Monday, 29 October 2012

The Lake # 15 The monster of the lake.

Winter now approaches and the nights have drawn in. The time has come for me to share a tale which has kept me ever keen to return to the lake. All ponds, lakes, meres and locks have at least one tale of a monster that is whispered late at night beside fires, when anglers are suitably lubricated by whisky or ale. And with all the time spent by the lake this summer just passed I was bound to hear a tale two as I angled. Though I never thought I would be the glassy eyed character regaling such a story.

It had been a good morning by the lakes standards. The tench had been cooperative before the sun rose over the wood on the opposite bank. Though my method of choice on this occasion had been a classical sort for tench, I had also employed a back up just in case by way of the ubiquitous sleeper rod. Which as it's name implies had been snoozing away ever since I cast it out into the centre of the lake.
By now my float was out of the water dangling from the rod rest, and I was several feet away peeping through the bushes beneath the surface, watching a hypnotic ballet of fish passing by under the lilies close to where I had been fishing. With my mind elsewhere I had no thoughts to this still fishing sleeper, when the almost vulgar sound of the electronic bite alarm screeched into my ears. The lack of consistency to it's tone already betrayed the culprit as I casually approached the now active rod. The strike as expected met with that dullest of fights as the bream responsible did what bream do best; fight like a wet sack full of silt.

Not meaning to diminish the capture, I was not exactly being careful knowing what was on the end of my line as I pumped it in just under the surface. Now the swim I was fishing was as classical as the method I had employed to fish it, or at least half the methods I had used.
Two beds of white flowering lilies emanated from the bank on ether side flanking a generously raked space in which to cast. Where the lilies ended the water deepened by an extra foot or so where the silt could not accumulate round the thick tubers of the pads above.
It was just as I pulled the bream just beyond this ledge and that's when the monster struck. Still wearing my polarising glasses, I got a full view as the massive mouth opened and its gills flared white. In an instant the four pound bream was gone! and by gone I mean gone! it was not held in its sharp teeth, it had just plain old disappeared from sight in a single strike.
I have had a lot of fish nobbled by pike over the years and even seen bigger pike grab jacks as they fight on the end of my line, but in just about every case you can still see the fish held tight in their jaws. But this bream was truly inside it's mouth. No head nor tail protruded, not a single scale could be seen fluttering down to the bottom giving any sign of attack.
I think neither of us could quite comprehend what had happened. I was gob smacked and just held the rod firm frozen to the spot, and she seemed confused by this invisible resistance that gently held against her.

Three or more years ago a massive pike nailed a five pound jack that had indecently attempted to steal dace from me on the Avon. The hook by sheer chance had caught in the edge of the jacks mouth and my landing of it looking inevitable until the big girl struck. Ever since that incident I always swore if another big pike grabbed a fish I was landing I would just let off the clutch in an attempt to land it. On this occasion how my mind processed the information in time was nothing less than a miracle, but my hand did some how creep up and engage the free spool on my reel.
Then she slowly moved away as I braked the free spool gingerly with my finger. My thoughts ran over my gear. One and three quarter pound rod, ten pound line, braided hook link and my 36" net on the ground next to me. I had a chance!
In a feat of pure genius, I managed to flip off the free spool and let off the clutch sufficiently so as her slow exit was uninterrupted. But starting to play the fish would be another matter as for what I knew my whole rig was inside her mouth along with the bream, and my soft monofiliment was between her teeth. My only hope here lay in maybe the line was right in the scissors of her mouth or maybe she was a gummy old gal.
Taking it easy I gradually applied pressure and when confident enough I increased the drag slightly one click at a time. Slowly and surely I made ground, and low and behold she seemed to yield. After a while I spotted her tail not far from the site where she had taken the bream, and that was when she turned on the power shaking her head violently. No crack or thump was heard as the line fell slack. It was as if it had been severed by the sharpest of blades and in my hand it looked that way too.

It was one of those strange moments when even though I had just lost the fish of a lifetime I was not upset. In fact the only way to describe how I felt was honoured. Honoured to to see such a giant beast.
I did worry for a while that maybe the end tackle may of done her some damage passing through her digestive system. So I touched base with the bailiff regarding my encounter and he told me he would keep me informed if any big pike should turn up dead.

