Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stitched up like a kipper, or just the time of year

The float dips briefly and re-appears before I get to the rod, as the sky over to the west turns pink. For the second time this afternoon, I reel in a teeth-marked bait a pike's picked up and had second thoughts about before I've had a chance to sink my hooks into it.

Pike can be finicky this time of year, as milder temperatures and longer days re-kindle the urge to spawn. Knowing where they're heading is only half the battle. You've still got to catch them, at a time when their minds are turning to other things.

I'm sitting on the edge of a spawning spot. The baits are placed along the margins leading up to it. The water's quiet - suspiciously so, making me wonder if the usual suspects are murdering them somewhere else.

Pike fishing breeds suspicion. Have I been stitched up like a kipper by the chorus of yew wanna get on there in the afternoon, fish 'till dark. Did the local Esox Mafia stage a dawn raid, sack up and disappear while I was still in bed, dreaming of a thirty.

Are they all laughing somewhere as they toast a successful morning..? As in where's four-eyes - bet the daft twunt swallowed that fish till dark business, bet he's still sitting there now.

As this dark thought festers away at the back of my mind, I start running through the long list of reasons why I'm not catching. It all comes down to the time of year, the weather, bet they're on the move to where they spawn, which is exactly where I'm sitting give or take a few yards.

So I decide to sit it out as planned and chuck the baits out again. I even get a couple of fish pick them up, as the afternoon wears on towards evening, but both drop them. Earlier in the season, I'd probably have played around with a rig, tried different baits, popped one up or something.

There's no point now. The only thing which is going to salvage today is if a fish holds onto the bait long enough for me to give it some prong.

Once again, the river comes alive as the wind drops and the sun breaks through beneath the low cloud for the last half hour or so before it disappears beneath the floodbank. Prey fish are topping all around the floats.

But there are no swirls and fry skittering away for their lives, as some predator takes advantage of the sudden burst of surface activity. I know they're here, all the same.

The season's dying on its feet in the Fens. Just two weeks left, a few more days to eke out another twenty if fickle fortune smiles.

I reel the floats closer as the light goes, still thinking it's going to happen until it's too dark to see any point in staying. I drive home wishing I could get back out tomorrow.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dusk breaks its promise of a pike

An hour before dusk, the river comes alive. There are fish topping all over the three swims I've selflessly bagged. It's got to happen soon.

Won't be anyone else there, I thought earlier, as I headed down the A10 eating Monster Munch. There wasn't - apart from Rob's old man, who's in the bit I fancied could do a good fish.

It already has mate, he says. Had a nice twenty. Just down there it was. It transpires ROM's off soon, so I do the decent thing and jump right in there.

Instead of going out first thing and going home when I get bored or hungry, I've gone later and plan to give it until dusk. Rumour has it that's the time they've been catching them on here. 

The afternoon passes without a run, as the breeze gets up and the cloud thickens overhead. At 4pm, the wind dies and the first few dimples appear around the floats.

Looking good. Looking like another mild, bright-ish day's triggered a fly hatch, which has got the prey fish rising. Within minutes, they're everywhere - all over the three swims I can effectively fish from the spot where I've plonked my Khyber half way up the floodbank.

As my eyes flit from float to float, there's a big swirl right under the middle rod. A shower of rudd fly in all directions, like a handful of gold coins.

Get in there my son. I'm down the bank, with a bait on it in barely a minute. This looks silly. In fact, it looks very silly. But as I sit down behind the rod, there's an action replay right by the float. Come on girl. Come on girl.

The line twitches as rudd ping into it. A bigger one attacks the float. The next swirl's 10 yards up the margins - near a float I've parked in the next swim. Then it swirls beyond the float.

Alright four-eyes..? An old mate I haven't seen out on the bank in years appears from nowhere. We chat as the sun sinks. This is the time, he tells me. This is when we usually get 'em on here.

Stay here 'till it's dark four-eyes, he says before he disappears off somewhere else. I had three doubles and a twenty in half an hour here the other week.

Stay on there as long as it takes, says a text from Rob. I keep telling myself it's got to happen soon, as the sun disappears behind the floodbank. The rudd are still going at it hammer and tongs. But dusk comes and goes without fulfilling its promise.

The Shipping Forecast comes on Radio Four, as I hit the main road. Dogger, Fisher, German Bight. West, North-west four to five, occasionally six at first. Backing west three or four later. Rough, becoming moderate. Showers then fair. Moderate or good.

I can't wait to get back out tomorrow, for some reason.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fifty-fifty it's the first twenty of 2012

Fifty-fifty it's a twenty mate, says Rob as the rod goes round and I feel the first angry kick on the other end.

Spring erupts in a glorious chorus of bird song, as we sit on the floodbank savouring the sunshine. Just over a  week ago, just about everywhere was still frozen. It's 15C today, as we plot up around the stove and get the kettle on.

