01/12/2020 - Opportunity knocks

Post Lockdown II all of the East Midlands will in Tier 3, so the Friday night takeaway in support of the local pub will continue for the time being. However, in terms of fishing, there is actually a saving grace for me in that I live at the tripoint of Notts, Derbys and Leics. Just a short trip of a couple of miles down the road under the previous arrangements wasn't possible as it meant crossing different tier boundaries. Not that I will be travelling far anyway - I've got plenty of water locally at my disposal. Unfortunately, it's all of the other factors that do their best to put a spanner in the works, so when an empty work diary coincides with calm, bright weather conditions and the river is at a nice, steady level it's an opportunity not to be missed.  

I even had a pint of maggots in the fridge, purchased on the off-chance at the weekend. First light therefore saw me pulling up in an empty car park next to the River Derwent near Draycott. At first glance conditions looked to be spot on, with not a breath of wind disturbing the surface of the river. Whilst it was cold enough to numb the fingers as I pulled on my waders, I soon warmed up as I got moving. Found that the walk upstream to the top of the section was in stark contrast to the summer as the flood banks had received their winter haircuts and the stands of Himalayan balsam had been reduced to stubble. A cursory inspection of the swims below the weir found them to be too pacey and "boily" for my liking, so I headed back downstream to one of my trusted spots, a long, steady glide. 

First run through, "too shallow" I thought, so I increased the depth on the Avon float by 6 inches. Next cast the blaze orange tip disappeared and the first grayling came madly gyrating to the net. No better sign that you're on the money and I quickly added half a dozen more - peas in a pod. However, as the sun started to hit the water, my loose feed started to attract some undesired attention, my float dithering and bobbing on its way down the swim as the double maggot hookbait was harassed by little, stripey bait botherers. The good folks at the "cracker factory" had also started doing some pyrotechnic testing, the shotgun retorts accompanied by clouds of acrid smoke that started to drift across the river, stinging the nose.

I therefore made a move downstream, accompanied by a flock of cackling, hedge-hopping fieldfares. However, I couldn't buy a bite in the next couple of spots. Again, my usual "banker" swim looked just a bit too fast and turbulent for fish to be comfortably sat out in the flow. This made me stop and think where they might be instead and I remembered seeing a cattle drink on Google Maps, where the bank had been broken down to create a gently shelving gravel "beach" on the inside of a bend. Looked ideal with a decent run of flat water running through at a nice walking pace.Trouble was that the low sun was now shining straight upstream, causing me to squint through the glare to see my float.  

However, I persevered and was glad that I did as it became obvious that a few fish were lying at the bottom of the shelf and were feeding happily despite the bright conditions and gin clear water. Remained in that spot until I could no longer ignore my growling stomach. Finished with 21 grayling to just over a pound and a single, gate-crashing dace. All had been nailed by the size 16 Kamasan Animal, with just one lost to a broken hooklink right at the knot, possibly weakened by the previous fish. 

Stopped off at the golden arches on the way home for a rare guilty pleasure to round off a very pleasant morning!

23/11/2020 - A proper grayling day

Hopes of a quick session on the Derwent last Friday were dashed by rising water levels as the lower river presumably reacted to rain higher up in the catchment. At least that gave me time to repair the hole I'd somehow bodged through the seat of my neoprenes last time out!

The weekend was therefore spent consulting XCWeather and the river level service on .GOV.UK to determine the next available window of opportunity. Luckily one presented itself sooner than later with calm, albeit cold, conditions on Monday looking ideal for a trip to my favourite Dove tributary, which was in the process of fining down rapidly. Was a bit of a shocker waking up on Monday morning to find out how cold it actually was, but after a few minutes spent scraping the car windows I was heading west on the A50. Arrived at the venue just as the sun was burning through the fog and lighting up the frost covered fields. Got all my layers on and headed upstream, defacing the otherwise blank, white canvas with the imprints of my size nines. 

At first sight the river looked to be at a nice level, with just a tinge of colour and not too many leaves. My only concern was that the drop in temperature from mid-teens on Saturday to low single figures in the space of 36 hours would put the fish off. However, on just the third trot through the first swim the float buried as the two maggots (purchased pre-lockdown and now over two weeks old!) were scoffed by my first grayling of the day. Had a couple more, but didn't hang around as only half the pool was fishable due to a fallen tree and I was keen to see what other re-modelling had gone on since last visit - the beauty of fishing a small, spate river is that things are always changing from one winter to the next.
Next spot downstream was actually unchanged and one that I'd had several fish over the pound mark from in the past, but had recently become a bit of a bogey swim. I therefore wasn't expecting much and was on the point of moving on again when the float disappeared and I found myself connected to a much better fish that dogged around in the current before heading upstream. Frayed my nerves a bit when it went airborne a couple of times and I saw it was a decent grayling. 


