Wednesday 22 October 2014

The Odd Fish or Two and a Lot of Irish Crows

I fished a small club pond recently, mainly to provide me with a change from the river, a session without having to travel to the ends of the earth. Wildlife was minimal: too many anglers turned up once it was way past their  breakfast, and only herons and a couple of moorhens added much needed variety to the usual woodpigeons.

Whilst on the topic of wildlife variety, I am sure that you will forgive my making a brief return across the water to Ireland. Ireland being the "Emerald Isle", it has lots of green spaces with relatively few built up areas as compared to England.  I had expected to see masses of wildlife, many different birds.  And there certainly were fair numbers of seashore bird species, gulls, curlews, oyster catchers and so on,  but further inland the birdlife seemed quite sparse, with very few different species showing themselves.  Almost all the birds I saw were crows: carrion crows, rooks, jackdaws, hooded crows and magpies. They seemed to make the most of photo opportunities though, and posed well for pictures.
A Rook ... Note the Pale Coloured Beak
    Very little else, but these species were ubiquitous, being present in large numbers almost everywhere. On a recent short day trip to a Yorkshire river I saw buzzards, a peregrine, kestrels and a sparrowhawk.   In Ireland, a full week of touring very suitable geography revealed just one solitary kestrel.  No other birds of prey at all.  I thought that the locals must shoot the buzzards and other raptors, but, I am sure if that were the case, there would have been far less crows flying about.
Hooded Crow in Flight. Very Obvious Grey and Black Coloration..
Jackdaw in Ireland, a Smaller Crow Species, Blue Eyes

That the crows allow people to get so close suggests that not many of them are acquainted with shotguns. The Irish do not like the crows, that is fully apparent.   I do not know what the shop in the picture was selling, but the shop name speaks volumes. I see all these species, with the exception of hooded crows, in England, but in much smaller numbers. The hooded crow I have only seen in Scotland, but they are very common in Ireland, and are referred to as grey crows by some of the locals.
The farmers in Ireland also do not seem to be in love with  the crow population. I would have liked to thank the farmer for his hard work,  enabling me to take this photograph:

But to return to that pond: I knew that if I caught at all, I would be unlikely to land anything huge, so made it a centrepin trip, with a light Avon rod to complement it.   Biggest fish was a F1 carp, not huge, but it provided a decent enough scrap on the light gear, and some much needed centrepin practice for me.  I made a mistake when buying this centrepin reel, two or three years ago.  It had never crossed my mind that such reels could be right or left handed.    So my set up is not ideal, and I have had to compromise by winding the line on to the spool in the "wrong" direction, in order to still utilize the additional features of the reel, such as the variable clutch. I don't use the clutch to play a fish, not to provide resistance when it runs, but it becomes very useful when transporting a made up rod. The downside is that it means I have to reel in anti-clockwise, but I shall cope. I am one of those awkward sods: a right handed angler who fishes left handed.   Next up: the Wallace cast.  Was Wallace a left hander?  A cack-handed caster?

The highlight of the day on the pond was in watching a guy with a roach pole in the adjacent swim. Now, I do have a roach pole myself... somewhere. One of those silly impulsive Aldi purchases, as I thought, "Good God, that's cheap." I know it is probably rubbish, a dreadful pole, but at the price it instantly became a "must have".  "Must haves" are for me, quite simply: "must haves", and so out comes the plastic. I have even used this pole once...only once.   So, as with my fly rod, it has yet to produce a fish for me;  not the fault of the pole, just a result of my impatience. I should have stuck with it a little while longer than it took to eat that sandwich.  So I am almost without any valid experience of pole fishing, especially using one for carp, which is what the guy next door was catching.  So that explains the need for the pinch of salt that I suggest is to be taken with what follows.   The said fisherman landed three carp, float fishing under the pole tip.  Watching was quite an education for me.    The elastic was stretched considerably with each hooked fish, and for a total period of time that might significantly dent that elapsed since the Big Bang...or at the very least the time that has elapsed since Fred Hoyle first coined the name. I believe he was taking the mickey out of a theory with which he disagreed, but the Big Bang name stuck.
It was taking an absolute age to land each of three fish,  yet I could see that he knew what he was doing. He was not, like myself, a pole newbie.  I eventually figured that the reality was simply this: he had no choice at all in the matter. He had to let the fish tire themselves out completely.  Why?  You may well ask.   With a conventional rod and reel, when the time comes to steer the fish into the landing net, there is an optimal length of line one has to keep between the fish and the rod tip.   The angler controls this length, he knows from experience how long it should be.    Too short and he is unable to draw the fish close enough to net it.   Too long and the fish becomes uncontrollable, once the rod is raised to the vertical in order to try and net the fish.  A vertical rod cannot exert effective control over a fish close in to the angler. Experience shows that the perfect length of line makes netting that fish quite easy, and any variation from that makes life more difficult.    Now to return to that pole. It is no longer the angler that has control of the line length.  It is the fish.  The angler can take off a section of pole, or add one on, both of which actions have an effect, but that stretchy elastic, with a heavy fish pulling on it removes precise control of the line length from the angler.   The fish,  even with their "last legs" amount of strength were wreaking havoc, Pole sections were being rolled out and rolled in, added on and taken off, but that outstretched elastic made it repeatedly difficult to steer those fish towards the landing net.   So the carp were taking so long to land, that they were very, very exhausted, and to be honest it did not really seem fair on the fish.  It was, all in all, quite a Fred Karno performance, and one by an experienced angler.   I had been thinking that the biggest carp must have been an upper double or a twenty, but as he left, the angler said his biggest fish was only about 8 pounds.  That fish was being played for a good twenty minutes.    I have abandoned any plans I might have had to try for a carp (or a barbel) with a roach pole.   It is just not right that fish should need to be played to such a standstill. 

