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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Saturday, 31 October 2015

An early effort reworked

Back in March 2012 I offered this piece to David Hall (a very good friend from way back in the lunatic years) for publication in one of his large portfolio of magazines. The editor was un-impressed by the quality of my photos (stupid prick! - they were samples not originals) and so I posted it on my blog. It was OK, but on looking back, I didn't get the lay-out as I would have liked - so here it is again, this time with a better presentation? I would like to think that David would have approved - he died earlier this year leaving behind an impressive publishing empire.

Campaign on a very small drain

Three months of rediscovery

(November 2011 - February 2012)

Dawn out on the marshes of East Kent - it either does, or doesn't, flick your switch?
 
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 first English pike in over eighteen years - 9lbs 14oz
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.
 
A typical swim with a two rod set-up
 
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?
 
10th November 2011 - a very special pike indeed
Note the date - "Wear Your Poppy with Pride!"
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 either!
 

The 12 lbs 9 oz fish makes yet another visit to my landing net - the water clarity is superb

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.
One of my home-made back biter alarms. Built by my brother Simon and
incorporating a 95 decibel car alarm. They were designed for use on
The Fens - when we would sometimes have our rods "spread out"
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!

The 14 lbs 10 oz fish - a superbly marked pike, one of the best looking fish I've ever seen!
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 but, instead, 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 that 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!

 



Friday, 30 October 2015

If nothing else - they'll do for the kids

A couple of days before Ramsgate Dragon Carp finally closed down, I went in to have a chat with the lads and wish them well for the future. I had no intentions of purchasing anything, I've all the kit I require and so much more! It was, therefore, a surprise when I discovered a bundle of CK Fusion Expert rods with a £11.99 price tag - reduced from £29.99 which, as with all good sale pitch drivel, was a 70% reduction on the original price. No-one in their right mind would pay £100 for such an item, however, I was informed that there was a further 20% off said rods making the asking price a now paltry £9.59 - surely a much better reflection on their worth? I'll take three!

I'm confident that a quick rub over with some digital flushing solution will have the desired effect of removing
this shiny brand labelling.
12 foot, 2.5 lbs t/c - if for no other reason, the kids (grand-children and nephews) can use them safe in the knowledge that if anything goes tits up - it isn't one of my precious angling artefacts that's bitten the dust. I actually got them out, this morning, to see what it was that I'd parted with my hard earned cash for. Straight away I have to say that they're a bit too shiny and in your face for my liking - might be a job for a bit of "dulling down". The action is something akin to that of a telegraph pole, they are rather heavy (for a carbon rod) and remind me of the famous SS-6 & T-24's (the blank design codes) of the early 1980's.

The gentle "through action" of my Tring Tench rods (1 lb 2 oz T/C) is plenty good enough to deal
with any pike that swims in the East Kent drains. Oh yeah - that's a 1920's wooden centre-pin!
Fun doesn't come much better than this?
What's more relevant is the fact that I've got nothing else quite like them and, if things pan out as hoped, I might well be able to get onto a venue where these rods will fit the bill very nicely. I've not done any "distance" angling, by which I mean casting and not bait boats, since my time at Stanborough. I'm going to fit one out with a Shimano SM 5000 and have a bit of casting practice, probably down on the beach - I'll let you know how I get on and what I think. Don't get too excited, I won't be starting carp fishing at a local club lake any time soon, I'm thinking about some still water pike angling and my Duncan Kay's ain't up to hurling big dead baits any further than half way across the RMC. These new toys look like they should cope with punching out a 6oz deadly with ease. I have made mention of my "big bait = big pike" theories in previous posts. I know full well that it isn't a unique concept and neither is it a deterrent to small fish picking up these outsized offerings with some regularity.

Me; a Duncan Kay and Cardinal 66X - fish on!
Even these "snag busters" have a far more genteel curve than the "Fusion Expert" poles!
What I am confident about, with this approach, is that although never destined to be hectic, is it's bloody exciting when a bite is registered. If a fish comes adrift, during the fight, then I know that it wasn't the one I was after. Big pike eat big baits and the hooks stay in once set!
Armed with three of these fast taper, tip action, broom sticks - I fancy my chances of being able to set a Drennan double at 70m plus, even using Mackerel. It's all pie in the sky at present - I'll know more the other side of Christmas. In the mean time I've got a few ideas - Perch from Sandwich Coarse Fishery, Pike from the RMC and, just maybe, another session after the slimy ones?

The "progressive" action of a Duncan Kay is nicely illustrated in this shot. A low double Common attached
and doing its' best to reach the sanctuary of the marginal reed beds. Once again the reel is one of my ABU Cardinal 66X's.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

What purpose making it up?

