Monday, December 24, 2012

Does my bung look big in this..?

Dead simple gravel pit rig for deadbaiting - cross-lock to attach trace, buffer bead, ET "river float" (no idea why they're called that, as they're just as good on drains and stillwaters...), bead and stop knot. Four or five swan shot on the trace, which cock the float as the wind blows a bow into the line.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Catching some jack therapy

The water's flat calm as the bait trundles off, towing the big sea float along the reeds behind it.  As I flick the line behind it, it disappears in a swirl.

Nothing like catching one first chuck. And it turns out they were on today too, after a fashion. Four or five jacks might not be much to write home about, but it's therapy to get a few runs and land some fish for a change.

I wonder if they were all males, staking out their territories at the entrance to a bay. I know it's a bit early for this, but it's incredibly mild again today, with temperatures into double figures and a warm westerly for the time of year.

On impulse, I pull a couple of leger rods out of the car and blast a couple of big popped-up deads out, to see if there's anything bigger out there. No joy on this score, but it's still a lovely day to be out. And it's amazing how going out and catching a few makes up for the last few blanks.

+++This is it for me, fishing-wise, until after Christmas. So if I don't catch up with you before, have a good one. It'll certainly be interesting to see if things pick up in the New Year, having spoken to a couple of other guys who are also having a dreadful season today.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I retire to my study, with a bottle of Schnapps

"Twenty eight," says Mick in the Tackle Shop. "Your mate's son's mate caught it. Can't say any more - they told me not to tell you."

I shrug this off, once MITTS confirms the identity of the mate whose son's mate landed fish concerned. I press on with Christmas shopping. Cue costly trip to King's Lynn with Mrs Norfolk N' Good.

We hit Tesco for a few last minute essentials on the way home. And there's my mate's son, whose mate caught it, in front of us at the check-out.

"Nice fish your mate had," I tell my mate's son whose mate caught it.

"We'll have to have a day out in the New Year," he says.

Pushing the trolley back to the car, I get a text from Rob: "Had a 24 ;-)."

I retire to my study, with a bottle of Schnapps.

I get another text, this time from the wife: "You're sulking, aren't you..."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Where have all the zander in the Fens gone..?

Here's the explanation, according to Barry McConnell, who's kindly provided some pictures of the culprits.

Mitten crabs are now spreading through the Fens. They started turning up in fish traps the EA placed for sea trout a few seasons back.

Here's Barry's take on the latest arrival in our drains and rivers:

"I started catching them around 2003, 2004 because I fish at night, with deadbaits. They're eating the zander spawn, because zander lay their eggs in a hollow in the ground.

"If you can't leave a deadbait out without it being eaten by crabs, there's no way spawn can survive that. I came down here for a year a couple of seasons back and I caught bloody hundreds of crabs."

Unlike Barry and his mates, I've never actually landed a crab. But I've had chunks taken out of baits on the Relief, Cut-Off, Middle Level and the lower end of the Ouse.

Even after I stopped zander fishing a decade or so ago, I used to catch them occasionally pike fishing until four or five seasons back.

I suppose there's an irony in one alien invader wiping out another one. But I can't help mourning the zander's passing.

The Severn has now overtaken the Fens when it comes to zander fishing. Who'd have thought that 10 or 15 seasons ago.

But I wonder how long the crabs will take to get there. Zander aren't the only fish which lay their eggs on a scrape in the bottom.

Barbel and trout spawn likewise. I wonder how long it will be before the dreaded crabs start impacting on them. The mitten crab is considered one of the world's top 100 invasive species. They came to our shores in the ballast of cargo ships from Asia, which docked in the Thames.

Their young migrate inland, until they reach maturity after four or five years, when they return to brackish water to breed. During those four or five years, they can travel hundreds of miles from the sea.

That puts the upper reaches of most of our rivers within their reach - let alone the Fenland system. Some might wonder if the zander's decline will boost our pike populations. I'm no fisheries scientist, but I doubt it somehow.

Both existed side-by-side, when zander were prolific throughout the system. There are enough fodder fish in our waters to sustain both. Perhaps the explosion in silver fish over the last few seasons stems in part from a decline in predators.

I sometimes fear for the future, when it comes to predator fishing in the Fens.

I'm just the average bloke who goes out because he loves it, like most of the people I fish with.  After a grim start to the season, we're yet to see the impact of the Ouse being run off through the Relief Channel, with the resulting changes in flows and  levels.

I wrote about a drain last season where we caught more twenties than jacks. The question is what's going to happen once those few big fish are gone through old age or being flushed through the sluice gates.


No fish again today. But on a brighter note, the world didn't end as predicted. So Sid owes me £1.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's the end of the world, as we know it

"Um, you know that, like, the world's going to end tomorrow," says Hawkwind Sid, summing up the conversation doing the rounds in the Village Pub. "It's the Mayans, ma-a-an. Their calender, like, um, runs out  tomorrow, yeah..?"

I wonder why the Mayans couldn't just go to WH Smiths in King's Lynn, or even one of the town's growing plethora of pound shops and buy another calender. World saved for another year, with nice pictures of puppies.

"Always the optimist, eh," says Malcolm. "What if it's true. Bet you'd wish you'd listened to all the hippies then, huh..?"

It is raining. The Half Awake Barman has a cold. Other than this, I have seen no credible portent of impending disaster during my short walk to the Village Pub. There have been no reports of looting or civil disorder in the village. There has even been a delivery of extra-strong Christmas ale.

I decide to go fishing tomorrow, on a whim.  I intended to go Christmas shopping - but imagine how cheesed off you'd be if you spent all that money on presents and the apocalypse came. Talk about a waste.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fenland zander talk was truly a cracker

Barry McConnell could talk for England - and he talks a lot of sense, amid tales of his some of his madcap eel fishing adventures on the other side of the globe. As well as some incredible zander catches, he shared some thought-provoking ideas when it comes to locating them on waters like the Middle Level and Relief Channel.

He also came up with some cogent theories on why they've declined in recent seasons, through a combination of heavy run-offs and the spread of mitten crabs from the seaward side of the system.

I've met the guy at past PAC conventions, where he's had a trade stand, but he's such a modest character you'd never imagine how he got his head around the Fens in the mid and late-90s, when he was travelling down from Manchester to do marathon stints on the 'Channel.

I know it was an evening largely dedicated to zander, but what he said made me think about pike fishing too, especially when he described where and how he caught on one particular stretch where even I managed to catch pike reliably a few seasons back, without realising why the fish were where they were.

Big thanks to Barry - aka Zandavan - for a great night, that certainly gave us all plenty to think about.  Big thanks to Big Ash as well, for getting the guy all the way over from Shrewsbury for the evening.  I can see how knowing Barry has rubbed off on Ash, who made we walk miles last time I fished with him and kept saying just a bit further - let's try down there by them reeds.

Yet another great night's entertainment for a couple of quid on the door. The next meeting's on Wednesday, January 30, at the Wm Burt. We're finalising a speaker for that, if it comes off it should be another evening to remember.

My only slight disappointment tonight was we didn't get a few more people along. You don't have to be a PAC member or a top notch pike angler to come to a meeting. You're as welcome if you're new to the game or even thinking of taking up pike fishing as one of our regulars.

Here's a Zandavan vid from YouTube - check out the near 20lbs 'nuisance fish'....

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First day out in ages

After eight days off, it felt good to get out again. The drain was pulling off quite hard as I stuck one out on a big float and two-ounce running lead. By the time I had the others ready to rumble, it had come to a stop.

It didn't look too bad, slight tinge of colour in the water and not much sign of bankside activity. The baits still held nicely with just a few swan shots on the traces, as the drain started filling up and the surface started running back.

By late afternoon, it was a struggle as clumps of marauding weed started to catch around the lines. I kept thinking I was going to catch one until the weak sun dropped below the floodbank and it was time for home.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Study to be quiet to seek the mighty pike

Izaak Walton died at the ripe old age of 90, on this day in 1683. His writings show the awe with which "solitary, melancholly" pike were regarded more than 300 years ago.

"The mighty Luce or Pike is taken to be the Tyrant (as the Salmon is the King) of the fresh waters. ’Tis not to be doubted, but that they are bred, some by generation, and some not: as namely, of a Weed called Pickerel-weed, unless learned Gesner be much mistaken; for he sayes, this weed and other glutinous matter, with the help of the Suns heat in some particular Moneths, and some Ponds apted for it by nature, do become Pikes.

