First of all I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my actual and digital friends all the best for 2018. I met lots of new people on the bank and at fish related events this year and it was great to put faces to names. Some of you mentioned my blog, some even said they enjoyed reading it!!! To those guys especially, I want to say your support and encouragement means a lot. I write this blog for fun but to know that somebody actually reads and enjoys it makes me feel very humble…Thank you!
Now, onto matters piscatorial. Normally December is the toughest and most inhospitable month of the river fishers calendar. Usually I would be making excuses for my poor performances during the month, with more blanks than a fertility clinic sample fridge! However, for a pleasant change this year the weather Gods have smiled and sent such varying conditions that in spells it was conducive to good fishing; so good at times even I fancied my chances of catching an elusive December winter Barbel. My only grumble is that despite having the whole of Christmas off work due to a fortuitous shut-down, I still only managed to get out three times; instead of fishing I just got fat and drunk while my wallet got considerably thinner!
03.12.17 Middle Dane
I don’t visit the Dane nearly enough and the strange thing is I could never give you a valid reason why not. Its close to home, a beautiful, meandering intimate little river, full of character and a lovely variety of swims to try. Though chub are quite prolific in the 2-4lb bracket, I still believe a 5lb fish is an elusive but realistic target, though I haven’t yet managed to catch one myself (close at 4lb14oz but no cigar!). The barbel are a little bit thin on the ground and anything above 9lb is a rare beast indeed. Trout and Grayling have made good progress and other silvers seem to be making a bit of a come-back, despite severe predation.
For those not aware of the history of this Cheshire gem, it suffered a terrible pollution back in 2005, where slurry flowed into a tributary, the river Croco just below Middlewich, destroying most of the life for many miles downstream. Despite some stocking attempts in the interim it never seemed to achieve its former glory.
Above the affected areas, a decent river remained, but for unknown reasons the fishing even there was never quite as good in my opinion. The truth be told the glory days of the mid to late 90’s were long past when the pollution struck. The current Barbel river record of 14lb4oz was way back in 1994, and I don’t expect a fish of that magnitude to turn up in the foreseeable future.
Despite all the hard knocks this is still a river that can throw up a really satisfying session when its on form and lends itself to both trotting and ledgering. I prefer to ledger bread flake and cheesepaste and keep as mobile as I can, pre-baiting any likely looking spots with a compressed lump of liquidised bread, then re-tracing my steps fishing as many of the swims as possible. I find this throws up one or two fish from a swim before they spook, probably due to angling pressure and predation. Float anglers seem to have more success building a swim but the days of 50lb hauls from a single location seem to be in the past.
This is why I was quite surprised on this overcast, drizzly but very nippy short session, with the river carrying a foot of coloured water, to hook a nice 3lb chub first cast from a nearside slack under some overhanging trees, followed in fairly quick succession by 3 more in 5 casts. A couple of casts later a grayling and a 5th chub followed at 4lb on the nose. I was very pleased with 6 fish in little more than an hour, but I was eager to see if any of my other pre-baited swims would be as prolific, so I gathered my minimalist kit and yomped downstream to my next swim.
This was a steady run above an overgrown, tree strewn section that screamed chub. I was hoping to draw the fish from this area upstream to my bait, thereby avoiding the snags. Another bonus of the swim was that it had a slight deeper depression just a few feet from the nearside bank, but that required a very stealthy approach. This was duly accomplished and another tiny lump of bread was dropped in just upstream of where I intended to cast. A few minutes later I under-armed my rig into position and sat touch ledgering, feeling a good electrifying pluck immediately….a quick flick of the rod and game on! The result was the best fish of the day at 4lb2oz, photographed then released 30m upstream so as to minimise disturbance of the swim. This proved to be a good tactic as yet another 5 fish haul followed, mainly around the 3-4lb mark but excellent sport on dedicated chub gear.
I moved on and tried 2 more of my favourite swims and couldn’t buy a bite. I certainly wasn’t despondent as I slipped and slid my way back up the mudslide of a hill to the farm and the comfort of my warm car, a great couple of hours for the cost of a loaf.
15.12.17 Middle Dane
This was a hiding to nothing; heavy snow had fallen last week and I miscalculated the speed of the thaw. Guagemap had a couple of feet of water on the Dane but it looked to be topping out and on the drop when the reading was published (4.30am). This was very misleading as another pulse of water came downriver and when I arrived around mid-day the Dane was over its banks in parts. This was undoubtedly snow-melt, the worst possible conditions for all species, a water temperature of 3C confirmed my fears, but I was already there so decided to give it a try. After walking the whole of the mile and a bit length I found a single swim that looked fishable, but even this was very turbulent and hardly filled me with optimism.
