Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Winters coming

Robert has returned form a summer jaunt to the island of Antigua and it's surrounding islands, where he has spent the last few months in search of some very rare reptiles indeed. With him travelling down from the Cotswolds for the weekend visit there was no doubt we would be getting out for a session. We had already discussed the river, which he as well as I, had experienced was not on top form. After knocking a few ideas around we decided to check in on a section of canal that I have not yet visited this year. This perch paradise as far as I am concerned is amazing, and it can normally be relied upon to yield two pound perch or two. 
Although I have not spent any time on it so far, the need to check in now and again is always at the back of my mind, as in the next few years I have the feeling that this water will move from amazing to sublime. The only question is how long will it take for those twos to become threes!

For this trip our pairing was to become a trio. Initially the intention had been for a traditional up before light Sunday morning job, but the reports of a weather front coming in heralded a change of plan, and Saturday afternoon spent in the autumn sun seemed far more appropriate. The third musketeer on this occasion was Jacky. Normally her joining us on any fishing trips is reserved for the summer, but the civilised nature of the target area and a bit of gentle persuasion on my part coerced her to come along for the ride.

We stepped onto the tow path in the warm afternoon sun and really it felt like any other late summer day. But today was the autumn equinox and the nights just lately have begun to nip, so plenty of extras layers were stuffed into bags. After I had lead our precession along the canal to a suitable spot, we pitched up and set about business.

No high tech poles here, just powerful float rods and floats capable of suspending whole worms inches off the bottom. I had also brought a dead bait outfit along, to fish in a depression on the normally uniform canal bottom, which has in the past yielded zander.

It did not take long for my float to slide away as the first perch made off with my worm. Small but a perfect miniature of its fore fathers. It certainly stood a chance of becoming a giant too. Rob was next with a good sized perch which fought very hard with the last of its summer vigour.

All I could mange to start with was sub pound fish. But soon enough ripples of attention emanated from the top of my dead bait float which had sat dormant over the depression. A few more bobs and it began moving away towards the opposite side of the canal. When it had submerged fully my swift strike connected a small zander which also fought rather hard zipping around the canal.

There was no doubt the bites today seemed to come in waves for some unknown reason. After nothing floats would suddenly start dancing one after another. After more small perch and a tiny zander which liked the look of my worm, I pondered if the fish were holding close in and venturing out here and there. Dropping my rig close under my feet the float never settled before slipping away attached to my best perch of the day.

That fish back, the dead float again awoke. However my impatience this time got the better of me and all that came of that bite was a bare hook. The zander were in the swim and a couple of dropped runs later hooked a fish that really fancied a ruck. 

Even in the net, and as we got a picture it was mean and bristling. As I released it it made a right fuss, thrashing the water as it went off. I would not want to be anything smaller than six inches within a mile of that one.

Again the bites slowed and all that seemed bothered was the odd small perch or zander, until my dead line started travelling side to side. This was no fish, or it was at least no fish with fins. The crayfish had crashed the party and thought my dead roach was the hors d'oeuvres. A new bait bought a fresh run and this fish did not mess around. One bob and the float was gone. I so wanted it to be a good zander, but what we want and what we get are never the same thing. This fish was far too powerful for even a big zander. It was definitely a pike - not massive but still nice to see. Pike as far as I am concerned are the only thing that have suffered from the introduction of zander into our canals. There is no doubt less of them around compared to when I started fishing, but it is nice to see one come out of an area stuffed full of zander

All too soon the sun began to near the horizon and the air began to chill. The warmth of the day was gone, as was the warmth in our toes. Cold and hunger joined forces to shoo us away for the night and we packed up as the last vestiges of light burnt the horizon.

Walking back it seemed a different season entirely. The canal had fallen quite for the day and night beckoned. The sky now glowed a hundred colours; pink, cerise, coral, fuchsia, magenta and indigo. Almost too many to comprehend.

Smoke now curled from the iron chimneys of narrow boats moored along the still water. The wood smoke scented the crisp evening air as the people inside warmed themselves. We would not feel warmth until the car doors blocked the last bird calls of the day.

The journey back was a sight. All three of us were silent, as the amazing sunset stretched out before us. Only when the fluorescent glow of the city robbed us of the night sky did we speak, reality shaking us from our daydream.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Bogey barbel or burbot.

Anyone who reads my merry little blog will probably already know this, but for those who don't I will repeat it again to fill you in: of all the species of fish that swim in British waters and of all those which I angle after, my big time bogey fish is the barbel. I don't know what it is about them and me that doesn't go well together, but the fact is that we do not seem to mesh well at all. The list of incidents is far too long and torrid to go into, needless to say I often get the feeling it would be easier for me to try and catch burbot rather than a barbel.

