Tuesday 10 February 2015

The Great British Mole Hunt and Fifty Shades of Grayling.

It was sometime last year that I announced, somewhere in one of my blogs I think, that I wished to photograph a live mole this year.  This year is of course now last year, and I didn't manage to see a live mole.  So this week I determined I should try to remedy the omission. And so began the Great British Mole Hunt.  The GBMH paraphernalia comprised: me, a trowel, borrowed from the wife's gardening implements, and two  mole traps.   These are effectively tubular, with a one way flap at each end, and are designed to catch yon little furry black critters alive, kicking and well able to bite the hands that freed them.  So, abandoning the fishing gear back at home, I made my way to the river bank, where copious molehills dotted the landscape, and searched for the freshest piles I could find.   A simple enough process I figured.  So, with the trowel, I picked a likely looking hillock, and gently scraped away all the surface deposits, until the grass beneath was visible.   I expected to see a small, clearly defined, circular mole hole, but didn't. I didn't see a hole of any shape at all. Very odd, as a large amount of spoil  was now scattered about the spot, and it all had to have pushed out of a hole by the resident mole.   There was no soft spot either.  Surely the hole, even if filled in, must be softer than the surrounding earth?   But no, I was unable to find an entrance at all. No area was softer than the rest.  Similar results came from another three or four hills, and I was left to conclude that the mole must back fill, and densely pack the hole.  I retreated and left the research area, in order to consult Google on mole behaviour and their hills.  GBMH  round one:  Moles 1,  JayZS  nil.
It seems that the molehills are often placed on a small T tunnel, aside from the main drag, and some holes leading to the spoil heaps may be at a 45 degree angle, rather than being a vertical moleshaft,  I am still surprised by my failure... but keep reading, GBMH round two will come to a blog near you, soon.   So look out Mr. Mole.   I intend to put the wind into your willows in round two.

More apologies are due also to you, the reader, for my recent avid avoidance of the pen and keyboard.  Fishing has been very much more of the same, or same old, same old as Frank might have said.:  a few more short spells on the river when the weather and water levels have allowed.  The short sessions and the poor weather have also reduced the catch rate, the birds have largely been absent and the landscape has substantially turned to that mushy brown of winter, rotting waterside vegetation, slippery banks, these last occasionally hidden from view and made even more dangerous by snowfall.     

There are some signs of spring though.  The first crocus in my garden are showing some colour (this year I used the Black and Decker to drill another 850 holes in the lawn and nearby flowerbeds). A large female frog was sitting conspicuously near my pond a couple of days ago.    Sadly it was still there this morning, and had died. Apart from it being completely dead it looked quite healthy. But out by the river there are few if any signs of the coming warmth, no indications of new growth, the browns, the straws and the dull greens prevail, as the remnants of last year's luxurious plant growth slowly dies, disintegrates and disappears. Once the snow covers it all, it becomes quite beautiful.   At least until the next thaw. The next freeze may well kill the crocus. If not, they should be in flower quite soon.   I suspect though that I might miss them when I take my next major fishing expedition in the latter half of February.  Shhh! don't tell the wife I am off again.  I know she would not want to come, but will moan at being left home alone for a fortnight. Especially as the bathroom will still not have been refurbished by them.   And flying out on Valentine's Day will prove a tad unpopular, especially if I forget the yearly bribe..sorry er...present.. 

Thinking that the grayling would all have retreated to the deeper and slower stretches, I spent several of my shorter trips exploring them, fishing deep.  Three kingfishers and 5 dippers  passed by the swim too, all headed rapidly upstream to stretches way past the limits of my inclination to walk. A few seconds of dipper flight is equivalent to fully twenty minutes of trudging across a cow pat splattered field, climbing the odd fence and style as I go.   I suspect that there was only one  kingfisher, making three separate fly-pasts, but there was certainly at least a pair of dippers.   One perched on a rock about 45 yards downstream,  and I decided to test out my new super-zoom compact camera.   The camera did rather well in poor, overcast and fading light conditions.  Not bad for hand held either.  But the dipper managed to dip out of sight and into the stream with each of the 4 or 5 shots I took.   I have several fair to middling portraits of the distant rock.Very few fish seemed, once again, to agree with my choice of location, or else they were simply not hungry.   But surely grayling are supposed to feed well under such conditions!  Or so I am told. After spending about three hours casting my float into a couple of such deep swims both today, and two days ago, I gave up and started to head for home.      As I walked back to the car, I stopped and had that final last ditch cast into a very streamy swim, one I considered too fast and shallow to hold any fish at all in such cold weather.  Two grayling in two casts! One of them just scraping over the pound mark I should think.   Had I been fishing in completely the wrong swims during these last few outings?  What in hell were the fish doing in such shallow and rapid water?   Too late to experiment further, the light had gone and my float was becoming too difficult to see.  But I vowed that I would return the next day. And I did...predicting I would quickly land a few fish.

The grayling themselves did not return the next day, and my expected bumper haul from the fast water did not materialize. In three hours I had not a single bite.  Perplexing.  Just when I think I have cracked it, they all bugger off to pastures new, leaving me stranded, fishless and getting colder by the minute.  No sooner do I find them than they all move house. Emigrate. My hands were starting to change colour, the wind chill of a 15 mph blast, added to ( or is it subtracted from) the zero degree air temperature was getting a little unpleasant.    Usually my feet would have been suffering dreadfully , well before my hands.  And I was wearing wellies,  the ultimate in poor choice winter footwear for anyone seeking to avoid frostbitten toes.  I am reliably informed that Scott, during his treks towards the pole, did not wear wellies, not even green ones. But concealed under the toes in my boots was my little secret.  In my oversize wellies were a pair of size 9, hand warming heat pads, activated and lodged just under my toes.  Eight hours minimum of warm tootsies according to the advertising blurb on the packets;  wonderful.  I have found that, with feet, if your toes are warm, the rest of the foot does not even notice the cold.   The pads made walking just a tad uncomfortable,  but I was winning far more degrees fahrenheit than I was losing in this contest.   I reached the car, still fishless at about 12:30, and decided that I would visit an old faithful: my pound shop swim, a few miles downstream.   I have ignored and rested the swim for about three months now, maybe more, so it was time to see if the spot would still produce the goods, even under the prevailing poor conditions.  As I reached the swim, I evicted a pair of goosanders: a mature male and his female companion from the spot.   I don't regard them as competition, it would take a far bigger bird to trouble the grayling in this swim.    They moved downstream and spent the rest of the day diving in the lower end of a long pool some 100 yards downstream. More kingfishers and dippers flashed past, and a buzzard emerged from the trees on the far bank, following the dippers downstream, albeit at far greater altitude.

 A lone perky little robin kept me company as I fished. He knew I would throw him a few maggots: red ones to match his chest.  Robins never seem to suffer from the cold. Armed with a thin covering of feathers, they show no signs of shivering, and remain very active.  They even cope with bare feet, and hop around on the snow, immune from its attempt to administer a severe dose of frostbite to the birds' claws

My phone rang: my son, telling me how his job interview for a position as anesthetist had gone that morning.     And as I speak I get my first bite, and due to the combination of phone call and barbless
Not Quite a Pound and a Half 
hook, I drop off and lose a small trout.   The phone call ends but the text ten or so casts give me five very welcome grayling, with three of them being pound shop specials.  Whilst none would not have gone a pound and a half, each would have been no more than an ounce or two short of that weight.  Being very high up on the banking, landing net handle needing to be at full extension, I was able to watch the fish hold a steady bend in my rod tip, a feature I am finding to be almost ubiquitous in the fight of good grayling. The bend stays constant, interrupted by the occasional harder knock from the fish, which just about twitches the centre pin's clutch a few quadrants. I could even see the fish traversing the current, whilst maintaining the same constant pressure on the rod tip, mostly just a little less pressure than the setting on my Okuma Trent Centrepin's clutch.  
 That's an advert, by George.  Should I invoice Okuma, I wonder?    
Being high up on the banking, landing net at full stretch, in a fairly heavy current,  getting the fish enmeshed safely was rather arduous.   A task that a novice or inexperienced angler would find exceeding difficult given the light line in use.   Again, the three bigger fish were all males.   By this time my hands were very blue indeed, and so, with an hour of daylight left I headed back to the car. As I did so, above my head, large flocks of crows, rooks and jackdaws were all heading in one direction, back to their overnight roosts. I didn't envy them their treetop overnight branches, and I didn't tell them I was heading back to a nice coal fire, backed up by the central heating.

Stop press: a few days later:  from another swim: two trout and five good grayling of between 1-5 and two pounds were to grace the centrepin.   The river had receded to a fairly low and very clear state: what I regard as ideal grayling conditions.   The snow littered the landscape, but not much snow melt was intruding into the flow, and the 5 good ladies kept my hands far warmer than they deserved to be.
Safely in the Net at 1-12 :  

And a Two.
Although these do a pretty good job, how can any photograph do full justice to the colouration of these incredible creatures.  No picture can ever capture the iridescent purples and pinks on the gill covers. And I doubt that a Shelley, a Byron or a Keats could fully describe the fins in all their finery.

P.S.  Advance orders are now being taken for my new book. Payment can be made by cheque, Paypal, or cash to my usual offshore account. A few leather bound copies are available for those extra special clients. I am presently negotiating the film rights with Disney Studios. Dustjacket preview:

Late update:  A corollary to the above that I find quite amusing: Tomorrow I clear off on a two week fishing jolly, but just before going, I had a farewell meal with wife and the lad. He is a Doc, currently working in A&E near Liverpool. He tells me that this weekend the A&E staff and the fire brigade have been placed on high alert due specifically to the release of the Fifty Shades film !!!!  

A few weeks ago his department held a sweepstake based on an X-ray taken of an internal foreign object. Winner was to be the one who correctly guessed the type of jar, that a certain gentleman had "accidentally managed to sit on", open end upwards. Dunno who won, but the diagnosis was that the jar originally held one of Patak's sauces.

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