Tuesday 28 January 2020

In Search of Ladies.

 A busy start to the year has seen my angling take quite a hit, with only a couple of half days managed since the new year. I promised myself a little more time on the bank but has yet to materialise. Queue the manic scramble for the gear, off down souf to target a little piece of piscatorial heaven. Picture a gin clear chalkstream through pristine Hampshire countryside, a plethora of animals to keep you entertained and Roach to make you shake like a crapping dog, Grayling to whet any anglers appetite and Trout....trout to drive you crazy and lots of them.

 After eating up the tarmac we were ( Brian, Richard and I ) back on hallowed ground where my date with a three-pound Roach beckoned. Never content with any redfin my lust for specimen fish is always at the forefront of my plans. Arriving in the courtyard around 20 minutes before dawn we got ourselves together and got a full on quick march to the salmon hut, fuelled with confidence of a good day ahead. Conditions were pretty good, cloudy, light winds and a gin clear river, albeit the highest I've ever seen it.

 My trotting gear was setup the night before so I wasted no time by setting the standard....first trot....a trout.....not a bad one either but certainly not what I was looking for. The peaceful surroundings were  sporadically punctuated by the thrashing of water as all hell would break loose. Any chance of getting grayling and roach feeding with such ravenous trout about would prove to be the real challenge. Beautiful gravel runs broken up by the odd weed bed often held solitary grayling, these fish would be targeted, only to end up catching a trout and spook the grayling off.

 Roach unfortunately could not be found, I searched the beat up and down a few times over in the vein hope of locating just a couple of fish, no matter how hard I tried to find them the colossal redfins remained anonymous. On my way back up I had the pleasure of trying to knock two "2lb+" Grayling off with the net as Brian slipped into his groove, ( 2.00 and 2.04 ). After conceding the fact a roach was not likely I turned my attentions to a grayling and after much trout trouble I finally managed three ladies ( 1.10, 1.06 and 1.06 ), certainly not monsters but beggars can not be choosers.

Best of the day, good nick.

Resting a pest.

Lovely looking fish.
 As dusk settled in and the prospect of a roach off the table my desire to fish really hard ebbed away, just happy to see fish being caught. As to whether the roach had moved away or the dreaded otters had revisited and polished off the shoal at long last was playing on my mind. Only time will tell as to whether it was just me that was going blind or if there is something a little more sinister that playing out.

 I think we all left happy, but we were left in no doubt as to who fished the best, a pleasure to see a couple of decent grayling on the bank.

Monday 20 January 2020

What a Start to the Decade.

 A new decade and a sense of drive to achieve a few milestones that I have put to the back burner seem to be in order, this drive would be directed at carp predominately, especially once spring arrives. However, with the frosts reigning supreme at the moment with the high pressure systems currently overhead it was difficult to decide on what to do on Saturday, in the end I decided upon targeting a carp and if a bite materialised then I'd be happy.

 Rewind a week ago and conditions were quite a bit different, wet and squalled days seemed to follow one another with no end in sight. Rivers running over their banks for a few weeks in succession has affected numerous lakes that I may have targeted in order to avoid the swollen rivers. So with the added water in the table it limited my options furthermore, to a degree I contemplated giving the day' planned fishing a swerve entirely. Fortunately for me I know a river that tends to shift water through pretty quickly and with a break in the rain for the night a cunning plan was hatched.

 Having loaded up the car with carp gear the night before I spent fifteen emptying it, before packing limited gear which comprised of just the rod, net, mat and a few bits and bobs. My hasty approach to the outing meant I ended up forgetting a few bits that were needed but thankfully most of those weren't going to bite my backside. Just a half pint of maggots was packed and hoped for the very best. Roach were my initial quarry in the pacy glides and deeper depressions as this time of year the females will be looking to put a little extra weight on with April in sight in preparation for spawning.

 The idea certainly seemed perfect at the time, strangely this season has been one of whereabouts unknown. I usually have an uncanny knack of finding roach and good ones too, this last twelve months I have struggled. Not even small ones are showing in what is quite often very clear water. With my skill not really accounting for much the decision was made to keep walking downstream, to areas that tend to hold less silverfish, though sometimes bigger specimens can be found floating around in isolated groups.

