22/01/2020 - Fishing therapy

When I suddenly lost my dad in 2018 it was people like my friend Stuart who helped me get back to normal, or as normal as I could be under the circumstances. In his case it was the simple suggestion that we should get out and go fishing. Not only did we catch a load of perch on a beautiful summer's evening, but we also had a good old chinwag, all of which went a long way to breaking me out of the rut I was in at the time. Recently Stuart has had to deal with his own loss - that of his mum and one of his best friends within weeks of each other. Having promised him ages ago to take him grayling fishing, it seemed appropriate to now return the favour, particularly as the river and weather conditions were looking ideal.

Thursday morning therefore saw us heading West on the A50 into Staffordshire and to the River Dove near Tutbury. The car park was empty when we got there, so we got togged up and had a leisurely walk upstream to the first swim, a long straight section where a riffle transitioned into a glide and then back into a riffle again. Previous trips had established that the grayling could be anywhere on the stretch, so we slid into the river at the upstream end and were soon running our matching 4BB Avons downstream as far as our age-impaired eyesight would let us. The bites were slow in coming, but when they did come we hooked into a fish simultaneously - a small chub for Stuart, whilst mine turned out to be our target species. 

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A switch from double to single maggot seemed to stimulate a bit more interest and I added a couple of chub between 2 - 3lb and a few more grayling to my own tally before I was flat-rodded and snapped off by a big fish that bolted into the sanctuary of the far bank trees before I could react. With Stuart struggling for bites I therefore suggested we move down into the deeper and steadier water of the glide. Unfortunately, I was first on the board again with another grayling and nice brownie that lead me a merry dance in the current and which left Stuart scratching his head about what he could possibly be doing differently.

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Having reached the bottom of the section with no further interest we paused and took stock with a sandwich and a cup of coffee. Thinking that the fish might be shoaled up after the recent cold snap and that we'd have a better chance if we found some deeper water, we headed upstream to a likely-looking glide. To be honest I'd had limited success here in the past, so I was mightily relieved when Stuart finally hooked his first grayling of the day.

Image may contain: grass and outdoorWe were fishing with renewed enthusiasm now and were rewarded with a few more grayling to just over a pound. However, I had to curse my luck once again as I hooked what undoubtedly would have been the best grayling of the session only to have the hook pull after a few seconds, the first and only time it happened all day! By this time Stuart's dodgy knees had started complaining, so we decided to call it a day. When he tipped the remains of his maggots out of his bait apron into the river I noticed that weren't sinking. Turned out that his apron had filled with water while he was wading and we all know what happens when you add maggots to water - his loosefeed would have been five feet off the bottom! Not that he was really bothered, he'd just enjoyed being out and to catch a few fish had been a bonus. Felt even better when on the way back to the car we came across two other anglers fishing for chub on the tip who'd not had a sniff all day.

Rounded the day off with a quick pint in the Bridge Inn at Branston, a regular haunt of Stuart's when he lived in Lichfield and when they served Bass straight out of the barrel - flat as a pancake and to the top of the glass. However, much to his dismay, we found the now "Italian pub restaurant" surrounded by a new housing development and squatting below a new link road to the A38. Not wanting to put too much of a dampener on the day, we drank our tap-delivered, mass-produced pint of bitter outside in the beer garden and left as quickly as we arrived!

31/12/2019 - Last gasp of 2019

Took time off between Christmas and New Year, not only to recover a bit from the seasonal excess, but also to delay the inevitability of having to go back to work! Goes without saying that a fishing trip was to be factored in at some point so, after checking the weather forecast and river levels, I headed out this morning to the River Derwent, stopping off on the way to pick up the usual "pint of mixed" from Bridge Tackle in Long Eaton. 

Got to the carpark just as the sun was creeping over the horizon and made my way to the river over the fields, which just a few days ago had been completely submerged. Just some pockets of standing water in the furrows and depressions remained of the floods that had caused chaos in Derbyshire a few weeks earlier. In that context, it was possibly trivial that my concern this morning was whether the grayling I'd successfully sought out last season had weathered the storm and were still present.

