Sunday, 16 December 2018

Working With What You Have

There's a Lidl store just down the road from here. I can walk there easily, and often do. In town there's a Waitrose, but very rarely do I shop there. Yes, when it comes to the contents of my wallet, the basic principle of 'working with what you have' guides me unerringly to Lidl every time.

Working with what you have...

It's an interesting principle. But not necessarily a popular one. For example, at this time of year just about every commercial enterprise that you might care to name is hell-bent on persuading you otherwise. Even Lidl is stacked to the rafters with the rich and sticky wares of seasonal excess. Go on, it's only once a year. Load up, splash out. You. Deserve. It...

In the face of all those tempting goodies, and as you watch cheery, dimple-cheeked families wheeling their mountainous trollies through the check-out, it would be so easy to get down-hearted. Envious perhaps. Decidedly unhappy with your sorry lot...

Which is why Mr Visa invented the credit card.

Actually, you can take that principle and apply it to all sorts of things. Like your best-loved hobbies, say...

Birding
It's autumn. Every bush on the east coast is dripping with drifted quality. Your inland patch, on the other hand, has been dead for weeks. Dead. Dead-dead-dead. And then one morning as you walk round the pit...what's that out on the water, spinning like a little top? Bins up. It's a phalarope! A gorgeous juvvy Red-necked Phalarope! You can hardly believe it, and your hands are shaking a bit as you reach for your phone. There'll be a twitch...

If you've ever experienced something similar, you will know exactly what I mean. Such moments are priceless. It doesn't even take a rarity. Working with what you have helps you see birds in the context of your patch, wherever that may be. And it stops you wasting emotional energy on pointless envy every time you (unwisely) study the BirdGuides map.

Fishing
I no longer live in West London's Colne Valley, where every gravel pit is home to bulging pods of gargantuan carp. In fact, Bridport is at least an hour's drive from almost all the sort of fishing which appeals to me. So I have to work with what I have, ie. distant venues. And I can forget huge carp. As it turns out though, I can have huge pike instead, which is fine. Very fine. And there are plenty of other appealing fishy targets too. It's just that the distance involved means I cannot go as often as I would like. So it's just as well that I have other hobbies. Like...

Cycling
To be honest, when it comes to cycling I am spoiled. The only way I could be unhappy with my lot is if my heart's desire was mile after mile of pan-flat, super-smooth tarmac on which to bash out very rapid miles. Yes, it would look great if I was clocking up a 20+mph average for every ride, but thankfully I am not interested in that. And I love the hills. Love 'em...

August. Inland of Abbotsbury, looking towards Portland. What's not to like?

Which leaves...

Running
With running I have recently been forced to accept an undeniable truth. Not counting nine months of womb, my body is more than half way through its 60th year. At this point in its career, many unwelcome physiological inevitabilities are at work. Like the fact that my muscles are much more eager to shrivel than grow. That recovering from a hard work-out takes two or three times as long as it did 30 years ago. That my maximum heart rate is endeavouring to be lower each year. And worst of all, that connective tissue takes so much longer to beef up than all the other stuff you need for injury-free running. The reality is that although I am technically capable of running farther and faster than I currently am, I simply dare not, because every time I open the throttle I get injured. Right now, for example, I am nursing a touch of plantar fasciitis. Basically this is a sore foot - pain on the underside of the heel/arch - a connective-tissue injury that requires careful management to facilitate recovery.

Cycling is different. It's perfectly possible to hammer yourself into the ground on the steepest of hills all afternoon, mentally begging for mercy at every summit, and then do it all again a couple of days later with nothing worse than sore muscles and a bit of cramp maybe. Brilliant. But try any of that masochistic stuff with running and you'll be out for weeks, as your tendons, ligaments, bursae, and other assorted gristly bits cripple you totally.

It's a shame really, because now that I've discovered I can still run, I want to see what this knackered old frame can do. Which means pushing it, testing it, stretching it. But it won't allow me to. Not yet. I need to be patient.

I'm trying hard not to get down about it. I need to remember to work with what I have...

