With a bit of time on my hands what else can I do better than treat you all to a bonus blog, filled with Christmas cheer? There’s even a good dollop of fishing as you scroll through. But let’s begin with some seasonal festivities.
Sue and I kicked off Christmas with a weekend away in the gorgeous city of Durham. We booked into the Castle View guest house for a couple of nights (It’s the pastel coloured building next to the church in the picture) the city was merely two minutes walk away.
For those who’ve never been, Durham’s centre is contained within a loop of the River Wear and until quite recently offered the finest winter dace fishing in the UK. Alas it would seem cormorants have put paid to that and they brazenly congregate right in the town centre each day.
To say it was cold would be like saying the North Pole is chilly. The river itself was in serious danger of freezing right over but a couple of hardy souls still braved the elements. Peter Scott and his mate were giving it their best shot without much success although Peter admitted to losing a chub however it certainly wasn’t fishing for the feint hearted.
As always happens when we suffer prolonged periods of cold weather the river levels drop and there are some amazing ice formations to be found along the margins as you can see here.
Meanwhile I noticed carp were on sale in the market place for those who are maybe bored already with mince pies…
I must say, too, that the folk up here are hard. And by that I mean really HARD! With temperatures way below zero the ladies of the toon were out in force wearing no coats, short skirts, backless dresses and bare arms. The blokes wore T-shirts and short sleeved shirts. In fact the only folk we could find that were remotely attired properly wore Santa costumes.
We took in a carol concert in Durham’s massively impressive Cathedral on Saturday evening. Possibly the perfect way to get into the Christmas mood and it has to be said the choir and guest soloists were sensational. So, good in fact that we returned the following evening for the lighting of the tree ceremony and the blessing of the crib before grabbing a meal and taking in Cinderella at the Gala Theatre.
Despite dire warnings of travel chaos we strolled up to the Railway Station on Monday morning, boarded the waiting train and rolled home a couple of hours later. I guess it’s not a crisis until London has a sprinkling of snow. Then we all have to hear about it.
All-in-all I can thoroughly recommend Durham as a superb location for a pre-Christmas break.
Back home it took a fair while for me to scrape the ice off my van and a glance at the temperature gauge revealed it was minus 7 degrees. Not bad to say it was mid-day and the sun was shining from a powder blue sky. Perfect weather for a stroll alog the banks of the River Dearne with my camera.
A flock of Fieldfares kept a steady distance ahead of me, winging from bush to bush to maintain their comfort zone, as they tend to do.
A Kingfisher almost gave me a great photo opportunity but I was just too slow while the river itself was alive with wildfowl, presumably because the stillwaters are all pretty much frozen solid.
The only downside was the number of cormorants – groups were roosting on each of the pylons which run parallel to the river. Unfortunately a tiny river like this will get completely fished out by the cormorants in no time so the short term roach and dace fishing prospects are looking decidedly grim.
Bar stewards! Why, oh why, oh why are these birds protected? Who cares for the fish?
The following pictures were shot during late afternoon. There is no snow, what you see is simply haw frost. Magical, isn’t it?
Back at the car park a robin was waiting for me. It was good to see someone had strung some fat balls from a nearby bush. If we don’t do our bit in the coming weeks the small bird population will be taking a tumble. Don’t forget they need water, too.
But what of the fishing? You ask. Crikey, can you believe I’ve actually been out on a couple of occasions?
No More Excuses
There actually does come a point when you run out of excuses for not going fishing. Too cold, too much snow, snow melt in the rivers, stillwaters iced over, dodgy roads and so on are fine at first but once you get in a rut the lethargy takes a bit of shaking off, doesn’t it? How easy is it to stay at home and play on the computer? Well I for one can only take so much, so it was on with the thermals and off to find some moving water.
Strangely it felt rather warm in the van as I headed up the A1. The outside air temperature read 3.5 degrees Centigrade yet I found myself turning down the heater. We acclimatise quickly, don’t we? Hopefully, so do the fish.
