Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Fish Called Fred

My first outing of the unofficial Pike season, turned into one I will remember for many a season and not because I caught a notable fish or a PB, but because the pleasure of observation took over from the hunger of anticipation normally associated with a days long awaited piking.

With a disappointing pre season lure day on Rutland behind me, the urge to get into dead bait mode was strong, so for my season opener I decided to fish my local reservoir, local meaning less than a mile from my front door. I hadn’t fished the “Res” for a couple of seasons as the fish are generally small, although plentiful, but reckoned it would be an easy way to get in the swing of things. Albeit a trapped nerve in my shoulder was causing serious discomfort and had precluded me from driving to the PAC convention.

The “Res” is bisected by a causeway, which carries the local rail line, a tunnel joins the two areas of water and fish move freely between the two, albeit that each area of water is distinctly different in appearance, bottom, bank side vegetation and access.

The main "res" is a featureless basin with a sandy bottom and an odd mussel bed and 50% of the banking comprises of  steep pitching stones, with no tree cover and it can be a wild and inhospitable place in any other than a slight breeze. The “Little Res” however is totally different “kettle of fish” nice pun yeah?, immediate access from the roadside, with plenty of tree and bush cover on two sides, although the best pegs require packhorse and jungle skills to access.

I had spent the weeks through, September getting all my piking gear sorted and putting the kids bit bashing gear and my occasional carp gear to bed. I ventured onto the small “Res” the Sunday before ‘D’ day for a shakedown session, to be met with choking brambles, cow shit and had great difficulty negotiating the route round to the side of the “Res”.

The level was a good 3ft down and  much of the exposed bank was deep mud and the normal path overgrown and passable. After sinking in mud up to my knee, I finally staggered to the only accessible spot giving me access to an area of overhanging willows flank of the "Res". I had decided to take with me three rods rigged up for float ledgering – bad move. I quickly found that at the distance I wanted to fish towards the  willows that it was difficult see and gauge the floats satisfactorily so I quickly replaced the float rigs with ledger rigs and put two baits out a about 40 yards hard up against the willows at 9-10ft deep.

I ended up with two jacks and had another four runs which resulted in nothing,  The trapped nerve was proving painful and troublesome, but it was not going to get in the way of my ambitions. I packed up early afternoon as I had other things to do and contemplated a more organised “proper” session the following weekend – the first weekend of Pike season proper!

The following Saturday, I decided to make a recce, in anticipation of a Sunday session and ended up clearing most of the jungle of brambles or as much as one guy with a dickey shoulder, a pair of tree loppers and some secateurs could manage. Actually quiet impressed myself!

So Sunday morning is arrived, “The Bus”, a Peugeot 806,  already loaded with everything required and no more (3 dead bait rods). I passed the water in the dregs of darkness at circa 6.45am and proceeded a further ½ a mile to the local Maccy D’s for some breakfast.

A big u-turn and I am parked outside the gate to the small “Res” and all quiet except for the sound of birds and the bait fish breaking the surface on a still mirror of a surface.
Gear out of the bus and on the bank and two trips round to my spot, way much easier after my earlier jungle clearing activities.

By 8.00am I had three rods out with smelt, Joey and a large Mack after removing its head. Despite my best planning I’d forgotten to pack a towel "doh!" ,but had a pack of faithful baby wipes. I lent down at the waters edge to rinse of my hands and as I rose to upright, noticed a snout, a good double fish, as little as 12 inches from where my hands had been in 8 – 10” of water! As I rose in pleasant shock the fish turned and the water boiled, leaving cloud of slit where it had laid. The strange thing is all my rod rest where out in the water and I was paddling about whilst setting the backbiters and obviously was unconcerned.

For the next twenty minutes every time I moved I noticed a boil and muddy cloud a few feet from my toes and assumed old Pikey was quiet happy sitting at my feet. I rummaged in my bag for my Polaroid clip on's, as things began to brighten up and “Fred” as I will refer to him could be seen clear as day drifting in a out of the clear shallow patch at my feet. He looked a low double and I was gripped by this close encounter, shame my camera couldn’t see through the glare!

