22/05/2022 - LRF fail and an urban brownie bonanza

I was down in Saunton with friends this weekend and our visit happened to co-incide with some favourable looking tides, so the LRF gear was thrown in the car along with the wetsuits and walking gear. 

Friday night was spent catching up over a veggie chilli and several glasses of red wine, so I was a bit bleary eyed the following morning as I sneaked out of  the bungalow to a dawn chorus of snoring coming from various rooms and made the short trip up to Ilfracombe. The sun was just peeping over the headland when I pulled up at the harbour and it was still chilly enough to require a coat. Made my way down to the un-occupied lower deck of the pier under the watchful eye of Damien Hirst's "Verity", got tackled up and was soon watching my gulp-baited rig descend into the depths. Tightened up and waited for the tell-tale rattle on the rod tip that could signal the interest of a number of potential species caught there previously.

In the past this has included wrasse, gobies, blennies, scorpions, pouting, pollack, poor cod, smelt and whiting. However, an hour and a half later I packed up after failing to attract a single bite! It was a very dejected angler that had to explain his complete failure to his mates several times over when he arrived back at the bungalow for breakfast. I didn't even contemplate a return the following morning after that. Instead I headed to the tiny River Caen in Braunton for some urban trouting. I had brought my 0 - 5 gramme rated lure rod paired with a 1000 size reel loaded with 4lb braid. A short leader of 3lb fluorocarbon and a 0.5 gramme, size 12 pink tungsten jig-head baited with a small dendrobaena hooked "wacky-style" completed the simple set-up. 

Dropped into the river in my chesties near the fish ladder that marks the boundary with the tidal reach and slowly waded upstream looking for likely spots to pitch the worm into, avoiding the larger pieces of inevitable urban debris. The river was quite low and very clear, so I concentrated on the deeper runs that had some broken water and bankside cover to conceal me from my prospective prey. Tossed the worm up to the head of the first run and left it drift back towards me. It had only travelled a couple of feet when a little brownie shot from out from under an overhang and nailed it. 

Unhooked and popped him back and repeated the process next cast with a slightly bigger one that again hammered the worm a bit further down the drift. Carried on from there in the same vein, getting bites out of most of the spots I tried, but not always connecting with the lightening taps on the rod tip - the worm getting shortened by degrees by tiny teeth. 

Reached the biggest pool on the section and was just sneaking into position when I got a surprise enquiry of "how are you getting on?" from the opposite bank. Looked up to see a chap with full fly fishing gear - the only other angler I've ever seen on the river. 

He didn't appear to take umbrage at my unconventional approach and we took a few minutes to have a chat and swap information - he'd been fishing further upstream and had caught a few brownies rising to some mayfly - before he headed off. Resumed fishing but the pool surprisingly only appeared to hold little 'uns, so moved on once again, passing under a graffiti-covered bridge onto a straight, featureless section running alongside and about ten feet below the Tarka Trail. 

Despite the lack of cover the shallow riffles were covered in fingerling trout and a worm cast as far upstream as I could with the light gear was mercilessly harried as it trundled back towards me. Was in my own little world, the people passing on the path a few feet above my head completely oblivious to my presence. However, I was also rapidly getting through my stock of bait, so waited until I had got to the head of the section where the river changed direction by 90 degrees and had undercut the bank as a result before casting in again. Quickly had two more brownies out of this spot, including the best of the morning, before snagging up and snapping off the hookpoint of my last and very battered jighead. 

The sun had come out now and with the knowledge that my friend from earlier had probably covered the water upstream of this point I decided to call it a day. Had had a total of thirteen pristine, wild Devon brownies, been mugged by at least as many again and had some great fun. Was therefore a different story when I returned to the bungalow later that morning!

12/04/2022 - And now for some completely different...

Spent the first few weeks of the closed season catching up with other things, including getting back into my running and working on a "secret" family project (soon to be revealed) that will also have knock-on benefits for fishing trips in future. Easter holidays then came 'round, which obviously meant an obligatory few days down at the in-laws in Pembrokeshire so, despite a mediocre weather forecast and the tides being all wrong, I popped the LRF gear in the car. 

