23/10/2020 - A bleak outlook?

My better half is a teacher so, whilst the kids may have grown up, we are still tied to the school holidays if we want to go away anywhere. With Nottinghamshire being blessed with a two week, autumn half-term, the plan was to get away to see the in-laws down in Pembrokeshire and for me to get some more sea-fishing done after finding a couple of new spots in the summer. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 infections increasing again across the country, firstly Nottinghamshire was put under Tier 2 restrictions and then Wales went into their 17 day "fire break", so that was the end of that. Hugely disappointing as we have done everything as a family to remain "low risk", but understandable given that the NHS is under pressure once again. Rather than cancel my leave, we've stayed at home and made the best of it and have got out and explored the local countryside on foot. However, as I write this, we are now waiting to find out when, rather than if, our part of Nottinghamshire moves into Tier 3. The weather has also done it's best to put the boot in with rain and strong winds forecast for at least the next week or so. 

I therefore decided to make use of a window of opportunity on Friday, but even then the weather conditions limited my choice of venue. I would have loved to have had another crack at those canal zeds, but opted for somewhere a bit closer to home where I knew I would get some shelter from the stiff south-westerly wind. After some lunch I therefore headed to Soar Tackle at Kegworth for a pint of maggots before driving the short distance to the river, which was carrying a tinge of colour after some heavy showers earlier in the day. Walked upstream to my usual spot to find the level up and the river pushing through. However, the slower water on the inside of the crease looked perfectly fishable, although I could see that the number of leaves in the water was going to be a pain. 

Waded upstream slightly, so I could run the float down off the rod top without having to cast across the eddy on the inside. About second run down the float disappeared resulting in the first of many, many bleak! A lot of the time they must have been taking the hook bait on the drop and then just swimming along under the float, as a strike at the end of the trot invariably met with either a fish or a crushed and sucked maggot! With those numbers present it must have been hard for anything else to get a look in, but I did manage a few roach, dace and chub in amongst the pearlescent hordes. Interesting that bleak scales were once used to make artificial pearls, a process conceived by a certain Monsieur Jacquin in Paris in the 17th Century. Thames bleak fishermen were major exporters to France at the time, with 18,000 average-sized bleak yielding about 7lb of scales. Really? 

Firstly, the Thames must have been stuffed with them and secondly, it must have been incredibly tedious to catch and de-scale them! Back to present day, with that number of prey fish in the swim I figured that there must be some predators about, so the perch rod was deployed once more just off the crease in the slack to my right. 

However, despite there being a such a bleak banquet available, nobody appeared to be at the feast as this rod remained undisturbed for the rest of the session. Perhaps that was the problem? My bait could have been like a needle in a haystack for all I knew.The only other excitement came from the occasional, big clump of invasive pennywort that floating down through the swim like a green iceberg, presumably dislodged from upstream due to the higher flow. 

There's an ongoing and expensive battle by the authorities to control pennywort on the Soar by spraying with herbicide and on a bad year I've seen it render whole sections of the river unfishable due to the large mats of floating vegetation. Apparently a penny-wort munching, Argentinian weevil is possibly the solution, but still going through approval stages. Anyway, I carried on catching until I could no longer see the float and by which time I'd given up counting, not that I would have challenged a certain Hadrian Whittle. He managed to catch 2,100 bleak for a weight of 55lbs in a five hour match on the River Wye and then in a five hour, timed session for the Angling Times caught another 2,100 slightly larger bleak for 70lbs. I work that out to be a fish roughly every eight seconds! Apparently he went on to record five more match weights of bleak over 40lb. Assume he must have got repetetive strain injury and retired after that!

Headed home grateful to have got out, but a bit deflated - was that a last hurrah for a while? We shall have to wait to find out what Boris has in store for us next week.......

17/10/2020 - Like buses!

Going back through my diary I was shocked that my last zander session was nearly three years ago now and the last time I actually caught one was two years before that! That's been partly down to my obsession with grayling, but where on earth does the time go? With the perch proving elusive, I therefore decided that I needed to redresss the balance. Prospects for the weekend looked good so, with the freezer empty, I therefore had quick trip to the tackle shop to purchase some roach deadbaits and contribute to Mr Fickling's coffers in the process. 

