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 29 April 2021

Syndicate sun-rise

 I can't buy a bite, such is the situation with me and fish at present. Confident that things will change but, in the mean time, I'll have to tough it out. A dawn to dusk session, yesterday, was a proper waste of time, fish wise, yet I did manage five year ticks. Greenshank, Lesser Whitethroat, Cuckoo, Sand Martin and Mediterranean Gull all put in an appearance, plus a pair of Canada Geese (an East Kent rarity) decided to pitch down, briefly, before continuing their journey west along the Stour. It was a stunning dawn, which I photographed before attempting to cast a line. 

Should have looked at the images on the back of the camera then gone back home to bed?

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Casual birding

It's been a very enjoyable period, just recently, as I adjust to the freedom associated with retirement. Fishing, obviously, will play a huge part in this new chapter but I'm also rapidly rediscovering the thrill of wandering the Newlands patch again. The birds seen out on this very ordinary part of Thanet have provided massive highs over these past twenty-one years since Bev & I moved into our bungalow. I no longer take notes, nor keep records, as such. The birds, now, are purely for my own entertainment. That I am occasionally able to share a sighting with a passing dog walker or curious neighbour just adds to the pleasure of this very simple approach to my birding. 

Bev and I went out for a walk, yesterday, and as we crossed the "big field" en route home, stumbled across a bunch of birds on a newly ploughed field margin. Three Wheatear, a Skylark, five Pied and one White Wagtail, bloody brilliant! Even Bev, not remotely interested in birds, was able to grasp the concept of "White-arse" as the Wheatears flitted about and easily discerned the difference between the male Pied Wagtails and their pristine "White" cousin. I had a drive down to the syndicate fishery when we got home, intending to cast a floater or two. WRONG! It was packed and the wind, a very chilly Easterly, ensured that absolutely nothing showed. I had a stroll around, chatting with the various members ensconced in their bivvies, "nothing doing!" being the common theme. I had my bins round my neck and was happy to record the first Yellow Wagtail of 2021 even if the rods remained in the van.


Out on the farm early-ish this morning, I had that weird feeling of impending doom. It was quiet as I walked the first hedgerow, absolutely nothing, not even a Dunnock! I had intended to walk across to the "Old Rose Garden" but, for some reason, changed my mind and turned right instead. Immediately there were two female Wheatears bouncing about on the recently disturbed earth, then a Corn Bunting appeared. I'll keep going. I've absolutely no idea what made me look back but I'm very grateful that I did. Almost at the point where I turned right, not left, was a thrush! Surely not? The bins immediately pointed towards this apparition, a bloody male Ring Ouzel was decked right out in the open. I rattled off a few record shots knowing that a bunch of school kids were rapidly walking the same footpath I'd just left. The ouzel flushed at their approach, never to be seen again - oh the joy of local patch birding!

Ring Ouzel was a species which I'd already written off for this Spring, such have the conditions been, so a right result. It didn't end there because a few moments later the first "patch" Swallow of the year skimmed past me. Only four Buzzards today, but I did record a flock of twenty-one Black-headed Gulls flying East, so I really don't know what to make of this situation as there's no comparison with the same period in 2020. Roach fishing tomorrow, with a carp "snide on the side" rod just for good measure. That second jab knocked me sideways for a couple of days, hence the lack of blog posts, but it's all good now - onward and upward.

Friday 23 April 2021

Newlands in the sunshine

 A superb day of unbroken sunshine made even better by the birds I was able to see from my garden and whilst wandering around the field margins of the farm. The remaining stubble was ploughed today and, as such, the local gulls were on hand to alert me to the Common Buzzards moving through our airspace. 

I went for a pre-cuppa stroll and was delighted to stumble upon a group of four Wheatears out on some newly ploughed earth. With the light in my favour, I spent quite a while with these splendid little birds, grabbing plenty of images as the opportunity allowed. I find myself in total agreement with Gavin Haig; it is impossible not to point a camera at these harbingers of spring, such is their charisma.

If the wheatears were a surprise, the flock of eighteen Corn Buntings was about as crazy as it gets. They're not annual here, so that number is off the scale and to top it all, one of the birds was singing. A patch breeding attempt would certainly be a very special record. Skylarks and Pied Wagtails made up the best of the rest, although I did record two Common Whitethroats whilst on my ramble. 

Back home by 08.30 hrs, I spent the vast majority of my time just sky watching, enjoying a procession of Common Buzzards, although not as hectic as the previous day.  I ended the day with a total of thirty-two birds, fourteen of which were singles. Having now spent quite a while watching the behaviour of these lone birds, I'm fairly confident that the majority are of local origin and coming to Newlands in order to feed on the freshly ploughed earth, much to the annoyance of the gulls. Migrants tend to occur in groups, although not always, and I had three groups of three, one of four and another of five which deliberately moved N - NW overhead. One of these birds was a superb "Scandinavian-type", pale phase, individual with heavy moult on it's right wing.

I was further rewarded for my effort when a Wheatear flew over the garden, at 10.00 hrs, thus another addition for the BWKm0 list.

No.55 - Wheatear

Just when I thought it couldn't get much better my phone rang and the surgery asked if I could attend for my second jab at 08.00 hrs tomorrow morning? Are you kidding? Another step closer to freedom - I'll be there bright and breezy.

