27 November 2011

A smile as wide as the fish was long

Although I'd decided last week to give the Leam a rest for a while, a last minute change of heart saw me back there again this morning.

Instead of the relative simplicity of a commercial stillwater, my heart told me it wanted at least one more crack at finding a 'proper' fish on my favourite stretch running through the nature reserve and into Newbold Comyn.

It was unseasonably warm (12.5 degrees), a fact that became uncomfortably apparent as I trekked a mile or more in full winter gear to reach the very end swim. A strong upstream wind had all but stopped or even reversed the surface flow along the entire stretch, and even here, where the river narrowed to just a few feet, there was no flow to be seen.

It seemed perverse in the circumstances to set up a stick float, so I selected a small insert waggler, set it up with a size 22 on a 1lb 10oz bottom (my lightest ever rig I think), and set it to drift just an inch or so off the bottom of a slight downstream depression.

A steady trickle of maggots soon attracted the roach bites, but nothing of any size was coming out. And then, bang, I suddenly found myself wishing for a slightly less delicate rig as something put a not-inconsiderable bend in my light match rod. Having steered it out of the nearest reed bed with a combination of power and prayer, I then became acutely aware of just how narrow this stretch of river was - to get this fish into my landing net I was going to have to draw it through a gap in the reeds no more than four foot wide.

I already suspected this was a chub rather than the stellar roach I'd initially hoped for, and it pretty much confirmed this suspicion by going straight for those reeds as I drew it into the channel. It was clearly not a giant by chub standards, but it was the best fish I'd managed to hook and hang on to over many weeks on this stretch of river and I was desperate to bring it home. One last burst of prayer was deemed necessary as I teased it from this second reedy refuge and it was in!

I swear to you that no one has ever been happier to see a 13oz chub. You should have seen my grin. It is by a margin the best river fish I've had since I returned to fishing last year (because 95% or more of that time has been spent on lakes). It is also, perhaps a little bizarrely, a PB - for some reason I just don't recall catching any chub at all as a child angler.

OK, the fact that it wasn't quite a pound was initially disappointing (it was quite a long lean creature). But since it had put up a good fight on light tackle, scared the life out of me with two mad plunges into the reeds, and nearly straightened my delicate little size 22 hook, perhaps that was just as well.

If true specimen sized fish really mattered to me then I'm sure I'd have given up on the Leam before I'd even started. But that's just not me. I'm more than happy simply to be on my favourite river, watching the birds and increasing the quality of fish I catch ounce by ounce, week by week. Mind you, I'll be even more happy if the fish that finally breaks the pound mark for me is a roach! Now that really would be worth a grin.

25 November 2011

Gloomy news on threatened freshwater species

This story caught my eye on the BBC website this morning: EU sounds alarm for threatened freshwater species.

Not great news - 37% of all freshwater fish species are on the EU's threatened species list (not to mention 44% of molluscs, 23% of amphibians, 19% of reptiles, 15% of mammals and dragonflies and 13% of birds).

I was saying to the wife only last night: "If more people were anglers the rivers would be in a damn sight better condition than they are today. Nobody loves the water more than an angler."

Let's hope we can spread the love.

23 November 2011

An early winter wonder

An early winter wonder indeed, and probably not what you are expecting... a low-flying swallow dashing past my car on the Longbridge roundabout near Warwick.

On the occasion of the first frost of winter I couldn't help but think he's cutting it a bit fine. I know some swallows have been found overwintering on the south coast in recent years, or slightly more commonly the south of Spain (as opposed to South Africa where the majority go), but I hope that this fella gets somewhere warm before his food and energy run out completely.

Slightly more in keeping with the season was the delightfully rosy male bullfinch that was flitting around my garden this morning. Time to get the feeders out.

Addendum: apart from that swallow, the frost has clearly triggered 'winter mode' in the bird world - my lunchtime walk just gave me the closest possible view of a redpoll, my first of the year.

18 November 2011

Great white bird in sky

As work has got busier and busier through the autumn, so lunches have got briefer and briefer. Truncated perhaps, but not totally unrewarding...

Today's lunchtime stroll was little more than a quick turn round the block, but as I walked through a little housing estate on the edge of Henley-in-Arden, I looked up and rapidly went through the birdwatcher's silent mantra of identification: "it's a long way off, but that looks a bit different... pointy wings, perhaps a big gull... if it just flies this way... OK, long legs, possibly a heron at a weird angle... no, still got pointy wings... surely not a... it is, it's all white, it's an egret!"

So there you go, my first lunchtime egret (I presume little egret, it didn't come close enough to confirm if it wasn't (although it did look suspiciously large...)) since July 2006 when I found one at Wooten Wawen. Last seen heading towards Claverdon, so keep an eye out on waterways near you.

After that it was down to the little river for a satisfying crunch through some fallen leaves. No siskin in the alders yet, but I did see some little chublets racing for cover in the deeper leaf-filled glides. No sign of the big boys this time - hopefully I might find a few on the Leam this weekend...

13 November 2011

Further up the Leam

In the last couple of weeks I have managed to find time for a trio of trips to the various swims I found during my walk along the Newbold Comyn stretch of the Leam.

Starting my first session on the weediest, narrowest and hardest to reach of them all, it was nice just to see a stick float trotting through at the decent lick after weeks of watching a stationery waggler just a mile downstream.

A regular tickle of maggots soon had the bites coming reasonably frequently, mainly small roach at first, but then a couple of tiny chublet. After a couple of hours of this I moved down to swim two, a wider stretch but again with a bit of pace on the bend. 

Here the frequency dropped, but the quality improved - a slightly larger chub, a better roach and, finally, as I trotted a whole lobworm through to finish the session, a scrappy little perch.

The next session was just a snatched 90 minutes with only a loaf of bread at hand to tackle the same swim. Feeding mashed bread and trotting punch resulted in nothing, but switching to flake on the bomb brought a strong, unmissable bite on the tip. I missed it and went home. 
This morning's session was longer and was another mixed bag, with a few modest fish punctuated by some rank bad angling (the highlight being the 15 minutes I spent rigging up a sliding float, only to lose the lot in the tree opposite first cast out). The final tally was five small roach, a couple of small perch and this 'giant' - a 6oz perch which was the fish of the day.

Fish aside, it was the most beautiful morning on the Leam, the autumnal reds and yellows resplendent in the autumn sunlight, and the occasional flash of brilliant colour as kingfishers and bullfinches darted by. 

I may not have caught much, but couldn't have been happier. 

6 November 2011

Where's all the water gone?

Inspired by yesterday's 'triumph' on the Leam, I decided to walk the Leamington Angling stretches of the river upstream from Welches Meadow.

Starting at the Newbold Comyn car park I followed it up through the nature reserve, discovering a few things as follows:

1. It's still slow, low and deep, but there are a handful of places where it narrows, bends or shallows up a bit and actually finds a bit of flow - most of these look fishable and quite inviting.
2. Even if the fishing turns out to be poor, it's worth it at this time of year for the scenery and the wildlife - this one hour walk turned up kingfishers, bullfinches, green and great spotted woodpecker and a pair of noisy nuthatch.
3.  We're seriously in need of some water - the picture shows the sight that greeted me from the hide at the far end of the reserve. In case it's not obvious, that's supposed to be a shallow pool of water, a 'scrape', with an island in the middle.

Further upstream and into the Offchurch Bury estate, the river takes on a different character - narrower, shallower and faster. It screams 'chub' at every bend - although the ones I saw were of course holding station in a private / no-fishing stretch of course. Still, if they're here and they're downstream at the Princes Drive weir, then they'll be elsewhere along the river.