Who am I?

My photo
An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to the see the natural world as a place for competition, that was until Covid-19 intervened!. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!


Sunday, 18 October 2020

Two shrikes - so glad I'm out

 With the full backing of Bev I was back on the bank, early this morning, two baits presented in the tiny drain where I resumed my pike adventure way back in 2011. I was already aware that a Great Grey Shrike had been seen in the area yesterday and my bins were in action from first light, scanning the surrounding flatlands for a, bush topping, silhouette. Twice I thought that I'd spotted the bird, very distantly, but it wasn't until I was in conversation with a couple of Kent birders that the shrike appeared just on the other side of the drain. Result! As quickly as it appeared, so it dropped down, only to be relocated some 400m away to the east. I have to admit that rather enjoyed the sighting, not a species which I'd expect to encounter on my angling travels.

I found this one along the railway embankment at Chambers Wall, Reculver, 2004 - ish!

The presence of this shrike was obviously the draw for a steady procession of "twitchers". All of a sudden, my secluded location became rather busy as birders assembled to pay homage to this lovely bird. Has anyone ever seen an ugly Great Grey Shrike? Meanwhile, over at Reculver, Kent's first Masked Shrike was still in situ at Shuart. Having seen the images of this individual, a dowdy juvenile, all I can say is that it doesn't do it for me. I've been lucky enough to spend time with Masked Shrikes in Greece and Turkey, always adults, and can't bring myself to get excited about this Kent occurrence.

What I got from being in close proximity to the Great Grey twitchers was a complete lack of awareness. I was constantly raising my bins at Redwing and Fieldfare flocks, there were pulses of Swallows pushing north, two Common Buzzards were perched up, in clear view, Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs feeding in the bushes, and a constant stream of Redpolls passing overhead. All that mattered to the assembled masses was the shrike - I'd be a complete hypocrite if I assumed some higher ground. Twenty years ago I'd have been at the front of the queue. 

Stood behind the rods. I'd not bothered to take a seat, a pair of Stonechats performed superbly in the bankside vegetation, completely ignored by the camera wielding, binocular hugging, visitors. It's not my place to pass judgement upon how others derive enjoyment from their interaction with the natural world. Getting back home, two thrushes drew my attention - how time has changed what I thought was important?

The only other occurrence of note is the young hedgehog that has recently appeared at the feeding station. In comparison to all the other visitors, this animal is tiny, so might require some assistance to make it through the winter? From what I'm to believe, this youngster has to weigh more than 500 grms to have a chance of surviving hibernation.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Doing our best

 I was able to get another short session in, at Black Dyke, this morning. Bev's mum is now on palliative care with morphine and other drugs being applied intravenously in order to keep her pain and stress free. With all this going on there is no way I can travel down to the RMC just in case I get "that" call so count my blessings that Bev is okay with me going out at all! Sandwich is little more than fifteen minutes away and, although I'm not fishing for "big" pike, does offer me the chance to bend a rod. I've tried to utilize the time with an eye on the future by tweaking my bait presentation, playing around with various fish oils and colours. I must be doing something right as I had two bites this morning. The first was an eel, of a couple of pounds, which was hooked fairly, in the mouth, having taken a popped up Bluey tail. The second was from a lovely conditioned pike, of 8 lbs 2 oz, which succumbed to a red, pilchard flavoured, mackerel tail. So that's three pike in the last three outings. That'll do for me under any circumstances. To be able to go fishing at all, at present, is a real treat. Bev and I both know that her mum hasn't got too long left. All we can do is try to ensure that her final days are as peaceful and painless as possible. When viewed from this perspective, another twenty pound pike isn't important in the slightest! We'll get through this together and come out the other side all the stronger for the experience.

Quite a few birds about, this morning, adding Crossbill to my year list with a calling bird right at first light. Goldcrests were plentiful, as were Redwing, Blackbird and Song Thrush. Other bits included a Raven, calling Little Owl, Common Buzzard, (Lesser) Redpoll and four Swallows. Just to top it off, on getting home, there was a Brambling calling from the next door garden as I unloaded my kit from the van - good stuff!

Friday, 16 October 2020

Rose tinted illusion?

