Wednesday 19 August 2009

All very nice but...

What to do today? The Zander fishing in itself has been poor, nothing to motivate and excite me. What do Madison and Isaac want to do, go fishing or do something different? I'm really not bothered to tell the truth. The jury consults and comes back with the verdict; “We want to go night fishing Dad!” I let them talk me into it. The next question is where do we go? I'd really like to catch some Zander and I know plenty of nice places where I have a good chance of doing that. However I need somewhere where the kids can relax, catch a few fish and just be themselves safely, without bothering anyone else. Busy roads, locked gates, treacherous banks, swamps and unpredictable livestock reduce the choice to just one. Back to the same spot that hasn't been producing the goods lately, oh well.

The journey was uneventful, half way through august and already there's football on the radio, the kids preferred to sing along to radio1. The forecasters had promised two warm, dry days and a clear night with a fresh wind from the south west. We arrived at the river in the late afternoon and as usual had the stretch to ourselves. The river was down on last week and clearer too but was still fairly high with a bit of pace, it didn't look bad. There was a fair bit of drifting weed but the wind was pushing into the near bank and it would be easy to fish around. By early evening the camp was sorted and the fishing was aided by a team effort. Madison had her creative head on so gave herself the job of groundbait maker, adding ingredients like a chef and giving us a running commentary on what she was doing. No groundbait mix has ever been more lovingly flavoured, mixed and kneaded as this one was. Isaac was chief bait catcher, regularly yanking in Bream, Bleak, Rudd, Roach and lots of Perch of 4 to 6 ounces, yelling “Got one!” excitedly every time. Madison put his success down to her bait mixing.

Meanwhile in between baiting up, sorting tangles and unhooking fish I was rigging up the Zander rods. After a bit of a rethink I'd switched from the CD paternoster to a standard float paternoster rig so I'd be able to angle the rods and keep the line completely clear of the water and avoid the worst of the weed. On the other rod I used a short buoyant lead link and 3ozs of lead on a running ledger rig. Both were baited with livebaits and dropped into clear spaces in mid channel. The children continued fishing for a bit longer then started dropping unsubtle hints about being hungry. Time for a fry up, a cup of tea, sit back and chill out.

The evening was uneventful fishing wise, the children explored the meadow some more then as the light faded returned and sat around chattering. Madison was tired so took herself off into her sleeping bag but Isaac sat beside me asking when the Zander were coming (I wish I knew!) and watching the riverside darken around us. As promised the sky was clear and it was a great night for star gazing. Isaac was really excited by the bats that were flying above us and by the occasional shooting star; “I'm going to wish for thousands of toy clone troopers dad!” By 1045 Isaac was yawning so I tucked him into the tent, his sister was already sound asleep. The paternoster had worked fine but the ledger rod had still picked up a bit of weed. After re-baiting both rods with fresh lives I climbed into my winter gear (never bother with a sleeping bag) and lay down in the bivvy.

I awoke at first light, no alarms had sounded during the night but there was no bait on the ledger rig. The bait on the paternoster was still there though, both rods were re-baited and then it was back to the bivvy. The rigs may not have caught a fish but I felt more confident in them....I dozed off again knowing that my best chance had passed and another blank was on the cards. Next thing I know its about 8am and the children are stirring, demanding breakfast. A cup of tea wakes me up and the morning fry up filled us up. The kids were fuelled and full of energy and spent some time charging around the meadow before settling down to a bit more fishing while I tidied the camp away.

The summer holidays are passing quickly, it would be nice to drop a Zander bait into a different part of fenland one of these days but time probably won't allow it. It's great spending time like this with Madison and Isaac...but a bloody Zander would be nice! But at the moment I'm relying on luck...If I do have another nights fishing the kids won't let me go alone so it will have to be a return to “Our meadow”. Before that it's Isaac's birthday next week and the Ashes.

Monday 10 August 2009

Luck's got to change?

I've been suffering. Only another cricket fan, specifically an England cricket fan will know what I've been going through. It's no good I have to get it all off my chest. For months I've been telling anyone who will listen that the team management and the selectors in particular are idiots and are getting things all wrong. The selectors seem to make choices that make the England fans say “What? Who? Why?” Last year it was Darren Pattinson (whatever happened to him?), lately it's been somebody called Trott. In the past they've stuck by batsmen that have struggled yet chucked bowlers out of the team after a bad match. This year they're continuing to stick by a bowling attack that isn't capable of removing top batsmen in anything other than the most helpful conditions. Stuart Broad will become a great all rounder but he isn't good enough yet. The good run of luck/results against the Australians has given everyone a false impression, until now. This weekend the Aussies absolutely battered us, levelling the series at 1-1 with one to play. Here's hoping that the selectors can get it right (Bopara out, Rob Key in, pick bowlers that suit the wicket) for the last match and our team plays at 100%, otherwise we're going to lose. On a positive note it's been a better series than I expected though. Rant over.

