Wednesday 31 March 2010

The final two sessions of the 2009/10 season!

Firstly, I have to say it was great to just get a few days out on the bank at last!  For me, 4 full days fishing out of 14 is quite rare (if only it wasn't!), and I managed to actually relax into the fishing; not so-much-so that I wasn't thinking about what I could do to improve my chances (which, incidentally, I mainly concluded was very little!), but enough to actually enjoy just being there.

So, on to what I actually did...  I had two days fishing for perch on the rivers before they closed which - I suppose due to a combination of the size prospects at this time of year, the fact that most of my winter fishing revolves around toothier predators and also because perch are one of my favourite species - has become a bit of a tradition for me over the last few years.  So far and unsuccesful tradition, but this year had to be different.  For starters, last season I baited up a swim to return to later only to find upon my return that another angler had taken that peg (which there is nothing wrong with, it was only through satisfying my own stupid intrigue that I left the peg in the first place!) and proceeded to extract a 3lb+ perch, a 4lb+ perch and a 6lb+ chub from the exact spot I'd baited up, using the most basic tactics and double maggot!  So, now I knew exactly where to find these fish at this time of year (it is close to shallow water, vegitation and a side-stream, so it's the ideal pre-spawn hangout), I would make my triumphant return to catch at least one new PB.  Then the second day I had planned was a visit to the river Kennett between Newbury and Reading, escorted by a true local perch expert - Will Barnard - who not so long ago caught 10 different 3lb+ perch from 10 different stretches of the river in a SINGLE season!  Now that's some going!  But you know what they say about the best laid plans...

In reflection, I'm quite disappointed in the decisions I made on the first day.  I arrived at the peg which I knew had personal record-breaking potential, to find the water a bit on the shallow and clear side.  The main feature was a near-bank bush in a small eddy and my first impression was that it was too shallow for much to be sheltering beneath it, with at least 6 inches less water in the river than the previous year.  Still, I'd done a fair bit of roving the previous two years and it didn't result in any big perch, so I decided to keep a low-profile, keep feeding the swim and sit it out, hoping a perch would at least visit the bush at some point during the day.  When one did, I would be ready!  I didn't cast a line for the best part of an hour, instead deciding to feed small amounts of chopped worm, groundbait and molehill soil and a spray of maggots on a regular basis.  My visions of the gathering shoals of hungry bait fish flanked by even hungrier perch were maybe a tad optmistic, as when I eventually made my first cast the plump lobworm generated no attention.  I fished on, undeterred, and explored the rest of my swim by alternating with a float and a second, scaled-down feeder rod baited with maggots.  Still I got no bites and I eventually decided to feed the swim up and rest it for a while.  I had a lure rod with me and I couldn't resist a wander.

With my bait rods out of the water I took off with a few lures and tried some swims which have been productive for me in warmer weather.  At least if I could get a take from a perch somewhere it would let me know they were feeding, and also help me figure out where they were holed up.  Despite my best efforts fishing various lures in all manner of swims I couldn't find a perch keen enough to even follow a lure.  Before long I reached the upstream limit of the stretch, and a very under-fished peg with loads of natural features.  Casting from a high bank above an eddie, I watched my lure for the whole retrieve and just as I lifted it from the water, a pike launched itself from the shadow of a bush and didn't just swipe at the lure, it breached the water completely and took a snap at it mid-air!  Of course it missed, but provided me with quite a spectacle.  I chanced another cast, clinging to the slim hope that the fish would have another go and watched as it really aggressively pounced, paused and inhaled the lure!  What beautiful condition this fish was in; completely un-marked.  The condition and location this fish came from leads me to believe it was previously uncaught and I'm pretty sure in future it will treat curly-tailed lures with just a bit more cynicism!

I had to revel in this capture slightly more than I would have liked, because the perch never switched on and it ended up being the only fish I landed all day!  As soon as I'd packed up, I jumped in the van and headed towards Reading, to stay in a hotel close to the Kennet so that I could meet up with Will bright and early next morning.

To be continued...

Monday 8 March 2010

Finishing with a flurry?

Well, the end of the traditional close season (which, in it's current form, I agree with 100%) is almost upon us.  I had the rare chance to go fishing twice last week and for the first trip I decided to follow my own yearning for a return to the Lincs drains (they can be frustrating at times and I hear many reports of fish thefts and that they're not what they once were, but I just love fishing them!) for a final try for a pike before the rivers & drains close on the 14th.  I made the 70 mile trip East and checked a few of my favourite places out, before settling on a very shallow drain, carrying only 18 inches of water down the centre.  The weather had turned and was much sunnier than we've experienced for months.  This wasn't ideal because bright weather can put fish off the feed, but on the other hand, the water was in need of warming up, so surely the sun couldn't do too much harm for my day fishing.  Plus, there were clouds dotted around and I have noticed pike and perch launch attacks on sunny days, just seconds after the sun goes behind a cloud, as if they have been patiently poised, waiting for anything which swung the odds slightly in their favour.

