Thursday 23 January 2014

Left Handed Wellies, River Levels and More Tinca

It had not rained for three days, and the Environment Agency website showed that the river level was fishable.   Not particularly low, but lower than it was on a day a few weeks ago when I had done very well, landing 8 or 9 fish.  No rain was forecast until much later in the day, and so I headed once again towards  the grayling.   The plan was to spend a couple of hours on a known stretch and then to move onwards and upwards to seek that bigger fish upstream in one my new club's stretches.  I was travelling light, as I like to do during the Winter.   It allows mobility and the chance to quickly move (or is that boldly go)  from swim to swim.   Load yourself with all sorts of gear and the temptation is to remain in one swim all day long, rather than move when it seems logical to do so.  Such static fishing in Winter will certainly cost you fish.

I prefer wearing hiking boots, but on occasions when the paths are muddy, or I might wish to wade into the shallows, I will wear wellies.   I had asked a couple of years ago, in some forum or other, what wellies to buy that would be best at  keeping my feet warm, and was told that for Winter fishing, Muckboots were ideal.   I found them fair to middling, not tremendously warm, but acceptable.  But there again, I am myself cold blooded below the knees and elbows.  The Muckboots though were good, until one day when my feet got very cold.   The rubber had micro-cracked on both boots and one was leaking badly.   They were less than a year old.    So I now have some Skeetex boots.  They seem fairly warm, and the rubber has yet to show any signs of perishing.   They do have one problem though.   Although I am sure in my mind that the two boots are totally identical, it still looks to me as if one boot is a left handed wellie, and the other right handed.   Now I know you pedants out there will be shouting "left footed, you pillock".   But as I find such pedantry quite sinister, I shall ignore it, and apologise to those readers who either studied Latin at school, or who have watched too many episodes of "Up Pompeii".  So I always find myself putting the left handed wellie onto my left handed foot, expecting it to both feel and to look right...or left rather.  But it never does.   As soon as I put that left handed boot onto my left foot it looks to be right handed.   Happens every time.   And if I change them around it seems to make no difference at all.   They invariably seem to be wrong footing me.   Now it may be that Harrod's Wellies, or other Green Wellingtons from some expensive field sports establishment will be tailored to fit a left and a right foot, but I am sure that most angling boots must exhibit the same problems as do mine. Look down: are you sure your own boots are on the right feet?  The problems with my boots does not end there.   In an attempt to keep my feet warm, I also don a pair of thermal socks.  I deliberately bought boots a size too big so as to accommodate them.  Any one seeing me fishing:  my feet are NOT that huge, honest!   Unfortunately when it come time to take the wellingtons off, one of the boots always refuses to co-operate.  It just will not leave my foot easily.  It clings like a limpet. The inner  boot grips viciously and will not release the sock.  Invariably, and after a struggle, the inner boot lining comes out with the foot.    They are a bit of a swine to get back in again too.    The girl in the local tackle shop tells me that Skeetex are meant to be worn on bare feet.   This would perhaps solve the  removal problem, but surely that bare foot story cannot be true?   She also advised a friend that the fold over tops, if folded up instead, allowed one to wade in slightly deeper water.   I suggested this was not the case, and that their main function was in advertising, and a couple of wet feet later he was forced to agree with me as he squelched his way back to his car.     Enough of boots...unless anyone wants more?

So I reached the river and one look told me all was not as I had expected. A couple of centimetres down on a level I regarded as very fishable, but instead of owing its colour to Gordon's  it looked to have been heavily tinted by Cadbury's.   The water was very brown, and that made it look quite angry.  Studying the E.A river levels page can be quite informative, but this time I got it wrong.  I had set out convinced that the river, after three rain free days, would be quite clear, but maybe a lot of muddy water is still draining very slowly from the fields, painting the river brown in 3-D.  I resolved to fish anyway, but bites were not to be had.   Another kingfisher flashed past heading upstream, just above the water, and later a goosander flew downstream along exactly the same path.  A hawk landed in a tree 
A Kestrel,  One I took Earlier.
some 60 yards away, a sparrowhawk, I thought.   But its features were too sharp and so I then suspected it must be a peregrine.   My hawk identification has never been too good, and only later, when it flew down to about five yards above the ground and executed a millimetre perfect stationary hover, did I realise it was a kestrel.    It then dived down into the grass fully  out of sight, flying up and away about twenty seconds later.   If its hunt was successful it can only have been a beetle or similar, for it was not carrying a vole.  I took my cue from the bird's departure, and also went home.

