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 November 2017

Artful, not arty - sorry Steve!

"There's no point growing old if you don't get artful" A sentiment I first heard whilst working in the, Distribution - Southern Region, warehouse of Kodak Ltd, Swallowdale Lane, Hemel Hempstead, way back in the mid/late 1970's. At that time, being a shallow twat, I hurled youthful abuse at these sage, old'ns - because I knew so much better than them? NOT!!!
Fortunately, age does something to a brain to help it engage in sensible thought processes and understand that life experiences hold sway over exuberant arrogance and downright stupidity (which I had in abundance during those Kodak years!) Yes, I am now very cute at playing the age card, when heavy graft is involved, although I still do my share. Why should I need to be? Well; getting old also highlights the effects of wear and tear on that physical structure we refer to as our body. Arthritis in my hands, shoulders and knees is starting to impose limitations on the dexterity I have always taken for granted. In no way am I crippled by this condition, but aches and pain are now part of my daily existence. I have medicines to assist control of these discomforts, but I also have a brain which says that there are situations which, if avoided, will be better for my well-being! In my younger days I'd "run it off"?
All this week I've been planning to get down to the canal for a Friday, after work, session. I have the time and ability to make it happen, however, the weather forecast is so foreboding - heavy rain, strong winds and freezing temps - that only a fool would venture forth in pursuit of a fish under these conditions? I will await a  less problematic forecast, before casting a line again. Yes, that pike project still matters, there is so much more I want to learn, but putting my body through such an ordeal, because I can, no longer holds any attraction.
I recognize that whilst spending a week on the banks of Loch Awe, I have endured far worse weather, for longer periods, than a few hours on the canal. I am fully kitted out to cope with such extremes when I go to Scotland - a four hour session on the Kent marshes doesn't warrant that amount of effort or equipment. Horses for courses and I'd like to think that I'm getting artful, because I'm certainly getting old!

Sunday 26 November 2017

This just might work?

After much soul searching and, very public, head scratching it appears that I might have come up with a plan by which bird watching can return to being a normal part of my outdoor life? Over this weekend I've had two very enjoyable dusk, into dark, pike sessions. Both produced fish, as I expected, when the light faded away although the Saturday session, on The Royal Military Canal, was plagued by bloody eels once it got dark. The only saving grace being an adjacent property having a bit of a party and playing the entire Travelling Wilburys album, at full blast. I was transported back in time to some very happy days!

A Coot out on The Levels - a pain in the arse when they are constantly diving on your
dead baits, but still count one on the list!
Sunday afternoon was spent out on the levels and I smashed it. Five pike in little more than two hours, either side of sunset (15.54 hrs according to the BBC). However, it was whilst I was out there that I hatched a plan. More years ago than I care to remember, Don Taylor had introduced the Kent birders to an American concept. It was/is called "The Big Sit". I have very fond memories of "Bird Race Day" as we cycled around East Kent attempting to record as many species, as possible, during a 24 hr period. The purpose of these days was to raise funds for The Kent Ornithological Society (don't even go there - they are a group of birders, not scientists!). The spin off was a competition for those of us involved - day listing. Don's variation was that you were restricted to one small area, the dimensions of which I have no idea. How many species could be recorded from a single place? Now there is a refreshing slant on this concept - I tried it this afternoon and found myself totally immersed in the challenge, whilst awaiting a bite alarm to sound. All of a sudden, there I am, once again constantly peering through my binoculars, ears straining for the next call of a flyover passerine. It was great fun and I found myself constantly active, my brain in overdrive as I searched for new species which had to be present, if I knew where to look. I managed to record 34 species, this afternoon, but know I could have done so much better. The best part of this activity is that it was good fun and that's got to be the key! I can't start choosing my swims because they offer a better chance of a day-list, but I do visit some amazing places on my angling adventures and this exercise might prove to be a very enjoyable distraction?

11 lbs 8 oz - the smaller, but better looking, of two
doubles taken today. There is definitely something
worth pursuing with this project.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Make it happen - a ramble through my head

There is, within the higher echelons of industrial ambition, a mind set based upon a teaching known as "Alchemy" - "If you want it enough - you can make it happen!" It is based upon driven personal improvement, to hell with the rest of society, fulfillment at any cost. Pretty sure it was an American concept, but not 100%, although it has the "American Dream" written all over it! I was completely shocked by the promotion of such, self centered, obsessional, drive and the fact that companies were prepared to pay good money to send their "chosen" employees to attend such courses/seminars.
Then the penny dropped! The idea behind this scheme is to promote, in a different arena, the obsessive behavior that is part, and parcel, of being a full-on carp angler or mainstream "twitcher". Why hadn't I thought of this?  I'd be a bloody millionaire, at least!
I can tell you why, without any difficulty. Obsession is part of who you are, it cannot be taught or learnt. My desire to catch big fish or see as many birds/moths within a year comes from a place which no amount of money can purchase or define. I don't think that genetics have any part to play - it is far deeper than that. It's all about expectation and what is important to an individual.
If money is the priority, then you will have little time to enjoy the natural world, as long as there is another dollar to chase. Money is a commodity, like oil or water, the natural world is an adventure to be experienced, at whatever level and intensity, by those of us with the intelligence to know that when you die, no amount of money can go with you, so what was the point? Big house, fancy car, drugs and gambling - what could possibly be the allure when there are fish to be caught and birds to be seen? Each to their own, I guess!

