Tuesday, 26 November 2013

26th November

Morning, 26th November 1976. Two days into my 15th year imprisoned on planet suburbia.

Outside, a familiar noise. Ford Cortina. Starter motor wheezing. Vain attempt to cajole unwilling engine into life. It goes on and on, until eventually, it stops. Battery flat.

Later in the day a second raucous racket will be unleashed.

I haven't heard it yet. Neither has our hapless Cortina owner who's now attached jump leads to his battery out a neighbour's gaping bonnet, nor has our unwitting helper holding the engine at constant rev to provide the necessary spark of life. Not one between us have the slightest clue that by tea time our whole world will have changed irrevocably, but in the meanwhile...

Coughing carbs, wheezing starters, humming motors.

For a few brief hours they remain the sounds of the streets.

I don't remember if I ever heard them again after that day. Fuel injection eventually consigned them to the aural dustbin, but they seem to have passed into history that very afternoon when sonic petrol directly injected into the flaccid veins of our moribund culture yanked us straight out of stumbling zombification.

I remember the import of that epic hair-raising roar "Rrright — Now, hahahaha..." as if it were yesterday, 37 years on and 52 years of age.

Radio to reel-to-reel. Erasing whatever went before. Who cares what ever it was?

The furious blast rewound, rewound, rewound.

Unbelievably. At precisely 2.09. End of bar six during the elevated stomping march of the middle-eight.

The strangest thing...

There's my name! And it's unmistakable!!

"Oh — Jeff Hatt..."


"Oh — Jeff Hatt..."


"Oh — Jeff Hatt..."


"Oh — Jeff Hatt..."



Morning, 27th November 1976. Escape planned.

Skinny black drills, sharp toed black brogues, black shirt, thin black tie — irregular issue.

Bathroom, mirror, scissors. Hack off the locks, soap up and spike.

Set out for school... 

Confidently late — no excuses.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Canal Roach — Math Matters

Finding roach on these canals of mine is not an easy task. You might think fish to be spread throughout the entire length of one like currants in the proverbial bun and I think that's how canals might appear to be to those who've not experienced them before, any peg looking much like any other. That's not the case of course. Just as with any other watercourse they are found in certain locations...

The trouble with canals, at least those I fish, is that there's no way to know where a shoal of roach might be if you don't either catch them or see the visible sign of them. And that's a problem because they very rarely show themselves, you certainly won't be able to spot them with polarising sunglasses, the only time of year when they are visible is when basking near the surface during the hottest days of summer and catching them doesn't really tell you the extent of the shoal located unless you catch a lot of them.

And that rarely happens!

It's akin to fishing a motorway. And that's exactly what they were built to be — jointing sea and navigable river into a great new framework of man-made waterways linking every city in the land one to another, they were the late 18th Century's major arterial routes — the blood supply of the industrial revolution.

Winding their way through ever changing scenery —  just like motorways, between junctions all canals are exactly the same the entire miles of their length. Narrowboats and trucks both demand that.

Life would be made very difficult for those that use them if it were not so...

It certainly makes life difficult for the would be roach angler, though. Uniformity is our bugbear and where to fish for them may as well be decided on the toss of a coin.

Far bank cover has nothing to do with where roach live. It does with tench who patrol along the far bank just as crows search the hard shoulder in search of carrion. Cast as tight as possible to it and if they're there or thereabouts then given time enough you will catch them.

But roach live in the boat track — the fast lane. The only cover that matters to them is the depth of the water over their timid heads.

At least that fact reduces the problem of location because the far bank can be ignored and effort concentrated where it matters but it also expands the problem by denying the angler any sense of place.

The boat track is very, very long and utterly uniform in width and depth. Any part of it seems as good as any other...

But that's not true at all. Certain places are much better than others — but for no reason that anyone has ever figured. And that's why canal anglers are number crunching maniacs hell bent on bean counting each event of every second of each session and calculating their way to success. Only numbers can tell them where they should be fishing, and only numbers can tell them why.

Ask any canal angler and they will concur.

It's math that matters...

Success is the product of pure calculation!

I haven't fished for their roach properly for two years now. I began catching them on bread in 2011, quickly discovered that it was most attractive to 'other' species who liked to swim right against the far bank, fished there for them and because roach were rarely caught that close and shallow, I stopped seeing them.

In the meanwhile I've lost sight of their ever shifting locations.

Having embarked on a new mission for the Winter to come, their present locations are what I have to find. You may have gathered that efforts so far have drawn blanks. Interesting blanks of course, as all blanks are, but blanks all the same. But blanks make numbers, therefore they are good work.

In the long term...

Though they're driving me up the wall in the short!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Canal Roach — A Signal Defeat?

Well the roach session did throw up a surprise, but a nasty one. Bream were biting and I had a couple of them as always but no sign of roach in the first chosen peg. Bites came around the half hour mark, which is usual for bread fished over mash, but then they tailed off and didn't look as if they'd return.

Second peg bites came after five minutes, but once again bream were the culprit. However, a few tentative sharp dips around the half hour mark put me on guard for the desired big lift of the float from feeding roach. But, it never came...

When recast the float refused to settle down to the tip as it should but stayed aloft, the final shot placed just an inch from the bait had not hit bottom. I thought it had landed on a twig which would produce the same effect but strangely the float seemed to be moving slowly and steadily to the left.

Not something I've ever seen before, I left it to continue and when it crossed into the deepest part of the boat track the float very gradually vanished. A moving twig? Surely not.

There was nothing there. No twig, no branch, no nothing, moving or not.

It happened again, and again. And then finally I hooked the twig, and it felt like one too, even looked like one for a brief moment...

Gimme a big hug...

Ah no. Not you!

I thought I'd never see signal crayfish penetrate so deep into the city territory of the Coventry Canal with its almost unbroken steel revetments and hard packed towpath banks. Unfortunately there's gaps along the far bank, here and there, where the banks meet the waters without a barrier between and that's all the buggers need to breed and survive.

Jesus, they exploit watercourses with gay abandon, don't they. No doubt they'll be crawling up the drainpipes next, taking up residence in the lavatory pan, eating our turds and thriving too.

Is nowhere sacred...?

There's just no answer to them, you know. Simply no way to control let alone eradicate them. Everything tried has failed — successes have been brief and rebounded badly. Research continues but it's wasted time, effort and money. Nothing works.

