to get the best from them and cover as full a spectrum of species as possible, from barbel and chub, to dace, roach, perch, grayling and trout. And if I get the time to try, perhaps pike and zander too.

In short — if trotting will catch it, I'll try for it, and then I'll write about it.

A Case of the Trots — Chub on the Wye
With Steve Phillips

The middle Wye was something of a new experience for us both. Strewn with boulders over flat sheets of bedrock, shallow throughout the stretch with few deep pools, rapid water here and there with large areas of almost still water between, the summer river was about as low as it could be and made difficult because of it.

Almost nothing could have been accomplished from our bank because it was clear from the outset that fish were not going to be found within easy reach. We could see bottom all along, there wasn't a fish of any size to be seen anywhere, and water that looked promising was far off and along the far bank. 

Wading was essential. It offered the chance to roam at will and cover the entire stretch in search of our quarry, which was ostensibly, barbel. But actually, we'd both agreed after an initial foray into the water itself that we'd catch whatever we could because it looked pretty difficult to locate anything worth catching out there, let alone meet our mission intentions.

We agreed to split and go find interesting areas. Steve sporting a barbel rod and lumps of meat went upstream of our base camp to attempt trundling the bait through whatever flow he could find with enough pace to shift it. He wound up at a natural rock dam where below there was enough power to do that successfully. 

I decided to seek fish by way of trotting a single red maggot.

I'd boned up on this technique for barbel by reading an excellent article by Chris Plumb where he states that it might take two hours for them to come on the feed, but when they do the results can be magnificent with fish falling one after the other. Hoping that a similar approach would flush out barbel if they were there to be found, I went off in search of suitable water.

Float chosen for the job
Tackle was a 14ft rod, an ABU 506 closed-face reel, four-pound mainline, a size 18 barbless hook tied to three-pound hook-length fished under a brass-stemmed almost self-cocking Avon float (home-made of course!) requiring just a single AAA bulk shot and a number 6 dropper shot. to dot it down. 

An admittedly lightweight set up but one that I hoped would catch almost anything in such clear water but if barbel were found then I'd lose a hook that'd fall out easily if too large for the tackle to handle, would cope with the small ones I expected in such shallow water (though the fight would still be testing!) but if any were found then I'd scale up considerably. 

My approach was to find fish, and any fish would do, believing in such low condition they'd be concentrated in certain places. That was to be the case, though it took some time to prove it. Actually it took a couple of hours to find anything better than minnows! On a break whilst sitting on a flat rock below a second natural dam downstream from Steve's position, a fish topped in the fast water below. Certain it was a trout I went and fished after it.

It was a trout, or rather it was one of a number of trout parr. A good few were caught but they fought too hard and were exhausted by it, turning belly up on release. They recovered when I held them headfirst into the flow, but I thought it pointless catching more so began fishing ten yards further out below the middle of the dam where I began catching salmon smolt (I think?) instead. 

Moving again to a point two-thirds the way across the dam where the flow was most powerful forming a very long and rapid plume (imagine an ostrich feather) over boulders and just a couple of feet deep, I then began trotting just along its near edge. Here the float would start, and stop, and start again, whilst traveling through a succession of eddie currents. There were no bites whatsoever from juvenile salmonids there, and even minnows were absent, nevertheless it seemed the most promising water I'd fished all morning so I stuck at it and began a routine of feeding a small handful of maggots into the plume before each and every trot.

Steve came down to see me reporting a couple of hard-won chub but no sign of barbel. As we talked, I struck my first bite from this new line. Expecting yet another frantically wriggling parr, smolt or minnow, at long last, the rod hooped over hard as a proper fish powered straight into the most difficult place to extract one from — and where else would that be but the fastest water of all!

It wasn't barbel. That was clear. It wasn't large trout either, unless a dozy one. It had to be chub by the sensation of determined heavy thumping transmitted up the line. Steve fetched my net and readied himself, I applied side strain to haul it out the heavy current into the slower water, and when it came clear made my way across the treacherous rocky bed to our bank pulling clear of trouble in a protracted tug-of-war.

But, the hook-hold failed at the last moment! It was a good chub though, as predicted.

Steve went off downstream to fish under and around a large and impressive driftwood tree occupying mid-river. I decided to plug away at this swim for as long as it would produce bites. I didn't have to wait very long for the next. The tail end and each side of the plume became a hive of activity with fish plucking swirling loose feed from the upper surface. A swirl every now and then in the far distance showed that.

Bites came three-quarters the way down the plume's length, slightly to one side and slightly to the other, but never dead-centre. Picking maggots out by eye in the swirling eddy currents, they were nailing them before they were lost to the next fish down.

Approximate angling position and catch points. Nothing of note was found anywhere outside the hotspot

Each came on the dot, ten minutes apart. Within an hour I'd four chub in the net and had lost a couple more to inevitable hook-pulls. All were over four-pounds but none ever threatened to break the fine but well-balanced tackle because in the river you have a winning edge that you don't from the bank. That edge is mobility and the ability to create good angles at will to outwit the fish.

