Wednesday 23 October 2013

Floods and Fish

The 26th of November 2012 and the floods warnings were both numerous and scattered across the UK. There was widespread devastation and those unfortunate enough, or perhaps daft enough, to live on the flood plains were again suffering, wading through their possessions in the lounge, climbing over ineffective sandbags to get out of their doors, and worrying that during the following year, they would no longer be able to get any flood insurance. But this year, 2013, after the inconvenience, they will have replacement sofas, new carpets and a well watered garden. And as I write, October 2013, my usual rivers are again pretty well unfishable hell and high water.

The news reels tell little of the trials undergone by the wildlife at these times.  Birds, especially ducks, probably see few if any problems, although during the breeding seasons birds that nest in or near the river banks might well suffer badly.  Kingfishers, dippers, and wagtails come to mind, and are unlikely to be able to fall back on the terms of their insurance contracts to reinstate their homes, or indeed their families.  Most wild animals swim well, and are likely to find safety.  Domesticated farm animals might be less able and so suffer.  Bred for their food value, cows and sheep are far less fit than the average fox or badger, and being possessed of  very low IQs, will often drown.

 Seeing a river in full flood is impressive.   I live near the Upper Mersey, a spate river.  3 or 4 years ago a
Receding, but Still Over Ten Feet of Floodwater, Well up the Bank.
major downpour raised the river level to an astonishing height. At one point where there is often less than a foot of water, flowing over a gravel bed, I observed over 13 feet of water. That 13 feet also widened the river at the spot by some 50%, and the speed of flow increased enormously.  I calculated that the river flow was increased by about 100 fold over the normal summer flow. You would NOT want to fall into the Upper Mersey when it is in this sort of mood.  It had become the colour of Cadbury's drinking chocolate, very turbid, with turbulence to match.  A veritable maelstrom, awesome in its power.  Full sized trees could occasionally be seen floating downstream at speeds approaching 15 or maybe 20 mph.  Smaller trees, and broken branches were more common.  
Entirely unseen is the mass transport of sand and gravel within such flows.   On the Goyt, the main tributary of the Mersey you can sometimes see, post flood,  whole areas, some dozens if not hundreds of yards long, ten or more metres wide, that have been covered by new sandbanks.   Whole areas of river change during a
"Sediment" Transported During a Flood"
flood.  One weir pool, some 30 metres square, 6 or 7 feet deep, developed a gravel island during the course of one flood, an island that occupied much of its previous surface area, I can only guess at how many tons of gravel had been deposited, and indeed, how many more tons were swept on downstream. The gravel deposition in each flood is very different, and depends not only upon the maximum flow achieved, and the "start condition" of the river, but also how long it takes for the river to rise and fall.   As each depth/time graph is different, so will the final outcome be different.  Think how hard it can be to walk against a strong wind, and then imagine trying to walk against 6 feet of fast flowing water, laden with sand and gravel. The pressure of water in heavy water conditions is such that some very large rocks can be moved away downstream.  Prediction of gravel deposition is very difficult, but it does not stop idiots building small scale Hydro-electric schemes.

Up at New Mills on the Goyt lives the Torrs Hydro-electric scheme.  A flagship project, and one that in its 4 or 5 years of operation has yet to make any profit.  But it is green, and allows people and companies to square back their shoulders and claim they are doing so much for the environment.  In reality the negative effects of such small scale hydro schemes far outweigh any advantages.  This is a lose/lose situation. Only the contractors and directors profit.  Of particular note is that the inlets to the Archimedes screws can get massively blocked by sediment transport during major floods.  In 2011 the Torrs scheme was inoperative for several months, from mid February until mid September, the inlet being completely blocked by silt and stone, and requiring extensive and expensive work to re-instate the flow.
Other post flood effects can be seen in the trees and other vegetation that line the banks. The local rivers have CSOs, combined sewage outflows.   Under flood conditions the rainwater mixes with the sewage, and the volume becomes such that the sewage farms cannot cope.   They just let it all straight through, raw sewage mixed with heavy rainwater run off from field, roads and roofs.  After the flood recedes, the highwater mark can be seen in the trees, marked by sanitary towels and other rubbish caught up in the branches.  Most unpleasant, but unless the money to deal with it becomes available, it will be a long time before this one is resolved.  Some river areas choose, or have chosen in the past, to dredge areas in which the river is prone to flooding.  This may well alleviate the flooding of properties nearby, but in reality it channels the water downstream far quicker, and there the floods will become worse.  It merely shifts the problem downstream.  Unfortunately such canalisation, confining the river between uniform high banks destroys the diversity of the river itself.  The uniform, evenly flowing channel is able to hold far less life, less in numbers, less variation of species.   

