Monday, 18 August 2008

What fishing is all about.....

I hate working weekends and five o’clock wouldn’t come quickly enough. The car was already loaded so it was just a case of a quick pit stop at home to pick up Madison and Isaac along with some supplies then we were on our way to fenland. Thankfully the weather was mild and dry so hopefully the evening would be a little more relaxing than our last venture. This time we were fishing in the company of Dale again and my old pal Giles who was bringing his two year old son Charlie for his first ever night in the fens.

We arrived at the river just before seven o’clock, Giles and Charlie were already settled and Dale was setting up. The first problem was a distinct lack of fresh bait as Giles is rubbish at catching it! With a bit of groundbait Giles started catching more regularly while Dale and I set about tackling up for the evening. The kids were supposed to be assisting with the bait catching while I sorted things out but the novelty has worn off and they were more interested in running around in the field and making a fuss of Charlie. By eight o’clock the tent was up, the kids were settled, the net was full of bait and we were ready to relax. I fished the same methods as last week, a ledgered livebait with a bait popper was cast upstream and a Paternostered live chucked straight out in front of me. The buzzers were turned up and the barbecue was lit.

Another friend, Chris joined us without fishing tackle, purely to socialise and thankfully the predicted showers stayed away allowing us to do just that. We watched the sun set and as the darkness descended, we ate a nice hot evening meal and the children settled into the tent. At this point of the evening fishing really was a secondary consideration, yes we had rods fishing and were tuned in to the slightest beep of the alarms but it didn’t matter if we caught a fish or not. The food was good and washed down with a bottle of wine as we chatted the evening away; laughing, reminiscing, theorising, putting the world to rights and generally enjoying each others company. Now this scenario, four blokes drinking alcohol and having a laugh while night fishing for predators on a pleasant summer evening might raise the eyebrows of some in the PC fishing police. I could reassure you that we were still fishing responsibly (which we were), but I don’t give a stuff what anyone thinks. Fishing is about enjoyment and relaxation and that is exactly what we were doing.
Around 9pm we were interrupted by a take on my upstream ledger rod which resulted in the first Zander of the evening, which would have weighed between five and six pounds. The sky cleared, the temperature dropped and the full moon illuminated the bankside, casting shadows; a Tawny owl was calling and still we laughed and talked. We were in general agreement that these clear, moonlit nights were usually unproductive for Zander. This led on to an interesting debate on whether moon-phases and other things trigger predators to feed and so on. This is what a summer night session in the fenlands is all about for me; fun with the kids during the daylight hours and a chilled out evening. I know it’s a horrible cliché but there really is much more to fishing than catching fish.

Midnight came and went, the wine replaced by a boiling kettle and a hot mug of tea. A bank of cloud came up from the south west, obscuring the moon and almost straight away it felt warmer. We were certain that this change would switch the fish on and rebaited our rods with fresh enthusiasm. Sure enough within a few minutes Giles rod was away and another nice Zander was in the net. This was the first Zed he’d caught for about a decade (for a variety of reasons) so he was delighted.
Half an hour or so later it was my turn again, this time the paternoster rod was away and I pulled into a better sized fish. It thrashed on the surface in mid river and it was obviously my best Zander of the season so far. It was soon in the net and tipped the scales at 7.12, very nice. We toasted that fish with one last cup of tea before Chris headed for home and we disappeared under our respective shelters to get a bit of kip before daylight.
I was stirred by a couple of showers in the wee small hours but the next thing I knew it was six am and an alarm was shrieking. This time it was Dale’s turn at long last and he bent into his first ever Zander. He made short work of getting it in the net and at eight & a half pounds it was the biggest fish, of any species, that he has caught to date. His first Zed might remain his biggest for some considerable time!

After that alarm call the camp slowly stirred into life. The children got up and started catching fish on the whip, while I was in charge of cooking breakfast. At this stage of the morning we had a truly momentous event as little Charlie, aged 2 ½ caught his first ever fish, may it be the first of many!
With a clear sky and bright sun it seemed like the chance of action on the livebaits would be over for the day but at around 0830 my upstream ledgered livebait was snaffled by a little Jack Pike, small but absolutely perfect with stunning markings. I debated whether to pack the rod away but what the hell? On with another bait while I tidied the gear away. An hour later this rod trundled off again. I wound down expecting another Jack but no, not a Pike nor a Zander either. It was a Perch and a good fish too which weighed in at 1.12 making it my best of the season so far, I will have to learn how to hold these things for photos though! Soon the kids had tangled the whip rendering it useless and the gear was all but tidied away.
I’m sure I’m guilty of taking my fishing too seriously at times, especially Pike fishing in the autumn and winter but I love this summer nights chilling out in the fens. It was great seeing the kids running around in the meadow, catching fish and going home with mud on their faces. I enjoyed catching the Zander, Pike and that nice big Perch but equally it was great to see Giles grinning with his first Zander for years and it was lovely to see Dale looking at his fish with an expression that said “did I really catch that thing?” It’s more than half way through august now, the Test matches are over for the year, harvest is well under way and it feels like summer is really on the way out. I don’t know if we’ll have enough time for another night session this year but I hope so.