I haven't seen Rob for weeks, so we shoot the breeze as the floats bob in a brisk westerly and the sun beats down from an almost cloudless sky.

We've both caught so few fish this season that our ratio of twenties to smaller fish is about the only thing we can draw any comfort from. Less fish than last time around, but more of them have been bigger ones, if that makes sense.

As talk turns to the water we're on, Rob comes out with an interesting statistic. If we catch one today, there's a fifty-fifty chance it's going to be a twenty. If being the operative word, I say, bearing in mind I've hardly caught anything since Christmas and my best of 2012 so far is 17lbs.

Then again, I did tell a mate I thought we'd probably end up sitting it out for the chance of one big fish today, while we were deciding where to go. Can't be assed with that, he said, leaving me and Rob to see if my hunch was right.

I twitch the baits around 10.30am and a few minutes later I'm off, as a blob sets off against the wind, pulling line off the Baitrunner.

Fifty-fifty it's a twenty mate, says Rob as I pick the rod up and bend into what's obviously a big fish. It stays deep, shaking its head violently, after I put the brakes on its first lunge.

I bend in harder, wondering if the hooks will stay in. I remember the lump I lost last week, when the net snagged on a trace caught on a branch as I went to net it. I'm using a smaller, shallower net today, to avoid a repeat performance.

I feel slightly less worried as Rob sinks it deep in the margins without snagging anyone else's lost ironmongery. For a second or two, the fish wallows on the top, gills flared as she winds herself up for a tail walk. But Rob lifts the net as she glides over the draw-cord, pulling the rug out from under her feet.

She's unhooked by the time I get back down the bank with the scales, sling and camera. Do the hooks we currently both use - micro-barbed Owner ST36s - come out a little too easily at times..? I've had a couple of good fish which have shed them in the net, plus one that shed them on the way in.

Nah mate, says Rob. Hooked right in the scissors, two points right in to the bend - even I couldn't have lost this one, in other words. One of the hooks has straightened as Rob removed it from the pike's laughing gear. Maybe I'll step up a pattern next season, I decide.

We lift her on the mat and there's no doubt she's a twenty, broad-shouldered and deep-bellied, as she slips into the sling. Not a ripe old hen yet, though - as in room to weigh a bit more when she swells out with spawn.

I give her a bounce on the Avons and she goes bang on 23lbs. The first twenty of 2012.

When we're doing the pictures, we notice something else - a length of trace wire ending in a swivel and a bit of mono coming out of her scissors.

Back on the mat, the wire disappears ominously down her throat. Rob pulls up the first hook and I turn it out. As I do so, the bait pops clean out with the second treble.

She looks fine as we put her back, disappearing back into the depths with a lazy flick of her tail. The bait on the second trace is a fresh-looking bluey, the rig looks well-made. I wonder if the other angler broke off on the strike, or even on the cast in the same swim or somewhere nearby yesterday.

Either way, it's this girl's lucky day, as we rid her of someone else's handiwork. After she's gone, we find a large half herring in the net. That's one of mine, says Rob, examining the slashes he carved in its flanks. I was down here Sunday, I threw it in when I was packing up.

I say we ought to weigh the herring, to add a few more ounces. I stick it on a rod and lob it out instead. But add two ounces for my dodgy Avons and it's 23lbs 2oz, I remind myself.

Buzzards wheel overhead after I re-cast and wonder if we'll get another. It's 18C by what would have been lunchtime, if I'd remembered to bring the food.

Rob disappears off to work just after 3pm. The joys of being self-employed. The afternoon blurs by without another run, apart from a few bobs of the float when a crab shreds the bait, neatly peeling the skin off one side of the mackerel.

Strange how a single fish can re-kindle your enthusiasm and leave you itching to get out there again.

Click here for more twenties from the Fens, NB work in progress...

Monday, February 20, 2012

So this is how far up the water should be, yeah..?

It didn't look too bad until you explained it, says the newspaper photographer as we survey the pit. I see what you mean now. 

I'm helping Snappy find a picture of the drought. It's today's big story. We're at a pit where water levels have now gone down so far that the platforms put in by the local angling club have been left high and dry.

A few summers back, this was a vibrant mixed fishery, where the banks were lined with anglers bagging up on tench and carp. Now the water's several feet lower than it used to be and the controlling club hopes to move the fish somewhere safer, before the warmer weather kicks in.

I file 500 words to go with the picture, wondering if the little pit's fortunes will make the papers amid the growing clamour from today's drought summit in London. In some parts of the country, the average person now accounts for 1,000 litres of water a week. So that's where it all goes then.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another ice mess you got me into

Large stretches of the drain are clear when I roll up just after dawn. About the only bit that's still frozen is the bit I was banking on fishing, which still has sheet ice stretching two-thirds of the way across.

