Sunday 28 June 2015

Does Size Always Matter?

Spring crashes on, its signposts are everywhere.  The roads I drive on are now littered with fox cubs in the early mornings,  although as I get nearer to the venues I gradually see less foxes, and far more white flashes from the scuts of rabbits clearing the road in front of me.  I wonder whether the words scut, as in a rabbit's tail, and scuttle, to run away and escape, are related  Scuttling perfectly describes the actions of the rabbits as they see and run from my headlights. Neither the rabbits, nor the foxes have featured in the roadkill I have passed.  Hedgehogs also seem to have escaped death,  but badgers seem to be very poor at avoiding cars this year, and several have lain dead by the roadside this past month.   It is supposed to be hedgehogs that freeze, confident that their spines will prevent any harm coming to the animal itself, shortly before their being flattened.  Maybe they are getting very scarce, although I still see them in the back garden at times.

I was wrong about the swans.   I never expected that they  would ever lose any cygnets.  The cob, the male swan, is always so very aggressive, and has that "I am the boss on this lake" look about him.  But the family is nevertheless two cygnets short this week.   I doubt that they just died,  all of them looking perfectly healthy last week.  And I don't think they got lost.  The lake is not so big that the swans can't circumnavigate it all several times daily.   So a predator must have claimed two victims.   Poor tactics by the male swan, who, rather than looking after the kids, has spent most of his time chasing geese around the water.   Oh, and annoying the angler in the next swim by swimming through both his lines, as he lay dreaming away in his bivvy.  I always shoo the swans away from my own lines, and am usually successful, although I do get some pretty  vicious hisses from the male as I do so. Occasionally I might have to wave the landing net at them.  It is all for their own good, as I would not want their legs tangled up in my lines any more than they would want my lines wrapped around their legs.   

No signs of the grebes having hatched any young yet.  One spent several hours diving in exactly the same spot, an area of two or three square yards,  just off to my right.   A lot of effort and I only saw him catch one small fish during that time.  The water is fairly deep, and I wonder whether, like the fish, grebes lay their eggs late on such waters, waters that are slow to warm up.   In contrast, in the shallow local park lake, the young grebes are already several weeks old.  It would maybe be to the bird's advantage to lay eggs at a time that is related to the hatching of the year's fish fry. In much the same way that blue tits seem to know when the caterpillars will be most plentiful in the oak trees.

 Other visitors to my swim included this woodmouse, totally oblivious to my presence, and this cheeky, chirpy little chap.

If the alliteration does not help you with the bird's ID: tough!

Most of my days' tenching continue to provide fish at the rate of one bite a day, and I cannot yet seem to find a consistent way to improve this.  Some good fish, some less so, but the recent highlights up until a few days ago,were another at 7, and a fish of 8-11.   Both well worth the wait.   A few males showed up as well, each being a little under 5 pounds but great fighters, as are most male tench.   I seem to catch fish of two very different looks.  One is pale green, almost Granny Smith's apples in colouration, sometimes with quite an orange belly.  The others are dark, almost metallic green, with a belly that is best described as greyish.   I have no statistical data to actually back this up ( so far) but I feel that the darker fish are smaller, and that they fight far harder.  I will leave that as a theory: work in progress, for the moment, and I will see whether future fish help to support the theory.

Having had a number of such zero/one fish sessions, I chose to spend a morning on a farm pond, A change is as good as a rest, and fishing lift method with bread, catching a mixed bag of tench, crucians, roach and one bream, is a very pleasant change indeed.   None of these fish topped half a pound, but there were plenty of them to play on the light rod and centrepin reel.  The pond does hold carp as well, up to at least ten pounds, so there was always the chance of some greater drama.   

