Sunday, 24 December 2017

Three cheers for Christmas

The annual Christmas pike social is an eagerly awaited day in my anglers diary - to be honest it is not just about the catching of pike for me, but the joy of being out before Christmas when others are rushing about with last minute preparations. The joy of good company, fine pork pie, mince pies, tea, Christmas spirit and all being well a hip flask of medicinal spirit to keep the chill away.

This year did not disappoint - they never do. Always some drama to make then day memorable and this year there was the added spice of a new stretch of the Stour to fish. I have an obsession with the writings and fishermen of the Victorian age and I like to think old Francis Francis and JW Martin would enjoy these days, so I always think of them on such occasions and raise my bankside glass to them - never forgotten.  

The river looked perfect as it had just fined down after the recent heavy rains. We exchanged cards, presents and stories and it was one of those days when watching the nature around us would have been just enough. The pike had other plans though and it was not until later in the day as the light was starting to fade that our bauble like floats twitched as pike started to search out their festive feast...........we had devoured ours and it was their turn now to seek out the spratts.

Much merriment, landing of fish, the drama of unhooking, admiring, nurturing of such a fine species before being gently returned to their watery Christmas home. The glass of Christmas beer I raised to old Esox was very sweet that evening as I sat in quiet contemplation of a day most generous. Three cheers for old Esox and three cheers for Christmas!

Friday, 1 December 2017

At the time of the gloaming...

It’s a busy time of the year – hard to squeeze in a fishing trip of more than a few hours, so anything is gratefully received. I think they call it being opportunistic. Tackle at the ready and a tub of lobworms to hand. It was just so the other evening.

The Stour is up and down at this time of year, you have to time your trips to perfection…..if you get it wrong you are fishing in chocolate soup, but all the stars were going my way and I arrived with a couple of hours to go before last knockings. The banks were wet and slippery after rain and the wind was up. I knew where I wanted to go as perch were my quarry - I walked with purpose across the fields head down. The wind was biting and thankfully my perchy hole would at least shelter me from its bite.

It never ceases to amaze me that roach love a big lobworm, much more than we give them credit for – I never set out to catch roach on lobworms, but when perch fishing they are the first to take. As the witching hour approaches I am thankful to have caught a few lovely silvery blue darlings of the river.

The light fading and our resident otter makes an appearance and screeches at my outline and is gone. I love them. The fish continue to feed and as the owls start to call in the woods across the river I get that wonderful jaggy sensation as perch takes worm. The wind is deafening, but I feel warm and contented knowing I am the only person here experiencing this joy that is nature…..the sound of nature……..I get back to my car and pour a cup of stewed, sweet flask tea just as the rain makes that wonderful, almost metallic noise as it hits the glass.  

Friday, 24 November 2017

Cerne Abbas - then and now

The Royal Oak, Cerne Abbas - John Piper

The Royal Oak, Cerne Abbas - John Piper

The Royal Oak, Cerne Abbas - 2017

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

If you see someone, tell them that someone is safe

The blog has suffered from radio silence for a while – the dreaded blue screen of death appeared and I thought all was lost. A lifetime digitised and not backed up. I closed the screen and thought that I would have a little sleep and see what happened…….nothing happened so a technical expert was called in whilst I went fishing and forgot about it for weeks.

Success! Normal service resumes…….

I have just returned from a delightful adventure to the River Severn in Shropshire. The annual pilgrimage to a water of my youth is now, hopefully, a permanent fixture in my anglers calendar. I have written about the place before, which sits in a quiet fold of Shropshire cattle countryside, where memories are fond and paths well-trodden. They say never go back, but I think once a year is just enough to keep the old memories alive.

It’s barbel  and chub country and I rarely fished it years ago if the river was anywhere near the level it was on this trip – flood conditions were the time to head to the river and huge lumps of Spam (4 hook baits from one tin) on a size 1 Aberdeen hook. Big bait, big fish.

These days it’s a tad more refined, you have to find fish along a long stretch as the barbel have certainly dispersed and are not there in the numbers we enjoyed back in the 1990’s. The locals blame a few summer floods which wiped out the ranunculus beds which the barbel loved, but who knows……….

The fishing is not important to me really, the joy is friendship. Friends who never change, unlike the river, and have their own lovely ways. For that the trip was memorable and I can’t wait for next year.  

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Looking over my shoulder...

It's that time of the year.......the turning process which makes each season so mystical. A turning time for us too I guess when we do familiar things. For me it's apples, cider, fires and generally preparing for the colder months. This year however my Summer fishing has been extended. The crucians are still feeding and the pond is looking like it will have a few more weeks before they all hunker down for the dark days ahead.

The weather changed dramatically the other evening.....I was just staring at my float, willing it to twitch when I heard Chris shout "it's coming, here it comes" and the wind charged through the trees and brought an absolute deluge with it. Now, I always tell myself that I take too much gear with me on my trips, but I was mighty pleased to have ye olde faithful (my canvas fishing brolly) and a flask of tea as all raged about me. I kept looking up the path, for this place has its strange moments. I had started my MR James short story viewing early this year, the night before in fact, so I half expected to see a dark shadow move through the trees and be gone before I had actually caught sight of it properly.......this time he was there walking towards me through the herbage. Luckily it was Garry reporting he too was fishless and I was thankful it was not Abbot Thomas. 

