04/02/2023 - Pike interlude

Decided to have a break from the grayling and go and soak some deadbaits in the Soar instead. Weather forecast was breezy, but mild and the river had been running at a stable, winter level for several days, so I jumped in the van and pointed it south. 

Headed to the usual section near Kegworth and arrived just after first light to find that I had it all to myself again. Was glad to see that the beds of floating pennywort, so prevalent before Christmas, had virtually disappeared, seen off by a combination of frost, flood and herbicide applications. Walked up to the bend at the head of the section where I would be sheltered from the wind, at least for the start of the session. As on previous trips, a few chunks of old, freezer-burned mackerel were scattered in the margin as I went. Once in my starting spot I popped a joey down the nearside margin and a bluey over to the far bank, the first time I'd tried the latter as bait, and settled down to watch the floats. 

Briefly allowing my eyes to wander, I watched a little egret flap upstream and then saw a male sparrowhawk carry out a low level bombing run over the river, hopping over the flood wall at the last minute and scattering a flock of pigeons that had been quietly sat on the lawn of the house opposite. After about fifteen minutes I was just thinking to myself that I'd not yet failed to catch in this particular swim when I saw the float down the nearside disappear. Was a bit confused when I picked the rod up to find an old, sodden reed stem hanging on the line and thought for a moment that it had caused the float to sink. However, when I flicked it off the line the float failed to reappear, so I wound down to feel a satisfying weight on the end. 

This one put up more than the usual token resistance and gave me a bit of a runaround before sliding over the net. On the scales the needle bounced around the eleven pound mark, so gave myself 10lb 14oz and added it to my short list of rare Soar doubles. Gave it fifteen minutes more before making my first hop back downstream. Once again it was the mackerel in the nearside margin that wobbled off first. However, I failed to connect with anything on the strike, although the bait came back with deep slash marks down each side. Popped it back into the same place hoping something would have another go at it and saw the float dip and start to move off about five minutes later. 

This time the strike connected with a more modest, but extremely greedy specimen that coughed up a piece of my prebait and a half-digested sardine in the net. He'd also suffered some tail damage in the past that had caused a section to weirdly grow much longer than the rest. Popped him back and gave it another few minutes before again leapfrogging into the next spot downstream, where yet again it was the mackerel down the side that did the business with another jack. He'd thoughtfully left me the bait in the net, so I hooked it back on and dropped it in the same spot. Was fiddling around wondering why I couldn't get the line to stay in the clip of the drop off indicator when I realised that the bait must have been taken as soon as it hit the deck! 

Had only just banked the culprit when the drop off on the other rod hit the back rest and after a bit of juggling I ended up with two jacks side-by-side in the net, with the second fish taking the bluey that I'd re-positioned in mid-channel after a barge had passed through. Thankfully both were easily unhooked and quickly sent on their way, although it took a bit longer to sort out the resulting mess and rebait both rods. Despite that five minutes of madness I had nothing more from the swim, so moved on again. The river was getting a bit busy by now and I had to play hokey cokey with the rods to avoid barges, kayaks and rowers. Added a micro-jack and another better fish that missed the ten pound mark by a couple of ounces before I decided to pack up and head home for lunch. 

Have got my eye on a difference section of the river for my next pike session, although there's still also more grayling, chub, perch and zander to consider before the end of the season!

23/01/2023 - While the iron is hot...

This blog entry had started off with a bit of a political rant, but I just got wound up so deleted it! Suffice to say, as a public sector worker I will be soon joining the many, many people already on picket lines up and down the country after my union agreed on strike action this week. 

It's only the second time this has happened in my thirty years service, but as an organisation we have been under-resourced and under-paid for more than a decade now. At the end of the day, the vast majority of the people I work with are decent, hard-working individuals who just want to be paid a living wage and it's certainly sobering on Teams calls to see many colleagues, including managers, working at home wrapped up in fleeces, jumpers and coats. After all, none of us are in the position of being able to "accidentally" funnel millions into offshore accounts! However, whether the current government will take any notice, or actually care what's going on given their apparent complete disconnect with the general public is a different matter. 

Anyway, rant over (still managed to get a small one in!) and onto the fishing. If I was to take advantage of the continued settled, dry weather it had to be during a brief window of opportunity this morning as the rest of my week was otherwise committed with work. To maximise my available time I therefore headed off to my local River Derwent and whilst it was still a tad too high for my liking I was confident that I could winkle out a few grayling provided that I could find them. In contrast to Sunday the weather forecast correctly predicted a morning temperature of three degrees that felt positively balmy in comparison. It also meant that I didn't have to waste time scraping the van's windows. Turned out that the decision to take it out for a run after it had been standing for a while was probably the correct one as it only just turned over before spluttering into life. 