I pulled up at the river – well, stream really. I could see no point in tackling the main rivers as they were carrying something upwards of a metre of melting snow. Instead I’d picked this small tributary as somewhere that might throw up a few roach. Size is irrelevant. getting a bit is the true measure of success in these conditions. The rest is just mathematics.
Even this place was carrying a good 18 inches of extra water and it didn’t look great. I’d hoped to fish bread and sort out a few better fish but one look at the colour told me it was a maggot day. Fortunately I’d brought some.
Trotting a float is one of fishing’s greatest pleasures but even though I could achieve near perfect presentation it was obvious a static bait was required. When it’s this cold fish don’t go chasing food. Legering was the obvious way to fish but I really didn’t want to do that, so I pushed the float up a couple of feet and laid on in the edge. Five minutes later I had my first roach. Then another.
They might not be specimens but they were in pristine nick and more I couldn’t have asked for. After a while I decided to head off to a different stretch where I felt I might do better. I was kidding myself. I caught, but no better than at the first place, but the key is I caught. I was out there living the dream. It’s why we call it fishing and not catching. I could have been sat at home waiting for better conditions…
The drone of the M1 could be plainly heard in the distance. Carols being broadcast by what sounded like a 1970’s ice cream van. A police siren went dee-dah, or maybe that was just the dialect of Sheffielders rushing to get their last minute Christmas Shopping from Meadowhall. All around me are reminders of Sheffield’s once great steel industry, I’m fishing right in the heart of a square mile of the country that once provided the world with knives, battleships with steel and a thousand minor industries, all fed by the giant steel mills and foundries.
This is where angling was more popular than anywhere else in the UK. Even today the Sheffield postcode can boast more anglers per capita than any other area of the UK. It gave us Fred Foster, if not the inventor of but perhaps the most successful practitioner of the art of swing tipping. A host of great match anglers hailed from Sheffield (and Rotherham, just downstream of where I’m standing), but those greats could never have dreamed they might do what I am doing now.
I’m aiming to catch a grayling from the River Don in the middle of a giant industrial estate. 40 years ago when Sheffielders flocked to the Witham, Welland, Great Ouse and countless drains across Cambridgeshire in search of bream and roach the River Don was an open sewer. It was not only unfishable, it was a health hazard!
How time has changed since Margaret Thatcher took on the working classes, shutting down the UK’s steel and coal industry. The way this river has come back to life is nothing short of astonishing, you might even say miraculous. Of course, man has played his part but that can’t detract from the way nature has a way of reclaiming man’s worst scars on the landscape.
Today I’ve watched a pair of kingfishers dart past and a sparrow hawk. Unfortunately the river is so cold, filled with melting snow and ice, not to mention road salt from the city around and above me, I’ve seen nary a sign of a fish. You simply don’t see fish topping in these conditions but I’m reliably informed that wild brown trout to 3lbs are not uncommon. Grayling abound, as do dace, and you’re never far from a chub or a barbel.
What’s more it’s all free, if you can find a way down to the waterside. Parking’s a problem and the river runs between walls, quite high walls in places. One thing’s for sure, you won’t find these stretches being syndicated in a hurry.
It’s not exactly suited to the disabled, either. I’ve already taken a tumble scaling down an 8 feet high wall and I’ve slipped in the water on the greasy banks once – right up to my knee and I can tell you by the numbness in my right boot that the water is bitterly cold!
But each swim I’ve tried looks more inviting than the last. I can imagine this is a great place to fish in nicer conditions. And then it happens. The red tip of my float disappears in a way that could only be a fish and sure enough my strike meets a solid resistance. A resistance that pulls back in the fast water. Is it a trout…, or maybe the grayling I had hoped for? Nah, it’s a chub, but never was a chub more welcome than this one.
My next fish is a bit of a surprise. In fact it’s a monster! I’ve never had one on rod and line before so it’s a PB of sorts. Can you tell what it is?
And eventually my dogged persistence pays off. It takes only one bite on a day like this to make all the effort worthwhile. I’ve hooked my grayling and there’s no mistaking the twisting, turning fight. I find myself having to nurse it in the current when I return it. Grayling are often like barbel in this respect. Very delicate creatures. If anything more so than barbel. But it swims off eventually and I rub my hand in an attempt to get the circulation going again.
