A hint of spring (Entry 205)

For once I set out in beautiful conditions, conditions that, dare I say it, felt like the middle of spring. The air had a serene stillness, one that allowed the quiet birdsong to resonate, sounds that would otherwise have been swept away on the wind. A largely dull day was forecast but the air temperature was good, nearly into double figures, as it had been for a few days prior. I was looking forward to this. The rivers were out of the question though, topped up to the brim by heavy rain, so once more I headed to a small stillwater with no bigger ideas than simply whiling away a few hours in the hope that at some point, my float would disappear.

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As this was an impromptu outing, bait was a few small pellets left over from last summers tench fishing, plus a few worms still hanging on to life behind the shed. And being a mixed fishery, one with all sorts of species (even ‘Heinz 57’ type species), I was confident that at some point in the day I would have a few bites. I set up to fish two lines comfortably; the pole being my chosen tool for the day. With two areas plumbed up and fed I did what I usually do and left them to settle. Of course, I had a cup of tea and a wander around the lake whilst I did so. Upon my return I threaded half a worm onto the hook and tried the nearside swim. A roach took the bait almost instantly, then a rudd, before a fighting fit common carp gatecrashed the party.

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After a few more roach and rudd, I re-fed both lines, and had another brew. The open water line I planned to leave well alone for another hour. Let any fish there really grow confident on those free pellets. In the meantime I fished two worms on the hook in the nearside swim, hoping to tempt a bonus perch or another carp, but the next sixty minutes passed uneventfully. I could wait no longer. I really needed to see if there was anything further out. And there certainly was. On the first put in, the float vanished, mere seconds after settling. At the end of a thumping battle a crucian/goldfish hybrid of over a pound lay defeated in the net. Not one for the purists but good fun nonetheless.

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And so it went on, feed, bite, feed, bite. As simple as you can get, with plenty of fish coming my way over the next ninety minutes. Goldfish, crucians, hybrids, small carp, a rogue tench and a few more roach. I have no doubt I would have carried on catching, albeit for the pellets running out, I would have fished it until darkness stopped me. But it was not to be. The prettiest fish today was a two toned goldfish, not a Ska-loving fish of course, but one that resembled an upside down sunset scene. If you really squint. On my way back to the car I spied a patch of flowering snow drops under the canopy of a small tree as well as a several patches of daffodil already well above the surface and looking proud. Spring really isn’t far away. Right now, thats a lovely thought.

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Thanks for reading,

NorthwestFisherman

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Just the session to part on (Entry 152)

They usually turn up quite quickly in your swim, then start to delicately pick on the particles you have provided, sending up little bubbles as a momentary ‘thank you’. At this point the float, which is delicately shotted, remains still. Perhaps drifting slightly in the currents, made near the bottom, by their busy fins. Time to reel in. They are not interested in this hookbait at all and so a change to something more palatable is in order. Yes, that sweetcorn really wasn’t pulling them in but this pellet will. Once more the float settles, the bait flutters down, and expectation grows. Those ‘thank you’s’ begin to mount up but still no bite occurs. You try altering the depth and cast a little further out, or closer in, crucians are fond of the margins after all. But it seems nothing you do can tempt them. Time ticks on.

Just as your sanity is in real danger of vanishing, along with the morning, your float will dip, a tiny, quivering movement, more akin to vibration than motion. You almost strike but in the nick of time manage to subdue your instinct. Don’t bury it to far as you’ll need those reflexes when that float vanishes at lightning speed. Out of a blue the breeze springs up. It catches the line and moves the rig slightly. An intervention from Isaac. Far below the surface a crucian sees an easy meal escaping. Making its own instinctive play the crucian snatches at the bait. All caution forgotten. Ironically, its sweetcorn that’s taken, the bait you started with but was convinced was useless. Time becomes blurred and twisted as the float simply vanishes. The rod is whipped upward. A fish is hooked. It all happens so quickly that you can’t even call to mind the bite that just occurred. An indistinct memory, transparent and incomplete. Maybe it wasn’t even a bite at all? The solid weight at the other end of your line that would suggest otherwise. One hell of a tug of war has begun. And it’s at this point you have just joined me.

