Friday, 18 February 2011

Winter Carping....Highs and Lows

My head was telling me to stay home, heavy frosts all week meant another drop in water temperature therefore making the Carp even more reluctant to play. My heart, however, was urging me to get to the lake as soon as possible. Needless to say my heart won the argument and Friday afternoon I found myself back at the pit. First impressions were that of wintry bleakness, a bitter north westerly blowing into the swim I’d chosen. I stood a while to contemplate the situation but soon found myself unloading the car and pitching up for the weekend. With the areas I thought the fish would be hiding found and the rods in position the light began to fade, I made myself comfortable and settled in for the night. 

Following morning I woke early. With the stove warming the kettle I felt safe and cosy but, somehow, not content. I felt shut off, unprepared and uninformed. Although the hot tea and the burner brought much needed warmth, it was outside I needed to be, watching, observing in the teeth of whatever the day decided to bring. Reluctantly I dowsed the flames, opened the door and met my enemy head on, with a chill factor well below freezing my hands instantly sought the shelter of my pockets, my face, however, wasn’t so lucky. Through squinted eyes I gazed upon rippled water, countless Coots and a semi overcast sky. These were not conditions to be fishing in, for one It was almost unbearable, to just sit and watch, waiting for something that would probably not happen. Secondly, it was sure to make the carp lethargic, not moving and not feeding. But, yet again, that was my head talking, the defeatist. My heart had a very different outlook on the whole scenario. “Be Confident” was what I heard, yes, be slightly stubborn too for that helps but as long as I have rigs in positions there is always a chance, they would have to switch on at some point, I just had to make sure I was there when they did

Confidence plays a massive roll at this time of year, I’m no expert with this being the first season I’ve mounted a serious campaign throughout the colder months, but my bait is proven, the rigs have worked all year and my ability to establish the difference between a likely spot and a banker have also seen me good. All these things help towards confidence, warm clothes and that stubbornness I mentioned earlier and there is no reason why a fruitful winter campaign should not take place. But what makes a fruitful winter? There is only so much I can do, once all of this is in place then surely it’s down to the fish. Is it good enough to reach the spring and say “Well, it was tough and they didn’t play but at least I made the effort”? I can sit here as long as I like, with confidence in abundance, but if I have no takers is it all for nothing? I don’t think so; I think you get out of it what you put into it. This particular water is difficult enough through the warmer months. That said, it can happen for those who put in the effort, and surly a winter result would be the best feeling in the world. Maybe that’s why we do it, that’s why I’m sat here now; it’s for the chance that this may turn from a grim, grey, cold and unforgiving day into the best day, one of massive smiles all round, celebrations and victory, and it could happen at any moment. There’s every chance I may have to drop my pen right now and dash outside to claim my prize. Makes you think doesn’t it? I certainly won’t catch the fish of my dreams sitting at home that’s for sure. 

A young Swan circled the area I was fishing, almost stood up, flapped its big wings and shook its tail, from side to side, Coots chased each other round and round and the sun, rising in the east, was trying its best to make an impact on the day. Tree tops intermittently glowed orange as its beams broke through the cloud every so often. The Sausages, almost ready, looked lovingly at the sliced white fingers rolls; a dollop of ketchup and their journey was complete. Looking down the lake to the west I could observe everything, waterfowl, the other anglers, any fish movements and, the thing that really stole me, the sky. The clouds were beginning to break up somewhat, there were a few patches of blue sky, but it was a make up mainly of clouds with a multitude of colours and textures on show. Some held rain, some maybe even snow but the good thing was that they were heading straight for me, whatever they brought I could see it before it happened, it was like my very own early warning system. The ever changing sky did bring a few light showers throughout that first morning along with the arctic wind, not strong wind at this point but icy cold. 

Alongside such activities as observing wildlife, weather and the lake surface, this is also a time for hatching plans, plans for the coming season; the solitude of fishing on such a winter’s day sends your mind into overdrive. Feature finding at a time when weed is all but gone puts the angler in good stead for the rest of the year, I try my best to memorise every bar and gulley just to make life that little bit easier when the lake gets busier and the weed growth begins when the lake reverts back to its summer splendour. I also think of what areas of the lake will give me the best chances in certain situations and certain weather conditions, work out patrol routes and maybe even start to trickle a little bait in along the way. Although spring can’t come soon enough, this is a time for preparation, for readying myself with the hope that if I put in the groundwork now, the chances are that the year will be kind to me. One thing I would say though is try not to over do it, spend too much time on the bank in bad weather and it can have the opposite effect giving the feeling of being “all fished out”. I try to choose my sessions carefully, make sure I want to go and always listen to my heart. 

