Lockdown

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Day 7 of the nationwide lockdown. If I bother to check the calendar its actually a Sunday, first day of BST as it happens. With the whole country and most of the rest of the World on stop it doesn’t really matter what day of the week it is. So far this week I’ve been invited to post 10 album covers, a fishing picture, share what my first car was and take part in a number of quizzes which I couldn’t possibly get all right.

I’ve actually opted to do none of those. Instead I’ve chosen to tile the floor inside my hall cupboard. I’ll let that sink in for a second or two…..inside…..as in the bit no-one ever sees. In my defence, I’d left it when I tiled the Hall and Toilet floor last close season, and almost certainly would have left it again when I finished off the tiling to include the Kitchen. But then I decided that a slightly lipped tile in the Kitchen was annoying me and had to be replaced, and it seemed a bit short-sighted to mix adhesive and grout just to lay a single tile.

So I’ll crack on and finish that, and then the Kitchen and Hall are done. Tiled floor, tiled splashback in the Kitchen, ceilings and walls painted. Two light fittings to change and a bit of mastic work and that’s it. I’ve already sorted my feeders and will move onto float and pole rigs in the near future, and strip off and replace line etc. The Garage has been sorted and cleaned, just need to defost the freezer and clean it and the fridge. And while I’ve been busy inside my mate has replaced the entrance slabs at the front, built me a lovely BBQ and laid the edging for the memorial garden out the back, just leaving the membrane and gravel to finish off when the world shifts back a bit towards normality.

So to be honest, I was always going to focus on these jobs and wasn’t planning on doing any fishing for at least the first month of the close season, so the pandemic has had very little actual impact on me. But it still feels very strange and I do think the restrictions are going to persist for a while yet, which means that I and millions of others are going to run out of things to keep us occupied……..Hmmm……..10 album covers you say………

That’s it……..then

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Sunday’s Team Qualifier at Evesham was definitely my last (and only!!!) match outing in March. So that may well be it for 2019/20. There may be a Post Script if my current plan to raid Newbridge on Wednesday goes ahead. However I suspect the river will react badly again to yet more heavy rain, in which case it will be game over.

So, how was it??? Disappointing has to be the immediate response. Certainly in terms of outcomes a very poor return following three decent years which had got me to the point where I genuinely thought I was fishing as well as I probably ever would. Looking back over the whole experience, and starting with the Close Season, I had made what I still consider to be the right choice and had removed myself from any involvement in either of the spring leagues. So my first match outing was at the Voorne Festival, which was, choosing my words carefully, utter crap. The next event then was the Tamar Spring Festival which was thoroughly enjoyable but not particularly productive on the back of two mediocre draws.

And it was the mediocrity of my draws which then came back to haunt me again and again, especially through the early part of the season. I actually kicked off proceedings quite well, a lost Chub cost me a frame place at Evesham so I had to settle for a section instead, another section followed up quite quickly and I was overall happy with what I’d achieved off where I’d drawn. But then I entered into a darker phase where my normally favourite venue in the form of Chippenham was fishing totally different to the previous two years and, to compound this, I drew essentially the same crap peg three times in a row. Having to scratch around for bites was not the start to the river season that I had envisaged. The Superleague practice and match on the venue were no better. And, incredibly, the malaise seemed to follow me onto the Severn, where in the course of a league where a dearth of silvers meant that it had become a Barbel or Bust event, I managed five rounds without so much as hooking a Barbel. Round 6 had me in a place where an exceptional round might have seen me snatch last place in the overall listings, but I decided to save myself the potential heartache and travelling. The Thames Festival saw the river standing on its head, which made it mainly a pole affair and even on Appleford Reach I found myself on a peg which was difficult to access so I had to sacrifice the carbon scaffolding and make do without. As it happens I did not too badly that day, but on Abingdon and Culham I suffered without it. The only ray of sunshine through the whole of the summer months was an outing on the KSD. This is a venue that I have knocked on a few occasions because it is a bit ‘hook a duck’, but on the day it was actually nice to have a few fish in front of me and to be able to walk away with a section win. So, to recap, by September I’d blown out on Chippenham and done nothing on Staverton, I’d had some early results on Evesham but had stayed clear after the first few weeks, the Thames Festival had been a disaster, Llandegfedd had been interesting but I’d not caught well in the Festival. And to be honest I was, at that point, not enjoying the experience and seriously contemplating jacking it all in again. In the background of course were the two underlying health issues. The shortage of breath, which was not getting any worse but wasn’t improving either, which is perhaps not a surprise when I wasn’t receiving any treatment for it!! And the RA, which was under control but still a constant irritant. The other factor was that I was no longer really prepping well for events, which is unforgivable given my level of free time, but I’d lost what we call my hwyl, my passion, my focus.

