Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An old school twenty

For the first time in ages I drop the rod, stretch my aching arms and look down at something worth catching in the folds of the landing net, as I unclip the trace to unhook it.

I knew it was a good fish as soon as I banged the hooks into it. I'd almost forgotten the thrill of that first glimpse, after you've pumped it back towards you. First the stop knot, then the float, then the trace, then you see it and start worrying you're going to lose it.

I bungled the first attempt as it surged away from the net in a v-wave, but the hooks stayed in as its tailwalk turned into a half-hearted belly flop, for reasons which soon became clear. On an old school day, I'd caught an old school twenty. Just for once, I'd got it right.

Old school, weather-wise. As in temperatures on their way up and holding in a stiff south-westerly. Old school pike-wise, as in get on after a thaw and they'll be feeding if you can only find them.

I did eventually find some around lunchtime on the third water I tried. Two jacks in two chucks, as I poked the baits out towards a feature.  Then I had a jouble - long and thin, I weighed it out of curiousity and it went 9lbs dead.

Three pike to 9lbs in an hour's not to be sneezed at, the way my season's been going. While I'm patching up the raker rash the nine did to my knuckles, another float goes and it's a low double with a flying hook. I chin it, still bleeding, and decide to turn the hooks out and get my cuts sorted.

Once I've finished being a total girl, a highly unusual thing happens. The float goes and I smack into something which fights back. It takes what seems like ages to pump it back towards me from 50 yards or so, to the point where it's plodding around under the rod top, before it throws a tailwalk which ends up in a belly flop and I steer it into the net.

It's a twenty at last - as in at long last, as in nearly a year since one graced my net. One hook in its scissors, snicked out in a trice. As I slip it into the sling, I notice a slightly obvious feature of this otherwise healthy-looking fish that's clearly not gone short of a decent meal judging by her ample girth.

Barely 40 inches* she still goes 22lbs 4oz. But she's missing the top lobe of her tail, which is clearly going to make her an easily-identified individual if she shows up again. She looked a young, well-proportioned fish otherwise. Young, but still old school for me.

**Barely 40 inches, I stuck a tape measure alongside her but it curled up as I did a couple of quick pictures on the mat, so I made her around 38ins. You can clearly see the missing tail lobe.

Look at the gut on her too. Slight swelling towards her back end, as her spawn ripens. But the bulge behind her pectoral fins shows she's not been going short of a good trough or two.

Great fish, thrilled to catch her.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I'll swear this pike smiled as I slipped her back

I can't remember the last time I was this chuffed to catch a double. As it's the first I've managed all season, I even weighed it in case it turns out to be the season's best.

Three pits, five swims and no runs later it was time for a last roll of the dice. By the time it turned 3.30, it was three pits, six swims and no runs. Over the next half an hour or so, I had five. Three jacks came one after another, including a double hit with two rods off simultaneously.

I was recasting the second when the first bung went again. This felt like a slightly better sample, which fought back with a few lunges before I slipped the onion bag under it. I weighed it for posterity, as it was the best I've managed all season.  Mrs Avon settled for 12:08.

I wonder if that's it for the season, I thought to myself as I slipped her back. I'll swear she smiled at me (see top picture...), as she righted herself and disappeared back into the depths in a swirl.

As desk fell, the Heaven hounds were in full cry overhead. Great v-shaped skeins of greylags en route for Mussel Bay.

The float went just once more. As I unhooked the smallest fish of the day, I decided to quit while I was winning.

Monday, January 28, 2013

When was the last time you caught one again?

After an hour or so on the pits with Hawkeye, I twitch the baits and one of the floats dithers and moves off against the breeze. I pull into what feels like a half decent pike, which comes off after a few head shakes as I pump it back towards me.

Deep down, I know what's happened before I even look at the trace. Blunt hooks, no excuses. I give them a few swipes with the sharpening stone, drop another bait on the same spot and we sit there for another 90 minutes waiting for it to go.

