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!


Friday 30 October 2020

Experience has no shortcuts

 Since the start of October my blogging has been, very much, pike biased - "no shit Sherlock!" My sixty-fifth birthday is but five weeks hence; I'm lucky enough to remain in good health and full time employment, does it get much better for a minion during these crazy Covid times? I've been re-reading the Jim Gibbinson masterpiece "Modern Specimen Hunting" - Beekay publishing 1983 - and been drawn to the thought processes involved in his approach to the chapter on pike fishing. Jim's status within the speccy hunting fraternity is rock solid - he has very few equals, such is his track record. That he used the narrative of "catching your first twenty" as a way of keeping this particular chapter within some kind of editorial limits now seems, to me, a little strange. 

February 16th 1985 - a "double" (11 lbs 9 oz) in the snow.
To my way of thinking, any pike in excess of 10 lbs, is well
worthy of capture and the River Thames provided the 
opportunity to get this photo I'd longed for. 

Obviously nearly forty years have passed since Jim put his thoughts into print, the vast majority of what he had to offer remains perfectly sound advice. My only query is what technique has ever been so selective as to be able to prevent lesser specimens from taking the baited hook? Half a century into my own pike angling journey I am in the fortunate position to be able to offer opinions based upon fact, not fantasy, due to the events I've been fortunate to be involved with. Jim's chapter contains all the well documented factors involved with pike angling success. Location, type of venue, bait presentation, terminal tackle and that old chestnut "pike thrive on neglect!" Completely bog standard fare when offering advice to anyone seeking to catch these apex predators today, yet possibly not in 1983? How time changes perception.

I'd like to think that fifty years stands me in reasonable stead when it comes to offering a balanced appraisal of pike angling in 2020. It's very true that I'm certainly no longer a "circuit" angler, thus can't claim to have my finger on the pulse, so to speak, but I'm still in a good position to pass comment upon the local situation as I see it. So now looking back at Jim's chapter on targeting a twenty pounder the one piece of advice which remains head and shoulders above all else is the simple statement that "pike thrive on neglect" My own advice is that an angler getting onto a new water should fill their boots before the news breaks and they are in competition with other anglers as well as the pike! 

Is it any surprise that my own angling effort is targeting those remote venues of the East Kent marshes and that 29 mile pike fishery called the Royal Military Canal?  I'm more focussed on neglect than a specific pike. Over the course of this coming winter I'd like to believe that my strategy will produce a pike over that twenty pound barrier, yet won't complain if a 19 lbs 12 oz specimen is the best I manage. Lies, damn lies and statistics! How much more enjoyable can 4 oz make a capture? 

All of the images accompanying this post are from my very murky past. One of the nicest spin-offs from blogging are the comments offered by visitors to this venture. Ric (Little Richard) Francis is one such guy who also happens to be a fellow member of the Tring Syndicate way back in 1981, thus our paths go back a very long way. He recently passed comment upon something I'd posted and, as such, set in motion a whole new avenue of thought. How many of those anglers who influenced our journeys are still alive? Great question and much scope for blogging - cheers Ric! Watch this space.

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Way outside the box

 You need to be of a certain vintage to remember John Foster. A highly talented, yet opinionated thus controversial, pike & zander angler from the Chateris area of Fenland during the 1980's. He was R/O for the Fenland region of the Pike Anglers Club and our head on collision was inevitable during this period. He set a very high bar and us marauding Hemel Hempstead types didn't fit the stereo-type he'd wanted fishing "his" local venues. We endured a fraught early period before overcoming our differences and ending up with mutual respect, if not friendship? If nothing else, John was generous with his advice and genuinely wished for success to all those whom sought his help. Chalk and cheese might be a decent analogy of our personalities, yet the desire to catch pike and zander from the Fenland waterways ensured a shared vision as the time passed. 

John had some unique thoughts about the distribution of the Fenland predator populations, especially zander which were the main draw, for us travelling anglers, of this era. His insistence of the importance of finding "the three sided Fenland lake" was a very difficult concept to buy into yet, once understood, made perfect sense and ensured those of us who took the advice on board went on to catch many more fish than those who didn't! Well that was, thirty odd, years ago and long past being of any relevance in my angling, or is it? 

Denver Sluice it ain't - looking East towards the West Hythe Dam on the RMC.
The scale might be very different yet the "three sided Fenland lake theory" still holds true.