At first glance the river looked a bit higher and faster than when I had fished it previously, but it was running clear and I was confident that I could find some quieter water with hopefully some fish in residence. Headed up to the top swim, a long, tree-lined and sheltered glide. Found that the river was indeed still about 30 centimetres higher then normal winter level. However, I managed to get in at the side in my chesties, which allowed me to run a stick float downstream past the overhanging vegetation on the near bank. Third trot down the orange tip of the float disappeared and my first grayling of the day was soon in the net - not a monster, but good to see. 

A few casts later and I was reminded how nerve-racking and frustrating grayling fishing can be as I lost two, very good fish in consecutive casts to hook pulls. Both fish shot out into the middle of the river and then hung there like a dead weight, just giving an occasional head shake that usually signifies a big grayling. In this situation, unless they decide to swim upstream, it is a question of trying to ease them up slowly against the force of the current whilst praying that the hook holds. Unfortunately, my usually reliable size 16 Drennan widegape wasn't up to the task and was soon swapped for a Kamasan Animal instead. Managed to successfully landed a much smaller fish before it went quiet and it was time to move swims. Further downstream I again found some steady-paced water down the near bank. First trot down my double maggot was taken by a nice fish that had been nailed by the Kamasan.

Had a smaller fish and then hooked another nice fish that just came in like a sack of potatoes. A closer look reveled that it was actually the fish I'd had a few casts earlier. It must have gone straight back to it's lie and carried on feeding, but obviously didn't have the energy to put up another fight! Again, after it went quiet, I headed down to my final swim where I had a couple more fish, including the best one of the day. Ended up with a round dozen, not including that recapture, which I was pretty pleased with, although I'll be back after those lost "monsters". 

05/12/2019 - Grayling time again!

I really enjoyed those two sessions on the River Soar at the end of September. There's something really satisfying about going back to basics and catching what most people would consider "tiddlers". For those of us not born into an era of matching carp outfits and waters stuffed with enough idiot fish to make you an instant "expert", it's where we started and learned our craft and it's what I find myself hankering after more and more as I get older - plus I can't be arsed to carry the same amount of gear around that I used to!

However, I failed to wet a line in freshwater again for two whole months, the obvious reason being the weather. No sooner had the local rivers started dropping when the next weather front came barrelling in and we were back to square one. It was a relief when December brought with it a period of cold but dry, settled conditions that allowed river levels to return to somewhere near normal. Early Thursday morning therefore saw me heading East into Staffordshire with one species on my mind.

Arrived at the venue at first light and got togged up in my neoprenes before squelching over the still-waterlogged fields, burdened only by my float rod, landing net and small bag of bits. The river was low and clear and I could see that some more "remodelling" had been done in my absence by the recent floods, with one of more unusual pieces of flood debris being a very wet and bedraggled ogre!

Sneaking into the top swim I was soon watching the blaze orange tip of my float being tugged at by the boils and eddies as I allowed it to search its way down through the pool. Second or third trot down it disappeared and my strike was met with the familiar thumping and banging of a hooked grayling that had been tricked into taking the single, red maggot.

Had a couple more grayling out of the swim before saying goodbye to Shrek and moving on downstream, pausing to look at the various animal movements recorded in the newly exposed mud. Once again it was a case of dropping into all the familiar spots (and some not-so-familiar ones, newly-created by the floods) in order to try and locate the fish. I had thought that the recent conditions might have shaken them up a bit and this seemed to be the case as I struggled to catch in normally prolific swims, just winkling out the odd fish here and there. By the time I got to end of the section a few hours later I certainly felt that I'd worked very hard for my 18 grayling and solitary brownie.

Back at the car I found that another angler had arrived after me. Spotted him walking across the field in the gloom, so waited to have a chat. Whilst he'd been fishing the fly, he too had struggled, with just half a dozen fish to show for his efforts. Made me think that they'd not really been in the mood rather than anything else, but it had been good to get the first grayling trip of the winter under my belt. Simple pleasures!

27/102019 - Glutton for punishment!

Another weekend and another short trip down to Wales. Unfortunately it coincided with some awful weather and all of Friday and most of Saturday was spent watching the rain lash against the windows, with England's monumental win against the All Blacks providing the only break in the gloom. Sunday morning looked a lot better so I made plans to head up to Fishguard again, the scene of a comprehensive blank when I was down a few weeks ago! The clocks changing had thrown a bit of a spanner in the works in that first light came an hour after high tide. Fishing the ebb wouldn't be ideal, but it would have to do. Set off after having to de-ice the car after a hard, overnight frost and arrived just as the sun was creeping over the headland. 

Popped into the garage for a Costa and drank it in the car park before venturing out into the chilly air, hoping at the very least that the drop in temperature might keep the crabs quiet this time! Spotted oystercatchers, curlews, a kingfisher and a grey seal as I walked along the end of the breakwater. Once in position I got the gear sorted out and was soon avidly concentrating on the rod tips. Didn't have to wait long before the flapper rod started knocking. Wound in to find that a small pin whiting had hung itself on the bottom hook. 

At least I had avoided the blank! The other rod had also been banging away during this time, but I wound in to find the mackerel/squid cocktail reduced to bare hooks - crabs again?? 

Got into a routine of re-baiting, casting out and then waiting for the rod tips to start twitching again. More often than not there was nothing on the end when I wound in apart from a mangled bait, but now and then I managed to snag another pin whiting, aka "fish finger"! However, whilst it had turned into a glorious morning, it wasn't exactly riveting and I found my mind wandering a bit, what with keeping tabs on the score between Wales and South Africa in what sounded a real grueller of a match and also watching a grey seal hunting along the weedy margins of the breakwater. As the tide ebbed away the fish activity seemed to die off as well, so I decided to pack up and head home to watch the second half of the rugby with the wife (at this stage a very concerned Wales fan!). At least I'd had a few fish this time and hopefully they'll be a bit bigger when we come back at Christmas.

11/10/2019 - A couple more sessions in the salt

Two more trips to the coast and two more opportunities to have a dabble in the sea, but with the contrasting results. First up was a quick trip down to Wales for the wife's birthday and for her to catch up with her parents before they headed off to France for the best of two months. As usual I'd kept an eye on the conditions with a view to factoring in a session or two.  

Fishguard was favourite due to the prevailing wind and tides, so early on Saturday morning I headed north with the intention of fishing three hours up from low tide.Went with mackerel and squid baits - a big cocktail bait on a pulley pennel and strips on a two hook flapper - having had some success with whiting and doggies this time last year. Had plenty of indications from the off, but unfortunately the baits were attracting the wrong kind of attention as the local crab population homed in and demolished them within minutes! Put up with two hours of this nonsense before admitting defeat. Another factor was that a fine mist had set in as well, which turned the rock apron I was standing on into an ice rink. A weird highlight of the morning was being serenaded by a grey seal, which sounded like a cross between a child crying and a dog howling, which echoed my mood as I trudged back along the breakwater!

The following weekend I was down at Saunton Sands in North Devon with the lads for the second of our annual surf trips. Again, the LRF gear was packed in the boot with everything else in case an opportunity arose to cast a line. A blown out, mucky sea meant that surfing was not on the cards on the Saturday, so we all headed up to Ilfracombe instead. My friend Craig went for the big bait, big fish approach with a whole squid on a pennel rig, whilst I fished my usual scaled-down paternoster baited with bits of "Gulp" sandworm. First drop down the side of the pier I had a small ballan wrasse, quickly followed by a couple of pollack. 

Went quiet after that, but I found that by moving about I could tempt a few bites in each spot, adding pouting, corkwing wrasse and a rock goby to the species list. 

At one stage the pollack pushed a shoal of fry up to the surface, which in turn attracted a lone garfish. Any clumsy attempts to dangle a bait in front of it were ignored as it harassed the fry, unlike the pollack that greedily grabbed at anything that moved! Unhooked one and dropped it back in, not noticing the cormorant that had suddenly appeared at my feet. Obviously used to getting an easy meal off anglers it then climbed up the steps from water level and was comically waddling about on the pier. 

A fish-less Craig was packing up at this stage so duly shared his remaining squid between the cormorant and an equally attentive juvenile gull. Things had also slowed down for me so when the others turned up, bored of trawling the tat shops, I called it a day as well. Scores on the doors were 11 pollack, 4 ballan wrasse, 2 corkwing wrasse, 2 pouting and 1 rock goby.

With more trips to Wales and Falmouth this month hopefully I will have more opportunities to add to the species tally - a goldsinney wrasse and a giant goby would be nice - before it gets too cold. Let's face it, I won't be getting out on any of the local rivers any time soon!

23/09/2019 - Back so soon?

Not wanting to rest on my laurels after Friday's session and with some unfinished business with a big perch I arranged to work at home so that I could finish and be out the door at 3 o'clock on the dot - the benefit of working flexi time! Refreshed my remaining maggots with another pint of mixed from Bridge Tackle in Long Eaton and headed off to the Soar once more. Got to the venue to find that the river was still clear, but that the rain over the weekend had injected a bit more pace into the flow, making it a lot easier to run the float through my chosen swim. Another obvious change was that the hordes of ravenous chub seemed to have moved on elsewhere which, as it turned out, at least gave a some different species a chance.

Soon got into a rhythm catching bleak, chub, roach and dace on the stick and, like on Friday, the perch paternoster was soon deployed at the bottom end of the swim. It had been grey and dull when I arrived, so I wasn't surprised when it started spitting with rain after about an hour. Rather stupidly I had left my coat in the car, so had to rely on my fleece and the tree canopy above me as a natural umbrella. 

This meant that I had to retreat backwards out of the river a few paces, so ended up trotting down a different line out of the main flow. This didn't seem to make a difference as I carried on catching silvers, but also added some bonus species in the way of perch, gudgeon and a little ruffe. Can't actually remember the last time I caught one of these so, along with the gudgeon, it was a welcome surprise.

The  perch rod had been looking after itself all this time, so when the bite alarm eventually signalled a take it came completely out of the blue. However, my hopes of my first big stripey of the season were dashed when another jack started charging around the swim instead. Carried on and added a skimmer on the float rod to make it nine species for the night, before just concentrating on the perch rod for the last half an hour. Unfortunately, I only managed another jack and a small perch that eyes far bigger than its belly! Ended up with 34 bleak, 24 dace, 24 chub, 14 roach, 5 perch, 4 gudgeon, 2 pike, a ruffe and a skimmer.

So whilst a big perch eluded me again, It was another enjoyable session on a river that is obviously in a very healthy condition at the moment. Packed up and headed home a little damp, but happy!

20/09/2019 - First river session for a while.

My river season doesn't really get going until late summer, but this year it was in danger of being pushed back to October, so this week I made a conscious decision to make the best of the fantastic weather we were having and get down my local River Soar. About 3 o'clock I stopped off at Soar Tackle and got my club book and a pint of "mixed" off Scott. A quick chat about my chosen venue revealed that the top of the section had hardly been fished this year - just what I wanted to hear! Fifteen minutes later I was heading upstream across the meadow and into the wood. Soon became apparent from the shoulder high nettles that what Scott had said was true, but I managed to battle through the vegetation in my waders relatively unscathed. 

Got to my familiar spot and found the river low and clear, but still with enough flow from left to right to create a nice crease over to the far side. Looked quite promising from the top of the bank as I could see lots of small fish knocking about, so set up the rods and got down into the water. Started off by trotting maggot under the stick and had a fish on, a small chub, first cast. Was soon obvious that it was like fish soup out there! Most casts the float barely managed to travel six feet before the maggot was snatched by a chublet, dace, or bleak. 

I was therefore able to get some baits in the bucket and the rod with the perch paternoster out into the slack to my right in double quick time. Carried on with the float, building up the swim and letting the paternoster rod work away by itself. 

Didn't have to wait long before a slack line bite indicated some interest from a predator. However, before I could get on the rod the bait was dropped, its scaleless flanks indicating the likely culprit. Popped it back into the slack to be taken again a few minutes later. Unfortunately, thoughts of a decent perch were dashed when a green, spotty torpedo immediately went airborne. Carried on in this vein for the next 3 hours, adding a few roach and a single skimmer that somehow managed to get to the bait before the ravenous hordes of little chub! Obviously, with this much food about, there were also a few more predators in attendance.

However, six more hits on the paternoster just resulted in more pike or stolen baits. Hung on for as long as I could, straining to see the float in the gloom before packing up. For the record I had 94 chublets, 35 bleak, 12 dace, 8 roach and 1 skimmer on the float and 3 pike on the paternoster......but not a single perch on either! Still, it had been a very hectic and enjoyable session and I as I headed back to the car through the nettles the river was absolutely alive with topping fish. Made me think that there must be a big perch there somewhere, but that will have to wait until next time.......