Friday 14 March 2014

Forgive Me Lord, For I Have Sinned.

Yes, well:

  Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned: it is nine weeks since my last grayling.

It is indeed just on nine weeks since I last caught a grayling.  Now this would not normally worry me, but...the previous nine trips to the rivers ALL produced at least one grayling for me.  These rivers are not overflowing with our ladies, but to follow nine successes with nine failures is just not right. Unfair tactics by old Thymallus.  And I have no idea why!   The rivers were very similar in character on all of the days I fished. Low and clear.  The only thing worth mentioning is that the two batches of trips, the successes and the failures were separated by the almost biblical and constant floods of January and February.  Had the fish forgotten how to feed?   So I wonder if my sins have been visited upon me so as to see me fail,  and possibly caused those floods to be unleashed upon us too. Have my sins directly been responsible for bestowing the incessant rains upon us, and was I supposed to have built an Ark or something instead of angling?

Sadly for this theory, I have been an atheist since I was six months old, or perhaps since Jesus was conceived, whichever period is the longer.  And of course since then I have always been completely pure and untarnished: White as Snow, although I admit I Mae have occasionally drifted to the West.   There's one for all you trivia aficionados!

But something has changed to make finding those grey ghosts more difficult, and I have no idea what it is. The trips have not been blanks, and many a brown trout nuisance has graced my line during the last couple of months, together with just a couple of chub. 

So today was the last knockings of the coarse season, and one final fling was needed, one last limp down to the river bank.  Just half a day, as I need to finish packing my gear for the trip, because I catch the London Train for the first leg at stupid o'clock tomorrow morning.  But I would rather be stupid than miss the plane.   Only 23 Kilos in my baggage allowance though...enough room for three rods and all the bits and pieces to go with it, together with some bait...if I can get that through customs at the far end?  Some careful packing will be needed.

The morning today began as usual: brown trout, more nuisance fish, 7 of them from the first two swims I occupied.  One was a big nuisance of a little over two pounds, the other a major pest of three pounds.  The rest were small, 4 to 8 ounces.  They were obviously making hay whilst the sun shone  ( it didn't), and feeding furiously in imagined safety whilst the last of the trout close season ebbed away.  Were I able to fish tomorrow in the UK, I have no doubt that the trout would have all disappeared, and the out of season grayling would be throwing themselves on the hook.

But then I changed swims again, at about 11 o'clock, to a spot I have never fished before.   Missed a nibble immediately.   I had repeated my prayer in the title of this post several times over during the day, partly to take the mickey out of my Catholic wife ( whilst she was not there of course), partly to remind myself of what the post title would be.  But I suddenly found that my prayers had actually been answered, and I found myself playing a fish that fought very differently from all those trout.  It was jagging away at the rod tip quite viciously, typical grayling, with no aerobatics at all, and then it sort of "hung" in the current, presumably using its huge dorsal fin to present a large cross section area to the current.  The swim was precarious indeed, and I had only brought my four foot landing net handle with me, for I had not anticipated fishing from a high banking.   But with a stretch I landed the fish without falling in, a nice grayling a couple of ounces over the pound mark. 

  Quite a thin fish...maybe a sign that it too has not found feeding in the floods very easy? Over the next thirty of forty minutes I landed 4 more of them, all bigger than the first, all a little thin, the largest being a very dark coloured male of a pound and nine ounces.   All good fish for the river, which I suspect does not grow them very much larger.  The famine was over, the sea, or river, had parted and allowed me back in.   Back home by one fifteen, after a great morning's fishing.   Good enough to almost make me take up religion.....almost.  But not quite.

The other day, on another river, I found an old bike 3 or 4 feet up the bank, where it had been deposited by the floods.   It gives me hope than any old iron in our rivers will rust away to nothingness.   The wheel rims have all gone, along with much more of the metalwork.  But the front tyre shows little signs of deterioration during what must have been a long immersion.   So my hopes that all the truck and car tyres in the river would one day rot away seem to be unfounded.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

The Fifteenth Of March

 March the fifteenth.  Close season on the rivers.  Time for all those barbel anglers to vegetate in front of the TV?  Or time for them to see what else night be swimming around in some of our UK waters?   Or perhaps something else....