It would appear that, without any conscious effort, I have been using John's thought processes in my approach to pike fishing out on the East Kent flatlands and the RMC beyond. Whilst the scale of the landscape I'm now targeting is nowhere close to that of Fenland, the purpose of the waterways remain the same. To quickly move surplus water from the adjacent surroundings thus prevent/reduce flooding of these manmade landscapes. Bridges, dams and sluices are all part of the system and exactly the features which John extolled during those crazy times. A barrier didn't need to be impassable to form the boundary of one of John's "virtual lakes".  

My best pike of the winter (2018/19) caught from a swim which,
with hind-sight, complied to John's theory perfectly.

If some, lame-brained, ponce is now expecting me to reveal all the swims that have provided success to my son/friends & I they will be very disappointed. The purpose of my post is to reiterate how far ahead of his time was John and what a debt of gratitude I owe him. Shame that it's taken a pandemic and much, surplus, time to recognise the wisdom of his "far fetched" hypothesis. All I can say is that once Bev and I have gotten through the funeral and grieving process - we will once again have time to pursue our own dreams and mine, over the next few months, are pike shaped!

Sunday 25 October 2020

Mediterranean Gull movement - some thoughts

 Whenever I'm fishing the RMC, between Gigger's Green and Seabrooke, if I see any birds worthy of note, I send my sightings to Ian Roberts who runs Folkestone Birds This superb website provides news of all sightings (birds, moths and anything else) of interest within the Shepway area and I'm very happy to support the cause. After getting home yesterday, unsurprisingly, I sent an email to Ian expressing my hope that others had also witnessed the westward movement of gulls, more pointedly the Mediterranean Gulls, along the escarpment. 

I didn't have to wait too long before a reply appeared - a new entry in my Google "In-box" announced by an audible alert from the laptop. Ian sent a lovely reply in which was contained some very interesting background to my experience. Ian had been out birding, the previous day, on the marsh to the south of where I was fishing. He told me of his own sighting of hundreds of Mediterranean Gulls coming in from the north, to feed on the marshland between the South Downs and the coast. Had what I witnessed been just a repeat of Ian's experience, from a different perspective? Do the Mediterranean Gulls of the, well documented, Copt Point population feed out on Romney Marsh, using the downs as a flyway to spread out over the huge area which makes up the adjacent marshes? Maybe this feeding dispersal happens every day and is just ignored/overlooked by the locals? Because I don't see Med Gulls on a regular basis, the scale of the movement yesterday just blew me away.  With a winter pike project planned for this section of the RMC I might be able to answer this question for myself!

I finish this post with the sad news that Bev's mum, Denise Bunclark, passed away, peacefully, in her sleep, overnight. As sad as this event is, we both feel a sense of relief knowing that she's no longer suffering in a state of limbo. Blogging might be sporadic, as a result, but life will go on!

Saturday 24 October 2020

Piking in a Mediterranean blizzard

 I knew that there was only going to be one opportunity to get out over the weekend and had arranged with Bev to allow me a trip down to the RMC early, very early, this morning. The alarm sounded at 04.00 hrs and I was on a mission! Flask made and a coffee drunk, in double quick time, all I needed to do was load the van with my kit, which had been readied the previous evening, and head off into the darkness. The forecast was for strengthening SW winds, turning to severe gales with rain by mid-day. I'd already planned to pack up by 10.30 hrs, thus avoiding the wet stuff if not the winds?

Dawn provided a nice photo opportunity as the gaps in the cloud allowed a red/orange glow to reflect upon the rippled surface of the canal. It was great to be on the bank again with three baits awaiting the attention of my quarry. It hadn't got properly light when an eel took a fancy to a popped up sardine - bloody things! There was a huge movement of gulls, high up, heading west along the escarpment which forms the backdrop to this particular section of the canal. During the course of the first hour of daylight, many thousands of birds were involved, yet it wasn't until a few Black-headed Gulls started to patrol the canal that I payed much attention to them. It must have been around 07.45 hrs when I thought that "it was a Med Gull ?"  I grabbed the binos from my camera bag. Bloody hell!!!! The first scan revealed a flock of seventeen Mediterranean Gulls heading steadily into the wind, just above the adjacent tree line. I have no idea of the actual numbers, due to my restricted view point, but I recorded an absolute minimum of 1,350 Mediterranean Gulls between 07.45 and 10. 25 hrs, when I packed up. It was a most surreal experience, to be watching this crazy gull movement so far inland, although the coast is only a couple of miles to the south. 

A pair of Grey Wagtails, a Merlin and a Common Buzzard also provided some welcome distraction from the complete lack of pike activity. The clouds were thickening and rain was an increasing threat when, at 09.35 hrs my sardine offering was picked up and the alarm registered a bite. The culprit being a rather modest pike, so I took a quick "mat" shot before returning it to the canal, happy that I'd not blanked. I set about packing the rod away, because it was pointless making another cast? 