I decided I’d hold off on my decision until after I’d fished my Autumn/Winter campaign on the Wye. First time out I had 23Lbs of Bleak, my best Bleak weight ever. And, to be honest, even allowing for the disruption caused by having to shift my gear up 9′ during the match, I should have done nearer 30Lbs and nailed my section at least. This was the one and only time during the year where I can point to elements of poor preparation and define how they impacted on my catch (the other issue on the day was ring-rustiness, but that was unavoidable). But that served as the spark to kick-start my season and I had a decent run through those matches and Festivals that survived the ridiculously bad weather conditions through the whole of the Autumn and Winter period. Finally I was catching fish and that encouraged me to prepare properly and get out and practice, where I caught a load of fish. Learnt a lot, could have caught even more fish based on what I learnt, but did OK off the pegs I drew and already looking forward to next year. The big question really is what else I do, because I’m not going to kick my heels until September, so I need a plan for the early part of the year. Regaining confidence in my Barbel fishing may well be part of that plan, as that was definitely a weakness last year. Watch this space. But the immediate plan is to complete a few DIY projects around the house, have a roots and branches review of my tackle, and aim to get myself back on the bank by May or perhaps a bit earlier if the weather is good and the mood takes me. So, signing off for now……..

Evesham Team Qualifier

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Originally scheduled for mid’Jan, the first of the two qualifiers eventually took place on the last Sunday of the season. The river was flowing quite hard at about 1′ on, but the colour was reasonable, and Saturday’s 30 peg open had thrown up some decent weights throughout.

The team draw was peg 7, i.e. 9, 29, 45, 63 and 79, and I had the joy of peg 29 which is probably the second shallowest peg on the stretch and was, as a result, a tad pacy on the day. My initial gambit was small blockend feeder across plus a stick float and a link leger for inside. First chuck over and I was snagged solid. Bye bye feeder. So I chucked the link out while I re-tackled, picked a spot a yard closer and tried again. I got my tackle back this time, but afer 40 minutes of effort that was still the only positive thing about it. So I switched to the stickfloat and picked up a Bleak followed by a small Roach. Better! But not really, a lot of hard work on the float only generated a further 5 Bleak, and after a couple of hours I couldn’t buy a bite. My only bite on the link came while I was retackling my stickfloat rig after losing the original rig in a snag. And various attempts on the feeder over and the link and, later on, a small feeder down the side only served to confirm that 29 is an absolute snag pit.

All of my earnest endeavours plus a Bullhead which strangled itself resulted in 0-5-0 on the scales, which amazingly was worth 4 points, as there was a DNW, 0-4-0 to my left and another 0-5-0 further up. Mark Newman to my right had 0-6-0 so he ounced me, but I didn’t begrudge him his slender victory as he did drag me out of the river when I fell in whilst packing up. Team had 34 points with 3 solid results and 2 poor results including mine, so 12th on the day and some way off qualifying. There were 2 decent Bream weights in the Cafe meadow and a few reasonable Roach weights off the normal pegs. Typically even though it wasn’t a bread river as such it still fished best on pole of feeder fished bread on the better pegs. Overall I felt very out of touch with the venue, which is not surprising considering that I hadn’t been there since July.

Belmont

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Exactly 3 weeks to the day since I last ventured out, so the platforms have been under water for 20 consecutive days. At 1.8m most of the Asda Bank platforms had re-appeared but the Rugby Club side were still awash, as was peg 79, which surprised me a bit. But peg 80 was clear and Pembo had done his usual sterling job of cleaning the silt off, so happy days. However, as good as the platforms were, the bank leading to them was a mess and definitely to be approached with care.

I initially set up to fish a 4BB WS stick float with maggot over knobs of groundbait and loose fed hemp and maggot, in other words same old same old……but it was immediately obvious that Bleak would be an issue so I set up a 3g Bolo and, by dropping that straight in, I was able to mainly avoid the Bleak and started pucking off silvers. Roach straight off but then the Dace moved in. I also picked up the odd Chublet so I started to introduce some mashed up meat in the groundbait. And when I then dropped a foul-hooked Dace and pinged my olivette into the overhead tree, I opted to set up a bulk-down 5BB WS stick which was already rigged up with a size 10 hook, and switched to punched meat.

This was an instant success with a nice run of proper Chublets, but these petered out after about 40 minutes and switching back to bunches of maggot was too much of an invite to the Bleak which were now hanging around in force. I was considering switching back to a heavier Bolo to deal with this, but decided first off to scale back on the meat approach, i.e. smaller punch/smaller pellet. And, interestingly, I found that I could catch decent Dace on this approach, plus the odd remaining Chublet. I actually switched back to the lighter strung-out stick rig but with meat and had a nice run of secent Dace but these did start to fade a bit.

So, nice to just be able to getr out on the bank for a few hours, and catching reasonably well (20Lbs +) was a bonus, but it did feel as if the stretch was past its seasonal peak, as is usually the case, with the silvers starting to migrate out as they head off to their spawning grounds, so that’s probably it until next October. But Belmont has been better than good this year, and has provided excellent sport in matches and pleasure sessions when so many other waters have been virtually unfishable for months on end.

