Thursday 28 August 2014

Missionaries etc.

After failing with the mullet in the last episode,  I drove back from Wales, eager to get stuck in and get the blog up to date.   I didn't succeed and it took me the best part of two weeks to get up enough enthusiasm to write the previous entry to this, by which time there was more than enough material for this new post.   I didn't take the direct route back from South Wales, but instead programmed the SatNav for "shortest route".  Always a risky selection, it can take you through fascinating places you did not know exist, and equally to just as many spots that you wish did not exist.  My route was to take me past Erwood Reservoir up in the Welsh Hills.  And due entirely to the times of the tides a few hours before I neared the water in the early morning.  I didn't see it.
Erwood Reservoir is in There, Somewhere.
   It was covered in a mist that seemed almost as thick as the old pea soup fogs we had to endure when I was at primary school.   Anyone remember those thick yellow smogs, those that showed actual texture as they swirled about you?  The texture always reminded me of those white swirly marbles, the ones you just hated to lose in the school playground. They had a name, but it escapes me now. Would any modern mum today allow their healthily and safely groomed little boys to crowd around a dirty old grid in the school playground?  So thick was the fog that crossing the road was a hit and miss affair. If you were born after the clean air act, you probably cannot imagine, not even remotely, how bad those smogs were.

This second picture demonstrates just how wet and humid the air was on that Welsh morning.   It shows small bushes leaving condensation trails in the light wind.

I arrived home in time to prepare for visitors the next day, three of them: a cousin, his wife, and sister in law, who were to stay for 10 days.  10 days with 

Those of you that know me well, and some that have perhaps drifted past me at rather greater distance, will know me to have no vestige of religious belief. An atheist from about 5 or 6 years old,  when I first shocked my grandma, by telling her I did not believe in Santa, and then compounded her horror by adding "and I don't believe in God either".  So to have a missionary for a cousin is a bit of a genetic deviation for the family.   
My cousin started out OK,  running away from home at about 15,  into drugs and drink, became a snooker/pool hustler to survive.    After a few years something went seriously wrong.  He met a girl, found God and even joined a church!  Religion, in any of its forms will always be a mystery to me, but there is no doubt that it can have very beneficial effects on some people. I admit to being astonished by, and full of admiration for, what he has done with his life. 
The girl is now his wife and together they have spent the last 12 years in the Philippines, actually living in a tiny one up/one down in the squatter area.   When the squatters have no water or electricity, neither do they.  They are funded by their church.   They build churches for the locals, construct small lockable houses in the squatter area, help them get jobs, run bible study classes, arrange burials, train up locals to do the same sort of jobs themselves, provide medical help...even as complex as getting doctors to do cleft lip operations and similar for free.    All they have to do in preparation is to feed up the patient so that he/she can survive the operation, and then get them to the theatre.  As medical procedures, hospitals and medicines all cost money in the Philippines, and you can buy all medicines, prescription or not, from the chemists, they have learned how to treat quite a few conditions themselves.   Healthy mother...healthy baby schemes etc. etc.   They are very busy, and it is all very, very commendable what they do.   120,000 people in ONE square kilometre.     I had the odd discussion with him on religion of course.  Not quite sure if he was so keen on the bible as to actually think the world was made in 7 days, but not far off.   He got up at 6 am to read the Holy Book, and after leaving here is going off preaching in Denmark!  Heathens, those Danes.  I would have liked to have asked him exactly what happened to make him suddenly see God so clearly, but felt it was too personal a question. 
River Dove
I did no fishing but we did walk up the River Dove in Dovedale, seeing a couple of fly fishermen
( upstream dry fly) and a very few fish.  But one was a large grayling, well over two pounds, making me wish I had a rod to hand.  I have no idea how much it would cost for a season ticket on this very famous stretch of the Dove.   My pension would probably not cover it, and, as far as I could see with my polaroids, the fish population is not at all prolific.   But the!

Fly Fishing on the Dove.

Spear Fishing on the Dove

So, ten days acting as host, hotelier, tour guide and chauffeur.  It was far better than I expected, no arguments, no awkward moments, and I actually enjoyed the visit, despite the lack of angling.  Anyway the three of them have buggered off now, leaving my atheism undented.