This year I even took a membership for a club who have the rights to quite a large amount of the river Avon local to me which has a decent reputation for barbel, in order to maximise the time I could spend on the bank. I have intermittently been visiting the water here and there since the season began in order to try and get to know it in earnest for an autumn barbel campaign. This itself has not been without tribulations.

When I first ventured there early in the season for a probing session the conditions were perfect for fishing, but I was fishing blind in unknown water. My next foray saw me land two small chub before having a confusing run in with a barbel on a clearing river. Next time I went, I crept into a prime spot and began baiting the swim to try and pull them out of a snag and feeding. As I waited, I saw another angler approaching looking a bit peeved. Turned out there was a match on and I was in his swim. Even though the club match planner stated the match was on a different stretch of river it turned out they had claimed the full hundred and twenty pegs so as sixteen blokes could have a match. I was promptly shooed away before the lynch mob got hold of me. Things had not started well, but undeterred I was ready to go back for a session even though the Avon, like many rivers, is currently clear as glass and two feet down.

My previous visit saw me baiting a swim recommended to me by others as a barbel banker. The flow compresses into a run which emanates at the head of the swim to my right. Starting right under my feet and continuing down stream was a deep slack. The combination of these two totally different bits of water formed a crease which runs directly under a deep sanctuary of a willow where the barbel and chub supposedly hide out.

Knowing full and well I was going to have to tread very carefully here with the river being so low, I decided to a gentle approach would be the best option. No big leads here! A simple running rig with a 18" combi rig hook link. Few few inches of camo braid and the rest made up of 12lb camo soft steel. I wanted to be able to flick the rig in alongside the willow and for the flow to pull it under the snag. So I used the very smallest lead which would allow the flow to move it into the crease, where it should stop with the dissipating flow and leave my 10mm pellet amongst the loose bed of bait.

The other thing I had decided prior to even going, was to keep well off the pallets which the club have installed for comfort of their members. So I sat right back tight against and patch of stinging nettles to keep my presence well hidden.  I was so far back in fact that my rod tip was probably where most anglers fishing this swim would normally sit.

I dared not crash a bait dropper into the swim, and not wanting to make any disturbance with any big items like PVA bags, I fed the swim gently, one small pouch of hemp and pellets at a time, into the crease well above where I was fishing.  This I hoped would stir the chub into movement and hopefully spur any barbel along too.

It had all gone well and I got that distinct feeling you get that sooner of later that tip would bend round. Regularly the bait went in and the small fish I could see were enjoying the bounty. After carefully loading the catapult to again I took aim and launched another helping of  freebies into the head of the swim. Instantly the tip hooped round and somehow I got my hand on the rod to strike into thin air. It must have been a fish ether moving through the water intercepting falling bait or something spooked by the sound. Ether way I got the feeling that it may of been detrimental to my cause.

I carried on for a further three hours, but the day had grown much lighter and my tip had remained motionless. Though before moving off I had a quick cast with a worm. As the slack water under the willow screamed perch. Even using a barbel rig minus its lead, my free lined worm attracted the attentions of a one pound perch first cast. This was something well worth remembering when I return with my lighter chub outfit later in the year.

I walked the entire stretch making mental notes of any depressions, gravel runs and deep holes for when the water is coloured. One thing that struck me was the distinct lack of fish. Not one chub was sighted slinking away and no minnows or roach held in the edges, nothing!

Heading down the stretch I made my way to a  swim where I had spotted a shoal of chub on my last visit. Now I say swim in the loosest possible reference. As this was little more than a hole on the bank side vegetation. I do not know what anyone else calls it, but I call it the jungle.

You can barely poke a rod in and can certainly only lift it enough to strike, but the swim contained fish and I was getting a little desperate. And although chub were not what I hoped for, a tussle in the undergrowth would no doubt satisfy me today.

I watched between twenty and thirty chub drifting in and out of the dense snag for half an hour before I crept in with a baited rod. After waiting for a gap in the fish I swung a worm out into a clearing on their patrol route before slipping back away from the bank. The first pod of chub swung round in front of me and the head fish dipped towards the bait, then shot off like a bullet scattering the rest. The next two lots ignored my bait totally. Thinking they were not seeing it, I next tried flicking the free lined worm in front of them. This proved exactly how twitchy they were. When fish flew in all directions when the worm sank before them.

After letting them settle again, I redeposited the worm tight to my own bank just within sight and sat back a to wait. I remember thinking at the time how could chub be so wary at this time of year, when in the winter they are, lets be honest mugs for any free food that lands in front of them.

