Sunday 27 November 2016

March Madness

I feel that I really should fill in some gaps after my self imposed absence. I had a difficult start to 2016 because of a severe chest infection which really put me on my back for the last two months of the season. It was a great shame, the season had gone very well before Christmas and I expected the success to continue after it but I just could not go fishing and spent those weeks coughing and wheezing at home in the warm. It was such a bad illness that it lasted well into the autumn and indeed, I'm not sure I'm free of it even now. I spent the time swapping symptoms with Wayne Fletcher, fellow Team England member who contracted something similar at around the same time. Poor old Wayne still has to go to work as well as fish so it was even worse for him. Anyway, enough of my troubles, let me tell you about a day I had back in the early Spring, mid-March in fact.

A Gentle Stroll

With the rivers closed and my health improving slowly I managed a rare day's fishing with my good friend Karl Devlin. It was to be just a few hours chucking lures and in reality, I expected us to catch a few jacks and nothing more. I really wanted to ease my way back into it and a gentle walk with a small pack containing a few jerkbaits seemed the obvious answer. I chose a water which I had fished before, just twice, but where I had never caught a single pike.

I picked Karl up and made the short drive to the water, pulling into the empty car park; "That's good." I thought, no-one else here, we won't be troubled by the carpiker brigade. We loaded up with the little gear we had brought and set off marching. The plan was to walk to the far end of the fishery and then "leapfrog" each other, fishing each swim in turn until we got back to the car and as it was a fair way to the last swim, it took us quite a while, especially my with my chest still burning in the frosty air.

We started off fishing. I selected a floating Salmo slider as my first choice lure. These lures tend to fish in the top two to three feet of water and since I didn't know the place too well that seemed like a good choice. Floating sliders don't get caught up too badly in weed or other snags and they cast like bullets so it's possible to cover each swim out to a range of sixty yards or so.

Each swim was searched out with the floating slider and if the weed and snags were not too bad I would then switch to a deeper running lure. It's one of the lure fishing systems that I employ and I find it works for me but this wasn't a serious fishing session anyway, it was just a bit of fun. I fished the first swim then moved on past Karl who was in swim number two, into swim number three, then Karl moved past me into the next swim and so on. This went on until I settled into a swim that really looked the business. There were a number of features in this spot that made it look good, snags close in, a line of overhanging bushes that could be worked, but above all it just "felt" right.
The Deadly Salmo Slider

A Big Surprise!

I had a couple of casts with the slider and I liked what I saw. The water was clear here, I could see the lure twisting its way back and forth and it looked so appealing that I expected a hit any moment. I made another cast and just at that moment Karl arrived; "Well you've found yourself a nice spot here." he said. Yes, Karl could see it too, this was a swim with potential. We exchanged views on the swim, it's snags, the clear water, the line of bushes, and all the while my lure was sinking ever so slowly through the water, dragged down by the weight of the leader. Our conversation must have lasted fifteen or twenty seconds and then it was interrupted by a violent wrench on my rod. A fish had taken the motionless lure, and it was a big fish!

I pulled the pike in on the unforgiving jerkbait tackle and as it came close to the bank it was clear that this fish was easily over twenty pounds. Karl scooped her up in the big net and we hauled her onto dry land where the hooks were quickly removed. It was only now that we realised that our keenness to keep the weight down had resulted in neither of us bringing a set of scales, we could not weigh the damn thing!

We had a camera though so we took a few pictures and I made an guess at the weight. At first I though she might make 25lbs but on reflection I reduced that to 23lbs and I think that was a pretty close estimate. I subsequently met someone who had had the same fish six months earlier at a weight just under 21lbs. The photographs of it at that weight showed it to be very thin whereas it was pretty chunky when I had it so I'm happy with my estimated weight.

The 23 pounder

Another Chance

With the fish returned Karl and I had a little chat about the swim. It was clear that our feelings about this spot were well-founded and so I told Karl that it was his turn. "There's bound to be another fish or two here." I told him. Karl put on a six inch green replicant and began casting. It wasn't long before his rod hooped over; "I'm in" he said. The fish put up a spirited fight but it was clear from the start that this was no twenty pounder. He hauled it unceremoniously to the net and we had it on the bank with the hooks out in seconds. Six or seven pounds in weight, the pike sported a big scar down one flank, a scar that might have been inflicted by another, much larger pike.

Karl's Pike, Complete with Bite Mark.

Karl returned the fish quickly. "Your turn again." he said. I thought for a moment and I decided to change lures, to change to the sinking slider which would work the deeper water more effectively. I clipped it on and cast it a long way out. If floating sliders cast well then sinking sliders cast better than well, there is no lure that can cast further in my experience.

I jerked and twitched the lure back to me, pausing occasionally and allowing the lure to sink deeper and deeper into the trench which was clearly closer to my bank than it was to the far one. As it reached the deepest point, a hard pull on the rod tip signified another fish on the line. I struck hard and found that I had a heavy weight to deal with. "This one is bigger", I exclaimed, "It's a beast!"

I heaved hard on the fish and brought it close to the bank where I could see that there was a loose hook hanging outside of it's mouth. This caused me to panic a little when Karl submerged the net, fearing the loose hook snagging the mesh. We soon had her though and at once it was clear that this fish was much bigger than the first.