The fish fought so powerfully, that for a few seconds, I was convinced I had hooked a tench. Small but brutish tail movements propelled this acute fighter into deeper water, and when for a moment the tail had to stop to gather a second wind, the fish turned on its side and used it deep flank to create as much drag through the water as possible. A foot or so of line was gained before that tail started powering up again. A deadlock lasting thirty seconds or more. A foot in my direction and two against. With the light tackle I was using it was impossible to impart any more pressure on the fish. Not just for fear of snapping the line but of pulling the hook. They had been feeding very delicately and the hook hold would most certainly be a light one. If there is one thing you cannot do when fishing for crucians, it is rush them, both before the take as well as after.

Eventually the fish succumbed to the constant, sapping pressure of the rod and ‘flopped’ to the surface. It’s weird to describe a fish as flopping, especially when in the water, but its the nearest adjective I can think of. They suddenly just give up. Fed up of fighting. Knackered. With pectoral fins waving their strange kind of crucian greeting, this enigmatic block of gold can then be drawn over the landing net as easily as any skimmer bream, or wet sock. A strange, and almost disappointing end, to a very active process. A fish ready to unhook, admire and return. Time to start over again. I hope you’re ready, nerves.

Another brace of two pounders

Over the last six weeks I’ve had a great time fishing for these beautiful fish, and this session was no different, following a tip off from a friend, an early start was observed and I had caught a run of crucians since my arrival. Not thick and fast, more slow and steady, but we all know which one wins the race. I’d had seven so far. Seven two pound crucians topped by a fish one ounce short of three pound and the first of the day. The session was about to take a turn for the worse however as I lost four fish in a row. I then hooked two more fish that would simply refuse to stop. Both required a full re-tackle once the hook pulled. A birds nest created as the rig catapulted back, at close to the speed of sound, and one that Houdini himself couldn’t have untangled.

A trio of big two pound cruciansIt was at this point I stopped and poured a cup of tea. I began to think about the crucian fishing I’d experienced. I didn’t want to simmer and stagnate over the fish that now frustrated and escaped me. I’d much rather look back in fondness on the cunning, but fallible enigmas, I had already had the pleasure of pitting my wits against. And would inevitably do so again. With so many other venues to visit and fish to fathom, I began to feel very content indeed, so much so that I poured another tea. I simply sat and soaked it all in. There was no need to tackle up for a third time. This is possibly the last I will see of the crucians for this season, and if so, then so be it. In my opinion it’s the best way I could leave them. I’ll see you next spring.

A fond farewell

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Soaked and spoilt (Entry 150)

Halfway to the venue I made a u-turn. The reason; I knew deep down it would be out of sorts. Not an hour since making up my mind, I made it up again, and headed to pay another visit to the crucian water. It had been very warm for the week preceding my trip and reports had indicated that the margins of rivers and stillwaters were taking on the same characteristics as bathwater. Lovely and warm. For us humans at least. I had a hunch the fish would be finding it as uncomfortable as this mugginess was for me. But if there was one fish that would give me a chance of a bite during these conditions, I figured it had to be the crucian, the most tolerant of all our fish. Why didn’t I work that out at home? Now there’s a thought.

Bait, at least

I had been heading out to fish for bream and tench so bait choice had already been made. Hemp and sweetcorn. I would have preferred a few more hookbait choices but sitting waiting for a crucian with two baits to choose from trumped watching lethargic bream and tench basking on the surface, whilst my sweetcorn lay nailed to the bottom in ten feet of water. I arrived twenty minutes later. Greeted by threatening clouds gathering on the horizon. In true fishing spirit, I now realised that my umbrella was still in the shed, so wearing just a t-shirt, hoody and (thankfully) some trousers, I began to tentatively set up, whilst the heavy grey clouds rolled over. Rain began to fall, erupting ferociously amongst flashes of brilliant white, the wind rattled through the trees and the thunder boomed.

