2012 reflections and perching in the rain

Blimey, it’s New Years Eve already and time to reflect on 2012. It’s been a good year. We relocated to Chepstow from London at the end of 2011 and our second son arrived at the beginning of 2012 – it’s certainly been a busy, exciting and rewarding 12 months.

Fishing-wise, it’s been great fun getting to know the river Wye. It’s a special place; powerful, wild and at times moody – far removed from the venue I grew up fishing, the sedate Suffolk Stour.

After a great couple of days fishing with my mate Rob at the end of July, when we managed over 20 barbel and a similar number of chub between us over the two days, results on the same stretch later in the summer and into autumn were far less spectacular. But I’ve enjoyed some great pike fishing and the Wye is a venue where I can realistically expect to beat my near decade-old personal best pike of 22lbs 14ozs.

A lovely Wye barbel from the summer
A lovely summer Wye barbel

I usually aim to break at least one personal best each season and on my first visit to a local club water I managed a new, best crucian of 2lbs 6ozs, a lovely fish. I also had my first conger eel of 7lbs from the Bristol Channel in the summer.

My first conger eel from the Bristol Channel. It wasn't easy trying to hold the eel on what was quite a 'lumpy' sea!
My first conger eel from the Bristol Channel. It wasn’t easy trying to hold the eel on what was quite a ‘lumpy’ sea!

This year I’d love to get a three pound perch, ideally from a river and perhaps a sustained pike campaign could yield a new best. I’d also like to finally tempt a 20 pound carp, but such fish usually take quite a bit of work in locating and catching and I’m not sure I can justify a sustained campaign, but you never know…

I do miss having a small river close to home and the opportunity to simply spend a summer evening stalking chub at close quarters. Next year I plan to explore some of the less celebrated venues in my local area. I’ve walked by an overgrown canal that is only 15 or so minutes from my home and heard tales of big bream, feral carp and some serious chub. I’ve also come across a secluded and forgotten lake which holds nothing but stunted roach and rudd – at least that’s what I’d heard until I saw a blurry camera phone picture of a very nice perch from the lake that had obviously been feeding on those little silver fish.

I’d also like to have a proper go on the river Taff and the docks around Cardiff. It was on a sea fishing trip with Rob when the skipper of our little charter mentioned he’d been catching some perch from the system and not just little ones…

*****

I actually managed a few hours’ perch fishing yesterday on a local commercial fishery. I’d planned to be on the water at dawn and to pick up some maggots and worms the day before and generally be super organised. Of course, I wasn’t. I didn’t start fishing until well after 11 and had to make do with a few king prawns that I’d dug out from the freezer as bait.

Perch and prawns. Until the mini-boom in commercial perch fishing, worms, maggots, lures or small fish were the baits for targeting Perca fluviatilis. Using what is essentially a sea deadbait would have been unthinkable, but on some waters the perch have really taken to eating these little crustaceans.

I’d only dabbled with using them once before on this water and on a warm and clear May morning I succeeded only in tempting a large eel before the inevitable carp moved in.

But today, with no alternative, I stuck it out with sections of king prawn fished on light running ledger rig finished with a size 8 Drennan specimen hook. It was too windy to float fish effectively and combined with the regular downpours, sitting under the brolly watching a ‘tip seemed the only sensible choice.

It took a while for the first bite to arrive but by steadily feeding tiny, walnut sized balls of sloppy groundbait into the swim the desired small, silver fish eventually arrived and just as I was tying a spare hooklength, the tip went round firmly. I struck late, but still found myself attached to what was obviously a nice perch. I didn’t get to see how nice though as I paid the price for the late strike and the barbless hook pulled.

Perch lair
Perch lair

Luckily it wasn’t too long until a second chance presented itself and this time, despite some nervous moments as the fish splashed about on the surface, after a short scrap I netted what was obviously a good perch.

As I lifted it from the water, I knew it was my target ‘two’. At 2lbs and 6ozs it was my second best ever perch and I was delighted. Commercial water perch aren’t nearly as attractive as their river cousins, but I still find them a fascinating, challenging and worthwhile target when the rivers are out of sorts.

2lbs 6ozs perch that took a liking to a king prawn
2lbs 6ozs perch that took a liking to a king prawn

I added a second good fish of 1.14 before a heavy and prolonged spell of rain killed things dead and I headed home well before darkness began to envelop the valley.

I’d only spent around three and a half hours fishing, but it had been an enjoyable end to my 2012 fishing year.

Tight lines in 2013 to all the great people I’ve conversed with both on and offline as a result of writing this blog!

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From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

Center Parcs; for some, hell on earth, for others, the very definition of a great holiday. I must admit it’s probably not the type of break I would have chosen a few years ago, but with two young lads and various family members accompanying us, off we went for a long weekend of water rapids, zip slides, subtropical swimming, cycling and half a million (give or take) other people…

There is a fishing section on the main lake and on the first morning I ventured down to have a go. It was ridiculous. The lake was swarming with common and mirror carp in the eight ounce to one pound range and, no matter what bait I cast out, the result was the same. Farcical fishing and not much fun. I packed up and headed back to the ranch within the hour.