Just to be clear, it was the snow melt and its sudden rapid negative impact on the water temperature, not the actual level that put the spoilers on it for me; in the same conditions with warmer water I would be fairly confident of a barbel or chub from the same locations, but today, as expected, it was a thankless task, I totally blanked but I consoled myself that I had seen this fairly new section of the river in flood conditions, I had noted the fishable swims for another day, and had a bracing walk into the bargain.
Another bad example of predicting the conditions and reacting accordingly, I could have probably had more success on the local canal targeting perch had I been better informed.
22.12.17 Middle Ribble
Readers of this blog will note I often harp on about ‘windows of opportunity’ (usually because I’m angry I missed one through work commitments!). This time of year with rapidly varying conditions we need to keep and eye on the weather reports because even in the coldest spells a sudden storm of relatively warm rain will lift the water temperature noticeably. This could be as much as a few degrees overnight, and the dormant Barbel with metabolisms slowed to a crawl, will suddenly burst into life and be very, very, hungry. The feeding spell could be so short you might blink and miss it, so when conditions look right it pays to be on the bank with a bait in the water.
The snow from the previous week had gone fast as a warmer wet front moved in, the Ribble went bank high with snow melt then gradually fell over the next couple of days, to be followed by a few minor rises and falls as the heavy rain squalls came into the system, but the important factor is that this rain was a lot warmer so lifted the river temperature. All the Ribble regulars rubbed their hands together and threw the rods in the car.
Fortunately all this coincided with it being my day off (hurrah!) so I made my way to the Ribble post haste. I chose a length that has some decent high water swims because I wasn’t sure just how bad it would be, but I needn’t have worried it was a couple of feet up but perfectly fishable. Surprisingly there were only a couple of cars in the carpark so I tried a new swim that was moving at a reasonable pace, nice and steady, with a deeper food holding area just a couple of rod lengths out. I fished 2 rods as usual and settled for a long wait. Happily the debris in the water was manageable and I could leave the rods in place for 30 minutes without the rigs being pulled off line. At this point I took a water temperature and was disappointed to get a reading of between 5-6C, a bit lower than I expected, really I was hoping for 8C but any rise can signal a feeding spree so I was not too despondent.
I don’t know why but an hour in and some instinct told me to try a different swim, somewhere slower maybe. I always act on my gut feeling, so many times it has paid dividends, so I grabbed my gear and headed downstream to some slow deep water. There was another angler on my first choice swim catching silvers on the float; I took this to be a good sign that fish were feeding.
I found a decent bit of bank to set up, more than 50m downstream of the other chap and he had no objections. I hadn’t fished this particular spot so had a chuck out with a lead and found a good drop-off in depth, almost a shelf, just over 2/3 across; this seemed like a good line as the river is 50m wide here and although the debris wasn’t too bad the more line was out, the more weed would gather, so the far bank would be unwise.
I banged out the rods, upstream a small feeder with 4oz of lead, packed with oily ground pellet and hemp plus a tiny handful of mini halibut pellets; I was conscious of not overfeeding given the temperatures, but wanted to create a scent trail. The second rod was a 4oz straight lead with a small pva bag of crushed boilies and oily hemp (a glug of hemp oil stops the water in the hemp melting the pva bag) fished on the same line as the feeder rod, just over the drop off. I use marker elastic and clip up to ensure I stay on the same line, even into dark.
I had a long wait but I always felt like I had a chance, the conditions were right, just the temperature was a bit low. I kept plugging away with the feeder and began to vary the straight lead position, trying to drop the rig on a barbels nose.
Suddenly just before dark a rip-roaring run on the downstream rod signalled a fish. A small Barbel resulted, putting up quite a good scrap in the heavy flow. I was pleased to have bagged a December Barbel and was confident something else would turn up.
As dark fell the Barbel came on the feed, 3 more fish topped by an 8lb14oz and the grand finale 9lb on the button.
Obviously this was a good result but it was all dependant on having a bait in the right place when the temperatures were warm enough to trigger a feeding response. The new boilies I was trying proved their worth and all in all I was a happy lad despite having to leave prematurely for traffic reasons.
27.12.17 Upper Dane
A nice easy few hours on the upper river with an old pal Matt Marlow and a few of his mates, something of a Christmas social. Unfortunately the conditions had deteriorated quite quickly from the previous session, snow had fallen on the hills and the temperatures had dropped. The river was carrying a foot of dirty brown water that felt cold enough to be snow melt, and I didn’t hold much hope out for a bumper catch. I donned every layer I had but it was bitter cold and a few flurries of snow did nothing to lift my pessimism.
