It’s been a strange old month for unexpected twists and minor calamities, with some tricky fishing to boot. I’ve spent recent cold days in the company of my Polish friend and fellow writer Arek Kubale, and other days stranded indoors, just left wondering and waiting for the weather to shift.
We had bitter winds, but it was certainly beautiful on the Grand Western Canal. When you take a visiting friend fishing, you certainly see it fresh, through their eyes. The “Tivvy Canal” was a rare picture with the autumn leaves, staying late and ochre and gold this year. Even where bites are scarce, the tangle and the glare of this rustic looking water lulls you in.
As with so much of pike fishing, the magic here is not always in easy gratification, but in the searching itself. The promise of what might happen. And those pike haunt you when the waters are clear. We spotted several small pike early on, one of which followed but wouldn’t take, and another not much longer than a pencil. I also managed a few perch on the fly, before Arek’s girlfriend Agnieska got ill and we had to call it quits. Bad luck.
We walked a good distance a second afternoon too, taking in some more autumn colours but finding the pike unwilling for the most part. I think he was still quite charmed by the place though- it certainly has history and character. Things like the local kingfishers and the area’s legends- such as the plane which crash landed in the canal- are great, even when the fishing isn’t. Tantalisingly, I also spotted a very nice pike indeed, well into double figures, that sadly showed bugger all interest in my pike fly.
I have a theory about Tivvy pike that the school ruler length fish probably need to eat something almost every single day to survive, whereas the bigger ones can be totally uninterested for days if they’ve had a decent meal. Right or wrong, there are definitely sessions when little 2″-3″ flies and lures will help you save a blank- although the fish are liable to be small.
But perhaps my biggest concern wasn’t the pike, but the impending Tiverton Angling Club Christmas Match, also on the canal. This is a brilliant event, with a very strong field of entry (60 or so usually) and fished in great spirit. However, regular readers are probably also aware of the drama with my broken pole (let’s rephrase that: regular readers are probably sick to death of me going on about it!).
So how did I fare at the Tiverton Match? Forecasts were for a cool, testing day, with the previous weekend’s contest a struggle. I had a pretty stinky peg last year, agonisingly just off the bend swim just off Tidcombe Bridge. This time, however, I drew number 30, a lovely spot right on the wider bend that had been a good peg previously.
But how was I to negotiate the match with a damaged pole? I had two minds about paying the £10 extra pools, but was sure that Sod’s Law would mean I drew a flier this year. And my hunch was correct.
With my number four section (broken in two places) literally threaded inside itself and secured with tape, I said a little prayer as I tackled up. I also packed a feeder rod just in case the thing proved unfishable or disaster struck.
The funny thing is that adversity or bad luck always motivates me in everything I do, to the extent where I wonder if I’d ever have achieved anything at all if life was actually fair? It takes me back to the rough, muddy world of the rugby pitch years back. If we were ever being thrashed, or the other team were cheating or taking the Mickey I would become twice as determined. In games where I got kicked or punched or a terrible refereeing decision took place, I suddenly became twice the player. Weird, because usually I’m so laid back mates have described me as “virtually horizontal”.
Anyhow, I fished two main lines in the end, both with punched bread. A short one for roach at around 5m that I would feed little and often (size 20 hook, very light line); one at around 8m (as much strain as I dared with the damaged section) using a size 16 hook and just a little heavier, which I would put a bit more feed in initially for bream, and then only feed when bites tailed off. In addition to this I also put out some chop and ground bait right across by cover, to have a look with the feeder later.
The first half hour must be one of the most hair-raising of my life. After as little as 10 minutes I netted a nice skimmer of 8oz or so, then a silver bream just slightly smaller. The pole looked ugly but was doing its job. But moments later, while shipping in, the damaged section came adrift, the now wonky profile having made it less secure. Nightmare!
I suddenly had four sections of pole floating out of reach, while no doubt the fish were still there! I quickly reached for the feeder rod and cast out to try and hook the pole rig, still attached. At the third time of asking it came in, albeit making quite a bit of unwanted commotion. Thank goodness it came back, for the sake of my own embarrassment as much as anything else.
I fully expected the fish at 8m to have spooked, and so kept feeding the inside line as a backup. But after trying the middle again, I had a slow, ponderous bite and hit into something that took a lot more elastic. Bream! I was pleading with fate again, having lost a decent one in the previous year’s contest. But it hit the net; and what an amazing turnaround from 10 minutes earlier with half my pole adrift in the canal!
It wasn’t easy going for the time that followed. But each occasion the 8m line died, I picked up some bits and pieces close in, by feeding a tiny pinch of bread every ten minutes or so. Tiny roach and also the odd silver bream to 2-3 oz. Not match winners, but very welcome. Each time I returned to the main line, you quickly found out what was there- either quick bites and tiny roach, or a slow dip and another skimmer. I love Drennan’s old “Roach” floats for this style of fishing, but I fear they are no longer made, so I’d better be careful with the few I have.
It’s difficult to illustrate the match brilliantly with this blog I’m afraid, because a match is one of the few times I won’t take any pictures at all, so my words will have to do. But it was going ok, pretty well. I kept picking up the bits and on four hours or so I reckon I had six or seven “net fish” besides the blades. I also tried the feeder and started another “scratch” line close in for perch on the worm. Neither worked, the feeder line getting stabby, small bites and only the very end of the worm pinched.
I added only one more net quality fish, a quarter pound silver bream, in the final hour and even the bits were less obliging. Would it be enough? I reckoned I had four or five pounds in the net. 2KG 10g as it turned out (just under four and a half pounds, in old money). But the encouraging (or discouraging!) news along the bank was just how tough it had fished.
Back at our meeting point, the pint tasted good and the lads were in fine spirits. It’s always fished with a nice cameraderie, the Tivvy Christmas Match, and 2016 was no different. It also has good organisation and possibly the best selection of meat, booze and confectionery I have ever seen at a fishing event. Big credit to the organisers, because this doesn’t happen by magic.
Regardless of the result, I was really pleased to have survived, drawn a good peg and felt I’d fished quite well. And, typically for me, there was an accidental story there with the bust pole and my combination of good and bad luck. The results were announced and as one of only three to exceed the 2KG mark, I claimed third place!
£90 and a Christmas hamper full of wonders were mine (wine, chocolates, sweets, biscuits and some real Tiverton millionaire’s treats like pickled eggs and a tin of ham which I’m not sure if I’m meant to eat or bait up with). I couldn’t stop smiling on the way home, or quite believe that I’d had my best ever finish in the festive match the very same year I feared the worst.
How would I have done with fully functioning tackle?! Actually, I know the answer to that- I’d have drawn right next to where the cars park in the “dead” section and struggled to make a coupe of pounds. I might actually bring a broken pole every year now.
As a little postscript I should also add a couple of other important things to this week’s blog. Firstly Tiverton Angling Club now have a website at long last. I volunteered to help with this for free by providing text and some of my pictures, simply because I like the club a lot (the best value coarse fishing in Devon by a mile) and they’ve needed a site for a while. It’ll take a few weeks or even months to really “bed in” with search results, but do take a look and link it where you can because this will help. Here it is: www.tivertonanglingclub.com
And finally, I should add that I finally had a resolution with my pole drama, as MAP Fishing have now responded and offered to help. It could have been quicker and less ball ache, but at the end of the day I am grateful for this. We all get things wrong- the important thing is to put them right and move on with a positive, which MAP were brave enough to do. It turns out they do take criticism on board and listen to customers after all, which is both reassuring and a much happier ending to this blog.
Till next time, keep warm and enjoy your fishing.