Who am I?

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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!

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Monday, 31 December 2012

My 2012 - a review

16lbs 6oz of hard earned Royal Military Canal pike
JANUARY - My year got off to a decent enough start when I caught my first ever pike from The Royal Military Canal. At 16lbs 6oz, it remains the heaviest fish that "sick-note, Benno or myself have taken from the venue - it certainly isn't the heaviest pike in the water as we are well aware. The other pike that is worthy of mention is one of 14lbs 10oz that I took from our East Kent drain. It is the best looking (marked) pike I have ever caught!


 
A stunningly well marked pike - quite magnificent in every detail
 

FEBRUARY - The big freeze rendered our Kentish countryside, plus our road and rail network, a no go zone! With our chosen waters frozen over, Gadget and I headed out into the Little Stour Valley to see what else was about. Bewick's Swans, Tundra Bean Geese and huge numbers of Wigeon, Teal and Gooseander were found on our wandering, yet it was the appearance of a sub-adult male Hen Harrier which provided the highlight.


Stunningly beautiful in the winter light
MARCH - A month where I learned a massive lesson about myself and perception! A Kumlien's Gull, in Dover harbour, was the centre of a very steep learning curve for me (and many others I would guess) I had made a comment on Birdguides, about a photo posted by Richard Bonser - light the blue touch paper and away it went! Bottom line is that the bird was, indeed, a Kumlien's Gull and my doubts were based upon a very flawed idea of what they really looked like - silly me! Fancy expecting an Iceland Gull race to look like an Iceland Gull - a bit like the Channel Wagtail caper - Kumlien's Gull is a dumping ground for any bird that doesn't fit neatly into a box (to be ticked?)

I have to thank Andy Lawson and Richard Bonser for the lessons I learnt during this period - cheers guys.

APRIL - It got off to a flier; as I photographed an immature Goshawk flying over our garden (not up for discussion with the Sheppey fu*kwit - the raptor expert for all Kent and totally deluded c*nt!) the tear drop markings on the breast along with a suite of other features confirming my id to many other experts from the ornithological world as well as others from the world of falconry. Away from birds, I started to spend time looking at the insects that were nectaring on the various food sources within our garden. Using fairly primitive camera gear, I still managed to get some very pleasing images.

Hairy-footed Flower Bee - a male
The moth ended with a pike fishing trip back to the mighty Loch Awe - what a fantastic holiday. Five of us made the journey and were subjected to the very extremes that the Scottish Highlands have to offer. Gale force winds, driving rain, sleet and snow, yet we somehow came through unscathed and caught a few fish as well - brilliant times!


Benno and I recreating our photo of May 2011 - this time Benno 14lbs 6oz and me 13lbs 7oz
MAY - Nothing else to report but the wedding of my youngest brother, Simon, and Yve. A momentous day!

JUNE - Caught a few carp and some nice perch, but it was my chance to watch a Hawker Sea Fury display at the Shepway Airshow that takes the biscuit! A superb event, the display by this Naval aircraft was spectacular. Powered by a Bristol Centaurus sleeve-valved radial engine, it remains one of the fastest piston engined planes in the world. If you ever get a chance - go and see it for yourself!


JULY - much of a muchness

AUGUST - An adult female Honey Buzzard flew over our garden, on the 5th, representing a new garden tick. The rest of the month was about mini-beasts and garden safaris, as I attempted to capture images of the myriad insects that were feeding around the massed buddleias of our garden.


Adult female Honey Buzzard - a failed breeder returning south?
SEPTEMBER - As the autumn developed, so things livened up. There was a noticeable movement of Whinchats around my Newland's Farm patch and Benno saw his PB carp creeping ever closer to 20lbs when he landed  superb Common of 19lbs 12oz. The discovery of Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae) in the hedgerow at the end of Vine Close, was a nice surprise.


19lbs 12oz of Common Carp taken on a Nash "Zig-bug"



 






Ivy Bee - first discovered in the UK in 2001
OCTOBER - Only one thing; Turkey! A wonderful fortnight in our favourite place. That we have Robert and Jackie, in situ, just adds to our holiday experience. The weather was extraordinary, the company was even better - we had a blast! I walked miles, mainly in the company of Robert, drank copious amounts of EFES beer and took 1,000's of photos - I thought I'd died and gone to heaven!
It is impossible to summarise the holiday with a single image - so I won't attempt it.









NOVEMBER - Work, work and more bloody work! Fantastic money, but not good for the soul - 41 days without a break, now there's commitment!

DECEMBER - You already know the score!

If you have made it thus far, may I wish you and your families everything that you wish yourselves for 2013. Thank-you for bothering to look at the rambling nonsense that is my world - God Bless!



 


Sunday, 30 December 2012

Superseded yet unsurpassed

Benno and I endured yet another blank (if you ignore the smallest pike I've ever seen caught on rod and line - which took a liking to one of Ben's lures) which wasn't particularly surprising. The weather conditions, by which the pike of The Royal Military Canal are governed, well their feeding patterns, remain very unsettled and changeable. As a result we have been unable to establish any set feeding periods or favoured areas - so more effort required!
My day, however, was enriched by the meeting of a complete stranger. A young guy, Christian, was walking with his son and dog and took time out to enquire how we were getting on. It turned out that he was a local carp angler with a good knowledge of the Royal Military and a love of old tackle. Seeing that all of my gear is from the 1970/80's, he was able to tell that I had an appreciation for the finer aspects of angling etiquette. No - that's complete bull-shit; he could see that I wasn't some Johnny-cum-lately tackle tart!
Home - made "back-biter" alarm (95 decibels)
below an ABU Cardinal 66x reel
My choice of gear today was three Duncan Kay 1lbs 10oz T/C (test curve) 11ft 6ins carbon fibre rods, made by Ian Crawley of Leslie's of Luton, two ABU Cardinal 66x reels, an ABU Cardinal 155 reel with home-made "back-biter" alarms and pike monkeys as bite indication. Christian and I immediately finding much to talk about, based on the tackle that he could see. My landing net pole is a classic Alan Brown of Hitchin model, dating back to 1984 - still as solid as the day it was purchased.

