2009 – Mid-March Blog

Well, the curtain has fallen on another river season but could it be the final curtain? Well, some seem to think so. Personally I don’t think so but we’ll have to wait and see but I do think the closed season is the wrong length and it’s at the wrong time.

Spawning Barbel

Spawning barbel

Let’s be perfectly honest, the closed season was never introduced to protect spawning fish, any more than it was put in place to allow the banks to recover. That’s phonier than a bank manager’s bonus payment. But it’s what we’ve got.

I’m all in favour of change where the closed season is concerned and, yes, I’m well aware that pike and perch spawn much earlier than most other species, with carp much later. Nature has decreed it that way so that when baby predators reach a size where they move onto eating live fish there will be plenty of fry to go at. But let’s be honest fellers, pike anglers are not averse to targeting pike right at the end of the current coarse season when they are at their heaviest due to spawn any more than tench anglers are about catching spawn laden footballs in May, so can we just drop the hypocrisy and focus on what we want from a closed season?

I don’t think that fish suffer as much from being caught at lower water temperatures in the run up to spawning as they do when caught legitimately in late June. Come the 16th of June we are frequently catching chub and barbel that have yet to spawn so why not put the opening back to 1st July and give them another fortnight? As a payback, would it really matter if we fished for them until the end of March or even middle of April – because who actually decreed the closed season would last exactly 93 days – and why?

Have you seen any scientific evidence to support it?

As for allowing the banks to recover, tell that to the dog walkers, ramblers and canoeists. It’s my view that we end up disturbing more nesting birds by opening the fishing season on the 16th June than if we’d marked our territories (swims) and the birds had therefore avoided us. But there you are. Maybe we’ll see change but I do hope it’s driven by common sense and logic rather than commercial interests.

All that being said, I’m rather looking forward to taking a few weeks break from the fishing. Okay, I’ll maybe have the odd trip to a commercial or even one of the local canals but I shan’t be breaking my neck to get out there to target spawny lumps. But I will still catch my share no doubt, from that I cannot escape.

Barbel Days And Ways Update

The break will enable me to make sure all the customers for Barbel Days And Ways Volume Two are looked after properly. Stu and I pride ourselves on the service we provide when it comes to DVD sales. When we get an order we try and make sure the customer gets an acknowledgement email within 24 hours and at worst we aim to have the DVD in the post within 48 hours. Usually it’s less.

With this in mind we’ve offered a pre-order opportunity for Volume Two. If existing customers can order a copy before the end of March we have guaranteed their copy will be in the post BEFORE 18th April, which is a week before it is officially on sale. Actually, we’re aiming to have those orders in the mail some time before that but it’s all about realistic expectations.

Amazon might be able to cope with orders for thousands of items each day but we can’t. But providing we can deliver the bulk of orders ahead of schedule we’ll then be able to cope okay with the ongoing demand without problems. As it stands, 24 hours into the pre-order period, I have a huge cardboard box of filled orders that is literally overflowing and I’ll be starting on box number two today.

Steve Pope

Steve Pope

Barbel Society Chairman Steve Pope rang tonight. We let him have a pre-release copy and he was rather impressed, “I have to say, Bob, it’s even better than the first one. There’s not a single wasted scene. It’s probably the best barbel DVD I’ve seen and although I’ve just finished watching it I could sit through it again straight away. It made me really want to go fishing!”

That’s the sort of comment you need to hear when you’re involved in a project like this because you get so close to it that you can’t judge what’s good and what’s not after a while. Steve’s one of only three people to see the finished film and all have given us the same kind of positive feedback.

Anyway, back to the fishing.  Strong winds apart, the weather during the final week was excellent and I took every opportunity to get out on the bank. Results were mixed but by the final day I was pretty much fished out.

Small River Roaching

I began the week with a trip to a tiny river that I visit a few times each season in search of quality roach. It’s not an easy river simply because of its size. It really is quite tiny with an average with of less than 7 metres and it’s rarely more than two to 3 feet deep. If it’s low and clear, as it was today, you struggle to catch much more than one fish from a swim and that’s the way things turned out.