The restless Cygnet took to flight sprinting across the surface of the lake and slapping its wing tips loudly on the water. My middle rod received a drop back but, on inspection a Coot was the culprit, I watched on as it swam past looking rather embarrassed. I wound in, checked the bait and the hook point and cast back to a slightly different position along where the gravel bar met the silt. During my work the previous day with the marker rod it was apparent that there was a fair amount of dead leaf litter and decaying weed strewn across the lake bed where I was fishing. With this in mind I chose to fish with a snowman arrangement, very slow sinking so to settle gently on the bottom aiding presentation. Midday came and went and the wind, now turned round to a more northerly direction, increased in strength, just as cold just much gustier. The low, grey clouds raced by, but there were more gaps than before and through these gaps I could see blue sky, above the grey clouds there were white clouds that hardly moved at all, it was quite bizarre. A Heron screeched somewhere to my right, more than likely showing his own disgust at the inclement weather, my rods were still and I doubt if his fishing was much better. After investigation I spotted him huddled under a large branch not looking best pleased, hunched, bedraggled and quite lonely. 

Afternoon gradually merged into early evening and at dusk a helicopter drowned out the sound of the radio, the match finished and it was time once more to listen to the sounds of the lake. The wind, from time to time, shook my shelter and was amplified as it howled through the trees all around me. Outside the low cloud cover made things feel ever so slightly milder and there was an eerie orange glow in the west. Slowly, dark patches started to appear in the grey sky as it hurried by and larger patches became visible as the night took hold. I could almost feel the cold return as the warmth of the day disappeared through the gaps. A plane started its decent into one of the nearby airports and the faint drone of traffic could be picked out in the distance. Then, my gaze was fixed upon my redundant landing net lazily leaning against the Willow and I wondered if it would be called into action any time between now and my departure, I still had hope and confidence was still high. I lit a small candle that sat beside a steaming cup of tea, I like candles, their glow gives a warm feeling, a relaxing feeling, it was late and time to rest. I had discovered that, during these unfriendly months, night time takes seldom occurred. The best chance of a bite seemed to be just before breakfast through to just after lunch, these were the times to be most alert. If, of course, anything was to happen in the night I’d soon be notified, for now it was time to marvel at the ever changing sky, listen to the breeze and reflect upon the day until my eyelids became too heavy to stay open. 

Dawn, for a moment it was as if I had woken in a different season. The sky was blue and the wind had dropped to a faint whisper. Still in the sleeping bag I felt warm, birds sang both woodland and water, too many to recognise although I did pick out one in particular, the Dabchick, unmistakable, it reminds me somehow of a strangled Delkim. I heard Canada Geese join the party adding to the dawn chorus. Quite content I laid there a while and listened to what felt like a brief respite from what had been a testing weekend. It was early; the plan was to conclude proceedings soon after lunch. The wind, now blowing from the north, had lost its pace, a pace that during the night was, at times, quite fierce with the anglers on the south bank bearing the brunt of it. I stepped outside and soon realised that it was, indeed, winter. The rods, for now, formed a part of a backdrop I had grown accustomed to, but still I remained optimistic of some action before I left, I had to remain optimistic for without that optimism I need not be there. Breakfast was a short while away so I remained hopeful, although when I reached for the frying pan I started to panic, it felt attached to the groundsheet. I pulled a bit harder and suddenly it released leaving a perfect frying pan size hole exposing the gravel beneath, a classic schoolboy error. I was glad I had the saucepan with me. 

Breakfast was consumed and I spent the next four hours watching the water around each of my three rods, nothing moved. Clouds rolled by once more and the wind found its pace. At midday I decided to skip lunch, pack things away and explore the lake a little. I stopped and chatted with a few I had made friends with during my short stay, helpful chaps with a few pointers, and everything was taken onboard, every little helped. I visited a number of swims and sat for a while in each before heading back to the car and homeward bound. There were a couple of things I was looking forward to, dinner, a hot bath and returning to the lake the following weekend. I must be mad……

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