Zen and the Art of Angling

Paraphrasing the late great Robert M. PirsigI read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" during the last year of my first degree. It changed the way I thought, although I doubt I understood half of it. I occasionally wonder why I didn't take the chance to visit other lectures and just listen, something I earnestly entreat the LittleAnglers so to do., despite this page's title, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice, that is: rigorous self-control, meditation-practice and the benefit of others.

Plus, it is not really very useful for angling, either.

Not that this has anything to do with the price of fish. I suppose that the meditative state of Zen Buddhism could be compared to the state of mind occasionally reached while concentrating on a small orange blob on the surface of the water. More pertinently, I am prone to wild flights of imagination, that some describe as the product of a 'grasshopper mind'; a few of these are recorded here. I am comfortable with these meandering thoughts and notions, which can seem oblique to some. Possibly with good reason. Which is fine, apart from a tendency to attract hippies that I then swiftly disillusion.

Below is list of the 'things I have collected together under the misleading title of Zen', some of which might illustrate the general thrust of "Piscator non solum piscatur", that is, "There is more to fishing than catching fish".

"At the ancient pond,
a frog plunges into,
the sound of water." ~~ A translation of "Old Pond" by Matsuo BashöDuring his lifetime, Basho was recognized for his works in the collaborative 'haikai no renga' form; today, after centuries of commentary, he is recognized as the greatest master of haiku. ~~ 

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Zen and the art of angling Pronounced 'Zen'.

"Zen" (a Polish name, no idea of the actual spelling) was a fellow pike angler that I became friends with during the long 1993-94 seasonThe Long Dark Pike Season of the Soul..., by dint of the fact that for many of the long grey days I was out chasing Esox, he and I were the only ones on the water. It was a long pike season because I caught hardly any pike.

He almost invariably fished at the East end of Long Lake (a "hot spot") and I almost always ended up in the swim next door while we swapped pike stories, occasionally coffee (if someone had run out) and after a while, confidences. While I would swear that sitting in one place is generally less productive than roving [unless of course it's a very good spot ;-)], he almost always caught at least one and in my bad season, he often offered me the swim for the last half hour to try and break the run, an offer I usually declined.

He was an HGV driver and his wife was a receptionist at a local company. Later in that season, I came across him uncharacteristically pleasure 'fishing for bites' in the third swim on Pike Pit ('Hordens Mere') and setting up my sweetcorn wild-carp rig, while his good lady wife delivered lunch, I had the good and 'buzz-foreshadowed' fortune to snag a wildie, to the delight of all of us.

I very much enjoyed the company and it was a great sadness to me, that after setting a date for mine and Mrs. AA's nuptials, my pike fishing tailing off somewhat (that's the way of things...), I was unable to track him down to invite him and his wife to the celebration. I went to the lake a good number of times to find him, but I guess his piking had tailed off a bit as well.

If you read this mate, drop me a line - if you recognise us.

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Zen and the art of angling Zen

Once or twice elsewhere on this site I've mentioned "Zen moments" while fishing. By this I mean there are times when for no good or discernible reason you know that something is about to happen.

There is a need for care here. Most of us spend a lot of time at the water's edge, willing fish to take the bait and bob the float. When the bob happens, a good proportion of the time you were thinking it was going to happen just before. It's human to straight away forget all those times that you anticipated a bite but one didn't come. It turns out this is a known thing as well, 'hindsight biasHindsight bias, also known as the knew-it-all-along effect or creeping determinism, is the inclination, after an event has occurred, to see the event as having been predictable, despite there having been little or no objective basis for predicting it.' or 'confirmation biasConfirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one's pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.' depending on which way one looks at it.

But: there are those times, when I am lolling around not paying attention and suddenly am very much alert. I find myself tightening the fingers on the rod, or picking out one bobbin rather than the other.

So: Can I tell when I'm going to get a bite? "Yes, sometimes" and I need to be relaxed for this to happen. Can I prove it to you? Probably not.

But I have, with four separate witnesses, gone from 'not paying attention' to 'hand on the rod' and fish on the bank for no obvious reason - and many other times without company. Once with a regular visitor on 'Pike Pit' - apologising for disturbing me and possibly the fish, "No problem", I said "there isn't one around." And then five minutes of inconsequential chat later, 'the buzz' came, I sat up, put my hand on the rod and said, "There's one around now", striking as the float slid off, landing a 6lb 'wildie' some minutes later.

This also happened with "call me" Zen and when I was with girlfriend on Pike Pit, as well as with the sibling, where we both found ourselves overtly and intently interested in the right-hand bobbin on the 'pod, shortly before it took off (I missed that one). Although not inclined towards irrational belief in the mysterious, but satisfied that the effect is there, I sought a rather a more rational explanation of these occurrences. So what's going on? I have theories...

OK, so in bowling a regular leg-cutter slaJAA was once a handy slow left-arm bowler with a mean arm-ball and two sorts of leg-cutters, one of which scuttled straight on. Sadly the wrist contortions required to really rip both the cutters, especially the top-spinner, did for my shoulder.  on a good length...

...the cliché is that one's subconscious is calculating a fifty foot parabola, based on an initial velocity (X) and a rotation velocity (Y) of the object, which is spherical, taking into account that the angular velocity of the object will affect the rate of curve of the parabola and the curve rate will vary as an inverse square of the speed of the object and gravity will apply...this is a good anecdote for matey maths teachers, deperately trying to link the sport-player de jour with maths. Probably cobblers.

It's rather more likely that one tries to bowl in a certain way, the brain notes what happened and that one needs to spin it harder 'by a bit' or 'a bit slower', and adjusts and remembers...it's still impressive how the 'procedural memoryProcedural memory is a type of implicit memory (unconscious memory) and long-term memory which aids the performance of particular types of tasks without conscious awareness of these previous experiences.' ('muscle memory') can be so exactly recorded and recalled.

So, if you pull this off, no-one is doing any maths, but templates are being slowly built up. Consider also, that most of us would have to bowl a good few deliveries to get close (even if you are Mr G. Swann255 Test wickets @ 29.96). On a given day, one bowls, the brain quietly notes that the action of the delivery matches very very well to the stored template for a 'good' ball and give itself a pat on the back. It felt 'right'. On another day, the delivery didn't match the template and you knew it was a long-hop the moment you'd turned your arm over...

This mechanism is, I believe the root of 'the feeling'.

You're float fishing in a light breeze with a 3BB antennae. The line's sunk, the float is behaving. Suddenly you think you're going to have a bite. You do... A pole float typically (for still water) has a bristle top and is shotted within a thou of its life can can be sunk by a passing gnat alighting on the tip. You see more float movement with one of these than with a regular float. Not all of this movement is a bite, as you discover when you strike at every twitch. Fish grub around by your bait, stirring eddies and swirls, which move the line and register on the float. Most fish will mouth a bait once or twice, carp are really pesty in this respect and perch can drive you wild.

Even with a less sensitive float your subconscious sees tiny movements and (figuratively) rings a bell to get attention. Some of these tiny movements are perhaps out of sync. with wind and current patterns. My own experience is that sometimes when float fishing the attention zeros in on the float which appears to be almost in a calm spot. Moments before the float pops under I suspect the fish holds the bait and the float's movements are momentarily stilled. The 'IDWhich, as Freud would have it, is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality...although most of his work cannot be experimentally proved and there was a LOT of sex. I consider a lot of his work to be one large 'Freudian slip'.' knows.

