Monday 26 April 2021

Seafood Platter

I’d hoped for a warm spring this year but we’ve had the same kind of weather for the whole month; clear skies with cold nights and bright days, winds from the north and east.  This had been putting me off sitting on a beach but talk of numerous Rays coming off the East Anglian coast became too much.  I decided to just wrap up warm and go for it and managed to convince Giles it was a good idea too.

By 1530 we were setting up on another bright afternoon with an east wind blowing into our chops, the tide was at its lowest but on the turn and due to rise.  There were a few other anglers already fishing but still miles of beach and loads of space.  Having had time to organise myself I had two rods fishing pretty quickly.  Picking up where I’d left off last summer I went for the methods I had started to get used to.  Half a bluey was mounted on a Pennell rig and attached to a pulley rig which was hurled out as far as I could comfortably chuck it.  The second rod was the old glass carp thing with a simple running leger baited with ragworm, this was just lobbed twenty yards or so.  The thinking was simple, a big bait for a big fish on one rod and a lighter set up to catch whatever is there.  These rods were then placed on the fancy new beach tripod thingy I’d reluctantly purchased.  Making do with my old kit is part of the fun but a decent tripod is essential.  Carrying a comfortable chair across the shingle is worthwhile too.

In contrast Giles had brought a bundle of gear that hadn’t been touched in six months and was still sitting on his arse trying to sort it all out.  Eventually he was ready and hurled a mess of multi coloured mono, hooks, lead and squid into the uncharacteristic blue sea, then sat down to roll a fag.  His backside had barely touched down before his tip was rattling and amazingly the rolling strike, made whilst still seated, connected with a fish.  What it was we don’t know.  It was small and flat, roughly diamond shaped, brown with a few spots.  We think either Flounder or Dab, either way another new species and we were off to a flying start which encouraged Giles to get a second rod out too.  He eventually settled for a running leger on one rod and a multi hook paternoster on the other.

After that we had almost constant action, weather and sea conditions allowed our tips to stay fairly still so we were able to see loads of little plucks and pulls on the lighter rods.  Occasionally we’d see a proper bite and be encouraged to strike and sometimes we’d even hook a fish.  My first success was only about four inches long but I’m almost certain it was a tiny Cod.  I should have taken photos for identification but by this stage I still hadn’t put batteries in the camera, I forget there’s one on my phone.  Shortly after this I had a banging bite on the light rod and hooked something that gave a little resistance.  At first I thought it was a dogfish but on closer inspection I’m sure it was a baby Smoothound, a Suffolk Shark!  This was the fish that first motivated us to try sea fishing so the camera had to come out for it even though it was just a pup and it only had marginal resemblance to how we picture a shark.  The bites continued, my next fish was small flat and kind of oval shaped, I think for one evening I had Sole.

It was Giles turn now and he hit a bite and wound in what we both knew to be a Whiting, which made five fish between us, each a different species.  Giles brought the score back to three each, as this one skipped up the beach it was fish shaped as opposed to being like a saucer but not a Whiting.  This one was definitely a Cod, (small but substantially bigger than the one I caught) which like all the others was chucked back to grow bigger.

Minutes turned to hours and the afternoon burned away, with the sun dropping it turned cold and I wished I’d brought another layer.  There were loads of other anglers about now, at least a dozen but everyone had space and kept to themselves.  The beach was dotted with those brightly coloured igloos used by sea anglers and I can see there’d be times when these would be essential.  Here there is nothing but stones and inland the countryside is flat, there is nowhere to hide.  Once again I felt respect for these hardy anglers who endure this harsh environment year round.  Although the lighter rods had been rattling constantly the only thing of note to happen on my heavier gear was hauling in someone else’s complicated rig along with several yards of line and two crabs, this was followed by a spectacular crack off.  Once I’d got it set up again I’d alternated between bluey and squid, the former was getting nibbled but the squid had been stripped.  It was fun catching the small stuff but I am starting to see why proper sea anglers are so blasé about it and I really wanted to see the big bait get picked up.

