Friday, August 24, 2007

Almost Autumn

For some unknown reason I ventured forth last Sunday afternoon to fish a river that was as clear as I expected it to be, and the only activity between dusk and midnight was from rats running around my feet. But despite the weather continuing hot and bright I just had to get out on Wednesday, and decided to fish Thursday too. Quite what drove me on I'm not sure, but it was one of those things where I get my gear ready almost in a daze, and there's no stopping me. It was a good moon phase too - first quarter. While I am confident I can catch barbel any day, the fishing around the first and last quarters of the moon might just be a little easier. If I get 'that feeling' and the moon phase is right, I have to go for it.

The Trent seemed to be carrying a touch of colour, enough to give me confidence in daylight, but it was gone five in the evening, with the sun beating down, before I got some feed out and a bait in the water, in the swim that had considered too swirly last time I was down there.

Within half an hour I had my first fish on the bank, a hard scrapping nine pounder. The next time the rod tried to leap off the rest the culprit proved to be a chub of around three pounds, followed by a bream a little larger not long after. All the action was coming to the downstream rod fished just off an overhanging willow, although the upstream bait was positioned on a nice crease it remained untouched.

Around seven the boilie was away again and a barbel of four or five pounds was soon being unhooked in the margins. Three quarters of an hour later I was weighing an eight pounder, but by now the sky had clouded over and the strong northerly wind was making it feel a lot colder than it really was. By nine o'clock I was considering packing up, but erected the brolly instead. With the wind deflected it became bearable and I stuck it out netting a seven pounder at half-nine. At 10.30 I decided I'd had enough and headed or a secluded spot to get my head down in the back of the car.

Although it's not quite the end of August the berries have been on the hawthorn for a while now, and some leaves are starting to turn despite the lack of a midsummer heatwave. When I got up shortly after dawn there was a definite hint of autumn in the air. I boiled up the kettle to refill my flask, ate a Mars bar to give me some energy and was fishing by six in the burdock swim.

Amazingly, only thirty minutes after putting in a mix of hemp, pigeon conditioner, sweetcorn and pellets the boilie on the downstream rod was away and I was hanging on to something that was taking line. I knew I had no option but to clamp down because of the fallen willow. There was a grating sensation then the line went slack. I was convinced the line had parted, but it hadn't. The fish had just come adrift. I checked the hooklink and replaced the damaged upper section. I use a two part hooklink with a swivel a few inches from the hook for this reason - among others. A bit more feed went in and a fresh bait was cast out.

I was not over confident of any immediate action, and sat back to watch the sun rising in the sky warming the day up before the wind from yesterday returned. At five past eight history repeated itself, and on autopilot I found myself standing up holding on to a rod bent right round to its full curve while a barbel took line from the reel. This time the fish kited out into the river away from danger so I was able to ease up on it a bit, and after a bit of a tussle it was resting in the folds of the net's mesh. I took some comfort from the fact that it didn't look huge, as it had fought with the same power as the one I'd lost earlier, meaning I hadn't lost a biggie.

Lifting it up the bank in the net it felt, and looked bigger than I'd first imagined, and the needle went past the ten pound mark on the dial of the scales. Had I missed out on a brace of doubles? Not to worry, it still meant that I had achieved one of my targets for the season, an August double - the one remaining month of the season I had failed to catch a barbel of that weight.

I had a few options open to me now. Stay in the burdock swim until after dark, which might produce but could prove tedious and would teach me nothing about the river, or go look elsewhere. I decided on plan B. Packing the gear away at noon, by which time the wind had picked up again, I went back to the car, made a fresh flask of tea and had something hot for lunch before driving off to look for a new swim.

To be honest I almost went back to the burdock swim as what I found was not all that promising, but I set up above a weed raft and soon started getting a few chub knocks. However, I wasn't happy, and after a while moved below the tree and fished the crease downstream. Albeit with little confidence. Why Trent chub imitate barbel bites and Ribble chub rarely do I haven't a clue, but for a brief moment just before five thirty I thought I had hooked a small barbel. This turned out to be a chub of 4lb 11oz. I also caught a couple more chub on the boilie rod, one of which might have made six ounces, and the other maybe half that again! Come nine o'clock I'd had enough. The swim had no barbel magic and I decided I might as well head home and get a reasonably early night.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The horror. The shame.

