Wednesday, 17 February 2016

2015 - My Highlights - Part 3: Float Fishing in the Dark for Grey Mullet

So, onto the final part of my 2015 highlights trilogy!  The epic finalé.  Hopefully it'll be more Toy Story 3 than Jurassic Park III; more Die Hard with a Vengeance than Superman III!  There's only one way to find out...

Cornish manoeuvres in the dark

On our first holiday with our (by now, 4 months old) baby daughter, fishing was never going to be high on the agenda, it would be a case of grabbing a chance if and when it arrived.  We stayed in this country, which allowed me to take quite a range of gear with me so that I could exploit any opportunities which came my way.  The first of these came in Poole, where we spent a week.

Our hotel was walking distance from a bay of some repute amongst local angling bloggers I'd looked up before we went.  A couple of evening trips produced my first two bass (which would have each fitted in the palm of my hand and they were returned as quickly as possible) and a couple of eels which had me fooled I might have hooked a bit better bass.  Brilliant fun, a new species chalked off and all done without upsetting the family because high tide coincided with the time everyone was going to bed!

After the week in Poole we upped-sticks to the Cornish coast and the delightful fishing village of Mevagissey, which would be our base for the following week.  The drive took a little longer than we'd anticipated and it was already dark when we arrived on the narrow quay beside the cottage we'd rented.  As I stepped out of the van to begin unloading our luggage my eyes were inevitably drawn towards the water.  I made a double take; in the glimmer of a nearby streetlight I saw a ghostly shadow near the surface, skulking away from me.  I only caught a glimpse for a second, but I knew I'd seen a large mullet.  Way bigger than any I'd caught before.

I've caught mullet in a few different countries and I've fished for them in many more places but fallen foul of the species' mystical bait-mouthing qualities and spooky nature.  I had spent a frustrating day following a feeding shoal up and down a backwater on the Hampshire coast in my mid-teens.  The last time I'd targeted them was at Coffs Harbour in Australia, back in 2001, where again I had seen big fish but failed to convince any of them that my bait was safe fayre.

My more successful encounters with mullet included lowering a hand-line down from the deck of a ferry on a school trip in Greece.  A bit of pilfered breakfast roll scattered on the surface got them going and they definitely hadn't been fished for with a vertical line before, as I hooked and landed a couple of them before I decided that the drop back down to the water was neither pleasant nor fair on the fish and decided to watch them feed instead.

By far my most memorable tussles with mullet were back when - in my early to mid-teens - we holidayed regularly in Tenerife.  I took along a telescopic rod each time (back when you could take them on a plane as hand luggage!) and would disappear for hours at a time, keeping myself entertained by fishing for the small wrasse and other species amongst the rocky breakwaters.  As I grew bored with this kind of fishing and saw some of the locals pulling out much larger bream and mullet, my interest was piqued and I mirrored their tactics to catch a few (but not many) hard-fighting mullet.  My PB mullet, a fish of around 2lb, will live long in the memory because I spotted it swimming around with what looked like a jellyfish wrapped around it.  Luckily I caught the fish and found this "jellyfish" was actually one of the ghastly plastic ring contraptions which holds 4-packs of cans together.  The fish had somehow swum through three of the holes when it was much smaller and as it had grown the plastic had become a potentially lethal ligature, just behind the head.  One pectoral fin was pinned back against its flank and on the underside the plastic had dug in to around 15mm deep!  How this fish was still alive, I have no idea, but the wounds were almost entirely healed up; there was little open flesh, so I carefully cut off the plastic with a penknife and set the fish free to hopefully live another day.  It had survived that long inside its plastic noose, so who knows, it may have lived for a good long while.  One thing this taught me is to always cut those plastic can holders up before they're thrown away.  I've been anal about that ever since because I've seen the unneccesary suffering they can cause when discarded.

Grey Mullet on harmed by plastic litter
My old PB grey mullet, which was almost decapitated by a plastic 4-ring can holder!
Back to Cornwall!  The next morning after breakfast I headed to the local tackle shop to get the lowdown on what was being caught in the area.  "Not much" was the reply!  Apparently my best bet would be to chuch some feathers at the mackerel from the breakwater, but that's not "proper" fishing to me.  It's not very sporting and unless you're catching them to eat (I wasn't) or to use as bait (I had no way of freezing mackerel or transporting them home frozen to keep as pike baits) there isn't really much point in fishing for them.

I could only really fish at night because we were busy sightseeing during the daytime, and for the first couple of nights high tide was around midnight, which gave me a decent opportunity to fish in the dark before it got too late.  So my thoughts turned to that shady figure I'd spotted the previous night.  In my wisdom I had packed a specimen float rod and match reel, a couple of stick floats and wagglers, and even a couple of starlites.  I had the ideal setup for having a go for a mullet in the dark.  I'd never heard of night fishing for mullet before, I had no idea if they'd even feed in the dark, but seeing that solo fish so close to the surface gave me hope that if I could find them I would be in with a chance.

The following evening the weather was calm and dry, so I set out with my float rod and a couple of loaves of bread.  My tactics were simple, walk around the quay scattering pieces of floating bread in a few areas and then visit each one in turn, listening for fish sucking at the bread and keeping an eye out for grey torpedoes cruising in the gloom or creating ripples as they feed.  In a couple of really fishy-looking spots I made a bit of bread mash to throw between the boats, to give any fish not cruising the surface layers something to home-in on.

Hoping that the big harbour grey mullet would feed in the dark
Peace and quiet!  The tranquil quayside before the pubs chucked out!
After half an hour or so I had spotted two big mullet feeding and regularly visiting a particular area.  I made my first cast too close to one of them and saw it spook but after a little more cautious coaxing I was ready to have another go.  As I concentrated on the water, trying my hardest to focus on the dark shapes as they swam, playing tricks on my eyes all the time  (I would think I had my sights locked-onto one and then it would seemingly shape-shift and become part of the reflection of a boat or building!) I became aware of some drunken shouting around the other side of the quay.  I thought nothing of it until they got closer and closer and I realised they were heading in my direction.  This wasn't the conversation of men who'd had a swift couple, it was the top-of-the-voice drunken hollering of a group of blokes who'd had a proper session.  A skinful.  And it became apparent that they were in the mood for a bit of "bants" with me!  Like flies to shite, drunken people are instinctively drawn towards anyone doing anything remotely interesting or different from the norm.  Here I was trying to fish for mullet in the dark; a great big steaming turd of attraction!

I thought "just my 'king luck!" and slowly moved towards the inebriated fellows and away from my cautiously feeding quarry, so as to hopefully head them off before they were close enough for the mullet to hear their heckles.  It worked for a while and as the first of the merry men approached me and enquired about my success so far, I tried my best to say as little as possible (so they'd get bored quickly or maybe even realise that I'd rather be left alone) whilst being as polite about it as I possibly could.  After all, I was perched on a quayside in the dark, there were four of them and one of me and I know from first-hand experience that alcohol impairs logic.  I'm not stupid.

At this point I should probably explain that I'm not down on anyone having a drink or getting drunk.  I've been in some proper tangles over the years thanks to beer.  I love a drink and I reckon if I'd been in their position and I saw someone fishing, I would have been on them in a flash!  Probably forcing upon them whatever tactics first came to mind and professing that they'd be far better off following my advice than doing whatever the hell they were doing!  It's not that they were drunk, it was that I was fishing.  An over-enthusiastic passer-by can be off-putting when you're trying to catch a fish, but a drunken one (or worse still, group of 4 of them!) is just plain annoying.

