Thursday, 11 December 2014

Oscar ~ August 17th 2012 — December 10th 2014

The very young Oscar
In his super enthusiasm for Longford Park and his love for other dogs he strayed unusually far last night losing sight of myself and his constant companion and mother, Molly. 

In trying to find us he ran across a road dividing two areas of grassland and was hit by a car. When I found him he was still alive but unconscious and in a critical state. I knew he wouldn't survive long but bundling him up I carried him to home where he fought for life in the place of his birth before succumbing to his fatal injuries. He died in my arms.

A young adult, fully grown, he was superbly fit and immensely strong. Energetic, loyal, biddable, dependable and loving, Oscar was almost everything a great dog should be, but he never inherited an ounce of his mother's common sense. On the eve of commencing gun dog training when he would finally have gained good sense of his own, cruelly, he was cut down before achieving the full potential of the prime of his life. A tragic, tragic thing to have to witness and now endure.

Perhaps he'll go to heaven but fear they'll not have the young devil in the house. I'd have him back here right now and for ever more. But, he is gone forever and won't be coming home again.

Good God, I'll miss you, boy.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Zedvember the 53rd

Three years ago today I organised an event on the canals round my way using the excuse of my 50th birthday to pry anglers out the door on a freezing night to try their best to catch zander. To my surprise a dozen local zed heads turned out for what turned out be a dire evening's fishing but a memorable social and so this year on Danny Everitt's recommendation that I should, I decided to hold it again.

'Zedvember the 53rd' was a long way off when I first attempted to get in touch with all the anglers I've met in the last eight years. But I was crapping myself the whole of the prior week with weather predictions forecasting Sunday 23rd — the day I'd thought best — as the worst possible day I could have chosen in the entire month!

It's a long way to go for the uncertain prospect of wild zander averaging only a couple of pounds from a drab wintertime canal I wouldn't venture round the corner to fish during this sort of weather, but, sarf Londoners, Brian Roberts, brothers James and Richard Denison, braved it. I don't think they ever did worry, but I needn't have. Rain before seven and all that. By ten it was easing and by half past when I met with Brian at Coventry Station, it had stopped altogether.

Walking the 5.5733 miles to the venue at Hawkesbury Junction, Norm, who was to cut his first zander tooth today, phoned as we hoofed along the gin clear canal at Electric Wharf in the City. Exiting from the first road bridge and taking the short cut up the Foleshill Road passing through the bustling main thoroughfare of Coventry's Asian quarter, we were amazed to find him accosting us from behind... He'd got his missus to drive him back down to town and had run all the way up the road through the crowds and vegetable stalls to catch up, rod in hand!

After a swift pint at the Greyhound moorings where we met up with the rest of the crew, we were off. Danny and Keith Jobling joined by Joe Chatterton went on a northern excursion into the semi-rural stretches of the Bedworth bound Coventry Canal, while Mick Newey ventured eastwards and alone to the Oxford Canal and one of my regular swims, Grassy Bend. All the rest of us pitched up in and around the mouth of Exhall Marina.

For all, but especially those up from the The Smoke, I really hoped that the fishing would be the kind that happens often enough here — you know, run after run after run.  But it seemed clear it wasn't going to happen that way. For an agonising half-hour — nothing. Then (thank the Lord!) Brian's float was off, he struck, and was attached to the thrash and flurry of a respectable zander. Phew! 

Next cast back to the very same spot of water he had a fingerling too. But no one else got a bite either side so after an hour or so we all moved along. Passing the four others along on the way, Danny had had three small ones by way of his live worm drop shot method, Mick had lost a fish on the Oxford Canal before moving back to the Coventry, Joe had yet to get a bite, ditto Keith. Biteless likewise, I was bound for one of my recent discoveries, just to see if on such a tough day it would throw me another bone...

Anglers to the left of me. Richard and Brian
I've written once before about this particular bush. In the meantime I've fished it again and with result. One bait cast into just a square yard of water beneath it, the second cast here, there, and everywhere nearby, the first has scored over and over again while the second has gone utterly ignored except for a few odd dibs and dobs that never developed into proper runs. Also, the stamp caught has been encouragingly high with every fish between three and four pounds set against a general canal average of two to two and a half pounds. But today I fished just the one rod. There were plenty enough others fishing nearby to ascertain if this entire area was indeed a hotspot or just one remarkable yard of it. 

Anglers to the right.  Norm beside me, James chatting with Mick in the background
The bait was put out and within two minutes the float was vanishing under cover. Fish on! Not a bad one either. Everyone including myself thought it a five pounder but it weren't. Dead on four pounds. Zander — deceptive creatures with more air in them than you'd think. 

The bait is already back in the magic square and I'm watching the float hoping for a brace shot!
Norm just to my right hand side was casting his bait no further than a few yards from mine but was getting strange bites. I have never had such bites myself — and yet he was using one of my rigs so our set ups were identical. The float was burying slowly but not running as it should. Then Brian had a bite under the near bank that was a most curious one too. Neither hooked up. We suspected crayfish and when Brian slowly lifted his rig on the next bite, sure enough there was a Reggie hanging on.

