05/03/2019 - Thank goodness for grayling, but where have all the pike gone?

Couldn't help thinking that my timing and hence the conditions weren't quite right the last time I went pike fishing, so there were to be no excuses this time. The day I picked was overcast, but still mild, the river was at normal, winter level and clear - what could go wrong?

As I headed upstream from the car park at first light there wasn't even a breath of wind and, as the sun slowly crept over the horizon, the surface of the river became a mirror. Even more puzzling then that the two, fresh dead baits that I placed carefully in the margins failed to attract any attention for at least the first hour. When a take did come it was savage, the downstream float disappearing with an almost audible "plop", swiftly followed by the "smack" of the bite indicator hitting the back rod rest. 

Unfortunately, whatever had grabbed my lamprey section had not taken it down sufficiently for the hooks to take a proper hold, so my strike met with only momentary resistance and then nothing. A quick glance at the still bloody lamprey and it was put back right in the same place. A couple of minutes later and the float disappeared again, darting away under the surface - same fish or a travelling companion? This time the hooks found a purchase and a jack soon graced the net. Blank avoided! Leapfrogged the rods downstream with increasing frequency as runs failed to materialise and my impatience grew. Eventually, a rod placed over next to a boat on the far bank resulted in another jack. 

With him sat in the net in the margins awaiting unhooking I wound in the the other rod and recast it over to the far bank. Tempting fate? Yep! As I went back to deal with the pike in the net, another decided to make off with the smelt I'd literally re-positioned seconds ago. Got the hooks out and the fish back in the water as quickly as possible, but the bait had already been dropped and the chance had gone. Frustrated, I threw everything back in the car and drove a short distance downstream to try and salvage something from my morning off. However, my normally reliable swims failed to produce and I headed home disappointed, but also very troubled. Where on earth have all the pike gone? 

Over the next few days work and the weather conspired to prevent me going out again until, finally, a short window of opportunity appeared one afternoon. Leaving the office at 3 o'clock and armed with a pint of maggots I headed out with the float road once again to the River Derwent. Arriving to find a couple of cars already in the car park I walked to the only spot that I knew would be fully sheltered from the brisk prevailing wind. Thankfully the swim was free, but there were two anglers just upstream. Went to check that they were okay with me dropping in just below them, but found they were packing up not having had anything on the feeder all day - "not even a grayling"! Undeterred, I got set up and waded out into position as they headed off. The river was gin clear and I could easily see the bottom off the end of the rod top. However, second trot down the float disappeared and I was into my first fish! 

Carried on trotting away until I couldn't see the float any longer and the cold had started to seep through my neoprenes. Whilst the bites hadn't been prolific, I had still managed to catch ten nice grayling in a couple of hours. Headed back to the car, my satisfaction tempered slightly by the thought that this might be the end of my river season. Oh well, perhaps the weather won't be as crap as it's meant to be?!

18/02/2019 - Short sessions, meagre rewards

Tried to make the most of the crazy weather last week by slotting in a few, short predator sessions. First up was on Thursday to a section of the River Soar that I'd neglected last season, but one I'd previously done well on at this time of year. However, there was no "Valentine's Day Massacre" on this occasion! Arrived at first light to find the river had fined down to a perfect level after the rain at the weekend, but rather surprisingly it was still carrying quite a bit of colour. Walked up to my usual starting point and quietly dropped a couple of float-legered deadbaits in the margin, a joey mackerel upstream and a smelt downstream.

I find that keeping an eye on two floats can sometimes be like watching tennis, so I always go belt and braces and fish the rods with bite alarms and drop offs. This gives me several visual and audible clues, i.e. a tremble on the float, a nod on the rod top, the bite alarm and, failing all of that, the "thwack" of the drop-off hitting the rear rest! However, for the first hour everything remained ominously stationary or silent. Was therefore just contemplating a move when I saw the upstream float bob a couple of times. Stood poised over the rod expectantly waiting for the float to go waddling off, but it never happened, so wound in and checked the bait. Apart from a couple of puncture marks it was fine, so it went out underarm into the same spot. This time I didn't even have time to sit down before the float showed a bit more determined interest from below. Waited until it was definitely on the move before winding down into the first fish of the day. 

Thought that might be sign that the pike might be waking up but, apart from another dithering take that didn't amount to anything, it was deathly quiet for the next hour or so. I had moved some way downstream and had put one of the baits over to the far bank at this stage and it was this one that was finally picked up. Wound down and bent into a fish, but only stayed connected for a few seconds before the hooks pulled out. Almost immediately the downstream rod in the near margin shot off. Wound down to a much better fish, the rod staying arched over against a solid weight, but agonisingly contact was again short-lived as the hooks failed to get a decent purchase. Was sick as a parrot to lose two fish in such a short space of time on a day where bites were at a premium and a small jack at the death was little compensation. The next day after work I was back on the river on a section further downstream eager for a better result. 

Clarity had much improved and, apart from it being a baking hot afternoon, conditions looked good. Hedged my bets this time by fishing small roach deadbaits on my 1.75 lb specialists. Still adequate to land the stamp of pike that might be present, but a bit more refined should a zander show up after dark. Had a dropped run on my upstream rod within 5 minutes before the downstream rod, fished alongside a bed of rushes on the near bank, tore off. The resulting pike made mincemeat of my thumb in the unhooking process, so the rest of the session was spent with a handkerchief wrapped round it as a makeshift field dressing! Leapfrogged the rods downstream and had another pike as it was getting dark. This one looked to have had a recent and very lucky encounter with a much bigger fish, which made me question my choice of bait and tackle. However, either the big girl wasn't about, or she wasn't interested in my paltry offerings. 

Moved into the final swim, a deep bend with some barges moored on the far bank, where I thought a zed might be lurking. Unfortunately the only only excitement was when a considerate chap decided to clear a whole winter's worth of debris that had accumulated against his houseboat immediately upstream. Luckily I spotted the resulting floating "island" in the gloom just in time to get both rods out of the way before it wiped them out. 
Final session was on Sunday morning on the River Trent near Long Eaton. I knew very little about this part of the river other than, several years ago, a friend had fluked a 20 lb pike on a boilie meant for barbel (not surprisingly, no amount of persuading on my part at the time could convince him that it didn't count).  Also, the deeper, pikey-looking swims were right at the bottom end of the section, which involved a bit of a slog from the car park. 

Got there at first light to find a bivvy installed in one of the swims. Checked with the sleepy occupant that it was okay to drop in downstream and soon had two baits out in the margin. Again, conditions seemed perfect, but an hour later I'd had no interest so made a move. My fellow angler was packing up at his stage after an unsuccessful night after the barbel, so I stopped for a quick chat. He mentioned that somebody had been pike fishing the swim I'd been in the previous day and that they'd had just the one jack, which had been very badly deep-hooked. Tried a couple of swims upstream, but that news and the presence of empty beer cans, Finlandia vodka bottles and discarded, home-made landing net did little for my confidence, so I was back home a lot earlier than planned.

It would be nice to get a big girl before the end of the season, but time is running out and there's still so much to do!!

25/01/2019 - Best laid plans...

I'm usually meticulous in my session planning given my limited free time, but today I got things badly wrong. The plan was to have another day out in Staffordshire on a River Dove tributary. A quick check yesterday indicated that the river was dropping nicely down to the "perfect" level and, whilst there was a bit of rain forecast overnight, I didn't think it was enough to worry about. Set off before first light and arrived at about 0830 hrs, having had to negotiate a couple of hold ups on the A50. At first glance the river looked to be carrying a bit of colour, but was at a nice level, so I headed to the upstream limit and started fishing. Had a nice grayling early on, but then struggled for bites and it wasn't until I was in my third swim when I noticed that the river clarity and colour had significantly changed for the worst. A quick check of river levels on the phone confirmed that I was fishing on a rapidly rising river, presumably as a result of the overnight rain being more significant than I realised. Idiot! Rather than struggle on I headed back to the car to consider my options, kicking myself all the way for not double checking before leaving this morning. 