Giles is a much more proactive angler than I am and he’d started to hit a few more bites by holding his rod and feeling the bite develop.  I copied his technique to an extent but lacking his patience I waited until I saw a rattle before picking the rod out of the tripod.  As the sky grew darker so all the fish we caught were Whiting but they were getting a little bigger.  I felt cold but not uncomfortable, when the fishing is interesting it keeps the elements at bay but had there been stronger wind and fewer bites we’d certainly have been blown off the beach by now.

I was about to reach for the lighter rod when I saw a definite fishy nod on the rod with the big bait, all attention became focused on this.  Yes that was a definite bite but on striking I couldn’t feel much weight and a minute or so later another Whiting appeared in the waves.  Oh well, on with a whole squid, it was properly dark now and the tide was right up.  I think our minds would have been happy to fish for a couple more hours but our bodies were in last cast mode.  The ragworm had all been used up so I tidied the lighter rod away and sorted things out for a quick getaway.  All the while there was a slow up and down pull on the other rod, it seemed far too smooth to be caused by a fish but then again it had been fairly still all night, maybe something as yet unlearned about the tide?  With no reason to put it off any longer I picked up the rod and wound down to find a bit of weight, sure enough there was a fish attached and I know this was a Pouting because I’ve used them as bait for Pike in the past. 

Tramping back across what seems like miles of shifting shingles we guessed we’d caught around fifteen fish this evening, half of these were Whiting but in total we’d caught six different species and set a few modest PB’s.  Back at the car the display said it was just three degrees but the hike had warmed us up.   We barely know what we are doing and nothing we caught tonight would have made a meal but it’s actually nice to feel no obligation to appear remotely competent.  I like being a beginner. 

Saturday 17 April 2021


 9th April 2021

After three months I have my first fishing trip out of my ‘local area’, it’s been the Gipping valley since January and the weather these past few days has seemed more like winter.  But at least the buds and blossom remind me that it really is spring.  Today it’s as mild as it has been for a week and there’s a nice wind from the west.  I didn’t make a dawn start figuring I might as well let the temperature climb, perhaps this would encourage the newly stocked Tench and Carp to become active.  My journey coincided with morning rush hour but really on this road it doesn’t make much difference what time you go out.  As I got closer I found the track full of pot holes but rock hard and easily passable.  I loaded the punt quickly and set off looking for fish.

With a substantial new stocking, things should be very different this year and I fully expected to see fish moving about even though this has seldom been the case in the past.  I made my way right down to the embankment and half way back without seeing anything so settled down beside a snaggy bush and fished for a while.  A snowman rig was under armed alongside the bush and I fished corn on a float, both spots were baited with a couple of handfuls of pellets a few boilies and grains of corn.  My cynical plan is to use pellets to replicate the food these stockies are used to and add a few tasty morsels they won’t be able to resist.  With no signs of fish I was chucking and chancing but sat back to watch and wait, it was nice to be sitting in the spring sunshine, listening to the birds sing.

After ninety minutes I was restless so tidied up and went searching again, this time I went the other way rowing all the way to the top and drifting/paddling through the islands and back to where I started.  For most of these shallow areas I could see the bottom but detected no fish of note apart from a few fry and a Pike, today it was hard to believe the water had any new residents at all.  With nothing at all to go on I plotted up in the deepest area hoping the fish might think its winter, here I fished two boilies, sat back watching the water and chilled out some more.

An hour passed without a sign.  I’m impatient these days, I keep wanting to move if nothing is happening.  Maybe I should force myself to bank fish and sit in one spot?  I thought these stockies would be easy but surely they will be if I can find them.  So maybe I should stick to the boat but resolve to stay put?  Unless I see fish then it will be easier to move…  Decisions.

