Monday 30 August 2010

Where did summer go?

Where has the summer gone? Since my trip out after Barbel I haven't seemed to have any time to wet a line. I did have one evening at “the Marsh” where the kids caught a net full of Rudd & Roach in between dodging showers. I fished a rod for Tench, a balanced boilie cast to some lily pads which produced a half hearted pull. Apart from sneaking out a few silvers on the kids rod, I blanked. Time well spent though.

Now it's the last week of August and not only is the month running out but the summer weather has vanished too. Two days of torrential rain has caused most people to get a little depressed but apart from missing most of the first day of the fourth test I've actually welcomed the downpour. Plans for the bank holiday weekend included a night session on a fenland river in search of Zander. Normally this would be a regular summer occurrence for the children and I but due to all manner of things we hadn't actually made it this year. Now we had time and for once it seemed that conditions would come right. The cricket was going well too, Trott & Broad's record breaking partnership had put England in a commanding position and who would bet on Pakistan to have the guts to fight back? Listening to TMS on the radio helped the journey pass quickly.

We arrived in the early afternoon; Madison, Isaac and nephew Ollie joined me for our long awaited night session in the fens. The river looked good, nicely coloured with a steady flow. There seemed to be far less weed than a year ago but this could have been due to a foot or so of extra water. Ollie quickly set up a whip and began fishing maggots close to the edge, I mixed a load of groundbait, laced with maggots and sweetcorn which I fed little and often throughout the afternoon and evening. The afternoon was dry and bright but a stiff westerly wind made fishing with light tackle difficult, however Ollie persevered and began catching fish regularly; Roach, Bleak, Dace, Perch and some cracking Rudd to around 8ozs. Madi and Isaac busied themselves re-discovering the meadow and playing in the tent.

With everything sorted out and comfortable I began fishing myself. I set up a cage feeder, stuffed full of ground bait and began lobbing this into the middle of the river. I catapulted about a kilo of pellets into this area along with a few pouches of sweetcorn, corn was to be the hookbait. I hoped to catch Bream as well as keep trickling bait into the swim to pull fish into the area. I soon discovered a problem however, the flood water had dislodged loads of weed and large rafts of the stuff was drifting down river and snagging my line. This was going to make Zander fishing difficult later. I had the radio with me as usual and by this time Pakistan's batting had collapsed for the umpteenth time this summer, in fact by the end of play they were following on.

The afternoon passed into evening and apart from a couple of brief showers things were comfortable. The kids were happy playing in the outdoors, not bothered with fishing so far. Ollie was filling the net with good bait and I was slowly setting up the Zander rods for later. I was interrupted by a take on the feeder rod and bent into what I assumed would be a Bream but was pleasantly surprised by a lovely golden Rudd. It was a good fish too and not being quite sure just how big I decided to weigh it,I was surprised when it tipped the scales at 1lbs 4ozs. Now I'm sure I've caught bigger Rudd than this but I've never actually weighed one so (after checking when I got home) this was actually a new PB. This was followed a short while later by another lovely Rudd which was slightly smaller.

The sky began to darken and the children were hungry so after our usual fried fishing feast I cast the Zander rods out. A paternoster rig and a running leger were baited with good sized livebaits. Ollie too had a paternoster rig baited with a lively and all three rods were placed in mid river to avoid the worst of the rooted weed. Unlike last summer this vegetation wasn't too much trouble but unfortunately the drifting green snot was a pain in the backside, collecting on the line and regularly pulling our baits out of position.

Late august and night falls quickly, Bats began zipping across the meadow and along the river, the cloud thinned and the stars began to twinkle. I still felt we had a good chance of catching Zander as long as we could keep the baits in position for long enough. The youngsters grew tired and settled, giggling into their sleeping bags but Ollie sat up chatting with me. No Zander put in an appearance and with weed still making life difficult my confidence dipped. By eleven o'clock we were tired so settled back into our sleeping bags. No sooner had I got comfortable when the alarm on my paternoster rod sounded. I was quickly up and out and bent into a fish, the tell tale pulses on the rod told the story and sure enough I brought an Eel of about a pound to the net.

