Tuesday 31 July 2012

Pond Dipping

   With little time to fish over the last few days, I have only been able to manage three short sessions.   There is a local pond that has drawn me alongside it several times when walking, and it finally, this week, tempted me to cast a line.  The surroundings of the pond are quite gorgeous, trees, reeds, rushes, and with no visible  hint of the road, just 5 or 6 yards away.  The nearby housing estate also remains out of sight, masked by the steep wilderness that is present just a yard from the pond itself, which is at most 15 yards wide, and 80 long. The trees are indeed, so dense as to allow the traffic, and its noise, to go unseen and largely unheard. The trees have not hidden it from the local kids though, and their presence can usually be seen even  in their absence,  by the copious amounts of litter and cans that sadly decorate the banks, and even float amongst the weed in the pond itself. I remove a bagful of rubbish each trip, but more appears almost immediately.  I was pleased to see, one morning, that someone else had also had taken time to remove some of the more obvious detritus. My thanks to you sir, or perhaps to you, madam.  But the pond has long been abandoned by the club that owned it, and its free fishing status, in these modern times, will always attract anglers young and old, many of whom have little regard for the natural world amongst which they sit.
    Moorhens patrol the edges of the pond, along with one solitary mallard.  Occasionally a heron ventures onto the end of the pond, where the shallow water certainly affords it some good hunting opportunity. Occasionally young sparrowhawks can be glimpsed and heard in the trees opposite.  They do not show themselves well enough for a photograph. 
    The pond is nowhere more than a couple of feet deep, most being half that, and the Canadian pond weed covers at least 95% of the surface, and rises partway to the surface in much of what remains.  A few smallish carp always wander just under the surface, scarcely noticing the presence of people, unless they make their presence too obvious. The kids regard them as uncatchable, but one readily took the small piece of flake that I threw near to it.  I have seen one carp of maybe 8 or 9 pounds, the rest reaching 4 pounds at most, but still a challenge to land through the thick weed growth. The kids of course talk of 15 pound carp, and one even talks of having caught tench to 11 pounds here.  I don't for a moment believe any of it.   Apart from the carp I have seen a few 6 inch rudd swimming along when the water is gin clear.  Clear enough to see that swan mussels are present in numbers on the bottom of the pond.  After any fair amount of rain,  runoff from the hill opposite quickly colours the water, and the clarity of the water can change tremendously from day to day.  A couple of days sees it clear again, as another thin layer of fine sediment drifts to the bottom.  The pond will probably be too shallow for fish in a very few years time. Even now, I fear a bad cold snap could kill all fish life in it.
   I arrive for my first session at about 6 pm, two kids are in the "best" swim, that one swim with enough clear water as to not need accurate casting.   There are just two other fishable swims, and no fish can be seen in either open area, for today the water is tapwater clear.   But there is a small gap in the  pondweed at the far side of one clearing, offering the fish some shelter, and I decide to go for it.   I am unpractised at casting a float with precision, but soon find that my travel barbel rod is perfect for the job, and I have little problems landing the float on target.  Line is 5 pounds to a 14 hook, a little heavy, but I foresee problems with fish and the weeds. I am aiming at no more than a couple of square yards of open water at maybe 12 yards range, and I soon get the hang of it, but so often the bait is impeded as it falls to be bottom, by strands of the rampant Elodea canadensis.  But it is not long before my flat float twitches, as something investigates the tiny pinch of breadflake on my hook.  The float sails away and I miss the bite.  A second cast results in a pricked fish, felt just momentarily before it sheds the hook and dives into the weed.   I see a flash of gold, and so suspect a rudd.   The point is proved next cast as a pristine 6 inch rudd, gloriously coloured red and gold, is landed and returned.  A similar sized roach is next.  This fish too has surely never been hooked.   I muse that the kids probably, in the main, catch little with their Decathlon telescopic rods and heavy lines, and so the fish retain their condition.  I fished similarly myself, with a tank aerial rod aged about  12, and caught very little myself, but gradually taught myself more and more with each trip.   I would not myself have welcomed advice from the adults back then, and decide not to volunteer information to the kids unless they ask for it.  In any case one of them tells me he has already caught a bream of a pound.   Being a naturally suspicious sod, I doubt both the species and the weight, but say nothing other than a mumbled congratulation.
  One of the kids draws my attention to "a bug" in my landing net.   He shows signs of being worried by it.  So I look and it proves to be the empty shell of a dragonfly larva.  The shell is brown and quite dry, and I am surprised as to how it reached my landing net, which was a yard from the water.   But a couple of minutes later a gorgeous green dragonfly drifts past me.   I hope it came from my empty larval  case, and hatched out in my net, but will never know.
    My float dithers again, and I am into a better fish, which immediately reaches the pondweed.   Canadian pondweed usually pulls free from the bottom with steady pressure, and the fish comes quietly, its head covered in weed. he weed trails a muddy track behind it from its roots.  The fish is a mirror carp of some 3 or 4 ounces.    I am surprised, but pleased, as it suggests very strongly that those few carp have bred successfully. 4 more carp, mirrors and commons, of similar size follow, each after a short interval, together with more, but even smaller rudd, and a tench of 8 inches or so.   I had not expected tench either.   All gave good bites, and all the fish were scale perfect, of great colour and very  healthy.  Several came in with a garland of weed around them.  Bites dried up, and as dark closed in I decide to pack up.  As I reeled in that last, last cast, I felt another fish on the end of the line.  A spirited little fight saw a 4 ounce crucian carp on the bank, a 5th species, and also unexpected.   It had, with typical crucian behaviour, not given any bite indication at all.
   All in all, a dozen fish from a tiny pond.   And what an enjoyable session it was, a pleasing change from the expectation of a sizeable fish.   Many years ago,  I was a big fish only angler, I finally stopped fishing, suddenly, one June 16th after catching a personal best tench.   It had all become too easy, and I didn't then cast another line for 33 years. It was probably a mistake, way back then, to have exclusively targeted monster fish.  Even the regular successes became a bore.    Maybe I should have varied my fishing back then too, taken in some small waters, with small fish, and probably enjoyed my fishing far more.    Maybe I wasted those 33 years, for, over the last three years since returning to the fold,  I no longer need to seek out those big fish every trip.  No, what I need now is variation, something different every trip, if that is possible, and this small pond fishing has been a revelation. Having discarded that "specimen hunter" tag three years ago, when I once more picked up a rod, I now enjoy my angling  again.
My second and third trips added a couple of small bream to the species list, 7 or 8 small tench, some no more than 4 inches long, none bigger than 8 inches, and some of the smallest rudd I have ever seen.  Fish this size are unhooked in the hand, and reminded me how silky smooth and pleasant to the touch  small tench are.   And how damn slippery too!  Perhaps evolution has given them silky smooth skin, (smooth enough to make the wife jealous), to enable them to slip easily between the weeds?
I shall be back, both to this and to other, similar, waters.