I have absolutely no issues with those guys who are equipped with all the latest, hi-tech, angling gear. Good luck to them because they will have parted with substantial sums of cash to own that stuff - I hope that they are able justify their outlay by putting more fish on the bank.

Being from a very different background to these modern anglers, my priorities are about how my bait is presented underwater; the business end of my gear and what the fish actually gets a chance to see. All the fancy, land based, tackle in the world is useless if you can't get a bite because your hook-rigs/bait presentation are ineffective. (Note to self - there's something in this for you to think about!) I have spent a lot of time thinking about my bait selection, ref The Royal Military Canal pike - maybe it's time to spend more time on how, and where, I place it?

A Shimano 3000 EX Custom - one of the first Shimano reels in the UK
A Shimano "Carbomatic" 4000
and pike monkey set-up
Back to the old tackle! I am very fortunate to still own, and use, many of the items that were "cutting edge" when they first came onto the angling scene over 25 years ago. I have one of the original Shimano reels, first imported around 1982, which is still a sweet as the day I bought it. A Match Aeriel (Fred Crouch copy - I went round to his Enfield home to purchase it for £25) is a much treasured possession and has been responsible for many big fish since my return to the sport. Pre-dating all of this stuff are two wooden centre-pins which came into my possession via my cousin, Bob George. They date back to around 1920 (?) and are wonderful things to own. The bigger one has a ratchet system and a metal back plate, the smaller one has no such refinements and has been given a new lease of life by the fitting of two ball-bearing races and a new central pin. Tackle collectors and purists might recoil at the thought; to me I've given a reel a new lease of life away from the collectors cabinet.

Thankfully, I am able to see the worth of many of the modern day advances in angling technology. Line quality is now superb, fine diameter, high breaking strain with fantastic knot strength ensures confidence which is something that wasn't always true. Hook technology has advanced way beyond anything we could have believed, with fine wire and sharpness not compromising the strength of the hook.


On its' way to the net - a 12lbs pike on modern terminal tackle and a 30 year old rod & reel

Terminal tackle - the bit that the fish sees - is, always was, the most critical part of any angling situation. These modern advances have meant that I'm still able to use my vintage tackle, safe in the knowledge that the new gear I'm using won't let me down. I can afford to back wind a couple of turns or lean into a fish that little bit harder, knowing that my enjoyment of using my favoured rods and reels is not to the detriment of the fish or fish safety. Getting these fish back into the water in a healthy condition has to be priority to any angler concerned with the sport. So my day hasn't been without merit, the chance meeting with Christian demonstrating many things about human nature and the "nice to be nice" karma that most of us have lost sight of. I'm not fishing again until next weekend, so will have plenty of time to think about where I go next with my pike fishing on The Royal Military Canal - I do, however, have a back up plan that involves perch!


1920's wooden centre-pin, a 12ft "Tring Tench" rod and a hard fighting East Kent pike - perfection!


Saturday, 29 December 2012

At last!

Benno, Luke, Gadget and myself were assembled on the banks of The Royal Military Canal by 07.15hrs, this morning, for another session after the pike. Obviously, with four of us present, there is also a chance for a chat and a bit of banter - so quite a light hearted approach - although all of us are keen to convert any chances, that come our way, into fish on the bank!
Once again, and despite the seemingly favourable conditions, we struggled for bites. Gadget, Luke and Benno (in that order) all having takes which they failed to connect with. I was convinced that I'd caught my last pike and my tackle was now redundant; such was my confidence level. Having moved from my original swim to another some 300 yards further east, at 10.15hrs one of my home-made "back-biter" alarms registered a take and I was on the rod within a few seconds. Knowing how finicky these pike have been, I felt the line for signs of a fish before seeing the rod tip "nod" and feel the line tighten. Over with the bale arm and an upwards lift of the rod - fish on!
The fight wasn't particularly spectacular, nor was the fish, however I could not put into words how pleased I felt when I got this pike to my waiting landing net. She wasn't big, just a "scraper" double of 10lbs 9oz - yet I felt that a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and the previous "blanks" were now behind me. I'd found a fish and presented my bait (a sweetened green dyed Mackerel tail) in such a manner that had produced, what turned out to be, the only fish of the session.
My bloodied hands are a result of my contact with the "gill rakers" as I removed the hooks - no gain without pain!
My swim; tucked away - two Duncan Kay carp rods
 with two ABU Cardinal 66x reels - vintage stuff!
Bite indication and rig refinement can now follow - I have a slight insight into what the pike of this venue prefer when these flood water conditions persist.
There are several little "tweaks" that I am now contemplating; all of which are to enhance the attractiveness of my dead baits in these murky conditions. Will I have improved returns - only time will tell; the beauty of specimen hunting. Birds were few and far between yet I managed to record two Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Waxwings, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Goldcrest along the canal with another Waxwing perched in a treetop next to the Pfizer car park, as we travelled back to Thanet. All in all - not a bad way to spend a morning.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Does anyone remember sunshine?

On the fateful day of "Live Aid 1985" mid way through Stairway to Heaven; Robert Plant asked the question "Does anyone remember laughter?" The quote is as fresh in my memory as the day it was delivered - I still hurt as my youngest brother was there and I wasn't! A bit like missing the Beatles, Jimmy Greaves or George Best; when they've gone - they've gone, and any amount of money will not replace them. Looking out of the kitchen window, today, reminded me of that quote, but with sunshine as the subject. Man; this current weather pattern is depressing! It doesn't matter if you are an "outdoors" person, or not, seeing the sun always makes the day more bearable. People you meet are happier, of a more pleasant disposition, when the sky is blue and the big golden orb is viewable, casting shadows across familiar surroundings.
As an individual who likes to spend as much time outside as is possible, these present conditions are driving me nuts. A Christmas holiday period of 10 days - I've managed to get out once, so far. OK, I'll admit that family commitments have ruled out certain dates, but weather has had a far bigger role in restricting my activities. So in an effort to redress this imbalance I have been scouring the archives for some memories of 2012 when the sun did, indeed, shine.


