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!


Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Campaign plans v's reality

As no-one has been blessed with a "crystal ball", in which to see the future unfold, plans for any projects have to be very fluid. It is with this at the forefront of my thinking that I have started to put a few targets into the mix for this coming Winter Pike fishing campaign. With time availability no longer a consideration, in as much as I don't have work commitments to deal with, I am able to commit to three sessions a week, at least, but could manage seven if I felt that conditions were perfect? Absolutely no chance of me returning to the "time bandit" mentality of the, bivvy bound, camping, carp anglers. Sessions rarely exceed six hours, eight would be exceptional. No, my (Pike) angling is now all about the use of watercraft/experience over the bait and wait, time wasting, option. Under no circumstances am I attempting to criticise the approach of fellow anglers who choose to pursue this fascinating hobby in a very different way. So long as enjoyment remains the key, the manner in which they do so is entirely a decision for those individuals involved. 

You don't watch dawns like this asleep in a bivvy!

I started to think about what I would like from this 2021/22 Pike season after attending an informal gathering of The Canterbury & Thanet PAC on 4th October. Spending a couple of hours, chatting about this and that, with other anglers who share a common respect for the apex predator of our freshwater environments. I came away with renewed enthusiasm for the coming Winter and began to set myself some arbitrary targets. They will have to remain as such because who knows what effect Covid-19 will have upon our personal freedoms as the year progresses? Certainly infection rates and deaths are showing a depressingly familiar trend as we approach the colder months. 

Bread & butter out on the flatlands

So these ideas that follow are not set in stone but, being more akin to a wish list, will help to keep me enthused and focussed as the season evolves. My first hope is to land three fish in excess of twenty pounds, something I've not managed since the 1986/7 season when I took two from Wilstone and one from the mighty R. Thames. This will be the most testing aspect of my fishing campaign purely because of my choice of venues. Difficult yes, but certainly not impossible. The next idea is simply a follow on from the campaign I'd enjoyed last season which was curtailed by travel restrictions and lockdown just as I was getting to grips with the section of canal I'd chosen. Twenty doubles in five and a half months should be attainable, even more so as retirement allows me a flexibility that wasn't available in previous years. My third challenge is to land one hundred Pike during the course of this season. I was inspired to attempt this quest when reading a really nice article by a guy, recovering from a stroke, who used pike fishing as motivation to push himself forward both physically and mentally. I would think that this particular target will be the easiest to reach as I'm already on ten!

A magnificently marked wild Pike

Now I'm sure that there are Pike anglers out there who will wonder what all the fuss is about, particularly those who use lures and/or live baiting techniques. As with all my angling projects, I have to do things my way or not at all. As a devoted dead bait angler, all, some or none of my targets will be achieved because of my total faith in this style of Pike fishing. I have plenty of tricks and tweaks in my locker which ensure I remain confident of success. Nothing is too much trouble, if something's not right, I change it. Mobility is key, sitting behind static rods and static dead baits does nothing for me. I remain convinced that "big" Pike are lazy creatures, thus always on the look out for an easy meal. Biologically they seek maximum reward for minimum effort, therefore, my bait choices and presentations are set up to offer just such a scenario. If I'm struggling for bites I'll use the leapfrogging technique. By doing so I feel sure that I can, eventually, place a bait in a position where my quarry will accept the offering without expending unnecessary energy searching it out. If they won't come to me, then I'll happily go to them!

Three more like this please. Oh, and one on a centrepin would be nice!

At present I'm fishing a new, to me, section of the RMC which appears to have all the features I associate with good Pike territory, but have only taken three fish in five trips. I am prepared to stick at it for a good while as I can always return to those more familiar sections should I get desperate for a bent rod adrenaline fix. From Seabrooke to Iden Lock, I've experienced some very enjoyable sessions after the wild Pike that inhabit this historic waterway and hope that it continues for a good while yet.

Monday, 18 October 2021

Double up

 Going back out onto the flatlands, early this morning, proved to be a good decision. I ended my short, 06.40 - 10.00 hrs, session with three Pike to show for my efforts. That it represented a fish to each rod was rather pleasing as it confirms that my bait choices and presentation are working. It was a slow start, in the pre-dawn glow, as two Eel bites were registered but resulted in neither culprit being hooked.