On the plus side it was great to have a good old chin wag with Matt, he has been fishing forever and was once a fanatical and successful carp angler, before he saw the light and became completely obsessed with rivers and their denizens. He is a funny lad and very good company; we were soon having a good laugh but the fish were playing hard to get. I suggested a move and we tried another field upstream. We both fished the same pool which would normally be something of a flyer, but today it was a maelstrom of mucky water and leaves. However I could see an area of slacker water lay on the inside of the swim and that would be my best bet today. I threw in a golf ball of compressed liquidised bread just upstream of my chosen spot, hoping it would sink there or there abouts, then set up my usual rig of a micro feeder of liquidised bread, a piece of medium sliced bread folded round the hook shank; the pocket it created was filled with cheese paste. I pinched a BB shot a few inches from the hook to keep the bread down on the bottom but still allowing some movement to the bait. I waited a few minutes then dropped in on the edge of the flow, hoping my light weight rig would roll until it found the edge of the slack. I made sure I rammed the feeder tight as I could to ensure the payload wouldn’t start to eject before the rig had settled.
With the line over my finger I could look around and admire the beauty of this river environment, it really is a little piece of heaven. On my second cast I felt a sharp rap and like a rooky I struck, no doubt pulling the bait out of the mouth of whatever fish had mouthed the bait. I cursed myself and re-baited knowing bites were going to be at a premium today. With the rig repositioned I settled down and seconds later the unmistakable rapid tug of a fish and a quick strike met with the resistance of a fighting chub. It was over in a few seconds, the fish was under 3lb at a guess, ghostly pale, but by God it was welcome. A quick photo and it was returned to its turbulent home.
Nothing more came from the swim so I suggested a move. We both upped sticks and Matt settled in a swim with a nice looking slack created by the protruding bank, I kept going until I spotted a similar slack created by a combination of the bank and a change in flow direction. Second cast again the rapid knock of a fish, strike and the rod took on a healthy bend. Immediately I knew this was a better fish, it charged downstream toward a sunken branch. Side pressure with the rod low managed to turn it away; it then bored deep heading for some unseen sanctuary, I managed to lift its head and before it had chance to do much else I scooped it up. At 4lb8oz it was a very nice fish for the Dane, and would be easily recognised for a healed up stab wound across its shoulder. I would like to meet it again in autumn, I would imagine it might make the elusive 5lb target weight I have been pursuing for the last few seasons.
I called it quits at this point and packed up to go and have a chat with Matt’s mates, Dicky and Mike who had just turned up. There is more to fishing than just catching fish, sometimes talking about it is almost as good.
31.12.17 Mid Ribble
After some pleading with my Mrs, Yvonne, I was granted permission for an afternoon on the Ribble. I had been studying the levels and had seen a pulse of water come through on the 30th; the air temperature had been 8 and 9C for a couple of days and I had convinced myself this was warm rain water coming through, and we all know what this means…Barbel time!!!
The river had held onto the pulse of water and was still a metre up but I was full of optimism until I took a water temperature of 4C! I thought my chances of a Barbel had gone at that point but I was still keen to fish; maybe a chub would save the day.
I put out a small feeder packed with ground pellet laced with some glug that matched some new boilies I have been trying out. The feed was bulked out with hemp soaked in hemp oil and a few finely crushed boilies, pretty standard winter fare so as to give a scent trail but little free feed other than the boilie hookbait.
Downstream I tried some cheesepaste wrapped round a hair-rigged cork ball, with a little pva bag of liquidised bread mixed with cheese paste as an attractor. An hour later I had lost faith with this and switched it to a half boilie wrapped in paste.
As often seems to be the case in winter the straight lead/ pva bag provided what action there was. A small chub under 3lb in the afternoon was encouraging, but unfortunately it was a solitary fish and didn’t bring its mates to the New Years Eve party.
However late afternoon the same rod did the Barbel dance and after a brief scrap a little splasher made my day!
I was well chuffed in the circumstances, I took another temp before I left and measured 3.5C so it wasn’t exactly tropical! In fact the weather turned monsoon style and really intense rain pinned me down until 7pm, when a lull gave me the chance to make a bolt for home and a chance to see the New Year in with Yvonne.
So the year comes to a close, I won’t bother with my ‘greatest achievements’ of 2017 but they are all recorded in my monthly blogs; if you have a spare moment I would love you to take a look.
Have a great 2018, may all your lines be tight!