It was whilst I was getting some more images of the Med Gulls passing overhead that, just twenty minutes later, the mackerel offering was picked up and the alarm rattled out its' audible alert. Different caper all together, this time round, as the pike didn't have any intention of going into the landing net! After a superb scrap I drew a lovely fish, of 13 lbs 12 oz, over the net chord and put the cherry on the top of a great day down on the Royal Military Canal.

As I was doing the selfies a lady walked past with her dog. "Wow" was all she needed to say - I knew it'd been a good day.

Sunday 18 October 2020

Two shrikes - so glad I'm out

 With the full backing of Bev I was back on the bank, early this morning, two baits presented in the tiny drain where I resumed my pike adventure way back in 2011. I was already aware that a Great Grey Shrike had been seen in the area yesterday and my bins were in action from first light, scanning the surrounding flatlands for a, bush topping, silhouette. Twice I thought that I'd spotted the bird, very distantly, but it wasn't until I was in conversation with a couple of Kent birders that the shrike appeared just on the other side of the drain. Result! As quickly as it appeared, so it dropped down, only to be relocated some 400m away to the east. I have to admit that rather enjoyed the sighting, not a species which I'd expect to encounter on my angling travels.

I found this one along the railway embankment at Chambers Wall, Reculver, 2004 - ish!

The presence of this shrike was obviously the draw for a steady procession of "twitchers". All of a sudden, my secluded location became rather busy as birders assembled to pay homage to this lovely bird. Has anyone ever seen an ugly Great Grey Shrike? Meanwhile, over at Reculver, Kent's first Masked Shrike was still in situ at Shuart. Having seen the images of this individual, a dowdy juvenile, all I can say is that it doesn't do it for me. I've been lucky enough to spend time with Masked Shrikes in Greece and Turkey, always adults, and can't bring myself to get excited about this Kent occurrence.

What I got from being in close proximity to the Great Grey twitchers was a complete lack of awareness. I was constantly raising my bins at Redwing and Fieldfare flocks, there were pulses of Swallows pushing north, two Common Buzzards were perched up, in clear view, Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs feeding in the bushes, and a constant stream of Redpolls passing overhead. All that mattered to the assembled masses was the shrike - I'd be a complete hypocrite if I assumed some higher ground. Twenty years ago I'd have been at the front of the queue. 

Stood behind the rods. I'd not bothered to take a seat, a pair of Stonechats performed superbly in the bankside vegetation, completely ignored by the camera wielding, binocular hugging, visitors. It's not my place to pass judgement upon how others derive enjoyment from their interaction with the natural world. Getting back home, two thrushes drew my attention - how time has changed what I thought was important?

The only other occurrence of note is the young hedgehog that has recently appeared at the feeding station. In comparison to all the other visitors, this animal is tiny, so might require some assistance to make it through the winter? From what I'm to believe, this youngster has to weigh more than 500 grms to have a chance of surviving hibernation.

Saturday 17 October 2020

Doing our best

 I was able to get another short session in, at Black Dyke, this morning. Bev's mum is now on palliative care with morphine and other drugs being applied intravenously in order to keep her pain and stress free. With all this going on there is no way I can travel down to the RMC just in case I get "that" call so count my blessings that Bev is okay with me going out at all! Sandwich is little more than fifteen minutes away and, although I'm not fishing for "big" pike, does offer me the chance to bend a rod. I've tried to utilize the time with an eye on the future by tweaking my bait presentation, playing around with various fish oils and colours. I must be doing something right as I had two bites this morning. The first was an eel, of a couple of pounds, which was hooked fairly, in the mouth, having taken a popped up Bluey tail. The second was from a lovely conditioned pike, of 8 lbs 2 oz, which succumbed to a red, pilchard flavoured, mackerel tail. So that's three pike in the last three outings. That'll do for me under any circumstances. To be able to go fishing at all, at present, is a real treat. Bev and I both know that her mum hasn't got too long left. All we can do is try to ensure that her final days are as peaceful and painless as possible. When viewed from this perspective, another twenty pound pike isn't important in the slightest! We'll get through this together and come out the other side all the stronger for the experience.

Quite a few birds about, this morning, adding Crossbill to my year list with a calling bird right at first light. Goldcrests were plentiful, as were Redwing, Blackbird and Song Thrush. Other bits included a Raven, calling Little Owl, Common Buzzard, (Lesser) Redpoll and four Swallows. Just to top it off, on getting home, there was a Brambling calling from the next door garden as I unloaded my kit from the van - good stuff!