He never did utter those words even when asked. So as far as I know there is still a monster lurking somewhere beneath the surface of the lake, and I for one have have a rough idea of where she sometimes patrols.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Monkey murder

Please do not take my title literally, for this is not about me going out to massacre Macaques or crucify some Capuchins. It is instead my intent to blow away or strangle the metaphorical monkey which represents a barbel, which and currently resides upon my back.

I may of been griping a little to an acquaintance on the subject, when out of the blue he offered me the opportunity to go and fish his private bit of the river Wye. One rule I have lived by and will live by until my dying day, is never turn down the opportunity to fish a water that is referred to as private. Undoubtedly these types of private waters are always going to be jewels hidden away, protected from the masses where fish do not grow wary from the constant pressure of entire seasons of anglers wearing the ground to bare mud.

When asked, I don't think Andy even let me finish asking him if he fancied it, before saying, just organise it. So what seems like weeks ago I scanned the calender for a suitable date convenient for all three parties. As per normal river levels were watched all week and with every down pour the Wye rose and fell. If flood conditions were to occur the agreement had been made to call off this adventure and wait for another more favourable window. But two days before the weather fell calm and the river abated to the point were it's owner predicted perfect conditions.

I would love to say something along the lines of the Wye valley looked resplendent on our arrival but as with the rest of the Midlands it was shrouded in a thick layer of fog, and on our first view of the river the opposite bank was only just visible. Though for what we could see the river although clear and falling, still made our native Avon look very tame.

Even after falling on a prime looking spot when we first arrived, we headed down stream to investigate as much of the stretch before deciding where to fish and lucky we did, as a mile or so down we came across a beautiful sweeping bend where the flow pushed off to the far bank. This spot gave us four different speeds of water to fish; from a flick into slack water, a lob into slow water, a cast into pacey water then last of all a chuck into the torrent. The genius of this area was that being newbies to the Wye it would enable us to fish hassle free with our lines under minimum pressure from the powerful flow.

Unsure of what fish swam in front of us I went for a two rod set up. One barbel rod baited with a generous cube of spicy garlic luncheon meat intended to entice a hungry beard. The second rod I wanted to use to feel out what was around. So set up a light outfit with a maggot feeder set up to try and induce some smaller fish and get a feel for the populations. 

Both rods out, I sat back peering into the fog and waited. As I expected small taps on the maggot line came first and a couple of quick casts into the same pacey area was producing regular rattles. Then I got one big tap before my rod was practically pulled off the rests. Although trying to catch smaller fish first I had luckily been realistic and fished a 5lb line straight through because unbelievably I was attached to a barbel after only being fishing for ten minutes. 

The rod and a light set clutch were doing their parts in helping me coerce a small but energetic fish towards the bank. Then on the third of three savages lunges away from the bank my line parted leaving me very disappointed  That light outfit was put away instantly and a second barbel rod came off the bench.

Flapping a bit I scrounged some new high hook link material from Andy as I felt that all my tackle box had to offer was either too light or too heavy  Calmed and cast out again I looked up the tips and noticed the tip ring of my rod seemed a little askew. Not wanting to disturb the swim again so soon, I dropped the rod tip a little to inspect the problem. I knew the tip rig would sooner or later need replacing but looking closely at it I found it was hanging on by a thread, and was snapped clean off when another barbel hit me as I held the rod in my arms. That newfangled high tech hook link snapped like baby hair as I disengaged the free spool on the reel.

Now I was in a total state. Two lost fish, two snapped hook links and a busted rod tip all in the first half an hour. Luckily I had brought a spare heavier tip and after setting up again with an identical rig plus a braided hook link. I took a moment to calm down.
Confident in my gear I again recast onto the same spot and sat back. Sure enough wham, another bite smashed my rod over and this one was not getting away under any circumstances. When a dark lean fish of around six pounds hit the net my demons were exercised and probably one of the best barbel sessions of my life began.

I had a shoal in front of me and it was time to make some serious hay. Every cast of the maggot feeder produced some sort of reaction. If it wasn't a twang of the rod tip it was a liner or just the bait runner going into overdrive. Though they were averaging between 4-6lb every fish was lean mean and fighting fit which used the powerful current beyond my catch zone to their full advantage.

I think there is a good chance some of these fish that were battering us had quite possibly never seen a hook in their lives, as every one had  perfect barbels and huge perfect rubber lips.

As the frantic feeding went on the fish seemed to increase in size. Whether it was a case of the regular casts  depositing  more and more feed thus building the confidence of the more wary older fish, or simply the shoal was thinning out leaving the bigger fish I will never know . But the biggest fish of the day landed came towards the end of this frantic feeding spell and weighed a little over seven pounds.

The next fish I hooked into was certainly a much bigger fish which knew exactly what to do. Two small twangs of the rod tip indicated an imminent bite, and my hand hovered over the rod for a moment before in the blink of an eye the carbon bent double and the reel sang loudly. This one ploughed off into the current at an unbelievably rate before I could get a handle on it. It took line and I gained line before it went on a second mental run diagonally down stream into the flow. Straight away I could feel the line grating up through the rod. What it had dived under god only knows but it was big and solid. Several different angles couldn't get this fish back under the snag and before long it went totally solid. After slackening off and setting the rod down I again tensioned up to the solid weight and reluctantly pulled for the break. I did free the hook hold to find a straightened hook and every bit of the last twenty feet of my line shredded by the hidden snag.

The action after this abated and this was seemed to coincide with the lifting fog. It was about this time when my feet began to itch and I took a wander to peruse possible other swims. That water I found though held little appeal. Shallow turbulent and powerful seemed the theme for a good mile down stream. On a hot day with a pair of waders I would of been half way out rolling meat along the deep run the opposite side. But this was late October and the chances of that were zero.

It was now early afternoon and after a chat with Andy we made the decision the hold fast, knowing there was certainly fish in front of us, and chill out for a few hours until the sun sank below the woods lining the other bank.

The sun grew warm and I for one grew lethargic warming myself after half a day spent in the damp dank valley air. The sun got so bright in fact that everything stopped feeding altogether. Even super light rigs failed to rise even a moment of entertainment from a minnow.

As beautiful as it was watching the wildlife enjoying the warm October sun I for one could not help but think of how much of a contrast there was between am and pm. We waited and waited for the fish to switch on again as night crept in. We even stuck it out into dark! But our chance was gone. The fish had melted away never to be seen again and even the witching hour failed to produce anything.

In retrospect we should of upped sticks and moved to another area upstream where the fish would of been unwise to our rouses. Looking back now I honestly think we may have put too much pressure on the ones in our swim. But hey what can you do, there was always a chance that those fish may of moved back in over the baited area at dusk and probably did during the night to mop up long after we left. As for the Wye, this was a magnificent first proper session on this amazing river and one I won't forget in a hurry. I for one can't wait to come back in the future.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Early Halloween shockers and monsters.

I don't know about anyone else, but with me enjoying the pursuit of many different species I often find myself planning what and where quite far in advance. This year though one of my targets was a big perch, and luckily for me my plans unusually went to course, ending up with me landing a large fish very early on. So with that box ticked I was free to waste time as I wished. Even with a target achieved, the fact that I love perch fishing was always going to mean I would still carry on despite the likelihood of me beating that fish being quite slim. I do fish for my own pleasure, not just to achieve targets after all.

The one question that had come back into my head repeatedly was, should I return to the small commercial fishery which was the scene of that capture or not? I mulled it over more times than I care to remember and compared it to a multitude of other suitable venues. In the end I could not see any reason not to return, even though I thought to myself, and Jacky confirmed, that what ever I caught was always going to be smaller.

The normal population of anglers at commercial lakes on weekends inclined me to arrange a mid week session to avoid the masses and Jeff was more than happy to come along for a spot of autumnal worm wanging. We arrived earlyish and set up in a quite part of the lake in adjacent swims. 

Jeff pondering his rig after playing piggy in the middle between a snag and a hawthorn repeatedly 
The action was undoubtedly slow but here and there we got hints that perch were around. Jeff was first to land one which had been attracted by his free maggots. Though no bigger than his little finger, it still had a good way to go to reach the size we wished it was.

