22/04/2018 - Scratching about

After my last grayling trip, weather and work conspired against me and, before I knew it, my river season had fizzled out yet again. A consolatory, canal zander campaign never got off the the ground and it wasn't until Easter in Pembrokeshire that I managed to wet a line again.

Ever hopeful, I'd put in my sea fishing gear, along with my fly rod for a bash at some brownies. However, it soon became obvious that I would not be needing the latter! Heavy rain on the days leading up to our trip and a good topping up on the Bank Holiday Monday meant that the rivers were brown and swollen the whole time we were there. Focussing on the sea fishing instead in what was a truly miserable Easter week, a few sessions on the Haven resulted in two blanks with the bait rod and just one tiny pollack and a shanny on the LRF gear! Poor water clarity and the amount of cold, freshwater in the estuary may have been a factor, but it just seemed as if nothing had woken up yet. Left Wales disappointed, but at least I was off the mark in this year's species hunt.

Fast forward to this weekend and I was off down to North Devon with the lads for our annual surfing pilgrimage to Saunton. Again, I'd put some fishing gear in the car in the hope of sneaking off somewhere for a couple of sessions. A phone call and a quick trip to Braunton Bait Box secured some nice fresh ragworm, whilst a look at the tide tables confirmed a suitable window of opportunity at Ilfracombe. Saturday morning therefore saw me arrive bright and early to the welcome sight of Verity outlined against a clear and brightening sky.

Setting up on the lower deck of the pier I started off by dropping a scaled down, two hook paternoster baited with scraps of ragworm into the gaps between the wooden pilings. A couple of small pollack were quick to oblige, followed by a surprise sand smelt. However, it soon became apparent that bites were going to be few and far between, but by dropping into a few different spots I managed to bag a colourful little ballan wrasse, closely followed by a female corkwing. 

As the sun rose higher, so did the tide and I was pushed up the steps as the lower deck flooded. Relocating to the upper deck I continued dropping down the baited rig down the side of the wall. A hand-sized pollack gave me the run around before I had another surprise in the shape of a pouting. Went very quiet after this, so scraped the lead down the wall in desperation in search of a shanny. This just resulted in me finding a snag and losing the rig so, with the car park getting busy, I decided to call it a day. 

The following day the weather had changed and was grey, cold and drizzly. However, after a lazy morning, we all decided to have a trip up to Ilfracombe anyway. The plan was that I would fish for a couple of hours while the others cruised the charity shops. Unfortunately, the weather was even worse when we got there so, after a quick wander and a pint in the local 'spoons, we were soon back at the bungalow. However, as soon as it brightened up, I was off again to Braunton to the River Caen with the fly rod. 

I'd already fished this neglected, little river a couple of times (getting a mention on Theo Pike's excellent website Urban Trout) for it's little, wild brownies, so I was hopeful of a few fish. Donned my chesties and slipped into he river upstream of the fish ladder, causing a little trout to shoot away downstream in the process. Couldn't see any activity on the surface, so went with the approach I'd used before - a single, gold headed, hare's ear nymph with a marabou tail and a bit of flash in the dubbing.

Slowly waded upstream past the urban debris and graffiti, pitching the nymph into any likely looking spots and occasionally being rewarded by a sharp tug from a spotty missile. Had half a dozen by the time I reached the footbridge over to Tesco, where I had the best fish of the day right under the noses of the oblivious pedestrians above me. Unfortunately my phone packed up at this point so, with time getting on, I decided to return to the others and check on progress with dinner.

Drove back to Nottingham the following day with reports on the radio of more cold weather to come dampening my enthusiasm, only just re-kindled by my trip to Devon. Oh well, I can always watch other people go fishing on YouTube!

07/03/2018 - A hard day at the office!

I ask you, where's St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, when you need him? I suppose he could be forgiven for being on holiday somewhere hot, dry and sunny at this time of year (enjoying a cone of fries by the looks of it), but he really has dropped the ball lately. No sooner had the "Beast from the East" finally gone west, when the rain came sweeping in with obvious and all too familiar consequences. Extreme weather warnings were replaced by flood alerts and any hopes of a last minute pike and zander campaign were dashed by rising, swollen rivers. Not wanting to waste my hard-earned flexitime, I switched focus from the Trent Valley to the relatively higher ground of Staffordshire where, by virtue of their "flashy" nature, I knew the rivers would be quicker to recover given a couple of dryish days.

