Sunday, 21 May 2017

How Big is a Zebra?

A silly question you might suggest, but a question to which most of us have a pretty accurate answer, even those of us that have recently not been anywhere near a zoo, or to Africa for that matter.   A more relevant question here might be "How big is a robin?"   Or perhaps a red admiral butterfly, or a stag beetle?  In each case I doubt I have a reader who could not give a pretty good idea of the size of each of those animals. He probably has more detail too, for instance that the Zebra's body stripes are vertical. He perhaps might know that each individual zebra has a unique pattern of those stripes, yet each of those individuals will be sufficiently different as to be identifiable by its stripe pattern. And it is also a very interesting question as to how those stripes are created, or how a trout gets its spot distribution, each of those being different too.    That pattern generation was a question so interesting that even the great Alan Turing did some research on it.   Biological mathematical enactments of chaos theory seems to have part to play in the creation of these patterns.

But if instead of the title question I had asked "How big is a roach?", or "What size is a bream?", you would have been unable to answer, unless supplied with a photograph, or the fish itself.  Why the difference?   Fish are pretty much unique in the animal kingdom, in that their adult size is not anything like a standard size. The size of an adult fish ( most especially in freshwater) is determined my numbers of fish present, water quality and by food availability. Not just by "This is how big it will grow".  Do I hear someone shouting "What about dogs?"   I should have added, "species that have not been mucked about with by man", although a dalmatian will always be about the same size as any other dalmatian.  A Yorkshire terrier is still the same species as an old English sheepdog, and they could breed quite viably, although various stages in the process would have a fair degree of discomfort involved for one or both partners.  In some ponds rudd of maybe 6 inches or so are fully mature, able to breed, and unable to grow any larger in that location.   In another water they might all be expected to reach a couple of pounds.  In some way, fish, having been evolving for half a billion years, have managed to do things differently.
Angling Times Photo of a Brace of Huge Roach.

There is another thing I have noticed about fish.  Did any of you see the Angling Times photo recently of a huge brace of roach?  3-14 and 2-10.     I have reproduced the photograph here, and hope that Angling Times will not be too upset by my doing so.   These two fish are, quite obviously not young fish.  Fish do not get to be of near record size in a short lifespan.  But examine them closely: they look very young.  Not a mark on them, no wrinkles about the eyes, no care worn, thin skeletal looks. They just look very young fish.       And it is something I have often seen before, both in photos of fish, and in my own captures.  If a fish is unaffected by disease, by parasites, or by predators and goes largely uncaught by anglers, it can still look newly minted, at almost any age or size, even if that fish lives in a river.  Fish seem to have some inbuilt anti-aging mechanism, that most other species, especially humans, do not have.  It is a trick I could use myself these days, if I had any idea how they do it, and maybe fish might provide a fertile hunting ground for those scientists doing research on extending the human life span.   More relevantly, for anglers, it enables us to catch large fish that are unutterably beautiful.  If big fish chasing had been more of a 'grab a granny' type of activity, it would be have been far less popular.

Two Pounds Exactly.

So:  How big is a roach?  ...or this roach in particular.

The answer in this case is exactly two pounds: a fish I caught by accident a couple of weeks ago whilst fishing for something else entirely.  Not my biggest roach, but in my view any roach over one pound is an excellent fish, and two pounders are great gifts indeed...even if unintended captures.  The circumstances of this capture though, were so bizarre, that I still scarcely believe them myself, and knowing that, I am not going to ask any of you to believe it either.  Therefore I am not going to go into any detail. That's right: I am not telling you,  so there, nah na na nah, nah!   As some comedians might say: "Always leave them wanting more". But there was a useful lesson to be had there: when an opportunity arrives, take it. So I re-jigged my approach so as to specifically seek roach, and using mainly Warburton's bread  ( one of my all time favourite baits), I landed a few more good roach over  a period of  three days, with a total of fourteen of the fish going  over a pound.   Very pleasing. But I was unable to get an intentional two pounder, the best going 1-15.  That happens to me a lot, catching a fish just under a particular well known and recognized target size.    I did however get a second accidental capture whilst chasing the roach:  this time it was a rudd.  3 pounds one ounce.  One hell of a fish. My best rudd ever, but once again, a completely unintended success.   But, taking the same lesson  a second time, I sought out some weedier, shallower water and fished specifically for rudd, whilst keeping the thick sliced bait.   Again I was unable to better or equal the fish that had intruded into the roach sessions. But:
2-7 and...

2 pounds 8 Ounces of Gorgeous Rudd

  With fish of 2-5, 2-7 and 2-8, to add to the 3-1, I had no reason to complain or moan about it.  More young looking fish. So, quite a successful few days. Yet another intruder blundered its way rather forcefully into the rudd session, nearly dragging my rod into the water.  A common carp of fifteen pounds gave me quite a bit of drama, on a 13 foot light trotting rod, a centrepin and 4 pound line.  It made a number of long runs, luckily all were directed well away from the nearby dense reedbeds. And I was fortunate in that I had filled the reel with a much longer length of line than I would normally have used, had I been using that same centrepin for river fishing, where too much line can create a  "bedding in" problem that makes smooth long trotting difficult.

All in all a very big change from the last two or three weeks of the river season, which had cut up very rough for me, with very few fish at all in the landing net.  I may have to revisit these redfins a bit later in the season, once they have got over their spawning period.   The rudd, if not the roach, were just beginning to show the first signs of an expanding waistline.

This last week or so the crucians have been calling me again, although I suspect they may not quite be fully in the swing of things, feeding freely.  Three sessions on one good crucian lake brought two blanks, and four fish on the third day.
High Backed Crucian.
Two pound fish were again on the menu, with a couple reaching that mark, the best being a super cuddly example, very high backed indeed, a fish that scored 2.7 on the Richter scale.  Bread again of course, with a very delicate lift method rig being used to present it. There is scientific research that demonstrates that crucians, caught in a water with predators such as pike, develop much higher backs than fish living without the presence of predatory fish. The body shape to me suggests why the lift method works so well with the species. After "bending" down to pick up a bait, the fish would soon have to get back on an even keel.

I should perhaps add a couple of things that I may have missed out when writing about the lift method  recently. I always overshot a lift float, such that the bottom tell-tale shot actually sinks the float.  The depth is then adjusted carefully, the objective being to get the line from float to that last shot as near vertical as possible.  A couple of inches too deep and it needs a bit of tension in the line twixt reel and float. Admittedly there is then very fine control as to how much of the float shows, but, there is a disadvantage. Any fish swimming nearby, wafting the bottom of the rig around, may move that shot along the bottom.  If it moved towards the angler, a lift bite will be seen: a false lift bite being generated as the line tension is eased. The shot is still on the bottom and the fish, having passed by, is probably now nowhere near when the strike is made.  With the line vertical, most bites seem to be lift bites, rather than the float bobbing under, and a lift is almost invariably a sign of a fish with the bait in its mouth.  Fishing lift method is probably the only time I bother being so very precise, aiming to get the float depth set to within half an inch or so.  And it should probably be pointed out that the lift method is one way of getting single shot sensitivity, whilst using a float taking quite a large shot load in total. It allows casting at a far greater distance than would otherwise have been possible with a single shot float. I find a float that will take half a dozen shot  will of course rise a little more slowly than a single shot float, but I quite like the drama of seeing an antenna rise several inches, in such a leisurely way.

I fished a second water, a small reservoir that I had fished for crucians a few years ago.   All I had caught back then were hybrids. I knew they were not pure bred fish, But were they Crucian/goldfish...crucian/common carp? I thought the former.  A dozen or so such fish decided me not to go back there in any hurry. But I didn't really know at the time exactly what they were, so I recently decided I would go back to check, using the greater knowledge that I now have. After catching half a dozen or so, I concluded they were goldfish, and crucian/goldfish hybrids.    But pleasingly, very pleasingly, this time I also had five proper crucians. None much over half a pound, but any crucian is a delight for me to catch.  

A third, local water has proved more difficult, with only one crucian from three half day sessions.  Several tench happened along to cut through the quiet periods, causing havoc by charging into the lilies when hooked, and another common carp tested the mettle, having been hooked an inch away from the same lily pads.  Twice though, fish, that I think were tench, managed to actually bite through the line very near the hook.  I was not broken, the fish either bit through the line with their pharyngeal teeth, or managed to cut me off on a snag very near to the hook.  Most odd.  A pair of kingfishers were working this small reservoir, catching small roach and perch very effectively indeed. I missed bites watching them.  They bashed the heads of the fish a few times and then flew off to a small nearby stream where it would seem they must have young. A couple of other unusual bird events happened on the same water.  After flying very low over the middle of the water a few times a pigeon, of the town centre type, actually landed on the water, right in the middle of the lake.  After 3 or 4 seconds it took off again and flew away.   Was it collecting water in its plumage to give to its young in this dry weather, rather like some Australian bird species do?  I have no idea.  But a heron also landed in the lake, sitting in the water like a mallard. It picked up a floating dead fish, and then flew off again. It, unlike the pigeon, had an obvious motive.    Once before I saw a heron land on a large pond.  It then paddled its way back to the bank and shallow water...with legs totally unsuited to the job of course.    I only now realize it also could have probably taken off again from the water, had it but tried. Herons are such fascinating creatures. One, on a local little pond, used to dive in, pelican-like, to take small fish being reeled in by the anglers.

