02/07/2020 - Back down the river again

Spent the best part of two hours locating and patching holes in my waders after my last trip ended in wet feet, to the extent that they were nearly more patch than wader! Happy that they'd do the job for at least one more trip I went back over to see Scott again at Soar Tackle for some maggots. Unfortunately, I got there a bit late in the day and he'd virtually been cleared out, so had to make do with what was left in his fridge - a mixture of bronze and whites. However, I was sure that the fish weren't going to be fussy and as long they still wriggled I didn't mind! A couple of days later I was again back in my spot on the River Soar near Kegworth for another evening session.   

It had been raining most of the day, so I wasn't surprised to see that the river was slightly higher than previous visit and that there was a bit of colour in the water, but I looked on this as a positive. Soon had the Ultralite set up and was running a stick float down the crease again.The ravenous hordes of bleak were initially absent and I picked up roach and a couple of small skimmers on the first few trots down.  

However, wasn't long before the bleak, dace, chub and the odd, fat minnow turned up, attracted by the loose feed. I'd brought the perch paternoster rod with me this time, so one of the bleak was swung out and positioned at the tail of the swim, hopefully to attract something large and stripey. 

My friends on the island failed to turn up this time, so I was able to carry on trotting away undisturbed. Turned into another "fish a chuck" session as I carried on catching until the light started to fade and I started to struggle to see the float any distance downstream in the gathering gloom. Unfortunately, the only perch had come to the float rod and I was just thinking of getting the paternoster in when the rod tip banged down forcibly a couple of times and the line pulled out of the clip. However, wound down to feel a weight that was far too heavy for a perch, which was confirmed when a green and gold rocket went airborne. After a few more acrobatics I bundled a pike of about 7lb into the net, hooked nicely in the scissors by the size 6 Gamakatsu circle hook that I was trying out for the first time. Toyed with the idea of putting a rod out for an hour into dark for a barbel, but decided that I couldn't wait for the swim to settle down again. 

Besides, I was getting hungry and had obviously missed a hole in my right wader as I had a wet foot again. Needless to say, after having to squelch back to the car again, the first thing I did when I got home was to consign said waders to the bin, perhaps where they shoud have gone in the first place!

Expect I'll get a few more of these float sessions in as I've not really got a "big fish" bug yet and am quite enjoying catching a variety of species. However, perhaps a change of river will be on the cards for next time? We'll see...

26/06/2020 - Flamingos and fish soup

My friend Stuart's retirement coincided with the start of lockdown in March. This meant that not only were we unable to give him the leaving do he so well deserved, but that he had to go into an empty office to clear his desk! Having kept in touch via social media, we decided that it was about time to meet up for a socially-distanced catch up on the River Trent. 

Unfortunately the day we chose also happened to be the hottest of the week, so when we arrived on the embankment in the late afternoon it was still heaving with folks out enjoying the sun and looked more like a scene from a south coast beach. The river was covered in all kinds of craft, including rowing boats, kayaks, paddle boards and motor boats. However, the stand out mode of river transport was the giant inflatable flamingo containing four, slightly sun-burned and inebriated gentleman who were toasting the appreciative crowd with beer as they went past. Apparently they had launched their "booze cruise" upstream at Beeston weir and were featured in the local news the following day with a warning against such behaviour from the Canal & River Trust and several public comments about their intelligence!

Fortunately our usual spot on the opposite bank was clear of revellers so we made our way over the suspension bridge and settled down just upstream on the concrete steps. We had a lot to catch up on, which made it hard to concentrate properly on the fishing even without all of the other distractions. However, feeding hemp and maggot and runing a stick float down the inside, we managed to catch a few roach, dace, bleak and perch between us before dehydration from sitting in the full sun for two hours took hold. Before we left I gave Stuart part of his retirement box - some traditional hand-made floats, including a set of Avons that would hopefully be put to good use during our next grayling campaign.

