19/02/2017 - Early season species hunting

Half-term saw us Wales-bound once more and with it my first opportunity to cast a line in saltwater in 2017. I had decided that, despite my obvious handicap of living in the East Midlands and nowhere near the sea, I would join a species hunt this year. Twenty looked a reasonable target, based on what I've caught over the last couple of year plus a few new, targeted species that I've not fished for before, such as flounder, bream and a couple of the other goby and wrasse species. I was also keen to try out my birthday present - an HTO Rock Rover travel rod. I duly joined the World Sea Fishing Forum Species Hunt 2017, printed off my card and was raring to go.

Unfortunately the weather had been cold and wet prior to our arrival, so first trip down to Pembroke Dock for high tide I was met with a murky, coloured sea and another angler's rubbish (there's a tackle bin ten feet from the top of the steps, you knob!). Had set myself a target of five species for this holiday - pollack, coalfish, rock goby. black goby and common blenny - but still saw this as achievable despite the conditions.

Set about seeing what I could winkle out using isome, angleworm and raw prawn fished dropshot-style or on a scaled-down "two up, one down" rig. I was pleasantly surprised to catch a couple of pollack fairly quickly, both on pink isome. However, things were very slow after that and I struggled until a switch to prawn brought a solitary rock goby. Again, I was surprised that there weren't more of these around as come the summer you won't be able to get away from the things!

With the tide starting to run out again, that was first session over. However, it had a sting in the tail because, as I bent down to pick up my tackle box, I felt the all-too familiar stab of pain in my lower back. Don't know whether it was standing in the wind for an hour that did it, but by the time I got home my back was in spasm.

Next morning, suitable reinforced with one of the father-in-law's back braces, but still in pain and hobbling like an old man, I headed to my shanny "hot spot" on the estuary at Lawrenny.

                                                                                                                  The tide was still flooding in over the top of the old quay, so I waited for it to slacken off before dropping a bit of prawn tight down the side of the wall. Again, in the summer this would have been met with an instant response, but on this occasion I had to wait for a few minutes before the solid tip of the Rock Rover registered any interest from below. However, it was at least the species I had come for. 

Only managed to add one more after that. Had a few casts with a Savage Gear sandeel to see if there were any pollack or coalies about, but to no avail, before limping back to the car. Contemplated trying the weedy margins on the way for a common or sand goby with a splitshot rig, but it was too murky to spot anything, so decide to leave that for later in the year. 

Following day I hobbled back to Pembroke Dock. The sea looked a bit clearer and it was a bit warmer, so more pleasant for me although it had probably done nothing for the sea temperature. Managed a few more pollack from the off, followed by a couple of rock gobies. However, didn't look as if I was going to add to the species tally when I had a little tremble on the rod tip. Had a nice surprise when a tiny long-spined sea scorpion appeared on the surface. Switched to the sandeel again when the tide started running in the hope of a coalie, but drew a blank. Still, whilst I'd not quite managed to get the exact species I was after, I was off the mark and in the hunt and already looking forward to Easter when I'd be back again!

09/02/2017 - A largesse of "ladies"!

I can't seem to get enough of grayling at the moment. The pursuit of pike and zander hasn't grabbed me yet, particularly as the weather and river levels have been all over the place. Also, more often that not, the tributaries have been fishable when the main rivers haven't been and I've been in a position to profit. Take today, which I'd booked off as flexi-time last week with a view to keeping an eye on conditions. As it happened, this coincided with my favourite tributary of the River Dove fining down to perfect level.

The weather forecast wasn't quite as kind, with a Easterly wind and temperatures near freezing. However, I put the thermals on, loaded the gear and racked up the heating in the car. Arrived 30 minutes later feeling nice and toasty and quickly got the neoprenes, fleece and coat on. Was soon trudging across the still-waterlogged fields through the gloom to the upper limit of the club section. 

