Friday, 27 September 2013

The Lake #22 The queen is gone! Long live the kings.

Hanging fearlessly mid-water in the shadow of the old log she bristled in a state of constant readiness for the attack. For years now she had been the number one, the apex predator of the confluence pool and the arrival of the log in the very centre had only cemented her position further. Some time during winter just passed it had been lifted from its resting place high up the brook by the swollen waters and drifted slowly down to the pool. After a few days churning aimlessly round in the eddy, the water level fell as the rains abated and the log had grounded on the silty bar just off the main flow. Though its resting place was pure chance, the log was perfectly positioned for the pike and her brethren to use as an ambush point, from which they attacked the flashing silver shoals of prey that darted back and forth constantly.

Much like the log, she and hundreds of other microscopic pike had found their way down the brook into the pool. As per normal they had been gorging the tiny daphnia close to the surface to feed their constant hunger. In doing so they had inadvertently strayed too close to an invisible force which had sucked them against their will down into the brook. Many died in the initial  fall, others were taken from above by stabbing birds that appeared from nowhere, but those who survived made their way into the pool where other predators waited.

The years passed and as they did perch, kingfishers and cannibalism all took their toll on the little pike. But she soon had begun to exceed her brothers and sisters in size and now she too had become quite partial to eating her kin. Now after many turns of the seasons only three of the originals remained, her and her two smaller brothers. The smallest of their trio had moved off over the shallow water for easy pickings in the small pool by the wall. She though was too big to dare  try the journey. Only three nights past she attempted to get over shallows only to get stuck in a panic in the dark. But that was all forgotten now as some other disturbance had focused her and her scared brothers attentions on the pool in front.

Not long after dawn, out of the blue a bounty of tiny red grubs had fallen on the water. The silver roach and golden rudd were quick to harvest this bounty and in no time at all they were in a frenzy. With the nights growing cold their hunger had increased and such a wondrous source of food could not be ignored if they wanted to survive the winter, so they fed with unabated gusto. It was that activity that raised the attentions of the pike, but it was the vibrations of panic that made them strike. It was a thrashing perch that brought the little male out into the open, but it was the second one he sensed that he struck moments later. For a small fish it resisted more than normal when bitten but a few savage thrashes and it was his. It was her turn now! The small male had circled round to swallow his meal under the log and so any panicked fish were hers and hers alone. It took a while for it to happen again and when it did the panic was too far off for her to strike. Then moments later a sulking perch skulked back into the deep water all spines flared indigent at its ordeal. Before she could chase the perch a silver mass of terror flashed above. Without thinking she struck, grasping the fish side-on before turning back to the bottom. She too felt the resistance stopping her from swimming away but a surge of power brought a sudden end to it.

As she went around the log swallowing her meal she passed the two carp and their tench companion mooning in the roots of the undercut bank. Neither paid the other much heed as size had removed fear from all parties. The panic continued on and off but it wasn't until the last meals had stopped wriggling in their stomachs that the pair re-set into attack positions  Again the small gung-ho male attacked first, missing his target as he swirled high in the water. Then something fluttered down through the water not far in front of her. It didn't flash and it wasn't panicked, but its wriggling attracted her and its size decided it. It had been a long time since she had eaten worms, but it was food and she wasn't about to pass up a free meal of this size. Unlike the speedy thrashing fish, the worm would not make a hasty escape so calmly she drifted forward stopping only inches away. Focusing on the gently writhing worm she manoeuvred herself into position before calmly opening her mouth enough to suck in the worm. As she turned off slowly back towards the log she felt a stabbing jolt in the side of her mouth and sudden resistance prevented her from moving. Unaware of any real danger she didn't panic and just hung motionless. Slowly she began moving backwards, then as the surface neared she bolted off towards safety  Again and again she made a bid for the log but time and time again something prevented her escaping  Now her panic rose as she did in the water and her surges to escape became more frantic, until finally her energy gave out and the force pulled her towards the shallows grew.

