28 February 2012

Oh brave new world...

...that has such creatures in it. A glorious Saturday spent on the banks of the upper Leam produced such a wealth of wonderful sightings that I scarcely know where to start.

Perhaps not, for a change, with the fish. Because as I set up in a wooded 'jungle' swim (a move I swiftly regretted as I launched my first float rig into a low overhanging branch), I became aware of buzzard calls. I looked up and around, and realised that not one but four birds were playing and courting in the trees around me, so close I could hear their wings beating over their mewing calls.

Not 10 minutes later I was watching a pair of ravens engaging in even more acrobatic courtship low over the nearby hill. And what was turning into a decent birding day went on to include a series of up-close-and-personal sightings including kingfisher, sparrowhawk, reed bunting and skylark.

Meanwhile I was struggling to recover from that float-in-tree incident. Although there had been a gentle flow on the river when I arrived, a gentle upstream breeze had sprung up and all but stopped the water. That, plus the fact that I was again being plagued by minnows, resolved me to abandon my initial stick-and-maggot attack in favour of a tried and tested combo - a nice juicy lobworm on a size 10 hook connected to the most sensitive quiver tip in the bag.

That final detail really came into its own when I cast into the third swim of the day. As has happened before in this swim, barely had I tightened the line when that super soft quiver tip just started to edge round - a quick tap followed by the slowest and smallest of bends. I struck, and it was immediately apparent that this was likely to be my best Leam fish to date - all I had to do now was get it on the bank.

Fortunately I think I'd previously made every mistake it is possible to make in this swim, so I was able to steer the fish first into the relative safety of the deeper water and then to draw it towards me without gifting it the chance to bury itself in the submerged reeds right in front of me (it had a pretty good go though).

After a very tense minute or so I had netted my prize, a pretty respectable perch. It was indeed my River Leam PB, as well as my perch PB, weighing in at 1lb 9oz.

And although I caught no further fish that day, the river did have one more fishy encounter in store for me. As I sat quietly in my final swim I noticed a sizeable shape slip past the end of my rod tip. For some reason my initial reaction was 'chub', and I moved my hand closer to the rod handle in anticipation. But this was no chub - it was an altogether more majestic spectacle. And, like the buzzards who had welcomed me to the river that morning, it was a killer.

It wasn't a big pike by most standards, but it certainly looked big in this tiny stream-like stretch of river. Its two menacing passes along the margin beneath my rod tip convinced me that any other fish in the swim would most likely have fled in terror, so I packed up and went happily on my way home.

20 February 2012

A weekend on the river

With the 2010/11 fishing season fast running, out I braved the wind and rain on Saturday and the cold on Sunday in my ongoing attempt to coax at least one decent fish from the upper Leam ('decent' being a highly subjective word, with every angler having their own definition - in my case I think a qualifying fish on this stretch of the Leam would probably be a) 1lb roach; b) 1lb perch or c) 2lb chub).

With some serious rain threatened on Saturday afternoon, I decided to make the morning session quick and simple. A tiny drilled bullet nailed the bait, either bread flake or lob worm, to the deck. The 1.5oz quiver on my avon rod would be light enough to spot virtually every tap, and I'd aim to do three swims with no more than an hour in each (unless I was catching).

And it all started so well. Nothing doing on bread flake, but I'd hardly had time to tighten the line on the first worm of the day when the tip went round and I was into a scrappy little perch. Only 10oz as it turned out, but a lovely little fish and a welcome start to the day.

Sadly it was also the end of the day, as nothing I did thereafter seemed to go right. Nothing more from that swim, so on to the next - where I missed one massive rap on the rod tip, and then a modest chub managed to throw the hook just a few minutes later.

I was at the third swim when the proper rain arrived, and discretion proved the better part of valour. I fled.

Sunday was a completely different sort of day - clear bright light bounced off a dusting of snow and a wicked north wind swept down onto the Leam.

There had been quite some flow on the river on Saturday, so I turned up on Sunday armed with stick float and bread, ready to target the roach. Sadly the river had gone to sleep a little, but I did find a decent run to fish in my second choice of swim.

And I found minnows. Lots of minnows. In fact I doubt I've ever caught as consistently as I did in that two hour session. Dozens of the little blighters went for everything I sent their way. So why did I stay? Ah, well the river goddess was evidently having a laugh at my expense, sending me just enough non-minnows to keep me there in hope if not expectation. One tiny dace, one tiny chublet and 4oz one roach (hurrah, my target fish for the day). Surely if the small ones are here, I thought, then the big ones will be too. Well, perhaps they were. But once again, I sure as hell didn't find them :-)

19 February 2012

How it all began...

Hmmm, this was the 'review of 2011 / how I started fishing again' post which I was drafting in December. I've completed and posted it now because a) this is my personal as well as public diary and these details fill a rather large number of gaps in the narrative and b) I hate wasting any work that I've already done. So...

The combination of a busy schedule at work, an allotment that needs putting 'to bed' for the winter, and the various demands of the festive season mean that I am unlikely to be wetting a line again until after Christmas :-(

But at least this unwelcome interruption to normal service gives me a little time to reflect on 12 months of fairly hectic fishing - 12 months in which I came back to the sport having spent many, many years away, and, for the most part, fished like it :-)

It all started as a wheeze for my 40th birthday present. Why don't I get my brother and dad, accomplished anglers both, to take myself and close friend on a fishing trip which would reacquaint me with a long-lost passion and introduce my fly-fishing chum to the joys of coarse fishing. My brother chose Bury Hills Fishery in Surrey, I was quickly into two early morning carp, and that was it - I was hooked (in fact all three of us scored that day, holding our fish top to bottom are brother Paul, Rich and my own good self).

I was on the internet as soon as I returned home, and the first local fishery I found quickly became a firm favourite - Bishops Bowl in Bishops Itchington. Despite still being a little unsure of what I was doing, my first morning on Walworth Lake in mid September saw my float dip with great regularity as my first ever tench (pictured below) was quickly joined by more, plus my first ever crucian and plenty of tenacious little carp.

Last winter's weather may have been the worse for more than 100 years but there was no one more enthusiastic than me at that point, so I persevered through it all, never once blanking, always learning something new and still landing the occasional decent fish (including a couple of 1lb plus roach and some pretty good crucians for example).

I was also reading voraciously - everything from the latest magazine articles to the classic books on how to coarse fishing from my childhood. The former could tell me what the hell the 'method' was, the latter still had plenty of relevance when it came to the timeless arts of float fishing, watercraft and more.

My first fish 'flying solo'
- beginner's luck?
I knew winter was properly over when the tench started feeding again at Bishops. The most memorable of the early spring trips that followed was again with my brother. Because he hadn't put any tench on the bank for a while he drove down for an evening session, and despite the fishing being a little slower than I'd expected, he used every bit of his vast fishing experience to bring some lovely fish to the net, giving me a real masterclass in margin fishing.

A margin masterclass from little bro...
 Once summer arrived I was keen to get into some slightly bigger fish, but not necessarily the 20lb plus carp in the two main Bishops' lakes. A bit more research suggested that Stockton Reservoir might be the answer. This British Waterways owned water was well stocked with carp about a decade ago, and now reports suggested that the average stamp of fish was 5 to 12 lbs - the perfect way for me to extend my education and put a more substantial bend in some of my fast growing collection of rods!

And so it proved, as on my third trip I managed to bank a double figure fish - a 10lb 5oz mirror carp taken on a method feeder, if memory serves.

A week after that I ambushed an even bigger common carp with a float fished lump of luncheon meat in the margins - 11lbs 4oz of very angry fish that will stay long in my memory (it was like trying to coax a submarine up from the depths on not-overly-hefty tackle).

Yours truly with
11lb 4oz of margin-caught
common carp
And there you have it - a potted history of my 2010 / 2011 reintroduction to fishing, albeit posted about eight weeks after I wrote it. It was shortly after I landed that personal best carp that I switched to river fishing for the winter, the results of which I have already documented in previous posts. 
In another five weeks or so the river season draws to a close and I will be back on the lakes and reservoirs, and while I'll miss the Leam and the Avon, going over this old ground has at least reminded me that there's good fish to be had in the still waters round here. 
After a few weeks of scrapping for 'bits' on the rivers, it will at least be good to put a bend in the rod and a few decent lumps on the bank!

10 February 2012

Variety is the spice of life | Part 2

A late summer recce of the upper Leam which I carried out last August revealed a small river, no more than a stream in parts, with plenty of physical challenges to overcome (barbed wire, steep banks etc) and just a few fishable swims between the weed. Since I was still very much in commercial carp mode, I filed it under 'hmmm, maybe another time' and thought no more about it.

For whatever reason, by the time I returned to fish it on a bright, warm, breezy day three weeks ago, my attitude had transformed. A few more swims had opened up, the obstacles seemed smaller than before and all-in-all it looked absolutely perfect. I couldn't wait to get started.

Having identified about half a dozen likely looking swims I started at the farthest from the car - a deep pool on a 90 degree bend. With so little flow it was obvious that the lightest tip would be fine, so out went a couple of maggots with just a tiny drilled bullet holding it to the deck.

Perfect, except that the breeze had now turned into a gale. I was definitely getting taps, presumably from small stuff, but it was hard to spot with the rod tip bouncing all over the place. The next swim was even more exposed, so it was an hour or more before I found the shelter I needed to get a still rod and a good idea what was happening beneath the water.

The minnow - a long lost friend of mine
Feeding a steady trickle of maggots just upstream of a fallen tree soon got those taps coming back on the rod tip, but this time I was able to see and hit them - or at least I was when the fish were actually bigger than the maggots I was using as bait! I'd forgotten the joys of minnows, once such a staple of my childhood fishing. I was certainly reaquainted with them on this trip. In between a steady stream of the little blighters came a few tiny chublets, and then over went the rod tip and I was into the fish I'd come for - a chub of over a pound. Well, briefly I was into it anyway. I'd accomplished 90% of the mission - I'd found it, hooked it and sighted it - and then I lost it. The whole process was over in seconds, and I was gutted, particularly since that was my last bite of the afternoon.

Now just try telling me there aren't
chub in there...
I was back the following week. It was colder, just as sunny, but stiller. I only had two hours, but I figured that the deep pool offered a decent chance of some action. Again I caught some tiddlers, but in case you're expecting a happy ending I should hasten to the bit where I lost another decent chub in the reeds under my feet.

I'm starting to think that blogging about my fishing is bringing me bad luck. For my next post I might just review 2011, recalling a time when a) I wasn't blogging about fishing and b) I was actually catching some decent fish. Ahhh, happy days.