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 finalĂ©.  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 satisfied 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 fiancĂ©).  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