31 July 2012

First time on the Wasperton Avon (for another meeting with my newest friend)

A few weeks ago I found an hour or so for a brief recce of the River Avon at Wasperton. Now, with a completely free weekend at my disposal, it was time to throw a line.

Now it has to be said that I know next to nothing about big river fishing, and although this stretch of the Avon is hardly huge, it is way out of my established comfort zone. All the more reason to get stuck in then...

Easy-to-fish swims seem to be at a bit of a premium on the lower LAA stretch, but I eventually found a tight-ish spot which allowed me to cast beyond a downstream line of weed with a simple feeder rig.

To be honest I was really there to get a feel for the place, rather than catch anything. No point missing the opportunity completely though, and I figured either meat or worm would be my best bet for a decent fish or two.

Nothing much happened on worms, but I started getting little plucks and indications as soon as I hair-rigged a ragged chunk of luncheon meat. None of them came to anything much so, after striking at thin air a couple of times to check I wasn't missing anything, I sat back to admire the view and wait for something more decisive.

When it came, it was hard to miss - a strong and sustained pull that I'd have had to be pretty clumsy to miss (but oh how many times that's happened before). I struck into something heavy and quickly scrambled to a vantage point which would allow me to steer it out and away from the mid-water line of weeds and the reed-clad bank to my left.

As my avon river rod took on a very welcome curve, and based very much on instinct rather than experience, I quickly ruled out the possibility of barbel. But I was still trying to decide whether it was a good chub or an excellent perch when I finally caught a glimpse of my catch - and I couldn't have been much more surprised. After years and years without any at all, I had caught my third eel in two days, and all from different waters.

This one was a different proposition to the other two though - bigger and able to fight much more strongly thanks to both the lively flow of the river and the heavy weed I was trying to draw it across. I was grateful I hadn't tried anything particularly delicate with my my rig, which meant that after a few minutes of steady pressure I was finally able to scoop the landing net under a 1lb 9oz eel, a new personal best.

All in all, not a bad introduction to a new and potentially very exciting stretch of water. There's plenty more in store for me here I'm sure, although I am tempted to get a Birmingham AA ticket just for the easier-to-fish pegs a little further upstream. Either way I'll be back on the Avon very soon.

22 July 2012

Some sights for sore eyes

The uncertainty principle which I proposed here a couple of weeks back (the theory that the superior appeal of natural waters lies chiefly in the fact that it's harder to predict what might happen on any given session), was vindicated in fine style during an evening on the Grand Union canal.

Family commitments mean I don't often fish during the evenings, so I was looking forward to this opportunity to see the canal in a different light (literally) - hopefully after the boats had stopped for the day.

Sadly it turned out that boaters are busy much later than I thought, so by 8.30pm I'd endured (with as much good cheer as I could muster) a lot of boats, a lot of fast-flowing water between the locks, but no fish - not so much as a sucked maggot in fact.

As a last throw of the dice I moved a hundred yards or so to cast towards a bridge, and that's when the nights two big surprises happened.

The first was the most entertaining narrow boat that's ever passed by this angler - one crewed by six decidedly fair young ladies, each with a glass of wine in hand, and none (apparently) able to steer, since the boat was careering down the canal from bank to bank, crash to crash.

It was quite a sight, but as they crashed into the bank right in front of me I (only just) resisted the gallant urge to offer my skippering services, and instead returned to the matter in hand - avoiding a blank.

not a perch... and I'm afraid not easy to photograph
in the gathering gloom
And a few minutes later I did just that, albeit in the most unexpected fashion. The float dipped decisively, I struck, and could instantly feel the head-banging escape attempts of a good perch. A very good perch, judging by the curve my ultra light float rod was starting to take. Except this was no perch, and after a very good fight I was looking at the first eel I had ever caught.

Extremely exciting of course, but I do have just two slightly negative thoughts to share. Because if I had previously thought bream to be slimy and perch to be prone to deep hooking, that was because I'd not had an eel to compare them with. Because the eel, it turns out, is well covered in a slime which is just about unremovable from a landing net. It is also more than capable of getting a single maggot half way down its length in the time it takes the average angler to strike.

But what a fight from a sub-pound fish, and what a fantastic way to spend an evening on the local canal.

14 July 2012

Brought to you by the letter C

Today's post is brought to you by the letter 'C', standing in this instance for commercials, convenience and, of course, carp.

While writing in praise of rivers and canals, I know that I've been guilty of making the odd disparaging comparison between 'wild' natural waters and fully stocked commercial waters. This, as anyone who knows me or follows The Hornet's Nest will realise, is profoundly unfair of me since I fish commercials all the time.

So just to set that record straight - I love commercial fisheries (or at least the good ones).

Not that I want to fish them all the time, you understand - there is still something thrilling and primal about even the smallest river fish that you just can't get from a heavily stocked and carefully managed fishery pond. But in turn, the very best commercials offer plenty of things that the rivers can't.

Which is why, when the sun finally appeared for a couple of hours after work on Wednesday, it was to Bishops Bowl that I sped. This excellent and still-improving fishery typifies everything that can be good about commercials, in that it is conveniently close to my home, has a handy bait and tackle shop on site, and generally guarantees a few quality fish from even the shortest session.

