Thursday, 4 October 2018

The Big Blank Off

Two men with a passion for rivers. A day's work under their belts, they'd join forces for a couple of hours in pursuit of predators. Who would earn the bragging rights?

A painfully clear Avon was the venue. However, with a good depth and dipping light levels, a degree of optimism was daring to surface in both camps.

In the red corner, Mick had the run of the pegs down to the weir. In the blue corner, I took the pegs towards the upstream limit. Our paths never crossed, but updates were shared throughout.

It wasn't exactly a thriller down the river. A single chomped smelt dropped take for Mick. I'm claiming a single tentative enquiry that saw two solid short dips on the float about 30 seconds apart. That was it! A no score draw. 

Still, it was a nice enough evening for early October and much better than staying on at work. Even I'd take blanking over working any day!

Later in the evening I acquired some of my late father's old fishing tackle. My brother was having a clear out and offered it to me rather than just dumping it.  

My dad didn't have much gear and what he did have was rarely of any great quality.  Part of a large Irish family, brought up in the 1930s / 40s, he had a strong make do and mend attitude.

He never bought a rod in all the years I fished with him. He only had one and it hadn't seen the light of day for maybe 20 years. In his latter years I'd always encouraged him to use my gear - largely to stop him carrying his own, due to his health issues.

Taking his old rod from a damp and musty rod bag, I expected it to be rotten. Not so though. The blank itself remains in good nick. Some eyes have been knocked about and the cork handle is a little warped. 

It's not a rare or valuable high end blank, but the joints all slot together perfectly.  It feels reasonable enough and theres no structural damage.

The tip section looks like it's suspiciously short of a few inches though - evidence of the mend mentality no doubt. The handle is too long for my liking, but that's soon remedied (and would conveniently eradicate the warped area).

All things considered, it would probably still give some reasonable service as a heavy float rod for species like tench or larger bream. 

And so a plan is born. I've been looking at more and more retro / vintage tackle on Ebay recently and quite fancied a restoration project for later in the year when the dark evenings hit. This has dropped into place nicely, so I'm going to strip it back and attempt a full makeover. 

Hopefully I'll be putting it back into service sometime next year. It wouldn't feel right just consigning it to the local landfill site. That would surely amount to betrayal.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Summer Catch Up

With lots going on in my daily life and fishing life, I've neglected the blog for quite some time. I started putting some notes down several weeks ago, but could never quite pull it together for a post. A case of writer's constipation I guess!

I contemplated stopping altogether, but I know I'd regret that in years to come. The blog is primarily a point of reference for me personally and I don't want to lose that.  So, with renewed vigour as we move into Autumn, I'll attempt to kick-start it off again and try to be more regular again future.

The summer has whizzed by for me. It will certainly linger in the memory for the long hot dry spell we suffered. Fishing conditions weren't exactly great for much of it, but I've still had my share of trips.

My best laid plans were somewhat disrupted  (in a good way) when George Burton's syndicate got off the ground. Suddenly I found myself with a whole new load of options to go at and I've been busy getting myself acquainted with them.

For me they're mostly new venues, but with one old venue that I last fished 20+ years ago. The real fun in this venture though, is the unknown. Joining something established often brings a degree of predictability with it. This is completely different. Not quite a blind punt - more of a calculated one - but with plenty of uncharted territory and lots of opportunity for discovery along the way.

Most of the summer has been spent just keeping it simple. I wanted to get back to trotting a float more regularly - something I've neglected a lot in recent years. I acquired a late 1960s Bruce & Walker float rod earlier in the year and it has been put to good use on many occasions.

Rather than trying to recount individual sessions, I'll get up to date by sharing some photos from my travels across four counties, five rivers and a couple of stillwaters.

Tranquil Stour

7lb 4oz summer Anker pike

9lb 3oz - Avon

9lb - Avon

Ruffe day on the Avon

10lb 14oz - stalked from syndicate pool


Avon chub 

Leam perch 1lb 5.5oz

Avon - 4lb 12oz

Avon - 6lb 4oz
Herefordshire estate lake

Glorious Wye
And finally a tale of two Marks, both returning to fishing after long absences.

Mark One

The setting was a Herefordshire estate lake and I was helping Mark to rediscover the joys of float fishing.

As we moved into the afternoon his reel suffered what we both agreed was a terminal demise and I set him up with one of my spares. While retackling I also suggested a change of float to something heavier, to allow him to make longer casts. With the depth plumbed I attached some shot and asked Mark to flick it out to check the lie of the float.