A Problem

I catch twenty-three pounders quite often but this one was well over 25lbs, of that there was no doubt, and so I really wanted to get a weight for this fish. I knew a local angler who might be able to come down with some scales and so I called him. Yes, he could make it (though he missed out on some overtime to do so) and before long we had the fish on the scales and recorded a weight of 27lbs 8oz. A brace of pike for more than 50lbs in consecutive casts, not bad when you consider that we only expected a few jacks. These were my first two fish from the water as well, that made it all the more sweet.
My friend who came to weigh the fish was maybe a little jealous; "I've fished here for thirty years and never had a fish close to this size," he said, "You jammy bastard!"


Wednesday 23 November 2016

Back with a Whimper

A whole year without blogging, what's that all about? Well last year my confidence was shaken, I have to admit it. Pike fishing is going in directions I don't like, the secrecy leads on to aggression, bullying and backstabbing and while I've tried hard to ignore it all, it got to me in the end. I was most upset by the actions of one individual who, while pretending to be my friend, was actually causing me trouble behind my back. He even drove a wedge between me and a friend of thirty years by telling him outright lies. We sorted it out ok, true friendships always endure, but it was an unpleasant time and it left me drained. That so-called friend will now drift into obscurity and I will ignore him.

Team England

Things have moved on. Much has happened in the past year, some of it good, some of it bad and some of it truly dreadful but I'm still here, still fishing and still catching plenty. Indeed in terms of personal success, I'm doing better than I have for years, but it isn't all about me, is it?
I'm going to leave the catch reports for now and concentrate instead on the ninth Fips World Championship, Predator fishing with Lures from Boats.

Team Selection

There has been so much controversy over the selection of the team that in truth, it has overshadowed everything else, even our poor performance. The selection was due to take place at Llangorse Lake - that's the first mistake! Loads of keyboard warriors declared it an unfit venue, nothing like the World Championship venue, too small, too shallow, not the right species mix etc. etc. Of course those same critics couldn't actually come up with a more suitable water, that wasn't their remit, they were only there to criticise. Llangorse is actually a pretty good test, it has a surface area just under 400 acres, has depths down to 25ft and has big stocks of pike up to thirty pounds plus and perch to ver four pounds. It isn't exactly like the World Championship venue, Lough Ree, but then there is nowhere in England, Scotland or Wales that is, and to hold the qualifier in Ireland would be prohibitively expensive for all concerned.

Some people did their best to make out that the selection process was rigged, that the team manager was going to pick the team he wanted and that it was a waste of time people bothering to enter. A clamour built up around this and sadly, people believed it. The end result was that only a handful of people entered the qualifying event and, let's face it, if the best anglers don't enter, then the best anglers won't get through, it isn't rocket science. Had I been displaced by a better angler, I would have been pleased and my support for the team would have been strong but in the end I was not replaced, I came third in the qualifier and so I made the team. Here's the thing though, only myself and Wayne Fletcher made the team from the previous years' team, Dan Brackley, Jamie Potts, Pete Hanney and Alex Haddow were all newcomers and the latter three were not known by the managers at all. How can it be nepotism if the people who get in are unknown to you? Well it obviously was not rigged at all, it was all a case of sour grapes!


This will be a short paragraph, there was no funding. Oh I raised a bit with my speaking engagements and we got some personal donations from generous individuals, for which we were very grateful, but the team had to make do with the remains of the money raised by the raffling of goods that were generously donated by Mark Kitson of Sovereign Superbaits last year, and there wasn't much of that left. Vass gave us a good deal on their waterproofs and Currock Engineering helped out with the balance on that but there was not a lot else.

Practice Trip

With Ireland just a ferry boat away we just had to have a good practice or pre-fish as some of the teams call it and three of us elected to take ourselves, two cars and two boats to Lough Ree for a week. I must say, I enjoyed this trip very much. Myself, Dan and Jamie rented a cottage for a week at Newtown Cashel which is quite close to a superb slipway called Barley Harbour. The cottage was, as it happens, owned by Martin Casserley who is chairman of the local angling club and Martin was hugely helpful in putting us on fish. There was a local pub within easy walking distance and the cottage was very well equipped so we were able to cook a meal each evening and retire to the pub to discuss the day's events.

The one big issue we had on the practice trip was that we did not know the extent of the competition area. I had asked various people to help on this but no-one had been able to come up with the goods and the best description that we had was that the competition area ended some nine kilometres down the lough from the slipway at Lanesborough. We based our whole trip on this but it was wrong, the area was actually nine MILES down the lough and so we did not fish the most southerly area, a huge mistake as it happened.

We learned much on the trip, we learned mostly that many thousands of acres of water were unproductive with the fish concentrated in just a few spots. It was often windy while we were there and indeed we lost two days fishing on the lough because the wind was so strong it would be unsafe to venture out. On those days we fished in the river Shannon, also a part of the competition area, and we discovered that the Shannon held huge shoals of bream but little in the way of predatory fish.

Two red-hot areas were found, one held a huge shoal of perch while the other held lots of pike and these two areas were quite close together in the north of the competition area. Jamie and I fished the perch shoal for around two hours and picked out around fifty perch but it took a bit of work to find out how to catch the bigger ones. Small shads fished on the bottom took the smaller perch but crankbaits fished fast through the midwater attracted significantly larger specimens. We must have had around fifty perch in that time with around half of them over the 25cm size limit imposed on the event. That's big points, enough points to win without a doubt. The pike spot nearby was equally good. I fished it on my own and caught six good pike in less than thirty minutes. The competition was going to be won from this general area that was for sure!

