Monday 27 May 2013

Mythical Bubbles.

Ever since reading Dick Walker's books, and Fred J. Taylor's articles, many years ago, I have known exactly what they are.  You also will know what they are.  Every angler in the country probably knows what they are.   What are they?  Tench bubbles.     Clumps of tiny bubbles are always an indication that your swim is crammed full of feeding tench.  Everyone knows it.
So, when I saw a two foot wide clump of small bubbles rise near my float, whilst fishing for tench a couple of days ago, I was prepared for, poised for, that bite, and the resultant superb green fish that would probably follow it.   A second and similar clump rose to the surface a couple of yards away.    No tench though.   To my right in tap clear water, some five feet deep, was yet another clump of bubbles, and as they dispersed I was already hunting for my Polaroid sunglasses in my fishing bag.  Donning them, I was able to easily and clearly see right down to the elodea, the Canadian pond weed some 4 feet down.  No fish visible though.  The tench had obviously cleared off, whilst I searched the depths of my bag, it had sought out similar depths further out in the lake.  After a couple of minutes a small carp, maybe nine or ten pounds approached the area, swimming a foot or so below the surface.   It headed straight for the spot where the last group of tench bubbles had risen.   It then dived down into the weed, turning itself upside down, displaying its pale belly quite clearly for me to see.  It then wriggled in the weed for a moment, almost as if giving itself a gentle massage.  Two or three seconds later a mass of "tench" bubbles came up immediately above the carp.
Well so much for angling legends and myths.  The "tench" bubbles were caused by a carp.  Now, no doubt some such bubbles are caused by tench, but quite obviously not always.  Other species can create them.  And if the bubbles are merely being freed from the oxygenating leaves of water plants, their size is unrelated to the fish.  Any fish, or shoal of fish disturbing that weed could generate small bubbles in profusion.
I have always been reluctant to accept many/any of the statements of other anglers about bubbles. Anglers on rivers often point at bubbles and claim they are originating from barbel, or chub, and from carp and bream on stillwaters.  I hate to disappoint them, but most of the time those bubbles are from decaying vegetation.  And often, in the shallows you can watch similar bubbles emerging from the silt.   I have often wondered how anglers can possibly believe that so many of the bubbles they see are from fish.  Very few are.   They see the bubbles in the shallows: decaying matter. They see the same bubbles where the bottom is too deep to see: fish!  
So it came as a shock to me , when one of the undisputed bubble sources, one I have always accepted as being from tench, proved to have been from something else.  I have been just as fallible and gullible as all those anglers I have criticized for so long.  But I am still learning, and long may that continue.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Robins and a Pike.

One of the pleasures of a day's angling is the inevitable presence of that little red-breasted bird, the common robin.   And they are very common: rare is the angling day when one of the little fellows is not tramping about all over your gear, clomping about on your rods with his feet, or standing on your boot looking askance into the maggot box, asking to be fed.
Robins have always, in the UK at least, been very tame, and fairly unafraid of anglers and gardeners.  With patience they can be trained to feed from the hand. They used to follow wild boar about in the forests, and as the boars rooted around in the ground for roots and whatever else they might find, the robins would stand around, close by, picking up any insects or worms that were disturbed.   Nowadays they follow the gardener, or the angler, in much the same way, But remember, whilst  that robin is looking quizzically at you as you sit on the riverbank, that what the bird is really thinking is: "When is that lazy pig going to do some work  and stir up my food for me?"

But a few days ago, whilst fishing, I did not see a robin all day. Probably the first time this year that I have not been treated to its presence.  Most unusual. The damn thing was probably off mating, or feeding its young, or its mate.  Extremely selfish of it.  No: all I saw were water birds, a few flyover pigeons, crows and gulls.  On the land all I saw was one lonely great tit in a nearby tree.

