Sunday, 20 December 2015

Canal Roach and Eel — Slow-n-Easy

A couple of spare hours Saturday evening just had to be used up fishing. The mild overcast weather demanded it. It won't last... Surely it can't last? But while it does it is an unusual opportunity that must be taken advantage of. 

Grassy Bend once more. And further trials of the helicopter rig with lobworm bait. 

I'd set up in the same swim as last time but was struck by the attractiveness of a boat some way along. Don't know why she was calling me but she was. Should this swim not be good then I would surely follow my nose and fish there instead.

It was hopeless where I'd sat down. In start contrast to the previous session the bobbins did not drop and all I got for my initial hopefulness was a little tremble of the left hand rod top. 

So off I went to 'Slow-n-Easy' to see precisely why she called...

This time around I cast the worms to positions a few feet off the middle and stern end of the hull and over the top went handfuls of hemp, five or six broken worms, but far fewer maggots than before because most by now had turned to floating caster. I chucked in what I had. They were no use after.

And there I sat to wait things out.

About an hour in and without the slightest indication of fish a portly fella turns up on a stroll out from the pub and it turns out he's an angler, his young son is fishing off the pub bank, and he's trying to establish the whereabouts of Tusses tackle shop half a mile up the towpath. No need to go any further. And so we strike up conversation about fishing and he sticks around a while longer...

Out of the blue the stern rod arches over bending into the butt before I get my hand on the grip when I pick it up against a hugely powerful and heavy fish tearing off down the side of the boat and taking a great deal of line with it. My immediate thought is 'male tench' but there's something worrying about the angle of the rod which is straightlined against my best effort to put a bend in it. I just cannot do a thing right there and then.

But the fight is soon over when abruptly the line falls limp and I'm believing the 2lb hook-link snapped. Casually walking up the bank winding in 20 yards of slack I find the rod veering toward the near bank and then realise that the fish is still on. 

I speed up the retrieve and regain straight contact when all hell breaks loose...

The rod jerks like some demented death metal headbanger and the tighter the line, the more neck-breaking the breakneck rhythm of this astonishing kick drum hammering becomes. 

Slow and easy this is not! 

But close contact is hard to maintain. The fish rips line off the spool one direction only to go into immediate reverse when all goes slack. Nevertheless, the hook hold is good because frantic winding throws me back in the mosh pit every time. But now it's tearing up and down directly beneath the near bank revetment trying to find a snag...

I dismiss the few species it might once have been and arrive at the only one it can possibly be — when I know that I don't stand a chance in hell of banking it. 

This roach tackle is just not capable of tiring such a monster before it surely does find some small solid thing to wrap its tail round when it will smash the flimsy line. I consider plunging the net down so it can find that and tangle itself up in the meshes, but I'm too far off to grab it. If it tears back up that way then I think it my only real chance!

The vicious pounding that the rod is trying its level best to absorb is becoming worrying now. Beneath my feet there's no real sensation of weight or linear power. Just the one of being attached to a furious ball of violent energy. Something must give. And of course, something does...

Winding in the rig I find just a single float rubber on the line. The rest is gone. The failure point is the line at the point of contact with the bead protecting the knot to the feeder. The hook-link held up. But the stress point with this rig is where the swivel meets the bead and I guess the crazed head shaking just weakened the 3lb line by degree till it gave out. 

In all the time I've fished these canals I always wondered when the day would arrive when I'd finally hook one. Thousands of hours spent dabbling with all kinds of baits that might attract one yet I'd never yet succeeded in luring one of these elusive secretive creatures and feared the moment when I finally would. But that moment had arrived and my worst fears were confirmed. On the day I was fatally undergunned. 

George Burton's account of his successful tussle with such an unexpected beast chimes with mine. Though I did not see the fish, the fight was so very unusual that I was convinced about what it was in the heat of things, and when George recounts that same jack hammer fury then I'm absolutely certain.

If only it had fallen to a zander rod then I'd have banked it for sure...


