Thursday, February 26, 2009

Featured Product - Eze Lap Diamond Hook File

I might as well make use of this blog for a bit of blatant promotion for my business, so I'm going to occasionally feature items that I find really useful. A good hook hone is something I learned the value of when I was doing a lot of lure fishing. It's invaluable when fishing rocky rivers for barbel and chub too. That's why all my tackle boxes contain an Eze Lap Diamond Hook File. They are ideal for single hooks larger than a size 12 (below that I just tie on a new one when the point has gone or turned over) and also for trebles below a 2.

Despite what people might tell you chemically sharpened points can be touched up with a file. The trick is knowing how to do it. Don't go mad. Light strokes going towards the point, working your way around the circumference of the point are what is required. I use the groove of the Eze Lap to start with, then the flat side to finish the job off. The groove is also useful for straightening a point that has turned over.

I described the hook sharpening process for lure trebles in an article on dlst.co.uk and it applies just the same for singles and with a diamond file. I'll repeat the important stuff here.

Treat a hook point as having six faces when viewed from the front of the point and you are getting the picture. File each face to get a really sharp point. One that is 'sticky sharp' and will catch as soon as it touches something. I test hook points on the ball of my thumb. Others use a thumbnail. Take your pick.

Always file towards the point of the hook. Never use a back-and-forth motion. File the sides of the point first (A &B), then the outside faces (C & D), and finally the faces on the inside of the hook where the barb is (E & F).

With curved points the inside is impossible to sharpen. So don't bother. Unless the point has been turned in it won't make any difference as sharpening the other 'faces' will suffice.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Boilies, bedchairs and.... barbel

Led Zeppelin got involved this week. There was a communication breakdown that has resulted in my blanks being scheduled for arrival on Wednesday now... There was me with my Tuesday planned to start work and therefore not waste a day waiting for my courier calling to take some finished rods away. If they'd arrive early enough I might just slip away to a river.

By three thirty I was on the road in time to beat the rush hour traffic. The lengthening days mean I could take my time getting set up. Late season madness is taking hold all right. There were plenty of anglers on the banks. Hardly surprising given the mild, dry conditions. Three vehicles in the car park - and the usual suspects on the stretch I had headed to. All were fishing the favourite pegs, and EH had already landed a small barbel. The river was low and clear, yet warm at 7.3c. I plonked my gear down in a swim between the 'crowds' and went back to get my 'new' bedchair. I wanted to try it out before the tenching starts and I also wanted to put my feet up and relax!

For some reason I can't explain I put some boilies in the bait bag. I don't think I've fished a boilie all season, so why I did that I have no idea. Seeing as I'd got them with me I put one on a hair and cast it upstream and across to the channel, a single 8mm crab Pellet-O going straight across to the channel on the downstream rod. Now to set up the bedchair and get comfy. Front legs extended to level the bedchair and I sit down to relax. One of the legs gives way... I mess around with the offending leg to no avail. Out with the mobile and phone my mate's tackle shop where I got the bedchair from and where I'd left my old one for him to sell. I'd stop the sale of the original and pick it up on Thursday. Ray answers and I ask if he's sold my bedchair yet. Thinking I was after the cash, in a cheery voice, he told me it had sold that very morning. Aaaaargh! More messing with the leg and I managed to get it to grip. I'm not convinced though. No wonder that bloomin carp angler wanted rid of it. You can't trust anyone from St. Helens.

EH landed a couple more small barbel, both brassy scaled and coral finned typical of clear water fish. The star attraction of the river arrived and settled peacefully in my swim. I threw it a handful of pellets. Unlike mute swans this lone, and lonely, trumpeter is well behaved. It doesn't beg or pester you, it doesn't flap about or swim into your lines. After dark it tucked its head under a wing and nodded off, drifting in the slack water near the bank. If only all swans were like that.

Not as evil as it looks!

Out of the blue about quarter past six the pellet rod woke up. A proper barbel bite. A small one was soon returned. Rebait, rebag, recast. I was sorting something out when a few minutes later the rod came alive again. Another reel spinner. This time it soon felt chubby. Sure enough that was what it was. Its white gob was rather large though. In the net it rolled on its side showing, unusually for me, a fat belly. Then it went berserk thrashing the water to a foam. When it calmed down I got the scales ready and lifted it ashore. No fives all season then two in a week. When I get a long chub, it's thin, when I get a fat one it's short. Where are the long fat chub?

