Sunday, 25 November 2018

Friday, Saturday


For most of this year I’ve been working literally five minutes from home and I mean five minutes’ walk from home.  This has been nice as I’ve mostly avoided the madness of the rush hour commute.  I have a chuckle in the mornings as I walk alongside the main road, I like to look at the drivers faces, which without exception always look unhappy.   That was me not so long ago and there is every chance that will be me again sometime in the future, in fact that was me for two days last week when I had to drive into the heart of Fenland for a computer course.

I’ve fished in the Fens a lot over the years, when my local Pike fishing started to decline this was an obvious area to try.  An hour in the motor saw me surrounded by water but it was a different type of fishing to what I was used to.  It took me a long time to adjust to fishing rivers and drains as I had so much confidence in the ‘static’ style of fishing that had been successful on my local stillwaters.  In 1992 on only my second visit to Fenland I managed a cracking Pike of 19.06 which to me at the time was proof that I didn’t have to change my approach too much.  Eventually the penny dropped and I began to travel lighter and fish more of a roving style but to be honest I was never really mobile enough until I became a boat owner.  I have lots of fond memories of fishing in the Fens, mostly for Pike and Zander but I also fluked some big Perch and Chub too. 

One of my favourite spots was a stretch of the big river that ran through quiet meadows to the south of Ely.  Here I would carelessly thrash my car down an unsuitable farm track and park it precariously on the edge, allowing just enough room for the occasional vehicle to pass.  One morning after a summer night fishing for Zander I emerged from my bivvy to find a herd of cows had surrounded my Astra and for some reason were happily licking the paint off it?  This stretch fished well for me in the autumn and then again at the back end just before the season finished.  This area ticked a lot of boxes for a pleasurable days fishing and I have many fond memories.  Looking back I had Pike to 19+ and Zander around 8lbs.  Rich had a 13+ Zander, Ian a 20+ Pike and Giles managed to catch a 5lb Sea Trout.  Being a little off the beaten track it was always quiet and it was rare to see another angler here. 

I realised it had been nearly a decade since I’ve fished in this part of the world so a drive through old haunts was sure to be interesting.  Because I spent most of my time sitting by and looking at the water my memories were of lovely reed fringed waterways and I’d completely forgotten how bleak the Fens look in winter.  Thousands of acres of ploughed black earth crossed with treacherous roads that sit far above the fields yet bizarrely below the water courses; many isolated houses sporting a rusty car or two as garden ornaments.  The little towns and hamlets of dull grey brick seem depressing and could do with a bit of love and attention. To be fair in the dark, drizzly weather we had last week nowhere looks its best.  My destination was Wisbech, which I’m told is very nice in places but not the parts I could see.  The sign reading “Wisbech – Twinned with Mordor” didn’t bode well.  Worst of all is the new A142 Ely southern bypass which consists of a giant flyover that cuts straight across the lovely quiet meadow that my friends and I used to fish, it is ruined forever.  As I drove home on Friday evening I realised it is unlikely that I’ll ever fish regularly in the Fens again, if ever.  That’s fine with me, I’ve moved on and have been lucky enough to find waters where I can be at peace and enjoy interesting fishing.

To be fair the traffic around Ely and Soham was horrendous, even with the horrible new bypass and even when I got onto the A14 it was little better.  Instead of sitting in a slow moving queue of traffic I was in a faster moving two lane amateur whacky race with idiot drivers switching lanes as if it would make any bloody difference at all to their journey time.  I couldn’t relax for a second and by the time I arrived home I was frazzled.  I hadn’t planned to fish this weekend but I needed some tranquil time to clear my mind.

So Saturday morning saw me sitting in a boat in an isolated corner of the county, I suppose from the view I had, if you didn’t know better you might think I was in the fens.  The day was another in a monotonous stream of cloud and gloom, the Easterly wind has been a constant feature for over a week.  All the text books say these are the worst conditions for fishing and so it seemed, two hours passed without a twitch.  It didn’t matter though, I was outside in the fresh air and the cares of the working week were being cleaned away.  Then just before 1000 a smelt cast along the near margin was moving steadily into mid-stream, the strike met a positive response and a couple of minutes later I was unhooking a Pike of about seven pounds.  I couldn’t get my radio to work so had to follow the cricket via my phone, England seemed toothless at first but Sri Lanka later collapsed spectacularly.  In the next couple of hours the float sailed away twice more and another two small Pike were brought to the boat and unhooked over the side.  As planned I packed up at lunch time, passing Giles and son on the way back to the boat yard, pleasantries/abuse were exchanged, I wished them luck and headed for home.