A look at the river levels on the Government flood warning service not only confirmed the earlier, combined impact of the snow melt and rainfall, but also a rapid return towards normal levels. Knowing that more rain was on the way and that I potentially only had a brief window of opportunity (possibly my last before the end of the season) I bit the bullet and provisonally booked a day off. A final check first thing in the morning showed that the river was still on a reassuring downward trend so, after dropping the daughter off at work and popping into the tackle shop for a pint of mixed, I headed west on the A50. My only concern was that other like-minded (and desperate!) anglers would have the same idea and as I got closer to the venue I got more and more anxious. However, as I pulled off the road down the access track I could see that the parking spot was empty - result!  

Got togged up and set off across the water-logged fields, eager to see what the river was like and at first glance it looked pretty good! Whilst it was still slightly above normal level and carrying a tinge of colour, I was pretty confident that the conditions would only improve. Unfortunately it seemed the grayling had other ideas, as it soon became obvious that they weren't properly on the feed. Didn't have a bite in my first few "banker" swims, so I was pretty relieved when I eventually slipped the net under my first fish of the day.

Worked my way downstream, and started picking up the odd grayling here and there. However, as the day wore on, it seemed that these were the willing few, but at least they were of  decent average size. Got to one of the more productive swims, a fast riffle with a sharp drop-off into a pool, followed by a long glide. Had a couple of fish from the head of the pool before the float buried and my Drennan Ultralite hooped round. Couldn't see what it was due to the tinge of colour in the water, so let it plod around the pool making some nice, big tail patterns on the surface. Eventually it tired and I caught a glimpse as it rolled on the surface. Already had an inkling from the fight that it wasn't a big grayling and this confirmed it. The fish made one last, unexpected dash that tangled the main line in a hawthorn bush. Luckily that was its last act of defiance and I dropped the rod and was able to scoop a decent brownie into the net.

It was 2lb 6oz on the scales, but was long and hollow and perhaps should have been nearer 3lb. Didn't have a pronounced kype like some of the other big brownies I've had from the river, so assumed it was a hen fish. Took a quick picture then let her recover in the net while I sorted out my tangle. Slipped her back and watched her disappear, the apex predator in that particular little pool. Moved downstream once more, winkling a few more grayling out before getting to my favourite swim towards the bottom end of the section. A recent working party had removed a fallen tree that had got lodged in the head of the pool, allowing me a clear run through with the float. However, I couldn't capitalise and only managed to add a couple more to the total, taking me up to 18 grayling and that single brownie. Called it a day after that. Had been pretty tough, but I was glad to have got out before my season potentially came to a premature end.

I also got thinking about those big brownies on the way home. With the absence of any pike in the river, it would have been nice to try a bit of ultralight lure fishing. However, club rules are float and fly only, but a bit of searching on the web threw up an article on streamer fishing in the UK. Whilst fly fishing purists might throw up their hands at this point, I'm willing to try anything so watch this space!

11/01/18 - Back amongst the ladies!

Santa was extremely kind to me this year and got me a new pair of neoprene chest waders to replace my old, leaky ones - victims of my ungainly attempts to straddle too many barbed wire fences.

I was therefore keen to christen them and hopefully catch a few more grayling in the process, so I had been keeping a watchful eye on the weather forecast and river levels since Christmas. After enduring several days of rivers flooded by rain and snow melt everything came together this week, with the weather staying dry long enough to allow levels to fine back to normal. I was therefore pretty hopeful of catching a few fish as I headed west on the A50 into the wilds of Staffordshire again.

After squeezing on the new neoprenes I headed upstream across the waterlogged fields. First glance at the river confirmed it was low and clear. Had a handful of fish out of the top swim before I moved down to one of favourite bits of the river - a fast run dropping into a pool, with another fast run immediately downstream. However, when I got there I found that the last floods had done some significant remodelling. A fallen tree had created a trash dam that virtually blocked the river. 

