Wednesday 17 April 2013


The First REAL day of Spring.

The warm weather has finally arrived it would seem, and has tempted me to the water's edge.  Of course, water has that magnetic quality, drawing me ever closer, and I would have gone anyway,  but Spring's temptation sounds more lyrical.   Well it does to me,  so there!
Crucians were calling, and I decided on a shallow lake, known to contain a lot of them.   Known to everyone else maybe, for I only managed one last year in about 4 trips.  Did lose a large carp on light tackle though, which careered off down the lake in the shallow water, leaving a huge bow wave on its way to the snag. I reject utterly the claims made by many that a hooked and panicking carp will head right for the nearest snag.  But the end result is the same, whatever you believe or not. I'll remain an atheist on this one. If you wish to imbue your carp with God like capability, then so be it. Amen.
My choice of water was based on the idea that a lake that averages only eighteen inches of water would see active fish far earlier than deeper waters. So did I catch a crucian this time: NO!     But I did add another water to my long list this year that have produced perch of two pound plus for me. Saw my first swallow of the year, a low flying buzzard being hounded ( birded?) by a crow, and a few pheasant of both sexes.  Does one swallow make a Spring?

The Second Day of Spring.

Left the rods at home and went for a stroll along the Manchester Ship Canal.  Disappointed to see no-one fishing, despite a recent announcement by one who "should" know, that the short stretch of the Canal that can be legally fished does not have a close season.  I still doubt the verity of this, as the Canal is merely a dredged and deepened bit of the River Irwell.  If I cast a rod at it and get caught, I'll blame youYou know who you are. ;-)   But amongst the black backed gulls, the cormorants, mallards, Canada geese and swans that floated on, or flew above the canal, were about 30 sand martins.  Enterprising little birds these martins.   They are supposed to dig tunnels in vertical sand banks near rivers.  But being lazy little birdbrains they are happy to use existing clay pipes poking out of brick walls, and on the Shippie, to use cracks between the old stonework of the vertical canal banks.  I do worry for them this year though, sand martins being invariably the first arrivals from Africa, before the swallows, housemartins and swifts, they must be finding very little to eat.  Our late spring has led to a dearth of flying insects. I saw none on my walk, nor whilst fishing.  Will these, and other sand martins survive this year?
No fish seen rising, and the cormorant I watched for half an hour went hungry.

Day Three.

Having failed to catch a crucian two days ago, perch are now my target. Again on a fairly shallow water, but for perch, the water temperature is less critical, so this place is a fairly uniform 3 foot 6. Arriving early, I choose a sheltered spot, with the light wind behind me, and behind the fence that is also behind me, creating a barrier.  Despite a dawn start, lunchtime remains biteless.  The perch rod was to remain biteless all day, and the crucian rod was so far looking to be similarly afflicted. I pass the morning watching mating toads in the edges of last season's weedbeds, and studying the chaffinches as they chase each other with the full joys of Spring in their wings. A couple of small brown birds land in the skeletal tree behind me.  They do not stay long and remain unidentified. LBJs, to use the description of qualified ornithologists.  No?    OK, just for you, dear reader: Little Brown Job. Any brown small bird that you cannot quite identify.
   A butterfly, first sighting of the year, struggles impressively across the wind, on wings that look ill-designed for the journey, yet which are nevertheless highly functional.   It brings me luck, for a short time afterwards I hook and land a spirited crucian carp of about a pound and three quarters.
  The wind has now changed around, and blows directly  into my face, all the while getting stronger.  So strong that the M62 has banned high sided vehicles. It makes for some very difficult float fishing, especially for shy biting crucians.   I miss many a bite, but not all, and I end the day with an impressive 11, together with a pair of tench.  All of the fish have the hollow bellies that suggests they have not fed well recently.  The crucians run from about a pound and a quarter, up to exactly two pounds, and the two tench would have weighed about the same as the largest crucian, a couple of pound each.  This all bodes well, not only for this water, but for several other tench waters I want to throw a lead at this year.  As I pack up, a pair of buzzards circle overhead, gradually moving away and downwind.   Lower down, a pair of kestrels demonstrate that, even in the high wind, the nickname of "windhover" is well deserved. Not sure what prey they seek though, hovering right over the middle of the lake.  As I walk back to the car, I see the first gardener of Spring. I guess he is also back from Africa, but some days later than the sand martins.

