Tuesday, 12 May 2020

And breathe...

The shackles are off and in a couple of days we can all go fishing again should we choose.  I expect lots of people will do just that and many waters will be very busy for a few days before things return to a level of spring normality. 

Stopping angling was the right decision, back in March there was already lots of fear, confusion and many grey areas.  Legislation has to be made with the most stupid members of the population in mind and let’s be honest, many of us have our fishing blighted by fucking idiots at the best of times.  If anything the ban, like the lockdown should have come earlier, it’s worrying to think that the Football Association reacted to this pandemic quicker than the government.  But now does seem to be a good time to lift the ban and allow us to clear our minds by the waterside, which after six weeks or so of confinement I’m sure many of us need.  The angling trade has missed its busiest period of the year and will be desperate to get up and open again but that doesn’t seem so cut and dried to me, we can live without tackle shops for a while longer.

It’s been incredibly frustrating having all this free time without being able to fish and with no cricket either!  To be honest it probably hasn’t affected me as much as it has many people, I’m quite content within my four walls, being a reader helps and I’m never without a book on the go, often more than one.  Also I live in rural Suffolk so I only have to walk for five minutes in any direction and I’m out of town and in the countryside so my daily hour of exercise has been a pleasure.  I’ve walked round the town lake and seen Rudd, Roach and Bream gathering ahead of spawning as well as Pike and Perch waiting for an easy meal.  I also regularly saw Carp in the same place, these would have been easy to catch and I found myself mentally rehearsing their downfall.  If they had been bigger fish I may well have been tempted.  I’ve also walked miles of river and sadly seen next to nothing apart from the medium sized Chub in the same pool I’ve seen them in every spring for the last seventeen years.  Few clues for my Gudgeon quest which hasn't been forgotten.

Apart from walking and books I’ve found some good entertainment on YouTube.  I don’t really like the angling films in the John Wilson/Matt Hayes mould, where a producer sets out to make a program and a lot of what we are seeing is staged and obviously fake.  I much prefer the video diary type thing where you see people fishing warts an’ all.  However whatever Terry Hearn puts out is brilliant and his latest film about Carp fishing on the Thames is excellent.  I thoroughly enjoyed part one and the second half is due out any day.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqXr1jSHUWM&t=70s

Also another old school Carp angler, Dave Lane is one of the best angling writers there is.  When I read his first two books I hadn’t Carp fished in years but loved them regardless.  If you like anecdotal writing Dave’s books are as good as it gets, the species is irrelevant.  Since we’ve all been confined Dave has been talking us through his first book “Obsession…” with a series of Vlogs.  These are great and Dave often goes off on tangents that take us miles away from the waterside and very often involve pubs.  I think he’s up to episode 19 now and they have become essential viewing for me these past few weeks.  He’s getting towards the end of the book now, which is pretty good timing all things considered but when we’re finished I’m actually going to miss them.
Anyway episode one is here and I really recommend them to all anglers, not just Carpers but if you don’t want to go through the whole lot, start at the Wraysbury section which is the best part of the book and so far the best part of the vlogs.

I’m sure there must be some good Pike angling video stuff on YouTube somewhere I’ll have to have a search sometime but before that I’ve got to get some tackle sorted because I’m going to have a cast before the end of the week!

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Closed Season Blues

This year for the first time in a very long time we’re having a closed season. Was it around 1995 that the tackle industry managed to do away with the closed season?  I wonder if we'll notice a difference when we compare whatever is left of this summer to future seasons?

As I’ve been unable to catch fish I’ve had to replace this addiction for collecting pieces of nature.  This spring I’ve gone back to what I always used to do in the closed season when I was a kid, which is to wander off bird watching (when I was a bit older I’d usually be hungover).  In truth, back then it was another excuse to spend time at the waterside and I suppose there’s an element of that again now.  So far these last few weeks I’ve seen 35 different species of bird many have been either in my garden or flying over it, the rest on my daily walk.  I’m lucky to live in the countryside; I don’t have too walk far before I’m out of town and away from people.  I’ve walked less familiar stretches of the river, the weed seems to be growing freely despite the winter floods but I’ve seen no sign of fish.  I hoped to see Chub but nothing until I got to an area close to Town where they usually group up ahead of spawning.  Even here there were no real big ones, a few years ago there were some proper fish in this area but I never did try to catch any.  I did find a couple of stretches that look the kind of environment that may produce a Gudgeon, when I can fish the river again, but as these are remote I expect I’ll try other spots first.