Out it went, but as he retrieved it I saw the rod seriously arch over. Caught on the bottom I presumed, but it quickly became apparent he'd got a fish on, as the rod tip started lunging. With Mark never having caught anything beyond 3lb before, I assumed my best Corporal Jones (Dad’s Army) impression. “Don't panic, don't panic!”.

Managing to quash Mark's initial natural instinct to reel like mad, he then played the rest of the battle out perfectly. On light gear we managed to coax a pike of 9lb into the net. Presumably it saw the flash of the hook and struck out at it. Luckily the hooklength held out by the slenderest of margins - breaking under minimal pressure when tested afterwards.

It made his weekend - even if he was a little reluctant to handle it!

Mark Two

The Avon this time and another Mark returning to fishing. We'd talked during the journey and established he'd never caught a pike. I predicted it might change soon.

He started off trotting maggots under a stick float and given the swim choice, I knew the inevitable would happen soon enough. First strike and his rod arched over. “It’s a decent one” he shouts. I'm hoping chub, but already thinking pike - and so it was. Nearly landed, but it let go at the last.

It took a couple more encounters later in the session before he got lucky and the hook lodged in the scissors of a fish. Expertly played I might add, Mark carefully guided his first pike into the net. Less than 5lbs, but good fun on light gear and we had the happiest angler ever to guest on this blog!

I hope I find the pike this easy when I start targeting them! Great to see others enjoying themselves though - often more rewarding than our own exploits.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

A Short One

Three hours to play with, so I headed back to the easy access Anker stretch for my chub fix.

Donning my waders for a change, I positioned myself mid river and fired out some bread to see what was at home beneath the cover. Nothing! Not a sausage.

What I thought was a safe distance and a good ambush point, obviously wasn't. I'd clearly spooked them, as I had them taking bread earlier when I threw freebies from the bank. Lesson learned.

I left them to regroup while I went downstream for a spot of trotting. Plenty of bites for an hour so from mainly perch and chublets, with a roach and gudgeon.

Back to the chub and I stayed bankside this time and plopped in a freelined flake offering. The first run slipped across the flow and outside the killing zone. Second run I got it right and held it back slightly.

It didn't take long to become attached to a decent chub. After a spirited battle in the shallow water the prize was banked. A venue best for me at 4lb 2oz. I'm sure there's scope to push the bar higher and hopefully beyond the magical 5lb mark.

Next up is a further bit of exploration on a new venue. Looking forward to treading some new ground.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Off And Running

Batteries recharged, another running water season is now firmly underway.

The closed season pretty much did what it said on the tin for me. I had three short sessions in cool weather and in keeping with the form I endured throughout winter, I mustered up a single canal skimmer in three outings.

Fortunately I had plenty to keep my mind off fishing and the three month river sabbatical seemed to drift by pretty quickly. A stag do, a wedding with best man duties (in Ireland), an 80s music cruise and a couple of family mishaps all helped to keep my mind largely occupied.

Once again I have various tickets covering a few rivers. Some old, some new, some returning. Without doubt too many options and definitely not enough time to explore them. Not that I'm complaining. It's the most varied and enthralling set of tickets I've ever held, with lots of new ground to explore.

Zoom to the centre and spot the chub!

No challenges to participate in this year and I'm not initially setting any targets either. The early season focus is on getting around different waters and just catching fish again, while learning as much as possible. I'll probably be more selective as we head into autumn.

The opening week or so was mostly spent trotting maggot and caster under a stick float. Fish were fairly obliging to that approach on all three rivers I tackled. Nothing remarkable to report, but a good mix of species (dace, chub, roach, perch, bleak, eel, gudgeon).

Best fish of the week was a 3lb 14oz chub, stalked from a goldfish bowl of a peg on a new stretch of the Anker. The fish are suckers for bread and it's just a case of priming them up, before running a freelined offering through their holding point beneath a willow. It's instant action.

The only difficulty is selectivity. Whichever chub nails the bait first is what you get. The rest are invariably spooked. I'm quite taken by this little stretch though. Big chub (6lb+) and barbel (14lb+) are in residence, but will take some extracting. Pike were clearly present too in one swim where I was catching plenty of perch. I had two under my feet at one point. I'll be investigating those in the autumn.

A week into the season and I had my first short session after chub or barbel down the Avon. Conditions were poor (hot and dry), but I had some unexpected time available one evening and I figured I wasn't going to catch anything sat in my garden!

