Saturday, 28 December 2013

Rods, Test Curves and a Forthcoming Trip.

More rain! Much more rain, so the rivers are out again for a few days.    And just before Christmas. Time for all true anglers to gain a few "brownie" points.  " Yes darling,  I'll come shopping with you.  I'll not go fishing today, I'll stay home especially  so that I can come shopping with you".  I would actually prefer that she write a list and send me out, carrier bags and cash in hand.   The process is much quicker when I don't have to watch her nip into any other shops en route.  I can get a bag of sugar off a shelf in about 1/3 the time she would herself take. For her it has to be the "right" bag of sugar.  Know what you want, grab it, bag it, and as long as you don't forget too many items, or miss out anything vital to the continuation of life functions, it is quicker and far less painful to leave "her indoors" safely indoors.
"Still raining darling?  Yes, I'll help you write the Christmas cards."   This last with some reluctance, as I am sure her wedding vows included the words  "and I will, every year, write all the Christmas cards"  ... it was  in the ceremony: just after  " do all the ironing", surely?

Part of my own wedding vows was to ensure that my son was brought up properly.   I have partly failed in this, for, having been thoroughly outclassed and smashed by a Trent barbel one night, on his first trip chasing the species, he has not been led into becoming an angler. Catching a grayling did not enthuse him, and at age twelve, a net of a dozen half pound tench and bream, when other anglers caught nothing, has also had no lasting effect.  He simply finds fishing boring. Has he no shame?  In all other respects he is fine: doesn't like football,  loves cricket.  And as a single guy, he has developed a logical way of dealing with women.   His main rules seems to be:  
1) Lacrosse is much more important than any girlfriend.  
2) Never be in a relationship just before Christmas, never be a couple on Valentine's day, and dump any female of the species at least a week before her birthday.  This is not based upon the cost of having to buy a present for the occasion, more about not having to strain the brain trying to think up what the hell to buy her. Always an impossible task for any bloke.  You may think you have found the perfect gift.   Highly unlikely.  Check in a fortnight...she will have exchanged it.

There are always swings and roundabouts of course, and, having voluntarily given up three, maybe four days by the river, there has to be a compensatory flow, to use up the acquired brownies.   So I have booked my 2014 fishing holiday abroad.  I shall not publish any details here,  not yet anyway, secret squirrel still peeking around that old oak tree maybe, but a couple of items in the small print are worthy of a note.   The tour company does not provide tackle,  but I do have a couple of travel carp rods: 2.75 pounds test curve, that may well be of use, if not exactly designed for the job.  Reels are another thing.   I do not have any solid, meaty pit reels.  They have not been needed, as my recent angling has not included any long distance carp fishing.  So I did not have such reels.   Not until today, when two Christmas presents to myself arrived.    The tour company has recommended that I use some 40 pound breaking strain monofilament.  On Ebay, bulk line spools seem to run out at about 30 pounds B.S. So I figure that will have to do the job.   It is a subject worthy of some discussion, as I find many anglers have little or no idea why they are using the line they have chosen.

But first the rod: Manufacturers wax lyrical over rod-ring quality, the finishing of the handle, the whippings, how well the carbon fibre has been laid, but when push comes to shove, there is usually just one figure that is on all anglers' minds.   Test Curve.    I don't know where the term first came from, but I suspect that Richard Walker may well have had his fingers poking deeply into that particular pot of jam.   The most often quoted way to measure a test curve is to put the rod handle horizontal, and hang weights from the tip until it makes an angle of 90 degrees to the butt.   That is never going to happen.   It is impossible to get to a full 90 degrees under those circumstances.  The rod, any rod, whether it be a barbel or a marlin rod, would break first.      In the same way that the Large Hadron Collider would need an infinite amount of energy to accelerate just one single proton to 100% of the speed of light, so you would need an infinite force to bend a rod set up in that way to a full 90 degrees.  So what to do?   Well it is obvious that you CAN bend a rod to more than 90 degrees, but to do so you need to change the angle of the line.    So I would myself define test curve as the minimum force, which, when exerted on the rod tip, bends the tip so as to make an angle of 90 degrees to the butt.  (Forget all that horizontal butt nonsense). The angle of that force, the angle made by the line, will be greater than that 90 degrees , and so will not be directly in line with the end of the rod tip.  

This is all very ( slightly?) academic, but what use is it to the angler?   For most anglers it is quite simply: how stiff is my rod?   For such an angler no more is needed, nothing else is required.  He goes out and buys his carp rods to a prescribed test curve and is happy.   But two rods with the same length and the same test curve may be very different in their "action".   For "action" we can simply read "what shape is the curve of the bent rod".   Some rods  are very stiff low down, with the tip section assuming almost all of the curve.   Others may be designed such that, at the test curve point, the rod displays a fairly constant curve throughout its length.   Tip action, vs "all through" action. The two rods will feel very different when playing a fish.     The "all through" action rod will have far more "give" when playing a fish.  I won't define the term "give", because, as an experienced angler you will know exactly what is meant by it.

With which rod can you apply more force?   Interesting question, and not an easy one to answer.   To simplify, we might consider two different "ideal" rods.  Both 12 feet long, one so stiff as to have no bend in it at all,   the other which bends into a perfect sector of a circle. Let each have an 18 inch handle.   Let us give the "all through" rod a test curve of 3 pounds, and make the assumption that is is possible to achieve that with the line at the 90 degree angle.   It won't be quite accurate but near enough as to make little difference to the precision, and no difference at all to the principles involved.   So now apply that 3 pounds to both rods.    Both rods are now acting as levers.   The completely stiff rod requires you to apply a force of 8 times the three pounds of tension in the line.  The handle is 1/8th of the rod length.  3 times 8. You have to pull up at 24 pounds in order to put three pounds of pressure on the fish. Now consider the all action rod.   It is curved into a quarter circle, the arc of which is 12 feet long.   Simple "O" level maths gives you the radius of that circle as approximately 7 and a half feet.   The effective length of the rod has been reduced to 7.5 feet, and the shorter lever only requires 5 times the force to be applied to the handle.   So you are putting that 3 pounds of pressure on the fish, with only fifteen pounds of force on the handle.     How many of you would have thought the reverse?    More force with the stiff rod?   Not many.   Case solved?   It might seem so, But not completely.   Not that easy I am afraid, because keeping the carbon tip at right angles is not how rods are used..     

Once the rod is in the zone playing a fish, you do not keep the rod tip at right angles to the butt for very long, certainly not with any powerful rod.   Once a fish starts to fight hard, the angler has no choice.  If he wishes to wind up the pressure on the fish he must do two things:   In order to increase that pressure, he must move the bend in the rod closer to the butt end, where the rod is stronger, stiffer, and can therefore exert that extra pressure.   To keep the line at right anglers to the butt is possible with a lot of heaving, but because of the leverage effects described, the angler would have to put a very large amount of force on the rod handle. So, the angler will automatically tend ( or be forced by the fish) to point the rod down more towards the direction of the line, and therefore towards the fish.   The butt will often then be at no more than 45 degrees to the line.   This reduces the effective length of the lever, and allows the angler to apply more line tension to the fish, without the same sort of increase in the force applied at the handle.  The rod is a variable length lever.   It is a lever that gets stiffer, the more force that it is being used to apply.   At shallow angles to the line it becomes almost like a poker, and at such angles the rod becomes less important, it can no longer absorb any kicks from the fish, and so you then become more dependent upon the reel to control the fight.  The clutch kicks into action, the rod can do little more to help, other than acting as a mounting handle to make holding the reel easier.  The rod has, at this point lost all its "give", and you have become reliant on the stretch in the monofilament to provide that function. Few anglers using lines of say eight pounds and above, EVER exert anywhere near the full line tension on a fighting fish, unless the rod is pointing more or less down the line.   The leverage effect is simply too great.  Think back to that last snag when chasing barbel.  Did you, even for a moment, consider pulling for a break with the rod held high? Of course not... because you, and the rod, were probably not strong enough to succeed!   You pointed the rod along the line and walked backwards, and were surprised, even then, by how difficult it was to break that line.  Yes? Now compare that with how much force you were putting on that last big carp or barbel you caught.  Unless you are a very unusual and exceptional angler, you were pussyfooting with that fish.

