Who am I?

An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to see the natural world as a place for competition. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!


Monday 28 February 2022

February "scores on the doors"

At the end of January I had predicted that I might reach two of my targets by mid-February, and so it proved. What a crazy month both in terms of my Pike fishing and, of course, the mayhem created by those three major storms. I only managed ten sessions on the RMC during the month, hampered further by a few issues with my van. With just two weeks, of the Pike season, remaining I am completely in the hands of the mechanics at Dumpton Nissan and the guys in Broadstairs, to get me back on the road asap. Whatever happens? One thing's for sure - it won't be cheap!!! My totals at the end of February are as follow:-

Target No.1 - three "twenties" - five landed (thus three this month - absolutely insane)

Target No.2 - twenty "doubles" - twenty-one landed (five in February)

Target No.3 - One hundred Pike - forty-four landed (fourteen in February)

Even if the mechanical problems drag on, there is no way I will take anything but great memories from this particular campaign. It has surpassed all my expectations by a considerable margin. If I am able to get back down to the canal then, if possible, I'd love to land one more "double" to take me to twenty from the RMC. My first two came from the East Kent flatlands and it would seem a fitting end to the project if I could now make it twenty from this historic waterway.

As a quick aside, my self-found (bird) year list now stands at 104 species.

Sunday 27 February 2022

Chiltern break

Friday morning, we didn't have any plans so I rang my brother, Tim, to find out what were the chances of having a weekend get together? He couldn't give an immediate reply but, few minutes later, we get the "thumbs up" and quickly set about getting ourselves sorted out for a trip up to Hertfordshire. As it turned out, with all such spontaneous family gatherings, we had a superb time together, just chatting and socialising. As I was up there, it would be rude not to have a wander around some old stomping grounds. If I'm brutally honest, I was devastated at the level of development which had, and still is, been allowed to encroach upon areas that were once designated "Green Belt". Still, there's absolutely no point me moaning as I don't live there and nothing I can do, or say, will prevent the passage of time, thus change!

Looking towards Berkhamsted from the Little Hay GC 

If building development has impacted upon the local area, then so has the avian bio-mass. As a teenager, Willow Tits would be a "gimme" along the Grand Union Canal towpath. In 2022, not a hope in hell, yet birds I would have needed to twitch for a "Hert's tick" in the 1980's are now common residents. In my short sojourns around the Bourne End area I recorded 4 Little Egrets and a Cetti's Warbler. Unheard of when I lived in Hemel Hempstead. Red Kites now dominate the skies, although Common Buzzards are also widespread. Greenfinch numbers seemed buoyant, Redwings far more numerous than in Kent this winter; I also recorded a couple of Chiffchaffs beside the canal at the Berkhamsted SF site. 

Goldcrests were present around Tim's garden in numbers that were off the scale by comparison with Thanet, this winter. Walking the GUC towpath just made the situation more obvious with birds seen/heard along many points of my stroll. I really enjoyed my time wandering around the habitat which is so different from that of East Kent. Would I want to move back to Hemel? I'd have more fun visiting the dentist every day!

I was out, walking the GUC tow-path, at 07.30 hrs this morning, and encountered a good number of other folk who were also using the facility for their own purposes. The vast majority were joggers, although cyclists and dog-walkers were also numerous. What a difference from my experiences along the banks of the Royal Military Canal. How much effort is required to say "Good Morning"? Obviously too much for many of the folk who crossed my path today. What a sad reflection on the society which lives in this part of the UK in 2022! Maybe talking to a long-haired, binocular/camera carrying, camo wearing, individual is outside the comfort zone for these people? Thankfully, my RMC experiences are able to demonstrate a very different side to these encounters. Although it has been a thoroughly enjoyable visit, on a family level, there is nothing about my, rose-tinted, memories of Hemel Hempstead that aren't now well in my past? I'll leave it there, because it's a subject that has come onto my radar during the past five months along the RMC. Knowing that I'll be doing a blog post, attempting to summarise the season, there are several points I want to highlight. With the added knowledge of another article for "Catch Cult" which I, already, have semi-written on the laptop there is so much positivity which can been taken from these, seemingly, random encounters. 