Traffic on the way there added 45 minutes to the journey, which didn’t ease my frame of mind but not seeing another angler all day was fair recompense.

I fished here and there, trotting bread, never spending more than about 20 minutes in a swim. If you were going to catch then bites came almost immediately. Quiver tipping would probably have been a much better bet but days like this cannot be measured in numbers. I was happy in the knowledge that if the float buried once and I netted a decent roach then the day would have been a success.

The last week for me isn’t about catching the most, or the biggest, it’s about variety. The last chance to run a float through for three months. It’s about fishing, not catching. I can catch anytime from a thousand waters, what I can’t do is fish a river.

So I worked hard and every now and then the river rewarded my efforts with a fish – three small chub to maybe 2lb and two glorious roach, the smallest was about a pound, the best pushing 1lb 8oz. As I didn’t bother weighing either I have to be vague.

The only unfortunate incident was losing a decent sized chub when it swam into a snag and did my hook length. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

It was a pleasure to note that the countryside is finally waking up after what’s been a fairy harsh winter. I was joined by a pair of water voles in the morning and it struck me how rare an occurrence this is nowadays.

When I was a kid they were everywhere, infesting even the tiniest stream but since the do-gooding woolly thinking tree huggers decided to liberate American mink from fur farms the consequences for our native has been a disaster, notably so for the vole who’s numbers have plummeted by 90% and which became a legally protected species in 1981.

‘Twas also nice to see what I believe are Lesser Celandine in bloom on the banks. Looks like spring really has arrived.

I curtailed the session in order to beat the evening rush hour but hadn’t taken into consideration that humans, especially those who use big yellow machines are prone to making catastrophic errors. Unfortunately one such operative had managed sever a 15” water main and in doing so created chaos on an unimaginable scale and I had no alternative route as I had a major river to cross. The result was that in the first one hour and fifteen minutes of my journey home I managed to cover a whole three miles.

Sat there with precious little to do except fume I turned my attention to the fields around me and spotted a pair of lapwings. Those of us with a few grey hairs will remember when lapwings could be seen in flocks pretty much everywhere. Where did they go? And when?

I see more oyster catchers these days than lapwings. As for skylarks…

Did you, like me, spend hours as a kid, laid on your back in the corner of a meadow scanning the sky trying to spot the larks? You could hear them singing from their great height but spotting them was quite tricky.

What was noticeable was that the hedgerows are but days away from coming into leaf. The buds are there and it won’t be long before they are a riot of spring green.

Getting Away From The Crowds… Not!

Anyway Matt called after I returned home to arrange a trip. To be honest I fancied a day on the Trent with a view to maybe catching a barbel but he wasn’t so enthusiastic. Apparently Adam Roberts, a fellow DVSG member, had been on the tidal river for about three days and only had one fish to show for his efforts and his mate was still on a blank. Foolishly I allowed him to persuade me to go back to the Swale where I’d done so well the previous week.

There was only one car in the car park when I got there but this guy was sat in the very swim I’d fished last time, two rods pointing to the sky like phone masts. I suggested Matt dropped in a reasonable distance above him, which he did, and also attacked the swim with two rods, although both were rigged for chub.

Swale Snowdrops

Swale Snowdrops

I went some way above Matt but couldn’t settle. I was snagging regularly which meant I couldn’t fish as tight to the cover as I’d have liked to and neither could I buy a bite, unlike Matt who’d caught about four chub before I skulked off upstream looking for a new swim.

I find it pays to stay relatively mobile when fishing for chub on the Swale, especially in daylight. Half an hour here, half an hour there is enough to prove whether you’re on fish or not, especially at this time of year when they have a tendency to shoal.

The Swale is pretty much one huge chub swim with bushes trailing branches in the water all over the place and that’s great for a roving approach. Not every perfect looking swim will hold fish, much less a feeding fish, but it keeps the enthusiasm going each time you move. Unfortunately that’s where I ran into a bit of a problem. The far bank is controlled by the Barbel Society and normally you will barely see a soul over there but today there were no less than nine anglers fishing, mostly with two rods. Now that’s not only an awful lot of lines in the water, it makes swim choice on this bank impossible because it’s not exactly a long length of water. Wherever I decided to fish I would run the risk of someone moaning that I’d set up opposite him, but where exactly are you supposed to fish when the far bank is lined with anglers?

