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.


  1. Great pictures of the snake there and that Tench is a corker!, I would love one that big. Well in.

  2. Just came across your blog and have to say i,m loving your wildlife pictures. Keep them coming as i,ll be popping in from time to time for a nose.......