Thirty Minutes later, and now soaked to the bone, I made my first cast. The sun had returned and for the first time in weeks, I was very grateful for how warm it was, drying me out in next to no time, vapour rising as the water left both my clothes and the surrounding vegetation. The fishing began slowly. A few delicate indications my only reward for the first hour. Across the lake not many fish were moving. Those that did were small, very small, and I certainly didn’t want a shoal of them taking up residence in the area I was fishing.

A very welcome crucian

Persistence paid off as eventually my float lifted, from nowhere just like the storm that had blown in at the start, all hell broke lose.The fish charged around defiantly but was soon played out, admired and respected. Then back to watching a lifeless float. But, a fish had been caught, a beautiful two pound crucian carp. I had to put myself right. This session was proving a lot trickier than previous ones. Time to judge things in the now ratter than comparing them to past events. Especially when you have been well and truly spoilt as I have. I wouldn’t have come anywhere near to catching a specimen fish on my original choice of venue.

A beautiful brace of big two pound crucians

Not a great amount happened during the next few hours, but with my new found philosophy, I was enjoying every minute. I watched a kingfisher taking advantage of the plentiful small fish on offer. A much better angler than I, every dive was rewarded with a catch, not that I was jealous. Well, maybe a little. The light began to drop and with it the temperature. I gave myself another half hour before heading home and in that time caught a further two crucian carp. Both good two pound fish taken in successive casts before I connected with a fish that would not stop. A ‘steam train’ that eventually took my hooklength and left me shaking my head. I have had a few fish that have roared off now and have never seen one of the them. Carp or big tench probably, and if pushed, I would say tench. Angers intuition. Or wishful thinking.

Three crucians on a tough day

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NorthwestFisherman

Inca style crucian fishing (Entry 147)

Along the bank I walked, briskly making my way toward a possible peg, though grass and beds of daisies, the session ahead playing out in my mind. I hoped that by the end of the day a crucian or two would have joined me on the bank. I have become a little obsessed with them of late, but sometimes I feel its better to let things run their course, than to try and stop them.

A metallic ‘thunk’ interrupted my thoughts. Then a scratchy, sliding sound. In the corner of my eye I saw a shiny, silver mouse scurrying toward the water. A silver mouse? That must be wrong. Sure enough it wasn’t a robotic example of the mammal but my iPod. In the most frustrating of all motions, one slow enough to see every detail but fast enough not to be able to do anything about it, it met the water, fluttering down into the depths and out of sight. I stood perplexed. Seven years of it being my time source when out fishing (I don’t like wearing a watch) and it has never fallen from my pocket. I guess whatever can happen will happen. Eventually. I took a deep breathe and let out a sigh. The lake had received my offering. I hoped it would repay me in some way during the next few hours. Silver for gold.

The first crucian of the dayAfter fifteen minutes fishing it appeared that the lake had indeed begun to reimburse me. A stocky and furious crucian was already in the net. A fat two pounder that didn’t take too kindly to being swept away from the banquet it had found. I have caught a fair few of them during the past few weeks but I never get tired of just how terrifically they fight. Plunging down powerfully every time they are teased closer to the surface.

A formidable paddleI caught five crucians over the next hour. Usually so delicate and frustrating, today they fed with abandon, the float vanishing confidently and never once did I feel a bite would be missed. A bumper catch was on the cards and I planned on relishing every second. Feeding after every fish seemed to be the key. After two hours I had caught eleven crucians, all bar one over two pound, a truly ridiculous amount of quality crucians. I needed to take stock of what was happening. I needed a cup of tea. A mistake in hindsight.