That’s it………..

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Storm Dennis landed last weekend and promptly wiped out the Wye Team Champs and the Ray Woods Open at Evesham, and the weather systems following in its wake just served to top up the already flooded rivers resulting in the cancellation of the re-arranged Wye Spring Festival and the Wye Feeder Champs. To be honest the Wye is less severely affected this time around, it is the Severn’s turn to threaten long term records, so it is possible that the river will be fishable over the weekend, but I think Robbo has had a gutsful this season and decided to give it up as a bad job. Can’t say I blame him!!

Next week’s Bewdley 2-Day Festival is already questionable as the current weather patterns look like persisting through next weekend and into the early part of Spring, but that is a by the way because it was never on my target list for this season. So I am left with, potentially, one more Sunday of this river season, which should be the Team Qualifier at Evesham, weather permitting of course. So, we are nearing the end of the most disrupted river season I have ever experienced, although I did of course miss 2000 when many of the current records were set. In many respects my sadness at not being allowed to do what I enjoy doing will be offset by not having to spend half my life checking weather forecasts and river levels, and I’ll use the time-out to have a serious review of where I want to concentrate my efforts next year.

Belmont

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Wednesday was forecast to be the only half decent day of the week, and the river just about dropped in on time, 1.90m at 8.00am. An encounter with a rather nice Rioja on Tuesday evening ensured a fairly relaxed start to the day, but I was on my way by 9.20. Parked in Asda, dropped my gear on peg 87, drove back to Charles Witts to park up and walked down from there.

87 didn’t actually look all that good, the low 80s looked better, but I specifically wanted to spend some time at least on the Bleak whip. So I was good to go by 11.45am and flicked out a 4×16 rig on a 3m whip. I actually stuck at it for over 30 minutes before having to accept that, although the colour was good, the water was too cold, and they weren’t having it.

Problem then was that I’d picked a peg for its Bleak potential, and it was boiling up quite badly. But I decided to persevere and try out a few rigs to try to deal with it. First up was a 10g Cralusso Bubble, fished at 6m to hand. I stuck 4 dropperfuls of hemp and caster in and dropped in with triple red maggot. A quick run of smallish Roach showed me that there were possibilities and then small Dace moved in, and I picked off fish through the session, including a very nice angry lump of a Perch. I tried an 8g Bolo on the whip over the same line but, although the boils were not ideal for the flattie, I decided that it was best overall as I could search the swim more effectively.

So, not amazing, but I got a couple of rigs properly balanced and I had bites through the day. It does feel that, with the current weather and river conditions, I need to take chances when I can, because it will soon be the dreaded Close Season.

Stormy Monday

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And Tuesday’s just as bad………Actually, Sunday was probably the worst due to Storm Ciara, but as anyone who recognises an absolutely classic T-Bone Walker track will know, Sunday is the day when I get down on my knees and pray after getting paid on Friday and pissing it all up against the wall on Saturday. And T-Bone doesn’t give any clues as to climatic conditions over the weekend.

To be fair January was a lot drier than the earlier part of the Winter and quite mild, so the rivers were fishable and fairly productive, especially the Chublets at Belmont. First week of February was similar, but then a 250mph jetstream started to catapult depressions in off the Atlantic and carnage was the outcome. Another major event postponed (Wye Feeder Champs). This wasn’t actually on my match calendar because of the high risk of a tortuous trek across field which are, in many cases, just liquid mud. The May Vince Vase at Evesham looked like a reasonable alternative but, once it became clear that the weather forecast was not an exaggeration, I opted out of all activities and took shelter in my Conservatory. In the event, Evesham attracted 12 anglers………..12!!!!!

So a brief conversation with Trevor Chalk about this and that and he was pondering fishing Bewdley midweek. ‘Steve (Maher) says it’ll be 6-8 foot but the Barbel will feed’. Rather strangely, although I love catching Barbel, and I love matchfishing, I don’t love matchfishing when it requires that I catch Barbel. No obvious reason, because I’ve fished enough Bream matches which can be essentially the same, i.e. in that you’re fishing for 2 or 3 bites. Must be a confidence issue and something I need to work on.

Anyway, back to the point. I was a bit surprised at the predicted level and decided to check it out. The reality looks more like 11-12 foot, and when I pointed this out to Chalkie his response was FUBAR for the rest of the season. What a fabulous and concise response. In a single acronym he has captured thee very essence of this year’s river season so far and the likely outcome for the final 5 weeks or so of the season. Looking forward, an Open at Chippenham (highly unlikely), Wye Spring Festival (either high river and on, or very high river and off), an Open at Evesham (another 12 pegger???), weekend off with Fflur, Evesham Team Qualifier and Last Chance Opens at Newbridge and Evesham. And that will be it. And a big part of me won’t be as sad as I should be and normally am, because its been FUBAR.