mizlan said...

wow..nice fishing blog,keep up your good fishing...if you came to malaysia,i want to take you fishing snakehead fish with me

Michael Hastings said...

Thanks Mizlan, if I ever make it to Malaysia I'll take you up on that!

T. Brook Smith said...

Michael, I'm wondering about zander. We have walleye here in North America, which are virtually the same thing (just as our pike and yellow perch are almost identical to yours). I understand that zander grow larger than our walleye but I don't really know much about them. Is zander a UK native or was it stocked? How is it managed as a fishery? What kinds of habitat do they need? I've not kept up with European freshwater fisheries much so I'm a little out of touch. Can you say something about the status of that species there?


Michael Hastings said...

Hi Tim, yes from what I can gather Zander are the european Walleye. Not sure what the differences are, but I think they are as close as Pike & Muskie. Zander are native to mainland Europe & were introduced to the UK in the late 1960's. I'm lucky to live in eastern England close to where they were first introduced but they are now slowly spreading across the southern half of the country.
I'm not sure how big Walleye grow but I've caught Zander to over ten pounds and a good friend had one over fifteen pounds. The british record is now over 21 pounds but in Europe they reach weights of over thirty pounds.
Zander & Pike compete in a way, some waters are more suited to Zander & they dominate while others are more suited to Pike. Pike generally do better in clearer water. Zander are normally nocturnal feeders, hence the flash photography!
Most British anglers prefer to fish for species like carp so Zander & other predators are not that popular. Over here when people can't catch the cyprinids they blame the predators and their way of managing them is by throwing them up the bank! Thankfully attitudes are changing and these fish are better respected now. 95% of freshwater fishing is C&R over here now but Zander do taste good! As you may have noticed, I prefer to fish for predators!
Hope this helps, anything else just ask. If I don't know the answer someone else will!!

T. Brook Smith said...

That make me chuckle that you have anglers banking Stizostedeon species in favor of common carp. You might get put away in a mental hospital for doing that here. In the US, walleye are revered and carp are despised.

I should admit up front that I am a committed nativist when it comes to fish. I don't have any problems fishing for stocked fish, but I think their proper place is the frying pan, not the river and I'm not in favor of spreading them any more than they already are. There's a link to the Philosophies of the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance on my blog (I wrote those). That said, I don't have a good understanding of the history of British fisheries so I'll mostly just keep my mouth shut on that score. It is generally my impression that the introductions are very old and the diversity of native freshwater species is relatively low.

One note on the pike/musky. Here in the US we have several species of Esocids, and I think our species of pike is the same as yours. As you note, we also have musky, but three species of pickrel as well. Chain, redfin and grass pickrel are smaller than pike or musky, although chain pickrel can grow to several pounds and some people do target them. Somehow, a remnant population of them even manages to hang on in my home state of Louisiana. Here in Illinois, northern pike, musky and grass pickrel are native. The pike and musky fishery are propped up by stocking since local conditions are no longer suitable for natural reproduction...something many of us would like to see reversed in our lifetime.

Michael Hastings said...