Friday, 18 December 2015

Canal Roach and Perch — The Grubs Don't Work

I could tell that the dogs needed their serious weekly walk but I had plans to get my serious weekly fishing done so I thought I'd combine both and take them to the open space at Grassy Bend where they could run themselves into the ground and I could get a few hours in . The idea of fishing bread was out of the question because it demands my full attention and having dogs about makes that impossible. Then I thought about going after zander. No need to concentrate very hard with them apart from keeping baited hooks out of canine gobs. But I plumped for two rods fishing helicopter maggot feeder rigs for roach. 

I have had some encouraging success trialing this approach on the Coventry Canal where a couple of good hybrids fell, but both times I tried it on the North Oxford it proved useless. Nevertheless, I thought I'd learn something because I'd shortened the hook links to three inches down from six or seven and added an inch of tubing to keep them stiff. I really need to make this approach work if I can because it allows fishing to be conducted during spells of heavy boat traffic and throughout the day where effective bread fishing requires being up at dawn just to get an uninterrupted hour in. 

I need an answer! 

The weather is mild and heavily overcast with intermittent rain. It is perfect even if it's grim. The approach is simple. Cast out the rigs, tighten up and attach bobbins, chuck a handful of hemp and a handful of maggots over each. And wait. 

An hour and a half later without a touch I'm beginning to believe the approach a poor one and maggots next to worthless. Wishing I'd brought a float rod and a loaf of Warburtons along I occupy myself taking pictures of nothing happening just to entertain myself. Might as well practise something worthwhile...

I'm tapping my Timberlands to that infernal tune again. The ground beneath is getting rather sticky, but then I look down and there's a lobworm. This is the third time this has happened now.  I know it is simply that worms respond to tapping by crawling out of their burrows — a habit that buzzards exploit and that old time bait collectors called 'worm charming' or even better, 'fiddling' —  but I can't help thinking this is a sign.

I resist the urge to use it. But this time I do put it in the baitbox for later. Because if these damn grubs don't work soon enough it's going on the hooks instead!

But the trial is not yet over. A trial requires persistence. Another hour and I'll know if maggots are worth persisting with... 

The picture above is no fake. I was trying to get myself 'in swim' together with two yampy springers running about like lunatics in the same shot. A big ask. What I didn't bargain for was that the first bite of the afternoon would come just as the camera's 12 second self-timer began beeping the last second countdown. Good timing, and the very reason I take so many selfie-style establishing shots.

No one ever took a photograph of a 2lb roach bite...

But no one ever took a worse selfie with a small perch!

Nevertheless, the bite was the classic twitch and drop helicopter rig one. Maggots have their stay of execution. And I've a lobbie in reserve...

But nothing happens after. The bloody maggots are just no good and that juicy worm is exerting an ever greater pull on my gut. Just as soon as I detect a fall in the light levels I open the box, halve the poor thing, nip tail and head on either rig and cast them out.

The response is absolutely instant. Within seconds of clipping up the bobbins the right hander drops to the floor. A roach hybrid. The left hander drops while I'm unhooking it. A perch. 

The grubs don't work, they just make it worse. These fish were there the whole time but ignoring them! 

Maybe they were preoccupied with hemp?

Yet another hybrid. But at least it's got roach in it...

Perhaps. But the worms do work and make it better. The rest of the session is a blur of dropping bobbins and frantic Estelle fuelled worm fiddling securing fresh supply of this wonder bait of which I get a further two that I quarter to make eight baits just to keep pace. Unfortunately, not one bite is from a roach. All thereafter are perch around the pound mark and I believe there's seven or eight or nine of them who've tripped up...

Now all this begs a few questions, not least of which is why I have never fished for perch this way. But actually, and more importantly, why it is not seen as an essential part of perch fishing...

None of that fiddling about with disgorgers down the throat or finding the hook hold all over the random place. Each and every single one was hooked squarely and securely in the lower lip. Very clean and tidy. Surgical, you might say.

Also, why did I not realise earlier in my long life that I was an expert worm fiddler?

I could have made a bleedin' fortune!

