Sunday 8 October 2017

"Not at Your Age", and a Rather Nice Triple Double.

Autumn is here already, I cannot believe how quickly it seems to have arrived.  The schoolkids are already ignoring the conkers that litter the ground, looking forward instead to another evening tucked up with their smartphones.   Might they have more fun if they drilled through the screens and threaded shoelaces through the holes?  I walked along looking at all the sycamore seeds on the pathway, tiny footprints littering the mud of the track.  Suddenly there it was: 

"Stop it!  That's so embarrassing. You shouldn't be doing that, not at your age."

A command, from my wife.  But it is such good fun walking along, kicking up the piles of dead leaves on the pavement.  Lovely rustling noises, and flurries of autumnal colour as I stir the beech and horse chestnut leaves from where they lay, undisturbed.  I have, I suppose, always been a bit of a rebel, and rather than accept the instruction I pondered whether to completely ignore the order, or to suggest she might enjoy it too.  The latter thought, having been offered, proved to have been the wrong decision, and I was in trouble again.

I have often ignored people who tell me not to do this, or to stop doing that.  Many minor things, and a few major sillies that were even more fun. When hang gliders first appeared, (the basic triangular wing versions), I heard that a friend of a friend of a friend, knew someone who he thought had just bought one.  So a couple of weeks later I was there, atop a hillside, with an ungainly structure strapped to my back, and the wind in my face.  A number of people had told me "Don't do it"  and I wouldn't  these days, if only because all the risk (fun) seems to have been taken out of it by the H&S gremlins.   Nowadays you get a twin seater high tech kite, with an on-board instructor by your side, radio links, and probably a feather mattress to land on. Boring.   Oh... and two people with tether ropes, one on each wingtip to keep it level and on course. Danger?  What danger?   But there will still be those who advise against the idea. Instead, having splashed out a fiver for a very risky flight or two,  I had to look at the owner of the glider and ask if he might have any tips.  He had not, by then,  offered anything other than details of how to attach the straps.

"Keep it going straight down, and avoid that dry stone wall. Moving the bar sideways changes direction, move it forward or back to change height.  Now; just start to run down the hill!"

Very basic instructions that I could have probably worked out for myself.  So: three steps and I was airborne.  When it started to veer to the left I remembered that moving the bar sideways would correct the direction, realigning the straight down course.   And it would have done so, had I moved the bar in the correct direction. Instead I had used it as I would have a car steering wheel, the drift  left tightened and I rapidly U-turned back into the hillside, causing the odd bruise and some degree of bending of the airframe struts. But it was fun, great fun disentangling myself from the wreckage.   My second flight saw me get over the dry stone wall...just. I would have said feet to spare, but my trainers actually touched the top stones of the structure.  I did consider that maybe the site for a first flight might have been better chosen. 

Far more recently, after yet another "not at your age", I was learning to ride a reverse steer bicycle.  Not by any means an easy thing to do, by the way. Much harder than learning to ride a unicycle (which was also a NAYA for me to ignore).  But after a couple of hours messing about, and failing to ride the daft bike, I climbed into the car and found myself, at the first corner, starting to turn the steering wheel the wrong way. I immediately corrected it, but the experience of riding the crazy bike must have rewired my brain ever so slightly.  Much later and I can now ride it, and no longer have trouble steering the car.

I suppose the real rot started to set in last year:  I was fishing a local pond, and one of a group of lads in their twenties addressed me as "Pops". I was horrified, never having been subjected to any form of ageism before. It still upsets me now.   I have in fact told my son, as a warning shot,  that I am not yet old enough to become a grandfather. And when using my bus pass, watching and listening to the other pensioners on the bus, I have often thought "Good God, I hope I am not seen to be like them."

I was walking home one day recently, passing through a group of high rise flats; council flats I understand.  I was approached by a kid, a street urchin about 11 years old who asked me whether I lived there. I responded that I was just passing through and lived elsewhere.  He didn't seem to believe me, first insisting I must live in the flats, and then asking me whether I was homeless.  Now I know I was dressed in my fishing gear, and yes I do have a beard, but homeless?  Oh my God.   In the old days I could have probably clipped the cheeky little so and so about the ear.  All I might have done on this occasion was to give him 50 pence to prove I was not destitute.   But I decided against it.  Let him think what he might.  No way was I going to fuel his cigarette addiction. Little bugger.

I have a Chinese friend, known her for about 40 years or so.  Although she is smaller and younger than myself, I sort of see her as my big sister.   She too tries to keep me on the straight and narrow.  Recently, she topped 60 herself, and asked whether I would go with her to her local pensioner social group.  She is the type who always gets involved, usually far too deeply, having in consequence,  to spend time that she can ill afford, doing things that she probably does not want to do.  She has always been a sucker for such things. My presence would be partly to stop her in those tracks, and to give her an excuse to stay somewhat more distant, which will probably involve me taking some degree of blame.   I'll go with her, but I feel I am just not old enough to be a pensioner yet.  I don't mind having had the government pension, and the bus pass, for the last few years, but anything else to do with being a pensioner, I just do not want.  I am just not ready for it. Not at my age!

So last week, and the week before, I fished through a few nights.  Twice in horrendous weather, pouring rain, mud, and a rising water level, lapping around my ankles.  Obviously one more "not at my age" of course, as my wife had pointed out before I went.  Target was bream, and I was equipped with all the usual bait and tackle for such a session.  Umbrella rather than a bivvy of course.  Bivvies are for teens and twenties, not seasoned old, (would you cross out that word "old please?), warriors such as myself. So it was cold and wet, the misery of the first night only added to by three two pound eels, that, as is their usual wont, caused me hell.  Night two was no better, just a single suicidal six inch roach.  AND I ripped my trousers from belt down to the knee, climbing down an awkwardly steep bank to my chosen swim. I spent a draughty night. Prior to these sessions, I had not fished seriously for bream for well over 40 years, back in the Cheshire Meres days, and so bream was one of very few species for which my personal best fish had remained undisturbed.  I did catch, one day, a number of fish of 8 and 9 pounds, with one of them going 9-15 , but it was a Cheshire Meres double that still topped my list.  The Cheshire experience proved useful though, and, modified only by the substitution of a spod, in exchange for the old rubber dinghy, as the method of introducing bait, I entered night three.  That dinghy was more like a kid's paddling pool to be honest, bright yellow, and I would no longer trust myself in it...definitely not at my age.   Luckily it has long been lost in the mists of time, or somewhere in the attic of my previous house. The spod is not perfect for my style of groundbaiting, but at a pinch it does the job...just.
Dough Bobbins Ready for Action.  Raining.
Night three was difficult, and by 1 one o'clock  only another eel had emerged to play with me.   But then, my dough bobbin, (Hey! "Old fashioned" is not the same as "old"), on the right hand rod, rose slowly up to the butt ring, in what I have always regarded as a typical big bream bite. The strike made contact and I started to reel in what I was sure was another small eel.  No real fight, but occasional resistance suggesting the eel was swimming backwards.  But, half way in, it broke surface, odd behaviour for an eel, but it was too dark to see much, other than a disturbance in the mirror-like flat calm surface. As it neared the net though I realized it was a bream, only a bream could show that amount of flank. It looked huge, monstrous, even in the dark.   And so it proved: 14 pounds one ounce of very good looking bream, with an absurdly high back, and very thick from side to side.   It also deposited copious amounts of slime in my net.   A tip here: either know the weight of your landing net in advance, or weigh it later, once the bream slime has left the mesh.   It could make several ounces of difference to the weight of your fish, if weight really matters that much to you.  It does seem reasonable to consider the slime to be part of that fish at the time it was caught. A second tip: to get rid of the slime, don't waste your time shaking the net: instead leave it submerged for a couple of hours or so, and it will have all quite miraculously, gone.   Now weigh your wet net, and subtract from the weight you recorded with the fish in it.   
14-1   a Humpbacked Whale.
The bream dragged the LCD digits round to 14-1, considerably bigger than my old P.B.   
Three more nights each produced just one bream, a 6 pounder, one of 11-8, and then a second fourteen pound fish, an ounce less than the first.   Three doubles in a fortnight: excellent. 
14-0...."Blinded by the Light".
But I am now in a quandary.    Half of me is in a "been there, done that" mood.  None of the bream fought much better than your average dishcloth, they slimed everything up, and it is getting rather cold at night.   The other half of me says strike away at that hot iron, for with two fourteen pound fish caught, there might be a chance of a 15, a 16 or maybe even bigger.   Not sure what I will do yet...the barbel are calling me, and/but a sixteen pound bream would be no harder to catch than a fourteen, if the two fish were side by side in my swim.  

The weight of fourteen pounds is quite significant for me. In my younger days, when all that mattered was that next, even bigger, fish, before I took my holiday from fishing for well over 30 years, I knew the then record fish sizes off by heart:  Bream 13-12, barbel 14-6, tench 9-1 and there was Richard Walker's "Clarissa" at 44 pounds.   I wonder if I should I blame Walker for the present day awful tendency to give fish names? I don't like it at all.   But a friend recently referred to those 40 year old records as "our" records, and I would confess that they still have more meaning for me than the current numbers.  I never tried to break any of those old records, they just seemed unattainable, but the goal was to get near them.  Fish, certainly of those four species, are much larger these days in general, and that applies also to their modern record sizes.   I don't know how big the present records are. Never bothered to look, and never reading the "comics", the sizes have remained unknown to me.   It is generally thought that the much bigger sizes of fish these days is due to all the high protein bait that gets thrown in by anglers: boilies, pellets etc. etc.   I think it is rather more than that.  I feel the weather over the past 30 years or so has played its part, milder winters, and warmer summers allowing fish to feed well for longer.  Certainly boilies and baits have been in the game, but so many big fish come from so many different waters today, even some that are lightly fished, that I am quite certain global warming ( or at least our improved weather) has played its part well.    The result is that I have now broken "our" bream record twice in a month, and "our" tench record several times in the last few years.   I don't claim it to have been a great angling feat, certainly a pleasing one, but one that anyone these days could manage with a bit of thought and some serious application to the task.  I certainly haven't spent too much of my time fishing for such fish...far too much else to aim for, making full use of all the variations in species, size, methods, and venues  that angling offers me.

But I am not seeking a record fish: not at my age!

Tuesday 19 September 2017

The Red River.

Ah yes, the Red River, but first: some photos I might have added last time, but didn't, from the Farne Islands.
The Only Razorbill I Managed to Get in Shot.

Eider Duck...Just a Big Softie.

And I Am Sure No-one Will Mind Another Arctic Tern... I Didn't Realize That They Had Claws on Those Tiny Webbed Feet.

...And More Puffins.

So, back to the Red River.   I had heard about this river a while ago, its real name being the Medlock, but I had never seen it.   So I took a walk yesterday, as part of a keep fit project to go alongside the dieting.  Only seven more pounds to lose now, in order to reach my target. But every pound gets more difficult, as my body says "No more, that's enough" and my mind now has to fight back hard as it tries to override my gut's instincts. 

