28/12/2018 - Festive fishy fun and frustration!

Christmas this year was spent with the in-laws in Pembrokeshire. Knowing that the car would be packed to the gunnels I'd taken the precaution of leaving some tackle when we were down at the end of November. With Christmas Day festivities and Boxing Day recovery out of the way, I made plans to fit a couple of sessions into an early morning window between sunrise and high tide while everybody else was still in bed. 

Took advantage of the hour difference in tide times to travel up to the north coast first of all, knowing that I could fish the same state of the tide the following morning down on the Haven. Left bright and early and was in Goodwick before sunrise. Popped into the local garage to stock up with some more mackerel and mini-squid from their freezer, before heading along to the end of the breakwater. 

The large number of crab and lobster pots placed close to the breakwater meant that I was limited to fishing off the rock apron to the right of the beacon again, but I wasn't too concerned given my success there last time. Set up a one up, one down two hook flapper baited with mackerel strip tipped with squid on my first rod. Lobbed this out before setting up a pennel rig with a more substantial offering of a mackerel fillet and squid "sausage" on the other. 

However, the tip of the scratching rod had already started rattling and I wound in to find a double shot of small whiting on the end. Got them unhooked and popped them into my new Tronixpro "dry feet" bucket (a Christmas present from the kids) to recover.

This proved to be a real boon over the session and meant that the seagulls were deprived of any easy pickings! I'd had a few more "pins" when I noticed three positive pull downs on the pennel rod and wound down into a fish. Not the codling I was wishing for, but a feisty little doggy instead.

Had two more of these, one on the pennel and one on the flapper, and a few more small whiting in the couple of hours up to high tide, when everything went a bit quiet. The only further action was when I had a pull down on the flapper rod and wound down to feel a passive weight on the end. As I pumped the lead up and over the weed fringe a big edible crab appeared hanging onto the bottom hook......and then promptly dropped off! Packed up and headed back for breakfast against the tide of dog walkers.

The following morning I was off again before first light down to Milford Haven. I had been in two minds whether to go back to Goodwick, but I'd seen a couple of reports online from before Christmas that suggested there might be a few fish about. Set up out the back of the car about halfway along the sea wall. Tactics and baits were the same as the previous day - the scratching rig close in and the pennel lobbed out as far as I could. Over the next couple of hours I was kept busy re-baiting, but for the wrong reason - flippin' crabs! The little buggers absolutely demolished the fish baits, stripping the hooks on the flapper rig and whittling the bigger bait on the pennel rig down in minutes. Stuck it out for the two hours up to high tide, but with little confidence and the grim realisation that I should have indeed gone to Goodwick! Yet another blank at Milford - the Haven hoodoo continues........

11/12/2018 - Birthday ritual

This morning I headed off into deepest Staffordshire for what is becoming a bit of a birthday ritual for me - a day's grayling fishing on a small tributary of the River Dove. River levels were fining down nicely to normal level after the rain at the weekend and, whilst I had to scrape a bit of ice off the windscreen, it promised to be a fine day with little in the way of wind. Set off to find that junction 25 of the M1 was rammed already, so did a quick detour around Derby and was at the venue just after first light. Headed across the fields towards the upstream limit with the usual mixture of eager anticipation and niggling worry that conditions somehow wouldn't be right. However, first sight of the river confirmed that it was running at an ideal level with just a tinge of colour evident in the deeper sections. Club work parties and the river itself had done some "re-modelling" in my absence, but the top pool was as I had left it several months ago. Was soon running a couple of maggots through the swim with the 'pin and third or fourth cast I had my first grayling of the day in the net. 

Very next cast I struck into something a lot more solid that thumped a couple of times before shooting off downstream, putting a nice bend in the Ultralite in the process. Managed to stop it and get some line back when the hook pulled out! I couldn't be sure what it was, but hoped it was a big brownie rather than one of the mythical 2lb grayling that I've yet to catch from this particular river. Continued to work the whole pool with the float taking a handful more grayling, including one bearing the obvious scar of a lucky encounter with an avian predator, before moving onto the next swim and starting again. 

However, despite the seemingly perfect conditions I found it slow going up until lunchtime, adding just a few more grayling and a single chub to the tally. Drew a head-scratching blank in several "banker" swims where I would have put money on fish being in residence and was just pestered by minnows in others. Had the added frustration of striking into another decent fish that felt like a brick bouncing on the rod top before the usually reliable Drennan widegape pulled out.

