Who am I?

An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to 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!


Tuesday 31 December 2013

2013 - A year of change?

Unlike most of the other inhabitants, of "Blogland", my review is not a well considered, and rational, look back over the previous twelve months. Oh no! Much too simple - this is a heart on my sleeve, as I write it, sort of effort. As I've already touched upon the angling aspects, in a previous post, I will attempt to recall some of the other events that occurred during the year - most of which enriched my life and/or aided my understanding of the natural world; but not all.
In January, Thanet, like many other parts of the UK, took a delivery of heavy snowfall - it wasn't until the end of the month that things looked like they might be picking up. On the final day of the month Emily and I stumbled across a Great Northern Diver in Ramsgate Harbour. It had been present for a couple of days prior to our sighting - I was down with the camera next day, minus one grand-daughter!
The adult winter Great Northern Diver which took up temporary residence
in the Outer Harbour (Jan/Feb 2013)
Spring was painfully slow to arrive; in fact I'd make so bold as to say that it missed Thanet entirely - certainly the expected waves of common summer migrants were conspicuous by their absence. Swallows failed to breed on my Newland's Farm patch for the first time in thirteen years and Swifts were as scarce as hen's teeth in the skies above Dumpton.
A superb little bird which performed exceptionally for the massed ranks of
pilgrims who assembled to pay homage.
It wasn't until April that anything much happened to cause me to get excited (away from the fishing). A Penduline Tit had taken up territory around the small clump of Greater Reed Mace on the Alder Wood Trail at Stodmarsh NNR. I decided to join the masses and pay tribute to the event by immortalising the individual on my memory card.
A cock Siskin at our garden feeding station - nuff sed!
It was next day that a stunning male Siskin decided to pay a visit to our garden feeding station. I was sat at our garden table, camera to hand, as events unfolded - a wonderful experience. The wonders of garden watching were not to be confined to birds; on the 28th April I discovered an Ashy Mining Bee nectaring on a dandelion. An easily identifiable insect, it appears to be the first record of the species for Thanet? (BWARS website)
A first record for Thanet?
Three weeks later, whilst visiting my daughter, I managed to catch up with a hoverfly which I'd hoped to find. In no way is it a rare insect, just one that I'd previously managed to avoid/overlook? With its sticky out beak, Rhingia campestris is a very distinctive species.
Un-mistakable, I think?
June means just one thing - the start of the coarse angling season on the UK's river network, however, it was also a month when Goldfinches dominated the garden feeding stations of Thanet. I bumped into Franny, as we both purchase more sunflower hearts in the pet shop at Newington, Brenda's garden hosting these wonderful finches in similar numbers to our own.
Feeding station Goldfinch
On the 15th June I was in situ, at the eastern end of Manston airfield, awaiting the arrival of the last airworthy Vulcan bomber XH 558. She arrived, without fuss or fancy - doing a couple of circuits before sedately touching down on the Manston runway. She remained for a week, leading up to the airshow - what a magnificent piece of engineering. What a magnificent advert for British vision and design - sadly now in the hands of a publicly funded charity - it all comes to an end in 2015!
Simply the best!
The summer was a rather pleasant period, weather wise, and on Thanet, sun tans were commonplace as residents and visitors, alike, took advantage of the coastal facilities on offer. Moths came and went, migrants being a very scarce commodity in the garden M.V. trap. For some strange reason Privet Hawk-moths enjoyed a bumper season.
Not the greatest shrike photo ever taken - It meant so much more than that.
It wasn't until October that anything further occurred. As I made my way home from work on that Friday lunch time. A Great Grey Shrike, a patch tick, chose to stay a couple of days; much to the delight of many local birders. This was, however, just the warm up act! On the morning of the 12th I was to witness an arrival of winter thrushes the like of which I'd never previously seen. The swirling clouds of Redwing, Fieldfares, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes was enough , but 200+ Ring Ouzels just put the "cherry on the cake!"
Wonderful memories of a once in a lifetime event for an inland patch watcher
At the end of the month the Wrathall clan attended a charity event, at Alan Duggard's Equestrian Centre - Strickly MK. What a night! It has to rank up there with the best that I've ever attended.
So that about rounds up my journey through 2013 - well almost! On 5th February my mum left us, to embark on the next stage of her journey. Her passing has left a massive void in the Wrathall family - yet we continue to move forward as a solid unit.
Happy memories - Mum and Dad
All that is left is for me to thank each and every visitor, to this blog, for your interest and support. I hope that 2014 will be all that you wish for yourselves and your families.

