Friday, 24 June 2022

Saved by Rain

My next fishing trip saw me sitting on my familiar chair staring up at a rod tip framed by sky blue but this wasn’t a Suffolk beach, in fact it could hardly be more different. The date was a notable one for older anglers, June 16th and I was fishing for Barbel and Chub on a mighty western spate river.

Proposed months ago and planned weeks ago all of a sudden the day arrived, 15th June 2022, four fifty something blokes who have known and fished together since the early nineteen eighties and one laid back Retriever rendezvoused later than planned in a supermarket car park.  Our motivation was Barbel; when you live in Suffolk these creatures are a big deal simply because we don’t have any, it shouldn’t need saying but stillwater Barbel don’t count.  As a youngster I would read about these awesome river creatures that mostly lived in Wessex, never believing I’d actually see one but a few years ago, with help from a friend I actually caught a couple.  I was shocked when I realised almost twelve years had passed since that memorable day and eleven since I last visited the valley.  Time to get back.

We then set off on a journey across the country, in the middle of the day the traffic was lighter than either end, the car was hot but the journey was smooth.  By mid afternoon we were settled in to our own patch of field somewhere in border land where we idled away a few hours making last minute tackle adjustments and discussing how we thought things would go.  The forecast was against us, for the next two days we should expect the hottest weather of the year so far, the river was low too which wasn’t ideal but something we had expected.  We’d been warned off fishing opening week so expected the fishing to be tough, just one Barbel in the net would see me go home happy but we wanted June 16th to be special one more time.

In the evening we walked a mile or so up and down hills and over a brook to the local pub, here we bulked up on calories with steak and chips and a couple of pints.  The walk back in the dark was more wobbly and by the time we were back to camp I felt tired.  I zipped up the tent at a sensible time but I couldn’t sleep and it wasn’t because of the Owls in the trees, I was just too buzzed.

16th

No sooner were my eyes closed than I was awake again, it was growing light in the sky, three AM or something equally ridiculous.  It seemed to take ages to get sorted and away then the drive went on and on before climaxing with a treacherous slope.  We got out of the car and the scene was glorious, with mist rising the river valley looked beautiful, a steep wooded slope behind us framed the scene, we were here, June 16th!

We loaded up and went walking our separate ways.  I really fancied a deeper run below rapids but could find no access I felt safe using.  I stopped a little way downstream on the first of a series of Salmon groynes, Rich was downstream of me on the last.  The far side was shallow with a gravel beach and scrub willow, mid river was deeper and clear, my side was fast and shallow with a bit of weed.  Fish were topping, trout rising and Salmon leaping, from my own experience it felt right for a summer Chub and maybe therefore a Barbel?  The swim was rock and concrete but flat and comfortable, behind me trees on the rising hillside provided shade that would be crucial for survival during parts of the day. 

I started around 0500, casting regularly, in theory to get a bit of feed out there but in reality because I was getting knocks and rattles from the word go.  Downstream Rich was also getting bites regularly but he too failed to connect with any.  I was probably a little over eager and striking too early, put it down to excitement.  I fished with mostly an oozing pellet thing made by Sonubaits but switched to a 14mm halibut pellet from time to time during the day.  These were hair rigged and tipped with something recommended by a friend.  The rig was a simple running leger with a long two part hooklength and a strong size eight or ten hook.  Two or three ounce flat leads were used and attached to the swivel by a paper clip which would give way under pressure if snagged.  I mostly used a small PVA mesh bag of hemp and halibut pellets which I nicked onto the hook.  None of the above was my idea, it came from reading archive Lumbland from the days when Dave used to fish for Barbel.

Richard moved around 0615 and it was a short while after this that I had two sharp downward pulls on the tip, I was on my feet and attached to a fish.  The bite hadn’t screamed Barbus and there seemed a chub like resistance but this was due to the fish moving upstream of its own accord.  The weight began to grow as the fish hung in the current and I slowly gained line, a long bronze fish appeared in front of me for a second before powering suddenly away in a boil and this Barbel novice was taken unawares, too much too soon the hook pulled, it was gone.  Ninety minutes into the fishing, I’d had a chance but blown it.  By this time Kev had appeared, he’d been fishing upstream and seen the commotion so scrambled down to help (NB Where Kev goes so does Cooper, the world’s most chilled out retriever).  He seemed even more gutted than me but at that moment I was thinking positive, where there’s one there could be more. 

I fished on.  The knocks and rattles continued but the timing was all wrong, always while I was making up PVA bags or a cup of tea, never when I was poised.  I took to holding the rod and finally hit a bite, the fish had a bit of weight but quickly dived into weed where it seemed solid.  Steady pressure got it free then it was stuck again.  Eventually patience combined with pressure and I got the fish moving again, it was a Chub but lovely to get something in the net.  I used to do a little Chub fishing back in the previous century but had caught very few bigger than this one.  Kev had appeared again and took a quick photo before I slipped it back, I was off the mark and confident of more.