Where have they been all season?

I've put a bit of time in on this length fishing with chub gear, in chub conditions, then I land one on barbel gear when the river's right for barbel over a pound heavier than the best I'd managed on maggots or flake. It makes no sense. But that's fishing. When you think you are doing it right, you're not!

Bait back out and time for a rest. One or two rattles and pulls to the boilie rod came to nought. It got rebaited and repositioned. After a while I noticed it pull down and spring back repeatedly I expected another chub, but this was pulling back. Not a massive barbel, but bigger than the first one by about four pounds. Three fish in three quarters of an hour. It might be a good session.

An hour or so later I decided to put my bite alarms on. The bedchair was rather comfy and I might nod off. Just as I was fiddling with my sounder box I heard two short bleeps from the pellet rod. I looked round to see the tip pulled purposefully over. I lifted into another barbel. One that tried plodding a bit and had me thinking it might have been a bit bigger than it's seven pounds. Well, it's a while since I hooked a decent barbel...

By now I had the river to myself - and the swan. Shortly after eight some fine mizzle arrived. Not enough to wet anything. It turned into drizzle. I put up the recently repaired (maybe) brolly and lay back. The air temperature had only dropped a couple of degrees from the 9c it had been when I arrived. I could easily have spent the night there. Just having my feet up makes watching motionless rods relaxing and enjoyable.

The chub rattles dried up. The precipitation moved off as the cloud cover broke up. I couldn't see much else happening. As I packed up the swan moved off too. Not a bad session for an opportunist one. If the weather stays favourable and I can get my work boxed off quickly I might succumb to the madness and fish my head off for the last week (or more) of the season.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Back to blank

There's a frenzy that develops in river anglers at this time of year. Time is running out, yet the weather's improving. Just three weeks left for the chance of a few more barbel. With work set to get in my way from Monday I thought I'd snatch one more session while I had the chance. Even though the barbel hadn't been playing all week the river was still going to be warm enough. They had to be feeding!

A warm, dry, Sunday afternoon this close to the end of the season and only one other angler on the bank. The rest of them were either filling their boots somewhere else or had had enough of blanking. The Lion's Den swims were empty, the opposite bank I was on was also devoid of anglers. I started off fishing a cage feeder with flake for bait below the Rat Hole in a swim which will now be known as the Skeleton Swim after the remains of what I took to be a moorhen that were hanging in low willow branch - at head height when I was sat on my low chair. I assume it was a moorhen from the few remaining feathers clinging to the white bones. The head and neck were missing. So were the chub. Not a sniff.

After an hour I deposited my gear in the Rat Hole. It was nice and sheltered here, the wind being quite strong and with a touch too much of the north in it for me. I'd left my amazing collapsing brolly at home as the forecast was for a dry afternoon and evening. Had I taken it I might have fished a streamy glide with a good depth close in that looked like it might offer some tempting cover to the fish in the clear water conditions. Shelter seemed a better choice. Unfortunately when I looked across the river there was a roving chub angler fishing almost opposite the Rat Hole. Not to worry, I liked the look of a narrow gap in the willows just upstream.

I fancied this spot for a chub with the cover of overhanging branches either side of the gap. I fancied it for a barbel too, but didn't fancy trying to extract a hard fighting fish from it's confines. After ten minutes on my knees I went back to get my chair! Sitting behind the cover of the hawthorns with the quiver tip poking out over the river I was well sheltered. The long tailed tits ignored me as they worked up and down the bushes. The way the move along in a flock, swinging from the branches as they search for insects, their tiny bodies and long tails put me in mind of a troupe of minuscule monkeys. A large flock of fieldfares flew up river, a few redwings mixed in with them. Something caught my eye, a small bird moving in the branches to my left obscured by the dead stems of some plant or other. I thought it was a wren at first, but when it revealed itself I saw the bright yellow cap of a goldcrest. A biteless hour was long enough, it was getting towards time to put the barbel rods out.