You know, I don’t need to catch another. One was enough.
You been out yet?
I’m still reading Martin James’ new book, At The Water’s Edge and the initial impression I get is he certainly does a lot of fishing (unlike some who just like to give an impression they do!). A week ago he rang me to say he was on the Kennet, this week I received an email with pictures of these chub he had from the Ribble and in between times he’s recording his weekly radio programme for the BBC.
If you’d like to hear Martin’s show it’s freely available on the BBC i-Player and you’ll find it pretty easily by visiting the BBC Radio Lancashire web site. Find the the search function (top right hand corner of every page) – just type in ‘At The Water’s Edge’ and the latest show will come up.
Makes me wonder why more local BBC stations don’t have an angling show. After all, if it’s good enough for the Lankies it should be good enough for everyone. Maybe the answer is anglers are generally apathetic…? They want someone else to do it.
River Aire Christmas Stocking
Yorkshire’s River Aire is a jewel. There are some quality grayling to be caught from the upper reaches and fine catches of roach are made each winter from near the Royal Armouries in the heart of Leeds City Centre (although numbers have been gradually whittled down by cormorant predation. Get lower down and the fishing is still remarkable good on the Leeds and District water near Beal.
However, it has never really been synonymous with the hallowed ‘B’ fish so it doesn’t get the same kind of attention that say the Swale, Ure, Wharfe and Nidd do. In fact it is one of Yorkshires least prolific barbel rivers but maybe that’s all about to change. For the past four years the Environment Agency has been carrying out a stocking programme and this will continue for a further two years.
Another four batches of 500 barbel were released recently between Skipton and Leeds. If there’s a decent survival rate then the Aire will undoubtedly become a fine barbel river, given time. I do hope so because it will be nice for those who fish it. Variety being the spice of life and all that, but I’m becoming a little concerned that angling has become so obsessed with barbel, the clamour for practically every river in the country to be stocked with them is not exactly healthy.
Barbel anglers may genuinely believe the species is superior to others and deserves special treatment but when they’re in danger of becoming just another commodity, a bit like commercial water carp. Oh, the last lot disappeared (or died), can we have some more please(?) then there’s a danger we lose the plot.
Mother nature never intended barbel to be the apex species in a river any more than pike should be. Mono-cultures of any kind are unhealthy and it doesn’t pay in the long term when a dominant, aggressive feeder tips the natural balance of a river.
What I do find perplexing though is that barbel anglers take a holier than thou attitude to commercial carp fisheries because they’re far too easy but simply cannot recognise their own artificially stocked rivers are no different.
Just stop and think about the barbel in the Hampshire Avon and Stour? They were stocked fish. The Severn and Teme? Stocked fish. The Ribble? Stocked fish. The Wensum? Stocked fish. The Great Ouse? Stocked fish. The Trent? Yes, artificially stocked.
Need I go on? The spread of barbel has been mirrored by the decline of roach. Is that a coincidence?
Never Smile At A Crocodile
Dear, oh dear. I seem to have upset the Gruffalo. Unable to recognise that a mild leg pull was actually a dig at his many detractors, he took umbrage and posted a bitter swipe at me in his blog.
A dove of peace sent winging its way across the Wolds was shot down unceremoniously, so clearly that bon homme, hale fellow crap was a charade all along. More fool me for thinking leopards can change their spots.
Oh well, I’m off to join the ABS or ABoF, or whatever it’s called. Better the fools who front up to you every time than someone who can’t make up his mind. But is it really worth a quid, I wonder?
I was rather shocked to learn Brian Hanrahan has died aged just 61. If you’re of a certain generation then his iconic words, ‘I counted them all out, I counted them all back again.’ Will need no explanation whatsoever.
No Flies On These Guys
The UK might have produced some of the finest competition anglers in the world but it lags way behind the US when it comes to marketing fishing. I first realised this on a trip to Minnesota with Peter Clapperton in 1994 where we met up with Editor in Chief Doug Stange to shoot the first carp fishing article ever published in the In-Fisherman magazine.
