Wednesday 17 August 2016

The Crucian Finale...Probably.

I felt like I needed a couple more sessions after those crucians. Even following recent successes, I was not fully satisfied with my performance and so returned to the jinx lake.   The idea was to make  a last trip, or maybe two before veering off to seek another species entirely.  I was better prepared this time, all my old schoolboy crucian knowledge was back, and very much to the fore in the tactical plan.   The weather forecast was not at all bad,  very cloudy, prospect of a little rain, but not so much as to make life on the bankside unpleasant.  And as is more and more often the case these days, the forecast proved to be spot on.  No longer is it more accurate to simply say " Today's weather will be similar to that of yesterday".   Even weather forecasts are no fun any more.

My first cast hit the water not long after dawn.  I had decided to ignore other anglers' suggestions that I fish just three or four feet out from the reeds.  They, and the bailiffs, all recommend this, and say most of the crucians come from very close in.    It had crossed my mind though, that cause and effect may have become confused here.  If everyone fishes close in ( and they seem to do so) then it is inevitable that all the crucians will be taken close in.   So the advice may be self fulfilling.  I decided to fish a fair bit further out, 6 or 7 yards, and would see what happened.

Nothing for quite a while, but after the obligatory couple of small roach, a fish that was better.  The rod stopped dead as the line tightened to the fish. That is always quite a pleasurable moment, when on the strike, the rod stops suddenly and the fish holds solid. It didn't initially move much, very typical of one species. Crucian thinks I.  But it soon became apparent that it was not a crucian, the fight, once it got under way, bored too consistently deep, and was lasting too long.  The fish nearly had me in trouble in the branches of a part dead alder that drooped into the water, and on light crucian gear it was heart in mouth stuff as the tension in the line was necessarily increased to a fairly unsafe value, one getting very near to the breaking strain of the hooklink.    But all was to be well and a scrapper of a tench about three and a half was landed.

The mass of house martins that had spent the early part of the day milling around over the pond had now departed, leaving just a few swallows whose presence I had not noted earlier in amongst the general melee of birds.  A couple of swifts also paid a short visit, but the dozen or so of swallows were to remain throughout the day.  I didn't have too much time to look at them, for the float once again lifted and the "rod stopped dead" situation was repeated.  But this fish was different, it didn't charge about the swim madly, as had the tench.  It set off for the other side of the lake, at a fairly steady and slow pace, largely unaffected by the best I could do on my three pound hook link.  It managed a more or less perfectly straight line swimming away from me at  right angles to the bank. I was not worried, for I was not expecting there to be any snags out there, and fully expected to land the fish in due course.  I should have worried though, for, when some 15 or 20 yards out and counting, the hook pulled.   I will never know what the fish was of course.  I suspect a much bigger tench, although a carp could have been responsible.    I do doubt that, for I suspect a carp would have been travelling at a far greater speed.  Far too many hook pulls this season for my liking.

The voles were back, sneaking bits of food.   I am told by a birdwatching friend that this has been an excellent year for voles. He appears to be right. It should, in consequence, have been a great year for owls too.   But the wet summer has restricted their hunting, and so owls have not fared well at all.  Breeding successes have been limited by unsuitable weather.  I am not too impressed by the blackberries this year either.   There have been trips in other years when the blackberry brambles near my swim have provided much of my food and drink for the day.   Ripened and ripening berries seem rarer this year, although the few I have picked and eaten were wonderfully tarty.   A week in nature can be a long time though, and I hope the fruits may become more prolific soon.

Some days the warblers have constantly given voice, both in the rushes and the nearby trees.   Warblers tend to be amongst what most average birdwatchers call LBJs.  LBJ stands for Little Brown Job or in English, unidentified small bird. In summer the presence of young birds, often not in full adult plumage, serves to confuse the issue still more. Some can be so similar that only the most advanced and experienced twitcher can be sure...or risk saying that they are sure.  All very reminiscent of our own trout/sea trout problems.  FSSF.  Fair Sized Spotty Fish?   But I managed to photograph one bird that repeatedly came quite near.  So this is a photograph of an LBJ.  What is it?   You tell me.  I am guessing  reed warbler in a (pear?) tree.

But to return to the crucian carp.  The dull day seemed to have stimulated them, and having returned to the tactics of my youth, that is to fish lift method very sensitively, they decided to play the game, and although the bites were not 100% hittable, by some wide margin, plenty of bites came, and quite a few were hooked.   Of those 13 were landed, with no less than eight weighing over two pounds.  But 6 or 7 were either pricked or lost to a hook pull.
Four Two Pound Plus Crucians

Again, the fish were very much of a size, the smallest differing from the largest by just a pound. The light and precarious hook holds must be fuelled by the way the species toys with its food.  I have only had one crucian that I remember needed the use of a disgorger, and that hookhold was only just out of reach of my fingers.  I can say the same about barbel, rarely do they seem to be hooked anywhere other than in the lips.  The difference of course is that once hooked, barbel rarely manage to get rid of the hook.