If it takes a lot of line then follow it — when it goes where you don't want it to — then go where it doesn't want you to — which is where it lies.

Fine is good when you're right at the centre of the compass of possibility, and the finer there the better, I'd say! Because, with infinite mobility, on the chessboard of the fight you're no longer the hobbled Knight with his restricted moves, but the Queen! 

No wonder salmon anglers buy waders like they're going out of fashion...

A proper Queen!
Lesson learned good and proper. If only a powerhouse barbel would show I'd prove my theory right! 

Unfortunately, that delicious thought occurred exactly when a flotilla of 20 canoes passed through, and of course they took the most exciting line, which was my productive line. Bites ceased. Then a couple of boys who'd been swimming in the fast current at the head of the swim decided to allow themselves get swept along by it and ended up right in the hotspot. 

My sport was over. Bites never came again...

Would the barbel have shown on the two-hour mark as Chris Plumb had found? I don't know that because I had an hour and three-quarters in that swim before it was wrecked, but if they were there then I'm sure they would have. Never mind. The experience stored in the memory and written down for posterity will be useful in the future.

And the future is this coming Thursday. 

A three day break on the Wark's Avon and a perfect wading trotting swim I've had my beady eye on for some long time. No swimmers and canoeists about to wreck things there, but plenty of barbel who'll fall one after the other...

On the trot, you might say!

But we'll see about all that when the time comes around.

  1. The brass wire-stemmed balsa avon with a large domed top was the right tool for job. The fine heavy stem allowed the buoyant tapering float body to ride choppy and turbulent water, upright and effortlessly. However, I could have used a larger float and a change of tip colour would have been useful at distance.
  2. The small load of shot allowed the bait to flutter naturally and not drag into crevices in the boulders snagging bottom only once or twice in many hours work.
  3. Low shallow water and protracted high temperatures sees fish enjoying the fastest, most broken, and therefore best-oxygenated water available but avoiding areas of long-standing slack with low oxygen levels.
  4. Loose fed maggots will travel 50 yards or more in just two or three feet of broken water until they are intercepted and the feeding zone created may be a very long way off. Moving position downstream to counter this only pushes the feeding zone further along and creates a confused zone of dissipation at the tail end where the water force diminishes. 
  5. Wading allows for perfect line selection and control. When trotting only a few yards outside of a productive line, bites may cease altogether, or those from different species may be found.
  6. Far finer tackle is usable from mid-river than would ever be advisable from the bank because of the unrestricted 360 degree field of play. 
  7. Wading in fast rivers full of boulders is potentially life threatening. Even a small amount of extra water in the river would have made standing difficult and moving across boulders treacherous. A lot more water and it would have been impossible. Wade alone at your peril. 

Using a Centrepin for Trotting, Specifically for barbel. Chris Plumb

Sunday, 28 July 2013

In My Element

My default for so long now, there had to come a time when sitting on my arse pursuing Rutilus rutilus by way of bread fished hard on the river bed would finally give way to something less static, more mobile, and fluid...

It's been worth the while. I've stocked an immense store of knowledge by doing so. Honing the art to near perfection over thousands of hours of constant practice, thought, experiment, and dare I say some small innovation, I reckon I could now teach even the most experienced roach angler a thing or two they don't already know about finicky redfins, their favourite bait and that trickiest most demanding method of catching them. But, there comes a point where nothing new is learned and this season with the essential core of my entire activity waning I've felt the passion for angling ebb away.

Something had to come. Something had to go. Something had to give...

It was most important that it did. Without a personal centre angling is a nebulous thing prone to vanishing only to be replaced by lesser pursuits, such as golf...

God forbid!

Then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday too — three days on the trot, and the flame of passion was rekindled.

Fishing more intensively and intuitively than I have in years I felt a greater sense of urgency and final achievement each session than I'd have thought possible. 

Yep, 'bread on the lead' is finally put to bed because there's a new love in my life who demands I start from a point of almost zero knowledge and when humbled by mistakes, must swallow my pride and beg a crumb or two myself in the way of instruction from the time-served old masters.

Trotting. Simple in essence, but an art that in any fully-rounded angling career must be learned the hard way or you die wanting. I mean to say — is there a finer angler dead or alive than the one who's nailed it?


It is the very pinnacle of skill. Makes all alternative forms of coarse fishing trashy by comparison.

When the Late Great Terry Lampard flicked a flake of bread into the Dorset Stour and then caught 'that' 3lb roach for the camera, it wasn't the fish you were impressed with but the man's natural flair. Plucked out of thin air, without apparent effort, you and I in his shoes would have failed and we know it. He succeeded, because he'd long fathomed something we haven't...


I don't know how or even why I've avoided it for so long but I wish I hadn't because it's an immensely satisfying thing to practice. Of course I've dallied with it before now but never really put my back into it. It's a wonderfully natural way to fish, though, and especially so when conducted from within the river itself.

Wednesday afternoon that simply wasn't possible in water ten-feet deep but from a couple of pegs hacked out the nettles, Steve Philips and I both managed a fine net of roach, dace and chub from the Warwickshire Avon at Saxon Mill. I even wangled a silver bream! Only my second from the fishery in five years.

