Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wild night

The Indian summer ended yesterday. Last week would have been ideal for that late bream session I had hoped for, but clearing a backlog of rods and getting ready for the PAC show put paid to that. This week I have the time available, but the temperature is dropping and the rain arrived last night. Wind had been forecast, and as per the predictions it got stronger as the day wore on. This added a chill factor to the still mild day, so I donned the bunny suit and set off for the river.

It wasn't long before I was wishing I'd left the suit at home as I was soon working up a sweat scrabbling about on the bank after netting fish. The first one only took twenty minutes to appear, and after less than four hours I'd totalled seven to just shy of nine pounds. I packed up earlier than usual at quarter to eleven when a heavy shower had passed by, blown by the strong wind which, during the strongest gusts, had been cracking branches on the far bank wood and blowing my lines so hard they were pulling the rod tips over!

Another fun session, but with no real lessons learned. The same baits produced, although I did search around the swim (which I'd only fished once before) catching from various parts of it.

A few things to ponder though. Like why do cows crap in exactly the place you want to put your rucksack? And why do so many barbel anglers stay away from the rivers when they are low and clear? The former is imponderable, the latter I don't really care about because it means a better choice of swims for me!

Back in 2005 when we had a proper summer the Ribble was pretty much deserted. Most evenings I had it to myself where I was fishing at the time, and caught consistently. Nice fish too. Yet all over the place anglers were moaning about the green slimy weed, the clear water and how it needed a good flush through. More fool them. You can only catch fish with a bait in the water - not with your feet up the chimney back.

As I type the sky is leaden, the wind is howling and rain is falling. I guess the rivers and their banks will be full soon.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Still dull

After working too hard (by my low standards) and waiting in for parcels and couriers, I finally cracked and dropped everything to head for a low and clear river with a couple of pints of maggots and a tip rod. Although I thought the river was at NSL last time I fished a week of dry weather showed I had been mistaken by about a foot.

What a waste of time the maggots were! I got bites okay, but the one fish I hooked was a minnow. When it came to dusk the bites dried up. At least I could see my newly painted rod rest heads in the low light!

That's more like it!

Luckily I had taken my barbel gear too. When I say luckily, no luck was involved whatsoever! I have almost as little patience with quiver tipping as I do with float fishing. Although I plan on doing some serious tip fishing this winter if conditions are favourable. I've told myself that before though...

Just before it got properly dark a barbel of about a pound and a half hung itself on a single 8mm pellet. Then when it was properly dark I wound the other rod in to find I'd been slimed. An eel of about a pound, yet again hooked in the back. As I was stripping snot off my line I heard the other reel zip into life as another barbel made off with the pellet snake I had swapped over to. This fish fell off, but the bait was taken almost straight away on the recast by a barbel about twice the size of the first one.

Quarter to nine and the same rod, after a chub bite that didn't stop (suggesting a hooked chub), produced the smallest barbel of the season so far - maybe one whole pound. This was a bit grim. I chucked the snake further across the river. After five minutes it was away resulting in a leviathan that was easily six pounds!

After losing an end rig I stuck two 15mm Tuna Wraps on the upstream rod, for no other reason than the only spare rig I had made up had a big hook and a long hair. After a long wait the rod tip started dancing. I picked the rod up and there was a fish on, probably a chub as it wasn't going anywhere. Then it felt the pull of the rod and headed downstream at a considerable rate of knots. A brief but spirited fight ensued and I had something worth weighing in the net. As I was wringing the water from the sling the downstream rod took off. This was another schoolie, unhooked in the water like all the others. The one I weighed was a nice solid fish. Too short to go doubles, but one that made the night worthwhile. Half an hour later another little one came along to a single 8mm crab pellet.

Sometime back I posted a picture of the landing net attachment of a zinger for my forceps. Not long after that post it exploded into its constituent parts and, Humpty Dumptylike, refused to be put back together again! The next attempt was a coiled plastic 'spring' which worked well, but stretched - rather defeating the object of the exercise. I might just as well have used string after a few weeks. The MkIII version is made of hollow pole elastic - which is amazingly streeeeetchy! Early days, but having the forceps on the net does save a lot of messing about. The rubber band retainer needs some refinement!