Parts of the pits were frozen. We drive around looking at a couple of other bits, before finding one without any ice on and the wind blowing into a corner. Hawkeye's in there like a flash and manages to miss one that nearly pulls his rod in.

Next chuck, he nails what was probably the culprit. He seems gutted when I tell him I'd give it 2lbs on a good day.

"So tell me - when the last time you caught one," he asks.

I look down at my shoes. I can't remember.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Blank..? We don't have a word for that in Poland

"And at 2pm, we will be meeting here for a barbecue," shouts Rado over the gale lashing across the Fens. "So bring along any fish you catch. And any swans...."

Some 46 anglers from five different nations turned out for today's Building Bridges fish-in on the Twenty Foot.  Organised by Rado - aka Radoslaw Papiewski and his colleague Pawel Nycz- under the banner of the Angling Trust and Polish Anglers Association, the day was the latest in a series of events designed to foster better relations between Eastern European anglers and those of us who grew up steeped in this country's angling culture.

Relations weren't the only thing which was thawing, as the temperatures rose after a fortnight when the mercury had rarely strayed above zero. Snow melt and heavy overnight rain had left the drain tea-coloured and rocketing through, with a brisk downstream gale adding insult to injury.

Yet while I'd resigned myself to the inevitable before I even got a bait into the water, the first thing which struck me about the Eastern European guys was they weren't going to let the kind of conditions which usually see me slinking off to a gravel pit get in the way of a good day out. Off they went with their lure rods, to give it a go regardless.

I gave it two hours, baits barely holding with five ounces of lead as debris picked up by the flow caught the braid and eventually cloaked the bait. I wandered back to the RV and bumped into Rado, along with Kelvin Allen and Mark Owen from the Angling Trust, and Tom Legge from Angler's Mail - the only angling journalist who'd turned out for the event.

Back they came, in dribs and drabs - still smiling. Smoke shrouded the banks as a sizeable barbie was fired up, with the smell of polish sausage soon making mouths water. No-one batted an eyelid as two swans sailed past Beggar's Bridge, let alone dived for the charcoal - Rado was joking about that, along with the fish.

While no-one actually managed to catch one anyway, the Polish Anglers Association is strongly promoting catch and release. Building bridges sums up what we need to do with these guys - break down some barriers, go fishing together and have a good crack.

You can't really fault that. It's a no-brainer. But next time, I'll be yomping off with a lure rod to have a bit more banter and get a bit more involved. Fishing is much more social to the Poles and Eastern Europeans, it's a get-together rather than lone wolves reluctant to trade information - which is how they see the natives. 

I met people today who live for their fishing as much as I do. One bloke, with a handshake like a vice, said: "English..? Good you come. We must fish more together."

I just hope conditions will be a bit better next time we meet up. As it became clear that everyone had blanked, I asked Rado what the Polish word was for blanking.

"There's no word in Polish for blanking," he said. "There's no such word. I'm very pleased, it's one of the best events we've had so far."

Nations represented included Poland, England, Romania, Lithania and Russia. One car-load came from Bridgewater, in Somerset. Another made the journey down from Liverpool.

Fishing in the Fens has so much on its plate at the moment, the only way we stand any chance of dealing with some of the big-picture issues is if we all get on with each other and stand up for what we all love - regardless of where we come from or the language we speak.

I turned out to be a winner in anyone's language. With no fish caught, there was a draw for trophies and prizes donated by the Angling Trust, Fox and the EA.

There were six prizes and my number was the sixth to be drawn. This means I was technically the third-best bait angler out of nine.

Looking at it another way, I've now got so good at not catching anything that the international angling community has awarded me a trophy for it.

I've also decided to re-invest my winnings by re-joining the Angling Trust. I might not agree with everything they do. But I've seen some of the best of it today, and met someone who's determined to make a difference when it comes to bridging the gap between cultures by getting us to fish together.

dziękuję Radowslaw and Pawel...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pike waters in the Fens - updated

I've just updated the Waters in the Fens page (see tabs at the top...) after a slightly poetic bit of advice occurred to me. Click here to have a gander.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stephen Harper at King's Lynn PAC

Stephen Harper's the special guest at the next King's Lynn PAC meeting. It's at the Wm Burt Club on Wednesday, January 30 (7.30pm). Click here for a bit more. See you there.

