Thursday, 8 February 2018

Bog dwelling

I can’t keep away, even though the weather has been horrible; cold clear and frosty one time and then near gale force North Easterlies the next.  Still you have to be in it to win it and there is no finer place in the UK to spend my free time.  I love being afloat in the swamp with the sound of the birds, the wind rustling the reeds and every now and then the click of a baitrunner.  The hiss of a disgruntled otter is not so welcome but no longer uncommon, nor is damage to fish.

Sleeping in a boat at this time of year isn’t for the faint hearted either, nor for the sane on reflection.  But the huge flatland skies are spectacular at either end of the day and the stars on a clear night are mind blowing, how can we possibly be the only ones in all of this?  There’s plenty of time to ponder such things in the maddening winter darkness.
Yes I’ve been doing the same thing year in, year out for over a decade now but I’m still made to feel like a beginner.  There’s a spot I often pass through that looks and feels Pikey, I’ve fished it every now and then but never had any luck.  I dropped the weights there recently and had a couple of fish in no time at all but time was against me and I couldn’t stay longer.  I stopped there again on a subsequent visit, sure I would be into fish… but caught nothing!  That sums up the fishing here, at this time of year in particular, they’re here today but tomorrow they could be miles away.  That’s one of the reasons I keep coming back, it’s never boring and if I was able to work it all out then I probably would lose interest.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Big fish day?

New moon, rising pressure and cold weather to come later in the week, today should be a big fish day!  The only downside is a westerly gale which renders my first choice venue out, I just wouldn’t feel safe therefore wouldn’t relax and enjoy myself.  Even on my second choice there are parts of the water that are exposed and uncomfortable.  I suppose I could have sorted out my bank fishing kit but Pike fishing without a boat feels like having a limb chopped off these days.

So by 0715 I’m in position with a high wall of reeds behind me giving shelter from the westerly blast, at least the sky is clear and I won’t have to brave any rain today.  All three rods are set up with my normal float leger rigs, the float is something I’ve mentioned before, the best I’ve used for boat fishing as it rides the waves and is immune to any boat swing, always staying visible.  They are home made, cheap and easy but definitely not my design and I don’t know which clever person to thank.   I punch a joey mackerel across to the far bank, cast a smelt along the near margin and chuck a half herring in mid stream then settle down in the boat with the first brew of the day.  This is as close to a ‘banker’ spot as I know on this water, hopefully it shouldn’t take too long.
There’s a heavy swirl close in to my left, followed by a hissing sound.  Yes a bastard otter which isn’t pleased to see me and I’m even less pleased to see its furry back.  This is followed seconds later by two cubs swimming with their ugly whiskered heads poking out of the water.  They carry on towards the boat without a care until I shout “Feck off!” and they dive to catch up with the parent.  Thankfully they don’t hang around but what affect will they have on the fishing today?  I’ve noticed two dead swans on this stretch this winter, I know these birds fight and kill each other and it seems this would be the likely cause.  However I’ve seen Youtube footage of an Otter dragging a goose down river so could one tackle a swan?

Barely twenty minutes pass before the float above the mackerel is sliding downstream and I’m on my feet, a little nervous because today is a big fish day!  The strike connects and the rod takes on a decent bend but there isn’t a great deal of weight there.  A nice double figure fish is soon in the net, a good start but I’m greedy, I want more.  The wind is still raging which makes casting a fresh mackerel  back to the far bank ridiculously easy then I settle down in relative comfort again.

Another hour passes and I’ve got itchy feet, it’s time for a move.  My plan is to stay on the leeward bank and work my way along the stretch.  Before I can begin tidying up the Mackerel is on the move again and I wind down to a head shaking, tip rattling, bait stealing jack.  Not what I want on a big fish day but I’m never disappointed when any Pike takes my bait, at that moment when the float slides off it could be anything…  I’ve got a lure rod with me today and throughout the day I cast a selection of artificials around the swims; curly tails, shads, a Salmo crankbait that is well battle scarred and a favourite spinnerbait.  This water should respond to lures but it rarely does.