Their banter was good though!  When I realised I wasn't going to get rid of them very quickly there was a bit more back-and-forth.  When I said I was fishing for mullet there was an immediate reply of "You're fishing for mullet and you've got a feckin' mullet!".  The next line was "Are you (impressively side-burned North Lincs. speed addict) Guy Martin?...  It's Guy Martin!" followed by a few laughs.  Apparently my hair poking out from beneath my headlamp made it look like I had sideburns and apparently to their untrained south-western ears an Alfreton accent sounds almost identical to a Grimsby one!

The blokes opened the side door of a nearby van which was adjacent to where I'd got the fish feeding.  They started taking jumpers off and I presumed they were bunking in the back of the van for the remainder of the night.  I decided the swim was a write-off until they'd gone to sleep so I wandered off to see if I could find any mullet elsewhere.  A couple of minutes later I heard some shouting from the direction of their van and then a "Kashboosh!".  To my horror one of them had jumped off the quay, right into the spot where I'd had mullet feeding 20 minutes before!  My careful baiting and patient waiting of the past hour and a half had surely amounted to nothing?  Another of the group jumped in, followed by another and then the other.  They splashed and generally dicked around, completely unaware of what they'd done to my as-yet almost unfished mullet swim!

I was dejected.  I'd wasted all of that time when I could have been in bed like the rest of my family.  I'd no doubt be grouchy next day thanks to lack of sleep and the impromptu freestyle diving competition wrecking my chances of a mullet.  What happened next took me completely by surprise.  As I watched the starlite bob only with the gentle undulations of the tide, the four men climbed out of the harbour, got dried off, piled into two separate vehicles and drove off!  I was far too far away to take any registrations and these guys could barely stand up, let-alone drive.  As I watched their headlights disappear up the hillside I could only hope that at this small hour they were lucky enough for no-one else to be out on the roads and in their way.

A few minutes after they'd gone I thought I'd have one last roll of the dice by walking past the swimming area, along to some moored boats where I'd thrown in some mashed bread earlier on.  It was darker here and quite out of the way from where the night swimmers had been, so there was a chance it was a place mullet would head to for a bit of sanctuary.  I put out a few pieces of floating bread and flicked out my stumpy, bodied waggler towards the far end of the boats.  It was at that awkward range where your starlite/isotope is still visible, but only just, and your eyes start playing tricks by making the float seem to move when it hasn't.  I was fishing at around 14" depth, with a bulk of shot just beneath the float but with rubber float stops holding it in place, so I could alter the depth quickly.

"I'm sure that float just moved", I thought, momentarily before it sailed away in the opposite direction.  A swift strike followed and I felt a little bit of resistance but no hooked fish.  "Damn! I've pricked it and probably blown my chance".  I had a couple more casts before adding a couple of inches to the depth which resulted in an immediate bite.  I struck again quickly and came back with nothing, so I decided that if I got another bite I would let it run until I was sure the bait was properly inside the mouth of the fish.  Next cast the float started dipping and darting.  My right arm was itching to strike but I fought my instincts and waited until the float moved off at speed.  Then I gently lifted into the fish and immediately connected!  "Sweet Jesus!"; I was not prepared for what happened next!  The fish bolted like a turbocharged barbel, pulling metres of line off the reel as it went, and took me way out into the darkness where I could make out other boats, buoys and what were no doubt their mooring ropes and anchor chains!

Crikey, these fish are unbelieveably fast, but somehow I managed to lift the line over a boat and steer the fish into open water where I was able to play it out and land it, with my extending landing net handle at full stretch and me laid out on the quayside, arm reaching down as far as I could.  It was mine!  A definite new PB and what a thrill!  After writing off my chances a little earlier, I'd trounced the odds and landed a PB mullet in the dark from between the chandlery, after my swim was destroyed by four boozed-up bathers!

I was chuffed with this new PB mullet in testing circumstances, but a much bigger one followed it to the net!
A new PB, completely against the odds!

After a couple of quick pics, I released my 3lb thick-lipped grey mullet to battle another day and although very staisfied with my new PB, I knew I would have to have another go for them because a fish twice its size had followed it almost into the landing net!

Luck wasn't on my side the following few nights.  We had some really heavy rain and I didn't have the gear with me to cope with fishing out in it.  Plus, I doubted that fishing shallow for mullet would be much good in the pelting rain.  The high tide for the remainder of the week had gone way past midnight and on the next calm night high tide was at 3am.  When my daughter woke up screaming for a bottle at ten past three, I realised I had an opportunity.  After the feed was done and she was happily back asleep I got dressed, grabbed my tackle and headed for the quay (with baby in the care of my fiancé).  I threw some bread into both areas where I'd seen or caught fish on the previous session.  Nothing was interested so I moved up to where a stream gushed (with all the previous nights' rainfall) into the harbour through a large outfall pipe.  I introduced a couple of balls of bread mash and started trotting baits through.  I got occasional bites and missed them but after throwing in a few pieces of floating bread I realised there was a shoal of small mullet in the swim, so I moved out of their way and back to where I'd caught my mullet from.

Still seeing no signs of fish activity, I cast out between the boats.  On the fourth or fifth cast I missed a quick bite.  There was still something here at least.  But bites were hard to come by so I cast around to different places between the nearby boats.  After spotting a large mullet emerge from beneath the hull of a boat, take a piece of bread and disappear back into the darkness, I lowered my rig into the very spot.  Another missed bite! 
I cast around between the boats, trying to find a feeding mullet
After a few increasingly frantic casts around this area I worked my way back towards the area I'd had the bite.  This was just far enough out for the float to be surrounded by the gloom, rather than lit up by the quayside lights, so the only indications of any fish in the vicinity would be movements of the float.  It wasn't too long before the float did move and I struck immediately.  Nothing.  At least tonight the mullet were living up to their finicky, difficult to catch reputation!

Out went the rig, a little beyond the feeding area.  I slowly worked it back towards me and a few seconds after the float had settled in the right spot it was swiftly pulled beneath the surface.  Remembering the way I hooked the other fish, I decided to pause for just a second before striking.  The float continued its angular path towards the stern of a boat so I struck before I lost sight of it.  This time I felt the hook set.

If I was feeling a little drained and drowsy from my early morning exploits, I was about to have that slapped out of me, courtesy of a mullet-shaped exocet and a titanic dose of adrenaline!  My heart had only just returned to its normal rhythm from the battle I had a few nights prior but here it was again trying to punch through my ribcage from the inside!  Wow, can mullet shift!  And pull!  Certainly on this light, balanced float gear I was using, anyway.

This battle between the boats was never going to be straightforward and potential disaster struck just as I was thinking I'd got the measure of the fish.  It dived under a boat to my right, faster than I could react, and found a boat component I didn't even know existed!  This boat had a wooden beam fixed to the side of the hull, extending vertically downwards into the water for a couple of feet and the fish had wrapped the line around it!  (I've since thought that this beam is most likely a stabiliser to keep the boat upright in the empty harbour at low tide, but still, I didn't expect it to be there!).  The mullet rose to the surface beside the beam and I felt physically sick!  I could see it was huge and I knew that with such a short tether it only had to kick a couple of times and the hooklength would snap.  My rod tip was waved around and plunged under at various angles before I felt the line work free a little.  Luck was on my side and the fish followed, freeing itself to knock seven bells out of me again.  They're real ego bruisers, mullet.  Cheeky buggers.  Even when you finally manage to hook one they find a way of flicking you a methaphorical middle finger!

To my amazement, I found myself once again laid on the quay trying to guide another PB mullet toward my landing net.  The battle was over and I was as stunned by the events - and the fish which filled the net mesh - as I was elated by them.  This was one of the most memorable and genuinely fulfilling angling experiences I've ever had.  The thought of it still excites me, six months later!