This had obviously funnelled the force of the flooded river causing the far bank to collapse. The diverted flow had then scoured out the first run and the pool and dumped  the gravel in the run downstream. Far from destroying the swim, this had actually created new features so, whilst it was probably a bit "raw", I gave it a few exploratory trots through.

Sure enough there were a few fish already in residence, including decent grayling that did a good impression of a brownie, leaping a foot vertically out of the water during the fight. Worked my way downstream, but by mid-day I'd only had 14 fish. The usual spots just weren't producing for some reason, so I had a break for some food and a cup of coffee.

Sat and listened to various birds shouting their alarms at something and eventually spotted a big dog fox casually trotting up the field on the opposite bank. I imagined him rocking up sheepishly at his den and his vixen berating him, "what time do you call this, Reynard?". The sharp call of a buzzard overhead brought me back to the real world, so I gathered my things and carried on downstream. I was starting to wonder whether things just hadn't settled down after the last flood.

However, in the next few swims I finally dropped on some fish in numbers, possibly temporarily relocated from their homes further upstream. Ended up in the "big pool" towards the bottom of the section with an hour of daylight left hoping for a chub or dace, but just had a single perch to break the grayling monopoly. Wasn't as prolific as last trip due to the slow start, but I was happy with my 54 "ladies" and even happier not to go home with a damp crotch!

22/12/2017 - Trying to find an edge

It was an early finish for Christmas at work and, with the temperature still double figures, I therefore decided to have a quick zander session, this time on the River Soar. Dropped into the tackle shop first to supplement my meagre and increasingly manky supply of dead baits. However, they'd forgotten to order in any small coarse fish, so I had to make do with some extortionately priced lamprey and a pack of two, hand-sized roach that I could at least fillet or section if I was desperate. On the way to the counter I passed the bait additives and spotted a bottle of Predator Plus, no longer under the Van den Eynde label, but presumably the same stuff. Whilst I've never used additives for predator fishing before I was willing to try anything to find the edge that I was obviously lacking, so a bottle was purchased along with the dead baits.

Arrived at the river later to find it had a nice tinge of colour. However, whilst the previous day had been overcast and dull, I had brilliant blue sky and a low, dazzling sun to contend with instead - not ideal! Got the rods set up, one baited with a lamprey section, one with a small roach. Gave both dead baits a liberal coating of the Predator Plus. Lack of any ingredients on the label and no real discernible odour didn't really give me any clue as to how effective it might be. Popped one bait down the side and one over to the far bank and settled down to wait. The margin rod was first to go a few minutes later, resulting in a micro-jack. Re-baited and dropped it into the same spot. Unfortunately, my ineptitude came into play as I again forgot to open the bail arm on the reel after attaching the drop off. When the next run came on this rod a few minutes later  I picked it up to find a much better fish already attached. However, just as I was reaching for the net the hooks pulled out. Presumably it had not been able to get the bait far enough into its mouth on the tight line and had just been nicked by the bottom treble.

"Oh dear", I said aloud, or something like that! Moved both rods down the slack after this and had just got settled down again when a chap appeared over the top of the bank. Apart from the fact that he went and stood between me and my rods, it soon became apparent that he viewed chancing upon a fellow angler as an opportunity to verbally unload! The mostly one-sided conversation dodged about from the state of the fish stocks and Eastern European anglers to lack of Environment Agency bailiffs and otter predation to the price of club tickets. When he eventually left I got up to move the rods again. However, the downstream rod started nodding away and I was onto it before the drop off hit the rod rest. Again, this felt a much better fish. Looking over my shoulder I could still see my "friend" about 50 yards away making his way across the field. Thankfully he didn't turn around and see my rod hooped over and come back! Hooks stayed in this one and I was pleased to see a nice fat pike slide into the net - a rare Soar double of 10lb 13oz in mint condition.

The sun had just started to dip below the horizon at this stage and the harsh winter light was visibly softening. Re-baited again giving the lamprey section another good squirt of liquid attractant and dropped it in the same place. Less than 5 minutes later the same rod was off again, resulting in a smaller, but equally mint pike.

