Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Opportunist's Chub

This week I've been driving around the Hertfordshire countryside with the hope of finding some good free fishing on the River Lea. It's become quite difficult these days with most of the good stretches now controlled by clubs or on private estates. I'd hoped for a barbel but the temperatures were not conducive to much action other than perhaps chub.
 My ghillie for the day was work colleague Mike who knows the river quite well, he's often to be found peering over a bridge, and works on the basis that the river is free to fish unless told otherwise. By using this approach along with a bit of blagger's charm he has been allowed legal access to fish on areas otherwise closed to the public, sometimes for a small daily fee.
 A roaming (by car) approach will always throw open unplanned opportunities.
 The car came to a halt on a roadside verge, cars whistling by, I hardly dare open the door.
  Peering through the hawthorned hedgerow Mike proclaimed it to be 'one rod only' such was the density of the undergrowth.
 Risking a whack from a wing mirror we scurried along the roadside to a hole in the hedge and entered the aforesaid jungle.
 The river Lea, a true babbling brook at this point flowed right to left some twenty yards ahead.
  Having stealthily trodden our way through gripping dead nettles and bramble we eventually made bankside, the water with some colour and pace before us.
 Upstream of us lay a bend, the inside of which was laden with a myriad of snags, the home of a fish or two we thought. The inside of the bend was on the opposite bank and with access to the bend impossible from our side Mike decided to wade accross for a recce.
 Sometime later he beckoned for me to join him,. Now, although I was wearing waders I have to admit the thought of traversing the torrent filled me with some trepidation, mainly due to a run-in with a barbed wire fence earlier in the day..It was time to see if the waders leaked. Oh well, in I went, crossed rapidly and stayed dry.
 Mike explained that he'd spotted three barbel-like fish under the snags, with this in mind we formulated a little plan.
 Arriving directly upstream of the snaggy area, I tackled up the rod with a heavy-ish drilled bullet. We had been using a couple of BB shot earlier in the day to roll the bait but I'd decided that this swim needed a slower bait that would eventually settle under the overhanging branches.
 A can of that wonderful stuff SPAM was opened and irregularly cut up. We spent time drinking tea and eating a nice slice of Genoa cake whilst randomly flicking chunks of meat into the current before us, watching them slide under the branches downstream until it was deemed time for the cast.
I held the bait up in the water, letting off line, watching the meat edge closer and closer to the target area before letting it go.

Using my bag as a rest and with one hand on my trusty Allcocks Nimrod, I watched the tip in anticipation.

The rod whacked around almost immediatly and I struck  and held the rod back, keeping the fish away from the branches and roots. 

It has to be said that the rod performed admirably, as did the Mitchell 300 attached to it. I didn't give the fish an inch of line as it tried for freedom in the flow and after a short but spirited battle it approached the waiting net.

Here he is then, the fruit of our labours.........

A modest, but handsome chub. Not the anticipated barbel but good old Mr. Chevin, one of my favourite species. He's much maligned by many a barbel angler but I often remember, as I will this one, their capture with much fondness and a smile. Unlike the barbel they will often reward you in adverse conditions and make a bad day good. 
 After all my years as an angler I never tire of the buzz I get when a little plan comes together. With a bit of opportunism and teamwork it's even better. This fish was one of a few we had over the course of the day, Alas, no barbel, maybe too cold. I'll be back. My thanks go to good old Mike.
A good fellow,  if a little eccentric.

Friday, 15 February 2013

10 Tips for Winter Fishing.

I've spent a lot of time on the bank in the depths of winter. It has the benefit of quieter banks and though the fishing will be difficult for most species, a catch will be more rewarding. Having the right kit to stay warm will help you to fish effectively, for longer.  Here are a few tips to make things a bit easier when it gets cold.

1. Pick an easy water - A water with a good head of hungry fish will produce all year round. I have tried the difficult venues, fishing against the odds for big fish, but the result is usually not good. I like a challenge, but sometimes question what I'm doing. For most of us, life is too short to chase shadows in winter. Go catch some fish.
  How not to do it.

2. Handwarmers - The petrol fuelled models by Zippo and Peacock are excellent. I use two, one for each side pocket. They keep the finger tips and the core of your body warm. I cannot emphasise enough how much these items have enhanced my angling.

3. Hot Drinks - Whether you take a stove, Kelly Kettle or flask, hot drink is imperative to happy winter angling. My flask of choice is the Stanley, being strong and reliable, will keep drink warm all day, no problem. I always rinse the flask with hot tap water before filling it to warm it inside.

The Kelly is also a godsend and the burning embers are excellent for warming cold hands..

I always take some paper, dry dead nettle stems and the wood kindling you can buy at most petrol stations. Most of this can be stuffed down the kettle chimney for transport and you are guaranteed dry fuel to start the fire.
 My stove of choice is the Primus Gravity EF. Stable, reliable, and compact. I always use Primus gas in the winter which is a four season mix containing Isobutane....

