Monday 24 June 2013

Terns and Tench

In my previous angling life, some 40 years ago, there were then, many differences to modern angling.  I feel that, back then, angling was still an artform.  Today most aspects of angling have been completely mechanised, so much of modern angling is dealt with by prescription:  DVDs, TV programmes, forums, websites, standardised tackle, "can't fail" baits, good tackle off the shelf.  There are far more, and far bigger fish around now.  Big fish in the 60's and early 70's were more or less reserved for the couple of hundred successful specimen hunters.  True: the odd good fish were caught by others, but not like they are caught these days.  Anyone these day can catch, and usually does catch, excellent fish.  Anglers today are far more knowledgeable, many back then were largely clueless, experienced many blanks, and, if they fished matches, were largely cannon fodder for the few match anglers who knew what they were doing.  With all the information available these days most anglers enjoy a great deal of success by simply riding the huge wave of information and canned experience that is so easily available to them. Angling has become a science, and I sometimes feel, one that has been dumbed down to almost GCSE level. Tick the right boxes and you will catch fish. Whether that is a good thing or not is left to the reader to debate.

To take a break of over 30 years from fishing, is to return to a different planet. A changed world where little in angling has remained unmoved.  So back in those days a specimen tench, especially in the North, was designated as a fish of six pounds.    Few fish of that size were caught, and it was only after ten years of big fish hunting that I finally snared my first six pounder: a fish of 6-8. I was well pleased, but it was to be the last fish I caught for over 30 years.  I felt that, with the big tench ticked off, my list of "target" sized specimen fish was complete.  There was nothing else to do but to try and catch up with a delayed, if not destroyed, social life.   If I had one word of advice for the modern young carp angler in his bivvy, it would be to ease off, to cut down on the fanaticism, to enjoy other aspects of life.  I suspect many young carp anglers do not know that there are women out there, somewhere.

I still feel that a six pound tench is a huge fish, my mind having being conditioned by fish that had grown to such sizes naturally, rather than being force fed by daily bait feeding by anglers.  So, mixed in with a number of blanks this year, have come quite a number of good tench. And, in a four week period, that old record of 6-8, which remained by personal best until a year ago, has been beaten no less than
eight times, with half of those eight fish being over 7 pounds.   A result that in the 60's would have been major angling news.  Nowadays it is taken with a pinch of salt.  I have been told by other anglers that my fish, taken this season, are better than my old fish,  but what they are effectively saying is that the fish from long ago have now been devalued.    The reverse is actually the case,  and that 6-8, and the big "fives" that I caught back then, remain in my mind as more significant captures.   I had to work far harder for them, and had to do it all myself...without the internet etc.  To appreciate that statement fully, you would probably have had to have been around the big fish scene 40 years ago.  There was no-one then, nearby, who could have offered any useful advice, for no-one I knew ever fished for tench, never mind for tench of any real  size.  Big fish have undoubtedly become far, far easier to catch than they were of old.  In 1970, to have aimed at catching a six pound tench, you would, in doing so, have branded yourself a "specimen hunter".  Today, whilst seeking fish of six and seven pounds I just view myself as a tench angler, or perhaps more accurately, an angler fishing for tench.

That is not to say I have not enjoyed catching these new bigger fish.  I have, and could certainly have had a fair few more of similar sizes had I spent the extra time on the bank.  Any tench is a gorgeous creature, a real fish shape, and a scrapper.    I feel privileged just to see one on the bank, and then love to see it swim off again.  None too pleased to see one male tench though.  It had been a relatively fine day, some light showers, and this continued into darkness.  Continued until the huge flash of lightning immediately above me, followed a second or so later by a huge thunderclap.  The rain, a minute later became torrential.  Tench are, it would seem, unfazed by thunder, and this hard fighting male bit a few seconds after the heavy rain started.  I got very substantially drenched.

Of course, it was not all about the fishing.  There were birds to be watched as well.  I had a couple of terns plying their way across the water for much of the time. I was unable to get any decent photos of them and the photograph is one I took last year, and I think it is a common tern.  I can never decide whether this bird was flying gracefully or in an ungainly manner.  With every flap of its wings the body would go up and down: most odd.   The terns the other day flew rather differently, they seemed to have faster wing beats, and the body was more stable in flight.  They repeated spiralled down to take minuscule items from the water surface.  I don't know if the birds this year and last year were of the same species.   I have a suspicion that they were different...only a suspicion, mind you. Not good enough yet with my ID of terns. 

Blurred Oystercatcher

A couple of oyster catchers also flashed up and down the lake, frequently landing on an island.  Too fast to photograph effectively, so apologies for the blurred bird,   but I do wonder if they occasionally nest inland?

Reed Bunting

 Two other species that I have not often come across before provided more entertainment.  Reed buntings and reed warblers.  Noisy little birds the warblers. Incessant chirruping. Both birds perching on wobbly reed stalks for much of the time.

