Monday 30 September 2013

Confessions of an Olde School Specimen Hunter. Act 2, Scene III.

I have never been much of a linguist, my Franglais remains fragile, my Latin lounges somewhere between comatose and lethargic.  And after 25 years of marriage, I still understand just one word of my wife's native language.   "Tanga", or in more extreme circumstances  "Tanga tanga".   I have strong suspicions that the word means "stupid", or when repeated, "Very stupid".  I hear the word(s) quite often, and it  invariably seems to be when she is speaking to me.  But maybe I have completely misinterpreted the word, and it is actually quite complimentary?   Take today for instance: 
I have never been much of a gardener either, but have been lucky, in that my garden is full of shrubs, and so apart from digging the pond, I can honestly say, that in twenty eight years, I have never threatened it with a spade, nor have I thought about forking it.   But now bring ALDI into the equation.  They have been selling bulbs this week:  crocus, daffodils, tulips and so on.   You have to plant them in holes, because leaving them on the surface, in or out of the packaging, just does not work...especially in the kitchen.  Onions are different.  It is hard going  using a "dibber" to dig holes, and I often used to hear my father complain about the task.   But today, seeing brownie points on the horizon, I extracted the centre pole from my angling umbrella, and tackled the back lawn.  I dibbed and I dobbed ( Not sure, but I think, maybe, that might have been wolf cubs points rather than brownies) and after a good 10 minutes had planted just..... five crocus bulbs.  And ALDI, sadists that they are, have been putting no less than fifty bulbs in a packet, and selling them for just £1.39.   So the wife bought FOUR packets.  Only 195 left to plant.  A couple of days work in old money.  Another type of bulb flashed in my head: an idea!  I direct this brainwave at all the gardeners out there, a tip from one obviously destined to be greater than Percy Thrower: namely myself.

The tip:   Throw away that dibber, get rid of your trowel, and dig out your Black and Decker.  Fit a one and a quarter inch wood borer, and point it at the lawn.   That's me, being green.

In next to no time I had 195 holes in the lawn, each fitted with its own crocus bulb, and I had nearly filled in all those holes by dribbling in compost, when I heard the words: "Tanga tanga!", quite loudly.  Quite obviously therefore, the word actually means "Genius".   I admit that the lawn has gained something of a look similar to Wayne Rooney's head.  The moss is now dotted with little round dark pits of soil, but unlike Wayne's head of hair, surely it will all grow back properly by Spring, and look very healthy?   I mean,  think about it, if Wayne suddenly, next April, were to sprout a host of golden crocuses, or daffodils if you really must, then surely even he would look quite good? Almost decorative. And I believe he frequently gets well watered.  I will leave you with that image and move on to the confession.

Although now an expert gardener, I sometimes can do some pretty damn stupid things when fishing. In the days when all stillwaters had a close season, the soonest anyone could tackle tench was June the 16th, midnight.   The 16th was glorious to angling, in the same way that August the 12th is glorious to grouse shooting. For days before, preparations would be made, and prayers offered to the Gods for a good bit of cloudy, rainy weather. On the 15th, people would queue up outside the tackle shops.  Removal of the close season has destroyed all that tradition, tradition which was often in vain, for mostly the middle of June would be hot and sunny, and quite useless for tench fishing.  The water that I and Chris used to fish for tench was boat fishing only, but because we were friendly with the game keeper, he allowed us so set up the boats on the lake, the previous day.  They were staked and tied down solidly, so as to provide a stable platform from which to fish, some fifteen yards out from the bank, the other side of a thick reedbed, in about two feet of water. The punts were to be home for a week.   The weather, at 3pm on the 15th was awful, brilliant sunshine, beating down on us, my hay fever starting to make my nose itch and my eyes water. We spent much of the afternoon and evening bemoaning the sun, prebaiting and waiting, but as 11pm and darkness approached, so did a bank of cloud.   Thick cloud.   Very thick cloud.    Our hopes of great catches were raised rapidly as the rain started to fall.  Prospects looked so good for the next day.

"Bloody Hell Chris" I said, "I have never seen such dark clouds. Looks perfect. I can see nothing at all."

Chris replied, nonchalently "Well, if you were to take off your sunglasses...."

Now I am short-sighted, and have been, probably, since I first left the womb. I quite definitely do not remember seeing that midwife in sharp focus.  But in the close season, before the trip, I had invested in a pair of ultra cool, very dark, prescription polaroid sunglasses.  And I was wearing them. Without the glasses it was pretty damn dark, but with them....blackout!  The trouble with wearing glasses from necessity daily, is that, with sunglasses on, you forget that you are not wearing your normal daylight pair.  But those clouds were getting darker still, and so I donned my waders, hopped over the side of the boat and waded ashore, intending to take a short cut through the wood and back to the car, in which I had stupidly left my normal spectacles.  Short cut? Bad idea!   The rain got heavier, much, much heavier. Torrential became an inadequate description, as the clouds thickened yet more.  The wood was not only full of boggy ground, soaking wet ferns, but there were trees as well.   I had the choice of a) wearing the dark glasses, and being able to see nothing at all, but all of that nothing would have been in perfect sharp focus.    Or b) taking the glasses off, and being able to see exactly how completely dark it really was, but with very blurred vision.  This dilemma had a severe effect on my orienteering skills. My promise to return to the punt, Cinderella style, by midnight, was badly broken, and my clothes were also in danger of being reduced to rags by the rain, mud and random attacks by vegetation. So I spent nearly three hours crashing about in the woods, bumping into trees, falling into bogs, tripping over brambles, fighting through invisible but very aggressive nettles, whilst trying to find my car.  But the pollen count was falling and my sneezing diminished as the rain proliferated. The rain that became so heavy, my waders actually started to fill up as the water ran down my neck, back, front and just about everywhere else.  Getting part filled waders out of deep bog in a midnight monsoon is not easy.   It was very nearly daybreak when I eventually got back to the punt, bruised, saturated, annoyed, and swearing like any modern Liverpudlian teenage girl, but without the accent.  
As luck would have it, Chris had no bites during darkness, and it wasn't until I was back in the boat, dripping wet, that the floats first started to move. The day's fishing did go quite well, and we had a fair few tench, maybe as many as twenty.   I would have to go back through my logs to check exactly what we caught, but it is not relevant to the post in any case.  Doubtful if many were much above five pounds, as, in those days very few people ever had a fiver.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Confessions of an Olde School Specimen Hunter: The Prologue and Rant.

