Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Targets Rescinded and Ignored.

In my last missive, I wrote about my prolonged search for a two pound grayling.   I have fished for grayling on and off for 2 or 3 years, and on odd occasions before, and I finally and recently achieved that two pound plus fish...and it was from a local water that I had more or less dismissed as being incapable of growing fish to such a size.  I was very pleased to be able to prove myself wrong. Spectacularly wrong, in that I have now found swims where more or less every fish is a pound and three quarters, or heavier.

One of my readers  ( a rare breed indeed)  asked me what my new target would be.   After some thought I have to say that, although I did write about the hunt for such a fish, it was not really my ultimate target at all.  My ultimate target was to enjoy just being there, being out in the countryside amongst the trees and wildlife.   A secondary target was to try and catch a few grayling,  their size was not that important, although I would be the last to deny that I do enjoy a fish that pulls back hard on the rod.       In my youth, having achieved that two pound fish, my next grayling trip would have been to try to beat that fish with an even larger one.  It would have been the be all and end all target of ALL subsequent gray lady chases.  In those days I only had one target, and it was that, regardless of the species I was fishing for,  to strive once again to beat my personal best for that species.   But in that I was wrong, or at best misguided and it proved not to be the way for me to continue fishing.  Regardless of how much success I was having, and I assure you it was considerable,  the targets just got ever bigger, and in theory more difficult to reach.  In practice I kept on reaching many of them. making the next trip even more of a challenge. And therein for me, lay disaster, a disaster I only averted by hanging up the rods and wellies for several decades.   I doubt that I could have continued in that way without eventually driving myself insane.

There are anglers around who are able to continue to point their angling along those lines.  Phil Smith is probably one of the ultimate expressions of such fishing.  Seeking ever bigger fish.  His recent book is even called "Targets Set and Achieved".   Phil started in the big fish game at about the same time as I did,  probably about 1966, and he has kept at it, although his targets have become wider.  One of his aims now is to catch a double figure barbel from as many rivers as possible.   It is an interesting aim, but not one for me.  If you are continually going to set larger or more difficult targets then inevitably you are going to have to travel far more, the local waters will have been, for some time, no longer holding any fish of a size that you seek. Hence Phil's chosen nickname on his blog  "Travelling Man".  In effect his success rate is going to be related to how far, how often and how widely he is able to travel.   Such targetting of ever bigger fish is going to get progressively more difficult.   I don't want to go all the way to Scotland, or all the way to Spain in order to be able to fish for the next roach I would like to catch.   I wish Phil all the best in his quests but my own have not run parallel to his for the last few years.   I understand that Phil probably wishes to profit from his angling, to sell books, write articles, and to an extent that aim dictates how any big fish angling writer must fish.  I have no particular wish to become famous, but I do wish to enjoy my fishing, every day that I go out.  And I will.  By NOT having any very important big fish targets.  

So since that grayling, I have been fishing for...even more grayling.  It would be nice to get another two pound fish, but I don't have any need to do so. And oddly I have been rewarded with a whole stream of fish between 1-12 and 1-15 over the last two or three weeks.  Fabulous fish all, but I should not have been significantly more contented had they all been a couple of ounces bigger, for that additional two ounces would not have made the fish any harder to catch.  Indeed I almost expect another two now, once the floods have receded a little and the rain has eased off a bit.

That is part of what happened way back.   I had changed from hoping to catch good fish, to expecting that I would land them.   And having that certainty is just not nearly as much fun.    The more I knew what was going to take my bait, the less I found I was enjoying it. No mystery.   Just inevitability.

I KNOW that if I journey down to the Frome, or up to Scotland I will be able to quite easily top up my best grayling. It is exactly what I would have done in my past, but the reality is that it would not take any more skill than catching my recent few fish,  And I would detest the motorway drive to get there.  Sure I would enjoy the day's or days' fishing, but, because I no longer need to meet a sized target, I have no need to beetle off  there.

Oddly, since I stopped angling all those years ago, and returned to angling, big fish of almost all species have become so very much easier to catch. Few of my old personal bests remain unbeaten. There are far more big fish of most species, spread across many more waters,  they are even bigger, and the science of angling, baits, tackle and methods have improved so much that these days anyone can catch big fish.  And to an extent, almost everyone does.  Of course I have said all this before, and let me assure you, if there is any better way of getting right up the noses of today's specimen hunters, ( and some olde school specimen hunters), then I have yet to find it.   Some get quite prickly when anyone suggests that fishing can at times be easy, especially if I mention fishing for big fish can be similarly easy.

So have I any loosely defined, casual new targets?  Well, if I can tear myself away from the grey ladies, another go for those big roach would be appealing.  Or perch.  Which of my old records have I not beaten during the last 4 or 5 years?  Only bream, carp and crucians remain undented.  Carp would not be too difficult to improve on. Of all species, the number of big carp in our waters has rocketed the most. A fair chance of my beating that P.B. even by accident whilst chasing other species.  Bream I would probably have to give some serious degree of dedication to up my best fish.  Crucian Carp? Beating my best Crucian seems unlikely unless I too, become that travelling man, and go to seek a very big fish in a known very big crucian water, looking for that one named fish.   That is not going to happen, it is not important that it does.  Over and above all that nonsense is the overriding wish that I continue to enjoy the days.  Beating my personal bests would be nice, but not at all needed.  And so, occasionally, you may well...no sorry...you WILL find me under that old bridge just seeking a few gudgeon.

Post script:

The local rivers have spent some considerable time, water levels too high to fish, at least for grayling.  The run up to Christmas, a bad dose of some evil throat infection, and Christmas itself have restricted my angling to just three trips to the river.   And secretly I might admit I could not be bothered with any stillwaters recently.

Trip one produced just a couple of small trout from a high river.   Trip two, still with the river high , and snow lying on the hills either side of the valley was just a midge's better.  There was a distinct snowline about 100 feet higher than my spot on the river.  Above the line the ground was white, below it remaining the scruffy green of winter. Dippers were executing the occasional fly past, but they didn't stop to watch me fish.   The half day session produced three fish, a couple of trout and a third fish that fought brilliantly, taking line, holding solid in the current, and generally behaving like a good male grayling, which it wasn't.  It was a half pound spotty, Foul hooked fish do not behave normally, their effect on the rod is very different, so different that it is usually possible, with experience, to tell that a fish has been foul hooked well before you get to see the fish.  Normally hooked fish, are hooked at what is effectively the end of a fishy lever, and can be steered, and often  pointed in a direction you wish them to go.  Once facing up the line they may actually help the angler by swimming towards him.   A foul hooked fish will rarely do that. A fish hooked on the dorsal, or pelvic fin will feel very lumpy and leaden, and will not respond logically to a pull on the line.   And carp especially, with their big sticky out fins are very prone to becoming foul hooked, especially when float fishing on the bottom for them.   My trout was hooked in the pectoral fin, close to the body and immediately behind the gill plate.  It did not show any sense of awkwardness when played, but for some reason I do not understand, it felt much much bigger than it actually was, and I had been sure it was a very big male grayling.  That small trout's fight though, was such that I was not disappointed at the outcome.
Trip three demonstrated the prophetic nature of some of the above text.  Three hours, one small trout, and three grayling all over 1-12, with the best being my second two pounder....that expected fish!   All three grays gave a magnificent scrap on the light three pound line, at times remaining quite stationary, against the pull of the line, the float being suspended, immobile, in the air whilst a fishy tug of war ensued, neither team gaining any ground.  Grayling are the only fish which seem to be able to do this stationary fight trick,  sometimes for nearly a minute, aided as they are by the strong current. Good to get out and amongst the grayling one final time before 2015 cuts in.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Emotional Highs and Lows.

Many years ago I came back from fishing, feeling very hungry, one Sunday night.   Shops and take-outs all long past closing time.   What to do?  I was still single and so did not have a well stocked fridge.  In point of fact all I could find in the cupboard was some curry powder.  But all was not lost, there was also the garden.  And so I made rhubarb curry.  And it was...er...edible.  I don't think I could be more effusive than that about it. It was certainly not in Michelin Star territory, more Michelin Radial.   But I made a mistake: I told a long time friend about it.   And she has never forgotten, and, usually in company, takes the Mickey whenever possible about my culinary skills. She has little or no interest in fishing, except perhaps as a possible alternative to the fish counter at Tesco's.    So it was with great surprise that I found out that she had listened to a Radio 4 programme about night fishing for sea trout last week.  The narrator did me no favours.   He compared night fishing to sex.  So my friend has now taken up a fresh cudgel with which to beat me.   She has decided that my night fishing has more to do with involuntary nocturnal emissions, than with intentional night time captures. And I know I will never see an end to the rib poking from her.  So I choose to dedicate this entire post to her.  She knows who she is.

But how emotional is fishing really?  In most angler's experience there are a few special fish, maybe special for their size, for the mode of their capture, or as the successful end result of a long campaign.   These special fish can have a dramatic effect.   After returning the fish to the water the angler can suddenly find himself trembling. Quite unable to hold and re-bait the hook.   I, in an unguarded moment, explained all this to Cathy.  Mad, bad move...more high calibre ammunition for the phase II Mickey taking to come.   The trembling is something I have only felt in two different scenarios, firstly, maybe a dozen times over the years whilst fishing, and secondly as a symptom of delayed shock following a car crash.   Uncontrolled trembling.   Heightened adrenalin levels?  Maybe. Either way the symptoms I felt were similar. Did I enjoy my crash? No, but by senses were very much heightened during it.  Adrenalin must play a major part in all this.

I continued my year long quest for a two pound grayling last week. Every trip has not been about that species, but probably a third of my fishing has been with them in mind.  Choosing a new swim, I travelled light with simple trotting gear, centrepin reel, light rod and headed for another area of the river, one from which I have only so far landed one grayling, but it was a fish of just over the pound.  Maybe the stretch holds other, bigger fish? I was pleased to find the swim very suitable for trotting, although on the negative side it shallowed up rapidly downstream, and was overhung with several trees that definitely got in the way of a wildly waved rod and line. But a long cast was not needed, and with a good depth only ten feet out from the bank, casting was not really needed at all.  The out of season trout soon made themselves known to me, and I was to take half a dozen in this short three hour session. All were returned quickly, none were large fish. But something I have noted before in recent weeks: the larger the fish, the slimmer it was. The bigger fish again looked very much out of condition at a time of year when I fully expected them to be at their healthiest and fattest.

The grayling stayed well away, maybe because the depth of water and speed of the current made any form of loose feeding very imprecise indeed.  Few of the red maggots would have sunk deep enough, quickly enough, and any that did would have become very scattered.  The grayling quest did not look good, until fairly late on, when I struck into a very good fish after a tentative dip on the float.  This fish fought well, and stayed deep, leading me to think it was another, much better spotty.   But after a significant scrap I suddenly saw that fin, the unmistakable dorsal of a good male grayling.  That fin must help a grayling in a heavy current in its fight against the angler. Any fish with a broad profile can use the current effectively. I have hooked a couple of bream in very fast water, water well out of the comfort zone for a bream, but each turned sideways on in the rapids and became almost impossible to draw back through the current. In neither case did I imagine that they were bream, unseen.
My mind now concentrated even more on controlling the centrepin reel, and after some more tourism around the swim, the fish was heading towards the net.  And it looked certain that very first two pound fish was at last mine.  I was already elated,  my emotions running sky high. Euphoric.  

And then the hook pulled out.

 The fish, just out of reach of the landing net, sank back into the depths.  And my emotional state sank equally quickly into a black hole, from which there would be no return. Certainly not on that day, as I was to have no more bites.  Only in angling can the emotions rock so violently back and forth, and so quickly. Only in angling.  And why is it always that very good fish when it happens?   I can answer that one easily:  the smaller lost fish are just not remembered, and don't matter so much.    They swim away with a wave of their caudal, and a flap of the dorsal. The required curses are uttered at the time, but the escapes of those smaller fish are then quickly forgotten. I determined to return the next day, to fish the same swim, with a secret desire to hook the same fish.  But the rain beat me to it, and it was obvious by daylight that overnight the river would have become unfishable.  The EA river levels site was, as ever, several hours behind the fact, and was of little use.   I did venture up later in the day to look at the river, without a rod,  and the water was still 18 inches up, going like a train and looked to be carrying more chocolate than the combined annual production of Belgium and Switzerland. But it was falling.

Day three saw me back with the rod, in the same swim. Fairly quickly a small trout took the trotted bait, but all then went very quiet.  The river was still a little above normal winter level, but I was expecting a little more action.  A dark coloured bird flashed past, a foot above the river and an equal distance below my rod tip.  My mind made an instant identification: a swallow.  Ridiculous, and having quickly told myself off for being so stupid as to think it a swallow in November, no matter how briefly, I settled back to the fishing.  A short while later the bird flew back upstream along the same path.  A kingfisher of course. During its first speedy flypast its blue colour was not on show.  I read that kingfishers are not actually blue, the apparent colour being due entirely to the structure of the feathers, which refract the light, generating colour in a similar way that petrol spilled on wet ground does.

Time for a rethink.  I was still not happy about where my loose feed was going. Was it ever reaching the bottom? Were the fish finding it? If so were they feeding?  And where?   I decided to set up my float in a stret pegging style.  It was not an easy option. The method is very badly affected by leaves drifting in the current. And this was autumn, with the river carrying enough dead leaves to disrupt Britsh Rail's entire Southern timetable.   Stret pegging is a very old fashioned method, allowing the angler to search out the swim on the bottom, gradually easing the float further downstream, its speed not at the whim of the current.  Few modern anglers have heard of the method, and many more will have never tried it.  Myself included, and I admit I was not even quite sure what it entailed.  On my return home I checked it out on the internet and had, luckily, got it about right.   After a short while my float, lying flat on the surface, trembled, and I struck into a good fish, which immediately went very splashy on the surface.  Another trout?   No.  A good grayling.  It spent quite some time refusing to come back upstream, and I just held the rod across the river, finger holding back on the centrepin spool edge, whilst the rod did the work of tiring the fish.  Even when exhausted the fish was near, it was not easy to guide into the net, the stream's power helping its attempts to head downstream.  But into the net it went and weighed 1-14.  It looked bigger than that, and I realised that the fish I lost a couple of days ago might not have been as large as I had proclaimed it to be.    Richard Walker, largely the founder of big fish techniques, once said "Of all fish, a big perch is the biggest of fish".  That statement is unlikely to be fully understood by any non angler reading this.  But I think he was wrong, and I believe that there is no bigger fish than a big grayling. So many male grayling look to be way over their real weight.  Again, emotions cut in.  But do I think "Wow!, my biggest grayling from the river", which it was?  Do I think  "Damn, yet another fish under two pounds"?   Or do I add more doubt that the river will ever produce a fish over the magical two pounds?

I didn't have much time to ponder. A couple of casts later another fish was on, and was staying deep, and using the current to make my work harder. I play fish very differently using the centrepin, consciously allowing the rod to do far more work.  But the grayling was landed, and with great anticipation was weighed in the net.  Over three pounds with the net, and I knew I finally had that two pound fish.  2-2 to be precise.   Having carefully returned the fish and sat back on my chair, the trembling began, rebaiting was just not going to happen for a minute or so. I was all fired up.  After all this time the fish I had sought was caught.  Not much later another fish of 1-13 took the bait.   My three best grayling from the river, consecutive fish on the same day. One more good fish shed the hook. All were male fish.   All adding to my theory that most of the bigger grayling are males.  

Once more the fish seemed to be shoaling by size.  I wonder why.  Maybe the bigger fish all migrate into the most des res swims, Maybe the swim has a better food supply and simply grows its fish rapidly? Or maybe these bigger  fish are all of one year class that is getting near to the end of school, and  have not much of their lives left?   As an aside I watched a TV programme recently which gave different meanings to the phrases "shoal of fish" and "school of fish".   I always thought them the same, but wondered why we have two different collective nouns.  My old OED also assigns exactly the same meaning to the two words.  The scientist in the programme defined a shoal as a loosely associated group of fish, looking very relaxed, and facing in various directions.  A school is what they become once they have a purpose, and thus become more tightly grouped, each individual facing the same way.  This may be as a result of feeding, panic, or moving their station.  An interesting separation of meaning, but I fear one that has only been assigned fairly recently.