Eventually I thought, blow it, and spent half an hour here, half an hour there, casting close to the near bank bushes. After all, we only rent the near bank and so do they. It’s not as if they were going to offer to reimburse my petrol money if I pack up, is it?

It made no difference, mind. I didn’t have a touch. Sometimes it’s like that so when Matt rang and asked if I’d mind walking back and taking a few pictures for him before the light went I was pleased to do so. It was the excuse I needed to pack up.

Turns out Matt had caught eight chub including a brace of fives. He’d also missed nearly as many bites again, all to the same rod cast well downstream. The other rod hadn’t produced so much as a knock. It’s uncanny sometimes, isn’t it? So we did the pictures a went home.

I couldn’t fish the following day as I was due a check-up at the hospital. I guess the old kidney disease will put an end to all this but right now things are holding fairly stable and I have to be grateful for that.

Lads Mags

Friday saw me on the Idle doing a shoot for Improve Your Coarse Fishing magazine on what was the penultimate day of the season. Let’s just say it went well because I don’t want to steal the thunder of the article but catching roach at half depth on hemp and tares isn’t exactly what you expect in winter, is it?

The pike anglers were out in force and it was nice to slip the net under a fine fish for young Matthew York. He and his dad were fishing below me and what a nice bloke he turned out to be stopping for a chat and sharing his bait with me. Thanks mate, you did me proud. With luck they might just use a picture of you in the magazine.

Later I had a few pike myself including a couple of nice doubles to round off a fabulous day.

Solved – The Mystery Of The Vanishing Bream

Which brings me round to Saturday and as the fat lady cleared her throat ready to sing one final time, I struggled to get out of bed. I was shattered and those who think this full-time fishing is a bed of roses ought to try it!

I had decided to round off the season by catching a bream from a stretch of the Idle near Bawtry. I’ve had access to a private field for a number of years since I did a little favour for the owner. Effectively it’s my own little paradise but I rarely fish there more than a couple of times a season. Yes it gets poached occasionally but the thing with poachers, I’ve found, is that they sneak in and out and don’t cause any bother because the last thing they want is to get caught or into serious trouble so I can honestly say there has been no problem with litter or vandalism whatsoever.

Access to the field means I can wander down most times and still have the place to myself, but you know, I’m a creature of habit and each time I fish it’s invariably in exactly the same peg. But what a peg it has been – with the emphasis on the HAS.

Time was I could wander down here and catch 50, 60, 70lb of bream, or even more, on the stick float. Indeed I once topped a hundred pounds for a magazine feature. Great lumps they were, averaging three to 4lb apiece with the odd bigger fish as a bonus. I’ve even had a few bonus carp but you know something? The bream have mysteriously disappeared and even though I keep dropping back, they never seem to be there – but I keep trying.

Anyway, it was late morning by the time I arrived and would you believe it, someone was fishing in the field. What’s more he was fishing my swim. Now I don’t know about you but I take this kind of ‘guesting’ with a pinch of salt so I walked down to see him and have a chat.

The fields were full of celandine again and despite the gale sweeping across the flat countryside it was pleasantly warm. The guy was chubbing and he’d not had a bite. We exchanged pleasantries, chatted about this and that and he shared a fair bit of information about other stretches of the river.

He was a decent kind of guy and I had no problem with him fishing there. He also had his feet on the ground because he knew the value of a 4lb River Idle chub and I respect that. They’re rarer than seven’s from the Dorset Stour and his candid honesty made a pleasant change to the usual tall stories about monsters.

Anyway, he informed me that he was packing up which was good news for me because I hadn’t so much come to catch fish as to ‘go fishing’ and I fancied nothing more than seeing out the afternoon in my favourite swim. So he left and I dropped in exactly where he’d fished, hoping that just maybe his cheese paste wasn’t to the liking of the bream and that I might just tempt a slab on a worm and maggot cocktail.

If that didn’t happen there was always Man U vs Liverpool on the radio. If you have an Ipod check out the Robi – it’s a digital radio receiver that plugs into your player and the reception is fantastic. Best of all it’s cheaper than most decent portable radios. Only downside is that it’s a bit of a drain on the Ipod battery but it’s fine for the footy.

You know, the guy is going to hate me when he reads that I had my only bite of the day on my second cast. Not only was it not a bream, but it was that 4lb chub we’d been talking about. At 4lb 1oz it is the biggest chub I’ve ever caught from the Idle and I was just a little bit chuffed I can tell you.

There were to be no more bites, but then again I wasn’t really bothered. I did have a wander to check out the river upstream and it was then that I discovered something rather naughty and possibly explained the mystery of the missing bream. For years the fields around this area have flooded in winter in true water meadow style. At one time there would be 22,000 acres of land underwater in winter and this resulted in a huge amount of dredging taking place and the installation of a massive pumping station at West Stockwith where the Idle enters the Trent. You see, the Idle couldn’t drain when the Trent was flooded but now it can be pumped out, hence the rather irregular flows and level fluctuations we experience at Idlestop and Haxey Gate.

When the river flooded into the fields, the fish would follow, firstly up the dykes and ditches and then over the low banks. Mostly they got back by their own means but Len Squires at R&R Sports in Bawtry has been involved in many a fish rescue.

Back in the Seventies I discovered the skeletons of some seriously big roach and bream that had been stranded after a flood but this is part of the natural life of the river.

But as ever, the bird lovers get involved and they see an opportunity to create wetland habitat and sure enough they’ve installed a little coffer dam in the main dyke that runs into the fields. When the river floods it is under water and therefore the fish can swim straight over it but once we get to this time of year the water in the river drops below the level of the dam and there is no way back for the fish. They will remain in the huge, shallow lake that has been created until it dries out in the summer. By then the vegetation will hide the carnage and it is so marshy now as to be impenetrable by foot anyway.

So there you are. I’ve solved the mystery of the missing bream. I wonder, how many thousands of fish have been sacrificed since the dam was built. And what do you think we can do about it? Bugger all, I reckon, because we all know, birds and marsh marigolds take priority over fish.

With that discovery made I really didn’t have the heart to fish on and I was back home by 2.30pm.

It’s been a hard season in many ways but rewarding in others. Now it’s over and I have to turn my attention to other projects. Addressing envelopes and stuffing them with copies of Barbel Days And Ways Volume Two is going to keep me busy for quite a while but I guess the call of the wild will draw me back to the water soon enough.

Frogging Dogging Session

Meantime the number of frogs in my small garden pond right now is truly remarkable. There were upwards of fifty at lunchtime today and they were enjoying a right royal orgy.

My X-rated garden party...

My X-rated garden party...

Having had the whole garden landscaped last year with low maintenance stone paving and pebbles I really didn’t expect to see them this year but where they come from and indeed where they go to is a mystery, but as sure as night will follow day, in a day or two they will vanish, leaving me with a few thousand eggs that I might distribute around the local ponds and ditches so as to spread the survivors out over a larger area because when the tadpoles do hatch in the pond my fish will binge on them until there are very few survivors.

Who Was That Masked Man – It was The Clone Ranger

Just a final word before I close about stalking. No, not stalking chub, or carp. I mean stalking anglers.

I spotted a piece this week in one of the magazines my good lady buys entitled ‘Ignore the Inter-nuts!’ and it suggested (the Internet) allows a proportion of wackos to have their day in the sun.

Can this really be true? Do forums attract wackos?

Well, to say the least there are one or two obsessives…


But I did do a double take when I spotted my picture on BFAMW the other day because I’ve been cloned!

Can you believe someone is actually using a picture of me as their avatar on the forum?

Another has posted several pictured of me with a variety of ‘interesting’ Photoshop hairstyles.


It’s clever, I agree, but don’t you find it all a bit weird? 

Anyway, the magazine clip ends thus:

You’ll find this wave of negativity comes from those who always take delight in criticising others. But they are a minority. Let’s not let the Internet convince us otherwise.”