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!


Monday 30 March 2015

If only she could have known

Picture the scene. It is a wonderfully hot, sunny, (July 2010) afternoon in Buckinghamshire. My family and friends are gathered in the sleepy hollow, that is Aston Clinton, celebrating, Simon's, my youngest brother, 50th birthday. I think it fair to state, here and now, that more than a few light ales had been consumed before Benno hatched the plan to re-visit Loch Awe for one last pike fishing trip, just as we'd done so many times during his childhood. Those were the days before parents had to ask, permission from, school teachers how best to bring up their kids. Please sir, can I take my child out of school to go on holiday? This is not me having a pop at school teachers, on this occasion - it's interfering politicians; whose own kids will have been sent to boarding schools, thus negating the requirement of child/parent bonding, who are the cause of this particular problem.

Benno - aged 7 or 8, with a couple of pike from Startop's End Res. Tring
Anyway, Benno first went to Loch Awe when he was a few day's older than four! I think that he had five trips under his belt before he started secondary school. Whatever the hardships, these experiences couldn't have been that bad as, twenty years later, he wanted to re-live them! To my way of thinking, these holidays were as educational as anything else he experienced, or was taught, as he grew up? That he has grown up to be a level-headed guy with a decent education and a trade is testament to the balance family life and education played during these formative years.

Looking like an advert for child neglect? Benno playing a pike in Kilchurn Bay 1991.
As his father, I feel sure he learned more during a week away with me, and the crazy crew, than he
 would have done at school, at this stage in his development? 
Back to this post! I hadn't picked up a rod in nearly 18 years, Bev had no idea of my angling past (we didn't get together until June 2000)  beyond a few casual sessions in The Top of the World and/or The Gade & Goose PH's, in Hemel Hempstead, when we'd bumped into some of the guys who'd been involved in the Blue Marlin adventure of July 1993. If she'd half an idea to where this would lead there is no way that she would have said "Yeah; go for it!" when asked her opinion of Benno's idea on that fateful July afternoon.

8 lbs 7 oz - the catalyst to my rediscovery of the joys of angling and the start of the next chapter.
The first fish I had caught in over 18 years - if only Bev could had known?
This second time around, my angling is nowhere as obsessional, although it might not appear so, as in my past - I now simply wish to go fishing. What I lacked, in my first stint, has been rectified by the regular accompaniment of my son, now a fully fledged, and accomplished, "big fish" angler in his own right.
Although I still crave big fish; it is more important that I now do it in a manner that befits the capture. It's how I do it and not how big the fish, that defines success within my present day angling.
The Scottish trip is getting closer, by the day, but I'm still concentrating my thoughts on a couple of carp sessions before we go. I've been reading a lot of material on particle fishing and watching some magnificent camera work, if very amateur presenters, on Youtube. I've a head full of ideas, just got to find time to put them into practice. I am hoping to use the local commercials to try a few ideas before attempting to pursue a PB from either the RMC or The Stour - all pie in the sky at present.

I caught this chap whilst perch fishing. It took a float fished prawn on 6lbs b.s. line,
using my Match Aerial centre-pin on a Tring Tench Rod - proper fun fishing.
I enjoyed the experience very much, but it wasn't a deliberate capture, so, alas, I can take
 little credit for the event.
There are many local club/day ticket fisheries where I could easily beat my carp PB, given a sustained effort, but none of them have the right vibe. I wouldn't be comfortable in the surroundings or the company (my problem not the other anglers!) It is purely because my carp fishing has to take the form of angler pitting their wits against a cunning quarry rather than a technician setting a trap. I want the freedom to stalk my prize, not be stuck in a swim awaiting a fish to find me. As I've said - I'm more bothered by the methods involved than the actual size of my ultimate result. Just in case any one is particularly interested, the PB I seek to improve upon is a very modest 23 lbs 14 oz - taken in February 1984 (when it was a very good fish indeed).

Friday 27 March 2015

End of an era and stuff

Today is my final one, working with the guys, on "A" shift - from Monday I am to be a permanent "B" shifter! The end of a very enjoyable period, of my employment, and start of another chapter? To mark this auspicious occasion I am allowed (expected!) to buy the cakes for tea break; all part of factory ritual and something I embrace happily. It was 07.00 hrs, therefore, that I made my way across Newlands Farm to the dizzy excitement that is Asda, just a five minute walk past work. I took my bins with me, almost  the first bird I saw was a female Blackcap in a garden at the end of  Vine Close, a couple of decked Redwings and three Rooks feeding amongst the hoards of Carrion Crows, but that was it! Cakes purchased, I was back home before 07.45 hrs, job done (I'm on "lates" and don't start until 13.00 hrs on a Friday). Oh yeah, there was a C-R Herring Gull in Asda car park - Orange/Black D5FT - one of the North Thames Gull Group's birds; I'll send this info to Paul Roper in due course.
I'm sat here listening to the delights of Radio 2 - the news dominated by the unfolding story of the recent Airbus 320 crash in the French Alps. That there is a serious problem with the aviation authorities failing to take heed of mental health issues with Andreas Lubitz is a massive cause for concern. What I find most disturbing is the fact that any individual, so intent of self destruction, is capable of total disregard for others.
I have, and hopefully will never find out, no inkling what state your mind descends into when taking your own life becomes an option. It is an act of undeniable selfishness, complete removal of anything logical within a civilised human thought process, certainly no concern for those left behind to pick up the pieces. Is it really possible that 149 innocent people have died because a bloke got dumped by his girlfriend?

Thursday 26 March 2015

Extended views

In the very simplest of ways I was an angler by the age of eight and bird-watcher even before then. These two facets of outdoor enjoyment dovetailed together easily during my childhood. During my teens and into the start of my working (married) life angling became the major player but, always, there in the background, was an appreciation of the other wildlife, birds in particular, that I encountered. It has been like this ever since as the pendulum of interests has swung between angling - birding - twitching (and there is a massive difference!) - birding - angling; a period lasting over of over half a century! I've enjoyed every minute of it.
As my angling developed into a full blown obsession (1981 onwards), so the requirement of a notebook and camera, as essential items, became established. These items have been with me, in many guises, ever since, whatever my primary interest. I think that I can safely state that it has only been since the introduction of digital imagery that natural history photography has become a realistic pursuit of the guy on the street. To have achieved anything like this using conventional photographic methods and equipment wasn't an option without massive investment and a great deal of technical knowledge.

White-legged Damselflies - an encounter which can enhance even the dullest day
The meteoric advances in digital camera technology show no signs of diminishing and some of the images produced today are mind-blowing. Unthinkable clarity, colour and detail - so much so that digital wildlife image capture has become a genuine hobby in its' own right. Great stuff, the more folk out there looking means the more powerful the lobby protecting our natural heritage.

It is only because I derive such pleasure from birds that I make the effort to carry my 170 - 500 mm lens
I'm sure that it will come as no great surprise that I haven't kept up with these advances in technology - I own a Canon EOS 400d with a 18 - 55 mm Canon lens and a Sigma 170 - 500 mm lens plus a very (very) cheap set of extension tubes, that's my lot. My outlay will be in the region of £1k and this will remain my gear until it stops working - who knows when? This simple collection of kit covers all aspects of imagery that I require. The long lens is for my birding, the standard lens covers all landscape and trophy shots and, by use of the extension tubes, is also capable of recording macro images which are particularly suited to my requirements for moth, and other invertebrate, photos. It is this last aspect of photography which I am finding most enjoyable, almost certainly because it is a relatively new concept for me. It is also something which I find fits in with many of my angling sessions, thus removing the need to lug the heavy 170 - 500 mm around with me although it has been to my cost on occasion. (Red -breasted Merganser on the RMC springs to mind)

My extension tubes - cheap as chips
Looking at insects, and other associated groups, isn't something I deliberately set out to do, it simply evolved from my moth trapping as another aspect of being outside and having the ability to look. I now do it out of habit as it has become an established way of enhancing my wildlife experiences. As much as it pains me to admit, it is the pan-listing phenomenon which has probably been a major influence - I'm not about to re-open old wounds. The diversity of life forms, which are to be found everywhere, is something to be celebrated. I've used this to my benefit by seeing every session at a fishery as a potential for new discoveries. I don't mean rare, I mean species which I have never made the effort to look at previously. The variation is infinite, the beauty invisible to the naked eye. Use macro photographic techniques and there's a whole new world out there - you'd better believe it!

Honeysuckle Saw-fly - in our garden
With all this stuff going on in my little world, how is it possible to get bored? Even more so, how is it possible to blank? I've spent over fifty years looking and still haven't scratched the surface of what's available. The greatest show on earth is awaiting discovery by anyone with a mind to seek it. Modern digital technology means it is getting ever simpler to make discoveries for yourself - i-phones have better camera technology than I use and some of the new "bridge" cameras are capable of results way beyond my equipment.

This "thing" turned up in our garden.
About 7 cm long (half of which is the ovipositor) - awesome when seen up close.
I don't seek to get bogged down in technological issues. My point being that there is a whole world of wonderment out there and our technological advances are making it easier to record them. If this new hobby is able to open up an avenue for new interest groups then I'm all for that. Pan-listing or just getting a photo?
I don't have any opinion besides the obvious - enjoy the pleasures of looking and discovery.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Calls in the night

I walked home, from work yesterday, at 22.00 hrs accompanied by the shrill contact calls of Redwings, as they passed, unseen, overhead. Arriving home, I grabbed a 1664 from the fridge and went out into the back garden. I reckoned that I was hearing a call every 10/12 seconds, but at one point - lasting two or three minutes at best - my guess that I was hearing 100/minute! How many birds were involved? I don't know, or care that much, I'm just happy that I was able to be part of the experience. I also heard a Curlew and, on a couple of occasions, Blackbirds. I remained outside until 23.00 hrs by which time the bulk of the passage had occurred it was left to a few stragglers to call out in the darkness. I went back inside feeling rather smug - I don't suppose that there were any other Thanet birders aware of this movement?
I'd been in conversation with Madeline, one of our neighbours, talking about the Common Buzzard migration, across Thanet, which is now a well established, and documented, occurrence. "I've never seen one!" being her input. I didn't see a single Redwing - doesn't mean it didn't happen. I recall an encounter with a flyover Stone Curlew, calling in the darkness, at Ashford. The county recorder requested a description? My desire to remain within mainstream birding was already teetering - this just confirmed why I had to walk away and leave it to those who wish to play this silly game.
We would be extremely fortunate to obtain this type of view from Dumpton. A Red Kite
in the Chilterns - the original reintroduction scheme which was the model for
the many others that followed. 
I also told Madeline that we'd have a fair chance of a Red Kite, or two, during the next fortnight/three weeks, weather conditions being favourable. I might as well have said that the Queen was coming round with an empty cup asking to borrow some sugar! Utter disbelief - "they live in Wales!" I smiled and explained about the various reintroduction projects, throughout the UK, and the resultant upsurge of sightings being a direct consequence of these successful initiatives. If you don't know - you don't know! If your personal interests are in different spheres why would you think that a spiralling mass of noisy Herring Gulls be anything other than just that?
Being alert to the signs, aware of my surroundings, is an aspect of my desire to enjoy, to the maximum, my outdoor time. It is a skill, or combination of skills, which has been learned/taught over a lifetime. Anyone, who desires, can acquire this knowledge - but, just as I have no desire to master the complexities of the internal combustion engine, there are many who have no interest in what scares the shit out of a Herring Gull!

Tuesday 24 March 2015

The way forward?

Been a weird few days, both Bev and myself, have been rather poorly, although Bev suffered much worse than I. Not been able to do too much as a consequence - unsurprisingly. Most of my natural history encounters have been via the doorway in our kitchen or through the windows of my study. A Song Thrush in the garden was a good record and only the second one of 2015, although there remains a singing male by the paddocks over at the main farm. No more butterfly sightings, but Buff-tailed Bumblebees are being seen almost daily so that first Wheatear can't be far away?

I've been entertaining myself reading some old carp literature, particularly Rod Hutchinson's Carp Now and Then, which is really two books in one. It is where he first makes mention of the "un-explained" occurrences in his angling - those to which I referred in my previous post. Reading through the various chapters I was amazed to see a diagram of back-leading as a deliberate method of keeping the line pinned to the bottom of a fishery (as opposed to a method to eliminate boats and sail-boards catching your lines) - way back in 1988. What I was looking for was some of that old bait stuff; Rod was really a pioneer of much of the bait development during this period of massive change. There is a guest chapter by Tim Paisley - a guy who I never got on with - which is superbly written and researched, yet has absolutely no place within the pages of carp angling book. For anyone to properly offer constructive critique this stuff needed to be published in New Scientist where educated professionals would have been able discuss the merits of Tim's theories - not a bunch of hairy-arse carp anglers! Amino acids? Enzymes, water PH and umpteen other variables, none more so than temperature, a mind-blowing combination of factors with infinite variation. I did tell him this at the time - although I was in the company of the two Mitch's and Cuddles and, therefore very likely in a less than complimentary manner?
There is so much superb information contained within this book; luckily most of it now long forgotten as to be of no interest to the new kids on the block. Why would they use chick peas (at 75p/pack) when they can pay £13.50/kilo for shop brought boilies? Oh yeah, the peas have to be soaked and boiled, possibly flavour and colour would be required, so they (the modern angler) can't be arsed. I use massive amounts of hemp (which I prepare myself) during a season, apart from my predator fishing, it is my first choice attractor for all species. I only rarely use it as a hook bait, purely due to the size of the individual particles. Reading through Rod's thoughts has rekindled my interest in other particle baits, some of which are now banned? Peanuts and Tiger-nuts were always a good bet, but are now frowned upon by the majority of fisheries - yet there's loads of others to explore.