As I watched my float, expecting a fourth fish, a goosander  surfaced not six inches from my float.  Only a half dozen yards from me and I was a little startled.  Not as startled as the bird, which flapped and splashed its way downstream in blind panic.  Goosanders are not very sociable, not people persons at all. It is rare to get anywhere near one. It must have swum past me sub-surface, for I had no idea of its presence.   Nice to see it, but it had killed the fishing.  A couple of hours later two much smaller female grayling took the bait, and it was then time to head home.  But a great day, and one that confounded my theory that the river would never give up a fish of that size.  Was it to be a one off?  Time will tell.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Pound Shop Swim

About ten or twelve days ago I fished for a little over three hours on one of my regular rivers.  The river was quite low and clear for a winter's day, but I had a really good session.  No shortage of fish, rather a surfeit of them, although a couple of dozen of them were out of season brown trout.   The trout were being a little suicidal.  None were over a pound, most much smaller. But the day was made by 14 grayling.   The grayling in the river this season appear to be in one of two size bands.  Between 8-12 ounces, or over about one pound two ounces.     I might simplistically say that there are two year groups present, the result of two separate, very successful spawning years, but I suspect it is a little more complex than that.    I don't know what sort of ages these fish might be.     The odd scientific paper I have read about grayling relates length to ages, and in that respect do indicate growth rates, but will in any case be specific to the river that the fishery biologists were sampling.   So I don't  really have any idea how old these two groups of fish in my river might be.     That I don't catch any smaller, or many in between these two size groups suggests that spawning is not very successful every year, although the numbers of fish suggest that if spawning is successful in one particular year, then it is very successful.   I read something else that described grayling as prolific breeders.   Maybe floods, or other river conditions largely wipe out the deposited ova in some years.

Of those 14 grayling, the last two were taken in what I have started to call my "Pound Shop Swim". The first time I fished the swim I landed  five grayling, all over a pound in a fairly short session.   I now quite often drop in on the swim on my way home, and it usually gives me a fish or two, and if I do catch, there is always at least one pound plus fish landed.   It is a useful end of day confidence boosting spot.

A couple of other trips elsewhere on the river also produced a few ( far less) fish, but then plans had to be abandoned.  I became ill. Very ill.   So ill that I stopped fishing for 6 days.  I spoke to the lad, who as a qualified doctor said  "Sore throat".  I mean:  5 years of medical school, Over two years as a hospital doctor, and the best he can do is a sore throat?     After my phone conversation things became worse overnight and I was struggling to swallow anything, and the throat was ever more painful, deep pain on swallowing, a prickly sensation on top if I actually succeeded.   So next day: see the GP.      She quickly summoned up all her years of experience and concluded I was not at all well, and prescribed for tonsillitis.   A diagnosis she was forced to revise when I revealed that my tonsils went over half a century ago, and I doubted that I have grown new ones.   But it is a little worrying that a GP, dealing with flue, sore throats, coughs and colds on a daily basis, cannot, even with that modern instrument of torture, the "tongue depressor", is unable to determine that I have no tonsils.  Now even I, as an ex avid consumer of TV cartoons know what tonsils look like: they are those those flappy things that you see in Tom's throat, dangling down and wobbling about frantically when Jerry has just done something else horrible to poor old Tom.   Maybe medical students don't get to watch Tom & Jerry as part of their training these days.  Oh yes: tongue depressor...wooden spatula to you and me.  So it was antibiotics to attack a mass of nasty material blocking my throat.   Except that I could not swallow them, even in liquid form.   Had to visit A&E overnight as, if I could not swallow the medicines, I figured I would not get better.   Additional stuff prescribed and I could then just about swallow the prescribed doses.   Eight days from onset, my throat remains sore, but I have picked up my rod and walked...several times now actually.   So all over bar the shouting....not that I feel my throat is quite up to shouting just yet.

So it was time to try yet another river. I chose one that I have fished very little.   As a kid my parents took me to picnic near it, and between banana sandwiches I fished for big minnows, one a cast...brilliant!    But then one day I tried a lump of cheese and was astounded to catch a decent chub.   Later as a teenager I fished it three or four times, catching bags of roach, dace and plenty of gudgeon.  There may have been some chublets in the keepnet too...cannot really remember.  So it is at least 50 years since I fished it.    
Male Pheasant
Nostalgia cut in deeply, and so I decided to fish near to where I had caught that chub.   As I walked down towards the river, I disturbed a couple of pheasants in the undergrowth, the flurry of wing beats being as diagnostic as their croaking calls. I didn't see them though.  In summer their croak is always followed by a short wing flutter, but I have no idea why they do it.  Maybe either linked to mating or territory I suppose.   The chub swim gave up no bites, and I hadn't really expected it to do so.  Even at the time, all those years ago,  I was surprised to find a chub there.  So I moved higher upstream, to a deeper spot just below a shallow rapids run, and was quickly rewarded with a decent gudgeon, and a couple of tiny dace.  Pleasing to see some of the  gudgeon remain despite cormorants, goosanders, mink, and if I am informed correctly, the odd otter.
A little later, another fish, silver with black mottled spots.  It was, as I was swinging the fish to hand, looking like another gudgeon, but no: a small grayling.  Grayling of an ounce or so could easily be confused with gudgeon...but only until you get a closer look at them in your hand.    Later I was to catch an even smaller fish, no more than 4 inches long.  A silver sliver of a fish.  And it was a dace until in my hand ...when the typical grayling snout and therefore the true identity of the fish was revealed.  Nice to see all these small grayling as it demonstrates good breeding success.   My usual river never produces any grayling for me of less than about 7 or 8  ounces.  Why it doesn't is an unanswered question, but suggests that in some years breeding success is minimal.  The day continued, with several more grayling...eight in total and four inevitable trout.   The trout all looked a
Small Grayling....Gudgeon Sized.
little thin, a surprise after a long summer, and so near the breeding season, although one was nevertheless well over two pounds.  Conversely many of the grayling had quite portly stomachs.  Back the next half day for more of the same, and as the grayling total for the two days reached 15, with no fish over about twelve ounces, I started to think I was again on the wrong river.   But yet another swim change produced five more grayling, each of them being a pound plus, three in the first three casts.  Maybe I have found another pound shop swim?   Somewhere else to drop a float in as I walk back to the car.     Two more half days, and two different stretches of the same river and my total grayling count was 43, with 6 of them over the pound.  Some of the grayling came from very shallow water under some overhanging
A Dark, Thin Spotty About to go Back.
trees.  Another similar swim gave up the largest trout.  Out of season but a very dark and heavily spotted thin fish, that looked as if it needed a good plate of fish and chips.  A couple or few more trout, and a solitary three pound chub completed the list for the four short sessions.   Very nice indeed.  
But it is not all about the fishing, especially when the weather has turned cold overnight.  But a welcome gang of a dozen long tailed tits, marauding up and down the banks of the stream, stopped to forage in a very nearby willow.  Some were as close as 6 feet away from me, their pink, black and white plumage very much on display as they acrobatically hung from the branches. 
My Wallace casting was briefly on display...luckily there was no audience.  Most of the time I was managing without any major tangles around the reel, and I had no need to cast any distance.   My first attempt though was nearly a significant disaster.  Having travelled light, I was seated on a small folding stool, and the cast unbalanced me.  I was heading towards the water. And as the old joke says: it was deep too.    But, calling on my skills as a unicyclist, namely a precarious sense of balance and blind panic, definitely not in that order, I regained my seat and remained dry.   But it was quite a close call.  The cold water of a river in winter has never seemed quite so near.
I had kept moving over those four sessions, having found that a few fish taken put the rest down...or maybe I had caught all that were there?   In one swim, I cast in, but then saw, in the overhanging trees on the far bank, a long dead bird. Probably a sparrowhawk.   It had become entangled.  I could not see any fishing line, but I am sure it was the cause.   Now I am not going to cast the first stone here, for I feel that the line was simply the result of a bad cast...actually a very bad cast given the location of the bird in the middle of the tree.   But tell me the angler that has never lost a float, nor a lead, in a far bank tree and I will show you an angler who never takes any risk, never tries for that bigger fish that just might be lurking in that little barely accessible corner, I will show you an angler who has far less fun.  But seeing the stricken bird does make me wonder whether I should continue to make all those risky casts.  Only the other day, I pulled a length of line from a bankside tree.  On winding it up into a ball for safe disposal, I found it had a small fly on the end of it.  A green colour.  Fly anglers also get caught up in the trees. Not sure what fly imitation it was but I'll call it a Greenwell's Glory.   One of few fly names I can remember from way back. Others were the Muddler Minnow, and the Hairy Mary.  I do wonder whether Hairy Mary was ever a suitable name for a fly, and just what materials it might actually have been made from?   But I don't wonder for long.
On seeing the dead sprawk, I was unable to fish that swim.  Too upsetting to see the bird hanging in
A Buzzard
front of me, so I moved twenty yards upstream.  A plaintive call high above improved my mood no end.   There were no less than five buzzards circling above me.   Five that the gamekeeper in today's news had not poisoned.    I know what sort of suspended sentence I myself might have given him,
and it would not be anything like the suspended sentence the judge gave out.  Late in the day I had a very unusual catch: a stone, a smooth pebble.  My hook had somehow slid into a caddis fly larva's case, and the caddis was attached sufficiently well as to lift the stone, remaining attached as I reeled in.
Late evening and a flight of cormorants in "V" formation passed over. Don't know where they were headed.  Some years ago I saw a flight of an estimated 3 or 4 hundred of them flying over Stockport.  I don't know where they were  headed either, but they would be trouble for some angling club or other.  