Fortunately, after a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, things started to pick up and I started to drop on some fish in numbers as I continued to work my way slowly downstream. The sun also came out, which was a mixed blessing as it meant I could shed my coat, but made tracking the float in some of the swims a bit tricky in the glare. Ensured that I left myself about an hour of daylight in my favourite pool towards the bottom of the section where I knew there was a chance of a few species other than just the grayling. Stayed there trotting away until it was literally too dark to see the float any more.

Finished with 45 grayling in a range of sizes up to 35 cm, three dace and a couple of chub. Was frustrated by the loss of two good fish, but it just adds to the mystery of this ever-changing little river and gives renewed hope that there's a two pounder in there with my name on it. That would be a rare and special fish indeed.

01/12/2018 - Making the most of it

My wife had Friday off this week, the benefit of doing "twilight" insets at school, so we took the opportunity to flash down to Pembrokeshire to take some stuff down for Christmas. Whilst the weather forecast for the weekend wasn't brilliant, some fishing gear was thrown in as well, together with two large mackerel and half a dozen squid I'd rescued from the discounted aisle one night at Tesco. 

The forecast on Friday morning was for a stiff wind from the west. When the tides were factored in an early morning start on the north side of the Haven seemed a good bet, so I set off for Milford at first light. However, setting up on the sea wall, I'd only been there a few minutes when a squally shower came in and blew the rods off the rest! Throwing everything back in the car I drove the short distance to Neyland marina, where I knew I could tuck myself around the corner out of the worst of the wind. 

Set one rod up with a mackerel and squid "sausage" on a pulley pennel rig and punched it out into the channel marked by the green and red navigation bouys. The second rod I set up with a one up, one down scratching rig, again baited with mackerel and squid strip "cocktails" tipped off with squid tentacles, and dropped it in a bit shorter where I thought the weed fringes ended. The water clarity wasn't brilliant due to the wind and recent heavy rain, but I thought the baits would be smelly enough to compensate. However, after a couple of hours with no indications on either rod I wound in the scratching rig to find it was locked solid in a snag and had to pull for a break. Also, winding in the other rod I found that the bait had virtually been stripped off the hooks without me knowing. Rebaited the pennel rig and fished on until just before high water, but unfortunately remained fishless.

Was in two minds the following  morning, but when the wife said she was off Christmas shopping with her mum I thought I might as well try again. The wind had switched around and was now blowing from the south, so I got in the car and headed up to Goodwick on the north coast. Walked to the end of the inner breakwater and dropped onto the rock apron to the right where it was marginally more sheltered from the wind and free of lobster pots. Again, fired out a mackerel/squid sausage on a pennel rig on one rod and a scratching rig with squid-tipped mackerel strips on the other. 

Didn't have to wait long before the scratching rod started nodding away and I was into my first fish of the day - a pin whiting. Soon became obvious that there was rather a lot of these about as the baits were being attacked as soon as they hit the water, resulting in stripped hooks or more mini-whiting.

After an hour I wound in the pennel rod and wasn't surprised to find the bait had been shredded by the little, toothy beggars. A small whiting has a big gob so, as well as being able to destroy a sizeable chunk of mackerel in quick time, they were easily getting the baited, size 2 Aberdeens I was using on the scratching rig down their necks. Unfortunately, this made unhooking a bit tricky and at least one expired in the process. Rather than feed the seagulls, I put it to good use and re-baited the pennel rig with it and punched it out again, hoping it would put the others off. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to make much difference as an hour later I wound it in again to find it had been similarly shredded, so carried on with just the one rod until high tide. Packed up having had fifteen whiting in total and made the long walk back along the breakwater a bit happier than the day before!

25/112018 - All change

As the mild weather continued into November I thought I really should have a go for zander. I started off with good intentions by booking a day down to work at our Rothley office, where an early finish would put me on the bank of the River Soar before dark. The section I had in mind was virtually un-fishable last season due to huge growths of floating pennywort clogging up the river channel and I wondered if it was going to be a case of deja vu when I arrived this time. 

Again, the navigable channel upstream was full of the horrible stuff. However, when I happened to bump into the bailiff he assured me that the spraying contractors had done their job downstream. Making the long walk to my usual spot, I found that the river was indeed pennywort-free, but that it was very low, more like summer level, and gin-clear. Put two, small roach deadbaits out into the pool and sat watching the tips, not really expecting anything until dark...and so it proved. A couple of positive knocks on the left-hand rod was followed by a slow, but definite run. Wound down to find a bit of weight on the end, but my hopes of a decent zander were quashed when a skinny pike rolled into the landing net. Hopelessly out of condition, it was easily long enough to be a double, which had me checking his throat for stray snap tackle. However, he seemed to be fine other than in need of a decent meal! 