The next day, still needing another waterside fix, I decided to have another go at the tench, and arrived at the water at first light.  I chose a fresh swim, some hundred or so yards further down the lake, and baited up with a few feeders full of maggots, all aimed into a very small and precise area.  No more than about two yards square but about 40 yards out.   Choice of spot was otherwise quite haphazard, and I had no particular reason to choose either the swim, nor the distance to cast.   What I felt was important was the 
accuracy of the baiting.  Time had now moved on to 10: 30 and nothing at all had happened.  No bites, not a
Male Fish  4-5
sign of a fish moving anywhere on the lake.   I was about to start reading again when a fish rolled.  A single fish rolling on a large lake is usually nothing to enthuse about, but when that fish rolls right above your precision groundbaiting, it instantaneously raises the confidence levels sky high.  And the confidence was fully justified, for ten minutes later I was sliding the net under a male tench of 4 pounds 5 ounces.   The water temperature was just 4.3 degrees C.    The fish was in peak condition, its maleness being apparent from those Chinese soup-spoon shaped ventral fins. These fins help give the males their superb power, being well suited to the job.  Unlike Chinese soup spoons. Which are a nightmare.  How on earth are you supposed to use something of such an obscure shape to ladle crab and sweetcorn soup into your mouth?   The spoon shape is just so wrong. That shape is designed for tench, not for soup spoons! Unless the Chinese have different shaped mouths to Europeans, their cutlery manufacturing processes need urgent redesign.  But maybe in China the spoons they use are better shaped, and this over here is all part of one big joke that the orientals play on we Europeans.   Ever used chopsticks?  Not easy is it?  Especially when number 36 on the menu comes in pieces that are just that teensy bit too big to pick up, no matter how skilled we are with the chopsticks.   And they know that we just cannot use them to cut the meat up into smaller pieces.    And anyone who thinks that straw mushrooms are naturally that slippery is quite mistaken.  It is a well known fact that all straw mushrooms are individually oiled by the chef prior to  being presented to any customer in Manchester's Chinatown.  It is all on video you know: when those restaurants finally close in the early morning, the staff gather round, waitresses, chefs, managers,  and all laugh at the most inept of our chopstick and Chinese spoon attempts, whilst they have their own late night snacks, all using conventional spoons, knives and forks,  before finally going home, their shifts ended.

I was only to see two other fish move in the lake, both creating big swirls, one right under my rod tips, near the remains of last years rush bed, the other, later, some 3 or 4 yards to the right.   I didn't see the fish, but suspect pike were responsible.    But it was not to be the end of the bites, and I was playing another tench at about 1PM.   This was a female of 5-13, a little thin, but with that  glorious orange underbelly that some tench have.  Quite beautiful.  A third fish came a little later, and was a perfectly proportioned  female of 6 pounds 1 ounce.   A fourth fish slipped the hook as I struggled with the brolly in heavy rain.    I blame pure incompetence.  That excuse lets me nicely off the hook.
6 Pounds 1 Ounce, with Accompanying Left Welly
 I would not normally have put up pictures of all three fish, but I have been asked about the general condition to be found on tench during the Winter.     All three fish were very healthy and fought as well as a Summer fish.   The second fish is maybe just a little thin, the other two though were magnificently shaped.  Another quite astonishing day.   I would never have believed that tench could feed, and feed with some enthusiasm in such cold water.    Fishing: may I never stop learning about it.

Monday 20 January 2014

A Particular Change in the Whether?

Well, there has not been much change in the weather, the last week has been both wet and warm, and the rivers are still a little bit too high for my liking, and so the answer to whether grayling? on the river remained the same.   So a change was needed  and  whether I might have a bash on a stillwater came into the frame.  But what stillwater, and what to fish for?

