Blog … Diary extracts … McConnell’s Chronicle …
This text has not been proof read or properly edited. Some of it has been thrown together and it may contain errors and skimmed over stories.
Part 1 Deep Water Eel Angling Page 2 – 10
Winter Eel Trips – The Lake District, Wales
Scotland – Eels … No eel fishing permitted.
Part 2 Zander Ramblings – Page 11 – 43
Extracts out of a diary 2013 - What the Angler Saw
River-watch - Nature - Zander
The Gloucester & Sharpness Canal
The Lower River Severn
Moving house and there’s not a zander in sight. Page 44 - 45
The River Goyt - Grayling
Mill Brow Brook - Trout
Lure fishing for Zander in the Trent & Mersey Canal. Page 46
Born to fish: forced to work, Zandavan Productions Page 47
Winter Eel Trips
This year, Pete and I had decided to forsake all ‘normal’ eel fishing because we had great plans to fish exclusively in the far north of Scotland where we planned to put our motto to the test “The deeper the water: The bigger the eel.” I will explain how this interest in deep water eel fishing started.
There is something fascinating about fishing for eels in extremely deep water. On deep venues my gaze is repeatedly drawn to the darker, deeper areas as I wonder what secrets they may hold. What may live down there? Gazing into uncharted deep water stirs feelings of curiosity, an air of mystery and an excited anticipation of the unknown. This gut feeling of excitement can draw you to want to explore further and conjure up images of what may live in the deeps. I call it ‘The monster of the deeps syndrome’.
But during my eeling career I have found deep areas can often be devoid of fish. The deep water zone on many of the meres, clay-pits and quarries that I have fished often had no oxygen and no fish in the depths. These are eutrophic waters that stratify in summer until there is no oxygen in deep areas. To catch eels in these waters the bait must be placed in shallower, oxygenated areas which are often found around the margins. This has always proved successful for me and I thought I had it all worked out. The trouble is that neither eels nor science is ever quite so simple and just when you think you have worked things out another anomaly occurs. There is a story I read that always sticks in my mind. A commercial netter placed his nets in the deoxygenated deep waters of a lake one night. The following day when he retrieved the nets they held a good catch of eels but they were all dead, they had drowned. It seems that the eels were able to hold their breath long enough to do excursions into the deoxygenated zone to feed but not long enough to stay there for a longer period. It must be quite a larder for the eels in this zone because it is otherwise devoid of fish and so there is no competition from other species. This incidence is something to get you thinking. One of the attractions of eel fishing is the fact that there is still a lot we don’t know about eels. Perhaps if the bait was placed not too far into the deoxygenated zone would pick up more eels on some waters. I haven’t yet got enough confidence to try it. Have you?
After spending a few seasons eeling on the Shropshire meres, Pete and I went to Australia and found that the sun beat down on the surface of the reservoir and raised the temperature until there was no oxygen in the shallows. Here, it was the margins and shallow bays that were devoid of fish and big eels were located in very deep cooler water near the dam. This started our motto: “The deeper the water the bigger the eel.”
Many species of fish are too fragile to withstand capture from very deep water. I do quite a bit of zander fishing but I won’t fish for them in very deep water because they gas-up and die. Zander have a closed swim bladder, and are unable to lower pressure in the swim bladder at a fast enough rate when winched up from 60 feet. Eels are different and they come to no harm when pulled up from deep water. They have an open swim-bladder, and can merely equalise pressure by discharging from the swim bladder via the mouth as it is brought up to the surface, and as such eels will not suffer any harm if an angler suddenly hauls if up from the pressured water.
Fish with a closed swimbladder have a swimbladder that is completely closed off from any external sources of air. The gases essential for maintaining buoyancy are retrieved from the blood, instead of from the atmosphere as in fish with an open bladder.
Fish with an open swimbladder retrieve gases for the filling of this bladder from just above the surface of the water. In order for the bladder to hold and release these gases, there is a channel that connects the bladder to the oesophagus called the pneumatic duct.
After the Australia trip we fished around different types of water in the UK. Eventually targeting deep glacial lakes and lochs to find that they are generally oligotrophic and rarely become stratified; such lakes will usually have plenty of oxygen in the deeps, even in high summer. I found that lochs in deep, narrow valleys on the west coast of Scotland are the most likely to have oxygenated, deep water; especially when it is a narrow loch with a large catchment area which facilitates a good water replenishment rate and ensures that plenty of flowing water is pushing through. This is where we discovered big eels in the oxygenated deep water and started to think further about deep water eeling.
A real passion developed for exploring the deeps of these special waters. The challenge was more than just fishing it was a much bigger adventure of survival in the wilderness where hardships would have to be endured. It’s no good going along if you aren’t keen, and you really have to be up for the challenge. After backpacking through rough country to reach the remote loch, we would pitch tiny tents on a beach in the most incredible scenic setting. Sitting by the loch, hemmed in by the untamed wilderness, often with an exhilarating west coast sunset overhead, we would then cast bunches of worms in to 90ft of water. The peace and quiet had a tranquil effect and it felt as though we were fishing not only in paradise but also where no man had ever fished before: the unknown!
The instincts of an eel angler that is used to coarse fisheries would draw him to place a bait in the margins but here things are different. On some shores the margins are not even knee deep, and in such clear water this is too shallow even for trout to feel safe and it is several yards offshore before the bottom drops off over wellie depth and the wee brownies are to be found. Where the water was deep enough to hold fish closer in we tried along the shoreline, margins and shallow areas of these lochs but it proved to be unproductive for eels. Compared to your average eutrophic coarse fishery it is a complete different habitat; the water is crystal clear, there is no silt or weed in this marginal zone which is windswept and battered by waves that crash on the beach and scrunch the gravel. The shallows are occupied by hoards of small trout, and a worm fished in the margins only attracts trout, trout and more trout. The incidence of trout diminishes after dark and I have caught the occasional smaller eel on worm but only boots and I have never caught a bigger eel from the margins. I have also been targeting ferox with small deadbaits in the margins and, though successful with the ferox, the marginal deadbait never tempted an eel. Yet when the bait was placed in very deep water it would avoid trout and sometimes be taken by a good sized eel.
In contrast to the turbulence of the shoreline, the silts of the deep water areas provide a habitat of great stability. Here in a world of stillness and constant darkness, refrigerator temperatures and great water pressure, a rain of organic matter sustains a surprising variety of life, mostly filter-feeding in the mud or just above it.
The habitat provides a refuge for some Ice Age relict species. The tiny Pea Mussel, Pisidium conventus, is more usually found in shallow Arctic streams.
Another relict from colder times is a chironomid (midge) larvae, Sergentia coracina. They live in tubes constructed from the mud, and to emerge as adults they must swim up through 200m of water, running the gauntlet of the layer of Arctic Charr. Some chironomids are predatory, fastening onto sergentia chironomids and sucking them dry. The depths are sufficiently rich in invertebrates to support a population of Arctic Charr (another relict) which seem to live a different life-style from the larger population in the shallower, open water.
It is hard to imagine what it must be like down there in the stillness of the dark, silent, cold water. I suppose that the organic rain has settled into a layer of silt on subterranean cliffs and valleys that are the home to millions of tiny pea mussels, filter feeders and invertebrates. This deep water zone depends for its calories on the drifting down of organic matter from the upper layers. Eels have filled a niche where there is a constant temperature, permanent darkness and a permanent supply of food.
Feeding activity in eels can be dependent on food availability and not just seasonal variability. Research performed in the Río LLorín, a coastal stream flowing towards the Cantabrian Sea in the north-west of Spain, showed that eels remain active all year round at day and night, with a slight increase in feeding activity and intensity in warmer months. Just like this coastal stream in Spain, the deep water zone in a scots glacial loch maintains a supply of food all year round, and the temperature, though cold, is fairly constant. Consequently, the eels can feed all year round as food is always available, which in turn will give rise to constant growth and bigger eels. Also there is a connection between oligotrophic waters, slow growing species and longevity that will benefit eels. The deeps of such lochs provide the perfect hideaway for an eel to hole up for a very, very long time throughout which it will keep on growing.…
During my excursions for eels to scots glacial lochs, so far I have caught several 3’s a few 4’s and also hooked, almost beached, and then lost the longest, biggest eel I have ever seen in UK waters.
A study of scientific data revealed that the temperature at the bottom of these deep lochs is 6 degrees in summer and 4 degrees in winter. I thought further about this and decided it was worth a go in winter when there is nowhere to fish where I live because all local waters are frozen. It is not possible to access the scots lochs at this time of year so when a freeze occurred we headed for the Lake District and then the following trip we went to Bala in wales.
Here is an extract from my diary for 2013
“Jan 9th 2013. The first eel angling trip of the year is to a deep glacial lake in the English Lake District. Camping in a small tent pitched next to very deep water.
The purpose of this trip is not only to catch winter eel but also to gather our belongings together in order to sort out and fine tune a light kit ready for spending the whole summer season in Scotland fishing deep, unexplored waters.
I met Pete at Lancaster services. We were both late due to accidents on all converging motorways M62, M56, M60, M62. It is winter-time, gridlock chaos on the roads once again.
We arrived at our chosen lake at and finally at 5.00pm cast in. At 5.20pm I caught a boot/pounder on a bunch of dendrobaena cast out to a 135 count, JS rig, 6’s hook, wire trace, 999 alarms on the rod with no bank-sticks. I was chuffed to have caught an eel on the first cast of the year. I fancied my chances of a larger deadbait feeding eel, so I put deadbaits on all rods after this and got no more runs. Frost … Sleep!
Jan 10th. It’s a frosty start. Decamp at dawn. Move the car, move swim to a nice little shingle beach below a rock outcrop where I should be reasonably protected from the wind. It was 12.00 midday before the sun got above the mountains and started to melt the frost and ice. At 2.30pm I cast the rods in! Pete is ill with flu and staying in his van - layby sickbay. 3.00pm & 3.20pm 2 trout at 120 count on bunches of 7 or 8 dendrobaena; one was a nice looking fish of 2 ½ lb.! All quiet in the night. At 7.00am I caught a tiny bootlace that was only about 8 or 9 inches long. It took, or managed to get attached to, a bunch of worms fished in the depths. This tiny eel had balled-up the line around the rig and managed to tether itself. I tried it on the beach in the margins and the tiny boot couldn’t move the 3oz bomb, it was tethered! I was pleased to watch it swim away safely after the ordeal.
Feb 2nd. Bala Lake. Pete and I revisited the swims where we had an NAC fish-in the previous summer. It’s very deep water that is full of boots in summer and should be a cert for catching a winter eel. Rods in at 4.30pm, tent pitched on a patch of gravel between two trees. It rained very heavily and non-stop. I stood in the rain for hours drinking tea and chatting until my jacket leaked at the shoulders, the waterproofing was gone! 12.30am I caught an eel weighing an estimated 1lb 4ozs. It took a bunch of dendrobaena cast into very deep water.
I am still trimming down my kit for Scotland. Clothing needs to be light enough to be able to roam and reach remote unexplored waters yet remain warm enough to survive a freeze. I get an 800g down-filled sleeping bag; a 645g down-filled jacket that packs down to the size of an orange; a long waterproof, breathable cagoule; and a pack of nylon thin denier socks for filling with rocks to use instead of leads which are too heavy to carry.