However, the size 16 Kamasan Animal held and the Ultralite eventually took its toll as a cracking male rolled into the net. Carried on downstream picking off a few fish here and there, with some swims being a bit kinder than others. Had a couple of grayling out of one pool before hitting into another good fish, only this time when it erupted from the service like a missile I saw it was a spotty instead. Out of season and in mint condition with a buttery yellow belly it went back straight after a quick snap in the net. 

Stopped for a late lunch in the next spot, again one that had always been good for a few fish. 
However, first trot down after finishing my chorizo, hummus and salad cob I had a chunky dace instead of the expected grayling. He was followed by five of his shoal mates before the swim died and I moved on again. At this point I decided walk much further downstream to another previously productive swim. As I approached I could see another member who I'd met before just in the process of packing up. He'd been fishing with nymphs all day but hadn't had a touch. After we'd had a chat he said he was calling it day, so I had a cup of coffee before dropping into the swim he'd just vacated. 

Felt a bit guilty when the float buried not once, but four times in quick succession! My fellow angler re-appeared on the opposite bank just as I was unhooking the fourth grayling, mumbled something about "giving up fishing" then carried on back to his car. Was starting to lose the light by now, so I had a quick walk to the downstream limit, more out of curiosity than anything as I'd not ventured that far before, although I did bump a couple of fish in a swim that was marked for further attention at a later date. Went back to the car and had another coffee in the gathering gloom before heading home. Had 28 grayling, 6 dace and 3 brownies in total, so was glad that I'd taken a gamble on the weather. 

The only downer to the day was Bozza threatening stricter restrictions when we go back to the tiered system after lockown, so I'll have to wait and see if and when I can return.

10/11/2020 - Grayling and minnow soup

Mentioned in my last post that I'd splashed out on a 14 ft Drennan Acolyte Plus. With the best part of two pints of maggots still in the fridge from pre-lockdown, I was itching to try my new toy out on the local grayling population. 

Scanning the weekly forecast, Tuesday morning looked to be calm and dry. Taking account of the lockdown travel guidance, my choice of where to go was dictated by two other factors - the continuing release of water to the Derwent from Ladybower Reservoir and another dreaded 2 o'clock work telecom. I therefore headed for my next closest venue, the River Dove, arriving just after first light to maximise my time on the bank. Walked upstream in the lifting gloom to a long run where I'd done well in the past. 

Starting at the head of the run I ran the float down the inside and had a bite straight away. Not my target species, but a big fat minnow. The swim must have been black with the little buggers as virtually every subsequent cast resulted in another stripey bait robber, two maggots on a size 16 Kamasan Animal apparently no obstacle. Obviously the mild weather had not yet put them to bed for the winter. The Acolyte was hardly getting a workout, so it was a blessing when a sweep of the rod eventually connected with something a bit more decent in the way of a small grayling. By now the procession of dog walkers on the far bank was in full swing, the odd one casting me an accusing look, but most a friendly wave. Whatever their demeanour, they all certainly help to keep the "Black Death" away!

Took me a good three hours to work my way across and down the run, taking a few more grayling and what seemed like millions of minnows in the process. On what was to be my last cast before moving I finally caught what I was after - a mint, male grayling well over a pound.That fish put me in a bit of a quandry - stay or move? In the end I opted to run the float through a few more times, which would have been the right decision had I not bumped or lost the next three decent fish! Something that comes wth grayling fishing I suppose, but frustrating when you are struggling a bit. Hastily legged it to the other swim I had in mind, which happened to be the furthest point away on the stretch, so I sweating a bit in my neoprenes when I got there. The freshening breeze was blowing straight upstream in this spot, which was not ideal, but the move was vindicated with a small grayling on my first trot through. 

More importantly, there didn't appear to be any pesky minnows in residence! Had another half a dozen grayling in quick succession, which had me kicking myself for not moving sooner. With time running out I gave myself one last cast and again found myself attached to good fish. Did the usual grayling trick of hanging out in the flow like a dead weight, but then decided to go airborne a few times when it got into the margins. Played it out carefully, eventually putting the net under another mint male. Unfortunately I really had to call it quits at this stage and yomped back across the fields shadowed by a big flock of fieldfares, the first I've seen this year. Got back home and dialled into my call with a minute to spare! Had been impressed with the Acolyte - unbelievably light, scarily thin at the tip, but with back bone to deal with the bigger fish, whilst not feeling over-gunned for the smaller stuff. 