Thursday 22 April 2021

Buzzard bonanza

 Days like these don't happen very often around Newlands, although I might not have been able to spend the time, in the past, just enjoying the spectacle. I had a walk around the fields, to the north of Vine Close, just before 08.00 hrs and a tractor was already at work, ploughing the big field. Obviously, the local Herring Gulls plus a few Lesser Black-backs from the Pyson's Rd colony, were in attendance and I did my best to locate something different but failed miserably. Six Corn Buntings were an unusual record and I had the first "patch" Whitethroat of the year singing in the adjacent hedgerow. Scattered high cloud and a brisk E/NE wind ensured it felt chilly and I was happy to return home for a cuppa. The first Common Buzzards appeared before 09.00 hrs yet, by 10.00 hrs, there were birds in view almost continually right through to 13.00 hrs when Bev and I went out for a drive. 

I'd recorded forty three birds, although duplication and local breeding birds cannot be discounted, before 13.00 hrs. There were still birds soaring over the farm at 16.50 hrs. What I find difficult to understand is the total lack of the pale, Scandinavian type, birds which were such a feature during the 2020 Spring migration period. Still tomorrow is another day and I see what else I can find whilst standing in the garden watching the world go by!

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Stubborn blanker

 It was around 01.00 hrs, this morning, that I was parking the van on our drive after my latest session down at the syndicate fishery. I'd given it my best shot for a good ten hours and not a bleep on the alarms. Plenty of carp activity, in the area where I was fishing but, for whatever reason, couldn't buy a bite! I offered baits on zigs as well as the more traditional presentations, the brisk wind and large population of waterfowl preventing me attempting any surface fishing. However, no time on the bank is wasted and I enjoyed watching the carp, when they showed themselves, and the local birdlife. 

As dusk approached, so the whole area became enshrouded in a blanket of heavy, soaking, mist and the wind dropped away to leave an eerie stillness. Not a murmur from a Sedge or Reed Warbler, no sound of a distant owl, nothing! I pulled the Magenta 5 bat detector from the rucksack and was delighted to listen to the weird chattering calls of Daubenton's bats that were skimming the water's surface, hidden by the dense mist. Strangely, they too were only active for a short period and had gone/stopped feeding before 21.00 hrs. It was getting very chilly and I am sure that, if not for the multi-layers, packing it in wouldn't have been a difficult choice. Knowing that this might be my only outing, this week, I was determined to stick it out and, just after 23.30 hrs, as I was slowly going through the early stages of gathering my kit, out in the gloom sounded the unmistakeable calls of a Stone Curlew - result! 

Plenty to think about before I get back down there, my time will surely come? They're only fish, after all!

Friday 16 April 2021

Three days in

 Because, of the current situation, the local syndicate requires me to book a slot at the fishery if I wish to have a session, therefore, I'd already committed to three consecutive afternoon/dusk outings (I don't do nights!) this week. Hopefully, with lockdown easing, things will change and I'll have a little more flexibility with my angling arrangements at the venue? If I'd have known how bloody cold it would feel, in the blasting N/NE winds I might not have bothered. Still, if I didn't experience the lows, then I couldn't appreciate the highs when they occur. Certainly not time wasted as I learned plenty which might help me as this challenge moves forward. 

The Hardy "Palakona" Perfection Roach rod, ABU Cardinal 44X reel and
Tring swing arm indicator. In the bucket is mashed bread, for the cage feeder, with a tin
of J66 (Jolly Green Giant - that's carp angling code from the 70's) for hook bait.

If there was a highlight, then it has to be catching a lovely plump 1 lb 2 oz roach on the Hardy "Palakona" Perfection Roach rod. I'd like to thank young Mr Francis for his splendid email, which gave me plenty of food for thought as to how I might approach the roach conundrum in this particular fishery. The bite, when it came, was a drop back registered on a loaded swing arm indicator, much as we used on Tring in the 1980's. So cheers Ric!

I saw a few carp show, as light faded, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, yet couldn't buy a bite on a zig or bottom baits. Thursday, with all three rods in areas where I'd seen carp, not a sign of a fish anywhere, not even pike striking at the rudd shoals. All very weird. First Sedge Warbler on 13th April, with my first Reed Warbler just two days later. Had plenty of time to play around with camera kit and managed to record a few images which capture the feel of the fishery, if not the fish within?

I've still got another twenty-one sessions, at least, before the start of the traditional season. I remain confident of a few carp in the landing net before that magical date. 

Monday 12 April 2021

Getting started

 There's little over eight weeks until the "traditional" fishing season resumes and I am going to set myself a challenge to fill this void before the flatlands are back in the ball game. With the very obvious exception of a Loch Awe pilgrimage, as a rule, I don't need to be out all night attempting to catch a fish. The one ritual that still remains from those early years is a mid-night start on June 15th/16th. Thus, that mid-night start remains the only night in a calendar year when I raise a glass to "Isaac", make the, symbolic, first cast and require a bed chair, rather than a seat, to see the session through!

I've got three afternoon/evening sessions booked (part of the rules during Covid lockdown) on the syndicate "specimen" venue. After talking it through with Bev, I'm committed to three sessions a week at this venue right up to June 15th. My hope is that I manage to tempt that "split cane thirty" but, realistically, I'll be happy to see a few fish in my landing net. It was George, the gamekeeper, who threw a spanner in the works, when he told me about the roach that are also present in this fishery. If, and it's a big "IF", two pounders are swimming around in these murky depths, I'll happily forgo a carp, or two, for such specimens. Going into the adventure with such a blank canvas, I can't see anything other than enjoyment as the learning process unfolds. I certainly have no divine right to catch "big" fish. Success will have been earned, I hope. The fact that work no longer impacts on my ability to present a baited hook is all very weird, but I'll quickly get used to it, I'm sure.

I nicked this promo image from a Nash  advert - can't see any issues arising from this?

Just before mid-day, Parcel Force delivered my latest toy. I'm now the proud owner of a Nash "Bushwhacker" baiting pole system. I feel sure that there are folk out there, in blog land, who don't agree with such items, a bit like bait boats? Me? If there was a helicopter bait delivery system, I'd use it. Progress ain't stopping just because I don't like it. I seek the adrenaline rush of doing battle with a fish using tackle that will provide maximum enjoyment. How I achieve the bite is an irrelevance; modern advancements? If I feel it's not for me, it's not mandatory that I use it  - so a very simple decision. I've chosen the baiting pole because it will allow me to use centre-pins and still place my baits accurately in the margins. As a by-product, when pike fishing. on the RMC,  I can also place a dead bait to where I want it whilst still using centre-pins and no chance of a rig ending up in the trees. In the intimate venues I favour, this stealthy approach can do nothing but enhance my chances of getting that bite I so desire. I'm already thinking about the perch fishing potential of such bait placement.

A thirty before 16th June might be pushing it a little too far but, I am hopeful of setting new PB figures for, at least, one species every year as I move forward. A big ask? It is a question that will only be answered by going out there and discovering if I'm good enough. It's almost like I've come full circle and am as silly as I was when embarking on this "big fish" adventure over forty years ago. Silly, perhaps? Naïve - never on your life. This time round I'm going in with my eyes fully open, but no less excited!

I'll get some photos of the kit, tomorrow, when I'm down at the fishery. Two carp rods fishing the margins and the Hardy "Palakona" Perfection Roach cast into open water. Even if nothing happens I will still have learned something?

Sunday 11 April 2021

Every day's a Sunday - from now on!

 I went down to the syndicate, early this morning, in the hope of spotting a fish or two. As it turned out, I spent two hours chatting with Stuart, a new member, and George, the local gamekeeper, who I met not long after moving to Thanet over twenty years ago. We spoke about all sorts of subjects, birds, fish, general wildlife and the role of countryside management and field sports in the bigger picture. Obviously, we didn't agree on all subjects, that's the beauty of individual opinion, but we had to admit that we all shared a fair amount of common ground in our enjoyment of the outdoors. Probably the best piece of information I gleaned from our meeting was the presence of a population of decent sized roach in the fishery - all very interesting! There's certainly scope for a side project if this is confirmed. 

Back home, by mid-morning, conditions looked good for some raptor movement. The gulls, away to the west, were very agitated for much of the day. All I managed, from the garden, was a couple of lone Common Buzzards (photos of the same individual) and can but guess at what was missed? It can't be too long before a Red Kite is recorded in Newlands airspace yet, being fully aware of what passed overhead during this same period last year, who knows what might turn up? 

Saturday 10 April 2021

The beginning of a new chapter

I retired yesterday, walking away from the best work experience I've ever been part of. If my time with Unilever was a superb adventure, Fuji took it a step further, allowing me to be part of an unfolding journey of, pushing boundaries beyond what was previously thought possible? The group of individuals that make up the "digital dept" of FSIS are a wonderful bunch of people who've played a massive role during my time within the company. I sincerely thank each and every one of them for the part they've played in my enjoyment of the time spent at Pyson's Road.  

Chiffchaff in the "Christmas Tree" right outside my study window

It's now time for me to move on and look for new challenges. Fish to catch, birds to watch, places to go and people to see. Bev and I have quite a "wish list" that we'd like to achieve before we're too old! So watch this space. The BWKm0 list has been stuck at 53 species for the past seventeen days, so it was a nice surprise to hear two Willow Warblers singing from an adjacent garden, as I filled the feeders this morning. Once I'd finished, I grabbed the camera and managed to get a few images of one of the birds feeding in our garden Elder before the pair of them were off, north, along the gardens. Very few signs of migration around Newlands, just a trickle of Chiffchaffs and four Blackcaps for me, thus far. It will all change now that work won't get in the way.

No. 54 - Willow Warbler

Friday 9 April 2021

Carp Fever

 When, in 1981, Kevin Maddocks paved the way for the meteoric rise of carp angling with the publication of "Carp Fever", the majority of big fish anglers were all rounders. The National Association of Specialist Anglers was a creditable organisation which used the media to allow the views of specimen hunters to be heard. At this stage it was the established, and far more popular, match/pleasure angling community within the UK freshwater angling scene, who held sway at club level and dominated the popular media (Angling Times & Anglers Mail) of the day. Ivan Marks, Ian Heaps, Bob Nudd, et al, were superstars, held in the same esteem as Dick Walker, Rod Hutchinson, Ritchie Mc "Doughnut" Donald and Fred J. Taylor. I remember spending time with Roy Marlow, Ivan Marks' business partner and fellow member of the Leicester Match Team, at a Rutland Water Open Day, and being completely blown away by the attention to detail that he, and every other guy at that level of match angling, went to in order to ensure he was fishing as effectively as he knew how. By comparison, the speccy hunters of the period were, at best, agricultural in their thought processes, particularly in relation to bait presentation.  Obviously, as Kevin Maddocks was to promote, that quest for a presentation edge was to be a massive turning point in big fish angling. 