As Steve quipped, "Jeff, they'll follow you wherever you go."

Thursday night the venue was a streamy stretch of the same river. After dace I trotted red maggots through a classic glide of smooth water to catch them and succeeded in a way impossible from the bank. Wading up to my waist I was amazed at how effortless it was to fish standing upright with half the weight of the body buoyed up by water.

I was equally amazed by my own ineptness at doing this novel thing!

Water all about changed everything. Nothing solid to rest a thing on, everything had to be either nailed down hard or hung off the bod.

A lightweight landing net handle filled with water, now there's a heavyweight novelty! 

Casting was delightful, control of the float superb, but simple things just defeated me.

I learned the hard way that fish do not require a net to 'land' at any size. But baiting a hook, unhooking a fish, taking a photograph on the fly — it was as if I'd never done either or neither ever before in my life...

When I finally left the water I wasn't nearly so cack-handed as when I first went in, wasn't that pleased with my performance, but had found great pleasure in learning the basics.

As Martin quipped, "I'll have those waders back, Jeff, sooner or very much later..."

Friday. The Wye. And a truly novel experience...

It's a big river viewed from the bank but wading it lowers your sense of perspective. The world looks vaster the further you venture and the deeper you fear to tread, each a step nearer to death should you trip and fall.

That was magical — a heightened awareness of the universe and a diminution of self I haven't felt since my days as a lone ranger bass hunting by night a half-mile distant from land at low ebb tide.

It was unbelievably rocky, uneven and slippery to one newly used to the give and take of mud and loose gravel beneath his feet. As treacherous — but differently so. One minute perched atop a boulder, the next step down to my chest beside it!

I found my feet and my fish, though...

First minnows, then trout parr and salmon smolt too, but later, when most possibilities were exhausted and in the fastest most turbulent water of all, big chub.

Not where I expected them to be, they'd never have been located from the bank no matter what. Too far off, too rocky by half to risk throwing a lead to, only a float could cope and only a maggot long-trotted straight off the tip of the rod traipsing delicately across the smooth rocks would do.

Waders though, They're so bulky! Neoprene is marvelous stuff but weighs a bloody ton when wet. Not a thing you notice in the water of course, but humping them back to the car half a mile you do!

I think I'll not buy a pair when I return the loaned set to Martin but go buy a wetsuit instead. That makes sense to me — you don't have to take it off once you've put it on, can walk easily on dry land, even go to the pub in it without fear of being thrown out again and isn't nearly so perilous in water. Plus, you can get up to your neck in water should you wish to...

Having seen what can be achieved only waist deep,  I do!

As Steve neatly summarised, "Jeff, you're in your element."

He's right. And it is.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Return of the 'Guess the Weight of the Stinky Dead Fish Competition'

My project on the River Sowe has taken a back seat to actually fishing for fish rather than trying to nurture habitat for them, but I've crawled backdown through the head high stingers from time to time to monitor a stream now on its bones, and the fish are still there I'm pleased to say despite the trickle of water passing through.

The roach and perch populations change daily. Once the shoal held a number of large roach, then there was only one matron left guarding her charge of striplings. The largest perch moved upstream and began harrying the minnows in the pool only to return a few days later presumably stuffed full. Then the large roach were back, only to vanish overnight. What's going on I cannot say, only that what is going on is healthy and good.

Peering into the water I noticed the shoal had gained new members. Besides the perch and roach were smaller fish that for a time I couldn't make out clearly, but then the sun emerged from behind a cloud and it was clear they were fair sized gudgeon. Three of them there were, and I watched them a while flitting here and there when out of the blue, who came to join them but a monster!

A simply huge gonk this. Compared to its brethren who were half its size and alongside roach whose weight I can tell you to the ounce from past experience of watching and then catching from the same stream, I estimated if not a record breaker then at least a shaker. It was 8 or 9 inches long!

Then, walking upstream to an area of slack water fringed with reeds, there belly up in the mud was a dead thing with fins. Picking it up and turning it over in the palm of my hand I was shocked to see a fish that I really thought might be have been a valid claim had it been caught on rod and line!

The biggest bullhead I've ever seen, it was getting on for 5 inches in length. Three times the size of any of the very few I've ever caught myself, I simply had no frame of reference to gauge it by.

Leaving it behind I went home and checked the record weight — 1 oz.

Grabbing my 2lb set of Salters from the kitchen I returned with a doggie poo bag and set to the task of weighing it as accurately as possible. Now zeroing manual spring balances for large fish is not exactly an exact science is it? Near enough is near enough. Getting that pointer bang on zero when drams make all the difference in the world with a poo bag weighing next to nothing but actually weighing something, was a trial of patience. But when satisfied, the little big fish was dumped in the bag and hung off the hook.


I very nearly fell over on my pins when the pointer sailed way, way past the ounce mark...

Then I remembered the divisions on this set were not in whole ounces but halves!