Monday 30 December 2013

Cuddles - a casualty of life's highway

Inspired by my recent fling with Luke Jennings' memoir and some other written matter, of a religious bent, I am drawn towards the role that others have played in my journey along life's "long and winding road"
I met Les "Cuddly" Dudley in the Top of the World P.H, some time in the early 1980's. I lived with my first wife, and very young family, just up the road and worked for Kodak Ltd. Les was a huge guy, with a character to match, who claimed to do a bit of fishing. He also did a bit of drinking! Frank Williams sold Breaker Malt Liquor in cans and Les was quite capable of seeing off a dozen, or more, during a lunch time session.
Lunatic Soup 
A constant source of stories, and opinions, he quickly became part of the gang - it was he who introduced the Mitchaleks to the scene.
Cuddles probably took this photo! The early 1980's on the banks of Kilchurn Bay.
There's no gold at the end of that rainbow - unless memories are of value?
I have recently taken to questioning why, and what, it's all about (you might have noticed?) and "Cuddles" keeps cropping up. He was very close to my mum, they spent many hours in conversation about how the loss of his mum had affected him. He was a great mentor to both Sarah-Jayne and Benno, during the Tring times and a wonderful companion to Simon and myself during the crazy days of Fenland and further afield. It was a photo of me playing a pike, on a Grice & Young "Big Piker" centre-pin that was the catalyst to my decision to make this post. I don't think that there is any acknowledgement to fact that Les existed on our planet, such was the sad way in which he was lost from our consciousness. He died, lonely, and un-missed, in a caravan out on a remote farm in the Hertfordshire backwaters. He just disappeared from the scene as alcohol became the dominating factor in his life.
A mid-double from Three Holes on the Middle Level
In between these dates there was a great deal of happiness; time spent enjoying the pursuit of big fish and the quest for an unobtainable "pot of gold" that was always just out of reach. Les's personality was larger than life, in your face, full on - he was a guy who lived for the moment. 24 cans of Tennant's Super in a day and up again for the same tomorrow - it was always going to kill him; and it did!
Cuddles with a zed - right back at the start of our angling journey
My memories of Les are happy ones - we got caught "guesting" Westbere Lake one Boxing Day (1987?) by a bailiff with two Alsatian dogs. Les would have eaten them - the guy was informed that we had no tickets and he replied that he didn't want to see us when he returned, in about an hour! Fair play, we packed up and went to the pub!
Early 1980's - Cuddles with a decent mid-double from Kilchurn Bay
It didn't matter where we ended up, Les was able to make light of the situation and have a "small light ale" just to ensure we hadn't overlooked the obvious! A late evening session in the Tight Line, at Loch Awe, coincided with a Scotland victory over England (1-0) and the group of guys around the pool table quickly let Les, Simon and myself know that we'd been beaten. Les had no interest in such things. I suggested we drink up and get back to the rods. Simon need to use the toilet and I warned Les that if any of the "jocks" went in after him we'd have to do something! It didn't happen and the tables completely turned when Simon started a conversation with guys - absolute pandemonium ensued. We were treated as royalty and at 03.00hrs we staggered out of the pub - Les collapsing at the bottom of a spiral staircase. As if yesterday, I recall Big Gus, uttering those immortal words "The big fellars doon an I cannae lift him!"
Les with the heaviest pike that we took from the Sixteen Foot system.
Les was a very accomplished angler, who caught more than his fair share when measured against others of the period. He was just as capable with a float rod, the Grand Union Canal being a venue where "can't you get any closer?" was a familiar phrase as Les conducted intellectual dialogue with the barge users who came too close. A pouch full of maggots usually sufficed, but occasionally there would be the lock side confrontations when a particularly odious encounter had to be resolved. I remain amazed that the boat owners didn't realise that the canal is divided up into short sections as it passes over the Chilterns and that they would be forced to stop at regular intervals. Lock gate exchanges could get quite lively - if you get my drift?
A nice double from the River Thames, at Mapledurham, Berks.
He wasn't an angel, but neither was he a sinner! A lovable rogue, who brought a sense of occasion to any gathering. This does nothing like enough to be worthy of his memory, but, in my own little way, it is a start.

Sunday 29 December 2013

This is why

Evelyn, Bryn and a lunatic Grand-dad - the very essence of my existence

A walk in the winter sun

It's a beautiful day and, learning of a Yellow-browed Warbler in Ramsgate, I decided that a trip to King George VI Park might be a plan? I have no idea where the warbler has been seen: KG VI is always a good bet for the species so off I went. I spent an hour, or so, wandering around the park - no other birders to be seen; so I assume the Yellow-browed was at another location? I saw nothing to quicken the pulse, yet still enjoyed my time. A quick look along the under cliff, below Winterstoke Steps, revealed that a huge number of other Thanet residents were of a same mind and enjoying the conditions down on the beach.
Un-surprisingly birds were at a premium, although the Fulmars have already returned to their nesting ledges in some numbers. A small number of Pied Wagtails were feeding along the tide line, and I found a rather confiding Rock Pipit on the concrete groyne below the San Clu Hotel.
A species which breeds around our Thanet coastline, the numbers are bolstered by
winter migrants whose plumage is very different from our resident population.
A nice change; it is a route which I will be taking, with greater regularity, in the coming months as I attempt to get out birding again.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Looking for a life in balance!

