Spring Carp – Rain or Shine

As another Great British Summer (TM) slowly but surely lumbers into our collective consciousness, its traditions, old and new, shape those precious few weeks when everything feels different.

Seaside. Silly Season. Fish & Chips. Camping. Cricket. Mr Whippy. BBQs. Brexit. Wasps. Lager. Pub Gardens. Headlines. Headaches. Nostalgia. Knees. Festivals. FA Cup Final. Music. Mud. Sweltering public transport. Traffic. Tennis. Trump. Shorts. Shades. Sunburn… Rain.

Tenby, West Wales. Great British Summer 2016

And as spring turns to summer, even that big burning ball in the sky makes an appearance a bit more regularly. And with it, carp return to the upper layers of the water, searching for food items on the surface.

After a sweltering day in the office, an evening by the lake, quietly floater fishing for carp, offers the ideal tonic.

I’ve spent a couple of evenings trying for carp on my local lake recently, most recently under a clear blue sky and warm sunshine, but the first in torrential rain. And I caught some lovely carp on both occasions. I really enjoy the simplicity of it all, a rod, a net, some bait.

Just the essentials…

The carp here aren’t big – in the grand scheme of things – but the lake is peaceful, the fish are a challenge and landing one feels like an achievement. The common carp pictured below would drift in and casually take a mixer or two that I’d been feeding right under my feet, before ambling back into the middle of the lake, refusing to even consider the hookbait maybe a dozen times.

Finally, as dusk approached – I stopped feeding mixers and trying to chase fish around the swim and tore off a large crust, lowering it just past the reeds under my feet. The common had it straight away.

12lbs mirror web

Wye Perch – Gatecrashers

The Wye has been well up over the last fortnight after remaining very low and clear through the winter. In the low conditions the fish tend to shoal up tightly and even productive stretches can become very ‘peggy’.

The extra water sees the fish spread out and with the water warming up I expect some really good fish to be caught before the close season.

I ventured out for an afternoon last week on a warm, sunny day as the river was beginning to fine down. Armed with maggots, worms and meat, the plan was to try the float or maggot feeder and get a few bites before switching to worm at dusk in the hope of a perch.

I had a few dace and a chublet over the first couple of hours, but it was quiet and I wasn’t getting many bites. I decided to flick out a chunk of spam while I enjoyed a late lunch in the sunshine. Just as I was about to tuck into a Kit Kat, the rod flung round and I found myself attached to an angry barbel – the first of the day’s gatecrashers!

The afternoon was very quiet and as is so often the case on the Wye, I knew dusk would offer the best chance of a perch.

I’d tried a few swims without luck, and with the light fading fast I was starting to think it wasn’t going to happen. However a final move saw me connect with a perch first cast, to a worm presented tight under a tree. And it was one a chuck. Until it went quiet. I selected the largest lob and flicked it to the zone.

The bite came and I thought I’d hooked a giant perch at first. But then it absolutely tore off into the middle of the river and I presumed it was a barbel. But then it started coming up in the water and I thought it may be a nice pike… For a while an odd kind of stalemate ensued with the fish holding mid river, me not giving any line and the rod stuck in a dramatic curve. Slowly but surely I managed to get the fish closer and it wasn’t too long until I got a glimpse of an enormous trout or salmon.

I got it just a few inches from the net before it bolted down to my left and bit through the line. Damn. I think it was certainly seven pounds, maybe bigger, and though I’m rubbish at identifying game species, I think it was a very big trout. Still it made for an exciting end to the session and I suppose you can’t rely on gatecrashers to behave as you’d like them to!

 

Wye Perch – Perseverance

It was a pleasant morning on Saturday with just a hint of spring in the air. After a slow, steady rise in temperature through the week and with the now noticeable extra daylight, I was sure the Wye perch shoals would be starting to spread out and get on the feed in preparation for their imminent spawning rituals.

