Sunday, 25 September 2011

Big Perch Quest - The Blenheim Experience - On the Horns (pt2)

You'll forgive me for writing such a depressing account of the first half of day but really there is no other way to describe the slow motion capsizing of our once buoyant optimism. We were now fishing deep water, perhaps nine feet or more just off the bank and deeper still out in the middle and it seemed utterly fishless. My instinct was that we should go back to fish the shallow water up by the bridge, water that was no more than six foot deep in the central channel where the old river bed would be and more like three or four either side of it. Thankfully Lee was thinking exactly the same thing and so we agreed to make the long tiring journey back. It was after all the only place that we actually had seen fish other than those the grebe had caught and the only place where either of us had had a bite that could be attributed to fish. 

The others had fared just as badly, not a bite since early morning when Keith had had two pike, missed one and Lee a single dip of the worm rig, a grand total of 4 bites and two fish in 48 man hours... 

We passed Keith and Pete on the way down - they too wore the hang dog expressions of the bemused and clueless - we exchanged tales of nought doing but promised to keep them informed of any change in fortunes our backtracking to the Grand Bridge might effect and though we really didn't expect much I had a sneaking suspicion that something was about to happen to us. What it would be I cannot say, just a feeling of rising spirits as we made our way back past the boathouse and a sense of elation when the corner was rounded and the bridge came into view.

Oddly, Martin and Dave seemed to have had the self same idea at exactly the same time and were now sculling along the far bank to reach the bridge too, though they'd been well out of sight to us, and us to them, for the past few hours. They took the left hand pier mooring tight against the stonework and we moored square and just off to the right of centre of the central archway, decisions that were to have surprising effects just a little later, as we shall see...

The boat was a mess. We really should have tidied up before making our first casts. We had rods and net poles at all angles, tackle bags, discarded upper layers of clothes and coats and bits and bobs and bait tins and buckets lying where they'd settled after lunch, and it occurred to me then that we had one small pan net each for perch and one medium triangular one for pike and just the latter would have sufficed for the two of us as we weren't here for small fish. 

Our worm baits had not been in the water for more than ten minutes when Lee struck only his second bite of the day and lost what ever it was that tore off across the lake (? but was surely a tench) to a broken 3lb bottom caused by a faulty clutch on one of those annoying reels that are too tight on one click and too loose on the next.  A good marque too, but I won't mention its name...

Now things were all of a very different complexion. Suddenly we were pitched into overexcited frames of mind and from fishing like sleeping dogs we were now fishing for real. I expected a bite myself any minute but it was Lee who got the next and the next, though both were inexplicably missed. Understandably Lee was concentrating like a demon on that homemade float of his but I became aware that something was clicking to my left - Lee's baitrunner -  a fact that I had to make him aware of!

He picked up the rod and struck into our boat's first pike of the day, a fish that went out on some impressive displays of aerial gymnastics and the the nearer it got to the boat the more spectacular they were. I busied myself with moving all our other rods over to my end of the boat at the stern and well out of the way of trouble and handled the large net in preparation for hauling it in once it had tired of tailwalking and somersaulting its way around the boat. I got it first go even though the angles were horrible - I had to lean out at full stretch because Lee was standing and with a long rod in a boat that creates very difficult angles indeed - the rod has to be way past the vertical to get the fish anywhere close which is why proper boat rods are built so short.

Lee unhooked and weighed the fish and I took a few snaps for him. I then went back to re-organising the boat whilst he extracted his treble hook from a tangle in the net and that was when I noticed that Lee's float, which had been dangling in mid air eighteen inches out of the water was quivering oddly, I thought that perhaps it was tangled with his pike rod line or that a rudd or roach or something had hooked hung itself so I picked up the rod more out of curiosity than anything and to return it to Lee's side of the boat in fact but found myself attached not to either line or fry but to what just had to be a small tench...!

I was now properly stuck on the horns of a dilemma. Should I give the rod back to Lee or should I fight and land the fish myself? Of course with hindsight the answer is patently obvious - I had no choice but do the latter as I had re-cast the line as I'd moved his rod out of harms way and had no alternative but to to pick up the rod to get it across the boat. This fish was mine and if I had given the rod back to Lee to finish things neither he nor I could have claimed it as a legitimate capture, the rules are quite clear about that and especially when it comes to record claims, which this never was as it was just a tearaway tinca... 

Or was it? 

Lee wasn't convinced and he was right because when I finally got the scrappy little urchin up in the water we saw the unmistakable barred flank of a rather large perch...! Strangely, I then bullied the fish up into my pan net without ever flapping even though this was clearly the largest perch I had ever been hooked up to. I was more concerned to get the surprising tussle over and done with and put to bed once, and for all time, that terrible long winded perch hex of mine. 