Sigh...

I think a glass of wine might be in order. I can work with one of those...

Friday, 23 November 2018

Hide Life...

I do like Twitter. Admittedly, on occasion it's annoying, but for me the benefits currently outweigh the negatives. Take earlier this week for example...

It's Monday lunchtime, and I park the van at Coronation Corner on the Axe Estuary so I can check the gulls while eating. Nothing obvious on the deck, but scanning around I pick up a high and fairly distant flock of something-or-others heading north up the valley. Until I raised my bins I thought they were going to be Cormorants, but they weren't. Now bearing NE, and labouring a bit in the headwind, I could see big white wing-covert patches. Could they be Egyptian Geese? The flock numbered eight. I couldn't get much else on them really, and they were clearly heading purposefully away from the valley so I mentally shrugged and let them go.

Early the next morning they popped into my head again, so I punted out a hopeful tweet...

Oops, I got the date wrong. I meant 19th...

Well, nothing from E Devon, but I did get two replies (from Joe Stockwell and Portland Bird Obs) reporting that a flock of 8 Egyptian Geese had gone NE over Portland Harbour and Weymouth Bay late the previous afternoon. The respondants had no way to know that I'd mucked up the date, so this information fitted even better than they would have realised. So. I'm having them. A flock of 8 Egyptian Geese over the Axe at approximately 13:00 on 19th November, 2018. Mega! Well, maybe not quite that, but the first I've seen locally since 2012, and by far the most.

Anyway, also on Twitter just lately has been a bit of post-writing inspiration: THIS thread, presumably in response to THIS blog post.

Ostensibly it's all about hides, but I think really it's all about people.

My birding friends will know my view of hides. I loathe them, yet recognise the necessary evil of their existence...


Like many birders, I have seen the inside of countless hides. The photo above illustrates a typical example, the Island Hide at Black Hole Marsh. In the right season it affords terrific views of nice waders etc, and I've seen some great birds from it. But look at it. It's a shed with slots, and I really do not want to bird from a shed. That is far and away my number one reason for disliking the things. Yes, give me the proper outdoors any day, with an unfettered view of the sky and horizon.

My number two reason has absolutely nothing to do with hides themselves...

The first hide I can definitely recall entering was at Elmley Marshes in 1981 or '82. I ticked Rough-legged Buzzard from it. I noticed that a couple of guys had set up camp inside with their flasks and sarnies, and were clearly set for the long haul. They were friendly and chatty, and told us about a White-tailed Eagle in Suffolk, which subsequently became our first big twitch. And dip. Those birders were my first taste of hide life, and their helpful attitude left a good impression. So that was nice, wasn't it?

However, since that occasion something very profound has happened: I have aged by more than 35 years...

In that time I have met a very wide spectrum of birders in hides. Non-birders too, of course. And, like when you meet a wide spectrum of people in almost any context, some have been delightful and some truly vile. As the years pass I find I am less and less inclined to put myself in a position where I might have to deal with horrible people. I am not alone in this; it's a trait I recognise in many of my contemporaries. In fact some will steer clear of situations where they might have to deal with any people! While I'm not quite that bad, I do sympathise. Entering a hide is a bit of a lottery, isn't it? You are stuck with whoever comes in. And if (like most of us I guess) you have buttons, someone there may well press them. Or, you may press theirs...

Which brings me back to the inspiration for this post.

I've never met Jono Lethbridge, nor Jo King. Jono I know only from his blog, which I have read since day one. Wanstead Birder is one of my stand-out favourites, and through the writing you get a sense of the personality behind it. I suspect I would like Jono. I don't know Jo at all, and don't follow her Twitter feed, so have little idea what she's like as a person. However, what I find really fascinating is how a medium like Twitter can link Jono and Jo and me, and umpteen other disparate characters who might never meet in real life, and allow a conversation to happen. And when that conversation is on a shared interest, well, all good.

You think?