Stayed on for a couple of hours into dark, but that was the only action to be had. It was also the end of a very short zander campaign as a few days later the winds rolled in from the East and temperatures dropped into single figures! Not to be outdone by the weather, my thoughts immediately turned to another seasonal favourite - grayling. It's a fish I never tire of because of its unique beauty and its fighting ability, which ranges from a mad, possessed twisting and gyrating to the nerve-jangling doggedness of a really big fish. 

I'd also promised a couple of friends that I'd take them grayling fishing last season, but not got around to it, so thought I'd recce a couple of club waters at the weekend as possible venues. First up was the River Dove near Tutbury. Got there for first light and wandered upstream from the car park with just the float rod, landing net and a bait apron full of maggots. Whilst the River Trent outside the office had been like a mill pool over the previous couple of days, a stiff breeze from the north-east that morning meant that conditions for controlling a float on my chosen section were a bit tricky. The river was also very low and clear and I found myself having to wade well over halfway across the river in order to find sufficient depth to run the float down the head of a long glide where I'd had some success in the past. However, I'd only had a couple of casts when the Avon buried and I was into my first fish of the day.  

Unfortunately, it soon became obvious that it was going to be a bit of a struggle with subsequent bites coming very slowly. I'd had couple more grayling when I struck into a lump that just sullenly sat out in the current, leading me to believe I'd hooked a barbel (my current PB of 12lb 6oz came from the same section on 3lb line when I was perch fishing). Eventually it grudgingly decided to move upstream into the landing net, by which time it had changed into a 3lb 8oz chub! Carried on trotting away, moving slowly further down the glide as and when the bites dried up on each line. 

By lunchtime I'd had that solitary chub and a dozen grayling to 1lb 3oz, the biggest of which had a fresh stab wound just behind its dorsal and flanks devoid of scales as record of a lucky escape from the black death. Packed up and walked back to the car park to find the first two swims occupied by two elderly chaps with feeder rods out. Both had been there for two hours, one was yet to catch and the other had caught a couple of dace and grayling, which made me feel a lot better about my morning, as did the sight of a male sparrowhawk that came and perched briefly in a tree about 10 feet away as I peeled off my neoprenes at the car.

Next morning I was up and out early once more, but a lot closer to home this time. I'd heard reports that grayling were appearing in numbers in the River Derwent downstream of Derby, so headed off to a club water near Draycott to have a look. Again, just armed with the float rod, I headed straight up to the weir right at the top of the section. Unfortunately the weir pool wasn't really suitable for float-fishing, with the only decent run over on the far bank and inaccessible. However, heading back downstream, it didn't take long to find a couple of nice glides. Like the Dove the day before, the Derwent was similarly low and clear, but I didn't have that tricky wind to contend with and it only took a couple of trots down before I hooked my target species, a small but perfectly formed grayling. 

Added a few more, along with the odd dace and chublet, before the bites dried up and it was onto the next swim to repeat the process. Whilst the grayling weren't massive, they were all fresh, young and unmarked fish, which hopefully bodes well for the future and also means I have a grayling venue 15 minutes from my door! 

All too soon it was lunchtime and time to go home as I'd promised the wife I wouldn't be late on account of her being kind enough to let me out two days running! Finished with two dozen grayling, chub and dace, but left with a couple more swims un-fished and earmarked for a return visit in the near future.....weather and work permitting!

26/10/2018 - Trent perch, a different approach

Recent float sessions on the River Trent have been completely dominated by perch, the silver fish having apparently vanished elsewhere (or been eaten!), so with temperatures dropping I opted for a different approach in the hope of winkling out some better fish - worms! The thing with worms is that I've never had the patience to collect and cultivate them myself, preferring a trip down the tackle shop to sneaking around cricket pitches on mild damp nights. I suspect that my back's not up to it now anyway. However, as I drove into work this week, the sight of several of the local black-headed gulls doing their little worm-charming dances on the grass verges got me thinking. Firstly, how on earth did they learn that behaviour (nature is a wonderful thing) and secondly, could they be trained to fill a bait box? Unfortunately I couldn't catch one to find out, so it was the tackle shop for me after all! A few pennies over 6 quid got me a large tub of dendrobaenas and half a pint of maggots and I was ready to go. Meeting up with my friend Stuart after work, we headed for our usual spot on the embankment.

