Thursday, 20 April 2017

Carping like Crabtree

Work has  been a bit busy of late (and not only because it was Easter), and with my brain fit to explode with work stuff, and the airwaves full of General Election talk there was only one diagnosis-an evening at the lake was urgently needed for its "head clearing" and general sanity restoring qualities. It was time to bend some cane.
I left work early, and was at the lake shortly after half past four in the afternoon. An elderly gentleman was just vacating my favourite swim, so I chatted to him as he packed up and then moved into his swim as he left cheerily wishing me good luck and admiring my split cane stalking rod, which was about to get its first outing with me as its owner. The carp rod was matched with a Mitchell 300 and the butt rested on my whicker creel. Purists may moan (and are entitled to) about the fact that the rod was also placed on a Fox Micron bite alarm, but when fishing for "churners" with a closed bail arm I'm happy to sacrifice a bit of the vintage effect for the security of an audible alarm, particularly as I would be concentrating my active attention on my float rod. No-one wants to see a prized rod getting dragged into the pond by a tethered carp.
The float rod employed was another mint condition rod of venerable age, a match rod made by the now long since defunct Rodrill company of London, and it was teamed with an Allcocks Record Breaker centre pin reel. The float, with double maggot on an 18 and 4 pound mainline to 2 pound hooklink, was soon regularly dipping with a succession of small roach, rudd and perch like the one pictured above. The roach and rudd were welcome for their silvery or golden beauty, and the cream of the crop on the float was the larger, pugnacious looking perch in the picture below, which made a couple of spirited dashes for cover before succumbing to the folds of the net.
My friend Roger and his son Ben turned up to join the fun, and set up in a swim on the opposite side of the lake, and they, too, were soon catching roach and rudd, both floatfishing with maggots. Roger was giving a first outing to his latest acquisition, an antique Mordex Meteor centre pin that he had recently purchased and cleaned up. Another friend, David, also visited, although only to chat as he had an early morning start planned for his following day's fishing in Gloucestershire. The evening had a pleasant sociable air as we talked and enjoyed the surroundings. I was perfectly happy catching the smaller fish on the float line, and must confess to being somewhat surprised when the bite alarm signalled a run on the carp rod. The old split cane rod was soon bent into its fighting curve, and after a few minutes in which the carp fought doggedly, but with no real venom, a modestly sized common was in the net and on the mat- my first ever carp on a cane rod. Delighted doesn't even come close!
This capture proved only to be the prelude, however, to the evening's main action which occurred when Roger hooked a much angrier carp on his float gear. The fish gave Roger a merry runaround, which he seemed to thoroughly enjoy, the stillness broken by the sound of the Mordex's ratchet emitting the "music" that every centre pin angler loves to hear, and it must have been the best part of ten minutes before the carp was drawn over the net, wielded by young Ben. Like mine, it wasn't a big carp but on light tackle it had proved a more than worthy adversary.
We elected to pack up after Roger's carp- it seemed like the right time to stop. The three of us had enjoyed a wonderful evening in lovely surroundings, and as we stored our tackle in our cars we wished David "tight lines" for his trip the following day. There was one last surprise. This was the first time I'd fished the lake at Beeby this year, and the owner, John, has always been very good to the Christian Anglers club that I run, and has allowed us exclusive booking on his lake a couple of times for our fish-ins and when I walked past the noticboard at the top end of the lake I was pleasantly surprised to see one of our promotional flyers on the board, alongside the fishery details and rules.
 A rod, a reel, some good friends and a lake .......... it doesn't take much to make me happy.

Friday, 14 April 2017

"Craftsman's art and angler's pleasure"

Fishing has blessed me with enchantments, memories and friendships that are far beyond what an angler of my only very average ability deserves. My fishing experience, as my eternal salvation, seems to owe far more to grace and unmerited favour than it does to anything I've contributed to it myself.
This is a tale of two angling friends who I feel I know, although have never met, two fishing rods, one ancient and venerable, one new and shiny, and impending plans for adventures  on a small, intimate, Leicestershire carp lake.
And so, to the friends- an English Devonian, and an American Floridian, Michael and Don. (Don's the one with the extensive, impressive and hirsuite "facial furniture", Michael the one holding the equally  rather impressive looking perch)