This break has come a bit tough, I can’t remember the last time I went a month without casting a line and there’ll probably be another month to go.  I’m missing it, not so much catching fish as I don’t usually do a lot of that in the spring and summer anyway.  It’s the sitting by the water, becoming part of nature.  It’s the plotting and planning, the mental side of things, preparation.  It’s having something to think about, plan for, and aim at.  A target?  That’s a very clich├ęd word in fishing nowadays.

But we will get back to the water sometime soon, it may seem a while away but it will pass quickly.  In the meantime, like all anglers, my tackle has had a good sort out.  All I really need to do now is tie some rigs and sort some bait out.  When the restrictions are lifted I could literally be fishing within an hour.
Twenty five years ago when the closed season first disappeared I would have spent my time throwing lures around, catching Pike.  From memory this was around the time of the last big lure fishing boom, largely promoted by P&P magazine.  I was trying to suss out these new big lures that were appearing and also y because I wanted to suss out various waters ahead of the winters.  In those days most of my summers were spent attempting to play cricket, I had no time for ‘summer species’.  Who knows if anyone will have any time for summer species this year, my next attempt at catching fish could be in the autumn and if you offered me that now, I’d take it!

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Shit or bust

I left the boat yard with a fresh westerly lumping the water, it was uncomfortable until I turned the corner.  The sky was gloomy but at least it wasn't raining, a rare thing indeed this Pike season.  A while later I was pulling the boat into the reeds in a favourite bay with previous spring time form.  Friday 13th, this would be my last trip to the special place for a while.  March is often shit or bust, most recent seasons have seen very tough fishing but every now and then it all falls into place.  I guess over the years about one March in three has been good?  Three good deadbaits and a live had been positioned around the boat, March more than any other time can be a waiting game.

The bay was unresponsive and by lunch time it was all change, the wind had swung and dropped, the sun was actually peeping furtively from behind the clouds.  I'd also changed swims and was fishing a spot that I rarely visit, an area that mad Neville Fruitcake had told me he'd once caught a whacker from.  As the swim was one I'm not so familiar with I twitched the baits back a bit every now and again, learning as I went.  At just after 1400 I was pondering another move but the float above a recently twitched Lamprey which had been cast parallel to the reeds caught my attention, had it showed signs of life?  Yes the float was causing a wake and as I reached for the rod the baitrunner began to tick.

The strike met with a thump and a head shake, small fish?  As I gained line a good weight could be felt on the line, not a small fish!  This Pike did nothing except hang and allow me to pump it back to the boat and straight into the net.  It was a good fish but not the monster that haunts my dreams.  Still big enough to require the scales and as I'm getting more efficient at self takes the camera came out too.  It dawned on me that this fish also represented a personal landmark from the special place, who'd have thought it when the addiction first took hold?

The rest of the day and the one that followed passed in pleasant conditions but no more Pike happened upon my baits.  I'm confident I was mostly doing the right things in the right places but March is often shit or bust.

And that as it turned out was my last Pike of the 2019/20 season.  I had planned another trip on a stillwater, to get rid of the old baits but events have overtaken us and that won't be happening now.  As things turned out I would have certainly settled for the fish that I managed to get in the net this winter but I'm rarely completely satisfied.  Autumn seems a long way away at the moment...

I am certain that I could go fishing tomorrow, not get within fifty yards of another human and spread no harm to anyone.  But it is only fishing and as much as I may crave the immersion in the countryside and the angling conundrum, staying away is the right thing to do.  For the first time in a long time, all of our waters will benefit from a closed season.  It's my nature to be frivolous but not today, stay safe, do the right thing, be lucky. 

Friday, 14 February 2020

Box ticked.

Two days off work, one is pretty much written off by a horrendous weather forecast which leaves today and I’m busy this afternoon.  I’ve set myself a target to catch a Pike from my local river and with a couple of spare hours in the morning it seemed an ideal opportunity to walk the river with a lure rod and try to tick the box.  The rod I chose was a light one that had been wasting away in the shed without a tip ring for a couple of years.  I’ve had the replacement ready to glue on for quite a while and had only recently got round to fixing it.  My destination was the old millpond where I’d caught my first ever Pike in 1979, a stretch I ‘ve hardly fished at all in the last quarter of a century.

