06/08/17 - More LRF fun and games in Wales

Don't know where the time goes these days, 'cus it doesn't seem like 5 minutes ago we last came back from Wales and we were off down there again for another few days before our main summer holiday in Italy. As I had failed to wet a line in freshwater in the interim, I was especially looking forward to having another dabble in the salt and adding to my species tally. However, that proved a bit difficult, not in the least because of the weather as it either tipped down with rain of blew a gale (or both!) most of the time we were down there. Undaunted, me and the lad set off for Pembroke Dock on the first morning to see if we could catch a mullet. At low tide in June the exposed mud next to the old car ferry ramp was absolutely covered in mullet grazing marks, so off we went armed with float rods and a couple of loaves, one of which had been previously liquidised, to see what was about. Unfortunately, apart from seeing one mullet appear briefly on the surface, we sat for two hours on the rising tide without a sign! At this point the LRF gear came out of the car and we made our way over to the other side of the ramp and then onto the pontoon.

Here the fish were more obliging and it was a bite a chuck on bits of isome worm and raw prawn on either a dropshot rig or scaled down "two up" rig. However, it looked like it was going to be a goby monopoly, as we pulled out rock gobies in all sizes and colours. Eventually I spotted a few fish darting out the kelp on the side of the wall and a bait dangled closer to the waving fronds resulted in a few small pollack. As the tide started running I picked up a single sand smelt before we called it a day.

Next day I had to go to over to the chandler's at Neyland Marina for some fibreglass for the boat, so it was an opportunity to check out a spot on the other side of the Haven for a change. Unfortunately, we were a bit early in the flood as there was only a couple of feet of water at the bottom of the dock wall when we got there. Dropping our baits between the patches of weed a surprise bass to the lad first cast got our hopes up. However, after that we struggled to catch a couple of rock gobies between us.

Next morning the lad was off to help his Uncle with the family falconry business, so I made the trip back to Pembroke Dock by myself. Whilst it was dry, there was a strong wind pushing a swell straight up the Haven. Fishing down at water level off the ramp I had to watch out for the odd, rogue wave running along the wall and wetting my feet! Didn't stop the fish feeding but again, every time the bait hit the deck it was grabbed by a greedy rock goby. The bottom seemed to be covered with them, to the exclusion of everything else and after about 30 of the flippin' things I waved the white flag!

A couple of decent days followed that meant we could get out as a family onto the coast path and do some sight-seeing. When the final opportunity came for a quick session I was in a bit of a dilemma. Didn't fancy catching gobies all morning, so opted to go somewhere completely different for a change. First light therefore saw me heading to the North coast to fish the inner breakwater at the ferry port at Goodwick. Got there just before high tide and walked along to the end. 

The weedy fringes and the rock armour on both sides of the breakwater screamed out wrasse, so I opted for a slightly beefier dropshot rig with a size 8 weedless hook baited with a whole isome worm. Soon found out that it was extremely snaggy and quite shallow, even right off the end of the breakwater. Switched presentation after a bit to a weedless jig head, but after about an hour I'd not had a touch.

Spotted a shoal of sandeels and then a few small fish over some clear patches in the weed, so went back to the dropshot rig and scaled right down to a size 16 hook, which I baited with half an angleworm. carefully lowering the rig into the clear spots I soon had some rattles, eventually connecting with one of many small pollack. As the tide turned, the water level dropped exposing the weed.

I therefore moved back along the breakwater slightly. Don't know what made me choose the next spot, other than it was next to some crab pots, but I had three members of the cod family and three new species in consecutive casts! First up was a tiny pouting, followed by a codling, then finally a poor cod. Was back to the pollack after that before I got the call to say that the rest of the family were up and ready to go out. Overall, I was relieved to have pulled it out of the bag with the last session, but was a bit perplexed with the lack of wrasse over the week. Oh well, two weeks in Tuscany coming next and the LRF gear will be packed!

04/06/2017 - LRF round up

The last few weeks have seen a number of opportunities to head out to the coast for some species hunting - well that was the idea! First opportunity was the lads' surf trip down to North Devon. An early morning low tide saw me heading off to Ilfracombe to fish off the pier under the gaze of Verity once again. Water was really clear, with no sign of the dreaded "May bloom". However, by the time the rest of the lads turned up I'd only had a couple of small ballan wrasse, albeit a new species to add to the species hunt for the year.

Didn't bother setting another rod up as the bites were so few and far between and just shared the rod with Rob while the others went off exploring. The only notable excitement occurred when I dropped the rig into a small gap next to a wooden pile. The rod top hooped over almost immediately and I felt a decent fish thumping away. However, as soon as I shouted "get the net" it came off!

The following weekend we were off down to Pembrokeshire for the opening of the brother and sister-in-laws' new venture, the Secret Owl Garden, a falconry centre dedicated to over 25 species of owls set in the grounds of Picton Castle. Obviously the LRF gear went in the car as well and at the first opportunity my lad, James, and I headed to our favourite spot at Pembroke Dock. We arrived at low water during one of the big Spring tides, so were able to fish right off the end of the old car ferry ramp. Again, despite conditions looking spot on, we struggled for bites. Apart from a few, ubiquitous rock gobies, the only highlight was a big, fat tompot blenny - my first from the venue and another new species for the year. Having put up with a load of local kids "tombstoning" off the top of the dock wall, we were eventually forced to abandon proceedings when a big patch of diesel drifted around the corner. 

A couple of days later we headed over to Milford Haven for a change. My intention was to fish the lock pit as there had been reports of Goldsinney wrasse being caught there. However, when we arrived the lock gates were open and a chap from the Port Authority told us we wouldn't be able to fish there because of boats going in and out. Instead we went and fished the area between the "mackerel landing" stage and the sea wall. Yet again, it was very slow and it looked like a few shannies and rock gobies would be our lot. That all changed when I spotted a large, fifteen spined stickleback cruising around just under the surface. Shouting to James to keep an eye on it, I quickly set up a split-shot rig with a size 20 hook baited with a tiny scrap of raw prawn. James had lost sight of it in the interim, but scanning along the bottom of the dock wall I spotted it again and went off in pursuit. It took the bit of prawn dangled in front of it on the first attempt. However, in my excitement I pulled it straight out of its mouth again. Luckily it gave me a second chance and this time I made no mistake.

Unfortunately, we could only add a solitary sand smelt to the species count after that, so we called it a day. From Pembrokeshire we headed to Exmouth to stay with friends. Upon arrival plans were made for a lads & dads fishing trip and the following morning saw us all heading down to the docks, with a quick diversion to get a few ragworms from the local tackle shop. It was a blazing hot day and the water at the first spot we tried was gin clear. However, the boys were soon into a steady procession of fish, including tompots, shannies and small wrasse .

As the tide started going out and water level dropped the bites dried up, so we moved around to the slipway area, fishing down the side of the ramp itself and amongst the boulders at the bottom of the sea wall. Again, there were plenty of tompots, shannies and small wrasse about to keep us busy, together with a bonus long-spined sea scorpion.

The next day we were back again but, in contrast, the weather was cold and wet. As the tide had already started to go out by the time we got there, we headed straight for the slipway. 

Met a chap there who had intended to lure fish for bass, but had been thwarted by the amount of floating weed out in the main channel, so had reverted to scratching for bits close in like us. Again, shannies, ballan wrasse and tompots were the mainstay of the catch, with a single scorpion again falling to my rod. Moving around to fish amongst the boulders we saw a large shoal of sandeels and a couple of decent mullet. Tried the splitshot rig and a size 20 hook again for the eels and some scraps of rag for the mullet, but they weren't having any of it. We were all pretty wet by now due to the constant drizzle, so I started to pack away, handing my rod over to James in the process. Literally a minute later the rod top hooped over and, after a brief fight, James landed the best wrasse of the session.

Had hoped to catch a couple more species, but after the poor fishing in Wales it was good to catch a few fish of any description. My friend's lad enjoyed it so much that they spent £150 on their own LRF gear after we left! Back to reality for me now, certainly until August when we've got a week in Wales and then two weeks in Tuscany....and yes, the LRF gear is going!

16/04/2017 - Not quite warm enough yet!

Easter saw us down in Wales again and whilst we had travelled down from Nottingham on a lovely, sunny afternoon dressed in shorts and t-shirts, the following morning was a bit of a shock. 

The first high tide of the week coincided with sunrise, so I was up bright and early for the trip down to Pembroke. Unfortunately the temperature, well into the twenties the previous day, was a paltry 6 degrees, with brisk Northerly wind making it feel even colder! Undeterred, I got out the scratching gear and some frozen, raw prawns and went to see what was lurking down the wall. A few, small pollack were soon obliging, snatching the bait almost as soon as it hit bottom. 

After a few half-hearted knocks I had a more determined rattle on the rod tip that resulted in a surprise sand smelt and an addition to the 2017 species list. A couple more small pollack followed before I managed to hook one of the "nibblers" - a typically greedy rock goby. Carried on a bit longer, but the short period of slack water between the spring flood and ebb tides was over all too quickly and I was back home drinking coffee before the others had even begun to stir from their beds.