However, didn't take time for it to warm up and he was positively singing when I drove into an empty carpark a bit later. Crossed the footbridge to find the icy course that the river had taken when it burst its banks a week earlier was still visible in the fields, whilst the bankside bushes sported various items of urban flood debris. However, the river itself was nice and clear albeit a little pacey. The plan was to have dozen casts in each spot until I dropped on some fish, so headed upstream to my usually reliable starting point. The steps down to the peg were still partially submerged, but I managed to drop in without mishap and was soon running the float down off the rod tip. However, despite one small fish early on I was soon on the move. Unfortunately, subsequent spots were blank or yielded one or two fish at most and by the time I had worked my way back downstream I'd only had a handful of grayling to show for my efforts. 

It was therefore Sod's Law that I should drop on them in my final swim with less than an a hour's fishing left! Hadn't made it easy for myself either as the low sun was shining straight upstream into my face. However, squinting through the glare I saw the float disappear on the first run down. 

Added a baker's dozen from that swim alone before I unfortunately had to pack up, the sun now tempered by a stunning mackerel sky. Hadn't had anything massive, but it was nice to have a bit more sport on what had turned out to be a cracking morning.

21/01/2023 - Brave or stupid?!

First session of 2023 has been a little while coming. The fields near my house have been waterlogged for weeks providing a feast for the crows and magpies in the form of unfortunate drowned invertebrates. The drainage ditches have been brim full and running fast, sending the silt and nutrient-laden runoff down the hill and into the Trent, and the weather forecast has just seemed to be on repeat - another weather front sweeping across the country bringing yet more rain. 

At least it's re-filled the reservoirs so that people can have their sprinklers on their lawns again when we have another drought this summer! I suppose that I could have found a local tributary less affected by the floods and tried for an obliging chevin, but winter for me is about my favourite fish, the grayling. I was therefore almost ecstatic when I saw a period of cold, dry and settled weather coming over the horizon. It was just a question of whether the main rivers would fine down in time for the weekend. 

Levels were checked daily during the week and in the end it was the Dove that won the race with the Derwent, the latter still a little too high for trotting for my liking. A pint of maggots was duly purchased and the tackle readied for an early start. Whilst it was still just below freezing when I left Nottingham the clear, blue sky promised some sunshine and hopefully a bit of warmth later in the day. However, as soon as I joined the motorway and descended into the Trent valley I was enveloped by freezing fog and the temperature dropped a couple of degrees to minus three. Was still the same when I reached Tutbury and I began to doubt my sanity - firstly when my gloves stuck to the gate to the carpark and secondly when my car wheels scrabbled for grip on the ice as I crested the flood embankment! 

At least the river looked to be in good nick - running at a manageable level and with just a tinge of colour. Had a quick coffee, then got togged up in the neoprenes and put on as many outer layers as I could find in the car, then headed upstream in the gloom past bankside trees and vegetation covered in crystals of hoar frost. Made straight for my "banker" swim thinking that, given the conditions, if I was going to catch anywhere it would be there. Slid gracefully down into the river up to my knees, the cold shock thankfully buffered by 5 millimetres of rubber. Took a couple of casts to find the depth, but having wet the line I was immediately faced with the problem of the rod rings freezing up and had to dip the rod almost full length  into the river each cast to free them up.

After half an hour of this with no bites I was getting a bit fed up and the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans drifting over from the Nestle factory was only making me wish I was back home having breakfast. However, as the float was pushed towards the near bank by an eddy it promptly disappeared and I found my self connected to the first fish of the morning - a nice male grayling. Sent the float through the same area a few times adding a couple more and it seemed I'd found a group of fish willing to feed. A watery sun was now just visible over the trees and whilst it was doing absolutely nothing to raise the temperature or burn off the fog, I could now see the morning procession of dog walkers on the opposite bank instead of just listening to their shouts and dog whistles. 

One lady spotted me and stopped, shouting over "oooh, you're brave........or stupid!", then proceeded to take a photo of me on her phone, probably to amuse her friends with on Instagram later. Not that I cared, I was getting a few bites and carried on until I'd had a dozen grayling in the net, including another chunky male.

Decided that was enough to declare a victory against adversity and called a halt to proceedings. Had been in the river for two and a half hours and my feet were beginning to feel it. Clambered back up the bank and headed back to the car, pondering whether the tip would have been a better option on a day like this. Was still below freezing when I left, although the forecast was still optimistically saying bright sunshine.........which of course it was when I got back home! 

