Monday, 29 May 2017

Make mine a Mitchell ...


I put it down to nostalgia. When I was first cutting my angling "teeth", back in the early 1980's when shoulder pads, Duran Duran and Margaret Thatcher were defining an era owning a Mitchell reel was a symbol amongst our little gang of 12 and 13 year olds of serious angling intent. A Mitchell was an almost totemic tackle box item, that separated the "men" from the DAM Prince or Daiwa J13P wielding "boys."
The reel I started fishing with had no bail arm roller, an "automatic" bail arm trip only in as much as it had a protrusion on the reel's stem which a half turn of the handle smashed the bail arm into, consequently closing it, and an unskirted spool that seemed designed to lure inches and inches of nylon monofilament under it's lip, requiring impatient boyhood fingers to engage themselves in prolonged untangling exercises. In short, it was a disaster masquerading as a fishing reel, and so, when Christmas 1981 came around there was only one thing on my list: a Mitchell 204, and so began a love affair which, unlike the ones I succumbed to with girls with the unfeasibly "big" hair-styles that characterised that decade, continues to this day. The ache of those lost loves with girls with names like Mandy and Tracey have long since passed, but I do still find myself pining for the 204, which at some indeterminate point in my early adulthood must have been misplaced or perhaps swapped or given away.
 
 
An audit of my current reel collection shows seven Mitchell reels, two of them of the  more modern variety, but five that are each in excess of 30 years old.  Two are the iconic Mitchell 300's, one the well worn and worthily battle-scarred one in the picture above, the other a remarkably still immaculate 300 Pro with wooden handle that I purchased with an early post school teenage wage packet, probably round about 1985 or '86, and that still gets taken to the water's edge, particularly when floater fishing for carp . My first choice Mitchell for general float fishing is the 304 CAP, largely because I've always loved the unusual but aesthetically pleasing circular body shape, and coveted one for several years before purchasing a 304 in mint condition a few years ago. The pictures below show me landing a chub while using it, and a mat shot of it alongside an exquisitely coloured and audaciously plump perch.



In addition to the pair of 300's and the 304 CAP, I also have a half bail reel of the type that preceded the 300, and a sweet little Mitchell Prince 308 (honesty demands I admit that mine isn't the one pictured below), which I intend to strip the paint from, and then repaint to make it "good as new" as a fun project for later on this year, when the cold, dark winter evenings draw in.


The origins of the Mitchell lie with a family of Italian born Swiss and French émigrés. The aptly named Louis Carpano founded a company that made gears for watches, and his son-in-law, Charles Pons, moved the company into the fishing reel arena, where they were pioneers in the early development of the open faced spinning reel, and the rest, as they say, is history, a long and proud history that I, and other traditionally minded anglers keep alive each time we remove one of their creations from its reel case and affix it to a rod. If you grow up in Liverpool or Manchester you have to choose between the reds and the blues, you're either Liverpool or Everton, United or City, and if you were a serious angler in the late 70's or early 80's you were either an Abu Cardinal or a Mitchell man. While not for one moment doubting the Cardinal's charms (and I may yet purchase one), I was then, and remain now a "Mitchell Man." An advertisement for the Mitchell 410 that dates from 1968, the year I was born, stated that a Mitchell reel was a "lifelong fishing partner"- I suspect that, for me at least, the claim will prove to be unerringly true.

 



Friday, 26 May 2017

Planning on perch


The picture of the perch shown above was taken directly from the website of a fishery I, and a number of my angling friends fish regularly. Just a few miles from my home, it's a convenient spot for the short after-work evening sessions that I and my pals are always looking to squeeze into the gaps in our busy lives. Add to that the fact that John and Anne, the owners of Spring Grange have over the years created a beautiful environment in which to fish, and it's easy to see why we find ourselves pulled, as if by a hidden magnet, to its verdant, tree-lined banks.
 
Most anglers at the fishery target its carp (which are plentiful and catchable), but my attention has been turning to its perch, not only because species perca fluvitalis is, by some considerable margin, my favourite of all British freshwater fish, but because the fish from the website photo demands respect, and invites the question is that fish, or perhaps an even bigger monster, still to be found hiding in the snags and waiting to pounce on an unwary fingerling roach or rudd, or- better still- my bait?
 
The largest perch I've ever seen caught from the venue weighed in at 1 pound and 14 ounces, caught by an angler pole fishing in the swim next door to me, one evening when carp were my quarry. So far this year I've made just two visits to the lake, and on each occasion have landed perch of better than average, but not eye-poppingly enormous, size, as illustrated here:
 
 
 
 
Also, getting in on the act in recent weeks was my angling partner Roger and others, such as Paul and Pete have landed perch of quality, although not specimen, proportions.
 