MkIII forceps attachment

The day had been cloudless and warm. Even with a starry sky it stayed quite mild, and when the cloud cover came in after eleven it warmed up. I wound the rods in at half eleven and spent a while in another swim with one of them. All that resulted were a few fast chub bites.

It's good fun catching a few when you haven't been out for a while, but I really must try to get a session in somewhere that's more of a challenge.

Oh well, the PAC Convention looms on Saturday. Up early, long drive there, set up my stall, spend all day on my feet talking fishing, pack up, long drive home. If you are attending the Convention come and say hello.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I'm a dull boy

Given the flimsiest of excuses, I wanted to try out my new rod rest heads, I stopped work and managed to get to the river by seven fifteen. The rests are nice and wide to make dropping the rod in them a cinch, and are deep enough to prevent it then getting blown or dragged out. Should be good for pike fishing too.

Any excuse to go fishing...

As I walked to the river the rain stopped - for a pleasant change. I'd taken three rods with me, the third one being a lighter rod than I normally use and rigged up with mono. I want to see what the set-up feels like with a barbel on the end. So far I have failed to get a bite on this outfit on the few occasions I have used it. It comes in handy as a spare though, and this time it came out of the quiver straight away as I had forgotten to change a frayed end rig. It was quicker to grab the spare rod than tie up another hooklength.

That rod was cast upstream, the river was back down to NSL and clear, and the other one downstream and across. The second rod had only been fishing for ten minutes when, as I was sorting out the frayed rig, I heard the baitrunner squeal into life. The rod was arched over in typical barbel-take fashion. Gazelle like I leapt upon it to do battle with a leviathan. However the fish on the other end of the line soon revealed it's true colours. A chub of about four pounds that I unhooked in the water.

It was a slow night. Even after dark indications were few. Plenty of what I imagine were sea trout were leaping around like the members of the idiotic trutta family that they are. One or two sounded quite large. Only two barbel came out to play. A small one, and another between seven and eight pounds. Both fish coming when I had retired the mono rod for the night.

With the overcast sky it stayed quite warm and the damp held off. So it wasn't a chore being there. The rod rest heads did the job and were easy to locate the rod in during daylight. They'll be getting painted white, like my old ones, before the next night session though. It's surprising how well white (or shiny) things show up after dark, even when not illuminated.

Whenever a rig gets battered I throw it in the bottom of my bait bag. I had a clear out and below you can see the results of a couple of Ribble sessions. When a rig snags up it's either the lead or feeder that's wedged behind a rock, or the hook itself caught up in or on something. Leads come free of the paper clip quite easily, but 30lb Power Pro really does help open out the hooks. The bottom rig shows what the snags can do to 20lb braided hooklinks - the others are a little stronger and tougher!

You can get through a fair few hooks on the rocky Ribble

With an Indian summer having arrived yesterday the river will remain low and clear for a few days by the looks of the forecast. I'll either have to change my tactics or fish for something else. If I get the chance to fish at all that is. There are rods to fettle for a Monday despatch, stuff to sort out for the PAC convention, and more rods to make a start on since a delivery of rings arrived. I'm sure I'll find a window of opportunity to escape through though...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Random stuff

I'd shown the picture below on the Pike and Predators forum as an illustration of how summer pike should be fighting fit when returned. I thought I'd post it here so I can find it if I need it again.

Pete Hesketh returns a summer pike - back in nineteen eighty-something!

The rings arrived from the USA enabling me to complete my 'bream rods' a couple of weeks ago. I haven't had a chance to use them, and now I have my barbel head on they aren't required until April. So I shall be taking them along to Piking 2008 as an example of my superb craftsmanship, and to see if anyone wants to buy them. If they don't sell there they'll be advertised on here and at dlst.co.uk. I had a waggle of the 2.5lb Torrix yesterday, so when I get shut of the Ballistas there could be three of those getting built at Lumb Towers...

With trying to get rods finished for collection at Piking 2008, and to send out this week, I have been working hard since my last fishing trip. Even after 10 at night! Plans for this week's fishing have also managed to go awry (I'm sat here waiting for a parcel to turn up when I should be on the riverbank), and with the funeral of a friend to attend on Friday it could be weekend before I can wet a line again. Then again it might be tonight...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Like shelling peas

I'll not give a blow by blow account of my latest barbel-bagging session. No pics either as the fish were mostly on the small side and it was too hectic at times to get the camera out!