I was almost tempted to use "Mission Impossible" as the title of this offering. As the new year approaches, I am confident that the vast majority of those souls, who choose to read this drivel, will also be planning for a "new start". Bev and I have both decided that we need to make changes to our life styles, committing ourselves to support each other as we embark upon a wish list of change. It's our 10th Wedding Anniversary, tomorrow, and we've come an awful long way in that time. Taking each other for granted is symptomatic of a mature relationship - we hope to challenge this by a change in our daily routines.
On a personal note, I want to make birding a bigger part of my life - the pendulum has swung too far towards the importance of angling - yet I spend very little time physically involved in that aspect of my enjoyment of the outdoors. Living on Thanet means that I have quality (it's all relative!) birding on my doorstep and that is something I've overlooked for a couple of years. I hope that 2014 will see a reversal of this trend, without being detrimental to my angling efforts?
1st winter male Black Redstart along the under cliff between Broadstairs and Dumpton Gap
Benno, Luke and myself were on the RMC before 07.00hrs, this morning, and endured a 100% blank for our effort. We were witness to the actions of a canoeist who can only be described as a "selfish cunt!" - he committed no crime, but had other options available to him, and his training regime, which wouldn't involve spoiling others enjoyment of the facility. We moved swims. In my past his activities would have been a declaration of war and violence, or the threat, would have been very likely. Today, the boys and I simply couldn't be arsed. We were at the canal, enjoying the banter and each others company; we didn't need this shit. Dog walkers, joggers, cyclists and umpteen other recreational users manage to co-exist along this fabulous venue - what a shame that this goon feels he has special privilege. We have never had any problems with other canoeists, their activities being no more disturbance than a landing swan or a dog fetching a stick/ball from the water. The canal inhabitants have seen it all before and do not perceive it as a threat - it doesn't affect the fishing, unlike the picking up of lines, with a paddle, because the prick couldn't keep to the far bank.

Racial variation amongst the Rock Pipits, that winter around the Thanet coastline,
has provided me with many hours of entertainment.
I finished reading Luke Jennings' "Blood Knots" and have to say that it was a fascinating experience. It is nowhere close to the best book I've ever read about angling exploits but that does this particular read a great disservice. It is a wonderfully observed discovery of the wider world and the incredible power of loyalty, family and  friendship. Luke's recollections of his time within the Catholic boarding school education system are, to me, an horrific insight into this dubious organisation. That his salvation comes from within the system speaks volumes for the individuals involved and the power, that we all have, to overcome the darkest of times. I owe Mr Gale a pint for recommending this book to me - I have already started to give it a second grilling, just in case I missed something on my first visit!
Purple Sandpipers are a fantastic species which occur in decent numbers around the Thanet coastline
My photos, that accompany this waffle, are of birds that regularly occur around the Thanet coastline - so await my return in 2014.
A 1st winter male Stonechat (S. t. hibernans). We also get odd individuals of the race S. t. rubbicola
Something that the "old guard" are unable to understand - and they wonder why they are obsolete?

Friday 27 December 2013

What's it all about?

"No shit Sherlock" - If there was ever a defining question; this one has got to be it! Does anybody, on this side of eternity, have a clue? - discuss
I'm sat here listening to the music of my formative years and reading the C.S. Lewis "Screw tape Letters" - a journey into the dark side; one which C.S. Lewis described as without love. He gave Tolkien some credit for the adventure, although Tolkien had warned against such deep scrutiny of the powers of evil.
As a complete numbty, I am unable to make any comment beyond the simplistic, I remain enthralled by the power that the "unknown journey" has upon my daily existence. I want to be Reepicheep - that mouse in C.S. Lewis's "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" who had the courage to walk towards the edge of the known world. and beyond (without fear or regret) - credit  Kronenbourg 1664 (it could easily have been Sella Artois)
Don't get worried, I ain't in the depths of suicide; I'm actually sorting out the tackle I require for another session on the RMC. The C.S. Lewis stuff has been brought to the fore by our recent trip to Bourne End; my sister-in-law had a copy of said "screw-tape letters" on a CD. I wrote some stuff, when mum passed away, about my desire to discover what it was all about. I didn't require then, and still don't, the input by any members of the devout, the righteous, or the plain deluded. I'm a guy who, at 58, doesn't require someone to point me in the right direction; I'll find my own way. If mum had any answers beyond a stoic belief,, then Stella Artois might get me there! I'll keep looking.

