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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Snow's no fun

I had it all planned. Christmas rod orders out on Monday and spend the rest of the week fishing. The stillwaters had mostly turned solid but the rivers would be okay for chub, roach and grayling, maybe tempting enough for a pike rod to accompany me. I was looking forward to the change. Then it snowed. It's not being out in the cold that puts me off fishing but the journey to the river. Time was I'd have turned out anyway, but that was in the other country they call the past.

Long ago and far away

The other Christmas my present to myself was a lathe, this year it included a film/slide scanner which I used to scan the photo above. If I don't manage to get out fishing again soon I might blight the blog with some more blasts from the past.

I also treated myself to another Gierach book. Gierach is one of those writers it's easy to become a bore about, one you wish only you had discovered yet want to tell everyone about - even though those who would want to know almost certainly did before you 'discovered' him. That his writing is ostensibly about fly fishing is irrelevant, there are truths which are universal to fishing so it resonates. However, it's often not really about fishing at all. But then fishing often isn't.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Change of plan...

For whatever reason I couldn't get motivated to risk a drive to the river today. Probably because I really want to fish somewhere else, for something other than barbel. Instead I've been packing rods ready to despatch tomorrow - after I've visited the garage...

My idle hours have been spent rereading my 1979 edition of Jack Hilton's Quest for Carp which, covering the years to 1970 and like Casting at the Sun, recounts earlier days of carp fishing when there were plenty of problems to solve - not least what tackle was best. Carp anglers, all big fish anglers in fact, have it easy these days.

A truly iconic cover photo of Bill Quinlan

Big fish angling was much more of an adventure back in the early days. Not only was it unknown what might lurk in lightly fished, secluded pools, but tackle had to be made to do the job. One can appreciate that catching a handful of what would be considered mediocre fish today was a real achievement, and that the process was as much a part of it as the catching. No twin skinned bivvies for Hilton and co. Just an umbrella, a groundsheet and some polythene sheeting. And can you imagine today's carp anglers suffering in a mail bag instead of a fleece lined duvet sleeping bag? They must have been exciting times. I wonder how many of today's carp anglers will have read Quest for Carp?

By the time I came to big fish angling it had almost all been sorted out. There were numerous glass fibre specialist blanks available and Send Marketing Brollycamps were to be aspired to as were Optonic bite alarms - and out of the price range of an impoverished student. Today tackle is almost ridiculously cheap, and rarely nasty.

The closest I've been to being involved in something like the pioneering days of the post-Walker era was the 'big lure revolution' of the 1990s. Only looking back do I see that now. I wonder if the likes of Hilton realised how much they were changing things at the time they were freelining potatoes?

Checking the webstats for this blog to see where you lot find it I saw that Ted Carter's have started a fishing blog. If you are local to the Preston area or interested in fishing tackle developments it might be worth keeping an eye on.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

One good turn

I haven't read any of his work, so don't blame me if you don't like it, but Simon Crump is an angler who sends me e-mails saying nice things about this blog. So here's a link to his new book on Amazon.

Neverland: the unreal Michael Jackson stories


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Books, writers and writing

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'd read Casting at the Sun recently. I also got a copy of My Fishing Days and Fishing Ways by J.W. Martin (The Trent Otter) at the same time. Two reprints from the Medlar Classics series - affordable hardbacks produced in an appealing format. I'm not a book snob and think books are meant to be read not objects to be admired, so the cheap price appeals to me. Paperbacks would have been even more appealing.

It must be me getting old, as I usually prefer books that are instructional rather than intended to invoke the spirit of angling, but the Yates book is a very good read. An evocative tale of his journey through carp fishing to catching the record. But for me it is spoiled by the section relating to the Golden Scale Club.

Nostalgia is fine, but trying to live in a romanticised Enid Blyton world in the modern age makes me spit. If Yates wants to fish with old tackle to catch carp, great. But please leave the silly names and ginger ale out of it. If I get the urge to read the book again I shall be taking a sharp knife to physically excise the offending pages!

The Martin book, on the other hand, is a genuine piece of history, having been written in 1906. For me the sections about the Trent and barbel are the most interesting. The famous Cromwell weir was still at the planning stage, so the river must have been tidal further upstream and somewhat different to what it is today, yet many of the stretches mentioned will be familiar to Trent regulars and are still productive today. I've caught from some of them myself. While tackle and baits have changed in some respects it's interesting to read how little some other things have altered. The fish are still the same, so they still hold in the same sorts of places they did 100 years ago and behave in similar fashion.