I've copied a diagram of what Rod describes as a "Wind-beater set-up" - almost identical to the one I will be using for my sessions during April. I do, however, have one little addition which is purely a personal preference and throw back to the Stanborough days. I incorporate a line clip, directly above the open spool, so nothing particularly radical.

My version of Rod's Wind-beater set-up. Mitchell 300 with open bale arm, line clip before a fibreglass needle with
a plastic monkey and an "Original" Optonic (Super Compact) bite alarm.
I set this up in my study, so it's not particularly pleasing on the eye - it does the job.
In spite of the blatant flaunting of my dislike of the modern carp scene, my bank side tackle display is not a replica of my 1980's approach. Terminal tackle, hooks, hook links and rig set-ups will be the most effective I know - which isn't much that hasn't been publicised on Youtube. The bit that is in the water will be the best I am able to present, although the hook baits will be a little eccentric in these modern times. I will catch a few carp, they really are that easy at modern commercial fisheries. Have no doubts that a decent carp angler would kick my arse on these venues - but there ain't any who seek such modest fish. The ultra-cult lads are attempting to copy Alan Wilson, bivvied up for months on end, at some venue where each fish weighs more than my tackle bag and has a name which they all know. For this I am very thankful, I am able to turn up, spend a few hours, generally in good company of fellow pleasure anglers and then go home happy in the knowledge that I've enjoyed myself - whatever the outcome.

As the year unfolds, so more avenues of interest are available to me; just sitting there beside my kit. It might be the chance to spend time watching a Kingfisher, a Water Vole or a Dragonfly - all of these encounters enrich my sessions at any fishery. Of course I go angling in order to catch fish but, at this stage in my life, it is no longer the be all and end all. Having the ability to derive pleasure from the other creatures which share these wonderful environments is, to me, just as important. To those guys who are unable to see angling as anything more than a collection of statistics (with accompanying photos) as each fish is added to a list - you are missing the whole point of the hobby - in my humble opinion.

At Fujifilm SIS we have a phrase "Don't look back, look forward" As a business ethos it works incredibly well. For me, as an individual, the whole point of my life's journey is to use past experiences to influence my decision making, thus I am very happy to look back in order to shape my future!

Saturday 21 March 2015

A sixth sense - more rambling

Quite often I find myself thinking about the most obscure of subjects, however, the majority are linked to my fascination with our natural world and how I might derive the maximum return for my efforts. When and where should I go? What effect will the weather have and how long should I give it? All fairly standard thought processes in any situation; I could apply it to my angling, a prospective sea-watch or a night out with the generator and moth traps - and umpteen other scenarios; I'm sure. Frustratingly, I'm not happy to leave it there. Oh no! I start complicating things, putting problems in place before they exist. What if this, or that, happens? How should I deal with it? I'm sure that the vast majority of individuals, who gain pleasure from outdoor hobbies, will be content with a very simplistic approach, uncluttered and uncomplicated. Just go out there and do it.

The sharp end of a Scottish twenty! How did I miss it?
Too much thought and effort - is that really possible? To be over prepared?  Since starting to go back up to Loch Awe, from 2011 onwards, the amount of preparation has been akin to a military exercise. In the past four trips - each one was slightly better organised than its' predecessor. Bait boats, braided line and a gas freezer are the most obvious developments, yet there have been no end of other little tweaks that have ensured that we are now better prepared for any eventuality. We've attempted to apply logistics to the planning, thus ensuring we don't unnecessarily duplicate our efforts - for instance we don't each require to take washing-up bowls, cookers or even trace making equipment. Between us we will have it covered, whether it be spare batteries for the bite-alarms or a particular design of float. One of the benefits of keeping detailed notes, of our captures, is the ability to correlate data from similar trips and, using my statistical process control methodology, see if there are any patterns emerging from our results? I have to admit that, for this one, I missed the glaringly obvious - I was looking for a single bait-species dominating the catch returns, or a colour/flavour combination. It was Benno and Simon who spotted it - the common denominator; and they were looking at the problems and results from a very different perspective.
Once this concept was brought into the equation, my statistics were able to support the theory, but it wasn't a solution provided by mathematics - it took a human to see the pattern. Benno and Simon didn't look at the results they looked at the pike! Scottish pike populations have evolved to take a very different range of natural prey species to their cousins down south. Simply by looking at the pike, themselves, it is easy to see why my statistics failed to spot the obvious.

Benno with a proper 'un from the RMC
Look at the head on this fish.
Benno posing with a superb Loch Awe pike. It weighs just 4oz more than the previous fish,
but look at the very obvious differences in the physique between the two specimens.
The pike in Scotland ain't equipped to hunt carp, bream or tench - they just don't occur in the highland lochs.
So what is it that we're planning for Scotland 2015? I'm sure that the majority of experienced pike anglers will have already cottoned on - as for the rest; you'll have to wait until our return for a full explanation. We're not even sure that it will pay off?

The only one, of my seven, which I feel I deserved.
I simply couldn't ignore the feelings that were directing me toward that swim on the river.
It was Rod Hutchinson who first made me aware of a tangible feeling between angler and quarry - he suggested that were times when, as anglers, we tried too hard and the fish could somehow detect our presence, no matter how stealthily we conducted ourselves. His answer was to switch off, get away from the waterside, do something else and allow the atmosphere to dissipate. There were other occasions when  he describes the undeniable knowledge that he would catch, by placing a bait in a certain spot or even moving to another swim. He hadn't seen anything or been told, it was just an overwhelming feeling that it had to be done - and bingo, a fish in the net. I too have been in similar situations, a wintering Ring Ouzel out on the Ash Levels was in my subconscious, long before I found it amidst a group of Fieldfares - I knew it was there, just don't know how. When I caught  "The Big Girl" for the final time, I knew that I had to be at the venue and even what swim. I hadn't dreamt it, but was woken by the powerful urge to get to the fishery, despite the fact that I had no plans for that fateful morning - you can read all about it by following this link   http://dylan-wrathall.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/campaign-on-very-small-drain.html
The first barbel of last season was another example of this type of experience - although I'd neither seen or caught fish in that swim previously - I simply knew that I had to be there and I would catch. Is it a sixth sense or absolute twaddle? I suppose it all comes down to individual interpretation of the events - if you're of a mind-set which allows for undefined influences to be part of any cause and effect manifestations, then you will also have some spiritual vibes going on - my guess,however, is that the vast majority will write it off as utter BUNKUM!

Thursday 19 March 2015

"Tinca -ing" - thinking about tench.

