Sunday 21 June 2009

Return of the Pink Piker


When the weather warms up I don't miss an opportunity to take the kids fishing, should they wish to go. Isaac accompanies me more often than his sisters but he is only really interested in the bigger fish, preferably ones with teeth. Madison loves being in the country side and when not chasing butterflies or talking to livestock is more than happy just catching “the pretty little silver fish”. She's caught a few Pike over the years but it's been a while since I've managed to convince her to spend a day in the boat with me. Today however was my first opportunity to launch the boat and fish a river for three months and what's more my lil' gal was coming with me.

We had an early start but after tea and breakfast we were hitched up and ready to go. Madison looked out of the window and counted the rabbits on the verge while I counted the miles. Eventually we arrived and I wasted no time launching the boat on a lovely little river, one I hadn't fished for quite some time. The engine didn't want to start, it never does when it hasn't been used for a while but after blistering my fingers we got there in the end and were soon chugging slowly down the river.

Between the two of us we shared three rods, a heavy set up with a big Pike lure on, mostly a Salmo Skinner. A medium rod with a Heddon Lucky13 which picks up both Pike and Perch, whilst the light fixed spool outfit was baited with a spinner for the Perch. Conditions overhead were good, mostly cloudy with the sun poking through occasionally and a fresh breeze from the south west. The river looked good too, good clarity but a slight tinge of colour and a decent flow. All in all I felt very confident for both species, surely we'd have a boat full today?

We'd hardly got started when the medium rod slammed over but the culprit made its escape. A little further on and the Lucky13 was nailed again and I wound in the first jack of the new season, very small but fin perfect and most welcome. At this point Madison, who had been holding the light rod, insisted on swapping for the Lucky13 which she renamed “Lucky number 2, because two is my favourite number.” We were both lost in watching a Barn Owl glide gracefully over the meadows when suddenly Madi shrieked as the rod came alive in her hand. “Help Dad! It's too heavy!” With a bit of encouragement she soon had her first Pike for a couple of years alongside the boat. I don't know who was more excited, me or her.

It was nice to be back on this little river, one where I've enjoyed loads of fun days out over the years but returning sometimes has its downsides, things never stay the same. Today I was disappointed to see that a lovely weeping willow had been butchered. A deadbait carefully placed beneath the trailing fronds has produced dozens of Pike for me over the years but now the old tree has been 'improved' by the NRA. Where the overhanging branch had once been was now an ugly scarred stump. Not only is this an eyesore but a shady winter hiding place for both predator and prey is gone.

We stopped for a cup of tea and a bite to eat and watched a Heron fish and listened to the calls and answers of Cuckoos as we recharged our batteries for a bit. Refreshed we set off again and hadn't gone far before Madison cried out again. This time she handled the rod a bit better but the fish appeared to me smaller. As it neared the boat I could see red fins in the clear water, it was a Perch! “Be careful Madi” I said. She steered it alongside the boat and I leant over and lifted it out, beautiful! A lovely plump fish that I would have been well pleased to have caught. Madison was delighted, announcing it was “much prettier than the Pike”.

We carried on downstream but as we did so the fishing became almost impossible to to large amounts of drifting weed. This is the scourge of trolling the shallow eastern rivers and I have never seen it as bad as it was today. Further downstream the river curves away and catches more wind which pushed the drifting crap to the bank and made life a little easier. This area is usually a banker for a fish or two and I'd just announced this to Madi when the heavy rod slammed over and another small Pike was hooked, brought to the boat and quickly unhooked. I expected to catch a few more fish but for some reason this stretch was a lot more coloured than the previous section. However we persevered and I managed another small Pike on the Skinner while Madi hooked one on the “Lucky no.2” which unfortunately shook itself off again.

We nosed the boat into a reed bed, had another cup of tea and shared lunch while we watched the waterfowl on the river and the small birds chirping in the reeds. There wasn't another soul in sight, the sun poked through the clouds for a while and all was right with the world. With the tea drunk and all the food gone we turned the boat around and headed back upstream. I was confident of a lot more fish but the return journey proved a struggle. The murky water yielded nothing, not even a take and we lifted the rods out and motored through the drifting weed, Madi singing her heart out as we did so, to the amusement of the occasional angler we passed. Back at the original stretch a few fish started to show an interest again but they weren't really 'having it'. Pike would swirl, boil and nip at the lures but they weren't really attacking them with any conviction. Perch were conspicuous by their absence, which was a surprise in the conditions. Madison dropped her lure alongside the boat and was watching the action when a Jack shot up and nailed it making her yell with surprise and excitement. Unfortunately this one wriggled free too.