Since the departure of the missionaries I have had four short sessions on the local rivers.   Quite a few fish, including a couple of good dace, maybe 7/8 ounces, fat little dace.   The 4 hour session a few days ago produced , all from one single swim:  4 grayling, the best going 1-5 and 1-7, and no less than 26,   yes,    TWENTY SIX,  T W E N T Y   S I X,     brown trout.   None over a pound, but they certainly have become prolific.  Hard to get through them to the grayling.   Maybe time to make a fool of myself with the fly rod.
Nice to see the kingfishers and the dippers again though.  And on the same trip a peregrine was making a few flights near me.  At speed, not chasing anything but flying up river, under the footbridge, then turning, gaining maybe 50 or 60 feet of height and flying along the top of the tree line and out of sight. As it flew it seemed to jink, ever so slightly, side to side.  Photo:   not a chance in hell.  A birdwatching friend suggests that, from my description of its looks and flight characteristics, the bird is
Young Mandarin Ducks...Male at the Rear?
more likely to have been a hobby, and not a peregrine.  Also have been seeing quite a number of young mandarin ducks,   obviously recently abandoned by their mothers.   4 on one river, a pair and two singles much further downstream.   I don't know, but strongly suspect that they all start out looking like females when young.  But one of them was getting a reddish tinge in its I suspect a male there.   Saw one on the River Dove too, in Dovedale when walking with the missionaries.    
From This

I suspect that they are breeding so rapidly in the UK that they would be considered invasive, were they  not so completely gorgeous. Note also in the first photo, just how well they are camouflaged against the gravel. The drake should enjoy the ability to hide whilst he can, for it will not be long before his camouflage will be replaced by an utterly outrageous costume.

The last of these trips was again chasing the grayling, and produced three small ones, and ten brownies, one of
Deformed Brownie
which was a very deep individual, looking as if it had a serious genetic defect. The final fish hooked was one of those to which the mind instantly thinks  "Hello, hello, hello, what's this then?"    It rapidly informed me that it was a much better fish.  Initially I wondered whether it might be a very large trout.   Four years ago in the same swim I caught a wild brownie of 5 pounds 13.   A huge fish.   This time, although I had the size about
A Nuisance Barbel  ;-)
right, the species was incorrect. It was a barbel, about six pounds, which on  a light Avon rod of ten feet ten inches length, gave quite a spectacular scrap.   The upstream half of my swim had a tree trunk lying across it, some 4 or 5 yards out, and the fish swam very near to it more than once.   One thing you cannot do with a rod is to push a fish away from you or away from a snag lying in front of you.   You may be able to influence its depth and direction but only slightly.  Of course with the light rod and three pound line intended for grayling, the fish stood very little chance.  ;-)  !!!!  

Let's get all controversial now.

Being serious, playing a fish such as that on very light tackle really ups the adrenalin level, and makes you think out every moment of the scrap. Keeps you worrying, and knowing that at any moment you may well lose a fish adds greatly to the event, and I think it a great pity that so much angling is done these days with very heavy lines, lines that the fish has no chance of breaking.   It takes the skill out of playing a fish entirely.  I would recommend ( probably with much opposition from many others) that all anglers should have some light tackle sessions.    It is quite simply far more fun.