Couple of interesting birds again this week: the photo is of what I think is a stonechat, seen on a patch of waste ground as I was taking a stroll recently.  A new bird for me.

But also, much rarer: I was catapulting some bait out one day, when a previously unseen bird took sudden evasive action, so as to not be blasted by the group of small pellets. Rather like a shotgun blast without the blast...or the shot...or the gun.  Only got a quick look at it, but it was most definitely a bittern.   The only one I have ever seen. Brown, a little smaller than a heron.   

 And yesterday, to finish off nicely, being very traditional, using a Mk IV Richard Walker Avon, and float fished bread: more crucians. I like the way crucians, when feeding, usually reveal their presence, either by blowing a few bubbles, or more often, by dashing quite vertically to the surface, and with a great splash, diving straight back down again. A few even jump clear of the surface. Spring is here, well advanced now, and fish captures are definitely back on the menu.  But  I am now torn between more of the same, and the alternative of my old friends the Tincas.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Early Spring

JayZS Twig Rig.

I heard the first croak of a frog in my pond this morning.   Today is really warm for February, with a goodly number of my crocus showing colour, even the purple ones, which are always the last to do so.  A few even have fully open flowers.  The snowdrops are looking fabulous too.  The robins are getting paired up as are the goldfinches visiting the feeders. the finches and dunnocks are usually seen off by the robins, aggressive little so and sos.   But they back off for blackbirds, sparrows and great tits.   All this springing into life is lost of the fish in the river, which are still being reluctant to come out and look around. Difficult not to think that they have left the building entirely. Only six grayling in half a dozen half day sessions. Yesterday morning gave me one very small grayling and a somewhat larger trout. Both hooked on a JayZS twig rig.  I didn't show a picture of the twig rig in the last blog. Whilst I hope I had explained it sufficiently clearly I feel there may be a need to show a photograph of it here. A ridiculous idea you may well think, but it does seem to work.

Because the fishing has been so poor, I have done even more walking about, usually straying near one or other watercourse.  Always more to see when there is nearby water, greater range of birds, and it is generally simply much prettier.   Unless of course you are near some of the piles of rubbish we get thrown into local streams. Most of it though does not kill the wildlife, the sewage effluent probably actually increases the total biomass that the rivers can support, and the debris provides hidey-holes for all sorts of creatures that eventually end up feeding the fish and fowl that populate the stream.

I try not to leap onto social media posts in order to point out grammatical or spelling errors.   Whilst it does annoy me how poor some of the English can be, I have learned to ignore it much or the time, and I certainly do not claim to be perfect myself, far from it.    OK, OK, I might occasionally wade in when someone else has a go at such errors and, in doing so, almost inevitably makes an error or errors himself.   The first rule of the internet is that once you complain about spelling you are far more likely to get something wrong yourself.   There are some spelling errors that do get me quite annoyed.  I have probably mentioned before that about half the world's keyboard warriors cannot seem to differentiate between 'lose' and 'loose'.  Yet it is such a simple word.
For my recent birthday my son gave me a book:  'Human Universe' by Professor Brian Cox, OBE and Andrew Cohen.    The book accompanied a TV series of the same name, a series I must have missed, which is shame because it is just the sort of documentary I thrive on and salivate about.   The professor is a very well educated man, prone to using big words like 'solipsistic'.   I had to look that one up, and well as one or two others as I read the book.   Nearing the end of the book, I turned over the leaf onto pages 218/219.   As I started to read page 218, well before I reached the end of the first sentence, the word "loose" can storming out at me from one third of the way down page 219.     It is difficult to understand why the word shouted so loudly at me.  It can only be that I have a sort of unconscious radar for it.  It was an incorrect spelling of the word "lose". I was horrified. What chance do schoolkids have if both a university professor, the Head of the BBC Science Unit and also whomsoever they employed to proof read the text,  all get it wrong?   Line 12 and 13, page 219:
"For all practical purposes, therefore, they are isolated; it's not possible to panic or simply loose patience and return to civilisation above."   AARGGHHHH!!! Coincidentally 219 is my house number.  Was I pre-destined to spot this?  Either way I was astounded.

 Most of the time I am amused by these errors. A local print shop had, signwritten above its door: "LEVENSHULME PRINTER'S". I suspect that they may have been responsible for four large rather fishy signs on a nearby roundabout that advertised car sales: "DACE MOTOR'S".   Most of the time I am amused by the errors.
But the best apostrophe came to light a few days ago, in a fishing related forum, where one angler had written: "I hell'd the fish carefully."  Kept me amused me for days, that one has.

Trying to find other ways to occupy my time whilst the rivers are still out of sorts and most of the stillwaters I fish are not  quite ready for me, I sorted through some of my idle and certainly long forgotten bits of fishing tackle.  I was surprised to find an unopened box of split shot.    Surprised because to my certain knowledge, I have never bought shot so small.  How I come to have them is a mystery.  I am usually left with the remains of one of those rotary shot dispensers, with just its original complement of size 6 and 8 shot, sizes I never have found any use for.  But in this newly discovered box, the largest shot is size 8.  The other sizes are 9, 10 and 12.  Size 12!   How anyone, even the most skillful match angler could find any use for size 12 shot I have no idea.   And how on earth could you close the split around a line?   It needs a scanning electron microscope just to see the split, let alone try and slide a line into it, and close it.  The match would be half over before I had lined the slot up with the line, and the "all out" long passed by the time I had secured it to the line. Am I doing something wrong? I rarely use anything smaller than a BB, and have never gone lower than a size 4.  Am I missing out on a long list of captures I otherwise might have had?   Incidentally I mentioned cheaper shot a few posts back.   Well, here is what you might consider doing: buy two boxes of air rifle pellets.   A .177 pellet is the same weight as a BB shot, and a .22 pellet equates to a AAA.  They can either be drilled axially and threaded onto the line, aided by a float stop to position them, or, by using a similar method to that used with my twig rig, can be looped and clove hitched around their waist, and onto the line.  A lot cheaper than buying Dinsmores.  They seem to work well for me.  A bit fiddly to drill maybe but during the adverts whilst watching TV....  Using drilled air rifle pellets removes the inevitable weak spot created by squeezing a split shot onto the line.  Not as easy to tweak and adjust the shot load, but I cannot expect to have everything.

Since writing the above, two further weeks have passed, and I have ventured out onto a few stillwaters.  The fish have been reluctant, but not entirely absent.  A bream of about five pounds and a
couple of tench near four pounds were extricated from one of the most shallow waters on any of my clubs' cards.  I figured they would warm up quickly, and was, truth be told, trying to catch crucians.  They were not interested in playing my sort of games.  Sitting on a platform, fishing one morning, I saw a disturbance in the remains of last years rushes, and the newly sprouting reeds for this year. Something was heading my way, submerged and about twenty yards away to my right.  Carp, thinks I.  It came the whole way, still submerged, and stopped directly below my fishing platform.  Looking carefully, I could see ripples were extending out from directly beneath my fishing stool. After a minute of so, it continued, exit stage left, again keeping near the bank, and stopped under the next platform.   It did this three more times to the final three platforms, with occasional small fry scattering above it.   Not wearing my polaroids, I did not actually see it, but I was wrong about the carp: it had to be mammalian, and I think it can only have been an otter. Its actions did not resemble any of the many mink I have seen over the years.  I am sure it must have, on previous occasions, used the same platforms as rest halts.  It is the only sign I have ever seen of an otter on a stillwater.  And I have still only ever seen two individuals on distant rivers.   They are not common in my area, but three were confirmed as definite sightings by a friend I trust, and on a local river, which suggests they are now finally here.  The local barbel and carp anglers are not going to be amused of course.

The frogs have been, spawned in my pond, and moved on.   The crocus have bloomed in profusion
and faded. Snowdrops, just the long green leaves remain.  

The robins have a nest site in the garden,  a nest box I hid in the ivy covering a garden wall,  but I found a dropped egg on the patio, suggesting that their nest site has been raided by the jays or magpies.  Long tailed tits seem to have taken up residence somewhere in the front garden, as they often attack their reflections in my front windows, occasionally clinging to the lead of the stained glass windows, although never long enough to focus the camera. 

