Monday, 23 April 2018

Mersey Salmon. Nearly Christmas, So I Feel Entitled to a Rant or Two First, Then the Salmon....and a Couple of Rudd to Finish.

It has been a while...again.   I wrote the title to this before Christmas.  It is now April, so my rant mode has long since evaporated.  Far too long since my last blog entry.   But sometimes I freely admit to not being bothered, too much trouble, watered down by the feeling that at times, I have insufficient of interest to say.   Writer's block, I suppose a professional might call it. I'll call it laziness, if that is OK with you?

I have spent quite a time trying to photograph salmon in the Mersey and in its tributary the Goyt.  Over the past few years, maybe a decade or so, a few salmon have been seen running up the Mersey.  This is very gratifying, another sign that the efforts to clean up the local rivers is working.  The salmon have not bred in the river, but are strays from other rivers, or so the EA told me.    Contrary to popular opinion, salmon do not always return to the exact spot where they were born. Some get lost on the way, and stray into other river catchments. The EA informed me, a few years ago that fish from the Severn, the Dee, and even some french rivers had reached the Mersey.   There are not huge numbers, but enough that, at the right time of year, spending a few hours at the "hot spots" for jumping fish, you are likely to see one or two.   I have tried to persuade the EA that they should stock a few thousand parr into the headwaters, in each of several consecutive years, to no avail. I suspect they wish to see and observe how salmon naturally re-establish themselves into a river catchment. They don't want to contaminate the DNA that is natural to the river.  BUT, as salmon have been long extinct in the Mersey there is none of the original DNA remaining. It is all foreign DNA, so I don't really see that stocking should be a problem.   Ten years on and I have yet to see a single salmon parr in the river.  In the River Dee, there are many thousands. Not one have I seen in either the Mersey or its tributaries.     
Salmon Parr. and a Young Brown Trout.
And I know of no-one else who can say reliably that they have seen or caught one. Many anglers would have difficulty in identifying them from young brown trout.   I know I did: I had caught several on the Dee before I realized what they were,  that they were different: salmon parr. But why do they not seem to be breeding in the Mersey catchment?    Several reasons spring to mind.   Some of the weirs are very difficult for fish to pass, one or two being impossibly high, even when the rivers are running a lot of water, thus restricting access to many ideal spawning sites.    I don't know how badly floods might affect the eggs, or the newly hatched fish, but heavy rivers flows have been a common occurrence.  Probably their effect has not been completely devastating, because brown trout, of which there are many, both above and below the larger weirs, seem to breed successfully.   Maybe the water is clean enough to allow salmon to run upstream, but not so good yet, as to be suitable for young salmon parr.  There is another factor to the equation: cormorants and goosander.   The local streams are small, and generally shallow.   Goosanders breed near these streams, and have large broods of chicks. The most young I have seen accompanying a single female was seventeen, most of which survived to adult size.  That is a lot of small fish disappearing down a lot of avian gullets, and is, in my opinion, likely to greatly hinder the full return of salmon to the Mersey. So come on EA, give us some help!     


I took a few videos of salmon, but have been having immense  trouble trying to link them into the blog. I'll try again, but am not hopeful.   Any hints on how to incorporate videos would be much appreciated. Most of the fish I saw jumping were trout, maybe less than one in a hundred being a  salmon.  So this is a link to a shared folder. It contains three of my videos. You may need to copy and paste it into your browser window.

https://1drv.ms/f/s!AlLuA7bpQJftq1bN4YzqH8Rn2kef

A Mersey Salmon

The file "Woolston" is a concatenation of three salmon jumping at Woolston Weir. This is a condensation of over four hours spent with the camera pointed at the weir.   I consider this weir as impassable to fish, and the sight of a fish attempting to jump it, means that it has missed the fish pass. The weir is probably 80 or 90 yards wide, with a small zig-zag channel fish pass right at one edge, the channel being a foot or so wide.   It seems to me that this style of fish pass, on a very large weir, must be very inefficient indeed.  Two other video are of fish, one definitely a salmon and the other a good sized trout (I think) making it up a section of a newly constructed, and far better designed fish pass. I found it astonishing that the fish powered their way up INSIDE the waterfall, rather than jumping over it.



This still photo is of a Mersey salmon that was captured by the Woolston weir, when it was configured as a fish trap, rather than a fish pass.


I'll move onto the fishing now, and I would be the first to admit that the winter has not been kind to me.  The grayling have proved elusive, on the few days when the rivers have been fishable. No notable fish have fallen to my charms.  A few small ladies, the odd little chub and roach. All in all the rivers have been pleasant places to be, and so it has been lucky that catching every time is not really important to me.   But I even went carp fishing one day, successes in the flowing water being so rare.  I have not carp fished for over 40 years, and the 18 pound common I landed on the day did not thrill me the way it should have done, so I have to conclude that I am probably well over my carp fishing days. They are a species that appeals little, although I will probably have the odd cast at them, they are unlikely ever to feel important to me.   They used to have a "hard to catch" reputation, but these days that is no longer the status quo. They have become just another species, to me at least. Other than a couple of zander, largest maybe a little over five pounds, few other fish  have chosen to spend any of their time with me until recently. I would temper that by saying that the weather has been such that I often did not venture out, so I have fished much more infrequently than would be usual for me in winter.

But a couple of weeks or so ago, I went rudd fishing. Such pretty fish, and I have found that they can be very obliging, they look good, and often take a bait well. No need either, to resort to modern scientifically proved, chemically stabilized, weight balanced, vitamin and nutrition packed, and therefore highly EXPENSIVE, baits.   A loaf of Warburton's thick sliced toastie bread can often be all that is needed.  A quid from most good retailers.  Many anglers consider rudd to be a summer fish, and only a summer fish.  I have not found that to be the case myself.  They change their habits, and in colder weather are unlikely to be feeding on or near the surface.   Not being able to see them makes them harder to locate, but if found, they may still feed, albeit differently.   The water temperature being just 7 degrees, I decided that bottom fishing would be best, but  location might be a problem.   The first six hours or so were blank, completely so, and I was looking towards another session without any fish. 

