Who am I?

My photo
An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to the see the natural world as a place for competition. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!


Sunday, 17 November 2019

Pondering twenties

Way back in 1983 Jim Gibbinson had his book, Modern Specimen Hunting, published. A superb demonstration of the authors prowess, as both angler and wordsmith, it was one of those reads which I found difficult to put down. Ground breaking in respect that it not only covered all the normal aspects associated with targeting big fish, species by species, but also it contained chapters devoted to understanding the water conditions, bite indication, fish care plus a complete section on fish photography - simply visionary for the time. Even today I find myself occasionally flicking through the pages in search of ideas and/or inspiration such is the wisdom contained within this masterpiece.
It was as I was doing so, a couple of nights ago, I became drawn to Jim's thoughts on Pike and the fact that he'd been at a loss about how to tackle such a vast subject in a single chapter. One of his mates had offered the opinion that he should aim it at advice to those pike anglers, already competent, who were seeking their first twenty pounder. Jim took this on board and did his best to do just that, job done!

16.11.2019 - The fruits of my labours - a small jack of 4 or 5 lbs.
Weight is unimportant - it was a bite and a bent rod, exactly why I was outside.
17.11.2019 - A rather fuzzy image of my second double of the 2019/20 campaign.
Taken from an East Kent drain on popped-up, salmon oil flavoured, Mackerel section
I've been out twice this weekend, one small jack and my second double (13 lbs 8 oz) of the season for my troubles. Still very slow going, just two bites in nearly eight hours fishing. The dirty water conditions making the fish very lethargic so, as I'm on a pike themed blogging roll, used my time to gather my own thoughts about what advice I could possibly give to someone searching for their first twenty. Unbelievable, the sheer bloody arrogance of the long-haired twat - only caught two since 2011 and one of them, from Scotland, took thirty-three years from setting out to catch it! The fact is I've only witnessed seven pike over this weight since my return to big fish angling. It's true that in my previous incarnation I did catch numerous fish in excess of this size and, as if I need an excuse, can always resort to old images to accompany the post and support my theories.

How big? What did I do different from any other session?
It was only then that it struck me, twenty pounds is a statistic, a number, which means nothing to the fish yet everything to the angler! There is no sensible technique which can target bigger pike to the exclusion of smaller fish. Can't deny that I've long been an advocate of "big baits = big fish" but twenties only they ain't. It hasn't been too difficult to reach this conclusion, I've spent inordinate amounts of time, since November 2011, using tactics which are perfectly suited to the capture of pike in excess of twenty pounds. So why have I only caught two? Mind blowingly simple if you've a brain cell between your ears? Can't catch what ain't there - if the fishery/environment is incapable of supporting pike of such dimensions then they can't be a realistic target. So if you are really serious about catching a pike which weighs more than twenty pounds there is nothing more required beyond finding a fishery which contains a viable population and casting your baited hooks into an area where such fish live. All things being equal, if you can catch jacks then you already have the ability to catch twenties. Don't think that Jim Gibbinson would have managed to get a chapter out of it if he agreed with my logic - pike, even big pike, are easy fish to catch! 

My only twenty from a river. (Thames)
8th January 1987 - flavoured Herring tail section
Looking back through my old diaries has allowed me to do some statistical analysis, which shows that between 1981 and 1993 I was catching a twenty at a ratio of approx. 1:8 doubles! Since 2011 my results are now such that I'm catching a twenty at a ratio of 1:65 doubles! What does this mean? Well; the reality of the figures is that in my previous period of big fish angling I targeted venues which held large, and well balanced, populations of pike, today I simply go fishing in nice surroundings and catch whatever fancies my bait! I'm not catching any more, or less, pike, just targeting different populations. So, if you desperately want a twenty, I suggest you don't bother fishing the East Kent marshes, it really is that straight forward! The key to success is the population dynamics of the venue and the number one consideration in any serious quest for twenty pound pike, after that it's down to Lady Luck. Nine, nineteen or twenty-nine pounds, they'll all fall for the same bait!

Thirty three years of wanting and waiting
Not quite a twenty, yet the biggest fish in the drain and the third time of capture. How can a fish like this constitute failure?

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Pondering on - hooks

One aspect of pike angling which seems immune to the passing of time is a reliance on the treble hook. It doesn't matter what approach, somewhere in the mix will be an example of this outdated (barbaric?) hook pattern be that for use with dead baits, live baits or lures. It's an ingrained mind-set from which there is no escape? For all of the incredible advances made since the Pike Society, cum Pike Anglers Club of GB, picked up the reins of pike conservation within the fisheries of the UK, very little has changed in moving forward from the basic "snap tackle". A rig which Alfred Jardine had developed, some One Hundred and Fifty years previous. For sure, the advancement of manufacturing technology has allowed all hooks to become far more reliable, of a superior build quality and finer gauge wire, but pike hooks still remain "trebles".

Top - A "Big S" with trebles like QE II anchors
Middle - a trace which I removed, from the stomach of a pike out on the flatlands
Bottom - one of my own traces with size 8 trebles - unused!
I've mentioned, many times in my blogging, about how fortunate I've been during my angling adventure. My journey has seen me cross paths with so many characters, some of whom have been absolute giants, in their own right, within certain angling spheres. Andy Windmill is one such guy. The R/O of the Luton branch of The Pike Anglers Club in the early 1980's, thus my guru as I started exploring the conundrums posed by this fascinating species. Andy had been instrumental in developing a twin single, instant strike, rig which he publicised in Pike Lines (The PAC members magazine). Looking back, it is crazy that he was advocating the use of a free-lined dead bait at distance but, at least he was challenging the accepted norm - no trebles! It wasn't long after that Vic Bellars started to write about his own hook design which Partridge of Redditch were manufacturing on a commercial scale. His idea was for a "double" hook, two singles, one larger than the other, back to back, which would offer the best of both worlds. Instant striking, but allowing the use of legering techniques, thus removing the potential for deep hooking that is always a possibility when free lining baits. It only took one NASA conference, Loughborough at a guess, and I was sold on the concept - have been ever since.

A trace made with two Drennan doubles - in a popped-up Joey Mackerel section
So nearly forty years on - double hooks? Can't find any - anywhere! Trebles - ten a penny and available to whosoever wants them. Pike anglers, it seems, are much akin to other modern anglers - victims of commercialism. The punter gets what the punter's given; no such thing as choice. Fortunately I still have a stock of doubles, both Partridge and Drennan models, which I am able to use, very sparingly. That I now have access to a hook sharpening kit, as marketed by Nash for the carp clones, allows me to give my doubles an extended period of usefulness. Quite what I'll do when they've finally been used up I've no idea. Circle hooks? Is that where predator angling is headed? I have to say that from what I've seen on the underwater Youtube offerings it's a very interesting development and certainly worthy of further investigation.

Andy didn't stop thinking about his free-lined presentations.
In this example he's already using the Vic Bellars hook design but with his own slant.
Image taken from Pike - Predator becomes the prey. 
It is the beauty of our hobby that individuals are still able to challenge the norm. Trebles are not the answer in every pike fishing situation and all the while there remains a space in which alternative theories can be explored pike angling is in a healthy place. The more I look into my own pike fishing the more thoughts for subjects to blog about I uncover - this could go on for a while?

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Pike pondering - Bait

Following a recent comment from my mate, Mark Chidwick, I've had cause to think about how I approach the challenges of pike fishing given that I now concentrate my efforts towards fish in rather intimate venues, opposed to the reservoirs, lakes and gravel pits of my past. The one thing that must be stated, right at the start, is that, as a species, pike are very simple to understand. This doesn't mean that individual fish can't demand very specific techniques in order to secure their capture but, by and large, they respond to very simple tactics.

Although I acknowledge the effectiveness of live baits, I'm unable to bring myself to use this technique due to personal views based around an inability to defend the method to an onlooker. Illogical? Probably, but a decision I made way back in the mid-80's, over which, I've no regrets. Similarly, I'm fully aware of the phenomenal success that the use of modern lure technology has produced for many anglers. My son, Benno, and my brother, Simon, have both chosen this style of pike fishing, over more traditional methods, on many occasions and have caught lots of fish by doing so. Me? No thanks, far too energetic plus there's so much more to my time on the bank than just catching fish, if that makes any sense? No, I'm a dead bait devotee and will, impatiently, await events as conditions dictate. I suppose that there are two ways of looking at my pike fishing - either I'm very one dimensional or, as I prefer to view it, a specialist? Certainly, whenever I go in search of pike, I don't feel as if I'm in any way disadvantaged by this polarised choice of tactics.