Hopefully, it'll be getting a few more outings if the weather behaves, although there's more wet and windy weather forecast as we speak!!

04/11/2020 - Pre-lockdown piking

Writing this now in our second "lockdown" we've already received the good news that angling is one of the few recreational activities allowed to continue under the new restrictions. As long as we are sensible about the distance, it seems that we can still travel to do so as well. However, earlier in the week I was grappling with the consequences of the tier system and what that meant in terms of where I could and couldn't fish. Having finally got some respite for a few days from the intolerable high winds we've been experiencing, I was keen to get out somewhere.  

Ideally I would have liked to try out my new Drennan Acolyte 14 ft float rod on the grayling population, but my local River Derwent was out of bounds, being just the wrong side of a Tier 3 boundary. In any case, it was also at an artificially high level due water being released from Ladybower Reservoir to create some capacity for the winter, so the debut of my new toy would have to wait. Instead I dusted off the pike gear, raided the freezer and headed off to the River Soar near Kegworth. Day was forecast to be bright and sunny and there wasn't a cloud in the sky when I arrived shortly before sunrise. River was looking good, but what shocked me were the dense beds of floating pennywort, which were present as far as I could see. 

Walking upstream I was relieved to see that there were some fishable gaps and soon had a couple of joeys soaking in the near margin. Waited for an hour for the first indication on the downstream rod. The float was dithering around for so long I thought crayfish were responsible until it finally submerged. Had a fish on briefly before it decided to head under the nearest bed of pennywort. Couldn't bully it out, so slackened off and let it swim out of its own accord. Tightened down again and promptly pulled straight out of it! Rebaited then decided to leapfrog both rods downstream. Had just re-positioned one and was walking to get the other when I looked back to see that the float had already disappeared! Managed to get the hooks to stick in this one, although another late dash into a weed bed meant quite a bit of "salad" ended up in the landing net. 

Carried on leapfrogging downstream, losing another and landing three more - all small and barely hooked. They didn't seem to be really having and it appeared that I had to land a bait on their heads to get a reaction. When I did the reaction was immediate, but the rest of the time I was staring at motionless floats (apart from when I was duped by the bleak shoals pecking at them!). I was therefore trying to decide if  a move to another section for the last hour would be worthwhile when the Canal & Rivers Trust hove into view with their weedspraying boat. Was good to see that they were taking some action to control the pennywort, but they had effectively wrecked the near margin in the process, so my decision was made for me. 

Jumped back in the car and made the short hop downstream. With time limited before afternoon work Zoom calls beckoned (God, I hate them!), I set up opposite some boats, dropping one bait down the margin and the other just off the back end of a barge. Had just got settled when the bailiff arrived, although the fact I was "not Polish" seemed good enough for him as he didn't actually want to see my club book! Was just having a chat when the indicator on the margin rod hit the back rest with a clunk. Normally I would have been watching the float and would have been on the rod and feeding out line at the first indication. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the rod the float was lying ominously still, the bait having been dropped and the chance gone. 

"Oh dear!", I thought to myself. Bailiff must have been a mind reader as he hastily took his leave at this stage, so I changed the mangled smelt for a roach and popped it back into the same spot. 
However, it was the other rod that went next, the responsible party heading under the boat with his prize before I dragged him kicking and screaming to the net. Eked out the last few minutes without any further action and headed home under a mackerel sky, fitting given I'd four out of the five fish on joeys. Bit of a slow session, but in the process I had found a deeper hole that I'd previously been completely unaware of and one that was worth a look at in the future, possibly for an elusive Soar zander. 

As for the lockdown I need to re-assess my options, bearing in mind that there's plenty of people who have not been fortunate as us anglers and have had to give up their recereational activities for the month. Time to sensible I think.

23/10/2020 - A bleak outlook?

My better half is a teacher so, whilst the kids may have grown up, we are still tied to the school holidays if we want to go away anywhere. With Nottinghamshire being blessed with a two week, autumn half-term, the plan was to get away to see the in-laws down in Pembrokeshire and for me to get some more sea-fishing done after finding a couple of new spots in the summer. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 infections increasing again across the country, firstly Nottinghamshire was put under Tier 2 restrictions and then Wales went into their 17 day "fire break", so that was the end of that. Hugely disappointing as we have done everything as a family to remain "low risk", but understandable given that the NHS is under pressure once again. Rather than cancel my leave, we've stayed at home and made the best of it and have got out and explored the local countryside on foot. However, as I write this, we are now waiting to find out when, rather than if, our part of Nottinghamshire moves into Tier 3. The weather has also done it's best to put the boot in with rain and strong winds forecast for at least the next week or so. 