But what of the fish ( and other water living invertebrates)? How do they cope with a flood?  There has been very little actual research done on this. Understandable, due to the extreme conditions under which the observations would have to be made.  Most research has centred on how many tagged fish remain once river levels subside.  Much else is speculation, and that has to apply to what I will now write.

But the first thing to remember is that floods are not all bad news.  The scouring action, and the disturbance effect on the gravel means that large areas of stones will be thoroughly cleansed, very important to some of our rivers that carry input from sewage farms.  Such sewage outlets, added to sunshine and shallow water encourage the growth of some quite horrible brown algae. It coats the gravel, and often even your fishing line. To have a flood occasionally blast it all out to sea is very good for the river. Species that spawn in gravel benefit greatly from the cleansing of the gravel, which opens up the spaces between individual stones and allows ova and fry to shelter safely, and to be away from contaminants.  But a heavy flood at the wrong time of year can effectively wipe out all those ova and fry, resulting in very low recruitment to some year classes of fish. The flood washes away the eggs and tiny fish, in exactly the same way it cleans the rocks of algae. In the UK we are probably lucky, in that our floods and the dates that they occur, vary wildly year on year.  The young and eggs of coarse fish and winter spawning game fish will be differently affected by any particular flood, with some species possibly missing the negative effects that might impact another species. 

Have a look in the grass at the edge of the floodwater when a river is in spate.  Maybe you could use a child's fishing net.   At, or near the high water mark, you will almost certainly find lots of small fish, an inch or so long.   They have ridden up the edge of the river as the water rises.   The grass provides them with large enough areas of slacker water in which to avoid the full force of the flood.  In these areas they seem to feed as if nothing is different.  Floods seem to have absolutely no effect on minnow numbers. And so it is with the juveniles of other species.
Many larger fish will lie very close in to the banks of the river.  The edge effect will always result in a narrow band of  slower water, and by hugging what would normally be grass covered banks, some fish will be able to swim or take refuge in far less violent flows.     Most rivers will also have many natural eddies, backwaters, and areas where smaller tributaries enter the main streams.    All these provide slower flows.   Even a large rock on the river bed will provide areas of slacker water above and below it.  Such rocks might even carve out local depressions in the river bed.      There are always slacker areas at any point on the river, no matter what the height of the river.  Whether any specific slack is slack enough to hold fish in a flood, is another matter entirely.
As the river rises higher, bankside trees will be subsumed by the flow.   As they gradually submerge, so they create areas of slack water in their wake.    More refuges for the fish.   As the river rises further still, it might even break its banks and overflow.    Occasionally fish will venture out, possibly intentionally, perhaps not, into flooded fields, where they will be assured of a quieter life, if briefly.   For when the water recedes they will then have to find their way back into the main river.   Sometimes they may not make it, as this BBC link from May 2012 demonstrates. 

There are species that seem to be totally at home under flood conditions.   Ignoring the obvious: the salmon, fish like barbel and the humble bullhead are brilliantly adapted to live in fast flows.    Watch a mixed shoal of chub and barbel in clear fast water.  The chub are constantly working at maintaining their position.   Many of
Large Pectoral Fins Help a Barbel Hold Position Effortlessly
the barbel will be wholly stationery, scarcely flicking a fin.     Their body and fin shapes enable them to appear  glued to the river bed.   Such fish are far better able to cope with, if not actually to ignore a major flood, and may even be encouraged to feed more readily on anglers' baits.   Floods wash in food from the land, and disturb other food items that might have been hidden in the gravel, unavailable to the fish.  Any fish that can take advantage of such freebies will benefit.
But there are dangers for any fish that remains active in the floods, or is unable to find an adequate sheltered spot.  Shortly after heavy floods have receded, I have caught fish, usually larger individuals, that show signs of having been battered by the heavy water.  For instance, pike with red marks on their sides.    Visibility is restricted for fish in flood conditions, their eyes become useless to them,  unfortunate; for it is under those conditions that the most debris is being pushed downstream.   I believe the red marks to be where some object, a tree branch, a rock or perhaps just as often these days, a shopping trolley, has hit them as it passed by.   And the marks show.  A fish in the wrong lie in a flood is somewhat akin to being in one of those computer games where you have to dodge objects coming rapidly towards you.  Except that the fish are playing it blindfolded.
Fish Are Surviving in This:  Photo by Len Emory

