Friday, 9 October 2015

Of Voles, and Dragonflies, of Carp and Crucians

Missing out, at least temporarily, missives about perch, roach, barbel and grayling trips, I want to mumble a few words about other bits and pieces.  I needed to have a few sessions that were very casual, almost trivial, and to fish for other species, in waters that I would not usually visit regularly.
So firstly I particularly wanted to catch some crucian carp.   These were always my favourites as a very young angler, fishing on the club pond, getting on towards dark, using lift method with a pinch of breadflake a couple of feet from the bank in three feet of muddy water.  The bites were typically crucian, delicate, little pimples of bites, barely registering on the small floats, but using the lift method made it all much easier, and most bites were non too difficult to hit.  Then that vibrating fight, making the rod tremor as the fish struggled frantically to get free.  Finally having the fish curl up its tail in the hand as it was unhooked, a gorgeous little teddy bear of a fish. Bliss.

Not surprisingly then my first choice of venue was also a small club farm pond.  The lift method was
Little Cruician
frequently used in my early angling life, and the bites now, on that same method and same breadflake  ( although now Warburton's rather than  Mother's Pride) were just as satisfyingly minuscule.   But as before, they could be hit, and as the afternoon wore on a good thirty crucians came to hand.   All of a size, small, their growth in the pond probably limited by their numbers, stunted growth as we used to call it, and also restricted by the competing hoards of small rudd they shared the water with.   Other animals seem to die in lack of food situations, fish just appear to reduce their maximum size, whilst still becoming fully mature adults. Quite a few of those rudd in the pond also liked the
Tiny, but Colourful Rudd
bread, end I greatly enjoyed the short three hour session.
Roach poles in my youth were archaic pieces of angling tackle, used only by a few Southerners of extremely advanced years, on the rivers Lea and Thames.  I had still never seen one when I stopped fishing about 40 years ago.  On my return to the fold 6 or 7 years ago they were then commonplace, even locally, and frequently used for carp of all species!  When did elastic appear in the system? I was shocked somewhat by their frequency, but I did buy one a few years ago.   It has remained in its bag...until last week ...when I determined to have a go with it, on another club water, and also for crucians.  Not the best of poles, costing about 60 quid.  I understand people can pay as much as fifty times that for a really good one.   However there are limits, both financial and temporal as to how much I was prepared to invest on a pole. Two days later, I had only one crucian, maybe a little over a pound, to show for my efforts.  But, in words straight off a can of tuna, my first pole caught fish.  I can see some advantages to using poles, but I am unlikely to frequently suffer what I see as their many disadvantages.
I took the pole to a third pond, a new one for me, but it remained in its bag, and I used an eleven foot
Morning on the Pond, and the Little Patch of Lilies
Avon to fish bread for another two crucians, a tiny mirror carp and one roach.   All day I ignored some carp that were smokescreening in the shallow water close to and in front of me, only feet from the bank.  I don't think I have used the word "smokescreening" since first reading it in "Stillwater Angling".  But these carp, even in already muddied, clouded water were subtracting visibly from their visibility. Eventually though I gave in, temptation proved too much for my feeble determination to ignore them, and I cast a bit of groundbait, moulded into a paste, to where I had seen the fish, very near to a small clump of lily leaves. It was not long before the float sailed slowly out towards the middle of the lake, and after a short scrap a mirror carp of about seven pounds was landed.  Another much smaller common followed just before dark, on the last cast of the day.  The crucians were very pale in colour, so pale that I momentarily doubted their identities, but the coloured water had discoloured the fish quite dramatically.

Sunday ( Oh my God, I just mistyped that as Sinday, possibly in an accidental confirmation of my atheism ). Odd too, how so many of my mistypes can get quite Freudian.    So, Sunday and yet another club water, one I fished just once before, catching quite a lot, maybe as many as 50, crucians on the occasion.   This water is very clear and deep.  Few spots have less than 15 feet of water, even near the bank, and so the pole was not even considered.  I cannot imagine how anyone could ever land a substantial fish from such deep water on a pole. So I suspect it may once again be gathering dust for quite a while. I had 16 feet of water in front of me, a short cast out, so with the Avon rod I still had to get a little inventive so as to be able to float fish that deep, lift method, without having to use one of those awful sliding floats.

I had not wanted to resort to legering, because right through this season legering has caused me a major problem.  Line Twist!   Not something I have noticed much in other years, but this year it has been dreadful. I am careful when loading my spools with new line, to ensure that the line comes off the supply spool without twist.  It gains one twist per revolution as it goes onto the fixed spool, but this disappears on the cast, becoming twist free in use.  There is an alternative I see recommended, which is to get the line coming off the spool sideways, in such a manner that it loads on to the reel without twist.  After considering both I prefer not to have twist in a cast out line.    There are three things which can add twist to a line during use:

1)  use of the slipping clutch.   Each revolution of the clutch adds one twist to the line
2)  use of a baitrunner does exactly the same.
3)  when reeling in, if the end tackle spins it adds twists.
It is also just conceivable that the end tackle could rotate on the cast as a result of the movement through the air, but I doubt that is really happening.

I don't use the clutch, preferring to reel backwards and the baitrunner has not really moved much at all. So, when using a feeder I have intentionally been reeling in slowly, and, as far as I can tell, the feeder has not been rotating on the retrieve, certainly not in the final few yards.  YET, after only a few 40 yard cast with new line, with either feeder or lead, I am seeing hundreds, if not thousands of twists in the line.  With the lead dangling from the rod tip after reeling in, it can rotate well over a hundred times. 100+ twists in about 4 yards of monofilament. So 40 yards of cast suggests as much as a thousand twists in total.  I have not as yet worked out why it should be so bad, as it seems to defy all the physics I know.  The state of the line gets so bad that twists near the reel, having cast out 40 yards three or four times, have been causing tangles, impeding casts and generally being a nightmare.  My only solution to date has been to keep replacing the line.  Every two or three trips!    Luckily I use line that costs just £1-29 for 250 yards, and that I split three ways.  The financial cost is minimal, but the time taken reloading spools is time that could be better spent. The only other clue I have is that, since I started checking, the twists are always in the same direction, the lead rotating clockwise, seen from above, as it dangles from the rod tip.  New line on both rods yesterday,  I only cast each rod 5 or 6 times, and yet I once again have the problem.   But I WILL get to the bottom of it.

So the float fishing has been a welcome change, and on Sunday, having thrown my bread upon the
The First Of Many Mirrors
water, it was not long before I started to see lots of the usual crucian type bobs and bobbles on the lift method rigged float.  Unusually though, I seemed unable to hit them.  Crucians are of course totally unable to multitask. Eating and swimming at the same time seems completely beyond them, all of which explains the minute movements seen on the float when fishing for this species.  Then I did hit a bite, but the rod tip on the light rod stopped dead, as if I hit a snag. But no, it was obviously a fish, something bigger than a crucian, and proved to be a mirror carp of six or seven pounds, good fun on the three pound line and a one pound test curve rod.  Twenty minutes later, another carp, after more missed twitches, and I started to think that the twitches on the float, today at least, were not crucians, but rather bigger fish, carp, waving their fins about and nudging or disturbing the line. By 9AM I had three more carp, all very much of a similar size, all on bread flake, some giving superb flat float bites.  I learned to ignore the minor tremors of my float. The crucians just were not there.
A Young Vole is Unable to Resist a Few Pellets
As the sun got higher, the bites ceased for a while, but the wildlife became interesting.  A sparrowhawk, a female, traversed the pond in front of me. A grey heron also crossed the pond.  One of its legs was drooping badly, and I fear it must have been broken.  A heron that has to hop around a pool loses much of its stealthy approach, and I fear for its future.   Later three buzzards were circling directly above, their shrill cries quite loud.  Two of them appeared to be having a bit of an aerial dogfight, whilst the third gained height in a thermal at a speed that greatly surprised me. A family of voles appeared to live in the front edge of the fishing platform on which I sat, occasionally venturing shyly out.  I tempted them out some more with a few pellets and gradually they became less shy.  Two fully grown individuals, one more greyish than chestnut, and later in the day one or more younger voles joined in the feast, nipping out, grabbing a mouthful and then scuttling back.

Soon the bites returned, and another three anglers joined me on the pond.  I was able to advise them that it was fishing well, probably silly of me, as they settled into the next two adjacent swims.   As the day went on I began to feel for them, as they were getting no bites, yet in my swim, the carp just seemed to keep on coming, every fifteen or twenty minutes.   In the very still conditions I could hear them speaking to each other as their words bounced off the still surface of the pond.  "He's bloody well got another one!", "How is he doing that?", "Never even seen him here before"  and other similar comments.   They were doing their usual thing: legering with boilies, and a method feeder.   Maybe the splashes were scaring the fish...maybe the carp had had quite enough of fancy baits.     The carp continued making my float dance and kept on taking the bread flake.   To cut the story short, I finished with 18 carp, two F1s and a really bright gold goldfish.  I estimated my total weight to be about 150 pounds of fish, my highest ever single day total.   The carp were all between six and ten pounds...well the best might not quite have made that mark.  Nothing huge, very uniform in size, and every one a mirror.  Maybe because of the deep water they were all very dark fish, and quite snub nosed, not in any way pretty fish.  I still think of mirror carp as being ornamental, suitable for display ponds rather than angling, but these were to me, very ugly fish indeed. Give me a common any day.  
A Deep Bronze F1 Hybrid
The two F1s were better, deep antique mahogany in colour, and I think, the only decent sized F1s I have caught, with the best about four and three quarter pounds. I have very limited experience of these hybrids, bit I admit these two were very good looking fish, and compared to the significantly larger mirror carp, put up a far better scrap.  That is the first time I have ever had a good word to say about F1s.   I can see how they might be better appreciated now.  Are  all F1s fully scaled, similar to commons, or do some have mirror like scaling?

The goldfish weighed 1-13, a good fish I guess.  I have caught very few goldfish, my only other
A Handful of Gold
remembered gold one being from many years back.  I was surprised at how similar to a crucian carp the mouth on this fish appeared.  As I was driving home I suddenly thought that it would have looked rather good in my garden pond, where in company with my crucians, tench, gudgeon, bullheads and stone loach, it would have been the only fish we would have been able to see regularly.  Of the other species, at most I see the odd swirl of water from a fish I have disturbed in passing.  Too late the thought, but as taking the fish would have broken club rules, maybe it was for the best.

From lunchtime on, as the sun broke through the mist, quite a number of dragonflies appeared, together with the odd damselfly. Various sizes and species, and as I watched them,
At Rest, Guarding its Territory

Mating Pair
marvelling at their incredible skills in flight I missed a few bites.   A pair were mating on woodwork close by, and several were flying in tandem pairs, some laying their eggs.  I had put a ball of bright green groundbait, moulded into a paste, where the voles could access it.  The carp had previously ignored it, but not the voles.   Nor did the dragonflies, and one dark green individual, of similar colour to the bait, actually attacked the bait ball several times.   I had seen other dragonflies, at rest, take to chasing intruding rivals, some even seeing of members of other species.  They were reacting to movement. But I was quite surprised that a dragonfly would also attack something stationary, but of very similar colour to itself.  I can only assume from this event that they must have colour vision. I know they have the multi faceted compound eyes, but wonder whether each of those compound eyes is effectively just a single pixel, or whether each has a significant number of pixels.   Looking at their flight, and their obvious recognition of colour, I suspect the latter.
A Large Green Dragonfly Making One of Four Attacks on my Grren Bait Ball
On My Knee, Enjoying the Sun

Very late on, on the very last of the last casts, a single crucian took my bait.  A deep and clear-water
fish, being fairly dark, but its colours were far more crisp and clearly defined than those of fish taken a day or two before, from coloured water.  But I shall not be rushing back to this pond. I'll leave it to the other members.  It is very nice to have such a huge haul, but mirror carp are not my favourite fish, and so once will be quite enough for now, thank you.

All in all a highly entertaining day

Late Update: Having made contact with the a representative of Natural England, I learn that dragonflies do indeed have colour vision, and additionally are able to see some frequencies of ultra violet light, and also to do some things with polarised light. More details were sent for me to study, but I'll not overcomplicate things here. I am surprised, but when I remember that Homo Sapiens has had perhaps a couple of million years of evolution in our history, compared with a hell of a lot more for dragonflies, which back then  probably alighted on T-Rex's knee, then I should not really be surprised that a modern dragonfly is such an incredibly sophisticated insect.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Four Rivers, Four Short Trips.

After so much time spent on stillwaters, tenching, followed by a couple of angling trips to highly industrialised areas, I had need to once again see moving water.  As chance would have it, I made four trips to four different streams.   Barbel were still in my mind for the first trip, and although the river is NOT known for its barbel, and has actually produced very few of them for anyone, I was determined to have a try. There are several swims that, were barbel definitely present in the river, would definitely hold barbel.   Of course it is still me, judging the river by its cover, or surface, whereas any barbel would be looking at entirely different factors.  So take the word definitely with that pinch of salt. 

To give myself the best chance on river one, I arrived about midnight, edged cautiously down the steep bank, and hurled lead at two different areas of the swim.   The noisiest thing that then happened during darkness, was the totally silent bats flitting past, and them occasionally tripping over my line.    No barbel, no chub, nothing.   

I had time to ponder, and started to think about galaxies, and spiral galaxies in particular.    The spiral arms are a sure sign that the whole of the galaxy is rotating, that it has a large amount of rotational energy. But when the galaxy first formed it cannot have then shown any spiral characteristics.  They could only have developed as a result of the rotation  itself.   Initially though, there must have been some structure, blobby areas of dust or gas clouds or some such, from which the arms might develop.  As gravity drew it closer, so any inherant rotational energy would have formed the flattened disc, and as the matter structures condensed, they would tend to string out. In a manner similar to the planets in the Solar System, as the stars/dust/gas clouds got closer to the centre, so they would tend to rotate faster, in order to preserve  constancy of angular momentum.  Hence the spiral would be generated.   The idea I then had,  which I realise is certain not to have been missed by astronomers, is that somehow, it must be possible to use the tightness of the spiral to measure how old the galaxy is?  The mathematics is way beyond me ( and I am myself no slouch with numbers),  but I wonder if this might be part of how they calcualted how old the universe is?   Are globular galaxies far older, their spiral structures obliterated by time, or are they galaxies with little initial angular momentum?  No doubt I shall spend other biteless nights thinking about this one...and getting nowhere.

 Daylight, and I converted one rod to fish for smaller species.  This was a good plan and eventually I had landed 4 grayling, with a couple of the fish being about a pound.  Unusually: no trout.  In this area of the river I invariably see and hook a trout or two: but not on this day.  The river seemed far more devoid of fish than in any previous trip.  It also had more signs of angling pressure.   Worn banking, litter, and signs of someone being very obnoxious: toilet paper.  This was very near to a giant hogweed plant,  one of only two examples I have ever seen on this river.  I hoped, probably without much real chance, that the plant had managed to burn him seriously where it might hurt him the most. The first plant I had seen on the river was destroyed a couple of years ago by the council.  I destroyed the new plant myself, being very careful indeed to avoid the sap.

Trip two, and a different river, one I have fished very little these last two years or so.   I found a delightful little spot, and fished generally, not bothered as to the species I might catch.   Early morning dog walkers passed by and one stopped to chat, asking what fish the river held.   After a few minutes he asked whether he knew me.   I thought not.  But as he then appeared to correctly guess both my Christian and Surnames I concluded that, after all, he maybe  did know me.   He was on my university course, back in the late sixties!   I didn't recognise him at all.   Coincidence indeed, and a sign that my memory is not keeping up with others in my age group.  And he was a couple of months older than me.

The river is small, and I feel that, if I am not catching or getting bites, it is time to change swims.   As I prepared to do so, a large splash at the waters edge drew my attention.   I thought it a fish, but minutes later a rustling in the vegetation proved to be a mink.   No more than 4 feet away.  It wanted to get past me and move upstream.   I prepared the camera,   and when it did finally pass, took a quick shot.    Of course it is blurred from movement and poor focus, and is now deleted from the camera.  I was surprised that close up it was a deep brown, and not black.  Maybe a young one?     I was to see three more in different swims that morning, another single beast, and a pair that were obviously together.  They provided me with another blurred photo.   All were a deep chestnutty brown.    I am sure all I have seen before were black. Definitely mink though.   The last swim I chose was at the base of a very fast ripply section.  A "V" of fast water spiked on down into a large wide slackish pool, the "V" reducing in width as it went.    I decided to lob a bait into the far border of the fast and slow water.     It then started to rain: hard rain, and I sheltered as best I could under a standard sized gentleman's umbrella.   I was travelling a little too light again.  On the other side of the river was a concrete culvert, carrying little more than a drip.   Within 15 minutes this became a torrent, and I could see the river at the far side of the "V" turning grey from the new water.  It was motorway run-off: Grey and smelly water, made worse for being the first significant rain for some time.   I knew from previous experience that it would put the fish off, and so cast shorter, to the clean, closer part of the river. The first bite  had been some time coming, but finally a vicious bite.  On the strike a fair trout jumped, and soon a fish of a little under two pounds was drawn over the rim of the net.  The rain had stopped, but a goodly amount of water had been dumped in a short time.   Soon the rest of the river turned grey, as other motorway run-off slipways upstream, had added their own disgusting load into the river.   I knew it was time to go.    

The trip to river three nearly didn't happen.  I had planned an afternoon and evening session, but as I reached for my rods in the utility room, a crack of thunder preceded a huge short downpour.   Not knowing how long the rain would last I left the rods where they were, and settled down to read.  As I did so I heard a drip, then a lot more drips.  The ceiling over my bay window was leaking water...a lot of water. The rain soon stooped and I rushed to get the ladder and climbed up to find the two inch recess atop the flat roof was full of water.   The drain had become blocked, and the easiest overflow path was into my lounge.   Not difficult to resolve, but annoying when I had decided it was time to head for the hills and the river.  I arrived on the bank later than I expected. A young dipper, already free from the influence of parents, was messing about in the shallows nearby.  It did not yet have the white chest. All the characteristic actions of the species, but minus the uniform.
It was already 4 o'clock before my float made its first trot down.   Again grayling were my target.   A target  set and not achieved.  I could not get past the trout.  Around 16 or 18 of them, all between 6 and 12 ounces.   Apart from one.   I trotted the float down near the far bank , an upstream wind helping the light rod and centrepin keep the bait near the far bank, and as the float drifted under an overhanging tree, it bobbed and disappeared. A trout, looking all of 12 ounces immediately jumped, and then gave a truly virtuoso fight.   Down river, up the river, never showing itself at all.   I didn't quite understand how it had so much power and stamina.   Eventually it surface and splashed, and I could see I had underestimated its size.  But it was still no more than a pound and a few ounces, and the fight was more akin to  that of a four pound fish.  It didn't feel to be foul hooked either.   Once it had splashed it was to keep doing so, no matter how much I kept the rod tip down.  It ran back to where I had hooked it and splashed on the surface, quite heavily, for a good 25 seconds.  As I netted it a short time later, I had concluded that any more fish from the swim would be less likely than winning the lottery without having entered.     The fish though, had the misfortune to have been hooked in the adipose fin.   As a result the scrap was somewhat orgasmic,  it did not feel as if it had been foulhooked, and did not seem to get tired at all, always wanting more.   Even in the net, after an unduly long scrap it was still full of energy.   My very next cast though hooked another fish, also a trout ,in exactly the same spot.   The splashing had had no effect on the other fish at all, but seeing the float in the encroaching darkness was now getting too difficult, and I went home.  

Yesterday, trip four , river four.   Another small stream, one new to me.  I had walked the bank once, but without a rod to hand.   Most of these small stream are shallow when the flow is low, and, using polaroid sunglasses it is often possible to become absolutely certain, that there are absolutely NO fish present.  Odd though it seems, the fish have the ability to completely disappear at times.  Subsequent fishing will often completely dispell that, and swims that seem vacated of fish, become alive with them once a bait is stealthily introduced.

A pool below a rapid seemed as good a place as any in which to start, and a large lump of bread accompanied a single swan shot leger, was tossed in just to the edge of the fast water.  After a while I decided to recast, and as I started to reel in I thought I had a little knock.  My reactions were too slow, I was already winding in.   So I cast back to the same spot.  and a short while later the rod end rapped a couple of times, and a hard fighting fish shot up into the rapids above me.   It proved to be a chub, a little over three pounds.  Blank saved.    Next cast a little further downstream.  Whilst I waited, a dipper, an adult this time, did an upstream flypast,   followed a few minutes later by the return trip.   The bite, when it came was a small trout, maybe a half pound or so, but one that liked bread.    Time to move on, and things did not continue so well:  one swift, missed bite trotting maggots down a shallow run.  A couple of kingfishers flashing their way past.   I moved on, finding a deeper swim below a dangerously overhanging big willow.  The bread remained untouched, and I could just about see it on the bottom in the clear water, three or four feet down.    Any fish would have been invisible: havont not the colour contrast to highlight its presence.   The rod was resting immobile between my fishing stool and a willow branch.  There was a lot of hogweed nearby, some of the smaller plants being within a foot of my feet, and I confess that, after all the recent hoo-hah in the press about the dangers of hogweed, its presence made me quite nervous.

A sudden voice behind me, belonging to the guy who looks after the stretch of river, startled me, and
Sandpiper, White Wing Stripe Visible.
caused me to turn around.  Looking back, a couple of sentences later, the rod tip was curving downstream, it was bent but static.   Something had happened as I spoke my greeting.  I think it was a fish, the rod had been unmoving for far too long, but if a fish, it was already in the tree roots, and eventually I pulled for a break.   No more fish, but it was pleasing to see a sandpiper flying up and down a couple of times, to and from a bank of gravel, displaying a distinctive white zigzag across its wings, as I walked back to the car and the end of the session.    As all sandpipers seem to do, it flew fast and low, with very stiff looking wings.

Finally, did everyone see that match report in the Angling Times this week?  New match record.   Over half a ton on carp in a 5 hour match won the prize.   Half a ton of carp, averaging 8 pounds.  doing the maths, that is one 8 pound carp every two minutes, allowing the odd moment for rebaiting and casting in.  The fishery owner claims his fish are well looked after, but a carp every two minutes sounds like skull dragging to me.   Anyone wish to take bets on the lips of those fish still being irresistably kissable?
A quote from the article: "sometimes 75% of the stock is caught in a match"  So are we saying the fish are all caught every two or three days? Again and again?   Yet they are still hungry, despite hoards of anglers "feeding every 30 seconds...or else they move next door"  which was one quote I read.    It all defies realistic description.