A new PB Grey Mullet caught on float-fished bread in the dark!
My second PB Mullet in a week!  This one will take some beating.
Here's the specimen.  Possibly the same fish that had shadowed my previous fish to the net; certainly a similar size if not the same individual.  Either way, I had a mullet of over six and a half pounds in my net.  A true Cornish beast, which I'll probably never eclipse.

Returning my personal best Thick-Lipped Grey Mullet
Back she goes...

Monday, 11 January 2016

2015 - My Highlights - Part 2: Clear River Stalking for Chub & Barbel

In the second of my Highlights of 2015 posts I once again visit the Derbyshire Derwent, but a different stretch this time.  The session provided me with a great insight into the lives of barbel & chub when this river is exceptionally low and clear...

Fishing for barbel & chub in clear water on the Derwent

Every now and again, a fishing session comes along which unexpectedly knocks you sideways.  Sometimes it can be a red letter day in the form of the number or size of fish you catch, other times it's the things you see or the whole experience.

I had one such day last July, where it was the latter which made the day special.  I caught some fish but the overriding highlights of the day were the things I witnessed.  Forgive me if I get carried away describing something you see regularly, but because I don't fish during the daytime very often, this whole experience was something quite special for me.

It started when I decided to head to a stretch of the River Derwent which I had only ever fished once, several years ago.  It was primarily a reconnaissance session to reaquiant myself with the swims and try to find some fish-holding areas to target on future evening sessions.

I started off by walking the entire stretch with a lure rod, a net, a small selection of lures, a baitdropper and some mixed pellets, casters & hemp.  The thinking behind this mish-mash of tackle was to wander from swim to swim, watching the water and scanning the area using my polaroid sunglasses.  If I thought a swim had potential for a lure-caught fish I would work a few lures through it and if I thought a swim had barbel or chub potential I would drop in some bait with the baitdropper.

The day was very warm with bright sunshine and the river was running extremely low, so I had expected to find spottting fish (and catching any on lures) very difficult.  I was mainly looking for any snags, undercut banks, deep depressions and gravel runs which may hold fish in the future.

As it transpired, access to swims on the stretch was extremely limited and I had to bash my way through to the water's edge in a few places, only to find a sheer cliff straight down to the water.  Not ideal!  So for a while my casts were limited to 5 or 6 small areas where I could safely reach the water.  I hadn't seen a sign of any fish but as I continued downstream, scanning the water as I wandered, I glimpsed something which stopped me in my tracks.

At the head of a deep, shady pool between two shallow sections I'd spotted a group of seven or eight big chub basking near the surface.  I dropped to my knees amongst the tall dry grass and Himalayan balsam as I racked my brain for other explanations of what I thought I saw.  As I peered over the foliage I fully expected to see only an empty pool but the fish were definitely fish and they were still there, seemingly unaware or unperturbed by my presence.

What's more is that not only were there seven or eight fish, as I looked more carefully I could make out many more - over twenty in total, all between 4lb and 6lb+ - and beneath them were a few big barbel scattered around.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing, it was by far the largest group of specimen fish I had ever laid eyes on.  As I watched, several individual fish drifted away from the main group, into the sanctuary of overhanging trees and then back again.  Therein laid the problem!

This swim was impossible to fish!  In the near margin a fallen tree laid parallel to the bank from the top of the swim to halfway down.  An Alder was growing on my bank, right in the middle of the swim and from there downstream there was a sheer drop of around 9 feet down to the water.  This was the only fishable place in the swim, but it was already beyond halfway down the pool and I would be in an extremely exposed position, guaranteed to spook the shoal especially when it came to landing a fish.  That is if I could steer a fish away from the near-margin snag or even cast far enough upstream thanks to the tree in the way!  Needless to say, the fish would have the upper hand.

I thought things through  and decided that if I could reach the gravel shallows above the deep hole, I could fish down towards the shoal and confidently steer any hooked fish upstream away from the snags.  I crawled upstream to see if my theory would be possible but alas, the main channel was a couple of strides from my bank and - critically and frustratingly - this channel was about 6 inches deeper than my thigh waders were high!

With that theory out of the window I wrote off the swim as completely unfishable.  Instead I decided to make the most of the spectacle by seeing if I could get the shoal feeding or if they would spook and disappear.  I crept into a position where I could see most of the shoal, but remain hidden by the Alder, tentatively threw five or six casters upstream of the shoal and waited.  I was delighted to see more than one fish move straight towards the falling bait and intercept them.  Of this first handful, I think 2 or 3 casters made it past the fish but from then on almost everything I introduced into the swim was taken.  After a few minutes I decided I'd better save my bait for swims I could actually fish, so I reluctantly halted the introduction of free offerings, slowly backed away from the swim and continued my search downstream.
Impossible clear water swim full of specimen chub and barbel on the Derbyshire Derwent
The "Impossible" swim!  (Apologies for my sketchy sketching!)

It took me almost 2 hours to battle through the undergrowth in my waders.  Parts of the stretch hadn't seen a human this season and I was literally pounding a trail through.  Unfortunately I didn't find too many areas to pique my interest and having only put bait into 3 or 4 swims well upstream, I wondered what my next move should be.  During the long walk back to the van to swap my lure tackle for my quivertip & float tackle I decided to fish these swims on rotation as I walked back downstream.

Nothing happened after an hour of casting a swimfeeder at the top of the swim and trotting below it and I had a nagging feeling about the"unfishable" swim full of feeding fish that I'd left earlier.  Eventually I could take it no more and ventured down to the swim to see if the fish were still there and, more importantly, to see if I could work out a way to catch one.  I was certain that if I caught a single fish it would spook the shoal.  But with several of the fish appearing to be potential PBs, I reasoned that it would be worth a try in case that one fish was one of the biggies.

When I arrived at the swim the fish were still there and a couple of pouchfulls of casters were soon being picked off by specimens.  Soon I introduced hemp and a few pellets and these too were taken gladly.  I continued to feed for almost an hour and got more and more excited as I watched the fish gain in confidence and I gradually worked the shoal downstream as far as I could.  The odd particles that reached the riverbed were hoovered up by competing barbel, but due to the size of the chub and the near-margin snags it was the chub I wanted to target.  As these were within a few inches of surface, and I could only flick a rig fractionally above the fish, so any float stem protruding beneath the surface was sure to spook them.  In an ideal world I would have used a blob of floating putty to give me the weight to flick a bait towards the fish with minimal disturbance.  However, I had none in my light stalking bag so I had to improvise.

In one of my bits pouches I found a small hardwood float I'd been given and used once.  It's designed to be fished shallow on stillwaters and is designed to be shot-free, so it's self-cocking.  A tiny swivel is held to the float body by a silicone sleeve, so I removed this and used the silicone to hold the float in place at a depth of around 6 inches.  I pinched 2 small Stotz onto the line between float and hook and fished straight-through to a strong size 16 specimen hook.

I was sure I'd only get one shot at a fish and if I screwed up the cast the chance would be gone.  As it turned out my first cast landed in the perfect spot but I didn't check my line quickly enough and as it fell it looped over a branch on the dead tree.  I left it as long as I dared before flicking my rod tip and freed the line and then I watched as a good chub approached the bait and then turned away at the last moment.  The bait moved downstream of the fish and I had to reel in, cringing as I waited for the fish to move off.  They hung around but before I could make another cast there was a commotion in the middle of the swim.  A large pike had appeared and taken a swipe at one of the chub on the edge of the shoal!  Disaster, or so I thought, but as the pike skulked back to the streamer weed bed it appeared from I noticed that the majority of the chub were still present.

