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Maybe it’s because I’m getting older – my recent birthday means I am just about hanging on to my 40’s – but time seems to fly by. And as I write this article I can’t believe that we are half-way through the close season. When I was a kid, I hated the three-month period that is in effect a quarter of the year. In those days there was a blanket ban on coarse fishing of any description. And it was horrible. I came from a non-car, non-fishing family living in the Black Country, so even a trout session was beyond my reach; and living smack-bang in the centre of England all I could do was read the sea fishing reports in the Angling Times each week. Bad times indeed; then the close season was lifted on stillwaters and in one stroke of a pen the legislation was done away with.
I think it’s true to say that having a twelve-month season has had no detrimental effect whatsoever on those venues that are now fishable throughout the year. However, as we know, the rivers remain closed to anglers as the traditional shut-down is still employed there. My own personal position is that they should be treated the same as canals, pools and lakes. The arguments put forward for the retention of the close season range from sloppy piscatorial romanticism to as devoid of reason and logic as the rules on some of the venues I have fished over the years. Take for example the point that it’s great to have a break because of the magic of June 16th. Well if that floats your boat don’t go fishing for three months, then you can experience the growing excitement as the days count down. But hardly, in itself, an argument for a close season.
Likewise if you want a break to do your decorating or catch up on your DIY, take one. And you can read my tweets from the water’s edge on your tea breaks. Then there’s the appeal to the environment, the one about giving vegetation a break and let nesting birds raise their clutches in peace. Sounds good but lacks any punch. I fish plenty of lush, green venues at the moment, with lots of overgrown vegetation either side of the peg. And come June 16th, even if swims have become engulfed, it’s usually with the common nettle or Himalayan balsam, and these are mercilessly thrashed by anglers who claim that they want a break to give vegetation a break. Plant life doesn’t just die back on the glorious 16th.
As for nesting birds, it doesn’t work like that. When was the last time you arrived at your favourite peg to find a goosander sitting eggs or a teal raising her brood? Actually the sudden shock of an influx of anglers out of nowhere is more of a disturbance. None of these things are an issue on stillwaters and they wouldn’t be on rivers either. The lifting of the close-season has had no negative effect on non-flowing water and it won’t on rivers. We all have different views, those are mine. In time the season will be lifted and we’ll look back and ask ‘Why wasn’t it done away with earlier?’ I look forward to the day when I can say I have caught a double-figure river barbel from every month of the year, as opposed to just ten at the moment, with April and May presently out of bounds.
Now on to the actual fishing this week. After a tough but enjoyable time on the gravel pit, I kicked off my local canal carp campaign. The way the cost of fuel has been increasing of late, my sorties to the pit cost me well into three-figures on petrol alone. And with the days getting longer and longer, it was time to say farewell to a venue that produces predominantly at night. But rather than with sadness at leaving it behind, it was with joy that I turned my attention to the Staffs/Worcs Canal. I have done some carp fishing on there in recent years and it was with enthusiasm that I set about renewing our acquaintance. The only concern I had though was to what extent the severe weather of last winter had affected the fish. Canals aren’t deep, and with the ice being so thick and no deeper water escape bolt-hole for the fish to retreat to, I did wonder what the casualty rate had been. But there’s only one way to find out – get down there and fish it.
And that’s exactly what I did one Sunday evening. I’ve taken up a fair amount of space with my thoughts on the close-season so I will share in more detail in future articles rigs, bait and so on. But it was with a sense of real confidence that I cast my two rods out, put them on the bank sticks and settled back for the night. I didn’t catch any carp but had a steady trickle of chub. As you can see from photograph 1, they weren’t all big ones. In fact that was one of the best and caught on a size 4 hook with a 16mm boilie hanging off it on a hair. I thought about some carp anglers who complain that they get disturbed by big bream and big tench during the night. Well what about catching 6 and 7oz chub? But as I so often say, there’s no such thing as a nuisance fish and so I wasn’t bothered. There were no signs of carp on the stretch during the hours of darkness, but at first light something crashed over one of my baited areas. ‘That wasn’t a chub!’ I thought to myself. Definitely encouraging.
On the nature front I saw a badger at last light as it played peek-a-boo with me from undergrowth nearby. Then in the morning, at 6.02 am to be precise, I observed one returning back to its sett after a night foraging. It could have been the same animal of course, but they were two separate sightings. Bird-wise a kingfisher calling in flight passed me pretty quickly at dawn and several skylarks singing over the local area provided some early morning post-dawn chorus bird song entertainment. The flowers are now starting to come through well and photograph 2 is of a hedge mustard plant that was growing next to where I fished. If you crush the leaves they do indeed smell of garlic. In the photograph behind you can also see white dead-nettle and the walk back to the car saw numerous flowers including green alkanet, greater stitchwort and butterbur. I also noticed two great tits nest building in a crack willow. The nest was in a fissure in the tree, no doubt caused by a storm snapping a branch.
The following sessions on the canal all drew blanks as far as carp were concerned; lots of chub but no carp at all. But if anything I am determined and so I kept returning doing several nights. I love this time of the year where you can arrive quite late at the water’s edge and then get back home for breakfast, having put in a good shift during prime time feeding. But sadly for me, the only fish munching were the hordes of chub. There certainly aren’t great numbers of carp in the canal, it’s very much a case of fishing for one per session and anything else is a bonus. The saying ‘needle in a haystack’ comes to mind and if nothing else they are very elusive indeed. Not to everyone’s taste, but I love the challenge.
However as we approached the double Bank Holiday long weekend, combined with the warm and dry weather, although the carp kept a low profile it seemed as if every boat in the country decided to hit the Staffs/Worcs Canal. I have no problem with that, but when they decide to keep going well after dark it really does mess things up. With the canal being relatively shallow, a carefully laid bed of bait is scattered all over the place when a boat comes through. Although some of the boats were trying to be quite helpful by keeping to the far side, in effect that was worse, as that’s where I was fishing and in even shallower water. Anyway, I decided to quit a battle I knew I could never win. So on the Sunday evening, instead of the canal I set off into Shropshire to fish Woodland Lodge pool 1 (photograph 4), which is on the Kinver Freeliners ticket. Arriving a couple of hours before dark, I had the place to myself and baited up with pigeon conditioner seeds.
I fished a pop-up 12mm M1 boilie on the left rod and a 12mm M2 bottom one on the right. Both went out with PVA bags of pellets and while I put several boilies in the M2 bag, the other one was just a single bait over the seeds. Fishing about two lengths out, I had nothing at all on the right rod, not even a liner. Yet on the other one I had four carp on, losing one on a branch in the margins. Landing a hat-trick of commons I tweeted, ‘Do I get to keep the ball?’ in reference to the fact that a footballer who scores three goals does exactly that. The fish weren’t big (photographs 3,5) but at least I caught something and after my struggles on the canal it was nice to get a bend in my rod. But it was only when the fish came to the net that I realised how small they were. Out in open water they fought as powerfully as any fish four times their size. It was a chilly night with a north-east wind making conditions tough, so all in all, even though I’d have loved to have caught a really big carp, I was happy enough with the ones I landed. (Article published May 7 2011)