2011 – Early September Blog

Apologies for the lack of site updates this past month but I’ve barely been home! Hopefully normal service can now be resumed again.

The month began with a disaster. What kind of idiot puts unleaded fuel in a diesel van, eh? A distracted one in my case. There I was rushing around like an idiot, desperate to head off to Oxfordshire. I was so looking forward to spending three days on Peter’s boat with our wives. Of course it would have been rude not to pack a rod.

Oh well, I did manage to get onto the M1, just, before the engine died. It’s times like that when you discover your towing cover has run out. Being Sunday afternoon you know you are going to get well and truly mugged. Oh well, it’s only money. The guy who came and pumped out the petrol promised to come after he finished the job he was on and another came in while he was with me. Everyone’s at it, it would seem. But listen, if you want to make some serious money, set yourself up with a tranny van and some siphoning gear. You can charge almost whatever you like.

Finally we made it to the Thames even if we were a day late. Unfortunately the fishing was rock hard but despite failing to fool a single decent chub or barbel I did catch this cracking silver bream. I’ve not done scale counts or anything but it certainly looks the real deal to me. 

Meanwhile Back On The Wye

The latest coaching course on the Wye was probably the most enjoyable yet. What a great bunch of guys and what barrel of laughs. I’m guessing there was 50 years between the youngest and oldest participants yet they all got along together brilliantly. Not that I would have expected anything else as five of the guests had been with me previously and knew exactly what to expect.

Unfortunately the Wye was even lower and more stale than the Thames and that is always a recipe for some tough fishing but everyone managed to catch their share of barbel, although not always in the most conventional ways.

The first task when organising any gathering like this is to establish each individual’s desires and expectations and then work out who will best pair up together. It’s common for anglers to turn up on their own and having someone to share the driving with and to swap ideas helps no end, providing both parties share similar objectives.

Two of my guests, I’m sure, wouldn’t mind me describing them as loners who in normal circumstances would invariably choose to fish alone. They came from opposite ends of the country, had honed their skills on completely different rivers, normally enjoyed very different styles of fishing yet somehow they fitted together like strawberries and cream. The antics they got up to would fill this blog and more while both admitted to laughing non-stop and having the times of their lives.

The first full day they shared was near Ballingham and it was here that we learned Mike had an appetite for falling in. Having hooked a fish in a tricky swim he waded out to land it, landing net held firmly between his knees. At least it was until he stumbled. The predicament of it drifting away as he played a lively barbel wasn’t helped by the fact that Ken was by now having a fit of hysterics.

Having wiped away tears of mirth Ken eventually passed down his own landing net so Mike could net his prize. Mike was past his knees at this point and as he leaned forward to net the fish he realised he was past – well, caring. He was soaked up to his chest. Unfortunately his phone was in his trouser pocket…

Mike’s clothing was to spend most of the afternoon draped along a wire fence while he fished on in various stages of undress. But not before he had to go back into the river to rescue his landing net.

Over breakfast Mike told us his phone had dried out completely but unfortunately the SIM card wouldn’t connect to a signal. “Don’t worry,” Interjected Tony Ormerod, “You’ll pick up H2O later!”

Ten minutes later Shaun Baxter burst out laughing, exclaiming, ‘Oh, I get it!’ Much to everyone’s amusement.

Little did Mike know how accurate that joke would turn out to be.

By now I’d Christened Mike and Ken the Blues Brothers, as you’ll see from this picture. Move over Jake and Elmore, Mike and Ken are in town.

The pair had found a group of barbel in a practically inaccessible spot beneath an overgrown high bank and got them feeding on pellets. Mike lowered his bait into position and waited for a take as Ken gave him a running commentary on what was happening below.

Having snapped a few pictures I asked the $64,000 question, “What are you going to do when you hook one?”

“Let’s worry about that when it happens,” Replied Mike, “I have to hook one first!”

Sure enough he nailed one within seconds. A canopy of branches extended out and hung down over the river. Beneath us lay an 8-foot sheer drop through brambles and other types of dense foliage.

“Try where I am, you’ll stand a better chance.” I urged.

Swapping positions I pointed the camera but in the time it took for me to compose the shot and press the shutter he vanished! Whoosh! All I heard was “Aaaaarggghhh!” And the noise I’d imagine an elephant makes as it crashes through dense jungle, instantaneously followed by a rather loud sploosh!

Peering over the edge to ascertain whether Mike was okay we found him practically up to his waist in water, upright and hanging on to a bent rod which he couldn’t possibly raise because of the drooping canopy of branches.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, sure. Pass me the net, will you?”

“I take it that your phone’s in your jacket?”

“Oh, bollocks!”

“Tony was right then…? About picking up H2O.”

Landing the fish in such fast water from within a canopy of trailing branches that prevented him from raising the rod more than a few inches was indeed a comedy of errors but the more ridiculous things got the more these two guys laughed. I should have been paying to watch them perform!

As ever on a stale river location was paramount. Find one barbel and you might easily find a dozen or more. You were either catching quite easily or not at all. Take John Thornton who had come along out of a desire to learn a little more about coarse fishing so he might encourage his grandchildren down the piscatorial path. As a fly angler his experiences were global but he’d not caught a barbel in over 35 years. It was my pleasure to catch him one in barely 35 seconds.

So confident was I that he’d get one that I was actually counting down backwards from ten when he struck into his first one.

Ian Flanders retired a year ago and was looking to rekindle his interest in fishing after lapsing. I have to say his concentration was total, standing stock still most of the time, holding the rod, ready to pounce on the slightest indication.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum we had Leighton who came along with his wisecracking dad, Tony. A year earlier Tony broke his ankle after stumbling on a pebble beach at Luggmouth. But he was back for a second crack, determined not to repeat his misfortune.

He enjoyed the kind of Tuesday many anglers dream about. “Here, you catch one!” He implored, offering me the rod. “I need a rest anyway.” Barbel after barbel fell to his rod on a stretch that anyone can book through the W&UF. Tony and Leighton shared the swim that afternoon, only packing in when they’d caught what seemed like enough.

Later in the week I took Leighton to a very special swim that holds some very big chub and, I suspect, a few barbel. Alas his attempt to prove this was fraught with disaster. Two lost fish in the first two casts put paid to his chances. He’ll be back though. Of that I’m certain.

Meanwhile John and Shaun caught on freelined baits as well as standard feeder tactics. John did exceptionally well in one particularly hot swim but offering Shaun a go with his rod saw Shaun nail the biggest fish of the day.

After three tiring days on the river I decided to lift a few sagging spirits by organising a litle slide show of the week’s events so far as recorded through my camera lens. I nipped up to Peter’s house before dinner to download the images only for disaster to strike. The SD card was corrupt. ‘No Images Available’ said the error message on the preview screen.

It’s every photographer’s worst nightmare. It had been my intention to provide each guest with an image to remember their trip by and I’d been fortunate to be with each of them when they’d caught a good fish and take some cracking pictures against the backdrop of the stunning Wye valley and beneath a fabulous blue sky to boot.

Should this ever happen to you there is one golden rule to observe. Remove the card from the camera and do not, under any circumstance, press the shutter again before you do so. I was fortunate in that I was eventually able to recover all but two of the images I’d taken when I returned home using an online programme that was worth ever penny of the £30-odd quid it cost me.

The final day was spent on two of the Wye’s most prolific barbel beats but if anything it proved one thing to me. In stale conditions it doesn’t pay to put all your eggs in one basket. Even when we had fish in front of us where they could be clearly seen, catching them proved very, VERY difficult.

One of my regulars, Barry had joined us and failed to catch a barbel until the very last gasp on the final day. He’s caught plenty of them in previous visits and what is really nice is that he’s equally happy to catch chub but I do my best to see that everyone has a good chance to catch barbel but Barry, for some reason, kept drawing the short straw. But he got there in the end to his great delight.

And so another year’s coaching came to its conclusion. I’m rather looking forward to the company of some of these guys again next year. Indeed I’d love to have exactly the same bunch because they worked together so well. If you count Peter and myself there were 11 of us in the group at any given time when the river was in a contrary mood, but not once did I hear a single complaint or moan.

Guys, you were fantastic! Thank you for putting up with me.

Some have already indicated they want to return next year. If you then throw in a couple of previous guests who are hoping to make a return in 2012, plus the current waiting list of applicants who missed out this year then it’s looking like next year may already be over-subscribed.

No worries. I have a plan!

Time For A Break

After a tough old week treading countless miles of riverbank in the Wye valley I returned home with just enough time to skim through a few dozen emails, recover the images from the corrupt disk, dash off two articles and pack a case ready to catch the following day’s flight out to Cyprus where we’d rented an apartment in the quiet town of Polis. Time for a little rest and recouperation, two weeks of soaking up the rays, nice food, local wines and beers plus a bit of off-roading in the mountains.

As on our previous visit we hired a soft-topped jeep, which is great fun if you, say, fancy exploring the Akerman Peninsular or heading off through the forest tracks in the Trudos Mountains but I do have to say I’d hate to actually own one as they have no real power to speak of. Dropping to third gear practically every time you encounter an incline, which is most of the time in Cyprus, does get a bit tiresome especially on public roads. But the up side is riding around with the wind blowing in (what’s left of) your hair when temperatures are soaring in the high thirties.

If only the radio in these jeeps ever worked!

I guess deep down the reason for my unbounded joy is explained through growing up in the Sixties and listening to the Beach Boys singing songs like Little Deuce Coupe on the radio and knowing that such extravagances were a world apart from my life in a pit village. That world has now shrunk and hiring a Jimny means I can easily drive onto a completely deserted beach with the hood down and imagine, just for a moment, that I’m a teenager all over again.

Moreover, even during busiest month of the season you can still find deserted beaches in Cyprus with nary a soul in sight in. That’s sheer bliss in my book.

If you’re suspecting I’m having some kind of mid-life crisis, searching for lost youth and all that, then fear not, it’s just for a fortnight. Be honest now, it’s not as if I’ve rushed out and bought an erection substitute, is it? Don’t know how you feel but there are few things sadder than a grown man with thinning grey hair who rushes out to buy a little red sports car or maybe a motorbike in some vain attempt to appear thrusting and virile. There’s no more obvious sign that all’s not as well in the trouser department as it used to be, don’t you think?

I had hoped to fit in a bit of fishing on one of the dams over here. They used to hold good stocks of carp but savage droughts in recent years have led to tragic mass fish-kills. I did go and check out a couple and they remind me so much of some of the lakes I’ve fished in France, particularly in the Champagne Region where the limestone substrata turns the water a delicious turquoise blue.

Alas there were no signs of fish to be seen in the crystal clear waters. Had there been carp present in decent numbers then I’m sure they would have shown themselves either by rolling, cruising or generally rooting around in the margins. Alas there weren’t even any fry around to dimple the surface and that probably says it all.

Mind you I did think my luck had changed when the guy in the adjacent villa (a local) invited me to join him on his boat for a spot of sea fishing but the b&$£&%* only went and let me down. Grrr!!! I really fancied that, too.

Of course, I’m writing this on a laptop from a terrace overlooking a very inviting pool but a swim will have to wait until I’ve finished the chilled glass of Keo by my side. It’s a tough old life, eh?

A day spent driving around the Trodos Mountains brought back many memories of the Himalayan foothills. The likeness is remarkable. If you love driving and have plans to visit Cyprus then make sure you spend some time up there. It’s quite a shock to find ski lifts if you’ve not been before.

Sadly the litter louts have left their mark in every layby and pull in. What kind of person takes a MackyD flier to the top of a mountain just so they can then discard it?

Do You Remember The Stone Age?

Tell me, what on earth did we do before the iPod? Can you remember Sony Walkmans? All those crappy C90 tapes and batteries? I still have a Discman kicking around somewhere – a giant technological step forward – but you still had to transport CDs and recharge the bloomin’ thing every few hours.

The iPod allows us to carry an entire music collection around. It’s great to be able to quickly find and listen to whatever takes your musical fancy but equally good is the ever increasing number of audio books that you can whack on one. I do like to catch up on a bit of reading when I’m away but it’s not much fun if you’re out in the sun. Listening to an audio book requires no effort and no squinting. Just plug in the ear buds, close your eyes and drift away.

The first book I listened to on this trip was Bill Bryson’s take on Shakespeare, The World As A Stage. I love Bryson’s writing as he weaves fascinating historical content to what are essentially travel books. This just skips the travel bit.

I didn’t appreciate how little we actually know about Shakespeare, or even if that was actually his name – there being about 20 different spellings of it, or if indeed it was he who wrote the plays and sonnets attributed to him. So few facts, so little proof. It’s a fascinating story.

The second proved rather less compelling. I appreciate lots of folk like Dean Koontz and although there are few of his novels sat on one of my bookshelves I’ve not so far managed to get around to reading them. Listening to Dragon Tears left me wondering if the holiday would be long enough to finish it. The bloke does go on a bit with his descriptive prose. So much unnecessary detail it seemed to me.

Of course, I had to have a fishing book to dip into and I as much as enjoyed reading Dream Pike it’s a target I doubt I’ll ever tilt my cap at. There are so few 30lb pike around and so many who covet one that outside of the trout waters your chances of success are pretty slim unless you put in an inordinate amount of effort. Hats off to those who succeed though.

I also read Brian Blessed’s biographical tale ‘The Thunderbolt Kid’. Blessed grew up in Goldthorpe, a mining village less than a couple of miles up the road from me, the same Goldthorpe that spawned the very successful match fishing team and one I was proud to be a founder member of.

Although 15 years my senior Blessed’s roots are so similar to my own and it’s warming to hear him talk of places like Bolton on Dearne, Mexborough, Hickleton and Barnburgh with such affection. Nice to see him mention the local sports paper I write for (the Green Un), too.

I also read Micheal Caine’s The Elephant to Hollywood for a bit of pure escapism, just for good measure. Caine’s a raconteur of the highest order with humorous anecdotes galore to share. One serious point he makes involves a piece of advice given to him by the film director David Lean: ‘You have to go through the envy barriers, Michael. Once you are through the other side, they know they cannot harm you any more and the personal stuff just stops.’

Can’t imagine why that should strike such a resonant chord with me…

Okay, one last snippet from Cyprus. After eating a fabulous meal at Moustakalis one evening we were wending our way back to the jeep through the old town square in Polis when I happened to glance up at the big screen telly in one of the bars. I only found myself gawping at Keith Arthur. That’s right, they were showing Sky’s Tight Lines…

Culture Corner

Seriously considering a trip to the Tate Modern this summer where Joan Miro has an exhibition. Abstract is not normally my thing but there’s something about Miro’s work I like.

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

The text message said simply, ‘How big?’

I waited for the picture to reveal itself. Bloody hell! Spike was cradling one of the biggest grass carp I’d ever seen. He’d invited me to fish for this beast earlier this year and frustratingly I couldn’t fit in the trip.

At 56lb you have to agree it’s a magnificent specimen. Alas it is stone dead. Green algae had led to an oxygen level crash and this was just one of a dozen carp casualties he’d discovered that morning, including a couple of thirties, along with a bunch of pike to 28lb.

‘So far none of the big mirrors has turned up dead yet.’ He added.

A chilling reminder that we should never put off those chances we get till another day.