Salford Friendly Anglers are celebrating their 200th anniversary this year.   They are thought to be the world's oldest angling club, and have a lot of fascinating archive material.   They invited Ian Heaps, ex world match angling champion to give a demonstration this last weekend.   As a teenager, I used to fish against him in Stockport Federation of Anglers' Wednesday evening match series, held on the Macclesfield Canal, back in the mid 60's.  I have not seen him since then.   I didn't recognize him, my excuse being that he was in camouflage, having shaved off his moustache some years ago, probably something he did specifically to confuse me.  It was good to see him again, and we shared a
Ian Heaps at Salford Friendly Anglers 200th Year Celebration.' 
few memories. A shame the fishing, on the chosen water, was not better, or else the spectators in the gallery might have learned rather more from watching him fish.  Blanking should have been against the rules. Coincidental though, that the two venues at which we met were separated by 50 years, yet both are linked by the identical abbreviation SFA.

A further week now passed, and I know I shall not have the time to add significantly to this for at least a fortnight.   So I will publish and be damned.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Legering for Grayling, the Twig Rig and the Senses.

'Legering for Grayling'?   Some of you are probably now recoiling in horror.  And I  largely agree with you.  It is not really the way of the enlightened, the path of the Ninja.  One of my clubs actually bans legering in their river beats, and I agree entirely with their decision.   But elsewhere there are many swims that simply cannot be fished with fly or float.  Depths, varying, or too deep, snags, trees and everything else imaginable, can render civilized grayling fishing quite impossible.  So what of those swims?  Are they to be ignored?     The grayling ( and other species) certainly do not ignore them.  So we can either treat them as sanctuaries or in some cases, maybe they can be legered.

But what is the problem with legering for grayling?   Apart from the aesthetics of  it, the grayling is a fish that can be very prone to taking the hookbait deep into its mouth, often so deep as to leave the hook out of sight.   Float fishing and fly fishing tends to lead to the fish being lip hooked most of the time.  Legering though, can result in 50% of fish, maybe more, being hooked in disgorger territory.  Contrary to the strength of their wriggles, as you try to extract the hook, probing deeply into a grayling's digestive tract is fraught with danger to the fish.  Even using a slammo disgorger is no guarantee that an unseen hook, deep down, can be extracted.  The more caring angler would cut the line sooner rather than later, and pray that the barbless hook he should be using will be dealt with and disposed of naturally by the fish.  I do not know how often fish actually dispose of hooks. I don't know how often they die as a consequence of deep hooking.

I do not wish to deep hook fish. and have usually avoided the leger for grayling.  In the same way many years ago I stopped fishing for pike when the Jardine snap tackle was ubiquitous, and the advice was to 'strike on the second run'.  I did not like the surgical operation needed to extract barbed trebles from deep inside a pike.  And at the time no-one had invented the method of slipping the hand into the gill slit to aid and abet unhooking of the fish.  Pike fishing is far more acceptable these days with modern methods now in place, and almost all of my pike these days are hooked such that the hook shank is visible outside of the jaw.  My pike fishing has become a lot friendlier to the fish, and I enjoy it more.  

But could there also be a better method of fishing for grayling?   ...and for chub, roach etc of course. In my youth I used to fish for big bream with a paternoster rig.  Not the usual rig but a rather extreme version.  From the T junction of the paternoster line, one arm was a couple of feet or more of line, with an Arlesey bomb attached to the end of it.  Tied on, not sliding.  The other T was only an inch or so long, and lead to the hook.  This gave a very direct route from hook to bite indicator should a fish swim away from me.    I had already concluded that there was nothing to gain from a sliding lead if a fish swam back towards me, the lead would move back towards me at half the speed of the fish, and could easily totally mask out any bite indication at the rod. It worked well for me. It was possibly even working as a bolt rig, something that had not been invented at the time. Hooks then were not nearly as sharp, so that bolt effect may not have been quite so frequently the case.  Such a paternoster style was also completely tangle free,  and certainly caught fish in stillwaters.

Would such a rig work for grayling, and why would it be an advantage?   Well, the line between lead and rod is under a small amount of tension, and only that inch long hooklink is free to move, free to be sucked in by the fish. The tension in the main line to the lead would prevent any of the main line from being sucked into the mouth of the fish. So my theory was that the fish could therefore not take the bait any deeper than an inch into its mouth.   Any fish hooked inside the mouth, at only an inch deep is no problem for a disgorger.  But would it work, would it catch fish?  Yes it did, and to date I have not hooked a single fish deeply when fishing in this way.   Was it as efficient a way to catch fish?  That I cannot answer easily, and so the conclusion is that it remains a definite maybe.   The current and angle of the main line could easily lift the bait off the bottom, although that could be counteracted by a shot somewhere near the T.  The method works for both up and downstream legering.   I even used it fishing with a maggot feeder for chub, fishing downstream. My bait being a foot upstream of the feeder did not seem to concern the chub, the trail of maggots below the feeder attracted the chub sufficiently close, that they were then able to find my baited hook some distance above the feeder.
A second problem is that the fish might prefer a long length of line, allowing the bait to flow and meander more freely up and down in the current.  Clearly the paternoster method is not going to provide that.  So here, for the first time in print, I will present to you the JayZS Twig Rig...the result of five minutes of idle thinking during a boring morning when few fish were feeding.      Designed for downstream legering for grayling, allowing a longer flowing link and yet, in theory, still preventing deep hooking. 

The details:
Set up your leger rig, with your long flowing link, in any way you would normally prefer.  Simple running lead,  a link leger, or a couple of swan shot directly on the line two feet above the hook.  It does not matter: the Twig Rig  just redefines the last inch or two.  Find, on the bank, a bit of thin twig. Cut it down to about an inch of so, and then remembering your DIB, DIB, DIB, or maybe your DOB, DOB, DOB, make a clove hitch in your line very near to the hook, and put the twig through its loops. Add an extra half hitch for security, and you now have a twiggy crossbar, an inch or so above the hook, sitting sideways across the line.  The theory here is that the fish can engulf the bait, but the crossbar will prevent the bait from progressing very far down the throat of the fish. Its lips and limited mouth gape stop the crossbar from entering its mouth. My initial thoughts were that the twig would put the fish off, and I did not know whether I would catch anything at all by using it.  But the twig is very natural, so why should a fish be suspicious of it?   And does it work?  Limited testing to date, due to recent bad river conditions that have not been ideal for a grayling hunt.

Caught on a Twig Rig.
   But some fish have already taken a bait on this rig, including my best grayling of the winter so far: a nice male of 1-14.   The jury is still out on the method, but they left the dock with smiles on their faces.  

Both methods rely on being able to prevent a fish taking a bait down deep. Both seem to work, and I have not yet had a deep hooked fish on either method. Only a dozen or so fish into the experiments, but with ordinary legering techniques, several of those would have certainly been hooked deeply.

I bought a Berlingo van.  For fishing.   Something I had promised myself for many years, but four years ago, having had a Saxo written off, I flunked it, and bought a Ford Fusion instead.   Worked just fine as a fishing car, but I was always worried that anything inside the car could be seen.  So finally I splashed out on a van.  Not had a van for many years.  Had an HA Bedford ( MK 1 Viva) van and a couple of minivans many years ago, but they were very different.  Smaller, and much easier to drive.   The new van has no rear windows, and so for the first time I am dependent on the wing mirrors.   Had it long enough now to be ignoring the interior mirror, but have no idea why one has been fitted to a vehicle with no rear windows, and which also has a bulkhead immediately behind the driver, doubly blocking the view. Mind you I was still more surprised by a transit van I followed last week.    It too had no rear windows, but was fitted with a pair of rear screen wipers.  They were both switched on....and it wasn't even raining.  They have probably been cleaning the rear paintwork for years, with the driver completely unaware they were switched on.    I also need to point out that my van is NOT white.   So the "white van man" epithet will not work.    I feel I am seated very high up driving it, and it seems huge, although only about 9 inches longer than the Fusion.  That said, it feels more secure for stowing the few bits of tackle that I am not carrying as I walk to my swim. Parking is a little more difficult to accomplish with style, without a functional rear view mirror, and some non right-angle junctions can be difficult, there being limited views at 45 degrees to the rear and left of the van.   Narrow roads, single track,   just the sort of tracks I need to drive down to reach the river will also be problematic at times.   Having to reverse, on meeting another vehicle, will be interesting for I cannot now see if there is another car close behind me.  Thinking in advance has become more necessary.    Maybe I need some sort of 6th sense, to alert me to problems behind me.

But could I trust that 6th sense?  Any more than the other senses can be trusted? 