Center Parcs main lake at Longleat
Longleat Center Parcs main lake – possibly the easiest fishing I’ve ever experienced

After exploring the parc a bit more, I found a smaller lake of about an acre, tucked away behind some of the chalets near to our base. The next morning I decided to head down for an hour, just to see if there may be a few better fish/less of the mini carp than the main lake.

The little devils were still there, but occasionally a better carp would appear away from the competing throng to take the odd crust that had drifted into the open water. I managed to target them in this way – feeding a good handful of crusts by the snags close-in and then free-lining a larger crust well away  from the splashy hordes. The best fish was a nice common of around six pounds that at least took a bit of thought in catching.

A seven pound common carp
A nice common carp that took a floating crust well away from the vast shoals of mini carp

I also spent an evening on a local club water that I’d heard held a few decent tench and a small population of genuine crucian carp, as well as plenty of roach and bream.

On arrival I was pleasantly surprised by what was a mature, tree-lined venue with plenty of natural features including large patches of lily pads, rushes, inlets and bays and some sweeping gravel bars.

I quickly set up a light float rod and threaded the 3.2lb Bayer line through the rings, slid on a little waggler and finished the set-up with a size 16 hook, baited with a single grain of corn. It was then a case of simply loose feeding small pouches of little, feed pellets with a bit of hemp and the odd golden grain.

After an hour and a half in the first swim without a touch and no sign of life, I decided to move to a more open area with a little bed of pads close in. By now the sun was dipping rapidly and I only had another hour or so before dusk. The light clouds that had been drifting innocuously overhead had also started to thicken and darken as they moved over the valley.

At last, a bite!, but a missed one. And the next, before, finally, a skimmer of a pound or so came to the net. Blank avoided. I then had another skimmer, then a bream of three pounds before it went quiet again. Soon though, I began to get some very finicky, barely-there bites that I couldn’t hit. Then, something a little more positive – fish on. I can’t say it was a particularly memorable scrap, but whatever it was, was certainly putting up a bit more resistance than the skimmers, a small tench perhaps? And then I saw a deep, golden flank – a crucian!

As the big old cru went over the net I knew it was good one and on the scales it went 2 pounds and 6 ounces – completely obliterating my old personal best. Now I’m no expert on crucian identification. But from what the bailiff told me, the venue has a small, old stock of genuine crucian carp. The fish had no barbules of any sort and had that wonderful, buttery hue and an incredibly deep profile. I’m convinced it’s a tru cru and it was a lovely fish. A sublime fish.

Big crucian carp
A lovely big crucian carp of 2lbs 6ozs

I thought I may be in for another cru as the finicky bites continued. But the next positive bite resulted not in the gentle yet stubborn resistance of a crucian, but instead the brute force of a good common carp that tested my light float gear to its very limit and completely trashed the swim as it plunged around.

As I started to pack up the first drops of rain began to fall and by the time I reached the car, a heavy thunderstorm had erupted. It was a wild end to a fun evening.

Mad Dogs and Fishermen

There’s no doubting how impressive snow catch shots can be, none more so than Keith Speer’s giant winter barbel that he took on the stick float last season.

I’ve tried, and failed, to get a proper snowy chub on a few occasions. But I think I’ll wait until this particular spell of freezing weather passes before I venture out.

I did come across this chap on a local pool this afternoon. I asked how he was doing, but received a rather frosty response…

Snow fisherman

So, that was autumn

 The run up to Christmas is normally a pretty steady, transitional period weather wise with the really harsh conditions usually reserved until after the festive season. But as I write this entry in late November, the country has been in the grip of a big freeze for over a week and the cold spell is expected to last for at least another fortnight. I’m sure the fish will acclimatise and the fishing will pick up at some stage, but at the moment the few hardy souls daring to venture out are no doubt finding things very hard.
Back when the leaves were starting to take on their spectacular autumnal hues, the rivers and lakes of the UK appeared to quite suddenly come alive. There were some great catches recorded in the weekly angling press as species like perch, carp, chub and barbel fed in earnest in preparation for the lean months ahead.

My local river Lea was generally low and clear through the autumn and the fish, when they came, generally arrived after spells of prolonged rain or at dusk.

At the end of September I cycled to a narrow, upper stretch of the river for a couple of hours fishing. Using a short wand style rod and simply free-lining meat I had five or six chublets and a small, fin-perfect barbel in an area that is wonderfully overgrown and wild. Very different to most of the lower reaches!

The jungle swim
A wild and over-grown swim on the upper lea.
A baby barbel
A lovely little Lea barbel.

I had a great day in October on a stretch a bit further down the Lea. Fishing worms the afternoon after a spell of heavy morning rain, I managed a nice brace of chub, loads of small perch and my final bite of the day saw a gentle pull on the quiver-tip followed by a strange, spirited fight with something that didn’t tear around like the chub I’d hooked earlier. As I drew the fish towards the net I could see it was a roach, a big roach! It weighed 2lbs exactly, but, as you can see from the second photo there’s definitely more than a hint of bream in there. Still, a cracking fish.