I decided that, because the weather has been so mild, at least for the time of year, I would have a go for a Winter tench.  Water temperatures in both the rivers and lakes locally seem to be about 5 degrees.  I don't think that I have ever caught a Winter tench before, carp yes, tench no.   In the good old days of tench fishing I would be poised to cast in at midnight on the Glorious 16th of June.   The close season used to ban all coarse fishing between 15th of March and June the 15th.  A good thing? A bad thing?   I won't be drawn on that today, but the 16th of June was always very special.   It no longer is. We usually were successful in that 16th quest for tench, and the thoughts in our minds were that the tench had started to feed maybe just a couple of weeks before the season opened. That they had only woken up in late May.  Most tench used to be caught in June, and by the end of July, they were getting hard to find.  Anglers thought that they fed very well to produce the spawn and then again  to recover their condition, but that after July they mainly changed their food intake to much smaller items, and thus became hard to catch.  We all now know that not to be the case, as I confirmed it myself , having caught a few tench in mid April over the last couple of years.  But how early in the year would they feed?  January still seemed a wildly optimistic prediction.

Yet I felt strangely confident, for despite the cold, 5 degree water, it had been unseasonably warm the last few days, and it was quite cloudy, and had been so right through the night, and consequently I did not have that "today will be a waste of time" thought in my head.   No, I actually had the idea that I would be in with a chance.  I arrived at the water at first light, and was not too surprised to find it a good foot higher than it had been back in June. There is still much water in and on the land that has yet to flow back into the rivers.  Donned the wellies and made for a swim about half way along the lake, one that would give me a good view of the entire water surface.   In the almost complete windless conditions, that lake surface was flat calm, and  as the day progressed it never got to more that a very slight undulation.  It never managed to break into a ripple, but the surface moved fractionally with that "oily" look,  just enough to blur the reflections of the trees on the far bank.   Unlike during the Summer, the lack of leaves revealed to me that the lake was very near the town. In Summer little evidence of dwellings and other buildings is visible.   Within minutes a carp jumped near to the far bank, It jumped four times in quick succession.  Even after much thought and considerable reading, I still have little real and convincing ideas as to why fish break surface in this way, jumping and rolling.   I didn't have the chance to further that investigation, for the fish was the only one, of any species, that I was to see on the top all day.

A flight of birds passed overhead in a "V" formation.  About thirty of them.  They were not geese, but
Cormorants on the Moon
cormorants, and I mentally trained an ack-ack gun on them as they passed.   Thirty is not the most I have seen at one time,  a few years ago a flight consisting of several branching "V"s passed over near to my house. I estimated that there were about 500 of them.   Here is another picture I took a couple of years ago.   I had to run so as to get the moon in shot too, and actually ended up invading the pitch of the Lacrosse game I was watching at the time.  I was lucky to get the picture, and probably lucky not to lose my life in the mêlée  of jolly hockey sticks and heavily armoured players.   Vicious game, lacrosse. Probably why my son likes it so much.

A young great crested grebe positioned itself over my bait.   It was to remain there, seemingly at anchor, for over two hours.  It looked like one of those raised in this last year's brood. The lake being so quiet, I settled down to read  Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms".  I find that, on slow stillwater sessions, I am able to read, whilst still watching the dough bobbins from the corner of my eye. Hey! Proper dough bobbins mate, made from real bread! The day was slow enough to enable me to read half the book.   About 11 o'clock the left hand bobbin twitched a bit. Nothing more, just a twitch.  I reeled in a couple of minutes later to find one sucked maggot, the other one missing.   The most likely candidate was a small roach, but I still had a tinca in mind as the culprit.  My two rods were fishing about 25 yards out, ten or twelve feet apart, and I had chucked out 7 or 8 small feeder fulls of maggots.   The maggots had languished for over two weeks in my bait fridge.  The fridge is probably a little too cold, and when I first opened the lid, the maggots looked to be quite dead. I compensated by not clipping the lid down on the maggot feeders, hoping that, on hitting the water, the maggots would be spilled and scattered immediately.  The maggots did recover and start to wriggle, but it was a full three hours or so before they showed any visible signs of life.   Note to self: back off the fridge thermostat a smidgeon this evening.  The fridge though has been a boon. A freebie from a friend who had had quite enough of both her student tenants, and Manchester council's heavy handed rules for landlords.   She gave me two small fridges, and one now, with the wick turned up full, acts as a bait freezer,  the other has reduced my maggot costs tremendously.

