Friday, 18 August 2017

Return to the river.

It seems like forever since I've paid the Avon any attention. I have had an odd look here and there since the season opened up, but frankly I've been a bit preoccupied with trying to catch a crucian out of Napton Reservoir. Anyway whilst away on holiday the idea to get my arse in gear and head back to the river really came to the forefront of my mind. It just happened that a bit of rain the few days before I got back had the river in tip top conditions for my return.

I have a new membership for a bit of the Avon which some of my angling buddies have been recommending for years, which this year I decided to get on. So with a couple of rods set up ready to go I decided to head down the A46 for a morning session. Normally I would have tried to be on the bank for first light, but my early morning bumbling roused BB and he discovered some presents which had been stashed in his room that were to big too transport on holiday, so my leaving was delayed a little whilst they were opened.

In the end I found myself pulling up in the car park around 9am and shockingly there was only two other cars evident. Where was everyone? I asked myself, as I had suspected everyone would be on the river given the conditions. The first angler I came across was on the first peg through the gate and a quick chat turned up that he'd already had three chub and two barbel from out in the faster water. This was good news and got me quickly heading off looking for a swim up river. I soon found a great looking swim where the fast water is deflected by a big bed of reeds and with the extra colour on the water it looked great for the barbel I so much wanted.  

Trying to be as careful as I could I gently cast into the crease with a PVA bag full of goodies attached to my rig. Although I did receive several taps of interest I was soon recasting again and again, working my way down the crease in subsequent casts towards some cover where I suspected the barbel might be lying in wait. After a few hours I was getting concerned I may have missed or messed up my shot at a barbel from this swim, but rather than just move off I opted to make one final cast a bit further out, away from the crease I'd been targeting into the faster water.

I'd been sitting on the cast for a good fifteen minutes before another angler from upstream dropped by to see how I was doing. We'd been whacking on for ten minutes as I kept an eye on the white rod tip out the corner of my eye. I clocked a slow nod of the tip which grabbed my attention then a quick sharp pull got my hand hovering over the rod and then bang, as predicted, the rod bent over as the fish tuned onto the weight of the lead.

In the fast shallow water I lent hard on the fish to stop it finding any of the weed beds which I knew lay hidden by the coloured water.  A long pause with both of us refusing to give an inch ended when the fish was pushed down stream by the flow... then all hell broke loose in the deeper clearer water under my own bank. This powerful fish worked me hard to keep it from getting back over the river into the fast water but everything held true and the soft action of my rod soon subdued the fish and a gaping mouth lined with barbules appeared on the surface before what looked a big fish slipped into the net.

After letting the fish recover in the water I lifted the net out and put it onto he mat. I lifted back the folds of the net to reveal a perfect long lean summer fish. I can truly say I was beaming with the sight of this perfect first barbel off of a new stretch of river, and my companion who had stood silent the whole fight seemed very impressed too. We both agreed it looked to be a good one though on the scales my suspicion that it was in lean condition proved true and even given its long length the fish was only 7.14lb. 

Maybe in the winter this fish could have been at least nine pounds or more. The weight though hardly mattered at all to me as I was over the moon that I should catch such an amazing fish for my first barbel off a new stretch of river.

The rain came in quickly after that and I opted to make a tactical retreat, but I was back a few days later to fish another swim aways downstream. This time the river had cleared and with that in mind I had brought a second lighter rod along to fish the maggot feeder upstream of the barbel rod, with the hope that the maggots going downstream, combined with the activity from other fish might draw up any wary barbel to have a look see what was going on. The plan actually worked, but not quite exactly as I wanted it to. The maggot line was alive with fish chasing the freebies as I dropped the feeder again and again onto the same spot at the head of the swim. Roach, dace, gudgeon and perch were queuing up waiting for the feeder to release more free maggots into the flow.

As the session went on the interest in my downstream rod increased slowly but surely. It took a while but random jags on the rod tip indicated something was afoot. Soon enough the rod bent over hard as something took the bait. After those initial moments when you lean into a fish feeling something powerful abated, the fish power dwindled and I realised the chub had turned up, attracted by all the activity. The first fish was a greedy two pounder but the second was a much longer fish just under four pounds, which like that first barbel would be much larger come winter.

The bug had really bit and another evening session was penned into my diary for a week or so later, after seeing that the long range forecast predicted another deluge of rain to bring the river into peak condition.

I arrived as quick as I could get there after work to find only one car in the car park, and after rushing over the fields to the river I scouted the whole section, baiting up a few spots as I went. The other angler was nowhere near where I wanted to fish and after a quick chat and finding out that although he was really after the silvers he had been skinned out a couple of time by big fish. This was perfect, no other anglers and feeding fish, how could I fail..?

The scene of my first barbel capture seemed the logical starting point and I was soon set-up and watching the river, trying to figure out the water in front of me as the added water and flow had seemingly changed the whole dynamic of the swim. It didn't take long to figure I'd chosen the most complicated swim to start with. There must have been seven or more areas in front of me screaming for a bait to go on them. In the end I began close in targeting a small crease right under my own bank. This produced nothing at all so I went about casting into each area I thought might hold barbel one after another for the next three hours. In the end I spent far too much time trying to logically cover the whole swim, in which time Mick had turned up and headed off upstream to fish for predators.

Having kind of shot myself in the foot time-wise, I decided to move downstream to fish one of the swims I had pre baited. With only enough time to fish one last swim I missed out a couple I had dropped bait into and went for the one I thought most likely to produce in the conditions. It was quite a simple swim I went to, with a large bed of bulrushes at the head that was creating a crease right down the centre of the river between the fast and slow water.

My first cast sent a tasty bag of morsels quickly down to the river bed just in the fast water, attached to a two ounce lead. The reaction was instant as my pre baiting already had fish nosing around on the gravel. Convinced the rod was going to bang over I had to sit on my hands as the small fish attacked the hook bait. I waited patiently and as I did, the rod soon indicated the presence of a bigger fish. A couple of nods later and the rod was nearly ripped of the rest and I was into a barbel. The initial savagery subsided and an interesting battle ensued in the slow water. It was only about four pound but this solid and fresh barbel took no prisoners as it dived into every possible place it could get snagged. In the end though the fact I was fishing gear capable of landing even the biggest fish won the fight and I netted an immaculate barbel that saved my session. 

The next cast produced the same response but this time I thought I'd hooked a small chub or something until I went to lift it out and a tiny sub pound barbel managed to shake itself off the hook, vibrating mid-lift, and dived straight back into the river. They were only small but two barbel in two casts were good numbers for me. I really wanted to get my bait right onto the bait I had put down earlier so I tried my very best to land the rig and new bag of freebies on the very centre of the crease. In doing so though I tightened up and it was more than obvious my bait was on the inside of the crease in the slow water. I decided to give it a chance and wait, letting it sit there for fifteen minutes at least, but I didn't feel in was the best place for it at all. 

The bite came out of nowhere with no warning which made it all that more shocking. One moment the rod was stationary the next it was bending double, lifting the butt out of the rests. Straight away I could feel this was a fish in another league. It powered all over the swim through both the fast and slow water with me just holding on tight and trying my best to steer it away from any hazards. After covering every bit of water in front of me, the fish dived straight into some lillies in the slow water, but its power and my power linked by the line just cut straight though the stems leaving the pad floating away downstream. A few dives later and I had what I knew was a good barbel in the net. As it rested in the water I made the call to Mick to ask for a spot of help taking a photo or two which turned out to be a brilliant decision as my camera phone, although great in day light, was useless in the half light. Luckily Mick brought his camera and I was soon proudly holding up my first double from this new stretch and beaming from behind all ten pounds and seven ounces of it.

In three close sessions this new bit of river has proved exactly how honest it is. By that I mean; it looks like it should contain barbel and chub and it does, it looks healthy and it seems it is and in the right conditions the fish should feed and they do. Which for the Warwickshire Avon, isn't that common from what I've seen in the past. A lot of the time I fished sections of the Avon and thought, this has to be a good area for this or that, and been let down. This place though seems different and I hope my theories about other different sections come to fruition over the autumn and winter. If they do, well, a few more red letter days for other species could be on the horizon.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A holiday tipple.

I don't mind admitting that the sea surrounding the Isle of Wight came as a bit of a shock to me. You see my impressions of the water surrounding our nation are founded on the muddy waters of Great Yarmouth, Weston Super Mare, Skegvegas or Blackpool. From the moment the ferry which carried us to the island left Southampton water and entered the Solent it became quickly clear that the waters surrounding the island are pretty much gin clear. Really, from most places on the island overlooking the sea you could easily surmise you were in the Mediterranean if it weren't for the multitudes of regional British accents you hear and the general lack of consistency in the weather.

I have learnt my lesson with trying to fish as much as I have in the past on holiday since BB has come along and for now with a raging toddler filling both mine and JB's time, I conceded to not over commit and just take a couple of lure rods along just in case I got the chance to have a dabble in the rocky clear waters around Colwell Bay and Totland where we were staying.