I'm sat here looking at my stats - the "A bird too far" offering has gone off the radar. I'm beginning to wish I'd not bothered - it was just something which happened during a walk around Newland's. It's told, as I recalled it; nothing claimed or important. There used to be (maybe still is?) a stigma attached to angling - "Are all anglers liars - or do all liars fish?" I 've had to live with this and used it to attempt to keep me on the straight and narrow. Deliberate deceit is something which, sadly, goes on in all walks of life. You've only got to look at a "Double Glazing advert" or a Financial Service Provider promo to see this on a mammoth scale (there's hidden agendas at every turn).
I write my stuff as a form therapy - for want of a better description - and not any deliberate attempt at self aggrandisement. Others might see things very differently? The recent avian events on, around, and above, Newland's Farm have been a rare gift from the "birding gods". My posts have been made in good faith; attempting to capture the essence of the occasion, not clinical in the data gathering of some minor event in a bigger picture.
If make believe was a major factor then why would I not have had masses of Yellow-broweds and Ouzels. If lying was part of my gig - I'd have caught an awful lot more "big fish" than appear on this blog? I've no photos to accompany this particular offering - I've nothing in my portfolio to depict cynicism, and I'm guilty as charged!
So I apologise for living in Dumpton, for watching a very ordinary farm, yet having the audacity to witness such spectacular viz mig. Shit happens -  you'll just have to get over it!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Eels - a rambling jumble of thoughts

I never have, and never will, be a great fan of Anguilla anguilla - The Freshwater Eel. They have proven to be a constant pain since I returned to speccy hunting in November 2011. I'm not talking about a situation that I encountered on the Fenland drains in the 1980's - hoards of ravenous "bootlaces" No such luck - the eels of the East Kent river and drain systems are of a decent average size and active all year round. It doesn't matter whether I'm Barbel fishing during the summer or Pike fishing in the winter - eels are always there, causing problems.

This fish, of 3 lbs 6 oz - taken on a 14mm Halibut pellet - whilst Carp/Tench fishing, was
the catalyst for my project. A comment by Darren Roberts stating that such a specimen
would "make his season" speaks volumes about the viability of my challenge - I replied that it "ruined mine!"
It has only been since I became aware of the "Critically Endangered" status placed upon this species that I've made any attempt to deliberately target them. I have no idea as to how much longer the water quality of my local fisheries will be such that eels are able to prosper; so it is this single factor that swayed my thinking and I set about specifically fishing for them. My research has not been extensive, my venues are chosen for their remote intimacy, not the size of the fish they contain. The wisdom of, the late, John Sidley has provided my basic instructions and I've used some additional stuff from Jim Gibbinson and Mickey Bowles.

One of the very early Tiddenfoot cats - 12 lbs 3 oz
 (On a hair-rigged cat food & Trout Pellet boily with a size 1/0 Au Lion d'or hook)
Straight away I was drawn to the many similarities that Eels share with Wels Catfish, Silurus glanis, a species which had been such a major influence in my angling journey of the 80's - 90's. Especially the quest for minimal resistence bite detection and the rig mechanics which we employed during that exciting period of discovery. Back then, a 30 was a huge Catfish and all of the speccy boys, of that era, were limited to a very small number of venues. This was the arena where a certain Kevin Maddocks and I met head on - let's say I was a nuisance, but one that couldn't be ignored (so very much like these bloody eels!) He went his way, I mine - but I'd like to think that we both made our mark on each other?

My bait presentation using a braided hook link and hair rig.
The hook is positioned just so, because I don't want to have my un-hooking hindered
by the bait being in the way. Eels have relatively small mouths and I am not happy
to start poking around with forceps, in the light of a head torch, attempting
to locate a hook that is masked by my bait.
So back to this recent excursion into the after-dark arts. Jim Gibbinson (Modern Specimen Hunting - Beekay Publishing 1983 ISBN 0-9507598-7-2) makes comment that eels are most active during the first couple of hours after sun-set and I have to say that my efforts have been very much governed by this statement. I haven't considered putting in a full over-nighter in the quest for these fascinating creatures. My results, so much as they are, would tend to support Jim's theory and as such, I'm happy with my approach, and results, without feeling I have missed something.
During October 2015, I have had four sessions after these fish, all four resulting in eels being landed. I've taken five fish from seven bites - two things here? One - eels are still very plentiful in the waterways of East Kent or, Two - they are very easy to catch? I would like the former statement to be the reality - as I'm already planning another campaign for 2016.