If you want lessons in how to be glibly (and rudely) judgemental, study Twitter. Perusing a thread like the one linked above is all rather sad, and I see little evidence of any of the qualities that make being in a group of people bearable: empathy, tolerance, humility, unselfishness, etc. In fact, such an exchange just reaffirms my resolve to mainly avoid birding crowds, and of course, especially those in boxes.

Friday, 16 November 2018

The Freshwater Shark

Last Sunday night the forecast was lousy. Heavy showers, windy, the lot. Work-wise, Monday looked a write-off too, so I did something I've been meaning to try for a while. I went night-fishing for pike...

To be honest, years ago I was never all that enamoured of pike. Although I fished for them on occasion, I rarely did very well. My most successful endeavours involved a bag of sprats and a stretch of the River Colne, where I'd usually catch a few small ones. But anything bigger than five or six pounds was a bonus, and my best from the venue weighed 11-something.

More recently though - and thanks mainly to the enthusiasm of my son Rob - pike have got under my skin a bit. It's helped that I've caught a few, including a couple of real whoppers. I've said it before, but there is something truly awesome about a big pike. I think it's a combination of factors. First of all, they are properly wild fish and therefore rare; not stocked or artificially fed, but a genuine product of their environment. Secondly, despite being at the top of the food chain they are really quite fragile creatures, surprisingly vulnerable to careless handling, and that fact instills a measure of responsibilty and therefore respect. And finally, they are just so HUGE! A twenty-plus pike is jaw-droppingly enormous. Once you've had one on the bank, you can't wait for another...

So anyway, I'll cut a long story short. I fished for two nights but caught just one pike, which picked up a juicy old smelt at 06:50 on Monday morning. Here it is:

First Exeter Canal pike of the season: 11lb 8oz

I'm not quite sure what's going on with my facial expression there, because that semi-puckered look would not have been what I was going for exactly. All I can say is that this was a self-take, and I had no idea when the camera was actually firing. In fact, this is my first fishy self-take in many, many years, so I should just be grateful it worked. Coincidentally, my very first angling self-take involved a pike. No remote control (I still don't have one of those) so it was a whole series of shots featuring me and a modest pike, wrestling. This is about the best...

Springwell Lake, 1979

The pike weighed 9-something, and I'd waited all day for just the one run to my legered sprat. So I was going to photograph that fish. Absolutely. In the end I didn't get a single decent shot, yet still spent ages in a darkroom, developing the film and making the prints. Goodness knows why, because they're all rubbish! I'm glad I did though, because that nearly-40-year-old photo is like a little glimpse into angling history. And into mine too I suppose...

Monday, 5 November 2018

The Ricky Cons Years

I'm not quite sure what has inspired this post. I suppose I have a barely-suppressed desire to be a bit naughty really, because what I'm going to write about is actually against the rules.

Rules?

Yes. Rules.

Twenty-odd years ago I joined a fishing club based in West London's Colne Valley, and under the heading 'Publicity' the club's rules state the following:

No member shall take or authorise to be taken any photograph of the RCAS waters and/or activities for publication or to write or cause to be written any report or article on any RCAS activity for publication without the prior consent of the committee. This rule covers all media including the Internet. Failure to observe this rule could result in a life time ban.

So yes, the rest of this post is pretty naughty. Especially the photos.

RCAS stands for Rickmansworth Conservative Angling Society. Keen carp anglers will know this club by its more familiar diminutive, 'the Cons'. To a newly-fledged carper in 2018, membership of the Cons is a non-starter. The waiting list was closed several years ago, and those currently near the bottom of it had better hope for good health and a very long life. In the mid-'90s it wasn't quite so bad. One of my old buddies was a member. He proposed me (which got me on the waiting list) and after a couple of years my name duly came up for consideration. And when I say 'consideration' I mean it, because membership was not a formality; you had to pass muster. You enjoyed the dubious privilege of an interview with three of the committee, whose shrewd quizzing was supposed to reveal whether you would be a suitable addition to the hallowed RCAS roll, or were simply an undesirable big carp glory-hunter. Meanwhile, your proposer sat meekly in the background, praying that you didn't say anything stupid...