Amazingly, a day later I came across another just as dead but equally impressive downstream a way. Once again I set off home for the scales. At just a smidgeon under four and a half inches in length but with such a huge fat head it seemed enormous though the scales returned a lesser weight than for the first.

Still an impressive fish though and proof positive that this river can produce astonishing things given half a chance.


It's been a while, but in my Xmas hard-drive melt down I lost a few spanking specimens to the grave of dead data that I should have published when I found them.  Later I weighed in a dead silver bream hybrid but published that as part of a straight blog when I really should have done one of these bent ones with it.

As Mark H commented on that blog ~

"I rather like the guess the weight competitions and why are you selling your bike?'

Well there's no half an answer to that, but ...

Hazard an educated guess at the weight of the stinky dead fish, if you please!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Summer Carp — One, Two, Three Nil!

After the long heat of the day, in the cool of evening what's more certain to re-invigorate the sluggish, reluctant reflexes than winding yourself into a tight knot of intense anticipation watching a speck of drifting crust? 

Martin walked around the lake dosing every likely holt with chum mixers expecting a free for all within the hour. They didn't show for two hours, and of course, when they did only in the tightest snag swim on the water. Hearing a few slurps, those tell-tale ripples spreading through the blocking submerged tree filling the space between my peg and that peg, I went around to take a look only to be confronted with five carp all happily plucking morsels from the surface film.

I thought they'd be a push over...

An error. That heavy footfall on arrival. Too early a cast, too much of a splash. Selecting the biggest fish of all...?

I don't know exactly what it was that gave me away but within a minute of settling in those carp were wise to my presence. Then what had once seemed easy enough, became tough, when they drifted to the safety of the heaviest snags and sank from sight.

They were still there though. Active carp can't hide themselves away from sight even when they might imagine they have. Tail wash patterns gave them away and the clipped on controller necessary to lend weight enough to swing the bait under the thick cover shifting on its plane showed interest in that attached crust, even if they were sure it was dangerous.

They just can't resist their own instincts with food overhead, can they? They're going to come for it — it's only a matter of when and where. And then, out of the blue comes a mouth... the crust vanishing down a swirling vortex, the line tightening, a strike made, the hook fails to hit home...

Take one.

A new crust is returned but further, deeper, till it's teased more in the snag than out. The plan is to hold my fish, play a crucial first move before it knows what's happened, and have it bolt into the clear. Half an hour later Martin appears on the far bank calling across for reports.

Replying by hand signal, I daren't speak a word...

Returning to his swim a hundred yards away, I can hear him talking quite clearly to Dave Fowler, up from Banbury for the evening, who's fishing an adjacent peg. It would appear there's no carp showing their end!

Earlier in the day, Andy Johnson, down from Bedworth had taken two carp off the top by baiting swims and wandering the banks in search of fish feeding. Alone, the lake to himself before our noisy arrival, working methodically and stealthily I know exactly why he succeeded then. These carp are well aware of anglers about and respond accordingly. Our plan, which would have gone without a hitch on any hungry commercial fishery wouldn't come together here. They were too cute by half.

The crust begins to sink very slowly under its own saturated weight but it's lost from sight before time. An oily swirl is seen and the controller begins to move... not quite sure if the bait has been taken or not, I wait and watch the line exiting the tip ring. Slowly it tightens, then the controller zips under out the corner of my eye — strike, swirl, nothing!

Take two.

As the sun sets I'm sure should I hide myself better than the carp, who are still visible by way of water movements, I'll have one yet. Pitching the bait under that snag though, that's becoming more and more difficult to achieve in the failing light. It's a wind up to the rod top, swing low and sideways under the trailing branches kind of cast — one wrong move and its hung up, a pull for release or break, and curtains for my one remaining chance.

Overcasting, I pull the line back manually to have the the tackle drift as close as I dare near bank and as far under that snag as possible. I can only just see the bread now — flecks of this and that confuse things further. Which is hooked crust, or stray? I can hardly tell the difference...

I give the line a sharp tug — the hooked crust moves an inch and it's clear which is which, and for just long enough.

Peering into the gloom below the bush, lips emerge, suck it down, when...

It's spat back up before I've time to even think let alone move a hand to strike.

Take that, Jeff Hatt!

Cute carp, three nil...

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Avon Carp — Unsensible Craft & Daft Insensibles

Peering over the footbridge into the shallowing streamy waters at the very end of the millrace just before they plunge over the sill, we witnessed an astonishing sight. A shoal of perhaps 500 roach enjoying the swift currents there and basking in the late morning sunshine. Each and every one exactly the same size, hardly an inch of difference between the largest and smallest, the space they occupied no greater than the footprint of your average semi-detached living room.

Imagine the numbers filling the full two mile stretch, gallon by billion gallon, when those we saw inhabited just five yards cubed.

Such are the stocks of this amazing fishery...

Therein lies a problem. The stocks might be vast but the biomass comprises mostly of fish of the stamp we saw from the footbridge and that is relatively small ones. The fishery can feasibly support a great many large fish if it can support so many small ones but only if the small ones are reduced in number significantly. There is isn't food enough for both. 