 I am wary of being too critical though: when all has been said and done, waters like these keep the match anglers well away from the places I want to fish.

It has taken me a while to publish this and for that I apologize.  In the meantime a few more small river trips have materialized, and the catches of grayling have been improving, and the trout have been ever present.   More, maybe, in the next sermon.

A final, final bit:  one other blogger recently reviewed some tackle on sale at Aldi.   He particularly liked the cheap, small one man shelter.  Another item, unreviewed, was a case of floats.   My wife has just gone to the Ear East for a couple of months, and although she disapproved of my fishing whilst she is here ("The smells! The smells!"), it would seem that she is encouraging me to fish whilst she is away.   So she bought me the tube of floats.  Do I sense a suspicious woman? I shall not make comment on the floats themselves, but, included were some hooks to nylon and a circular, 8 segment box of lead shot.  7 different sizes.  Wonderful.  Look at the photograph.     Each segment contains exactly ONE shot, no more, no less.  I find that rather amusing, taking economy to its very  limits.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Apocalypse Last Week

It has been a long time since I did any serious walking,  a mile or two, quite often, but anything longer seems in the dim, distant past.   So I decided to have a far longer stroll, and chose Salford Quays in Manchester as the destination.     I'll tell you the end result, here and now, rather than at the end:   serious aches in the legs and ankles after walking about 12 miles.   But after a couple of days I definitely felt better for it, and will have to get back to taking such longer walks more regularly.  The Quays is Salford's old docks, served by the Manchester Ship Canal. Locks close off the canal, and the Quays are unlikely to ever again have much, if any at all, boat traffic. A few ships still use the canal though. So the Quay lock gates have been closed for years and the pounds, or basins as some are called, are effectively cut off from the Canal itself.     As a consequence there is no water flow through them, only rain and very minor seepage between the lock gates ensures a steady water level.   The level in the canal itself is controlled by additional huge locks further downstream, and is, I think kept fairly constant.   I say downstream because the start of the Canal is in fact really the River Irwell, dredged out to some 25 feet deep, 36 miles long and I would guess some 90 yards   wide.   Nearer the sea it follows part of the route of the River Mersey, of which the Irwell is a tributary.   Together with the steady water level, comes great water clarity, and provided that the algae is not "breaking" it can be easy to see a good 12 feet or more deep into the basins.  So fish can often be seen.  I watched a carp of about 10 pounds idling away its time near the basin wall.   As I left the Quays, an angler was just unloading his car.  I admit to being surprised at how much gear he had with him.  A very large piled up wheelbarrow carrying of all sorts of stuff, enough to enable him to survive an apocalypse.   He was after the carp.  One of his bags contained his beer, he said.   Another had in it an electric battery powered drill.   I guess this was to drill anchor points into the concrete banks for his bivvy.  But also all the gear, several thousand pounds worth I suspect,  looked to be brand new.   How on earth he keeps his tackle so pristine I have no idea.   Mine always looks battered and used.  Maybe because I use it and don't worry too much if the rod hits the odd tree or two as I change swims.

I walked back into Manchester along the Ship Canal.  One good fish swirled as I passed, maybe it was another carp. I didn't see it, and I don't think it had seen me.  I determined I should fish it soon.  But first, the next evening, I watched a small fishing match, on the Piccadilly basin of the Rochdale canal, right in the city centre.  The match was won by about three pounds of roach, including some nice half pound plus fish. The winner had to cope with a bunch of youths behind him, break dancing and generating some interestingly and highly scented puffs of smoke. Roachpole fishing is something I have no experience of and it was rather educational to see it. I can appreciate the advantages, but for my own style of fishing I suspect that it is all too much of a bother.  Too much messing about for me.  Or as the locals might say: "I can't be doing with all that."  But very good to see goodly numbers of fish so near to the centre of Manchester.

This Week's Rant:

At sometime during the fishing match my mobile phone was sabotaged.  I have never been an expert with a mobile phone, despite my life-long computer industry background.  A situation that my son takes great advantage of, in order to poke fun at me.   He suddenly had an ally.  That damned woman in my SatNav, she who must be obeyed, or perhaps argued with, had moved, and set up home inside my phone.  When I pressed the "go" button, she started to read my screen, quite loudly, and very annoyingly.  "Twenty-one thirty two":  she announced was the time.    "Battery seventy eight percent full",  and so on.  Worse still, as soon as I touched any on-screen key, or even just the screen itself, she announced my actions to the world.

"e key pressed".

As I typed my password, she made a vocal confirmation with every key pressed.  Being security conscious, she did say: "full stop", "full stop"  rather than repeat my actual password letters.       Worse was to come.   She took great delight in telling me, whenever I  touched the screen,  exactly where I had touched it, whilst not allowing me to slide a finger across the screen to accept a call.   I was unable to answer the phone.   What is the point of my having a mobile phone if I cannot answer the very occasional calls that come to it?   I concluded that some special feature must have become enabled, maybe a switch to help a blind person, and that all I had to do was to go to the "settings" screen to revert it.   She shouted "settings" as I touched the key, and I found I had to then make two more quick taps in order to action the key.   Up came settings,  but the first screen did not contain the required change.  And then disaster:  slide would not work here either.  I scraped off several layers of skin from my forefinger, desperately trying to scroll down to page three of the "settings" screen.  Every time I touched the screen she would again tell me which part of the screen I had touched:

  "Wifi", "Data usage", "Bluetooth".

But would she allow me to scroll down? Not a chance.

My son was off in the Far East, swimming with whale sharks, and I was quite jealous of the lucky so and sod. Huge beautiful fish, up to 35 feet long, exclusively plankton eaters.  Pretty yellow spots.  I had texted him the day before, suggesting he use two krill on a size 14 hook, but didn't get a sensible reply. But he was not, being under water, and 9000 miles away, able to help me kill off this loud mouthed smooth telephone operator lady.   By this time my wife was joining in, taking the Mickey at my total incompetence.     Desperation had set in, and I plugged the phone and its resident woman  into the computer, praying for 240 Volts, then upgraded and reloaded the phone's system software.  That procedure might have actually impressed my son, had he been able to watch,  but it didn't deter the lady in the phone.  Instead she got even stroppier, and it took me a good 30 minutes just to figure out how to re-enter my security codes, whilst she was rabbiting on and intercepting my every key stroke.   Eventually I got past both the phone password and the SIM password, but to no effect. She remained.  I was getting increasingly annoyed and frustrated by this time,  calling Sony and the Three network all the names under the sun. So I finally bit the bullet and went down town to the Three shop, where none of the five staff were able to resolve the problem.   But they did put me in touch with Sony support, and the gentleman on the line had seen this once before.   And he revealed to me what must be a closer kept secret than was "Little Boy" during the war.   You can also scroll by using TWO fingers at the same time.   I did so, with my two fingers configured so as to show the lady exactly what I thought of her.   It worked and I was able to scroll down to an "Accessibility" icon, under which a feature called "Talkback" had mysteriously been turned on.  "Accessibility"...really? It had rendered my phone totally out of bounds.  How on earth a partially sighted person would have coped defeats me.  I had not changed it to "Talkback" myself, and had no idea that the feature was there.    But sanity returned, the world order was re-established, and I was already wondering whether the wife might have a similar off switch, as I rode the bus back home.

The next morning, early, having travelled light, I set up two rods by the side of the Ship Canal,  or "The Shippy" as it is known locally.  I did not think that it was worth my while to try for a carp, especially on such a big strange water, so I put in a smallish amount of bait and decided to look for a bream or two, or some roach.
Manchester Ship Canal by Night
The last scientific report I read about the Shippy was a technical evaluation of its water quality, and its flora and fauna.   It was said that the roach lived in the upper layers, and, holding their breath, dived to the bottom to quickly search out a bite to eat, the lower levels having more or less zero dissolved oxygen.  This report was maybe ten years ago, and I feel things might be better now, so determined to bottom fish.  The depth was not the anticipated 25 feet,  maybe little more than ten.  Probably, because I was fairly near the Irwell, a spate river,  any sediment carried during a flood would tend to settle out once the flow rate decreased, so I think I was fishing over a good 15 feet of slowly accumulated sediment.

One rod breadflake, one maggots, both with a maggot feeder.   As daylight dawned I could properly see my surroundings.  The bats disappeared.
Ship Canal Decoration
The carp angler's apocalypse had occurred.  As far as I could see, every square inch of the substantial concrete banks and walls was covered in graffiti.    More paint than the spray can manufacturers could have made surely? And how do these people summon up the cash for so much paint?  People who create graffiti are either artists or idiots.  There were a few artists on display, and many of the idiots who "tagged" their own names over the good stuff.   I quite like good graffiti, and certainly there was little real harm done in it being here.  It would require considerable work by the council to transform this post Hiroshima bombsite type environment into something nice, and into a state where graffiti should not be tolerated.

But I did see a kingfisher flash past me, and a kestrel hovered over the far bank. So maybe the devastation is not so bad as mine eye thinks?  A good three dozen swans sailed past, followed by the usual Canada geese, and the odd mallard. Swallows and sand martins also cavorted over the water.  The advancing light soon revealed a number of old car and truck tyres around which I would have to steer any fish hooked. A cormorant, one of many that live on the canal, sat on a floating barrier.  It rocked uncomfortably as every wave passed it by, and looked well fed.

Then I had a shock, my rod tip rapped slightly.  I admit quite freely that in this environment I was not expecting any action at all, despite rumours of there being fish. I waited, but nothing.   But over the next hour or so half a dozen smallish roach took the bait.  All very cautious bites.    Less cautious was my last bite, and a heavier fish was hooked.  Most of the fight was typical...of a bream, although it did manage a couple of sharp pulls as well, which briefly impressed me.  After being steered around the tyres it was netted.
My Swim on the "Shippy".
 A bronze bream of  6 pounds 12 ounces.  I would not usually have bothered weighing a bream of this size, but on my first expedition to the Ship Canal, I thought I should.  Surprisingly it was a very healthy individual, a nice shade of gold, a thick deep fish.  The photo is a little disappointing, but I did not have an unhooking mat with me, and the photographic options were concrete, or in the net.  So the picture is a little blurred and the fish in the net.           
Impressed by my first encounter with the Ship Canal, I decided to fish in the clear water of the Quays themselves the next day.    Similar amount of concrete, but without the decorations.  A few hours saw me catch a few small perch, and eventually another bream.    This one was most unlike the fish of a day before.  It was VERY dark in colour, super-slimy, was still recovering from spawning, remnants of the head tubercles still being present, It was thin, side to side, and quite shallow.    I had expected the opposite, that bream from the clear waters of the quays would be very good looking fish.   But I suspect that they spawn later, in the deep water, that they do in the canal itself, which, fed by the Irwell undoubtedly warms up faster.   The Quays fish was certainly male.   It prompts me to wonder, whether the golden fish are all female, and the dark ones all male.   I have caught both "varieties" gold and black, from several waters now, and it makes some sense to see them as the males and females.   Speculation at the moment of course.
A Depressingly Ugly Quays Bream.  A Definite Male.

A Far Prettier Canal Bream.  A Female?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

More Birds Than Fish

Well, it was time to take my wellies back to the Wye. And why not?   It is a long trip, but I
The Wye
determined, this time, to be there as the first light hit the river.  Most of the trip was motorway, and in darkness.   Far too many heavy goods vehicles for my liking, as I remain nervous of them still, after my near-death crash a couple of years ago.   Sometimes, when one travelling at 60 mph passes another moving at 59.9, they can block both inside lanes for minutes.  If I therefore have to pass them both I find it quite unnerving.     Most of the time I sit at 60 mph myself to reduce interaction with the trucks to a minima, but I don't like to be too near the trucks, so occasionally have to pass and find a new space between them.  Eventually I left the final exit ramp, and had only three or four miles still to cover.  As I nearer the river the roads became narrower, eventually becoming a single track, with grass growing down the middle.  Rabbits scattered every few yards as my headlights disturbed them. One of them did not move, but stayed sitting in the middle of the road.  I soon saw that it was no rabbit, but an owl.  It stood in the road, no prey with it, looking at my lights.   After 20 seconds or so it flew up and into a tree above my head, where it stayed...stayed until about a second before I was ready to click the camera shutter.
I am fairly sure it was a tawny own.  Definitely not a barn owl or little owl.

Sand Martins Nesting in  Pipework
I reached the river a couple of minutes later, parked up and headed for the deep swim, hoping to make fresh contact with the lost fish from last week.  I soon had a chub in the net, a fish of something a little under three pounds.  From the angling perspective, all then went silent. The river was even lower than last week, and much clearer too. Not so much as a twitch followed the chub, and I spent a lot of time watching the swallows and sand martins.   The sand martin is, in my opinion, the ultimate, low over the water, flier.    I didn't bother trying to photograph one, but will add a photo I took three or four years ago.

Green Woodpecker: At  100 yards Plus.
The green woodpeckers continued to mock me, several of them were "knocking about", flitting from tree to tree, occasionally hammering at the wood, but always obscured by branches or by a leaf or two.  I nearly flattened the camera battery, hoping to be ready when one finally  posed for me.   None did.   Very late on, one landed on the footbridge, some 150 yards downstream, and just for the hell of it I put the camera on maximum optical zoom and took a couple of shots. Applying maximum digital zoom to the image I could indeed see the red and the green of the bird, but distance and the sheer obstructiveness of the bird meant that this was the very best I could do, the much magnified image being over pixillated..   Another day, another time perhaps.
Female Demoiselle
I did take this photo of a female blue banded demoiselle.  Not a trace of blue on the females. I didn't manage to get a photo of one last week, so as to be able to show the differences between the sexes.

My hope of a fish rose as the evening neared.  A few chub raps started to up the confidence levels a little, but all were too fiddly to strike at...not that I didn't try one or two for luck.  No such.  As the last half hour of legal fishing approached I finally hit a better pull, and was playing a barbel.  A nice enough fish at about seven pounds, and a quick re-cast gave me that extra hope.   The farmer drifted by, and asked if I had caught.  Told him about the barbel, and, remembering him from last week, mentioned my only having 30 minutes of daytime fishing left in which to catch a second.  He replied "Yes, it is already half past nine," and I was left in no doubt that he was actually making damn sure I did not intend to overstay my allotted time.  No more bites, so I packed up and drove, via a chip shop, to another stretch where I would be allowed to night fish.    Got some sleep, intending to fish from mid-day the next day.   Instead I finally decided, on
waking up, to fully check out the stretch by walking along it.   Three other anglers fishing, all convinced that the low water was causing their overnight blanks. I was tempted to agree with them.  Buzzards circled overhead, and an egret vied for my attention as it perched in a tree opposite. The only other bright moment was when three Canadian canoes full of topless young ladies, paddled past on a "hen do". Well, some were paddling, others were knocking the booze back. Although the camera did accidentally click a few times as they passed by, I am sure that you, dear reader, would have no interest in the resultant photos. So here is the egret instead.