The following day, with the best part of a pint of maggots left over from the day berfore and  no sign of the forecasted thuderstorms, I headed over to the River Soar at Kegworth for another session on the float. Walking upstream I could see that there were fry everywhere so, despite the floods and topsy-turvey weather, it looked to have been a good year for recruitement. At my usual spot below the weir the main current was pushing along the far bank, so wearing waders had been a good choice (or so I thought!).

Donning the bait apron I got into a position where I could run the stick float down the edge of the current. For the next two and a half hours it was literally a bite a chuck as the area was teeming with hungry bleak, dace, chub, roach and perch. 

It must have been like fish soup out there, because I barely had chance to loose feed any freebies before the hookbait was away. Some of the bigger bleak were still in their seasonal livery and felt like sandpaper in the hand. Similarly I had a few large, dark minnows, also with white tubercles covering their heads, so it seemed that spawning acitivities were not quite over for some species. 

With the constant hooking and playing of fish it was only time before the predators appeared and I had several fish snatched off the hook by green and gold torpedos that appeared from nowhere from the marginal lilies. I evenually managed to land a couple of these smash 'n' grab thieves, one that refused to give up it's prize before I bundled it into the net and another that managed to transfer my size 18 from the fatally wounded dace into the point of its snout. 

Whilst I was the only one out fishing that evening, I'd not had the river to myself as one of the local "yoofs" had been been busy going up and down the river in a canoe ferrying his mates to an encampment on the island upstream of me, respectfully keeping his distance each time. What was obviously the last trip was soon followed by the sound of lager cans opening and not long after that the unmistakeable aroma of skunk started drifting downstream. Did make me wonder what the return trips were going to be like! Carried on until I had run out of maggots and my fingers had gone wrinkly from constantly handling fish. I had been aware of a slight leak in my right wader while I was fishing, but when I got out of the water I realised that it was full to about knee level. Good job I had been wearing shorts, but my walk back to the car was accompanied by a loud squelching noise every other step. 

Yet another job to put on the list for the weekend!

26/05/2020 - Time for a rain dance already?

Didn''t get up to much this weekend, just spent it relaxing in the garden and soaking up the glorious, atypical Bank Holiday sunshine. 

Elsewhere though the great British public packed the beaches and engaged in mass brawls, firmly putting into context the wrongdoings of the Government's chief advisor, but enough of that! Sitting out under a clear blue sky it is easy to forget that February 2020 was the wettest on record in a data series going back to 1862 and that overall the UK had 237% of the long term average rainfall (LTA) for that month. In complete contrast, the Midlands only received 32% of the the LTA in April. With the 3 month prediction from the Met Office of below average rainfall and above average temperatures for May, June and July on top of that, it is not surprising that we are already seeing impacts on river flows. I was therefore in two minds where to head next - the tiny Staffordshire River Blithe, or the much larger River Dove. In the end I plumped for the former, having meant to recce it over the winter and never getting 'round to it.

Tuesday morning therefore saw me pulling into a deserted farmyard at about 6.30 am. The sun was still low in the sky, but it looked as if it was going to be another warm and bright day, which was another reason for getting there early. Got the chesties on and walked across the field to the river, which ran through open pasture.

I'd got two outfits with me as other members had already had some big brownies on spinning gear  - my usual 7ft brook rod and an heavier 8ft rod to fish a streamer, although the opportunities to use this turned out to be limited. The river itself was low and clear and as I walked upstream I found that large sections were choked with ranunculus. Those areas that were weed-free were generally silty and featureless, with balls of green "snot" on the bottom, so I ended up concentrating on the deeper pools and the faster runs where the flow was keeping the gravel clean. It was in one of these runs tight to some marginal reeds that I had a knock on a small goldhead on my brook outfit. Lifting the rod I thought I'd snagged bottom....until it started moving. However, the black edged tail I could see waving about above the water as I gave it some welly on the light rod revealed that it wasn't a brownie, but a really fat, well-conditioned chub of 3lb 8oz instead. 

Unfortunately, as I made my way further upstream, the only other fish I saw were hundreds of minnows and a of couple of tiny trout that were sent shooting into cover by my shadow. Despite switching between the rods and tactics I failed to buy another bite in any of the other spots I tried. There was a bit of excitement at about 9.30 am when there was a small hatch of mayflies that had me hastily tying on an artificial, but nothing appeared to be interested in them apart from the demoiselle damselflies that were snatching them mid-air and then retiring to the bankside reeds to eat them alive! When I got close to the upstream limit I was mobbed by a herd of over-excitable, young heifers that insisted on following me like a gang of heavyweight groupies as I waded upriver. Had to wait until they got bored and wandered off to find some shade before I could carry on, by which time I'd had enough myself. 

The sun had risen quite a bit by now and as I walked back downstream I could clearly see the bottom in all of the spots I'd tried earlier and, apart from the hordes of minnows, nothing appeared to be in residence. Similarly, the farmyard was still deserted when I got back to the car, hot and sweaty from the walk and looking forward to a coffee and a late breakfast. Realised that I was probably lucky to avoid a blank given the conditions and I had to be pleased with that chub on a little fly rod. 

From talking to other members since it seems that it's always a bit of a struggle this time of year, but there are big fish there as a reward. Where to next? Well the new river season is bearing down on us rapidly, so who knows, but we could really do with a drop of the wet stuff soon please!

19/05/2020 - A welcome few hours on the bank

I suspect that many people, myself included, greeted last week's announcement about a phased relaxation of lockdown, particularly with regards to the rules on fishing, with a degree of optimism. However, based on my own lockdown experiences, I am sorry to say that I do not entirely share Mr Johnson's trust that common sense will prevail when it comes to the Great British public. So, whilst I am now keen as anybody to wet a line, I am not going to risk my health, my family's health, or anybody else's health for the sake of my hobby. Canals and stillwaters are therefore off the agenda for me for the time being. Instead, I'm looking at this as an opportunity to get the fly rod out again and explore some of the more remote and neglected waters on my club books - some old, some new, but all with the common denominator that hardly any bugger fishes 'em! 

First on the list was a small, overgrown tributary of the River Derwent near Derby that I'd fished a few times in 2014. My first trip of that year was my most successful with a hatful of wild brownies and an immaculate, overwintered stockie coming to the net, so I was hopeful of a similar result. Got to the venue just after 6 am and made my way across the field to the river, pausing to make an offering to the local totem! Whilst there were plenty of reminders of the February floods in the way of debris festooning the overhanging trees, the river that greeted me was very low and clear. In addition, apart from the shallower, faster runs where the flow was keeping the gravel clean, the bed was already covered with a film of snot-like, brown diatoms. 

Whilst it was still early in the day, I could feel a distinct chill through my chesties as I lowered myself into the river. I therefore opted for a single, generic "tungsten taddy" on a barbless size 14 hook. These had been tied for me by a friend of "Skateboard Dave", Leicestershire-based pioneer of fly-fishing for neglected urban trout and coarse fish. With a bit of sparkle in the dubbing, a sparse hackle and a marabou tail these represent anything from a mayfly nymph or a caddis fly larva to a small fish. Pitched it up into the head of the first fast run with the 7 ft brook rod and thought I felt a little bump as it came back towards me. Second cast, the same. Third cast I had a more positive take and hooked into a fish that shot downstream past me before coming off! 

Cursed myself for botching my first chance, as I suspected that bites would be at a premium given the conditions.However, I wasn't disappointed for long. Moving upstream to the next run I had a chance first cast as my fly drifted under an overhanging willow and this one stuck -  a proper little, wild Derbyshire jewel. The very next cast I had another similar one and I began to think that I was going to catch a few. However, I was a bit premature! Next spot I hooked a much better fish that again did the trick of shooting downstream at warp speed, making the reel fizz briefly before it reached the sanctuary of some tree roots and slipped the hook. Unfortunately, that was to be my last chance for quite a while despite me fishing any likely looking spots hard over the next couple of hours.

It didn't help that my progress upstream was severely hampered by numerous blockages caused by trash dams and fallen trees, some of which looked like a giant game of "pick up sticks"! I had been prepared for a bit of jungle warfare after my previous visits, but I was getting a real workout clambering out of the river and forcing my way through the bankside brambles to find a suitable re-entry point. By the time I reached the upstream limit I was hot and sweaty, but hadn't had another touch.