I therefore decided to make use of a window of opportunity on Friday, but even then the weather conditions limited my choice of venue. I would have loved to have had another crack at those canal zeds, but opted for somewhere a bit closer to home where I knew I would get some shelter from the stiff south-westerly wind. After some lunch I therefore headed to Soar Tackle at Kegworth for a pint of maggots before driving the short distance to the river, which was carrying a tinge of colour after some heavy showers earlier in the day. Walked upstream to my usual spot to find the level up and the river pushing through. However, the slower water on the inside of the crease looked perfectly fishable, although I could see that the number of leaves in the water was going to be a pain. 

Waded upstream slightly, so I could run the float down off the rod top without having to cast across the eddy on the inside. About second run down the float disappeared resulting in the first of many, many bleak! A lot of the time they must have been taking the hook bait on the drop and then just swimming along under the float, as a strike at the end of the trot invariably met with either a fish or a crushed and sucked maggot! With those numbers present it must have been hard for anything else to get a look in, but I did manage a few roach, dace and chub in amongst the pearlescent hordes. Interesting that bleak scales were once used to make artificial pearls, a process conceived by a certain Monsieur Jacquin in Paris in the 17th Century. Thames bleak fishermen were major exporters to France at the time, with 18,000 average-sized bleak yielding about 7lb of scales. Really? 

Firstly, the Thames must have been stuffed with them and secondly, it must have been incredibly tedious to catch and de-scale them! Back to present day, with that number of prey fish in the swim I figured that there must be some predators about, so the perch rod was deployed once more just off the crease in the slack to my right. 

However, despite there being a such a bleak banquet available, nobody appeared to be at the feast as this rod remained undisturbed for the rest of the session. Perhaps that was the problem? My bait could have been like a needle in a haystack for all I knew.The only other excitement came from the occasional, big clump of invasive pennywort that floating down through the swim like a green iceberg, presumably dislodged from upstream due to the higher flow. 

There's an ongoing and expensive battle by the authorities to control pennywort on the Soar by spraying with herbicide and on a bad year I've seen it render whole sections of the river unfishable due to the large mats of floating vegetation. Apparently a penny-wort munching, Argentinian weevil is possibly the solution, but still going through approval stages. Anyway, I carried on catching until I could no longer see the float and by which time I'd given up counting, not that I would have challenged a certain Hadrian Whittle. He managed to catch 2,100 bleak for a weight of 55lbs in a five hour match on the River Wye and then in a five hour, timed session for the Angling Times caught another 2,100 slightly larger bleak for 70lbs. I work that out to be a fish roughly every eight seconds! Apparently he went on to record five more match weights of bleak over 40lb. Assume he must have got repetetive strain injury and retired after that!

Headed home grateful to have got out, but a bit deflated - was that a last hurrah for a while? We shall have to wait to find out what Boris has in store for us next week.......

17/10/2020 - Like buses!

Going back through my diary I was shocked that my last zander session was nearly three years ago now and the last time I actually caught one was two years before that! That's been partly down to my obsession with grayling, but where on earth does the time go? With the perch proving elusive, I therefore decided that I needed to redresss the balance. Prospects for the weekend looked good so, with the freezer empty, I therefore had quick trip to the tackle shop to purchase some roach deadbaits and contribute to Mr Fickling's coffers in the process. 

Saturday arrived dull and overcast and with no wind so, after working up a sweat in the morning raking up leaves in the garden, I was raring to go. As my last few sessions on the Trent had been complete blanks I opted to head for a spot on the canal that had always been good for a few "schoolies" in the past. Got there at about 5 pm to find the area I wanted to fish was free, so set about getting some baits in the water. I still had to play "hokey-cokey" with a few late boats, including one that did a ten-point turn in my swim. 


This involved judicious use of reverse thrust that churned the water to the colour and consistency of mulligatawny soup and was performed by the driver whilst completely avoiding any eye contact! Eventually everything settled down and I was able to position my head-and-tailed offerings to my satisfaction just a few inches off the far-bank pilings, albeit with sunken rod tips to avoid the constant trickle of leaves floating down the canal. 
With it being overcast all day and with some colour in the water, I was hopeful of a bite before dark. However, sunset came and went and the normally productive period before darkness passed with just a couple of beeps on the right hand rod. 