But I was not to be without a companion.  Eight or nine times during the day a little ten inch pike ventured into water near my feet, water just some six inches deep, and very clear.    It would swim away, but 30 minutes later it would be back, its fins wavering slightly as it kept station just above the sandy bottom of the lake.  On its 6th visit I decided to throw it a maggot.   The robin didn't want them today, maybe the pike would?   And much to my surprise it did, taking eight or nine maggots over the course of an hour.   It would watch the maggot sink past its snout, then the fish would sneak up to within a couple of inches, and make a determined, if slightly slow, strike and swallow the maggot.   Once it seemed to choke a little, and spat out the maggot, along with a small toadpole (if that isn't a word, it should be).   All of the growth stages of toads are supposed to taste very bad, and I assume that taste is what caused the pike to reject the maggot.    Eventually it lost interest in such small food items, and drifted off to seek larger prey.   Even when the birds are absent, there is always something of interest to see when fishing. 

Sunday 19 May 2013

Disco Maggots: The Sequel.

Essential reading before this, is the earlier post entitled "Damned Disco Maggots".

...I was lucky.  The cold weather this Spring held back the escaped maggots from hatching.  They were taking a very long time to hatch, so long that I had almost forgotten about them.   My Australian relatives were able to come visit and then to return home without seeing a single bluebottle.  I had lost all fear that my wife would go ballistic and crucify me in nice time for Easter.

Then one day I had cause to  shout at the wife.  I caught her chasing three flies around the kitchen. But  I had a strong suspicion about where those three flies had originated.   So I sneaked down and sprayed the cellar with flyspray. There were quite a lot of flies down there too, forming planetary systems around my head, and buzzing everywhere.  Hoped to get them all, and then went back down then next day to pick up the bodies before she went down there herself. Fair to say that the ground  below ground was thick with them.   But they were all swept up and, after a new burst of fly spray, I closed the door.

A day or so later I went fishing, having told the wife to keep out of the cellar.  I had cleaned it up a second time and told her not to go down there. I didn't say why. 
Of course being a, next day, whilst I was still out fishing, she went down. And found several hundred dead flies dead on the floor from my last spraying, and many more in flight, obviously hatched after the spray had diluted itself to an ineffective level. She was not amused.

All very Shroedinger's cat. Had she NOT gone down there she would not have known that the flies existed, never mind whether they were dead or alive on opening the box. Anyway I can now tell Shroedinger that if he puts two cats in the box, one will be dead, and the other will leap out and fly around his wife's head.

My readers will now be wondering whether I went unpunished. NO! I had to suffer two days of going fishing with three of four flies buzzing around in the car, and had to drive with the windows open. Some of the damn maggots had escaped before being put in the cellar.

Nearly five quid wasted!

P.S.   the last time my Australian cousins visited a hedgehog died in the garden ( as I discovered a couple of weeks later).  It died of a huge flea infestation.  I thought hedgehog fleas were hedgehog specific fleas.   Not so.  Every time any of us walked past the spot where the creature lay dead, its fleas must have been pouncing on our legs and clothes.  So my cousins and my carpets became flea infested.  The Ozzies went home with flea bites, and I had to have a man in to disinfect the house and garden.

Monday 13 May 2013


I forgot.  A couple of days ago I completely forgot that the tench lake I was fishing contains eels.  I should have remembered, for this time last year I went equipped with maggots and worms as bait... and nothing else, no tidbits that would prove unattractive to old Anguilla anguilla.   And I suffered that night with no less than 12 eels taking my bait, none over a pound and a half,  despite an unconfirmed ( as far as I am concerned ) rumour of a double figure specimen having been taken from the venue.  So, shortly after dark, and having continued to fish with lobworms two days ago: another eel, about a pound and a half.  Luckily this time I did have alternative baits, so the eel remained my one and only wriggly companion that night.   Few anglers, save the specialists, actually like eels, and I am sure no-one at all likes small eels.  If I am lucky, I can slide my fingers down the line, grasp the hook between thumb and forefinger, and shake the eel off without any major problems. Often though, an eel comes complete with a deep, irretrievable hook, a job that would be made easier if the fish would only co-operate and lie still.   It rarely happens though, and usually I end up having to cut the line, as near to the jaws as possible, for to try and get the hook out, as it wriggles and slimes its way about everything in its path, is about as likely as my seeing God suddenly choose me, an out an out atheist, as the target for his next miracle.  The Anguilla club recommends cutting the line, and assures us that the eel is accomplished at shedding the hook, so even at today's hook prices, I will go with that. Although I do not like catching (small) eels, I am nevertheless very pleased to have them in our waters.
But eels have had a bad time over the last couple of decades and have been in major decline, with some reports saying we now have only 5% of the numbers present a few years ago.  So it is with some pleasure that I read the recent Daily Mail article that said elvers in the Severn this year were being caught at ten times the numbers captured in previous recent years.  I quote from the article:

Baby eels squirm their way back onto British menus after the biggest harvest in 30 years drops prices.

Elver eel numbers could reach 100million this year - ten times last year.
Fishermen say it is the largest harvest they've seen in 30 years.This has meant restaurants can serve the delicacy at reduced prices.
So many have been caught this spring that the city's elver station had to close for two weeks because its storage tanks were full and it was turning away fishermen trying to sell them.
So far, 660,000 Severn elvers have been donated for re-stocking rivers in this country and that figure will rise at the end of the season.

 This is all very good news for our rivers, for elvers do provide food for many other species, and the adults are, so I am told, a favourite of the otter.  So: more eels and maybe the otters will no longer be quite so hated by so many anglers. Of course for them to reach a size of any interest to otters will take a few years, eels being quite slow growing.  I am not sure whether there was a real need to transfer 600,000 to other rivers, especially as half have gone into the Avon, a Severn tributary.  I suspect that a good head of elvers on the Severn this year will be duplicated by similar good elver runs on most other rivers.  After all they are supposed to spawn somewhere off Bermuda, and, by the time they reach our shores usually have spread out to invade most of Europe.   I predict a good year for elvers in all our rivers for 2013, for, unlike salmon, they have no home river to aim for.  But why have other recent years been so poor?   Maybe global warming has had a diverting effect on the Gulf Stream, sufficient to lose many of our elvers en-route?   I am still hoping for some more substantial scientific verification as to where the parents of our elvers actually came from.
Of course in the North West, centred around the Manchester area, eels have been  rare to absent for many many years.  The rivers, certainly those fed from near the Mersey Estuary have been a pollution barrier for a very long time, probably for  well over a hundred years.   And so in my youth I never caught an eel locally. My first eel came, after about 4 years of eel-less fishing locally, on a match fishing trip to Lincolnshire.  Oh my God!  What an experience. I had no idea how slippery they were.  I expected to unhook it easily.  Wrong!    I just could not hold the foot long bootlace still.  I even stood on it and it slipped from under my feet.  I dropped it on the grass, whilst I worked out what to do with it, and it wriggled backwards, disappearing into the grass, taking my hook and line with it.
 Today things are better locally, and  the 12 eels I caught in my tench lake undoubtedly came up the Mersey some ten or a dozen years ago.   Maybe the Mersey, like the Severn, is also experiencing a large 2013 influx of elvers as I type.   In the 4 or 5 years during which I have resumed fishing, I have caught eels from the

A Mersey Eel
Mersey, and from both its main tributaries, the Goyt and the Tame. Very pleasing.  Some were good sized eels, up to 3 pounds in weight, so obviously they have been in the rivers, albeit in small numbers, for at least the last 15 years, the population increasing as the rivers regained their cleanliness.     35-40 years ago the nearest eels were in the Shropshire Union Canal, fed by the river Dee.  The Mersey catchment had none, and now it has considerable numbers, so the North West is probably the one area in the UK where the eel density has increased over the last 30 years. 

I am sure that I have read that elvers take some three years to reach our shores, so if we add another year for adult eels to reach their spawning grounds, then four years ago, it seems unlikely that eels were endangered?   So, considering also that awful night last year, when I landed a dozen small eels,  I must ask, are they really so endangered?
But all in all a good news story for our eels at last. Maybe we will see more elver rich years in the near future.