Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Off to Africa - The Gambia - November 2012

It ain't half hot mum!

Elaine & I had been looking forward to visiting The Gambia since late 2011. My friend Wally White had described it as similar to Goa in so much as the hotels were good, the food was OK, it was hot, more importantly the fishing was good and so were the opportunities to photograph the wildlife. It seemed to tick all the boxes so hey ho we booked a trip and counted down the weeks throughout the year. Our friends Steve & Liz also fancied the idea so Thomas Cook got 2 bookings for the price of one!

We flew from Manchester, 6 and a half hours south crossing the Sahara. Its the first time I've seen the Sahara all be it from 35000 feet, Your flying over endless sand for 2 hours, its nearly as big as the beach at skegness! We touched down in Banjul mid afternoon, walking down the steps off the plane, the heat was unbelievable, it was like climbing in the oven with the Sunday roast. I've never felt anything like it 40 degrees and high humidity. I was thinking at that time that we'd dropped a clanger. It stayed that hot for the first 3 days and it turned out they were experiencing a heatwave and the rains had finished late hence the humidity but we were there and had to put up with it like it or not.

Jango, a taxi driver mate of Kev's at work picked us up at the airport in his battered old Peugeot 405 Estate, which to put it bluntly had seen better days fifteen years ago! We rattled and banged along the main road to the Reggae tones of Bob Marley emanating from the state of  the art sound system worth in total 5 times the value of the car. Driving from the airport to the hotels on the Coast it struck me how under developed the Gambia was compared to any where else we've been before. Arriving at the Senegambia Beach Hotel though we were pleasantly surprised at the complex and the rooms we were give. Certainly not 5 star but more than comfortable. the beds were 7' square, the air con worked and the room was tired but spotless, more to the point the grounds were beautiful and full of wildlife, despite the searing heat things were looking up.

And so to the holiday itself, the heat was hard work for the first three days, we'd intended to spend a couple of days out in the sticks photographing the abundant bird life, to be honest it was so hot that by lunch we'd had more than enough and spent the afternoon's around the pool complex in the hotel 

The beach at Senegambia, eroding badly along its length but alright if you like that sort of thing!

Elaine poolside

During the mornings as I've said we'd get off out and about. We took a trip in to Banjul the capital and to the large municipal market called 'Albert Market'  Markets are pretty much the same the world over except in the 'western world' where we've abandoned them in favour of Tesco's and Walmart! I normally enjoy strolling around and taking a few snaps but it was hard work at times. The Gambians are lovely people but they don't like having their pictures taken or at least some don't! Never the less I persevered and managed to capture some of folks going about their daily business. If this was a photography article this is the one place I've been where i would have preferred a smaller less obvious quiet camera than my Nikon D700 who's shutter sounds like a dustbin lids been dropped!

Albert Market - We got sort of a smile after Elaine had bought some beads!

I'd swerve this fish if I was you!

No problems getting a smile out of this young lady!

I looked like this most afternoons!

Elaine said she needed a new whats the problem!

As well as the early morning trips out photographing the birds ( or not in many cases, more of that in a different post! ) we travelled up and down the Coast as far as the Senegal border in the south and again to Banjul and Serekundi areas. About 10kilometres from the hotel is a fishing village called Tanji which as well as been a haven for bird life is also a bustling fish process centre with a large smoking facility. You can smell Tanji before you see it on the right day!  They call the local fish bonga fish and it looks a bit like herring. In the heat of course it doesn't last long so theres sheds with chest freezers and of course smoking that preserves it. Your a bit off the tourist trail here so we didn't go poking around the side alleys as i would have done elsewhere but we managed a few shots of the boats coming in and the villagers working on the beach.

Unloading the days catch at Tanji

Its humbling to see an entire community pitching in

Most of the youngsters wear football strips and follow european teams

The other reason I'd been hankering after a trip to the Gambia was of course the fishing. I learnt a long time ago that when you've got limited time on holiday local knowledge is key to cutting corners and finding fish. I'd done a bit of research and discovered that Bernard Westgarth was guiding on the beach's in Gambia. Bernard is an ex England international shore angler where as I'm a twice a year off the wall at Immingham man, so really I'd be foolish to go it alone. I emailed Bernard and arranged to meet up with him for a couple of days fishing. After the first day was re arranged due to me having the dreaded banjul belly ( I should have left the sea food starter! ) we eventually made out first trip down to the southern border past Kartong. I could write a blog post purely about that trip, overland by land rover, down river by fishing boat and wading ashore to get to the best areas, brilliant. We had a great days fishing surrounded by feeding sea eagles, ospreys and pelicans without another soul in site. Add to that the fishing was superb with us catching guitar fish, butter fish, catfish, bass and silver something or others. Elaine of course out fished me catching the best fish of the trip a 23lb guitar fish. Needless to say I'll have to go back and put that matter straight!

