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



  1. Nice fish :- )
    "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." - Can't you transport the rod as is and just turn the reel round prior to fishing?

    1. There are times, I am sure, in everyone's life when they think: "Why the hell didn't I think of that?". Cheers Ian, Next time I change the line I'll be sure to adopt your suggestion.

  2. After a fair bit more experience with the reel, I have gone back to winding the line on the "wrong" way round. And I have found that setting the clutch is actually quite good, as I can play a grayling one handed, at least until I need to reel in. But grayling seem to fight and pull hard without really taking much line and I am now finding the reel works well for me, and winding in backwards has become quite natural.