This post is part zero of "Confessions...", and will serve as a prologue to an occasional series of such articles.  Their ultimate aim is to tell, and preserve, if only for myself, a number of amusing incidents  that occurred.  But first, an introduction, and some history.  (This post should have appeared last year, but I forgot all about it, and it has remained in the draft folder, gathering dust.)
So: "The Prologue and Rant".   Hmmm....that would make a pretty good pub name. Along with "The Frog and Bucket", "Elephant and Castle" and other odd names. So, if any publican currently residing in a boring old "Red Bull" or "White Horse" would like to rename their public house with a rather more memorable name, then please make contact, and for a small(-ish) fee I shall, on  a franchise basis, license you the name.

My early fishing, from age eleven into my teens was largely split into three parts:  a small club pond, match fishing and lastly the Macclesfield Canal.
The club pond held delightful crucians, the odd tench, and a few carp, supposedly growing to 20 pounds.  It was where I fished for pleasure, and I did quite well there, poking a rod out just past the rushes, with bread fished lift method. The pond has disappeared now, run over by the Manchester M60 ring road motorway. Match fishing was usually the weekend coach trip, to the Trent, the Witham, or to many other distant waters. Occasionally the local clubs held  Club Federation matches mid week on a nearby canal.  I did well in all these matches, very well, enough such that some seniors actually objected to juniors being allowed to enter the sweepstakes, and even to compete for the overall club championships.   They were outvoted. They lost in two ways. ;-)   It was not difficult in those days to win: most seniors, and practically all juniors, had absolutely no idea how to fish, and certainly were clueless as to how to fish to win.  And there is a huge difference between fishing, and fishing to win. There were none of the myriad of modern aids to learning that exist today. So on those matches, 90% of anglers were just cannon fodder, and they were all standing immediately in front of the muzzle with their eyes closed. One that was not was Ian Heaps, who went on to become a world champion.  On the Federation matches, I used to beat him about as often as he beat me. But I quickly grew bored of match angling whereas he did not. 

It was fishing the Macclesfield Canal that gave me the skills to win.  I taught myself how to fish there from about 12 years old. In those days the canal was usually gin clear, and the fish very difficult to tempt.  In three feet of water you could watch your free offerings all be snaffled on the drop by roach and perch, whilst your baited hook was repeatedly ignored. It was a training ground of great excellence, bar none.  At the time it was bailiffed by one Albert Oldfield, who, sometimes assisted by the ancient Mr. Grindley, riding an even more ancient bike, used to sell day tickets on the bank.  Albert was famous in the angling press for catching numerous 2 and 3 pound roach from the canal.  But none of the canal regulars seemed to have ever seen him fishing, we saw no photographs, either in the press or elsewhere, and despite years of fishing the canal, with all sorts of baits and methods, including copying those techniques supposedly used by Albert, none of us ever had a roach bigger than a very nice fish of  1-6 that I managed to  hook into one day.  A fish of a pound would have been a season's best...and I probably only caught two or three fish over that magical one pound weight. We were all certain that the Albert fish reports were merely a method of increasing Albert's ticket sales. Had two and three pound roach existed in the numbers Albert claimed, we would have had at least the occasional big fish ourselves. We may have been mistaken about Mr Oldfield, but it seems unlikely. I would welcome any genuine photos of him with big fish from the canal, at which point I will publish my apology.

A 2 pound plus Macclesfield Canal Perch that I caught recently.
One day, high excitement: a guy I spoke to said that he had a two pound roach in his net.  He showed it to me....a beautiful fish, yet 12 oz was my highest guess for its true weight, however I said nothing to dampen his joy.  A number of us had formed the "Macclesfield Canal Roach Specialists (MCRS)", who were determined to get that good fish out, despite none of us really believing they ever existed. We never succeeded, and the fish of 1-6 remained the best any of us ever saw.  It was to be some years later that my first 2 pound roach came to the net, and that was not a canal fish.   The canal is very different now, the boat traffic has multiplied by a factor of at least twenty, with moorings occupying most of the deep water stretch that I loved, and the water is therefore constantly coloured, even in Winter.  Most of the edging of rushes and reeds has gone, replaced by awful metal shuttering to prevent erosion, consequently the water voles have all gone, and it is no longer such a pleasure to fish from the towpath.  Oddly it does now produce some good fish, and two pound plus perch have become quite common.

Specimen groups were beginning to appear in the mid 60's, and I leapt at the chance to join the Manchester Specimen Group when it was first formed.   There were probably still no more than 500 anglers in the UK who called themselves Specimen Hunters, and most of those were so only in their own heads.  I felt I did not deserve the title myself at that time, although  I was soon to become ridiculously dedicated to the task, always aiming at that even bigger, better, higher, faster fish. I even became records officer for the NASG, whilst Eric Hodson was in the secretarial chair.

Richard Walker and friends were probably the first group of anglers who might have been referred to as "specimen hunters". Walker's book "Stillwater Angling" was certainly responsible for an upsurge in the "big fish" interest that followed.  The MCRS slowly evaporated and was no more, and the MSG was to fold sometime later, although I am still in occasional contact with three of its members, who have remained anglers ever since.   I had formed a partnership, with Chris, who founded the MCRS, and we were to fish together very intensely over a number of years.  In those days, the late 60's and 70's, being successful as a big fish angler meant finding waters where few others fished, which were not heavily stocked with fish (and therefore were seen as difficult to fish), putting in the hard work, and most of all, being confident that you could catch those big fish. ( Nowadays, catching big fish seems to be mainly dependent upon visiting waters that are fished very often, and therefore those which have masses of bait fed to the short go fishing in fish farms, for obese overweight unhealthy fish). I gained that big fish confidence quite early, Chris taking much much longer before he got his fair share of the fish.  I can only put my successes then down to that confidence: nothing else could explain it, illogical though it may seem.  In due course we both became very successful, big bream, tench, carp, roach, rudd etc etc.  Chris and I were largely responsible for showing Alan Wilson how to catch big fish. John Watson occasionally joined the party, and much later became a well known pike specialist.  Alan later also became very famous, breaking the tench record. Shared a lot of superb breakfasts with Alan, cooked in his old grey Austin van. He was a great guy, and could occupy a swim more completely than any other angler I knew. Not an innovator, but so incredibly patient.