When walking, any signpost that reads "riverside walk" is likely to divert me, and yesterday, one such sign did just that.  I found myself on a long length of beautifully laid, Accrington Brick pathway. I followed it upstream.
 But it is not just the pathway that is composed of brick, the river bed itself, the channel, is made entirely in the same manner.  And the other bank has a second pathway, both pathways being about ten feet in width. Hence the "red" river.  By watching and timing a floating leaf, and comparing with my own known walking speed, I determined that the river, now at a fairly low level,  was flowing at about 7 mph.  

Far faster than is conducive to fish presence, even if the brickwork held any natural food.  There was nothing other than water in the channel, no weed, no shopping trolleys, no condoms. Anything in the channel would have been rapidly washed downstream. I don't doubt for a moment that, somewhere downstream, is a huge pile of rubbish of every description.  But the red river itself is the cleanest length of water I have ever seen.  
Not one plastic bottle, not even a single football. Not that it does not get its share of rubbish passing through, as can be seen from this outflow pipe, largely blocked with sanitary product. 
Impressive Dry Stone Walling, with Almost Tropical Looking Vegetation.

The bricks on the curve at the interface between river bed and pathways have precisely tapered cross sections. Sculpted bricks to fit in place precisely. Alongside each pathway, one on each bank, are 8 to 12 feet high dry stone walls.  But they are built from huge stones, as much as three feet long and a couple of feet high. A fantastic example of dry stone walling.  Not content with that, at the back of the stones is more brickwork, strengthening the walls even more.  Wildlife was more or less absent, and apart from half a dozen grey wagtails, a species that appears to enjoy living on the edge, I only glimpsed one other bird, in the undergrowth nearby. I think it was a robin.  At various points old archways suggest bits of interesting architecture and tunnels that were once in use.
Nature Finds a Way.
 A few trees have long since invaded the walls, with heavy trunks and roots clinging into the narrowest of cracks. Graffiti artists have so far, apart from a single tag, completely ignored the place.  I should have been horrified by the whole reach, but it did have its own "atmosphere", which in itself was a fascination. And what terrific engineers those Victorians were!

At the end of the red bricks, was a short tunnel under a roadway, but no means was provided to climb up, and back out, of the brick valley, and I began to realize that this brick pathway was possibly...probably...certainly not the advertised "riverside walk". So I had to walk the whole way back, finding the gate I thought I had come through, was now locked.    Slightly worried, I continued downstream to the other end of the red brick road and found a second tunnel.   I also, fortunately, found another way back up the banking.    The red brick paths on either side of the channel are of course, just extensions of the river bed, and very definitely NOT the riverside walk, and with the river in flood those dry stone walls become the containing banks.   I looked up a bit of its history, the bricks being laid following a devastating flood back in 1872, during which the river level was so high, and the flow so great, that many tombstones and bodies were washed away downstream from out of the nearby cemetery.  If it is the same cemetery I saw, the nearest body would have been some 40 feet above the river bed. An impressive flood level for any tiny stream.
Old Arched Structure.
I read that some of the tombstones are still to be seen in the river far downstream. The downstream tunnel (or culvert) is some 600 yards long, flowing right underneath the car parks of Manchester City football club. Another man-made channel, but this time with an arched brick roof. It is one of quite a few subterranean sections of this river, before it finally joins the Irwell on the other side of Manchester city centre.   In 2013 a project was announced to remove all the red bricks, and the underlying concrete foundations, so as to re-naturalize the river. It was reported in the Guardian,  but I see no evidence of any work at all having been carried out.  In the mile long red section there are at most a couple of hundred missing bricks, each removal looking like the work of the river itself. But in general, there is no sign of any significant deterioration, and absolutely no signs of wear on any of those rock hard bricks, despite well over a century of river flow across them.  These 8 million bricks will weather a nuclear attack better than any cockroach.  The longevity and toughness of Accrington bricks led them to being used in some parts of the Empire State Building, and also in another building of rather less own house.   Above the bridge, at the upstream edge of the Red River, the channel looks far more natural, although its edges are still, in many places, constrained by stone or brick walling. And there are a few fish present here, I saw a small one rise.

I fished a very large water a few weeks ago.  The objective being, once again, tench.   I last fished it over 50 years ago, when I used to catch roach there. It was difficult fishing for a young lad then, long distance casting required to reach deep water, and then it was very deep, far deeper than my rod length, and the float fishing was thus; not at all easy.  Roach, but plenty of them was all I caught...maybe with the odd perch, but the water has, like many others, changed dramatically, and now has tench, a species unheard of in the water back then.  It is still rated a hard water by local anglers, and they may well be right. After forking out for three day tickets ( at a cost rather more than the old price of half a crown), I had just one tench, and a couple of small roach to show for my efforts.  The tench was somewhere between 4 and 5 pounds, I didn't weigh it, but the beast shown below, weighing a lot more, swam right across the lake as I fished.  A red deer, antlers still covered in velvet, and therefore probably still growing.

 In India I have had buffalo, elephant and crocodiles in my swim.  On the Shropshire Union Canal I once had a horse fall into my swim. Unfortunately it drowned.   But a full grown 14 point stag is a first for me.  Later, as I approached my van, he, and a dozen of his mates, in an all male group, blocked my path, being rather reluctant to get out of my way. I half expected to be charged by one or more of them, but it didn't happen. 
I Definitely Felt I Was Being Watched

Fishing wise, not much else to show. A few more tench, four grayling, half a dozen roach-bream hybrids, and two more small roach, these two being all I had caught during three failed sessions chasing bream.  But I was visited by this wonderful little grass snake.