It had been a warm and dry day for a change, so I headed to the river in the evening. The river was down a couple of feet and dropping slowly, but still nicely coloured. I fancied a fish in daylight, but with the nights starting to draw in fast it was starting to get dark by eight. It still took over an hour for the first fish to come along. Then it was followed by nine more at regular intervals until I packed up after five hours.

Most takes were coming to the upstream rod fishing a 'snake'. After I lost a fish on the downstream rod while rebaiting the snake rod I swapped them over. This was to see if it was the bait that was successful or the positioning of it. The upstream rod continued to get the most action - even when I put on a Tuna Wrap! I'd only had chub on the wraps last season, but the rod tip had just shown the bait had settled when it started bouncing again. An almost instant take. Followed by another on the recast!

The final fish of the night, and the biggest at a few ounces under nine pounds, came to a snake fished downstream and across. I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from all that. One interesting thing, bearing in mind the video footage below, was one take that started out as a series of 'chub' knocks, then developed into a full blown run. Then again, judging by the way the barbel picks up a double hook bait and drops it the 'snake' shouldn't catch anything. Don't get fooled by everything you see fish do on screen or you'll have a crisis of confidence so bad you'll give up!

This area I've been fishing has been good fun. The learning process isn't up to much though. Chuck anything at them and they'll have it. Definitely time to go exploring new areas - or hunting bigger fish elsewhere.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Timing is everything

One of the places I had to go to this weekend involved driving back via the river Trent - which can be handy. I was expecting the river to be carrying extra water. I hadn't honestly expected the fields and roads to be carrying it too!

The Trent in all its might

The photo above was taken after I had stopped to let a car turn round at a flood in the road. Cunningly I let the Discovery following me go past - and as the water wasn't too deep I followed. My expectation was that the rest of the road would be high enough to have stayed dry. Oops. The second flood was no deeper so I carried on. Then the 4x4 turned off the road right before what I knew would be the final inundation. So I pulled over and took some photos. A Volvo made it through the puddle so I risked it and survived.

It seemed pointless looking for a fishing spot in that area so I carried on upstream to some water I knew better. The level was obviously subsiding, but the only half fishable spot I could find was the one shown below. I didn't fancy spending my time there when I could carry on northwards and find somewhere more easily fished on the Ribble. While the fast rising nature of a spate river can be a pain, it can fall just as quickly. It would be in better nick than the Trent.

I'd need a snorkel to sit where I usually do!

A couple of hours later I had my baits out in the same good looking spot that I started my previous Ribble session in. The water had been well up over the grass, probably a full seven or eight feet up on NSL*, but was falling slowly. It was now about the same level, or a little higher, than when I'd set up two days before. The sun was shining, it was a grand afternoon to be on the river. With the amount of colour in the water I was confident of a fish before dark. It was not to be. I had a few sharp chub raps, but nothing more conclusive.

I was back on the PVA bags as it wasn't raining, and with one bait fishing steady water a yard from the bank I trickled in loose pellets every now and then to see if they would help draw fish upstream. The second rod was cast upstream and out to slightly more pacey water on a crease. Not as far out as I'd fish at normal level, but the flow there would be a bit much - not to mention the debris that might be encountered.

Over the years I have seen cormorants eating, and trying to eat, all sorts of fish. I've seen an eel writhing down one's throat, watched one repeatedly catching bream too wide for it to swallow, and another deal with a small pike. I was surprised to see one drifting downstream struggling with a barbel of a pound or more. Obviously cormorants don't require still, crystal clear, water to feed. More comical was watching a moorhen in a far bank alder. They are not the most agile perching birds. It spent more time flapping to retain its balance than making progress along the branches!

A couple of showers made their presence felt. They weren't torrential and soon blew over giving way to a pleasant night even when the sky cleared and the stars came out. After dark I was still fishless. The stick I had been keeping my eye on to gauge the level was now getting shorter. The river was rising again. Unlike last time it was rising slowly. This made the swim eminently fishable and for much longer.