A quick note on braid:
Braid is usually used at quite high breaking strains, and allows you to feel the movements of the fish far more directly.  But having no give in itself, virtually no stretch, it cannot compensate when the rod's natural give has been overridden by using the low down power of the rod blank.   So, pointing the rod down the line whilst using braid can be risky.  A fast moving fish cannot be stopped dead, it has to be slowed down.   Stretchy monofilament helps you to do this when the rod cannot itself provide that "give".   Doing the same thing with braid takes more skill.   
Tie a length of 10 pound braid to a tree branch.   6 feet below tie a 5 pound brick to it.    It will hold that brick up quite happily.  Lift the brick just a couple of inches and drop it: the braid will break.  Braid takes any change of strain instantly. Monofil will stretch and absorb that impulsive force over a longer time.  It is far more forgiving, and helps you deal with sudden movements of a fish, or a brick.
I have not discussed casting. Specifically the casting of heavy weights to distance.   The line strength adopted, with possibly a shock leader, is most relevant here.    And the rod has to be capable of dealing with that  line strength, or as much of it as you use during the cast. Not too much else to say there.   Earlier readers may well remember that I shattered a rod, trying to cast a heavy weight a long way.  In reality I was using too heavy a line for the rod design.  Too heavy a line works, but only provided that you do not allow it to bend the rod past its limits.   Whilst playing a fish, I could have used any strength of line with that rod, simply by pointing the rod towards the fish.    When casting, the rod WILL bend, no other option, so  for any rod that will be used to cast feeders or heavy leads, the ability to cast without endangering the rod, is the main factor when choosing it.   Heavy rods are designed more for casting, rather than for playing a fish.   If it also plays a fish to your satisfaction you have a bonus.    

So:  back to the fishing trip:  do I use that 30 pound line on my holiday, or do I search out the recommended 40 ?    Well, if my carp rods were that unbending idealised rod described above, in order to break the line with the rod held at right angles I would have to pull back at 320 pounds!   No chance,    but by pointing the rod much more towards the fish, I should be able to keep quite a goodly amount of force to try and slow the fish down.  But I will be reliant also on setting that clutch right.   For any freshwater fish to pull with a force of 30 pounds or more would be quite something, and so I do not expect to get broken.  A shorter rod, much shorter than these 12 foot carp jobs  might help me apply more force, but I am not about to buy two more rods specifically for one week's holiday.  When catfishing a couple of years ago, the rods I used were of five pounds test curve, 12 feet long and very stiff.  I did hold the rods fairly well up, and so must  doubt that I ever pulled on the fish with more than 15 or twenty pounds of force. If that.   They were big fish, feeling very heavy on the line, but how much force was really involved at the end tackle?   Far less than most people think I am sure.   For the rod is indeed a lever,  but one designed to benefit and to give the mechanical advantage to the fish.     In any event I shall also take some spools of 15 pound line.

The final conclusion for rod choice and line choice is simply this:  an experienced angler will almost instinctively know what is right and what is not right.  He will not need to go through all these sorts of thought processes. But to do so is quite interesting.  When I broke the rod, I knew very well that I was taking that risk. The inexperienced angler will not care too much about rod and line choice, will use what his mates are using, and will probably get away with it due to the modern trend of fishing very heavy.  I myself still prefer to fish lighter.  I like to think I have needed a level of skill when landing that fish on this lighter tackle, rather than to know the outcome in advance, to know that the fish has no chance in hell of breaking my heavy gear.

Apologies if all the above became a little too detailed. Some of you will have undoubtedly stopped reading already. Probably one of my more controversial texts. I have dumbed it down, tried to eliminate having too much science, and much has been missed out. I needed to do something to avoid the Christmas build up, and with the rivers out, writing a blog seemed appropriate.  Next I should probably start packing for my trip,  less than 3 months to go now.


   

Monday, 16 December 2013

Trout Survival, the Odd Fish, and More Idle Chatter.

Well, what a shame.  The rain arrived a couple of days ago in force, and the rivers, being spate streams, have all become far more difficult to fish.   So difficult that usually I tend not to bother, certainly for grayling.   The levels are up substantially, and the flow rate has increased quite dramatically.   The leaves that were deposited at the river edges as the levels slowly decreased last week, have all been in motion again, having been washed away from the banks.   Finding the fish has become harder, and it has become more onerous for the fish to find bait, in between trying not to get washed downstream.   Maybe looking good for tomorrow though, although Sundays are not my favourite days to go fishing. 

A Very Thin Out of Season Trout of 3-2.   Huge Jaw.
But I did manage a couple of sessions during the week before it got too damp.    The first session was to a swim I have only fished once before.  It gave up one of my only two rainbow trout from the river about three years ago.   A fair old fish of about two pounds.  This second session was all about chasing the grey ladies again. Fishing for them was difficult, but a couple of fish did grace the old landing net, the best being a nice fish of a pound and nine ounces.     The trout proved a substantial nuisance ( where are they all during the trout season?).  Four small trout were followed by four far better fish.  Two spotties of about a pound and a half, which may well have been the same fish.   If so, it managed to find its way back home, some twenty yards or so, and become so hungry as to take the same bait, in the same spot, after only about 45 minutes.  Mind you, trout are silly buggers and I had one fish three times in an afternoon last year.  The other two trout were bigger,  one of 2-7,  and a 3-2.    I stopped fishing then, for it was obvious these trout had fairly recently spawned, and were desperate to regain lost weight and condition.  It didn't seem very fair to continue catching them.    Look at the photo of the three pounder.  It demonstrates quite clearly why we need a long trout close season.  The fish has lost so much weight that its BMI would be lower than that of Kate Moss divided by Twiggy. What weight would that fish have gone in the last week of the trout season? Anyone any ideas?  Five pounds anyone?  In the Winter, with minimal food in the river, a spawned out trout is likely to recover very slowly.    Why do trout not ignore the past evolution of their species, and start to spawn in the Spring like sensible fish?    What are the advantages of spawning now?    I gain the impression that the ova lie dormant in the gravel until the water has warmed up.  During those months they sit there praying that there are no heavy floods, or are the eggs so sticky that they can make it through the nights until April?    Crayfish permitting. Coarse fish seem to have their heads screwed on far better than do trout.  Come to think of it why are they called "coarse" fish.  The word implies something of a Grimsby fishwife, all mouth and obscenities.    But coarse fish seem to be far more logical, much brighter than trout.   Trout do seem to be the daftest of our native fish, far too eager to snaffle any baited hook.   Maybe that is why fly fishing was invented, to give trout fishing a level of difficulty, and therefore trout anglers a level of apparent sophistication?   Trout are certainly at the thick end of the IQ and coarseness spectrum.  Does any coarse angler really believe all the guff about  only such and such a dry fly works under certain river conditions?  Come to think of it, does any game angler really think that?  Or is it just nice to have a fly box full of pretty things?  Ah well, I probably upset a few carp anglers the other week, it was time to target the game anglers.   Who next I wonder?  :-)


The swim I fished was what I would call a big swim.  Odd things rivers:  you can get what looks to be a very "big" swim, wide, with good flows right across the river, and then a short distance downstream you will get a "small" swim, which appears to carry dramatically less water.   It doesn't of course, but can really give that impression.   The strange thing is that the "big" swims always seem to hold far more fish, and so it is not just me that is being hoodwinked by the river.

The following day I fished a "well known" swim on the river.   And probably suffered for my art.   One tiny grayling, three tiny trout and a couple of trout that were somewhat larger, one just about besting a pound.  Again, the largest was showing signs of having spawned, whereas the three smallest were just creeping out of the parr stage.  But, despite sport being slow I was well enough entertained by a pair of dippers, that
Pair of Dippers. Photo Taken in Spring
chased each other past me, very low over the water, whirring their way across the stream.   They spent a lot of time feeding at the edge of a gravel bar, going in up to their knees, or more probably their ankles.  One bird did manage a couple of full Cousteau underwater trips, but the morning chill had maybe kept them out of the water.   Like the rabbits the other day, without their white chest patches, they would be brilliantly camouflaged.   In their case though, maybe the white helps hide their silhouette against the sky, reducing the chance of prey items spotting them.  Or maybe, more likely, I am completely wrong in suggesting anything of the sort.  I was watching one, thinking that it was very much kingfisher sized, when a kingfisher flew past me, heading upstream far faster than the dippers.  And then I missed a bite. Bloody kingfisher!    But it didn't really matter, as, a few minutes later TWO kingfishers came flying rapidly back
Treecreeper at its Nest Site
downstream.   There was one wonderful moment when I could see a pair of dippers and a pair of kingfishers.   Other birds seen: a buzzard, herons, goosanders, cormorants as usual, crows and jackdaws, a treecreeper and two unidentified flying ducks. Not mallards, but similar in size.    Too fast for my ageing eyesight. 