For a short evening session I'd normally settle down on Walworth lake with a small waggler to try and pick out some of the nicer tench, but the unexpected burst of warm weather seemed to have brought the bigger carp close to the surface, so instead I dusted down the pellet waggler for its first proper outing of the year.

It was, in short, a very good move, and within five minutes I was pretty much taking a fish a cast - generally carp in the half to three pound range, but one or two which were big enough to quickly smash the 4lb hook length and leave me scrambling to bolt the proverbial stable door with a 6lb length for the rest of the session. It's a lesson I seem to forget as quickly as I learn it - the ferocity of the take and the shortness of line beneath the pellet waggler means that a beefed up hook length is an absolute must for this style of fishing.

It was an excellent, if short, evening session, the biggest surprise being the capture of a nice two pound tench so far up in the water - well, either that or the violent storm which suddenly sprang forth from nowhere and sent me fleeing the site with a boot full of soaking gear.

12 July 2012

Canal success (and some helpful perspective)

At the very real risk of sounding immodest, the thing that surprised me most about my recent session at the Grand Union Canal was just how well I fished it.

I'm still in my early days back fishing (well, a couple of years in, but I'm a slow learner), so improvement should always be on the cards. But this was chalk and cheese compared with my last visit just over six months ago.

I fished much, much lighter than before; I was tighter to the ledges / edges (having plumbed the entire width more accurately); and I fished to both sides to give me more options through the morning. I also kept the feed going in at what felt like the right amounts at what felt like the right times.

My first canal rudd? ID confirmation (or otherwise) welcome...
As a result, once I'd got the swim going (which took about half an hour) I was able to keep it going, putting together a nice bag of roach, possibly my first canal rudd (comments welcome on the photo, I wasn't 100% sure), perch and skimmers, the best being a 2.5lb bream that (for a bream) fought like crazy.

A fabulous couple of hours all round, until the boat traffic started up at 8am and finally sent me on my way at 8.30am (I tend to be quite cheery and smiley for the first three, the next two get a mutter and then the rest can enjoy the sight of an empty towpath where an angler had previously been).

The typical stamp of bream on GUC
So all in all I was feeling quite good about my canal angling - until I read this from Jeff - British Canal Records - The New Canal Royalty.

Blimey, there are some fair sized fish in that list! I'm in awe of everyone who has achieved that size of catch from what always look like such modest waters - and thanks for giving me the incentive to get my backside back on the towpath a bit more often (and maybe put up with a bit more boat traffic in pursuit of those records).

2 July 2012

The Uncertainty Principle

Boredom is a killer - in fact I'd tend to agree with 'Idler' author Tom Hodgkinson when he argues that if modern science were more subtle and sophisticated it would surely prove boredom to be one of the central killers of our age.

Why are we so bored? Well, industrialisation and the division of labour has helped ensure that most jobs are, to a greater or lesser degree, pretty one dimensional. The remorseless rise of branded foods and the supermarket system means that every tin, packet and bottle we open contains exactly the same factory-produced 'food experience' time after time. We buy standardised clothes in standard sizes from the same few shops which can be found in every high street in the land. And when we get home and turn on the telly, we find ourselves watching not the hundreds of programmes and channels we were promised but myriad variations on a small number of proven programmes formats.

Truly ours is the age of boredom.

Fortunately there is plenty you can do to combat this (aside from the Stoic solution so eloquently expressed by Pink Floyd when they sang: "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.") And chief among the way in which we can fight back is by injecting uncertainty back into our lives.

Drive a different route to work this morning. Bake your own bread and brew your own beer (and revel in the randomness, and occasional glory, of the output). Turn off the telly and listen to the radio (Radio 4 is truly the last bastion of randomness in our world, as I came to understand a couple of years ago when I found myself glued to a 3 part series on the joys of granite). And of course, fish a river rather than a stocked lake or pond every now and again...

Because there was certainly nothing boring about Friday evening on the River Leam. For a start, the stick float that had last week refused so obstinately to go under now seemed alive; every trot was greeted by a bob, a dive and (generally) a pretty decent roach.

Ouch - a perfectly punctured perch
When that line of attack slowed down at around 8pm, I switched to a lobworm and feeder attack and again the river seemed full of fish. It was perch that dominated this time - at least, that is, until a jack pike set up camp in front of me. He took a minute or more to let go of the first perch he grabbed, he took the next one from me in moments, but the third was nearly his undoing as the hook transferred itself from perch to pike and I got within a whisker of drawing him over the net.

But it was not to be. With a single flick of his powerful tail he headed back to midwater and finally managed to sever the hook link. No pike then, but exactly the kind of unexpected and enjoyable encounter that commercial fisheries don't often deliver.

And as if to underline these themes of randomness and variation, my attempt to fish the upper Leam the next night was completely stumped by high water levels which made virtually every swim unfishable. Unexpected? Yup. Annoying? You bet. But absolutely part and parcel of the joy of river fishing.