I fed them a few lots of free offereings before I dared make another cast and although experience meant I missed the dead tree this time, the same thing happened with a chub which was interested and then not.  Sensing my luck was running out I added a couple of inches of depth to the rig, to allow the bait to flutter and fall more naturally.  This was the change I needed to make, as a chub approached from downstream and nabbed the bait, hook and all!

A subtle wind-down was required, rather than a full-on strike, for me to stand any chance of not spooking the other fish.  It worked in the sense that the chub didn't charge around the swim; it flopped around instead and allowed me to shuffle to the exposed spot where I could ship my landing net down towards the water, in full view of every other fish.  My chub was safely netted and to my surprise most of the other fish still seemed to ignore my presence.

Upstream I found a spot where I could reach the river to rest the chub in the net whilst I set up my camera gear and hurriedly weighed and photographed the fish.  At 4lb 10oz it was a good way from being a PB, it was far from one of the largest in the shoal, but I have never worked harder for a single chub and the sense of achievement was immense.
A 4lb 10oz Chub stalked amongst a caster & hemp feeding frenzy on a crystal-clear river Derwent
I had landed a fish from the "unfishable" swim but after the entertainment the fish in this swim had given me, landing anything was a bonus.  I truly felt privileged to witness such a large congregation of big fish feeding confidently in such crystal clear water.

When I returned to the swim the chub had vanished but a few barbel remained, grubbing around in the gravel.  I decided to push my luck and try to land one and quickly setup the quivertip rod with a link leger and hook with a single banded pellet.  Within a couple of minutes of flicking it out a barbel picked the bait.  This time it knew what was going on and made for the snag before I had chance to get far enough downstream to stand any chance.  I felt it bump through several submerged branches and I knew I was fighting a losing battle, but when the line parted my conscience was allieviated slightly by knowing my simple rig should cause the fish few problems.

It was then I knew it was time to move on and I headed to a snag swim that I'd pre-baited earlier.  From here I landed a 9lb 5oz barbel as darkness fell and I chanced one last move back to the "impossible" swim.
The reason for my return is that I thought with the cover of darkness I could fish farther downstream, up on the high bank which left me so exposed in daylight.  That way I had an immediate advantage to bring the fish downstream away from the snags.  I would think about how to land the fish if and when I got that far!

Sure enough, fish were still feeding in the swim.  Within quarter of an hour I missed a bite, which must have been a chub.  Minutes later the rod wrenched round again and a barbel outwitted me in the darkness and just made it to the tip of a branch on the fallen tree.  I knew this would be my last cast before home, so I turned on my headlamp.  The fish was visible beneath the surface and if I could have reached the branch with my landing net pole (I had the Drennan Super Specialist extending 3 metre handle at full stretch!) I could have freed it but it was 2 feet beyond reach.  I tried pulling from as many angles as possible.  I even tried lowering myself down to stand on the snag but my hand holds were giving way and I ran out of options.  In the end the barbel pulled itself free and left my hook in the branch, proving that - for barbel at least - this swim really was impossible.  And unsafe!

Monday, 4 January 2016

2015 - My Highlights - Part 1: Trotting for Barbel on the Derwent

In April last year my life was changed forever by the birth of my daughter!  So whilst I've been experiencing the highs and challenges of fatherhood, finding time to fish has become even more difficult.  Time to blog about it has inevitably proved yet trickier to find!  I have, however, sneaked in a short evening session most weeks since June and I've really enjoyed the fishing I've done this season.  More than I have in quite some time!

So I thought I would write about my 3 angling highlights from last summer; a blog post for each.  They include a first, a PB and an exhilarating spot of close-quarters, clear water fishing.  If you like the sound of those, read on...

First barbel on the stick float

A couple of seasons ago I decided that I really wanted to catch a barbel on the float.  With almost all of my barbel fishing consisting of summer & autumn evening sessions, I only managed 4 or 5 hours of trotting for them last season, with only a few small silver fish and minnows to show for my efforts.  This year I decided to put some effort in at the beginning of the season when, arriving at the river between 7pm and 7.30, I would still have a good couple of hours of decent daylight available to me.

Although I was hoping for a barbel, so early on in the season I would be thankful to catch anything bigger than a minnow!  So, I got cracking from on my first session of the season, which was to the Derbyshire Derwent.  I had a spot in mind with a good steady flow and depth of around 5 feet when the water is low, which it has been all season on the DD.  My rig was pretty simple; 8lb mainline with a large, wire-stemmed Avon float through to a size 16 specimen hook on a 6lb hooklength.  I started off using a bulk-shotting pattern, but I wasn't happy with how this was fishing so I soon moved to shotting in a shirt-button style.

Last season I trotted maggots and was plagued by minnows but I also landed a few roach on legered pellets.  Interested to see if the Derwent could produce a real specimen roach, I decided that feeding mixed-size pellets and then trotting a 6 or 8mm banded pellet should give me a decent chance of hooking barbel, chub, bream or even a decent roach.

The first session went pretty well.  I used my first few casts to learn the exact contours of the swim and after half an hour or so of steady feeding I had my first bite.  The fish charged around the swim, convincing me that I'd hooked a small barbel or even a carp, but when it tired and neared the surface, the fish which appeared was a chub of around four pounds.  A good fish on the float to kick-off the season with!
Chub caught on trotted pellet
After the chub I had no further action on the float, but spurred on by this success I went for similar tactics next session, but I put in a few casters, pellets and some hemp in with a baitdropper before I started.

Within half an hour I was beginning to get bites on the banded pellet, which to begin with where from small roach and then a surprise grayling.  This gave me a bit of confidence, but I was longing for a real tussle.  

Occasionally I flicked out the float slightly further upstream, giving the bait chance to settle near the bottom earlier in the trot.  Near the beginning of one such trot through, the float buried and as I struck, something pulled hard in the opposite direction.  A barbel was hooked and it soon dawned on me that all this time spent trying to tempt a barbel to take a float-fished bait was the easy part; now I had to try to control and land the thing!

So began a couple of minutes of what I can only describe as enjoyable panic!  I had a little chuckle to myself as I listened to the tinny 'pings' let out by the drag clicker on the aluminium spool as it spun and time seemed to stand still for a few seconds as I appreciated the way this barbel was pulling on the float gear.  At the same time I knew full well that it was pulling straight towards a big bed of ranunculus!  

The fish made it to the weedbed but with some internal words of encouragement to calmmy decision making, a bit of gentle persuasion soon had the barbel out and back into open water.  I was glad I hadn't gone for a lighter hooklength because this little episode would have been the end of my battle. 

Thankfully my hooklength - and my resolve - held out and a fit, chunky barbel of 8lb+ was in the net.  My first barbel hooked & landed on the float and a personal goal attained!  With a large ranunculus patch just in front of me I waded out to rest the fish on top of it for a couple of trophy shots before returning it.
An 8lb-plus barbel landed on float tackle, trotting a pellet beneath a stick floatMy first float-caught barbel resting on ranunculus streamer weed
A few minutes after I released this fish the light dropped sufficiently to make trotting impossible, but it held on just long enough for me to take my first grayling from this stretch.  Not a big one at all, but what it lacked in size it made up for in greed, as it also took a 6mm pellet!
 Grayling caught on trotted pellet
One of the benefits of trotting during the last few hours of daylight is that - regardless of whether you catch on the float or not - the trickle of loosefeed going into the swim should draw fish in for if you want to fish static baits after dark.  This is exactly what I intended to do, so as the float rod was put into the rod bag a couple of quivertip rods came out.

A couple of biteless hours passed by, but I was confident that some barbel would show up at some point thanks to the bait that went in earlier.  The water was low & clear and with the commotion caused by landing the earlier barbel, I suspected any others were making the most of the sanctuary offered by the streamer weed.