 Roach wouldn't be my only target in these parts as small pods of chub seek refuge in the enormous amount of trees that line both banks, some of these trees have created the ideal habitat for chub. Sneaking out a chub on 5lb line straight through on a link ledger is hairy business, strangely, quite exciting too. A good few hundreds downstream proved fruitless still until I came across a swim a friend of mine had mentioned was holding a couple of chub, sizes unknown at the time it was always possible to hold something decent as the river is currently going through a perceived boom in chub weights.

 Twenty-six years on here and five pound fish were and to a degree, still are, rare. A six pound fish is utter poppycock. Well, until this season, five 4's and a 6 by Christmas certainly portrays a story of a river on the up, the question I ask myself is where were these fish? I don't recognise three of the 5's nor the 6lber and I keep an extensive album of chub and barbel caught from this particular river as it is very dear to me and how it over the years has repaid my faith in it to deliver special fish of all species that inhabit it.

 With a few chub now in my sights I stood and watched as I planned how I would target them, needless to say I've fished easier places.

 Having forgot my polaroids in the van I had to nick Brian' which made him blind to what I was watching. A few sprays of red maggots upstream soon got the chub feeding well and after inexplicably casting into the upstream tree twice a bunch of reds finally made it into the river and as I got my range correct with where the maggots would fall a chub cruised up to them and sucked them in, my 12ft float rod indicated a quick double tap and I struck....but nothing. I missed the bite and god only knows how. The chub on the other hand couldn't care less, the more maggots that went in the keener they seemed to be. The next drop in above the trees didn't disappoint!.

 A quick double tap yet again was met with a firm pull on the rod and the chub powered off downstream straight under the trees, my reactions had to be that of a cat, I shot down the bank and  thrust my rod tip under the surface and kept the tension on to try and prevent the fish from wedging me in the branches that were submerged on the outer edges of the trees. At one point the tip was just touching the bottom of the riverbed as I did my very best to keep the line running horizontally to prevent or avoid any contact with the trees. After a good strong tussle I slowly got the better of the chub and it slowly headed towards the net, a decent fish over the five pound mark slowly edged over the rim of the net and after a battle of whits my prize was won.

 Before I get to the photo I noticed when I hooked that chub that a few others spooked out and one of them was a real donkey, much bigger than the one I had landed. I knew at that point if I could get them feeding again I could catch something bigger still.

A fine winter chub, 5lb 4ozs. No:5 for the season here.
 Once the chub had been released downstream I got the maggots trickling in again and hoped to repeat the process. A few minutes passed as I stood watching the odd chub push up along the treeline to pick off maggots when I spotted what I believed to be the bigger chub that I witnessed just a few minutes previous, picking off maggots, darting from side to side and hoovering up what it could find.

 When chub are in that mood there is often a good chance of emptying a swim.

 I stopped feeding the maggots just so I could get mine out and flicked some more out to get the fish competing again now that my bait was in the mix, ten seconds or so ticked by and in a flash I could see a big fish move over my hook bait. In a split second the rod tip hooped down towards the surface and once again I was sent scrambling down the bank to prevent the chub doing me in the trees (no innuendo intended). Quick as I could the rod tip was way under the surface giving me every chance of success and little by little the chub was slowly coming upstream, not without a fight it has to be said. Powering off out into the main flow the main bulk of the battle was done here, as the whole fish was now visible which made me more nervous.

 A few more nervy moments came about ensued as the chub made a couple of last second dashes for the snags in the margins, thankfully for me, my trusty size 16 hook had held well, with the chub now plodding into the vicinity of the net I could now finally begin to relax, with a quick dip of the net she was mine!

 Cue the excitement and estimates of what this lump was going to achieve....I was going at rather a  conservative 5lb 12oz and Brian said over six pounds. Now its not hard to see why I'd not talk it up that far, knowing how rare they are, nevertheless when I hoisted her out of the water my estimate felt  quite a way off, built like a breeze block and probably the longest chub I've caught from the system it was threatening my 6lb 2oz specimen I caught just a few months back.

