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!


Thursday 30 April 2015

The realisation of a dream

Well we're back home, safe and sound and all in one piece! The trip was cut short due to the unbelievable severity of the erratic weather we were forced to endure. Severe gales, driving hail, sleet, snow and torrential rain, allied with freezing temperatures, beating us up and totally removing the enjoyment of any angling experiences. We caught a fair number of pike between us and our kit stood up to the ordeal superbly - just it is very difficult to maintain enthusiasm when the elements play such a key role.
I have masses of material to blog about, be it the wildlife or the approach of other anglers, plus I do want to write a summary of our approach to tackling the challenge of Kilchurn Bay (not Loch Awe) as we have no plan to get back there in the foreseeable future. Just before 06.00 hrs on Saturday 26th April I had a bite on one of my rods, which resulted in my landing a magnificent Pike of 24 lbs 10 oz; the fish that I have dreamt about since first travelling to Scotland in May 1982.
It was taken on a yellow dyed Mackerel tail, flavoured with Predator Plus and Salmon oil fished on my 13' Bruce & Walker HMC rod with a Matt Haye's Limited Edition centre-pin loaded with 30 lbs b.s. Spiderwire braid. Benno netted it and he and Luke weighed it on a set of Ruben Heatons - the fish was later witnessed by Alan Gray (the land owner). Only four of us set eyes on the fish; Benno posted a photo on Facebook, via the wonders of modern phone technology, to a limited number of chosen people. I readily admit that I cracked open a San Miguel shortly after and went on the piss all day - it really was that important to me. I left the boys for a while and took a walk over to "Fraggle Rock" where I spent some time, alone, with my emotions and thoughts of Cuddly and Mum; I'm sure that they would both have enjoyed the moment?

The Pike of my dreams - a Scottish "twenty"
Taken on only our second morning - the weather went downhill, rapidly,
following this capture
As we were leaving, this morning, Alan told me that my pike now is being reported as a 32 - via the Glasgow Angling Centre - such is the power of the Internet and Chinese whispers!
I've loads more material to sift through, so expect a few more posts in early May. Despite the weather; we did have a good holiday and are, as ever, indebted to Alan Gray for his superb hospitality and allowing us access to this magnificent fishery.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

The waiting is almost over

Our departure imminent, Benno, Luke and myself are in constant conversation about what sundry items need to be gathered. Who's got the washing up bowl, knives and forks, etc...? The bait is sorted, van serviced, with new tyres as an added extra! We've raided Simon's gear to ensure that every angle is covered - it's now down to the three of us. Are we good enough? Loch Awe 2015 - it has all the ingredients to be a classic. The last four trips have resulted in 80, yes eighty!, doubles being landed including three twenties. We really have experienced some superb angling at this fabulous venue.

The magnificence of a moody dawn on Loch Awe, looking up Glen Orchy.
What do we hope for this time round? What is the bench-mark of success/failure? Do we need to see our doubles tally pass the 100 mark, as great as that would be?  I am not really sure, if I'm totally honest. The three of us get on incredibly well, there is no jealousy, nor secrets - a recipe for hippy harmony! I would imagine that all three of us will have differing expectations and dreams. As this is to be my final trip (for the foreseeable future) to this magnificent fishery, obviously I am after that elusive Scottish twenty. The two boys (friends since school - now both in their early 30's) have other ambitions; they like fishing with lures and flies - so away they'll go. We're all going up there for a holiday, to chill out, catch a few fish, sink a few cans and relax. It matters not one iota how, as individuals, we choose to define enjoyment, just getting out there and doing it is what really counts!

Simon is too unwell to make the 2015 trip - we'll have a few beers on the strength of the fact that we are using his
freezer and bait boat technology.  I sincerely hope that we will have another opportunity to recreate
this image some time in the future - probably after we've both retired!
I have plans to utilise some of my time by writing, not using the lap-top but, instead, with a pen and paper! That book is still very much a cherished dream; a challenge that needs to be faced up to and realised. I have odd chapters, in word document format - the real deal still retained in my head and my heart. I've purchased a 250 page A4 hardback note book - that should see me off to a decent start?
Rod Hutchinson wrote his first book in two weeks, his second a month! My effort will take considerably longer, as I am already into my second year. Writing, for me, is not something that I can do without constant reappraisal, I could have said this or that better - I post this type of drivel without much problem or thought, if however, I wish my experiences to be more fully expressed, then I require time to explore my narrative and ensure that it actually expresses all that I wish to convey.
I sincerely hope that my health remains intact and I am able to fulfil this ambition; in my own time.