I was using 1oz open-end swimfeeders with long hooklinks down to heavy-gauge size 14 hooks.  To match what I'd been feeding earlier in the session, I fished with a cluster of mixed-size pellets on the hair which I then dunked in some Gloop from The Hookbait Company and finally dusted the whole lot with groundbait for maximum appeal.

The tip on my upstream rod (cast just in front of the ranunculus bed which supported my earlier barbel for the photos) twitched promisingly a couple of times and my hand was on it in a flash.  As it started to wrap around I lifted into a fish which plodded purposely around.  We had a couple of stalemates and it took a few minutes before I could really get the better of it; conscious all the time of the volume of weed it could reach quickly in almost every direction!

Finally I worked the fish upstream of where I was stood.  By this point I'd realised it was a very decent fish I was attached to, which is why it was plodding steadily rather than charging around like the fish on the float had.  As the fish surfaced I eased it towards the waiting landing net and it was mine!  At exactly 12lb it ended up being my largest barbel of 2015 and came as a huge bonus to what had already been a productive and enjoyable evening.
A 12lb barbel which took my feeder-fished pellet cluster offering.  My largest of 2015

Monday, 12 October 2015

Cat-Fish Kickstarter Project - Fly Fishing for Cats! Extravagant Fishing-Themed Cat Toy

When I saw this project on Kickstarter, I just has to share it:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/737549484/cat-fish

It's called the "Cat-Fish" and it introduces the idea of "fly fishing" for your cat.  You have a mini fly rod & reel, castable fly line and hookless flies, which you cast out and try to lure your cat into taking the bait.  What a genuinely unique and brilliant idea! 


Practice your own fly casting skills at home, whilst exercising and entertaining your cat!


What better way to spend half an hour on a dark evening or a wet & windy day, than bonding with your cat and keeping your casting eye in by casting out a little teaser lure in the kitchen or down the stairs?!

I should probably add that I have absolutely nothing to do with this project (other than pledging to back it), but I love fishing and I also have cats who love to chase things.  This project won't happen unless they receive pledges for the total target value.  They only have a couple of weeks left to find backers, so if you'd like to own a Cat-Fish, or see it come to market, please visit the Cat-Fish Kickstarter page  and pledge to back it! 

Cat-Fish are also on Facebook here:   http://www.facebook.com/catfishtoy


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A Very Welcome Highlight to End the River Season

It's a now a month since the rivers closed and I'm just getting around to typing up my 'end of season round-up' post.  I don't think I've fully grasped the concept of a blog!  Well, better late than never, I suppose...

Somehow I've managed to once again have a poor end to the season.  What's made this one different to previous seasons is that it followed a poor middle of the season and a disappointing start to the season too!

Okay, so I haven't had as many hours on the bank since November as I wanted, but the efforts I did make had brought me 0 fish on the bank since November too!  A few evening sessions fishing for zander, a few of the same after barbel (in seemingly ideal conditions, too) and an all-day chub session all resulted in a single half-hearted bite and no fish hooked or landed. 

In February I escaped the horrendous floods by heading to a canal which manages to remain clear no matter what the conditions.  It was a slow day during which I fished static deadbaits, wobbled deadbaits and lures, which all generated very little interest.  Finally a float-legered sardine I'd cast tight to a reedbed was picked up and line was being taken fast.  In my eagerness I rushed to set the hooks.  If I'd taken a second to look and think, I would have seen that my float was disappearing behind a clump of reeds, causing an angle between the rod and the hooks.  A few strides up the bank before striking would have alleviated this, but I had a momentary lapse of angling intuition and instead struck from where I stood.  The water erupted beside the reeds as a very large fish pulled back.  

No sooner had my rod hooped over than the fish buried deep in the reeds, a few more kicks as I scrambled to get a better angle of pull and the fish was gone, leaving my hooks embedded in the Norfolk reeds, which eventually defeated my mainline.  Bloody Norfolk reeds, over the years I've lost more tackle in them than in trees, or any other snag for that matter.  Despite their thin, hollow construction they are remarkably strong and even 15lb mainline is no match for them if the hook has a firm hold.

After that, I tried all sorts, went to see how other stretches of the canal were fishing and it became apparent that with one run, I was faring better than most.  I decided to return to my original stretch and hope there were more fish around, or that the fish I lost might get over its inevitable sulk quick enough to be tempted by a different type of bait (if ever I lose a pike on a certain bait, or have a follow on a certain lure, my default response is to try a different bait/lure, which they may not view with as much suspicion as they would seeing the same one again).  Despite a free-roving float - which I was drifting around the canal with the wind - bobbing encouragingly a few times as dusk approached, it wasn't to be my day and I left cursing the fact that I really f***ed up when it mattered most and lost what I think was a very decent pike.

Before I could get out again, the final week of the river season was upon me.  I only had time to go fishing once after work that week.  Conditions seemed perfect for barbel and I had some new boilies I wanted to try out, so I headed to the Derwent.

The weather was mild for the time of year so instead of heading to the deeper holes and runs that I'm usually tempted to try in February and March, I tried a swim which had shallows immediately upstream of it, and dropped to a maximum depth of around 6 feet mid-river.  The water pace is pretty fast here, so it's not the kind of place I'd expect to find barbel when it's really cold, but with night-time temperatures hovering around double figures, there was every chance the fish could be hard on the feed in somewhere just like this.

Having lost a bit of faith in the baits I'd been using (I started to question the freshness of the shelf-life baits which seemed to have a more sour aroma than when I'd bought them previously) and only landing a couple of chub on luncheon meat all season, I was eager to try something new.  I'd heard good things about The Hook Bait Company, so I ordered a few different flavours of their freezer baits in 14mm & 16mm dumbbells.

I also opted to switch from a large swimfeeder to a small lead, just enough to hold bottom.  The main reason for this is that with the heavy floods many anglers had stayed at home.  Any rigs that were cast into the rivers would have landed in several extra feet of coloured floodwater, so as they landed they would probably go unnoticed by the barbel.  Therefore the barbel would have had a very quiet few weeks of getting used to not being bombarded with heavy feeders and leads.  Now the rivers had fined down and the water was quite clear, any large splashes would most likely be viewed with suspicion, possibly putting the barbel off the feed or causing them to move out of the swim altogether.

I still wanted a bit of scent going into the water, so I made up some small PVA stockings of groundbait, a few pellets and a couple of crumbled boilies then attached them to my rig with the very handy Avid Carp PVA metal link.

I baited each rod with a 3-B boilie and a Big Squid boilie and put them out mid-river, one in the deeper part and one at the bottom of the rapids, where it just started to deepen off.  It was 8pm by the time I got both rigs into the water, which was disappointing as I knew this would be my last session of the season and I may have already missed the main feeding spell.  I doubted whether I could face another blank and where it would leave me if the season ended without me banking a fish during the first 3 months of 2014.  Still, I knew I could do nothing more so I sat back in wait, enjoying the mild late winter evening.

Twenty minutes later the downstream rod tip careened towards the water.  Unmistakably a barbel bite!  It had been a while since I'd hooked anything, let alone a barbel, so it was a fantastic but slightly unnerving sensation to feel something take line at speed.  I couldn't do anything with it at first, the clutch was already as tight as I dared have it, but as far as I knew there was open water in front of me (Although anything could have been deposited by the floods.).

It took at least a minute, but it felt much longer, before I could get the fish under control enough to regain any line.  I started making headway and got the fish halfway back to me when I felt a bump and everything went solid.  My worst nightmare!  I didn't know what snag the fish had found, but it didn't feel like I was going to be able to move it (It was probably a submerged clump of Norfolk reeds!).  I started shaking, knowing that I had hooked something decent which could save the end of my season, but I was now within one wrong move of losing it.  I tried to remain calm so I didn't do anything rash, like I'd done on the pike session, and after maintaining contact and pulling from as many different angles as I could I decided my best chance would be to slacken off for a few seconds and hope the fish moved off.

