22/12/2017 - Trying to find an edge

It was an early finish for Christmas at work and, with the temperature still double figures, I therefore decided to have a quick zander session, this time on the River Soar. Dropped into the tackle shop first to supplement my meagre and increasingly manky supply of dead baits. However, they'd forgotten to order in any small coarse fish, so I had to make do with some extortionately priced lamprey and a pack of two, hand-sized roach that I could at least fillet or section if I was desperate. On the way to the counter I passed the bait additives and spotted a bottle of Predator Plus, no longer under the Van den Eynde label, but presumably the same stuff. Whilst I've never used additives for predator fishing before I was willing to try anything to find the edge that I was obviously lacking, so a bottle was purchased along with the dead baits.

Arrived at the river later to find it had a nice tinge of colour. However, whilst the previous day had been overcast and dull, I had brilliant blue sky and a low, dazzling sun to contend with instead - not ideal! Got the rods set up, one baited with a lamprey section, one with a small roach. Gave both dead baits a liberal coating of the Predator Plus. Lack of any ingredients on the label and no real discernible odour didn't really give me any clue as to how effective it might be. Popped one bait down the side and one over to the far bank and settled down to wait. The margin rod was first to go a few minutes later, resulting in a micro-jack. Re-baited and dropped it into the same spot. Unfortunately, my ineptitude came into play as I again forgot to open the bail arm on the reel after attaching the drop off. When the next run came on this rod a few minutes later  I picked it up to find a much better fish already attached. However, just as I was reaching for the net the hooks pulled out. Presumably it had not been able to get the bait far enough into its mouth on the tight line and had just been nicked by the bottom treble.

"Oh dear", I said aloud, or something like that! Moved both rods down the slack after this and had just got settled down again when a chap appeared over the top of the bank. Apart from the fact that he went and stood between me and my rods, it soon became apparent that he viewed chancing upon a fellow angler as an opportunity to verbally unload! The mostly one-sided conversation dodged about from the state of the fish stocks and Eastern European anglers to lack of Environment Agency bailiffs and otter predation to the price of club tickets. When he eventually left I got up to move the rods again. However, the downstream rod started nodding away and I was onto it before the drop off hit the rod rest. Again, this felt a much better fish. Looking over my shoulder I could still see my "friend" about 50 yards away making his way across the field. Thankfully he didn't turn around and see my rod hooped over and come back! Hooks stayed in this one and I was pleased to see a nice fat pike slide into the net - a rare Soar double of 10lb 13oz in mint condition.

The sun had just started to dip below the horizon at this stage and the harsh winter light was visibly softening. Re-baited again giving the lamprey section another good squirt of liquid attractant and dropped it in the same place. Less than 5 minutes later the same rod was off again, resulting in a smaller, but equally mint pike.

Moved further down the slack again into the swim that was going to take me into darkness, popping one bait down the middle and the other alongside a line of willows on the near side. As the sun disappeared the temperature started to noticeably drop and I had just settled down when I got a text from the wife saying that a thick fog had descended in Beeston. Looked up in that direction to see a grey band approaching over the horizon and it wasn't long before I was similarly enveloped. 

Soon everything, including me, was covered in a fine drizzle that just made it feel even colder. As it got darker I had a tentative pick up on the rod in the middle of the channel, but wound down to find nothing on the end. With no further action in the next half an hour I didn't need too much convincing that it was probably best to pack up and head home. The quest for the first zander of the season continues........

06/12/2017 - A birthday bonanza!

The last couple of years I've treated myself to a fishing trip for my birthday and had provisionally booked a day this year to do the same. However, with the weather set to change yet again I brought it forward to mid-week. Whilst the forecast was windy, it was dry and mild, back up to double figures in fact. 

Having dropped my daughter off at the railway station for her early morning train, I headed for Staffordshire. Grayling were the target again and my venue the small Dove tributary that I'd had so much success on in the past. .
Got to the venue shortly after 0800 hrs and was fishing half an hour later. Tackle was simple - my 11' Drennan Ultralite float rod, Speedia centrepin loaded with 3lb line, a wire-stemmed stickfloat and a size 16 Drennan widegape at the business end, baited with two maggots. 

Second trot down the first shallow run the float buried and I felt the mad thumping, twisting and gyrating of a grayling on the end of the line, not a biggie, but always good to get that first fish of the day. After that it was non-stop. There seemed to be fish in every riffle, run, glide, pool, nook and cranny! Most were clean, young fish in the 25-30 cm bracket, with just a handful displaying signs of attention from predatory birds - one with a stab wound and few more with classic "grab" marks on the flanks.