My summer months were spent, when time allowed, chasing the "wildies" (wild carp) of the wonderful Long Shaw Farm complex of "carp puddles". Not everyone's idea of fishing, or even carp fishing, these lakes do allow for some hectic sport if you approach the fish with the right attitude. Firstly - you ain't gonna catch a big fish! Secondly - they are very easy to catch, so don't over complicate things. And thirdly - enjoy these fish for what they are - hard fighting, easy to catch, good looking, bundles of energy. For £10/day it is possible to use two rods at the venue where one rod is more than enough if you are prepared to work a little. Carp purists will recoil at the thought of "floater fishing" for these fish. A guy at a PAC meeting called them "freshwater rats" - such is the disdain to which some anglers have come to look upon these commercial fisheries. Yet a single rod, a 1970's Match Aeriel centre-pin (Fred Crouch copy) purely my choice, 7lbs b.s. line, a size 8 Drennan hook and a cube of bread crust is all that is required to enjoy a hectic day of action with these fantastic fish. My local shop will sell you two boxes of cat biscuits (flavoured with Herring, Tuna and Pilchard) for less than £2 - over 2,000 free offerings into which you can cast your baited hook - bloody simple!
 
Low to mid-doubles are what is a realistic target, twenties are a possibility, although I have to say that I didn't (personally) see anything of that size during my trips. I did take my gear to other lakes and enjoy some success using very similar tactics. I took this "Italian strain mirror" from a small water in East Sussex. A superb battle on the light gear, it is one of my angling highlights of 2012. Benno, Luke and Sick-note continued to chase carp around the Kent countryside, yet none of them caught anything spectacular. Benno had a "near miss" with a 19lbs 12oz Common, but that was about it! Kevin Maddocks blew the "lid" clean off of the carp fishing "inner circle" when he published "Carp Fever" way back in 1981. Rod Hutchinson, Dick Walker and Jack Hilton had offered glimpses into the "finer art" Kevin simply revealed all - a bit like the keys to the Bank of England after being given one number to the combination lock! Carp Fever actually produced exactly that - it spawned an industry that has elevated carp angling out of the "minority pursuit" league into the upper echelons of a mainstream hobby. The number of individuals now actively engaged in carp fishing has ensured that there are T/V channels dedicated to nothing else but Carp fishing! I have absolutely no doubt that Kevin (we crossed swords on numerous occasions) has come out of this scenario very well. Benno and I have enjoyed some fantastic sessions during the summer, with plenty of fish being landed - "zig bugs" being a particularly successful strategy (I used home-made zig bugs and they are awesome)
 
There are so many other stories from the summer of 2012 - we caught stacks of fish; mainly Carp but there were good numbers of decent Chub and Perch that ensured that our angling wasn't wasted effort. However, it wasn't all about fish, there were plenty of other subjects to keep my lenses busy. I got som nice images of birds of prey, during the year - yet there is one photo that I am happy with that encapsulates all that I'm about at present. A pair of "coupled" White-legged Damselflies - the "Mutt's Nuts!"
 
 
 
 

Thursday, 27 December 2012

I couldn't catch a cold!

The last time I caught a "double" - 13lbs 7oz from Loch Awe; April 2012
Benno, "Sick - note", his Uncle Phil and I assembled at a venue, along the Royal Military Canal early this morning for a bit of a social pike session. The only one missing from the "A Team" was Uncle Chris who had wimped out after seeing the weather forecast - however the bulk of the Loch Awe 2012 team were present and keen to get started. During the course of the morning we leap frogged our rods to cover about a half mile section of the canal. The stark facts are that Tom, aka Sick - note, took two fish, Phil had one, Benno messed up his only chance and I didn't get a touch - I have a feeling that my latest batch of flavoured baits have a fish repellent included in the mixture, this is my third trip without a bite. The last time I caught a pike was in April when we were gathered on the banks of Kilchurn Bay at Loch Awe.
I forget the exact timing of the announcement that the UK faced a severe drought and all regions were liable to water usage restriction - all I can say is that must be the wettest drought in the history of the world. Media scare mongering, the usual inept performance from our meteorological civil servants and their T/V front men and women. Only in the UK?
Our rivers are bursting their banks, homes are being flooded out - especially those that our town planners (more civil servants) allowed to be built on "flood plains" (the clue's in the title) and the reservoirs are filled to capacity. Hopefully water will not be an issue for the next couple of years.The result of this constant deluge has been to colour up the flowing waters with a thick suspension of silt that causes the fish problems with their gill function - the silt clogs up their respiratory organs thus they are forced to seek shelter away from this heavily laden flow. Today, as on my two previous trips, I have not been good enough to locate my quarry - I will take the flack that comes my way, as it won't be too long before normal service is resumed and I will be "kicking arse" again. Until then, Benno, Tom and Phil can enjoy their successes, as they should, any fish caught under these most trying of conditions is hard earned - well done.
I am missing the intimate surroundings of the small drain that we concentrated on, last winter, The Royal Military Canal is a huge expanse of water and any level of pressure can see fish move large distances, yet remain in very suitable habitat to continue their seasonal feeding - location is the key; I don't worry about technique or presentation until the fish are found. I'll be back again, on Saturday, for another session in similar conditions - one fish is all I require - am I good enough?

