Monday, 31 December 2012

Finding the Silver Lining: Blown out rivers and new friends.

Plumping for Pike: With the rivers out of action, the coarse fishing gear has been brought out.

Aquatically speaking, the last few months of 2012 have been very predictable indeed, if only in a somewhat roundabout and convoluted sense of the word. If it's not been raining (I think the rainy season in both Yorkshire and Cumbria started around the year 1500 and has just trundled on since) it's either been snowing, freezing or blowing a gale - often a combination of the three. Many of the Cumbrian lakes have spent days entombed in ice, and if there was a period of settled conditions, you could bet your house, children, and the contents of your vintage caviar cellar that the day you planned to string up your rod the rivers would rise two feet and hold nothing but the prospect of dead sheep and sanitary towels. On the few occasions I've been able to walk the banks of my beloved Wharfe and assess the state of affairs, it has been like meeting an old friend after many years apart and realising you no longer have anything in common. Long, sedate pools which come alive in the balmy summer evenings with the oily head-and-tail rises of glorious, uncatchable leviathans now boil and surge with an alien malice. The gently poppling, sun-dappled riffles of my memory now snarl, tearing away at the vulnerable banks, whilst on a bad day, bouldered rapids can now take on the guise of the middle reaches of the Zambezi. When the waters finally drop (hopefully some time before March - I have plans, you know) and the old friend and I once more find some common ground, there's a good chance that they'll have undergone a serious facelift. Whether a happy improvement or otherwise is impossible to predict, but either way it'll take some getting used to.

Nevertheless, whilst in my angling life I increasingly find myself attempting to navigate a small boat up a river of excrement with no means of propulsion, it's not all bad, is it? Those four blokes on horseback didn't pop round to engineer the destruction of our entire civilisation, I've not bickered with my girlfriend any more than usual, there are still a couple of pubs where I can get a pint of decent ale for under three quid, and the price of Lambert & Butler hasn't rocketed too dramatically. Besides, all this water has washed me away towards places I've rarely fished with any conviction since my early teens, and landed me fortuitously on the bank beside and equally mad keen worm drowner of a similar age to myself - Tom, master pike catcher.

I found Tom, or rather he found me, through my video based messing around on Youtube (here's a link incase you're interested). He too dabbles in video making, and after realising we lived about ten minutes apart, he got in touch with me about having a session together and the possibility of shooting a few videos. I liked the idea and we got chatting. The conversation was easy, and we agreed to have a session the next time I was home.
So, around came Christmas once again, and I returned to Bradford with a head full of lecture notes it didn't want to process and the prospect of January exams looming over me as they still do now - writing your blog seems so much more exciting when there's something else you should be doing, doesn't it? But now, for the first time since early November, fishing was on the cards. I spoke to Tom and we both agreed the rivers were 'nae use to man nor beast', to use the Northern lingo, and that given the current weather patterns our best bet was to target some pike in the local canal, where Tom and a few other anglers had been braving the weather and had banked a number of double figure fish, including a chunky fifteen pounder for Tom himself.
"Sounds good" I said, "Let's do it". And so last Sunday, in a wind that could have toppled statues, I found myself hunkered down on the canal towpath before first light, pitching a dead roach as close to the moored boats as I dared. Tom seemed confident we would hit a few fish before long as he baited two rods with sprats, fiddled with his bite alarms, then went about the business of attempting to catch some of the smaller locals to sacrifice in the name of Esox. When his pal Dave arrived in his van a while after us, however, he seemed rather more sceptical. In fact, as the wind began to howl harder and harder, I distinctly remember his reaction being along the lines of 'why the bloody hell would you bother fishing on a day like this?'. Somewhere in the back of my head I felt he had a point. Nevertheless, I took heart in Tom's buoyant optimism and went to aid him in his livebait quest. He'd been struggling up to this point with a lot of missed bites, so I suggested the operation perhaps needed a fly fisher's more delicate touch. Sure enough, Tom handed me the rod and first cast, after a deft flick tight to the flaking bow of an old barge, I successfully shepherded a small, flashing roach to hand. I offered it to Tom who immediately swapped one of his ledgered sprats for the little fish, whose day was going from bad to worse, recast and waited in poised expectancy. Five minutes passed before the alarm let out a single bleep followed by a gentle wiggling of the rod tip. I was about to suggest it might just be the livebait working rather than a more sinister presence when the rod hooped round and Tom locked into the first fish of the day. It stayed deep at first, shaking its head furiously and doing its best to dive into the sanctuary of the boats, but soon enough it broke surface in a shower of spray and was drawn reluctantly over the waiting net; a solid fish of around six pounds. Not a monster, but as Tom unhooked it (it was mercifully benign on the bank) I had to pause for a moment to take in its perfect torpedo-like form - pike of all sizes have a certain gravitas about them which other fish do not with their crocodilian features and huge fins. They are pure predatory perfection. We slipped him back and he paused briefly to collect himself before rocketing back to his lair.

Tom, getting into the festive spirit, displays the first of the day: a solid six pounder.

After the excitement, with the rods reset with deadbaits for the time being, we settled down for a quick cup of tea, and I took the chance to muse briefly on my surroundings. It was very surreal, after spending the last few seasons mainly on Yorkshire's pretty trout streams, never too far from the public but always with a degree of peace and quiet, surrounded by nature, to find myself casting a line in such an urban setting. Even on the stretches of canal I usually fish, a short walk will find you in relatively rural surroundings, but here I felt boxed in and almost on show, with the concrete towpath backing straight onto a housing block, a hotel and flats looming on the opposite bank, and a road bridge rumbling on my left. Yet somehow, perhaps due to the rare social aspect on the day (fishing is almost always a solitary pastime for me) along with the obvious pikey potential of the area,  I felt rather comfortable perched on my stool, watching my bright float riding on the ripples, smoking and chatting about the prospects for the coming hours.

The Pike float rides tantalisingly on the ripples...

My pleasant reverie was broken abruptly by a shout from down the bank, and I turned to see Dave's rod buckled in two as he tussled with an evidently substantial fish. We reached him in time to see the fish boil on the surface before surging away strongly again. A few tense minutes followed before a semblance of control was gained and Tom was able to bundle the fish into the net. On the mat it looked impressive - heavy set and very deep indeed. We were all rather surprised when it only weighed 11lb 8oz. Still, a good fish for a canal, and its tiger-like fins and marbled flanks were a sight to behold.

The business end of the 11 pounder as Dave does the honours with the hooks.

So, two fish on the bank, and I was the only one left sitting on a blank - no matter! Plenty of time yet. I went back to my spot, switched to a fresh bait, then went back to the serious business of hunting livebaits. Soon both myself and Tom had livebaits fishing by the barges - a roach for me and a little skimmer bream for him. We were now both fishing running ledger rigs, as although the aesthetic quality of watching a pike float suddenly spring to life and plunge beneath the surface is undeniable, given the unrelenting gale, a tethered bait was evidently the more practical choice on the day. Predictably though it was Tom's bait which was snapped up almost instantly, and I was soon helping him hoist ashore a small feisty jack pike around the three to four pound mark, which he soon followed with another of similar stamp. With the light fading, I was beginning to wonder if I would be returning home with the shame of a blank hanging over me. Spurred on my the urge to avoid this, I moved my bait along to a small gap between two boats, a perfect ambush spot. I set everything up, tightened down and waited. What seemed like an age went by, and I was pondering the idea of a recast when a faint twitch gradually developed into an all-out run. I lurched upon the rod and lifted into a bucking, solid resistance. It came to the surface quickly and was evidently not large, but the hook hold looked tenuous, so I ushered it as quickly and carefully as possible into the net, and lifted out a glorious, beautiful, miraculous blank saving fish
One of a pair of smaller fish for Tom.

A brilliant, blank saving four pounder for me!

After that relief, we decided to head for home, but agreed to meet up again after Christmas. On boxing day we did just that, this time adopting a more roving approach with float fished livebaits. We had a good day, with four fish for me and three for tom. The only issue was that none of the fish weighed over three pounds! Still, better than no fish at all, and it's all good fun. We've agreed to meet up again after the new year. Hopefully we'll winkle out a couple of the big girls!
Here's some video I shot on out first day. Rough stuff as usual but hopefully you enjoy it!

So you see, though the weather continues to be about as welcome as a bag of grapeshot to the nads, I've discovered a silver lining behind the endless clouds, finding a new ally in my addiction, and getting a chance to play with the predators for the first time in rather too long. Best of all, Tom's keen to learn more of the art of the fly, so that should lead to a few forays in the spring... if the rivers ever decide to stop their quest to turn the entire Humber basin into an inland sea, that is.

Happy New Year, folks! And tight lines for 2013!