Sunday, 16 October 2016

A Soggy Situation

The Prologue.

In the F, F & F post "The Ring around the Bullseye" somebody claimed the biggest of canal roach to be 'loners'.

Whoever that was clearly didn't give the statement due consideration and must've drifted into blogging autopilot.

It can't be confirmed as a fact without aqua-vision and as such must surely be complete speculation but what ejit would write such drivel?!

What I intended but didn't put across accurately was subtley, and yet at the same time fundamentally, different to the message that Jeff Hatt, that currently idle angling idler, picked-up and ran with. The key word I actually wrote was that really big canal roach, and by this I mean those of 1lb 10ozs or more, are "...loners".

Mr Hatt took that, quite rightly, as meaning they lived alone but, equally rightly, pointed-out that roach always live in shoals and that he had himself observed small groups of truly big canal roach loosely accompanied by a few of around a pound. In my case however, with the canals I fish being murky and therefore visually impenetrable, there is no such experience to fall back on but I believe he is right and that it is unlikely that those fish will be loners in that sense. Certainly when on those rare occasions that fish fitting the category above have graced my life I have, every time, harboured a feeling that there may just be one or two more to be caught immediately thereafter.

So what did the word 'loner' mean if not that?

What I meant, but lazily failed to convey, was that they have all been loners when caught. There would be no others following them into the net. Thus the prospect of catching another appeared to be nil. That is not to say they weren't shoal fish but somehow the likelihood of catching more than one at that size was negligible probably because they would have been irretrievably spooked by their lifelong school mate's frantically sudden disappearance.

If The Boy Wonder manages to perfect his aquatic filming we might get some proof. At present it's tantalisingly close but not quite there.


Friday evening.

Having just nipped-out for the obligatory beef curries there is a shroud of autumnal sharpness shrinking over the country side. Not cold enough for frost, damp enough for fog, or sufficiently overcast for rain but, quite distinctly, autumnal.

The weather in the morning should be cloudy with the prospect of rain from 9-ish for maybe a couple of hours but with the wind turning to south-east from easterly.

This forecast confirms that the stretch of GUC I visited for the first time and took the first prize roach of the campaign from will be in ideal condition as the last two weeks before the clocks change run down.




Mild. Overcast. Still.

Up the Junction?
'Peaked early and sat ready to pierce the surface at first light and in this peg one needed to be.

A canal junction. Once it came alive it would be mayhem.

The fish knew this too.

The first half hour was more frantic than usual though, as the fish, apart from one individual prime roach (not a loner, two others primed as tackle was set-up), made desperate efforts to get caught before the tell-tale tug of the water drawn to left or right commenced.

Firstly bronze bream to 1.14 and then hybrids up to 2 pounds 6 ounces (they sure do fight!) slipped over the rim and gave up.

Somewhere in that lot is a roach of 1.4.6, taken second fish of the day
After the two biggest hybrids the action came to an abrupt halt. I fed again but then that dreaded tow started and the arrival of the first narrow boat was signalled.

What a picturesque spot this had been though. Surveyed by typical canal architecture the junction with its weeping willow and neatly trimmed verges was certainly a joy to be part of.

The Kingfisher peeped, mallards scrapped and swans hissed in search of fragments of my bread. All was normal on the cut.

Passing that rarest of canal inhabitants, an angler, as I wandered back with rain cloud confusing the horizon, I was regaled with enthusiastic tales of carp. So that's another target for the future that HonGenSec might just find appealing.



Rain forecast from 7 or 8am

It was a rush to get there and set up before it started. The cloud was thick in the direction of travel but with the orange glow of impending sun still evident to the north. I stuck with the plan to head east and as I got out of the car it started spitting.

I tried to find a suitable swim but so many moored boats sent me back to the car and onto Plan B, a plan that didn't exist until that moment.

Arriving at my peg in the cutting it was so dark as to be a literal headache to see the float and with water clarity probably a touch too deep I did wonder whether a soaking was worth it.

It was also likely that there would be no chance to move swims once camp was built.

Mash was introduced and the rain drops grew larger; enhanced and supplemented by huge drops from the over-arching tree cover. A few leaves adorned the shimmering berippled surface but by 9.30, when the downpour had peaked, autumn was confirmed as suddenly, their leaf nodes strained beyond holding by the weight of water, the branches lost grip of their life-giving attachments and began to recoil into winter.