In the early evening Rich collected the Purple Princess and I, he pointed his car north and towards the UEA where my daughter is currently living and studying.  It was lovely to see Maddie as I’ve been missing her like a lost limb; the four of us then walked over to the LCR building where ‘The Levellers’ were playing.  It’s been a couple of months since I last saw any live music so I was well up for it.  The Lev’s were very good although I would have preferred more of the older tunes and the hall was absolutely ram packed which made moving difficult and dancing impossible. Still they are a very good live band with a strong, loyal following and it was another good gig.  I've said it somewhere before but the Levellers' anti establishment message began in the hell of Thatcherism but is sadly even more relevant today.  After hugging my daughter goodbye we headed back to Suffolk, today was a good day, just what I needed.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Pikey times

Our Irish Piking brothers need help!  There is a long history of Pike persecution and fishery mismanagement in the Western Loughs of Ireland and just when it seemed the tide was turning anglers now have to contend with a ridiculous byelaw.  Dave Lumb sums the situation up nicely here;  Lumbland

If you feel like donating then click here;  IPS   There is lots more info on the IPS Facebook page;  IPS FB

It's been a week of magazines as the latest issue of PAC's excellent 'Pikelines' mag landed on my doorstep.  This publication gets better and better with every edition, this time around it features articles from a few good friends too.  I don't like rushing a fishing mag, it'll take me a week to pick my way through.  However I've read Rich Gostlings piece on single hooks and I know he's talking sense.  I may be biased but I think it must be the best Pike fishing magazine on the planet and free to members of the Pike Anglers Club.  See link on the side of this page.

Also arriving this week was the latest 'Catch Cult' which is actually number ten.  Rob and Martin have done a top job in delivering a proper fishing magazine featuring articles by anglers, not industry blaggers.  As with any mag that covers a wide range of angling disciplines there is always stuff I really like along with stuff I don't.  This month there was an article which was a bit of both.
Well done to Catch Cult for interviewing Mark Lloyd of the Angling Trust and well done again for asking the difficult questions.  As an AT sceptic (FFS) I thought Mark answered well and I could actually sympathise with his thoughts and views throughout the interview.  That was until I cam to the shit sticky subject of everyone's favourite mammalian killing spree.  Mr Lloyd basically said "we absolutely can't push for an otter cull, the public will slaughter us.  Now lets talk about Signal Crayfish..."  OK Mr Lloyd you are probably right about calling for a cull, I know what you can't do so how about telling us what you can?  For starters how about educating the general public as to the truth about Otters?  Does AT have any interaction with the Predation Action Group?  
I've been an AT member in the past and in principle I want the organisation to succeed, after this interview I think I'm more sympathetic to the organisation.  Unfortunately, from my point of view as a wild water Piker, on the two occasions I've needed the AT to stand up and be counted they've sat sat firmly on the fence.

Here's another Broadland sunset.




Saturday, 20 October 2018

Pike Time

Where do the weeks go?
My daughter left for university and I miss her more than I could have ever imagined.
Then just over a fortnight ago Rich and I traveled up to Kettering for the annual PAC convention.  This was actually the first time I'd ever attended purely as a paying punter, in the past I've always had a job to do.  However we were on limited time and horrendous roadworks/diversions ate even further into this so we didn't even see any of the speakers.  We did spend a few hours in the tackle hall talking to lots of friends from across the country, which is always my favourite part of any convention anyway.  It was good to catch up with the likes of  Rob Shallcroft, the Denis & Tim double act, Brian Birdsall, Saint John Currie, Eddie Turner, Dave Lumb, Chico who still hasn't sold me anything, Stephen Harper aka the only sane man in Norfolk and the not even remotely sane Neville Fickling who granted an extended audience.  We both spent a bit of cash too, emergency wire (as I've mislaid my trace making box and it's driving me fucking mad!), a book from the affable Barry McConnell (more to follow...) and a rubber lure from Neville which did exactly what he predicted, caught a few fish then dismantled with the body sinking slowly out of netting range.