But my own dedication was not to last,  and after about 12 very successful years, I had convinced myself that big fish were not so hard to catch after all ( and I had annoyed a fair few other people by saying they were actually quite easy. The reality was that some "specimen hunters" regarded themselves as being very special, and here was I saying "Bo.......ks! ). For me, the challenge had gone, and I also realised that fishing some 60+ hours a week, whilst working, was leaving me shattered, and with no social life at all.  So one June 16th, first day of the coarse season, after landing a personal best tench, I consigned the rods to the attic, where they were to remain for over 30 years.

So, 32 years later, following a combination of starting to hate the work I had loved, and my wife getting cancer  ( she is looking good now, 6 years later, following tumour removal and chemotherapy, cross fingers), I decided to dig the rods out of the dust, having seen some small chub in the River Mersey.  Last time I had held a rod, all those years ago, even the shopping trolleys could not survive in the Mersey.  No plant life, no insects, no fish, just a bottom covered with dead bricks.   So the chub both shocked and pleased  me.  However I promised myself that, when I restarted my fishing,  I would fish for pure enjoyment. If a big fish came along, fine, but they would not be my be-all and end-all targets.   As luck would have it, over those 30 years fishing has changed, Oh my God! How it has changed.  Big fish have become even easier to catch!       ;-(  or maybe  ;-)

The fish of today are far bigger, thanks to modern bait technology, and there are so many more of them, catching a big fish is so very much easier that everyone does it now, almost routinely, not just those few isolated specimen hunters as in the 60's.  Tackle is so much better, no need to build your own alarms and specialist rods.  Tuition comes in so many forms: DVDs, the internet, the TV, paid professional guides, facebook, websites, forums. Books and magazines have proliferated. I used to be the only person I knew who had caught a double figure barbel, nowadays it is hard to find an experienced anger who has not done so.  Bream record up from 13-12 to about 22 pounds.  Everyone knows what size fish a water holds, how many there are, and even their names!   People fish for a specific fish, and all the speculation, all the watercraft needed to work out if a lake was worth the time of day (or night) has gone. What happened to the wonderment, the mystery?   Fishing now works straight out of the box.  New, young anglers, who don't know one end of a hook from the other, target big carp on their first angling trip. And many succeed there and then... because carp have become so very commonplace. Would they be able to recognise a gudgeon? Even the match anglers go after carp these days.  Unheard of in the past. I heard a rumour that F1s were introduced so that match anglers could land them, without risking getting their poles and tackle smashed up by real carp. I have no idea why we needed to introduce ide, F1 hybrids, golden orfe and tench, koi carp, blue trout, sturgeon and various other exotics  into UK angling.   And it is no surprise to me that they have all propagated into areas where they should not be.   Even the Wels, which used to be confined to about two waters, Claydon lakes and somewhere else "dahn Sarth", ( Woburn Abbey I think),  is now such a widespread species that anyone can target them fairly locally.  Don't anyone dare mention goldfish!  Poncing around with their fancy fins and having unprotected sex with all our beautiful crucians! Grrrrr!  Commercial fisheries have appeared and proliferated, and together with irresistible baits, these vastly overstocked waters guarantee a good catch.   The fish have to feed on anglers' baits, there is far too little natural food for the total fish biomass present in these waters. And I suspect that, to a large extent, fish that would normally NOT feed during the winter now do so because they have to, they are unable to build up enough fat reserves over the Summer, due to heavy competition for food, and to their frequent exercise workouts when they are hooked again and again.

It would not be incorrect to say I rue most of these changes.  Angling has changed from being an art to being a science.  Mechanistic.  Of course, all this comes at a price: an expensive price. Angling has become so commercialised.  Tackle shops are brim full to overflowing with all sorts of gizmos and gadgets, whose purposes frequently elude me.  But is there any subject, other than angling about which so much utter rubbish is talked and believed?  I doubt it.  Not even football. Reading about modern angling these days gives me many a secret grin. So much science and so much nonscience...perhaps that word should be spelled n.o.n.s.e.n.s.e?   Unfortunately we will never go back to basics.    Too many anglers accept the dumbed down approach, and the big fish it nevertheless can give them.  And then they tout their catches around as being evidence of their great skill.

So there you have it, some history, some introductory stuff, and tired fingers.  Some moans and the odd rant or ten.  Taken me so long to write and publish this that I almost feel the epilogue coming on.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Confessions of an Olde School Specimen Hunter. Act 1, Scene I.

A number of the posts in here will not be fishing related, others, such as this, have some link with fishing but are not devoted to fish capture as such.   There will also be some posts purely to remind me of events in the past, for the future, when my memory of them may have faded, or to allow my lad to read about certain events in my life. 

This tale is true and is fishing related, but no fish will be mentioned, as I completely forget what we caught on the trip in question. This is a report of part of a trip in those bygone days when I was a stupidly mad keen specimen hunter.  I was very successful too back then, but these days I fish for the pure enjoyment of being outside, and to get away from the wife and Eastenders. I still catch more than my fair share of big fish, simply because it is far, far easier to do so these days, than it was back in the sixties and seventies. But size no longer is paramount, I no longer have the same ridiculous level of dedication, and as a result, I enjoy it far more.  But even in those days of olde, events occurred that were at times far more entertaining than the fishing.  Many such events involved disasters, major or minor, either at my expense or to the embarrassment of others.   This was one such event.

I used to have a regular fishing partner for weekend trips.  Let's call him Chris, as I do not have his permission to publish what happened.   His name may or may not be Chris, and only those of you that know me well will be able to confirm that his name was indeed Chris.  The rest of you will just have to remain in the dark, I am afraid.