I'm probably boring the pants off of most visitors, to this blog, but the defining role Wilstone Reservoir played, in re-writing tench angling history, is responsible for many pivotal moments in my personal journey. My desire to go fishing for big tench again is what's driving my thoughts, dominating my waking hours, as I look towards June 16th 2015. What's rather strange in all this process is I'm not looking for a PB - I just want to catch some more decent tench (as defined by my own experiences) - a seven would do very nicely!

The opening pages of Len's inspirational chapter - Giant Tench
I suppose that my own history has set the "bench marks" - that Len Head chapter, in The Big Fish Scene, catalyst to me taking up my own challenge, of leaving the comfort of Pixies Mere and tackling, what seemed to me at the time, the massive expanse of Wilstone Reservoir. It now seems so crazy - whenever I go back it really is quite a modest sized fishery. However, as daunted as I was, the other members of the Tring Syndicate were incredibly generous with their time and advice. My learning curve was steep and, ultimately, very rewarding. The wealth of experience and expertise, upon which I was able to draw, was the best available at the time - true angling giants descended upon this venue as the news of the quality of the tench fishing spread. These fish were by no means easy, not all visiting anglers achieved their ambitions, but many did. There were two main approaches to these fish. Firstly, and the one that vast majority favoured, was the set up a bivvy and sit and wait - bait being introduced in massive quantities in an attempt to induce a feeding response. The second, and far more rewarding, method was to be mobile and fish for tench which were showing - ie usually rolling at dawn, but also sending up patches of frothy/fizzing bubbles as they fed. Tony Ward, Ken Brown, Simon and myself were all relatively local anglers and could easily fit in a four hour session before work, should we so desire. It was this type of fishing that really set me on my way. My results were outstanding - I was so confident that I would catch if I could find them. This really caused a problem with a guy from Wales! He'd driven 300+ miles to Wilstone and set up his gear at the top of the car park steps! Tench were moving to his left and right, but he couldn't be bothered, after that drive, to move his gear, just 200 m, to where the fish were showing. And it was me who was "jammy"?

If you look at that lower rig set-up you will see that it has two hooks! The fishery rules allowed
this under some bizarre by-law. What it meant, in effect, is that we were allowed to fish four rods!
In the summers of 1991 & 92 I'd been so successful that I'd been asked to do a piece for The Anglers Mail, although Roy Westward, the then editor, had originally wanted me to write about cat-fishing on the Leighton Buzzard AC venues. Don't be fooled into thinking that I was anything more, as an angler, than very ordinary - I just happened to be part of the craziest gang of "Specimen Hunters" on the circuit during this period. The Savay "Looney Rota" were just playing at it - none of them would have lasted a day with us. Together we went to all the shows and conferences and played up at every one of them - we were impossible to ignore!
As I had spent some time working for Kodak Ltd, our group photo boards were, for that time, incredibly impressive because I had a fair idea how to use a 35 mm camera to get the best trophy shots - I got paid a considerable sum to write an advertising feature for Kodak which appeared in the Specialist Angler - the members magazine of The National Association of Specialist Anglers. So, I think it true to say that whilst we weren't the most talented of crews, our antics and publicity were top drawer. It is for this reason, and this reason only, that I ever got invited to do anything. Whenever I went to do a talk, the group who booked me knew what to expect - a pissed up hippy and a slide show of quality images with some raucous tales to go with them. Quite often Cuddles and/or the two Mitch's would tag along - always a recipe for a memorable evenings entertainment for all involved.

Now; this nostalgia fest isn't why I hanker after another chance to go tench fishing - although it has a massive influence on my thoughts. I have to admit that my reading material is of a similar vintage to the tackle which I am going to use, but what I'm seeking is an image - that tiny red eye on an olive-flanked work of art. Tench - there has never been an ugly one? My desire to recreate a scene from those wondrous Wilstone days - me and a 7 lbs+ tench, in digital. If it comes to pass - then I'll know that Mum's smiling.

Tony Chester with the first Wilstone "double"
One of the nicest guys I had the privilege to meet, whilst in the Tring Syndicate.
In 1981 - he even looked like this when he woke up! Inside his bivvy was like a show home!
He was a rep for Mars (or Pedigree Pet Foods?) and everything about him was immaculate.
Within the pages of my library are many links with my past, be they words or pictures? If I offend, or break any copyright laws, it is not my intent - I simply wish to accompany my words with a few images.

I am unable to give the correct photo copyright credit - I don't know who took this image.

The top man - Alan with yet another Wilstone "double"
This single venue was to dominate tench fishing, in the UK, for over a decade.
I was there!
The greatest tench angler I ever met was Alan Wilson - medically retired at the age of 47 - he single-handedly re-wrote the specimen hunters calendar. He was a good technical angler, but not a great thinker, he used time in a manner that no-one previously had been able. In this respect, Alan was so far ahead of the game - what didn't he catch? I've witnessed, and photographed, a 3 lbs 14 oz Roach and a 13 lbs 12 oz Bream from Startops, he had Tench to 14 lbs 8 oz from Wilstone and a 27 lbs Pike from Stamford Res. Northamptonshire. He held the UK Tench record with a Wilstone fish of 12 lbs 8 oz (which he subsequently bettered) but he simply loved the challenge of Wilstone. Along with his fishing companion, Bob Henderson,
he systematically set about catching the largest fish in the water - it would be difficult for me not to admire Alan, and all that he stood for (popular myth has it that he died in his bivvy?) but, somehow, I wonder what other hobby could offer such accolade to a homeless tramp?
In no way do I wish to detract from anything that Alan achieved - he was always a gentleman, a font of knowledge and the maker of the best cuppa anywhere around Tring. Could I recommend him, as a role model, to Benno or my grand-children?  Not a chance - obsession is never healthy, as I've discovered to my cost! Doesn't stop it being fun?

Sunday 15 March 2015

What close season?

I'm not going to get drawn into the annual debate about the rights and wrongs of an angling close season. In my past it was the accepted norm - all freshwater coarse fisheries were "closed" from 15th March to 15th June (both dates inclusive) and everyone, who went fishing, lived with these rules. If my memory serves me correctly, it was the advent of the "any method trout fisheries" which pushed open the door for year round angling, on enclosed, waters? Today, modern anglers expect to be able to go fishing whenever the whim takes them. Commercial fisheries exist purely to cater for this demand, and long may it continue. I am an "Old School" angler with my roots in the traditions of country sports and associated seasons but, I'm not so stuck in my ways that I'll ignore the changes in the legislation which now allow me to enjoy my hobby - legally - during a period which was once forbidden.