Friday 16 October 2020

Rose tinted illusion?

I showed a few of the guys, at work, that photo of my first "twenty" and got savaged by their collective response. Nothing unexpected, my hair, clothes and umpteen other aspects given the factory floor treatment. Still; if I didn't like the answer, shouldn't have asked the question - all very straight forward in the murky world in which I earn my living. One comment, however, did make me smile and is the catalyst to this offering. I quote "It was so much better back then, that was a big fish" A fellow angler's judgement on the passing of time and how much easier it was when I started out. Was it really? It might be a good thing to mention that when I embarked upon my angling adventure all species were of equal merit and there was no stigma, negative or otherwise, attached to anglers who targeted specific species in preference of others. It didn't matter if Bream, Tench, Roach or Chub ticked the box, you were respected as an angler, not treated as some eccentric who'd lost the plot - welcome to carp dominated 2020!

There can be no getting away from the massive influence carp angling now exerts over the whole of the UK freshwater angling scene. It's a multi-million pound industry, catering for every need of those who've fallen prey to the seductive allure of these alien creatures. Carp are not native to the UK - end of! The benefit of being an old git is many fold but, from an angling perspective, the ability to see a bigger picture is certainly one plus side of the aging process. The dominance of modern carp angling does have one massive positive in as much as it has raised the profile of fishing, as a hobby, out of the tweed jacket and floppy hat era into the mass participation "sport" (?) it has now become. There is no denying the fact that, during my youth, pleasure angling/match fishing was a hugely popular pastime matched only by the numbers of folk who played "pub" darts! In 2020 it's now fashionable to go carp fishing and the appeal is not age, nor sex, dominated, women and kids are very much part of this new wave of angling popularity as the crusty old farts of my generation. Add to the mix the massive growth in commercial fisheries and all that they are able to provide these "instant anglers" and the result is a very rosy future for the industry. It would seem. to me, that the match angler is now on a par with the speccy hunter; involved in a very niche end of the angling spectrum. The really weird thing is that, inadvertently, the creation of the commercial carp fisheries has provided superb habitat for many other species to thrive and, as such, increased the opportunities for all anglers to enjoy their own passion, in whatever format it exists. This was vividly demonstrated to me when, on my return to the hobby, I went to a small commercial carp fishery deliberately to target perch, of a size that I could only have dreamt of in the 1990's.

I've written much about the barbel of The River Stour and how modern water treatment has played a key role in the growth of these fish, but at the detriment of so many other species. It's like head-butting a brick wall attempting to get fellow anglers to recognise the huge environmental catastrophe that is still taking place because of the piss poor standards that the water companies are subjected to.  "Dilution is the solution to pollution" being their logic, whilst coining it in! In 2013 I was to experience the thrill of landing a barbel of 13 lbs 14 oz, a fish which just twenty years previous, would have been a UK record weight. During those intervening decades the growth rate of barbel had been off the scale and now 20 lbs is required to challenge the UK record. Myopic anglers are lapping it up, never have they had it so good? The rivers don't have the numbers but the fish that remain are huge - what's to complain about? Again modern carp angling has assisted the water companies in their promotion of healthy environments; river carp are very much in vogue and the fact that the species thrives in the polluted waters is just another string in the bow of the offending water treatment companies. There's not a barbel, or carp, angler who's going to moan about a lack of gudgeon, bleak, sticklebacks or minnows.

A barbel from the Hampshire Avon - The Compound on the Royalty!
In 1986 any barbel over 7 lbs was worthy of a photo - how times have changed!

The pursuit of a wild pike of twenty pounds, plus, is as challenging today as it was way back in the 1980's. The status of such a fish remains intact, despite the grotesque caricatures that inhabit the "put & take" trout fisheries. Just like the capture of a 2 lbs roach, some things haven't altered since my discovery of the thrills of angling. Was it different during my formative years? Of course it was; there can be no doubt about the huge advances in tackle and bait which have occurred since those times. I think the real crux is "was it better back then?" The best I can offer is that it was different. Yes, we enjoyed freedoms which would be hard to recreate today. There were superb venues available to us which provided wonderful opportunities for anyone up to the challenge. The ability to look back over half a decade of "big fish" angling is an absolute privilege yet the adventure hasn't finished. I've every intention of continuing the quest for adrenaline fixes caused by a tight line and a hooped rod. Another twenty pound pike - there might be tears, such is the power of living the dream.

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Esox memories

I find it absolutely incredible to acknowledge it was fifty years ago, this month, when I caught my first pike. I'd already been using a rod and line for seven years before this momentous event, yet it is that one capture which has steered my angling ever since. Of course I recognise that between 1993 & 2011 Kent birding was to dominate my leisure time and for that experience I remain truly grateful to all those who were part of this obsessive period of my adventure. However, there can be no escaping the fact that angling and, more accurately, specimen hunting has played a major role in my pathway through life, thus leading me to the here and now. I finished a previous post with mention of how angling allows me to maintain a grasp of normality during these troubled Covid-19 times. Obsession can never be healthy, yet a connection with the natural world, in whatever guise it takes, has to be good for the soul? With my recent blogging being very much pike orientated, I thought I might have a look back at the journey which has been my privilege to travel over the passed half century. My apologies to those who've already seen some of these old photos and heard the tales in earlier posts but, looking back is a great way of moving forward, if that makes any sense? So as I'm on a pike angling roll, let's see where this post leads?

It is probably worth mentioning that, prior to the recent "mini pike project", bedtime reading has been my 1st edition copy of "Fishing for Big Pike" by Barrie Rickards & Ray Webb. (A & C Black 1971) Within the pages of this single book are the finest words of advice on pike angling, location and thinking ever published, as relevant today as when first written. I should also mention that Martin Gay's chapter in the 1979 "The Big Fish Scene" contains much timeless advice about the finer aspects of pike location and behaviour. Don't get me wrong, there have been huge advances in angling techniques for all freshwater species, over the intervening years, yet pike are still the same, pre-historic, fish they've always been. Those very basic lessons, conveyed by Rickards, Webb and Gay remain the building blocks from which modern pike fishing has evolved. If you get the basics right, any fine tuning will do nothing but add to your chances of success. 

November 8th 1981 - my first double weighs in at 20 lbs 3 oz. 
Kodak's Water End fishery, Piccot's End, Herts.

I'd love to be able to say that because of adherence to such worldly advice my pike angling became a thing of beauty and finesse, but I'd be lying!!! It was eleven years after my first capture that I eventually landed my first "double" - it was a bloody twenty! An absolutely wondrous quirk of fate, yet probably the worst thing which could have happened? I thought I knew it all and took heed of none of the wisdom on offer as a consequence. The arrogance of youth is a very familiar situation to that which so many other of my peers will have experienced. What didn't help the situation was the fact that I continued to catch more decent pike after that fateful event, thus furthering my belief that I was good at it. What a major misconception? I'd like to think that Lester Strudwick (God rest his soul) played a part, as it was he who pointed me in the direction of the Scottish Lochs, yet know crossing paths (swords) with Eddie Turner, Bill Hancock and Vic Gibson (the original ET crew) was the turning point in my pike angling adventure. Tring in the mid-80's; Wilstone Res. was my second home. Eddie and co were on Startops End Res. perfecting their vane float techniques prior to unleashing the merchandise on an unsuspecting, pike angling, public. Eddie was the brains, Vic the gentleman, Bill the front man, and mouthpiece, for this revolutionary gang. We hit it off immediately and, as a result, my understanding of pike fishing "edges" became a part of my tactics and technique. 

A very young Eddie Turner with a Wilstone "double"

If I'd been doing OK before, now my returns went into melt-down. What Eddie taught me was to look for an edge, something away from the norm which is too much trouble for the other guy. He highlighted the value of buoyancy, colour and flavour in my dead baiting approach. I have to make mention that because of a very personal opinion, live baiting was no longer an option in my pike angling armoury at this stage. "Don't ignore the margins" is the one lesson, above all others, which has stuck with me since those crazy times and stood me in good stead over the intervening years.

One of my favourite images from that crazy period.
January 16th 1990 - Pixies Mere, Bourne End, Herts
22 lbs 3 oz on half a mackerel, fished in the margin!

So here I am in October 2020, once again seeking to capture a wild pike in excess of twenty pounds. Having achieved this target on many occasions, in the past, what makes this challenge any different? If I'm honest? I don't really know! Somewhere in my being is the desire to recreate an image from my past. A photo of me, posing with a twenty pound pike, that manages to recapture all of those old memories which have paved the the way to where I now find myself. Important that I succeed - not in the slightest. Enjoyable if I do - without a doubt!

December 22nd 1986 - Wilstone Reservoir, Tring, Herts
23 lbs 5 oz of buoyant Herring munching pike.

