Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We got Norfolk style

Hawkeye's hauling while I hoover

Had a nine first cast. Had a new PB. Had another one. Just had an eight pounder.

I nearly fell off the wagon, grabbed some rods and sped off to the place I'm guessing Hawkeye's fishing, as a barrage of texts sets my phone buzzing like an Ann Summers party.

But I'm through with them old pikes until the autumn now. So I return to tidying my study.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Th'assa... Th'assa eagle owl that is...

Loving this post on Hawkeye's blog about the eagle owl they saw on the pylons... Should have gone to Specsavers...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

So long, then, 2012/13 - and roll on autumn

Summing up the 2012/13 season in a bankside banter the other day, I said it was a winter when I caught less pike than I've had out in a weekend when the Fens were fishing well.

One twenty, three doubles and 28 jacks from 46 trips, in other words - or 221 hours on 13 different waters, driving 2,573 miles for a best of 22lbs 4oz.

The high point was seeing Ashley's thirty and photographing it for posterity. One person who left a comment said it was "worth ten times some lump of lard from Chew".

While friends have had big fish both from Chew and other trout ressies, the comment's not far wide of the mark when it comes to the significance of a fish like that - not to mention the hours and hours that went into catching it.

A wild thirty from the Fens is a rare fish indeed. It may have been the same fish Rob had out at ounces under 26lbs, some 18 months earlier. It may have been the fish of the same weight we're sure was a different specimen that I caught around the same time.

Either way, I wonder where she's been between the two captures - and what the odds are against it surviving that long, let alone someone catching it again.

Ash gets on his toes and does his own thing. In a way, he deserved to be the one who connected with her, because he works harder at his fishing than the rest of the rag-tag band that haunt the system and pool the odd snippet of information.

We all had a go in the final days of the season, like you would if you had a rough idea where a thirty was. But off she went, and - as far as I know - didn't show again.

Perhaps that fish shows why it's worth carrying on regardless - no matter how slow things get. One run - or in this case, one hit on a lure - is all you need. But it's needles and haystacks out there in the bayou these days.

One or two mates had a better season than me. One had three twenties. Another had a good run of doubles from a neglected stretch but didn't manage a twenty.

My piking hero is probably Hawkeye, who looked me up after he retired and got back into fishing because he wanted to catch a pike. He managed half a dozen doubles to 16lbs in his first few forays, including a double on his first-ever trip to a drain with me and Matty.

His enthusiasm rubbed off on me, along with Ashley's smile as I looked at his thirty through the camera and took a few quick pictures before he lowered the Queen of that part of the system back into the water to continue her wanderings.

I may chase one or two other fish over the summer and file the odd despatch here and there as I kill time over the next few months.

But  I can't wait for those misty dawns when the skies fill with geese and we pull on our boots and our thermals for another season's ramblings. That's where my heart is, if you haven't already worked it out.

Click here for a review of 2011/12 in the Fens.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hawkeye strikes again on last day of the season

I only dropped it down there, right in the edge, shrugs Hawkeye as I bash through the reeds with the net and slip it under the pristine double. Down there, right in the edge, is the only bit you can fish as the drain rockets through.

Catching anything in these conditions is an achievement - let alone your first drain double on your first-ever trip to a drain.

I guess the fish at 12lbs and it goes 11:12 when we give it a bounce. Hawkeye admires her briefly and I grab a picture before he carries her back to the water and helps her nose her way out of the sling.

When we rolled up around 9.30, the drain looked like it would be good for a few fish. Clear day with high cloud rolling along on the breeze, after a sharp frost. It was forecast to cloud over as the day wore on.

We spread out along the bank, me, Hawkeye and Matt. Baits are in near and far sides, floats bobbing in the breeze, all looking good. Matt's soon away on a lamprey close to the marginal reeds. Pretty jack. He misses another 15 minutes later.

We move down the drain and again fan the rods out. No joy, so we walk back to the very end of the stretch and do the same there. Suddenly, the surface boils and six floats swing around in unison. The gates are opening, the drain's running off.

The flow picks up to a walking pace inside 10 minutes. Rafts of floating weed come sailing down and within half an hour, the only way you can fish is find a slack spot in the reeds and drop the bait in that.