My 'big bait equals big fish' plan proved to also attract the tiny yearlings, but my baits being four times larger than the tiny perch present meant they could only harass my baits, causing my floats bob constantly. Soon though I got a real bite, when a single thump of the float preempted a slow submergence into the murky water. Strike met solid resistance that seemed about right for a good perch. The jagged dives seemed about right. Having convinced myself it was a decent perch only served to increase my shock when it surfaced and, quite loudly, I made my disbelief clear to a now approaching Jeff.

Sometimes the best descriptions are the first things out of your mouth and with this one I got it right first time with 'It's a crucian carp wearing a Halloween costume.' 

This thing had a bit of everything mixed into it's lineage; it had a crucian dorsal fin and mouth, a proper dose of goldfish and quite possibly a hint of shubunkin or koi just for good measure. I was almost embarrassed I did not see it coming and avoid capturing it, because as I let it go I could see it swimming off four feet under the water.

After my early Halloween caller, the small perch carried on doing what they always do until my float repeated the previous bite exactly. One thump then it slid off confidently.  How nothing was on the end seemed unfathomable to me. In the wind it took a few attempts to get the bait exactly back on the spot. Satisfied I sat back and only had to wait a short while for the next decent bite. For a third time the float didn't dally and this time I felt the solid resistance as a good fish held low down. I did have one of those oh bugger best let that have a spot less drag moments as the fish dived repeatedly.

"Please let this be a perch", rang through my head as the powerful fish still remained unseen. Then that moment all big perch anglers desire so much happened. A big spiny humped back broke the surface before shooting back below the surface. That was when my heart began to thump hard and the reality that I was attached to a fine big perch hit me. 

Those moment between realisation of what is on the end of your line and the safety are the net are both the worst and best times in fishing as far as I am concerned. The instant it went into the net I started to wobble. I must have alerted Jeff during the fight but I don't for a second remember doing so and as he approached I did babble out "it's a good one".

My second big perch in as many sessions on this pool went onto the scales to reveal a satisfying 3.6lb weight.

I cannot deny wondering if this was actually the same fish only at a much lower weight. So once back home I got pictures of both fish up on the computer to double check. Though undoubtedly related, the first was a much longer fish with a massive head, whereas this one was shorter with a much more pronounced humped back, and was all round a little less tatty. On the subject of comparisons, Andy and myself once caught two, two pound perch from a canal within moments of each other which were identical right down to the stripes. The only way to tell those two apart was by a small swirl in ones scale pattern and proved to me how similar shoal mates scan look.

The similarities in the two perch from this pool now leads me to believe there is probably one shoal of one year class, giant perch marauding around this water. In fact I will go as far as to say that it is quite likely that one both occasions when I have caught one it is probable that the whole shoal was in front of me and the hooking of one fish sent the rest of them of packing. I did hear form a regular angler of this fishery that he once caught nine perch around 3lb in one sitting, when they were shoaled up tight and hard on the feed. But that's it for me! I am convinced there is a decent number of big perch present and I know I will be back for sure all through this season of falling leaves right through to when the first cat ice forms to try and bag a multiple capture.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Am I ready to believe?

I have been and somehow still do, find myself sitting atop a fence. The whole contentious and controversial issue of the reintroduction of otters in the UK is something I have be torn over since it became a regular front page issue in the angling press.

On one hand as an angler I see how the smallest environmental change can effect a water and let's face it, we are not talking about a small change here. We are talking about the the sudden reintroduction of an apex predator, which has to have a dramatic effect somewhere along the line and most likely that effect will be less fish.

On the other hand as a rational nature lover I believe that this species was once natural to the whole of the UK therefore has the same rights as any species to be protected and rightfully they would still have been present if it weren't that in the bad old days the otter was persecuted to near extinction by humans.