So at about eleven, I had a bite on my maggots, maggots which were lying in a thin small carpet of maybe two hundred other similar maggots. This is worthy of some thought.   How likely is it that a particle bait is picked up by a fish, from amongst an area of scattered, similar particles?  It is possible that only your hookbait has been picked up.   It is equally likely, or perhaps equally unlikely, that yours was the very last to be eaten.  Neither is the most likely scenario.   Provided that your hookbait is no less attractive, nor more attractive than any other particle, then on average, half the free bait will have been eaten before yours.  Some days a quarter will have been eaten, on others 4/5 might have been consumed. There will always been minor, or perhaps major differences in how your hookbait is seen by the fish, when compared to the free offerings, maybe the hook will put the fish off a bit, maybe you have presented it in a way that might make your hookbait more attractive.  Therefore it will never be truly rigorous to apply statistics in this way, but it most certainly can give a general idea.

So, ignoring such bait/hookbait differences we can say:

1) When you get your first bite, the most likely scenario is that only half of your freebies remain. 

2) When you get your second bite, the most likely scenario is that a quarter of your freebies remain.

3) When you get that third bite, the most likely scenario is that just 1/8th of your freebies remain.

4) Regardless of accuracy of the statistics, by the 4th or 5th bite, very little feed will be left.

Is this important: Yes it is.    One other obvious conclusion is that on a stillwater, if you are getting NO bites at all, yet have thrown in what you feel is a sufficiently attractive bait pattern, then there is no point in throwing more in. Just a waste.   Either the fish are elsewhere, not feeding or they don't like the dinner you have provided for them, and maybe they are away getting another of their five a day.

The consequences get harder once you start to get bites: do you feed more, and if so, when?  If you do feed more to enthusiastic fish, how easily and quickly might you overfeed, or might the splashes scare off a feeding shoal?   One thing that is certain when adding bait, the number of bites you have been getting is another factor to consider, along with how many fish are expected to be in the swim, the time of year, how warm the water is, and are they feeding hard or just peckish.  I cannot give precise answers to any of this, it is just one of those questions about which the experienced angler will think, and then strive to get the right answer on the day.   There is far more for an angler to consider, than there is for a golfer facing that 6 foot putt on the 18th green. It is the infinite variability that makes angling so wonderfully fascinating, and which  also gives rise to the mountains of absolute rubbish talked (and written!) about it.

So I put in a small amount of extra feed: two more feeders full.  I was rewarded, if not instantly, by two line bites.  A few chapters later, in the early afternoon, a good bite on the left hand rod, and I hooked into what I initially thought was a perch.   But as the fight progressed it intensified, and was unmistakeably a tench...or a carp...    Tench it was, a nice slim fish of 4-6.   Always a pleasure to see that tench shade of green.   It fought no worse than any Summer fish, although it was initially sluggish.   I had expected a poor fight, but in a cold-blooded creature it might be that the muscles get more efficient as they warm up with use?   The fish was no slouch and gave an excellent account of itself.  My first Winter tench. In water of just five degrees Celsius.  So pleasing when the plan works out.

There were no more bites.   A kingfisher  flashed down the length of the lake, eighteen inches above the water and at speed.   It landed in a low overhanging tree a couple of hundred yards away, just a tiny orange-brown point of light in the distance. It looks as if quite a lot of them have so far survived this Winter, as I see one or more on most fishing days.  A bunch of about twenty finches flew over, each bird flying very randomly in the overall group.   Very untidy looking assembly of birds, each bird exhibiting random motion within the group:  goldfinches? greenfinches? 

There is more thought that can be applied to bite frequency.   In the lazy hazy days of Summer, bites can be frequent.   Even without the use of groundbait of any kind.    It is common for anglers to get dozens, in some cases hundreds of bites in a single day.   So what can we read into this?    Certainly that the fish are hungry....but look deeper.   That single maggot on your hook has been seen and taken dozens of time during the day.   And that means that any other visible food item in the same area of that lake will have been seen by the fish too.   And almost certainly eaten by them.   So the conclusion is simple: there can be very little natural food easily available to the fish, if you are catching fish regularly.    There may be food there, but it must be hidden in the weeds or buried in the silt.    Every small handful of bait you throw in represents a very large increase in the local food supply for the fish.  I may have said this before, but any heavily fished water becomes a fish farm, with MOST of the fishes'  food being hand fed by the anglers. Cold-blooded creatures like fish have a very low requirement for food outside of the breeding season,  very little is needed to retain their body weight constant.  Once anglers supplement that very low food level intake, then the fish can grow easily to the huge sizes we now see in our waters.