Thursday 26 December 2013

A wanderer returns

On 11th April 2012, I had the good fortune to record a North Thames Gull Group C-R Herring Gull on our bungalow roof. For some strange reason, there was a spate of six or seven C-R birds recorded during that month. My records show that Orange/black HJ7T. was ringed, as a 2nd cy, at Pitsea on 23.01.2010, my sighting on 11.04.2012 being the first, in the UK, since that date (there were, however, three reports from France in the period between these dates)

HJ7T. - on our bungalow roof (11th April 2012)
On Christmas morning, I was outside chucking some scraps up onto the roof of our extension, when I noticed an orange C-R on one of the assembled Herring Gulls which were squabbling over the food. I rushed inside and grabbed my camera, but by the time I got back the feeding frenzy had died away and I managed just a poor flight shot, as the bird swept overhead - the ring almost covered by the contour feathers of its' body.
Now a lovely looking adult - the ring remained tantalisingly unread during my first encounter
So this morning, armed with camera gear and a huge tray of Christmas dinner left-overs, I once again went through the ritual of chucking the food up onto the extension roof (It's a felted flat affair - I'm sure you know what I mean) It worked like a charm, within seconds there were gulls arriving from all directions and there, in their midst, was a gleaming adult with a bright orange ring. Camera up and ready to go. The majority of my efforts were totally useless but, as with most of my photographic attempts, I managed to get a shot that allows the ring code to be read - job done!
HJ7T. - not too shabby a result with my vintage equipment and total lack of skill
Once I discovered that this was a bird that I'd previously seen in Vine Close, I checked through my files to see what time period had elapsed? Site loyalty is something which I find fascinating; was this bird hatched locally or is Vine Close on some sort of Herring Gull "Grand Tour"? (Taking in Pitsea, Dumpton, Boulogne and the Nord pas de Calais)
So what if I failed to get the whole bird in the shot? Artistic interpretation - call it creative cropping?
I have somewhat neglected birding over the passed couple of years and feel that I've rather missed a trick here and there. I used to get a great deal of enjoyment from visiting Ramsgate Harbour and the under cliff. I have made a promise, to myself, that in 2014 I will once more put in a few hours, each week purely for the purpose of watching our local bird life. Like all New Years' resolutions - quite how long this lasts will probably depend on a number of factors, none more important than am I seeing enough to warrant my efforts? If I do little else, the chance to get involved with a bit more "ring recording" will be a nice distraction away from the conundrums posed by the local freshwater fisheries.

Friday 20 December 2013

Will they?

On 10th February 1991 I went, with Bill Pegram, to Kenton Railway Station, Harrow, in order to twitch Waxwings. There were four bird feeding on some ornamental berries, I recorded them as hawthorn, but they might just as well have been peaches! I knew nothing, and still know very little, about plants. The illustration, from my diary, is the upper limit of my artistic ability and, as such, a demonstration why the digital revolution has played a vital role in my continued interest. First it was digi-scoping, using my Kowa TSN and a Nikon CP 775 (2 million pixel) compact camera, progressing to a CP 7600 then, via a Fuji Finepix "bridge camera", to my present (vintage?) Canon EOS d400 and Sigma 170-500mm lens.
10.02.1991 - Kenton Railway Station
My point is that I felt the need to twitch Waxwings - at that stage in my birding development; they were a very special species which required a specific set of weather conditions to precipitate such an occurrence in our part of the UK. My pathetic illustration was the only way which I could ensure that my diary was able to recall more of the event, rather than a boring collection of day lists and counts when looking at it at a later date. I realise now that the artwork was naive, to the point that it represented what I thought I should have seen - rather than the details of the individual (s) that I had actually witnessed. What is central, however, is the fact that this silly, inaccurate, caricature is capable of transporting me back to that chilly February afternoon, when I first managed to see a Waxwing!
A female, one of a group of four, that I found feeding along Dumpton Gap Road, Ramsgate.
They were very scarce visitors to Kent in the 2009/2010 winter - so "twitch on!"
They caused quite a stir.
The advent of the digital revolution has meant that my artistic skills are no longer required, even the most technophobic dullard (that's me) has been given the tools to capture images of what we encounter. Modern phones are better able to image capture than the most advanced dSLR cameras of the early years of the new millennium - technological advancement at a pace to create, rather than satisfy, demand. In recent winters, it seems, Waxwings are far more regular in their appearances in the SE. I have used my image capture technology, in its' various guises, to record the actual birds that I've had the good fortune to see - so the records are of actual birds, not a wishy-washy attempt at art.
With all this stuff going on, the early digital gear hasn't become bad, it has become less good? I still use my EOS d400 - purely because I'm unable to justify the expense of a new camera; given the amount of use it would get. If money were no object? Sure, I'd get another DSLR camera and lens - but it is, and I ain't, the results that can be obtained by my, now very unfashionable, gear is perfectly usable for the purpose of blogging. I don't think that this is too far removed from my attitude to fishing tackle - sure there have been some major innovations in rod and reel technology - yet the gear I use is still capable of dealing with anything I'm expecting to catch within the UK.
Pegwell Bay NNR - Boxing Day 2011

It doesn't matter how many times I encounter these wonderful birds, it is always a pleasure.
Do they look surprised? Or are they just puzzled by all the attention?
Will we get another Waxwing invasion in 2013/14 winter period? I've already recorded a group of five birds, flying over Pyson's Road Ind. Est. and Birdguides are reporting odd sightings from other parts of the UK. With the weather forecasters predicting some atrocious weather in the northern regions of Europe, there are all the ingredients, in place, to see Waxwings make their advances across the North Sea and down through Scotland and England to, once again, grace the Cotoneaster and Rowan berries of Thanet - I live in hope. If the sighting of a Waxwing ever proves to be a disappointment, then I will cease looking at our natural world! They are that special in my own journey, of discovery, to ensure that every encounter is a special one.