Time passed, the fishy action dwindled and the sun crept above the hillside, I moved the chair back further but eventually ran out of shade.  By the early afternoon the heat was unbearable and the fish had completely switched off.  We reconvened at the cars for a catch up and refreshments.  Kev had caught a few Chub as had Giles who’d been fishing upstream in a gorgeous but snaggy looking swim.  Rich hadn’t caught and regretted leaving his spot on the lower groyne so early in the day.  I walked up and down the stretch and although much of it looked fishy, a lovely mixture of shallow pacey parts and deeper slower stretches, nothing gave me more confidence than the spot I’d fished and fed through the morning so it was to there I returned.

I mixed up a bit of krill groundbait which I was able to mould around the lead and alternated between this and the mesh bags.  With the sun now behind the opposite trees the bites started again.  Occasionally one that was strikeable and there were a couple that I couldn’t work out how I’d missed.  I noticed that the action came quicker when I was using groundbait as opposed to the PVA bags.  But for all this I failed to hook any more fish and the fading light became almost dark too soon.  Back to the cars; Kev and Giles had added more Chub and Rich too was off the mark with a couple.  It had been a long, hot, gruelling day and we’d failed to catch what we’d crossed the country for but we’d loved it.

17th

Another scorching hot day, even worse than the first.  We didn’t get up quite so early and getting to the river didn’t go smoothly, just where do we leave the car?  It was like one of my weird pre fishing dreams, not the first time they’ve been prophetic.  We eventually got ourselves sorted, the stretch was known as Courtfield and it was nice but not in the same league as the one we’d fished on the first day.  The fishing was comfortable despite the steep banks but the river itself all looked samey, there was little to make one part stand out from the other.  It was a stretch with a history I was aware of; I’d stayed nearby in the past and had walked it at the time and found what had been written in the trees.  We spread ourselves along and gave it a go but there were far fewer signs of fish than the previous day.  We all felt we needed water with more pace and only Kev had any success with a couple of small chub caught trotting. 

As planned we left around midday and adjourned to the pub for sustenance then back to the camp for a siesta.  By 1800 the heat had eased off and we were back at the river giving it another go.  With the lower light levels the river seemed a lot more alive and I actually felt a fish might be a possibility which hadn’t been the case in the morning.  But it didn’t happen, for any of us and it was no hardship taking ourselves back to camp just after dark.  Today was a bit of a disappointment, the stretch was nice but didn’t compare to where we’d fished the previous day.  Mostly we’d been beaten by the heat, had we been at home we wouldn’t have left the house let alone tried to catch fish.  My bed beckoned early but sleep didn’t come easy.

18th

Another early start as the stretch we had booked was a bit of a drive away.  This morning was cloudy and much cooler with rain possible through the day but when we got to the river it looked gorgeous despite the gloom.  Upstream of the car was a long stretch of straight banks, steady flow and poor access which then shallowed up through groynes and riffles.  Downstream were more groynes and lots of depth changes and gravel bars.  But the spot directly in front of us looked best of all; here the river narrowed and boiled, bushes covered deeper water on the near side and opposite us it was shallower with a sandy beach, to me it just screamed fish.  Kev and Rich were happy to go wandering so I settled in with Giles just downstream of me.

I fished with the same methods that hadn’t produced any Barbel for the previous two days, I was sure what I was doing was not the problem, I just needed to put myself near some feeding fish.  I cast around the swim, alternated between bags and groundbait, switched hookbaits and even tried trotting but nothing happened.  Giles faired a little better fishing slightly downstream but bites were finicky and just one Chub succumbed.  It started raining around 1000 and pretty much rained all day, mostly pissy drizzly stuff but sometimes it got heavier.  I was wearing wet weather gear so just sat it out and stayed comfortable for most of the day.  By lunch time I was getting itchy feet despite sitting in a swim that looked cock on.  Sitting it out on the first day hadn’t worked, I had to move.

I found myself perched on the first of a series of groynes with a good flow, deep water close in and in the first few minutes had more action on the tip than I’d had all morning.  Once again this was in the form of knocks and rattles, there was nothing I could strike at.  It was during a period of heavier rain and deep gloom that my tip pulled steadily round.  It didn’t seem at all fishy but I felt obliged to lift the rod and see what was going on.  There was definitely weight on the line but it wasn’t kicking, as it got nearer I could see something long and thin that appeared fishy, what the hell was it?  It turned out I’d hooked a large, foul smelling and very dead lamprey.  I didn’t get too close, nicked the hook out with forceps but it was definitely Lamprey shaped only far bigger than the ones we use as bait and with a mottled colouration like a Catfish.  It was disgusting and seemed to be an ill omen in the deepening gloom.

After that I was done with the groyne so wandered down to an area of gravel runs, channels and much character.  I set up on a bar of gravel that was currently an island but would surely be underwater for most of the year.  Rich was fishing upstream of me and Kev was downstream on the end of the bar.  On my left was a narrow, tree lined channel while on my right the main river was wider but possibly a little shallower.  Both looked very fishy to me but I started off on the narrow side.  Here I had good bites on the first two drops, fishing halibut pellet on the hook and groundbait moulded around the lead.  I let the third bite go on a bit longer and hit it, a nice Chub fought well in the current and I was grateful to get it in the net, not a monster but even so I’ve not caught many better.  I had another decent bite on the next chuck but missed this one despite giving it a little longer.  After that I must have spooked them as I only received knocks and rattles.  I switched to the main river but here it was quieter, just enough movement on the tip to keep things interesting.  It looked good for a bite as the light faded but it wasn’t to be, by 2100 we were all tired and damp at best so made a sensible decision to get away.  It had been a grueller with just a handful of Chub between us.

