Thursday 20 February 2014

Tinca, Tinca, Tinca, Scotland and Wales.

I thought that we had totally escaped the effects of the bad weather up here in the North, and that I could nip off fishing without any problems left behind by mother nature.   Not quite.   After the North West's hurricane force winds last weekend I found my usual route to the fishing grounds blocked by some very large trees that had been snapped off at head height by the wind.   As I searched out an alternative route, my mobile rang.   My wife; asking that I return home immediately because the burglar alarm was going off and we had lost all downstairs lighting.   So I returned to also find water dripping from the kitchen ceiling under the bay window.  In 25 years I have never had a lighting fuse blow before, and so its seems highly likely that, when the installers fitted the PVC window, and as requested, removed the strip light that was up inside the old window, they had not completely removed the associated wiring, nor sealed the joint properly.   So I have had to fix the leak over the window, and reset the alarm, which had triggered when Nina removed the wrong fuse holder whilst trying to fix the problem.  This was in retrospect useful, in that it showed that the internal battery had died at some time in the past and was thus not able to maintain power during the power outage.   The lights stayed on for about 3 hours minutes after replacing the fuse and then blew again.  Repeatedly, and sometimes instantaneously.

So yesterday, " in order to allow the circuits time to dry out",  I went fishing. Leaving the ground floor completely in the dark, I headed out to another trip after those tench.  The day was almost balmy, I recorded 11 degrees through most of the day, and apart from an hour or so of light drizzle, it remained fine and very still.  Water temperature was still at 5 degrees and so I was fairly confident I would catch.   I was legering whilst watching the line meniscus as it entered the water, with a back up bite alarm made of a bit of old reed, lying across the line near to the reel.   By mid-day the line had not even twitched, but then a slight ripple from the line suggested that something was nearby.  It was probably a minute, teensy line bite, but it readied me for action, and sure enough, ten minutes later after the reed suddenly flipped into the air, I was fighting a male tench of 4-14.   This exact scenario happened twice more each fish separated by about 90 minutes.    So alike were the scenarios, that each fish pulled the scales down to exactly the same weight.  For old times sake, I weigh any tench that I think might scrape 5 pounds.  The first two fish were of the pale green colour
A Beautifully Fit Winter Male
that the venue usually produces, but the third was a far darker and much prettier fish altogether.  Swims on the lake were in short supply, it was half term and the kids were out in force.  So, sometime after lunch another angler arrived and asked if he could fish about 15 yards away from me, in one of few remaining pegs.  No problem.  He travelled fairly light, and had one of the old wicker type fishing baskets.  Good enough to carry his tackle, but not good enough to sit on for 4 or 5 hours: he had also brought a flashy folding seat.  He opened up the basket and the first thing he brought out was a large mallet. I hate mallets.  They are wielded by the bivvy brigade with no thought to scaring the fish of other nearby anglers.  It does not matter to them, as they will probably have a couple of days in which the fish might recover from their fright.  So I tried to forestall his use of the mallet by saying telling him that I hated such fish scaring devices.  
He asked "Do you really think that they scare fish?"
"Yes."  I said  " I have occasionally been watching fish, and seen them spooked by someone using a mallet over two hundred yards away."    Sound does travel far better through water than it does through air.
He replied that he had seen someone bivvy up, wearing a recently Dazzed or Persilled white T-shirt and then caught a carp in the margins just 15 minutes later.
I said that after it taking 5 hours getting the first fish feeding in my swim I would hate them to be scared off now.  There was nothing unpleasant about the conversation and he assembled his gear, having returned the mallet into the wickerwork, which was quite gentlemanly of him.   Two leger rods, swimfeeders, and two very high tech buzzers were soon in place.   These were the sort of buzzers with which, by flicking one of the many switches, he could have probably monitored and displayed much of the data being sent back by the Mars rover mission.   And he had been unable to mallet their supporting bank stick into the ground.    As he cast in the second rod, I hooked and landed the second of my fish. I wonder if I would have caught it had he ignored my plea?  Ten minutes later he was upping and moving 50 yards further down the bank.   Wanted to give me some room apparently.   I had lots of room, and would have been happy to have had him fish there.  A few moments later I heard the mallet going hammer and tongs at the bank sticks.    He was just not comfortable being forced outside his usual routine.  If the banks sticks were not thoroughly well seated into the ground he was certainly not going to catch fish.  Maybe he was terrified that his buzzers would fall over and electrocute anything swimming in the lake within mallet hearing range.    Sadly his move  along the bank brought him no fish during his session, and I would like to think his mallet had scared them all off.  