In-Fisherman is on a wholly different scale to anything we recognise over here. For a start its headquarters will be found at No1, In Fisherman Drive… It owns an entire portfolio of fishing magazines, publishes fantastic instructional books and DVDs, plus it broadcasts on something like 900 radio stations and has its own TV channel, In-Fisherman TV. Back in 1994 when we appeared on it catching carp it broadcast to a staggering 56,000,000 viewers right across America.
Let’s just say it was an experience!
If you fancy spending an hour (or two) watching some fascinating video clips check out the In-Fisherman web site.
The clips are nicely filed under niches, so for instance, if you like pike they’re all together under one tab. For zander fans just try walleye, they’re pretty much the same – certainly in terms of behaviour. What is definitely worth a look is the clip on fly fishing for carp (other species). Over here we’ve seen many an angler catch carp on deer hair imitations of a floating dog biscuit/ trout pellet but over there they imitate naturals and twitch them along the bottom. I’d certainly recommend you have a look.
Rope A Dope Time?
Every once in a while I will pick out the term ‘polaroids’ in a forum or a blog post and write a rebuke along the lines of: ‘It’s polarising lenses, NOT polaroids – Polaroids is the trade name of a company that produces instant cameras!’
It gets a bite every time…
It’s unfair, really, and I shouldn’t do it.
But I’m not alone. Clearing out a load of old emails the other day I came across one from a guy who’d pulled me up on something I’d written a while back. It went: ‘Greatly enjoy your articles. Well thought out and backed by evidence from you film work. One minor niggle, PVA dissolves in water, it does not melt. Please humour me with this, I am trying to make the same point with other magazine contributors. No offence intended.’
And none taken. But now I’ve blown my own cover on the Polaroids game, maybe I’ll have to invent a new one. Hang on, I’ve just blown the PVA game as well. Doh! But fortunately I’ve a few more up my sleeve…
River Monsters reached its conclusion this week with Jeremy Wade tackling Nile Perch in Uganda. As he put it, ‘Probably the most dangerous place I’ve ever fished’.
I’ve enjoyed the series (but don’t take that as a recommendation – I enjoy Robson Green’s Extreme Fishing, too!) although Wade does have a knack of over-sensationalising every species he targets. Indeed, whether it’s white sturgeon, catfish, skate or alligator gar, the message put across is always the same, this is dangerous folks, don’t go near the water or the fish will get you. I’m not sure he doesn’t do fish and angling in general an injustice.
Frankly, the risk of contacting Weils disease while fishing the local cut is a bigger threat to most of us than than the threat imposed by many of these so-called River Monsters.
This is were our guides carried AK47 rifles! Yes, we were constantly in close proximity of elephants, hippos and crocs but I was more worried about mosquitoes if truth be told. And the only angler who was killed out here in the past couple of years died at the hands of humans rather than animals or fish.
Indeed the two major risks I faced were from drowning and having a heart attack as I climbed up the cliff path at the end of a hard days fishing.
Sadly we now have a fishing void on terrestrial TV.
Oh ye of little faith; questioning why I was going public and moaning about the poor service I was getting from Panasonic.
Well, let me just say the immovable object just budged and I appear to have made a significant breakthrough. I shall keep you informed…
The Bloody Apprentice
Oh well, that’s the apprentice over with for another year. But where on earth do they find those competitors? Brains of a Big Brother contestant but already earning gazzillions of squiddies which they simply chuck away for a pop at being a minion in one of Sugar’s companies. How many of the previous winners have you ever heard of since? Do you not think that if one of them ever made a roaring success of being Alan’s apprentice there wouldn’t be a follow-up programme?
Surely a man with an ego as big as Sugar’s would want to broadcast that? It would make his programme even more attractive to potential contestants. I reckon they simply crash and burn (out). But it’s still good telly, isn’t it? Watching Alan beat up the brats in the boardroom. I mean, take last week, Stuart ‘the brand’ Bags simply couldn’t see it coming, could he? The writing was writ large on the wall but he still managed to delude himself that he could win.