A big roach?
A two pound roach...?
Roach/bream hybrid
...more than a hint of bream in there!

A couple of visits to the same section in lower, clear conditions were much harder going. A single chub on each trip; both at dusk, both on little pieces of spam on scaled down tackle and both from the same tricky-to-access, near-bank chub hole. In a way, finally tempting a bite on a difficult day is as rewarding as the more action packed sessions. Netting a big brassy chub at the very end of an otherwise fishless and frustrating day feels like just reward for your efforts.

Luck on the Lea at last

Every angler has a bogey venue. It could be a tricky stretch of river, a daunting gravel pit or moody pool; somewhere that no matter how much effort you put into fishing it, you still come away feeling somewhat defeated by the place.

Every angler has a bogey venue. It could be a tricky stretch of river, a daunting gravel pit or moody pool; somewhere that no matter how much effort you put into fishing it, you still come away feeling somewhat defeated by the place. My bogey water is unfortunately also my local one, the river Lea. I don’t mind admitting that I really struggled to get to grips with the stretch at Fishers Green and over two years I didn’t manage to land even one of its famous monster chub or barbel. The closest I came was one September afternoon when I hooked a fish that was fooled by a little source boilie cast next to some bushes. I got a glimpse of what was a very nice chub before the hook pinged out and the line fell sickeningly slack.

I’ve just started to fish a different stretch of the river where there are certainly more fish, even if they don’t appear to grow to quite the proportions of their cousins downstream.

I spent a most enjoyable afternoon on the stretch recently, even managing to catch a few fish. Running a light stick-float down a short, shallow glide rewarded me with some nice roach, perch and dace before a pair of pike came to investigate and spooked the little fishes. Switching to link ledgered pellet in another spot that I’d primed with some hemp resulted in a few plucks and pulls that never quite materialised into proper bites. At dusk I dispensed with the pellet, tied on a size six hook and simply lowered chunks of meat into some likely looking areas. Firstly a handsome chub of just over three pounds did a good impression of a small bream before a larger specimen of 4lbs 7ozs put in a far better performance, giving a great scrap as the sun disappeared behind the trees.

A chub from the Lea
At last! A decent chub from the Lea

Chevin chasing

Chub are one of the few species I seem to have a bit of luck with and I’ve managed to catch a few decent fish from different rivers over the years.

Chub are one of the few species I seem to have a bit of luck with and I’ve managed to catch a few decent fish from different rivers over the years. My first five pound chub came from the majestic Dorset Stour in the late nineties; a long, lean summer fish that I’d spotted in a deep hole that couldn’t resist a free lined piece of bread-flake. A decade later I landed my first six pound fish from the same river, again a summer fish that took a little boilie presented tight to a willow. I also spent two years on the fishers green stretch of the river Lee trying to catch a real monster of seven pounds. During my time on that special stretch of water, although I witnessed some amazing chub both in the water and on the bank, I never landed one of its giants.

My favourite river for a bit of chub chasing is the Suffolk Stour, which provides a perfect habitat for the species in the form of oxygenated weir pools, shallow, snaggy backwaters and plenty of natural cover. It’s still a river for bags of fish rather than big individuals and the real fun is experimenting with tactics to see what works on the day. I managed to get out for two short sessions on the river at the end of June, and managed a few lovely chub on a range of tactics – a perfect start to the river season.

The highlight came at dusk after I’d settled into a favourite swim. I’d flicked out a small piece of spam as close as possible to a classic holding spot by some overhanging trees. 30 quiet minutes ended abruptly as the quiver-tip swung round violently, taking me by surprise and I missed the chance. Again, the bait was cast out gently to the same spot, perhaps even closer to the snags this time and the bite was almost instantaneous. The fight was memorable and initially I thought I may have hooked a rouge carp, but eventually I drew a deep, stocky chub over the net. Upon lifting him onto the mat, I knew he was a very good fish for the river. At five pounds and three ounces, he was not only a very good fish but my first ‘five’ from the Stour and my best chub in nearly 20 years of fishing the river.

First fish of the 2010/11 season
My first fish of the 2010/11 season, a fin-perfect chub.
5lbs 3oz Suffolk Stour chub
My first five pound chub from the suffolk Stour.

The joy of June

The glorious 16th has arrived again and, as ever, the thought of that first, slightly clumsy cast into the clear, flowing water is driving me to distraction.

The glorious 16th has arrived again and as ever, the thought of that first slightly clumsy cast into the clear, flowing water is driving me to distraction.

My optimism is both blind and unchecked. This will be the year that I finally manage a double figure barbel; a seven pound chub; a huge river perch; a monster roach and a pike of staggering proportions. I can almost picture my carefully worked float, slowly meandering towards a deeper hole in the river, pausing, before sliding slowly yet purposefully beneath the water. And I can almost feel the cool, sharp late autumn air on my face as the pike float starts to move silently across a misty backwater that is home to a monster.

On June 16th anything seems possible. And long may it continue to do so.

There's a chub under that far-bank cover!