Not every image has to be of top quality, there might well be some details that would be missed if all that was attempted
was a field sketch. How many observers would have spotted the combination of coloured rings?
1/500th sec is all that was required to grab this shot - a great deal less time than was required to make my crappy sketch!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

My 2013 angling odyssey

Odyssey?? Ain't that what Jason and the Argonauts embarked upon? My angling exploits, of 2013, have to be considered in a similar context - a leap of faith, a journey into the unknown. As all "bloggers" head towards 2014, there is an un-written rule that a review of the year's highlights must be posted in the run up to January 1st. It is impossible for me to ignore the passing of my mother, a huge void remains, yet 2013 has been a good year in general terms. Work is steady, Bev and I celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary on 29th Dec and we had two new additions to our family - all very positive.
My first 20lbs+ pike since 16th January 1990. A milestone event - just a few days after mum passed away!
I am convinced that she was looking down and smiling - I was on my own and it was an emotional occurrence.
Fishing plays a small, yet important, part in my life. It is my link to the natural world, away from the Newland's Farm patch, that I consider my home turf. I have tried my best to select those, defining, events that are able to summarise the angling journey through 2013.
Our trip to Loch Awe was a phenomenal success - pike fishing of a quality that I've never previously experienced anywhere. The holiday was a fantastic mix of memories borne of being outdoors in the company of friends and family - happy days!

Tom and Benno with a female Mallard that they caught in their "landing-net trap"
She was released safely - no need to call the cyber police.
Simon gazes at a magnificent 20lbs+ pike - Kilchurn Castle provides the backdrop
A mid-double; one of thirty eight caught during the week - hectic stuff
Benno and I then planned an assault on the barbel of the Kentish Stour - what a mistake? Despite our best efforts, we came up well short of my expectations - it's the hardest angling challenge I've ever undertaken.
Benno gazes at our first Kentish Stour "double"
Being there, landing net in hand, ensured that I was very much a part of this occasion.

A barbel beyond my wildest dreams - 13lbs 14oz
Benno was on hand to grab a few record shots - magic memories of a crazy project.
Yes, we did enjoy our moments of success, but I feel that we never came close to unravelling the bigger mysteries posed by these fish. Benno and Simon think that I'm being hard on myself? I have my own reasons for being frustrated - opinions; it's what helps the world rotate!
My best, so far, from the 2013/14 pike season
The 2013/2014 pike season is upon us and, already, Benno is 7 - 1 up in the doubles stakes. This is a worry, until the very basic statistic of lbs & oz are considered. His best fish weighed in at 15lbs; my only double being 18lbs 9oz - job done! Well not quite - I'm back out tomorrow and also have a session planned for Sunday morning. Over the Christmas break there is a session at Wilstone to be enjoyed, so it's not over 'til the "fat lady" sings

Time flies!

Without any cyber fall-outs, or major rants; somehow my latest venture into "Blogland" has reached its' first anniversary. A whole year of diary notes, loosely based upon my experiences within angling and the wider appreciation of the natural world, but going off at tangents whenever I felt the need. I must admit that I've rather enjoyed myself. It would seem that bloggers have found a niche and there are very many worthy opinions being aired or, possibly, it's simply because we're all getting a little too long in the tooth for all the aggro. Live and let live now seems to be the general consensus?
If I am able to get any of my grand-children interested in angling,
then I will have done something positive.
I can't help but think that this modern world has replaced the natural wonderment
with a virtual reality that will negate the need for our children (and their children's, children)
going to discover things for themselves?
Hopefully my blogging will continue in this happy vein - a sharing of my thoughts, and experiences, via the, mind-blowing, vastness of Internet technology. I have no idea, as to where this venture will lead. To quote, the late, George Harrison - "If you don't know where you're going; any road will take you there!" That about sums up my outlook on life, in general. Of course I have one or two ambitions that I'd like to achieve before my day of judgement, however, the route taken can meander, like a lowland river across a floodplain. Catching fish, seeing the grand-children grow up, enjoying my time with Bev and our families; all equally important in my future plans.
Natural history and my interest in "most things" that co-exist within my environment will continue to provide scope for my enjoyment - even if it's the chance to share such delights with my grand-children? Emily is already quizzical in her own way. She delights in the sight of butterflies, (buzzy) bees, birds (generally sea-gulls, sorry Herring Gulls!) and other creatures that we encounter.  My hope is for continued good health and happiness - probably the wishes of the entire human race?  Beyond that; I will go with the flow as life dictates.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Tain't what you do - It's the way that you do it!