About an hour into dark I had just texted the wife to say I was thinking of packing up when the
left-hand rod suddenly stuttered into life. 
Wound down into a fish that was immediately recognisable as a small zander from the manic head shakes. Unhooked him in the water and left him in the net while I quickly got the rod re-baited and back out again in case he had some friends. Had just taken a quick snap on the phone and popped him back when the right-hand rod went off. Again, wound down to what felt like a similar-sized zed. Had got this halfway back over the canal when the rod I'd only just re-cast went off as well! Bundled the first one into the net, dropped the rod then picked up the other one to feel something much heavier on the end. This fish didn't put up any resistance until it was nearly at my bank and, after a few big headshakes, I saw a long pale shape loom up onto the surface and scooped it into the net, where it dwarfed it's smaller companion. 

Unhooked them both in the water and put the smaller one straight back before having a bit of a breather! When I lifted the net out of the water onto the grass thoughts of a double crossed my mind, but in the torch light it looked long and lean. Scales confirmed a weight of 8lb 4oz - still a cracking looking fish with a big, full tail on it and easily my biggest canal zed. Had to make do with a snap on my phone having forgotten my camera in the rush to get fishing before popping him back. Took a few minutes after that to sort out the rods and get them re-baited and cast out again. Unfortunately, the pack must have already moved on as quickly as they had appeared as the next half an hour was biteless! Headed home at this point contemplating the thin line between success and failure, in this case the few minutes that made the difference between a blank and a PB. Can only go downhill from here!

29/09/2020 - A dearth of perch

Whilst the leaves haven't started falling in earnest, autumn seems to be well and truly upon us now. Green is slowly giving way to a pallette of yellows and oranges and everything just looks a bit brown and crispy around the edges. On my ritual 5 kilometre lap of self-punishment, my breath came out in clouds as I ran through cold hollows yet to be touched by the morning sun. However, by lunchtime it was back to t-shirt weather and just too nice to be trapped in front of the laptop, particularly given the wet weather that was forecast for the rest of the week. I also still had the best part of half a pint of maggots in the newly-acquired drinks (bait!) fridge, which was more than enough for what I had in mind. By mid-afternoon I'd finished all my work tasks for the day, so headed out of the door to a stretch of the River Soar that has produced some decent perch for me in the past - not monsters, but I've generally come away with at least one 2lb+ each session. Arriving at the venue I found two "yoofs" sat in the swim downstream of the spot I had in mind, but they were happy enough to let me drop in above them. 

Soon set about building up the swim, not only to get a few baits in the bucket, but also to attract any nearby predators. I'd been suffering from an unexplained, niggling soreness in my right shoulder over the last few days and the reason possibly became apparent when I flicked the stick float out underarm and then held the rod high to guide it down the run - too much trotting can give you RSI! Fortunately I was using my 11 foot Drennan Ultralite on this occasion, rather than my much heavier 13 foot outfit. 

Now discontinued, I'd been kicking myself that I'd also not invested in a longer Ultralite at the time, but perhaps I have a reason to justify the extra pennies on an Acolyte now! The cooler temperatures seemed to have thinned out the silver fish, so it took a bit of feeding before I was consistently catching some bleak, dace and roach. 


Didn't want to show my hand, so waited for my neighbours to pack up and leave before I put out the paternoster rod in the deeper water at the tail of the swim. Carried on trotting away, adding a few chub and more gudgeon (they are following me everywhere now) to the tally. 



After a few minutes I spotted some movement on the tip of the paternoster rod and was on it and pulling the line out of the clip before the bite alarm sounded. However, when I wound down there was nothing there apart from a bait-less hook. Popped the paternoster out into the same spot hoping it wasn't my only chance.

The next take was a far more positive affair - a slam down on the rod tip, the bobbin pinging against the back rod rest and line peeling off the spool. However, instead of the hoped for big perch, a long, green spotty shape loomed out of the depths before going ballistic on the surface, picking up the line of my hastily discarded float rod in the process. Popped the single size 6 out of his scissors in the net and then sent him quickly on his way as he already looked a bit beat up with marks and abrasions on both flanks. 
Whether this was due to previous poor handling or by a much bigger pike I couldn't really tell. By the time I'd sorted out the tangled mess of tackle and got fishing again the stickfloat line had gone quiet and it took the last of the maggots to stimulate a few more dace and chub into taking my hookbait. Left the paternoster rod out for a bit longer, but with nothing more doing I headed back home to cook the wife's birthday tea. Didn't leave entirely perch-less as I had a couple on the float rod, but one of these had only been as big as my thumb! This distinct lack of decent perch left me scratching my head a bit. Not the start of the predator campaign I was hoping for, but hopefully one that can only get better.