The only thing that has not been tried, as yet, though many think it the only viable way forward, is Sterile Insect Technique. Hoards of sterile males are released into an environment overrun with a plague of an invasive or damaging species, they outcompete fertile males due to their greater numbers, breed with fertile females who then lay infertile eggs.

The life cycle of an insect can be broken, indeed screwworm was completely eradicate from the 176 square-mile Venezuelan island of Curacao in just seven weeks. However, the female of that species mates just once in her life...

Crayfish just go on and on.

I'm sure it would be tried with them on a trial basis at least, if only a way could be found to chop the boy's nads off. No one has succeeded in doing that yet. I wouldn't know where they were in fact I can't tell the difference between the boys and the girls.

I've heard they can hybridise with native crayfish, though, or at least they can mate with them. I cannot find hard non-contradictory fact about whether or not they actually can produce offspring or just infertile eggs. Some authorities say the one thing, some the other.

But if hybrid offspring were created they would be infertile, wouldn't they?

So, find out if that is true, breed trillions of these saviours, eat the females, release the males en-masse into every place, and kill the signal bastards off!

(Take out the native crays first though! If you can find any...)

The cost though. That's what stops progress. It's not that it wouldn't cost a lot to do — it would. It's that the plague doesnt cost the economy enough to warrant it.

Only when so chock full of them the culverted Tyburn pops its manholes and overflows into the streets of Westminster, The Embankment is so deeply undermined by breeding burrows that Big Ben lists militantly to the left, and our Prime Minister gets his nads bitten, on the khazi, 10 Downing Street, will anyone do anything about them.

Till then, they're here to stay.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Hit Parade

On the sidebar of Idler's Quest is a list of popular posts that I call 'The Hit Parade.' The top five posts in terms of their performance over the last thirty days, it shows which are currently read the most. Lots of other angling blogs include the same and I'm sure their authors are just as bemused as I am about why old posts suddenly appear, stay a while and then vanish, why some recent posts never get on it and why  a few are so popular they'll dominate the list for very long periods of time.

Just recently a post titled 'My Way With Bread' slipped off the list after reigning supreme for nigh on a year. A 'how to' kind of post that explained how I prepare and use bread discs, its popularity was due to  the fact that it was about bait, most likely, bait being one of those things that anglers really do want to read about.

It's back now!

It never seems to go away for long...

It is a small blog in its own right with nigh on five thousand unique hits where people have landed straight on its page and not the current blog update. According to blogger stats it has gained four times the visitor numbers of any other individual posts from my entire output over five years.

There's a piece written over a year ago about roach hybrids that gets good stats. One of a series about different hybrids all of which suddenly crop up in the list from time to time, slip back out again, often returning for a second stay months later and for no apparent reason. I suppose because they are about something rarely written about, they have a niche market.

They're hardly expert information though. Well I hope they aren't being taken as such, because they're just my thoughts and observations about the freak fish I find on the end of my line now and then.

Of course it will usually contain posts from the last thirty days. I can understand the reasons why they are there but not the reasons why the posts between them did not show up and probably never will.

When I installed the gadget that's what I thought would happen — recent posts would always show up, but they often don't make the grade.

Another popular one that comes back into the list occasionally is another old post about my clumsy first grapples with the long pole. Again, I don't know why my experience should be of much interest but that post has cropped up in the list many times now.

Do anglers like to read about total lack of experience?  Is it because it actually does contain useful information for other beginners and even nuggets of crucial information for the experienced? Or is it because they're desperate to read anything concerning pole fishing in an angling blogosphere seriously lacking where that arm of the sport is concerned?

I don't know. Haven't a clue. It's a mystery to me...

It does suggest there's a market for a pole blog or two, I think. Especially if the anglers who would run them be technically minded, go deep into the often bewildering finesses that make the art of it, and are not simply concerned with bragging about large catches made and matches won.

No one's interested in that. Well they are, but only if there's hard information or deep thinking about how those catches were made that chimes with or challenges their own experience.

If there's one thing that glues together all the posts with true longevity. Those that have long term appeal and are read consistently. It is that they are never about my successes.

Big fish stories have their moment of glory and then slip away. They are soon old news.

That suggests that the audience for this blog or any blog wants to know more about about how the angler goes about making those rare results, rather than the results themselves. Wants to know how another angler thinks.

Whether that thinking is wrong headed or clear headed, it really doesn't seem to matter because the truth lays somewhere between two poles of widely differing experience — yours, and mine.

Now, I'm off down the cut roach fishing this afternoon. I'll be using bread discs, of course, and hoping for big fish to brag about tomorrow morning — though I might draw a blank!

Who knows...

But I'll bet some small 'other' thing occurs that's more interesting than either!

If it does, as it often does. Expect a dissertation...

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Handy Gadgets — Swiss Army Knife Pin & Key Fob Magnet

Here's a couple of useful tips that will make your fishing life a little easier.

Now I presume every man alive possesses a Victorinox Swiss Army knife and that it's the classic one with two blades, can and bottle opener cum screwdrivers, corkscrew, a pair of useless tweezers too weak to be capable of extracting a splinter and a toothpick at hand for when a piece of sunday lunch lamb gets lodged between molars.

What most owners of this indispensable key fob tool don't know is that it's capable of carrying another really useful tool that will do the job the tweezers can't and in a secure place where few would expect it.

There's a little hole in the sideplate in the corkscrew housing that will accept a ball-headed pin and keep it captive once the corkscrew is closed. Amazing that the Swiss Army never thought of using it for the purpose (what is its purpose?) but having a sharp pin about the person is a useful thing for all kinds of jobs.

For fishing I use it to unravel that most annoying curse of the fine tackle angler — the wind knot.

Nothing else will do the job as well as a very sharp pin does.

The second tip is to let one of those rare earth neodymium magnets live on your key collection. Tiny little inconsequential looking things — they have an attraction to ferrous metals way beyond their size. Just get one and drop it onto the keys, fobs and rings, and it will exist there faithfully, never ever leave you, and be ever ready whenever its considerable powers are required.

Mine has never once dropped off. It just can't do that. Its power is such that it needs no attachment device of any kind, and one small magnet will hang the whole bunch from an iron door handle...

