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: