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.

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