Up until now and even with all the time I spend around water, I don't think I have really seen any first hand evidence that otters are actually make a huge amount of difference. I mean we have all see the horror pictures and videos used as ammunition by the media, where some huge fish lies half eaten on a bank. As horrific as these images are, I have to point out that the pages that inevitably follow are generally stuffed full  of anglers holding prize catches. The ratio of otter kills to catch pictures alone is a contradiction to the supposed wholesale slaughter going on, and along with my first hand experience, I find myself as yet undecided on where my allegiances lie on the matter.

Until this weekend just past that is... I have been fishing a section of the upper Avon for a few months which has in the past held a good reputation for angling. At this point I must say I was warned about this bit of water by at least two of my friends who said in no uncertain terms that the fishing had declined. But after a few months of poking around this section of river I can't deny that something has felt amiss. Even with days spent peering into the crystal clear waters not one single barbel has been spotted, and although I have seen some healthy stocks chub present they are without doubt very nervous.

Then on my Sunday morning session I ventured down to the river to find myself the only angler on the entire stretch. My monopoly of this bit of river was largely due to its still slightly flooded nature. Being in a very low lying area I had to wade a good amount of the path through knee deep water on a freezing morning. The effort though was worth it as the river looked perfect.
I baited a few spots on the way up stream with freebies, and headed right to the top of the stretch. The minnows and dace were murderous hungry, battering every bait that went in instantly  A golf ball size pinch of bread lasted little longer than a few minutes. So I turned to worms hoping to tempt a perch or hungry chub into action. Small perch did oblige, but nothing bigger showed. I worked my way down river peg by peg investigating all possible hidey holes in turn. Then as I approached a swim something moved quickly out of the reeds at the front of the swim. Not thinking anything of it I carried on but this area to seemed lifeless. Not even the minnows bothered my baits here.

My next move saw me heading to a swim renowned for chub and one which I had baited with three liberal handfuls of mashed bread as I passed it earlier. Coming through the bushes I could see something was making a fuss from the ripples all over the river, but when I saw what made them I was gob smacked.
Two otters were playing around in the centre of the river squeaking and splashing having the time of their lives. Crouching on the path I watched them disappear downstream. Then leaving my tackle, I nipped back through the undergrowth to track where they went.What I found down stream was even more shocking. I couldn't see the two playing otters, but directly opposite me on the bank was another different otter eating what looked like a chub.

This was amazing I have before now only had two other otter sightings and both were fleeting glances either in the dark or out the corner of my eye. And here I was face to face with one in the middle of the day. I had to get a shot  of it, so went back for my camera only to find on my return that the whole family had melted away, probably due to my disturbance.

Now although I won't blame this encounter for my lack on fish on this occasion, I will say that this is exactly  the reason I have been given by some very experienced anglers why they have not renewed memberships for this water. Not only that but given the amount of time I have been grubbing around on this bit of river, there does seem to be a general lacking in stocks and what fish are around are as I previously said very nervous. I now find myself wondering awful things for this stretch  Amongst which, is it worth me spending any of my valuable time fishing this bit of the Avon.

The thing is, I could live with it if otters had always been present, or if they had found their way back naturally, but I know for a fact that in this very area in question otters are being released, which I suppose was always going to happen. But as per normal the concern for what is warm and cuddly takes precedence over what is cold and slimy every time, and as is normal, the people responsible are so wrapped up in reintroducing one species that they are not concerned with any others which may be affected.

Now I seem to be seeing with my own eyes what I think I am seeing, do I now find myself ready to believe or will it take more evidence still...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Southern shennanigans

I rarely begin writing about an adventure before I actually embark upon it, but this time I think it may be necessary   You see, after returning from any of my previous trips that have involved the lower Itchen fishery, I have found myself almost speechless. The reason I often find myself lacking words is simply due to a fishing daze. Just half a day early in the coarse season and you ultimately feel like you have been blasted with angling shot gun.

I told Andy, who is on his first visit with us this time, that the only way to describe how good the area we were going to fish is,  think of the best river fishing he has ever had, take away all fear from the fish, and times it by three. 
The reason, I think, for this above exceptional sport is quite simply a lack of pressure. This highly prized and protected stretch is, for most of the year, the premise of the Salmon and trout angler. So for the entire summer the numerous residents that are not targeted by the fluff chuckers do not supplemented in any way. Come the end of the game season and copious amounts of maggots suddenly sink slowly through the water; the fish gorging themselves on the bounty. 
Obviously given time, the fish acclimatise and realise that the bounty comes at a price, thus becoming wary. But for the first two weeks of the season it really is pure heaven and could well be a reflection of how fishing all over the UK was once. Luckily for us we happened to be going in the honeymoon period when coarse fishing is allowed.