It took a few minutes but slowly bites started and ultimately, in no rush, 5 bream, as peas in a pod, made a nice net of precisely 10lbs to the ounce.

By now the rain was so heavy as to preclude the walk back so I amused myself talking to passing dogs. Quite a collection today. Cockers & Springers, a giant Jack Russell (more of a Jonathan Russell really), mutts, mongrels and Co., but thankfully only Ollie showed any interest in the bait and by then it mattered not.


(All Grand Union Canal)

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Dream Time?

When James Brindley was commissioned to build the first great canals of England, including our local Oxford Canal, little forethought could he have had for the service he would be providing for this hard-pressed early twenty-first century population.

I was chatting to The Dog recently on an occasional return to the nest from his own pioneering bio-geographing and he was contemplating taking-up an individual sport. "You're too talented not to play cricket", I said, "Your trouble is you're too much like me, you don't like people".
"Your not far off the mark there", he replied.

Of course that was as big a sweeping statement as one could imagine. There are of course many people we like but it is certainly true that that particular attitude that people adopt in groups is a turn off for many of us.

Along the canals I see many many loners. I see people simply seeking to get away. People who need space. They may be boaters, walkers, runners, cyclists, dog owners, heaven forbid even the occasional angler(!), but they all seek one thing, and very little of it involves the transportation of coal.

As an angler it is so massively irritating to get an early boat especially at this immediately pre-GMT time of year when private early morning space is so short, but, you can see that same 'lost in the escapism of it all' look in most boaters eyes at that time of day, and one can't begrudge them long as they slow down!

Yes Brindley and his cohorts delivered escape to a reasonable swathe of a wide community. Where else can you go where everyone says good morning as they pass?

To the present day user that escape is as important as the original civil engineering feat itself in its own way.


So yesterday, following a reliable tip-off, the cross-hairs scanned for roach of a similar flavour to last week's, i.e. very tasty, if not tastier. 

The hints of the hedgerow suggested it was time.

But those that fondle the rudder needed a rudely early fix and within 20 minutes of dawn two such deviants had passed leaving us with nothing but silt soup to behold

The Boy Wonder however had other plans anyway. Underwater filming was on the cards. While I struggled for next to nothing on the fish front he digitally captured roach and perch. More importantly though he confirmed something that has troubled myself, and indeed the hopefully temporarily retired Blogfather himself, Jeff Hatt. What actually happens to bread mash when a boat goes through or when locks open nearby? The answer is quite enlightening and goes to explain why it is so difficult to re-focus fish in a swim after such an event. All of the fluffy mash gets washed away...completely, not just a few inches...and spread far and wide. All that is left are the little harder less buoyant fragments of crust that are contained by the undulations of the bottom (at the risk of sounding like Miranda Hart)

So a decision was made there and then. In future when a boat passes or a lock opens I will move at least 50 yards and start again

I just knew TBW would come in useful one day. All-but 15 years it took.


This morning therefore two bridges were on the mind as I trekked through the country lanes, misty and shrouded in the cloak of night but I ended-up at neither when I found another to be more devoid of boaters' cars than usual and found space to wiggle the little roach bus into.

Weighted down and ready I peered over the parapet to see decent fish topping in an area past a moored boat and there I headed.

Now this was not to be a lengthy sit down. The sky was clear and there was no cover so it would be a case of whatever we could muster before the sun froze the fish.

This turned out to be very little. Combined with the hopeful, if weak, calls of two pairs of bullfinches, the fish were frantically feeding, and so were the crays, but after a roachXbream hybrid of around nine ounces and two bream, largest 1.12 - sudden death. Notably no roach.

The opposite side of the bridge was tree-lined and so, without any hesitation and as yet no water movement, a new swim was prepped with mash and in went the cane-tipped float. Again action was furious, but short-lived with no cloud cover. Three bream to 1.15 and two roach around ten ounces each plus a couple lost and missed in an hour was capped on the day by a fleeting willow tit moving right to left through the far bank thorns, its distinctive call preceding a decent view.

Things were now getting tricky but 60 yards to my right I was able to find yet more cover that would see me out for today, or so I thought.