Reed Warbler, singing, or perhaps warbling.

I am fairly sure that both species in the reeds were male, because both were singing. The warbler certainly had a nest in the reeds, for it occasionally disappeared into the reedbed, always at the same spot. I did not want to go any closer, for fear of disturbing the nest.  To do so would have meant my wading through the reeds.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Tench and Bream

A slim 7 pounder slips back into the lake.
Late May: Tench: one of my favourite fish, and they always have been. Probably always will be.  There is something about their colour and that smooth muscular shape, a real fish shape that imbues them with that "must catch" essence that I am unable to resist, as well as a powerful fight when hooked.   They can be easy to catch, or, given a suitable water, they can be a nightmare to find and hook.  That green and the contrasting red eye will always draw me in and I have so far fished three different waters for tench this year.   One easy water with small fish did not hold my attention for long.  I would have stayed longer, had the crucians I was also catching, been pure crucian, and not part goldfish. Another water, rumoured to hold the odd tench did, and 4 trips produced 3 fish. A good result with one of the fish becoming a new personal best, despite being a long, slim, fit fish with no signs of any spawn in it.  Such are early season fish, especially after a long hard Winter's fast. 

The third lake is what I consider to be an easy water.  Not lacking some good fish though, as a number of fish well over 6 pounds soon demonstrated by falling to my baits.   But the predictability of almost certain catches soon paled with me, and the time was ripe to go and try a hard water, one which I thought might hold some good ones.

So I arrived at the lake, early, about 4am, tackled up, cast quickly and the lobworm soon attracted a small perch, and a second bite at the same spot was probably another small perch.  But to my left a fish rolled: obviously a tench, a majestically slow roll, barely rippling the surface.  Had I not seen the fish, the ripple could have been put down as a small roach.  Two or three other fish rolled, and so I cast to the left.   As another good fish rolled right besides my float, the tension mounted.   Two bites followed, long slow runs of the float, but both fish were missed. Inexplicably missed.  7 AM now, and all has gone quiet, but the day remains dull, cloudy but rain free, and so hopes remain high.
And so it was to remain, throughout the day.  No bites, little sign of fish, no carp jumping, nothing.  So I occupied my time watching the wildlife.  In the margins scattered over a wide area near to me
Massed Toadpoles
were a great number of toadpoles.   The tadpoles of toads are blacker and with shorter tails than those of frogs.   Also they taste dreadful, so nothing eats them.   As the day progressed, the toadpoles gathered near the very edge of the water, forming a huge black wriggling mass.   Thousands of them. I don't know why they concentrated so, as there seemed to be little food for them.  A foot further out was a feast of silkweed.  The tench remained elusive though.  I did see a couple of tench cruising above the elodea though, small fish of maybe three pounds, but tench, and in the right area of the lake.   As evening approached a roach took a bait, a handsome but quite dark fish of some six or seven ounces, and a prelude to an evening rise of fish. 

As darkness approached, fish started to roll with quite large splashes.  Tench , I was sure,  and lots of them over an area of some 30 yards square, within casting range but outside my baited area.  I was perhaps rather silly to think they were tench as it happens: for they were not.  Good big fish though, each trying to make the most surface disturbance it could, as it breached, and over a ten minute period, at least a hundred such fish showed.  They continued to roll but in reducing numbers, and I started to get bites.  Easy slow bites which I was unable to hit.  I finally hooked one briefly, and the line came back with a large scale on the hook point.   I now assumed carp were responsible, but was to be proved wrong yet again.  So amateurish of me, I should have known far better.  Finally, after at least half a dozen inexplicably missed bites I hooked one.  A bream, 7-4.   On bread.  Two more followed: a fish of maybe six something, and then a 9-8.  All three fish were hooked just outside their mouths.  I have no explanation for this effect, all the bites were the usual big bream, slow rise of the bobbins. I never used to miss bites like these back in the old Cheshire Meres Big Bream days, early 70's..   More bites were missed.  I continued to fish after dawn, and on through a second night.   The day finally gave me my first tench from the lake, a male of 5-1.  Something of a Nemo this fish, one of its pectorals being small and deformed.  But a tench.  

As evening arrived the bream moved back in again.  5 more fish being landed, with three more hooked just outside their mouths.   All on bread, the bait being hooked conventionally, no hair rig, or other fancy doomahdiddle rig in use.   The fish were again quite good ones, with a 9-13, 9-0, and 8-13 the three best fish. All in all I missed a lot of what would normally be very easy-to-hit bream bites, and hooking six from those eight fish just outside the mouth was weird. I put it down to the roughness of the breams' skin allowing the line to stay in closer contact with the fish, maybe even catching the line itself, and the following strike hitting home outside the mouth, as the fish played with, rather than eating, the bread.   But any other theories held by readers would be most welcome. As all the fish had head tubercles, I assume all the fish were males.