Some minutes later my left hand backbiter sounded and I hit a positive run, it was only a jack of about 6lbs but it gave a goods account of its self, as it came towards the net I noticed that Fred was sat there bold as brass at my feet, despite all the hullabaloo I was making. The jack tail walked as came in towards the net straight over Fred who just moved gracefully out of the way, but then turned and followed the jack to the net, for a split second I honestly thought I was going to net two fish.

Anyway the jack shed the hooks in the net, so it was quickly back into the water and Fred appeared to have moved off. Not more than three minutes passed and back he drifts into view, I toss the mackerel head that was lying next to me, a foot from the edge and the remains of shredded Joey from the encounter with the jack a further foot out. For the next hour Fred came and went and swam over the free offerings and seemingly totally disinterested. By this time I was focused on Fred’s comings and goings and the fishing seemed somehow less important.

A little Kingfisher was screeching is shrill song as it darted across the water and back and I started to think this is just awesome day on the bank, just me, nature, almost hidden from the main road, just a stones throw away.

 Out of the gloom a long shadow came into view heading for the Joey carcass, it glided by and swam straight through between the bank sticks holding my left hand rod, I was literally still as statue and holding my breath - non of this would have visible were it not for the Polaroid’s! Fred circled round again and headed right up to the Joey and with flared gill covers sucked in the Joey and chomped on it a couple of times before casually sauntering off.

I thought I’d had my time with Fred and smile to myself with deep satisfaction, but not fifteen minutes later and he was back! The Mack head had got washed right in to the edge so I slowed leaned down and picked it out , he didn’t flinch,  I tossed out in front of where I could see his snout. Sure enough maybe a minute later, he slowly moved towards the Mack head and again with flared gills took the Mack and gave it a good chomping, turned and moved out of sight. Surely this was goodbye Fred?

Moments later my right hand rod screamed off and I got out my chair and into the water to pick up the rod, as I did the middle rod went too! Shit I thought, I hit the first and felt a couple of thumps and then nothing, so put down the rod and hit the other, same again, two missed!!! Both baits were ok so I recast the first and set the alarm, I was about to cast out the other, when I noticed Fred not more than 3 ft from my toes, I hadn’t thought of trying to catch him, we’d become “close” as I was so engrossed in observing him and this unique (to me) prolonged close up behaviour.

With mixed feelings I succumbed to the urge and dropped the half herring bait, I was about to recast, no more than two feet from the edge in 10” of now somewhat cloudy water, although I could still see the odd shadow and fin manoeuvring. I had the rod in my hand with a big bow of slack line over the bait and almost immediately the line started to twitch and tighten, I hit it immediately and the rod curved in a big arc as the fish  powered off. It broke the surface, my heart pumping and at such close range I could see it was a fish of around 15lb, it gave one big shake of the head and fish and hooks parted. I was partly gutted and part feeling guilty for having hooked the guy I had been quietly feeding and observing.

I didn’t see Fred again during the session, although another free offering disappeared whilst I wasn’t paying attention! I almost felt relieved not now to be on tender hooks watching my old mate sniffing the toes of my muck boots, but to capped it all off , the Kingfisher later came and sat on the adjacent jetty and stayed there for a good fifteen minutes before I moved and flew off screeching. I kicked myself for not bringing a decent zoom camera, only the pocket canon for captures!!!

I packed up at 1.00pm having landed six jacks, lost another four before the net and had at least another six runs, but Fred was way uplifting than counting runs.

By the time I’d made two trips back the car the trapped nerve in my shoulder was pounding and I was in significant discomfort, the wife gave me no sympathy for going fishing, but I wouldn’t have missed such an awe filled morning no matter how much the pain.

Can’t wait for the next session, will take something special to beat today – more to fishing than just catching fish!

