Monday 28 July 2008

Fun in the Fens

0830 Saturday morning, I had just put the kettle on when Isaac bounded excitedly down the stairs; “Dad! Are we going night fishing today?” My kids have been coming night fishing in the summer since they were three or four years old. I don’t have to press gang them into it, they love it! This is great because I’m able to share my passion; show the kids some nature in wild places, hopefully educating them a bit in the process and it also gives me the opportunity to fish for Zander a few times each year. A few hours later, the car had been packed to the roof with gear and provisions for the kids; Madison, Isaac, nephew Oliver and myself. There is a spot I know on a large fenland river, quiet, miles from anywhere, safe and child friendly. We arrived there in the early afternoon to find the gate locked, bugger!

Now that really pees me off because I’ve been fishing that particular stretch for about fifteen years without any problem. Last summer there was an accident on a railway bridge about half a mile downstream. Lots of lifting equipment had to be employed and there was a major hassle repairing the damage, gates were installed at access points up and downstream which was fair enough. Now a year on the work is finished but we are still locked out. It seems some selfish bar steward doesn’t want us to enjoy ourselves on a free stretch of river.

All was not lost, half an hour later we pulled up at another stretch which was shown to us by a friend (Thanks Chris!). It was a very hot, humid afternoon and by the time we had carried a mountain of equipment across the field I was sweating my cobblers off. The kids began fishing almost straight away, using a whip, maggots and a little groundbait to catch whatever swum past. Meanwhile I began setting up the tent, sleeping bags and equipment for the kids before beginning to organise my own fishing equipment. The first rod I put out was a feeder to target the Bream that can sometimes be caught in large numbers on this river. This stretch is lovely and perfect for our requirements with a nice meadow between the flood bank and the river. This area is usually quiet with very few other anglers which has to be a consideration when I take the kids. They are not there purely for the fishing and during the daylight hours they love to run around, explore the meadow and search for the animals, birds and bugs. Another consideration has to be safety and here we have nice shallow margins and I they have to stray a long way to be out of sight. A gravel pit carp fishery would not suit our needs in any way although I must admit I would get a laugh fro my kids winding up the bivvy brigade.

One slight drawback of fishing this river is the holiday boat traffic. As an angler I can fully understand the appeal of a week afloat like that but there are a few things that puzzle me. For example; why oh why do people buy those bloody stupid captains hats when they commence their holiday? Do they really think they are funny? When there is the whole width of the river why do they feel the need to brush the edge of the lily pads so close to where we are fishing? Finally, when there are hundreds of miles of river in the fens, why did that elderly couple choose to moor up for the night virtually opposite us? I’m sure this was a decision they regretted when the kids woke up noisily at 5am the following morning!

As usual setting up the Zander rods and getting everything ready for the night ahead takes all afternoon as I had to be constantly untangling lines, removing weed, unhooking fish and generally doing all the things a Dad does when he takes his kids fishing. Isaac seemed a little bored as the Bream, Rudd, Roach and Perch they were catching just weren’t as exciting as the Pike he’s become used to seeing. Madison hadn’t been fishing since this time last year and I was really pleased to see that being a year older, bigger and stronger she could handle the whip easily on her own. Oliver hasn’t fished much in the past but as the afternoon wore on he got more opportunities as his younger cousins became distracted by chasing butterflies and making friends with horses. It’s not just the fishing that the kids love; it’s the whole experience of camping in the countryside. Not forgetting the sausage sarnies of course!

By the early evening we had a net full of silver fish, plenty of bait for the night ahead and the occasional larger Bream has succumbed to the feeder rod. The kids had become a bit more settled now, either in the tent or sitting on chairs. Isaac drew pictures whilst Madison made a list of all the animals, birds and fish she had seen during the afternoon. Oliver was still enjoying catching fish and I promised him the next bream on the feeder rod. By 8pm my Zander rods were baited and ready; A running Paternostered livebait in the middle, a ledgered deadbait upstream and a popped up live downstream. All we needed now was something with teeth to swim along. It didn’t take long for the Paternostered bait to be taken but the culprit removed the bait from the hooks and made its get away.

I love it when the sun slowly sinks and the sky becomes full of colours, not only does the river scene look beautiful with this backdrop but I feel confident that a fish or two will come on the feed. The kids were still wearing tee shirts but had a heavy coating of bug spray to keep the swarms of gnats away. Luckily none of us are of the Mosquito’s preferred flavour as we rarely suffer from their bites. Some people really suffer but not us, maybe we have tough skin? With sausage sandwiches and hot mugs of tea inside us we watched the sun sink and enjoyed each others company. Gathering clouds prevented any star gazing but Isaac looked skyward and was excited to see the first bat of the evening fly over. The Zander were not playing ball as all I had was a couple of bleeps on the paternoster rod that I put down to an over active bait. However when I wound that rod in the bait had been robbed again.