But most importantly of all. How can I fish worm but avoid perch when it is roach that I'm after?

That is the question...

PS. If you're thinking the lobs don't work for roach, then think again...

Dan's opposite experience

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Canal Roach — Forks at Dawn

Do anglers dream of electric roach?

Thinking about this challenge I've set myself. You know, the (catching the) impossible one of banking roach over two-pounds in weight from lake, canal and river and before March 15th. Well, it seems more and more possible the more I think about it. I guess that reducing 'the impossible' to the lesser rank of 'the improbable' is only a matter of thinking things through and then taking it down a peg to 'the possible' when a peg or two further to 'the probable' is just a matter of application.

If the fish are certainly there no matter how thinly spread, then they certainly can be caught by design. 

But exactly where and exactly how? 

Stratford town waters do hold a few very large roach. This is documented fact . They have cropped up in matches from time to time. I went there with Judy on our annual Xmas shopping trip. Of course I hate boutique shopping just as much as any other man unless it's about tool boutiques and the materials tools are designed to work upon. Therefore part of our annual trip is about me using the tools of this trade upon the materials they were designed to work upon. Which is fish. 

By taking a brief couple of hours out of our day I manage to stay out of her shopping hair by go getting myself tangled up in some other more enjoyable problem at Lucys Mill . It's a family tradition that I just cannot bring myself to break with...

But I wish I had last Saturday!

Setting up at one of my best chance pegs I think fishing may not be at all easy. The water is choppy and I don't know if the rod is going to cope with the buffeting. A few minutes later there's a great crack, a splintering groan, when I turn about and witness a large tree fall into the head of the swim with a splashy crash...

You may remember it was a windy day? No doubt it was a named storm that passed through given that every little blast of winter normality is now to be dubbed thus... 

It wasn't violent enough to be anything other than an annoyance to the tourist (unless you were on a boat passing under a weakened tree at the precise time it fell on your bonce and killed you stone dead) and even to an angler it was quite entertaining.

If I ever had a bite at The Mill then it went unseen what with the rod tip bouncing about all the while. Up to the Recreation Ground where I pitch up where the wind is least. I get a quarter of an hour respite during which time I catch one small roach till the wind veers and comes directly upstream when I'm forced off. 

Last chance is the 'S' bend at the Lido because there's an island there that should shield me. There I have two half-pound roach and both give the most unlikely bites. Massive rod-wrenchers they were.  Unusual for a fish that takes bread so delicately and warily under the usual run of weather. Just as well because otherwise I'd never have seen the little delicate plucks that roach ordinarily give.

No luck on the river two-pounder front though. And it was not expected given the atrocious conditions...

Whenever a comment is posted on Idler's Quest then I get notification of it in my inbox. This one came through yesterday, but despite the alert this comment does not appear on the post. Some sort of Blogger glitch, I guess. But it does need to be published because it contains news of a very important capture indeed if you are Jeff Hatt currently looking at the North Oxford as his best chance venue for a 2lb canal roach. 

I'm not at all surprised that such a fish was banked there. I've narrowed down the impossible to the probable precisely because of such captures. What is surprising is that it was caught by Jim Hogben but not George Burton!

A third angler fishing the NOXC for roach? Never. 

And succeeding to bank big ones into the bargain? Blimey. 

That's no small beer, let me tell you. And Jim's fish is up at the top of the pile too. I believe it ranks at equal third place alongside those banked by George and myself at the same weight and below George's famous 'two' and my infamous near miss at one-fifteen-eight. If three anglers can manage that kind of a fish on a tough venue where roach of any size are caught at a rate of about one-per-man day, then you just know that I had to get cracking at Grassy Bend...

And I did. And it was very interesting if it wasn't exactly successful. And I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. Or the next day, I promise.

Tomorrow morning you see...

Forks at dawn. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Dominic Garnett Crooked Lines — Life's a Ditch

The second greatest danger posed to those writers published by mainstream houses is that they may begin to anticipate the editor's scissors and cut their cloth accordingly, losing all power over their own creative impulses in the process, and churn out ill-fitting commercial rags that bring in steady predictable revenue. 

