Monday 27 January 2014

A light in the gloom

Like most of the country here in the East we’ve had our fair share of rain over the last week or so. The rivers are on the verge of bursting and not a viable option at the moment. Many of the stillwaters are affected by flood water too. On those that flood regularly it makes little difference to the fishing, if anything it may improve things for a bit. On other places an influx of coloured water is alien to the Pike and the fishing becomes very difficult. The weather had cut down my options but there were still a few places I could go and still be in with a good chance, how far could I be bothered to drive?

The alarm took three attempts to prise me from bed this morning. As the kettle boiled I enjoyed a fabulous sunrise through the kitchen window. If the forecast was accurate I’d see very little of the sun today so best enjoy it while I can. With more grim weather approaching I decided against travelling too far today but had an urge to fish somewhere a bit different and ended up on a water I haven't visited for ages and in a spot I’ve never fished before.

It was a lazy start to the day and it was about 0800 before I was fishing, the water looked high but was thankfully clear. By now it was dull and breezy but dry so far. I float legered a bluey close to an overhanging bush that was too good to resist. This was along the bank to my left, slightly shallower here with a gentle slope. I legered half a herring away to the right, leaving most of the swim clear for a bit of lure fishing. Apart from a pair of brave Carp anglers bivvied up on the far side (as has every piece of water in this vicinity) I had the place to myself.

At 0825 I noticed the float on the left bob, that’s a fish no doubt. I didn’t want the other anglers to notice anything so switched the alarm off then opened the bail arm. I glanced up, the float was definitely on the move now, heading out towards deeper water. I turned around to pick up the net and by the time I turned back, line was flying off the spool. An un-missable take, I picked up wound down, rod bent…bump bump… gone. Bugger! I swung the chewed bluey back out then sat down cursing. How the hell did I manage to bugger that one up? I realised that a few years of mostly boat fishing has changed the way I strike. I would normally wind down tight and sweep the rod low to the side and sometimes take a step or two backwards. If you step backwards in a boat you could get wet. My boat rods are stiffer than my antique twelve footers and do the trick with a firm sweep up and backwards. I need to calm down a bit but no matter how many Pike I’ve caught I still go into a blind panic when I get a take. Long may it continue.

An hour passed and the wind was now a proper stiff southerly, whipping in drizzle from time to time. The sun was well and truly drowned behind dense, foreboding cloud. I’d persevered with the lure rod fishing mostly a springdawg and a reaper jig. I’ve caught loads of Pike on the former but none so far on the latter but they look the part and I’ll keep on trying, honest Elliott! With rain on the way I rested the lure rod and moved the Herring a little further out in deeper water. The lure rod had revealed a little weed in this area and my bait should be on the edge of it.

Half an hour passed, the rain was coming and going, not too bad but enough to make me retreat to the shelter, the rods were out of sight so alarms turned up, or so I thought. I heard a plop…what the hell was that? I stood up expecting to see ripples somewhere close but there was nothing... But something wasn’t right. Then I noticed, the backbiter arm had dropped. Like a muppet I’d forgotten to switch it back on! Line was trickling out so with heart thumping again I put the net in place then wound down and struck properly! Fish on! The old Tricast took on a proper curve and a nice sized fish plodded around. She fought quite well for a deep winter fish but thankfully stayed on this time and was soon in the net. It took longer to untangle teeth from the net’s mesh than it did to nip the double hook out of the scissor then I slipped it into the weigh bag and found she was heavier than expected. The Pike in this water are dark, almost brown and beautifully marked with yellow spots, worth a photo for that reason alone.

The wind strengthened and the inevitable rain swept in. I tried to keep active, moving the deadbaits around the swim but when the weather is rough I can’t keep it up. After a while ‘fishing’ turns to ‘sitting it out’ and this isn’t enough to keep me by the water side when a warm house and hot food beckons. I was distracted by the birdlife, all the usual suspects I’d expect to see hear most notably the Kingfisher. This morning I was treated to more unusual visitors, a pair of Egrets settled in the trees opposite. I decided on the ‘one last cuppa’ tactic, if nothing happened by the time my mug was empty I’d pack up. I should have known that taking the shelter down would see the heaviest rain of the day fall upon me, sod’s law. With everything drenched I squelched my way back to the car and home.