But we can conclude one thing from all of this, a conclusion that has to surprise all those that have seen a river at its magnificent raging best.   And that conclusion is that the fish are well able to cope with such conditions.   Because, quite simply, after the waters have receded, most of the fish will still be there.

P.S.   I was reading "Mary Barton" by Elizabeth Gaskell this week.   A book published way back in 1848, a tale about Manchester life.  I never expected to find it containing an interesting fish fact, but it does.   Remember the Exocet anti-ship missiles that the French sold to the Argentinians?  And which they used to sink HMS Sheffield during the Falklands war?     Well, whilst reading it suddenly clicked with me that the missile is named after a fish.    The book tells of a dried fish brought back by a sailor, a flying fish, and lists its Linnaean name as being one of the Exocetus,  although the name seems to be more commonly spelled as Exocoetus.  Apparently there are about 70 species of flying fish, some of which are called  Hirundichthys,  which looks as it it might translate into something like swallow fish. ( Hirundinidae are  birds: swallows and martins, and anything itchy seems to be a fish).  Anyway, when the question next comes up in Trivial Pursuits,  or the Weakest Link,  I am now well prepared.  

Saturday 19 October 2013

Little and Large, Pike and no Perch

More fishing for perch this last week.   The results though have not been at all encouraging.   The perch have been eluding me completely.   This time last year some good perch were almost crawling up the rods, eager to greet and meet me.   Not so this year.  

Trip one saw me on a reservoir, lobworms at dawn.    I might as well have stayed home and  fished in the bathtub for all the interest the perch showed.   But the day was not to be a total blank.  Not quite.

A single lonely bird was flying above the water.  It was in silhouette so I could not precisely identify it, but it was either a swallow or a house martin. 
Tiny Pike...but the Biggest of Three!
All its mates are long gone back to the African sun, so maybe this one was still working out how to use its Sat. Nav.   Far too late in the year for it to be in the UK, and I do wonder whether it will manage the journey South successfully.    But back to the fishing, which was very slow, only two very tentative bites showing on the floats all day.   But two bites, two fish.    Neither bite was the hoped for perch,   neither produced the hoped for pike.  They were pike,    but the two smallest pike I have ever caught.  Worse than that, they were the two smallest pike I have ever seen anyone catch.  But even at that size, efficient little hunters.  About three ounces apiece. Note the full belly in the photo, and the Argulus Fish Lice on its body. Note also that the orange stains on my fingers are starting to fade a little now.  I wonder whether these little fish were six months old or eighteen months of age?   Earlier in the year one of a similar size, maybe a little larger, was to be seen in some shallow water near my feet.   I was feeding it maggots, which it seemed quite happy to eat.  It probably swallowed half a dozen: red ones.   Why are so very few tiny pike actually caught, if they are prepared to take maggots in this way?  And so the day ended.  A few terns, magpies and other common birds flew past, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The garden, next day, held more of interest from the birds.  A gang of long tailed tits drifted through,
Long Tailed Tit eating a Seed
stopping on the feeders for a few minutes before disappearing again.   They occasionally hang upside down from one leg, whilst eating a nut that they hold in their other, free leg.  Very acrobatic.

On to day two, and another, different water.  Two rods out for the perch once again.  As I sat down I heard what I thought was a curlew.   Two or three times I heard it.   Thirty minutes later, the same call, directly overhead, confirmed that my bird call identification is not totally useless.   A second pair of curlews were to fly over later, but their calls had all ceased by 10.00am.  I have never really known how to correctly pronounce curlew.  Is it Cur-loo  or curl-yew?  I must look it up.  Take a break from reading this whilst I consult the OED....................OK, back now,  still there?     Curl-yew apparently.

A little later a good fish rolled right over my right hand float. I had glanced away just before it did so, and so am unable to guess at the species.  Apart from one carp which jumped clear of the water later in the day, 150 yards away, it was to be the only sizeable fish I saw.  It is odd, but I very often seem to pitch my spot exactly where good fish show themselves.  I don't know if it is luck or instinct, but it happens far too often for me to explain it happily away as coincidence.  Within a second or so of this fish rolling, my second rod, fishing 20 yards away to the left, produced a good bite, and it was obvious fairly soon that it was no perch.  The fight was characteristically pike, and soon a fish of about six pounds lay in the landing net.   I was probably fairly lucky to land it,  no wire trace, five pound monofilament hooklength,  but I didn't look the gift pike in the mouth: well, not too closely anyway.

Earlier in my angling career, although I did occasionally fish for pike, I never felt comfortable doing so.  It all seemed rather barbaric.  As a young teenage angler, I was advised to buy a gag, which I understand are now illegal  ( and should be).  Jardine snap tackles were de rigour, universally used, and I was told that I must always wait for the second run of the pike bung before striking.   Always livebaits of course.  Many fish were hooked deeply in those days.
Later, I fished for pike up at Loch Lomond, and it was to be my first experience with deadbaits, which were then the new buzzword in piking.   I stood on the shores of Lomond, half a mackerel dangling from my rod, feeling really, really stupid.    There was no way that heaving so much of the catch of a North Sea trawler out into such a huge body of fresh water would ever work.   Damned ridiculous, and I bemoaned the fact I had been unable to catch any livebaits the previous week.    Ten minutes after that first cast hit the water I changed my mind, for incredibly, the line started to run out, and the first of five pike that took mackerel over the next two hours was landed.  And it was a personal best too.

But I still had that most difficult of jobs to do, and I had to do it five times.    Getting a snap tackle out of a pike was never easy, it always seemed risky for both myself and for the fish.   When I returned to angling after my long 30 year "holiday", things had changed.    Someone had invented a way of sliding your fingers in through a pike's gills, as a way of holding a pike steady.  It also seems to help cause them to "open wide", as a dentist might say.  This is a truly magnificent way to deal with a hooked pike.

This blog is not intended to teach people how to fish, nor even to give them tips.   But where pike are concerned there are two things I would advise strongly.  Firstly, if you do not know how to hold a pike as described above whilst you remove the hook(s), then get someone to show you, before you next fish for them.  It really does make things far safer for you and the fish, and makes access to the hookhold much easier.    Secondly, if you are able to bring yourself to use single hooks, do so.   All you need then is a set of long nosed pliers and most pike will be easily and safely separated from the end tackle.   I did a few experiments about three or four years ago, and discarded trebles as being needed only when lure fishing.  I also experimented with braid as a hooklength:  failed: the pike easily cut through it.  I tried 80 pound monofil as a hook length: failed in the same way.  So I now only use wire and a big single hook. Micro-barbed or even barbless if I can get away with it.   Does it work?  Well my best day's piking, two or three years ago,  produced 14 fish to 22 pounds, all on single hooks.   I only missed three runs, and 13 of those fish were hooked in the scissors.   You be the judge.    

Back to day two, this week: the 6 pound fish was easily unhooked and quickly returned, the swim going dead then.  A little later, an exploratory cast to another spot produced an instantaneous bite: perch? no,  yet another pike.   A third three ounce fish.   Must be some sort of record: three pike struggling to make half a pound between them.

The day was to be cut short, as my son phoned me to say that his car had suddenly stopped on the motorway.  He is a fairly new driver, and didn't know what to do.  I even had to explain that his car insurance does not cover such mechanical failures.    I hope he knows how to pay the estimate of £800 quid to repair the damage done as a result of the cam-belt breaking at 60 m.p.h.

