Wednesday, 13 February 2019

What was I saying.

Who was it that was banging on about the weather being rather mild for this time of year...Oh yeah, it was me! I should have known better than to start whacking on about such things by now as fate has a way of making you look a bit foolish when you make statements like that. In the week that followed that rash sentence the weather here in old Blighty went from hints of spring to practically Arctic in an instant. One day we were thinking the daffodils would soon be out and the next the rivers froze over. It was almost like some kind of promotional stunt for the upcoming final season of Game of Thrones where they had got the actual Night King to come and touch the UK with his icy finger, and freeze it. That or Donald Tusk had turned off the heating to punish us for daring to have our own will and voting for Brexit. Whatever the cause it was cold, very cold and thus the fishing was not going to be easy.

Before I'd even left the house to scrape the ice from the car I knew finding liquid water might be a slight issue. As I chipped away the hard frost I considered that every lake and canal in the county would be out of action so rivers were my only option. Not fancying the Avon I concluded to chip over to the Leam to fish some urban spots where I know the fish shoal up in winter.

Upon arriving I found...
Section 1 - Very frozen
Section 2 - Faster water but still very frozen
Section 3 - I didn't bother with section 3 as I knew it would be frozen

With only a few viable options I headed homeward thinking to check out somewhere on the way just in case it was fishable. Although free of ice when I arrived it turned out I was a bit too late to the party and a group of lads were camped out by the weir I intended to fish. So on I went to my final last chance spot way out in the country where the Upper Avon crawls silently through the potato fields.

Finally my luck was in, the river was flowing and the stretch was vacant. Although there was no more than a couple of hours worth of casting in this field, that seemed a perfect amount of time considering it was currently minus five Celsius.

Between the two freezing margins the river ran winter green. I knew the slower water just off the flow was a known haunt for a perch and chub so I set up a Texas rigged finesse shad from Z-man and flicked the rig tight to the far margin. It took a few casts to find a taker, but all of a sudden I felt a definite thump resonate back along the taught braided line. Suddenly a powerful fish was heading for the far side reed bed and all that I had to stop it was seven feet of lightweight carbon and thirty feet of six pound braid.

I really wanted this unseen fish to be a big chub which this area is renowned for and from the way it kept trying to do me in the bank side vegetation I had high hopes of a five pound rubber lips soon going in my net. Deep down through the winter water I could see a pale fish shape struggling against me for freedom. A few more dives and the fish rolled on the surface and I thought for a moment a pike was attacking my chub. One last surge of power and the fish surfaced. A pike! For a moment I was confused to whether a pike had gone for my chub and somehow the chub had got away and the pike got hooked in the process. It wasn't until I looked and found the size one worm hook driven clean through the roof of the pikes mouth that it clicked that I had been playing a pike all along, no matter how much I wanted it to be a chub!

Really on one of the coldest days of the year so far I couldn't have been happier with this capture even though it wasn't a chub. All the effort I made to actually find a venue on a day when most normal people left the fishing well alone, was worth it, and I continue my unbroken pike run since Xmas.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Two days, two rivers and more pike.

I keep having to remind myself that its actually January as my brain and reality ain't quite linking up. The problem is that January is meant to be cold isn't it and to me it just don't feel that cold right now, hence the disconnect. It's at this time of year that I normally let opportunities pass me by with the rivers but this time round I am, or should say was, determined to make the most of the back end of the river season by getting in some sessions when I can.

A few weeks ago I was actually fishing two days back to back on two different rivers and I was determined to get the best out of both sessions no matter what the date and what the conditions. And so on yet another mild January morning I walked across the fields towards the quiet stretch of the Upper Avon with dreams of eager predators waiting for my lure to tempt them into attack.

I have thought long and hard about how to put this and concluded that simply is best! It was January and the fishing was hard...very hard! I worked through two huge entire sections casting in just about every spot possible, reaping very little considering the effort I put in, and landed two perch in a weir pool...

...and two jack pike from some very heavy cover in a dark back water.

Even though I caught I actually went home a bit disappointed as this section produces zander so well in the late summer and early autumn, but once winter kicks in those zander seem to just disappear. I am sure there are some really big ones hiding somewhere on this stretch.

The day after I found myself heading out with my good friend Martin Oxley to fish the diminutive River Windrush in Oxfordshire. It's both underrated and overrated if that makes any sense. It's overrated in the way that the controlling club portray the fish stocks as there's not a huge amount of fish in the river, but I know for a fact that it does throw up the odd insane capture here and there which probably makes it underrated.