Slogged it back downstream to my starting point and decided to give a spot that I'd missed the first time 'round a quick go before I headed back to the car. Flicked the fly into the fast water where it was immediately grabbed by a fish that again shot downstream, but straight under a trailing strand of barbed wire and through a tangle of tree roots! Dropping the rod I grabbed the leader and managed to hand-line an angry little trout back through the roots and into my net.  Headed home for lunch at this point and, whilst it had been hard work, I had enjoyed my few hours of normality. As well as winkling out a few fish in difficult conditions (who would have thought that we'd be needing some rain after such a wet start to the year!) I'd shared the morning with a kingfisher that had buzzed me several times on its trips up and down the river, a dipper and a pair of Mandarin ducks. Definitely good for the soul!

25/04/20 - The River Ebro 2009 re-visited (a COVID-19 special)

In May 2009, before I started writing this blog, I was invited by my friend Tim to join him on a trip to the River Ebro for his 40th birthday. Joining us would be four of his mates from back home in Lancashire that I had got to know through our regular pike fishing trips out to the Lincolnshire fens. We had six days fishing in pairs for catfish and carp at two different venues on the river. Overall we had a fantastic experience, caught (and lost!) some big fish and had a lot of laughs, but it was the first two days fishing with Tim that were the most memorable for me. For those two days we were based on the lower river near Benifallet with the absolute legend that is Pete Evans. Active in the specimen angling scene of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Pete had “retired” to Spain to concentrate on offering a guiding service from his home set in citrus groves overlooking the river.  Despite arriving late at night we were up bright and early the following morning to get our first proper view of the river and it certainly looked suitably big and daunting! 

Heading down to the jetty we got the run down on tackle and methods from Pete. The plan was pretty simple – we would go to his known holding spots where we would fish super-sized, carp livebaits from his boat under big, home-made floats. Pike fishing on steroids! Pete had developed his own rigs in order to be able to fish such big baits effectively, consisting of two large single hooks to secure the bait by the top lip and tail root, connected to a large treble that remained free above the bait to provide the hooking power. 

Definitely not a method for anybody with a sensitive disposition and I have to admit that I initially baulked at the idea of using a 4 lb carp as bait, until Pete put it into context by explaining the size and voracity of the predator we were after. The weather on the first morning was wet, cold and windy and we were decked out more like a trawler men as we pushed off from the jetty and headed upstream. Fishing was slow and it wasn’t until mid-afternoon that we had our first action. Tying off upstream of a deep depression in the river bed we let the baits rove freely off the back of the boat. Tim had graciously let me have first run, so when one of the floats started to draw away steadily like something out of “Jaws”, Pete gave me the nod to pick up the rod and then wind down into the fish. There was a brief sensation of weight and power and then nothing! The carp livebait came back still attached, but had been stripped of its scales on both flanks, presumably by rough pads of a big cat’s mouth. Pete could only ruefully shake his head and grumble “big fish”, before the bait was sent out to work the swim again. A little while later one of the floats was away again and it was Tim’s turn in the hot seat. Unfortunately, whilst he managed to connect properly with this one, it turned out to be a mere “kitten” of about 20lb. With that our first day ended, but it was a taste of things to come and we’d had some great banter, including me gaining the nickname of “Shirley Temple” off Pete because of my long hair! More importantly, I was back in pole position to take the first run the next day. The following morning we woke to find it dry and sunny and, after a quick breakfast, we were back on the boat and heading to a new spot. A change of tactics was also in order. Tying the boat off in a reed bed with a large slack in front of us, Pete set up two fixed paternosters to fish the baits just off the crease with main current. Whilst everything felt right, there was an air of seriousness in the boat and the banter of the previous day was curtailed as Pete went through the game plan should we get a run and we settled down to wait. However, we didn’t have to wait long! In a split second one of the floats disappeared and the line started scything through the water as the fish made off downstream. 

Almost without thinking I was up at the bow with the rod in my hands, Tim had got the other rod in and had put the fighting harness around my waist and Pete had untied the boat and pushed us into mid-river to follow the fish. After that flurry of action the actual fight was ponderous and protracted, with the fish staying deep and seemingly immoveable. All Pete told me to do was to keep the pressure on and let the rod do the work. I’ve no recollection of how long this stalemate continued, but after we had travelled several hundred metres downstream the pressure started to tell and I started to lift the fish off the bottom. Soon the dark grey shape of a big cat with a head like a dustbin emerged next to the boat. Worryingly, I could see that one point of the treble was only just nicked into scissors by the merest sliver of skin. However, Pete was quickly on hand and leant over the side to expertly guide it into the sling by its lower jaw. It was mine! When we lifted it into the boat it took a while to sink in. On the scales it went 133 lb – an immensely impressive creature and one that had reached that size on natural prey and not by gorging on halibut pellets! After a couple of trophy shots we slipped it back and watched it return to the depths. 

Whilst we were all feeling pretty elated with this result, the pressure wasn’t off as Pete was now desperate to find a similar fish for Tim. After sorting out the boat we headed over to a reed-lined bay on the far bank, where we sent out two free-roving baits to work the margin. This soon elicited a response, but from the way the float dithered and bobbled about Pete concluded that it was just another “kitten” playing with the bait. A little while later and we were on the move again to where the river narrowed slightly upstream of a gorge. 

Tying us off on a tree, Pete instructed us to work the baits downstream to a large reed bed. My float was the first to reach the desired spot, so I handed the rod over to Tim. At this point all our eyes were focussed downstream while I just held the other rod, the float literally knocking against the side of the boat. Suddenly it disappeared with an audible “PLOP”, the rod was wrenched round and I was shoving it back into Tim’s hands! In complete contrast to earlier the fight was short and frantic, with Pete and I trying to keep out of Tim’s way as the fish charged from one end of the boat to the other. This appeared to tire the fish a lot quicker and Pete was soon leaning over the side again to secure it in the sling. Grins all ‘round, we lifted it into the boat to do the honours. At 118 lb it completed a memorable “double ton” and, as a black kite dipped its wings overhead almost in salute, was a great end to our two days on the river. 

Back at Pete’s we spent an enjoyable evening drinking red wine while he regaled us with tales of his experiences with angling royalty, such as the late, great John Wilson. Whilst we were looking forward to the challenges of the next four days, it was with a tinge of disappointment that we said goodbye the following morning. As far as I am aware Pete is still going strong, although a change in regulations regarding livebaits has meant the use of more “exotic” baits, such as whole chicken carcasses! Tim has returned on a number of occasions, albeit to a venue further upstream, and has significantly bettered his 118 lber. Maybe I’ll go back for another go one day, but for now this trip will certainly stick in the memory. Adios!

13/03/2020 - Small stream chubbing

Hadn't made any firm plans for the last couple of days of the season as it was really a question of what the fickle weather might decide to throw at us. The main rivers such as the Trent and the Derwent were not going to be in a fit state for my purposes anyway, so again it would be a question of looking further afield. When Friday came around it looked as if a nice weather window was opening up in the afternoon - sunny spells and light winds - so I decided to take the opportunity to visit a venue on one of my club tickets that I'd not been to before, the Markeaton Brook near Derby.

Chub were going to be the target but not knowing exactly what water conditions I would be faced with I took a variety of baits, including maggots, bread and cheese paste made with the Christmas leftovers. Arriving at the venue I poked my head over the bridge to find the brook still carrying quite a bit of colour, but running at a nice level. Made my way upstream in bright sunshine to the weir pool at the top of the section, making a note of any likely spots and disturbing a pair of Mandarin duck in the process. 

Started off with a lump of cheespaste on a simple link-leger and soon had a couple of rattles on the tip of my new 5.5 ft Advanta River Rover.