19th

The last day.  As Giles and I were travelling back in the evening we were sensible enough to have a bit of a lay in or at least wake up without an alarm clock.  This gave us a chance to break camp and get some fuel on board but we were still hiking along the river side by mid morning.  Today was a mixture of sunshine and cloud, mild without being hot and with the previous days rain being carried the river looked in fine nick.  Laden with our kit we took a slow walk along the stretch which had better access than some though not necessarily where you’d want it.  We met Rich and Kev fishing a nice gravelly area mid way along the beat.  They’d had a couple of chub between them but we hadn’t missed any feeding Barbel.  Apparently there was a renowned swim nearby so I set off in search of it but by the time I had been hiking for ten minutes it became apparent that I’d missed it.  However I did find something very interesting.

I was almost at the end of the stretch when I came across a wider area of river with extensive shallows stretching out from my bank and a deeper far side.  I stood looking for long enough to work out that the shadows I was seeing were actually rocks and not fish but I also saw something long and bronze flash twice on the far side.  It could have been a big chub but my money was on Barbel.  I found a swim about forty yards upstream, here steep muddy steps led to a mound of rocks which had probably been a salmon groyne in the past.  Downstream on my side were the shallows I’d been watching, the far bank was a bit deeper.  Both banks were treelined but upstream it was narrower with bushes whose branches touched the water.  In front of me the water was relatively deep and boiling nicely but it was the downstream area that held my attention as this was where I’d seen a Barbel.  The swim would be cramped and uncomfortable and for a long moment I considered walking back to the infamous swim and fishing closer to my friends.  No, I’d seen the creature I’d travelled across the country for, if I didn’t give it a go here I could regret it forever.

With a tree above me I used the old eleven foot tricast and a shorter one piece hooklength made of 10lbs fluorocarbon.  I managed to jam the rod rest between two rocks, cast a halibut pellet upstream with groundbait moulded around the lead and set about organising the swim.  By carefully placing a few rocks I managed to set the chair up solidly and set about arranging my gear around me.  With this done I wound in for a recast and was surprised to find a small Chub had hooked itself, one that would definitely go in a bucket come winter.  The next cast downstream brought a proper bite and a bit of weight held in the current.  I brought it back towards me and had a bit of a tussle but it had nothing like the power of the fish I’d lost on the first day.  The net slipped under a good sized Chub which I weighed and found, as I suspected, it was my second best. 

I was running out of time and catching a Barbel was becoming less likely but I’d loved the unfamiliar style of fishing which had not been affected by being limited to one rod.  If anything the simplicity had made it more enjoyable.  The surroundings were so different to what I’m used to in East Anglia but the river reminded me of the one I’d grown up fishing as a kid in the seventies.  That one has dwindled and changed to become unrecognisable and the one before me was massive in comparison.  The handful of Chub I’d caught had not been what I’d come for but I’d not be going home too embarrassed.  As an angler I’d learnt loads, the fishing was engrossing and I’d felt I had a chance most of the time.

By now I’d switched to PVA bags and had been casting around the swim, trying different spots upstream.  There had been plenty of taps and twitches but only a couple of decent bites which I’d missed.  I’d been eyeing the upstream area and every time I’d looked it seemed a little better, it was deeper here but still boiling through with good pace.  I’d been fishing probably ninety minutes before I made a cast in this direction, landing three quarters the way across.  I don’t know how long it had been there before the tip pulled down in two fishy installments.  The old rod bent over with a decent weight as a fish moved steadily downstream, for a few seconds I held a weight that was growing with every one of them.  Then just like the one on the first day the fish woke up and powered off breaking my hooklength like an old worn fishing cliché, I’d lost another Barbel.

I should have felt gutted but although I’d fucked up on the first day I felt there was little I could have done on this occasion.  But what I could do now was up the strength of my hooklengths so tied a couple up with the 12lbs mono I had on the reels.  I still felt confident; in fact I was certain I’d get another chance so out went another PVA bag and a pellet hookbait but for a while things were slow.  After a few casts upstream without a pull I cast downstream once more and started getting chubby rattles.  Giles stumbled into the swim for a catch up and I told my tale of woe but while he was there I landed another Chub.  As he struggled back up the slope I joked he could have this swim if I caught a Barbel.

Around 1500 I dropped the bait upstream with an under arm swing.  As I sat down again the phone rang.  It was Rich, he’d caught a Barbel and was delighted, I was chuffed for him.  As we chatted my tip went round but I struck and missed it, I put the rod down and picked up the phone however the rod was still banging.  I hadn’t missed it, the fish had moved downstream and was still attached.  With the phone on the chair I gave Rich a running commentary as I brought another Chub to the net.  After hanging up I under-armed a bag and a bait into the same spot.

