Sunday 13 July 2014

...And Now For Something Completely Different.

Wednesday was my wedding anniversary, not an important one, not one that divides by 5, or by 10, so not even one that would have precipitated my death had I forgotten it. Last year was one of those significant numbers, and I am sure we must have done something to celebrate it, but it now escapes me, exactly what we did.  So with a memory like that, it was surprising that we went anywhere this year. But we did, we went to Wales,  Welsh Wales.  

Now I know that a lot of you anglers out there, would have booked the hotel, and then, within minutes, you would be looking around for some nearby fishing.  I can assure you all that I did not behave in such an utterly disgraceful and despicable way.  What a way to treat the wife on her anniversary.  Nope, I would never have done such a thing myself.     If nothing else, it is so inefficient,  it is far better to choose a fishing spot, and only then to find a nearby hotel, only then deciding on where to spend the short vacation.   

There was a big argument somewhere south of Shrewsbury.  I knew that we were still on the right road, but she was obviously lost, and telling me where to go.   Before I knew it she had disappeared into the middle of a nearby field.  Gone for a good ten minutes.   I have never known a SatNav lady to get lost before.  This one did, and for a good while she was to be seen, on screen, in the middle of a field.  Meanwhile I remained on a well known road.   But it would seem that even SatNav ladies may need comfort breaks.  She rejoined us a while later, saying nothing about her little trip into the fields.    

"Are we nearly there yet?" I hear you ask.   Well no:

It was a long while before we actually reached Wales, an event that was marked mainly by the place names changing.    Welsh place names are all constructed from those letters remaining at the end of a Scrabble game.  After playing your game, arrange them at random, and they are sure to spell out the name of a Welsh town or village.  It is a well known fact that, in Wales, there are two sheep for every man, woman and child.   It is a less well known fact that there are enough roundabouts in South Wales alone, to give every one of those sheep its own traffic island.  It is impossible to move any distance in Wales without getting terminally dizzy.  And having to drive around so many circumferences, greatly adds to the journey time and distance. So be patient, there are reasons we are not there yet.

In between all those roundabouts are the speed cameras.   I don't like speed cameras.  Three times they have issued me a ticket, and three times I have taken them on and won.  But to continue to do so is a risk, and so I do try not to get booked a 4th time.    The problem is that driving then becomes a state of constant paranoia.   The most safe way to drive is to take each road, each incident on its merits.  The safe driver will automatically KNOW at what speed he will be safe.    Once the driver has to monitor the road for speed cameras, or to blindly follow every single speed sign, then I believe he is no longer concentrating all his efforts on driving safely.  It can become almost soporific, being told exactly how fast to drive, especially if that speed is mind-numbingly slow.  Far better to allow the driver's experience to shine through.   It does mean edging over that 30, or 40 limit at times, but always in a safe manner. I don't think I triggered any speed camera,  time alone will tell.  I did a little research whilst writing that, and it would appear that the Welsh have yet to invent the major road junction.   That is real the reason there are so many roundabouts, it is nothing to do with having to keep all those sheep fed and nourished. 

So, you are no doubt wondering, did I get to cast a line or two?   

Not yet, the cameras and the circular diversions meant that we reached the hotel rather late in the day.  A seafront establishment, it looked quite downmarket.  Some workman was painting the outside of it in a pale green colour.  That green which only comes in tubs of choc chip mint ice-cream.  You know the colour.   Quite tolerable on your teaspoon, but on a way!    I rang the bell: no answer.  Moments later the workman  squeezed past me and opened the door.   He was the hotel proprietor, as well as the chef, painter and decorator, probably the cleaner too.   Inside the hotel were more "wet paint" signs on the woodwork of the steep staircases.   The same colour paint adorned the stair rails, the skirting boards and all other wood.  The wallpaper was the same shade too.   I am sure the owner must have picked up a job lot of paint left over from painting seafront toilet blocks.  The bedroom, and the en-suite, which I am fairly sure used to be a built in wardrobe, were all painted in exactly the same shade.  And looked as if the latest 7 or 8 coats were similar.  The green tide had sealed up the window too.  We were unable to open it, on one of the hottest days of the year. The back fence of the hotel back yard( no sea view for us) was adorned with a line of nailed up loo seats. Most odd.  Some relief from the green was to be found in the considerable number of pipes and cables which ran through the room, up and across the walls to provide power and water to other rooms in the house.      The relief was only partial, as the pipes and cables had also been daubed with exactly the same colour of paint.