Take vision.    When watching a stationary float on a lake, with a crosswind, and therefore ripples passing sideways in front of you, something very odd can happen when you look away.  Look at vegetation on the bank and it seems to be moving, creeping towards the water, yet getting no closer to the lake.   The brain must  be filtering out some of the left to right, or right to left, ripple movement whilst watching the float.  And it must be doing this by adding in a component of virtual movement automatically. The brain sets up this background moving picture, which it then adds to the real scene.  Changing it for God only knows what reason.   So, when you stop looking at the ripples, the added on bit of the scene, that generated by the brain, remains for a while, and seemingly causes stationery objects to appear as if moving, trees drifting down the bank.   All very strange.

But this added component is not confined to vision.   Take hearing.   I live a hundred yards or so from a main line railway. It runs in a deep cutting but that is not so deep as to be able to mask out the noise from a Manchester-London Virgin express train, nor even that from the local services.   Yet I do not notice them at all, I hear nothing. Not unless I try specifically  to hear them.  The brain appears to be able to ignore these intermittent chunks of noise, selectively, in the background, only alerting me to them if I am specifically wanting to hear them.   Amazing.

Next smell:      Houses each have a particular smell.  Go into someone else's house and it is often both apparent and detectable.  This applies to your own home too.  But you smell nothing when you enter it. Again the brain seems to filter out that which it expects.  This, I guess, allows it to more readily determine any slight differences from the norm.  Useful in this modern age where we have gas fires and the like, all of which might imply danger of some sort.  ( I once came home from work and could smell gas in the house. So could the emergency gasman, although his sniffer device failed to find any signs of gas. It turned out that next door had had a visiting plumber, who had completed the job, and left the property, leaving an open gas pipe, and then turned the gas back on.  Next door's house was a bomb, waiting for a spark before exploding. Smell saved my property, if not my life.)  In the distant past a change of background smell probably also warned of danger or perhaps the nearness of food.   Not really a sense we have had to rely on too much, or else evolution might have given us the same sensitivity to smell as it has given to dogs, bears fish and other creatures.  Taste is very closely related to smell, and although I guess the brain can detect and ignore a "background" taste, I cannot recall any examples.

Touch, the fifth sense is also intriguing.  Sit on a sofa or a chair and you have a large area in contact with the seating.  Yet you can largely ignore it,  it is not constantly firing messages at you, at least not once the nerves have transmitted those messages to the brain.  They are once more ignored.  Yet it only takes a minor disturbance to the norm, say, sitting on a sofa with a stray split shot on it, and it immediately tells you, and causes you grief until you remove the shot.   Once more the background is being ignored.  The unusual being amplified.  And I suspect that, like vision, background 'feel' gets ignored by the brain, in that it creates a "negative" of what it feels, thus cancelling out everyday feeling.  To support this I recall years when I spent a whole week on a punt, fishing for tench at the start of the coarse fish close season.   Even with the punt lashed to some stakes, there was still a small amount of swell, with wave action constantly rocking the boat.   It did not take long to ignore, to not notice this rocking motion.  I believe that it was ignored by means of the brain generating the inverse of the motion, making the sum total of the rocking experienced by the conscious brain to be effectively zero.   How do I justify this statement?   Quite simple really.   At the end of the week, tired, and fairly happy with my catches, I went home to sleep.   And for several hours the bed seemed to be rocking with a wave action.   This must have been the brain being quite slow to switch off its compensatory  signals.  The effect was very noticeable though.   Quite astonishing what the unconscious brain is capable of: from diluting the senses, thus ignoring the irrelevant, to solving a sticky crossword clue in the background.  Yet it has one hell of a time remembering where I have put my car keys, just moments earlier.


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Disaster: A Grayling on the First Cast!

Indeed, a catastrophe on the first cast. I hooked a grayling with moments of the float hitting the water...and in a swim where bites are normally rare.  But more of that later perhaps.

When I am not fishing, I like to take moderately long walks.  I stay local, usually. No point in going walking with the car when there is so much I have never seen within a few miles of home.  If I remembered all I see I should by now have an encyclopedic knowledge of the local area.  But my memory prevents that. I retain far less than I should like, and sometimes less than I need.  I see it and move on.   A fair bit of my walking is alongside the local rivers and streams, and it is not easy to forget the effect that floods can have on them.  They are spate rivers, and about 3 weeks ago ( 3 weeks from when I first started to write this) we had rain, heavy rain overnight.  Some parts of nearby towns were flooded. The rivers are spate rivers, but that flood was more of a flash flood than a spate, and viewing the EA water levels websites shows a truly astonishingly rapid increase and decrease of depth.   I measured an increase of ten feet at one spot I visit.  Not the highest I have seen it there, which was 13 feet.  On that day I calculated, having made some rough estimates of flow speed, that the river was carrying about 100 times its usual  flow rate.  Visually it was terrifying.  In any major flood the river carries a tremendous about of debris, from sand grains all the way up to fully grown trees. All are swept downstream with apparent ease.  An astonishing amount of sand and gravel is transported at each flood, and the river changes its looks at some spots, every time we have such storms.  Unfortunately, with the natural material transport, is carried a mass of human detritus too.  From raw sewage as the local sewage farms fail to cope, to sanitary towels, old tyres, supermarket trolleys, plastic bags etc. On my last fishing trip I decided to count the sanitary towels caught up in the vegetation within 10 feet of me.  The total was 34. It would have been higher had I been fishing near any of the bankside trees. I once caught 6 towels in 6 casts: a river record.  So much rubbish is strewn along the banks that it really is probably pointless my taking my own litter home.   But I will continue to do so, as I know I would feel guilty if I didn't.  Luckily there is no club rule about cleaning up other peoples rubbish from the peg before fishing.  It would just not be a practical proposition: far too much stuff.
Grayling Swim  ;-(
Trout Swim  ;-)

On the  left, debris left after the flood in just one spot.   On the right, normal summer level a short distance further downstream.  You make think your rivers are bad,  but I feel fairly confident that you have probably seen nothing compared to this.  And there are always footballs.   Rather like in another scenario, there are always carrots.

Football Swim
It is intensely annoying that, after the Herculean attempts of the EA and others to clean up the water quality, to allow the rivers to show some life again, that the locals continue to use the rivers as dumping grounds. Not just annoying, but disgusting.   The unusually steep banks make any sort of access exceedingly dangerous, and so I know that this muck is never going to be cleaned up.  The post industrial era has left another mark on the stream beds: they are extensively paved with bricks and other dressed stonework.  The residue of riverside industrial era buildings, long abandoned and crumbling.  That which has not already fallen into the rivers, is, or will be, swept into them as flood after flood courses through what remains of the archaeology. 

P.S. If you didn't understand carrots, think "pavement pizza", or the old schoolkid joke. "Mummy, Mummy, Johnny has been sick and Susie is getting all the big bits." I cannot tell you how long I have waited to re-use that joke.  I love the term "pavement pizza". Although very much a slang term, it is so visually descriptive that it fully deserves an OED inclusion. Rather like "arse over tit", another great expression.  There is much, good, entertaining slang, but also slang that I find intensely annoying.  "Innit?", at the end of a sentence as a confirmatory expression, regardless of whether it should be  "won't it?", or "can't I?" etc, drives me crazy.  Even the better brought up kids merely tidy it up as "isn't it?" How did this usage become so pervasive? And so quickly?

Why, oh why, did I have to hook a grayling first cast.   So annoying. The world was against me, Almost as annoying as the fact that I had nearly finished this blog entry when I must have hit the wrong key and deleted it all save for the letters "ybe".  The letters are the latter part of the word "maybe" which I was typing at the time.  Maybe I hit a wrong key, maybe not. It may be that the program just had a hiccup.  Either way I lost all my input, photos included.   Not happy!  

I had two or three trips to an area of another river, catching a few grayling as usual, the odd decent trout muscling in, out of season.  A lady walking her dog has promised to talk to them daily, until mid-March to try and make them recognize and remember when they are to be caught, and when not.  More pleasingly a few chub have been added to the mix, about a dozen, most between 2 and three pounds, short solid fish that fought better than I remember chub scrapping in the past.  Best fish was 3-10, one of three that took simple float fished maggots trotted downstream. Some interesting birds: a dabchick that I spotted once before it did the usual dab disappearing chick trick. And one of the peregrines was doing the occasional fly past.  Jays too in profusion, arguing the toss with the magpies.

