Saturday 25 August 2018

The Close Season, and Cycling to the Pond.

The close season has once more come under review on the rivers. The decision is that the status quo will remain, and I do approve of that. When I returned to angling after my long hiatus I was shocked to find the stillwater close season had been discarded.   No knowing that, I waited very conscientiously until June the 16th, as I did of old.   I always thought that the close enabled banks to regrow, it allowed me to take a rest without having to get out there with the rods.  I appreciated the break, and am sure the wildlife did too.    Not all fish spawned according to the calendar, and it was accepted that nothing was perfect.   Fishing now though, exposes anglers to coarse fish in spawning condition.   As I have said before, I hate catching male bream, looking the way they do, in full spawning garb.  The look awful, feel awful, and I do wonder whether catching them harms them at this time of year.    Other anglers seem to revel in the close season, some appear to only fish for tench when they are in spawn, and do so because they are almost exclusively weight driven. I sometimes feel they get more pleasure from looking at the scales, than from looking at the fish itself.  Tench spawning times vary greatly from water to water, and even within the same water, and I do fish for them, but would rather catch a smaller specimen without spawn, than a deep bellied heavily laden individual.  I caught my first 3 pound plus rudd last year.  3-1.   But the capture has ever remained tainted for me, because it was quite noticeably carrying spawn. I was much happier couple of months or so ago, catching more big rudd, of which none showed any sign of such temporary weight increase. Of course, now, the ONLY time anyone will catch a record, of any of the major species, is when it IS carrying spawn.  Records are much higher than 40 years ago, and for THREE reasons:
1) the reason everyone quotes: large amounts of highly nutritious bait thrown into all our waters.  Fish can often become both larger and also very obese....heavier!  Fish farms are designed to maximize fish growth rates, and with anglers throwing masses of pellets, boilies and such, into our lakes and rivers, they are creating large fish ponds. Pellets were after all, designed for fish farms so we should not be surprised to have seen rapid and obesity type growth of our fish.
2) I am sure that the much warmer weather, and the winters in particular, over that time period, of the last 40 or so years, have helped to grow our fish, by giving them a larger time window of active feeding. Look at how much larger the carp are in France, which has had that longer growing season since the year dot. 

3)  Anglers are deliberately catching spawn filled fish.   
So never again will the record be taken by a healthy in-season fish, for any of these species.  It is difficult for me NOT to think some of the continental anglers have a better method for ratifying their records.  The Dutch, and others, simply measure the length of the fish.  So record holders, and seekers, are not influenced by the need to seek out unhealthy or spawn filled fish.  The longest fish gets the record.  It seems, to me at least, a better way to do it.   

So I agree that the close on rivers should remain, and would not be unduly averse to reintroducing it on all our still waters.    The close season on rivers restricts, to a degree at least, the ability of weight driven anglers to specifically target spawn bound barbel and chub.  Others opinion may well differ, and it may be that weight driven anglers will eventually see the removal of the river close season, and that would give them a fourth reason for fish growing larger than they used to: 12 months of bait going in the rivers, rather than just nine.   

There are a number of small waters nearby, ponds mainly, which I find very pleasant for short A.M. or P.M. trips. None of them contain huge fish, but their nearness to home (I could have been posh there and said "proximity"), is a great advantage.   One of them is very pretty, lots of lilypads, surrounded by trees, with newts and all the usual variety of stillwater fish species.    Unfortunately; venture just outside that ring of trees, and you are in an area of very downmarket industrial activity, from scrap yards and council tips, to a £2-00 hand car wash, burnt out cars and graffiti strewn walls.   Yesterday (June!!), as I fished it, a police helicopter circled overhead for well over an hour.  So in consequence of all this, I don't like to park the van anywhere near the pond.   I have, in the past, walked there, taking about an hour for the journey as long as I didn't make any wrong turns. The distance almost puts me off walking there to fish. And then I have to walk back. The time it takes to walk back often means I stay later than I ought, rather than tackle the walk. Three years ago I bought a pair of folding bikes, one for myself, and one for Nina.  They have remained unused...until yesterday, when I decided I might try to ride to the pond for the evening.   I unfolded the bike, had a trial run around the block, just to check all was well, and strapped a pair of rods along the crossbar, added a small rucksack, with built in folding stool, filled with a minimum of bait and tackle, and rode out in the sunshine.  All was well, for a couple of miles, but in the third and last mile there were a number of clicks from the handlebars, which were not properly bolted in place, and were rotating slightly with each click. No matter, I arrived safely and  fished until well after sunset, catching a very tubercular male bream of about 4 pounds and a small tench.  The pond was infested with picnickers, swimmers and barbecues, as the locals enjoyed the sunshine, but the water is deep enough, and cloudy enough, that the fish don't seem much concerned by the disturbance. At times I think disturbance enhances the fishing.