Whilst sitting there, not catching much, or even catching the odd small tench and carp, the mind wanders.   Mine wandered back to bullheads, and the apparent amazing coincidence that the only bullhead I ever caught from the canal, in several years of fishing it, was my first fish from the venue.   But is that really so astonishing?   Of course not.    It is a rare event, but in this world so many events happen, that rare ones will occur, in total, quite often. Coincidences are to be expected!  A couple more from my own life:  
When I was about seven years old, my dad had a black Ford Zephyr six, a big old lump of a car.   Its reg was PMB 201.  One day whilst driving through a nearby village, we spotted, approaching us from two different directions, two other black Zephyrs,  having number plates PMB 203, and 204.   Coincidence, but not a miracle. Today it might be,  there were far fewer cars on the roads then.
I was once down in Mevagissey, Cornwall, and saw, on the dockside, a Marcos sports car that I recognized.  I left a note to the owner to meet me in the Ship Inn, at 7 PM.  At 7 PM, there he was, in the Ship, just as I expected. But he did NOT expect to see me, for he had not been back to his car, and hence had not seen my note.  Coincidence that his car was there, and more so that he randomly chose the same pub and time that I had chosen myself.  I always thought that he, coincidentally,  looked rather like Graham Hill, the racing car driver.  Now, with the wisdom that comes with age, I realize that he was probably, as a sports car driver, actually trying to look like Graham Hill, cultivating the 'tache and hairstyle, rather than coincidentally looking just like Graham.
Finally, I was listening to the radio last week.  Coincidences are all around us. A history program, in which two dates were mentioned   A.D. 2012, and 79 B.C.     We have two methods of indicating years:  A.D.  or B.C.   How much of a coincidence is it that those two methods collectively use just the letters A,B,C,D?    This one can be worked out mathematically and, if my mathematics remain trustworthy, comes out to about one chance in 15000 if just 4 letters are involved.   Coincidences DO occur, and there are so many events in each of our lives that such coincidences should be expected, rather than be seen as a surprise.  That bullhead was not really such a surprise at all.