I was up on the banks of Wilstone Reservoir, Tring, at this time, rubbing shoulders with some of the most talented, high profile, speccy hunters of that era. Compared with the match anglers, our focus was on bite registration and indicator design, so we were still some way off the mark! Alan Wilson was re-writing the "speccy hunter's" handbook, further perpetuating the mythical status of a "time bandit" approach, which was completely at odds to that of the match scene. However, once Kevin had lifted the lid off the secret world of the carp fishing old guard, things rapidly moved forward to encompass bait presentation and placement. Obviously it was Len Middleton and Kevin who were to develop the hair-rig concept but, they were not the first to see this, off the hook, bait presentation as a way forward. Rod Hutchinson had played around with a similar idea at Redmire in the 70's yet failed to recognise the significance or potential.

As Fred Wilton first aired his views on the HNV bait theory I would still be catching perch, roach and gudgeon from the Grand Union Canal. However, it wasn't too long after I'd started to take an interest in catching "bigger" fish that the rumblings about milk proteins and amino acids came onto my radar. By the early 1980's, mainly due to my involvement with other Tring Syndicate members, I was fairly well placed to pick a few scraps from the rich mans table? If Kevin wrote the book, then it was Clive & Malcolm, the Richworth duo, who made the film! Their VHS offering was absolutely revolutionary, years ahead of the advent of social media, yet exactly the same impact upon those of us who craved carp fishing knowledge? By this stage, I was an established member of the NASA fraternity, regularly appearing in the weeklies with a photo or two, or writing for the monthly magazines of the period. David Hall's Coarse Fishing being the main outlet, but I was happy to write for anyone who was willing to publish my thoughts, thus keeping me in the spotlight! It was around this period that I crossed swords with Tim Paisley, at a NASA conference. He'd written a superb article, in one of the carp magazines, filled with theories and hypothesis, pertaining to the high protein base mixes being used at that time and their attractiveness to carp. Why? 

My gripe was not with what Tim had written, his theories were based upon personal experience and well worth exploring but, and it's a big BUT! Is a carp angling magazine the place to seek constructive opinion upon such topics? Of course not! What do a hairy arsed bunch of carp anglers know, or care, about the finer points of amino acid effectiveness within such temperature bands, let alone the enzyme breakdown rates. No, I had absolutely no problem with Tim's ideas, just that he wasn't seeking the right audience to get any constructive input? I suggested The New Scientist might offer a greater chance of getting some better informed, science based, reaction. I was called a few names, and told to f*ck off! I work in a (Kodak - at the time) factory and if that's the best you've got you're on a loser. Neville Fickling was sat at that same table and, oh how he changed when I became a member of the NASA Executive Committee a couple of years later. Like I've said, I was a publicity seeking idiot, the speccy world my stage. 

6th July 1983 - 21 lbs 10 oz and I'm on my way

If only Lester Strudwick, RIP, could have known how his influence on my angling journey was to pan out, I'm sure he'd be pleased? A talented angler, I have to say, but not so far removed from reality to be unwilling to spend time with us "Johnnie-cum-lately" types and share whatever knowledge we sought. A hugely generous guy indeed. It would have been in my second season as a Tring Syndicate member that Lester was to provide assistance with my quest for a decent PB carp. I'd recently caught a "twenty" from a local club venue, but needed to get close to twenty-five pounds if I was to be taken seriously at this point. You need to remember that all species were of equal merit and carp were just that, another species. All I required was a PB statistic which would stand me in good stead with my peers. Lester was a member of "The Carpike Specimen Group" and only too happy to point me in the direction of Stanborough Lake, in Welwyn Garden City, where he, and his mates, had enjoyed a fair degree of success in past seasons. 

It was at this point that my thoughts on carp baits took a weird twist. I was well aware of what Rod Hutchinson, Geoff Kemp and Duncan Kay were able to offer the, ever growing, number of carp anglers seeking an easy option. I read through vast amounts of carp related info in the hope of gleaning a few snippets which might provide inspiration? It was crazy that I actually found my answer within the pages of Kevin's book and a mad Geoff Kemp publication called Kempastini's Book of Baits, which I still have!

The recipe which I finally came up with was as follows - this being copied from my diary notes of winter 1983/4

4 oz tinned Sardines, drain off excess oil and mash

2 oz bran with wheat germ

2 oz Nukamel (I don't have the first idea what this was?)

1 oz Codlavine (ground Munchies I believe)

1 oz wheat gluten

2 oz white yeast

2 crushed Vitzyme dog conditioning tablets

1/2 teaspoon of Marmite

3 eggs - once mixed, roll into balls (15 mm at a rough guess) boil for 45 seconds and leave to air dry for 24 hrs. I have in a footnote that this concoction was very similar to a Duncan Kay paste and very sticky! The only other tweak I managed was after a chance meeting with Keith Sellick, proprietor of Middlesex Angling Centre. He provided me with some incredibly strong "spicy" flavouring  which he called Pizza. 3ml of this liquid was pungent enough clear the flight terminal at Heathrow!

The biggest of the trio - 21 lbs 9 oz

With the help of Ian Crawley, proprietor of Leslie's of Luton (St. Alban's branch) I was quickly kitted out to do battle with any carp that lived within the murky water of this municipal country park. Bruce & Walker HMC (High Modular Carbon) rods and the first Shimano reels in the UK were all in my possession as I set out my stall for a campaign at Stanborough. At no stage in my thought process did it occur to me that I'd be undertaking a winter campaign? I was just going carp fishing! November 6th 1983, I take three "twenties" in consecutive casts and, as a result, grab a few column inches in the angling tabloids of the period. Problem was, the heaviest of the trio only weighed in at 21 lbs 9 oz so the quest continued. Stanborough was a really great place to go fishing, the other anglers we met being a wonderful mix of characters, all of whom simply enjoyed their angling. I think that the best bit about being there was the atmosphere. With the average carp being mid-doubles, there was no jealousy of others successes and, if a big fish (twenty plus) was landed, the congratulations were genuine. 

In 1984 this was a very "big" carp

Under no circumstances could Stanborough, at this time, be described as a difficult venue. Carp were caught on almost every session I undertook. It wasn't until 25th February 1984, however, that anything of note was to occur. It was a single bait, cast into the entrance of the boat yard - all of 70 yards! - that produced the only bite of the day. A wonderful old Mirror Carp, of 23 lbs 14 oz, was my prize and, as such, ended my project. A carp of that size was a very respectable capture within the ranks of the all-rounders. I went back a few more times during the following summer, taking a lovely brace of nineteen pounders, but in reality my carp adventure was over as there were other targets on the horizon.

One of the hardest fighting carp I've ever caught - 19 lbs 11 oz - 25th August 1984

It wasn't until the start of the 1985 season that anything happened to change my opinion about the way I, and my fellow speccy hunters, approached our angling. I said, at the start of this piece, how talking with Roy Marlow was a real eye opener. Barbel fishing with Fred Crouch took me to another level completely. Lester had been extremely generous with both his time and knowledge; being with Fred was like listening to the Beatles, watching George Best or Mohamed Ali. I knew I was in very special company and soaked up every bit of advice he was prepared to offer. Accuracy of baiting, rig presentation, were fundamental to Fred's angling. Nothing was too much trouble, close wasn't good enough. If it wasn't right, fix it. All these lessons have stood me in good stead ever since. Indeed, looking back at my Stanborough campaign I wonder how I managed to catch anything? 

So I now need to fast forward to 2015, a break of thirty years, eighteen of which had been spent birdwatching around Kent, thus no fishing involved. The accidental capture of an 18 lbs 2 oz Common Carp being catalyst to my return to carp fishing, of sorts! With social media now offering unlimited advice on any subject you choose to peruse, it is little wonder that carp fishing continues to dominate UK freshwater angling. Having now retired and re-joined the syndicate, I have ample opportunity to spend time in search of that elusive "split cane thirty" which has been a target since my Dad's passing in August 2016.  What also seems likely, however, is that I'm not simply chasing a target only to walk away once achieved. Having now sampled the absolute thrill of flatlands carp angling, size being almost an irrelevance, there is so much more for me to discover beyond the circuit mentality of the mainstream. Carp angling will now become an established part of the angling year, much as pike fishing has always been. Should I get distracted by perch, barbel, chub or roach? It won't be of any problem to change tack then return when that particular challenge has been attempted. 

All the while carp like this are swimming in the flatland drains, I know why I still go fishing.

What is without doubt is that I'll be working as hard as I know how to ensure that I have an edge. Down at the syndicate waters, this will mean thinking way outside the box. As Fred had taught, all those years ago, it's all about attention to detail. I have a number of options open to me, none of which will involve the use of bait which can be purchased off the shelf. I do know one thing, Bev won't let me start knocking up boilies in the kitchen if I'm wanting to recreate that Stanborough mix! I haven't even cast a line at the fishery this year, but did go down for a quick look on Easter Monday. The four anglers present, all nice guys, looked like adverts from a tackle catalogue with their bankside presentation on show for all to admire. I'm gonna have some fun down there this summer, that's for sure. Centrepins, a baiting pole, particles and split canes, I should fit in seamlessly.

Might cause a few raised eyebrows?

When we finally escape the restrictions of "lockdown" I have high hopes of getting back down to the RMC. There are carp swimming around in that venue which are every bit as "wild" as any out on the flatlands. And, should I ever be at a loose end, there are always the carp in the tidal reaches of The Stour to provide a challenge. Having been fortunate to have caught big fish, of so many species, and crossed paths with some extraordinary characters whilst doing so, "Carp Fever" isn't something I'm likely to succumb to at this stage in the adventure. Yet I can't deny the adrenaline rush caused by drawing a decent carp over the waiting net chord.  Now, at the start of a new chapter in my journey, who knows where it will lead?

Saturday 3 April 2021

A decade down the line

 There is absolutely no way that Bev, or myself, could have foreseen the massive impact upon our lives when she said "Yeah, of course you should go back again" In order that you might hope to understand the significance of such a simple sentence, then I need to turn back the clock to a very sunny afternoon in July 2010. My youngest brother, Simon, is celebrating his fiftieth birthday with a gathering of family and friends in his secluded garden in the quiet village of Aston Clinton, Bucks. The Wrafties were on fine form and the beer flowed freely. Benno was, very much. in the spirit of the occasion and started waxing lyrical about those childhood days when I'd taken him pike fishing to Loch Awe. accompanied by a bunch of very dear friends who were also huge characters and very gifted anglers in their own right. Way back then angling, or more correctly specimen hunting, was the single. most important, factor in my life - how utterly selfish? Still, it didn't maintain that status once I'd been to Madeira and experienced the adrenaline roller coaster of Atlantic Blue Marlin plus moving from Hertfordshire (a birding desert) to "The Garden of England" in the summer of 1993. For eighteen years, thereafter, I was fully immersed in the Kent birding scene, setting new county year-listing figures in 1999 - which was the catalyst for the break-up of my first marriage and, therefore, responsible for Bev and I getting together - every cloud? Kent birding was just as OCD but without fishing rods and, when we got together, that is all Bev had ever known me as, a birder, albeit a fanatical county lister. 