A Flight of Cormorants in V Formation.       ET   Eat Your Heart Out!
....and then the rains came.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Odd Fish or Two and a Lot of Irish Crows

I fished a small club pond recently, mainly to provide me with a change from the river, a session without having to travel to the ends of the earth. Wildlife was minimal: too many anglers turned up once it was way past their  breakfast, and only herons and a couple of moorhens added much needed variety to the usual woodpigeons.

Whilst on the topic of wildlife variety, I am sure that you will forgive my making a brief return across the water to Ireland. Ireland being the "Emerald Isle", it has lots of green spaces with relatively few built up areas as compared to England.  I had expected to see masses of wildlife, many different birds.  And there certainly were fair numbers of seashore bird species, gulls, curlews, oyster catchers and so on,  but further inland the birdlife seemed quite sparse, with very few different species showing themselves.  Almost all the birds I saw were crows: carrion crows, rooks, jackdaws, hooded crows and magpies. They seemed to make the most of photo opportunities though, and posed well for pictures.
A Rook ... Note the Pale Coloured Beak
    Very little else, but these species were ubiquitous, being present in large numbers almost everywhere. On a recent short day trip to a Yorkshire river I saw buzzards, a peregrine, kestrels and a sparrowhawk.   In Ireland, a full week of touring very suitable geography revealed just one solitary kestrel.  No other birds of prey at all.  I thought that the locals must shoot the buzzards and other raptors, but, I am sure if that were the case, there would have been far less crows flying about.
Hooded Crow in Flight. Very Obvious Grey and Black Coloration..
Jackdaw in Ireland, a Smaller Crow Species, Blue Eyes

That the crows allow people to get so close suggests that not many of them are acquainted with shotguns. The Irish do not like the crows, that is fully apparent.   I do not know what the shop in the picture was selling, but the shop name speaks volumes. I see all these species, with the exception of hooded crows, in England, but in much smaller numbers. The hooded crow I have only seen in Scotland, but they are very common in Ireland, and are referred to as grey crows by some of the locals.
The farmers in Ireland also do not seem to be in love with  the crow population. I would have liked to thank the farmer for his hard work,  enabling me to take this photograph:

But to return to that pond: I knew that if I caught at all, I would be unlikely to land anything huge, so made it a centrepin trip, with a light Avon rod to complement it.   Biggest fish was a F1 carp, not huge, but it provided a decent enough scrap on the light gear, and some much needed centrepin practice for me.  I made a mistake when buying this centrepin reel, two or three years ago.  It had never crossed my mind that such reels could be right or left handed.    So my set up is not ideal, and I have had to compromise by winding the line on to the spool in the "wrong" direction, in order to still utilize the additional features of the reel, such as the variable clutch. I don't use the clutch to play a fish, not to provide resistance when it runs, but it becomes very useful when transporting a made up rod. The downside is that it means I have to reel in anti-clockwise, but I shall cope. I am one of those awkward sods: a right handed angler who fishes left handed.   Next up: the Wallace cast.  Was Wallace a left hander?  A cack-handed caster?

The highlight of the day on the pond was in watching a guy with a roach pole in the adjacent swim. Now, I do have a roach pole myself... somewhere. One of those silly impulsive Aldi purchases, as I thought, "Good God, that's cheap." I know it is probably rubbish, a dreadful pole, but at the price it instantly became a "must have".  "Must haves" are for me, quite simply: "must haves", and so out comes the plastic. I have even used this pole once...only once.   So, as with my fly rod, it has yet to produce a fish for me;  not the fault of the pole, just a result of my impatience. I should have stuck with it a little while longer than it took to eat that sandwich.  So I am almost without any valid experience of pole fishing, especially using one for carp, which is what the guy next door was catching.  So that explains the need for the pinch of salt that I suggest is to be taken with what follows.   The said fisherman landed three carp, float fishing under the pole tip.  Watching was quite an education for me.    The elastic was stretched considerably with each hooked fish, and for a total period of time that might significantly dent that elapsed since the Big Bang...or at the very least the time that has elapsed since Fred Hoyle first coined the name. I believe he was taking the mickey out of a theory with which he disagreed, but the Big Bang name stuck.
It was taking an absolute age to land each of three fish,  yet I could see that he knew what he was doing. He was not, like myself, a pole newbie.  I eventually figured that the reality was simply this: he had no choice at all in the matter. He had to let the fish tire themselves out completely.  Why?  You may well ask.   With a conventional rod and reel, when the time comes to steer the fish into the landing net, there is an optimal length of line one has to keep between the fish and the rod tip.   The angler controls this length, he knows from experience how long it should be.    Too short and he is unable to draw the fish close enough to net it.   Too long and the fish becomes uncontrollable, once the rod is raised to the vertical in order to try and net the fish.  A vertical rod cannot exert effective control over a fish close in to the angler. Experience shows that the perfect length of line makes netting that fish quite easy, and any variation from that makes life more difficult.    Now to return to that pole. It is no longer the angler that has control of the line length.  It is the fish.  The angler can take off a section of pole, or add one on, both of which actions have an effect, but that stretchy elastic, with a heavy fish pulling on it removes precise control of the line length from the angler.   The fish,  even with their "last legs" amount of strength were wreaking havoc, Pole sections were being rolled out and rolled in, added on and taken off, but that outstretched elastic made it repeatedly difficult to steer those fish towards the landing net.   So the carp were taking so long to land, that they were very, very exhausted, and to be honest it did not really seem fair on the fish.  It was, all in all, quite a Fred Karno performance, and one by an experienced angler.   I had been thinking that the biggest carp must have been an upper double or a twenty, but as he left, the angler said his biggest fish was only about 8 pounds.  That fish was being played for a good twenty minutes.    I have abandoned any plans I might have had to try for a carp (or a barbel) with a roach pole.   It is just not right that fish should need to be played to such a standstill. 

Whilst sitting there, not catching much, or even catching the odd small tench and carp, the mind wanders.   Mine wandered back to bullheads, and the apparent amazing coincidence that the only bullhead I ever caught from the canal, in several years of fishing it, was my first fish from the venue.   But is that really so astonishing?   Of course not.    It is a rare event, but in this world so many events happen, that rare ones will occur, in total, quite often. Coincidences are to be expected!  A couple more from my own life:  
When I was about seven years old, my dad had a black Ford Zephyr six, a big old lump of a car.   Its reg was PMB 201.  One day whilst driving through a nearby village, we spotted, approaching us from two different directions, two other black Zephyrs,  having number plates PMB 203, and 204.   Coincidence, but not a miracle. Today it might be,  there were far fewer cars on the roads then.
I was once down in Mevagissey, Cornwall, and saw, on the dockside, a Marcos sports car that I recognized.  I left a note to the owner to meet me in the Ship Inn, at 7 PM.  At 7 PM, there he was, in the Ship, just as I expected. But he did NOT expect to see me, for he had not been back to his car, and hence had not seen my note.  Coincidence that his car was there, and more so that he randomly chose the same pub and time that I had chosen myself.  I always thought that he, coincidentally,  looked rather like Graham Hill, the racing car driver.  Now, with the wisdom that comes with age, I realize that he was probably, as a sports car driver, actually trying to look like Graham Hill, cultivating the 'tache and hairstyle, rather than coincidentally looking just like Graham.
Finally, I was listening to the radio last week.  Coincidences are all around us. A history program, in which two dates were mentioned   A.D. 2012, and 79 B.C.     We have two methods of indicating years:  A.D.  or B.C.   How much of a coincidence is it that those two methods collectively use just the letters A,B,C,D?    This one can be worked out mathematically and, if my mathematics remain trustworthy, comes out to about one chance in 15000 if just 4 letters are involved.   Coincidences DO occur, and there are so many events in each of our lives that such coincidences should be expected, rather than be seen as a surprise.  That bullhead was not really such a surprise at all.