The rest of the night saw me cat-napping in between having to get up to strip more weed from the lines and recast. It would have been more bearable if just once when the alarm sounded it signalled a Zander but no. I couldn't just relax in the knowledge that my rigs and baits were doing what I wanted them to do. I couldn't relax so I couldn't rest either. I had plenty of time to think and came to the conclusion I just wasn't enjoying myself. I reflected that I'd be much happier fishing “the Marsh” for Tench and it wouldn't have made much difference to the children either. Visiting the Fens for our family camp-outs has been a kind of tradition and this is the sixth summer we've made the trip. The are several other quiet, pleasant places in the Fenlands where I know I can catch Zander, I need to have a good look around and find somewhere child-friendly before next summer.

I must have dozed off in the early hours as I came round at about 6am it was daylight, well kind of. Heavy cloud, gloomy skies and the westerly wind was even stronger than the previous day. I recast the Zander rods and lay back again without enthusiasm. After a couple of hours spent dozing the kids awoke and demanded breakfast so after a good healthy fry up I began to slowly tidy up our camp while Ollie tried to catch a few more fish. The clouds threatened rain and the wind made holding a rod difficult. My heart just wasn't in it, I wanted to go home which is incredibly rare for me whilst fishing.

Next summer we definitely need a new setting for our summer adventures. Madison and Isaac had a last scamper around the meadow then it was time to load the car and head for home. Switching on the radio I was astounded to hear the latest sorry tale of woe surrounding Pakistani cricket, sadly that one isn't going away.

Monday evening and I still had the itch to get out fishing so I grabbed a net and a lure rod and dragged Shelley out for a walk, to work off the Lasagne we'd just devoured. We started off along the river which was still weed choked despite last week's flood water. This led us to a couple of uninspiring stillwaters where I tried my luck with jigs and spinnerbaits. All the places I cast had one thing in common, no sign of a fish of any kind. Oh well. I don't fish close to home very often and this evening I reminded myself why. We were treated to the sites and sounds of the countryside; a kingfisher, a Heron, rabbits in the meadows and as darkness fell the sky filled with bats.

So that's August all but done and isn't September officially the start of Autumn? The next few weeks will be spent making sure my boat and kit is all ready for the start of the "Pike season". Over the passed six months I've caught thirteen different species of fish but for the next six I'll mostly be concentrating on just the one.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Wise words

Have a read of this; Couldn't put it better myself Dave!!

Saturday 7 August 2010

Into the west

Life is too short for work. With all the other stuff going on I just don't have time for work! Unfortunately I have to go to work so when time is short it's the fishing that has to give. Over the last couple of weeks I've only had time for short sessions after those elusive Tench.

Sunday, with all my duties dispensed I set up in the early afternoon in hot, sunny conditions. The wind had been fresh to strong and from the south for a few days so I chose a swim on the northern bank, one I'd never fished before. I fished three rods; on the left a balanced boilie/fake corn on a helicopter rig was cast to the edge of a reed bed and baited with about fifty mixed boilies. The right hand rod was a pop up on a chod rig with a PVA bag of mixed pellets and cast to the edge of a large bed of lily pads. The third rod was my float rig on which I fished a piece of fake corn next to some lilies, this area was baited with a couple of handfuls of corn.

I sat back in the sunshine, not really expecting to catch but enjoying a few hours of peace and quiet anyway. I spent a lazy Sunday afternoon dozing in the sun, the heat was a little uncomfortable until the sun dipped beneath the trees behind me. I left the two boilie rods to fend for themselves while I concentrated on the float rod. I fed a handful of Corn every now and then and noticed that every time I did so, bubbles would erupt in the baited area of the swim. I had the odd dip on the float but no positive bites. I can only surmise that the Rudd are following the corn down to the bottom and feeding on it there, thus causing the bubbles. How many times this season have I watched these clouds of bubbles erupting, thinking they were Carp or Tench when the culprits have been shoals of Rudd? Quite a few I think! Eventually my float sailed away and I set the hook into ...a Rudd. A fish large enough to engulf a grain of fake corn but not too big to make a lovely livebait in the winter. Shortly after I packed up for the evening.

Two days later Shelley and I arrived in the evening for a couple of hours chilling out after work. I elected to fish the same swim again, wondering if any fish would visit the area after the bait I'd put out previously. It was another warm sunny evening but with the evening sun lower in the sky, nice and comfortable. I fished a balanced boilie to the reeds on my left again, scattering about twenty free offerings in the area and float fished fake corn by the pads again. I used a bit of fishmeal groundbait in this area. Shelley float fished maggots using a whip and began catching fish right from the off, Roach and Rudd of a high average size.