I used this because I haven't got that many of the beach!

I did catch some bigger - honest!

Elaine's Guitar Fish

I allocated myself an hour to pen this and I'm way past it mainly due to the photo's taking so long to upload. Getting around in Gambia is a bit more of a chore than say India, you can't hire a moped and are pretty dependant on the taxi's, walk five minutes up the strip from the hotels and the taxi's are much more reasonable to negotiate than the little cartel that works outside the front door. I suppose one of the reasons for visiting Africa was to watch the incredible sunrises and sunsets. The only problem with that is that sunrise is far too early and sunset clashes with happy hour at the Green Mamba Bar. Not wishing to disappoint however I thought I'd rectify that with one last photograph of ..happy hour at the Green Mamba Bar!

Left to right, Steve, Liz, Bernard, Mike and yours truly

A final word about Thomas Cook,  what a shower of shite that company is, they changed the flight times 4 times, crap service at check in, they even had some po faced cow wandering around the departure gate checking that your hand luggage hadn't grown in size and picking arguments with passengers. Worse still the  planes they fly are cattle class, 6 and a half hours each way with zilch leg room and a service matching Spice Jet's of India. If we'd not enjoyed Gambia so much I wouldn't even consider using them again, they deserve to go out of business.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

I've caught a Monster!

Well I suppose better late than never, I started this blog with the intention of spending an hour or so a month recording what we'd been up to and where our travels in life had taken us. So in an effort to make up for 6 months of procrastination I thought I'd better catch up or scrap the idea all together.

Catalonia - October 2012

For the past fifteen years I've been a regular visitor to the River Ebro in Northern Spain. I love to catch the catfish that inhabit the river and have observed and watched them grow in size from the early days when fish of a 100lb were rare up to the present day when all of us who have put the time and effort in are waiting to catch a fish to break the magical 200lb mark. I should say I fish the lower river below Mora and upstream of Tortosa. Theres some big old zoo creatures swimming around further upstream at Caspe & Mequinenza living on a daily diet of halibut pellets, not really my idea of fishing and it attracts every idiot and his dog, so my fishing is strictly one rod and livebait exploring some of the most scenic stretches of river in europe. 

Making his first trip for four years was my lad Sam along with my regular catfishing partner Al and our mate Spenner (John) making up the numbers and providing light entertainment for the week. It really is like travelling with a stand up comedian when John's about and you're never entirely sure what he's going to get up to next.

From East Midlands with Ryan Air to Reus and we're in Benifallet by lunch time and on the river by 2pm. I fished with Sam for the trip and Alan fished with Spenner and off we went. A boat for each couple with Pete Evans crewing one and Rob Marsh the other. It was lovely to get back upstream towards Miravet, I've not fished that beat for a couple of years and forgot how much I liked it. Its never been particularly kind to me in the fish its thrown up but we've sneaked the odd hundred off it in the past and its always capable of throwing up a lump.

Looking upstream to Miravet Castle
The river was in an awkward mood and we had just the one chance which resulted in a missed take and us returning to base empty handed to drown our sorrows in Casal's. Alan and John had faired a little better with John taking a fish downstream of the village at 108lb as dusk fell.

We stayed as always at Pepo's which is without equal in this area of the valley and as is customary spent the evening drinking beer and talking bollocks in Casal's Bar as is the norm every trip!

I'm going to condense the next three days in to a couple of paragraphs. The fishing wasn't brilliant but Sam soon got amongst them and continued his claim as being the worlds unluckiest cat fish angler landing 5 fish to 88lb but still failing to bank his first fish over 100lb. I struggled along catching just the one fish at 55lb but was happy to let Sam outfish me, at least thats what I'm writing now! Alan & John kept their boat average up with Alan catching the same 108lb as John on the 3rd day but fishing was generally very slow. The weather was a bit hit and miss for October alternating between pleasant sunshine and rain and grey cloud, it did provide us with a couple of glorious sunsets though!

One of sam's 5 catfish from the trip

Ebro Sunset downstream of Benifallet

Swims like this used to produce but seldom do now, a classic slack water snag area on the Ebro.