It is not all that simple of course, for different anglers have different views.  We seem to have a lot of anglers these days who I might describe as being somewhat primitive in their wishes.  They just want to hook and land fish, one more to the tally, one more photo for the mobile phone  (does anyone ever print photos these days, myself excluded?).  They care little about their surroundings, little about anything but their tally of fish.  These anglers ( mainly carp, pike and barbel anglers) will often use a line which is so strong that, once hooked, a fish can only escape by a couple of means: a hook pull, or by reaching a snag.  The fish is just not powerful enough to be able to break that line.   Some, a little less primitive maybe, will seek to justify this by saying they have no wish to leave tackle in the fish's mouth, no wish to leave it trailing line.  It does not solve the problem of snags, and a hooked fish, reaching such a snag may well become entangled, remaining so even after the angler has pulled for the inevitable break.   I have read of carp skeletons being found, near snags, with guilt-ridden heavy line being seen nearby. With lighter lines that snagged fish might have been able to break free.   That argument will always be seven of one, half a dozen of the other.  I will continue where practical to fish with lighter lines than most others do.  The thrill of the fight is greatly heightened when you know that the fish is able to beat you, on its own terms,  if you mess up the playing of the fish. The fight somehow seems fairer. The odds not stacked greatly in favour of the casino owner. On heavy line a visible snag is no problem: you just stop the fish, easy peasy.  On lighter line you have to think quicker, and act intelligently, ....and for the odd fishing missionary, there might be a prayer or two to resort to too.    The rest of us have to employ skills not needed by the users of heavy gear.   Whatever method the angler chooses to use, one essential is that the hooklink be lighter than the other sections of the end tackle. It there is to be a MUST be on the hooklink, so that any fish, whatever line it is hooked on, only has to carry a hook and a small length of line.

P.S.  You might well be wondering why my Avon rod is now a couple of inches short of its original eleven feet.  Well, a certain idiot, whilst climbing an embankment tried inadvertently to harvest some blackberries with its tip.  Result:  a repair, at the 1st joint down from the tip, and a rod a little shorter, two sections of which no longer fits the travel case, having been repaired with superglue.   I think that might be the 3rd or 4th rod I have broken within 12 months.   Clumsy or what?

Time for a quick 5th trip down the river before finishing this article.   Hang on a bit, would you.....

Something odd just  happened on the river. I had landed a good dace, using the same tackle which landed the barbel the other day. The tackle had not be dismantled, the rod had just been folded, line and end tackle intact and thrown into the car.   So I trusted the tackle.    My next cast resulted in one of those three inches rapid raps on the rod tip.   Just that, nothing else, and so after a couple of minutes I reeled in and found my hook and 12 inches of hooklength entirely missing.  I did not feel a snag, and to move the rod tip three inches would have taken no more than a couple of ounces of pull.   All I can imagine was that as the fish bit, it dragged the line around a sharp snag, cutting it.  So I then moved downstream.  This river is an old industrial waterway, full of the rubbish of centuries.  The bed is littered with the bricks and stonework from long demolished riverside buildings. Modern idiots and companies have added innumerable shopping trolleys, old tyres and other rubbish to the mass of old tree limbs and trunks, the sanitary towels and condoms, that also litter the river.   The river is probably the snaggiest in the UK, and the swim I chose next was undoubtedly the snaggiest on the river.   Willows 4 or 5 feet above me, and others a couple of yards to my right together with a huge overhanging willow reaching far out above the water greatly restricts any casting into the stream.   Knowing I will lose tackle here I always set myself a target.  Today's was  "when I lose seven quid's worth of tackle I am packing up." I rarely fail to reach such a target in this swim.   But by going over the wicket, throwing a curve ball and casting carefully, using a downstream wind to bend the line like Beckham around the overhanging tree, I was able to fish a bit of the swim that previously had always been unreachable.  And it worked well for me. After a tiny roach and dace, three grayling were landed, two well over a pound with one at 1-7.   I was well pleased, both with the result and with how I had fished.  Tackle wise, I managed to keep within my limits and the trip only cost me £6-40 in lost end tackle.
 A passer by stopped to chat, saying he often spent a few minutes just sitting quietly there.  I asked whether he watched the kingfishers and dippers, but he said he had never seen one.  I explained how best to look for kingfishers ( I had seen a number of kingfisher flypasts earlier), and whilst I was explaining he spotted one himself.  The first he had seen in his 45 year lifespan.  I was thrilled for him.
But still the two pound grayling evades me.

