Monday 5 October 2020

                                NEVER ENOUGH TIME 

                                 - Life After Lockdown -                         

Many years ago, some sage said that “Every man should have a hobby”, ladies too of course, and I’m unfortunate to have too many, unfortunate because there is never enough time to enjoy them all. I’m sure you all suffer in the same way.

I love gardening with my wife Sue, our aim being to attract wildlife into our two acre patch [this is Kevin, just one of our three kingfishers this year]. The garden takes up most of our time, especially during these past two years while creating a garden to help stem the decline in bees and butterflies.

The flowers now attract squadrons of buzzers and is a constant delight but it means my passion for angling has to take a back seat, my  numerous rods gathering cobwebs as they sprawl neglected along the office walls.



However, since lockdown ended, fishing is the safest way of being out in our wide open spaces and as I’m in the vulnerable category, I’m self-isolating by river and lake as often as time allows and when I look over this blog before I send it out, it seems I have fished a lot. It actually reveals only one trip for a few hours every two weeks and that isn’t often enough!

Among the many species that us anglers enjoy fishing for, the tench is near the top of my pops list and after missing what seemed like too many weeks of the spring due to the scary virus, I was keen to try  for tincas at two Cotswold lakes that I’d been invited to join.

They are delightful and far from the madding crowd, one large, full of weed but as it turned out, far too few big tench and one smaller lake which I had fished twenty or more years previously and which held plenty of tench and bream.

I spent the first two days trying for the bigger tench, maybe a double was on the cards and I’ve been trying for a ten pound tench for years - haven’t we all - and it was great to share the waterside with long term friend Mark, at a suitable distance of course. But after many hours without a hint of a bite I moved to the easier lake in the hope of some rod-bending action.

It was a good call because in my first session I landed seven tench to 6lbs 11ozs and  had the whole lake to myself. Feeding a little ground bait and chopped worm after raking the swim, I had the tincas bubbling like a Jacuzzi. They were tricky mind, requiring a tiny dotted down waggler and small bit of dendro worm to elicit a bite.
This made the challenging fishing really enjoyable, especially after the long lock-down and though my friends did catch tench to 8/14 on the big lake, this was after they struggled with more blanks than bites. So I was glad I’m a lightweight when it comes to monster hunting. One day I’ll catch that ten pound tench - I just need more time and lots of it.

After returning there for another two day break in my camper and catching more good tench and bream, I decided to save fuel and money by fishing local waters for tench.

One of our lakes is a beauty and though it has produced a double figure tench or two in the past, the average size is about five pounds, with sixes regular catches and sevens a bonus. Here's pal Chris with a 6lb7oz PB.

Though I prefer to fish the float close in, some of the swims require feeders and helicopter rigs with the dreaded bite alarms, turned right down of course. By choice I’d fish that favourite tench snack, worms but there are too many silver fish thriving there, especially hords of rapacious rudd, so a 12mm boilie avoids them and produces enough good tincas to make my fishing life thoroughly enjoyable.

Of all those other hobbies that I enjoy, I find writing very rewarding, in fact I prefer it to reading as telling stories and illustating them is similar to my love for film-making. Then there is drawing and painting [not window frames], let alone my first passions as a child, birding and music.

I have a French horn [I was going to play it professionally], along with a piano, guitar, clarinet and flute and I love playing them all, even if very badly, mainly due to lack of talent and the time to practice. When at school, the French horn required two hours practice a day to acquire competence and I loved every minute. Now it hardly sees the light of day because writing and gardening takes most of the time, along with fishing, if I’m lucky.

Those who read my blog will know of my enthusiasm for our Wimborne clubs’ tench and crucian lake just up the road at Edmondsham. 


Set in the most tranquil countryside, it’s home to a rapidly growing population of these summer favourites and good friend Chris Wild and I love escaping up there for all those golden beauties. This is one of Chris's gorgeous youngsters.


Even if the bigger ones eluded us this year, it is difficult to find a more enjoyable place to fish in the bird song and sunshine.

The Christchurch clubs’ Holtwood fishery is another delightful  'no carp zone' and escaping for a brief morning dabble, Chris and I caught dozens of small tench and crucians on little bits of luncheon meat and surprisingly, they also eat those roach bait favourites, tares.

With Autumn approaching, the beautiful Hampshire Avon and it’s barbel and chub were calling, so eventually I gave up on tench and headed for the river, though I was reluctant because the barbel were being hounded relentlessly by the super keen. It didn’t strike me as very sporting because the water temperatures were high, but in the end I succumbed to the temptation, though walked away from any swims that might have been hammered. Here's one of my beautiful creatures
of ten pounds plus from a previous year. When I see one I always wonder why I don't fish for them all the time.