By eleven o clock the kids were yawning and were ready for their sleeping bags. I switched the upstream deadbait rod for another popped up livebait. I used to feel confident with fresh deads but in recent seasons, all these have produced are Eels so it was three livebaits for the night. Just as I began to settle down it started raining, quite heavily and I dozed off to sleep with the sound of increasingly heavy rain pounding on my little pop up bivvy.

Perhaps ninety minutes later two quick bleeps on the alarm had me wide awake and bolt upright, however nothing developed. I sat feeling very damp around the usual place and unable to sleep, my confidence was draining away. No Zander had put in an appearance and after having my bait robbed twice I was beginning to wonder if I had anything on my hooks. My doubts were shattered when at around 2am the BBBB alarm signalled a take on the upstream rod and I wound into my first Zander of the season which was soon bullied into the net. The kids had assured me they wanted to be woken up if I had a Zander in the net but I failed to rouse them though it has to be said I didn’t try too hard! The fish would have weighed around five pounds, by no means a monster but a first of the year and very welcome.

The night passed slowly with hardly any sleep despite trying to imagine being on a desert island with ‘Destiny’s Child’. However I was happy to witness the silhouettes of a pair of foxes as they stalked along the floodbank opposite. How many people see these things without the aid of David Attenborough on TV? Usually when I fish a night like this I tend to sleep when the sun comes up, which is a bit strange but this time it was not to be. At 5am the upstream rod screamed off, which woke Madison who in turn woke the whole camp and almost certainly the boat moored just upstream LOL! This was another Zander, slightly larger at around six pounds and all three kids were up and out of the tent in time to see me slip it back. There was no chance of anymore sleep now so the kids began fishing with the whip and I made us a nice fried breakfast. By seven o clock we’d taken our species count to seven by catching Bleak and Gudgeon. A little while later the Paternostered livebait was taken, this time a small Pike was responsible taking the count to eight!

By now the sun was up and the overnight rain was evaporating, allowing me to pack up the tent and tidy the gear away. Chris came down for a chat and helped us pack away. We were treated to the spectacle of a brood of young Kestrels flapping about a willow tree. The kids would have gladly stayed a while longer and continued fishing but I was knackered and needed to get away. The humidity was intense and I was glad to pull away with fresh air blowing in through the open car windows. A really enjoyable night and before long we’ll be back again, I can't wait!

Sunday 20 July 2008

Back in the boat

I was up at 0435 bleary eyed, the kettle boiled while I dressed myself. The boat had been hitched and the car loaded the previous evening so by 0500 I was on the road. Fifty minutes later I pulled up at the river and set about getting the boat loaded and prepared while the wheels on the trailer cooled. By 0615 I was on the river, trolling two rods with a smile on my face. Boats can be a hassle but once afloat its heaven, worth the early start and every bit of effort.

The river looked good, fairly clear and any drifting weed was being kept at bay by a fresh breeze from the west. The day began clear and bright, pleasant to fish in but not ideal for the fish, particularly the Perch. I used my usual tactics, a big lure for Pike – once again I opted for the Salmo Skinner, as well as a medium sized lure which would attract Perch too. I selected the Heddon Lucky 13 which had been successful for Josh a fortnight ago. I had a third rod in the boat for smaller lures aimed at catching the Perch. It was nice to have the boat to myself and for once everything was neat and organised, all I needed now was to find some fish.

A herd of cows stared at me while I toodled past, a Barn Owl gracefully flew across the river ahead of me and a Kingfisher darted along the river. A pair of swans and their brood tried to outpace me and I was surrounded by the peeps and squawks of waterfowl. This fenland oasis in glorious summer greens looks so different to the bleak winter wilderness I am more familiar with. All was right with the world but after ninety minutes and nearly five miles I hadn’t had a touch! I’d passed through a stretch between two side drains that had been red hot last season, my lures were in the zone, virtually untroubled by weed but nothing had touched them. What was going on?

As I neared the next ‘hot area’ at last the lucky 13 was nailed but this fish was off the hooks again straight away. At least things were looking up and I carried on with renewed confidence. The Lucky 13 was fished about 15 to 20 metres behind the boat, with the rod in a holder. Because this lure runs shallow it can be left while I concentrate on the rod being held. The Salmo lure runs to about three feet deep and brushes the top of the weed in places so requires more attention. By raising the rod tip the lure can be made to veer to the side and rise in the water, bringing it right to the surface in this way often triggers a take which can be visual and very exciting. I’d just raised the lure like that when a decent sized Pike swirled at it but missed, bugger! Seconds later I was contemplating turning the boat to cover it again when the Lucky 13 was nailed, fish on! I soon had a nice fish by the boat which I guessed around twelve pounds, I took a photo of it in the water before unhooking it without lifting it out or touching it in any way.