The last week or so has been patchy, partly my own fault, poor choice of suitable venues. I had intended to return to the river to see whether the grayling would be as obliging as had been the trout a week or so ago, but the rain stepped in again, and the day after I caught the trout, the river was three times as deep and probably carrying ten times the flow. I did go to look, but it was very chocolate in colour.  So I spent a few days messing about on still waters.    

The first trip was to try for a crucian carp, on a water that produced them in quite large numbers for me on a couple of occasions last year.   This time was however a complete and utter failure, not so much as a twitch.    It would seem that crucians wake up more reluctantly than do tench. The lake surface was absolutely still all day, no wind at all, and from my chosen spot I could see 90% of the lake surface.   Only one carp broke surface all day.   No other fish at all stirred.  There was a heavy splash right at the far end of the lake though, a splash preceded by a loud cry of desperation a few moments before.  I had seen a carp angler wandering along the far bank and he had chosen to climb into a waterside tree overlooking the clear water, and to search for carp with his polaroids.   The tree gave way, and I saw him drop vertically, feet first, into deep water that I already knew was at a mere 5 degrees centigrade.  He managed to crawl out, and I could only imagine what he might have been saying. He was a youngish lad, and before being dropped in the lake by that tree, had been dropped off at the lake some time before by a friend or relative.   I guessed he had no means of getting home, wet as he was, until a pre-arranged time.   A while later the bailiff came and checked my card and EA licence. I mentioned the poor damp lad to the bailiff, and said he might expect to find someone cold and shivering around the corner.    No sympathy from this bailiff though.   "If he left his rods fishing by themselves to go looking for carp I'll endorse his card, I don't care how bloody wet he is."   Some days the milk of human kindness flows freely,  other times it has curdled nicely before being added to the cup of tea, and is then served up without sugar. The stillness of the water surface revealed quite a lot of bubbles rising to the surface.   As usual another angler said they would be carp, digging into the mud.   He was wrong, I think almost all bubbles seen rising, from lake or from river bed are nothing to do with the fish.   But on this occasion I was able to prove it to him.   I noticed that near to me there were about a dozen places where bubbles were rising. Two or three were near enough to the bank that the absence of fish could actually be seen.   Other bubbles were rising in exactly the same spots repeatedly,  and more surprisingly, at regular intervals.   I monitored one such spot for quite a while.  Every one minute and forty seconds (give or take a couple of seconds), a mass of about 50 pea sized bubbles would rise to the surface.  This was so regular, that I could have timed an hour quite accurately by it, should I have chosen to do so.  These bubbles continued in precisely  the same spot, at the same time interval, right through the day.  At just 5 degrees, I was surprised that so much decomposition gas was being generated. There must have been quite a large underground reservoir of gas, helping to regulate the bubbling. Not a single carp was involved though!  Most of the other spots were bubbling at fairly regular intervals too.

My next outing was to the local canal.   Occasionally, with just half a day to play with, a local water will tempt me and become my target.   The fishing was fine, and a few half decent perch were teased out from near some moored barges. None reached two pounds but all were very welcome.   My fishing was briefly disturbed by one barge which sailed past, crewed by what one might have described as  the epitome of a "dirty old man"..  He obviously had great  a sense of humour though.  His barge was named the "Nautilust".   Brilliant, and a pleasant change from "The Elk" or "Priscella, Queen of the Canal" and various other silly and sentimental  boat names.