The forecast had been for rain early, clearing in the afternoon, and I set off for the Trent as the morning showers subsided. Travelling south I passed through a few brief showers, but the sun was soon burning down on dry roads. On arriving I could see the river was up, but not quite as much as I had hoped, maybe a foot, but it was carrying a decent amount of colour. However, it was still high enough to make my first choice swim look a bit too pacey. Going further downstream a swim that had looked a bit dull and uninviting on Sunday now seemed perfect. So I put half a dozen droppers of chilli hemp, garlic luncheon meat and pellets downstream on the crease where it passed some trailing willow branches. Then I sat back debating whether to remove my sweatshirt or not as it was getting pretty warm.

The trouble with reviewing bait is there's no real way of knowing if it makes any difference. But at least I had now thrown all the hemp away and only had two more cans of meat to get rid of! A boilie went upstream on the edge of the crease, and a large piece of meat went on the feed. The plan was to give the swim an hour or two, then move.

I was rebaiting the boilie rod after half an hour when the other one lurched sideways, swivelling on the rod rest, and the line went slack. Drat. I put this down to an over ambitious chub and carried on with the task in hand, from which I was disturbed by the sound of a baitrunner. Maybe there was something in this hemp and meat after all? Unfortunately I failed to hook the fish, I think because the hook was tangled - it certainly was when I wound in. This incident decided me to stick it out. There had to be more fish around, and dusk would be a prime time in a swim like this.

Not long after sorting out the meat rod my musings about removing clothing were decided for me. The sun disappeared, the temperature dropped and rain began to fall. Then it poured down!

The thunder that accompanied this downpour was some of the loudest, and closest, I have ever heard! I was sure a fish would take and force me out from the shelter, such as it was, of my brolly. But it was not to be. It was not to be for some hours that a fish showed any more interest. The rain stopped, the sun shone again and the rest of the afternoon was lovely. I took the opportunity to have a wander round, but nowhere else took my fancy. I'd stick it where I was until after dark.

Around four o'clock the river began to drop. Not quickly, but the nature of the swim was changing. If the level had been falling faster I would have moved, but things were borderline. Eventually the boilie rod, which had been swapped to fish by the willow, was away. I hauled into the fish as the line was going under the branches. It headed out into the river and rolled. Oh, no! It wasn't a barbel...

Whoever said that carp, river carp even, fight harder than barbel (pound for pound) must have been an idiot. I've had a few on barbel tackle now, to fifteen pounds odd, and not one of them has been a match for an eight pound barbel.

That c**p knocked my confidence a bit, the barbely feeling the swim had exuded initially had gone, and it wasn't long before I packed up.

Monday, August 13, 2007

More fishers than anglers

Another exploratory trip to the Trent yesterday. Had a look at a couple of stretches, but didn't find a swim I really, really fancied - although I have lined some up for when the river is in flood. Saw two other anglers, but there were plenty of others out fishing.

Walking along one shallow length I spooked a pair of egrets from a sandbank, later seeing a kingfsher and a mink in a wooded stretch, herons were everywhere. Then at dusk, after I had settled into a swim that was deepish close in, I noticed something moving along the far bank margins. From the sound being made I thought it was a couple of duck I'd seen earlier, but when I got the binoculars trained on it I saw an otter. The first one I have seen in England. I managed to grab a quick snap, but the shutter delay meant the animal had moved by the time the photo was taken, and the low light made for a lot of camera shake. You can just about tell what it is in the 'Sasquatch' type photo!

I started getting chub knocks as the light faded, all on the downstream rod fishing shallower water near a willow, but nothing positive. Then after dark I saw a shooting star - always a good omen. It was then I got a chub rattle that didn't stop, and a small fish was being wound in. Then it fell off!

You can't win them all.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Barbel and burdock

I just had to get away from working yesterday. So I loaded up the gear and decided to go check out the upper Trent for a change. It would have been easy to have dropped in the first spot I looked at as it was quite appealing, the second stretch had a couple of even better looking spots but after a while sussing the third length one swim simply had to be fished. Best of all the swim was tucked away in some undergrowth.

Out went a few droppers of Dynamite Frenzied Chilli Hemp (which I was using as I am supposed to be writing a review of it) and some more of mixed pellets.