Pete Crisp Aka Crispy PAC.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Dave Horton - One Good Deed

I first shared this little tale through the pages of a small circulation Irish Piking magazine (An Luis) back in the early 2000’s?

I’m hoping then that few if any of you will have read it already and that it entertains you and fills a few minutes of your life’s as intended.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that I have Irish blood coursing through my veins (my father having been born and raised in Tipperary town) but the one place in this world that find myself most comfortable and at home in is Ireland.  For many years now I’ve nurtured a dream that sees me living somewhere on that beautiful Island and god willing one day I will!  Here and now though in the cold light of day and the stark reality of the present I live on a somewhat different Island surrounded by people with whom I find myself increasingly at odds with and the majority of whom I seemingly become ever more detached from.  Don’t get me wrong, I recognise the fact that the common denominator in all my conflicts is me and that I can be a difficult man but on the whole my brother man (and woman) disappoints me more often than not and even if I am able to recognise and (slowly) accept my own failings, it still doesn’t alter the fact that there are some who’s failings are yet greater!

Here then is a Piking tale that contains considerable good and just a little bad, that will I hope paint the picture more clearly to you of what I’m getting at. 

The story begins with me driving a couple of hundred miles across country in the dark, in order to get a reasonable nights kip on a mates couch (Les Moses) and wake just a short jaunt down to his local river in pursuit of the awesome Pike it held!  Forgive me for not naming the venue but even with this passage of time I’m mindful of treading on the toes belonging to those more local than myself.  Some if not all of you will work out the venue I’m referring to but at least I can say I didn’t tell you eh?

Previous ventures to the river had seen Les and I share multiple catches of BIG Pike, with his best going over 28lbs and mine just a pound less.  Confidence then was high especially when the river conditions were at their optimum best following flood conditions.

I’d first met Les (a good, good man) in the late 90’s when I’d been asked to give a presentation to his local region of the PAC.  Despite being well versed at giving these presentations I don’t mind admitting that I get a little anxious about giving them (few of us like public speaking?) especially if I attend on my own (please take note people I won’t be alone in feeling that way).  Anyways, there I was, stood anxiously in a room full of strangers, 150 miles from home in the late 90’s, when out of the crowd emerged  a stranger (Les) who was to become a friend for life with his warm words of welcome, a kind smile and a pint!

Les, he won’t mind me saying so, is a bit of a scally wag which meant we found common ground and empathy quickly.  Even before we shared great fishing and more than our share of bad times together we discovered that rare natural understanding from which lasting friendship grows.

Anyways back to the story.  It was about ten at night and a tired Horton decided to pull into a motorway service station for a refuel and a coffee.  Parking the car up near to the Services entrance, my headlights picked out a forlorn looking figure standing with an empty Petrol can in his hand.  Already starting to recognise an opportunity to help someone I wandered over and enquired if all was well with him?   “Not really.”  He started and proceeded to tell me how he was driving home in his Van and had realised he’d left his wallet at work and was on the brink of running out of fuel.  Could he perhaps borrow a fiver to get him to the next Services where he’d hopefully find another “generous soul”  who would maybe lend him another so that he might repeat the process until he made it home.  He would ofcourse take my name and address in order that he could mail me the fiver back if I were good enough to help him?  Blimey this was my lucky day I thought to myself!  This bloke really was up shit creak and I was in prime position to help him!  To cut a long story short I gave not the £5 he was asking for but the £30 he’s need in order to get home without stopping again and so that he wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of having to ask some other stranger to lend him some of their hard earned cash – I even bought him a coffee and a pastry (incidentally I’ve never ever bought myself a pastry from a motorway services because I wouldn’t justify the extortionate price of one  for myself – but when I asked him if he wanted anything it that which he pointed at and that which he got!) so that his little tummy might stop rumbling!  Feeling pretty good about myself, we shook hands warmly and parted company so that I might take a leak and he’d go fill his van up with diesel.