Feb 13th. Once again we head for the Lake District, this time in one vehicle. We are going to Haweswater – 6.4km long, 0.8km wide, with a maximum depth of 187 ft. It is interesting to note that this reservoir was once two lakes until the 1940’s when a dammed reservoir raised the levels 28.9 metres and merged the two original waters Low Water and High Water to become one. It still has a population of schelly and char as well as trout and perch. The lake is managed as a drinking water supply which results in the levels fluctuating and this has impacted on the population of schelly.
Snow was forecast but we went any way. It got bad on Shap fell and we realised we wouldn’t make it up the tiny roads to Haweswater, so we turned back. Not one to abandon a trip so easily, we pushed on and headed for Coniston Water 5 miles long, ½ mile wide, has a maximum depth of 184 feet, only to get stuck in a snowdrift and turn back. Next was Windermere, 11 miles long, up to 0.9 miles wide and a maximum depth of 219 ft. Once again we ended up snowbound and stuck for a while then decided enough was enough and headed for home - trip aborted.”
There are not many glacial lakes in England and Wales. Those in the Lake District and most shores at Bala have camping and/or night fishing restrictions (but there are no wardens about in freezing winter conditions); therefore a serious pursuit to eel fish in the very deep waters of a true glacial lake or loch does require access to Scotland.
It had taken us many years to get permission to baitfish for eels in the far north of Scotland and when one or two landowners we have befriended gave us permission to eel fish on hallowed waters in a strictly fly-only region we thought all our Christmas’s had come at once.
We even got asked to do an eel population survey on an incredible limestone loch that has exceptional growth trout rates. It’s a special water that Pete and I once photographed and walked round. The calcified bottom could be seen clearly through the crystal clear water. This is high quality water that promotes optimum growth rates in fish and our visit left us drooling at the mouth at the specimen eel potential.
From then on the excitement built as we went on a few small-tent winter-fishing exercises in order to tone up fitness and hardiness, plan the odd tuck and turn to the minimalistic lightweight kit and prepare for the trip of a lifetime.
On the March 18th 2013 an official letter arrived from an individual at Marine Scotland who in turn represents The Scots Government. Of course the address should be National Anguilla Club and not National Angling Club and it should be Whitchurch not Whitechurch. Not very polite I thought as I read the address on my mail … Not a good start …
The letter stated that my application to fish for eels with rod and line in Scotland had not been successful and gave some twee, weakly fabricated excuses which I find totally unacceptable. My father was very ill at the time (he passed away soon after) and I was not in a state of mind to deal with this news from Scotland. I was a bit over the top with my ranting to one or two people, especially north of the border and now I’ve got over things I wish to convey my sincerest apologies to those that bore the flack. Meanwhile there are still some huge eels in the unexplored depths of Scots glacial lochs and now we shall never get to see any of them as the government has no interest in finding out what lives there.
We have drawn plans to target Ireland next year. Pete and I have almost completed the filming for a DVD that we have been making about eel and ferox fishing on glacial lochs in the wilderness. Since the scots government have got over-protective of the land and stopped anyone going there to fish for eels, and since they won’t permit anyone to bait fish for the ferox either, I have decided to move on, give the country a miss and the DVD will never be completed.
I used to spend a lot of time coarse fishing in Ireland before I started targeting big eels and zander. Today, with my interest in both ferox and eels in glacial lakes, Ireland may once again fit the bill. The people are friendly and welcoming, especially if you walk into a pub in Ballyconnell and announce that your name is Barry McConnell. What a night that was, begorra! The government doesn’t make up nonsensical fishery rules to put off outsiders, in fact they give a warm welcome to angling tourists and everything is loose, free and easy. We will be able to fish for ferox in the shallows and target eels in the deeps. The trouble with eel angling in Ireland is that the country has been extensively fyke netted; in fact many of the bigger loughs are managed as eel fisheries and so the incidence of smaller eels is likely to be high with no eels getting the chance to grow on into a bigger eel. Yet I can’t help wondering if there are eels in the very deep water, maybe these loughs hold big eels where it is too deep to fyke net, eels that never leave the deep water zone, and just as it is in Scotland, I don’t suppose anyone has had the gumption to try. I think that I will have to go and find out myself and then I can draw my own conclusions. Pete, get the camcorder we are back on. …. and so on to Ireland in 2014…
Ireland – Deepest Lakes
Maximum depth in feet
as: Killarney Lakes, Lough Leane, Lower Lake, Muckross Lake,
Middle Lake, Upper Lake
Lough Salt is a small mountain tarn at the foot of Lough Salt Mountain, in Donegal. Situated at an altude of over 800 feet, the lough itself measures over a mile long and over 3/4 of a mile across at its widest. The mountain itself rises almost vertically 700ft from the lough, forming an impressive ...
Lough Corrib is the second-largest lake in Ireland and the largest in the Republic of Ireland. Situated between Galway City and the County Mayo, Lough Corrib's lush landscape consists of green pastures on the eastern shores, rugged foothills off to the west and views of the Connemara Mountains to the ...
One of Ireland's most pristine national treasures is Lough Derg, a 29,000-acre lake nestled within western Ireland's Shannon Region. Its title comes from the word "Loc Dergdherc", meaning the "lake of the red eye." The name was derived from an old Irish legend about a king, a lake monster and a hero. ...
20th & 21st April Chelmarsh Reservoir
I booked on for a five day and night session. It was a cold wind and there were too many bream on worm. I had no enthusiasm and had lost my mojo. I went home early and feeling unwell.
03/04/05 May 2013 Chelmarsh Reservoir. Booked on for five days and was again too ill to do the full session. Once again I blanked apart from the inevitable bream. I was lying low in the bivvy for the last two days and not really fishing. Doctor gave me antibiotics for an infected kidney and I had to lie low at home for weeks.
That is the end of my eel fishing diary for 2013. All my plans and enthusiasm were fired up for Scotland this year but the plans were scuppered and I haven’t been eel fishing since. People often tell me they think there should be more to life than sitting in a bivvy night after night fishing for eels. Well of course, there’s zander fishing too. I have been zander fishing all season instead. It’s been quite an adventurous season but I have seriously missed my eeling and will be back at it next year.
Zander Ramblings. What The Angler Saw.
Extracts out of a diary 2013.
River watch - Nature – Zander
The Gloucester & Sharpness Canal 31 May to 5th June 2013. The first trip after zander was to the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal with Lee and Pete where we could fish when it is the close season on rivers. This is kind-of a part of the river Severn. The canal water is pumped in from the Severn and shipping uses it to bypass a tricky section of tidal waters weirs and all. Lee is a match angler and was our bait catcher on this trip.
From the comfort of home I had Google-Earthed a parking place down a lane where I spotted a car parked at the bottom near the canal, nearly a mile downriver from the Pilot Inn. It looked like a good starting point so we parked there for the night. In the morning I found a polite note on my windscreen which said “To make you aware. Public footpath but no public vehicle rights,” Best Wishes Sandra (Bridge House). So it was not so good a starting point after all.
Along the towpath we found a wide canal with deep, clear margins and underwater cabbages. The middle looked deep and darker and my instincts drew me to cast there in daylight as it would be darker down there. This deeper channel is nice and deep I found it varied from 14 to 20ft deep. It was a very hot day with a clear, cloudless sky and I spent ages watching a hen harrier soaring on the thermals high above us. In the evening when the sun went down I caught a 2.05 eel and a small zander on dead gudgeon, size 6 single hook and a JS rig.
The following day I spotted a pair of hen harriers and strained my neck to watch them soaring high up, an impressive sight, and another wholesome memory. So many trips, so many memories; wholesome seems an appropriate word! At 11.30am I hooked a Pike while Lee and Pete were visiting for a brew and when the line fell slack as the hook fell out, I said “I’ve got it off.” I caught one zander that day, a 4.04 on a chub head cast to the far side to a 9 count. I heard nightjars calling every night along the canal.
A fishery bailiff turned up on Sunday afternoon and we bought £24.00 full-season permits off him. The rules on the permit state: Fishing takes place from dawn until dusk. There is no night fishing allowed on the canal system. All fish must be returned to the waterway with the exception of any zander caught. We discussed these rules with the bailiff and he said that no one would mind us stopping the night so long as our behaviour was not drunken and anti-social. Apparently we are supposed to kill all zander to which I kind-of squared up to him and said “That’s a stupid and out-dated rule that is. I am a zander angler. Look at the name on my van, Zandavan. I’ve been a member of The Zander Anglers Club since 1994 and there is no way I am ever going to kill a big zander. I couldn’t it would be like murder. Stop killing the big ones. They eat the smaller ones. Leave them alone and the predator, prey populations will balance out; its nature.”
“You can put them back then, that will be no problem” was the answer.
June 2nd We moved swim towards the Pilot Inn and found a tree lined length with marginal weed beds where bream and carp were spawning. We blanked and wondered if this was because the zander were spawning somewhere. Pete and I walked the towpath to Gloucester Angling centre and back. It was a very hot bright sunny day and Gloucester was miles further than we expected which resulted in sore feet and dehydration. At least you didn’t have to keep an eye out for any rogue puddles in this dry weather …
Went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain.
He stepped in a puddle
Right up to his middle
And never went there again!
This was a warning to children in bygone days, prior to modern roads, that what may appear to be a shallow puddle could in fact be much deeper!
We moved further along the canal to some overhanging trees and I caught two schoolies in three nights. Pete caught a 7.15 but we were all asleep and so he got no photo. In six nights I had caught four zander and had two blanks. Pete and Lee had also caught four or five zander each. Pete’s 7.15 zander is our biggest so far on this canal.
Research on the internet revealed that nowadays zander are mainly to be found in the end seven miles of canal but which end? Eventually we learnt that the canal was once used by a fleet of large commercial boats that stirred up the waters and kept it murky along the entire length of the canal but since they went out of commission a few years ago, the canal waters have cleared a lot. It is coloured where it is pumped in from the Severn and then over several miles the colour falls out gradually until the water is clear.
G and S Canal 11th to 14th June 2013. I spent the first night at the mouth of the Cambridge arm and blanked. The second night Pete turned up and we moved to a swim in-between Saul and Parkend between Framilode and the next bridge and blanked again. The third night we moved 1½ miles until we were past Parkend Bridge towards the Pilot Inn. I spotted a cormorant fishing, decided to fish there myself and then caught a few zander. The first was a tiny zander on double maggot followed by fish of 2.12 and a 3.08 on fish (zander) fillet that I had hair-rigged with a nylon tag attached by the pull of a trigger using a tagging gun.
Nylon tags and a tagging gun.
The following night I caught two 4lb zander on tagged bream and zander fillets. We had no bait catcher with us on this trip and baits were not easy to catch on this part of canal at the time. I caught a few eels, two oversize perch, a skimmer and a small zander on worm. It is now against the law to use eels which has made life more difficult for zander anglers as eel section was once considered the best zander bait. It has good oil release properties that benefit cold water; a tough skin that resists the mauling, scraping, nipping, shredding, twisting and biting from crayfish, mitten crabs and eels; and it was always so easy to catch bootlaces on rivers and drains.
Eel sections have a tough skin that resists the mauling from crayfish, mitten crabs and eels
No longer an option
To zander anglers the decline of the eel has been a huge blow. Once upon a time I always used eel sections as I seemed to have a knack for catching eels but those days when we caught eels to use for bait are gone and now I will use anything I can catch except eel. And so I kept the small zander, the perch and bream to use for bait and put back the eels.
Here is the written law as enforced by the EA.