I leave the water far earlier than I wanted to,  immediately greeting the motorway rush hour, and ultimately emerge from that nightmare just in time to go out and run the local circus school, my regular Tuesday night gig.   A good three days, and a promising, if late, start to warm water. Actually it is still just 10 degrees in the lake, and the fish are not yet in peak condition following their harsh winter.  The 20 degree air temperature had made the 3rd day bearable, although I am suffering considerable wind-burn after 6 hours of facing a stiff breeze.  I do wish I had not worn that bobble hat though. A two tone forehead does not suit me.


Monday 1 April 2013

The Unlucky Grebe and the Roach

The Unlucky Grebe and the Roach. 

A Short, True, Story, with Pictures. By JayZS

Easter, and I decide to take a stroll down the local vale, taking the camera.   I had decided not to fish, it still being rather cold, and I was not feeling particularly heroic, more so because my central heating has been broken for two weeks during what has been the coldest March for many years. So, after a cup of hot chocolate in the visitor's centre, I ventured out, and wandered towards the larger of the ponds, hoping to get a good photograph of the great crested grebes.  The previous week they had stayed as far away from my camera as they could, without actually leaving the country, and I had returned with the camera memory stick empty. Initially today, they also kept well away, diving in the distance  ...   until one suddenly surfaced quite close to me.  I was as shocked as the grebe, and it dived again, within milliseconds, but not before I managed this first photo. No time to adjust anything on the camera, but Lady Luck was with me.  She was to remain in close contact for a couple of minutes, as a mini drama unfolded centre stage.

The luck of the grebe had also changed when it resurfaced some 30 yards away. It had caught a fish during that dive, a roach: Rutilus rutilus for those of you who speak fluent Latin. The orange pelvic fins of the fish were clearly visible.  The fish looked to be rather more than a light breakfast, the bird having caught a fish big enough for a slap up "eat as much as you can" buffet. The fish had already been turned into the head first position.

In such a position, the fins of the roach tend to fold neatly back along the body as it is swallowed by the bird, and thus it slides quite easily down the gullet, without any need for gravy.  So much for the theory.  Sod's Law, combined with the Buggeration Factor, conspired against the grebe.  The fish was too large to be swallowed. The grebe struggled valiantly but the fish would simply go no nearer to its stomach.  The bird tried everything it knew, even holding it vertically above its head, in order to try to gain assistance from Mr. Newton.  Had the grebe employed Isaac's law of gravy, rather than gravity, then maybe, just maybe, it might  have won the battle. But those gravitational laws were designed for apples, not roach, and apart from the loss of a few scales, the fish remained unmoved, the tail, and most of the body, remained visible. Highly visible.

The commotion went completely unnoticed by the Easter crowds, who were, just a few yards away, busy ramming inordinate amounts of bread down the throats of Canada geese, mallards and the odd domesticated grey lag goose. It did not go similarly unnoticed by the black headed gulls. Some of the gulls had just gained their black heads, ready for the breeding season, and they decided that there might just be such a thing as a free lunch.

Several homed in on the grebe, which after initially trying to swim away with its meal, was forced to dive, with its fish, to avoid them.

Each time the grebe surfaced, it was quickly set upon by the gulls and had to dive again.  Six or seven times the grebe tried to get away from the sharp eyes of the attackers, each time diving in panic.

Eventually the poor unlucky grebe had to give up its roach. The gulls' harassment proved far too much and as it dived one final time it gave up its fish.  The roach was quickly picked up by one of the seabirds.

The gull took flight but was immediately chased by several others all intent on stealing the feast. It soon dropped the fish, which was again looking much too big to be swallowed. The black headed pirates could barely carry the roach, let alone swallow it.

The fish passed from gull to gull, each picking it up from the water surface and then dropping it, none being left alone by the other birds long enough to be able to get the full meal deal. None were able to hold on to the slippery fish.

Eventually one dropped it near to a pair of coots. I was quite surprised to see one coot join in the fray, diving for the fish, leaving just a small triangle of coot visible, looking like it was auditioning for a Jaws IV trailer .  I had always thought that coots fed mainly on pond weeds, with some small pond creatures added, with maybe the odd slice of Warburton's for special occasions.  But no: this one wanted fish for Easter.

Having surfaced with the roach, stolen from the gulls, the coot scooted across the surface, closely pursued by the gulls. The coot headed for a central island, laid the roach down on the ground, and proceeded to leisurely eat its Sunday lunch.  The gulls seemed very unwilling to challenge the coot for the food, and it ate in undisturbed peace.