23 June 2013

Six of the best

A perfect summer's evening stretches ahead of me, offering a world of angling opportunity. A lazy evening on the river perhaps, or tench fishing with a tiny waggler in a reedy margin?

No, this is a night for something different. For the first time in 2013 it is warm and still, even muggy. There is a slight covering of cloud, the merest hint of a breeze from the southwest and perhaps even the promise of thunder. 

If tonight isn't a night for taking carp of the top, no night is.

Back to Stockton Reservoir it is then - a water that is close to home, peaceful and full of just the right stamp of fish. 

From the almost empty car park I walk right around the edge, following the breeze into the far corner. Dark shapes move everywhere on the surface, and the still evening peace is broken only by the slurp of carp feeding on surface detritus. 

The slurping moves up a gear as I fire piece after piece of bread on to the surface.

Out goes my line, with just a controller float of broken branch between me and my hook-holding crust. One by one the loose feed is taken and then a pair of fishy lips appear around the hookbait. A touch, a turn, another touch, and then it is engulfed. I count to two, strike, and off charges the first fish of the night.

And what a cracking evening's fishing this turned out to be, with fish after fish coming to the bank, not to mention the many that I missed. Some were just too wily around the hookbait, one defeated me with a determined run at the platform beneath my feet, and one parted the hooklink as I heaved hard to steer it away from an all-too-near reed bed.

But in all, six strong carp fell to floated bread crust that night - the first and last at 5lb, another at 7lb, and three of double figures - the largest, the fifth below, being a fine fat personal best of 12lb 9oz (leaving the excitement of my first 'teen' for another day).

21 June 2013

Same river, new stretch, same score

During the closed season (during which, confusingly and arguably pointlessly, fishing stops for three months on the rivers but not on canals, lakes and other stillwaters) I had been eyeing up a new stretch of the River Leam.

Running from Marton down to Eathorpe, and controlled by the Coventry Godiva Angling Club, it offers the one thing I've been looking for for a while - a lengthy stretch of chub-by water: not much more than a stream in places, widening and deepening on the bends and with plenty of fishable swims.

So with June 16th (first day of the new river season) falling on a Sunday, I set off armed with a couple of pints of maggots, a loaf of bread, some worms and a new Godiva book.

The funny thing is that I wasn't expecting for a moment to catch anything.

First day fishing is notoriously difficult, the rivers often slow and low (despite the seemingly endless crap weather of late). In addition, the excess of Saturday night had made a properly early start all but impossible, and I didn't get to the river until after 8am - way too late to make the best of these less-than-perfect conditions.

All I really wanted to do was walk the stretch, wet a line, and check a few swims for flow and depth. And I had the most wonderful morning doing just that. The river was everything I had hoped - all buttercup meadows, skylarks and seclusion.

I ran a stick through a few dozen times, the few knocks and taps I got finally revealing themselves as the work of minnows. Then I sat down on a big shaded bend to savor the location, nurse my headache over some coffee, and miss a massive wrap round bite on a free-lined worm :-(

It went round again as I started to pack up, and this time a furious little perch came to the bank. This, and my single trotted minnow, saved me from the 'blank' while still leaving me plenty to work up from as the season rolls on. As luck would have it, I get the feeling that a good dose of rain probably isn't too far away...!

20 June 2013

The last few days of 'closed'

When it arrived in mid March, the 'closed' season was a welcome excuse to put aside some unspeakably hard river fishing and concentrate instead on some of the local lakes and ponds - where I could at least be confident of a fish or two.

And indeed it was fun, with that three month closed season simply flying by. Many of the highlights were at Jubilee's Horseshoe Lake, but I also found time to visit Bishops Bowl a couple of times, Lemington Lakes (in a hurricane), Fennes and Rayne Lodge fisheries in Essex and, as the new season drew near, an extremely short evening session at Stockton Reservoir.

I like Stockton. Admittedly it's the polar opposite of the river fishing I've been concentrating on over the last 12 months or so, but on a warm, still summer's evening it's a lovely place to fish.

When those perfect conditions finally arrived last week, I was down there as fast as my little legs could carry me. And when Plan A, the method feeder, failed to produce anything at all in the first hour, I was delighted.

Why? Well, because this is really a venue that just cries out for margin fishing, and all of my best Stockton carp have come from no more than a few feet out from the bank side reed beds.