During this session I somehow developed a lip ulcer, quite a bad one, very annoying. So driving home I stopped by Tesco's medicine counter, and looked for some suitable cream.  Bonjela Cool was what I chose.  Seen it on the TV, must be good.  Back home I applied it liberally. Oh My God!    Cool?   How can they call it cool?  I almost screamed in agony at the powerful sting that went right through my lip, feeling as if had every intention of severing my tongue!   It was murder, Continuously hurt for a good thirty minutes. The TV adverts do nothing to warn of the near death experiences caused by application of this stuff.  The minty taste, (evidently that was the cool bit),  was just discernible, but the major impact was like having a baseball bat crash into the face.  So painful.   I had intended to buy Tesco's own brand version.  It would have been far cheaper...had it existed.   Tesco knows about this stuff I am sure, and do not want the blame, when their clients experience the excruciating effects of using this cream.  Not daft Tesco: now they can finger the Bonjela company every time.  The tube has lain on the table ever since, and only once more have I dared to try again.  I should not have expected a different result, and did not get a different result, It still felt much like a self inflicted decapitation must feel, except that the pain persists far longer.   A week later, and the ulcer is disappearing all by itself. The tube remains nearly full. How full?    About £2-95 of the £3-00 I paid for it.

One final long tench session produced two fish.  The first was a very dark female, no spawn at all visible.  At 5-15 it was not a huge fish for the water, but it fought as though it were being piloted by
A Gorgeous 5-15 Female.
the very devil himself.  Absolutely wonderful account of itself, and such a beautiful fish too.  Very metallic green.   I would have been happy with just the one fish, but decided to stay on through the night.   The lake remained as a mirror the whole time and very few fish, save the odd roach, moved. Sometimes I would swear there were no fish diluting the water in the lake.  I had one rod cast over a tight patch of bait, and another was equipped with a size 6 hook, three maggots and a lump of breadflake adorned it, and it was cast as far as I could into a weedy area. Maybe 50 yards, not much more, as I am no distance casting champion.  The night remained peaceful, with just the bats for company.  The fish had deserted me.  But at exactly 5 o'clock, certainly within 30 minutes of 5am, the distance rod had a bite.   I didn't see the dough bobbin rise up to the carbon fibre, it was far too quick, the bait runner was also too surprised to play any part in the incident, but the reel suddenly started to revolve rapidly backwards. I do not fish bolt rigs, but this fish was sure to have hooked itself.  I struck though, and feeling a heavy weight, thought "a carp".  The fish moved left, heavy and slow, and I was able to reel in the other line out of the way.   After I did so, the fish went quite solid, and stationary,  and I became convinced it
A Spawny 10-5 Tinca. Not so gorgeous.
was off, and that I was into some heavy weed.   Apart from one moment when I thought that a bream might have taken the bread, there was nothing more to be felt on the line, no movement and I slowly pumped in what appeared to be merely a massive ball of weed.  As it neared the net I saw some smooth green, the flank of a tench?     I quickly removed most of the weed, and the fish, which had been completely encased by weed,  moved out powerfully and bored deep several times close in. I have experienced this before: a fish with its head buried in weed will often lie completely still and not fight.  It was netted soon after, and was indeed a tench.  The hook fell out in the landing net, and I thought that maybe I should have netted the weed ball, rather than removing the weed from the fish, thus taking the risk of allowing it to have another swim round.  After a few quick photos I weighed it, and then weighed it again, and again:   ten pounds five ounces!   A new personal best, and my first double figure tench.  

But it had only gained that weight by virtue of at least three quarters of a pound of spawn, maybe even a bit more.  And so my excitement level was not perhaps what it should have been.  Am I my own worst enemy? Wanting all my fish to look perfect and pretty?  Dampening the experience for myself? The 5-15 of the evening before was just as exciting a fish to catch. So size is not everything for me. For many other anglers though, it is.   And I can understand that, although if they were being honest there is not really much more skill involved in the capture, as the weight of a fish gets larger.   If I were being cruel, and having another rant at them, I might suggest that they were fishing in grab-a-granny mode.   Only the weight (effectively age?) matters to them.  Me: I like them pretty.