09/12/2022 - Post COVID pick-me-up

My first (and hopefully last) experience with COVID was thankfully a bearable one, the boosters doing their job and minimising any effects, with just a bit of a sniffle and a phlegmy throat to remind me of its presence. It also seems that there are lot worse things about at the moment as a colleague at work has been off for nearly three weeks now with a nasty chest infection.

Tried to minimise any social contact anyway and spent the last week keeping out of the way of the kids, so hopefully I've not passed it onto them - the daughter particularly has got far too much going on before Christmas and my life simply would not be worth living if that was cutrtailed! Had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast whilst sat on my arse as I had a good half pint of maggors in the fridge and was itching to have another go at the grayling.

The current conditions looked spot on - freezing cold, bright and sunny and no wind. Had a window of a few hours this morning, so headed off in the van to the River Derwent again. Arrived just after first light, the moon and sun having a brief battle for supremacy before the latter burst over the horizon and flooded the frost-covered landscape. Wasn't in a rush so made myself a coffee and waited for the sun to get a bit higher in the sky before donning the neoprenes and making my way over the footbridge and across the field, leaving dirty great footprints on the otherwise pristine, white canvas. Had just over three hours before I had to leave in order to give me time to get home to dial into a meeting.

I therefore walked straight upstream to the first swim I'd fished last week in the the hope that the grayling were still in residence. The river had visibly dropped since my previous session. However, the newly exposed mud indicated that the only visitors in the interim had been those of the furred and feathered kind. The water clarity had also improved and my only doubt about the temperature was dispelled when the float disappeared on the very first trot down resulting in the first grayling of the morning. Wasn't massive, but was nice start particularly when another one followed next cast. Blank avoided I settled down to catch a few more despite it still being cold enough for ice to form in the rod rings and requiring me to periodically dunk the rod tip in the river to free the line.

Eventually the sun rose high enough to warm my back and I got into a rythmn of trotting and feeding. When it came time to leave I'd had 21 grayling and could have quite happily stayed and caught more if it wasn't for that inopportune meeting.

Bumped into the bailiff when I got back to the van, so gave him a catch report. Seems very few people bother with the river when the barbel fishing tails off and few venture very far from the  carpark, which suits me fine. However, think even I need to leave my comfort zone and  travel a bit further afield if I'm going to catch a "two" this winter.

02/12/2022 - Grayling therapy, but with a twist

Couldn't ignore the prospect of another dry day without any wind and with a pint of maggots already waiting in the fridge I booked the morning off work and headed to the River Derwent with the long rod hoping for the first few grayling of the winter.

There was a car already in the carpark when I arrived and as I got togged up in my chesties I was surprised to see my fellow angler coming back over the footbridge. Turned out he'd just forgotten something, but from his albeit "traditional" gear - canvas bag, split cane rod and matching landing net - it was clear that he was also after the grayling. Had a very informative chat before going our separate ways - him downstream and me upstream - having agreed to compare notes if we saw each other later. It was 4 degrees Centigrade and another overast day when I arrived, but thankfully the gloom had lifted slightly by the time I reached my first spot. Nobody had fished the peg since the floods had receded and I slid down the muddy, wet bank more than stepped into the river. 

Water clarity was also pretty good, although I'd asked at the tackle shop for a few orange and yellow fluoro maggots to be included in my mix just in case and picked these out for my hook baits. Started off with a single grub on a size 16 Drennan widegape, running it downsteam under the Avon as far as my eyes would let me. After a few trots, each accompanied by a few freebies, the float buried and I felt the familiar mad gyrations of a modest grayling on the end of the line. Carried on catching at regular intervals, the fish apparently spread out rather than bunched up in one place and ranging in size from a fingerling to just over a pound. They were obviously feeding well, coughing up maggots in the net and properly nailed by the widegape, although it never ceases to amaze me watching the lengths that grayling go to shed the hook, sometimes more successfully than I'd like. Got into a nice rythmn, disturbed only by the occasional test explosion from the cracker factory on the opposite bank.

Before I knew it two hours had gone past and I'd had 19 grayling grace the net. Bites had slowed by now so I gave myself a couple more casts before upping sticks and moving downstream, disturbing a few redwings in the hawthorn bushes as I went. With just the morning off I wanted to try at least one more swim, so dropped in upstream of the pipe bridge where the sun finally made a welcome appearance for the first time. It had stayed cold all morning and I'd had to put the gloves on to keep my fingers warm. Started getting fast, jabbing bites straight away and missed several before I hooked one of the culprits, a small dace. Seemed to be quite a few in the swim as I added half a dozen more, along with three more grayling. My fellow angler appeared behind me at this stage and reported that he'd had fifteen grayling to over a pound.