Made my way slowly downstream, working the float, holding back then running through, and constantly changing depth to search each new spot. By the time I stopped for lunch I had landed over 60 fish, but had only got a fraction of the way down the section. Was just finishing off my coffee when I got a text from my lad with the results of his driving test. Not one to waste any words, it just read "I passed"! Couldn't help having a chuckle to myself before carrying on downstream.

Skipped a few swims in order to give myself time to fish a pool where I'd had some nice dace and a few chub in the past. However, got there to find a large tree trunk wedged at the head of the run. The majority of the pool was still fishable, but the the tree had deflected the flow and changed the swim's characteristics. The first few trots down resulted in more grayling, including what would probably would have been my biggest - one of only a few that had come off during the course of the day. 

It was only as the light was beginning to fade and as I was trotting down the crease next to a a bit of a slack next to the bank that I eventually had something different in the shape of a couple of small chub and the same number of perch. Had one last grayling before snapping my hook off in the landing net taking my total to 83, by far the best session I've had at the venue. The light wasn't far off going completely at this stage, so I made my way back to the car, a bit tired but looking forward to celebrating with the lad (#mumanddadsnewtaxi!).

02/12/2017 - Zzzzzzzzz...and an early morning call

Had two more sessions out on the Trent after the zander. On both occasions the conditions seemed ideal - overcast and ridiculously mild - and, whilst the river was still relatively low and clear, I was confident of a bite after dark. In reality, my confidence was significantly  mis-placed!

On the first evening I moved upstream to fish some deeper water at the junction of the river and the navigable channel bypassing a weir. The feature screamed fish. However, I spent several hours contemplating my feet and my un-moving bite indicators as two deadbaits lay soaking on the bottom, with not even a "phantom" run to pique the interest. 

The second evening was spent tucked out of the way of a howling south-westerly, fishing a deep, near-side slack between two overhanging willows. Popped two deadbaits out and settled down to wait. However, after only about two minutes the tip of the upstream rod knocked a couple of times, then pulled violently downwards as the culprit tried to make off against the bail arm that I'd neglectfully failed to open after casting out - doh! Luckily the offending jack was well hooked and was successfully landed after a short scrap under my feet. My confidence was sky high after that instant result. However, over the next couple of hours it slowly ebbed away until finally, as I packed up after having had no further action whatsoever, it hit rock bottom! With the weather changing and the temperature dropping that was my last planned outing for a zander this year. I only hope that they are more obliging next February/March!

With temperatures hitting single figures, my attention now turned to grayling. At the first available opportunity,  I headed off bright and early along the A50 into Derbyshire to the River Dove to take advantage of falling river levels and a relatively calm and settled, albeit cold, day. Drove down the track to the river in darkness, having mis-judged my arrival time in my keeness to get fishing!
Layered up, pulled on the neoprenes and set off upstream, initially heading for a spot I'd fished with success last season - a long, wide and gradually deepening riffle. Set up the float rod and baited my size 16 Drennan wide gape with double maggot, then quietly slid knee deep into the water. Second trot off the rod tip I had my first grayling, all 5 inches of it! There were a lot of these about - obviously a good year class - and I dropped a couple more off before having my first decent fish.
Over the next few hours I covered as much of the riffle as I could, periodically taking a few steps over to the far bank to fish a new line when the bites dried up and then moving downstream 25 yards to start the process all over again. The fish seemed to be well spread out as it was a case of catching a couple each time I moved and, apart from one solitary chub, it was all grayling. Whilst there was a lot of small fish, I did have a handful around the pound mark that gave me a some fun and games in the current.

When I finally got to the end of the run, I'd had 33 grayling and that single chub. I had bumped or lost at least another dozen, including what would have been the biggest fish of the day just as a chap stopped to talk to me on the far bank (I'm hoping it was a chub!), so was pretty pleased with my first recce of the winter.

Finding out back at the car that I'd got at least three holes in my waders didn't dampen the spirits and I was already planning another trip to catch some more "ladies" on the drive home.

01/11/2107 - Spooky goings on down the river

I suppose I was really a day late, but Halloween was spent giving platelets at the Nottingham Blood Donor Centre, which would have been even more apt had the nurses all been dressed up as vampires. Not to be unfortunately! However, having sourced some suitably-sized deadbaits from Matchman Supplies, I was down on the River Trent the following evening to try and catch another kind of maligned, toothy creature - the zander. 

