Saturday 16 October 2010

First Pike of the Season... (...and it's a proper one!)

Following a blank after-work zander fishing session last week I was keen to get back out on the bank predator fishing because the rivers were fining down nicely since the rains had stopped.  I headed to an old river haunt which I hadn't fished for four or five years.  A friend and I had some great results there between 2003 and 2005, with quite a few doubles gracing our nets.  These were seemingly uncaught fish in pristine condition, which gave me the best fights I've ever had from pike.  They were long, lean, huge-finned pike which really knew how to use the current to their advantage.  The reason we stopped fishing there is that when comparing photographs, we started to notice a few recaptures, so for the benefit of these prime breeding females, we decided to leave them alone.  A tip for checking if you've had any recaptures of pike is to compare the anal fin markings.  Like the rest of a pike's markings, these are unique to each fish and because the anal fin is relatively large and visible on most photographs, they make a perfect comparison tool.

Planning for an early start, I over-slept and didn't get on the bank until around 11am!  Still, the sky was grey and overcast, there was no-one else around and the river looked perfect.  There was enough of a tinge of colour to make barbel fishing a good prospect, but my heart was set on piking, so that was what I set up to do. 

The swims we used to fish have a variety of overhanging trees making perfect ambush points for pike to lie-up in, so I cast out the first rod with confidence.  When I came to cast the second rod I realised that the reel wouldn't turn; expecting the line to be wrapped around the tip, I went to untangle it but found everything to be in order.  I then checked the reel and to my utter dismay I found the spool on my trusty old Daiwa Bite 'N' Run reel had split almost in two and the skirt was jammed firmly on the reel.  I've no idea how this happened, but after hacking bits of the spool skirt with my Leatherman, I couldn't get the reel to work.  The only options were to fish one rod or reel the other bait in, chum up the swim and walk back to the van to rob a reel from a barbel rod...  So, twenty minutes or so later I returned to the swim with a working reel and set up the second rod.  By now, through one thing and another, I'd wasted half the day and the sun had burned through the clouds.  It was now quite warm with a blazing sun and a clear blue sky!  Not ideal condtitions, but I fished on regardless. 

After three biteless hours, I was thinking of moving swims when I noticed one of my rod tips shaking gently.  I had cast a float-legered herring into a slightly deeper hole, in the shadows cast by a large tree.  The flotsam my line had picked up had been holding my float underwater for the last half hour, so the float hadn't been much use to me, but suddenly it popped up!  I immediately picked up the rod, and struck.  As I struck the clutch on my reel spun, making me wonder if enough pressure would have been transmitted to set the hooks.  I tightened up a little and reeled what was obviously a heavy fish, straight in towards me!  I caught a glimpse of a wide, long head as it neared the surface and I reached for the net, thinking I would fluke the fish straight in.  The pike was to have other ideas though; it kited slowly away from the net, turned, then hit the nitro-boost button!  Even with the now tightened drag, the pike effortlessly thrust its way straight back across the river, almost back to the spot where I'd hooked it!

Luckily, I turned the fish and began to make ground on it, before it spotted a reed bed and headed directly towards it.  A bit of a stalemate around the reeds ended in my favour and this time I safely guided the fish over my waiting net.  I was right about the head on this fish, it was huge!  I rested the fish in the margins and for a a split-second I almost convinced myself this was a 20lb fish, but thankfully I snapped back to reality before unhooking and weighing it.  What a fish though!  Long, lean and a great fight; these fish had not changed one bit.

As I opened the pike's mouth to do the unhooking honours, I saw another, stray treble lodged in the "inner anus" (there's probably a scientific term for the digestive opening at the back of a pike's throat, but I don't know it!).  I removed this first and it came out surprisingly easily, due to having worked slightly loose over time.  Surprising because it was a fully barbed size 4 short-shank treble.  Why any pike anglers feel the need to use barbed trebles is beyond me.  It offers no benefit and only adds to the potential of something like this happening.  If I hadn't caught this fish, who knows, it could have been dead in a few weeks after slowly starving to death.  I'm sure the angler didn't mean to leave the hook in there, but the fact that it was still there backs up my argument.  There was no sign of any wire, so probably the crimp/twist attachment had parted.  We're all human, we all make mistakes, but I can't help but cringe when I see something like this.  Who knows, maybe a semi-barbed treble would have already worked loose.  Okay, so this blog is beginning to become a rant-fest, whatwith the litter rant last time and the barbed treble rant this time!  Still, I wouldn't rant about it if it wasn't something I passionately believe in and I do get a bit precious when it comes to pike welfare.  They're not in the slightest bit as tough as their appearance would suggest, so only fish for them if you know how (or ask to go with someone who does know) and if you can't find semi-barbed trebles (where only one hook point has a barb on it) please, please, please SQUASH THOSE BARBS.

Oops, fell off the soapbox there, rotten old thing...  Anyway, rant over, now for the pictures of this long, magnificent creature.  And the pike I caught! (how can I stoop so low)...

I'm well happy with this, my first pike caught by design this season (I've already caught them on perch sessions, zander sessions and even barbel sessions so far this season).  I'm guessing I won't be able to go piking as often as I'd like to this winter, so to kick it off with my biggest pike for almost 4 years is one hell of a treat.

Monday 4 October 2010

Zander Saves September - Perch Fishing, Zander Fishing

Well, after my last post virtually declaring September as a "lost month" as far as my fishing results were concerned, a good fish comes along and gives me a slightly more rose-tinted view of September 2010 after all!

I travelled a little farther afield than usual and endured a gruelling day fishing for perch, with very disappointing results.  The weather was overcast all day, the river was fairly clear and to be honest, I considered the conditions to be perfect for perch fishing.  However, the closest I came to catching a big perch was a missed take on a spinner early on, which felt like a perch and also felt heavy.  Then an hour later I was lure fishing in a shallow, gravelly run when I got an amazing follow.  The bow-wave created was huge!  It zig-zagged behind my lure and took one final swipe, but missed.  I'm pretty sure I saw the mouth of a perch as it made that final grab and I'm also sure that a pike would have had the small lure well down its throat long before that anyway!

After a few hours of throwing lures around and failing to catch even a micro-perch, I settled on a peg to bait fish.  Several hours passed and the best perch I had was around 4oz, on maggot; the best fish I had was a chub of around a pound, on lobworm.

Still, I had also caught a few roach around 3oz, which I'd killed to use as baits as the light began to drop.  The other rods I had in the van were set up for some zander fishing, so I rigged up some of these fresh baits and sat back not expecting too much.  My only run of the evening resulted in this 8lb 11oz zander:

It's by no means the largest zander in the world, but it's my biggest for a few seasons and as you'll see by reading my article "My Love Affair with Zander", I'm quite attached to the species, despite living a good 2 hours drive from most of the best zander fishing in the Country and blanking on far more sessions than I catch on.  So, this fish is very, very welcome and has made me a happy man.

It was interesting photographing this fish and just as the first shot was taken, the zander kicked and ...well see below for yourself!  It was such a quality, one-off photograph that I thought it deserved a caption and deserved to be put up on here.  Below are the best two captions so far, but if you have any better ones, post them in the comments box and I might even add the best ones to the photo and post them on here...

Plus, this photo really got me thinking about just how big the mouth of a zander gets when it flares its gills.  I tend to use small baits when zander fishing, but its mouth was twice the size of mine!