Now that simple sentence has been put into perspective, thus having more gravitas, I will continue with this sorry tale. Ten years later it seems impossible to gauge how "one more time at Loch Awe" would so hugely impact upon our established relationship. Fortunately, this time around, I'm an awful lot more sensible? If you've made it this far and believe a single word of that last statement, then you've not been following this blog for very long! That 2011 Loch Awe trip was to light the blue touch paper for an adventure as obsessive and crazy as any other in my life's journey. It's part of who I am. If it's worth doing then it has to be full on. Yeah, I recognise the failings in this obsessive mentality, yet can't see any point if I don't give it my best shot? Being an individual, remaining true to myself and the values I hold dear, make sense when considered under these circumstances. It would be great to think that age and experience equates to wisdom but, I fear not. Age, if nothing else, mellows the soul and feel sure that many of my fellow bloggers understand where I'm coming from. Exuberance being replaced by a far more rewarding type of involvement with any chosen hobby/pursuit. 

The late Les "Cuddly" Dudley poses with a very nice pike taken from
the peat stained depths of Kilchurn Bay. This was the late-80's and that keepnet
in the background contained a supply of livebaits which we would have
transported up from Hertfordshire!

So it was at the end of April 2011 that we returned to the banks of Loch Awe. Kilchurn Bay looking just as magnificent as I remembered from all those years previous. The only obvious change was the construction of a landing stage in front of the castle ruins. Health & safety must take president over aesthetic beauty, even in the Scottish Highlands. We all caught pike, Benno finishing the week off perfectly when he landed the first "Sottish" twenty that I'd ever seen. If I left Kent as a fanatical birder, I returned home a re-born angler and a new chapter in my life's journey got underway. Although I had packed up the hobby with a very creditable list of PB's, it was only pike angling which remained a constant during the annual cycle. Summer and Autumn might see me in pursuit of various species, each one targeted purely in order to put a statistic on a list thus allowing myself to be judged against my peers. I was pretty successful, as it turned out, and could hold my head up in most angling circles of that period. Eighteen years away from the hobby was to demonstrate how much things had changed. Carp and carp fishing dominated the sport to such a degree that, now, all other species are considered a nuisance by these new breed clones. In order to cater for this incessant demand there are now commercial complexes, stocked with huge carp, to provide opportunity for those who crave such things. To my way of thinking there are two massive benefits arising from this situation. Firstly, all the chavs, half-wits and lazy anglers are drawn to these venues like iron filings to a magnet and secondly, and rather more interesting from my point of view, many other species are able to prosper within these fisheries, completely ignored by this band of myopic carp chasers. I have absolutely no problems being considered a "weirdo" by these guys, just because I don't fit their stereotypic mould. Having looked like this for all of my adult life, I've gotten used to that type of assessment funnily enough.

My best pike from that initial trip. A little over thirteen pounds, but that
wasn't important. I rediscovered the thrill of a bent fishing rod and
the camaraderie of like-minded souls with a backdrop of outstanding natural beauty 

Even away from the "carp puddles" river angling had changed far beyond anything I could have imagined. Ignoring the carp; chub and barbel were now attaining weights which were unthinkable twenty years previous. Of course there are many negative aspects caused by these extraordinary changes but, being a big fish angler, I have very little to complain about. So on our return from Loch Awe I set about reacquainting myself with the angling scene as it now is. The local commercials allowed ample scope to rediscover the thrill of centrepin fishing, with small carp providing the entertainment as they ravenously consumed whatever surface fished baits I offered. However, it wasn't too long before Benno suggested a trip to East Sussex, where a viable population of decent perch were known to inhabit a small pool. We ended up visiting this delightful fishery on three occasions, catching some superb perch to a top weight of 3 lbs 6 oz on my brother Simon's rods. My best perch went 2 lbs 10 oz yet my stand out memory is the capture of a 17 lbs plus, Italian strain, Mirror Carp using my 1 lb 2 oz t/c Tring Tench rod, a Fred Crouch Match Aerial centre-pin with 6 lbs b.s. line presenting a float fished prawn. As I drew that fish over the net chord, I knew that there were still carp fishing opportunities available, well away from the circuit circus. 

The pike season of 2011/12 was to be one of incredible discovery as I embarked upon the first angling project of this new era. I wanted a wild twenty pounder from the drains of the East Kent marshes. It was a fantastic adventure, with so many highs, yet I was to fall short of my target because of the simple fact that a pike of that size did not exist in my chosen venues. The pike that did live out on these flatland were worthy of every effort required. Stunning looking fish within a network of waterways which made the Counterwash Drain out at Manea, Cambs, look decidedly large. That season ended with me having taken a good few doubles to a top weight of 19 lbs 5 oz. A magnificent pike which just ensured that the desire for a Kent wild twenty wouldn't go away any time soon.

The local commercials and a return to Loch Awe ensured that the close season passed relatively quickly. Tom "Bradders" Bradbury landing another twenty from Kilchurn Bay just to keep me on my toes. It was the start of the new season, however, that really started the next ball rolling. One of the guys that Benno had met, through work, had told of barbel, big barbel, being present in the River Stour around Canterbury. A photo was circulated depicting an eleven pounder that had been captured close to the Viking Mercedes dealership in Sturry - game on! As is only right, under these circumstances, Benno managed to snare the first two barbel of the campaign; the best one less than four pounds! What he did do, however, was take a six pound Chub and that was well worth checking out. Armed with my Fred Crouch Aerial centre-pin combined with a Tring Tench rod I set out my stall. A very interesting period of this angling adventure. I didn't come close to catching a barbel but did manage to land two five pound plus Chub for my efforts and, in doing so, knew that there was further effort required.

That winter pike season proved to be hard going, at an individual level. I changed focus from the local drains to the challenges posed by the pike of The Royal Military Canal. It wasn't until after my Mum passed away that, in mid-February, my luck changed. All alone, for a pre-dawn start, it was early doors on the 17th when the stars finally came into alignment. I'd just returned a nine pounder when my other alarm signalled a bite. This time around it was an all together different battle which resulted in that target fish being netted. 20 lbs 9 oz of, pike shaped, perfection. I have no shame in admitting that I was an emotional wreck, Mum was smiling that morning. There are times in your life when it's good to be on your own - this was one of them! Benno was roused from his drunken slumber and eventually came over to do the honours with the camera and then went on to catch a nineteen pounder for himself. It was to prove to be the start of a most incredible few weeks where we couldn't go wrong. One bite per session, but well worth the efforts involved.

Another close season, another trip to Loch Awe and another twenty on the bank, this time for my brother Simon, surely my Scottish twenty couldn't be too far away? Benno and I embark upon a barbel campaign on the Kentish River Stour. We kick started the effort with a trip up to The Severn at Hampton Lode where we both caught a few fish. Mine were the first barbel I'd caught since 1985! If we drove home on the Sunday, then it was the Monday when Benno got the ball rolling. He landed a superb fish, of 11 lbs 6 oz, from the Willow Close section of this fabulous river and, in doing so, ensured I would become as obsessed with this challenge as I'd been at any other period during my life! Bev had no chance of understanding the various influences at play but, to her eternal credit, did nothing more than encourage me to chase my dreams. Over the course of the next few weeks I was to break my PB three times. I captured five barbel during this period, so hectic it wasn't. However, when it came right it was angling beyond anything I could have wished. What was most rewarding was the fact that I did so using an approach that had been taught me my Fred Crouch, "Mr Barbel", himself down at the Compound on The Royalty Fishery of the Hampshire Avon, way back in 1984/5. Centre-pins and bait droppers, stuff that modern bait-runners and spombs have absolutely no chance of replicating. I have posted many images of those two "thirteens" so have chosen to use an image of my first double. What a memory, shared with my son - does it get any better than that?

Benno returning my first, ever, double figure Barbel.
11 lbs 9 oz of utter joy - a milestone moment in this individuals angling adventure.

The next year, or so, just meandered along. I still caught my fair share of decent fish yet, nothing outstanding? Loch Awe remained an annual ritual and The Stour barbel gave me, and Luke, some real highs but, it wasn't a particularly productive period.  It wasn't until the 2015 Loch Awe trip that anything occurred to ignite the next phase in this incredible adventure. Well before 06.00 hrs on the morning of 26th April my bite alarm signalled the take from that pike which I'd been seeking for thirty three years! At 24 lbs 10 oz, it remains the most significant, although nowhere close to the heaviest, pike I've ever been privileged to encounter. If the twenty pounder from the Royal Military was an emotional experience, this fish took it to another level. Loch Awe is a big place and I had plenty of room to spend time with my thoughts. That pike was in the landing net by 06.00 hrs, I'd cracked open the first can of Kronenberg 1664 less than twenty minutes later. Cuddles and "The Mitch's" would have been proud of me, of that I'm sure. The next twenty-four hours were spent in an alcoholic haze - happy daze?

The fish of my dreams

The next few months were much the same as previous years, catching fish from small club and commercial venues with no real sense of purpose or achievement. That was to come to a very abrupt halt one sunny afternoon in July. I've blogged about this quirk of fate not long ago but, for those who might have missed it. I was only out on the flatlands due to EA weed cutting on the Stour rendering any attempt at barbel fishing to be a pointless exercise. I went off in pursuit of tench but, instead, was to encounter my first "wild" carp from these remote and intimate drains. At 18 lbs 2 oz, that Common Carp had it all. A magnificent fish from such a unexpected place, I had to go back for another bash, this time without any thoughts of pretending to be tench fishing. That second outing proved, beyond any doubts, that these carp were worthy of a sustained campaign. I landed two fish, that session, the larger one being another magnificent Common weighing in at 20 lbs 10 oz and, as such, my first over that mark since February 1984. The other one was equally worthy of capture, being a beautiful Mirror Carp of twelve pounds.