Another thing that hasn't changed is anglers moaning that the fishing isn't as good as it was years ago. In Martin's case I can't help thinking that taking most of the catch home, or selling it to pay for the next day's bait, can't have helped. So it's no wonder that a double figure pike was a rare capture, and a twenty pounder an absolute monster, but fourteen pound barbel were still to be had from the Mighty Trent. A good read. I must seek out a (cheap) copy of his barbel book.

You may have noticed a new quote from John Gierach in the sidebar. Not a writer I was familiar with, what with him being an American cane fly rod wafter, but I have seen a number of quotes from his writing on a few sites - notably Pure Piscator. I thought I ought to acquaint myself with his work as he clearly had things to say that were worth saying.

I ordered Death, Taxes, and Leaky Waders, a compendium of essays culled from six of his books. My third angling book purchase in as many weeks that contains no photographs of fish or diagrams of rigs! Gierach's a writer more on the 'why' of angling than the 'how' (although there's some of that slipped in almost incidentally), on anglers and their motivations. It turns out he studied philosophy, and had ambitions to become a 'serious' writer, which no doubt accounts for this. A parallel with Yates, perhaps, who went to art school - which attracts people who don't like the concept of work in the nine-to-five sense of the word, people who look at the world through enquiring eyes.

I have long felt that fishing is akin to the creation of art, be that in paint or prose. Writing, painting, and fishing are all about immersion in the task at hand, about solving problems, finding new ways to do things, avoiding repetition, keeping out of ruts. They are all three intellectual pursuits. The results (the book, the painting, the fish in the net) are not what they are about. They are about the process. While that process can be frustrating, to the point of heartbreak or despair, it is what provides the satisfaction. Gierach knows this. Joseph Conrad knew it too; "They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means". That's stuck with me for nigh on thirty years - which is why the full quote appears at the foot of this page.

Books of essays can be dipped into. Having a mistrust of all things fly-fishing I turned straight to the essay Pike - hoping I might ease myself into the book through a species I have some understanding of and almost immediately found a quotable line; "Skill in fishing is a nebulous thing based largely on seasoned intuition, perhaps informed by a little knowledge, but catching a few fish now and then doesn't mean you have it". The book is by my bedside. I can see it being defaced by my corner foldings and underlinings...

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

All's well that ends well

I hadn't planned to fish, but late on I got the urge. The flask and pellet bucket were hastily filled, the brolly removed from the quiver to cut down on weight, and off I went. I headed downstream of where I had fished last time out. Although the river had dropped a foot or so, was still falling and quite clear, I was strangely confident.

I was low on S-Pellets so had thrown in some near two year old Dynamite Oyster and Mussel shelf-life boilies for a change, and one went on the downstream rod with a single 8mm crab Pellet-O on the upstream rod. There was hardly any breeze disturbing the leaves or the few clouds in the blue sky. A great evening to be by the river. All that was needed now was a fish or two.

Only half an hour in the upstream rod was away. Almost literally! The rod rest hadn't been pushed in too well and toppled forward as the rod headed towards the river. The fish was lively but not too big. As it reached the net the hooklink parted. Cut off near the hook. Damn. Just one of those things and nothing to get too upset about. I was sorting the rig out when the boilie rod signalled a tap-tappy take. This felt like a much better fish. Just as I was planning the photo session everything went slack as a large swirl appeared on the surface of the river. The upper, mono, section of my hooklink had gone at the knot. And I'd checked all my knots before casting out. Double damn.

The rod was thrown up the bank, not in anger but to get it out of the way, and I went back to sorting out the first rod. Not having any small bait rigs tied up I looped on a boilie rig and cast this rod downstream before tying up some new rigs and retackling the rod that was out of action.

I'd not long recast both baits a little further across before that burst of activity, but now I was wondering if the lost fish would have killed the swim. The pva bag stock was topped up. The sky clouded over. Should I move swims? When the upstream rod went again I thought I might stick around. Only a little one, but third time lucky. Twenty five minutes later I was perking up when another gentle take to the small pellet resulted in fish that pulled a fair bit which, once in the net, looked like a scale and potential camera job.