One day last week, I chose to fish another swim, one in which I have never had any success. I once lost a good fish, probably a chub, unseen, but that was the sum total of my lack of success there.  A difficult swim both to fish and to sit in.  Amidst a bankload of freshly deposited sand, it was a little precarious to say the very least.  I didn't slip in, but was worried a couple of times.   The river was proving as
Surprisingly Hard Fighting Chub
unproductive as ever, and 40 trots down I had seen not one bite.  But the swim looked so good, and on the 41st ( approx) run down of the float, it disappeared. I was on a light trotting rod, fishing with 3 pound line, which for me is very light indeed.   The fish fought magnificently, and from initially suspecting a good chub, my mind wandered through trout, and even a good bream kiting sideways in the current.  The bream idea soon evaporated as the fish made its way upstream against a fairly heavy current, and passed me, still unseen, and by this time I was playing it very carefully indeed.  It surfaced, a chub, and looked to be 5 pound plus, but once on the scales it made 4-8.  A good fish for the river, and indeed one of only two chub , small or large, that I have had from the river in the last two years. They used to be somewhat more common, although never prolific.  It was a while before the next fish, a couple of grayling, which were to complete the day's catch.   But as I reeled in one of them, a massive swirl was  immediately confirmed to be a fairly good Esox  making an attack.  A pike for the very few of you that might not know the term Esox.  It missed the fish, and sat there lurking, a foot from my foot, looking up at me rather like a robin begging for maggots. An oddly, it had a little 1/2 inch red something on its head.  Christmas decoration?  I have no idea. I returned the grayling behind it, and told the pike that I would see it again the day after.

I don't know why I even took the grayling rod with me.  In retrospect it was plain stupidity.  I should never have cast in at all, but I had been seduced by that four and a half pound chub the day before.  It was  a plot, in which the characters, chub, grayling and pike were all in collusion.

Now I try to always keep my promises, and having told old Esox that I would return , I arrived the next day, determined to find out what the red thing was. In short, I intended to catch that pike.  As I tackled up, 4 birds flew across the river. My immediate thought, looking at one of them was that it was a kestrel.  But there were four, and the tail was too long and thin.  They were parakeets I concluded, and probably green in colour had they not been seen in silhouette. The first such birds I have seen, apart from a large flock in London a few years ago.  At about the same time a female mink stole along the far bank. I had seen a bankside disturbance a bit further downstream, but did not have the foresight to ready the camera.  I still have no good shots of a mink.

 The pike bait went in, and was ignored.  After ten minutes I tackled up the float rod, intending to see if another chub might show itself.  No of course, but a grayling did:  On that first cast I hooked a grayling.  And that  was the mistake that all the red text has been wittering on about. How could I have been so stupid?  For as I reeled the grayling in, the pike grabbed it, grabbed it when it was no more than 18 inches form my pike bait, which was a dead rudd, suspended and fluttering about in the current. After a short tug of war, the barbless hook came away. Although there might well be no such thing as a free lunch, a free breakfast is another thing entirely.    And having stuffed himself with a foot long grayling at my expense, it was inevitable that the pike would not be interested in my 5 inch dead rudd.  And it wasn't.    So I gave the pike a couple of days to digest its hearty breakfast, and then went back with yet another rudd.  There was a swirl within moments of my first cast, but the bait remained untaken.  Two minutes later I provoked a second large swirl, but not a take.  And that was it: no more interest from Mr Pike.  But it had done just enough to thumb its nose at me, and confirm it was still there, sniggering at me.

 3 -nil to the pike. 

But it all makes the chase that bit more interesting, and maybe in a week or so I shall be back, risking all on a 45 degree sloping sand pit.  This story is NOT yet finished.

But it is finished for the moment, the river being in a constant state of "a bit too much water for me".

And here endeth the blog entry.   Taking far  too much time to write, so I am publishing this regardless of it seeming, to me,  to be incomplete.

P.S.  Diet still progressing well. A pound short of losing 4 stones to date.  My stomach has changed from looking as if I was carrying one of those horrible bloated mirror carp under my T-shirt, to looking as if I only have a pound and a half chub flopping about in front of my belly.  Those carrots help again. They add bulk and longevity in the gut, without adding greatly to the calorie intake.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016


Autumn....probably winter by the time I get to publish this, and all the colours are muted to dull browns, greens and greys. But there is still great beauty to be see if you look for it. These fungi

caught my eye one damp morning.  And there is always colour in my maple tree once it red shifts into autumn. The brilliant red on the tree does not last long, being at its best for no more than a couple of days.  But the leaves then fall into my pond, providing an extension to the scarlet, not shrivelling up on the ground.

I usually find that Autumnal fishing is not as rewarding as I might wish.   The grayling continue to be co-operative of course, at least until the rain arrives and colours the water too much. Many fish, especially those in stillwaters, become lethargic, without the enthusiasm to feed.    There are exceptions of course, predatory fish will still usually feed, and the clear waters of Autumn probably help them to see their lunch.

So I decided to try something new: drop shotting.  From a boat. On a very large reservoir, supposedly noted for large predatory fish, perch of 2-3 pounds being common, and good pike present to keep the stocks of trout in check.  Two days: on a boat with an outboard, on a huge reservoir. "Avoid the direct line out from the stone tower", I was told, and so I did, keeping a good ten yards away from that line.  Forty feet of water and I jigged and dropped the whole of the first day to no effect, enticing just one trout which turned on the lure right at the surface, and which was missed.   The second day went far better, a dozen perch taking the lure, in somewhat shallower water, maybe about 24 feet or so.   None of the perch topped 3/4 of a pound, which ordinarily would not bother me too much.  But drop shotting on a huge reservoir has to be about the most boring fishing I have ever done in my lifetime.
Big Reservoir.  Nothing to See Here at All. 

When the fish are not biting there is nothing of interest to look at.   Another boat 100 yards away. The odd gull, and a solitary grebe that once ventured just about close enough to be seen.   There was little to look at, nothing to see, and it made the days dreary beyond compare.   The promised 2 or 3 pound perch would hardly have made up for the mind numbing sameness of the day.   The most exciting time was when I came to lift up the anchor at the end of the first day.   Ten yards was apparently not far enough away from the banned line.  I was unable to lift the anchor up, it became progressively heavier as I hauled it nearer the surface.   I had, I was told, hooked an underwater airline with the anchor fluke.   Try as I might I could not dislodge it, and I figured that the only thing I could do was to leave the anchor where it was, and to rely on the attached float to show its position, so it could be retrieved later.   Good plan, but one which failed, failed miserably.  As the pipeline returned to the bottom, it had somehow tangled the line, causing the float to disappear as well.   In theory the anchors had enough attached line to work in any swim on the reservoir, leaving the float on the surface.  In practice the tangle thwarted that idea, and I could see the float some 8 or 10 feet below the surface.   I am in no rush to get back there to see if the fishing improves.

So, after a few more grayling and a solitary canal pike of maybe eight or nine pounds, I headed for the River Severn, in order to try for the zander.   A new venue for me, with zander as the target species, and so I decided to fish two days and nights.   A poor choice of dates left me sitting on the bank during the two coldest nights of the year so far.   But I was prepared.   I don't have a bivvy,  but a brolly with side panels would suffice, especially with a length of black cloth draped over the open front, leaving me just enough space to leap out at the first sign of a bite.  The river was low and clear, slow and easy, and my legered rudd deadbaits remained where I cast them, with few drifting leaves to catch the line.   Few fish to disturb them either.  On the first night a missed run, a very finicky sort of run.  Then nothing for a good while. A second similar run.  I was fairly warm, having taken a butane gas heater into the encampment.   I had found two lengths of the black cloth near the river a few days before, and the second length was draped over my legs.   At the onset of the bite, I cast off the cloth and tottered out into the cold, my legs stiff from inactivity, clotted with pins and needles, and I was as unstable as hell.   I came close to falling into some ten feet of cold Severn slack water.  But I hit the fish and reeled it in.   An eel of about two pounds.  We never had eels near home when I was a young angler, and so my first experience of one was during a match on the Witham.  The 15 inch bootlace wriggled and wrapped itself about the line, and I struggled to control it.  Even putting my boot over its neck failed to subdue the thing, and eventually it wriggled into the grass backwards, taking my hook with it.   The Severn fish was larger, maybe a couple of pounds of pure muscle.  It did not want to be unhooked, and as I struggled with the fish, my stiff legs and the dark, I suddenly noticed how misty it was.   It became apparent that the mist was at its most concentrated near to my brolly encampment.   It was the flames and the smell of smoke that convinced me there was nothing misty about the scene at all.  I had cast off the leg warming cloth rather too near to the gas heater, and it had caught fire. A few moments of panic later, the fire was out, and the eel was finally subdued and returned.    Eels!   And I had two more of the damn things the next night.    The daytime was a little better, three or four small chub, a daddy ruffe and a perch were landed, before something else took the rudd.   A pike, long and slim, tending towards thin.
River Severn Pike
 But a scrapper that just dragged the scales past the ten pound mark.   Nicely hooked in the scissors with the single hook.   Once fit and fat I might have expected this fish to weigh a good three pounds more.  I concluded though, that the fish in general, and the zander in particular were doing no more than they needed to remain in the river and alive.  Cold-bloodedness can be advantageous, especially when you do not want to get caught by a passing angler. The fish were not wasting calories by chasing about the swim, and were thus able to be economical with the tooth. (Sorry!...Am I really sorry?...Of course can all suffer that one.).   In stillwater fish can be very static, moving about very little.  Pond keepers are actually advised not to feed their fish during the colder months, and so fish can survive in stillwater for months without feeding at all.   In rivers they might have to flick the odd fin, and so need a little more sustenance, but a fish is a very efficient machine and can get by, eating very little.