Then the dough bobbin ( a Warburton's dough bobbin of course) on the right hand rod twitched. Just twitched, but it was enough to confirm that something was in the swim. I didn't think it was a line bite.   Warburton's bread has a confidence boosting texture. A texture that convinces me it is unlikely to fall off the hook, even after several hours. And so I waited.  A little later a two inch twitch had me striking, and missing, a bite. I didn't miss the next one. It too was a tiny twitch, no more than a half inch of movement, but something in that movement suggested I strike, and I was into a fish.  These little twitches were to be par for the course, and apart from a couple of fish caught on the float, all the bites on legering gear were to be very slight movements of the indicator, whether that was movement of a bobbin, or, as was sometimes the case, the rod tip bending slightly.  I suspect that the tentative bites were related to the low water temperature, with fish being reluctant to move at any speed in the cold conditions.  I was a little reluctant myself, and was well equipped with gloves, scarf and thick bobble hat. 

The First Rudd    2 Pounds 2 Ounces.




That first fish, a rudd, was my target species, and weighed 2 pounds 2 ounces. An excellent fishy reward  well worth the wait. But more and better was to come both that evening and during two more days spent chasing the rudd.





  






It was not long before a second fish, having also twitched the bobbin, was en-route and into my landing net.  This second fish was a true monster.  A huge fish by anyone's standards.   Three pounds ten ounces of beautiful, pristine rudd.
Three pounds Ten Ounces.
 That fish proved, unsurprisingly, to be the largest I caught over the three days, but it was not the only huge fish. No less than three (that's three!) more fish of three pounds plus fell to baits taken from that same loaf.

3-6








                     3-8






                              3-0














In what was to prove the most satisfying three days of angling I have ever experienced, I finished with a total of twenty rudd.  Four threes, the two smallest weighed 1-14 each, the other  fourteen were all over two but under three pounds.    All were caught on Warburton's bread, most on the leger but two or three on float gear, fished close in under an overhanging tree.    The fish then disappeared, bites drying up completely.  
Sad to see them go, but their disappearance could not lessen the elation of what had been, undoubtedly, my best ever catch of fish, of any species.  I know I should be back there, and do wonder whether a four pound fish could be on the cards, but I like variation in my angling, and the tench are now too big an alternative attraction. Too big did I say?  Hmmm, maybe not, as the first two tench this week were smaller than the biggest rudd.  ;-)
I have always liked rudd.  Sadly they have become either a rare species, or a species which has bred so prolifically in a water as to make even a 4 oz fish, a rarity in amongst throngs of tiny fish.  They have a talent for multiplying rapidly, especially in small waters.  Finding a good rudd water is never going to be easy, but I feel the larger waters are the places to go. 



Sunday, 8 October 2017

"Not at Your Age", and a Rather Nice Triple Double.

Autumn is here already, I cannot believe how quickly it seems to have arrived.  The schoolkids are already ignoring the conkers that litter the ground, looking forward instead to another evening tucked up with their smartphones.   Might they have more fun if they drilled through the screens and threaded shoelaces through the holes?  I walked along looking at all the sycamore seeds on the pathway, tiny footprints littering the mud of the track.  Suddenly there it was: 

"Stop it!  That's so embarrassing. You shouldn't be doing that, not at your age."

A command, from my wife.  But it is such good fun walking along, kicking up the piles of dead leaves on the pavement.  Lovely rustling noises, and flurries of autumnal colour as I stir the beech and horse chestnut leaves from where they lay, undisturbed.  I have, I suppose, always been a bit of a rebel, and rather than accept the instruction I pondered whether to completely ignore the order, or to suggest she might enjoy it too.  The latter thought, having been offered, proved to have been the wrong decision, and I was in trouble again.

I have often ignored people who tell me not to do this, or to stop doing that.  Many minor things, and a few major sillies that were even more fun. When hang gliders first appeared, (the basic triangular wing versions), I heard that a friend of a friend of a friend, knew someone who he thought had just bought one.  So a couple of weeks later I was there, atop a hillside, with an ungainly structure strapped to my back, and the wind in my face.  A number of people had told me "Don't do it"  and I wouldn't  these days, if only because all the risk (fun) seems to have been taken out of it by the H&S gremlins.   Nowadays you get a twin seater high tech kite, with an on-board instructor by your side, radio links, and probably a feather mattress to land on. Boring.   Oh... and two people with tether ropes, one on each wingtip to keep it level and on course. Danger?  What danger?   But there will still be those who advise against the idea. Instead, having splashed out a fiver for a very risky flight or two,  I had to look at the owner of the glider and ask if he might have any tips.  He had not, by then,  offered anything other than details of how to attach the straps.

"Keep it going straight down, and avoid that dry stone wall. Moving the bar sideways changes direction, move it forward or back to change height.  Now; just start to run down the hill!"

Very basic instructions that I could have probably worked out for myself.  So: three steps and I was airborne.  When it started to veer to the left I remembered that moving the bar sideways would correct the direction, realigning the straight down course.   And it would have done so, had I moved the bar in the correct direction. Instead I had used it as I would have a car steering wheel, the drift  left tightened and I rapidly U-turned back into the hillside, causing the odd bruise and some degree of bending of the airframe struts. But it was fun, great fun disentangling myself from the wreckage.   My second flight saw me get over the dry stone wall...just. I would have said feet to spare, but my trainers actually touched the top stones of the structure.  I did consider that maybe the site for a first flight might have been better chosen. 