For angling its primary use it that of tying rigs and keeping and finding swivels and hooks. Take one from the packet, attach it to the magnet, and it will be there forever should you forget about it. Lose one in the grass, run the keys over its approximate position, and it will find the magnet by jumping out of its hidden lair like a flea finds its dog.

Just don't let it near the trays in the tackle box or you'll have all your lures attached!

.... actually, that suggests a further use.

With nothing more elaborate than a single blob of glue, I'm now considering sticking them on the butts of all my rods that don't possess whipped-on wire hook-keepers...

Now there's a neat and tidy idea!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Canal Zander — A Lot and Not a Jot

James Denison came up to Coventry on Thursday. Not for a chance at a monster specimen but for the chance of setting a new personal best for zander above that of his one and only lifetime catch of the species at 2lb 8oz. Now that's dedication in my book, and considering James lives an hour or so from Bury Hill where he could go straight out and catch a 'double' for the price of a day ticket but without having to undergo the pain of learning things the hard way, I think, admirable.

I really didn't think he would have to learn things the hard way here with me on the Coventry Canal.

Three years ago I'd thrashed out my way with these seemingly impossible creatures. Run after run, missed, hooked and bumped, with twelve takes per hour during the most furious sessions resulting in perhaps a single fish banked, three lost but the rest never even pricked. That was how it was. Really tough, infuriating, and all of of the time, bamboozling.

As with all things, though, once enough mistakes are made and trials are no longer such great errors, an answer is imminent and when it finally arrived was not only astonishingly simple, but stupefyingly obvious...

'Zander aren't pike!'

And once that was established I started fishing for zander as if they weren't pike just as I'd fish for roach as if they weren't chub.

James arrives at Coventry

From our meet at the train station we set off straight to Lanes tackle shop to stock up on bait and then across the city centre to the canal basin where we'd begin our day long, five mile jaunt to my manor in the North — Longford.

Within a half-mile and a few exploratory casts in likely looking places it was obvious that sunny bright weather over the clear water conditions found near the city were not exactly ideal, so I suggested a straight line hop up the Foleshill Road, cutting out a two mile loop, and then rejoining the canal at the old Courtaulds factory site where I knew the water would be coloured by increased boat traffic.

The long straight at Courtaulds

It was, but still we watched motionless floats and it didn't seem they'd move all day long should we stick around that place, and so I then suggested we walk straight to Longford Junction just a minute's walk from my home and fish where I could guarantee James the positive chance of a run or two from our chosen fish.

I chose a moored boat casting two small slices of roach tight against the hull, both anchored to the floor with half an ounce of weight, both on large single hooks, and with the line sunken to stop tow pulling the bait so much as an inch out of its own scent trail. My long experience of this local water and its zander populations said this approach would work just as well now as it always had before....

James allowed his whole sprat baits mounted on paired treble hooks to drift about into open water suspended off bottom a few inches over the shelf but as much as three feet when over the boat track. Without any successful experience of using sea fish as bait, whole fish as bait, or allowing any bait to drift (but plenty of headbanging failures due to mounting bait on treble hooks to my credit) I hadn't a clue if his strategy would work... was pretty sure it couldn't... but was very interested to see if it might!

Ah, diddums!

After an hour of us lolling about on the towpath in the surprising warmth of the autumn sun, at last my float twitched, lurched and then rode steadily toward the darkness beneath the boat. A zander, but about as small a specimen as can be caught on even the small sized slice of roach I typically use.

I cast straight back to the exact spot. And I mean the exact spot to within a foot, no more.

Five minutes later the float was off again.

The better to see you with...

Not surprisingly, with two runs within a few minutes to one rod after hours of absolute inactivity to all four, James altered his approach accordingly, fining down to slim pencil floats, using a pair of my pattern of single hook and small pieces of sliced roach hung off them by a sliver of skin. Our rigs were to all intents and purposes, identical now.

Moving along to another moored boat and casting tight to it, within no time his float was toodling off too...

But the strike failed to hook up. Damnit!

If there's a splash on the side of the hull, then it's close enough

Bites did not return at Longford and so for a last chance I suggested yet another move and to one of my very best banker swims on the local canals. A place almost guaranteed to produce runs whatever the conditions, day or night, I was certain that if James would have any luck today then it had to be there.

Amazingly, despite deploying the same rigs and baits and without any crucial difference either of us could fathom, it wasn't to be. Puzzlingly, James' baits went utterly ignored.

Meanwhile I had a very short dropped run, immediately cast straight back to the same square yard where it was picked up again, dropped again, cast back again, and finally picked up good and proper resulting in the hooking of a very good fish indeed. Shame it got off the hook, as they tend to do!

Shame about that big oily boil of water too. Only a very big fish could have produced that...

And then the other rod was off but in came a fish at the opposite extreme of scale and identical to the baby caught earlier on.

I'd had my fun. I'd far rather things had been the other way around, though. James with all the action, myself the onlooker.

What do I care if I don't catch zander today? Living so close by I'll come fish at precisely twenty two minutes and thirty nine seconds past three on Halloween morning. Should I choose. I'll bring along a china mugful of steaming tea, a bacon sarnie on a plate and consume them red hot whilst I watch my floats. If I like.

Blimey, I'll up sticks, go home for an extra sugar and a dollop of seasoning, bung the rods fully made up in the front yard, stir the tea, spread the mustard, then return to resume fishing with the snack still piping (and I have done before!) but James travels all this way, has to take what comes at some expense and then must return home exhausted at the end of a very long day, but with nothing but the experience of watching someone else catch what he came for, to show for it.

I don't know how these things work. We were fishing every which way the same by half way through the day. Maybe the only difference in the end was it mattering a lot and not a jot.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

A Shed for All Seasons — Scrapper's Delight

As mentioned previously, the retrieval from other peoples rubbish piles of useful stuffs begged the question of what to do with that which was clearly of value but not directly to the toolery project and its immediate material requirements.

There were skips where the householder may just as well have pinned a tenner to the topmost thing in the dusty pile and had done with it...

The junction, the union, the chromed mixer tap,
The lock and its handle, the door hinge and latch,
The fingerplate, knocker and letterbox flapping
Of no use to me, but tot for the scrapping.

'Where's there's muck there's brass,' so they used to say when money was worth its own weight.

And today when a penny is plated steel and worth a fraction of face value?

