Monday, 29 February 2016

Catching up - Friendly Ensemble

Well not long to go now till the end of the river season and more is the pity, as much as I enjoy the refreshed vigour and groundwork that a new season brings, it is always with a serious touch of melancholy when moving toward the close of play.

A few weeks ago plans were put in place with a couple of friends that I had made during the youtube social match and they were to journey down from Bridgnorth to spend a day hunting along the Loddon and its sister the Blackwater in hope of a first chub or barbel from either of these waterways.

Meeting up with Robert and Richard we were greeted by very blustery yet mild conditions, both rivers carrying a reasonable amount of water along with tinge of colour, conditions looked good for them and I was hopeful that they might find the rivers in forthcoming moods (famous last words). After showing them around the venue and pointing out some of the better spots, we were soon fishing, Robert and Richard starting upstream, with myself further down, we agreed a meeting point for a lunchtime breather and chance to gather our thoughts on how the day was going.

Stopping in a couple of swims to leave some liquidised bread I headed to a debris strewn area of the river, in hope that a willing chevin might be lurking, chopping and changing between worm cheese paste and bread as I went. Alas aside from a resident pike that looked in a fairly keen mood to harass small fry and an unwelcome mink which cruised by rather nonchalantly, it was most quiet and I was starting to think that both rivers were going to throw one of their well known sombre moods.

Further downstream I found out that Robert had lost a chub which he had hooked under a tree, in a swim that was peppered with mink paw prints, moving on from this swim he mentioned to me that he had spotted a good chub that he had spooked in the shallows, one which had been feasting on some of the liquidised bread that I had left there. If anything It was becoming apparent that both waterways were in the mood to give all three of us a good lesson in curve balls. From my own point of view when having guests down, especially ones whom have made bit of a journey it is always with a sense of tension and hope that the rivers will show a kind face and welcoming hand.

During late afternoon Richard and Robert fancied a change to barbel tactics, their plan being to fish into evening time before heading home, I had pointed out a few of the good swims of which there are plenty along this river, however when she is in a sullen mood it can make not a jot of difference.

Robert set up in a fairly confined swim and fished just on to the marginal drop off, lowering his boilie and paste offering under some tired looking trees, meanwhile downstream of myself Richard had been getting some enquiries on cheese paste before finally making a change to boilie. An hour had passed when Richard walked down to inform us that he had a chub in the net and there was an almost audible sense of relief.

Richard's first Loddon chub 4lb

Richard was very happy to have caught his first Loddon chub and given the mood the river was in I was relieved somewhat and buoyed by this fish, hopeful that a whiskered friend would not be far behind for either of the guys.

Sadly it was not to be the case and as the wind increased during late evening the chaps decided to call it a day and head home. Despite how the days fishing had been it was evident that they had thoroughly enjoyed themselves fishing a couple of new waterways and were chatting enthusiastically about coming back down to my neck of the woods (next season guys!)

A few days later and around lunchtime I found myself heading to one of my Thames tributaries in search of a few of its larger chevin, keeping things simple using what nature provides, in this case lob worms and ok I admit my less than natural blue krill cheese paste mixture.

The weather was pleasant but the wind one of those that nags at an angler, turning knuckles and digits into cumbersome appendages. Starting off on a nice glide with link legered lob worms and a little but often spray of maggots, I was soon receiving the odd sharp tap, almost dace like and a few strikes later I was still none the wiser. Another roll through the swim was called for, this time I allowed the bait to settle under a fallen tree on the opposite bank, surely a chevin had to be at home?

The quiver plucked a few times, this a more delicate bite but a confident one and after getting a boot full of river water I was soon netting a perfectly conditioned chub.

A perfectly conditioned small river chub (3.1)

As I gradually made my way along the river, dropping into every likely hidey hole it was evident that the wind was going to be in menacing form, strong gusts were now coming along at regular intervals and knocking the little feeder rod off its perch on multiple occasions, conditions were to prove tricky and bites were soon to be at a premium as I shifted between baits and swims to no avail. It's a funny game at times as an early fish can be the falsest of dawns, this was to be very much that scenario.

By late afternoon my cheeks were beaming from a solid wind beating and I was being treated to a beautiful winter sunset, the sky a mixture of golden orange meets fiery reds, It was at this point that I noticed a small, rubber duck looking most sulky in the muddy margins, those of you will remember my meetings with such ducks on this waterway in the past and on occasion providing me with divine providence (well that is how I like to see it!).

A good omen

Picking the little chap up, sharing a smile tinged with reminiscence I looked at the swim I had found him in, plenty of coverage but with room for a bait to be cast or rolled under. So after perching him on a fence post and thanking him for stopping this angler in his tracks, a good helping of cheese paste was soon working its way under a multitude of flotsam, which included fallen trees, the odd plank and even a fire extinguisher.