From that, assumed last, swim three more bream to 1.13 fell quickly to the flake offerings leaving a total catch of 12lbs 3ozs at that moment in time. Another entertaining early morning's action on this ever more bream-dominated canal, the Grand Union.


I fancied a wander.

Those at home had other plans and there was time to spare with the sun being prominent as it was.

Two flights of locks were investigated for likely pounds and likely they were, punctuated as the walk was by a 'chissick-ing' group of grey wagtails and hedges festooned with autumnal fruits.

Sussing that one solitary boat had quite a number of locks to grapple with and rise up through, and with nothing coming down, the kit came out again and, in twenty available minutes, another hybrid and a seventh bream took the overall catch over fourteen pounds but again no roach.

The lack of roach does not trouble me nor will it put off another visit as an overcast day might just produce something more interesting at some point but, for now, I shall concentrate on other areas as the search for the holy grail progresses

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Ring around the Bullseye

Why it needed the second set of scales I've no idea. As always they both proved each other to be faithful. There should never have been a doubt.

It is essential to be certain in those breathtaking, almost heart-stopping, moments in life. No times to be taking risks, or being rushed, or in any way glib these.

There had been no sign of life being present until that tell-tale stick of cane stood up as sudden as an adjacent thunder clap...and stayed there. That is always a sign of confidence, and confident it was.

Confident, powerful and unrelenting.

Conditions were perfect for the situation. Overcast, a drift in the air but the water flat calm, mild and with water visibility around ten inches. The 'peeu, peeu' of a flock of winter-visiting siskins fleetingly filled the air above the trees and the Grand Union was in fine fettle for whittling out the odd roach.

Odd it was.

Odd in being alone. Odd in its fighting spirit. Odd in the singularity of the bite.

Above all though odd in its size.

Roach of, what this regular colder weather campaign targets as the true quarry, upwards of one pound four ounces, trying to determine the ceiling, are so difficult to track down. Each stretch requires searching until areas are identified and that can be revisited irregularly through to March. At least three weeks between trips and the pressure doesn't tell on them.

To find fish over that size is another matter and in the experience of these tales of F,F&F it has become clear that:
A/. The fish are often loners (at that size);
B/. The fish are always first to be caught of a morning;
C/. They always feed before the sun breaks over any shade, and,
D/. They're fighters!

So this one was no different, ticking all those boxes and more

Once in the net the enormity of the accomplishment is consuming. Shaking hands, beating heart (naturally!), shortness of breath and, frankly, a mild sense of panic. The question of whether to continue or simply flee to the humble abode, knowing, just knowing.

No other fish can cause such symptoms in this particular angler. The past year or two have produced fish of other species that should have, but somehow it just isn't there.

So how does one make them appear their true size in photographs?

Like this?
Or like this?
The latter I suspect.

And what did he weigh one might ask? One pound, fifteen ounces, five drams. 

A truly magnificent fish from any water and Grand Union p.b. to boot, this very morning. 

What is it about big roach?

Monday, 3 October 2016

Losses and Gains; Swings and Roundabouts; Snakes and Ladders and The Like

Dank dawn
As the hook pulled-out for the third successive time it was time to question all in life.

The scapegoat was the hook. Ripped from involvement and cast aside. Replaced by a smaller, bright, young, more attractive model. 'Twas ever thus.

No further losses. Youth is the future.

A steady, regular, intermittent fluting cut the dawn air. Out of sight but consuming the mind.

Curlew pitch it was, but no upturn toward the end. The likely comparison call note was golden plover. Anything is possible here within a stone's throw of Draycote Water and a dried pea throw of an extensive escarpment running south-east.

A move, and into the target straightaway. Three roach in as long as it had earlier taken to have a wash and, in clearing water, these beauties were approaching their winter peak. Thickening of gut, sparkling of scale and fighting fit. Not the usual washed-out complexion from this oft deeply murky canal.

1, 2, 3 or, more precisely, 1.1.14, 1.3.6 & 1.3.0. Yet the last one is the only one that looks big. The angle of the shot is all.
Visibility had increased from nine inches depth to around eighteen since last Sunday. Three days. Much more clarity and things could become rather too challenging.

The shoal found, the boats increased and the end was upon us.

No sooner had the beginning drawn it's draughty early morning breath than it was wheezing the end through funnels and smoke as a steam narrowboat forced it's industrial scale prop past with deep thumping kinetic drive.