Oddball Greylag?
 Nearby, amongst a group of Canada geese, was this odd individual.  I can only guess that it is some form of domesticated greylag goose,  escaped and gone wild.    It is neither one thing nor the other, so maybe there has been some reversion to type in its history.   Seeing the river so low, I decided to cut my losses, I was not expecting to catch much, even during darkness, and so journeyed part way back, determined to fish a tench water, one I have ignored for a couple of years.    The Wye is a fabulous river, and so very clean.  I don't think I saw a single item of human rubbish drift downriver all the time I was there. And the flotsam/jetsam piles of stuff left by floodwater, all seems to be completely natural in its origin: trees, branches, weed.   But sometimes I have to move on, and on this day, it was towards the tench.
Again it was to be more birds than fish. No fish were to dampen my landing net at the lake.  I only saw three fish break surface, one fairly early on, a hundred yards away: a carp.  And then nothing until, during a break in the rain, following a quiet night, I was packing up.  As I dismantled the last of my gear, two fish rose in my swim, right over my baited area, a carp and a tench.  
A Bunch of Proper Greylag Geese
Oh I was so tempted to rig up again, with the only fish showing being over my groundbait.  The lake is large enough for the fish to have easily avoided the area all night. Maybe they had just moved in?  But instead of staying I decided to punish myself for my poor performance on the trip, and go home.   Time by this stillwater was spent watching bats, reed warblers, terns, a group of at least fifty grey lag geese and an oystercatcher.   The sand martins and swallows of the river had been replaced by house martins and swifts. Most of these species will only pose for the cameras of the most highly paid professional photographers.  I tried my best but the results were not really worth the hard work.
The tern photo is also not the greatest, they were so fast and changed direction unpredictably, but as I have little ambition to become another David Bailey, who cares.   I'll keep trying for better photos, but am by no means confident of great success.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

An Expedition...and Another New P.B.

I am not, I assure you, totally bored with catching tench. Nor am I cheesed off at the various blank trips that have been mandatorily sandwiched between the successes. Nice to have the jam between the slices of bread, but occasionally too I need a change of filling: perhaps ham and pickle, or egg and mayonnaise?  So, after considerable thoughts about the menu, I decided I had to fish elsewhere, for  different species, in totally different waters.

A trip to the local river, overnight, on THAT night, was first. The night when we had a tremendous electrical storm.  I blanked through the night, my sanity being salvaged by a trout and a couple of decent grayling taken before dark, and before the rain set in.   The storm was almost tropical, really spectacular lightning, and such loud thunder, often immediately above my head. It crashed and flashed repeatedly, at ever shorter intervals. I knew that Jenny, an old friend, would be hiding in the cupboard under the stairs. Petrified.     I told myself that the bolts would hit the nearby power lines rather than my carbon fibre rod, and fished on, whilst failing to get even one decent picture of the flashes...or of the fishes.

I still needed to get away from those crazy macho carp anglers.  The last one I spoke to had reached a new high.   He told me of the night when he landed 14 tench, all unwanted, and that most were doubles and almost all were males.   After fourteen tench and no carp he got bored, packed up and went home.   Were he a mountaineer I suspect he would have told me how he gave up on Everest and returned to base camp, having climbed the first 35,000 feet without problems.   Most of the other macho carpers have had fairly creditable tales of large bream or tench, but this tale was a one-off Disney blockbuster for sure.

So I packed up the tackle and headed out towards the River Wye.   As I did so, my son, home for the
The Wye
weekend was putting his washing into the machine.  He is quite good, does it all himself.  I left though, wondering what on Earth my wife had meant, as she told him:

 "Don't put your dirty shirts in the washing machine like that, they will all get creased".

Can any of my readers explain to me the logic behind that?  I was still clueless as I hit the motorways.   My plan to reach the river by first light failed. I was simply too tired to drive the whole journey in one go, and so spent several hours dreaming of fish still to come, in the motorway service area.  So it was lunchtime before I reached the river.  With its steep banks, daylight is actually a good time to arrive.     Far safer.   The sun was high, hot and bright.  The river, low, clear, and very warm.  Not ideal conditions.

I passed one other angler on the bank and asked him whether there were any barbel in the stretch. His reply was a little odd:
"The Wye is famous for its chub and roach."
My own thoughts might have substituted barbel, pike and salmon, but no matter.
I didn't press him further, as I was sure there would indeed be barbel, and thought that maybe it was his intention to try and mislead me, but without actually telling any direct lies. I confess it to be a technique I have myself, on occasion, used in response to "Caught 'owt mate?"  I have replied with words similar to:   "Yes, I had a couple of small chub a while ago."    I may not have mentioned the 3 or 4 barbel, and a much bigger chub also caught a while ago.  Not a lie, but not the whole truth either, and a good way out of revealing more than I might want to reveal.

It is impossible though, to fish the Wye without seeing a lot of wildlife, and the first buzzard was circling above me before my first cast.  That first cast defied conventional sunny day wisdom, and before the first of many canoes had passed, I was reeling in a chub of 4 and a half pounds.   Super brassy flanks on the fish too. Very handsome.  But not the P.B. mentioned in the title.

   The area had a lot of blue banded demoiselles flitting about.  These are good looking miniature helicopter-like insects.  Notices in Stockport tell me that they are very rare, but I see them on any and every river course that I go near, at the right time of year.  The males hang around the bankside vegetation, and occasionally dart out to capture midges or other tiny flies.   They appear to be able to spot their prey insects at a distance of at least two yards.   Like other insects they have compound eyes, and I am highly impressed at how well they work. Is each eye in the compound just a single on/off photocell?  Or does each of the compound eyes have many individual rods/cones inside it?
Male Blue-Banded Demoiselle
The eyesight is surely too good for a very simple structure to work.   No fish are moving and so I watch the demoiselles for a long time.   Several females, which are green in colour as opposed to the dark blues of the males, fly past,  Some are being chased, others, chaste, wanting nothing to do with any of the available males.   One female lands on a twig at water level.  I expected it to lay eggs rather like a damselfly, arching its abdomen below the water. But walked down the twig, pulling itself under the water, obviously intending to lay its eggs well below the surface.   Unlike damsel flies, it did not have a male firmly attached whilst it laid its eggs.

I had set up a second rod, with a simple maggot feeder, so as to try and suss what else might be in the stretch.   Minnows I think, as I had constant pulls and tweaks on the rod tip.  The bailiff, later suggested they were probably bleak.  He may be right, although I have not had a bleak from this river myself yet. But as this was only my second trip ever to the Wye...   The constant tip vibrations quickly annoyed me, and instead of maggots I put a small pinch of breadflake onto the hook.  It was no more than 30 seconds before I had a rather better bite, struck and hooked into a snag.  Now both you and I, and probably everyone else within earshot, have often heard all those cliches about making contact with a big fish, but unless I invoked an unexpected visitor to the river from the Loch Long submarine base, I cannot better the phrase "the bottom moved".    It moved, but very slowly.  I figured quite rapidly that it was a barbel, and a very good one. I made little impression on it for some time, as it just chugged around, going nowhere fast, but always very powerfully bending the rod very well indeed.  It was some time before I caught a glimpse of a fin, breaking surface briefly, confirming it to be a barbel, but not allowing me to place a better bet on its size.  After the quick flash of colour, it returned to the river bottom and continued the slow goods train impression....but not for much longer. Suddenly all went slack, the rod rapidly straightening as I lost all contact with the fish.   I don't know for how long I played the fish, Time becomes immeasurable under such circumstances,  probably subject to some Einstein relativity equation or other, but it was a good while.   I examined the end tackle, I had not been broken, the hook had just pulled out.  And on thinking about it, maybe it was my own fault.   Remember that this had been a maggot feeder rod, the hook had been a barbless size 14, maybe even a 16, silver coloured and fine wired one.  Animal brand I think.  Quite a good hook to have taken all that force, for so long, without bending.   But being fairly fine gauge, maybe it had been slowly cutting its way through the flesh.  Perhaps I should have played the fish far more gently.  I would have done so, had I, for even one moment, remembered how small the hook was. But playing a Trident class submarine does not help with remembering important, but little, details.  It was a double for sure, maybe a good double.  Losing the fish mattered, of course it did. I was certainly crestfallen,  but equally, the loss of the fish will remain the high point of a three day trip.

