Friday, 14 October 2011

Ladies And Rocking Horse Manure. Part Two.

How long does it take you to get bored of Christmas when you're a kid? 'Never' is the answer.

A day out on the Lower Itchen Fishery is the coarse angling equivalent of Christmas day and this was my third annual trip to the fishery.

Our party of eleven arrived in dribs and drabs and by the time I'd pulled up Sash the organiser was already at it after roach in the mill pool.

Greetings taken care of I took up a position opposite him on the mill race and threatened to show him how it was done. I fed loose red maggots and followed them down with a 7xNo.4 dome-top stick float. Third run through and strike followed bite and the line was tight.

The fish didn't offer the writhing fight of a grayling nor the zig zag jig of a roach but held steady and deep in the turbulence. The verbal abuse from the other side was only just audible above the roar of the water. "What's he mucking about at?", "Swing it in then!".

Well I couldn't 'swing it in' as although this was no monster it was taking some shifting on light tackle. After a couple of minutes a small barbel rose to the surface and I scooped it into my net. Not only was this my first river Itchen Barbel but also my first ever on a float! Only a pound or two in weight but a good start to my day. What a place this is.

River Itchen Barbel.
Unlike previous years my plan this time was to start at the bottom of the fishery and work my way up to the top, focussing on coarse fish in the morning and then grayling in the afternoon.

After the barbel from the rapids I tried a few other likely spots as I shuffled upstream, had some bites and bite-offs but didn't put a fish on the bank.

The river changed character as I wound my way upstream. Deep pools and bends were replaced by shallow glides and gravel bottoms.

I'd had a few grayling up to a pound by now but then I was reacquainted with a dark depression. And what a beautiful depression it was! A croy placed in the middle of a long shallow straight forces water away from the near bank which in turn gouges out a depression in the river bed. With fast moving water above and below it the depression just screams fish. I've fished this spot on each preceding visit and it has never let me down.

A fine depression if ever there was one.

I put out a handful of maggots above it and they sped over the dark area of water, descending as they went. Immediately I could see a group grayling darting up from the river bed, plucking the maggots from mid water before disappearing again.

Fishing at full depth yielded a couple of small fish but it was apparent from what I could see there were some better specimens amongst the group.

I scaled down my hook length from 3.2lb to 2.6lb and replaced my size 14 hook with a size 18 Drennan super specialist. I removed all my dropper shot from the line so my bait would fall naturally and set the depth at about eighteen inches.

I could now swing out the float along with a handful of Lane's finest and all the grubs moved along as one group. This tactic was an instant hit with better grayling after grayling falling to my rod. If I put two maggots on the hook they would be left alone. If I ran the bait through without the free offerings it would be left alone, but if I baited with a single maggot and a dozen freebies I caught every time.

This proved valuable information for later on. The result of my temporary depression was a grayling of one pound four ounces.

1lb 4oz grayling.

A few conversations later and after a hurried lunch of six, yes six, sausage rolls and I was on the upper limit of the beat.

Faced with deep swift water and a short run I switched to a maggot feeder approach. I wanted to give this technique some room to breath and so got comfy in my chair as though I was staying a while.

Double maggot on the hook brought a number of small grayling and then things dried up. Remembering the behaviour of the bigger fish from the morning I scaled down to a smaller hook and single maggot.

It took a while for my next bite to arrive but it was worth the wait. A writhing tussle resulted in a new personal best grayling of one pound fifteen ounces.

I didn't mess about with fancy photography as I wanted to get the fish back into the water as son as possible. Thankfully, after a worrying few minutes with it lying belly up in the net it righted itself and kicked away.

1lb 15oz grayling.

I followed this up with a four pound one ounce chub, a troot, and a second best grayling of one pound fourteen ounces. Maggot feeder works then.

A troot, aye. (geddit?)

A chub hooked on the blind side.

Second best Grayling.

1lb 14oz Grayling.

The old enemy time was marching on and I could sense the end of the day just around the corner. Having achieved my grayling target and then some I decided to move back down river to finish off the day, hoping for either an even bigger grayling or better still a roach.

I persevered with the maggot feeder on a slow bend as it had already yielded my two best grayling ever, but the minnows were rife down this end and the light quiver tip vibrated continually.