I showed a few of the guys, at work, that photo of my first "twenty" and got savaged by their collective response. Nothing unexpected, my hair, clothes and umpteen other aspects given the factory floor treatment. Still; if I didn't like the answer, shouldn't have asked the question - all very straight forward in the murky world in which I earn my living. One comment, however, did make me smile and is the catalyst to this offering. I quote "It was so much better back then, that was a big fish" A fellow angler's judgement on the passing of time and how much easier it was when I started out. Was it really? It might be a good thing to mention that when I embarked upon my angling adventure all species were of equal merit and there was no stigma, negative or otherwise, attached to anglers who targeted specific species in preference of others. It didn't matter if Bream, Tench, Roach or Chub ticked the box, you were respected as an angler, not treated as some eccentric who'd lost the plot - welcome to carp dominated 2020!

There can be no getting away from the massive influence carp angling now exerts over the whole of the UK freshwater angling scene. It's a multi-million pound industry, catering for every need of those who've fallen prey to the seductive allure of these alien creatures. Carp are not native to the UK - end of! The benefit of being an old git is many fold but, from an angling perspective, the ability to see a bigger picture is certainly one plus side of the aging process. The dominance of modern carp angling does have one massive positive in as much as it has raised the profile of fishing, as a hobby, out of the tweed jacket and floppy hat era into the mass participation "sport" (?) it has now become. There is no denying the fact that, during my youth, pleasure angling/match fishing was a hugely popular pastime matched only by the numbers of folk who played "pub" darts! In 2020 it's now fashionable to go carp fishing and the appeal is not age, nor sex, dominated, women and kids are very much part of this new wave of angling popularity as the crusty old farts of my generation. Add to the mix the massive growth in commercial fisheries and all that they are able to provide these "instant anglers" and the result is a very rosy future for the industry. It would seem. to me, that the match angler is now on a par with the speccy hunter; involved in a very niche end of the angling spectrum. The really weird thing is that, inadvertently, the creation of the commercial carp fisheries has provided superb habitat for many other species to thrive and, as such, increased the opportunities for all anglers to enjoy their own passion, in whatever format it exists. This was vividly demonstrated to me when, on my return to the hobby, I went to a small commercial carp fishery deliberately to target perch, of a size that I could only have dreamt of in the 1990's.

I've written much about the barbel of The River Stour and how modern water treatment has played a key role in the growth of these fish, but at the detriment of so many other species. It's like head-butting a brick wall attempting to get fellow anglers to recognise the huge environmental catastrophe that is still taking place because of the piss poor standards that the water companies are subjected to.  "Dilution is the solution to pollution" being their logic, whilst coining it in! In 2013 I was to experience the thrill of landing a barbel of 13 lbs 14 oz, a fish which just twenty years previous, would have been a UK record weight. During those intervening decades the growth rate of barbel had been off the scale and now 20 lbs is required to challenge the UK record. Myopic anglers are lapping it up, never have they had it so good? The rivers don't have the numbers but the fish that remain are huge - what's to complain about? Again modern carp angling has assisted the water companies in their promotion of healthy environments; river carp are very much in vogue and the fact that the species thrives in the polluted waters is just another string in the bow of the offending water treatment companies. There's not a barbel, or carp, angler who's going to moan about a lack of gudgeon, bleak, sticklebacks or minnows.

A barbel from the Hampshire Avon - The Compound on the Royalty!
In 1986 any barbel over 7 lbs was worthy of a photo - how times have changed!

The pursuit of a wild pike of twenty pounds, plus, is as challenging today as it was way back in the 1980's. The status of such a fish remains intact, despite the grotesque caricatures that inhabit the "put & take" trout fisheries. Just like the capture of a 2 lbs roach, some things haven't altered since my discovery of the thrills of angling. Was it different during my formative years? Of course it was; there can be no doubt about the huge advances in tackle and bait which have occurred since those times. I think the real crux is "was it better back then?" The best I can offer is that it was different. Yes, we enjoyed freedoms which would be hard to recreate today. There were superb venues available to us which provided wonderful opportunities for anyone up to the challenge. The ability to look back over half a decade of "big fish" angling is an absolute privilege yet the adventure hasn't finished. I've every intention of continuing the quest for adrenaline fixes caused by a tight line and a hooped rod. Another twenty pound pike - there might be tears, such is the power of living the dream.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Esox memories