Far more recently, after yet another "not at your age", I was learning to ride a reverse steer bicycle.  Not by any means an easy thing to do, by the way. Much harder than learning to ride a unicycle (which was also a NAYA for me to ignore).  But after a couple of hours messing about, and failing to ride the daft bike, I climbed into the car and found myself, at the first corner, starting to turn the steering wheel the wrong way. I immediately corrected it, but the experience of riding the crazy bike must have rewired my brain ever so slightly.  Much later and I can now ride it, and no longer have trouble steering the car.

I suppose the real rot started to set in last year:  I was fishing a local pond, and one of a group of lads in their twenties addressed me as "Pops". I was horrified, never having been subjected to any form of ageism before. It still upsets me now.   I have in fact told my son, as a warning shot,  that I am not yet old enough to become a grandfather. And when using my bus pass, watching and listening to the other pensioners on the bus, I have often thought "Good God, I hope I am not seen to be like them."

I was walking home one day recently, passing through a group of high rise flats; council flats I understand.  I was approached by a kid, a street urchin about 11 years old who asked me whether I lived there. I responded that I was just passing through and lived elsewhere.  He didn't seem to believe me, first insisting I must live in the flats, and then asking me whether I was homeless.  Now I know I was dressed in my fishing gear, and yes I do have a beard, but homeless?  Oh my God.   In the old days I could have probably clipped the cheeky little so and so about the ear.  All I might have done on this occasion was to give him 50 pence to prove I was not destitute.   But I decided against it.  Let him think what he might.  No way was I going to fuel his cigarette addiction. Little bugger.

I have a Chinese friend, known her for about 40 years or so.  Although she is smaller and younger than myself, I sort of see her as my big sister.   She too tries to keep me on the straight and narrow.  Recently, she topped 60 herself, and asked whether I would go with her to her local pensioner social group.  She is the type who always gets involved, usually far too deeply, having in consequence,  to spend time that she can ill afford, doing things that she probably does not want to do.  She has always been a sucker for such things. My presence would be partly to stop her in those tracks, and to give her an excuse to stay somewhat more distant, which will probably involve me taking some degree of blame.   I'll go with her, but I feel I am just not old enough to be a pensioner yet.  I don't mind having had the government pension, and the bus pass, for the last few years, but anything else to do with being a pensioner, I just do not want.  I am just not ready for it. Not at my age!


So last week, and the week before, I fished through a few nights.  Twice in horrendous weather, pouring rain, mud, and a rising water level, lapping around my ankles.  Obviously one more "not at my age" of course, as my wife had pointed out before I went.  Target was bream, and I was equipped with all the usual bait and tackle for such a session.  Umbrella rather than a bivvy of course.  Bivvies are for teens and twenties, not seasoned old, (would you cross out that word "old please?), warriors such as myself. So it was cold and wet, the misery of the first night only added to by three two pound eels, that, as is their usual wont, caused me hell.  Night two was no better, just a single suicidal six inch roach.  AND I ripped my trousers from belt down to the knee, climbing down an awkwardly steep bank to my chosen swim. I spent a draughty night. Prior to these sessions, I had not fished seriously for bream for well over 40 years, back in the Cheshire Meres days, and so bream was one of very few species for which my personal best fish had remained undisturbed.  I did catch, one day, a number of fish of 8 and 9 pounds, with one of them going 9-15 , but it was a Cheshire Meres double that still topped my list.  The Cheshire experience proved useful though, and, modified only by the substitution of a spod, in exchange for the old rubber dinghy, as the method of introducing bait, I entered night three.  That dinghy was more like a kid's paddling pool to be honest, bright yellow, and I would no longer trust myself in it...definitely not at my age.   Luckily it has long been lost in the mists of time, or somewhere in the attic of my previous house. The spod is not perfect for my style of groundbaiting, but at a pinch it does the job...just.
Dough Bobbins Ready for Action.  Raining.
Night three was difficult, and by 1 one o'clock  only another eel had emerged to play with me.   But then, my dough bobbin, (Hey! "Old fashioned" is not the same as "old"), on the right hand rod, rose slowly up to the butt ring, in what I have always regarded as a typical big bream bite. The strike made contact and I started to reel in what I was sure was another small eel.  No real fight, but occasional resistance suggesting the eel was swimming backwards.  But, half way in, it broke surface, odd behaviour for an eel, but it was too dark to see much, other than a disturbance in the mirror-like flat calm surface. As it neared the net though I realized it was a bream, only a bream could show that amount of flank. It looked huge, monstrous, even in the dark.   And so it proved: 14 pounds one ounce of very good looking bream, with an absurdly high back, and very thick from side to side.   It also deposited copious amounts of slime in my net.   A tip here: either know the weight of your landing net in advance, or weigh it later, once the bream slime has left the mesh.   It could make several ounces of difference to the weight of your fish, if weight really matters that much to you.  It does seem reasonable to consider the slime to be part of that fish at the time it was caught. A second tip: to get rid of the slime, don't waste your time shaking the net: instead leave it submerged for a couple of hours or so, and it will have all quite miraculously, gone.   Now weigh your wet net, and subtract from the weight you recorded with the fish in it.   
14-1   a Humpbacked Whale.
The bream dragged the LCD digits round to 14-1, considerably bigger than my old P.B.   
Three more nights each produced just one bream, a 6 pounder, one of 11-8, and then a second fourteen pound fish, an ounce less than the first.   Three doubles in a fortnight: excellent. 
14-0...."Blinded by the Light".
But I am now in a quandary.    Half of me is in a "been there, done that" mood.  None of the bream fought much better than your average dishcloth, they slimed everything up, and it is getting rather cold at night.   The other half of me says strike away at that hot iron, for with two fourteen pound fish caught, there might be a chance of a 15, a 16 or maybe even bigger.   Not sure what I will do yet...the barbel are calling me, and/but a sixteen pound bream would be no harder to catch than a fourteen, if the two fish were side by side in my swim.  