A lot of anglers don’t know that you can’t take eels anymore; even if there’s hundreds in the swim.
And a lot of anglers don’t know that you can’t use crayfish for bait either; even if there’s thousands in the swim.
When I tell anglers about the problem of finding a replacement for eel sections, they invariably say “Well use lamprey then.” The trouble is that lamprey is nothing like eel except for the shape. The skin is far too soft to withstand the mauling of bait-robbing, tackle-tangling pests.
I have bought myself some shrink tube and some mesh to use. It will wrap around and protect the deadbait in the same way as the tough eel skin. It is too late in the year now and so it will be next season before I get chance to thoroughly field-test it on the mauling from bait pests.
In four nights I had caught four zander, Pete had also caught three or four. Neither of us caught any specimens, they were all small ones. A boat called Zander came past us. It went down the canal and was going to the river Severn. This seemed like a good idea and so we also headed to the Severn
From where we were fishing on the Gloucester and Sharpness canal, we walked down a lane and were soon next to the tidal Severn. This is the stretch that boat traffic bypasses via the canal. It looks actually quite fishable which I wasn’t expecting. I plan to do an exploratory session there and so will take a look later in the year, depending on fluctuating flood levels.
The Tidal Severn below Gloucester
I then went onto the River Severn soon after the season opened in June. Two different areas were my destiny; both are club waters on the lower Severn and about 15 miles apart. One section is lower down the river near Tewkesbury and it is slow and deep, often over 20ft. The other section is higher up the river near Worcester and though it has depths to 20ft, it averages 10ft with many shallower areas. It is generally faster and shallower than the lower section.
I’ve heard it said that you don’t catch the bigger zander in summer but will catch plenty of schoolies. I now had the whole summer ahead, in which time I would be able to find out for myself if this was the case. Favourite swims, holding areas and likely spots had already been found on previous trips a couple of seasons ago, so there was no problem deciding where to fish and I was raring to go by the time the season opened. Having done the groundwork it was now time to settle, dig-in and try to winkle out a PB.
Two night trip, June 21st 2013, the longest day of the year. I went to the River Severn near Tewkesbury on a deep swim under a big shading oak tree, and I caught three zander weighing 7.12, 5.00 and 1.08. Early next morning a heron wading in the margins managed to get two of my lines looped around its neck. It tried to fly-off but its awkward gangly flight got gradually slower and lower as the lines tightened, caught around its wings and then brought it down in the middle of the river. With a bit of rod-manoeuvring I managed to shake it off and went on to catch another three zander - 6.00, 5.08 and 3.00 - all on tag-gun hair-rigged fillets.
Eight nighter June 28th to July 5th. I started on the lower section and set camp beside a slow, steady glide. From the bivvy at the top of the banking I looked out across Britain’s longest river and paused to watch the flow slide silently past … water from Wales! This time of year has always seemed to charge me up. Nature watching is my fix. It’s a bit more than just a watch though. Living on the bank for long periods you tend to feel more a part of it, rather than just an observer. At this time of year my diary notes are often loaded with more scrawls about the wildlife than about the fishing.
The bankside vegetation is a wilderness of tall docks, nettles, grasses, burdock and comfrey. Grasses as tall as me with fresh, green, healthy seed-heads are swaying in the wind like a Mexican wave; the noise of the rustle-and-sway brings to mind happy memories of high-summer and good times. A large oak tree is embedded into the bank in such a way that it is a part of the bank, where it stands to take a battering as it acts as a flood defence. Large branches from the tree droop down into the river; they have no leaves on until the very end of the branches, where bunches of leaves have clustered, the branches with their extra weight droop down to the water’s surface, dipping in and out when the wind gusts and the branches sway. Crack willows have done just as the name suggests: They have cracked and then fallen into the far margins where they have continued to grow until the margin on the far side of the river is a thicket that is far too snaggy to risk putting my lines near.
It’s a nice warm, fresh westerly breeze and it’s dry but cloudy with occasional sunny spells when there is a gap in the clouds. A farmer is tedding the hay, salmon are jumping, silver bleak keep on skitting out of the water, a kingfisher flashes past, a streak of blue flying quickly upriver just above the water’s surface. Another kingfisher appears, circling the river clumsily, it is one of this year’s fledglings practising and toning its flying skills.
A lost duckling appears all alone and skittering about the surface in the panic mode that nature puts them in when they lose their mum’s. It looks so tiny and vulnerable on its own and is a sitting target for predators and I doubt it will survive until noon. Nature intended! The clouds clear and let the sun through, and the boaters come out. Teams in rowing boats are practicing, going full belt. A large fast motor boat comes up behind the fast rowers. The fast boat tries to overtake the fast rowers. It speeds up creating a big wash. The instructor gets on his loud hailer “Can you slow down please?” The sun dries the hay. It’s a hot and sunny afternoon with blue sky and white clouds. I watch a skylark climbing. It goes so high I get neck strain and eye strain trying to watch it so I close my eyes and listen to its song getting higher and further away. I find myself drifting off; it’s a track by Pink Floyd with a skylark singing up high, sounds of summer… In the afternoon there is quite a breeze as the sun warms the land. Willow and oak leaves are blown inside out by the wind to show their paler green undersides. An unidentified bird of prey is circling over farmland, it lands on top of a telegraph post pole but I can’t get close enough to identify the bird. The willows are a popular bird habitat and today I can hear yellow hammer, linnet, blackcap or garden warbler, goldfinch, and flocks of long-tailed tits, which are particularly at home in the willows.
A hiker stops and asks “How far to Tewkesbury?”
“See that cathedral, church thingy-me-jig. That’s Tewkesbury, there you go.”
In the evening I am sitting quietly and listening to fish rising as it goes dark. I find I can hear bats fluttering, rats rustling, mosquito’s buzzing. I automatically give my face a wipe-over every minute or so, to shift any mozzies that have landed and are about to bite me. My head-torch attracts a white moth with red eyes; it flutters in my face, so I turn the torch off. A nightjar lets its call out into the empty dark sky as it swoops down over the river. Some Eastern European anglers are dropped off by a car on the far bank. There are several of them and they have bells on the rod tip for bite indication. Getting dropped-off after dark like that would indicate an unlikelihood of these guys having a permit, worse still is the fact that they keep the catch and take it home. Zander make for good eating and the EA don’t protect them on the Severn, they have no respect for the zander and say they don’t belong there, which is a fact that I find ridiculous, Zander are a river fish, look at Europe. The fishing-for-the-pot-crew went home sometime after midnight and I spent the rest of the night watching swans battling over their territorial pecking order. They can appear to be nasty, vicious bullies; nature is often thus. A red light on top of the power station can be seen at night beyond the hill. It seems to be used as a flight path by loud heavy-duty twin rotor Chinook helicopters. I always notice how you can hear them coming for miles before they arrive and you can feel the throbbing noise cutting through the air. Noise pollution! In the morning the mist was swirling in pockets that clung to the ground in hollows amongst undulating farmland. The rapeseed oil in a field exaggerates its contours and looks like a yellow prairie as the mist clears to reveal the surrounding countryside. I spent the first three nights near Tewkesbury where I had bother from many eels attacking the bait. A good way to overcome this problem is to catch the eels and so I replaced the treble with a single and caught a couple of eels to 2.05 after which I had no more eel bother. Perhaps it was the same two eels attacking the bait each time. My final tally for three days was 5 zander to 5.10 from deeper water.
01/07/13 I moved up river to a shallower area where I pushed the loaded wheelbarrow along the riverside path, past a thicket of vegetation comprising mainly docks, nettles, grasses, burdock, comfrey with many bright yellow rape seed plants amongst it; the yellow peril that seems to be encroaching everywhere these days along with Himalayan balsam.
Himalayan balsam is an introduced annual naturalised along riverbanks and ditches. Himalayan balsam grows up to 3m tall and it grows rapidly, spreads easily, out-competes other vegetation and readily colonises new areas. The seedpods explode when touched or shaken. The seed is transported by water. Himalayan balsam has spread at the rate of 645 km²per year in the UK. Management: Control is by grazing and by cutting or pulling before seeding. Grazing by cattle and sheep should begin in mid-April and continue through the growing season. Repeated mowing will prevent it over-shading other vegetation. Plants should be cut to ground level by the end of June and before the plant flowers.
I arrived at my chosen camp. Here a ¼ mile length of the Severn Way footpath, a huge banking complete with several huge trees, once collapsed into the river. This obstruction has reshaped the river and caused undulations in the bottom contours: deep holes and shallow bars.
It started off quiet and peaceful with a strong westerly wind gusting, and then the wind dropped and allowed the drone of distant traffic noise on the M5 motorway to come drifting across the Severn valley. The fishing was slow and relaxing so I drank lots of tea and fell asleep with a full bladder. What is it they say about tea; its diuretic (makes you pass more urine). I was woken up by the alarm alerting me to a 3lb zander at 3.30am and I was so dying for a pee that I had to go in the river while playing the zander.
At 4am I realised that the dawn chorus is noticeably quieter now the longest day has passed and the breeding and nesting season is over. Cluck –cluck-cluck-Cluck! A pheasant flew quickly over the open river. I could hear a flock of long-tailed tits twittering amongst the willows. An oystercatcher called shrilly as it flew by high above. Blackcaps or garden warblers were calling all day; they have increased since I was a lad. A young kingfisher was flying round and round. I wondered: can it land?
A woodpecker called as it flew along; its flight a distinguishing lollop. It landed on a dead tree trunk and vanished amongst the dead branches.
The floodplain field was full of onions that were being watered by a heavy duty sprayer. It’s a powerful tool and when it swivels fully to the right it reaches the footpath. I thought I saw a mink or something heading down river past a line of trees. I was curious and went to follow it. I had to run the gauntlet to pass the jet of water from the sprayer. I waited for the sprayer to start its swing to the left and dashed quickly along the path. I reached the gap in the trees with plenty of time to spare. I found not a mink but an injured and dying fish, maybe a spent salmon that was getting taken downstream by the current. On the way back to my bivvy I tried to rush past the sprayer but I caught it wrong and realised it was swinging round towards me. Too late! It caught me with a heavy load of water that soaked me in seconds flat. Three days later the onions were visibly growing in the hot-sun moist-earth situation. I wondered how long does an onion take to grow? They seem to need a lot of water. I got chatting to the farmer who told me that the water would go straight through the silt soil and so he would have to give them a regular watering.
“Your mate got a soaking the last time you were here. I watched him load his van and the sprayer caught him fully two or three times,” he said laughing.
“That doesn’t surprise me. He never rushes and the sprayer would be faster than him. I bet he wasn’t at all bothered by it, eh? You should put up a camera and film us all; it would be worth a fortune on TV, You’ve Been Framed. It would be a good laugh, a lot more fun than watching onions grow.”
The field on the far bank was so full of sheep it seemed overstocked. They were all coughing a lot with husk; this is bronchitis in cattle, sheep, and goats, usually caused by lungworm infestation. I thought this may be a symptom of high stocking densities. The sheep were constantly walking and playing follow-my-leader as they scoured the field for grazing. After they had done three laps of the field they seemed to have eaten all the grass. I wondered if perhaps the farmer wanted to force them to graze the Himalayan balsam that grows down the river banking so as to keep it in check.