Frozen Old Bedford

ICE: The frozen Old Bedford, looking downstream from Welney Bridge.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Still cold in the Fens

Snow still covering the banks and several of the smaller drains were still frozen while I was out and about today. Not sure how much of a thaw we're going to get by the weekend either, to make matters worse.

If it stays cold and we're robbed of the chance of a few days on the stillwaters, there'll be just six weeks left give or take a few days. If it stays this cold into February, there are going to be a lot of hopes riding on those last few weeks. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Here we snow again

Should have gone yesterday, but the forecast put me off and my first choice venue-wise was frozen over. Ditto today.

Thoughts now focussed on the end of next week/weekend/week after. Not sure how some of the other herberts are faring, but some timely words of wisdom from an old mate in response to my appraisal of how my season's going.

"I wouldn't worry," he said. "We all have our bad 'uns. An' that's just how it is, that is."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Time to build an igloo

"Come on," says Malcolm. "You can't bottle it. I mean, it might be a bit cold but that shouldn't bother an old pike fisherman.

"Look, I tell you what. Me and Sid will build it - well, I'll design it (being an architect, obviously...) and Sid will do the actual, um, building as it were. All you've got to do is take some pictures and job's a good 'un."

I waver, while the New Barman at the Village Pub reads my mind and pours me a double shot of Jack on the rocks. I like the New Barman's style.

"Are you, like, um, sure there'll be enough snow," asks Hawkwind Sid. "I mean to build, like, an igloo..?"

It says more snow on the forecast, I shrug. But I'm sure they build igloos from ice, as in, like, where the eskimos live.

"I reckon you might be on for that tonight," says the New Barman, in the first of what I am sure will be many useful contributions to the wide-ranging debates which happen in the Village Pub.

"They reckon that's going to get down to minus eight or nine. And my name's Neil, by the way."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Three drains, no pike

The first drain we tried didn't look too bad, but half an hour sloshing through the mud was enough.

We tried a little land drain I haven't fished for years. Better still, it didn't look like anyone else had fished it, judging by the pristine banks.

When the farmer turned up, I thought for a moment he was going to turf us off.

"Don't see many people fishing these days," he said. "Mind you there was a big fish kill two summers ago,  think that might have did for 'em..."

Down the road we trog to yet another drain. Ten minutes later, along comes the club chairman.

"You won't catch anything here Chris," he said. "Mind you, I hear you've not been catching much anywhere lately."

This turned out to be an accurate prognosis, with just one missed hit on a jerkbait and a tiny jack that swirled at a Shad Rap all we had to show for an afternoon.

I apologise to Hawkeye for some reason when we get back to the car. Hawkeye's having none of it, he's really enjoyed having a go with lures.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Desperation creeps in

Tomorrow's plan is have a lie-in, see what the weather's doing, then get out with the lure rods for a few hours to see if I can find anywhere they're holding up.

If I do, I'll go back and give it a more thorough work-out with the bait rods. I'm not sure if this sounds like the makings of a plan or sheer desperation creeping in.

I'm even worse at lure fishing than I am at fishing with baits, believe it or not on current form. But it only takes one or two good fish to turn your luck around. And one or two twenties would make it for me in what remains of this season.

I've already worked out what I've done wrong, chasing an ever-decreasing number of big fish in the hope of catching a serious lump. I quietly expected one or the other fish we had out over 25lbs last season might do it if I could only be there on the right day.

Needless to say, this didn't work out. Being wrong is probably half the reason I still love doing this. The other half being the one that's down to Lady Luck.

I now wonder if either of those pike are still in the part of the system concerned, as to my knowledge no-one's caught either of them this season. That might sound like a bold statement, but neither of them were the big fish others were chasing on another nearby drain last time around.

