Tuesday 24 January 2017

Glorious defeat

For nearly two weeks I’ve been scraping the windscreen every day.  At first this was OK because I couldn’t go fishing anyway but as time ticked on it became apparent that it wasn’t going to get any better before the weekend.  I’d arranged a day out with Rich and we were both fairly confident that due to its nature, our venue of choice would be fishable, even though our local stillwaters were frozen.  Early Saturday morning I was pleasantly surprised to find a frost free screen but as the day progressed it just got colder.  Still we were ready to give it a go the next day but decided against getting up silly early.  The following day would be good and I went to bed looking forward it.

Loading the car just before seven it did feel bloody cold!  I’m not sure how accurate the car thermometer is but it read -6, surely not?  I was in no hurry on the road that’s for sure; Rich and I agreed we wouldn’t be expecting any early action anyway.  We turned left and the track ran alongside the stretch, it was frozen…  It could well be clear further down?  It wasn’t.  After poking around for half an hour or so we found some water the Swans had kept clear.  When they started to bugger off the clearance grew a bit more.  We had a starting point and a chance to get a rod in but we’d need to clear some ice first and it would mean bank fishing.  Could we be arsed?  With the sun rising above the mist, revealing a beautiful white winter landscape it was a lovely place to be, we’d done the hard part by getting out of our warm beds and we were here so why not?  A plan was hatched but it hinged on the old weed rake I’d seen laying around, was it still there?  Yes it was.

So we set to work, taking it in turns with the rake we started to smash ice and clear water.  After a while we got into a rhythm; Rich was hurling the rake and I, with the waterproof gloves, would haul it back in.  Thrashing the rope around was also smashing the smaller chunks of ice even further.  None of this was the slightest bit subtle!  We’d definitely be able to wet a line but the rake was landing short of the water cleared by the swans.  If we could just break through that we’d have a lot more space.  Rich set up a rod and clipped on a big lead, with this he was able to crack the ice and drag chunks of it back towards the bank where I could easily smash it up with the rake.  By 0930 we were ready to fish and the exercise had warmed us up nicely.

We had room for a couple of rods apiece but decided to settle for just one each.  We were under no illusions, a Pike showing up was unlikely but we talked it up.  We had time on our side and maybe the disturbance and the stir up might actually make a fish want to investigate?  The best spot we were able to reach was to the right and I offered this to Rich, he said no we’ll flip a coin for it.  Without any change between us we had to settle for a gripper lead, we agreed one side was shinier than the other and I opted to call “shine”.  Rich flipped the lead into the air and it landed and stuck in the frosty grass on its edge!  When we’d stopped laughing the second time the lead landed shiny side up so I flicked a smelt out to the right and Rich put a Herring out to the left.  We then sat back with a well-earned breakfast washed down with a cup of tea, we were fishing and we were happy.  After about half an hour Rich looked at his watch and with a grin said “Nothing’s happening mate, fancy a move?”

We had decided to fish for as long as we were enjoying it, a couple of hours at least, with great company and flowing conversation the time just drifted by.  A Buzzard soared overhead, a Kingfisher zipped by looking for a place to feed, somewhere a Bittern boomed.  As always our thoughts turned to the ‘special place’ our favourite water.  We remembered the good days, chuckled about the bad and made grand plans for the future.  Whatever state the system is in, for us there’s nothing else like it in fishing.  Time passed, we stuck to our single rods but moved them around and switched baits, trying to make it happen.  Then in the early afternoon Richard’s rod tip thumped and his flat jerked.  Something had definitely happened there but Rich wound down to nothing and there were no obvious marks on the bait.

With that came renewed confidence but this proved false hope.  There was no point in staying into darkness so we tidied everything up but were still reluctant to wind our rods in.  “Fifteen more minutes?” I asked; “Yeah what the hell” came the reply and even then we could have stayed longer.  We did the sensible thing and finally packed up before dark and before things started to freeze. It was good to get into a warm car and I turned the stereo up on the drive home. Some might see a fishless day like this as a waste of time and effort but in all honestly today was enjoyable as any time I’ve spent fishing this season.

