Thursday 29 January 2015

The bleak mid winter

When is a National Park not a National Park?  When it’s the Broads National Park.  For some years the Broads Authority has been lobbying for the area to gain national park status.  Surely for a renowned area of natural beauty this should be a no-brainer?  Standing in the way is the ‘Sandford principle’ which states; “where irreconcilable conflicts exist between conservation and public enjoyment, then conservation interest should take priority”.  Obviously anglers will be very wary of this as we already have to contend with too many restrictions and exclusions.  The boating fraternity have far more to lose however and it is this well-heeled and influential group that holds sway within the BA.  We have seen the lengths the boaters can push the BA to with the ill-conceived dredging of Heigham Sound a few years ago.  Thankfully this project is being handled more sensitively nowadays and it seemed as if a bit of common sense had crept into the Broads Authority. 

To cut a very long story short, the BA has side stepped the Sandford principle by a simple re-branding.  The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads have been renamed the Broads National Park.  Apparently the broads are equal to the countries other national parks without having the legal status.  The new name alone will give the area all the advantages it needs without actually having to conform to the “legal restrictions”.  So it’s not a national park but its okay to call it a national park?  So if I piss into an empty bottle can I call it lager?  You have to laugh at the BA’s use of double speak but from a purely selfish point of view, it’s all fine by me.  I’m sceptical towards any changes being to angler’s advantage.  Anyway...

I never sleep well the night before a fishing trip and was up at 0445, before the alarm had even sounded.  For the first time in a year I braved the ordeal of dragging myself out of a warm bed at a stupid time on a cold frosty morning.  My motivation was the first trip of the year to the special place.  Everything that could be sorted was loaded already so it was just a case of filling the flasks and hitting the road.  At that time of day the roads were empty and the drive was easy.  A Barn Owl ghosted along the verge, ‘Goat’ throbbed from the speakers and my head bobbed to the rhythm.

I’ve launched in the dark so many times that it’s smooth and easy nowadays, apart from having to shift thick ice from the boat cover.  Launching does require a bit of sweat and grunt, I remembered not to layer up with too many clothes before the boat was on the water, I don’t want to be sweating this early in the day.  Bait catching is quick and easy and all over in a few minutes, knowing where is the key.  I sorted the boat and tackled up in the dark, this way I make far less noise when I’m out on the water.  Another boat at the slip gave me the hurry up; you don’t often get that at the times I usually launch.  The engine doesn’t want to start at first but eventually splutters into life and farts its way out onto the broad then off to my destination.

I cut the engine about 100 yards short of the spot then rowed in and quietly dropped the weights.  Three rods with float leger rigs were baited with deadbaits and positioned around the boat, two covering a feature the other in open water.  The fourth rod had a live Roach fished on a float rig and allowed to drift downwind.  With the rods out I got the boat tidy and organised then put the cuddy half up for a windbreak.  Time to relax, pour a brew and reach for the rizla (“judge not, before ya judge yaself…”).  A deep relaxed sigh… Here I am, sitting in my comfortable chair, looking out across a beautiful wetland wilderness; just 2 1/2 hours after getting up; “it was all worth it, to be here now…”  Bliss.

After half an hour the first Harrier had drifted in silhouette into the trees.  There was no spectacular sunrise today, just slowly growing light behind a blanket of low cloud.  I’m in the mood for music today so I have Radio6 music tuned in and playing quietly in the boat.  The DJ is Marianne Hobbs and she’s on top form with Led Zep’s “Ramble on”.  What is Plant on about?  “It was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair…”  Must have been some trip Bob!  This was followed by loads of good tunes; the Charlatans, and Kraftwerk to name just a couple.

After forty five minutes I’ve been twitching all the baits and recast the Lamprey as there was more weed than I expected.  The conditions aren’t great, the temperature has been low for a couple of weeks so it may pay to keep them baits on the move because I don’t think the Pike will be travelling far today.  I need to cover water and try to put a bait so close to a fish that it’s too good to miss.  I expect it to be a hard, slow day and just putting a fish in the boat will be a result but this is a place in which dreams can come true.  It’s nice to see a Grebe working the area.  It knows what I know and much, much more.  By now it’s a little brighter with blue sky visible through holes in the thinning cloud, the light westerly is giving just enough ripple, the water is moving, the deadbait scents will be drifting.