To my relief after trying this a couple of times the rig came free of the snag and lo and behold, it was still attached to the fish!  I didn't want to take anything for granted now and tried to play the fish in as quickly as possible.  After a few near-misses close to the landing net, the fish was safely nestled within it.  First cast with the new baits and I'd landed what was clearly my best barbel of the season and it looked like it should definitely make double figures.

The weighing confirmed I'd landed my first double figure barbel of a disappointing barbel season, at 10lb 9oz.  I cannot tell you the relief to catch a decent fish on my final attempt and to make it all the more special, it gave me such a memorable scrap.  Hopefully next season the rivers will be kinder to me, but when I look back at last season it won't seem quite so bleak as I it might.

10lb 9oz River Derwent double figure Barbel
My first fish of 2014 and my last of the 2013/14 season also ended up being my first 10lb+ barbel of the season

Friday, 11 April 2014

Short session summer barbel fishing article from Coarse Angling Today

If anyone missed my article on short session summer barbel fishing in last years "river special" edition of Coarse Angling Today magazine and you'd like to read it, I have been kindly sent the PDF version.  I've uploaded it to my website at the following link so you can download & read it for free:  Download my barbel fishing article from Coarse Angling Today here

Andrew Kennedy's Barbel Fishing Article in Coarse Angling Today

I hope you enjoy it and get something from it and I'd love to hear any feedback.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Something to Chew on


I'm never going to fish that place!

I decided a few weeks ago that after putting off the idea for a few years - for various reasons:  ("It's not real pike fishing"... "It's far too easy to catch a huge pike on there"... "Results will drop off before I get there, like at Llandegfedd, Blithfield"... "I don't want to join the rat race in the fight for tickets and then rejoin it in the fight for best spots", etc.)  - I would finally this year try for some winter tickets to pike fish at Chew Valley Lake.



I love fishing rivers, drains and canals for pike.  The looks and fight of a double-figure river pike are hard to beat, but occasionally I get the urge to seek out larger fish.  Visits to reservoirs in the past haven't been too productive for me, but I have the tackle and - thanks to these previous trips - a bit of experience of reservoir fishing.  So what if reservoirs are man-made?  The pike in these venues are as wild as any from a river.  They may have an easy, protein-rich food source of naive stocked trout, but this all adds to the challenge of reservoir pike fishing.  Finding pike and then convincing them to feed on your offerings when the vast water is full of spotty easy meals is a feat in itself and at the larger waters such as Ladybower I get this magical feeling of being pitched against the elements, exposed in a boat or on a barren bankside, knowing that it only takes one run to latch into what could be the fish of your dreams.




My views on Chew used to be quite strong, which is a bit odd to say I've never set eyes on the place, let alone fished it!  Whether it was envy or desensitisation at seeing a seemingly endless stream of pictures of "yet more huge pike from Chew" I don't know, but I convinced myself that almost everyone who turns up at Chew ended up with a fish beyond the dreams of most.  That these "artificially bulked-up" pike would just throw themselves at anything dangled in front of them.

It's actually the blogging community who have changed my mind about fishing there; reading blogs and articles about fishing Chew, written by anglers I respect, from Rob Thompson and Leo Heathcote's exploits to Paul Garner, Phil Smith and Tony Gibson's accounts of their own sessions at Chew.  It became clear that there is much more involved in catching a big fish from Chew than the reports in the weeklies would have you believe.  My fishing time is limited and I seem to spend less time each season fishing for pike, so I want to spend some of that time challenging myself and having the chance of landing an immense fish.  With the pike fishing at Ladybower now consigned to a winter syndicate which I could not fish often enough to get value from, I really fancy trying my hand at Chew, but with a limited number of tickets available, all of which are sold over the phone, even getting a ticket to fish the place is not for the feint hearted.



Hotline in Meltdown

Tickets for next winter went on sale on Saturday Jan 4th this year, so this first day saw me redialling as often as I could (I was at work but it was easy to keep hitting redial on the hands-free desk phone) for the majority of the 9am until 3pm booking window.  Over 700 calls later I still hadn't got through!  The Bristol Water Fisheries Facebook page was kept fairly up-to-date though and each evening after close of business they would announce how many tickets were remaining out of the total of 3,200-odd boat & bank tickets.  I was disheartened after Saturdays efforts, but there were still plenty of spaces left on Sunday & Monday so I tried periodically maybe 30 more times on each of those days and resigned myself to having missed out.  Then on Wednesday I saw there were still about 100 spaces remaining so I gave it one last shot at a sustained redialling effort.  Several hundred calls later I almost fell off my chair as I heard the phone actually ring!  How I didn't clumsily hang up in the excitement, I don't know!

A few minutes later, after a brief conversation with a thoroughly pleasant and remarkably calm-sounding (considering the chaos of the past 4 days) bloke, I managed to book a boat for two consecutive days in late November.  I didn't have any choice on dates by this point, but just to have a shot at fishing this legendary venue is enough for me!

Down with the System?

I was conscious of the fact that every minute I was on the line, several hundred other frustrated anglers would be punching the redial button in vain, so I tried to keep it as brief as possible by avoiding moaning about the system, asking unnecessary questions or ranting on about how unbelievable it was to actually get through (though all of these things were just bubbling under the surface!).  I wonder how many others failed to bite their tongue and selfishly babbled on to the tackle shop staff, causing further delay and anguish to their fellow anglers who were trying to get through?

I did, however, take the opportunity whilst my payment card was processing to ask how many lines in there actually were.  The answer I got, straight from the horses mouth, is that there are two telephones manned by three people, which allows one person to take a break and/or fill out the necessary paperwork whilst the other two deal with telephone calls.  This seems sensible to me, but many have been vocal on social networking, etc. condemning the booking system.

Why would a tackle shop which has four extremely busy days a year pay for more than two lines?  Or outsource their ticket sales to a call centre or something?  That would only mean tickets sold out quicker but cost more to cover the added costs of the extra phone lines/call centre!  Maybe there is a better solution, but by my reckoning to sell 1640 pairs of tickets (as most are sold either as 2-man boats or two anglers in pairs) in four 6 hour shifts, they still manage to process 68 pairs of tickets per hour!

After a while of hearing nothing but the repeated sound of the engaged tone, it becomes the most annoying noise on earth and I'd given up hope of ever getting through.  It was like trying to get Glastonbury tickets in the late '90s and early 2000s, when the event had become so popular that it could sell out without even trying, but the vast majority of tickets were still sold over the phone.  The thing is, as punters we accepted the telephone ordeal as part of what you had to suffer if you wanted tickets for such a rare and special event!  

Nowadays, the huge music promo companies have invested millions into massive call centres and rock-solid web ordering platforms and as a result the ticket buying public have come to expect being able to have a quick, easy crack at getting tickets to pretty much anything.  We've lost sight of there being any value in being one of the lucky few who've battled it out fairly and managed to get through a congested booking system.  A boyband on tour or a major music festival is always going to be vastly more lucrative than a successful and sustainable pike fishing venue, so the amount invested in the booking system (which will be used week-in, week-out, taking bookings for hundreds of tours a year) is going to be gargantuan by comparison.  

We can't expect this level of investment or service from a fishery.  It's a bloody lake with a hut that sells a few bits of tackle, so rather than moaning that they don't have state of the art booking systems, we should instead be thankful that the general public have the chance to buy tickets for such a rare and special place.  Many venues with the quality of specimen fish which Chew has restrict ticket access to an exclusive few.