There is a large barbel in the local stream. It weighs anywhere between 12 and 14 pounds, varying somewhat over the weeks and months, and has been around that weight for several years.   This fish has been named "The Big Girl", by those anglers who MUST name fish, and appears it to be something of a neighbourhood bike.  Everyone and his dog has caught it, some anglers several times.  It probably got to be the biggest in the river by feeding freely, and it seems to get caught at least a dozen times each year, sometimes on a weekly or even daily basis.   People fish for this fish, targetting it specifically.  I avoid the swims in which it lives, quite intentionally.  I don't want to catch it.   A representative from the EA thinks it must be 25 years old, and I assume he therefore thinks it was one of the initially stocked fish.  A great great grab-a-granny?  25 years is a ripe old age for any fish, and I am a little surprised it has not lost much weight from its maximum.  Or rather at 25 years, shocked it didn't die years ago. Do fish suffer from dementure I wonder? Is this a fish that cannot remember that it has just had its breakfast, and hence gets caught again and again?  ;-)    Apologies to Bill, Paul, Jerry, Steve etc. etc.....................etc.

I think I might now go and hide for a while. 

Monday 15 June 2015

...and Over-confidence.

There is nothing like a good day by the lake to boost confidence to stratospheric levels.  Having a great day, and then seeing the next day dawn identically: same temperature, same cloud cover, same wind strength and direction, endows the angler with a sure fire certainty that he will catch.  That may well be so on your waters,  but not on my tench lake.   After my 6 hour, 9 fish session I was back in the same swim, at the same time, with the same tactics and the same bait the next day.    Nothing had changed, except the fish.  The fish had returned to their usual uncooperative sweet selves, and I did not get a single bite.   An angler needs confidence. I cannot explain it in any logical way but a confident angler will have far more success than one who is not so.   But confidence is not everything, and fish are frequently able to override any other factors so as to change the results.   That is what happened on my recent successful trip.  It was not the case that the fish suddenly decided to stop was more that, on that one day. they suddenly decided to feed very well indeed.     Their behaviour probably had more to do with my success than all my skills and experience combined.   And so trips to the lake have now returned to the "one fish/no fish" normality.

That first and successful day also saw fish rolling all over the lake.  It was noticeable the next day that very few fish were seen moving at all.  And that is another enigma: why DO fish roll?   It seems obvious to me that their rolling had something to do with their feeding on that day.   I remember fishing Loch Hightae, back in about 1965.   Hightae is very near to Lochmaben, Scotland, and famed for its big bream fishing back then. Seven pounders were being caught!  It  was probably against the rules to fish Hightae, but it was much more peaceful, smaller, and with a dour Lochmaben yielding no fish to the English invasion,we decided to fish one night, one when we thought no-one would be looking.   I suspect they actually would not have cared, Hightae not being a trout loch.   Three of us had driven up to Scotland in an old Austin A35 van.   The sort of van owned by an eighteen year old with little money. It was rated at 5 cwt (hundredweight)  and so must have been near the limit with just the three anglers on board.  Add the tackle, clothing etc for a week and groundbait, and we had one very overloaded small van.  More on the groundbait later, save to say we had two separate hundredweight bags of it crammed into the back.   Half way up the motorway the van decided it was not overly keen on the way we had packed it, and collapsed on its suspension, with the rear leaf spring mountings coming up through the rusty old floor.    The rest of the journey became even less comfortable, but we did get there, and knew we would have a lot less weight going no problem.