I do wonder for the future of crucians in this water.  Are the pike, of which there seem to be quite a lot, removing all the smaller crucians, leaving an ageing population with no younger fish to back up for the future?  Or are we, for some unknown reason, simply never catching the smaller fish?   Should the club consider a stocking programme?  The fish though, do look young, and so maybe there are quite a few years yet before we need to worry.  I saw an interesting note from someone who has his own carp lake, but added some crucians about 7 years ago.   These are now of a very good size indeed, with some approaching 4 only seven years old!   I don't know what he has been feeding them, but if details he has given are accurate, it is a food I suspect would ruin my own dieting plan.    So how old might the fish I am catching be?   And how long might they live?  Peter Rolfe suggests that some top 20 years. I don't know how many of those that remain healthy and avoid predation will actually reach that sort of age.  The average is probably considerably less.  10 years?  12 years?   I will probably not have many, if any, more sessions for crucians, on this lake this year.   But it would seem a good insurance policy to add them to next season's target species.  Who knows how long a good thing will last?

Late in the evening , the kingfishers which had performed several fly-pasts directly over my float during the day, appeared again.   One of them did three straight line typical low flights across, and then along, the full length of the lake. As it did so though, it was pursued by a swallow, which appeared to be chasing it, its zig-zagging flightpath contrasting with the ruler straight path of the kingfisher, yet keeping in close if variable formation.   The swallows had earlier been chasing each other, and I can only imagine that the kingfisher was seen as adding a brightly coloured extension to the game. I don't imagine there was any other reason for the swallow's behaviour.    Intriguing though: there may be more to a birdbrain than many think.
One of the swallows came to watch me fish.  I think this is one of this year's youngsters.  Probably exhausted from chasing after the kingfisher.  The photo is not the greatest, but chances to get a swallow in the picture are quite rare.   When using my small "fishing" camera, although it does have auto focus, it is none too bright at picking exactly what to focus on. There is no manual focus ring. I usually end up focussing on something I think is equidistant from me, and then swinging the camera around, with the shutter half pressed.  Not ideal.

During the day I had other visitors, dragonflies were constantly passing.  This one stopped to lay an egg or two.

And of course the young moorhen that was in constant attendance.

Although welcome, I wish they would all time their visits to the quiet periods between bites. 

Monday 8 August 2016

Frustration Bubbling Up.

I like to vary my angling, if not on a day to day basis, then certainly before a week is out I am usually somewhere else, or doing something different.   I had chosen to try a club water for tench, one I had not fished before. None too distant, and I was not expecting huge fish, a five pounder would have been very well received indeed.   Not that I knew too much about the water in any case, save what the club's brief, and very much out of date, description said.   The location of the large pond, or perhaps small lake was in a very out of the way place, and so the SatNav. was duly programmed, bait sorted, car loaded, and I was on my way.

I quite enjoy telling the TomTom to find the shortest route.   It often leads me into some fascinating spots, places where the hand of man has rarely set foot ( my apologies to whoever I stole that phrase from), but for this trip it was set to find the quickest route.   So I was soon on the motorways, and not much later leaving them for the last ten miles or so.   It was at this point that the Sat Nav decided to fail.  I concluded that the lady sitting inside it had finally got too annoyed with my shouting "You silly *****!" at her, and that she had taken retaliatory action.  Whatever action it was that she took, it was permanent, and I had to replace the unit a couple of days later.  But I was now more than a little lost, and not having brought the club's maps with me, reliance on the unit was proving disastrous, and it was over an hour later that I arrived at the water.  I chose a swim, set up with a Mike Cootes "Tinca Stick Mk 2", baited up the spot and waited.  After a while a smallish roach took the bait, but otherwise all was quiet...until...splash!   A yard or two from my float there was quite a splash, and I glimpsed what I thought was a good sized crucian carp.  A few minutes later a second splash, also in the swim, and unmistakeably a crucian carp.