I arrived in bright sunshine and mild conditions, the river looked idyllic and with the recent deluges it actually had a decent flow and a tinge of colour.  There was an old man float fishing in the pool, his beard reminded me that I hadn’t listened to Seasick Steve for a while.  I was loathe to disturb him but stopped and asked how he was getting on out of politeness.  Ten minutes later he was still talking and had hardly paused for breath; it seemed he didn’t see me as too much of a disturbance.  I eventually extracted myself and made my way a little further downstream where I tackled up with a 5” Shad and began to cast.  The river looked good and it didn’t seem too different from when I fished this stretch regularly as a kid but come summer I expect the reeds and undergrowth will have made it virtually unapproachable.  The far bank has changed though, thankfully there is enough vegetation to hide the houses that have been built.

I slowly made my way downstream running the shad through the deeper gullies and catching nothing but strands of weed.  All too soon I’d reached the railway bridge which is the limit to where I can fish these days.  I was still without my Pike and thinking the old man was sitting in the spot where I’d have the best chance.  I was alerted by a disturbance back upstream, the Mallards had scattered and there was some kind of bird repeatedly swooping and skimming the river surface.  When my eyes adjusted I realised it was a Sparrowhawk trying to catch a Kingfisher which was flying back and forth in panic.  After a few seconds the Kingfisher escaped and the hawk flew grumpily away.

Back to the fishing.  The swims by the bridge are a little deeper and were often a good bet for a Pike when I was younger but I was running out of options.  Then a cast flicked downstream suddenly went solid and yes I’d hooked a Pike.  The fish was small (but I hadn’t expected anything else) and was soon thrashing around on the surface, waiting for me to scoop it out with the net which looked massive in comparison.  I’d done it, a Pike from my local river.  One that would be eaten in a second by the fish I usually target but one that made me very happy nonetheless.  With that I swapped lures to a fat little crankbait and made my way back upstream.  Great tits chirped in the far bank trees, nothing else interrupted my lure and I was soon back at the pool.

I couldn’t avoid being trapped in another conversation with the old man and as the words flowed it became apparent that much of the fishing talk was fictional.  I may not fish this area much these days but I know there aren’t twenty five pound Pike or five pound Perch present, which is a shame.  It also gives me good reason to doubt the big Roach and Chub he’d told me about earlier.  Still he was a pleasant enough fella and said he didn’t mind me flicking my lure across the pool a couple of times.  This I did but with no result, shame, a huge river Pike would have gone down a treat!

In the end I spent a little less than an hour by the river but came away with a sense of accomplishment and a desire to return to other old haunts.  In the summer I have Gudgeon to catch but if I get the chance before the season ends another little Pike would be nice.

Saturday, 8 February 2020


I’d been looking forward to getting out fishing all week but when the alarm sounded it was an effort to haul myself out of bed.  I felt tired after a night of broken sleep and weird dreams.  In one I had been given the role of Jose Mourinho’s official digger driver and was tasked with digging up the pitch while he had an argument with Phil Thompson.  What the fuck is that all about?  Apart from following my home town team I don’t even particularly like football.  Getting up is always the hardest bit and once this was achieved I was soon putting the gear in the car and scraping ice off the screen.

My kids say I swear a lot and they’re totally fucking correct but with the standard of driving these days it’s hard to retain a pious vocabulary, especially when some wanker tries to overtake me on the roundabout.  After that my journey was uneventful and I managed to arrive at the lake unscathed with enough light to get the boat loaded without a torch.  No engines allowed here so I rowed across to an out of bounds area, secured the mudweights and commenced setting up.  As usual I used a couple of float leger rigs, one baited with half herring was cast towards a snaggy area but not too close as this one could be terminal if it goes wrong.  The second was a joey mackerel positioned on a nice drop off with no known underwater hazards.  On my third rod I used a paternoster rig which is still the best way to fish a suspended bait but has fallen out of favour because the tackle companies can’t sell you any fancy lumps of foam or balsa if you use it.  On this I mounted a smelt which I hurled as far as possible with the intention of twitching it back towards me.  With all this accomplished I sat back with a brew.