For bite indicators or bobbins the same applies - when ledgering I watch the rod tip, where you will see many tweaks and pulls that don't register on the bobbins or the alarms. The sharper the angle between the rod tip and the line, the more of these you will see due ot friction from the line passing over the tip ring. A good reason not to 'rod pod', but rather to use bank-sticks to align the rod with the line but only with line clips or bait-runners. A good yank on line, with no rod or clutch to absorb the shock, will snap line very easily.

Bobbins can sway in the breeze, seldom are they completely still, then may even tremble imperceptibly with the movement of the line caused by eddies caused by a fish. The same reasoning applies - you pick up that one bobbin is out of sync. with the other's movement in the draught, or that the movement is stilled. A tiny back and forth oscillation caused by tiny pulls. Twitches on the line or rod tip. And suddenly you are very interested in the left hand rod for no good reason...and then the bobbin whangs upward...

So not so mysterious.

There are other manifestations of this surrupticious pattern-matching machine. Working out where fish are is a good example. Returning to a recent trip, we wondered around the lake and only at one point did we really think it felt "fishy". However some surface ice put us off. We then watched a later arrival pull three carp out of that spot. I have no hard evidence but it's probably as simple as a slight water colour from stirred up silt or possibly even seeing fish that don't quite register. Either way, next time maybe go where you think it feels right.

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I wonder about other possibilities. You've all seen that shark homing in on the buried flounder by detecting its electrical field aloneThe Electric and Magnetic Sense of Sharks, SkaS, and Rays by Adrianus J. Kalmijn (1974). Likewise, all fish have some kind of standing electrical fieldThe 'Sixth Sense' of Weakly Electric Fish - In addition to the five senses humans and most other vertebrates experience, some fish have a sixth - the ability to detect electrical fields in their environment..

Anglers have an electrical field, so I postulate it's possible that the electrical field of a large fish interferes with the angler's and that some part of the brain can detect this. If this 'detection' coincides with a bite/fish, a template is formed, which starts to match conditions with the 'right' ones for a bite.

I've no idea what such a detection mechanism might be. It might be a signal in the nerves in the little finger (for all I know) or an interaction with the brain's electrical field itself. It doesn't matter per se, only that something changed and that change becomes associated with 'a bite'.

If there is such an effect, then it would be strongest when the fish and bait are nearby. The electrical field strength decreases as a function of the square of the distance, so that which is 'detectable' at 1', is a hundred times smaller if you go another 10' further away and 20' away the field is 1/400 of the signal at 1'.

My experience is this 'feeling' occurs most often when you are fishing close by.

Two perfectly good theories. It might be one, the other or both in tandem. Or neither. However, the 'template' may includes what you can see along with what you 'detect'. If small movements are the key, then you would also expect being close to the bite indication to improve the 'Zen' effect. Which in my experience, it does. None of this is a substitute for observation and experience, you'll catch more fish if you examine waters with care and pay close attention to the bite indicator you are using.

Does any of this matter a jot? Not really, but just in case my subconscious is watching, quite a lot of my floats have an extra black and white band on them now - I give myself the biggest chance of seeing smallest movements, consciously or otherwise. A slight curve of the float-tip is no bad thing, it'll curve away from the wind - and when it doesn't, it's more interesting to look at.

Oddly, I can't recall a 'Zen' experience with pike - that could be for a number of reasons, but typically pike do not fool around with bait. They pounce on it, which is often your first clue they are there. Pike also sidle up to dead-bait before pouncing, with hardly any discernible movement. I wonder if pike supress their own standing electrical field or if it's weaker than other fish?

Anyhow, most importantly, enjoy your fishing. If you reach any kind of enlightenment as well, then that's just a bonus.

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Zen and the art of angling Luck

Luck. 'Old BobOld Bob has his own page...' used to say, if asked about his fishing or shooting success, "I've had a bit of luck." if he'd caught something, and "I didn't have any luck today." if he didn't. I liked that. It's why I prefer "good luck" to "tight lines".

However skilful and prepared you are, luck plays a large part. All the skill and preparation serves to reduce the odds of a blank, but never entirely removes it. There are apocryphal stories of the reverse case, of the heavily encumbered and possibly over prepared angler getting nothing, then 'the lad' turns up with a bent pin bpModern dress-making pins cannot be bent into hooks, they tend to snap. The old-fashioned pins, slightly thicker and softer in the wire, can easily be bent into a decent hook. I've got a few of these and plan to catch fish on them just to see how well this works.  and sugar-string ssI've never found out exactly what 'sugar-string' is. Even google hasn't helped.  and banks a good 'un. 'Old BobOld Bob has his own page...' used to chuckle about Jack Hargreaves pike fishing with no luck, then a boy turning up with a worm and simple tackle then banking Esox right off the cuff (I don't know if this is true mind).

Digressing, 'Old Bob' mentioned the "bent pin and sugar string" more than once, not that I ever saw any or knew what it was exactly. Even 'the internet' could find only a couple of references in a fishing context, one of which was an online archive of a "Supplement to The Fishing Gazette, July 6, 1907. Vol. LIV, January to June, 1907".

Even in our more zealously stocked commercial fisheries, there's still a piscine lottery at work, with the right place and time playing a part. It's part of the fun, as if there is no chance of blanking, then catching has no worth.

So all that preparation, knowledge and tackle boils down to improving the chances of a catch or decreasing the odds of a blank. Odds are a funny thing - it's always possible to blank, however well prepared you are. It might just be the fish never spot your bait. I mean, we're smart, but how often do we find a big bunch of car keys hard to spot? The chicken brained carp (smart for a fish we are told, certainly intelligent enough to train to eat certain things at certain times) could easily miss seeing a particle, even a big one (that's more likely than you think, which is why we use flavourings that travel - the odds of a fish not smelling something that wafts over a large area are smaller). It's one reason why the ever-visible yellow corn continues to work year in and out, it's easy to spot, even in deep water and by the stupider than average fish. Which is around half of them.

On larger ('un-stocked') waters, even if you have a plan, finding the fish at all can involve a good bit of luck. Like finding wandering shoals of bream or tench in a five acre, 15' deep lake. After a while you'll find the places they tend to turn up eventually. But will it be today? You've improved the odds by fishing a good few times and noting where and when you caught various fish, even if you are not writing it down and making a conscious decision. obAnd you should write it down or note it. Memory is fickle and we tend to associate a good catch with a swim long after we've had half-a-dozen blanks on the same spot.

This can work against you as well - you turn up, fish, catch and spend the next umpteen goes in the same spot or near it, when you might learn more about the water by moving around a bit, which would improve your chances in the long run.

[Somewhere out there they may well be the fishing equivalent of Douglas Adams' "rain god" lorry driver ("Goodbye - and thanks for all the fish"), who despite all the best methods and application, simply doesn't catch. Equally of course there is the hypothetically fortunate angler who always catches whatever he does or wherever he goes...rather more like the perpetually fortunate 'Tom Chance' of 'Chance in a Million'. I digress. ]

A good way to evaluate any new idea or item of tackle or change in method is to ask oneself - "Does it improve the chances of catching fish? Why?"

Of course life's not that easy, with many ideas in angling being based on at least one supposition, so trying things out is the only way to know for sure. If you have a tackle-based idea or theory, why not track down a 'fish-in-a-barrel' lake and use it to road test the method? I recently read of someone practising their fish playing by getting someone to run around a field trying to break the line. I suppose you could use a sheep...

This sounds silly, but how often do you play exceptionally large fish? Practising on the fish itself has significant potential for disappointment. Another thing you can improve the odds with.

It's why it makes sense to take that extra bit of care with the bit of the lottery you can exert some control over. That is to say your tackle - care and inspection of line, knots, checking the line hasn't whipped itself around the reel handle on the last cast. Will the hook take the strain? And how do you know that by the way?

Always have a selection of baits - I keep corn, hemp, pepperami and tins of mussels and various meats in the back of my car, so if my first choice bait doesn't work out I have a choice. Again, just improving the odds.

Likewise you can do much to avoid scaring the fish - I'm slightly sceptical of the full commando camouflage stuff I see, down to rod rests, torches and the ends of bleepers. But it is certain that vibration on the bank plays a part in scaring the fish and sudden movements and unnatural colours will startle any prey animal, above or below water.

Stick to drab colours (I favour musty greens), avoid short sleeved shirts (arms being easy to spot), a hat won't hurt, move slowly and with care and avoid clumping tackle box lids or hammering in bank sticks and similar. Keep your shadow off the water. Better still keep back from the edge and keep the rod tip only by the waters edge. If you scare the fish, you'll wait half an hour for their return, more often you'll just miss the chance of catching the scared fish at all. You'll never know, but if you are quiet you might be surprised (in a good way).

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[Brightly coloured tackle boxes, trolleys (bump bump), chrome fittings that glint in the sun (paint or tape them over), watchstraps and rings, none of these are my favourite things. Folk who clump around the bank in bright colours talking in loud voices ("Any good?" "Not now" you mutter quietly to yourself). I've had more than one dithering developing bite startled into stillness by a friendly approach. If you talk to someone on the bank and they seem a bit anti-social, maybe that's the reason...

Finally on this rant, if you should have the great luck to get a fish so close you can see it, DON'T look at it's eyes. If it sees you looking at it, it'll know something's amiss.]

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If you are very quiet, you'll often get a bite sooner than you think - cast in and then start sorting out your tackle or a cup of freshly brewed and you might miss the best chance you'll get. Put up your landing net before the rest of your gear. It's much less unlucky than hooking a good fish and have to deal with it without the net... or put up a net one handed.

None of these things will make you a great angler, but doing them improves your chances of landing the great fish and the good fish - you still have the 'right place and right time' lottery to beat, but it's a good start. And the more of these things you manage, the 'luckier' you will get...

I know only one thing with complete certainty when I go out; that I don't know what I'm going to catch, if anything, even on waters I know well and fish often.

As my youngest daughter said to me; "You have to enjoying fishing as well, because you spend a lot of the time fishing NOT actually catching fish". Exactly so.

Why would you have it any other way?

Good luck.

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Zen and the art of angling Haiku

The mythical pool
the carp pierces the center
of widening rings

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Zen and the art of angling The Singular Perch

We've all had this experience on a long colourless day, almost pre-destined to be a blank. A small and sharp movement of the float, then a sudden dart under and there is that perch. It's often, but not always, around 1-3oz, with an over-sized gob and all Tod Sloan, which perch never usually are. This is a bit odd. But for that odd perch though you'd have blanked. Let's face it; the fine line between 'a blank' and 'not a blank' is often only a technicality and even so we've all blanked. But that single perch has saved me from a significant number of blanks and this has bothered me for some time.

One quiet grey day on Pike Pit the mystery perch saved me when I had poled up and got fishing while the sibling was still thinking about it. I may have overstated the value of being first in the water - well it would have been rude not to. I was almost driven from the bank by the fusillade of bets returned in response. The most fish. The biggest fish. The largest bag overall. The best specimen. The most different species. The first fish. Probably even the best-dressed fish. Each punt a pint of Tetley's Best, to be consumed that evening at 'The Chequers'.

Tweak. Plunge. There was the 2oz perch, first cast, inevitably, amusingly, the first and last fish of the day. Never had an afternoon of watching a motionless float been more interesting. The brother of course claimed he extracted all the evening beer money from the fruit machine anyway, so it didn't cost him a penny. Of course mate, whatever you say.

Then there was the solitary 6oz perch one cold day in Cookham, the only fish either of us caught. The sole perch I had on a grim day on Long Lake. The single perch last September on Breech Pond, the only thing between me and a blank. The one and only perch caught on the Thames at Marlow when the line was freezing in the rod rings. The small and gobby perch, the total catch on a horizontally windy day at Trout Stream, when not even an eel could be pried out of the bed-stones. You've got other examples, I'm sure. I did an informal random survey (I asked Bob in the office) and it's happened to him too. There are simply way too many 'one perch' days and often when you'd swear that no fish were within a mile.

I remembered a distant beer-facilitated conversation and someone had mentioned the Wheeler-Feynman insight - this suggests that all the electrons in the universe may be viewed as one electron that is continually jagging back and forth in time as it weaves the fabric of cosmic life. You can't prove it isn't, but I suspect that with Richard Feynman's sense of humour, this may be the point.

What though, if there is just one perch, nipping back and forth in time around the Northern hemisphere, whose purpose is to alleviate those otherwise fishless days? Of course it couldn't do every blank day, even time is finite (eventually) and good company, pleasant weather or a really good cup of tea will redeem some blanks. But the first trips of small fisher-folk, those drawn out sombre days that sap the will to fish, they need assistance.

Is this the purpose of the mystery perch, to materialise briefly beside your worm or maggot, snatch at it and redeem the day? It would explain several things; the "What, again?" look that one-off perch have, the very definite (only) bite and also the odd way that solitary perch get 'slightly foxed' as they get bigger. My lonely perch on Long Lake took a single maggot and surrendered gently, a shade over 2lb and seemed to have an air of resignation as well as fins that had seen better days...

Of course, the peripatetic Perca might understand its fate, a near-eternity of passing baits and blurred skyward propelled journeys, on release, slipping out of existence then propelled along the weird of the Nornir, the three Disir fates; that-which-is, that-which-is-becoming, that-which-should-be; on towards the another depression in the fabric of space-time, a moribund angler hunched at the nadir.

Could it be aware of the relief it brings, making it content, while the world streams past? Or much worse, a cursed and wailing soul condemned to eternal impalation, the only sustenance for the journey placed on cruel steel hooks. Perhaps a punishment for some transgression against Njörd1Njörd, the Norse god of fishermen, seafaring and storms had 10 daughters, three of which are the Nornir, the three Disir Fates of Norse myth known as Urdhr, Verdhandi and Skuld and representing the past, present and future; Urdhr (that-which-is), Verdhandi (that-which-is-becoming) and Skuld (that-which-should-be) who shape the turnings of Wyrd through the worlds. the Norse god of Storm and fishing, a slight to one of his ten daughters maybe, three of which now gleefully control destiny.

Today, the blank-saving perch is less in demand; commercial fisheries have made fishless days a thing of the past, if they pain thee so much. Perhaps a good thing for the small spiny totem; the journey is wearying-long, however carefully managed. But there are, will and should be occasions where just one perch helps.

So just in case, slip that solitary perch back with care. For your prize it could be a small moment of satisfaction or a short period of blessed relief, but either way, it may yet have a long way to go and may again save your day.

Silly idea right? Here are the 'odd perches':

Zen moments in2006 17th September 2006. Breach Pond. Another blank saved by the lone perchthat odd perch again ...a short trip to Pitman's pond turned into a trip to Breach after I failed to check the match list. I'm not sure why I didn't but there you are. Still, I did find the pond which is apparently hard to find, but having consulted a map, I had little trouble.