The next morning it was even colder. As I left the house the temperature dipped briefly to minus two degrees, although it had managed to creep up to low single figures by the time I reached Pembroke. In contrast to the previous day, the pollack appeared to be absent. However, I had three schoolie bass in quick succession instead - species number six for the year. 

That looked as if it would be the sum total of the morning as about 30 minutes later the tide started to turn once more, shifting the light lead, without further addition to the scorecard. However, one last drop down the wall resulted in a positive bite and some decent resistance in the form of a PB long-spined sea scorpion, a real mini-monster of the deep!

Making the most of these early morning windows of opportunity, I was back again the following day, but this time with the boy in tow. The tide was still pushing in when we arrived, so we stood on the top of the wall watching the comings and goings in the Haven for a bit. Had only been there a couple of minutes when a seal popped up in front of us and right in the spot we were going to fish - not a good sign! Thankfully he didn't hang around long once he'd seen us and there were still enough pollack, sand smelt, gobies and schoolie bass about to keep the boy happy. Bizarrely, despite the temperature, the crabs decided to appear from nowhere this morning and by the end of the session we'd winched three different species of the bait-robbing beggars up from the depths - shore crabs, velvet swimmer crabs and an edible crab. As the tide turned we found a small spot of slack water between the floating pontoon and the wall. However, this only yielded a couple of gobies and a solitary shanny, so we went and warmed our cold fingers up with a hot pasty for breakfast.

The next day I went and had a chat with John at Raven Trading. As well as scrounging his last six ragworm and admiring some of his previous captures (including a leopard-spotted goby and a fifteen-spined stickleback) temporarily housed in the shop's aquarium, I left with a bit more local knowledge in the bank. Following his advice, I headed over to Milford Haven docks for the last session of the week. 

A quick scout around revealed a number of promising spots, but it was the lock pit that I tried first of all after John's report of corkwing and goldsinney wrasse. As it was high tide, the lock gates were open and there were a few outgoing vessels leaving the docks, including two Royal Navy patrol boats. These didn't really disturb me, although neither did the fish! Just had one half-hearted rattle and then snagged a female velvet swimmer crab full of roe before I decided to try one of the other spots I'd seen. 

Although the tide had started to go out by now, there was a big piece of slack water between the sea wall and a concrete jetty known as the "mackerel landing". Worked my way along the wall picking up a few rock gobies, shannies and the odd pollack. Didn't have the place to myself either - I was winding in a goby when a cormorant popped up right next to me. Shooed him off only then to have a seal appear, his head bobbing up out of the water like a shiny, bobby's helmet! Was starting to get busy by now with a big party of divers getting ready to head out and I was getting cold, so I called it a day, pausing to watch the fire fighting vessel practising out in the Haven. Was disappointed not to get a couple more species, such as coalfish, but I'll be back to try again at the end of May when hopefully it'll be a bit warmer!

14/03/2017 - The lady, the beast and the snake!

After a quick check of the weather I formulated a plan for my last day on the rivers. Decided to have one last fix of grayling fishing on the intimate little river in Staffordshire I love so much, but with the option of dropping in somewhere on the way home for a couple of hours for something different. 

Dropped in at a tackle shop on the way home from Rothley for the usual pint of "mixed". However, when I got home I found that they'd added dust when I had specifically asked them not to (on previous outings, I had found that dust transferred off wet fingers had gummed up the works of my centrepin). In addition, the measure looked a bit short. Suffice to say, if that had been a pint of beer it would have gone back for a top up! Sieved off as much of the dust as I could whilst wondering how many other times I'd been short-changed. The next morning saw me heading West on the A50. There was already a stiff wind coming from the North-West, which had been a factor in deciding what to do for the day as I knew that the twists and turns and high banks of the little river I was heading for would shelter me from it.  Got to the venue to find the parking spot vacant - that's how we like it! Got togged up, left a note on the dashboard for the bailiff and set off across the fields. A glance at the river confirmed that it was low and very clear, the weed beds that had persisted over the winter clearly visible and the stony bed starting to "green up" with algae and moss.

Got to the upstream limit, set up the rod, donned the bait apron and then settled in at the top of the run. On the second or third cast the float shot away and I had my first grayling of the session. Took a couple more from the run before letting the float travel further downstream into deeper water. The sun had come out by now and was making it difficult to see the float. However, I just spotted it disappear at the very end of the pool before striking into a very different animal indeed. Found myself attached to a heavy, powerful fish that put a proper bend in my Drennan Ultralite. Lost track of how long we battled backwards and forwards, but I began to think that I'd hooked one of the mythical 2lb grayling that were supposed to be present. However, the glimpse of a spotty dorsal confirmed what was actually on the end of my line. Eventually he tired and I was able to admire an immaculate, wild brownie of 2lb 6oz in the bottom of my net. A real beast for the size of river and obviously the apex predator in his own little domain judging by the kype and teeth on him. 