A thing of beauty held by a "Yeti" - It's taken many years of careful grooming
 to cultivate this impressive fashion statement!
As there are just the three of us, this year, we will have ample space in which to spread our rods. I'm thinking of using four, if the conditions allow? Two Shimano Speed Master 5000's on my 13 footers and Cardinal 66X's on the 12 foot, 2.75 lbs t/c, Sportex rods that I've borrowed off Simon. I've also got my three Matt Hayes "Limited Edition" centre-pins, fully braided up, should I fancy a change. We've got enough bait to last us to Christmas, all high quality, fresh frozen, fish of a range of species. Dyes, flavours (fish oils) and enhancers are all part of our armoury - we'll pick and choose our bait/flavour/colour combinations as the holiday progresses, the one thing for sure is we won't run out! What we don't use will come back home - still frozen, such is the quality of the gas freezer system we now have at our disposal.
A superb brace of mid-doubles.
If ever I need to remind myself why I bother - I look no further than
images of my times on the Scottish lochs.
To quote Carly Simon - "Simply the Best!"
We also have the finest terminal tackle that we can acquire - Japanese hooks coupled with American wire traces. Benno uses crimps, I am a "twiddling stick" guy - either way, our traces are custom made and 100% reliable - I'd snap a rod before one of my traces gave way! I have but one more shift, to endure, before we sally forth to the delights of Loch Awe. St. George's Day will see us travel the 600 miles to the shore of Kilchurn Bay. What ever the outcome, you'll learn all about it, and much more, on my return, no later than May bank holiday Monday! (I'm back at work on Tuesday 5th May - bloody earlies!)

So in the mean time I'll not be blogging - keep the faith and thanks to everyone who bothers looking at my stuff.

Sunday 19 April 2015

Trickling through

Yet another early morning wander resulted in nothing much. Swallows continue to pass through in small bunches (no more than five birds at a time) whilst the male Wheatear is still in situ around the school car park. The Sky Lark remains, for it's second day, singing high above the fallow potato field, directly behind our garden. A male Willow Warbler flitted along the garden hedgerow, stopping occasionally to deliver a burst of song before continuing ever northwards. Linnets, Greenfinches and those, very puzzling, Meadow Pipits remain the dominant/most interesting species around the farm tracks and hedges.
Not a particularly good image - just a photo to accompany this mundane post.
At 11.30 hrs the gulls went up as a Common Buzzard drifted slowly north above the estate, only for it to reappear, some thirty minutes, later drifting back south before spiralling up to an incredible height and setting of west in a very purposeful manner. The local Sparrowhawks were displaying over St. Lukes and a pair of Chaffinches put in a surprise visit to the garden - an unusual date for these birds at our feeding station.
Preparations for our Loch Awe trip are nearing completion, my reels are loaded with 40 lbs b.s. braid and two rods are already made up, in my hard case, ready for immediate use when we arrive. We always get a couple of rods in the water before we make any attempt at erecting bivvies and getting our stuff in order. The weather forecast looks quite good, although predicting weather in the Scottish highlands is a very tricky business.

Friday 17 April 2015

Getting it together

The mountain of tackle, strewn about my study, has been sifted through and I am now fairly confident that I've got all I will require for the coming holiday. I've made some hard choices, although I have to admit that they were made with a single scenario in mind. What would I feel like if I lost my first Scottish twenty because I was fannying about with gear that wasn't up to the job? The Redmire alarms, Duncan Kay's and Mitchell 300's - as enjoyable as they are, would soon lose their appeal if they cost me the fish, I so desire. If I screw up? That's down to me; a tackle failure is unforgivable, under these circumstances. I'm going up there to fish for a "big" pike - end of! My gear has been, therefore, selected accordingly. Over the weekend I will get it all out in the garden and get a photo, or two. It is a very impressive heap!

Especially for Steve Gale! One of the male Wheatears, on the kerb of the school car park.
I don't think that I have ever enjoyed birding more than I am at present?
Patch watching = birding purity
Out again, this morning, for a quick stroll, pre-dog walkers, around Newland's Farm. Two smart, little, male Wheatears, a White Wagtail and a dozen, or so, Swallows were as good as it got, although a Skylark, singing upon high, over the field behind the garden hedge, was most unexpected. The continued presence of several Meadow Pipits is very strange, they have never bred on the patch whilst I've been watching it. I'll continue to monitor the situation. Better news is of, what would appear, Song Thrush success over at the main farm garden. I saw a bird with a beak full of food on the pathway between Ellington Girl's School and the farm hedgerow.  What a sad indication of the current state of our countryside when breeding Song Thrush becomes a notable occurrence!