Needing fuel myself I figured I’d see him at the pump too.  Smiling to myself and humming “Everything is beautiful” I drove down to the petrol stn and was a little surprised not to see a van of any sort?  Certainly I’d been pretty quick and I doubted I’d missed him but somewhere deep inside me stirred an uneasy feeling.  NO!  I wouldn’t allow myself to think what I’d started to think and so I tried my best to shut it out!  The next couple of hours passed without event and eventually at about midnight I pulled up at Les’s place. “You’re a little later than expected?” he said and whilst making my apologies I related the tale of the poor fcuker I’d met at the motorway services and how I’d saved the day. Les smiled wryly, at the same time shaking his head and muttering as he left the room momentarily.  When he returned he furnished me with a local Newspaper already open on page 5 with the bold headline “Motorway Services Petrol Scam!”  I didn’t know wether to laugh or cry when I realised that the very plausible “Paul?” that I’d met some 100 miles or so earlier and had seemingly shown honest respect and gratitude to the simple but kind man that had pressed 3 crisp tenner’s into his hand and bought him a coffee and cake, had likely been little more than a confidence trickster!  Even faced with the mounting evidence I clung to some desperate hope that Paul would honour our verbal agreement, stop my already dwindling faith in humanity, restore my faith in myself for being able to judge the good and bad in my brother man and mail me the money he said he would to my place of work, the Fire Station.  NO NO NO!  I simply refused to accept that I’d been mugged!  I even tried to console myself with the fact that I’d done something that made me feel good, though I wasn’t sure I felt £30 good?   I slept very little that night and all too quickly morning was upon us with the ever cheery Les enthusiastically waking me to begin the assault!

A hearty breakfast (Les always looks after me) and we were on our way.  As luck would have it another factor Les and I found in common is that we both abhor early starts so it was gone eight before we were at waterside and ready to launch the 10ft Ally boat we were to fish from.

The river was in fine fettle and was just as Les had predicted, only just becoming fishable after being in flood for the best part of the winter.  Previous experience had proven this to be just about the optimum time to fish for the rivers Pike.  Today that would simply be re-affirmed! 

Les had in the past been a bit of Salmon ghillie and was first class at positioning a boat in the most appropriate position to get the most from a swim.  The “plan” was to drift along one of the margins and take it in turns to cast a bait to “Pikey” looking spots.   Lives and deads, cast into every nook and cranny, invariably solicit a rapid response from any Pike that have taken up residence there and had proven to be very productive on previous trips.

We had only been fishing perhaps 15 mins and had presented baits in maybe 4 or 5 swims when we happened upon the first really horny looking one.  We were taking it in turns to cast our baits into these often quite restricted swims and it was Les’s turn to fish this particularly small one.  A perfectly positioned under arm plop saw les’s half pound bait land exactly where he wanted it and within seconds it was taken.  The spirtited fight that ensued resulted in a fine looking fishing of about 18 lbs.  Several hundred yards and half an hour or so later we came upon a slack that was large enough for us both to fish.  I dropped the anchor and we both swung our baits out to fish perhaps 10 yards apart.  We had simultaneous takes, with mine being a tiddler that was easily dealt with.  Les though was into a much better fish that was taking line as it headed upstream of our position.  I’d just dropped my jack back in when I witnessed Les’s BIG fish turn beneath the boat and throw the hooks!  A few quick words of consolation were offered whilst we both quickly hooked fresh baits on and got them back out into the slack again.  My bait reached the tail end of the slack first and “plopped” under!

The fight was similar, the outcome different as minutes later we were weighing our first 20 of the day!  A great start at 24lbs and we’d only been out an hour.  I’d love to say that the action was fast and furious but in truth it wasn’t and rarely is on this particular venue.  In fact you can fish dozens of great looking swims and hundreds of yards on this river and not get a sniff of a Pike and today was a case in point.   It was then a couple of miles and quite a few hours later that we encountered our next BIG Pike with just a jack a piece to each of us in between.