Should mallets be banned?   Any views out there?    To compensate, it might be possible to fit out all  the man-made comfortable pegs with built in rings to enable the anglers to tie down their bivvies?  I don't like these pretty pebble dashed pegs myself.  I would rather poke my rod out between the rush and reed beds, sitting, if need be, with my backside an inch or so above the water, hoping that the legs of my seat sink into the mud no further.  Each to his own I guess, but why do so few modern anglers ignore the advice about noise from as far back as "Still Water Angling" and still feel they should be allowed to make as much of it as they wish?

Spring was in the air, and the male mallards were already chasing the females, and the robins visited in pairs.  Dunnocks were displaying to any available females.  The lake's kingfisher and grebe were still in residence.  All in all, quite a pleasant trip. Yet it was a trip that was missing something.  It was my fifth trip this year chasing those tench.  Every one of those trips has produced tench to my rod, 12 in total.  And although catching any tench in Winter is wonderful, I did feel that today's trip was a little predictable.  I expected to catch tench, and had I guessed, I would have guessed at my landing three fish. Spot on!  I need more than that from my fishing, or perhaps less than that. I don't want to be able to make such predictions and be right.  Five trips is too much of the same old thing.  I don't know if I needed a blank, or just something very, very different.  Conversely, the other angle that I also have to look at this from is:    eat your chips before they go cold.  And today I did.

I have no idea how some anglers are able to do the same thing every single weekend.  Mainly it is carp anglers, but barbel anglers are getting close too.  They go out, set up the bivouacs and fish right through the weekend.  Some of them don't catch very often, they are on hard waters, others catch most trips.  But in either case it all seems too much same old, same old.   There seems to be little imagination involved.  Shut up in, or under the bivvy all weekend, or perhaps longer, using methods tried and tested, prescribed by angling press, TV and DVD's with a little extra input from mates and forums.  The objective, the only objective that matters, seems to be to catch  fish. Little else is of any concern at all.  Catch the fish no matter how long it takes, no matter if it is exactly the same modus operandi that was involved last week, and indeed during every week of the last year or few.  Further evidence of this attitude was evident after the anglers on the far bank left.   I could see the  litter they left from 150 yards away.  I can moan all I wish about litter here, or in fishing forums, but the fact of the matter is that, until anglers see fishing as being much more than just catching fish, until they learn, by themselves, to appreciate the outdoors for what it is worth, then no amount of cajoling will ever persuade them to take their rubbish home.  And I fear that many will never have the  vision to see any  further than the fish in their net.

But to return to the matter in hand:  one of the reasons I gave up fishing all those years ago is that it had all become too predictable.   I was simply having too much success, and finding that, even for big fish, before the advent of fancy baits rigs, commercials etc, grabbed hold of all our fish and magnified their sizes, it was all too easy for me, the challenge that I needed at the time was no more.   So nowadays my fishing has to be very varied, with some of those blanks, or I fear I might once again think about giving up.  Of course, to find any other activity with as much daily variation as fishing is going to be damn near impossible, so giving up is probably not really an option.  I need a little bit of planning ahead though, to set up one or two objectives to mix in with the more usual stuff this year.   So, two or three things in mind at the moment.  I have already  a trip abroad planned for next month...more to come on that after the event,  then, come the close season I might have to dig out the fly rod, and actually catch a fish or two with it this time.   The third thing is a complete, all the balls in the air sea change.  Grey mullet are starting to call me.  So I shall be spending some time in Wales, once the shoals move in from wherever they go in Winter.   Never seen a mullet, so that promises to be fun.  Oh yes...and I want to photograph a mole.