The worldwide interweb thingy is often the focus for hostility, and some people's hysteria might prompt one to wonder if bullying and unpleasantness even existed before British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee had his "light bulb moment", although my memories of schooldays make me doubt such a claim. However, for all the opprobrium that some people hurl at it, for me the Internet has been the catalyst for a number of fishing friendships, many of them trans-Atlantic, and some which have ultimately led to me meeting up with and fishing alongside companions from the world of the web, both in the UK and the USA. However, I have yet to meet either Don or Michael in the flesh, but as internet friends they have proved to be proper gentlemen and extremely generous. Which brings me to the two fishing rods in question, and my forthcoming carp pond adventures.
I got to know of Michael on a Facebook page that delights in the name of TARTS (an acronym that stands for Traditional Angling and Retro Tackle), cue: "Vicar and Tarts" jokes. A while back he was selling a few rods from his extensive collection of split cane beauties and I purchased from him one of the rods on offer, an 8 foot carp stalking rod (pictured below) with lovely whippings and patina, that he himself had lovingly restored. That purchase was the least of it, though, as a friendship developed which resulted in him kindly gifting me another vintage split cane rod ( an Aspindale float rod) and half a dozen antique reels.
Don, is a professional custom rodbuilder who works for American Tackle, and has his own company DMD Rods. A few years ago I purchased from Don, who I first encountered  on the now defunct Christian Outdoorsman Forum (now a Facebook page), a unique handmade carbon spinning rod that he crafted for me, and which has proved a dream to use and on which I've landed pike to approaching 20 pounds and is, understandably, a treasured possession. We've remained internet and Facebook friends, from time to time messaging each other on FB, as well as "liking" photo's of each other gripping fish and grinning, or pictures of our kids and families, but a few week's ago an intriguing chain of e-mail messages began. Questions were asked about import tax details and my home address, but all was kept very secretive. Well, now the secret is out, and it transpires that Don, for no reason other than personal kindness, had donated rod building components from American Tackle to twice World Custom Rod Builder of the Year Nuno Paulino from Portugal,a good friend of his, who he commissioned to make for me a one of a kind, bespoke, state of the art carp rod. The finished product features Christian symbols, purple and gold whippings, a space age reel seat, and even has Da Vinci's "Last Supper" and other sacred art woven into the carbon of the blank, and can be seen below. The rod somehow seems to combine the look and  feel of a European Cathedral with elements that are almost reminiscent of the artistry you find on the most exclusive of custom painted motorbikes. If any "fish bothering stick", as one of my non angling friend refers to them as, could be described as having a numinous quality, this is it.
Paulino, who had a brief spell as a professional footballer in his younger days has recently written a lavishly illustrated book about his creations, and my new rod is among those featured in it. Of the rod he writes: "The word "inspiration" takes on a higher meaning when crafting a rod for a member of the English clergy. The theme becomes one with deep personal meaning for both client and craftsman." What is beyond dispute is that the finished work is inspired and a showcase of Nuno's skill and ingenuity.
And so the plan? Such tools deserve to be used for the purpose for which they were designed, namely the landing of fish, and so each will be "field tested" over the next month, starting next week with the split cane rod, and then, on a subsequent trip the custom build. For the cane rod it will be a reacquainting with the throb and pull of a displeased carp for a rod that has probably already seen well over half a century's worth of action -a return to active and noble service. For the newbuild, and the metaphor seems appropriate, a baptism as it finds itself pulled into a fighting curve for the very first time. The same pond, a favourite of mine, will provide the venue for both trips, as "functional art" performs its function in the pleasing setting of the English countryside. You, dear reader, will- of course- be the first to know: watch this space.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The sun (finally) shines on the righteous ...

"Suffering", so the Apostle Paul tells us in the Good Book leads to perseverance, which he argues, in turn builds character, and while Paul is talking about a life spent as a follower of Jesus, that much might also be said to be true of the angler. Perseverance, character and a dash of stubborn resilience were certainly attributes that were necessary to carry me through my first two sessions of 2017, a brace of ignominious blanks in temperatures that hovered just above freezing. Yesterday, however, all that changed as the Christian Anglers group held their first fish-in of the year at Furnace Mill fishery- everyone caught, the weather was relatively warm and mostly dry, and "pleasure fishing" really was what it "said on the tin."
Nine anglers had made the journey to Worcestershire, with David (H) travelling the furthest, having driven to the venue on the morning of fishing from somewhere in the "Deep South", David (C) opted to avoid the need for an early start and stayed overnight in a local hotel, while the rest of us trundled across a succession of Midland motorways to arrive at our chosen destination, an extremely well run fishery located in the beautiful Wyre Valley.