Fishing this weekend was more of the same, Shelley & I headed off to fenland and by the early evening we were settling in by the river, she fished for bait while I set up camp. The first thing I noticed was the river looked good, much better than I could have possibly hoped; high, coloured and pushing through nicely. It looked bang on for Zander and my confidence was boosted immediately. The increased pace and water made bait catching more difficult though but with lots of perseverance and regular feeding Shelley managed to catch a few Bleak, Bream and Rudd. I'm pleased that she really seems to be enjoying this fishing lark and has picked up the basics quickly. She thinks she's just about ready to put maggots on the hook now but hasn't yet actually touched a fish. With the light fading I got two Zander rods rigged up and fishing, a paternoster on one and a ledger rig on the other as usual. I'm sticking to tried and tested methods that have caught plenty of fish for me over the years but this season things haven't gone to plan.

The evening was lovely, warm and pleasant, much more comfortable than the downpour we fished through last week. It was nice to chill out, eat, drink and be merry in relative comfort. There were far fewer weekend admirals about and all was very peaceful. The moon rose but was partially obscured by clouds, not a night for moonlight shadows but surely good conditions for a Zander? Unfortunately the fishing wasn't as relaxing, masses of drifting weed were catching on the line and dragging the baits downstream. I was casting to clearer spots but the rigs were being pulled into weed regularly. I did have one take on the paternoster but didn't connect, I retrieved a nice bream livebait to find a chunk had been bitten out of it, I suspect an Eel was to blame. Eventually in the wee small hours, after several rounds of tug o' war with weed rafts I ran out of bait so wound in and retired to the comfort of the tent.

We slept in a bit and it was sometime around 9am before I emerged from the tent. Shelley had more success this morning, float fishing maggots to catch some nice Rudd, Roach & a Perch. I rigged up the paternoster again and chucked it into mid river, more in hope than expectation. I put a bit of thought into my presentation and think that next time I'll have a set up that will avoid the worst of the weed. The morning was lovely; fried breakfast, hot tea and good company. Boat traffic started to increase and there were large numbers of joggers pounding along the floodbank, and they say anglers are mad? All too soon it was time to tidy the gear away and head for home. The Zander fishing has been disappointing so far this season but despite that, time spent in the countryside has been as enjoyable as ever. Next week I'll do it all again.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Rain stopped play

Friday was a good day. England well on top of the Aussies in the third test, I love cricket!! Friday was also a long night, spent in the company of old friends who I don't see often enough. We went to see a band with the charming name of “F***ed up”, kind of punky with lots of shouting. We all over indulged and stayed up very late but it was a great time as usual. By strange coincidence I was feeling a bit under the weather on Saturday morning and was very slow getting out of bed and getting the gear sorted and in the car. This time Isaac stayed at home and my eldest, Shantel joined Madison and I for an overnight trip to the fens. The weather was breezy with sunny spells amongst the cloud, there was the threat of rain later however. Unfortunately the weather in Birmingham was much worse and I was unable to listen to cricket on the radio for the journey west.

By 2pm we arrived in the fens and began the normal routine of the kids catching bait on the whip while I sorted the gear and pitched the tent. As usual I fed the swim with lots of groundbait and maggots, Shantel was soon whipping in lots of small Bream along with the occasional Rudd or Roach. Chris arrived shortly afterwards and set up downstream and after a nightmare journey north Elliott arrived and opted to fish upstream. The weather remained cloudy and fresh but there was no hint of rain. Overhead conditions seemed good for an early take so we all had Zander baits out by the early evening. The river was not looking so good however, low, clear and still lots of weed, much more than previous seasons. Still, we were all feeling confident of a take or two. Unfortunately the news from the Cricket wasn't good, too much rain and play had been abandoned for the day.

Cabaret this evening was provided by a drunken bunch on a narrow boat. Two blokes had decided to ride in an inflatable dinghy being towed and had managed to fall out and into the river. They cheerfully swam down towards the boat which cut its engines and drifted right through the area we were fishing, crashing into the bank. They restarted the boat and the two clever people in the river found out its really quite difficult to climb up the side of a narrow boat. In the end no harm was done to anybody but it's highly ironic that with all the many miles of river this had to happen right in front of us. It's worth remembering that had this incident occurred on the deep, powerful tidal rivers in Norfolk those two idiots might not have made it out of the river. Elliot's luck hadn't improved either, he had to move after setting up on an ants nest.