Unfortunately, the colour in the water meant that I was fishing blind and when I lifted the rod I found the rig had stuck in an immoveable snag and had to pull for a break. After losing two more rigs in a similar fashion (doh!) I realised it probably wasn't worth persevering in what appeared to be a right snag pit, so moved downstream to a short glide with some cover on the far bank. Dropping a lump of cheesepaste at the base of a tree I had to wait all of two minutes before the tip bent round and, after a short tussle, had my first fish in the net. Let things settle a bit, then ran the float through the swim a few times. The minnows were straight onto the maggots and I'd had a handful of the greedy buggers (how do they get double maggot on a size 16 down their gob??) before hooking something a bit more reasonable. Turned out to be a very sorry looking chublet that, judging by his missing scales, must have had a recent run-in with an avian predator. 

Carried on downstream picking up another stocky chub from a near-side slack, before dropping into a promising little pool. Again, the lump of cheespaste had only been in the water a few minutes when the tip went round and another chub was in the net. Was just baiting up to cast in again when all hell broke loose! A male goosander suddenly surfaced about 6 feet away, saw me and then panicked, thrashing the water in its attempt to get away. After all of that commotion I realised that it probably wasn't worth carrying on in that swim, so moved downstream again. 

Didn't see my feathered friend again, but the lack of of any further bites made me suspect that he'd probably been working his way upstream through all of the spots that I subsequently dropped a bait into. The weather conditions had deteriorated by this stage and I was suddenly caught in heavy shower. As I was only wearing my light down jacket I was soon soaked, so took that as a good enough reason as any to end the session!

I doubt if I will be venturing out for the last day, so that for me is likely to be the end of a very weather-disrupted winter campaign on the rivers. Oh well, on to the next. I've not bothered those canal zeds for a while.........

06/03/2020 - Pike by design

I've caught a few pike this season whilst fishing for other species, but not yet had a dedicated session for them. With time running out I thought I'd better put that right, so I dusted down the pike gear and purchased a couple of packs of extortionately priced deadbaits from the tackle shop.

Looking at the river information on .GOV.UK my local River Soar looked to be the best bet. The level was spot on, the only issue being whether the water clarity had improved sufficiently. Arriving at the venue at first light, a quick glance in the margins confirmed that there was good visibilty with just a tinge of colour - perfect! Walked upstream to my starting point through swathes of flood debris littering the towpath. An overnight frost also meant that it was nice and firm underfoot, but looking at the clear sky I suspected it wouldn't last long and that everything would turn into a quagmire once the sun came up! Soon had the traps set with a float-legered joey and a lamprey section soaking in the near-side margin and settled down to wait. Within 15 minutes the downstream float registered some interest down below. As it started to waddle off I wound down into what felt like a nice fish that put up some token resistance, then came into the bank like a sack of spuds.

Was just drawing it up out of the depths to the net when it decided to wake up. Saw a nice big tail pattern on the surface as it crash-dived back to the bottom and then spat the still-frozen mackerel!

Was obviously disappointed, but I took that to be a good sign that there were fish about and that they were in the mood. However, as the sun climbed higher, the floats remained stubbornly motionless. By mid-morning I'd had to shed my coat as it felt more like a summer's day and I was beginning to regret that lost fish even more. I'd leap-frogged the rods downstream a couple of times to no avail and was ready to do so again when a chap came walking up the towpath and stopped to have a chat. After about 15 minutes I was wondering when he was going to bugger off and leave me alone when the downstream float bobbed a couple of times and the disappeared. This one put up a bit more of a fight and, after a hairy moment when a flying treble snagged in the landing net, I had what looked like a low double on the bank. Went 12lb dead on the scales, so another one to add to my growing list of those "rare" Soar doubles.

Whilst it had been fortuitous for my companion to turn up when he did, I had to be home at lunchtime, so as soon as he left I got back to the business of leap-frogging the rods downstream. By the time I'd got to the end of the section I'd had another five fish, but nothing matching that first one. 

However, given the slow start, I was pretty happy with the session and I made my way back to the car, slipping and sliding along the now-defrosted and very muddy towpath. Next stop Wales for the brother-in-law's 40th, then we'll see what the last week of the season will bring - it's all up in the air at the moment!