A typical "flatlands" skyscape. Sunrise is still twenty minutes away!

It was almost 08.00 hrs before the show got started. My "back biter" alarm signalled a take on the middle rod and I was quickly on the scene. The fish gave a great account of itself, even taking out the next door rod in the process, before I scooped up a lovely Pike which was clearly a decent double. Leaving the fish to rest in the net, whilst I sorted out the other rod, I was in the process of getting the unhooking mat, and the weighing sling, wet when the rod, that I'd recast not two minutes previously, was away. If ever I question why I carry two landing nets, this situation is exactly why. Quickly into the second battle of the morning, a lovely Pike of 7 lbs 5 oz was coaxed over the net chord and dealt with, thus allowing me to get the first one out of the net and into a retainer. 14 lbs 9 oz being the weight registered on the scales. With those two rods back in action, I re-positioned the bait on my other rod, whilst also giving the offering another booster shot of fish oil and Predator Plus. It was just after 09.00 hrs, whilst chatting to my brother Sye, on the phone, that this final bait was to prove it's worth. Only a small "jack", of 5 lbs 8 oz, but three fish in a session for the first time this season. So I was happy with the result. 

Only when getting back home and having time to study the images of my latest "double" did I realise that it was the same fish as I'd landed last Monday, some half a mile away from today's capture. I can only conclude that - one, these fish are extremely mobile, and two, there are not too many present in the drain. I've said, many times in the past, that it is not possible to put a label on a bait, thus any capture is a result. Repeat captures, however, are not part of my plans, thus it is time to look elsewhere I feel?

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Scraping and scratching

The time I'm spending out in the garden is providing an opportunity to brush up on my audio birding skills. It's an aspect of birding that rapidly leaves the skill-set, when not in constant use. I'd first become aware of how rusty I was, when struggling to id a calling Reed Bunting out on the flatlands a few weeks back. Standing in the garden dismissing another flyover Chaffinch, on call, only to watch a, white rumped, Brambling as I peer through the binoculars. Very rusty might be a better assessment of where I now am? I had another session on the RMC, yesterday, visiting a new section that I'd discovered via the wonders of "Google Maps". A missed bite, within twenty minutes, sums up my six hour session but, if I don't try I'll never know? I've not written this particular section off, instead will give it a while before returning for a second attempt. There are certainly plenty of features to fish to which could well hold Pike as the Winter progresses?

As ever, I keep an eye on Birdguides and the KOS web sites, to see what is being recorded locally. Desert Wheatear, Arctic & Radde's Warbler have all been on the radar recently. I couldn't care less! Steve Gale's reports of huge numbers of Redwings over his Surrey garden, however, does resonate with me. I've recorded just one, thus far this Autumn, whilst out on the flatlands last Monday! The only migrant thrushes I've seen, in the garden, are a handful of "continental" Blackbirds. Other routine fare include a trickle of Chiffchaffs, Meadow Pipits, Sky Larks and "alba" Wagtails plus, today, a flurry of Jays - eight to be precise. 

"Continental" Blackbird

Raptors have been restricted to the odd Common Buzzard, a few Sparrowhawks and Kestrels. Hirundines? Are you kidding? This is the first Autumn, in twenty years, when I've not seen a single bird on the powerlines above Vine Close. It's not all been doom & gloom, however, as the local Hedgehogs have continued to provide a wonderful spectacle at our garden feeding station. I've one little tip that I'd like to share with anyone who's interested. In addition to the Tesco "Kitten" biscuits that are my basic feed offering, I've recently added some chopped, Purina, "Bakers" Meaty Meals dog mixers to the bowl. Originally I did so because I'd a part box left over from my carp fishing exploits. The hedgehogs absolutely love them, so I've purchased another box deliberately for the purpose of attracting these superb animals into our garden.

The chopped Purina "Meaty Meals" are the red offerings in the bowl and in the hedgehog's gob!

Late comers only have Tesco Kitten biscuits as an option!