It was one of those periods when I had a sensible fishing vehicle, a Bedford Viva Van, based on the old Mk 1 Vauxhall Viva.  ( I was later to change the van for various, increasingly impractical, two seater sports cars.)   Chris had a Hillman Minx, and these two cars will enable you to date these events to about 40 years ago, without the need to resort to carbon dating.    Although my van was perpetually steeped in the smell of bream and tench slime, and being oft infested with escaped maggots, and worse, I remained quite house proud about it.   I have always been a non-smoker, and so Chris was never allowed to smoke inside the van.   But Chris smoked about forty Capstan Full Strength a day, and also sported a pipe which he filled with something called Highland Sliced.   Capstan Full Strength is a watered down description of these cigarettes, they being so strong that all of his mates would refuse the offer of one.   Highland sliced had, to my nostrils, much of the smell of burning road tar, mixed with mustard gas.   Both tobaccos are probably now banned by the Geneva convention. 

But a forty a day man would never get all the way to the Cheshire Meres without at least one smoke, and so my van always stopped a couple of time on each journey, at some convenient lay-by or other, whilst Chris reached for his tobacco.   I waited in the van, suffering at times the pounding of torrential rain on the roof of my van whilst  Chris stood outside in the fresh air, trying not to get his tobacco wet.

The tables were turned on alternate weeks, when we would use his car, rather than my van.  It was easier than sharing petrol costs, and seemed the fairest and easiest way to divide expenses.   Of course, it being his car, I could not insist on a smoke free environment.   I could have stood in the rain as he puffed away, but being then, blissfully unaware of the joys of passive smoking, I chose not to.   The inside of the Hillman's windows had become stained, over the years by his heavy smoking, which had left a dark brown deposit , one that threatened within weeks to totally obscure sight of the outside world.  At times I swear I can still smell that car now.   The windows inside had never been cleaned, and it showed. We drove permanently through a 1950's smog.  Anyone else remember those?  The acrid swirling yellow smoke, not being able to see the pavement across a narrow street?  Following the fence all the way to school?  Shadows of other kids only appearing when they were five yards away?  

Returning from fishing, in the Minx one day, late Sunday evening, I noticed the smell of something burning.   It was not a tobacco-like smell and I assumed that something was sadly astray with the car's wiring.  I told Chris that I could smell something burning.   Chris sniffed and replied "Rubbish!".   I repeated my claim, which he again dismissed, saying that the car was driving perfectly well, and in any case, it had been serviced just a couple of weeks before, so nothing could go wrong with it for another six months.  He had said much the same a few days before, when I had insisted he stop so I could investigate a very loud rattling noise. Chris would have happily driven on, in his freshly serviced car, ignoring the noise for the next six months.  We continued only after I had removed a hubcap, to find two wheel nuts rattling around inside it.  The wheel only being held on by the two remaining nuts, both of which I was able to remove with just my fingers. Chris was not mechanically inclined.
But back to the journey:  A few minutes later I again wrinkled my nose, and sure enough, I could still smell burning....but the car continued to work perfectly well, and so I kept quiet...apart from continually sniffing the air, as a reminder to him, or perhaps, more likely, to annoy him a bit.

A mile of so later, I nearly went through the windscreen as Chris unexpected jammed on the brakes, in an emergency stop that would have impressed the most critical driving test examiner.   Chris leapt out of the car, beating away at his clothing, screaming and swearing.    Over the years of heavy smoking, Chris's sense of smell had deteriorated substantially due to its mistreatment with the powerful tobaccos, to such an extent that the function of his nose had reduced to being little more than a shelf, whose only function was to stop his glasses from falling off.    But he WAS still, eventually, able to detect the presence of burning corduroy, when that burning was caused by a plug of glowing tobacco embers that had fallen from his pipe.   A large lump of  Highland Sliced  had slowly been burning its way through the trouser fly area until, having fully penetrated the cloth, it had reached a very delicate part of the anatomy, still glowing merrily, and started to burn its way through the flesh.  The ultra-sensitive flesh of a very vital organ! 

Chris eventually got back into the car.

"Are you absolutely sure there is nothing burning Chris?" I said, innocently.  Had I heard the reply I am sure I would not have been able to print it here.

It was still some twenty miles back home, and I don't think I stopped chuckling for a single minute of that journey. 

Thursday 19 September 2013

"I Had a Bream."

Well, actually, no I didn't.  But like Martin Luther King,  "I Had a Dream."   But I did dream of catching a bream. Taking a day off from the fishing (another), I had lain in bed rather longer than usual, until way past 7 in the morning.   It seems that my mind would rather that I had been fishing than sleeping  because I had a fishing dream.  A totally weird fishing dream.  One that probably revealed many of my angling insecurities. I often have what are described as lucid dreams, dreams which contain astonishing detail, almost as much detail as real life. They come in enhanced technicolour and with super high definition. Sometimes they even come with a voice over, making comments such as: how unlikely the events that are taking place in the dream are.   It is all rather odd, because the voice over seems to know it is a dream, yet I, at the time, don't.  It is rare for me to remember anything much of a dream for more than four seconds after waking up, something to do with my goldfish memory.

The dream opens with me attending to two ledgering rods, fishing at maybe 40 yards, on one of the Cheshire Meres that I used to fish a long time ago.  After a short time, the right hand rod had a bite, and I saw the line moving out into the lake and to the right.  For some inexplicable reason I waited until the fish had moved a good twenty yards before striking.  For those readers who, having read this, might want to go and fish the same swim, with the same tactics, I apologise: I have no idea what bait I was using.   

I hooked the fish, which gave little resistance, and sure enough it was a bream, a big bream, a huge bream, a new PB bream.   So big it would not fit into my landing net, its nose preventing it from falling into the mesh. I shook the net about a bit and it slipped off the rim and folded in neatly.  At this time I was guessing the fish to weigh about 13 pounds, and knew it had to be weighed and photographed.    A few shots of the fish in the net were taken, and then I went to the rucksac for my digital scales.  The scales would not zero themselves when switched on, no matter how much I shook them, and however much I pressed the various buttons.  Very frustrating.  