The latter part of the week was dogged by interference from others, particularly the Polish team. The Poles were there to practice at the same time as we were and I had one day on which I was constantly shadowed by a Polish boat and it caused me real problems. Information received from local anglers led me to a number of spots but each time I got there I was followed and so I did not fish because I did not want to draw attention to the area, that was another mistake in the end.

The practice trip cost each of the three of us around six hundred pounds. I didn't mind paying that, it was a fishing trip after all and it was a holiday of sorts but money is money and no-one helped us out with the cost.

The Competition

The FIPS competition always has the same format, two days of "training" followed by two days of competition, there were six of us to fish on the training days with four of those chosen by the manager to fish in the competition. On the first day, a Thursday, I fished in my boat with Alex Haddow and with Ron Dalton, team manager along for the ride. We had a good day, taking a number of nice pike topped by an upper double-figure fish which I had on a shad. This fish came from a place called the Hind River Bay, a spot that the locals had let us in on and the short period we had in that bay indicated that it was very good indeed. In just twenty minutes Alex and I had two double figure pike, two smaller pike and two lost fish - this was a banker swim! We had other action in an area we had found on the September trip and we came in at the end of the day full of hope. The other boats had found good fishing too, despite the very rough weather which, on such a large body of water, resulted in waves up to four feet high!

Day two of training saw me paired with Pete Hanney. This was a much tougher day in which we concentrated on unknown areas trying to pick out new fish. Pete had the best fish of the day, a small pike, but we eliminated several areas. It was rough again, even rougher than the first day, and we ended the day in the river where there was at least some shelter, though few fish.

We had a big meeting at the end of the second training day and we made our plans for the competition proper. The Hind River Bay was a huge attraction, big pike make big points and so we opted to put both boats into that area at the start of the day. I was to be paired with Jamie while Dan was paired with Wayne for this one day.

The Event

The excitement of setting out to fish for your country is really hard to describe. Everyone is hyper, everyone wants to do well and while the camaraderie remains, the intensity of the competition overshadows it. Boats are loaded, hooks are sharpened, stewards are introduced and welcomed aboard, there's a lot going on in that hour before we set out. The appointed hour arrived and at 10am we set out behind the lead boat which was there to ensure fairness. No-one can overtake the lead boat and so the fast boats with their huge engines (up to 225hp) did not have such an advantage. We, however, had a problem I did not envisage. With a burley boat partner, a very large Hungarian steward and too much tackle, we were overloaded and so I could not get the boat on the plane. I watched in anguish as the lead boat receded into the distance with its entourage of fishing boats, knowing that we could not catch up with them.

It took us more than thirty minutes to reach the bay and when we got there we found that Dan and Wayne were already fishing, although they had only been there for five minutes or so. We saw something else though, something that troubled me greatly, something that ruined our competition. There was another boat in the bay with three anglers in it, all fishing lures for pike. One of these anglers was playing a fish, it was a big fish a pike of around 19lbs and worth 10,000 points to us. We killed the outboard and coasted in on the bow-mount electric. As we got close to the three anglers I became more and more confused, they were clearly speaking a foreign language, it sounded Polish, and so I thought at first that they might be the Polish team but with three of them fishing in the baot, that would be against the rules. "They're not in the competition" Jamie commented, and he was right, these three guys were out for a days fishing and what's more they had already been there for several hours catching pike. The bay was ruined, we expected five or six big fish from this bay but we had only two, our first choice swim had become corrupted!

Both boats moved on to other spots we had found during practice but there was a problem. All of the practicing we had done had been in quite windy weather with big waves on the water but on this day, the water was flat calm, not a ripple n it. We worked the areas hard but struggled to find any fish willing to feed. I picked up one more pike and our other boat had a couple of perch but that was it. We moved out to deep water for the last hour and I picked up another perch which I measured at exactly 25cm but which our steward measured differently and wouldn't allow.

We ended the day dejected. My boat was 25th out of 34 and our other boat was 28th out of 34 giving an overall team placing of 15th out of 17. Romania were well out in front on day one but we didn't know where they had caught their fish.

Day Two

I was paired with Alex Haddow for day two and since we could not possibly get a placing from the position we were in the instruction was just to go out and catch what you can. We decided to head once more for the Hind River bay, hoping that it would be free from Polish locals this time but as we chugged out at 10mph behind the lead boat I suggested to Alex that we stop off on the way and have ten minutes fishing. We could easily catch up at speed later so we turned to the West and stopped the boat at a spot where I had found a few pike on our practice trip the previous month. The result was spectacular, Alex took a pike of 75cm on his very first cast, which was also his first cast in international competition as it happens! Within minutes we were joined by two other boats, the Romanians, so we had discovered the place they had caught on day one! All thoughts of the Hind River bay were now extinguished, we had to fish this area thoroughly.
86cm pike

