Saturday, 21 December 2013

Looking back at 2013

Looking back and reflecting has become such a valuable part of my fishing since I have been writing these blog posts. What is interesting when I look back at this last year and also the year before is the value I place on enjoyment of the experience and the impact my attitude and mental state makes on my catch rate.


The best example of the impact of attitude is in my barbel fishing. Last year barbel became an absolute obsession and yet I caught none. Whatever it was I was getting wrong was impossible for me to see as I gave myself no time to reflect or space to calm down from each blank session.

This year I managed to winkle one out on March 14th before the enforced break of the closed season. Straight after the 3 month wait I was back on the bank in pursuit of 'the river prince' and lost a good one due to a faulty swivel from a supposedly reputable manufacturer. Fortunately a friend of mine who has no trouble catching a barbel caught a fish baring what appeared to be my lost rig and relieved the fish of its burden. The next time I went out I had another fish, smaller this time but a barb nonetheless. Since then I have been out 3 times fishing for barbel and blanked (or caught eels!). However, I am very happy with this result. Whilst I don't think I did much differently to last year in terms of tactics I can only attribute this years relative success to a more laissez faire attitude and as a result I have had a better experience on the bank even when not catching.

Disappointingly, I have had very few chub this year and even fewer of any size. It seems to me that there are less of them in the river these days and can only guess as to why that may be but I suppose it is quite likely many may have sadly been taken for the pot. 

This year I have been fortunate enough to have been field testing for 'Big Carp Baits'. This has enabled me to get out much more frequently to fish for carp than in previous seasons. Whilst I have had a reasonable level of success on their boilies I have to say now that  I would not head out without a method feeder and a bucket of their flavoured pellets or ground bait. Fishing the method on my third rod this season has landed me the majority of my fish and prevented numerous sessions where the going was slow from ending up as blanks. Speaking to other anglers it seems many have found the going tough this year, perhaps due to carp spawning well in to the summer as a result of the late spring but I am aware that many big carp have been caught and that my biggest this year have only been mid-doubles. It has been suggested I should try smaller baits - advice I shall surely take. 

 Infuriatingly, after making progress with Fordwich Lake last year I seem to be back on square one again though now the problem is not locating fish but hooking them! I have had 5 good runs on this lake this year which resulted in nothing when I picked up the rod. Many possible explanations have been buzzing around my head but I am still baffled. I am going to experiment with a longer hair when using bigger baits but aside from this I am open to suggestions!

I think it is possible to over-think things. Sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth. I have a few aspects of my approach I am going to attempt to refine next year but otherwise it will be business as usual and hope for the best.

Making things!

A real highlight of this season for me has been making things to use in my fishing. It started in the closed season when I started making balsa and porcupine quill floats with a kids club I run. I had some left over materials so made a few for myself. I know that many people do this and probably do it a darn sight better but my floats do what they are meant to do and have a certain naive charm about them if I do say so myself.

The smell of my boilie mix was almost as evil
as its facial expression!
Big Carp Baits very kindly sent me the raw ingredients to make my own fishmeal boilies. I have been testing my prototype baits at Fordwich and Stonar and so far have caught a lot of big bream on them at Stonar and had a few runs which I should think could only be attributed to carp at Fordwich but as I mentioned earlier I suspect my rig mechanics let me down in these cases. So I cannot yet post any conclusions or boast about my winning recipe but I am quietly confident that I am on to something that is getting the fish sniffing around. More on this to follow...

I also made a bobbin for my third rod as having only fished with two rods until this season, I only had two bobbins and needed a third. I had some Fimo in the house and by chance some of it was glow-in-the-dark which lent itself really well to a 'Jack Skeleton' design. The line clip is simply made from a hair slide - the way we used to make them as kids with just a hair slide, cork and a piece of string if a fairy liquid cap was not available! I bent the ends of the slide into a shape so that the line could either be made to run freely through it or clipped within the grip of the two prongs. I have been using it throughout the summer and it works perfectly!


When I look ahead to fishing in 2014 there are many uncertainties but one thing I am definitely going to be carrying forward from 2013 is to continue to be easy going and relish my time on the bank. I have learnt the hard way that setting targets and putting pressure on yourself only results in stress which is not only counterproductive but defeats the whole point in going fishing. Ultimately, if we are not 'pleasure anglers' then what are we doing it for?