With the rivers still low, it would have been very remiss of me not to have had another trip...or two..or even three for the grayling. I think I had four.  And there have been some successes, although that two pounder remains as ever, swimming about in my dreams.   Pound plus fish have almost abounded though, with about a dozen of them sliding into the landing net from various small rivers. Grayling, far more than barbel, seem to need our help when being returned to the stream. But whilst recovering they do provide that chance for yet another grayling photograph.
However I decided not to publish it, as I am sure that one or two of you would rather see something else.   One particular day was not so successful with the grayling.  The river had resumed its normal winter level, and was running a foot higher than it has of late.  I chose to fish a completely new area on the river and found "one of those swims". One of those swims that just looks perfect in every way.   Superb flow down the middle, large eddies on both sides of the river, a slack between two willows that seemed to grow as much in the river as out of it.  The swim looked magnificent and so I settled in. Initial expectations were fulfilled, with two half pound grayling and an out of season trout of about a pound and a half in the first three casts.   I was expecting, at that moment, to catch grayling all day long, the swim looked quite capable of such a feat.   It was not to be, and the next three hours produced just one more trout.  How can one's prospects nose dive so rapidly?   The day became worse, with heavy rain, blasted at me by an absolute gale, and conditions were quite miserable. Putting up a brolly,  I abandoned the grayling hunt and toyed between flight home, and chucking a bait into the eddies for a chub. I had to hook my arm over the brolly ribs in order not to have the wind wrest it from my grasp, depositing in on the other bank, or the next county.   I was glad I did change tactics, for about thirty minutes later my suffering was adequately compensated for, by a chub of 5 pounds 3 ounces.  Its size was rather nice, but what I most liked about the fish was its fantastic good looks.  By far the best looking chub I have ever landed, even if it was not a personal best.  Fish that look like this are in themselves a reason to go fishing, even without all the other reasons provided by just being there.  Unlike most chub, it was not a one rush wonder.  Many chub make one initial powerful rush on first being hooked, and then largely wallow their way back to the net.  This fish was a tiger throughout, and did not give up.  Another worrying minute or two for the barbless hook!
A friend recently caught his largest ever barbel, and published its photo on facebook.  A very good fish and I was very pleased for him, but I really did not like what followed, which was a series of posts about other people that had caught his fish, both recently and somewhat less so, together with what was almost a statistical analysis of its weight changes over the years. My chub looked so pristine that I am certain it had never seen a hook before.  Many large chub seem to have patches of scales that look badly arranged, and are not placed in  neat and tidy lines, suggesting that they have been caught before many times, harassed by a predator, or maybe damaged themselves during spawning or by accidental contact with underwater objects. I find extra joy in catching a perfect specimen, especially when I feel safe in the knowledge that I am the first angler ever to see and touch the fish.

A Superbly Stocky and Fit Chub


Friday, 3 October 2014

"There are no Rudd in Ireland."

It has been a mixed up fortnight, very mixed up.     My wife departed a couple of days ago to spend two months in the Far East with relatives.  No one to shout at me when I have done nothing wrong.  I'll really miss that.  No, I really will.  So before she went we had a week's holiday in Ireland.   I took a fishing rod of course.  Ireland is an odd place, wonderfully clean, very free from all the dreadful litter problems we have in England...although I did not get to see Dublin City, which may/may not have been similarly clean. I didn't have any trouble with the accents either.   The only Irishman whose accent is unintelligible to me is that of a friend's husband, a guy who has lived in England for many a year.   I have yet to successfully decode more than the odd sentence from him.   His wife tells me she had little idea of what he says either.

So: car, Holyhead, ferry, Dublin, avoid the toll roads, and then exit stage left, driving east towards the West Coast.   About 300 miles of driving in total.   I am not a fan of distance driving, especially on our motorways, but the Irish equivalents seem so much friendlier, so much cosier, and with very few other cars getting in the way.  The driving was so easy and leisurely, none of the frantic motorway stuff we have here. Those few Irish drivers who did take to the road, seemed positively scared to perform any sort of overtaking manoeuvre.  Even so the odd break from the road was inevitable and if there happened to be a big Irish lough where we stopped, then that must have been purely accidental.  

Incredibly clear water in the lake, several boats out fishing, for, I would think, trout.  I was already starting to think that only trout and salmon matter in Ireland. No licence is needed for coarse fishing. There was a noticeboard by the lake which was interesting.  It would appear that in Ireland the word jetski is a politically incorrect term.   You have to call them personal water craft.  So the next time one of these ruins your fishing just remember: you must ask them to try to keep their personal water craft at a greater distance.

The next stop was nearby a countryside statue.   
I don't usually find these things at all appealing, but I must make an exception for this horse and rider, made out of welded bits of scrap stainless steel.  This was truly artistic, and shows what can be done by real artists.  Of course I am not an art critic, and therefore I have no appreciation of what real art is, and so who am I to tell anyone else what a superb work of art this horse is?  But sometimes I myself feel that the only people NOT qualified to define art are the well known art critics and those artists that they promote.

I like this horse. I hope you do too. As for the Tate Modern...I would happily burn it down together with all its contents, and add any artists in residence to the pyre.

My wife is catholic, and so an assortment of churches monasteries, convents, roadside shrines needed to be visited.  Two amused me, one was a church out on the moors, or on whatever the Irish call moors, in the middle of nowhere.  It had a large sign outside.  "Stop and Pray".    I tried to convince the wife that it was an option, not a command, just a non-mandatory suggestion.   But she had to stop.   Later the same day, having seen a road sign pointing to a holy well, we had to find it. Ten miles and a lot of missing signposts later we eventually found the pathway to the holy well.  Right next to a handwritten sign in a garden, that accused the school next door of pumping sewage from their leaking toilets into the garden, together with a request that all people using the school should not use the conveniences therein.  So we walked up the pathway, quite a nice pathway, to the holy well.    The holy well was a hole in the ground at the base of a tree,  There were no fish in the well, which was about a foot square.  There was no water in the well either.  Now I fully realize that big G has probably got a lot on his plate at the moment, sorting out religious wars in Iraq, Syria, dealing with the occasional wayward priest, etc etc,  but you really would think he would have time to keep a holy well topped up and functioning.    I would not have wanted to drink from the well anyway.  A hole at the back of a tree might look, to some, rather like an excellent alternative to not being able to use the nearby school's facilities.

Well, I have come a long way with scarce a mention of fish, but you knew it had to happen, didn't you? So it will.  

In Sligo city there were two anglers fishing from off the town bridge.  Much to my wife's disapproval, I had to go and chat to them.   I wondered what they were fishing for. Salmon apparently.  "Lots in the river but they are not taking." said the guy fishing a bright red artificial prawn.   Easy fishing from the bridge, none of that silly casting and stuff.  Dangle and drift. Hook one and you walk off the bridge and onto a bit of spare land on the right bank to play it.  I didn't see any salmon...apart from these:
salmon parr, hundreds of them, each with its own bit of personal space.  Give me a few maggots and half a dozen "salmon" would have been on the bank in moments.  Being serious, I would not intentionally fish for them, too easy and quite unfair...probably illegal too   And in any case the tackle shop near the bridge did not sell maggots.
I did ask the dealer about rudd fishing. The owner of the only fishing shop in Sligo: Barton Smith's, which incidentally, is quite a big shop, said:

"There are no rudd in Ireland....not unless someone has introduced them."

 I was flabberghasted.  As Frankie Howerd might have said, my flabber was truly ghasted.   Rudd have always been, more or less, the most common species in Ireland, certainly until some idiot pike angler introduced roach into the Blackwater system over a century ago.  Roach do tend to out-compete rudd, but there are surely plenty still to be had.  How the owner of a major Irish tackle shop could think the rudd is none existent in the country is quite beyond me. Later in the week I stopped as I drove over the Royal Canal.  In its gin clear water, I saw very few fish.  Those I did see were roach, not rudd. In such clear water the fins of rudd would have been blood red, not orange. The tench, pike and other species must have been somewhere further down the length, hiding in weeds, avoiding the sun. There were none to be seen.
As I exited the fishing shop the wife was already moaning about my being near to the river again, rather than in the shops.  She did not quite get my "parr for the course" joke, and in any case tends to see being on holiday as having a whole new and different set of shops available.  I pointed her at
those shops and wandered off down to the harbour.  Looking over the railing I saw a movement. In the clear shallow water a small flatfish was wafting its way over the sand.  It stopped, and instantly disappeared from view.  I just could not see it at all, despite knowing exactly where it was. Impressive.  Another movement caught my eye to the left, and a group of grey mullet were heading my way.  There were perhaps a dozen of them, clearly visible, and posing better than Naomi Campbell.  They ignored small chunks of bread I threw at them completely, exactly as Naomi would probably have done, so I did not rush to get the rod out of the car.   As I watched the fish I was approached by a pleasant young Chinese lady.   I was a little worried as to her motives initially, but she was on holiday and just wanted to chat.  I showed her the fish, and she was fascinated.   Her interest may have been more menu driven than mine.