In the end, that was not a good decision. We fished the area for three hours during which Alex had another pike and in which he lost a double-figure fish when the Savage Gear lure he was using broke internally, leaving a hook in the fish. We noticed too that the Romanians were not catching fish. Either the pike had moved on from the area or they had been just too efficient on day one and had taken the majority of the fish that were there to be caught. After three hours, the halfway point of the day, I called time and we moved away to the deeper water where I knew we had a good chance of taking some decent perch and small pike. The sounder told a favourable story, indicating the presence of plenty of fish in the area close to the bottom and so I opted to fish a 4cm curltail mounted on a 6.5g jighead, hopping it along on the bottom. It worked, I had a 29cm perch second cast and quickly followed it with a 76cm pike. I caught steadily for the rest of the day taking mostly fish over the size limit with a few under but surprisingly, Alex had no more fish despite using exactly the same tackle and tactics, sometimes you really have to tune into a method to make the most of it. I was particularly pleased with one of the perch I caught, at 42cm it was the biggest perch caught in the entire competition.
42cm, the biggest perch caught over the two days.

Alex and I had finished 10th boat on the day, that's out of 34, but our other boat had done badly, concentrating on perch they had caught many fish but the vast majority had been undersized specimens and didn't count. Only seven of their perch had been big enough and so they came in 32nd place.

The team finished 14th out of 7, our worst ever performance, but what was to follow was much worse when a complaint was lodged against out team manager, a complaint that led to his suspension and subsequent resignation. Ukraine came top for the second time in three years with Belarus second and Lithuania third, well done to all.

Ukraine took first place.

Will team England survive? Only time will tell.

Friday 20 November 2015

Highs and Lows

Yes, it's been a long time since I updated the blog. There's been a lot happening, some of it very good and some of it very bad but above all, I've learned that this blog can cause me a bit of trouble from time to time with people watching my every move on occasions. I guess the events since my last post can be divided into two main items, the start of the pike season and the Lure Fishing World Championship in Estonia. Let's start with this latter matter.

The 8th World Championship was held in late September at Lake Viljandi (pron. Vilyandi) in Estonia. The lake is a shallow glacial water with depths down to a maximum of forty feet, weedy margins and good clarity. The target species were perch, pike and zander although we were informed that zander were very scarce and in fact none were caught during the competition. Estonia is too far to drive to, especially if towing a boat, being some 3600 miles round trip and so we opted to fly, paying extra to transport our tackle on the plane.

The town of Viljandi is a pictureque, friendly place. The food, accommodation and drinks were all of good quality and cheap and the weather was pleasant with warm days and not too much rain. The lake though has its problems. At 400 acres it is very small for staging an event of this magnitude and on the practice days in particular, with more than 60 boats fishing, each with two anglers in, it felt very crowded at times. The lake is fished for the pot by the locals, using both legal and illegal means so we were led to believe and as a result, there are very few sizeable fish of any species, most having been served up as an Estonian breakfast. This proved to be Team England's undoing.

Practice Problems
On day 1 of practice all six squad members went out with a team plan. One pair was to concentrate only on the margins, one pair only on the deep water and one pair the medium depth in between these two. In each boat, one member was to fish exclusively for perch while the other fished for pike. I teamed up with Rikki Cooper on this first day, I fished for pike while Rikki went for the perch in deep water. I learned only one thing from that day, that there are no pike in the deep water!

Meanwhile the other boats had had a little success and it was clear that the bulk of the fish were deep in the weed at the margins. Both of the other boats caught reasonable numbers but the fish were very small, most of them being under the legal size limit and so of little use in a competition. Day two of practice followed much the same pattern. I fished with Sam Edmonds on this day and again I caught no fish while Sam had little to show. Others in the team did better and again it was the dense cover that produced most fish - again they were all very small.

As captain it fell to me to select the people who were to fish the competition days and one part of the decision on who to drop was easy. As a big-fish angler I knew full well that this was not my venue, most of the fish caught might be used as bait for my usual captures and so I dropped myself from day one. I also dropped Ron Dalton and so the pairs were Sam Edmonds and Rikki Cooper in one boat and Wayne Fletcher and Gary Edmonds in the other. Wayne and Gary had been the most successful pairing during practice and so it made sense for them to fish together. Ron and I acted as bank men for the day relaying information to the pairs using radios and mobile phones.

Tiddler Snatching
The boats were off at ten o'clock and the pairs put the team's plan into action, aiming for the dense weed where we hoped they would pick up some points. News started to filter through quickly, Gary and Wayne were having some difficulty with their Estonian boatman/steward who, it seems, was very clumsy on the engine and was unable to move stealthily into the weed as they were asking him to do, it was all or nothing as they crashed into the pads and the reeds scaring off any fish which might be there. The teams caught fish in reasonable numbers but every one of them was under the size limit.

The day wore on and all the news that filtered back to the bank was bad. Micropike and perch that were little more than eyes with fins were all that was coming to the Team England boats and with just minutes to go we were staring down the barrel of a double-boat blank. Then suddenly, with his last cast of the day Sam pulled in a perch. At 28cm it was just 3cm over the minimum size limit and at last Team England had some points on the board, but that was it, our only fish. That perch put us in 13th place after day 1 but significantly having a boat return with no points hit us very hard. That boat alone gave us 28.5 penalty points and meant that we could not achieve a podium place whatever happened on day two.