Thursday 16 April 2015

Decisions, decisions

I'm sat in my study surrounded by an unbelievable amount of dross. Items of tackle and associated kit, all awaiting my approval as to their suitability for Scotland 2015. In 1982, I didn't have any of these problems; I didn't have that much gear that a choice was required - I simply took every tackle item I owned.
Getting home, last night, I sat down with an A4 pad and started to write a list of what I wanted to take - after three pages I gave up - it is bloody crazy the stuff that I have now to consider.
Luckily; I still have a fortnight-ish to get my act together and I'm sure it'll be OK come our day of departure? I took a short stroll around the farm, early this morning, just a single female Wheatear and four singing male Blackcaps for my troubles. The most interesting sighting was of two Great Spotted Woodpeckers flying high over the bungalow heading north - headed for Scandinavia at a guess?

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Why we do it

For the past two mornings I've been out of the bungalow by 06.30 hrs; not late for work but, instead, walking the tracks of Newland's Farm to see what's about. Patch watching, the next most simple form of birding after garden birding. I am able to derive great satisfaction from this aspect of the hobby, if I don't see/find it, then it will basically go un-noticed. The weather is glorious and, for the most part, in these conditions the vast majority of migrants will pass overhead without stopping.

However, a few do and it is these waifs and strays that keep me enthused as a I wander the area. Yesterday it was my first Willow Warbler, of the Spring, today there were four Ring Ouzel, two Swallows and a newly arrived Blackcap. Far from the heady mix of the coastal watch points, but plenty good enough for me to continue to keep looking and enjoying this very simple pastime.

A quick update - the first Wheatear of 2015 was along the track to The Old Rose Garden, as I made my way to work, at 13.35 hrs this afternoon!

Tuesday 14 April 2015

A quick jaunt through history?

I don't do modern - digital technology in all its' manifestations (including ink!) is way beyond my comprehension. I quite simply do not know how it works. If I were a kid at school today, I would be illiterate, educationally sub-standard because I just have no grasp of how this modern digital gig functions.
The guys, with whom I work, have all got 3 and 4 G phones which have computer systems that are more powerful than those which got America to the moon! I am not saying that I'm unable to use the results of digital technology, just that I have not the slightest insight, nor interest in discovery, of how it actually works.
My laptop is a powerful tool, an incredible piece of equipment, that allows me to communicate my experiences and opinions to an audience of global proportions. Utter madness. So, although I have no idea how it works; work it does and I am happy to embrace the advances and use the technology at my disposal.
As I've been pratting about, starting to sort through my gear for Loch Awe 2015, I've rummaged through some of my "odds & sods" boxes and discovered many, long forgotten/overlooked, items. There a aluminium landing net poles, with folding metal framed nets, hideous rod rests and numerous other sundry items which, in their day, were considered to be essential. I suppose it is because angling has been a core part of my life that I have more than a basic understanding of tackle development and why it has occurred.
I have not always seen these advances as improvements, they are simply marketing ploys by the tackle manufacturers to keep the dollars rolling in. Yet without the dollars, there will be no funds for future development, it is very much part and parcel of the whole process.
The very height of sophistication, in the early 70's.
If you used Heron bite alarms, you were a proper fisherman!
I don't think that there is any other, non-essential, accessory that demonstrates this process of evolution, as technology becomes ever more affordable, than the bite alarm? The brainchild of Dick Walker, the very earliest alarms were cobbled together incorporating an antennae fixed to a GPO contact switch and some form of sound unit - quite likely to be a buzzing door-bell. The first commercial alarm was The Heron, which quickly became a cult statement for every school boy who went fishing. Both Simon and myself owned these plastic contraptions, although I don't recall any successes we may have had whilst using them.

The alarm which was to set the standard. This is quite a late model, the lower image showing the
revolutionary roller and bladed paddle system which took bite detection to the next level.
It was in the 80's that the modern bite alarm started it's development. Delareed, a Ramsgate company, started to manufacture and market the Optonic bite alarm system. A completely revolutionary concept, a rotating blade, breaking a light beam, causing an audible signal, the race was on. Del Romang (I hope I've spelled his name correctly) quickly saw improvements and started to offer "modified" units. This caused quite a legal battle and was to see Delkim, as a company, emerge from the affair. My own "Optonics" were Les Bamford conversions, and gave great service, in all weathers, during the 80's and into the early 90's; I wish I still had them.
From left to right:-
The Heron bite alarm, Optonic Super Compact, Steve Neville, Digital Optonic and Ultimate Redmire.
In the early 1990's a guy called Steve Neville decided he could improve, further, the bite detection of a burgeoning specimen angling community. He was an engineer in the RAF, as I recall, and it was Bob Henderson who introduced me to these alarms. Using a magnet, in a roller, to activate a reed switch, they were neat and incredibly well constructed, completely waterproof, sealed units. I got two for £25! Quite what occurred during my eighteen year break is unknown, to me, but on my return to the hobby I purchased three "Digital" Optonnics (£9.99 each) and have had no reason to complain about any aspect of their performance. They are about to make their fifth trip north and have never let me down - I've only had to change the batteries once! My latest acquisition, those incredibly cheap Redmire alarms, is a manifestation of how far technology has advanced. Very similar to that of digital watches or TV's - the first examples are incredibly expensive but, as further developments happen, the price of subsequent models becomes less and less. To be able to market a bite alarm, manufactured in China, at a price of £1.66, and still return a profit, suggests that this technology has about reached it's peak in terms of development potential?

