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!

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