Wherever there's skips there's fixtures cast in brass that can turn an honest one.

'Mixed brass' because it has other metals in it
Large and weighty stuff in the form of wet room fitments and door furniture, and at £2.55 per kilo current rate for 'Mixed Brass' up Milver Metals, it soon totted up to a handsome profit for the small effort in removing from the host objects.

But, wherever elements or elemental forces of nature are required to flow,

That's where the oysters are found containing the skip diver's pearl...

The transformer, the solenoid, the lock actuator,
The socket, the switch and the circuit breaker.
The pump and exchanger, the boiler and piping,
The flex and the cable, the earth with its striping.
The de-guassing coil and the yoke round the telly,
The hoover? The motor with coils in its belly.
These are the sources of scrap metal 'proper,'
In the wrecking apart for their No1 copper.

Hard work though, is copper.

None of that easy work of brass — all in the one heavy piece. A screw here or a bolt to turn there and what won't budge the wrecking driver prises.

Unless lucky enough to find a half coil of annealed tubing some fool DIY'er chucked out as surplus to requirements, with copper it's all hidden inside things or either it's joined to stuff. Very rarely is it gotten without effort.

The pearl. No 1 bright copper

It pays the best return of all, though, with 'No 1 Bright' weighing in at £4.30 a kilo and on a good day with strong market demand, more still. However, hardly any is No1 as comes out the skip.

Some is 'No 2,' some 'Clean Heavy,' some 'Braziery.' That from transformers, yokes and motors with its varnish coat, 'Burnt Wire.'

No doubt there's yet more grades of copper I'm to discover the name of on tomorrow's chits...

Burnt wire. And though none is burnt as such, that's the grade for tinned or varnished copper wire unless it's cleaned up bright and shiny pink. No easy task

All categories are priced in a descending scale down to measly amounts for unstripped X-mas lights and cabling, though all are as 99.9% pure as the driven snow without their contaminants, patinas, dirts, stains, paints, wrappings, base metal attachments and leaden solders, because anything less is an alloy and goes in the mixed brass bucket.

So, the first task of the canny scrapper, once a pile of various types of copper containing objects are amassed, is to sort, sift and grade and then remove as much plastic and tarnish and/or other metals as possible — taking that work from the middleman's hands — and thereby transforming as much as can be improved into the most valuable grades.

This is 'mixed brass' at best unless a great deal of work is spent separating the copper from it

Within a month, what with all the lead, brass and copper and a big pile of aluminium weighed in for their poundage in raw worth and just about everything else got for free, the toolery was not just costing as little as humanly possible, it was costing much less than nothing. In fact it was in business to the tune of £213.03 and with scrap reserves in stock.

The trouble is...

Every now and then something glints and gleams and catches my magpie shed builder's eye.

A pile of not-for-the-scrapyard baubles accumulates and before long there's bits and bobs of brass and copper laying about the yard waiting for some fancied future usage.

There's this great big length of hexagonal brass from a fancy cistern handle mechanism that I just plain like in the bar for its aesthetic appeal alone.

Too nice for the crucible, I'm afraid...

Then there's a dirty and paint encrusted ten-foot length of heavy-walled inch and half copper piping sourced from a friendly 'vendor' outside his big Georgian house in our 'village' along with another thirty quids worth of unwanted copper and lead.

Well, I thought I'd keep it by...

....it weighed four kilos alone and would net £17 that very day with a buff and shine to No1 standard...

Nevertheless. Either future use or ornament, I wasn't entirely sure for which. But I just had to have it about the place just in case one or the other occurred to me later. As you do.

Enter cluttered yard, our missus...

Conversation follows.

"My, my, what a thick dirty plonker you have!"

"Such a filthy great stonker derives from a lav..."

"You're bound to the scrappy this moment then, honey?"

"I'm afraid this a copper of purpose, not money..."

"But whatever use can it serve, dear and fair?
Will you plumb, stoke a fire, take a bath en plein air?"

"Well, I would for the fun. Just the once. By moonlight...
but this pipe is reserved, I shall use it alright."

"Oh, I don't doubt you will, as the pole for your jack,
a novelty trombone or musket, perhaps?"

"I'll wait and I'll see what design is suggested,
a question for answer when I'm good and I'm rested."

But, what on earth 'other' tune can a pipe perform but what the piper blows down it? Unless it's a pole then a pipe is a pipe and it does what it designs. Its form is its function. There is no other for it.

Unless, that is, its formal singularity comes unravelled...

During one of those moments of bibulous clarity (clarety?) when admiring the sinuous curve created by a chance conjunction between window frames and an old carved oak headboard cut down for a door top, but all the while looking up at the unfixed, unfurnished, roof, and there taking stock of the job it must soon perform come Autumn — that important one of taking water away and down a convenient drain via a system of cheap and nasty plastic stuff hung from it...

It struck me that here in this length of filthy braziery lay the truly bling answer to both the functional and the aesthetic necessaries...


I thought to myself,

'I split this 'ere copper pipe right down the middle and open it out — it will provide me a copper sheet.

The sheet thus provided can be formed to the shape required.

The shape required will be a semi-circle.

This 'ere pipe has a bore of an inch and a half...

C = π x d... (hero bounces upstairs to computer, calculates, then clatters back down again) and so this tube will provide me a sheet of copper...

 4.71 inches wide by ten feet long... and that is just about right."

Cutting a piece off the end, I cut a lengthwise slit, annealed the piece on the camping stove, opened it out between fingers and thumbs and shaped it semi-circular like...

Viola! The gutter!

I set to work immediately

A tape line was fixed down the entire length along which a saw cut would be made. 
The slot was levered apart as I went to provide access for the saw frame. 

This process would continue the entire length and for as long as it took to complete, which was clearly going to be many, many hours when I'd only a foot of gutter but nine of pipe remaining in two.

Nevertheless, the process worked well and it looked both good and functional offered up against the facia board.

Of course. Being a frugal angler with a great annual cost in the way of lost weights, I didn't weigh in an ounce of the lead either...

40lb of lead = 640 one ounce arsley bombs, or, 6 metres of flashing

Methinks, "lead makes roof flashing. If I can make a gutter from an obdurate pipe I can make a plumb palace from a metal that melts in a pan on a kitchen stove. I shall boil it down and cast my own when a roll of the same retails £90 down B&Q. Less cost to the bad is more profit to the good, and after all, how difficult a thing can it be to do?"

Quite tricky indeed was the answer...

And then, just as I had three quarters the thinking but a tenth the work done of fixing the roof to my own satisfaction, it began to rain and looked as if it wouldn't stop for days.

Friday, 4 October 2013

A Shed for All Seasons — Let The Toolery Begin

Saw sings, "work... work... work... work... work..."

Two bits, too short, 4b2.

Hammer blows, "duh... duh... duh... duh... done"

Jointed, made up, long and true.

Trimmed and offered up to what I judge by eye to be right height, pilot drilled through at two-thirds length. Fine masonry bit plunges through wood, pebbledash, render, biting into brick beneath. Large masonry bit chucked, hole drilled, hole plugged, length screwed in place at a dangle.

Second pilot two-thirds t'other way brought to level. Bubble checked, process repeated. Bubble checked — near as dammit. Ready for fixing proper.

Spewing wood, spitting brick.

Drill screams, "eeeeeeeeeeeeasy..."

Clockwise, driver, twist, twist, twist.

Ten plugs in and the wall plate fixed.


Sit a long, long while to contemplate this.

Bottle of nose-bluingly cheap but effectively sobering where thought about quantity of materials needed and where to secure said is concerned, Spanish plonk later...

I have ~

In stock.
  1. Couple of hundred bricks with attached paint and lime mortar. Handmade. Late 18th Century. Sourced last year from skip across Longford Road. One of three shops sold on to neighbour surplus to requirements — dividing wall between Stone Pizza and Charnley Memorials demolished. Hence bricks. Fast food joint now has sit down parlour where Charnley's parlour once was but retains extant mason's funereal signage above what is now their main entrance — diners unaware of the glaring incongruity and the irony.
  2. Pair of 18th Century plank & ledge doors with peeling paint & original furniture — rusty Suffolk latches and penny-end T-hinges. Sourced long ago from derelict doctor's house behind our yard wall. Doctors house now fully 'restored' by asian taxi driver — palatial vestibule complete with rearing elephants its welcoming glory.
  3. Length of hearty English oak retrieved from River Sowe, thickness of garden door post. No rot. Somewhat wormed pine door jamb with some paint. Garden door, ledged and braced, pine, painted, good condition. 
  4. Boxes of screws and nails and bolts of various types.
Out of stock.
  1.  Everything else.

Undeterred by shortfall in necessary materials and readies to buy said in, set to work next day on mission to source and acquire entire deficient requirement by 'alternative' means.

Within no time have a pile of lumbers of various length and scantling gotten from skips parked around the village of Longford. Looks enough for job.

Permanent skip used by a local window fitter provides three almost undamaged panes of early 1990's vintage tudor, but made with proper soft lead came as the Elizabethans would have and with individual diamond lights set in.

Sag across pane makes for trippy kaleidoscopic reflections of surrounding skyline.

Fit for purpose.

Rest of 10 similar windows in same skip beyond repair. Wrecked apart, the came goes in the scrap bucket. 40lb's of lead = 18 kilos. Lead weighs in around about a quid per kilo most days so I'm into profit...

Offer up bricks, windows, doors and timber. Fit is nigh perfect with just an inch of leeway to take care of the left side wall out of both plumb and line by up to four inches with rainfall neatly draining away to the right and down drain a couple of inches from where the three course brick base and back wall meet, just so.

Find a load of corrugated bitumen roofing in another skip. Lucky that!

Take five full sheets for use and a half sheet scrap bit for beating about. Retails at £18 per sheet as new. Few small holes in it, but also have a whole tin of bitumen repair mastic from skip too. No problem foreseen then excepting how to flash the stuff.

Time to think about that later. It's dry in the sky and remains so.

Earlier on. First job.

Wooden fence between rotted in five years because of damp winter conditions so brick wall dividing our yard from the next, the necessary first step. Pains me that I can't find good bags of cement when plenty piles of free sand are seen loitering about. Found alright — water damaged all. Therefore mortar first cost of the project which robs lead scrap profit and when more than first bargained for is soon required, bites deep into pocket. 

Never laid a brick in my life — though process seems easy enough. Problem is these bricks are handmade items, therefore (somewhat!) irregular, so, bricklaying career commences in at the deep end with the most difficult easy task in the trade — laying bricks end to end and atop one another but with no two in the entire pile the exact same size and hardly one amongst the lot with a flush face. 

Because this is to be a 'half-brick' wall only one brick thick, this means creating a wall with two faces — the public and the private. Public face where bricks are laid in a nice clean, and as far as possible, smooth plane with nicely pointed mortar joints. Private face where differences in brick thickness show dramatically and pointing beyond nicety. 

Doesn't matter. Entire environment round Longford way made in same fashion. Congruous no matter what!

Hang garden door off house wall first as sight line and plumb line. Judy's son, Ben, helps out. Complete quickly and efficiently, both learn the art of bricklaying along the way. Of course, first course laid straight atop the concrete slab...

Foundation not dug......

Learn later of frost heave.............!

(It was such good fun though that I'd demolish and start over with pleasure should it crack apart come February time.)

Next job. Third job. Roof support.

In an hour it's taking shape and within three almost finished.

Enter loved one.

"It's up and it's true, your job looks a good 'un,

Seems so correct and so deft in the wooden,

I like it so much but forgive me, I wonder...

Try make me suspect that there's nowhere a blunder?"

Meself. Blithely sure.

Suspection? No worries, (nor Queen's English either!)

I'd rather correction than caught by the neither,

Cast your eye over and task me thereafter,

I'll rip it back down again, plate, beam and rafter."

Exit loved one, convinced. Hero picks up where he left off.

Well after that, just as the saw sang on her very first cut, it was work, work, work, work.  The frame hung together quickly and the windows and doors fitted snugly as imagined. In a week or so it was looking just as good as could be expected. Though there wasn't a straight line to be seen anywhere, it was perfectly in tune with the wonky old walls that kept it aloft, so it looked upright enough and began to stand proudly as a thing in its own rights.

Small is what it was, though. Very small indeed!

But small enough to be a shed of consequence?

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A Shed for all Seasons — Nutcracking

My yard is square and sixteen square of 'em. A penny black. In need of franking.