Day three, and packing a few deadbaits I drove back to a river I fished a couple of weeks ago.  I had seen a swirl as I walked back to the car.  A long shot this, a hundred mile plus round trip on the off chance that the swirl was  due to a pike, especially with the river now carrying some extra water. But the trip, my first specifically  for pike this year, was to produce a success.   Look closely: the pike in the photo is undoubtedly smiling, maybe even laughing,  smiling because she knew that, when weighed, she would be another of those "annoying ounces" fish.   Nineteen pounds twelve ounces of very fat pike.  I was too impatient.  I should have waited until she had eaten her breakfast.  Not, by a long way, the hardest scrapping Esox I have caught, far too well fed a fish for that. 

This evening at home, a couple of photo opportunities came, even as I was writing this.  Under dull lighting at about 5 o' clock, the sparrowhawk revisited. so: through the glass of the lounge window:
Sparrowhawk, 300mm Lens,  Back Garden.
Being  a poor tactician as usual, it was perched very near the bird feeders, scaring away any potential prey.  But it was probably non too hungry, as there were a lot of pigeon feathers on the roof of our utility room this morning.  The sparrowhawk fed rather well yesterday I think.  A few minutes later there was a very loud crack of thunder, and the light outside at the front of the house started to look very eerie.   I grabbed the
View From Front Balcony
camera, bolted up to the top of the house, and saw the best complete double rainbow I have seen for some time. Ever noticed that the sky, or clouds, as seen inside a rainbow, always seems to be a slightly different shade?
One of my very first memories is of a rainbow.  Like most people my age I can remember just a half dozen or so things from when I was about three years old.  The most vivid of such memories for me is that rainbow.  My mother was gossiping with the neighbours from across the street, and I asked her what it was.  "A rainbow" was her reply.  But I wanted to know more, how it got there, what made it, how far away was it, could we go nearer. I stopped short of saying that I wanted one.  But as you might expect, neither she, nor the neighbours could give me the answers.  "It comes from the rain" said one.    But it isn't raining said I.  And it wasn't, at least where we were standing.  It was the first time I had met an adult who did not appear to know everything. And it came as quite a shock.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Please Stop my Wife from Murdering the Tackle Shop Owner.

The tench fishing is fading now, and so, maybe, time for a change.    Again, I should probably go and fish for some barbel, but somehow I cannot really find much enthusiasm for the species at the moment.  True: they fight impressively, but they are a little predictable, and I don't really find them to be much of a challenge.   That is not to say I will not fish for them again: just not this week.

So I drew a card from the pack: perch.  And why not,  and I stabbed a pin into a list of locations: Yorkshire rivers.   So, tucking a bunch of lobworms under my arm, I set off.  The venue and species was not of course chosen entirely at random,  more that I really wanted to fish for some perch and fancied somewhere different in which to do it.

On arrival, I noticed a small, tied up, Tesco plastic bag, at the bottom of my rucksack.  Ah yes, I remember. A fortnight before I had placed a few big halibut pellets in the bag, intending to use them for barbel.  The trip never happened, and the bait was forgotten about.  I pulled the plastic bag out, and it disintegrated.  In some way, the oils and other emanations from the pellets had destroyed the plastic bag.   The plastic had become very brittle, and disintegrated in much the same way as burnt paper in a fire-grate does, breaking up into tiny pieces.   Very odd indeed!  Have I inadvertently discovered a way to make plastic bio-degrade in under a month?  Should I nip down the patent office tomorrow?

The venue turned out to be a bad choice, for, after 5 hours my float had not moved, even whilst in the very fishy looking bit of slack water I had chosen.  Again I lie, for it had twitched slightly a few times, nothing worth a strike, and examination of the worms showed that they had been dismantled, probably by crayfish.  No fish at all came to my rod, but I was entertained by several speedy and low kingfisher flypasts, and a solitary sparrowhawk that zoomed along the far bank, chasing nothing.  After a couple of hours of inactivity in the swim, a pike of some ten or twelve pounds cruised slowly past me, no more that a foot from the bank, and had I brought deadbaits, I would have tried to catch it.  I quite often see pike patrolling the river's edge, always heading upstream, often very near the bank in a foot or so of water. Maybe I should be more prepared for them.  Pack the odd lure or two.