The fact that my approach has been fashioned upon ideas that John Sidley and Jim Gibbinson had described in 1979 & 1983, respectively, speaks volumes about my desire to remain faithful to the "old school" type of speccy hunting and all that Dick Walker & Co stood for. I will make no apologies for this - I appreciate how the National Anguilla Club have "developed" the sport -but  I have to do this my way or not at all. This is not to say that I have frowned upon modern advances in terminal tackle; I am only too happy to embrace anything which will assist my cause by being "the best" available. As with all the other species I now seek, modern hooks and hook-link materials are streets ahead of those products which were available in the 80's and I use them willingly. It is the methodology which I must adhere to - my focus is all about how I tempt my prize and not how big it is. (Although I'd be a liar if I said that size didn't play any role in my angling; otherwise it would hardly be "Specimen Hunting"?)

So what's on display here?
I'll start with  my lead arrangement - a 1oz square pear on a free running boom with a large ring swivel on
my main line, which is stopped by a rubber bead slid over a swivel connected to a Kwik Linq. The hook link is a
combi rig made from 12lbs b.s. Korda Subline and Kryston Silkworm with a barbless (crushed) size 9
Kamasan Barbel Maxx.
I connect my hook links to my main line via the Kwik Linq to assist my unhooking process. I am able to leave the
fish in my landing net by unclipping the rig and getting a bait back in the swim before I take the fish from the water.
By doing this, I only have one piece of line to concentrate on and that makes things so much easier for a dumb arse like me! 
As part of my quest for knowledge/inspiration, I visited the NAC website and had a look at some of their stuff - as you'd expect; all very eely! Two things struck me. One - what's up with modern anglers? (Not just eel anglers) Why do they feel the need to thrust their captures towards the lens - the images are ridiculous, out of proportion, wasted opportunities, in my opinion. Two, and far more intriguing - my PB would sit at number 26= in the club top 50. It would, however, be the only one taken on live bait - have no other large eels ever been taken accidently in this manner? I'm sure they have and am at a loss to understand why modern eel anglers haven't pursued this avenue - maybe they have.? When we used to pike and zander fish on the Fenland drains, our live baits were regularly targeted by the eel population. Screaming takes, strike into thin air and recover a headless live bait - now dead! Obviously, our baits were far too big, but there must be some mileage in scaled down tactics?

Just to finish this off - I am no expert on eels or anything eel related. My opinions are simply that and are posted as such. If you feel that I've missed a trick or mislead, in any way, please feel free to voice your point of view via the comment facility. I stated, right at the start of this post that I'm not a fan - doesn't mean that I'm not fascinated by the challenge the species represents!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

A bird too far? Way beyond me!

I am still rather pleased with myself, ref: that eel, and the extra hour was lost due to my inability to remain in bed, when my head is so full of ideas. Bev and I had quite a busy schedule planned for today, and that extra hour provided a nice buffer which ensured we were able to meet our commitments without any problems. I took Emily and Harry across to Staple, for a couple of hours, then calling in at Dad's, where the kids raided the fridge, for chocolate, before getting them back home. The afternoon was spent at The Horse & Groom (Ramsgate) where our mate, Terry, was performing for the clientele of this very well run hostelry. Benno & Luke had been "fluff chucking" at Stowting whilst Sye had been barbel fishing on The Lea - such is life - only Luke managed a fish.
So back to this morning; the clock said 06.00hrs, my head said 07.00hrs, there was no way that I could attempt to lose an hour in order to allow my body-clock to synchronize with reality. Bev had no such issues and was happy to remain within the comfort of the duvet. I made a coffee and perused the internet before fitting the 1.4x converter to my "Big Lens" and heading across to the farm to see what was about? With the sun shining brightly, it was a pleasant, but rather chilly, experience. Still a few birds around the patch, although the vast majority have moved on. Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits dominated the cauli fields, there were a couple of Goldcrest in the sycamores beside the White House, and odd Song Thrushes flushed from the cauli margins. It wasn't until I almost reached the northern boundary that I discovered a mixed flock of Linnet (20+) and Lesser Redpoll (35-ish), feeding on the seeding heads of a weed, growing out in the main crop. I think it might be "Fat-hen"? We're venturing into Steve Gale territory here! Whatever it is - these smart little finches were enjoying themselves. I took a stroll out into the "big field" via the tracts of already harvested cauliflowers, and was able to get a few shots of Lesser Redpoll. Just what the 1.4x converter was meant for - not brilliant, but far better than nothing! Thus far, this autumn, Redpolls - Lesser or otherwise - have been a very scarce commodity around Newland's. Other bits included Sky Lark, Grey Wagtail and a steady S - SW movement of Starlings.