Damage Limitation
With no chance of glory I decided to mix the teams up a little for day two. I replaced Rikki and paired up with Sam and Gary was replaced by Ron. Ron and Wayne are regular fishing partners back in England and so I hoped that might bring some results as they knew each other's ways well. Sam and I had the smaller, slower boat but were were fortunate enough to get a good boatman who spoke a little English and we found him good company and easy to work with. Early in the day we were to go for the pike in the weed and then switch to the perch in deep water during the second half of the day.

The pike weren't interested really. After three days of the margins being lashed to a foam many of them had been hooked or spooked and although we both had tentative strikes, neither of us got a hook up. We switched from the north end of the lake to the south end and it was a similar story and before long we made the decision to abandon the pike fishing and go into the deep water for the perch. That was when we encountered a problem with the boat. With water 30 feet deep and an anchor rope that was just 30 feet long there was no way that the anchor could find a purchase and even the lightest breeze kept pulling us off our mark. We found fish on the sounder alright but we couldn't stay on them for more than a few seconds. I took the painter from the bow of the boat and lashed it to the anchor rope to form an extension and this helped a bit but it still wasn't perfect and of course this was all lost time to us.

In time we found a good shoal of fish and managed to get the anchor to grip and start fishing. Switching between lures and trying out different actions and retrieve rates we started to get some action, just tentative pulls on the line at first then more positive bites. I was using a small, brown curl tail grub 1.5in long attached to a 5g jighead and I found that by using a steady retrieve at an extremely slow pace I could get bites but the bites had to be allowed to develop, stike at the first pluck and I would miss the fish but wait until the perch had hit the lure four or five times and it would hang on and be boated. A very soft tip is essential for this style of fishing and so I abandoned my stiff One Rod and instead used my dropshotting rod which has a very flexible fibreglass insert at the tip, this was perfect for the job as it allowed the perch to take again and again without feeling too much resistance.

Fish started coming to the boat, eight to me in all and thankfully five of them were of measurable size. Sam caught fish too but sadly every one was undersized and so counted for nothing. We invited Ron and Wayne in on our shoal and they had the same experience as Sam, fish in the boat but all too small and at the end of the day we again finished in 13th place and again had a full boat blank meaning another hammering on the points.

We finished 13th overall with only the Irish, South African and Romanian teams underneath us and we were all very disappointed with the result. We were, I feel, beaten by the water more than anything. We're all used to catching fish of a reasonable size here in England while many of the continentals are actually quite used to fishing in waters where everything is taken for the pot and so could adapt to that situation better. The largest fish caught during the competition was a pike of around three and a half pounds, this really sums up how bad the venue was.

Next year the competition moves to Ireland where the fish are bigger and so are the waters and the waves, we should do better there, I just hope I make the team.

I would just like to thank the team's sponsors, Sovereign Superbaits, Vass Clothing, Currock Engineering, LureFactors and Snapbaits and thank you too to the Angling Trust for giving us all the opportunity to compete at the highest level.

And so to Pike
Well if our results at the World Championships were disappointing, my start to the pike season has been at the other end of the scale. I've targeted two waters so far this year, a stillwater and a new stretch of river and I'm pleased with the results so far. I daren't say too much as it just leads to me being followed around but the sport I've had has been fantastic with plenty of pike and some big ones thrown in amongst them. The stillwater is not new to me, I've fished there for some years but the fishing has taken off this year and I've managed to capitalise on it, at least a little. It hasn't been all smooth running though, first cast this season using a Fox Replicant I hooked a really big fish which I couldn't get off the bottom. It ploughed around under the boat for a while until the hooks pulled free so I never got to find out how big it was. Subsequent trips saw me lose several more fish, including some right whoppers, mostly with hook pulls but one very big fish took me onto a snag and I couldn't get it off. I use extremely heavy tackle for my lure fishing and I used to think I could bully any pike on it but these fish are something else, I've never had pike fight nearly as hard as these do.

The first decent pike I had there went 22lb 3oz and it fought so hard that both I and my boat partner thought the rod was going to snap. I wasn't prepared to lose another one on one of the many snags and so I just held on tight and refused to give line but it was touch and go at one point when the fish dragged the rod down until it touched the gunwale. I went on to catch an absolute stunner of 32lb 8oz on a really windy day with white horses crashing around the boat and again it went berserk. My third big fish from the lake was a fine fish of 27lb 8oz. All of these pike fell to a new lure I obtained from Sovereign Superbaits, a Bass Harasser. Now Bass Harassers are typical soft plastic swimbaits but they are shallow runners with a nice stable action. The shallow running lures work well over snaggy ground, keeping high in the water and enticing the pike up, out of the snags where they can be played out in open water.

I've caught a lot of fish at this lake this season, maybe forty pike in all with plenty of hard fighting doubles as backup to the big fish and I'm looking forward to lots more sport there but I also wanted to try out some new spots on the river. Each year I join new clubs to gain access to new stretches of river and each year I fish new places. I find that this pays off well as it gives me new fish to catch. There are a few people who fish the same old stretches year after year because there are a few resident twenties in there. They catch them over and over again and rack up large numbers of twenties which might look impressive on paper but actually it's just a whole load of repeat captures. If I get a couple of repeats from a stretch I move on, I have no desire to do that at all.

First day on a new stretch brough me a fine brace of pike weighing in at 24lb 14oz and 20lb 12 oz, a great result. Then on my next visit I took a pug-nosed pike of 20lb 9oz, my second biggest pug ever!