So it was in with a few handfuls of hemp and a scattering of luncheon meat cubes, in with the lift-rigged meat bait, and straight into a big old margin lump (to be fair, I'm not sure the lift rig adds much to the set up, except possibly in angling the main line out of the way to avoid liners - carp bites are generally just massive sail-aways rather than the twitch-lift you might expect from a tench on a similar set up).

11lb of Stockton common
Having last year taken a few of these larger carp on the margin pole, it was nice to feel the control of rod and line again. Not that this meant I could rush the fish; particularly not on a 4lb bottom, and particularly after so long without getting a really decent fish on the bank.

So I just took my time, enjoyed my surroundings and gradually managed to get the fish's head up to the net.

In fact it took so long to bring it in that this became my last fish of the night; but I wasn't much concerned. It was a lovely 11lb fish (close to my best), a lovely evening, and I've got my eye on a lovely looking new (to me) stretch of the upper Leam for Sunday's new season.

(and yep, in case you were wondering this has indeed been posted about a fortnight late, as so often happens around here...)

6 June 2013

Rainbows at the end of the storm

The weather forecast for Friday had looked grim throughout the preceding week; unusually, and unfortunately, it failed to change even a little bit. There seemed little doubt that our fishing weekend would start amid the sound and fury of some hellish weather.

The plan was to stage a repeat of last October's fishing weekend, but with two crucial differences: first we would reverse the order of things, with coarse on day one and fly on day two; and second, we would work harder at keeping hangovers to an acceptable, or at least fishable, level.

Given that our coarse fishing plan was for tench fishing on Lemington Lakes' Sunset Pool, the savage north-north-easterly which built steadily through the day could scarcely have made life tougher. Not only did it make presentation difficult, but of course it put the fish right down.

Instead of watching a tiny peacock quill trembling and dipping on a warm, calm pool, we were forced to resort to beefy bodied wagglers, deep-bulked to combat the wind and tow. 

It worked, after a fashion, with both of us finally bringing a small tench to the bank. But over a comfortable brunch in the unbuffeted warmth of Lemington's remarkable cafe, we both agreed that it was time to bow to the inevitable and abandon our float / tench plan for the day.

Out instead came the rod pod, two specimen rods, buzzers, bobbins and all; and we cowered under our sole surviving brolly waiting to see whether flat method feeders piled with groundbait, hemp, 'deads' and corn could help us unlock the hitherto quiet Abbey Pool.

A skimmer came first, then a good common carp which escaped at the net. The bream got bigger though, the biggest approaching five pounds, and for a while it was a fish every ten minutes - welcome action on such a miserable day. 

It would have been easy to be disappointed, but the day hadn't gone so badly. I'd promised my friend tench, and he'd hooked one; over brunch I'd suggested that a change of plan might bring us better fishing, and it had; we'd been blown to pieces (quite literally, as both umbrellas eventually bit the dust), but the rain could have been far worse. 

So now it was over to my friend who would guide me through the next morning's fly fishing at Busheyleaze near Lechlade.

Which, it turned out, was to be conducted in calm, warm and sunny conditions. Part of me was gutted that
this had not been our tenching day; another part massively relieved that I would not be trying to cast a fly in anything like the previous day's gale.

Last October had been my first introduction to this noble art, and I'd been quietly pleased with my progress given my normal  cack-handedness with this kind of skill (like learning to drive, it brought to mind the old game of trying to pat one's head and rub one's stomach at the same time). I'd not caught anything on that occasion, but at least the line and fly had found the water in approximately the prescribed manner.

I'd expected to be rusty this time around, and I was. But with a little bit of perseverance, some time watching those around me, and some helpful advice from both my friend and a passing angler, I soon found myself back to, or perhaps even past, the level I had achieved last October.

With one very important difference - I caught, and caught well.

It undoubtedly helped that the fish had been pushed into one corner of the lake by the strong winds of the preceding 24 hours; my friend's considered choice of fly also appeared to give us the required 'edge' on the day. Inevitably, it was he who found the fish and led the way, bagging three feisty rainbow trout in quick succession, each approaching a couple of pounds.

I was still plugging away, trying to ignore the fact that after eight or more hours or cast, retrieve, cast, retrieve, over the two trips, I still hadn't  felt so much as as a knock. And then, there it was. A knock, a take, a sharp strike and a fish on - a feisty rainbow of 4lb 3oz (a big fish for this water) which ran and ran, tail walked and ran, and ran some more before finally succumbing to the net and the priest.

My first fish taken on the fly, my first played on the 'pin', my first rainbow trout and my first fishing kill. Although I finished the day in fine style with a full bag of four fish, it was that first one which really felt like the significant milestone on my angling journey.

4 June 2013

A ghost in the machine?

A new personal best and a mystery fish capped another thoroughly enjoyable session on Horseshoe Lake at Jubilee Pools on a mid-May Sunday morning.

The wind had swung round to the north over the previous 24 hours, but so gently that it didn't seem likely to affect the fish much. 

So, rather than following it round to the south bank, I set up instead on my favoured west bank; putting the sleeper rod out first and then settling down to set up my usual slider rig. 

Beauty or a beast?
Unusually this took more than an hour, because every time I picked up the float rod the bobbin on the sleeper shot up and away. In the space of that first hour I brought five bream to shore, culminating in a new personal best of 5lb 15oz.

Once I got the float in I hit into a string of skimmers, before a frustrating couple of hook pulls in quick succession - possibly tench or smaller carp.

The next one started solid and stayed solid, and it quickly became apparent that this was one of those 5lb carp that can give anyone on lighter float gear a tremendous fight. I was right about carp, and right about the tremendous fight - but it was nevertheless a surprise when I got my first look at it.

Pale mirror or ghost carp species (or koi hybrid)? I honestly don't know, but I thought it was stunning - a view not shared by a couple of anglers to whom I've shown the picture, one of whom declared it 'gopping' (which I took not to be a compliment).

Beauty or a beast, it capped a fine morning's fishing. Worth noting, though, that as I walked along the south bank on my way back to the car, I spotted a number of large carp cruising just below the surface. Perhaps 'following the wind' would have been the right decision after all. As ever in angling, I'll never know.

12 May 2013

The very best of times

Today has been so momentous, so utterly marvellous, that if I didn't already have a blog I'd be setting one up just to write about it.

And although I will return shortly to the wonderful morning's fishing which played a big part in that, I hope you'll excuse me just this once if I start slightly off topic with the other principal source of today's joy - football.

Although the main theme that runs through this blog is nature in all it's wonder and variety, the name The Hornet's Nest has nothing whatsoever to do with natural history. Rather it reflects my other longstanding obsession; my support for Watford Football Club, aka the Hornets.

As is generally the case with angling, birding or any other passion one may have in life, this support has bought me equal measure or joy and heartache over the years. But today, in the space of 30 seconds, my beloved Hornets went from down-and-out to top-of-the-world in the blink of an eye. It was an explosive, roaring, visceral moment of sheer joy the likes of which I honestly don't think anything but sport can produce. 

(I'll spare you a full match report, and instead put this link here for my own enjoyment as I re-read this post in years to come: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/22417772).

That this moment of utter elation followed a great morning's fishing made it all the sweeter. 

Having concluded on my last visit to Jubilee Pools that the key to the Horseshoe Lake was to concentrate on the margins and edges, I arrived this time with a clearer plan in mind. Pellet and corn for bigger bream and perhaps a bonus carp on the sleeper rod, but positioned much closer in than last time; worm and caster fished beneath a slider float at about 10ft depth for a more mixed bag which would hopefully include some of the lake's chunky roach - a prize which had so far eluded me.

It always takes a little time to get a slider working properly, but once it was ready I fired in three balls of ground bait, chopped worm and caster, cast the float into position, and... struck - straight into a chunky roach which looked much bigger than the 10oz my annoyingly accurate scales insisted it was.

If the second fish had also been a roach it would've been a belter because it shot off and put up one hell of a battle. It wasn't a roach, but I couldn't be even slightly disappointed since it turned out to be my first ever golden tench.

The third fish on this line was one of its more usual, but no less beautiful, green cousins, and fourth was a skimmer of perhaps a pound and a half. A proper 'mixed bag' indeed.

Eventually the slider line quietened down, but bang on cue the sleeper rod took over as three chunky bream sent the bobbin flying, one after another. Each was a typical Horseshoe bream with the largest at 4lb 4oz.

And when the sleeper rod finally went back to sleep, the slider woke up for one last hurrah - a string of modest perch to finish the morning.

A thoroughly enjoyable morning then, with untold joy on the football field to follow.