One rod with a piece of meat on a hair rig, with some free offerings scattered around. Nothing for an hour plus, then a proper old pull on the tip. Strike, miss and I just put it down to bad luck.

Rebait, cast, wait, proper pull around, strike, miss, puzzled look.

Rebait, cast, wait, proper pull around, strike, miss, more puzzled looks, starting to get cheesed off.

Rebait, cast, wait, proper pull around, strike, miss, very puzzled look, now seriously getting peed off!

By now the penny dropped and I figured I had a few cagey chub in the swim, so the hair was trimmed off and I simply buried the hook. Very old school.

Rebait, cast, wait, proper pull around, strike, connect. Bingo! Not exactly anything to crow about though - I doubt it scraped 2lb. A moral victory nonetheless, even if the chub were already 4-1 up and cruising to victory.

Foolishly I thought my rig change would see better fortunes, but the little blighters taunted me until I left with pluck after pluck on the bait.

I did manage a couple more - best around 3lb - but no sign of a barbel. Plenty more time for those when conditions will be more suitable.

Next up a week later was a fishing and football double header. Rather than watching England's quarter final encounter, I opted to find a shaded peg on the Anker and listen to it while doing a spot of trotting.

Lots of perch obliged over the couple of hours while England secured their semi final berth. Nothing huge, although one of them managed to snag me in the lilies and the rubbing on the line eventually saw us parting company.

We resumed contact later on though when the same fish was banked. It was proudly sporting my earlier hook, with maggots still attached!

A move to the banker chub swim was the final act of the session. One chance with freelined bread beneath a tree before exiting. It went deeper under the willow than I expected, but a sharp pluck on the tip and I was in business. Not one of the beasts though - probably one around 2.5lb. Almost a booby prize really when you consider what lurks within.

In true British style it's hard not to moan about the weather. The EA gauge that I use for the Avon is currently reading lower than at any time in my blogging years.

A far cry from the winter months when I was moaning for different reasons. No immediate sign of change either. Just got to get on with it and choose wisely I guess.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

One To Forget

Another river season comes to an end and perhaps for the last time. It hasn't ended with a bang for me though and I suspect many others have suffered similar fates.

I had planned a final Sunday afternoon outing and the snow melt was dropping out nicely over the week. A deluge at the back end of the week killed off all hopes though and my season was over. I couldn't summon up any enthusiasm for an almost nailed on blank.

For what it's worth, three sessions are missing from the records so I'll get them noted down for completeness.

The first was a bonus chilly Friday afternoon session after zander. I had a hospital visit at midday and it seemed like a good idea to use up some time owed to me straight after.

Settling into my peg I was accosted by a non-member (not fishing) intent on asking all manner of questions, interspersed with dubious claims. He once caught a 15lb Avon zander apparently. I naturally congratulated such a fine catch. He then said it was the biggest caught that year, but it didn't count because he didn't have any authentic scales. Guesswork posing as fact then! Why do I attract them?!

I certainly didn't need any scales or guesswork for my endeavours though. Two dropped takes were all I could muster and it left me musing over my rigs.

Two days later I returned again for another short session with a different and very sensitive set up. Floats and heavy gear dispatched in favour of a lighter swing tip approach, with a small olivette being the only additional item beyond the trace itself.

I  managed two proper takes. One was battled for about 20 seconds before the single hook was spat back at me. A very zander like fight for sure. The other resulted in a strike into thin air. Beaten by the zeds again.

And then it went cold. Very cold. I know it's bad when fishing boots and headgear starts going to work with me. It was damn raw in the wind. I even got a snow day off work, but this time I saw sense and continued with some decorating. Fortunately my next short, and ultimately season ending session, came just as the thaw was kicking in. Some snow was still around, but temperatures were really on the rise.

One swing tip rod for zander and a float set up for pike. The zed rig swung into action quite quickly and with a confident take. A thin air strike followed. Most odd. No more takes on that rod either. I avoided the blank well inside the last hour with a small snow jack.

That was to be the final act of a largely forgettable campaign. If you'd have said back in June that I'd end with a snow fish, I'd have been quite content. However, there's lots in between that I'd much rather overlook.

I had a nice 10lbs+ barbel on bonfire night, which actually ended a fairly barren spell. From that point on I caught just 6 fish in the rest of the season. 16 sessions (mostly short in all fairness), with 11 of them being blanks. One of those fish was also foul hooked with no bait.