Martin had Grayling in mind of which there is a small population on this river; as for me it was all about trying to locate a humongous perch from a tiny river. Through the morning we worked one section on the river hard. I was either presenting lob worms around any perchy looking features or combing the deeper areas using Z-man TRD craws to try and replicate the crayfish that the Windrush is rife with. Apart from an errant chublet which grabbed my trotted worm as it passed a overhanging blackberry bush, all I had to show for my morning was a tiny little baby jack pike which was so small it hadn't developed spots yet and was still stripy.

My afternoon fared no better and on the open runs and deep glides I failed to locate any of the Windrush monsters, even after prebaiting several swims and fishing every likely looking spot with both bait and lure even as good as the water looked.

The highlight of my trip had to be the tiny run of fish I got towards the end of the day. Between the two of us we'd fished every possible swim available to us. I ended up fishing the quiet and sheltered mill race where I caught a small dace and tiny trout trotting maggots in the shadows of the trees. Thinking I had finally found a group of fish I rolled the dice that there might be some predators around and cracked out the lure rod. After diligently fan casting the whole area I got a hit right at the end of the run as the lure dropped into deeper water. I really thought I'd found a good perch judging from the power the first showed on that first run. That was until it came flying out of the water like a rocket two or three times before performing a perfect flip on its last jump. Even once I knew it was a trout I wasn't disappointed as on this light outfit it was the perfect capture on which to end this winter foray.

Friday, 1 February 2019


Well after a recent session I am considering launching my own aftershave aimed at the modern lure angler called, "Jack", as I seem to be emitting something that attracts Jack pike under any circumstances. I can see the advert now... With moody clouds rolling overhead, Johnny Depp is standing topless in waist deep water surrounded by sexy water nymphs, he reaches down into the water and pulls out a writhing Jack pike and rubs it all around his neck and face before turning moodily towards the camera. He holds his stare for a moment as pike slime drips off his chin and says simply, "Jack". Hopefully I can have that in stock at every Savers and Poundland by next Xmas.

Back to the point, I actually went out perch fishing on this session armed with a light eight foot outfit. My hope was that I could fish small, fly under the rampant jack pikes radar and target the perch which grow to big proportions in this off the grid water. I also had a load of new Z-man lures I wanted to try out so I pitched up to the bank quite early to try and target the perch before the pike got in the swing of things.

After wading out to edge of the reeds close to a deep holding spot known to produce these big sargents, I threaded a Z-man finesse shadz onto my worm hook Texas rigged on 18lb fluro. Eighteen pound fluro is not what I would normally use, but given the pike population I was hoping it would be stealthy yet stand up to the pikes savage teeth if they became aware of my lure.

First cast I punch the rig out over the deep area which is often inhabited by the monster perch. I watched the tight bright green line as the lure sank down to the bottom and the line fell slack. I gave a gentle pull followed by two slight knocks and then repeated the same routine again before BANG! A pike was on! And it was to be the first of many...

The morning was bonkers! The Jack pike were switched on and my idea of fishing so small as not to register on their radar was out of the window; I very quickly discarded the fluro trace in favour of a very light wire one to prevent any unneeded cut off's. What made things even more interesting was the fact I was fishing with a super light rod and 400 sized reel and these little pike tested that to it very extreme. But saying that, I landed twelve and lost a few others through poor hook sets.

On the perch front I did actually find a few amongst the ravenous pike as I persisted. How none of these little fellows didn't get nobbled by those pike I will never know as they were mostly perfect pike size snacks.

About the best of the day was a near 30cm fish which I found lurking close to some structure as I sank a little beyond the edge of my wellies in a particularly stinky silt filled reed bed.

Sadly I do think at one point I may have had one of those massive old mother perch on towards the end of the session. Something hit the lure as I was raising it up in the water to recast. At first I thought it was another pike as it shot off along the reed bed. After getting it back it managed to slip the hook and I saw a large green flank turn in the swirls as it sank back into the cover. At the time I wasn't sure if it was a pike or a big perch, but having seen how silvery all the pike are in the above pictures and how coloured the perch are there is no doubt that that lost beast was a big perch. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to go back and try again to work through the hordes of pike to try and winkle out a perch before the season closes.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Practice sessions (Coventry canal).