We decided we'd had enough for the day so headed back towards the car. I switched the Skinner for a smaller Salmo minnow to hedge our bets a bit more. This lure was soon taken but once again the fish, another small Pike, shook itself free. Not far from the starting point this rod rattled in the holder again and this time the fish stayed hooked. I passed the rod to Madison and let her wind in another Jack taking our total to six fish for the day. Had we landed all the fish that had shown an interest we would have been into double figures. In purely fishing terms the day was a bit disappointing but time spent with my daughter was priceless. She sat in the car listening to the radio as I hitched the trailer up, then we were under way. “Did you enjoy that Madison?” I asked. “Yes Dad, it was great” she replied “can we go to Macdonalds now?”

Sunday 14 June 2009

Last chance?

Spring has almost passed and finding time to try to catch a Tench or two has been difficult this year. With the river season fast approaching I was determined to have another go and a small window of opportunity opened up on Sunday evening.

On Saturday evening I took a walk around the pit and I didn't like what I saw. Yes the fresh green reeds were growing through and the lilies were flourishing but there were cloned carp anglers everywhere. What a difference a year makes, twelve months ago I was enjoying fishing this old haunt but today all I could see was a chav's camp-site. It's still a nice little pit but it's just too crowded.

Despite all of that I was back again early Sunday evening. I fancied my chances fishing the shallow water, the theory being that the recent warm weather would put spawning into the fishes mind and they would migrate to this end of the pit. There were still a few chavs about but after an unhurried look around I found a nice quiet area where I felt confident I'd be in with a chance. I figured that at the end of a warm, busy weekend lots of bait would have been thrown in the pit so my plan was to not use too much myself. On one rod I fished a small white chocolate flavoured boilie with a PVA bag of mixed pellets. The other rod was set up with a maggot feeder, short hook length with some buoyant fake corn and a bunch of maggots on one of those fancy maggot clip things. The boilie rod was cast to a small group of lilies in otherwise open water whilst the feeder was cast across to the edge of the reeds. Both rigs had a couple of hands full of mixed pellets chucked on top. I also rigged up a whip and float fished maggots close in but after catching a Rudd a chuck for a while I got bored.

As the Chavs departed the pit became more quiet and I lost myself listening to T20 cricket on the radio. My part of the pit looked lovely; a Kingfisher zipped past, a coot herded her brood and Grebes fished while England beat India in a close match. Unfortunately England's success on the field was not matched by success with the Tench fishing. I did have another bash with the whip, catching a nice Roach amongst all the Rudd but I never looked like catching a Tench.

When the radio cricket coverage ended, the temperature started to drop and so did my confidence. I started to slowly tidy up, I still haven't lost my title as the world's worst Tench angler. Next spring I'll have to put in more time, more effort and find a new water.

Monday 1 June 2009


31/05/09 Holland

Twice a year I used to stuff the car full of fishing gear, strap the rods on the roof and head over to Ireland for a week of Pike fishing, Guinness drinking and other interesting diversions. Unfortunately its been more than a decade since I crossed the Irish sea, partly due to domestic circumstances but also because of the ignorance of the Irish fishery boards. What was once the best natural Pike fishing in the world has been destroyed, in the name of 'improving' the trout fishing. The way things are, it'll be a long time before I visit Ireland again as things just seem to be getting worse.

Anyway, nowadays I get a ferry and head east to Holland, the car loaded up with the family and all that goes with it plus a little bit of fishing gear sneaked in. Friendly people, beautiful cities, sensible attitudes, lovely parks & beaches and lots of water. Two weeks living in a caravan on a theme park, heaven for the kids, tolerable for the adults and plenty of water for me to sneak off to cast some lures around. The first week was virtually all hot, still and bright, great for a holiday but not weather that inspires me with confidence where Pike fishing is concerned. As the days passed I started to get itchy feet and at the end of a sticky humid day, cloud built up from the west, a breeze got up and I reached for the rods.

This is my fifth visit to this part of Holland so I have managed to find a few places to wet a line in this time and tonight I headed for a crossroads of canals and ditches from which I'd extracted a few Pike in the past. I would be easily pleased, just a Pike, any Pike, would be enough. The canals and ditches here are clear, shallow and weedy so I used mostly a half ounce spinnerbait or a mini wagtail. This was chucked with a medium bait casting rod an Abu 5601 reel and 50 lbs powerpro. I worked up and down the canals and ditches but all I found were Bream, trying desperately to foul hook themselves. It was nice to have a couple of hours of peace and quiet but I wanted a fish.