And the fishing?  No time to go fishing before breakfast.

All the guests breakfasted early.  The road outside was the car parking space, and the council notices stated that cars still parked after 8am, would be towed away, ensured that we joined the other residents for early toast and marmalade. The chef / hotel manager / plumber / barman had no time to clear any dishes, and so the only two vacant tables were already half used.  His chef's uniform suggested he also worked part time down at the local soup kitchen.  But enough of the hotel, except that when we left, after TWO days of hell, I left a comment in the guest book which simply said:

In the words of Thumper  "         ".

My wife was amused, but not pleased by the entry.  So we did a bit of the tourist bit, before accidentally ending up on an estuary a couple of hours before high tide.  Odd what you find in a car boot: some Warburton's bread and a light barbel rod, isn't it Boyo?   A fish swirled 15 yards away, and it would seem my natural ability to find fish is not confined to freshwater.  The spot was right next to the car no additional skills were actually employed.  I fished unsuccessfully, and although a few fish were seen jumping and swirling, I did not know what they were, and I had no bites. An angler fishing further downstream said that he had lost a bass of about five pounds.

We accidentally ended up at the same spot, high tide the next day too.  Some five yards out, soon after we arrived, a tail wagged out above the water, just a few feet from the bank.  It had to be a grey mullet.    The wind was still quite strong and fully in my face.  I realized that a somewhat stronger rod would have been better, and maybe a second one to target the bass too.   But that might have been a little too obvious  a tactic to the wife.  As the ride flowed upriver, a two ounce lead, with a couple of hooks loaded with breadflake seemed to be the way to go.  After an hour, I was playing a fish of about two pounds.   Six inches from the bank, as I reached down to pick it up, it shed the hook.   Soft mouths I am told.  At about peak flow of the upstream  tide, a good sized fish jumped clear of the water very near to my baits.   The fish was probably 5 to 7 pounds.   Do mullet jump?   No idea, but thirty seconds later I had a huge drop-back bite.  The strike made contact with something closely related to a rocket.  Unfortunately it swam almost immediately right behind a submerged rock, and the line parted company from the fish as it was abraded by the stone.
My First Ever Grey Mullet
 Disappointment, for that was a good fish.
Thick Lipped, I am Informed.
A whole hour later, as the tide started to ebb back downstream, a third bite, and a mullet hooked.  This fish would not give up at all.  Once in the shallows near to me it made short run after short run, until I was almost bored with it.   It finally allowed me to pick it up, and was a mullet of about two and a quarter pounds.   The local anglers said it was a thick lipped variety, and scolded me for returning "one of the best tasting fish anywhere".  The species is a very clean, precise looking sort of fish.  A secondary dorsal and the anal fin are set well back, which, assisted by the large tail and muscular body, probably account for that rapid burst of speed I had seen with the second fish.   The pectoral fins are set very high on the body,  and I can only speculate that they help to point the fish nose down into its grazing attitude.   
I stopped fishing soon after the capture, the ebbing of the tide, assisted by the flow of the river meant that I could no longer hold station with my bait for more than a few moments.  Masses of floating green seaweed grabbed hold of my line, and aided by the current whisked my lead downstream at a rate of knots.   There was one amusing moment as the tide first started to flow upstream.   I was dozing, rod in hand, (by far the best way to touch leger), when suddenly a huge triangular black fin
appeared out of the water, a few yards away from me.  My emotional, half asleep response was to think a shark had surfaced nearby.   In a foot of water...yeah, sure!    
 What had happened was that there was a piece of old board, or maybe stiff carpet that normally lay submerged, and partially buried by muddy sediment.  But as the upstream component of the tide increased, so it tucked under the board, and, all of a sudden, I was staring at a "shark's fin". Out of the corner of my eye, it was momentarily quite realistic.