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Looking back to move on?

I am very conscious of how lacking my 2017 blogging has been, in comparison to previous years. There are some very powerful influences, in my personal circumstances, which have impacted upon this situation; none less so than the health, happiness and welfare of Bev's parents. I am also aware that my angling exploits have been a very dominant source of material posted,  just recently, and that might be a little off putting to some regular visitors to this site. However, in an attempt at redressing the balance, I am hoping to try to include some of the other wildlife encounters that happen to me, without being quite so dismissive.

There is absolutely no way could I ever return to this. Twitching is, without doubt, fantastic to be part of, however,
it provides nothing other than individual enjoyment. The contribution to science/conservation is zero.
I have to make it understood that my time involved with such useless self-indulgence was bloody brilliant.
  Kent birders and county birding were a great combination during my period of involvement!
 No regrets - I set the, then, county year list record of 263 species in 1999! (Not sure if it still stands?)
My enthusiasm for birding has never been at a lower ebb, I can't even muster the energy to have a wander around Newlands Farm at the moment. This is crazy as I still gain great pleasure from actually looking at birds but, they have to come to me, not the other way round. What I find most strange is that twice, in 2017, I have become an active birder without any effort or prompting. Both times were when I was on holiday - Tenerife and Kefalonia. Whilst in these unfamiliar surroundings, it seemed the most natural thing, in the world, for me to be walking around with my binos and long lens, ready to look at anything which caught my attention - so why not in the UK? I can't actually give an answer to this question because I do not have one that makes any sense to me, so even less likely to assist a third party understand my current stance.
I think that it was Gavin Haig who used the term "phasing" to describe a lack of activity in a certain interest, be that mothing, angling, birding, cycling or marathon running. Quite simply anything which had, in the past, provided a spark which has now been lost, or at least dimmed significantly.
I made comment recently, on another blog, "that I wouldn't cross the road to see a Great White or Cattle Egret, etc, etc.." and was, quite rightly, picked up on this statement. The event that has brought this subject to the fore was that of two Woodcock flying over The Royal Military Canal, at first light on Sunday morning. I was really excited by this simple encounter and found myself questioning why am I not more involved?

This was on our bungalow roof - many moons ago (2008 I think?)

Dartford Warbler at North Foreland - really rewarding when you find one whilst out and about.
I'd bumped into Franny, at Tesco, over the weekend and we had a quick chat about the state of birds and moths on the sacred isle. "Nothing doing" being the consensus of the like-minded souls with whom we are in contact. It is true that Purple Sandpiper, Snow Bunting, Black Redstart, Dartford Warbler, Raven and Red-necked Phalarope have all been performing around our coastline, recently, but when your expectations are based upon previous events, this is where the problem lies. Been there, seen it, got the bloody tee-shirt! The law of diminishing returns?

American Golden Plover at Pegwell - my second UK sighting, of this species, following one in Bedfordshire in 1991/2 ?
Both birds seen because I was "twitching" (P.S. - Franny found this one)
There are three, very well documented and defined, stages through which an angler passes during a lifetime spent fishing. The parallel similarities between angling and birding are there to be seen by all involved; I've personal experience of  journeys in both these spheres of outdoor pursuits. When I wrote that post "I'm on a roll" it was quickly focused on my time, during the mid 80's when the capture of big fish was the most important thing in my life - and let's not forget that I was married with two young kids. My obsessive desire, to succeed, riding roughshod over all parental concerns and marital responsibilities. Nothing, at all, to be proud about yet it doesn't prevent that stage in my angling journey being the part that I enjoyed most. And so it is with my birding exploits. 1999 was to provide the very pinnacle of my obsession with Kent listing and fortunately coincided with the best year for rare birds, within the county, in living memory.  I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite between the two, that's for sure!