   So I did go back, the next morning, fairly early.  As I breasted the slope up to the pond, a startled grey heron took flight, annoyed with me for disturbing it.   The moorhens were absent, still kipping in the reeds I guess.  I was fishing within two minutes, having travelled very light, and only needing to assemble the 5 rod sections, bait the hook and cast in.  A few carp were to be seen disturbing the surface, and when one swam towards me, across the weed-free area, I decided to test whether they were, as the young kid had said, uncatchable.   I drew the float and bait back, stopping a couple of feet in front of the carp, directly below the rod tip.  The flake fluttered slowly down, and with no hesitation the carp took it: I saw it disappear into its mouth and struck.    The effect was instantaneous and expected, for the fish, about 4 or 5 pounds accelerated and dived straight into the weedbeds, within a second or so of being hooked.    Having the rod tip immediately above the fish was not helpful, and no lateral force could be applied to slow the fish. ( think O-level resolution of forces).  And so the fish, as expected, was lost, the 5 pound line snapping very quickly as the fish changed course within the weedbed.   I knew beforehand that I had no chance of course, and maybe should not have even tried.    But point proved, the carp are catchable  ...  with suitable tackle.
   A few 3 inch rudd, and a 3 ounce tench followed.  Later I struck at a very tentative nibble, the sort of thing I had been ignoring all morning, but somehow this one was different, and a hard fighting 3 ounce crucian came to the bank.   Beautiful fish: crucians, and how anyone could confuse F1 hybrids with them is beyond me.   Hybrids always "look wrong" and purebred fish always "look right".
   At around 8 am the moorhens appeared, and so did their young: one by one 4 young birds emerged cautiously from the reeds.   One of their parents even appeared to chase off a cruising carp, much to my amusement.  A second mallard flew in to join the lonesome female seen yesterday. Then a flash of brilliant blue, and a kingfisher landed opposite.  Over the next 20 minutes it made several dives, from various trees, but caught only one small fish, probably a rudd. It looked like a young bird,  not quite as brightly coloured as kingfishers usually are.   Its dives looked amateurish, at far too shallow an angle.    But it had no problems battering its one capture against a tree branch to stun or kill it. 8 or 9 raps, and the fish was then swallowed.   Had the bird in that song about "the old lady who swallowed a fly" been a kingfisher, there is no way that the spider would have still been wriggling after being swallowed.   Which would have been a good argument if kingfishers ate spiders, I suppose.  The kingfisher was still around when the heron returned, to perch in a tree opposite me.   A somewhat scruffy young bird, whose preening did little to improve its looks.   It finally flew off in the ungainly manner that herons have, and I left the pond, well satisfied with my couple of hours by the water.

