Friday 7 August 2015

Apocalypse Last Week

It has been a long time since I did any serious walking,  a mile or two, quite often, but anything longer seems in the dim, distant past.   So I decided to have a far longer stroll, and chose Salford Quays in Manchester as the destination.     I'll tell you the end result, here and now, rather than at the end:   serious aches in the legs and ankles after walking about 12 miles.   But after a couple of days I definitely felt better for it, and will have to get back to taking such longer walks more regularly.  The Quays is Salford's old docks, served by the Manchester Ship Canal. Locks close off the canal, and the Quays are unlikely to ever again have much, if any at all, boat traffic. A few ships still use the canal though. So the Quay lock gates have been closed for years and the pounds, or basins as some are called, are effectively cut off from the Canal itself.     As a consequence there is no water flow through them, only rain and very minor seepage between the lock gates ensures a steady water level.   The level in the canal itself is controlled by additional huge locks further downstream, and is, I think kept fairly constant.   I say downstream because the start of the Canal is in fact really the River Irwell, dredged out to some 25 feet deep, 36 miles long and I would guess some 90 yards   wide.   Nearer the sea it follows part of the route of the River Mersey, of which the Irwell is a tributary.   Together with the steady water level, comes great water clarity, and provided that the algae is not "breaking" it can be easy to see a good 12 feet or more deep into the basins.  So fish can often be seen.  I watched a carp of about 10 pounds idling away its time near the basin wall.   As I left the Quays, an angler was just unloading his car.  I admit to being surprised at how much gear he had with him.  A very large piled up wheelbarrow carrying of all sorts of stuff, enough to enable him to survive an apocalypse.   He was after the carp.  One of his bags contained his beer, he said.   Another had in it an electric battery powered drill.   I guess this was to drill anchor points into the concrete banks for his bivvy.  But also all the gear, several thousand pounds worth I suspect,  looked to be brand new.   How on earth he keeps his tackle so pristine I have no idea.   Mine always looks battered and used.  Maybe because I use it and don't worry too much if the rod hits the odd tree or two as I change swims.

I walked back into Manchester along the Ship Canal.  One good fish swirled as I passed, maybe it was another carp. I didn't see it, and I don't think it had seen me.  I determined I should fish it soon.  But first, the next evening, I watched a small fishing match, on the Piccadilly basin of the Rochdale canal, right in the city centre.  The match was won by about three pounds of roach, including some nice half pound plus fish. The winner had to cope with a bunch of youths behind him, break dancing and generating some interestingly and highly scented puffs of smoke. Roachpole fishing is something I have no experience of and it was rather educational to see it. I can appreciate the advantages, but for my own style of fishing I suspect that it is all too much of a bother.  Too much messing about for me.  Or as the locals might say: "I can't be doing with all that."  But very good to see goodly numbers of fish so near to the centre of Manchester.

This Week's Rant:

At sometime during the fishing match my mobile phone was sabotaged.  I have never been an expert with a mobile phone, despite my life-long computer industry background.  A situation that my son takes great advantage of, in order to poke fun at me.   He suddenly had an ally.  That damned woman in my SatNav, she who must be obeyed, or perhaps argued with, had moved, and set up home inside my phone.  When I pressed the "go" button, she started to read my screen, quite loudly, and very annoyingly.  "Twenty-one thirty two":  she announced was the time.    "Battery seventy eight percent full",  and so on.  Worse still, as soon as I touched any on-screen key, or even just the screen itself, she announced my actions to the world.

"e key pressed".

As I typed my password, she made a vocal confirmation with every key pressed.  Being security conscious, she did say: "full stop", "full stop"  rather than repeat my actual password letters.       Worse was to come.   She took great delight in telling me, whenever I  touched the screen,  exactly where I had touched it, whilst not allowing me to slide a finger across the screen to accept a call.   I was unable to answer the phone.   What is the point of my having a mobile phone if I cannot answer the very occasional calls that come to it?   I concluded that some special feature must have become enabled, maybe a switch to help a blind person, and that all I had to do was to go to the "settings" screen to revert it.   She shouted "settings" as I touched the key, and I found I had to then make two more quick taps in order to action the key.   Up came settings,  but the first screen did not contain the required change.  And then disaster:  slide would not work here either.  I scraped off several layers of skin from my forefinger, desperately trying to scroll down to page three of the "settings" screen.  Every time I touched the screen she would again tell me which part of the screen I had touched:

  "Wifi", "Data usage", "Bluetooth".