With the rivers still low, it would have been very remiss of me not to have had another trip...or two..or even three for the grayling. I think I had four.  And there have been some successes, although that two pounder remains as ever, swimming about in my dreams.   Pound plus fish have almost abounded though, with about a dozen of them sliding into the landing net from various small rivers. Grayling, far more than barbel, seem to need our help when being returned to the stream. But whilst recovering they do provide that chance for yet another grayling photograph.
However I decided not to publish it, as I am sure that one or two of you would rather see something else.   One particular day was not so successful with the grayling.  The river had resumed its normal winter level, and was running a foot higher than it has of late.  I chose to fish a completely new area on the river and found "one of those swims". One of those swims that just looks perfect in every way.   Superb flow down the middle, large eddies on both sides of the river, a slack between two willows that seemed to grow as much in the river as out of it.  The swim looked magnificent and so I settled in. Initial expectations were fulfilled, with two half pound grayling and an out of season trout of about a pound and a half in the first three casts.   I was expecting, at that moment, to catch grayling all day long, the swim looked quite capable of such a feat.   It was not to be, and the next three hours produced just one more trout.  How can one's prospects nose dive so rapidly?   The day became worse, with heavy rain, blasted at me by an absolute gale, and conditions were quite miserable. Putting up a brolly,  I abandoned the grayling hunt and toyed between flight home, and chucking a bait into the eddies for a chub. I had to hook my arm over the brolly ribs in order not to have the wind wrest it from my grasp, depositing in on the other bank, or the next county.   I was glad I did change tactics, for about thirty minutes later my suffering was adequately compensated for, by a chub of 5 pounds 3 ounces.  Its size was rather nice, but what I most liked about the fish was its fantastic good looks.  By far the best looking chub I have ever landed, even if it was not a personal best.  Fish that look like this are in themselves a reason to go fishing, even without all the other reasons provided by just being there.  Unlike most chub, it was not a one rush wonder.  Many chub make one initial powerful rush on first being hooked, and then largely wallow their way back to the net.  This fish was a tiger throughout, and did not give up.  Another worrying minute or two for the barbless hook!
A friend recently caught his largest ever barbel, and published its photo on facebook.  A very good fish and I was very pleased for him, but I really did not like what followed, which was a series of posts about other people that had caught his fish, both recently and somewhat less so, together with what was almost a statistical analysis of its weight changes over the years. My chub looked so pristine that I am certain it had never seen a hook before.  Many large chub seem to have patches of scales that look badly arranged, and are not placed in  neat and tidy lines, suggesting that they have been caught before many times, harassed by a predator, or maybe damaged themselves during spawning or by accidental contact with underwater objects. I find extra joy in catching a perfect specimen, especially when I feel safe in the knowledge that I am the first angler ever to see and touch the fish.

A Superbly Stocky and Fit Chub


Friday 3 October 2014

"There are no Rudd in Ireland."

It has been a mixed up fortnight, very mixed up.     My wife departed a couple of days ago to spend two months in the Far East with relatives.  No one to shout at me when I have done nothing wrong.  I'll really miss that.  No, I really will.  So before she went we had a week's holiday in Ireland.   I took a fishing rod of course.  Ireland is an odd place, wonderfully clean, very free from all the dreadful litter problems we have in England...although I did not get to see Dublin City, which may/may not have been similarly clean. I didn't have any trouble with the accents either.   The only Irishman whose accent is unintelligible to me is that of a friend's husband, a guy who has lived in England for many a year.   I have yet to successfully decode more than the odd sentence from him.   His wife tells me she had little idea of what he says either.

So: car, Holyhead, ferry, Dublin, avoid the toll roads, and then exit stage left, driving east towards the West Coast.   About 300 miles of driving in total.   I am not a fan of distance driving, especially on our motorways, but the Irish equivalents seem so much friendlier, so much cosier, and with very few other cars getting in the way.  The driving was so easy and leisurely, none of the frantic motorway stuff we have here. Those few Irish drivers who did take to the road, seemed positively scared to perform any sort of overtaking manoeuvre.  Even so the odd break from the road was inevitable and if there happened to be a big Irish lough where we stopped, then that must have been purely accidental.  

Incredibly clear water in the lake, several boats out fishing, for, I would think, trout.  I was already starting to think that only trout and salmon matter in Ireland. No licence is needed for coarse fishing. There was a noticeboard by the lake which was interesting.  It would appear that in Ireland the word jetski is a politically incorrect term.   You have to call them personal water craft.  So the next time one of these ruins your fishing just remember: you must ask them to try to keep their personal water craft at a greater distance.

The next stop was nearby a countryside statue.   
I don't usually find these things at all appealing, but I must make an exception for this horse and rider, made out of welded bits of scrap stainless steel.  This was truly artistic, and shows what can be done by real artists.  Of course I am not an art critic, and therefore I have no appreciation of what real art is, and so who am I to tell anyone else what a superb work of art this horse is?  But sometimes I myself feel that the only people NOT qualified to define art are the well known art critics and those artists that they promote.

I like this horse. I hope you do too. As for the Tate Modern...I would happily burn it down together with all its contents, and add any artists in residence to the pyre.

