Sunday, 21 May 2017

How Big is a Zebra?

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

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


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

Two Pounds Exactly.

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

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

2 pounds 8 Ounces of Gorgeous Rudd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Early Spring

JayZS Twig Rig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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



Thursday, 16 February 2017

Legering for Grayling, the Twig Rig and the Senses.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  
   


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Disaster: A Grayling on the First Cast!


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


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

























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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 3 -nil to the pike. 


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


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


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

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