The fish are pictured below, click on them for a better look. The top three are the river fish and the bottom three are the stillwater ones, increasing in size as you go down in each case.

Christmas is coming and my season usually picks up after Christmas but I really can't see it getting any better than this!

Thursday 11 June 2015

The Crucial Question

From time to time I like to fish for cyprinids. Tench are my usual quarry in the spring but with most of my tench now gone due to fish thieves I've turned my attention to the UK's only native carp, the crucian. Crucian carp are declining as a species in this country, mainly due to interbreeding with other species, most notably king carp which are an introduced species. The Angling Trust have started up a campaign to save the crucian which has raised the profile of the species and they are now very much in-vogue.

I was delighted to discover recently that a local water had been producing some good crucians. Not the massive 4lb+ fish that appear in certain southern waters but good fish for the north and I decided to set out to catch some of them. Fishing for crucian carp is just about as far removed from my usual lure fishing as it's possible to get in angling in the UK. They are notoriously shy biters and while I could have resorted to modern methods with the method feeder, I really wanted to catch on the float.

My first trip was something of a shock to the system because I was missing one vital piece of information about the venue. I went armed with light float tackle with maggots and casters to use as bait, and that's where I went wrong. I settled into my chosen swim, baited lightly with loose offerings and cast in only to see the float sail away immediately. A sideways swipe of the rod saw the first fish hooked, it was a rudd of around an ounce in weight. The next cast brought another rudd, a smaller one this time and then there was another, and another, and another. The place was crawling with piranha rudd which attacked any small bait the moment it hit the surface, I had to fight back!

I moved all the shot down the line close to the hook. The water is deep and the idea was to get the bait down deep quickly, away from the rudd swarm and hopefully close to where the crucians were feeding. I threw in some more maggots and then recast and waited for the float to cock. It duly did so and I smiled to myself, I had got past the rudd ok, now for a crucian. The float settled, bobbed and went under but the resulting strike didn't connect with a crucian, this time it was a micro perch. Every cast that went shallow produced a rudd, every cast that got through and went deep produced a tiny perch, oh this wasn't going to be easy was it?

I stepped up the amount of feed, maybe I could feed these small fish off. What followed then was a frenzy of activity with the water boiling with tiny fish and many many of them coming to the bank until, after a while, the float trembled and dipped slightly and the strike hit into something much more solid. It was a crucian carp at last and it fought well before I eased it over the net. At 1lb 10oz it was a good start and I slipped it back with some satisfaction. A short while later I had another of exactly the same weight, in fact I do suspect it was the same fish, but this was followed by a fish of 2lb 2oz, a new personal best for the species.

I then caught a succession of roach, nice fish that went up close to the pound mark and I continued to feed as heavily as I dared, considering the limited amount of bait I had with me. In time, two more crucians came to the bank, one of 2lb 1oz and another of exactly 2lbs. I was well pleased with my first attempt at these fish but resolved to return with alternative baits to try to avoid the small fish problem and so I did the return a few days later with corn, meat and pellets for bait. The end result was no fish at all, not even a bite in fact but the day was not a typical one it seems. There were many anglers fishing that day and almost every one reported a total blank. I decided that the crucians must have been spawning and so did not return for a while.

Saturday 9 May 2015

Take me to Perch

With the pike season well and truly over, and with my tench fishing just about knackered, I decided to spend a little time catching those perch I found last month. I really wanted to get more experienced at catching on jigs and dropshot so I pared the tackle right down to the bare essentials and got the boat out to give it a go. I was lucky on the first serious trip, the weather stayed calm and warm and that gave me the opportunity to fish lots of different spots on the lake to try to find out where the fish were.

The perch were actually very easy to find, they were everywhere, but the big perch were somewhat more elusive. Lots of spots were tried with lots of small stripeys, all under a pound, until I settled into a spot where a stream runs into the lake. Such places often have congegations of small fish, all feeding off the things brought down by the flowing water and I reasoned that there might be a bigger perch feeding off the small fish. I fished two rods, one with a jighead and rubber worm which was fished in a rest as a dead rod and the other on dropshot with a twitchtail minnow.

I caught perch steadily in this spot and for a time I was disappointed to find that they were no bigger than the ones I had been catching elsewhere but as the afternoon turned to evening and the light began to fade so I suddenly found myself attached to something much more substantial than the fish I had had before. It fought hard, boring deep in the clear water but slowly it came up and burst through the surface at the side of the boat. Easily the biggest perch I had ever caught, I scooped it up in the net and gave a whoop of delight.

The fish weighed 3lb 10oz and after a few pics, which I made a total mess of, I slipped it back and watched it return to the depths. I followed it up with one more perch, just short of two pounds and then there were no more bites. Pretty interesting really, once the light got low, so the perch stopped feeding. I knew this already about perch, like pike, they depend entirely on light levels for their feeding.

I slept in the tent and next morning I was out on the lake at dawn, bleary-eyed and a little cold. It was a waste of time though, nothing was feeding so early and after more than an hour without a bite I decided to strike camp, put all my camping gear in the car and then start fishing again. I did this, but on the way back to my swim from the car park I passed over a shoal of baitfish. I stopped the boat and looked at the sounder and sure enough there, down on the bottom below the baitfish was a group of bigger fish. They just HAD to be big perch and I lowered a twitchtail minnow on a light jighead in amongst them. It was there for less than ten seconds before a thumping bite dragged the rod down and I was into a big fish.