On this particular night, having left Keith, the van owner, crying over his Austin, Eric and I headed for the Loch.  It was a mile or so to walk, but we arrived early evening and found a couple of adjacent swims in amongst the reeds.  Soon, looking a hundred yards to our right, we could see a shoal of bream rolling. A large shoal. Some thirty yards out, they were moving slowly, parallel to the bank, and getting nearer.  So we mixed some of the groundbait.  It was unlike any I had seen before, or since.  It was breadcrumbs, but was bright yellow in colour, and very coarse.  So coarse that it actually hurt the fingers as we mixed it.  We were close to drawing blood, it being more like bread crystals than bread crumbs. I could see, as the shoal drew closer, that there were a LOT of bream in it, and decided that we should mix the bait as hard as possible.  And we did:  there was something about that bait that enabled us to generate balls with the size, shape and consistency of cricket balls.  They did not change shape or break up when dropped.  Real splod-oosh balls. We threw in about thirty or forty of these and sat waiting, rods cast in with a lump of Mother's Pride bread (medium sliced) on the hooks, as the bream got gradually nearer.  They eventually reached our swim and stopped.  The stopped all night, and I imagined them playing football with their yellow cricket balls.  Desperate for the tasty delights under their noses, but unable to break in and take a bite.  There was no way they could have chiseled them away quickly.  A few extra balls were chucked in to top up the swim every couple of hours.   The final result was over thirty bream for me, and about fifteen for Eric.   And all the time they rolled.  Another instance where the rolling was feeding related.   Once daylight arrived in its full force, the rolling and the feeding stopped simultaneously.   But the question remains: why were they rolling?

Izaac Walton mentions bream rolling. I think he referred to them as sentinels in "The Compleat Angler": lookouts, if you will.   In his time that was probably as good an idea as anyone might have had.  The eye of a fish though, is designed to see clearly, and in focus, under water.  The curvature of the pupil would mean that, out of water, any vision would be blurred, and so it is unlikely that a half second glimpse, as the fish porpoises, would be likely to reveal anything at all, never mind any dangerous, above the surface, predators.  The fish would have been far safer keeping down and out of sight.

Another guess I have seen mentioned is that fish, changing depths, need to equalise pressure in their swim bladder, by adding or expelling air.  But the Hightae fish were in a constant depth, and my tench lake fish were all over the lake, in varying depths, some quite shallow, some much deeper than float fishing depth. Fish are split into two groups, and one group has swim bladders that have an opening into the mouth and throat area of the fish.  Most of out UK species are like that.  So if a fish wanted to sink deeper, one option, other than by absorbing gas into the blood, would be to expel a bubble from the bladder. No need for rolling.  If it wished to rise in the water, then, other than transferring gas from the blood to the swim bladder, it could alternatively gulp a bubble or two from the surface.   BUT, why would a shoal of bottom feeding bream need to rise up in the water? They wish to stay deep, surely?

 Interestingly. different species seem to roll differently.  Bream mostly seem to stay upright, with just the tops of their backs and dorsal fin breaking surface.  I cannot say with certainly whether their mouths/gills  break surface. Hard to tell.     Tench seem to roll more on their sides, or roll, turning onto their sides as they do so.  Carp mostly come half way out, head first, flopping back onto their chins. And a carp often will have two or three flops within just a few seconds.  Each of these species seem to roll in their own way, but with some precision, it is not a random movement.  Roach seem to be more splashy, but may be doing it for a different reason.   Barbel roll, but only rarely on the surface.  Far more often they turn on their sides whilst remaining on the bottom of the stream.  In clear water they will often reveal their presence by such manoeuvres, flashing their white stomachs.  They don't take in air, but for a bottom living species, it must be an advantage to be always a little bit denser than the water around them.  Trout and grayling break surface, but they have their own, different reason for doing so.

I have heard people suggest that fish roll to get rid of parasites.  But most parasites hang on to a fish as if their life depends on it ( which it may well do) and a rolling fish would certainly not dislodge a fish louse such as argulus.  And why would large numbers of a shoal all suddenly decide to get rid of a parasite or two at the same time?    Others suggest that the fish is passing air through the gills to dislodge mud and debris, picked up whilst feeding.   But it cannot be that simple,  as many, many times fish feed well but do not roll.

All I know is that rolling fish are not to be ignored: their rolling is probably something to do with feeding, but if the fish are rolling all in one place, then that at least reveals where they are, and where my bait should be. I would like a weather forecast that said: cloudy, wind 6 mph, fish rolling.  For now: another fishy mystery remains largely unsolved.