I often moan and one of my favourite subjects is the general crappiness of good fishing magazines, even Carpology, formerly one of the best seems to have got more commercial and less believable.  The one notable exception is “Pikelines” which since Stephen Harper became editor has become a work of art, full of great articles.  Recently Phil Wakeford’s “Iconic” series has been very good and Chris Betts has done a brilliant job with his “Back to basics” articles.  This type of writing is usually a bore to someone who has been around the Piking block a few times but Chris has made it interesting.  Mr Harper even printed some of my guff.  To make things even more impressive “Pikelines” is a club magazine produced by volunteers.  The magazine is worth the membership alone, without all the other benefits of PAC membership which you can find out about by clicking the link on the left of the page.  Actually I’ll make it even easier for you;

Before I got side-tracked I was moaning about magazines…   Well hopefully I won’t be moaning for much longer as a new magazine will soon appear and this one will be a little bit different.  “Catch Cult” is being produced by experienced and successful anglers Rob Shallcroft and Martin Mumby.  It will feature proper writing from proper anglers and even me.  The magazine will cover all species, even Carp and a bit of sea fishing too.  It’s produced by anglers, for anglers.  Just like the magazines used to be.  More details to come.

Saturday 14 January 2017

Early January

With the Christmas nonsense over for another year January usually sees me with a little more time to fish but I'm not a fan of the short, cold days.  Still a few hours on the water beats the hell out of sitting in the house twiddling my thumbs so when the opportunity arises then out into the cold I go.

My first trip of the new year was in the company of my nephew Ollie.  To be honest it was no surprise that there was no sign of him when I called to pick him up, twenty year old lads like their bed!  No problem, I woke him up and he scrambled himself ready and off we went.  We still had the boat in position with five baits scattered before it was fully light. Methods would be the usual float ledgered deadbaits, Smelt and Herring had been consistent catchers in recent weeks and I also chucked out a Bluey.  The gloom gradually lessened and the floats were clearly visible bouncing over the slightest of ripples, it was a pleasant day to be out, despite the murkiness.  

The Pike have been switching on a bit later here in recent weeks so it was no surprise that takes didn’t come straight away.  It was the regulation forty five minutes before my Herring was picked up and I found myself winding into a fish.  The rod started to bend nicely but before I could really judge what was attached it became unattached, the fish was gone.  Bugger, or words to that effect but I didn’t have time to be disappointed as another rod was on the go, a smelt cast along the near margin was on its way down stream.  This time the rod stayed nicely bent and I could see a decent fish in the clear water, it didn’t do much and in no time at all I had my first Pike of the year in the net.  This was a scales and camera job and with the hooks removed in the net I hoisted her aboard, the weight was recorded, a couple of quick pictures then she was released, none the worse for the experience.  While this was going on Ollie had a fish swirl at a bait he was retrieving.  His repositioned bait was taken within seconds and he was briefly attached to a Pike but this too came adrift, maybe a bit of inexperience? 
 We stayed on the same spot for another forty five minutes or so before the first of many moves.  Firstly it was further down the stretch where we sat fishless for 45 minutes.  Next we began retracing our steps back upstream but our next move was rather an extended one.  Just as I was getting itchy feet Ollie had a take and second time lucky he set the hooks into a nice fish.  He’s not caught many Pike before so struggled to begin with but soon steered a fish of seven pounds or so over the net.  Once again the hooks came out easily and after another photo opportunity this one was slipped back.  Ollie had his Pike so it was mission accomplished for us both.  Things were working out nicely, two takes each and one fish each.  We decided to stay put a little longer and took the opportunity to toast a few sandwiches but by the time these were finished it was definitely time to move.
Next stop was back to my normal starting point, this time I took the boat to the opposite bank and fished the area from another angle.  We’d only just got set up when one of my rods went sailing downstream.  I wound down tight and felt another nice solid lump on the end.  At first it felt like a good fish but shrank at the net, still it was twelve pounds or thereabouts so happy days.  One thing I’ve noticed in the last couple of trips is that during the middle of the day we only seem to get one fish per move so didn’t stay on much longer on this spot.  The next spot, just upstream yielded nothing but we were able to observe Roach topping further up and our next move was in this direction.  As we dropped the weights down there were two Pike strikes with accompanying showers of Roach so our baits were sent out with confidence.  At first nothing happened, I’ve come to expect, but after half an hour there were a couple more strikes.  Shortly after these Ollie’s upstream rod was taken and he was into another fish.  He looked a lot more comfortable this time and was soon steering his Pike over the net.  This one was around nine pounds so he’d upped his PB a little.