By 0900 the sun is out and the shades are on, not only do they filter the sun they keep the wind off exposed skin, it’s a raw one today.  Good gloves are essential too, especially when hauling up wet anchor ropes.  I use ‘Sealskinz’ which are tough, 100% waterproof, the thumb and forefinger fold back and are held by magnets freeing my fingers for fiddly jobs.  The gloves rarely have to come off throughout the day.  I’ve had mine over a year now and there’s no sign of damage, not cheap at around £40 but money well spent. Breakfast is digestive biscuits, quick easy and filling.  I can’t be arsed with the fry up these days, too much mess and too distracting.  Time is up on this spot, I have to move on.
I lift the weights and drift downwind a hundred yards or so, paddling with an oar to maintain course.  The same four baits are arranged and I sit back to scan the floats some more.  I’ll give it an hour here and if nothing happens I’ll start the engine and head off elsewhere.  Thinking ahead… I wish I’d noticed where the other boat went first thing but I was concentrating on getting the baits out.  My guts are rumbling, wish I’d curled one off before I left this morning.  Sipping tea and watching the water, the strange calls of cranes away to the south.  Mary Anne sounds like she nods off to sleep between tunes but had carried on in good form with Primal Scream and an old Michael Jackson tune from back when he was still black.  Now Cerys Matthews has taken over with a silky, sexy voice but she plays a load of folky, country shite so I switch the radio off for a while.

Late morning and I’m taking a slow cruise to another mark, one that has form for good fish at this time of day, at this time of year.  But that was before the last Prymnesium, things are much tougher these days.  A cruising harrier crosses my path on its way to join another to the east of me.  This area is always a reliable spot to watch the Harriers and the occasional Buzzard.  Once again I cut the engine and row into position in the ‘midday bay’, dropping the livebait over the side on the way, paying out line as I go.  I’ll slowly draw it back towards my anchored boat over the next hour or so.  Once the boat is secure the deadbaits are spread and I sit back to watch the Harriers which don’t disappoint.  There are loads of swans here too, thankfully keeping their distance, going arse upwards to get to the weed.  It’s still bright and the wind has picked up now, whistling through the reeds but it definitely feels much milder than it has for a few days.

After just over an hour I lift the weights again and drift further into the bay.  With the baits out again it’s time for lunch, a cold tin of pilchards followed by a chocolate bar and more biscuits.  I have a tin of soup but can’t be bothered and only use the stove to boil the kettle and top up the flasks.  Cerys Matthew got better, peaking with a Royksopp track then there was a Smashing Pumpkins gig.  It’s great to be back out in the boat but the fish aren’t where I expect to find them and what I’m doing isn’t working today.  After a bit of thought I decide to have a complete change of method and the time to do it is right now!

Half an hour later I kill the engine once again and quickly rearrange the boat.  I have a bucket full of bait and I’m going to try and use it!  The two rods with bottom end floats are put to one side while the other two rigged up with inline floats are adjusted slightly and set to troll livebaits through an area I rarely fish.  I head off on the oars, it’s a while since I’ve trolled and it takes me a few minutes, making the same old mistakes, before I get the hang of it again.  After that it comes easy and I oh so slowly covered water.  After forty minutes or so I’m happy with the way I’m fishing but I haven’t dragged a bait close enough to a Pike and then…  A float buries and the baitrunner starts to sing my favourite song.  I quickly drop the small weight over the side then pick up the rod and wind into a fish.  It’s only a jack but it pulls the rod round and I’m well pleased to chin it out.  The hooks come out with my fingers and I notice the fish has loads of leaches hitching a ride.  Some say this is a sign of a fish that hasn’t been moving very much and I’ve definitely noticed Pike are more leachy when it’s cold.  The change of plan has worked; I have a fish under my belt now it’s time for another.

 Half an hour later the other float stabs then zips along the surface accompanied by the buzzing baitrunner.  I repeat the procedure but the float has stopped before I pick the rod up and I wind down to find the bait has been stolen.  Do I turn and cover the area again?  No, I decide to rest the area and come back this way in a little while.

Another twenty minutes pass and as my first float passes alongside a nice feature it slowly and effortlessly slides across the surface.  Weight down, pick up rod and… Yes!  Another Pike hooked.  This one is a little bigger than the first but not enough to excite many Pikers, still on a cold day it puts a warm smile on my face.  However I still want more and bigger.