People started to arrive behind me, just to see the fish, which I dunked back into the lake, still in the net, to recover awhile.   I got another set of my scales ( I sometimes have three sets with me), to be faced with the same problem, they would not zeroise cleanly at all.   Someone ( yet more people had arrived to gawp) loaned me an old spring balance, but the mesh of the net was  partially trailing in the water and I struggled to lift it.  Eventually I succeeded and the fish pulled twenty pounds on the scale.   But the scale was only graduated in five pound intervals, no use at all, and I still really needed to know the exact weight of the fish.   Back in the water went the fish to recover yet again. I opened up the digital scales to change the battery: Maybe they were exhausted, and producing low voltage.  Instead of the expected two AAA's it now held two banks, each of 6 lithium cells arranged edge to edge.   Unusual. Unexpected. Obviously I didn't have a suitable spare battery in my pockets. Foiled again. Nothing was going right except for the actual capture of the fish.

As I picked up my third set of scales, another identical set of digitals, I now noticed that someone had set up a burger stall at the right hand side of my swim, actually in the shallow water,  obviously attracted by the large, and rapidly increasing, number of spectators.  I am getting worried about how long it was taking me to weigh the fish.  The crowd was getting bored, jostling for position behind me, but were still watching as I became quite guilty that the fish would not survive the long attention span it was being given.  Do I put it back, or struggle on with the weighing process? But after another rest in the water it still looked full of beans ( and sweetcorn, and boilies). So I switched on the scales and they now had a colour screen: yet I still couldn't find the reset button that I needed.  Eventually I found the on/off, pressed it and up came three options:L   gas, electricity and water!  No matter how I tried I could not get the scales to set themselves up into a state to properly weigh the fish. I was getting increasingly panicky, time going on, and I had no means of weighing a twenty pound bream.  A twenty pound bream!  I now began to worry that someone in the crowd was going to tell the Angling Times about my fish, and I didn't want my name mentioned.  "Angler Catches Huge Bream" was the headline. I became quite angry that the press was going to publish without asking me for permission.  The crowd behind had reached fairground proportions. Some of them had even started to fish in the left hand side of my swim, and were catching bream, much smaller than mine was, but it made me think I should have long since weighed the fish, and been back fishing for another.

Shortly afterwards I awoke,  I still had not weighed, nor had my photograph taken with a possible twenty pound bream.

Al sorts of questions spring to mind:  why a bream? A flashback to the sixties and seventies?  Why was I having so much scales trouble?  Why did the crowds appear?      In reality I DON'T like fishing with crowds, I do occasionally have battery and damp problems with the digi-scales, and I really don't like publicity, so some of the content was maybe extracted from real life.  A shame that the twenty pound fish is unlikely to become a real life issue too, but I, unlike some, do not believe that dreams can have any role in predicting future events.  

But I think tonight I might try to fall asleep with an image of a twelve pound tench in my mind.

Am I losing it?   Completely?   Or am I back to my usual level of insanity?

Friday 13 September 2013

Back to the Scrap

Another couple of short sessions on the Scrapyard Pond.  One morning, one late the same evening.  There are times when I need to fish just a short session, nothing heavy, neither in dedication nor in the gear to be carried.  So fishing fairly near home, with just a rod or two, and a very small package of bait and other gear is ideal.  I can be parking the car within 5 minutes, and fishing in ten.  None of the British Expeditionary Force preparation, and, as long as it does not matter much what is caught, it can be very enjoyable. 

The fish today were not exceptional, hardly worth a literary mention, a common carp of about three pounds which gobbled a lobworm ( and which fought as well as the far bigger mirror taken a couple of days ago), two roach around the half pound mark, 3 or 4 little perch, and, new for me on the water, half a dozen small rudd. With a skimmer bream the other day, this has brought my species count for the pond to 5.  And I hope to add eels, tench and crucians, if any crucians do actually swim in its depths.  As darkness fell last night small fish were rising and splashing like crazy in and around my float.   Something in my baiting must have caused this, as rises elsewhere were quite spasmodic and infrequent.  I suspect that most were rudd, and had I chosen to fish shallow, or with a slow sinking bait, I think it would have been a fish a cast.

The perch would make this an ideal water for a new angler, a kid with a cheap rod, as I once was myself.  Not too many perch to remove the challenge, but enough to keep a level of interest.  In some respects the perch are unfortunate: they are the most likely species to swallow a bait quite deep, and small boys, if they do come equipped with a disgorger, do not usually come ingrained with the knowledge of how it should be used.   A lot of small perch end up swimming in circles near the water's edge, as the lifeblood drains away from them.   I find the slammo design of disgorger to be very useful, and much more efficient in extracting a hook safely.  Even in darkness ( for some of those small rudd were caught in the dark, and had swallowed the bait), I find the slammo works very well.

The morning and evening were quite still, making float fishing easy, but the clear skies and cooling temperatures were certainly suggestive that Autumn is very near now.  The water, however was very warm. 

Unusual: A Non Agressive Coot.
But no tench, the target species, were to show any interest.  The peace and calm was shattered by the coots as usual, a dozen or so being resident. Get coots in numbers above zero, and aggression is invariably the result.   I am told that male coots often kill some of their own young.  Not observed it myself but I have seen, on a Cheshire Mere, a fight break out between two coots, and all the other coots within sight rushed in to join the action.   There were eventually about 30 birds in the scrum.   Yellow and red cards all round.  On the Trent I watched a drama between just two birds.  One had taken a particular dislike to a second.  It constantly chased it, such that it had to submerge to escape.  As soon as it returned to the surface it was attacked again.  This continued for over half an hour, and eventually the poor bird was caught, and actually drowned, by being held under water,  the body drifting away downstream.

But the coots were not the only birds being aggressive.  About a dozen magpies live in and around the area.    They defend their turf constantly, despite there no longer being any young defenceless birds amongst them.  The young and defenceless have long since joined in the aggression   The first birds to suffer were overflying crows. Each was escorted off the premises, not attacked, but certainly accompanied.  Later a grey heron flew in and perched atop a tall tree at the end of the pond.  Magpies started to assemble, and perch in
Grey Heron with Beak
nearby branches.   More and more came until there were about fifteen in attendance.  None dared to get too close, for they knew, I assume, that the heron's bill is quite a weapon. A sparrowhawk was next to fly across the pond.  As it crossed,  half a dozen magpies peeled off from the heron's tree, and followed the hawk. It looked more and more harassed as it left the area.  The heron continued to ignore the magpies, but eventually flew down and landed on a bed of grangle weed in the middle of the pond.  It slowly sank up to its, just about getting its underfeathers wet.  Apologies for the poetic license involved there.  It seemed quite happy to walk about on the weedbed, every step sinking it a few inches into the water, but it remained supported by its large splayed feet.    I could now see it to be a young bird, and it remained a while, hunting for fish, until it flew away to a bankside spot.  Later, well after dark, it again landed on the same weedbed. I assume it was hunting, but it was by then, too dark to see any detail.   

Herons seem to me to be as comfortable in the dark as do owls.  I often see them flying up and down the river in the middle of the night.   They usually spot me, even though I remain perfectly still, in dark camouflaged clothing, with no lights shining.   At twenty yards or so away, they will suddenly veer off in panic.  I have no idea how they see me, but must consider infra-red vision to be one possibility.   But why would they need infra red vision?   Fish are cold blooded, and would not show up as heat generating creatures.   BUT if a bird spends so much time flying at night, it must have a good reason, and so I am sure that herons must hunt at night.   I did see a heron once trying, unsuccessfully to catch bats.   Perched atop a metallic structure, used to carry cables across the river, it was stabbing at them as they flew past.  Maybe they eat more rats and mice than we suspect.  There was a photo in the press a couple of years ago, showing a heron eating a small rabbit. (Google "heron eats rabbit"). The eyesight of herons is certainly impressive, bearing in mind that they also have to cope with fish not being quite where they appear to be due to the refractive index of water causing light beams to bend.  The bird must have to make "in flight" adjustments to its fish grab stab.
But the eyesight of a heron is not perfect.  I was fishing at night for barbel a couple of years ago.  Only a three pound eel had so far taken any interest in my bait, when suddenly, the rod wrenched violently to the left, ripping line off the baitrunner at speed.   I picked up the rod, so as to play the barbel that I most surely knew it must be, when there was a huge splash mid-river, some twenty yards downstream. Most unlike a barbel, even in shallow water. It soon became apparent that it was not a fish.  A heron, flying low over the river, had NOT seen me tucked away behind a tree, and had flown into the line.   I struggled to bring the bird back to me, and carefully disentangled it from the monofilament.  As I stood it on the bank, looking very dishevelled indeed, it took a couple of stabs at me, and then strolled nonchalantly downstream, already, it seemed, in hunting mode.  I heard it fly off two or three minutes later.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Mirror, Mirror, in the Weed...

Not at all satisfied with my score of two fish, a small roach and smaller perch, for a total of about  four ounces, in my three short trips to the Scrapyard Pond, I decided to have another cast or two this morning.  I was not going to be beaten by a  little pond in such scruffy surroundings as this one. The rods were set up last night, with float and star lights, as I had every intention on reaching the water at about 2 am.   Head torch was readied on the kitchen table, bait to hand, and all I needed to do was to wake up on time.   I failed miserably in this aim, maybe the alarm in my phone went off, the phone certainly pronounced its guilt on screen, but I heard nothing at all.  And so it was nearly 3 hours later, after waking up naturally, that I hit the bank.     Fortunately my preparation meant that I was fishing within moments.  

The swim had lilies to the right of me, lilies to the left of me, and a massive bed of weed, rising to the surface both in front and to my right, some 7 or 8 yards out.  A narrow clear channel stretched out diagonally away and to the left, although after only 15 yards it again hit solid weed.  The open space before me was small, and landing any sizeable fish was going to be a challenge, but I had an idea in mind.   If the fish went into either lily bed, then it was probably game over.  Both rods were equipped with six pound line, and lilies, big fish and light line just does not often work.  However I have occasionally found that, if a fish gets its head buried in soft weed, it can give up, and stop struggling.  Maybe any good tench hooked might get into the softer weed, allowing me to pull them in?    It was still dark but the Eastern sky was ominously light, signalling the approaching dawn.  I had cast my right hand rod, straight out, a yard or so short of the weedbed, and catapulted a couple of handfuls of maggots into the area.  Bait was 4 orange maggots on a size 10 hook.  The second rod was a side dish of half a lobworm, cast just over the lilies and to the left of the baited area.   The starlights provided just enough float illumination, certainly enough to show both were completely immobile.   A large dragonfly appeared, and slowly flew off down the bank, a sure sigh that the light had intensified somewhat.  Then a bite on the maggot rod, and I cursed myself for having struck too soon. THINK! IDIOT!   Tench, my target species, are not quick biters, and I should have allowed more time.   Bubbles were starting to appear, and only around the maggot baited area, and so I was sure that fish were responsible.   Tench bubbles they looked like, and it was obviously a small shoal, rather than a single fish.   Spirits lifted, but still no bites, just more bubbles.   The worm rod float bobbed once, but did nothing more.   Odd that, for the worm rod did the same two or three times on my last trip.   Perch cannot have been responsible, as they would surely have gulped the worm down deep into disgorger territory.  Nope: the bites on worm, together with two or three more I was to get during the session, would remain a mystery.    

At precisely 6.30  the right hand float disappeared, and a strike hit into a solid fish, which took line as it headed into the clear channel.  My thoughts turned from a tench to a good tench, as I stopped it, on the 6 pound line just before it reached the weeds that defined the limits of the open water.  It then moved to the right, recrossing the open patch, and swam directly into the weedbed in front of me.  And there it stuck, the pressure of my line preventing it from going in much further.  I kept some pressure on, so as to prevent it going any further in, and as I expected, a mass of the surface weed, together with the submerged rest of the
MOST, But Not All, of the Weedball That Encased the Fish
green iceberg, slowly started to come towards me.  The fish gave the occasional shrug of its shoulders, just to assure me that it was still on the line.  It took an age to bring a huge weedball, about a cubic yard in size, to the bank.  Although I waved a smallish landing net at it, I was still unable to see the fish.   I had to grab many handfuls of weed, and throw them onto the bank, before I saw where the fish was, and then sliding the net under both it and some more of the weed, I lifted it up the bank.  It was only at this time that I realised it was not a tench, but a mirror carp.  
A Bit of an Ugly Old Sod.
 It weighed a little under 12 pounds, and I knew that I was probably a little lucky to have landed it in such a weedy swim, on such light tackle.  The weed is unlike that at the Sunday challenge pond, it is still comprised of long strands, but the leaves are smaller, and the stalks are long, and quite stiff, with an almost twiggy feel to them.  It has as much in common with a World War I barbed wire entanglement as it has with the soft Elodea from the other pond. Nevertheless, the whole ball did come to the bank when pulled, and on looking up at the water, about 4 square yards of the weedbed had now disappeared, taking up its new residence on the bank.   As twelve year olds, my mates and I had little knowledge of the names of any of plants we saw when fishing, so Michael, one of the gang, had coined the name "Grangle weed".  I can think of nothing better to describe the huge mound now standing on platform 1 by my side: Grangle. Almost an onomatopoeic description of a truly evil weed.  