 I have stopped fishing the lake, for the bream were most unpleasant to the touch, and in this spawning condition, my interference with their lives was probably not for the best, even though I am sure double figure fish were there for the taking...and on the float too!   I'll go back, maybe in September to try specifically for those bream, once they have regained their condition.

Sunday 9 June 2013

Cheek! Caught a Tench in MY Swim

I fished a new water today, not really expecting to catch anything at all.  The water is big, very big, new to me, gin clear, and I knew little of it  other than its name and location.   But it looked good for tench, and to me that is always enough to get the juices flowing.    And indeed, catching nothing is exactly what happened. The trip became, as expected, merely a reconnaissance expedition.  As such it was not wasted, and as with most of my trips, there were wildlife moments to see and savour.

I cast in as dawn broke, to much birdsong.  I am not the best of people to identify bird species by their songs, and that is possibly as a result of being tone deaf and never singing myself.  When I was eleven, on my first morning at grammar school, I stood immediately behind the music teacher, who played the pipe organ right in front of the row of new boys.   After the first hymn, he turned around    "You boy!  Name?"
  I told him.
 "YOU, boy, are banned from singing for the rest of your life.  I consider it my duty as a musician, to protect the rest of mankind from your intolerable caterwauling."
I have never burst into song since.  I quote him, word for word, and to be honest he was right,  Even if I try to sing to myself, inside my head, silently, I know the notes are wrong.    I didn't pass GCE music.  Wasn't even entered for it.    Ah well, I just hope the rest of you are duly grateful for what you have been spared.

A Songthrush: Listening for Worms.
I did recognise the song thrush almost at the very top of a nearby tree.   After all the easiest way to identify this bird's very variable song is to count the phrase repetitions.  If he usually sings it three times: song thrush....simple mathematics...I was good at maths.

Massed Toadpoles
But let me return to the lakeside.   Soon after dawn a little dabchick emerged from the nearby sedges, and slowly swam right across the lake,   several hundred yards.   He, or she, came back about an hour later.  This epic journey was to be repeated about 4 times during the day.   Why there was no suitable food any closer, I have no idea.  The margins seemed to be brim full of all sorts of little bugs and critters.   Like every other place I have fished recently there were massed toadpoles.    Not seen any frog larvae as yet, but toads are everywhere this year.  Toadpoles are blacker than tadpoles, smaller, and with a shorter tail.  There was more life in the margins than I expected, several times a great crested grebe came, and pushed its way through the marginal rushes and sedges.   Not seeing me it often came as close as a couple of feet from my couple of feet.

A crèche of Canada goslings drifted across the lake, and came on land quite near to me to eat the fresh grass in the field.   There were 23 young, along with four parents.  I don't know why, but most of the Canada  geese  on a lake do not seem to breed, but often those that do guard their offspring collectively.  I have seen three such crèches this year, each attended by four adults.
 Swallows swifts and house martins flew constantly above the lake.   The swifts, so aptly named, flew rapidly, higher up than the other birds, their uniformly dark brown colouration and thin swept back wings clearly identifying them. The swallows, with their thin v tail flew mainly near the water surface.  A speed, and with many twists and turns, they never let a wingtip touch the surface, despite being constantly as low as an inch or two.  The house martins, with that conspicuous white rump, flew at an intermediate height, below the swifts, yet above the swallows.  No sand martins, the smallest of the quartet.  They will be over the river, near their nest holes, and enjoying themselves in exuberant flight, more than any other bird species I have seen.  I watched some flies hatch, emerging from the water surface, and venturing tentatively into the air.  Most were caught by the swallows, who slowed down only slightly as they take the insects in mid flight. Occasionally they would drink from the surface, but also, something I have not noticed before, they often took insects directly off the surface of the water. 

Great Crested Grebe Sharing the Fishing: One for Him, None for Me.
The weeds near my feet moved again, the grebe was back.   But this time, he came back to the surface, with a tench held sideways in his bill.  About four inches the fish was, and as slippery as all tench.  The grebe swam off, all the time struggling to turn and swallow the fish.  Eventually he succeeded, but it found it far more difficult than swallowing a roach..  But the cheek of it: catching a tench, in my swim, on a day I remained biteless.

Heard a cuckoo as well on the day, somewhere the far side of the lake from my position.  Of course that could mean it being a long way away, as the call seems to carry very well indeed.   Odd how the two notes, repeated incessantly as they are, remain enigmatic, and of interest, whereas the five notes of the woodpigeon get on the nerves after a very few minutes.   I did think about going to look for the bird after I finished fishing, but forgot all about it...and it was raining, so I hurried the wet gear into my car and drove home.