So I packed up at first dark, and started to ride home.  The handlebar problem had worsened, and they would not remain in place, both rotating and sliding sideways.  There were at times as much as 20 degrees of play, comparing where the front wheel should be pointing and the direction the cycle was actually taking. My progress was far more wobbly than that made when I am riding a unicycle. (I spent about 20 years running the local juggling and unicycling club). I managed to partially wedge the handlebars in place with a business card, but still had a fair degree of play, making limited progress, in the dark, along narrow pathways: difficult.  In fact, I found that much of the time I could not ride the bike at all.   The problem was compounded by my never having been on a conventional two wheeled machine for about 55  years.  I have been riding a reverse steer bicycle for some years though: in itself a difficult challenge, and one in which a switch off the brain is required, so as to allow the body to automatically compensate for the bike's tendency to do its own thing, and by ignoring any conscious efforts to steer it.   The problem yesterday was that the loose handlebars made the conventional bike FEEL like a reverse steer machine in the dark, and my automatic body reflexes were kicking in ahead of my brain, causing me to sometimes turn the wheel the wrong way and hence fall off. Lean left, try to turn right on a bike, and I guarantee a disaster. Even the rods, sticking out over the from wheel, looked like they turned the wrong way, compared to the rotation of the handlebar stem, and so further reinforced the  impression of riding the reverse steer bike.    It took me an age to get home, little quicker than had I walked.  But I suppose it was fun in an odd kind of way, but the bolt has now been tightened...and some lights fitted!

Monday 23 April 2018

Mersey Salmon. Nearly Christmas, So I Feel Entitled to a Rant or Two First, Then the Salmon....and a Couple of Rudd to Finish.

It has been a while...again.   I wrote the title to this before Christmas.  It is now April, so my rant mode has long since evaporated.  Far too long since my last blog entry.   But sometimes I freely admit to not being bothered, too much trouble, watered down by the feeling that at times, I have insufficient of interest to say.   Writer's block, I suppose a professional might call it. I'll call it laziness, if that is OK with you?

I have spent quite a time trying to photograph salmon in the Mersey and in its tributary the Goyt.  Over the past few years, maybe a decade or so, a few salmon have been seen running up the Mersey.  This is very gratifying, another sign that the efforts to clean up the local rivers is working.  The salmon have not bred in the river, but are strays from other rivers, or so the EA told me.    Contrary to popular opinion, salmon do not always return to the exact spot where they were born. Some get lost on the way, and stray into other river catchments. The EA informed me, a few years ago that fish from the Severn, the Dee, and even some french rivers had reached the Mersey.   There are not huge numbers, but enough that, at the right time of year, spending a few hours at the "hot spots" for jumping fish, you are likely to see one or two.   I have tried to persuade the EA that they should stock a few thousand parr into the headwaters, in each of several consecutive years, to no avail. I suspect they wish to see and observe how salmon naturally re-establish themselves into a river catchment. They don't want to contaminate the DNA that is natural to the river.  BUT, as salmon have been long extinct in the Mersey there is none of the original DNA remaining. It is all foreign DNA, so I don't really see that stocking should be a problem.   Ten years on and I have yet to see a single salmon parr in the river.  In the River Dee, there are many thousands. Not one have I seen in either the Mersey or its tributaries.     
Salmon Parr. and a Young Brown Trout.
And I know of no-one else who can say reliably that they have seen or caught one. Many anglers would have difficulty in identifying them from young brown trout.   I know I did: I had caught several on the Dee before I realized what they were,  that they were different: salmon parr. But why do they not seem to be breeding in the Mersey catchment?    Several reasons spring to mind.   Some of the weirs are very difficult for fish to pass, one or two being impossibly high, even when the rivers are running a lot of water, thus restricting access to many ideal spawning sites.    I don't know how badly floods might affect the eggs, or the newly hatched fish, but heavy rivers flows have been a common occurrence.  Probably their effect has not been completely devastating, because brown trout, of which there are many, both above and below the larger weirs, seem to breed successfully.   Maybe the water is clean enough to allow salmon to run upstream, but not so good yet, as to be suitable for young salmon parr.  There is another factor to the equation: cormorants and goosander.   The local streams are small, and generally shallow.   Goosanders breed near these streams, and have large broods of chicks. The most young I have seen accompanying a single female was seventeen, most of which survived to adult size.  That is a lot of small fish disappearing down a lot of avian gullets, and is, in my opinion, likely to greatly hinder the full return of salmon to the Mersey. So come on EA, give us some help!     

I took a few videos of salmon, but have been having immense  trouble trying to link them into the blog. I'll try again, but am not hopeful.   Any hints on how to incorporate videos would be much appreciated. Most of the fish I saw jumping were trout, maybe less than one in a hundred being a  salmon.  So this is a link to a shared folder. It contains three of my videos. You may need to copy and paste it into your browser window.!AlLuA7bpQJftq1bN4YzqH8Rn2kef

A Mersey Salmon

The file "Woolston" is a concatenation of three salmon jumping at Woolston Weir. This is a condensation of over four hours spent with the camera pointed at the weir.   I consider this weir as impassable to fish, and the sight of a fish attempting to jump it, means that it has missed the fish pass. The weir is probably 80 or 90 yards wide, with a small zig-zag channel fish pass right at one edge, the channel being a foot or so wide.   It seems to me that this style of fish pass, on a very large weir, must be very inefficient indeed.  Two other video are of fish, one definitely a salmon and the other a good sized trout (I think) making it up a section of a newly constructed, and far better designed fish pass. I found it astonishing that the fish powered their way up INSIDE the waterfall, rather than jumping over it.