"The Eel Angler" by Barry McConnell

Nearly all of my angling friends had read this book and all rated it it highly.  I always planned to borrow a copy and have a read but then I got chatting to Barry at the convention who mentioned the knock down price and I thought why not?
First impressions, it's a Stephen Harper production.  I know this means it will be visually fantastic because that's what Mr Harper does.  Obviously I can confirm this is the case.  As for the content well I love anecdotal writing and that is exactly what we have here, the story of how Barry and friend's Eel angling evolved, similar in a way to Watto's 'Pikers progress' only with Eels, obviously. Barry is a good writer who can really set a scene and put you in the place, I could easily visualise the waters and events described.  He also has many years of experience with catching big Eels so has a wealth of interesting stories to tell with British Eels to over nine pounds.  Unlike most species there is comparatively little known about big Eels, they certainly don't come with pet names and a history of captures, the air of mystery remains.

Barry likes to fish long sessions, two or three nights at a time and this is something I can relate too, I enjoy being by the water for days, fishing gives me the excuse to be there.  The book covers Barry's fishing in waters all over the country, most notably the Meres of the North West but Canals, pits and lakes are also covered.  All things considered there is enough interesting material here to make a really good fishing book.
But 'The Eel Angler' gives us even more.  There are four chapters covering the trips to the antipodes made by Barry and friend Pete Drabble aka 'The Anguilla Guerrilla", in search of truly enormous Eels.  The pair made to trips to New Zealand and two more to Australia where a slightly different species of freshwater Eel grows to almost unbelievable weights.  These trips are genuine pioneering adventures which see the pair literally hacking their way through jungles at times.  They catch some huge Eels too...

I like this book a lot, it's just my kind of read.  If I have one criticism it's Barry's writing is a bit inconsistent.  I mean it's good all the way through but for large parts of the book the writing is excellent.  To me it seems that some of the chapters are a little rushed, with a bit more care the end product could have been even better.  That said it is still a very good book which has inspired a couple of my angling friends to try their hands at Eel fishing themselves.  And yes, I too can see the appeal, pioneering unknown waters for never caught fish, the trouble with me and Eels is I just don't like the bloody things.  But never say never...


So autumn, Pike fishing






Sunday, 23 September 2018

Rehearsal


To be honest not catching Tench or Carp was becoming tedious so I was glad of a cooler spell as I felt comfortable fishing for Pike with lures and I was well up for it.    Isaac and I had agreed an afternoon out in a boat but the forecast was dodgy to say the least, a high chance of light rain but how light?  In the end we said stuff it and loaded the car, the kit supplemented by waterproofs in case it got really bad.

We set off from the boatyard at 1600 beneath damp, murky skies, plan A was to cover water and find fish so I took the oars and Isaac held a rod.  The ‘Angry bird’ worked in the killing zone, just sub surface and above the weed, creating a nice wake, this lure has worked very well in the past.  The bulging lure was hypnotic, I kept concentrating on it and forgot to look where I was going but Isaac steered his lure around most of the weed clumps.  We covered water steadily for forty five minutes and just when confidence started to seep away, Isaac’s rod thumped over.  A nice fish fought hard but Isaac was in control and it was soon in the net and unhooked in the water.  We rowed on a way then turned around to go back over the productive spot but hadn’t got near it before Isaac was in again but this time the hooks didn’t hold.

With a couple of fish in caught the same general area it was time for a change of tactics and time for me to have a cast or two.  We trolled back to the top of the wind and the light south westerly pushed us along on a nice slow drift.  Now casting, Isaac continued stuck with his ‘Angry Bird’ while I chose a Zoota Wagtail, one of my go to lures in clear shallow water.  We hadn’t drifted far before a Pike slashed and missed my lure.  A bit further down and my rod thumped over again and this time it stayed on, another small Pike unhooked in the water.  The drift was slow and I needed to row back upwind a couple of times to keep us on the right line but it was worth it as the next three drifts brought three more Pike to my Wagtail as well as a couple of other fish moved.  Right at the end of our last drift Isaac was in again on the Angry Bird and brought his second fish to the boat.