The river was at a nice level, but was gin clear. Didn't know at this stage whether this was going to be a factor - only one way to find out. Started in the established "banker" swim that, in fact, is three swims in one - a shallow, upstream run dropping into a deeper pool, with a further run downstream. Started off by setting the float at about 18 inches, held it back hard in the upstream run and had a fish first cast! Had a few more and bumped a couple off before the bites dried up and I moved onto the pool and then onto the downstream run. After an hour and a half, I'd fished it all the way through and had seventeen grayling of various sizes, from fingerling up to a pound, all on the usual double maggot on a size 16 Drennan wide-gape. 

Had a cup of coffee and got some feeling back in my fingers before moving on downstream, dropping in on the usual spots and trying some new ones. Picked up fish in ones and twos, including a nice male, before I got to the swim where I'd lost a big fish last trip. Gave this a good going over but just had a couple of small ones. Had to stop and clean the Speedia at this stage as it started to sound like a bag of spanners and started catching. I put this down to the maggot dust, which was sticking to my wet gloves every time I dipped into my bait pouch and was then being transferred to the reel. Note to self - no maggot dust next time! Whilst I was beginning to feel the cold, it didn't seem to put off the wildlife as there was plenty to see as I was trotting away, including a noisy bunch of long-tailed tits, wrens, a treecreeper, a robin that came and mopped up some stray maggots, and a couple of buzzards. The wild garlic had also just started to push up through the leaf litter and there was even a random clump of snowdrops.

Was just thinking how it would be nice to see the sun when it started snowing - well, more like dandruff falling from the sky, but still snow! Carried on downstream trying more spots, some giving up a fish or two, others not. Came across a pod of fish in the "dead calf swim (although the dead calf is now gone, removed by the floods), so lingered there for a bit and was eventually rewarded by what felt like a much better fish. Unfortunately, after thinking I had the better of it, it made a dive for the near bank, everything went solid and I found myself attached to a branch instead of a fish! "Oh well", or words to that effect. Made up for it partly by taking several fish out of a fast, knee-deep run that I'd not tried before, again by shallowing up and holding the float back hard. I always find it amazing how hard grayling fight given a bit flow to help them, so I'm not surprised or disappointed to lose a few to hook pulls in those situations, as was the case today.

Time was getting on for four o'clock by now and I'd had well over fifty grayling. Came to a longer, deeper section where it was possible to do some longer trotting, so decided to stay there for the last hour. Whilst I'd had the odd chub and dace from the swim in the past, it was just yet more grayling until the float dipped right at the bottom of the trot and a nice fat dace came to hand.

Had two more of his pigeon-chested mates before it was back to the grayling. Packed up just after 5 o'clock when it was too dark to see the float properly. Finished with sixty-one "ladies" and the three last-gasp dace. Certainly worth dragging myself out on a cold, grey day in Staffordshire.

18/01/2017 - Grey day grayling.

One of the redeeming features of my job is that I work flexi-time and get to exchange my extra hours for 13 flexi days a year. Most of these get taken up with family holidays, but a few always get squirrelled away for when I need to relieve the pressure with a day out on the bike or on the bank. The plan today was for the latter, but it didn't look that promising on two fronts. Firstly, according to the level graph, the river had still some way to go before it was at "normal" level. 

Secondly, the weather was looking distinctly miserable - cold, grey, overcast and with a fine drizzle. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained! Headed west in the gloom with my fingers crossed. Arrived to find nobody in the car park, so togged up and squelched my way across the field for my first look at the river. As suspected, it was quite a bit higher than on my last visit but, most importantly, it was clear! 

Walked upstream to the upper limit of the fishery, the flood debris on the trees and standing water in the fields an indication of high the river had been just a couple of days ago. Whilst the river was now only a few centimetres above normal level, the extra flow was enough to turn my usual first swim into a pacey, boiling, turbulent mess. However, I knew from previous experience that, under these conditions, the fish would be sitting in quiet pockets and gentle eddies off the main flow. 

Rather than conventionally trotting through, it was just a question of dropping the float into these pockets and letting it wander about. Had ten grayling from the first spot doing this before moving on downstream to the next swim. Again, I let the float search out the quieter margins, picking off a few more grayling in the process. Next swim down the extra water had created a fishable run over what was normally a very shallow, gravelly riffle. Still had to hold the float back quite hard, but first trot down the float shot away, accompanied by a clonk on the rod tip as the fish hooked itself. 