A classic track by Bananarama and Fun Boy Three - one I now find myself , and my approach to "big fish" angling, summarised by these very words. Luke Jennings has made reference, in Blood Knots, to the three stages of development that every angler undergoes (assuming they don't become disillusioned and jump ship!). Stage one - just catch fish; of any size, of any species, it's the fact that you are fishing that provides the motivation. Stage two - specialisation? It might manifest itself as a desire to become a (club) match angler, pursue a single species or, as in my case, catch the biggest fish, of whatever species, that inhabited the waters that I had access to.
Stage three - and where I am at today - it's no longer what I catch; it's all about the techniques and tackle that I use to catch it. Enjoyment is no longer proportional to a bare statistic, provided by a set of scales - give me a centre-pin and a floppy 1lbs 2oz T/C rod and I'll show you a contented angler!
Of course I still love catching specimen fish, and I'd be a liar if I said any different. However, big fish are no longer the be all and end all of my angling expectations; I now pursue the enjoyment obtained by how I've out-witted my quarry and the greater understanding of their habits and quirks. (What made the barbel fishing of The R.Stour so frustrating - I never got close)
I watched a Youtube video of a guy using the lift-method (a traditional float fishing technique) for catching tench - superb content and imagery. It finished with the revelation (to me) that Dick Walker had never captured a 6lbs tench!
The whole purpose of this clip was to extol the virtues of the float over modern "bolt rig type set-ups" and to help sell DVD's. From what I saw the filming was top drawer; the angler very competent and knowledgeable. As he returned a 6lbs+ fish I have to admit to a twinge of envy - how I love tench and tench fishing. Unfortunately for me, however, is the fact that my tench fishing experiences are based around a golden period on the "greatest" tench fishery in UK history - Wilstone Res, Tring. It won't matter where I now seek tench, there is no way that I will ever re find tench fishing of that calibre. Yes, it is not unreasonable to seek a new PB, but will the fishery be as steeped in angling folklore, the backdrop quite so foreboding, as the concrete lined banks of Wilstone Res? The population of specimen tench, which inhabited the depths of the reservoir, during the period 1981-93, was phenomenal. I caught more than my fair share (well over 100 individuals) of 7lb+ fish with two 8's and a 9lbs 2oz during my time at this magnificent fishery. It is quite likely that my memories are rose-tinted and the reality wasn't quite so simplistic.
I used this image when I was "Non-conformist" blogging. The fact that Angler's Mail
(w/e 12.06.1993) thought my approach, to this single venue, was of interest to
 a wider audience, demonstrates how much angling has moved on.
The carp culture has now re-defined the rules and, as such, tench have a very small core of
dedicated anglers, all others, being carp orientated, mean that these wonderful fish
 are a "nuisance" species - caught by accident by carp anglers who, due to their chosen
tackle, are unable to appreciate the fighting qualities of these superb fish.
The technique used, for these fish, was one that had been specifically designed, by a consensus of the thinking anglers who were fishing the venue at this time; we all used long distance ledgering tactics (with two hooks - as allowed for in the fishery by-laws) incorporating bread/maggot cocktail hook baits and Drennan feeders over a pre-baited area. It wasn't bolt rig angling, but far more akin to that method than any float fishing technique. I can't see what other options were available to us given the distances involved? If I make a return to these wonderful fish, despite my desire to ensure that the tackle/technique will provide the adrenaline rush, I will have no qualms using ledgered bread/maggot hook baits. I think that my major issue will be attempting to remove Wilstone memories from any present day situation. The experiences, and education, that I've enjoyed at this water are enough to mean that,it is my spiritual homeland - a place of almost religious significance! (Sye and I are going back for a morning session during the Christmas break - "It might get emotional?")
Posing with an 8lbs+ tench - Cyanide Strait beyond. My nylon "Brolly Camp", slung over a 50" wave lock umbrella,
the central aluminium pole required to hold the whole thing upright!
I have no desire to relive the discomforts of these old times, just the excitement and quality of the angling that I was
fortunate enough to experience.
If I do choose to make tench my target, for the next season, there is no way that float presentation will be a requirement. If there is a chance of me returning to the tackle and techniques of my past - I'll happily give it a go, even prepared to use pellets in place of my favoured bread/maggot cocktails. What I draw the line at is using boilies (mini-boilies) on a hair rig with semi-fixed leads - refined carp tactics are not an option I wish to pursue, effective as they undoubtedly are! I won't be using bait-runners either, my ABU Cardinal 44x's being perfectly capable of dealing with the demands of any hard fighting tench within my casting range. Duncan Kay, 1lbs 10oz t/c, 11'6" carbon fibre rods; 8lbs b.s. mainline with 5lbs "double strength" hook links and size 14 Kamatsan "chemically sharpened" hooks. Big tench are awesome creatures, every bit as magnificent as carp and barbel in their sporting capabilities, my project will be to find a venue where the tench fishing can provide the challenge that Wilstone had offered over two decades previously? Westbere might be an option - but do I want to compete with the crowds? A certain drain, out on the Worth Marshes, might just provide salvation - it's a long way off my decision day and I may well get side-tracked along the way!
My best pike taken using a centre-pin - 23lbs 4oz (Lynch Hill, Oxfordshire)