In spite of two days of searching I failed to see any barbel and friends told me I wasn’t alone, so I fished ‘blind’ and caught a beautiful chub of exactly six pounds. The next one from a shallow swim was fatter and probably weighed six and a half pounds and even better, I stalked it and I saw it take a freelined pellet.  Watching the fight in the crystal clear water was exciting stuff. I didn't take any pics as the weather was too hot and would stress my lovely fat fish.

Early in the season I'd fished a weirpool's oxygenated water and caught some splendid Avon bream up to a whisker under eight pounds. They fight quite well in the strong flow and unlike some lake bream they are slime free bronzed beauties.

Between fishing trips I've been going down memory lane, for I was invited to contribute to a couple of programmes about wildlife in Svalbard and was filmed talking about our adventures while making the landmark series for the BBC called 'Kingdom of the Ice Bear'. Everything is a long time ago now [the mid '80's] but I remember vividly the more dangerous moments and the intense cold. Minus 25 degrees was described in my journal as a nice warm day! I got hypothermia waiting for days in the hope of cubs appearing at this polar bear den. They did emerge in the end and the images became iconic as mum and cubs slid down the mountain side in the sun.

I was also recorded by that great champion of fish and underwater fish filming expert Jack Perks recently. It was for his podcast and I'm sure it would have been more interesting if he had been the subject of the interview. He has done more than anyone else to raise the profile of freshwater fish and should be given a medal for all his hard work.

Here's one of his cracking images of a grayling from our local chalk stream, the much treasured River Allen.

There has been some lovely sunny and light wind weather this summer, so Christchurch Harbour and it’s impossible mullet have often been on the radar. I share a boat with my pal Steve Derby and he too loves a dose of mullet madness, even if his boat is called ‘Bloody Mullet'. But that’s the point because if they were easy, the fishing wouldn’t be so enjoyable.


Using a float and laying on or stret-pegging or trotting bread flake down the tide are our preferred methods and if we are lucky enough to hook one, the fight is always epic. I think it’s the hardest fighting fish of any that I’ve ever encountered and this is what makes the quest so appealing, even when they escape from the hook, which happens all too often!

One of the major delights of being out there in the wide open spaces of the harbour is the bird watching and three times recently I’ve had the privilege of watching an osprey fishing. On one occasion it tried to catch mullet for nearly half an hour. More often than not they saw it plunging down towards them or the osprey simply missed when hitting the water and the fish avoided becoming dinner. So I wasn’t the only fisherman that day who failed to catch a mullet.

We see far more ospreys here now because of the rapidly evolving Poole Harbour re-introduction project. Ospreys last nested in the area one hundred and eighty years ago and were called 'mullet hawks' and it was remarkable this spring when a female continued to build up the nest that she started last year. It's just six miles from our cottage door so life doesn't get any better. 


Above is an osprey family that our children grew up with in Scotland during their early childhood, so these charasmatic birds hold a very special place in our hearts. 
The leg ringed female CJ7 below is the star of Poole Harbour, for she did everything that a female should do to breed successfully, building up her nest impressively and even laying unfertilized eggs, so if a mate shows up when she returns from her winter in West Africa, she will surely raise young next year. These are such exciting times for ospreys and our fingers are firmly crossed.

Here she is adding a stick to her nest on Easter Sunday, the pictures courtesy of the 'Birds of Poole Harbour' charity. Hopefully a male will arrive from Africa next year and as their chicks grow, they'll be showing us how to catch mullet every day.

A concern I share with many others is both the legal and illegal netting of hundreds of mullet in Christchurch and Poole Harbour. It's their main prey and we suspect the netting will reduce the food supply for breeding ospreys and result in a negative impact on their success at raising chicks.


This criminal was caught by the EA and heavily fined but how many others escape detection under cover of darkness or net them out by the thousands legally?

Steve and I have managed to catch several mullet this summer, his best being a tad over six pounds, my best being half a pound lighter. The fights in the shallow water are spectacular and the joy of sharing means you have twice the chance of enjoying some drama.

Above all, the harbour is one of the wildest corners on the south coast and provides a perfect tonic if you are suffering from lock-down cabin fever.

More recently, we have followed the mullet and roach up the River Stour and been catching a few there. On one afternoon I hooked a fish that stripped line off the reel so fast and was so violent that it scared me! Then soon after, I hooked another beast that was so strong it beat me up, then broke the line on the anchor chain. However, I love it when you get smashed up because the memory and mystery remains far richer when a battle is unresolved.

There are more than thirty mullet in the pic above because just recently the numbers   moving up with the tides are difficult to believe, hundreds if not thousands passing our boat, though it’s worth remembering the rule that “ if you can see them, you can’t catch them, and if you can’t see them, you can’t catch them either”!
They bump into the float as they pass upstream but I simply love the challenge of trying to catch them and now that it’s raining and the rivers are flooding and adding colour to the water, I should soon be bagging lots of roach … but until the rain stops I’ll have lots of time to enjoy all those other hobbies I never have time for, won’t I?


Rain is forecast for the whole weekend so there'll be lots of time to play music, a delightful thought.