But would she allow me to scroll down? Not a chance.

My son was off in the Far East, swimming with whale sharks, and I was quite jealous of the lucky so and sod. Huge beautiful fish, up to 35 feet long, exclusively plankton eaters.  Pretty yellow spots.  I had texted him the day before, suggesting he use two krill on a size 14 hook, but didn't get a sensible reply. But he was not, being under water, and 9000 miles away, able to help me kill off this loud mouthed smooth telephone operator lady.   By this time my wife was joining in, taking the Mickey at my total incompetence.     Desperation had set in, and I plugged the phone and its resident woman  into the computer, praying for 240 Volts, then upgraded and reloaded the phone's system software.  That procedure might have actually impressed my son, had he been able to watch,  but it didn't deter the lady in the phone.  Instead she got even stroppier, and it took me a good 30 minutes just to figure out how to re-enter my security codes, whilst she was rabbiting on and intercepting my every key stroke.   Eventually I got past both the phone password and the SIM password, but to no effect. She remained.  I was getting increasingly annoyed and frustrated by this time,  calling Sony and the Three network all the names under the sun. So I finally bit the bullet and went down town to the Three shop, where none of the five staff were able to resolve the problem.   But they did put me in touch with Sony support, and the gentleman on the line had seen this once before.   And he revealed to me what must be a closer kept secret than was "Little Boy" during the war.   You can also scroll by using TWO fingers at the same time.   I did so, with my two fingers configured so as to show the lady exactly what I thought of her.   It worked and I was able to scroll down to an "Accessibility" icon, under which a feature called "Talkback" had mysteriously been turned on.  "Accessibility"...really? It had rendered my phone totally out of bounds.  How on earth a partially sighted person would have coped defeats me.  I had not changed it to "Talkback" myself, and had no idea that the feature was there.    But sanity returned, the world order was re-established, and I was already wondering whether the wife might have a similar off switch, as I rode the bus back home.

The next morning, early, having travelled light, I set up two rods by the side of the Ship Canal,  or "The Shippy" as it is known locally.  I did not think that it was worth my while to try for a carp, especially on such a big strange water, so I put in a smallish amount of bait and decided to look for a bream or two, or some roach.
Manchester Ship Canal by Night
The last scientific report I read about the Shippy was a technical evaluation of its water quality, and its flora and fauna.   It was said that the roach lived in the upper layers, and, holding their breath, dived to the bottom to quickly search out a bite to eat, the lower levels having more or less zero dissolved oxygen.  This report was maybe ten years ago, and I feel things might be better now, so determined to bottom fish.  The depth was not the anticipated 25 feet,  maybe little more than ten.  Probably, because I was fairly near the Irwell, a spate river,  any sediment carried during a flood would tend to settle out once the flow rate decreased, so I think I was fishing over a good 15 feet of slowly accumulated sediment.

One rod breadflake, one maggots, both with a maggot feeder.   As daylight dawned I could properly see my surroundings.  The bats disappeared.
Ship Canal Decoration
The carp angler's apocalypse had occurred.  As far as I could see, every square inch of the substantial concrete banks and walls was covered in graffiti.    More paint than the spray can manufacturers could have made surely? And how do these people summon up the cash for so much paint?  People who create graffiti are either artists or idiots.  There were a few artists on display, and many of the idiots who "tagged" their own names over the good stuff.   I quite like good graffiti, and certainly there was little real harm done in it being here.  It would require considerable work by the council to transform this post Hiroshima bombsite type environment into something nice, and into a state where graffiti should not be tolerated.