The first great danger is that they may choose to turn against all that, stick two fingers up at the established order and go their own way, losing all control over the commercial process, in the process, but labour with love tailoring fine things that may not find a rail in the shop to hang upon and deal with precarious remuneration...

It's a stitch up!

But it's Dominic Garnett's world...

Crooked Lines is self-published. That means that the author takes a great risk with his own cash paid up front in hope of future sales enough to cover the project overheads and then turn a profit from which wages are drawn. The great thing about self-publishing is that every penny of profit is the property of the author. He is not scraping a paltry 10% royalty on net price from a publisher but taking 100% of gross revenue. Therefore every book sold after break-even point is reached puts dinner on the table and gas in the tank. Should enough profit be made then there's surplus that can be ploughed back into the business of making the next book without drawing from personal money.

Of course there's HMRC to take care of should the year pass allowances...

But it's a great business model should all go according to plan.

Of course, self-publishing is tarred with the bog brush of the self-indulging amateur. Most self-published books are well meant, but are ill conceived and badly received because they lack the lustre of professionalism the publisher lends. They don't shine.

However, there's a very good reason why Crooked Lines had to be self-published. Because this is a book about rejected material important to the author that failed to make the arbitrary grade required by publishers then how else would it ever be published unless by this route?

A risky venture and a brave one that in principle could work out. But would it also do what a book must and prove itself not only worthy, but a damned good read...?

The cover artwork I thought wonderful and it came with a matching bookmark. Really outstanding.

But was this the polished skin of a ripe turd?

Well, no. That's not what stink it hid because the introduction was an invigorating blast of fresh air. Mr Garnett gets it all off his chest and does not pull his punches. Matt Hayes wades in at the foreword with a swipe across the complacent corporate mug he knows so very well. The tone is right and really sets the pace. I've taken the bait and I'm hooked. And then I begin dipping into chapters scanning a few paragraphs in advance of proper reading when I get the distinct impression, and quickly, that Dominic has found something very special indeed...

His voice!

He's arguing with me and I don't agree with him. There's something that chimes over here but I'm knocked off my perch over there. I'm fighting against a crooked line. What's going on? An angling writer expressing an unexpurgated personal point of view?

Only Chris Yates is allowed that privilege. Surely?

I like this. I don't read books that aren't argumentative. Who cares what someone says when all they say  is what you want to hear? The stories are ripe with expletives. These aren't gratuitous, though. They're absolutely necessary and lend the immediacy that fishing prose forgot it could wield. None of that watery eyed, tweedy pin and cane prissiness here. This is dirt real!

There's a chapter that makes me yearn for the coast and the huge mullet of the Essex salt marsh. In Coventry they're four hours and a million miles distant but I vow one day that I will return to try again. There's crawling about in drains and ditches in Somerset with 'Norbert', bucket and bike style catch and release in Poland, char fishing by way of a drill in Norway, and the capture of a canal carp of middling proportion in fact, but of enormous proportion in the truer game of things. I've been there and done that and agree with the sentiment entirely...

But there's that 'Scales of Madness' chapter that I simply don't agree with.

The only way you are going to know if you'll agree with me, agree with him, or have your own entirely personal point of view on the matter — is buy this book.

Let me tell you, it will be a well spent tenner. And bought soon enough you'll put a well deserved bottle of admittedly cheap plonk on the author's Christmas dinner table, a gallon of petrol in his motor so he can drive out to some new fishing adventure, and just a little over in the way of ploughed back profit to cover the first words about the experience in volume two of Crooked Lines.

Buy at the author's website

Buy at Amazon

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Itchen Grayling & Roach — Chalk & Cheese

I'm on sure footed terms with the Lower Itchen Fishery now that I've completed my sixth trip. I'd call myself 'in training' till my tenth, but I'm not bemused by it these days. The sheer quantity of stock swimming there is no longer surprising. It is now a problem to solve. A brick wall in front of the worthwhile things it promises — the 3lb grayling and the 3lb roach. Neither of which are impossible, but made all the more difficult to approach because of daunting number.