Another 2lb crucian on the matFor in the interim, as I enjoyed Lady Greys finest, a shoal of tiny fish moved into my swim and I found it pretty much impossible to get a bait past them. At least a bait that the crucians wanted. A bigger bait evaded the hungry horde but was not attractive enough to tempt the cunning crucians. It was a small bait or nothing. The lake had turned against me. Maybe it had looked through my iPod and was less than impressed with the music on offer. Kraftwerk, seriously? Send this guy a shoal of tiny fry fish. For a frustrating two hours I couldn’t catch a crucian. Nor the tiny fish; too small too hook but large enough to steal my bait. Swines! Agonisingly the crucians were still present, sending up bubbles, and rolling in the late afternoon sun.

The business end

As the sun sank and the shadows lengthened, eventually and now much needed – if only to save my sanity – the shoal of tiddlers edged away. I was able to get my bait back into the crucian zone. Instantly, and a little cruelly, I caught one straight away, and then another, before latching into a memorable brace. Like peas in a pod their weights were identical. Two 2lb 14oz crucians on the bank takes some beating. Not quite a brace of three’s but I simply didn’t care. In the end I totalled 16 crucians, 15 of which were over 2lb in weight. How many more could have been caught if it weren’t for the dreaded shoal of fry halting progress is anyones guess. What a truly amazing few hours. The lake had certainly compensated me handsomely.A brace of big cruciansThanks for reading this update. You might like to head over to my Facebook page. Once there if you ‘like’ the page, you will get all the blog, twitter and Facebook updates in one place! You can click the link at the end or hit like to the top right of the home page. Don’t forget to share this with anyone you know might appreciate it using the social media buttons below.

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NorthwestFisherman

A narrow victory (Entry 146)

Bright green elastic melted from the pole tip. I eased the fish away from the tree roots to my left. At least I tried to; the fish hell bent on finding sanctuary. In the end I had no need to panic as suddenly my opponent changed direction and surged straight toward me. I can’t recall ever shipping a pole in so quickly. What was this fish? A supercharged genetically modified catfish? No, it was more likely just a carp, but playing any fish on tackle lighter than is necessary will always make them feel like a force to be reckoned with. I had been enjoying catching hand sized brown goldfish hybrids before the party was crashed by this outsized intruder.

Brown goldfish

I had unshipped, maybe prematurely, at the top kit. The fish now plodding around in the margin in front of me. With every swipe of its tail the waters surface broke into vortexes and I finally caught a brief glimpse as to the identity of this battler. A creamy back flashed tantalisingly for a second before the fish, that I would now confidently say was a ghost common, bolted on another terrifying run at such speed I could do nothing but plunge the pole tip underwater and grit my teeth. What was that about unshipping prematurely?

Up close

I was fishing in a kind of point swim. Water to my left, straight out in front of me and behind me, too. The fish had arched around full circle and was now running parallel to my shipped back and unattached pole sections. Oh dear. It had made for the far margin but the elastic had began to take effect. Quite how my two pound line had not snapped at this point I had no answer. Once more the fish arched under the pressure and in slow motion, headed straight into a small, overhanging tree. Disaster! I thought the surprise tench I had hooked mid way through the session fought well. This fight was something else.

The first bonus fish of the session

For a few seconds I stood in disbelief. I felt totally outwitted and outmanoeuvred. Though the fish had wedged itself in the snag, I could still feel it kicking. It didn’t feel a solid snag more like a bed of weed than the tree itself. I felt sure that if I could change the angle of pressure the fish would come free. How not to play a fish 101. I held the top kit in between my knees and proceeded to ship out the unused pole sections. In the confined swim, I had to perform a kind of three point turn to orientate the pole in the direction I needed it to be, but eventually the top kit was married to the bulk of the pole sections and shipped out. Once the angle had been changed I increased the pressure on the fish and hoped this hook would hold. Quite incredibly, the fish suddenly popped out from the snag and, sulking all the way, swam back slowly toward me.

Hardly a mark on it

I was amazed to be in with a chance of landing this fish. I had been totally out played by this fish and felt I in no way deserved to land it. But I wasn’t going to give up now. On tenterhooks I once more shipped down to the top kit. This time the fish felt much less like a coiled spring. I reached for the landing net and teased the fish to the surface. On the first time of asking a solid ghost common reluctantly admitted defeat. Much like the brown goldfish had been doing for much of the session. Their brutish, jagging fights tame in comparison.