I'd just recast the upstream rod when the baitrunner creaked on the other one. In the flow it was a bit of a struggle to get the fish to the net, even though it was only a small one. I'd conclusively proved to myself the swim was worth fishing. About an hour later the same rod tapped a couple of times in chubby fashion. I leapt like a panther and stood poised to strike at the slightest tremor. The rod tapped again and kept tapping. I struck, fully expecting a chub, not the heavy weight I was trying to pull against the flow. Then it moved. It felt like a barbel. And it was plodding. When within netting distance it woke up. On the surface it had a good length. In the net it felt heavy. A deep flanked, but rather empty fish, it still made my day.

Another bloomin' barbel picture...

To counter the increasing flow and rubbish (I had landed one carrier bag) the upstream bait was moved in a little closer. The rod tip wasn't under much tension and I feared the bait was not in a good position. However, something eventually dislodged the lead and I was soon unhooking another small barbel in the margins.

I slipped it back over the net cord and began sorting the hook out when it was almost driven into my finger! It seemed as if the barbel had swum into my main line and got tangled. Once I was free from danger of being hooked I pulled on the line but no fish appeared even though I could feel it. Then I noticed another piece of line leading from my own. Pulling on this brought the barbel's dorsal into view - with a hook attached to it - above the muddy water. At some point the fish must have got foul-hooked and broken the angler's line. I freed the hook and the fish swam off. The hooklink was a substantial braid and the remains of the mono were about 12lb. As the fish was only about five pounds it should have been possible to land the fish on that tackle - even hooked where it was.

Not that I wish to cast nasturtiums, the set up for attaching the bait to the hook has definite carping overtones. I ask you, who else would use a rig ring sliding on the hook shank, retained by being tied to a hair, with a pellet band for threading through the bait attached to the ring? Why make things simple when you can make them complicated and spend more money on useless rig bits?

Had the barbel been going mad I'd have stopped longer, but I'm not greedy. Three fish were enough for me so I called it a night at eleven.

* Normal Summer Level

Friday, September 05, 2008

Rain, more rain and dead sheep

When I was loading the car the rain had finally eased. By the time I was at the river it was coming down harder than ever. I knew the river would be up, which was why I arrived with four hours of daylight left so I could suss out likely floodwater swims. It was a surprise to see the level only six inches or so up on where it had been when I left the river on Wednesday night. Looking at the grass the river had obviously been higher and dropped back, even though it was on the rise again. Spate rivers are fickle beasts.

As I hoped, the swim I thought would be right at this level looked spot on. Not too pacey close in, with faster water further out, and downstream. Because of the rain my approach was different from my favoured PVA mesh bags on the hooks. I'd broken out the big feeders. A mix of Hemp and Hali Crush 50/50 with crushed halibut pellets was all I put in the feeders. One was cast slightly downstream fishing a Tuff 1 and the heavier feeder fished a 'snake' a couple of yards upstream of the rods, and a little further out.

The lighter, 110g, of the big feeders

Just as the last time I fished there were swallows and martins working over the river, undeterred by the rain, as they fed themselves up for their impending journey south. They weren't swooping low over the water, but flying higher, often up close to the trees on the wooded bank opposite my fishing position. The upstream rod jagged, jagged again and pulled over. Surely not a fish after just twenty minutes? I bent into something that could have been leaves on the line - until it pulled the rod down and tried to head out into the flow. Whereupon the hook came free. A couple of leaves and a small twig on the hook might have been there when the barbel picked the 'snake' up I suppose. At least I had judged the swim right.

After an hour the pace was quickening between the baits and the bank, the level rising and the frequency with which I was having to clear 'washing' from the line increasing. I moved up a few yards to where a well worn swim was creating a slack. By now the rain was hammering down. An hour later and this swim, too, was becoming less attractive as somewhere to fish. Another move was called for.

Upstream a bend was channelling the flow out across the river and there was quite and extensive crease with slower water near the bank. Such was the rate the river was rising at that it only took an hour before I had to move to a slack in order to keep the baits out for long enough to expect a bite. Although the rain had eased off large branches were starting to come down the river. Then the obligatory football, followed by a dead sheep. When dead sheep start to appear it's time to wind in and head for home!