I trolled for another hour, going back over the areas that had produced fish but failed to find any more Pike.  With the sun going low I started the engine again and headed back towards base then settle down fishing three deads and a live once more.  Ducks are quaking and there’s the roosting racket of a gazillion gulls. I’d have said that the dusk period would be the best chance of a fish today but I’m not really feeling it.  Still I go through the motions and settle down to watch the sun set.  Dusk is an eerie time out here in the wilds.  The shadowy trees are threatening and the gulls now sound like they’re challenging me for invading their space.  It’s now 1700 and almost dark; I’ll give it half an hour more.  It has been a tough day but making a change has brought me a couple of fish and I’ve enjoyed the time on the water.  I’m probably a day or so early, it’s been a bit warmer but not warm enough.  The next couple of days should see fish moving but I’ll be back at work, typical.

By 1830 I’m off the water and looking forward to a sixty mile drive on crappy roads.  For company I had a Richie Benaud audio book describing some great West Indian cricketers; Wes Hall, Michael Holding and Sir Viv Richards.  After that I had another blast of Goat which saw me home.  By the time I’d unloaded the car and closed the door behind me it was gone eight o clock and I’d enjoyed every minute.  I choose the places I spend my time in carefully.  I enjoy just being there, letting the countryside cleanse the bullshit of modern life from my soul.  I’m dreaming of catching the most special Broadland queen but along the way I get a buzz from every one of her little sisters.

Monday 12 January 2015

All new

The end of the week had seen mild weather and strong westerly winds, ideal Pike fishing conditions but unfortunately I was stuck at work.  Saturday evening was spent talking, laughing, eating Chinese and drinking Guinness with my oldest, dearest friends.  It’s been years since I’ve been in Town on a Saturday night but things haven’t changed, drunk lads will always feel the need to fight each other.  Thankfully this was just a side show which didn’t spoil our evening out.  These nights are all too rare so it was well worth sacrificing an early start on my day off.  I didn’t feel too rough in the morning but still didn’t hurry out of bed.  I was planning to fish the afternoon through dusk when all the Pike should come on the feed, in theory….

I spent a bit of time out in the back yard getting my gear together as Christmas had bestowed a bit of new kit to incorporate into/onto my tackle.  My old fishing shelter finally gave up the ghost this season.  It was a pop up tent that was marketed by Relum and aimed mostly at beach anglers. I bought this in 1997 because I was fed up with lugging a big wavelock umbrella around.  My mates took the piss and christened it the ‘portaloo’ but it was lightweight, set up in a couple of minutes and was far better than the old brollies at that time.  It lasted me all of seventeen years and if they were still available I’d seriously consider getting another one.  Umbrella design and materials have come a long way since I last owned a brolly and I ended up buying a 60” oval brolly.  Having looked at a few different options first hand I could see little difference between them so went for one marketed by TFGear, simply because it was cheapest.

The new shelter is much bigger than the old but still lighter than the old wavelock brollies however it was obvious that my old quiver would not be up to the job.  I think this item was even older than the shelter and I’m pretty sure it came from ‘The tackle shop’, I have a feeling it originally went on the market when Trevor Moss owned the shop.  I reckon I’ve used this old quiver for at least twenty years and it has been bodged up and repaired over this time so a new one was overdue.  Perks of the job again, I got to look at four different quivers from four manufacturers before choosing a 30 plus Kodex model.  Finally I bought a fox specialist unhooking mat simply because it clips neatly on top of my rucksack.

The time I spent sorting this lot out with a fierce wind cutting through me had me questioning if I really wanted to venture out into the cold at all.  It’s windy, cold and horrible, the best conditions have been and gone so why bother?  Having made the effort to sort the gear I thought ‘what the hell?’ give the new gear a test if nothing else.  So with the car loaded and everything ready I only had to decide where to fish.  My destination must tick two boxes; firstly it had to be unaffected from flood water after recent heavy rain, secondly I craved peace and quiet so as few other anglers/strollers as possible.  I’d had a couple of days to ponder on this and had come up with a water that I haven’t fished for a long time.  It would mean travelling a bit further than I would normally like but I fancied giving it a recce to refresh my memory if nothing else, so why not give it a go?
Because I'm a fun guy

 I arrived around midday and after a bit of a walk picked a swim offering me shelter from the wind as well as lots of water to cover.  The new quiver felt comfortable, so far so good.  To keep warm I would need the shelter up so I didn’t want to move camp, instead I had plenty of scope to keep the baits on the move with frequent recasts to different areas.  I legered a bluey on my left and float legered a smelt to the right, both were quietly dropped at the bottom of the marginal shelf, always a good place to start.  With the baits out it was time to tackle the new Oval brolly which went up easily and was solid all afternoon with the storm poles and pegs securing it.  There was a groundsheet included too but I can’t see myself ever using this so it might as well stay at home in future.