The fish was left in the net while I wetted the sling and zeroed the scales. With the fish on the bank I was confused. I was certain I'd caught it on the pellet rod, but there was a boilie hanging from it's bottom lip. It was the fish I'd lost earlier! Both hooks were removed, lifting my spirits as I felt I was righting a wrong. The Avon's needle stopped short of vertical, but I wasn't disappointed. Ten minutes later another fish was landed on the same rod. Things were picking up.

Hooked twice, landed once!

Cloud cover was breaking up and reforming. Constellations appearing and disappearing. Dew was forming on my tackle box and bucket lids, the grass and my woolly hat. The light from my headlamp was growing dim and flickery. In the even dimmer light from my spare I fitted new batteries. Now I could see much better to slide pellet stops into small hair loops.

This was one of those nights when I was glad of the red filter on the Petzl too. Midges were drawn to the white light and getting up my nose. Not metaphorically up it. Up it! Insects had been a nuisance when playing fish too. One daddy long legs in particular. Fluttering and crawling over my specs. With all this bat food on the wing it was no surprise that Nora and her sisters were out in force. As well as getting the adrenaline flowing by flying into the lines between real bites they were also hitting the line when fish were being played. A disconcerting sensation.

A greedy scampette of about a pound was the next fish to pick up the 15mm boilie. This was followed by a second eight pounder to the same bait. I was beginning to think packing the boilies had been a good move. Five minutes later a fish fell off. Were things going to go to the dogs again? When another nine pounder was landed to the pellet rod at quarter to twelve I put such foolish thoughts to the back of my mind. While the action was continuing I'd stop later than planned. The next fish I landed had already seen the inside of my net this month. It was the kinky one. I'm sure most of these barbel get caught over and over again, only the easily recognisable ones being noted.

I read Casting at the Sun by Chris Yates last week. His wacky ways must have infected me because I found myself thinking that it was some kind of piscatorial karma that was the cause of my upturn in 'luck' since removing that lost hook. Really it was that the barbel were havin' it!

Half an hour without a bite and I was planning my departure. The small flask was emptying fast. My stomach beginning to demand a top up. Another fish came along to the crab Pellet-O. The first chunky looking fish of the season. Most of the fish are still looking a little lean and tatty but not this one. I guessed it would be the third nine of the night, but I was wrong. I popped her in the sack and set up the tripod.

Two test shots to get the framing then do it for real. One shot was fired off and I moved forward to better fill the frame accidentally taking a second shot. Ready for the proper pics and the bulb release failed. I checked it and it was deflated. I removed the bulb from the tube and it filled with air again. Another try and nothing. A squeeze of the bulb revealed a draught coming from it. It had split. The fish was slipped back.


Come what may I'd give it another thirty minutes, but I'd tidy the inessentials away. With the rucksack packed the downstream rod woke up. This fish was more typical in appearance. Quite skinny, but longer than the previous one and only three ounces lighter. I couldn't face messing with the self timer so photographed her by the rod. Was there more to come?


As it turned out, by the time the flask was finally drained, there wasn't. I packed up, again, and tramped my merry way back to the car through damp grass and cowpats. Then home for a slice of toast and a mug of hot chocolate before bed to dream of a large golden fish in a small pond. I blame Chris Yates.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Book Review - A Time for Tench

It's that time of year again, and if you are thinking of doing some tench fishing over the coming months and haven't read Time for Tench by Chris Turnbull then I suggest you snap up one of the few remaining copies of this excellent book.

Instructional, anecdotal and inspirational Chris has provided something for everyone. Each chapter is in two parts dealing with the topic in hand, be that bait, tactics or whatever. The first part deals with the practicalities in detail, while the second relates a tale that is relevant to that topic illustrating how what you have just read has applied in practice.

There are masses of colour photos of big tench and tenching scenes throughout which can't fail to make you to want to catch a few of these red eyed beasties, and there are Chris's own hand drawn illustrations of rigs and so forth to clearly show how things should be set up.

Without a doubt one of the best angling books I have read in a long time, and one I keep dipping into each spring - even if only to look at the pictures to remind myself what a tench looks like!

It's priced at £24.95 plus £4.00 p&p from Harnser Books at 48 Hansard Rd, Norwich, Norfolk NR3 2PX.

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