Decked Lesser Redpolls out amongst the caulis.
Not the greatest image ever recorded - but well usable for the blog.
Sigma 170 - 500 mm with a Sigma 1.4 x Converter
I did have one other sighting; and it's one that has completely done me in! At around 07.50hrs (this morning with the clocks adjusted) I watched a "thrush sp." fly north, almost directly above Pyson's Road  (around 200m away). As soon as I got it in my bins - I knew that something wasn't quite right! It should have been a Starling, but it was flying all wrong. It couldn't be a Blackbird - the tail was far too short  - but here's the real crux - it had an obvious, pale-white/black/white underwing bar. I have absolutely no experience with any of the "Zoothera" species but if I were a betting man - Siberian Thrush would be high in the running. I only watched it, through my binoculars, for around 20 - 25 seconds, as it flew rapidly north. The flight mannerism was like nothing I'm familiar with - certainly not typical migrant Redwing/Song Thrush. I am making no claim, just mentioning something which occurred - it's interesting - not important!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Success and beyond - a two part post

Saturday 24th October 2015 - 13.50 hrs

I've not set foot outside, as yet, but have been sorting out the kit ready for my final eel session of October 2015. There are many things that I have considered over the period, the braid v's wire (wire substitute) material has been high on the agenda. After just four weeks, there is no possible way that I can offer more than a "gut reaction" to this debate. But, for what it's worth, here's my slant on the subject.
Wire is for pike fishing - end of! It has no place in the eel angling situations that I am tackling. I liken this project to my very early days with catfish (1985 - onwards) when I was also told that the abrasive teeth of Wels would make short work of my hook link choices. I have never lost a cat, or eel, because of a bite off! I am not so arrogant as to say that this has never happened - but it hasn't happened to me, or the rest of the gang. With this knowledge, I am happy to continue with my version of the "combi-rig" tied using a high abrasion resistance braid and 12lbs b.s. Korda Sub-line. I'm off out again, this afternoon/evening, and have three rods kitted up. My chosen venue is the one where I took the 3lbs 6oz eel whilst I was carp fishing - I'm using three rods to ensure that my theories are given the fairest test that I can hope for. I have also added another variable, to the mix, I'm going to use "Bo Didley" (Squid) as a hook bait thanks to a tip in a comment by Darren Roberts.

Saturday 24th October 2015 - 22.35 hrs

Well I'm back and I've had a right result! Three bites, two fish landed, including my best ever eel by design. I had a superb fish of 3 lbs 1 oz on a squid section (cheers Darren!) and I also managed a rather dodgy photo, or two, of me posing with my catch - so a job well done.



This is the best I could do, under the circumstances. The first ever images of me with an eel!

There is so much I have to say about this project but, in order to give it proper thought, I will hang on for a day or two before voicing my opinion/conclusions. My spots were already known, and there has been a bit of bait going in for over a week. I remember listening to John Sidley speaking about a lengthy period of pre-baiting (on a Midland reservoir) before he was prepared to start a campaign. His enthusiasm was infectious, although it never rubbed off on me at the time - I have to admit that I did think of him whilst attempting to get my photo.
Was my good fortune down to this pre-baiting? I don't know, but feel that it couldn't have done my chances any harm. My pre-baiting efforts were little more than a scattering of sprat sections; today I plied my spots with a mix of ground bait, halibut oil, liquid predator attractor and squid & sprat freebies.

All these ingredients were purchased from the Ramsgate branch of Dragon Carp.
Sadly, I will no longer be able to do so - Mike Ashley has shut it down and wants to
replace it with some high end clothes outlet. Just what the
 Ramsgate populous were lacking? Must be why the local Woolworths was turned
into a Pound Shop and NUFC are in such great shape?
P.S. - To any pike anglers who are reading this stuff - get down to your local Tesco, they are selling fresh caught Cornish Sardines for £2/kilo and they're just the right size! I've got a freezer full.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Being of an enquiring nature.

I spent a very enjoyable, Thursday, evening eel fishing on a small drain out near Pluck's Gutter - I'm telling you this because I won't be going back there any time soon! It is a lovely secluded spot and one where I had a, unsuccessful, dabble for carp way back in July/August. The majority of the aquatic weed-beds are now in advanced state of decay and I was able to position both my baits without worrying about my terminal rigs getting snagged or masked.