Headed to an area I'd not tried before, but one with lots of features that I thought would appeal to prey fish and predators alike. Soon had two, hair-rigged deadbaits, heads and tails removed, out in position - one in the mouth of the canal next to where I'd set up and the other in the river down the crease formed at the confluence. A bit later, two chaps with lure gear stopped for a chat, one of them providing some helpful reassurance that the area wasn't known for producing zander!

Not that I was put off, as I've often found that such information freely given is actually mis-information. However, I did concede that perhaps conditions were against me, with a low, clear river and clear skies. Wished them well as they headed off upstream and sat watching the sunset. Was taking a few photos when the drop off on the left hand rod hit the rod rest. Wound down into a fish that came in without much trouble - not my target species, but at least it had saved the blank.

Popped on a new bait and positioned it in the mouth of the canal again. By now the sun had completely disappeared to my right and the moon was rising to my left. The temperature had started to drop, so it was on with the coat to supplement the fleece I'd had on until now. As the moon rose higher it started to cast shadows along the bank and I was contemplating packing up when the drop off on the left hand rod jerked slowly in staccato fashion up to the reel and then stopped. Pulled the line out of the clip and then felt the line pull steadily through my fingers. Wound down to.....fresh air! The bait was still on the hook, but was almost completely scaleless. Cast out to the same spot and the bait had only been in a few minutes when the drop off began its jerky, upward dance once more, but again there was no satisfying weight on the end of the line when I wound down and the rig came back minus bait.

Something down there was taking the mick out of me! Put out a fresh deadbait and hovered expectantly over the rod, waiting for the bite alarm to sound. However, when a couple of sharp "bleeps" disturbed the silence, it was the other rod that showed some indication of interest. After feeling the line pulling through my fingers, I tentatively wound down, desperately trying to feel what was happening on the other end of the braid. However, yet again, my subsequent strike met with nothing and I skimmed an empty rig back across the surface. Put another bait out, but half an hour later I'd not had any further interest and packed up, contemplating a frustrating session. Whilst these "phantom" runs are not a new phenomenon on the river and could be casually attributed to eels, I couldn't help feeling on this particular occasion that I'd been chasing ghosts!

15/10/2017 - Being kept busy in Ilfracombe

This weekend was our second annual lads trip down to North Devon. As we get older, these weekends are becoming far less about surfing and more about just chilling out in nice surroundings. Conditions really have to be spot on to tempt us into the water nowadays, but that's not to say we are completely idle! The fishing gear usually goes in the car now and this weekend was no exception. Recent reports had also indicated a few unusual species coming out at Ilfracombe, including two species of clingfish, leopard spotted goby, topknot and tadpole fish, so some new species were possibly on the cards. Saturday morning therefore saw me heading off at first light, with the rest of the lads aiming to join me later. Arrived bang on low tide and set up on the lower deck of the pier. Set the bass rod up with a two hook flapper baited with a ragworm and mackerel cocktail and lobbed it out 40 yards, then set up the LRF rod to have a dabble down the side. Had just caught a little ballan wrasse when a chap came and told me that I'd have to move as the Lundy island ferry was coming 'round for loading for a 10 am departure. 

Had to move to the very far end of the deck and by the time the ferry had moored up I was left with about ten feet of wall to work with. Cursing my luck I temporarily put the bass rod away and concentrated on the LRF rod instead. Wasn't a problem in the end. The swell was creating a bit of movement at the end of the pier and this area appeared to be full of fish as a result.

After losing a couple of drop shot rigs, it was obvious that there were some hefty snags to my right, limiting me even further to where I could cast. However, by feeling the rig down and letting it bounce around gently just off the bottom I was soon into loads of little pollack and some sizeable sand smelt. Was well into double figures when Rob appeared with the others. Let him squeeze in next to me and he was soon into a succession of pollack himself, while I had a colourful, male corkwing wrasse.

During this time they had finished loading up the ferry and moved around to the upper deck again to allow the foot passengers to embark. Gave Rob the nod and we quickly moved into the vacated spot, but not before catching another ballan wrasse that came compete with one of the drop shot rigs I'd lost earlier! Fishing was bit slower in the new spot, but I thought there'd be a few more species around the pilings and it gave us a chance to put the other rod out in the hope of something bigger.