After that we had one move short stop a bit closer to the boat shed but nothing happened here.  We packed up by torchlight then rowed quickly back to base.  For once the fish had been fair, we’d had three takes and boated two fish each.  Better than that we’d chatted and laughed all day and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  That’s what fishing is about!

A few days later I was back in the boat, this time in the company of Mr N.  We started the day fishing some of his favourite areas then we visited some areas that I have caught from but Mr N rarely fishes.  We picked up fish in ones and twos throughout the day, I say we but in reality Mr N caught five or six while I had to settle for just the one.  We only fish together three of four times a year and it's always a good day sharing experiences and opinions on fishing and just about every other subject under the sun.  Speaking of which, we actually saw the sun today!  My recent fishing trips have all taken place under a blanket of gloomy cloud.

In the days that followed I racked my brains as to a reason why I had been so thoroughly outfished.  We were basically fishing the same deadbaits on similar float leger rigs, our traces at the business end were very similar.  The first obvious difference was line; was Mr N’s mono less visible than my braid in the clear water?  I began to think about using some kind of leader or uptrace, I don’t want to revert to mono as the advantages of braid are so great.  In the end another less obvious difference became apparent when I though a little more about bait.  As Mr N was catching steadily through the day it stands to reason that he was changing baits regularly. My only take of the day came to a Lamprey head fresh out of the deadbait bag.  I think that when we dropped down in new swims Mr N’s deadbaits were fresher and smellier than mine and were therefore found quicker.  In future I should change bait more often!

Sunday 1 January 2017

New Years Eve

Three weeks since my last chance to fish and with the housebound hell of Xmas over I was itching to get the rods out.  Thankfully this year I managed a couple of extra days holiday and for once could pick my day.  I had intended to fish on the Friday but it was a cold raw day and the forecast following was much milder and in my mind better. For once I had a reasonable nights sleep ahead of a days fishing and I was filling the flasks by 0600 looking forward to a fun day ahead.  Isaac was joining me today but first I had to prise him from his bed.  This he did without complaint and after tea and a biscuit we set off into the dark.  The head-torch was still needed at the boat yard, firstly to equip ourselves with several layers of clothing, Isaac looked like a real tree Michelin man, then to sort the boat out.  We were soon loaded and away and without a visible sunrise the gloom gradually lessened enough to be treated to the sight of a Bittern flying parallel and soon overtaking us.

As we made our way downstream we chatted about the day ahead.  In the past Isaac's winter Pike fishing has been short sessions on waters that can be tough at the best of times.  Today we could expect more prolific fishing and I assured Isaac that he had a good chance of beating his long time PB, a nine pound fish caught on a lure from a fenland river.  He didn't seem convinced...  Whenever I fish this water I always begin at the same spot and today was no exception.  It is a consistent area so I suppose I fish it first, before anyone else can but I really should be more flexible.  By 0745 we had five rods out with a variety of deadbaits in prime positions, now it was just down to the Pike.

Forty five minutes passed and I was telling myself I definitely should have fished somewhere else, it was fully daylight and all of the floats were glowing out but not actually going anywhere.  There was nothing showing either, no swirls or showers of silver fish and I began to feel anxious, it would be sods law if today turned out to be a duffer.  Then all fears dispelled as Isaac's float cast upstream began to move towards the margin.  He picked up the rod and almost fluffed the strike but the fish was on.  It's been a while since he's hooked anything substantial so was out of practice and made a few mistakes but his luck was in and the first Pike of the day was netted to smiles all round.

The cloud was breaking up allowing the occasional spell that could almost be considered bright.  The day was the mildest for a week and a light south westerly rippled the surface, it was looking good.  Another half an hour passed and I suggested a move.  We were half way through tidying up when a ticking baitrunner sounded the alert, Isaac's same rod was away again.  This time he done everything right and it was soon clear to me that Isaac was attached to something substantial.  A gill flare on the surface revealed a long fish with a big mouth and Isaac couldn't quite believe what was happening.  It was in the net without too much trouble and with both of us looking down at a long, large Pike that would obviously obliterate Isaac's PB.  "I can't believe I've just caught that!" he said.  Unfortunately it was then that things began to get complicated.  