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

See Emily play

 
The table set for our meal - once again Bev has waved her "magic wand"
In 1967, Syd Barret - the front man for Pink Floyd - claimed to have woken up in a wood and seen a little girl playing; hence the lyric - See Emily Play. David Bowie (1973) did a superb cover on the Pin-ups album and brought this track into my consciousness. The reason I make mention of these events is the fact that my Grand-daughter is called Emily and today, of all days, the sentiment of that original song fits the bill. She's not quite two years old and this Christmas is the first where she has a grasp of speech and reaction that allows an insight into her world. I will grow old, happily, knowing that our grand-children will be the main focus of my life - if I failed as a Dad I ain't screwing this chance up!

Don't let the wedding ring fool you - my mate Gay Bob!
 
Our day has been fantastic, good company, food and quality time shared with our extended family. I managed to ring my mate Robert (a Turkish peasant with a time share in Plymouth) and exchange seasons greetings - great to be able to chat with my Turkish walking partner. Although he claims to be married to Jackie and be a father/grand-father I have serious doubts - he's a raving poofter! Still my mate; but not the full shilling as my photo will demonstrate - well dodgy! (Man Up!!! - you know the rest Mr Chaffe)

Monday, 24 December 2012

Just one more sleep 'til Christmas

Benno has had a blinding day; five pike, three doubles to 16lbs 7oz, before he was called away to do a job  - at 11.30hrs! Me? Well, Bev & I were at Asda by 04.30hrs, shopping safely stowed away and back in bed just over an hour later - Christmas sorted - result!! Last minute bits out of the way, we were able to enjoy a leisurely day of preparation in order to cope with the madness tomorrow will bring. The bungalow looks superb, once again Bev's power of seeing something, that isn't there, has produced the goods. This afternoon, I have prepared the vegetables (potatoes excluded) and we are ready to "rock & roll" on the cooking front.
The aviary got a special clean and the feeding station is filled to the brim, so the Christmas cheer is not restricted to the human visitors to our home. Jonathan has some chopped bacon to look forward to (not that a Herring Gull is able to look forward!) in the morning.
I realise that very few individuals will ever read this stuff - but I would like to wish anyone who takes the trouble to look, a very merry Christmas to you and your families - thank you for taking the time to peek into my world - God bless.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Cage and Aviary birds

A male Fawn Java Sparrow - note the bulge on the top of its' beak
It would have been around 1967 that I first started to keep birds. Maureen Young, a friend of my parents, was kind enough to give me a pair of Zebra Finches and I was away. This first venture into the hobby was relatively short-lived and by the time I'd left school (1974) the aviary had out-lived its' novelty. However, what I do recall about this period was the ease with which foreign finches could be brought. There was a thriving industry based upon the capture and transportation of huge numbers of African, Asian and (possibly?) Australian wild birds.
A visit to a pet shop anywhere in the UK was to see rows of cages housing pathetic, fluttering, frightened "exotic species" which had, just a few days earlier been flying wild in some foreign country. I remember travelling to Toddington (Junction 12 on the M1) with my father to visit a massive, well it seemed massive at that time in my life,retail outlet where there were 1000's of birds for sale. I recall various species of Waxbill, Whydah, Weaver Birds and Finches available for a few shillings each!
A Normal (wild grey), an Opaline and a Silver - fantastic birds
Thankfully all this has now been consigned to the history books and any trade in wild birds is strictly licensed and generally only possible with scientific research/captive breeding as its' purpose. As a spin off from all this is now the fact that cage birds are now highly prized and must have come from a sustainable aviary-bred source. If I so desired to purchase Waxbills or Weaver Birds I would expect to have to part with £100's rather than the paltry sums of yesteryear.
I didn't return to bird keeping until after Bev and I were married, for some reason - and on a whim, she brought me a pair of Zebra Finches which were housed in a small cage in my study. I called them Posh & Becks and said to Bev that I would breed them. Within four months I had seven Zebra Finches, in two cages, in my study and the resultant mess ensured that my plan to build an aviary was a goer! Bev now wanting those "messy sods" out of the house. A few weeks, and £450, later I was the proud owner of a nice new aviary with a splendid flight and separate indoor feeding area. My Zebra Finches were soon joined by three Java Sparrows which were purchased from "Vanishing World" on the Wildwood site at Herne Hill.
My favourite colour variety - an Opaline (this one's a female)
Sadly my Zebra Finches didn't take too kindly to their new surroundings and within a year I had lost them all to the cold and damp of our English winters. My Javas, on the other hand, loved it and were thriving. My colony has grown, new genes were introduced and youngsters moved to other aviaries around Thanet, so that I am now the keeper of a very healthy flock of these Indonesian birds with four colour variants in the group. I get massive amounts of pleasure from watching their antics, they are as close to wild birds as they can be. There is no additional heat provided during the winter and they brave the elements as they would have to if they were wild birds. As a flock, they react to any alarm signals given by the wild garden birds, a mass panic and rush inside greets the overhead predator alarm of the local Blackbirds, Blue Tits and House Sparrows. Cats are occasionally a problem, although one or two of the youngsters seem to enjoy playing with them when they get on the flight roof. There is a great deal of pleasure to be had from watching these birds and I am often surprised by the learning opportunities that arise which have value when I'm out in the field.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Some garden stuff


I suppose that if this blog is to be about observations, I had better include some! I finished work at 13.00hrs on Friday (21st December) not to return until 06.00hrs Wednesday 2nd January 2013 – a result! Arriving home, in the constant drizzle, I went to the aviary to feed my Java Sparrows only to see three Waxwings in the top of a neighbour’s apple tree. I am indebted to Martin Cade (the warden of Portland Bird Observatory) for his splendid description of a similar encounter which he recorded as “sub-liminal” – gone as soon as they had been spotted.