The weight of fourteen pounds is quite significant for me. In my younger days, when all that mattered was that next, even bigger, fish, before I took my holiday from fishing for well over 30 years, I knew the then record fish sizes off by heart:  Bream 13-12, barbel 14-6, tench 9-1 and there was Richard Walker's "Clarissa" at 44 pounds.   I wonder if I should I blame Walker for the present day awful tendency to give fish names? I don't like it at all.   But a friend recently referred to those 40 year old records as "our" records, and I would confess that they still have more meaning for me than the current numbers.  I never tried to break any of those old records, they just seemed unattainable, but the goal was to get near them.  Fish, certainly of those four species, are much larger these days in general, and that applies also to their modern record sizes.   I don't know how big the present records are. Never bothered to look, and never reading the "comics", the sizes have remained unknown to me.   It is generally thought that the much bigger sizes of fish these days is due to all the high protein bait that gets thrown in by anglers: boilies, pellets etc. etc.   I think it is rather more than that.  I feel the weather over the past 30 years or so has played its part, milder winters, and warmer summers allowing fish to feed well for longer.  Certainly boilies and baits have been in the game, but so many big fish come from so many different waters today, even some that are lightly fished, that I am quite certain global warming ( or at least our improved weather) has played its part well.    The result is that I have now broken "our" bream record twice in a month, and "our" tench record several times in the last few years.   I don't claim it to have been a great angling feat, certainly a pleasing one, but one that anyone these days could manage with a bit of thought and some serious application to the task.  I certainly haven't spent too much of my time fishing for such fish...far too much else to aim for, making full use of all the variations in species, size, methods, and venues  that angling offers me.

But I am not seeking a record fish: not at my age!


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Red River.

Ah yes, the Red River, but first: some photos I might have added last time, but didn't, from the Farne Islands.
The Only Razorbill I Managed to Get in Shot.

Eider Duck...Just a Big Softie.

And I Am Sure No-one Will Mind Another Arctic Tern... I Didn't Realize That They Had Claws on Those Tiny Webbed Feet.

...And More Puffins.

So, back to the Red River.   I had heard about this river a while ago, its real name being the Medlock, but I had never seen it.   So I took a walk yesterday, as part of a keep fit project to go alongside the dieting.  Only seven more pounds to lose now, in order to reach my target. But every pound gets more difficult, as my body says "No more, that's enough" and my mind now has to fight back hard as it tries to override my gut's instincts. 

When walking, any signpost that reads "riverside walk" is likely to divert me, and yesterday, one such sign did just that.  I found myself on a long length of beautifully laid, Accrington Brick pathway. I followed it upstream.
 But it is not just the pathway that is composed of brick, the river bed itself, the channel, is made entirely in the same manner.  And the other bank has a second pathway, both pathways being about ten feet in width. Hence the "red" river.  By watching and timing a floating leaf, and comparing with my own known walking speed, I determined that the river, now at a fairly low level,  was flowing at about 7 mph.  


Far faster than is conducive to fish presence, even if the brickwork held any natural food.  There was nothing other than water in the channel, no weed, no shopping trolleys, no condoms. Anything in the channel would have been rapidly washed downstream. I don't doubt for a moment that, somewhere downstream, is a huge pile of rubbish of every description.  But the red river itself is the cleanest length of water I have ever seen.  
Not one plastic bottle, not even a single football. Not that it does not get its share of rubbish passing through, as can be seen from this outflow pipe, largely blocked with sanitary product. 
Impressive Dry Stone Walling, with Almost Tropical Looking Vegetation.


The bricks on the curve at the interface between river bed and pathways have precisely tapered cross sections. Sculpted bricks to fit in place precisely. Alongside each pathway, one on each bank, are 8 to 12 feet high dry stone walls.  But they are built from huge stones, as much as three feet long and a couple of feet high. A fantastic example of dry stone walling.  Not content with that, at the back of the stones is more brickwork, strengthening the walls even more.  Wildlife was more or less absent, and apart from half a dozen grey wagtails, a species that appears to enjoy living on the edge, I only glimpsed one other bird, in the undergrowth nearby. I think it was a robin.  At various points old archways suggest bits of interesting architecture and tunnels that were once in use.
Nature Finds a Way.
 A few trees have long since invaded the walls, with heavy trunks and roots clinging into the narrowest of cracks. Graffiti artists have so far, apart from a single tag, completely ignored the place.  I should have been horrified by the whole reach, but it did have its own "atmosphere", which in itself was a fascination. And what terrific engineers those Victorians were!

At the end of the red bricks, was a short tunnel under a roadway, but no means was provided to climb up, and back out, of the brick valley, and I began to realize that this brick pathway was possibly...probably...certainly not the advertised "riverside walk". So I had to walk the whole way back, finding the gate I thought I had come through, was now locked.    Slightly worried, I continued downstream to the other end of the red brick road and found a second tunnel.   I also, fortunately, found another way back up the banking.    The red brick paths on either side of the channel are of course, just extensions of the river bed, and very definitely NOT the riverside walk, and with the river in flood those dry stone walls become the containing banks.   I looked up a bit of its history, the bricks being laid following a devastating flood back in 1872, during which the river level was so high, and the flow so great, that many tombstones and bodies were washed away downstream from out of the nearby cemetery.  If it is the same cemetery I saw, the nearest body would have been some 40 feet above the river bed. An impressive flood level for any tiny stream.
Old Arched Structure.
I read that some of the tombstones are still to be seen in the river far downstream. The downstream tunnel (or culvert) is some 600 yards long, flowing right underneath the car parks of Manchester City football club. Another man-made channel, but this time with an arched brick roof. It is one of quite a few subterranean sections of this river, before it finally joins the Irwell on the other side of Manchester city centre.   In 2013 a project was announced to remove all the red bricks, and the underlying concrete foundations, so as to re-naturalize the river. It was reported in the Guardian,  but I see no evidence of any work at all having been carried out.  In the mile long red section there are at most a couple of hundred missing bricks, each removal looking like the work of the river itself. But in general, there is no sign of any significant deterioration, and absolutely no signs of wear on any of those rock hard bricks, despite well over a century of river flow across them.  These 8 million bricks will weather a nuclear attack better than any cockroach.  The longevity and toughness of Accrington bricks led them to being used in some parts of the Empire State Building, and also in another building of rather less significance....my own house.   Above the bridge, at the upstream edge of the Red River, the channel looks far more natural, although its edges are still, in many places, constrained by stone or brick walling. And there are a few fish present here, I saw a small one rise.