Left Craig in charge of the bait rod, while I carried on dropping down the side and was rewarded with a little poor cod and another ballan wrasse. Craig in the meantime was getting knocks and pulls and decided that it was time to reel in. However, the culprit was found to be a large velvet swimmer crab that had got the braid tangled around its legs. 

Lobbed out some fresh baits into the same general area again and it wasn't long before the tip started rattling again. However, it was a fish this time in the shape of a small whiting. Not long after this, with the tide rising and the swell starting to breach the lower deck, we eventually decided to avoid wet feet and call it a day, but not before Craig repeated his crab-catching trick. This time it was a little spider crab, exquisitely camouflaged with bits of seaweed. Two locals in matching fishing gear had arrived on the upper deck by this stage as well and were busy casting over our bait rod - obviously some kind of subtle etiquette there that we missed, because when I snagged one of their lines retrieving ours I found myself apologising to them!

The next day I sneaked out of the bungalow before anybody else was up and made the short drive up the coast again to Ilfracombe to find the pier completely deserted. A text from Rob informed me that the others had decided to play golf, so I had a free rein in more ways than one. However, set up at the bottom of the steps down to the lower deck and never had to leave the spot! I'd caught the last hour of the ebb tide, which meant there was a bit of movement in the water around the pilings. 

Concentrating on the LRF rod, conditions again seemed ideal for the pollack and sand smelt, as they were both present in numbers and for a good half an hour it was a fish a chuck, the angle worm being grabbed on the drop, or as the rig hit bottom. As slack water approached the bites died off a bit. However, a few different species started to appear, including shannies, some really colourful little ballan wrasse and a grumpy-looking tompot blenny. Started getting some unhittable rattles after that.

In the hope that it was one of the "oddities" that had been coming out recently, I tied on a scaled down 2 hook flapper with size 16 hooks baited with scraps of ragworm. However, the culprit was revealed as an inevitable rock goby. Carried on for a bit longer, but the bites had slowed right down and the pier was now getting busy with the Sunday crowd, so called it a day.

Was nice to have been kept busy, but a shame that I'd not been able to add to the species list on what was probably my last trip to the coast this year. We'll have to see.......

01/10/2017 - Another trip to the seaside!

I find it bizarre that, although I live in the East Midlands and about as far from the coast as you can get, I've done more sea fishing this year so far than anything else. Truth is that, whilst work and family commitments have conspired to keep me away from the rivers while I've been at home, it's been very easy to fit in a couple of hours here and there while we've been away, particularly when prevailing tides allow me to get out to a venue, fish and then get back before breakfast. A quick weekend trip down to Pembrokeshire to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday with her family was a good example. High tide was conveniently early in the morning, so plans were made and venues were chosen in order to maximise the available fishing time.

Unfortunately, I woke up at first light on Saturday to find a grey, Pembrokeshire "wet wind" blowing across the fields - the kind of fine drizzle that seems to be able to penetrate the most expensive waterproof clothing and leaves you wet, cold and miserable. 

Needless to say my plans went out of the window and I went back to bed! The weather did brighten up later allowing us to have a trip out to Amroth for a quick walk along the beach and a mocha and cake at The Pirates. I even managed to winkle a new species out of a rock pool while we were there (unfortunately not allowed under competition rules) - a tiny little rockling.

Next morning there were no such issues with the weather, but I had to make a decision of where to go. In the end I opted for Goodwick due to its mini-species potential, so first light saw me heading north up over the Preseli Hills and then down a mist-filled Gwaun Valley. Arrived at deserted car park and headed out to the end of the 750 metre long breakwater. 

Settled in on the rock apron on the left hand side of the building housing the navigation light. Set up a two hook flapper rig on my 10-60 g spinning rod and baited up the size 6 Aberdeens with some mackerel and squid dug out the bottom of the mother-in-law's freezer. The mackerel in particular was a bit far gone and required some copious wrapping with the bait elastic to keep it on the hooks! Lobbed the rig out about 40 yards into a gap between the numerous crab pots dotted around the bay in the hope that there might be a few pin whiting about while I set up the LRF rod. Bait quality didn't appear to be an issue as literally five minutes later the rod tip started rattling, signalling some interest. Left it a bit before winding in a small whiting - mission accomplished and (legitimate) species number 15 for the year. Popped him back, re-baited and sent the rig out again into the same general area. Had a second whiting about five minutes later. However, it wasn't long before the crabs moved in and started stripping the hooks, leaving me to concentrate on the LRF rod instead.