We have a modest feeding station set up in the back garden; it being a typical metal pole with ornate hooks from which to suspend various feeders. It has proven to be quite a draw for the local Robin, Dunnocks, Blue and Great Tits. Collared Doves and the feral Pigeons also show interest, but are not happy with my presence close to the kitchen door. Johnathan, my tame Herring Gull, is the only bird that readily appears around the feeding station – a wonderful insight into the behaviour of this “apex scavenger”.
We moved to this seaside location; Bev & I live within a mile of the coast, so it is to be expected that the local gulls will take advantage of this situation and exploit whatever food sources present themselves. We choose to use the natural option of waste disposal – all our food waste is deposited into the garden so that foxes, gulls, corvids, the occasional feline and odd rodent can take advantage of our wasteful lifestyle.


I have a plan to photograph 200 species of animal (anything that isn’t a plant) around our garden during 2013 – I am going to fire up the Milton Mk VII 125w MV moth trap -for this exercise and might well exceed my target before June? I have been doing a similar thing during 2012 – just not posting my diary on the web. I have some superb images of the mini beasts that share my space; so there is much to look forward to – 2013 here I come!
 My photos are of insects that turned up during the summer (?) of 2012. All from the back garden, they were recorded using the 18 - 55mm Canon lens set on close-up mode. The extension tubes should be capable of better images?
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Campaign on a very small drain


Somewhere out on the East Kent marshes is a small drain, only 1200m long and, at its’ widest point, just 10m across; that I’d heard was rumoured to contained pike, into double figures? In early November 2011, I made the effort to visit, finding myself confronted by an overgrown and neglected scene. Crystal clear water allowed me to make out the remnants of decaying lily-beds and the bank side vegetation was thick and lush, so obviously the venue wasn’t getting much pressure. Immediately, I made arrangements to join the controlling club and so began a quest that developed into a rather enjoyable “learning experience”
Let me quickly explain that I’d not done any serious angling since returning from a trip to Madeira, in 1993, when my experiences with the mighty Atlantic Blue Marlin made such an impact that I couldn’t find any enthusiasm for the coarse fishing that I’d enjoyed for the previous two decades. I moved to Kent, with my job, and other interests took president. It wasn’t until my son, Benno, arranged a trip back to Loch Awe, in May 2011, I even thought about picking up the rods again. Suffice to say; a week of hard fighting Scottish pike did the trick and my desire to go fishing returned with a passion.
So to my quest; this drain reminded me, very much, of the Counter Drain, near Welches Dam, that I fished in the 1980’s, my experiences of fishing such intimate venues steering my basic approach. I had found that pike in these narrow drains were unwilling to tolerate any level of bank side noise/disturbance and were readily spooked. I’m sure that guy’s who regularly lure fish will argue against this, but my limited experience with this method meant I wouldn’t be confident of getting the best from the venue and confidence is a major factor in my approach to any angling situation. Club rules meant that live baits were not an option, their use being banned; so deadlies it would be – not that this caused me any problems. I was/am happy to use dead baits so didn’t feel disadvantaged.

My initial session took place on 6th Nov 2011 and resulted in the capture of my first English pike since March 1993. So at least I confirmed the rumours that this venue did, indeed, contain pike and, at 9lbs 14oz, doubles weren’t an unrealistic claim. So it was a very encouraging start; the fish fighting with a tenacity that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Scottish loch.
Just four days later I returned for another, pre-shift, session. The sun shone brightly from a cloudless sky and no hint of a breeze (very unusual on the East Kent marshes) meant that the surface of the drain was as smooth as glass. Odd Coots and Little Grebes were making ripples, as they went about their daily routine whilst I was quietly sat back from the rods, awaiting events. At 08.00hrs the tranquillity of this late-autumn morning was shattered by the piercing sound of one of my 95 decibel back-biter alarms. Creeping up to the rod, I was surprised to see that no line was being taken from the spool, although I could see it twitching on the waters’ surface just beyond my rod tip. I picked up the rod and tightened into a fish that quite simply left me speechless! The power and speed of this pike was unlike anything I could remember; it would be pointless trying to guesstimate how long it took to get the fish to the net, but it was a truly awesome battle and, as befits such an encounter, the pike was a magnificent specimen of 18lbs 8oz and immaculate in every detail. Surely there had to be the chance of a decent twenty being present?

 I continued to fish the drain, at least twice a week, until the end of the month, however, I began to notice worrying signs of other pike angling activity; large areas of bank side vegetation trampled and damaged along with unsightly, and unwanted, litter! This was mainly empty drinks containers and commercial dead bait packaging so easy enough to collect up and remove, yet not a particularly good advert for these pike anglers? I caught a few more fish that included a very sorry looking 10lbs 6oz specimen which exhibited signs of a recent trip to the bank and some rather brutal unhooking techniques. Competition wasn’t something I had counted on, but spurred me to try harder, so not a bad thing. My dead baits are purchased directly from the fish counter in our local Tesco’s, but knowing that anyone could also go there and get bait I decided that it was time to up the ante and introduce colour and flavour to the mix. Searching through the contents of my tackle boxes, in the loft, I came across two tubs of powdered dye (from my carp fishing days) and a very old bottle of Tuna Oil (from my time on Wilstone Res.) By mixing the dye with a small amount of oil, it was possible to paint my baits prior to placing them into the freezer, individually packed in polythene bags. My dead baits being Sardine, Herring and Mackerel, which were always flavoured and dyed from then on, I reckoned that these anglers, who couldn’t be bothered to take their litter home, wouldn’t go to the trouble of enhancing their baits!

My first trip of December was to provide some evidence that my plan was working as I landed three fish during a session, for the first time, weighing in at 5lbs+, 12lbs 9oz and 19lbs 2oz (which was the same pike as the 18lbs 8oz). By mid-December it became clear that the dyed/flavoured baits were very successful, but it was also obvious that I was recapturing fish. Quite how few fish were involved became clear when I started to go through my photos. I had taken thirteen pike from the fishery and, with the exception of a couple of small jacks, recaptured all the fish at least once. I knew of a 14lbs+ fish, which I witnessed being taken by a mate of mine, so was able to conclude that the water held just four double figure fish with two, or three others in the 7 – 9lbs class. The “apex predator” being the 19lbs 2oz fish; I didn’t take much persuading to take a break from the venue and look for a challenge elsewhere. Talking with other pike anglers at the Canterbury & Thanet PAC meetings, it was felt that it would be worth having another bash during February when, hopefully, the big one might go 20lb+ if she was carrying spawn.

I went back to the drain for a short session on 8th Jan 2012, purely to give my confidence a boost due to the poor results at my other venues, and took two doubles, weighing 11lbs 2oz and 14lbs 10oz (the double that had so far eluded me). What I didn’t realise, at the time, was that this was a pivotal moment, the last time I registered a take using my back-biter alarms! Back a fortnight later, I landed the same 11lbs 2oz fish and another of 8lbs 14oz using Optonic alarms and pike monkeys as bite detection. Sadly this wasn’t a stroke of genius, instead, it being a direct consequence of a loose wire in one of my back-biters! Both takes were finicky affairs and registered just a short lift of the pike monkey up the needle and a few bleeps from the alarm. Because of the way I have my rods set up, if  these same type of bites occurred using a back-biter, I wouldn’t notice as I’m unable to watch the line tighten from my position well away from the water’s edge. The pike in this drain were obviously quick learners and the line clips of the drop-offs were enough resistance to cause my baits to be dropped; I increased the length of my traces to 30 inches and reduced the hook size from 6’s to 8’s. Two more January sessions resulted in a small jack and the 8lbs 6oz fish visiting my landing net. Something else had happened with my bait presentation. I had discovered a tub of Richworth “sweetened” green dye in amongst my angling debris and used this in conjunction with mixed fish oil flavouring. I had applied this to both Mackerel and Sardines (Tesco’s hadn’t got any Herrings at that time!) with spectacular looking results. I was slightly worried by the use of a sweeten dye, but the pike seemed to like it as I took another 8lb+ fish on a green sardine before the big freeze descended and made the drain unfishable by placing a 6inch thick sheet of ice on the surface!

So it was 18th Feb 2012 before I could get back to the fishery, I had spent a lot of time studying an aerial map (how did we cope before Google Earth?) and plotted the distribution of my captures against the various swims. It became noticeable that these fish frequently moved the entire length of the drain yet one particular area was more productive than any other. In my own mind it isn’t a “hot-spot” more a classic holding area, a slight deviation in the direction of the drain and an increase in depth from 4 to 6 feet. Setting up and going through my usual routine of sitting well away from my rods, I had two bites, both on green sardines, which resulted in an 11lbs 10oz (third time in 2012) and the 8lbs 6oz (second time in three visits) – I became convinced that I was wasting my time, in the back of my mind was the nagging doubt that the big fish had been “stitched up” or, even worse, killed by one of the idiot brigade and that I was chasing shadows. I went to bed on that Saturday night not caring whether I went fishing on Sunday, or not!

I can offer no logical explanation as to why I awoke at 05.15hrs on the Sunday morning. What I will say is that I had an overwhelming feeling that I had to get back to the drain! I even knew which swim; it being about 100m north of the swim I’d fished the previous day. So powerful was this feeling that I couldn’t ignore it so, grabbing a quick coffee, I loaded my gear into the car and drove the few miles to the drain. A spectacular dawn was tempered by the heavy frost, but such was the intensity of the emotion, I just knew that I was going to get a fish! As I sat on my bed-chair, I could hear the sounds of geese flighting over the adjacent marshland and the piping call of a Kingfisher ensured a fleeting glimpse as flashed past. It was a good to be alive sort of day. At 08.00hrs an Optonic burst into life and the pike monkey rose smoothly up the needle before dropping clear and allowing the fish to take line directly from an open spool.

Onto the rod within a few seconds, over went the bale arm and I allowed the line to tighten before setting the hooks into a powerful and determined fish. Initially, my 1 ¾ lb T.C. Duncan Kay carp rod made little impression, the fish hugged the bottom of the drain refusing to yield an inch. The line singing in the breeze, I gently increased the pressure and gradually up she came. As she rolled on the surface, I instantly recognised her as the big one by a signature mark on her left flank. Two attempts were required before she was engulfed within the folds of my landing net and the prize was mine! Looking immaculate, she suffered the indignity of a visit to the weigh sling and the relegation to a statistic. 19lbs 5oz!

I had very mixed emotions as I returned her to the water and watched as she slowly disappeared into the depths. No, she hadn’t provided me with a “twenty”, yet how could anyone be disappointed by a fish like that? The fact that she was still alive and healthy, thus dispelling my earlier concerns, was so very pleasing. My premonition had borne fruit, and so I came to the end of this particular saga. I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to suggest that an individual pike couldn’t have avoided my efforts yet, under no circumstances, could I justify continuing to subject this small population of pike to further capture, just in case I’d missed one? Having nothing more to gain, this was to be my final session at the fishery. I’d had a fantastic time pitting my wits against these wild pike and discovered a great deal about myself in the process. The lessons learned, and fun to be had, from such intimate waters far outweighs, for me, any desire to chase yesterday’s news or face up to the challenges of the massive inland seas that are the modern trout fisheries. Maybe I’ve just mellowed? The need to post lengthy lists of doubles/twenties and/or thirties by way of defining a “good season” has long since become a thing of my past; today it’s all about enjoyment!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The best £7.99 I've ever spent?


I am sure that everyone can look back and recall purchases that have been a complete waste of money; those “must have” bargains which proved, in the cold light of day, to be an unrealistic dream – the product being far removed from what the “sales person” had claimed. On occasion, we might have returned the purchase and got our money back however, the majority of these acquisitions have been hidden away in a forgotten corner of a rarely opened cupboard only to be rediscovered many moons later with a rather sheepish admission that we’d made a mistake! I have a tale that might help ease the guilt of wasted cash with this story of a "right result"!