These river fish were using just enough calories to exist, to remain alive. And it reminded me that I too, am on (yet another) diet.  So this next section is about dieting, and is neither compulsory, nor compulsive reading. It doesn't quite qualify as a rant. So feel free to take a tea break here.  Not too many biscuits though! It is intended to remind me to keep the weight reduction going, and to allow myself to throw stones and jeer if I fail to get down to the weight I want to be. Feel free to join in if I fail.  

I had been finding some fishing trips quite heavy going of late, especially those involving climbing back up the steep valley sides after fishing the river.  But as of about 14 weeks ago I had lost two stones: 28 pounds, following a series of successes and failures spread across two years.  Another stone or so has gone in the last 3 months.  I told my wife I was worried about getting a six pack, and have no idea why she laughed. To succeed I find I need targets, and I need to keep it interesting, as my aim, should I hit that target, is to shed a further three stones, getting me back to the weight I was whilst frittering away my time at university. Looking down at my trimmer figure, I cannot see where the extra is going to come from. Losing weight is not easy.

So firstly, I needed some information. As ever, the internet provides it in abundance.  Someone my age, height and weight needs 1650 calories a day... 1650 just to survive and remain at a constant weight.  Moving about, getting out of bed, and other inadvisable activities add to that total.  For a moderately active person, of similar build to myself, add on 600 calories per day, for a total of 2250.  At this point the scientist in me reminds you that one food calorie is equivalent to 1000 real scientific calories.  I guess chefs, and dietitians are none too good with big numbers and someone simplified it all for them.  I really need 2,250,000 calories per day, but I won't dwell on that too much.

So: to lose weight there are two choices  1) exercise more or 2) eat less.   I decided to go for option 3), which is a bit of both.

Using another bit of internet data, a pound of human fat, as eaten by your nearest cannibal, contains 3500 calories.   Enough to feed him and one small kid for a day.  But it allows a calculation:   eat 500 calories each day less than that 2250, and I should lose a pound a week. Astonishingly, to me at least, that formula seems to be pretty accurate. I have, to add some of that necessary interest, been totalling up my calorie deficit over the last couple of months or three, and my predicted loss is matching the theoretical loss very very closely.   There are blips in the process, such as one period of two weeks, during which my weight stayed absolutely constant, despite sticking rigidly to the "rules".  I cannot explain that at the moment. 

So what of exercise?   Another schoolboy physics calculation produced the figure of 6.5 calories used, if I run up to the top room in my house, some 30 steps up,  ( allowing for the accepted figure, one that we all know of course: that the body is about 20% efficient). So twice up all those stairs, 60 steps, should use and lose the calorific equivalent of one Trebor mint.  It says on the packet that one mint = 13 calories.  So there is a way of having a sweet treat.   A reward without the guilt. Run up and down twice and have a sweet.   Of course a more relevant bit of data, is the number of times it would take, running up those stairs, to lose a pound in weight.       The keener types amongst you will no doubt have already worked that out in your head as being 538.46 times, leaving me exhausted one step below the first floor.  This is totally ridiculous, and so any form of extreme exercise has been banished from the weight loss program.   Even walking uses very little.  About 25 miles to lose a pound.  And then I would have to walk back again.  So short walks, a few miles on those days I do not go fishing, is as much exercise as I shall include.     25 miles!     Looking up the calorific value of petrol, enabled me to make yet another daft calculation.   Were I able to run on petrol, I would be getting about 220 miles per gallon.  I think.   I did that calculation a few days ago and have forgotten the exact result.

So food has become different.  I find myself looking at the calorie count of food on the supermarket shelves.  There is not much labelled as being specifically for the dieter.   A few weight watchers bits and pieces.   Now I must say, here and now, that Heinz weight watchers soups are not for the faint hearted, nor for the weak of stomach.  They have all the attractive looks and taste of a bush tucker trial.   Look it up! I never thought that anything could have all the look, smell, taste and texture as the remnants in my sink, just after doing the washing up following a vegetarian party. Oh my God, if that soup were the only option, I would have given up ages ago.  I had bought four cans.   I hope the recycling plant doesn't want all the tins to be empty.  There are a few meals rated at about 350 calories.  So in theory I could actually eat six of them in a day without weight gain!   Three therefore should see the pounds fall off. 

The reduction in food intake, especially with exercise, does occasionally lead to a lack of energy. But my son, now a doctor, has banned me from drinking Red Bull: not good for me, he says,  I know it is good for me when those two blondes drive a huge can of it past as I walk down the road though. But all is not lost: there are diet energy drinks out there now.   But read the labels on them.   How can a can of diet, berry flavoured, energy drink, actually give anyone a boost, when it clearly states on the label that a full can contains only 17 calories?   Barely enough in a can to get me to the top of our stairs.   Advertising standards really need to look at this.   

Whilst talking about advertising, I returned one of those "bags for life" to Sainsbury's yesterday.  It had become badly damaged, and my "only 311 calories" ASDA meals were falling out of it.   They were reluctant at first to swap it for me.  Then I pointed out to them that they were getting all this free advertising from me, a walking billboard, every time I went shopping with it at Tesco or Aldi.   That worked and they swapped it.   I chuckled to myself as I left the store.  They obviously had completely missed that I was having a major laugh at their expense (and I really mean their expense) with that reasoning.   It will come to them in a couple of days.  Maybe.

P.S. I lost another three pounds whilst writing this.  Going for a curry.   Bye.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Whatever Floats Your Float...and Why Your Scales Always Lie.

I wasn't sure today, whether to write about the increasingly ridiculous new "record" 70 pound carp situation or about float fishing. Both offer the opportunity to indulge in a bit of prolixity, but although dealing with the carp might have been fun, I'll leave that to others for the moment, and instead I'll add a sunrise photo I took last week just as I reached the lake.   The photo has absolutely no relevance to the blog content that follows, but I rather like it, and it is straight as it came out of the camera, not tweaked in any way. I just stopped, enthralled,  and watched the scene develop and fade.

Regular readers may remember that I once, as a teenager, took Billy Lane, world match angling champion to task, about a statement he had made about floats in "Fishing" magazine.  The only significant advance he could envisage in float design would be a float the size of a matchstick that could carry two or three swan shot. I forget his exact words but that was the gist of it  More recently another angler I have a lot of respect for was fishing in a match, using a sliding float in about twenty five feet of water. I was watching him fish, picking up tips, and he was using a large sliding float, one carrying 3 or 4 SSG shot set some distance from the bait, in order to make casting easy. The float had a long thin antenna at the top, and he said that the single number 8 shot, placed near to the hook would provide a tell-tale and the float would rise several inches when the fish lifted the tell tale.  Which was indeed completely true....BUT... well,  I'll deal with that "BUT" later.    I invoked good old Archimedes when rebuffing the Billy Lane statement.  Billy was a truly great match angler but certainly no scientist.   Archimedes's principle has much to impact on float design and their use, and it will feature in what follows.  Now there will, of course, be some of you who will say "Screw Archimedes, I have been float fishing for years."  And so you have.  What follows is not mandatory reading, but I hope some of it  may make you think, or actually be of use.   However if you are reading this in the bath I ask you to stop now.  I will not be held responsible should you be caught running damp and naked down the street, a laptop in one hand, a slippery bar of soap in the other, shrieking "Eureka" at all and sundry.     

I'll try not to get TOO technical, but will, as I have said, invoke Archimedian principles, together with a bit of Newton, in order to try and explain how floats really work.  There should be nothing that should overtax anyone who has studied GCSE science or physics, regardless of whether they passed or failed the subject. But I will be going into some detail.   I shall try to be precise about word usage, but may occasionally slip up, at times intentionally.