An hour later I’d recast both rods and set up a third with a float rig suspending a Joey Mackerel a foot or so off the bottom.  The plan was to cast this out and let it drift around with the wind then slowly retrieve it ‘sink & draw’ style.  The water was gin clear just as I’d remembered so hopefully this moving bait would be easily visible to any Pike around, at least that was the plan.  It was a pleasant afternoon, bright enough for shades and a cap to be required, with the new brolly keeping the wind of me and the sun on my face I was warm and comfortable.  It was really enjoyable working the swim, moving the baits around and refreshing my memory. After two weeks away from the waterside it felt good being out in the East Anglian countryside, I’d forgotten what a nice place this is.  There was just one other angler who packed up mid afternoon and only one friendly stroller who was OK.  However something was missing, the Pike weren’t playing ball.

Around 1530 I noticed a couple of bait fish break the surface close in so repositioned the float legered Smelt, back to the marginal shelf where I’d begun fishing.  Ten minutes later I was watching my drifting float riding the waves, I glanced back to the margin float to see it was laying flat.  Action stations… net in position, wind down slowly and… nothing.  I wound in to find a bit of weed on the hook and no marks on the bait but for that float to be laying flat the lead must have been moved?  If I’d been concentrating on that float instead of the drifter I’d know what had happened for sure.  A well set float leger rig, using an unweighted bottom end pencil type float (I like the Drennan Pike Wagglers) gives brilliant bite indication. When a Pike picks up the bait the float tends to rise and wobble then lay flat before sliding away.  It’s one of the best sights in fishing and I’d missed it.  By now there were more and more silver fish topping so I recast the smelt and also wound the drifting mackerel back into the area.  With darkness creeping closer, the surface was alive with fish and chances of a Pike seemed better than at any time previously, unless I’d missed my chance.

At 1600 a single beep drew my attention to the float above the smelt which had a decided wobble on, it didn’t lay flat but yes it was slipping away into the open water!  Repeat the procedure… net in place, wind down and fish on!  It felt heavy to begin but the fully bent rod had the fish moving towards me.  It plodded about in the deep margin then decided it didn’t want to be there and tried to power off.  I don’t like giving line but this fish was making me fight to hold on, the new Grey’s rod absorbed this all nicely and a decent fish was soon netted.  With the net secured in the margin I sorted out the forceps, scales and camera for a quick self take.  The double hook had a solid hold in the scissor but came out easily, the scales showed the fish was heavier than expected.  She was a lovely dark spotty fish but had a chunk of tail missing and scratches down one flank, definite signs of Otter attention here too.  The other flank looked nice which is obviously the one shown in the photo but on reflection I should have took a snap of both sides.  After the quick photo I slipped her back, a much better result than I’d expected when I left home, nice one! 
There were still loads of silvers topping so I recast the smelt and adjusted the depth on the mackerel so my bait lay on the bottom.  I felt I was in with another chance so decided to sit tight for another half hour or so.  As this time passed by I began to tidy up, getting as much as possible stowed away while it was still light enough to see.  The oval brolly stowed away as easy as it went up I’m happy to say.  I packed away the leger rod leaving the two float rods sitting on microns with the tips in the air.  I always pack up this way, leaving the rods to the absolute last minute.  At 1635 it was fully dark when the Micron cried out alerting me to the Mackerel heading off into deeper water at a rate of knots.  Same routine with the net again and this time the ancient Tricast rod bent round and into a Pike.  This one pulled like one of its big sisters and when the head torch picked it out it was smaller than I expected but still a pleasing fish.  Fish were still topping so I sent the bait out again and sat back with a grin.  For once the Pike had behaved just like the books tell us they should in mid-winter; I’d had a lay in and a couple of nice fish too.  It was only at this point that I realised they were my first Pike of 2015, I’m up and running for the year. 

I sat it out until I couldn’t see the floats at all and the silvers had all but stopped topping.  By this time the flask was empty and my stomach was growling for a feed.  By 1730 I was back in the car and heading home with Black Keys rattling the speakers.  It would be nice if The Pike always fed at a nice comfortable hour of the day and I could have a lay in every week.  It was interesting to see the water come alive as the light faded so maybe they do and I can?  For a short while at least.