But before we got to the main course we had arranged an appetiser session on the Dorset Stour, where we hoped we stood a chance of connecting with big chub or roach on a stretch that Keith and Jeff had fished earlier in the year.

Men our age shouldn't get as excited as we had, and upon rendezvousing at Andy's early Saturday morning, we were all noticeably twitchy. Though excited as we were, there was a cut of  reality about the mood. We had all heard the previous two days weather report for the south. Combine this with the spiking river level on the Stour and we where unsure of what we would find upon arriving.

Journeys in good company rarely drag by, and the constant conversation lubricated the passing of time till we finally crossed the old bridge spanning the Stour. The sight we caught fleetingly in the half light was not good. Unlike our sluggish local rivers I believe the Stour has a respectable flow even without 24hrs of rain filtering into it. On this occasion I think the best description of the flow would be raging, rising and possibly rapidly.

A quick walk of the stretch and it was agreed that we were here now and we would fish, then see how we got on by lunch time when the decision would be made to abandon session or stick it out.
To me the main channel of the river looked horrendous, but several slacks on our bank seemed the best option to maybe tempt something seeking sanctuary out of the main flow. So I set up next to nice looking spot where the bending river caused the flow to shoot out diagonally from my left leaving a nice crease and subsequent slack for me to fish.

Maggot, we had been informed, were the bait for this bit of water, but whacking shed loads of maggots into it didn't feel right on the day. Luckily for me in the bottom of my bag was a bait tub full of lobworms which I had chucked in as a back up bait. The idea that the rising water would wash any unsuspecting worms into the river was enough for me to stick with them all morning.

A split lob cast into the crease weighted by little lead swung into the slack and bites came quickly. Six small perch succumbed in quick succession before a felt a solid fish on. Although I felt it and was sure it was a fish it doubt it felt the searing bite of my hook at all.

After this the worm line petered away and the river rose. I had already moved back a foot or so but the river constantly crept towards me lapping at my feet and after four moves I found myself six feet further from the river than when I started.

I was just considering a fifth move up the bank when my two companions arrived  to discuss what to do. With the river rising fast, the fishing was getting harder and we were all suffering. The decision was made to head over the the Itchen to give the free stretches a go and see how the water levels had been affected, in anticipation for the main event.

When we arrived the river looked to be higher than normal, with that constant bank to bank flow associated with chalk streams, but held a very muddy colour, which I for one had never seen on this river. Honestly it didn't look too bad to me. The locals on the other hand seemed a little worried about it. Comments such as "oh it ain't been this high for ages" spilled constantly from their mouths as they seemed genuinely concerned that an impending flood approached. For those of us that live near to river such as the Avon, Trent and Severn are used to the water being over its banks, and a bad flood is when caravans come flying down the river smashing into bridges; not when the there is some danger the water may reach the top of the bank.

We did however fish and of all the things that made the fishing hard, I think be far the biggest factor was the lack of clarity in the water. Although I must say that in my experience the free stretches of any river get hammered senseless. Hence the fish ain't stupid!

Lined along the banks with the locals we gave it our best shot and for my part an hour in I hooked a good fish which I suspect was a trout, but whose teeth severed my light line moments after I hooked it. I stuck with my line running along the opposite bank and fed constantly with maggots, and as I nattered to Jeff who had just arrived, I hooked a good chub which held on the opposite bank and thumped away until the hook pulled. That second loss really hurt, especially as I knew those bites were at a premium right now.

I plugged away all afternoon until my arm ached from repeating the same cast time and time again. Andy and Baz ambled along the bank as I approached the last few pouches of maggots. The time for the off neared and tired from my constant casting, I offered my rod to either of them whilst I had a smoke before packing away. Andy took the rod and began casting whilst I fired out the remaining baits. Would you believe only moments after I fired the very last few of grubs into the water and stated that was the last of the bait, Andy called out 'fish on'. After a decent fight in the powerful flow and instructions being called from many sources the net was slipped under a nice looking chub of  2lb!

Day one had been a real test for us, fishing two out of sorts venues. But things were looking up. Adjacent to my swim was a level board and as I fished away I noticed that not only had the water level fallen by several inches, but I could also see the numbers below the water as the river cleared.

A little dejected we headed back to the digs to freshen up for a nice meal and a few civilised tipples before getting to bed early in order to get a good nights sleep ready for day two.... After waiting an age for our meal we did finally enjoy some hot food, and then when all the others arrived at the pub the couple of beverages turned turned into a serious session, with the drinks were going down like lizard eggs, leaving every member of the rowdy group drunk senseless. One at a time we fell away. Keith had unusually fallen silent in a stupor in the corner. Jeff especially was a sight to behold at two in the morning with one eye open and the other shut, gargling away in some seeming strange tongue that sounded a little infant like. After making generous contributions to the Irish economy Baz disappeared after the single word statement of 'bed'. And as for Andy, the best we could figure was that he was locked up in a dungeon under the main house wearing a gimp mask by now.

Less than fours hours later alarms sounded and some very peaky looking chaps fumbled around attempting to get sorted as they muttered away to themselves. A cooked breakfast plus aspirin later we found ourselves standing at the bottom of the lower Itchen fishery, still looking a little worse for wear.
The main concern for all though was the state of the river. It had dropped by close to a foot overnight and seemed to be clearing, but all of us still had apprehensions after hearing Sash's tales of woe from his session here the night before.

After we all went our separate ways I strolled upstream towards a ugly swim which has on every previous visit produced the goods for me. This time I fished it from the opposite side of the river to avoid the full force of the river smashing into my lines. A couple of exploratory casts with an empty feeder confirmed the rig would hold on the edge of the main flow. The next cast went out with a baited hook and feeder full of red maggots. Instantly the tip rattled with the attentions of hungry minnows then fell still before smashing round violently.
The fish held deep before beginning what has to be one of the most insane and heart pounding fights I have ever had. It shot upstream zig zagging, before turning round and ploughing down the current in a run than hammered the clutch on the reel into an inaudible sound, before exiting the water shaking its head side to side. After several smaller runs across the river I was treated to the fish tail walking against the flow. The whole time this was going on I held on for dear life attempting to keep it away from every patch of streamer weed and all other weed beds it ventured near. After two failed attempts I finally slipped her into the net, gathered my breathe for a moment and let her rest before I pulled out the net to feast my eyes on my fish of the trip and a new PB.

The fish it would seem were feeding and straight away my worries that the trip could be a total wash out were quashed. A steady stream of small grayling and gudgeon followed before another big fish thumped my rod tip. This had to be a good chub and it did what chub do best and bored its way straight into the closest weed bed. Even with a huge open bank to walk in and attempt to change the angle, I could not shift it from the dense weed and inevitably the culprit escaped as I tried to free the rig.

A couple of more aggressive bites ended in my hook being severed from my line and I knew it would only be time before a trout came my way. And they did in the form of three small 1-2lb brownies who had fallen under my maggoty spell.

It may sound odd as I was catching, but I forced myself to leave the first swim. Quite honestly I could have sat there all day but more swims beckoned, and the next intended swim I had heard on my last visit was reputed to hold some very big roach. After tossing a few handfuls of bread mash well upstream I squeezed in and flicked in a small pinch of bread. Twanging bites came instantly and after one false strike I hooked a small roach not more than 6oz.

Two more followed but after that the bites evaporated; on this fishery its just a case of moving onto the next swim to plunder different fish instead of waiting for bites to come again.

I headed up to the mid reaches in order to met up with the others for lunch. Arriving an hour early I settled in a fast run close to the hut. Every cast of the feeder I reeled in a small grayling. I must of landed twenty plus fish but not one was more than a pound in weight.