My first mullet had come to the rod far easier than I had expected.  Was I just lucky, finding them on an ideal day?  Or are they perhaps not such incredibly difficult beasts to catch as many like to make out.  I feel I must have another go for them soon.  I would like to experience the scrap of a larger fish, and maybe, whilst down there, try to add a bass to my species list.  Two rods, somewhat more powerful, and a landing net will be needed this time.

Monday 7 July 2014

Silver Bream and Back to the Rivers

In my angling log books, dating back to 1960, I have recorded all my catches in some manner or other.  As a 12 year old I was very heavy on the data and the statistics, recording all sorts of mainly useless information...even yearly counts of each species of fish caught.  The first book has ***stars*** against biggest fish of each species, first fish ever of each species and much more that, at the time, I thought would be useful.  What it does list though, in amongst all the hieroglyphics, are the first 52 bream I ever caught, on various occasions, from various venues. 52 yes, I was being that accurate!    However many years later, on re-reading all this tripe I note that 51 of those 52 bream were listed as being silver bream. From five different venues included the Witham, and the Macclesfield Canal.   Today I have to doubt the accuracy of the fish identification.  Silver bream?    A fairly rare fish as far as I now know.   And who would trust a young teenager with the task of identifying a silver bream  correctly?  Certainly not me.   And so I came to the conclusion that I may never have actually caught such a fish.  But after reading Jeff Hatt's blog, and his successes with silver bream I decided some time last year, that I really had to catch one.

My first exploratory trip to a club pond had produced one very pretty little bream, but it was a common or bronze bream. And I suspect that club members have been mis-identifying these as silvers.  Today though, I visited another small club pond reputed to hold silvers.   Another new venue for me.   Small, shallow, but a good looking pond.  All the weed was marginal though, and the water a little cloudy.   Three feet of water was the deepest that a short exploration found.  But I cast my float in, the hook baited with good old Warburton's bread flake.    As has happened to me before, a fish splashed a couple of feet from my float.  No others splashed for the next hour, but I did have a bite, which was missed.  A kingfisher made a couple of circuits of the pond, but did not land in view, and a young heron was fishing rather noisily close by.  It jumped in off the bank a couple of times, but I did not see it catch any fish. Its inexperience showed. A
Silver Bream and Common Bream, For Comparison.
second bite was not missed, but the fish, and another like it moments later, was bumped off unseen.  The 4th bite was obviously a bream, coming to the surface and splashing just moments after setting the hook.   It was a little common bream of perhaps half a pound.  Confidence in the pond'a ability to produce silver nose dived.   But the next cast produced a far more silvery fish...the almost mythical silver bream.   Its large eye, close to the nose, and reddish fins left no doubt in the mind.   And it struck me that I have certainly had such fish before, although I could not remember when. Maybe those 51 fish.... A short time later I had landed another two small bronze and one more silver bream. The two species appear to have been shoaled up together. I have added two pictures, one of each bream species. It may help some other anglers to correctly ID the species. But to be honest, once seen and appreciated by the adult eye, the difference is quite stark. I am unlikely to return to this water again.   It no longer holds the mystery, and I feel its fish stocks will be of mainly quite small individuals.  I don't mind catching small fish, but I like to have fresh venues in which to do so.

Back to the river:

The greeting of the grayling and the meetings with the minnows did not go well.   I took about three hours one recent evening, to go to my usual grayling river to try and catch one of its grey ladies. I was highly confident, having found a new spot on the final day of the season back in March, which had given up 5 grayling, all over a pound, in just 90 minutes fishing.   My confidence was somewhat overstated, and I found no sign of any grayling at all.  Not that I had too much time in which to look: the trout were ravenous and somewhat suicidal.  During those three hours I was to catch no less than twenty brownies, mainly small, with the largest being about a pound and a half.  3 others, all at least as large as that, shed the hook, or, in one case, snagged me. It was a highly pleasing way in which to totally fail at my objective.   Some dozen of those twenty trout were 6 or 7 inch fish, an excellent sign for the future, and indicative that 2,3 or maybe 4 years ago there was an excellent breeding season on the river.
I was surprised indeed to catch no minnows.   When you need minnows for a perch session, or for the garden pond, they become somewhere between surprisingly elusive and totally extinct.   As a 12 year old kid these were so easy to catch that they were almost tedious: different river, different age.