So, a couple of bits of trivia to finish.  
I was quite amused by a sign on a camper van: 


And having watched a programme about the brain on TV, I was shocked to find out that BOTOX was no just a sort of plastic crack filler, as I had previously thought, but  a neurotoxin produced from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.  I suppose I might have guessed that the "tox" referred to a toxin, and maybe not that the "Bo" is derived from a form of botulism. But the very idea of injecting the most lethal neurotoxic known, into one's head, is just astonishing.   My son, a doctor, tells me it is only available by prescription in the UK, and that some doctors make a fair packet prescribing it for the clients of various Botox clinics, whose practitioners do not need any medical training.  Rather than filling in the cracks in the forehead, this stuff actually is locally paralyzing the flesh.  I wonder how many of the recipients of the treatment know just what it is that is being injected?  And surely someone could have come up with some far less dangerous, but equally effective, substance?

The various forms of such vanity treatments are continuing to diversify, but I was again incredulous when my lad told me that one of the latest male fads is a procedure to remove the wrinkles from the scrotum!  OMG...time to go fishing I think.         

Sunday 3 September 2017

Of Birds and Badgers....

Oh dear...I have been lazy and idle once again.   Not written anything for ages.   The paragraphs that follow were all written months ago, round about ten past Spring, and have lain fallow on the hard drive ever since, gathering dust...although any real dust in a hard drive would have spelled the death of any data on it.   My scribblings have instead just died of old age I guess. But here they are, exhumed from the coffin:
 River season approached...rather too fast for my liking.  It was almost an advantage NOT to have a whole slice of angling unavailable to me.   Even without the river, I felt I had too much to go at and too little time during which to tackle it.   Either I ignored all my life outside of angling or I missed  out on some things I really wanted to do.  Having ignored all other things, many years ago, I know it is not the ideal course to far!  

Therefore, now that my full vista of waters is available,  I have done rather less with the tench than I had expected.  But I have fished a far greater variety of waters for the species than ever before, and the results, as I expected, have been equally variable.   The tench have varied in both colour and size.  Nothing huge, but some nice ones amongst them. Their colours, especially in fish taken from clear water, can be stunning, some with orange bellies, others very metallic green, and all having that super slippery feel to them.  Most have come to the float, and often when also fishing for crucian carp.  There is something very exciting about seeing a float slowly rise four or five inches,  and having the resultant strike hit something that is solid, and obviously NOT a crucian.    Having this happen near the lily pads that fringe the lake, using a light trotting rod, and similarly light tackle all adds to the experience.   I was sort of "told off" by a club bailiff this week.  He suggested, quite strongly, that I should be using at least 10 pound line, "because the fish are not shy", and "the deep reedbeds fringing most of the lake are a problem, with many anglers losing fish in them".  But I just cannot fish like that, I am old fashioned maybe, and like to think that the fight is a two way scenario, not one that I KNOW I will win.  Some of the scraps I have had, have therefore been a bit heart in mouth stuff, especially knowing that, if properly entangled in those lily pads I might also lose an expensive, custom built float.  I speak to many anglers who take the view that, once hooked, the fish MUST be landed at all costs. And so they use tackle that to me seems far, far too heavy.   I don't lose many fish myself to breakages, no matter how caused, and unless that changes I will continue to fish my own way, using whatever tackle I feel is suited.    But I will admit that, with a good tench on the line, and in the lilies, I have occasionally wondered whether that 13 foot trotting rod, three pound line, half pound test curve, the one I use for crucians, grayling and the like, is actually a bit under gunned for the job.  But I continue to extract the fish from the pads, if with difficulty, and so continue to use it. 

    But the tench fishing has not been without its problems, and I have had about four very good ( but unseen) fish, shed the hook well into the fight.   I feel this is unusual for tench, their thick rubbery lips should retain almost any hook hold.   But I have changed my hooks this year, to a model with a much finer wire and a micro-barb.   I don't venture any final opinion to the barbed/barbless arguments.   I feel that an experienced, caring angler should be able to extract a barbed hook without creating any damage to the fish.  It might take experience, but it is perfectly feasible to unhook a fish well.   I don't hold with another common belief either, that barbless hooks move around in the mouth of the fish, as it is played, therefore causing damage.  I see no evidence for that at all.    I do think though, that match anglers, who let's face it, need to fish quickly, should be using barbless hooks at all times.  For matches I think they should be compulsory, matchmen do not have time to battle a hook out, and so the more unscrupulous may well damage some of their fish.  But using barbless should enable them to extract the hook very speedily indeed, with no risk of damage.  

   But what of my problem?  Well, I have been wondering whether, in a long fight with a good fish, a fine wire hook might just cut its way through the flesh.  I need to study the hook holds in my landed fish, to search for any signs that the hook is acting like cheesewire.     I like these hooks, and would like to keep using them, but may find I have to revert in the future.   Certainly, to use them with ten pound line, and with a rod capable of applying that kind of tension, I might well be damaging fish...and would certainly be straightening a few hooks too.  In my opinion, if you straighten a hook, then the line you are using is too strong for that hook, and I am still surprised that hooks do not come with a recommended line strength.. Hook/line combinations can be tested easily at home before use, but you must try to emulate a genuine hook hold. Putting the hook point on a block of wood and pulling on the attached line  is not a good way to do it, as most hook holds are on the bend of the hook, not its point...another reason why the barbed/barbless argument is often a lot of people talking without thinking,  without any real knowledge of what is actually happening down at the hook.   

I don't like being TOLD how I must fish, preferring to work things out for myself.  I will be ignoring that bailiff's comments for the moment.  Many of the clubs' rules are a little unreasonable.  I fish waters where you are banned from taking any glass or cans onto the water.  The theory is that with no cans in the tacklebag, none get thrown in the bushes,  In practice, the kind of angler that is likely to drop litter, is the kind who will ignore the rules, take his 6 pack of Stella anyway, and then throw the cans into the reedbeds before the bailiff sees them.     Every winter the departing greenery reveals the rubbish thrown into those out of sight spots. And often, out of sight means out of reach too. The trouble with anyone writing about litter, is that those reading it will already be the converted.  It matters not how eloquent we are in discussing and bemoaning the subject, if none of the litter throwers ever get to see our output.  Only the stick is likely to work, but too few seem willing to wield it.    

