Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Perch in person...

The truth is that seven days after having to withdraw from attending the Christian Anglers perch fish-in I was still feeling sore about it, and if nearly 40 years of angling has taught me anything, it's this: that the only healing balm for such a malady is to head for the bank and create a new memory to replace the gap left by the one that never got made.
And so David (who had attended the fish-in) and I decided to pursue a rumour and venture to a new pond which, according to stories circulating on the local angling grapevine, possesses serious specimen perch potential.

It's no secret that perch are my favourite species, nor that I enjoy fishing with vintage tackle, and so as I set up my 60 year old cane Allcocks Wizard coupled with an ancient centre pin reel I could scarcely have been happier or more expectant. I plumbed the depth, flicked the Norfolk reed waggler float and hook baited with a lively worm out with a deft underarm motion, threw in a handful of red maggots, and focused all of my powers of concentration on the bright orange tip of the float as it protruded through the water's surface film.


David was the first to catch, connecting with a nice roach of about three quarters of a pound, and soon we were catching our intended quarry, although not initially in the size bracket we were hoping for. A steady stream of bites resulted in a procession of small perch which voraciously engulfed the not insignificantly sized worms that were impaled on our size 12 barbless hooks. The float trembled and dipped once again, but this time my strike met with solid resistance and a steady run, and it was clear that I was attached to a perch of altogether more exciting proportions. After a few hair raising minutes and with the cane taking on a pleasing battle curve a fine perch was nestling in the landing net that David had helpfully wielded for me. The scales showed 2 pounds 10 ounces (a new personal best), but the fish's magnificence had more to do with its dark colouration and bristling defiance than the pounds and ounces (however impressive) that the scales had reduced it to.


Following the return of the fish, we both returned to the established rhythm of brief flurries of small perch punctuating quieter interludes, before I was once again connected to a perch that was clearly bigger than most of its brethren. The result was an enjoyable tussle with another striped protagonist, which although a perch of very reasonable size was smaller than the previous large perch, and was unweighed but estimated at about a pound and a half - another fine example of its species and a good advert for the lake which, as you would expect, will remain anonymous and unnamed in my reporting of the day's adventures!


As the morning wore on the sun rose higher and unseasonably bright, with David and I enjoying bankside warmth far greater than we had any right to in mid-October. The weather, however, only served to put the perch, who favour duller and more overcast light levels, off the feed and bites slowed, with just the occasional perch to relieve the lengthening wait between bites.


Conversation flowed, a large American signal crayfish was landed, defiantly grasping my worm in its aggressive pincers, and in the last hour a soporific stupor overcame the lake and not a single bite was forthcoming. At midday I packed up, with somewhere around 20 perch to show for my efforts, and wished David, who was staying for another couple of hours, "farewell" and "tight lines."

It had been a splendid morning made special by a brace of fine perch, a serene setting, Autumnal sunshine and good company. I suspect it may be a month or so before I have the opportunity to return, but return I most certainly will.
I can't escape an inkling that this pond may have more perch, of an even greater size, to give up to me, and the inkling will, doubtless, transform into a dream, and the dream, we may be certain, will need to be pursued. After all, as anyone who's ever watched a Disney cartoon knows only too well, dreams really can come true .....





Thursday, 4 October 2018

Perch in absentia


With a daughter already "flown the nest" and engaged to be married next summer, and a son in his final year of school, I'm fast learning to live with the reality of my own dispensibility. The same may be said this year about the continued progress and development, largely in my absence, of the Christian Anglers group which I set up with a few like-minded anglers four years ago. Initially the brainchild of well known angling blogger and fellow minister Stewart Bloor and myself, the group now has 60 members spread around the country and this year its fish-ins have mostly happened without my being present. I've remained, along with John MacAngus and my fellow Leicester-based anglers Pete and Greg, part of the steering group, but have only managed to attend two events this year, the pike fish-in on the Fens (on which I blanked), and the barbel retreat on the Trent (on which I caught, among other things, ironically .... pike!).



I had been booked in to accompany fellow Christian Anglers on their most recent and final fish-in of 2018, where perch were to be the target, but a combination of busyness at work and having done some fishing related filming the previous week for the BBC meant that I couldn't find the time to journey to Cambridgeshire for the season's finale, where specimen perch were to be the target. However, I'm pleased to report that the fish-in was another successful milestone for the group, concluding as it did, a year in which three of the four fish-ins have deliberately attempted to capture the magic of the changing seasons: pike in the winter, tench in the spring, and autumn perching.


However, my non-attendance doesn't preclude me from reporting on the escapades of those who attended, as, like St Luke in the compilation of his Gospel, I have made a thorough investigation of the facts using eye witness sources and am thus in a position to inform the reader. For those who made the journey to the appropriately named Fenland town of Godmanchester, the day began at lunchtime with a pub meal and tactical briefing from the local tackle shop owner, Stan, and a brief talk and prayer led by John, before the anglers wended their way to the river for an afternoon and early evening in pursuit of perch. The promise of a trophy for the largest perch, with another being awarded for the most perch, added to the excitement.


The river, I'm reliably informed, was picturesque and its perch proved themselves to be very receptive to the allure of a worm or red maggot, with plentiful numbers of them finding their way to the bank. The large perch for which the river is known, were mostly conspicuous by their absence, but with floats regularly submerging no-one was complaining and spirits were high. Paul, who two years ago on one of our Fenland trips won the prize for the biggest fish, repeated the feat, and scooped the biggest perch of the day award with this fish.


The day concluded with the presentation of a trophy for most perch (which went to Mick who caught 30) as well as the biggest fish award which Paul gratefully received. Thanks are due to John Macangus for arranging the day's itinerary and to Stan for his generosity with both his time and advice.




A fine and fitting finale to another successful year for the Christian Anglers club, and my New Year's resolution has already been made and is being "kept on ice" until January: "next year I resolve to better co-ordinate my work, family and fishing diaries and to be present as often in person as in spirit for the year's fish-ins, and this is my solemn vow."




Friday, 28 September 2018

Catching barbel with Aunty

The river greeted me with the pleasing babbling sound of flowing water as I made my way toward's its edge in the mid morning sunshine. The middle Severn in Autumn is a glorious sight, and I had been lured there by the prospect of its beautiful scenery, fine fishing and the promise of an all expenses paid trip to do some filming for the BBC, about which I can say very little at this moment in time, other than to report it was a success, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I will furnish you with more details in the New Year when the program is advertised and I am no longer forced to hide behind the broadcasting equivalent of "if I tell you I'd have to kill you!"


Fishing a river "blind" (and this was my first ever trip to the Severn) is always a chancy affair, but fortunately the persuasive powers of the BBC had managed to arrange for a local angler, Ian from the Telford Angling Society, to act as a "fixer", and he had kindly reserved a couple of swims for me (one suitable for barbel, one for trotting) and had liberally trickled some overnight bait into the barbel swim. Not only did Ian do much of the "donkey work" locally, he was also my fishing companion for the day, the two of us sharing a swim, each with a single rod pointing skywards in the manner typical of those in pursuit of barbel.


I won't divulge anything about the filming itself, but the day's fishing that preceded it I am at liberty to report on. If a day's fishing were judged by fish caught as the sole metric of "success" then ours was only a limited one, but there's no premium that can be placed on a day doing something you enjoy amid wonderful scenery while in good company, and neither Ian's company or the magnificent environment in which we were fishing disappointed.


The conditions were glorious for sunbathing, but less than idea for barbel fishing; the sun was high and hot, the sky barely troubled by clouds and we were fishing in the middle of the day. For hours the baits remained untouched, the rod tips motionless, despite a regular trickle of bait and the occasional barrage with a spomb. A couple of hours before the film crew were due to arrive, and four hours into the session I even popped into the "next-door" trotting swim, but even here could only persuade tiny, but voracious, minnows into taking the bait, although I did make friends with an inquisitive pheasant who was happy to be fed the occasional maggot.



After half an hour of catching a steady stream of minnows I returned to the original swim, more in hope than expectation, a state of mind which was to change in an instant as my rod started bouncing and line was stripped from the baitrunner. The hooked barbel fought steadily but not as violently as is often their inclination, and after a few minutes was safely ensconced within the folds of the net. I posed for the obligatory mat shots, feeling far happier and more relieved than perhaps I had a right to, bearing in mind the fish's modest size by the middle Severn's high standards.


Shortly afterwards the film crew and presenter appeared, and from this point on my lips are sealed and my pen stilled - all I am in a position to say is keep your eyes on the BBC's spring program scheduling and all will be revealed; in the meantime Ian and I are in search of agents, and will be very happy to sign autographs and behave in a manner generally befitting of TV stars ........... not!


Monday, 27 August 2018

Giving the fish some stick

In common with most anglers I own an array of fishing rods. Rods for spinning, float-fishing and  ledgering, carp rods, match rods, pike rods, poles, rods made of cane, carbon and glass. A recent  survey of my "rod room" shows  I currently posses eighteen rods, far fewer than I once owned, but (in contrast to what I tell my wife) far more than I actually need. Recently, while in conversation on a Facebook page reserved for "traditionalist anglers" an acquaintance reminded me that, when all's said and done, even the most aesthetically glorious cane rod is "just a stick" before admitting that he himself was addicted to them, and had an ever growing collection of "just sticks."

And so, here are a few of my favourite (fish bothering) "sticks"- rods that in some cases I've almost anthropomorphised and ascribed "personalities" to, and that have acquired a worth to me that far transcends mere economic value.

Cane rods


Despite my well known penchant for fishing with vintage tackle, my collection of cane rods is less than extensive, (expense plays no little part in this state of affairs!) but each of the three cane rods I own is a treasured possession.

Supreme among them is a perfectly restored Allcocks Wizard in mint condition. Capable of landing fish to a decent size (unlike the tiny perch it is pictured with below!) I acquired it at the end of last year as a farewell present from the congregation of the church I was Vicar of for a decade. To date it has only had one outing to the bank, as much of my fishing this year has carried the possibility of inadvertently tangling with large carp, and the thought of my most highly prized "stick" becoming kindling is one I'm not ready yet to even contemplate! The Wizard (an early Gold Label version) is a thing of beauty, older in years than I am, and one which I hope will remain a joy forever.


An altogether more delicate cane wand is my Aspindale Thamesdale float rod which, unusually for its length, is a two piece with a detachable handle. Split cane, and with a profusion of lovely intermediate whippings, it has proved itself to be capable of handling small to medium sized tench with ease and is a delightful tool with which to target fish of modest proportions, aesthetically attractive and purposefully practical.


My third and final cane rod is a stout and short (8 foot) carp or pike stalking rod. Unbranded, and of unknown original provenance, this is another lovingly restored "stick", and one that has proved its worth with carp on commercial type fisheries. With scarlet whippings and an eye pleasing patina, matched with a Mitchell 300 it makes an ideal instrument for margin fishing, and has also been pressed into service, with some success, in the pursuit of jack pike on my local canal.


Vintage glass rods



Due to the average high size of many of the fish that have been stocked to swim in our lakes and ponds these days, and as my preference tends to be for float fishing, fibreglass rods from the 60's and 70's allow me to pursue my traditionalist path with minimal risk of damage to equipment, wallet or emotions!
Glass rods are also part of my "story", and enable me to connect with my own angling past. I began fishing in 1981, an era which was already post cane, but all of my earliest rods were glass fibre and not dissimilar to the vintage examples I purchase today, and at around £40.00 for a decent condition 35-50 year old glass rod, even if one were to break (unlikely as glass fibre is almost indestructible) it wouldn't be as calamitous as hearing the ominous crack of a disintegrating Allcocks Wizard!


Most frequently seen on the bank from among my glass rods is a float rod made by the now defunct North London rod building firm of Rodrill. Despite bearing the name "The Kite" this is the only Rodrill manufactured glass rod that I have seen that doesn't bear a transfer with an artist painted logo of a bird. A handsome rod with green whippings it has become something of a "go to" for my float fishing adventures.


Also a favourite in the glass "all rounder" category is an un-named avon style rod. Shorter than the Rodrill offering and with more of a "through action",  the deep brown blank paired with orange whippings is quintessentially 1970's in its styling. This is a classic utility rod equally comfortable being employed as a float or light leger rod.


Last of the glass rods to receive a special  "mention in despatches" is one which only recently came into my possession and is yet to be used, but that I suspect will earn its place as a firm favourite. A light carp rod from the stable of Thames Ditton rod makers ET Barlow and Son, and sporting their famous cartoon perch logo, the rod hearkens back to an age of carp fishing innocence, and my hope is to pursue its designated quarry with it at least once before this year's summer finally gives way to Autumn.

Carbon fibre rods

Despite mostly choosing to employ vintage rods in my day to day angling, I have in my collection more carbon rods than those manufactured from any other material, and while most are clinical, efficient, functional and rather nondescript in appearance there are three that have a special place in my affections, two of which are both unique and "works of art".


First among these is a 6 and a half foot spinning rod custom made for me by my American friend and professional rod builder Don Morse. This lightweight rod features on its blank my name written  in script, a copy of an Icthus fish tattoo that I have  inked onto the inside of my left arm, and the God's Country Camouflage pattern on the butt section between the abbreviated cork handles. A delight to use, the rod has coped admirably with pike to close to 20 pounds.


The next rod to feature elevates the notion of bespoke fishing tool to  whole new level. Not only is it handmade and custom built, it also features in a book and was built for me by top international rod builder Nuno Paulino from Portugal without my knowledge and shipped overseas to me.  The rod is in a rich deep purple colour scheme and has Da Vinci's "Last Supper" and other religious art woven into the blank, which is accentuated with silver crosses and black and silver marbling. In the book, "Inspirations", Nuno 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  a deep personal meaning for both client and craftsman."
The rod is given an annual outing to the bank, as it would be an insult to the rod not to use it, but likewise it would seem equally disrespectful to subject it to the regular hurly-burly of fishing for carp. This is a rod to cherish and treasure and, one day, to pass on to subsequent generations of anglers in the family.


The final carbon rod worthy of individual attention is one imbued with sentimental value; a 50th birthday present from my brothers Andy and Tim, with whom I have shared many angling adventures since our childhood, my Korum barbel rod, with its cork handle and through action looks and feels just like a barbel rod should. It casts well, has landed fish into double figures and has also doubled up as a margin rod for carp. This is a rod which will receive serious use over coming years and is already installed as a firm favourite.

"Just sticks?"
Well, yes ....... and no, and if you're an angler, you'll know exactly what I mean.

To view examples of Nuno Paulino's custom built rods visit his website at http://www.7evenrods.com/en/the-builder/

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Golden rudd in the evening glow

In the warmer summer months there is no better place to be in the cool of the evening than by the side of a lake or pond surrounded by fishing tackle, rod in hand, poised to react to the float's slightest tremble. These liminal spaces between the sultry heat of the day and the dark oblivion of night can be among the most productive periods to pursue our underwater quarry, and to feel the cares and worries of the day metaphorically and literally lift from shoulders, as a few hours of angling activity work their healing balm. This evening the quarry were rudd, a fish which is as inexorably linked in my mind and memory with summer evenings as the tench is with summer mornings.

(illustration with kind permission of the artist, David Miller http://www.davidmillerart.co.uk/ )

Tackle was a vintage glass fibre match rod made by the long since gone but still lamented North London firm of Rodrill, matched with a Shakespeare Lincoln centre pin reel and teamed with a delicate handmade float. After my exertions on the Trent a fortnight previously this was an altogether more relaxed affair, with Roger and David joining me on the bank for an evening that had a pleasing social element, and in which any fish caught would be the icing on the proverbial cake rather than the sole justification for being beside the lake.




It wasn't long before the aforementioned float was dipping beneath the water's surface for the first time and soon a procession of pristine rudd, along with the occasional roach were finding their way to the bank, none of them spectacular in size, mostly in the 4 to 6 ounce size range. The rudd were picture-book gold with lustrous red fins, and the roach emitted the silver sheen characteristic of the species, each as eye catching as anything in a jeweller's window display. Roger, who like me was floatfishing with sweetcorn and indulging his penchant for vintage tackle (in his case a split cane float rod and Mordex centre pin) took longer to get among the fish, but in time was also admiring and returning rudd of a similar stamp.


The real excitement, however, was provided by David who, in the swim between mine and Roger's was catching carp after carp on surface fished chum mixers, ending the evening with an impressive total of ten or eleven hard fighting commons. Neither Roger or I, who had been forced to minimise on tackle having both come straight from work had arrived equipped with carp rods or tackle, but after twice being broken by carp on sweetcorn I dispensed with the 3 pound hooklength and fished 4 pound mainline straight through to a size 12 hook baited with luncheon meat, but all this resulted in was a slowing of bites and a rogue bacon grill loving perch and one last roach, both of which were round about half a pound in weight.

It had been a balmy evening, and the three of us were aware that, with September almost upon us, there would be few more such evenings before Autumn draws in, and perch and pike become the chief quarry of choice as the year inexorably follows its annual cycle.

Sometimes all that's required for happiness is a few friends, a quiet evening by a lake and a smattering of roach and rudd. I was still smiling half an hour later as I turned the car into the drive. Tonight I suspect that my dreams will be full of lovely golden fish and floats, as some angling sage once said, wonderful in appearance and even more so in disappearance. This much is certain- for as long as I'm an angler I'll never require a therapist.



Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Breakfast for all, and barbel for Pete (Christian Anglers weekend Retreat- Sunday morning)

A frequently asked question in strategy meetings I attend is "what would good look like?" or "how would we know if this was a success?" Sometimes the answer is easy: there are metrics, measurables, performance indicators and outputs that answer the question, but at other times the response to the enquiry has to be more nuanced. 
As I reflect on the last weekend and the Christian Anglers Retreat, what I see looks very like success. The number of barbel was significant but a long way short of spectacular, the weather at times was shocking but the "sum of the parts" created a wonderful "whole". Only one angler blanked, some lovely barbel were banked, most anglers connected with the odd decent chub and the camaraderie and fellowship were second to none.

My own lack of barbel didn't diminish my sense of having had a great time fishing, and although my "two for the price of one" pike and chub adventure on the opening night (both fish are pictured below) provided a few minutes of high adrenaline excitement, it was spending a couple of hours trotting with a centre pin during a rare sunny interlude on the Saturday afternoon and catching a steady stream of 4 ounce perch that was my angling highlight. Sometimes the pleasure lies in things altogether more subtle than mere pounds and ounces.



Very few of us fished on Sunday. It was a morning for chatting, loafing about, eating and packing up, which began (as all fishing and camping mornings surely must) with bacon and mugs of hot coffee or tea. Pete, our normal camp chef had been called into work to sort an emergency, so David and I took on the role of catering corps, and the smell of bacon wafted across the campsite.


Only three anglers fished, the indefatigable and endlessly enthusiastic John Rellie tried legering worms and Jez tossed a maggot feeder into the river for half an hour, but even the small fish were proving obdurate and uncooperative, and quiver tips remained still, baits untroubled.

Loz was awarded the "angler of the Weekend" prize, for catching a brace of barbel on his first ever trip in pursuit of the species. Primarily a fly fisherman, Loz is a recent member of the group, and he and John Rellie (both on only their second trips out with Christian Anglers) have proved to be good company and welcome additions to our happy "band of brothers".


Predictably, when Pete returned from his unscheduled dash into work he couldn't resist a few casts (there are few people I've fished with who are as single-minded in their pursuit of their quarry than Pete), and his persistence paid off with four barbel in under an hour, a fitting end to the weekend. As has often been said "if your bait's in the water, you've got a chance", and Pete certainly took his.


Roy, retired Yorkshire miner and the weekend's "king of the bleak" (he did also manage a decent chub) formally rounded the weekend off with a prayer, and a succession of anglers returned to the four different Counties they'd journeyed from tired yet refreshed and eager for the next time we get together on the bank.
Catching fish, sharing friendship, making memories ..... it doesn't get much better.


Monday, 30 July 2018

Barbel, Bibles and "near death experiences"- (Christian Anglers weekend Retreat- day two)

Saturday morning began as Friday evening had ended; wet, windy and with Pete catching barbel. By 5:00am there were shadowy figures moving around the camp as unshaven and slightly dishevelled anglers began, in dribs and drabs, to move towards the river, rods and tackle in hand.
Pete and I had arranged to fish together and within five minutes of casting, and before we'd even had a chance to begin feeding the swim, Pete's rod was hooped over as he and a barbel engaged in a  spirited game of tug of war. The barbel sat deep and used a combination of its own and the current's power, but after a few minutes the fish was Pete's. Quickly admired, photographed and returned, the day couldn't have started any better.



Meanwhile, downstream by the bridge, in shallower water, John McAngus (the use of surnames an unfortunate necessity in a group which included two "Johns" and a "Jon"!) caught four or five smaller barbel of about 3 or 4 pounds in successive casts, and Jez and Loz both caught several mini barbel of about half a pound in weight, perfection in minature. One of our number, John Rellie, had shown devotion to the sport that went beyond the realm of duty and drove offsite at midnight on Friday before returning, fuelled by a KFC, to fish all night but although he caught some nice chub, no barbel rewarded his dedication.

At 10 o'clock we wound our rods in and reassembled in the gazebo for a welcome hot  breakfast of bacon rolls accompanied by coffee. Breakfast was followed by a Bible study, and although Scripture states that it "rains on the just and the unjust", the weather cleared and seemed for a moment to reflect the less Biblical, but commonly quoted aphorism, that states that the "sun shines on the righteous." We discussed the story of Jesus calling his first fishermen disciples in Matthew 4, and at least one angler described the Bible study as the highlight of the weekend. (at this point it's important to add that he was an angler who caught barbel, so our time of fellowship and study wasn't being "damned with the faintest of praise"!)


Following the Bible study angling was resumed, but mostly in a less focused and more light-hearted manner. David and Keith resolutely continued to set out their stall for "barbel or bust", but most of us took a break from sitting behind rods pointed skywards and spent the time trotting or swimfeeding with maggots. Roy caught bleak a plenty trotting a stick float, and I had an immensely pleasurable couple of hours in which I trotted a small 2BB perch bob and caught 30-40 perch, beautiful examples of their species, bright green backs, dark stripes and lovely red fins and probably averaging about 4 ounces. The procession of perch was interrupted by the occasional bleak, gudgeon or small chublet.


We broke off from the fishing for an early "tea", burgers, onions and all the usual accoutrements of a traditional fisherman's meal (ie. an excess of things that taste nice and almost inevitably lead to heart disease!), told fishy tales, exchanged tips and tactics and teased Roy about his bleak catching prowess.

After tea, the quest for barbel was resumed in earnest. One or two had been briefly encountered and lost during daylight (Keith proving particularly unlucky), but we knew that as evening drew in and dusk fell that our chances would increase. I set up in a swim downstream (as it turned out, an error of  tactical judgement) and shared a swim with Jez and a flotilla of visiting ducks.


The only fish that Jez and I saw was a chub that happened upon Jez's swimfeedered luncheon meat, and apart from one twitch and bleep my bait remained untroubled by fish. However, the conversation and the chance to catch up with Jez made up for the absence of fish falling to our rods.


Elsewhere on the river, especially in a small concentration of upstream swims barbel were being caught. Not in large numbers, but odd fish were finding their way to the bank. John MacAngus had the pick of the captures with a barbel just ounces under 10 pounds, Loz (who had never previously caught a barbel managed a brace) and David also banked a good fish. Predictably, Pete also found himself among the barbel, his being the only one to come from one of the shallower downstream swims.




The weather continued in the capricious and changeable vein that had marked the weekend, driving rain giving way to light showers, giving way to sunny spells, all resulting in a rather spectacular double rainbow decorating the early evening sky, a reminder both of God's faithfulness and sheer artistic flair. The weather also provided us with the weekend's biggest drama, when a tree creaked, groaned, split and crashed spectacularly to the ground, landing with a thump on the chair that 30 seconds earlier David had been sitting on. I was standing at the top of the bank and saw the trunk split, shouted a warning that led to David adroitly leaping aside, leading to a ton of tree missing him by just a few feet. Had he not moved .... well, let's just say that I might have picked up some funeral business that I would much rather not have had to pick up!


By the end of the evening our barbel count had grown, and four of our number had shared 11 barbel (not including the clutch of small ones of under a pound that Jez and Loz caught earlier in the day), with most of the rest of us with chub to our name, and the occasional nuisance eel.

A wonderful day that had begun with fishing for barbel and moved cyclically from there through breakfast, Bible study, general "fun fishing" and barbeque back to barbel, ended with hot drinks and a prayer in the gazebo, before retreating to our tents.
 I discovered the next morning that I was not the only person whose sleep had been sporadically disturbed by dreams that centred around trees landing on tents.