Pete arrived and we walked up the top field to look at new swims with rope, shears, saw and a rod to cast around. All the swims seemed uniform with no deep holes and little variation. Pete commented that the feature is that there are no features, just a large expanse of feeding area to hold shoals of fish rather like herds of animals grazing on the plains, perfect for predators. In the past, seemingly featureless swims on great acreages of silt beds had worked for our eel fishing so why not for zander too? Boaters don’t always spot us blending-in amongst the trees but the boat’s dog always does. Pete is always one for suggesting stunts and pranks and he suggested that we should wear a dog outfit and wave at the dogs. For someone that lives on a boat he does seem to have an odd attitude towards other boaters.
He set up in a swim where a grounded tree is sticking out mid-river. All the boats that passed went out into the river and went around the tree but this one particular boat veered inwards and into the margins. It came through my swim first and took out two rods. It was belting along and I snapped my line off as I realised the boat was unstoppable. The boat proceeded at high speed into Pete’s swim 200 yards up river and swung right in to the nearside. It came so close that it almost hit the protruding rods. As I realised what was happening I had a sudden thought; this boat was picking on the wrong one: Pete stops boats! I was witness on a reservoir in Australia when a kayak angler trolled innocently over Pete’s lines on his eeling rods. I will never forget the anger-boosted force of Pete’s strike or the confused look on the poor anglers face when a mystery force stopped and then dragged his boat along. What had he hooked, ‘Jaws’? Or had it hooked him? This time the boat on the Severn had gone so close that it had picked up all three of his lines. Now this should be good I thought as I heard one of Pete’s leads rattle over the boat and snag on the roof. With two rods, one in each hand, he brought the boat to a standstill. He had stopped the boat! “They’re easier to stop when they’re going upriver” he muttered casually. The crew went about untangling Pete’s rigs, handing them back and apologizing. For a while after that all the jokes were about Pete going boat fishing.
The hot evening sun was warming the water over a sandbank in the extreme shallows at the edge where fry were warming up and basking in the sun. If you stamp, bang, cough or talk loudly they scatter. As the sun set over Herefordshire on the west bank I tallied up. I had been out for eight nights, fished three different swims, and caught eleven zander up to 6lb and a 5lb pike, my first pike from the Severn this season. I do generally tend to avoid catching too many pike by fishing zander zones and keeping my bait on the bottom.
In the faster flowing water I want to strike straight away, as soon as a zander mouths the bait and I’m not happy with the hair-rigged single treble. I want a hook at either end of the bait and so started using two trebles…. Even with a 3 inch ruffe or gudgeon … a treble at each end and an instant strike… Zander do not always take a deadbait head or tail first some bite across the middle and as such do not have one of the hooks at either end in its mouth.
In this (out of focus) photo the slash marks from a zanders teeth can be seen where it had gripped the bait mid body, in between the two trebles, causing me to miss when I struck.
I have been told that zander take lives from either the front or from the rear but I’m not sure now and I have never watched zander feeding in clear water, or an aquarium, or anywhere.
Ten nighter; two on the G&S Canal and eight on the Severn.
July 9th 2013. It was very hot, the hottest day of the year with the temperature rising to 30 degrees. A flock of racing pigeons circled the river. They dropped down near to the surface, fluttering in a flock over the water and then one by one they dipped in to the water. And then they landed on a bare patch of earth on the bankside from there they had room to rest and could access the water to drink. This is not the first time I have witnessed this behaviour from pigeons and its always extremely hot weather. As well as the racing pigeons there were lots of wild woodpigeons in every willow tree, lots of them, hundreds, moving from tree to tree. I guess they were seeking shade. I heard a pair of buzzards calling to each other, and looked up to see them hunting, one either side of the river.
A pheasant was enjoying the shade too. I could hear its guttural growl; you have to get close to them to hear that. They do have an unusual gullet though. I’ve heard it said that you can catch them because of the gullet. An old poacher’s trick was to thread raisins onto a string of cotton or fishing line, like a necklace. Lay the strings around the edges of the field near the hedges where the pheasants feed. Come back later and the pheasants will be lying on their backs kicking their legs up and gurgling. As they try to swallow a raisin the whole string follows and crams in to their gullet until they gorge on it and suffer vertigo. It works with chickens too. When we were kids we used to go fishing at The Roman Lakes and feed dried out bread bait to the cockerel until it kicked over onto its back with its feet up in the air. It gave us fits of giggles to see this. Tonight, I noticed the pheasants could still be heard after dark. One will call loudly from its perch. Another pheasant answers. And another and then another as though to spread the word in a relay, rather like the beating of the drums. This roll call is best heard in open country where the sound can be heard rolling across the land from copse to copse and going far into the distance.
What don’t I like about the River Severn? Boats! Sewage! And unless it’s very windy, the sound of traffic is always to be heard - M5, M50, A38 … It’s what dampens it for me. I like peace, tranquillity – unpopulated areas, open country.
At midnight there was a big splash! And then another, there were some big fish jumping at night. Were they Sea Trout, or Salmon?
A skylark was the first birdcall in the morning. It’s so loud for a small bird. As a child I used to watch them go up and up until so high they were only a tiny dot but now, with my eyes aged over fifty, I can’t see a tiny dot that far away. “Wek” I heard a noise, looked up and saw an oystercatcher following the river downstream. The river is a bird highway and I watched gulls, ducks and an out of season cormorant (most are away from the river for breeding). There was a good thick early morning mist at 5am when five pheasants flew down from their roost in a tree directly in front of me on the opposite bank. Mother duck was sitting in the middle of the river calling for her young but there was none in sight so she flew down river ‘landed and then repeated the process… she had lost her ducklings and was in distress and though it pulls the paternal heartstrings there was nothing that I could do.
Four cormorants flying up-river saw me and veered away from the river then back to the river again when they were past me (the angler). I remember how bold cormorants used to be. They used to dive in my swim right in front of me in 1994 on the Middle Level. I even filmed one trying to swallow an eel. It was right in front of us and showed no fear of man. How things have changed. Coarse anglers whipped up a storm and the angling press then spread the word - cormorants are the anglers’ enemy, “The Black plague”. Ever since then, the cormorants have detoured around anglers on the bank. It seemed to happen overnight, in every region. The power of the press!
A blackbird was singing from the treetops and filling the summer air with its happy-mood inspiring song. It’s one of my favourite birdsongs. Melodic! "Blackbird" is a Beatles song from The Beatles White Album. Blackbird was written by Paul McCartney, who was inspired to write this while in Scotland as a reaction to racial tensions escalating in America in the spring of 1968.
July 9th to 18th, ten nights nineteen zander. I spent the first six nights on the upper section, starting by cutting lopping and trimming out a new swim in a field that never gets fished. I wedged the bivvy in the swim and then used joey mackerel on each rod; as I often slip the odd sea bait in if I am taking frozen baits as a starter pack to use while I catch fresh baits. Frozen baits won’t last for the duration of my longer trips so I have to catch my baits. Sea baits are often thought of as more of a pike bait but zander do take them and big zander too. I rarely catch pike in this river so it should be there long enough for a zander to come across it. I cast one rod to mid-river in a deeper area, one to a mid-river shallow area and a third rod in to a deep slack near a fallen tree in the near margins. As I write this it becomes obvious what happened next. Yes! I caught a pike on joey mackerel (good pike bait) that was cast in to the deep slack near a fallen tree (good pike swim). I caught no zander and moved swim the next day to settle in to what I was now referring to as ‘The holding swim’ because it always seemed to hold a few zander. Note in diary … “bumped two zander off … one on perch head, one on a tail section … lost each one while pissing about with the net juggling between wrongly spaced rods. MUST ORGANISE ROD SPACINGS BETTER!”
11th, nettles have regrown where I cut them down only two weeks ago. Many of the tall ones have drooped across the path under the weight of a creeper that has spiralled round and round, and climbed the nettles to the top until they have become top-heavy and fallen over. The creeper is Great Bindweed which has arrow shaped leaves and large white bell flowers. It is another invasive species that is running amock.
At 8.45am I got a run on a tag-rigged dead bleak, cast to a 5 count. The fight was incredible and, when I piled the pressure on, the 11ft, 2.25lb test curve, compound taper Harrison blank was bent in to a full hoop. The zander fought like demon, it just didn’t want to give up. At one stage during the fight the line was wrapped around a branch but the zander shot upriver and ripped itself back out of the snag. It was still hooked and still lively but eventually I got the better of it and brought it into the net. It weighed 8lb 7oz and is not the first 8 pounder that has given me a good scrap. They are middleweights and more athletic than the bigger ones in the heavyweight class. It was worn out from the scrap and I had to hold it in the water by the root of the tail with its head in the current until it had started to breathe strongly and had recovered enough to swim away. It seemed to be ok and so I let go but the zander was still too weak and it went belly-up on the surface, just out of reach of my net. The current was taking the zander downriver so I quickly cast a line over it and managed to hook its pectoral fin and drag it back to the bank. This time I made sure that it was more lively, and that its pectorals and tail were paddling strongly, a sure sign that the fish has regained its strength. It swam away strongly as soon as I let go of its tail. I also caught a 7.12 and two tiny zander, each one weighing little more than 1lb.
12th In the morning I caught four zander in between 4.50am and 5.35am. The last one was the biggest. It weighed 9.06 and hardly fought at all. I think the saying is ‘It came in like a sack of potatoes.”
I was in the bivvy when I heard a roar in the sky. I thought ‘I know what that noise is’ and came out of the bivvy, looked up, and there was a hot-air balloon full of people. They were waving at me. Intruding in my space and waving at me, I felt like doing a moon at them but manners prevailed. The sheep on the far bank were mesmerised by the balloon full of people. I guess it was the first time that they had seen humans fly.
13 July 2013, I spotted a fox on the far bank sneaking along the edge of the river in bright sunlight. It went into thick undergrowth beneath a large willow tree. I didn’t see it come back out again and I wondered if it was going to sleep there for the day. The following morning at 5.30am I once again spotted a fox on the far bank, and again it was skulking along. Mother duck was on the river with her two offspring in tow. She quacked at the fox and followed it. Quack, quack, she gave her alarm call and then another mother duck (with 3 young) joined in and they followed the fox as it made its way upriver. Quack, quack! Alarm call, alarm call! The fox stopped next to the river under a fallen tree and the ducks sat a few feet away repeatedly calling their alarm warning “fox here on the bank”.
It smells like otter and cat poo, with a touch of ferret pee, badger and rotting cabbages. I crushed the yellow flower head and the acrid, pungent stink was noticeable. It was rapeseed oil an invasive species spread by floods, and was growing all the way down the bankside to the river. There was some next to my bivvy and I stamped it over until it lay on the ground, and then as soon as it was dark it was covered in ginger-brown slugs. They ate all the leaves. It seemed that slugs either have no sense of smell or they have a bizarre sense of taste.
At 1.30pm on a very hot afternoon I heard a guttural yip, looked across and saw an otter swimming away downriver on the surface under the overhanging trees. That afternoon a 3lb+ eel came along. It looked to be in very poor condition, with white patches of fungus all over until it was nearly all white and fungal. It was swimming poorly on surface and didn’t look destined to live much longer.
After dark, as I was standing right next to the rods an otter surfaced right in front of me. It popped its head out of the water right in-between my rod tips just as an alarm sounded. It vanished in a flash.
I watched as an owl landed on a dead branch at the top of a tree on the far bank. Its silhouette was made quite distinct by the backdrop of fading light from the western evening sky behind it. The owl hunched its shoulders and bobbed its head a few times before flying silently away.