Close to where I left the car is a larger canal with a sparse covering of lilies, it looked perfect for skipping the spinnerbait across the pads and buzzing it along the surface in the clear water. Unfortunately this canal runs alongside some kind of military base, complete with a large steel fence, barbed wire and an imposing white sign post. I speak virtually no Dutch but I must confess I have a fair idea of what “VERBODDEN TE VISSEN” means. However I had an excuse......and I couldn't resist. First cast and the retrieve looked great, the calm surface bubbling from the Colorado blades...but nothing happened, until I lifted the lure from the water and there was a swirl and a boil of water. By this time the cloud had become very gloomy and threatening and I'd taken off the poloroids. Would she have another go?


Next cast I retrieved the lure right up to the bank then stopped and let the bait flutter down...bang! Fish on! All the fish I've caught here have pulled above their weight, this one was about six pounds but didn't know it. These fish are lovely, dark coloured, almost brown with prominent gold spots. I'd love to post a photo of this one but unfortunately she shook the lure off when I grabbed the trace. Our unwritten rule is, if you touch the trace the fish counts, that way a lot of fish can be quickly unhooked in the water where possible, this one unhooked itself. The clouds, once threatening were now intimidating with frequent flashes of lightning and they were heading my way. Not ideal conditions to be waving 6 ½ feet of carbon fibre around so I happily made a hasty retreat.

Storm damage

That night I was privileged to witness an awesome storm, the best I've seen since Giles and I fished all night for Zander in the fens in the mid nineties and were treated to an amazing, spectacular drenching. I wrote about that night somewhere and if I ever find the scraggly, tatty piece of paper I might put it on here. I suspect it has something to do with flat landscapes like the fens and Holland but like the previous storm the lightning seemed continuous. The light of various flashes must be visible for miles. Our particular camp site was on relatively high ground and was set in a wood of tall oaks, oh dear. In fact there were several trees struck that night and others damaged by the gusting wind, including one literally right next to our caravan. I spent all evening staring through the window watching lightning zapping through the sky and it was fantastic. At one point I watched three lines of lightning flash from different directions, then they seemed to meet in the middle and form a circle of light in the sky. Difficult to describe but awesome.

The following day was wet and windy, there was evidence of storm damage everywhere but by the early evening the rain had cleared and a weak sun was poking through the clouds. Once again I fancied my chances for a fish or two. This time I fished some water I'd found by the wonders of google earth, beginning at a nice looking tree lined canal. The water turned out to be shallower than I expected with very little weed cover so my confidence ebbed away as I worked my way along the canal. The water was strewn with small branches and other debris from last night's storm. After a couple of hundred yards the water appeared to be more coloured, surely feeding fish? Yes, more Bream and quite a few of them. As I stood and watched a couple of Carp around fifteen pounds appeared too. Would there be a Pike or two shadowing these fish? No, but a bit further along there was a skinny looking Jack which followed my lure but didn't seem interested in trying to eat it. I kept on moving, my legs getting soaked by the rain drenched grass and eventually a cast to an overhanging tree saw another jack nail the wagtail. This fish was very small and put up absolutely no resistance and so suffered the embarrassment of a quick photo before being slipped back to grow bigger. This fish looked like it might have had a close run in with a larger fish at some point too, maybe there was something big lurking in this canal? Probably, but not showing today.

Where's big sister?

Shortly after that I crossed the road and started fishing another piece of water, a small lake fed by narrow canals at both ends. This too was clear and shallow with occasional patches of lilies. Casting close to this saw a fish swirl at the spinnerbait, possibly a Pike but possibly the line spooking a Carp or Bream. Whatever it was didn't repeat the performance. At the windward end of the lake there were Carp showing regularly including a couple of big fish, one clearly over twenty pounds cruised by obliviously. Here I also had interest from a Pike, a fish close to double figures followed the spinnerbait then slid slowly away and out of sight. I worked my way back to the car but that was that.

The rest of the holiday was spent soaking the sun, checking the quality of the local brew and doing daft things with the kids, not necessarily in that order. My nine year old daughter Madison had been studying Van Gogh at school and possibly the daftest thing I did was agree to take them, to the Van Gogh museum. Madison wandered round pointing out the paintings she knew and educating me about the artist. It was all lost on me but I did notice a pot of sunflowers that looked familiar. She did ask “Dad? Where do they get all the fancy frames?” which left me stumped. Isaac's version was “it's boring, what are we having for lunch?”.

I love Holland, it's cities and people. I love the fact that around almost every corner there is another piece of water to explore. From what I have gathered the Pike are mostly respected here and there is a Pike conservation organisation called SNB. So for the foreseeable future I'll continue to head east with the family. However, should the Irish fishery boards & match organisers choose to remove their heads from their backsides...........Now it's back home and it feels too hot for fishing, hopefully we'll get a nice dose of foul weather to freshen the rivers up before they open again in a fortnight.