Thursday, 27 July 2017

A BIRTHDAY TENCH


If you’re a passionate angler like me, what could be better than a birthday tench. Beautiful but feisty, big enough to fight back when hooked and a joy to behold when finally on the bank, they make the perfect present.
a perfect six pounds of birthday present
Fishing for them on my special day has become a tradition, so each year I venture forth in an attempt to prove that I’m not yet past my sell by date.
nearly seven pounds and thin but what a birthday beauty


waiting for the bobbins to fly
The locations for my adventures have been purposefully varied. This year and last I have been on a wonderfully scenic gravel pit in Hampshire. I’m there right now as I write.

this tame robin has noticed a bite on the buzzer
Two years ago it was in the Cotswold Water Park, the pictures taken by my good friend Mark Woodage.
nearly safely in the net and time for some relief


a beautiful fat Bradleys eight pounder
an inspiring place to fish
It was snared from Bradleys, a huge but inspiring clear-water wildlife haven that is challenging at the best of times.
spring fishing can be freezing in the wind and Mark is well wrapped up preparing for a blank

there are wildfowl galore to keep us entertained
lots of small fry provide food for many grebes and big perch
the odd couple but inseparable
I love it there and would fish it more often if it wasn’t a distance away.

a simply gorgeous tench and at 8lbs the ultimate river prize
In contrast, this next fish was taken from the intimate waters of the upper Bristol Avon. At exactly eight pounds it is the best tench I’ve ever caught, not because it’s the biggest but because it was caught from a river, on a traditional float and pin, used to edge a lobworm under an alder tree. The catch included an 8lb15oz bream and a 2lb6oz perch so it was a memorable day.

what a gorgeous start to any day
a lobworm snaffling tench from under the willow
On several years I’ve tench fished in the Fens, a place close to my heart as I grew up there dreaming of catching tench instead of the ubiquitous bream.
what a remarkable place to grow up and sing for my supper

I never did succeed when I was at school in Ely but recently the lovely Lodes have provided me with a few, including this six pound battler.
Fenland tench seem to fight harder than any others but the tackle held - just
the beautiful Fenland Lode from which I caught several good tench and bream

My biggest tench is stuck on 8lb9ozs. I’ve caught one this size from five different waters, the first from Sywell in the good old days. You’ll be relieved to hear that I have no pics of any of these big tench but I’m after a double, aren’t we all, and when I catch it I’ll make sure I take a pic. Hopefully it will come along on my birthday ; now wouldn’t that be a present and a half.
those lilies scream tench, especially during this magic hour


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

PASSPORT TO PARADISE


Travelling the world to film wildlife is a privilege but for ultimate fulfilment there’s no place like home when you are a wildlife friendly gardener.

My wife Sue and I are the grateful guardians of two acres of what was once largely derelict grass and dense woodland but when we first viewed it we could see the potential to create our own haven for wildlife. The cottage is 18th century cob and on arrival thirty-six years ago we noticed two ditches around the property that had running water in them.

the main pond is 'puddled' with clay Capability Brown style
spade work to create frog and newt habitat - it jumps with them in spring
Within weeks we had thinned excess trees and diverted the water to create a stream that flowed through the
five ponds we dug with spades and a JCB. Each year we have created more wetland habitat and can’t stress enough how magical it is to add water to your garden. It doesn’t have to be big, just wet.

what a lovely surprise it is when little egrets drop in to fish
Only the other day I’d cleared a small marshy area and within hours two little egrets arrived, no doubt looking for our numerous frogs, newts and tadpoles. As all wildlife enthusiasts know, create habitat and the animals will soon take advantage.

