You know it’s nearly November? (Entry 164)

Like an absolute lazy beast, I had not bothered to make any fishing plans during the week, and that meant I had no bait. Well, I did, it just required a little lateral thinking. Instead of deliberating about a venue, the time of day to arrive, what species to target and how to fish for them, before buying the bait a few days before, this week I would have to match the hatch. The hatch in question being what I had in the cupboard. Sweetcorn and bread. The match, I concluded, would be the residents of a small farm pond. Tench and carp. That analogy didn’t really turn out as good as I’d hoped but you get the idea.

Waggler

I’d not been to the venue for quite a while but the two things I remembered most about it was that it was hardly ever fished and it was quite shallow. With small beds of pond weed and lily pads scattered around, it was a case of fishing as closely as you could to them, for the best chance of a bite. Fishing at its simplest and most archetypal. On arrival I was glad to see the water looked even better than I remembered. Something that more often than not isn’t the case when revising childhood waters. I went about setting up a stumpy waggler and tying on a small, but sturdy, hook. The fish in here fight like tigers, and despite their size, can put an under gunned angler in all kinds of trouble.

Beautiful small common carp

In went a pouch full of sweetcorn. I wasn’t fishing a great distance but I had a facing wind so the catapult aided feeding no end. The water was little more than a foot deep so a fair amount of line was needed to slow the rig down, preventing the wind from dragging the bait out of the swim, and looking ‘unnatural’. Something my dad taught me when fishing on the canals in my youth “the depth and half again”, he used to say, and it used to be deadly for bream. Today, it was this lovely common carp that was tricked, after fifteen minutes fishing, a frantic and energetic fight played out in what seemed like seconds. Silt kicked up in plumes as the fish burrowed down. A perfect little carp, golden tones laid in perfect rows, and most importantly, a joy to catch.Feed - too much or too little?I had to keep feeding little and often throughout the day. Large amounts of bait seemed to interest the fish for a short time but there was far more activity in the swim, and therefore bites, if just five or six grains of corn were fired in every few minutes. Another small carp followed the first twenty minutes later and then one more, only this time the size of my palm, but still a beautiful fish. Eventually the carp dispersed and I had a run of small tench, eight or ten ounces in size, all dark and classically shaped. None realising it’s nearly November.

Miniature tench

And then the water switched off. I couldn’t get a bite nor could I see any fish feeding signs. I moved swims. Still nothing. I tried altering the rig. It made no difference. I tried drinking cup of tea after cup of tea. This didn’t help the fishing but satisfied the tastebuds. I moved back to the original swim for the last half an hour in the hope that the fish had settled in my absence. But still the float sat unbudging. I’d had my quota it seemed. My memory of the water could remain intact and untarnished. It would be wrong to expect anything further. Time for home.

Thanks for reading and until next time,

NorthwestFisherman

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When is perfect not perfect? (Entry 163)

Usually when perch fishing, I have found.

I was having strange little session. One of those days when everything seems perfect and yet the fish do not play ball. I was also suffering what felt like a years worth of mistakes crammed into three hours. I had lost a few hooks and jigs on unseen, underwater snags over the first half hour, cast into quite visible snags in the form of overhanging trees, and almost ended up in the river on one occasion having tripped on some unruly brambles. I had also forgot my dinner. Quite honestly, I was feeling more than a little sorry for myself. I drank a comforting cup of tea and admired the scene. It was then time for a stern talking to. Time to fish, better.

An easy place to struggle

Not that I thought doing so would necessarily make any difference to the outcome of the day, but it is better to leave feeling like you gave it your best than not. If I’m completely honest I’d just like to have barrels of luck with me always. Perfect conditions, huge amounts of skill, no thanks. Just heaps of stinking luck. Now that would be perfect.

Coloured water perch catcher

After the tea and talking to, I fished with much more fervour and I felt that if there was any feeding fish than they would surely be tempted by the dark worm imitation I had on. The water was very, very clear today so much so that, instead of solely fishing the margins, I spent just as much time cast into the deep water of the rivers’ central channel. There was one section of river where I changed to a much more visible lure, where a small brook ran in, creating a patch of very coloured water. A haven, I hoped, for any shy and timid predators to wile away the daylight hours.

A blank saving jack pike

But there was no fish here either. No pike willing to feed and especially no perch. There’s the outside chance of a big chub on this waterway to, but these fish remained as elusive as you would expect them to be, they are the most fearfullest of fishes after all. The afternoon came and went. My thoughts began drifting, focussing more on the rumbling going on in my belly than on any minute vibrations being emitted down the line. One unmistakable take in the deep water of the middle eventually came, the culprit was a small jack pike, an immaculate looking one. A little to support the notion that the fish may have been sitting in the safety of the deeper water after all. I couldn’t repeat the capture though. Luck, maybe.