I wasn’t even half way down the mug when I noticed a tremor on the float cast towards the snag.  Usually when a Pike picks up a float legered bait there’s no doubt but on this occasion I wasn’t sure, however as I was close to a monster snag I wound down anyway.  There was nothing attached, like I said, usually with a float there’s no doubt.

The morning was cool and bright with a cloudless sky.  The wind was a fresh south easterly which had me huddled in the boat with my hood pulled over my cap.  A kingfisher zipped past, followed seconds later by another.  I’ve never managed a decent photo of one of these birds, fair play to those who do.  On the other hand the Kestrel stays in one place long enough for even the likes of me to shoot a few pictures, never professional quality but pleasing enough for me.

Just when I was thinking of a move the float cast towards the snag started  moving, definitely, and I sprang to my feet like the natural athlete I’m not but still quick enough to set the hooks and heave it out of harm’s way.  I soon had a small fish alongside the boat where I grabbed hold of the trace causing the Pike to thrash one more time and helpfully unhook itself.  The herring was still attached which was equally helpful so I sent it back out into the lake.  Twenty minutes later, shortly after twitching the paternoster, I heard a baitrunner clickety click and looked up to not see my float where it should be.  As I struggled out of my seat the clicking sound started again and kept going.  This time the rod took on a better curve and this fish pulled back a bit.  It looked a nice fish in the clear water so I decided to be sensible and use the net, once enmeshed the Pike shrunk a little but it was still the right decision.  Big enough to net but not big enough to require scales so I unhooked it in the net, there was no need to bring it aboard.

With two quick takes it looked like I may have dropped onto some fish but forty five minutes later nothing more had happened so I had a move.  An hour after that, still nothing had happened so I had another.  I was using the same methods, keeping the baits on the move and covering water but the Pike were not playing.  There still wasn’t a cloud in the pleasant blue sky but I was beginning to wish there was.  Were the fish spooky in the bright conditions and tap clear water?  With this in mind I had a third move, this time dropping into a reedy bay that looked like broadland.  Would the Pike be holed up in the reedbeds, out of the light?  If they were then they weren’t coming out for a deadbait.  What I was doing wasn’t working, I needed a change.

So I tidied the boat up but left one rod assembled and with a bit of a tweak it was set up to troll a deadbait.  I thought I’d have an hour exploring the shallow side of the lake, wondering if fish had moved into that area ahead of spawning, which with the recent day time temperatures can’t be far away?  I took to the oars with a smelt set about two feet down and headed off to rarely fished waters.  The float sank twice and both times I succeeded in winding in sizable branches without losing my bait.  As I entered a bay at the far end a small Pike hurled itself airborne in an attempt to eat my float and managed to not notice the bait.  I rowed a tight circle round the bay and as I exited this time the fish managed to nail my bait.  It was the smallest Pike of the day but welcome all the same.  I trolled on but with every stroke of the oars I was running out of unfished water.

By now it was early afternoon, I was in danger of becoming bored and honestly I just couldn’t be arsed any more.  Once upon a time I’d have fished on and would have been wracking my brains trying to come up with a solution but maybe I’ve learned that some days it just isn’t going to happen?  Or maybe today I just felt lazy?  I’d enjoyed myself but when it stops being fun it’s time to go home.   I know if I’d been afloat in Norfolk I’d definitely have toughed it out, come what may but I’m realising that the other places I fish just don’t motivate me in the same way.

It’s February already and the days are noticeably longer, I’m looking at the calendar plotting and planning where to spend the last few weeks of the season.  I know this time will fly by, it always does and at some point I’ll decide I’ve caught enough Pike for one year.  I hope it isn’t for a while yet though.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Milder than it could have been.

I lost a Pike the other day, it was only on for a second or two but it felt a good un.  What's more it was my fault, I fucked up, it shouldn't have happened.  Afterwards I was calm.  I didn't smash any tackle, or curse, I got a fresh bait back as quickly as possible.  Twenty four hours passed and it was still a niggle in my mind, it's going to stick in the memory, one that got away.  We all have such stories, I have a few, some that I've written about on here, time eases the angst and I can look back on many with a smile.  I can still see a big Norfolk twenty slowly sinking into the soup after the hooks came out a split second from the net.  What was that five years ago?  Probably more.  If anything these images are more vivid than the actual successful moments when there so many things to do and I'm too busy just dealing with the mechanics.

