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).

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.

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:

24 March 2013

My old feathered friends

While The Hornet's Nest started life (a long, long time ago) as a birding blog, things turned decidedly fishy as I rediscovered angling from about 2011 onwards. But in times like the last few months, I thank God that I never lost my love for birds and birding - because while appalling angling conditions seem to have driven fish completely from my life, my feathered friends have remained faithfully by my side throughout.

The less said about those angling conditions the better. Almost every time I've been able to get out it's been too cold, too wet or more often both. On the one occasion when The Leam looked 'right', I blanked. My total haul in 2013 is a pair of Leam bream, and two small roach from the Grand Union. 'Poor' doesn't quite do it justice.

Birds, however, are more constant in their affections. Whenever you take the trouble to look and listen for them, they will be there. Not necessarily the super-rare twitchable specimens, but the normal everyday sort that can lift any heart with their flash of colour, snatch of song or perhaps just their sheer numbers.

Such as the two flocks of golden plover I have seen in recent weeks, one from my car and one from a train, both wheeling and turning unmistakably this way and that; one minute a tightly-packed mass of sharp-winged silhouettes, the next a block of warm tones shimmering in the sun.

Of more modest numbers have been the bullfinches and jays which have both brought their vivid white rumps into my garden for regular visits throughout this interminably long winter; the treecreeper whose delicate little tap-tap-taps kept me company as I sat blanking on the Leam last time out; the three oystercatchers which so caught my son's imagination as we peering from a Brandon Marsh hide in the snow last weekend; the little egret that crept along a tiny Oxfordshire brook as I swept past on the train; and the several sparrowhawks which have flashed through, past and around my life in recent weeks, each with the distinctive fleetingness which makes them both too fast to see properly and yet also unmistakably 'sprawk'.

Even a bird I didn't see or hear was able to bring joy to my heart: the early chiffchaff that was reported as being ringed at Brandon last weekend in the snow. A much-sought hint of spring indeed.

But among all these fine feathered moments, there's only been one show in town for my family in recent weeks - the starling flock, or murmeration, that has been steadily growing in numbers and performing nightly behind and over my own house.

This spectacular, shape-shifting cloud has entranced us all as it has formed and grown in the gathering gloom of every evening - swirling, splitting, reforming, turning, occasionally touching down on huge farm oak trees before setting to flight once more.

A still photo can only hint at the glory of a murmeration of hundreds if not thousands of birds, but if you've not seen one before you should definitely check out the YouTube video here.