The one last ditch attempt to escape at the sight of the strange foreign object she was drawn towards came to nothing. She felt something rise around her before the normal comforting water dispersed under her and she found herself pulled into a cold alien world. Moments later she felt herself laid down onto something soft. It was then that the predator appeared in her eye line. Survival took over and she thrashed violently but this just drew the assailant onto her where it grabbed her by her chin. With her mouth forced open she felt the pain in the side of her mouth twist then fade, then again she was laid on her side as the predator loomed over her for a while. Suddenly the alien thing engulfed her again and she felt herself moving. Light and dark was all she saw for a while then it just became light, bright light that was blinding  Then water rose around her and she could again breathe. Confused but happy that she was back in her world, she rested a moment before drifting slowly away. But this wasn't the pool, it wasn't even her world this was bigger, a million times bigger. Caution took over and she moved slowly to the safety of some weed to figure out this strange new place.

"I've got you this time!!!"

The jack pike had been plaguing me all morning ever since I had first deposited those first hand fulls of maggots to inspire the fish to feed. I had lost a few fish already to the pike and they had chased many more. I'd had to tie on new hooks when other had been severed from my line my the razor sharp teeth of the jacks. But finally one had actually taken my worm and it seemed like I had a clean and honest hook hold on one so maybe my light line would hold just enough for me to land it.

The snag was the problem. It had appeared after the winter floods and had annoyingly got stuck just about in the centre of the pool, essentially cutting the pool in half. I knew the tiny tench I sought to transfer back up to the lake liked to hang out along the under cut bank like there big relation that I had seen hanging around with the carp. But with the snag now in between me and them, I could not risk casting beyond it as I knew fish would get tangled under it. So I had resigned myself to fishing the main part of the pool in front of the snag in the hope that I could draw the tench up to me instead.

Saying that, the snag wasn't the only problem. The water level was low and it had concentrated all the fish into a very confined area, pike included, and they were having a field day in the shallow water. Although we have had rain here and there, it would seem that not enough water had fallen this summer to keep the lake topped up enough to keep the spillway flowing and this was reflected in the brooks. The brook to my right was reduced to only two foot wide strip that hugged the bank.

And the brook that entered the pool opposite me through the wood with its dry pebbles had seemingly become subterranean.

Even with the low water level the fish were in the mood to feed as the nights had grown a little colder with the on set of autumn, and even with the few fish and hooks lost to the pike I had already landed a slew of nice perch up to a pound and half.

But now I was hooked into something much bigger after my rod tip had pulled slowly round with intent. My light feeder rod bent double as it seemed that my hook had found safe purchase after one of the pike had taken my worm. The three pound line was holding as my lightly set clutch allowed enough leeway for the little pike to run but not snap me up. Now it was a case of just going softly until it was tired enough to land. I could see it hanging in the clear water before it surged off towards the snag yet again but this time it gave up half way there and it looked like the fight was soon to be over. On seeing the net in the water it did that classic one last surge to escape the net that pike always seem to do, but that came to no avail.

In the net and as I rested it onto the mat the fish was calm as you like. But when I bent over it all hell broke loose like I was about to eat it. So I quickly chinned the thrashing little pike opening its mouth to see where my lucky strike had set the hook. Just as I thought the barbless hook had caught home just in the scissor,s and upon trying to dislodge it with my forceps I found there was no way that one was coming out in the fight. A quick wiggle and it was out and the fish was unhooked.

I had to get a picture of this immaculate little pike and as I did I dawned on my that maybe this one might be getting a little to big for the confluence pool. I had in the past put any smaller ones back into the pool but this one was way bigger than those. The bailiff had told me before that any bigger fish could go back up to the lake from where they originated and this one would make a fine addition to the pike populations of the giant pool above.

It's only a short journey up the ancient man made bank up to the lake so I put her back into my net and scarpered back up the bank to the concrete outlet. After resting her in the water she soon righted herself and hung in my net. I knew it would be a bit of a new world for her in the massive lake, but as she slowly swam down into the weed to rest before going off to explore the place of her birth, I hoped she would have the opportunity to breed and start the whole cycle again.

Sitting on the point that dominates the pool I poured another cup of tea and watched the water settle. Already I could see one of the other small pike attacking the roach in the clouded water I'd stirred up. As I sipped the hot brew from my old tin mug I wondered whether now she was gone maybe one of the other two smaller pike I had seen this morning might rise up to become the king of the pool, now that the queen was gone.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Rough ruffe fishing.

Looking forward to something is a dangerous game! By putting a particular thing on a pedestal if it doesn't quite live up to your expectations then you're only ever going to be let down. Conversely if you don't raise something up in your mind then normally you stand a fifty-fifty chance of it exceeding your expectations and you're happy.