Sunday 12 April 2015

Sublime and the ridiculous

I'm just back from a session at Sandwich Coarse Fishery, my last chance of a carp for a while. Pike angling once again will dominate my thoughts over the next few weeks. Kevin unlocked the gates just after 07.00 hrs, this morning and I drove straight round to my chosen area, fishing within five minutes of my arrival.
It was a glorious day, with a blustery WSW blowing into my face. The swim I'd chosen, and I had the lake to myself first thing, was the one where I took my first ever carp from the venue. I knew what I wanted to do and exactly where I was going to try my luck.

The reed stems which are out in the open water were frequently moved by the actions of the carp
swimming about within the sanctuary of the cover. My right-hand rod was fished close to the
edge of this feature.
Two Duncan Kay's and two Mitchell 300's is only to be expected? My choice of bite alarms is where my post
title came from. On the right is a prototype Steve Neville - 1993 - and on the left a crazy Dragoncarp product (3 for £5!)
a Redmire alarm.  One of these items is valued in the £100's - yet what does it do that the other doesn't? Well it works when it rains, for a start!
 But the reality is that technology has advanced so rapidly as to make my Steve Neville a topic of conversation, and envy,
 whilst the Redmire alarm provides a disposable alternative.
There were fish (carp) in my swim from the very off, they showed themselves by vicious movements of the reeds as they swam between the dead stems. One of my baits was placed directly adjacent to the reeds, my other out into a deeper channel that is close to an island. I was really happy with my rigs, but unsure of my choice of spots. After a couple of hours, with no action, I changed the left hand rod to a deeper area, adjacent to the tree line 90 degrees to my rod tip and the right hand rod was cast directly into an open spot within the reeds. No back lead, no open bale arm and no getting away from the rod; if I got a bite I needed to be right on top of the situation!
It was 10.30 hrs when the reed bed rod was away and I found myself attached to a lively little "scamp" Common - around 6 lbs. I was delighted, this was the first bite/fish that I'd had using the Mitchell 300's. There was no-one around, so I put the fish straight back, happy that a jinx had been broken. It was almost an hour later that the same rod was away again. This time it was a little more interesting, the carp attempting to remain within the reeds with far more gusto than my previous capture. Eventually, I managed to extricate the carp from the snags and, once in open water, it was relatively straight forward from then on.

I am indebted to the young guy, from my adjacent swim, who kindly took this photo.
As always, if I think it has a chance of being a double, it was subjected to the ritual weighing - 10 lbs 8 oz of superb, chunky, Mirror Carp. I walked around to the guy, who had just arrived, and asked if he'd be so kind as to take a few photos? He did just that and I am very grateful. Not a big fish, by any means, but one that I am very content with. I can put away the carp gear and concentrate on pike fishing, knowing that my last effort was a step in the right direction.

Saturday 11 April 2015

Sandwich - once again

With our Scottish trip getting ever closer, I have decided to have one last bash at Sandwich Coarse Fishery before we; Luke, Benno and I, undertake the 600 mile drive to Loch Awe. Most of our preparations are well advanced but, there are the usual, last minute, tweaks which need to be finalised.
It was with this in mind that I travelled over to Sandwich, this morning, as Luke had booked in for a 24 - hour stint. We had a few bits to sort out. He'd already taken three small (not doubles) carp overnight, and had a fourth fish whilst I was chatting with him.

Once again, Luke showing me the way to go.  Only a scamp Common, but very welcome on a day like this?
If I had not been aware of the current situation I'd probably not have bothered. So I am, this evening, at home boiling up my hemp and getting the gear ready for one last fling, before we head north. Luke's approach is very today, dumb-bell pellets and pva bags - my insistence on using traditional methods/techniques is, by contrast, completely alien to the vast majority of anglers who frequent this venue. One thing that is very apparent is my undeniable lack of success during the colder months. Some of these modern techniques are far advanced from my simplistic approach yet, as the water warms up, I feel that there is plenty of opportunity for me make a statement and redeem myself?
Tomorrow will, once again, see two Duncan Kay's with Mitchell 300's attached, perched upon my Kevin Maddock's rod-pod system - a semolina/soya flour boily on one and chick peas on the other. Binoculars around my neck and extension tubes fitted to the camera; I'm sure there'll be something to entertain me should I continue to demonstrate my recent lack of angling skill? I am only going to give it six hours, at best, before this gear gets stowed away and pike angling, once again, takes centre stage. I've got a supplier of Cornish Sardines - less than 36 hrs from capture to freezer - which Luke and I both feel will aid our cause. Benno has a supplier of rather more exotic baits which are pivotal to our confidence and techniques. As this is our final sortie, I am happy to reveal all when we get home - don't hold your breath because it is nothing too remarkable. This final trip has all the ingredients to be an epic session (we have a twelve day time slot)  - Davie Robertson joining us for a day - so we can catch up with what's going on in Central Scottish Pike Angling circles.

Friday 10 April 2015

Available to anyone who wishes to look

The weather has been glorious, post shift, for most of the week; the mornings being rather misty but burning off by mid-day to reveal a splendid afternoon (the joy of being on earlies!). Insects continue to dominate my interest as I go about my daily routine, Green-veined White being my latest addition to the 2015 butterfly list - I'm now on four!

A mind-blowing combination of colours - but for what purpose? Bottom line, do we really need to know?
Is it not possible to look, and enjoy, without the requirement to explain every nuance of evolution?
It was a garden encounter with the micro-moth, Esperia sulphurella, which allowed me to play around with the extension tubes this afternoon. What a stunning colour scheme for such a tiny insect? 7 mm, plus its antennae, only really able to be appreciated when seen up close, therefore an ideal subject for digital macro photography. Quite why this intricate combination of colours and iridescent scales is required by such a small creature is just another excuse to keep me looking; as if I need one?
This particular creature is common, around Thanet, but I am sure that very few human residents have ever bothered to pay it any heed. I can't sit indoors, watching "Spring-watch" on T/V, when I know that there's so much more to discover, for myself, right on my doorstep. The use of the extension tubes being yet another way in which I am able to enrich my journey through life.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Making the most of it

Not the most eventful day at work, but I did discover that I was over-qualified, by some considerable margin, for Government funding, when I attended a session to enrol on a Business Improvement Techniques NVQ course. No great shakes, but it would have been far easier if this had been explained before I said I'd "give it a go!" My shift over at 14.00 hrs, I was home within ten minutes and out in the garden sorting out our decking area. The phone went, Gadget telling me that a Hen Harrier was coming my way. I could see the gulls going nuts, but sadly missed the bird, two Common Buzzards providing minor compensation. I do have Hen Harrier on my "patch list" but only the one record - it is therefore, a fantastic sighting and I'm gutted at missing this bird. It appears to have passed by, away to the east, hidden from my view by the rooftops of Prestege Avenue?

Hoverflies feeding on umbelifers
I spent a couple of hours in the garden, getting quite a bit done, before deciding to take a walk around the farm, the weather being that good. I took my bins and my camera, fitted with the 18 - 55 mm lens with a 14 mm extension tube. It was always going to be about inverts - I'd seen my first Tawny Mining Bee, of 2015, as I came home. Although there was a chill to the NE breeze, the afternoon sun was very pleasant in the lea of the hedgerows and insect life was plentiful. I saw my first Swallow of the year and a Chiffchaff was singing from the bushes around the "White House" - Spring has definitely sprung!
By deliberately fitting the extension tubes to my camera, I am forced to seek subjects which lend themselves to macro photographic techniques. Today it was a pleasure; of course it would have been nice to get a shot of the Swallow or Chiffchaff - both were well within range of my "big lens" - but it wasn't why I was out on the farm.

This insect was superb - not knowing what it is called doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the encounter.
I derive immense pleasure from macro photography - I'm not particularly good at it, but that is not going to stop me having fun. I suppose I was out for 90 minutes - I took 87 images. Hoverflies were the most numerous subjects, my guess that at least five species were on the wing. I did see another Tawny Mining Bee, but it didn't want to play. However, there were two insects which were completely new to me, one was a fly sp, which was feeding on an umbelifer, the other was 10-spotted Ladybird. Just by forcing myself to look in this fashion has produced two new encounters for me. So what if I missed a Hen Harrier, as great as that record is, I've seen loads of them during my life - those two insects are the first examples, of their kind, that I've ever knowingly set eyes upon.