I went for Peg 18, with a four hour session being the plan, but after two hours of sitting in the grey conditions, had only a single bite for my trouble. That was when I ate my pasty, which is clichéd, but it's funny how often that happens. At 12:45 I decided that the fish were absent for reasons not known, and moved around the lake to Peg 12, to see if they were there. They weren't. On a long narrow lake like this the middle section is seldom the answer to where the fish are and if they are to be found when fishing is hard it is generally at one end or the other - but time was short, and most of it would have been used getting to the other end. So after another hour, I kicked back and cast in a bunch of worms more-or-less free-lined with a single AA shot, rigging a bite indicator that had to be dragged sideway across the platforms to get my attention. On my third cast I had a positive bite which yielded this 6oz perch, the whole bag.

Breach Pond perchsaved by a Wheeler-Feynman perch (again)

At 2:30 I headed out. I have a wander around to some carp anglers, who also had had nothing, and although the angler on Peg 17 had a few bream (but the lilies here make this a good swim at most times), it was slow compared with previous trips, with bites after midday petering out entirely. I did learn from the aforementioned that there used to be a lot more tench seen a few years ago, but this year they have hardly showed at all. The water was little clearer that previously and there were bubbles to be seen further out at Peg 12 and I wonder whether the answer was as simple as the clearer water driving the fish out from the bank, despite the depth in the margins.

Zen moments in2008 23rd November 2008. Dairy Farm. Another cold and horizontal day, with hail, Nemp's first blank for 21 years and another Wheeler-Feynman perchA single perch, again. It's uncanny..

Dairy FarmDairy Farm, the lone perch again... Dairy FarmDairy Farm, the lone perch again...

The perch, sadly not recorded, came to an inevitable worm that I took on a born-of-boredom tour of the topmost lake...they all count.

Zen moments in2013 13th August 2013. Luckfield. 30 minutes into OAAOperation Anguilla Anguilla and the first java is due. Simple stuff, a size 6 thick wire, three tiny dead-baits lip-hooked over a light dusting of fish-sauce infused frozen maggots. 45lb coated leader, double swivels, knots with rubber sleeving.... I've picked "1" on the basis of shade being the eels' pal and I've contacted them here. I have other spots in mind if two hours here draws no snake. Half and half sun, a tinge of algae on the water and carp cloop and splash, they're on the table today. A single carpista in '5' with two rods, technically attended, but it's tight inboard that lily patch. A rat frets in the bank behind and a great tit says "teacher-teacher". A good day for waiting. Coffee then.


There's a carp under the bank near my bait (I assume) and it occurs to me a good wheeze might be to dangle my bait off one of the lily pads - there's clump of four - a yard from my float. Hm. Bees visit the water mint flowers next to me.

A bite, slow sidle, I wind down and gird my l. to get fresh air only. Anticlimax coffee. Funny thing the carpista had a run right simultaneous, I didn't see the result, recasting (later I find he lost a fish). A woodpecker's moved in overhead and fish in the centre are galvanised into sudden swirls by swallows sipping water or its insects. A carp digs at the weed by my feet. Somebody rattles the gate and moves on, odd. The carp moves on and wobbles the overhanging brambles in front of me, I assume carpio could have been anything...you know, even an eel.

Luckfield - Operation Anguilla AnguillaLuckfield - Operation Anguilla AnguillaLuckfield - Operation Anguilla AnguillaLuckfield - Operation Anguilla AnguillaLuckfield - Operation Anguilla AnguillaLuckfield - Operation Anguilla Anguilla
Luckfield - Operation Anguilla AnguillaYes it's pink. So what? Luckfield - Operation Anguilla AnguillaOne perch, an odd perch, a singular perca f.

I opt to try a worm and a hook of maggots, but it's a slim chance and in a bit I shall try spot B - the mystery clanking has turned into a man and his boy and with them in swim one, not quiet or toned down, the carp have for the most part vanished. Still granddad passing on the sport gives licence.

I decamp to swim 9, a corner with shade enough for AAAnguilla Anguilla. Hopefully. More caffeine.

I break off for a try at a mendicant carp to my left and try a worm whipped horizontally on a hasty link ledger - I get my bite, pounce too soon and get effervescent escape. One more go, and I see the perils of lobworms with small perch. Heh. Back to OAAOperation Anguilla Anguilla then - it occurs a snap link would allow some sneaky carp nabbing when it presents.

I slip back to the first swim, try my bait in the same place and a wondering carp makes me think of the snap-link but I stick with my AAAnguilla Anguilla, do keep up. bait and before the off get another sidler, which I pounce on as before and get the same result. Hm, perhaps let it run, even a middle hooked small baits is not quite so instant. Next time.

I chat a bit with another then the off-set tip-eye man turns up, he's had an actual '20'. Him I believe... and then on the way home it hits me. Just one perch. Again?The Lone Perch rides again. What are the odds?

Zen moments in2015 4th April 2015. Packhorse. A grey day, perhaps the water's still chilly, I pick the windward, a reflex, stick on a worm, cane, pin, quill, cut up the rubbish in my pitch, pour coffee, put my feet on the boards and pretend not to watch the float.

9.8°C in the water 11.7°C out. Warm end, probably good. I flick bread pills under the tree on the left and around the float and wait....and try a change of side, a coffee later...then bread on the hook....I muse on a worm at half depth drifted down the lake...twice the quill, pink tipped with three black threaded bands, riding on two of them, has dipped to the very tip, then stopped, an ironic bow. Hm. I went for a wander, learnt little and resumed under the tree, my heart leaping suddenly as a fat mirror head-and-shouldered between the float and the nearest branch, casual, as if thinking "Angler, yep, thought so..." I was obliged to put down the rod rest head I was carving out of a plastic bank-stick label. No bite came, so presently I switch to a sight bob and a lob. More coffee then.

Packhorsethe pitch... Packhorse...and the pink quill

A lob on the right then, time passed, the float travelled, its dip a surprise, a poor strike, the head shaking thump weighty enough to raise hopes but the rod is stiff for stripes and a big swirl saw freedom for one and disappointment for the other. Double drat. I fished on, a little disappointed, alternating sides, bread and worm and when the small technology said 'time to go', I'd barely put the flask in the bag when the float vanished. Another head shaker, played on the ratchet, not the rod. Right on cue. Awa'.

Hard to shake off the feeling that carp was checking for a bank-side presence.

Packhorseloooking down the 'marginaliser'Packhorsethe rod and the netPackhorse...and the perch

But wait...it's another Wheeler-Feynman perchWhat are the odds?...

Zen moments in2017 23rd September 2017. Barton's Court. Was on the way home, so I bought cockles and prawns, then fished under a bit of tree. Not withstanding a drive to Hull and back, I had a dreadful stomach bug, so wondered how long I was going to last. A walk round had given me the strong feeling that no-where was very enticing - the water was very low and the inlet stream dry. Hm. After 40 minutes I got a stabbing bite and the perch of the day, perhaps 8oz. This set me for fair sailing, but the next two-and-a-half hours produced one more stabbing bite, which I missed, then a sliding one, ditto. It didn't help that every twenty minutes, pigeons scooting along the bank were pulling up in front of me with the avian equivalent of a hand-brake turn. Nearing the end, a kingfisher whirred onto the tree, a glimpse of orange waistcoat and lancet-beak and as I inched for the camera it whirred off, the vacated branch vibrating in time with its wings. I hobbled up the bank to the car, pondering the wisdom of stopping at all.

Barton's Court LakeToday at Barton's Court lakeBarton's Court LakeThe cunningly positioned floatBarton's Court LakeThe lone perch rides again

...wait. One perch. Again.

swivel...and...wait for it...swivel ;-)...(and back to the top of the page) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-) swivel...and...wait for it...swivel :-)

Zen and the art of angling 'The Buzz'

I've already discussed the sudden certainty that a fish will strike. This seems at its strongest for carp but I've felt the same for crucians, roach, tench and bream.