I recognise, and totally agree with, running waters (rivers and streams) being off limits - but can find plenty of scope to enjoy myself at other types of fisheries. There may be a few still waters which retain the close season, but they will be syndicated and have a healthy waiting list of prospective members. My recollections of the week leading up to June 16th, on Wilstone, are very happy ones. The top specimen chasers, of the time (me included!) would have "Brolly - Camp" bivvies set up in their chosen swims, sometimes 10 days before the season started. Swim markers would be put out, with the aid of an inflatable dingy, and pre-baiting would commence. The count down to that mid-night start on 16th June was a ritual which produced an atmosphere that could almost be touched. Excitement and anticipation, in equal measure, as the hours ticked by - ever closer to that magic moment. Of course we were all completely crazy, obsession does that to a person, yet I can't help feel that modern anglers are missing out on something, very special, when there is no longer a start and finish to the hobby? I've written about it before, the Tring Syndicate members were absolute sticklers for the adherence to this mid-night start; not one of them had any desire to sneak in a rod as darkness fell on the 15th June - not one! The chiming of the church clock (in Wilstone; although it might have been Marsworth or even Aston Clinton?) was the signal to go and not a moment before. With commercialism involved, I can't see angling ever reverting back to this situation so I'll have to content myself with these memories.

I took this fish in August 2013 at 13.05 - it was re-caught this year (February?) at 15.09
However, even in modern times I am able to recreate a little of the anticipation by completely separating commercial fisheries from my other angling. Summer 2015, to me, means a Tench and Barbel challenge; both species which inhabit local venues which are governed by the close season ruling. I'll happily continue to wet a line, probably in pursuit of carp and perch, but have in the background the build up to the start of the 2015/16 season. God willing - June 15th 2015 - I will be on the bank of a fishery awaiting the stroke of mid-night to make my first cast of a new season?  Ever since my very early days the close season was compromised with a trip north of the border. Out of season Scottish pike fishing was as much a part of a specimen hunters annual cycle as Christmas, birthdays and Easter! Times have moved on and English  anglers are no longer regular visitors to the Scottish Lochs - they much prefer carp fishing, in France, or the delights of catfishing, The River Ebro, in Spain. Slumming it on the shores of a highland loch, when viewed in this light, is not much of an option - except for a few of us eccentric saddos?

A "yard of barbel" a term that my brother Simon uses to describe a "double". This one is 13.14
That "thing" which Benno and myself saw was of a different class all together. My two "thirteens" were
impressive, that fish was a proper monster! Has it got my name on it during  the 2015/16 season?
So what does my 2015 close season involve? Well, I've got some stuff to do around the garden which I've promised Bev will get done before April? I have a desire to catch a decent carp before we travel to Scotland, but am torn between two commercials as a final choice. We're talking a mid-20 here, nothing bigger - wherever I end up it will a nostalgia gig of mammoth scale - Mitchell 300's and associated nonsense; monkey climbers, line clips and home-made boilies; you get the drift? My desire for a Scottish 20 is a massive part in my going back this year. I really thought I'd blown it. It was only a change of plan, by Bev, that opened up this opportunity. I'm going up there to give it my very best shot - not always a good idea, but it's the only one I've got. Potentially we have a ten day window in which I can achieve this ambition - thirty-three years after I first started the quest and it's come down to ten days!
The rest of my time will be taken up with planning - what am I going to do about my two target species? The River Stour barbel are, at best, a bloody headache (Hence my accompanying photos!). I am going to continue to fish for them purely because I know a monster lurks somewhere in that river - Benno and I have seen it, but that's another story! My tench fishing project is based upon a very fleeting encounter - did I really see these fish or was I dreaming? I have plans to visit the venue as the close season progresses purely to assess the situation and look for potential swims. The very worst which will come from this effort is I might not discover any tench but some wild carp instead - so another challenge to replace the original one. To quote the late George Harrison: "If you don't know where you're going - any road can take you there!"

Saturday 14 March 2015

Failure or success?

The diary of events leading up to the last session of the 2014/15 angling season - as defined by tradition and The Environment Agency

An example of the signs that are displayed on many of the fishery
 gateways of the East Kent marshes.  If fishing without a
 license is only a £1,000 fine; how can there be
 a £50,000 ceiling for breaking the close season rules?
Wednesday 11th March - I was up before 05.00 hrs and, accompanied by a bucket of "munger", driving across to my tench fishery for a spot of pre-baiting. The bait was a mix of half a kilo of Hemp, 1 tin of liquidised Sweetcorn, half a kilo of 3 mm Halibut pellets plus a couple of handfuls of 12 mm Halibut pellets, stored in a separate container, which were to be fed over the top.
I arrived in the glow of the pre-dawn horizon, the carpet of bait spread liberally over a large area, followed by the ritual scattering of the 12 mm hook-bait samples. The mission was accomplished without seeing another soul - good news. Even better was the fact that two, decent, fish rolled over the baited area within 10 minutes of it being introduced. Didn't see if they were tench, or carp, but the fact that there were fish in the chosen swim is a very pleasing result. I've come to a decision to use bread/maggot cocktails on one rod, the 12 mm, neutral buoyancy, pellet on the other. There isn't room for a third rod and, believe me, I'd love to use three if at all possible!
I know the rigs I'm going to present, I know which hooks (manufacturer and sizes) I'll be using - just haven't made a final decision on my choice of rods; the reels will be ABU 44X's loaded with 7 lbs b.s. mono. Three more shifts, to endure, before I'm on my way! Still, there's loads more to sort out before that big day arrives.

Cheap as you like - I got these from The Range. (less than £3.50 as  I recall)
I do not use them for the flavour, it is purely to assist my bait presentation by creating neutral  buoyancy
 and the obvious visual thing.  These particular offerings are "Squid & Octopus", but they might as well be salt & vinegar!
I'm back indoors after my late-shift and, whilst at work, decided that I'm using a Duncan Kay with the pellet rig and my Tring Tench Special for the bread/maggot combo. I need to get up in the loft to find some feeders - I've got loads of old, green, Shakespeare close-ended ones, but they're not really suited to my needs. A heavy (2 oz) cage feeder is far more to my liking and will assist with hooking anything which decides to pick up my bait. I've located the tub of Cotswold Bait Creations - "Technipops" fluorescent pop-ups. I use half of one of these things, trimmed down if necessary, to give my pellets the neutral buoyancy I desire. I will attempt to get some photos, tomorrow, of how my rig will look in the water. I've got to stay in to await delivery of a new suite - DFS promising delivery between 12.00 & 15.00 hrs! What the heck - I've rigs to sort out and rods to get ready; it's not such a big deal except that whatever work time I loose, on Thursday, I am going to have make it up on Friday - when I can least afford it. More dawn pre-baiting, maggots and bread to purchase and my final ground-bait mix to get ready, a trip to Newington for more Hemp, which will need to be prepared, being very likely? It could get a little hectic - DFS will have a lot to answer for it they screw their delivery times up!

Thursday 12th March - playing around with rigs and getting some photos; all the while I'm going through the list of "to do" things that I must get done before Saturday morning.