I had a spare session on my hands so I headed to the Coventry Canal to try and keep abreast of the ever changing fishscape ready for any new year matches and I was about to find out that although winter is mild this year, the fish are beginning to get into winter quarters.

Venue = Coventry canal - 5hrs

Halfway through this session I got the impression I was being watched even though I was all alone. As you do, I had nervous look round the trees lining both banks of the canal only to see this staring at me from behind. I don't mind admitting the sight of this eerie black silhouette got the old ticker thumping and it took me a few moments to comprehend it wasn't some giant demon hound eyeing its next meal but was instead a black pony!

Total =170cm

Now this session has me wondering if fish populations move or if the topography of the surrounding area combined with the weather is the major factor on fish feeding. You see I worked a very large section of canal that had a month or so ago been very productive, only to catch nothing. Then after getting super mobile and working lots of water and catching only a single oversized jack pike, I located loads of feeding fish in a very sheltered section of canal. Now I can't figure if that previously encountered population of perch has moved into this sheltered section or if there are fish in both areas and only the ones in the sheltered area were feeding.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Half frozen success and river zip.

I can remember my first ever cast of a rod when I was about twelve years old; it was on a tuning circle on the Coventry canal on a summer day. This session lasted all of half an hour as I was so keen to get fishing that I hurriedly set up (which in retrospect took twenty five minutes) and then prepared to make my first cast, took aim and let rip sending the float all of five feet. The wiry line on my cheap Argos reel though carried on spilling from my spool onto the floor. My reaction to this was to flick over the bale arm and reel frantically thus causing my first ever cast to become my first ever tangle, which sent me home in tears to try and get my mum to untangle the mess (she never did).

My recollection of this traumatic moment has been caused by me having received a bait caster set up for xmas from JB. For quite some time I've been considering one to use with heavier lures and so when asked what I wanted by way of gifts I opted for an ABU combo to began my journey to pro Bass angler.
So it was that as soon as I could get out with it I found myself walking towards a lake with this sparkling outfit all spooled up with brand new braid, after watching several Youtube videos to educate myself on using a baitcaster.

It actually went very well apart from I'd chosen a freezing cold day for my first outing with it. I did as instructed and using a heavier lure with the magnetic brake system and cast control set a bit on the hard side, went about gently building my confidence with small casts first and it worked, apart from the water freezing in the guides as I reeled the lures in. After a good hour messing around firing different lures out across the lake I was looking like a seasoned pro and now all I wanted was to score a hit on my new toy.

Having already cast various lures I knew where I had to go to get a hit. Having fished this particular lake many times I know the pike have a deep love for hitting white Lake fork frog lures mid water in the shallow depth. I like to fish them on wide gape worm hooks so as they ride through any of the many snags in the clear water, but after setting one up I quickly realised that the lure, although heavy, was a bit on the light side for this outfit. After struggling on for a while and only scoring one jack on the new outfit I opted to head back to the car to get a lighter 7-25g outfit which I knew could punch these frogs right over the lake and increase my range by 100%+

On this second lighter set up I soon got into the fish with pike practically coming to the surface to hit the lures, even though half the lake was cover in ice. I love fishing this shallow water in the winter as the clear water gives you a great view as pike come after the lures. Sometimes all you see is a flash of gills as they engulf the lure and other times you can spot a dark missile tracking the lure, it's great fun.

Even in the cold the hits are violent and legs are quite often ripped off by attacking pike.

With half the water under a lid of ice I had limited options and after scratching a pair of average sized fish from some swims I wouldn't normally bother with, I left the lake intending to plunder the river Avon with my new outfit.

A short car journey later I was on a section of the Avon that in the summer fishes amazingly well for zander. Using 10gram jig heads and various shads I can normally rely on this area for a few hard hits. My romance with the baitcaster continued as before and the lures were flying over the river. The fish though were nowhere to be seen and very perplexed I gave up after fishing every spot along the stretch.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Practice sessions (GU)

I am endeavouring to keep practicing as if I were fishing Light lure matches for a couple of reasons; firstly although there are no matches yet on the horizon, I want to stay sharp for when they start and secondly it's a great way to scope out new sections of canal for potential specimen hunting trips over the closed season. With both the aforementioned reasons in mind I dropped onto a new section of the Grand Union canal over the holidays to test the waters.