The swim now died, and the mist, rising from the pond, started to envelop it.  The ghostly figure of another angler walked to a swim on the far bank, his camouflaged jacket aiding the mist, and he rapidly disappeared from the visible world.  He had been moving slowly along, making a great deal of quiet, and so I  instantly diagnosed him as a carp angler, one that was stalking his fish. A guerilla in the mist. A heron landed atop a tree at the far end of the pool. The little grebe did not show itself again this morning.  The day already had an Autumn like feel to it, with the temperature dropping noticeably.   It wasn't until about 8.00 am that the swim started to pick up its pulse again.  More bubbles appeared, and the worm float gave yet another single bob.   But no fish resulted, and I left for home at about 9.00 am, the sun having risen quite high, and dispersed the mist.   I felt that my chances of catching another fish had diminished.  The missing mist allowed me to see the other angler clearly.  I was surprised to see him on a seat basket with a roach pole. So much for the carp stalking stealthy approach.   I was mistaken yet again.

The Post Mortem:

Had that carp fought as well as the seven pound fish I caught from the tench lake a few days ago, I would have been unlikely to have landed it.   The tench lake is big, with clear water, having little weed, and I could afford to let it run with the same rod and line strength as I used today.   The scrapyard pond is full of lilies, rushes, grangle weed, with at least 80% of the surface covered.  Today was a risk.  A tench would have been in itself a fair old problem, but to have intentionally fished with such gear, in such heavy weed, for carp would have been foolhardy indeed. But the fact remains, I landed the fish.   But it was a mirror.   And there seems to be widespread acceptance that mirror carp do not fight as well as common carp.   Would I have had it so easy if the fish had been a common?   I suspect not.    But why should mirrors not fight as hard as commons?  And indeed, do they really not fight as hard as commons, or I am just looking more benevolently at the far prettier commons in the landing net, when compared to the mirrors?   What do leathers scrap like? Commons or mirrors? I cannot remember: it is a long time since my last leather carp.

So now for the truly wild theory, based on nothing more than an idea that flitted through my head as |I looked at that mirror carp, a fish which was certainly not the fairest of all, for if truth be told, I thought it looked a bit of an ugly old sod.  Definitely no Snow White, not even a wicked witch.  But, with it living so near the council tip, maybe I should have expected that. Mirrors and commons are usually more or less the same shape, they certainly have the same muscle groups, and so in theory might be expected to fight equally well as each other. So what is different about the two varieties?  Only the scale pattern.    Fish scales are designed such that, as the fish flexes its body, so the scales slide over and under each other, the overlap between adjacent scales changing slightly.   Is it possible that mirror carp, with their much enlarged scales, might feel some discomfort when swimming?  The larger scales would flex less easily, and might not be able to slide across each other quite so much. Might they "dig in" as the fish flexes its body to its full extent, and actually restrict how much the fish can bend its body? Is it possible that the very pattern of a carp's scales therefore have a direct effect on how hard it fights when hooked?   As I said, a fairly wild theory, but one maybe worthy of some discussion.   Maybe I need to catch a couple of leathers now for comparison.  I really don't know why people had to mess with the genetics of carp so as to alter their scale patterns.   And as far as looks go, I have only ever seen ONE mirror carp that I thought looked really fantastic, and worth all the genetic modification of the species.   I can understand why the Asians messed about so as to produce highly coloured and decorative Koi carp, but as for mucking about with scale sizes and numbers....WHY?

Tuesday 3 September 2013

An Interesting but Bitsy Week.

As per the title quite a varied week, with a few fish to report.   It began with a test of the repaired rod, down at the Sunday Challenge Pond.   I thought a short session was in order and so was there at dawn.  Casting a float into one of the weed gaps I was fairly confident something would take the bait.  And so it proved.   After about thirty minutes my float suddenly accelerated to the left, at a rate that would have made a Formula 1 car quite jealous.   One second it was inactive, a millisecond later it was in the weeds. Deep in the weeds.  Obviously a carp, and by now well and truly stuck there.  
As long as the fish remains on the hook, I have found that a steady pressure slowly pulls these weeds, Elodea, out by the roots, and leaving a trail of disturbed mud colouring the water, the fish, wrapped in a green ball, slowly comes to the net.   And that is exactly what happened.  I unwrapped my green present on the bank to find a pretty little common carp of a couple of pounds or so inside the bundle.
A Little Formula 1 Common Carp
The rod repair had worked well and happy bunnies were the order of the day.  After a visit from the heron, which flew down to the other end of the pond, and a sparrowhawk which flew across it, and thence into the trees opposite, a second smaller carp took the bait.  A mirror this time.  There is so little space between the two swim-bordering weedbeds that even this fish embedded itself into the greenery.

A pair of small dragonflies came into view. They were in their mating configuration whilst on the wing, rather than just head and tailing.  Others I have seen mating have always been perched on some object or tree branch.  After settling on such a branch for a short time, they then separated, and the female started to lay eggs, at a rate of about one a second, dipping its abdomen down into the water.  I guess each dip was one more egg laid.  The male, meanwhile, was following the female, a foot or so away. Its reactions and flight precision, following the female's flight path were astonishing.  The female stopped laying after a couple of minutes and the male once again moved in for a second steamy sex session.  They flew off into the sunset together...or would have done so had it not been about ten in the morning.