There were a few sporadic strikes up and down the drain, and the fish seemed to be striking in pairs.  There would be two strikes almost instantaneously, within feet of each other, then nothing for maybe half an hour.  That's the thing with fishing a shallow water; when a pike strikes, it has to create a bow-wave or break the surface.  In a deep water, the fish could be striking mid-depth and showing no signs on the surface that they're feeding at all.  So now it was my turn to be poised.  And frustrated.  The strikes would happen and each time I would have to sit on my hands to stop myself picking up the rods and charging upstream to cast there, because chances were that the next strike would be right in front of me!  I ended up mixing things up.  I fished two static rods and cast them either side of where I'd seen fish strike, give them half an hour, then move.  Other times I travelled up & down the drain with a roving float set-up, trotting a bait in the steady flow.  This turned out to be the winning method when, after several hours trying with no joy, my float darted under at speed.  With such a positive take I wasted no time in winding down to the fish and immediately caught sight of it, as it turned in the shallow water.  I could see the fish was easily into double figures so I took my time, but the fish put up little resistance and was soon in the net.  Then the battle began!  The battle between me and the muddy banks.  The banks on this particular drain are akin to a WWI trench and despite wearing boots with some serious grips, I found myself on my back, sliding towards the water, trying not to snap my rod, hurt the pike or let it jump back into the drain!  I eventually managed to claw my way out and found a slightly less precarious part of the bank to lower the net into the water to let the fish recover while I tried to pull myself together and sort out my forceps, camera & scales.

Often drains fish have taken some hammer from previous captures, but I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of my fish.  She had no wounds from hooks or lesions on her sides and all fins seemed in good nick too.  Either I'd done well to outwit this master of bait evasion or she'd recently moved in for a feast, from a more remote area.  Despite the time of year, this fish didn't appear to be carrying any spawn, and wasn't particularly bloated with food either, but she was thick set, with a large head and a broad back.  The scales told me she weighed 16lb 3oz so this fish was by far my largest of an altogether disappointing winter pike campaign, which had started with so much promise.  Still, a 16 is a very good pike and I'm really happy with it as a way to finish! 

I think the toll which the "unorthodox" pre-photo procedures had taken on me, showed on my face!...

I did go on to catch another fish of around 7lb using the same tactics, but when the action slowed I ventured off to find other drains with pike in feeding frenzies, but I'd have probably been better off staying put!  Except for seeing two Barn Owls, at two different drains a few miles apart.  I just managed a snap of one of them before it flew off...

A friend of mine tipped me off that after a lean winter, the tidal Trent barbel were on the feed and people were catching up to 4 fish during the day.  I've never targetted barbel in the winter - other species have always taken my fancy a bit more - but knowing where the fish were feeding was half the battle won, so I fancied getting myself amongst this late-season barbel action!  So, the following day I dug out my barbel kit and headed to the area these fish were reported from.  I spent a whole day doing... well, pretty much nothing!  I didn't have anything resembling a bite and nor did the chap on the next peg upstream, who specialised in winter barbel fishing.  So somehow in two days of the weather not changing much, the fish had either gone right off the feed or buggered off elsewhere to get their fill!  Roll on the summer, that's my kind of barbel fishing...

This week I've got two perch fishing sessions planned, on two different rivers in two different counties, in two days!  If I could land a decent perch on each session I will end this season smiling like you wouldn't believe!  I'll post the, no doubt disappointing results on here next week!

I've uploaded a new pike fishing article to my website.  It originally appeared as the front page feature article in December 2009 issue of Angling Star magazine.  I discuss the merits of chumming up when pike fishing and describe how to make a cheap and effective chum feeder to deposit the fishy mush near your hookbait.  Either visit the homepage or click on the link from the Article Archive or go Straight to it

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Finally! (But was it worth the wait?)

Well, I finally got myself out fishing last Thursday! 

After hearing of a few pike starting to be caught around the country, I gave into my urges and decided I'd target them.  After speaking to the bailiff on a stretch of the tidal Trent, I opted to try there.  I haven't really done much fishing in general on the tidal, let alone pike fishing, but I made my decision based on the water clarity being better than the non-tidal stretches, and the changing tides forcing fish to alter their positions, which would hopefully result in them spotting my bait in the process.  With such cold conditions being set in for so long this winter, every species of fish will be lethargic - even those more associated with winter - so the fish will need a reason to move, be it hunger or the changing tide.  By doubling the possibilities, I'd double my chances ...I thought!

S..   L..   O..   W..  was the general pace of the day.  I arrived, just after dawn (Hit the "snooze" button a couple of times too many!), to find I had the entire stretch to myself.  Awesome; a whole stretch of prime-condition river filled with undisturbed specimen pike just queueing up to take my bait.  I settled on a swim with a deep slack and thought to myself that if I hadn't landed a fish by 8am there was something wrong for sure.  Well, 8am came around, so did 10am, then mid-day and I hadn't had as much as a dropped run!  I'd tried different baits, fished them hard on the bottom and paternostered mid-water and had a good cast around, all to no avail.  I had seen cormorants catching fish upstream, but it was inaccessible so I tried to cast as close as I could, which only resulted in my rigs getting dragged into snags which were stronger than my mainline.  I was having a stinker! 

There was the odd bait fish showing near the slack and I had some worms with me, just in case, so to save my sanity I set up a feeder rod to try for a perch.  Apart from the odd slight movement on my light bobbin, which I put down to tide/flow, I still sat bite-less and fish-less until I finally decided to reel in the feeder rig to check my bait.  Initially this was snagged, but after much tugging, the hooklength parted but I felt the weight of my swimfeeder was still there.  A few turns of the reel handle later, the rod tip jerked into action and it soon became clear I was battling a fish!  A few seconds later, I wasn't any more.  When I reeled in, there was my feeder, there wasn't my hook, just as I'd expected.  I'd had deadbaits in the area all day, which the predators ignored but now they were striking at my - seemingly more appealing - swimfeeder!  A lure was hastily deployed to the same area and first cast, BANG!  I was finally into a fish!  At four pounds in weight, it won't be breaking any records but it did provide a rare highlight during a less than remarkable day!

I'm out making the most of what's left of the season on Thursday & Friday, then next Wednesday & Thursday too, probably concentrating on predators but maybe I'll fit in a chub session somewhere too...