I hadn’t been sitting down long when the rod signalled two sharp but steady pulls.  The rod bent and once more the fish moved downstream giving no indication of size before the bending rod stopped it and it hung in the current.  I knew what was coming and was ready, the fish powered off taking line and I made no attempt to slow it.  I drew the fish back towards me and it powered off again, it was fighting hard but I felt in control, glad to have the extra power of the old rod.  I knew I’d have to get the fish upstream of the net and positioned things accordingly, first attempt and the fish powered off again but second time it went in.  Mission accomplished!  My lunatic laughter echoed down the valley as I grinned like a wanking monkey.

With the fish resting in the net I made the phone calls and received congratulations, Giles was nearest and was on his way.  While I waited I looked down at my Barbel, something I hadn’t laid eyes on for over a decade.  Long and bronze and gorgeous, not one that would ever have been considered big but size was totally irrelevant.  Giles arrived and took some pictures then we put a weight on it, modest but still a clear PB.  I was chuffed as nuts.  I felt confident of catching another but one was enough for me so I made one more cast while I tidied the gear away and left the swim to Giles.

I loaded the gear and walked back downstream, everything was right with the world.  I set off to find Kev and Rich but on the way I checked out a couple of swims, one of which looked both fishy and comfortable.  I found my friends and wandered into their large shared swim just in time to see Kev returning a Barbel, he too was off the mark.  Three grinning anglers shared a quick catch up then I wandered back to the swim I’d earmarked.  Getting into position was tricky but once in I was on a small gravel beach, surrounded by trees and cut off from the outside world.  By wading out a little I could cast easily so switched back to the twelve foot Barbel rod.  The far side of the swim was lined with tall trees and was deeper so I concentrated on this area, for the first couple of casts I used groundbait squeezed around the lead but reverted to PVA bags after.  Nothing much happened apart from a few minor chubby rattles but I didn’t care one bit, my little Barbel wouldn’t raise many eyebrows but it had made my week.

Time passed and it was looking like my idyllic swim wasn’t going to do what it promised.  The afternoon was drawing on and we were leaving later, I was considering a move downstream nearer to Rich and Kev.  But then something tried to pull my rod in the river, I managed to grab hold before it was successful and found myself attached to a decent fish holding position downstream of me.  I was able to bring it across to my side but still downstream of me and in faster water.  Slowly it came upstream, circled and as usual powered off again but I felt in control.  I was using the lighter rod but it felt nice and I was patient, having ‘survived’ the first run I was confident I’d get this one in the net which I did, eventually.  This one was smaller than the first but it didn’t matter.  I know that to many people these are just run of the mill fish but to a lad from the Barbel starved county of Suffolk they are creatures we only read about.  To catch one, now two of these mythical creatures was as good as fishing gets.

Giles materialised, he’d had a Chub or two but the only one of us not to catch a Barbel.  We both moved down to fish alongside Rich and Kev in the big gravelly swim.  While we were there Rich had a good Chub that pretended to be a Barbel then Kev caught the real thing and the lads posed for a photo but Cooper didn’t wake up.  All of us hoped Giles would break his Barbel duck and when his rod finally bent round all heads were turned.  The result was another Chub and the fishing had to come to an end for the day.

Four days spent in a fabulous, beautiful river valley.  Four days spent walking miles, clambering up and down banks and struggling to catch fish. Two days of baking, oppressive heat followed by a day of persistent, invading rain.  Then a day when it all came right, the weather was comfortable, the fishing was good and it was almost perfect, in the end it had been the rain that saved us.  Will I leave it so long between Barbel trips in the future?  Definitely not, it’s my kind of fishing in my kind of place.  Will I enjoy any subsequent days more than this one? 


Monday, 13 June 2022

Plan C

Saturday came around again and I looked forward to sitting comfortably behind a tripod once more.  The lure fishing had been an interesting diversion which will be repeated but I do prefer relaxing behind rods.  With high tide scheduled for around 2200 it meant I had a lazy day apart from a couple of odd jobs and a TMS soundtrack which helped move the hands of the clock.  Rain brought an early tea with NZ on top so with no cricket on the radio and it was a good time to hit the road.

I had a destination in mind but when I got there the car park looked busy, no matter I continued to plan B which is near by, basically another way of getting to the same place but this one was even worse.  Trying to find a space in either would be more hassle than I could be arsed with.  What should I do?  In the end I went for plan C, back to the steep beach.  Here I managed to find a bit of space but there were anglers coming and going all night, at one point I could see over twenty spaced out along a couple of miles either side of me.  People tend to keep to themselves, there is plenty of room and rarely any disagreements but the ambiance was spoilt somewhat.  By 1630 I was sitting comfortably staring up at two rod tips framed by sky blue.  The day was bright with a moderate south westerly, the sea was a bit lumpy and looked murky.  There was also a fair amount of weed drifting around which was bound to be a pain at times but I was there, doing what I’ve grown to love.