This is how it looks on the bank. My bait is positioned just at the base of the hook.
My boily stops are sections of elastic band which can be pulled into the pop-up. The hook is
tied knotless knot - all very straight forward.
 I don't actually require to take a great deal of tackle with me; it's just sorting out the essentials which is proving to be a problem. I have limited space in my bag, plus I'm taking my bed-chair and CK Stakeout Mk II brolly, so plenty to carry without the surplus crap that usually accompanies my travels to the fishery. The rods will be fished on separate rests, not twin bars, so that I can eliminate as much resistance, as possible, by pointing the gear in the direction on my bait. Last weekend I was using lead core leaders this week, however, I'm going to use mono with flying back leads - purely to pin the last few yards of line to the bottom. The fish in this water shouldn't be so cute that they know all the tricks - well not yet!

Back home after an entire shift spent stock taking digital packaging materials. Time passed quickly enough as I was teamed up with Ian Rackley (a carp angler with a PB of 62 lbs - he's not just any old carp angler) so we had much to chat about whilst we were number crunching. Once indoors the "munger" was quickly knocked up and now awaits another early morning visit - for a second helping of pre-bait' at first light. I've spoken with Benno; who is hopeful of getting across for, at least, some of Saturday. I still have to get down to Dragoncarp to pick up my maggots and a few other bits, if they have them? I'd like some more 3 mm pellets and red "method mix" but should have enough to see me through if they haven't got any. I just feel so much better when I'm overstocked - a bit like an insurance policy?
The baiting strategy, for Friday morning, is a little more concentrated than the Wednesday visit. I have two, very distinct, areas where I want to concentrate my efforts. My baiting will be much tighter than on Wednesday, but also there will be less of it. I don't want to turn up on Saturday morning trying to tempt satiated fish! I might bait up a couple of other swims, I've got plenty to spare -so at least I'll put Benno in with a chance, should he make it? The BBC 5-day weather forecast is predicting very favourable conditions for Saturday (Sandwich - the closest place I can get to this venue)

Friday 13th March - not a date to inspire? I was baiting up around 06.00 hrs this morning. Didn't see any fish moving, but there was an easterly blowing and the surface was quite rippled. Got another year tick when I watched a Merlin go dashing across the marshes causing panic amongst the displaying Lapwings. I'll tell Neil if I see him tomorrow. I've finally decided to stick with my original kit - I'm going to use the 12' Specialist Barbel rods and ABU 44 X's. I managed to get everything I wanted from Dragoncarp and the pet shop - I can have no excuses. If the tench don't want to play it won't be because I am under equipped!
I'm tempted to add a couple of drops of banoffee flavour to my maggots, which I'll do this evening whilst I'm boiling up my hemp seed. I've got Sweetcorn (which I liquidise) and shredded Tuna for my final mix, with a couple of kilo of method mix to ensure it is able to be used in my feeder rig. I really can't remember the last time I've been so excited by the prospect of a days' fishing? I don't put this much effort into a week in Scotland!

21.45 hrs - I'm home, had my dinner and a couple of 1664's - it's getting on for bedtime. My hemp has boiled and the sweetcorn and tuna are already in the bucket. 3 mm Halibut pellets will be added on the bank, as will my method mix. If I haven't got it now - I don't need it! Just got to get up, grab a coffee and make my sandwiches; in the car and away. Next time I'm at my computer it will all be over for another season - "Do I feel lucky?" I'll answer that question tomorrow.

Saturday 14th March - My alarm clock rattled into life at 04.00 hrs. Sandwiches made, coffee drunk and the car loaded, I awoke Bev, at 04.30 hrs who then accompanied me on the 20 minute drive. This is not because she has suddenly become an avid angler but, instead, she wanted to use the car and, as we only have the one, dropped me off before returning home to the warmth of our bed (she'd left the electric blanket on!). I, on the other hand, was loaded up with a ridiculous amount of gear and embarked on a trek, of some one and a half miles, to reach my chosen destination. It was dark but, getting brighter by the minute as I reached my swim. I cracked open a bottle of Lucozade before starting to assemble my tackle. The first rod was cast out at 05.40 hrs - all it needed was a lead attaching, the bait was already on the rig (it was the one that I'd tank tested on Friday!). Landing net set up, bite alarm switched on and indicator in place, I set about getting rod No. 2 ready for action. It wasn't ten minutes before the bite alarm screamed and the reel churned madly, as an unseen fish bolted off with my rig. However, unlike last weekend, I was on the rod in an instant and found myself playing a stubborn, yet unspectacular, fish. On the barbel rods and 7 lbs b.s. line it was a rather dour encounter - within five minutes the fish was wallowing on a short line and easily guided into my waiting net.
A chunky little Common with a very distinctive scale pattern - it would have been some tench!
At 9 lbs 4 oz it would have been a magnificent tench - but it wasn't! A stocky little Common Carp had taken my single offering - I'd not had the opportunity to introduce any fresh bait. I have to assume that it was still in the area due to my pre-baiting of yesterday?
A right result - I had a gut feeling that the bite I'd missed, so spectacularly, last weekend had been a carp and this capture seemed to confirm my suspicions? I sacked the carp and got two rods back in the water before getting some more bait into the swim. Once done, I sat back and awaited further events - and I waited and waited. Benno arrived, fished for about fours hours before giving up and leaving - but ensuring I got a photo of that little Common that had graced my landing net. There was a strong and persistent NE wind blowing - it was bloody cold when I left the shelter of my CK Stakeout Mk II. Although it did cloud over, later in the day, the morning was quite bright and the sun felt warm when I got out of the wind.

In all its' glory - my CK Stakeout Mk II brolly - and that's a CK bed-chair too!
I kept a steady trickle of bait going in and regularly ringed the changes on my terminal rigs. I'd been through the swim feeder with sweetcorn and/or bread/maggot cocktail, then lead core leader with a fixed lead and a semi-buoyant pellet. - absolutely nothing doing! As I had all day, I wanted to use all day - it isn't an option that I'm offered very often.
A bucket of munger (MUNGA or MUNGAH) awaiting delivery into the swim.
The basic ingredient is hemp (boiled in sugar) with liquidised sweetcorn, liquidised white bread, and
added 3 mm Halibut pellets. There are infinite other variants - I'm happy to stick with this!
The afternoon drew on, my highlight being a group of four "red-head" Goosanders which did a circuit of the marsh before heading back off east. A couple of female Marsh Harriers brightened up my time at the venue, but I have to admit that  was struggling. At 17.45 hrs I had a 3 inch lift on my left hand rod (plus accompanying burst from the "Redmire" alarm) the first bite in almost 12 hours  - I hit it immediately and for five seconds, or so, I thought I'd hooked something decent. Silly me! - a c*nting Eel - all 2 lbs 14 oz of the useless critter. With no-one about, I was forced to get a few photos of it laying in the landing net. They don't do it justice - but what photo could? I dislike eels with a passion - they are a waste of evolution (Although I'm sure that Moriarty - he wrote "the" book on Anguila anguila, would disagree!) - When Simon Mitch offered the view, to a guy manning the newly formed National Anguila Club stand (Reading University I think - around 1990?) - "So that's what a whole one looks like!" It was a moment of genius that I will never relive. Simon, Phil, myself and the rest of the gang were reduced to an hysterical mass by the reaction of that guy! It wasn't John Sidley or Mickey Bowles  - they knew who we were! No; it was some fresh face disciple who felt the urge to spread the gospel according to slimy things - he hadn't been told to expect that reaction; bloody priceless.
I am unable to offer a single word that will promote eels and their pursuit.
A bit like wasps and mosquitoes - simply part of God's scheme to piss us off? 
Sorry, I've digressed just a little - but then again; it is my diary and I can do what I want? Can I judge today to be a success, or was it a complete waste of effort? I suppose it depends on how you view the world, as an individual. Is that cup half full, or half empty?