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

That'll do nicely

I got down to the RMC, really early this morning because, if the water was still high and heavily coloured, I would have time to revert to "Plan B" before the sun rose. Fortunately, as it turned out, my chosen section was in fine fettle and I was able to get my baits presented well before dawn broke. I had six hours free to me and planned to leapfrog the rods back towards the car park at hourly intervals. By using this technique, I feel more confident of discovering feeding Pike opportunities rather than simply waiting for a feeding spell to occur. Before 08.00 hrs I had experience two occurences on a Dyson rig presentation, neither of which resulted in hooked fish. I suspected Eels to be the culprits?

I went through the leapfrogging manoeuvres several times during the course of the morning. Absolutely nothing happening despite me having covered the best part of quarter of a mile by this point. The 11.00 hrs repositioning was the final throw of the dice. I'd already agreed with Bev that 12.30 hrs was the end of my session. At 11.35 hrs the "back biter" alarm sounded as another Dyson rig presented bait had been taken. Grabbing the landing net I got to the rod. Nothing was happening, no line peeling from the reel or even twitching on the canal surface. I picked up the rod, off the rests, cursing those bloody eels! I gently felt the line, there was something happening. I closed the bale arm, did a couple of turns of the reel handle, before sweeping the rod back over my shoulder. All of a sudden it's game on! The fish made two powerful surges, the clutch screaming in protest, then simply gave up. It was all over within a couple of minutes, max!

It does look rather skinny!

As I drew it into the landing net, I could see that it was a decent Pike. Once on the bank it looked very big indeed. A massive head, yet a rather slim body shape, suggested that it had potential to be much heavier than the 16 lbs 14 oz that the scales registered today. My second double in two days, what's to moan about?

Monday, 11 October 2021

I'll settle for that

Back out on the flatlands, early doors, for another Pike session. It couldn't have started any better, as I'd only just cast my second rod, 06.25 hrs, and was putting the third one together when the alarm sounded and the indicator rose, steadily, up the needle before falling free allowing the line to peel off the open spool. A very angry Pike, of around five pounds, soon in the landing net. The bait couldn't have been in the water longer than a couple of minutes! Brilliant, I had avoided a blank and sunrise was still forty minutes away - crazy. 

I got sorted out, the fish unhooked and returned to the drain, before getting all three rods back in the game. Dawn was a rather non-descript event, this morning. The sky just got brighter without any of the orange/red glow which is usually such a feature out on the East Kent Marshes. By 08.10 hrs, nothing else to report so I re-positioned my three baits, giving them another dose of fish oil & Predator Plus just to enhance the attractiveness. It had been quite a good morning, bird wise, as I'd watched a Great White Egret fly in low, from the east, dropping down onto the pool where I'd seen the Spoonbill, last week. This was at 07.40 hrs, at 07.50 hrs another three joined in the spectacle, arriving high, from the north. Four Great White Egrets, it was like being on Kefalonia, I've never seen this number together in the UK previously. Jays were also a feature of this period, moving steadily inland having arrived in/off the sea. Yeah, it was pretty good out there today. Then, to put the cherry on the cake, at 08.55 hrs, the same rod as before was away and this time I found myself attached to something far more determined. A magnificent tussle ensued before I was able to coax my prize over the draw chord. 

I always like to get photos of both flanks as it helps with
fish recognition, thus growth rates and also allows me to gauge how many individuals
are in the venue.

Knowing it was a good double meant that my Winter Pike campaign had actually got started. I placed it in an ET Pike Tube, just to allow it time to recover, and continued to fish on  for another hour, or so, before packing the kit away and going through the ritual weighing and self-take photography caper. 14 lbs 12 oz is a cracking way to set the ball rolling. Back out tomorrow, down on the RMC for an extended session. Let's hope I can continue in similar fashion?

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Swift summary

I've already reported upon the first couple of sessions of the new Pike season; just the one fish landed to that point. In between those two sessions, I was able to add another bird to the BWKm0 list when I watched a Curlew fly south, beyond the garden hedgerow, on 2nd October.