One  caught last year...
Apart from these unwelcome guests, no one either side had even a touch from zander, which was disappointing because I really wanted Norm to catch his first ever and James to break his Coventry Canal duck too. When night fell we returned to the vicinity of the pub where Richard had a zed from beneath the footbridge and we met with Martin Roberts (who is in no conceivable way brother to Brian!) out for a social.

The fishing didn't last long after that and so it was off to the pub where the beer flowed mostly into my thirty gob being birthday boy, n'all.

My heartfelt thanks to those who attended and I do hope you really enjoyed yourself. I certainly did, and that's because of you and your willingness to leave Sunday lunch behind, come fish alongside me, and lay no blame for the lack of bites or the bloody signals...



Sunday, 16 November 2014

Canal Zander — Nuff Said

You learn something about zander every time you fish for them. Most of the time what you'll learn, and it's a lesson you'll repeat over and over again, is how little you really know! Take the other night, for instance. Danny and myself went out night fishing at a new spot on the Coventry Canal some way out in the sticks. We set up a zander rod each and a quiver tip rod for the chub we'd heard could be caught around those parts. On arrival there was a flotilla of boats moored along the towpath and so we were forced to fish the gap between two sterns. Almost as soon as we cast out both started their engines to charge batteries for the evening's telly sessions. It was noisy, and soon we were enveloped in diesel fumes and so it was doubly unpleasant.

However, Danny's chub rod brought in a really good looking roach x bream hybrid within minutes and then his zander float was off too and the first zed of the night was banked. He was off to a flyer but only when I brought my zander bait from its distant position right into the vibration zone did I get a run.  And then I had another, and another, and another. Then Danny had another as well. So we'd banked five zander so far, I'd lost a very small one, an hour had passed by, but it really looked as if we'd be at it all night long. And then both boaters decided to watch the goggle box, switched off their engines, and it fell silent.

We didn't get another bite between us the rest of the session but at least we could breath and hear each other talk...

When I got home I found I had itchy feet, wasn't sleepy at all, and wanted to get back out just to see if the cessation of feeding was a matter of us catching all members of a pack, imminent changes in weather and barometric pressure, or lack of vibration! I went back out at two in the morning to fish the junction just around the corner from home with a cup of coffee in hand, where I enjoyed washing down a couple of pork pies whilst watching two static floats do nothing at all till the clock struck four when the predicted heavy rain began to fall.

Next day I went out again just to see if daylight would have improved matters...

Nothing doing in my 'barometer swim' where there's always fish present doing away with the doubt that I'm not on fish in the first place. Second swim used to be a banker but it seems it isn't these days. I did enjoy the very rare instance of a pike though. Thinking my line was too near a submerged snag, I moved it, and he snatched up the bait.

But rare? Pike?

I've lost count of pike the local zed anglers have not caught. They are about, but about as uncommon as the proverbial. You'll get one in every hundred zander. Oddly enough, Danny had had one just the other day. Now I'd had another. And, I'm just hearing first reports of a 25 pounder caught within peddling distance — a sixteen-pounder viewed through the distorting lens provided by lager and lack of a spring balance, most likely...

But you never know!

Because this very long canal pound certainly does contain well documented and accurately weighed pike above thirty pounds and probably a few exceeding forty I tend to err on the side of caution about the veracity of stated weights but there's no smoke without fire and locations are always accurate enough so I will follow such rumours up because when large pike are ever found, they're likely to be found lurking around the perimeter bounds of large shoals of large bream and there'll be more than one present.

Juggling a 'five pounder'.  A lively and slippery bugger this! 

On the subject of subjective weight estimates. I moved out into the countryside to the bream shoal in question (about forty strong. I saw them in January 2011 swimming just an inch below thawing ice) where I had my only zander of the day. It wasn't weighed but was a mid two-pounder, maybe scraping three-quarters. Catching so many in this size bracket I can weight them by eye and be only ounces out. A couple of local boaters who live on the cut the whole year round passed by as I netted the fish and proclaimed it a 'good un' and 'easily a five!'

Nuff said.

A couple of lads fishing four rods between them had two zander that day between 9am and 5pm. That's not so good for such a long session but given my own results, I suppose OK on the day. They reported losing way too many over the last few sessions, though. I enquired about their hooks and sure enough they had been using trebles. I recommended them Danny's hook choice because they wouldn't be able to get hold of mine and it works every bit as well.

Thankfully, the Gamakatsu 'wide gap' pattern seems to be back on course with every run hooked cleanly, and only one fish lost out of seven since that weird session by the bush a fortnight ago. I'm going to trial circle hooks next. I don't actually expect them to work well for zander and for specific reasons to do with gapes and jaw bone peculiarities, but we'll see.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Canal Zander — Push, Push...

