Friday, 9 December 2016

Looking back at 2016

Carpe Diem; a good motto to live by and certainly one that has seemed all-the-more relevant to me of late, especially where my angling is concerned. 2016 has been a year of impossible demands, soaring highs and crushing lows but that is life and it must be acknowledged that without the challenges there would be little ecstasy in achievement. 
The challenges I have faced have led me to be more proactive in my leisurely pursuits, including my fishing and as a consequence the shape of my angling has changed, resulting in more opportunities and more varied experiences than I could ever have hoped for.
The first moment of significance was a day on the River Itchen with good friends Matthew and Colin. They were keen for me to experience the joy of a grayling on a cane rod and whilst this meant little to me prior to this excursion, the sensation of the connection through this medium simply cannot be put into words and has since become a focus of fanaticism. With some sterling guidance in a stunning setting, several 'ladies of the river' were seen.

Whilst I do enjoy long session carp fishing with all the associated trimmings, aside perhaps from the blinkered outlook and laddish antics, I have found it much easier snatch short sessions early in the morning or late at night on the Kentish Stour. The stretch I used to frequent in pursuit of barbel is in a sorry state owing, at least in part, to gross mismanagement and sadly also, the other anglers who fish there. For this reason I have spent most of my time elsewhere on the river and have enjoyed some good chub, roach, gudgeon, bream, perch and pike, very often without seeing a single soul.

I have to thank my dad for my love of angling. He introduced me to sea fishing, his preferred denomination of our sport, when I was young and we have relished every opportunity to get out together since, messing about in boats or blanking on the beach - it matters not. These moments together are important bonding time and angling the perfect medium. These days, sadly, they are few and far between. This year however, for his 60th birthday, we made a concerted effort and arranged a string of angling adventures; punting in the jungle at Bury Hill, beach casting from Herne Bay, carping on Broadlands Lake and the highlight, coincidentally also the most epic haul, fishing for thornback rays off the coast of Dover in March. I can't claim it was difficult fishing, though timing the strike was critical to hooking the fish successfully but these hard fighting creatures really were fun to catch. Now we are back in the habit of booking in 'bank time' or even 'boat time', it would be a crime to let it slide once more.

Come spring all I could think about was tench fishing. I was blessed with a couple of days on the banks of a new water at Easter when I made sure this was my sole focus. I fished two rods with black-cap maggot feeders and a maggot clip on a simple hair rig and took 20 tench over the session. They started around 4lb and progressed to 5, 6 and eventually a 7lber before the end of the session. Most fish came at night meaning I had hardly any sleep!In spite of this being a highly successful tench session, the real highlight had to be the surprise capture of this 22lb common carp which picked up the big ball of maggots intended for a tinca! Incredible fun, if not a little hair-raising at times, on light tackle... I have only returned to this venue once since this session to try and track down some more big scaleys but missed the one chance I was given. I'm sure this lake has incredible potential - it is certainly not fished very much so who knows what is in there. However, over the summer months I had other venues to focus on.

It was my absolute pleasure and privilege to be granted to opportunity to fish on two occasions this year at a very special venue known simply as 'The Moat'. The first visit was for a day in July and was somewhat sweet and sour  - the venue cast something of a spell on me, I was totally in awe but the fishing was more challenging than I had anticipated. I was targeting crucian carp and had forgotten just how finicky their bites can be. I was over-gunned and complacent. On my second visit, this time in August, I had more time to play with and was able to relax into the experience and, with the benefit of learning from my previous experiences, make the necessary adjustments to be successful. I targeted carp by night resulting in two stunning mid-doubles on simple ledger tactics. During daylight hours I fished for crucians again this time slightly scaled down, fed less but more frequently and was less hasty on the strike and, though the first day passed without a bite, on the second I was rewarded with a commendable crucian taken on a small piece of bread flake fished beneath a quill float I made. 
The moment was absolute magic, compounded further by the fantastic friends who shared it with me. On my return I was compelled to write about my experience and am proud to say an abridged version of my blog about this trip has been included as a 'Reader's Story' in issue 8 of Fallon's Angler - a super quarterly publication with the subheading 'a medley of piscatorial prose'. To see my story in print alongside angling writers such as Chris Yates and Kevin Parr, truly is an honour.

The rest of the summer was spent chasing carp on a venue I had not fished before this year. I took a trip or two to figure out how to catch here but once off the mark had a reasonable string of catches until the end of the summer when they seemed to dry up a little, though I was not alone in this. I had signed up to club that hosts this venue in addition to the ticket I have held for the past 7 years or so as I had become frustrated with rammed lakes and the agro I had experienced on the bank last season and needed to have a break from all that. During the summer I was able to get out mid-week which on this new lake often meant I was the only person fishing down there! Whilst it is not a patch on the beauty of Fordwich and the fish I caught, not as big and brag-worthy, it was a pleasure to find some solitude and still be having fun catching carp. I am still debating whether or not to keep this ticket on but it certainly did me good this year!

Most of the autumn I have spent fishing for perch either with float fished worms or using light drop-shot or jig tactics. I have been fortunate enough to find some prolific spots on the river. The longest I have fished in one sitting is 3 hours and have always caught a few but sometimes in excess of 40 perch in a session with most fish averaging an estimated 1/2lb - 1lb with no discernable distinction being apparent between methods. A friend has had some whopping-great perch from a still-water venue and commended live-baiting tactics as a way of singling out the bigger fish. I am yet to try this approach but can't help feeling that this might not pay off on my stretch as the fish caught on lures, which are effectively impersonating a live-bait, have not attracted bigger fish than the float fished lobs. I can only conclude that either the larger fish are not present or I have not been lucky yet. It is however, no hardship to keep trying!
Occasionally, when they have been showing, I have put a larger jig on and targeted pike. I have had a few decent jacks like this one but am yet to have the opportunity to go out with deadbaits on a frosty morning to try for anything bigger this season.

In late November, I travelled up to Hereford to fish the River Wye for barbel for a weekend. On the Saturday I fished alone and met up with Tony - a friend first met at the moat, on the Sunday.
It was fortuitous to have been without company on the first day as I fell victim to the steep, slippery banks on more than one occasion, as did my camera! It was bad enough taking an involuntary swim so I was grateful to have been spared the embarrassment of doing it before company. I did however catch 2 fighting fit, fin perfect barbel - the first weighed in at 5lb and the second returned without a fuss. I also had several decent trout on both days though no barbel showed on day two, probably owing to the frost the night before. Tony winkled out a lovely chub and we enjoyed some mince pies and a natter!

I don't think I have ever before caught such a range of species within a year - certainly not by design and so this feels like something of an achievement. I have enjoyed my fishing so much more also by focusing on the experience above the end result. 
I am going to be a dad next spring which I know is going to completely change my life. It is already giving me so much to look forward to! Who knows how much fishing I will be able to do once my baby girl arrives but where there is a will, there is a way and I believe my proactivity this year has formed healthy habits which will certainly give me a good chance of wetting a line whenever possible.

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