Sunday, 23 March 2014

A little piece of heaven

It was a disaster, tens of thousands of fish wiped out, floating belly up, specimen fish of all species gone, and a once prolific drain dead in the blink of an eye. That was the reality of a summer 10+ years ago, a venue that I had caught my very first pike from, and a place that I had been to with my dad on many an occasion, it was a drain that I had literally grown up on and to see its demise was truly awful, I still remember the footage on the news of dead fish, including large pike being netted out to be dumped, words couldnt describe the carnage.

I know its not the most inspiring opening to a story ever but that was the reality of what happened and there was nothing anyone could do about it, we just had to accept it and move on, which is what happened, and anyway given enough time venues to recover.

In the years that followed my dad and I did pay the drain a few visits to see if there was anything worth being caught, and as to be expected the fishing was hard work with a few jacks and the odd very low double making an appearance , though out of the blue on a very remote area I did manage to fluke a nineteen, she was probably a fish that had survived the fish kill as it was only five years after the event, she should have been a lot bigger, but at least there where once again fish to be caught.
It was about three years later that a local angler had decided to have a bash on a section of the drain closest to our home and he caught three fish including a scraper twenty, this was big news as it showed that the drain was recovering well, and as much as we all hate people reporting catches in the press, particularly when the venue isn't kept a secret, we where not going to miss this opportunity.
Annoyingly the drain froze solid for a week, as did most venues in the area, but at least that would keep the masses away, lady luck smiled on us as a nice south westerly picked up and the drain defrosted in no time, and it just so happened during the week when both my dad and I where free to go.
We got to the drain early and everything looked spot on, there was a nice ripple on the water, and a nice green colour, we where optimistic. We dropped in where the fish had been caught before the freeze up and I was the first to strike we a lovely fat and clean 17lber, it was certainly a good start, a few more missed runs and lost fish came our way, then my big herring that had been left untouched next a marginal reedy overhang was away, a solid strike was made and the head of a big pike broke surface. At that point my dad said it was a twenty, not what I wanted to hear as I had never had one before and from then on my legs where like jelly as I was desperate for it not to come off, but I need not have worried as she was hooked right in the scissors and on the scales she went 21lb 8oz, to say I was over the moon would be an understatement, I caught my first pike from this drain and now it gave me my first twenty, it was rather fitting.

A few days later we headed for a two week trip to Ireland which put pay to me visiting the drain, but as I managed another two twenties while in Ireland I certainly wasn't disappointed not to be able to return to the drain, anyway there was still plenty of time once we returned.

It was two weeks after the Irish trip ended before I returned to the drain, this time I was armed with livebaits and fished a different area, where a small culvert created a nice area for the pike to force the food fish into, it was freezing cold and a low double was my only run, it was the same story the next day when a run at exactly the same time, on the same rod in the same spot as the day before bought another low double. After that the lives stayed at home as they in my mind are to much effort and certainly cut down the distance you can walk with them.
I returned only once more to the culvert swim, it was the last day of February and for once I was feeling energetic so the lives where bought along for the ride, the morning was very quiet, but as it was very mild I wasnt complaining, I had had a good season so catching was to high on my list, around mid afternoon though one of the lives was away and a nice 16lber was unhooked in the water, a few minutes later the live was away again and a battered, old looking 15lber was dealt with like the first, half an hour later another sixteen turned up and that was it for me on there for the season.
Most the fish where in immaculate condition and where well fed, the future looked bright for the drain and I left safe in the knowledge that I would be back next season.

 It wasn't until the very end of October the next season that I returned as I was having great success catching fish to 16lb on wobbled dead's on a near by venue and it was great fun, rather surprisingly it was to a completely different area that I did return and only a low double rewarded my efforts.
Mid November was when I once again returned to what was the productive area, though it was only productive when the fish where feeding as it certainly wasn't where the fish spent their time as I was to later discover.

Anyway I was fishing away (blanking) when a lure angler further up the drain stopped and talked to me on his was back to his car, it transpired he had had a 19lb 15oz pike earlier on, I some how missed the capture but he showed my a picture. Needless to say with me still being fishless I started to get itchy feet and was trying to end the conversation asap so I could move. Eventually my disinterested face gave him a clear message and he left and once his car was out of sight I was off and a speed Usain Bolt would be proud of. In no time at all my 3 rods where out and I was feeling optimistic, soon enough my float fished herring next to a tree was away, or was it? The line had been pulled from the clip but the float hadnt moved, eventually I went to reel the bait in only to find a pike attached, which soon came off, BOLLOCKS! Soon enough my popped up mackerel was away and again I lost it, this was taking the piss.

