Thursday, March 15, 2012

So long then, 2011/12 season - roll on 2012/13

It's March 15 - the day after the one we all dread, which heralds the end of the season on the rivers and drains.

Looking back it's been a real grueller at times. I can't grumble about one or two of the better fish I caught, but leave them out of the equation and I probably blanked four times for every fish I caught. In fact in 2011/12, most days passed without a single run.

Most people I've fished with or bumped into on the bank had a similar story to tell. Been out 44 times now, blanked 26 of them, one mate said a week or two back. 

The obvious question is why it's been so slow. I'm sure the weather had a hand in it, more precisely the lack of rain. Some also blame the fact November and December were far milder than normal, meaning the bait fish did not shoal up in their usual winter haunts on some waters. 

I'm not sure whether this makes much difference or not, in the scheme of things. Pike feed when they're hungry, because they'd starve if they didn't. If your bait's in the right place, one might pick it up. That's probably all there is to it.

One water which did throw up several different twenties seemed to have an almost complete lack of small pike. It probably produced more doubles and twenties than jacks.

That might mean we'll be on a flier come next winter, if some of those mid-twenties pack a few more pounds on and nudge the 30lbs mark by the back-end when they're full of spawn. But that's assuming they make it through the summer, survive the widely-forecast drought and don't just disappear off to another part of the system.

If they do stick around, we could end up with a water which will peak spectacularly, get hammered when word gets out and then drift into the doldrums until another strong year class peaks a few years down the line when everyone's off caning somewhere else.

Something similar happened on another stretch of water not so long ago, where an exceptional season was followed by a run of mediocre winters, when twenties became increasingly rare.

That's the Fens for you. It's boom and bust, as waters come and go. A couple of years with poor spawning success upset the usual pyramid of pike a few years later, when they produce good fish in numbers for a season or two before they succumb to old age or angling pressure and the cycle begins anew.

Twenties are rare fish. Pike over 25lbs are even rarer. In my best season out of 14 in the Fens, when I landed or seven or eight twenties (depending whether you count the same one twice in a day as one or two...), I didn't catch one over 25lbs.

That's one thing I did manage this time around, though last November seems an age ago now. Right place, right day, float goes under. Sometimes, it's that simple, while people agonise over moon phases and feeding spells, air pressure and advancing cold fronts, mackerel or herring.

Looking ahead, it's a bit early for predictions when it comes to next season. But I have a feeling the drought's going to have a real impact if it's anything like as bad as predicted. It's probably not going to get any easier, either way. It rarely does.

I've got a couple of new waters up my sleeve. I've got a few years of dawn starts and clambering up and down the banks left in me yet before the knees give out or the odd senior moment turns into full-blown dementia.

Whatever happens, I'll be out there again come autumn, because I love it just as much as I ever did. If I've learned anything over the last few years, it's that the harder it gets, the more you appreciate every pike you catch.

It might not have been the best of seasons, but I did enjoy 2011/12 - for the odd big fish that came along, the company and some of the laughs we had on the way. Big up Rob, TLC, the three Ashes (big Ash, medium-sized Ash and the even smaller Ash I had a great afternoon with the other week...) ROM, Secret Van Man (so secret I've not dared mention him yet), Midnight Cowboy (not his real name...),  and one or two others.

Johnny Block's death over-shadowed the start of the season for several of the rag-tag band above - a man who'd probably forgotten more about the countryside than most of us will ever know.

We loved him like the fishing that brought us together every winter. And I missed him every time I went back there, looking down the track still expecting him to come riding up on his moped or his mobility scooter to put us right..

Roll on 2012/13. Roll on autumn, when the big Fenland skies fill with geese at dawn. And roll on that feeling you get when the line tightens as a float slides away beneath the river, and you pick the rod up wondering what you're going to find on the other end.

Have a good summer. And keep on troshin'.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Eddie Turner's Hi-Viz Floats

Hats off to Mr T for discovering these a few years back. After a couple of seasons, I rarely use anything else when deadbaiting on rivers, drains and stillwaters.

What's great about these floats - apart from the fact even I can see them - is they're bouyant enough to fish bottom-end-only in wind or a moderate flow.

Set them slightly over-depth, cast and allow the current or wind to drag a slight bow in the braid. As it tightens, the line cocks the float.

They come in four or five sizes, the size 10 being most popular according to ET's website. The next size up will ride the flow in the Ouse with a 2oz lead to anchor it.

You can't really fault them for £1.50 a throw. Get rid of the silly swivel bead thing they come with and use a cross-lock to attach them to a swivel. To avoid casting tangles, have another stop and bead below the float, and slide this up a couple of feet above the lead to keep them apart in the air.

Click here for ordering details, price etc.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

If anything picks that up...

Rummaging around the freezer last night, I found some mega-herrings. A plan formed, along the lines of fish one of them big bad babies on a couple of rods and have more modest-sized baits on the others.

I also dug out a couple of rods I've been using for fishing the big river and gravel pits with leger rigs. The old Daiwa Emblems must be seven or eight seasons old but they're still going strong. Even the bail arm rollers still rotate faultlessly - despite the total lack of any servicing or looking after.

Chopping the heads off a pair of the old silver darlings left me with two 10-inch, oily baits that made the size two Owners look small. I dropped one in the margins and cast the other to the other side, where it landed with a huge splash.

If anything picks that up, it's going to be a decent fish, I thought as I put the rod in the rests and tightened up to the oil slick flattening the ripple. As I'm setting up the last rod, the alarm goes and it's away like a good 'un.

I shut the bale arm, give it a pop and find a really decent eight pounder on the end. I'm not sure how it even got that in its gob but both hooks are in its laughing gear so who cares.

I slip it back, get the rods nicely spread and park myself full of fish first cast smugness. Nothing else happens all day, despite a couple of moves and a few half-hearted stabs at doing different stuff like popping the baits up and fishing one at half-depth.

As the sun starts sinking, a fox comes ambling along the far floodbank. We stare each other out before a dog barks in the distance and it's away into the undergrowth.

I'm starting to feel relieved the season's almost over. It's been a long old slog. Today might turn out to be my last trip of 2011/12, depending what happens work-wise over the next few days.  No big deal, the way things have been going.