Bite indication - simplicity itself
Bite indication is via my preferred option of light weight monkeys on angled needles, in conjunction with open bale arms. I have the utmost confidence that this set up allows the most sensitive, and resistance free, bite detection in the situations that I am fishing - very close range. Obviously this is backed up by "front runner" electronic bite alarms - negating the requirement of my total focus on two fluorescent monkeys, I'm free to look around and enjoy the wildlife that shares the habitat. Last night is was a close encounter with a Barn Owl and a small bat sp. which provided the early action before darkness fell and it was the music of Golden Plovers flighting over towards Grove Ferry and duet-ing Little Owls.

The Albright knot is now my standard method of using a braided hook link. The stiffness of the mono
providing fantastic anti-tangle properties to my terminal rigs, this has not always been true when
using some of the very soft Kryston materials. (Image taken from Internet - artist unknown)

At 18.55 hrs the right-hand rod had a lovely slow take, the resultant strike seeing the rod arch over and a lively eel of 1lbs 12oz find its' way to my landing net. The successful method was hair-rigged Spratt, head section, on a high abrasion resistant braid/ 12lbs b.s. mono combi rig. (about 10" long) with a size 9 barbless hook.

Something rather pre-historic about these fish; when looked at closely.
The eel was retained in my landing net, hook link unclipped and a new one attached (about 18" long) and another Spratt head section cast back into the swim. With this completed, I was able to unhook my capture and grab a few images, as it lay on my weigh sling. Job done, I had to wait for another ninety minutes before the same rod was away again. This time it was an absolute screaming take and I completely missed it! Didn't feel a thing, although the bait was gone. How? Why? With work calling, at 06.00 hrs, and a longish walk back to my car, I packed up and headed for home, my mind full of questions.
I have spent a day pondering such things and have a few ideas rumbling around inside my head. My early thinking is along the lines that my first bite came from a fish which was the first to discover my swim and was feeding confidently, without any competition, hence the nice slow lift. The second one, however, was feeding with other eels and, having found some food, bolted off with its' prize to avoid loosing it to a larger fish?

There are no images of me holding any eel I've ever caught. I will probably use this fact as a driver
for revisiting the challenge sometime in the future?
There are a few other theories about rig length and materials which I am still exploring and I have just one more session planned before I can forget all about these slimy pests. I will give my final verdict after this session which, at the moment, is planned for Sunday night. Strange, as it might seem, I feel I might revisit this challenge next Summer with a very different frame of mind and expectations.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Deluded, lost or lucky?

An early shift, on Monday, is never a situation that I look forward to; especially late on a Sunday evening! Somehow, both yesterday and this morning were different and I walked across Newland's, to work, in good spirits - on Monday there was a Mallard somewhere out in the darkness (it just adds to this crazy autumn) quacking loudly as it passed overhead; so close that I could hear the wind in its' wings! The events of the past week have elevated birding back into some type of relevance - I'm one lucky guy to have experienced such awesome spectacle, over such an extended period, so close to my home.
Question - "Has the pendulum started to swing back towards birding?"  I've given this quite a bit of thought and my answer would have to be "No!" I am enjoying my birding, at present, in much the same way as I became totally immersed in the euphoria surrounding the capture of six wild carp from the East Kent marshes. Phases of focussed effort; not OCD delirium - as in my lunatic past - by which I am attempting to gain the maximum pleasure from any given situation.
How lucky am I to have so many interests that slot together, so neatly, and allow me the freedom to do what I like at any given time of the year? Pike fishing is my Winter pursuit - not up for debate, but I can quite easily adjust my scope to encompass a bit of Perch fishing if the conditions dictate. I've not made any serious effort to increase my tally of Barbel from The Stour, not that it matters. I know that my heart isn't in this Eel nonsense, although I'm going back on Thursday evening. The mothing has been rather good, yet never spectacular (three Red-necked Footman excepted?) but I have to admit that it has been a great bonus in a year of rediscovery. So birds it is, at present, and how they have performed for me during these passed few days.
It will only take one bite, from a decent Eel and my focus will be redirected to another phase of concentrated effort, in a completely different arena. I noticed that I lost a "follower" a couple of days ago - I don't know who, or why. My instinct would be an angler - fed up with my latest offerings. I'm obviously disappointed, but it is not compulsory for people to read this drivel - my blog description should be enough - "Musings of an ageing hippie - with attitude" I blog about whatever is central to my being at the moment I write it.
I consider myself extremely fortunate not to inhabit the "twee" world of RSPB Garden Watchers (not that I have any objection to those individuals who are able to find enjoyment from this type of appreciation of our wild birds) - and I'm even more grateful that I've come out of the other side of both, single-minded speccy hunting and full-on twitching, to discover a world of wonderment and fulfilment that encapsulates all involved in simply getting old!
The sun was shining brightly as I made my way  home, today, so, after I'd cleaned out the aviary, I took a wander across to the cauli fields. I have to make a confession - I was only out there because there had been a Great Grey Shrike reported from Broadstairs and I would love to have another record for Newland's. As it turned out, I had a right result, despite very few birds being present. I recorded a handful of Redwing and Song Thrush - moving in all directions. A quick pulse of Swallows numbered less than twenty individuals while there were plenty of Reed Buntings around the caulis and a lone Brambling flushed from the Vine Close hedge. Good numbers of decked Meadow Pipits saw me walking out into the big field, hoping for a photo opportunity, didn't happen as I flushed, yet another, Short-eared Owl. I've checked the photos and it would seem to be a different bird to the one present on Sunday - the carpal markings and an isolated black dot aiding this conclusion in much the same way as the markings on the flanks of a pike are their "fingerprints"