I'll return to the carp project later, but the next challenge I set myself was just about as silly as they get? In the October of 2015, I decided to spend a few sessions fishing deliberately for Eels. This is something I've never previously attempted, although I've caught many accidently whilst targeting other species. I had no problems catching these slimy, tackle tangling pests and became rather fascinated by them. This, in turn, was to lead me to set about catching an eel in every month of the pike season (October - March)? Having had pike baits savaged by these fish, right throughout the previous winter campaigns on both the drains and the RMC, I felt sure it was a realistic goal. Strangely, I could find no information about winter eel fishing, therefore it would be trial and error as I went along. I really can't remember ever being so intent, or focussed, on achieving a successful conclusion to any angling project than I was with this one. When, on a cold and dark 12th March 2016, I completed my challenge, landing the heaviest specimen of the entire project, 3 lbs 10 oz, I felt like I'd won the Lottery. I knew that I'd achieved something very few other anglers have ever attempted.

Self takes of any fish are problematic, eels are virtually impossible.
Under the circumstances, this ain't too bad.

Now this is where things start getting really messy. In December 2015, I'd celebrated my 60th birthday and my family presented me with a wonderful 1959 "Earls Court Boat Show" Limited Edition split cane Dick Walker Mk IV carp rod. Now the clue's in the description, it's a fishing rod, not an oil painting, so hanging it on the study wall was never going to be an option. I did take it down to the local club fishery for a few trial runs, before splashing out to buy a second example thus being able to fish them as a pair. Mitchell 300 reels completed the set up and by April 2016 Benno and I embarked upon a RMC carp hunt. Benno hit the ground running and landed three carp, two twenties, to 24 lbs, before I'd registered a bite. However, my turn came and the split canes did me proud as I landed a lovely old Mirror of 21 lbs 7 oz and I was off the mark. Back out on the flatlands for the start of the new season, I got away to a flyer. Three carp, two Commons of 19 lbs 4 oz & 20 lbs 10 oz and a "football" of a Mirror at 23 lbs 10 oz before the deteriorating health of my father put an abrupt halt to proceedings. Bev and I moved into his house to ensure he saw out his remaining time at home. It was at this point I made the promise to catch a thirty on the split canes and will use this as my motivation moving forward. We did our best and Dad passed away, peacefully, on 2nd August, our work was done and, after the funeral, returned to some type of normality. I got back out onto the flatlands and took another lovely Common of 21 lbs 14 oz before packing it in for another year.

These past few years, after Dad's passing, have been very testing as we've, subsequently, had to deal with the loss of Bev's father then, after a lengthy period of caring for her mother, who rapidly deteriorated into a bed ridden, dementia suffering, shadow of her former self, now find ourselves at the top of the family tree. Obviously my fishing is of no consequence, whatsoever, under these circumstances but I've still enjoyed whatever time has been available to me. The Marshside Fishery complex was to provide some outstanding Perch fishing for me over the 2018/19 season before I moved on to my local syndicate fishery. 

The pandemic just about put the tin hat on it for me. Bev couldn't leave her mum, but at least I was able to get off to work to give me some break from the situation. It was the end of October that finally saw an end to the suffering of Denise. It might sound callous, but it was a relief for all those involved, family and friends, plus that wonderfully committed group of carers. As a couple Bev and I are stronger than ever because of these testing times. Getting back out on the banks has produced two moments of utter joy and give me hope for the future. It was the day before my sixty-fifth birthday when I land a superb brace of pike from the RMC, although my further plans were thwarted by the lockdown restrictions imposed before Christmas. Then, two days before the end of the season, with the angling Gods smiling down, I cross paths with that magnificent old warrior out on the flatlands. With retirement looming I won't see those two occasions as the end of the chapter but, instead use them as inspiration for the start of a new adventure.

Well that's my very personal overview of the last ten years spent on the bank. All being well, the next ten will be even more eventful given that time won't be so restricted?

Thursday 1 April 2021

Close season blues

I've no one to blame but myself. When I came home from that Sunday 14th March session, my stated intention was not to pick up a rod again until I'd retired. However difficult, it is, I will stick to this promise as the finishing line gets ever closer. Knowing that the flatlands are off limits until that magical June 16th restart, I have two options open to me, unless Boris lifts some of the travel restrictions? I can make a start down at the syndicate or, far more likely, have a bash after a decent perch down at Sandwich Coarse Fishery.  

I'm sat in my study, surrounded by the ridiculous array of tackle that I've amassed over the decades, looking forward to the day when work is just a memory. The 1956 Hardy "Palakona" Perfection Roach rod needs to be given an outing, in combination with the Allcock's Match Ariel centre-pin. If I then chuck in a homemade seagull quill float and a flavoured king prawn, what perch could resist such a set-up? There's a Tweed jacket hanging in the back of the van, a soppy looking floppy hat plus a shirt and tie will complete the ensemble. Chris Yates eat your heart out! What I'm hoping for is to get some fun back into the angling experience. As my mate Gary commented, "an eccentric", I can cope with that assessment. 

I came away from work today knowing that I've had enough of the bullying, bullshit and lies, emanating from one odious little egotist. The fact that the management and HR combination are incapable of exerting influence over the behaviour of such a character is a sad reflection on the demise of the fantastic working environment which once existed within the digital department of FSIS. I really fear for the mental wellbeing of all those guys who have to remain in this situation in order to pay their bills. I now have a four day break, as does everyone else, over the Easter Weekend then just four more late shifts before I walk away. Feeling as I do, at present, I'm not too sure I'll survive those final four shifts? I can always turn it on its head? If I walk away sooner, the earlier I'll be grabbing the Hardy "Palakona" for a session on the bank yet will have stayed true to my promise! Decisions, decisions.