With the popular swims on both banks empty I had the freedom to set up where I liked. The tackle was moved in, rigs checked and a monster crab and mussel Tuff1 cast to mid river and a crab Pellet-O down the inside line. I was hoping the wind would drop after dark as this stretch was taking its full force. Popping behind the bankside bushes it was an overcoat warmer. The wind chill was considerable. The light went. The chub angler headed home. The wind did drop. I gave it an hour and a half then leapfrogged the rods down a few yards.

Given an open bank and snag free water I have that pike anglers urge to spread my rods out! The butts I managed to keep within reach, but the baits were spaced a good twenty yards apart. I can't see any point in fishing two baits in the same spot when you don't have to. Those who say that having two lines in the water might spook barbel can never have considered putting the lines well apart. It's rare that I fish two baits to the same line, only when fishing a channel or similar feature, and then they will be spread as far apart as I safely can. When fishing a swim like the one I was in where fish could be anywhere from the near bank to the other side the baits might as well cover as much water as possible.

My strategy came to nought. By nine thirty I was starting to nod a bit. I'd fished four days out of the last six. No barbel but the batteries had been recharged. If conditions stay steady until I have got work out of the way this week I have a plan of some high degree of cunning that might put a barbel on the bank for me.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chub by accident

The fly that was on the horizon last week never landed in the ointment. It's due next Monday now. I had a chance to sneak away for a longer session on Thursday. It wouldn't matter what time I arrived at the river as I could stop late and fish again on Friday. The day was warm again, cloudy but bright. No surprise to see the car park full. It turned out that only two of the cars belonged to anglers so there was no fighting for swims, especially as the other two anglers turned out to be roving for chub. Lacking a plan I walked downstream, spotting a couple of nice looking spots I hadn't noticed before. Ideal places for a stealthily lowered barbel bait. Nonetheless I headed back up the 'alley' to while away the hours of daylight in a comfy swim before a move or two after dark. If anything the river was clearer than it had been on Tuesday, and a little lower. Despite the water temperature having risen to over 7c it would be darkness when the barbel would come out to play.

I sat listening to the test match unfold with one crab Pellet-O cast downstream towards an overhanging willow, and a couple of S-Pellets cast about a third of the way across, slightly upstream to a bit of a crease.

One of the chub anglers stopped for a chat. He'd had three but it had been hard work. It was his first session on the stretch so I told him of a couple of swims I'd taken chub from. On his return, chubless, from the swims we talked further about the size of the chub the river was producing and I bemoaned the fact that I'd not managed a five pounder this season. Usually a few chub of that size succumb to my barbel baits. Thinking about it further I haven't been using boilies as much as in previous years, concentrating on the Sonu pellets as barbel so seem to approve of them. Perhaps that's the reason why.

Darkness fell and I thought I'd leave it until the tea break in the test match before making a move. The church clock chimed five, six, seven, zzzzzzzzzzzz. The rod fishing to mid-river was away. I pulled into something. Then it was gone. At first I feared an inexplicable line failure or cut-off, but no. The rig was intact, the hook point sharp and unmasked. Just one of those things. Another hour in the swim was called for.

I started to tidy my gear for the move when it started spitting with rain. Out with the brolly. I could have sworn I'd replaced the collapsing brolly with a different one. But I hadn't. A battle ensued as I struggled to assemble the damned thing. The rain eased off almost as soon as I got the pole in the ground and myself under cover. On with the waterproofs. Half an hour later I had everything ready for the move bar the brolly and the rods. The rain came back. I sat on my rucksack under cover and let it pass.

In the new swim I rebaited and positioned my baits in the same way to the previous swim as the features were not dissimilar. While moving swims I missed two West Indian wickets. Two more and England would win. But time was running out. The sky cleared, the West Indians dug in, my eyelids drooped. I was disturbed from my reverie by a screaming baitrunner. The downstream rod was hooped right over. At last! Hang on. This ain't no barbel. Sure enough a long chubby-looking thing appeared in the Petzl beam. Once netted it went berserk. I left it there while I sorted the scales and sling. It proved to be a late entry on the five pounder list. It's just typical that when I target chub I catch middling sized one, when I don't they turn out bigger.