With a stiff breeze coming from the northwest on Saturday, I headed over to Milford Haven having had to scrape the ice off my windscreen before I left. Arrived about two hours after low, but found that only the very end of the pier had sufficient depth to be fishable. Worked through various rigs and baits (including some left-over dendras!) over the next hour or so for a solitary shanny before packing it in. Next morning the wind had swung 'round and was coming from the south-east, so scraped the ice off the car again and headed to Pembroke Dock on the opposite side of the Haven figuring that I couldn't do any worse than the day before. Had a bit more depth to play with off the old car ramp, so was feeling a bit more confident. 

However, whilst I attracted a few more bites, the only fish that appeared to be interested were the ubiquitous rock gobies in their various colour forms. Had a think about other options while I was stood shivering in the wind and a spot of LRF trouting sprang to mind. Unfortunately, as most Pembrokeshire rivers are noted for their salmon and sea trout they are tied up by syndicates or available on a day ticket that would cost the same as a club book in the Midlands. I would also run the risk of getting lynched if I turned up with a lure rod! 

However, on my travels 'round the county I had built up a mental list of potential "orphaned" sections where, due to their dubious locations, any formal fishing interest would be extremely unlikely and decided to have a look at one of these on the way home. Next to a main road and sandwiched between a McDonalds, a dairy and a sewage works, I was pleasantly surpised to find a little stream full of riffles and pools running through a narrow strip of un-managed woodland. A layby provided convenient parking and allowed swift and surreptitious access down to the bankside. Therefore returned early the following morning, parked up and slipped down the embankment into the wood when the coast was clear. 

It had rained overnight, so the stream was carrying a bit of colour - runoff from the surrounding urban area - but it didn't concern me as I had a tub full of worms, replenished from the father-in-law's compost heap. Tackle was simple, consisting of 6lb braid mainline, a 4lb flourocarbon leader and a size 12, 0.5 gram, tungsten jig-head. Making like a heron to avoid being spotted, both by any fish and the drivers queuing at the traffic lights behind me, I hooked on a worm whacky-style and flicked it down the first run. 

Allowed it to swing into the bank before hopping it back upstream. Second cast it got whacked and any attempt at concealment was abandoned as I played and then swung a pristine wild brownie to hand. 

Slowly worked my way downstream flicking the jig into any likely spots, losing a couple in the process to the odd piece of urban junk littering the bed, the only witness to this being a dipper whizzing industriously back and forth. Had another brownie from under some tree roots before coming across a much bigger pool formed by the flow by-passing a broken down and blocked weir. 

Looked to be a few fish in residence as I had pulls and rattles as soon as the worm hit the deck. Landed a couple more brownies before hooking an unexpected little bar of silver, which I guessed to be a sea trout smolt on his way down to the estuary whilst transitioning into his ocean-going coat. Popped him quickly back and wished him well, then carried on downstream, picking up another little brownie and losing a couple of fish through my cack-handedness. Eventually the inevitable happened and I snagged up on the bottom again, losing my leader and another jig head in the process. Felt I'd thrown enough in the way of pound coins in the river for one day, so didn't bother tackling up again.  

Snuck back to the car, although the two other drivers now parked in the layby didn't show any interest in me at all. Vowed to return again and try for some more brownies amongst the bikes and shopping trollies, although a quick look on the web revealed size 12 tungsten jig heads to be rare as rocking horse shit, so perhaps a split shot rig would be more cost effective next time.

14/03/2022 - Trout like maggots

Felt strangely apathetic when I woke up this morning given that it was the last day of the river season. Didn't help that we'd flashed down to see the in-laws in Pembrokeshire at the weekend and I'd stupidly crocked my back by trying to be helpful and doing a few jobs in the yard, so wasn't feeling 100%. 

However, after a leisurely breakfast, a strong coffee and a couple of paracetamol I decided to throw some tackle, including my float and quiver tip rods, into the van and see how the day developed. Had it in mind to head to the River Dove anyway following a tip about some decent grayling captures from my friend Dai, but on a complete whim I opted to try a club section upstream of Rocester that I'd never been to before. Limited to just two members at any one time there was a chance that I'd get it all to myself and so it proved. Standing on the bridge in the early morning sun I could see all the way up to the top of the section and it looked perfect for trotting - steady pace with a nice green tinge as the water deepened in the centre of the channel - so struggled into my chesties and headed upstream. 