That earlier sound stiffened the ears again but this time multiple calls and, overhead, five plover hung on the breeze contemplating decent. So it certainly wasn't a curlew then. They drifted north and out of sight over the high hedge that had protected all that mattered from the early wind.

Returning yesterday to trial underwater filming in cahoots with The Boy Wonder we found aquatic visibility still at around 18" at first light. The sun would rise promptly without any cloud cover to assist in the attempt but limit fish feeding.

Two roach gave themselves away to the baked sensation. The first just eight ounces; the next established it's position twice in also being runner-up to date in the current big roach campaign list

I cannot recall a more perfect canal specimen than this. 1.4.10
The filming needs work but the principle is firmly established. Switching the camera ON before filming for an hour will make results improve, we fear.

Big Canal Roach Campaign current list:

The above takes us back to the first year of this obsession when the fish averaged around 1lb 2ozs on the North Oxford Canal until, during some kind of death wish session, 3 handfuls of mash were introduced at the off. After that change to increased feed fish over 1.8.0 became regular.

Recently, perhaps the equivalent of half that volume has been used so there's an area that might improve things. There must be a limit though and over forthcoming visits we'll find out.

Yesterday evening, an hour before and after sunset picking-up on the long-established River Leam 4lb chub hunt, and 20 minutes into dark this:
High on the Leam list at this weight and with the fight to test the tackle to its limit but the clutch was set just perfect for the bang-crash-wallop event in a swim just 2.5m wide, and full of potential banana skins, and within seconds he was banked and not best pleased about it.

Three pounders are not that common on this small river and it makes a nice start to go with the 2.12 fish of a fortnight ago.

Having ditched the membership I had last season in favour of stretches further downstream the clear difference in weight is immediately confirmed. If there is indeed a four pounder out there this is surely where it will come from and the 3.13 fish taken had three years ago will be that big by now - if dear old Lutra lutra hasn't had nabbed it yet

Parting thought...
It's tough being a spaniel

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Bewilderment and Delight.

Blackberrying swans
Poised waiting for a blaze of colour to lift through the ripple following the first wave of flashing silver, thoughts turned to the ingenuity, and downright usefulness, of the tools at hand.

Not having in the slightest a mechanically-inclined mind, I wonder at the complexity and longevity of our angling fathers' inventiveness.

Surrounded by evidence of it, it falls under analysis.

The engineering skill of the balance, power and, 'tween times, rigidity of the rod itself is something all angler's appreciate and covet to suit their needs but the smaller points, the stand off rings for instance, to keep the line off a wet blank, holding it parallel and in perfect unison with its curve. I could never have thought of that.

The float I understand. It is quite easily possible to understand how, over time, by tweak of twig and finesse of feather, they appeared and evolved into today's myriad options. Historically what made the tackle shop akin to a sweet shop of course. No more however.

Even the very simplest of ideas, the slot cut into individual lead gun shot for attachment to line, or gut as it may have been then, is quite beyond my own perception as a concept.

Of course the ubiquitous 3/8" thread and it's perfectly matching socket, so widely used and recognised as standard by default, is in itself pure genius. Simple but effective, as they say.

For me though, the peak of the mesmerising array of imagination beyond my most bizarre of dreams is the reel, and while the fixed-spool reel, and perhaps indeed the closed-face version, represent the most advanced and intricately engineered equipment available to us, if aesthetics and elegance are factors in that pageant, then surely the centre-pin epitomises the ultimate in inventive beauty.

Where would we be without such advancements? Propelling the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune blindly into the murky depths and starved of release from it all no doubt.

How lucky we are.

Anyway, enough of this fanciful tripe...

Canal and small river roach have been calling this week.

The Leam, from which four over a pound have been enticed these past 4 years (is that all?) played it's usual clear river game and offered up nothing bigger than seven ounces or so.

Rain required.

The Grand Union however, while being awash with bream at times, almost to the exclusion of all else it regularly seems, bore spangled fruit in the shape of four roach that hit the 1lb+ target, topped by a beauty of 1lb 7ozs 6drms.

This, the second largest so far from this increasingly potent canal, was taken, as is the way of things, early morning, on a large chunk of flake having plundered a nearby swim at dawn for 8lbs of thickly mucus-basted bronzes.