An anorexic chub

Perhaps that earlier missed take was another supercharged chub bite? It's an explanation I'm happy with. While all this was going on a wicket fell. Close of play, one way or another, wouldn't be far away. That would be my cue to wind the rods in and head for a secluded place by a river to spend the night. England's hopes faded with the light, so I was tucked up in bed by eleven.

The luxurious accommodation of Hotel Astra

The alarm was set for six thirty. I awoke early to hear a blackbird singing it's head off before there was much of a hint of daylight. Where to fish? Not too far from the car! It seemed like a good idea to put the rods out and have something to eat and set me up for the day. You can't beat a bacon butty and a mug of tea on the bank.

Food of the Gods

The swim looked good. Some slacker water with a bit of depth. A touch of colour and a decent temperature was encouraging. Nothing happened. The sun came out. Nothing happened. Back to the car, stick a rod out on an alarm on the off chance while filling the flask and drying off the brolly, which the forecast said wouldn't be required, so it could be left in the car. Three buzzards soared overhead. I could have been miles from anywhere.

I wasn't feeling brave enough to enter the Lion's Den. The rat Hole would do me - even though it has been far from kind to me. I inspected Son of Rat Hole, a swim that has been recently opened up below the Rat Hole. It lacked depth. Depth might mean a chance of a bite in daylight. Besides, the Rat Hole was sheltered from the wind and it's offspring wasn't...

An other angler arrived and revealed that he didn't think there'd been a barbel out all week. Maybe two on Monday but he wasn't sure. Yet conditions were good following the prolonged cold spell. I chose to fish one rod on the edge of a crease during daylight, then put a second rod out closer in after dark. Even out of the wind the day was cooler than Thursday. The river wasn't much different though. I wasn't dispirited.

A couple of fieldfares flew into the hawthorns as it got near to dusk. They made a noise, looked agitated and flew off. A small brown bird flitted from the bushes to the base of a willow. A flash of cream suggested to me it might be a treecreeper. When it came round to my side of the trunk it was, indeed, a treecreeper. A nice spot for the day. As the light level dropped further so birds became silhouettes a skinny looking moorhen alighted on a branch trailing in the water. An odd looking moorhen with an exceedingly long beak. It was a water rail. A secretive and nervous bird. I've seen them before elsewhere, but not for a long time. Another nice spot.

By the time it was dark enough for the isotopes to glow bright rain arrived. Great... Zip up the rucksack fold over the bait bag and don the waterproofs. Not cold rain and far from heavy. Not really heavy enough to wet me through. It still put a dampener on my spirits though. If I'm not enjoying being there, I go home. At eight that's just what I did.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A grand day out

Well, I bought my maggots on Saturday, but by the time I'd got home after idling in the tackle shop, and learned how to use my new toy (of which more at a later date) it had started drizzling. The prospect of catching a few chub didn't appeal all that much so I postponed my next session until Sunday, which dawned less warm than I'd hoped and rather breezy. Monday was taken up foraging for a new washing machine - the smoke that had billowed from the old one suggesting it had finally spun it's last. Tuesday I'd be on the bank at dawn. That plan lasted until I remembered I had a phone call to make...

With the air temperature having made it into double figures for the first time in ages seeing three other anglers sorting their gear out in the car park when I arrived was no great surprise. Spying a rod rest that had been left behind I let the other anglers move off before pouncing. It's always a good omen to find some tackle at the start of a session!

Not being sure what conditions I'd be faced with after my long drive I packed two barbel rods, my tip rod and a float rod. The usual pellets were accompanied by lobs, dendrobenas, cheese paste, maggots and liquidised bread. I was rather loaded up as I braved Dog Turd Alley. I managed to avoid the turds but was pursued by spaniels at one point. This time I walked on past the alley itself to a spot where the river deepens below a riffly stretch and a crease cuts across from the bank I was on to the opposite side of the river. A bush in the water upstream to my left and one overhanging to my right gives plenty of room to spread the baits out.

An 8mm crab Pellet-O went upstream with a small bag of pellets, while downstream I cast a maggot feeder with a lobworm on the hook. Although the river looked to be a foot or so up it was fairly clear, but with a greenish tinge suggesting snow melt and it was dropping. However the thermometer read an encouraging 6.1c.