By this time the drizzle was becoming heavier and we made a unanimous decision to turn round and head for home.  I tidied my gear away and Isaac trolled while I rowed back.  Back into the productive area and a Pike swirled at the lure but missed, would it try again?  A minute later the rod hooped round, whether it was the same fish we’ll never know but it was certainly the biggest of the day.  It required the net for sure but Isaac declined the camera.  The score was 4-3, would Isaac get a chance to even the score?  No, as it turned out, we reached the boat yard around 1800 but seven fish in two hours was more than I’d hoped for.  A couple of hours fishing that actually went to plan for a change and just what I needed ahead of the Pike season.  Isaac claimed bragging rights as there’s no doubt he caught the biggest today.  That’s it, summer is over, it’s my favourite time of the year, autumn is definitely here now and I’m raring to go. 

Monday, 3 September 2018

The passage of time


Time keeps ticking by, the weeks have turned into months, summer is turning into autumn and soon it will be Pike time.  The years are rolling by too.  I was surprised that I’ve actually been doing this blogging stuff for over a decade.  So long in fact that the medium is becoming obsolete, replaced by go pro, all action, video blogs.  I still prefer words and pictures so will continue in this format when I find myself with something to say, which seems to be less often these days.  It doesn’t matter if it gets read or not, that was never the point to begin with.  Back at the beginning in 2008 I was just trying to keep an online diary for my own sake but that had to change when I realised I was giving too much away!

In 2008 a lot of my blogging consisted of describing fishing trips with my children, or nieces and nephews on occasions.  God how they’ve all grown up!  My foster daughter left home last month; my youngest Isaac starts college in the morning and our Maddie will be heading off to university in a few weeks.  Ten years ago they were bubbly children running around in the meadows as often as they were swinging fish into my chops for unhooking.  Now they are practically adults and fine people they are too, I’m a proud Dad, if a biased one…

I had planned a last holiday before term time started but I left things too late and screwed up on the dates, the holiday had to be shortened to a long weekend break.  We considered tents but the nights are longer and darker now, in the end a houseboat on the Broad seemed a good compromise to me and happily the family agreed.  I was pleased to see my loved ones appreciating and enjoying spending time beside the water in a place I love.  One of my favourite pubs is just a short ride away too and here we enjoyed excellent food as well as a few pints of East Anglia’s finest beverages.  We were treated to a couple of the famous broadland sunsets too, I’m sure the sunrise would have been equally spectacular but none of us even considered rising in time to see it.  

Our days were spent out and about; firstly Norwich which despite my hereditary football prejudices I have to admit is a nice city, a good bookshop always helps.  Cromer is a traditional old seaside town which has mostly avoided being spoilt by the kind of tourist tat that afflicts many such places.  However Cromer is famous for crabs and the few crappy gift shops that have crept in exploit this by selling all manner of buckets, handlines and dropnets which can be used to catch and torture the hapless crustaceans.

Finally we visited Great Yarmouth which can only be described as a shithole.  Yarmouth hasn’t avoided cliché seaside crap, in fact the town actively encourages it and tasteless shit seeps from every storefront.  Every gaudy, horrible thing you associate with seaside tourist traps is proudly displayed in Yarmouth and believe it or not there are actually people who seem to like this shit!  I’ve never considered myself a snob but whenever I visit this place I am forced to reconsider…  I don’t like facial piercings on grandparents nor do I like tattoos on children but maybe that’s just me?

I had my radio beside me throughout most of the weekend and managed to follow another really good test match.  India are ranked no.1 in the world yet somehow the most inconsistent England team I can remember has managed to win the series.  How good could this team be with the addition of a couple of decent batsmen?

At either ends of the day we fished.  This was mostly from the houseboat itself where we caught loads of silver fish as well as a few Perch.  Both Maddie and Isaac joined me for trips out in my fishing boat in search of Bream; once again there were loads of Roach and Rudd up to 8ozs but we did manage to catch a few of the larger fish for which the broads are famous.  Nowadays Isaac is pretty adept at all fishing for silvers entails and it didn’t take Maddie long to get back into the swing of it, even though it’s been a few years since she’s fished.  Even the Purple princess had a go this time around, usually she’s happy to watch and click away with her camera and had forgotten how much she enjoys actually catching a few.