Carried on in this vein, picking up fish a few at a time out of each likely-looking spot, until I came to another fast run upstream of a sharp left-hand bend. Let the float trundle down to the bottom of the swim, where it promptly disappeared. Hit a heavy fish that immediately tried to head off downstream around the corner. Managed to stop it twice before entering into a bit of a stalemate with it hanging in the flow on the end of a taut line. Eventually it got moving and slowly plodded past me. Dropped the net in behind it and lifted the rod to get it up onto the surface and.....the hook pulled out under the pressure! Briefly saw a big, dark tail that could have been anything - chub, grayling or trout - disappear out of sight. Had a cup of coffee to calm the nerves then carried on. A couple more grayling and decent brownie went some way to getting over the disappointment of that lost fish before I moved on again.

A bit further downstream a tree had fallen in the river since my last visit on what was normally a straight, shallow run. Wading past it I found that the flow had already scoured out a knee deep depression alongside it, with a similar looking hole immediately downstream. Dropped the float in, held it back and was rewarded immediately with a fish! Not only that, the next four casts produced fish as well - all out of a spot as big as my bath. Up to this point the light had been pretty ropey all day. However, once past about 3 o'clock it soon started to deteriorate. Had a couple more grayling from another new swim right at the downstream end of the section before calling it a day. 

Squelched back to the car again and finished off the coffee, reflecting on a pretty decent day given the circumstances. Ended up with 36 grayling to just over a pound and that solitary brownie. However, I'll be back for that lost "monster"! 

08/01/2017 - A morning salvaged.

With an unsettled, windy weather forecast casting doubt on a planned day off next week, I managed to get a pass out for a few hours this weekend instead for another go at the grayling. Sunday duly saw me heading West on the A50 in the darkness of the early morning. Thought I'd try a section of the River Dove near Tutbury that I'd neglected for a while, a decision that nearly back-fired on me. Arrived to find a car park devoid of life, apart from the scattered remains of several Saturday night fast food meals. Squeezed into the neoprenes (first time after Christmas!) and then stomped across the meadows through the fog up to the weir at the top end of the section. Had fancied the run off the main weir pool for a grayling or two, but had never got around to fishing it last season. Had the rod set up in a jiffy and was soon running a float downstream with two, juicy maggots tripping the bottom beneath it.

The fog decided to descend at this point so the light quality actually got worse before it got better, so initially I was struggling to see the float in the broken water beyond about 25 metres. Didn't actually see the first bite, just felt the fish when I lifted the rod at the end of the trot! However, the size 16 Drennan widegape did it's job and I had the first grayling of the session in the net - not big, but the first one is always welcome. Bumped off a bigger fish, then had a couple more before I noticed several folks in identical, resplendent black and blue outfits pushing trollies, heavily laden with fishing tackle, across the meadow towards me. Turned out that the whole section had been booked out for a match and I was getting booted off - just as I had started building up a swim! Wasn't happy, but I suppose it was my own fault for not checking the club website. Went from bad to worse when I found out that they were pegged from the weir all the way downstream of Hatton bridge, with another section at Marston on Dove. Walked all the way back downstream to the car park fuming to myself and trying to formulate a plan.

Luckily I had the book for the club on the opposite bank, so two minutes in the car later I was off again. Was going to head all the way upstream of the weir and out of the way, but noticed a big gap between two of the far bank pegs that coincided with a nice, 3 feet deep run on the near side, so dropped in 75 metres above the chap downstream of me and 100 metres downstream of the chap above me. 

Didn't stop the chap downstream shouting up to me, "Oi, there's a match on!", but as I politely pointed out, I was well out of his way, fishing a different bank belonging to a different club. What made it even sweeter was that, three trots later, the float disappeared and my strike hit into a solid lump. Turned out to be a fat, well-conditioned chub of 3lb 15oz, which had my friend twisting 'round on his seatbox.

Carried on trotting away, building up the swim with a few maggots each cast, and didn't have to wait that long before the grayling started making an appearance. First few were like peas in a pod, madly banging and twisting all the way to the net. However, eventually struck into one that felt a bit more weighty than bonkers - 1lb 5oz to be exact.