It only happens when you are completely relaxed, if the myriad inconsequential worries of life get on top, the buzz won't come.

But when it comes, the world shrinks to the small area around the float and there is the faintest shimmer or buzz. The best description I can muster is; it's a concoction of the slight dizziness you experience when standing up too quickly and the distant thrum of the honey-bees that, for a few years, nested in our chimney.

It's weird, you just know.

Then you're angling.

Here are some of the times I've really noticed this...

Zen moments in2005 27th May 2005. Milton Abbey Lake, Dorset. Bream on.

Today was cloudy and warm with little wind. I went for Peg 11 on the basis that 8 and 12 were taken, (which represents crowded here) and also while walking round I spotted a school of what looked to be bronze bream under an alder to one side of the swim (I fancied my chances of getting them feeding), this coupled with good colour on the water (which is only two-three feet deep here) made it an easy decision. Peg 11 faces a small open area of water where three arms of the lake converge and on some days there is a distinct flow to the water, caused in part by the water flowing into the lake from the top and in part by wind currents. I always feel more confident when there is a slight flow in the water, no reason. Today there was a slight movement, right to left

Moving like a ghost lest I disturb the bream, I invoked the well known 'inverse noise rule', which broadly speaking means that the quieter you are trying to be, the harder it is to keep you balance while loaded with tackle, unpack without rattling anything, or avoid dropping anything on the ground. Maybe, the fish are hard to spook I told myself as the flask, carefully and gently placed behind my tackle box, fell over.

I went with the usual small crystal antennae, bottom end only and an 18' braided trace of 10lb b/s, a size 8 hook, three grains of corn on the hook. I baited the swim, to my left (and towards the, no doubt still resident, bream...not so confident now). I fished about five yards out, the plan being that the vegetation on my left would give some cover. The water was smooth, as this swim is well sheltered on three sides by mature trees, but covered in the little bits of fluff that come off the alders and today it was like a gentle continuous snowfall, with a flurry on every gust of the breeze. Poetic eh?

The 'inverse noise rule' continued to follow my every move. Putting the rod onto the rest, I knocked the butt on my chair which cause the tip to hit the water. The chair frame suddenly relaxed half an inch. I dropped the can opener into the tackle box.

Nevertheless, despite my best efforts to scare any fish that might be near me, after about 45 minutes I got a 'dither, wobble, lift, wobble dither, plunge' type of bite. Which turned out to be a bronze bream of about 2½lb. This for some reason cancelled out the 'inverse noise rule' and I found that was easily concentrating on the float, with that sort of 'buzz' you get sometimes when you are completely focused on the fishing. In the next four hours I caught seven bream to 3½lb, all in cracking condition, no missing scales or split fins. I am not a bream fan, but I enjoyed these - they justified their name the derivation some say is the old Saxon word 'breswan' which means to glitter. Wonderful. I also had a tench about 2½lb and lost another when the hook came out (an ill fated experiment with a size '10' rather than size '8' Raptor hook, I returned to a size '8'), plus a roach about ½lb and 'bumped off' another. Then suddenly at 5pm or so the 'buzz' went and after another half an hour with nary so much as a twitch I decided to call it a day. It felt like the fish had packed up and gone home, so I followed suit.

The other point of note was a little problem with the braid. I am a fan of the 'Palomar' knot, but twice on this trip the outside threads on the brad snapped exposing the core. My theory is that I use some less that sharp cutters to cut the braid and pulled some of the fibres through, hence making them tighter than the others. I have used the 10lb braid for some time now with no problems and have had a couple of double figure carp with no problems (and no easy fight either), so will be watching (and checking my traces). I still have half a spool of 11lb BS 'Black Spider' after all....

Zen moments in2006 8th October 2006. Pitman's Pond. More goldfish. Sunday dawns bright and sunny (if windy) and leaving aside a failed plan to get up before the sun and be there when it appeared, I head down to Pitmans Pond again to level the score with the carp. As previously the largest patch of lilies show a lot of life, so I slide down to the bank, set up a small quill, chuck out some hemp and put a mussel on a size '8'. I put my old K. Dowling centre-pin on the Avon, which is real fishing and given it's age, I've no idea how that's going to pan out.

Pitman's Pondfishing in the sky

The trembling lily pads keep me in high expectation, but after an 30 minutes nothing has really touched my mussel, so I put on a lob worm. I immediately miss a bite, then with a firm strike skitter a 6oz roach across the surface. Ten minutes late I get a rudd of about ½lb, which is nice. But not a carp. After an hour and lot of pest attacks by 1oz rudd on a falling lobworm, I add corn to the mix. Three grains gets no response , so I try a lob and a grain (to keep the worm on the on the hook really).

Twenty minutes later I get a dithery bite, which hares into the middle and wallows there for a bit. I discover that playing fish on a 'pin is easier in some respects - the feel of the fish is as they say - but the continually variable drag (or 'thumb' to you) is a handy asset, making it easy to allow line or not. You can also recover line without reducing pressure on the fish, which is handy when the fish is trying to get into lilies or under the bank. Finally netted the fish is around 4lb or so, and I keep on with the corn and worm and after a bit get a rudd of ½lb. At this point as the wind has strengthened, I swap my quill, top-and-bottom for an upside down porcupine quill, bottom-end-only.

As things are quiet I switch to a size '12' and a couple of small worms, and catch a dozen small rudd on the drop and switch back to size '8' with mussel on the hook, and miss a bite. Around 12pm I get a large swirl, small fry leap and the float jumps and without needing to look I know my mussel has been ejected and so it proves with the bait blown up the line. So I thread the mussel up the hook leaving the bend sticking out. Around 1pm or so another take eventually reveals a slimmer 6lb fish, after a determined fight, which again I find easier on the center-pin. My hook length, which was 'Drennan' braid (8lb) has semi-parted by the knot, a "uni", so it is finally relegated to tying floats on. This has never happened with other braids.

Pitman's Ponda pale swimmerPitman's Pondslimmer swimmerPitman's PondThe best rudd

I get another decent rudd around 2ish, and then, thinking I would leave at 3pm, switch back to large worm and small grain of corn and around 2:45 get the 'buzz' and ten minutes later hook the largest fish of the day, only to lose it when it rolls in the lilies and smoothly transfers the hook onto a lily stem. Argh! How do they do that? It's the right time to go. On balance, the carp win again.

Zen moments in2007 14th April 2007. Milton Abbey Lake. If at first you don't catch fish, move swim.

Very warm; Peg 7; 2:40pm ; hemp, sweetcorn, semi-self-cocker. A few bubbles and a bit of colour. A slight bite. I notice the landing net rivets are rusting through already, I'll cut it off and whip it then. A slow bite, which I miss. Hints of small fishes, 20 minutes tick by with no repeat. I change the trace to green braid, add a black Jack Hilton hook, then recast. Needle bubbles by the float, and a large patch to the right. Some movement then. I flick corn by the float and a carp rolls five yards off. The alders here are budding, the sky is clear blue, there are distant crows and echoing light plane noises. A honey-bee ambles around my foot. A woodpecker's 'thok-thok-thok' echoes across the little lake, then the bee drones off to somewhere more promising. Perfect.

I switch to a size 14 and one sweetcorn nib, after missing a bite on three nibs. I nab two 4oz roach, then it goes quiet again. 4:05pm. Then nothing. A tench drifts by mid water; I settle back for a cup of tea...as I was writing "tea" a positive bite yields an 8oz roach. I've not checked the temperature but I imagine things will improve as the sun sets. 4:25pm. Four hours to go, the best four hours. The geese are honking back and forth somewhere behind me, to be fair this is not a pretty noise.

A 6lb common carp just moseyed past. For a moment I thought it was going to do a 'Cheshire Cat' by the float but it kept going. Promising though. I chuck in two free cockles as promise for later. Then it's dusk and I revert to a size 8 hook, impale cockles and put in more loose hemp. Another tench slides in form the right and swims towards the float. Better. A big leather carp follows it, veers towards the float then spooks, vanishing in the flick of a tail. Odd; I've not moved a muscle. Something's about. Stillness and a few dips of the float – small clues.

The first owl calls, 5:10pm. A visitor comes by and despite my misgivings about a less than drab shirt, he keeps low, back and quiet and we exchange notes and pleasantries. The float twitches away. The visitor potters off to harass his own fish, hopefully. Two slices of gala pie and two chicken tikka samosa's didn't change the odds, but I feel a better about them. Fabulous. The float dips briefly as if to agree. No wind at all now. It's time to move or stay until sunset.

The slightest of breezes has reversed now blowing from the left, the float is alive. Another owl calls and is answered from across the valley. Two hours left maybe. I can smell honeysuckle on the new breeze. A big shoal of roach pass through, channelling along the bank at my feet, 8-12oz stamp, good fish. I flick them a worm and they bolt. 6pm. It's the wrong spot now, no reason, it just is.

Milton Abbey Lakestock stillMilton Abbey Lakethat's got to hurt the eyes...Milton Abbey LakePeg 11; all lined up and nowhere to go

I move to peg 11, lengthen the line and put cockles out on the right, normally I favour the left, no idea why, possible a "sighting eye" thing. Sitting high in the chair I wait and watch the needle bubbles. Bite, big tench surges off for ten yards. Battle on; five minutes later a 5lb tench, 'on the nose'. I recast and almost before the floats cocks it's off and I get a perch of 1lb. Heh. Good move. More bubbles, I add half a lob to the hook, which I'd retied as the knot got mangled by the forceps. Tea break. The moment has passed but bubbles remain to taunt. Carp are about. Plenty of needle bubbles still. Rod down, the moment passes but the best hour remains.

Milton Abbey Lake5lb of tinca tincaMilton Abbey Lake...and waitedMilton Abbey LakeSpike the perch says 'hi'.

A 5lb tench is not the best here, that's apparently 9lb...not that I've seen a tench remotely that size in this water... The sun has gone behind a tree, now looking more like a 60W bulb. No wind or ripples. Even the moorhens are quiet. A pigeon, a dove, gentle sounds Even the crows are muted. Cup of tea and the dithering of the last quarter of an hour turns into another solid tench, not as sprightly, perhaps a shade smaller than the first. Nice. A chaffinch appears and I scatter hemp seeds, which it crunches, they're surprisingly tame and not nearly as common as they were. Still the float jitters; last cup of tea. Geese have crash-landed in the Pump Pool, so it might be over for the evening, last scattering of free bait, finish the last cup, then home for wine.

Nearly at the last light, re-cast, perfectly content with my lot and listen to the owls and after about half-an-hour's hooting I get 'the buzz' which raises my awareness in time to strike a hard stabbing bite. This is followed by the whoosh as a carp picks up and pulls the Avon into a half-circle making the '450's ratchet clatter like a magpie. It's mostly attritional after that, but tough going for five minutes; one of the Milton Abbey leathers, 11½lb. I take a last re-cast, honest, straight away the right thumb tingles again and the resulting fish skitters about like a spinning plate, tough scrap, no long runs. In the net reduced to this little round thing of 3-4lb or so. Well.

Milton Abbey Lakealmost 5lb of tinca tincaMilton Abbey Lake...one of the Milton Abbey leathers, 11½lb.Milton Abbey Lake...skitters about like a spinning plate...

Not bad. This is why you should change the scenery when nothing happens.

P.S. Typed up in April 2021 from notes made on the day.

Zen moments in2007 13th May 2007. Pitman's Pond. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.It has rained most of the weekend and so when the sky clears while walking the dog, it seems almost rude not to throw some hemp in a bait box and the last of the cockles and head off to Pitman's for a few hours. With the wet weather, there is always a good chance I'll have the place to myself and this is how it turns out, when I arrive around 4:30pm. The water seemed to be about right for margin carping and I elect to go for swim three on the basis the place was deserted and the rain was likely to return and carp were rolling here anyway. The lilies have grown since February and this patch is, in my limited experience here, a good bet if you sit quietly.

I tackle up a semi cocking pheasant quill and 8lb line (as I'm by the lilies) with a no.4 'tell-tale' some four inches from the hook and put two cockles on a size 10 'no.7'. I fed some hemp and sat on the unhooking mat and ten minutes later, despite the strong right-to-left drift had a sliding bite and skittered a ½lb rudd onto the bank, somewhat overpowered. Well it's a start. Another bite ten minutes later yields an eel of around ½lb, which resisted well, as eels do and I slide it onto the bank and tweak out the hook and let it slither back the way it had came. I've not bothering with taking notes today, wanting to focus on the fishing, which today is an easy feat. I almost reach for the pen when a carp breaks cover under the other bank, showing dorsal fin and tail top as it noses around in the brown water, mocking me from the far bank. I can wait.

The bait was being stolen off the hook every other cast by busy rudd, too small for my hook, mobbing the bait making the float twitch and skitter. Hard work, until you settle down. I get a sliding bite, which I lean into, only to get a bow wave rolling away from me towards the other bank with its generator. I have another two rudd, a little more than ½lb and then the rain comes back. I trudge back to get coat and brolly and while letting things settle, swap my pheasant float for a small goose quill which has greater buoyancy and put 2 BB's on the trace, one six inches from the hook and another four inches above that to counteract the strong flow and ripple. I swap the hook for a size 8 after the bow wave incident.

I pour a cup of tea. With the prevailing weather's sky hidden from view, the focus abruptly switches to the new float, one of those 'buzz' moments - obediently it bobbed and slid away and I struck up and across, avoiding the brolly and pulling the fish away from the lilies. A 2lb tench battles hard and is then overwhelmed. Tench are never a hardship for me, even if overpowered. I follow this with another rudd and then a further sliding bite turns into a sandbag that dogs about, hard on the bottom. I realise I have one of the larger common carp and I've lost a few of those after these wallowing fights, so I pile on the pressure, get a view of a long body and a full set of scales and winch (well nearly) the fish into the net.

Well I say 'winch', it took five or ten minutes and my arm was aching by the end. Relief. I needn't have worried the hook hold was good. Nice fish, which scaled 11¼lb. Not bad. I debated packing in with the mission accomplished, but the rain had eased so I dropped the brolly and carried on and took another rudd.

Pitman's Pondall tench are good tenchPitman's Pond...could bePitman's Pondbug eyed common aka 'Old Lippy'

Then a fast bite turns into a fast mirror carp of 9lb or so that makes it half way across the lake twice, with the brisk wind making the line sing its one note song, but thankfully it doesn't try for the lilies too often. The fishy feeling continues and I take what was to be my last Rudd this evening. The wind drops suddenly and the water acquires a flat calm, notching up the tension. Then a really positive take and this fish fights extraordinarily hard and for a few minutes I think I have another carp. It hugs the bottom despite the Avon and strong line and tries repeatedly for the lily patch. A very hard fighting 3lb tinca is brought grudgingly to the net. I'm surprised at its lack of size (my conclusion today, while jotting, is that it hasn't been caught before). I again debate leaving on a high note, but decide to hang on until 8pm, so I finish off my Earl Grey.