Not long in I got the chance to have a little explore and chose to go and check out a intriguing reef which jutted out from the land between Colwell and Totland. Literally with no experience fishing these clear rocky marks I choose to fish a 4" curly tailed grub on a Texas rig after research revealed this to be a good method to target wrasse and maybe even bass along the edges of the reef. I realized as soon as I arrived that the tide was on its way up and this meant my fishing of this area was of a single dimension. Really I would have loved to gone out onto the rocks but good sense prevailed and lucky it did as the tide, once level with top of the rock, ripped over them with the power of the Atlantic behind it. I raised a single hit on this session which I was convinced was from a wrasse lurking close the edge of the reef. My failure to strike may go some way to explain why I never connected with the fish, but hey ho they'll be another chance I thought....but there wasn't!

On my first outing I did notice through my polarized glasses that the entire sea wall in the area I was fishing was paved with massive random boulders along its base. So when the next opportunity came along I went out armed only with a drop shot rod to fish worm style baits amongst the rocks and target some of the mini species I figured should be lurking in the nooks and crannies.

This turned out to be my best decision and just happened to coincide with the best evening's weather we had the entire time we were away. First drop in and I felt the familiar rattle as some micro monster took umbrage with my wiggling worm gyrating in its front garden. Paradoxically to how quickly I got some interest, it took me ages to settle on a productive hooking arrangement and to actually hit one of the aggressive little fish which were assaulting my lure. After several missed strikes I finally hooked a powerful little fish which once pulled from the rocks circled like a mad head before revealing itself to be a stunning and my first ever corkwing wrasse. 

Turns out every gap in the rocks bigger than half a foot seemed to contain at least one which would come flying out its hidey hole once my lure touched bottom and began to gyrate around in front of them. Whether it was hunger or aggression motivating attacks one thing was evident, these colourful critters did not stop biting that tiny worm lure until they ripped it off, I removed it, or they got hooked. 

Through the few hours until the sunset I caught loads of these amazing little fish that lived in quite a savage place amongst the rocks with the pulsating waves constantly smashing upon them. Some were only a few inches long and others as big as my hand. But they all had the same things in common; they were all the most amazing myriad of colours, and they all were super aggressive.

The conditions proved to be my greatest problem whilst we were on the island. The incessant west south west wind battering up the Solent made light lure fishing seem rather futile. On more than one occasion an opportunity to get out for a quick session was made pointless by the wind. In the end I was tempted to go and spend a late afternoon on Yarmouth pier to try and winkle something from amongst the pilings.

Once again the wind didn't help me out and that, in combination with a racing tide firing along, it made for an interesting session. A lot of the locals were chucking out mackerel feathers with big leads to drag them down in the savage tide. Me on the other hand had nothing more than a 30 gram drop shot weight to try and get my lures near the bottom. This endeavor did not prove fruitful at all! Even with low diameter braided line and my heaviest weight, the whole rig was sinking only momentarily before the tide tore it away and lifted it off the bottom.

I wasn't about to give up though and after a good look round I found a couple of shoals of small bass loitering under the end of the pier, attacking tiny fry as they attempted to seek shelter around the pilings. Instead of fighting the flow I used it to my advantage and with a black and silver Fox micro fry on the hook I cast the weighted rig up tide and retrieved it mid depth along the pilings past the shoals of hungry bass in the shade of the pier.

First cast...BOOM! and even a one pound bass sticks a proper bend in a light lure rod in the powerful tide of the Solent, trust me. The little bass were so preoccupied by attacking the smaller fish they never gave the lure so much as a second look before smashing it. These silver spiny predators were stuffed full of tiny little fish which were unidentifiable once the little bass had grabbed hold of them. In a manic hour I was casting constantly and retrieving the lure through several lines around the piling; doing so resulted in me catching several nice bass and losing quite a few as they shook off the hook just as I tried to lift them up. As quickly as they appeared, those little Bass sank back under the pier, but finding them in the first place made the trip up the coast and the day ticket fee well worth it.

That trip to Yarmouth pier turned out to be the last session of the holiday as the conditions towards the end of the week got a bit worse and before we knew it it was time to board the ferry again to cross the Solent back to the mainland.

I find myself thinking back to these few short sessions with fondness and I realize now that in perfect conditions and with the addition of a maybe a beach outfit, the Isle of Wight could really be sea fishing heaven. The combination of being able to go after the micro species and bigger fish could produce some amazing captures as long as you can actually get out fishing and cope with the strong tides. Maybe in the future I might get a chance to put my theory into practice, possibly when young BB is a bit older and might want to come along for a go himself should we go back.