Added a few more, including another one over the pound mark at 1lb 4oz. Matey downstream had also caught a couple of fish by now, despite talking on his phone (probably about me!), losing at least one feeder and two float rigs to snags and all the time twisting 'round to watch what I was doing. Briefly stopped to talk to a chap walking along the bank, but when I started trotting again the fish had either switched off or had gone as I didn't get another sniff. Sat down and had a drink and snack bar before deciding that lunch was probably a good idea and called it a day. Finished with 14 grayling and that bonus chub, which after chatting to several, fishless matchmen on the way back to the car, was a pretty good result!

01/01/2017 - A New Year afloat?

Passed a milestone last year in that it was my 50th birthday at the start of December. Wasn't really expecting much. I'd told my wife that under no circumstances did I want a surprise birthday party (luckily she knows me well enough that this wasn't a bluff and I really didn't want a party!), with celebrations limited to a weekend with the relatives and a night out on the beers with the lads. However, got more than I bargained for when we travelled down to the in-laws in Pembrokeshire at the end of November. First inkling was that my parents' car was already on the drive when we arrived. Second hint was that, after a cup of tea, everybody started hovering around me, at which point the wife handed me a set of "clues" to my birthday present. Having deduced it was hidden somewhere down the yard, I had to traipse off down there with a torch with the others trailing behind me. Bearing in mind that the only thing I'd asked for was an HTO LRF travel rod, I could be forgiven for scratching around in the dark for something about two feet long and missing the obvious! After a few minutes I was gently directed to a tarpaulin-draped object in the barn. I was absolutely gob-smacked when this turned out to be a 14 ft Dejon Coastliner with a 25 hp outboard! Turns out the wife had taken my idle musings about having a little boat to potter around the corners of Milford Haven and go for the odd mackerel trip off Saundersfoot seriously, so one had been sourced on Ebay, bought and then collected by the father-in-law from Llanelli earlier in the Summer.  

Was able to get a proper look at it in the sun the following morning. Father-in-law had already tank-tested the outboard and, whilst the boat was perfectly usable in its current condition, there were a few obvious cosmetic issues - like a very bad paint job on the bottom of the hull, some fogging of the perspex windows and some rotten woodwork where the cuddy had been boxed in with non-marine plywood. Father-in-law had also already removed the non-original and grossly over-engineered pulpit off the bow. More of a concern was that the four flotation compartments that had been filled with foam had been emptied and converted to storage lockers (personally I would favour safety over storage!). However, as a project and ultimately a day boat to potter about in, it looked really promising, so it was wheeled back into the barn for the time being. 

The first opportunity to do a bit of work on the boat came when we were down again at Christmas. Luckily I was able to escape down the yard for a couple of hours on the day after Boxing day and started off by taking out the rotten wood that had been used to box in the cuddy, just a question of removing a lot of screws!

Decided that it probably looked better without the boxing in, particularly after seeing another one on Youtube, which had been left open, just leaving me with a bit of sanding, some fibreglass repairs and a touch of re-painting to cover up where the wood had been attached.  

Next job was to have a look at the windows. On the side windows the seals and insert strip had started to perish, whilst on the front the insert strip was missing and so mastic had been used to keep the window in place. The cabin had also been painted at some point with the windows in, so the seals had quite a bit of paint on them.

Was a simple enough to pop the windows out, scrape off any mastic with a knife and give the cabin a clean. The perspex window panels weren't as bad as first thought and, according to the father-in-law, would come up nicely with some T-Cut and metal polish. Called it a day after that, or rather dinner bell rang and I was forced to go back up the house!

We were going home the following day, but I couldn't resist another hour on the boat.

A number of the pop rivets holding the bump strip on were missing and the rest were badly corroded. A mallet and a chisel made short work of the remaining rivets. Eased the bump strip off and cleaned off the crud and algae that had accumulated underneath it. This revealed a couple of places where the boat must have taken a knock, damaging the "lip" that the bump strip was fixed to. However, nothing that a bit of fibreglass couldn't fix. Unfortunately, that was all I could manage before we had to head off back up to the East Midlands, but I'm already planning what needs to be done next time we're down in February. I've started looking at remote throttle & gear control and steering for the outboard and have been scouring the internet for boat jumble sales! I really hope everybody knows what they've done........ 

09/12/2016 - Fifty up!

Gave myself an early 50th birthday present today and went grayling fishing on a small tributary of the River Dove. I'd booked the day off work ages ago with grayling in mind. However, Sod's Law, after days of cold, sunny weather, some unsettled, windy weather threatened to throw a spanner in the works. Rain was forecast over in Staffordshire early on Thursday, so the river level graphs were watched intently and contingency plans drawn up just in case.

Whilst the river had indeed been affected by the rain, it seemed to be dropping as quickly as it came up, so I gambled and made the journey West on the A50. I needn't have worried because, when I got there at about 8 o'clock, I found the river to be absolutely top condition. Still fining down, but at a nice level with just a tinge of colour.

It was still rather gloomy when I started off in the "banker" swim at the top of the section. However, first trot down with the double maggot yielded a nice grayling. In fact the first seven trots down each resulted in a fish - five grayling, a brownie and a dace. Had previously caught chub from a couple of swims further downstream, but never a dace, so it was pleasant surprise. 

Carried on trotting away, eventually ending up with a total of fourteen fish from that first swim before the bites started to dry up. Moved down to the next pool, but this didn't seem to hold any where near as many fish. However, it did throw up a small chub and another dace to go with the first, which was already more silver fish than I'd had in any previous session on the river.

Carried on downstream from here to the first of a number of fast, shallow runs where I'd found some fish before. Shallowed the float right up and inched it down the run, holding it back so it was almost horizontal. Was rewarded by a "clonk" on the rod tip and the sight of a grayling madly gyrating just under the surface. Steered him into some slacker water to land him, popped him back and then repeated the whole thing next cast with his mate.

Moving downstream, the impact of previous floods was visible in places, both in terms of the flood debris on the banks and trees, but also where the river had undergone some "re-modelling". One such spot was where gravel had been thrown up in a bank, creating a fast riffle that dropped into a new pool. Fed a few maggots in before swinging the float into the riffle. Held it back then let it drop over the lip into the pool where it promptly disappeared. Was left in no doubt what was on the end when a spotty went airborne! Proved to be another productive little spot, yielding several more grayling and a couple of chub, so was filed away for later. 

In contrast, the next usual "banker" was a bit of disappointment. The bankside woody debris (and dead cow!) that had previously diverted the flow had all been washed away and the gravel had been pushed up to create a slower, deeper channel. First trot down I caught a greedy, fat minnow. Had another seven of the little buggers before I gave the swim up as a bad job and carried on to the next run.

      Continued dropping into spots here and there, picking up more grayling and the odd chub. Had passed fifty in terms of total number of fish a while ago and was on forty-two grayling when came to another fast run with some slacker water to the side. Again, it seemed to have quite a few fish in residence and I was quickly up to forty-nine. One more trot through and I had my fiftieth grayling in the net. Decided that was a good a time as any to bring things to a close (I was pretty hungry at this stage anyway) and made my way back to the car pretty satisfied with my six and a half hours work. Finished with fifty grayling, nine chub, two dace, two brownies and a few minnows. Fully justified a guilty pleasure on the way home! 

05/10/2016 - Perch sessions, here and there.

September is usually the time when, after the slack period of the summer, I start to get my serious fishing head on again with perch being the first target. I had various new venues and swims in mind this year, but my first session was on the River Soar in a spot that is becoming my autumn "opener" and one in which I've not failed to catch a 2lber every time I've fished it...famous last words!

Arrived to find the river low and clear, but with lots of small fish topping in the area. Set up the float rod and started working the stick float down the crease. First trot down I had a little chub, which was soon followed by more chub, dace, bleak, roach, skimmers and the odd small perch. Set up the perch paternoster and positioned it on the crease at the downstream end of my swim and carried on trotting. However, didn't have to wait long before the rod tip showed some interest. Pulled the line out the bobbin and watched it shoot away across the surface before winding down to the fish. Felt more like a jack the way it was charging about, so gave it some welly to limit the disturbance to the swim. Was a bit surprised and then relived when a decent perch popped up instead and went straight in the net, a nice fat and young-looking fish with vivid red fins. Thought it would do 2lb and this was confirmed by the scales, albeit by a gnat's whisker. Popped him back and re-baited.  However, as it got dark, the only other action on the perch rod was from an inevitable jack, but at least I was off the mark.
The following week saw me back on the Soar, but in a different swim. As with many of the swims along this section, lack of maintenance by the controlling club meant that the willows had encroached, forming an impenetrable curtain about three feet from the bank, so a couple of days earlier I'd been along with the extendable loppers. 

After half an hour's work I'd cleared the swim enough to give me a decent length to trot through, but enough cover and space downstream for me to position the paternoster.First run through with the stick and I was into a hand-sized roach and it continued from there, with some clonking dace, skimmers, bleak, chub and perch and even a small jack that took a roach off me, transferring the size 16 to his scissors in the process, all falling to the float. Once I'd got a few  baits in the bucket, the paternoster was duly positioned at the tail of the swim to work its magic. Unfortunately, two more jacks were the initial result, doing their best to ruin things by charging around the swim. It wasn't until it started getting dark that I started getting some indications that something else was around. First had a bait snatched off the hook, then a dropped run with the bait coming back virtually scaleless. 

Third time lucky I struck into fish that went head banging into the cabbages before rolling into the net - another scraper 2lber with a few battle scars. Fished on into full darkness without any more interest. Had a funny experience on the way back to the car. Had crossed over the lock from the island where I'd been fishing when a fox appeared and kept pace with me along the far bank. When I stopped, he stopped and when I turned and walked back the way I'd come from, he did the same. He only stopped following me when he ran out of bank and even then he sat and watched me walk off. Don't know if he's been fed by the boaters, but he certainly wasn't at all afraid of me! 

One week later and another venue, the River Derwent, on a section recommended by a work colleague. It certainly looked the part, as I settled into a tasty slack in between two overhanging willows, my only concern being that it was a bit shallower than I would have liked.

However, got the float rod out and soon found that the swim was actually full of perch, just the wrong size! Managed to catch a few silver fish in amongst all of the stripeys, including some chub, roach, dace and bleak. Put the paternoster rod out up against a willow, but after two hours I'd had no interest. Moved to the next swim downstream, where I stayed until dark. However, despite concentrating on the paternoster rod alone and moving it around various features, a bigger perch remained elusive. It was a similar story on the River Trent a few days later. This particular section had been kind to me in the past, with five fish over 2lb in two session, including my current PB of 3lb 10oz. However, arrived to find that some of the swims were completely different in nature to a few years ago and were unfishable, or inaccessible. Undeterred, I managed to find a suitable spot, but then struggled to catch anything on the float rod. Resorted to shallowing right up and snatching half a dozen bleak off the surface. Even that wasn't worth the effort as the paternoster rod failed to attract anything and I was back off home once again with out any decent reward. 

The last of this series of sessions saw me back on the River Soar. A stiff, Easterly wind meant that I was back in the swim where I started four weeks ago. However, the river was carrying a bit more water this time, which made trotting a much easier and more enjoyable affair. Soon had a few suitable baits in the bucket to allow me to deploy the paternoster, while I carried on trotting for the hell of it. A couple of sharp knocks on the rod tip alerted me to some interest and a few minutes later a nice perch was in the net. Had one more take that resulted in a stolen bait before I upped sticks and tried a couple of spots upstream before it got dark. However, apart from a greedy half-pounder, that was it. Ran into my foxy friend again on the way back. This time I'd not even made it across the lock before he appeared no more than six feet away from me. Judging by his boldness and a certain air of expectation, he must be being hand fed. Said I'd probably see him again (I fancy some of the swims for a chopped worm approach after Christmas) but, after a short break for surfing and possibly mini-species hunting in Devon next weekend, my next mission will be to up my zander personal best.