10-spotted Ladybird.
The first time I've ever knowingly seen one of these creatures. The use of my extension tubes and small lens
being directly responsible for me bothering to look for such subjects

Monday 6 April 2015

Out of the gloom

The day started quite brightly, with extended periods of sunshine during the breaks in the clouds. I took a quick stroll around the farm, that first Wheatear must surely arrive soon? Nothing much to report; four Rooks amidst the Carrion Crows, foraging next to Pyson's Road, single Blackcap (male) and Chiffchaff plus a surprising number of decked Meadow Pipits - possibly 30 birds? A smart adult female Sparrowhawk flushed the Wood Pigeons from the cauliflowers and a lone Skylark passed west, overhead - back home for a spot of breakfast before the call of Wicke's and B&Q - we're looking at new flooring and doors!
I'd really fancied it for a Buzzard today, but the clouds gathered and grey skies persisted, conditions were less than optimal. It was, therefore, quite a surprise when, arriving home from our DIY recce, the gulls were mobbing a bird, high up, right above the bungalow. I immediately called buzzard before rushing inside to grab my camera. Back outside, within seconds, I was delighted to discover that the bird was, in fact, a Short-eared Owl. This was a triple whammy! A year, garden and patch tick - quality! My images are not Mark Chidwick quality, but serve the purpose for which they are meant.

A very welcome addition to the patch and garden list. I am aware of one other patch record,
of this species, which was seen/flushed by a dog walker from stubble in
Autumn of 2003.

Sunday 5 April 2015

Silence was deafening

Well - I've got home after a complete waste of effort. The other guys, who were at the fishery, are there for the entire holiday period and I was left to take a very un-fancied swim which covered a shallow bay in the SW corner of the lake. I saw, or heard, nothing to suggest that there was a carp anywhere close during my entire stay. I will make no more excuses - I simply am not that good a carp angler to be able to turn up and expect to catch fish wherever I am fishing.

A lovely grassy area on which to pitch my bivvy.  Sandwich Coarse Fishery is a nice place to be - catching or not.
I prepared my two spots in a manner with which I was happy and my baits were positioned accordingly. I played around with bite indicators, switching from my tench swingers to hangers as the wind dropped away towards dusk making this change possible. I couldn't use monkeys on needles due to the platform I was perched upon - a situation which will be rectified very soon with a little Blue Peter technology.
Spent a while playing around with the camera, whilst the evening sun persisted, getting some shots of the pitch and my gear. On the plus side, I have to report no major issues with my bivvy, bed chair or sleeping bag - it's looking good for Loch Awe again.

A couple of views of the kit I was using and the layout of my pitch.
After a decent, uninterrupted, night's kip; I was awake at dawn listening to the early Spring dawn chorus. A Chiffchaff joined the Blackbirds, Robins, Chaffinches and Great Tits with a nice bonus of a Mistle Thrush belting out it's song from a nearby wooded area. A Little Owl and a Common Buzzard added to the noise and a Kingfisher perched, very briefly, in a Sallow adjacent to my rods as the sun started to break the horizon - there are worse ways to wake up?

An Andrena bee sp. - on our decking woodwork
A beautiful Easter Sunday, so I spent a while in the garden hoping that a Buzzard or two might decide to pass over Dumpton. A lone Sparrowhawk was as good as it got and I was reduced to wandering the garden with the extension tubes fitted. Not too much to get excited over, although I did manage to record my third butterfly species of 2015 when a Comma flew through. An Andrena bee sp. - sunning itself on the decking woodwork - was the best I could do with the camera.
So, it is very true that my angling was a complete flop, but my session wasn't without worth and life continues to provide enjoyment wherever I am, whatever I'm doing?

Saturday 4 April 2015

An over-nighter

I've secured a night session at Sandwich Coarse Fishery, for Saturday into Sunday, my first one of 2015. I have a few ideas which I want to attempt, before I take them into a serious angling situation. A chat, this morning (Friday), with Kevin was an enlightening encounter - there was a guy who took twelve fish, including three twenties (I've seen the photos!) on Wednesday night. I have absolutely no idea (or desire to copy) what bait the successful angler had been using - I just needed to know that the carp are having it. If I'm good enough, and my approach suited to the conditions, I'll have some of this action.
I had a quick walk around the venue, one lad landing a modest carp - on float gear, whilst I was there; the carp are getting on the munch after their winter lay off! I'm going to do much the same as I'd done on the tench venue. A decent spread of hemp and liquidised sweetcorn with a neutral buoyancy 12 mm pellet on one rod and a "snowman" on the other (two rod limit applies here). My boilies were made last night and are a very basic concoction of semolina and soya flour - plus a few other bits? They are deliberately left uncoloured, as I want them to appear "washed out", like they have been in the water for an extended period. I'm not sure if this makes any difference, but it is something which I have been experimenting with over the past season after seeing some stuff on Youtube. The theory seems to be based upon sound logic?