Ages passed before they reappeared and shoal after shoal passed over my bait. Then as a shoal of six or more fair sized chub came into sight. A fish broke rank sank down and my bait was gone in one quick gulp.
My deft strike was met with sheer hell. Fish went in every possible direction and the hooked fish powered towards the snag as I pulled back. Then it did something I have never seen a chub do ever, and came flying out the water shaking its head. This was no chub! it was jack pike pretending to be a chub.

I can't for the life of me figure out why a little pike was hanging out with the chub or why they would feel comfortable in its company. But as green is green it was swimming amongst them and ate my worm fair and square.

After releasing that stunning fish I left feeling half dazed and perplexed. Why were all those chub so wary. The best I can come up with is fishing pressure combined with predators and clear water has resulted in them  spending any day light time deep in the snags where it is safe. Needless to say I will be thinking twice about going back before it rains a bit and colours up the water. Or maybe I might even consider going burbot fishing instead.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Catching the smallest fish using the biggest bait.

Almost a year ago to the day I was sat next to a massive sheet of water behind two rods baited with worms. My intended quarry that day was the declining eel. But before an eel could find my bait and after the marauding perch disappeared off wherever they go, a little fish picked up my bait. That capture of that little yellow fellow really stoked a passion.
I had forgotten how much I appreciate the capture of these fish, each one always a surprise. After this I wrote passionately about them, but as always my intent to fish again for the humble ruffe was shelved once home in favour of more glamorous fish.

I did however promise myself that one day I would make a concerted effort to fish for them again. I say again because once before myself and three others nearly drove ourselves over the brink of sanity trying to track them down in our local shire. I even under took a journey with Jacky in Norfolk to try and locate a broad where I had encountered them before, only to fail miserably. But his time I had conclusive and up to date evidence of their existence in a body of water, which by happy coincidence I would be holidaying at.

If you were to mention to most that the aim of your fishing whilst away was to chance upon the smallest most maligned fish that swims in that particular lake, they would probably think you mad. Facebook alone is filled with proclamations by anglers that they are heading to a far away venue to capture a new PB or any other of the myriad expeditions we anglers undertake. No one goes away trying to catch a PB ruffe or even tries to catch them, do they.

This I think is where the problem lies. Unless the memorable capture of any fish is not punctuated by a photo of a slime soaked angler cradling some giant as it spills from between his or hers fingers, it would seem it just not worth doing. Though there is a few which dedicate time towards small fish. Dennis Flack is one. He currently holds three UK records all of which are mini species. Another is Mark Everad, whose book 'The little book of little fishes' was like petrol to my smouldering desire to angle after ruffe. I know there must be others who do this too. But it would seem that unlike the more popular aspects fishing which are rammed down our throats daily by the angling media, that the hunting of mini species is a truly underground.

How do you catch a ruffe? Frankly what is written about specifically targeting the diminutive ruffe can be written on the side of one. Prior to leaving I had as much as one can, researched the topic of angling for ruffe with little results. Being a minor species it would seem that they are not worthy of fishing for. Aside from the afore mentioned book by Mark Everad and a few snippets on the web, only Falkus and Walton seem to have dedicated much time to put pen to paper regarding the species, and sadly the majority of what both have written seems directly aimed at the taste and consumption of the poor yellow fellows. Though who would want to eat a ruffe is beyond me. 

With little to go on I knew before beginning that this was going to be a voyage of discovery compressed into a short space of time! But luckily my target area was a medium sized marina aside a massive broad lined by reeds. This would act as one huge feature of which I was not going too, but fish within.

Like most anglers, my automatic assumption was that small fish equals light gear. After all we live by that unwritten rule to give our quarry a sporting chance. So naturally I began using light lines, small hooks in conjunction with an super sensitive float. Bait was the only thing I or anyone else seemingly had a lead on, as what lead me to this point was the previous capture of a trio of ruffe using worms to fish for another species.

Initially my thoughts had been to fish a pole with the obligatory light rig attached. But before setting foot out of  the Midlands I shelved this idea due to the cumbersome tackle involved, instead opting to use a 13ft light float rod and a super sensitive Drennan still water dart float.

My first outing onto the broad in search of of ruffe was by all accounts successful. A liberal helping of chopped worm did its job and attracted instant bites. Time after time the orange tip of the float slid away as ether a small roach or perch gobbled up my single dendrobaena hook bait. After catching a quantity of fish that would not only satisfy a match angler and probably win a match, I received a slight dip on the float before it traversed the swim left to right. My first transparent yellow ruffe was landed and the quest was on.