This still photo is of a Mersey salmon that was captured by the Woolston weir, when it was configured as a fish trap, rather than a fish pass.

I'll move onto the fishing now, and I would be the first to admit that the winter has not been kind to me.  The grayling have proved elusive, on the few days when the rivers have been fishable. No notable fish have fallen to my charms.  A few small ladies, the odd little chub and roach. All in all the rivers have been pleasant places to be, and so it has been lucky that catching every time is not really important to me.   But I even went carp fishing one day, successes in the flowing water being so rare.  I have not carp fished for over 40 years, and the 18 pound common I landed on the day did not thrill me the way it should have done, so I have to conclude that I am probably well over my carp fishing days. They are a species that appeals little, although I will probably have the odd cast at them, they are unlikely ever to feel important to me.   They used to have a "hard to catch" reputation, but these days that is no longer the status quo. They have become just another species, to me at least. Other than a couple of zander, largest maybe a little over five pounds, few other fish  have chosen to spend any of their time with me until recently. I would temper that by saying that the weather has been such that I often did not venture out, so I have fished much more infrequently than would be usual for me in winter.

But a couple of weeks or so ago, I went rudd fishing. Such pretty fish, and I have found that they can be very obliging, they look good, and often take a bait well. No need either, to resort to modern scientifically proved, chemically stabilized, weight balanced, vitamin and nutrition packed, and therefore highly EXPENSIVE, baits.   A loaf of Warburton's thick sliced toastie bread can often be all that is needed.  A quid from most good retailers.  Many anglers consider rudd to be a summer fish, and only a summer fish.  I have not found that to be the case myself.  They change their habits, and in colder weather are unlikely to be feeding on or near the surface.   Not being able to see them makes them harder to locate, but if found, they may still feed, albeit differently.   The water temperature being just 7 degrees, I decided that bottom fishing would be best, but  location might be a problem.   The first six hours or so were blank, completely so, and I was looking towards another session without any fish. 

Then the dough bobbin ( a Warburton's dough bobbin of course) on the right hand rod twitched. Just twitched, but it was enough to confirm that something was in the swim. I didn't think it was a line bite.   Warburton's bread has a confidence boosting texture. A texture that convinces me it is unlikely to fall off the hook, even after several hours. And so I waited.  A little later a two inch twitch had me striking, and missing, a bite. I didn't miss the next one. It too was a tiny twitch, no more than a half inch of movement, but something in that movement suggested I strike, and I was into a fish.  These little twitches were to be par for the course, and apart from a couple of fish caught on the float, all the bites on legering gear were to be very slight movements of the indicator, whether that was movement of a bobbin, or, as was sometimes the case, the rod tip bending slightly.  I suspect that the tentative bites were related to the low water temperature, with fish being reluctant to move at any speed in the cold conditions.  I was a little reluctant myself, and was well equipped with gloves, scarf and thick bobble hat. 

The First Rudd    2 Pounds 2 Ounces.

That first fish, a rudd, was my target species, and weighed 2 pounds 2 ounces. An excellent fishy reward  well worth the wait. But more and better was to come both that evening and during two more days spent chasing the rudd.


It was not long before a second fish, having also twitched the bobbin, was en-route and into my landing net.  This second fish was a true monster.  A huge fish by anyone's standards.   Three pounds ten ounces of beautiful, pristine rudd.
Three pounds Ten Ounces.
 That fish proved, unsurprisingly, to be the largest I caught over the three days, but it was not the only huge fish. No less than three (that's three!) more fish of three pounds plus fell to baits taken from that same loaf.




In what was to prove the most satisfying three days of angling I have ever experienced, I finished with a total of twenty rudd.  Four threes, the two smallest weighed 1-14 each, the other  fourteen were all over two but under three pounds.    All were caught on Warburton's bread, most on the leger but two or three on float gear, fished close in under an overhanging tree.    The fish then disappeared, bites drying up completely.  
Sad to see them go, but their disappearance could not lessen the elation of what had been, undoubtedly, my best ever catch of fish, of any species.  I know I should be back there, and do wonder whether a four pound fish could be on the cards, but I like variation in my angling, and the tench are now too big an alternative attraction. Too big did I say?  Hmmm, maybe not, as the first two tench this week were smaller than the biggest rudd.  ;-)
I have always liked rudd.  Sadly they have become either a rare species, or a species which has bred so prolifically in a water as to make even a 4 oz fish, a rarity in amongst throngs of tiny fish.  They have a talent for multiplying rapidly, especially in small waters.  Finding a good rudd water is never going to be easy, but I feel the larger waters are the places to go.