All this may explain why, in the past, large fish were seen as hard to catch.  Before the introduction of heavy baiting, large fish were only present in very rich natural waters.  Waters with a lot of readily available natural food.  And so, unless you were able to introduce food that they liked better,  catching the fish was difficult.   All this changed with the introduction of various modern baits, when suddenly there were available a large choice of very tempting items for these fish.   So big fish became far easier to catch, at the same time as they have grown larger and become far more numerous.    And as long as anglers continue to pay for the bait, so they will keep catching. 

Female Blackcap
Not too much news in the garden,  except that all those bulbs I drilled into the lawn are sprouting very early.  It will not be long before we have crocus flowers and snowdrops.   Unless a sudden frost gets them.   Our male blackcap has been joined by a female.  The only female blackcap I have ever seen.  It may have been around for some time, as I initially thought it was just another dunnock...until I looked closer.   Its presence is not universally welcome in the garden, as the bullfinch chasing it away in my photograph clearly shows.  

Blackcap Being Chased Away by the Male Bullfinch

Thursday 9 January 2014

First Fish of the Year...and...Do Squirrels Ever Fall Out Of Their Trees?

Yesterday, January the 5th: And I just had to go fishing. 

There had been some worrying developments over Xmas and the New Year.   My occasional readers may remember that I had been impressed by my son's attitude to women and to his girl friends in particular.   Which was basically:  dump them well before any occasion requiring a present.     Well,  he has disappointed me.   His current girlfriend has lasted right through Christmas...and she received  the obligatory present that such entails.   I am just not ready for this.  Only this year did I become a full blown pensioner.  Something I am still practising to be, and still not getting  right.   I am not ready to be a father in law, not even a virtual father-in-law, as defined by today's preferences for living together.    It is all such a threat.  And I have laid down the law that I am in no way old enough yet to become a grandfather, but he has taken such a major step in that direction. Keeping a girlfriend through Xmas!  If you are reading this, you know who you are!  I see my non-grandfather future as being under some serious degree of threat.  It is the apocalypse.  I am just not ready yet, no way,  too young to be a grandfather and too old to do babysitting.     You cannot take a baby fishing.   Far too noisy.   And if it came back smelling of halibut pellets and  garlic luncheon meat my wife would ensure that I should be dead by the next morning.

So I went fishing to try and restore some sense of sanity to the world and to myself.   The river was even higher than last time, but I chose to fish a swim in which I have been successful before.    So a fair degree of that old confidence was present.    Took a few casts to decide whereabouts in the swim looked good,   not too fast, deep enough for Winter grayling, and without too many of the tackle claiming snags that the previous three casts had found.    The bite was not immediate, but 'twas not too long before the rod tip rapped a bit.   I was legering, the river being a too fast and erratic for a comfortable float session.  The fish was hooked about fifteen yards downstream   and immediately started to jump and splash on the surface, maybe a couple of times.    Trout  thinks I. Good scrapper, but a fish which, as it came closer, proved to be no trout, but a grayling.  A good one for the river at 1-9.     A small trout completed the short session a little later, a trace of a sucked maggot being the minute tell-tale of a third, unseen bite.   I will not post another grayling picture, nice though the fish was, it was of a very similar size to other recently posted  fish.  Perhaps there is a lesson there.    I have now had 5 grayling from this swim, all being either 1-8 or 1-9.  Grayling in the river generally seem to have got bigger over the last three years. I used to catch a lot around 10 or 12 oz, but now few are under a pound.   Maybe in a couple of years two pounders will be commonplace, but in the meantime, I may have to try elsewhere for a two pound fish.  I fished on for a couple of hours after the last second fish.   Plenty of nuthatches and great tits to watch.   A plop to my left was made by a kingfisher diving for fish.  I had not seen it, or else I might have managed a very close up photo.  The bird had been about three yards from me, but I had not seen it fly in.   After the dive it headed upriver.  A grey squirrel gambolled in the trees opposite, and I found myself wondering whether they ever fell.  Both grey and red squirrels seem to be able to scamper around a tree trunk at an  astonishing rate of r.p.m.   "Do they ever fall?" is rather like asking "Does God exist?".  You cannot prove it unless you either see a God, or see a squirrel fall. 