Later in the week, early evening, I was to see some hundreds of mullet in an estuary, all well within casting range, but Nina was putting her foot down. This was NOT a fishing holiday.   I was not best pleased and had to watch them drifting past, rod locked in the car boot.  I know when I need to lose an argument.  In a feeder stream there was also a huge shoal, certainly 500 plus, of small six inch mullet feeding from weed growth on submerged rocks in the stream.  Without a polarized lens on the camera, the photos are not worth the silicon they are burnt into, so I shall omit them.   So you must now just imagine a seething mass of 500 mullet crammed into a couple of square yards of foot deep water.  Fabulous, are they not? What a wildlife spectacle you are now witnessing!     I sneaked back early the next morning with rod and bread, but the larger mullet had all disappeared.  All that was feeding on the mud flats were a few curlews.  Curlews don't eat bread.

P.S.  Interesting fact:   I just did a little research on rudd in Ireland, and was surprised to learn that, like the roach, the rudd too, is an introduced species, as are bream, gudgeon, dace, carp, tench, perch and pike.  Ireland originally had no coarse fish, just some game species including those that can live in salt water: salmon, char and trout.

So, back home and in need of some fishing.    Grayling.    I had seen a swim I quite fancied, a few weeks back, but had not the time to fish it.   So I approached it yesterday.   Not an easy swim to reach, and I somewhat precariously edged my way across a 45 degree slope, to a spot that I thought might be a way down.   The slope was very dry and dusty, there having been no recent rain. A covering of newly fallen dead leaves and beech mast added to the negotiability problems.  On reaching my chosen descent route I realized that I needed a rope, so abandoned the swim.   I moved elsewhere and eventually had 4 grayling, a couple over a pound, and a few small nuisance trout.  I moved swims for that last cast, and dropped a bait a few inches upstream of a fallen tree.  Several seconds later I was playing a fish. A chub of about three and a half pounds had made the mistake of picking my bait up.  After one initial strong dash it gave up the fight quite quickly, and was returned.  First chub I have had from this stretch, so quite pleasing.  It would seem that a fallen tree will attract chub, even from a shallow stretch of river where their existence was not suspected.  Never pre-judge a river, there are invariably far more fish than those you can actually see.

I returned today, travelling even lighter, but with a rope.  I carefully negotiated the slippery slope, tied the rope to a tree, and descended further down the slope towards that swim. It did indeed look to have great potential.   Alas: on reaching the bottom of the slope, I could then see that I still had a nine foot vertical drop to the fishing spot. I gave up, and hoisted myself back up, grumbling a little.   A while later I found another way down, by paddling down a very steep streamlet, and with wet feet, I was able to get down to the spot, and was quickly playing a 3 ounce trout.   More clones of that fish followed, with only one small grayling and a single pound plus, but out of season, trout to add to the total.   Of more interest than the trout was a solitary bullhead.   The swim was quite disappointing, not fulfilling its expected potential, but I got to spend the morning in quiet peaceful solitude, with only three dippers for company.   I enjoyed watching them duck and dive in the stream, chittering away a few yards from me, for well over an hour.  As I was packing up, I heard a couple of noises, as if a stone had fallen from the bank onto the exposed bedrock of the river, which is running very low and clear.  Just as I prepared to leave there was a loud noise a few yards upstream, and I turned quickly to see a young lad falling head first down the cliff.  He was up in a moment, head already bleeding very profusely, and was shouting at me.
"What do I do now?  What do I do now?"   He wore a pale blue sweatshirt, already covered in blood.

I said he would have to walk up the streambed, showed it to him, the only way back up to the footpath, and that I would follow him.   I had no phone signal here and so it seemed best that, if he could get up under his own steam, then that was his best chance.  I could not have carried him back up myself in any case. He reached the top ahead of me, being a lot nimbler than myself, and by the time I had reached the top, he had disappeared.  After a short search, I walked back along the pathway which runs along the top of the bank, and adjacent to the grounds of a nearby school.   It was lunchtime, and there were kids on the field, some wearing the same pale blue coloured tops as the young lad.   I assumed he had gone straight back to the school.   I walked back to the car, pausing only once for a cast into another swim....which brought me a grayling of about a pound and a quarter. I drove home and once there, looked up and phoned the school, to explain what I had seen, and to enquire as to his health.   An hour later they phoned back to say that none of their kids was missing, but that they would contact another local school, whose children wore similar colours.  It was apparent that, if from the second school, the lad would have been a truant.   The school was too far away for a lunchtime trip down to the river.    I have heard nothing else since,  but cannot help worrying that he might have collapsed somewhere after disappearing.   If so he would then have been on a regularly used pathway and someone would have found him.   I was shaking a bit myself...not often someone falls out of the sky into your swim.   He was lucky in a number of ways:  I suspect that no-one else has fished, or even been to this very inaccessible spot for months, maybe years.  Ten minutes later and I would have gone, and he would have had difficulty finding his way back up the cliff. Had the river been in flood, and floods at this spot are often carrying six feet of extra water, he might never have been found.  And finally he was lucky to have survived the fall onto what are quite sharp rocks.  All in all quite an eventful day.  I can only hope he is all right, after treatment.  My son, a doctor working in A&E said that he would certainly have been given a head scan in hospital, as the risk of internal bleeding in the head was more serious than the external blood lettings.

P.S.  Now a day or so later, the police contacted me to say he was alive, had been treated in A&E, and would be up and around in a few days.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Beauties and the Beasts

Beautifully Camouflaged:  LSD ( Photo credit: someone else)
My interest in fish drifts out rather further than just the fish I seek to catch and those available in the local fish and chip ship on a Friday night.   In Melbourne zoo, a couple of years ago I got to see a fish that I have always classed as the craziest, most extreme fish in the world.  Indigenous to Australian waters, and maybe some other tropical seas, is the leafy sea dragon.   This is the sort of fish that you might only imagine with an unhinged mind, having imbibed an overly large dose of LSD back in the sixties.    And it is maybe quite appropriate that the initials of the Leafy Sea Dragon are also LSD.  This is a fish that has taken camouflage to extremes, extremes to rival the most leaf-like and un-life-like insect in the Amazonian jungles. Quite beautiful.
Wonderfully Ugly Beastie: the Red Lipped batfish.
Photo Credit  A.N. Other.
But another fish has come to my notice, that now holds pride of place as the weirdest fish I have yet seen.  The red lipped batfish... from the Galapagos....where else?    This fish is built on stilts, walks rather than swims, and with the apparent addition of Liverpool  lipstick is quite an ugly specimen.   So I just love it. It possesses such a seriously disapproving look on its face, and sits there like a flying saucer ready to take off.
My fishing this last week or so has also been undertaken in  similarly diverse surroundings. Most trips have been half days in gorgeous areas, delightful and peaceful stretches of river, but one trip was to an industrial river, with bare concrete embankments, and major roads just feet away from the stream.  Noise was not an option here, it was mandatory and it reverberated between the banks non stop.  Quite one of the ugliest swims you could imagine, with trollies and old tyres in abundance to complete the picture.

  I have still been seeking that elusive two pound grayling, and have, en-route,  been catching plenty of trout, certainly over a hundred, but mainly small ones, but with some eight or nine of them over a pound, and a single three pound fish.   The grayling have mainly been small too, with only a solitary pound plus fish for the records.   Change was needed. So I faced the concrete, a culverted stream on Friday last.  Saturday  was to be the river Dove, and Monday the Dee.

The Dee is a noticeably larger river than those I am used to, and although normally I seem to be able to find some fish, the Dee did not respond well to my instincts.  Experiences on the smaller rivers do not necessarily scale up to larger rivers.  Of about 25 Dee fish caught, only a couple were worth the bother, a grayling of 1-5, and another of about half a pound.   All other fish caught were tiny, a couple of ounces or less, and mainly 6 inch mini-trout.  Pretty little things though.  I did wonder why so many seemed to be exactly the same small size, and why they seemed a little better looking than the small trout I catch locally.  It took three days for it to finally click in my head, and so:  

STOP PRESS!!!     I have just been consulting a web page about identification of parr.  Salmon or brown trout?  And I can now reveal that the 6 inch brown trout that I had been catching in numbers were not trout at all.  They were and are salmon parr.     And, although I have, as far as I know, never seen salmon parr before, I am now absolutely sure that this is indeed what they are.
Single spot on gill cover, longer pectoral fin, deeply forked tail, and prominent parr markings.....and its nose looks different.  A salmon, so one more beauty!    And I won't be getting that one wrong again.   Just the sea trout identification remains to get sorted now.  That could well mean a session aiming to catch one or two.  Somewhere.  