I decided to leave at that point and return the next day, a first light raid, before the crowds descended on the lower end near the bridge and the footy started I managed three doubles to just over 18lb so it was mission accomplished.
A few more pre christmas trips produced a lot of good doubles, including my target fish, the blokes 19-15 which I snared at 19lb 12oz on a float fished macky head, everything was looking good and, being able to fish during the week meant no one saw me catching.
Over xmas the drain froze solid again, but at least it kept the Xmas part-time anglers off and the fish got a good rest.

Luck again smiled on me as I was able to fish the drain just after the ice had gone, and we all know that venues fish well just after the lid comes off, I managed  five fish that day, with a jack being the smallest and the other four between 18lb and 23lb, I breathtaking day.
A few days later a brace of twenties from the same area bought the curtain down on my fishing on the drain for another season.

It was once again late October before I returned the next season and it was very mild still, though on other venues the pike where feeding I thought it was worth a go, first light found me in last seasons hot area and it was bliss, and early dropped run increased my confidence. It then went dead for a few hours, well apart from a screaming run from a mitten crab, it didnt go back. A couple of moves where made and I ended up just away from the hot area, soon enough another dropped run came my way, but there was no time to get the rod back out as my popped up eel was away and a low double came to the net, both rods where recast and I sat back, only for the eel rod to go again, a swift strike was met with a solid resistance, and after having the fish, which looked about 18 in the water lead me a merry dance I managed to bundle her unceremoniously into the waiting net. I still wasnt convinced she was very big until I tried to get up the bank with the net, and thats when it dawned on me that she was a bloody big fish, well big to me. I swiftly unhooked her and onto the scales she went and they settled an ounce the right side of 25lb, into the net she went for a rest and dad was called to come and photograph her, it was a terrific start to the season.

It wasnt until Jan that we could get back onto the drain, week after week of bitterly cold weather crippled the fishing and in two months fishing just one 8lb jack came my way, it was the worst I had ever known.

When we did return, just after the ice melted we where greeted to the drain being a rather strange orangy colour, this colour was spread over the hot area and for a fair distance past. Needless to say the hot area was devoid of fish so a long was was required and for me luck smiled on me when my popped up eel was the downfall of a scraper twenty.
A few days later another twenty turned up in the shape of a truly stunning and immaculate 24lber, and for good measure I added a seventeen to round the day off.
For the rest of the season a few more doubles to seventeen turned up but the drain was starting to get a bit to much attention and the fish had started to drift away from the hot area. I didn't realise it at the time, but that twnety five back in October was to be my last fish off of the hot area and even to this day I haven't had another run from it.

The following season exploring was called for, early trips to the hot area produced nothing and it was clear the fish had dispersed, so long walks and leapfrogging where called for to try and locate the fish again.
My first trip to a new area paid off nicely when three nice, but rather thin mid doubles to seventeen graced my net, but fish had been found, but there where to be my only fish from that spot and its another that to this day has never given me another run.
The next week, after trying the previous weeks good spot I moved to another spot and promptly pulled out a twenty four, a different fish to the previous seasons twenty four, though I could get proper pictures of her due to there being five people within my sight fishing, though that didn't see my fish.
A few more fish turned up in that area over the course of the season with the best going a shade over 19lb, but another area had to be found as we couldn't keep fishing the same old area.

Soon enough a new area was located and as it was a long walk from the nearest access it was completely unfished, it ticked all the boxes. It was home to vast quantities of fry and the pike where present in numbers and I managed several good fish to just over 20lb so it made the long walk worth it, I was also treated to the sight of a big twenty fry feeding in this area, it was a sight to behold as she slurped along the surface like a carp, that she so steadfastly refused my mini smelt cast into her path on numerous occasions was a source of great annoyance!

At the time I didnt realise that, that scraper twenty from the new area was to be my last fish from the drain, though I returned the next season only a solitary lost fish came my way, and that was the only run between the two of us. I could not explain what happened and put it down to a salt incursion forcing the fish miles up the drain, but even to this day the pike have not returned and nor have the food fish.