 On the digi's it went and a new river personal best, 6lb 3oz. A superb fish that on any river I'd be happy with, from this place? It was worth that of an 8lber off the Lea, Trent etc in terms of equal rareness, in some instances possibly even rarer. I can't stress how minuscule the chances ever were or are to catching such a fish here. Alas now it has happened twice for me and Brian once this season, I can only imagine they have hit a growth spurt among the shoal as they have located a rich food source, one that they hadn't previously, whether it be artificial or natural who knows. I am just chuffed to bits to witness them coming through and who knows what lyes in store for the next twelve months.

 Releasing such a fish to fight another day is always a fantastic feeling, lets just hope the revival does continue and that they remain in fine shape.

What a fine fish indeed.
 One more bite further downstream resulted in a smaller chub around 3lb 12oz to bring my tally to 3 for the day and for me that was just fine, a pukka day out and Brian got to witness her too, a fish that I hope will one day push the rivers limits beyond what it already has. What a start to 2020 and the new decade.

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Picks of the Decade.

 Choosing candidates for this is pretty tough, so a few of these may not strike you as being particularly big for the species but in terms of its size relative to where it was caught it. Some of these places would surprise many anglers as to where the fish came from. Over the years I have been extremely lucky as to what I have managed to slip the net under, others have required the utmost skill and patience, often pushing me to the limit.

 Here are just a handful of fish from the 2010's and yes there are so many that some catches that mean a lot to me won't make this but I have to draw the line somewhere. Most of these are actually personal bests too.

This bream was my first double figure fish off a canal, since then I have been lucky enough to do it again, special fish and very special waters that certainly make you work for the rewards, a truly special fish for its environment.

Almost an entire days trotting culminated in coming away with one grayling, that one grayling weighed 2lb 11oz and still the fight gives me nightmares. The fear a big grayling puts in you when they turn broadside and power off downstream is quite something, you struggle to find words to describe it.

The river Cam is home to some special fish, this is one of them, March 13th, bitterly cold and bare footed holding one of the most awesome wild carp I'm ever likely to catch, 27lb 12oz, caught on rudd gear in the boat. Quite a fight indeed, Brian deserved a knighthood for getting that in a 22'' drennan landing net.

Having witnessed a 13lb 3oz zed to the boat the day before I had a burning desire to get back out. Less than 24 hours later I was posing with this incredible looking fish, again in the boat and with all light gone the take was so powerful the rod jolted to simply let me know it was time.

Not a personal best but my best lure caught pike off the mighty Wye, a Rapala X-Rap minnow was the savour to what was fairly tough fishing. A couple of shows just off some sunken trees indicated where the lure had to go, ten minutes later and a few casts she was in the net.

One of the best looking barbel I have ever caught, a comfortable double that fought so hard I had to rest afterwards. Just twenty feet wide and 2-3ft deep hardly seems the sort of place one would target barbel but it certainly doesn't bother them.

Two years on Newdigate with the sole purpose of catching one of the two big golden orfe had finally come to an end. 6lb 12oz of a brilliant looking fish, shame they fight so poorly but it can be forgiven. Ten trips after starting and a faithful buoyant maggot on the method feeder was the orfe' downfall.

Opening day on a sun swept Stour gave up a couple of its gems, this chub being the largest at 6lb 8ozs, there was a time I'd had two six pound chub ever, fishing the Avon/Stour that figure soon crept up quite nicely.

Canal rudd very rarely get up above 4oz and often are the bane of a surface anglers session, however this corker at 2lb 5oz certainly put a smile on my face, perfect in every way, just one day hope to follow that up with a 3lber from a canal, that would be something to rival any capture during a season. Especially off the somerset levels.

Enton....does that place need an introduction? such an awesome place but not as easy as anglers make out, many hours I spent on there in search of crucians and managed just a couple, my best here at 3lb 8oz, during all that time I didn't lose a single fish.

