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 Anguilla Luckfield - Operation Anguilla AnguillaLuckfield - Operation Anguilla Anguilla Luckfield - 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 net Packhorse...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 lake Barton's Court LakeThe cunningly positioned float Barton's Court LakeThe lone perch rides again

...wait. One perch. Again.

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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 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 Farm Vale FarmVale Farm Vale 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.

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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.

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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.

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