I find it absolutely incredible to acknowledge it was fifty years ago, this month, when I caught my first pike. I'd already been using a rod and line for seven years before this momentous event, yet it is that one capture which has steered my angling ever since. Of course I recognise that between 1993 & 2011 Kent birding was to dominate my leisure time and for that experience I remain truly grateful to all those who were part of this obsessive period of my adventure. However, there can be no escaping the fact that angling and, more accurately, specimen hunting has played a major role in my pathway through life, thus leading me to the here and now. I finished a previous post with mention of how angling allows me to maintain a grasp of normality during these troubled Covid-19 times. Obsession can never be healthy, yet a connection with the natural world, in whatever guise it takes, has to be good for the soul? With my recent blogging being very much pike orientated, I thought I might have a look back at the journey which has been my privilege to travel over the passed half century. My apologies to those who've already seen some of these old photos and heard the tales in earlier posts but, looking back is a great way of moving forward, if that makes any sense? So as I'm on a pike angling roll, let's see where this post leads?

It is probably worth mentioning that, prior to the recent "mini pike project", bedtime reading has been my 1st edition copy of "Fishing for Big Pike" by Barrie Rickards & Ray Webb. (A & C Black 1971) Within the pages of this single book are the finest words of advice on pike angling, location and thinking ever published, as relevant today as when first written. I should also mention that Martin Gay's chapter in the 1979 "The Big Fish Scene" contains much timeless advice about the finer aspects of pike location and behaviour. Don't get me wrong, there have been huge advances in angling techniques for all freshwater species, over the intervening years, yet pike are still the same, pre-historic, fish they've always been. Those very basic lessons, conveyed by Rickards, Webb and Gay remain the building blocks from which modern pike fishing has evolved. If you get the basics right, any fine tuning will do nothing but add to your chances of success. 

November 8th 1981 - my first double weighs in at 20 lbs 3 oz. 
Kodak's Water End fishery, Piccot's End, Herts.

I'd love to be able to say that because of adherence to such worldly advice my pike angling became a thing of beauty and finesse, but I'd be lying!!! It was eleven years after my first capture that I eventually landed my first "double" - it was a bloody twenty! An absolutely wondrous quirk of fate, yet probably the worst thing which could have happened? I thought I knew it all and took heed of none of the wisdom on offer as a consequence. The arrogance of youth is a very familiar situation to that which so many other of my peers will have experienced. What didn't help the situation was the fact that I continued to catch more decent pike after that fateful event, thus furthering my belief that I was good at it. What a major misconception? I'd like to think that Lester Strudwick (God rest his soul) played a part, as it was he who pointed me in the direction of the Scottish Lochs, yet know crossing paths (swords) with Eddie Turner, Bill Hancock and Vic Gibson (the original ET crew) was the turning point in my pike angling adventure. Tring in the mid-80's; Wilstone Res. was my second home. Eddie and co were on Startops End Res. perfecting their vane float techniques prior to unleashing the merchandise on an unsuspecting, pike angling, public. Eddie was the brains, Vic the gentleman, Bill the front man, and mouthpiece, for this revolutionary gang. We hit it off immediately and, as a result, my understanding of pike fishing "edges" became a part of my tactics and technique. 

A very young Eddie Turner with a Wilstone "double"

If I'd been doing OK before, now my returns went into melt-down. What Eddie taught me was to look for an edge, something away from the norm which is too much trouble for the other guy. He highlighted the value of buoyancy, colour and flavour in my dead baiting approach. I have to make mention that because of a very personal opinion, live baiting was no longer an option in my pike angling armoury at this stage. "Don't ignore the margins" is the one lesson, above all others, which has stuck with me since those crazy times and stood me in good stead over the intervening years.

One of my favourite images from that crazy period.
January 16th 1990 - Pixies Mere, Bourne End, Herts
22 lbs 3 oz on half a mackerel, fished in the margin!