Isaac's hooks came out easily but I noticed another trace disappearing down the throat.  A steady pull brought a tangle into view, not just one trace but a second set of hooks too.  After a bit of teasing and turning I managed to get these out and we left the fish in the net to rest for a bit, thankfully the fish seemed OK.  While the fish rested I got the scales and camera ready and inspected the ironmongery I'd removed.  One of the traces had a couple of yards of line attached as you would expect, the other trace appeared to have been cut above the top treble.  All the evidence suggests inexperienced or uncaring anglers have been fishing.  The former can be educated but the latter should be made unwelcome.  With the Pike looking strong in the net I quickly lifted her into the weigh sling and onto the scales which revealed Isaac had almost doubled his previous PB.  After a couple of photos we slipped her back and thankfully she flicked her tail and cruised away.

Despite catching a good fish I decided to continue with the plan and move anyway, in hindsight this was possibly a mistake, another big Pike could well have been on the cards.  A while later we were settled again.  As usual after a move I was alert, expecting action quickly but by now I should know the Pike will make us wait until the anticipation and optimism has started to melt away.  Once again it was one of Isaac's rods, this baited with a smelt.  The float sailed downstream but the bait was dropped before Isaac made contact.  Within minutes the recast smelt was moving again and this time Isaac made contact and got into a proper tug of war with his third fish of the day which completed his first ever brace of doubles.

It was great seeing Isaac catch three nice fish and he was delighted.  The most important aim of the day had been accomplished and now I was desperate to catch, just one fish would be enough for a perfect day.  With a healthy 3-0 lead Isaac became confident enough to indulge in a little piss taking at my lack of success which provided more motivation.  Thirty minutes without action meant time for another move.  Time continued to pass, my son upping the wind up, surely I'm not going to blank?  Just before noon and was that?  Yes!  My float was away, a Pike had picked up a bluey.  At first the fish felt small but had run quickly towards the boat and when the rod bent fully it started to kick a bit.  Isaac netted her for me and I was on the score sheet at last.

We headed back towards the boatyard with one more stop planned.  I had an area in mind and this was confirmed by a couple of swirls and roach showers.  We stopped and set up quickly, naively expecting instant action again but the show seemed to be over.  Maybe we'd spooked the fish?  Would they return?  It was interesting to note the silver fish, the first I'd seen all day and in a different area yet again.  At this point of the day the sun actually came out and was visible for a few minutes, this hasn't happened often when I've fished lately.   I've become used to being pelted with rain this season and gloomy looking clouds were creeping up from the west.  After an hour without a fish we decided we were happy with our lot and enough was enough but float trolled a couple of rods back to the boatyard just in case.  A while later as we pulled onto the main road the first spots of rain hit the screen, perfect timing for once.

Fishing wise 2016 can be summed up simply and quickly by splitting the year into thirds.  The first four months went well and I put some good fish in the net.  The next four saw me almost failing to catch anything of note and all and the final four I was back to catching nice fish again.  My successes included Pike, Roach and more Pike.  I failed completely with Tench and Carp.  As always I thoroughly enjoyed it all.  The places I've fished have been a mixture, one water is relatively new to me, another is an old favourite that I hadn't fished for a decade and then there's my familiar Broadland haunts.  I don't expect things to change much in 2017 but you never know.  Here's my favourite fishy photo from last year.

In October of this year I wrote about travelling and included the following words; "These journeys have ended in ecstasy, despair and every emotion in between.”  A few days later I was fishing in Norfolk when a phone call brought horrific news.  I could never have foreseen such a desperate journey home, knowing a young angler had lost his life in a terrible accident.  A few weeks later another, older angler lost his long battle too.  Families and friends are hurting but we will remember them with a smile when we fish.  Fishing soothes the soul, a few hours of escapism by the waterside hunting down wet slimy fish, keeps us sane in a mad world.