My wife is catholic, and so an assortment of churches monasteries, convents, roadside shrines needed to be visited.  Two amused me, one was a church out on the moors, or on whatever the Irish call moors, in the middle of nowhere.  It had a large sign outside.  "Stop and Pray".    I tried to convince the wife that it was an option, not a command, just a non-mandatory suggestion.   But she had to stop.   Later the same day, having seen a road sign pointing to a holy well, we had to find it. Ten miles and a lot of missing signposts later we eventually found the pathway to the holy well.  Right next to a handwritten sign in a garden, that accused the school next door of pumping sewage from their leaking toilets into the garden, together with a request that all people using the school should not use the conveniences therein.  So we walked up the pathway, quite a nice pathway, to the holy well.    The holy well was a hole in the ground at the base of a tree,  There were no fish in the well, which was about a foot square.  There was no water in the well either.  Now I fully realize that big G has probably got a lot on his plate at the moment, sorting out religious wars in Iraq, Syria, dealing with the occasional wayward priest, etc etc,  but you really would think he would have time to keep a holy well topped up and functioning.    I would not have wanted to drink from the well anyway.  A hole at the back of a tree might look, to some, rather like an excellent alternative to not being able to use the nearby school's facilities.

Well, I have come a long way with scarce a mention of fish, but you knew it had to happen, didn't you? So it will.  

In Sligo city there were two anglers fishing from off the town bridge.  Much to my wife's disapproval, I had to go and chat to them.   I wondered what they were fishing for. Salmon apparently.  "Lots in the river but they are not taking." said the guy fishing a bright red artificial prawn.   Easy fishing from the bridge, none of that silly casting and stuff.  Dangle and drift. Hook one and you walk off the bridge and onto a bit of spare land on the right bank to play it.  I didn't see any salmon...apart from these:
salmon parr, hundreds of them, each with its own bit of personal space.  Give me a few maggots and half a dozen "salmon" would have been on the bank in moments.  Being serious, I would not intentionally fish for them, too easy and quite unfair...probably illegal too   And in any case the tackle shop near the bridge did not sell maggots.
I did ask the dealer about rudd fishing. The owner of the only fishing shop in Sligo: Barton Smith's, which incidentally, is quite a big shop, said:

"There are no rudd in Ireland....not unless someone has introduced them."

 I was flabberghasted.  As Frankie Howerd might have said, my flabber was truly ghasted.   Rudd have always been, more or less, the most common species in Ireland, certainly until some idiot pike angler introduced roach into the Blackwater system over a century ago.  Roach do tend to out-compete rudd, but there are surely plenty still to be had.  How the owner of a major Irish tackle shop could think the rudd is none existent in the country is quite beyond me. Later in the week I stopped as I drove over the Royal Canal.  In its gin clear water, I saw very few fish.  Those I did see were roach, not rudd. In such clear water the fins of rudd would have been blood red, not orange. The tench, pike and other species must have been somewhere further down the length, hiding in weeds, avoiding the sun. There were none to be seen.
As I exited the fishing shop the wife was already moaning about my being near to the river again, rather than in the shops.  She did not quite get my "parr for the course" joke, and in any case tends to see being on holiday as having a whole new and different set of shops available.  I pointed her at
those shops and wandered off down to the harbour.  Looking over the railing I saw a movement. In the clear shallow water a small flatfish was wafting its way over the sand.  It stopped, and instantly disappeared from view.  I just could not see it at all, despite knowing exactly where it was. Impressive.  Another movement caught my eye to the left, and a group of grey mullet were heading my way.  There were perhaps a dozen of them, clearly visible, and posing better than Naomi Campbell.  They ignored small chunks of bread I threw at them completely, exactly as Naomi would probably have done, so I did not rush to get the rod out of the car.   As I watched the fish I was approached by a pleasant young Chinese lady.   I was a little worried as to her motives initially, but she was on holiday and just wanted to chat.  I showed her the fish, and she was fascinated.   Her interest may have been more menu driven than mine.

Later in the week, early evening, I was to see some hundreds of mullet in an estuary, all well within casting range, but Nina was putting her foot down. This was NOT a fishing holiday.   I was not best pleased and had to watch them drifting past, rod locked in the car boot.  I know when I need to lose an argument.  In a feeder stream there was also a huge shoal, certainly 500 plus, of small six inch mullet feeding from weed growth on submerged rocks in the stream.  Without a polarized lens on the camera, the photos are not worth the silicon they are burnt into, so I shall omit them.   So you must now just imagine a seething mass of 500 mullet crammed into a couple of square yards of foot deep water.  Fabulous, are they not? What a wildlife spectacle you are now witnessing!     I sneaked back early the next morning with rod and bread, but the larger mullet had all disappeared.  All that was feeding on the mud flats were a few curlews.  Curlews don't eat bread.