I fished the RMC this morning, landing two pike (best around 8/9lbs) and messing up two other chances - I bumped what might have been a very good fish at 09.50hrs - such is life! Benno, Luke and, my brother, Simon were fishing at a Sussex water. Just after I'd packed up, Benno rang with the news that Simon had landed a pike of 21lbs 14oz - a fantastic fish from a very difficult venue. Another phone call, in the early afternoon, relayed the news that Benno had also landed a pike, although a modest specimen of 10lbs 8oz. Back at the canal; I fancied my chances of another fish, but time dictated otherwise - I was on my way home by 10.30hrs. I have another chance on Thursday - I have two days' annual leave to take before 24th Dec.
Simon with a 21lbs 14oz pike  - the second "twenty" in two outings!
It was caught using a bait boat and fish finder! Would I find any enjoyment in such an approach?
Get real - a big fish is a result in spite of the methods used to fool it into taking the anglers' bait

My head is spinning with ideas of carp, chub, barbel, tench and perch - not a lot changes in reality? I seek a project for next season - but I seek a project that will allow me to "go my own way" and ensure that competition doesn't spoil the vibe. Between then and now, I have a pike seaason to negotiate - a 23lbs 5oz fish on the centre-pin will do it. Have I the venue, the skills, or the technique, to resolve this particular challenge?

Tuesday 10 December 2013

I wasn't expecting this!

My morning walk (05.30hrs) across to Pyson's Road was a rather non-descript journey. It was damp and dark, that's it! A lone Robin sang its melancholy lament, under the illumination of a street lamp, and a couple of Blackbirds were already searching for breakfast - using the same light source. The rigours of my factory routine ensured that I saw very little daylight between 06.00 & 14.00 hrs - not an issue, it goes with the territory. My walk home, however, was in bright sunshine and under blue skies - yet I was still taken aback when I almost trod on a Peacock butterfly. Obviously an individual that had been displaced from a winter roost site (probably in a stack of pallets?) I picked up and took it home, releasing it in one of our sheds where, hopefully, it will find adequate shelter for the coming winter period.
I photographed it in a derelict hanging basket - complete with buddleia shoots!
This is my first butterfly sighting since a Red Admiral on 15th November 2013.
My latest record, however, is also of a Red Admiral at Dungeness RSPB - 18th Dec 1997
My birds were quickly fed and watered before Bev and I set off to see Debbie, Emily and Harry - just across town. Emily and I took a walk down to Dragoncarp and the sweetshop, well that's what grand parents are for - isn't it? The guys in Dragoncarp gave me a "double hook" that had been brought in by an elderly angler. I have never seen anything quite like it. The hook is from an era when pike fishing was purely for the pot or trophy room - either way, the fish was destined to die.
The coin is a 10p - this hook being a shocking size designed purely for a single purpose.
I have found a few images of similar hooks, generally with pike flies attached.
As a hook for dead baiting? I fear that the best unhooking technique, in the world, would struggle to remove this
creation from a pikes' stomach - simply hideous.

This, barbaric, example of our angling history is exactly why the Pike Anglers Club of GB exists. Benno telling me of a "large" pike being beaten to death by a carp angler who didn't want to touch it (without a weapon, that is) - the incident allegedly taking place at Iden Lock. Shame I wasn't there to witness the event - it would have made quite a post - a skinny hippy sticking a carp rod up someone's arse!
However, what this says more than anything else is that everyone places importance in different places. The carp angler - pike are unimportant; a disposable commodity? Me - pike are very important (being a native species - so unlike the carp which was introduced by the Romans) and it is the carp angler, and his priorities, that are of little value to angling/me! It didn't happen and the reality would have been that the geezer was a monster and I wouldn't have made any agressive remarks within earshot! Still; it's nice to dream on about what it would be like if you were master of your own destiny - sadly, for most of us, we'll never know.

Monday 9 December 2013

Don't look back ....?

The "buzz words" at FSIS, my employer, are "Don't look back, look forwards" a phrase aimed at focusing the energy of the workforce to the continued success of our business. In this context, it is a sentiment, and an ethic, to which I whole-heartedly agree.