Stuart elected to stick with the float rod, while I had brought my Drennan medium feeder rod fitted with a 1.5 ounce, glass quiver tip - a bit light for the Trent under normal circumstances, but I would only be dropping down the near side. A small, 30 gram Kamasan black cap feeder, 4lb fluorocarbon hooklink and a size 10 Drennan super specialist made up the business end. A good handful of worms was chopped up to go in the feeder with the maggots, with a bigger worm broken in half on the hook. 

After about half an hour later neither of us had even had a bite, so we made the decision to move downstream towards the one obvious feature on the section - the suspension bridge. Just in time as it happens as two other anglers were walking upstream with the same thing in mind! Setting up again just upstream of the bridge and casting towards the base of the nearside pillar I was rewarded with a nice "donk" as the feeder hit a nice, hard, gravel bottom and an almost instantaneous wrap around on the quiver tip! 

So it continued for two hours until the light, together with every last scrap of worm and every maggot, had disappeared. As with recent visits, it was all perch in a range of sizes from a few ounces up to 1lb+.


Stuart started a bit slower on the float, but was matching me towards the end so, whilst neither of us had a real big one, we both had some great sport and we certainly provided some entertainment for the commuting masses! 

A couple of days later I was back in the same spot, but on my own this time. The wind was now blowing from the north west and the temperature had dropped a few degrees making it feel distinctly chilly, but I was hopeful that the river hadn't yet been affected. Things were a bit slower starting, but once I'd got my first bite it was once more non-stop until dark. 

Whilst I hung on until I could no longer see the quiver tip in the hope of a last gasp lunker, the perch were in the same size range as last time, with biggest again 1lb+. However, I did witness and photograph a perch that was bang on 2lb for an angler fishing downstream of me, so there is the odd bigger one about. What was interesting was that he was fishing lobworms on a straight lead with minimal loose feed. Food for thought, but with the clocks changing and temperatures dropping even further it will probably be something to investigate towards the end of the season now.

10/10/2018 - Mad for it!

This year the boys' trip abroad saw us heading off to Madeira for a change. Once again, the LRF gear and a heavier, multi-purpose outfit was packed in the "toy bag". A bit of research, including a re-read of Scott Hutchison's excellent blog, came up with a list of potential spots not far from where we going to be staying in Calheta on the south of island. It also highlighted the fact Madeira had recently brought in the requirement for a licence for shore fishing. The on-line application process was simple enough so, rather than play the ignorant tourist, just 4 Euros got me a 30 day licence for "pesca apeada" from the Madeiran Regional Directorate for Fisheries.

An early flight from Stanstead saw us installed in the villa by lunchtime. It was only a quick, 5 minute car journey from there down to the beach and the marina, so a trip to the local supermarket was combined with a few cold beers and a recce. Whilst it did not appear that fishing was allowed within the marina itself, the large concrete blocks forming the breakwaters and sea defences provided alternative options. At the far end of the beach a couple of local ladies were float-fishing with what looked like multi-hook rigs baited with bread and one of them duly pulled out a small bream, so things looked promising.

The following day we went for our first walk along one of Madeira's many freshwater channels, or levadas, to the "25 fountains" - along with every other tourist on the island it would seem! The pool below the waterfall at the end of the walk was full of small trout, which greedily attacked any spare morsel of bread from our sandwiches. To try and catch such obviously hungry fish under public scrutiny seemed a bit rude, so I waited until we were off the beaten track before going stalking with a bit of red angleworm on a small jig head. First cast into a tiny, gin-clear pool below an overflow saw a follow and a take from dark, heavily-spotted rainbow trout. I added another one a couple of casts later before the remaining fish in the pool spooked. Didn't bother them any longer as I'd achieved my goal of catching a Madeiran trout and the others were already getting bored, so it was back to the car and down to Calheta.

After a bit more shopping the LRF rod came out again and I headed to the end of one of the breakwaters. Casting a dropshot rig baited with angleworm past the concrete blocks, I was instantly rewarded by a fish, albeit a familiar one, in the shape of an ornate wrasse. I had suffered these in plague proportions in Gran Canaria, so I wasn't surprised when a few more of these followed. However, a longer cast onto the sand eventually resulted in a new species for me, a two-banded sea bream.

Unfortunately, fishing close to the blocks started to become expensive in terms of dropshot leads, so after a few more wrasse we headed back to the villa.