My first, and largest, carp from the fishery.
I'd be very happy for a repeat performance tonight.
I'm going on my own, there was only one place available when I enquired, the limit being six overnight anglers on this venue. At least there'll be someone handy should I need a photo or two. I do have a secondary motive for doing a night and that is to check out my gear, prior to Scotland, if something needs replacing it's better to find out now and not wait until I'm on the banks of Loch Awe.
It'll be my first carp session using Mitchell 300's and I still await my first fish on any of these reels, it should be very entertaining. I have no ambitious desires for the session, I just want to bend a rod and try out a few ideas. Whatever the outcome I'll make a post about the experience on Sunday morning when I get back home.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Barbel - my story so far.

My rather ragged copy of Top Ten. Still an interesting read, but
not in the same class as The Big Fish Scene.
In 1983, Beekay Publishing released a book entitled Top Ten which was, in reality, an up-dated version of The Big Fish Scene of five years previous. In this compilation of species accounts; how to catch them, the author of the chapter on barbel was Roger Baker, who, at that time, was a very successful angler with seven doubles to his name. To get this into some type of perspective, I was fishing for barbel during this period under the guidance of Fred Crouch. We'd fish The Compound on the Royalty Fishery (Hampshire Avon) and King's Weir on the Hertfordshire Lea, accompanied by Chris Scott on the majority of sessions. I caught, and saw caught, a good number of fish. A six pounder was a nice fish, a seven always worthy of a photo whilst anything over eight pounds was a right result. In all my time with these two fine anglers I only ever saw one double - Chris Scott's 10 lbs 2 oz fish from the Royalty.

My 9 lbs 2 oz fish from The Thames - a capture of which I'm rather proud.
Taken from a swim I'd identified after reading a match report in The Angling Times.
By September 1985 my PB had reached a very respectable 9 lbs 2 oz - I'd taken two fish of this weight. One from The Avon the other from The Thames at Mapledurham, Berkshire. Both fish fell to swimfeeder/maggot tactics fished using my Match Aerial centre-pin - just as Fred had taught me. Happy with my results I left barbel fishing and went off in search of other angling challenges, particularly the Wels Catfish of the Leighton Buzzard AC waters, whilst also continuing to Tench fish at Wilstone on a regular basis.
Well that was it - my angling came to an abrupt halt in August 1993 when I moved, with my job, to Kent and all things birds and birding dominated my leisure time.
I have to fast forward to May 2011 before I pick up a fishing rod again - there'd been an awful lot of change whilst I've been on my sabbatical. My brother Simon and his friends had been fishing throughout my abstinence and caught a number of double figure barbel from several different rivers. They were using hair rigs and trout pellets; all very alien to me. The barbel record had risen from 13 lbs 12 oz to over 18 lbs in this same period, something very dodgy was happening to our rivers to enable such a massive increase to occur in such a short period. Whatever it was, it wasn't natural! As I attempt to catch up with what is current in modern angling, a barbel of 20 lbs+ is reported and a Bream of 23 lbs! There is an ecological catastrophe taking place before our very eyes, but myopic big fish anglers are completely oblivious. For species to attain such weights there has to be a glut of food. In a balanced environment this will not happen, thus something very major must be impacting on the situation to enable this phenomenon. I believe it was Jim Gibbinson who first raised the subject of eutrophication, within an angling context - the artificial enrichment of a habitat due to agricultural fertilizer run-off. A direct consequence of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) of EU origins. He used it to explain the exceptional growth of "cyprinid" species (Carp, Tench and Bream) which were flourishing in the newly created gravel pits of the 1980's.
So there I was, in 2011, faced with a situation which, on balance, was very similar to that which had occurred on Wilstone thirty years before. Fish growing to extraordinary sizes because of man-made intervention. In the still waters it is easy to use modern farming practices to explain the situation, in running water the answer is a little more complex. Not only do the agri-chemicals play a part, but so do the effluent levels (including the female birth control hormones - as administered by the NHS) which our water providers are legally pumping back into the various river systems. This is a chemistry lesson on a mammoth scale! Nutrient rich water with high levels of pollutants - obviously there will be winners and losers. Our favoured cyprinids will have no problem with these environmental conditions, although the birth control hormone might impact on spawning success, the fish which survive will have almost limitless food supplies and, therefore, growth potential. The "Specimen Hunters" dream scenario - not too many fish, but every ones a good'n! These same conditions will be the cause of the demise of our native crayfish, minnows, stone loach, bullheads and so many other aquatic life forms.
However, it is this heady combination of factors which has seen barbel angling become the second most popular form of specimen hunting - behind carp fishing. Roger Baker and his seven doubles now look ridiculous. Shaun Harrison tells of taking twenty doubles between mid-June and September from a single river, Lawrence Breakspear recalls the capture of his 200th double whilst my brother, Simon, bumped into an angler, on St. Patrick's Stream, who claimed to only take photos of fish over 16 lbs! Whatever the science behind this, there can be no denying the fact that there has never been a better time, than now, to go barbel fishing in the UK.
It was the summer of 2012 when I began to think about the barbel that were present in The Kentish Stour, stocked, with the full backing of The Environment Agency, by The Canterbury & District AC. The river record is an incredible 17 lbs 1 oz and Benno knew a guy who'd taken a double from a section that we'd been chub fishing. The seeds were set - Benno took two very small fish that first season (not session!), I totally blanked. So it was in June of 2013 that I was to finally relive the thrill of playing a feisty barbel. Sadly, it was not the Stour but, the River Severn at Hampton Lode. Benno and I had a two day-er up there, he finished with four fish I landed just two, but I was off the mark!