Bev and I travelled to Icmeler, Turkey, at the beginning of October 2012 where we enjoyed another superb holiday. The weather was ridiculously warm (even by Turkish standards) and I had an idea that would keep my various wanderings of interest. I had seen some of the superb “macro” photographs that Marc Heath had taken using his regular camera equipment in conjunction with extension tubes so I set about purchasing some for myself. Owning a Canon EOS 400d, it was a surprise to learn that a set of Canon extension tubes would cost me £149 if I chose the “best price” option – what? They are little more than a complicated collection of metal (toilet rolls) hoops!

I changed my web search to “Canon fit extension tubes” and was greeted by a far more realistic price option. I eventually settled for a set that were being marketed by BV & Jo (www.bv-electronics.com) for the princely sum of £7.99! Quite obviously, the two extremes of the range, my budget priced option arrived within two days and I had a couple of weeks to practice with them before heading off to the Turkish sun. What can possibly justify the massive difference in price? Well, looking at the spec, my cheap option means that I have to use my camera/lens combo in manual mode – what a choker! The expensive option ensured that all automatic functions remain available, when these tubes are used. My Sigma 170 – 500mm suffered a massive impact when I fell down the side of a Turkish hillside in May 2010 and the autofocus facility was lost soon after. Manual is all I have anyway – so justifying my £141 saving.

The addition of these tubes, to my camera equipment, has resulted in a wider range of subjects to be tackled. The quality might not be top drawer, but is still good enough for all my diary/blog requirements. I have even used these in conjunction with a 1.4x converter attached to my 170 – 500mm. Can’t be done? Oh yes it can, but not with the sharpness that a Canon lens might produce. I will concede this, but I didn’t pay Canon lens prices!!! I am not a photographer and I have never had a day ruined due to my inability to capture an image (frustrated, yes - suicidal, never!)
 

What's been happening?


So; what have I been up to since October 2011? It’s difficult to know where to start – firstly I have lost much of my enthusiasm for Kent birding, although I still enjoy the challenge of my Newland’s Farm patch. Mini-beasts and the “Garden Safari” stuff have provided me with endless new experiences, all of which have given me great pleasure.  Bumble-bees are a group that I’ve grown to admire; the diversity of the markings, within a single species, is as absorbing as any “Larid” conundrum. Sawflies, Hoverflies, Grasshoppers and Crickets have also risen into my consciousness, although I must admit that they are still way off the radar as to specific id. Spiders are another group which have made my wanderings more enjoyable, they being numerous and widespread across most habitats I visit – even within the four walls of Dumpton Manor!

My fishing has been rather low key, in comparison to my earlier (1974 – 93) obsession, although I am no less pro-active whilst I’m on the bank. As always my efforts are focussed on getting the maximum number of “specimen-sized” fish into my landing net yet, my day is not ruined should I fail, unlike my previous exploits, with so many other interests it is impossible to have a “blank” session.

I have been fortunate to capture two new “personal bests” during 2012; my first being a Perch of 2lbs 10oz and the other a Chub of 5lbs 2oz. Neither specimen is particularly noteworthy in these modern times, however back in the 1990’s both fish would have had been worthy of inclusion in the weekly angling press; how things have changed! Something that hasn’t changed is my unwillingness to divulge information about swim location and methods. Having worked hard at achieving my rewards I am not about to offer any free-loading tosser an easy option where decent fish are involved. My choice of background is as import now, as it always was, as I wish to keep my fishing as un-cluttered as possible and have no desire to share swims with any other anglers away from my immediate fishing mates. If you recognise a swim, so be it, but I will not be making any reference to my whereabouts in any postings, unless I’m on a day-ticket carp puddle!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Testing the waters?

Firstly, might I appologise to anyone who has inadvertently clicked onto this blog/link expecting something approaching science relating to the behavioural activities of said Esox lucius , the Northern Pike, sadly you've been had!
My aim is that this blog will continue where the "Dumpton Non-conformist" left off, but without the crap which was associated with adults having differing viewpoints. As this is MY blog, then it is to be expected that MY views will be expressed. I have absolutely no problem with the rest of humanity not agreeing with my opinions, just don't waste your, or my, time getting wound up by them - I am but one bloke in a global populous of billions!
On Sunday 9th December 2012, I bumped into Martyn Wilson, we were both attempting to get some photos of the Waxwings along the Ebbsfleet Lane, just inland from Pegwell Bay. The hour, or so, that I spent in Martyn's company was to re-ignite the spark that had been lost when I finished the "Non-conformist" blog just over 14 months ago. I have thought long and hard about what I want from this exercise and where I would like it to go.  I had not stopped keeping my diary when I pulled the plug, I just didn't place my opinions into cyber space; hopefully this next venture will be less stressful and I will be able to take my place amongst those who seek no more than to be allowed to impart their particular slant on things without drawing the "Wrath of the Titons" as a response to some silly quip!

I have had many adventures since the sun sank over Icmeler on 14th October 2011; the following post is an extract from my diary and is, hopefully, an indicator as where this blog is heading?


Sunday 29th April 2012 – Well; like the best laid plans, things didn’t exactly go to schedule. The trip turned out to be one of the best holidays I’ve ever had in the highlands – what a shame the pike hadn’t seen the script! Phil (the unbelievable/tireless driver) and Chris being superb company for Tom, Benno and myself during this wonderful week. I’m not sure if they had quite grasped the challenges that these surroundings could pose – they certainly had by the end of the week! If, at the start of the trip, we’d been offered six doubles and a twenty, we’d have taken it; so it seems slightly weird to complain about the lack of fish. What has to be recorded is the total lack of friction, between five guys, during the entire period – everyone finding their own space and comfort zone within the group.