Settling into the swim I decided to bag up some pellets and while rummaging in my bait bag for the pellet tub and stocking-filler I thought I saw the quiver rod bounce. Maybe I'd knocked it. With the pellet tub between my knees idly bagging away the rod bounced again. Definitely a fish. It did it a third time and I struck, flinging some half-bagged pellets and the filler to the ground, and connected with something that was pulling back, trying to make it to the downstream bush.

My first thought was a barbel, then I remembered the light rod I was using and changed my mind to chub. Which was what the slate grey fin that emerged confirmed. I'd chosen to fish a lob worm partly to tempt a chub but also to see if there are any perch in the stretch. Half an hour and a fish on the bank. A chub would do. Not a bad start.

Still no 'five' this season

Although plump enough it was in a bit of a state. As the photo (not too clearly) shows some of its scales seemed to be covered in a thick brown mucus, but on trying to scrape it off it proved not to be slime but something beneath the scales that was raising their texture.

On recasting I began to get non-stop tiny tremors on the quiver. Some would almost look like decent bites, most would not. I thought minnows might be the cause, but when I examined the worm after a while it had been bitten half way through at the tail. Minnows with minuscule knives?

I switched the lobworm to two dendrobenas, thinking a smaller bait might encourage whatever was down there to take a proper hold. The vibrations of the tip continued until I struck at one and found the smallest minnow I think I have ever seen impaled on the hook. The dendrobenas were mere tubes of worm skin. This time I rebaited with a single, but larger, dendrobena.

I'd just wished an attractive dog walker on the far bank a good afternoon when the quiver sprang purposefully into life. The strike met sold resistance. Then something leapt from the water. I'd hooked a spotty creature. A rather thin, and out of season, brown trout.

Spotty Muldoon

The worms didn't produce anything more, but were still getting pecked at. I crammed four or five red maggots on the size eight and gave that a try. As soon as the rig settled the tip came alive. I struck into something that pulled for a second then fell off. In an attempt to see if they really were ravenous minnows I swapped the size eight for a fourteen with two red maggots. It didn't take long for a plump minnow to be swung to hand.

Greedy guts

Although it was frustrating knowing there was probably a shoal of the greedy litte beggars mopping up my maggots, sucking at my hookbaits, and driving me mad with their tip twitching antics I stuck at it missing most bites, hooking a few more minnows. On the point of giving up the maggot fishing I remembered how I had put up with this in the past for one or two of the bites to turn into grayling. I carried on enduring the tap-tap-tap of the Chinese Minnow Torture.

It struck me that there might be some better fish hanging back downstream of the minnow shoal concentrated on where the feeder was landing, picking off what maggots the minnows missed. The next cast went a bit closer to the overhanging bush. The tip was still when the rig settled. Then it registered a proper bite and I was playing something more substantial. At first I thought it was another chub, until it started jagging when I considered a perch. The flash of silver finally said grayling. One that would obviously require the scales. Not a specimen in most people's books, but when you haven't caught many grayling, and none that were worth weighing let alone setting up a tripod for, it was a nice fish.

The first self-take of the year

It didn't take long for the minnow hordes to discover the feeder was landing somewhere else and I was soon back to the constantly trembling fibreglass. I got a friendly wave from another lady dog walker. Again on the far bank. The tip kept trembling. Some noisy fieldfares flew overhead, quite high. The river was warming. The tip rod started bouncing. Another grayling, smaller by about a pound, was unhooked and returned.

All the pellet rod had caught was a long length of heavy mono that was easy to remove from the river. It was lightly caught up in the upstream bush's branches and hardly attached to anything downstream. It must have been lying on the river bed the full run of the swim - some twenty yards or more. I can't understand why the angler who lost the line lost so much of it.

What to do after dark? With the constant feeding of maggots I decided to try fishing a couple of plastic casters over them on one of my barbel outfits for an hour. This failed. The pellet rod was also immobile. The evening was warm. By the time I settled into another swim downstream, the swim I caught my last barbel from, I was wishing I could have stopped the night. This new swim was, like the banks themselves, much drier and firmer than last time out. So I set up on the 'plateau' by the water's edge. Tucked down the bank there it was nice and cosy. If I'd had a bedchair I'd soon have nodded off.