Why grayling you may ask?  Well, you might not ask, but read on in any case.   How would I describe the pleasure of holding that freshly caught grayling to any non angler that might have strayed into this page by means of some sort of tragic accident. Like fresh still-warm newly baked bloomer bread, with butter? Like raspberry jelly infused with brandy?  (Try it!).  Yes: but also, have you ever, when seated or maybe whilst lying in the bath, let go a small SBD, a tiny gas bubble that slowly, ever so slowly, curls its way out from between your cheeks, and then, diverting slightly, continues its slow path up between leg and certain delicate areas?  That ten or twenty seconds as the bubble makes its leisurely break for freedom can be quite delicious, and catching a grayling is similarly delightful.  I doubt that I could draw a better comparison. The grayling is reputed to smell like thyme,  and the SBD may also have a herbiferous outcome, although a hint of late night coriander is perhaps more likely a flavour, than that of thyme.  Is herbiferous a word?

So I joined another club today, one with waters higher up the same river.  With grayling in them.  And maybe bigger grayling?  A local tackle shop sells the cards, and for we OAPs the price charged is ridiculously low.   Don't read that as a complaint,  I can now join twice as many clubs at the same total price that I used to pay last year.   I offered to show proof of age but was told  not to bother as: "We trust all our pensioners"     I tried to explain to him, just how silly it was for him to say that, for of course a pensioner is a pensioner, and in the words of the wise Walker, they have no need to lie.   By definition anyone lying about their age whilst applying for an OAP ticket, would not have actually been a pensioner.   I don't think the tackle dealer understood the fine point I was making, or maybe he was just cheesed off with smart Alec OAPs.

Today's buzzphrase in the TV news is "the never had generation" referring to youngsters who have never had money, never had a job....

But it all depends upon how you describe that  "never had".    My generation never had computers, never had Playstations, TVs. mobile phones  (Nor any phone without its own coin slot in a tall red box, near the local Post Office). I never had a bicycle.until given my aunt's forty year old ladies 4 gear Sturmey Archered machine  (very embarrassing!).  No internet,  no email,   We never had a lot of things,  exotic foods, restaurants, holidays anywhere other than at Butlins.  So who are the "never had" generation really?  Odd how it is we, as the parents of the new "neverhads" who were lumbered with paying for all those rather nice things that the new "never had" generation have recently had in such profusion.

More important is what we did have.   The freedom to roam, I went wandering the fields alone from age about six.  And paedophiles did exist before the age of Jimmy Saville. I was once approached by one such, on the pretext of helping him look for a toy plane lost in a field. But even at that tender age I was bright enough to realise that he appeared to be looking for the toy plane in a very odd place, I could not understand how his suggestion to drop his trousers might help find the missing aeroplane, and so I quickly legged it.  Jimmy Saville's young friends, in many cases, seemed not to know that they had that option.  We had grammar schools, the ability to play outside,  very few toys, so we had to invent games and toys ourselves. It was fine making catapults, and bows and arrows, with arrowheads made from nails flattened by the passage of trains on the local railway line.  But I did get into immense trouble one day for making a slingshot.  My dad appeared, Goliath-like, and gave me hell for making it.  I still don't know why it was so much worse than the catapult. It had no where near the same accuracy. Let me assure you: David would have got nowhere near Goliath with his sling.

I nowadays blame much of the UK's ills on the Sony PlayStation and the loss of those grammar schools, together with the fiery discipline that came with them. The grammars were certainly a social leveller, and enabled kids like myself, from working class parents, to move onwards and upwards.  Most of today's kids are not much good at being kids, lousy at being teenagers, and not exactly brilliant at being young adults either.