But hang on...

Isn't this Nirvana? The very Shangri La? The 'Good Old Days?' The cornucopia of coarse fishing abundance that is supposed, because of so many various problems, to have ceased to exist in this green and pleasant land?

Cambodia, or what? 

As Andy remarks, "... it's a magical place, Jeff" And he's damned right.

It is magical!

For a while...

Andy Johnson, on his third sortie here, is after fish such as worm caught perch in all their radiant clear-water splendour. I'm after carp and only carp.

Five years on, I return to fish exactly those swims I fished on my first three trips to the Warwickshire Avon. On each  I caught them.

I simply couldn't fail to. Not that I wanted to. I was after chub!

After so many years fishing the lakes of Essex they were the very last species I wanted to catch. I was on a mission to catch river fish — not more of what I'd already had too much of down South. So I bought a bag of halibut pellets, mounted one on the hook, cast out, sat back and an hour later, 'whack,' the rod hooped around and I'm connected to what (in my head!) cannot be anything but a huge chub. 

I never considered, even for a moment, that it wouldn't be and even when the fish came up in the water and I saw its scaly bronze flanks I was still convinced.

It was so disappointing to see only a bloody nine-pound common carp laying in the net when it should have been a record breaker!

Next session I had another but larger. Session after that a third and the largest of all at fifteen pounds. That's when I left the place for pastures new, went and found a place where chub could be caught and lots of them.

Today I really wanted carp not chub and was so certain that the same approach and bait would see them fall that for the first hour I was hunched over the rod expectantly sure that at any moment one would. After two hours I was ready for a move, after three I made one.

It made no difference. The carp were not there either.

Then an endless flotilla of unsensible homebrew craft ploughed slowly and painfully upstream to the pub a half-mile distant.

The boats were a drag...

One after the other, I couldn't keep a rod in the water for more than five minutes, and when they'd had their fill of chilly lager they returned half-insensible when Andy couldn't keep his out. For some unfathomable reason, when they could have drifted idly back downstream on the current the daft buggers chose to race!  His expensive barbel rod was ripped into the water (biggest bite of the day!) he stripped and went in after it, but luckily didn't lose it...

The blessings of fishing under the deep shade of the ancient  yews at the stump

Seven or eight hours later the tip of that damned 'carp' rod of mine had not twitched once fished in any swim where I'd either caught or seen carp moving before, and so, after a long afternoon roasting our brains and burning our eyes out under the piercingly bright sun of the hottest day of the past few summers, we retired.

Friday, 12 July 2013

How To — Creating Hybrid Color/mono Pictures

Last post I'd a picture dilemma when one of the portraits, the one of myself crouched rod in hand in the middle of the river, came out so badly in the original that there was no choice but go to town in Photoshop to extract something from what was a truly terrible result. It was blurry, out of focus, overexposed, you name it. What could go wrong did go wrong apart from the composition which was just too good to throw away.

Just dreadful and as it stands, unusable. But something can be done with it...

Automatic cameras seem to hate being left to their own devices. If I'd shot you in the exactly the same place, from exactly the same angle and under exactly the same light conditions I'll guarantee the camera would have made a great job of it, but on self-timer it's as if the poor thing can't make up its mind without a human hand to press the shutter button and just hazards a guess. Consequently self-takes are a bloody nightmare for me.

The best short answer with a crap colour picture is to make it mono. That excuses the problems because black and white pictures are far more forgiving than colour ones ever are. They also gain a retro feel and that's good because we're used to seeing old crappy black and white pictures and accept them for what they are!

A whole lot better. Acceptable for blogging, still won't print well though...

It didn't really work. It looked OK but not exactly riveting. So, I decided to try an old trick — have the subject in colour and the background mono, then use sharpening and a blast of contrast to bring a little definition to it.

That worked well. The picture above is still crappy in terms of quality and would be a nightmare to prepare for print (about a day's work...) but now it looks good enough for publishing on the blog where high definition isn't required so long as the picture is published small enough to deceive the eye.

Then of course, I had to keep the theme running through the rest of the pictures for publishing that day...

How to ~
I've been asked by a number of people to explain how this effect is achieved and because I won't be using it again very often I don't see why I shouldn't give away the trick. It makes for good looking pictures framed and hung on the tackle shed wall!

It's simplicity itself really and though it might look difficult and can look highly professional with the right picture, is one of the easiest things imaginable. All it requires is a basic working knowledge of Photoshop or any other comparable photo management application, a few quick and simple steps, and it's done.

*This demonstration was made in Photoshop Elements.

1. Load the picture, then duplicate the layer.

2. Select the background layer and make that mono

3. Select the top colour layer and select the eraser tool

4. Make the eraser tool as large as possible and then cut away the bulk. The larger the tool the easier it is to cut accurately around convex outlines which are usually most of the outline of any subject.

5. Make the eraser tool smaller and cut away inside concave outlines, and then smaller still to cut away inside nooks and crannies

6. Flatten the image to one layer and make lighting adjustments such as brightness and contrast. Or, make adjustments to either layer first to see cutting mistakes more clearly, correct them, and then flatten it.