A Short-eared Owl, headed off east, over the bungalows of The Ridgeway
My post title is something that I wrote yesterday, with quite a different slant involved. However, it does seem to fit the bill - so it remains the same.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Living in a dream?

Benno, Luke and myself spent a very enjoyable morning on the RMC. Luke took the only fish (around 4 lbs and that's being very generous), I bumped an even smaller one, on 1/2 mackerel, and Benno had a total blank. Nice social and a few ideas in the mix for what to do next - it just ain't pike fishing weather yet. A few nice birds around the marsh included 3 Little Egret, 2 Grey Wagtail, 3 Kingfisher, 2 or 3 Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, 5 Yellowhammer, 1 Common Buzzard and an immaculate imm Peregrine. I'd also seen a Barn Owl, on a fence post beside Manston Airfield, as I drove down to our chosen spot, earlier in the morning.

My best effort of the SEO high up, over the maize stubble.
Back home for mid-day, I was straight out into the garden to feed my birds. Almost immediately I was aware that the local corvids were hassling another Short-eared Owl high up above the maize stubble. I ran back to grab my camera and managed to secure some very poor record images of the bird before they forced it back south. There were one or two Redwing flying around and I watched a couple of Swallows zip by - it had to be worth a quick check around the farm?
I only walked the tracks around the caulis - I didn't manage to check the Scaffolder's yard, Ellington School, the paddocks or St. Luke's playing field, so there were many places where something interesting might still be lurking. Almost straight away I was confronted by a group of three Chiffchaffs, one a very "grey" individual - they flitted along the hedgerow in front of me and I flushed Redwing from the hawthorns and Song Thrushes from the caulis. A couple of Brambling were mixed in with Chaffinches and Reed Buntings feeding on the tracks and a few Meadow Pipits were "tseeping" overhead as they moved steadily north. I managed to get a shot of a Redwing and thought that I ought to try to get a decent image of a Reed Bunt - easier said than done! There is an area where the caulis have already been harvested, so I can get out into the "big field" in an attempt to get a little closer to these skittish little birds. I'd not gone 20m  into the field when I flushed another Short-eared Owl from off the deck. I clicked away merrily, as the bird headed off to the north, only to see it pushed back by the attentions of the local gulls, thus it ended up circling directly above my head in wonderful sunshine - fill your boots time!





This final image shows the bird hunting over the caulis
For the next forty-five minutes, I was able to watch as this bird was harassed, as it attempted to move off before, in the end, it decided to spent a period hunting over the fields before it dropped back down into the cauli stubble. Four Short-eared Owls in a week? How many have passed over, un-noticed?


Redwing and Reed Bunting - the supporting cast for today's main attraction

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The icing on the cake

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better - it did! My morning wander around the farm was a trip into birding "wonderland" - masses of birds; the vast majority decked. My counts are rough guestimates, except where otherwise stated. It started just after first light, as I was making the early morning cuppa! Chaffinches (or so I assumed) were dropping into the garden hedge and a few Redwing were passing overhead, pushed on by a stiff N/NE breeze. But, in all honesty, there was very little sign of purposeful migration. I heard a Reed Bunting, quickly followed by Fieldfare, something was going on?  I drank my coffee and told Bev that I was going to have a quick stroll around the farm. Some two hours later I made it back indoors - totally blown away. With so much going on, I rapidly lost interest in counting birds - I simply enjoyed their company. So, once again, here goes!
On a grey day - what do you expect? A Goldcrest by The White House
Redwing - 500+ (mostly decked, but a few moving overhead, in all directions, possibly dispersing from overnight roosts?)
Song Thrush - 170 - mostly flushed from the cauliflowers
Fieldfare - 110 - a flock of 90 moving purposely NW being the obvious highlight.
Blackbirds - numerous/conspicuous but nothing to suggest any further immigration
Robin - aggi little bleeders, but no increase since Monday
Goldcrest - a dozen, or so, in the Sycamores by The White House plus an unknown number around the main farm compound (I have no access to this area)
Chiffchaff - one
Sky Lark - two
Reed Bunting - at least 45 in the caulis
Pied/alba Wagtail - 42 feeding on St. Luke's playing field and several other around the farm
Goldfinch - two flocks, noisily north - possibly 40 birds - plus many others around the hedgerows.
Greenfinch - three?
Chaffinch - 350+ around the paddocks
Brambling - 200+ associating with the chaffinches - spectacular
Grey Heron - one decked out on the maize stubble
Peregrine - an adult hunting over the fields
Swallow - one north over the caulis