I fished a very large water a few weeks ago.  The objective being, once again, tench.   I last fished it over 50 years ago, when I used to catch roach there. It was difficult fishing for a young lad then, long distance casting required to reach deep water, and then it was very deep, far deeper than my rod length, and the float fishing was thus; not at all easy.  Roach, but plenty of them was all I caught...maybe with the odd perch, but the water has, like many others, changed dramatically, and now has tench, a species unheard of in the water back then.  It is still rated a hard water by local anglers, and they may well be right. After forking out for three day tickets ( at a cost rather more than the old price of half a crown), I had just one tench, and a couple of small roach to show for my efforts.  The tench was somewhere between 4 and 5 pounds, I didn't weigh it, but the beast shown below, weighing a lot more, swam right across the lake as I fished.  A red deer, antlers still covered in velvet, and therefore probably still growing.


 In India I have had buffalo, elephant and crocodiles in my swim.  On the Shropshire Union Canal I once had a horse fall into my swim. Unfortunately it drowned.   But a full grown 14 point stag is a first for me.  Later, as I approached my van, he, and a dozen of his mates, in an all male group, blocked my path, being rather reluctant to get out of my way. I half expected to be charged by one or more of them, but it didn't happen. 
I Definitely Felt I Was Being Watched

Fishing wise, not much else to show. A few more tench, four grayling, half a dozen roach-bream hybrids, and two more small roach, these two being all I had caught during three failed sessions chasing bream.  But I was visited by this wonderful little grass snake.

So, a couple of bits of trivia to finish.  
I was quite amused by a sign on a camper van: 

"NO FOOLS LEFT IN THIS VAN OVERNIGHT".


And having watched a programme about the brain on TV, I was shocked to find out that BOTOX was no just a sort of plastic crack filler, as I had previously thought, but  a neurotoxin produced from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.  I suppose I might have guessed that the "tox" referred to a toxin, and maybe not that the "Bo" is derived from a form of botulism. But the very idea of injecting the most lethal neurotoxic known, into one's head, is just astonishing.   My son, a doctor, tells me it is only available by prescription in the UK, and that some doctors make a fair packet prescribing it for the clients of various Botox clinics, whose practitioners do not need any medical training.  Rather than filling in the cracks in the forehead, this stuff actually is locally paralyzing the flesh.  I wonder how many of the recipients of the treatment know just what it is that is being injected?  And surely someone could have come up with some far less dangerous, but equally effective, substance?

The various forms of such vanity treatments are continuing to diversify, but I was again incredulous when my lad told me that one of the latest male fads is a procedure to remove the wrinkles from the scrotum!  OMG...time to go fishing I think.         



Sunday, 3 September 2017

Of Birds and Badgers....

Oh dear...I have been lazy and idle once again.   Not written anything for ages.   The paragraphs that follow were all written months ago, round about ten past Spring, and have lain fallow on the hard drive ever since, gathering dust...although any real dust in a hard drive would have spelled the death of any data on it.   My scribblings have instead just died of old age I guess. But here they are, exhumed from the coffin:
 River season approached...rather too fast for my liking.  It was almost an advantage NOT to have a whole slice of angling unavailable to me.   Even without the river, I felt I had too much to go at and too little time during which to tackle it.   Either I ignored all my life outside of angling or I missed  out on some things I really wanted to do.  Having ignored all other things, many years ago, I know it is not the ideal course to navigate...by far!  

Therefore, now that my full vista of waters is available,  I have done rather less with the tench than I had expected.  But I have fished a far greater variety of waters for the species than ever before, and the results, as I expected, have been equally variable.   The tench have varied in both colour and size.  Nothing huge, but some nice ones amongst them. Their colours, especially in fish taken from clear water, can be stunning, some with orange bellies, others very metallic green, and all having that super slippery feel to them.  Most have come to the float, and often when also fishing for crucian carp.  There is something very exciting about seeing a float slowly rise four or five inches,  and having the resultant strike hit something that is solid, and obviously NOT a crucian.    Having this happen near the lily pads that fringe the lake, using a light trotting rod, and similarly light tackle all adds to the experience.   I was sort of "told off" by a club bailiff this week.  He suggested, quite strongly, that I should be using at least 10 pound line, "because the fish are not shy", and "the deep reedbeds fringing most of the lake are a problem, with many anglers losing fish in them".  But I just cannot fish like that, I am old fashioned maybe, and like to think that the fight is a two way scenario, not one that I KNOW I will win.  Some of the scraps I have had, have therefore been a bit heart in mouth stuff, especially knowing that, if properly entangled in those lily pads I might also lose an expensive, custom built float.  I speak to many anglers who take the view that, once hooked, the fish MUST be landed at all costs. And so they use tackle that to me seems far, far too heavy.   I don't lose many fish myself to breakages, no matter how caused, and unless that changes I will continue to fish my own way, using whatever tackle I feel is suited.    But I will admit that, with a good tench on the line, and in the lilies, I have occasionally wondered whether that 13 foot trotting rod, three pound line, half pound test curve, the one I use for crucians, grayling and the like, is actually a bit under gunned for the job.  But I continue to extract the fish from the pads, if with difficulty, and so continue to use it. 