So here I am in October 2020, once again seeking to capture a wild pike in excess of twenty pounds. Having achieved this target on many occasions, in the past, what makes this challenge any different? If I'm honest? I don't really know! Somewhere in my being is the desire to recreate an image from my past. A photo of me, posing with a twenty pound pike, that manages to recapture all of those old memories which have paved the the way to where I now find myself. Important that I succeed - not in the slightest. Enjoyable if I do - without a doubt!

December 22nd 1986 - Wilstone Reservoir, Tring, Herts
23 lbs 5 oz of buoyant Herring munching pike.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Black Dyke bonus

 I'd already resigned myself to the fact that Friday would be my final session, before a return to work, so was absolutely delighted when a window of opportunity presented itself to get out on Sunday morning. I'd only got a couple of hours to play with, needing to be back home by 09.15 hrs, but much better than not going at all! Weekend fishing at the syndicate requires pre-booking and, obviously, the RMC was far too distant to be a consideration, thus my sights were set on a tiny side drain that joins Black Dyke just the other side of Sandwich. I left home at 05.20 hrs and had all three rods fishing before 06.15 hrs. Even though I was restricted by very tight time limits, I felt sure that my tactics, bait choice and presentation would put me in with a shout. 

Dawn broke, a beaver swam through the swim before noisily slapping the surface with its' tail just in case I'd missed it! My first Redwings of the autumn were seen and a steady stream of Lapwings left their roost and headed north to feed in Pegwell Bay, I presume? At 07.40 hrs the indicator, on the middle rod, dropped off and the alarm sounded as an unseen fish moved off with my sardine offering. A very spirited battle ensued before a tidy fish, of 7 lbs 6 oz, was drawn over the chord and into the landing net. As I was doing the self-takes a Raven flew over, croaking it's approval of the scene below; it was so good to be out and about. All too quickly, however, the clock indicated that it was time to pack up and head for home. 

I was on the drive with ten minutes to spare, so it had been a very successful trip all round. Once I'd roused Bev from her slumbers, I set about unloading the van. Two large flocks (250+ in total) of Redwings passed west overhead, as I was doing this then, whilst washing down the un-hooking mat and nets, a lone Fieldfare flew along the gardens before dropping down onto the stubble of Newlands Farm a couple of hundred metres to the south. I tried looking up the definition of "bonus" and was met with a cascade of money orientated definitions. My own perception of a bonus is something unexpected, beyond the norm, and this morning had it in abundance, yet I'm not a penny richer! Was it a bonus or am I just kidding myself? I know what I think!

Friday, 9 October 2020

My week's pike fishing

 It doesn't matter which section of the Royal Military Canal I wish to target, getting there from Thanet involves a great deal of fannying about, driving round the houses, due to the lack of a decent road network in this part of Kent. Even at the un-godly time when I leave home, it still requires a good hour to reach my destination, The syndicate fishery, on the other hand, is just over ten minutes away, early doors, and means I get an extra hour in kip should I choose this option. But what needs remembering is that I took time off work to catch pike, not get extended sleep periods, so these two venues were used to test my thought processes and angling techniques. The Royal Military Canal has a rich tradition of producing specimen pike whilst the syndicate is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I've got half an idea what I'm chasing in the RMC, the syndicate being an empty canvas awaiting my efforts in order to paint the picture. 

Monday 5th October - at 04.45bhrs I head off into the darkness for the first session of the week with the RMC being my preferred option. The first canal pike trip of the new season got away to a flier when a popped-up (Joey) Mackerel was taken within twenty minutes of my casting out. A nice little fish of about six pounds made its' way to the unhooking mat where I grabbed a quick photo (using the flash) before returning it to the water. Four more occurrences before I packed up at 10.00 hrs, no other fish hooked or landed. What I must also mention is that this was the only session of the week where I used monkeys on needles as my bite indication.

Tuesday 6th October - leaving home at the same time as yesterday, I returned to the canal to continue my quest. Bait options and presentation were much the same, although I covered quite a long section of the bank by leap frogging the rods at thirty minute intervals. If nothing else, it kept me active which is more than the pike did! I still had a great session which was mainly due to conversations with other folk who were also enjoying the facilities on offer. It was really nice to bump into local birder, and quality photographer, Brian Harper for the first time this year. A long chat about all sorts of subjects, I'm hopeful we'll meet again soon as this 20/21 pike project develops?