Possibly the shock of the decade, the river will remain nameless as I hope to one day cross paths with this incredible common once again. On my MARKIV split can rod and pin, freelined bread it really was the best way I could hope to catch such a carp, no name, wild and at 28lb 3oz she is my biggest common and river personal best, quite a fish. I still dream of that fight in my head at night after seeing the photos again.

Having literally stepped off a plane from Asia just six hours earlier this immaculate double figure barbel took a fancy to a trotted piece of meat, one of the prettiest specimens I've been lucky enough to catch, just over a foot of water, a tiny bush just hiding the front half, first cast...easy.

A snow carp? my only one of the 2010's and what a fight, 2.8lb bottom, 15ft float rod and pin, chub were the intended target. A double figure carp though certainly wasn't quaffed at.

Two hours and possibly six miles of marching the towpaths put me in touching distance of achieving an incredible feat, that being catching a cut carp. Over the last few years I devoted some considerable time to targeting canal carp with varying success. Carp however do not come better looking than that fish above, 19lb 9oz and possibly a lot older than I. 

My personal best carp and a fish known as the "ghostie leather", 35lb 8oz and on bream gear including 6lb line was not just the envy of myself, a few onlookers clearly appreciated its capture and after a couple of photos she went back like a trooper. Names and fish aren't my kind of thing, but this lake I'll make an exception to as it holds some iconic carp, this being one of them.

My first twenty pound pike (21lb 9oz) and thee prettiest I have caught, from a river too made this catch so much more impressive, I shook like a crapping dog for ages after I had landed her too, I was physically terrified! But not long after realised just how fantastic it was, simply superb.

Possibly the craziest catch from anywhere in 2010's, roach x bream hybrids are very rare throughout london and this was the first I'd caught since the late 1990's. Whilst stalking carp on a really cold morning I noticed a flash of silver under my feet as I walked along the towpath and realised this awesome/freaky creature was feeding on the weed clinging to the canal wall, a nice flake of bread soon captured its attention and forever opened my mind to the real possibilities these canals can produce. 5lb 1oz.

The last decade bore witness to some fantastic years after roach. My personal best of 2lb 15oz remained comfortably out in front but was joined by an additional 7 fish over the two pound barrier, all from Thames tributaries fishing a range of tactics. My favourite species and its not hard to see why.

My one and only dace of the decade that surpassed the 1lb barrier and fish that was immense, the images of this fish do not do it justice and have always found big dace difficult to convey in shots, however, at 8 drams over the pound mark I had numerous fish one winter over 14ozs, since then they have disappeared almost entirely.

When it comes to looks this towpath mirror has it all, black as your hat, a little battered as you'd expect a big wild carp to be, but also represented a personal best mirror off the canals at the time. 25lb 4oz and what was even better is I got to share the moment with my dad who was taken aback by its sheer size and the fight? of course it was of biblical proportions as it always is. Escape is the only plan.

I saved possibly the best barbel I'm ever likely to catch to last. First ever visit to the H.Avon and I decided to settle in the top swim on the pipes. Half an hour before dusk I popped out my 18mm pellet tipped with a grain of buoyant corn and just hoped for the best. As the light faded over the fields my tip slammed round and was locked into battle with a big fish but with no headtorch I couldn't tell what I had or how big it was. My mate Stuart made his way upstream to assist me with the weighing and photos. Having finally landed her she was resting in the net and could only make out a portion of the body, still not fully appreciating what I had just caught.

Once Stu had arrived with me I lifted the net out the river and then it hit me at what I'd just caught, she was a truly Hampshire Avon giant at 14lb 6oz and is still my personal best. The feeling of seeing that fish for the first time and holding her still plays back in my memories museum. 

What a first fish to catch off the most iconic of our rivers. Luck and skill in perfect balance and the reward was much greater than I could ever have hoped for.

 What are your favourite memories from the last decade of angling? feel free to pop a comment in the box. I am intrigued to hear your stories.

8 Years in the Making.

   So we find ourselves finally able to get back on the rivers and thank god for it too. I don't mind stillwaters and canals now and aga...