I set up with a 14 foot waggler rod teamed with a newly acquired 50 year old Allcocks "Record Breaker" centre pin (a reel that predates the 1966 takeover of Allcocks by Norris Shakespeare) and a small 2BB insert waggler float. Main line was 4 pound bs, with a size 16 hook on a 3 pound bottom. Bait was the humble maggot, with hemp and maggots introduced "little and often" as loose feed.  My first fish was a small roach (certainly not the record breaker that the reel promised!), which was followed the next cast by an F1 of around half a pound.

It would give a mistaken impression to say that catching fish is only incidental to Christian Anglers get togethers, but there is certainly far more to the occasion than the mere act of bringing fish to the net. As ever, the conversation and company were of the highest order, and while the fishing was never frantic, somewhere along the row of anglers there was always someone catching, with a pleasingly catholic variety to the range of species caught. Small common carp (along with a few which looked suspiciously like they might be the dreaded F1's or some form of goldfish) were the most frequent visitors to the bank, backed up by bream, perch and roach, with Ben adding a gudgeon, Pete a chub and David (H) a small stillwater barbel. (pictured below) Roger enjoyed the "fight of the day", battling a carp of about 4 pounds for several minutes on centre pin and light line before it saw his side of the argument and succumbed to the folds of the net.

The fish seemed to be travelling up and down the line of anglers, with a flurry of activity in a particular area giving way as the fish explored the variety and choice of loosefeed on offer along the bank. In addition to the ubiquitous commons, a pair of attractively scaled mirrors were landed, one, seen here, to David (C) and one to Pete.

I persisted on the float for the entire five hours and caught around 20 fish, while other anglers opted to switch between pole or float and The Method, which proved to be an efficient, if less purist, means of catching. As well as the expected carp, the lake's skimmers also proved enthusiastically partial to a banded pellet embedded in a ball of groundbait, with the fish held here by Louie being a typical example.

The two youngest members of the party, Jacob and Ben, both applied themselves well, concentrated hard and caught regularly, demonstrating ably that even 21st Century kids are able to enjoy healthy pleasures that predate computer games, phones and other electronic devices and which take them beyond the limiting horizons of the inside of their bedrooms.


Although the majority of the fish were "fun sized" but unremarkable, one fish of outstanding quality made a bankside appearance, when Pete's pole fished maggot proved irresistible to a perch that, if weighed, would probably have threatened the magical 2 pound mark. Plump and beautiful, with its proud dorsal fin and stripy livery and with a cavernous mouth that had doubtless engulfed numerous small roach and bream over the years, this was a fish to savour.

The weather had proved benign and sunny with just one brief shower, which momentarily treated us all to the sight of a rainbow that covered a corner of the treeline with colour and appeared to meet the lake, touch its surface and disappear into the depths. Like the perch, a thing of beauty, a joy forever and a reminder of a day well spent.


Friday, 10 February 2017

An essay on getting the Cane....

I fear that the title of this essay may lead to all kind of deviants ending up on my site, and I apologise for their disappointment when they discover that "The Fishing Vicar" isn't a euphemism, but really is just about a Vicar who fishes, and that this article is about angling equipment and not "grown up toys" for those of a kinky disposition. I left school in 1984, which was my misfortune, as corporal punishment in school didn't end until 1986. However, despite receiving not infrequent slipperings (why did they say "this'll hurt me more than you?" .... liars!) I never had to suffer the cane, although I did watch several others experience that fate. Now, 33 years later I'm opting FOR the cane, albeit in an altogether different form.

My angling has been veering towards the "traditional" for a while, now. I've got a collection of vintage reels  that I regularly use, as well as a more modern centrepin, have a whicker fishing basket, only ever use old fashioned handcrafted floats, and have acquired several nice vintage glassfibre rods. That said, until now I've only been a dilettante, half heartedly hanging around the fringes of the Bernard Venables and Chris Yates inspired traditionalist scene, but- thanks to the postman and the kindness of a friendship made on Facebook- I'm now a fully fledged member of the split cane fraternity. The Facebook friend (whose name will remain concealed to hide any embarrassment) was not only  kind enough to allow me to buy a cane rod from him on a "play now, pay later" basis (the rod has already arrived, and will be paid for at the time of my forthcoming birthday), but- in his evangelical zeal for all things "cane"- generously gifted me  a second rod at just the cost of delivery. A marvellous gesture from a proper gentleman. And so, to the rods themselves:

The first (pictured above) is an 8 foot rod, beautifully refurbished with lovely whippings and patina, and capable of landing reasonably sized carp and pike. It will be my rod of choice for both canal pike fishing and margin carp fishing, both of which occupy a fair bit of my time.
The second, which will probably see greater active service due to my preference for the float, is a superb float rod by Aspindales, the Thamesdale, just over 12 foot long, and sure to be my new "go to" rod for perch, crucians and tench (which just happen to be my three favourite fish species), except on commercial venues where there's a high chance of contacting a rogue carp, in which case I'll turn to my fine vintage Rodrill glass float rod, to avoid any possibility of a treasured possession becoming firewood for a Kelly Kettle!

Changes in my working pattern and responsibilities (I've been seconded for 6 months to work half time as a Diocesan head office "desk jockey" in addition to running one of the larger churches in the Diocese) mean that my actual fishing opportunities will be far fewer this year, perhaps, painfully, as little as one a month (counselling may be required!), but the prospect of a new set of adventures walking along angling's "old paths" with craftsman-made antique tackle will, doubtless, prove to be its own compensation. Looks like from now on the future of my angling lies in the use of things past in the present, and I can't wait. I'll keep you all posted.


Friday, 3 February 2017

The significance of pronouns in perch fishing

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I rarely conform to the stereotype of the stoical, taciturn, lone angler. For me, fishing is a sociable activity and I'm blessed with a goodly number of excellent friends who are similarly afflicted with a passion for angling, which, on days like today, is an undoubted benefit. Once again perch were the target species, once again the fishing was hard, and as on my last trip, I blanked. I was joined in the "dry net department" by Pete and Paul, but David had two fish, including one extremely handsome stripy, which meant that the question "how did you guys get on today?" could be answered with "we caught a lovely perch", enabling my lack of proficiency on the day to be obscured by the cunning use of a personal pronoun.
There was an unmistakable chill in the air, but the weather was milder than it has been of late, and the plan was to fish for about three hours in a spot that has produced plenty of perch for Pete and I in the past, catch a few fish and then retire for a pub meal and convivial chat. In the event, the pub meal was more of a success than the fishing.

David and I chose to tuck ourselves in next to a couple of moored boats (having first befriended and gained the permission of their owners), while Paul and Pete concentrated on the area around a bridge, all classic text book perch habitat. However, it was our misfortune that only one perch had read the text book.

Paul float fished red maggots, I fed the same and suspended a lively worm under a perch bob float, David float fished red maggots and Pete alternated between worms presented beneath float and ledger, but for Pete, Paul and me all to no avail. In time, Pete and I broke the monotony of staring at motionless floats with a bit of spinning and dropshotting, methods to which the intransigent perch proved equally diffident.

After about an hour David landed a singularly unremarkable roach, which although nothing in and of itself to get excited about, did at least show that there were still fish in the canal, and that at least one of them was in compliant mood.
An hour later and his float once again shot away, and this time his match rod took on a heartening battle curve, and shortly afterwards a lovely plump perch that must have weighed about a pound and a half was engulfed by the folds of his landing net. Said perch was duly admired, photographed and returned, and the fishing regained its uneventful and soporific character.

 At 1 o'clock we drew stumps (or more accurately, banksticks) and retired to the waterside pub for a meal, pint and piscatorial post-mortem. You may be forgiven for supposing that following my second successive blank I would have been downcast or disconsolate, but if you did so, you'd be wrong. How can a morning spent fishing ever be the cause of dismay, especially when spent in good company and followed up with a hearty meal? And anyway, the whole trip was a success: "there's no I in team" and we caught. Such is the power of pronouns.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

"Blanking in a winter wonderland"

"I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while and gone my way and forgotten it" wrote the poet RS Thomas, in a poem full of Welsh hiraeth , pregnant with longing for what once was, but had now been left behind. For Thomas it was the failure to grasp the opportunity to engage with God in a numinous moment that fuelled his disappointment, but today there were precious few occasions when the sun shone through the gloom to point us to the skies, and so  I was spared any retrospective moments of Thomas-style existential angst. I was also, unfortunately, spared the pleasure of catching, holding and marvelling at the beauty of any of the perch I was in pursuit of, but the absence of fish belied my thorough enjoyment of the day.