As luck would have it, it was my turn to drop a bait into this swim and as is usually the case, if a Pike is present, the 6oz (the baits were getting smaller) Roach was taken pretty much immediately.  I wound down hard and the rod wrenched in my hands as an obviously BIG Pike gave it best for the initial few seconds before being bullied back towards the boat.  It was all over in a flash as the bait came flying back in a sorry looking state for me to examine. The teeth marks were BIG and I felt the despair only a fisherman who’s lost a whacker does!

The swim required a better look so we dropped the anchor and both got our baits ready.  Decent baits were running out so I mounted a dead one of about a pound whilst Les stayed with his more moderate live one and we both got them out into the slack.  Both our baits made it unmolested to the end of the slack but as I rapidly retrieved mine in order to clear Les’s line, it was engulfed in a BIG swirl.  This fish, like all her sister’s on this river fought like a Demon and set off upstream at a rate of knots against a not inconsiderable flow!  This time the hooks held and after the initial surge another mid 20lbs fish was bullied into the net.  A little BIGGER than the earlier one this fish weighed in at 25lbs 4oz (interestingly this fish had appeared in one of the Angling papers some months earlier at a claimed weight of 32lbs and had been one I’d hoped I’d bump into) and was ofcourse my 2nd twenty of the day.  

A few quick shots and a happy Horton sat back to take it all in.  I had a move in mind but Les had other ideas and what’s more he had my best interests at heart too!  “You cast out again Dave I think there might have been two different fish down there?”  Les offered.  Well, I have to admit I was convinced that both takes had come from the same fish and also it should have been Les that was putting a bait through the swim.  Les though was having none of it and went on the explain his reasoning.  “Go on Dave you might catch a third 20 and after last night events I’d like to see that!”  With that I quickly hooked one of the remaining little live baits back to the head of the slack.  God it’s good to be wrong at times!  The take was a carbon copy of the first and the fight just as spectacular but the weight was better still!  At 26lbs this was our last fish of the day and still remains one of my favourite days fishing ever.

I’d love to finish on a high note but sadly I can’t for as I’m sure you’re probably guessed already? Old muggings here never did see his £30 quid again. Would I do the same again? Yes I most certainly would (and have) for I genuinely believe in the old adage “one good deed deserves another” (fortunately so it seems does Les) and I live in the belief that for every snake of a human there is out there, there’s at least one good man to balance them out?

Dave Horton

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Is this what its come to?

Is this what its come to? Are other areas of the land experiencing the same levels of wanton destruction and ruin of once beautiful and peaceful pike fishing locations? My own favourite water which I have fished for the last 27 years is almost a no go zone now. 