I’ll find those perch eventually. If not on the lure rod, then fishing worm or even bunches of casters or maggots. Failing that I’ll sit there long enough and bore them into the net with tails of multiple defeats at their hands. Or fins.

Thanks for reading and until next time,

NorthwestFisherman

The Cray icosuplets (Entry 162)

“You’re keen! How much longer will you be staying for?”

Their tone was friendly, full of interest and from a non-piscatorial point of view, the question was a reasonable one. It was already well into dusk. In fact, I could hardly see they float any longer. The lady proceeded to water some pot plants and awaited my response.

“Until the worm surrenders,” was my reply, which prompted a look of confusion. I’d like to say admiration, but being both modest and a realist, I’ll settle for confusion. You see, I’d been here since early morning, casually watching my orange float, watching it stutter at times and drag under. But for the most part it had simply remained still; poised and ready to signal interest. Interest that was very thinly spread. Not since the first cast had the float confidently played out its most appealing of actions. In that case it was a fine roach-bream hybrid, comfortably over two pound, that had snaffled the worm hookbait as it fluttered to the bottom. It gave a fine scrap, and it was great to have such quick interest, but it was not the species I was here to catch. Even so, you cannot be disappointed when the unintentional takes such magnificent form, and materialises so quickly.

A fine start to the day

Things then took a turn for the worse. More unintentional captures. A series of small indications, and missed bites, just the beginning. Initially I thought that small gudgeon or ruffe had taken up residence, and looking back now, I would have gladly taken that as an option. What had unfortunately made my swim home was a large group of signal crayfish, annihilating anything I cared to send down to them, and over a vast area. I couldn’t quite believe how many there were. Over a few hours, in the middle of the day, I caught twenty of them. I couldn’t escape them, even casting well away from the baited area, there they were. Ready and waiting.

Not another!

Of course, being an invasive species none of them went back alive, as I turned from pleasure angler to chief executioner. Judge and jury. For the digging out of banks, the stealing of native fish eggs and for the general annoying of anglers everywhere, I hereby decree this day to be your last. Eventually I had to give up fishing with live bait.

A lovely Autumn perch

On the lure rod I managed to avoid the crayfish, and caught a few small pike and perch, which were great fun and just the tonic I needed. I couldn’t help feeling a little aggrieved at being forced to fish in this way, but there is only so much crunching one person can take in a day. At least the reports of super large perch in this waterway had a little more substance now.

The biggest fish of the day - this sleek pike

For the evening I moved well away from the crayfish infested zone to fish into darkness. No loose feed this time; just a worm hookbait cast next to a feature and twitched often. A bed of rushes for thirty minutes, and now, a moored barge until the light faded. Just as the float trundled into the fishiest position, the hatch, which was at the other end to where I sat, popped open and an elderly lady exited.

“You’re keen! How much longer will you be staying for?”

Thanks for reading,

NorthwestFisherman

Sun and stripes (Entry 161)

Autumn had been well and truly put on hold this week as Summer dug its nails in. The sun beamed and the air was warm. T-shirt warm for a time. Perfect for ambling down the towpath. Just being. Less perfect for fishing, but truly, it mattered little. Large parts of the day elapsed without me even making a cast. There was simply no point. I didn’t feel the need to and the canal was suitably busy with other people enjoying themselves. Boat owners, dog walkers and cyclists. I had multiple conversations with ramblers, were keen to know just why I was spoiling a good walk, by carrying a fishing rod. I shared my sandwich with the resident ducks whilst a buzzard flew overhead, its shriek echoed, trapped from escape by the canopy of leaves overhead, the same canopy which prevented me from glimpsing it.

What had been plainly in sight all day was the myriad of different coloured barges making their way up and down the canal. Or left and right from my point of view. The canal itself was now very coloured as a result, it’s clay banks requiring little disturbance, before the water turned a murky brown. Like an artists water pot, after a few dunks of the brush, where different colours blend together to make a that colour. The one all paint seems to make when mixed with undue caution. Not at all vibrant and quite unappealing. Still, it was this water I was here to explore, and I thought it about time I made a cast. On went a quite gaudy and large shad. As much flash and vibration as possible as I retrieved. A shallow hope that a perch or pike would be attracted to this colourful critter.

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The second cast produced a fish, amazingly, amongst all this commotion, disturbance and murk, a little pike had been tempted. Looking now, as I unhooked him, ever so disappointed with his choice. The fish turned out to be a flash in the pan, caught in open water, an omen I perhaps need to play the lotto this week. So on I wandered.