That fish delays my move but not for long, by 0930 I’m anchored up a bit further downstream, the sun is well and truly up now and it’s a lovely clear winter day, apart from the wind which is roaring still, making me look nervously at the trees behind me from time to time.  The same three baits are spread around the swim and I sit back anticipating a quick take.  It doesn’t happen though so I make a big dent in my food supplies and have another brew.  At 1030, just when I’m thinking of another move, the herring is heading upstream but I make a complete cock up of the strike and the fish gets away with my bait.  Before I have time to recast I have another take, this time on Smelt and on this occasion I manage to set the hooks properly then bring another small fish to the boat.  Once again this little burst of action delays my move, I give it another half hour before lifting the weights again.

My third swim of the day is on a slight bend with a nice overhanging tree opposite and I soon have the same three baits positioned; near, middle and far.  This time it only takes fifteen minutes before the mackerel is picked up, I wind down quickly and feel a tap and rattle with little or no weight behind it.  This quickly becomes absolutely no weight as the obviously small Pike makes its escape with my bait.  I spend another hour on this enticing looking spot before another downstream move, an hour on this spot produces the sum total of bugger all, we’re now into the early afternoon and it’s time to start making my way back to base.

By 1400 I'm settled once more, the same three baits scattered across the stream.  The plan was to give this spot an hour then move back to my original ‘banker’ spot to watch the sun go down.  The wind had lessened a bit by now but is still making its presence felt, the stove roaring in gusts as I toasted the last of my sandwiches.  For the third time today I'm on the verge of moving when a float starts moving, the far bank mackerel is the one to go again.  The culprit is a fish of about seven pounds or so which fights harder than it should and manages to tangle one of the other rods.  With the fish unhooked and released I turn my attention to the tangle and while unknitting braid I feel a sudden tug!  The bait still in the water has been picked up, I have no option but to just hang on as the line tightens and fortunately (?) the fish drops the bait.  I hardly have time to ponder this when the smelt on my third rod is away and this time, with nothing to hinder me I manage to set the hooks and steer another nice fish into the net.  It’s only when the commotion is over that I notice the wind has dropped away considerably, had this contributed to that little feeding spell?

Despite having three takes in ten minutes I still want to spend the last hour on the banker spot so after another short move I’m settled again with the three deadbaits soaking and the lure rod buzzing between them from time to time.  I’m alert, expecting something as the light fades because it’s often the best time of the day but on this occasion it doesn’t happen.  A Sparrowhawk patrols the far bank which is always an interesting sight but this is the last predator to put in an appearance today.

I had a good feeling this morning, today should have been a ‘big fish day’ but it hasn’t happened.  Maybe my location has been wrong, the big fish aren’t where I hoped to find them, perhaps they were further down the stretch in the wind battered areas?  Maybe the Otters scared the wiser old fish away?  Perhaps with these bastard creatures about the big fish just aren’t there anymore?  I hope that isn’t the case but I worry.

This day is typical of my mid winter fishing, It’s become routine, load and launch the boat, drift downstream stopping here and there until I’ve seen some clues or even better, seen a float move.  Then I plot up and fish with deadbaits and lures.  So far so good, the plan has been working and I’ve been catching a few Pike with a pleasing average size but no sign of the BIG fish I think may be present.  It’s all very nice, enjoyable fishing and it’s convenient but if I’m honest it scratches an itch but doesn’t relieve the craving.  I know where I want to be fishing but things are tough enough there at the best of times, I really should wait till the conditions are a little more in my favour.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

And Finally...

So the whole Christmas bollocks has come and almost gone.  After several days of being house bound by convention, weather, guests, food and booze, cabin fever was looming so I dragged Isaac out of the house and pointed the car in the direction of a favourite lake.  He chose the music and we rapped(?) along to NWA.  It was early afternoon before we got the boat away and out into a stiff westerly wind, I made a decision to explore a new area which just happened to be sheltered!  We began fishing with a couple of deadbaits each around 1330.

As we were short on time we moved every thirty minutes but after three moves it was beginning to look like we’d be unsuccessful.  Still it had been a nice couple of hours chatting and laughing with my son, there’s rarely such thing as silence, let alone an uncomfortable one.  The conversation has changed in recent times, whereas a couple of years ago we might be discussing which of the Marvel avengers was the coolest (For me, Black widow AKA Scarlet Johansson, Isaac preferred Iron Man), today we debated which member of NWA was the best rapper (Ice Cube - unanimous).