It turned out to be a bit streamy right up the top end, so dropped into the river a little way back downstream where it had flattened out and dropped to a brisk walking pace.

Started trotting away and on about the second run down had a small, but perfectly formed, grayling. Quickly added a few more before I caught the inevitable brownie. Somebody had obviously forgotten to tell them that their season didn't start for another few days as they became an absolute pain in the arse. 

At one stage they threatened to overwhelm the number of grayling I was catching and at this point I think I would have been forced to go elsewhere. Thankfully the grayling count kept ticking over and I started to catch some better fish although sadly quite a few had bird damage, including what turned out to be the best fish of the day - a male with a split dorsal and big stab wound in his back. 

Whilst I was fishing a pair of very vocal greater spotted woodpeckers were getting frisky in the trees opposite me and I saw a dipper heading upstream with what looked like a large beakful of material for its nest - something they take very seriously, taking as long as a month to build a large domed structure of moss, grass and leaves on a ledge or in a crevice over running water. A less welcome sign of spring were the viscious green nettle tops peeking through the grass, several of which I found with my exposed wrists and hands whilst clambouring out of the river on all fours (still tingling a day later). More unexpected was the cheery "hello!" that came from the opposite bank. 

Looked up to see two middle-aged ladies carrying towels and watched them head a bit further upstream where they divested themselves of their robes to reveal swimming costumes and then jumped in the river! 

They must have been hardy souls as I was able to vouch for the fact that the river was still flippin' cold. Lulled into a false sense of security by the weather forecast I had negelected to put on my thermals on this morning, so was losing feeing in my legs after  an hour or so. I was therefore glad when the bites dried up giving me chance to sit in the sun to warm back up a bit. Moved a little way downstream and scrabbled down the bank into my next spot where something had made a recent snack of  large signal crayfish. 

This swim gave me a much longer run down towards some trees so was able to give the Acolyte a proper test, the only limitation to how far I could let the float go being my crap eyesight. 

The extra length made it easy to pick the line up on the strike at distance and I only bumped a handful of fish all day. Equally, playing fish all the back way upstream was no problem even when I managed to "t-bone" a decent trout, hooking it right in the middle of it's back, which lead me to believe for a few stomach-churning minutes that I'd got the mother of all grayling on the end of my line! Had only meant to fish until lunchtime, then go and get some food and perhaps try somewhere else. 

However, time had absolutely flown by as I'd been enjoying the fishing and surroundings so much - even when the farmer decide to fire up his muck spreader upwind of me in the field opposite! Made one more move downstream and carried on catching grayling and spotties in almost equal measure before finally calling it quits at around 4 pm. Ended up with 24 grayling to 1lb 8oz and 21 brownies to just under a pound. We'll see if I can be bothered with any close season dabblings, otherwise roll on June!

08/03/2022 - Snappers and sore knuckles

Could have done with coming a week ago for me, but at least the spell of dry weather we are experiencing now means that the local rivers will be fishable for the last few days of the season. However, with some fining down quicker than others it still meant that I had to think about what I want to achieve in the limited time available. 

With the Dove and the Derwent still a bit high for my liking I settled on another morning pike session on the Soar where the fresh, Easterly wind would at least be at my back. Having learnt from dropped baits and lost fish on the previous session I tweaked my rigs, incorporating some low resistance run rings on the lead link, and tied on new traces made up with some new, extra "sticky" Mustads. I'd also come across a video by a very successful Danish Pike angler called Jens Bursell about his "skating hook release rig" here, developed in order to increase hooking efficiency. Basically the trace is attached to the deadbait using bait spikes so that the trebles remain free. This means that a casting link must be used, so perhaps more suited for fishing stillwaters where you are sitting out for a big 'un. However, the principle of reducing the number of hookpoints buried in the bait looked sound so I decided to incorporate it into one of my traces as a trial. 

After a bit of experimentation in the garage I decided that I would head or tail-hook the bait as normal with the top treble, but the bottom treble would be free and, as I didn't have any bait spikes, held in place with size 8 with two prongs snipped off and opened out to 90 degrees. Tension would be provided with an elastic bait band so that the trace lay nice and straight along the flank of the bait.  Suitably armed I therefore headed off this morning, having  first scraped the ice off the windscreen of the van. However, the sun was already rising into cloudless sky when I arrived, so it promised to warm up provided I could stay out of the wind. 

