Sunday, 22 December 2013

Omne trium perfectum

'Everything that comes in threes is perfect'

With the pure gung-ho attitude that only a man can possess, Andy took his second run at the small ramp that led to the top of the flood defence barrier. Maybe two feet farther up than his previous attempt the wheels began spinning again. So he did as all men would do and floored it spraying mud in all directions. As for myself I was perched half way up a different plane of the mound, out the way of the flying earth, with a mixture of Herefordshire mud and cow shit slowly seeping through my crocs as I watched on. It was not long after this that I heard a local voice call to me from over the field. "Can I ask what you chaps are up to?"  I think it is only natural to feel a little guilty when a figure of authority questions your intent and I could have defensively or sarcastically replied that we were down for a days fishing on this here salmon beat and before we began, fancied ploughing up this here field a bit. But sense prevailed and I meekly replied that we were here to fish and had foolishly thought we could get up on the hill, but had now realised the error of our way and were in retreat. "No one drives up there at this time of year, all the locals know that." I knew exactly what he meant; simply put 'we were not local!'

Our only choice was for Mr Lewis to perform a very impressive rally reverse back down the lane to the civilised parking at the very top of the beat. Once parked where the car was at no risk of reaching its axles in mud, we now had to walk back the distance we had driven twice to reach even half way where we wanted to go. Even with highly reduced kit this was going to be a sweaty walk in the cattle-created Somme-like conditions.

After a little Wye wander we did eventually find ourselves at the point we agreed we would work our way back from through the day. You see this whole venture was conceived as a piking trip and they would be our main quarry, but as the weather has been so mild, we thought the barbel might well be on for a bit of an re-Xmas knock up. So we split our gear down the middle and had brought along a barbel rod each and a pike rod each. So we had headed to the massive sweeping bend that has in the past it has always proved more than reliable were as Bertie was concerned.

I went for the middle of the bend whilst my companion targeted the crease where the flow deflects off across the river. Today though the Wye was as low as I had ever fished it and my first few casts seemed to be hitting the deck far too quickly. In the time it took Andy to land three brownies from the crease swim, I had done little more than fine tune my rig to stop my feeder from rolling around the swim and ruining my hook links. Even with very little water on it, the flow of the Wye still shocks me and me only option to hold bottom soon became the clumsy cow lead.

Honestly, the sound of my feeder hitting the water not only grated on me but I was sure would see off any fish present as it made such an awful thump hitting the water. But I was proved rather wrong when after mere moments on the rest the rod tip tapped once before jerking violently over. All barbel fight hard but these lean wiry Wye fish run like savages in the early moments of the fight. Combine over two ounces of feeder and the fear of hidden trees littering the river and it makes for an interesting battle.

After the first one slipped up, that was it, I thought the flood gates had opened. As soon as the rig made bottom again I got a hard tug which resulted in nothing. The again next cast barley had enough time for a leaf to hang up on my line before another one was on. I had brought along my JW Young barbel rod which I have been using on the Avon for barbel this year. It could be said by many that at 2.5lb it's a bit on the heavy side, but for this river its tough back bone was more than enough to handle the big rigs I was discharging into the river, whilst still being forgiving enough cushion some very intense first runs.

Two more similar sized fish came in very quick succession after the first, but it would seem that the feeding spell was to be very short lived. Either that or my theory that the Tonka truck of a feeder hitting water did spook them out of the area. On the journey down it had been agreed that would would keep moving and not sit around waiting for bites, so after a quiet forty minutes we made tracks back up the beat.

The pike were always going to be a different matter to the barbel. We have fished this stretch of the Wye twice before and truthfully although we had seen one pike lingering in a slack we had no idea of where to begin fishing for them. On the way down we had taken some time to clock out possible areas of attack but nothing really screamed pike as most of the beat is shallow fast riffles. There was a couple of 50/50 spots that we could have tried, but nothing definite. On the way back up from under hoods we discussed where to fish. The rain by now was really coming down and wanting to lighten our loads we agreed to stop at the car and leave most of kit there, and armed with only a rod each and one net we would head to a area that even now thinking of it makes my blood run cold... Dead man's bend.

The very first time we visited this stretch we were chatting to a local dog walker/angler and it was him who pointed out this ninety degree turn in the river. As the water quite literally changes direction instantly as it collides with the bank it creates one of the scariest undercuts I have ever seen. From a distance it looks quite innocuous but when you stand directly above it looking at the massive straight that leads into it you realise the very bank you stand on feels the full force of one of the most powerful rivers in the country. But that's nothing compared to when you look down at the water and see the random boils emanating from twenty feet down under the bank. It quite literally looks like there is a shoal of whales gallivanting under the water. Apparently according to the man who pointed it out this one bend has done more than enough to earn its name over the years.

As dangerous as it looks from above we had spotted that a large still eddy had formed with the lack of water and that luckily it looked like we could easily get down the bank behind between two trees. We were right and soon enough pitched up in a cap between two barren bushes. The bank itself was nothing more than a skid of bare mud exposed by the low water and should the river be any more than a foot up it would disappeared under the Wye. Flanked on both side by trees which hung down into the water it was going to be tight but also looked the perfect pike swim.

You know you're fishing deep water when your float stop is half-way through the rod rings and the bait is in your hand. With depths between ten and fifteen feet this wasn't going to be easy but did look spot on for pike. We had to wait a while for some action and what occurred next was destined to be one of those moments that hurts for a long while. My float had sat motionless for a good three quarters of an hour just off the trees. Then, out of nowhere, ripples emanated from the dumpy float. I remember saying "hey up here we go" before I took the rod in hand. A few more bobs came before the float toddled off classically away from the trees. I watched carefully as I paid out line, then after the float traveled about three feet, it sank under slowly and I tightened up and prepared to drive my hooks home. Not so much a minuscule of resistance was felt and my float, with rig in tow, launched straight out of the water and into the bushes behind me. Only a moment of silence followed as it took me that long to inhale enough air for the protracted and explicate tirade that followed. It wasn't that I had just missed a fish, more what that fish could have been judging by what happened later.

I calmed down from my tantrum by the time Andy's float seemed to get caught by the flow. Then after I convinced him I suspected it was a fish all hell broke loose when he struck and with no choice he had to really force the fish through the swim avoid an obstacle coarse of snags. Luckily the fish cooperated and went pretty much straight into the net. It looked massive lying on its side in the net and I think both of us were equally excited to get it on the scales.

Out of the net it looked just as big, but three sets of scales proved that even though we have both seen our fair share of pike we were well out on our estimates. For my part I had seventeen pounds in my head but could barley believe it weighed just under fourteen pounds hence the three sets of scales.

But that wasn't it! Next cast the bait had barely hit bottom before the float sank away attached to another good fish. This one we saw deep down in the water and it looked very long and thin. Not long after we saw it, a shake of the head set it free before came near the bank. I could barley believe it when a third and forth fish snaffled Andy's baits from the same small area. These two were totally mental beasts that smashed us both around, getting us in a right mess, hence no pictures for either. Both were smaller and so badly behaved that we were glad to see them back in the water where they were unable to twist, snap or trash around.

Three different sets of three different species that all came in threes seems an odd coincidence to me on what I can only say one one of the dampest days I have ever spent by the river. We walked sopping away from the water not long after the last fish as the river was rising fast and I think truthfully we were quite satisfied by the days catches considering the time of the year.

My only regret of the day was that missed run. Considering all the pike Andy caught were low to mid doubles I can only surmise that at the minimum, my fish was at least a double, and considering it was the only bite that came away from the hot spot I can't help suspecting it might have been a loner that the other fish avoided. Adding insult to injury is the reported size of the stretch monster, which I feel most comfortable referring to simply as big! And we all know the Wye can breed them proper BIG...

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Springs and Valleys

It was all light hearted banter when we arrived and even as we set up there seemed an air of possibility about the venue. The place looked like a scaled down trout fishery carved by man into a small stream that serve to breath healthy life into those ever needy game fish. But there was no trout and I am sure if there was, Joe wouldn't have bothered chasing perch.

To me it looked about right, clean water bordered by reed fringed banks and supposedly stuffed with enough small silvers to turn any modest perch into the Perca fluviatilis version of Marlon Brando. It even started as I hoped with a timely enough pause after I deposited chopped worm at the bottom of the marginal shelf, followed by three deliberate bites. The first produced nothing, the second a nice roach and the third a maybe six ounce perch which really got me going. Then nothing, and I mean nothing! Every trick in our collective repertoire was employed before we all concluded it would be dusk before we saw any more bites.

My sarnies were gone when discord spread through the ranks and before the clock struck one, we were away hoping to make better of the light we had left on pastures new. The car seats had barely time to warm before we were descending a winding drive into a valley towards a small lake nestled near the bottom of the hillside.

I think we all knew time was at a premium as the dark would be encroaching around four. Although I had never wet a line in this pool I had heard from a at least two others that although diminutive in size, the stock of fish in this lake borders on obscene. In fact the exact words someone used the other day was "It boils with fish in the summer". Apparently should you sling a gallon of maggots into the water on warmer months it would be doubtful if one would make it to the bottom, there is that many veracious roach and rudd present. But that's in the summer and we were here pretty much as far away from summer as you can get.

After a punishing morning on the previous fishery I for one had got to that point where it was bites and not targets that I wanted. So with Martin and Joe on the opposite bank, I set up on a small point swim casting a ledgered lob worm down the bank a few rods out, before concentrating my efforts and what was left of my chopped worm on a spot just on the edge of the ripple where I would hope a perch might patrol.