So, Gavin, why do you want to join the Cons?
Well, I heard your lakes are stuffed with monster carp, and I fancy some of that...
Oh? Whatever gave you that idea?
Roy told me. Didn't you, Roy... [turns in dense, bovine fashion towards pale, sweating proposer]

A Cons ticket was hard-won gold dust back then, and even more so now.

Until recently you could visit the club's website and view the actual waiting list. Everything was there, the names, what year they were added, which particular sub-list they were on (ie., the family list, the <10 miles radius list, the >10 miles list, etc) but of course the latest data-protection laws have put paid to that. Scattered among the names was a mini Who's Who of prominent carp anglers. The Cons was, and is, an exclusive fishery with a stock of stunning, huge, highly desirable carp. But, because of the publicity ban, you'll struggle to find a published photo of a single one.

To non-anglers I'm sure this is all rather silly, and I must confess that I cannot think of any parallel within the birding, cycling or running world. Believe me though, to some carp anglers this is deadly serious stuff...

Anyway, I was hardly even a carp angler, let alone a deadly serious one. I simply (and handily) had a mate who was already a member, and I thought it would be nice to have access to a fishery with some clonking great carp in it. At the time I'd never even used a boilie or a hair-rig, which is angling code for 'I was a total carping noddie'.

However, by my final season (which was probably 2001-2) I'd managed to winkle out a few nice carp up to 35lb, and one night was on hand to witness a 51-pounder on the bank, a colossal beast which took my breath away. But rather than talk about me, I thought it might be more interesting to view the Cons years through my son's experience, because in Rob's book it was a formative chapter rather than just an amusing paragraph.

Rob was only 14 or 15 when I joined the Cons, and as family he automatically gained junior membership. He was thrilled, and so excited to be going night-fishing. However, initially he wasn't interested in carp at all. For Rob, it was all about eels. Dead keen, he would be down the lakes in all weathers, living up to the nickname he rapidly earned: 'Mad Eel Boy'...


An early eel, and a right wriggly handful by the look of it
 
Rob's biggest Cons eel, at 4lb 5oz. We knew of 6lb+ fish caught accidentally by carp anglers, which is very big for an eel.



Eventually though, the carp bug bit, and one day in September 1999 I got the call to photograph Rob's first Cons carp...


20lb 12oz, and the start of a mild obsession

Rob was 16. When I was that age, a fish of these proportions was a mythical creature encountered only within the pages of the Angling Times. A young angler cannot catch a fish of this size and not be fundamentally influenced by the experience. The desire for 'more' and 'bigger' bites hard.

Cons carp were far from easy to catch. A season's 'top rod' may land perhaps 15 or so. Winter captures were rare as the proverbial, and even in summer a week or two might pass without a fish caught by anyone. Rob rose to the challenge though, and in the summer of 2002, aged 19, landed his biggest Cons carp...


34lb 10oz of cracking mirror carp

Not long after this, things went a bit pear-shaped for Rob. Following some relatively minor misdemeanours involving one or two of his dodgy mates, he was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing. The verdict: guilty. The sentence: one year's ban. Shortly afterwards Rob moved down and joined us in East Devon and, when the ban expired, did not renew his Cons membership. I allowed mine to lapse also. In the unlikely event that any rabid carper reads this he will doubtless be gasping at this perceived folly. To many, it's akin to throwing away the golden ticket. And, funnily enough, both of us have a tiny tinge of wistful regret. Despite living almost three hours away, it would be kind of nice to be able to drop in and fish such a mega-exclusive venue when the fancy takes us. But do we miss it really? No. The lakes were busy enough back then, and with the fish even bigger now, I can't imagine there are fewer anglers chasing them. These days, both of us prefer the solitude offered by an unpressured venue rather than the cut-and-thrust of competing for the prime spots, and the associated bankside 'politics'.

Shortly after moving to the southwest, Rob borrowed my red hat and took it barbel fishing to the River Stour near Christchurch. It duly did the business, and Rob landed this humungous barbel, which, at 13lb 2oz, remains his biggest ever...