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Esox Fables

Every fishing expedition holds a tale and very often a lesson to be learned. Todays jaunt to Westbere Marshes was no exception...
I have not been able to fish for some time due to an ever encroaching career as a Music teacher and with the winter term being one of the busiest and most stressful, I have been desperate for a moment of serenity at the waterside. Even with this craving driving me to set the alarm for the crack of dawn on the day of my only opportunity for a lay in, it was still a struggle to motivate myself to get up and scrape the remnants of the second frost of the season from my windscreen.
Once on the footpath to the Great Stour however I was pleased to be there admiring the autumnal colours which still adorned the surrounding trees. A few minutes later came a rude wake up call as the footpath, which was more than just a little overgrown and ambiguous at best, vanished and I found myself all of a sudden up to my knees in ice-cold water! My boots were full and trousers clinging to my legs catching every slight gust of wind to make me bitterly aware of the seasons character.

The footpath at Westbere Marshes (before it disappears!)
Several swims along this stretch I had passed as they clearly could not be accessed without taking a swim but now I was invincible, no more harm could be done and so I waded through flooded marshland to a prime spot.

As you might have guessed, I was fishing for pike and started out fishing a mackerel, caught whilst fishing this summer with my wife at Reculver, presented on a float/ ledger paternoster rig with a 2 foot rotten bottom. No sooner had I cast and set the rod down then the familiar chirp of my bite alarm  insisted that I picked the rod straight back up again to receive my first pike of the day, a jack of around 5lb. As soon as this fish was returned I repeated the process exactly. It was like deja vu.

My wife fishing at Reculver helping me catch the bait for todays trip!
The first pike of the session. I didn't photograph the second pike as it was identical - it may actually have been the same fish!
Having only brought 2 mackerel with me my bait was now spent and so turned my attention to spinning. I have not been pike fishing for long and so had never caught a pike on a spoon or lure before having had all my success so far on dead baits. I've been doing some dep' work for a local funk/ soul band and with the proceeds have bought myself a new spinning rod- it's made by Sonik, is 9 foot and casts up to 40 grams and like anyone with 'new toy syndrome' was keen to play with it!

The spoon that caught the mackerel and the pike!
I used a simple silver spoon and cast to features down stream, practicing different rhythms on the retrieve to make the inanimate piece of metal better resemble a living fish. I was delighted when after a long time casting and catching no more than passing pieces of debris, a slightly larger and infinitely angrier pike charged away ripping braid off the spool at a rate of knots having snatched my spoon as it approached the near margin.
The rod action was beautiful with more than enough power in the lower blank transferring seamlessly to a joyfully sensitive tip. I cannot put the sensation of the fight on this rod into words!

My first ever pike on a spoon. I did not weigh it but would guess somewhere around 8lb.
So what is the moral of the story? I've certainly learnt to look where I'm going and not to take terra firma for granted. What else? The notion 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' has been reaffirmed as has the idea of perseverance paying off. Whilst my trips seem to be few and far between at the moment I am happy to be making the most of them and enjoying every moment.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Stonar, storms, snags and scales.

I arrived at Stonar Lake, Sandwich a few hours after what was meant to be the worst storm since '87. It may have been a bit of an anticlimax but nevertheless there had been winds of over 60mph in the area and a few gardens were looking a bit on the messy side as I drove to my watery abode for the next 24 hours.
Whilst the winds had subsided considerably by the time I reached my spot, putting up a shelter in 30mph gusts was not easy, nor was accurate casting, so I opted to fish close-in.
My approach in recent years has been to attempt to keep rigs simple but having seen a neat rig of Lee Crampton's on the aforementioned 'Carp Unplugged' page for presenting pop-ups perfectly I had decided to give it a crack. Have a look at his explanation on how to tie it and why you might use it by clicking here. I tied mine twice as short as his as I don't like them popped up too high unless I'm fishing over a choddy bottom. My other 2 rods fished standard hair rigs bang on the deck.
The pace unfortunately was quite slow with no action until mid-afternoon when a fish, which fell to said pop-up rig, was lost at the net.
When retrieving my lines to recast I lost 2 rigs on underwater snags. When this happens I never of course put them back out in the same place. When it happened again on 2 rods the next morning in new locations I was more than a bit grumpy about it! 
Not normally considered a beauty spot, Stonar has its moments - especially when you crop out the Pfizer buildings!

Dark came before 5pm and with strong cold winds and occasional rain I found myself bivvy-bound and reading James Joyce. If you think my stream-of-consciousness waffle is bad then steer clear of Ulysses!
I had good reason to leap out of my hobbit-hole at about 11pm however when this lovely common ripped off with my pop-up again!
How big? You decide! 