Three hours later, I was blasted by a wind that was coming from an unexpected direction, not the westerly I’d been promised, the crabs had been feasting and stripping hooks but at least the amount of floating weed had decreased and I hadn’t seen a sign of a bite.  Still I was content because anglers either side of me weren’t winding them in either and I know the best time was yet to come.  As usual I used a heavy rod blasted out and a lighter rod which I varied, in other words the methods that usually work but tonight they weren’t.  More time passed, the tide reached its highest, the sky grew dusky and an angler close by caught a small Ray but still my rod tips hadn’t registered anything overtly fishy.  As usual the wind died away at dusk and the evening became suddenly warmer.

Head torch time and by now the sea was going backwards, will the darkness make any difference?  I chucked out a lump of bluey intending to only leave it a few minutes while I whipped up another disgusting squid/crab sushi nightmare.  Then it happened… Rat a tat tat followed by a slow steady pull.  I was on my feet and attached to something with a bit of weight which allowed me to haul it back.  After a bit of tugging in the surf I pulled it up the beach, my first Ray of the year!  It was just a small one but that didn’t matter, it was one of the sea creatures that motivate me most and was a little beauty.  Blank avoided, confidence restored there was time for another one.  I fished on for another hour then suddenly felt fatigued, time to get home to a comfortable bed.

It’s mid June now so I suppose spring has now become summer.  My diary reveals I’ve fished ten times in the brine this year catching over sixty fish of nine different species.  It feels like I’m starting to get amongst the more interesting fish even if they are only small ones so far but the next time I fish I’ll be doing something completely different. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Casting and hoping

The week ticked past again but things didn’t look good for an evening on the beach; high tide was due in the middle of the afternoon but this alone wouldn’t have put us off, a fresh north easterly blowing straight into our chops was the clincher.  To be honest I was tempted to just go anyway but in the end Giles and I came up with another plan, we’d fish an estuary for Bass.  But this also had its problems as our ‘secret spot’ would be getting the full force of the wind too and when I say secret spot I actually mean only spot.  This was something we needed to change and we also had another big box unticked, neither of us had ever caught a Bass on a lure, maybe fishing mobile we could put this right and find other places to fish?

We started with a tip off, a spot where a friend had caught them on lures in the past and with the help of Google earth we had a plan.  Next I needed lures which should be no problem as I have boxes and boxes of the things in the shed.  But it turns out that I didn’t have too many that inspired confidence, a small Pike lure looks a bit big for catching Bass.  In the end I selected a spinner, a couple of rubber sandeel looky likey things, a Thunderstick plug and a couple of spoons including a ‘Dexter Wedge’ which is a shiny chunk of metal that looked like it would cast miles.

We arrived at a car park on top of a hill and strolled down towards the river, when we reached the water the wind was blasting us.  We began fishing around 1430, I was using an eight foot light spinning rod and clipped on the wedge and yes it did cast well, covering plenty of water or the upper layers at least, anything that sank down became enveloped in weed.  We walked on casting here and there all the time approaching a narrower stretch where we’d been tipped off Bass would be present.  The area was very weedy which restricted the spots we could fish and consequently we covered ground quickly, eventually reaching the feature we’d been seeking.

This was an area of concrete structures, rocks, islands and channels, depending on the state of the tide.  At times the water ripped through quickly, later it was barely a trickle.  We stood side by side with the wind on our backs casting, switching lures from time to time and trying to find something that would work.  After a while I had a definite pull on the wedge but didn’t hook up, at least this gave us confidence to keep going.  We moved again to a spot where the rising tide was ripping through with pace, it looked good but was carrying quite a bit of weed which made fishing difficult.  We stayed here, going through the lures, looking for something that would do the trick, it was fun but we weren’t catching anything.

The ripping current slowed down then turned completely around within a couple of minutes, soon the water was creeping backwards and exposing more snaggy structure.  Giles yelled, he was in! But then it went slack again.  We told ourselves where there was one there’d be more.  The lowering water level would surely concentrate any fish?  We kept casting and hoping.

Another short move and we resumed, after a few casts it happened, Giles hooked a fish on a spinner and soon swung in our first lure caught Bass, result!  A few minutes later I also hooked one having switched to a spinner myself but this one didn’t stay hooked.  It seemed there were fish in front of us but this situation didn’t last, the water drained away and soon we were fishing in only inches.  I moved back to the fast water spot but by now I was tired and going through the motions.  I was pretty much beaten but decided to clip on the spinner again and try to cover a band of clear water between two muddy areas.  Then it happened, something latched onto my lure and pulled back, I carefully led the fish towards me and up the muddy bank, I’d done it, a silver bar – my first Bass on a lure.  This gave us another short lived boost of confidence and lures were hurled with enthusiasm once more but the tide was now running out quickly, as was our energy.  With a fish each and new ground covered we’d done what we set out to do, now where did we leave the car?


Monday, 30 May 2022

Entranced

On paper everything looked spot on; high tide around 2310 just after dark, just how we like it.  The weather was kind too, cool with a light northerly but dry and bright, things should be comfortable on the beach.  But which beach?  Giles and I discussed it on the drive along ever narrowing lanes.  We fancied a change to our usual haunt and the timing of the tide brought shallower areas into play, in our inexperienced minds at least so we headed for Radar beach and arrived around 1845.