I was determined to get out a few times before "March the Fifteenth", and I arrived at dawn a few days ago to fish a smallish club pond.  No idea of its fish content, but I had an ulterior motive for later in the day.   The
The Bream Pond
fishing was nothing to shout about, and although by the end of the day I had about twenty fish, mainly bream, none would have dragged a spring balance, kicking and screaming, past the half pound mark.  But a pleasant day with the sun shining.  Dave: if you are reading this, dig out those water skis. I finally found you a sloping lake!
Various signs of Spring were apparent.   A few ladybirds were crawling about.  Unfortunately they were all harlequins emerging from their Winter hibernation.   The harlequin ladybird is another of our invasive species, and is outcompeting some of our native species as it spreads ever further to the North.  The dunnocks were getting fruity, the male fluttering his wings at any nearly female.  A solitary lapwing was in its display flight, crazy aerobatics which were probably impressing me more than any nearby female lapwings. The alternative name of peewit comes from its call, rather than its insane tendency to indulge in such crazy flight plans.  One other bird flew across the pond.  Slightly zig-zagging flight, with angled wings. Although my wader identification is non too expert I decided that I must have seen a jack snipe, probably the first I have ever seen. For much of the afternoon I was accompanied by a little wren, which rooted and scuttled about in nearby low vegetation.  It took the odd maggot and had something wrong with its left foot. Not so much as to inhibit its feeding too much though.

Shortly before dusk, I packed up my tackle, because I wanted to stake out a badger sett near the pond.   I had groundbaited the entrance and nearby areas with some sweetcorn and halibut pellets, hoping to draw out old Brock as the light faded.  However my spending a couple of hours with the camera homed in on the main sett entrance, was to yield no result.  

 As the last traces of light disappeared from the Western sky, so the first stars started to appear in the East. One planet, Jupiter I guess, had been visible for some minutes already.     Also around this time, tawny owls started to hoot.   There were quite a lot of them,  although not much was heard in the way of the usual calls and replies:   tu-whits  and corresponding tu-whoos.      One owl,  which may or may not have been a tawny, made several cries, once every few seconds as it flew a northerly flightpath to the west of me.  I didn't see any of the owls. Normally when fishing at night I hear the odd tawny owls, and occasionally even see them, as shadowy shapes flying overhead, but on this night, with no fishing to distract me, I heard far more of their cries than usual, but saw nothing. Eventually as the temperature plummeted with the clear sky, I gave up on the badgers, and headed home.

With the rivers falling again, I had another couple of sessions, different river, similar result:  4 trout, no grayling, and one very good trout, certainly over three pounds, lost to a hook pull, after quite a long and exciting scrap.  I might need to try and re-acquaint myself with that son-of-a-fish once the trout season opens.   

I did re-acquaint myself with the Derwent one day. The EA river levels website had suggested that the water would be low and clear.   I got up at 3am to check.   The website had lied to me though, and by the time I got to the river, not long after 6.30, it was up a little too much for comfort, and was quite coloured.  I stayed for a biteless day, frustrated by seeing just 4 fish move:  one, a small grayling which rose in front of me, just as I reached the river.   Three other fish swirled on the surface, one midstream as I changed swims around mid-day, and two others, one in each of the two swims I fished, both fish swirling within a yard of my feet.  I saw none of these three fish,  my attention was elsewhere, all were good fish, and I can only guess that they were pike.   But yet again, the only fish I saw were very near to my chosen fishing spots.   Uncanny.

Today is probably going to be my last outing before that fateful fifteenth of March...probably.  As I walked towards the river this morning rabbits were scattering in front of me. The frost was quite intense, and the fields were quite white as I strode down the hill towards the river.   Nice low level, and clear, and I expected a grayling or two.   The first fish though was a 1/2 pound brownie.  A nuisance fish.  I have to say that, for, although I enjoyed catching the fish, it is still close season: so it was a nuisance fish...unwanted... unloved... but which was returned safely.  Another followed, somewhat larger, and the swim went dead after its aerobatics. Too noisy, that fish needs to take up something quieter, like synchronized swimming. I moved a few yards upstream to where a fast tail rip bordered some slower water.   Here I did get the odd bite, but

