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.