Accompanied by my son, James, and friends David and Roger and Roger's son Ben, we had driven the hour and a half's journey from our Leicestershire homes to a stretch of the Oxford Canal where we met up with our pal Keith, a regular on the cut, and a man who boasts an enviable list of perch to over 3 pounds that have been plucked from its watery depths. On my only previous visit I had landed a brace of perch each weighing a pound and a half, so despite the previous day's snow I was confident that between the six of us we'd land a  few fish, but unfortunately such confidence was misplaced. Never mind fish landed, some of us couldn't even muster a single bite, and all of us suffered the ignominy of our first blank of the New Year.

I was indulging in one of my retro days, so parked myself on my old-school whicker basket and employed my newly acquired, but vintage, Rodrill float rod coupled with a Mitchell 204 CAP reel also of venerable antiquity. The float was a traditional handmade Norfolk reed waggler, the bait a worm. My son had chosen to eschew the traditionalist's poetry for contemporary precision, and elected to use a short carbon pole and a delicate bristle float, Roger's methods accorded with mine as he matched a centre pin reel with a handmade quill float, while the other three all plumped for variations on a waggler theme.  And so we sat ..... and sat .... and sat.

In many ways winter fishing is where we anglers "pay our dues" and, with freezing fingers and  baits untouched by fish, earn the right to the impressive catches that will form our summer memories, when fish are easier to catch and the weather more benign. Despite the lack of fish we all enjoyed the day in a way a non angler would fail to understand. Conversation and camaraderie, the shimmering reflections of the colourful barges in the water, cooking frankfurters by the canal's edge and just "being there" make the day its own reward, and once home the true angler's mind immediately turns to the wistful longing for the next trip. The fish may have won this time, but a fisherman's year is a marathon not a sprint, and ere long it will be Spring, and as the blossom blooms and the bulbs emerge, the pendulum of ascendency will swing in the angler's direction. Until such times we persevere, drawing solace from the motto of the Flyfisher's Club which (I'll spare you the Latin) roughly translates: "there is more to fishing than catching fish", to which all right minded practitioners of the Waltonian art are invited to respond with a hearty "amen".


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

"You little Tinca ..."

"Regrets, I've had a few" sung Frank Sinatra, and who hasn't? Perhaps my biggest fishing regret is that I've spent very little time fishing for (or catching!) tench over the last few years, and, on cold December evenings like tonight my mind's "wishful thinking" transports me to lazy summer days, lilly pads, and pin prick bubbles fizzing around my quill float. It's been way too long.

My teenage years saw me avidly catching tincas from my local club lake in my hometown of Reading. Lovely olive green or brown fish with little pink eyes that fought doggedly and took my sweetcorn, worms or the then "new fangled" Ritchworth boilies with seeming abandon.
This last year although I have caught tench, it's mostly been my angling companions who've slipped their nets under the flanks of summer's most archetypal of fish. These handsome specimens being held by Pete and Greg being typical of the fish I've had to behold, and sometimes capture on film, but that have rarely been captured on my hook over this last twelve months.
As with all fish I'd rather catch a big specimen than a small pup, but rather like pike, tench seem to be at their very prettiest when small. Fish of less than a pound, like the one Greg is holding in the picture below, don't pull your string too hard, but have a charm and beauty that their more impressive larger brothers and sisters can never quite recapture. The smaller they are the softer and silkier they seem to the touch- perfection in miniature, and what's lacked in stature is compensated for in style.
Perhaps, as we enter a new year, one of my resolutions should be to spend a more of my time in the warmer months intentionally pursuing tench (the tench I did catch this year were never my target fish, and were all accidental captures). No fish is more redolent of all that summer angling signifies, and it's almost a crime that these paddle tailed beauties have slipped under my radar, if not over the rim of my landing net, with any regularity of late. Misty dawns,  lilly pads, centre pin reels and quill floats may have become a tench angler's cliché, but it's a cliché I intend to insert myself into more frequently in 2017.
In former times the tench was held to be some form of underwater physician, the thought being that its thick coating of slime contained healing properties and that fish of other species would rub their flanks against those of the tench to avail themselves of the efficacy of its healing balm. This led to the tench becoming known colloquially as the "Doctor Fish", and although it's now believed that there is no scientific evidence for this piece of angling lore the nickname has stuck, and is still sometimes used. True or not, I hope to see "the doctor" several times next year to remedy a growing longing for "all things tench".