We’d had a decent amount of rain earlier in the week and I was confident the river would be in good shape. I arrived shortly after lunchtime, just as the sun burnt away the last of the cloud cover and warmed the valley. The river was very low and very clear – not what I was hoping for!

bridge-reflection-web

I opted to try trotting a few swims with maggots in an effort to at least find a few fish, but it was desperate … I must have tried half a dozen before I managed a tentative bite from a micro grayling – my first from the Wye.  I had a couple more, both small, but eventually they disappeared. On a previous trip a local angler explained grayling are the kiss of death on the Wye, as he felt coarse species would simply be elsewhere and never with the grayling. An interesting theory.

A mini Wye grayling
A mini Wye grayling

I persevered with the trotting for a while, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I set up a link ledger and moved upstream to my favorite perch spots with the idea of trying a few swims leading into dusk and settling into one once I’d located them…

After an hour or so I knew the perch simply weren’t in the area. Even in difficult conditions, they normally give themselves away once a lively lob worm is presented tight to their snaggy refuge.

I probably had three-quarters of an hour left, but instead of settling for a perch blank, I went for a walk.

And it was worth it. First cast into a new swim, well away from the usually productive areas, fishing tight to a smallish bush, I hooked into a good perch. And in the space of half an hour or so I had five, as well as losing a couple. All were lovely, fat fish with the best two weighing 2lbs 3ozs and 2lbs 4ozs. Magic.

2_4-2-web

2_3-web

returning-a-wye-perch-web

Stags, Festivals and Tench

May has been fairly hectic all-round, yet I’ve still managed to squeeze in a couple of short early morning trips on my local tench pool this month.

Spring dawn - tench time
Spring dawn – tench time

The first session right at the beginning of May was fantastic – a number of big, lumpy tench fell to simple float fishing tactics using three dead red over loose fed dead maggots.

4lbs 2oz web

4lbs 12oz tench web

The silkweed in this clear, deep venue is really thick and carpets the bottom, so the dead maggot approach works well as they don’t crawl away and they’re light enough to not sink into the weed too deeply – plus the tench love ‘em!

Unfortunately so do the great big eels that live here and the second session was tench free – despite the swim, at times, absolutely bubbling away – it was only a couple of big snakes that took the hookbait.

eel web

Still, in terms of enjoyment, I can’t think of many things to rival sitting in the early morning sun catching big and wild fish on the float from a lily fringed pool, all before the world wakes up.

We also went along to the latter stages of the annual Wye River Festival that takes place along much of the river through spring.

The 2016 festival programme saw all sorts of activities, performances and locations – including a sound installation at Redbrook and torchlight procession at Llandogo. It was good fun and you can’t help but embrace the distinctly pagan undertones running through much of the festival.

The overarching theme was: Celebrating of the outstanding landscape of the Wye and our complex and universal relationship with water – undoubtedly something all anglers can relate to!

fish

crowd

These gentle activities were in complete contrast to my mate Joe’s stag-do over in Dusseldorf, also this month. A brilliant city and great people, we had a blast. A real highlight was heading over to Cologne to take in a third tier (3. Liga) match between SC Fortuna Koln and FC Erzgebirge Aue.

We’d timed it to perfection as Erzgebirge Aue needed a win to secure promotion, which they duly did. A full on pitch invasion took place on the final whistle which we all got involved in! Both sets of fans were great and it was a real party atmosphere. Good fun.

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SC Fortuna Koln vs FC Ezgebirge Aue

Fishing For Fun in the Afternoon Sun

The sun’s warming afternoon rays had enticed the great British public out to the beach in search of some traditional Easter holiday fun. Sand and sea. Shells and ice creams. Picnics and pints.

Sunset over the beach
Sunset over the beach

Shell web

While mooching around the beach, I knew the sunshine would be having a similar effect on the local carp population.

And so, a few days later, I decided to head out to a local, shallow pool for a few hours fishing for fun in the afternoon sun.

The carp here aren’t big, in the grand scheme of things, but after a winter of roach fishing a carp getting on for double figures looks bloody huge!

Common carp web

And I had a blast, waggler fishing under the rod tip, 4lbs line to a size 16 and double maggot as bait.

Despite the warmth, it had snowed up in the valleys a couple of days previously and I wondered if this spring fed pool may be feeling the effects of that. So I opted for maggots as bait and it proved a wise move.

As well as a number of lumpy carp I had four tench, each of which had me wondering if I’d hooked one of the pool’s ultra-rare monster perch.