Pike have been a real disappointment. Usually my staple fishing diet over the winter, they seem to have been very quiet across the board this year. I didn't even manage a double and that's a first for the nine seasons I've been predator fishing.

The weather has no doubt been a major factor this season. In the Midlands it was very dry right up to December, leading to low and clear rivers. From the onset of the first proper snowfall, things have been tricky ever since. Catching the river and weather just right, was very hit and miss - often impossible for once a week angler like myself.

Hopes of a top 2 spot in the Blogger's Challenge river section were left floundering after the Christmas wash out. In all honesty, good conditions or not, the impressive late charge by Brian Roberts would have been beyond me anyway. James Denison remains in a different league! Well done to both.

My river fish of the season was probably an eel. I didn't think I'd be saying that! At 3lb 5oz it more than doubled my previous best and was a nice pay back for the faith and patience I show towards the Anker.

The Avon barbel continue to impress me, even though I don't target them to any great extent. The half a dozen I banked this year combined to give an average size of just over 9lb. The range was 7lb 9oz to 11lb 1oz.

Best of the season
Plans for next season are already in place. One ticket renewed back in January, with two others to follow in May / June. A couple of tickets will be dropped temporarily, but they can easily be picked up over the counter if I have a change of mind.

A ticket for a new stretch of the Anker has also arrived this week and I expect it to feature heavily next season. It's a river that frustrates and intrigues me in equal measure. Small in stature, but it contains some quality fish. It's a bit of a blind punt this one, but that's part of the appeal. Going somewhere new and having to figure it out from scratch. I can't wait to get stuck in.

I'll continue over the closed season in a limited way. I have some canal fishing eyed up in a couple of locations and a stillwater that I need to explore. Let's hope the weather picks up soon. Not likely this weekend though - another chilly, if brief, blast heading our way I believe.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Toughing it Out

February has proved to be tough so far - damn tough actually. The weather has certainly played its part. All over the shop really, but that's winter I guess.

Three sessions to catch up on. The first a bitter cold afternoon with a wind to cut you in two. Bumping into Danny at the fishery entrance, I was keen to hear something favourable from his exploits. No such luck! Predators not showing. Not good when that's all you've come for.

Still, I always like to be optimistic and I was beyond the point of no return really. A full on slop fest across the meadow and I opted for the most sheltered peg in my preferred area. An umbrella for a wind break helped to keep some of the chill off me.

A canoeist appeared just before I dropped in my first rig for a depth check. A quick adjustment and back in for a second check a little further out. Looked OK so I reeled in and it fought back.

Hang on - I hadn't baited the hook! It took me by surprise. The fish were supposed to be scarce afier all - not crawling up my rod!

Only a jack and hooked just above the eye. I was using a large single hook for zander and most likely just dropped it plumb above the fish and foul hooked on the retrieve. Judging by the number of leeches, it had been pretty dormant.

And that was it. With baited hooks, not a single bite to speak of. A pretty miserable afternoon in all honesty. An annoying off road biker (with incredibly noisy bike) was in the fields behind me at various times. Guns were going off constantly too. Not really a peaceful affair.

No kingfishers either, but a mink popped through my swim and a ridiculously friendly yellow wagtail seemed to take a liking to my free offerings.

The trudge back to the car left me freezing cold. Definitely the toughest conditions I'd faced over the winter.

A week later it was more Sunday action. I wasn't even sure I'd bother, but my wife pretty much kicked me out! She knows what I'm like if I don't get out and after a long old week beforehand, I needed a release. Decorating doesn't deliver that!

Back for more predators, but with an each way gamble for chub. Umbrella straight into position again to reduce the wind chill.

A slow start, but some interest on the downstream smelt rig saw a jack attached. Blank avoided I thought, but it spat the hook as I was getting the net ready.

A move a couple of pegs upstream didn't yield anything and the wind was getting gusty, colder and annoying. Checking out a longstanding trusty peg further upstream, it was almost tranquil. Time for another move.

Returning to gather my gear I looked downstream and I thought I could see smoke. Hang on. A pitch black sky and I can hear the noise increasing. Hailstorm! Time to take cover.

Just the wrong moment to move, but it didn't matter in all honesty though - the hail just bounced off and I remained dry enough.

The move triggered a take though and a feisty 8lb fish became my first hail pike. Not quite the same as snow pike though - most of it had melted!

And that was it for the day. I retraced my steps and tried for chub again into dark, but with no luck.