Jigging a dropshot rig back parallel with the breakwater resulted in lots of little pollack, accompanied by the occasional codling. At high tide I made my way back along the breakwater towards the car park, trying a few spots along the way, but this only resulted in more pollack. No doubt at all that the venue is a good spot if you want to add a few members of the cod family to your list (I had pouting and poor cod last visit as well), but I was again left wondering about the lack of other species, notably wrasse.

With no more planned trips down to Wales before Christmas, that'll be one to try and crack next year. However, with a weekend down in North Devon with the lads coming up, the species hunting is not over yet!

24/09/17 - An LRF mixed bag

A two week holiday in Tuscany with friends just 20 kilometres from the coast seemed an ideal opportunity to add a few more exotic species to the list, so when one of them said they would be driving down in their van and would they like us to take anything the deal was sealed. 

Cecina was our nearest town and a quick look on Google Maps confirmed a few interesting features such as a number of breakwaters, a river mouth and a large marina. The latter seemed the most attractive option. However, a quick recce one morning found all of it to be out of bounds for fishing apart from on the outside of the breakwater protecting the marina entrance.

Even so, it looked pretty fishy with large boulders giving way to sand further out. A couple of locals were float fishing off the end with bolognese-style rods and there were some shoals of small fish and the odd mullet knocking around, so we made plans to return with the LRF gear. Unfortunately, when we did so we found it hard going to the extreme. Dropshotting angleworm off the end and between the rocks attracted tiny saddled bream and a few gobies or blennies that just pecked at the bait. 

Casting further out onto the sand resulted in a couple of rattles and the baits bitten in half before I hooked a tiny striped red mullet, which was at least a new species for me. A switch to small metals again only resulted in one, half-hearted snatch on the drop. Don't know whether it was the temperature, time of day or the fact that the area had been hammered. However, we gave it another go a couple of days later and blanked completely! All in all, very disappointing.

By complete contrast, when we got back to the UK we made arrangements to go and pick up the stuff our friends in Exmouth had kindly dragged halfway across Europe. Again, not to waste an opportunity, arrangements were made for the lads & dads to head down to the "docks" (a bit of a grand description!) for some species hunting. Saturday evening saw us head down to the area around the new launching ramp for a couple of hours before dark.

It was windy and pretty choppy and the floating weed was a pain. However, fishing around the boulders the boys soon started catching lots of small pollack and ballan wrasse and the odd shanny on bits of ragworm on scaled down paternoster rigs. This kept me busy unhooking and re-baiting hooks, so it was a while before I managed to wet a line myself. Dropping down the side of the ramp I had a tompot blenny and was then busted off twice by something big before landing my first corkwing wrasse of the year.

Fished on for a bit longer, catching more pollack and wrasse, but the failing light and weather conditions were making things tricky. Packed up and headed home, but not before witnessing four drunken blokes drop their speedboat off the trailer and send it skidding backwards down the launching ramp. Don't know what they were doing launching at that time of night and in such poor conditions anyway, but it was lucky nobody was stood behind it at the time. Left them assessing the damage to their outboard and working out how to get it back on the trailer!

Next morning we were back nice and early to catch high tide. However, there was a strong current rushing past the launching ramp that was causing some fierce back eddies, so we headed for our other spot near the "compass" where we knew there'd be some quieter water.

On arrival we found that there was a big shoal of sandeels in front of us and in the bay to our left. These were attracting attention from the terns, who were dive-bombing them from above, and then occasionally they would scatter on the surface as they were targeted by something from below. It wasn't a surprise that, with all this food about, the pollack were present in numbers and they were quick to attack our baits, followed by wrasse and a schoolie bass that was followed up to the surface by his mates.

As slack water approached and the eddies disappeared the shannies started to appear from their cracks and crevices, along with a very angry little long-spined sea scorpion. Fishing closer to the structure at the entrance to the marina I had three larger ballan wrasse in a row that really tested the LRF gear as they battled to get back into their boltholes between the pilings.

The biggest surprise was yet to come. As things slowed down I tried a cast onto the sand beyond the rocks and had a rattle on the rod tip straight away. As I wound in the resulting fish I what it was straight away - my first common dragonet. Not a flamboyant male unfortunately, but another addition to the species list.

Carried on for a bit longer, but then was distracted by some large, grey shapes in the water below us, which turned out to be a couple of mullet in the 5-6lb range. Watched them as they turned on their sides to graze on the algae growing on the wooden pilings before they disappeared again. Took that as a good moment to bring a cracking session to an end. Hurrah for Exmouth!