...here is mine with 'Steve' my kettle, still going strong after many years service.

4. Footwear - If your feet are cold then so are you, and once they're cold they are nigh impossible to warm up again. Good thermal, waterproof footwear is essential. I recommend Skee-Tex Wellingtons and Field Boots and also have a pair of old Wychwood Lunker boots. These are ideal if you are sitting in one swim all day but perhaps a bit heavy for roaming. In this circumstance I'd use a quality neoprene Wellington. Le Chameau, Hunter or my preference Hoggs Field -Pro.
 A good pair(or two) of wicking socks should be worn as well. I use Thorlos and Coolmax, both do the job well.

5. Clothng -A good warm hat makes a huge difference. I use lots of different styles, some are waterproof, some are just warm. Suit one to the conditions of the day, but always wear one.
Base Layers, then a fleece layer, then a waterproof layer is the minimum clothing I'll wear. Layers, layers, layers. Look to ski/snowboard shops for the best base and fleeces.
Neck gaiters and scarves stop the draughts.
I will be a bit controversial here and advise against gloves. They get in the way of fishing. If they're not waterproof they will get wet and your finger will soon be colder than had you not worn them. If they are waterproof, you will need the fingerless type which kind of defeats the object. Take a towel to dry hands and use handwarmers, not gloves.

6. Insulation - If you look carefully at the picture below you will see that my feet are resting on my unhooking mat. This is because a high percentage of cold comes from the ground. The mat acts as lagging for my feet keeping them warmer, longer.

 The same principal can be had for bivvy fishing. Always use a groundsheet, stack luggage beneath your bedchair. If you use a standard bedchair put a thermal layer between it and your sleeping bag.

7. Doing The Nights - A 5 Season sleeping bag and twin skinned bivvy go without saying and are essential. I'm not a fan of bivvy heaters or warming up the bivvy with a stove. They can give off toxic fumes that have killed anglers in the past who have plugged gaps to exclude draughts. If you need extra warmth take a hot water bottle and wear a full face balaclava to sleep in, your face will otherwise be the only exposed part of your body.
 The cold nights can be painfully long and though I try, sometimes it's not an option to be out watching the water. Some take TV's, some DVD's and Laptops. I like a little radio, mine cost under a tenner and occupies the mind whilst waiting for a run.

8. Pick The right Species - All species, even catfish may feed for small periods in the winter but there are a few that love to.
 You can make life easy for yourself by targetting grayling, chub, roach and pike, all of which can be persuaded in cold conditions.

9. Lure Fishing - A great way to keep warm is to keep mobile. Take a lure rod out for a few hours. Do a couple of circuits of your lake . Keep casting and keep moving. You can get your fishing fix, catch a few fish and be back home in the warm in no time.

10. Perspective - Don't expect to have great results all the time. Sometimes it'll be hard going. Don't do your head in thinking that rigs and bait are wrong. Many fall into this trap, and by the time the fish are really feeding they have lost heart and abandoned what they set out to achieve. Of course,you can experiment, but always keep that sense of perspective.

These tips might not help you now with spring just around the corner but have allowed me more quality time on the bank over the past few years and maybe one or two of these will help your future sessions.
 There's no such thing as too cold....Just the wrong clothing. equipment or species.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Why Never The Easy Option ?

I could've stayed in today. I've loads to do at home. There's a Sealey Octofloat Deluxe to be built. I actually have two, both wrecks, but with the help of a donor ferrule, some new rings and whips, I hope to make one useable rod for my spring tench sessions.
There's also much clearing out of old gear and rubbish to be done at 'Gurney Towers'. A cold snowy winter day would seem the ideal time to at least make a start.
 Why then was I embarking on a two mile walk to fish for roach on a lake that I'm not even sure holds fish of the calibre I'm targetting? Where predator anglers find it almost impossible to catch livebaits in the summer. Where I blanked last time out.
 I knew that the river wouldn't fish today, it's well up, and never seems to produce at this level.

 It was swelled further by the overflow of the canal....

...which looked a bit like the tea you buy at Luton Town games.

 At least the lake wasn't up and coloured, it didn't look too welcoming though..

I had it in my mind that if I was a fat roach in the cold, chilly depths of this lake, I'd quite like a pineapple flavoured red maggot at this time of year.

I actually moved three times during the course of the day, fishing the feeder to a single spot in each swim for two hours. In an attempt to get a bite I fished deep, shallower and to snags....All produced nothing. It was cold, windy and hostile.
 Why then, do I never choose the easy option when I actually decide to fish? What is it that makes me want things difficult, not easy? Is it that buzz of triumph over adversity I crave?
 I don't know, but the two miles back were harder with no fish, and at home, the unbuilt rod still sat unbuilt.