Unfortunately, when I came to weigh this fish my digital scales failed to work. I changed the batteries and yet still no reading showed. I stopped myself abruptly from having a paddy. I wondered why we as anglers are so obsessed with weight? When I was just starting to carp fish as a teen I would weigh fish occasionally out of interest but back then I was there for the right reasons. I had nothing to prove, no awareness of 'pasties' or 'tonks' just the simple joy of catching. So even though I have resolved to purchase some decent spring loaded scales, I am looking on the bright side of this mishap and remembering to appreciate each moment for how it really is, how it really feels and not to make statistic comparisons with other anglers.
After loosing those rigs in the morning and my concentrated baiting not paying dividends as I expected, I decided to change my third rod to a method feeder with a 12mm Belgian chocolate boilie / 10 mm spicy dumbbell popup snowman rig and to cast it about until I found some fish. This move resulted in my second fish in the net, a smaller common but size doesn't matter, remember?! 
Having only fished with one or two rods at a time for 20 years, I view the third rod I have started using this year as my 'wild card'. It is a barbel rod, the same one I use in the rivers and therefore, whilst still robust, has a much lighter action than my carp rods. Very often people who fish 3 rods will put them all to the horizon. When fishing certain waters with 2 rods I might have done the same but now having the extra rod means that that 'what if' playing in my mind can be satisfied: What if they are swimming under the rod tips right now? What if they are high in the water?! What if I targeted bream and didn't tell anyone?! 
Speaking of the devil, the bream were also drawn in by my method feeder! Very often I have found it has been by taking risks with rod number 3 I have caught more than I would if I had stuck to a regimented approach.

A limp handshake.

Near the end of the session I lost another carp on this method while it was still some way off. It had taken me past an underwater snag, invisible from the surface, and sliced clean through my main line. It is at times like these we are reminded just why it us so important that the lead or feeder can slide straight off the line / lead clip so the fish won't become tethered.
I've still not got amongst the big carp so far this year but this was an enjoyable trip with a few fish banked and some valuable lessons to learn.

Monday, 8 July 2013

A night of firsts!

Since the flop that was the first night of the season at Fordwich Lake, when fishing tight lines to close range snags kept the fish at bay, I have been concentrating mostly on the Stour with only the odd trip to Littlebourne to remind myself what a carp looks like.

I tend not to write blogs about every trip but wait for something noteworthy and I believe tonight's session fits the bill as the fish I caught is a 'first' on several accounts:

It is my first barbel of the season, my first barbel caught on 'Big Carp Baits', my first barbel caught on this particular stretch of the stour and the first barbel caught on my new John Wilson Avon Rod!!!

It's not a massive fish - it weighed in at 5lb 6oz, but a very nice surprise indeed as I had on this occasion been targeting river carp! It gave a noble account of itself which made for good sport on the avon rod!

If I dare give any advice on barbel fishing my biggest tip is be patient. Whilst I hear of others who catch shortly after casting this has never been the case for me. There is no need to strike finicky bites; just wait - you will know when you've got one!!! Also, I have always caught after dark and usually a little too long after my wife has called to see when I'm coming home!

This fish was taken on pellet but I also had another rod fishing a 20mm sweetcorn boilie which received some very violent tugs throughout the night. Could this have been the work of my quarry the river carp? Only one way to find out...

Sunday, 9 June 2013

None for ages then 3 come at once!

 Over the 'closed season' with only a limited number of waters open for fishing I have not been able to do a great deal of time on the bank and whilst I have done a bit of beachcasting, float making and some work parties on Fordwich Lake; none of it has really been blog-worthy, until today...

I don't intend to use this blog to continuously promote brands but I must share that I have become a field tester for Big Carp Baits, who are a Hungarian bait company, very successful on the continent and are intending to launch in the uk after their products have been sufficiently tested. I feel privileged to have been selected to help them with this process and know that it will make a big impact on my angling.

Pump Lake, Littlebourne 
I arrived at Littlebourne Lakes just after 7pm on Friday and Birch Lake, where I had hoped to fish, was chocca-bloc so I made my way over to Pump Lake. This water has a boilie ban so I decided to test BCB's Frankfurter Sausage 'wickend' pellets and method mix which comes with an amino syrup and CSL liquer to add to the groundbait.

The business end - tipped off with a single grain of maize.

I was fishing by 8pm and had my first fish by 9pm - a mirror of 7lb 4oz. While light was good I cast to the overhanging trees on the far bank but after sunset I fished right beneath the rod tips. Looking at the decorations on said trees, it is a shame other anglers aren't so mindful.
The margins produced well for me with 3 other carp - the biggest being an 8lb 10oz mirror.
At first light I had a tench of just over 3lb and then 2 more soon after - the best was 3lb 12oz...

It seemed a little slow for this lake but I was overjoyed to be catching. However, by 8am having had virtually no sleep I decided to call it a day...