With this in mind we decided to start a wild flower meadow and so the lawn in front of the cottage was left uncut one spring. An amazing transformation took place as within weeks a host of flowers emerged from the grass, including three southern-marsh orchids.

no mowing - no seed - just a miracle of nature
We haven’t sprinkled seed but the variety of flowers keep on coming and the orchid head count is now in the hundreds, including pyramid and a few spotted. The bees, butterflies and grasshoppers love it and for us, it’s simple colourful summer joy.

pretty as a picture
brimstone beauty

lots of flowers are good for all insects, not least the colourful peacock butterfly

commas are a common treat on our patch and lichens a big bonus
the impressively sized silver-washed fritillaries visit every year
Sue has planted masses of insect friendly flowers, our woodland too, so the place hums with butterflies and bees. She’s a great fan of hover flies and solitary bees so we have a couple of insect homes for them, along with bird and bat boxes and old wood stacks to create beetle and bug banks.
one of several beetle-banks - very good interest rates too

frequent and exotic visitors - mandarin ducks - and our pheasant is called 'Prince Wilhelm The Second' - don't ask why
We feed the birds too of course and have some ‘interesting’ visitors at times, mandarin are regulars with three broods of mallard ducklings most years, the garden resembling Slimbridge.
two of these ducklings survived the hazards of foxes this year to become free flying

we usually have up to three pairs producing big broods
just some of the male escorts - ain't wetlands wonderful
We’ve left ‘no go’ areas with lots of scrubby bits and so every summer we revel in the song of blackcaps along with chiffchaff, song thrush and the beautiful warbling of the blackbird, serenading me as I write.

the great tit is one of our commonest residents
The latest bird count in and above the garden is one hundred and seven species so we know it’s a privilege to share this patch with so much wildlife. Water is the key, particularly as I love fish, for they are wildlife too.
rudd and golden orfe - all scoffed by the 'playful' otter last autumn

What’s more, fish provide food for herons and our ultimate garden visitor, otters. We receive a raiding party most years and though it’s a real treat to see them, it’s distressing when they eat our wildlife in the middle of the night. We used to have breeding moorhens but not since the otters discovered us. They are killers so are a mixed blessing.
our 'friendly' otter enjoying a midnight feast

minnows breed so well in the streams that we always have plenty of survivors
kingfishers are a frequent summer visitor - what a privilege
The streams provide a place for our minnows to spawn, food for kingfishers, magpies and even blackbirds. Yes, they do eat fish! Running water is great for bird-washing, stock doves, grey wagtails, buzzards and sparrow hawks being some of the more exciting bathers.

stock doves are a delight and several pairs nest close by
emperor dragonflies find our ponds ideal for egg-laying
The ponds are alive with dragons and damsels and on one memorable day last summer we were sat admiring a golden-ringed dragonfly close to our tea drinking spot when a hobby swooped down and snatched it with a loud crack. Simply amazing!

this golden-ringed dragon provided supper for a hobby
As if our own patch isn’t enough, the Dorset Wildlife Trust became our nearest neighbour when they bought the surrounding woodland as part of the exciting Great Heath Project. In our view that took us one step closer to heaven and being part of the growing army of keen gardeners who create so much for wildlife is the ultimate reward.

you can never have too many wisterias - the bees love 'em
In order to encourage everyone to create wildlife friendly gardens, the DWT give advice and award plaques to those who fulfil specific criteria and we wanted to become a part of this crusade. We were even encouraged to enter their wildlife friendly competition and Sue was surprised but delighted when we won the award for large gardens. Seeing all those happy, smiling folk at the Gardening Awards Ceremony last year just proved to us how much good that hard digging does for us all. So if you’ve ever wondered where paradise is, simply step outside into your wildlife friendly garden and get digging ... and planting.

It's always suggested that planting trees isn't for us but for our grand-children and it's simply not true. We planted many of the trees in this picture and look at the size of them, especially the glorious beeches across the pond, only thirty years old and BIG.
the glorious colours of autumn are always enjoyed, especially the acers
 
no, we didn't plant the ancient oaks but we did dig the marsh

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

A CRUCIAN CONUNDRUM


Lovely creatures aren’t they, living their lives in the quietest corners of our countryside, unassuming and discrete in both character and nature but still able to drive us anglers mad.

