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.


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