    But the tench fishing has not been without its problems, and I have had about four very good ( but unseen) fish, shed the hook well into the fight.   I feel this is unusual for tench, their thick rubbery lips should retain almost any hook hold.   But I have changed my hooks this year, to a model with a much finer wire and a micro-barb.   I don't venture any final opinion to the barbed/barbless arguments.   I feel that an experienced, caring angler should be able to extract a barbed hook without creating any damage to the fish.  It might take experience, but it is perfectly feasible to unhook a fish well.   I don't hold with another common belief either, that barbless hooks move around in the mouth of the fish, as it is played, therefore causing damage.  I see no evidence for that at all.    I do think though, that match anglers, who let's face it, need to fish quickly, should be using barbless hooks at all times.  For matches I think they should be compulsory, matchmen do not have time to battle a hook out, and so the more unscrupulous may well damage some of their fish.  But using barbless should enable them to extract the hook very speedily indeed, with no risk of damage.  

   But what of my problem?  Well, I have been wondering whether, in a long fight with a good fish, a fine wire hook might just cut its way through the flesh.  I need to study the hook holds in my landed fish, to search for any signs that the hook is acting like cheesewire.     I like these hooks, and would like to keep using them, but may find I have to revert in the future.   Certainly, to use them with ten pound line, and with a rod capable of applying that kind of tension, I might well be damaging fish...and would certainly be straightening a few hooks too.  In my opinion, if you straighten a hook, then the line you are using is too strong for that hook, and I am still surprised that hooks do not come with a recommended line strength.. Hook/line combinations can be tested easily at home before use, but you must try to emulate a genuine hook hold. Putting the hook point on a block of wood and pulling on the attached line  is not a good way to do it, as most hook holds are on the bend of the hook, not its point...another reason why the barbed/barbless argument is often a lot of people talking without thinking,  without any real knowledge of what is actually happening down at the hook.   

I don't like being TOLD how I must fish, preferring to work things out for myself.  I will be ignoring that bailiff's comments for the moment.  Many of the clubs' rules are a little unreasonable.  I fish waters where you are banned from taking any glass or cans onto the water.  The theory is that with no cans in the tacklebag, none get thrown in the bushes,  In practice, the kind of angler that is likely to drop litter, is the kind who will ignore the rules, take his 6 pack of Stella anyway, and then throw the cans into the reedbeds before the bailiff sees them.     Every winter the departing greenery reveals the rubbish thrown into those out of sight spots. And often, out of sight means out of reach too. The trouble with anyone writing about litter, is that those reading it will already be the converted.  It matters not how eloquent we are in discussing and bemoaning the subject, if none of the litter throwers ever get to see our output.  Only the stick is likely to work, but too few seem willing to wield it.    

Here endeth the stuff I wrote months ago.   This that follows is all new, although the events inspiring the text may not be so.

I have continued in the main to fish small waters for tench and crucians.  I could have equally said "fished waters for small tench and crucians, for apart from a few six pound tench early season I have had none over about five pounds since. But as I have often said, size does not overrule everything.   Catching 2 and 3 pound tench on light line, fishing near thick lilies in swims also bordered by trees that have fallen into the lake is quite adrenalin inducing.   Trying to turn a male tench, determined to reach snags only a yard away, on a centrepin, light rod and that three pound line takes skill, and is often more exciting that reeling in a leger caught 7, 8, 9 or even 10 pound tench from a swim where the only chance of losing a fish is through a hook pull. So: lots of tench, a goodly number of crucians, some of them over two pounds, and stray rudd, roach and carp have filled the sessions so far.  Less sessions that usual, for we have had a couple of relatives from the Far east visiting, and so I have been allocated taxi duties, and tourist guide duties.  Some walking in the Lake District. We circumnavigated Buttermere, upon which my wife asked whether it was called "Buttermilk, or Buttercream?"   Oh well!   Earlier in the day we had walked most of the way around Crummock Water.    All the way THINKING that it was Buttermilk.     It was thus a very long day and quite exhausting.

 I was fairly well bored by Hadrian's wall and a couple of its hill forts. But one trip I would highly recommend to anyone in July is the Farne Islands. Seabirds in vast numbers as well as grey seals, gave me a good opportunity to play with the camera. Three thousand or so incredibly graceful  Arctic terns that completely ignored us, allowing ultra close approach, unless we ventured too near a nest with eggs, in which case they dive bombed us, attacking the head.  This sent my wife and guests running for cover, with only myself being daft enough to stay still and suffer the onslaught. Probably my only chance to get attacked in this way, so I was determined to enjoy it.  They drew blood from my scalp... through my hat!  But beautiful creatures.   With such tiny red feet, which is, I suppose, indicative of how rarely they need to use them.
Arctic Tern

 
Plural.

With Young


And how on Earth do puffins manage to catch seven or nine sandeels in their beak, without the fish wriggling free, or being dropped?  A friend said he believed that they held them under their tongues, thus releasing the beak for the next sandeel to be caught. Obviously this beakful is intended for a chick or it would have been swallowed, but I was surprised that the bird was just standing around, almost waiting for a neighbour to steal them.  I can only guess that the bird had forgotten where its burrow was.  Maybe it had some age related problem...I saw a program that said the oldest UK puffin was about 38 years old, and that they often live to be 30 plus.
Puffins.


The Somewhat Unfortunately Named Shag With its Dramatic Green Eye
Deep Throat.