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Approaching a narrow section of canal, where a bridge once crossed, I made a stop. There had to be some perch lurking here. In between any fallen bricks, or laying in wait under the marginal overhang, blanketed in darkness. I changed the lure to a more auspicious pattern and began to explore. Cast and cast again. Twenty times, more, before I felt that sensation. The one that sends an anglers heart racing.

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A perch. A lovely fish. Lurking down there amongst the structure of a once picturesque feature of the canal. You can bet where one perch lies, there will be others, waiting for a similar opportunity to fill their belly. I managed to tempt another fish, albeit smaller than the last, but with more vivid markings. A contrast to the environment it was pulled from. Dazzling in comparison.

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Although I had no further fish for the remainder of the trip, the hours still passed by too quickly, on my way home again when it was too dark to see just where the lure was landing. I drove down dark country lanes, listening to music, the street lighting gradually became more prevalent. Acidic hues of small villages dissipated to the neon streaks of a busy city. Not a million miles away from the moment I had earlier when the first perch of the day surfaced.

Thanks for reading and until next time,

NorthwestFisherman

Maybe miles (Entry 160)

It was Sunday afternoon before a precious few hours presented themselves. I hurriedly packed for a trip to the canal with perch being my target. The stretch in question, which I have fished before, would undoubtedly be busy with boats so the late time I would arrive should prove perfect. I planned to rove with lures and see if I could find a hungry mouth or two. With my relative inexperience of the method, at least catching perch, mid week I asked a group of friends for a little guidance. It seemed there was a few things I could add to what I was doing but there was plenty I was doing right. Ultimately, these opinions proved a great tonic for my confidence, and isn’t that half the battle in this pursuit of ours? Believe you will fail and fail you probably will. Turn that sentiment around, however, and you are laughing.

The day couldn’t have been better for perch fishing. For any fishing thinking about it. Overcast, a little cooler than late, a slight breeze and dampness in the air. The vegetation, though still lush, was showing signs of giving up on another year. Grasses yellowed and balsam stems browning. There was an absence of birdsong, which only went to emphasise the chugging of the barges, plenty of which made their way past me over the first two hours. So much for arriving late. I had walked a good length of the canal in that time, casting into likely looking areas, retrieving the bait in different ways, attempting to work out just how these perch wanted the bait presented today. If there was any perch there at all? Of course there was, big ones too, and whenever the tiniest element of doubt materialised in my thoughts, I was on it like a shot, ridding it from my mind. The suggestions of friends ringing louder than ever.

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I wondered how many times a lure is cast out over four or five hours? It must be a fair few. I bet it travels a vast amount of cumulative distance too. Consider not just a straight retrieve but its elevation. Up and down and side to side. That must add metres onto the distance over a day. It was as the lure was nearing the end of one journey that I felt a sudden weight. A dead weight at first, at least before I struck, a jagging defiance afterward. Typically perch. I can think of very few other styles of angling where the take of a fish can be felt so plainly. Seemingly out of nowhere. Pleasant and serene contemplation, rhythmic and monotonous activity, interrupted so ferociously. Nought to sixty in milliseconds. Or at least the bodies equivalent. It was indeed a perch, having just caught sight of its flank, a good sized one too. A fantastic Autumn account opener.

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After that fish I heard the familiar chugging of yet another barge, it soon descended the lock and passed me, churning the water, kicking up silt and all manner of other nasties found lurking on the bottom of canals. This was not the time to fish on. No, I thought, best to leave any perch down there to settle for an hour, go and explore some other areas and return as the boat traffic begins to die along with the light. The great thing about canals and rivers is that there is a lot water to explore.

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I spent longer than an hour exploring narrower sections, bridges, lock cuts and areas of dense weed growth but my lure was not taken. I was keen to get back to the spot where I had taken my only fish of the session, so after a quick tea break, I made an about turn. The canal was noticeably more still now that the barges had moored up for the evening. My confidence was brimming. Everything felt right. The first cast tempted a bite, a fish slightly bigger than the first, and every bit as hard a fighter. The second cast came back slightly too fast, adrenalin more than likely, but the third cast, well on that, the lure was hit by a substantial more powerful fish. In disbelief I uttered the word ‘pike’. I couldn’t let myself think this heavy weight was a perch. On light gear the fish refused to be brought to the surface, diving aggressively, making yards of line in what seemed like singe tail strokes. With time, and a little grimacing on my part, the fish tired and unceremoniously floated upward out of the murk. It was a perch. A bloody big perch. Nought to sixty, and back again, once the fish was safely in the net.

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Three perch over a pound topped by this fish at 2lb 8oz had certainly helped make this a great session. With the fish photographed and returned it was time to leave. Half a mile or more to reflect upon the day as I made my way back to the car and maybe, just maybe, a few more casts as the light faded.

Thanks for reading,

NorthwestFisherman