Intending to drop into the Marina swim for an hour and then go exploring neglected places I found two fellas already fishing six rods between them there and with so much hardware out almost all options covered. Nevertheless, I dropped in at a respectful distance to their right hand side just to observe what they might catch in what has to be the most easily accessible and comfortable swim I know of on the entire Coventry Canal. I only go there for the inevitable chinwag with passers by and their 100% reliable but 20% accurate local fishing reports. And that it does give up a run or two when everywhere fails...

They hadn't caught in their first hour. They were fishing live baits and they looked like imported rudd to me (tut, tut...) what with their scarlet fins. Anyhow, they didn't seem to be working. I think dead baits were out too, but neither did they. Two hours after my arrival on the scene they still hadn't had a run between them and neither had I, but then my right hand float moved decisively towards the far bank, where it stopped, as they often do. I expected it to move again when I'd strike. But it didn't, so I waited and waited and waited again, finally deciding I'd experienced what I never had before. The dropped run of zander fishing lore and legend.

How peculiar. They were playing up all fickle and fussy this morning!

Deciding that the day really was all wrong for zeds, as it often is, that I'd probably blank by staying put and I'd nothing much to lose by an excursion out into the sticks, I upped mine and went. I chose a spot where I could leapfrog the rods up and down against a continuous run of far bank cover in the form of hawthorn bushes and partially sunken tree branches. Casting here and there and by moving about constantly I finally found a spot that held at least one fish because I had a run there.

There was absolutely nothing at all unusual about it — just a bush, and an ordinary one at that.  But, over the next hour and a half I had seven runs and banked three fish around the three to four pound mark from a spot no larger than a square yard beneath it whilst the second float, no matter where I put it, stayed stock still and any cast of the first rod that did not land plumb in that square yard went ignored.

What was also odd was that none of the banked fish were hooked very securely and four runs were bumped after hooking. Dropped runs, bumped fish. That's what other anglers experience. Not me! Ah well, pride before a fall and all that. After my last post when I thought it almost certain that the Gamakatsu 'Finessse Wide Gap' might well be my future hook of choice, now I was not so sure about them and wished I had a packet of my trusty 'Ultimate Bass' to hand.

Eventually the bites dried up when I reckon I'd caught all three residents of that particular lair and so I went home quite chuffed to have found another good and probably reliable spot for the future but a little bemused by such unusual results.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Canal Zander — We Don't Think So!

I enjoyed a long conversation about zander the other morning with Danny Everitt while we fished the Coventry Canal just round the corner from my home. Now, Danny and myself are pretty experienced at the canal zander fishing malarky and though we have never fished using the same rigs in all the time we've practised the sport, we've somehow converged over time and arrived at the point where what we both have dangling from our rod tops is superficially different but technically speaking pretty much identical in every respect. Small but buoyant cigar shaped floats — because there's no need for big ones when the bait is just yards distant — enough weight to cock them, and a wire trace armed with a large single hook.

The approach we use is similar too. No need for rod rests and all that. We sit out back with our rods lain on the strip of grass between towpath and water, often at a forty-five degree angle in tight swims, with their butts out of the way of Robocyclist, who we see from time to time as a silver/black/spandex/carbon-fibre blur, hurtling through the gap against his handlebar mounted iPhone stopwatch. Each to his own. He has his hobby, we have ours. It's for the best they're kept apart by a few inches. Also, the gear we carry about is pared down to the barest minimum. A seat, a bag, and a net, is all we have besides our rods. Canal zander fishing is not a static pursuit and moving along, and you might five or six times over in the one session, is far easier when you aren't entrenched in a mess of unnecessary tackle.

The only difference between Danny's current practise and my own is in bait choice. I use small slices of dead roach, he uses small live perch. But the emphasis is still on small bait size and for good reason.

Wrong hook — fifteen runs — two fish banked.  No wonder zander are thought a tricky customer...
Now, we've both experimented with hooks down the years, starting off with tandem trebles,  progressing through every conceivable combination of this and that before arriving at the same conclusion — that single hooks in sizes so agricultural they'd make the average coarse angler's eyes water, are the very best tool for the job. You have to understand that using the wrong hook for zander results in head-banging frustration with run after run missed and lightly pricked fish getting off far too easily. When you only net one fish from every three hooked and hook just six from fifteen runs in one hectic hour (as I did one December night back in 2010) then you become acutely aware that something is very wrong at the business end.

The Gamakatsu 'Finessse Wide Gape' in size 3/0
Last time I fished with Danny after zeds he was using O'Shaughnessy hooks size 1/0 and I was using the Mustad 'Ultimate Bass' in size 2/0. Today he was using a carp hook, and it was the biggest one he could find on the shelves, while I was using a hook under trial as an alternative to the Mustad — the Gamakatsu 'Finesse Wide Gap'. This is a hook only available in America and was kindly thrown across the pond by Steve Dedrick (Steve in Colorado) on recommendation as a great hook for walleye and therefore the closely related zander. 

Apart from the straight point of mine and the in-curved point of Danny's, they were, to all intents and purposes, identical. And just as large as each other even though his was a size 1 and mine a 3/0 according to the packets!