"Sir Francis Bacon in his History of Life and Death, observes the Pike to be the longest lived of any freshwater-Fish, and yet he computes it to be not usually above forty years; and others think it to be not above ten years; and yet Gesner mentions a Pike taken in Swedeland in the year 1449 with a Ring about his neck, declaring he was put into the Pond by Frederick the second, more than two hundred years before he was last taken, as by the Inscription of that Ring (being Greek) was interpreted by the then Bishop of Worms.

"All Pikes that live long prove chargeable to their Keepers, because their life is maintained by the death of so many other Fish, even those of his own kind, which has made him by some Writers to be called the Tyrant of the Rivers, or the Fresh-water-woolf, by reason of his bold, greedy devouring disposition; which is so keen, as Gesner relates, a man going to a Pond (where it seems a Pike had devoured all the fish) to water his Mule, had a Pike bit his Mule by the lips, to which the Pike hung so fast, that the Mule drew him out of the water, and by that accident the owner of the Mule got the Pike.

"And the same Gesner observes, that a Maid in Poland had a pike bit her by the foot as she was washing clothes in a Pond. And I have heard the like of a woman in Killingworth Pond, not far from Coventry. But I have been assured by my friend Mr. Seagrave, of whom I spake to you formerly, that keeps tame Otters, that he hath known a pike in extream hunger fight with one of his Otters for a Carp that the Otter had caught, and was then bringing out of the water. I have told you who relates these things, and tell you they are persons of credit, and shall conclude this observation, by telling you what a wise man has observed, It is a hard thing to perswade the belly, because it has no ears.

"But if these relations be disbelieved, it is too evident to be doubted that a pike will devour a Fish of his own kind, that shall be bigger than his belly or throat will receive, and swallow a part of him, and let the other part remain in his mouth till the swallowed part be digested, and then swallow that other part that was in his mouth, and so put it over by degrees; which is not unlike the Oxe and some other beasts, taking their meat, not out of their mouth into their belly, but first into some place betwixt, and then chaw it, or digest it after, which is called Chewing the cud. And doubtless pikes will bite when they are not hungry, but as some think in very anger, when a tempting bait comes near to them.

"And it is observed, that the pike will eat venomous things (as some kinds of Frogs are) and yet live without being harmed by them: for, as some say, he has in him a natural Balsom or Antidote against all poison: and others, that he never eats the venomous Frog, till he have first killed her, and then (as Ducks are observed to do to Frogs in Spawning time, at which time some Frogs are observed to be venomous) so throughly washt her, by tumbling her up and down in the water, that he may devour her without danger. And Gesner affirms, that a Polonian Gentleman did faithfully assure him, he had seen two young Geese at one time in the belly of a pike. And doubtless a pike in his height of hunger will bite at and devour a dog that swimmes in a Pond, and there has been examples of it, or the like; for as I told you, The belly has no ears when hunger comes upon it.

"The pike is also observed to be a solitary, melancholly and a bold Fish: Melancholly, because he alwayes swimmes or rests himself alone, and never swimmes in sholes or with company, as Roach and Dace, and most other Fish do: And bold, because he fears not a shadow, or to see or be seen of any body, as the Trout and Chub, and all other Fish do.

"And it is observed, that the Pike is a fish that breeds but once a year, and that other fish (as namely Loaches) do breed oftner: as we are certain tame Pigeons do almost every month, and yet the Hawk a Bird of Prey (as the Pike is of Fish) breeds but once in twelve months: and you are to note, that his time of breeding or spawning is usually about the end of February, or, somewhat later, in March, as the weather proves colder or warmer; and to note, that his manner of breeding is thus, a He and a She Pike will usually go together out of a River into some ditch or creek, and that there the spawner casts her eggs, and the Melter hovers over her all that time that she is casting her spawn, but touches her not.

"I might say more of this, but it might be thought curiosity or worse, and shall therefore forbear it, and take up so much of your attention, as to tell you, that the best of Pikes are noted to be in Rivers, next those in great Ponds, or Meres, and the worst in small Ponds.