All afternoon I'd been listening to England's good progress in the hastily arranged third test from Antigua. I'd give it until the close of the West Indies innings or close of play, whichever came first. Pleasant as it was sitting by the river my confidence had ebbed away. When the last wicket fell just before nine I called it a day. It had been enjoyable. Although the minnows were frustrating it was almost like being a kid again. Sometimes getting bites and landing anything is all you need to satisfy the soul. Even a small, and unexpected, PB can do the same for you.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Back on the bank

I'll make no excuses. The cold weather over the last two weeks has kept me indoors. I don't mind it being cold, but there are limits. This morning there was no frost and with the sun rising earlier these days my seasonal affective disorder was forgotten. I was working before nine! By half twelve I'd made some traces, packed a couple of orders, slapped some varnish on three rod repairs, taken some money off a customer, eaten an early lunch and was visiting the Post Office, picking up a loaf and filling the car's petrol tank! Back home half the loaf was liquidised, mixed with some Hemp and Hali Crush and doused in corn steep liquor. Shortly after one I was on the road hoping to have the baits in the water before the first ball was bowled in the second test match.

I could see a few remaining traces of snow on the fells so expected the river to be rather chilly. Good job I was planning to catch chub. Seeing one car in the car park I chose to go have a look see who was fishing and find out what they had caught. If anything. True to form it was one of the regulars, and he was in the process of netting a nice chub as I walked down the bank. It was his first bite since eleven o'clock!

Part of the cycle of life

The river was as low as it gets, or very nearly so, and like tap water. I went back to the car and got my gear, setting up about fifty yards down stream of the other angler. A single 8mm crab Pellet-O went downstream with a small bag of mixed pellets, while a cage feeder was cast upstream with a piece of flake on the hook. By now play would be well under way in the Caribbean. The covers were just coming off when I turned the radio on. Shortly afterwards play was abandoned because the bowlers' run ups were dangerous. So much for my ideal way of spending my time - fishing while listening to a test match.

Lovely grub

The air was quite still, the river's surface almost glassy. The drumming of a woodpecker on the far bank was echoing down the quiet valley. The sky was blue with white clouds. The water was a rather cool 2.6c. It would be chub or nothing.

Going up

The thermometer began to show a steady rise in the water's temperature. Not rapid, but the trend was encouraging. While I had been recasting the feeder on a regular basis the pellet was staying put. After a couple of hours the tip of the pellet rod nudged down two or three times. Not much, just enough to get me hovering to strike. Then it stopped. I considered winding the rig in for a recast but decided against it. A good job too. A few minutes later the tip started to do its jaggy chub dance.

It wasn't a big fish, about a couple and a half pounds, but it tried its best to put up a fight. In the wintry light it looked as if it had been fitted with a coat of freshly minted scales. As I was unhooking it I found a length of thinner nylon wrapped around my rig. This turned out to be attached to a hook in the chub's throat, which I was able to remove easily with my long disgorger. On closer examination the hook had a maggot skin still attached, and the hooklink appeared to be one of mine. I can't remember being broken by a fish when fishing maggots (except when fishing a much lighter hooklink and smaller hook) and consulting my diary failed to enlighten me. Maybe it was from a rig I had lost in a snag? Whatever the case the fish was better off now.

It was around six, with the light starting to fail and the isotopes to glow, that I started to get bites to the flake rod. Although some were good slack liners I didn't connect with any of them. Typical. I fish a method dedicated to snaring a chub and the 'sleeper' pellet rod is the one that does the job... Not having taken any food with me hunger was kicking in by six thirty. Time to head for the chippy.

With time running out for the river fishing I'm already planning my springtime tench and bream fishing. Snapping up a new bedchair the other day has seen to that. Not that I needed one, but it was a secondhand bargain - and it is more comfortable than the one I've been using for the last four seasons. But before it gets put to good use I'll be back on the rivers. Especially as it's supposed to be warming up through the next week and the barbel might switch on. The only fly on the horizon (to coin a phrase!) is the impending arrival of a load of rod blanks on Monday that need turning into rods for eager customers. Tomorrow, however, while the river is still low and clear I might be back chubbing - with some maggots.