When the madness subsided we settled back down to the fishing and our confidence was justified as Chris had a take. The result was an eel which was quickly unhooked and slipped back into the river. He had predicted an eel or two in these conditions. There were threatening clouds away to the west but the wind was from the south and they looked to be passing harmlessly by. Chris then took up his customary role as head chef and proceeded to fry up his speciality Newmarket sausages, (he swears they're not made of race horses) served with onions and salad, delicious! Desert was toasted marshmallows, guaranteed to keep the kids up all night. Madison narrowly outpointed Elliott in the marshmallow eating contest. As usual there was lots of banter & mutual ribbing along with a cold bottle of beer or two. In fact we were having such a good time that we failed to notice that the wind had swung around and the rain was heading straight for us.

It started suddenly and then pelted down. Within minutes we were all scrambling around trying to get ourselves in wet weather clothing and cover gear up. Our camps had been set up on a southerly wind and now we had a westerly whipping rain right into us. All three of us were caught unaware' s and got a soaking, the girls however were fine; warm and dry zipped up in their tent. For two hours the sky emptied on top of us, absolutely everything was damp at best, a lot of the kit was soaked. However as the sun dipped in the west, the cloud thinned and the rain began to ease. We were treated to another spectacular fenland skyscape; in the eastern sky was a spectacular double rainbow whilst to the west the sun blazed bright orange on the horizon, the photos do neither justice. I stood out in the open enjoying the scenery with the rain stinging my face and laughed, I was actually enjoying this madness! Shortly afterwards my paternoster rig roared off and I bent into a scrappy fish, not the Zander I'd hoped for but a small Pike, Oh well things were looking up.

When the rain eventually stopped we studied the aftermath. Chris was wet but this wasn't a major problem as he hadn't planned to fish all night anyway. I wasn't too bad but damp and uncomfortable, the girls in the tent were absolutely fine. Poor old Elliott however, had come off worse and was totally drenched, as was all his kit. Spending the rest of the night on the fen wasn't really an option, his only choice was to pack up and head for home. Before he left he managed to rub salt into his wounds by falling in the mud on the flood bank. Unfortunately that wasn't the end of his bad luck for the day but I'm sure he'll be back for another crack.

Chris too began to tidy up and head for a dry home but before he left my Paternoster roared off a second time. The culprit this time was long, ugly and slimy. Eels are great when you're actually fishing for the things but on a Zander rig in the dark, I hate them. I remember chatting to an ol' Suffolk boy years ago. I told him that I sometimes struggled to unhook Eels. His reply was “I never have any trouble unhooking Eels...I just cut their f***ing heads off!” He was deadly serious and couldn't understand why I cracked up laughing. Not a very PC statement in the context of these enlightened times.

Chris had tidied up, said his goodbyes and left, at that point I envied him. I was damp and uncomfortable, the eel appeared to have completely trashed the paternoster rig. I tried to gently persuade the kids we'd be better off if we slowly tidied up and spent the night in our own dry beds. They were having none of it, insisting they were warm and dry and looking forward to me frying them breakfast in the morning. I had no real choice but to stay and make best of it so I made an effort to organise everything and get things sorted for the night ahead. My groundbait had taken a soaking so I balled it all into my swim, hoping to attract some bait fish and also predators. I put a fresh bait on the ledger and dropped it on the edge of the weed. I put a second ledger rig into a clear spot under the rod tip then picked up the paternoster which wasn't as bas as I'd thought. I thought I might as well chuck this back out too so a fresh bait was put into mid river. I now had everything organised and three fresh, lively baits out in the river and actually felt confident of putting a Zed onto the bank. After one last cuppa I settled back into my bivvy and tried to forget everything was damp and doze for a bit. Twice in the dark hours I was roused by a bite alarm, unfortunately both times it wasn't fish and after removing lots of drifting weed I recast a fresh bait into the river. The third time the alarm sounded it wasn't was a Swan and by now it was daylight, my best chance of a Zander had passed. Three fresh baits then back into the bivvy for another snooze.


8am and the camp was stirring, bright sunlight was drying everything off nicely. Shantel entertained herself catching a few more fish on the whip while Madison charged up and down the meadow with her skipping rope. I slowly tidied up and cooked us all a lovely fried breakfast, washed down with a cup of tea, both really hit the mark. We deserved a good feed and we got one! On the floodbank opposite a cheerful chap wearing a beard and a big jumper was warbling away some strange tune as he walked along. He could have been from the Cambridge folk festival, or he could be someone who wishes he was. I'm pretty sure he wasn't from the “F***ed up” gig on Friday though! By 11am we were in the car travelling back home, I hoped to have cricket on the radio but play was delayed but the good news was it was due to start at noon. C'mon England!