"His feeding is usually of fish or frogs, and sometimes a weed of his own, called Pickrell-weed. Of which I told you some think some Pikes are bred; for they have observed, that where none have been put into Ponds, yet they have there found many: and that there has been plenty of that weed in those Ponds, and that that weed both breeds and feeds them; but whether those Pikes so bred will ever breed by generation as the others do, I shall leave to the disquisitions of men of more curiosity and leasure than I professe my self to have; and shall proceed to tell you that you may fish for a Pike, either with a ledger or a walking-bait; and you are to note, that I call that a Ledger bait, which is fixed, or made to rest in one certain place when you shall be absent and I call that a walking bait, which you take with you, and have ever in motion.

"Concerning which two, I shall give you this direction, That your ledger bait is best to be a living bait, whether it be a fish or a frog; and that you may make them live the longer, you may or indeed you must take this course.

"First, for your live bait of fish, a Roach or Dace is, (I think) best and most tempting, and a Pearch is the longest lived on a hook, and having cut off his fin on his back, which may be done without hurting him, you must take your knife (which cannot be too sharp), and betwixt the head and the fin on the back, cut or make an incision, or such a scar, as you may put the arming wier of your hook into it, with as little brusing or hurting the fish as art and diligence will enable you to do, and so carrying your arming wier along his back, unto, or near the tail of your Fish, betwixt the skin and the body of it, draw out that wier or arming of your hook at another scar near to his tail: then tie him about it with thred, but no harder than of necessity you must to prevent hurting the fish; and the better to avoid hurting the fish, some have a kind of probe to open the way, for the more easie entrance and passage of your wier or arming: but as for these time, and a little experience will teach you better than I can by words; therefore I will for the present say no more of this, but come next to give you some directions, how to bait your hook with a frog.

"Put your hook into his mouth, which you may easily do from the middle of April till August, and then the frogs mouth grows up, and he continues so for at least six moneths without eating, but is sustained, none but he whose name is Wonderful, knowes how, I say, put your hook, I mean the arming wyer through his mouth, and out at his gills, and then with a fine needle and silk sow the upper part of his legg with onely one stitch to the arming wire of your hook, or tie the frogs leg above the upper joynt to the armed wire, and in so doing, use him as though you loved him, that is, harm him as little as you may possibly, that he may live the longer.

"And now, having given you this direction for the baiting your ledger hook with a live Fish or frog, my next must be to tell you, how your hook thus baited must or may be used: and it is thus. Having fastned your hook to a line, which if it be not fourteen yards long, should not be lesse than twelve; you are to fasten that line to any bough near to a hole where a Pike is, or is likely to lie, or to have a haunt, and then wind your line on any forked stick, all your line except half a yard of it or rather more, and split that forked stick with such a nick or notch at one end of it, as may keep the line from any more of it raveling from about the stick, then so much of it as you intended; and chuse your forked stick to be of that bigness as may keep the fish or frog from pulling the forked stick under the water till the Pike bites, and then the Pike having pulled the line forth of the clift or nick of that stick in which it was gently fastned, will have line enough to go to his hold and powch the bait: and if you would have this ledger bait to keep at a fixt place, undisturbed by wind or other accidents which may drive it to the shore side (for you are to note, that it is likeliest to catch a Pike in the midst of the water), than hang a small Plummet of lead, a stone, or piece of tyle, or a turf in a string, and cast it into the water, with the forked stick, to hang upon the ground to be an Anchor to keep the forked stick from moving out of your intended place till the Pike come. This I take to be a very good way, to use so many ledger baits as you intend to make trial of.

"Or if you bait your hooks thus with live Fish or Frogs, and in a windy day, fasten them thus to a bough or bundle of straw, and by the help of that wind can get them to move crosse a pond or mere, you are like to stand still on the shore and see sport, if there be any store of Pikes, or these live Baits may make sport, being tied about the body or wings of a Goose or Duck, and she chased over a Pond: and the like may be done with turning three or four live baits thus fastened to bladders, or boughs, or bottles of hay or flags, to swim down a River, whilst you walk quietly alone on the shore, and are still in expectation of sport.