There was no mistaking those carp though, as they tore off on those intital thirty or forty yard runs. Great fun.

One in the net!
One in the net!
A chunky mirror carp
A chunky mirror carp
Macro shot of a stunning, heavily plated mirror carp
Macro shot of a stunning, heavily plated mirror carp

Bloggers Challenge – Tench Time

So, the great Fishing Blogger’s Challenge of 2015/16 is underway! Big-up Russell, Jeff and George for setting it all up.

I think it’ll help me focus on looking for some of the more obscure point scoring opportunities through the year; encourage me to explore a bit beyond what I already know; and perhaps even force me to get out on the bank a little more. I’m looking forward to it.

My efforts began on bank holiday Monday in search of tench. My local venue is just starting to produce a few green beauties and there’s always the chance of a (locally) big fish – I had one of 8lbs 1oz this time last year.

I arrived around 6.30am, with a view to fishing until 9.30 or 10. It was calm and sunny and patches of pin-prick bubbles could be seen erupting sporadically around the deep, clear lake, showing the tench were indeed on the feed.

My plan was to float fish close-in. Nothing complicated – the old John Wilson Avon rod, 6lbs line and corn or pellet on a short hair fished over regular, golf ball sized nuggets of micro pellet laced groundbait.

The plan was to float fish - but the wind made it hard to do so.
The plan was to float fish – but the wind made it hard to do so.

I swear it was on the first cast that the wind started to filter down the lake, and after an hour or so it became virtually impossible to float fish effectively. To compound my frustration, when the wind did drop a touch I could see patches of bubbles emanating from where my groundbait was.

Time for a rethink. I switched over to a straight lead and simply watched the tip of the Avon rod.

It really was no more than a couple of minutes before the tip whacked round and I was in. After a reasonable tussle a bloody huge eel presented itself on the surface – I was already thinking of the challenge points when it found the hole in my landing net and went straight through. I tried, and failed, with a kind of reverse landing technique, swore a bit before applying brute force in an effort to land the thing. I almost didn’t mind when the hooklink parted.

I introduced some more groundbait and flicked out the bait again. The wind was really driving down the lake by this point and although the sun was warm, the wind chill made it a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately another bite and really good tussle saw my first tench of the day in the net. I forgot about the cold wind instantly. A short stocky male tench of 4lbs 1oz was my reward and I was again reminded how much I enjoy fishing for these beautiful fish. I always find clear water tench far more stunning than their murky water dwelling cousins, taking on that wonderful deep green/yellow belly combination.

Off the mark - a lovely 4lbs 1oz male tench.
Off the mark – a lovely 4lbs 1oz male tench.

I added another female fish of around three pounds to complete the brace before heading home for a bank holiday breakfast, very happy.

Viaduct carp

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot recently – finding a genuine carp fishing adventure. Exploring new waters off the beaten track; perhaps even landing a special fish. But of course these things take time. So it’s a very loose project that will take place over years rather than weeks or months – but I’m determined to find it.

For all that, my carp fishing skills are pretty rusty. I don’t really know my chods from my Spods to be perfectly honest. So I decided to ease my way back in and head to a day ticket water in an effort to get to grips with catching carp again.

Viaduct fishery in Somerset is a well established venue. The largest, most mature lake features some huge arches that give the complex its name. They loom large and offer a dramatic backdrop to what is an attractive lake. There are enough shady corners, shallow bays, dense overhanging trees and reed beds to give the angler plenty of features in which to find carp.

Viaduct fishery in Somerset.
Viaduct fishery in Somerset.

And on a warm afternoon, floaters take some beating. Although the Viaduct fish are plentiful, they are not mugs. I hooked two carp quickly, but suffered hook pulls on both occasions. The fish were very cagy after that. Some would intercept all the free offerings without ever going near the hookbait. Others nudged it along the surface, testing it before spooking as the line moved. I must have had two-dozen near misses before I swapped from bread crust to a small, single imitation mixer. Even this failed to work until I actually moved the mixer ever so slightly up the line and added a piece of bread flake to the hook that sat just underneath the fake dog biscuit. A six or seven pound common carp was the result of the hard work and I was delighted – the first carp from a new venue is always a memorable one.