A buzzard took advantage of my lack of suitable camera gear to fly low and close over the far bank, whilst another sat motionless on a low telegraph pole whilst I drove past it.  But the Dove was a far
Pound and a Half Grayling in the Recovery Position
better venue for me, buzzard photo, or no buzzard photo, and apart from quite a few trout up to about a pound and a half, there were no less than four  grayling over a pound to keep me happy.   One fought like crazy, even going airborne several times.  As I drew it over the net, I KNEW that I had finally caught that two pounder.   I knew it right until I weighed it.  1-12.  ONE pound twelve ounces. How on earth?    The fish just looked huge.    I could only conclude that a fish that fights unexpectedly well, kicking way above its weight, somehow colours the mind, and magnifies the image that the eyes are seeing.  Even out of the water it looked to easily top two pounds.   Rare that I am over 4 ounces out when guessing the weight of a fish less than two pounds.    But a beautiful male fish, so I was happy,
Recovered. Back on its Own Feet, Flag Raised
even if numerically disappointed.    I may have mentioned this before, but the first grayling I ever saw was in the Dove at Dovedale.   It was a large male, a foot from the bank, in 18 inches of water.  I was a yard away. Every hue and colour was clearly visible to me, the orange edge to the dorsal, the coral pinks, the purples, the blacks, greys and creams.   I fell in love with grayling right there and then.   The love was to remain unrequited for about 40 years.  It was that much later when I caught my first ever "lady".   Ask most members of the public what our most beautiful creature is, and many will say the kingfisher, or perhaps the goldfinch. None will ever say it is a fish.  The public never see fish other than that fat grey carp cruising the local pond or as occasional fleeting shadows in a stream, They never see the magnificent spotting of those brown trout,  They have no idea just how gorgeous is the grayling, and indeed some other fish, such as the  rudd or crucian carp are.  What a shame they will ever remain in the dark.

Red Admiral Butterfly.
Having said that, I did manage to photograph a red admiral butterfly a couple of days ago.   Another beauty.  Many people confuse the smaller tortoiseshell   with the red admiral.   My mother used to mix them up.   The admiral is a much bigger butterfly. And far rarer. It still astonishes me how insects such as these, so light and fragile, with such disproportionately large wings, can fly with such skill, even in a fair wind.  They may not have the flying precision of a dragonfly, but when two butterflies are engaged in their mating flying display, I am always spellbound at their reactions and maneuverability.

Dove Dace
Dove Trout
But what of that two pound fish?   I have  analysed my catches to date: about 70 pound plus grayling from 5 rivers.  Locally, one river stands out, with a high percentage of pound plus fish.  But they top out at about a pound and a half.   I feel that out of 50 plus fish, if all are between 1-0 and 1-11 then there is little chance of my getting a two pounder, unless I discover some new and far better swims.  The Dee, I can make no comment about, one fish of 1-5, caught during my one and only trip there.  So the Dove remains my best option,  4 or 5 trips have produced 8 fish over that pound, with 1-11, 1-12 and 1-15 being the top three.   Statistically, without actually going into the maths, I suspect the Dove is by far my best bet at the moment.    Especially as it is often no more expensive to fish than my local river.   What I spend on extra petrol getting to the Dove, I would lose in snagged and lost tackle if I fished  locally.   My last Dove trip produced grayling, trout, dace and minnows.  I did not bother to photograph some rather ugly beasts: signal crayfish.  All from a lovely looking stretch.  But what of the ugly culverted river?  It also produced  grayling, trout, dace and minnows. Exactly the same fish species.  And one grayling was 1-7, a good fish. The Dove had kingfishers flashing past  me all day long.
And For Completeness: A Dove Minnow

  But dippers constantly flew back and forth along the culvert, in between the concrete banks.   This tells us one very important fact.   Fish and birds care far less about where they live than we do about where we fish.  Are we really able to look at a swim, above the surface and have any real idea how attractive it is to the fish underneath that surface?   Do they care at all about the old tyres, the trollies and other rubbish?  Or does such junk actually provide more hidey-holes for insects and such on which the fish feed? Is the junk majorly beneficial to the fish, in the same way that incompletely  treated sewage is also beneficial to fish growth and numbers?   Should I moan yet again about the locals throwing in more ASDA trollies, or try and encourage them?

And finally, another beauty and beast photograph from this week. Not the best quality pictures, but kingfishers with food are not renowned for posing exactly where I would like them to be.  First picture exactly as it came out of the camera. The second picture is heavily zoomed and cropped.   But at least the bullhead can be recognized as such.   Kingfisher pictures with fish almost always seem to be with bullheads.  I can only suspect that the species is an easier, more sedentary target. The bird spent a good five minutes bashing this fish to death on the branch, before the eventual head first swallow.  Kingfishers seem to have a remarkably good grip on slippery little fish, never dropping them even as they bash them on the tree branches.   Impressive.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Missionaries etc.

After failing with the mullet in the last episode,  I drove back from Wales, eager to get stuck in and get the blog up to date.   I didn't succeed and it took me the best part of two weeks to get up enough enthusiasm to write the previous entry to this, by which time there was more than enough material for this new post.   I didn't take the direct route back from South Wales, but instead programmed the SatNav for "shortest route".  Always a risky selection, it can take you through fascinating places you did not know exist, and equally to just as many spots that you wish did not exist.  My route was to take me past Erwood Reservoir up in the Welsh Hills.  And due entirely to the times of the tides a few hours before I neared the water in the early morning.  I didn't see it.
Erwood Reservoir is in There, Somewhere.
   It was covered in a mist that seemed almost as thick as the old pea soup fogs we had to endure when I was at primary school.   Anyone remember those thick yellow smogs, those that showed actual texture as they swirled about you?  The texture always reminded me of those white swirly marbles, the ones you just hated to lose in the school playground. They had a name, but it escapes me now. Would any modern mum today allow their healthily and safely groomed little boys to crowd around a dirty old grid in the school playground?  So thick was the fog that crossing the road was a hit and miss affair. If you were born after the clean air act, you probably cannot imagine, not even remotely, how bad those smogs were.

This second picture demonstrates just how wet and humid the air was on that Welsh morning.   It shows small bushes leaving condensation trails in the light wind.

I arrived home in time to prepare for visitors the next day, three of them: a cousin, his wife, and sister in law, who were to stay for 10 days.  10 days with 

Those of you that know me well, and some that have perhaps drifted past me at rather greater distance, will know me to have no vestige of religious belief. An atheist from about 5 or 6 years old,  when I first shocked my grandma, by telling her I did not believe in Santa, and then compounded her horror by adding "and I don't believe in God either".  So to have a missionary for a cousin is a bit of a genetic deviation for the family.   
My cousin started out OK,  running away from home at about 15,  into drugs and drink, became a snooker/pool hustler to survive.    After a few years something went seriously wrong.  He met a girl, found God and even joined a church!  Religion, in any of its forms will always be a mystery to me, but there is no doubt that it can have very beneficial effects on some people. I admit to being astonished by, and full of admiration for, what he has done with his life. 
The girl is now his wife and together they have spent the last 12 years in the Philippines, actually living in a tiny one up/one down in the squatter area.   When the squatters have no water or electricity, neither do they.  They are funded by their church.   They build churches for the locals, construct small lockable houses in the squatter area, help them get jobs, run bible study classes, arrange burials, train up locals to do the same sort of jobs themselves, provide medical help...even as complex as getting doctors to do cleft lip operations and similar for free.    All they have to do in preparation is to feed up the patient so that he/she can survive the operation, and then get them to the theatre.  As medical procedures, hospitals and medicines all cost money in the Philippines, and you can buy all medicines, prescription or not, from the chemists, they have learned how to treat quite a few conditions themselves.   Healthy mother...healthy baby schemes etc. etc.   They are very busy, and it is all very, very commendable what they do.   120,000 people in ONE square kilometre.     I had the odd discussion with him on religion of course.  Not quite sure if he was so keen on the bible as to actually think the world was made in 7 days, but not far off.   He got up at 6 am to read the Holy Book, and after leaving here is going off preaching in Denmark!  Heathens, those Danes.  I would have liked to have asked him exactly what happened to make him suddenly see God so clearly, but felt it was too personal a question. 
River Dove
I did no fishing but we did walk up the River Dove in Dovedale, seeing a couple of fly fishermen
( upstream dry fly) and a very few fish.  But one was a large grayling, well over two pounds, making me wish I had a rod to hand.  I have no idea how much it would cost for a season ticket on this very famous stretch of the Dove.   My pension would probably not cover it, and, as far as I could see with my polaroids, the fish population is not at all prolific.   But the scenery...wow!

