Wednesday 19 November 2014

Emotional Highs and Lows.

Many years ago I came back from fishing, feeling very hungry, one Sunday night.   Shops and take-outs all long past closing time.   What to do?  I was still single and so did not have a well stocked fridge.  In point of fact all I could find in the cupboard was some curry powder.  But all was not lost, there was also the garden.  And so I made rhubarb curry.  And it  I don't think I could be more effusive than that about it. It was certainly not in Michelin Star territory, more Michelin Radial.   But I made a mistake: I told a long time friend about it.   And she has never forgotten, and, usually in company, takes the Mickey whenever possible about my culinary skills. She has little or no interest in fishing, except perhaps as a possible alternative to the fish counter at Tesco's.    So it was with great surprise that I found out that she had listened to a Radio 4 programme about night fishing for sea trout last week.  The narrator did me no favours.   He compared night fishing to sex.  So my friend has now taken up a fresh cudgel with which to beat me.   She has decided that my night fishing has more to do with involuntary nocturnal emissions, than with intentional night time captures. And I know I will never see an end to the rib poking from her.  So I choose to dedicate this entire post to her.  She knows who she is.

But how emotional is fishing really?  In most angler's experience there are a few special fish, maybe special for their size, for the mode of their capture, or as the successful end result of a long campaign.   These special fish can have a dramatic effect.   After returning the fish to the water the angler can suddenly find himself trembling. Quite unable to hold and re-bait the hook.   I, in an unguarded moment, explained all this to Cathy.  Mad, bad move...more high calibre ammunition for the phase II Mickey taking to come.   The trembling is something I have only felt in two different scenarios, firstly, maybe a dozen times over the years whilst fishing, and secondly as a symptom of delayed shock following a car crash.   Uncontrolled trembling.   Heightened adrenalin levels?  Maybe. Either way the symptoms I felt were similar. Did I enjoy my crash? No, but by senses were very much heightened during it.  Adrenalin must play a major part in all this.

I continued my year long quest for a two pound grayling last week. Every trip has not been about that species, but probably a third of my fishing has been with them in mind.  Choosing a new swim, I travelled light with simple trotting gear, centrepin reel, light rod and headed for another area of the river, one from which I have only so far landed one grayling, but it was a fish of just over the pound.  Maybe the stretch holds other, bigger fish? I was pleased to find the swim very suitable for trotting, although on the negative side it shallowed up rapidly downstream, and was overhung with several trees that definitely got in the way of a wildly waved rod and line. But a long cast was not needed, and with a good depth only ten feet out from the bank, casting was not really needed at all.  The out of season trout soon made themselves known to me, and I was to take half a dozen in this short three hour session. All were returned quickly, none were large fish. But something I have noted before in recent weeks: the larger the fish, the slimmer it was. The bigger fish again looked very much out of condition at a time of year when I fully expected them to be at their healthiest and fattest.

The grayling stayed well away, maybe because the depth of water and speed of the current made any form of loose feeding very imprecise indeed.  Few of the red maggots would have sunk deep enough, quickly enough, and any that did would have become very scattered.  The grayling quest did not look good, until fairly late on, when I struck into a very good fish after a tentative dip on the float.  This fish fought well, and stayed deep, leading me to think it was another, much better spotty.   But after a significant scrap I suddenly saw that fin, the unmistakable dorsal of a good male grayling.  That fin must help a grayling in a heavy current in its fight against the angler. Any fish with a broad profile can use the current effectively. I have hooked a couple of bream in very fast water, water well out of the comfort zone for a bream, but each turned sideways on in the rapids and became almost impossible to draw back through the current. In neither case did I imagine that they were bream, unseen.
My mind now concentrated even more on controlling the centrepin reel, and after some more tourism around the swim, the fish was heading towards the net.  And it looked certain that very first two pound fish was at last mine.  I was already elated,  my emotions running sky high. Euphoric.  

And then the hook pulled out.

 The fish, just out of reach of the landing net, sank back into the depths.  And my emotional state sank equally quickly into a black hole, from which there would be no return. Certainly not on that day, as I was to have no more bites.  Only in angling can the emotions rock so violently back and forth, and so quickly. Only in angling.  And why is it always that very good fish when it happens?   I can answer that one easily:  the smaller lost fish are just not remembered, and don't matter so much.    They swim away with a wave of their caudal, and a flap of the dorsal. The required curses are uttered at the time, but the escapes of those smaller fish are then quickly forgotten. I determined to return the next day, to fish the same swim, with a secret desire to hook the same fish.  But the rain beat me to it, and it was obvious by daylight that overnight the river would have become unfishable.  The EA river levels site was, as ever, several hours behind the fact, and was of little use.   I did venture up later in the day to look at the river, without a rod,  and the water was still 18 inches up, going like a train and looked to be carrying more chocolate than the combined annual production of Belgium and Switzerland. But it was falling.