A proper bite out of the blue saw me drawing a splashy silver fish in to the net. Closer inspection revealed a pristine dace lying in the folds. I'd long written off catching one these!

It weighed a very satisfying eleven ounces - a second personal best for the day - and buoyed my spirits and enthusiasm to new levels.

11oz Dace.

I left the fish in my net for ten minutes or so whilst I tried to contact Danny and Jeff in case they wanted to see it but as they were now on the mill pool section all I succeeded in doing was filling Danny's phone with missed calls and unanswered texts as he couldn't hear the ringing.

With the light fading I thought I'd stick my neck out and go for a hat-trick and so out came the bread feeder for roach. I had a few indications but couldn't connect with anything other than another chub.

Last light.
 I met up with the others near dark where we'd started our day and stories were exchanged.

Reflecting on this trip, I've concluded that what I like most about fishing the Itchen is the way it responds so quickly to effort and guile. You soon know when something isn't working and there are so many fish in the river they readily let you know when you're doing it right.

My efforts and concentration across the day were rewarded by two new personal bests. I loves the Itchen.

Here is the challenge scorecard today:


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Ante-Post Gambling. Part One.

Our day on the Lower Itchen Fishery was booked for mid-October and so I once again immersed myself in the ritual of deep-dive internet research for prospects, strategy and tactics for the day.

The deeper I dug and the more information I consumed about this amazing river the more my ideas inevitably burst out of the constraints of a single days fishing. So, I used up the last of my holiday quota at work, made my reservations with a local B&B and found myself in Southampton a day and a half before the starting tape was raised on the Lower Itchen Fishery.

If you'd asked me a month ago about my targets for this trip I'd have stated a one pound grayling, but by the time I arrived in the south they'd ballooned to a two pound roach, an eight ounce dace and a one pound grayling.

The coarse fishing on the left bank of the river Itchen below Gaters Mill down to Woodmill lane is gratis courtesy of Southampton City Council and it was here I intended to spend my time prior to the main event.

Bitterne park was busy in the bright sunshine of a warm Sunday afternoon. A walk along the bank talking to as many local anglers as possible before collecting my gear from the car didn't succeed in dampening down my roaring optimism. "Dace!? Rare as rocking horse $£!^ round here nowadays!", said one. "Big roach!? You'll be lucky! It's a bit early for the bigun's mate", said another. etc. etc.

I set up on a bend in the river in the park and ran a stick float through with maggot on the hook. Now if I were a creational deity with a penchant for the 'pin I'd ensure one bend like this went onto every river along every mile of it's length. 

The current pushed off from the near bank towards the far side pulling your float with it and then as the flow reached the apex of the bend the float skirted the far bank crease passing perfectly alongside the far side cover. Perhaps there is a god. I'll drop some Lanes gift vouchers onto the alter of the local church just to cover that base.

A trotting swim designed by a higher power.

It wasn't long before the float buried and I had a chub of about a pound in the net.

All the time salmon porpoised and often cart wheeled through the air above and below my position.

As the afternoon passed I caught two further chub, some small roach, a shed load of gudgeon and an increasingly frustrating number of minnows.

It felt right for a roach as the light started to fade so out went a small cage feeder containing liquidised bread and a pinch on the hook.

First put-in and a slight tremble was followed by the tip slamming round and me bringing in a broken hook length. Eh?! That wasn't in the plan. Could have been a game fish I suppose.

I stepped up to a 6lb bottom and this time squeezed my bread flake onto a mini-hair coming off the hook. 

I'm never the most confident using small pieces of flake and this technique enabled me to give the bread a firm squash onto the hair without blinding the hook in a doughy mass.

A couple more casts and the tip slammed round again. Whatever was on the end was weighty and not at all happy with the meeting arrangements I was trying to put in place. It made powerful run after powerful run, trying to get under the trees on the far bank (forcing me to plunge my rod tip underwater) and then heading upstream at a zinging nip. 

My money would have been on a salmon had it not been for the brains involved on the fishes part. Salmon rarely have the wherewithal to try and snag you deliberately. Nitro-charged aerial gymnastics are their weapon of choice for snapping a line.

When a carp broke the surface my outstanding questions were answered. I didn't weigh the fish but estimated it at between twelve and fourteen pounds.

I carried out the unhooking on the grass at the back of the swim and only rested it on the hard surface for a quick snap before returning. I know, a fish on a hard path is not a good look so apologies are due.

Itchen carp.
After dark the tip went round again and this time I was prepared for the powerful carpy fight which followed.

A lady walking her two spaniels which were both wearing flashing LED collars approached me and the inquisitive dogs went mental; barking at the fish in the water and jumping up and down with excitement at the fish being drawn slowly closer to them. They also found time to take it in turns scoffing my bucket of bread crumbs whilst I wasn't looking.

One of the dogs jumped off the bank into the shallow water and had to be sternly called back out. I might be anthropomorphising here but I'm sure the jumping dog was grinning as it flew through the air, ears-a-flapping.

The second carp was a fat one and I weighed it as the lady showed more than a passing interest, but nowhere near as much interest as the now ecstatic dogs. The fish weighed thirteen pounds eight ounces.

13lb 8oz Itchen Carp.

My final bite of the evening resulted in a totally straightened hook and so I retired to the pub for a last orders pint and then to the B&B for a couple more and then bed.

After a full English the next morning I was on the bank by eight o'clock a little further upstream than before. The wind had picked up something rotten meaning I very soon wound in my float and had the maggot feeder rod out.

My maggots were being chobbled by minnows every cast, coming back like granny's tights more often than not.

[I look forward to seeing the website hits from the keywords, 'granny's tights' - weirdos! 'Ryton dogging' still gets me about ten visitors a month believe it or not! They don't stick around long though.]

I persisted with maggots and had a chub, three pounds one ounce, and a small roach.

3lbs 1oz chub.
Itchen roach.
I then moved around a lot for very little gain during the remainder of the day, finally fishing a lovely pool below the old bridge for a few more roach, perch and minnows.

Free fishing at its finest.
I retired earlier on the second day as I knew from experience that the following day would be demanding both in terms of concentration and staying power.

I walked the bank at dusk chatting at length to other anglers - making sure they properly realised the quality of the fishing they had in front of them - and observing fish on gravel glides. The people I met were friendly and the river astounded a midlander like myself, but I'd nothing points-wise to show for my efforts so far, so a whole lot rested on tomorrow............


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Bonus Babe.

As you've hopefully gathered by now there are fifteen of us bloggers involved in a 'Percentage of Record Weight Challenge' this year.

Although last Christmas now seems a long time ago, it was back then - whilst loudly finessing the rules and species list for this years efforts in the pub - that we agreed to award a bonus 50% to anyone who caught a fish which exactly matched the arrival weight of Roger's then unborn baby.

On 2nd of March this year Roger and his wife were introduced to the beautiful baby Cerys and since then Roger has not revealed her birth weight to any of us.

[This next bit sounds a bit weird]

There are already a few barbel, bream, carp, catfish(!), pike, tench and zander on the board that could be in the frame for these points, and only Roger knows!

I wonder whether these 'Bonus Babe' points might come into play come December!?


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A First For The Force.

After I'd dropped the children back on Sunday evening I paid a short visit to the Warks. Avon after Dace.

Before I knew it it was dusk and I was struggling to see my float. I went through stick float, then stret-peg and finally touch-ledgering variants with my 14ft float rod and centrepin before it dawned on me I'd taken all the wrong gear to the wrong place with too little time. That's Autumn evenings for you.

Last night - and before Leamington Angling's committee meeting - I tried to catch the single biggest grass carp in Snitterfield reservoir off the top. I think I've caught the second biggest twice now already this year.

Failure was cemented when after two hours of catapulting out floaters seemingly all the carp in the lake started taking them six inches off the bank about thirty yards downwind. I stealthily moved down the bank a little and they obviously backed off a little more. I moved again (now with the light fading badly) and they 'did one' en masse. A blank then.

Tonight I should have been doing other things but I ended up going fishing for a few hours on a Leamington stretch of the Avon. I think Sunday evenings taster had got under my skin.

I'd intended to dabble for Dace again and put out a barbel rod as a second chance but the peg I'd earmarked was occupied. My second choice peg was also taken by none other than Tony Miles who let on it was his buddy in my first choice peg. Bloody angling legends! Seems you can't move for them round these parts sometimes.