Fly Fishing on the Dove.

Spear Fishing on the Dove

So, ten days acting as host, hotelier, tour guide and chauffeur.  It was far better than I expected, no arguments, no awkward moments, and I actually enjoyed the visit, despite the lack of angling.  Anyway the three of them have buggered off now, leaving my atheism undented.

Since the departure of the missionaries I have had four short sessions on the local rivers.   Quite a few fish, including a couple of good dace, maybe 7/8 ounces, fat little dace.   The 4 hour session a few days ago produced , all from one single swim:  4 grayling, the best going 1-5 and 1-7, and no less than 26,   yes,    TWENTY SIX,  T W E N T Y   S I X,     brown trout.   None over a pound, but they certainly have become prolific.  Hard to get through them to the grayling.   Maybe time to make a fool of myself with the fly rod.
Nice to see the kingfishers and the dippers again though.  And on the same trip a peregrine was making a few flights near me.  At speed, not chasing anything but flying up river, under the footbridge, then turning, gaining maybe 50 or 60 feet of height and flying along the top of the tree line and out of sight. As it flew it seemed to jink, ever so slightly, side to side.  Photo:   not a chance in hell.  A birdwatching friend suggests that, from my description of its looks and flight characteristics, the bird is
Young Mandarin Ducks...Male at the Rear?
more likely to have been a hobby, and not a peregrine.  Also have been seeing quite a number of young mandarin ducks,   obviously recently abandoned by their mothers.   4 on one river, a pair and two singles much further downstream.   I don't know, but strongly suspect that they all start out looking like females when young.  But one of them was getting a reddish tinge in its bill...so I suspect a male there.   Saw one on the River Dove too, in Dovedale when walking with the missionaries.    
From That....to This

I suspect that they are breeding so rapidly in the UK that they would be considered invasive, were they  not so completely gorgeous. Note also in the first photo, just how well they are camouflaged against the gravel. The drake should enjoy the ability to hide whilst he can, for it will not be long before his camouflage will be replaced by an utterly outrageous costume.

The last of these trips was again chasing the grayling, and produced three small ones, and ten brownies, one of
Deformed Brownie
which was a very deep individual, looking as if it had a serious genetic defect. The final fish hooked was one of those to which the mind instantly thinks  "Hello, hello, hello, what's this then?"    It rapidly informed me that it was a much better fish.  Initially I wondered whether it might be a very large trout.   Four years ago in the same swim I caught a wild brownie of 5 pounds 13.   A huge fish.   This time, although I had the size about
A Nuisance Barbel  ;-)
right, the species was incorrect. It was a barbel, about six pounds, which on  a light Avon rod of ten feet ten inches length, gave quite a spectacular scrap.   The upstream half of my swim had a tree trunk lying across it, some 4 or 5 yards out, and the fish swam very near to it more than once.   One thing you cannot do with a rod is to push a fish away from you or away from a snag lying in front of you.   You may be able to influence its depth and direction but only slightly.  Of course with the light rod and three pound line intended for grayling, the fish stood very little chance.  ;-)  !!!!  

Let's get all controversial now.

Being serious, playing a fish such as that on very light tackle really ups the adrenalin level, and makes you think out every moment of the scrap. Keeps you worrying, and knowing that at any moment you may well lose a fish adds greatly to the event, and I think it a great pity that so much angling is done these days with very heavy lines, lines that the fish has no chance of breaking.   It takes the skill out of playing a fish entirely.  I would recommend ( probably with much opposition from many others) that all anglers should have some light tackle sessions.    It is quite simply far more fun.

It is not all that simple of course, for different anglers have different views.  We seem to have a lot of anglers these days who I might describe as being somewhat primitive in their wishes.  They just want to hook and land fish, one more to the tally, one more photo for the mobile phone  (does anyone ever print photos these days, myself excluded?).  They care little about their surroundings, little about anything but their tally of fish.  These anglers ( mainly carp, pike and barbel anglers) will often use a line which is so strong that, once hooked, a fish can only escape by a couple of means: a hook pull, or by reaching a snag.  The fish is just not powerful enough to be able to break that line.   Some, a little less primitive maybe, will seek to justify this by saying they have no wish to leave tackle in the fish's mouth, no wish to leave it trailing line.  It does not solve the problem of snags, and a hooked fish, reaching such a snag may well become entangled, remaining so even after the angler has pulled for the inevitable break.   I have read of carp skeletons being found, near snags, with guilt-ridden heavy line being seen nearby. With lighter lines that snagged fish might have been able to break free.   That argument will always be seven of one, half a dozen of the other.  I will continue where practical to fish with lighter lines than most others do.  The thrill of the fight is greatly heightened when you know that the fish is able to beat you, on its own terms,  if you mess up the playing of the fish. The fight somehow seems fairer. The odds not stacked greatly in favour of the casino owner. On heavy line a visible snag is no problem: you just stop the fish, easy peasy.  On lighter line you have to think quicker, and act intelligently, ....and for the odd fishing missionary, there might be a prayer or two to resort to too.    The rest of us have to employ skills not needed by the users of heavy gear.   Whatever method the angler chooses to use, one essential is that the hooklink be lighter than the other sections of the end tackle. It there is to be a break...it MUST be on the hooklink, so that any fish, whatever line it is hooked on, only has to carry a hook and a small length of line.

P.S.  You might well be wondering why my Avon rod is now a couple of inches short of its original eleven feet.  Well, a certain idiot, whilst climbing an embankment tried inadvertently to harvest some blackberries with its tip.  Result:  a repair, at the 1st joint down from the tip, and a rod a little shorter, two sections of which no longer fits the travel case, having been repaired with superglue.   I think that might be the 3rd or 4th rod I have broken within 12 months.   Clumsy or what?

Time for a quick 5th trip down the river before finishing this article.   Hang on a bit, would you.....

Something odd just  happened on the river. I had landed a good dace, using the same tackle which landed the barbel the other day. The tackle had not be dismantled, the rod had just been folded, line and end tackle intact and thrown into the car.   So I trusted the tackle.    My next cast resulted in one of those three inches rapid raps on the rod tip.   Just that, nothing else, and so after a couple of minutes I reeled in and found my hook and 12 inches of hooklength entirely missing.  I did not feel a snag, and to move the rod tip three inches would have taken no more than a couple of ounces of pull.   All I can imagine was that as the fish bit, it dragged the line around a sharp snag, cutting it.  So I then moved downstream.  This river is an old industrial waterway, full of the rubbish of centuries.  The bed is littered with the bricks and stonework from long demolished riverside buildings. Modern idiots and companies have added innumerable shopping trolleys, old tyres and other rubbish to the mass of old tree limbs and trunks, the sanitary towels and condoms, that also litter the river.   The river is probably the snaggiest in the UK, and the swim I chose next was undoubtedly the snaggiest on the river.   Willows 4 or 5 feet above me, and others a couple of yards to my right together with a huge overhanging willow reaching far out above the water greatly restricts any casting into the stream.   Knowing I will lose tackle here I always set myself a target.  Today's was  "when I lose seven quid's worth of tackle I am packing up." I rarely fail to reach such a target in this swim.   But by going over the wicket, throwing a curve ball and casting carefully, using a downstream wind to bend the line like Beckham around the overhanging tree, I was able to fish a bit of the swim that previously had always been unreachable.  And it worked well for me. After a tiny roach and dace, three grayling were landed, two well over a pound with one at 1-7.   I was well pleased, both with the result and with how I had fished.  Tackle wise, I managed to keep within my limits and the trip only cost me £6-40 in lost end tackle.
 A passer by stopped to chat, saying he often spent a few minutes just sitting quietly there.  I asked whether he watched the kingfishers and dippers, but he said he had never seen one.  I explained how best to look for kingfishers ( I had seen a number of kingfisher flypasts earlier), and whilst I was explaining he spotted one himself.  The first he had seen in his 45 year lifespan.  I was thrilled for him.
But still the two pound grayling evades me.