Monday 25 August 2014

Hello again.   Apologies for my overly long absence.  I am sure that most of you will be pleased to hear that I have not died of columnaris, bird flu or rananculus. I have not eloped with a dusky maiden, not been the subject of a fatwa from the carp anglers I occasionally poke fun at. Nope, still here.  My big roach water had been playing silly games with me.    It had decided to send in massed legions of 4 to 6 ounce roach to mop up every bait I threw at the water.  Immaculate fish all of them, all uncaught because no-one ever fishes for roach on the lake.   Still a pleasure to catch, but when you are seeking to commune with and make contact with their great grandmothers and grandfathers, they do become something of a pest.   And the perch had started to join in too.  These were also not the huge fish that I optimistically suspect may be present.  The nights were devoid of fish, but I was joined by a spectacular lightning storm, with the attendant drenching downpour.   Crouched under my brolly, I watched the sky clear after an hour or so, and was able to see the odd orbiting satellite, the Pleides star cluster, and even, faintly, the milky way.  Daylight brought the roach back, in what was obviously a huge shoal.

Other problems beset me.  I set off the alarm walking into Aldi, and once again as I left.  I stopped and held my hands up, as you might with a gun pointed at you, protesting my innocence, as the manager rushed out to intercept me. I was checked, searched, and proved innocent, but the alarm went off again as I left the building.  It did it again the next day, and I almost decided to keep walking around until they adjusted it, but contented myself with a good moan at the manager, told him that the alarm was effectively accusing me of being a thief, in front of other customers, was highly embarrassing and thus gained an assurance that he would call in the engineer and have it adjusted. He did not grant my suggested bottle of apologetic wine.
Over the next two days I also set off alarms in Tesco and Morrisons.  I don't like getting sunburned and had bought some long sleeved shirts in a sale at Decathlon.  The alarms were only going off when I wore the blue shirts.  Weird.   Have Decathlon declared war on Aldi and Tescos?  Tennis balls at dawn? Baked bean cans in retaliation? The shirts are in the wash now, and I can only wait until they drip dry before my next experiments and altercations at Aldi's exit.  

So I decided to run away, and take a few days off, hiding and fishing in Wales.   The plan was:  River Severn, River Wye,  wild carp, and mullet.    Far too complex a plan, and such intricate plans often do not go as desired, and so the first river I hit was the Wye.  Arriving in darkness on a strange river with steep banks, the safe option is to find the first easily accessible swim and to cast in.  More difficult distant swims can be sought out in the comparative safety of daylight. I have never fished the Wye before, and so that first cast was made entirely at random, into a river whose depth and nature was entirely unknown to me.    But the two hours before dawn did produce a bite on a large lump of bread, and a chub was heading towards the net.  At about 3 pounds, not huge, but my first Wye fish. Blank saved.   Soon after,  dawn broke, and I had my first real glimpse of the river close up.   Beautiful. Idyllic.  Not another angler in sight.

First View of the River Wye
   I was not to see a single empty tin can or plastic bottle float down, not a single half submerged supermarket trolley, not one old tyre over three days. I did NOT feel at home.    In such circumstances I might have gone on to say no fish either, but that was not the case. The river was low, and I scrambled down a difficult embankment some few hundreds of yards further downstream into a swim with a visible snag.  Rain was to make getting back up the bank quite difficult a day or so later, with resultant muddy knees and hands. A felled tree in the river was caught up on an old salmon fishing stone jetty.  Jetty is not the correct word...I'll think of the correct one sometime I hope.  I had seen a fish rise near to the tree, and so in the absence of any other clues where to fish I plumped for the spot.  An unfashionable word these days: "plumped".  Years ago you would often hear people "plumping" for things, rarely today though.  "Groyne"...that's the word I wanted....not "jetty". Feel free to cut and paste it into the original sentence.  Thank God for a working memory, even a sluggish one.    Now where was I?