Our end of the drain has now been devoid of fish for two years and though the odd report of fish getting caught keeps coming through visits by ourselves have resulted in nothing.

On reflection now, if I had been able to predict the future I would have spent much more time on the drain and sacrificed the fishing on other venues, but as they say hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I will keep my ear to the ground, and will continue to pay the odd visit as one day it will recover and hopefully I will be able to experience more fishing like I had for those four amazing years.

David Vaissiere

Sunday, 9 March 2014

When love isn't madness

Winding its way though the flat, but anything but featureless Fenland landscape this is a river that shot to prominence in the late 80s, early 90s. Big pike abounded in numbers with a good healthy stock of back up fish, I can only therefore imagine how good the fishing was as unfortunately this was well over a decade before I seriously started pike fishing.
Judging by what the fishing is like present day, then I can only surmise that the lucky few who where fishing it in its hey day where in heaven with the quality fishing, for today the river is a grainy, distant shadow of its former glory. What has caused the the river to fade so dramatically I don't know, but otters in my mind have played a huge part in its demise, for not only have the pike stocks crashed so spectacularly but so have the shoals of specimen bream that use to roam the river.

So having set the scene, I'm sure you can tell that this isn't going to be a story of countless big pike captures, far from it in fact. This will however be a story of a love for a place that will never die, despite the constant kicks in the proverbial and the seemingly never ending blanks.

So you may be wondering what keeps drawing me back to somewhere, where blanks out number fish banked. Well the answer is the atmosphere, the history of the river, and the main one that is a river that never sees another angler, whole seasons pass you always have the river to yourself, its bliss.
Also in the back of my mind I know (or is it delusional hope?) that one day my number will come up and my bait placed so carefully next to that marginal weedy overhang will be taken by the pristine monster that never stops swimming through my mind.

My earliest memory of the river is lost somewhere in the fog in the back of my mind, but I do remember my first run from the river, being young and needing something to occupy me on a mildish October day my dad placed a float ledgered mackerel close in just off the weed, not long after the float starting bobbing in an unusual manner and me, being as excited as anything called my dad over, where a swift strike resulted in a bootlace eel coming to the surface, luckily it fell off, to say it was an anticlimax would be an understatement!

From there my memory cant remember anything after the eel event, and it was until four years later that I caught my first pike from the river, three fish came my way that day with the biggest being a low double, and to me being a young lad it was very satisfying.
A few weeks later a visit to another spot, which was unimaginatively named the ditch swim, because of the ditch entering the river resulted in a long spawned  mid double, it showed that there where still a few fish present.

The fishing was never prolific in my early days there, me having missed the truly amazing fishing of almost a decade ago, not that it bothered me unduly as it was just such a nice place to sit, and a few fish where still there to be caught.

Over the following seasons fish did continue to show up and eventually there where signs of a recovery taking place, vast quantities of fry amassed in the margins, large bream roamed the miles of river and young fat pike started to come to the rods fairly frequently, and multiple captures of doubles where starting to become quite common, though still no twenty made an appearance, but sometimes its not always about the biggest pike.

Some trips to the river stand out more then others, and though its disappointing not being able to remember them all, having some memories is better then none, after all countless cold frosty mornings, with the sun shimmering off the frosty reeds and the glass like water reflecting everything as it gently flows downstream eventually all merge into one big blur in the back of ones mind.

The wildlife was another big part of fishing on the river, as there was a plethora of different birds, and animals to be viewed whilst waiting for a run, and whether it was a marsh harrier circling overhead, and barn owl silently hunting the far side bank in the half light or a group of deer working along the bank before you it was, the blue quick flash of a king fisher, the sight of a flock of cranes taking off from the opposing marsh or the rare sight of a bittern it made it a truly unique place to pass a day, and as I said, the catching of pike was not that important.

Anyway back to the fishing! As I previously said a recovery of sorts was taking place and the following season promised to be a fairly productive one and our first trip down in October was certainly one to remember, but for all the wrong reasons.
The day had started off nicely, it was still fairly mild, the river banks where deserted and untrodden but for the trails the cattle had made in the summer and there where plenty of food fish topping along the stretch we where going to fish, not long after casting out I had a low double and things looked good for the rest of the day.

An hour of so later though, and to my horror a team of EA weed cutting boats appeared to remove the vast marginal overhanging weed that the fry and pike used in times of heavy flow for shelter, this they started literally right next to my furthest rod! They showed no sympathy for the river, cutting it right back to the bank and leaving absolutely nothing to shelter the fish, I'm sure it was all done to keep the pleasure boat owners happy.