I confess to allowing myself just a brief, though admittedly slightly guilty - being alone - beaming smile of delight.

This very Sunday morning a slightly better overall catch of 13lbs overall, including a bream of precisely 3lbs, included a jewel of 1.4.2 first cast.

Thankfully the big roach nearly always come to the bait first while the bream hang-off, pondering the prospect. After that though I do fear they get bullied-out.

The Big Canal Roach list (all GUC) thus far, after two weeks, looks very much like this:

The game is afoot with a vengeance. Roll-on the next break in play.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Every Loaf has a Silver-lining

The feeling of being cocooned in a hot chammy leather is as conducive to good fishing as snow melt. The two extremes of pointless angling activity.

Thankfully the tench campaign ended in July, having eventually traversed the boredom threshold in the same swim with the same birds, and reaching the point at which the resident bank vole acquired a name..."Vikram". Time to move-on.

A target of ten fish from the most reluctant of stillwaters was set and slowly but surely over the month from the first bites on June 16th, via sightings of dog otter, small and large skippers, greenshank and hobbies the list grew. Only on two occasions did more than one of these beautiful fish lay on the well-worn bank, being the occasions of the first and last landings. Three on the first day, two on the last. The latter causing brief mental turmoil as it took the total to eleven. To fish on until 20? No,  boredom cannot be extended that long. Eleven would do fine.

So what next?

HonGenSec had been pushing for an answer but nothing had gripped the psyche. A new peg is all-but ready elsewhere on the Stillwater for a late summer/autumn bream campaign.

It's a funny time of year, late summer. Personally, without doubt, the least engaging fishing period.

But school holidays have now been and gone and the prospect of a canal campaign presented itself, but, being that hinting at autumnal time, an early start isn't so early as to encourage a couple more minutes sleep.

Small rivers appeal too but not high reaches as would remain akin to a bottle brush in a gutter, with reeds and rushes bank to bank. No, somewhere a touch less narrow with steady depth - that would do nicely.

So we've settled on the Upper Avon and 'middle' Leam combined with Oxford and Grand Union Canals and the challenges are:

Roach over 1lb
Chub 4lbs.
Plus and other good fish that come along be they chub, dace, etc

Roach - To add to the 1lb+ list (now totalling around 100 since rejoining the throng 4 or 5 years ago) but secretly looking for fish over 1lb 8ozs.
Silver bream over 1lb.
Plus, again, anything else tempted and of good size; bronze bream, perch, chub, zander.

So, with all that set, battle commenced...

Initially, it took well into the third trip before it really became engaging and pleasurable again after the obligatory summer break but sure enough with that early chill in the air the chase, spirit and sight of that first rutilus hitting the target did the trick and suddenly there aren't enough early mornings in a day, surely there should be at least three?!

The first of many, it is to be hoped

Having squeezed much of previous years' pursuit into the short North Oxford Canal this autumn the Grand Union locally is taking the brunt. After a couple of very promising fish last winter and genuine reports of fish pushing 1lbs 8ozs what size roach can the GUC offer?

One thing is for certain. The right technique will sort them out if they're there...and so the search has begun.

Finding target fish in the rivers will be a touch more hit & miss but slowly a picture will form, just the same.

Initial Grand Union roach findings are promising. The first target fish to grace the net being half an ounce over the mesmeric pound and, this very morning, on this first day after temperatures dropped from balmy 20+ degrees C., a first bite fish of 1.4.6 took centre stage in a mixed catch with some skimmers. It was landed to the call of a scarce Northants tree pipit.

Best of the short campaign yet at 1.4.6 thanks to tip-off from a long-lost friend

A nice net for 2 1/2 hours' fishing

On Wednesday however the silver lining illuminated wide-eyes and orange/pink fins when blikka bjoerkna came to the irresistible Warburton's blue feast laid out before it, at 1.11.8 this silver bream was probably the highest %age record weight of any species caught previously, made even more incredible by its canalised habitat. The record being just 3lbs 5ozs and canal record most likely Russell Hilton's 2.4.8 fish from the last Bloggers' Challenge.