This perch weighed 3lb 13oz, a new pb but it was in trouble from the start. It had popped up like a cork, despite the fact that had been caught in only 27ft of water and no matter what I did I couldn't get it to go down. I tried putting it in a bag and fixing it to a heavy weight but it couldn't kick its way out of the bag and came back up agan when I pulled the weight up, I even tried piercing the swimbladder but found that it couldn't expel the air. I tried for over an hour and the fish just got weaker and weaker until it was obvius it would not survive and I despatched it with some regret. I'm now waiting to have the fish set up.

I followed it up with perch of 3lb 6oz and 2lb 13oz, both of which went back fine and then set off for home with mixed feelings but I had another trip the following week with Mike Ashcroft from Chester. This was a tougher week with strong winds and frequent rain and we found that the perch were in the middle of spawning so they were much harder to catch. I managed two three pound plus fish, the biggest a 3lb 6oz perch totally spawned out. Mike got a pb of 2lb 13oz so he was happy.

I'll be back for those perch later in the year but I've got my sights on something else for now!

Thursday 2 April 2015

Magic March

March came with a bang for me, the river looked good just for a few days and I managed to find one of its gems. I visited some of the many club stretches I have access to and spent a few days there getting to know some unfamiliar lengths and, naturally, targetting them with lures. The fishing was tough at first as is often the way when you're finding your feet on new water but slowly, I got the feel of the river here and started to pick up fish. Double figure pike started to come but the clock was against me over the three day period with a falling, clearing river meaning my chances of a big catch were starting to diminish.

On the last day of the three, my knowledge base had been built up inside my head but the river was lower and clearer than I would like. Some of the pools now were shallow and with little current and so I took the unusual step of abandoning my usual swimbait approach and instead opted to use jerkbaits. Jerkbaiting is a finesse method, despite what many think, it's all about teasing the fish with a slowly worked lure, mesmerising them with that tick-tock walk the dog action until their tiny brain suffers information overload and they have little option left but to revert to type, and kill!

The first fish was a twelve pounder. This was sitting in a very shallow pool on the inside of a big bend, just under the shade of a small bush. I flicked out a floating slider and walked it back across the little pool and the fish grabbed it at the surface just as it neared the bankside vegetation. I returned the fish and moved on to another pool.

Nothing happened for a while until I reached a small point with a slack behind it. It was difficult to cast here due to there being a withy bed in the way but I managed to swing a lure around the stems and jerk it back with a sideways, backhand motion so that the line didn't catch on the twigs. The lure, again a slider, was hit out in open water by a very thin fourteen pound fish which didn't fight too well and was dragged unceremoniously to the bank with little protest. I unhooked this fish and returned it.

No more fish in that swim so I moved on a short way downstream. I was still in the lee of the small point here so there was an area of slack water but the slack was narrower here with pacy water just five yards out. I could see that there was some depth however, a little gully just off the bank, and I reasoned that there might be a fish sitting in it. I changed to a swimbait, a bulldawg copy in fact, dropped it into the gully a drew it back slowly. The lure came back towards me followed by a the olive green head of a pike, a big pike, but the fish turned away at the last moment and dashed back into its hole. I cast the lure several more times but the fish didn't return so I switched it for a large  Phantom jerkbait which I worked slowly through the swim. The pike came up for this lure, it was intereted but it was unsure and turned away again. I cast the lure again and again it followed, and again, and again. In all the fish must have followed the lure seven or eight times, each time turning away quite fast and leaving a vortex as it did so. This was a spooky fish allright and I decided that I would rest her and try again later in the day.

I walked back to the car where I made a cup of tea and had a sandwich and I also picked up some deadbaiting gear and a couple of herrings from the cool box. I was determined to catch the big fish and while I would prefer to get her on a lure, I'm not too proud to resort to deadbaits if I have to. I walked back downstream but didn't go back to the spot where the big fish was at first, instead I stopped off at another pool which I had not fished earlier. This was again a shallow, gravelly spot just behind a bush which somehow had taken root in the river and was diverting the current. I put the floating slider back on and dropped it just beyond the bush and began to work it back. I could see it clearly zig-zagging from side to side and I could also clearly see the pike just behind it swinging its head from left to right in tune with the lure.

The lure swung left, so did the pike, the lure swung right, the pike followed. It was a nice fish, maybe seventeen or eighteen pounds and I had to do something to make it take before I ran out of water and the lure hit the bank. In the end, I did the only thing I could do, I stopped the retrieve and let the lure hang in the water. The pike stopped, looked at the lure for maybe five seconds and then opened its mouth and gulped it in. What happened next was the biggest surprise of all. I had seen the mouth open, I had seen the lure disappear completely and I had seen the mouth close shut yet when I struck, I felt nothing at all, the lure just flew out of the water and whistled past my ear. I watched as the pike sidled back to its lie, both of us utterly confounded by what had happened. I got that fish to follow the lure on the next cast but that was it, it wasn't going to come again and so I moved on, it was time to try for the big one again.