The cloud had drifted out to sea leaving a clear, hazy evening.  I could feel the north wind as we loaded up in the car park but our hike took us into a sheltered spot where we would spend a comfortable evening, despite the gentle breeze the waves were rolling and booming but we were comfortable.  As usual I had two baits in the water long before Giles who didn’t help his cause by leaving his bait in the car.  By the time he returned I hadn’t had a bite which was to be expected as he always catches the first few fish.  Sure enough he had bites straight away and managed to connect to two decent dogfish in fairly quick time.  I hadn’t had a bite just the rhythmical rod nodding with the flow, even the crabs were absent. The sun sank below the mound and the layers went on. 

Around 2100 I rigged up a hermit crab and tried to launch it with the heavy rod but the sky was light enough for me to see half my bait fly off.  I wound in to find I still had a decent lump of crab bound to the hook so bulked it up by whipping a slice of squid around it.  This unusual bait (for me at least) was successfully hurled a respectable distance, I tightened up to a nice curve then left it on the tripod while I sat down to whip up a proper bait to replace it.  As I did so I glanced at my rattle free rod tips every few seconds, a few minutes past then I done a double take after realising the heavy rod had straightened.  Whipping the bait was forgotten, I quickly wound down and pulled into a reasonable weight, it felt decent maybe my first Ray of the year?  As usual the resistance seemed to lessen as it got nearer the shore but when it reached the surf it woke up and started running down tide.  At this point I was wondering if I had a decent bass but the next wave revealed a Smoothound, not a big one by any measure but twice as big as any I caught last year and I was delighted. 

By now it was dusky and as usual the dropping light brought on another spell of activity.  It wasn’t hectic but we both had bites regularly, almost all of them coming to bigger baits fished further out.  On my light rod I tried big baits and small baits, varying the distance from a gentle flick to a full blooded cast.  Whatever I tried I only had one noticeable rattle on it all evening.  We missed a couple but each landed two more Dogfish and with high tide still to come we were confident of more.  The larger waves were now slapping our tripods so we hastily retreated our camp backwards a few yards.  In the dark there’s less to look out, the rod tips in the torch beams became the whole world but unfortunately they weren’t doing anything unusual.  Time passes quickly when you become entranced, two hours passed in a blink and without a knock.  It was time to leave.  The evening hadn’t gone as we’d expected but when do they ever?  Still we'd had a few fish each and I was well chuffed with the little Shark.

Monday, 23 May 2022

Bernard Gonad and friends

I didn’t fish last week, that slot in the diary was taken up with an afternoon in the park, sitting around in the sun with my fishing pals and our families.  We ate cake, drank beer and played a very gentle game of cricket on a green strip full of mounds and pot holes.  In fact it was so unpredictable it hindered the bowler more than the batsman but I swear I’ve played league cricket on worse around the county of Suffolk.  A lovely afternoon but as the days ticked over I’d missed my fishing fix and Saturday couldn’t arrive soon enough.

Giles picked me up around 1300, with high tide due around 1600 we hoped to set up a couple of hours before then fish through and into darkness.  At home the weather was warm with sunny spells and a light westerly, this should be blowing off our backs and make for a comfortable evening.  As we’d be mostly fishing an ebbing tide we figured it made sense to fish the steep beach where we would always be in reach of deep water.  The car park was busy when we arrived, loads of other anglers had the same idea which meant a long, sapping walk along the shingle to find some space.  I was confused whilst setting up, the wind wasn’t where I’d left it, it was now blowing the wrong way, a south easterly right into our chops.  The sky was clear but the sea looked murky, we set up quickly confident of catching fish.


I’d brought a right old selection of baits but I started with squid on both rods while I got settled in.  Once I was comfortable I used Ragworm on the light rod which I mostly fished very close in.  Rag is usually productive bringing lots of bites from all kinds of species but fish can nick it off the hook easily too so requires constant attention.  On the heavy rod I used tougher longer lasting baits, mostly squid but I was also trying frozen peeler and hermit crabs.  But after an hour I hadn’t seen a proper bite on whatever I chucked out and on most casts the ragworm was disappearing.  I persevered with this bait because Bass like it but in hindsight it wasn’t staying on the hook long enough for a Bass to find it.

As usual Giles caught the first fish, a couple of Whiting and a Pouting.  He’s been doing well lately on strips of mackerel, a bait which is tough enough to stay on the hooks long enough for a fish to hang itself.  I think his flapper rig with short hooklengths gives better bite indication too but I like to stick to the long trace as I’m lead to believe its better for Bass and other, bigger species.  Eventually I saw a strange vibration on the light rod and managed to hit a bite which lead to my first fish of the day which was small, brown and flat, my first Flounder of the season. 

High tide came and went with just the odd rod tip rattle.  I stuck it out with the ragworm but experimented with the range I fished at.  Casting just a little bit further out I could at least see bites and if I wasn’t quick enough at least I knew when the bait would need changing.  I managed to catch a Pouting and a couple of crabs.  Meanwhile Giles managed another Whiting and the anglers within sight didn’t seem to be doing any better than us.  Around 1720 with the sea receding I noticed an angler about a hundred yards to the south of us was well bent into something, he dragged a creature out of the surf and lifted up what was clearly a decent sized Ray.  Within minutes I had a proper pull on the heavy rod and I too found myself connected to something with a bit of weight.  As I gradually pumped it towards me I was convinced I was into a Ray, not necessarily a big one but heavy enough to make its presence felt.   It was a little bit of an anti climax when I dragged a Dogfish up the beach but it was a brute and probably the biggest I’ve caught so far.