P.S.  Interesting fact:   I just did a little research on rudd in Ireland, and was surprised to learn that, like the roach, the rudd too, is an introduced species, as are bream, gudgeon, dace, carp, tench, perch and pike.  Ireland originally had no coarse fish, just some game species including those that can live in salt water: salmon, char and trout.

So, back home and in need of some fishing.    Grayling.    I had seen a swim I quite fancied, a few weeks back, but had not the time to fish it.   So I approached it yesterday.   Not an easy swim to reach, and I somewhat precariously edged my way across a 45 degree slope, to a spot that I thought might be a way down.   The slope was very dry and dusty, there having been no recent rain. A covering of newly fallen dead leaves and beech mast added to the negotiability problems.  On reaching my chosen descent route I realized that I needed a rope, so abandoned the swim.   I moved elsewhere and eventually had 4 grayling, a couple over a pound, and a few small nuisance trout.  I moved swims for that last cast, and dropped a bait a few inches upstream of a fallen tree.  Several seconds later I was playing a fish. A chub of about three and a half pounds had made the mistake of picking my bait up.  After one initial strong dash it gave up the fight quite quickly, and was returned.  First chub I have had from this stretch, so quite pleasing.  It would seem that a fallen tree will attract chub, even from a shallow stretch of river where their existence was not suspected.  Never pre-judge a river, there are invariably far more fish than those you can actually see.

I returned today, travelling even lighter, but with a rope.  I carefully negotiated the slippery slope, tied the rope to a tree, and descended further down the slope towards that swim. It did indeed look to have great potential.   Alas: on reaching the bottom of the slope, I could then see that I still had a nine foot vertical drop to the fishing spot. I gave up, and hoisted myself back up, grumbling a little.   A while later I found another way down, by paddling down a very steep streamlet, and with wet feet, I was able to get down to the spot, and was quickly playing a 3 ounce trout.   More clones of that fish followed, with only one small grayling and a single pound plus, but out of season, trout to add to the total.   Of more interest than the trout was a solitary bullhead.   The swim was quite disappointing, not fulfilling its expected potential, but I got to spend the morning in quiet peaceful solitude, with only three dippers for company.   I enjoyed watching them duck and dive in the stream, chittering away a few yards from me, for well over an hour.  As I was packing up, I heard a couple of noises, as if a stone had fallen from the bank onto the exposed bedrock of the river, which is running very low and clear.  Just as I prepared to leave there was a loud noise a few yards upstream, and I turned quickly to see a young lad falling head first down the cliff.  He was up in a moment, head already bleeding very profusely, and was shouting at me.
"What do I do now?  What do I do now?"   He wore a pale blue sweatshirt, already covered in blood.

I said he would have to walk up the streambed, showed it to him, the only way back up to the footpath, and that I would follow him.   I had no phone signal here and so it seemed best that, if he could get up under his own steam, then that was his best chance.  I could not have carried him back up myself in any case. He reached the top ahead of me, being a lot nimbler than myself, and by the time I had reached the top, he had disappeared.  After a short search, I walked back along the pathway which runs along the top of the bank, and adjacent to the grounds of a nearby school.   It was lunchtime, and there were kids on the field, some wearing the same pale blue coloured tops as the young lad.   I assumed he had gone straight back to the school.   I walked back to the car, pausing only once for a cast into another swim....which brought me a grayling of about a pound and a quarter. I drove home and once there, looked up and phoned the school, to explain what I had seen, and to enquire as to his health.   An hour later they phoned back to say that none of their kids was missing, but that they would contact another local school, whose children wore similar colours.  It was apparent that, if from the second school, the lad would have been a truant.   The school was too far away for a lunchtime trip down to the river.    I have heard nothing else since,  but cannot help worrying that he might have collapsed somewhere after disappearing.   If so he would then have been on a regularly used pathway and someone would have found him.   I was shaking a bit myself...not often someone falls out of the sky into your swim.   He was lucky in a number of ways:  I suspect that no-one else has fished, or even been to this very inaccessible spot for months, maybe years.  Ten minutes later and I would have gone, and he would have had difficulty finding his way back up the cliff. Had the river been in flood, and floods at this spot are often carrying six feet of extra water, he might never have been found.  And finally he was lucky to have survived the fall onto what are quite sharp rocks.  All in all quite an eventful day.  I can only hope he is all right, after treatment.  My son, a doctor working in A&E said that he would certainly have been given a head scan in hospital, as the risk of internal bleeding in the head was more serious than the external blood lettings.

P.S.  Now a day or so later, the police contacted me to say he was alive, had been treated in A&E, and would be up and around in a few days.