Moved further down the slack again into the swim that was going to take me into darkness, popping one bait down the middle and the other alongside a line of willows on the near side. As the sun disappeared the temperature started to noticeably drop and I had just settled down when I got a text from the wife saying that a thick fog had descended in Beeston. Looked up in that direction to see a grey band approaching over the horizon and it wasn't long before I was similarly enveloped. 

Soon everything, including me, was covered in a fine drizzle that just made it feel even colder. As it got darker I had a tentative pick up on the rod in the middle of the channel, but wound down to find nothing on the end. With no further action in the next half an hour I didn't need too much convincing that it was probably best to pack up and head home. The quest for the first zander of the season continues........

06/12/2017 - A birthday bonanza!

The last couple of years I've treated myself to a fishing trip for my birthday and had provisionally booked a day this year to do the same. However, with the weather set to change yet again I brought it forward to mid-week. Whilst the forecast was windy, it was dry and mild, back up to double figures in fact. 

Having dropped my daughter off at the railway station for her early morning train, I headed for Staffordshire. Grayling were the target again and my venue the small Dove tributary that I'd had so much success on in the past. .
Got to the venue shortly after 0800 hrs and was fishing half an hour later. Tackle was simple - my 11' Drennan Ultralite float rod, Speedia centrepin loaded with 3lb line, a wire-stemmed stickfloat and a size 16 Drennan widegape at the business end, baited with two maggots. 

Second trot down the first shallow run the float buried and I felt the mad thumping, twisting and gyrating of a grayling on the end of the line, not a biggie, but always good to get that first fish of the day. After that it was non-stop. There seemed to be fish in every riffle, run, glide, pool, nook and cranny! Most were clean, young fish in the 25-30 cm bracket, with just a handful displaying signs of attention from predatory birds - one with a stab wound and few more with classic "grab" marks on the flanks.

Made my way slowly downstream, working the float, holding back then running through, and constantly changing depth to search each new spot. By the time I stopped for lunch I had landed over 60 fish, but had only got a fraction of the way down the section. Was just finishing off my coffee when I got a text from my lad with the results of his driving test. Not one to waste any words, it just read "I passed"! Couldn't help having a chuckle to myself before carrying on downstream.

Skipped a few swims in order to give myself time to fish a pool where I'd had some nice dace and a few chub in the past. However, got there to find a large tree trunk wedged at the head of the run. The majority of the pool was still fishable, but the the tree had deflected the flow and changed the swim's characteristics. The first few trots down resulted in more grayling, including what would probably would have been my biggest - one of only a few that had come off during the course of the day. 

It was only as the light was beginning to fade and as I was trotting down the crease next to a a bit of a slack next to the bank that I eventually had something different in the shape of a couple of small chub and the same number of perch. Had one last grayling before snapping my hook off in the landing net taking my total to 83, by far the best session I've had at the venue. The light wasn't far off going completely at this stage, so I made my way back to the car, a bit tired but looking forward to celebrating with the lad (#mumanddadsnewtaxi!).

02/12/2017 - Zzzzzzzzz...and an early morning call

Had two more sessions out on the Trent after the zander. On both occasions the conditions seemed ideal - overcast and ridiculously mild - and, whilst the river was still relatively low and clear, I was confident of a bite after dark. In reality, my confidence was significantly  mis-placed!

On the first evening I moved upstream to fish some deeper water at the junction of the river and the navigable channel bypassing a weir. The feature screamed fish. However, I spent several hours contemplating my feet and my un-moving bite indicators as two deadbaits lay soaking on the bottom, with not even a "phantom" run to pique the interest. 

The second evening was spent tucked out of the way of a howling south-westerly, fishing a deep, near-side slack between two overhanging willows. Popped two deadbaits out and settled down to wait. However, after only about two minutes the tip of the upstream rod knocked a couple of times, then pulled violently downwards as the culprit tried to make off against the bail arm that I'd neglectfully failed to open after casting out - doh! Luckily the offending jack was well hooked and was successfully landed after a short scrap under my feet. My confidence was sky high after that instant result. However, over the next couple of hours it slowly ebbed away until finally, as I packed up after having had no further action whatsoever, it hit rock bottom! With the weather changing and the temperature dropping that was my last planned outing for a zander this year. I only hope that they are more obliging next February/March!