Wednesday 15 January 2014


An unexpected phone call one evening lead to me suddenly finding myself with some spare time the following morning, now what could I do with it? The weather forecast promised a rising barometer with double figure temperatures, possible showers and a fresh wind from the southwest, pretty damn good conditions for the waters I fish. I thought about heading off to the special place but there wasn’t really enough time so I planned for somewhere fairly local. There was a spot where I’d seen a decent fish follow my lure a few weeks ago. I felt I needed to give it a try. So with tackle, bait and food all sorted I felt enthusiastic and confident for the following day.

I didn’t feel quite so enthusiastic when the alarm sounded in the morning but eventually managed to crawl my way out of bed. A rushed breakfast while the kettle boiled then I was away, arriving at my destination just as light was breaking. There was a decent breeze and a bit of cloud cover but thankfully no rain as yet. After a bit of a walk I arrived at my chosen swim and as I would be fishing at close range, set up away from the water’s edge. A float legered Bluey was placed next to one overhanging tree on the right and a Smelt lowered into a similar position to my left. I like deep margin swims on pits! I’d brought two other rods with me; one rigged up with a paternoster rig, baited with a spratt. The other a lure rod on which I fished shads, spoons and springdawgs. The plan was to mostly use the lure rod but when the rain came, chuck out the paternoster and settle back under my shelter. With the paternoster presenting the bait clear of the bottom I’d whack this rod out and twitch it back a few feet every few minutes.

By 0815 I’d covered the area with a Shad and a Springdawg so cast the paternoster then settled back on my chair with a cup of tea. The next couple of hours passed quickly, I left the two static deadbaits alone but kept twitching the paternoster and swapping it for the lure rod for spells. Unlike some places I fish there’s no reason why lures shouldn’t catch me fish on these waters but it’s just not happening at the moment. I’m trying old lures and new ones but on the last few trips nothing’s happened. It’s been a few years since I’ve done much lure fishing, lots to learn all over again. Likewise it’s been a decade since I’ve fished gravel pits with any kind of regularity but I grew up fishing this type of water and still feel at home. So far I’ve managed to at least find Pike on every trip bar one. I've fished pits on and off for 35 years, the way Pike behave doesn't change unless angling pressure becomes an issue.  It occurred to me that gravel pit Piking requires far less effort than most of the fishing I’ve done in recent years. Fishing other types of water is much more physically demanding, Pike aren’t as predictable and it takes more effort to locate them. When it all goes right the feeling of achievement is much greater too. However nowadays I struggle to find the energy to keep driving the miles and launching the boat in the cold and dark of mid-winter. Fishing that is a little less strenuous is a nice change every now and again.

Around 1020 an ominous looking bank of cloud was approaching from the west so I cast the paternoster again then swapped the other two deadbaits around. The Bluey was now on the left and the Smelt on the right. With the first drops of rain flattening the water I turned the alarms up and settled back under shelter. Conditions were good; something should be happening, surely time for a move, but where? I decided to wait for the rain to pass over.

Ten minutes later the “Billy’s backbiter” was whistling and I was quickly out of my chair and into the rain. The newly cast smelt had been picked up and line was trickling off the spool. As I wound down it was apparent the fish had picked up the bait and run out into open water, away from the tree. The strike me a decent resistance but I was using mono on this rod and it felt all wrong! I wound down again and took a couple of steps back to make sure everything was solid. I can’t remember the last Pike I played on mono! It was obviously a nice fish which plodded and swirled on a short line. At one point the head broke surface and for a while I thought I was into a real surprise. With the fish just out of range of the net I noticed that it was only attached by one of the double hooks, this looked like it was just nicked in. I really didn’t want to lose this one so eased the pressure a bit but managed to bring my first fish of the year over the net.

The hook came out with one twist of the forceps but it took longer to remove the other from the mesh! This fish wasn’t as big as I’d hoped but well worth putting on the scales and a quick photo. The camera had to be placed inside the shelter as it was still raining hard. One quick snap then I slipped her back into the pit.

With a fresh bait dropped back out I hurried back under shelter. As much as it felt strange playing that Pike on mono I wondered whether the light hook hold would have held had I been using braid? The rain hung around for an hour and I mostly spent this time drinking tea and peering out of the door hoping to see one of the lines start moving. With the end of the rain came the sun so out went the lure rod again. I fished on for a couple of hours by which time most of my rain sodden gear had dried. If I’d had more time I’d have moved swims as I definitely fancied my chances for another fish or two but I packed up content with one nice fish.

My craving for fishing had been satisfied with a short term quick fix. Now it’s that time of year when I begin counting the weeks before the rivers close again. That’s more than enough to motivate me into getting in the boat again. Yes the effort is greater but the potential reward is unequalled, anywhere. The law of sod will probably bring loads of ice and snow now...