I had to pack up about 11.00am, because I had booked, a couple of weeks ago, two tickets to see West Side Story at the Manchester Palace Theatre.   Lucky to get the tickets, very few were still unsold, and to get two adjacent seats I had to book the afternoon matinee. Oh dear!  Full of schoolkids and drama students.   Our seats were near the top of the "Grand Tier",  about as high as you can get on a Wednesday afternoon without the help of illegal substances.   It was really far up.  And steep too.   I was very tempted here to tell the old joke whose punchline is "Yeah, deep too".  But I am not going to.  It was so high that we could see the very top of the porticoes over the various posh boxes that lined the sides of the auditorium.    My wife commented that the tops had not been dusted for years.   Now my wife and I continually differ on what constitutes a tidy room.  I had always hoped to convert her to my way of thinking, that a room can still be tidy whilst littered....strewn?....I'll go with "furnished" I think.... with various items of fishing gear, a few half read books, most of last week's papers etc.   But her complaining about the dust in the theatre has finally convinced me that we will never be able to agree and close that particular gap in our thinking.   So I considered, once again, the steepness of the tiers, and figured that if she were to crowd surf from our seats,  she could build up just enough speed, as she approached the edge of the balcony, so that when launched into the auditorium space,  she would just about be able to take out the first violin in the orchestra pit.  

Getting more or less the last two unsold seats meant that we were plumbed into the ultimate in restricted legroom seating areas.  It was impossible to sit with feet pointed straight towards the stage.  Not enough legroom, and so my feet had to be turned slightly out.  Most uncomfortable, sitting there, with widely separated knees projecting over the seat in front.   I can assure you that it is NOT enjoyable to  spend a couple of hours with a young blonde art student's head between ones knees.  Of course the lack of space propagates backwards too, and I made the mistake of turning around during the interval.   My head was also between someone's knees and I rather embarrassingly came face to close up face with a pair of flowery pink knickers.  I cricked my neck quite badly, due to the speed I felt was needed to get back to a respectable eyes front position.  Four rows below us two fifteen year old schoolgirls decided that the interval was a good time to have a fight.  The one whose nose was bloodied was allowed to remain, but the girl who had hit her was quickly muscled out by the schoolteacher.  Well done Miss!  I used the rest of the interval to convince everyone in row M, that, if we all sat pointing 45 degrees to the right, thus placing our legs in front of the adjacent seat and its occupant, we would all be rather more comfortable, and I would probably be able to stand up and walk on leaving the theatre.   The second half was therefore suffered in only minor agony. The first half had made the prospect of a Japanese WWII prison camp seem almost inviting.  Although suffering less, we were so high up, that the top curtain cut off our view of all performers on the staged balconies.  It is difficult to recognise a character when you can see nothing above her waist.   I had to ask the wife which performer was wearing the pink trousers.  My wife both notices and remembers this type of thing.
All went well with the second half of the musical until the long intense silence of the death scene.   I felt quite embarrassed for the old dear a few seats away whose mobile phone rang at that very moment.   The embarrassment turned to incredulity when she answered it.  "Hello Mary....Bingo? Yes.....what time tonight....."   I swear I saw the corpse corpsing.

OK,  show's over,  time for the applause and then you can all clear off home. Maybe take this thought with you:

Today you are the oldest that you have ever been.   It is also as young as you will ever be.  A very special day...and you have just wasted part of it reading all this crap.

A Nice Plump December Grayling
P.S.  I did fish today, Sunday, and the river responded well.    I would have said brilliantly had 10 of my 12 fish not been out of season trout.   Only one showed signs of having bred, and it would seem as if only fish of a pound and over breed in this stream,  the smaller individuals maybe still being too immature. The other two fish were a chub something over two pounds and a grayling that I judged to be 1-6.  A beautiful fish though, and caught as I watched a peregrine falcon perched atop a very tall tree. I had been hoping to see it fly off,  or maybe chase a woodpigeon, but it sneaked away unseen as I played the grayling.  Fishing the river on a Sunday was indeed a pain.  I was the only angler around, fishing a stretch I have not been near for about three years.  It was heaving with dog walkers, dozens of them.  One batch even came by the dozen, twelve dog owners each with their precious pooches gathered together in a wildebeest sized herd.  And not a lion in sight.  None of the twelve dog owners was bright enough to suggest to the others that maybe they should go elsewhere to throw their sticks into the water.   My swim was constantly churned up by canines for a good twenty minutes.  Absolutely no consideration at all.    I moved swims several times during the day, more to seek other fish than to avoid the dreadful plague dogs. Sorry:  plague  of dogs. No need to take that personally Mr. Adams.  The dogs still jumped in the water, or ran amok scattering my gear. Of thirty or so owners whose dogs caused me pain today, only three apologised.   Whilst they were apologising I was thinking "All I want for Christmas is a 12 bore shotgun and open season on poodles, labradors and dalmations.  Especially dalmations."

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me.
One twelve bore shotgun,
Eleven cormorants croaking,
Ten dalmations drowning,
Nine yorkies yowling.....

Oh come on!   Join in, you all know the words.  Get with the festive spirits.

I'm going,  Obviously way past my bed time. 






Sunday, 1 December 2013

Pretty Ladies, Shame About the Barbel.

A few days ago I had  a trip chasing the grayling of a very difficult river.  I had earlier challenged myself to try and catch a grayling on each trip to the stream.  This was my seventh trip, after I had failed on trip 6 to keep up the winning streak.  Each of those seven trips had also produced out of season trout.  To catch one grayling from this river is a pleasing achievement, and to succeed on 6 out of 7 trips was totally unexpected, although most of the days were to produce just a single grey lady.  But there is only so much self sacrifice one can make, and no matter how satisfying it is to catch fish under very difficult circumstances, sooner or later something has to give.  So yesterday, another destination was planned, another river, one where grayling are known to be present in much larger numbers. I still have not caught my two pound fish, and it was time to change the odds and up  my chances a bit.

The swim I chose is one I last fished a couple of years ago, just the one trip then, with chub the target species. I caught nothing that day, but always thought that the swim held great promise.  Reaching the swim involves a good half mile walk, along a narrow twisty path through a thick beech wood, occasionally bordering a tiny stream into which it would be quite easy to fall like a nocturnal Red Bull cliff diver from the narrow track into the shallow water below.   This was a path I had taken just once before, during daylight.   But yesterday it was still completely dark as, headtorch fitted, I tried to remember the route taken by the path.     Oppressively thick dark clouds overhead filtered out what little light the moon and stars might have otherwise provided.  I had not gone far before a loud cawing and croaking broke out to my right.  I had disturbed a large roost of crows, rooks or perhaps jackdaws.    Probably crows, and they made it well known that my presence in the wood was not fully appreciated by the locals.  Other than listening awhile, I ignored them.   I couldn't see them, and all they could see of me was the headlight.  The path was also more or less invisible; little used, it is just a narrow stretch of  soil, its grass removed by the tread of booted feet.   Autumn, and high winds overnight had almost completely hidden the path.  Masses of beech leaves, mixed with a few from oaks and sycamores were completely masking the route. The whole floor of the wood was coated by leaf fall. Instinct and good luck were all that was keeping me on track.   I disturbed a large bird above me, and it clattered off into the dark.   I would like to think it was an owl, but an owl would have flown off without betraying its presence to me.  Completely silent.  

After venturing into a couple of boggy areas, I eventually reached the river, and my swim.   The first rays of light were leaking through the cloud cover as I tackled up.   For a late November early morning it was quite warm, but those light rays revealed that the river was covered with floating leaves. The leaf cover was maintained by constant heavy winds of maybe 30 or 40 mph, new leaves being added by the thousands. They made float fishing impossible, the line lying atop them on every cast.   As the light increased I could see that almost as many were drifting down below the surface.    Fishing looked as if it was going to be difficult.    I was totally wrong with that assessment, and my very first cast produced a grayling.  I weighed it at 1-8.  A good start.  After a quick photograph  I returned it, and nursed it back to full strength, before seeing it swim off powerfully.   Grayling so very often exhaust themselves during the scrap, and not caring for their proper return would see some of them floating downstream, belly up.  It is always worth taking the time to return these gorgeous fish carefully, even if, as I did, you get your feet wet.