Weekend trips to this highland loch for me are now a thing of the past due to the moronic element who now frequent the place. I’d love to say that they are campers or dare I say trouties, but the sad fact is most of them are pike anglers and I use that term very loosely. And by my reckoning 99% of them are my fellow countrymen. They are at most guys who are having a jolly weekend away, cheap tents, lots of booze, inadequate tackle, inadequate experience and as you can see no regards whatsoever for others around them or the land they are on. Recently the chap who posted these photographs on a facebook page (I will have a rant about this later) was contacted by my joint RO of the Glasgow region to offer some assistance to try and curb this behaviour. 
The good folk in charge of this loch run a pay on the bank system for permits and we have asked if they would entertain the idea of giving out flyers (which we offered to help write up for them)  when collecting permit monies, outlining the rules of the water and what pike tackle is required to fish there, also the idea of placing permanent notices at access points around the loch has been forwarded to them and that we would gladly help out. I can only hope that something can be done as it really can’t continue as is. Now on to the fishing aspect of the water. Sad sights as in the photograph are all too common nowadays, and who is to blame? The pike in the pic is just under 20 lbs and why was it found like this? Was it killed by the fools who reckon that the cheap, buy it now pike set ups that you can buy for pennies are fine to use? Because “Yeh the guy in the shop says thats all I need” Are these shops going the extra step to ask if the folk buying these kits have any of the other essential pieces of tackle needed? Forceps, Side cutters, Nets, unhooking mats etc? And if they are not asking this, why not? Because it must be glaringly apparent that these folk are probably new to pike fishing. I, like many others have seen it all, from the runs that last 10 minutes whilst the guy is lying sleeping in the bivvy to the olde favourite of letting the 2nd run develop to help hook the fish. I had a run in with a group of guys who after netting a nice double proceeded to dump it on the bank and with boot on the pikes head try and rip the trace out. When I got there and unhooked it I asked what they were doing and I got “ I aint putting my hand in there, have you seen the feckin teeth on that” my answer was simple “Then why the feck are you fishing for them?” Now by my thinking it is not solely newcomers causing the troubles cos I’ve lost count of the amount of decent home made traces I’ve had to remove from fish, simply because the hooks are a bit deep. We all know that we shouldnt be deep hooking pike but with the best of intentions it does happen at times, but if any pikers who dont know how to deal with the situation please have a long hard look at your bite indication, go with someone who knows how to do it or simply stay at home. 
My joint RO joint recently had 2 fish with traces cut off in them, not stomach hooked, merely at the back of the throat. Did the guys who caught them not have any long forceps? My mate had a 19 lber from the same water with 3, yes 3 traces in her stomach, all with the swivel cut off? Thankfully we were able to remove them and after a nice long recovery swam off strongly. So we now have the camping ban on Lomond, we have a Trossachs water which used to have great fishing on it, and is now more or less ignored by most of the decent pikers that used to fish it all because of the numpties or as they are known up here, Jimmies or Noddies. Where does it stop? When will it stop? Where do we draw the line? And what can we do? We can help by keeping an eye out, note car numbers down, phone and report these folk to bailiffs and police, help keep the waters tidy by cleaning up not only our mess but any others left around, I know we shouldnt have to but any little helps. Which brings me nicely on to a bugbear of mine, Pike Facebook Pages. Now not all of them are bad, some have decent chaps running them and try and stamp out or educate the noddy element. We all know them, beachcaster or spinning rod on one rest , golf ball on a hook hanging from the line as an indicator, putting up photos of nice fish ,standing up over nice sharp rocks with fish held in one hand. I used to leave a polite reply along the lines of “nice fish mate but maybe a good idea to hold the fish low down with both hands, oh and invest in a mat when you can” this usually gets the reply of “who do you think you are? The pikin polis?” Well yes,if that what you want to think then  I am, I am a pikin polis as we all should be cos its a battle that needs to be fought every time we encounter it. Finally on to my all time favourite facebook rants. Naming waters, swims, showing photos of exact locations etc. When AGAIN pointing out the downfall of this practise the usual response is “ I dont see the problem ,everybody knows about it anyway” yes of course eveyone knows , but by broadcasting it and putting photos up it just highlights the fact that it is fishing well and lo and behold more Jimmies and Noddies appear to add more unwanted pressure on the fish we all know and cherish, they just don’t seem to grasp this simple fact. I am often asked why the PAC? What do they do for me? My thinking is rather than look for what I get from them is to what I can do for them, and just hope that maybe just one of my rants, fights, swearing at folk on forums might just sink in and make them think. Both PAC and PAAS are fighting the battle to keep our sport and dreams alive, and I for one thank them for it.

Ok, rants over, deeep breath and relax. So is it all doom and gloom up here? I’d say no, there are still plenty of beautiful waters, off the beaten track places, places that may require a long drive but are worthwhile for the sheer majestic unspoiled lochs which Scotland is famous for. There is still good fishing to be had in these places, our region (RA105) although a small membership has done reasonably well since the start of the year with over a dozen 20s caught and 2 members finally getting their 1st 20 after years of trying ,especially Rab Allen . I think he has been after one for 103 years :-) They are out there. So after all this , is it still worthwhile to have a wee jaunt up here? Nope, stay away, no pike left, its a total waste of time.................
John Evans