So it's back to the drawing board. But there are still a few weeks left.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Sudden Stratospheric Warming explained

Snow's looking increasingly likely for the weekend. This is not good news, bearing in mind I can't get out fishing before then. Then again, things can't get any worse bearing in mind I haven't managed to catch much this season when conditions have looked OK.

An unusual - and ironically-named - weather phenomena is bringing the white stuff our way. Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW).  Watch the vid or click here for a bit more about it.

While I was exploring the Met Office site, I discovered this graphic on 2012:

Met Office guide 2012 weather

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Belated review of 2012 and a New Year's resolutuion

To think that when I caught this fish, back in February 2012, I was half-bemoaning the fact I'd caught precious little else all season - other than one belting capture that catapaulted my drain PB over 25lbs.

I not only failed spectacularly to catch another twenty in 2012. The current season is currently the first when I haven't even caught a double. While I learned a lot in 2012, you can mainly sum it up as yet more reasons to add to the litany when it comes to why the fishing's been so bad on what used to be waters where it was rare to suffer more than a few blanks on the bounce.

Fish eating people, fish eating animals, fish eating birds - not to mention fish spawn eating crabs. These are the explanations you hear on the bank, when you actually bump into anyone else out pike fishing these days, for why the runs have become so scarce.

My own view is climate change, in the form of increasingly-heavy rainfall is a more likely culprit that any or all of the above. Sharp fluctuations in flow and levels around spawning time can only impact adversely on a fish which spawns when these factors occur.

My slightly-belated New Year's resolution is to lobby for more research into this - along the lines of the work that fisheries scientist Dr Karen Twine carried out into the decline of barbel in the upper Ouse.

To be continued...

Monday, January 07, 2013

Weather gets cold in winter - shock, horror

That's going to get cold come the weekend. Proper cold, with frost and stuff. I don't know why I still cling to the naiive belief that this season might still shake off the doldrums and throw up something decent, but news the mercury's set to fall has got me re-tackling rods ready to hit the rivers.

I wonder if it will be the last chance to turn my fortunes around. A few phone calls and texts have now revealed one water which does seem to have been producing a few pike. I have a feeling this will be a short-lived thing and I'd be on there tomorrow if I could.

If the rain holds off for a few days, it could be fining down nicely by the end of the week. Then again, a sharp frost could kill it. I don't even want to think about what snow would do to the system - anyone remember the winter of 2010/11..?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Three nil to the dreaded mitten crabs

The float bobs up and down and the tod tip rattles. I'm not sure it's a pike, but after a few seconds of this, I wind into it and find whatever it was has de-sardined me. Ten minutes later, the same thing happens. Crabs two, Chris nil.

I stick on a thick eel section, thinking this should beat them and leave something on the end for the pike in case one comes creeping up the margins. After a repeat of the bob-bob-tug-tug routine, I reel in the bait and find something's sliced chunks out of it.

I can't seen how anything other than a crab could leave slashes like this in something as tough-skinned as an eel.

I dropped it on top of my reefer box to get a close-up of the damaged bait - whatever did it has left a deep V-shaped laceration, before it started pulling the flesh out of it.

Barry McConnell gave us his take on the invaders at the last King's Lynn PAC meeting. He blames them for the zander's steep decline on some of the drains where they were once common. And unlike me, he's actually caught a few crabs, click here for some pictures of them along with more on Barry's thoughts.  

The river looked half hopeful, once I'd got there through the fog-shrouded Fens. It was pulling off hard but had obviously been three or four feet higher at some point over the last 24 hours or so. Two ounce leads and big sea floats held station in the flow, line tightened so it was off the water.

The fog never cleared. The Chipper Bailiff stopped by and tipped me about an eight pounder someone landed in the next swim a day or two earlier. I debate whether to move but decide not to chase a known eight pounder.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Fens struggle to cope as the waters keep on rising

It'll come as no surprise to anyone that 2012 was second-wettest year on record. But rather than some freak statistic, the incredible amounts of rainfall we've seen over the last 12 months look like part of a more alarming trend, when you bear in mind that four out of the five wettest years since records began in 1910 have happened since 2000.