I knew the weed being removed was going to have a detrimental effect on the fishing and the following season our fears where confirmed, gone where the vast quantities of fry, washed away with the previous winters heavy flows I'm sure, and likewise gone where the pike. That season was a long hard slog, and though pike where caught the numbers where down, as was the weight of the fish, some looking thin and in poor condition, the river was now looking like a prize fighter on the ropes, where one more blow would finish him off, and unfortunately that final blow came with the appearance of the otters, at the time I didn't consider them a problem, but looking back at it now, they did play a devastating role in the demise and though not entirely to blame the river could have done without them.

I still continued to fish the river in the following seasons because I just simply couldn't walk away from it, though the frequency of the trips dropped as fishing on other venues picked up, though, as my own little ritual, I do always try and have my last trip of the season on it.

The fishing never attained the same heights of the previous years, and I well remember on one trip in particular starting at first light and covering every inch of the two miles of water between starting point and car for just one run, which came as I was packing up, though as she went 18lb 8oz I could hardly complain.
Eventually, and with a huge slice of luck I did managed to get a twenty from the river, I had again started in a spot miles from the car and worked back with only a dropped run to show for my efforts, out of desperation I dropped in near the car and immediately my herring in the margins was taken by an old warrior of a fish weighing exactly 21lb, and she remains to this day my one and only twenty from there in nearly ten years of fishing the river.

I still fish the river now, and my love for the place has actually grown over the last two seasons despite my lack of results on the fish front, with just two fish caught all last season and just one so far this, but those three fish where all in immaculate condition which is something that is very hard to find in the fens, and I honestly believe that a very big fish, and recovery is just around the corner for some lucky angler, and of course I hope that lucky angler is me.

So there we go, not a very long, or particularly exciting story from a fish catching point of view, but I felt like sharing with you something a little different from the just norm of catching lots of pike and writing about it, I wanted to convey how I feel about a venue and that sometimes for whatever reason a venue grabs hold of you and wont let go, and I'm sure we all have a certain special venue like tha
t(chew does not count just in case anyone wonders...).

David Vaissieres

Saturday, 1 March 2014

To The North - Danny Taylor

 The night sped by. The hours passed by. Onward I drove the only company the neon cat’s eyes. To the north I was bound in pursuit of pike, a new water had been discovered and its mysteries and treasures where there to be plundered.

The rain now came, at first big random splashes on the windscreen which soon built into a driving wall of water, the wipers now at full speed beating furiously at the incessant deluge, trucks lumbered passed on there business sending up columns of spray. I cursed the weather and changed the CD, Onward I drove, alone, but with thoughts of pike burning bright.
At last the motorway came to an end but my journey hadn’t. On into the night the road snaked and even though I couldn’t see the landscape I knew it was changing, deep into the countryside it went, rising and falling, twisting and turning, the road goes ever on. Concentrate! Tiredness cloyed at my temples and my eyes burned, the smell of caffeine was heavy as I drank. Opening the windows to let in the fresh night air the smell of fresh pine trees wafted into the car I drank deep intoxicated by the fragrance I smiled as I turned up the stereo and accelerated into the bend.  

The world of the piker is strange. In pursuit of a creature from another realm. A creature that captures the imagination of all who cross her path, but what is it about Esox Lucias that leads us anglers across this land, driving through the night through atrocious weather over countless miles? Will this trip be just another wild goose chase or will the many snippets of information and rumours, just once maybe will turn into something tangible, but what will the prize be? Will it justify the many sacrifices that we as pikers often make? Is it this chase, this game that we crave more than the fishing itself? 
Id liken it to a puzzle whereby the rules are always shifting always changing. For the lucky ones fishing is an innocent past time a chance to escape, to relax. A fine line however exists and to cross it means to delve into a place where the lines between sport and hobby become blurred. To those which cross this line it becomes more a way of life, possibly an obsession. After time the years flash by, friendships and lovers come and go, the true ones will stay loyal even though the chase, the game goes on, hunting the hunter. 