Why Your Scales Always Lie

The words mass and weight are easily confused, but the difference between them is important. Consider a carp with a mass of exactly 20 pounds.  Your scales will record a weight of 20 pounds...or will they?  No!   They will actually record a weight of fractionally less than 20 pounds.  Things can float in air. Balloons can float and actually rise up in air.  This is because the air is pushing them upwards.  Balloons filled with helium are lighter than air, and so the air can push them skywards. If you made a balloon the same size and shape as your carp, then the air would push up on your carp with the same force as on your carp shaped balloon.   So the air is pushing upwards on that carp, causing the scales to record a weight ever so slightly less than that 20 pounds.    If whilst dangling that carp from your scales, you were to lower the carp into the lake, then the scales will record a smaller weight, a weight that will become zero once the carp is fully submerged.  The carp still has a mass of twenty pounds, but its weight has been precisely balanced by the force with which water is pushing upwards on the carp.      Does it therefore weigh zero?  No. It still weighs 20 pounds, because weight is defined as the force acting on the carp due to gravity.  Gravity is pulling down on that carp, with a force of twenty pounds, if its mass is twenty pounds.  Your scales are recorded the force of gravity on the carp, minus the force pushing upwards due to whatever the carp is submerged it submerged in water...or in air.

The weight recorded by your scales can never be completely accurate, unless you are weighing the carp in a vacuum, which will be rather less healthy for the carp than your  average pond.   But there is an upside:   In air the weight recorded will always be a teensy bit too low.   So if you catch that special fish and the scales show  49 pounds 15 ounces and 15 drams, then it probably actually tops 50.   To get an accurate value, you really need to account for the force exerted by the air on your fish, and add that on.  You can calculate this extra amount quite easily, but I am not going to tell you how.  Work it out for yourself the next time you catch a carp of 49-15-15.

I do not intend to make much comment about river fishing, the odd line or two, but most of this analysis is directed at stillwater fishing with a float.  Such can be conveniently divided into four distinct categories:
1) Surface fishing
2) Midwater fishing
3) Bottom fishing
4) Fishing on the drop.

In surface fishing, although the float may be used to spot the bites, its main use is as a weight to aid casting, in order to achieve the distance and improve accuracy.  There is little more I would wish to add, save that a float made of very light materials might be appropriate, because it will tend to land quite gently on the surface with far less of a splash than a much heavier one.

Like wise I will not mumble much about 'on the drop' fishing or midwater techniques.   

No: instead I intend to concentrate on bottom fishing, although some of what is said may well apply to others of the four categories listed above.   Further, to enable me to discuss in the most detail, I choose to concentrate on the lift method, a method that is probably the hardest to set up and use properly. I have seen it written that Fred J Taylor was the person who first described lift method fishing. I cannot verify that, but have no reason to doubt it, Fred was, after all, a damned good angler.  But even before his time anglers would have seen lifted or flat float bites at times.   What Fred did was to intentionally set up a rig designed to produce such bites more often.    


Why did I spout all that garbage about scales that lie?  Well, it all comes down to buoyancy.  What is a float?   Merely a device to provide some buoyancy in water.  Floats have weight, drop one and it falls to the ground. Drop one in water and it rises to the surface, because it has buoyancy.  The reason it rises is because the water is pushing the float upwards with a force greater than the weight of the float.   Water pushes upwards onto anything  placed into it, even onto objects that sink, like say the Titanic.  And the force that pushes upwards can be easily calculated.   If an object occupies 10 cubic centimetres and is fully submerged, then there will be a force exerted by the water which is equal to the weight of 10 ccs of water.   Water, rather conveniently weighs one gram per cc.  ( or millilitre).  So the upward force would be 10 grams.   Incidentally, you probably know that one cubic centimeter is the same volume as one millilitre.  The only difference is that millilitres are  suitable to measuring the volumes of liquids, whereas ccs are more useful for solids.

Why did the Titanic sink?  It sank because the weight of the ship and its contents overcame the ships buoyancy.  Its mass increased as water replaced the air inside it, and eventually the sea was not able to push the ship up with sufficient force to keep it afloat. Even though, as it sank deeper, the sea tried its level best to keep pushing up with more and more force.  So it sank.  Nothing to do with icebergs at all.

So lets say that your float has a volume of 10ccs  but weighs 5 grams.   It will float, because it weighs less than 10 grams, i.e. less than the weight of 10 ccs of water.  But also when floating, it is stationary, neither rising nor falling. So the forces on it must cancel out. The water therefore must be giving an upthrust of 5 grams.  And the float will be half submerged. The float therefore has 5 grams of unused "spare buoyancy". So it will carry 5 grams of lead shot, which will sink it to its tip. ( It will actually be able to carry very slightly more, because the water will also be exerting a small upward force on the lead shot you have added.  This effect is small, and the volume of the shot and the upthrust on it can, and will be, largely ignored in what follows. The weight of the shot is what is important.)

What can we do with buoyancy, how can we use it to our advantage?
We can move it, we can reposition the main source of buoyancy within the float.   We can have a float with most of its volume at the top end.    We could have the most buoyant part in the middle of the float, or low down.  I cannot think of a good reason to have most of the buoyancy in the middle of a float.

We can also vary its magnitude and have floats with more  buoyancy, or with less. This can be achieved by simply changing the size of the float. Changing the materials of which the float is made does not affect its buoyancy, but does alter how much shot it can carry.  The heavier the materials used, the less shot a float of a specific size and shape will be able to carry.  Simples.

The Lift Method

So what is the lift method? and when might it be best used? Its primary use is to detect bites that might otherwise not be seen with a more conventional float set up. Shy bites.    But it can also be used just for fun, for there is no doubt that to see a float lift two or three inches, or to lay completely flat is quite dramatic. Fishing for early season tench, where bites are usually very positive is perhaps better suited to a laying on approach.

I looked up a couple of articles, to see how others described the lift method, and was surprised to see wide variations in the descriptions given, with some descriptions being plain wrong, and others restricted, or far from complete. One wrote about there needing to be two SSGs, and a swivel with three to twelve inches of hooklength.  Twelve inches between the hook and shot is an excellent way of avoiding lift bites!  An Angling Times article said it was essential to shot the float down to within a midge's of disappearing completely.  I shall comment on that later.  Elsewhere it is claimed to be a method for the margins alone.  Once again: wrong!

Whilst all of these methods can give rise to lift bites, none are an accurate description of how I would define the lift method, and how it used to appear in articles many years ago. the simplest implementation is probably a single SSG set a couple of inches from the hook, below a length of peacock quill with the depth set very accurately. I have caught early season tench like this, a short float usually laying flat when the bites came.  Fish over depth and you are laying on, and with lift method there is no need to use large shot, and no need for ALL the shot to be down near the hook. Using more shot higher up allows you to fish at greater distances, whilst retaining full sensitivity to lift bites.

The crux of lift method, its central feature, is that you use tell-tale shot or shots, just touching the bottom, and close to the hook. But as much of the weight of that shot as possible should still be supported by the float. This means that the line between float and shot will be completely vertical.  The original descriptions of lift method depicted a fish swimming along, seeing the bait, and dipping down to take it.  It then returned to an even keel, and as it did so, it lifted the shot off the bottom. You will see some explanations that say the fish lifted the float...incorrect. The float lifted because it was no longer supporting as much shot. It lifts until it once more is in equilibrium with the remaining shot ( if any).  This makes it ideal for catching crucian carp, whose deep body necessitates then "bending down" to take the bait, thus lifting the shot as they return to the horizontal.  I don't think crucians are shy biters, just lazy fish, that usually  cannot be bothered to swim off with a bait.

At this point we might discuss suitable floats.  Whilst self cocking floats could be used, they are far
Irwell Stick Float and a Grayling
from ideal, and would never lie flat.  A float with most of its buoyancy near the top, one that is quite wide bodied at the water surface is ideal for rivers and trotting. The river has swirling currents, is a very dynamic environment, changing yard by yard, and the effect is that the "pull" of the line on the float is variable.  A wide topped float is able to override these effects, not dipping or rising very much, and also remain visible at long distances. Adding an extra small shot would make little difference to how such a float sits in the stream. On the other hand a thin tip to a float in a river would be constantly misbehaving, dipping, going under, dipping and rising, and would prevent  easy detection of a true bite. The photo shows one of "Purple Peanut"'s hand made stick floats which I used to catch some grayling last week. It has a metal stem, which helps stability and a broad top, ideal for river fishing.
A fine tipped float is, however, perfect for a lift method float.
Kitchen Sink Experiment

I have added a table below, which can be used to show how much shot a float might carry. The table shows the weights of some common shot sizes, and by how much the addition of such shot will sink or lift an antenna float ( the main body of the float remaining sub surface ). The values in bold were measured using a simple kitchen sink experiment. Values are therefore approximate.  The non-bold values were interpolated from the  measured results, but some I couldn't be bothered with doing at all and remain blank.  You can see though that a No 4 shot, which weighs 0.2 grams could sink a float having a 2mm wide antenna by 8cms (or rather more than three inches). The last column shows shot added to a Peanut stick float, demonstrating that it sits very stable, and is not easily messed with by the current..