Leaving Folkestone at 18.05hrs on Friday 20th April and driving through the night to arrive at Loch Awe around 06.15hrs the following morning. Unbelievably the areas we had planned to fish were both occupied by “Jimmy Jock” so we had to split up and fit in around them. No big deal – they had gone by Sunday lunchtime and we had the venue to ourselves. Chris and Phil settled for the bay beside “Fraggle Rock”, whilst Benno, Tom and I positioned ourselves in the swims looking across the bay towards Kilchurn Castle, just north of those we’d fished the year previously. The weather was kind and we all managed to get into our swims without the threatened rain causing a problem. Rods out, bivvies up, the first day was always going to be about getting settled in. Kenny Gray, Alan’s nephew, came round to collect the money (we each paid £50 for the week – an absolute steal) and informed us that Alan was recovering from a hip replacement operation, so we were unlikely to see him. Other news was that there had been some guys fishing the bay and they’d taken nineteen fish, to 20lbs, the previous week.

Tom had the first action of the holiday with a fish of 5lbs (ish) on “bluey” but it was a day before we had our first “double” – Chris taking a fish of 17lbs 4oz on ½ Mackerel.

The day wasn’t about Chris, however, as Tom had a bite, just over an hour later, which resulted in him, landing his first (21lbs 2oz) twenty! That I was the netsman, ensured that the moment would be as special as it was when I netted Benno’s fish; almost a year previously! I don’t know who was more pleased? Tom was a smiling wreck; I just had a “buzz” that alcohol can’t replicate. Tom had waited an awful long time for that fish and his reaction was superb – he was glad that it was witnessed by the guys who he’d spent the winter pike fishing with. Loads of photos; as to be expected, what a pike, superb condition and full of spawn, surely a sign of things to come?

 

A “Champagne Pike” in anyone’s money, I was sure that this would be the start of something special. Benno had managed to get hold of a couple of bait boats which, after a few teething problems, proved to be a turning point. We were now able to get baits out to areas that were beyond casting distance. The Sunday passed in something of a daze, “Jimmy Jock” vacating the loch, so allowing Phil and Chris to relocate along the same bank and ensure that the area was completely “sown up”

Monday dawned and it was Benno & my turn to get a bit of the action. I took a fish of 13lbs 7oz – the long range rod – at 05.50hrs, Benno taking a 14lbs 6oz fish just 15 minutes later, ensuring that we replicated our photo of 2011, when we both posed in front of Kilchurn Castle with a brace of doubles. Benno was in action again, later in the morning, when he landed his second double at 11lbs 9oz.

The holiday continued to provide very good entertainment, yet the fishing was difficult – in comparison with other years – and the weather played a major role in testing our bivvies and methods to the very limit. We experienced gales, driving rain and hail, along with heavy snow fall on the higher ground of the surrounding mountains. Tom took another nice fish when he landed a 14lbs 12oz pike taken on a flavoured Mackerel which was fished close in.

 Phil eventually managed to get “his” double when he landed a pike of 11lbs, as it was getting dark, Tom having a take whilst the fish was being unhooked, thus allowing me to grab a couple of record images of the “Uncle/Nephew” pair with a fish a piece. The birds sharing our space were of equal importance to the company, in respect of making the trip memorable; our first decent sighting was of a female Mandarin Duck, which was in company of the local Mallards. I think that this is a good local record, but can’t be sure?
 

 

The local Ospreys put on a fabulous show of their fishing prowess, the male catching a small pike in the teeth of a howling gale. How can they see their prey with such a chop on the water? We didn’t see the birds every day, but this was probably due to the weather?

I had made mention of my hope to get some better photos of these magnificent birds and, despite the generally dull conditions, I am very pleased with some of my results. The male bird was completely at ease hunting in close proximity to our position, quite often in the “wind shadow” of the closest island or the wooded mound beside Fraggle Rock. The sighting of an Osprey was always a special part of our trip, Phil and Chris being just as excited as Tom, Benno and I. The spectacle of a bird making the plunge into the loch, the resultant splash and plume of spray, before the bird lifts clear of the surface, prey held in clenched talons, being such treasured memories from our Scottish experience.

What was, for me, even more rewarding was the chance to get some photos of summer plumage adult Black-throated Divers. A pair (and possibly a lone male) were regularly visiting Kilchurn Bay and I eventually managed to get a chance to grab a few images of a single bird swimming just off of the bank that we were fishing. I had tried, unsuccessfully, to use the 1.4x converter, in conjunction with the 170-500mm, in order to get some record shots; so was absolutely delighted when this individual deigned to swim towards my loch side position. This image being something I had hoped for, having spent quite a while watching these superb birds through my scope. The markings are like something a graphic artist would produce in order to demonstrate how skilful/intricate they can be; an absolutely stunning bird, the water droplet, on the lower mandible, just adding to my portrait.

There were loads of other highlights, my camera being kept busy as I tried to record the “feel” of our trip. Thankfully, Gadget’s generator provided the power to recharge the batteries of our cameras, phones and bait boats – so we were fully functional in this digital age.
It was a fantastic holiday, all the guys enjoying the experience – testing as it undoubtedly was – without any friction. Our evenings around a fire, a few light ales and the associated banter, something we’d never done previously, were very much a highlight. I caught my final pike, two days before we left, at 8lbs 7oz. I got some images feeling sure that it would be the last fish I’d take during the holiday, so it proved.

Ravens, Hooded Crows, Common Buzzards and Tree Pipits were present around the site and Siskin, Coal Tit and Meadow Pipits provided a nice distraction. There were so many things to look at, the local wildlife being so very different to that of Vine Close. I did my best to find a C-R Herring Gull – nothing doing. Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls joined Canada & Greylag Geese, Common Snipe, Grey & Pied Wagtail and Goosander ensured that the birding would provide highlights if the angling failed to produce. My final morning was spent in search of a Common Redstart, which I found a few hundred metres to the south, along with numerous Willow Warbler, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Bullfinch and Chaffinch.