Crap photo - Reed Bunting and Dunnock out in the caulis
It was a fantastic experience, being able to witness such an event - this has been, without doubt, the best week ever around Newland's since I moved here in November 2000.

Friday, 16 October 2015

No point in attempting to count

Another morning of high drama around, and above, Newland's Farm. Thrushes (Redwings if I am honest) have been piling in/over all morning. I'd seen a Ring Ouzel, in the shrike hedge, on my way to work yesterday and the conditions, overnight, looked perfect for another viz mig spectacular - and they've delivered in some style!

Fieldfare in the same garden as before

Redwing and Chaffinch taking a well earned breather in our neighbours garden
Chaffinches, once again dominated the early proceedings, with decent numbers of Goldfinch, Brambling and Siskin (where are the Redpolls?) in accompaniment. The thrush movement seemed to kick in around 08.00 hrs, when wave upon wave of Redwings passed high overhead, moving rapidly to the SW. Blackbird, Song Thrush and Fieldfare were also involved, I even managed to record my first Northern Wheatear of the autumn, as I stood in the garden savouring the delights of this latest instalment of "patch gold".
If I ever tire of this type of birding then I might as well be dead - the spectacle of mass migration is one of the greatest shows on earth, and it's free to anyone who chooses to look! Oh yeah - there was another Short-eared Owl to add to the enjoyment of a morning spent awaiting delivery of a set of wardrobes!
 
 

So they're not much kop - I still prefer these type of images over none at all.

What's next?

The bedroom is almost finished being decorated, we await delivery of new wardrobes  - once assembled, the job's then completed?  I haven't given up, on my eel project, but I've not fished with Benno (or Luke) for a long while and there is an opportunity to get out on the RMC on Sunday morning - pike fishing. I say pike fishing rather glibly - I'm going to defrost some deadlies and be harassed by sodding eels whilst in the company of my son and his mate. We'll talk about our time at Loch Awe and where we fancy going in 2016? What are our combined hopes for the coming winter period?, and take the piss - same as it ever was and ever will be, whenever we get together. If we do actually catch a pike - a "Brucie" bonus! -  so much the better, but not vital for a good morning out! I'll post a photo of a pike - just because I can - from a period of my life when such things were very important. Blogs are rather boring if not accompanied by photos - it obviously doesn't matter how relevant? My blog - do what I like! This was from a period when I was FAMOUS ? - notorious would be a far better description when viewed with the passing of time.

I think this was around 1988 - a 22lbs + pike from Wilstone.
I could look it up and be 100% accurate - doesn't matter a toss - a nice pike from Tring
On a completely different train of thought, Steve Gale (North Downs & Beyond blog) is spending a month at Dungeness Obs - so there's a possibility that we will eventually come face to face and sup that "light ale" we'd so often spoken about? The RMC to Dunge - no big deal! Getting home might prove a little problematic? I'll cross that bridge when I come to it (in the spirit of Tony Harman.)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

After "The Lord Mayor's Show"

No two days will ever be the same; of that I am well aware. Yet, how can it be that Monday was a day of excitement and spectacle when the following two days have seen nothing close to the number of birds present/moving despite very similar weather conditions? Tuesday was dire, this morning has seen a slight improvement, but still nothing to come close to matching the sheer "viz mig" magic of that very special day.