Walked up to the start of the straight and soon had two baits out in the near margin, a smelt upstream and a lamprey on the experimental rig downstream. Was fairly quiet for the first half hour with just a couple of lady crews out for an early morning row to disturb me, the blades of the second boat cutting the water within inches of my floats despite my polite remonstrations.  Despite this, a few minutes after they had disappeared back upstream, the downstream float bobbed a couple of times and started to trundle off. My strike was met with some token resistance before the responsible jack allowed itself to be pulled straight into the waiting net where the hooks promptly fell out. 

He was also kind enough to give me back my lamprey section, so it was re-hooked and sent downstream again. Had a repeat performance on the upstream rod a bit later - another jack and hooks spat out in the net again. Seemed they were just holding on long enough for me to land them! Moved downstream and was just in the process of positioning a bait over on the far bank when I was honoured with a phone call from the one and only Dai Gribble, former Drennan Cup winner and the best angler I know. My bait therefore ended up sitting in mid-river instead while we discussed the highly immoral subject of feeder fishing for grayling (effective too!). Was therefore surprised when the float disappeared within about 10 minutes and I had to hastily hang up. This one was properly hooked with the half mackerel well down its throat but, from the point of view of my experimentation, was unfortunately on the normal trace. 

In between waiting for bites I was treated to a raptor-fest, including four buzzards, two kestrels and a red kite  - the closest I've seen one to home yet. Moved downstream again, this time placing a smelt out in the middle of the channel by design rather than accident. 

A couple of unexpected narrow boats had me doing the hokey-cokey with the rod, but shortly after I'd repositioned it for the second time the float in mid-river again developed a life of its own and headed off for Kegworth, resulting in another Soar snapper. Blanked in the next swim despite my utter conviction that the lamprey on the marginal rod would go sailing off, so swapped it for another smelt when I made my final move of the morning. After a biteless hour it appeared that it had gone completely dead, when the downstream float finally disappeared. This one put up a bit more of a fight and didn't give up once it was on the bank. Hooked fairly and squarely by the bottom hook on the experimental rig it needed a bit more attention with the long-nosed pliers. However, in the process it decided to do a death roll, shredding my knuckles in the process! Long and lean in the net it looked worth a weigh, but failed to scrape into double figures. 

Time up I made my way back to the van - again it was nice to catch a few, but quality had eluded me once more. Jury's out on fancy rigs as well - I'll probably just stick the hooks in the bait like everybody else next time and strike harder! What next? Decisions, decisions!

02/03/2022 - Wet, but happier days

Black dog day today. Couldn't concentrate on work - my mood not helped by the grey, miserable conditions outside and knowing there's more rain to come later in the week.

Just feels like every weather front that pushes in across the Atlantic is another nail in the coffin of my river season. Eventually had enough by lunchtime, so put the boots and waterproofs on and went for a stomp across the fields to clear the head. The usually dry drains and ditches were running hard with muddy, brown water, all destined to end up in the Trent a mile down the hill. At least the crows were happy picking dead lobworms off the surface of the water-logged soil. However, it got me thinking that there was a time when I actually relished a bit of rain (cue flashback)!

It was a typical evening in June….

Got home from work and switched on the television to see rain bouncing off the covers of Centre Court, signalling the end of play at Wimbledon. Shortly afterwards it was announced that proceedings had been called to a halt at a storm-lashed Edgbaston between England and Australia. What a perfect night then to grab a few hours on theTrent! An hour later I was busy with the bait dropper in a swim that had yielded barbel to just over 11 lb to me in the past. However, as I finished I could hear the ominous rumblings of thunder approaching from the southwest. The rods were quickly made up and two cage feeders full of a scalded pellet mix were swung out over the baited area. As I ducked under the brolly it suddenly became very gloomy and it wasn’t long before the first drops of rain started to pepper the surface of the river in front of me. By now the overhead power cables in the field behind me were humming like a swarm of angry wasps. Within minutes the rain had turned into a deluge and I was literally plunged into darkness. Visible flashes now accompanied the rumblings of thunder as the storm crept closer and closer.