The dropper rod in the photo is a fairly stiff six foot thing I knocked up specially for the job (built on a prototype lure blank that wasn't quite right) and the reel a robust Shimano with a decent grip on the handle for cranking the biggest dropper back against the flow.

After putting the obligatory boilie and bag of pellets downstream above the overhanging willow I rigged up a second rod with a maggot feeder to fish upstream for a change. Who says I'm not versatile? A size ten Kamasan Animal tied to 20lb braid and crammed with half a dozen maggots being the subtle end rig. On the second cast I had my first upper Trent barbel in my hand.

I hadn't blanked, and I'd caught a barbel! The maggots were getting plenty of attention and if I'd fished more appropriately for them I reckon a decent bag of chub and dace, and maybe more baby barbel, could have been put together. As it was a chublet and a dace managed to get hooked.

When the heat started to go from the sun I swapped the feeder rig over to a straight leger with an 11mm Sonu S-Pellet (also free) on the hair. These pellets have a good oil leakage, are easily hair rigged, but are prone to disappearing from the hook - either for no apparent reason, or because they have been nibbled away by small fish. However I do like the smaller ones for adding to my bags of pellets that go on the hook and would buy them for that purpose if I had to. About a third or a quarter of the bag's contents being S-Pellets and the rest hard pellets. In fact they are the 'magic beans' I was using in PVA bags when I was tench fishing in the spring! Anyway, it wasn't long before something headed downstream with my S-Pellet. A barbel of four or five pounds, actually. But still the downstream rod tip, in the prime spot, remained inactive apart from indicating odd bits of weed and debris brushing the line.

After dark, when the tip stopped being inactive there was no mistaking it. The rod lurched over, the bankstick fell sideways and the Baitrunner screeched! Assuming this was the result of a barbel making off with my boilie I picked up the rod and leaned into the culprit. A short but hectic fight saw a decent fish dive into my waiting net. Leaving the fish there in the water I set up the camera, got the sling and scales ready and then lifted it ashore. Not a double, but a nice fish for a first session on a stretch nonetheless.

The burdock reference? That's the plant that forms my leafy halo!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Review - Owner C-4 (Aya) hooks

It's not often I review products that I sell, but as the C-4 Owners are my first choice for barbel fishing I can't really review any others! I use them in sizes 8 through 2, selecting the hook size to suit the bait. 2s are used for 21mm pellets and double 14mm boilies, 4s for one and a half boilies, 6s for single boilies and 15mm pellets, and 8s for single 10mm pellets.

What I like about the C-4 is the shape. When I tried hooks where the shank curves round more, supposedly a good shape for use with hair rigs, I found that too many fish barbel were dropping off. My thinking is that the point was only getting a shallow hold because of the angle of the point relative to the shank, and tearing out. I prefer the wider gape, and the slightly in turned point does seem to resist damage from hard river beds.

Apart from the overall shape, I like the fact that they are a strong hook. I am of the opinion that you should fish as heavy as you can get away with, so I prefer to use hooks that are thick in the wire which I can't open out when playing fish. However, using 30lb braid I can still open out a size 2 C-4 when it finds its way into a snag.

I also happen to think that hooks with thick wire are less likely to cut their way out of a fish, making them less likely to damage a fish's mouth during the fight, and with the micro barb doing no more damage than a fine wire hook when being removed by the angler.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Getting away from the crowds

A few days after the session last blogged I had another go on the stretch I had blanked on, picking a swim that I fancied which had been occupied the first time. The level was down a bit, although still up and slightly coloured. One nice thing about the swim was the nice flat ledge to jump down on to should I need to net a fish. Pellets and hemp were loose fed and droppered above the overhanging bush and a bait swung out into position and I sat back to wait.

The usual knocks were had, but by dark nothing positive had happened. I had my radio in the top pocket of my fleece, and an earpiece in one ear to keep me awake. But just after eleven the old eyelids drooped. Almost immediately they shut the Baitrunner stirred me from my torpor and I was bent into a fish that was determined to get under the downstream bush. I leapt nimbly onto the little ledge, landing with a surprising splash. The level had risen about five inches and I hadn't noticed!