The River Dove was closest, but a stiff downstream wind would have made things difficult at my preferred venue, so I ended up heading all the way back along the A50 to Derby and to the River Derwent again - where I probably should have been two hours earlier! 

The weather was pretty grim when I arrived - grey, damp and miserable - which didn't improve my mood. I was also probably a bit under-gunned for the bigger river with my 11ft Drennan Ultralite and light stick float setup. However, got togged up again and headed for the long glide that I'd fished the previous weekend. Whilst the river was up slightly, the clarity was good, so I started fishing with renewed optimism. However, after about an hour stood in the drizzle and with just a couple of small grayling to to show for my efforts, I was ready to pack up. Instead, I decided to head upstream to find a bit of slower paced water where I could be a bit more confident that my bait was where it should be, i.e. on the bottom. Dropped in above the big tree again. However, where I had been able to wade well over halfway across the river on previous visits, the higher level meant I could only wade to the edge of the tree-line. 

However, it also meant that there was a nice depth with an even pace close in - just what I was looking for. 

Had a couple of small grayling straight away, but it wasn't until the last hour of daylight that they really seemed to switch on. At one stage I noticed fish boiling on the surface where I'd thrown in some loose feed. Thinking they were dace I watched a bit more closely and realised that they were actually grayling, coming off the bottom and intercepting the maggots before they sank. Sure enough, I had a flurry of fish, including several on the drop right in front of me. By the time the light had faded and the chill had finally got through my layers I'd had another ten grayling, so I was quite glad that I had persevered. 

Headed back to the car feeling a bit better about my day, but I won't be making such a schoolboy error again!

20/01/2019 - Off to the river again

If the "meteorologists" at the Daily Mirror are to be believed, it appears that we are heading for the next Ice Age. However, to be fair, nobody seems to be able to predict the weather at the moment. Whilst there were various forecasts of rain, snow and sub-zero temperatures over the weekend, the reality at first light this morning was a bearable 4 degrees Centigrade and not a breath of wind. For a brief period, as the rising sun bridged the gap between the horizon and the blanket of low cloud, it was glorious. It even made the local power station look good. 

The maggots I'd left in the garage from last week had survived surprisingly well, so I'd already decided that I'd return for another short session on the River Derwent whatever the weather. The benign conditions were therefore a welcome bonus and meant that I could have another go at the attractive, long glide that I'd been forced off by the wind last weekend. Even better, an empty car park indicated that I had the whole section to myself.

 With hindsight, upon arrival at the top of the glide, I made the mistake of wading in straight away to fish the faster, deeper water over towards the far bank. I also made the fundamental error of not changing the hook link, the rod still made up from the last session, as I lost three decent fish in quick succession to hook pulls! Having got the message and changed the hook link I moved a few yards downstream. However, this time I chose not to wade in and just ran the float down the inside off the rod tip. 

Second trot down the float disappeared and I was into my first grayling of the day. Several more followed from that inside line and when that dried up, I waded out a bit further to try another one.

Carried on in that vein and by the time I'd reached the end of the glide I'd had fifteen grayling in a range of sizes to just over a pound.

Had a quick look at a swim further downstream but, whilst there was a nice depth and a smooth, even flow, the bottom looked sandy and pretty featureless. After a couple of unsuccessful exploratory casts I was therefore itching to try somewhere else, so headed upstream and dropped into a swim I'd fished before, another nice glide down to a large, overhanging tree. Five more grayling followed before things went quiet there as well and my self-imposed rule of "ten casts without a fish" saw me move once more. 

Unfortunately my hooking issues returned in the next swim with the first two fish coming off, before I eventually made another grayling and my last fish of the morning stick. Gave my last few maggots to a robin that had been waiting patiently in the bushes behind me and headed home for a late breakfast of my own.

13/01/19 - Storm after the calm

Spent all week at work this week looking forlornly out of the window at near perfect conditions for trotting on the river knowing that I would not be able to get out until Sunday at the earliest. To rub salt into the wound, the weather forecast wasn't looking great, with rain and blustery winds barrelling in from the West. Well, at least it was going to be mild! Had a think about where I could find a few, sheltered spots to run the float through and decided on the River Derwent near Draycott, which had the benefit of being only 15 minutes from home if conditions turned out to be completely unbearable.

As I got out of the car I was greeted by gusts and a fine drizzle, so headed upstream to where the trees and high banks would hopefully shield me from the worst of the weather. There had been one other car in the car park when I arrived and as I waded in to start fishing the first swim I spotted my fellow angler tucked into the spot immediately upstream!

After making a hasty apology it transpired he was chucking a feeder to the far bank, so wasn't bothered about me trotting the inside line. Started off with double maggot on a size 16 Drennan widegape, but with no immediate interest I soon changed to a single maggot on a size 18. A bit later the float buried and I had my first fish of the morning - a grayling that somehow got the line lassoed around it's tail during the fight and was dragged unceremoniously into the net backwards.

Carried on for another half an hour, but after just one more grayling and a bumped fish I moved downstream to the next spot. Had three more grayling fairly quickly before that swim apparently died as well. My fellow angler by this time had decided he'd had enough and had trudged past me without any acknowledgement, so took that as a sign that he'd not enjoyed his morning in the wind and rain! However, I decided to soldier on and moved downstream yet again. Again, it was a question of a couple of quick grayling then nothing, so it was obvious that the fish were well spread out, or not feeding hard, or both. En route to the next swim, a long glide that I'd earmarked earlier on the the way upstream, I bumped into another chap who was also fishing for the grayling, but with the fly rod. Stopped and had a chat and learned he'd had some success on the fly last season before wishing him luck and carrying on.

The wind had changed direction slightly by now and was gusting straight downstream, which was making it difficult to keep track of the float. However, I'd managed another three grayling when the float buried and I hooked into what was obviously the biggest fish of the day. Unfortunately, my joy was short-lived as the hook pulled out, making me rue my decision of dropping a hook size. I'd like to think it was a chub, but the brief fight told me otherwise. To rub it in, next cast I probably caught the smallest grayling in the river! Carried on until the strong gusts got ridiculous, having added a solitary, fat dace to the total, then headed home for some well-deserved lunch. 

28/12/2018 - Festive fishy fun and frustration!

Christmas this year was spent with the in-laws in Pembrokeshire. Knowing that the car would be packed to the gunnels I'd taken the precaution of leaving some tackle when we were down at the end of November. With Christmas Day festivities and Boxing Day recovery out of the way, I made plans to fit a couple of sessions into an early morning window between sunrise and high tide while everybody else was still in bed. 

Took advantage of the hour difference in tide times to travel up to the north coast first of all, knowing that I could fish the same state of the tide the following morning down on the Haven. Left bright and early and was in Goodwick before sunrise. Popped into the local garage to stock up with some more mackerel and mini-squid from their freezer, before heading along to the end of the breakwater. 

The large number of crab and lobster pots placed close to the breakwater meant that I was limited to fishing off the rock apron to the right of the beacon again, but I wasn't too concerned given my success there last time. Set up a one up, one down two hook flapper baited with mackerel strip tipped with squid on my first rod. Lobbed this out before setting up a pennel rig with a more substantial offering of a mackerel fillet and squid "sausage" on the other. 

However, the tip of the scratching rod had already started rattling and I wound in to find a double shot of small whiting on the end. Got them unhooked and popped them into my new Tronixpro "dry feet" bucket (a Christmas present from the kids) to recover.