Even with these huge booking systems, popular music events still sell out in minutes, people still have to queue on phones hitting redial or pressing refresh on their internet browsers.  It just happens over a shorter period of time because these companies have so much order processing capability.  If such a thing happened with the booking of Chew it would be sold out in a matter of seconds, which would actually be less fair than the current system because if anyone had a problem (e.g. loss of phone signal/internet connection/dead battery...) they wouldn't have a chance to try again later on.

Before I even had tickets I couldn't honestly think of another, fair way of allocating them which wouldn't cost an insane amount to set up or be a nightmare to administer.  When my call was eventually answered, my experience couldn't have been better; which considering the strain they were under and the abuse they no doubt received, was pretty damned professional!  Bristol Water Fisheries even issued a statement on Sunday regarding the number of emails they were receiving about the booking process from aggrieved anglers!

I almost feel like I deserve a fish now, just for going through the ordeal of making 1500 engaged calls!  It was the same for everyone lucky enough to have got through though, and there will be many hundreds of disappointed pikers who weren't so lucky, so this will be in the back of my mind in the run up to actually fishing the venue.  I have already been very lucky.  

The reality is that the majority of anglers with tickets for next winter will blank, just as happens every year.  The vast majority will not catch a monster, but having now got lucky in this first lottery of Chew, there are many more lotteries standing between me & the other anglers and the pike of a lifetime.  With so much demand to fish here, who knows whether I'll ever fish it again?  So here's hoping my luck holds out.


Monday, 16 December 2013

Caught In The Act Parts 3 & 4 DVD Review


Caught In The Act - Parts 3 & 4 (Autumn & Winter) DVD review

I recently reviewed the second 2 x DVD set of the excellent "Caught In The Act" by Bob Roberts & Stuart Walker, for FishingMagic.  The two DVDs in this installment cover the seasons of autumn and winter  You can read the full review at the following link, but I've also included a few snippets below: Caught In The Act parts 3 & 4 FishingMagic.com Review

 


"From the very moment you set eyes on the package the atmosphere is already building...  Press play and the atmosphere further builds with the epic, soaring classical title music which seems to audibly frame the stunning intro visuals perfectly. By this point I was already sucked in and couldn’t wait to see what came next." 


"Both anglers exude enthusiasm and confidence alongside a genuine belief and interest in what they’re doing whenever they are on screen."

"There are no fancy rigs or ‘You must use this specific tackle item or you won’t catch’ and the rigs that are used are well explained, with a few bonus tips...  The mixture of short but well-articulated rig and tackle talks in each act blend effortlessly into the film between scenic wide-angle shots, close-ups of the anglers in action and of course, the quality underwater footage." 

"Caught in the Act is essential viewing for all anglers, especially those looking to reconnect with the simple pleasures of the pursuit of specimen fish, in all seasons."



You can find out more information about CITA on the Caught In The Act Facebook Page:  http://www.facebook.com/CITAFILM

If you're already convinced you can order CITA at the following page on on Bob Roberts' Website:  http://www.bobrobertsonline.co.uk/sales/


Or if you still need some convincing, you can view more clips from Caught In The Act on Stu's YouTube page:  http://www.youtube.com/Stubarbel



Don't forget you can read my full review on FM here:  www.fishingmagic.com Caught In The Act parts 3 & 4 DVD review

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Short Session Summer Barbel Article in this months Coarse Angling Today magazine - out now!

Those of you who are regular readers of Coarse Angling Today magazine, keep an eye out for my 5-page article on short-session summer barbel fishing.  If you've never read it before and you enjoy multi-species fishing, it's one of the best mags out there...


It's the first article I've had published in CAT (but hopefully the first of many!) and besides being apt for the conditions right now, it explains most of what a novice or first-time barbel angler needs to consider to have a go at catching summer barbel, after work. If anyone reads it and wants some further info, then I'd be happy to respond via email or on here.

This months issue is a rivers special, with an extra 32 pages for the normal price of £2.95, so it's a bit of a bargain!

UPDATE - Click here to download and view the article in full, for free, from my website!

Now for the official line...



The River Special of Coarse Angling Today is in the shops today! It can also be downloaded via the Apple Newsstand.

This is what’s on offer:

 - Andrew Kennedy – Short Session Summer Barbel Fishing Like most anglers, Andrew works full time and has a family to support, so making the most of his time on the bank is crucial.
 - Bob Roberts – Barbel - Just Fabulous or Simply a Fad? Bob gives us his thoughts on the development of barbel fishing and why he thinks barbel are the new carp.
 - Dave Booth – Trent Barbel Past and Present Dave relives a memorable campaign on the River Trent.
 - Jerry Gleeson – Summer Floodwater Barbel Fishing Jerry has some tips for us in case the weather takes a turn for the worse and the rivers begin to rise.
 - Lee Swords – The Non-Tidal Trent The Trent specialist talks us through an early-season session.
 - Lewis Baldwin - A Tale of Two Rivers Lewis picks up his diary piece by recalling sessions on the River Wye and Dove.
 - Mick Wood – A Yorkshire Barbel Scene Mick offers his opinion on the state of modern-day barbel fishing in Yorkshire.
 - Mike Townsend – Hit for Six Mike raises the question: could the River Trent soon be challenging the more established southern rivers as a specimen chub venue.
 - Paul Elt – Summer Plans Paul talks about his preparations for the summer and the fish he will be targeting.
 - Paul Garner – Fishing Photography Part 3: Let There be Light Paul presents the third part of his six-part series.
 - Steven Du-Rieu – Steams and Dreams Streams are pretty unusual places really, says Steven.
 - Stewart Moss – The One that Got Away Stewart has compiled a few tales of sessions that will live long in the memory of the anglers involved, for all the wrong reasons.
 - Think Tank: Tony Gibson – Slippery Customers Tony Gibson talks us through the reasons why he was bitten by the eel bug again.

Plus, Kevin Clifford Editorial, Hot Seat, Spezzie Watch, Tackled Up, News, Press Releases and Reviews, and Where’s the Catch? and Drennan 7 Series competitions.

To download the issue from the iTunes Newsstand Click Here For those of you (like me!) who still like to have paper issues of magazines, you can take out an old-school postal magazine subscription of Coarse Angling Today on the Gifts4Anglers website, Here


You can also read my thoughts on the upcoming river season, and on why I love river fishing so much, in the following short piece on the FishingMagic website:  http://www.fishingmagic.com/fm-features/coarse_fishing/general_fishing/17014-new-river-season-%E2%80%93-andrew-kennedy.html

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Farm lake carp - tales of the unexpected

There are some things that as anglers we just can't resist.  Such as an invitation to try out a neglected old farm lake "to see what's in it".  The chances are it could be a real duffer; a puddle devoid of everything but sticklebacks and dragonfly nymphs, but there's always that chance.  That pesky chance.

So upon receiving one of these extremely rare opportunities, I couldn't refuse.  A farmer was investigating the possibility of selling the fishing rights to a couple of acre lake on his property, which had been neglected and unfished (bar the odd poacher) for years.  A quick recce was all I could fit in initially, but I spotted a few carp up to high doubles, maybe even a twenty, plus a half-decent tench hanging in the shade of a fallen tree.  I'd also spotted a lightning fast tail swirl in the margins that really shouted "pike" to me, so I made a mental note to visit properly the following spring.

It was difficult to know what tackle to take with me because I wanted to get an accurate cross-section of the species present in the water, but I also hoped to catch the lakes largest residents - whatever they may be - to help the farmer to get interest from local angling groups.  So I took the the whole gun rack!  Armed to the teeth I was, with tackle for every species that could possibly swim in the lake.