Twitched - Simon Mount found three here and this photo is a result of my "twitching" his field work.
I have made mention, on numerous occasions, that it was my experiences with Atlantic Blue Marlin which lead to the eighteen year long birding adventure. I couldn't find the enthusiasm to go fishing, because of what I'd achieved and witnessed, during that crazy trip to Madeira (August 1993) and that's exactly how I feel about birding today. Hopefully, those two Woodcock might have flicked a switch, because I'm bloody sure I don't have another eighteen years in which to rekindle my desire to go birding again. I've got to adjust my life balance, make a conscious effort to get back to doing the simple things. I have my "patch" right on the doorstep. Small acorns = mighty oaks! I need to get back to basics, just as I've done with my angling, in order to return to a hobby which has provided so much joy over my lifetime. Realistic and achievable - that has to be my basis for any challenge. Like my angling projects, I'll let circumstances dictate where I end up. Will these dual interests prove to be comfortable bedfellows in 2018? Only with the passing of time will judgement, of such things, be possible. As for crossing the road to twitch a bird - no, I don't think that'll ever happen again!

So much more enjoyable when you find them for yourself!

Sunday 19 November 2017

Change of scenery

Benno, Luke, Skunk and I met up at Iden Lock for a pike fishing social. Two rods each, as per fishery rules, we had eight baits in the canal well before dawn. It was clear and cold, with a heavy frost, and it felt good to be out. Expectations were high but, they always are at the start of a session or, it wouldn't be worth getting out of bed?

Sunrise over Romney Marsh was spectacular. Luke and I both inspired to grab the cameras and click away in the hope of capturing the atmosphere of the early morning. I haven't seen Luke's results but am happy enough with my own. As we were at a new venue I had changed my tackle and used a pair of Matt Hayes centre-pins on my Duncan Kay's in preference to the Mitchell 300's that I have been using on the drains.

At 08.00 hrs I had a very stuttering take on my sardine and found myself attached to a rather spirited pike. It was only weighed because Luke wanted to check his new scales against mine - bang on; the fish weighed 8 lbs 11 oz on both sets, surprise, surprise! I stayed until 10.30 hrs but this was the only action we had. A good laugh and time to catch up, but a few more pike would have been nice. Birds were rather diverse. I recorded two Common Buzzard, two Woodcock (year tick), Marsh Harrier, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Water Rail, hundreds of Greylag Geese, Mute Swans and Mallards and the first sound I heard, on arrival, was a distant Tawny Owl, hooting away in a nearby wood.

Friday 17 November 2017

They were on the munch

I've just got home from a ridiculous session, out on the marsh. Arriving just after 14.40 hrs; I had three rods fishing within twenty minutes and was to experience the most hectic feeding spell I've ever known out on these drains. In 90 minutes I'd had eight bites, resulting in five pike visiting the bank. Big baits and small pike have a history of coming adrift and so it was today.

She weighed 12 lbs 6 oz today. 
The up side of this, hectic, action was that it confirmed the effectiveness of my tweaked bait presentation and my choice of flavour enhancers. However, there were three recaptures involved so, feel it is time to call it a day at this particular venue and seek to continue the challenge elsewhere. I'm rather taken with The Stour as the next choice - I'll have a little look, over the weekend and see what I think?
I'm getting more confident with the Fuji kit, for my self take photos.
It does mean that I have to carry a tripod with me but, I would rather do that, than
have no option other than to get a shot of my capture laying on
the unhooking mat/sling.
I weighed all the fish today and they were as follows, and in this order, 8 lbs 6 oz, 9 lbs 0 oz*, 12 lbs 6 oz*, 10 lbs 8 oz* & 7 lbs 5 oz - the * marks the recaptures, that nine was for the third time! It's not fair on these fish, plus I am learning nothing new from these events, so it's for the best that I move on to other fisheries.

Thursday 16 November 2017

I'm on a bit of a roll - stick with it!

"Blogland" is a fantastic place to inhabit; to be part of. Kindred spirits collide in cyber space and associations are formed with complete strangers, from places we've never been, yet know intimately through the postings of these virtual diarists. I now have friends whom I've never met, yet exchange views and comments regularly via this network. One big benefit of being part of this community is the ability to draw inspiration from the writing of fellow bloggers or from those other contributors who are moved to pass comment following something we've posted. It's a very fertile place, if you've the mind to search around.
I've been doing just this and stumbled across a post which was an advert for this bloggers book, "A year chasing big fish" or something along those lines. I won't offer a link, or name the guy, because I have no reason to promote such things. I had a little peruse of the site and checked out a list of PB's that had been proudly displayed, alongside a gallery of digital images. A very nice blog, well presented, but it didn't work for me. Why? Because, basically, the angler hadn't caught many (other than carp) "big fish"! And a year is a very claustrophobic timescale. My angling isn't solely about such captures, as important as they are, it's also about a lifetime's interaction with people and the enjoyment of places. That there's a pleasure to be gained from a plan coming to fruition is beyond doubt, however the frustrations and disappointment when things don't go your way is also part of the journey. The incredible high when that special fish is finally within the folds of the landing net and you are reduced to an adrenaline induced, gibbering, wreck is what keeps us coming back for more! Only a small percentage of anglers will understand this viewpoint - the vast majority, of which, being on the wrong side of fifty; at a guess?
Is it really possible to recall a lifetime's "big fish" angling highlights in a single blog offering? Probably not unless I take several weeks, to produce it, going back over my angling archives. Therefore I am going to give it a go; as a one off - might get messy? What species are included is purely arbitrary, they're the ones I have been successful in capturing unsurprisingly. That they span a period stretching back over four decades is probably the best indication of my journey and my belief that angling isn't a hobby, it's a way of life.