So, back to those roach, and another couple of trips were planned and executed.   Having set up for an early morning until lunch session, I hovered over the rods, sitting inches from them.   It worked, and I hit no less than 4 from the seven bites I was to get in the session.  Sadly I was outflanked again.  The roach were peas in a pod, at 4 ounces each. Immaculately coloured, silvery scales ever so perfect, but 8 or 10 times smaller than the hoped for specimens.   Dare I say 12 times smaller?    Very probably not!  But big roach are never easy, and that is as it should be.   I was joined by another little vole, collecting odd particles of
Young Robin, Recently Fledged.
 dropped bait, and a young robin, very fresh from first flitting its nest.  It was incredibly trusting, coming within inches of my feet to pick up the odd straying but very seductive red maggot.  A parent robin hovered nearby but was far more shy than its probable offspring.  I am not sure whether the youngster had still to learn that there are dangers in this world, or whether  it was just very naturally trusting of human presence. Less trusting of human presence, and very much keeping its distance was an auto-gyro.  The second I have seen within a year.  I will not add its picture, taken at extreme range, it occupies about a couple of dozen pixels in the middle of rather a lot of sky.  My view of it was not much better than yours  ;-)

I am Quite Good at Bruises
The next day I had to attend a Summer Fair.  The juggling and unicycling club I run had been invited to attend.  I had taken a couple of my silly bicycles and a set of fire juggling clubs.  The idea was to allow kids and others to have a go, and hopefully to attract new members for the club.   I was surprised to be approached by two people with whom I used to work a few years ago.   One tried to persuade me to join the Rotary Club, for which, unfortunately, I really do not have the time.   The other asked me about the oddball bikes.    I suggested he try the reverse steering cycle that I had bought second-hand from a circus some years ago.  Of course he wanted a demonstration. Now I can ride this thing, but usually do so on the flat, smooth surface of the local gymnasium.  The fair was being held on grass: sloping grass, bumpy grass.   Forgetting that the cycle has no brakes I accelerated more than expected, and fell off, bruising my ankle very badly. The bruise extends the whole way around the leg, and half way along my foot as well. The wound hurts still, some 18 days later and is restricting how far I can walk to the fishing.  The healing process is still taking place, evidenced by the discoloured areas feeling very warm for the last two weeks. I was a little worried at times, that there might be permanent damage, but it seems to be clearing up well now, if very slowly. Typical me though, continuing my accident prone year.   And on Tuesday new members for the club.  A damaged ankle completely wasted..
Early Morning Roe Deer
Another try for the grayling, and another dozen trout in about the same time.  This was a morning session, rather than an evening trip, and the dipper and the kingfisher were both in evidence, out of camera range as usual. As I drove to the river, a deer was briefly visible  a couple of hundred yards away, as it headed back into the woods. Probably a roe deer, of which there are a few locally, although they are shy and very rarely seen in the daytime.

So continuing the alternating theme, an all nighter after those roach was next.  A carp angler had already occupied the swim to the left of my chosen spot.  I noticed his rods were all aimed well to the right, a great deal to the right, and so asked him where his right hand bait was.   Using the compass application on my new-fangled phone, and a little mental trigonometry ( learned whilst measuring the school field for 'O' level studies years ago), I concluded he was probably fishing in the right hand side of my swim.   I suggested that he was therefore in effect occupying two swims, and he quite pleasantly agreed to move his baits to the left.   Later he sent out his bait boat and asked if it was positionally OK.  I suggested he come look, and with a grunt he conceded that it remained much more than half way across my swim.   His new spot was still to be in front of me, but towards the left and so far out as to be no further hindrance to my own fishing.  I was pleased to have resolved the matter quite peacefully: these incidents can at times, I understand, become quite traumatic.  Once again I hovered and was rewarded with another half dozen 4 ounce roach, and one good tench was hooked which was lost, just five yards out due to a hook pull in the ever denser weed growth that the clear water encourages here.   Next trip will be with PVA bags rather than with feeders I think, and just a small lead for weight on a rotten bottom link.   I don't really like PVA in stillwaters, being worried about what sort of chemical residue it leaves near to the hook bait, but I do need to reduce the weed threat and consequential lost fish.   A fish, by itself, unencumbered by feeders etc, probably slips rather more easily through the greenery.