Here endeth the stuff I wrote months ago.   This that follows is all new, although the events inspiring the text may not be so.

I have continued in the main to fish small waters for tench and crucians.  I could have equally said "fished waters for small tench and crucians, for apart from a few six pound tench early season I have had none over about five pounds since. But as I have often said, size does not overrule everything.   Catching 2 and 3 pound tench on light line, fishing near thick lilies in swims also bordered by trees that have fallen into the lake is quite adrenalin inducing.   Trying to turn a male tench, determined to reach snags only a yard away, on a centrepin, light rod and that three pound line takes skill, and is often more exciting that reeling in a leger caught 7, 8, 9 or even 10 pound tench from a swim where the only chance of losing a fish is through a hook pull. So: lots of tench, a goodly number of crucians, some of them over two pounds, and stray rudd, roach and carp have filled the sessions so far.  Less sessions that usual, for we have had a couple of relatives from the Far east visiting, and so I have been allocated taxi duties, and tourist guide duties.  Some walking in the Lake District. We circumnavigated Buttermere, upon which my wife asked whether it was called "Buttermilk, or Buttercream?"   Oh well!   Earlier in the day we had walked most of the way around Crummock Water.    All the way THINKING that it was Buttermilk.     It was thus a very long day and quite exhausting.

 I was fairly well bored by Hadrian's wall and a couple of its hill forts. But one trip I would highly recommend to anyone in July is the Farne Islands. Seabirds in vast numbers as well as grey seals, gave me a good opportunity to play with the camera. Three thousand or so incredibly graceful  Arctic terns that completely ignored us, allowing ultra close approach, unless we ventured too near a nest with eggs, in which case they dive bombed us, attacking the head.  This sent my wife and guests running for cover, with only myself being daft enough to stay still and suffer the onslaught. Probably my only chance to get attacked in this way, so I was determined to enjoy it.  They drew blood from my scalp... through my hat!  But beautiful creatures.   With such tiny red feet, which is, I suppose, indicative of how rarely they need to use them.
Arctic Tern


With Young

And how on Earth do puffins manage to catch seven or nine sandeels in their beak, without the fish wriggling free, or being dropped?  A friend said he believed that they held them under their tongues, thus releasing the beak for the next sandeel to be caught. Obviously this beakful is intended for a chick or it would have been swallowed, but I was surprised that the bird was just standing around, almost waiting for a neighbour to steal them.  I can only guess that the bird had forgotten where its burrow was.  Maybe it had some age related problem...I saw a program that said the oldest UK puffin was about 38 years old, and that they often live to be 30 plus.

The Somewhat Unfortunately Named Shag With its Dramatic Green Eye
Deep Throat.


Black Legged Kittiwake with Young..
All of the seabirds were astonishingly tolerant of the close presence of visitors to the islands, luckily for them for tourists were present in quite large numbers. The National Trust keep a close watch on the place ( maybe aided by the RSPB).

Having returned home, with the photography bug somewhat rejuvenated, it was time to have yet another try to get a badger in the frame.   As an angler I see badgers more often than most , but trying to photograph them has always been fraught and has never produced any good results, apart from one that I caught asleep by the roadside once.   But this week's efforts have borne very ripe fruit.
Old Brock

With a Stray Fox.

Male, Female?    Female, Male?  
The badgers were very tolerant of the camera flash, even the autofocus pre-flash, which lights up for at least a second.    they did show some nervousness, but only when they had picked up a large item of food, such a as piece of bread.   When taking peanuts they ignored the presence of the camera, which was no more than four feet away, completely.    I was a few yards further back, with a remote camera trigger.   One last tip for night observation, before I sign off.  I was surprised to find that using ordinary binoculars (8 x 30) at night, actually made the view so much better. I had always assumed that they would have magnified, yet dimmed, the image.  Something I had simply accepted, rather than actually thinking about the optics involved.

Sunday 21 May 2017

How Big is a Zebra?

A silly question you might suggest, but a question to which most of us have a pretty accurate answer, even those of us that have recently not been anywhere near a zoo, or to Africa for that matter.   A more relevant question here might be "How big is a robin?"   Or perhaps a red admiral butterfly, or a stag beetle?  In each case I doubt I have a reader who could not give a pretty good idea of the size of each of those animals. He probably has more detail too, for instance that the Zebra's body stripes are vertical. He perhaps might know that each individual zebra has a unique pattern of those stripes, yet each of those individuals will be sufficiently different as to be identifiable by its stripe pattern. And it is also a very interesting question as to how those stripes are created, or how a trout gets its spot distribution, each of those being different too.    That pattern generation was a question so interesting that even the great Alan Turing did some research on it.   Biological mathematical enactments of chaos theory seems to have part to play in the creation of these patterns.

But if instead of the title question I had asked "How big is a roach?", or "What size is a bream?", you would have been unable to answer, unless supplied with a photograph, or the fish itself.  Why the difference?   Fish are pretty much unique in the animal kingdom, in that their adult size is not anything like a standard size. The size of an adult fish ( most especially in freshwater) is determined by numbers of fish present, water quality and by food availability. Not just by "This is how big it will grow".  Do I hear someone shouting "What about dogs?"   I should have added, "species that have not been mucked about with by man", although a dalmatian will always be about the same size as any other dalmatian.  A Yorkshire terrier is still the same species as an old English sheepdog, and they could breed quite viably, although various stages in the process would have a fair degree of discomfort involved for one or both partners.  In some ponds rudd of maybe 6 inches or so are fully mature, able to breed, and unable to grow any larger in that location.   In another water they might all be expected to reach a couple of pounds.  In some way, fish, having been evolving for half a billion years, have managed to do things differently.
Angling Times Photo of a Brace of Huge Roach.