I moved on the spot where the fish lived and clipped on the big Phantom once more. Staying well back from the water's edge so as not to spook the fish, I cast out the lure and worked it back slowly just under the surface. The lure was less than a foot from the bank when the big fish hit, I struck, but this time there was no mistake; "Gotcha!" I said out loud as the rod bent over and the pike started to thrash, half in and half out of the water. I fumbled for the net and stuffed it into the water but made a right hash of things as a loose hook from the lure caught in the mesh making it impossible to net the fish. There was nothing else for it, I was going to have to hand-land this one. I hate hand-landing, it scares the life out of me and it's really not good for the fish but I had no choice, I grabbed the line with my left hand, worked my fingers under the pike's gill plate and hauled her onto dry land, complete with the tethered net.

The hook came out easily and I weighed the fish at 28lbs 10oz, my biggest pike of the season and my last pike from the river until the autumn comes, I couldn't have ended the river season any better than this!

Next on the itinerary was the annual trip to the Lake of Menteith with Mrs Edwards and for a change, although it was a cold day, it didn't rain or snow on us. The fishing was hard, with only one twenty pound plus pike caught between sixty anglers and once again I was upstaged by Clare who had four pike to my none. Her best fish was a fifteen pounder, a personal best which took a half mackerel float legered on the bottom. Almost all the fish caught took deadbaits with very few fish taken on lures and despite lure fishing for most of the day, all I had to show for it was a follow from a small jack. The Lake is a lovely place but I really will have to think long and hard about going back. The fishing is poor now and steadily getting worse. I don't know why this should be, but it's falling into line with so many other places where the pike fishing has deteriorated to the point where it isn't worth making the effort.

Onwards and upwards as they say and at last I've moved on to a new stillwater, and registered the booat there too. It's early days yet but results have been encouraging after two trips with pike to 18lbs 15oz and perch to 2lbs 2oz. It's pretty much all lure fishing at this new place, which suits me just fine and the new bow-mount Minn Kota with iPilot is proving its worth. The spot lock facility enables me to keep the boat in one position, more or less, without having to anchor at all and the speed and direction control enables me to work along a bank dead slow, casting lures as I go. In this respect it's very much like casting and drifting using a drogue except that  I'm no longer at the mercy of the wind speed or direction.

The eighteen pounder was the first fish I caught, I'm hoping to better that soon though, and maybe get myself a twenty or two.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Dodging the Deluge

I'm blogging a month behind I'm afraid, and not just because I'm being lazy. It's very sad when others take your information and use it for their own gain, very sad indeed, but that's where we're up to and so I'll be delaying my reports for the foreseeable future.

Last month saw the river up and down a fair bit. In the past I wouldn't have bothered making the long journey there if I wasn't too sure how the level would be but these days I'm comfortable travelling whatever the weather. Two things have brought this about really, I've joined several clubs that have stretches of the river in different places and I've found that I can catch the pike even in coloured water on lures, more about that later.

I have a total of 40 miles of riverbank that I have access to now and the uppermost stretch is some 50 miles away from the lowest one so it's often the case that I can find a bit of river where the conditions are good, even though other parts of the river might be on the rise or heavily coloured. This hasn't been cheap, I'm paying many hundreds of pounds for my fishing now but I feel it's justified and after all, you can't take it with you. Several times this season I've fished one stretch of river one day and then driven for an hour or so to fish a different stretch the next, finding good conditions at both and catching more fish as a result.

One such trip brought some good fortune when I fished the lower river, picking up only one fish as the conditions there were deteriorating as the river started to rise and to colour up but then switched to the upper river next day where it was starting to fall. There, I had three nice doubles, all from the same swim. Both stretches of river were more coloured than I would normally like but this season I've been using spinnerbaits to great effect, catching even with visibility down to less than a foot.

The spinnerbaits I've been using are Northland's "Booty Call" baits. These have a high volume Flashabou skirt and spoon shaped colorado blades which have a real lumpy action to them. It's this lumpy action that makes the difference, the pike can't see the lures but they can feel the vibration they give off and so home in on them. Lure fishing in coloured water requires a different mindset too though, it isn't sufficient to fish a swim for a short time and then move on as I would with swimbaits, every inch of water has to be covered if you're going to catch.

Pike don't move around much in coloured water, they stay put and they stay in touch with the riverbed as this gives them a reference point. It must be a bit like venturing out on a lake in a boat in fog, you stay close to the shore so that you can tell where you are and where you're going, move away from the shore and you become lost very quickly. The pike can feel the vibration from the lures but they have trouble homing in on them so you have to get that lure close to the fish if they are going to take it. I think nothing of fishing a good swim for up to an hour in dirty water and every cast is fished as tight to the bottom as I can, searching out the two dimensions of the riverbed until the lure encounters a fish.

That trip produced my best fish of the winter (at the time), a 25lb 13oz beauty which took a firetiger spinnerbait virtually under the rod tip. I recognised the fish as one which I caught last winter at 20lb 15oz and you may think that's an exceptional weight gain in one year but it isn't really as the fish last season were in terrible condition due to the prolonged flooding we had had. I've put up two pictures of the pike, one from this year and one from last so that you can draw a comparison. I don't like getting repeat captures, I've already moved off one stretch because I was catching the same fish over and over and I think I'll have to move off this stretch as well now. Some people don't do that of course, they keep flogging away at the same swims and the same fish for years, building up a tally of twenties they can brag about - that's not for me!