Several salmon had jumped nearby, most unseen save for the splash, but shortly before I left one jumped in my swim ( as had the others). This one came out vertically, as if the Trident was launching a cruise missile.  It left the water by a good couple of feet and crashed back down tail first.  It looked a very uncomfortable landing and so I was surprised to see it do exactly the same a few seconds later, and astonished by a third identical jump.  I didn't hook any of the salmon of course.  Quite a number of smallish pike were striking throughout the day, seemingly chasing individual fish, rather than attacking a shoal.  Each time a fleeing small roach or perhaps a dace would make 4 or 5 long jumps in succession, very much like a flying fish might, on a shortish trip.  The pike swirled behind the fish each time, but did not look to be having any lunch.  I was able, a couple of years ago to watch a jack chase a quarter pound roach in gin clear water.   The chase must have been for about thirty yards, in a large arc, and I was surprised at the turn of speed that the roach achieved.  And equally impressed that the pike very nearly kept up with it.

It was now time  for the consolation prizes to be given out by Mr. R. Wye. Esq.   So later, a second and third chub took the bait, one being about 3 and a half pounds, the other a small one.  Later still, the after eight mints: two barbel, not huge but very scrappy little fellows of perhaps five and six pounds.  Neither of these barbel was the new P.B.   Soon after, I had to leave the river.   Club rules: no night fishing, and the farmer was hanging around just to make sure no one overstayed.   I met him as I was carrying my gear back to the car.

So I went on to an estuary to try for grey mullet.  Plenty of them about, all along the far side of the river and well out of range.  Very frustrating:  why had they changed sides since last year?   So no mullet took the bait.   Not a total blank: a brownie of about a pound took the breadflake.   Not the new P.B. of course. Later, as the tide started to ebb, I had a lot of minor raps on legered ragworm.   And eventually caught one of the fish responsible: a bass.   And it was a new P.B.  So: the proud photograph:

Personal Best Bass

I have never caught a bass before, and admittedly have only tried a couple of times, so by definition, my first sea bass is also a P.B.  Anyone give me an ounce for it?

Got chatting to an interesting guy, local farmer, very knowledgeable, who told me something of the local wildlife.   I had seen a couple of crows feeding on a rabbit carcase earlier.  The guy told me that a lot of the rabbits were dying of myxomatosis. I had not realised that the disease was still prevalent in the UK. I had imagined that resistance to the disease would have been fully established by now.
He also gave me a logical explanation of why I have seen so many badgers dead on the roadsides  lately. In spring, the young males are driven out of established sets by the resident dominant males, and forced to seek pastures new.  From being completely in touch with their local area, the dangers etc, they suddenly have to cross strange roads, and seek out new places to live.   The roads and cars are too big a danger and so; many lose their lives.  He suggested I examine them and would see them all to be young males.  I'll take his word for it. I don't like the idea of some passing motorist, distracted and wondering what I was doing examining a badger's nadgers, and then adding me to the local roadkill. After more interesting discussions on fish, ravens and foxes, I headed back to the Wye for a night session on another stretch.

En-route I passed by Newtown, and saw the transporter bridge that crosses the River Usk.  What a superb sculpture that is.   I guessed quite wrongly how it worked, and would have gone across it had I seen the "Bridge Open" notice before I had passed it.  Worth a google.  And I shall definitely go across it next time, even if only to be able to say I did.   Didn't manage a photograph, but they are there to be found on the net.

The new Wye stretch was deserted, and I was able to find a comfortable looking peg on an old salmon groyne.  After darkness fell, the rocks were to prove to be most uncomfortable, and made moving around in darkness quite difficult.  I set up my first rod about 4PM, and cast in, no more than five yards out.  I didn't expect any action until dusk, given the shallow swim, low river and clear water.   As I set up a second rod, I was startled by the tip on rod 1, banging down viciously towards the river.   In consequence I accidentally managed to put a hook deep into my index finger, and well past the barb.   Painful, and not the best of help in reeling in the 4 pound chub that had taken my bait.   It is not the easiest thing in the world to extract a barbed hook, one set deeply into a finger.  I ummmed and ahhhed about how best to remove it.   Finally bit the bullet, applied the forceps, and with little more than an agonized scream or two for comfort, I yanked out the hook out the same way it went in and didn't bleed too much.  The scar is likely to remain for days.

The canoes were drifting past at intervals, a daily hazard on the Wye.   I suspect the fish largely ignore them, and most of the occupants paddle past quietly and peacefully.   There is always the odd one though, whose contents insist on jumping into the river off the bridge. Once again I suspect the chub just think "idiots" and ignore the splashes.
But there was no more fish movement until the last canoe has passed, and the sun had sunk below the trees on the horizon.   A couple of fish took the bait whilst it was still light enough for photos, another 3 pound plus chub, and a barbel.  The barbel was another of those that needed a few more ounces:  It weighed 9-13.   But the numbers did not really matter as the fish fought very well indeed, and looked well into double figures as I netted it.  But it had that typical slim, fit look of a Wye barbel, and so was quite lightweight for its length. the fight though, did not compare with that of the lost fish of two days ago, and I am even more convinced I had lost  a very big fish.   Ho hum!

Long and Lean

The night was quite lively, with four more barbel, none quite so large as the first, the best going 8-12,  and after dawn 5 or 6 chub happened by.  No huge ones, but most were over three. The night was
completed by half a dozen small eels.   Three of these resulted in lost hooks, but I generally managed to avoid being slimed up as much as is usual with eels.   One eel fell off the hook into the shallow rock-strewn water near my feet.  It tried to regain the river, swimming forwards and then backwards, trying various routes.  The thought crossed my mind that it was far better than any rat seeking the cheese in one of those man made maze type intelligence tests.  Once the sun was high, the fish turned off again, and I was lefty watching about a dozen young mandarin ducks.  They were just about starting to differentiate their plumage into recognisable males and females.  the males were more aggressive, had the beginnings of a ruff at the back of the neck, and the first black and white stripes were visible on their wings.   These birds are breeding very well in the UK, and could easily reach numbers which might be considered untenable.  But who is going to condemn such a gorgeous creature as an unwelcome invasive species?  I leave you with a duck photograph.
Young Mandarin Duck, Sitting in My Landing Net.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Does Size Always Matter?

Spring crashes on, its signposts are everywhere.  The roads I drive on are now littered with fox cubs in the early mornings,  although as I get nearer to the venues I gradually see less foxes, and far more white flashes from the scuts of rabbits clearing the road in front of me.  I wonder whether the words scut, as in a rabbit's tail, and scuttle, to run away and escape, are related  Scuttling perfectly describes the actions of the rabbits as they see and run from my headlights. Neither the rabbits, nor the foxes have featured in the roadkill I have passed.  Hedgehogs also seem to have escaped death,  but badgers seem to be very poor at avoiding cars this year, and several have lain dead by the roadside this past month.   It is supposed to be hedgehogs that freeze, confident that their spines will prevent any harm coming to the animal itself, shortly before their being flattened.  Maybe they are getting very scarce, although I still see them in the back garden at times.