The holiday wasn’t without its mishaps too.  On the first night the princess managed to peel her finger with a razor blade and this required a trip to a surgery.  Whilst Isaac is quite experienced at boat fishing nowadays, Maddie isn’t and on the last evening a moment of panic at the staithe saw both of us tipped out of the boat and into the drink.  Thankfully the water is shallow and the only thing damaged was pride.  It was a timely reminder of how quickly things can go wrong though.  Once dry we discussed what had happened and by the end of the night it was the cause of much laughter.

So now we’re all back home now safe and sound, some of us will be returning to routine and normality.  I’ll be ringing up my Pike rods in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to being back in my comfort zone doing what I love most.  However by then my daughter will be living in another county and that is something I’m dreading…

Monday, 6 August 2018

High Summer


I had hoped to be fishing all weekend but I’d forgotten a prior engagement.  Friday evening saw Mr Hill and I visit the capital to see a punk band called ‘Fucked up’ perform in a sweaty basement club.  It was a great night out and a really good gig.  Saturday morning saw me highly distracted, I parked in front of the tele at 10:55 and I didn’t move for over two hours.  By this time England had won an exciting test match by 31 runs to take a 1-0 series lead against India.  Once I’d caught my breath I started to sort some tackle out.

By 1730 I was settled and fishing with three rods.  Previous exploration had revealed a nice clear area amongst the weed beds and I’d already baited this spot up with two kilos of mixed particles by boat.  The clearing was big enough for two rods so two pop ups fished on chod rigs were chucked on the spot.  I don’t really like chod rigs, I hate seeing the lead so close to the mouth on the rare occasions that I find myself playing a fish.  However needs must, it is a good rig for weed fishing also I know the hordes of Rudd will try and eat even a boilie, if this happens there is little chance the bait and hook can be dragged off into weed.  The third rod was my preferred helicopter rig, baited with a Tiger nut and fake corn.  This I dropped into another clear spot in the margins.  With the rods out and the bivvy sorted all I had to do was sit and relax.  Locating the larger fish here has proved very difficult and if I do find them they could be miles away from a suitable bank fishing spot.  I don’t like the ‘bait and wait’ approach but at the moment it feels like there is no choice. 

It was a hot day but here by the water the breeze kept me cool.  It was lovely just chilling out and watching the bird life; the Heron is a regular visitor but the Egret less so.  Sometimes I see a Bittern but not tonight.  The Princess joined me at dusk and we spent a lovely evening drinking tea, putting the world to rights and watching the clear sky fill with a thousand stars.  We saw several shooting stars and I know our wishes will come true.  The conversation was good, at times like this I almost forget I have rods out; unfortunately nothing appeared to remind me.  A crescent moon rose around midnight and we were in the sleeping bag shortly afterwards.

My bladder woke me around 0500, the dawn sky looked beautiful and while I was up I recast the close range rod.  I considered sitting up behind the rods but the lure of the sleeping bag won, it was another couple of hours before I woke up properly.  By 0800 I was sitting behind a float rod but after fifteen minutes and a dozen Rudd I was bored, so back to the boilies.  I knew my best chance was over now but was still lovely sitting in a remote part of the countryside, watching the natural world progress, this morning butterflies and dragonflies were prolific.  

By lunch time we’d had enough, the heat was getting to me and I needed a toilet I could sit on.  As I tramped back towards the car a Buzzard circled, mocking me with its shrill call, maybe from that height it could tell me where the fish are?  I suppose I could try fishing easier waters but that would feel the same as catching the Rudd on this place.

It’s August now and time is running out for my summer season which has been as frustrating as it has been enjoyable.  There is still a little bit of time and I may have a little luck and find some of the fish I’m after.  However I find myself looking forward to the autumn and Pike time.  This will always be my first love, in comparison it seems simple and I’m well within my comfort zone.  But before then if I could have just one more opportunity…

Thursday, 28 June 2018

A weekend in June


So once again my attempt to catch a huge spring Tench has resulted in abject failure, indeed my attempt to catch any Tench at all has been fruitless.  I have caught loads of fish of other species but not the ones I’m targeting.  It’s the same every year but I refuse to compromise and settle for artificial fishing, I enjoy what I do regardless and one day I will be successful and it will be all the sweeter for it.  I will keep on trying throughout the summer, even though the spawned out fish will be down in weight.