That signalled the start of a flurry of bites to us both, Giles had a Doggy and regularly wound Whiting up onto the shingle.  I was actually managing to see bites on ragworm and caught a succession of Pouting on the light rod.  I also had two proper, unmissable bites on the heavy rod which I somehow managed to convert into fuck all.  I think I get to excited when the heavy rod hoops over…  No time to get frustrated though as I needed to get a bait back out quickly.  It felt like every cast would bring something momentous but the feeding spell ended and things slowed down again.  By now it was about 1830 and we felt now it was a case of waiting for darkness when we were confident of more action.  This slow period was interrupted by a decent bite on my heavy rod baited with peeler crab.  I made another hash of the strike but still managed to connect to a something that didn’t feel heavy.  When it arrived on the beach it was a funny shape and almost red in colour, what the hell was it?  I knew what it was, I’d seen one before.

Sometime in the mid seventies we had a family holiday in Sussex, our family of four were joined by relatives; Uncle Charlie and Auntie Grace.  We did a bit of fishing off the beach but Dad was not particularly motivated and Charlie spent most of his time trying to untangle things.  In the two weeks we were there we didn’t angle a single fish but I managed plenty of crabs and a few miniature fishy things by dipping my net into pools.  Other anglers were more successful and we saw Plaice and Flounder caught at night and during the day someone caught a beautifully coloured creature which he put in a bucket and which I couldn’t help staring at.  This fish was a Gurnard and forty five years later this was what I had caught today.  It wasn’t a very big fish but it was beautiful with a reddish brown body and ITFC blue pectoral fins.  I was well chuffed, another first and I think the eleventh different species I’ve managed to catch in the last two years.  Like every daft carp angler I christened this fish with an appropriate name, Giles gave it an inappropriate one.

With the sky darkening we moved our kit down the beach to be closer to the receding tide.  I switched the light rod over to a two hook flapper baiting one with squid and the other with worm.  I figured if I missed a bite I should at least have some squid remaining on the hook.  Nightfall did bring a slight increase in activity, mostly on our lighter rods fished very close in; Giles had a couple more Whiting and I had a couple more Pouting.  This was all very well, after all catching fish is the aim but Pout wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind.  Tonight I’d have been better off without the ragworm, it became a distraction but having bought live bait I felt obliged to use it, another night it could make all the difference?

We fished on but the bites dwindled and it was no hardship winding the rods in at around 2300.  The tramp back with feet shifting in slipping shingle was tough, when we reached firmer ground it was as if we’d been fitted with turbos.  As usual we were dog tired and reeked of squid and other unpleasant substances and as usual we’d enjoyed it.  It was good to sink into a comfortable car seat and ride home through rural Suffolk listening to soothing sounds from these chaps.



Saturday, 14 May 2022

Its just good fun...

Away to the coast again, this time with Giles.  We headed in the usual direction but which beach did we fancy?  We didn’t make our minds up where to go until we were well into the journey when somehow we managed to talk ourselves into fishing ‘Long hike beach’.  The lure of a Ray persuaded us to step out of our comfort zones and give ourselves a workout which we certainly got and it was a relief to put the gear down and gaze at the beach in front of us.  The evening was dry and mild but a breeze from the sea prevented us getting too warm and when the sun drops we’re always glad of extra layers.

We set up around 1830, with me using the usual methods that I am comfortable with.  Things were quiet to begin with and typically I was set up quickest but Giles caught the first fish, his first sea creature of the year was a Dogfish.  High tide was due after midnight which meant darkness fell on a rising tide and sure enough the fading light brought the fish on.  We had flurries of bites throughout the evening, catching fish in fits and starts, mainly Dogfish with the occasional Whiting, I had one of 33 cm which might be a PB.  Last time I’d fished here the bites had seemed relentless but tonight I liked the fact that it wasn’t non stop; firstly it was more relaxing and also it made me feel like the baits were staying in tact long enough to enable a Ray to find them?

Tonight it was the big bait at range that brought more bites so I started putting bigger baits on the lighter rod and varying the range.  I was enjoying catching the smaller species but it’s the thought of a Ray that motivates me.  We fished through the high tide and packed up around 0130.  The big Ray didn’t put in an appearance tonight but we enjoyed the evening finishing with about a dozen dogs and a few Whiting.  If the walk out seems long then the return hike feels never ending and the comfortable car seat most welcome.

A week later…

 This sea fishing lark ticks the boxes and I really look forward to my fishing fix these days so the working week dragged by but eventually Saturday comes…  The drive east caused me concern as the clouds were thickening and dropping drizzle neither of which had been forecast, the roads were soaked with huge puddles in some places but just a couple of miles from the coast the sky miraculously cleared.  When I pulled up at the Steep beach rain didn’t seem at all likely.