The last thing I wrote in 2012 was the emergency barrier the EA were installing on the barrier bank at Welney. The Delph wasn't just higher than I'd ever seen it, the water was two feet below the bridge span and the road across the washes had six feet of water on it.

Villagers feared for their homes, with more rain on the way. To put it into context, if you know the village and the pair of drains to the south of it, the levels on the washes and what used to be the Delph were getting on for 10ft above the level in the Old Bedford by the Village Hall, with just the barrier bank keeping the rising flood in check.

The waters were nearing the muddy track where you clatter through the gateway to get to Bridge Pool. The Delph, which usually runs between the two lines of trees, had spilled over as the washes rose.

You might well marvel at how Cornelius Vermuyden's flood defence scheme has weathered the centuries and kept the waters at bay. But looking at the trend towards increasingly heavy rainfall over the last decade, you can't help but wonder how much longer it can survive the onslaught.

For while we have new pumps at Welmore and St Germans, the tidal Ouse remains key to moving water out of the system. And with the main river being run off via the Relief Channel to keep levels in the tidal channel down to get water off the Welney Washes, the system is now running at full belt, with little in the way of spare capacity.

Our drains and rivers are struggling to do the job they were shaped for. With big tides due later this month, you wonder how they're going to cope.

++BBC rainfall story *linky*

Grandeslam fleece suit review

I must admit, I never really took to the Grandeslam fleece suit I bought at the start of the season. The first time I clambered into it, the zip puller broke. This made answering the inevitable bankside call of nature a somewhat risky business and on one occasion an extremely painful one.

I couldn't stand still in it the first half a dozen times I wore it, thanks to a couple of itchy tags inside. Finally, as I wrestled with the zip to water the horses, it broke meaning I couldn 't zip it up.

Not the best £29.99 I ever spent. It kept me warm after a fashion, but most cheap onesies - or bunny suits, as northerners call them - do worn under a decent bib and brace.

For £34.99, I got a set of Nash ZT Second Skins today. They not only feel warm and airy, there's no zip to go wrong.

++Reviews on this blog are all compiled from personal opinions, having field tested the item concerned.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Hawkeye's new PB

Here's the best pike of the season for me so far - not because I caught it, but because of the amount the guy who did clearly savoured every minute of it.

I lost touch with Hawkeye a while back when he retired from his job with a large conservation organisation. Hawkeye, who now lives not far from me, has re-discovered the joys of fishing since he became a gentleman of leisure.

He remembered I was into pike fishing and e-mailed asking if I'd take him out one day. Being me, I managed to lose his e-mail but he eventually found my phone number so off we went today.

I don't mind taking newcomers to pike fishing out for the odd trip as long as they weigh up the risks, the main one being they won't catch anything with how bad my season's been going.

Hawkeye didn't seem at all fazed by this, so we headed out for what used to be one of my banker take someone new out to catch a few jacks waters, where we blanked. I remembered another banker spot we'd passed on the way. I always used to catch there too, often on a bait twitched along a line of trees.

So when we moved I set Hawkeye up to do this and once he'd got his head around the depth and giving the bait the odd little twitch, the float goes and he hooks into a fat double of around 13lbs. I can't remember the last time I went out with someone who enjoyed catching a pike so much.

I guess it at eight or 10lbs in the water, but it's a fat fish not to mention his PB pike, so we give it a bounce on the scales and it goes 12lbs 13oz or thereabouts. Hawkeye's blown away by its gob-full of teeth. As he lowers it back in the margins and it slopes away, he says: "They're beautiful things aren't they."

Another convert to the cause. I spend the rest of the afternoon telling him horror stories about how hard the fishing is, but not even a downpour can knock him off Cloud Nine, as the day drifts into a soggy dusk.

When I get home, I dig out the picture to e-mail it to him and the smile says it all. Look out for Hawkeye - I have a feeling he's going to get into this pike fishing lark.