Venue = Grand Union - 5hrs

It was evident from very early on that the perch were not going to play ball and I suspect the reason was the clarity. A few days of rain and the warm temps, combined with the agricultural nature of the surrounding area and still active boating population had turned the canal to the consistency of butter nut squash soup. Literally a few croutons, a swirl of yoghurt and it would have looked the part.

Total = 142cm

In retrospect I worked the smaller lures for far too long at the start of this session under the deluded impression that it was just a case of locating fish. Once it had dawned on me to fish bigger, brighter lures close to the cover, most of the session had passed. But once I made the change to fishing an 8cm Realistic shad split tail gudgeon in the gaudy yellow/pink pattern I call rhubarb and custard I was finally in contact with some fish. For all my hard work and some results by way of better quality fish, I wouldn't say I had located any focal points that would warrant a follow up specimen trip, as the fish were randomly here and there and could quite likely not be in these spots on a return trip.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Yearly Itch.

Me and the lower Itchen fishery are by now old friends. Frankly I know this bit of the Itchen better than I know many parts of my local river Avon and I now when I go find myself looking for really different targets. Initially when I first made this pilgrimage with Good old Keith 'jobbers' Jobling and old Jeff 'man' Hatt all those years ago my target fish was out and out grayling as prior to that I had only caught one. A few hundred down the line and unless they're big I ain't bothered and so I find myself more focused on trying to catch fish like dace or that giant gudgeon that haunts my dreams. Thus after an easy journey south with Mick Newey in the driving seat, I ventured off onto the feeder streams searching for dace whilst Mick went off to plunder the main river.

From the off it was obvious the grayling were for once not having it. As an example my personal best catch for the first hour on the Lower Itchen fishery was over thirty grayling, whereas on this trip I landed merely two grayling in the first hour. I fished just about every decent run over the first four hours of the day with little more to show for my efforts than a small grayling, a better fish and a chub that got away after it dived deep into a bed of rushes and I was unable to extract it.

With no luck on the feeder stream I slipped back on the main beat to check out a few holding spots where I'd spotted dace before. With dull skies overhead even my brilliant Fortis polaroids were struggling to help me pick out any fish in the clear shallow water so I concluded to trust fate and after feeding maggots for a while began trotting the runs quickly as the speed of the water seemed faster than ever. Two or three trots down the run something powerful sank my float as it raced amongst the flowing weeds beds and now I was stood atop a croy with my fifteen foot float rod hooped right over as fish used the flow, to its advantage. After the culprit ripped the swim apart and I faffed around trying to haul it up the flow Mick helpfully stepped in downstream to bundle a chunky brown trout into the net below me.

After that initial one, the trout flood gates seemed to open and in every swim I cast into the first thing the find my hook bait was another trout. The little buggers were ruining every swim I fished and on several occasions I saw grayling scattering from all the fuss. Not that it mattered because we practically had the beat to ourselves and through the morning we worked down following the twists and turns of the river fishing any likely looking swims.

One of my highlights of the trip had to be whilst playing a trout in a deep bend swim. The fish was making a bit of monkey of me in the pacey water. I repeatedly worked it upstream again and again in the gin clear water until a third party a entered the fray. Out of the depths rose a big old Itchen pike attracted by the battle and it had half a mind to have a pop at the trout on my line and I had half a mind to let it. I think on this occasion curiosity was what drew it near rather than viscous hunger as after thrashing straight past its nose the pike sank back to the depths. Luckily my net seemed a better option than the pikes teeth and the trout soon gave up and freely posed for its picture before being released in the gravelly shallows. 

All to soon the day got away from us and with barely a few hours light left before we had to away back north both myself and Mick opted to dig in with the feeders and see what the static baits could do. On the penultimate swims Mick caught a whopping bream from a deep bend swim. Fishing above him I managed three nibbles and a large snag which snapped me off.

My final swim produced a decent run of below average grayling for me but not the roach or chub I was hoping for. Mick however had disappeared and it took me a while to locate him fishing below the weir at the bottom of the fishery. I have to say what he angled after would have made any anglers eyes bulge clean out their heads. He had located a shoal of roach tight too his own bank which he pointed out to me in the half light. What I saw was wondrous...the smallest fish were pound plus fish and the biggest was easily over two and here they were just feet away holding off the flow no bother by a thing. I hung round as Mick tried his best to catch one of those amazing roach but sadly it was not to be as they were never going to feed. Once again even though I have become very blase about the Lower Itchen fishery it has pulled something amazing out of the bag and of course I will be back again.