What was apparent was that swims that had produced the goods in previous years were not doing it now and I can't help but think that the cats have wised up to some of the methods used to catch them. I experimented with small double baits and we started to get action by fishing in areas that very often we'd ignore. Alan and John found a lovely swim at Miravet that they put us on to and Sam managed to get a kitten of 40lb on the biggest livebait we had from 28' of water, it just screamed catfish and had not been fished for a couple of years. Going in to the last day Alan was adamant that the swim would produce a good catfish and so it proved with him taking a fish of 132lb from it, a new personal best to round the trip off for him. Somehow between them they managed to mess up completely the photo's of the fish so it remains in Alan's memory banks rather than on his memory card!  Speaking of ruined photo's I had a nightmare of an afternoon with a full days images blurred and unuseable. I was using a Sigma 10-20mm lens on my Nikon D7000 which up to that afternoon had worked fine, for some reason not yet known the two conspired to produce a series of out of focus images which for the life of me I cannot work out what went off. How you can get an out of focus image at 12mm and f8 is beyond me, needless to say I shan't be using that combination again and despite the D7000 been a damn fine camera its little autofocus glitches are really beginning to piss me off and its to be relegated to a spare now the D700 is on the scene.

Dusk arrived too quickly and we were just coming off the River at Pete's place when the phone rang as I was carrying the gear up the steps. It was Spenner in a rather irate state, all I heard was  'I've had a Monster' and they were heading downstream for the jetty at Benifallet. We jumped in the hire car at Pete's and putting the foot on the gas we arrived back in the village within 5 minutes. Sure enough he'd had a monster alright and how they managed to man handle the fish on to the jetty is anyone's guess. Taking four to hoist the sling it tipped the scales at 182lb which is the largest authenticated cat fish taken from this stretch of river. Spenner was over the moon having beaten his long standing best of 127lb and its now the latest of a series of happy memories that fishing at Benifallet has given us.

Alan, Sam, Spenner and Robbie with Spenners 182lb fish

I'm not sure when I'll fish the river seriously again at Benifallet to be honest. The Delta is now producing fish above 180lb and I think there is only a handfull of fish between Mora and Xerta that could match the one above. I'll certainly go back because I love the village and its my favourite place in Europe but I think a return to Tortosa, Amposta and the Delta beckons for next year, who knows!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Taking Stock

Elaine and I are slowly getting the gear ready for our upcoming trip to Gambia, and with just 5 weeks to go starting to get a tad giddy at the thought of 2 weeks in the sun after what seems like a very long summer without a proper break. I've also got the hardship of 4 days in Catalonia fishing on the River Ebro before then as well! I just hope the catfish are more obliging than last year when it was a real struggle for Alan and I to get amongst them. I've been slowly ticking items off my ever increasing photographic equipment list in anticipation of Gambia and India again in February, when it dawned on me that other than a few photographs of birds, I never did get around to editing most of the images from India this January. I'm not really in to hours spent post processing but I'm slowly getting a little more creative with some of my work. I always smile wryly when I see work flows explained in detail and the work that goes in to image editing. I'm bored after a minute and don't really understand 99% of what the software does, suffice to say my workflow comprises of chuffing around, twiddling this and that until it looks something like!  More often than not I mess it up again and thats that for the day. I do like Silver Efex Pro however and I've dropped some pictures from Agra in to one of their preset templates, I quite like them and if I get fed up I can always twiddle around with them some more!

Kids in the street -Agra January 2012- Life in some parts of the City is pretty tough as you would expect, great kids that really latched on to our chocolate eclairs!
Quiet contemplation - Street food is a large part of local life throughout Agra. I reckon this image could have been taken any day in the past 50 years!Everyone tourist who goes to Agra does so to visit the Taj Mahal, us included, it is quite simply breathtaking and worth every ounce of the effort to get there. We had a great tourist guide and after an hour or two in Agra Fort he couldn't get his head around why anyone would want to visit a normal street where the tourists don't go. I suppose if you don't you never meet the people who make the city what it is. There's an atmosphere on the street especially as dusk fall, little rubbish fires burn all over the city as the temperature drops but the streets are thronged with people just getting by in life.

Its hard to capture the atmosphere in the street, the smoke and noise but I tried never the less!

Express delivery - This is still a normal way of getting around along with oxen and carts, tut tuts, lorries and every conceivable mode of transportation known to man!