I was off and running and it was only a couple of minutes before the Salmo was nailed and fish number two brought to the boat. I went through this stretch of water a couple of times taking two more small Pike, one on each lure and lost a couple then stopped for a tea break. My plan was to now do away with the large lure and replace it with the lighter set up to target the Perch. While the tea was brewing I had a few casts with an Ondex spinner and hooked a fish almost straight away. I hoped it was going to be a Perch but no, another Jack. After a cuppa and a bite to eat I resumed trolling for the Perch, covering the area that had produced several nice fish in the past but all I caught was more Pike on the Lucky 13. This was good fun but I really wanted to catch Perch, perhaps the bright conditions were putting them off? I have to admit as far as Perch goes, if plan A fails then I can’t draw on much experience to come up with a plan B.

By 1030 the first narrow boats and holiday cruisers had started to plough their way down river. The water coloured up considerably and the wash dislodged lots of drifting weed which started to foul the lines. I switched back to the Salmo Skinner and added a couple more Jacks but the further upstream I went, the water became more coloured and the weed more difficult. The highlight of the return was two male Kestrels; one had a catch in its claws which the other desperately wanted to steal. They dropped below the flood bank and out of site so I’ll never know which one was victorious. By 1215 I was back at the launch site, preparing to hitch the boat again for the long tow home. My reward for all the effort, apart from the pleasure of spending a morning in a wild, angler free corner of fenland, was nine Pike to the boat and another three or four which slipped the hooks. Very nice, in five trips with lures I’ve caught thirty Pike (+ a few Perch) but this is by no means exceptional for these waters. Anyway that’s enough Pike for now, time for some very different fishing next time out.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Close to home

I am very lucky to live in a small market town in mid Suffolk, a great rural environment to bring up a family. On the edge of the town is a lake owned by the local council, actually it’s a gravel pit but ‘lake’ sounds nicer doesn’t it? So let’s not spoil the illusion. Anyway, the 'lake' hosts a model boat club at weekends, there is a tarmac path all the way around it, a slightly artificial nature reserve and a fishing club has access to areas on two banks. There are two car parks, two children’ play areas, a food kiosk and it is the number one choice for the town’s dog walkers and duck feeders. I suppose I should feel lucky that my home town has such a nice feature but I can only think as an angler. The lake is my idea of hell and I have never, ever fished it.

Behind the lake runs the river, parts of which are also afflicted by dog walkers and duck feeders but most of it is actually very nice. Narrow shallow runs between deeper bends lined with alders and willows. I was very pleasantly surprised when I first walked this stretch with the kids and I’ve seen some very big Chub, unfortunately these are in the busy stretch competing for bread crusts with the ducks. This stretch of river does appeal to the angler in me but I’d never found the time to wet a line. I’ve fished upstream and downstream of the town but never the bit in the middle, that was until yesterday evening.

The cricket finished around 7pm and as I had no time for any proper fishing this weekend I suggested to Isaac that he and I had a walk along the river, with a lure rod! We started at the busy end of the stretch where a few mentally defective people were still amusing themselves so quickly walked upstream to quieter water. I clipped on an old favourite homemade ½ oz spinnerbait and walked slowly having a cast here and there, buzzing the lure quickly back above the weed or letting it sink in the deeper glides. At first I was disappointed by the lack of reaction from any fish but near the end of the stretch a small Pike shot out of nowhere and missed the lure completely. The Pike disappeared in a boil of water which amused Isaac greatly, he was excited by seeing the fish and wasn’t bothered that we hadn’t caught it.

At the end of this stretch the river becomes part of the back gardens of some rather grand houses and the footpath veers away from its course. I changed lures to a Zoota wagtail and we began to retrace our steps. Soon we were back to the spot where the Pike had shown itself, would we get another chance? Yes a bow wave shot across the river and this time the fish was hooked…..but not for long. “Oh bugger” says I. “You shouldn’t say that, I’m telling mum!” laughed Isaac.

By now I’m feeling defeated, its not going to be our day but I still have a cast here and there on our way back downstream. We stopped at a tight, narrow bend that looked really fishy and second cast another Jack swirls at, but misses the lure. Somehow the braid became tangled around the rod tip so I let the lure fall to the bottom while I untangled it. When I took the slack up again I was pleasantly surprised to find a fish attached, it must have picked a stationary lure up off the bottom. When it became obvious that the hooks were well in, I handed the rod to Isaac and he brought it to the bank. That’ll do for us, time to go home.