And that's all there is to it. A picture of an easy and forgiving subject such as a chub released back to the water done and dusted in just two minutes. You don't even need to be super accurate in cutting away the colour layer because the two layers are in register with one another so small errors will be unnoticeable to the viewer, big mistakes obvious in the making.

If you look closely at the top of my hand you'll see a small area of white on my knuckle.

That's a cutting error, not weed — but who would ever know?

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Avon Chub & Dace — 360 Degrees of Play

I've never been much of a wader. Except when bass fishing on the estuaries of the Essex coast where it was pretty much obligatory that I'd have to get in up to my waist to fish the flood tide and getting back to dry land requiring a quarter-mile walk through thigh high water, it has never appealed, the bank being my domain. This coarse fishery though, has so little access to so many great swims that I think I'm soon going to have to invest in my own set of rubbers but meanwhile I'll borrow Martin's.

The swim chosen was an interesting one. A bank-to-bank shallow and rapid riffle falls toward the confluence with a mill outlet where the waters of both combined have created a 45 degree bend in the main river with a scoured pool where the two forces meet. It can be accessed in low water conditions and fished from a cut off spit of bank but it's one of those places where waders are ideal because they allow all kinds of lies to be explored otherwise out of reach.

Working a lump of meat under the cover of an overhanging stand of mature bushes growing out the far bank and covering much of the pool, it went in the head OK, but then stopped half way where it had to be teased and plucked until it began moving out the other end. It didn't feel effective and wasn't because I didn't get a touch in an hour. Nevertheless, it was a lesson in how I might approach the swim next time around for the barbel and chub who likely live beneath the bush. 
Fetching out the bread and roach gear,  I made a searching cast downstream where the waters exit the pool then flow along a fringe of club rush by the far bank, where I had bites immediately. It was 'interesting' ledgering from within the river rather than its bank, but keeping the tip still something of a problem as was keeping the landing net from escaping, the hollow handle too buoyant and wanting to float away. A fish was hooked and though I was hoping for my first roach from the stretch it turned out to be just as good. A dace and a good stamp too at six-ounces.

Of course chub just had to put in an appearance too and what was great about that was the light tackle was tested well, the chub got to display itself admirably as a sporting fish, and I could just go stand wherever I wanted to create great angles for control. 

With 360 degrees of play it was a spiffing fight!

Martin came down to visit announcing a 5lb 4oz chub he'd caught whilst fishing for barbel in the weir pool. The stretch holds a very good stamp of chub it has to be said, and now they're showing up more often than not I think it might do better and better in time. 

The dace though, they were my discovery for the day and my entire attention turned to them alone. 

They were hard to hook. Bread is loved by dace but the bites shown on a quivertip are even harder to hit than with roach, who are difficult enough at the best of times. 

I needed maggots and a maggot feeder when the dace would simply hook themselves and I could find out just how far above the average stamp they'll go, because every one I did manage was 5-6 ounces, none were below and that's a good sign of better to come in my book. They ain't at all easy to find in decent shoals either, but when they are decent and this one seems to be, who knows what's possible on a warm summer's evening?

Next time I'll take along a float rod, a couple of pints of reds and a pint of hemp too and then get up to my waist at the head of the swim, set up my sub-aquatic stall mid-river and trot the swim all evening long. Then I'll know whether or not my new found cache is going to throw up something special.

If that is, Martin lends me his neoprene, sticks with his quest for a 14lb barbel, doesn't decide to try out his brand new and as yet unused twenty-footer, and oust me from it...

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Weekly Drennan Cup Award — Rough Justice

Expelling a fit of pique from his system Lee Swords writes a broadside blog aimed fairly and squarely at the inconsistencies of the Drennan Cup Awards bemoaning his failure to gain the weekly gong for a tremendous Trent catch that simply defies belief and just had to be the deserving winner no matter what.

A one session catch that "pissed all over everything else reported that week..." it was simply astonishing, "including five double figure barbel to 13lb plus and two double figure bream as well as a host of chub to 6lb 9oz…"

I agree. There's three PB's there for me! One, two or three for very many anglers, in fact.

I'd have been livid myself — if I was a badge collector!

Swords blames his failure on a North/South divide. What he says is that the milk of endeavour that makes the big cheese of the Drennan Cup is split — the South being the creamy curds and the North the runny whey — with Drennan choosing one above the other astutely (it's the company who makes the cheese after all!) but unfairly. I thought that a good point.

So, interest pricked I looked into the truth of the matter...

It took one brief scan through at the Drennan Awards web page to scotch that theory to my own satisfaction. I don't honestly think it has a thing to do with it because I couldn't find the evidence for it, but do believe it has a lot to do with the fact that this cup is run by a commercial concern heavily interested and invested in just the one thing, and that is profit, of which the evidence was hard to escape from.

Almost every single winner used Drennan equipment in their catch and almost every entry laboured the fact they had.

