Saturday 20 January 2024

When the weather is crunchy

I always end up with at least a week’s holiday in January.  It’s a horrible time of year but the work holiday period finishes at the end of the month and I usually have a few spare days.  Whatever week I end up having, sod’s law inevitably intervenes and arctic weather descends which is exactly what happened this time.  But after a couple of weeks housebound I’m feeling the pull and have to fish even if conditions are far from ideal.  Two and a bit weeks into the new year I was yet to catch a Pike which for some reason was bugging me, I needed to put this right.  Despite the cold there’s been a decent wind which has kept the stillwaters ice free but how would I find the Drain?

The answer was frozen, mostly, despite me having a late start to allow the sun to get on the water, (at least that’s what I told myself).  The only area clear of thin ice was one that hadn’t produced on my last couple of visits, so not somewhere I would have chosen to start.  I soon had three deadbaits out – near, middle and far but I wasn’t particularly confident.  However sat back on my chair with a brew, it was good to be out in the countryside.  The morning was cold and cloudy but there was little breeze so it stayed comfortable.  A Robin kept me company, scrounging a few little pieces of biscuit, I think these birds know exactly what they are doing.  A bird of prey glided over, a dark Buzzard shape in silhouette against a grey sky.  An armada of Swans flopped into the water opposite me, normally I’d curse the creatures but today they moved downstream and so broke up a lot of the thinning ice.

An hour passed, scanning the now drifting ice - planning a move my eyes noticed a line lift up, was it?  Yes, something was moving off with a smelt cast to the far side.  I wound down quickly and yes I was into a fish, there was no great resistance and I soon had my first Pike of 2024 in the net.  The smelt was still intact so was recast back to the far side of the drain and I sat back with a smile.  Half an hour later the same rod was away again, another mint fish a little bigger than the first and I completed a hat-trick shortly after with another one on smelt which might have been a double had I got the scales out.  I had two more takes before noon but both were dropped before I wound down, sometimes a sign of pressure but equally a symptom of cold weather.

Despite having plenty of action, after a quiet forty five minutes or so I had itchy feet, time for a move downstream.  A few minutes later I was settled in what would have been my first choice swim when I’d arrived this morning.  I had nice overhanging trees on either side so swung a bluey to the left and a herring to the right then cast a smelt to the far side again.  The Robin had followed me, still on the cadge for biscuit crumbs and bedraggled looking Blue Tits chirped in the trees.  After half an hour a float started creeping away downstream, I set the hooks quickly and bullied the fish away from the tree then pretty much straight into the net, the smallest fish of the day was soon unhooked and returned.  I’d barely recast this rod when the smelt cast to the far side was off again, I wound in and quickly brought a reasonable fish to the surface where it thrashed and spat the hooks back at me, oh well.

The right hand rod had been quiet so I cast it further out and back upstream.  This had been in position for about half an hour before the float jabbed and the Micron let out a couple of beeps.  I stood next to the rod expecting the float to slide away but nothing happened, surely that was a pick up?  I gave it five minutes then wound the rod in, the herring definitely showed signs of attention but was still good for a recast so back out it went.  The float had hardly settled before it was steaming downstream, I struck quickly and heaved the fish away from the middle line, just.  This fish plodded about a bit but soon rolled over and into the net, a long lean, tatty looking fish brought my tally to five.

The day was still gloomy but my mood was bright, I’d set out with the simple goal of catching a Pike and this I’d more than achieved.  By 1430 the wind had gathered speed and swung to the north, for the first time my face and hands were raw.  I gave it another half hour then thought ‘that’s enough’ and head for home.

A couple of days later...

I don’t care what anyone says, those crisp, frosty winter days with clear skies and a gentle breeze does not equal ‘pike weather’, not on the vast majority of the places I fish at least.  On some waters I wouldn’t even bother going when the weather is like this.  Two exceptions to this for me are rivers with a good flow and deeper stillwaters, on these waters I feel I have a chance when the weather is crunchy.  Which is just as well because I’d arranged to join a Suffolk PAC ‘fish in’ on a big gravel pit that I hadn’t fished for over twenty years.