BWKm0 - No. 71 - Curlew

Back down to the RMC very early on Wednesday 6th. If I'd had known how dirty the water, I'm sure I wouldn't have made the effort. However, despite the floodwater conditions, I'm extraordinarily glad I stuck with it and enjoyed a magnificent morning of birding as a consequence. Sixty-three Mediterranean Gulls, five plus Chiffchaff, five Sand Martin, two hundred & forty-seven House Martins, only three Swallows? Best of all was a lone Swift, a nice late record. Canada and Greylag Geese were unexpected, but three Raven were par for the course, as was a lone Common Buzzard. At 07.50 hrs the alarm signalled a bite on a Sardine. The missing chunk, between the hooks, revealed an Eel to be responsible. Within half an hour the EA had opened the sluice and the canal became unfishable. I packed up and headed for home pleased with the time I'd spent.

Dawn out on the flatlands

Back out again, bright and early, next morning. I drove the short distance across to the flatlands and was to find, once again, filthy dirty floodwater conditions. I went through the ritual of fishing three rods. Heavily flavoured, popped-up, dead baits, but had to endure five Eel attacks before calling it a day. A few birds were worthy of note and included my first Redwing of the Autumn, a Greenshank and Green Sandpiper. Odd Swallows skimmed past, but it was Chiffchaffs that stole the show. At least fifty-three counted, moving deliberately south along the drain margins. Very difficult to be 100% accurate due to other birds which were feeding in the same hedgerows. The Eel activity was enough for me to plan a return the next afternoon/evening.

This set-up looks more like a carp session. I'd been inspired by
an ESP Youtube offering which resulted in me attempting something a 
little different from my previous Eel angling efforts.

Thus, at 16.30 hrs, on Friday 8th October I cast two baits out into the dirty water of the drain. As there had been no further rainfall, the colour was certainly starting to fade, yet visibility would be less than six inches! I planned to remain until 20.30 hrs and what a decision that proved to be. Five fish landed, bloody unheard of? First bite resulted in a tiny "jack" - it would have struggled to make 10 oz! Activity didn't start until the sun had sunk below the horizon. After that it was absolute chaos.

Sunset out on the flatlands

I said it was "tiny"

Three, of the four, Eels landed during a hectic session.
Heaviest fish, the one in the middle, weighed 2 lbs 10 oz

I'm hoping to get back out on Monday morning with Pike, once again, being the intended species.

Friday, 8 October 2021

Pike angling - then & now

I've written a few posts, similar to this one, about my evolution as a Pike angler during the "Of Esox" blogging years. It was last Friday, however, whilst I was sitting under the "Groundhog" brolly, sheltering from the sheeting rain; driven across the featureless expanse of Romney Marsh by a fierce S/SW gale, when I started to think about what I now regard as success and how the passage of time has impacted upon my thought processes. If nothing else - it's an excuse to recall some good times and re-use old photos?

November 1981 - my first twenty taken from Water End fishery, a Kodak club venue.

The formative years (1970 - 1981)

Still at school, Halsey SM, Hemel Hempstead, when I caught my first Pike from the, gin clear, water of Pixie's Mere, Bourne End. Famed for the Tench it held, I caught my first six pounder here, whilst revising for my geography "A" level! The Pike that shared the fishery were always there, as a side show, during this period. What needs to be remembered is that Pike tackle was barbaric at this point. Ready made "snap tackle" hook rigs were hideously oversized, Fishing Gazette bungs were more suited to marking Lobster Pot location than bite indication, whilst the use of gaffs and gags was the accepted norm for this period. Fortunately, for any Pike which crossed my path, I never resorted to the gaff landing technique, choosing instead to employ a (knotted) landing net, but everything else was part of my repertoire. I seem to recall that my rod was a yellow, 6ft, solid fibreglass, model of considerable test curve, the reel almost certainly an "Intrepid" Black Prince (or Prince Regent) loaded with cheap, high breaking strain, mono-filament, nylon purchased from the local Woolworth's. The only other thing worthy of mention is that the standard technique was the use of free roaming livebait - a complete recipe for deep hooked/dead Pike. There was no instant strike mentality at this point. The general advice being let them have a first run, turn the bait, only then do you set the hooks! Which isn't that surprising as the "match anglers" were the dominant force in the angling press, of the period. Despite the existence of The Pike Society, which was to evolve into the Pike Anglers Club of GB (1977), the press happily promoted the theory of "the only good Pike is a dead one!"  Big fish angling was still very much a minority pursuit, the consensus being that luck, not skill, played the major role in any specimen fish being landed. However there was a ground swell of interest in the deliberate pursuit of big fish and with Dick Walker as a shining beacon the number of Specimen Groups became such that "The National Association of Specimen Groups" came into existence, quickly to morph into the National Association of Specialist Anglers. As I'm writing about my Pike adventure, I must now turn back the clock to 1963 and the ecological insanity of a decision, by the Great Ouse River Authority, to introduce Zander into the Relief Channel. Once established, this species absolutely decimated the silver fish, which were the bread & butter of the match fishing fraternity and, all of a sudden, Pike were seen as the good guys. All the anti-predator venom was directed towards this, newly, introduced alien species. The PAC were able to use this as a vehicle to promote the catch & release message and, as such, Pike became a valued cog in the ecosystem of a healthy fishery.