Friday 13 March 2015

I'm ready!

Well, the week is almost over, just one more shift to get through and then it's all systems go. I don't remember the last time I've been so excited by, or put so much thought and effort into, a single days' fishing. My bait is ready, the rods are rigged up and all my tackle sorted out, ready for the off. I've kept a diary of how my week's progressed - it's a draft post on my "dashboard" at present. I will publish it, in its' entirety, either late Saturday or early Sunday; once my session is complete.
I have to admit to being very optimistic about my chances - I'll just have to see how things pan out? I've been fannying about, all week; unable to decide on which rods to use. Crazy really - it's not like I've got loads to choose from? I finally stuck with my original choice of the two Specialist Barbel rods that I'd used last weekend - how hard was that?
This is how anal I've  become! I'm now "tank testing" my rigs and hook baits
attempting to get my neutral buoyancy pellet spot on.
Are the tench in this venue worthy of my attention to detail, or am I simply
wasting my time?
Specimen Hunting - the greatest waste of time known to man.
Is there a final twist in the story of my dismal season? Will I get that tench which makes everything seem OK - only time will tell.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Inspiration, questions and doubts

My head is full of thoughts about the tench challenge that I've, set myself and, now embarked upon. If any of these ideas come to fruition, then I will be gleefully posting about my successes next Sunday? Until that time - all they are is dreams and schemes! Bread is something which I shouldn't ignore; it has played a massive part in my past tench fishing campaigns, and what about maggots? Is adding Tuna flakes such a good idea, knowing how active the eels are? Questions and doubts; it about sums up my entire 2014/15 season. To this day, I have still never found any other angling writing to match the chapter, by Len Head, in The Big Fish Scene (ISBN 0-510-21006-6) in which he recalls the lengths to which he went to solve the many problems he encountered during a project, after tench, in an Essex pit. Written in 1978, it remains one of the most inspirational pieces I have in my library and I regularly read it when I'm in need of encouragement. Len overcame many obstacles before he finally hit upon the spark, of an idea, which brought about his ultimate rewards - at that time he was the captor of the largest brace (8lbs 2oz & 7lbs 1oz) and more tench over 7lbs (six!) than any other angler, living or dead! Don't forget, this was pre-Wilstone and the re-writing of tench fishing history.
I'd caught my first Wilstone tench in 1974 (4lbs +) yet it was Pixie's Mere which was the local "big tench" venue - I'd already taken fish over six pounds with many fives gracing my landing net, halcyon days indeed. Tench over seven were as rare as hen's teeth - nobody I knew had ever seen one. This is why Len's chapter is so important to me - he deliberately went out and made a dream become reality; if that doesn't inspire - what can?

Benno at Loch Awe - early 90's - with a nice pike (8 lbs ish) from the bay behind "Fraggle Rock"
In the background is a 13' Bruce & Walker rod with a Grice & Young "Big Piker" centre-pin reel.
I used that gear for vaning baits out across the bay, the boat was used to get the float and bait out into deeper
water to get the drift started - I couldn't cast the rig far enough using the "pin"
I have no such pivotal drive behind my pike fishing, it simply evolved from my other angling experiences. I should imagine that Lester Strudwick was the first pike angler that made any impression on my approach. Later, after I'd joined the PAC, it would have been Gord Burton and then Eddie Turner, but I don't feel as if there has been a defining moment when I was "inspired" to seek pike as I have tench? Scotland is looming large on my angling horizon, Lester loved Loch Lomond and regularly exulted it's praise, but I had no such desire to face that particular challenge. My route to Loch Awe has been far less dramatic. Loch Ascog, on the Isle of Bute, is where the whole Scottish experience started, progessing through several smaller highland lochs before settling on Awe - I got there in the end!
There's so much to do, so little time; you know the score? I'm almost tempted to go up there with just three Duncan Kay's and the three Mitchell 300's (fully braided up) to get the very best out of our final trip - enjoyment wise? Yet I know that I can't do it, quite simply, I'd never forgive myself if I screwed up my chance of a Scottish "twenty" because I was under-gunned; dream on! Even with braided line, setting hooks at 100m plus requires a little more pressure than a 1 lb 10 oz T/C rod is capable of delivering - 13' broom handles is how I view my heavier gear, because that is what impression they give compared with my regular kit - the rods simply don't have "the feel" about them when a fish is hooked. Yet, just a golfer requires an assortment of clubs to play a round, anglers also need their equipment to match the situations they choose to explore. Long distance angling isn't something I particularly enjoy but, on Loch Awe, to get the best from the venue, it is the technique with which we've had most success. I ignore it at my peril. So 13' Bruce & Walker and Tri-cast rods it will be, but can I get away with Mitchell 300's? I'll have to see how much braid I can get on a spool?

That same Bruce & Walker rod, some twenty-odd years later. Fancy new yellow whipping, but still that
powerful, un-forgiving, feel when a fish is being played. Sometimes I have to admit that my normal "girlie rods"
are not up to the job - this place is certainly one venue where they are next to useless. Scottish pike have
no respect for the limp-wristed  approach - they have a proper tear up and will find any flaws in your tackle.
Once I've got Saturday out of the way, I've decided to have a couple of weekends off. There is quite a bit to do in the garden and I promised Bev that I'd get some odd jobs sorted out. April will get here soon enough and I might have a couple of sessions after a carp, or two, before the Scottish jaunt is undertaken. Then again, I might get tempted to have a bash at a PB perch, whatever I choose, it will be at a local commercial fishery - I'm rather intrigued by the potential of Marshside Fishery, nr. Chislet. Benno and I fished there a couple of years ago and very enjoyable it was too.