To an outsider dead baits might appear to be an unthinking, chuck and chance, type of approach, the archetypal sit and wait fishing of cartoon caricature and I have to agree that this remains true of many dead bait anglers encountered during my pike fishing sessions. Fortunately this isn't how my own efforts are conducted. Much thought and effort being employed both before, and during, my time at the waterside. Indeed, some of my bait preparation can be conducted many weeks prior to the offering actually being cast into a fishery. I'm fairly confident that I've not used an item of dead bait as it comes, off the shelf, since the mid-80's. Once Eddie Turner had introduced me to the use of fish oils and buoyancy aids I was sold on the concept of offering something different, it was all about giving yourself an edge. Right from those very early days, up on the banks of Wilstone Res. Tring, I recognised the importance of working at bait presentation and have since gone on to explore further enhancement via the employment of bait dyes. None of this stuff is rocket science, the specific information being freely available to anyone who wishes to seek it.

In my own quest for an edge, I have meddled with all three tweaks, either on their own or in combination. If pushed, then I think buoyancy would be the aspect which has the biggest influence on my catch rate, thus aiding confidence whenever faced with a fresh challenge. Flavour is certainly something in which Eddie placed massive faith, and I rarely cast a bait which hasn't been given the fish oil treatment, especially if there is any tinge of colour in the water. Bait dyes are an additional string to the bow, and I'll always resort to the colour ruse if at a venue where other pike anglers regularly visit. This is particularly applicable to my sessions along The Royal Military Canal, indeed my best Kent pike fell to such a bait in Feb 2013 - a Herring tail section dyed red, laying flat on the canal bed.

To my way of thinking it's all about going that one step further. The majority of my dead baits are purchased from the fresh fish counter at our local Tesco, so anyone can obtain the same items. It is my insistence on flavouring and/or colouring these offerings, prior to placing them, individually wrapped, into my freezer which separates my baits from those of others. I carry spare syringes and fish oils so that baits can be further enhanced on the bank, plus I have a couple of small atomiser sprays of colour dyes which can be applied should I so decide. The buoyancy is now provided by the use of Fox "bait poppers" which have replaced my far less efficient use of polystyrene - how I cringe at those crude, early, efforts, yet I still caught more than my fair share of decent pike during the period despite the methodology.

One of my very early "twenties" taken on a fish oil infused dead bait
It's certainly true, in 2019, that the bulk of my presentations revolve around the use of legered baits, but static they ain't. Following the initial cast each bait is twitched a few inches every ten, or so, minutes and, if no takes are induced, will be re-positioned after approximately three quarters of an hour. Should the venue allow me scope, then I will leap-frog my rods along the bank during my stay if action is not forthcoming. What I'm trying to convey is how far removed from sit and wait fishing my own sessions are. I'm constantly thinking about my next move, what other options do I have available? Should I change my bait, flavour, colour? Should I incorporate a float, surface or sunken, in the mix? Whatever my decision, it will be made with the intention of increasing the chances of a pike being tempted to sample my bait. All of this thought process driven by my experiences pike fishing over the past forty-nine years, 1970 being the fateful year when, as a spotty teenager, that first encounter sparked a passion which still burns brightly to this day.

Royal Military Canal success
I've been enthused to pen this effort by the recent deluge of posts by Gavin Haig over at Not Quite Scilly. Assuming that the current wave of enthusiasm lingers, the next offering will be my thoughts about tackle choice and bite indication.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Won't catch 'em sat at home

Unlike the vast majority of my work colleagues I wasn't overly bothered about the events in Japan this morning. Sorry, and all that, but rugby ain't my thing. So, whilst those who derive enjoyment from the game were supping pints with their Wetherspoons breakfasts, glued to the giant screens, strategically placed around the walls, I was back out on the flatlands after pike. The forecast was such that it offered a small window of opportunity before 70 mph winds and associated rain swept across our part of the world. Got to take my hat off to them, the BBC were spot on as it turned out. I had three baits in my chosen drain by 06.15 hrs and was packed up by 09.15 hrs, just as things started to get a bit lively, weather-wise. Not a sniff, all three baits remained untouched for the entire stay. Bet I still drove home happier than my associates who were drowning their sorrows watching the Springboks demolishing our lads out in Yokohama ?

Adam Read, one of the Trakker lads, often finishes his Youtube offerings with "can't catch 'em sat indoors - so get out there and do it" Obviously, these words of wisdom, generally accompany some promo offering attempting to lure the dollar from the pockets of, lame brained, carp anglers, yet they do still resonate with me. It's very true that my sessions are rather short, these days, but they're far better than not going at all. The modern freshwater angling scene revolves, almost entirely, around carp and carp fishing. It's a multi-million pound industry with far reaching influence throughout Europe. I feel its' roots can probably be traced back to the advent of "The Drennan Cup" since which the angling press have been happy to promote the "there's no substitute for time on the bank" ethos. The meteoric rise in the popularity of carp fishing has done nothing but add further hype to this type of, long stay, approach to big fish angling, thus resulting in the situation we find today. We must have the only hobby that elevates, social scrounging, tramps to hero status, purely because of an ability to avoid going to work in order to catch a fish. Some role model for any kids coming into the hobby?

Now, in 2019, I firmly believe ability is a far bigger factor, in any angling situation, than how long I have available to wait for a bite? This was certainly the thinking as I began my angling adventure way back in the early 1960's. Mr Crabtree didn't own a bivvy, let alone bite alarms, and caught fish by design, not luck! So, OK, he was a cartoon character, but all of my angling heroes wrote their advice with emphasis placed upon the importance of location, watercraft and tackle presentation without ever advocating the use of unlimited time. Don't get me wrong, I've spent far more time in a bivvy, chasing big fish, than the vast majority of anglers of my generation. I fully understand the enjoyment, the lure and sheer self indulgence of such fishing, but it doesn't make you a better angler.
Yes, it's true that my accrued PB list stood me in very good stead with my peers but, basically, glossed over a complete lack of ability due to the abuse of time and what it allowed. Even a clown gets lucky some times, I need look no further than the mirror to see this.

So whilst I whole-heartedly agree with Adam Read and the sentiment of his advice, I now feel that by using my time wisely I am able to get far more from my angling than simply going through the motions. Yes I still blank, but don't have to endure the boredom of extended periods of inactivity. The bivvy bound, time bandits, are not anglers, they are simply camping with fishing rods. By picking and choosing my sessions (and quarry) based upon the conditions I feel far more confident of earning my rewards as opposed to fluking a result. This post is not aimed at any individual, it's just my opinions based upon the fantastic adventure angling has allowed me to experience during my lifetime. It really doesn't matter to me how any one else justifies their own style of angling, so long as they enjoy themselves. Tight lines!

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Completely out of the blue

Work is off the scale within the digital manufacturing facility at Fuji. Eleven hour shifts are great for the bank balance, in the run up to Christmas, but do impact, in a very negative fashion, on any plans for angling during the week. Still, can't have it both ways; working overtime is a personal choice not a mandatory stipulation and I'm happy to accept every extra penny that's offered. In two years, five weeks, I'll be retired and, as such, these decisions will no longer be an option but, until then, I'll be saying yes whenever asked.

So where's this going? Well, I've managed a couple of early morning sessions, over the weekend, in search of pike and both were successful. Saturday saw me enduring battering winds and squally showers, whilst attempting to position my baits amongst the remnants of underwater cabbage patches in a very narrow drain. Two fish, both small jacks, fell to these tactics ensuring I returned home very happy, if somewhat windswept! By contrast, this morning I was back on more familiar territory, at one of my favourite venues, out on the marsh, resulting in the first double (12 lbs 3 oz) of the season falling to my popped-up smelt.

Got a new hat - keeps the rain off my glasses thus assisting me using my
 binoculars during inclement conditions. Oh yeah - I look like the real deal,
a proper speccy hunter!
This particular drain network is situated on the "patch" of my mate, Neil, a local birder, and we regularly cross paths whilst I'm fishing out there. As there's always something to see, whilst I'm awaiting the bite alarms to signal a take, Neil is keen to hear about what I've seen. So it was this morning, best I could offer was a Merlin, a calling Greenshank, a dawn flurry of Fieldfares which were my first of the autumn and a few groups of Swallows moving south along the drain. We said our good-byes and off he wandered to complete his regular circuit. Less than ten minutes later, as I was going through the self-take routine, another birder came walking along the drain.
A long story, but after the ritual introductions, the newcomer said "You don't recognise me, do you?"
The penny dropped and there he was, Andy Johnson, him of Sandy Point Semi-P Plover and Elegant Tern fame, once again out on the East Kent marshes as he had been whilst serving as a warden at Sandwich Bay Obs all those years ago. We had a fantastic chat, attempting to catch up on what's been happening in our own little worlds, and reminiscing about the good old days. After all it was Andy who was responsible for Benno and I running a moth trap when we lived in Ash, way back in the summer of 1994. Sadly our time was up all too soon, and we parted company wishing each other all the best. A brilliant surprise and putting the cherry on the top of what had already been a very enjoyable weekend. Another fifty-four hour week to look forward to, inside the factory - it'll be a walk in the park! What will next weekend produce?

That rod is 11' 6" long and could almost touch the other bank if held at the tip of the handle.
This is typical of many of the field side drains that criss-cross the East Kent marshes.
It will be a venue like this that will allow Emily to experience her first pike fishing adventure.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Small victory

"Effort equals success" A phrase that I associate with Steve Whitby - TheCarpCatcher - who's Youtube offerings are refreshingly different from the regular, look what I've caught, stuff. My own carp angling is about as far removed from this stereo-typical circus as it is possible to get and, yet, there are many facets of the quest, on whatever side of the fence, where there is overlap. It's true of all fishing situations, doesn't matter which species you are targeting, location is the number one priority if an angler is to have any chance of success. Only when you have found your quarry are the other aspects, bait, rig choice and associated decisions, of any significance.
Last weekend I discovered some feeding carp in one of my local drains yet failed to get a bite in two subsequent visits, despite some liberal pre-baiting. I made it back out there on Friday afternoon, with a window of some six hours available to me. I set myself up in familiar style, but altered my bait presentation to an all particle approach. Chick peas and maize being my favoured choices, fished in association with a buoyant plastic grain of IB maize just to negate the weight of my hooks. Grateful that I'd decided to barrow out my brolly, along with my regular kit, I endured a fearful thunderstorm in relative comfort before the night calmed down and I could concentrate on my angling efforts. I had registered several occurrences on the chick pea rod, before it eventually rattled off only for me to lose the culprit in the far marginal vegetation. Absolutely nothing I could do to change the outcome, so the rod was recast and I sat back to resume my long wait. It was 22.35 hrs when my other rod was away and this time there were no mistakes and, after a spirited battle, a nice characterful Common Carp guided over the net chord.

A really strange looking carp with no pelvic fins. Not that this deformity caused
the fish to fight any less tenaciously. 
Not a monster, just 9 lbs 8 oz on the scales, but never has a fish been more welcome. I feel like I'd really earned this one; all the struggles of the previous week had led to this capture and, as such, my efforts had been rewarded. A Barn Owl and Egyptian Goose provided some interest as the sun went down and I heard my first Wigeon, of the autumn, as I was packing my kit away just before mid-night. It looks like I might be able to grab one more session before family and work commitments prevent any further outings until next weekend. Now I've managed to unlock some of the code surrounding the capture of the carp in this venue, I will be far more confident in my approach when I am able to get back out there.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Three in four days - blanks that is!

My third session, in four days, out on the marsh resulted in another total blank, not a sniff! The weather forecast couldn't have been more wrong if they'd predicted a tornado or three feet of snow! A dull grey sunset, with rain, clearing by 23.00 hrs, that'll do for me - so off I went in search of a wild carp. The first surprise was a Mink swimming across my chosen drain, the first I've seen out here in eight years! Second was the ever clearing sky as the light fell away, leaving a star studded, ebony sky until the "Hunter's Moon" rose from the eastern horizon, passing through some low cloud out over the Channel, creating a weird half-light over the marshland. I pratted about with the EOS 400d, attempting to get some atmospheric images, but only had the 18 - 55 mm lens so struggled big time. Once it had cleared the low lying clouds, the rising moon caused temperatures to drop like a stone with the resultant heavy dew soaking everything, me included.

This rather strange image is the result of a 5 sec exposure with the camera mounted on a tripod.
A technique well outside of my usual photographic boundaries.
A Barn Owl floated past and the occasional fish signalled its' presence by rolling, noisily, upon the flat calm surface of the drain; a two fingered salute from the angling gods? I should have packed up there and then but, knowing that this would be my only opportunity this week, stubbornly hung it out until 22.00 hrs. More bait in the swim before I left, I will go back out to introduce further freebies on Thursday with the plan to return with the rods on Saturday. This might all change dependant upon the weather.

The heaviest so far Certainly not the best looking!
I'm sure that my luck will change and another wild carp will succumb to my baiting strategy. Over the years this system has provided me with some fabulous fish and I remain hopeful that one more will grace my net before the changing seasons dictate I  return to the serious business of chasing big perch.