The second and third casts also produced grayling.  All three fish were as peas in the pod.  None would
The Second Pea From the Left
have differed from the others by more than an ounce.  I would have liked a photograph of all three together, but I do not own, nor do I want, a keepnet, and all my fish are returned as quickly as I can.

The fourth cast hit into another fish, one I felt might be a little bigger, and I had already prepared the camera to try and get a shot of the dorsal fin as it came into the shallows.  Nice thought, but the fish proved to be a chunky chub, maybe a smidgeon under three pounds. It too, was returned into the same swim, which may well be a significant factor in the day's equation.    For I was to catch no more chub and no more grayling, despite about three hours of working hard at the problem.   Four casts, four bites, four fish.    The grayling were obviously from the same shoal, but did they comprise the whole shoal? Had I caught them all?    Were the others scared away?   Or did they simply move on?   The pool was quite a large one, and they could easily have gone as much as 50 yards away.   Was my error that of not returning them 15 or twenty yards away?

As I pondered the answers, which remain as elusive as the origins of the Big Bang, a dabchick, in its Winter
Dabchick in Winter
plumage, dived and dithered near the tree roots on the far bank.   A tiny little grebe, it slowly worked its way upstream and disappeared around the bend.  I had thought that the first splash it made, right under the bank, was caused by a fish, but it was too close to the bank for me to risk a cast at it, which is fortunate.   I have seen a dabchick surface with very obvious red maggots in its bill, and I would have hated to have hooked one.

But the chub was not the end of the angling action: an hour or so later I struck into another fish.  My thoughts went:  "good grayling....perhaps not, must be a chub...hmm, a damn good chub". I even thought it could be five or six pounds.  It took a few more moments before reality dawned.   A heavy fish that was sticking close to the bottom, and quite slowly forcing its way upstream.   My four pound line was not bothering it very much.  It was not long after I belatedly sussed that the fish had to be one of the river's barbel, and probably a very good one, that the end tackle came flying back at me, and the fish was off.    The earlier chub and grayling dulled the pain a little but the disappointment remains.  I hate losing fish unseen.   Was it a double?  Would it have been my best from the river?  Could I have kept it out of that snag? All sorts of questions.

The weather was getting worse, the wind strengthening yet more, and occasional showers, some heavy were blasting away at me.   My small umbrella did not fare too well.   It was not blown inside out, but was collapsed by the wind into a half circle, the rib ties being broken.   Repairable, but not good, for the rain was falling more or less horizontally at the time.  It did stop after about twenty minutes, and I found I was not too damp.

Only two further fish were to take my bait, both out of season brown trout in superb condition.  The largest maybe a pound.   The swim was very dead from then on, and although I had a few exploratory casts in other swims, I felt that the best of the day was done, and soon made my way back through the woods to the car.  I resolved to return to the river, in a different swim, early the next day.  A day which was very different.  the sky had cleared overnight, which allowed an early light frost.  The wind had disappeared entirely, and once it dawned, the sun shone steadily and illuminated the remaining leaves from a low angle.  Quite pretty.   the events of the day were to be very different too.   Wildlife which had been hiding from the weather yesterday, now emerged. A splashing to my left proved to be a cormorant, which having seen me, was flapping its way downstream, low over the water.  Several more were to pass me heading both up and downstream during the day. Four mallards chased a goosander downstream.  A large bird emerged from the trees opposite, and headed upriver.   It was a buzzard, almost certainly the one I heard the day before. It probably resented having to flap its wings...no thermals today. Next to pass was a dipper, flashing low over the water upstream.  It splash landed about 100 yards above me, near to some protruding rocks. Ideal dipper habitat.  
A pair of Dippers I Photographed on This River a While Ago.

A Bullhead, A Fairly Rare Capture of a Very Common Fish.
As dawn broke, I had reeled in to re-bait.  Snagged!   Yet another feeder lost, but the hook remained, surrounded by a tiny bullhead.   It had taken 4 maggots on a size 12 hook.    The insides of a bullhead are very much like the Tardis.  On another river a year or so ago, I had caught one that had somehow taken two lobworms on an appropriate sized worm hook.  Open up a bullhead and you will probably find all sorts of stuff, 17mm halibut pellets, half a dozen maggot feeders, that missing sock.  
The still and bright conditions made it very easy to spot any slight movements, and a small white dot that moved opposite proved to be a rabbit, which mooched about directly opposite me.   That white tail seemed to completely invalidate otherwise excellent camouflage.  What purpose does it have to make it worthwhile to override its blatant visibility? The buzzard returned, from the other direction, landing in a tree, the high bank shielding the rabbit from its sight.   But moments later the bird repeated its upriver flight path.  The rabbit must have seen it pass over, for it froze, becoming totally immobile for over a minute.  Three jays were to fly over, separated by thirty minute intervals, quite high, and all along the same flight path,  as if they were planning to land on Runway One at the airport.  A pair of nuthatches did not alert me by their movements. Instead I heard some shrill peeping whistles above me, and on looking up saw them scuttling along an oak tree branch  above me. There were quite a lot of nuthatches flitting about.

Here's Four Nuthatch Pictures I Took Earlier. Crazy Birds.
The fishing remained difficult, the expected additions to yesterday's catches was not happening.  Only when I cast well away from the hotspot, did I finally get a bite.    Another grayling, and apparently from the same pea-pod as those yesterday.  Exactly the same size.   It was one very cold fish.  Despite further searching, it was to be the only bite.  The cold overnight had maybe put the fish off and my hands were now turning blue.    I stopped just long enough to see a heron flying downstream towards me.  Of course it saw me, did a U-turn and diverted its way back on the other side of the far bank trees. Day two had proved very different to day one.
But a good couple of days' grayling fishing on a far easier stream than that I have fished of late.  Still looking for that two pound fish, but four grayling for six pounds was an excellent result.   But the question remains:  a) with so many fish around 1-8, do I fish on expecting a two pounder.   or
b) with all the fish "one size fits all", do I have no chance of a two, at least from that swim?

Oh and....Shame about the barbel.






Tuesday, 26 November 2013

At Last: Back for the Grayling

Interesting day yesterday.  Finally, after some weeks of high water, I was able to get back on the river. Project grayling.  Still just a little high, but certainly very fishable,  the water having cleared quite well, and only a few centimetres above the normal level for this time of year.   I had decided to fish a few different swims for an hour or so each.  On any smallish  river it seems rather pointless to remain static when after grayling.   They are not too difficult to catch as a rule, and after a couple of hours without one, I usually conclude that they are either not feeding, not there, or else the Gods are against me on the day.  
  
I had intended to be at my first choice of swim as soon as it was light enough to see a float, but I misjudged again, and was perhaps 30 minutes too late.   But I don't find that grayling feed much better in that first half hour, so it mattered very little.  I travelled light,  tackle and bait in a small landing net, one rod, a long handled small landing net, for I would, in one swim, have to stretch over extensive bankside vegetation, straining to reach and net any fish hooked there.  Too good looking a swim by far to ignore.   And a small folding stool... a small folding stool... a small...Damn!   I reached the first swim and realised I had left the stool in the car.    I had travelled even lighter than I had wished.   The water is too deep for wading, and being on the sunny side of the stream I did not wish to stand up, illuminated in full view.   Glancing around I saw, on the bank, something bright pink in colour.   Investigating, it proved to be a Disney Store food mixing bowl.   In perfect condition, still with the sticky price label attached.   Someone must have thrown it into the river upstream.  No idea why.   Although a bit garish in shocking pink, adorned with Mickey Mouse graphics, it is now in use in the kitchen.    On the bank it became, upside down, my seat for the day.  Not very generous in its level of comfort, but better than sitting on the grass, which was still coated in the residue from recent spate conditions.   

Travelling light, with the rod already made up, my almost ubiquitous 12 foot travel barbel rod ( I use it for almost anything except barbel) , makes for a very rapid deployment of tackle, and I was fishing within five minutes.   I was playing a fish within ten minutes, second cast.    It was an out of season brownie of about three quarters of a pound.  But a very healthy and fit looking fish.   