Whilst talking about Wales, it is looking slightly more likely that Scotland may go independent.  I don't think Cameron is well liked above the border and it may well be that the Scottish will vote so as to specifically spite him, especially now that he is calling for UK continued unity. It may well benefit Cameron and the Tories to lose Scotland of course, and now that the oil is running out, might he not push too hard to keep us together?  I wonder what he really thinks? 
It would be nice to see a more logical approach to student fees. At the moment students from Europe must be offered courses fee free in Scotland, but English students in Scotland have to pay, because the EU only dictate that there is equal opportunity between member states....not within member states...which is why Scotland is allowed to charge English students. I wonder what will happen to the State Pensions Provision in Scotland if independence kicks in?    Pensioners have been paying in for years,  the government spending the money immediately, and funding current pensions from existing workers' taxes, but after independence what remains of the UK population would be paying pensions to a foreign the currency of thistles or whatever that new currency would become. So, maybe Scottish Pensions would have to be paid from Scottish taxes?  All looks to be an interesting time in September.  

In my spare time I run the local juggling and unicycling club, and at one juggling event I met a wild Scottish juggler:  A BIG guy. Complete with crazy red hair and a beard like Hamish in Braveheart.   He was juggling with three hatchets whilst wearing a kilt.  A very scary sight indeed, far too scary to check whether his backside was painted blue. If there are many more like him up there, we will have to rebuild Hadrian's wall after independence, make it higher  and fit it with gun turrets.

 But what about the Welsh.   Where do they fit in?  One answer is that they don't. For some time I have wondered why Wales, if it really is a fully functioning and patriotic part of the UK, does not have its flag incorporated into the Union Jack, or Union Flag as some prefer to call it.   I really like the Welsh flag, it is one of the best in the world, and it is something of a shock to find that the Welsh have not insisted that it be incorporated within the design, so that the UK flag would look like this:

There is one other major advantage. No-one could possibly fly it upside down by accident. So come on Taffy, Dafydd, Rhys, Megan and others.  Fight for your flag!  I have already done the design work for you.  As an afterthought, having  the English flag,  St. George's Cross on the flag as well might lead to conflict, St George being the slayer of dragons, allegedly.

Stop press: the drying out time fishing trip appears to have worked, and we have let there be light in the house for about the last nine hours.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

A Canal Treat and a Mystery Solved.

I have never been in any way artistically skilled. I cannot paint, nor draw anything that might be recognised by others for what it was meant to be.   I am not musical, and am in fact banned from singing for life.  A punishment made by my music teacher on my first day at grammar school, after I had stood immediately behind him as he played the organ during school assembly.   But I can appreciate those who are artistically gifted. OK, OK, I am insanely jealous!   The gay community always seems to produce a high proportion of artists, but it also seems to have some good comedians and wits.   Those who do not live near Manchester will not realise why I have titled this article so.    The gay village in Manchester is centred around one pedestrianized road: Canal Street.  The locals there often modify the cast iron street sign, even though it is some 12 or fifteen feet above ground level.   "Street"  is modified to  read "treet", by the addition of some white paint.      The local council consider it rather unfortunate that the first word gets similarly emasculated,   ( work it out for yourself),  and hence the sign gets frequently repainted by the council too.  The sign see-saws between its two incarnations.    I was also amused to be told that one year Liverpool Gay Festival had been entitled "Fairies 'Cross the Mersey" by the participants. I suspect that Gerry Marsden would have been quite pleased.

So the title of this post is part in homage to those witty individuals who live and love in and around the Manchester gay village.   The street runs alongside the Rochdale Canal, right in the city centre, a canal which these days does hold fish, and which has a set of subterranean lock gates, beneath one of Manchester's main thoroughfares: Oxford Road, although I have yet to be brave enough to go fishing there.  And were I brave enough, to fish there would probably have a negative effect on business for a number of young local ladies. So I steer well clear. 