Wednesday 7th October - a session down at the syndicate was more to do with being able to get home early to allow Bev some free time than a realistic pursuit of "big" pike. An absolutely stunning sunrise and I'd now switched over to using "back-biter" alarms, as manufactured by my brother Simon, so spent some time getting images. Three times the line pulled from the clip. Twice it was eels and the third occasion came courtesy of a young Mute Swan - happy days!

Thursday 8th October - I've already described the utter joy of being down at the syndicate to witness that movement of hirundines across the surrounding marshes. Casting my baited hooks produced little more than eel trouble, the pike steadfastly refusing to play ball. If nothing else; I'm demonstrating a remarkable level of consistency? What is also becoming apparent is that the syndicate doesn't warrant a sustained effort if I'm serious about another twenty this coming winter.

Friday 9th October - back down to the RMC for my final session of the holiday period. I'd changed over to my Duncan Kay's and had decided on another area of the canal. My preparation couldn't have gone any better with baits coloured and flavoured with fish oils and Predator Plus. I was down there for 05.30 hrs, baits in position before 06.15 hrs - it's quite a trek so the barrow is essential. At 07.05 hrs a back biter announces a take and I'm in! The rods are soft and very forgiving, this fish giving a good account of itself, yet never really testing the gear beyond what I'd consider normal. As the fish rolled on the surface I thought eight pounds-ish! When I got it to the net I was thinking "double" only for the scales to reveal its' true weight at 14 lbs 8 oz! Brilliant - what a way to finish the holiday sessions.

There is an awful lot being said about mental health and well being during this Covid pandemic. That fish, laying on my un-hooking mat, summed up everything about why angling is such a fundamental part of "normality" in my little world.  I remained on the bank, soaking up the atmosphere, reliving my moment of glory, until it was time to call it a day and head off back home. Pushing the barrow back to the van was a breeze with that fish in the bag!

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Moody skies and hirundines

 Just back home after my latest session; this one down at the local syndicate fishery. It won't take the IQ of Boris Johnson to glean, from the lack of recent posts, that things ain't going quite to plan. I'm going to do an angling summary of the whole week tomorrow, or Saturday? What I want to write about is the absolute privilege of being in the right place, at the right time, to witness a large scale movement of hirundines as I have this morning. 

It was a dull, blustery morning, heavy clouds and the ever present threat of rain which was the backdrop to the spectacle. There was no dawn, as such, it just got less dark. It wasn't until after 08.00 hrs that the odd chink in the clouds allowed any signs of brightness to emanate from the eastern horizon. I'd played around with the camera, attempting to capture the mood of the morning when, at 08.40 hrs, a flurry of Swallows came skimming over the lake, headed west. This was the precursor to the main event. Over the next ninety minutes, I watched a substantial movement of House Martins and Swallows, all heading steadily westwards on a broad front across the adjacent marshes.  By 10.00 hrs it was almost over, just a few stragglers moving in a more southerly direction before, by 10.15 hrs, it ceased. I make no claim that these figures are exact, just my estimation of the numbers involved. 700 House Martin, 250 Swallow and 1 Sand Martin (that is exactly how many of them I managed to id!). Although not tablets of stone, the behaviour of the two main species was rather interesting as the Swallows tended to skim the lake and fields whilst the House Martins were much happier flying into the brisk wind at a greater altitude. No evidence of feeding activity, just a very deliberate movement both west, then south, as I've already mentioned. 

Other bits of note included a Common Buzzard doing a very good impression of its' Rough-legged cousin by hovering over a raised bank for some five, or so, minutes. So glad I had my bins to hand. A couple of Chiffchaffs were associating with a mixed tit flock, as was a lone Goldcrest. Just as I was packing up a Green Sandpiper dropped in, doing a quick circuit of the lake, before heading back off towards Richborough. All in all a very pleasurable session in which luck played a far greater role than any skill on my part!