There is another thing I have noticed about fish.  Did any of you see the Angling Times photo recently of a huge brace of roach?  3-14 and 2-10.     I have reproduced the photograph here, and hope that Angling Times will not be too upset by my doing so.   These two fish are, quite obviously not young fish.  Fish do not get to be of near record size in a short lifespan.  But examine them closely: they look very young.  Not a mark on them, no wrinkles about the eyes, no care worn, thin skeletal looks. They just look very young fish.       And it is something I have often seen before, both in photos of fish, and in my own captures.  If a fish is unaffected by disease, by parasites, or by predators and goes largely uncaught by anglers, it can still look newly minted, at almost any age or size, even if that fish lives in a river.  Fish seem to have some inbuilt anti-aging mechanism, that most other species, especially humans, do not have.  It is a trick I could use myself these days, if I had any idea how they do it, and maybe fish might provide a fertile hunting ground for those scientists doing research on extending the human life span.   More relevantly, for anglers, it enables us to catch large fish that are unutterably beautiful.  If big fish chasing had been more of a 'grab a granny' type of activity, it would be have been far less popular.

Two Pounds Exactly.

So:  How big is a roach?  ...or this roach in particular.

The answer in this case is exactly two pounds: a fish I caught by accident a couple of weeks ago whilst fishing for something else entirely.  Not my biggest roach, but in my view any roach over one pound is an excellent fish, and two pounders are great gifts indeed...even if unintended captures.  The circumstances of this capture though, were so bizarre, that I still scarcely believe them myself, and knowing that, I am not going to ask any of you to believe it either.  Therefore I am not going to go into any detail. That's right: I am not telling you,  so there, nah na na nah, nah!   As some comedians might say: "Always leave them wanting more". But there was a useful lesson to be had there: when an opportunity arrives, take it. So I re-jigged my approach so as to specifically seek roach, and using mainly Warburton's bread  ( one of my all time favourite baits), I landed a few more good roach over  a period of  three days, with a total of fourteen of the fish going  over a pound.   Very pleasing. But I was unable to get an intentional two pounder, the best going 1-15.  That happens to me a lot, catching a fish just under a particular well known and recognized target size.    I did however get a second accidental capture whilst chasing the roach:  this time it was a rudd.  3 pounds one ounce.  One hell of a fish. My best rudd ever, but once again, a completely unintended success.   But, taking the same lesson  a second time, I sought out some weedier, shallower water and fished specifically for rudd, whilst keeping the thick sliced bait.   Again I was unable to better or equal the fish that had intruded into the roach sessions. But:
2-7 and...

2 pounds 8 Ounces of Gorgeous Rudd

  With fish of 2-5, 2-7 and 2-8, to add to the 3-1, I had no reason to complain or moan about it.  More young looking fish. So, quite a successful few days. Yet another intruder blundered its way rather forcefully into the rudd session, nearly dragging my rod into the water.  A common carp of fifteen pounds gave me quite a bit of drama, on a 13 foot light trotting rod, a centrepin and 4 pound line.  It made a number of long runs, luckily all were directed well away from the nearby dense reedbeds. And I was fortunate in that I had filled the reel with a much longer length of line than I would normally have used, had I been using that same centrepin for river fishing, where too much line can create a  "bedding in" problem that makes smooth long trotting difficult.

All in all a very big change from the last two or three weeks of the river season, which had cut up very rough for me, with very few fish at all in the landing net.  I may have to revisit these redfins a bit later in the season, once they have got over their spawning period.   The rudd, if not the roach, were just beginning to show the first signs of an expanding waistline.

This last week or so the crucians have been calling me again, although I suspect they may not quite be fully in the swing of things, feeding freely.  Three sessions on one good crucian lake brought two blanks, and four fish on the third day.
High Backed Crucian.
Two pound fish were again on the menu, with a couple reaching that mark, the best being a super cuddly example, very high backed indeed, a fish that scored 2.7 on the Richter scale.  Bread again of course, with a very delicate lift method rig being used to present it. There is scientific research that demonstrates that crucians, caught in a water with predators such as pike, develop much higher backs than fish living without the presence of predatory fish. The body shape to me suggests why the lift method works so well with the species. After "bending" down to pick up a bait, the fish would soon have to get back on an even keel.

I should perhaps add a couple of things that I may have missed out when writing about the lift method  recently. I always overshot a lift float, such that the bottom tell-tale shot actually sinks the float.  The depth is then adjusted carefully, the objective being to get the line from float to that last shot as near vertical as possible.  A couple of inches too deep and it needs a bit of tension in the line twixt reel and float. Admittedly there is then very fine control as to how much of the float shows, but, there is a disadvantage. Any fish swimming nearby, wafting the bottom of the rig around, may move that shot along the bottom.  If it moved towards the angler, a lift bite will be seen: a false lift bite being generated as the line tension is eased. The shot is still on the bottom and the fish, having passed by, is probably now nowhere near when the strike is made.  With the line vertical, most bites seem to be lift bites, rather than the float bobbing under, and a lift is almost invariably a sign of a fish with the bait in its mouth.  Fishing lift method is probably the only time I bother being so very precise, aiming to get the float depth set to within half an inch or so.  And it should probably be pointed out that the lift method is one way of getting single shot sensitivity, whilst using a float taking quite a large shot load in total. It allows casting at a far greater distance than would otherwise have been possible with a single shot float. I find a float that will take half a dozen shot  will of course rise a little more slowly than a single shot float, but I quite like the drama of seeing an antenna rise several inches, in such a leisurely way.