I’ve kept an angling diary from the beginning and I’m organised enough to know where to look for details from two decades ago, so I was able to remind myself where I’d caught fish back then and google earth filled in a few blanks too.  I was last out of the draw so everyone else had picked their swims by the time I was hiking but this didn’t matter as I still ended up fishing roughly where I would have had I come out first.  I started off fishing a float legered bluey a couple of rod lengths out in fourteen feet of water while a smelt attached to a sunk float paternoster rig was cast into over twenty and twitched back towards me.  I also used a lure rod from time to time, buzzing Shads and Spinnerbaits about, just trying to wake something up if anything.  I moved twice in attempt to cover water and hopefully drop a bait near to a Pike as I didn’t expect them to be moving about much in this cold weather.  Despite putting in a big effort I didn’t get a pull, that’s fishing.

A few of my comrades caught Pike, two of which were while I was on the move so I did see a couple of nice fish and I’d forgotten what a pleasant water this is.  It’s big enough to be interesting with enough water for fish to avoid being caught too often, angling pressure should have less effect than a smaller water.  Being a mature gravel pit it’s also a nice place to sit and watch the world go by and I’m sure I’ll be back some time.  Two enjoyable days fishing two totally different types of water but what I really want to do is get back to Norfolk…

Saturday 13 January 2024

A slow start

My first fishing trip of 2024 saw me chasing Pike in the Suffolk boat in the company of Mr RO.  We’d picked a rare day when it didn’t piss it down but recent rain had coloured the lake heavily.  This didn’t put the Pike off but they were highly selective in what they ate, exclusively picking up Mr RO’s baits in preference to my own.  It was a really enjoyable day nonetheless and I would claim to be the perfect host after letting my guest catch all the fish.

Like the days before my last trip for Pike, the days afterwards followed the same trend.  It was as if the heavens had taken laxatives as we had relentless, torrential rain, (enough cliches?)  Actually this winter so far has to be the wettest I can remember, three times lately I’ve seen the river at new heights and the surrounding streets and fields new depths.  The river now seems to be flooding after every shower, such is the water table at the moment, we’ve had a hell of a lot of rain but it shouldn’t be forgotten that tons of concrete has been sunk into the river valley over the last couple of years.  Hundreds of acres of land that would previously have soaked and absorbed rain fall can do so no longer.  This water has to go somewhere, it runs off the concrete and into drains but ends up where?

Saturday came around, a dry day, not just dry but bright and sunny, virtually cloudless, too good to let go to waste.  I was feeling a Pikey pull but with all the flood water my options were severely restricted.  But the high tide was set for around 1840 and there was a manageable wind so why not head for the beach?  A couple of texts later and Giles was good to go too, so mid afternoon saw us heading east in the big motor.  By 1530 we were tramping across the stones at the Steep beach, an angler coming the other way reported grim returns but he had surely fished through the worst part of the day?

A few minutes later I was settled with the usual two rods; tonight I was able to hurl out the big bait and just let it fish.  The bait remained intact through a long soak which I suppose isn’t ideal but at least it remained in place long enough for something, in theory, to find it.  The lighter rod was a different matter, on this I fished for bites with a two hook rig using strips of squid on size 1’s.  Despite what the departing angler had said we had nibbles from the very start and darkness brought regular action.  To begin with it came in the form of plucks and tremors which I tried and failed to strike at.  After a while it dawned on me once again, if I sat on my hands for long enough a proper bite would come.  My first fish of 2024 was a small Whiting, something I never thought I’d find myself saying.

The bites continued and the results of these were the now winter standard Whiting and we caught these steadily throughout the evening.  The bites were never so regular that we couldn’t sit down and relax but equally we never had time to get bored.  The action peaked in the hour either side of high tide but never really let up at any time.  By 2045 we’d had about thirty Whiting between us and Giles also a Flounder.  If felt like it was another night where it would be Whiting or nothing and we’d had enough so head for home.