I Predict A Riot

Does this Government actually recognise it is sitting on a powder keg? The recent riots fizzled out pretty quickly but you can pretty much put that down to the weather rather than due to intervention. Kids today are under tremendous peer pressure to have the latest gear, the latest phone and every gizmo you can imagine yet the majority leave school with precious little prospect of a job only to be accused by the red tops of being lazy scroungers.

Even those with university degrees struggle to find a job, those less fortunate are pretty much consigned to the scrap heap. The apprenticeships of old and the manual jobs in factories have disappeared. As for menial jobs the influx of third world and eastern European immigrants who are used to much lower standards appear to now have a monopoly.

Of course rioting and looting is no solution but I suspect it will be a predictable summer event in the future. Back in 1977 the Clash sang London’s Burning. The Pistols sang Boredom, Problems and Anarchy. Well, I reckon 2011 is a whole lot grimmer and things are not going to change any time soon.

Interesting, there was a documentary screened on TV a few years back. Scientists put several hundred rats in a very big comfortable roomy nest and fed them well. The rats all lived very happily alongside each other until the scientists started to decrease the size of the nest so the rats had less space. The rats began to show aggression. That was followed by fights – followed by killings. Sound familiar?

James Catch

James Gould is a man in form. ‘I was really on my game but the fish weren’t really playing ball.’ He told me.

Good job really as he finished up with 7 fish from what many regard as a difficult river, the best, as he put it, ‘Our old mate ‘Scar’ at 13lb 6oz’.

Top angling.

State Of The F-art Rod?

An email arrived from a mate. It read:

Whilst on my jollies in Northumberland I couldn’t resist looking in on Hardy’s headquarters in Alnwick. As I moved around the glittering display cases, I saw the holy grail resting in its custom made maple case. Yes, at last, the fabled  B.R. “Trent Barbel B(R)agger Supreme”, all 16ft of it seducing my wallet. 

As I bent forward to drool over it I let go a little fart. Woops I thought, hope nobody picked that up, better to move from the scene of the crime. 

I turned to see one of Hardy’s blokes behind me smiling. I felt embarrassed but, hoping he had not noticed  my indiscretion, I said,”Just admiring that great rod”. 

Hardy man replied,”If that made you fart sir, you will shit yourself at the price”.

 And with that I’d better wrap up until next time. Tight lines.

5 thoughts on “2011 – Early September Blog

    • missed your blogs in August but i can only say if you finish them all of with a paragraph like that i can wait, read it out loud to the family still laughing

  1. Pingback: » WYE VALLEY EXPERIENCE 2013 - Steve Pope Barbel Fishing -

  2. I was puzzled by the photo of the “silver bream”, as it seems far more like a hybrid to me. All the known silver bream I have caught look far more like flattened bleak, with quite easily detached scales, although I also thought that the over-sized, monochromatic eye was the real give-away. I have mainly caught these from lakes, with Grimsthorpe Lake near Bourne once having huge numbers of them near the dam.
    I have also never seen one with anything other than almost colourless fins, although I remember reading descriptions of them with pale coral fins – certainly not as deeply hued as the shown here. though.
    I have caught a few from the Trent at Collingham, just upstream of the club’s private pegs and although they did look slightly more robust than the pale fish from a muddy lake, they still had the huge eyes and bleak-like scales. I believe that the locals call them hybrids, but the ones I caught showed none of the variations I would have expected if that was the case.
    The only alternative is that there are actually two varieties of silver bream in British waters. Perhaps some of these are remaining descendants of the continental white bream, although confusingly, as far as I can tell, these are actually the same species as the silver bream.


    Peter Sharpe

  3. Bob

    Your Thames silver bream looks like a silver bream/rudd hybrid to me. The crimson tinge to the fins are a giveaway.

    I recently caught a similar silver/rudd hybrid on the River Ouse at Lewes where silver bream are pretty common. In fact a couple of years ago I would have said thety were the dominant species there.

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