I fished a second water, a small reservoir that I had fished for crucians a few years ago.   All I had caught back then were hybrids. I knew they were not pure bred fish, But were they Crucian/goldfish...crucian/common carp? I thought the former.  A dozen or so such fish decided me not to go back there in any hurry. But I didn't really know at the time exactly what they were, so I recently decided I would go back to check, using the greater knowledge that I now have. After catching half a dozen or so, I concluded they were goldfish, and crucian/goldfish hybrids.    But pleasingly, very pleasingly, this time I also had five proper crucians. None much over half a pound, but any crucian is a delight for me to catch.  

A third, local water has proved more difficult, with only one crucian from three half day sessions.  Several tench happened along to cut through the quiet periods, causing havoc by charging into the lilies when hooked, and another common carp tested the mettle, having been hooked an inch away from the same lily pads.  Twice though, fish, that I think were tench, managed to actually bite through the line very near the hook.  I was not broken, the fish either bit through the line with their pharyngeal teeth, or managed to cut me off on a snag very near to the hook.  Most odd.  A pair of kingfishers were working this small reservoir, catching small roach and perch very effectively indeed. I missed bites watching them.  They bashed the heads of the fish a few times and then flew off to a small nearby stream where it would seem they must have young. A couple of other unusual bird events happened on the same water.  After flying very low over the middle of the water a few times a pigeon, of the town centre type, actually landed on the water, right in the middle of the lake.  After 3 or 4 seconds it took off again and flew away.   Was it collecting water in its plumage to give to its young in this dry weather, rather like some Australian bird species do?  I have no idea.  But a heron also landed in the lake, sitting in the water like a mallard. It picked up a floating dead fish, and then flew off again. It, unlike the pigeon, had an obvious motive.    Once before I saw a heron land on a large pond.  It then paddled its way back to the bank and shallow water...with legs totally unsuited to the job of course.    I only now realize it also could have probably taken off again from the water, had it but tried. Herons are such fascinating creatures. One, on a local little pond, used to dive in, gannet-like, to take small fish being reeled in by the anglers.

Couple of interesting birds again this week: the photo is of what I think is a stonechat, seen on a patch of waste ground as I was taking a stroll recently.  A new bird for me.

But also, much rarer: I was catapulting some bait out one day, when a previously unseen bird took sudden evasive action, so as to not be blasted by the group of small pellets. Rather like a shotgun blast without the blast...or the shot...or the gun.  Only got a quick look at it, but it was most definitely a bittern.   The only one I have ever seen. Brown, a little smaller than a heron.   

 And yesterday, to finish off nicely, being very traditional, using a Mk IV Richard Walker Avon, and float fished bread: more crucians. I like the way crucians, when feeding, usually reveal their presence, either by blowing a few bubbles, or more often, by dashing quite vertically to the surface, and with a great splash, diving straight back down again. A few even jump clear of the surface. Spring is here, well advanced now, and fish captures are definitely back on the menu.  But  I am now torn between more of the same, and the alternative of my old friends the Tincas.

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Early Spring

JayZS Twig Rig.

I heard the first croak of a frog in my pond this morning.   Today is really warm for February, with a goodly number of my crocus showing colour, even the purple ones, which are always the last to do so.  A few even have fully open flowers.  The snowdrops are looking fabulous too.  The robins are getting paired up as are the goldfinches visiting the feeders. the finches and dunnocks are usually seen off by the robins, aggressive little so and sos.   But they back off for blackbirds, sparrows and great tits.   All this springing into life is lost on the fish in the river, which are still being reluctant to come out and look around. Difficult not to think that they have left the building entirely. Only six grayling in half a dozen half day sessions. Yesterday morning gave me one very small grayling and a somewhat larger trout. Both hooked on a JayZS twig rig.  I didn't show a picture of the twig rig in the last blog. Whilst I hope I had explained it sufficiently clearly I feel there may be a need to show a photograph of it here. A ridiculous idea you may well think, but it does seem to work.

Because the fishing has been so poor, I have done even more walking about, usually straying near one or other watercourse.  Always more to see when there is nearby water, greater range of birds, and it is generally simply much prettier.   Unless of course you are near some of the piles of rubbish we get thrown into local streams. Most of it though does not kill the wildlife, the sewage effluent probably actually increases the total biomass that the rivers can support, and the debris provides hidey-holes for all sorts of creatures that eventually end up feeding the fish and fowl that populate the stream.

I try not to leap onto social media posts in order to point out grammatical or spelling errors.   Whilst it does annoy me how poor some of the English can be, I have learned to ignore it much or the time, and I certainly do not claim to be perfect myself, far from it.    OK, OK, I might occasionally wade in when someone else has a go at such errors and, in doing so, almost inevitably makes an error or errors himself.   The first rule of the internet is that once you complain about spelling you are far more likely to get something wrong yourself.   There are some spelling errors that do get me quite annoyed.  I have probably mentioned before that about half the world's keyboard warriors cannot seem to differentiate between 'lose' and 'loose'.  Yet it is such a simple word.
For my recent birthday my son gave me a book:  'Human Universe' by Professor Brian Cox, OBE and Andrew Cohen.    The book accompanied a TV series of the same name, a series I must have missed, which is shame because it is just the sort of documentary I thrive on and salivate about.   The professor is a very well educated man, prone to using big words like 'solipsistic'.   I had to look that one up, and well as one or two others as I read the book.   Nearing the end of the book, I turned over the leaf onto pages 218/219.   As I started to read page 218, well before I reached the end of the first sentence, the word "loose" can storming out at me from one third of the way down page 219.     It is difficult to understand why the word shouted so loudly at me.  It can only be that I have a sort of unconscious radar for it.  It was an incorrect spelling of the word "lose". I was horrified. What chance do schoolkids have if both a university professor, the Head of the BBC Science Unit and also whomsoever they employed to proof read the text,  all get it wrong?   Line 12 and 13, page 219:
"For all practical purposes, therefore, they are isolated; it's not possible to panic or simply loose patience and return to civilisation above."   AARGGHHHH!!! Coincidentally 219 is my house number.  Was I pre-destined to spot this?  Either way I was astounded.