Today I returned to the Llangollen Canal.  I would not be defeated by this water, and sought revenge for the blank session it gave me a few days ago.     Armed again with lobworms and a "big 'ook", I drove down there in the early morning and the first frost for some time.   It had created ice coverings on all the many ponds and puddles that the recent rains had left on the roads.  The towpath grass was white as I sat down at first light.  The weather was initially fine and still, no wind at all.   But it was not long before the first drops of rain began to fall.   They continued to fall until lunchtime, interspersed with the occasional bout of sleet.  All in all, with the cold it would have been a most unpleasant day on which to blank.   And by the time the rain stopped, I was still blanking.  This surprised me, for, from the moment I first cast in, my float was continually bobbing and running a few inches to the left, or to the right. It would not keep still for a moment.   Something was certainly interested in the lobworm.   But there was nothing I could strike at, and although I tried, apart from losing half the worm sometimes, no fish were to be hooked.  Maybe there were crayfish attacking the worm?  But none got tangled up in the line and as far as I knew, with a water temperature of just 3 degrees, any crayfish present would be inactive.  But, just as I was losing hope amid the rising frustration, a very good bite. And to quote many an angling TV journalist:
Rod, Pole and two Pound Perch.
 "Fish on".   The fish rapidly rose and splashed on the surface in the shallow water. It was indeed a perch, my target species, and at exactly two pounds a nice "canal treat" for me. The fish bristled its fins defiantly the whole time it was on the bank. Usually they refuse to raise their fins for me to photograph. A short while later another bite, which resulted in a bream of about a pound and a half.  So  maybe all the the bobs and bobbles were from small bream?   Both fish were quite pale, especially the bream, a result of living in water permanently brown and muddied by the passage of canal barges.  Nevertheless the stripes on the perch were quite clearly defined, if not intensely black, and some nice red in the lower fins.  A while later a second perch, of maybe 10 or 12 ounces gave himself up too.   

Daddy Ruffe
The itches and twitches on the float continued apace though, curiouser and curiouser, and at about 3 o'clock I decided to set up a second rod, and throw a couple of maggots at the canal bed.   Mystery quickly solved. It was not long before I reeled in a small ruffe,  the first I have caught for about 45 years.  Indeed, it was quite a pleasure to catch it. Nine or ten more ruffe were to follow in quick succession. That is probably more than I have caught in total during my entire previous angling career.  Ruffe were always very rare in my area.  This handful of ruffe came together with about three gudgeon and a rather sickly looking roach of two or three ounces, a fish which had a large open wound near the dorsal fin.   Cormorant? No. After some thought I concluded that the roach had instead most probably been attached to someone's snap tackle in the recent past. As I snatched the tiddlers a local guy passed by.  A canal angler himself he professed never to have heard of ruffe.  After describing one verbally to him, I managed, just a minute or so later, to catch  another and was thus able to show him exactly what the fish looked like.   Another name for the ruffe is the pope, no-one ever really calls them that though,  but as kids were always called them  "daddy ruffe".  I have no idea why such a big nickname should apply to a fish which never usually grows more than an ounce or two.  I have also heard the term "Tommy ruffe".  I just consulted the British record fish list and the biggest ruffe on record is a little over 5 ounces.   Whilst on the site I also noted that the British record stickleback is 0-0-4.  Just 4 drams.   I KNOW that, as I kid, I had one much bigger than that: a very gravid female that was about 4 or 5 inches long.  And I kid you not! The small reservoir from which that came has long been filled in and built on, else I might have nipped back to see if the fish was still there.  It would only have been about 55 years old by now. but could I ever have overcome the embarrassment of claiming a record stickleback?

But the mystery of the niggling little bites was solved, and in, I must admit, a most pleasant way.  It was good to catch some ruffe, a fish that I have not seen for so very many years.   As I sat there, for the final hour or so, I began thinking.  maybe I could make good use of the prolific ruffe in the canal.    I re-tackled, and set up a new arrangement of end tackle:   float,  line down to that "big 'ook" and more line down to a couple of BB shot.  Very much like a cross between a drop-shot rig and a paternoster.   The paternoster dropper being of zero length.  The idea was that the ruffe would probably continue to molest the lobworm, now suspended six inches above the canal floor, causing lots of movement and vibration in the coloured water.  Then maybe, just maybe, the perch would notice all the commotion and saunter along to investigate.  I cannot be sure whether the theory worked in the way I planned, but the next 30 minutes, shortly before dark, did lead to two more perch being landed, one small, the other of a pound and a half.  So maybe it did work.

During the day I had seen no fish rise at all,  the only rings on the bright water had proved to be the droppings from woodpigeons in the trees above.   But oddly, as I drove across the canal to leave, a glance to the left showed a fair fish splashing on the surface.   I of course, had fished to the right.  But in very cold conditions to catch about twenty fish of four different species had made the trip worthwhile.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Five Tench and Four Canals.