We rounded off the day watching the sun set over the Taj from the opposite side of the river. There was a large security operation on so any chance of getting on to the river bank was dashed by the presence of an armed Police Officer every 25 yards, still worth sitting and watching the sun go down though. I had a wander around the lovely gardens on the site of what would have been the Black Taj, even in the 16th Century some degree of fiscal responsibility halted some ambitious building projects!

Gardeners at the BlackTaj - I reckon that sunshine takes its toll

I've plenty of pictures of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort but none as good as you can find on a thousand other internet sites, it is nice to see the places with your own eyes and through your own lens ( or in this case Steve's 17-55 nikon!) What also stood out about the trip was the journey from Delhi to Agra through Uttar Pradesh, I'm not even going to try and describe that other than what a road trip, almost like the 17th century colliding with modern day

Just like the isle of Axholme!

God knows when that gun was last fired, an old soldier guarding the roadside cafe!

Uttar Pradesh January 2012 -This little girl spends her day helping Mum and Nan make cow dung patties so the family have fuel for the family home - thats them drying in the background

I could really make strong comment about the last image when I see some of the wasters in this country, but I shan't for once, I'm pretty sure you can work it out for yourselves. There we have it, eight images only another 1350 to edit!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Mid September Doldrums

Well its that time of year when its neither one thing nor the other for me. The fish are still growing down on the farm but slowing down a little now things are cooling off, especially the night time air temperatures. Its an in betweeny time for the bird life as well, the sedge and reed warblers are still there around the reservoir but silent, long gone are the noisy afternoons of May and June. We've had a few oddities of late, I saw a peregrine on consecutive days and a hobby as well but I've seen neither of them for a week or more. Its just the residents now, lots of Jays about in the new woodland which are always nice to see and nigh on impossible to photograph.

Steve has put my Sigma 120-300 through its paces and is more than happy with its performance. It looks like this lens sucks the life out of the D7000's battery so much so that a battery grip and extra horsepower will be required for Gambia. Its a different beast on the pro bodies such as the D4 and even the D700, put it on a prosumer body like the D7000 and it shows up every weakness, especially in the autofocus system.  Gambia will properly put the combination through its paces, if I'm still having issues with the D7000 then it will be gone and replaced by a secondhand D300s. I do wish Nikon would bring out a D400 with a better DX sensor and the new AF system, there seems to be nothing on the horizon at the moment.

I went fishing with Westy the other afternoon, early start was the order of the day, for that read 12 midday! Highlight of the afternoon was Westy's attire, respondent in tropical Camouflage he was. So much so that the sausage dog freaked and sat there growling at him, never having seen anything quite like it. Neither for that matter have I, but I took a photo for prosperity. Just to add insult to injury we blanked, the fish took one look at him and fled in panic, so much for tropical camo, more tropical storm Garry!

Tropical storm Garry - The trousers were matched to a jacket underneath the one he's wearing!
My fish pellets have gone up by 25% in the last year, so much for low inflation. Apparently its the worldwide cereal price. What I find strange is how once they know you pay it,  despite cereal prices fluctuating it never comes back down? Its a bit like fuel prices, some of its down to wholesale costs, a lot of its down to wholesale profiteering. The big two dutch firms are now around £1100 per tonne for pellet, a lot of us in the trade no longer bother with it at that price, I hope they go to the bloody wall, serve them right.

Highlight of the week is " Mester's"  doing its first 40. Its taken ten years but we've finally got there. Anthony rang to confirm the split tail linear caught  at 40lb 1 ounce by Tom, its been out since at 40lb 10 ounce. Everyone's waiting to see what the fish known as one pec will do now, he looks enormous and should he decide to make a mistake could well better that, we'll have to see.

Soon be time for 5 weeks off work and trips to Spain for the catfish and Gambia for the birding and fishing. Much as thats enjoyable, 30 odd days off nights is what I'm looking forward to most, roll on October!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Weekend Away

Making the most of a lovely late summer forecast, we hooked up the caravan, bundled in the dogs and shot off to North Somercotes on the East coast. We like it there, we stay on a lovely little site, Oasis Lakes,  with great fishing, more importantly its near to the beach at Donna Nook where the dogs can run for miles and your always in with a chance of seeing some decent birds (feathered of course!)

I was that knackered Friday evening after my turn of nights, any thoughts of getting the fishing rods out in anger fast disappeared after the first beer, I was quite content to doze in my chair doing nowt at all!