Although I fishing what can only be described as monstrous hook baits I did purposely and regularly keep a steady stream of pinkies going in. If it was as packed with annoying little silver fish as I had been lead to believe, then if I could get them moving it had to attract the attentions of anything that might prey on them.

The reported levels of stock turned out to be entirely true and it was my ledgered worm which first got sucked up before my super sensitive rod tip bent round and it began. The last three hours of the day saw pretty much constant action, but I have to say that I was not exactly using roach tactics. Anyone who has ever seen my perch rig I think will agree when I say it's a little agricultural in design; four pound line straight through to a size four hook with nothing more than a string of BB shot and chubber float in between, and the ledger set up only differs with a lack of float really. All that aside the roach were loving my worms and even missing loads of bites I was still landing some immaculate fish from six ounces right up and over a pound in weight.

I wish I had put something in for perspective with this fish as it was a good foot long.

Thinking of the two fisheries I find it hard to believe that given they were so close in proximity  they were fishing so differently. Admittedly the spring pool was gin clear and this one had a tinge of brown to it, but as the valley lake was so exposed I would have thought that of the two, this one would've fished worse than the shelter spring fed pool. Mind you after twenty four years of fishing I have just about given up trying to assign rhyme or reason to why anywhere fishes the way it does on any given day.

I don't think I have ever quite felt the pressure of the sun setting quite so much as I did on this day. There were feeding fish in front of me from the off and I really think it would have only been a matter of time before all the activity would have drawn in what we all sought from that cute little pool. But with every bob of the float and twang of the rod I kept recasting to make sure I had the right sort of bait on should the next taker be potential record perch. 

But it was never to be on this occasion and all too soon the sun sank over the valley and we soon found ourselves straining to see the orange floats in the dank light. I certainly can't say I was disappointed by the second fishery at least and as for that first one I feel sure that too might have some mileage in better conditions. That valley pool really stuck a little hook in me and I fancy I will find myself back on its bank once winter has passed.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Strange fish

We both shot off our stools instantly as if we had been simultaneously jabbed in the bum by a pin. But no squeals or expletives were uttered, as it was a fleeting glance of flank that had drawn our bulging eyes magnetically over the bank and not posterior pain. For more than a moment we stared into the clear cold depths waiting for the fish to surface again and answer my hopes, and maybe even Jeff's hopes as well! 

Then it surfaced thrashing around, still hiding its true identity in the disturbed water. Again though it seemed possible that it might be as we both wished, a giant ruffe. Then in the tiniest swing from water to hand all hope drained away. It was weirdly close... but on this occasion there was no cigar going to be smoked in celebration. What had raised us up on such a uneventful day was in fact not a tiny giant in which we are both inclined towards, but was instead the second oddity of the day, a perch with no stripes...

We were meant to be zander fishing, checking out a new stretch of canal, but it turned out if there was as tipped any big zeds present, they hadn't got the memo to say that we were coming and they should eat. And thus so I had grown a little bored waiting and had begun messing around with my Mach 2 wand, which I have decided as a early new years resolution that I will take every were I go just in case and because it's brilliant.

Back to that perch - it looked normally odd if you get what I mean. Like a tiger that has no stripes. And like a tiger that has no stripes, its no less of a tiger, rather than something doesn't click to say that's what it is. I tried my best to get a good clear shot and in the bright light this was about the best of them. As you can see it wasn't washed out or anything and it's brethren, like itself, were reasonably well coloured but striped. I suppose only some in-depth genetic study of the entire Coventry canal population might determine why this one, or maybe many perch in this area, might lack the synonymous stripe of the billie, or possibly it was just that one in thousands that nature deems to be different. 

It wasn't as I hinted before the first strange thing we had seen on this foray. A few casts prior to this I had caught a not dissimilar sized sarge that although perfectly normal in every way seemed to be in a strange situation for this time of year. Upon picking it up and unhooking it I noticed a yellow glob of what I thought was fish poo on my hand. It's not to unusual for a fish to defecate in your hand when you catch them but this stuff looked weird. Then on closer inspection I found it was not fish faeces but was instead eggs. The plump little fish which was obviously female was crammed full of eggs and it would she was so heavily laden that they were venting under the pressure.

Now I've seen this before, but only in the spring when fish are filling up ready to spawn the next generation of little perch and never have I seen this prior to Christmas. Both me and Mr Hatt were quite perplexed by it truth be told. I know we have some arse about face weather round these parts but spawning fish before winter, that don't seem right if you ask me. I would be interested to know if anyone else knows of, or has seen this before in perch, or do perch actually start filling up before the winter sets in as to be one of the first to spawn, like many other predators do early in the year?