On to the weekend just gone and my Sunday afternoon plans were scuppered. My wife requested my presence for a family meal. Refusal is rarely a wise choice, so I kept the peace. A small window of opportunity was available on Saturday afternoon, so I had to grab it.

I'd arranged to meet up with Martin down the Avon, but he was worryingly silent. Sure enough the text came through gone midday as I was getting ready to leave. He was blanking. Another gruelling session on the cards.

Still blanking when I got there, he was cerainly giving it a good go. He had a section well stitched up with baits, but the pike weren't having it.

I tried a couple of banker pegs with smelt, sardine and lamprey. Plenty of twitching, but nothing happening. Hopes of an extension into dusk and dark were thwarted by the missus. I had to call time and meet her at the station. A bit like a referee stopping the boxing match and sparing the contender from further punishment.

Blanker Martin had dropped in just downstream and turned into bagger Martin! Several biteless hours ended with a brace in the last 15 minutes. The first a jack, but the second a low double to salvage some respectability from a difficult day.

Cold weather seems to be all the talk now - the beast from the east if we're to believe the hype. Got to make the best of it I guess. There's not enough season left to be picky. As long as it's settled I'll take it. Still a few things to try to tick off in the next 3 weeks. Two sessions on the cards this weekend hopefully...

Monday, 29 January 2018

Double Start

Another year begins, but the weather has continued to keep me off the rivers throughout most of January. A frustrating period really, particularly as I had some extra time off from work into the first week of the new year. Lots of potentially good fishing time wasted spent working on the house.

I eventually kicked off my 2018 exploits a fortnight ago. The river was fining down nicely, and, with the Blogger's Challenge in mind,  I fancied a crack at a chub. My meagre 3lb 2oz offering needed an uplift.

Was it worth a go though?  A quick text to Mick for an update on his trip the day before, confirmed what I wanted to hear. Plenty of chub had shown up, albeit to no great size. But, bigger fish are there and regularly show up - often on Mick's blog!

For me it was a bit of a stroll down memory lane. Although I've never held the club ticket during my blogging years, this was one of my favourite stretches during the 90s and 00s. It wasn't a triumphant return though. Despite feeling ultra confident, four hours of endeavour taking in three swims, saw nothing in return. My 8th blank in 10 outings was in the bag.

Last week was a simple write off with some pretty horrible wintery conditions pushing through. I spent most of the weekend in a cupboard under the stairs! Not banished there by my good lady I might add, but giving it a post boiler installation makeover. Not the most exciting of times, but it was all in a good cause - more room for my fishing clothing and accessories. Still need to install a shoe rack for my wife though. I'm sure she'll remind me soon enough!

On to this week and it was touch and go with the rivers, Saturday was ruled out anyway, so Sunday was the only option. The weather looked good - breezy, but very mild, cloudy and dry all day.

I went to bed Saturday night with a simple plan - wake up whenever and figure it from there. With my wife also keen to have a chill out day after a long and busy week, it was a relaxing change.

A lie in was inevitable and I didn't venture out until early afternoon. I was only interested in the last couple of hours of daylight, so I took it really easy. The last ENG v AUS ODI cricket match proving to be the perfect reason not to rush out.

I didn't wet a line until 1-30pm.  A two rod approach to begin with. Standard tactics for me on both rigs - a big smelly lump of meat, hair rigged on a free running set up.

Nothing showed in the first two hours. As the sun slipped lower, I retired the upstream rod to make sure any hint of a bite on the preferred downstream rod, would be nailed instantly.

Whether by luck or judgement, it took less than 5 minutes for a proper tug on the tip. I pounced quickly and a quiet start to the battle had me thinking chub. It soon turned into a barbel though and a hard but incident free battle was played out.

A typical, solid, clean looking fish that caused the Avons to do a full circuit. They settled on 10lb 12oz. Nice to start the year on a double. I hope it ends like likewise!

I nearly called it a day, but as I still had a good hour plus of daylight left, I plodded on in the hope of more.

Within half an hour the tip rattled again and I was poised for action, hand at the ready. The tip banged again and I was on it like a flash. I think I surprised myself actually!

Definitely a chub this time, but although it didn't look the longest, it was a solid old fish. Clearly a season's best, but by how much?

4lb 4oz took me by surprise - so much so, that I zeroed the sling and reweighed it on my backup scales. Same outcome. With my meagre pb only being an ounce heavier, this one gave it a close run.

The week ahead looks unsettled and that's not really what I wanted. Time is running out for the rivers and I still haven't got a respectable pike to my name this season, nor even a zander of any size. Still hoping though...