During the half day session, starting at about 6pm, there were to be about sixteen or twenty such splashy rises, and all, save two or three, were within a five yard radius of the float. Elsewhere on the lake, little of any size moved. It was amusing to watch them rise.   It was almost as if they came up quite slowly, for whatever reasons they might have had, but on first sensing the air, thought "Oh my God, that's not water", and then panicking, with a tail slap of which a small Wels catfish would be proud, darted back down to the bottom.   There was only one logical conclusion to draw from the distribution and timing of these splashes.  My baiting of the swim had drawn the fish into activity, and it seemed logical they were feeding well on my loose feed. Now I like crucian carp, close up there with my favourite fish, and so far this year I had only caught one, an old looking fish of a little over two and a half pounds. It came from a local pond, near home, probably a survivor from when the pond was last in the hands of a fishing club, many years ago.   But there was also, in progress, a photographic contest based upon crucians and crucian fishing.  If I caught a crucian, I could enter its photograph.  So I forgot the tench, and tweaked the  tackle so as to be more suitable for these delightful little carp.  As the evening wore on, I became less likely to have referred to them as delightful.   Despite the rises, I was unable to tempt one, not a single bite, save for the odd small roach, and one tiny rudd.   It was most frustrating.  I knew they were there, my tactics had succeeded before on other crucian waters. And to make matters worse, they all looked to be of a good size, with some that might reach a couple of pounds.  As darkness approached, the only things to lighten the mood were the swallows, and a couple of grey lag geese.   When the first bats started to flash past my head, I packed up, defeated for the moment. I drove home, successfully using the last light of the recently set sun to provide a rough compass bearing, until I reached a suitable signpost.   As I drove I knew it would not be my last visit to the lake.

A couple of mornings later, new Sat Nav installed, and consequentially a few quid lighter, I arrived early at the lake.    It did not take long before the first crucian splashed near my float.  But also there were a lot of fish bubbling, a couple of yards away.  These bubbles were of the typical pinhead variety, much talked about by the likes of Fred J Taylor and his pals many years ago.  So I was convinced that the swim was also full of tench.   I once watched a tench swimming above a bed of Canadian pondweed.  It stopped to dive down into the weed a couple of times, releasing a mass of pinhead bubbles.  I assumed these were aeration bubbles released by the plants' leaves, upon being disturbed by the fish.   But it showed that tench can and do produce pin head bubbles.   But the swim I was fishing was weed free, and so a different mechanism was in place as I fished.   Maybe they were digging into the silt.  But tench they were, and over the course of the half day, I lost one to a hook pull, and landed a male of about three and three quarters.  A very hard fighting fish, which, on the crucian tackle took a major diversion into the lake edge rushes. Just the two tench hooked though.  Crucians once again splashed, a dozen or so, and the tench bubbled continuously and ignored me.  It was as if the tench had now combined with the crucians to take the Mickey out of me.    I could not understand why I had caught no crucians, nor, with so much bubbling, why more tench had not taken the bait.   Lunchtime, bright sunlight, and I headed home.

On the third trip, the tench had gone, fewer crucians splashed, but the perch had joined in the fun.  Twice I had superb lift bites on a static piece of luncheon meat.  Twice it was a small perch that had taken the bait.   I had never considered perch to be spam before, but they were certainly not the

Greylag Geese, Surprisingly Well Camouflaged.

wanted result from hitting those two lift bites.   There were now three grey lag geese, two full adults and a sub adult.  The younger bird kept taking a short flight around the lake.   The sort of "circuits and bumps" training that most light aeroplane pilots practise. Half a dozen times a day, a single circuit around the lake and back to see how impressed mummy and daddy were. A kingfisher landed on my rod, ever so briefly.  I may have twitched a little as it landed, or it may simply have seen me.  Either way I was not the sort of company it wanted to keep.  In all those half a dozen, half day trips I did not see one robin.  It is rare not to have a robin begging cheekily for food.  But the robins had sent in

substitutes, because in every swim I fished, two or three very friendly voles kept stealing morsels of bait.  They were happy to walk over my fingers to get to that bait.  Pretty little creatures with chestnut coloured fur. And so it continued, three more half days spent watching cavorting crucians and bubbling tench, and all for no fish.   The last date for entry into the crucian contest had now passed, and all I had entered was a picture of my float, stationary by some lily pads. Apart from a few small roach, rudd and perch, nothing was caught, my landing net the driest it has been for a long time. Were I superstitious I would now be calling this my jinx water.  Maybe I will do so in any case, if only to label it. But my confidence that I could catch in this water remained high.