Oh yes:   the day proved fruitless from a fishing point of view.  From about 8 a.m. a constant stream of Canadian canoes and kayaks paddled downstream.  Well over two hundred, most keeping to the far bank,
With a bad phone signal, the nearest I could get
to Wi-Fi was Wye Fry.  Sorry!
especially when I had cast a long way across the stream, and it seems the Wye attracts canoe day trippers by the hundred, and canoe hire companies by the dozen. One lonely kayaker had totally the wrong idea. He paddled upstream. What an idiot, going against the flow in both senses of the word.   So no bites, although an angler I was to meet a couple of days later said that the canoes did not disturb the fish or fishing at all. He may well be right, but the last canoe passed by at 7pm, and my first barbel took my bait 20 minutes later.   The fish looked to be waiting for the canoes to pass, rather than for darkness.  At about seven pounds it was more lightweight than it looked as I drew it over the landing net, and on the bank it was a far leaner, sleeker and fitter fish than those caught in the other barbel rivers I have fished in recent years.  It was not overfed on pellets and other angler's baits and hence fought far better than such fat fish do.  It was a barbel as barbel should be. A barbel as they used to be.

A Wye Chub....Rotated 90 degrees by Blogger
This was my first serious barbel session for two or three years, and I admit that the first sight of the river was a little daunting.  Where to find fish in a new, big and shallow river?   But the fish were there, and I finished with four more barbel.  None to worry my personal bests, but fish from 6 pounds and up to 8-15, the biggest of the session will always get a warm welcome from my net. Four or five chub completed the catch.  None reached four pounds, but were still welcome. The chub photo may well give you a crick in the neck, but it was Blogger that rotated the picture, not me.   Blame blogger for your whiplash injuries.
I also lost five barbel to hook pulls, and was probably a little silly, and slow to figure out why.   The river is very rocky, and although a cursory glance at the hooks did not reveal it, the hooks were becoming slightly blunted by the bedrock.   I had changed to a straight hook, one with the point parallel to the shank of the hook.  Next time I think I shall revert to an incurved pattern and see whether that improves things. And I will add a magnifying glass to check the points more thoroughly.   We all make mistakes, but if we can learn from them...
Whilst chasing the barbel I photographed this bird.  I am not sure what it is, but would guess at a cirl bunting.   Never seen one before so my ID may well be in error.  An inconspicuous little creature, but rather nicely marked. (P.S. George, one of the readers of this blog, tells me the bird is a female reed bunting, and I am sure he is correct.)
On to the next part of the plan: remember the plan?  The wild carp lake.   I was sent a written set of directions to the lake, daylight fishing only, and so at 4 am I was close by, and the directions were working well.  1.2 miles and then turn right towards xxxx yyyyyy.  At 0.6 miles a signpost suggested that xxxx yyyyyy was to the left, but I drove on and found...there was no right turn signposted xxxx yyyyyyy.  So I tried the left hand road half a mile back and was lead to a track, impassible to my car, too rough, too steep a track.  If the error in the directions was simply the turn right, rather than left then this might be the correct route, and the lake would be just half a mile up that hill, and be visible in the next valley.   Not sure if I was in the right place, I did not fancy walking half a mile uphill, carrying my carp gear, abandoning my car in the middle of a large chunk of tundra and hoping that the lake would be visible.   At that time there was no one to ask, and with no visible signs of human habitation anywhere in sight I backed out of the carp fishing and headed towards the mullet. One day ticket wasted.
I arrived at the estuary and chose a swim a little upstream of where I had my one and only mullet a couple of weeks previously.   This was a snaggy swim in the extreme, old tree trunks, and what looked like an old bedspread spring mattress made the prospect of hooking one of these fish quite a challenge. As the tide

Mullet in Some of the Snags
   flowed, so some fish started to show themselves.  Grey Mullet!  In my swim!   About 30 fish going to over five pounds swam back and forth in front of me.   And apart from nosing at my bait constantly, and swirling often, see the photo above, that is all they did.  They refused completely to take any of my baits, and it quickly became apparent why so many sea anglers get infuriated by the species.  Grey ghosts would cruise happily under my rod tip, sneering at my inability to hook them. After two days and three high tides I gave up, and gave in to the mullet and text messages from wifey to come home.

Ugly Duck.

During that time spent mullet watching I also saw another unidentified bird.  This photo, zoomed into a blurry magnified picture show it, some sort of duck.   It is a dopey looking individual,  and my best guess is an immature sheld duck.  But who knows for sure what this ugly duckling might be?  Not I .   And this one ain't no swan to be sure.  And my commiserations to any old bugger reading this who fully understands the hidden reference in this paragraph.