"The rest must be taught you by practice; for time will not allow me to say more of this kind of fishing with live baits. And for your dead bait for a Pike, for that you may be taught by one dayes going a fishing with me, or any other body that fishes for him, for the baiting your hook with a dead Gudgeon or a Roach, and moving it up and down the Water, is too easie a thing to take up any time to direct you to do it; and yet, because I cut you short in that, I will commute for it, by telling you that that was told me for a secret: it is this;

"Dissolve Gum of Ivy in Oyle of Spike, and therewith annoynt your dead bait for a Pike, and then cast it into a likely place, and when it has lain a short time at the bottom, draw it towards the top of the water and so up the stream, and it is more then likely that you have a Pike follow with more than common eagerness."

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Can it get any worse..?

We used to catch loads here, I tell Matty, as we plot up on a corner overlooking one of the deepest parts of the pit.

Today looked so perfect, it took several run-less hours to put a dent in my confidence. Mild and overcast, nice ripple - ideal conditions to start making up for lost time with a few fish .

We'd looked at two other waters - the water had risen far enough to make the most likely swims on one unfishable, while someone was already in the best swims on the other, leaving just a corner with a cross-wind tearing into it.

After a couple of hours watching motionless floats, I put a bait out as far as I could popped up off the lead link on my tangle-proof pop-up rig. After an hour or so of twitching it back and re-casting, the alarm goes. The line's slackening as it comes towards me.

When I pick up the rod, it stops. Any second now, it'll roar off with it, I tell myself. But it's long gone. When I reel it in, I find the trace has tangled around the lead link on my tangle-proof rig. This turns out to be the only offer of the day.

A guy who dropped into the corner I didn't like the look of appears. He's had four, but for some reason seems to want to move into our swim. We debate this, as the man in the corner heads off somewhere else. An  hour or so later, he rings Matty, to check if we've moved anywhere else.

I wonder if he knows something we don't. Maybe it's done a big fish. We sit there until dusk, when the geese lift off in great screaming skeins, but nothing happens.

I realise this is my 30th trip of the season, when I get home and tap out a quick update. Thirty trips - admittedly some of them short ones, not to mention several on a water which it now appears there aren't any pike. But 10 fish in 30 trips, not even a double let alone a twenty.

At least it can't get any worse. Or can it..?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Time for bigger floats and heavier rigs

One thing that's become obvious over the last couple of days is that the rigs I've been using just aren't heavy enough to cope with the flows I've been trying to fish in.

So I've broke a couple of rods down and tackled them up with the biggest through-the-middle sliders I've got, eight-inch polystyrene sea floats. I reckon these will stay up in any flow the drains can throw at them.

This all looks mighty crude, compared to my usual way of fishing, but I can't see me catching much until I can at least cope with the conditions. So its out with the big sliders, two or three ounce running leads and a trace with the hooks stepped up to size twos for good measure.

Who pulled the chain..?

I thought it was going to be game on today, particularly as I knew no-one had been on the bit of drain I'd pitched up on for several days. It was filling up slowly when I turned up at lunchtime and got the rods in. No hurry as the last hour is widely acknowleged to be the best time on here.

I sit on the rods all afternoon and sure enough, the bungs only move when enough wind-blown weed catches around the braid to pull one under. Things briefly look more promising as the sun's about to drop below the flood bank, as the wind drops and the drain stands still.

I recast the rods, baits dropped up and down the margins and two across to the far side. I start thinking I might get one for a minute or two. Then the water shivers and the surface boils and eddies, as the drain goes from dead stop to running off hard in the space of a couple of minutes, like someone, somewhere pulled the chain.

I debate whether to stay until dark with baits reeled in under the rod tops, which is the only place my rigs will hold in the flow even with rods up high and the biggest leads I've got, but I give it up and hit the road instead.

I know I'm not the only one who's starting to wonder what on earth's going on, as a procession of weather from autumn into winter fails to kick the fishing into gear. It's been so bad I daren't have a week or two off it now, because I don't want to miss out if it all comes back on with a bang for a few days.

With three months of the season left in the Fens, I'd like to think it might do. I just hope it happens soon.

Iconic socks live up to their name

Iconic. As in Iconic Socks. If you're Eddie Turner and you bring out a 21st Century version of the Driftmaster pike rod, you can probably get away with calling it iconic. But iconic socks..?