 Most of the time I am amused by these errors. A local print shop had, signwritten above its door: "LEVENSHULME PRINTER'S". I suspect that they may have been responsible for four large rather fishy signs on a nearby roundabout that advertised car sales: "DACE MOTOR'S".   Most of the time I am amused by the errors.
But the best apostrophe came to light a few days ago, in a fishing related forum, where one angler had written: "I hell'd the fish carefully."  Kept me amused me for days, that one has.

Trying to find other ways to occupy my time whilst the rivers are still out of sorts and most of the stillwaters I fish are not  quite ready for me, I sorted through some of my idle and certainly long forgotten bits of fishing tackle.  I was surprised to find an unopened box of split shot.    Surprised because to my certain knowledge, I have never bought shot so small.  How I come to have them is a mystery.  I am usually left with the remains of one of those rotary shot dispensers, with just its original complement of size 6 and 8 shot, sizes I never have found any use for.  But in this newly discovered box, the largest shot is size 8.  The other sizes are 9, 10 and 12.  Size 12!   How anyone, even the most skillful match angler could find any use for size 12 shot I have no idea.   And how on earth could you close the split around a line?   It needs a scanning electron microscope just to see the split, let alone try and slide a line into it, and close it.  The match would be half over before I had lined the slot up with the line, and the "all out" long passed by the time I had secured it to the line. Am I doing something wrong? I rarely use anything smaller than a BB, and have never gone lower than a size 4.  Am I missing out on a long list of captures I otherwise might have had?   Incidentally I mentioned cheaper shot a few posts back.   Well, here is what you might consider doing: buy two boxes of air rifle pellets.   A .177 pellet is the same weight as a BB shot, and a .22 pellet equates to a AAA.  They can either be drilled axially and threaded onto the line, aided by a float stop to position them, or, by using a similar method to that used with my twig rig, can be looped and clove hitched around their waist, and onto the line.  A lot cheaper than buying Dinsmores.  They seem to work well for me.  A bit fiddly to drill maybe but during the adverts whilst watching TV....  Using drilled air rifle pellets removes the inevitable weak spot created by squeezing a split shot onto the line.  Not as easy to tweak and adjust the shot load, but I cannot expect to have everything.

Since writing the above, two further weeks have passed, and I have ventured out onto a few stillwaters.  The fish have been reluctant, but not entirely absent.  A bream of about five pounds and a
couple of tench near four pounds were extricated from one of the most shallow waters on any of my clubs' cards.  I figured they would warm up quickly, and was, truth be told, trying to catch crucians.  They were not interested in playing my sort of games.  Sitting on a platform, fishing one morning, I saw a disturbance in the remains of last years rushes, and the newly sprouting reeds for this year. Something was heading my way, submerged and about twenty yards away to my right.  Carp, thinks I.  It came the whole way, still submerged, and stopped directly below my fishing platform.  Looking carefully, I could see ripples were extending out from directly beneath my fishing stool. After a minute of so, it continued, exit stage left, again keeping near the bank, and stopped under the next platform.   It did this three more times to the final three platforms, with occasional small fry scattering above it.   Not wearing my polaroids, I did not actually see it, but I was wrong about the carp: it had to be mammalian, and I think it can only have been an otter. Its actions did not resemble any of the many mink I have seen over the years.  I am sure it must have, on previous occasions, used the same platforms as rest halts.  It is the only sign I have ever seen of an otter on a stillwater.  And I have still only ever seen two individuals on distant rivers.   They are not common in my area, but three were confirmed as definite sightings by a friend I trust, and on a local river, which suggests they are now finally here.  The local barbel and carp anglers are not going to be amused of course.

The frogs have been, spawned in my pond, and moved on.   The crocus have bloomed in profusion
and faded. Snowdrops, just the long green leaves remain.  

The robins have a nest site in the garden,  a nest box I hid in the ivy covering a garden wall,  but I found a dropped egg on the patio, suggesting that their nest site has been raided by the jays or magpies.  Long tailed tits seem to have taken up residence somewhere in the front garden, as they often attack their reflections in my front windows, occasionally clinging to the lead of the stained glass windows, although never long enough to focus the camera. 

Salford Friendly Anglers are celebrating their 200th anniversary this year.   They are thought to be the world's oldest angling club, and have a lot of fascinating archive material.   They invited Ian Heaps, ex world match angling champion to give a demonstration this last weekend.   As a teenager, I used to fish against him in Stockport Federation of Anglers' Wednesday evening match series, held on the Macclesfield Canal, back in the mid 60's.  I have not seen him since then.   I didn't recognize him, my excuse being that he was in camouflage, having shaved off his moustache some years ago, probably something he did specifically to confuse me.  It was good to see him again, and we shared a
Ian Heaps at Salford Friendly Anglers 200th Year Celebration.' 
few memories. A shame the fishing, on the chosen water, was not better, or else the spectators in the gallery might have learned rather more from watching him fish.  Blanking should have been against the rules. Coincidental though, that the two venues at which we met were separated by 50 years, yet both are linked by the identical abbreviation SFA.

A further week now passed, and I know I shall not have the time to add significantly to this for at least a fortnight.   So I will publish and be damned.