Popped him back, watched him disappear under some tree roots to sulk and then took a few minutes out myself to recover with a cup of coffee. Carried on working the pool for a bit after that, but only had a couple of fingerling grayling, so moved down the next spot. Followed the same pattern, starting at the head of the run before working the main body of the pool, then finally the tail, altering the float as required.         On this occasion I was only taking one or two fish from each spot, possibly due to the level and clarity of the water. In some of the very shallow swims it was amazing to see a previously invisible fish take the bait and then become instantly transformed into mad, gyrating bar of silver when I set the hook. Unfortunately, this probably had the unwanted effect of spooking his mates! 

On the plus side, it was more knowledge in the bank being able to find those spots that worked when the river was low and clear like this. There were also a few fish rising, presumably to some early olives. However I couldn't tell whether these were grayling or trout, but there were enough to warrant thinking about returning with a fly rod later in the year. 

By mid-afternoon I'd got to the large pool where I'd had a few chub and dace in the past. Took a few more grayling at the head before running the float through the main body. Sure enough it disappeared and I struck into a reasonable fish. Whilst I hoped that it was one of the bigger grayling, I wasn't really surprised when Mr Chub popped up instead. Next trot down the float disappeared in exactly the same spot, but this one was more canny than his mate and headed straight for the far bank and into a tangle of tree roots, breaking me off in the process. Fished one more swim, catching a couple more grayling and taking my total up to 42 for the day. It was now 1500 hrs, so I had to make a decision - fish a previously unseen section of the river or head somewhere else? 

In the end I decided to do something completely different for the last knockings of my river season and a couple of hours later I was on the banks of the River Trent with two deadbaits out in the hope of a last gasp zander. As it had been bright and sunny most of the day, I wasn't really surprised that it stayed quiet until it got dark, at which point I had a slow, steady run on the lamprey section on my right hand rod.

Wound down to feel nothing on the end, the bait coming back apparently unmarked. Popped it out again to have the exactly the same thing happen again. Had an inkling of what was responsible, but the next run on the same rod was completely different, the bobbin doing a jerky, staccato dance more typical of the species I was after. Wound down and eventually caught up with the fish, which had run towards me. Felt a decent weight on the end and the tell-tale head-banging of a zed. It came in quite quickly and before I had sorted my head torch out, but I managed to catch sight of a long, pale flank on the surface and got the net ready. Unfortunately, at that point the rod straightened and the lead went flying past my head as the hook pulled out - oh dear, or words to that effect! Re-baited with another lamprey section and put it on the spot once again. However, it was the left hand rod with a roach section that I had positioned off the end of a tree that went next. The Micron beeped a couple of times and the bobbin twitched and dropped off, but there didn't appear to be any line taken. Wound down and had a tentative feel to find something on the end. Switched on the head torch to see a long, thin shape gyrated towards me - yep, a flippin' eel and probably the explanation for the funny runs I'd had earlier. Not that I was surprised as I'd had eels at this time of year from this spot before. Weighed him at 2lb 6oz before popping him back. My end rig had been destroyed in the process and my stomach was complaining, so I called it a day at that point. Just a shame that I couldn't add a "vampire" to the list, but I'v got some closed season plans for them.

13/03/2017 - Scrappy Soar snappers

With time on the rivers rapidly running out and seasonal goals yet to be achieved, it was decision time. What to do, where to go? With a meeting booked in the afternoon down at Rothley, I decided to have the morning off for another go at some River Soar pike on the way. Headed off nice and early, the moon still visible above the horizon, but with the first tinges of dawn visible in my rear view mirror.

Parked up to a big pile of wood at the end of the lane - the remnants of the recent hatchet job done on the willows lining the river. Headed up to my usual starting point at the top of the straight. There'd been a match on the day before and I'd often heard complaints about pike activity from the match boys, so I was hopeful that there would be a few pike still hanging around looking for easy pickings. Gave them two in the way of a joey on the upstream rod and a lamprey section on the downstream rod. Didn't have to wait long for some interest in the mackerel, even better that it was a scraper double of 11lb 1oz. Thought that was going to be the start of some regular action. However, I had nothing else in the next half an hour, so popped one of the baits over to the far margin. The move seemed to do the trick, although the dithering nature of the take suggested a small fish. So it proved - probably the smallest fish I've caught on the section, but already with signs of previous hooking and a gill raker hanging out!