Baa baa dead sheep

I stuck it until dark, by which time the river must have been carrying at least four, maybe five, feet of water, and the slack was starting to shrink. Despite blanking the session had been worthwhile. If nothing else I had proved to myself that I could find fish on the stretch when it was carrying extra water. When I walked it the first time I fished it I saw a couple of other possible floodwater swims. Maybe I'll try them the next time the river is up. That won't be this weekend though, as I have places to go. One of which might be a river somewhere...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Beating the retreat

It had been a funny day, showery, turning dry in late afternoon. The rain of the preceding twenty-four hours would be in the river and I was hopeful. The idea was to arrive earlier than usual so I could check out what the river looked like with extra water in. Floodwater can provided good barbel fishing - so long as you either know the stretch well or can see what the flow does. If you are new to a stretch that means having a good nose around to find likely looking spots to cast a bait or two.

The level was certainly up on last time, about a foot and a half, and carrying a touch of 'mud'. As it was only six inches up on the first couple of times I'd fished the stretch I knew I'd be okay with the three ounce leads to fish the same spots. With there being slower water between me and the baits that would keep too much debris from fouling the line and dragging the rigs into snags.

Rods high, but within easy reach

While I was baiting my second rod another angler arrived and asked how I was doing. I explained that I was just setting up. "Are you stopping long?" he asked. This is code-speak for, "You're in my swim you ****. When are you going to **** off?" I know this, because I have asked the same question for the same reason myself! Although if the angler is setting up an hour before dark, with isotopes on his rod tips, it's usually a sign that he'll be there until after dark... I gave my reply in code too, "Until I've had enough." This means, "Ha, ha! Beat you to the swim and I'll be here until you've gone home."

It wasn't long before the downstream rod snagged up. I'd planned ahead and taken three rods with me so I was able to bait up the third rod and recast without wasting any time, then retackle the original rod. By now a shower had moved in. Leaves were collecting on the lines pulling the rod tips over a little. A bit of stick in the margins was beginning to disappear. The river was still on the rise, but not too rapidly it seemed.

I wasn't surprised when the downstream rod tip tap-tapped and I pulled into a fish. Under seven pounds it gave a decent account of itself. More would be along soon. The rain eased and it started to go dark. Then I saw a bright flash out of the corner of my eye. A few seconds later I heard thunder crack in the distance. Sitting behind two carbon rods pointing at the sky on an exposed river bank didn't seem like a good idea. The thunder moved away in the distance and I relaxed.

One's better than none

Leaves continued to be a minor irritation, but the rigs were holding for long enough to be effective and I only lost one rig. Standing by the rods to stretch my legs I heard a hissing sound down-river. Looking round it was as if a grey curtain had descended. The hissing grew louder. I felt a couple of spots of rain and dived under the brolly as the stair rods arrived. Boy was it heavy rain! The downpour soon passed, but the rain didn't stop.

It was then I noticed the river was flowing much faster in the margin than when I had set up, and it was getting closer to my boots. That explained why the rod tips were pulling over more than when I first cast out. I tried dropping the baits closer in.

I like fishing a rising river for barbel. I think it gets them on the move and feeding. However, the changing flow patterns are a problem. A good swim can become useless or unfishable with only a few inches of extra water. On an unfamiliar stretch of river you really need daylight to find fresh spots to try. Had it still been light I could have wound the rods in and gone to seek out other swims, but in the dark it was difficult. The rain didn't encourage me to move anywhere other than home either.

The sky lit up with a bright flash, thunder cracking soon after. The other angler was on his way home. There was more lightning and thunder. Ten o'clock or a break in the rain, whichever arrived first, and I'd pack up. The rain continued to fall. Nights like these keep the bats in their roosts and the owls remain silent. I don't blame them. Once out from under the brolly the rain didn't seem so bad. I still got wet tidying the gear away and retreating to the car, not quite beaten and certainly unbowed.

I'd hoped for more than one fish given the state of the river. Given a better knowledge of the stretch of river I would have moved swims - I've done so successfully in the past on a rising river at night where I have known places to move to. I need to walk the length in daylight when it's up to get some ideas for the future.