We're going back for one last time and this is why!
 More doubles than I've caught during the entire winter!
The whole season has, for me, been very much a struggle as I've not managed to establish any pattern to my approach. Apart from a short period when I was carp fishing at Sandwich Coarse Fishery, there has been very little that I've done which has given me any signal that I am on the right lines. That bite, from whatever species it was, last Saturday has really got me fired up and raring to get back. Why do I have to wait until the end of the season to discover such enthusiasm? I do have a trick or two that I'm going to use - all will be revealed on Sunday; whatever the outcome.

Monday 9 March 2015

Other stuff

I recorded my first butterfly of 2015 on 1st March when, whilst visiting my daughter, I saw a Peacock flitting about in a sheltered glade, yesterday I saw two Small Tortoiseshell (the same one twice?) in our garden - Spring can't be far away. The fifth Common Buzzard, of the year, appeared over Vine Close last Thursday afternoon and I'm sure that there have been others, un-seen, because of the agitated state of the local gulls on several other occasions. We appear to have five pairs of Herring Gulls prospecting the bungalows for nest sites and, over at Pyson's Road, there are already several pairs of Lesser Black-backs present amidst the burgeoning colony of Herring Gulls on the various factory buildings.
I had a quick sortie across the farm, this morning. I suppose I was hoping for a Wheatear, although a White Wagtail would have been good enough - nothing doing on either front. A singing Blackcap is possibly a bird that over wintered locally, but it was good to see several small groups of, newly arrived, Linnets scattered around the hedgerows and feeding out amongst the cauliflowers and I managed a "year tick" when a lone Siskin flew overhead.
Not the greatest image of a Linnet - but good enough to accompany this offering
Wood Pigeons continue to dominate the avian scene, still descending on the fields in huge numbers - no shooting has been noted for nearly three weeks. The best bird, however, was discovered last Wednesday as I walked across to work at 05.30 hrs. A male Grey Partridge was calling vigorously from the small field beside the Scaffolder's Yard. This is the first record for two years, and a bird which I feared was never going to be recorded here again. Quite where it came from and how it got there, is one of those mysteries, the answer to which will never be known. They are planting the new crop of potatoes out there this morning so I'm hopeful that this individual might hang around. A Song Thrush is in fine voice over in the paddocks beside the main farm and Blackbirds are starting to sing from various points well before the dawn. I saw a female carrying nesting material into some ivy at the end of West Dumpton Lane as I walked to the shop earlier this morning. So what if I couldn't catch a cold? There's always something to keep me amused whenever I go outside.
I have had the good fortune to bump into Neil Davies on the last two angling sessions - he tells me that the birding around Sandwich Bay has been rather slow - so very much like my fishing? It's been nice to be able to have a chat and compare notes, Stonechats, Cetti's Warblers and Common Buzzards all feature prominently, with odd sightings of Little Egret, Kingfisher and Marsh Harrier also making our notebooks.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Completely barmy

I've finally reached the conclusion that the pike fishing, locally, is pants - I'm not going to waste any more of my efforts, during the 2014-15 season, in their pursuit. With just two more sessions available I've decided to go tench fishing! During my life I've done many silly things but, off hand, I can't think of any that might top this? Water temperatures, clarity and umpteen other factors will conspire against me. My only saving grace is that I would have blanked if I'd gone piking, so this folly can't be any less successful? To be fair, four hours at a new venue is hardly likely to "unlock the code" - but I might learn something about my challenge. Earlier in the year, with ice in the margins, I saw several, very big, tench roll in the early morning gloom. If I don't give it a try - I'll never discover anything. I'm rather enthused by the prospects, but savvy enough not to loose the plot. Big fish are never easy - these tench might be verging on the impossible?
For this first session I've opted for a bed of hemp & liquidised sweetcorn plus a method mix base, over which I am going to offer 12 mm pellet or 16 mm,  cut using an apple corer, flavoured/dyed luncheon meat. My third rod will be a float fished lob-worm - I might get a tench, yet I feel that a perch or an eel is far more likely
Two ABU Cardinal 44 X's - on my two 12' barbel rods with those crazy "Redmire" bite-alarms.
My tench fishing set-up, this morning - it would have been far more suited to banks of Wilstone Reservoir.
Well; that's what I'd written, Friday night, whilst preparing my gear for this session. I'd originally expected to be fishing on Sunday but, Bev's, other plans put pay to that idea. So at 04.15 hrs my alarm rattled its' audible wake-up call and my day got started. Coffee drunk and the car loaded, I was on my way, via the garage for fuel, by 04.50 hrs. I've been thinking about this challenge all week, whilst I've been working on a Buhler "triple roll mill" in the UV department - flexibility is written into my contract, so I work where I'm told/needed. Only someone who's ever used one of these machines can understand what "mind-numbing" boredom it involves, although a vital part of the manufacturing process for analogue inks - therefore, I found myself with plenty of time to plan my approach. My final feed mix (ground-bait - if you are of my era) was a made of half a kilo of hemp, a tin of liquidised "Tesco Essentials" sweetcorn (35 p), a tin of "Tesco Essentials" tuna flakes, with a couple of handfuls of 3 mm Halibut pellets and stodged up with some Avanti "method mix (red)"  It's what Danny Fairbrass calls "munger!" - it certainly looked, and smelled, good.

I really think that this venue has the potential to provide some enjoyable tench fishing - especially if
I continue to tackle such as this.
Unless I am doing a night session I won't bother with a brolly/day shelter/ bivvy - they're just something else to carry. Knowing that I have to lug all my gear over a mile to this venue it hadn't entered my head that I might need one - the BBC local weather forecast was for temperatures 7 - 13 C as the day progressed. Like a complete dullard, I didn't even bother to take my thermal jacket; a decision which was pivotal. I got very
cold, due to the brisk SW wind, and had walked some 20 m from my gear, in an attempt to warm myself, when then only bite of the session occurred. A, neutral buoyancy 12 mm, Halibut pellet was the bait which was to produce that bite. The alarm was screaming and the reel "churning" madly - how could I possibly miss such a bite?
To be perfectly honest - it is all my own fault! The rig wasn't perfect - I feel that the hair might've been too long for a 12 mm pellet and a size 10 wide-gape?  Nothing can disguise the fact that I should have been on my rods - there are no excuses, whatever the circumstances. Even now, I can't be sure that the bite wasn't from a carp?  If I'd had been on the rods, then, I would be able to answer all these questions.
I'm going back, for a final session - 14 th March, and am hoping to get a full day at it? And yes, I will have a day-shelter with me - I don't go fishing to suffer for the noble art.

A brace of "sevens" from Wilstone - summer 1990 - Happy daze.
If this new venue is able to produce just one tench, of this stamp, then I will consider
the challenge to have been a success.
The project is a very exciting one and will provide a decent alternative to the barbel of The Stour - yet if I blank, next Saturday, it will be June 16 th before I'm able to get things started! Another week of standing beside a "triple roll mill" ought to allow me plenty of opportunity to come up with a few tweaks that might aid my cause?