February 2003. A really nice red hat.

So, yes, a door had closed, but in angling, as in most hobbies I imagine, there are countless others. And frequently both Rob and I are pleasantly surprised at what lies behind them...

The rather delapidated shack pictured below was once the Cons club hut. Situated on the banks of the Cons 'Big Lake', it commanded an idyllic view across the fishery. It's long gone now. The photo was taken in about 2002 I reckon, by which time a new, bigger club hut had been built elsewhere, and it's hard to believe that one beautiful spring day in the mid-'90s I slightly nervously walked through the door of this glorified shed, sat down in front of the committee panel, and managed not to muck up my membership interview.

It's pleasing to realise that all the photos above are an indirect consequence of that occasion...



Tuesday, 23 October 2018

The Inexorable March of Time

As I am growing older, it seems that events conspire more and more frequently to remind me of this unfortunate fact. I'd like to share some recent examples...

Just yesterday Steve tweeted this pic:


In the text of his tweet Steve asked, "Gav, am I right in saying you've seen Leach's Petrel from here?" Steve was right; I have. Sunday morning, 6th November 2005. It was blowing a hoolie, tanking down with rain, and my usual favourite seawatching spot of the day, the thatched shelter partially visible in the photo above, was too exposed to the weather to be viable. I wondered if the concrete hut thing below might be better (I had no idea it was an ex-WWII searchlight emplacement) and headed down to give it a try. Although a bit buffetted by the wind, at least it kept the rain out. By the time I had to leave at 09:00 I'd seen two Leach's Petrels slowly work their way westwards. Phil joined me in time to see the second one, and I think had another after I left. At the time it was a mega patch-tick, and since then I've only seen one other, which was brought to the Seaton Marshes hide in a box in December 2006.

But, my goodness, was it really thirteen years ago?! Aagh!!

Just lately I had a bit of a garage clear-out, and ruthlessly pruned a load of old stuff that I really didn't need any more. Like this, for example:


This rusty old cantilever tool box was nice and shiny when I lovingly applied those stickers to it. I bought it at Wembley market, which was a weekly event at the old stadium in my youth. It would have been in 1978 or '79, which I am painfully aware is basically four decades ago...

Did I really once buy a copy of Hot Rod & Custom Magazine??

And then there was this...

I am doing some work in our loft right now, and beneath the bottom layer of ancient insulation I found a sheet of newspaper. It's the front and back page of an old Sunday Express. Just in case you can't make it out in the photo below, the date is 6th May, 1973...

Photo taken within moments of discovery

What is of special significance for me is the subject matter. I can vividly remember watching that FA cup final on the telly. I had no loyalties to either Leeds or Sunderland, but was rooting for Sunderland because they were such desperate underdogs in this contest. As a 2nd-division team it was a small miracle that they'd even made it to the final, and now they were facing Leeds United, the previous year's winners and one of the most dominant sides in football at the time.

Amazingly, Sunderland scored after 31 minutes and then hung on to that slender lead for the rest of the game to claim victory. As you can imagine, the tension mounted relentlessly with each passing minute, so as the final whistle blew there was this incredible release, and scenes of absolutely massive euphoria from the Sunderland supporters, team and staff. As a 14 year-old I was totally caught up in it, despite not really being a football fan, so the discovery of this little time capsule in my loft took me straight back there...

Forty-five years!!

Horrifying.

Our eldest son will be 36 in December. He is a chef, and has worked all over the place, including a year in Australia and three years in Indonesia. He's just taken a job in Switzerland. When it comes to travel he has ten times more experience than me. Our younger son is 33, and works as an electrician in London, supervising commercial installations. It's sometimes hard to think of my children as mature, responsible adults, in many ways far more knowledgable and accomplished than me. That's bad enough. But in conversation with them I sometimes detect, in the gentle father-and-son banter, a note of amused tolerance, and realise that they are wise to the flaws and frailties of their ageing parents, and patiently accept them...

Now, where's my bus pass?