And what a lovely fish it was. Lee thought it was nearer four than three but it was nearer three than four. Not having seen such a large perch in the flesh I had no idea at all what it might go but was relieved to see the scales flag up 'only' three pounds and two ounces, a fish that more than doubles my previous best but one that does not beats Lee's own. If it had I think he would have kicked me overboard, fish and all!

Well, what the hell had happened here then? Ten minutes of loopy madness had altered everything. Keith and Pete were informed and within ten minutes they'd powered down the entire lake and were in station thirty yards to starboard. Lee continued to get bites from his hot patch but could not connect, Keith had a tench, Pete had a tench and then Keith had a pike of fifteen pounds. I on the other hand remained bite-less on both my own rods despite being just yards away from the action, and Dave and Martin were struggling too.

And then Lee's baitrunner was off once again. This was obviously a small pike as the swirls it created weren't very large only it turned out to be a big surprise catch - a tench who'd taken a liking to a large chunk of sardine, far too large in fact to get in its mouth! An already strange day just got stranger and stranger...

What is even more amazing is just a little later, whilst my floats remained stubbornly still and baits ignored Lee's baitrunner began its now familiar tick, tick, tick all over again and he performed a distance strike connecting to a true powerhouse of a pike that tore around like a mad thing forty yards out, under my pike line and over Pete's float line, tangling with both. As it came nearer it got madder and madder ripping line off the reel and generally making a nuisance of itself. Once again I got the net ready and the rods out of the way - keeping a sharp eye on them the whole while!

I failed to net it first time because of the extreme angles and the weight of the net at full reach over the gunnels, the fish leapt out and tore off on a sickening run as it saw us waiting. The second time it wasn't so lucky and I bagged it for Lee and hauled an impressive weight up and into the boat. 'Twenty!' called Martin, and it seemed he wasn't far wrong. I bit off all the lines as they were in such a parlous state that a total retackle was going to be needed for all of them leaving a horribly tangled treble in the mesh, so I cut that off the trace with pliers and pulled it all out bit by bit.

Lee had easily beaten his previous PB. He was shaken but ecstatic, that was clear, but we got the fish weighed and photographed and returned swiftly and safely. It needed no resting and just tore off like nothing had happened. It had though - it had trashed the boat, or rather we had in all our bumbling. Near twenty pound pike are rather large and long and this small boat just did not have much space for one of them, us, and all the tackle too - the lake contains fish close on forty pounds so if you're going after one of those then take short rods, cut the gear back to essentials only or go it alone. I mean it...

My newly discovered specimen perch tactics of chucking rods carelessly up the stern to fend for themselves had not worked on this occasion so Lee got his rod back without incident. It only occurred to me too late in the day that what had happened earlier was that the worm had dangled off bottom at exactly the water level at which the perch were swimming and the bottom fished baits had no hope at all of tempting them down because perch are so very depth sensitive. They choose a level that suits them for food supply and temperature under the conditions prevailing and stick to it because they cannot fill or empty their special swim-bladders rapidly. 

We should all have noted the fact and fished accordingly, alas hindsight is grand thing but foresight requires the benefit of hindsight and that we did not have and so the day drew to a close without another perch, though Dave did have one attack the top of his float, which was another fact we should have noted and acted upon. 

We plodded back to the boathouse, decanted exhausted and made our way to the pub wherein we nattered noisily about our extraordinary day afloat in boats, a day in which my own rods had lain utterly biteless from dawn till dusk alongside Lee's golden rods that had come to life seemingly of their own accord, no matter where they were cast... 

Or by whom...


  1. Some great fish landed there Jeff, beautiful Perch especially. Ive fished Blenhiem myself but im yet to catch anything bigger than 1/2 an ounce!
    Very well done to you and Lee both!

  2. Well done Jeff, the big perch at last!

  3. As is often said "Everything comes to he who waits" - well done to all who caught.

  4. Lovely account of a wonderful trip,well done on the new pb Perch Jeff.

    kind regards

  5. That's a great stripey Jeff and the idyllic venue to find it - autumn is the perfect time for Perch fishers.

    And pike? Blenheim is an evocative place and comes replete with her share of mysteries. More than most, the lake resonates with Ted Hughes' words...

    Stilled legendary depth;
    It was as deep as England. It held
    Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old
    That past nightfall I dared not cast

    How big are they? It's done thirties and still contains them. Castle Howard though was the estate lake for pike because it's monsters grew very big indeed. At least as big as those in a certain Welsh reservoir.

  6. It was long in the waiting all right, but it was worth it, One of the hardest lakes to fish, yes a heartbreaker if you don't catch, but idyllic it is and I think some of us are going back in winter after one of those pike in the Ted Hughes poem! Too big to cast for after dark...