At last after hours of driving the miles on the sign posts become less and I know that I will be nearing my journeys end. I pulled the car into a lay-by switched off the engine and got out, stretching my arms out and making some strange growling sound I took the fresh cool night air deep into my lungs and enjoyed the silence after hours of artificial noise. I made a quick check of my kit, rucksack, rods and freezer box. The bare minimum, discretion was the name of this game and I had half a mile to trudge before I reached the lakes dark waters. I like walking on my own at night your senses tune in and you pass by undetected by the world a rare kind of solitude in these increasingly congested times.  
I clamber over the dry stone wall feeling the damp mosses and lichens under my fingers crossing the open field I notice stars pepper the sky between scurrying clouds. Another wall is negotiated and I descend into the depths of the wood. I join the path walking until I come to my marker telling me where to go in the dark. Once again trees are all around me there trunks and boughs darker shades against the night. The wind sighs and the trees whisper and creak, twigs crack and branches whip my face as I force my way on, not far now and I would be there. The trees grow sparse and clear as I approach the water. I hear it before I see it waves rhythmically lapping the shore, I cringe as a flock of crows leave there roost chattering raucously in protest at my invasion giving away my position. Silence replaces the commotion and I’m now here.  

Still under the cloak of darkness I prepare to fish, the rods where already sett up and all I needed to do was clip on the traces and attach the leads. Once cast out I began to wait, there was no dramatic sunrise instead the night gave way to a lessening gloom and the new day heralded a rising wind, Scots pines bent and flexed on the opposite shore and the woods around me began to moan. Waves increased, charging ashore a cavalry of white horses, there was a chill in the air and I hankered down behind a knar led and weathered beech tree.

Angling is many things to many people for me it allows me to get close to nature to observe the changing rhythms of the seasons. As anglers we are often privileged to see wildlife and natural spectacles that would over wise pass the general public by. The winter had been dramatic this year with Atlantic storm systems relentlessly pounding the British Isles one after  the other. A long with the wind and rain temperatures where unusually mild, around me the woodland bore evidence of this as snow drops carpeted the ground like a quilt of fragile glass pearls. It was early January and these plants tend not to appear until well into February. 

A movement caught my eye a hare lolloped along the waters edge oblivious to my presence as I sat still and quiet. The hare is an enigmatic creature steeped in legend bound up with old mythology, witches and the full moon. It was believed in times of old that they held supernatural powers. This one however simply went about his business and disappeared into the undergrowth. 

The growing wind brought with it squally showers that where beginning to turn wintry in the chill air. Hail stone hissed on the water like a venomous snake.

At 10:30 I had a clip out and the billy screamed. I slowly walked to the rod turned off the alarm and watched the braid, very slowly it moved over the front alarm. I picked up the rod checked the clutch, wound down and pulled the rod over my shoulder hard. The rod compressed to its maximum and just held, at first I thought I was snagged but a few sullen thumps transmitted down the braid, I was in! Whatever was on the end felt heavy, very heavy, I kept her coming towards me pumping and lowering the rod reeling in the slack. She stayed deep not doing much until she built up some speed and pulled the rod down forcing me to adjust the clutch and give line. She kited to the left which I countered with side strain. I turned her and began to once again draw her towards me. This is what I live for as an angler bent into an angry fish against the back drop of wild countryside. She came to the surface and thrashed her head, I lowered the rod in order to coax her down. She was a big fish certainly a twenty, she took line again but not as before and I began to dictate the battle bringing her towards me. I threw the net into the margins as she neared the margins it was here that she lunged skyward half in and half out of the water gills flaring. She was huge with a massive head, I uttered the word thirty and noticed that I was trembling. Concentrating I drew her over the net but on lifting I couldn’t fit her paddle in, I acted quickly and threw the rod down and grabbed the net with both hands and shook her into the net the water exploding into foam.

Un-clipping the trace I rolled the net up and staggered up the bank, bloody hell she was big. I opened her jaws and it was like I could have popped my head in. The bottom treble was quite far down each time I tried to turn it I felt her body tense up trying to shake free of my grip. In through the gills with the side cutters and the hooks where cropped and simply fell free keeping her clean. She was a handful to weigh and photograph all 28Ib 8oz of her. 

I held her in the margins of the lake waiting for her to kick free. Pure angling magic not my biggest pike but certainly my best. 

No more runs where forth coming but I cared little . I repeated the old adage “you only need the one run” I was content a warm feeling burnt within a feeling only anglers know. As the afternoon wore on the wind eased the sky cleared and the sun dipped low burning in the west heralding the coming frost. To the north there truly be dragons.