I'm seeing it for what it really is. Purely and simply — it's a 'commercial'. 

Inside the fort...

That is never more apparent when you've spent a couple of long hard days fishing the free stretch below Gaters Mill as I enoyed in the expert company of local rod, Simon Daley, back in 2012. That is a true coarse fishery with occasional wild migratory game fish to make things an interesting challenge. Most migrants that fall are taken away for the pot, as you'd expect. They do not dominate proceedings and grayling are uncommon therefore roach fishing, though not easy, is a simple matter of building a swim throughout the day by accurate, constant, regularly timed feeding of what amounts to an enormous amount of bait over the session and hopefully reaping the rewards of patience. It is not a party certain to be spoiled by gatecrashers. And when they come along then it's usually chub often of some size...

I've seen it done well and thirty pounds of roach fill a net. I've done it myself inexpertly, and though I struggled to do well, I still put together ten pounds fairly easily with a good few pound-plus fish to make things feel upwardly bound. Roach there are not the elusive ghost they are upstream. They are the backbone of the population. 

Things above the mill are something else entirely. Heavy feeding there just cannot work. As with any commercial fishery stuffed bank to bank with millions of fish of all shapes and sizes, overdoing that attracts entirely the wrong crowd and reduces the chances of selecting the best from it. Roach are not party animals. They will back off...

James Denison trotting the free stretch early morning 

I think that James and Brian may have enjoyed themselves more if they'd stayed 'free' because I don't think they were entirely happy with what was in store. It is a tough prospect. Commercials are that if it's   specimen fish you are after. If they are there to catch then it means thinking through the problems they present very carefully and coming up with a plan.

I thought I had one...

I'd never crossed over the footbridge to explore one of the carrier streams till today. The difference  with the main river was something of a shock. Ambling through dairy pasture a convoluted gentle-paced watercourse lined with trees meets a gushing boiling torrent of sparkling clear water tearing across shimmering chalk gravel. Its character is absolutely nothing like that of the main river and not at all like a chalk stream either. At their confluence they were chalk and cheese. 

It felt familiar. Like a Warwickshire brook. In contrast to the main river where hopefully a a pluck or more likely a wrench will come to bread often within seconds of casting out, I was struck by the lack of immediate bites. Had to work hard at finding them just as I would have to when fishing my local River Sowe. It was too placid for the paternoster feeder rig I'd tied up for the main river. Free-lining by stealth might have scored. As with the Sowe where I always free-line bread, anything more than a single shot splashing down here was clearly too much of a disturbance for my target species.

But I really didn't expect to catch them anyhow. This was just a dabble. To ascertain depths and features and future potential. And besides, the day had dawned bright and clear and the only real chance of roach would come around dusk. Between times I was going to work hard for a good grayling but I stuck it out in the carrier for a good while longer and was rewarded with a few tippity taps here and there and a one pound chub. I'm sure on a future trip on an overcast day or even better, one shrouded in thick mist, that time spent creeping about and staying low might well throw up a surprise or two. Because it really did look to be prime small stream roach territory. 

When I left the carrier behind and crossed back over the bridge I went out on a nearby jetty and dropped bread into angrier waters. The tip wrenched around violently and after a bit of a tussle, in came the first of what I expected to encounter from time to time throughout the rest of the day — the Itchen Standard Brownie. 

What I didn't expect was that from the end of that jetty I'd haul ten in the next hour! 

This swim was alive with them. The best at around the three-pound mark gave me no end of trouble tearing about in lunatic fashion but the smallest at a pound and a half and all the rest between were no different. I was hoping for one of the big cocks with their lurid plumage and outlandish kypes who'll spend half the fight up in the air. A battle like that is something else. But they occupy pools so it seemed I'd not have that here...

It was great sport but it paled quickly being far too easy. Nevertheless there was a bonus grayling at 1lb 6oz between them all so I had my fill of trouty fun and earned myself 36 challenge points too. 