General hook size chart.  Perhaps my 3/0 is not nearly big enough for double figure fish?

We agreed. They weren't that large at all. Not in the jaw of a decent zander, but certainly not in the gob of any size of pike. What was 'large' about them was only that they were in use for coarse fish. We then agreed on a second point — that many coarse anglers lack sea fishing experience and have therefore developed something of a fetish for small hooks and are always looking at ways to reduce size. Which, as we also agreed, is a nonsense. Hooks should be the right size for the job, big or small, and these huge hooks of ours were spot on. 

For bass in this size range sea anglers routinely choose hook sizes in the order of  4/0 - 6/0

That's a great deal larger than a size 6! 

About ten times the size...

Use such a hook at Bury Hill, though, and you'd be frogmarched out the gates by the owner. Trebles are banned outright there and single hooks a must. But he enforces tench hooks on his predator hunters. Size 6 is the maximum allowed. Because Bury Hill is the country's zander Mecca, this ruling has forced intelligent anglers who fish the place to refine small hook/small bait rigs to get the best from it. However, using such small hooks results in false data. You are going to get very many 'dropped' runs and many lost fish before you bank one. The upshot of this is the reinforcement of an old myth originally perpetuated by pike anglers fishing for zander with pike gear. And that is...

That they are 'finicky'.

A size 6 circle and a strip of trout. Looks all wrong
but what is the essential difference between this
and a single maggot on a size 18?
We don't think so! 

Danny doesn't have dropped runs and neither do I. They just don't let go of a bait once they pick it up, in my experience. When I caught a one at Bury Hill, it messed with the bait for a full minute before deciding to move off with it. The float dithered on the spot, but it didn't run. I knew it must be zander picking it up because the bite was typical of many I get down the cut and such bites must be struck when the float moves away in one direction (no matter how slowly) because the fish is solo, not in a competitive pack, and is mouthing the bait, not eating it beforehand. Sure enough, when it did move off, I struck against the direction of the run and hooked it. It was a near twelve-pounder, but I would have never had hooked it at all if I'd struck early.

I was very lucky to bank it though. Very lucky not to be thrown off too, because I used a size 6 circle hook that day. At least that's what it said on the packet...

The reason such large hooks as we both currently employ work so very well mechanically is because the gape is very wide. The reason the bait is hooked so that it dangles off the bend rather than being impaled upon on it, is that the gape must not be clogged with flesh otherwise it is rendered ineffectual because it is the bend of the hook that banks zander, not the point. That wide unimpeded gape is critical because there's the bony plate of the upper jaw to contend with and it must wrap around it. Use anything smaller and you are merely hoping to hook up by finding some little bit of flesh inside the mouth and there's precious little of that, hence the reputation zander have for falling off. 

The Gamakatsu and its typical hook hold.  Zander should always be hooked like this so far 
as I'm concerned because if not it's the wrong hook for the job in a very bony gob. 

The Gamakatsu is almost as wide as it is long — nearly a circle hook but for the lack of a sharply inturned point. Fish are almost always hooked cleanly in the scissors through the thin membrane between the bony plate of the upper jaw and the skull but for some reason are never hooked down the throat and that's a blessing because unhooking the fish is a formality, not a surgical operation. Big wide gape hooks avoid all that, in fact I'm so outrageously confident in them that I don't even check my bag for forceps before I go. Can't remember when I last had to use them, actually.

The Mustad 'Ultimate Bass' cleanly hooked through the scissors of a small zander. 

But even with the long-shanked Mustad, it is the large gape that makes it work so well. I refer you to Mick Newey, who was having a horrible time of it when he began trying for the zander in his local canal. He was experiencing exactly what Danny and I had encountered years ago. Lots of runs, few fish. I recommended the Mustad bass hook and what happened then was he hooked and banked almost every single one thereafter. He didn't catch any large ones though, so the hook looks enormous in their mouths, but hook a five-pounder or better and that size discrepancy vanishes, and five-pounds plus is what we fish for, after all, is it not?

The only downside we agreed upon was that such large hooks might once in a while impale small zander through the orbit of the eye.

Well, little zander make for a very tasty fillet, don't they?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Avon Zander & Barbel —  Should've

I'd caught many hundreds of zander in my long and illustrious zander career. Sometimes, it'd seemed, with the rosy hindsight provided by a half-price bottle of middling plonk and the irreverence of spirit a roaring fire on a cool October night induces that once upon a time I'd caught a hundred in the one go. It was ten or so, and half of them were lost, but it seemed ten times that sum on occasion such was the feverish all-action nature of that memorable night round the corner, down the cut.

But I'd never caught one from the Avon, ever. That's probably because I'd never tried very hard, but I had tried once or twice. Actually it was the once I'd tried. With Danny Everitt — Seven Meadows, Stratford-upon-Avon —  frosty morning — roach on my mind — didn't put my back into it.