Saturday, 22 September 2018

If Only I Was a Proper Birder...

If only I was a proper birder...

This recent rough weather would have got me all excited, that's for sure. A few storm-blown waifs guaranteed, I reckon. And sure enough, several Grey Phalaropes have turned up along the nearby coast. In times past I would have been out there looking for such gems, and hoping for even better, like a Sabine's Gull perhaps.

Or a Leach's Petrel. Like this one, found in Christchurch Harbour yesterday...



My sentiment would typically have echoed that of @amythebirder there, along with a little envy. If I was a Christchurch Harbour birder I would quite possibly have been popping down for a look, even in my current mode of deep phase. Yes, I might have rocked up, peered at it through some pricey glass, maybe taken a snap or two, willed it to fly around a bit, and so on... All pretty standard birding behaviour which, over the years, I have exhibited many times. On a handful of occasions with this very species in fact.

However, not all the Twitter comments had a tone of such innocent delight...




Now it's true to say that sometimes I have had 'poor thing' type thoughts because of the sorry state of a particular bird (or even a lot of birds during hard-weather movements) and certainly it detracts from one's pleasure when you can see that a bird is clearly on its last legs. But the comment above caught my attention. Evidently it reflects a measure of concern about the bird's condition, and I can appreciate why. Fine. However, the suggestion that observers need to mute their pleasure somewhat because of the bird's seemingly unhappy circumstances surprised me. Putting aside my initial reaction that it was a bit preachy, I gave it some thought. And it has me wondering whether I am somehow out of step with current birding sensibilities...

Let's be frank. If I was out birding in foul weather, an encounter like the above would be exactly what I was hoping for. If I chanced upon a storm-driven Leach's I would be extremely chuffed. And I can say without reservation, worries that I might be experiencing 'too much joy' would be far from my mind; in fact it would be difficult to think of a more satisfactory outcome to a stormy afternoon's birding! Even if the bird was found by someone else, who then texted me, and I twitched it...again, no worries. If it was a patch-tick, I'd be celebrating. If it was a lifer, even more so!

So, is there something wrong with me? Do I lack compassion or something? Is my sensitivity chip corrupted?

Maybe all of those things. Because I have to confess, if I were ever to find a Nearctic cuckoo of some kind (and let's face it, every single one of them is basically a dead-bird-flying, or, more often, a dead-bird-hunched-miserably-on-the-deck) I would be absolutely ecstatic, and no amount of social media moralising would have me feeling any different. Is that not normal any more? Do I need to ask my conscience some hard questions...?

Sunday, 2 September 2018

A Small Wriggling Thing, and Other Stories

A couple of weeks back I revisited an old birding haunt...


I hadn't been up here for ages, certainly it was prior to the installation of this information board. Three days on the trot I popped by, but with little reward; just a few Wheatears, Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and so forth. All the same, it was enjoyable to retrace old footsteps, and to remember the successes (and occasional failures) of yore. I'm pleased to note that local birders are still covering Beer Head on a regular basis, with frequently half a dozen or so getting up there of an autumn morning. It's hard to believe that almost 14 years have passed since I first came across late-autumn Firecrest and Ring Ouzel on the headland and vowed to investigate the obvious potential next year. That 'next year' was 2005.

And it's that all-too-rapid passage of time that occupied my thoughts as I sat down with the laptop this afternoon. Where has the year gone? July and August have slipped by without a single NQS post, and to be honest I've covered all I can say about birding in the paragraph above. So, other stuff then...

The Turf Hotel, Exeter, Devon, EX6 8EE
Taken on Friday, 17th August, this photo features a few bicycles. The one on the right is mine. Perhaps you're thinking "Hmm, the Turf Hotel...that name rings a bell somehow..." Well, if you twitched the Devon American Robin, so it should, because this pub is just across the Exeter Ship Canal from where that bird hung out in November 2010. As I sat in the sunshine here, savouring a nice coffee and a melting, sticky cake-thing, I pondered this trivial fact: I have enjoyed high points of three separate hobbies within a stone's throw of this very spot.
  1. Said American Robin - the only one I've seen in this land, and a rare 21st-century twitch
  2. My biggest-ever pike of 24lb 14oz, in December 2016
  3. An idyllic coffee stop during one of the most enjoyable long bike rides I've undertaken
Because yes, it was a lo-o-o-ong bike ride. 90-odd miles in fact. Without a lot of careful route-planning I'd found myself at the Exmouth Marina, and remembered that there was a ferry you could catch from here to take you across the Exe Estuary to Starcross, Why not? I thought...