A Perfectly Plump Chub
they were very, very tentative.   But a chub a little over two pounds soon hit the net after a spirited, deepwater fight.  The identity of the fish established by the nature of the fight long before I saw the chub.   A while later a better fish, a very plump and pristine chub a little over three pounds. As I played it a male mandarin duck flew past, its colours wonderfully vibrant in the sunlight.
Mandarin Duck, by Dali
 I may have said this before, but, had I not seen this duck in real life, I would have assumed it to have been painted by Salvadore Dali, whilst on crack cocaine. In the absence of the male, even the female is spectacular. One other chub shed the hook a little later. Lunchtime was my deadline for going home, and a final cast hooked into a third trout, one of maybe a pound and a quarter.   Throughout the day, the "V" of the river banks had become a flyway for the birds, and  several other species flew past: a heron, a couple of cormorants, one female goosander, two dippers, several grey wagtails, and a flight of five small unidentified ducks.   Possibly female mandarins.   Throughout the day 4 or 5 mallards flew up and down the stretch.
Grey Wagtail
  In the trees were various tit species, blackbirds, woodpeckers,  nuthatches, and woodpigeons.  I was told last week by a birdwatching friend that, unlike gulls, woodpigeons NEVER defecate in flight.   I think I'll stick to fishing if that is what I would learn as a twitcher..

Finally back, or perhaps forward  to March the 15th.   What shall I be doing that day?   Well, the close season seemed to be a good time to go fish elsewhere.  So: March the 15th is big silver bird day.   I will be off fishing abroad, on what will either be a very exciting trip, or my most expensive blank week to date.   More to come later.

P.S.   For those of you who read about my drilling holes in the lawn with a Black & worked!   I estimate at least a couple of thousand crocus flowers have appeared.

Sunday 2 March 2014

First Fish on the Avon.

4th February 2014
Usually I write about fish captures after the event,  but today I am taking the alternative route, for this fish will be a little special.  I hope it will be a grayling,  and that it will be caught on a trotted float.  I have already started to plan the event.    Usually I just grab the gear and head on  out when after grayling, but this time it is rather different.

The postman brought me a drainpipe this morning.   A chunk of plastic a little over five feet long arrived at my door with the eleven o'clock post.   The contents are rather precious.   A long term friend from overseas has sent me a rather superb present.   His Hardy's Richard Walker Mk 1V Palakona Avon  split cane rod.   Mk IV's, both the Carp and the Avon were very state of the art, and still command tremendous respect amongst older anglers.   Everyone had heard of them, many anglers wanted one, or two,  but supply and price prevented most anglers, including myself at the time, from ever owning one.      The local rivers are still very high, and I want my first trip with this rod to give me a fair chance of a fish, so the rod will sit there, poised for action, for a while yet.   

Now it is true to say that modern rods are probably much better suited to the job, in a strictly functional way, but as with cars, in which there can be immense pleasure derived from driving a really old MG as opposed to a much faster modern hot hatch, so there is a rather special pleasure in using such a classic rod.    

To complement that rod, I have dug out my centrepin from where it has resided, largely unloved in the utility room.   It is an Okuma Trent, a fairly modern centrepin, quite a competent device I would guess, although maybe not one that is as acceptable to the purists as the rod would be.   I am not, and probably never will be, a centrepin expert.  The last time I used one in reel anger was in about 1960, when along with all my other mates, I had a tiny 3 inch  aluminium centrepin  that probably cost me half a crown, mounted on an 8 foot solid fibreglass rod.  For my younger readers, if I have any, half a crown was the equivalent of twelve and a half pence in new money. 1/5th of a Mars bar. A pretty useless object, that reel, but I remember it did catch me a few fish.    It was ultimately discarded for an Intrepid Monarch fixed spool reel.  Bees knees to any kid at the time, but I saw one recently in a fishing shop window display of old tackle.  And what a mess the Monarch looked.  Very old fashioned and inadequate looking.  It must have been pretty awful to use. But it stayed longer than that eight foot rod, which was replaced with another abomination: an 11 foot tank aerial.   Yes, a very floppy, heavy metal  tapered tube, with a screw ferrule, made into a fishing rod.   It was last used in the desert against Rommell  and was totally unsuitable for fishing....but maybe it was better for fox hunting?    It was fully eleven feet long and therefore, to any kid, a dream of a rod.