Parkend, G and S Canal July 15, 16
As it was going dark I spotted an otter on the canal. It tried to sneak past underwater but I spotted the bow-wave, it was too fast for a fish so I followed it down the canal, estimated how far it could get on a lungful of air, and there in the distance, the otter popped up. I was chatting to a boater who insisted that there were no otters on the canal and it must have been a mink. I know it was an otter. They are very elusive and largely nocturnal; if you look there are animal tracks across land where they can come up from the tidal Severn at night.
The night fishing was boat free. The lift-bridges on this canal are manned in the day but the bridge attendant goes home at 5 or 6 pm and after that only the occasional smaller boat is on the move. I take advantage of this lack of large craft and place my baits on a shallow ridge in the middle of the canal. The canal generally has two boat channels and there is a shallower area in-between them. In some swims I could place my bait on a ridge as shallow as 6ft where the depth dropped to 14ft+ on either side. Shallow ridges in-between the boat channels proved to be good for zander on the Severn so it seemed worth a go here too.
I caught a few very small zander and noticed that more than one of them had zander fang stab marks on them. Bigger zander were preying on them. A small zander would be a good livebait for a serious attempt at catching a big zander on this canal.
There are lots of glow worms on the banking where my rods are, next to the towpath. They are like little flat beetle bugs with a glowing tail. I believe it’s the same chemical as found in the starlight snap-and-shake chemical lights used by anglers.
These UK glow worms are different from New Zealand glow worms that I have previously encountered. The glow worm, Lampyris noctiluca, is not at all worm-like but is a beetle up to 25 mm long. Only the wingless female glows strongly, to attract the flying males. Each individual female has an adult glowing life of only a few weeks until she mates, since she dies soon after laying her eggs. After a few weeks the eggs hatch into larvae, and they remain as larvae for one or two further summers, feeding on small snails which they apparently paralyse before sucking them empty.
We went back on the Severn on the 17th, to the lower section under a big shady oak tree. It was the hottest day of the year, 32 degrees, and the river was dour. It was no surprise that we blanked. On the 18th Pete went home and I went upriver to find some flow and all I caught was a 4lber from under the shade of an overhanging tree that hung out over deeper water. Total catch for the ten day session = nineteen zander
River Severn July 25th to 29th. On July 25th I caught three zander, on the 26th I caught thirteen zander and on 27th another three to total 19 zander in 48 hours (twelve were under 5lb and the three biggest weighed 8.07, 8.07, and 9.00) and then rain, rain, rain all evening, and all night, stopping at about 4.30 am by which time the levels had risen a few inches and sport had ground to a halt and I had no more runs. Levels were up a foot by 12 noon and still rising. I watched the level rise on my marker stick and the water became coloured and was carrying debris. I wondered, when the levels start to fall, will it fish well? I decided to wait and see. By 4.00pm the level was up to a fork on marker stick and still rising. At 8.00pm levels were still the same, not up or down and there was less debris now, just logs down the middle. By midnight the levels had risen 1½ inches. I slept the following afternoon and woke up to find that my landing net was missing. It was probably sucked away by the wash of a big boat going too fast. Weather report … no more rain. Levels will drop, and colour will drop out, until conditions could be perfect and so I planned to dig and stay.
This year’s fledglings are now as big as the adults but still young and dependant with lots to learn. A crow plotted up its young in a tree and then brought them food to an orchestra of raucous caw, caw, caw.
A green woodpecker landed on a dead branch at the top of the tree opposite and stopped there, clinging to the branch. The bird looked huge. It suddenly made a different to normal sound for this species as it was joined by another woodpecker which followed it playfully up the branch while they were chattering to each other and then they flew away together, clumsy and heavy as ever.
A fledgling song thrush flew into my line, between rod tip and water. The immature bird spun around and got the line wrapped around its neck and wings and then landed in the river, brought down. Birds can be a hazard when using light indicators. No I didn’t fillet it for bait I retrieved it, carefully unravelled it and released it, unharmed. At dawn many rowdy seagulls were flying very high up in. They seemed to be in a squabbling family group with juveniles, very loud and rowdy.
July 29th; bad shopping day! I ended up going on an emergency shopping trip. I desperately needed to get a landing net after trying unsuccessfully to turn the unhooking cradle in to a landing net. I wound the rods in, left the bivvy up, and nipped into Worcester to find a tackle shop, buy a net and some provisions so I could stay longer until optimum big zander feeding conditions came around. I couldn’t find the tackle shop in Worcester and circled around for a while until I saw a sign for M5 and headed off down the motorway to a shop I knew of in Tewkesbury. I got a net but it was too small really, so it would be a struggle. That was when I broke down. In Tewkesbury! The gearbox had packed in.
Luckily the AA man was an angler and he ran me up the motorway to Worcester and across the flood plain to retrieve my gear. I left him on the hard standing and then got caught by a thunderstorm, the wheelbarrow was stuck to the axles in a soggy field of onions and I was plastered in mud and dripping wet. The AA man had never seen anything like it and he said that Robson Green wasn't half as extreme an angler as me. We eventually retrieved the gear and took it back to my motor at Tewkesbury which was then relayed to Manchester for repair. There are now 8 free DVD's by Zandavan productions on the way to the AA man.
And so I never did get to use the undersized landing net after all and perhaps it’s just as well, because it is too small really. I am now at home in the caravan. The gearbox has gone on my car and I am grounded until it’s repaired.
My car was in for repairs and the next trip was in jeopardy. Pete offered me a lift and we went to the G and S canal for 6 nights
5th Aug 2013, on the bank where I put the bivvy there were lots of clusters of red berries on a stick or stem.
Arum maculatum is a common woodland plant species of the Araceae family. It is known by an abundance of common names including wild arum, lords and ladies, devils and angels, cows and bulls, cuckoo-pint, Adam and Eve, bobbins, naked boys, starch-root and wake robin. Above the male flowers is a ring of hairs forming an insect trap.
In autumn the lower ring of (female) flowers forms a cluster of bright red berries . These attractive red to orange berries are extremely poisonous. The berries contain needle-shaped crystals which irritate the skin, mouth, tongue, and throat, and result in swelling of throat, difficulty breathing, burning pain, and upset stomach. However, their acrid taste coupled with the almost immediate tingling sensation in the mouth when consumed mean that large amounts are rarely taken and serious harm is unusual. It is one of the most common causes of accidental plant poisoning based on attendance at hospital A & E departments
Behind me there was an awful farm where they run a zero grazing system. It doesn’t seem right to keep the cattle indoors; then go and mow and transport grass from the fields to the cows which never see fields in their life. Nature not intended! The land stinks of cow slurry which is taken to the field to spread. At 3.15am in the quiet of a still night I could hear a farmer shouting at the cows and bullying them, the abuse echoed loudly in the huge slatted cow house. Another aspect of this factory farming system is to treat the animal as a production line and disturb them from their slumber at antisocial hours in order to get three or more lots of milk a day from them rather than the traditional twice a day.
I spent the morning watching a water rail. It had a knack of landing on a clump of sedges on the far bank and then crawling beneath the overhanging canopy. They are a shy and elusive bird, they scuttle about so that you hardly notice them but I do hear them a lot as they tend to let out a high pitched shriek as their alarm call if they hear a bang, a gunshot or a loud splash when a big fish jumps.
There were lots of wasps on my deadbaits. They are very in to flesh eating at this time of year.
It was a misty morning. The mist was lying low in a layer that clung to the ground in such a way that the tree tops were showing above the mist. A huge orange sun-ball could be seen behind, or through the mist and I watched as its golden rays slowly broke through as the mist cleared.
I cast all my baits into the shadow on the far bank. There is always a strip of shadow from the sun and as the sun gets higher, the strip of shadow gets thinner. On the Middle Level the sun rises on the far bank and I used to catch a lot of zander in the early morning as they were feeding in this far bank shaded area. Here on the G&S the sun also rises on the far bank and so I decided that if it works on level it should do here too. Yes, it worked here too! I got a few runs and caught a couple of schoolies before the sun was high.
A wall of noise from M5 ruined my surround-sound wildlife receiver. The towpath was active too as dog walkers, joggers, and a loud boisterous chanting sports team came by. Thirty loud energetic blokes on bikes all shouting to each other, there is little peace when fishing near the populated areas around Gloucester.
In six nights I caught ten zander including four of 5lb+. One tiny zander of about 8oz had managed to hook itself in the eye on the chemically sharpened treble while it played with large a bait. And, yes it did end up as bait, in sections.
Wed 7th August No runs last night. No runs in the morning, not even a bite on worm. I got up at 3.15am and the canal was dead. No runs on 4 zander rods. Would I have blanked on the Middle Level across in Norfolk last night? I probably would. I have noted that there is a nationwide connection more than once before. True!
It was a hot afternoon and a racing pigeon landed on the far bank, walked to the edge, and eyed the water 2ft below. It couldn’t reach and it was so hot, nearly 30c, so hot that the bird has got to drink. It paced up and down until it found a patch of duckweed floating on the surface, looking rather like a lawn. It jumped down and went straight through the surface weed and into the water beneath. The pigeon kept its wings up in the air all the time and managed to flap its way to be airborne and return to the bank. It did this three times!!!
We spent the last two nights on the Castle club wide which is a haven for immature fish fry in the weed beds. Cormorants and grebes were fishing there as I caught boots, skimmers, perch roach … and bleak too! I finally discovered that there are lots of bleak if you fish shallow. I don’t know why I didn’t pick up on this until now. There should be no future bait shortage from now on. Despite the abundance of baitfish, I didn’t get much activity from the zander, just a 3lber on a live skimmer and one of 8oz on a dead bleak. Pike were a problem here and I caught a few. As I write I notice that I was using live bait which would account for the incidence of pike. I usually catch more pike if I use lives and off bottom deads.
The time that I fancy livebait fishing this canal, is in winter after some hard frosts when the silverfish are shoaled tightly in their winter quarters. A big old solitary zander is a rare specimen and they are so few in numbers that they can be hard to locate. They could be anywhere in summer, spread out along the miles of canal. In winter I am hoping there will be some big zander around that have followed the silverfish to their winter quarters. If I can find the herring ball, the bigger zander should be close by.
I am always on the lookout for bubbling bream on this canal because there is a relationship between zander and bream. Big zander can be seen swimming amongst, and with, big bream. Just as you see some perch in with a shoal of roach. They are swimming with the bream not preying on them. Find a shoal of big bream and there are likely to be some big zander nearby.
August 18th the first night of three on the Severn. The River was a few feet up and falling when I arrived. I caught no zander the first day but the eels were going mental in the margin and only the margin was fishable because of debris, flotsam and jetsam. After four hours the river had dropped 5 ½ inches but it was the colour of tea stained with cocoa (so I wrote in my diary) I want it to have a green tinge whatever that may be like… I had two stabbed baits but only one had sounded the alarm. I was using a tightened bait-runner, nipped up until it held in the flow. There is no point in being up and down constantly setting an indicator in these flood conditions. A tree has become lodged mid-river where it usually has its branches sticking above the surface where the boats will spot them and steer around the obstacle. Today, the river level had risen above the branches and there was nothing visible to the boats. There were few boats that day because the levels were a bit risky. Eventually a boat came chugging past and went straight over the submerged tree. The boat was stuck fast on top of the tree in the middle of the river for a while. When they managed to get free they turned around and went back downriver to wherever they had come from.
I caught nothing during the second day … that night, nothing … at 7.05am I caught the first zander of the trip, a 3lber, and my 75th zander of the season.
I spent the day plotting a rough depth contour map of the swim and wrote a river levels zander fishing guide. It was interesting to mark off the areas where I caught nearly all the zander. They were nearly all from the shallower areas with a faster flow.
TWO DORSAL FINS: If you look at the two dorsal fins on a zander you will notice that the rear dorsal has quite a resemblance to the dorsal on a grayling. Of course grayling like faster flowing runs too. Zander also have big pectoral fins that help them to hug the bottom and they are capable of effortlessly holding their position in the stronger currents. A lot of first time zander anglers fail to grasp this and target deep slow areas, where they probably tend to catch more pike than zander.
The Swim where I plotted the Depth Contour Map. (See below)
Four different zones: 1 & 2 - shallow faster current
3 - deeper gullies with less flow in the sump (unless in flood and flow belting through)
4 - margins and slack water areas
In low to medium levels/flows I fish in zone 1 & 2, shallower with faster current when conditions are
Low light levels
In clear water and bright sunny conditions
I fish in zone 3, deeper gullies and seek flow
And in zone 4 near overhanging shade and cover, trees, deeper water.
In high level and flood conditions with hazardous debris and strong currents
I fish in zone 4
Or in zone 3 if there isn’t too much debris flowing through.
But of course it is not an exact science and you constantly have to weigh up the variables – colour, light and flow. On bright days if the water is clear, I will try to find deeper, darker areas away from the brightness but I still like to get in the flow and not in deep, slack, dead-water areas. But if the water is coloured I will place the bait on the shallowest area with the fastest current. I prefer the shallow mid-river areas at night but my mate Graham catches a few zander right in at the edge under the rod tip.
Zander fishing guide to river levels.
Low and Clear. In typical low-flow, summer conditions expect small zander.
Rising levels. A small rise in water level after the river has been low can be brilliant. The extra water is cooler and full of oxygen which brings life to a dour, warm, summer river and will trigger fish into feeding. In high summer just a small rise of just a few centimetres will bring the river to life. Look at the weather upstream. Rain in the headwaters can mean the river will fish well further down the river.
Flood. Zander will feed well in floods but conditions make the fishing difficult. Strong current belting through and full of debris, branches, leaves etc. Fish close. Deadbait sections and fillets are best, they release more flavour into the murky water and the zander home in on the scent trail. Get the rod tips beneath the surface where possible and you will avoid many floating objects.
Falling Water. The river Severn takes longer than many other rivers to fine-down after a flood. As the flood is starting to recede, the fishing can remain good for several days
August 20th. I spent the third day catching roach, ruffe, and perch. By 6.00pm levels were just about back to normal and the colour looked good. It felt right! It was a full moon too - even righter! I have many happy memories of playing big zander while there is a whacking great big silvery moon reflecting on the surface; it always seemed to be a full moon. At 1.10am I got a run on a dead bleak and struck in to a good fish. I could feel the heavier weight on the end and knew it was a better fish straight away. I netted the first double of the year weighing 12lb 7oz zander. I kept it carefully in a net so I could do self-take photos in daylight. Early the next morning I hooked another good fish. I brought the zander closer in, and then it suddenly kited in to the bank and tried to bury itself beneath my keepnet with the other fish in, where it was staked out in the margins. I clearly saw the zander and reckon it weighed around 10.04 to 10.06. And then it did the net-dive trick, snagged the trailing set of hooks on the net, shed the other set of hooks and escaped leaving me attached to the keepnet. That was that for this session, it was time to be doing my regular decamping and wheel barrowing exercises. Who needs a gym? I had to nip down to Gloucester where I had arranged to meet Pete. I didn’t want to go really because the doubles were on the feed.
I met Pete on the G and S canal. We tried an area we hadn’t tried yet; the match length near Reas Bridge, nearer to Gloucester and more urban than the lengths we had been to so far. Straight away I caught loads of roach, perch and skimmers, one a chuck. And then the next day I couldn’t get a bite. The zander fishing however was slow the first day, just two fish but on the second day when I couldn’t get a bite on maggot I caught six zander.
Early one morning I had a strange encounter. A few hundred yards away I could see what looked like a family of Meerkats on the towpath. I rubbed my eyes but they were still there. When I tried to get closer they slipped away through a hole in the hedge. Escapees? They looked like Meerkats and I can’t think what else they could have been. Pete was greatly amused and said “Coronation street, dot, meerkats, dot-com” in a funny voice.
Back to the Severn. It had taken two days to persuade Pete that we would be better off on the Severn. I whittled away at his preference for canal fishing until he finally agreed that the Severn would have been a better option. We were there two hours later with three nights fishing left over the August bank holiday.
The conditions were good and the river looked good, but the fishing was slow. I reckoned that we would still get some better fish if we stuck with it.
I got in to a heavy conversation with Pete about bivvies and using more than two rods. I think he was lacking confidence, leading a temporary delusion as he was tiring of the static approach and having too many rods to tend. He wanted to go roving with one rod. I love being in a bivvy. I have noticed that some lure anglers, day anglers and boat anglers don’t get this ‘ah, it’s good to be at home’ feeling such as a longer-stay bivvy angler may enjoy. Instead, they may feel awkward and alienated in the bivvy but may get the good feeling when they go home… home comforts. I have done an awful lot of eel fishing and have been fine tuning my bivvy and wheelbarrow full of kit for 20 years and have now got everything right, just as you like it at home and ready to deal with all likelihoods and conditions. I love the anticipation of being there with my rods in, waiting for a run. It’s a fishing station from which to practice multi-rod, factory fishing, and it can be like a production line when a pack of zander comes along.
Using an extra rod has the advantage to try new or different things that you wouldn’t do with one less rod. Today on the Severn, the swim varies from an 18 count to a 4 count. I caught a zander off the 4 count, a shallow run in the middle of the river. Much to Pete’s surprise “What you caught at a 4 count?”
“Yes on the extra rod!”
During the August Bank Holiday the farmer cut, harrowed and ploughed in the onions because it wasn’t worth picking them. The price was too low to justify the labour costs. There was a strong smell of onions in the bivvy and along the bank for days. It was a bad year for onion growers. The long winter and wet weather had delayed crop development nationwide.
Pete ran out of time as work and family commitments beckoned and he had to go. I decided to brave it out for another day and then I would also have run out of time and have to go
I was lying in the bivvy on a very quiet still night and I could hear the sound of crawling slugs. It’s like a slow grating-on-Velcro sort of a scraping sound and when they are crawling on outside of bivvy you hear this noise. Sometimes it is broad-winged and lace-wing flies, sedge, caddis or moths mating at night, on top of the tent or bivvy. It’s a slightly different sound than slugs, more like a fluttering-over-Velcro sort of sound. I first noticed this in New Zealand and it was so loud I went out to check and found flies mating on the tent roof. Nowadays after spending so many nights in a bivvy I can recognise the sound of a slug in the bivvy and get rid of it before it finds my food in the coolest part of the bivvy – I shove my food under the groundsheet, that’s my fridge.
Swans on the Severn have got lovely bright Persil-white bodies but their head and neck are stained a horrible yellow colour. The river is like tea with a cocoa stain and it stinks of sewage slightly.
I’ve been lobbing all my old deadbaits under a bush and wondered if anything would home in on this larder in shallow water. A mink emerged this morning and swam across the river. It was jet black. I hissed and it looked around but ignored me. So I shouted and what have you and it didn’t know whether to carry on across, or turn back. It circled a bit, then carried on so I clapped shouted and remonstrated. It dived, then came up again, I clapped some more and it dived and vanished. Gone! I noticed ripples coming from under the bush as it reached its sanctuary.
I heard it first; a seal, puffing and panting its way up river on the surface and heading into Worcester.
At 9.20am I noticed a big wave and the water humping. I wondered if the locks had just opened for the first boat of the day. Then I noticed a big swirl and saw a seal. I waved and clapped to scare it off but the bugger came to me as though we were in a circus. So I wound in one rod and cast it into the air then stopped it mid-air, above the seal. Missed! I seemed to have lost my touch; I used to be quite good at this with the ducks when I was a terrible teenager. I wound in fast to reload. Tried again, missed! The seal didn’t seem bothered. The third cast landed right next to it with a big, loud, slapping splash. The seal dived. Ten minutes later it came back, down-river, on the far side, on the surface. I was franticly winding in my weapon when the seal suddenly turned into a fast sideways dive and porpoised through the water at full speed, the acceleration was notable. It propelled into the far margins under some overhanging branches and vanished amongst an entanglement of branches from a fallen tree in the margins where I had been catching zander. The zander angler and the seal are likeminded hunters. The seal emerged with a plump zander of about 9lb in its jaws, and then lay-up for a while in the far margin, on the bottom, on a shallow shelf right next to the bank. I think it was digesting the zander. After this, the seal went flushing fish out of their cover and hunting under the curtain of overhanging trees that were providing shade for zander on this bright sunny day. As like-minded hunters, we both targeted shaded overhanging trees on this hot, sunny afternoon. It vanished upriver following the row of trees, but not for long; I noticed a swan moving fast, down and across the river. It was looking up-river, looking worried, almost panicking, and trying to get out of the way of something. And then the seal came down river, blowing loudly. I had a thought. That’s one way to get the seal off the river - video it killing a swan and send the film to the RSPB. At 5.10pm the seal surfaced in my swim and I wondered if I would ever catch anything today after having this disturbance.
And then at 5.45pm I caught a perfectly conditioned zander weighing 6.15. I got another run an hour later and I hooked in to a heavy lump of a zander that went off down river. I could feel its heavy weight as I brought it back up river and I went into extra cautious, heart-in-mouth mode while I sized up the weight on the end. I usually ease up slightly on the anxiety when I see the fish; I hate one getting away before I’ve seen it. I got my first sighting of the fish as I got it up on the surface, right in front of me. It looked about 13lb odd I thought as it only just fitted in the net. It was a beautiful specimen with humped shoulders. My guesstimate was right; I weighed it in at 13lb 6oz. So the seal didn’t eat all the zander, nor did it scare them all away.
My last fish of the trip was another double weighing 10.04. I went home feeling very happy that I had managed to catch three doubles over the bank holiday period.
Lower Severn Zander weighing 13lbs 6ozs. (Insert 10lbs 4ozs.)
It may seem odd that I am usually fishing on my own when I catch the bigger specimens but when you stop and think about it, the answer becomes apparent. For a start I am one of the loudest anglers on the bank. I have a booming voice, a fact to which those that have been to one of my slide shows will testify. I have been told that I can clearly be heard in main room at the other bar and also out in the car park. To add to the bankside disturbance, when I am fishing with company I can talk constantly about zander, eels and what have you. The more exciting the story: the louder I get. But then, when I am fishing on my own: total silence! I am the bank-walking proof that big, old fish do not like noise. Of course I can use this gob-piece to my advantage by visiting any nearby anglers for a tactical chin-wag and so I can flush the fish towards me.
I’ve heard it said that you don’t catch the bigger zander in summer but will catch plenty of schoolies. I like to find out for myself and so this year I found out that this statement is correct because I had caught 75 smaller zander before I caught the first double during the August Bank Holiday period and then like London buses … a second and then a third. On this occasion it was the extra flow that had a large bearing on waking up the bigger zander.