So it seems that if an angler hasn't used Drennan gear to make his catch then it's simply not of interest to them and it won't be included in the running unless there's absolutely no second choice. But of course, lack of an alternative requires either zero competition that week or the winning catch to be a British record when the captor's prospects of winning a bloody cap and badge into the bargain are beside the point.

But almost without exception there's always going to be a worthy alternative, especially when caught on 'a Drennan Distance Specialist Tench & Bream 12ft 2lb rod and 12lb Syncro XT mono,' or 'a size 8 Super Specialist barbless hook.' Don't you think?

I use Drennan gear. Everyone does. It's an inescapable fact that you will because they make a lot of truly great stuff that finds its rightful place in our tackle bags against a lot of excellent competition trying just as hard to oust their gear from it. That's business, and it's good business for Drennan to run the awards so we buy from them instead. It is generous of them to mention other companies though — XT mono is by ESP...

Maybe Swords doesn't use their stuff, but he probably does. He is an outspoken character though, and that does no one any favours in the business of selling unless they're outspoken for the team but not an outsider with a free voice who might speak out of turn and against their interest. Swords might do that. In fact he already has. That tirade of his won't have gone unnoticed at Drennan and he'll no doubt be seen as a loose cannon forever more.

Good God we need loose cannons though, don't we?

Angling has become such an anodyne yes-man business with writers so desperate to please their sponsoring companies I can hardly read about their adventures between ever proliferating product placement paragraphs. Some features in our magazines are so laden down with company brand and product names they're half a sentence short of being full-blown advertorial content.

I doubt they pay the piper though...

If I ran a very successful magazine (the very idea!) I'd have companies buy-by-word every single mention of any and all brand names and products. I'd also have them pay all the trip expenses for creating the feature itself if ads must be liberally sprinkled throughout the copy.

Actually, no. I'm a hard-nosed businessman too in my dreams. I'd run placement-free features out the magazine's purse designed to sell the issue to a public wanting quality content, sell other companies spread space as advertorial for which they pay not only the magazine but all the expenses incurred in the creation of their content, pocket their cash for my services and have done with it.

Thin on content advertorial might be — but I bet it'd be a thick issue every month!

Lee, if you must have your Drennan Award then become a yes-man and earn it the only way. Stay as you are, though, and retain your independent voice, then I'll happily get behind you and support the cause of making the Drennan Awards fair and equitable to all regardless of location or company loyalty or replacing it altogether with an alternative not ruled by commercial expediency by going on strike and expelling every single item in my tackle bag made by Drennan.

Except for their exceptional 'Glow Tip Antennae' that is!

That has to stay.

But, I don't think a Drennan badge would sit well with you anyhow.

It wouldn't sit well with me either. It'd look ridiculous on my hat where the only badge sartorially correct is feather, fly or dangling spinner, so neither use nor ornament I'd patch the threadbare arse of my pants with it.

And that might make even Pete Drennan laugh, but not his advertising drones so concerned as they are with best possible positioning for product placement.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Canal Tench — Bream #14

With the first feature of a new Total Coarse Fishing series hitting the shelves tomorrow morning, I thought I'd better get out there, do my job and promote sales by catching one of the little tincas the piece is all about. 

Of course magazines don't magically appear in a puff of smoke overnight. The pictures were taken two months ago and the copy written a week later. That makes for difficulties all round when the piece has to be topical at high season for whichever species it's about and for tench, or at least pleasure fishing for tench, that's right now. 

I was after a canal specimen back in May, and that's double difficult. It's not a pit where tench can be almost guaranteed to behave in a certain fashion as the water warms through spring, it's an out and out summer venue where tench are concerned, however, despite cool water and blanking outright for nigh on six hours I did actually hook one at the last but then a snag got itself into the argument and won! 

Tough titty for me... 

Not strictly necessary for the feature though which is more dreaming of catching than actually catching — anticipating exactly the short balmy nights we're enjoying at this very moment when from experience I know tench exit the safety of their weedy daytime abode in the marina and go on patrol in the canal proper. 

I thought I'd give the hours around dawn my best shot so got there by three in the morning intending to fish till six or seven. 

First thing I put out a heavy duty sleeper rod fishing bolt rigged corn well down the far bank shelf hoping to arrest the attention of the more adventurous tench and perhaps even carp, then readied a beefy (but not to the point of overkill...) float rod intending to fish bread well up the shelf in shallow water near cover at first light.

Bream #1
First cast I couldn't actually see the float, but could see where it wasn't. The bread was taken within minutes and the culprit bream. It was taken again ten minutes later, again by a bream. They were really snotty ones too and loused up the terminal tackle something rotten!

The sleeper rod continued hitting the snooze button for the next two hours but suddenly it sprang to life, sank back down again, and went back to sleep for the rest of the session. 

A liner.

In the meantime the float rod was making busy cooking up bream breakfast fit for a canal king, catching one after the other. 

The reeds began to quiver and part trembling as large fish I really hoped were tench made their way along the far bank. 

But could I catch them? Could I heck as like... 