The evening passed too quickly, I had the odd pull on the boilie rod and I'm convinced these were Rudd picking up the bait. Shelley would have filled a keep net with silver fish averaging about 4ozs a piece. I hope these are just as catchable in the winter! I had two proper bites on my float rod landing a Rudd and a Roach, both about eight ounces, nice fish but not Tench! Once again there were loads of bubbles over my groundbait and I've become certain that shoals of silver fish were responsible for these. The Tench are hard enough to catch as it is but these Rudd are making life even more difficult now. It would be almost impossible to use traditional Tench methods here at the moment.

We stayed until it got too dark to see the floats. A nice evening, time well spent but no Tench and I was left with lots to ponder. If I want to have a nice bed of feed for the Tench/Carp/Bream to find then I'm going to have to bait up with stuff that the Rudd can't eat! Boilies will work but should I use bigger ones? Larger pellets, 8mm and over? How about the seed mix, how much of that are the Rudd eating? I probably won't find the answers to these questions this summer, hopefully I won't have forgotten the questions come spring.

It's been party time this summer, hence the lack of fishing. The last few weekends have seen two all day parties, a trip to see “the Prodigy” at Milton Keynes bowl and last week something different again. The third day of the first test match between England and Pakistan to be precise. Rich joined me on the trip to Trent bridge along with Isaac, Shantel & nephew Josh. We were treated to a brilliant days cricket; over 300 runs, 13 wickets, a century from Prior and three late wickets to set up the win. As usual a great atmosphere with a very vocal crowd and a fantastic day out. Less than twenty four hours later I was looking down at a beautiful, tranquil stretch of river and contemplating fishing once more.

The arrangements had been made a couple of weeks back, a visit to what the friendly locals call “Gods river” in search of my first ever barbel, amongst other things. Shelley and I completed a three hour drive without a hitch, arrived at the camp-site and quickly pitched the tent. The plan was to go off exploring and I had just unfolded the map when I heard “You look lost mate..” and looked up to see a grinning Steve approaching. Plans changed, we jumped in the car and followed Steve to a pub where we were due to meet up with Rob. I noticed a car driving the wrong way round the car parks one way system, “that must be Rob...” and sure enough it was. After a well earned pint of best bitter we followed again down dirt tracks until we got to the river.

My guides baited up and we sat back for an hour chilling out, chatting and catching up. The setting was beautiful; we were fishing from an old Salmon groin on a lovely stretch of river, both banks thick with trees. After a cup of tea we started fishing. The method was a feeder full of hemp and halibut pellets on a hair rig. We fished two rods and kept on recasting and trying but as dusk began to deepen nothing had disturbed us.
“What are the bites like?” I asked
“A twitch on the rod tip of about three feet” laughed Steve.
It was nice catching up with Steve and Rob and an evening well spent, sharing fishy tales and laughing a lot in beautiful surroundings. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Steve but I arranged to meet Rob again for another try a couple of days later.
The next two days were spent mostly exploring the area by car but also on foot. Shelley and I enjoyed walking through the forest to the river valley, then climbing up again to enjoy breath taking views. The bird life was abundant and during the stay we saw a Buzzard, Red Kite and a Peregrine and also heard Tawny Owls at night. We saw Rabbits on the camp-site and heard lots of rustling in the undergrowth at night but the tent raiding Squirrels we were promised didn't put in an appearance. All this walking left us with a hearty appetite for fish and chips and we obviously needed to sample the local ales to quench our thirst.

Early evening and we met up with Rob and once again followed him off into the countryside, arriving at our destination after about twenty minutes. If the first stretch we'd fished was beautiful then this one was something else. Upstream the water tumbled over rocks then rushed past us forming eddies on both the near and far banks. At the downstream end of the swim a willow overhung the water. The far bank was lined with boulders and trees crowned the slopes. If Mr Crabtree wanted to catch Barbel he would have chosen a swim like this.

We started off using an Avon type float and trotting maggots downstream. We took it in turns to catch small Chub, Dace and Bleak whilst Rob kept feeding the swim regularly. I grew up fishing like this on my local river, ages ago when it still had some flow but it has literally been years since I've done it. Rob was hoping to get a shoal of good sized Chub feeding but they proved elusive. After an hour or so he spotted a bigger Chub in the shallows so after a few minutes I cottoned on to the fact it would be worth trotting the float through that area and began picking up slightly bigger Chub straight away. A couple of trots later I hooked into something more significant which hooped the rod over and pulled back, using the current to it's advantage. After a brief battle a nice chub of about two pounds came to the net. I'd managed to catch a proper fish from “God's river” so took a quick photo in case I didn't catch anything bigger. Rob kept feeding the swim, still maggots but also Hemp and pellets too.
Rob unimpressed with my Chub!

A couple of trots later I did hook something bigger that took line, ran past us and kept going upstream. Rob's verdict was “either a Barbel or a big Chub..” Unfortunately Rob was only half right, it was a Chub but was nicely foul hooked in the dorsal. A few more trots without success and Rob declared it was Barbel time so the float rod was replaced with two Avon rods, new style Mitchell 300 reels and feeder rigs. Methods were the same as the previous session, feeders packed with hemp, a long hooklength and Halibut pellets hair rigged. The feeders were cast across the river and allowed to swing round with the current.

We stood in the river and chatting while our eyes watched the rod tips. I was beginning to think I was destined not to catch a Barbel but at least I'd had a nice Chub and was thoroughly enjoying myself. Then it happened, something tried to pull the right hand rod into the river. The next thing I knew I had a buckling rod in my hands as a fish tried to pull me in too. For years I've read about the legendary fighting qualities of Barbel and I was not disappointed. This fish was not large and was soon in the net. Rob guessed the weight at about four pounds I was absolutely delighted! Rob was relieved, “pressure off” he declared with a chuckle.

First Barbel!

Soon after I had another rattle on the rod but struck thin air, once retrieved it was apparent that the hair rig had tangled. Oh well. I wasn't disappointed for long as the rod wrenched over and once more I was attached to a Barbel. This one didn't fight as hard as the first apart from one run across the river and was netted quickly. I was quite impressed with the new Mitchell 300 reels, the drag worked much better than the old models I'd used in the eighties. This fish was slightly bigger than the first and I took a moment to look at the beautiful bronze scaled, muscular lump of fish I'd caught. My target was one Barbel and now I had two!!!

The light faded quickly and I was struck by something obvious that I hadn't yet appreciated, this river had a voice! It tumbled and splashed over rocks, rushed and bubbled through gorges and rippled over rapids. My own local river used to have a voice until abstraction made it mute. I had one more bite, the rod yanked over again and for a second or two I was attached to a fish before it made it's escape. On winding in we found a busted hooklength most likely parted against the rocks. We took this as a sign to start tidying up and I couldn't be disappointed with two Barbel under my belt. The river, the scenery, the company, the voice and the fishing; tonight had been magic! We left the river, stopping for a quick pint on the way then it was goodbye and thanks to Rob and back to the camp-site.

The following day Shelley went off doing her own thing and I fished on my own at another nice stretch of river. I chose a swim with shallows upstream and deeper water in front of me. I began trotting corn with a chubber float on one rod and fished a bag of halibut pellets with hair rigged boilies on the other. The latter were methods I'd nicked from Dave Lumb's blog and a couple of emails from Dave had put me on the right track. After a couple of hours catching nothing with the float I decided a change was needed. I took a pair of scissors to one of the feeders I'd brought with me and soon modified it (i.e destroyed) to enable me to use hemp. I began with corn on the hook and switched to a halibut pellet after a while.

The stretch I was fishing was nice but wasn't in the same league as the swims I'd visited with Steve and Rob. I couldn't get the image of the “magic swim” out of my mind and in comparison this place just didn't inspire me with any confidence. Still it was nice to be fishing totally different methods to what I'm used to and as long as I had a bait in the water I had a chance. As it turned out there may not have been a Barbel or Chub for hundreds of yards but I enjoyed myself anyway.

After four nights under canvas we had a lazy drive home stopping off at a couple of places en route and now I'm back. So what about Barbel fishing then? Whenever I've tried something new in fishing and had a little success I've always come away full of excitement, itching to have another go and this was no exception. (Now I could easily drive for twenty minutes from home and have a crack at Barbel but that would mean stillwater Barbel. OK if you like that sort of thing but not for me. My first Barbel must come from a river.) It was great chatting to Rob & Steve and learning a little about the fish and the fishing. I loved the scenery, the river and it's voice. I really enjoyed fishing methods that I don't normally use. The bites were spectacular and the fish fought every bit as hard as I'd expected. The whole experience was everything I'd hoped for and more.