Pitman's Ponda 9lb leatherPitman's Pondvery feisty tenchPitman's Pondiris and lilies, spring is sprung

A good decision in the end as the last bite is quickish and I strike on autopilot, thinking 'rudd' and a largish fish bolts into the lilies. I resort to 'last man standing' tactics to retrieve the fish, which means a lot of side pressure and a walk up the left bank. I free the fish, along with several lilies and then we descend into a battle of attrition with the fish trying to hide in the bank under my feet. Netted with one of the lilies, a small leather of around 7-8lb maybe, but heavy with spawn so returned more gently than usual. Job done, I head home for scrambled eggs on toast; free-range eggs, actual butter. I'll wait for a month before returning and let the fish spawn.

Pitman's Ponda smaller leather carp

On Sunday morning I woke early from a dream, which featured fishing. I was in a corner swim in a peg that was in hindsight recognisable as the peg for this evening jaunt. I could only manage to catch a turtle, which I had to release by cutting the trace to stop me getting my fingers snapped. Eventually I got a bait cast to a big carp and getting a good bite, found my rod and reel had changed to a reel of green whipping thread, which broke just as I was thinking I had a chance, as whipping thread is quite strong...OK a bit odd. Not even prescient really. Well it is my website...

Zen moments in2008 26th May 2008. Arfleet Mills. The rain eased off, the sky cleared and so took both sticks to the clay pit. I put in some hemp and corn (no change there then) nearest side only and put 6lb/4lb, pole float with size '16' 'thick-wire' on the light stick. A worm yields nothing and corn gets just a couple of blips which eventually morph into a proper bite, getting me this 3lb ghostly mirror which careered about the swim like a clown on a mini bike. Interesting. I switch, optimistically, to a 6lb bottom.

Some corn lobbed earlier lingered frozen floating; suddenly vanished in a rolling boil of water the float rode like a surfer. A hint. Another bite, pen in hand, I'm too slow. 4:10pm and I missed three or four pulls, then get a 4oz rudd, the metallic smell of which flings me to Whitehouse lake and it suddenly feels a little more eerie where I'm sitting. Two rudd, two jam sandwiches, two visitors. Tea, two cups then. One of the visitors was Nemp joining me for a natter and my second carp, a common, 8-9lb, proved a little hard to net, but it was one of those fish which signalled its presence for some thirty minutes ahead of the bite, without actually giving you anything you could use in a court-of-law to say it was there. Nemp and I spent that time leaned forward in our chairs with the expectation that comes from a lot of carp fishing, 'the buzz...that odd cross between mild tinnitus and the feeling you really can hear something...'

Arfleet MillsArfleet Mills, finally fish Arfleet MillsArfleet Mills, finally fish

So persisting with float fishing the margin, although with limited success because I hadn't really thought it through. Having said that, this session did seem to turn a corner...the second fish made me think I'd cracked it, but of course, I hadn't...

Zen moments in2008 7th December 2008. Wytch Farm. Clear blues skies and sunshine, the winter sort, a gesture, a reminder of warmth, rather than warmth itself. And ice fishing, of a sort. I've no idea what possessed me to decide to try for a Wytch carp, I've caught them here when the water's been 3°C, but in truth it's been more like -3°C for a few days and I wasn't expecting clear water. Or a bite.

The only ice free spot, despite the sun and 3°C air temperature, is Peg 13, kept that way by the seepage into this corner from a generally unremarked ditch hidden in the trees. I put in hemp-seed, scoff half of a most excellent chicken-and-ham pie, assemble the '550, the Kingpin, 12lb line and put three cockles on a size '10'. Thirty minutes later the water is twitching suggestively. I decided it could be a lot worse, it's a glorious day, the sun is out, the wind is slight, there are distant crows, a not-as-distant woodpecker and a hatful of blue clear sky. A good day to wait in the warmest corner. There are signs of movement in the water, small ripples breaking away from the edge of the ice, even the slightest knock showing. I admit to debating fine tackle to snitch the little fishes, perhaps next time.

Wytch FarmWytch Farm ice Wytch FarmFrozen Pitman's

Fortunately, I have plenty of hot Earl Grey to heat the inner angler and some more chicken-and-ham pie; 1:50pm. There's movement yet, but catching a fish might not be the biggest problem; getting it in might be. There's thick green weed on the bank, a sunken tree reef on the right, plus ice for five yards in every other direction. Hm.

There are distant noises, but it's quiet enough to hear dry leaves hit the ice under the far bank side, as the sun loosens their frost-hold. That and the chipping of a small mob of long-tailed tits working their bright efficient way through an alder across the pond. A biggish wave rocks my pool. Interesting that the source is not apparent. I came here many times last winter for the peace, but always there was a chance of a fish, even when cold, although I've never seen it iced up. Ramblers potter past behind me.

Wytch FarmWytch Farm ice Wytch FarmFrozen Pitman's

Once or twice I got 'the buzzkeeps happening', the floated wavered and the water under the ice rocked gently. An hour has skated past, punctuated by distant ineffectual shouting at dogs and birds quietly going about their business. The iced-breeze pecks at my fingers and face. The patch of open water is growing I've decided, I put on a small bunch of red worms to see what happens, if they've not moved in ten minutes I'll take them off again.

Wytch FarmWytch Farm low winter sunWytch FarmWytch Farm low winter sunWytch FarmWytch Farm low winter sun

I was still curious to see if small fish were about and I have the maggot option, in truth bought for the river. I decide instead to try some hemp-paste in a bit which will probably take me up to home time. What appears to be fish movement continues. Odd. The air has dipped to 0°C; 3:20pm. The ice still retreats, even the feeble low light is winning for the moment. A fish-rise has given me optimism but I suspect the best chance went with the sinking sun. Check paste at 3:30pm, then hot tea until dusk. What a fine afternoon to be out, glorious. I can wait on a day like today even if the ice is growing back by the end. There is also, luckily, plenty of tea for a three hour trip. Never a bad thing. I might check the dead-bait stock and the wire traces, I can feel pike calling, which hasn't happened for a while, although this might just be the memories of cold fading afternoons behind pike-rods.

A few fish are moving; 3:50pm and very cold now, I set myself a leave time of 4:30pm, by which time I shall have either frozen, caught one or both. It's been a fine afternoon and while a fish would improve things, it's not essential...more tea...the heat from which does not, apparently, reach my toes...and last knockings my reward was magpies chattering in the distance, the blackbirds' roosting songs and the fine winter sunset behind the trees.

Zen moments in2013 15th November 2013. Vale Farm. Recce. Glorious glorious morning, the 'au crack sparrow' start repaid by the New Forest drive, all low misted orange-needle sunlight. Having stopped for a 'McBreakfast'(sorry), confirming (the expected) that Redditch fell at the first fence, diverted to this venue (always have a plan 'B'), 'scoping out for The Scottish Correspondent. The lake, a little marred by milk cartons and string, looks cracking in the low sun and morning wisps - a few carpistas in residence - so opt for the middle lake (hindsight, error 1), and fish where I think the sun will spend the most of the day ('hindsight error two', got slightly turned around and was not on the NE bank as I'd thought...where's my compass?) The fish are about, I miss my third bite, on bread this time...so far so good.

Vale FarmVale Farm Vale FarmVale Farm

I nab a common one, on sharply-bit bread, 8lb maybe. A bream, a miss, a thinner float, some cloud and everything goes quiet. I hook a lunker after a gentle bobble or two and it thumps into the middle of the lake with the clutch sticking, tip nodding all a bit odd, then a hook pull. Line around the bale screw. Arrgh. A long wait on cockles, bread again and a 10lb common. I have to strip 20 yards of line that got manked by the lunker of the last sentence. Pah. More bread... doldrummed, but something stole a worm...