It is impossible to remove this fantastic species from my angling - their pursuit being my entry into specimen hunting. 1981, on the banks of Wilstone Reservoir, the very start of my apprenticeship, although I'd caught decent fish in the past. The anglers that crossed my path were at the top of their game and extremely generous in their advice. My confidence grew from the fact that these guys were happy to offer advice - I'd become accepted within the clique? Looking back, I was probably such a twat that I posed no threat on their own reputations as catchers of "big fish". It didn't take long for this to change. I learnt quickly and soon became very proficient at extracting tench from this venue. In the thirteen years that I was a member, over one hundred tench over 7 lbs made it into my landing net. The most prolific and happiest days of my early angling efforts. The members of The Tring Syndicate reading like a "who's who" of the very best speccy hunters of that period. It was a very special time, and place, to be part of - I'm very lucky to have been there.

Wilstone Reservoir in the 1980's - I was there!


They're the species I'd joined Tring for; this reservoir complex having a history of producing "doubles" with monotonous regularity since the 1930's. I never came close, all the time I was at the complex, although witnessed a fair few for other members. The largest being a 13 lbs 12 oz for Alan Wilson, from Startops. I had to traverse the county border, into Bedfordshire, in order to get that "double" I so desired. One crazy night, in 1992, saw me land four Bream for 39 lbs - an 11 lbs 2 oz fish being the PB I'd sought for all those years.

Maggots, not boilies, were the downfall of this magnificent bream. I caught by design - not accident!


The mid-80's and there is nowhere else I'd rather have been. Kevin Maddocks and Bob Baldock (God rest his soul) were on a mission to launch The Catfish Conservation Group. What they hadn't figured on was the fact that Cuddles, Sye, Me and The Mitch's were also fishing at Claydon during that same period. We weren't putting up with too much of their crap! The period is recalled with great fondness, the fishing was fantastic and the personalities immense - happy days and never to be equaled or repeated!

Benno with a 21 lbs plus cat from Claydon Middle Lake - 1992


The species which provides the name for my blog, the one that, to this day, is able to conjour some of the most intense memories from my school days. A small jack, caught on a live roach fished under a Fishing Gazette bung, was my introduction into a world of marvel. I'd caught plenty of decent pike before that fateful encounter with, a very young, Eddie Turner. His input was to elevate my pike angling to something which I'd never have achieved without it. He, along with Vic Gibson and Billy Hancock, showed me a direction that I'd completely no idea existed. Just to be able to call these guys mates is more than enough for me - I've been a very fortunate man to have enjoyed such company.

When everything comes right - Wilstone 1987


Kevin Maddocks has already been mentioned, but Duncan Kay, Rod Hutchinson, Richie Mc Donald, Roger Smith, Bob Jones and Rob Maylin had also played a major role in my discovery of these fantastic fish and the associated thrill of hooking a big one!  I  count myself very fortunate to have avoided the monumental rise to dominance that carp angling has exerted over all other aspects of freshwater angling, within the UK. My memories are of simple times and fantastic fish - thanks Kevin, for fucking it all up!

Benno goes close - 19 lbs 14 oz of commercial carp, on a zig bug!


There has been a lot of water under the bridge since I last cast a bait in the hope of catching a Zed. The 1980's, out on the Fens was a period of discovery, of madness, copious amounts of light ale and hilarity. The fishing was excellent and matched the company. Big Les Dudley is central to my recollections. Larger than life, he remains key to all that was great about that time during my life.

Cuddles with a Fenland Zed - Great times and sadly missed


I'd have nothing to say if Benno hadn't been part of this story, however, long before he was born there was a guy called Fred Crouch who was to provide the spark. Barbel are, without doubt, one of the finest challenges which face any UK angler. That I can recall my apprenticeship, under the guidance of Mr Crouch is something of which I am very proud. As I've already said, I'm a very lucky man to have made acquaintance with so many characters, within this hobby. My love of centre-pins and compound taper Avon rods is all directly attributable to this wonderful man. The fish that have come my way, since Ben and I started to fish The Stour would make Fred very happy, I hope?

The very essence of angling. A magnificent River Stour Barbel caught by design - but I have no idea how?

I have absolutely no idea if this post will work for others - it's taken far too long, in preparation, to change it now!

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Stars realigning?

I'm back out on the marsh, for another after dark pike session. It's wonderfully still, mild, and overcast; the car display registered 13C as I drove across to the fishery. Just three hours, four bites, two to the right hand rod - both missed (eels?), one to the middle rod producing a pike of 7 lbs-ish and a screamer on the left hander resulted in an eel, of 2 lbs 9 oz, gracing the net.

My Fuji Finepix at it's best! I have absolutely no idea how anyone can get decent self takes of these bloody fish!
It's the middle of November, yet I am now confident that I can catch eels, by design, should I set out to do so. I make no claims to be an experienced eel angler, but I have spent the past six winters fishing for pike in the East Kent fisheries and have absolutely no reason to think that eels are any different from other species. They feed when the opportunity presents itself - my pike baits being attacked by these slimy nuisances, with monotonous regularity during the entire pike season.
I'm not thinking of another eel challenge, just yet! I will, however, take my night feeding pike project to another venue. It's a fascinating turn around in what I thought to be right and proper - pike in the dark and eels during the winter - who says we know anything about angling?

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Late arrivals

Winter thrushes have been conspicuous, by their absence, so far this Autumn. I'd heard a few Redwings, calling in the dark in early October but  it wasn't until the end of the month that I recorded my first Fieldfare of the season. Both species have remained low key ever since. I recorded a flock of, 30-ish, Fieldfare on Saturday evening, whilst out on the marsh, by far the largest flock of the autumn, yet Redwing numbers haven't even made double figures; all very strange? This isn't a Newlands Farm/Thanet thing, this is what I have experienced around the portion of "The Garden of England" which stretches from New Romney (to the south) up to Ramsgate, incorporating the Royal Military Canal and marshes in between. Basically, the parts of Kent where I have been fishing!
I'm no longer an "active" birder, so there will obviously be other pairs of eyes which can offer a very different slant on the autumnal migration of these, splendid, birds into East Kent. I now consider myself little more than a, very, casual observer - I honestly couldn't give a monkey's about official records and committees - a complete waste of a lifetime; from my perspective. (Don't bother posting a comment - I fully understand that this is the perception of angling for many other folk who, also,  derive pleasure from being outdoors). Doesn't prevent me from enjoying my encounters with the bird life which crosses my path, just of no importance to anyone else; never was or could be!
The bird sightings, plus occasional photographs, are nothing more than embellishments for a blog post, they certainly don't appear for the purpose of informing the masses (aka - Rare Bird Alert!)

How I wish that this had been taken a couple of days ago - sadly not - Jan 2013
In The Old Rose Garden before it was reclaimed as farmland - because we don't have enough acres of
cauliflowers on Thanet!
So there I was, making my way home past the remnants of "The Old Rose Garden" when I flushed a group of eight Fieldfare. Wow! Newlands 2017 and this is big news! I had no camera gear, but that made not the slightest difference. I was thrilled that such an event had been witnessed by myself during a very ordinary working day. Simple pleasure derived from the most ordinary of encounters - means "jack shit" to anyone else and long may it continue!

Sunday 12 November 2017

Feeding station conundrum

With the weather taking a, decidedly cooler, turn - so the action around the garden feeders has increased. House Sparrows continue to dominate, although Starlings are becoming far more frequent with a couple of double figured counts recently. However, the purpose of this offering is to pose a, hypothetical, question. Should I tolerate the presence of Feral Rock Doves around/under the feeders? I ask this because I am aware of other gardens where these wild birds are actively discouraged (shot!).
Before anyone get's all hot under the collar, shooting these "vermin" is not a crime, they have the same status as Brown Rats and I do shoot them if they appear around the garden/aviary.

A selection of the plumage types exhibited by the Feral Rock Doves that visit our garden.
The maximum count, thus far, has been sixteen.
It's that same old story of humans playing God! We like Squirrels, we don't like rats. Collared Doves are great, Turtle Doves are to die for - street pigeons? Not the slightest of interest, except perhaps on "Bird Race Day"? I actually quite like these feral urchins scratching about under the feeders. Their plumage is far from uniform and they have quite an intricate social behavior. So you can rest assured that they will continue to have a safe haven in our garden.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Coming along nicely

Another chance to spend an afternoon/evening session out on the marsh - so I did just that! I am really getting a feel for the place; enjoying the fact that I'm out there, as much as the fishing itself. I fished my usual three rods, but all four bites, today, came to just one; my left hand kit which was cast along, rather than across, the drain. I didn't connect with the first fish, although the teeth marks on my mackerel tail told the tale - I'd missed a decent pike, such was the space between the puncture marks. I re-cast and it wasn't fifteen minutes later than I'm in action again, this time the hooks took hold and, after a bout of tail-walking, a clean looking pike of 10 lbs 8 oz was in the bag (the same fish as responsible for the  earlier bite?).

I re-cast the gear, this time baited with a sardine, dyed green, and sat back to absorb the ambiance as the light started to fade away. A Barn Owl put on a fantastic show, as it hunted the surrounding fields, although I didn't see it catch anything whilst the light remained good enough to use my bins. A fox was also watched, hunting the reeds beside a feeder ditch - it was a real joy to be there to witness such activity.
It was well dark when the alarm sounded again, this time a rather dour scrap resulted in a pike of 9 lbs 2 oz visiting the landing net. A prominent scar allowing me to confirm it as a re-capture, from just five days ago, when it weighed an ounce lighter! The only other action, on the rods, was an ambitious eel attempting to snaffle a whole sardine - the rig came back looking like a clock spring!
I spent the remainder of my session awaiting an alarm to sound, but playing with the camera kit in an attempt to record some rodent action. I believe them to be Wood Mice, but they were mob-handed and continually drawn to my bait, which was in plastic bags beside my chair. Not the food choice of a vegetarian species, as I'm led to believe? Using the light from my head torch, allowed me to get the camera focused ready for one of these creatures to appear. Still not completely confident with this set up, I am happy enough with this result.

Sneaky little sod. It's impossible to know if it was the fish or the fish oil flavours, that I use to enhance
my baits, which were the draw. Whatever the truth, there were a lot of these rodents active around my swim.
I've got a week of earlies coming up, so another session is very likely. However, repeat captures do nothing for me, other than confirm the very low stock levels in these drains and the effectiveness of my bait presentation. One more visit then it might be time to take this experiment to another venue?

Friday 10 November 2017

Reality, perception and wild guesses

My recent blogging has been, very much, angling biased, and for good reason; it's what I've been doing for the majority of my free time. It's true I've made mention of some of the birds I've seen, plus a couple of late dragonflies but, the pursuit of fish has dominated my writing because that's what is providing the brain cell stimulus; at present. There's a "night feeding pike" project in the offing and my focus is on getting the most from the time I have available.
I was wandering around the marsh, at the end of October, and bumped into another pike angler (Steve) who was lure fishing. After we'd exchanged the usual pleasantries it became clear that we were of a very similar mind-set. We spoke about tackle and tactics plus our desire to do things our own way, avoiding the mainstream angling circus. Simply by being pike anglers we'd already alienated ourselves from the vast majority of the, carp dominated, UK scene. Seeking wild (not big) pike, in remote places, puts us in a niche alongside hard core dace fishers - we're well off the scale of normal? We talked about the drains, and their potential, having to agree that the likelihood of a pike ever making twenty pounds is highly unlikely. Comparing our captures of the previous season, twelve pounds seemed to be around the top weight. I recalled that first season, 2011/12, when I was to land a magnificent pike of 19 lbs 5 oz, only to hear that one of Steve's associates had also taken a "19" from another drain, in the system, during that same period. Parallel experiences, how weird is that? Well not weird, at all, in reality. We are fishing the same waters and carry a set of scales, thus able to, accurately, record the weight of the fish we capture.

Pixie's Mere, Bourne End, Hertfordshire.
16th January 1990 - 22 lbs 3 oz
Steve was a little anxious when I let on that I had a blog. "You don't name the drains, do you?" I quickly reassured him that I worked too hard to allow poncing, wasters to use my efforts to cut corners. He was on the marsh because he had a vision of what he wanted from his pike angling and had made the effort to get out there in order to make it happen. Exactly the same applies to my own efforts - I wish to make history, not chase it.
For pike to grow to a decent size, in a wild/natural environment, requires some very special circumstances. The number one factor being neglect. If  I publicize where I'm catching these fish then neglect won't remain a factor for long? For as long as I've used a camera to record my captures, that's over 40 years, images have been deliberately taken to make exact location of my swim very unlikely, given the backdrops.

British Aerospace Pit, Colney Heath, Hertfordshire
23rd November 1989 - 16 lbs 6 oz
Pike are a magnificent species which grow to length that is beyond the experience of most (club/match/pleasure, even carp) anglers. They are, therefore, at the heart of angling folklore. "Chinese Whispers" will be a massive factor in the hysteria which surrounds many a tall tale.  Even a modest pike of, say, fifteen pounds is a far bigger fish than the vast majority of anglers will have ever, regularly, encountered. I have lost count of the number of times that I've had verbal exchanges, usually in pubs, but also on the bank and even at the Tesco wet fish counter, with guys who claim to have caught pike far larger than my PB. There are two very common themes in all these conversations - it's the only pike they've ever caught and, no, they didn't have a camera/scales to record the event! Being aware of this fairy-tale nonsense, surrounding the existence of "huge" pike makes me very cynical whenever hearing second hand reports. Wild pike, in excess of twenty pounds, are as rare as hen's teeth. Yes I have been extraordinarily privileged to have landed a few during my life yet, in doing so, have also captured many hundreds more that didn't break this magical barrier. As Robert Palmer once sang "Some guy's get all the luck?" If I'd not put a weight, to the accompanying images, how big would be the guesstimation of a, scaleless, pike fisher when they recounted the story in the pub?

Wednesday 8 November 2017

More of the same

Up at silly o'clock; three rods fishing an East Kent drain by 06.00 hrs. It was a damp experience with intermittent light rain, but at least it was relatively mild. The car display read 9C as I drove across to my chosen venue. I'd had four takes before 07.00 hrs, which resulted in two fish to the bank, within five minutes of each other. The first chance I totally screwed up because I'd not opened the bale arm and the fourth bite came from a very small jack on a large mackerel tail section. The middle two takes produced pike of 9 lbs 14 oz and 12 lbs 7 oz, one each to bluey and mackerel, and more importantly, they came whilst it was still too dark to see without the use of my head-torch.

The best I could manage in the dull light of the early dawn. Happy enough with my third "double" in as many visits.
I fished on until 08.15 hrs without any further action to the rods - there is a pattern emerging here very quickly! A few birds around the marsh included two Common Buzzard, an adult female Marsh Harrier, two Chiffchaff, a (Lesser) Redpoll, a Greenfinch and eight Fieldfare heading north. Glad to get home by 09.30 hrs so I could get a couple of hours kip before work.

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Gathering evidence

I've been back for another, dusk into dark, session pike fishing out on the marsh. This particular drain system has a recent history of late afternoon/early evening pike feeding activity as I can back-up with my diary notes from that winter eel project of 2015/16. I recall a "plagued by pike" phrase getting posted during the February summary; not something I ever thought I'd say in anything but jest! But there I was, complaining about pike feeding activity under the cover of darkness. Night feeding pike are not a recent phenomenon, the species has been night feeding ever since anglers started to fish during the hours of darkness - that's a bloody long time ago - centuries!

Witching Hour approaches - dusk out on the marsh
I've had a search around the UK internet links and discovered several threads where anglers have shared their thoughts and experiences about pike angling in the dark - all very interesting and adding further information to assist my own theories. It is behavior not restricted to the UK - there are comments from the USA/Canada as well as mainland Europe. I have, therefore, to conclude that pike taking baits during the hours of darkness are behaving in a very normal manner and it is us anglers who have overlooked the blatantly obvious. Night fishing is an approach worthy of exploration as there is much to be learnt about this neglected area of pike angling. Over the years I have taken many pike during the night, yet dismissed them as "accidental" captures and not given these events any great thought, until recently.

My second double of the campaign - 10 lbs 2 oz
I have quite a few avenues of thought which I hope to explore over the coming winter period. I already have a few ideas, but want to get more experience with these nocturnal pike and attempt to establish patterns and/or preferences as well as trying different bait presentations. All of my recent fish (seven in two outings) have fallen to my basic static dead bait presentation, fished flat on the bottom. Paternosters and pop-ups will receive a fair trial as will my continued tweaking of flavour and colour combinations. The true test, however, will be if I can get success away from these marshland drains. Then, and only then, will I feel that there is anything worthy to be shared with fellow pike anglers.

A frustrating time with my Fuji bridge camera kit - great as it is for the general scenery shots and self-take stuff. I have to admit that I wish I'd been carrying the Canon and "big lens" when I spent time watching a fox hunting an adjacent field. It flushed a roosting Short-eared Owl which put on a great show but, capturing, flight shots isn't within the capability of the user/camera combination when everything is automatic with a very slow focus response.

How I wish I'd been carrying my long lens
I have one more, shameful, admission - I saw my first Stonechat (a pair) of 2017 whilst I was out there; a woeful performance by any standards.

Sunday 5 November 2017

A morning on the canal

I met up with Benno and Luke,  in our chosen car park, at 06.00 hrs and we made the trek to our chosen section of The Royal Military Canal over a mile to the west. There was a full moon beaming down from a clear sky, the temp display in the car reading 3C. No skimping on clothing today, every layer was needed before the sun rose and warmed the air very quickly.

The full moon shining above the wooded banks of the RMC
Water levels were low, for the time of year, although this could be a direct result of some maintenance work on one of the main sluices ? Loads of  floating weed was a problem we had to live with; many times a build up of this debris lead to a bite alarm sounding as line pulled out of a clip - both the lads were using back-biters. However, a problem which caused many false alarms was the continuous eel activity. Baits were a mix of bluey, sardine, mackerel and herring - it made no difference, the eels liked them all. The third time my alarm sounded, it was a steady take on a sardine. I picked up the rod and tightened into my pike, only to have an eel pop up in the margins and into the net. Luke and Benno thought the whole episode an excuse for a chortle and a torrent of abuse. At 2 lbs 6 oz it was a decent fish and I got Benno to grab a few images, as I don't have any decent photos of me with an eel.
I won't go into the details, but it was more luck, than judgement, that resulted in the one that I have chosen to use.