Thursday 24 February 2022

Pike, Purps and a dodgy Rockit

I needed to pick Bev's car up from the garage, in Broadstairs, yesterday afternoon. No big deal, just meant I could have a stroll along the seawall between Dumpton Gap and Louisa Bay, en route. As it coincided with high tide ensured I would be in with a shout to add Purple Sandpiper to the, self-found, year list. It turned out to be far more productive than I could have hoped with a minimum count of twenty-three birds present along the, wave splashed, coastal defences. Seven Rock Pipits were also noted, along with a smattering of Turnstones and a decent skein of Brents moving south, towards Pegwell? The light wasn't brilliant, given the angle of the afternoon sun, but I rattled off a few shots as I meandered along the seawall. 

This individual looks, to me, a possible candidate for "Scandinavian" Rock Pipit?
And it was ringed, as can be seen in the upper image.

Back down on the RMC, early doors, this morning knowing I won't be back for a while due to the issues with my van. The contrast in conditions to the previous day couldn't be more stark. Four seasons inside thirty minutes, such was the erratic weather I experienced. Not overly happy with my own performance, landing just one Pike from three chances. At 14 lbs 13 oz it certainly helped ease my mood but, it should have been so much better, I didn't fish well today. One positive, which I did take away, was the fact that this Pike was my nineteenth "double" from the venue this season. I need one more to reach that magical twenty from the canal, although I already have twenty-one because my first two came from the flatland drains. Could easily be a week before I'm able to get back, yet at least I'll have something to aim at when I return.

Better than a blank any day!

Wednesday 23 February 2022

A campaign that keeps giving

My first session on the RMC in six days was everything I could have hoped for. The silly o'clock drive, from Thanet, gave ample opportunity to see the havoc wreaked by the recent succession of storms. Some huge trees have succumbed and fence panel businesses must be booming in the aftermath. The canal also showed plenty of signs of storm damage, along both banks, but a few more snags in the margins does nothing but improve the habitat for the fish which call the murky depths their home. I arrived at my chosen spot well before 06.00 hrs and quickly got three baits in position. By 06.30 hrs it was light enough to do away with the head torch. Spring ain't too far away, that's for sure!

Cutting edge bite detection?
My brother, Sye, does the sounder box trickery, whilst
I construct the arms. ABU manufactured the reel, in Sweden, in 1975!

Chrissy and Mouse were out early but, due to an upholstery lesson in Faversham, couldn't stay too long for the usual banter. They hadn't been gone more than twenty minutes when I had a double take. The left hand alarm sounding just seconds after the middle one. Knowing that I had a very big bait on the middle set-up I opted to pick up the left hand rod and promptly found myself attached to a "jack" which might have gone 4 lbs had I bothered to weigh it. The hooks came out in the net and, as a result, I was quickly able to get it back in the canal before picking up the middle rod. Nothing happening, so I wound down and found myself doing battle with a very powerful fish. Certainly not an epic battle yet, although the Pike didn't wave the white flag, it was in the landing net within a couple of minutes. I knew it was a good fish, the scales confirming my suspicions with a reading of 20 lbs 8 oz - utter madness! That's five "twenties" for the project, the third in February. I feel that someone will pinch me soon and I'll awaken from this crazy dream? 

It was a "big" Pike with a length of 41" and girth of 18". Certainly had the potential to weigh more and, despite no obvious signs, it wouldn't surprise me if it had already spawned? Kevin and Mac turned up at 09.30 hrs, just in time to see me bump my third bite of the morning. I wasn't all that upset, I already had my prize resting in the floating retainer. As always Kev was a gentleman and did me proud with a series of trophy shots - I thank you. Packed up and on my way home before 11.30 hrs, knowing the route to the 14th March might be a little bumpy due to a poorly Nissan NV200? The joy's of motoring, eh? Pretty sure I'm able to get back out tomorrow and Friday, it will be after my local Nissan dealership have gotten involved (next Monday) that the wheels might fall off?

Sunday 20 February 2022

One crazy week

Absolutely no need for me to tell visitors, to the blog, how bad the weather has been here on Thanet because everyone else will have been subjected to exactly the same experiences wherever they live within the UK. If Storm Dudley was the warm up act, Storm Eunice proved to be the real deal. Smashed fence panels aplenty around our neighbourhood were the most obvious sign of the severity of the wind, but fallen trees and damaged rooves were also a feature. Now, as if we need an encore, Storm Franklin will excerpt it's influence upon a weather wearied populous. Happy days!

Looking along the Folkestone seafront towards Copt Point.
This was during the lull between Dudley and Eunice
 for what it's worth?

I don't expect many will be surprised to learn that my Thursday RMC session failed to produce any Pike, although Eels were certainly active in the dirty water conditions. Yet, to be fair, under these current circumstances catching a Pike, or not, should be very low on any list of priorities. Saturday morning was spent, prior to another blast of fierce W-SW gales with associated rainfall, repairing a damaged fence panel, replacing a section of soffit and also the slatted roof of my Mum's arbour, which has been in our garden since Dad's passing in 2016. Just nice to have something to occupy my time whilst awaiting the RMC return. It was mid-afternoon, whilst listening to the Radio 5 football commentary, that I noticed a new email in my inbox. It was from Martin Mumby, who is Editor/Proprietor of an, high quality, angling magazine "Catch Cult". I'd sent him an article, a long while back, which I'd forgotten about until this contact. There, for my approval, was a pdf proof copy, "what did I think?" Was he for real? I certainly don't recall David Hall, Colin Dyson or Roy Westwood ever asking me what I thought about their edit of my offerings. So impressed by what I'd received, I'm already penning a follow up. 

Bev and I needed to visit the Broadstairs branch of B&M's to get a few bits. Bev gets her "Skinny" fix, whilst I'm only there to purchase sunflower hearts for our garden feeding station. Back home, via a nice detour, it was a superb surprise to be able to grab some images of an adult male Sparrowhawk, on the bird bath, as I was sat in my study. Do garden birds get any more impressive?

Wednesday 16 February 2022

If you don't try!

 As with anything in life, you'll never know without making an effort to find out. This basic hypothesis being applicable to any scenario from the sublime to the ridiculous. In my case it definitely seems to trend towards the ridiculous. I hadn't finished writing the previous post before thinking about the split cane Pike caper. Split cane and centrepins? Why not? I've already achieved my target and am now free to play around with whatever approach I wish to attempt. 

So on Tuesday morning I sallied forth with my crazy combination of Dick Walker Mk IV's and Matt Hayes "Limited Edition" centrepins. A total blank. The weather took a decided spiral downwards as the morning progressed and I needed little persuading to throw in the towel before 11.00 hrs. Under no circumstances could this be considered a fair trial, yet I was already questioning the centrepin option based upon the complete lack of backbone possessed by the ancient rods. I return again tomorrow, this time with Mitchell 300's fitted to the cork handles. The forecast is pretty good, with a lull in wind speed between the departing Storm Dudley and the imminent arrival of Storm Eunice, on Friday. Quite what condition the canal is in will be unknown until I arrive. Water clarity could be impacted, very negatively, by rainwater run off from the adjacent escarpment and farmland.

Whatever happens, I've got to be in with a better shout of a bite with my baits in the water than if I was sat at home, in the study, looking out the window. I can't finish this post without mentioning the Canterbury & Thanet PAC regional meeting which I attended on Tuesday evening. Just six of us gathered, in the King Ethelbert PH, Reculver, to spend a fantastic two and a half hours sharing anecdotes and banter. It would appear that I'm not doing so bad with my own angling and received very positive feedback about my thought processes as I look toward these final four weeks of Pike fishing. There were some (Pike related) formalities which needed to be discussed, sadly our combined view being a very negative one. I'll leave it there, as it was such a great night, it seems a shame to spoil it. Maybe the subject of another post -  how can we encourage kids into (Pike) fishing?

Monday 14 February 2022

Living a dream

Well that's it, job done! My Pike challenge has been fulfilled in some style. With exactly a month remaining, this morning, I landed the two doubles required to reach my target of twenty. But it didn't stop there, oh no! I also recaptured the "twenty" that I took just six days ago and added another Pike to the tally with a smaller fish of 7 lbs 6 oz. Now there is no way that I wish for repeat captures but, knowing that it is a part of Pike angling, will gladly accept whatever fate provides. Having now completed the project I am at liberty to see how far I can push the season's results without any, self inflicted, pressures. If the weather stays fair then I should get in another twelve sessions (minimum) before the curtain falls at midnight, Monday, 14th March. 

Pike No.1 - 16 lbs on the button!

Pike No.2 - the friendly "twenty"

That's the third twenty taken on a centrepin, this campaign, and I see no reason why I can't attempt to get one on a split cane Mk IV now the pressure is off? A Mk IV and a centrepin? Now there's an idea to play around with!

Pike No.4 - 11 lbs 14 oz of target achieving RMC fun.

I had written, just recently, how good February had proven to be for Benno, Luke and myself, on the banks of the canal. All things being equal, I'm confident of much more, Pike-shaped, action over the next four weeks. It's the Canterbury & Thanet PAC regional meeting, tomorrow night, and it'll be interesting to hear how the other guys, within the group, are faring? Always an entertaining gathering, whatever the Pike gods are dishing up, it's just nice to be able to spend time with like-minded anglers and chew the fat.

Saturday 12 February 2022

Exciting, enjoyable, times

There can be no denying my Pike angling campaign, along the Royal Military Canal, has been a real roller-coaster ride. When it's good the Pike fishing is superb, but I have struggled to maintain consistency due to my lack of experience (at this particular section of the venue) and the varied/unsettled weather patterns. Obviously the longer, I've been involved, the more I've learned about the behavioural nuances of the Pike within the venue. Yet, every time I think the stars are beginning to align, I discover myself chasing shadows and side-tracked down some, Pike free, cul-de-sac. 

8th November 1981 - my first "twenty"

Still; if it were easy, there would be little point in setting myself a challenge. At this juncture, in my angling journey, the canal is providing everything I require, and some! Four weeks, and a couple of days, until the end of the 2021/22 Pike season and it's looking good for me to achieve the goals I'd set myself way back in October. What have I learned? Probably the most important lesson has been the realisation that, even at my age, there is so much more I have to discover. It is pointless dwelling on past success if I am to remain current and give myself the best opportunity to keep fish coming to the landing net.  I've been lucky enough to have caught some magnificent Pike, over the years, my first "twenty" being taken from a Kodak fishery in November 1981. It's weird that these fish still have an ability to keep me enthused in their pursuit yet, every time a bite alarm signals a bite, it's like I am still that "spotty oik" right back at the beginning of the adventure. I'm anxious, nervous, excited, at the prospect of doing battle with the UK's apex predator and long may it continue. The "buzz" from the latest "twenty" still persists and I regularly find myself drooling over the images that both Kevin, and myself, took last Tuesday morning. Nowhere close to my PB, it doesn't matter a jot. It was a Pike that I'd dreamt about since the inception of the RMC Pike project at the start of October. Three twenties in a season has been a bench mark, for me, since I achieved a similar total in the 1986/7 season. In that one, however, I only had one other "double"!. Such was the obsessive pursuit of "big fish", the also rans didn't figure in the equation. It was a period when my mind-set was focussed solely around a concept of big waters = big fish. The RMC couldn't be more different if I wanted it to be?

22nd December 1986 - the second twenty of that
Pike season (23 lbs 5 oz) from Wilstone Res. Tring.

However, the passing of thirty odd years ensures that common sense and experience have a far greater role in daily life than way back in those crazy, selfishly single-minded, times when obsession was the dominant factor in my existence. The next month on the banks of the RMC have the potential to re-set the benchmark for what I am able to achieve within a Pike season. Not too sure that I'll ever want to commit to another, single species, project over such a lengthy period, I will happily see where this particular campaign leads me? I'm already writing the blog post which will summarise my 2021/22 campaign and, hopefully, provide some insight into my approach to this particular venue and the Pike which live within the murky waters.

17th February 2013 - my first "twenty" from the RMC
If only I'd known where it would lead me?

Friday 11 February 2022

Fade to grey?

 It wasn't too long ago when I blogged about the "Kodak Legacy" and acknowledged how my experiences during time spent within the company's, Distribution - Southern Region, warehouse impacted upon the rest of my life. I was right at the start of my "big fish" angling adventure and, as such, photography played a major role in the hobby. What needs remembering is that this was real photography, not today's digital version. To become a qualified photographer, during this era, required an apprenticeship akin to that of a doctor or lawyer - seven bloody years! Luckily, I had no requirement to qualify as a fish photographer and happily sought whatever technical advice that was available from the "professional team" based in the offices above the warehouse. It was 35mm format, slide, photography which provided my lessons as I strived to get to grips with the problems surrounding obtaining trophy shots of wet fish, using this technology. Canon AE 1's, Olympus OM 10's & an assorted mix of Pentax models were my cameras, at this point. 125th/sec exposure with an ISO 200/400 film being as good as it got?

The beauty of working in the same building as the "technical support team" meant that any queries could be quickly resolved (?) - addressed by simply wandering upstairs and sharing the particular image with guys who knew so much more. Right from the off, they were quick to point out a basic flaw in any wet fish photography, at this time. What the angler needed to understand was that they were attempting to get an image of a mirror? Such was the sensitivity of traditional medium to reflective glare, off the flanks, of a wet fish that lessons were quickly learnt because of my direct access to such talented individuals. 

Wet flanks were completely white due to the
sensitivity of the film medium to reflected light. Once the 
shutter was pressed, the image captured, there was no
alteration mode to rectify any issues.

Once the reflective glare had been identified and, subsequently, dealt with, these guys then proceeded to point me in the direction for further improvement in my trophy shot portfolio. It was an absolute privilege to be able to draw from their combined knowledge and, thus, enhance my own image recording because of this generosity. In 2022, image capture is a million miles away from those times. If a computer program can't sort it out then you must have left the lens cap on? Anyway, apart from these guys teaching me about the angle of the sun, importance of camera height and F stop options, they also made me far more aware of my choice of backgrounds for the trophy shots. To take it even further, they questioned the clothing I/we wore when posing with our prizes. Standard speccy hunting apparel was, as it remains today, generally drab "Barbour" olive/green and/or Army surplus camo kit. These photographic minds quickly pointed out a flaw in this combination, as it lacked contrast with the fish being held, thus to resolve the issue fill-in flash was required which, although doing the job, just added to the reflective glare problem which was at the very start of these exchanges.

31st August 1987 - it should have been a Zander!
Lessons were being learnt as our photography became more
important within the hobby.

What could I do? Back then Kodak were world leaders in this field, although Fujifilm were already making a name for themselves. The Ektachrome and Kodachrome slide film were as good as it got and the technical guys did their colour matching using a "Grey Scale" which, as far as I'm aware, remains industry standard right up to today? There was the answer, wear a grey sweater for the trophy shot and so many problems were immediately removed from the equation. Once learned, this simple ruse was used in many situations throughout the period. I might wear light blue, yellow or pink, just to ensure sufficient contrast with the subject central to the image.

18th January 1988
Even in grotty light conditions we were able to get our photo
without resorting to fill-in flash purely because of our choice of clothing.

Where's this going? Well, a while ago I recalled this tale to Bev, the upshot being that she obtained a grey sweater from a local charity outlet for a couple of quid! I'd slung it in my fishing cupboard and forgotten about it, until yesterday. "I'm gonna get a photo with this on" says I and what'd you know, did just that. Double number eighteen in the bag and a, blast from the past, photo to boot.

10th February 2022
It might be the digital age, but those old school lessons
still have relevance?

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Red Letter - adrenaline rush

 Every so often, in my angling adventure, something happens which is so special that any attempt, by me, to capture the moment in written format is a complete waste of time. I simply lack the vocabulary of a gifted wordsmith and am happy to acknowledge this fundamental flaw. Oh, but how I wish that it were different and the adrenaline buzz that is currently in control of my demeanour could be better shared. Just back home from the latest session on the RMC and my third "twenty" of the campaign is in the bag. Target No.1 achieved and something I've not managed since the Pike season of 1986/7. 

12 lbs 2 oz - caught before it got light!

One of the trophy shots that Kevin took in the crap light conditions - fair play!

Two Pike landed, for the second day on the spin, ensures my project maintains momentum as the days tick down toward the 14th March and the finishing line for this Pike season. Both Chrissy and Kevin were about, this morning. Kevin being kind enough to do some trophy shots. However, because the light levels weren't particularly good, I kept the bigger fish in the retainer and took some selfies later when the conditions had improved somewhat.

20 lbs 6 oz of, adrenaline inducing, RMC Pike
Two selfies taken much later in the morning.

There's so much more to tell about this particular session but, I'm keeping it for the end of campaign review, you'll have to wait. One thing that is certainly worth mentioning is both fish were caught using centrepins and angling enjoyment doesn't come much better than that?

Saturday 5 February 2022

Nothing much to report

 "February hasn't started too brilliantly" That is an understatement by some margin; I've really struggled thus far this month. Because of outside factors, that have no place in my blogging, I've only had two sessions after the RMC Pike, landing just one, tiny, "Jack" for my troubles. Quite a few questions arising from this event, none more so than "where have the big girls gone?". My inability to illicit a bite from the females demonstrated, once again, how angling keeps throwing up new questions every time you think you're close to cracking the code. I'll leave it there, knowing that there will be a full explanation of my approach to this particular project once the season has concluded.

Fortunately, birds have filled the void and my "self-found" year list total has risen to a very pleasing 97 species. On Wednesday, 2nd, I took a stroll around the Grove Ferry/Stodmarsh NNR circuit for the first time in several years. My major reaction has to be one of disappointment! This, once magnificent, reserve is a pale shadow of its' former self. So much habitat management required to return it to anything like I remember it to have been. I was lucky to bump into Steve Ashton and spend a considerable time chatting about the old times and what's gone wrong? My own slant, for what it's worth, is that English Nature must ensure the reserve provides the habitat to support the maximum populations of the target species whilst allowing the human visitors to see these creatures, with minimum disturbance. If the management fail in their task? Why would anyone care if a property developer turned it into a three lane motorway and housing estate. Although this is my first experience of such a situation, many of my fellow natural history bloggers, have echoed similar concerns about this basic lack of habitat management at other reserves at many other locations around the UK. 

Bev and I took a drive down to Folkestone, this morning, where we enjoyed a superb breakfast in a café beside the harbour. Loads of Mediterranean Gulls, as expected, with a C-R bird seen in the harbour, itself. I managed to read the ring code but have not been able to discover the scheme from which the bird originates. A white ring with black code 38HE is what I recorded, viewed through my binoculars at less than 15m, so I'm confident that it's correct. Any assistance would be much appreciated.