Despite the wind hardly aiding bite detection, when it came there was no mistaking it, that typical smash and grab of a large chub, followed by the thud and sprint, rod tip under the water as it tried to run me into the nearby snags. A broad head finally broke the surface, the embers of winter sun glinting off the back of a extremely well built chevin, a couple more mad dashes and she was mine to admire.

A very thick set chevin and possible 6 in the making (5.06)

Windblown and very contented would be a good way to sum this trip up, a friendly duck had once again shown the way, needless to say it made the journey back home with me and is now sat clean and happy next to the computer, the only thing I cannot quite work out is why it does not seem to be very fond of bread and honks when I give it a squeeze.

Six days later and I had offered Tom a trip to a waterway he was yet to wet a line on and an area that I had done an impromptu bit of reconnaissance, during that bit of groundwork I had spotted some plump roach that were possibly around the 1lb mark and of course a few trout bodyguards, it stood to reason that there had to be a few chub to be tempted too.

It was a brilliantly sunny morning as we set off down the river and this particular waterway was carrying a nice amount of colour to it, nothing too heavy just a smidgen. Reaching the top end of the beat we found a quaint pool, the river running under a bridge, its current increasing in pace before breaking into a section with a nice amount of coverage, with only room for one person I suggested to Tom that we started here and it was not long before his bread offering was gobbled down by a hungry brownie. As we moved downstream we both noticed how fast the colour was dropping out of the river and sure enough within an hour it was more or less crystal clear.

Downstream of Tom I had found a nice looking run, fast paced with lots of cover, a lob worm was cast towards a sunken tree and a few minutes later after some tentative plucks I thought I had connected with our first chub of the day, instead the flash of silver soon morphed into dappled markings as a greedy little pike had taken a liking to my worm offering and was putting me to the sword as it sprinted into the main flow, little did we know that this was to be a running theme with everything but chub taking a liking to our hook baits.

A toothy touch, but not the species we sought

As we worked our way downstream we came to an area where the river widened to a double bend this looked spot on, Tom missing a bite early on before connecting with a beautifully marked, slim Jim of a perch, we both remarked about how this fish looked underweight for its length, looking as if it needed a hearty minnow dinner or ten to fill it out.

As the afternoon sped by there was an odd quiet, despite many swims having superb fish holding features it seemed as if no one was at home. Meanwhile I had Settled in a narrow swim downstream of Tom, glimpsing back upstream I could see his rod was hooped over, this was followed by the parting of hook and line, as he made his way toward me it was done with a combination of hitting himself on the head with his cap repeatedly and high adrenaline chatter of "I have just lost the most golden chub Mark, it was gold as f*%*!"

After a quick chat about what might have been, Tom was soon back at his swim trying to tempt another chance. Half an hour later Tom was walking back to me, I figured that he might have got his string well pulled and have our third coarse fish of the trip and with any luck a chunky chub.
However this was not to be the case as I soon found out that he had hooked the golden culprit once again, it was actually a stunningly marked brown trout and despite us both not being overly fond of catching out of season trout, we both agreed that it was simply too gorgeous not to take a quick photo and some footage of.

Tom with a perfectly conditioned brownie (3-14)

We fished on till around 6pm, but apart from one very sharp, almost wary bite to myself and a couple more knocks to Tom it was to be one of those trips where the chub went undetected leaving us with unfinished business and plenty of food for thought for next season.

After this trip we decided to strike whilst the iron was hot and as it was the weekend of my 37th Birthday (middle age beckons) we made plans to do some fishing on the Blackwater, perch and chub hunting being the order of the day.

Meeting at around 9am we were both chomping at the bit in anticipation of some perca and chevin chasing, the river looked spot on with a slight green touch of colour to it and steady pace. Heading upstream I pointed out a couple of swims to Tom and dropped in one below him, whilst he headed for a tired looking bush that overhung the river, this particular reach is a brilliant zone for a few chub, due to a combination of undercut bank and sinewy tree roots that allow those armed with either link leger or free lined baits access to what I would call prime features and it soon showed as Tom was connected to a feisty fish that punched well above its weight as it combined a mixture of sprints and burrowing runs before it was ready for the folds of the landing net.

Tom with his second largest Blackwater chevin (3-8)

After giving our spots another ten minutes we made the joint decision to move on, heading to an area of the river which can be a bit of a pike zone, but does usually produce a few chub, at the time we had planned to skip ahead of this swim but passing it by I just could not resist casting a lob worm into it.
Perhaps thirty seconds later and the quiver twitched a couple of times before a brilliant scrap ensued from a spirited chub.