Fishing for carp using floating baits is enourmous fun.
Fishing for carp using floating baits is enourmous fun.

Soon after a nice mirror carp made the same mistake before, just as I was beginning to clear the gear away, a confident, lumpy fish muscled in and took the mixer as bold as brass. The carp put up a great scrap and eventually a bullish mirror of just over 14 pounds rolled into the net. I took some photos and released the fish carefully back to her watery home.

A near-double from Viaduct.
A mirror carp from Viaduct.
The best carp of the evening.
The best carp of the evening.

Bream Bashing – A Species Scorned?

Is the humble bream the most scorned species of our native coarse fish?

All the evidence points to it. Starting with the less than complimentary terms used to describe them; Snotties, slimeys, dustbin lids and skimmers (throw away) – these seem harsh compared to some of the more affectionate terms we use for other species.

They are perhaps the ultimate ‘nuisance’ species, mainly because they seem to live and prosper everywhere from fast flowing chalk streams to the deepest reservoirs to vast, windswept inland seas – they’re everywhere. Their catholic tastes result in even pike anglers deadbaits being taken by bream, from time to time.

There’s no fun in reeling in a flaccid bream on gear more suited to stopping a rhino and I can’t deny there are times when I’ve bemoaned a small bream taking my strategically positioned bait intended for a barbel or carp.

And roach anglers bemoan the bream’s interference with their favourite species. How often has what appeared initially to be a big roach morphed into a roach bream hybrid upon closer inspection?

They’re not fighters either. Though most anglers have a tale regarding a turbo charged bream that they were convinced was something else and both pike and chub can be as dour in the scrapping department – they generally put up about as much resistance as a wet leaf.

The poor old bream. Perhaps it’s a species in need of a bit of fishy rebranding. Whilst almost every coarse fish enjoys either a popular or cult following (even the eel is more loved amongst its diehard fans) the humble bream is just always likely to play second fiddle to more ‘glamorous’ fishes.

Despite all this, I enjoy certain types of bream fishing. I used to love launching a big groundbait feeder into a deep weir pool on the Suffolk Stour in search of its resident bream shoal. It was never prolific fishing, but come dusk the bream would switch on and two or three or four big, bronze slabs in the 5-7lbs range could usually be relied on to turn up. Playing those fish as they manoeuvred in the strong flow of the snaggy pool was exhilarating stuff, especially as the light was dropping on a summers evening.

Suffolk Stour bream
A big Suffolk Stour bream taken from a weirpool at dusk

I’ve never been especially interested in multi-rod fishing on vast still waters for seriously big bream (fish of over ten pounds in weight in my book). I’m not over keen on sitting stationary behind buzzers for long periods and I simply don’t have the time or inclination to do the session fishing thing. But bream are undoubtedly impressive fish once they reach such sizes.

Quite near my home lies a nice, mature lake located in the south Wales suburbs that is available to fish on an inexpensive day ticket. It holds a lot of bream. While they reputedly grow to over ten pounds in the lake, there are so many in the one to three pound range that anything over five or six pounds in weight is an achievement. The lake also has a small stock of genuine crucians and some elusive tench as well as a range of carp species along with roach and rudd.

I made a trip there the other day at dawn for a quick morning session in search of the slabs. The beauty of the place is that the bream come in very close to feed in the mornings and evenings, so light float fishing works well. I cursed as I arrived on what was a clear and fresh morning upon realising I’d left my camera at home. Luckily my HTC phone has a respectable camera on it and should a giant turn up I would simply have to go and wake the sole other angler on the lake who was camped out in search of carp.

Spring dawn
Spring dawn

I’d prepared some micro pellets mixed with hemp seed as ground bait and simply fed a small amount on each cast.

After an hour I’d tempted just one skimmer and watching the carp thrashing around with glee was more interesting than my stationary float. But as the world began to wake, so did the bream and by the time I’d packed up I’d managed a respectable number of them with one little tench, my first from the lake, and a deranged common/F1 carp of around three pounds that took a grain of corn on the drop.