One of the better brown goldfish

What a beautiful fish it was. Toned and bristling with attitude. A real wily fish and a tremendous encounter. One that I will remember for a long time. As I took a few pictures I pondered how the fish was not lost. On two pound line and a small size 18 hook, after a more than fleeting brush with a formidable snag, the fish was beaten. That last statement doesn’t quite seem true. It was I who was beaten. A few occasions at least. But or some reason the fishing gods were smiling on me and the hook didn’t pull. That sharp edged tree root narrowly missed the delicate line. The fish decided on the first attempt at netting it to succumb and not bolt off for a third time. For all the times in the passed where I had lost fish, be it my own fault or an unforeseen reason, I accepted the victory. It didn’t stop it feeling like a hollow one though.

The ghost common

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Until next time,

NorthwestFisherman

Crucian excess or intimacy amplified (Entry 145)

I tried to head somewhere different this week. Really, I did, but the lure of the crucian water  won easily over any other. It’s not just the crucians that reside there that ultimately swung the decision. The style of angling involved in their capture was just as important. Quite simply I love fishing with delicate floats, fine lines and small hooks. Fights that really could go either way. Squinting at the tiniest of orange specks, trying to decide if that movement was indeed, a bite. In a swim so close to my feet that it seems implausible to get a bite there at all. Details otherwise unnoticed now take centre stage. Intimacy amplified.

A quality tench to keep me entertained

In true angling fashion though, the day couldn’t have been much worse for this type of intimate and delicate fishing. The wind gusted, swirling in from different directions, a hazard not just for me but the birds attempting to fly in it. For periods of time the water was split into segments. Big ripples hit the bank, like the ranks of a marching army, ploughing onward with monotonous repetition. This in turn created a strong undertow, making presentation difficult, and more buoyancy was needed in the float to overcome the conditions. It was clear I had to forgo a little sensitivity. I hoped it wouldn’t make too much of a difference. Somewhere inside, experience grimaced, knowing it would.

A perfect crucian

For the first two or three hours the fishing was a nightmare and I struggled, apart from a solitary tench, to get (or see) any bites from crucians. After my fourth cup of tea, a heavy shower blew in, and out again, as quickly as it came. Behind it was the most magnificent of gifts. Respite from the gusting wind. So much so in fact that I was able to change from the bigger, more buoyant float I’d been forced into using, back to the tiny float I so dearly wanted to see sinking from sight.A big two pounderQuite laughably, two casts later, I hooked into my first crucian of the day. A big two pounder and great fish to catch. Another soon followed, a smaller example this time, but just as appreciated, fighting every inch to the net. By ringing the changes, the hookbait in most cases, I was able to string a procession of crucians together over the next two hours. Only the onset of darkness stopped my fishing. I quietly cursed refusing that extra helping of carrots midweek and accepted that my time was up.

Posing for the camera

It had been an interesting lesson. On two very different counts. The first in sensitivity; these curious fish will certainly not tolerate any lack of it. Then changing to a finer float bringing almost instant results. Of course, it could have been just a happy coincidence, as a group of fish finally found my fee offerings. Maybe the undertow lessened or the fading light boosted their confidence. Maybe it was the rain shower, sprinkling magic from its clouds, instead of the usual rain. My changing of floats a unnecessary tweak before a number of factors suddenly just clicked. Which leads me on to the the second count; we as anglers have to accept never really knowing. We must be satisfied with making a number of judgements and clumping them together to form our very own ‘anglers hypothesis’. Where they will forever remain just that. An idea. There is no way to prove anything. Nor should there be. Once angling loses its mystery it no longer has any soul.