We were both very happy to be off the mark and I feel this always allows you room to focus a little better. One thing I will say is that Tom and I have never lost sight of the enjoyment of catching fish no matter their size and that is something I have always felt we have had in common. After this fish I suggested it was worth another cast and that Tom should run his link leger under the sunken trees. Unfortunately on this particular occasion a greedy Esox turned up and soon took a liking to his bait and rig in one fell swoop.

After a grumble about lost ssg shot and cheeky pike Tom was soon tackled up and we were making our way to an area where he had lost a good fish last season and probably a venue pb at that! I remember the moment with some chagrin, hearing this fish wallowing in the snags before the line parted company, it is one of those moments we always recall during our chats about small river chub hunting, in fact I think I still have the footage from my old head cam where we are talking about it being a good fish just before the line parted company, ever since this incident Tom has always approached this swim with an air of excitement and expectancy.

A couple of casts later and whilst alternating between bread and cheese paste Tom added three more chub to his tally, I duly did the honours with his camera.

Tom wearing his game face whilst a young chub (2-7) looks on in abject fear of this chevin chaser

Heading onward we chatted about how there seemed to be very little in the way of perch falling to any lob worm offerings, this despite the fact that water colour was more or less spot on for some of the better perch to have a mooch about, it was most odd to say the least. By now we had moved into a slacker area of the river, lots of near bank roots and undercuts, prime perch territory. Meanwhile Tom had gone ahead of me and was heading into an area which can be kind for most species, be that roach, chub or perch to name but a few. Back in my swim I was receiving delicate plucks which were followed by the lob worm offering being left untouched, this sections good for chub however I knew if this was a chevin then it would have probably found such a sumptuous offering hard to resist. A couple of pouchfuls of maggot were introduced upstream before another cast was made. Sure enough this time round the tip nodded with increased vigour and I was hooked into the first and what was to prove to be the only perch of the trip, a portly sergeant in the making and one that in future seasons may well attain its full ranking.

A nicely conditioned stripey (1-2)

We eventually came to a bend in the river and a swim that I usually call the "bermuda triangle" this due to the way that the chub in this particular spot have a habit of hitting your bait before surfacing in an all to snag ridden area, despite this it can be a very productive spot and one where it is not uncommon to have an instant bite or two and today was to be no different with Tom receiving interest straight away on bread flake. A quick change to lob worm and it all fell rather quiet, the last cast unfortunately rolling under a snag and lodging there firmly, in fact it was proving to be a fairly costly day on the link leger front, both myself and Tom using more than one tub of ssg's between us.

Upstream I had planned for revenge in a swim where I had previously lost what would have been a sizeable perch and easily a venue best when I had hooked a fish that I would have estimated at around 3lb, well I say hooked but at the time had no idea that I had actually hooked its three week old bullhead supper.... eventually amd just as the fish looked ready for the net the hook pulled and I was left with a rather smelly and unattractive bullhead as the booby prize! This also happened whilst during a trip with Tom and much like his large chevin which he had lost on this waterway this was easily one of the most wounding moments I have had. We both remember it clearly as if it happened yesterday, as I walked up to him cradling the most foul smelling bullhead whilst looking more sulky than a cat whom has been informed that there is no more milk in the fridge. I am sure he thought that I was a few sandwiches short of a picnic at the time, nowadays we always have a good laugh about it, but at the time I must admit that I was pretty inconsolable.

During our journey to our final swims Tom added another 2lb chevin to his rod along with a handful of chublets, meanwhile I had reached my waypoint and took my time to add a generous feed of maggot into the swim, slowly visualising how I would play the large perca should she still reside there, naturally each scenario concluded with me slipping the net under her. Half an hour later and I received a confident pluck followed by another, setting the hook I could have sworn that I was connected to a perch and that was when it happened, I was perhaps ten seconds into the scrap when the hook pulled, my face etched with a mixture of dejection and dismay, admittedly unlike that fateful day when I had got a glimpse of her I could not be certain it was a perch yet the brief battle had felt like it might have been.

Gathering my thoughts I rebaited the hook with a fresh lob worm, castimg toward the opposite bank and allowing the bait to roll under the flotsam. A few minutes later and a more confident bite graced my rod tip, a tussle of a different kind as a nicely proportioned chub made a good fist of trying to take me under the debris.

The final fish of the trip (3-4)

This was to be the last fish of our trip and it was an excursion that we had both enjoyed, dare I say that I feel it was one of our better trips and by that I do not mean in relation to fish that were caught, but the general feeling with how we clicked and enjoyed each others company, one thing was for certain we were both very tried by the end, but at the same time happy, if not only for such a good trip but also proof that time can indeed heal and some friendships can endure from both our perspectives.