Sunday 11 October 2020

Black Dyke bonus

 I'd already resigned myself to the fact that Friday would be my final session, before a return to work, so was absolutely delighted when a window of opportunity presented itself to get out on Sunday morning. I'd only got a couple of hours to play with, needing to be back home by 09.15 hrs, but much better than not going at all! Weekend fishing at the syndicate requires pre-booking and, obviously, the RMC was far too distant to be a consideration, thus my sights were set on a tiny side drain that joins Black Dyke just the other side of Sandwich. I left home at 05.20 hrs and had all three rods fishing before 06.15 hrs. Even though I was restricted by very tight time limits, I felt sure that my tactics, bait choice and presentation would put me in with a shout. 

Dawn broke, a beaver swam through the swim before noisily slapping the surface with its' tail just in case I'd missed it! My first Redwings of the autumn were seen and a steady stream of Lapwings left their roost and headed north to feed in Pegwell Bay, I presume? At 07.40 hrs the indicator, on the middle rod, dropped off and the alarm sounded as an unseen fish moved off with my sardine offering. A very spirited battle ensued before a tidy fish, of 7 lbs 6 oz, was drawn over the chord and into the landing net. As I was doing the self-takes a Raven flew over, croaking it's approval of the scene below; it was so good to be out and about. All too quickly, however, the clock indicated that it was time to pack up and head for home. 

I was on the drive with ten minutes to spare, so it had been a very successful trip all round. Once I'd roused Bev from her slumbers, I set about unloading the van. Two large flocks (250+ in total) of Redwings passed west overhead, as I was doing this then, whilst washing down the un-hooking mat and nets, a lone Fieldfare flew along the gardens before dropping down onto the stubble of Newlands Farm a couple of hundred metres to the south. I tried looking up the definition of "bonus" and was met with a cascade of money orientated definitions. My own perception of a bonus is something unexpected, beyond the norm, and this morning had it in abundance, yet I'm not a penny richer! Was it a bonus or am I just kidding myself? I know what I think!

Friday 9 October 2020

My week's pike fishing

 It doesn't matter which section of the Royal Military Canal I wish to target, getting there from Thanet involves a great deal of fannying about, driving round the houses, due to the lack of a decent road network in this part of Kent. Even at the un-godly time when I leave home, it still requires a good hour to reach my destination, The syndicate fishery, on the other hand, is just over ten minutes away, early doors, and means I get an extra hour in kip should I choose this option. But what needs remembering is that I took time off work to catch pike, not get extended sleep periods, so these two venues were used to test my thought processes and angling techniques. The Royal Military Canal has a rich tradition of producing specimen pike whilst the syndicate is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I've got half an idea what I'm chasing in the RMC, the syndicate being an empty canvas awaiting my efforts in order to paint the picture. 

Monday 5th October - at 04.45bhrs I head off into the darkness for the first session of the week with the RMC being my preferred option. The first canal pike trip of the new season got away to a flier when a popped-up (Joey) Mackerel was taken within twenty minutes of my casting out. A nice little fish of about six pounds made its' way to the unhooking mat where I grabbed a quick photo (using the flash) before returning it to the water. Four more occurrences before I packed up at 10.00 hrs, no other fish hooked or landed. What I must also mention is that this was the only session of the week where I used monkeys on needles as my bite indication.

Tuesday 6th October - leaving home at the same time as yesterday, I returned to the canal to continue my quest. Bait options and presentation were much the same, although I covered quite a long section of the bank by leap frogging the rods at thirty minute intervals. If nothing else, it kept me active which is more than the pike did! I still had a great session which was mainly due to conversations with other folk who were also enjoying the facilities on offer. It was really nice to bump into local birder, and quality photographer, Brian Harper for the first time this year. A long chat about all sorts of subjects, I'm hopeful we'll meet again soon as this 20/21 pike project develops?

Wednesday 7th October - a session down at the syndicate was more to do with being able to get home early to allow Bev some free time than a realistic pursuit of "big" pike. An absolutely stunning sunrise and I'd now switched over to using "back-biter" alarms, as manufactured by my brother Simon, so spent some time getting images. Three times the line pulled from the clip. Twice it was eels and the third occasion came courtesy of a young Mute Swan - happy days!

Thursday 8th October - I've already described the utter joy of being down at the syndicate to witness that movement of hirundines across the surrounding marshes. Casting my baited hooks produced little more than eel trouble, the pike steadfastly refusing to play ball. If nothing else; I'm demonstrating a remarkable level of consistency? What is also becoming apparent is that the syndicate doesn't warrant a sustained effort if I'm serious about another twenty this coming winter.

Friday 9th October - back down to the RMC for my final session of the holiday period. I'd changed over to my Duncan Kay's and had decided on another area of the canal. My preparation couldn't have gone any better with baits coloured and flavoured with fish oils and Predator Plus. I was down there for 05.30 hrs, baits in position before 06.15 hrs - it's quite a trek so the barrow is essential. At 07.05 hrs a back biter announces a take and I'm in! The rods are soft and very forgiving, this fish giving a good account of itself, yet never really testing the gear beyond what I'd consider normal. As the fish rolled on the surface I thought eight pounds-ish! When I got it to the net I was thinking "double" only for the scales to reveal its' true weight at 14 lbs 8 oz! Brilliant - what a way to finish the holiday sessions.

There is an awful lot being said about mental health and well being during this Covid pandemic. That fish, laying on my un-hooking mat, summed up everything about why angling is such a fundamental part of "normality" in my little world.  I remained on the bank, soaking up the atmosphere, reliving my moment of glory, until it was time to call it a day and head off back home. Pushing the barrow back to the van was a breeze with that fish in the bag!

Thursday 8 October 2020

Moody skies and hirundines

 Just back home after my latest session; this one down at the local syndicate fishery. It won't take the IQ of Boris Johnson to glean, from the lack of recent posts, that things ain't going quite to plan. I'm going to do an angling summary of the whole week tomorrow, or Saturday? What I want to write about is the absolute privilege of being in the right place, at the right time, to witness a large scale movement of hirundines as I have this morning. 

It was a dull, blustery morning, heavy clouds and the ever present threat of rain which was the backdrop to the spectacle. There was no dawn, as such, it just got less dark. It wasn't until after 08.00 hrs that the odd chink in the clouds allowed any signs of brightness to emanate from the eastern horizon. I'd played around with the camera, attempting to capture the mood of the morning when, at 08.40 hrs, a flurry of Swallows came skimming over the lake, headed west. This was the precursor to the main event. Over the next ninety minutes, I watched a substantial movement of House Martins and Swallows, all heading steadily westwards on a broad front across the adjacent marshes.  By 10.00 hrs it was almost over, just a few stragglers moving in a more southerly direction before, by 10.15 hrs, it ceased. I make no claim that these figures are exact, just my estimation of the numbers involved. 700 House Martin, 250 Swallow and 1 Sand Martin (that is exactly how many of them I managed to id!). Although not tablets of stone, the behaviour of the two main species was rather interesting as the Swallows tended to skim the lake and fields whilst the House Martins were much happier flying into the brisk wind at a greater altitude. No evidence of feeding activity, just a very deliberate movement both west, then south, as I've already mentioned. 

Other bits of note included a Common Buzzard doing a very good impression of its' Rough-legged cousin by hovering over a raised bank for some five, or so, minutes. So glad I had my bins to hand. A couple of Chiffchaffs were associating with a mixed tit flock, as was a lone Goldcrest. Just as I was packing up a Green Sandpiper dropped in, doing a quick circuit of the lake, before heading back off towards Richborough. All in all a very pleasurable session in which luck played a far greater role than any skill on my part!

Sunday 4 October 2020

All quiet, but here's hoping

 A very low key sort of day, with Debbie bringing Emily and Harry over to visit Nanny & Grand-dad for the first time in ages. It was great to spend some quality time with our family,  the two kids having gotten negative Covid results after being sent home from school a week ago, showing symptoms of a cold! Still, I have to accept that reopening schools must be a priority and teacher health cannot be compromised by their pupils. Another sign of these crazy times. Garden vis mig was very different from yesterday, with just 17 Song Thrushes noted, the highlights being single Lapwing and Grey Wagtail - what a difference a day makes!

I'd taken a quick trip down to see Camo, this morning, just to grab a couple of packs of blueys, to add to my bait options as I return to the mini pike hunt. On Monday I'm off down to the RMC for my first session of the season, hoping to get three out of five trips next week to the venue. The other two will be at the syndicate where I'm still unsure of the potential of the pike fishing, I've certainly not seen anything to convince me that I'm chasing "big" pike there. With five sessions equating to around twenty five hours, maximum, angling time, I'm hoping at least one double visits the landing net before I have to go back to work. The weather forecast seems to be changing by the hour, so any plans will have to be very flexible, adapting to whatever twists and turns the conditions throw up. I've got some new "back-biter" alarms coming, courtesy of brother Simon, who makes these items in his man cave back in Aston Clinton. It would seem that tomorrow will be the final time I use the Siren R3's, with monkeys on needles, as my bite indication system when using fixed spool reels. Only when using centrepins are they (monkey climbers) a vital part of the bite registration kit using the dead bait techniques I employ. I will make a conscious effort to get some images of the various rigs and tackle items that I use over the coming week. Hopefully I'll achieve a modicum of success and be able to use my blogging to explain some of the thought processes behind my approach to targeting pike in these venues. Obviously this will be fully dependant upon me catching a few, otherwise there is absolutely no point in saying anything about techniques which are not doing the business - any fool can blank without assistance from me!

Saturday 3 October 2020

Garden vis mig and more

Up early, with no plans to go fishing this weekend, I knew that there were some jobs which Bev and I wanted doing, so had agreed that today would see us get them out of the way. As it happens, we did all that we wanted, and more, without too much fuss and job's a good'n! So first thing this morning after the ritual coffee making, I was outside on the patio tidying up the hedgehog feeding station (click here if you wish to see more) immediately aware that there were Song Thrushes moving overhead. By the time I'd fed the aviary and topped up the garden feeders I'd already counted 30+ birds moving in a southerly direction. Time to grab the binos and see what else was happening. The skies were dark and menacing, rain was constantly threatening but the birds were on the move. I couldn't stand outside all day, as I've already explained, but I tried to make the most of the situation. I ended the day recording 170+ Song Thrush moving S through to WSW, 40 Chaffinch W, 11 Siskin E, 1 Rook S, 3 Cormorant 2N/1E, 1 Swallow N and topped it off with a Short-eared Owl WSW at 09.59 hrs. Birds around the garden were 135+ House Sparrow, 17 Collared Dove, 375+ Feral Rock Doves feeding on stubble beyond the garden hedge and a tantalisingly brief Lesser Whitethroat showing features of an Eastern origin? The local Sparrowhawks were incredibly active around the area, I have no idea how many individuals were involved, but recorded them on seventeen occasions during the time outdoors. 

As dusk approached, the skies started to darken and more heavy cloud built along the western horizon, I rattled off a few shots towards the south, where there was still a few gaps in the cloud. Could tonight be the one when I record my first Redwing of the autumn  - naked noc migging! I'll have the study door wide open, awaiting the nightly visits from my spiny mates.

One of the regular customers at our "Al Fresco" feeding station

Friday 2 October 2020

Should know better

 "When the wind's in the East - the fish bite least" How many times have I used this phrase to others when explaining a lack of angling action. Storm Alex was forecast well in advance; the wind strength and direction wasn't going to be anything other than a raging gale straight from our EU neighbours, directly across the Channel from Thanet. So why did I bother going out this morning? Because I could is about the sum of it! Fortunately I managed to get the brolly up before the really heavy rain began, around 06.15 hrs, and remained in its' shelter for the entire session, packing up at 10.30 hrs with nothing to show for my effort. I got absolutely drenched barrowing my kit back to the van, just a couple of hundred yards away. Will I ever learn?  

My CK Stakeout Mk II brolly. Cheap as chips, but certainly served me well today

Apart from the resident water fowl there was very little else of note. A single Goldcrest and Chiffchaff with a roving flock of Long-tailed Tits plus I recorded 17 Swallows battling into the gale (2, 4, 7, 2 & 2) which was rather crazy under the conditions. The lone Great Crested Grebe came by to have a look at the idiot under the umbrella, so I pointed the long lens and rattled off a few shots ISO 1600 1/500th sec, resulting in useable, if somewhat grainy, images.

Thursday 1 October 2020

A start

It was little after 05.30 hrs that I headed off, into the drizzling darkness, for my first session of the 20/21 pike season. I arrived at a deserted syndicate fishery and quickly set up camp. The brolly being priority due to the forecast. Although it did rain on and off for much of my stay, I remained relatively warm and dry, and rather enjoyed this first outing. 

I suppose that not blanking was ultimately my goal, but when I said mini pike challenge? Two bites registered, one pike landed - possibly three pounds? A nicely marked little fish and very welcome under the circumstances but, not quite what I'm after. But a pike is a pike and there is no known method for targeting bigger specimens which won't also appeal to the smaller inhabitants of the fishery.

Off the mark!

A decent array of birds to keep me occupied whilst awaiting the alarms to sound. Two Common Buzzards, Hobby, three Sparrowhawks, Chiffchaff, Cetti's Warbler, Water Rail, several Song Thrushes, a lone Great Crested Grebe and, best of all, a day hunting Barn Owl. Back down there tomorrow, with the forecast for gale force easterlies and heavy rain. I'd thought about the RMC, but that's as far as it got. At least I'm close to the van and home down at the syndicate water, so packing up quickly won't mean a long drive home in soaking wet clobber.