Oh well, I only had my short handled landing net with me so the peg essentially chose itself.

With the light already starting to fade I dropped the notion of dace and put out two rods in the hope of a barbel.

At dusk I had four solid ratatats on the tip, none of which hooked up. I've had such a dire season for barbel I started to question whether there was something wrong with my hooks or terminal tackle.

Dark arrived around seven thirty and the ratatats ceased. I set set myself the end point of eight thirty unless there were further indications.

At eight thirty I wound in my left hand rod after weed once again caught the line and dislodged the feeder. This had been happening all night as seriously large clumps of summer growth broke loose and moved down river.

At eight forty I'd packed away everything I could have apart from my second rod: folding landing net, bait, etc.

I looked at my watch and thought, "I'll give it till eight forty five".

At eight forty five I stared at my one remaining tip and thought, "Go on you bugger. Go! PLEASE!".

And do you know what? It did!!

It went round and stayed round in a thumping curve which has become something a recollection for me this year.

I picked up the rod and everything was solid. The fish, whatever it was, was buried in streamer weed. I leaned the rod to the left for downstream purchase and the fish broke loose, powering upstream. Now I know you're thinking what I'm thinking when a fish powers upstream.

Now solid again, but this time level with me in the streamer weed on the far bank. On the move again, upstream.

Weeded once again but now it's above me so I have the upper hand. Dipping the rod down and left I soon feel the thud thud of direct contact.

Rod is high now. I need this fish up in the water if I'm to land it. It skates, still upright, towards me as I both slide down gravel the bank and unfold the landing net in a single motion. It's in!

You know it's a good fish when you lift the net out of the water and this one exceeded my expectations.

So I make no apologies for showing you all of the photo's I took of my12lb 9oz Warwickshire Avon barbel. My second largest to date and only my second barbel of the season....and it's a minter!

12lbs 9oz Warks Avon Barbel.

I finally got a self-take right.

Still buzzing.

12lb 9ozs.

The other side.

Resting in the edge.

Swam off upstream.

I was shaking a bit and shouting "Get in!" alot. More so than a teenage raver in Ibiza, and so much so in fact I actually did 'get in' when I slipped off the bank after returning the fish and got a booty-full.

Nothing lifts the soul like the capture of a good fish.

With a full four days exciting fishing ahead of me in the upcoming week I hope I can now maintain the momentum. I'll let you know.

Here are the current challenge scores:


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Birthday at Blenheim.

It was my 40th birthday last Friday and I'd organised a small flotilla of boats on Blenheim Palace lake.

David, Jeff, Lee, Martin, Pete and I were in attendance and Messrs. pike, perch and tench were all invited along via our baited hooks.

There were some notable aspects to the preparation for this trip. Local specimen angler Merv' Wilkinson had been producing hand-made floats whilst convalescence prevented him from the strains of hauling in big fish. I'd arranged to meet with him prior to our trip and as well as topping up on leads which he makes I acquired some floats suitable for Blenheim. I handed these floats out (and a generous slice of birthday cake)  to each guest before we started fishing in the hope that they might vicariously play a part in the downfall of a decent fish.

Whilst readying my tackle the night before and enjoying a beer, revelling in the anticipation of a whole day afloat, I thought it would be a good idea to add a slug of brandy to my canteen of orange squash. This would later prove to be an unwise move as I'll explain in due course.

To the day then, and let's not beat about the bush, we were all late arriving for one reason or another. Pete was driving me down and we'd planned to call in at Banbury for a MacDonald's breakfast but we missed the motorway turn off in the gloom of dawn. We then tried to gain access to the Palace grounds via various exits as he'd put the wrong postcode into his sat nav. Not to worry, it was barely light once the others arrived just after six.

Fishing reports from Blenheim are thin on the ground and so unsurprisingly we all headed in the direction of the grand bridge to kick off.

View from the bridge at dawn.

 I picked off a couple of pike to my deadbait rod early on which weighed 9lb 9ozs and 7lb 10ozs respectively. 

A Blenheim pike.