Baggsie, you were there to the end because you made as big a chump out of yourself each week as did Wagner and Widdecomb. You were the clown we all wanted to see fall. We just didn’t want to see you go too soon.
The show’s due a re-think, perhaps a re-invention rather than a makeover but I for one will follow it again next year. Meanwhile check out this clip. Someone has far too much time on their hands if they can edit this little lot…
Cricket Lovely Cricket?
Actually I have little interest in cricket at all. But didn’t ‘we’ celebrate that first win a little over-exuberantly? Got a bit carried away perhaps? Which football manager was it who said, ‘They don’t give medals away at Christmas’?
I’ve no doubt the Ashes are there for the taking but maybe the time to start rubbing Ozzie noses in the dirt is when they can’t possibly bite you on the backside.
Hoofball And Cloggers United Reveal Ambitious Plans
As I predicted a couple of blogs ago Sheffield United have declared a somewhat unwelcome interest in the Rovers’ manager, Sean O’Driscoll. Will he go? I doubt it. But you never know what temptations they may waive under his nose. This is the problem when you have a ‘big club mentality’ whilst in the real world you’re flirting with relegation to the Third Division.
I’ll be very surprised if he is tempted by this chance of becoming the Blades’ third manager in 4 months. After all, they don’t have a pot to piss in. What they’re doing is effectively saying, ‘Come on Sean, you’re a genius. Just look at how well you’ve done on a limited budget at a tin pot club like Donny. We reckon you could work a similar miracle at Bramall Lane with our debts. Here’s the deal, we offer you a ten bob pay rise and you get an identical budget to the one you’ve got now. We have 30,000 long suffering, loyal and incredibly patient fans who will clearly love you.’
Sean will probably then reply, ‘Give over man! Let’s be serious, I’ve had a look at your squad and I reckon you’re having a laugh. I need to work with intelligent players and a trusting board. When I start tinkering it’ll all go to rat shit for a while, like it did when I took over at Donny. Are you sure it’s okay if we get relegated this season?’
‘No worries Sean. You’re the Messiah. You’ll rebuild and bring us back up the next season with ease. After all, we’re a massive club and we’ll be able to attract loads of big name players on free transfers – that is how you work, right?’
‘What about the million quid compo that John will demand?’
‘Err, err, don’t worry about that, we’ll sell a couple of players to fund that in January. In fact, make that your first priority. Sell at least three of our big salary players and get the wage budget down. In fact you’d better sell five as I’m sure you’ll want to bring your backroom team with you!’
‘And where will that leave Donny, precisely?’
‘Who gives a flying f***! You’ll be a dashing Blade! We’re massive. You’ll be massive, a legend in Sheffield.’
Well, ahem, thanks, it’s been nice muttering quietly to you.
2011? – Bring It On
Well I guess that’s just about it for 2010 folks. I was going to feature a few highs and lows from 2010 and predictions for 2011 but time and space has just about beat me, so I’ll be brief.
My hope for 2011? That I’m still around in good health, maintaining my level of enthusiasm and passion for what I do this time next year.
Ambition? To enjoy myself as much this year as last.
Desire? Nothing material. My needs are relatively few.
Prediction for 2011? That the same few boring individuals will continue to ‘big themselves up’ by trying to provoke a response from me. Well, whatever gets you off guys. But just remember, I take it as a compliment and get a real kick out of reading your pathetic jibes. Can’t keep away though, can you?
Oh, and a special request for ‘Annonymous (Graham)’…
Why don’t you use your full name? Surely it isn’t because you’re not allowed to contact me, is it? Don’t want Mr Plod to come a-knocking again, do we…? But seeing as it’s the season of goodwill I won’t ask Jason to confirm your IP address (this time) although do be careful old son.
A wish for 2011? That one of the above might come up with an original thought or idea. Or something I’d deem worthy of copying…
But enough of this humbug. Let me close by wishing all those who’ve enjoyed reading my blog and indeed the web site as a whole, the very best for 2011 and I do hope you’ll stick around next year.
Merry Christmas folks and a happy new year to you all!