Since my last ruffe safari a year ago I have been really looking forward to having another go, as I ripped them up and landed a new PB in the process. I was thinking that my return this year with methods already devised and swims pinpointed, I once again stood a good if not great chance of cutting them up. Arriving early after a trouble free journey and after bundling my clothes into a wardrobe as only a man can unpack, I slipped off for a quick reckie session to try and see how the land may lay.

Bait the hook, cast the rig, float dips under, strike and land the fish. For two non-stop hours this was my mantra as a stream of hungry perch and roach time and time again took my bait. The only other thing to go through my mind was 'it's only a matter of time till my target species comes along'. Another hour later and my hopes were waning. Half an hour on top of that and I was walking away with a rather perplexed look on my face. How in gods name could I catch so many fish, even have at least one repeater and not catch possibly the most gullible herbert down there? Worst of all that was my number one banker swim.
The next few sessions over the next few days went much along the same lines only with less fish. The broad was not fishing well by all accounts, and everyone fishing was suffering due to the bright conditions and the strangely low tides. Fishing tidal venues is awkward when you're not used to it; you keep having to remind yourself to either increase or decrease the depths of your rig accordingly. Its even more demoralising on the ebb as you can just see the fishing getting worse as the level of water over your quarry's head reduces.

It was the evening of day three when a little light finally shone on my ruffe fishing exploits. I had fished through all the reliable swims thrice over and was making my second pass of the day when my float began to wander. Something had hold of my bait and unlike the suicidal perch which just sink the float, or the cagey roach which dither with it, this fish seemed to be eating my lob worm section as it moved round in a small circle. It had to be and couldn't be anything else other than a ruffe.

I think the most common reaction to catching a ruffe by most people is the surprised exclamation of "oh its a ruffe", normally shortly followed by a plop as the much maligned fish is discharged back to the bottom to carry on its scrounging ways. But I implore anyone who reads this to stop just for a moment and look closely next time you catch one, as this easily overlooked herbert is quite possibly one of our isles best looking fish. Its just that no one bothers to look closely enough to appreciate them.

I was on the board, my account was open, whatever you want to call it, I had landed a ruffe finally. Two more followed that session but all three were peas in a pod at 0.6, 0.8 and 0.6 drams. I am still not convinced that the first and last one weren't the same fish that swam straight back to the baited area and got hooked again.

On the matter of the sea.
I can't visit the coast without doing at least some sea fishing. So taking a break from the intense powder keg world of ruffe fishing, I got out the old broom stick beach rod and packed the other half up ready for a day on the beach. 

Hot summers days at the end of the school holidays and beach fishing are best compared to that time when you were a kid and you wondered what would happen if you made a milk shake using orange squash. It seems a viable idea before you start but that as the two combine you suddenly realise they don't mix that well at all.

Wall to wall blue, the sun beating down on your head like the dessert, and kids all around makes swinging an big chunk of spike clad lead very uncomfortable. Not only was little Tommy and Gilly splashing around in the surf making it difficult, but the general lack of bites made the idea of trying to squeeze in a cast here or there pointless.

For miles up and down the coast anglers had become nocturnal and stayed well away from the throngs, only to come out at night in search of the sacred sole. That was apart from one chap who my fishing radar detected instantly from half a mile away walking up the beach having caught a delicious bass. Turned out he had landed three of them and they all lay gutted under a damp towel. That was enough to spur me to have another go on the same beach. Though all I caught that day was the sun on my neck.

All in all the sea fishing was hard! Too hard for me and the best I feel able to offer you, dear reader, is this picture of a random tall ship which passed by; truthfully the most interesting thing I saw at sea.

Back on the ruffe hunt things were looking up though and a few more slight examples turned up the following night as I eeked my session right into dark. I pushed my luck and hung on thinking surely a better one had to be around. And for once I was right when my barely perceptible float slid slowly under. I would love to describe an epic battle at this point but can't as this is ruffe fishing, and even on most sporting outfit the most that can expected is a little thrashing and splashing. Fight aside this was the best ruffe and last ruffe of the whole week, and although it was way off last years giant two ouncer it still seemed a very special fish in the context of things.