Time for a change, so I dropped by to reconnoitre another club water as I drove home .   I had heard rumours of the odd crucian being taken there, but as ever, I was suspicious of possible hybrids.  "Fish any of those swims near that tree." said the local.   "That is where the crucians always get caught".   A couple of days later I arrived just after first light, the sun casting my shadow at great length across the field, and chose one of the recommended swims.   I didn't feel comfortable there, it did not look right, and after 4 hours biteless, save for a couple of miniscule bream, I decided to move, and headed for a swim in which I could see some surface weed.  Within minutes of introducing bait, there were those tench bubbles again.   Lots of them.  The bubbles were to continue throughout much of the day.  My tackle was unchanged, as I had not removed the float and hook after the last trip to the jinx water,, merely splitting the rod into two sections for the trip home.  The float depth was adjusted, because the swim in the new lake was  a deal shallower.  It was not long before a flat float bite brought a roach.  And not very much later that a better fish was on.  A good crucian.  I considered that my luck had returned, a crucian from a lake I had no previous experience of, from a swim the locals did not fancy.   Over the next two hours two more crucians fiddled a bit with the bait, and then lifted the shot from the bottom, allowing the float to rise.  There was a degree of disappointment, for, although the smallest of the three fish was about a pound and a half, their fights were lacklustre, no attempts to reach the nearby weed, and if anything, it might almost be said that they gave themselves up.  These were shiny golden fish, which looked old, and as if they had had a hard life.   Maybe they had, for one or two had some minor mouth damage. I was certainly not the first to catch some of these fish. The rain fell relentlessly, if not actually torrentially and bites stopped coming.  Around six o'clock a long bite free spell ended, the swim became very much alive, lots of bubbling, and it soon became apparent that crucians, as well as tench are able to produce pinhead bubbles.  Maybe the bubbles in the jinx water were crucians?  I had intentionally fished at least  a yard away from those bubbles, for, although I like tench a lot, I did not want a testosterone fuelled male tench churning up a swim in which I sought crucian carp.  Maybe I had made a huge mistake? Had I also been unintentionally avoiding the crucians? Were any of the bubbles actually from tench?

By 9pm I had twenty crucians in the net on the second lake.   I don't really know why, but I had taken

The Only Time I Have Used a Keepnet Since 1973

a keepnet with me for the first time since about 1973. I doubt it will see much use in the future.
All the fish fought poorly, save one. They all fought at midwater, save one, one which ploughed several times into the lake bottom, disturbing mud and bubbles.   It was no crucian, far too powerful a fish, but the hook pulled with the fish still unseen.  Tench?   Carp?  F1? I also had hook pulls on another 5 or 6 crucian carp, and several of those landed were hooked very lightly, the bend of the hook encircling the merest sliver of flesh.  Perhaps when fishing for crucians I need to play the fish more gently, as their delicate bites seem to lead to some tenuous hook holds?  But then, what about those nearby lilies? Ho hum! 

Old, Haggard Poor Fighting Crucian

Two days later, back to face down the jinx.   As I drove along the motorway, mist was lying across the fields, in a low blanket, and as the sun rose behind me, the combination of mist and sun turned the whole rear view into a huge yellow horizon.  I was glad not to be going the other way, for I would have risked a summer version of snow blindness.  When I reached the lake I was greeted by at least sixty house martins, twisting and turning above the lake and drinking from its surface.  Twenty minutes later and they had all gone, replaced by a small handful of swallows. But the jinx, had if ever existed, was now lifted, and four beautiful crucians were hooked, all near to the bubbles.  A fifth shed the hook, possibly because I had not played it sufficiently cautiously.  These were similar in size to the fish from the second lake, with a couple of fish topping the two pounds mark.   But they were very different fish indeed.  More orange than gold, very high backed fish, and fish which put up excellent scraps. I have never noticed such a major difference in the way similar sized fish, of the same species, can fight in two different waters.  These jinx fish looked as crucians should look, and fought as they should fight.   I had a couple more the next day, so am justified in being happy and confident in the way I was fishing.  End of frustrations.  To further lift the day, the Red Arrows, ten jets in total, flew across the pond as I fished.  I guess they thought it was my birthday, but they were not flying in formation, yet were quite low down.  They passed by rather too quickly for me to grab the camera.
Young and Pretty Crucian Scrapper

Driving home, a moment of amusement. I don't intentionally look at car number plates, but it is odd how certain  plates seem to catch the eye.  Maybe it is a similar mechanism to that which causes spelling mistakes (in the writings of anyone but myself) to leap out of the pages at me and shout "Here I am, look at me!"
 This plate was on a 12 seater Ford transit based minibus.  It read  BU52HOL.  Quite appropriate.   But when I stopped behind it at some traffic lights I was able to read the small sticker in the rear window:
"No passengers are left in this vehicle overnight".       Nice, and witty.

When I got home, another surprise.   The photo I took of my stationary float near some lily pads had won a section prize.   £100 of fishing tackle vouchers from Angling Direct, and a copy of Peter Rolfe's book about crucian carp: "Crock of Gold" are on their way to me.    I had intended to suggest my son buys me that particular book for my next birthday, so I am very well pleased, and look forward to reading the book.  It gets highly rated by those who read it.

Stop Press: the book arrived today, and in the introduction it mentions ....crucian carp bubbling when feeding!   And also quite coincidentally, one of those spelling mistakes leapt out of the book at me.

Stop Press again.   A large bucket of bait arrived: another prize from Bait-tech from the competition. My thanks to them also.