And do you know what? Two hours after full-time I checked my lottery ticket and discovered, without any real surprise, that for the first time ever I'd won. 

It was only £10 of course, but then that roach had 'only' been 10oz and the football match had 'only' been a Championship semi-final. It mattered not;  because as I learned a long time ago, it's never, ever, about the size of the prize. Only the joy of its moment.

Here's that mixed bag, in pictures:

7 May 2013

A tale of two winds

Essex was my base for a Bank Holiday fishing bonanza - two very different sessions in two very different venues with, crucially, two very different winds.

The wind that welcomed me to Fennes Fishery on Saturday morning was full of vim and vigour, a constant south-westerly of about 20mph with plenty of gusts beyond that. While the right-hand bank would be bathed in whatever sunshine we got throughout the day, this was not day for fishing a waggler into the wind.

Instead I hunkered down behind my brolly on the left-hand bank; a decision I didn't once regret as the sun came and went and came again, showers blasted through, and the wind only relented for the final hour.

A sleeper rod was quickly out to within a couple of metres of the island ahead, territory which had handily been brought into catapult range by the wind at my back.

After a brief spell trying some new boilies, I was back on the tried-and-tested pellet and corn combination, a good move as it turned out. On a day on which the many alarms around the lake lay mainly silent, mine pipped and peeped with reasonable regularity. A number of dropped runs were frustrating, but I did pick up a nice bream and a pair of chunky 3 or 4lb carp, probably F1s, in a quickfire double around lunchtime.

Meanwhile, the waggler fishing was giving me plenty to think about. Fishing off a slight ledge at about 10m, I was able to bring in a string of smallish perch on worm (the best probably 10oz), a handful of skimmers and a couple of roach on worm/corn and worm/maggot combos. A bonus carp, again around the 3lb mark, sealed a thoroughly enjoyable session on a day which everyone had found hard going.

Sunday morning at nearby Rayne Lodge was an altogether different animal. The wind remained from the south-west, but it had now faded to a whispering breeze on the warmest, sunniest of May mornings. Rayne Lodge is stuffed, many would no doubt argue overstuffed, with carp, and they would almost certainly be feeding well on such a morning. But even so, I knew from previous experience that the best of the action would be on the windward side of the two-acre lake.

A typical Rayne Lodge common carp: long and lean,
this one a touch over 4lbs
It didn't take me long to find exactly the kind of swim I was after - in fact it was the first one at the end if the path from the car park.

It was easy to see why everyone had walked past it. It was cramped, with tight overhead branches crowding in, and while most other swims were already warm in the morning sun, this one was still cool, if not cold, in the shadow of a huge conifer. But it had exactly what I was looking for - a horrible soupy scum pressed by that gentle westerly into the left hand corner margin. Not great to look at; at times a bit, well, yucky, to fish in; but a rich soup of nutrients which would act as a magnet to the fish all morning.

And so it proved. I was fairly confident that it would be almost impossible not to catch, so unusually for me I set myself targets: a match-style average of a fish every ten minutes for the first three hours, then a few off the top in the last 90 minutes or so.

And it all went like clockwork :-)

Starting with a tiny BB waggler in the margin I took carp after carp, all between 1 and 3lb, as well as a couple of lovely crucians. When the soupy swim to my left became overrun with extraordinarily pale roach, I switched to the willow tree to my right to pick up a couple more 3lb carp.

After three hours I had 19 fish in the virtual net, and I could barely see the surface of the water for the number of pairs of carp lips that were sucking at the surface debris in front of me. Time for Plan B!

And is there anything more fun than taking carp off the top with bread crust?

A new 1.75lb specimen rod proved perfect for the task, coupled with with a small controller float, a size 10 hook and a small chunk of Warburton's crust.

I catapulted out a few loose offerings to get them going, then got stuck in. I'll spare you the blow-by-blow account; suffice it to say that I missed a few (ooh) and hit a few (ahh), had a wonderful time, and banked my best three fish of the day - two common carp at four pounds and a lovely rose-pink mirror at 6lb 6oz.

So 22 fish in all, about 50lb in that 'net', and the only frustration on a fun-packed morning being when the camera phone packed in and stopped me photographing the best fish of the day. As a fishing experience it had absolutely nothing in common with the rock hard winter I've had on the River Leam, and it did feel odd more or less catching fish to order. But sod it - sometimes a little of what you fancy really does do you good.