Surrounded on three sides by high walls and with a northern aspect. Shady and cool in summer, dark and dank in winter. Because mould grows from the ground up from November through March and by Spring the off-white pebbledash turns mildew green at eye level. Because wet nets fester but never dry and tackle stored is subject to the light fingered. Because of this and that and one thing and another, to an angler it's neither use nor ornament.

My house is years old and 200 of 'em. Four stories high on thirty yards square. Small but tall and in need of repair.

Bedroom windows are rotten. Sawdust and linen do not good bedfellows make and my efforts to fix the one but avoid soiling the other are thwarted by the demands of domestic bliss. Because nothing dulls a man's cutting edge quite so quickly as a feather duster does. Because the accumulated stuff of his lifetime must be stashed and stored where womenfolk with their oil and grease banishing detergents fear to tread. Something needs to be done about this yard and its house, and while summer lasts, be done at a good march and long before next.

Ergo, shed.

Domestic conversation, moment well chosen.

"I'll build a shed." Confident. "And it'll be a good un' too..."

"Explain yourself my love..." Says she. Less so.

"For foul nets to dry in and maggots, my dear. Pupation through flyhood without wailing or crying, it's quite an idea!"

But also thinking...

Backyard retreat fettling rod, reel and gear, escapes the Ire of Demestos with tin of cold beer.

"And what about me? " From the side of her mouth.

... A tough nut this. Where does the almighty 'She' fit into my plan?

A pause for thought, because up till now I hadn't, and...

"Well, you'll see the back of me more often than the front of me..."

"Hmmm.... you have such a lot of front to see the back of, darling dear, that that might be a very good thing."

Crack appears in nutshell. 

"It'll be no Tom's folly, I will get it finished. By end of September (... or October at least!) an end to my hammering and 'our' problem diminished." 

"Good, I'll have windows, shall expect them delivered. The first installment on the debt of my favour, you might say." 

Shell splits open, out falls the kernel. Chew off half. Offer hers.

"You won't ever be sorry, I promise, my lover"

"But what shall you call it? It must have a name..."

"I was thinking 'Jeff's Foolery' or this or the other." 

"It's 'Hatt's Toolery,' and you're stuck with it. Go sharpen your plane..."

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Canal Roach — Magic Numbers

For years I've believed that roach to surpass that 'magical' two-pound weight were not only possible to catch from the canals of the midlands but certain if only enough anglers bothered to try for them. For at least three years I know for certain that I was the only angler in this country who was concerned with trying after that fish and underwent the Labours of Hercules to prove it. I failed over and over, coming so close though that I truly thought that at least one other angler would finally believe it possible and back up my claim with his own efforts.

One-pound, fifteen-ounces, 8 drams. My best remains a cruel half-ounce under critical weight.

However, backed up with plenty of mid one-pounders and stacks of fish around and above the benchmark one-pound weight telling you it's worth persevering, I thought that the sheer weight of my numbers would convince, but I was wrong. Two-pounds and in excess is for some unfathomable reason the only number that will make anglers take a roach venue seriously enough.

That's very sad. A terrible indictment of modern angling if only when there's proof banked in excess of an arbitrary numerical target do people want to bother.

To all intents and purposes, my best fish was a two-pounder. The difference a gob full of water...

But it wasn't above two-pounds. And that was crucial. A fish that more or less proved that larger fish were swimming in the same shoal and that simply couldn't have been the best the canal had to offer was ignored as evidence they were there in numbers!

The numbers say they must be. Numbers are never wrong.

Then George Burton arrived on the scene. An angler who fishes canals nowadays for specimen roach but was once a canal match angler who'd scratch a net of blades for the same weight as one good fish, he took my work seriously. He's also a great one for numbers — though not arbitrary ones — as proof.

George began to adapt my outrageously heavy methods for the pole, refining and refining till the rig was a fraction of the size, the baits tiny by comparison and the feed as fine as powder snow. He caught good roach and plenty of them but failed over and over to break through the one-pound four-ounce barrier for what seemed like an age.

Then abandoning refinement he went as coarse as I (and you) should like.

Bread discs the size of a quid, roughly mashed bread with chunks of crust in it for feed. Suddenly he'd bagged a pound and half roach.

I wasn't at all surprised. He'd discovered for himself what I'd worked out through my own experiments — that big canal roach like big canal baits, coarse feed and plenty of it, and that big canal roach do not respond at all well to tiptoeing delicacy.

Employing scales of approach seemingly ridiculous on venues considered fit for only the finest methods and microscopic baits, we'd discovered what everyone else had overlooked. That our canals are no longer scratching venues but true specimen waters ranking alongside any other and surpassing many, where two-pound roach are numerically commonplace, but where serious roach anglers who might catch convincing numbers of them are not...

While George fished I'd hardly wet a line after the canal's roach. Dabbling now and then but never too seriously, it's no surprise that I caught few in the meantime because you can't do it lightly and get away with it. Canal roach require all the attention you can muster and your effort must be entirely focussed upon them. Failure is certain otherwise.

I'd taken a long break from it content to watch as George plucked fish after fish from the murky waters till his total in terms of numbers caught matched my own and his results in terms of catch weight data matched mine perfectly. What we then had were two sets of proof that argue very convincingly what truly great roach fisheries these canals are. And they are — beyond any shadow of a doubt.

And then... finally... it happened.

George surpassed my achievement (but not my unswerving belief) by supplying the proof in cold number that others will require in order to bother themselves when he banked that 'fish of a lifetime.'

So. Rifle through the back catalogues of both blogs and you'll get the gist of it. The way to go about it is explained both here and there. And, we'll see you on the towpath, no doubt, soon enough. Where George has set the bar high...

But believe me, they run bigger still.

Numbers are never wrong.

Float, Flight & Flannel — Big Bend Theory

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Avon Perch — A Change of Sky

Our regular Thursday evening sessions over the last month have seen night draw closer and closer to afternoon and now arriving at the river means hitting dusk running rather than taking a leisurely stroll up the bank toward it. Martin has toughed it out for that monster barbel 'with his name on it' and I've persisted trotting bread for roach. Neither successfully.

Chub, I like. But catching little else for what's seemed like months on end with every approach employed resulting in more and more forces a rethink. A worm crawls out the grass of the towpath verge during a damp dog walk and she/he gives me an idea...

