23 September 2014

Five seasons in one day

The curse of the blogger remains the recap post. You know the one I mean: the 'I've been so busy doing the thing that I've not had time to write about the thing' post. Or else the 'I've been so busy with the family / DIY / job that I've not even had time to do the thing, let alone write about it' post.

When you do finally find yourself sitting down at the keyboard after a time away, what you end up doing is a quick recap of the last few days / weeks / months - sketchy at best, and inevitable full of missing bits as the memory fails.

It's bad enough after a few weeks, so just imagine how bad this 'it's been a busy old year' post is going to be. I probably wouldn't bother reading on if I were you.


Despite a lack of time to sit down and write about it, the last 12 months or so have had some real fishing, birding and general outdoors-y highlights, some of which I want to record here for my own benefit as much as any other - this being the longest continuous record of such activity that I have. So if you'll excuse the inelegant listing format:

1. My first fish on the fly - four of them to be precise, all rainbow trout from a super-productive day at Bushyleaze fishery (the day after a super unproductive day of course fishing at a very stormy Lemington Lakes, but that's another story). Superb sport, great eating, a great day, and all thanks to my highly-skilled friend Richie. Full report and picture here.

2. My first barbel. At 5lb 5oz, it looked (and felt) bigger, taken alongside the bonus of my first 'decent' chub - 2lb 10oz - on a River Wye trip organised by my friend Howard (who out caught me 3-1)

3. A change of River Leam approach. Having been unable to find the time, skill and inclination required to properly tackle the new (to me) upper Leam, I relinquished for now that card and tackled the slow town waters for the first time. My sole trip to date resulted ina gutsy little tench, one of my best Leam fish to date. I'll be spending more time on these convenient waters in the future.

4. Getting a lure into the sea at long last, having had the spinning rod for the job for nearly four years. No bass, or indeed anything else, but a start was made on the Dorset coast and I shall be back. Oh yes, I also returned from a mackerel trip with a BBQ full of fish, which was nice.

5. Settling back into commercials after a long spell focused on the rivers. The realisation that I fish for relatively short periods of relaxation has led me inexorably back to the more comfortable and assured surroundings of the commercial fisheries at the expense of the fun, but often demanding, river banks. Now I just need to stop apologising for it :-)

6. Father and son fishing. As challenging as any fishing I've ever done, but definitely among the most rewarding. A hyperactive eight year old takes some settling down, but a few 45 minute sessions have produced plenty of small roach and perch, some nice small carp and a cracking tench - not too mention the odd smile and some welcome time away from video games.

7. Father and son and mum, birding. If you think fishing might be a hard sell to an eight year old, try birding. But with a bit of encouragement, and some well-timed chocolate bribery, we've managed a few good family trips this year and C is developing a good eye for how to tell one bird from another.

8. Bird song from the saddle. A growing interest in cycling means that I hear as many farmland birds as I see these days. Skylarks, yellowhammer, bullfinch and linnet are all reasonably regular sounds as I flash by at (as close to) 20mph (as I can managed).

9. A definite leaning back towards birding. After three years in which fishing has taken up most spare moments I am gradually finding my leisure time being more evenly once more between my various interests - fishing, birding, cycling and photography. We've had a couple of good family trips to Brandon lately, and I even popped into Leam Valley briefly today to remind myself what my patch looks like. So perhaps it is safe to expect more birding posts over the coming weeks... assuming I don't just disappear without trace for another 14 months of course.

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: