Tuesday, 29 December 2015

They left me alone...

Christmas is my favourite time of year, more so now I have a young daughter, and have another due sometime near the start of the season. It is a time for family and friends, for parties and time off work. There also, before work resumes, needs to be an amount of relaxation, preferably alone. Time for the brain to unwind, to gather one's thoughts, without noise or interruption. Thankfully, today was my day. 

But where to go? I thought for what seemed like hours, racking my brains for an answer, but one just wouldn't come. The seasons are pretty messed up right now, we should be well into heavy frosts, white mornings and ice cold nights. Night fishing should be either a distant memory or something nice to look forward to. Instead, we are almost at the turn of the year and it still feels like autumn. 

Surely nature is confused. The plants unsure whether to continue to lie dormant, they find themselves awake and wondering if it's winter yet, or spring already. Animals too, birds, and no doubt the fish. If this keeps up we'll see springtime begin in May, and summer will commence in September. A shifting of the seasons will surely have some detrimental affect. 

Then it came to me, Barton Court Lake, that ought to be quiet. A fair drive, yet it hosts some stunning fish, most notably the perfect perch and mouth-watering mirror carp. I'd been truly blessed before at Barton, but in recent times its been far from an easy venue. Most venues seem fairly devoid of angling pressure over the festive period, so a tricky fishery should be just the remedy for he who seeks solitude. 

It wasn't early when the door closed behind me, I couldn't find my float tube so spent the best part of half an hour searching for it. Finally I found it where I thought it would be and where I first looked, just not properly. It was dark and drizzly outside, it was well past sunrise, but lots of grey stuff hid its view. I loaded the boot and set off, intentionally for Barton, yet even in transit I still had my doubts. 

As I approached Fareham I thought of the moat and its wonderful dark mirrors. Proir to heading onto the M3 I thought about Broadlands and how long it had been since I last visited. Just shy of the A303 I thought about Vale Farm, that prolific water where one can guarantee a fair day's angling in even the most unfriendly conditions. But I stayed true to my gut feeling and soon pulled into an empty car park at Barton Court. 

Although the forecast was for a dull, yet dry day, drizzle was still peppering me as I strolled the lake and covered me in that fine mist, the one you hardly feel yet you soon end up soaked. The wind was hurtling across the surrounding fields, I looked out for hares on that first walk around, yet saw none. The piercing call of the red kites filled the air, which somehow felt welcoming. Small silver fish splashed irregularly, there were signs of life, but nothing of note, and nothing that caused me walk at much more than a bimble. I settled upon pitch 16, one that I'd done well from in the past with a channel to the right culminating in an overgrown island dead in front. 

I spent the day with our friend and master rod builder, Andrew Davis. Not in body, but certainly in spirit. Carpathia fished for carp in open water, with a ledgered prawn surrounded by a few pouchfulls of pellets and crushed prawns. The delightful All-Rounder with its Avon tip section fished into the deep margins with a classic bobber float and, again, a prawn was the bait. You can't go far wrong with prawns here, the carp and perch love them, sometimes. With the rods fishing I sat back and quietly wished for 2 things. To be alone for the day, and for the fish to leave me alone too. 

It was reverse psychology of course, I figured that if I pretended that I didn't want to catch, I would, and even if I didn't, it was just a day spent beside a quiet pool, with a chance to catch that I yearned for. The sky gradually closed in on me, grey, low and heavy. It whirled by bringing waves of drizzle, sometimes turning to rain and often becoming completely dry. I glanced at the twig bobbin, then at the float and back again, but nothing stirred.

I sat behind Richard's old umbrella, dry and content with my old friend sheltering me from the elements. Red kites continued to entertain me until my focus was drawn to a tree on the island. A tap tap tap had me thinking a woodpecker was busy foraging, but closer inspection revealed a marvellous nuthatch, almost as blue as the kingfisher that zoomed past just minutes before. Still the twig and the float were redundant. 

The small silver fish continued to splash intermittently, a rich larder that would more than likely keep the perch busy. I think, perhaps, that the prawns work best when the climate is a touch more akin to winter. In colder weather I can imagine the roach go into hiding, they certainly become harder to catch, maybe the perch experience the same difficulties as we anglers. That's when a juicy, motionless prawn will be at its most appealing, and the perch will become lazy scavengers. 

The carp, however, I had no such excuses for. The water was coloured and deep, so no amount of searching would have found them. No bubbles rose, no fish crashed, so it was down to my senses, a smidge of watercraft, and a decent dollop of good old fashioned luck. The area I had cast to was a gulley, a deeper channel leading the open water into the pathway betwixt two islands. A patrol route no doubt, yet these can sometimes be where they just pass through, without stopping to feed, like underwater motorways. 