What better fish for the short autumn evenings can there be than perch?

I'd clean forgotten how engrossing this form of fishing can be but I'm reminded soon enough...

Flicked into the eddy of the pool the float ambles about a while. You'll wait ten minutes sometimes, twenty or thirty often enough, an hour or more if they're lazy but they'll come by. Dip, dive, bob and slide. The wait is rewarded within minutes.

The dithering bite sets me on the edge of my seat. It's missed. That's fair enough. It won't bother perch. Sure enough the next bite up comes a specimen a tiny fraction of the size I'm after. But at least it's not a chub!

The worm threaded up line not down the throat is rehooked and sent out once again to do its business. Ten minutes later the float performs that unmistakable dance. When to strike, when to strike? It's been said you should always give them enough rope but how long is long enough rope to hang a billy?

I don't know!

Often perch are right under our noses but they're so sensitive to depth you might never know they're there fishing too high, too low. It's eight feet deep right under the reeds, ten a few yards further out, but I feel I'm fishing too shallow in it.

The worm lowered a foot to hang the same from the riverbed creates an immediate reaction and from then on in it's never much longer than I can bear to wait hung on tenterhooks before it's nabbed. Between approaching dusk and inky darkness a series of five strapping perch around and over the pound mark are banked.

I haven't done such a thing since boyhood but after dark a stationary torch is set to shine a beam across the water to illuminate the float...

Drifting on the lazy current in and out of view, one minute bright as a beacon, the next almost invisible but never quite lost from view, modern contraptions may have made such a thing anachronistic practice but it still remains a fabulously exciting way to fish!

A better specimen is lost. Powerful enough to be a convincing chub if it wasn't for that jangling head shaking sensation transmitted up the line, I'm at least assured that next Thursday evening I might have my reward with a perch to gorge on the pounders I've had tonight.

Last bite and along comes a surprise!

Odd that none are reported for what must be a year then three come along in separate blog posts from different people in the last few days....

The first ruffe I've had in ages and the only one ever caught from a river.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Avon Roach —  Cardinal Sins

Unusual for me to spend so long in the one place when the itch to move is usually under my skin within ten minutes of not getting what I want from wherever I happen to wind up. It's a roach angler thing, upping sticks and off in search of new potential. I suffer terribly from it and simply cannot persist in fishing a swim I've lost confidence in. And that's especially true with roach where that crucial confidence can evaporate within ten short bite-less minutes.

Over the past few years I've observed that they're not like any other coarse fish because they cannot be enticed away from where they want to be. Sure you can move them a little to one side or bring them upstream a little but you cannot get them to shift into what they consider dangerous territory elsewhere just for food. That's not enough for them. They require safety too because they're fearful creatures given to picking at their grub at the slightest upset inside the strictly delimited zone of comfort they'll not leave for anything till leaving suits them. 

I've also observed that their liking for a safe house means that for the majority of the time they'll likely be wherever we ignore. That is to say the blandest looking piece of water on the stretch, the one where the easily seduced angling eye doesn't dwell, wherever the fishing brain fails to register interest. If it looks like it'll have chub in it, that raft of rubbish caught up in a willow on a bend for instance, or it'll likely throw up barbel because of this and that and whatever, or is a lovely looking glide of smooth water certain to be a textbook roach fishing paradise, then it won't produce the desired quarry.

In my experience they'll turn up in the between.

This particular stretch of river has had me fail singularly. I saw them once. It was my first session on the water in fact but I was stuck fishing meat for barbel while all around a shoal of large roach topped, and yes they had to be roach because no other fish would do such a thing in such a particular fashion on a river around dusk. It was classic stuff straight out of the big roach hunter's textbook. But that evening I'd committed the roach angler's first cardinal sin because intent on less demanding quarry I'd failed to pack the back-up insurance of a roach rod and half a loaf to fish with...

I never go to a river without that! 

But that time I did and have sorely regretted it ever since because I caught no barbel that night and couldn't have cared less, couldn't hope to catch those roach but cared a great deal about that, have tried for them over and over in the meantime but in every swim that looked 'roachy' I've never caught a single one. 

Great chances in roach angling come around rarely. One had passed me by.

Day one
An evening session again after barbel. After a few swim changes I settled into a peg with little to recommend it. Looking like nothing much, just a piece of dull water between more attractive swims, it did have one salient advantage over the rest — a comfortable bank where I could sit on the grass and while away a few moments in restful idleness before moving to another altogether more testing peg further downstream.

I had plucks straight away so decided to stay. A savage classic barbel bite came and for a short time I believed that it was one it was so heavy and determined but when enough pressure was applied, I found a one-pound eel who'd merely wrapped itself up around a raft of streaming weed. It was hooked cleanly in the bottom lip but getting it out was still tricky, so I smoothed the belly to send it into a coma making it perfectly docile even when held upright. When put back in the water though, it recovered immediately — a remarkable thing.

Day two 
An excursion with James Denison up from London on a day trip to the Avon and him intent on rolling meat down the weedy gravel runs for a barbel. It was a warm day under shafts of bright sunlight showing bottom in three feet of clear water and about as bad as could be for locating roach but I persisted fishing ledgered bread in the hope of finally finding them out. Once again, after a few hops from here to there in search of roach bites but finding only chublet twangs, dace jangles and surprisingly vicious gudgeon twitches I wound up in the dull but comfortable swim where I'd had the eel.

First bite was a roach bite and was the first I'd ever had from the place. Thankfully James is an experienced roach angler himself so I had someone to chew the cud with and we both agreed on that score. When fishing ledgered bread, a roach bite is a roach bite is a roach bite because no other fish bites on bread quite the same way.

When one was hooked sure enough it was, and though a relatively small fish of just five or six ounces, it was the first I'd had in so many sessions and cause for celebration. Of course I should have put it back half-a-mile distant, or packed a keepnet, but I plopped it back directly when I committed the second cardinal sin of roach angling.

Thereafter I could not connect at all because on the Warwickshire Avon returning a roach to the shoal almost always spells the end of your chances. The bites which had been quite confident considering the conditions became simply impossible and though I struck a hundred times over I never connected with one again. But at last I'd discovered them and as always, where I'd least expected to. Of course the reason I'd never found them before is that I'd ignored my own hard-won knowledge and overlooked the obvious. Roach are always found in the most boring water and failing to apply that rule here was how I'd committed the third cardinal sin of the roach angler.