We try a couple of moves and Haweye's in. Matt watches the rods while I run up with the net, sling and camera. It's the only action of the afternoon, but Hawkeye's not bothered.

As I lift the net, the fish shakes her head and the hooks fall out. One head shake as she wallowed on the top and she's have come off. I've decided Hawkeye is Mr Lucky. I may well get him to choose my lottery numbers in future.

"You know what, I'm getting really hooked on this pike fishing," he says as we pack up and head for home.

Today's almost certainly my last pike fishing trip of 2012/13. A rum old season, as you can tell by the stats. I'm going to take a break and then start getting set for 2013/14 by reccying a few places. I may also do some sea fishing or even have a crack at some tench over the summer.

I'll put the inevitable review of the season up in a day or two. In the meantime thanks to friends old and new for making it enjoyable despite the lack of fish caught.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lures beat the baiters

Second chuck, BANG. Not the biggest pike I've ever caught, but catching one's still a good way to start the morning.

Two or three casts later, I briefly hook a bigger one which slack lines me and comes off as it turns away in a swirl. Maybe they're up for it then, I tell myself.

I move swims and catch a couple more around the same size. I text Rob to tell him it might be worth popping down for an hour if he's working nearby - got a spare rod if you fancy a go on lures.

Already on my way mate,  comes the reply - got my bait rods in the van. Rob fancies the bit I'm fishing so I move further up after a banter and watch him sling baits up and down the bit the fish came from. Two or three casts to get the depth right and I nail another jack. Ten minutes later, what looks like a bigger fish follows and turns away at the end of the retrieve.

I decide to rest it for a bit and give it a go with a different lure to the Smuttley which has been doing the damage. Territorial males might lash out at anything that zig-zags past their noses, but a bigger, wiser fish might fancy something a bit more natch.

Along comes Rodders. Alright Rob, alright Bisho - what you boys doing down here. Half an hour later there are a few more floats dotted around in front of us.

I give it a go in the spot up the bank and after a couple of casts, the lure's veering off hard to the right. The drain's running off. The drain runs off harder and harder, the level dropping 18ins or so over the rest of an enjoyable afternoon chewing the fat about old times.

The flow's tough to manage with a bait rod - even with a big polyball or shark float, rods up high to keep the line off the water. When Rob gets a pull, the strike's masked by the weed which has collected around the line and it comes adrift.

I like the look of the rigs they're using, especially Rodders's titanium traces. He knocks one up to show how easy they are to make.

"I'm totally confident in 'em now," he says. "Had one last two seasons buh."

The wire might last forever, but trebles don't. So he uses split rings to attach the hooks, meaning he can change them when they're shot. Genius.

Rodders keeps telling us the water fishes well when it's running off. As it runs off harder and the surface starts to boil and crease, he admits maybe not this hard.

A mink scampers along the far bank. Two more swim across, while shortly afterwards, yet another appears down the near side.

I wonder if that's why we haven't seen any prey fish, in a spot which almost always used to hold a shoal of silvers, who'd be dimpling on the top by late afternoon.

Then Ash arrives. Hello boys, what you doing here..? Catching, I say. On lures.

After watching three very good pike anglers blank all afternoon, I have an idea driving home. I wonder what would happen if I left the bait rods at home for a season, invested in some decent lure kit, and actually stuck with it.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Do not pass go. Do not catch thirty.

No prizes for guessing what happened today. Try the bit where you know who caught you know what. All the way out there, I actually think I'm going to catch it.

No-one's about, which is hardly surprising considering the conditions - Monday morning, howling north-easterly and snow.  

But I'm soon tucked away with two up and down the margins, a double expresso in one hand and a roll-up in the other. I can't take my eyes off the floats. When one goes, I nearly wish I'd brought a change of attire.

I pick up the rod, feel the line trickling off the reel, snap the bail arm shut and give it some welly.

Instead of the expected mammoth scrap, the rod bends briefly and a jack of little over a pound rolls on the top. Do not pass go. Do not catch thirty. I am tempted to press it into service for reconnaissance purposes, but it falls off the end as I go to chin it.

Doubt creeps in. Maybe it's moved. Maybe just to the next swim, so I try there. I try one or two other places it may have moved to. Ash rocks up, as I'm heading off for an early bath.