Sunday 1 July 2012

All Grebes, Swallows and no Crucians

Set out very early yesterday, still dark as I left home, no glimmering of daylight, although the heavy cloud cover may have blocked out the impending dawn.  I reached the lake, a pretty reed fringed shallow water, with the first rays of light now penetrating the cloud, and I could just about see my float, some ten yards out.  Rigged up in a sort of lift method crossed with float legering.  With bread baited  and bated breath I had cast out into the gloom.  On the grass, in a field to my left were a couple of rabbits.  Black rabbits!   Only seen one black one before, near Manchester Airport, on a grass verge, but maybe they are becoming more common now in Cheshire.  Too far away for the camera.

Bites soon came, tentative little knocks that I assumed were from my chosen quarry: Carassius Carassius.   Crucian carp, another species I have caught very few of lately.  Tenacious little scrappers, Carassius Clays which don't just float like butterflies when hooked.   Hooked? Not a chance, and I missed quite a number of bites before finally connecting with...a two ounce roach.  And so it continued, regardless of bait changes, all that came near my bait were small roach and bream, the best of which would have struggled to register a pound on a set of scales.  And the rest were far smaller. 

But it was a pleasant day, for a moment at least.  Swallows arrived with the light, and drank by gliding on stiff wings, lower beak scooping up water.  Later when the water became rougher, the birds changed tactics, and set down briefly to take that drink, causing a moment's hesitation in the flight, a minor hiccup and splash. They appeared to have a number of regular flight paths, along which they spent much of their time.   It became quite noticeable when swallow after swallow flew past, along the same compass heading, and always exactly over my float.  I picked out several other regular routes, some of which were parallel to the bank.    I wonder if they in some way choose their flight path along routes which optimises the insect count?    Later in the day they had time to play, and chased each other in pairs and at speed.   The reactions of the following birds were incredible, with changes of directions in the tag game, in order to follow the "on" bird seeming to occur with millisecond precision. Some military pilots can experience G-forces up to about 9 Gs.   I wonder how many G the swifts and swallows are pulling during their own aerial dog fights?   Whatever the value, these birds have a good life, certainly enjoying themselves, and each with a long African holiday planned for later in the year.

