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 no...it 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.