When we reached the downstream end of the stretch, Isaac ran off to play on the climbing frame for a few minutes. I couldn’t resist having a cast or two so clipped on a “Tiger” plug, a small alphabet type lure with a flashing red light in it. I put this on thinking one of the big Chub might be tempted but first cast across the front of a weeping willow and another small Pike grabbed it. I held it up for Isaac to see but he’s concentrating on swinging across the monkey bars. By this time the light was beginning to fade, an hour and a bit well spent, time for home.

Sunday 6 July 2008

A game of two halves.

Cool and cloudy with a moderate southerly and the threat of showers, not normally a weather forecast to cheer people during the first week of July but it put a smile on my face. All in all pretty good conditions for trolling a fenland river so I was very confident of putting a fish or two in the boat. I really wanted this trip to be a success as I was to be skipper of a motley crew consisting of my son Isaac, who will be six next month, and my fourteen year old nephew, Josh. By 0630 we were launched and slowly trolling a variety of lures downstream, the boys were both using small to medium sized lures aimed at catching Perch as well as Pike while I stuck a large “Salmo Skinner” out the back. Salmo lures are pretty cheap and easy to use which doesn’t endear them to the ‘train-spotters’ of the lure fishing fraternity who seem to think a lure has to be hand carved in a backwoods shack in Canada or Scandinavia to attain any credibility. The ‘Skinner’ has been a top fish catcher for the past couple of summers and although I have caught Perch on it, I expected it to be Pike or bust for me while I kept an eye on the boys.

Things looked good, the river was pretty clear and the wind was keeping the drifting weed at bay so for once things should be pretty easy. Josh had the first fish of the day with a Jack on an old & battered Heddon Lucky 13 that was sitting nicely in the strike zone between the top of the weed and the surface. Not long after that Isaac picked up a small Perch on a spinner and I followed up with a jack on the Salmo. A nice start, both the lads had boated a fish and things looked good for a few but an hour later we had passed through normally productive water without taking any more fish.

We kept heading downstream and reached the area where all the bankside bushes had been destroyed and started picking fish up. Thankfully it seems my fears were unfounded and the area still held fish, today a lot of fish as all three of us had our rods slammed round. Takes came regularly through this stretch, Isaac was well chuffed with his first Pike of the season, I had the biggest at around eleven pounds and Josh had a couple of jacks before catching the fish of the day. This was a beautiful Perch that weighed in at 2lbs 2ozs and once again took the Lucky 13. Josh was pleased but I’m not sure he realises how “big” a two pound Perch is! At that point I wished I’d been using a smaller lure more suitable for the Perch and would gladly have traded that Perch for any of the Pike I’d caught!

We stopped for a cup of tea and a bite to eat before turning the boat around and trolling back upstream. I was confident that we would pick up a load more fish but as the boat turned, so seemingly did our luck. I get a lot of enjoyment from fishing with the kids and enjoy anything they catch as much as I would had I caught it myself and in many cases more! However it does have its drawbacks. In the past actually keeping Isaac dry and in the boat has been a bit of a challenge but now he’s realised that he can’t walk on water that isn’t so much of a problem. My nephew Josh is a nice lad and good company once I’d gotten used to the series of grunts that teenagers use to communicate. Anyway, today’s problem was braid around the propeller. In all the miles I’ve trolled I can’t remember this happening more than a couple of times and indeed today it wasn’t an issue for the first part of the day. Then in the first mile after turning around I had to untangle the prop three times!
The next problem was traffic, not usually an issue on this water but today there was a succession of barges and cruisers coming downstream. This river is narrow in places and rarely exceeds six feet in depth and these boats coloured the water up considerably and also set a great deal of floating weed adrift. Not only was it harder for the Pike to see our lures it was also more difficult to keep them in the water due to the drifting weed that hadn’t been a problem in the first part of the day. Then to cap it all it started raining, well to be more accurate it was absolutely pissing down. A bit of light rain I can handle but with three in the boat and raindrops pounding the surface of the river, accompanied by the distant rumble of thunder it was less than comfortable for a while.

By early afternoon we’d had enough. The troll back upstream had only yielded a couple of jacks and we were damp, tired and hungry. As we neared the launching point braid became entangled with the prop for a fourth time and this time it was my bloody fault! No excuses! The total for the boat was eleven Pike to 11 pounds and two perch to 2.02 and we would have settled for that when we began.