The high tide was due around 1600 so I was in position and fishing a couple of hours before, despite a spectacular crack off on my first cast.  About forty five minutes later Giles staggered smiling across the shingle and unloaded his mound of gear.  The weather this afternoon was weird; inland just a few miles was thick cloud kept at bay by a moderate north easterly.  Above us the sky was clearer with the sun poking through at times but a few miles out to sea there was more cloud which never seemed to get any closer.

I’d been fishing about an hour when Giles made his first cast but as usual he caught the first fish, A whiting and soon followed it up with a second, this time a Pouting.  He’d started getting rattles from the off and this didn’t stop, he wound in a few crabs before adding another Whiting.  I laughed and remarked that I was yet to see a proper bite and almost straight away the light rod started going and as I stepped towards the tripod the heavy rod joined in.  I picked up the latter and felt a bit of weight which seemed to get lighter as it neared the beach, my first of the day turned out to be a decent sized Dogfish, noticeably paler and with smaller spots than most I’ve caught lately.  The high tide period brought another fish for both of us.  Giles another Whiting and I had another Doggie which could have been the twin of the first, then things went quiet.

The early evening saw the tide gradually slip back down the beach and the when the sun was below the cloud it was clear and bright for a while.  The bites dried up and now we knew we were waiting for darkness to come.  A kind angler who had been fishing nearby passed us his unused ragworm as he stamped up the shingle which gave us another option.  The wind was supposed to ease as the day wore on but this didn’t happen there were fresh gusts through the evening but it stayed dry.

The bites started again just before the head torch became necessary and were sporadic for the couple of hours we stayed into darkness, despite the tide going all the way out.  I had a decent Whiting on the big bait and ragworm accounted for another along with a couple of Pouting on the other rod, Giles had similar results.  As usual we missed plenty and lost a fish or two each.  It was one of those nights when I know we could have continued catching but it had been a long session and we were both knackered.  The walk back to the cars was shorter than some but sapping all the same.  There’s a simplicity to our version of sea fishing which really appeals to me, especially as it comes after a winter of getting in and out of boats.  These two trips saw modest catches - nothing to get excited about but the novelty is yet to wear off, its such fun! 

Friday, 22 April 2022

Comfortable

A short notice change of shifts brought an unexpected opportunity to fish; it would have been rude not too…  A bright sunny day with a decent wind from the east which would be in my chops, high tide was due at 1440 or thereabouts, the night time tide would have been stretching convenience so it has to be daytime.  I’m going but where?

I left home after the worst of the rush hour and trundled eastwards but I still hadn’t made up my mind.  Well actually I made up my mind about three times then changed it again.  The turn off approached, it really was time to decide but I didn’t, I simply didn’t turn off, which kind of means I did, in a way.  Fifteen minutes later I parked, hoisted my gear and began the trudge to Radar beach.  The first thing I noticed was plenty of snags that weren’t evident before.  I’m guessing winter storms scoured the beach which certainly looked a little steeper?  By 1030 I had the usual heavy rod/light rod combination set up and cast out with lumps of squid and bluey being boiled in the tide.  The wind was cutting but I managed to get the oval securely in place which provided much needed cover from wind and sun.

My first retrieve of the heavy rod revealed the bait had been stripped, evidence of crabs being active?  But the light rod provided a surprise, a Whiting had hung itself and the blank had been avoided.  Time passes quickly on the beach, the rods nodded rhythmically, waves boomed against sea defences, the sea crept up the beach with a crash and roar and I was catching fish despite not being to spot any proper bites.  One time when the tip did bang round with purpose I hooked something with a bit of weight which came up to the surface, as Dogfish often do, then splashed and shed the hook.  This was frustrating, not because it felt particularly heavy but more because I’ll never ever know what it actually was.

I fished through high tide and an hour or so afterwards, still hoping for the Ray that rarely shows up.  By 1600 I was tired and began the slow tidy up.  My tally at the end was four Dogfish and eight Whiting most of which would have made a meal.  A dozen fish beached and a couple more lost but the strange thing is I only actually saw about three proper bites all day.  How does that happen?

This time last year I hadn’t yet plucked up the courage to fish in the sea but this year I’m four trips along the way and feeling comfortable with how I’m fishing.  I’m also catching plenty of fish but apart from the one Eel I’ve only been catching Whiting and Dogfish.  The doggies are all of a decent size, usually give the tip a good whack and let you know you’ve hooked them.  Once caught they still don’t want to give up, twisting and writhing while I try to get the hook out they have a thuglife attitude.  Apparently there’s a way to peel the skin off them and then they make a good meal but it all seems a lot of faff to me.  Many of the Whiting have been of edible size too but I keep making the same mistake.  I catch a decent one and think “that’s a meal for one, shame I haven’t got another…” so chuck it back then go and catch another good sized one.  I did it about five times on this trip.  So far so good but these aren’t the fish I’m really interested in; there are a few Rays being caught, the Bass are arriving and the Smoothounds won’t be far behind.  Catching these smaller fish is fun but will only hold my interest for so long, as with all the fishing I’ve ever done it’s the rarer, sometimes bigger fish that motivate me.