This scattergun approach, which often tempts my chaotic mind, usually leaves me with a complete lack of focus and thus, I miss out on catching fish by chopping and changing too much.  However, on this occasion I knew I had to be versatile; it was pointless fishing for pike if none were present and it was pointless hoping for a specimen roach or rudd if it didn't contain those species.

After my recce I'd decided my best chance of a specimen would be to mainly target the carp & tench, have an occasional chuck around with a lure, and have a dabble with maggots to see what else might reside in this mysterious water.

I raked a few swims when I arrived and almost had to give up on my rake in a weedy corner.  It hit a snag and went solid, no amount of pulling would shift it.  I had to go wading through the overgrown, stinking silty margins to get an opposite angle of pull and thankfully I eventually got my rake back.  Now I was in two minds; I had found a snag which may hold fish, but would the disturbance I caused by 15 minutes of tugging on a snagged rake have caused the fish to abandon this sanctuary?  I opted to bait up this corner and rest it whilst I explored the other swims I'd raked.

It was slow going for a while.  I saw no signs of fish except for a few jack pike and a larger one of around 12lb, resting in the margins.  I didn't need to catch these as I had a good visual confirmation of their presence, plus pulling a lure through the shallow margins they were laid up in would more likely spook them than tempt them to strike.

My legered baits over the raked areas got no interest and I decided to have a bash with maggots on the float.  I was aghast when after half an hour of this I'd caught nothing but a micro-perch.  Still, it was another species I hadn't previously known was present.  I later spotted some small rudd and possibly roach, but they were tiny and I decided not to focus on these any longer.


So it came time to cast into the reed-fringed corner where I'd found the snag.  I had baited with some groundbait laced with a few mixed pellets, grains of corn, maggots, casters and broken boilies.  Once again, the kitchen sink treatment!  I liberally poured over some liquid coconut flavouring to appeal to the sweet tooth of any nearby tench or carp.  I then opted to fish an inline lead set-up to drop-off if it got snagged, with a short braided hooklink and a dynamite stick of the same groundbait mix added before each cast.  Hookbait was a stack of real and fake corn on one rod (which was the "searcher" rod I cast around to other areas) and on the rig going into the corner I hair-rigged a 12mm pineapple popup.



 Because the lake wasn't fished, the banks were completely overgrown and access to some of the "pegs" involved crawling with the tackle through some dense hawthorn bushes, nettles and other vegetation.  This is something that would have to be looked at if the venue was developed!  It also meant that although the corner I was fishing in had good casting access to almost half the lake, I was penned in by vegetation at both sides.  This was to become an issue later on...

With the traps set, I waited and waited, gradually losing confidence that there was anything worth catching present.  A passer-by stopped and chatted.  He told me that over the winter there had been a gang of men on the water, up the trees dragging a large net through the lake!  He had assumed they were the owners netting it to move the fish.  I was assured by the farmer that this wasn't the case, so who knows where anything they caught ended up.  Another venue?  On the dinner table...?

My heart sank.  Was I fishing somewhere that had been poached to death?  Would the carp & tench I saw the previous year have been removed by these unscrupulous individuals?  Was this the reason that all I'd seen were small pike and small silver fish?


It was early afternoon and I was running plans through my head of what venues I could move to, to fish in a similar way but actually have a chance of getting a bite.  I decided to give things another hour and if nothing happened I'd drive half an hour or so to a club lake I'd always meant to get around to fishing.  About fifteen minutes later the bobbin on the rod cast to the corner snag smacked the underside of the rod and the baitrunner hit warp speed!  I clumsily fell sideways off my chair, probably out of shock more than anything, and picked up the rod as I laid on the floor.

As I leapt to my feet the water was broken by the huge shoulders of a carp, which kited to my right with phenomenal pace, skirting reeds as it went.  I gave it as much sidestrain as I dared, which was just enough to keep the fish swimming and not getting its nose into the reeds.  Eventually the reedbed ended and a large bush was partly submerged on the far bank.  I realised I had to gain some line because at its current trajectory, the carp would plunge straight into said bush.  It knew where it was heading a long time before I did!

So I pumped the rod and managed to gain some line which steered the fish just short of the bush, but it didn't let up the pace in the slightest.  By now the fish had swum more than 180 degrees in an almost perfect curve and when it reached open water I realised that if it tried to complete the circle it would hit the reeds and submerged bushes round the corner to my right, in the near margin.  I reeled for dear life, barely managing to keep up with the speed of the fish.  I didn't gain enough line and the fish did indeed keep up its circular route and before I knew it, the carp was 20 feet from me, 3 feet from the bank, floundering just the other side of a small bush in the water.  I managed to free my line from the reeds it had gone through to get there, by flicking the rod tip upwards, but the line was snagged in the bush.

I had no choice but to go in with the net and hope the fish didn't try to bolt before I got there, or it was goodnight Vienna!  This sounds simple, but there was a wild rose bush to circumvent and the water was far deeper than my wellies.  I went for it and in a few swift strides, I got my net round the back of the bush and enveloped the carp within it.  Without hesitation I bit my mainline because this was the only way I'd free it.  A bit of bushwacking got me and the fish safely back to the bank.  I was scratched all over from the rose bush and my wellies were full of stinking silty water, but I cared little because I knew I had a PB carp in the net.

I used to fish for carp regularly, at local waters containing few fish above mid-doubles and hence, my PB hovered around mid-doubles before I lost interest with carp fishing in general and sought to pursue a wider range of quarry.  I've limited my carp fishing in the past decade and a half to the odd bit of the methods I love best, stalking, float fishing and surface fishing.  I stalked a fish just shy of 19lb on a worm a good few years ago and whilst it would have been great to have caught a twenty, I wasn't bothered about putting a campaign in to catch one, there are many species I care more about.

It was almost like this fish was sent to test my apathy towards carp, because not only had it mentally and physically left me in tatters, it was a beautifully proportioned, pure chunk of muscle; a dazzling specimen.  To cap it off, this fish was a slow-growing leather carp and it was still in possession of that holy grail of carp fishing, its "curtains".  This was definitely a virgin fish!  It tipped the scales at a very satisfying 24lb 9oz and I'm thrilled and privileged to have such a pristine, previously uncaught fish as my PB.  A definite selling point for the farmer to pitch to angling clubs:


After this huge disturbance I decided to rest this swim and I'd noticed some floaters I'd catapulted up the lake were getting some interest, so I spent an hour or so gaining their confidence and getting an idea of which the largest individuals were.  There were two fish which looked mid to upper doubles and once I was happy they were taking well I made a cast.   The wind was blowing down the centre of the lake and soon my rig was blown well out of the feeding area, so with my second cast I used the wind to my advantage, casting away from the fish and waiting for the bait and controller to drift over them.  It worked a treat and within minutes I hooked one of the bigger pair.  It was a much less eventful scrap than the first fish, owed partly to the shape of the common carp, which was very short and stumpy, with a very short tail wrist.  At 16lb 3oz it was a good fish off the surface and further proof of the lake's potential.



Further baits introduced in this swim failed to raise any carp, so I returned to my corner swim and within half an hour of casting I had a much more hesitant take on the pineapple pop-up, resulting in a tench just shy of 3lb.  Another species that I could provide the farmer with photographic proof of.  I fished on into dark and had no further action, but I was mightily satisfied with my efforts, especially after such a slow and unpromising start.  It was an absolute dream come true to fish such a water which no-one else had access to.  I think I showed what potential the place has and I'm fairly sure I landed its larger resident.  Who knows, I had a great day but I have no plans on returning, however, I wish the farmer every success with opening the venue up to more people, as and when it happens.


Mission accomplished!