With temperatures hitting single figures, my attention now turned to grayling. At the first available opportunity,  I headed off bright and early along the A50 into Derbyshire to the River Dove to take advantage of falling river levels and a relatively calm and settled, albeit cold, day. Drove down the track to the river in darkness, having mis-judged my arrival time in my keeness to get fishing!
Layered up, pulled on the neoprenes and set off upstream, initially heading for a spot I'd fished with success last season - a long, wide and gradually deepening riffle. Set up the float rod and baited my size 16 Drennan wide gape with double maggot, then quietly slid knee deep into the water. Second trot off the rod tip I had my first grayling, all 5 inches of it! There were a lot of these about - obviously a good year class - and I dropped a couple more off before having my first decent fish.
Over the next few hours I covered as much of the riffle as I could, periodically taking a few steps over to the far bank to fish a new line when the bites dried up and then moving downstream 25 yards to start the process all over again. The fish seemed to be well spread out as it was a case of catching a couple each time I moved and, apart from one solitary chub, it was all grayling. Whilst there was a lot of small fish, I did have a handful around the pound mark that gave me a some fun and games in the current.

When I finally got to the end of the run, I'd had 33 grayling and that single chub. I had bumped or lost at least another dozen, including what would have been the biggest fish of the day just as a chap stopped to talk to me on the far bank (I'm hoping it was a chub!), so was pretty pleased with my first recce of the winter.

Finding out back at the car that I'd got at least three holes in my waders didn't dampen the spirits and I was already planning another trip to catch some more "ladies" on the drive home.

01/11/2107 - Spooky goings on down the river

I suppose I was really a day late, but Halloween was spent giving platelets at the Nottingham Blood Donor Centre, which would have been even more apt had the nurses all been dressed up as vampires. Not to be unfortunately! However, having sourced some suitably-sized deadbaits from Matchman Supplies, I was down on the River Trent the following evening to try and catch another kind of maligned, toothy creature - the zander. 

Headed to an area I'd not tried before, but one with lots of features that I thought would appeal to prey fish and predators alike. Soon had two, hair-rigged deadbaits, heads and tails removed, out in position - one in the mouth of the canal next to where I'd set up and the other in the river down the crease formed at the confluence. A bit later, two chaps with lure gear stopped for a chat, one of them providing some helpful reassurance that the area wasn't known for producing zander!

Not that I was put off, as I've often found that such information freely given is actually mis-information. However, I did concede that perhaps conditions were against me, with a low, clear river and clear skies. Wished them well as they headed off upstream and sat watching the sunset. Was taking a few photos when the drop off on the left hand rod hit the rod rest. Wound down into a fish that came in without much trouble - not my target species, but at least it had saved the blank.

Popped on a new bait and positioned it in the mouth of the canal again. By now the sun had completely disappeared to my right and the moon was rising to my left. The temperature had started to drop, so it was on with the coat to supplement the fleece I'd had on until now. As the moon rose higher it started to cast shadows along the bank and I was contemplating packing up when the drop off on the left hand rod jerked slowly in staccato fashion up to the reel and then stopped. Pulled the line out of the clip and then felt the line pull steadily through my fingers. Wound down to.....fresh air! The bait was still on the hook, but was almost completely scaleless. Cast out to the same spot and the bait had only been in a few minutes when the drop off began its jerky, upward dance once more, but again there was no satisfying weight on the end of the line when I wound down and the rig came back minus bait.

Something down there was taking the mick out of me! Put out a fresh deadbait and hovered expectantly over the rod, waiting for the bite alarm to sound. However, when a couple of sharp "bleeps" disturbed the silence, it was the other rod that showed some indication of interest. After feeling the line pulling through my fingers, I tentatively wound down, desperately trying to feel what was happening on the other end of the braid. However, yet again, my subsequent strike met with nothing and I skimmed an empty rig back across the surface. Put another bait out, but half an hour later I'd not had any further interest and packed up, contemplating a frustrating session. Whilst these "phantom" runs are not a new phenomenon on the river and could be casually attributed to eels, I couldn't help feeling on this particular occasion that I'd been chasing ghosts!