 
 
All of which starts to build a composite picture that is planting more than the seed of a thought in my mind. Might not the time be ripe for a proper perch campaign on the lake? If, without trying too hard, a number of decent perch have found their way onto our hooks what would be the fruit of a concerted effort? What if the pint of maggots and tub of worms was augmented with prawns, Predator Plus laced groundbait and more serious intent?
It's beginning to look a lot like I know what I'll be doing this Autumn, and, until then, every time I close my eyes I'll find myself picturing the fish from the website photograph- that spectacular humped shoulder and cavernous mouth, the fish dwarfing the angler's hand. Of such things dreams are made, and even if I only end up tangling with little rascals, such as the fish caught and displayed by my son in the final photo of this article it will have been a dream worth pursuing, and time happily and well spent. This is one hunch that simply demands to be followed ....
 
 

 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Carp and Coarse in the Springtime sun-CA Camp 2017


Day two (of the Christian Anglers camping weekend) dawned surprisingly dry after a nightime deluge of deluvian proportions. Breakfast was once again the standard angler's fayre of bacon butties, and as the early morning sun dried the rainsoaked ground, bacon and coffee gave way to another short Christian message, delivered this time by Carl, a "trainee Vicar" and member of the group. Devotions and prayers complete, we made the short journey to another of our favourite venues, Spring Grange fishery in Beeby, a mixed coarse lake that contains a large head of carp, some stunning roach and rudd, plenty of small perch, and the occasional bigger stripey. Expectations and excitement were high.

John, the owner of Spring Grange, and a good friend to the Christian Anglers set-up, has created a fishery that is streets ahead of the average "commercial", with mature bankside vegetation, attractive surroundings and a lake that exudes a relaxed and peaceful vibe. Swims were chosen, tackle unloaded, and, once again, Mick was soon steadily catching a string of fish on the pole. This time it wasn't Roy who was keeping him company in the "numbers game", but Jez and the second youngest member of the party, Ben.
Paul was the first angler to connect with a carp, his fish falling to floatfished maggot, before other anglers joined the carping fray. The carp succumbed to a variety of tactics, ranging from the Method to surface fished mixers and basic float and maggot, resulting in fish such as David's surface caught common and Jez's (float fished maggot) shown below.

 
 
As on the previous day, and in common with all CA events, the fishing had a relaxed feel, with anglers regularly winding in their rods to bankwalk and chat, offer advice (some of it occasionally helpful!) and enjoy each other's company. Small perch were plentiful, with the occasional slightly larger fish putting in an appearance, such as the ones displayed by me and Paul, both of which were fooled by floatfished baits, in my case the time honoured worm, in Paul's the humble maggot.




Roy, who had matched Mick almost fish for fish at Homeclose, was finding fish harder to come by, but his perseverance paid off and his catch included roach and perch of about three quarters of a pound and this greedy common. He was one of several anglers who elected to use a centre pin reel, and the carp played its part and produced the "music" that all pin owners recognise as it doggedly pulled line from the reel before conceding victory to our resident Yorkshireman.


My Sabbath day angling was proving a challenging affair, with bites hard to come by. Fortunately, one of the compensations of pursuing a traditionalist vision of angling is that the how attains as much importance as the what, and size becomes less of a yardstick of success. My reel of choice for the day was an Allcocks Record Breaker centre pin, and the pleasure derived from its use ameliorated the limited number of fish that chose to avail themselves of my baited hook. However, the odd better perch, and a rather plump and handsome gudgeon were a welcome distraction from the juvenile sergeants that formed the majority of my catch.



As the afternoon drew towards its close, Andy joined the ranks of the "carp catcher's club" (yes, that was a deliberate referencing of Walker, Taylor, BB et al.), with this common, typical in appearance of the lake's inhabitants, long and lean with a look somewhat reminiscent of a true wildie (we can dream!), but it was his son, Ben, who was the day's star angler.


Ben matched the other frontrunners, Mick and Jez, almost fish for fish, and included not only the common pictured, but also a stunning roach that looked to weigh around the pound mark. It was a consummate performance from the young lad (who happens to be my nephew), and he and Luke, the other youngster in the group had both shown admirable powers of concentration throughout the weekend.



All in all, this year's retreat proved to be a treat for both the spiritual and piscatorial soul, and at the day's close the phrase "same again next year" could be heard on several lips, to which sentiment I can only offer a hearty "amen".
 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Barbeques, Bonfires and Bream (... and tench, crucians and golden orfe) - CA camp 2017 day one.