But just lately they'd taken up residence in my imagination once more, so, last Friday I finally decided to have a more focused crack at them on the same river but some miles downstream. There's this big, big slack near bank, you see. And it's very deep. Last time there I'd fished it hopelessly for roach trotting bread through but never had a bite. It'd occurred to me then that it might well hold front page zander or pike, so that's where I headed Friday night armed with a single rod and a dead roach or two, leaving Martin half a mile away to his barbel.

Should've turned my bloody phone off. 

My sliding float sat stationary for some time, the bait on the bottom in ten feet of water. Just a few feet further out and I couldn't find bottom with only an eleven foot rod and a stop shot blocking the tip ring. It was fourteen feet deep out there, I reckoned. Fifteen or sixteen perhaps? I should have tied on a rubber or something, something that would slip through the ring easily, but it was getting on for dark already and just couldn't be arsed to. It was pleasant enough to watch where it was, anyways. Seemed just as good a spot as any other. 

And then slowly it sank from sight...

'Slowly sinking from sight' is something that hardly ever happens with zeds down the cut. The float sort of ambles about in half-circles or takes off on a straight line toward something or other but rarely does it vanish. Whenever it does sink from sight, that's pike. So, I expected a pike now, as you would. Actually, I expected a bloody monster having imagined one earlier but it wasn't quite that. Just a small fish — a jack — most likely. 

But it wasn't! 


Didn't weight the fish. It was too small to bother with even though I was alone with no-one around to feel embarrassed by. I reckon two-pounds or so. Let's say, two-pounds and an-ounce, for the record. A new personal best for the species from the river by default as it was my very first and only thus far. Anyhow, having had my first and knowing a thing or two about zander being a self-proclaimed seasoned pro with 'em, I was absolutely positively certain that the same bait cast back to the very same spot would secure another, and possibly much, much, better one.

Like I said, I should've turned my bloody phone off... 

Suddenly, just when my hackles were rising with the falling of the light and prospect of monstrous zeds gracing my net, I'd to packed down and race back. His half expected breathless call had arrived and I'd duties to perform.

Half a mile distant — the best of Martin's year — ones!

This Friday...

I'll turn my bloody phone off....

Friday, 3 October 2014

Making Zeds — A Meet with Dominic Garnett

A piking person's convention took place not five minutes walk from my front door last Saturday. After an excellent day trip to the capital city on business, Friday, Judy and I took the long train journey home during which we digested our disappointing funky decor restaurant pie & mash evening meal with the lubrication of a second bottle of vino. It may not have been wise, but over-baked water crusts, venison lumps like little sponges injected with bovril, pallid salt-free mashes and insipid liquors without any particular taste to speak of, do require a little something in the way of 'body' to accompany them on their way down the bowels.  

Arriving back at our front door at 10.30pm totally knackered and the worse for wear we met with Dominic Garnett, our guest for the weekend and next morning, one of the convention attendees. My God! Eight pups create a lot of shit and piss in one un-mopped day. The house stank like a frickin' zoo. Dom didn't seem to mind, though. He was making zeds on the living room sofa bed within the hour just as frazzled by his journey up from London as with were with ours back from Cardiff.

I didn't go to the convention. I'd work to do. Dom arrived back Saturday evening after another gruelling day when we all walked down to The Greyhound for well deserved refreshment. On the way I showed him the canal by moonlight where we'd both be heading next morning after those zeds he'd been making the night before.

A nice warm day ahead under a bright clear sky is not what anyone who doesn't know better would call ideal weather, exactly, but I tell you it does not matter. That received notion that zander prefer to feed in the gloom and the pitch is so much nonsense. They'll feed any time day or night all weathers inclusive. They'll also not feed either and that applies to night time as much as it does to the daylight hours. The thing is, you never can quite work them out, and that's refreshing.

Dom set up a fly rod. I was very interested to witness a fluff caught canal zander, but locals passing by were simply astonished because they'd never seen such a method used in their vicinity in all their long lives. Such is the bond between venue, approach and expected targets they thought perhaps trout must be on our evening menu, views Dom has done much to scotch in his own written work on successful fly fishing for coarse species.

Setting up a single dead-bait rod I cast a tiny roach head bait where I always do for starters — slap in the gap between the bow and stern of two adjacent boats moored along on the far bank. The float was toodling off before the line was sunken. The result the first of what I hoped would be many, many zander by nightfall. It was only a one-pound tiddler as was the half-pounder to my second cast which like the first took the bait almost on the drop. But that was that for that particular lie and so I moved along to the next set of hulls.

With canals, not every holt that once held fish necessarily will on the next day. Soon I moved along and along again till I found another pod from which two were banked in quick succession, one of them of a respectable weight. Dominic had set up a feeder rod in the meantime but wasn't finding fish with it. We departed Longford Junction for Hawkesbury Junction where I assured Dominic there'd be zander to catch and without any doubt in my mind we would.

Along the way we stopped at boats moored near-bank where by pulling his fly along and beneath a hull, Dom finally hooked a fish, but his hook hold failed and it swam free.

At Hawkesbury, the swim we were heading for was, as usual, occupied. It almost always is but luckily the residents were a gang of four ten year old boys who'd somehow managed to cram together in a huddle of bristling rods occupying just a quarter of the water at their disposal. We crowded in too. They didn't seem to mind that and nor did we — their antics were hilarious!

There's a particular sweet spot in this swim from which I've caught at least half the zander that I've ever taken there. If I'd explain its exact location in exhaustive detail you'd still be off the mark it's that tight. In fact if I'm not able to fish from my preferred spot on the bank, and today that was where the boys were encamped, then I have to walk to it, calculate angles, and work out how to cast bang on from my unpreferred position. That's what I did, and fishing commenced.

I don't have a clue why it is so productive. A nondescript patch of open water at the junction between boat track and far bank shelf there's apparently nothing to commend it. But once again it gave up zander. A further three fish were banked. Dominic's ledgered bait cast far bank also had some action, but once again his fish, and by the bend in his rod it looked to be the best of the day thus far, was lost beneath the revetment at our feet in the last quarter of the fight.

Judy came down from the house, we wound up at The Greyhound (once again!), commenced fishing off the bridge bank with pints of the American brown ale we'd taken a shine to the previous night in hand, where Dom lost yet another fish to a flimsy hook hold. It really wasn't his day but perhaps there was hope for him (after a second pint, of course...) at our last port of call — right back where we'd started many hours hence and in the witching hour.

By the failing light zander in their ravening packs venture on the nocturnal prowl. Textbook stuff. Or so they'd have it.

But he didn't have a touch...

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Blood, Sweat and Bitter Beer

When you've been blogging about fishing as long as I have, there's a point that comes where quite frankly my dear, you just don't give a damn anymore. You'll publish about the most dreary bite-less day so long as there's a back story. In fact it becomes a matter of actually going out to catch that sideline incident instead of fish themselves. Straight fishing makes for a terribly dull read. I-went-out-and-caught-fish-and-here-they-are. I just can't write that sort of stuff neither can I read it. It's the adventure of encountering the unexpected that makes it sing. Without that then it's just so much, so what?

Today, for instance. What was turning out to be a real fag end of an expedition suddenly came alight when my accumulated session struggles, none of which were especially exciting or remarkable in of themselves, all came together at the end to create a story that actually begs a question.

I knew something was afoot. When I sit down to fish but take no pictures then I just know in my heart of hearts that nothing remarkable will happen, but if I find myself taking shots of this and that (and especially selfies...) then something is about to occur. Call it professional instinct. Call it what you like. But it's always right. And today I was snap happy.

Anyhow. The venue was the Saxon Mill on the Wark's Avon, one of the most overgrown wildernesses it has ever been my pain and pleasure to fish. The reason was that I had a few hours free and by chance Judy was going that way and later back again with my few free hours neatly sandwiched between. So I snatched up a rod and went.

By Christ it was high. By Golly it was lush. By the time I'd reached my first swim high up in no mans land I was sweating like the proverbial swine, so I took a selfie and caught a drop on the end of my nose. The water was almost stationary. Hardly any flow to speak of. It looked stale. I fished bread and caught one roach for my efforts from a swim that on a great day provides a hundred or more. They were just not biting. 

So I moved downstream through monstrous tendrils and head high nettles to another swim, where just as before I caught very little, in fact nothing whatsoever. However, on arrival there I found my hand gushing blood, ripped open by a bramble, and it had been flowing for some time without my noticing it. 

So, I took a selfie, as you do (or rather I do). Then wiped the worst of it on the bottom of my seat and carried on.

Sweat, Blood. Well, there's two-thirds of a title in an hour. All I needed now was tears and the story would come together nicely, fish or no fish.

Having expended precious effort, time and bodily fluids that would be wasted unless I moved again, I made the decision to go fish right back at the very beginning of the expedition and off the weir wall, conveniently situated next one of the most expensive pubs in England. The Saxon Mill. How on earth, though, would I get tears here unless by way of having to pay through the nose for a pint?

Well it then got weird. But, 'Blood, Sweat and Weird?

That's just rubbish.

I thought 'queer' might be better. It was queer. Indeed it was. But how would I get a selfie to illustrate queerness? Stand like a teapot, rod in hand? Not that kind of queer though. This was just fishy queer not the nine bob note kind...

I was fishing ledgered bread, mind. Now I fish an awful lot of bread and once in a while it catches fish that are a surprise or those it ain't supposed to. But never have I ever caught more than one queer fish on bread in the same year, yet today, I caught two on successive casts.

The first was a very handsome perch. I was thinking it a crucian when I first caught a glimpse in the water. Using bread you'd expect a bread kind of fish, no matter that the river probably contains none at all of that species and if it does, not in a weirpool. It fought like mental. Thought I'd not bank it but eventually I did. Spanking fish.

Oddly enough, just the day before I'd been thinking about all the various species I'd ever caught on bread and perch was missing from my list. Now it was on it. How strange is that? Angling for all my life never having caught one on bread — think about the fact that I never have — next day catch one. You might think that not odd at all but when you've been blogging about fishing as long as I have...

Next cast I get a big fat bite and hook what must be a big fat chub. I don't see it for ages. It powers about the place bending my roach rod double with a crowd of expectant onlookers gathering. Half way through the fight I get a tap on the shoulder. It's Judy with a pint in hand. I take a gulp. Doombar. I now have the title complete and continue attempts to get this feisty chub in hand.

But it's a bleedin' pike! Crowds of onlookers love pike like no other fish because they know they have big teeth. On banking the fish I can hear their approval of them and their warnings to small children about the dangers of messing with them. Luckily I don't have to, it's hooked lightly in the scissors and with a pop, it's out.

Judy takes a picture. For some reason it's blurred. I guarantee if I'd taken the same shot of her it would have been pin sharp. Weird camera. Like the pike and captor it attempts to depict, it has a tiny mind of its own...

Sitting back down, I take a well deserved selfie and finish my pint.

And ask myself a question...

"Two predators in ten minutes on bread — hardly any bread loving fish in three hours... but why?"

One you'd assume was a fish attacking a minnow eating bread, but two on the trot then you'd question that premise. You have to understand that these two casts of bread were two out of perhaps a hundred thousand prior ones, only one of which had ever produced a predator and that was seen chasing the bread on the retrieve.

Thinking "why, why, why," it suddenly struck me exactly why.

Well, I hadn't washed my bloody hands, had I.


Saturday, 5 July 2014

Avon Barbel — In Each a Sweet Spot

You know it's true. Every swim has one. There or nowhere. All or nothing.

This particular swim has a very precise one. 'The Hole' is what I call the peg. A hole is what it is. Or at least what it once was because on arrival I almost walked straight past it unrecognised. "Huh? Maybe it's not where I think it is", so I walk downstream and then upstream, finally deciding that something has changed.

Down 'The Hole' June of last year. So tight I have to sit on the butt of the rod...

The tree had gone. The tree that made life so very tricky in an already very tricky peg had vanished, ripped out the bank during the recent floods. The vertiginous mudslide down to the the waters edge was the same, though. Six unevenly spaced worn down steps pitched at treacherous sloping angles where the slightest amount of rain on the highly compacted clay creates a surface film of slip that might create a disaster should a footfall be underestimated. And it had begun to rain right on arrival...

Pitching the brolly at the top of the bank I set about two jobs. The first was to catapult a tin of sweetcorn into the head of the swim and have most, but not all, arrive at the riverbed approximately downstream of the sweet spot to draw barbel upstream to it. The second was to take a bank stick and as far, and as noiselessly as possible, create flat steps before I even attempted to fish because I didn't want to fight barbel off infirm ground.

When I had, I then noticed that where the tree had been wrenched away there was an area of muddy gravel right at the edge of the river that with a little quiet work would provide a nice little platform for me. Half an hour later, by prising away loose material from above and carefully compacting it underfoot, I had it made. I then set about having the muddy steps strewn with gravel and compacting that too. Job done, I had the fight to come set up on my own terms.

About that sweet spot though. On previous sessions I'd fished all over the river but gained bites only from a small area beneath some kind of weedy snag that I can only imagine gives fish a sense of security. Everywhere else it seems to be fairly clean gravel. Casting precisely to it requires putting the lead out and away and having the current drag it back into position. Get the shot wrong it falls too high and snags or sets down too far or too wide, left or right. Get the shot just right, though, and a bite is more or less assured. I guess its one of the many reasons anglers are called 'anglers'...

Trouble was, before I'd always fished up the bank to my immediate left, now I was fishing six feet down and six feet to the right of that position, so I had to find the sweetspot, or rather the weedy snag above it, all over again because all the angles were now different. That job took far longer than I thought it would and for a time I believed that along with the tree, the snag had washed away too. Then at last a retrieve held firm and when pulled free came back minus bait, the feeder trailing three feet of rotten weed.

Proper bites failed to come though. Curious knocks and jangles but nothing in the way of solid enthusiasm. I thought I'd cast about a bit and had a small chub take the corn bait on the drop, but that was it. The swim seemed a stranger today and returning to the sweet spot even that proved redundant. All those little jingles and jangles there the work of tiny chublets attacking the corn, surely?

Perhaps it was not so sweet after all...


But then I remembered how often I'd caught barbel after experiencing the same elsewhere. Lucys Mill, for instance, where one night a multitude of odd indications whilst fishing meat eventually resulted in a massive bite missed, then later still a very violent take and a twelve pound fish on the bank. All the while Martin sitting watching had had those 'bites' down as chub, and anywhere else so would I have, but from long experience at Lucys I knew that there's very, very few in the tail of the weir because I'd fished thousands of casts with bread with just one chub to my credit amongst all the hundreds of roach. In fact I'd banked more barbel on bread than chub — a two pounder and an eight pounder — an 'interesting' scrap across strong flow near bank on just three-pound line!