"Not caught it yet then," he chuckles.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Thirty from the Fens sends Ash speechless

Is that you..? Is that you fishing further down..? Might be... Why..? I'm standing here looking at the biggest pike I've ever seen, that's why. It's a thirty. Can you get up here and get some pictures..?

After driving around looking at rivers and drains, I head off somewhere else and drop some baits in.

Spying a familiar car in the distance, I wonder what Ashley's doing on here and text him to announce my arrival on the scene, expecting the usual banter by way of reply.

I thought you said it was crap here, I said. So what you doing on here :) ...?

Five minutes later, my mobile goes. Ashley's voice is an octave higher than normal as he gives me a garbled sit-rep. I reel the rods in, throw the lot in the car and floor it.

Ash looks like he's seen a ghost when I eventually find him what seems like ages later.

"I, um, it's huge, it's awesome, it's bust my net," he says, hauling his prize out of the water. I throw my £250 tweed coat on the ground without a second thought to lay it on as he tees it up for a picture.

That's just, that's just - that's just enormous, that is. That's all I can think to say, as I stand there nearly dumbstruck, looking at what might well be the biggest fish that's come off this part of the system all season through the camera.

"Go on then," Ash says as it swims away with a flick of its tail. "Take the piss out of my little lure rod."

Even I'm lost for words as I show him the pictures on the camera. "It's still sinking in, to be honest," he says. "They way it took, I thought it was a jack to start with."

I disappear to leave him to his thoughts, worried I'm intruding on the magic of the moment. I get the rods back out of the car and make a half-hearted go at it. But I can't stop myself looking at the pictures, wondering how I'd feel now if I'd been on the other end of the rod.

It's nearly an hour before Ash reappears. "I just sat there mate," he says. "I just sat there blown away by it."

Ash is going to report the fish because it's a lifetime's best at 31:08. In recent seasons, he's kept himself to himself and done his own thing, fishing far-flung spots with just a net and a lure rod.

The big fish took a tiny rubber lure, flicked out on what most people would regard as a light set-up when it comes to finding yourself attached to a fish like this. But it beat her all the same, after a scrap he'll probably never forget.

We shoot the breeze for a while, as snow flurries drift in on the Lazy Wind. Ash still looks blown away as we say our goodbyes. Well done mate, I say, in the absence of anything more profound to crown the moment. What a fish.

+++Talking of which, was it this pike Ash ironically photographed for me 18 months earlier..? Click here to see that one...

Friday, March 08, 2013

That lazy wind...

With six days left, I do up a couple of rods for drain fishing, have a change of heart when I see the weather and end up going somewhere else instead. It's foggy, with a cold, lazy easterly. Not ideal conditions, in other words.

The water's grey and ruffled in the first couple of swims I try. I'm kicking myself for not being here earlier in the week, when it was fishing reasonably well. Lunchtime comes and goes, in the shape of one of the most profoundly disappointing scotch eggs I have ever eaten.

As the wind gets up, the fog clears slightly. I work my way around a series of bays until I run out of ideas.

Looking at the forecast, things aren't going to get any better for the next few days. In fact the wind's set to swing found a few points to north-east and things could get pretty grotty. When it blows up cold, they call it the Lazy Wind in Norfolk, after a poem by John Kett.

That lazy wind, that crazy wind, from icy seas come tew yer,
Tha's jus' tew lazy t'go round an' so that go clean threw yer.

Kett had the weather nailed. If you've ever fished on one of the drains or rivers in the Fens which flow in a more or less northerly direction when the Lazy Wind's blowing and you'll know that bone chilling feeling all too well, as it hits you right in the chops.

I can't ever recall catching much when conditions were that way inclined either. But with the clock ticking down, there's no choice now.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

See you out there at season's end in the Fens

After four days of wishing I was out there I finally will be tomorrow. I've gone from being able to take it or leave it where fishing's concerned to being determined to end the season with a couple of half reasonable days.

This time next week, it'll more or less be over. In a lot of ways, 2012/13 has been the kind of season I just want to move on from as quickly as I can. That means finding some new waters to target as well as biting the bullet and making more of a go of it with the lures next time around.

If I'd got off to a better start, I'd probably have had the confidence to ring the changes and try new things, rather than sticking with what's worked for me in the past in the hope it would all come good and I'd start catching again.