But also I confess that I am not much good at  being a pensioner,  I do things wrong,  I feel out of place amongst my contemporaries whilst using the free bus pass.   I cannot just stare disinterestedly in front of me, or engage in totally trivial conversation en-route to my destination.  Why do so many pensioners appear to have no interest in what makes life tick, how the universe works, why insects have six legs rather than five etc?   I continue to get this part all wrong.  Do I also look as old to them, as they all seem to look to me?  Why do I feel far more at home with younger people?   I just don't understand any of the rules of this game.  I don't even feel that I deserve the government pension...but thanks very much.  Am I a generational outcast? 

A Pair of Kingfishers. A Shame They Were Not Closer.
Of course there are exceptions to all those OAPs in that bus pass mould. Some OAPs really do enjoy life. And oddly those exceptions almost all seem to be anglers. So I would advise any one getting near their pension date to take up fishing.  It may well keep you young...or possibly just ensure you remain daft.

Today's fishing:  complete blank.   But I did see a pair of kingfishers once again, so the day remained in profit.

And on getting home, a few glances out of the window revealed a song thrush, an occasional visitor to my garden. It was not singing.

Song Thrush

And a male blackcap: a very rare visitor to my garden, and one which is sometimes informally called the Northern Nightingale.   This was only the second such bird  I have seen in 25 years at this address. The blackcap wasn't singing either. So the birds don't think it is Spring just yet,  and neither do the frogs from my pond.  But the squirrels in next door's garden are either certain that Spring has arrived, or they wished specifically  to answer the question posed in the title of this post.   For there were a couple of grey squirrels chasing each other and mating in next door's trees.   And, I can now confirm that squirrels, at least during mating, quite often fall out of trees.  I saw them fall as much as twenty feet, several times.  The falls left them unhurt, and seemed not to dampen their ardour one bit.  Quite coincidental, as I really had been wondering whether they ever fell out of their trees.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Despite the Weather....

The full title of this post should actually be "Despite the Weather...Despite Christmas...and Despite the Wife.".  
But despite whatever, I did get out a couple of times.  With the river still a little too high for my liking I braved it out for about three hours early on the 30th.   The swim I'd chosen had suffered something of a bank collapse during the last week, and I decided to take a risk and fish from above a weir, into the weir itself. Not something the faint-hearted should try, for, apart from the danger of falling in and being swept into the undertow, trying to lift a netted fish up against the waterfall is very difficult, the falling water exerting a massive amount of pressure on the landing net.  This type of fishing also tends to give a lot of false bites due to the ebb and flow of the turbulence below the weir, but with experience, either touch legering or just watching the rod tip will enable you to filter out the fish from the flotsam, the drifting leaves and the vagaries of the current.   The first cast produced a good jagging bite, which I unexpectedly  missed. A second cast to the same spot quickly produced an identical bite, for a better result.  A hard fighting fish charged off into the current.  And now the problem: because of the bank collapse I found myself unable get near enough to reach down with the landing net into the weir.   Too dangerous to wade above the weir into a couple of feet of very fast moving water, and the bit of banking I used to stand on to net fish, has now been swept away.   I knew by this time that the fish was a grayling, something over a pound, and I would need the landing net. Time to try something novel. I accelerated the tiring fish towards the weir, and managed, using the rod,  to make it jump, salmon like, over the low weir and into the pool above.  This sounds more dramatic than it was, for the weir was only some six inches high. Following the fish's flight, it was then easy to land it conventionally with the net. A very clean, pretty
The Grayling Goes back
fish of maybe a pound and a couple of ounces, which, after a short rest swam off strongly.   There are not many grayling, or indeed many fish of any other species, in this river, and apart from one very tiny grayling of an ounce or so, caught a little later, that was my only fish of the day.   Tiny grayling don't look very much like grayling, they are very slim and quite silvery rather than grey, and I can understand that some anglers, unused to grayling, might easily mis-identify them as dace, or small chub. Their presence in the river can only be to the good, unless they should all prove to be goosander or cormorant fodder.

I returned home happy enough though, I had seen the river and a kingfisher, and caught fish too.  