Two well published Pikers have had the Pikebook community chuntering recently.  The first from oop north has reveled in questionable Piking ettiquette over the years and was filmed last month demonstrating some dodgy handling techniques.  He didn't bother to use basic equipment that almost all anglers employ without a moments thought and generally set a piss poor example for someone who has managed to get two books on Piking published.  I haven't turned a page of either book but I have read his articles in which he demonstrates it's possible to get great enjoyment from Pike fishing without actually catching a great deal.  That's absolutely fine because compared to some that's what I do.

The other angler is Piking royalty and wrote what is unarguably one of the best books on our sport.  He's recently caught an enormous, fabulous Pike.  Nobody would begrudge him this, over the years he's been inspirational and informative, he will cherish this fish and appreciate it as he should; fair play, well done that man.  But if chapter two of this story is true he's also been guilty of staggering hypocrisy.

January taught me that although I love all forms of Pike fishing, even prolific fishing with lots of action doesn't give me the same sense of fulfillment as a tough day in Norfolk.  I may be insane but I still use a net, a cradle and a sling.

Friday, 24 January 2020

New year, same thing

I keep telling myself I’m going to do something different but the Pike gear is always ready and it’s just so easy to load up and go; besides I enjoy it and that’s the only important thing.  Recently I’ve been very lucky with conditions when I’ve fished, in fact I couldn’t have picked better weather.  Not surprisingly two trips afloat in a regular haunt have been productive, I haven’t really mixed the methods up much because I haven’t needed to, static deadbaits dropped into likely spots have been picked up regularly.  Over a dozen Pike in two trips with fish to over seventeen pounds, this is good fishing by anyone’s standards but the stretch is showing the signs of the over attention of other anglers.  Some of the Pike are showing the scars caused by people who don’t know how to unhook them; it looks like hooks have been ripped out, along with lumps of Pike.  Even in this out of the way stretch of water people will make the effort when the fishing is good, it’s just a shame they can’t make an effort to learn how to do it properly. 

On a recent trip I shared the boat with Mr W, a friend of many years who has only discovered angling in the last few months.  Having spent the summer catching silvers and Carp he wanted to try his hand at Pike fishing so we arranged a day.  In the meantime he went off and caught his first ever Pike which weighed over seventeen pounds so he was a very happy bunny.  We set off and I talked him through the methods as well as a few do’s and don’ts, I warned him that it would probably be a long time before he caught a Pike bigger than his first.  It didn’t take him long before he had his first Pike of the day and was delighted with a fish of around six pounds.  During the rest of the day I caught a few and he missed a couple but was learning all the time.  We had the radio in the boat, listening to England pile on the runs against South Africa which added to our enjoyment despite Talksport’s coverage being crap compared to TMS.  As the light began to fade all we needed was another fish to Mr W’s rod to cap a very enjoyable day.  Sure enough his smelt dropped close by a reedbed was taken and having learned from earlier mistakes he hooked a good fish that stripped line off the clutch and banged the rod over.  He brought it back to the boat where I managed to net it first time.  Parting the mesh revealed a much bigger fish than I expected.  As we were tied up to the bank we clambered onto dry land where I unhooked and weighed a belter of nineteen pounds.  Mr W likes this Pike fishing lark.

Having made a new year’s resolution to catch a Pike from my local river I set about trying to achieve this.  If I had any sense I would have fished one of the stretches I know well that have been productive for me in the past.  Instead I tried an area I’ve rarely fished that has only produced a handful of small Pike.  I set off with one rod, a net and a rucksack holding everything I might need.  I set up with a float rig and used this to trot a smelt down with the current, when I could trot no further I slowly worked the bait back upstream.  This method is good for covering water and has been very productive on this river in the past.  But not today.  I covered well over a mile of river but didn’t see a sign of a fish of any kind.  In hindsight maybe I should have used a lure rod as I could have covered water quicker but I doubt it would have made much difference.  I did see Kingfishers, Pheasants, Tits (!) and a Wren and very few humans but after a couple of hours I’d had enough.  Next time I’ll do things differently.