Mick was having a great time trotting maggots and then corn taking grayling of ever increasing size and enjoying the once-only thrill of beating a personal best over and over again in the same day. Because before his first cast when I assured him he certainly might (and actually did!), he'd never caught one before. Mid afternoon he hit the ceiling at 1lb 8oz...

It's a challenge to do better than that...

Mick Newey. Banking a new PB most likely!

The rest of my morning was spent in pursuit of one of those dusky three-pound grayling. They are possible. But most unlikely amongst so many competing greedy mouths. Here and there, there's places that really feel as if the big fish might come. Quieter. Deeper. Smoother. Fewer.

The fastest water and the shallowest too.  Brimming with small grayling

Feeder fishing is good for that. Explaining precisely how seemingly rapid swims up top can be placid and even-paced down low. But when I finally did find a place where I felt that an hour more might just produce that dream, the entire rig including the feeder and the good grayling it'd hooked, was devoured by a pike. 

Brian tried for the gatecrasher with a float fished dead roach while James tried to tempt grayling rising in hoards to his free offerings of red maggots. 

Jeff Hatt and Brian Roberts watch James Denison not catch grayling easily
Interesting that he found it very hard to hook them. They were absolutely determined to mop every last one up but were ignoring the baited hook fished mid water. Very cute. And something of a lesson in how to avoid grayling and catch roach because it was clear that grayling are either not great mid-water specialists or are very good at spotting a baited hook.

Which suggested a question I'd never considered before.

A shame it was a question that didn't occur to me right there and then...

Ooh... Should I camp out for roach, or just go camp?

It was high time to go all out for roach but should I ignore them today and just keep going at grayling?  This was a tough call. I didn't think it was a good day for roach to be honest. The weather had been highly unsettled and extremely changeable the last few days, had been bright all morning, but would turn again by evening with thick cloud and high winds approaching fast.

Against my better judgement I made what I feared would be the wrong decision. 

So I made my way downstream to the slow flowing lower beats and on the way thought about setting up a rod for the job of trotting caster. But I couldn't decide if this was a ledgering bread kind of day or the trotting caster kind. So I set up both.

Well, I plumped for trotting. Feeding hemp and caster regularly and lightly I began fishing well under depth. Bites were not forthcoming. But inching the float up by degree and lowering the bait through the bite-less zone till I was fishing near bottom at around 7 or 8 feet down, then they suddenly arrived. They were from grayling and minnow. And as the feed increased in effect the grayling increased in size and the minnows vanished. But they were still grayling. Not roach.

A trout was next. A very tricky and determine trout. But roach were not going to come along unless by sheer luck because time was running down, the weather had turned for the worse, and I really should have started trotting far earlier in order to feed off the small fish. However, it was the same story for all. They could not be caught on the float. Unusually, around dusk not a single ripple caused by roach was seen anywhere by anyone. It was as if they did not exist.

Packing down when I couldn't see the float I went down and joined Mick fishing out the last light in the windy weir pool. He'd had two small roach there on ledgered maggots. I mentioned that it was very unusual that apart from the pounder I'd caught in the carrier, nobody had found the larger chub that had always shown in the latter part of the day on all my previous trips.

His tip bangs hard over as I speak and in comes a four pounder! 

And that was that. Completing my stillwater-river-canal 2lb roach hatrick in the same season was never going to be anything less than 1% of the possible, but it's going to be 99% impossible to find the river roach from my midland venues. One best chance of securing the two up advantage had passed me by and right now I can't think of another but that of working tremendously hard and striking very lucky at Stratford upon Avon town waters, or, arranging a train ride back down to Southampton and cracking the free stretch of the Itchen.

Nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable day spent with great company. I learned much for the future and have a carrier to explore by stealth next time around.


Only on the way home did the question — that if answered earlier might have changed my fortunes — finally arrive in my thick head.

'What if I forego easily won bites and fish the apparently dead zone above the grayling's reach'? 

Not an easy thing for a self-confessed biteaholic to contemplate...