They say that in the often strange world of church you only have to do something twice for it to become a "tradition" that will ere long be thought to have been "ever thus" and must thereafter be forever perpetuated and always strictly adhered to "world without end, Amen" ........ the Christian Anglers weekend retreat, now in its second year, can therefore now be considered a "tradition", and an extremely good one, at that.
As tradition now dictates (it being year two), the weekend began, once anglers had arrived from Leicester, Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, with a hearty pub meal following the setting up of tents and camp. Once again, the food and company didn't disappoint, and as darkness drew in and the anglers settled into their sleeping bags there was much excitement and anticipation at the thought of the weekend's activities, and the following day's fishing.


A rainy night was followed by a dry morning and a breakfast, cooked in camp, of bacon butties. Breakfast was followed by a brief "thought for the day" and prayers before we piled into cars and drove to Homeclose Fishery, the site of our first fishing session of the weekend. We had booked exclusive use of the small 1 acre Ash Lake, a beautifully kept lake with a stock of orfe (mostly golden, with a few of the blue variety thrown in for good measure), tench, bream and lovely, chubby, and most importantly thoroughbred,  little crucians.


The weather was mostly benign with just the occasional fleeting shower, the atmosphere and camaraderie relentlessly cheerful, and soon floats were dipping and fish being caught. I had elected to give a first outing to a recently acquired, yet venerably aged, split cane float rod, an Aspindale Thamesdale that had been lovingly refurbished by my Facebook friend and traditional angling aficionado Michael Bartholomew. In keeping with my preference for vintage angling, I matched the noble rod with an equally worthy Mitchell Cap 304 reel, and soon my light dart float, dotted down by just five number 4 shot was flicked just inches from an enticing looking pad of lilies. It wasn't too long before the float was dipping, and I was drawing in my first fish, a skimmer of about half a pound. The fishing, for me, was steady but not frantic, and in time the skimmers thankfully gave way to tench, and four tincas put a pleasing bend in the rod, and although only fish of between about a pound to perhaps two pounds, their fight transmitted that lovely thumping sensation through the cane and led to one or two heart stopping moments as the fish strove to find sanctuary in the reeds.

 
 
Around the lake everyone was catching, including Ben and Luke, aged ten and nine respectively, (Luke is seen here returning a tench) and Roy and Mick (whose ages remain a closely guarded secret, but whose day tickets and bus passes bear the legend "concession") had firmly established themselves as the pace setters, each quickly finding themselves in a regular rhythm of fish captured. Mick's predominant species captured were the crucians for which the lake is well known, while Roy's bag, although mixed, lent heavily in a bream-ward direction.


In addition to the bream and tench, golden orfe of various sizes but uniform beauty were also finding their way onto hooks, and into landing nets, typical examples being the ones cradled for the camera  here by Roger and Roy.




As well as orfe of the golden variety (Paul was the "orfe master" of the lake, landing nine of them), a couple of blue orfe were landed, the best one falling to Andy's pole fished maggot.


With Greg absent this year, Roger had assumed the role of photographer, and soon he was being presumed upon with shouts of "Rog, over here" or "Roger, can you take a picture of this" echoing around the otherwise peaceful lake. One of the lake's owners brought Magnum ice lollies (other brands of ice lollies exist ... blah, blah, blah) round for the junior anglers in the party (Mick's protestations that he was "wearing short trousers and therefore qualified" were quite properly ignored by the good lady), and by half past three when we began packing up, everyone had enjoyed a good  day at an extremely pleasant and well run fishery and no-one had blanked. Peaceful contemplation punctuated by bursts of activity, and a strong sense of camaraderie had been the order of a very pleasant day.




Back at camp, and once tackle had been sorted, and teas and coffees brewed, we settled into two groups for Bible studies led by Andy and Carl, based on John's Gospel and Chapter 21, which it may not surprise you to discover is an account of Jesus and his disciples and a rather more spectacular catch of fish than any of us had enjoyed earlier in the day. Discussion flowed, faith was strengthened and insights shared, before we revisited another favourite ritual from the previous year: the barbeque. Unfortunately, our normal head chef and "Master of the Barbeque", Pete (a founding member and Christian Anglers stalwart) was unable to be with us this year, as his young son Jacob (another regular on our outings) was in hospital, so burger and banger responsibilities were delegated to Andy, who rose to the task with aplomb.


The evening ended with a bonfire, flames licking skywards as we sat in the fields and contemplated the natural beauty of the East Leicestershire countryside. Fishing, food and friendship with God's handiwork in creation providing the backdrop, and to top it all, as we retired to our tents for the night, we knew that the next day would also be spent in piscatorial activity- does it really get any better?

 
 


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.