Rumours had been flying around the broad and the local tackle shops all week of some monster perch turning up in the broad. Even as an angler I some times take these things with a pinch of salt and frankly I had discarded the information as soon as I heard it. Especially as after five days of fishing half lobworms over chopped worm/maggot and had not seen a perch an bigger than half a pound, of which let me say there were thousands, if not millions, everywhere!

The morning in question I had slipped out very early to bag a spot I fancied that for the previous four days  had a Geordie match angler firmly entrenched in it, and who had, incidentally, caught naff all fishing a feeder at range. I fancied it as it was the only swim I hadn't fished and it had some nice cover in deep water a rod length out.

However the queue of small perch waiting over my baited spot seemed endless and by the time the sun rose high enough to burn the mist off the water I was already counting my worm baits thinking I would be off soon. Lucky for me it quietened off a little and with my ruffe fishing experience growing I knew this was normally the time the ruffe turned up when the party had ended.

Half an hour of no interest and I was wishing anything at all would take my worm never mind a ruffe. Moments later the float just went! It didnt, dither, bob, slide or dip. It just went! Lucky for me I had the clutch set on ruffe. Because when I answered with a swift srike the fish battered off like a freight train. The first run had me convinced I had hooked a jack pike by the way it surged off. When it got thirty feet from the bank I was sure it was a pike. Thinking it wouldn't be on long, I tightened the clutch and waited for the inevitable snap of my line in its teeth, but the fish turned and kited towards a moored boat  further down the bank. A little more pressure and I managed to avoid that hazard before it came out into open water, making a big swirl as it did. On the next turn a spiky fin appeared and pike turned into perch. Seeing that I eased off fair bit I can tell you. A few more violent runs and it was ready for my waiting net.

I am normally very prepared when I land a good fish and if it was a giant ruffe I was prepared. But even a British record ruffe wouldn't need an unhooking mat, you just hold them in the net. This fish though I needed to be careful with and here I was fishing in a land of concrete without so much of a hint of padding to lay this fabulous fish on. Sadly the best I could do to unhook it was to lay it on a pile of soft ropes I found attached to a boat. Even laying momentarily on that it looked so perfect I couldn't resist a quick snap.

Luckily for me the sight of my bent rod had attracted another angler over who I commandeered into taking a trophy shot. Though this was a risky business in itself, as the chap in question was quite elderly and I could in no way ask the poor fellow to kneel down on the concrete. So instead I risked it, gripped onto the fish for dear life, and stood up for this shot with the most perfect three pounder I have ever caught.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Could these be the last days of summer.

A change is afoot and I know you all feel it. Darkness creeps in ever quicker and a certain chill now and then has appeared. The world too smells different and the heady floral scents have been dampened my a slight musty smell. The swaths of wheat that have coloured my county gold still remain, but the textures are changing as the farmers begin to bring in their crops. I get the distinct impression that these could be the last days of summer and that leaves will all too soon turn yellow and red before they fall to the ground.

A gift such as a glorious late summers day should never be squandered, as all too soon the enjoyable autumn will pass and we shall all freeze once again. And when that time comes the memories we make in those idyllic halcyon days will be needed to carry us through the cold, dreaming of those days as we are equidistant between memories and plans.

With such an evening at hand and after spending a free day picnicking on the well manicured lawns adjacent to the Avon, which looked more like a regatta venue than my faithful friend, I was more than in the mood to enjoy what could be one last summers eve in the company of two other fond friends, pin and carp.

As I sat in the soft evening heat watching my quill float just past the pads, I felt in a reflective mood. This summer hasn't been a bad one by English standards. Sure we have had the odd downpour here and there, but they were quite welcome at times. The sun hasn't been that punishing ether, though it had had its moments. As for me I have done as planned and enjoyed summer fishing while I could, and sitting on my seat made from an old log I hope it goes on a little longer with this soft heat. 

Then as if on cue my float dips then jerks unnaturally up to lie flat on top the pad, and before I can strike slides clean off the pad and away under the water. It must be nearly my tenth carp of the evening but I don't think I could ever tire of hearing the noise my old speedia makes as a carp powers off angry at being caught out by such crude rouse.

Its another common, though I suspect this one has something more colourful in its linage a few generations ago. This one unlike the fantastic little mirror that preceded it, did not wriggle and slip off my mat back into the pond, instead sticking around long enough for a picture.

I really hope as I walk out of the coppice that this is a slow coming autumn with possibly a hint of an Indian summer, which would be nice way remember the warmer months in times to come.