No sooner had my third cast hit the water than the bait was taken, and a fish charged downstream against the four pound line.  I caught a flash of a fair fish as it turned sideways.   That was the last time I saw it for quite a while. It stayed deep, but was very lively, refusing to be drawn to the surface, and I had visions of a huge grayling in my head.   Only in my head though, for the fish, after a lengthy and utterly superb scrap, proved to be another brownie.  A brown trout of no less than three pounds eleven ounces.   Again, out of season, and looking rather thin,   but at that size it was my biggest trout from the river, and so it had to be weighed for interest's sake.   Its slim body did not stop it putting up that brilliant scrap.  Very entertaining.   After a photograph it was returned safely, swimming off strongly.  The small landing net was quite inadequate for the size of fish.  Another lesson driven home ( one I should have remembered well) : forget the size of fish you expect to catch, and gear up for the larger ones that might just appear unexpectedly.

I usually find that the trout are quickest to find the bait, and that unfortunately, even out of season you often have to catch a resident trout or two first, before the grayling move in.    Unfortunately the theory failed on this occasion, no grayling coming to the net from the swim.   

About 9 o'clock a jet black mink stole cautiously along the riverside edge other bank.  It was in deep shadow, and being black, a good photograph was out of the question, even had I had the correct lens fitted. So I still have not managed any good pictures of mink.   Seeing it though, once again emphasised how surprising it is that some people still mistake them for otters.    More like an all black squirrel.  I should probably apologise to all those who saw and groaned at the joke earlier in this paragraph, but I am not going to...so there,  tough!   .

I fished another four swims before heading home.   At about half past two my hands started to turn blue, and I deemed it advisable to retire gracefully, with all my fingers intact.       Three of those swims were to give me a single brown trout each, all around the half pound mark, but the grayling remained stubbornly absent.   The grayling are not prolific in the river, and so I shall not complain too severely.     

But to come back to the big trout.   Its spot pattern was very different to all other trout I have taken from the river.   Like the grayling the trout are not prolific, and to catch five in one day has quite astonished me. What a shame it was the close season.    They are most probably wild fish, none ever having been stocked into the stream locally. That I know for certain.  Ten or fifteen miles or so upstream is the nearest that any trout are likely to have been stocked, and I must suspect that the fish I catch have been born in the river itself.  

There follow four pictures of trout I have caught from this stream.  The first is an absolutely stunning looking fish.  Such gorgeous evenly spread red and black spots, all with white surrounds on a fabulous greeny gold background.  Not a huge fish but an incredibly beautiful specimen.
Utterly Gorgeous Brownie Looking Surprised

The second fish is a very spotty fish, lots and lots of black spots, and if those spots are encircled with white, then the white blends in as a background, rather than as individual rings.

Many Black Spots

The third fish is the three pounds eleven fish from yesterday. It carries an absolute mass of both black and red spots, all very small, and is most unlike the other fish. It is the only fish I have caught that looks even remotely like this.
Enough Spots to Make a 1960's Measles Epidemic Quite Jealous.

The fourth fish is the first trout I ever caught from the stream, and actually my first fish of any species from it. Different again.  At the time I caught it, I suspected it might be a sea trout, but I have little knowledge of sea trout, never having knowingly caught one.  I have had several fish that I thought might have been guilty, but always, when asked, a more experienced sea trout angler has diagnosed the fish to be brown.  I really don't know myself, and suspect that, until I have seen a definite sea trout or two, I shall remain confused.  But at least, to judge from reading the odd forum and web site, I am not on my own struggling for positive IDs. That makes me feel a little better that, after more than 50 years with a rod, I still struggle to identify some of our native game fish.   Then again, I might just be damned annoyed that I have yet to catch one!
Apparently not a Sea Trout. (note the fibreglass rod)



 So: four fish, all apparently brownies, all looking very different from each other with vastly different spot patterns. The genetics of trout must be quite fascinatingly complex.  Look at the first two: the spots are all very distinct from each other, but on one fish, scattered quite widely, on the other, very closely.  Yet something has arranged the spots so that none overlap, and the spread of spots in each case is very even.  The genetics to produce such an effect must be very complex indeed.  The third fish seems almost to break these rules, with spots scattered willy nilly, every available space being taken up by a spot, each spot being much smaller, no room for the white borders, and many spots appearing to overlap.  

I tried to do a bit of research a while back, to see whether anyone had investigated how genetics governs these patterns on animals: tigers, zebras, as well as fish.  I have found that there is very little information to be found, although surely someone must be researching it?   Life itself is very complex, and mixed in with life as a general theme, are all sorts of little extras, like these spotting and striping patterns which add yet more wonder to the entire process.   Oddly the only name I could find, who had done any study on this was Alan Turing, the genius who more or less invented the digital computer, down in Bletchley park, during the war.    I have to suspect that somewhere within these patterns,  the concepts of fractals, and similar mathematics will be found.  

If anyone reading this should know anything about how the leopard really gets his spots, I should be grateful for a few tips, as to where I need to look.    



Monday, 18 November 2013

Expedition Zander Part II

The fishing this last week has still not been the best:  rivers not ideally suited to my quest for grayling. Still high, after a Wednesday night downpour. The same night dislodged many, many leaves from the trees, probably the largest leaf fall of the year.  About a hundred and twenty percent of those fallen leaves are now flowing downstream, making legering difficult. The stillwaters are quiet following the fairly rapid temperature drop of the last week or so.  Nevertheless I went out to  a gravel pit to seek perch.  A couple of carp showed themselves, one within an easy lob of the worm, the other right on the far side of the water.  Once again, one of the only fish to show was right near to me. It is at times rather uncanny.  I threw a lobworm on top of it, mainly as a perch bait, but should the carp choose to take it, I would not be overly complaining.   It didn't,  neither did the perch, and I feel a strongly worded letter to the editor coming on.   

But after the industrial background to the zander fishing of last week, to be out in the countryside, out of sight of man and his creations ( gravel pit apart) was gratifying.    The usual robin kept me company and begged for maggots, successfully, for who could not give in to such pleading,  but apart from a couple of magpies in the woods behind few birds moved on the land.  All was very peaceful.   The usual mallards, coots and tufted ducks adorned the water, and as with my last trip, I saw some curlews.   But far more of them this week.   A few solo birds and pairs were bonuses to the loose flock of about a hundred curlews that flew
Curlews at Distance ( Wrong Lens Fitted)
over the lake 3 or 4 times.   Their enigmatic eerie calls carried well over the water.    Too far away for a good camera shot, but close enough to make a positive visual ID.   Later a similar number of lapwings were to pass over.   I would like to say a shoal of a hundred big perch also passed through, but if they did their passing went unnoticed by both myself and my lobworms.

The river still being too high for my comfortable fishing, I decided on part two of the zander hunt, and headed back down to the Midlands.   Someone pointed out to me that last week's mini zander cost me about forty quid, in petrol costs alone. Over 300 pounds Sterling per pound of zander caught. But, and I know that this makes little real sense, either logical or economic:  it was all paid for by my pensions: government pension and company pension.   They give me money every month, and I do absolutely no work for it.  So although I know, deep in my brain,  that I have paid for it all during my working career, it still now seems very much  like free money.   So I spend it on fishing without so much as a nervous twitch of the wallet.

This week Jane guided me flawlessly to the destination, about a mile or so from last week's spot.   The tongue-lashing I gave her last week had worked, and she navigated  without hitch or argument.  I arrived with two hours of darkness in hand , rods built and primed , just needing baits  for the cast.   Minnows added, the rods were cast into the canal boat channel, where they swam about until daylight, unimpeded by any nearby predatory presences.   As daylight broke, I re-cast them very near to some moored barges, on the assumption that any local zander would now be seeking to avoid the light.   Two or three times the
Getting a Little Bigger....But Not Much.
minnows went crazy, causing the small floats to bob about dramatically.   But no runs came.   Later, when a decent roach splashed in the boat channel, I threw a minnow at it, or rather into the same spot as it had showed itself.   The float never settled, but immediately made off, if a little jerkily.  A strike hit a fish, which proved to be a small zander: well under a pound but much bigger than last week's fish.   

Jeff Hatt, of Idler's Quest blogging fame came to visit and stayed for a chat.  Local lad. ( How was the jam Jeff? ).  Jeff writes with far more flair than I.  My scrawlings are, I feel, contaminated by my years of working in a scientific research and development environment.  Writing dry reports has not helped my blogging style one jot. Jeff's blog article last week shows him riding a bicycle along the towpath carrying his rods and tackle.  The photograph reminded me of one of my long held ambitions, which is to be able to cycle with my own fishing gear to the nearest river.
My Next Fishing Vehicle. ( Photo: Snow White Productions)
A little differently to the approach used by Jeff though. On Tuesday evenings I run a juggling and unicycling club, teaching people both skills.     Being of somewhat unsound mind I want to ride to my local stream by unicycle, or maybe by reverse steering bike. It is a couple of miles to the river, and I still need a little more practice first. I will get there. Possibly in one piece.

Jeff was to return later for a couple of hours' roach fishing.  The roach were also to prove uncooperative, probably due to the week's rapid temperature drop, for Jeff was confident that he should in theory have caught something. One of my minnows had another crazy few seconds, the float

Foulhooked Mini Zander

bobbing about like mad, but no actual run.  I lifted the rod to find a foulhooked mini zander, of a size that might suggest it to be the brother of last week's fish.  Time to theorize:  was it really the minnow making the float jiggle about like a "Strictly Come Dancing" competitor? Or was that small zander scrapping and fighting with the minnow, unable to swallow it?  The minnow itself was still lively, and last week's mini zander was hooked a good minute after the float movements had ceased.  Have all these crazy float movements been due to immature zander?  And if so, should I be using a different bait?    Jeff had suggested a chunk of dead roach rarely fails.   I tried it for quite a while, but the fish were still playing away from home, the roulette ball consistently landing on the zero.   One more run produced a tiny perch, which had performed a Herculean task by half swallowing the minnow.  Its mouth was so full of minnow that I had immense trouble getting the big single hook out safely.
Very Greedy Perch.

Birdlife on the canal was restricted to mallards, a couple of swans and a moorhen.   The aquatic equivalent of sparrows, pigeons and starlings.  Very common on just about every water I visit.  But I did get a half decent photo of a stray goldfinch.  Always a delight, the goldfinch.




Goldfinch

So, do I return for another bash at the zander, or do I wait until more settled weather before I try again?  I think I may wait a while.     Success has been largely eluding me for about three or four weeks now.   I might just  have a go for a barbel or two next,  something a little easier, to enable me to carve a notch or two on the rod handle.   We will see.  Decisions, decisions.  If I do go fishing for barbel I will have to ignore the far preferable à la carte menu of perch and grayling.  I wonder where I put those dice?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Expedition Zander

I don't think I have written anything about zander to date. Certainly not much.  But of course, as I age, my memory remains just as  dreadful, certainly not getting anywhere near that instant recall that competitors on mastermind have. So I might have already written reams of highly entertaining stuff about zander...but I doubt it.

There are no zander anywhere near my home, but there is no doubt that zander are spreading about the country. I read that originally just 23 fish were taken from Woburn Abbey and transplanted into the middle level somewhere in the fens, in the early sixties, maybe late fifties.  Nothing was heard of them for a while, until "fishing" magazine, now a defunct publication, had some correspondence and maybe an article or two as well, about strange "V" shaped marks being found on livebaits. As I recall, again probably imperfectly, it was about another year before the culprits were found to be zander.   The original gang of 23 had evidently bred very successfully.  And zander now, fifty years later, cover a very wide area, including, as we all know, much of the Trent and Severn catchments, and the canal system in the Midlands.  Once zander start to breed in a water they seem to do so very successfully.   But of course there will always be the odd angler who helps them on their way, and I was informed this week that zander have now been found, by both anglers and the EA, in the Sankay Canal ( also known as the St. Helen's Canal).   This is a long way from their established bases, and will undoubtedly become another centre for the distribution and spread of the species.  The North West will probably not remain zander free much longer.

I am a little concerned about how genetically strong the UK zander population might be.   Just 23 fish, being the mothers and fathers of all our UK zander is a very small population of fish, even in the highly unlikely event that all 23 were actively breeding.   Any other species breeding with such low numbers would be causing grave concern amongst biologists, who would have fully justified fears about the amount of genetic variation in the species.  Especially so, as the original Woburn fish were most likely of limited genetic variability themselves.   How many individuals were introduced into the Sankay Canal?   It is highly likely that only one pair have successfully bred there, resulting in a mass of sibling fish, and more future genetic weakness.  Each new irruption of zander into fresh areas is likely to be degrading the genetic variability still further.  It may be argued that the EA, and others will not be overly concerned about how genetically weak any invasive species is, for it might, perchance, give them a crevice, a small window, through which a successful control or extermination method might be placed. Those who would like to see the zander genes more variable could easily campaign for the introduction of fresh genetic stock brought in from the continent.    The fish I see do look pretty healthy, and maybe they have got away with it.  I see far less zander photographs showing deformities than I do of barbel. Yet many of the barbel introductions have been legal, and bred at EA fish farms, where one might assume they know what they are doing. Deformed barbel are still caught with some frequency though, and I suspect that a lack of genetic variability is the cause.

My first zander was caught about three years ago, and came as a complete shock to me.  Having taken a 30 odd years sleep, well away from fishing, I had no idea how far certain species of fish had spread.   The numbers of carp I saw everywhere horrified me.  I had no idea that barbel were present in my local stream, let alone being so prolific in the Trent, until I caught one locally. And until I reeled in that very first zander, I had no idea that the Trent held them.  Even as I reeled it in, I initially thought it to be a somewhat oddball small pike. But there is no reason on this earth for a zander on the bank to be confused with any other species, despite frequent attempts to cause such confusion by naming them pike-perch.
Zander in Sharp Focus
  This picture shows the head of my first zander.  The teeth come as quite a shock at first sight, and although the zander's dentition may not come close to that of the magnificent tiger fish of Africa, it still has a sufficiently impressive set of teeth as to make me want to keep my fingers well away.  I kept this vampire fish pointing firmly North, whilst staying in the deep South myself. The teeth seem to be, in my opinion, well designed to grip and hold slippery, lively prey.  And so, although deadbaits are so very often quoted as the zander bait supreme, I am not so sure.  The other interesting feature is the eye.  Note its cloudy appearance.  A closely related species in America is known as the walleye, and it shares that same blank look in its eye.   It is probably due to the fish having a reflective retina, so as to improve its night vision, and it is this eye, above all other features that identifies the fish as being primarily a low light feeder.  

Catching ONE zander was of course never going to be enough for me, especially as that first fish was an entirely accidental capture.  So a second trip, specifically for a Trent zander was planned, albeit a year later.  The results would show, a) whether my ideas for seeking zander would work, and b) whether there were many more zander in the river.  Pleasingly that trip did indeed result in the river giving up of itself another zander.  Not huge at about five and a half pounds, but neither was it tiny.   My wife has always moaned that we never eat the fish I catch, and so, knowing that zander are supposed to be very good eating indeed, I phoned her and asked her to look up a zander recipe.  Her enthusiasm for me as a hunter/gatherer crashed immediately, and she refused point blank to have anything to do with cooking the fish.  Women!  The dogma of many years reversed in an instant. Perhaps that is what they mean by being good at multi-tasking?  Maybe the teeth  in my earlier photograph had put her off?   So, the fish, which had been recovering in the landing net, went back into the river.   Recovering?  Well hardly, as the fish had not given any sort of Olympic performance when hooked.  It had limped effortlessly to the net. I was quite disappointed.   The lack of scrap has probably been a factor in my not having fished for them since.  
The Very Perch-like First Dorsal Fin
I watched an angler fishing for grayling yesterday, in a river that I thought was not at all in the right mood for the species.  It was high, very coloured, and flowing a little too fast for comfort.  In such unsuitable conditions I would go and fish elsewhere.  This chappie soldiered on.  He complained of frequent bites but no fish hooked.  I suspected he was having other problems entirely, and suggested to him that the "bites" on his leger gear were perhaps not from fish.  He disagreed and so I suggested that there was one easy way to find out.   Maybe it is symptomatic of the spoon fed modern angler, but he was unable to see, without my helpful "hints", that if he fished without any hookbait and still got similar bites then they were not from fish. I despair at times for the modern angler.  So many are little more than pre-programmed robots in their approach to angling.   The river was, and still is very high, and full of leaves swirling past in the current. The river is very coloured, flowing at speed, and not easily fished at the moment.
  
 This lack of decent river fishing for grayling during the last fortnight, due to the regular, repeated rainfall, and consequential highly coloured water, has left me with the need to look elsewhere.   I looked for pike yesterday along the local canal,  My lures were ignored, or perhaps did not pass anywhere near to the resident pike.  And it rained, rained in repeated heavy short storms.  Some decorated with added hailstones.    I wandered along the towpath with a standard gents' umbrella stuck down the back of my coat, in a very "look, no hands" manner, and was able to fish efficiently, if for no actual reward. I got some very odd looks from the four man ladies' rowing teams that were sculling up and down the canal.  But at least I was dry,  whereas they, in their team T shirts, looked absolutely saturated and were quite obviously, even to the untrained observer, freezing cold.  Never fails to amaze me how some people will quite stupidly go out in the cold and wet to do sports.  A couple of the young ladies must be anglers as well, surprising me with their enterprising storage of 12 mm halibut pellets.

So despite the very definite attractions of another day's local pike fishing, tomorrow I shall once again head off with a zander in mind.   The aim will be to intentionally catch a zander, any size, any shape, any colour. The target will be a new water for me, one I have yet to see, never mind fish. I have been assured that it is a day ticket venue.  So, small zander with luck, and maybe I'll play with the bigger specimens at some time in the future.

There will now be a short commercial break, whilst I bugger off with my rods and you slip into something more comfortable to watch Coronation Street.
                                                                   ..............................
OK.  I have returned.  All on the edge of your seats wondering how my day went?  Well not badly to begin with,  the 100 mile journey was made in darkness, early morning, as I hoped to be fishing by about 3am.  Clear empty roads, no rain.   Until the exit from the motorway all was fantastic. Apart from the extensive road works of course...and those average speed cameras.   My SatNav cut in and "Jane" said
"Take the exit."
I did,
"At the roundabout take the 5th exit."    
There was a fair bit of traffic on the roundabout, and so, by the time I realised that the 5th exit would take me back along the same motorway, but in the opposite direction, I was stuck,  and had no option but to rejoin the motorway.  Travelling the wrong way.  At this point I had one of my frequent conversations with Jane.
"Stupid bitch!  What on earth are you thinking, you idiotic woman?"
And as I looked at the screen I realised that if I followed her next instructions, we would be doing another U-turn at the next motorway junction.   And so on ad infinitum, except that the biting fleas would all be the same size!   In order to avoid going round that loop again and again, I reprogrammed the SatNav to avoid motorways, and with a few more cutting remarks to Jane, I reached the first of 4 possible fishing spots I had chosen with Google Earth.  
I often end up having arguments with Jane.   And when by myself I can get away with all sorts of misogynistic comments, without any danger of retaliation, or prosecution.   I can say exactly what I like to the silly bitch.     Not so back home, but, having had a massive disagreement with Jane, I can treat an argument with the wife very differently.  I can stay calm and quiet, not shout at all and just respond logically and sedately to any of her shouted accusations.   It might still end up as a "3-day no speaking", but I just pretend it is not happening and speak normally.   BUT, all our female friends say that my tactics are unfair, and that I should really be shouting back.   Unfair!   Unfair it may be, but shouting back would still get me that 3 day Coventry treatment.

The other game you can play with the SatNav is to choose the "use shortest route" option.   All those trucks that get stuck down tiny lanes have chosen the shortest route option.    They may well have saved themselves three and a half miles over a two hundred mile journey, but now they are stuck, and it has taken them an hour longer to get there as well.    By car you don't get stuck, but you do get to see all sorts of new and unexplored places:  " Nether Wallop in the Wold" and similar.    I have found two previously unknown tribes in deepest Staffordshire whilst on shortest routes.

But, now two hours late, I finally cast in my two rods, each floatfishing with a starlight atop the float.   One close in, and near to a moored boat, the other near the far bank, and under a tree.   The location did not look at all like it did on Google Earth.   A series of apartment blocks have appeared since the aerial photograph was taken.  My eyes looked left and then right continuously monitoring both floats,  and after only twenty minutes the right hand float had moved a couple of feet.   I watch it slowly move a bit more, very stop-start, nothing definite, but my eventual strike made contact with a small fish.  It splashed briefly on the surface before shedding the hook.
In the dark I could only assume that it was a zander, and it looked not more than a pound or so.    Daylight returned, and I could see in detail a small footbridge over the water.   A metal sculpture was attached to the bridge, and featured birds and fish.   Surprisingly one of them appears to be a zander:  two dorsal fins, with the front one quite spiny. The photograph will pinpoint my fishing location to any local readers, but my meagre captures on the day are unlikely to have anyone rushing out there with their rods. The rain, which kept off during the journey, started as soon as I got out of the car.   Not heavy, but persistent.  I waited for a gap in the rain, brief though it was and then, after taking a small perch on a livebait and losing another 12 inch fish on deadbait, I moved a few miles down the road.  Here in the daylight the floats remained quite stationary.   The rain was a constant drizzle, not so fine as to be called mist, yet fine enough that it seemed not to fall, but to travel quite horizontally despite minimal wind.    The umbrella therefore did little to keep me dry, and the situation became thoroughly miserable.  Not many birds to watch either, although a female sparrowhawk flew by carrying a small prey bird in one foot.  One bright spot was provided by a pest controller, who was out trapping mink.   He was also not having any luck, which was a good thing, as he told me I was fishing an area which had a prolific population of water voles.   I didn't see one though.  Not seen a water vole for several decades.
There was some activity in the depths: a couple of deadbaits came back obviously suffering from the attentions of signal crayfish.   Finally a real  bite, and I struck into very momentary resistance.   Reeled in to find that my wire trace had given out.  A friend who has just stopped fishing had given me some gear, including some traces.   I should have checked them, for the wire had come adrift from the crimp, losing me the fish and a single hook. Memo to self: make up my own wire traces in future!
But eventually another run materialized, as tentative as the others and resulted in a zander on the bank. It almost seemed as if the fish had become exhausted dragging my very small float about  After catching a couple of the world's smallest grayling, and some minuscule pike in recent weeks, I can now lay claim to the nation's smallest zander too.
Tiny, but Already an Effective Predator.

Cute little fellow, taking a minnow deadbait half his own length.   I fished on three hours into darkness, but the lack of runs and the constant drizzle eventually took its toll, and I packed up and drove home.
So  200 miles driven, a day spent immersed in the drizzle, for a tiny perch and an even smaller zander.  Was it worth it?  Of course it was.   Was it worth you reading about it?  No idea.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Floods and Fish

The 26th of November 2012 and the floods warnings were both numerous and scattered across the UK. There was widespread devastation and those unfortunate enough, or perhaps daft enough, to live on the flood plains were again suffering, wading through their possessions in the lounge, climbing over ineffective sandbags to get out of their doors, and worrying that during the following year, they would no longer be able to get any flood insurance. But this year, 2013, after the inconvenience, they will have replacement sofas, new carpets and a well watered garden. And as I write, October 2013, my usual rivers are again pretty well unfishable hell and high water.

The news reels tell little of the trials undergone by the wildlife at these times.  Birds, especially ducks, probably see few if any problems, although during the breeding seasons birds that nest in or near the river banks might well suffer badly.  Kingfishers, dippers, and wagtails come to mind, and are unlikely to be able to fall back on the terms of their insurance contracts to reinstate their homes, or indeed their families.  Most wild animals swim well, and are likely to find safety.  Domesticated farm animals might be less able and so suffer.  Bred for their food value, cows and sheep are far less fit than the average fox or badger, and being possessed of  very low IQs, will often drown.

 Seeing a river in full flood is impressive.   I live near the Upper Mersey, a spate river.  3 or 4 years ago a
Receding, but Still Over Ten Feet of Floodwater, Well up the Bank.
major downpour raised the river level to an astonishing height. At one point where there is often less than a foot of water, flowing over a gravel bed, I observed over 13 feet of water. That 13 feet also widened the river at the spot by some 50%, and the speed of flow increased enormously.  I calculated that the river flow was increased by about 100 fold over the normal summer flow. You would NOT want to fall into the Upper Mersey when it is in this sort of mood.  It had become the colour of Cadbury's drinking chocolate, very turbid, with turbulence to match.  A veritable maelstrom, awesome in its power.  Full sized trees could occasionally be seen floating downstream at speeds approaching 15 or maybe 20 mph.  Smaller trees, and broken branches were more common.  
Entirely unseen is the mass transport of sand and gravel within such flows.   On the Goyt, the main tributary of the Mersey you can sometimes see, post flood,  whole areas, some dozens if not hundreds of yards long, ten or more metres wide, that have been covered by new sandbanks.   Whole areas of river change during a
"Sediment" Transported During a Flood"
flood.  One weir pool, some 30 metres square, 6 or 7 feet deep, developed a gravel island during the course of one flood, an island that occupied much of its previous surface area, I can only guess at how many tons of gravel had been deposited, and indeed, how many more tons were swept on downstream. The gravel deposition in each flood is very different, and depends not only upon the maximum flow achieved, and the "start condition" of the river, but also how long it takes for the river to rise and fall.   As each depth/time graph is different, so will the final outcome be different.  Think how hard it can be to walk against a strong wind, and then imagine trying to walk against 6 feet of fast flowing water, laden with sand and gravel. The pressure of water in heavy water conditions is such that some very large rocks can be moved away downstream.  Prediction of gravel deposition is very difficult, but it does not stop idiots building small scale Hydro-electric schemes.

Up at New Mills on the Goyt lives the Torrs Hydro-electric scheme.  A flagship project, and one that in its 4 or 5 years of operation has yet to make any profit.  But it is green, and allows people and companies to square back their shoulders and claim they are doing so much for the environment.  In reality the negative effects of such small scale hydro schemes far outweigh any advantages.  This is a lose/lose situation. Only the contractors and directors profit.  Of particular note is that the inlets to the Archimedes screws can get massively blocked by sediment transport during major floods.  In 2011 the Torrs scheme was inoperative for several months, from mid February until mid September, the inlet being completely blocked by silt and stone, and requiring extensive and expensive work to re-instate the flow.
Other post flood effects can be seen in the trees and other vegetation that line the banks. The local rivers have CSOs, combined sewage outflows.   Under flood conditions the rainwater mixes with the sewage, and the volume becomes such that the sewage farms cannot cope.   They just let it all straight through, raw sewage mixed with heavy rainwater run off from field, roads and roofs.  After the flood recedes, the highwater mark can be seen in the trees, marked by sanitary towels and other rubbish caught up in the branches.  Most unpleasant, but unless the money to deal with it becomes available, it will be a long time before this one is resolved.  Some river areas choose, or have chosen in the past, to dredge areas in which the river is prone to flooding.  This may well alleviate the flooding of properties nearby, but in reality it channels the water downstream far quicker, and there the floods will become worse.  It merely shifts the problem downstream.  Unfortunately such canalisation, confining the river between uniform high banks destroys the diversity of the river itself.  The uniform, evenly flowing channel is able to hold far less life, less in numbers, less variation of species.   

But what of the fish ( and other water living invertebrates)? How do they cope with a flood?  There has been very little actual research done on this. Understandable, due to the extreme conditions under which the observations would have to be made.  Most research has centred on how many tagged fish remain once river levels subside.  Much else is speculation, and that has to apply to what I will now write.

But the first thing to remember is that floods are not all bad news.  The scouring action, and the disturbance effect on the gravel means that large areas of stones will be thoroughly cleansed, very important to some of our rivers that carry input from sewage farms.  Such sewage outlets, added to sunshine and shallow water encourage the growth of some quite horrible brown algae. It coats the gravel, and often even your fishing line. To have a flood occasionally blast it all out to sea is very good for the river. Species that spawn in gravel benefit greatly from the cleansing of the gravel, which opens up the spaces between individual stones and allows ova and fry to shelter safely, and to be away from contaminants.  But a heavy flood at the wrong time of year can effectively wipe out all those ova and fry, resulting in very low recruitment to some year classes of fish. The flood washes away the eggs and tiny fish, in exactly the same way it cleans the rocks of algae. In the UK we are probably lucky, in that our floods and the dates that they occur, vary wildly year on year.  The young and eggs of coarse fish and winter spawning game fish will be differently affected by any particular flood, with some species possibly missing the negative effects that might impact another species. 

Have a look in the grass at the edge of the floodwater when a river is in spate.  Maybe you could use a child's fishing net.   At, or near the high water mark, you will almost certainly find lots of small fish, an inch or so long.   They have ridden up the edge of the river as the water rises.   The grass provides them with large enough areas of slacker water in which to avoid the full force of the flood.  In these areas they seem to feed as if nothing is different.  Floods seem to have absolutely no effect on minnow numbers. And so it is with the juveniles of other species.
Many larger fish will lie very close in to the banks of the river.  The edge effect will always result in a narrow band of  slower water, and by hugging what would normally be grass covered banks, some fish will be able to swim or take refuge in far less violent flows.     Most rivers will also have many natural eddies, backwaters, and areas where smaller tributaries enter the main streams.    All these provide slower flows.   Even a large rock on the river bed will provide areas of slacker water above and below it.  Such rocks might even carve out local depressions in the river bed.      There are always slacker areas at any point on the river, no matter what the height of the river.  Whether any specific slack is slack enough to hold fish in a flood, is another matter entirely.
As the river rises higher, bankside trees will be subsumed by the flow.   As they gradually submerge, so they create areas of slack water in their wake.    More refuges for the fish.   As the river rises further still, it might even break its banks and overflow.    Occasionally fish will venture out, possibly intentionally, perhaps not, into flooded fields, where they will be assured of a quieter life, if briefly.   For when the water recedes they will then have to find their way back into the main river.   Sometimes they may not make it, as this BBC link from May 2012 demonstrates. 
  

There are species that seem to be totally at home under flood conditions.   Ignoring the obvious: the salmon, fish like barbel and the humble bullhead are brilliantly adapted to live in fast flows.    Watch a mixed shoal of chub and barbel in clear fast water.  The chub are constantly working at maintaining their position.   Many of
Large Pectoral Fins Help a Barbel Hold Position Effortlessly
the barbel will be wholly stationery, scarcely flicking a fin.     Their body and fin shapes enable them to appear  glued to the river bed.   Such fish are far better able to cope with, if not actually to ignore a major flood, and may even be encouraged to feed more readily on anglers' baits.   Floods wash in food from the land, and disturb other food items that might have been hidden in the gravel, unavailable to the fish.  Any fish that can take advantage of such freebies will benefit.
But there are dangers for any fish that remains active in the floods, or is unable to find an adequate sheltered spot.  Shortly after heavy floods have receded, I have caught fish, usually larger individuals, that show signs of having been battered by the heavy water.  For instance, pike with red marks on their sides.    Visibility is restricted for fish in flood conditions, their eyes become useless to them,  unfortunate; for it is under those conditions that the most debris is being pushed downstream.   I believe the red marks to be where some object, a tree branch, a rock or perhaps just as often these days, a shopping trolley, has hit them as it passed by.   And the marks show.  A fish in the wrong lie in a flood is somewhat akin to being in one of those computer games where you have to dodge objects coming rapidly towards you.  Except that the fish are playing it blindfolded.
Fish Are Surviving in This:  Photo by Len Emory





But we can conclude one thing from all of this, a conclusion that has to surprise all those that have seen a river at its magnificent raging best.   And that conclusion is that the fish are well able to cope with such conditions.   Because, quite simply, after the waters have receded, most of the fish will still be there.







P.S.   I was reading "Mary Barton" by Elizabeth Gaskell this week.   A book published way back in 1848, a tale about Manchester life.  I never expected to find it containing an interesting fish fact, but it does.   Remember the Exocet anti-ship missiles that the French sold to the Argentinians?  And which they used to sink HMS Sheffield during the Falklands war?     Well, whilst reading it suddenly clicked with me that the missile is named after a fish.    The book tells of a dried fish brought back by a sailor, a flying fish, and lists its Linnaean name as being one of the Exocetus,  although the name seems to be more commonly spelled as Exocoetus.  Apparently there are about 70 species of flying fish, some of which are called  Hirundichthys,  which looks as it it might translate into something like swallow fish. ( Hirundinidae are  birds: swallows and martins, and anything itchy seems to be a fish).  Anyway, when the question next comes up in Trivial Pursuits,  or the Weakest Link,  I am now well prepared.