At lunchtime I wound the rods in, I never expected to be called into action and drop my lunch onto the muddy ground below, but I was taking no chances. Christmas ham sandwiches with a trifle too much English mustard, washed down with a flask of oxo. Before recasting I moodled along a few swims, it felt nice to stretch my legs so I made the excuse of going for a wander by trying to stalk a perch, returned for the float rod and dangled my prawn under a few likely holding spots.

I returned after just shy of an hour fruitless, yet fulfilled. If they were to be caught, I'd have caught them, one cannot make it happen if it doesn't want to happen. All we can do is be there, and if we happen to be there on the right day, at the right time, then it will. I've read that certain anglers have the ability to stand beside a water and feel whether or not it will happen, and today I felt it for myself. Yes I always go into it with confidence, but this was different. Being confident, and knowing something will happen are two completely different things, I realised that today. 

So, back in my chair I cast out the rods, placed them on their respective sticks and watched the clouds hurry by, thankful that I'd stuck with my initial decision to opt for a peaceful day. A day without fish slime, wet nets and stinky mats. Perhaps I should have gone for a walk, taken a chair along. I could have stayed local, taken a picnic, my camera. But then, wouldn't have had the chance to catch something amazing, sometimes it's all we really need, the chance. I took one last glance at the lake before heading for home, just as a huge chestnut mirror carp leapt clear of the water and plunged back in sending ripples in every direction. 

Thursday, 17 December 2015

A Special Christening

This past weekend saw a gathering of piscators, anglers who's intention was to meet up with friends and exchange pleasantries just before Christmas. This section of the Itchen has become a firm favourite for many of the brethren, fishermen who believe that it is far more important to enjoy the day, as it is to catch some fish. The weather started started out fairly lousy, in fact, I was all ready to leave at the expected 7:30 but a toe dipped outside the front door had me rushing back in and towards the kettle. Jessica woke and wanted me to tell her all about Father Christmas one more time, so before I knew it the sky was looking far more friendly and it was after 8:30. 


This trip, for me, was mostly about my dear departed friend Richard, for it would be the first time I used the reel given to me by his partner which happened to be the reel he last used at this very venue when he caught his first ever grayling. That trip was to be his last fishing trip, after that I visited him twice in hospital before receiving that heartbreaking news a week later. I still miss him every day.

With his reel in tow I arrived at the river, said hello to Paul and Bumble and found a nice stretch of semi slow river to angle upon. A few trots through with single red maggot and the float dipped. It was never going to break any records, quite possible the smallest grayling I've caught, but it meant so much to me. A grayling on Rich's reel, and a baby one too, a symbol of new life. I couldn't have been happier. 


A few fish later, including some delightful trout type creatures, and it was time to head for the weir and to say hello to the others. Bernie was angling just before the weir and I found MGs just a tad past it. We chatted briefly and I settled down for another few trots down towards the weir itself which is where I found a few of the better fish the river has to offer. Most notably a fairly large trout and a very good grayling, both fish really tested the AD All-Rounder with the Roach tip fitted, knew I should have plumped for the Avon instead. 




At lunchtime we gathered at the weir bench (our usual congregational spot) and ate sandwiches, drunk from flasks and when MGs arrived tucked into his exquisite fruit cake. PafPuff arrived just as we were leaving, he'd been fishing much further upstream and had been enjoying himself immensely. We got chatting about fly fishing, something I'm very inexperienced with but am looking to get more involved with very soon, and he gave me a present to help me on my way, thanks Paul! Bern, PaulD and Myself had decided to leave shortly after lunch, I wanted to have a look at a couple of local rivers for perhaps an hour on the way home to see if I could catch a bristling perch. 

On the Itchen at Mansbridge I set up in the swim just downstream from the pub. I trotted for an hour but only had 1 minnow, a lovely minnow it was though. As I was on my way back to the car a chap stopped and asked if I'd caught anything, then he asked my name and told me he knew me. Turns out he was good friends with Richard and had seen photos of me and read some of my work. what a small world, and what were the chances of bumping into him on the day I first use his old reel?? 

On the Wallington the swim I wanted was free and I began catching from the off, a handful of roach were swung to hand before a wonderful river perch brightened an otherwise drab day. Not the biggest perch by any means, but it put a massive smile on my face and sent me home feeling totally fulfilled.