Another soon followed but my excitement to keep a shoal in the swim by topping up with more chopped worm proved a detrimental decision. More freebies went in and the roach and perch again turned up on mass.

Even though my elbow now ached from action I could not help but think that my success with other species was proving to be my downfall with my quarry. Pondering the problem over ale away from the bank I ran through the session. My rig although successful did not discriminate any species. In fact so sensitive was it that should a passing roach fart, the float would dip. Previous experience told me that although small in stature the ruffe is a bold biting fish seemingly unconcerned by fine rigs. So the drennan dart was gone and replaced by a much less sensitive 4BB peacock waggler.

The 2lb hook link attached to a fine wire size 18 hook soon followed that, to be replaced by a size 12 specimen hook tied direct to my 3lb main line.

Bait was my next thought. The single dendrobaena worm was easily and readily consumed by any fish that swam in water I was fishing. So that was replaced with a section of lob worm which I hoped would at least deter the small roach, thus reducing the bites by half, but did seem totally preposterous at the time.

The following day I put these new ideas in to practise in conjunction with a new baiting attack. The first day the initial helping of chopped worm attracted a lot of fish but the ruffe had not shown until the bites from the other fish had stopped. So going with this theory I baited a single large shot of worm at the start of the session and fed no more.

It worked and the pest fish turned up. Happily no small roach got in on the action but a few larger ones pestered me early on, and they were followed by a mass of annoying perch which I concluded would not be avoided at any cost...

After the intial action subsided I sat back thinking that now was the time when all others had lost interest, that a shoal of scrounging ruffe may appear. Intermittently bites that seemed correct appeared. Single dips followed by travelling floats. Just as if someone was skimming across the bottom with my bait in its mouth. The only thing now was I could hook one for love nor money.

As I re baited with a section of worm, it occurred that although the big baits were getting interest, the way I was hooking them through one end meant that unless the entire bait was consumed the hook stood a fifty percent chance of not being in the right position. So the hook was moved into a more central position...

and pop! First cast, Mr Ruffe was in hand!

Two more followed that morning giving me the distinct impression I was on the right track. Big baits and a strict feeding routine, combined with heavy rigs fished over depth seemed to winkle out the ruffe from the mass of hungry roach and perch circling over their heads. 
Landing a forth just before I finished and strolled back home with the scent of beer back bacon filling my nostrils, I felt this idea to actually spend some time ruffe fishing was not seeming so mad after all.

The sea.
Time spent close to the coast must at sometime be spent casting into the the surf. And as I have become very partial to the odd pendulum cast here or there, it was inevitable that sooner or later I would feel the lap of wave upon toe.

Sadly though my monitoring of the catch reports for the area prior to arriving revealed it had been a torrid summer for the sea angler. Zero swell and nondescript conditions had resulted in only the most dedicated anglers that were prepared to spend all night on the right tides, staring at rods tips illuminated by lamps, reaping a few sole here and there.

Even knowing what was in store for me I still offered myself up to the sea. Wall to wall blue skies and blazing sun greeted me. The beaches although well populated by people were suspiciously lacking in anglers. I felt like a gooseberry standing staring at my rod tip as sun bathers bathed and kids made sand castles alongside me.

Jacky, however, loved it. Normally when I am enjoying myself throwing lead towards the horizon, she finds herself sheltering in a tent smiling through gritted teeth as I enjoy the bounty of the sea. This time the tables were reversed and she reaped the rewards of a late summer, relaxing on the beach as I thrashed the water to a foam trying every possible way to scratch a bite from even a crab. I even brought a lure rod and a selection of shiny lures along to chance a bass in the blue waters. But this only resulted in sun burn from my normally hidden feet being exposed to the savage sun.

Of three sessions where I fished into the sea, the highlight was when, from nowhere, an Apache gunship swung low onto the beach  and tracked along the coast only a hundred feet or so over head. I would have run off down the sand like some scene from a action movie imagining he was strafing rows of bullets into the sand, if I weren't so intent on getting a picture of it as it passed overhead.

With little sport to be had, relaxing became more of a focus, and the time when I appeared to be staring at the motionless rod tip I was more than likely thinking of ruffe fishing and associated things.

Back on the ruffe hunt  I was now catching them regularly and as with always my thoughts turned to weights. I had all along being weighing all the ruffe I landed using my flyweight scales and as always they were proving unreliable as best at these low weights.

An average one like this could weigh anything from half to three ounces which I knew was not right!

Though with my familiarity I had begun to examine and photo them quite closely. In doing so had not only developed a sore patch on my left hand where there spiny gill plates grated on my palm. But I had begun to see the myriad of patterns in their skin and the intensity of violet colour in the eyes, which differed from fish to fish. 