The house in the meantime had become a death trap.   My wife, being from the Far East, is not happy with having just the odd chain of flashing lights and a Christmas tree.   Nope:  for her, old superstitions remain and advice from the village witch doctor arrived just before New year's eve.  Round objects apparently will bestow us with  great beneficial effects in the coming year.  I encountered the first of such objects, just inside the back door, and nearly slipped on them:  coins.   Every doorway, every window cill, every one of our stairs had a line of coinage across it.  Old French francs, Italian lira, German marks and Hungarian goulashes littered the carpets. Oranges, eggs, tins of beans, all sorts of round or circular objects were scattered liberally about, on tables, mantlepieces and work surfaces.
Passing through the kitchen I nearly tripped over a jug on the floor that was almost full of water.  In the bottom of the jug shone still more coins.   This was to feature in a New Year midnight Ju-Ju ceremony, when more coins were added such that the water overflowed.   A sodden floor  then became slippery enough for any equally sodden guest or resident to slide and break a leg or two on. I suffered all this in silence, which kept her happy, and apparently we will be in for a very profitable New Year as a consequence.  She still, despite many blanks, has an astonishingly high lottery confidence level. Maybe I shall be able to buy the River Frome next month.  Hmmm!   I think I might have to get a number of goldfish bowls,  nice round ones, fill them with fish from the river until they overflow, and line them all up along the garden paths.  

In reality all this mumbo jumbo is trivia compared to having to suffer Christmas every September in the shops, and then right on without a break through until February.   Should Christmas not have a half term break?  By the first week of October I have already had my fill of the "pre Xmas sales" and am dreading hearing that first Christmas song on the supermarket tannoys.  How on earth do the stores' staff stay sane? No matter how hard I try to avoid Christmas it is a near impossible task, certainly from Guy Fawkes night onwards.  And whilst I am in rant mode ( which I know one or two of my readers enjoy), is it not about time that all shops were banned from using the word "save".  How can anyone possibly save in a shop?  The very best you can do, without involving a degree of criminality, is to come out of the shop with the same amount of money you went in with.   Take the wife along and this becomes an impossibility of course.   Spending and saving are at opposite sides of the X axis on any graph you care to show me. Any shop sign or advert that claims to save you money should be banned by the advertising standards agency.  Preferably before my wife next gets near a shop.  How many dresses does she damn well need?  "SAVE MONEY,  KEEP OUT OF THE BLOODY SHOP!"

I also fished for a few hours on New Year's day.  Within moments of first casting out, a red and white Santa hat floated downstream past me, its red LED lights were somehow still flashing.  Has Santa had enough of Christmas too?  Wanted to end it all?  Thrown himself into the river from the town bridge after dropping all those toys down the chimneys of the local sink estate? I watched eagerly, but didn't see any reindeer float or swim by. But I did see a group of four goosanders in the shallows though.   Without party hats.

I think they must have dined well on New Year's Eve, as they were contentedly idling away their time in the thin sunshine.  Two males and two females...not good news for next year's breeding season.  The river was very much the same as it was a couple of days earlier.  I had chosen a new swim, one I have fished before: a great looking swim, but one in which I have yet to get my first bite.   Angling, or at least pre-commercial angling is all about confidence.   A confident angler is far more likely to catch fish. And confidence is a skill you have to learn.   I cannot explain this "confidence catches" phenomena in any scientifically acceptable manner.  It is, I suppose, my own version of believing in ghosts or Gods.   But I have seen the effects of confidence, or lack of it, far too often for there to be nothing in it. But confidence I cannot simply manufacture:  give me a swim in which I have caught before, in good weather conditions and I will go out knowing that I will catch.   Let me fish a similar swim, and I will still go in there on a high. Top of the confidence scale.   But every little detail  that differs from the ideal can sap some of that confidence.   And on this day, January 1st, never having caught a fish from the swim before took the edge off it,  the high water level sapped it a bit more, the speed of the current was a little more than ideal, and I was not by the water as dawn broke.    All of these factors conspired to reduce my optimism, and the almost inevitable result was a total lack of bites.   I knew that, if I moved up or down a couple of swims, then I would very probably catch a fish or two, but no-one should always fish in the same spots, using the same methods.   I for one, most certainly need variation, I need to try new things, new places, different methods.  Sometimes I suffer the consequences, but blanks should always be part of fishing. Anglers actually need blanks.   The day I no longer expect or want blanks will be the first time I take a trip to a commercial water. 

And I will have switched my brain off in preparation for the experience.