Running the many photographs taken against various physical features for certainty became ever more exciting as the truth emerged from the fish i.d. mincer

Big-eyed silver bream dwarfing a perfect roach of 1.2.5

The catching of this fish however proved costly on the bite detection front with two of my 'best' lift-bite floats wrecked in the process. Ebay is being scoured but a suitable pattern for this technique on canals ain't that easy to uncover

Close at hand are numerous feature-filled stretches of all selected waters and so the prime spots could take some narrowing-down but it's mid-September and spring does not contemplate lubricating it's coils for 4 or 5 months yet. Time will be the angler's companion, for now and HonGenSec has his answer.

****STOP PRESS****
...and last night 8 degrees C with clear skies. We're on the cusp

Thursday, 23 June 2016

An Exponential Curve

Well the time has come and with the start of the traditional coarse fishing season so too an up-swelling of blogging all round. It is important to us then after all, respecting the close season where required

Learning curves are always described as steep (unless you are an England footballer or manager in which case the curve is a straight horizontal line. 'Experts', 'pundits' like to use the word exponential in relation to this subject without any clue as to its meaning) and since returning to angling a few years ago this spring has been the steepest I've consequently known; with a ready supply of current, proven and openly shared information to hand it's showing no sign of levelling-off

It's all very well reading the continually regurgitated claptrap in contemporary glossy angling magazines but you simply cannot beat understanding the background logic associated with the necessary tackle, rigs and bait when hatching a plan to ambush the odd fish, and that I've had in spades thanks to very generous and approachable mentors this spring

For me the sharing of ideas is fundamental, without it an individual will stagnate and miss the simplest of key tricks. This can also happen within a closed clique of anglers of course but it is less likely especially if there are driven, progressive minds involved

Even as a match angler I was very open with any successful ideas within whichever group I formed a small part and expected the same from others, though it wasn't always forthcoming

The, admittedly 20-year, step between grease-suspended wire-tipped pole floats and bite alarms; the step from a single squatt to multiple rubber maggots (it's not even real bait for chrissakes!) or from a light canal pole to 4.5lbs t.c. spod rod could not have been higher and, converting the step to a curve, it would be very easy to slide back down it...were it not for the fact that small fish seem so relatively pointless at this stage of proceedings - or should I say, life?

In many respects the change from the very lightest match fishing to using old pseudo and actual carp gear for non-carp big fish hunting would have been much easier had there not been such a gap in angling interest and had the onset of age not occurred, but, what was right then was right for good reason and what is right now likewise

If anyone out there has been reading these, recently ever less frequent, musings since the beginning of FF&F time, and also has a very good, nay exceptional, memory, then that person may recall that when big canal fish, especially roach, became the thrust of the new approach around four years back, there was no certainty as to where this little sojourn might lead. Some things were cast in stone however, it would never result in pursuit of big carp at the cost of all else, nor, would it involve:
  • commercial fisheries,
  • bite alarms, or,
  • fishing chairs!
Now open/broad mindedness is never a bad thing as long as one is prepared to filter-out the dross and spot the beneficial aspects of the subject matter, (back to angling magazines again!) so when the advice came that bite alarms would be necessary that was going to prove a bleep too far and just there was where the line would be drawn, or just before it rather than through or after it, to be more precise

After all that's not fishing is it? Just sitting there waiting for something to trip over the bait, then landing the fish, oh!, and did I mention that they'd hook themselves too?! No that's not fishing, it's just getting out of the house with a new name

So how does one see a bite at 90 yards exactly, which is where the bait needs to be because that's where the fish patrol and you can't steer them away like a roving shoal of starving canal roach?

On a float?...yeah sure

A quivertip?...possible on the face of it but the only option is tightened-up at that range. Unreliable, lacking necessary finesse to read bites and there's the fundamental issue of the rod tip being so soft yet needing to punch-out  two to three ounces and play fish back that distance, through weed, etc. No, that's not gonna work

So, yes okay, we'll go for the helicopter rig and self hooking set-up then. It really is the only option

As the weeks ran into months since the 2015/16 Bloggers' Challenge ended (with a resounding and not to say extremely well deserved overall win by James Denison who was head and shoulders above all-comers throughout really but, for me, the pinnacle was his exploits with big dace. The smallest of proper angler's fish but a fish over the pound is a mighty specimen and as important as any other big fish capture. Russell Hilton put in a superb effort doing it the hard way with largely canal fish for second place, again including some true specimens. I do look forward to doing it all again next year with a year's break between challenges on the cards. A situation I for one welcome as such a competition can become all-consuming and the opportunity to relax into some casual angling each alternate year is equally appealing), where was I? Ah yes, weeks running into months. That's another challenge took root