When the others arrived it was evident that the previous nights debacle had taken its toll and everyone in our little group looked knackered  A brief and quiet lunch consumed we again went our separate ways. Myself and Jeff strolled back down the river where we both fancied the weir pool.
I stuck it out all afternoon on the maggot feeder hoping a constant stream of grubs may entice first the smaller residents, and maybe signal any barbel to the presence of food. The small chub, gudgeon and grayling did arrive but the nothing bigger showed at all and by mid afternoon I was running on empty as was everyone else.The day drifted away as did the fishing and in hindsight stopping in the middle reaches would probably been a better afternoon choice but I made my choices with a very tired brain.

It was well before dusk when the idea of leaving early was thrown into conversation and we all agreed sticking it out till the bitter end seemed fruitless considering how the fishing had declined through the the day.

Truthfully the weekend did turn out to be a slight anticlimax for a lot of us. Though I must say that in my opinion we all may have got more from the second day if we hadn't gone so mad the night before, ending up fishing with half our brains turned off.

For me though the trip had been more than worthwhile with me knocking chub off  left right and centre and even with hard conditions to contend with, still catching loads of grayling and small trout. Oh and of course that PB.

After so many run ins and losses with this species on this venue, I finally at long last, with the help of my John Wilson Avon quiver rod, a bit of luck and after a very memorable fight, landed my first proper size Atlantic salmon of a little over 9lb, using a method which would have most tweed clad salmon anglers sneering from behind their handlebar moustaches. But I don't care because it was an amazing and truly beautiful fish that I felt privileged to hold in my hands

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What the hell am I doing wrong

I revelled with glee when the rains came down the start of  last week. This was followed by a constant monitoring of the EA graphs which gave hour by hour information of the water level of the River Avon.
I watched carefully mulling over when to strike.

It took a day or so for the water to filter into the river, but when it did the levels rose quickly spilling over bank into field. By Wednesday I knew the would be returning back towards normal levels, leaving the Avon looking like willy wonkers chocolate river minus the oompa-loompas.

The day off sorted and Jacky dropped off at work, I arrived to find the river looking perfect and deserted. With no worries for getting a swim I settled in front of the huge swirling eddy aside the weir pool. Even with flotsam spinning around on top of it I knew my lines wouldn't get hung up on any of it as the cut down towards the edge of the flow.

I knew my decision to come here was a risk but it could be worth it. The barbel here seem to average on the large size, even though there doesn't seem to be a huge population. My knowledge of the unseen topography of the area should of helped, but things had changed! New snags had been deposited by the high water as I soon found out.

After sitting on my first casts patiently I reeled in only to snag up in the centre of the eddy, losing everything pulling for the break. I tried to avoid it as the second rig was retrieved found the other side of this large object, and straightened my hook.

I fought it out for a few hours losing a hideous amount of gear in the process, but in the back of my mind I knew hooking a decent fish with that monstrous snag in front would probably end only one way. So I moved on to another likely spot in these conditions.

Here my baits received loads of the wrong sort of attention. Eels tore my meat to bits constantly nibbling away as it lay on the gravel bottom. Pellets fared better but the paste wraps also suffered from the eels and small fish to.

Not one proper bite did I receive all day for my efforts. Two greedy albino skimmers which looked rather embarrassed to be caught scoffing a 20mm pellet, plus a foul hooked boot lace eel was all I could muster.This was very disappointing as the river was in perfect condition, maybe the best its in been all year.

A few days later I joined Martin on a trip further down river to an area with a good reputation for barbel fishing. A large population of mixed sized fish, still above average river conditions combined with getting into one of the best pegs on the stretch made me wonder how could it go wrong.... Not one fish was landed in the entire area all day between a large few anglers.

Bites were received. Chub, I suspected were responsible for cheekily stealing meat baits this time. Only one of those suspected chub bites bent the rod round enough for me to strike, and that went into thin air as suspected the long hair rig prevented the hook from even being in the fishes mouth.

Again this barbel thing is fast becoming a farce. The worst of it is that I have other things I want to do coming up soon, which will start to put pressure on the short amount of time I have to fish for them. So now I am beginning to wonder whether it is actually my methods that is the problem or am I just in one of those streaks of bad luck again!