Monday 25 March 2024

An inviting sea

It’s not exactly warm in the east but spring can’t be denied now, buds and even leaves on bushes and spots of colour have appeared in the garden.  Weeks of mild, wet weather meant the first use of the mower was a real battle and this was after I’d had a back and forth fight with the hedge.  I won on points and it was about six feet lower when the final bell went.  I have to do this every year and the hedge looks brutalised afterwards but in five weeks or so it will be back to normal.  I get a strange sense of pleasure watching the buds break and the leaves form and so reassemble the green screen that blocks out the world.  Do I finally ‘get’ gardening?  I must be getting old.

No time to rest, with the jobs done I have to rummage around in the shed to assemble my beach fishing kit which hasn’t been used in a couple of months.  This came slowly together but the rig bin was a mess of abrasion and corrosion so a few hooklengths needed to be tied up.  The gear was coming together and I was on schedule but for once Giles was early.  Still we hit the road ahead of the arranged time, the motor splashing through puddles after what had been a breezy, showery afternoon.  The fresh west wind was forecast to remain throughout the evening so we picked a spot with shelter in mind and this just happened to be our favourite beach.  A fullish moon had already risen, the hike through gorse and scrub was taxing as ever, especially when our feet hit shingle but we arrived to find we had the whole beach to ourselves and the sea looked inviting.  For fishing that is, bugger swimming in that.  The winter tides had scoured the sea bed too, exposing lots of nastiness presumably put there in the early forties.  We’ve seen this before at this time in previous years, and when the tide comes up we ignore it and fish as if it wasn’t there and it’s rarely given us trouble.  What is left has eroded to effectively form flattish lumpy rocks although there is a piece of chain that is still solid after eighty years.

I made my first cast around 1730, with high tide expected not long after 2300.  A smooth cast with the heavy rod nicely propelled a pulley rig baited with a small, whole squid which sailed out.  With a rod out I set about assembling the shelter, then started setting up the second rod but was interrupted by a shout from Giles.  I looked up to see my rod tip bouncing nicely, a bite on my first cast of the spring.  I wound down and hooked a fish with a bit of weight to it, which splashed on the surface a fair way out.  I expected to see a decent sized dogfish as I’ve seen them come to the surface before but as I heaved with the incoming wave it carried in a brown diamond, my first Ray of the year was a small one but I was very pleased to see it.  I sent another squid east then got the light rod together; a two hook ‘up and over’ baited with strips of mackerel and squid.  I was using small hooks on this rig, size twos hoping maybe some type of flatfish would turn up as we’ve had them here in the past.  With that done I baited up another couple of spare hooklengths then sat back with a brew.

For an hour it was quiet, just the odd rattle on the light rod, which with a fish under my belt I was quite happy with.  After a day of hard labour in the garden a bit of sitting down was what the doctor ordered.  A seal pup swam up and flopped onto the beach to stare at us for a while, maybe it wanted a feed or maybe it didn’t like what it saw but it was soon back in the water, heading north.  As the light faded so things started to happen, first Giles had a couple of Whiting and a couple of dogfish, then I had a small doggy on each rod.  My next bite on the heavy rod saw me winching into a heavy weight which hung in the tide and made me fight for every yard.  It was obviously a Ray and I expected to see a big one but when it emerged from the waves I thought “where is the rest of it?” as it was barely bigger than the first?  Not the first time a Ray has fooled me like this though.

By this time it was proper dark, my tips now illuminated by clip on lights with added bells which are actually pretty good.  Even with the rod tips rarely stationary due to waves or wind, the bells hardly ever sound, unless there’s the sudden downward jag caused by a moving fish.  These are a vast improvement on the bells we tried to use in the eighties which were no use at all and just provided an annoying musical accompaniment.  Happily tonight the bells sounded often as we caught Dogs and Whiting steadily, though never too hectic that we couldn’t stop for a brew and a chat.  We felt confident we’d see more Rays tonight too as the baits were in situ long enough to be found, unlike some nights when the Whiting are on the fishy offerings within minutes.

At around 2140 the heavy rod slammed over again and stayed slammed.  I wound into the heavy, throbbing resistance with which we are growing familiar.  A few minutes later another small Ray arched its back on the shingle, again a similar size as the other two but this one didn’t pull anything like as hard the last.  After that the bites slowed up or at least the lengths of time between them grew longer which probably means the same thing.  The wind picked up and so did the waves making the tips wobble continuously.  We continued to catch the odd fish but all were Whiting or Dogfish, although I did have two unidentified creatures come off in the surf.  We fished until high tide then had one last cast but by 2330 we were knackered and ready for home, so packed up sharpish then commenced the long crunch back to the motor.  The car seat felt like a hug and on the drive home we were sustained by Jaffa cakes.  Giles had lost count but I’d noted eighteen fish tonight so we figured between us we’d caught well over thirty fish.  You have to be happy with that at almost any time but especially on the first trip of the spring.

Monday 18 March 2024

A funny ole time

March is a funny ole time for a Piker, you never know what you’re going to get with the weather and consequently the fish are often not playing then game.  There have been a handful of occasions over the years when the stars have aligned and the results have been spectacular but far more often I’ve found myself scratching around to find a fish or two.  As a young angler it took me a while to get my head round the fact that the spots I’d regularly been catching from through the winter were now a waste of time.  But even when we have a good idea of where to look for Pike they are very often difficult to tempt in March and at this time of year more than any other I think a livebait can make all the difference.

For my final visits to the swamp I was fishing with confidence having had a bit of recent fortune but my luck ran out before the end.  The weather was far from ideal, chucking a bit of everything at me on the times I was out and although I felt confident there were fish around they didn’t want to take my baits, at least Giles managed to nick a fish on a day out with me.  Despite the relatively mild temperatures of recent weeks the Pike certainly hadn’t spawned by the season’s end and I think on the places I fish they rarely do, whatever some people might say online.

My last trip of the season was on a private lake, sharing a boat with Mr RO. Giles was also out solo in another boat, his partner having cancelled at the last minute.  It was a relaxed day, mild and comfortable with light breezes and we even saw blue sky and sunshine from time to time.  We saw plenty of Pike too and I actually lost count of the final tally which must have been twenty or thereabouts between us. of which Mr RO caught the biggest share.  There were no monsters, these fish averaged seven or eight pounds with a couple of low doubles, all caught on simple float legered deadbaits.  We tried lures from time to time but just one Pike bumped a lure all day.  The day was long but passed quickly, good fishing in good company in the fresh air, I expect the others were as knackered as I was by the end.

Despite what they calendars insist my year finishes around about the middle of March. Even though the closed season hasn’t existed for nearly thirty years, the point when I stop Pike fishing is the moment my fishy year resets.  What this will mean in the near future is waking up naturally and a more leisurely mode of fishing, mostly looking upwards at nodding rod tips.