When in actual use for lift method, these values should be considered as the maximums... reason: some of the shot's weight will be resting on the bottom of the lake.   But it can be seen that a fish lifting even a single shot of these sizes, with a suitable float,  can give quite a significant bite "length".

A long fine antenna float has a number of other advantages.  Its main body will be some distance below the surface, well away from being significantly disturbed by waves, and being thin, the wind will not have too great an effect on it either.  The other advantage is far more subtle.  One problem you may envisage is that it can be difficult to establish the depth very accurately, mainly because the bottom of most waters will vary somewhat in depth. Make your next cast 6 inches away and the depth could be an inch or so deeper, or shallower.  The long thin antenna float can compensate significantly for this depth variation, in that the shot will pull it down until it just hits bottom.  This could leave you with either a half inch of float protruding, or two inches, perhaps even more.  But because that shot, let's say the BB on a 2 mm antenna, will pull the float down up to 16 centimetres, you will still have an effective lift set up, just one with a little more float sticking above the water. Still plenty to play with.   And if you don't want it so high, just reel in a fraction.   A point to note is that the material from which the antenna is made, has no effect on the values in this table.  It is only the volume (or cross section area) that matters. Steel or balsa, it will make no difference if the dimensions are the same.

An important point that you may have missed is that, using a lift method, you can use quite a large float, with a fair shot load, enabling you to cast and fish at distance, yet, because the fish only feels the tell-tale, you can still fish very sensitively.

Shot             Weight             1  mm wide antenna      2 mm wide antenna    Peanut Stick Float

SSG             1.6 grams                      -                                   -                                  4 cm
AAA            0.8 grams                      -                               32 cm                             2 cm
BB               0.4 grams                    64 cm                        16 cm                              1 cm
No 4            0.2 grams                    32 cm                         8 cm                               5 mm
No 6            0.1 grams                    16 cm                         4 cm                               2.5 mm 
No 8            0.06 grams                   9 cm                          2.3 cm                               -

That "BUT".

We have to not only consider Archimedes, and we have, but also Newton. So let's go back to that slider float, carrying 4 SSG and a single tell-tale number 8 shot. If we assume the float had a one millimetre antenna, then a fish lifting that shot would cause the float to lift by as much as 9 centimetres, a bit over three inches. We don't only have to consider how much the float will lift, but how fast it will rise, how long it will take for the bite to be seen.  Once that shot has been lifted, the float, shot and line are acted upon by the "spare buoyancy" that the float now has.  That is in effect a force of 0.06 grams, not very much at all. If we assume the float weighs a couple of grams, then once we add in the weight of those SSGs, that small force has to act on a total of 8.4 grams.  Newton's equation states that force = mass x acceleration.  I am not going to go into the calculations now, but the float is going to accelerate upwards very slowly.  It will also be hindered by the drag caused by the water on the line, shot and float, slowing its rise yet more.  In the first second or so it will have lifted far less than one centimetre, let alone nine.  The tell-tale shot size needs to be matched to the total size if the tackle ( in practice matched to the total volume of the float, which defines how big the total weight of float and shot will be).  So Phil, ditch that number 8 shot and replace it with a BB!   ;-) Only if I fish a very small antenna float would I personally use a shot smaller than a BB.

Whilst on the subject of split shot, isn't is completely disgraceful how much they cost these days? Buy one of those multi-compartmentalized circular dispensers and I get a lot of sizes I never use, and very few of the sizes I do use: SSG, AAA and BB.   The Chairman Mao little red boxes contain so few that it almost breaks the bank to buy one.  I had just 7 SSG in one box. The guy with 4 SSG suspended below his slider has to be one of the super rich.   I have been returning shot to the boxes after use, but they only last so long before they fail to grip, although I usually drop them into long grass well before they become useless. I have only found one source for bulk lead shot, in China. They were so hard that it took pliers to close the split, almost a vice. they were causing far too much damage to the line. But I think I have a solution, as to how I might reduce the costs of my most usual sizes, AAA and BB by a factor of about twenty.  I'll trial it this next week and see how it goes before mentioning it further in here. If it fails I shall keep quiet and go away and hide.
Taking it From the Theoretical to the Lakeside.

Last week I took all this theory to a practical extreme: the float in the photograph is fully 15 inches long, with a one millimetre wide tip, definitely an antenna float and then some.  It took five BBs to just sink it, so I attached the float by a JayZS rig, otherwise setting up the lift method exactly as described above, putting two BBs just a couple of inches from the hook (at times I go as close as an inch), the other three shot being a good foot higher up.  The float sat with great stability in the swim, 10 or 12 yards out, with either an inch or two of the antenna visible, reflecting the slight depth differences it encountered from one cast to the next.

Antenna nicely visible, as are a number of bubbles from feeding fish. A few seconds later the float lifted a good four inches as a fish lifted the two tell-tale shot. It was still lifting as I struck into the fish.

And a good crucian is drawn towards the net following a spirited fight. Note the two shot, set very close to the hook, no more than two inches away.

The result: a crucian of over two pounds, one of several, all over two pounds, to be taken during the session.  Note that the float is longer than any of the fish.

Another crucian is safely returned to the water.

Micro Dotting Your Float...Or Not?

One thing that has always intrigued me is why some anglers, and certainly most pole anglers, always shot their floats down, such that only the merest pin prick shows above the surface.  Sensitivity I hear you all shout, and indeed such a float, shotted down to within a millimetre of being drowned, will pick up the minutest touch, whether from a bite, or from the close passage of a fish, waving the odd fin as it slips past.   But is it necessary to seek such a delicate presentation?  My answer would be that it is neither necessary, nor desirable.   Such floats are invariably small, with a tiny diameter antenna at the top.   Those of you who have kept up with the above will see that, a small diameter antenna, has very little volume in its tip, and therefore very little buoyancy, and therefore it takes very little effort to sink it...even if it protrudes above the surface by a full inch or so.  If the reflections on the water surface are such ( and they usually are) that you cannot see the section of float underneath the water, then with a micro dotted float, you have no idea what is happening after the float has moved that first millimetre downwards. The float has simply vanished.   With an inch, or even half an inch sticking up, you are much better able to judge the progress of a bite and therefore whether to strike at it. And the fish will almost certainly not feel any difference.   All IMHO of course.

Sight Bobs.

Antennae floats have one significant problem.  Visibility. A very thin sliver of material can be very difficult to see at distance, regardless of how you might colour it.  One solution is to add a sight bob to the tip.  If the bob is made of light material, it will not significantly add to the total weight of the float.  It will add marginally to the total buoyancy, but when still above the water a small bob will have little effect upon how the float performs, although it will sit a mite lower for the same shot load, and will be somewhat more affected by the wind than would a pure antenna. If you have an inch of your antenna protruding above the surface, with the sight bob above that, then the performance of the float will be otherwise little changed.  A fish lifting that one tell-tale shot will cause the float to lift by exactly the same amount as if the bob were not there. The only difference will be that the float is ever so slightly heavier, and so will accelerate upwards a  teensy bit more slowly. So the lighter the bob material the better.  A simple bob can be made from a cotton bud at almost zero cost. It comes with a ready made tube attached, which can be cut to length and slid over the antenna, and it is lightweight.  It just needs colouring and/or a varnish spray to suit.  If the tube is a little too large in diameter it can be part filled with anything that comes to hand, a bit of line, grass stem, whatever, such that it successfully jams atop the antenna. Alternatively a kink made in the tube might allow it to grip on its own. Or use glue for a more permanent bob. There is very little to lose by adding a sight bob, and it should enable you to fish very sensitively at much greater distance.

One? Two? A Couple of Hundred?

Lastly, how many floats do you own?  If you have done any amount of float fishing at all, the answer is probably far, far too many.   A float has to be learned, so study how it reacts in still, calm water, in rougher, choppier surfaces, in winds. Be at one with your float.  To do this you really need to restrict how many different types of floats you use.   Let's face it, most of those in your tackle box have never yet seen water. So next time you see that ten year old kid, his one and only float stuck high above his head in that hawthorn tree, give him a few of yours...and then, next time you are on the water check the tree again to see how many more he has lost.   But losing floats is not something just the kids do.  We lose some too.  That bad cast, that risky chuck too near to that overhanging tree, the fish that sheds the hook under tension, causing your float, shot and hook to rocket up into that oak tree directly above your head, lost forever, or at least until the autumnal leaf fall.  So buy several of each type that you use regularly, in maybe a couple of different sizes.  It is unlikely that you have need for more than a dozen different float styles.  So have a few of each pattern, and then a loss of one will not leave you needing to fish differently, just dip into your tackle bag, and there, lo and behold,  is an identical float.