Friday, 6 October 2017

Neolithic nonsense?

Every time I go fishing these days it seems to absolutely piss down. I don't mean just a shower, but really thrash it down.......oh yes, and you can add a bit of wind too for good measure.

I don't mind really, but as all anglers know it is a real chore drying everything out at the end of the day. This particular trip was one I was looking forward to. Not that I don't look forward to fishing, but going to this place not only brings me the anglers joy but it does something to my soul - I have been at one with this particular landscape for a big chunk of my life. At times we were not on good terms, but now I just sort of roll into its folds and take it all in. I don't want anything especially and certainly do not take it for granted. 

I left the car in glorious sunshine and just as I joined the fisherman's path the skies darkened and all hell broke loose. The walk to the nook that I wanted to fish is treacherous at the best of times, so I must have looked like an old boy in his carpet slippers wending his way........unscathed, I arrived at where I thought the ancient carp would be.

The bird song here is mixed - the usual chik and chak of rooks on the wing coupled with the occasional woodpecker were all that I heard. Sometimes there are surprises, but not today. Who ventures out on such a day? A fool? No, not I. I have a brolly, a brolly that has seen better days but under the canopy of oak and beech it will help shelter me a little.

My simple bait is fished so close to the bank that I dare not move, so I am thankful to have a screen of bramble and sallow to shield my movement. As the rain and wind get louder I see the odd vortex, then bubbles which betray the location of feeding fish and so the wait........the float twitches, hands shaking, hovering over the rod should the float rise and sit flat on the surface or slide's gone and all hell breaks loose.

The wind keeps spinning in the trees high above and the rooks keep calling and all too soon the light leaves the day - I could be anywhere at any time in this ancient and spiritual landscape, but I for one will give thanks before I leave. 

Friday, 29 September 2017

Country Fair - September

We are nearly through September, but this was just too pleasant to miss..... 

Country Fair - September 1956

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The lure of the lucky float

I am a person and also a fisherman who believes in superstition and the good luck associated with items, happenings and likings. None more so than the major tool of my past time which is the humble float.

The same old floats come out. Each one loved, fondled and admired over the years and hopefully the years to come - there is the one given to me by Mr Crabtree (Bernard Venables) which is a lovely worn porcupine quill. I am now so scared to use this float that it remains in my float tube as I nearly lost it once. I feel its power rubbing off on my other lucky floats - some hand made by friends, some once owned by dear friends and others gifts from friends. Each one has its own story which sticks to it like groundbait or pond slime.

The last few trips to fish my favourite ancient crucian pond have seen me use a different float on each occasion. Each one a lucky float or one I have taken a liking to along my fisherman travels. There was the small balsa float someone brought into the office along with some of the tiniest porcupine quills I have ever seen - "would you like them?", "oh, yes please, they will be loved and looked after and more importantly they will kiss the water again"...........sometimes lucky floats just find you.

Then there are the gifts from friends which are the best of all - these delightful crucian floats are so delicate they detect the gentle nibblings of dainty feeding crucians. As the writer Arthur Sharp put it in his wonderful book - pleasing in appearance and even more pleasing in disappearance. I can say no better than that.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Legend of Redmire Pool

Something made me reach for that magnificent book Redmire Pool by Clifford & Arbery (Beekay, 1984) last night. The wind was howling and the rain was smashing against the windows….that period just before you head for bed when a read puts you at rest. I had forgotten that the following day, today, marks the wonderful anniversary when Richard Stuart Walker (Dick Walker, Water Rail, The Master) caught the then record carp (Clarissa) at 44lbs from the legendary Redmire Pool in Herefordshire. The fish was caught around 5am on 13th September 1952. It’s a wonderful story, full of drama as the best stories always are.

I was obsessed with Redmire Pool as a schoolboy, we all were. Where was it? Did it exist? Who fished there? Walkers record was bettered by Chris Yates with a fish of 51lb 8oz in June 1980 – I still have my copy of Angling magazine that my friends and I poured over at school. We couldn’t believe it, that such a fish existed. The story and accompanying photographs blew our 12 year old minds away. Who was this upstart to beat Dicks record? If any of us caught a decent fish the cry would go up, even in the 80’s, “who do you think you are, Dick Walker” – happy days.

Needless to say, Dick Walker, ever the gentleman, was absolutely ecstatic that Chris caught the fish and later we would pour over the excellent articles by CY in the same magazine.

