19 April 2012

A lunchtime symphony

Most people seem to take dogs with them when they go for a lunchtime walk over Henley-in-Arden's Mount. Me? I take my ears.

"Chiff chaff, chiff chaff" - there's no mistaking the first song that I hear upon leaving the road via a narrow stream-side path. "Chiff chaff, chiff chaff, chiff chiff chaff", interspaced with a few quieter "Hooweet, hooweet" calls. The chiffchaffs are at their most active having only arrived back from East Africa in the last couple of weeks.

"Chiz...chiz, chizzik" - not the more familiar pied wagtail, but a grey wagtail, an exploding ball of brilliant yellow that explodes past me from the stream. Soon he is gone, and a blue tit keeps me company along the rest of the waterside path, "tic tic tic, tic tic tic", and other variations along a three-note theme.

My head snaps left at the near and distinctive cackling call of Yaffle, aka a green woodpecker. Ahead of me is a bright, but silent, jay, and high above are the mewing calls of unseen buzzards.

From here the 'squeaky wheel' calls of great tits start to cut across everything until, that is, they are trumped by the strident repetitions of a song thrush. Accompaniment comes from wood pigeons on bass, blackbirds on melody lead, but sadly no great spotted woodpecker for drums. Perhaps the 'tack tack tack' of the robin can lay down a suitable beat?

As I leave the path and head back onto tarmac it is left to the finches to say goodbye, the 'bowler's action' song of the chaffinch (step, step, step, skip-skip-skip-skip arm oooovvvverrrr) and the "cheeeeeeeeeezzzzzzz" of the greenfinch sending me smiling on my way.

18 April 2012

In your face

I defy anyone not to be a bird watcher at this time of year. Birds are quite simply everywhere during April and May, noisy and 'in your face', full of display and bravado as they press on with the matter in hand - breeding.

My first swallow of the year flew over the garden on April 11th, and there were a couple more at Partridge Lakes near Manchester a few days later.

Grey Wagtails have been much in evidence along the Henley-in-Arden brook near where I work, and chiffchaffs have been calling there in good numbers for a fortnight or more. In the last week they have been joined by willow warblers - I heard the first of those from the allotment last Wednesday.

With a couple of spare hours on Sunday J and I had hoped to get to Napton, but time didn't really permit (inevitable then that a stunning male redstart would turn up on the reservoir!). Instead we managed a 50 minute dash round Brandon Marsh, our first for ages.

It was great to be able to listen to the music of four warblers from a single spot (willow, cettis, chiffchaff and blackcap), and to catch sight of some of the regular wading birds - a pair each of redshank and little ringed plovers, plus a few lapwing. A longer return visit is clearly called for in the next couple of weeks, as is that postponed trip to Napton.

17 April 2012

Ineptitude saves the day

The increasingly common practice of stocking chub and barbel in lakes, ponds and other still waters presents me, and I suspect many other anglers, with an interesting dilemma.

Most anglers naturally want to catch the best of what's in the water in front of them. But many also feel instinctively that these two species belong in the river not the lake.

So the dilemma arises when you're sat on a lake which is well stocked with one or both of the species. Do you want to catch them at all? Are you a purist or a pragmatist (especially at this time of year when the rivers are closed to anglers anyway). And how would you feel if your personal best for both species were recorded on artificially stocked lakes?

The views I have read and heard vary wildly, but in one sense it's easier for me as a relative novice. I've not got a single barbel nor a single decent (over one pound) chub to my name, and I don't particularly want to break either milestone on a lake. It's just not the way I've dreamed about these things happening.

All of which means that you could argue it was good news on Friday when I lost my one decent fish of the day, a fairly chunky chub. Not that it felt like that at the time of course...

I was fishing with my Manchester-based brother in Partridge Lakes, a sophisticated commercial operation not far from the M60. In fact when we first arrived we were worried by how commercial it was - the tightly-packed mosaic of tiny lakes was unlike anything I'd ever seen before and certainly not my cup of tea, being clearly designed around the needs of match, not pleasure, anglers.

Fortunately a short walk revealed the two Holbar lakes which were much more to our taste - bigger, better spaced pegs, more natural surroundings and stocked with a good balance of carp and silvers - including those chub.

Plenty of these lovely roach -
fortunately(?!) the big chub got away
It looked ideal, so we set down side by side and started to fish, initially both with a feeder hard to the bank of the island opposite. But although the guy to the right of us was steadily emptying the lake doing exactly the same, we were both struggling. After an hour with only a skimmer to my name, I switched to a waggler and caster attack mid water and things started to pick up. First a half-pound roach, then another. A couple more skimmers, and couple more roach, and then bang - I bent into something considerably more hefty.

Sadly my brain didn't move as fast as the fish did. As it stripped line from the clutch my brain was saying 'carp' - so once I had that first run under control I anticipated a steady enough fight in open water (albeit a careful one, since I was on a size 20 hook and 2.5lb hook length).

I swear I looked away only long enough to locate my landing net - but by the time I looked back it was to see what appeared to be a decent chub doing exactly what chub do - diving into the reeds to my left. Attempts to draw it back out left me exactly where I thought they would - with a broken hook length, an empty net and a glum expression.

At least the weather held for us and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon, with the best fish, a decent enough F1 carp, going to my brother.

And at least my dream of a river, not stillwater, chub breakthrough remains intact. Hoo-bloody-ray ;-)

13 April 2012

The tench and Ratty and me

I've never fished White Bishops lake well, and following Tuesday's performance I see no reason to update that statement.

My favourite Bishop Bowls lake, Walworth, had been hammered in two big matches over the weekend, so I thought I'd give it a miss and try to break my White Bishops hoodoo instead. Hmmmm.

With a decent westerly pushing through I set up on the northeast edge, peg 3, and gently lobbed a feeder out with luncheon meat on the hair. Within minutes I'd missed my first bite of the day. I won't bore you with the full details, but suffice it to say that I missed perhaps 20 bites on the tip during the day, and hit precisely none. I tried everything I could think of - shorter hair, longer hair, no hair, shorter and longer hook lengths, hitting them later and earlier, tighter line and slacker line. I'll happily accept any ideas anyone has that might help me remedy this in future because quite frankly it drove me to distraction.

small but perfectly formed - my first tench of 2012
Thank goodness for the float then. After two hours in the teeth of the wind I relocated to the sheltered calm of the opposite shore, allowing me a) to warm up and b) to put a small waggler on the edge of the marginal shelf. Red maggot produced some skimmers, a string of decent roach, a couple of small carp and, at last, my first tench of the year. Admittedly it was one of the smallest I've ever caught, but it was an absolute smasher to look at. A sight for sore eyes indeed.

I kept returning to the feeder from time to time, and the misses kept coming. This might have made for a miserable day, were it not for the redeeming successes on the float coupled with some delightful wildlife encounters - an oystercatcher flew loudly south, chiffchaffs fluttered and sang all around me, and finally a water vole swam across my swim no more than two metres from my toes. This was only the third or fourth I've ever seen one that closely, making it an absolutely priceless moment.

2 April 2012

Spring it on

It must be Spring - I heard my first chiffchaff of the year on a sunny lunchtime stroll today, but the weather forecast is suggesting snow in time for my Easter weekend fishing :-(

If I may quote the significantly under-rated Depeche Mode at this juncture: "I don't want to spread any blasphemous rumours, but I think that God's got a sick sense of humour, and when I die, I expect to find him laughing."

Ho hum, bring it on. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger (or, more importantly, a better angler).