It is hard not to feel deeply for those living on and around the Somerset Levels, those who have now had to endure about six weeks (so far) of completely horrendous flood conditions.   I suspect that any pumping done at low tide by the EA is quickly reversed by high tides and onshore winds.   It seems unlikely that mere dredging of the rivers will have any real effect if we get these conditions again next year, and any work needed will have to be well thought out.   I feel also for the local anglers and their fish.   I wonder how many fish will remain after all this...and where they might eventually be found as the water level falls. Do river fish tend to remain in the river channels, or do they seek calmer waters? Certainly any submerged ponds and lakes may well have had their carp and other species significantly "redistributed".   OK, duty done, regrets expressed for their local conditions.   I now hope my Somerset readers, if any, will similarly feel for me: no grayling fishing for about four weeks now.  I too am in need of a visit from Bonny Prince Charlie, who might also like to bring me £50,000.  Bit surprised that the Duke of Westminster, an incredibly rich man, only threw in the same fifty grand pittance.

My fishing over the last ten days or so has veered in two different directions:  some spells on the canals, and a couple more tench sessions...I suppose I was sort of getting them whilst they are on special Winter offer.  

I fished four different canals, each for just a half day or so.   Firstly, the Macclesfield Canal, for perch. As I left home the weather was calm, very little breeze, and fairly warm for February.   But it was not long after reaching my chosen swim that that all changed.  A strong wind began to blow from the right, aligning itself along the canal, and causing spindrift and waves that looked to be a foot high, but which probably were no more than 4 to 5 inches.  A promising bite saw the float drift into the wind and then disappear.  A bream of about a pound or so fought very well, aided no doubt by the immense sideways pressure of the wind on my rod.   Later after a small perch, and soon after lunch I decided to call it a day.  The wind was making the fishing most unpleasant, and the captures were not enough to justify remaining any longer. I could scarcely sit on my stool, and so went home to a bowl of my own design leek and bean soup.   Actually leek, bean and a large but random selection of spices from the kitchen cupboard.   My son refuses to eat it, describing it as toxic waste, but it is great on a cold day, and can usually make the nose water.  Actually, I would admit that my wife refuses to eat it too.

The second trip saw me on the Peak Forest Canal, giving "drop shotting" a try.   No bites, no signs of any interested fish, but this was my very first try at the method, on a canal I had not fished for about 50 years.  Three months ago I had never heard of drop shotting, and so I doubt that I was employing it with much skill at all.  I have been surprised by reports that suggest it to be very effective in the right hands.   I had a similar level of surprise many years ago, when I heard about catching cod on pirks...which essentially seem to be chrome car door handles with a treble hook attached.   I guess that drop shotting is a method rather further up the evolutionary angling tree, whose root was pirking.  I have much to learn about this method, and I guess I will have to try again soon.

Trip three was again after perch on the Llangollen Canal, which I am sure I used to know as the Shropshire Union Canal.   Another canal on which I have not fished for 50 years.   I remember causing a little controversy on the S.U.C. during a match.   I was still a junior but won the match overall, but most of my match weight was made up by a flounder, which had obviously come up from the River Dee.    Nothing in
A Tiny but Confident Looking Wren
the rules against flounders.  Trout, yes,  sticklebacks yes, but nothing about sea fish.   So I walked away with the first prize sweep money, to the annoyance of a couple or senior members, and to the amusement of others.   On this latest trip though I was not to get a bite, let alone see a fish.    I did see a kingfisher, the only one I think I have ever seen on a canal.  And a wren: quite a defiant looking little bird.

The fourth and last canal outing was an afternoon on the Trent and Mersey.  A canal I have never fished before. Four hours on a relatively mild day, sitting on a sodden and muddy towpath resulted in one small bream which rather greedily engulfed my lobworm.  A second bream , smaller still, tried the same trick a little later but, after showing itself as a half pound skimmer, it let go of the worm.  I doubt very much that it was hooked.  The canal fishing has not been fantastic, but it has provided me with a change of scenery.

So on to the tench trips.   The first day dawned with the lake very quiet and still,  overnight had been cold and the lake was only about 4.5 degrees.    But tench had fed at that temperature during January, and so I persisted.   By eleven o'clock, nothing had moved at all. Later I caught two tench, both males at the lower end of four pound fish.  Two other fish managed to shed the hooks.  The two males were not particularly pretty fish, the first having a torn mouth, the result of someone in the past being impatient or very rough when unhooking the fish.  The second had a cherry sized and cherry coloured tumour, just below and forward from its eye.  This could well also be a result of poor unhooking technique.   Both fish though, were typical in size as other males I have caught in the lake, certainly they were not unduly thin, and so it would appear they have little problems feeding and going about their general daily business.   This of course brings up the question, often asked by anglers, as to whether fish feel pain.    Most anglers seem to claim that fish do not feel pain "in the same way as we do". I suspect that many claim this in order to justify that angling is not cruel. I cannot say myself, with any conviction, that angling does not have any element of cruelty though. It does, sorry.  I also read a learned article that said that fish do not have the same brain structure as ourselves, and that the area in our own brains responsible for our pain perception is completely missing in fish.  I have often returned chub to the river, to see them swim off very casually, as if nothing untoward had happened to them.   I have also caught the same trout three times within two hours ...twice on the very same worm. It wasn't in enough pain to stop it feeling hungry.  BUT fish diverged from our branch of the Darwinian evolutionary tree many millions of years ago. Probably hundreds of millions of years ago.  So why should we be able to say that the same brain areas in fish are responsible for pain perception as those in our brains?   Is it not quite feasible that another area performs this function in fish?   When the evolutionary split occurred, did our common ancestors even have that particular brain lobe?  It seems a big wild guess to suggest that they did. For the creature on that tree cannot have, at that time, been more evolved than a modern fish.  If scientists can say that modern fish do not feel pain, they must also accept that our common ancestor also did not feel pain.  And therefore pain detection evolved much later in the tree leading eventually to Homo sapiens. Fish, although not endowed with the ability to perform too much in the way of mathematical calculus, or statistical analysis, are nevertheless very well evolved.  They are not in any way primitive, and I somehow cannot see that a fish, which has such sophisticated ways of detecting smell, taste, low and perhaps high frequency vibrations, would not also be able to feel pain.  Fish respond vigorously to being hooked... are we to assume that the only reason they fight is that they are being pulled in a direction in which they do not want to go?  Or could pain also be involved?   
How hot do you think your bathwater is?  I tested it recently and was very surprised to find that just 41 degrees is uncomfortable, and 42 degrees is almost painfully hot.  Before measuring it I had naively assumed my bathwater was 70 or 80 degrees!  Body temperature  is normally 37 degrees, and so your bathwater is no more than 4 or at most 5 degrees above your body temperature.   Now you may say that your black coffee is far hotter,  but whilst it is so hot you will just sip it, allowing that very small amount of very hot coffee to be almost instantly cooled by your mouth.   Ever caught a grayling?  It will almost invariable twist violently in your hands.    If the water it came from is say 5 degrees, your hand could easily be 25 degrees plus, and in theory anything up to 37 degrees, although that is unlikely.   You might be exposing that fish to a temperature difference of 20 or more degrees.   5 degrees makes you uncomfortable.  Is it possible that fish can feel such temperature differences as painful?  And why that grayling wriggles so much?  Much of a fish is covered by scales, and it might well be that scales provide some protection, not only from abrasive contact with rocks and other in-river objects, but also from the heat of your hands, or indeed the sun's heat if you keep the fish out of water too long. But not all of a fish is covered by scales, the head especially is free from such protection.  And what of mirror carp?  Have we inadvertently bred a fish that is more susceptible to pain across much of its body?

But on to the second tench trip.   Another successful session.   Four winter tench sessions, and all have produced fish for me!   Inexplicable.   Water temperature again just 4.8 degrees.  The fish came spread out
5 Pounds Exactly
over the day, the first being around mid-day.  Its weight bang on 5 pounds, a female.   Two males a little over four followed, the last one getting very well snagged.  All went completely solid.  Slackening off the line did nothing, the fish did not move. I walked to the left and pulled and the fish eventually came free and was landed after a great scrap.  Later a fourth fish went into the same snag, and again all locked up.  The previous tactic did not work, and it was only when I pulled for a break, that  I felt something give a little, and the fish came free.   But after just a few healthy thumps on the rod, the hook pulled out.   But three tench on a February day is a good result in anyone's money.