A moody looking dawn sky above Newland's Farm
I spent 30 minutes in the garden, on both mornings, attempting to gauge the likelihood of anything worthwhile turning up. Tuesday was a waste of time, I recorded, 1 each of, Swallow and Meadow Pipit plus a couple of Redwing. Today was to see a little improvement with 60-ish Goldfinches (two flocks) north, 5 Song Thrush SW, 3 Redwing W and a few Chaffinches in the hedgerow. I'm still decorating the bedroom, so after applying a second coat of vinyl silk emulsion, I headed off for a very quick check around the farm. I should have known better, almost as soon as I reached the end of Vine Close the rain started to fall.
I was out for less than forty-five minutes, my reward being 1 Goldcrest, 1 Chiffchaff, 7 Redwing, 7 Song Thrush, 2 Cormorant - high SE, 5 Meadow Pipit and, the undoubted highlight, a Short-eared Owl. The owl was, high up, heading north from St. Luke's, but the attention of two Crows forced it east, over Ramsgate Cemetery, and I was unable to get anything more than brief views through my bins! Still it is a very good "patch" record, only my second ever and they've both been in 2015.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Some morning at Newland's

With the maize now harvested, the resultant stubble has seen a lot of activity as the local gulls, corvids and Wood Pigeons have been cleaning up the spilt grain. This morning, as I was making the first cuppa of the day, I could see a flock of thrushes flying north. I opened the back door and was able to confirm that they were my first Fieldfares of the autumn. Bev's tea was quickly delivered and I went back outside. Bloody hell! There were birds everywhere.

The view along the Vine Close hedgerow, now that the maize has been harvested

I spent around thirty minutes in the garden before heading across to the fields to see what else could be discovered. Here goes -

Chaffinch - 2,200 N or NW
Siskin - 140 N or NW
Meadow Pipit - many N plus good numbers decked
Alba/Pied Wagtail - 17 S and 30+ decked in the maize stubble
Song Thrush - 5 SW and another 14 flushed from the cauli's
Blackbirds - everywhere
Redwing - 2 W
Brambling - 2 N
Grey Heron - 1 S
Fieldfare - 60+ N and 11 decked
Swallow - 7 N
Starling - 350+ decked
Robin - 30+ around the hedgerows and gardens
Reed Bunting - 2 in the cauli's and 1 N
Yellowhammer - 1 N
Linnet - 15 on the wires
Goldfinch - 4/5 around the garden feeding station
Blackcap - 2 in the garden Elder

One of the decked Fieldfares - in a garden just to the south of ours.
I'm sure that there was more to be found, but I'd run out of time. Strange how I didn't record a single Chiffchaff, Goldcrest or Ring Ouzel? Still there's always tomorrow - the forecast for the whole week looks very promising.

Update at 13.00hrs:- Chaffinches and alba wags still moving in dribs and drabs plus a single Sky Lark N. I really don't understand how Sandwich Bay (to the south) have had so many Goldfinches, yet no Chaffinches; Reculver (to the west) haven't had any numbers either - all part of the mysterious world of avian migration, I guess?

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Final farewell - XH558 "The Spirit of Great Britain"

All day Friday, when I wasn't thinking about the sad loss of Tony Harman and if what I had written being good enough? The guys at work were speaking about the Final Tour of the Vulcan Bomber. The southern leg being planned for Sunday 11th October; the route had been confirmed, and included Whitstable, Herne Bay, Birchington, Manston, Dover and Ashford, but no flight times, due to weather constraints. All that I could glean was XH558 was due to leave Doncaster "around" lunch-time?
With Emily staying, overnight, there was a morning trip across to Staple for an hour, or so, in the park and a walk to look for grasshoppers and stroke the horses. We made it back home, via a stop at Dad's, just after mid-day. A check of the Vulcan to the Skies website revealed that the plan was for XH558 to be airborne at 13.00 hrs - so it would be at Manston around 50 minutes later. I had, therefore, little over 90 minutes to get Emily home and myself in position for a final glimpse of this iconic piece of Great British aviation history.

This is straight off the back of the camera - a simply magnificent piece of our aviation heritage
Everything went according to plan and I had positioned myself on the embankment by the round-a-bout which lies just west of Cliffsend and Jentex, thus looking north across Manston airfield. Just after 13.47 hrs - there she was. So low that the roadside street lights became an obstacle to getting a photo! It was all over in less than 30 seconds and this awesome machine disappeared into the haze, vapour trail billowing in the wind. I can't understand why such an integral piece of our heritage is now stopped from flying? I know that there is a political unwillingness to preserve, what is, our "Cold War" nuclear bomb carrier - yet we still keep the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in airworthy condition, and those planes are over 70 years old.


Banking steeply as she departs south, headed for Dover
Very little else to report, on this, my 500th post! The overnight moths included 2 Diamond-backs, 1 Rush Veneer and 2 Silver Y, so these easterly winds are still assisting some insect migration. Five Swallows skimmed south, over the recently harvested maize field and I noted six Common Buzzards whilst I was awaiting the arrival of the Vulcan. It's been a funny sort of weekend - in a weird way!