Rewind a few weeks, when I went to a tackle shop to buy socks. When I asked the man behind the counter where he'd hid the Skeetex, he said: "H'int got none. They 'int making 'em any more."

Mourning the demise of your favourite toe rags might sound slightly sad - even for me. But before I got round to surfing the net to buy up any I could find online, I got a pair of these in Tesco. Every little helps. And blast me they're warm. They also don't appear to wear out as fast as Skeetex.

They were £6 in Tesco - but I've seen them cheaper since then in garages and got this pair for £3.50 in one of those discount shops that sell plastic tidy boxes, bulk rolling papers and lighters with pictures of Bob Marley or scantily-clad ladies.

I'm still not sure if they're iconic. But they don't half keep your feet warm.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A run a chuck - thanks to the cursed weed

For the second day in a row, I marvel at the torrent surging through the sluice into the swollen channel. The drain's even higher, sloshing over the deserted banks. But something's changed from yesterday. There are goosanders and a couple of cormorants working an area of the opposite bank, where there are clumps of weed on the surface. The goosanders are moving, but the weed isn't - slack water an easy chuck from the bank.

I fancy this slightly more than the stretch I was planning to head for the couple of hours into dark. The fields are still frozen solid, while a line of flotsam shows how high the drain rose a few hours earlier. High tide was at 08:10am, with low water at 5:45pm.

So by mid-afternoon, with the gates open 12 miles away at the King's Lynn end, the channel's going to be running off hard. Not ideal conditions. But there's two hours of daylight left and something's got to have attracted fish eating birds to the spot.

It turns out to be a run a chuck all afternoon - as in runs from the clumps of weed moving in the slight backward flow, where the main current hits water pouring in from another drain. I switch to big  leads and sea floats but can't keep enough line off the water to fish where I want - the visible crease where slacker water meets the full force of the flow.

The Chipper Bailiff looks in. The stretch I was planning to head for is in perfect nick, he says. There are 45 minutes of daylight left. Insufficient time to pack up, walk back to the car, head down there and get the baits in, so I opt to stay put - if I could only beat the cursed weed, I should be in with a shout. 

I realise something else, as I look down at the drain after the CB disappears elsewhere on his rounds. The level's fallen by getting on for two feet in as many hours. There are already fears that fish are being swept through the sluice at St Germans into the tidal Ouse.

As the sun dips beneath the sluice, the drain blushes pink before darkness falls.


Saturday, December 01, 2012

Water, water, everywhere in the Fens

When I looked over the bridge by the big sluice at Denver, I'd never seen as much water flooding through.

The Relief Channel was up over the banks - that's some head of water, when you bear in mind it's 12 miles long and 80 - 100yds wide.

The Impoundment Sluice (no idea why it's called that...) was also open, meaning water was pouring in from the Cut-Off, as well as the Ouse. I'll normally have a few casts regardless, but words like hopeless don't quite sum up the magnitude of how daft you'd have to be to expect to catch anything in that.

This is why we've been digging drains, diverting rivers and building banks and sluices for hundreds of years in the Fens. It might not do the fishing any favours when the system goes into flush mode, but it prevents the incredible scenes of flooding and devastation wrought by the downpours elsewhere.

Just about the only things that flood - apart from the odd corner of a spud field - are the washes at Welney and elsewhere, which were designed to flood by Vermuyden, the architect of much of the system.

There one or two things the great drainers didn't factor into their calculations. The first was how much the peat would shrink, leaving rivers twenty feet above it and vast tracts of the Black Fen the same distance or more below sea level.

The other was siltation, how the incoming tide would bring in more than the river could scour on the ebb; meaning parts of the Ouse are now badly silted. This hampers efforts to clear water off the Welney Washes, with all the problems that brings for the wildlife.

A little further downstream, it means they can't let water out into the tidal via the "eyes" of Denver Sluice, which in turn means water has to be discharged via the Relief Channel.

I check out several miles of river, which are practically deserted. I look in on a drain that's got a lock which keeps water from the rest of the system out - it's still within the banks but frozen over.

There are footprints everywhere up and down the bank by the one clear spot near a bridge - I wonder how many people have tried there already.

The idea of today was find somewhere fishable for the next couple of days. The jury's still out on that score.