16th April 2021

Apparently madness is defined as the act of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, which is exactly how I’ve gone about spring fishing in recent years.  With this bubbling in my mind I drove to the Valley once more trying to catch Tench or Carp whilst fishing from a punt.  Had I actually hurried out of bed this morning I’d have had to scrape the screen but with the sun well up it wiped away.  After a typically chaotic ‘A’ road and an unfriendly farm track I arrived on a cool morning to find bright, clear skies and a fresh North Westerly wind.  I rowed slowly to the top of the wind, looking for fish in the clear water then drifted back and mooched about for a while.  All I saw was fry which shouldn’t have been a surprise.

On a spur I decided to fish at the spot I finished at last week which had a couple of things going for it.  Firstly I’d put a few handfuls of bait here and also it was between two overhanging trees so sheltered from the wind.  I baited each tree with a couple of handfuls of pellets and a few boilies then put a yellow pop up on one and a snowman rig on the other.  Two rods felt like plenty so I didn’t bother with the float rod.  It was 0930 by the time I settled down and reached for the flask and although still cool I was comfortable and enjoying the sun in my face.

I’d been there about forty five minutes before one of the friendly members appeared on the bank behind me and told me he’d seen carp moving about in recent days and also one had been caught at the weekend.  This gave me a bit of hope but it wasn’t good to hear of a couple of casualties.  Not long after he’d wandered off one of the dreaded furry creatures appeared and it was a big ugly bastard too but not enough to put the Swans off bouts of sadomasochism.  Thankfully the unwanted mammal soon vanished and I told myself if the fish are moving there’s a chance they’ll find my bait and for once I was content to just sit it out and see what happened.  Nowhere else looked any more inviting and no fish were giving me any clues, I was enjoying doing bugger all.

Around 1120 I could have sworn my right hand rod tip bounced a bit, I’d have definitely struck if it had been a quiver tip.  Maybe a minute passed, maybe less but the tip bent round and line started to peel steadily off the baitrunner, I actually had a take and still remembered that I needed to lift the rod and engage the reel.  Everything went as it should and I found myself attached to what was almost certainly a carp, plodding around against my vintage Tricast.  I’d forgotten that Carp don’t get easily tired of swimming round in ever decreasing circles and as it came closer I could see it obviously was a carp and not an enormous green thing.  It looked a dull brown and cream kind of colour with pale blotches, surely not a poxy koi?  Maybe I was a bit too careful but it seemed to take ages to get the stubborn creature close but it went in the net eventually and after many attempts I’d finally managed to catch a carp from a boat, albeit with vastly improved odds this season.  I rested the fish in the net while I sorted the boat out and by the time I lifted it aboard the hook had fallen out.  It was a nice lightly scaled Mirror, actually brighter coloured than it had looked in the water but the pale marks I’d noticed obviously came from a close encounter with an Otter.  I weighed this rare capture and took a quick snap then let it swim away after a second traumatic experience in recent weeks.

With the rod back out and the boat back to normal I sat and celebrated with a brew.  As far as I can remember this is the first Carp I've caught whilst fishing from a boat and after a bit of musing I made it the tenth freshwater species caught whilst afloat.  But that still doesn't include a bloody Tench...  So success!?  I think my relaxed approach worked this morning, instead of charging about looking for sings I sat and waited for fish to find my bait.  But will it work every time?  A lot will depend on how the fish adapt to both the types of mammal that are hunting them.  The morning turned into afternoon, I felt hopeful of another fish, surely it was alone?  In hindsight maybe I need to put a bit more bait down…  I had to be somewhere later on and could only stretch my time so far.  The wind swung more to the east and I for the first time all day I needed to put my coat on, enough was enough.  My spring fishing has started and I've actually caught something that isn't a Pike!  I will have another go but I don’t quite know when, I hope these Carp are fast learners but not in a fishing sense.

Monday 5 April 2021

Just once more...

 27th March 2021

I can never just let the Pike season just fizzle out, for some reason I always with to bring it to an official close.  I say to myself, ‘this’ll be the last trip’ and to mark this I take all the opened packs of bait out of the freezer, anything left will be hurled into whichever water I’m fishing when I finish.   Any bait still sealed in the packs will be fine for next year and this spring it was always likely to be a hell of a lot but with a shortage of Blueys predicted I stocked up while I could so my part of the freezer is still full.  This year my ‘last trip’ was a planned couple of hours at the not so secret pit but this time I wanted to do it a bit different.  As well as the lure rod I velcroed a couple of deadbait rods into the bundle as I really wanted to just chill out behind rods.  Also a bit of exploring had revealed another couple of gaps in the tree line that gave me room for one rod in each and were close enough to make it viable. 