In a lot of ways, there's only so much you can do to catch pike. Hawkeye's rationale for why he's taken to pike fishing after returning to the sport post-retirement is it's quite a simple way of fishing without all the fancy bits around the edges which now seem to dominate most other branches of the sport.

In a way that's why I love it too. My life away from the water is a complete contrast to sitting behind the rods. Pike fishing's the perfect antidote to a complex and stressful job, where you're always chasing deadlines and trying to do 10 things at once.

It's probably why I'll never stop this side of senile dementia or the zimmer frame.

A few more hours and that's it - I can concentrate on what the next run's going to bring for a few days and make up for some lost time. See you out there.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Remember a few weeks back...?

Remember what the Delph looked like..?

Seen it lower, put it that way.

They were building an emergency flood barrier on the Bedford Bank at Welney. Now levels have returned more or less to normal. How it's going to impact on the fishing in future seasons remains to be seen.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Sundridge Igloo Suit review - updated

The zip on the bib and brace half of the Sundridge suit I bought in autumn 2011 has finally gone for a burton. That means I've had almost two seasons' wear out of it, which I think is pretty good going bearing in mind it just gets slung in the study and left to fester when I get home.

I've had a lot more wear out of the top half, which rapidly became my every day coat and is still going strong. So all I need to replace is the B&B, which for £49.99 strikes me as a pretty good bargain if I get two years' worth out of the next one. Then again, I might go for the full shooting match and have a coat which doesn't smell of fish as well.

Despite its age and zip gone up the Suwannee, the rest of the B&B is still waterproof. The pockets are still attached, the knees and arse-end haven't worn through and it still keeps me warm.

You've got to take your hat off to Sundridge. Quality stuff that keeps you warm and dry whatever the weather throws your way. Click here for original review.

+++Footnote from  wife: 'Your gut split it, dinnit...?'

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Spring arrives in the Fens

They weren't where I thought they'd be today. I tried a few swims, including the sides of a couple of reedy bays where you sometimes pick up a better fish tight in to the stems this time of year.  No sign of pike in the approaches to their spawning haunts, but I did spook a bittern which was hiding unseen among the vegetation before it burst from cover out and flew off across the lake - the first I've seen for a couple of seasons.

As the sun broke through the clouds after lunchtime, I headed for a deeper corner which used to be a banker spot.

Used to being the operative word, although I did tickle a few out last time I dropped in here from two screamingly obvious features, deep margins shaded by the trees. As the afternoon brightens up,  I half expect to catch something, for no logical reason other than I'm quite enjoying what's turning into a pleasant spring day.

I start enjoying it even more when the float on the left hand rod bobs and slides slowly away. I give it a heave and after a brief scrap a twelve pounder's glaring up at me from the mat. Along comes a chap for a chat, who it turns out lives down the road from me.

We're still shooting the breeze when the float goes again. As it nears the surface, I can see it's a bit smaller. A pike that dwarves it briefly appears below it before it sinks away. I can't get the fish off the hooks and the bait back in quick enough.

Half an hour later, the float trembles and I wonder if it's the big fish I glimpsed. But it drops it before I can pick the rod up and find out.

Chap From Down The Road drops in the next swim for a bit, then comes over for a further chat. One or two people are fishing another water which used to be one of the best in the Fens for a couple of seasons a few years back. One's called matey to report a run-less day.

Driving home, this part of the conversation gets me thinking. Forty-odd trips for what you could reasonably have expected to catch in a weekend on the other place when it was at its peak. Perhaps the lean years help you appreciate the good ones. If it was easy all the time, would we enjoy it any more.

Twelve days of the season left. I reckon I can get out for around half of them. Time for a last look at the rivers and drains, before the dreaded March 14.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Revenge: A dish best eaten cold

Can't believe I've managed to somehow avoid going fishing for the best part of a month, but I guess it pays the bills.
All that's set to change tomorrow. Well, the going bit is. Whether I'll catch anything's probably another matter but I've got some of my enthusiasm back.
Sometimes a break does you good. Although there were plenty of fish coming out while I was otherwise engaged - assuming my mates are telling the truth and not having a giraffe at my expense.

Stranger things happen in pike fishing, like fishing waters which they neglect to tell you don't have any pike in. Thanks lads. Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.