He'd also lost a large chub that he'd managed to coax thirty yards upstream before the hook pulled out. Gave it a couple more casts after he'd departed, but I really was pushing it with the time so packed up, pretty happy with a few hours work. However, the twist was yet to come. The wife had been in locked in isolation in the spare room all week with the dreaded COVID after finally bringing it home from work (neither of us had sucumbed to it until now). During the morning I'd started to feel increasingly ropey with what felt like the onset of a cold. First thing I did when I got throught the door was to take a test and yes - I was positive! The two of us are now isolating away from the rest of the household, although I suppose there are worse things than being waited on by the kids! 

01/12/2022 - Zander fails and a few paltry pike

Gave myself a couple more sessions to try and break out of the zander rut and for my "lucky" mascot to repay the debt of rescuing him from the floods last winter. 

First one was back on the River Trent. It had hammered down with rain the day before and the river was on the rise, but not too coloured and not yet at a level that was unfishable. Unfortunately what I hadn't accounted for were the floating rafts of flood debris that forced me to fish a maximum of a rod length's out, or risk getting wiped out every five minutes. However, I was still fishing in about 8 feet of water and there was the likelihood that any sensible zander wouldn't be sat out in the main flow anyway. Out of the two rods I was convinced that the one with a lamprey section positioned next to a bush downstream would be the one to go and I had my eyes glued to the tip for any signs of movement. However, as it started to go dark it was the other rod, with a headless roach swung out into open water in front of me, that started nodding instead. 

Wound down and bent the rod into a fish that banged its head a couple of times before getting momentarily snagged up in something soft, but it was quickly out and free again. Reaching for the net I was prematurely congratulating myself for breaking my run of bad luck when the hooks inevitably pulled out! Took a moment before rebaiting and casting out again, but my heart wasn't really in it. The river had continued to rise and when the slack I was fishing started to furiously back-eddy it was time to go. 

Next attempt was on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Burton, usually a reliable venue that has produced zander up to 8lb 4oz in the past.

Weather conditions seemed perfect - mild with not a breath of wind - and the canal was carrying a nice tinge of colour. However, upon reaching "the spot" it was clear from the worn and muddy bank that it had been receiving quite a lot of attention. This was confirmed shortly after I'd put out both rods when a portly chap came wheezing up the towpath and asked me how long I was stopping as he had intended to fish the same swim. Turned out that him and his mates, including "Polski Pete", had been fishing the section solidy since the summer and, whilst they'd had some good zander and pike (which they'd given names to after several re-captures), the last month had been "crap"! Didn't seem to register with him that this was possibly because they'd hammered it. 

As he carried on I could feel my confidence slowly ebbing away and it was nearly at rock bottom when he finally departed with a cheery "I hope you catch something". Fished a couple of hours into dark, changing and moving the baits around, but failed to attract a single bite. More disappointing was that the venue had been discovered and probably sucumbed to angling pressure, let's hope temporarily. For my next session, rather than face the prospect of another blank straight away, I headed out to the River Soar with the pike rods. Again, weather and river conditions seemed perfect. The recent flood had removed the beds of floating pennywort, sending them off to cause a nuisance further downstream, and it was clear that none of the pegs had been fished since the river had fined back down. 

I'd also been and got some sardines from the local fishmongers (cheaper than off Mr Fickling!) to supplement the bait bag, so was feeling pretty confident.

Walked up to the head of the section, flushing a kingfsher and a heron from the reeds on the way, and soon had a sardine and a lamprey positioned in the near and far margins. As the gloom lifted in what passed as a sunrise the sardine developed a life of its own and the first jack soon hit the net. Shorty afterwards it was the lamprey's turn. Didn't have time to put this rod back out again before a fresh sardine on the other rod went off again. Briefly felt a fish on the other end before pulling out of it, although judging by the dithering about with the bait it was probably a tiddler. Still, three runs within the first hour was looking promising. However, as quickly as they turned on, they turned off again! Despite regularly leap-frogging the rods downstream and fishing hard for the next three hours I could only manage one more jack before it was time to pack up for work. 

Think it's time now to pick up the float rod before it gets cold and windy over the next few days. Surely the grayling won't let me down?

09/11/2022 - Something better change!

The words of the Men In Black seem particularly apt given the ongoing shit storm we find ourselves in as a country. On a more personal level the fishing recently has been particularly pants, with a trip over to France at the end of October setting the tone.  Took my little Advanta River Ambush rod and a few bits and bobs with a view to targetting the River Charente that runs less than five minutes from my in-law's cottage in rural Vienne.