As has become normal I had a relaxed start to the day, brew and breakfast before putting together a few bits and leaving the house.  I knew there wasn’t much headroom beneath the trees so I used the boat rods, I don’t think the twelve footers have been used all season?  Even with the extra gear I was still travelling super light, the walk was a good three quarters of a mile, some of it over rough ground.  By 1030 I was chilling out with a brew, half a herring float legered in front of me and a smelt on a float paternoster a few yards to the right.  It was good to be fishing a different spot, an area that had been quite productive in the distant past but not a swim I’d fished for many years.  The pit in front of me was thick with trees and the boundary behind me consisted of a tall hedgerow, it was as if I were reclining in a shady tunnel, the outside world forgotten.  The ground around me was turning green with new nettles and other plants but there was still little sign of life above me, apart from the blue tits hopping around.

The day was mild and bright with a fresh westerly blowing from left to right but sitting low in my tunnel of trees I was well sheltered and enjoying the isolation.  I was fishing for Pike but my mind was on other species, I am ready for a change and in the short term pellets and sweetcorn should be the way to go.  No sign of the Egrets today but a group of Tufted Ducks paddled past, they probably had the spring feeling and were distracted from eating carper’s boilies elsewhere in the valley.  Overhead I could hear the call of a Buzzard though the branches prevented me from actually seeing it and from time to time a Pheasant squawked, getting closer by the sound of things.  The pheasant was joined by another bird call, shrill and persistent, very persistent…  Then it dawned on me this bird sounded very much like a micron with a dying battery and I leapt (no rolled and staggered) to my feet, picked up the net and hurried to the right hand rod.  The bird call had stopped but the float was very definitely moving so I wound down quickly and had a short tug of war in the tight swim before netting a Pike, a little bigger than others I’ve caught here this year but still considered by most a Jack.  The fish was beautifully marked and as it had to have a short visit to the unhooking mat it was no bother to take a quick snap before returning it to a home from which it will be rarely disturbed.

In the commotion my paternoster link had snapped and as I am so organised I had forgotten to bring a spare lead.  I couldn’t risk a bait drifting into snags so decided to cut to one deadbait and chuck a lure around in the other gap.  So I reached into the small rucksack to find something was missing, my lures, all of them.  I’d carried that lure rod down here for nothing.  I cut to just the one rod for half an hour but had itchy feet so tidied up and pushed back through the undergrowth until I got to the little point I’ve fished a few times lately.  Here I dropped a float legered smelt down the shelf to my left and float fished another smelt, casting to my right and bowing the line so it would drift along the treeline.  Here I had the wind on my back and it kind of worked, the float drifted but the further it travelled the more it swung away from the trees, still it was covering water.  A handy pile of cut branches gave me shelter and I reclined once more, holding a steaming mug and looking out across the pit.

Time passed, the drifting float had travelled nicely but was now swinging around too far to the left.  The water level had dropped since my first visit a few weeks ago and it was a lot clearer.  Ideal conditions to slowly bring the smelt back ‘sink and draw’ style, the bait should be easily visible to any Pike.  Thinking about it, should it really be called ‘draw and sink’ because that’s the way I fish it?  But I suppose the bait has to be allowed to sink before the initial draw, unless it’s been drifting for twenty minutes?  Whatever, it’s a nice way to fish and something I do from time to time in Norfolk, where using a float stops the bait falling back into any weed.  I’d brought it to within ten yards of the bank when I felt a sharp tap and saw a pale flash so quickly opened the bale arm, the float submerged and pulled steadily to the right so I wound down and bent into another Pike.  This one was smaller than the first and was soon splashing in the shallows where it managed to through the hooks before I could pick it out.  Oh well…  Half an hour later I’d had enough so started tidying up, the slow sink and draw didn’t work a second time and my Pike season came to an end.