Goosanders take off in droves as I hop down the bank for a closer look. The ice is trembling in the wind and there are cracks and holes starting to appear in both swims I fancied.

Thirty yards down the bank, where you never seem to catch anything, it's clear. So I elect to start off in the clear swim, in the hope the one I want to fish will thaw enough to get the rods in.

By 10am, the ice is starting to visibly recede and turn from opaque to clear. Thawing fast. A westerly's got up and lumps are drifting off down the drain in the ripple.

By lunchtime, it's not quite clear enough to fish. But I'm worried someone else will dive in if I don't, so I cart the gear up the bank and as I'm getting the rods baited ready to go, the sheet breaks away from the bank and drifts across the drain. Now we're in business.

I can fish the near margins comfortably, as the ice clears off to the other side. I drop two in tight to bank on either side and one out on the edge of the ice, which by now has fetched up two-thirds of the way over.

I'm feeling confident by now. It must be 10C, I'm sitting up the bank with a fleece on as woodpeckers drum in the trees further up the drain. By 2pm, the last of the ice has drifted off in the breeze.

One of the floats down the side trembles and starts inching towards me leaving a tiny V-wake.As it picks up speed, I reel in the slack and bend in hard with the rod smacking the reeds.

A tail comes on top in a big swirl as a big pike wallows briefly on the top before she crash-dives for the depths.

I'm liking this. I'm liking this a lot more as she bounces about on the end without really going anywhere, as the rod stays doubled over. Good fish.

When I gain a few turns of line, she comes on top and I see how lightly-hooked she is - one point of the bottom hook at the very apex of her top jaw. I'm not liking this bit quite so much.

She rolls a rod length out, inviting the net. Got to be a good twenty. I see it all in slow-mo, as I up the pressure slightly, to guide her in towards it the mesh as I slide it out to meet her.

Instead of engulfing the fish, the net snags on something in the margins. It's a big stick, with something red on the end - a bait popper, connected to a trace someone's bust off on it.

Stalemate for a second or two. Then she throws a head shake and she's gone in a swirl, as the hooks fly up the bank behind me.

I grab the stick and find it's connected to the net with a trace, complete with popper and a leger boom. I cut the hooks out of the net, sit down and marvel at how quickly it can all go wrong.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thaw sets in slowly

It's thawing out there, by all accounts. While you can't catch 'em when the water's frozen, they reckon you're in with a shout when the lid comes off.

One month left, and counting. I had all kinds of targets when the season started, back in the balmy days of September. So far, I've managed just one.

It's now 10 days since I managed to get a bait in anywhere. I'm desperate to get out tomorrow, even though smart money says catching anything's going to be more a matter of luck than judgement as snow melt swells the rivers and drains.

I know two spots where I might stand a chance. Both offer the fish somewhere to get out of the flow and the inevitable salt that will have washed off the roads.

That's assuming it isn't all still frozen when I get out there, obviously. But I won't know that unless I get out there for a look. And if I don't do that, I'll be in with even less chance of catching anything. So I might as well take the rods - just in case.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Frozen Ouse at Ten Mile Bank

Here's another picture from today of the railway bridge at Ten Mile Bank reflected in a frozen River Ouse.

I've seen the Ouse freeze once or twice before, but it's been like this for days according to the Chipper Bailiff.

Ice try, but pointless

"Giving up," asks the Chipper Bailiff, as we survey the 60yd-wide glacier that used to be the Relief Channel. "I can't say I blame you."

I was half optimistic setting out, with the forecast predicting a rise above freezing for the first time in a week.

Drains large and small I passed on the way to the big river were still frozen solid. But parts of the Ouse should be clear, according to various mates.

It was clear down the middle at Modney, but clear meant a narrow channel packed with ducks, coots, grebes and half a dozen goosanders.

Ditto a mile or two downstream, where I thought they might be pumping a land drain off.  Ditto Wissey Mouth and ditto Denver, as I ran out of river to try.

There were great ice floes coming down the tidal, where I even thought of trying it for half an hour. I found the Chipper Bailiff by the Relief Channel sluice.

"Giving up," he asked. "Can't say I blame you. That's solid everywhere - been like that all week."

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Snow woman, no cry

Places I wanted to fish last weekend were all iced over. Looks like we're heading for a repeat performance as another wave of snow hits, with temperatures set to drop well below zero for the next few nights.

With just over a month left, the last thing we need is losing days on end to the weather. In a way it seems like poetic justice. A few short weeks back, we were moaning about how mild it was and how much the rivers needed rain.

As the snow melt works its way through the system, along with all the salt, that'll be more lost time. As the season enters its swan song, I'm wondering whether to throw everything at one last hit. Try and time a few days' fishing as the rivers fine down.

I'm determined to get out this weekend either way, however hopeless conditions look. If the white stuff stays, it might even be snowman time.