As good as it got! 2 lbs 6 oz of bait snaffling pest. The poppy is worn with great pride, not as a p/c ornament
In a bid to try to make something happen, we decided to bounce our gear along the bank, some quarter of a mile. As I was winding the first one in, a tiny jack grabbed the sardine and I found myself attached to the smallest pike I've taken from this fishery. The result of this move was more torment from the eels, but no more fish landed. We packed up at 10.45 hrs and headed homewards, plans already in the mix for a visit to another section in a fortnight. Between now and then, I'll see if I can't catch an eel by design, instead of accident - they are a truly amazing creature but I am puzzled by the "critically endangered" status -  Gavin Haig has experienced a very similar situation on the Exeter Canal so it isn't just me!
Birds were a bit scarce today, although I had seen a Long-eared Owl on my drive down and there were Yellowhammer, Bullfinch and Grey Wagtail recorded beside the canal. As we walked off, a Common Darter proved to be my second dragonfly sighting of November. A  very enjoyable first RMC trip of the season.

Saturday 4 November 2017

Piking after dark

This is a bit of a tale, and I will start at the beginning. Following my recent Top 10 - revisited post, there had been an exchange of comments, with Steve Gale, about eels and I had made mention of a desire to target a big one at some stage. Well, the weather has been ridiculously warm; I'd  had to cut the grass on Thursday, so figured that a couple of outings to the marshland drains might be worthy of effort based upon my earlier project. On Tuesday I took a wander across the marsh, my grandson Harry in tow, just to have a quick look and introduce a bit of bait (sardine & bluey sections  plus a few prawns).
I returned, next evening, tackle to hand and fished for a couple of hours after sun-set; always the most productive time when targeting eels? This theory is attributed to, the late, John Sidley and I have no reason to question/challenge the wisdom behind the statement.
My Wednesday session wasn't without incident, although no eels (fish) were landed. I did have a very lively encounter with a feisty pike which towed me around for a while before biting through the braided hook-link. It looked a decent fish, a low double being my guess as I recalled the encounter to Benno on Thursday morning.

My very basic set-up when fishing these intimate little drains. Open bale arm and a monkey on an angled
needle coupled with an audible alarm

Bev had an engagement with her parents and brother, for Friday afternoon/evening, so it was the ideal opportunity to get back out to the drain, pike tackle to the fore. My shift ended at 13.00 hrs and I was out on the drain before 14.30 hrs, three rods fishing within half an hour. It took all of five minutes for my first action, a scrappy little jack (5 or 6 lbs) giving me the run around before finally drawn over the net chord. Just over thirty minutes later, and my middle rod registers a fast take, on 1/2 Herring, which resulted in a very nice pike of 9 lbs 10 oz visiting the bank.The session moved on, and with the light fading fast, I recast the rod, knowing that I would changing the wire trace over to a braided hook link, for the eels. It was just after 17.00 hrs and already dark, the left hand rod having already been switched over to the eel rig, and I was sorting out the replacement stuff for the middle rod when it rattled off. A powerful and spirited battle, resulted in a lovely pike of 9 lbs 8 oz ending up on the bank and a session in front of the camera kit.

As I unhooked it, I also recovered the lost braided hook link, from Wednesday, so job's a good'n. It provides me with a great deal of comfort knowing that my tackle hasn't caused any prolonged damage or suffering to a magnificent fish. I rested the fish in my weigh sling whilst sorting out the camera kit. A quick self-take session and I slipped the fish back and changed the rig to a braided hook link and re-cast into the drain. Less than fifteen minutes later the right hand rod was away again and, after an interesting tussle, my first "double" of the season was engulfed in the mesh of my landing net. It certainly seemed that the pike in this venue are happy to feed under the cover of darkness. With the camera already set up, it was relatively easy to get a couple of record shots before returning her to the water. I fished on for a further hour and a half, my only eel activity coming to the rod which remained set up for pike. Half a mackerel being targeted by my quarry. I will be going back, that's for sure, but have other venues to explore as the days shorten.

First "double" of 2017/18 season - she went 11 lbs 1 oz
Other wildlife has added to the enjoyment of being out on the marshes; a Great White Egret and Common Buzzard on Tuesday, a Barn Owl on Wednesday and there was a dragonfly (Migrant Hawker ?) patrolling the drain as dusk fell yesterday - so much more to my angling than catching fish!