Up until this trip I had been using trebles but during the last session I had put my thinking cap on. I thought of events ten, fifteen years ago when I was hauling loads of zander. When I was on a roll, I rarely missed or lost a fish. I decided there and then to go back to the set-up that had been so successful, the semi-bolt rig with double hooks (VB or now called quick strike, it’s the same hook but the name has been changed).
I started zander fishing twenty years ago with a two treble hook rig, which I was already used to from pike fishing. A couple of years later I used single hooks for several months but eventually bumped a few fish on the strike when using bigger baits; even when using two single hooks on the trace/bait. Then I went on VB double hooks with two hooks on the trace/in the bait and got very successful. My catch rate went up and fewer fish were bumped off at the net. I went on to use them with a semi-bolt set-up and deep hooking became very rare and I was on a roll. And then I caught a 9lb zander… big hook one in each gristle pads at the back of its throat … I struggled … It died… I blamed the hooks; the larger hook was too big.
I started to use a single treble after that … with the tagging gun for hair rigging the bait … especially for eel sections with their tough skin that clings to the hook so the zander can throw the hook out with the bait if it shakes its head when on a short leash, i.e. at the rod tip. I found the hinged effect of the treble trailing behind the bait was very effective and the hooking rate was high. … But still a few ‘bumped off’ fish.
I started tinkering with hooks again in 2013, make my own hooks I thought … not as big as those VB … smaller hooks and whip/glue/shrink tube them together back to back, so making my own smaller version of the VB hooks that I used to do so well with. I looked at the hook sizes … too small … too big …hmmm this looks the optimum size and this size for the bigger hook … there that looks good, perfect size, perfect combination. Before assembling the hooks I decided to compare them to some VB hooks. I delved into the depths of a tackle odds and sods bin in the shed and came up with some now disused and to be discarded VB hooks. Well blow me down … umm … ok then … they are exactly the same size as the optimum size ones I have decided to make. And so I kept the old VB hooks. What goes around comes around; they had come back in fashion.
I told Pete about the incident when I had a double hook stuck in a zander’s throat and he explained how he unhooks a treble if the hook is jammed in the throat pads and immovable. Get two pairs of forceps and break the hook … go in through the gills if needs be … ok … I thought about it and I was fine with that. I would once again use the double hooks and if I ever got a similar unhooking problem I would smash the hook up. Two pairs of forceps! You can get a bit rusty and I had forgotten how I had always used two pairs until Pete reminded me. That was the best reminder tip of the season. I’ve just used two pairs of forceps. I locked one on to the first hook and it all suddenly seemed familiar as I used the other through the gill to get to the second set of hooks. How could I have forgotten?
I remembered the huge hauls of zander I made on the fens using these hooks … they are slick, the smaller hook slots neatly into the bait, leaving a prominent single, a larger hook to give a better hold. These hooks are sharp and nasty which is good for pricking the zander … I got one in the finger yesterday, it went in deep, past the barb. I gritted my teeth, manned-up and ripped it back out. Blood spurted from the hole.
One time on the Middle Level, a 12lb pike jumped off the mat, slid down the steep embankment and the flying second hook, a big VB hook, went right under my thumb nail and was then driven deeply in by the pike’s weight wriggling and thrashing as I reached for the scissors. That time it was a hospital job.
And so to sum up, I have now gone full circle and ended up back on VB double pike hooks with a semi-bolt rig and once again I am hauling. I don’t seem to be missing or pricking or bumping off fish – back on a roll again! I use two double VB pike hooks size 8. It is actually the smaller hook that is size 8; the larger one is size 4. They are very sharp, the slick shape allows the smaller hook to slot neatly into the bait and they are soft enough to bend out of a snag such as sunken trees on the Severn. The bait is legered using a weight of 2oz+ on a free-running rig with a stop knot after 1 – 3 ft. to act as a bolt. This rig lets them have a bit of slack and then the bead hits the stop knot – the bolt, this pricks the hook into the fish and also stops it swallowing the bait
29th Aug to 1st Sept, four nights on the Severn.
I caught a few zander each day up to 7.12. On the 1st Sept, last day of the session I caught plenty of roach, perch, dace, ruffe, bleak and a small flatfish on swim-feeder and worm. I put the flattie back and afterwards I wished I had tried it as bait instead, that would have been a first. It was nearly time to go; I tallied up - 99 zander so far this season. I took the bivvy down and the bedchair then put them into the wheelbarrow. Playing for time, I put the kettle on and sat beside the rods with a brew. I lay the three rods on the ground, side by side so I could see all three tips next to each other. I took the rollovers off the banksticks and slowly put them away in the rod holdall. Next I put the forceps in the tackle bag and was nearly ready to go. The nearest rod tip dipped and bent to the left, then eased back and pulled round, I picked up the rod, gave it a little line. Yes! It was going, 1ft or so and then I struck and caught my 100th zander of the season. A nice round number to end the trip on!
10 -13 September, four nights on the Severn.
10th Sept. The water was low and clear. As soon as the light faded in the evening I caught a zander and every couple of hours after that I caught another until by the time it was light I had taken six zander, biggest 8lb 10ozs. I wrote in my diary “Clear water means no runs until it gets dark. I assume!”
11th Sept. It rained and rained. I blanked, just a missed run for my efforts.
12th Sept. I watched the martins and swallows gather in flocks and perch on a dead willow on the opposite bank, to me this signified the end of summer and, as always, it seemed to have passed too quickly. The water was low and clear with a tinge of colour but still clear water; it smelt of pollution, of nasty industrial and sewage waste that is discharged into the river.
Friday the 13th. The river was still rising slowly. It continued to rain all afternoon and the river kept on rising. At 10pm it was still raining and water from Wales arrived boosting the levels. And then at 5.55am I caught a 2.12 zander on a bleak head. I caught it straight away after recasting with fresh bait… it pays off to put fresh bait on and recast regularly.
September 28th & 29th I went for a quick two-day session with the river low at summer base level. I caught three roach in three casts on swim-feeder and maggot. Bleak were attacking the swimfeeder as soon it splashed down and then pulling, pushing and bumping it as it sank and so; off with the feeder and on with a waggler, and then I caught thirty bleak in thirty casts.
Early one morning as wisps of mist were swirling off the river, some small fish scattered in the far margin. I cast right across. It’s shallow; a 5 count. I noticed a small pull on the rod tip and one bleep at the alarm. Picked up and felt the rod, watched the line; tremble, twitch … hit it … Zander 4.08.
I caught seven zander the first day and then another five during the second day. Only two were over 5lb in weight at 6.04 and 8.12. All fell to bleak deadbaits with the heads cut off to release more scent/blood and then legered mid-river on a 15lb wire trace with two size 8 double hooks and a semi-bolt rig. The bites were delicate but with the Rollover indicator weighted just right it flips over and releases line from the open bale arm. I usually strike straight away, before the bolt kicks-in but if I don’t get to the rod in time, after 3ft of line has been taken, the bolt kicks in to hook the zander before it can swallow the bait and become deep-hooked. It pays to be active and work at your zander fishing rather than being lazy or unadventurous enough to chuck and chance it, then leave it be to fish for itself. Recasting at regular intervals with fresh baits to different spots does pay off. When runs occur in a certain zone, be prepared to maximise and cast all the rods there. You can often end up with a fish on each rod and all the rods on the bank at once; as soon as you get one in, and it’s off again, At times like this you can never get all three or four rods in. Do zander travel in shoals? … Duh!
October 4th I’m at home in bed. It’s cold outside as the season has turned. I can hear swans honking high up in the sky on their migratory flight path, just before dawn. I wonder if they are heading for the fens. Once upon a time a mention of Zander to me used to conjure up an image of The Fens in autumn and winter. I haven’t been this year and I miss the place. Nowhere else that I go has either so much space to pitch a bivvy or such a big sky.
October 6th, three nighter.
October has always been my favourite month for zander fishing. I love the autumn feel of the countryside: the golden leaves, nuts, berries, fish-fry and predator-strikes. I met a couple of the regular barbel anglers on the river and commented that the month of October is a prime month for zander fishing therefore I am cancelling all appointments and trying to fish as much as possible this month. The way I put it was, that it is still warm today and sometime between now and mid-November it is going to go very cold. We are due to have the first frosts and a predator feeding spree as the days get shorter and the water cools. And then there are also light levels and flows to consider. The autumn light levels are lower and the seasonal rains boost flows, and colour the water. Zander like both flowing coloured water and low-light conditions and one or the other is more likely to be right at this time of year. October always gets me excited.
I decided to spice things up a bit and dug out my spool of lucky pink line. It works for eels: why not for zander too? First night the river was up 2ft, coloured and pulling hard. At 12.15 am I caught a 7.10 zander on a frozen bait section cast to a 6 count … pink line. I got no more runs that night or next day until 5pm when I bumped off a zander and then at 5.01pm I bumped off another and came to the conclusion that it was either the same fish or the same school. Then all was quiet until 8.20 pm when I caught a 6lber on a dead bleak at a 4 count … pink line! At 10.25pm I struck in to another fish that had taken a dead bleak. This time it felt a lot heavier. I took my time, being careful not to lose the fish. It came towards me and was hugging the bottom right in front of me but it was still fresh and lively and not yet ready for the net, so I let it cruise around for a while on a tight leash. It seemed to take forever to tire the fish but eventually I slipped the net under a 14lbs 11oz zander which is the biggest I’ve ever caught in the Severn and only 3oz short of my PB from the fens.It was a very long fish which would be likely to weigh a lot more later in the season. It took a dead bleak cast to a 6 count. Not on the pink line though, there’s a surprise.
At 6.50pm I caught an 8.05 on a dead bleak cast to an 8 count … lucky pink line. The next day at 10.25am a 4lber on bleak, 8 count, pink line. At 3.35pm, a 2.12 and then no more runs all night even though the level fell and the river seemed to be in ideal, optimum, expect-a-run-at-any-moment condition. Is it worth monitoring, predicting planning for/around different flows and levels and weather conditions and then there’s the moon to consider, the gravitational pull, the tide … where does it end? … I have long since come to the conclusion that it’s best to just go fishing whenever possible and whatever the weather. Here I am just as the conditions are optimum and I am not catching. And so it is. Levels are falling and I will try to stay long enough so that at some point I will catch it right. I think I would be here anyway, even if the conditions seemed wrong. It only takes one run to catch a PB.
14lbs 110zs my biggest from The Severn
Sitting by the rod with the reel on bait-runner mode and watching the tip is good for short sessions but not suitable for the four to six day/night sessions that I do, and so I use Rollovers.
I prefer to have my rod tips pushed below the surface but will skyline them if the layout of the swim is such that I can’t get the rods by the water, which is quite often on the Severn. When I get a take I generally pick up the rod as soon as the rollover flips off and then I feel the line out to a steady live fish pull rather than the steady constant pull of the current. Trap the line between the fingers and you feel the fish pulling the rod around I usually give it a few more inches and feel it all the way to the stop knot and then strike but at other times when shy bites have been happening I will hit it as soon as I feel the slightest pluck ... it varies … you get the feel for it …
When I am using the Rollover in running water on a medium to fast flowing river I remove the counterbalance weight, it is only needed for still waters, light flows and slack water situations. The rollover with the counterbalance removed is just the right weighting to hold on the Severn in normal conditions. But of course the Severn rarely has normal conditions and so I then add weight according to the flow. I go prepared with two different weight loads on two different spacers on each rod. One is for fishing the middle of the river, the other is for fishing further across and I put both on for far bank or heavy flows. There is only one spacer supplied with a rollover kit but it’s not hard to order another to be posted to you or to improvise and use something such as a lead weight on a cord. In heavy flows I will overweight until it will hold (e.g. far side of Severn) and then bring the rollover up to the biting point just before it rolls over. From this position a knock on the rod top from a fish will roll over the indicator and leave the line free. This heavier weighting is a bit clumsy and not ideal but what is in the strong flows? When flows are too strong and full of debris I discard the indicators, put my rods up skyline style and then put the reel on free-spool bait-runner mode and watch the rod top for knocks. It’s not ideal but what is in the strong flows?