Guillemot

Black Legged Kittiwake with Young..
All of the seabirds were astonishingly tolerant of the close presence of visitors to the islands, luckily for them for tourists were present in quite large numbers. The National Trust keep a close watch on the place ( maybe aided by the RSPB).

Having returned home, with the photography bug somewhat rejuvenated, it was time to have yet another try to get a badger in the frame.   As an angler I see badgers more often than most , but trying to photograph them has always been fraught and has never produced any good results, apart from one that I caught asleep by the roadside once.   But this week's efforts have borne very ripe fruit.
Old Brock

With a Stray Fox.

Male, Female?    Female, Male?  
The badgers were very tolerant of the camera flash, even the autofocus pre-flash, which lights up for at least a second.    they did show some nervousness, but only when they had picked up a large item of food, such a as piece of bread.   When taking peanuts they ignored the presence of the camera, which was no more than four feet away, completely.    I was a few yards further back, with a remote camera trigger.   One last tip for night observation, before I sign off.  I was surprised to find that using ordinary binoculars (8 x 30) at night, actually made the view so much better. I had always assumed that they would have magnified, yet dimmed, the image.  Something I had simply accepted, rather than actually thinking about the optics involved.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

How Big is a Zebra?

A silly question you might suggest, but a question to which most of us have a pretty accurate answer, even those of us that have recently not been anywhere near a zoo, or to Africa for that matter.   A more relevant question here might be "How big is a robin?"   Or perhaps a red admiral butterfly, or a stag beetle?  In each case I doubt I have a reader who could not give a pretty good idea of the size of each of those animals. He probably has more detail too, for instance that the Zebra's body stripes are vertical. He perhaps might know that each individual zebra has a unique pattern of those stripes, yet each of those individuals will be sufficiently different as to be identifiable by its stripe pattern. And it is also a very interesting question as to how those stripes are created, or how a trout gets its spot distribution, each of those being different too.    That pattern generation was a question so interesting that even the great Alan Turing did some research on it.   Biological mathematical enactments of chaos theory seems to have part to play in the creation of these patterns.

But if instead of the title question I had asked "How big is a roach?", or "What size is a bream?", you would have been unable to answer, unless supplied with a photograph, or the fish itself.  Why the difference?   Fish are pretty much unique in the animal kingdom, in that their adult size is not anything like a standard size. The size of an adult fish ( most especially in freshwater) is determined my numbers of fish present, water quality and by food availability. Not just by "This is how big it will grow".  Do I hear someone shouting "What about dogs?"   I should have added, "species that have not been mucked about with by man", although a dalmatian will always be about the same size as any other dalmatian.  A Yorkshire terrier is still the same species as an old English sheepdog, and they could breed quite viably, although various stages in the process would have a fair degree of discomfort involved for one or both partners.  In some ponds rudd of maybe 6 inches or so are fully mature, able to breed, and unable to grow any larger in that location.   In another water they might all be expected to reach a couple of pounds.  In some way, fish, having been evolving for half a billion years, have managed to do things differently.
Angling Times Photo of a Brace of Huge Roach.


There is another thing I have noticed about fish.  Did any of you see the Angling Times photo recently of a huge brace of roach?  3-14 and 2-10.     I have reproduced the photograph here, and hope that Angling Times will not be too upset by my doing so.   These two fish are, quite obviously not young fish.  Fish do not get to be of near record size in a short lifespan.  But examine them closely: they look very young.  Not a mark on them, no wrinkles about the eyes, no care worn, thin skeletal looks. They just look very young fish.       And it is something I have often seen before, both in photos of fish, and in my own captures.  If a fish is unaffected by disease, by parasites, or by predators and goes largely uncaught by anglers, it can still look newly minted, at almost any age or size, even if that fish lives in a river.  Fish seem to have some inbuilt anti-aging mechanism, that most other species, especially humans, do not have.  It is a trick I could use myself these days, if I had any idea how they do it, and maybe fish might provide a fertile hunting ground for those scientists doing research on extending the human life span.   More relevantly, for anglers, it enables us to catch large fish that are unutterably beautiful.  If big fish chasing had been more of a 'grab a granny' type of activity, it would be have been far less popular.

Two Pounds Exactly.

So:  How big is a roach?  ...or this roach in particular.

The answer in this case is exactly two pounds: a fish I caught by accident a couple of weeks ago whilst fishing for something else entirely.  Not my biggest roach, but in my view any roach over one pound is an excellent fish, and two pounders are great gifts indeed...even if unintended captures.  The circumstances of this capture though, were so bizarre, that I still scarcely believe them myself, and knowing that, I am not going to ask any of you to believe it either.  Therefore I am not going to go into any detail. That's right: I am not telling you,  so there, nah na na nah, nah!   As some comedians might say: "Always leave them wanting more". But there was a useful lesson to be had there: when an opportunity arrives, take it. So I re-jigged my approach so as to specifically seek roach, and using mainly Warburton's bread  ( one of my all time favourite baits), I landed a few more good roach over  a period of  three days, with a total of fourteen of the fish going  over a pound.   Very pleasing. But I was unable to get an intentional two pounder, the best going 1-15.  That happens to me a lot, catching a fish just under a particular well known and recognized target size.    I did however get a second accidental capture whilst chasing the roach:  this time it was a rudd.  3 pounds one ounce.  One hell of a fish. My best rudd ever, but once again, a completely unintended success.   But, taking the same lesson  a second time, I sought out some weedier, shallower water and fished specifically for rudd, whilst keeping the thick sliced bait.   Again I was unable to better or equal the fish that had intruded into the roach sessions. But:
2-7 and...