Purchasing a holiday permit or "Carte de Peche" online is a pretty simple process nowadays and, whilst I had chucked in a couple of bags of pellets, most French supermarkets have a fishing section where you can buy tackle and bait, including worms and maggots. The section of river I had in mind was of a similar nature to my local River Soar and ran through an "aire de loisirs", which had an information board at the entrance depicting the species alleged to be present, including chub, roach, carp, bream and even wels catfish. 

I'd seen quite a few chub of various sizes in the river at nearby Civray on previous trips, with barbel further downstream at Ruffec, so set my stall out accordingly. With daytime temperatures still in the mid-twenties I picked a handy swim downstream of a small weir that looked spot on.

However, despite pre-baiting with pellets and corn and then fishing for the next three evenings on the trot, baiting up again each time before I left, I failed to get a single bite. Not that it was entirely lifeless. A few pellets thrown into the margins soon attracted a cloud of fry and as the light started fading a few fish started topping mid-river - there just didn't seem anything of any size present. Frustrating and puzzling at the same time and certainly not the best thirty Euros I've spent in my life! Still, the rest of the holiday made up for it with plenty of walking, foraging for chestnuts and mushrooms (incuding some delicious ceps) and wildlife spotting, with several praying mantis, a family of coypu, a male hen harrier and a black winged kite being the highlights.

Back in a decidedly cooler and damper UK my thoughts turned to zander and when the first opportunity arose I headed off to the River Trent near Sawley. Had a rummage in the freezer before I left and found some small roach and lamprey sections that had seen better days, but stuck them in the bag anyway. Good job as when I called into the local tackle shop on the way they had virtually nothing in the way of deadbaits. Got to the river to find that, like an idiot, I had forgotten both my waterproof coat and my head torch in my haste to get out the house. With the light rapidly fading it was too late to go back so I soldiered on regardless and soon had two baits out in a swim that had produced zeds up to 9lb 11oz in the past. 

As it got dark the lights from the nearby builder's yard proved more than enough to see by and when it did start spotting with rain I just sheltered under the fallen trunk of a crack willow.

The river was also in good nick, slightly above normal level and with a bit of colour. However, it was the quality of the bait that immediately started nagging at me and after a couple of biteless hours my confidence was unsurprisingly at rock bottom! Following the inevitable blank I therefore called into Walkers of Trowell the next day to raid their freezer. Stocked up on some more coarse deadbaits and a few lamprey, the latter costing me a small fortune - poor Mr Fickling must be down to his last farthing! First opportunity to soak some fresh bait came this evening on the River Soar following a meeting down in Rothley. Headed to a part of the river near Barrow where again I'd previously had zeds to 8lb 10oz. 

Some match anglers were just leaving when I pulled up in the car park and a quick chat revealed that it had been tough going in the bright, clear conditions. However, a report of nuisance predators grabbing and biting off the odd roach sounded promising, so I got togged up and headed downstream. Unfortunately my optimism was shirt-lived as I found my preferred peg to be completely clogged up with huge mats of the dreaded floating pennywort and totally unfishable. 

The same was true for the rest of the section, the low flows over the summer presumably insufficient to keep it on the move and prevent it from proliferating.

Therefore headed back the way I had come to the wider, deeper section upstream of the weir. Whilst the pennywort was still present on both banks, swims had at least been dragged out for the winter matches. Settled into a spot near the car park, popping one bait down the nearside margin and the other in mid-channel. Despite the enforced change of swim things felt good and as the light levels faded I focussed on the rod tips fully expectant of a bite. Sure enough, as the sun finally dipped below the horizon behind me, the rod down the side started nodding and I was straight onto it before the line pulled out of the clip. Wound down into a fish that came in like a wet sack and was further disappointed to see a small jack flop into the net.

As I was unhooking him the indicator on the other rod beeped a couple of times, but then stopped. Wound this one in after a few minutes to find that something had been chewing the arse off my lamprey, probably signal crayfish. Thought this would at least put a bit more scent in the water so re-positioned both rods and sat back to wait again. Unfortunately the sky had cleared in the meantime and the rising full moon lit everything back up again. Looked like this had put paid to my chances and after a biteless half hour I was ready to pack up when the rod in mid-river suddenly roared off. Wound down into a much better fish that felt like a zander from the initial head shaking, but which mysteriously turned into a nocturnal pike just shy of double figures by the time it hit the net, making several determined lunges under the blankets of pennywort and testing my tennis elbow before it did so. Gave it another half hour on the back of that fish, but didn't have any further luck. 

Headed home having at least avoided another blank, but without catching the target species again. Guess I will have to keep trying until I find one!