But I did see a kingfisher flash past me, and a kestrel hovered over the far bank. So maybe the devastation is not so bad as mine eye thinks?  A good three dozen swans sailed past, followed by the usual Canada geese, and the odd mallard. Swallows and sand martins also cavorted over the water.  The advancing light soon revealed a number of old car and truck tyres around which I would have to steer any fish hooked. A cormorant, one of many that live on the canal, sat on a floating barrier.  It rocked uncomfortably as every wave passed it by, and looked well fed.

Then I had a shock, my rod tip rapped slightly.  I admit quite freely that in this environment I was not expecting any action at all, despite rumours of there being fish. I waited, but nothing.   But over the next hour or so half a dozen smallish roach took the bait.  All very cautious bites.    Less cautious was my last bite, and a heavier fish was hooked.  Most of the fight was typical...of a bream, although it did manage a couple of sharp pulls as well, which briefly impressed me.  After being steered around the tyres it was netted.
My Swim on the "Shippy".
 A bronze bream of  6 pounds 12 ounces.  I would not usually have bothered weighing a bream of this size, but on my first expedition to the Ship Canal, I thought I should.  Surprisingly it was a very healthy individual, a nice shade of gold, a thick deep fish.  The photo is a little disappointing, but I did not have an unhooking mat with me, and the photographic options were concrete, or in the net.  So the picture is a little blurred and the fish in the net.           
Impressed by my first encounter with the Ship Canal, I decided to fish in the clear water of the Quays themselves the next day.    Similar amount of concrete, but without the decorations.  A few hours saw me catch a few small perch, and eventually another bream.    This one was most unlike the fish of a day before.  It was VERY dark in colour, super-slimy, was still recovering from spawning, remnants of the head tubercles still being present, It was thin, side to side, and quite shallow.    I had expected the opposite, that bream from the clear waters of the quays would be very good looking fish.   But I suspect that they spawn later, in the deep water, that they do in the canal itself, which, fed by the Irwell undoubtedly warms up faster.   The Quays fish was certainly male.   It prompts me to wonder, whether the golden fish are all female, and the dark ones all male.   I have caught both "varieties" gold and black, from several waters now, and it makes some sense to see them as the males and females.   Speculation at the moment of course.
A Depressingly Ugly Quays Bream.  A Definite Male.

A Far Prettier Canal Bream.  A Female?

Saturday 1 August 2015

More Birds Than Fish

Well, it was time to take my wellies back to the Wye. And why not?   It is a long trip, but I
The Wye
determined, this time, to be there as the first light hit the river.  Most of the trip was motorway, and in darkness.   Far too many heavy goods vehicles for my liking, as I remain nervous of them still, after my near-death crash a couple of years ago.   Sometimes, when one travelling at 60 mph passes another moving at 59.9, they can block both inside lanes for minutes.  If I therefore have to pass them both I find it quite unnerving.     Most of the time I sit at 60 mph myself to reduce interaction with the trucks to a minima, but I don't like to be too near the trucks, so occasionally have to pass and find a new space between them.  Eventually I left the final exit ramp, and had only three or four miles still to cover.  As I nearer the river the roads became narrower, eventually becoming a single track, with grass growing down the middle.  Rabbits scattered every few yards as my headlights disturbed them. One of them did not move, but stayed sitting in the middle of the road.  I soon saw that it was no rabbit, but an owl.  It stood in the road, no prey with it, looking at my lights.   After 20 seconds or so it flew up and into a tree above my head, where it stayed...stayed until about a second before I was ready to click the camera shutter.
I am fairly sure it was a tawny own.  Definitely not a barn owl or little owl.

Sand Martins Nesting in  Pipework
I reached the river a couple of minutes later, parked up and headed for the deep swim, hoping to make fresh contact with the lost fish from last week.  I soon had a chub in the net, a fish of something a little under three pounds.  From the angling perspective, all then went silent. The river was even lower than last week, and much clearer too. Not so much as a twitch followed the chub, and I spent a lot of time watching the swallows and sand martins.   The sand martin is, in my opinion, the ultimate, low over the water, flier.    I didn't bother trying to photograph one, but will add a photo I took three or four years ago.