I was soon treated to one of the best light shows I have ever seen. The trees on the far bank were lit up time after time by bolts of lightning of such intensity that they left after-images in the sky like tracers!  By now the storm was all around me and the flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder were virtually simultaneous. It was right in the middle of this that the tip of the downstream rod flew ‘round. Keeping the rod tip low (hopefully to avoid electrocution!) I quickly steered what felt to be a reasonable fish into the waiting net. 

Back under the brolly I was pleasantly surprised to see a stocky, well-fed chub and even more surprised when I weighed it at 5lb 2oz. A quick photograph and it was returned, just in time for the upstream rod to rattle off. Another chub estimated at around 4lb was quickly landed and returned. The rods were both then rebaited and the feeders swung out into the river once more. Again it was only minutes before the two 10 mm shrimp boilies on the upstream rod proved irresistable, resulting in another chub around the 4lb mark.

I was now pretty wet from my trips out into the rain. However, I didn’t have long to dry off and recover before the downstream rod was bouncing in the rest and soon yet another chub graced the landing net. Although this one was a bit hollow in the belly, it looked slightly longer than the first. I was therefore pleased to confirm a  weight of 5lb 6oz. Another quick photo and it was released to join its brothers. I didn’t have long to take in the fact that I’d just had my first brace of “5’s” from the Trent before the upstream rod bent round signalling an unmistakable barbel bite. 

Sure enough, the culprit turned out to be a pristine 7 lber. By the time I had sorted this fish out I was well and truly soaked. A small stream had started running down the bank behind me and I was having difficulty clambering back up in the mud. With no sign of the storm abating, I therefore decided to “abandon play” myself. The gear was unceremoniously packed up and I sprinted the 50 yards or so back to the car. A little over two hours after starting fishing, I was safe back at home, but not without a necessary detour.  At one point I was turned back by the crew of a fire engine as flash flooding had blocked the road. I also later learned from the news that Nottingham railway station had suffered a lightning strike that had knocked out the signalling system, resulting in commuting chaos the following day. Electric fishing indeed!

28/02/2022 - A quick change of plans

I'd booked two mornings off this week based on the fact that the forecast of last Friday appeared to show that we were in for some calm and dry conditions - fat chance! 

By Sunday night it was all change with several fronts looming in the Atlantic promising us yet more wet weather. Worse still, my local rivers that had been fining down so nicely were forecast to rapidly respond to the rain that would arrive as early as Monday afternoon. With nothing important booked in at work I therefore swapped one of my days and got the pike gear ready for an early morning foray on the River Soar before conditions deteriorated. It was raining when I left in the morning, but it was just some patchy stuff and it had cleared up by the time I got to the river at first light. The sun made a brief appearance as an orange glow on the horizon before it was smothered by a damp, grey blanket of low cloud. Just gave me enough light to do a "stick test" to confirm that there was about a foot of visibility. Not brilliant, but I'd brought some suitably "attractive" baits - smelt, mackerel and lamprey - and had the Predator Plus in the bag if I needed to boost them. 

A stiff breeze was already blowing straight down the river, so I headed upstream to the first bend where I knew I'd get some shelter. Set up the usual float leger rigs, starting off with a lamprey down the nearside, while half a mackerel was launched over to the far bank piles. Hadn't had a touch after half an hour, so moved the mackerel closer to some boats. Five minutes later the float bobbed and waddled off, resulting in the first jack of the morning. Leap-frogged the rods along the far bank over the next hour or so, with another run coming in front of the pub. However, by it's mad gyrating it only felt like a tiddler and it promptly unhooked itself halfway across the river. With no more interest forthcoming I upped sticks and moved downstream. The wind made it impossible to float leger a bait over on the far bank, so I concentrated on the nearside margin, putting a bait upstream and downstream of my position. 