The story brought back many happy memories for me as well – for I last fished the pool around 2002 and virtually all of my twelve or so trips to fish there were with my much missed friend Pete. We fished a bizarre trip during the even stranger “Diedrich” period (1988 I think) when so many obsessives like us were ripped off and never ever got to fish the pool. We paid, heard nothing and just went. For we, by now, did know exactly where the pool was thanks to the book which had been published a few years earlier. I think Petes parents had actually walked near to the pool or knew a neighbouring farmer who also confirmed its location. The pool obviously hadn’t been fished for weeks, possibly months and it rained. It rained hard and the reason Redmire is named so became obvious – it was like fishing in a bowl of tomato soup. The original bailiff, an elderly Dave Bufton (who lived in a farm cottage on the estate), came down and was amazed to see us. He hadn’t seen anyone since the beginning of the season.  He watched me fishing for carp that were feeding by the dam and uttered the words “thems artful fuckers ‘en um” – he was quite right. My friend Pete then became the bailiff himself at Redmire – he loved it, I loved it too as I got to go with him many times just to take in the air, talk fishing and then go for a pint on our way home. We met some incredible characters and sometimes, actually quite often, we would visit the pool and have the whole place to ourselves. It was magical. I’m sure some of that magic still exists, but for me a lot of it has gone, along with my memories and my friend.  

So, for a period last night, I was transported to Redmire Pool. I was following Walker, him of the magic hat, in real time. I read as he travelled in pouring rain, arrived and set up at the pool and went to bed in the knowledge that both he and his friend Peter Thomas were waiting for the day to break and the hope of catching one of the Redmire monsters….I woke up this morning happy that they had succeeded.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Season of plenty

It's been a great growing year for us - after constructing planters last year, a tad late to grow anything worthwhile we have found it hard to keep up this year. The spuds are Pentland Javelin and wonderful roasted with herbs and oil. We are still cropping, but I have no idea what these behemoth spuds are. The soil to fill the planters was moved from another part of the garden, so these are self-setters.....absolutely huge and the size of rocks. Ideal baking potatoes.

The season of red cabbage or cabbo as we call it has also arrived. It means to me Autumn is nigh and roasts, sausages and all the comfort food is upon us - I am not complaining as there is plenty to make meal times special. The beetroot has been a success along with the peas and beans. The garlic has just been pulled to spend a few days drying in the sun. Hang on, is that a falling apple I hear?

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Finnicky feeders and the price of gold

After a break from Blighty (more of this another day) it was a joy to return to my favourite crucian pond and watch the comings and goings of all that live on, in and around this haven. I, of course, spoil the whole scene as I bimble through the undergrowth, brew tea, eat inordinate amounts of pie and pork products whilst watching a float which remains motionless for great parts of the day - the general public if they were to view such a scene would probably think I was mad.......I know otherwise, I am in heaven.  

Not much has changed in the few weeks since my last visit. I was pleased to see, if anything, it was more overgrown. Obviously very few other anglers have been to fish and the weed growth was a tad dense and the lily pads were still in fine fettle. I have sensed a slight change in the season these last few can sniff autumn is in the air and as I settled down the wind was blowing in the trees around the pool and the leaves are just on the turn. I love these subtle changes and they make the year of the fisherman all the more memorable.  

The crucians had obviously had their breakfast as my float did not stir for some considerable time. This does not matter in the slightest as there is much to observe and take in - the dragonflies were active as were the birds around the pond - long tailed tits were on the wing and having family arguments about the insects they were consuming on a sallow. It always surprises me when the float stirs. When it does it is like a little electrical charge which makes me almost jump from my idle thoughts.

The first crucian of the day is a perfect little bar of gold, a delicate delightful fellow who is handled with such great care as in my eyes he is worth far more than gold. He is admired with wet hands and gently returned to the pond.

My tackle at these two Saxon ponds is delicate - for there are two, one upper and one lower and both completely different in appearance and atmosphere. A small quill float which is gently shotted coupled with my 1950's Hardy General rod and Overend's Speedia reel. That's it - I keep it simple and it will not change for the summer and early autumn here. 

I have not caught a single tench all summer although today I lose one in the pads as my mind and eyes wandered - there was the most amazing spectacle of a Brown Hawker dragonfly chasing his lunch through the trees, the most amazing acrobatics I have seen of late. Just as the afternoon moved towards evening I continued to catch a few more of these little chaps and was joined by another angler (Stephen) who fished a little further along the path. 

The time the float moves and you are coupled to a larger specimen always surprises me, it is one of the joys I guess, and at a tad over 1lb 8oz I was really pleased. Another chubby one graced my landing net and it was soon time to leave.

Stephen and I discussed the atmosphere here, it can be strange and is not surprising for such place of just know when it is time to pack up and the silence and darkening skies told me now was the time.

Stephen was at the gate and had come with the most welcome of gifts....a jar of his home made jam which, like the crucians, was worth more to me than the price of gold.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Purbeck Quarryman

I have mentioned in the past how intrigued I am when I find some of the artists I like have such close connections to others - this sparks a new avenue of interest and such was the case with Mary Spencer Watson who I came across whilst admiring the works of her father George and the photographs of Helen Muspratt.

This delightful carving of a Purbeck Quarryman is in the churchyard at Langton Matravers near Swanage in the Purbecks, Dorset. Carved for the millennium and weathering nicely. I was pleased, on a recent visit to the treasure trove that is Dorset County Museum in Dorchester, to find a working scaled down model of the same Quarryman. Treasures hidden in the Dorset landscape.