Vale FarmVale FarmVale FarmVale FarmVale FarmVale Farm

It goes very quiet for me - I get another fish around 2:30, on bread, but the 'buzz' has died away and I pack up at 3:30, wanting dusk but out of fuel after a 6am start. I potter around to the other end and find out that I was right about the fish following the sun, just wrong about where I was...swirls of clay and bubbles mock and suggest a line, a hook, a flick. I lack incentive and perimeterambulate the other lake, marking swirling derfishes in the near calm and frost then drive back into a well-known classic Western audio-book. If I hadn't known the title after four chapters, my wildest guess would have been something to do with the words 'riders', 'purple' and 'sage'. I get it, now on with the plot. Go get 'em Lassiter...yup.

(Preferred "The Virginian", no offence Zane Grey.)

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Zen and the art of angling Reasons to Use a Float

I'm a float tart. That is to say, I find floats hard to resist. Consequently, I have well over a hundred but no idea why or indeed what some of them are for. At least thirty are splayed in an old tankard atop a bookcase and at least another thirty are foundlings. In use, I recycle a few sorts and don't even use all the ones in the tackle-box, never mind the ones in my 'collection'. Sure, let's call it a collection.

For instance, one season I used insert-loaded crystals almost exclusively, which seemed like a good idea at the time. There was a spell of using pole floats with a carp rod for margin work. No reason. For the last three months I've angled almost exclusively with porcupine and goose quill floats of my own making. The sibling however, prefers to ledger, all other things being equal, and sat in identical and adjacent swims with the same conditions he'll ledger and I'll float-fish. He's a philstine of course.

I consider there are actually four principle reasons for using a float assuming that 'separating float tarts from their cash' does not count as a real reason, so here are the first three:

Everyone knows about the first two, although I've seen anglers clearly aware of (1) and not (2)...

(3) is why some use a float, but is that really all there is to it? The bobbin, tin foil or (whisper it) bleeper does the same thing, viz. letting one know there is a bite. Unless you're hair-rigged for self-hooking, then you're finding out you've missed it or hooked it already. Bad luck/well done.

There's more to it than just bite indication though and for me it's about focus and boundaries.

Floats generally move about a lot more than we give them credit for, even in still water. The water moves around a good bit as well and we are interested in the area above the bait. The float keeps us focussed on that. When things are truffling the float wibbles and dithers, often too slightly for us to notice in a conscious way, but the subconscious sees all and can tell something's afoot.

Sadly for 'Id', it only has the voice of a cotton-wool gagged otter, so can manage only a muffled "squeak", so all we get is a hint that a bite is coming without knowing exactly why. It might be the float moved out of sync with the passing wave front, perhaps it's leaning ever so slightly against the wind, maybe that the water around your float has gone a tad smoother, as something riffles the oil out of your hemp or luncheon meat. Likewise the slight curve on a crow quill is no bad thing. It'll tend to curve away from the wind - and when it isn't, it might just be more interesting to look at...

You'll not spot these things on your bleeper or if you're not looking for any reason. The float keeps your gaze where it needs to be.

Then there's the boundary thing. Mankind has long had a fascination for water and we've been chucking stuff (and some less fortunate folk) into water for a long time and there is some evidence that water was once seen as a boundary between two worlds. Certainly none of us really know what it's like living beneath the surface. Even if you don a tank and wet-suit, you're still breathing air. You can't feel sounds and subtle differences in temperature as the inhabitants do. It's a mystery still and from this side of the frontier, it's like looking at something on the far side of a frosted window - if you are up close you can see through pin holes of clear resolution and from a distance a vague overall picture, but never both at once.

A lake I know will go absolutely gin clear in winter-cold, when the fish stop feeding. The clear spring-water feed keeps it that way and then I'll take a whole afternoon to walk around, fixated on the never normally seen detail under the surface - subtle ledges, variations and clear trails in the leaf litter laid out on the bottom showing where the fish regularly pass. Those trails change little year to year and those small ledges in otherwise uniform patches of the bottom, perhaps etched by the same fish in successive years, give you better results come the spring even if they are nearer the bank than you thought would be best. It would be too good to be true for all waters to have that one clear-water day each year. A brief freshly-wiped window into the world below.

The rest of the time, the water's surface is a gateway into an existence we get glimpses and flashes of, through the shimmered looking glass. It connects the piscator to the elegant and mysterious world below. A keyhole though which we spy, with our float, in the hope of seeing something we otherwise would or should not.

This sense of mystery is why I and the similarly afflicted like deep waters better than the shallows. You can hide bigger monsters in the opaque depths. Knowing you have 15 feet of water under your feet generates more awe than 15 inches. It's why the saucer shaped commercial fisheries do not work for some of us. No depth, no variation, known stock, no enigma to unravel.

On a trip to Oxford with my family, we took lunch behind the botanical gardens, where a thread of the Cherwell curls around a corner on its way to Old Father Thames. Water in channels will run straight and true (for a bit - subject to chaos), but as soon as you get curves in the course, the water zig-zags, coursing from one bank to the other as the bends hurl the current back and forth, like passengers in a rollercoaster. The river was in spate and the water on the bank nearest us was a writhing muddy snake, spiralling as the water rebounded off the opposite bank from the last curve, before rebounding again by my feet, twisting up from the bottom and over by the bank, off the next curve and downstream. Opposite me was a small oasis of smooth stewed-tea coloured calm, sliding under a small overhanging bush and I watched that rolling glass table-top while eating a pasty, imagining a grayling-bobber skittering under the bush for an imagined chub. That image stayed, fixed, until on the point of sleep that evening, I imagined the cast and float gliding towards and under the bush and the bob and plunge pulling me through the surface, down into sleep...

The bob, that sudden dip and dart under the water, or even better, the slow but deliberate down-and-sideways slide of the float, is a moment quite on a par with the frisson from that moment in the evening when your companion lets you know you don't have to go home, when 'maybe' turns into 'yes'.

The float's movement is a thrown switch, the pulse of electricity on the line connecting you to the other rod-length distant world, normally only sensed. Then there is the pull of the possible monster on the other end. In that instant it could be anything, Grendel's mother even, still yet seeking revenge for her son.

This brings us to the fourth reason for using a float:

(4) It provides a way through the liminal place between this world and a more interesting and mysterious one.

All tench are good tenchAll tench are good tench...(and back to the top of the page) There are no bad tenchThere are no bad tench All tench are good tenchAll tench are good tench There are no bad tenchThere are no bad tench All tench are good tenchTinca tinca little star...

Zen and the art of angling Albert's Time

"There exists, therefore, for the individual, an I-time, or subjective time.
This in itself is not measurable." ~~ Albert Einstein ~~ 

If you're an angler, you already know that.

La Morinais carpa very subtil fish...(and back to the top of the page) La Morinais carpWatch for magpies on your path. Throw salt over your left shoulder. Walk around ladders. La Morinais carpif you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience La Morinais carpI am content to wait. I am well used to it. La Morinais carpif you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience La Morinais carpI am content to wait. I am well used to it. La Morinais carpI am content to wait. I am well used to it. La Morinais carpa very subtil fish La Morinais carpWatch for magpies on your path. Throw salt over your left shoulder. Walk around ladders. La Morinais carpif you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience

Zen and the art of angling All Men Dream...

"All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind wake up in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible." ~~ T. E. Lawrence ~~ 

I just liked that. Interesting chap.

hookJust another fish-hook...(and back to the top of the page) hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook It's a space. Accept it and move on. hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook hookJust another fish-hook