There was a family of great crested grebes on the lake as well.  Four birds in total, although this was just one adult, with three 3/4 grown chicks.   Another lake I fish also has four, but that family comprises two adults and two young.  There I quite often see them in pairs, with both adults often having just one of the young in tow. And that lake has plenty of suitable fish, together with very clear water to aid the grebes' fishing. I saw as many as 40 or 50 fish fed to the young in a single day, and probably missed others.  The single adult on the other lake has life far more difficult, as the water is quite turbid, with maximum visibility as little as 10 inches. The small fish population in the shallow water is also probably less, so with three mouths to feed the adult was having a hard time coping with the incessant cheeping of three hungry young grebes.
After a couple of hours the largest of the three young attacked the smallest and drove it away.  The bird tried to return, but was again attacked by its eldest sibling, which literally had it by the neck, possibly trying to drown it.   And then the adult joined in to chase off the chick.  The youngster made one more attempt to return, but then wandered around the lake keeping a good safe distance between itself and the others.   Later in the day, the adult was to drive away the second chick.   The largest stayed very close to the adult, even making some amateurish attempts to dive and follow the adult. The youngest grebe kept wandering around the lake, coming quite close to myself and other anglers.  Which gave me an idea.  I offered it a 4 inch roach that I had caught, held the fishlet flapping in full view of the grebelet, which was maybe 5 yards away.   And it showed some interest.  I thought it was going to come and take the fish but it shied away when only a couple of feet away from my hand.    Maybe my camouflaged jacket has its limitations.   The roach was allowed to swim off. But it was all quite encouraging and I prepared my camera for a second attempt to entice the bird.  But it then kept a safe distance so no shot of me hand feeding a grebe. Instead, a shot I took a few weeks ago, before the eggs hatched.

I then suffered the first of 5 or 6 heavy and short-ish showers.   Cowered underneath my brolley and prayed for an absence of bites.   Momentarily, once, just once,  I dozed off...I had been up since 2:30 AM !   As I dozed a fish bit sufficiently well to drag line off the reel.  I struck, and was in contact with a good fish for 20 seconds or so before the hook pulled.   Damn!     As the light faded slightly, more due to heavy cloud than the lateness of the hour, a mink swam across the lake, and took up residence in the willow immediately to my right.   Mink do not seem very strong swimmers to me, and I doubt that they would have much success in catching fish.  This one did dive briefly once or twice, but I remain unconvinced that it had eaten many fish suppers.    But perhaps it did account for the second adult grebe?  So I staked it out for a photograph, but made an error.  I thought that, with the poor light I would need a flash.   The photo is dreadful, and a test shot I did a few moments later, without the mink, showed that I had errored in switching the flash unit on.  Oh well.  But I did get to see the mink quite well as it wandered through the lower part of the willow.

A little later a crow flying over the lake descended, and delicately, with its beak, took a small dead fish from the surface.  It scarely got its feet wet.   I have seen a crow do a similar thing on the River Trent a year or so ago, so maybe it is a quite normal behaviour for a crow.

After the 5th, or was it 6th, short shower, I decided to pack up, and as I reeled my line in, a pike grabbed the bait.   After a short tussle it either let go, or else bit through the line.   Either way, my float rebounded into the alder, from where I was just about able to reach and retrieve it.  

This is one of very few waters on which I have not seen coots or moorhens. Neither revealed themselves all day on this typical coot lake.   More mink action I fear.   The  willow had also harboured a pair of small birds, flitting about from branch to branch. I watched them for ages, thinking they were probably some sort of warbler, but the leaves were always obscuring the birds from my view.   I gave up hoping for a photo, and moments later they were sitting in good view, in the alder to my left.   They were very young, extremely fluffy, blue tits.   One other bird, a bird of prey, had flown across the lake, but with my poor ID capabilities of such birds I do not know what it was. Female sparrowhawk size-ish, but rather paler, and with a grey look to it, but I don't think it to have been a sparrowhawk.  Not an eagle, nor kestrel, nor kite nor buzzard, although one buzzard did show itself as I drove home, landing on the grass near the hard shoulder.  The red kite I saw last week over the same motorway, was no longer to be seen.

All in all, a poor day's fishing, with just  a dozen very small fish to report, but a day rich with other experience, and a day well spent by the waterside.  Just wish I could convince my wife that the time was not wasted.  Any time spent without a paint brush n my hand is time wasted...or perhaps  time to be avoided!