Green Woodpecker: At  100 yards Plus.
The green woodpeckers continued to mock me, several of them were "knocking about", flitting from tree to tree, occasionally hammering at the wood, but always obscured by branches or by a leaf or two.  I nearly flattened the camera battery, hoping to be ready when one finally  posed for me.   None did.   Very late on, one landed on the footbridge, some 150 yards downstream, and just for the hell of it I put the camera on maximum optical zoom and took a couple of shots. Applying maximum digital zoom to the image I could indeed see the red and the green of the bird, but distance and the sheer obstructiveness of the bird meant that this was the very best I could do, the much magnified image being over pixillated..   Another day, another time perhaps.
Female Demoiselle
I did take this photo of a female blue banded demoiselle.  Not a trace of blue on the females. I didn't manage to get a photo of one last week, so as to be able to show the differences between the sexes.

My hope of a fish rose as the evening neared.  A few chub raps started to up the confidence levels a little, but all were too fiddly to strike at...not that I didn't try one or two for luck.  No such.  As the last half hour of legal fishing approached I finally hit a better pull, and was playing a barbel.  A nice enough fish at about seven pounds, and a quick re-cast gave me that extra hope.   The farmer drifted by, and asked if I had caught.  Told him about the barbel, and, remembering him from last week, mentioned my only having 30 minutes of daytime fishing left in which to catch a second.  He replied "Yes, it is already half past nine," and I was left in no doubt that he was actually making damn sure I did not intend to overstay my allotted time.  No more bites, so I packed up and drove, via a chip shop, to another stretch where I would be allowed to night fish.    Got some sleep, intending to fish from mid-day the next day.   Instead I finally decided, on
waking up, to fully check out the stretch by walking along it.   Three other anglers fishing, all convinced that the low water was causing their overnight blanks. I was tempted to agree with them.  Buzzards circled overhead, and an egret vied for my attention as it perched in a tree opposite. The only other bright moment was when three Canadian canoes full of topless young ladies, paddled past on a "hen do". Well, some were paddling, others were knocking the booze back. Although the camera did accidentally click a few times as they passed by, I am sure that you, dear reader, would have no interest in the resultant photos. So here is the egret instead.

Oddball Greylag?
 Nearby, amongst a group of Canada geese, was this odd individual.  I can only guess that it is some form of domesticated greylag goose,  escaped and gone wild.    It is neither one thing nor the other, so maybe there has been some reversion to type in its history.   Seeing the river so low, I decided to cut my losses, I was not expecting to catch much, even during darkness, and so journeyed part way back, determined to fish a tench water, one I have ignored for a couple of years.    The Wye is a fabulous river, and so very clean.  I don't think I saw a single item of human rubbish drift downriver all the time I was there. And the flotsam/jetsam piles of stuff left by floodwater, all seems to be completely natural in its origin: trees, branches, weed.   But sometimes I have to move on, and on this day, it was towards the tench.
Again it was to be more birds than fish. No fish were to dampen my landing net at the lake.  I only saw three fish break surface, one fairly early on, a hundred yards away: a carp.  And then nothing until, during a break in the rain, following a quiet night, I was packing up.  As I dismantled the last of my gear, two fish rose in my swim, right over my baited area, a carp and a tench.  
A Bunch of Proper Greylag Geese
Oh I was so tempted to rig up again, with the only fish showing being over my groundbait.  The lake is large enough for the fish to have easily avoided the area all night. Maybe they had just moved in?  But instead of staying I decided to punish myself for my poor performance on the trip, and go home.   Time by this stillwater was spent watching bats, reed warblers, terns, a group of at least fifty grey lag geese and an oystercatcher.   The sand martins and swallows of the river had been replaced by house martins and swifts. Most of these species will only pose for the cameras of the most highly paid professional photographers.  I tried my best but the results were not really worth the hard work.
The tern photo is also not the greatest, they were so fast and changed direction unpredictably, but as I have little ambition to become another David Bailey, who cares.   I'll keep trying for better photos, but am by no means confident of great success.