Obsessive pursuit (1981 - 1993)

The reservoir complex, at Tring, is where this next phase of my journey began. Because of my syndicate membership I'd started to interact with so many, far more experienced, "big fish" anglers, thus it is easy to see why my approach to catching Pike evolved so rapidly. A live bait suspended beneath a "Pike bung" was never going to cut the mustard with these characters. Although Pike fishing was now well established as a mainstream part of the UK freshwater angling scene, therefore tackle and techniques had evolved an awful long way from the Alfred Jardine era. The crude tackle, I eluded to during my formative period, was still readily available in tackle shops across the UK. The Pike Anglers Club had a mighty task on their hands if things were to change irreversibly?

During this phase of my angling development I was like a sponge. Absorbing information from an incredible array of "A-list" specimen hunters of the period. My Pike angling would quickly evolve as, first, Lester Strudwick (RIP), then Andy Windmill (Luton region PAC) generously offered whatever advice I sought. The first trip to Scotland was in 1982 and Pike became central to all annual cycles from that time onward. Membership of the Pike Anglers Club was instrumental in me obtaining the knowledge, and confidence, to handle these magnificent fish on the bank. Learning how to unhook a Pike is a basic part of the skill-set required to be a "good" angler. Despite their ferocious looks, they are a fragile creature when out of the water and very careful handling is required to ensure their safe return. 

My involvement with NASA, both as the Chiltern Regional Organiser and member of The National Executive Committee, meant that Neville Fickling and Dr Barry Rickards came into my world and were there whenever I had a specific issue which needed overcoming. I have to say that both were incredibly generous with their knowledge and, as such, am very grateful for that time in my lunatic past. However, the stand out contributors to my Pike fishing adventure are the original "ET" guys. Eddie Turner (obviously) Bill Hancock and Vic Gibson. They were fishing Startops End, pioneering the Vane Float technique, whilst I was up on Wilstone. We first crossed paths (swords?) at a NASA Conference at Reading University. We hit it off immediately and remained good mates all the way through this period. Eddie was, arguably still is, the most innovative, hard working, thinking, Pike angler I've ever been privileged to meet.  If Eddie didn't have an answer? There wasn't one!

Eddie with a Wilstone "double"circa 1986?
 - everyone has to start somewhere!

I'm on a mission, size was everything. I fished big venues, for big Pike, and have to say that I did okay. I certainly didn't set the world ablaze, yet caught more than my fair share of "twenties" although if "nineteens" had been the target I'd probably have been World Champion? Two observations I'd like to make at this point. One: if I can be bothered to hook it, then I am certainly happy to weigh it. Guesstimation plays no part in my own angling. I have records of every double figure fish, be that Pike, Carp, Catfish, Bream or Barbel, since I started my angling career. Secondly, and this will resonate with many others, I'm sure? How many times have you entered into a conversation about angling where the other party will quote a capture, which far exceeds your best, yet claim that it was a one off? Never caught another before or since! Didn't own a set of scales, or a camera, would be my guess. The Fenland public houses were full of these characters. A pinch of salt and another beer is the best course of action under these circumstances.