The best way to induce a take is to make food or drink and sure enough with the ridge monkey toasting sandwiches, one of Isaac’s rods was on the move.  He picked up the rod and done the necessary while I switched off the stove and got it out of the way.  Isaac enjoyed a tug of war with a Pike which punched well above its weight but was soon alongside the boat.  I reached out for the trace but a head shake threw both the bait and a load of water back at me.  After a bit of a wind up we decided a hand on the trace meant it counted and Isaac was in the lead.  This lasted for half an hour before one of my floats was on the move, in contrast this fish hardly fought at all and I was a little surprised to see a decent sized head appear.  This was soon unhooked, admired and returned, the score was leveled.
With the light beginning to fade I reached for my head torch which wasn’t where it should have been, in fact it was almost certainly on the shelf at home.  With this discovery there was no sensible option but to pack up a little earlier than expected.  The wind had dropped considerably by now but it still gave me a work out on the way back to the slip. 

So that was my last fishing trip of 2017 and at this time of year I usually type some bollocks about the fishy year about to pass but once again it’s all too predictable.  I fish a handful of waters for Pike and catch my share on most however, at my favourite place I have to work dam hard for a few takes but you know which I enjoy the most.  My warmer weather fishing is in a similar vein, trying to catch big fish from difficult waters but I just don’t find the time to put in the required effort and consequently catch bugger all.  I really should pick waters that suit my short session approach but I’m an angling masochist.

I've been a highly antisocial angler for many years but this changed a little in 2017 as I shared boats or bank swims with nine different people this year. This made a change and I'll probably do more of the same in the future, assuming other humans can put up with me.

Every angler has a ‘one that got away’ story and most of us have several.  I can remember a few from around 1981/82; there were a couple of big gravel pit Pike, what would have been my first double figure carp and a huge Chub that snagged itself in the near bank foliage.  I’m not sure I’ve landed a bigger Chub to this day.  Since then I struggle to remember anything really haunting, I can think of a couple of big Pike, one of which was at the net cord but I’m usually pretty philosophical about these things.  There have also been a couple of big Pike in the net that had no business being in there.  This year I added another memory that will last.

I’ve done a lot of lure fishing over the years and caught plenty of Pike on this method, in fact I caught so many that I actually became bored of the chucking lures.  In hindsight I did most of my lure fishing on waters that were prolific but held very few BIG Pike.  I can remember catching a nineteen pounder from a drain on a springdawg and also seeing a bigger fish follow and drift away…  But days like this were very rare.  I’ve done far less lure fishing over the last decade, in truth I enjoy relaxing behind rods more but over the last couple of seasons the lure rod has come out more often. 

On this particular day I’d been moored in a reedy bay for forty five minutes or so and as is often the case I picked up the lure rod to try and wake something up.  So I commenced casting a spinnerbait around, carefully avoiding the lines and after a few minutes I was running out of options.  I cast along the reedline with the line cutting through the outlying stems and began to mechanically retrieve.  From nowhere came a big bow wave and swirl, I thought there was a tap on rod tip then nothing!  I kept turning the handle and before I had a chance to think it hit for a second time, slack-lining me and was gone before I could react.  I stood with my mouth open with the spinnerbait dangling, scratching my head and the fish took for the third time!  It stayed on long enough for me to get a clear view of a long fish before throwing my lure back at me with a head shake and shower of spray.  As you’d expect, the Pike didn’t reappear and after a few vain casts I recommenced my head scratching.

How big?  Obviously I’ll never know but I’m sure it would have been a lure caught PB.  I didn’t tear out any hair or vandalise any tackle but it would have been highly out of character for me to not swear.  Yes I was disappointed but once again philosophical and now, a few months on, it is one of my best fishy memories of 2017.  

The last fish of 2017...

Sunday, 24 December 2017


On 23rd December 1983 I peddled my tackle laden bicycle a mile and a bit to my local pit on a gloomy winter day.  I peddled home in elation that day as I’d finally caught my first twenty pounds Pike.  Thirty four years later I’m driving along the country’s busiest A road with the stereo pounding ‘The Wailers’ – “Rastaman chant” on a similar gloomy day.  The same result today would leave me just as delighted, if anything a twenty pounds Pike is an even rarer creature these days.