Not only has the final one day match of the South Africans' tour been washed out, there was a definite autumnal chill to the wind last night. Summer is definitely over.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ducking and diving

With the only other angler in sight some fifty yards away from me on the far bank I was looking forward to a quiet evening. Despite rain during the day it was sunny as I started setting up. One rod was out when I heard someone behind me. Expecting to see another late arriving fisherman I was somewhat taken aback to see an old gentleman (a little older than me that is!) with a shotgun broken over his arm. He had come to warn me that if I heard shots from downstream it would be him. Which was thoughtful of him. I wasn't aware of it, but the first day of September is the start of duck season. To think there was a well grown brood of friendly mallards that I had been feeding pellets on the stretch who were now in danger of lead poisoning.

With two baits in place it took forty minutes for the first bite to come. Not without hearing the first shots echoing up the valley and seeing a few ducks and goosanders heading upstream at high speed. This was a real barbel bite with the rod hooped over and the baitrunner protesting loudly. The fight was a good one too and lead me to believe the culprit might have made double figures, but it didn't quite manage nine. The river was a foot down on my last session and running clear. I wonder if that was why the fish made off at speed and fought well? It could see where it was going!

There was big black cloud over in the south-west and blowing rapidly towards me. Sure enough the raindrops started to patter on the calm surface of the river. Then all hell let loose. There must have been a group of wildfowlers out of sight because the fusillade that broke out sounded like the troops were going over the top. When the sound of the guns faded it gave way to the honking of many geese. They flew over head, going downstream, to be met with yet another barrage from more guns. The geese turned tail and the guns fell silent again. I decided to keep my head down below the top of the floodbank!

Ready and waiting

The peace didn't last long. "How big was that one?" I feigned deafness. "How big mate?" I hoped a reply might shut the idiot up and shouted him a rough estimate. A few more shots were heard just on dark. At last I hoped for some respite from the assorted cacophony and was pleased to listen to only the owls - and the baitrunners.

Around nine thirty I heard matey on the far bank landing a fish. Following some flashing of his head torch the cry went up, "Five and a quarter pounds!" "Well done, " I responded. Muttering something quite different to myself... He then tried to engage me in conversation, yelling something about the shooting. Ye gods!

As well as getting some rod building out of the way over the weekend I had moulded up a dozen and a half more three ounce leads and slipped a few in my lead bag. Just as well because the tackle losses continued where they left off last time out.

How long will this lot last?

Mishaps of other sorts materialised too. Having pulled for a break on the upstream rod I was winding the limp line in between my fingers feeling for the frayed end when the downstream rod was away. I leaned into the fish which kicked a couple of times then fell off. The size four C-4 had opened up. I've no idea how, as they take some opening on a snag. Hey ho. I attached a ready baited snake and chucked back out again before re-tackling the upstream rod.

I was fishing the swim I'd had my eye on previously and was moving baits around to get a feel for it. Again it felt shallower on a very long cast with a channel two thirds of the way across. Casts to the shallows produced chub bites. The barbel bites, and the four fish I landed, coming from the channel. At least that's the way I read the swim so far. As with the first fish the other three all screamed off with the bait and fought hard for their weight. A lone chub even tried to drag the rod in. It didn't fight hard though and after the initial two wags of its tail gave up the ghost.

I saw much shining of a head torch on the far bank. "He's packing up at last," I thought. "You still there mate?" 'Mate'? 'Mate'?!! Like a fool I replied in the affirmative. "I'm away now. Good luck." I shouted something non-committal back, poured myself a cup of flask-tea and began to relax. The great thing about fishing at night is the way the world quietens down. traffic noise fades, people go home to watch the telly - even annoying birds shut their beaks. I can do without people intent on carrying out shouted conversations. I suppose I should be thankful for small mercies - he didn't put a Tilley lamp on and light a fire to keep the bogey man away...

As well as moving baits around I tried change baits too. When there are numbers of barbel in an area bait choice never seems to be too critical to me, as well as the snake producing again (including the chub) I had one fish on a Hali-Hooker Tuff 1 and another on one and a half Oyster and Mussel boilies (which I thought had hardened up since I opened the packet last March). Not having enough spare rigs tied up I even landed two fish on a mono hooklength I had kicking around. I do prefer the limpness of braid for hooklengths, but I'm not convinced it matters too much to the barbel.

Unlike last week the air turned cool after dark, with a light mist up the valley when the rain cleared. After the chub bites dried up, so I packed up before midnight and trudged through the damp grass to the car, the windows matted with dew. It won't be long before the bunny suit is required for evening sessions.