2 pounds 8 Ounces of Gorgeous Rudd

  With fish of 2-5, 2-7 and 2-8, to add to the 3-1, I had no reason to complain or moan about it.  More young looking fish. So, quite a successful few days. Yet another intruder blundered its way rather forcefully into the rudd session, nearly dragging my rod into the water.  A common carp of fifteen pounds gave me quite a bit of drama, on a 13 foot light trotting rod, a centrepin and 4 pound line.  It made a number of long runs, luckily all were directed well away from the nearby dense reedbeds. And I was fortunate in that I had filled the reel with a much longer length of line than I would normally have used, had I been using that same centrepin for river fishing, where too much line can create a  "bedding in" problem that makes smooth long trotting difficult.

All in all a very big change from the last two or three weeks of the river season, which had cut up very rough for me, with very few fish at all in the landing net.  I may have to revisit these redfins a bit later in the season, once they have got over their spawning period.   The rudd, if not the roach, were just beginning to show the first signs of an expanding waistline.

This last week or so the crucians have been calling me again, although I suspect they may not quite be fully in the swing of things, feeding freely.  Three sessions on one good crucian lake brought two blanks, and four fish on the third day.
High Backed Crucian.
Two pound fish were again on the menu, with a couple reaching that mark, the best being a super cuddly example, very high backed indeed, a fish that scored 2.7 on the Richter scale.  Bread again of course, with a very delicate lift method rig being used to present it. There is scientific research that demonstrates that crucians, caught in a water with predators such as pike, develop much higher backs than fish living without the presence of predatory fish. The body shape to me suggests why the lift method works so well with the species. After "bending" down to pick up a bait, the fish would soon have to get back on an even keel.

I should perhaps add a couple of things that I may have missed out when writing about the lift method  recently. I always overshot a lift float, such that the bottom tell-tale shot actually sinks the float.  The depth is then adjusted carefully, the objective being to get the line from float to that last shot as near vertical as possible.  A couple of inches too deep and it needs a bit of tension in the line twixt reel and float. Admittedly there is then very fine control as to how much of the float shows, but, there is a disadvantage. Any fish swimming nearby, wafting the bottom of the rig around, may move that shot along the bottom.  If it moved towards the angler, a lift bite will be seen: a false lift bite being generated as the line tension is eased. The shot is still on the bottom and the fish, having passed by, is probably now nowhere near when the strike is made.  With the line vertical, most bites seem to be lift bites, rather than the float bobbing under, and a lift is almost invariably a sign of a fish with the bait in its mouth.  Fishing lift method is probably the only time I bother being so very precise, aiming to get the float depth set to within half an inch or so.  And it should probably be pointed out that the lift method is one way of getting single shot sensitivity, whilst using a float taking quite a large shot load in total. It allows casting at a far greater distance than would otherwise have been possible with a single shot float. I find a float that will take half a dozen shot  will of course rise a little more slowly than a single shot float, but I quite like the drama of seeing an antenna rise several inches, in such a leisurely way.

I fished a second water, a small reservoir that I had fished for crucians a few years ago.   All I had caught back then were hybrids. I knew they were not pure bred fish, But were they Crucian/goldfish...crucian/common carp? I thought the former.  A dozen or so such fish decided me not to go back there in any hurry. But I didn't really know at the time exactly what they were, so I recently decided I would go back to check, using the greater knowledge that I now have. After catching half a dozen or so, I concluded they were goldfish, and crucian/goldfish hybrids.    But pleasingly, very pleasingly, this time I also had five proper crucians. None much over half a pound, but any crucian is a delight for me to catch.  

A third, local water has proved more difficult, with only one crucian from three half day sessions.  Several tench happened along to cut through the quiet periods, causing havoc by charging into the lilies when hooked, and another common carp tested the mettle, having been hooked an inch away from the same lily pads.  Twice though, fish, that I think were tench, managed to actually bite through the line very near the hook.  I was not broken, the fish either bit through the line with their pharyngeal teeth, or managed to cut me off on a snag very near to the hook.  Most odd.  A pair of kingfishers were working this small reservoir, catching small roach and perch very effectively indeed. I missed bites watching them.  They bashed the heads of the fish a few times and then flew off to a small nearby stream where it would seem they must have young. A couple of other unusual bird events happened on the same water.  After flying very low over the middle of the water a few times a pigeon, of the town centre type, actually landed on the water, right in the middle of the lake.  After 3 or 4 seconds it took off again and flew away.   Was it collecting water in its plumage to give to its young in this dry weather, rather like some Australian bird species do?  I have no idea.  But a heron also landed in the lake, sitting in the water like a mallard. It picked up a floating dead fish, and then flew off again. It, unlike the pigeon, had an obvious motive.    Once before I saw a heron land on a large pond.  It then paddled its way back to the bank and shallow water...with legs totally unsuited to the job of course.    I only now realize it also could have probably taken off again from the water, had it but tried. Herons are such fascinating creatures. One, on a local little pond, used to dive in, gannet-like, to take small fish being reeled in by the anglers.

Couple of interesting birds again this week: the photo is of what I think is a stonechat, seen on a patch of waste ground as I was taking a stroll recently.  A new bird for me.

But also, much rarer: I was catapulting some bait out one day, when a previously unseen bird took sudden evasive action, so as to not be blasted by the group of small pellets. Rather like a shotgun blast without the blast...or the shot...or the gun.  Only got a quick look at it, but it was most definitely a bittern.   The only one I have ever seen. Brown, a little smaller than a heron.   


 And yesterday, to finish off nicely, being very traditional, using a Mk IV Richard Walker Avon, and float fished bread: more crucians. I like the way crucians, when feeding, usually reveal their presence, either by blowing a few bubbles, or more often, by dashing quite vertically to the surface, and with a great splash, diving straight back down again. A few even jump clear of the surface. Spring is here, well advanced now, and fish captures are definitely back on the menu.  But  I am now torn between more of the same, and the alternative of my old friends the Tincas.