But back to the fishing:  several sessions with few bites allowed me to listen again to those cuckoos.   And I found that they do on occasion have some variation in their calls.  The odd "cuk" all by itself, or followed by a sort of throat clearing rattle, almost as if coughing up phlegm, before settling into full cuckoo clock mode.  As the weeks pass they are gradually calling less and less.

The mallards are interesting birds.  There have been two pairs with young on the lake.  One lost all its
Mallard Duckling
chicks quite quickly, I only saw them once.  The other had a starter for ten, and then there were seven ducklings hanging on the wall,  followed by five, three and now just two.   These are now three quarters grown, and often spend time away from mum.  The drake also seems to be in regular attendance. In the absence of the parents the duckings call constantly, one having a high pitched tweet, the other being much more of a  quack, very different sounds.  Maybe one is female, the other a male with its voice broken.  As ever, the lake supports a few solitary males as well.  These have "urges", and the female of the pair seem to be subjected to being regularly raped by these isolated males, her own partner seemingly torn between trying to drive them off, and trying to join in.   The family, the parents and two young were sitting quietly on the bank one day, until the second pair of mallard floated by, twenty yards out.  The male on the bank flew out, raping the other female, and then sauntered back as if nothing had happened.   All a little disturbing, but it led me to wonder how humans might behave had we not constrained our own behaviour with laws, rules, religions and social conventions.

The male swan continues to drive away any other bird on or near the lake, and the reason has become apparent.  The pen has had a well hidden nest, and her absence has allowed incubation of her eggs. So there are now some very young cygnets on the lake.  The swans KNOW they are the bosses.  It is why they, of all the birds, are quite happy to bring their young very close inshore, and quite near to an angler.  The swan knows he is in charge and cannot imagine that any other creature would dare to interfere with his brood.

Bullfinches, Male and Young
Back home the first young birds are appearing on the feeders: bullfinches, greenfinches and goldfinches.  One of the male bullfinches appears to have damaged a foot.   He can perch on a branch, but sits low down, feathers covering his feet.   He can only take food from the feeders by hovering, humming bird style.   Humming birds make it look so much easier. But he is surviving well, and seems otherwise to be in good health.

In between the nature studies I have had the occasional fish, never more than one a day recently,  but one tench was a new personal best again.  At 9-2 and female it truly was a very good looking fish indeed. Although not empty of spawn, it did not have so much as to distort the fish's shape unduly.  I could have looked at it for hours had I suspected it could breathe air. Perfection, if not in miniature.

There have been three or four other tench too, but none so big as this one. Some sessions remained
A Tenchy Little Corner
blank.  I remember one of them well.  It was raining, but I sat under my umbrella in as much comfort as the situation could provide.  I wish I had read the weather forecast before setting out.   It was flat calm in the afternoon as I read Charles Dickens's "David Copperfield".  A good read. You see, it is not just the female of the species that can multitask.  I can read and fish at the same time with ease, especially when the bites are light years apart.  My apologies to any scientific pedants reading that.    I read with some unease, and was at a crucial part of the plot, in which there was a great storm over Yarmouth, uneasy because, as I read, the wind by the lake also strengthened.  I struggled to hold on to the brolly, and eventually exited stage left, and took it, with all my gear to  a more sheltered spot, in deep vegetation, but with trees behind, sheltering me fairly well from the wind.   As the evening progressed about 50 house martins hunted near me.  They too were flying in the wind shadow of a thick wood, with one or another bird occasionally breaking ranks and flying off by itself, probably to feed its young.   The
wind continued throughout the first part of the night, reaching about 50 mph.   It remained warm but the night was otherwise distinctly unpleasant.    The wind, early in the morning eased off completely, with the lake becoming flat calm as dawn broke.   I knew it was dawn because the grass and other foliage looked as if it had been left out all night.     And it was about then that I also discovered that I should really have gone home.   Moving into an area of already wet foliage was not the best of ideas, and all my gear, and my clothing, was covered in slugs.  In my pockets too.  Hundreds of them.   Even now, the odd one seems to find its way out of my tackle and onto the floor of the utility room wherein I keep my gear.  Wifey is not amused by black slugs crawling up the fridge.