Saturday was fairly dismal in the morning, grey and dull, so we went in to Louth to stock up on some goodies. We find Louth almost unique these days, you can park your car in the centre without feeling like some environmental criminal and despite the presence of a large supermarket, small shops thrive because people can get to them. The little cheese shop is a must, as is the butchers, bakers, green grocers, market and all the other independents which still retain individuality and character. We used 7 different shops and didn't go near the supermarket and it was busy, brilliant to see. I couldn't help but compare it to Fort William which we visited in May. One huge supermarket and a pedestrianised street with a whisky shop, numerous outdoor clothing places all selling the same over priced items and a plethero of charity shops, a soul less bloody place, thank god for the outstanding beauty around it! What ever Louth Town Council is doing different to the rest of us, I hope they carry on with it and keep showing the way.

I didn't fish Saturday either, the lakes were busy and I couldn't do with it, the light was poor as well so the cameras stayed in the bag. I saw an egret at Saltfleet of all places, bizarre! Highlight of the day was the old chap next door turning up with his caravan. It had one of these motor movers on it, we were treated to an adult version of robot wars as it zipped around the site, far more entertaining than watching folks put an awning up. 15 minutes it took to manoeuvre with inch precision, god knows how long the battery lasts! In this time I'd have had the awning half way up? We'd brought loads of wine so that took care of the evening!

Sunday was lovely, down on the beach at Donna Nook were no less than 7 kestrels hunting over the marsh. I've never seen so many before in such a small area, I think they were hunting darters and dragon flies. To a cocker spaniel, a kestrel is just another duck, Jess missed one by inches thank goodness, defiantly ignoring the whistle as she clocked it dropping down from 50 yards away. I took the dogs back to the van and returned with the camera. I was having the normal fun and games with the D7000 auto focusing on anything but the kestrels diving, it really is a most infuriating camera to get top side of. The D700's far better but I'm back at 600mm not effectively 900mm with that body. The lens had the last laugh when the af motor went again. Its driving me nuts, its only been back from repair a couple of months and its gone exactly the same. I could pen my thoughts on it but I wont, however if you ever consider purchasing a sigma 120-300 F2.8 zoom, seek me out for my thoughts! I managed a few images of the kestrels but none worth shouting about. 8 weeks to go to Gambia and I'm having to ship the lens back to Sigma, mended or not I doubt it will be coming on the plane with me.

The lakes quietened down late afternoon and i decided to catch a carp or two. it was a perfect evening for floater fishing and the fish went crackers. In 90 minutes I caught 7 doubles to just under 18 pounds and missed no end of takes. The best floater session I've ever had to be honest in terms of action, and a great way to end the day. I wrapped up at 8pm, had my tea and a scotch whilst plotting how to afford a 500mm Nikon prime whilst avoiding divorce proceedings! 

One of 7 carp in 90 minutes, iphone picture despite 2 nikons in the van!

Friday, 31 August 2012

Experimenting with HDR

Well, I've finally downloaded a copy of NIK software HDR Efex Pro2. It seems that everyones messing about with this at the moment, so I thought I'd give it a try. To be honest I'm not much of a fan of HDR images but I've seen some interesting shots of various landmarks around the world, the Taj Mahal, Tower Bridge in London etc, or in my case Thorne Colliery pit top! This scene has been carefully enhanced by various arson attacks and years of neglect, to be honest it was the glorious sunset that caught my eye. Now I've just come off nights and in five minutes managed to merge eight images and get the software to work, thats testament to the softwares simplicity. Its really good, it creates you a load of images and puts them in templates with effects ranging from bloody awful to ghastly! I picked one that was in the middle, a sort of uugh? effect. I'm sorry Kev, it doesn't float my boat this HDR palava, its best described as the punk rock of photography!

Bizzare, but interesting, not really my cup of tea, and with that thought, I'm off to bed!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

'Off the Mark'

Well its raining stair rods outside and I've been threatening to do this for long enough, so todays the day. I've created a blog if for nothing else than to record the myriad of thoughts and nonsense that rattles around in my brain day in, day out!  So seeing as family, fishing, photography and holidays are my daily diversions from the routine that is work, it follows that should this blog flow, here after, its likely to be a jumble of the above. Or for that matter what ever else is bugging me at the time!

One from last week - Daybreak - 'Tween Bridges Wind Farm' Thorne

Straight out of the camera, other than cropping no pp, the colours were out of this world and lasted 10  minutes!