In the queue
En-route...
Number one novel discovery of this jaunt was learning that there is a floating restaurant in the middle of the river, accessible only by boat. Who knew?

Perhaps I should now find some way to incorporate Turf Lock into an epic run, and chalk up a four-hobby moment in the one spot.

While we're talking Exeter Canal, I should mention a recent event that definitely qualifies as one of my most unexpected - bizarre, even - angling happenings ever...

I joined Rob for an overnight session on the canal last week. Rob was after carp mainly, but I was kitted out with a lighter set-up, aiming for tench. I used an open-ended feeder with a short hook-link on a helicopter rig, and baited with a couple of dead red maggots and a plastic one [with apologies for the esoteric language there]. We were pretty confident of catching something, because we'd seen signs of feeding fish quite nearby, but the downside was that we were in just about the noisiest spot on the canal. Or in the whole of Devon possibly...

That's Rob's bivvy, with the M5 directly above (deafening!) plus occasional passing JCB and heavy engineering works off-stage left. Also, a million cyclists, walkers and dogs.
Compare this spot with the one we fished back in April (as illustrated in this post) and it's a wonder they could possibly be on the same venue. But they are. Mind you, there's over a mile between them, and they're on opposite banks.

Anyway, the fishing was great. Rob had just landed a nice tench when I arrived...

Not the carp he was hoping for, but 5lb 3oz of pristine tench is always going to put a smile on your face.

In just over 24 hours my tenchy tactics outwitted three tench to 5lb exactly, five bream to 7lb 4oz, and something else, entirely unexpected...

It was after midnight. I'd just landed a tench, unhooked it and recast, leaving the fish in the landing net to weigh in a moment. I was just taking out the slack and setting the bobbin and alarm when I felt the line tugged from my fingers. A fish had taken my bait within moments of it settling on the bottom! Whatever I'd hooked felt rather small as I wound it in easily. So small in fact, that I swung it straight to my hand. Whereupon I got a mighty big surprise...


It was a wels, or European catfish! In 1990 I spent a memorable summer fishing for this species at Tiddenfoot Pit in Leighton Buzzard, where I caught something like 16 of the things, up to 27lb 10oz, which was reputedly the biggest in the lake at the time. Back then the species was rare indeed, with just a handful of accessible venues providing a realistic possibility of catching one, and a 30-pounder being about the biggest you might expect. Fast-forward 28 years and the angling scene is very, very different. Catfish now reach an astonishing 90lb in Tiddenfoot, and according to the Leighton Buzzard Angling Club website "...anglers can expect multiple captures in a session." They are also far more widespread. As well as legal stockings in various stillwaters, there have been loads of illegal ones too, and catfish are potentially present just about anywhere. Rumours of their existence in the Exeter Canal are rife, and Rob and I know of a definite 40-pounder caught several years ago. However, we reckoned that in the highly unlikely event that either of us hooked a mythical Exeter Canal 'cat', the ensuing battle would involve an unstoppable force steaming off down the canal like a U-boat before snapping our line like cotton. Because certainly I have never experienced a fish that, pound-for-pound, can pull as hard as a catfish...

And yet here I was, holding a wriggly little tiddler catfish in my hand; an incy-wincy 'kitten'! Evidently the mummy and daddy catfish have got it on, and been fruitful. I bunged it in my huge carp retainer (that I have yet to retain a carp in!) so that I could get a quick phone-snap in the daylight.

And that, dear reader, brings to a close the latest NQS offering. Until next time...