I’m afloat by 0700 and I don’t even have time to cast a second rod before the first is on the move and a jack brought to the boat.  I hoped for more of the same but I have to wait nearly an hour for the next which is a bit bigger.  A change of swim brings two more fish in quick succession, they are getting bigger but not by enough!  These days nearly all my Pike fishing involves fishing live and deadbaits from a boat and keeping on the move, why not when it nearly always works?  Thirty four years ago my Pike fishing was done entirely from the bank and I’d usually sit in the same spot all day.  I’d be fishing stillwaters, almost exclusively while nowadays it’s usually a river system.  My rods have got shorter but the reels are bigger but in reality I’m still chucking out a lump of fish and waiting for a Pike to find it!

With a few Pike under my belt I decided to go searching areas I rarely fish; the plan is forty minutes in a spot without a fish then it’s time to move, still soaking deadbaits but also pinging a sinking lure about.  If there’s room, I like doing this while I’m bait fishing in fact with three (at least) good reasons, it’s silly not to.  Obviously I may catch a Pike but if I don’t any fish in the area will be aware of the lure and may move and pick up a deadbait and I also count the lure down to get an idea of the depths.  The first spot produced a take and a small fish bumped off, the second spot yielded nothing.  Then it was third time lucky with the biggest fish of the day coming to a bluey.  Today was the latest in a series of gloomy and sunless skies but at least it was still mild and there was a good breeze.  Is it me or is December always like this?  Maybe it’s because I have a gloomy outlook on the season of greed and gluttony?  I’m sure December 1983 was just as dull, weather wise.  Despite the murk the hunters were active, to my right a Kestrel hovered whilst to my left a Sparrowhawk perched high.  Earlier in the day I’d seen a larger bird of prey a way off, maybe a Buzzard probably a Harrier but which kind?

The afternoon came and went without me finding any more fish and all too soon the daylight was running out.  I expect to catch at last knockings here and my last move of the day brought me two more takes, one dropped but the other made it to the boat and required the net.  I kept at, twitching the baits back to the boat in the growing dark until I’d run out of both line and light.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

What do I know?

Continuing the theme of fishing with mates I had a rare day afloat with Rich, it’s rare for us to be in the same boat at least.  The weather was clear, cold and bloody horrible and we didn’t expect instant action but it wasn’t long before one of my floats was on the move, unfortunately the bait was dropped before I wound down.  An hour later I was contemplating a change of scenery when another float started zipping along, this time it was a decent fish which stayed deep then just rolled into the net where it inevitably woke up and went mental.

Nothing else happened so we went for a long move and settled down, sheltered from the cold Northerly by a wall of reeds.  It looked and felt right down here out of the wind but only produced one jack to my rods.  At least this gave us a chance to discuss the critical state of the world, the Ashes look gone, poor selection and dodgy captaincy.  We retraced our steps and stopped just short of where we’d begun and were both into Pike within minutes.  I started with a double figure fish then seconds later Rich was into a jack.  We’d just got settled again when we had a repeat with me losing a fish and Rich boating another jack, then yet another a few minutes later. 

After a quiet half hour we moved for a final time and dropped down again a short way upstream.  This resulted in two more quick takes, both to my rod, the second was another good fish, which came in the half light and was the biggest of the trip.  Another lovely day with good fishing and great company, for once everything had gone pretty much to plan and we’d caught a few fish in what we’d considered poor conditions.

The next three days brought the dreaded white stuff falling out of the sky, three frosty nights and general panic around the country.  The fourth day brought milder air and a nice south westerly wind, for once my luck was in and I had a chance to fish!  I was on the water early and set up by torch light, three deadbaits were thoughtfully spread around then I sat back in the gloom to await the inevitable takes.  Ninety minutes later the sun was up but it was still gloomy on all fronts, I remained fishless and was pondering a move.  I’d had company from a Barn Owl which hung around long enough for a dodgy photo in the murk and there was a hovering Kestrel downstream.  There had been Roach showing so I should have been sensible and made a short move, instead I gambled and when for a long row.  An hour later I was rowing back again!

A few days earlier I’d been catching fish in crap conditions and now I was blanking when everything seemed right!  I kept going, an hour here and an hour there but it wasn’t until noon that I finally found some fish.  Scattering Roach gave the game away and in little over an hour I had six takes boating four jacks before the feeding stopped with the onset of annoying rain.  A friendly Robin joined me at the boat, pecking at a discarded Herring and a female Hen Harrier briefly perched in a tree on the far bank but typically took flight before I could get the camera out.  With a grim forecast and foreboding clouds I decided to get off the water early.