I was visited by a passing carp angler, who stopped for a chat.  He said he had hooked a two pound roach on a boilie last year, but didn't weigh it.   These carp anglers seem to get quite macho-man about fish they landed but did not weigh:
"I had a couple of bream, didn't weigh them,  they were doubles I think. Unhooked them in the water rather than getting my net all wet and slimy"
"I had a tench about eight pounds, didn't bother weighing it...and my dad's bigger than yours."
And the ultimate I heard myself was 
"Yes the tench was about twelve pounds.  Sometimes I wish I had weighed it."

It is hard not to take some of these unweighed weights with rather more than a pinch of salt, but the problem is that I know that some of them may actually be fairly good guesses.   It is hard though to understand, why, in a three day long, and otherwise blank, carp session, such fish arouse absolutely no excitement in their captors.  I wonder whether they are similarly calm and cool when they finally do land a carp?  They stay asleep in a zipped up bivvy much of the time, or lounge about half asleep on their bed chairs for much of the rest of the time. How can they be so disinterested in all that goes on about them?  How can they be so single minded?  Yet there are many anglers who fish this way. To a large proportion of the anglers I meet there is only one fish that matters.  Either the carp in stillwater, or the barbel in the rivers.   To them I say: 
"There are other species out there.  Appreciate them...and occasionally peer out at the world outside the bivvy."

Another grayling session was taken over by those trout, a dozen or so, although this time I was half fishing for them   Mainly small fish again but one went to a pound, and a second was a good fish of exactly three pounds.  This was an old friend, a fish I have caught before, distinguished by its very spectacular spotting patterns. I had been fishing around the edge of a tongue of fast water. I could imagine the trout lined up in a large 'V' shaped pattern at its edges, where the water became a little slacker.  The three pound fish, on being hooked, rapidly headed up into the very fast, rock strewn areas in the middle of the 'V', and gave me a few quite worrying moments on my 3 pound line.  It once again did not seem pleased to see me, and swam off rapidly and vigorously when released, without ever once looking back and waving.

Sandmartins, With a Lazy Nest Site.
I did finally get my first grayling of the season, a twelve ounce fish, but welcome. I had to visit my "hard" grayling river to catch it though. ( A couple of days later I did manage a better grayling of 1-5 from the same river)  The river also provided 15 or twenty minnows. Even these were not easy to snare though, and I had to work quite hard for my small rewards.  But sandmartins flew about me entertainingly as I fished, and dived in and out of their riverbank sand tunnels.  A pair of young female mallards harassed me the whole time I fished, repeatedly trying to eat my float, or chasing my bait.  There was one shallow spot on the river into which they kept duck diving. Initially I could not see what they were trying to feed on. But eventually one surfaced with a four inch silver fish in its bill, which it then swallowed.  Dace or roach.  Recent videos on Youtube show Wels catfish grabbing pigeons off a sandy beach on a French river, Rather in the same style as killer whales chase seals in Patagonia.   Maybe the mallards had been watching the same video as myself, and decided to turn the tables and attack fish in the river.  I have never seen mallards act this way before, and was almost shocked by them.  Forget the cormorants and goosanders...we must now exterminate the mallards!  Exterminate! Exterminate!  We urgently  need a quack Doctor Who.

Young birds in the garden seem to be quite fond of a bit of sunbathing.  Several species: robins, magpies and
Young Robin, Roasting Gently on a Bed of Sunflower Seeds.
 dunnocks have all had a spell on the patio.  As for myself,  I detest the sun.  Hayfever and the sun's bad effects on most of my fishing. If I were able to walk about in the sun wearing gloves and balaclava without fear of being arrested as a suspected burglar, then I would do so permanently.

Finally my apologies if this week's missive has been a little understated, without much drama or too many big fish.  I don't always seek out large fish, I like to take great advantage of the wide variation that exists in our sport. No other pastime has such a breadth and depth of experience, and I want to stretch my arms within that.  Occasionally, and probably this week, the writing has also had to suffer, time being in short supply sometimes.