The opening of the river season gave me the chance to do something different so the Purple Princess and I headed for Norfolk for a weekend of camping, Pubs and the chance to actually catch a species I was targeting for a change.

  Saturday dawned but we were in no hurry to get up and out of the tent.  A cup of tea and a breakfast fried on the stove got us fuelled and ready, a visit to the tackle shop topped up our bait and supplies then we headed to the ‘Greyhound’ for lunch and a welcome pint of ‘Ghost ship’.  With full stomachs we made our way to the slip and I was soon opening up the engine and cutting through the Broadland waters.  It was lovely to be back, last time I was here the trees were skeletal and the reeds were creamy brown, now everything was green and lush.

By early afternoon I’d dropped the weights in a secluded bay, away from the worst of the summer boat traffic and soon had two feeder rigs out into a clear channel between thick weedbeds.  I used open end feeders on helicopter rigs, hookbaits were maggots or corn on short hooklengths.  The feeders were stuffed with a mix of Expo, brown crumb and crushed hemp which is the mix I use for almost everything. This is a favourite summer spot and one that almost always turns up a few Bream, my target species for the day.  The weather was kind to us; warm, bright and dry with a brisk north easterly wind but the wall of reeds gave us more than enough shelter.

The fishing started off slowly but after a while bites began to come steadily; Roach, Rudd and the occasional Perch homed in on the maggots but the corn on the other rod remained relatively untouched.  I began to wonder if I was over confident, had I jinxed myself?  Would the Bream laugh at my attempts to catch them?  Would this trip be another failure?  Whatever, the surroundings were idyllic and there was plenty to look at when the tips were still.  Most of the familiar feathered residents of the Broads put in an appearance, we heard the Cranes but didn’t see them and the Bittern were as elusive as ever.  A couple of birds flew over that I didn’t recognise at first, they looked like anorexic white ducks but when one flew close the upturned beak gave the game away.  Once home my bird book confirmed they were Avocets.  Later there were fluttering wings and a flash of colour, at first I thought it was some kind of small bird but no, it was a famous Swallow tail Butterfly.

After a couple of hours the sweetcorn rod started trembling and eventually pulled round properly.  I pulled into my first Bream of the day and for the first time this season I’d caught the fish I set out for.  After that I caught a few more though the bites came and went and I never felt the fish were there in numbers.  The biggest Bream would have been between three and four pounds but were lovely dark bronze fish, just as Broadland Bream should be.  It occurred to me that I hadn’t caught any of these dark coloured fish or any bigger ones since the Prymnesium outbreak three years ago.  I think a generation of proper Bream was wiped out in 2015 and now the survivors are growing on and growing bigger.  With all that has been learnt since this last catastrophic fish kill the future looks hopeful, thanks to the persistence of anglers led by John Currie and PAC along with the EA and scientists at John Innes centre.

By 1900 we fancied a change of scenery, the boat traffic had calmed considerably allowing me to visit an area I would avoid during the day.  Once settled bites came straight away on both maggots and corn.  I caught more Roach and Rudd and yes I caught more Bream too though these were mostly silvery skimmers up to a couple of pounds or so.  By now the wind had died away and we were perfectly positioned to enjoy a fabulous Broadland sunset, reflected in the now calm water.  With the colours changing by the second the Princess was busy with her camera, capturing one of nature’s great displays that most people don’t even notice. 

By 2130 we were both tired and the temperature was dropping quickly so we tidied up and cruised slowly back to base, the sky was still awash with colour.  It was 2230 by the time the boat was back in its space and I hadn’t even needed the torch.

Another night in the tent, again we were in no hurry to go anywhere so it was another fried breakfast and another delicious pub lunch.  I pointed the car in the general direction of home, stopping on route for a walk around a nature reserve and an ice cream.  Back at home I turned the TV on just as Adil Rashid walked to the wicket, it looked like the game was gone and with it our chance of a whitewash.  Enter Joss Buttler and one of the greatest ODI innings I’ve ever seen, seeing England home with a wicket to spare!  Apparently there was a football match too?