My first barbel in twenty eight years. Gazing down on that fish is one of the most treasured angling
moments I can recall. Size was completely irrelevant, I'd, once again, caught a barbel.
We returned home, buoyed by our success and within a week Benno hit the jackpot with his first Stour barbel of the season - 11 lbs 6 oz of pure hard-earned joy. The biggest barbel I'd ever seen and man, did I want one of those! We were both keen as mustard to add to our tally, but also to learn about the fish in this lovely little river. It proved to be painfully slow going, my first fish coming six weeks into the new season. At 7 lbs 14 oz it was a nice fish, but it wasn't what I was hoping for, the campaign continued. It was a couple of sessions later when, from the same swim, I took my second fish. This time it was a beauty, weighing in at 11 lbs 9 oz - cracked it? A new PB and everything I hoped for was beginning to come together. Five crazy days in August 2013 was to see me discover a new swim and beat my PB twice with two magnificent fish of 13 lbs 5 oz then 13 lbs 14 oz - I was living in a dream. The reality slap came when we only had two more fish by November, mine 6 lbs 2 oz and Benno taking his second double at 10 lbs 4 oz.

Benno gazes down on his second double of the season - 10 lbs 4 oz
We ended the season with a combined total of eleven fish (including Bunny and Tom's fish) - five doubles. Encouraging enough to already be making plans for 2014. It was whilst we were away in Scotland that Luke decided to join the fray - he'd not caught a barbel ever! By choosing to start on the Stour it was quite possible that he would remain that way! Our original section of the river had been decimated by the flooding of the previous winter and we were forced to start looking elsewhere. We were back to square one!
The new season got off to slow start and it was six weeks in before anyone had a fish. I got lucky, exactly a year after my first fish when I took a superb specimen of 12 lbs 10 oz from a new swim, Luke was quickly off the mark, ending up with four fish, two doubles 10 lbs 4 oz & 10 lbs 6 oz. I stuck with it and was finally rewarded with a second fish which, at 11 lbs 4 oz, was some reward  for my perseverance
Benno returns my first Stour double. Chest waders are an essential part of our gear. Not only do they allow the
safe return of the barbel we occasionally capture, but they also provide an impenetrable layer
against the bloody mossies!
Benno and Luke had enough and went off in search of lure caught chub, I became increasingly frustrated and, by the end of August, finally threw in the towel. These fish really are very difficult to locate.
So why am I going back  again? All I will say is that Benno and I stumbled across a group of four feeding fish, very late one night. If someone takes a twenty from this river, I have already seen it. One of those fish was truly monstrous - Benno has nightmares about it, they were on his bait!
With one, very notable, exception (a guy who claims to have taken over 1,000 barbel from this river!), everyone I've spoken with speaks of how hard these fish are. The guy in Fatfish, a tackle shop in Thannington, told me of other anglers who have experienced the same type of frustration that I've endured. Basically, the fish have been taken from swims where the angler "feels" barbel should feed - not swims where barbel have been seen. You put down a bed of particles and place your hook bait on top - and then you wait! If the angling gods are in favour - you'll get a fish, but it doesn't happen that often?

Barbel are magnificent fish, they fight with a tenacity which few other species can consistently match. The fish which inhabit the water of The Kentish Stour are the most challenging angling project I've ever undertaken. They have caused me more anguish than any other fishing situation I have ever experienced. Looking at the basic figures, nine doubles from seventeen fish, suggests that this particular river is capable of something very special in the next few years. As the saying goes "You gotta be in it to win it!" That fish which Benno and I saw might just be the one?