A Lively Little Yorkie Pike
By lunchtime it was obvious I needed to change tactics, so I moved downstream to a short stretch of very fast water, much of it very ripply, all of it motoring a fair bit.    A small section of worm was cast into the area where the rapids began to get more sluggish.   A second rod went across to the far bank, still with perch in mind, where it was once again ignored. A while later, a bite on the fast water rod produced a microscopic grayling least three ounces. My first grayling of the season though, and very welcome. An hour later, a second bite, also from a small grayling.  I reeled it up through the fast bankside water, and as I did so, there was a very large swirl, and something unseen grabbed the hooked fish.   It soon let go, without having revealed itself, although a pike was the obvious culprit.  Obvious, but surprising, for I would never have thought to try for pike in that swim.  The water, I would have considered to be far too fast for pike.  The grayling was rather worse for wear,  alive, but would not make it through the night, not without the aid of a full team of A&E anaesthetists and surgeons.   I quickly rigged up a wire trace on my barbel rod, and free-lined the damaged grayling down through the fast water near the bank.   It was not long,  and very soon I was playing a pike, very much  in the fast lane.   It put up an excellent performance, and I was only slightly disappointed to find its size was a mere seven pounds or so.  Neatly hooked in the scissors, it was returned unharmed, and swam off strongly.  Inadequate net for pike, I know, I know!  But it was to be as exciting as the day was to get.

But, the day did inspire me to  change from perch to grayling for the rest of the week.   In anticipation of this, a trip to the tackle shop was needed.  Maggots, simple maggots, which must surely be the ultimate bait for grayling.   The owner of the shop apologised, for he had only bronze maggots in stock.  No problem, and a couple of pints was soon stashed in my "new" bait fridge.  Wanting a bit of a challenge, and being my usual slightly daft self, I ignored the Dove, decided to bypass the Derwent, and chose to fish a river that is not well known for its grayling. I did initially fish it for chub, but after a few hours of fighting nothing but snags, and losing tackle every time, I then cast further downstream into an area where the water speed looked right for the "ladies of the stream" to be lying.  But first, a couple of out of season trout were to take the bait. See picture. You may well have read that grayling have a pear shaped pupil in their eyes. Look closely though, whilst zooming the photograph, and you will see that trout have pear shaped eyes too. The trout were returned after a quick photograph and eventually
A Brownie, Just out of Season I Think.
a grayling gave a typical, jagging bite, and was landed after a brief scrap.  I weighed it at 1-6,  any grayling of over a pound I consider to be a good fish.  Any grayling smaller is still well worth catching. I have added a photograph of the swim where the trout in the picture came from. As you can see, there are at least five old truck tyres, certainly one pedal cycle, and much assorted other junk in the swim.  It is such a shame that, now the river is clean enough to support trout, it is still so completely infested with these types of rubbish. But I do sometimes wonder whether the human detritus, apart from the tackle losses it causes, would make the river less productive were it not there. In much the same way as I read that sewage outflows, if not too clean, actually help fish growth. This area has a simple sandy bottom, not the best for promoting the growth of weed and insectivorous river life.  The rubbish does provide anchor points for weeds, and hiding places for bugs and creepy crawlies. Would there be many fish at all in the stretch were it not for the junk?
The Swim the Brownie in the Photo Came From
Further downstream, a willow stretched out across the river, just downstream from me, and through its foliage, I saw a heron flying upstream.  The tree was some twenty yards downstream, and masked me from the heron's line of sight.  But as soon as the heron cleared the tree it spotted me.  I was being completely still,  in dark clothing, blending well into the background, yet it still spotted me. Instantly.  It panicked and did a vertical U-turn, with a half roll, to leave it flying back downstream, some five or 6 yards higher than before. Quite a manoeuvre. Herons are quite brilliant, with some superhuman powers.