Day three saw me back with the rod, in the same swim. Fairly quickly a small trout took the trotted bait, but all then went very quiet.  The river was still a little above normal winter level, but I was expecting a little more action.  A dark coloured bird flashed past, a foot above the river and an equal distance below my rod tip.  My mind made an instant identification: a swallow.  Ridiculous, and having quickly told myself off for being so stupid as to think it a swallow in November, no matter how briefly, I settled back to the fishing.  A short while later the bird flew back upstream along the same path.  A kingfisher of course. During its first speedy flypast its blue colour was not on show.  I read that kingfishers are not actually blue, the apparent colour being due entirely to the structure of the feathers, which refract the light, generating colour in a similar way that petrol spilled on wet ground does.

Time for a rethink.  I was still not happy about where my loose feed was going. Was it ever reaching the bottom? Were the fish finding it? If so were they feeding?  And where?   I decided to set up my float in a stret pegging style.  It was not an easy option. The method is very badly affected by leaves drifting in the current. And this was autumn, with the river carrying enough dead leaves to disrupt Britsh Rail's entire Southern timetable.   Stret pegging is a very old fashioned method, allowing the angler to search out the swim on the bottom, gradually easing the float further downstream, its speed not at the whim of the current.  Few modern anglers have heard of the method, and many more will have never tried it.  Myself included, and I admit I was not even quite sure what it entailed.  On my return home I checked it out on the internet and had, luckily, got it about right.   After a short while my float, lying flat on the surface, trembled, and I struck into a good fish, which immediately went very splashy on the surface.  Another trout?   No.  A good grayling.  It spent quite some time refusing to come back upstream, and I just held the rod across the river, finger holding back on the centrepin spool edge, whilst the rod did the work of tiring the fish.  Even when exhausted the fish was near, it was not easy to guide into the net, the stream's power helping its attempts to head downstream.  But into the net it went and weighed 1-14.  It looked bigger than that, and I realised that the fish I lost a couple of days ago might not have been as large as I had proclaimed it to be.    Richard Walker, largely the founder of big fish techniques, once said "Of all fish, a big perch is the biggest of fish".  That statement is unlikely to be fully understood by any non angler reading this.  But I think he was wrong, and I believe that there is no bigger fish than a big grayling. So many male grayling look to be way over their real weight.  Again, emotions cut in.  But do I think "Wow!, my biggest grayling from the river", which it was?  Do I think  "Damn, yet another fish under two pounds"?   Or do I add more doubt that the river will ever produce a fish over the magical two pounds?

I didn't have much time to ponder. A couple of casts later another fish was on, and was staying deep, and using the current to make my work harder. I play fish very differently using the centrepin, consciously allowing the rod to do far more work.  But the grayling was landed, and with great anticipation was weighed in the net.  Over three pounds with the net, and I knew I finally had that two pound fish.  2-2 to be precise.   Having carefully returned the fish and sat back on my chair, the trembling began, rebaiting was just not going to happen for a minute or so. I was all fired up.  After all this time the fish I had sought was caught.  Not much later another fish of 1-13 took the bait.   My three best grayling from the river, consecutive fish on the same day. One more good fish shed the hook. All were male fish.   All adding to my theory that most of the bigger grayling are males.  

Once more the fish seemed to be shoaling by size.  I wonder why.  Maybe the bigger fish all migrate into the most des res swims, Maybe the swim has a better food supply and simply grows its fish rapidly? Or maybe these bigger  fish are all of one year class that is getting near to the end of school, and  have not much of their lives left?   As an aside I watched a TV programme recently which gave different meanings to the phrases "shoal of fish" and "school of fish".   I always thought them the same, but wondered why we have two different collective nouns.  My old OED also assigns exactly the same meaning to the two words.  The scientist in the programme defined a shoal as a loosely associated group of fish, looking very relaxed, and facing in various directions.  A school is what they become once they have a purpose, and thus become more tightly grouped, each individual facing the same way.  This may be as a result of feeding, panic, or moving their station.  An interesting separation of meaning, but I fear one that has only been assigned fairly recently.

As I watched my float, expecting a fourth fish, a goosander  surfaced not six inches from my float.  Only a half dozen yards from me and I was a little startled.  Not as startled as the bird, which flapped and splashed its way downstream in blind panic.  Goosanders are not very sociable, not people persons at all. It is rare to get anywhere near one. It must have swum past me sub-surface, for I had no idea of its presence.   Nice to see it, but it had killed the fishing.  A couple of hours later two much smaller female grayling took the bait, and it was then time to head home.  But a great day, and one that confounded my theory that the river would never give up a fish of that size.  Was it to be a one off?  Time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. Well done and a great read .... what's the next target?