October 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th. I have been telling everyone that I have an appointment with a lucky date. October 13th is my lucky date for a big zander.
11th. I arrived in the evening and caught just one zander of 5.08 on frozen bleak.
12th I used all the frozen baits I brought as a starter pack. I’ve got no baits. I managed to catch a ruffe. I put it on the zander rod and caught a 3.08 straight away. I still have no bait. Problem! All I caught was one bream that was really just a bit too big. I deliberated. Should I have kept the zander and cut it up? I was getting desperate. Two rods now with maggot and feeder and another rod with a worm dropped down the side and I still couldn’t get a bite. It rained and rained and rained. The river level was rising.
Midnight came around. It’s the 13th of October my lucky date for a big zander. I got just one run that night, on bream fillet, at 1.00am and played a good zander to the net then bumped it off due to poor manoeuvrability as I held up my half-on, half-off one-piece thermal suit with one hand. At 6.45am on the 13th October, the sky was half-light as something picked up a bream fillet on the margin rod. I hit it straight away and caught a 13.01 zander. Bang on cue, a big zander at dawn on my lucky date. Perfect. I was chuffed.
Lucky date 13th October
Zander – 13lbs 1oz
Lucky dates, lucky pink line … you may think I’m avin-a-larf here … well firstly the photo above sorts the date issue and take look at the photo below. The line gets lucky with the birds too!
Pink line-bird puller!
Later that day Pete arrived with some baits. He took photos of the fish I had kept safely in a net. I had staked it out in the margins with the top half of the net above the surface so that the zander couldn’t catch and damage its spiny dorsal fin in the netting. I urged him to fish hard as he should have chance of a good fish. Sometime in the middle of the night he caught a good fish weighing 8.12. It gave him a good scrap and was his biggest of the season. I was made up for him. It rained and the river rose, and then some more, and the water level kept creeping up but it wasn’t coloured or ripping through.
I wrote this piece in my diary FITNESS AND ZANDER FISHING. In a chapter of Steve Younger’s book ‘Fenland Zander’, Andy Pearson wrote that there is ‘no gain without pain’ after a very energetic and productive session rod-hopping at night. The point I want to make is that I find that there is no pain once I get ‘match fit’ as the season unfolds. I get daily exercise on the bank moving the bivvy, barrow and all. Using multi-rod tactics on steep banks works the legs; recasting, playing zander and bit bashing keeps the shoulder joints in order. All this activity becomes a regular habit that feeds the endorphins and so that exercise becomes welcome, almost a high. Hauling zander when the sport is hectic uses energy and this tends to feed the endorphin high. When the zander are feeding I am ‘on one’.
And then, the day after I writing this in my diary, I injured my back possibly due to overconfidence and delusions over my fitness making me think I was invincible. I bent down to lift a net out of the river. The net was two feet below my feet. I can touch my toes but not two feet lower than that without warming up the back. The cold back muscles didn’t like being stretched. Pop! Something in my lower back ripped and I had to lie in the mud for a while before I could even move at all. Levels were dropping back down and it looked good for Pete but I had ruined my chances of getting out again for a while and will miss the prime part of the season.
I have come to conclude that, just as I was told, summer zander fishing on the Severn will account for a lot of smaller zander but few bigger specimens are caught. The bigger zander are likely to show more in autumn and winter months. And now the prime time for a big zander has come around, I’m busy with work and nursing torn back muscles.
Moving house! Towards the end of August I started to move out of the caravan in Shropshire where I have lived for 9 years. I have rented a house in New Mills, High Peak, Derbyshire, 8 or 9 miles north of Buxton. The view from the window is a surround of snow-capped hills. This is the Pennines and there are no eels, zander or ferox for miles so I will still have to travel for my target species.
View from my window
The River Goyt flows through New Mills and on to join the Mersey. To me it seems quite incredible the way the Mersey catchment zone has been cleaned up in my lifetime. It used to be too polluted but since the early nineties it has been clean enough to hold fish. From 1964 to 1978 I lived in our family home next to a brook that runs into the River Goyt. The Goyt was so polluted that it smelt and the weir pools gathered rafts of suds that changed colour with different dies and prints that used to be flushed down the river. I always remember an incident that happened when I lived there. Someone’s dog went for a dip in the Goyt whilst on a walk in Brabyns Park at Marple Bridge. It was a red setter and it came out white. It had been bleached. Obviously, there were no fish in the river in those days but Mill Brow Brook was teeming with wild brown trout. It was years since I had been there and Pete Drabble had never been and so this year, 2013, we went off to walk up the brook from the bottom where it meets the river Goyt, to the source up on Ludworth Moor. “We should get a trout in every pool” I promised him but when we got to the brook it didn’t seem right, it smelt like … like … like the Goyt used to. The brook had suffered some kind of pollution, it still smelt ‘off’ and there were no fish except in the lower reaches where a few have come up from the Goyt. We pushed on hoping it would improve when we got above the pollution but it didn’t improve. We made a little DVD of the trip up the brook going past the cottage where I was brought up: I put a bit of it on YouTube: Mill brow brook.
When is a poem not a poem? When its prose
Read on …
I’ve been catching trout since I was nearly six and a half
I say I’m from Mill Brow but really: the brook is where I’m from
We moved there when I was nearly six and a half
To a cottage next to a trout stream in a hidden valley
I lived with my family and had to go to school
But really: I climbed waterfalls
It starts on the moors with a Pennine view; drops down through open fields
To a culvert, a dangerous culvert with waterfalls, deep pools and big trout
This series of falls run between walls, so high, you can’t climb down
“Its private, it’s dangerous and no place for boys” I was told.
When one has a fishing bug, one is driven and so of course
I’ve been going there since I was nearly six and a half
From home I could sneak swiftly but silently up the riverbed in wellies
Past gardens and houses, to get behind the wall, under the windows
Then wade through the tunnel to the deepest pool, the waterfall
Where a worm cast through white tumbling water
And held behind the plunge, under the falls
Would catch the best trout
To get up the falls there’s a ledge underwater, within a junior’s wellie-depth
It’s blasted by draught and spray where it edges past the deafening falls
Until it reaches a sheer incline of smooth, slippery bedrock.
Spread toes to flatten feet and splay arms either side
I learnt how to climb waterfalls: And found trout
There were beautiful wild brown trout with golden flanks and red and black spots
In every pool whether it was wide or narrow, long or short, deep or shallow
They were in all the currents, plunges and white-water flows
Even in little rounded pot-holes on the waterfall itself
And in dark pools beneath echoing mill tunnels
I found trout everywhere!
And that is why I’ve been catching trout since I was nearly six and a half
I had never caught a zander on a lure and so I decided to give it a go. Pete does quite a bit of lure fishing and really it was him; he urged me to try. In November 2013 we picked out a canal in Derbyshire that we knew was populated with zander – The Trent and Mersey - and went for a short day session. I was expecting Pete to catch all the fish and was most surprised when I caught a pike very first cast. “Rubber lures work then” I said. We covered the water along half a mile or so of canal with no further takes, not even a pluck. Then I cast into shallow water in the far margins. It was a carefully placed cast in-between overhanging tree branches and I got a take on the 4 inch shad as soon as I tightened up, as the lure hit the surface. I hooked a good zander, my first on a lure. It weighed about 6lb and didn’t fight much, just a couple of head shakes. We had no net and with my dodgy back I couldn’t bend that far. Pete was struggling to lift it out by the gills. He had it out of the water twice and I said “Grip its tail with one hand and its belly with the other. You can grip them across the belly because the skin is rough, its non-slip.” It shed the hook and got away before we could get a photo. “Oh well! We will photo the next if we get another”. Less than a hundred yards away I was into another, my 2nd lure caught zander and this time we took a photograph. Once again it was from shallow water, over by the far bank, near overhanging trees. Although it was a lot smaller than the first one, the capture gave us a boost of confidence. “We can walk along getting them out from under the cover where they rest up in the day when they’re not feeding. It’s a whole new ball game; we are not fishing for feeding zander but finding where they rest.”
“Like the seal was doing in hot summer days on the Severn” said Pete “It was routing them out from under the cover”. We walked until my back gave in; fishing enthusiastically and I caught a good sized perch but no more zander. Pete blanked and I made fun about it on the way home.
2nd ever lure caught zander
2013 I was supposed to be doing a feature on the Severn, zander fishing with Gary Newman but I couldn’t make it because I did my back in at the crucial time of season and had to rest it and stop bivvying out for a while.
I was sad to hear that one of my angling heroes, Arthur Sutton had passed away. Arthur was instrumental in the forming of the NAC and a founding member. It was his idea that a specialist eel group be created and he went about doing just that in 1962 … and the NAC is still going strong in 2013. I had arranged to go to his funeral in Lincolnshire but on the day I couldn’t even move, I was bedbound with a ripped back tendon or ligament and missed the funeral.
It took over a month for the back to recover enough for me to start to even think about braving the loaded wheelbarrow, the bivvy and the slippery river bank. By the time it had healed enough, the backlog of work was taking over and I was long overdue to visit my sons and grandchildren in Penzance. I had run out of time for this year.
Born to fish: forced to work! Sometimes life’s a bitch.
New product design: The Zandavan Tilt Alarm. The small 999 alarm that fits on the rod was a good idea but the buzzer unit was a bit too small. The original field tests were positive but as time went by I realised that the buzzer unit was too small and was not built to last. They have been a bit of fun, a budget alarm and a bit of a novelty toy. Some people like them but too many of them malfunctioned after a bit of heavy use, and so, I am looking in to turning the cheap but not reliable-enough-for-me 999 alarms into much more expensive but much more reliable weather-proof, shockproof backbiters with a tilt switch. You get what you pay for. Work in progress! … Watch this space …
The Rollovers continue to sell steadily, not just in the UK, they are becoming increasingly popular in Germany and I sell a few to customers in Austria and Holland too.
I am the rep, agent, owner and all for Zandavan Productions. As well as website sales I also supply stock to a few select retail shops. I have noticed how many of the fishing tackle suppliers and shop owners wish they could get out fishing more often. Once upon a time it was their main interest in life but the business can take over. To build up a big business like Kevin Nash would be my idea of hell. I am more interested in going fishing than building up a business empire and so I do short but intense outbursts of work and muddle along just enough to get by.
I have been asked to do a slide show presentation at Tamworth for the NAC winter social, and also at Cheshire PAC, Wigan PAC, Nottingham PAC and Yorkshire PAC. And then I have to prepare the stand and stock for the Northern Angling show in December. It’s a two day event where I am sharing my stand with The National Anguilla Club.
for reading my ramblings. I would expect that there will be plenty
more events to record next year with trips planned to Ireland after
ferox and to Australia after
big massive eels.
I hope you have a good Christmas and I take this opportunity to wish you a happy new year.
The End … Next … 2014