So we caught a load of fish when it should have been hard then I struggled when everything seemed right.  What of these weather forecasts and theories?  Well closer scrutiny shows the clues, the pressure rose yesterday then bombed again today and the moon phase wasn’t great either.  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Sore fingers

Fishing has definitely enriched my life, bringing me many wonderful sights, scenes, adventures and experiences.  Of course the best thing has been the friendships I’ve made through this shared addiction, some have been lifelong while others have been more recent, to be fair these latter associations have been aided and abetted by the various internet forums.  It is possible to get to know kindred spirits through this medium and work out who you can share a boat with and who you’d rather set adrift.  Mr H and I have known each other for about a decade and although we are often afloat on the same waters we rarely fish together so it was high time we put this right.  Usually we fish on his local waters but on this occasion we arranged to meet at a special place that is slightly closer to my patch.

We both made it to the agreed meeting place ( a layby in the middle of nowhere) early and we were soon driving along a damp, bouncy track through a typical East Anglian rural setting.  This area is a haven for wildlife and in the lead car I spied rats, rabbits, a hare then finally a fox before we reached our destination.  We soon had our boat loaded and were plodding slowly down to our first stop of the day.  The sky looked fantastic in the pre-dawn light and I couldn’t resist reaching for the camera. A Heron creaked itself airborne and Pheasants were making a proper racket.  Mr H was quick off the mark and had cast before I had a chance, unbelievably this bait was taken on the drop but it took him by surprise and made off with the bait.  Within a few minutes we each had three deadbaits scattered around the swim and had settled back with the first brew of the day.

I didn’t get a chance to finish the brew before a smelt was taken but somehow this fish too got away with a free meal.  We didn’t have a chance to feel sorry for ourselves as the takes kept coming, first Mr H with his first Pike from ‘enemy territory’ then I followed up a few minutes later with a nice mid double.  A couple of hours passed in similar vein, half an hour would pass without any action and we’d contemplate a move then two or three quick takes would occur.  A couple were dropped and we lost a couple of fish but the majority were small fish so eventually we decided to pull up the weights and moved off, we hoped a change of swim would result in bigger Pike. 

A while later we stopped and resumed fishing, we were sheltered from the North Westerly wind and the sun was shining, it felt considerably warmer than the forecast 6 degrees.  We both agreed we’d prefer a bit of cloud cover as the conditions didn’t feel right, indeed after forty five fishless minutes it seemed the Pike agreed, then it was as if a switch had flicked and the Pike were on the munch again.  It wasn’t as hectic as first thing but takes came regularly and the average weight was better.  Two hours later we’d boated another six fish including three good doubles before things went quiet again.  Both of us spend a lot of time fishing hard waters so this was a real treat.  We sat smiling and laughing in the sun, enjoying the scenery and wildlife which included a Kestrel, a Sparrowhawk and a Harrier as well as a Kingfisher and all the regular waterfowl.

Another move beckoned so we made our way back towards our starting point and once again dropped straight onto a fish each.  Mine managed to knit two lines together so while I was unpicking braid Mr H managed to add another to our tally.  We’d watched the sun rise and we watched it set again, a bittern flew by in silhouette which would have made a fabulous photo had I been quicker with the camera. By now the Pike had had enough for the day, despite us fishing into darkness.  We finished the day with fifteen fish boated between us and both had sore, bloody fingers; for once things had gone to plan.  As we made our way back to the slip a Barn owl drifted along the far bank, another predator in search of a meal and another wonderful sight to cap a memorable day.

Sunday, 19 November 2017


My favourite time of the year has come and almost gone.  Even after many years of basically doing the same thing in the autumn I still find myself fishing new spots and being more than surprised by what happens along the way.  I thought I'd pretty much worked out where and how I should fish, got it sussed?  No, not at all!  New lessons learnt, so much so I wish I could turn the clock back to the beginning of the autumn and start again!

Once the clocks go back the nights become maddeningly long and it's time to take a break from the hard stuff.  It really does take its toll on mind body and soul and so it should.  So now I'm looking forward to a change of scenery for a few weeks and possibly a change of method too at some point?

Talking of scenery...