Sunday 5 January 2014

Thank you Angry Birds

Once Christmas bedlam has finished we have New Year and whilst I take part in the former I usually try to ignore the latter. You may have noticed I’m not exactly ‘Mr Festive’ at this time of year. When I was younger I usually spent 1st January recovering from alcoholic apocalypse whilst drowning deadbaits, I’m not sure I ever caught anything though. On one particularly miserable New Year’s Day I found myself wondering what it was we were actually celebrating. I went out and got pissed because that’s what you did, but why? The numbers on the calendar change every day, weird really. Then again it’s probably just one last excuse to get rat arsed before we all go back to work. Nowadays I know what I like to do on 31st December, a nice glass of Shiraz and Jools Holland on BBC2 then wander outside to hear the church bells, works for me nearly every time. This year the bells were drowned out by fireworks, anyone who’d had an early night were reminded too.

Today I wasn’t the slightest bit hungover so Isaac and I managed to sneak out for a couple of hours to make our first visit of the year to the waterside. It was a cold day so we didn’t venture out until late morning when the temperature had climbed a little. By the time we left the house there was a breeze from the south and a little cloud had drifted over. For the first time in ages it would be dry but cold, a couple of hours would be our limit today.

By midday we were settled in on a local stillwater fishing a deadbait each. These were placed close to overhanging trees in quiet areas while we lure fished with other rods. I’ve stirred my son’s interest in fishing again through devious means. He’s a fan of the ‘Angry Birds’ video game so one of the new Rapala lures found its way into his Christmas stocking. There’s been an eight foot spinning rod lying untouched in the shed for years so I sorted out a little Mitchell reel, stuck on some braid and now he has a nice lightweight set up he can practice his casting with. This ruse worked, Isaac was enjoying himself, switching lures, casting and winding in with enthusiasm. His casting was erratic but he only caught one tree and most importantly he was having fun.

After a while the cold got to Isaac so he sat down to warm his hands inside gloves. He then went on a little wander, to explore the tree lined banks and have a look around. It was good for us to get out into the fresh air as we’ve been stuck inside too long. I’d had a couple of days when I could have ventured out fishing for a few hours but the weather had been foul and I couldn’t drag myself out of a warm, dry house. Isaac sat down again. I’d foolishly accepted an Xbox challenge so he amused himself describing the thrashing he was going to give me at “Fifa”, I had no defence.

Talking of thrashings, the Australians have finally hammered in the final nail putting an end to our long drawn out suffering. In 2010/11 the best prepared, most confident, in form team ever to leave England arrived down under. They hit the ground running, played brilliant cricket and won in style. This time around it was the total opposite; they said the right things but didn’t look like they believed it. They started indifferently in the warm up games and were blown away in Brisbane, things started badly then got worse. In truth England were only competitive on about five days throughout the whole series, only Broad and Stokes can walk tall. Australia’s batsmen done enough and their fielding was superb but their bowlers were brilliant putting a good captain in total control. I’m struggling to remember a test series as shambolic as this, there’s been several bad ones but none so bad as this.

England will now rebuild but there are six players that are certain to be in the team if fit. Apart from Broad and Stokes there are four players for whom England will say; “form is temporary, class is permanent”, these being Cook, Bell, Pietersen and Anderson. On the other hand Swann is gone for good and probably Carberry, Tremlett too. It’ll be a long road back for the likes of Bairstow, Bresnan and Rankin too. I like to think there’s a way back for Trott and Prior if they can find form.

Isaac warmed up and recommenced chucking lures in random directions; I moved my deadbait a little to the left. After a few minutes we noticed Isaac’s float steadily moving off. I was first to the rod and pulled the line out of the clip before handing Isaac the rod. He wound down tight and pulled pretty hard, for a few seconds there was a fish on… then the line fell slack. I think I was more disappointed than Isi, he’d found the whole thing exciting and was pleased to have ‘nearly caught one.’ Ten minutes later my float was on the move, being close to a snag I had to hit it quickly but I hit thin air. In hindsight that was a big lump of Herring… “Do you think it was the same Pike Dad?” I think he could have been right, we’ll never know.

We may well have had another chance but half an hour later we were on our way back to the car. We’d both enjoyed ourselves but if we’d hung around much longer Isaac would have become cold and I’d have trouble tempting him out again. As for me I’m itching to get fishing again, as soon as possible, whatever the weather.