After finishing up on the stretch James and I walked the near five miles to Stratford Upon Avon and fished Lucys Mill where I ledgered bread in one of my favourite weirpool swims. I had a predictable roach pretty much first cast and then a roach hybrid but then the swim died off and I struggled for bites. James float fished bread in my second favourite swim and had six or seven up to three-quarters of a pound. That was a lesson learned and I'd committed the — what is it now, four or fifth — cardinal sin of the roach angler. That of sticking with one way when another might be better.

Third day
Consequently on the last day I decided to try something that for some unfathomable reason still remains to me a novel approach to roach — the textbook method of trotting bread after them. I've done it before but half-heartedly. Never really stuck at it because it seems so unproductive compared to the instant gratification of ledgering the same bait when you know within minutes beyond doubt if they're there or not. 

First trot through and the float buries at the very end of the run through. A chub clearly— it segues from weed to snag to weed and back, so on and so forth. As they do. A nice fish of two pounds or so, but I shouldn't have brought it up through the swim. In doing so I commit another of the many cardinal sins of roach angling when the bank was clear and I could have gone down to the troublesome fish more easily than bring it up to my position disturbing the swim in the process.

Nevertheless the next fish is a roach. Then a dace and a gudgeon and another roach. They come from here and there but there's no line to speak of. Under the bank, down the middle, across the far side. Bites are few and far between as I expect with trotted bread but there's no pattern when they come. There and here, all over the place but nowhere in particular — I decide to feed to concentrate bites into a zone. 

That was the final cardinal sin. The death knell. The balls of bread mash served only to bring in more and more chub (who seem to be my default species at the moment no matter what I try!) drive the resident dace into a frenzy midwater and together they forced the roach's noses out of the trough. They were never to be caught again.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Avon Barbel — Hammer and Chisel Job

After years of dragging me round to fish just about every mill on the Warwickshire Avon but failing to find his thrill, at a new venue to both of us, Mr Martin Roberts finally cracked his long-standing 11lb personal best for barbel this evening with a specimen weighing in at an impressive 13lb 5oz, and so monumental in the flesh it could have been a Rodin bronze.

My efforts don't even warrant mention alongside his achievement and for once I won't bore you with the minutiae of them but just showcase a glorious fish and one very happy man.

Believe me when I say that it's very hard to get Martin to smile in a picture.

But for once it was all too easy...

You couldn't have wiped it off with hammer and chisel!


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Wye Barbel — Downhill Struggle

Catching chub on trotted maggots and trundled meat respectively but singularly failing to lure even a small one between us in long hours searching every likely looking lie, when we'd exhausted every last try, Steve and myself together agreed at a certain angling moment around 4pm that we'd now reached a watershed when a move really was necessary or in our quest for barbel we'd die on our sodden arses.

It had to be to another fishery entirely because by then we both knew this one to be a lost cause.

Making phone calls to friends he came up with a solution when pointed downstream to where they'd 'certainly' be found. First of all we had to find the place — and you'd never know it was there if you didn't have the information and was tricky to find even with it. A very steep hill to amble down and then likely swims to locate— a tall order on a stretch that looked at first sight pretty much the same all the way along.

Evenly wide, shallow and slow-moving there was little recommending one over any other, but working on pointed info gleaned from Steve's very generous tipsters then all what we had to do was 'walk to a certain point, cast right across, fish as close as possible to the far bank bushes and preferably right in them.'

Then, when we eventually found the spot, seriously, it looked no different than any other we'd passed by already...

Steve donned his waders but I couldn't be bothered with that sweaty faff having worn them all day long and choosing to fish from the bank I left them to dry on the grass behind.

That gave Steve a clear advantage when it came to getting baits into position shortening the chuck by half, where I put myself at a major disadvantage by attempting to do the same from a distance of 60 or 70 yards which is not an easy thing with a cage feeder carrying nothing.

Falling a good twenty yards short I got a bites on meat, but when one was hooked it proved to be a very tricky 2lb eel who escaped the rim of the net by an inch of tail six times before I finally got it in. It was cleanly hooked in the lip (nice of it to be so obliging!) but off the hook it then escaped through a hole so small only a dace could have got through, but he managed it and slivered rapidly back to the water.

Steve had an early chub but of barbel there was no sign yet. Our cheerful bailiff assured us that when the sun set behind the hill and its shadow was cast upon the water, they'd come on the feed. He was dead right about that because just as soon as it did, Steve was into what we'd come for — a barbel.

At last!

His bait was a boilie. So, I rifled around my bag and found some of my own. But they didn't work at all with not a single bite in an hour. When Steve then hooked his second and then third barbel I borrowed a handful of his magic bait (as you do!) and went back to fish more hopefully but fully aware that I was looking at a blank.

Just as soon as it hit the deck there was a pluck. Ooh — a blank maybe not!

A few cagey plucks later the cage feeder was replaced with a big fat two-ounce maggot feeder stuffed with crushed boilies and that missile was was easily flung within five yards of the trees. The rod sat still for two minutes, no more, before a twang and then a massive wrenching bite set me upon my feet, attached at last...

... and to what felt like a train.

No way was I going to land this fish easily from my position with it now heading downstream hard and determinedly Steve's way, so of course into the water I went in rolled up trousers wading out to an altogether better fighting stance.

Then Steve had another fish on. Two's up was too good a chance to miss because here was a top notch photo in the making, so all we had to do was lose neither and it was in the bag. But I thought I would lose mine. This fish was crazy! Convinced I'd a double to contend with, I played it as safe as I could. But when I finally saw the bruiser was not quite the brute it'd made itself out, I piled on the pressure and finally, after a lot of vicious runs and a splashy finale, netted it. 

Four pounds or so, it was just a puppy, but blimey could it pull...

Well, we got the picture! And by the end of play we'd have a few more because on the magic boilies barbel were hooked and beaten again and again, Steve finishing up with six or seven before bites dried up completely as darkness approached. Myself fishing bank-side lazy style but having to get in the water anyhow, just a few between.

Steve won the pot hands down. A hard-earned and well-deserved result at mate's rates.

And then it was homeward bound but not before that bloody hill was struggled back up weighed down with waders I never used but really think I should have.