As I have recounted before The Stillwater has been a baffling experience. One would be forgiven for thinking there are no fish other than (some) small roach and the occasional carp but of course the tales filtering back from others confirms this not be the case

This spring I took it upon myself to make it work, or else find other options that suited my more active style of fishing, and it was at this point that I was coincidentally offered help in discussion with some long-standing members who must have seen some bizarre signs of promise/desperation in this old boy and who have subsequently been so generous for it to be almost embarrassing for me but it is so gratifying to find there really are still people out there in this otherwise often almost cut-throat world where knowledge is king and therefore selfishly protected by many (you know who you are guys!)

Slowly the pieces of the picture have slotted into place until June 16th, yes really - June 16th. With the start of the season my first bite on all this fancy gear I shot up out of my...erm...chair (I'm just keeping it active for someone else you understand, a bit like an old sports car). The closest I had come prior to that was the previous week when the alarm screamed, the bobbin hit the top and then struck the soil like a stainless steel stone...and then a clumsy great crested grebe surfaced and it had all been tantamount to a dream

But June 16th that was different. The bobbin lifted steadily, like it meant it and wasn't going to be put off its course, and stayed there. The hook was home and the fight began. Soon a doctor fish, so scarred it needed a vet anyway, was in the net and the battle had just begun. He went 3.8.8 (I refuse to give up my drams wherever possible!) and fought like a little demon
3lbs 8ozs of pocket battlefish
Now I knew that any bite would result in a p.b. it was fact wasn't it? We'll obviously not. Contrary to the likelihood and advice of others I had prepared myself for a less than exuberant start to this the last throw of the dice at The Stillwater. So, although I really was thrilled, I prayed this was only the start and suddenly confidence was lifted. If there's one there'll be others 

I must qualify this by saying that sitting there in this new found 'let me know when you're ready dear fishes' scenario was not in anyway against the grain once I'd got used to the idea. In fact, wait for it, I'd actually say it was better than my previous post-match fishing middle ground approach as it allowed me to bird and nature watch much more easily. My ancient trusty binoculars sit comfortably within reach, by my side, with mega-zoom camera and various phone-based lists are compiled. Where's the drawback?

Well of course there isn't one, its a massive step forward for this naturalist who happens to be an anger. A trip out is so much more than fishing again, or maybe for the very first time(s), now I can list almost every raptor that passes or passerine that cheeps; spy those small mammals nibbling on the kek or toad that ambles past and even take an interest in bee-mimicking hoverflies

That ain't no bee. The eyes have it
The fishing technique has been fascinating, not just because it is so new but also due to the intricacies of aspects one would not come-up with alone without many months, if not years, of trials but that I have been able to short cut by asking (too many) questions as each issue arose. Hook type, tail length, knot choice, relative position of rod/rest/bobbin/alarm, hook bait, feed, time of day, weather conditions, time of year, where to sit, how to cast, keeping fish out of weed. You name it I've asked it and within, I'd estimate, the space of just 3 weeks the results have shown themselves to reflect the fact of the true matter at hand here which is never criticise something until you understand it, and I for one have been somewhat guilty of this in the past simply because I enjoyed what I did and, I suppose, wished everyone else could enjoy it too

So, thanks to 'mentors anonymous from an unnamed stillwater' life is great. Oh, and did I mention that the tench p.b. did break, twice in fact, and subsequently shot-up from the previous 4.7.0 to 5.12.0 and then a significant jump to 8.8.1 (for me a true specimen) between 16th & 22nd June?

5.12.0 and (then) p.b.
Massive fins of the male
...and that iconic head with tiny red eye, suggesting a daylight feeder
The current p.b. then at 8lbs 8 ounces. A, probable partly spawned-out, female. A nine pound fish a few days prior?
So, the moral of the story is don't fish during the close season. The fish know! Plus they are still feeding now:

The swim this very day at 6.30am
And it's all down to being inquisitive and putting the answers into practice. Then, as is my unavoidable wont, I can look for that further 'edge' once I am reasonably fully versed (I can't stop myself there)

Just commercial fisheries to change my mind about next then. Now that would a challenge for somebody!