The following day we were up early and drove into the interior again for another walk. The route up to Madeira's "sugar loaf mountain, the Pinaculo, was along a levada cut out of the side of a basalt cliff and was at times vertigo-inducing, but the waterfalls and views along the way were spectacular. After lunch we headed back down through dense cloud to Ribeira Brava. Whilst Rob and Duncan headed off to find a coffee, Stuart and I walked through the tunnel to the working harbour on the other side of the headland.

Walking to end of the harbour wall we were soon dropping our rigs into clear, but incredibly deep water. It was soon obvious that there were loads of ornate wrasse about as shoals of them dashed out to intercept our baits as they dropped down the wall. Casting further out I managed to get a bait on the bottom, where it was snaffled by a colourful Madeiran rockfish. The angleworms we were using periodically came back chopped up like beads on a string, so I wasn't surprised to eventually land a puffer fish, albeit a new species - the Guinean puffer.

At this point we were rudely disturbed by a returning tuna boat, so I clambered down onto a flat concrete platform on the other side of the breakwater. Again, it was difficult to keep the bait away from the wrasse, but I eventually managed to catch a few Canary damselfish , another rockfish and a tiny Macronesian sharpnose puffer.

Stuart hadn't risked climbing down with his dodgy knee and I'd been baking in the sun for long enough so, after losing a few more dropshot leads, I packed up and joined the others, who were also a bit frazzled and in need of a swim. As a dip in the harbour wasn't really on we headed back along the coast to Calheta again. However, rather than join the other son the beach, I decided to head off to where we'd seen some locals fishing. Due to the rocky nature of the bottom I set up a caro rig with a 3" straight worm on a Tict jig head. After I few casts I started getting a few pulls and eventually hooked into a hard-fighting, little derbio.

Moving on to the adjacent beach I followed this up with an Atlantic lizard fish before my thirst got the better of me and I went back and joined the others for a couple of cold beers. 

The next day I was feeling distinctly worse for wear after consuming several more beers, a couple of gins and a bottle of red wine and by the time we had wended our way along the twisting coast road to Porto Moniz on the north coast, I having difficulty holding my breakfast down! After checking out the natural swimming pools we headed down to the working harbour. The predominant catch of the small fishing boats appeared to be small tuna, pole-caught and then butterflied and left out in the sun to dry, and grey triggerfish.

Peering down into the deep water of the harbour I spotted a few fish including a small barracuda and a zebra sea bream. I'd never caught one of these before so, despite my delicate condition, Stuart and I got the rods out while the others went to find a coffee shop. First drop down the side of the harbour my angleworm was taken with a thump. Thought at first it was the barracuda, but it turned out to be a decent diamond lizard fish instead. Had another next drop down into virtually the same spot. However, it was quite slow after that and, whilst we had a few puffers, rockfish, wrasse and damsels between us, it was hard going in the sun. Walked along the wall a bit and dropped down next an obvious piece of debris on the bottom to have the bait taken with a thump again, this time by a female parrot fish.

By the time the others came back I was desperate for a cold bottle of coke, so we packed up and headed home via the supermercado. Thankfully I was feeling much more perky the following day and, after a stunning walk to the source of the Levada Novo with more waterfalls and vertigo-inducing views down into the valley below, we dropped down onto the coast again at Paul Do Mar. Again, a small harbour at one end of the town provided me with another fishing opportunity while the others sat on the beach and swam. However, the harbour itself seemed to pretty featureless and barren, with just a few wrasse and damsels swimming up and down the wall. Casting over the sand in the hope of a flounder or a weever didn't result in anything, so I was soon back with the others for a swim in the natural pool under the gaze of the naked mariner.

Rather frustratingly the swimming pool was full of fish, including mullet, several species of sea bream and a big shoal of salema! 

I had one more session over the last couple of days of the holiday back down at Calheta, but only added one small lizard fish to my tally. However, we did have a little bonus when we dropped into Jardim Do Mar and found the village was having it's Saint's Day. Tucked around by the church we found a "pop up" bar serving ice cold beer, potent local liquor served in thimble-sized glasses and big plates of limpets, or lapas, with lemon and garlic butter for just a few Euros. Tasty and a bargain!

Overall, it's always tricky balancing the needs of a group, so I wasn't too disappointed that I'd not managed a few more sessions, or caught a few more species. We'd only really scratched the surface as well in terms of searching out suitable fishing spots. Plenty to go at next time as I'd certainly go again given the opportunity. Cheers Madeira!