Multi-functional Okuma Trent Reel Case.
So what of the Okuma Trent?  Firstly, as you may see from the photo, it came with a dual purpose cloth reel bag. Of great use when the river is out of sorts.   But joking aside what do I expect to see in a centrepin?   For trotting a float it needs to be very free running, the pull of the river on float and line must be able to easily overcome the friction of the reel bearings.  The quality and cleanliness of the bearing is important, but also the greater the spool diameter, the more leverage is exerted by the line tension and the better the spool will spin.   Pointing the rod down the line will help reduce other friction from rod rings of course.   Another factor to be considered is the weight of the drum,  or more precisely expressed, how difficult is it to get it moving, how much inertia it has.   This is less important than friction, because the angler can always get the spool moving himself.   Changes in river flow speeds are all that is then likely to affect the spin speed of the reel.  Again the reel could be given a helping hand to match speeds, but it is all extra work for the hands, which I am sure at this time of year would much rather be deeply seated in thick gloves, or perhaps lounging by a coal fire.    I feel the Okuma is quite good in this respect, it seems to spin well, with little friction, unless the spool retaining knurled screw is overtightened.

The other thing that affects ease of spinning is reel cleanliness.   In this I think the Trent is maybe poorly designed.  It is full of holes, designed to reduce weight, and to maybe make the reel look pretty.   But every hole is a possible entry port for dirt, mud, blood and groundbait, any of which might lodge between the moving surfaces and add significantly to friction.  There are holes in the backplate, and holes in the spool itself, allowing dirt into the backplate area, behind the spool.   So I have sacrificed looks, and sealed all the holes that access the area behind the spool with tape.  The more mud and sand I can keep out the better.

A centrepin will never have the retrieve speed of a fixed spool reel, and so it is usually necessary to wave the rod around with a greater level of skill, when playing a fish, so as to avoid being caught slack.  Batting the reel will speed things up, but only works whilst there is little tension in the line, and this can also lead to softly wound coils.   This is likely to intensify the other centrepin problem:   that of line bedding in.   When a coil becomes trapped between earlier coils, or between coils and the spool, it can inhibit the ability of a float to pull line off the reel easily, stopping the smooth flow of the float downstream.   So most centrepin experts only fill the spool with a short length of line, usually less than 50 yards.   There is always a chance that, when after the grayling I might hook into a barbel, and on light line I want to have a chance against any fish that may run a long way.   As an experiment I have a good hundred yards of line wound on, but I have manually spooled this line using a cross hatch pattern.  A bit of a pain to do, manually having to emulate a bale arm with my fingers,  but I think a cross hatched line lay may well reduce, if not eliminate bedding problems.   Of course that barbel, if caught, would undo all such tedious spool filling work in an act of sadistic revenge. 

So my first session with the Avon will also be with a centrepin.  But until the weather permits, this post will lie fallow in the drafts folder.

There will now be a long break for refreshments, and adverts.
1st March 2014
OK,  you all still awake out there?  Practically a whole month since I started to write this, and my first chance to get back out there, with the river in a good enough state for catching a fish or two.   It was a very late start, in deference to my wife, who was without me all day yesterday whilst I fished on the Derwent, I didn't leave home until after lunch. But when I did leave it was with the MK IV, and not one of my usual 12 foot carbon fibre rods. On arrival the river was gin clear, but in my haste to get the rod near to the grayling, I had forgotten to don my wellies.   I wanted to fish on a gravel bar, an island in the stream.  Fortunately some kind soul had created a couple of stepping stones, and with two steps, followed by a fairly long jump, I made gravel, with dry feet. The day was warm and dry, and between the clouds the sun occasionally shone.

