Thursday, 4 March 2010

In The Bleak-Midwinter Monster Perch May Roam

Just as the birds find their song sheets, and 6.30am is light enough to flick out a bait, the river season approaches it’s end. The beginning of March sends me spiralling into an almost uncontrollable panic. What species will I target? Which personal best shall I try to smash… or at least add and ounce or three to? Will I be chasing giant stripys on the Great Ouse or Thames? Or, will I be wandering the wilds of my own River Cherwell, chasing broad backed goliath chub? But, what about the roach and pike???

Therein lies my dilemma every time we reach this time of the season, I turn into an indecisive, gibbering idiot.

The weather set out it’s stall early this winter season, with freezing temperatures and blankets of snow. Rivers ran icy cold, and fish were lying up motionless, almost comatose due to the super cold water. Even a well presented bait was hard pushed to tempt them from holding station in the flow.

This winter, for me, will be known as ‘The Winter of Blanks’.

Never have I fished so much and experienced so few fish. The bitterly cold temperatures did not make it easy. Keeping warm was paramount to success, but no matter how warm I could keep my body core, it was the painfully, numb fingers that had the power to make a few hours fishing a horrible chore. It seemed to make little difference how many pre tied rigs I prepared; my numb fingers would eventually be called upon to tie hooklengths at some point…. Not easy when these fingers seem to be doing something completely different to what your brain is asking of them. Rapidly, frustration is quick to take over. Even at the end of a session, getting into my car turned into quite a task. The central locking having ‘expired’ only a few months ago, the key must be inserted into the door and turned, retro car opening style! This winter there have been many occasions where my hands were so numb, all the way up to my wrists, where this task became impossible. A few minutes of breathing hot air into cupped hands would eventually provide enough feeling and strength in both hands to turn the key to get into the car, whereupon it was started immediately, again, after a few seconds of struggling to insert the key and turn it; the heating then whacked up to full!

The rivers themselves determined the species on many occasions this winter. I decided to narrow my choice of species to perch and chub, mainly because these are two favourites of mine. Britain smothered in frightfully cold temperatures, the fish were being as obliging as I could have expected. Blank after blank ensued. When the rivers became too ‘angry’, I turned to commercials in an attempt to lure a big stripy. But even on these venues, the perch ignored me, and February carp and jack pike decided to get in on the act, feasting on my chopped lobworms and mashed maggots, not ideal on 3lb hooklinks!

Finding little roach and bleak for livebaits became impossible; they were nowhere to be found…. Then March, out of nowhere, a sudden rise in temperatures, 8-9 degrees in the daytime, I had forgotten what it was like to experience such ‘warm winter’ climes. It was time to explore the river again and see what was happening. I hoped the temperatures would remain long enough to inject a little warmth, or less cold at least, to the flowing waters, I prayed for a little warm rain, pleading for the ‘Gods of Angling’ to at least give us the last 2 weeks of the season. I concentrated on the Great Ouse, only half and hour away, and two commercials nearby which I intended on fishing before squash on a Monday evening, and football training on Tuesday evenings, both lakes were within 7 minutes drive from the pitch and courts. A well planned attack!

One commercial gifted me with livebaits, but only pike wanted to know. The other commercial, where lives were proving very difficult to locate, was fished with the biggest lobworms I could buy from WillyWorms. These were mounted on a size 6 Kamasan wide gape hook. Nothing…. I began to wonder if perch existed in either of the waters!

The weather forecast for the next day was perfect, bar the stiff east wind, which was bitter to say the least. It was forecast to be cloudy all day, and with the Great Ouse just turning from flood conditions two days before, she might be fining down, conditions might just be perfect!

I rose at 6am to get as much work out of the way as possible. By 11am I was becoming agitated, and fishing was taking over my mind, and my body…. I could fight it no longer. I was far from finished, but the addiction had a full grip, and who was I to fight it?

When I arrived, the conditions weren’t perfect, something I had become well a versed to this winter. With about a foot of visibility the river had begun to fine down, but was carrying more colour than I’d have liked, but ‘hey-ho’, if I don’t fish, I won’t catch.

I spent the first hour feeding maggots and casters into a tiny back eddy against the near bank rushes, right at my feet, hoping to attract little roach. They obliged, and with a bucket of 8 little beauties I started my attack at 3pm.

The Drennan Series 7 Avon was propped up high at the front and low at the back, to keep as much line out of the water as possibly, there was quite a flow to contend with at the near bank, and I wanted to keep the line clear of it. This also held my running paternostered live roach up from the river bed, keeping it clear of any snags. The 5lb super specialist monofilament has a high resistance to abrasion, which helps when submerged tree branches are likely to be encountered.

The line was clipped up to a Fox Micro Swinger on the back rest. It was set like a mouse trap, the slightest touch over and above the flow of the river, would cause the line to unclip from the swinger, the open bail arm allowing line to fall freely from the spool. Perfect!

30 minutes in, the swinger dropped, I lifted the rod, the early signs were that a jack was in town. When 6lb of mottled green, and teeth in the net I was happy enough, a blank was now a thing of the past. At 5pm I received a text from my buddy to see how I was going, and to ask were there any signs of fish…. I replied ‘No, but there will be’… I am, like most anglers, and eternal optimist.

The strong Easterly wind buffeted the rod constantly. I huddled up keeping as warm as I could in the face of this evil movement of bitter air. It was approaching 5.30pm, the sun was very low, every few minutes a ray or two casting a golden hue across the landscape as it peaked through the clouds.

The swinger fell. I lifted the rod, another pike pulled back hard. I bullied it a little, and then it rolled. With it’s crimson fins and spiky dorsal fin, my heart shot up into my mouth. A perch, and a proper one at that… Could it be a personal best? It looked massive, I reached for my net, legs like jelly as I steered the beast over the net, oh my God, it’s in the net! What a magnificent creature…. Beautiful, truly beautiful.

Excitedly I hung my weigh sling on my digital scales, zeroed them, then retrieved the fin perfect leviathan from the net and slipped it into the sling. It had been so long since I’d seen such a creature, I wasn’t sure what to expect. At 4lb 4oz I was more than happy! It even provided me with an additional 2 ounces on my personal best, not that it mattered! All the blanks had been worth it, I felt on top of the world. A celebratory drink with my wife and thoughts of how I could manage a chub in excess of 6lb 2oz began to take over.

'Buckingham and District Angling Association own many beautiful stretches of the Upper Great Ouse in and around the Buckingham area. If big perch are your target, I suggest grabbing yourself a book and exploring the river. The potential fish holding areas seem endless, it's just having the time to try them all!'