I was wrong about the swans.   I never expected that they  would ever lose any cygnets.  The cob, the male swan, is always so very aggressive, and has that "I am the boss on this lake" look about him.  But the family is nevertheless two cygnets short this week.   I doubt that they just died,  all of them looking perfectly healthy last week.  And I don't think they got lost.  The lake is not so big that the swans can't circumnavigate it all several times daily.   So a predator must have claimed two victims.   Poor tactics by the male swan, who, rather than looking after the kids, has spent most of his time chasing geese around the water.   Oh, and annoying the angler in the next swim by swimming through both his lines, as he lay dreaming away in his bivvy.  I always shoo the swans away from my own lines, and am usually successful, although I do get some pretty  vicious hisses from the male as I do so. Occasionally I might have to wave the landing net at them.  It is all for their own good, as I would not want their legs tangled up in my lines any more than they would want my lines wrapped around their legs.   

No signs of the grebes having hatched any young yet.  One spent several hours diving in exactly the same spot, an area of two or three square yards,  just off to my right.   A lot of effort and I only saw him catch one small fish during that time.  The water is fairly deep, and I wonder whether, like the fish, grebes lay their eggs late on such waters, waters that are slow to warm up.   In contrast, in the shallow local park lake, the young grebes are already several weeks old.  It would maybe be to the bird's advantage to lay eggs at a time that is related to the hatching of the year's fish fry. In much the same way that blue tits seem to know when the caterpillars will be most plentiful in the oak trees.

 Other visitors to my swim included this woodmouse, totally oblivious to my presence, and this cheeky, chirpy little chap.

If the alliteration does not help you with the bird's ID: tough!

Most of my days' tenching continue to provide fish at the rate of one bite a day, and I cannot yet seem to find a consistent way to improve this.  Some good fish, some less so, but the recent highlights up until a few days ago,were another at 7, and a fish of 8-11.   Both well worth the wait.   A few males showed up as well, each being a little under 5 pounds but great fighters, as are most male tench.   I seem to catch fish of two very different looks.  One is pale green, almost Granny Smith's apples in colouration, sometimes with quite an orange belly.  The others are dark, almost metallic green, with a belly that is best described as greyish.   I have no statistical data to actually back this up ( so far) but I feel that the darker fish are smaller, and that they fight far harder.  I will leave that as a theory: work in progress, for the moment, and I will see whether future fish help to support the theory.

Having had a number of such zero/one fish sessions, I chose to spend a morning on a farm pond, A change is as good as a rest, and fishing lift method with bread, catching a mixed bag of tench, crucians, roach and one bream, is a very pleasant change indeed.   None of these fish topped half a pound, but there were plenty of them to play on the light rod and centrepin reel.  The pond does hold carp as well, up to at least ten pounds, so there was always the chance of some greater drama.   

During this session I somehow developed a lip ulcer, quite a bad one, very annoying. So driving home I stopped by Tesco's medicine counter, and looked for some suitable cream.  Bonjela Cool was what I chose.  Seen it on the TV, must be good.  Back home I applied it liberally. Oh My God!    Cool?   How can they call it cool?  I almost screamed in agony at the powerful sting that went right through my lip, feeling as if had every intention of severing my tongue!   It was murder, Continuously hurt for a good thirty minutes. The TV adverts do nothing to warn of the near death experiences caused by application of this stuff.  The minty taste, (evidently that was the cool bit),  was just discernible, but the major impact was like having a baseball bat crash into the face.  So painful.   I had intended to buy Tesco's own brand version.  It would have been far cheaper...had it existed.   Tesco knows about this stuff I am sure, and do not want the blame, when their clients experience the excruciating effects of using this cream.  Not daft Tesco: now they can finger the Bonjela company every time.  The tube has lain on the table ever since, and only once more have I dared to try again.  I should not have expected a different result, and did not get a different result, It still felt much like a self inflicted decapitation must feel, except that the pain persists far longer.   A week later, and the ulcer is disappearing all by itself. The tube remains nearly full. How full?    About £2-95 of the £3-00 I paid for it.

One final long tench session produced two fish.  The first was a very dark female, no spawn at all visible.  At 5-15 it was not a huge fish for the water, but it fought as though it were being piloted by
A Gorgeous 5-15 Female.
the very devil himself.  Absolutely wonderful account of itself, and such a beautiful fish too.  Very metallic green.   I would have been happy with just the one fish, but decided to stay on through the night.   The lake remained as a mirror the whole time and very few fish, save the odd roach, moved. Sometimes I would swear there were no fish diluting the water in the lake.  I had one rod cast over a tight patch of bait, and another was equipped with a size 6 hook, three maggots and a lump of breadflake adorned it, and it was cast as far as I could into a weedy area. Maybe 50 yards, not much more, as I am no distance casting champion.  The night remained peaceful, with just the bats for company.  The fish had deserted me.  But at exactly 5 o'clock, certainly within 30 minutes of 5am, the distance rod had a bite.   I didn't see the dough bobbin rise up to the carbon fibre, it was far too quick, the bait runner was also too surprised to play any part in the incident, but the reel suddenly started to revolve rapidly backwards. I do not fish bolt rigs, but this fish was sure to have hooked itself.  I struck though, and feeling a heavy weight, thought "a carp".  The fish moved left, heavy and slow, and I was able to reel in the other line out of the way.   After I did so, the fish went quite solid, and stationary,  and I became convinced it
A Spawny 10-5 Tinca. Not so gorgeous.
was off, and that I was into some heavy weed.   Apart from one moment when I thought that a bream might have taken the bread, there was nothing more to be felt on the line, no movement and I slowly pumped in what appeared to be merely a massive ball of weed.  As it neared the net I saw some smooth green, the flank of a tench?     I quickly removed most of the weed, and the fish, which had been completely encased by weed,  moved out powerfully and bored deep several times close in. I have experienced this before: a fish with its head buried in weed will often lie completely still and not fight.  It was netted soon after, and was indeed a tench.  The hook fell out in the landing net, and I thought that maybe I should have netted the weed ball, rather than removing the weed from the fish, thus taking the risk of allowing it to have another swim round.  After a few quick photos I weighed it, and then weighed it again, and again:   ten pounds five ounces!   A new personal best, and my first double figure tench.  

But it had only gained that weight by virtue of at least three quarters of a pound of spawn, maybe even a bit more.  And so my excitement level was not perhaps what it should have been.  Am I my own worst enemy? Wanting all my fish to look perfect and pretty?  Dampening the experience for myself? The 5-15 of the evening before was just as exciting a fish to catch. So size is not everything for me. For many other anglers though, it is.   And I can understand that, although if they were being honest there is not really much more skill involved in the capture, as the weight of a fish gets larger.   If I were being cruel, and having another rant at them, I might suggest that they were fishing in grab-a-granny mode.   Only the weight (effectively age?) matters to them.  Me: I like them pretty.

There is a large barbel in the local stream. It weighs anywhere between 12 and 14 pounds, varying somewhat over the weeks and months, and has been around that weight for several years.   This fish has been named "The Big Girl", by those anglers who MUST name fish, and appears it to be something of a neighbourhood bike.  Everyone and his dog has caught it, some anglers several times.  It probably got to be the biggest in the river by feeding freely, and it seems to get caught at least a dozen times each year, sometimes on a weekly or even daily basis.   People fish for this fish, targetting it specifically.  I avoid the swims in which it lives, quite intentionally.  I don't want to catch it.   A representative from the EA thinks it must be 25 years old, and I assume he therefore thinks it was one of the initially stocked fish.  A great great grab-a-granny?  25 years is a ripe old age for any fish, and I am a little surprised it has not lost much weight from its maximum.  Or rather at 25 years, shocked it didn't die years ago. Do fish suffer from dementure I wonder? Is this a fish that cannot remember that it has just had its breakfast, and hence gets caught again and again?  ;-)    Apologies to Bill, Paul, Jerry, Steve etc. etc.....................etc.

I think I might now go and hide for a while.