The next arrivals were a couple of anglers toting £9.99  Decathlon telescopic rods.   Does anyone make a good telescopic rod?   These two clearly had no chance of catching anything other than suicidal little perch.    I often help inexperienced anglers by giving them the odd hint, but not these two anglers....hang on a minute, I am not usually quite so politically correct.  To re-iterate, I did not help these two, litter dropping, noisy, uncouth noddies.  Had they been quiet and clean I might have pointed out that fishing just six inches deep was not the ideal way to proceed.  Instead I went home...after wishing them some, but not too much, luck. 

With two working rods again, it was time to go back for another tench trip.  Weather ideal, warm, fairly cloudy, and so a night trip seemed to be the ticket.  On arrival at the lake, I found that, during my absence, the swifts all seem to have disappeared (Africa bound already?), but the swallows and house martins remained:  A young tern has appeared, probably raised on the island in the lake.  There was still some green algae in the water, but visibility throughout  the water column had greatly improved, so I chose to fish with lobworms, partly as a tench bait, but also to give myself a chance of a decent perch, or preferably a few decent perch.   No perch were to take the bait, and for a while bats provided the only activity.  Due to the topography of the swim I was unable to get the rod tips down near the water surface, and bats were constantly giving me line bites.   I once caught a bat on a lobworm, many years ago.   As I held the bait up against the sky, to check that my worm was still on the hook, a bat came straight out of hell and took the worm.  Fairly hooked in the top lip, it did cause me to take great care getting the hook out.  It flew off, apparently unharmed.  

It was not until midnight that I had a real bite.  Even this looked initially like a line bite, but I was eventually convinced of the piscine nature of the activity and struck into a fish.   As I did so the rod repair gave way, spectacularly, and the top half my rod slid lakewards down the line towards the fish.  A new, replacement rod will now have to be sought out from Ebay. No choice but to dent the pension.   I did land the fish, but am unable to comment on its fighting ability, the lower half, just the stiff remains of my rod, masked out most of the pleasure of the scrap.  
A Welcome Fish of 6-2.
But after a short while a tench of 6-2 became my landing net's first visitor of the trip.  3 hours later a second tench was to follow, caught on the spod rod which had been brought into play to stem the emergency.  This one was, at a guess, a little under five pounds.  The rest of the night was quiet, nothing much to see other than the odd meteor, Jupiter and the moon in a very clear sky.  Quite a beautiful crescent moon, looking very much like that shown in the opening film credits of one of the big film studios.  I forget which...Dreamworks perhaps?   Those film opening credits must confuse the filmgoing public in countries near the equator.   We, in the UK, are used to seeing the slanted moon's crescent aligned from North-West down to South-East in the sky.  But on my first trip to the far East I was astonished to see that the crescent or the half moon, seen from near the equator, goes from East to West.  It is either a top crescent or a bottom Crescent.   Had I stopped to think about it, this fact should have been obvious to me. But I had never before considered it, and so it was quite a surprise seeing the moon at totally the "wrong" angle. Singaporeans must be just as confused by the Dreamworks introduction,  as the Ozzies ( Four Nil !!! )  are to see robins and snow on Christmas cards.

A Real Scrapper
But back to the fishing trip.  Very few fish were seen to be moving at any time during the trip, and it was not until full daylight, about 07:30 that the next fish was to take the bait.    This fish zoomed off, without warning, into the far distance, a very fast run, and obviously one of the lake's carp. It gave a tremendous scrap on the light tackle, covering huge distances before being netted. Had it not fought so well, I might have been disappointed by its size, 7 pounds, maybe a little less.  But a very crisp, good looking little powerhouse common.

This was to the the last fish, but looking around, I could see some interesting plants, berries and seeds nearby.  So, to relieve the inactivity, I photographed every visible bit of flora within 5 yards of my peg.   I have now challenged myself to try and identify them all.  So, more accurate titles of the following photographs will be added as captions, if and when I succeed in this little venture.

Purple things
Pink things

Another pink thing
Apple and Blackberry Crumble Bush

More white

Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris)
Elderberries (Sambucus nigra)

Pretty red berries

Yellow Water Lily   (Nuphar lutea)

Some Sort of Reed

Flag Iris Seed Pods

Prickly Green Seedpods

The rest of the week has been spent in three short trips to another small pond.  Very much an oasis of green amid an industrial wasteland. Bounded by scrapyards, a council tip, dirt tracks and an uninspiring modern housing development, it has nevertheless been a pleasure to find this water. Especially as it contains fish.  Not many fish apparently, as, under ideal conditions, I have only managed one three ounce roach, and a much smaller perch.  I did lose a carp of perhaps three or four pounds.  All went slack after a few seconds playing it. I didn't see the fish, and it was only by using my Sherlock-like diagnostics on a fish scale that came back on my hook, that I was able to say that I had lost a foul-hooked common carp. The pond, like all ponds, does attract wildlife, and first thing in the morning I was pleasantly surprised to see a dabchick.   Two ladies who came to sit near the pond for their breakfast, informed me that there are great crested newts in residence.   That is probably why the pond is still in existence rather than having been filled in.  The last time I saw these now very rare newts was over 50 years ago.  Note to self: take the camera in Spring.   The water is at least a couple of miles from the nearest rivers, and I have been astonished to find that, over the last fortnight, at least five small eels have been caught here.  The local rivers are a couple of miles away, with, as far as I know, no direct connection to the pond.   The rivers also have VERY few eels indeed, yet, somehow, elvers must have found their way into this pond.   I have no idea how, nor what their route might have been.  Houdini was very good at getting out of confined spaces.  Eels are even better at finding their way into totally impossible spots.  Brilliant.
Remember, earlier in this article, a bat that took my worm as I held it up?  Last night I had a similar experience:at dusk a dragonfly attacked my double maggot as that too was held up against the sky.   Fortunately the dragonfly was not hooked.   As a teenager, a large dragonfly once became tangled in my line as I cast.  I took me a while to disentangle it, all the time my mates were saying "Kill it, those things bite!"   Bite? Mosquitoes might bite, but I feel I was in no danger of having a finger amputated by the dragon's jaws.   I was pleased to see it  fly away unscathed.
I do have the odd problem with this blog: font sizes and photographic layouts sometimes seem to change inexplicably between the design stage, and the publishing stage.   I have no idea why, so  must apologize if at times things look as if they are not as good as they would be if they were better.