The best bream was a fine male of five pounds – a lovely bronze fish that was in rude health and that thumped away doggedly under the rod tip.

5lbs bream web

I’ll no doubt get distracted by the other species over the course of the season and as soon as the rivers open that is where I will undoubtedly spend virtually all of my precious fishing time, but, for now, I’m looking forward to another trip in search of slabs.

Feeding time...
Feeding time…

Commercial perch – nomads

I went fishing at the beginning of the week with the hope of making contact with a big commercial fishery perch.

I find these ‘commercial’ perch a really interesting challenge. In many ways they almost seem like a separate species to their clear water cousins. And while locating them in their murky home is key, I’ve found they’re nomadic creatures that often appear in numbers quite suddenly, only to frustratingly disappear almost as quickly as you find them.

The excellent Lake John fishery near Waltham Abbey has some nice perch in the top pool and one cold March afternoon a few years back I fished hard for a few hours, with only a few skimmers and roach to show before, suddenly, I took four perch over a pound-and-a-half in super-quick succession before they vanished.

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A local pool that I’ve been targeting over the last year or so has a few resident shoals of perch that, again, seemingly appear from nowhere before disappearing equally as quickly during the course of a session.

After a decent three hour trip, right at the end of 2012 when I tempted two good perch and lost another, I returned for a short session at the beginning of March in conditions I was convinced would see a few fish turn up. Four hours later I returned home with an embarrassing blank to my name.

Commercial perch lake

The perch on this lake have a distinct preference for the current commercial perch bait of choice, the king prawn. While I’ve taken the odd fish on maggot, I’ve only tempted roach on lobworms and the perch definitely favour a juicy, cooked crustacean.

After arriving at 3pm, I started on the wag and mag to see what was around. It was really tough and the wind was still bitter. Chatting to another chap who’d elected to fish the same pool, he revealed that he’d been on the lake all day with just one skimmer to show for his efforts. It wasn’t looking promising.

It took over an hour before a tiny roach made an appearance and by six o’clock I’d managed just a couple more little roach and a pair of skimmers.

I decided to go for broke and began feeding bits of broken prawn, keeping the maggot going in and resting the swim for 15 minutes or so.

By now the wind had at least dropped and most of the other anglers had gone home. I set up my float rig with a size 8 Drennan barbless specimen hook tied direct to the 3.2lbs line and impaled a prawn. It took me completely by surprise when almost immediately the float started rising dramatically before bobbing around restlessly. I resisted striking and soon the yellow tip vanished beneath the water.

I struck into the fish and the rod hooped round. The fight from the fish was strong and bold and it was a nerve-racking affair once that spiky dorsal appeared.

Luckily, it all went according to plan and I was soon staring at a two pound plus perch. I really thought this fish would trouble my personal best, but it came in an ounce short at 2lbs 6ozs – my second perch at this weight from the lake. It was a lovely big fish and I was delighted.

A cracking perch of 2lbs 6ozs
A cracking perch of 2lbs 6ozs

I soon had a bait back in the water and before long the float shot under and I hooked into a second, big perch.

This time the perch made a lunge for some near bank snags, I managed to steer it away and back into the open water when the hook pulled – damn!

And that was almost it. The perch had arrived abruptly and within 15 minutes disappeared again for the rest of the session.

But I fished on optimistically and when the float shot under again an hour later I thought the perch had reappeared. But this time it was obviously a carp that had found the prawn and two minutes into the tussle the hook pulled inexplicably, again.

At that point frustration was beginning to take over. I took a minute, checked the rig and cast out another prawn. Soon after, another sail away bite resulted in the rod taking on an alarming curve and the clutch on my little Drennan float reel being worked overtime as a good carp tore off. A lot of commercial perch anglers bemoan the carp that inevitably find their baits from time to time, but after a long cold winter in which any fish has been hard to come by, I was really enjoying the brutal tussle that ensued.

After well over five and probably nearer ten minutes I netted one of the most striking carp I’ve had in a while. It was an absolutely fin-perfect, golden common that weighed nine and a half pounds and  literally lit up the drab evening.

A perfect golden common carp that took a king prawn at dusk
A perfect golden common carp that took a king prawn at dusk

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.