In the fading light, another crucian

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A golden session (Entry 144)

The fish jagged aggressively for the deeper water further out. It was most definitely a crucian; my first of the day. I’d been fishing since dawn, waiting patiently for those first signs of activity in the swim, a bubble perhaps or an amber flank rolling. Instead, it was a gentle tremor that, because I was now so tightly coiled in anticipation, saw me strike far too soon and miss the bite. If you could even call it a bite, that is. In keeping with the traits of my quarry, that tiny, minuscule movement most certainly fell under the ‘bite’ category. I’ve said it before; they are frustrating to angle for. An archetypal fish, perhaps. Everything required to be an angler can be tested on a trip after crucians. At least the way I like to fish for them, on float tackle.

The first crucian of a memorable session

Seconds passed as the determined fighter struggled to find sanctuary. My landing net swept him up and onto the bank. A time to enjoy his beautiful shape and form in the diffused early morning light. A dinner plate of golden scales. Once admired, the fish was carefully released in the next swim. I was fishing so very close in that it would have been unwise to release him in my own. He would surely go and tell his friends that the feast they were starting to enjoy had a sting in its tail. I resumed fishing, at the same time enjoying a large cup of tea and slice of malt loaf for breakfast, but before I had a chance to finish my snack, the float sank again. Quite confidently, for a change, and another fight commenced. A crucian once more, this one that much angrier than the first. Or maybe a little bigger? It certainly took longer to net and was nearly lost in the reeds several times, but somehow made it onto the bank; a fine two pounder.

The first of five two pound crucians

Once more I fed the swim, a chance to finish my now ‘optimal drinking temperature’ tea undisturbed, and a perfect opportunity to let any fish in the swim graze undisturbed. I watched several brightly coloured finches barter over some food source or other, fed the resident mallards’ young a few grains of sweetcorn, and almost forgot that waiting in the margin, picking delicately at the particles I had laid down, lurked big crucians. My next cast resulted in a missed bite. Then another. Each strike into nothingness more disappointing and frustrating than the last. So much for winning their confidence. You’re just spooking them, I told myself, and they’re spooky enough already. A deep breath and one last mouthful of tea to calm my nerves before the rig was sent back out. I sat, poised, and hoped.

Tense minutes passed by, maybe fifteen or more, and I grew increasingly convinced I’d spoilt the fishing. Too many missed bites. I teased the rig a little, moving the hookbait slowly, in an attempt to induce a bite. To my absolute delight it worked, as the float sank from sight. No fussy eating this time, just a confident sail away bite, one that even the Kid from ‘Pinball Wizard’ could have made contact with. It was a crucian yet again, steadier and less feisty than the previous two, plodding up and down just over the margin. I took my time, after all, this fish felt like the biggest crucian I had ever hooked. And although not the factor influencing my fishing for them, it would be a fantastic bonus. An eternity seemed to pass. Begrudgingly the fish came up to the surface. It’s head and broad shoulders rose out squarely from the divide between our world and theirs. That all important gulp of air stopped the fish from fighting, and to my delight, the crucian was beaten.

What a sight!

Through squinted eyes, I cautiously took a look at her in the landing net. Incredible depth, almost equal to her length. As I carefully hoisted the fish onto the mat it became apparent how big she was. I’m not just talking about her weight but her presence. Strange to think of a relatively small fish of having presence. A marked difference between the two pounder I caught before and I thought that fish looked impressive. At 3lb 1oz she was indeed a fish I have dreamt of catching, ever since I first sat on that farm pond, almost 25 years ago. Never once did I think I was in with a chance of achieving it as I set out at an ungodly hour that morning.

My first 3lb crucian and a new PB

I could have looked at that fish for a long time. It really was a beautiful and rare creature. But the time had come to let her go. For some other lucky angler to have an encounter with and hopefully appreciate as much as I. The session itself offered a few more fish, and I ended up with seven crucians, six fish over two pound, topped by my first ever over the three pound barrier. It was a day to remember and it had only just passed eleven o’clock. With my bait in short supply and the bites now few and far between, home seemed the best option. My expectations already far, far exceeded. What a fantastic experience. They don’t come along that often and I for one am glad they don’t. It makes them all the more precious when they do.

Returning a beautiful crucian

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Until next time,

NorthwestFisherman