The lady in the house boat opposite had stirred by now and was rattling and thumping around doing her morning routine, so I moved both rods downstream a bit, keeping one over next to the boats and popping the other in front of one of the near bank fishing platforms. Had to wait a bit, but it was the latter eventually went off, the float disappearing with purpose this time. After a bit of a scrap I had a short, fat pike in the net that I thought might scrape into double figures. Didn't quite make it at 9lb 12oz. 

By mid-morning a stiff breeze had picked up and a lot of floating debris had appeared out of nowhere, both of which started to make my life difficult with the wind pushing the debris into my bank and fouling my lines.

The action also appeared to have dried up, when eventually I got a take on the near-side rod. Wound into a decent weight and then glanced back at the other rod to see the drop off hit the back rod rest and line start disappearing off the spool. Typical! Bullied the first one into the net and left him in the margins. Picked up the other rod and wound furiously to find the fish still attached, albeit half way to Kegworth! Soon had him in the net alongside his mate, the latter again just missing double figures at 9lb 15oz. Popped them both back, neither the worst for wear for that encounter, although it was disappointing to see that both of them bore the scars of previous capture and poor unhooking. Sorted out the chaos and put two more baits out with renewed enthusiasm. However, I had no further interest in the last hour and it was time to pack up and get to my meeting. The pike on this section look as if they have come in for a bit of pressure this season, so I might have to look for pastures new for next winter. Now just the small matter of what to do on my last day on the rivers.......

01/03/2017 - End of season struggles

Okay, I admit it, I have become addicted to certain websites. You probably know the ones I mean. Not a day goes by without me logging on, drooling with anticipation, to view the latest offerings. Unfortunately, my quest for satisfaction invariably ends with frustration and disappointment. Yes, I'm talking about xcweather and river level information, as yet again my river season has seemed in danger of fizzling out under a constant barrage of weather fronts, gale force winds and yo-yoing river levels! Any glimmer of a window of opportunity, once identified, has therefore been checked and re-checked, usually to see the door slammed by another band of rain sweeping on from the Atlantic. 

Eventually a mid-week session looked like it could be on the cards, so I duly booked the day off work. However, overnight rain still sought to throw a spanner in the work. A quick check of the river levels in the morning indicated that the river had indeed come up a bit as a result, but I thought, "bollocks, what the hell!" and headed out regardless. Arrived at the venue for a "piker's dawn" having safely negotiated the track down to the river, which had been turned into a quagmire by the contractors carrying out yet more, drastic-looking tree removal on behalf of the Canal & Rivers Trust. Parked my once-white car on the only bit of dry and relatively solid ground remaining and went for a quick look at the river. Found it was carrying a bit of extra flow and colour, but looked perfectly fishable, so unloaded the car, got togged up and headed upstream. 

Was soon at my usual starting point and quickly had two, float-legered dead baits, a joey and a lamprey section, out in the margins. After about half an hour with no response, I picked up the upstream rod and gave it a good twitch back along the marginal reed bed. It had only been settled for a couple of minutes before the float showed some signs of interest before waddling off. Wound into the first fish of the session - a jack that had taken the joey, just hooked by the bottom treble. Recast and repeated the same trick with another jack taking the bait, joey again, on the second twitch back. The downstream rod had remained static all this time, so I recast it over to the far margin. However, the extra flow and an increasing downstream wind made presentation a bit tricky, so it was back to the nearside margin again. Cue the upstream rod.

This time the float bobbed a couple of times and then disappeared, usually the sign of a better fish. Wound down to briefly feel a decent weight on the end, before pulling out of the fish, the lamprey coming back wrapped around the bottom treble like a Cumberland sausage - bugger! Popped it back on the same spot, but it wasn't having it a second time, so I moved downstream. Had re-baited and re-positioned one rod and was going to get the other when I happened to glance back to see that the float had already disappeared. Again, felt a better weight that turned out to be a rare double of 10 lb 12 oz - on what must have still been a mackerel lollipop! Same spot and a few minutes later, another jack, this time on the lamprey. The sun had made a few, welcome appearances throughout the morning, taking the edge off the wind and raising my hopes a bit. However, apart from one more jack taken in the middle of one of those sunny spells, it became frustratingly quiet.

By lunchtime the wind was making bite detection increasingly difficult and, if anything, the river looked more coloured than when I started, so I listened to my aching back and rumbling stomach and called it a day. A quick check on the river levels when I got home confirmed that I'd been fishing on a rising river so, whilst it had been a bit of a struggle, I was grateful for what I'd had.

Oh well, fingers crossed for what's left of the season. Goes without saying that I'll be checking out "those" websites right until the bitter end!