However, in all other aspects of my life, I feel that the ability to draw from the past is a positive, thus looking back can provide a great deal of benefit - I suppose it must be the definition of experience? At the recommendation of a certain Mr Gale, I have recently taken to reading a wonderful book - written by Luke Jennings - Blood Knots. It is a superbly crafted collection of memories from a bygone era, post WW2, in which Luke takes his readers on an emotional journey of family relationships, friendship and the discovery of the wonders of our natural world, via the route of angling. (I've not finished it yet, so be prepared for another post on the subject in the not too distant future.)
My very dear friend, Mr John Hollyer, must take credit for this quote, "Every generation feels the need to re-invent the wheel!" Oh, how I wish that had been me making that statement - John is one of the founder members of Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, so has been looking at our natural world for a very long time. I remember sitting in a hide and watching him do a field sketch of a Red-necked Phalarope on the back of an unfolded cigarette packet - with a biro! These were the skills that were required when John set out on his journey of discovery - notebooks and sketches were cutting edge stuff.

I moved to Kent in August 1993 - straight away I was confrontational! 234! - is that the best Kent year-list? Don Taylor, another member of the established county scene, had written a book entitled "Birdwatching in Kent" which was to be superseded by the publication of "Birding in Kent". The pages of these two tomes contained the descriptions of the trials and tribulations of Kent year listing. Don was the record holder with a total of 242 species - I made it my goal to beat this! After a couple of years of getting into the Kent birding scene, I was ready for battle. The year was 1999 and Kent was to enjoy a halcyon period. Mobile phone technology was widely available and, as such, there were a network of communication links available. I was able to obliterate Don's record - I finished the year on 263 (before they had split Caspian and Yellow-legged Gull) and couldn't count Booted Eagle or Black-winged Pratincole! If there was a definition of obsessive behaviour, then my 1999 exploits would be right up there!
The experience was one of great thrills, camaraderie, adrenaline and selfish-ness. It cost me a marriage and so much more - would I change it?  Hindsight - what a wondrous gift? Older, and wiser (I would like to think), I wonder what would be my reaction to a younger birder who asked when I last "Boomed?" - "Fuck off cunty boy" might not be answer they were expecting? But then would "Touch me Perce!" being any more to their liking? My mate, Des Taylor, once said to a youngster who'd asked a stupid question, "If you see a weasel, piss in its' ear!" - works every time!
I am glad that that was not the reaction I received when I first appeared on the Kent scene - so feel, that despite the differences, I would attempt to be a little more understanding of the next generation? Luke Jennings, Steve Gale and myself are certainly not comfortable in this whirlpool of technological advancements - looking back is into our comfort zone! Boom, posse, rare! As much as these things are alien to my way of thinking - they are the reality of where birding is headed. If the likes of John Hollyer and Don Taylor had recoiled at the "new generation" and their technology, I would not be as interested as I am now - understanding and tolerance; that's the key! In our past we were perceived as radicals by the establishment - so nothing changes!

Sunday 8 December 2013

York Christmas Market

I (we) have just got back home after a couple of nights in Yorkshire. The purpose of this trek being to deliver a few Christmas presents, do a bit of socialising and visit the City of York to enjoy (endure?) the Christmas Market. Bev and I were joined by Ron & Denise (her mum and dad) on our visit and, despite my fears, it was a very enjoyable trip. The York Christmas Market being a fantastic mix of hype and culture; taking place within the historic streets of the walled city - so much more enjoyable than the event we visited in Whinchester a couple of years ago.
There was a lovely vibrancy about the place. It was mobbed out, yet there was no irritation amidst the crowds - just smiling faces and a good to alive vibe. I carried my camera in the hope of capturing some of the feel of our visit. I'm not too sure that I've managed it - yet the photos are a great memory jogger for me.

My initial thoughts, on arrival, were to attempt to capture the feel of the architecture; the very essence of the city. However, it was people, not buildings, that provided the bulk of my interest - some of the acts that were "busking" were top drawer performers. The atmosphere that they helped create was a delight; frantic shoppers, the waft of "mulled wine", twinkling Christmas lights, Cafe society - looking on, the Christmas jumper wearing, office parties, pub crawling their way around the city; without threat or violence! It really was a very pleasant experience (No, I don't work for the York City tourist board!)

My lasting memory is not one that is associated with Christmas, York, or even the UK! One of the buskers was of Peruvian (?) ancestry and was dressed in full "Native American" regalia - he looked spectacular. What's more he could perform. Using pipes, nose-flute and other assorted instruments, he provided an impromptu show outside the Disney Store. I was mesmerised; Ron and I spending nearly half an hour watching this guy deliver his music - somewhere between "Pan Pipe Moods" and Moby!
The Glass Caves - a tight unit of very capable, enthusiastic, young musicians. Good luck guys!

Whoever he is - it worked for me!
York City Christmas market - a fantastic advert for the city! I can also recommend a couple of pints in The Three Tuns; quality service in a city fully geared up (and happy) to cater for visitors.