With a good average catch rate developing, I decided to invest in a set of digital kitchen scales capable of accurately weighing my captures in ounces and drams. This proved enlightening not only to the weight of the fish, but to how useless flyweights in their lowest measurements.
This has been a readily discussed topic amongst myself and my good friend Jeff over the years, especially when dace season arrives in late winter. The addition and comparison of the new scales against my fly weights has for me proved that they are totally unreliable below the five ounce mark due to their internal mechanism taking a certain amount of load to initiate. BUT! once that five ounce barrier is broken they are actually quite accurate.

Every ruffe landed now went through the same routine of being weighed and photographed, much to the amusement of any other anglers who were out chucking feeders into the broad chasing bream. 

A giant among tiddlers The broad was shrouded in early morning mist as the sun rose on day five and after walking the three spots I had been targeting plus a few I was considering. I settled back on the area which had so far produced the best results. Even though it was no looker of a swim.
I knew the sun would soon burn the mist from the water and facing east, my eyes would not last long staring  in that direction, so this needed to be a quick one.

With limited time and a fare quantity of worms left over I went for a big hit. Depositing at least the half a pint of chopped worm into the swim around my float. Moments later the rod was hooped over and the line cut across the still surface. This was no ruffe for sure. The dogged fight hinted towards something silver and I suspected another pound plus roach of which I had already landed several of had nobbled my bait. When it shot up the surface and I caught sight of a large silver flank my heart thumped. The next time it came up and dived it succeeded in freeing itself much to my disappointment. One of the old chaps who spend their summers living aboard there boats ventured over having seen me lose the fish, and smirkingly asked if it was good one. My confirmation that I had lost a good roach prompted him to inform me that the marina had produced roach of two pounds in the last few years. Which although hard to believe, might not have been that far off the mark as my best so far had been 1.4lb.

Putting the loss behind me I endured a string of perch before the swim again went dead. As per normal the lack of other fish gave the ruffe time to sneak in for scraps and two small ruffe soon obliged. The next quiet spell lasted ages before my float dipped, then actually slid away. Immediately I suspected the perch had drifted back in and the fish on the end of my line pulled back as much as something this size can. I was being very nonchalant, until what I was convinced was a small perch turned into a big ruffe. Almost embarrassingly I swung it straight into my chest quickly so as not to lose it.

This bar far the biggest ruffe I had ever caught, or seen for that matter. I knew from a previous check of the UK record list that the current record stood a 5.4 oz and this one was about to reveal exactly how big that record ruffe must have been.

Weighing 2.4 oz on the scales it did not look that big, but in my hand it seemed huge. Six and half inches long and totally different looking from all the others, this one stood a chance of being the mother of all them all.
I had caught what is now my official ruffe PB.

The next day I came down to earth with a thump. After landing three fish including the new PB I could not find a single ruffe. Over two different sessions I rotated through four swims and all I could land was flipping small perch. Even when they stopped feeding the ruffe were very much absent. I got the distinct impression that was it. On tidal lakes when the level drops low, which it was doing this month, the fish sometimes push out from the edge of the lake and it can take days for them to reappear.

An angel saves me. On the final day the wind kicked up and I knew the sea would swell. Knowing this would be my best chance of catching anything off the beach I headed seaward to try one last time for even the smallest whiting. Again I walked away after failing to entice a single nibble from the desolate north sea, even after chucking some primo bait at it. It was Jacky, the gem that she is, who as I stuffed rods into bags, that suggested that I might squeeze one last session in as she packed ahead of the journey home.

Moments later I deposited the last of my free offerings into the broad, sat back with only three lob worms left and sipped a bottle of beer  as I watched my float.
It was a close call as two worms worth of bait went down perches throats before a ruffe turned up. It wasn't a PB shaker but still made the top three at 1.7oz, and was very welcome.

With only two thirds of a worm left I clung on till the very end, and after landing a final perch on my last bit of worm, I recast the chewed remains of the bait I had delicately disgorged from it's mouth. Just as the sun hit the reed bed behind me the float bobbed and drifted slowly to one side.  My last cast on my last bait landed my last ruffe. I carefully photographed it and took one last look, before flipping it back.

I watched the sun set over the water as I packed up and mulled over the last few days. After baiting up with over a kilo+ of free offerings, and using over a hundred and twenty lob worms as hook baits, I had waded my way through hundreds of small perch, a handful of semi decent roach and few skimmers, to land sixteen ruffe.
I suppose to a lot of anglers this would qualify as the most unbelievable waste of time, but for me I loved every minute of it, and it may well have pushed me into a new facet of specimen hunting forever.