The best "nineteen" I've ever been lucky enough to catch?

My pursuit of these Pike was ridiculous. Obviously Tring Reservoirs played a massive part in the story, but my travels took me from The Royalty, on the Hampshire Avon, to the Scottish Lochs. It didn't matter if I was on a Bedfordshire brick pit, a Northamptonshire park lake, the Cambridgeshire Fenland or the mighty Thames, my goal was constant. I wanted to catch big Pike! I wasn't chasing rumours - I was chasing dreams! Fortunately, from this perspective, I was to achieve my goal on multiple occasions. Life was good.

They don't get any better? A proper wild pike!
Forty-seven & a half inches from snout to tail fork!

Walking away from the "big fish" scene was, however, made very easy. August 1993, out on Madeira. Aboard Roddy Hayes boats, "Anguila" & "Margueretta" I caught, tag and release, Atlantic Blue Marlin to well in excess of 5.5 metres and nothing swimming around in a UK freshwater venue is ever going to compete with that! I was also about to relocate, with my job (massive thanks to Unilever), from Hertfordshire to Kent and, as a result, embarked upon an eighteen year sabbatical - bird watching. (Just as obsessive - but a tale for another post, perhaps?)

Return and rediscovery (April 2011 - onwards & upwards)

It can be traced back to the fateful date of July 15th 2010. My brother Simon celebrated his 50th birthday with a family gathering in his garden in the delightful village of Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire. As with all Wrathall family events, it got a bit messy, as the alcohol took its' toll. What I need to mention at this point is the fact that I was now a decade into my relationship with Bev, we'd married in December 2003, and she had absolutely no idea of my angling background. I was a birder and that's all she'd ever known. As the day passed, Benno decided that he'd a plan which warranted discussion? His proposal, to both Simon and myself, was that "we should go back to Loch Awe for one last session"

Benno on a charm mission - "Scotland just one more time with my Dad and Uncle"

Simon is by now a committed Barbel angler whilst I hadn't picked up a rod in eighteen years. Simon warmed to the idea, I wasn't all that bothered; "I'm a birder". At this point Bev got involved and gave the idea her approval. What had she done? If she could have foreseen the result I'm sure she'd have kept her thoughts to herself.

Benno cradles a Loch Awe Pike circa 1992 - powerful memories of a great period.

And so it came to pass that we returned to the peat stained magnificence of Kilchurn Bay at the top of Loch Awe. We all enjoyed a fantastic week, catching plenty of, hard fighting, Scottish Pike and, unsurprisingly, the spark had ignited the flame. I caught my first "doubles" since 1993 whilst Benno landed the first Scottish twenty I'd ever set eyes upon. Little wonder that my desire to get back fishing returned with a passion. The Pike season of 2011/12 was to prove to be a wonderful project as I began the quest for my first "twenty" since January 16th 1990. It was a campaign which kept giving, my first bite was 9 lbs 14 oz, the second weighed in at 18 lbs 8 oz, my first English double since March 1993. I never did get my twenty from that venue, indeed, it wasn't until February 2013 when I achieved that landmark capture. What I had done, however, was to become a much better Pike angler. My approach to the challenges I face is to catch as many fish as I can, not simply target the biggest. It seems mad that I've only managed to catch three twenties since my return. I used to do this over the course of a single winter back in the day. What I have done, however, is to catch many more doubles, well in excess of one hundred and fifty, over the same period. I think this is a fair reflection upon my preferred venue choices as opposed to methodology. I no longer feel the desire to compete with my peers, being perfectly content to do it my way and savour the journey.

My angling, in general, is now all about enjoyment. It doesn't matter which species I'm targeting, the overriding factor must be fun. Having an ability to get pleasure from the surroundings, the wildlife and even random conversations with complete strangers has meant that angling is now more rewarding than it's ever been during my crazy past. Please don't think that I've stopped chasing "big fish" as it is not the case but, now being able to appreciate the capture of any fish, by design, has taken the enjoyment to another level. Or could it be that I'm just getting old?

Cheers Benno, without whom I might still be birding?