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!

05/03/2020 - End of season panic starts here!

It's that time again. A sense of deja vu. The end of the river season fast approaching and still so many targets yet to be achieved and venues yet to be visited. Suspect I'll still be playing catch up this time next year, particularly if the end of season "washout" becomes a permanent fixture. 

Thankfully the weather seems to have sorted itself out for the time being - welcome respite for some parts of the country and a window of opportunity for anglers everywhere. However, with local rivers like the Trent and the Derwent still having some way to go before they are back to "normal" winter levels, it's still a case of looking further afield and higher up the catchments to find some fishable water. For that reason, I headed west on the A50 into Staffordshire once more in search of a decent grayling. Whilst I has spent most of the week closely montoring the water levels on .GOV.UK there was still a sense of trepidation before I got my first sight of the river. I needn't have worried as it was running at a good level and had a nice tinge of colour to it - not tapwater as on my previous visit! Looking back at the obvious line of muddy footprints leading across the field form my car I was also confident that nobody else had been recently.

It was looking even better when, in the first swim, I had a grayling on only my second run down with the float. However, after my last two sessions on the river, I'd learned not to count my chickens and so it proved. Once again it was a case of catching the odd fish here and there, with somes spots appearing to be completely barren. What has also been noticeable this year has been the lack of small grayling. Whether these have been moved on by the floods or have been victims of predation (I've seen evidence of both the furry and feathered kind) is debatable. However, having seen the "remodelling" done by the power of water alone - whole bushes and trees ripped out and carted off downstream since my last visit - I wouldn't want to be a little fish living in a spate river while it's in flood!

By mid-afternoon I'd reached the bottom of the section and had 12 grayling and a single chub that had caused me some fun and games in some tree roots. Four of the grayling were over the pound mark - 1lb 2oz, 1lb 4oz and two at 1lb 6oz. Judging by the number of maggots down the necks of those that I'd caught they must have been feeding well. There just wasn't the numbers there.

Headed home on the A50 with mixed emotions. I might have one more chance at the grayling a bit closer to home before the season's end - it's a while since I had a 2lber - but my next session will for something completely different.

08/02/2020 - Before the storm

Spent most of last week sat in all-day meetings, periodically staring out of the window and wishing I was by the river instead. However, the arrival of Storm Ciara at the weekend meant that that my window of opportunity was going to be restricted to Saturday morning. Whilst it was forecast to be breezy, it was meant to be dry well into the day, so after yet another meeting on Friday afternoon I raced to the tackle shop before it shut for a pint of mixed.

Woke up on Saturday morning to relatively calm conditions, so quickly loaded up the car and was soon heading west on the A50 once more. This time I was venturing a bit further into Staffordshire to the small tributary of the River Dove that's been good to me in the past, where I knew I could get some shelter if needed behind it's high, tree-lined banks. Leaving Tutbury behind, sat in its cloud of coffee aroma from the nearby Nestle factory, I was soon pulling off the A50 and heading down the track to the venue. Happiness comes in all forms, but for me it's an empty angler's car park, so I was pleased to see nobody had beaten me to it and was able to relax a bit while I pulled on my neoprenes. Squelched across the still saturated fields to find the river much lower and clearer than on previous visits. I had struggled during my last session in slightly better conditions, so I knew that I was going to work hard for any reward this morning.

After running the float throught the first swim a few times without any signs of interest from the fish, it was soon obvious that it wasn't going to be a bite a chuck and that it was more likely a day for working a spot for just one or two fish and then moving on. As with previous visits, the "flashy" nature of the river meant that recently-fallen trees and obstructions had created little scours and pools in my absence, so there were planty of spots to go at. It was often these new swims, with perhaps just that little more depth (the maximum depth I fished the float all day was probably less than four feet), that threw up a fish after I'd drawn a blank in one of the "bankers". With club work parties seemingly intent on opening up the river for fly fishing, I also knew that such features wouldn't be around for long and to make the most of them!

Apart from the freshening breeze the weather was quite pleasant, so I carried on working my way slowly downstream. The green shoots of wild garlic had started poking up everywhere, together with the odd clump of snowdrops, and it wouldn' t be long before the banks were completely carpetted. By the time I'd reached the bottom of the section I'd managed to winkle out 16 grayling, including a nice male of just over a pound. 

The wind was now in my face and making it tricky to control the line with the centrepin. However, I managed three more out of that final swim, including another fish over the pound mark, before I decided to call it a day and headed home to watch the rugby, if you could call it that!

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!