The fish was soon landed, a rather lean nine pounder, and quickly returned. The strange thing was that although I had the earpiece in and the radio on as I played the fish, I didn't notice! Goes to show how focused you get in the heat of the moment. Having got in a bit of a tangle with the hawthorn I was sat under as I brought the fish and rod up the bank I called it a day.

The weekend saw a change in the weather and summer finally arrived. I had to get another session in before the river got low and clear. My first chance was yesterday, and it was a scorcher (compared to what has passed for summer so far at any rate). I decided to seek out some of the other access points first, and maybe fish a different stretch. This proved easier said than done. After an hour of being stuck behind a flock of sheep being herded by a man on a bicycle, driving down farm tracks that seemed to lead nowhere, and going round in circles without even seeing the river I gave up and headed back to the length where I had caught my last fish.

In my head there were three swims I wanted to try, but my timing was out by minutes and they were all occupied by anglers starting to tackle up. Dumping my gear behind one of them I went for a look around. One swim looked fairly promising, a nice crease close in, so I moved my gear into it and threw in a few handfuls of pellets. But I wasn't over confident. My itchy feet took me off downstream and eventually I found four nice looking swims well away from the popular pegs. One in particular was especially inviting. A gap between two bushes at the tail of a shallow run with a crease on the near bank with deeper water under the rod end.

Despite the heat and the fact that I had walked up and down half the stretch twice I went back to gather my tackle and make the move. I had a fair old sweat on by the time I made it, so after feeding a few pellets into the first two swims I settled back for a drink and a rest. Slowly I got tackled up, retying the mainline knot and putting on fresh bait. More loose pellets plus a few droppers of hemp and pellets went into both swims before I put a bait out with a nice bag of assorted pellets on the hook. I know that a lot of people swear by tight baiting patterns, but I'm not so sure. Maybe if your casting is accurate enough to drop the hookbait right on the money. However, I like to think that a controlled scatter-gun approach to baiting has some merit in that it might get fish moving around more. That's my excuse anyway... By now it was almost five pm. Time for food and a brew.

I was sat on the top of the bank soaking up the sun slowly dehydrating, screened from the water by nettles and balsam, with a cut out ledge above the water level. Odd knocks, raps and taps were showing on the rod top. Some being those savage chub pulls that make you think are the start of a barbel bite, one or two being definite liners. Something was down there in the slacker water on the inside of the crease. I'd been baiting close in, with the rig directly in front of me, as the downstream willow had submerged branches and roots in evidence. The plan was to draw fish upstream and keep them out of trouble when they bolted back with the flow.

Just after seven as the heat was going out of the sun the rod top stabbed sharply down twice and sprang back then slammed over and stayed there. I had hold of the rod before the Baitrunner came alive and hung on. Then it all went solid and that horrible grating sensation could be felt through the rod. It was in the willow. I tried all the usual tricks, changing the angle of pull, feeding slack line. Leaving the Baitrunner on very slack while I had a cup of tea. All to no avail. Eventually it became clear that the fish had gone, feeding slack line only resulting in slack line, and I had no option but to pull for a break.

More in hope than expectation I fed more pellets, then sat down to get tackled back up. The shredded line was stripped off, about six yards of it, and a fresh rig set up. The hooklength hadn't seen water since last March, so I touched up the hook point with a diamond file before baiting up, attaching a PVA bag of pellets, and casting back out. Amazingly I got movement on the tip almost immediately. In fact it was hardly still for a minute!

As I sat watching the rod I got to thinking how that fish had found the snag as I hadn't given it more than a few inches of line. Then it dawned on me that the act of stepping forward and down onto the ledge must have allowed it to drift down and kite into the bank on the tight line. If I got another take I'd adopt a different strategy. Haul into the fish from the top of the bank until I had it in front of me then, and only then, would I move towards the ledge. Within half an hour the plan was in operation as I gave another fish some serious stick. The plan worked and it came kicking and (figuratively) screaming over the net. Phew! A lean fish that went over ten, but what a dorsal. I've never seen one like it, like an enormous great sail it was!

After returning the fish the swim went quiet. The taps and raps all but dried up. Then out of the blue an hour or so after dark the rod slammed over again. This one came in easily enough as it was only a baby. Time to get back to the car, drain the remains of my flask and hit the road. It was nice to catch a couple from a swim away from, and out of sight of, the crowds.