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.



  1. Love a good pint of Doom Bar. What was the damage out of interest, Jeff? I often head over to Hackney Wick with a mate for a trendy east London pint of an evening and the prices in some of the new places over there are eye-watering. Two pints - that'll be £10.80 sir.

  2. I don't know, Ben, Judy bought it! She drinks cider — the cheapest drink imaginable made all trendy fetches top dollar these days. I think a couple of drinks is around the double figure mark. It is nice there though and always packed solid on the weekend.

  3. Jeff,

    I can see it now, anglers using bread as bait, blanking like a good 'un. And resorting to stabbing themselves with a baiting needle for added attraction. I'm sure one of the main bait firms will market this idea in some way.


    Hackney prices are indeed dear, when I pop back, the pubs down towards Haggerston charge a fiver a pint! Madness, but hey it's a trendy area these days.

    1. Ah, the five pound pint. It seems to be becoming increasingly standard across London. It’s always a bit of a shock after the prices round my way. I could even get a pint of SA locally for £1.49 until the pub changed hands recently.

    2. We'll I looked into supplies of fresh blood, Monty, but you can't get any. Dried pigs blood is available though and you can rehydrate that. The attraction seems enormous. When I get home one of my springers always goes straight to the tackle bag and tries to get to the bait, yet this time he went straight to my hand. It had been underwater releasing the pike but still there was enough scent for him, though I couldn't smell anything at all.

    3. Jeff,

      Pigs liver mate from the supermarket, always holds plenty of blood. Put it through a blender. Had a word with old man who's a retired butcher, you if you have a "proper butcher" in your local town can maybe tap him up. He should sort you out. I used to use pigs liver directly as bait on the hook, before the crayfish problems. The Chub used to like it, very cheap too.

      As for dogs, my old boy years back could sent blood a mile off. I came back from fishing with minor cuts I did not know I had, only for the daft old bugger to sniff it out straight away.

      I really should get another.

    4. We do have a proper butcher local. They slaughter their own so I might get up there and see what he'll give me. Asking for fresh blood though...

      How exactly do you go about that!

    5. Jeff,


      If they slaughter on site, that is a little different. Do they make "Blood Pudding" ? If so they would collect the blood to add to the mix. Only one way to find out ;-0

    6. Ha! They get long queues at that butchers. Being English I bet they'd all ignore me even in a vampire mask unless I jumped the queue, when they'd round on me.

      "Ere mate, I think these people are before you..."

      "I need blood and I need it now!"

      "Well, you'll still have to queue like the rest of us"

  4. Hi Jeff

    Interesting post (as always).

    I've noticed on my local river that if I hook a fish such that there is a small bleed, the next fish is always a perch.

    And it has always made me wonder about the potency of liver. As an A level Biology student I had to feed some South African clawed toads (Xenophus laevis) chopped liver and they went mental as soon as the first bit went in the water, probably laid the groundwork for those thoughts. The last comment has made me think I should explore this.

    BTW - I have been searching (poorly & fruitlessly) for a post you did about a free stretch on a river in Hampshire. It involved a train journey and a walk. Can you point me towards it?


    1. What I find most interesting is that fish can detect such small amounts of blood. By the time I'd got to the weir it was dry and there wasn't very much left on the finger tips as you can imagine. Yet they must have homed in on microscopic traces. I know that great white sharks can detect a single drop in an olympic swimming pool volume of water and they'll even know which direction it comes from, but didn't know that pike and perch might be able to perform similar feats. I suppose blood would be the main scent they've evolved to home in on.

      Makes me wonder just what else bread picks up from the skin. Roach anglers have always suspected that tobacco and tobacco smoke taints it and makes fishing more difficult. I smoke, I catch roach, but I think I did catch more when I didn't.

      The River Itchen posts can be found in July 2012. A series of four. All the people involved in those sessions were smokers!

    2. The blood thing is something I am definitely going to explore, but you are right to query the wider question of tainting bait. Specifically nicotine is a poison, so handling dried Nicotiana leaves (baccy), is probably not conducive to a sweet bait.

      Personally, I've never gone fishing on days when I've been painting, fettling the car, bleaching the kitchen sink etc. on the basis that if I can smell how much my hands stink, then the fish wil too.

      We doubtless have something here to learn from hunters/trappers who routinely disguise their scent.

      Maybe we should take to having "wet-wipes" that we have soaked in Bream slime.

    3. Well, roach slime stinks but it doesn't put roach off the bait, that's for sure. In my experience the more roach you handle the more you catch. Maybe the scent is attractive, or at least reassuring!