Jesus what a strange Pike season?  It started with weeks of me loving the challenge to catch something enormous and finished with a couple of months of being content catching Jacks.  I find the former exhilarating whilst the latter is amusing and enjoyable.  Once again it’s where I fish that matters, at the not so secret pit I rarely see another human and it has the air of unknown.  It’s unlikely to hold a really big Pike but I can dream and there is nobody to tell me any different.

The next time I fish I should be able to travel a bit further afield, assuming I’ve understood the latest rule changes of course.  I’ve said it before but I know I could safely fish out of my ‘local area’ but I felt the need to do the right thing.  As time has passed it’s become apparent that an awful lot of anglers have just carried on regardless, ‘local’ for many has meant crossing into different counties.  Several people have admitted this to me and it seems very many carpy syndicates have carried on night fishing too.  I suppose the more private syndicates do not come under as much scrutiny as open access clubs and their members want something for the big money they splash out.  It doesn’t bother me as I know I could have bent the rules and stayed safe, I just chose not to.  In the latter weeks of the season one of anglings latest superstars was splashed in the AT holding a very big river Pike which he caught back in November and much congratulations to him.  But a very good friend of mine swears blind that this particular fish is known to him and actually resides in a water that is at least forty five minutes’ drive from where the superstar lives.  From the photo I’ve seen of this fish I’m not 100% sure my friend is right but if he is…  Well it does stick in my throat a bit.  Publicising a big Pike is a fucking stupid thing to do at the best of times and there are places and times when you just don’t do it.  Why did he do it?  Strangely enough in the same publication in February the superstar had described catching a thirty pound Pike from a non-trout water as fishing’s biggest challenge.  When he made this statement he’d already done it…

3rd April 2021

And then it was April, not only that it was Easter weekend and with a little extra free time it would seem a waste if I didn’t spend some of it fishing.  Typically the weather which had been warm all week was unkind when I had time off but it was dry and it wasn’t too cold, the sun even shone at times.  The shed was still in winter mode and in these conditions I didn’t fancy trying my luck for anything different so it was back to the pit, lure fishing for Pike one more time.

Mid afternoon on Saturday, Isaac joined me but he wasn’t interested in fishing, he enjoys wandering around in the countryside these days and we walk many miles together each week.  As we approached the water a Muntjac broke cover, I pushed through the trees while Isaac carried on along the footpath.  We’d meet up again later.  I clipped on a sinking Real Eel and began, first cast in the bay I removed a substantial branch but on the second cast the tip went round again and rattled a bit.  A skinny jack was brought to hand and unhooked with my fingers.

There aren’t many fishable places around the pit but by now I know where all of them are so made my way to the next one.  Here I was cramped but managed to flick the lure around here and there and a cast along the bank to my left brought another fish, smaller than the first which chucked the lure in a spray at my feet.  The next gap was also tight but no fish showed so I quickly moved round to the little point where there is plenty of scope to cover a lot of water with a variety of lures.  The Real Eel produced a follow from a small fish but nothing else, nor did a shallow rigged shad or a spinnerbait.  Finally I put on a Salmo Slider and fished it quickly to keep it down, this done the trick and another, slightly bigger Pike joined me on the bank for a few seconds.

Isaac found me again, we stopped for a brew and a bag of crisps then resumed the circuit of the pit.  One of the gaps has been blocked by a fallen tree which meant there was only one tight spot left, I tried but nothing found an interest in my lure.  So I tidied my gear up and we resumed our walk in the countryside, back along the river and across the fields.  The hedgerows are now exploding in blossom, mostly white with the occasional splash of yellow but at this time of year my favourite colour is green and this is rapidly returning too. 

Sunday was mild and bright so I took the opportunity to rearrange the shed, a job that always takes longer than it should and isn’t entirely finished yet.  At least I’m now organised enough to fish for something different so that was definitely my last trip out for Pike for a long while, honest!