Stonar Lake, Sandwich

 After a few errands and a couple of hours kip on the sofa it was time to head back out. It is rare I get a whole weekend to fish so I had to make the most of it. I wanted to test boilies this time and hopefully get into some bigger fish so I headed over to Stonar Lake in Sandwich. Conditions here could not have been much different to Littlebourne! A very strong North-Easterly wind was racing across the lake turning it into a very choppy sea! I positioned myself on the south bank with the wind coming straight at me. I baited up a little bay to my left and the margin to my right, just over where it drops off deeper.
I cannot pretend to have been comfortable in this swim and I really don't like to be stuck under the shelter, I prefer to watch the water but the wind was so cold I decided to cut my losses and get some more shuteye after some grub!

I used mixed crushed boilies, maize and salt in solid PVA bags
Spicy 20mm with Frankfurter Popup 
As well as the spicy/ frankfurter snowman rig above, I also fished with Red plum and GLM boilies but it was the former combination that came up with the goods on this occasion. At midnight a small bream foul hooked itself, inconveniencing the pair of us. Undeterred, I cast back out, this time with a long PVA stringer of 20mm baits to avoid bream who were clearly mopping up my crushed offerings.
Just before 4am my alarm screamed off and ripped the rod off the pod (I think it's time to invest in some snag ears!). After a cracking fight I thought my luck was in but as it came to the net I was surprised to see a small common - built like a torpedo with a massive paddle!

7lb bang on
Again it went quiet. After lunch I reeled in and went to speak to some other anglers who had been down for a few days. A few fish had been had but spread out throughout the week so I packed up and went to my final stop of the weekend:
Fordwich Lake!

Fordwich, being an SSSI and RAMSAR site has to observe the traditional closed season. During this time I have taken part in a number of work parties which have earned me the privilege of a guaranteed swim on the first day of the season. As I now know where I am going to be fishing, I am able to bait the spot in anticipation of some unsuspecting carp on June 16th.
I can reach an island and 2 sets of lily pads positioned over a gravel bar within an underarm cast here - this, with carp topping every where, even today, is my idea of heaven! Roll on june 16th....

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Last chance saloon...

Though normally a relaxing pursuit and a necessary contrast to my otherwise busy and often stressful work-life tonight was the last night of the season and there was a lot riding on it...

Tonight the swim I had intended to fish where I had lost one only a week ago was taken but thankfully another spot I knew to hold a good few fish was available and considering that this time last year the banks of this same stretch were crowded I counted myself lucky.
I fished close to a feature upstream with a running ledger rig. My first cast was wiped out after about 20 minutes by passing debris. It was nearly dark and I knew that the next cast had to be spot on or I may as well go home. It landed very close indeed to the feature- a perfect cast perhaps but who could be sure? After sitting there for another 2 hours without so much as a twitch I began to wonder if I was snagged...

... and then BANG went the rod tip! It was absolutely text book. Having the current on my side was a godsend as this fish had a lot of fight in it! 

So here it is. 9lb 11oz: not a personal best - my first barbel on this stretch was 13lb 4oz and I've yet to beat that but this is a great moment and I am over the moon!

9lb 11oz barbel on the last day of the season!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A good start to the year!

Although today was not my first trip of the year, until now I had not been able to dedicate more than an hour or two at a time to my fishing since Christmas, mostly due to work. However this week I 'm not complaining about being a secondary school teacher as it's half term and I'm making the most of it!

After considerable debate with myself about where to fish I settled on Littlebourne following the advice of some friends on a fishing forum. As the sun came up over Birch lake this morning I made my first casts, sat back and appreciated my surroundings whilst waiting for my first bite.

First fish of the year: 3lb 14oz Tench!

I started off with one rod fishing maize in the margin and one on pellet mid-water over some lilies which have died back for the winter. It was this rod that went first at about 10am. The take was strange, shaky and intermittent. This tench was the result, hopefully I will see a few more of these this year!

After the rod in the margin had been sat there stationary for a few hours I brought it back in an changed the bait to luncheon meat. This was clearly a good move as 30 minutes after I recast it went screaming off with this 14lb 10oz common carp!

Mid afternoon the same rod went off again, same bait, same spot. This time a 14lb 7oz mirror carp.

As I was returning the mirror to the water it hung around in the recovery sling long enough for me to get my phone out of my pocket and capture it swimming off safely.

After that it went quiet and got very cold! I decided to quit while I was ahead as in the past I have gone on to ruin it with a funny five minutes or even as I call it 'happy hour' where one bad decision or rushed action follows another and ends up with poor casts, spooked fish or even lost tackle. Today this was not going to happen. Everything had gone perfectly and that is how I will remember it!