It’s become something of a tradition these past few years for me to start the season trying to fill the 16th with bars of gold. They seem the perfect creature to catch on a midsummer dawn and this year was no exception, so as the light increased from a starlit sky, my friend Chris Wild and I crept into our swims full of anticipation.

Isn’t it wonderful that the same feeling of excitement and sleepless nights arises before the glorious 16th every year, even after nearly seventy years of angling adventures. There is a whole season of fishing ahead, new or familiar challenges to look forward to and a world of mystery to explore. Variety of quarry and waters is the key but there’s no harm in starting with those that are close to your heart.

I love crucians for the conundrums that they throw up. Will they be in the swim you have chosen? Will they bite and on what bait? Will you even see the bites and if so, will you be able to strike at the right moment? These and many other questions are the essence and charm of crucian fishing and solving the riddles are where the rewards are won.

Trying to win a few bites, I had raked and lightly baited the swim the evening before, so I hoped to see tell-tale bubbles when dawn started to illuminate the pool … and my hopes were fulfilled but … there were too many bubbles and they were too big. I feared the worse, king carp, otherwise known as ‘nuisance fish’. I pulled my delicate pole rig out in fear that it would be trashed but eventually I became impatient at not being able to fish for crucians and dropped in again.

I’m guessing you have already decided the outcome and the bite when it came resulted in a violent explosion of water, an instant stretching of elastic, the nearby bed of lilies smashed and a sad goodbye to my float.

Trying to calm down, I added a little more soft pellet groundbait to the now muddy swim, picked up my slightly stronger rig and dropped in again. More bubbles rose and I hoped for a tench but an hour later the chaos resumed. What I assumed was the same carp had returned for more breakfast and it proceeded to give me a tour of all the surrounding lilies, trashing the swim in the process. It was an exciting battle and I was grateful that I’d invested in a Drennan Acolyte Margin Pole, for I was able to pull like hell without fearing it would break. It’s also armed with an elastic puller so I eventually subdued the carp’s enthusiasm for war and led it to my too small crucian landing net.

It was a splendid looking mirror carp with large scales and weighed 12lbs14ozs, not quite the peaceful start that I’d imagined but an entertaining way to celebrate the season’s opening. My swim needed an hour to recover from the wreckage before I managed a first crucian of the season, so I decided to start again, rake and bait it and wait some more.

Chris was fishing in what we call the Vole Swim opposite [because that’s where they live] and had already made me jealous by catching a tench of about 3lbs – I love tench … but don’t we all … and was now busy pulling his hair out in his attempt to induce and hit the crucian bites. I had prepared his swim the night before by raking and baiting and it certainly resulted in crucians being attracted to his swim for he eventually succeeded in landing a beauty of over two pounds.

Meanwhile, my swim was recovering, bubbles rising and by the delicate lowering of soft 6mm pellets below a tiny float, I began to catch some cracking crucians. The weather warmed up and I became engrossed in seeing just how close to my feet I could attract them. After an intriguing few hours I had up to ten big crucians so close that they were alongside the bank-side vegetation in just inches of water.

Fixing up the top two of my pole with an inch long broken top of a pole float, I freelined a pellet amongst them and tried to watch them take the bait. They had stirred up the silt but when I was able to see them make the pick up, all that happened was the slightest nod of the sliver of my indicator. They sat stationary with the bait and it’s no wonder they make us pull our hair out as most of the time the bait was surrounded by half a dozen crucians and absolutely nothing happened to indicate I had a bite … and most of the time I hadn’t!

No wonder we love fishing for them, so subtle are they in their feeding … but eventually I got the hang of knowing what they were doing and ended the session with sixteen crucians to a best of 2lbs5ozs and with an average weight of 2lbs1oz. … and delightfully, most of them were tricked at my feet.

I even managed two small tench so the hours flew by and were totally rewarding, especially as Chris had caught well too, in spite of being taken apart a couple of times by carp. He ended up with about ten splendid crucians so for both of us, the day certainly proved to be a glorious 16th.