Saturday arrived dull and overcast and with no wind so, after working up a sweat in the morning raking up leaves in the garden, I was raring to go. As my last few sessions on the Trent had been complete blanks I opted to head for a spot on the canal that had always been good for a few "schoolies" in the past. Got there at about 5 pm to find the area I wanted to fish was free, so set about getting some baits in the water. I still had to play "hokey-cokey" with a few late boats, including one that did a ten-point turn in my swim. 


This involved judicious use of reverse thrust that churned the water to the colour and consistency of mulligatawny soup and was performed by the driver whilst completely avoiding any eye contact! Eventually everything settled down and I was able to position my head-and-tailed offerings to my satisfaction just a few inches off the far-bank pilings, albeit with sunken rod tips to avoid the constant trickle of leaves floating down the canal. 
With it being overcast all day and with some colour in the water, I was hopeful of a bite before dark. However, sunset came and went and the normally productive period before darkness passed with just a couple of beeps on the right hand rod. 


About an hour into dark I had just texted the wife to say I was thinking of packing up when the
left-hand rod suddenly stuttered into life. 
Wound down into a fish that was immediately recognisable as a small zander from the manic head shakes. Unhooked him in the water and left him in the net while I quickly got the rod re-baited and back out again in case he had some friends. Had just taken a quick snap on the phone and popped him back when the right-hand rod went off. Again, wound down to what felt like a similar-sized zed. Had got this halfway back over the canal when the rod I'd only just re-cast went off as well! Bundled the first one into the net, dropped the rod then picked up the other one to feel something much heavier on the end. This fish didn't put up any resistance until it was nearly at my bank and, after a few big headshakes, I saw a long pale shape loom up onto the surface and scooped it into the net, where it dwarfed it's smaller companion. 

Unhooked them both in the water and put the smaller one straight back before having a bit of a breather! When I lifted the net out of the water onto the grass thoughts of a double crossed my mind, but in the torch light it looked long and lean. Scales confirmed a weight of 8lb 4oz - still a cracking looking fish with a big, full tail on it and easily my biggest canal zed. Had to make do with a snap on my phone having forgotten my camera in the rush to get fishing before popping him back. Took a few minutes after that to sort out the rods and get them re-baited and cast out again. Unfortunately, the pack must have already moved on as quickly as they had appeared as the next half an hour was biteless! Headed home at this point contemplating the thin line between success and failure, in this case the few minutes that made the difference between a blank and a PB. Can only go downhill from here!

29/09/2020 - A dearth of perch

Whilst the leaves haven't started falling in earnest, autumn seems to be well and truly upon us now. Green is slowly giving way to a pallette of yellows and oranges and everything just looks a bit brown and crispy around the edges. On my ritual 5 kilometre lap of self-punishment, my breath came out in clouds as I ran through cold hollows yet to be touched by the morning sun. However, by lunchtime it was back to t-shirt weather and just too nice to be trapped in front of the laptop, particularly given the wet weather that was forecast for the rest of the week. I also still had the best part of half a pint of maggots in the newly-acquired drinks (bait!) fridge, which was more than enough for what I had in mind. By mid-afternoon I'd finished all my work tasks for the day, so headed out of the door to a stretch of the River Soar that has produced some decent perch for me in the past - not monsters, but I've generally come away with at least one 2lb+ each session. Arriving at the venue I found two "yoofs" sat in the swim downstream of the spot I had in mind, but they were happy enough to let me drop in above them. 

Soon set about building up the swim, not only to get a few baits in the bucket, but also to attract any nearby predators. I'd been suffering from an unexplained, niggling soreness in my right shoulder over the last few days and the reason possibly became apparent when I flicked the stick float out underarm and then held the rod high to guide it down the run - too much trotting can give you RSI! Fortunately I was using my 11 foot Drennan Ultralite on this occasion, rather than my much heavier 13 foot outfit. 

Now discontinued, I'd been kicking myself that I'd also not invested in a longer Ultralite at the time, but perhaps I have a reason to justify the extra pennies on an Acolyte now! The cooler temperatures seemed to have thinned out the silver fish, so it took a bit of feeding before I was consistently catching some bleak, dace and roach. 


Didn't want to show my hand, so waited for my neighbours to pack up and leave before I put out the paternoster rod in the deeper water at the tail of the swim. Carried on trotting away, adding a few chub and more gudgeon (they are following me everywhere now) to the tally. 



After a few minutes I spotted some movement on the tip of the paternoster rod and was on it and pulling the line out of the clip before the bite alarm sounded. However, when I wound down there was nothing there apart from a bait-less hook. Popped the paternoster out into the same spot hoping it wasn't my only chance.

The next take was a far more positive affair - a slam down on the rod tip, the bobbin pinging against the back rod rest and line peeling off the spool. However, instead of the hoped for big perch, a long, green spotty shape loomed out of the depths before going ballistic on the surface, picking up the line of my hastily discarded float rod in the process. Popped the single size 6 out of his scissors in the net and then sent him quickly on his way as he already looked a bit beat up with marks and abrasions on both flanks. 
Whether this was due to previous poor handling or by a much bigger pike I couldn't really tell. By the time I'd sorted out the tangled mess of tackle and got fishing again the stickfloat line had gone quiet and it took the last of the maggots to stimulate a few more dace and chub into taking my hookbait. Left the paternoster rod out for a bit longer, but with nothing more doing I headed back home to cook the wife's birthday tea. Didn't leave entirely perch-less as I had a couple on the float rod, but one of these had only been as big as my thumb! This distinct lack of decent perch left me scratching my head a bit. Not the start of the predator campaign I was hoping for, but hopefully one that can only get better. 

21/09/2020 - Making hay....

Was in two minds whether to write this up or not as it was basically a carbon copy of my previous session and I wouldn't want my audience to think I'm getting a bit "samey". However, this is as much my own angling diary now as anything so even if I'm the only one that reads it there will be some benefit, not least because it helps me to justify the cost of the club book to myself every year! Anyway, looking at the calender and the weather forecast, this was my last chance to have a few hours on the river with the float rod and the 'pin before it got wetter and cooler. Therefore switched off the laptop at three o'clock, left the work mobile on the table and was out the door pronto, only stopping at Bridge Tackle at Long Eaton for some more of their super-sized grubs. When I arrived it seemed that the local "yoof" had the same idea, but for a different reason, as a gang of them were already stripping off to their swimming trunks near the footbridge.

Luckily the swim I had in mind was well upstream from them. Rather than rove around I was just planning to spend a couple of hours in the spot I ended up in last on my previous session, as this had been the most productive in terms of numbers of fish and species. Waded out at the tail of the island to mid-thigh so I could trot down the flow, which in the low water conditions was pushing down the far bank. River was gin clear again and there were big shoals of minnows everywhere. I fully expected these to become a pain in the arse once I'd started feeding a few maggots. However, after just a few casts, I had a nice grayling of the stamp I was hoping to be catching over the coming winter period. 

 

Carried on sending the stickfloat down the run, pausing only for a very polite canoeist and picking up a couple more grayling, along with a few dace, roach, perch and bleak in the process. As expected, it wasn't long before the loose feed started attracting attention, but not from the minnows. 


A shoal of small chub had moved in and were soon smashing into the maggots in a mini feeding frenzy as soon as they hit the surface of the water. Played around with my shotting pattern and float depth and managed to trick a couple, but the majority seemed to easily avoid my hookbait amongst the free offerings. You wouldn't think that they would be that picky, but I've since found an interesting article called "The Fall of the Maggot" discussing how different factors, including type of hook, age of maggot and hooking style, affect the "naturalness" of your hookbait here! Wasn't sure at this stage how much loose feed, if any, was actually making it past the surface and down through to anything else, so I moved about 50 yards downstream and started again. 

Had a few more chub and the biggest dace of the session before I got a text from the wife to say she was home from work and was ringing the dinner gong. Didn't have any gudgeon this time, but it was another short, enjoyable session. Give me a pint of maggots and a float rod and I'm happy as Larry. However, as much as I love catching "tiddlers", there's a big stripey or zed out there with my name on it somewhere.

15/09/2020 - A shiny new(ish) pin

Had about half a pint of maggots left over from my trip to the Soar, so decided to down tools at three o'clock and head for the River Derwent to try out my new centrepin. I'd felt for a while that a pin would give me more control over the float in the more pacier swims, so had a look on eBay for something affordable. Spotted an Ikonix that fitted the bill, used once according to the description and still its box. Whilst not a true pin, with the spool running on two bearings, it received good reviews when it came out with a clutch of similar "affordable" centrepins a few years ago. At less than half the original price including postage I duly hit the "buy now" button. Wasn't disappointed when it arrived - with a smart brass finish and wooden handles it was very light and free running and already spooled up with new Maxima! 

At the river there was only one other car in the car park and that belonged to a chap fly fishing the run at the downstream end of the section. He'd also only just arrived and had yet to catch anything. I therefore had a wander upstream to try a spot I'd found on my previous visit, where a shallow riffle at the tail of the weirpool split around an island and dropped into a small pool. I was sweating in my chesties by the time I got there due to the unseasonably warm day, so it was a relief to get into the water! 

Holding the float back hard by feathering the reel with my thumb I had several bites just as the maggots dangled over the "drop off". Some of these were so fast I felt them on the rod tip before my eyes had even registered that the float had shot away!





















However, even with my dull reflexes, I managed several dace and chub and a solitary grayling before the swim went quiet and I headed back downstream to try some proper trotting on a long, steady run. Again the reel performed really well, with the 4BB stick easily getting the spool spinning, and I soon got the knack of flicking the drag on with my forefinger to stop over-runs when I was un-hooking a fish or re-baiting. 






















Had a few more dace and chub before I moved again down to the run where my fellow angler had been fishing when I arrived. He was just packing up having not had anything on the fly and pronouncing the swim "dead". However, first trot down I had another grayling! 

 



















After a few more casts I'd added bleak, roach and perch to my tally, along with half a dozen gudgeon.

Having not come across this species since the formative days of my youth fishing the canals and park ponds in and around Birmingham, it was great to see that these handsome  "mini-barbel" are present in at least two of my local rivers. Along with the masses of fry and minnows that seem to be everywhere at the moment, to catch seven different species again in another short float session would also appear to be a good indicator of the current health of both of those rivers. 

Would have happily carried on into dark, but I was getting plagued by viscious little, grey mosquitoes that left me with several bites on my face and elbows. However, that didn't detract from another enjoyable session. I was also very pleased with the new pin, so perhaps I won't put the float rod away just yet. Just need to remember the Jungle Juice next time!   

12/09/2020 - Bagging up on the float again

Can't believe it has been nearly a month since I last wet a line, but work and home life have been incredibly busy and time seems to be on permanent fast-forward at the moment. As much as I have enjoyed working at home during the current COVID-19 crisis, the days do tend to get blurry at the edges! In an attempt to slow things down a bit I'd earmarked last Thursday afternoon for a session on the river, but even that fell through last minute as work intervened yet again. I had a new purchase to try out as well. Not happy that I was fishing the pacier swims on the Derwent as effectively as possible with the fixed spool and with my trusty Speedia permanently attached to the Drennan Ultralite, I'd purchased an Ikonix centrepin at a bargain price off Fleabay. Thankfully, my very understanding wife suggested that I go out on Saturday instead, thereby foregoing a trip with her up to the allotment to do a few hours digging and rotavating. Tough choice, as normally a few worms is the scant reward for a stiff back! 





















However, a stiff breeze from the west dictated that I travelled over to the relative shelter of the Soar at Kegworth rather than the Derwent again, where the downstream wind would have made it tricky with the new pin - that would have to stay in the box for now. Headed up to my usual sheltered and shaded spot in the wood and stationed myself on the edge of the flow, marked by the line of foam generated by the weir upstream. Running the stick float down with the bubbles I was into a bleak straight away. 





















As on previous visits it was a bite a chuck, resulting in yet more bleak, occasionally interspersed with a dace or chub, or a crushed maggot, requiring constant re-baiting on my part. 





















Increasing the depth on the float and continuing to loose feed saw a subtle shift in species, with roach becoming dominant and, on the odd occasion where my underarm cast fell a bit short and the bait scraped the bottom, the odd skimmer and very welcome gudgeon. 

Having got the swim going I positioned the paternoster rod in the slack to my right, hoping that a big stripey was hanging around on the fringes ready to pick off an unsuspecting silver fish. Carried on catching steadily for a couple of hours, by which time my bait pouch was empty and I couldn't face clambering up and down the bank to fill it up again. Whilst I had some small perch on the float, the paternoster rod failed to register any interest for once, even from the usual "nuisance" pike. Never the less, I'd had seven species from a still productive River Soar, the final score being 45 roach, 34 bleak, 21 dace, 10 chub, 3 perch, 2 "gonks" and a skimmer! With some calm, warm days still to come and a much less busy work calender, prospects look good for another float session on the Derwent with the new pin, before things start to cool down and thoughts turn in earnest to the pursuit of some predators.

14/08/2020 - Back in freshwater

Managed to get to Friday afternoon before I'd had enough of work for the day - a hard negotiated hour's access to a virtually deserted office (very weird) to do some essential scanning and printing, followed by collating and filing back at home. I hate admin at the best of times, but it had been building since March and needed to be done. However, my brain was numb by three o'clock, so I downed tools, stuck the float rod, chesties and bag of bits in the car and headed to Bridge Tackle in Long Eaton for a pint of maggots. A little while later, I was standing thigh deep in the Derwent, running a stick float down mid-river. It had been overcast all day, but the sun had decided to come out just as I was pulling my waders in the car park, so the cool water felt like bliss after a very hot walk upstream. Unfortunately, in contrast to my previous visit, the river was also very low and like tapwater, with the gravel bottom clearly visible across to the other bank. Was therefore surprised when the float disappeared first trot down, resulting in a nice dace. 





















Added a few roach, chub, perch and bleak before bites started to slow down, presumably as the fish started to get spooked. I had also bumped or lost a few fish on the way in, which couldn't have helped. A change from the size 16 barbless Kamasan that I was using to it's barbed equivalent seemed to solve that. The kingfisher on the far bank on the other hand didn't seem to have any trouble nailing his supper - there was plenty of fry in the margins for him to go at - and at one stage I had a noisy fly-by from two of them, mates or rivals I couldn't tell.

Gave myself ten more trots down without attracting another bite before I walked a bit further upstream to the weir to see if the fish were up in the oxygenated water. Was also keen to see how it looked in low flow conditions. However, with all the flow funnelling down the far bank and causing a big back eddy on the near bank, complete with the slowly rotating, bloated corpse of a dead frog, it wasn't really conducive for trotting. 

A bit further downstream I forced my way through head high Himalyan balsam, buzzing with pollen-dusted bees, to find that the river had split around an exposed gravel bar with the main flow going to the right. By standing on the end of the bar and running the float down the slower water to the left of the crease formed when the river converged, I had a few more chub, dace and a bonus brownie.

Again the bites dried up after a bit, so I walked back downstream only to find that the next spot I had got my eye on, a nice run along the edge of the far bank trees made possible by the lower water levels, had subsequently been occupied by a barbel angler. Had a quick chat, filing away the information gleaned, before moving a little further downstream to try the pipe bridge. However, here my maggot hookbait was getting mullered every trot down by either tiny chub or bleak, something I soon got fed up with! 


Finally, as the light began to fade I found myself on the gravels where I was able to wade well across mid-river and run my float down close to the far bank, picking up more chub and perch in the process. 





















Ended on the best perch of the day before heading back to the car, picking up the cans and food wrappers left by the youths that had been jumping off the footbridge when I had arrived. Nice one lads!