Bream #13
More bream, and then there were seven, and ten bream, soon twelve, and then unlucky for some, thirteeen... 

It was totting up to the kind of catch a matchman would gladly die for. All around the pound to two-pound mark it would have amounted to an impressive bag if I'd brought a keep net, but hadn't. 

I came for tench, and tench alone.

Earlier I'd dropped my last slice of bread in the cut, fished it out, but got there too late and it became a sodden mush. 

No choice but fish on with it I then found to my relief that even very wet bread can still be cast and used to catch fish with. 

You learn something new every day when fishing, don't you?

Soggy mush

Snotty buggers!
Down to the last few discs I thought of packing in because the bream were becoming irksome now but I thought a last cast or two worthwhile because those fish — whatever they were — they were still knocking the vegetables about over there.

Tight to the reeds — a bite, a strike, a feeble flutter and Bream #14 coming home to daddy... and then, by a miracle, Bream #14 woke up and started being like a tench! 

Off it went here and there, and though canal bream can do this when they have a mind to, there's a difference. When they get feisty they occupy the surface and you see them gliding about but when tench start getting angry they run deep, stay down and you don't see them till they're beat. 

This had to be a tench...

At last! 

Sure enough, after a minute or three up came a mean green submarine, 'splash!' and into the net with her.

Phew, I thought they'd vanished but at the last a lovely fish made all the more lovely by the situation.

Lucky too, because if it had been Bream #14 instead of Tench #1 then I think I might well have denied the king of the canal his morning feast and eaten her for breakfast myself, there and then, snot and all.

Handy passerby pressed into service for photo does very good job —
angler reads instruction manual, 'On Tench, and How to Hold Them ...'

Total Coarse Fishing Magazine - August 2013 Issue - in the shops tomorrow morning, Wednesday 10th July.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Kamasan B560 — The Best Roach Hook, Ever?

I don't know about you but I swear that if I'm not using the right tool for the job then I'll do the job badly. Hooks are general purpose tools of course and not designed for any specific species on the whole, but some seem to work so well with certain fish it's as if they were designed specifically for them.

The Kamasan B560 is such a tool and roach their fish.

I doubt if there's a better hook for roach on the market and doubt there was one ever made that worked as well. Others may not agree and have their own firm favourites but I cannot make a cast after roach nowadays if I haven't one tied to the end of my line and pretty much give up hope when the packet is empty.

Why are they so good? Well the B560 is quite a looker with its fine wire, gracefully shaped bend and long tapered incurved point and it's because of that shape that it's a 'sticky' hook that finds a hold on roach where others fail. Secondly, it's of a springy but not hard and brittle metal, so it will open out under pressure and that's a very good thing, believe it or not!

I'll explain. It won't open out under the strain of playing fish — I banked a carp that broke my rod but the hook was fine because the point was fully home and the straight shank took all the pressure. Just the other night a chub was teased upstream through thick beds of club rush, a ridiculously difficult fight that took nigh on twenty minutes to win where in open water it would have taken two or less, but the hook never failed.  

But, if the point isn't driven all the way to the bend it will open out. That means snagging on underwater sticks and logs you'll get your hook back intact, with an opened out gape of course, but because the metal is malleable it can be put back into shape with a pair of pliers, or even between the teeth.

You'd think that would weaken it wouldn't you? Well it might but not so much that it makes any difference where roach are concerned. I've never broken one yet but have saved myself a lot of pain when fishing in weir pools where such snags are always present where roach are found and will be encountered as a matter of course.

The fact that it's a spade end pattern might deter some from using it because of the fiddly and unreliable knot required. It's a perfectly strong knot when properly tied, astonishingly so in fact, but one false move and it's the weakest knot in the book, failing at silly strains. I use a Stonfo hook tyer to make the job easy but even with this handy gadget it can still fail to tie up properly if care and attention isn't taken with it. I take high magnification reading glasses to the bank for such fiddly work because my focus range has lengthened and lengthened as I've aged. Then I can see the knot and close up it's obvious when it's wrong.

Again, just the other night a chub was lost because of my failing to test the knot before use with a good hard pull to near breaking strain to set the knot and check its for weakness. The same fish was later banked on a carefully tied and tested knot and my lost hook retrieved! The lesson is that spade end knots are not to be trusted until they've been pre-tested to very near their limits.

I do think the knot also plays a crucial role in helping the hook find hold because the line comes off not on a rotating hinge as it does with an eyed hook but from a stiff link. Whatever the reason the hook is as I've already mentioned, 'sticky,' and since using them my hook-up rates with roach have soared, in fact when ledgering bread, a notoriously difficult method that can drive the roach angler insane with frustration when they're finicky and is never easy even when they're really having it, they've tripled.

They don't let go either and I cannot remember ever losing a roach once hooked, which is remarkable.

This hook is so reliable and trusted, a fact established over two season's use constant usage and comparison with those used beforehand, that if I'm not catching fish but am getting bites then there's no getting past the fact that on the day I'm just a terrible workman because there's no blaming the Kamasan B560 — the perfect tool for the job.