The first fish managed to dart around the anchor chain at the back of the boat whilst my attention was diverted, hysterically barking orders at Pete who was trying to assemble the landing net. Luckily I had 18lb line on the reel and managed to pass the whole kit and caboodle around the chain to get back in direct contact. Indirect contact with any fish is an unsettling state of affairs.

Around the chain goes the whole kit and caboodle.

After the first pike and whilst fishing a skimmer deadbait I had a run which I missed. I rebaited with a roach and cast roughly to the same spot and half an hour later had the run which lead to the second pike. Whilst this second fish was resting in the landing net at the side of the boat it coughed up my skimmer bait from the previous cast! Now partially bleached from stomach juices, I never did get round to using it on the hook again. I was using a big barbless single hook on my trace which made unhooking very easy indeed.

Regurgitated skimmer.

Despite these two pike our other float rods sat without a bite and at around nine o'clock we made off up the lake to try and seek out perch and tench.

What followed was six hours of trying here there and everywhere attempting and failing to buy a bite from something other than a crustacean.

Whilst by the lily beds opposite the boathouse we saw a shoal of rudd being hammered a number of times from beneath by an unseen predator. Wobbling a deadbait through the area didn't get any attention.

We saw a shoal of bream rolling out towards the centre of the lake in front of the boathouse in about 14ft of water and so stealthily rowed upwind then let the boat drift down to the edge of the area before gently lowering the mud weights and fishing for them. You guessed it, we didn't see another sign.

By now, with nothing more than cake for breakfast, a very early start to the day and a steady stream of brandy and orange for drink the atmosphere aboard our boat was becoming more ramshackle by the minute. It was only when Lee radioed in reports of bites back up by the bridge that our enthusiasm returned and we cast-off at top speed to try and conjure some action.

That evening spent with three boats moored within hailing distance of each other against the backdrop of the grand bridge went on to provide the most persistent memories of the day. Lee'd had a pike and Jeff a perch by the time we arrived.

Lee's pike aint too happy.
Pete had a nice tench and I landed a third pike of fifteen pounds exactly. My pike fought extremely hard and at one point powered off into bright silvery water as the sun sank low in the sky, tail-walked on the surface throwing the dead bait from it's mouth and assumed a perfect 'S' shape in the spray. Amazing.

Nearly there......

15lb Blenheim pike.
We witnessed Lee catch a tench on a sardine and once again saw a huge shoal of rudd which were sipping at the surface being attacked repeatedly from all directions.

Our float rods were now indicating bites every so often and I hooked a tench on a worm which went on an epic sixty yard first run before I could slowly coax it back to the boat. It was a good fish and when I lifted it out I exclaimed to Pete, "If I'm a lucky boy this is going to be over six". On the tared scales it weighed 7lbs 2ozs which offered an unexpected challenge points return on the day for me.

7lb 2oz Blenheim tench.
Pete and I inexplicably missed a few more bites on the float. I resorted to drinking Kronenberg as it was now the liquid with the lowest alcohol content in the entire boat and then at last light we had a rowing race back to the boathouse. It would appear my middle name is 'Redgrave'.

At eleven pm and after twelve hours afloat the floor of my bath felt like it was moving beneath my feet as I showered away the dregs of the day.

A trip to Blenheim is a long day and not something you'd want to do every week but although I've been only  twice it has never failed to provide good memories which linger much longer than the sea legs and back ache.

Blenheim delivers. Better late than never.

Here are the challenge scores this evening:


Thursday, 15 September 2011

I Loves Perch.

Whilst the Warwickshire Avon continues to give me a sound kicking on the barbel front the bright sun that is Autumn perch fishing has risen and is pulling me inexorably in.

One less blank I gotta worry about.

I just can't help but love perch fishing. Fishing with a float and a big worm on the hook, trickling in maggots over the top and waiting for the whole thing to waddle off sideways or under if you're lucky when a perch finds the bait. I find the bite rate of around one every hour is just enough to keep my interest up, especially when a four pounder might be at stake.

Last Friday I accompanied Jeff on a trip to Weston Lawns and despite fishing adjacent pegs we had different fortunes. If truth be told I would have fished where he was given the choice. The owner was working his way around with a strimmer in preparation for a match the following day (to remove some silver fish) and just happened to cut Jeff the perfect peg in a reed-lined bay as we were contemplating where to settle.