Ruddy Shelduck
She also does not really like me going fishing, and so I sometimes take walks instead.  She does not mind walks, although from her point of view I am just as much not there, whether walking or fishing. Odd.   But the travel gives a chance to see more,  and to take a few interesting photos.    This was a bird I could not identify. But having found someone who was a far better googler than I am, it is a ruddy shelduck.  Either a rare visitor to the UK, or an escapee.

And a grass snake.    This is only the third I have ever seen, the other two being swimming in some water or other years ago.

This one is, I think, quite large as grass snakes go.   It has two areas of damage, wounds,  possibly made by a heron?   The yellow marking on its head identifies it as a grassie, rather than an adder.

Friday 5 June 2015

Back Amongst the Fish

Spring has progressed rapidly.  It is truly astonishing just how speedily the trees cover themselves with foliage here in the UK.   The tropics may have the fabulous lushness of their jungles all year round but they never see the dramatic speed  of change we see here in the UK. Non-deciduous trees in the Far East, each drop a few leaves daily, but still look exactly the same a week later.  In the smaller streets, you see Asian ladies sweeping up these leaves from the street in front of their houses daily, with a coconut frond brush and an old tin can on a stick, as the dustpan. In nature so much happens at once in the UK, spring and autumn.  Most  trees are now fully clothed, and the cherry blossom has already been and gone.

The insect life has multiplied, and those creatures that feed on it are taking full advantage. Swallows and house martins give daily demonstrations of their powers of flight. They look as if they do it for pure pleasure, but I suppose they are actually just chasing the insects near to the lake surface. I cannot see what they are eating, which just adds to the pleasure theory. They must have astonishing eyesight to see tiny prey, whilst flying at such speed.   Only once have I actually seen one catch a fly.  Whilst fishing in the Lake District, a large mayfly hatched near me, and slowly rose into the air. As it passed a foot in front of my face, a brown flash whizzed past, and a single insect wing spiralled to the ground.  A swift had grabbed the fly inches in front of my nose.

A flurry of activity can be seen from my lounge window as birds of several species rush food to their young.  I have seen coal tits, a robin, great tits, blue tits and a jay whilst writing these first few sentences. The bullfinches are at the feeders without their mates, a sure sign that the females of these very faithful birds must be sitting on eggs.

Out of the town, other creatures are feeding on the new vegetation.  This little rabbit kitten is already out by itself, eating the grass behind my fishing spot.  Old enough to be away from its mother, but young enough to still be cute.  A circling buzzard was thermalling on the far side of the pool, and every time I look up at one, I  think "British vulture".   This one stopped a couple of times and  hovered briefly and awkwardly, before suddenly diving down at speed, almost vertically.  I wondered whether another young rabbit had just met its doom.

The blank days on the lakeside have allowed me to see plenty of birdlife, with quite a few predators amongst them: herons, kestrels, buzzards, a solitary egret, an osprey, as well as one unidentified falcon-like bird.  The buzzards, the osprey and the unidentified bird were all being harassed by black headed gulls.   This was the first osprey I have seen in the UK. But birds I have seen in Spain and India confirmed this bird to be an osprey. It did not come down low over the lake, the gulls being far too efficient.  A shame, for I would not have denied  it a tasty tench or two in its talons.  In nearby forest the woodpigeons' callings had continuous competition from the cuckoos.  It is odd, but the five note call of the woodpigeon always sounds far more monotonous than do the two notes of the cuckoo. Maybe it is because cuckoos are much rarer, and it is a pleasure to hear them.   Even so, after three of four weeks of hearing "cuc-koo,  cuc-koo, cuc-koo" over and over again, I found myself wishing that just once, or perhaps occasionally, one of the birds might be tempted to go "koo-cuc" instead. How very  attractive to the females would such a fashionable new call variation be?  Until last week the only cuckoo I have ever seen was many years ago.  So many years ago, that I was on a wolf cub camp at the time, and about ten years old.   But this last week or so I have seen quite a few crossing the lake, sometimes in pairs.  They called as they flew, making their identity obvious.  Two males, or a male and female? I don't know, they were in silhouette.  But the way they flew was very, very hawk-like, and I realised that the mystery predator seen two weeks ago, was actually another cuckoo. I had made the same mistake as the black-headed gulls. The cuckoos were never near enough to photograph, and they seemed to be rather clumsy  birds. One, changing branches in a tree, struggled to gain its new perch, with much wild flapping of its wings before it settled, having initially landed in a "feet up" attitude.  Another crossed the lake, and as it neared its final landing spot, seemed to misjudge badly, carrying way too much speed.  It applied full emergency flaps, and in a maze of thrashing and entangled wings, just about landed on the branch.  The captain must have been calling for any doctor on board to make themselves known to the flight crew.

There comes a time, when no matter how bad things have been, no matter how much bites have avoided me, when something has to give.   So a week ago, as I walked down to the lake from the road, I just felt a sense of unexplained excitement, a tingle in the bones.  As if I knew something good was going to happen.   It is a sense I have had before, one that has usually been right, but which is inexplicable, completely inexplicable.   It must surely be that something inside my head is screaming "perfect conditions", whilst the conscious part of my brain merely gets "it feels good".  So I settled down, tackled up and threw a bit of bait into the area where I had seen fish rolling a few days before. Nothing happened. Nothing at all happened until about 2 o'clock in the morning, when most of the lake went glassy calm and smooth, and fish started to roll.   They rolled all over the lake.   Some even rolled near my bait, although they were fewer than elsewhere.  My feeling that I had again baited the wrong spot was shortlived, and at about 3AM a good bite resulted in a so-so fight, and a damn good tench.
8-10...just look at that colour.
One that overshadowed my previous best by a full ounce. But better than that, was that it held very little spawn, so its weight was not massively exaggerated by the oncoming breeding season.

My previous best, last year, had disappointed me somewhat by being very heavily laden with ova. This new P.B. was the start of a great 6 hours in which I landed two tench of 8+, two of 7+, and two of 6+.    Two tiddlers made up the total of eight fish, one of perhaps three and a half, the final one being about five pounds.   One of the 7's was by far the best scrapper, yet the smaller of the two eights caused me the most trouble.   As I brought it over the net cord all was well.   I had waded out a short way, and then needed to drag the fish back towards the bank.  At no stage did I lift the fish and net out of the water, but as I pulled the fish into the shallows, it gave one final twist of its body, and the screw thread on the spreader block of the net sheared off.  Not to worry: I folded the triangle arms, rolled the fish up in the net and started to make my way onto the bank.
11 and 8-0

Sheared off Screwthread
As I did so, my second rod screamed off. Another fish, one which I had to play whilst an eight pound tench remained in my landing net, being loosely restrained between my legs.  This fish was no tench, but a lively small carp of about 11 pounds.   Landing it was a problem now.  My net had no handle, and I was one or two hands short of making easy work of unrolling and spreading the net, whilst retaining the tench yet simultaneously netting the carp.   It worked out OK in the end and the photo shows both fish getting cosy in my net.

The two tench in the photos are very very different in looks. Both are female, yet the second, smaller one, looks quite a brute by comparison.  Much deeper in colour, less delicate of complexion, and far more solidly built.

After unhooking and returning the two fish another problem was revealed.   Line twist: serious line twist.  Such can lead to massive tangles when you least need them.    Line twist is caused by one of three things.  1) using the slipping clutch. Every spool rotation adds one twist.  2) using the baitrunner:again, every spool rotations adds one twist.   Both of these build up slowly, and can be avoided.   I prefer to reel backwards, rather than use the clutch "a la Dick Walker", with a controlling finger on the spool.  Watching the rod and not letting the bait runner come into use also stops type 2) twist.    Type three twist is cased by the rotation of end tackle as it is reeled back in.    Using a feeder can instill a massive amount of twist to a line in a very few casts, even with a swivel fitted.     There is a device called a spin doctor: effectively a fluted lead, that can unravel type 1) and 2) twists.    But there is no predicting in which direction the twist caused by type 3) will be.    Spin doctors only seem to be available for one direction,.   So I have had to make myself a pair of  home made spin doctors.   They are not an ideal solution, in that it is hard to get exactly the correct amount of reverse spin, and even harder to distribute it evenly along the line.  But it will be quicker, and cheaper than having to reload the spools with new line.    A second solution may be possible:  by reeling in slowly, it would appear that any spin imparted by the end tackle is greatly reduced.  I will give that one a try as soon as I have a twist free line to go at.

In the above, I quite intentionally referred to a five pound tench as a tiddler.  It is of course no such thing.  Having taken such a long break from angling (33 years: remember?), I still hold the olde school specimen sizes as valid. Two pound roach, three pound perch, ten for barbel, etc etc. So I weigh my fish in old money, and in the early 70's a 6 pound tench was something to pray for, a size very few anglers would ever get to see. Young modern anglers have had years during which such fish have become commonplace, and many of them are unable to imagine a time when big fish anglers went out tenching, in mid June, expecting 4 pounders, praying for a five, and thinking that a six was outside the bounds of possibility.  When I caught my first 6, a fish of 6-8, I thought I had done it all,  nothing else was left to fish for, all my specimen targets were under my belt, and it was about then that I stopped angling completely.  To illustrate how much things have changed, I offer a couple of examples.

Firstly, even modern anglers will have heard of Dick Walker.  He was the angler who first claimed that big fish could be caught be design, rather than by luck.  His book, "Still Water Angling"  is probably the best known volume on angling after Izaac Walton's Compleat Angler.   So it will no doubt come as a surprise to many that the latest edition, the 4th, from 1975 carries a picture of Graham Marsden   with 4 bream.   They are described as all being over seven pounds.   Bream of that size were considered worthy of inclusion in Still Water Angling, the specimen hunter's bible, as late as 1974.  The photo may also have been included in the third edition or maybe even the second.  Anyone know?  Today most of those who call themselves big fish anglers, or label themselves specimen hunters, would consider seven pound bream as trivial.

I have another photo from my past. Sadly I cannot find it at the moment, but it is of Alan Wilson with a tench of 4 pound something, before he became famous in the angling world. I took the photo, one of quite a few,  on what was then regarded as one of the best tench waters in the North, back in about 1970.   Alan considered that the fish was well worth the photograph.  We were catching fours, and the odd five, and were so pleased with the results we went back, first week of the season for the next two years, and happily caught similar sized fish. Alan later went on to break the tench record at Tring with a 12 pound fish!    Just two examples to illustrate how much the fish we seek, ( at least the barbel, bream, carp, tench and chub) have changed, How much bigger they all are now.   There are those who might pity me for thinking that tench of 5,6,7 and 8 pounds are such superb fish, but they have probably known nothing else in their fishing. They have never fished whilst such sizes were largely unattainable. I hope they learn to appreciate all the fish they catch.  Don't just catch your fish...LOOK at them.  Perfection: a creature as highly evolved for its own environment as we are for ours.

At the moment there seems to be a major macho trend, certainly amongst carp anglers: of just how big a fish can they discard.  The fish I didn't weigh was even bigger than the fish you didn't weigh.

"Just a bream, certainly a double yes, but I just unhooked it in the water. Didn't want all that slime in my net".
"Damn thing, bloody nuisance, I had to re-cast"
"It was just a tench, probably about 12 pounds, I didn't weigh it."

This last is something I have now heard on two different waters.  Astonishing. The world has gone crazy.