If they were from barbel there and then, then maybe here and now...?

There are usually plenty of chub down the hole but few barbel. I've never banked one from it yet, but once lost a fish I still hold to be one of the largest I ever hooked, anywhere. I hadn't had many chub today so working on the premis that the indications might actually be line bites caused by rooting barbel wary of three grains of corn on a hook amongst a bed of singles, I thought of scaling down hook size and fishing one grain only but I switched to meat instead and put it smack on target.

Martin arrived with the news he'd had a six-pounder some way upstream and would I come take pictures. Ordinarily I would have obliged, but, I just couldn't leave this cast behind because I just knew it would produce placed right where it needed to be and a simple matter of time before it did, and so I declined.

Sorry mate. It was the only decision I could make!

But it was the right one because twenty minutes later the rod top plucked, then pulled, but then...

B'Jeezus! The reel screamed. I screamed. The fish screamed!

No time to disengage the baitrunner I jam my finger on the spool and try to bring down the blistering pace of the creature. It works, but burns. Click. The handle turns, were on the clutch now, but it's still taking line. Just when I think I'm in trouble, as so often with barbel, it turns upstream. Could have pulled the rod into the sea if it wanted but now it plods toward me coming into shallower water with every flick of its tail. I think that barring another savage lunge it's mine.

It's not so very heavy. Not quite the 'sixteen' I'm fishing for!

I see it flash, then see it rise, and then carefully drag it on top and push the net under. A scraper 'double' perhaps, or a pound or so less...

Nevertheless, the swim had finally given up a barbel and one I could bank because of nature's removal of a major obstacle and early work improving my battleground. Of course now every bugger can and will fish it because it's now relatively easy to fish from. They still have to find that sweet spot though, let me tell you.

Because it's there or nothing. All or nowhere.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Summer Chubbing — Twice Bitten, Once Shy

Somewhere over the far bank there's a party going on. Bright and breezy music drifting across the reed choked river. In my swim there's a party going on too with every chub in the neighbourhood jumping on my bait like it's the only food they've seen since Christmas.

I'm doing what I always do when confronted with a new stretch and that's flicking bread about here and there to ascertain potential. There's no bait quite as good for this, though few bother. If its full of roach you'll get tippity taps, crammed with dace then 4 inch bangs, chub alley then huge bouncing twangs and the lot mixed with added gudgeon then a bewildering array of all and every kind of bitey thang.

Of course I really want roach. There's none here, So I move one swim down and flick into the middle of what has to be a proper roach swim — boring looking. Which is just what they like in my experience. A smooth sheet of water with even flow bank to bank and of middling depth. Roach are so suburban in their housing choices, aren't they?

Once I've taken all the chub out of it I finally catch a number of lovely redfins but they're hard won with very few bites between fish. Not big, not small, but proof I've found another glide with potential come wintertime. That established I decide to fish all out for chub. and in chubby looking places where roach won't be.

Mid evening the music carried on the soft summer breeze changes. No longer the chipper anthems of the hopeful optimist but the doleful dirges of the defeated pessimist. I guess Costa Rica has just wiped its arse flushing both an Italian turd and England's bog paper thin World Cup presence down the toilet pan...

The party over there is over, but not over here where the chub are having a ball! I just can't fail catching them.  One after the other they fall. Martin fishing for barbel experiences similar. Chub, chub and yet more chub. In near pitch black we pack down but the party would have carried on and on all night long if only we'd stayed on.

Next session you'd have thought things might be the same, wouldn't you? Well, midday torrential rain here and there in the river catchment had put half a foot on it and added a nice tinge of colour so it looked better than before. It looked so bloody perfect in fact you'd have sworn it would also fish better than before, but that wasn't to be the case...

I find bites plentiful from the outset but just can't hook them and when I hit what I think is a dace bite but find myself attached to a big chub instead, it throws the hook. It's impossible fishing. Hundreds of twitches and twangs struck at — four good chub hooked — but every single one lost to slight hook holds.

Unlike Mr Suaraz, in today's game they just aren't chomping down hard enough to fall foul.

And it carries on that way till the big black cloud arrives ditching a million tons of cold water onto slate and tarmac turning the water from healthy green to deathly grey within the hour when bites peter out for good. Fish do know what's coming well in advance, I'm sure...

The gathering storm...

The lightning is great fun though. The deepest bass note of one clap of thunder actually moves the water, I swear! There's even a baby tornado.

Narrowly avoided a drenching (neither of us has brought a brolly us being optimists!) thankfully the storm skims past just a half mile distant. You'd have sworn it would hit our swims head on the way the cloud behaved but with such storms that produce tornadoes, as an insignificant speck on the ground looking heavenward, you see the rotation of the system not the general drift of the whole massive thing.

The storm passed by

The fishing never recovers (it never was very well) but around dusk with thick mist rising all around, bored with the lack of action and wandering about dejectedly, we discover something brand new and rather exciting that we hadn't bargained for.

But that's another story, for another time...