As it transpired I hooked three perch across the evening and landed two, with the best being two pounds fourteen ounces whilst Jeff just couldn't get amongst the bigger fish. Trust me - he was doing absolutely nothing wrong.

2.14 Perch.

2.14 Perch.

I returned after work on the off-chance earlier this week to try again and had an unusual Autumn brace: a two pound three ounce perch and a sturgeon!

The Perch is 2lb 3ozs.
 This was part of three perch and two sturgeon caught on the night.

Thinking about perch I had a brief visit to Ryton Pools this week to finish off some unused maggots. The first thing to report is the number of rudd in there after their stocking last year. They've exploded in number with hundreds of yearlings topping across the surface at dusk. This is good news for a number of reasons. Firstly the Pike will benefit, secondly the perch will benefit and thirdly and not least the whole pool will benefit from this quality stock in years to come. Where else can you find good rudd fishing in the Midlands I ask? Keep your eye on Ryton Pools.

A Ryton Pool Skimmer - Very Welcome.
I ventured out to an uncharted perch water the other day but found there was a match on the whole pool when I arrived. I walked around and had a chat with a few of the anglers, slightly disappointed at not being able to fish myself. One of them said he'd had a good perch and me being me I asked if I could see it. Pulling up his keepnet revealed a fin perfect and chunky perch of well over three pounds. I'll let you know how I get on.


Keith .J

Thursday, 8 September 2011

About Time Too.

So here it is, my quarterly blog update. At this rate you will soon be seeing my biannual posts at best.

I can't put my finger on any single reason for the above, I've still been out fishing, and quite a lot at times. In fact in June I think I nearly overdosed and had to take a two week break to recover. An accumulation of little reasons is the best I can conjure as a reason for absence.

I hate to reaffirm a cliche but you actually can 'have too much of a good thing', and when that good thing is trying relentlessly to catch even a single barbel at my usual haunts and repeatedly failing a timeout was required.

You see here's the thing - I used to be able to catch barbel at the places I fished on the Avon. Down at Lucy's Mill I'd say I'd expect one every three trips, and on the upper Avon I'd expect one every two trips etc. etc. In fact as I drove home from Stratford with Jeff Hatt last March after the capture of his splendid twelve pounder I recall him saying, "I know a double figure barbel's not going to trouble you". And do you know what? I smiled wryly as if to say, "a double is no problem mate". Little did I know then that it would take me until 21st August to even catch my first barbel of the season, and never mind a double it weighed in at 3lb 12ozs!

Welcome relief.
Talking to others on the bank this is certainly not going to be a vintage year for barbel however the likes of Phil, Lee, and others who write on here have had their share so they do still exist.

Minus four challenge competitors in one charge.....
Our bloggers outing to the Avon sticks in my mind as a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. I'd been out in London the night before and so didn't arrive until late afternoon and then took it upon myself to start on the beers again forthwith. The fishing wasn't amazing but it was hot, low and clear at the time and so to land a pike at dusk was a good enough reward for three casts. Not half as entertaining as harassing Danny by setting up within a beards breadth of him and casting dangerously close to his lines though. Not to worry, I was soon tucked up in bed under the rotating stars and leaving him in peace.

On the same evening as my first barbel I also had a decent zander of 5lbs 3oz on the other rod. Before this I'd been cycling down to Coombe Abbey at least once a week in the hope of a zed from there. All I had was jack pike though. I met renowned Coombe angler Bob Moreton a couple of times and as a regular he regaled stories and tips I hope to put to good use in the future.

I had a fun evening after the big stillwater chub at Jubilee pools too, waggler fishing shallow with a mixture of soft and hard pellet and maggots. Although I didn't hook a chub I had plenty of quality roach up in the water  and also landed a few bream and a carp.

On the upper Avon maggots ruled for chub in the clear water.

A 4lb 8oz Avon tench, my first ever river tench.

At least 50lb of bream to a feeder angler at Lucy's Mill.
As the seasons turn I'm already thinking about big perch. I enjoyed fishing for them so much at the start of this year I'm looking forward to engaging with them once again. I have a few untapped places in mind which I think may hold a magical four.

Some good fish continue to be posted on our bloggers challenge board, here are the scores this evening: