Friday, 8 September 2017

Ponds and pastures new ...

There are very few truly natural stillwaters in the UK; the great, brooding, lochs of Scotland or the vast watery expanses of the Lake District are the exception, not the rule, but when man gives nature a "helping hand" and then takes a step back, the artificially created can take on the appearance of the natural, and nature can reclaim for Arcadia what human hands have formed. Admittedly, some commercials, although not many, are beyond redemption (I once fished a "snake lake" where every peg had its own circular island at 9 metres, a convenient pole-fishing distance, from the bank, which viewed from above would have looked like croutons floating in a soup of muddy water), but, given time, most waters can mature and acquire a beauty of their own, as is certainly true of the small pond that I fished for the first time today, dotted with lilly pads, bordered by trees and with a backdrop of the patchwork quilt of fields that are a defining feature of England's "green and pleasant land."

I was joined by regular fishing companions Pete, Roger and Paul, and for me and Roger the day was to have a traditional theme, with split cane being wielded and vintage reels pressed into service. Pete's approach may have had a more contemporary feel to it, but that in no way diminishes his ability to appreciate the poetry of the place, and who are Roger and I to argue - Pete invariably catches more than us, our aesthetic sensibilities no match for his application and attention to detail. As for Paul, he recently turned 72, so there is a case to be made for he himself being classified as vintage, irrespective of the tackle he chooses to employ.

The weather (no English fishing report can be deemed complete without some meteorological reference) was mostly benign, the temperature mild, with alternate sunny spells and very light showers. Roger and I fished one corner of the small (probably just under an acre) pond, with Pete and Paul diagonally opposite us. My swim had an extensive pad of lilies to my left and clear water straight in front. A split cane carp rod and Mitchell 300 were pressed into service, and a boilie cast to the edge of the pads. Meanwhile, leaving the carp rod to "do it's own thing" (heresy of heresies: perched atop a modern bite alarm!), I plumbed the depth and flicked a tiny porcupine quill taking just four number 6 shot half a rod length out, with double red maggot on an 18 hook, 3 pound bottom and 4 pound mainline. Fish, although not prolific, were plentiful, and soon the four of us were catching fine quality roach, such as the one displayed below alongside the Rodrill Kite rod and Allcocks Record Breaker reel responsible for its downfall.

Roger was giving debuts to his newly acquired split cane float rod, which he paired with an also recently purchased vintage Intrepid fixed spool reel.

The roach were of a good average stamp, and tended to visit the bank in little bursts, three or four fish and then a period of inactivity, but in between times we were plagued by voracious but tiny little perch, beautifully marked but pitifully small, an example of which sits in my hand in the photo below.

I managed several quality roach, and posed for the occasional "grip and grin" as in these examples, but the enjoyment of the day comprised of far more than just the fish. The company was, as is a "given" with this crowd, excellent, the surroundings serene. The serenity of the lake's setting, and the view, along with the, mostly, compliant roach, were an antidote to the busyness of the last few months, and a pleasing "calm before the storm" as we prepare to move house and for me to begin a new role, no longer as a Parish vicar, but in a "Head Office" position working across the Anglican Diocese of Leicester.

Paul was "top rod" on the day (and only his protestations that "I can't swim"- a claim we will be seeking to verify with his wife, Pat, on Sunday- prevented us from chucking him in, which we understand is a custom beloved of match anglers on winning a large pay out, presumably to shrink-fit their brightly coloured early  1990's shell-suit style of fishing attire), with this superb roach being the pick of his catch, silvery hued and glimmering with bright red fins.

After hours of silent inactivity, my bite alarm sounded and a carp powered off in determined fashion, I held the fish hard (possibly too hard), and several times turned it before it could reach the sanctuary of the pads, but after a couple of minutes of "rough and tumble" the line went horribly slack, and the cane's pleasing battle arc sprung straight as a result of the dreaded hook pull. It was to be the only chance offered to me by the carp. Paul (predictably) had more luck, landing a chunky little leather with lovely pale cream coloured flanks accentuated with hints of orange, which gave him a great fight on a light link leger and a bunch of maggots on a size 14 hook.

By the time of our mid afternoon pack up, we'd all caught plenty of roach, and were in that sanguine, relaxed frame of mind that a good fishing session in pleasing surroundings can induce. To complete a perfect (apart from the lost carp!) day, as we drove out of the car park the heavens opened, a proper deluvian deluge which required windscreen wipers be turned to full speed. "I reckon we timed that just right" remarked Pete, and no one disagreed.


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Living the cliche

The world of angling is no stranger to clichés, but their persistence is due in no small part to the fact that most of them contain more than a grain of truth. Chief among angling aphorisms is the one that contends that "there's more to fishing than catching fish", and its veracity as a proverb was proven this evening. It wasn't that we didn't catch fish, we did (scores of them) but all were small, and they were hardly the point, anyway.

Tonight the significant factor was not the quality of the fish, but of the company, as my son, James, and I were joined by angling companions David, Pete (with his son Jacob) and Roger for a few hours of gentle evening fishing at one of our favourite venues.

James and I were the first to arrive, and James, who had opted to fish with an elasticated whip, had swung about ten fish into the bank before I had even made my first cast with my bristle tipped crucian float, fourteen foot match rod and vintage Allcocks Record Breaker centre pin reel. The fish were mostly rudd, some dazzlingly golden, although roach and perch also featured, and I was pleased to add a solitary gudgeon, a fish that ranks high in my piscatorial affections.
Shortly after arriving we were joined by David, whose intent was set on carp. He fixed up one rod with a method feeder, while the other was deployed floater fishing for the carp that were cruising lethargically just under the surface. He managed to get the carp slurping floaters, but the only one he hooked unfortunately managed to adroitly shed said hook, leaving just a couple of method caught roach (admittedly, at about three quarters of a pound apiece they proved the night's biggest fish) as his consolation.
The carp were proving resolutely obdurate, which was a shame as I was giving a first outing to the wonderful custom built carp rod that master craftsman Nuno Paulino had built for me, and which features on the cover of his book "Inspirations." (see my earlier blog about Nuno's work: ) The rod, which is decorated with Christian symbols, finished with wonderfully opulent burgundy whippings and even includes Da Vinci's Last Supper and other sacred art worked into the carbon blank, sat proudly on the rod rests, but the buzzer remained silent and the boilie hookbait untouched. A proper review of the rod in action will have to wait till another occasion, when the carp prove more compliant than today, but to have it out of its rod bag and inserted into the natural surroundings of the lake was a pleasure in itself.

James did connect with a carp, but having pulled the elastic out at breakneck speed, the underwater adversary proved too strong for the 2 pound hooklength, with the inevitable result ensuing. By now, I had caught plenty of fish (although not as many as James, who proved to be the evening's top rod), the best of which was the modestly sized perch pictured below, and so I passed my rod to James. It was the first time he'd ever used a centre pin, and the look on his face that said "I'm not sure I ever want to use a fixed spool reel again" was soon matched by him giving voice to the sentiment, as he went on to catch a few more fish, and to fall prey (as so many of us have done) to the magic and charm of the centre pin.

Roger, in the swim next door, was soon catching regularly, mostly roach and rudd, but with the odd perch also choosing to pull his handmade and exquisitely whipped reed waggler under the water's surface. Roger is also a devotee of the centre pin, and was using an ancient but smooth spinning and beautifully preserved Mordex as his reel of choice for the evening. Pete and Jacob were the last to join the party, but were also soon making the acquaintance of the lake's roach and rudd.

 As darkness threatened to draw in, floats became harder to see and the evening developed the hint of a chill, and so it was decided that it was time to "draw stumps." Nothing of any size had found its way to the bank, but the action had been brisk and the fish plenteous, but more importantly, the company and the pleasure of just "being there" had been its own reward.  Packing away our tackle back at home, the evening held one more surprise for us: a knock on the door, and there was Roger: "James seemed to really enjoy using the centre pin tonight, I wondered if he'd like one of my old pins." Pleased as punch, and very grateful, James is now the proud owner of a centre pin, a lovely gesture from Roger.  A picturesque lake and  time spent in the company of my son and the best fishing friends a man could hope for ...... I'll drink to that (in an appropriate mug, of course).


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?