 I more clearly defined my challenge as:  trying to catch a grayling on every trip to the river, spending no more than three hours of time after the grayling , before moving on to another species.   And so far I have shocked myself,  this little river has produced 9 grayling for me in five such short sessions,   smallest maybe 14 ounces or so, best at 1-7.  A great average size. Just as astonishing, if you knew the river, each session has also produced trout.  A few tiny dace and some crayfish have joined in with the party.
A Fair Sized Crayfish
Finally, at the close of the fifth session, something took the bait, in a bit of quite fast water, that was  significantly bigger, and much harder fighting.   It proved to be a chub, as near to 4 pounds as makes no difference, and truly the most gorgeous looking chub I have seen for a long long time.   Had I shaken the scales a couple of times it would have gone to four, I am sure, but I don't like exaggeration, so 3-15 it will have to be. Most good chub I catch seem to have areas of displaced scales, and often look old and tatty.   Not this fish. A pleasure just to look at it.  I am certain it has never seen a hook before. Session three produced a surprise too.  As I watched the river and rod tip, a movement to my right caught my eye.   A crayfish was trying to move upstream. It was half out of the water, and being over-washed by a very powerful, bubble filled current.   I have no idea how it held on to the stone.  I placed my rod between my legs, dug out my mobile phone and tried to photograph the brute.    Not entirely successfully, and eventually the cray was washed away.   Fearing my bait would have been moved from its position, I reeled in, to find my first crayfish of the year attached to my hook.   More coincidence?  Or maybe the crays always appear as twins?   So each of five short spells produced grayling, nine in total, plus 6 or 7 out of season trout.  Kingfishers were present each day too, as well as the ubiquitous grey wagtails, sine waving their way up and down  the stream.

Back home, well satisfied.   Until my wife spotted me.   I was in trouble.  Bronze maggots:  very bronze maggots.  The dye used to render them such a superb colour seems to want to similarly colour the rest of the world, and my hands have become stained in a quite wild shade of deep orangey-yellow.   And it won't wash off. Not even after twenty minutes, of soap,  bicarbonate of soda, lime juice, etc.  Nothing shifts it.

Evidence for the Murder Trial
   My trousers too appear to have gained orange patches above the knees.  So Nina now wants to kill the tackle dealer. My own punishment is likely to be amputation at both wrists. She claims my hands have stained the cushions on the sofa, the fridge door, and I am not allowed within a yard of either her or her best china.  I am eating off a chipped old plate, and drinking from a plastic cup as I write this.   I have warned the owner of the fishing shop of his impending doom.  Good maggots though, to judge by how much the fish liked them.  

Monday 7 October 2013

Confessions: Act 2, Scene 4. Dog Walkers.

I hate cats:  bloody things always lying in wait by the bird table. I spend far too much money on sunflower seeds to fatten up the goldfinches, only to have next door's cat benefit.  Don't like grey squirrels much either.  Good photogenic subjects, but when they are eating away at my roof timbers I don't feel like getting out the Minolta.  £2500 the bill to repair the roof!

But most of all, I hate dogs...and dog walkers.  As an angler I find I just cannot avoid them.  Why some people have the need to hunt fishermen with watered down wolves, I have no idea.  Only today some small white rat-like creature jumped up at me as I was walking along a pathway carrying my tackle.   Had I been wearing a white lounge suit, no doubt it would have been splattered with muddy paw prints and the remains of other dogs "leavings".   The footprints today are probably still there, but are at least invisible on my fishing trousers.   However I put my foot up and gently, and I really mean that, gently pushed the dog away.   The dog's owner was less than happy, even though I took great care not to hurt it. Her precious little brute had been pushed away, by me: using my foot.  I had not done the expected, and petted it saying "What a nice little doggie.", as it would seem, many others do.  Instead I said that the dog should have been on a lead, and muzzled.   The lady mumbled at me, insisting that I was completely in the wrong, and so I suggested that next time I would give it a good swift kick, in order that I might fully deserve her criticism.   When she returned later it was on a lead.   I call that a win.      