Didn't have to wait long for the lamprey on the downstream rod to signal a take and for another jack to hit the net. However, the chop on the water was making it difficult to decipher the movements of the floats and I didn't realise I'd got a take on the upstream rod until I noticed I had a big bow of slack line. Slowly wound down to feel a couple of sharp tugs, so carried on winding only to bring back an empty set of hooks minus smelt. Again, probably just a small one. Started leap-frogging the rods again and had a take almost immediately on the lamprey I'd just re-positioned downstream - must have dropped it on its head. Wound into a much heavier fish, the rod staying bent round in a satisfying curve. Well, for all of five seconds at most as the hooks pulled out - b*llocks! Dropped a fresh bait back on the spot more in hope than expectation and then checked on the upstream rod. 

Glanced back to see that the other float had already disappeared! Wound down again to feel a nice weight and a couple of head shakes before the hookhold failed once more - double b*llocks! Checked the hooks on both rods and whilst they seemed "sticky" enough I gave them a running over with the file - something I should have done at the start of the session with hindsight (I never learn). Moved downstream again, but lobbed the upstream bait back into the area where I'd lost the fish. Was therefore amazed when the float disappeared with confidence a few minutes later. However, whilst the hooks stuck this time (amazing when you sharpen them!), it turned out to be the smallest fish of the morning. Added another on the downstream rod before deciding to pack up while I was dry, although if it wasn't for work and the daughter wanting the car to go to the gym I could have stayed a couple more hours before the rain eventually arrived. 

Was glad to have caught a few, even if they were only jacks, but the lost fish were annoying. Will now be a case of watching the weather and the river levels and making use of every opportunity until the end of the season. Let's just hope it's not another wash-out.

11/02/2022 - Get in while you can

Suspect along with a lot of other people, I am getting absolutely sick to death of these seemingly unrelenting wet and windy conditions we've had to endure the last few weeks. Whilst I suppose in desperation I could have found a sheltered spot on a lake or on the river somewhere and hunkered down behind a a set of buzzers or a quiver tip, I still had the best part of a pint of maggots in the fridge and really wanted to get out with the long rod and do some more trotting.  However, after days spent scanning the weather forecasts it finally looked like that there would be a brief window of opportunity coming my way, with the wind dropping away to a gentle breeze accompanied by some sunny intervals, albeit just for a few hours in the morning. 

All the local rivers had also been fining down nicely from the last lot of rain, although that was definitely going to change with yet more wet and windy weather building from the South-West. It was now or never so, having hastily booked the morning off work, I headed off to the River Dove near Tutbury once more. Made the effort to get there for first light, so was again surprised to see that I'd been beaten to it again. Thankfully the occupant of the white Prius taking up pole position in the car park was nowhere to be seen and I was able to drop into my first choice swim. The temperature had dropped overnight along with the wind, so I spent a chilly half an hour waiting for the sun to creep above the ruins of Tutbury Castle on the hill opposite. 

As the light level improved I started getting a few bites and had a couple of small grayling in the bag when I struck into a lump right down at the furthest extent of my swim. Thoughts of a big grayling were dashed as it took off across the river towards the far bank snags like a startled rabbit. Gave the Acolyte a proper workout as I gave it some stick and turned it back towards me, whereby it capitulated and a short, fat chub a smidge under 4 lb came grudgingly to the net.  A couple trots down later I hit another lump, but this time was left in no doubt that this was a decent grayling as, after a couple of big head thumps, it just hung there in the current. Trick with these I've found is not to bully them and just keep the pressure on until they get fed up and swim upstream of their own volition. Always a bit of a squeaky bum time with grayling, but not usually a problem if the hook hold is a good one.

Unfortunately it was not the case this time as the usually reliable Drennan wide gape pinged out just as the fish started to move - b***s!! To make things worse I bumped the next three fish before I eventually did what I should have done at the start of the session - change the flippin' hook! Carried on trotting away, having now committed myself to staying in the swim for the remaining hour or so. Continued to catch grayling in little bursts of twos and threes, including a nice male that was some recompense for the earlier lost fish, but I suspect not quite the same calibre. Left it right up to the wire before I had to pack up and head back having caught 19 grayling and that solitary chub. The downstream wind had already started freshening by now and creating a chop on the surface that was making it difficult to keep track of the float. However, with hindsight I wished I'd booked the whole day off. 

Sat here now looking at the havoc that Storm Eunice is going to wreak over the next few days it's difficult to know when I'll be out next and a "Big G" still eludes me.