I set up the rod, with the centrepin and started to fish.  This was a quicker process, the Avon having just eight rod rings, as opposed to 13 on my more usual rod.  Nothing, not a nibble for an hour or so, and then a somewhat tentative bite.   Good scrap, and I picked up a gallery of walkers behind me, watching as I played the fish, 8 or 9 of them, all standing on the skyline.   Today was the first day with a fair amount of sun for some weeks, and being warmish too, and a weekend, it dragged out all those ramblers and dog walkers.    
First Fish On The Richard Walker Avon

Landed the fish, and as you can see, sadly not a grayling.   However it was an absolutely gorgeously spotted brownie, out of season, but a totally suitable fish with which to christen the rod.   Photographed it, returned it,  and a few moments later thought "Damn!". I had not weighed it.   Bugger!  I was more concerned with getting rid of the gallery and forgot all about the weight.   I had not even done a mental guess of its size, and the best I could come up with was a couple of pounds.    Anyway I fished on, and over the next couple of hours had three more trout, none over about 1/2 a pound.  The grayling remained elusive though.  I did lose another good fish that, because my gear came back with a fish scale on the hook, must have been foul-hooked.  As I fished I started to think maybe the first fish might have gone 2-4, but decided to leave it in my head as 2 pounds.

Then a fifth fish, a much better scrap, piccy 3, a fish which was bang on 2 pounds.  I knew now that the first fish was considerably bigger than two pounds and was really fretting about not checking its weight.   I had left my big coat at home intentionally, so as to prevent me from staying on the river too long, and it was starting to get a bit cold as the sun went down to horizon level, and that final, definitely the last, last cast was called for.   Result!   Another good fish on.   Played it, on the Avon, which I will say deals with fish very pleasingly indeed, better than I had dared hope for.  I did have a little trouble with the length at first, for I am unused to rods shorter than 12 feet these days.   The cane is obviously heavier than carbon fibre, but the short 10 foot length compensated well for it, leaving the rod feeling quite light.   I loved the way the sun lights up the pale of the cane too.   The rod is probably near to being fifty years old, but you would not think so when using it. Anyway I landed the fish, and to my surprise it was the very same fish as the first, the fish I had not weighed.   I did this time: 3 pounds exactly, and a fine wild brownie for the first fish taken with the rod.  
A Three Pounder is Returned to its River
This picture was taken as the fish went back into the river.   Superb spot pattern, mainly black with very few reds.   Yellow pelvic and anal fins and a scarlet patch on the adipose fin.     All in all a very pretty fish, and ample compensation for not catching any of my target grayling.
I have no idea as to whether to count that as two three pound trout in a day or just one though!  Perhaps, being out of season, it should be not one or two, but none?  Ask yourself this: if you caught the same double figure barbel twice on the same day, once at 5 AM, and again at 8 PM, would that be two fish or one fish?  If you say two fish... remember that it was actually just one fish.    If you say one fish, was it any easier to catch than two separate fish would have been?   Supposing you caught it the second time on the next day?  Or a week later?     Yet another reason why I try NOT to name fish, or to recognise them as being of my earlier acquaintance.  Not only do I not want to know if you have caught the fish before me, I also don't want to know it as a repeat capture for myself.
And the Okuma?  It performed its job well enough, but it was greatly limited by my incompetence with its use.  I need much more practice with it, before I get anywhere near proficient.  

So, time to go home, and I suddenly realised that the stepping stones were something of a one way system.  On my arrival it had been two short simple steps onto small, slightly stable rocks, followed by a long jump to reach the gravel bar.   On my return, that easy path had become a long jump onto a tiny unsteady mid stream rock, and then two short unbalanced steps to reach the bank.    I drove home with the car heater on full, aimed at my boots.