Sunday, 31 December 2017

On the Threshold of Another Year...

Forty years ago this evening my mate Pete and I attended the New Year's Eve revelries in Trafalgar Square. The famous fountain was switched off, but at midnight I nevertheless waded in the pool and may or may not have kissed a policewoman, depending on whether I fully trust my memory. Some time in the early hours we sat in a Fleet Street canteen where my stepfather, a printer, treated us to a hearty fry-up while we dripped Trafalgar Square fountain water onto the floor. And thus began 1978.

If I'd been blogging back then I could have done a review of 1977...
  • Built my first bike from scratch
  • Hair longest it's ever been. Cool!
  • Mucked up the A-levels a bit
  • Started university, but knew within a fortnight I was going to hate the course
  • Hawkwind at the Roundhouse!
  • There's this 'punk rock' thing...don't like it much
  • Etc...
If I were to review 2017 there would certainly be some highlights. Finding a Hoopoe and jamming a spring flock of 12 Poms on minimal birding, for example. And catching a 23lb pike. And discovering that I can still run after a quarter-century layoff. That last one was a very nice surprise, and thinking about it, I'm pretty sure I haven't yet written a post on the topic. Now there's something to look forward to...

I'm amused to realise that my 2017 list would similarly include building a bike from scratch. I can honestly say it has absolutely nothing else in common with the 1977 version though. Apart from a keen interest in the appearance of my hair of course.

I was a very enthusiastic angler in 1977 and would definitely have predicted that I'd still be at it forty years later. That I actually am is a pleasant surprise to me today. What I would not have predicted was having so many years off in the interim and flogging all my tackle at least twice! Mind you, at the age of 18 I had yet to learn about my horrendous fickle streak, and had no idea what 'phasing' was...

Two years after Trafalgar Square I spent the final day of 1979 on the Hampshire Avon's Royalty Fishery at Christchurch, in company with my old fishing buddy Ric. If you'd told me at the time that my much older self would be planning a dawn pike raid on January 1st, 2018, well, I think I would have been rather pleased...

Ric, waiting for a bite...
...and after getting one. A 1970s barbel.

Anyway, I shall sign off at this point, and wish you all the best for whatever plans you have sketched out for the coming twelve months.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

A Seasonal Post. Kind of...

Well, it's approaching that time of year when conscientious bloggers traditionally review highlights of the previous year. And if I was one of them I'd probably do likewise. But I'm not. I am instead one of the sporadic kind. Bad. Worse still, I couldn't even stick to a consistent theme for twelve months. Once upon a time NQS was a birding blog. Who knows what it is now...

Anyway, tomorrow is a Bank Holiday. Excellent! For many it is a joyous time of family get-togethers, of eating and drinking and cheesy old movies, of tinsel and snowmen and crackling log fires. If that's you, great. My own view of the so-called festive season is far less rosy, but that doesn't mean I cannot enjoy some aspects of it. Like, for example, the fact that not many anglers will be granted licence to be out tomorrow, so the riverbanks will be nice and quiet. Yep, Rob and I are going fishing. Mrs NQS will curl up with a good book and a glass of fizz, while the Haig men don their wellies and waterproofs.

And it will be a proper riverbank too. Not a canal. A local club has winter access to the River Frome, a Dorset chalk-stream famous for its grayling fishing. Grayling are not a big fish - a two-pounder is a specimen - but they are very pretty. They are also relatively scarce. In many years fishing I've caught just a handful, from the rivers Kennet and Hampshire Avon, and only tiddlers of a few ounces. On the Frome though, they are quite numerous, and the 4lb 4oz British record came from the river in 2009. A two-pounder is very possible, and even a massive three-pounder not unrealistic.

Rob, though, has never caught a grayling at all...

So, moved by paternal generosity, I have visited a couple of times already to suss out some good swims for him!

This is a grayling...

A 1lb 4oz bar of slippery solid silver

So far I've caught a dozen, and they've been like peas in a pod, between a pound and a pound and a quarter. These are decent-sized fish. It's fair to think of grayling in terms of roach, where a two-pounder is likewise a specimen. I'd be delighted with a dozen pound-plus roach! The photo above doesn't do the fish justice though. In its element it is transformed...

Look at the size of that dorsal fin! And the exquisite markings on it and the pelvic fins.

To be frank, I am smitten. I've been a bit spoiled by the pike, where although the fishing has been slow numbers-wise I have nevertheless jammed a couple of real whoppers. This grayling fishing is something else. For a start, it's like the fishing I remember and loved as a boy. A winding waterway of rippling shallows and smooth deeps, curling eddies and wafting beds of streamer weed. The techniques are simple too: a straightforward blockend feeder, or trotting with a chunky, orange-tipped float. Simple, yes, but there is plenty of room for skill too. Watercraft is vital. And trotting a float is something I haven't done in anger for many years. What a joy to catch fish this way! Finally, I thankfully haven't fluked an early biggie. So in this new venture there is a satisfying sense of gentle progress along the learning curve being rewarded appropriately.

That said, if I catch a massively undeserved three-pounder tomorrow I will not be disappointed!

In between grayling there are other fishy distractions...

A pristine little trout.
And this, believe it or not, is a salmon! These beautifully marked youngsters are called salmon parr.

So, whatever you're up to tomorrow, take a moment to think of me and Rob, out there on the riverbank, probably getting a bit wet if the forecast is accurate, but also very definitely getting away from it all...

Cheers, all.