A couple of years ago I had a far worse incident.   Fishing the river, peacefully, upsetting no-one, I was suddenly aware of something behind me.  A dalmation, one of those horrible spotty creatures, and it was heading right for my tackle and bait.  It scattered everything it could not eat, and ate as much of my bait as it could wolf down.    I shooed it away.  
"Don't you dare shoo my dog." came a cry from behind me.  "It has as much right being there as you have."  "I have been coming down this river with my dog for years."
"Look" says I, " I have sharp hooks and other tackle down here that you would definitely not want your dog to eat.  And it has already eaten some of my bait."
"I've been coming down here far longer than you have.  My dog has every right to jump into the river here."
" Could you not have let him swim upstream where no-one is fishing?"
"Nope, I am down here every day, and if you shoo my dog again, I'll bloody well have you."    Said the ginger headed moron who owned the dog.  And as I was more than twice his age ( he was about thirty), I decided that maybe I should retreat, and keep quiet.   Say nothing.  Just fume quietly.  And wish that he be struck down by a thunderbolt. Or that he would....well  never mind. 
He then disappeared for about thirty minutes, during which time it appears he had gathered a number of very large pebbles from the shallows upstream. On his return, he proceeded to throw them into my swim, and threatened to do the same every time he saw me shoo his dog away.
"I am here again tomorrow,", said I  "and was that really necessary? That really was not very nice at all. I was just trying to protect your dog."    Meanwhile my thoughts were "What an obnoxious little so and so. Shame the dog didn't drown."...and far worse
The next day, along came the dog again,  and it gambolled gaily through my gear once again.  This time I said nothing.  Discretion is the far better part of getting ones head kicked in. The owner watched and grinned.

The dog however ate six large lumps of luncheon meat from on the top of my bait box.  Oh dear!   He should not have done that.   Earlier I had prepared the meat specially, pressing two constipation relief pills into each.  My son, then a student doctor,  had recommended them as the strongest available in the UK without prescription.  My only regret is that I did not get to see the results.   But I hoped that either his car, or lounge carpet (or both) would have felt the full pebble dash effects that those pills were going to have a couple of hours later.

My third unfortunate incident with a dog was some years ago.   I was on a large public field, and I was practising with a very large boomerang.   This, measured along its length, was about two feet of carved plywood.  Heavy, it must have weighed a good half pound.   Although not an expert, I could usually get it to return to within ten or fifteen feet from me.     Occasionally it would come back very precisely,  but  very occasionally.   When you throw a boomerang you launch it at an angle of about 30 degrees to the vertical, with as much speed as you can impart, and some rotation.   The angle, together with the aerofoil section causes it to fly, in theory, in a horizontal circle.  But something else happens:  as it progresses around the circle, it slows down, and its angle changes into a flatter spin.   The energy it loses slowing down is partially changed into rotational energy. It starts to spin far more rapidly.    Ideally you then catch it flat between the two palms of your hands, one above, one below, as it hovers, completely flat, in front of you.     Now I admit that I had never managed to catch it.  On those occasions it returned close enough, the speed at which this substantial lump of wood was spinning fair put me off trying to catch it. I valued my fingers far too much.  Of course when throwing you need to be safe: check the area.  I had, the previous week warned my son's friend to always watch the boomerang carefully, and not to just run away from it.     Silly, silly boy, and the lump on the back of his head that resulted was worryingly big.   But no permanent damage resulted, the boomerang still worked perfectly.
But on this occasion, a week later, no problem, no-one in the flight area, just a lady with her dog 40 yards behind me.  So I threw, threw it hard, and its trajectory looked as if it would return quite close.  Not a bad throw at all.  I was still not quite brave enough to try a catch  though, and as I watched it spinning very rapidly, hovering almost stationary, in front of me, there was a very small brown flash, and a Yorkshire Terrier leapt up and tried to catch the boomerang in its mouth.  It must have seen me throw a stick, and then chased after it.   Kangaroos probably have more sense.  Evolution has removed their impulse to chase thrown sticks. Unfortunately, the boomerang  arm hit the dog very hard indeed, and the poor pooch dropped like a stone, twitched a bit, and was dead.  And I had to face a very irate lady who no longer had her pet Yorkie.  Threatened to call the police too. Much was said, and I think I only escaped by pointing out the "Dogs Must Be On A Lead" notice.      It was unfortunate, and I did feel a bit guilty.  Well very guilty actually.  She picked up the dog and put it in her shopping basket!

I wandered off slowly, deciding that maybe then was not a good time for another throw or two.