This proved to be a real boon over the session and meant that the seagulls were deprived of any easy pickings! I'd had a few more "pins" when I noticed three positive pull downs on the pennel rod and wound down into a fish. Not the codling I was wishing for, but a feisty little doggy instead.

Had two more of these, one on the pennel and one on the flapper, and a few more small whiting in the couple of hours up to high tide, when everything went a bit quiet. The only further action was when I had a pull down on the flapper rod and wound down to feel a passive weight on the end. As I pumped the lead up and over the weed fringe a big edible crab appeared hanging onto the bottom hook......and then promptly dropped off! Packed up and headed back for breakfast against the tide of dog walkers.

The following morning I was off again before first light down to Milford Haven. I had been in two minds whether to go back to Goodwick, but I'd seen a couple of reports online from before Christmas that suggested there might be a few fish about. Set up out the back of the car about halfway along the sea wall. Tactics and baits were the same as the previous day - the scratching rig close in and the pennel lobbed out as far as I could. Over the next couple of hours I was kept busy re-baiting, but for the wrong reason - flippin' crabs! The little buggers absolutely demolished the fish baits, stripping the hooks on the flapper rig and whittling the bigger bait on the pennel rig down in minutes. Stuck it out for the two hours up to high tide, but with little confidence and the grim realisation that I should have indeed gone to Goodwick! Yet another blank at Milford - the Haven hoodoo continues........

11/12/2018 - Birthday ritual

This morning I headed off into deepest Staffordshire for what is becoming a bit of a birthday ritual for me - a day's grayling fishing on a small tributary of the River Dove. River levels were fining down nicely to normal level after the rain at the weekend and, whilst I had to scrape a bit of ice off the windscreen, it promised to be a fine day with little in the way of wind. Set off to find that junction 25 of the M1 was rammed already, so did a quick detour around Derby and was at the venue just after first light. Headed across the fields towards the upstream limit with the usual mixture of eager anticipation and niggling worry that conditions somehow wouldn't be right. However, first sight of the river confirmed that it was running at an ideal level with just a tinge of colour evident in the deeper sections. Club work parties and the river itself had done some "re-modelling" in my absence, but the top pool was as I had left it several months ago. Was soon running a couple of maggots through the swim with the 'pin and third or fourth cast I had my first grayling of the day in the net. 

Very next cast I struck into something a lot more solid that thumped a couple of times before shooting off downstream, putting a nice bend in the Ultralite in the process. Managed to stop it and get some line back when the hook pulled out! I couldn't be sure what it was, but hoped it was a big brownie rather than one of the mythical 2lb grayling that I've yet to catch from this particular river. Continued to work the whole pool with the float taking a handful more grayling, including one bearing the obvious scar of a lucky encounter with an avian predator, before moving onto the next swim and starting again. 

However, despite the seemingly perfect conditions I found it slow going up until lunchtime, adding just a few more grayling and a single chub to the tally. Drew a head-scratching blank in several "banker" swims where I would have put money on fish being in residence and was just pestered by minnows in others. Had the added frustration of striking into another decent fish that felt like a brick bouncing on the rod top before the usually reliable Drennan widegape pulled out.

Fortunately, after a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, things started to pick up and I started to drop on some fish in numbers as I continued to work my way slowly downstream. The sun also came out, which was a mixed blessing as it meant I could shed my coat, but made tracking the float in some of the swims a bit tricky in the glare. Ensured that I left myself about an hour of daylight in my favourite pool towards the bottom of the section where I knew there was a chance of a few species other than just the grayling. Stayed there trotting away until it was literally too dark to see the float any more.

Finished with 45 grayling in a range of sizes up to 35 cm, three dace and a couple of chub. Was frustrated by the loss of two good fish, but it just adds to the mystery of this ever-changing little river and gives renewed hope that there's a two pounder in there with my name on it. That would be a rare and special fish indeed.