Hello again, I find this stuff fascinating. I don't have any formal scientific training (yet!) but take an interest in the science of fish & fishing.
Carp are by far the most popular sport fish in the UK. They were originally stocked in the 1300's I think, so are not native to the UK. When I was a kid, carp were considered rare, big & difficult to catch. Only a few dedicated & slightly odd anglers would target them, myself included!
Over the last 25 years their popularity has grown and so has the distribution. Individual carp are distinctive due to scale patterns, large specimens are named and actively targetted by anglers! For example the British record was once held by a fish called "Mary", nowadays the largest known carp in the UK is known as "two-tone" and recaptures of this fish keep pushing the record up. I expect this will sound really stupid to you! I very rarely target carp myself these days as I prefer to fish wilder places away from the crowds.
A disturbing trend in recent years has been the creation of so called "commercial fisheries". These are basically small man made lakes that are literally over stocked with small carp, so anglers can catch a hard fighting fish relatively easily. I hate this sort of fishing myself but there you go. The problem arises because many of these waters are dug in the flood plains of our rivers. The river floods, swamps the lake and the carp enter the river. I don't need to tell you what a disaster this is but the attitude is "great, more carp fishing". In the future we will have big problems here in the UK, due to this accidental stocking. I've seen first hand how out of control carp have become in parts of Australia. Catch & release is so ingrained over here, that the thought of culling carp would cause outrage. But as I mentioned ignorant people kill the predators!! I actually put a link to your "Carpbusters" site on a UK online forum and people were horrified, I think a lynch mob is on its way to my house! There is also a worrying trend towards stocking the european Wels catfish & also Sturgeon in these waters too. There has already been reported captures of large Wels in rivers where they don't belong. In northern spain there is a growing tourist industry based around fishing for large catfish up to 200 pounds which were illegally stocked into the river ebro by German anglers in the 1970's
You're right about Pike being the same both sides of the atlantic & I think I'm correct in saying esox lucius is present throughout the northern hemisphere. Pike grow larger in europe than the US though. One of these days I'd like to catch a Muskie, some friends were on Lake of the woods last year & had a great time.
I'm interested in your Pike & Muskie stocking, no one would stock Pike over here!! What causes conditions to get so bad theu can't spawn & what can be done about it?
All the best

T. Brook Smith said...

Michael, thank you for this exchange. Quite enjoyable.

Send your carp-loving lynch mob to my house and I'll be glad to take them on. Better yet, send them to my article about carp on my blog. I haven't had a good debate there yet.

We have pay-to-fish places here in the US as well. The willingness to move non-native species around here is widespread and unapologetic, even with all the diversity of native fish we already have. Too many people here are unwilling to consider the effects of their actions and they'll just stock fish on their own wherever they think it might be spiffy to fish for them. Fortunately these eco-terrorists are finally beginning to meet some resistance. Hopefully their numbers are dwindling and at the very least they won't be wearing uniforms from state fisheries agencies anymore.

I confess I'm not surprised that people target specific carp. Black basses can be territorial too, and from time to time you can identify a real lunker and catch and release him over several years.

It's hard to know exactly why reproduction has failed for Esocid species here in Illinois. I should insert a quick caveat here that their reproduction is GENERALLY unsuccessful. We do have small populations here and there that manage to hang on. One even occurs in a small agricultural ditch a few miles from my house. Their number seem to be declining, probably due to the hoards of disbelieving biologist who seem unable to stop themselves from sampling them over and over, just to convince themselves that pike can really live in water like that (that's facetious, but they do attract a lot of sampling).

The things I think that limit pike here are heat, silt and modified flows. There is a southern genetic strain of muskellunge (I probably misspelled that too...terrible speller here) that can handle the heat, but they don't seem able to deal with all the other modifications to streams here. If you use Google Earth and look at Central Illinois, you'll get the picture rather quickly. The only scraps of wild land left here are along the rivers. Often those are channelized so the low flows in summer are lower than they would normally be, and they peak higher in floods than they normally would. They also receive more silt than they should due to farming and urbanization.

Gradually all of that is improving, but for a species living on the edges of its' thermal tolerance, the outlook isn't especially rosy. The same reproduction problems are also present for Illinois walleye and lake trout in Lake Michigan.

Michael Hastings said...

Hi Tim, yes very interesting.
One of the biggest problems we have in eastern England is rising sea levels, possibly due to global warming.
Its possible that sea walls could crumble allowing salt water to flood low lying fishereies. For example, the River Thurne system which is a historic Pike fishery that has produced natural, wild Pike of over 40 pounds over the years. This fishery could be wiped out by a really high tide!
Also rivers in the fenland region are sometimes pumped low, to get the water out to sea & prevent flooding. This can cause a whole year class of spawn and fry to be washed out.
Luckily there are many more waters that are stable and allow Pike & other fish to thrive but its these wild, natural waters that I love to fish.
Getting back to the moving species topic, I recently upset people by suggesting that Zander should be culled if they were found in certain waters outside their current range. I'm thinking specifically about a few very special, unique fisheries such as the Thurne which I mentioned above.
I did toy with the idea with putting the link to your Carp article on a couple of UK forums but to be honest, you wouldn't get much debate, just abuse from morons!
Nice talkong to you

mizlan said...

from what read at my scholl library..zander or pikeperch,preys heavily on small fish such sa bream,ruffe and roach,and can reach a weightof over 12kg(26lb)
It originally found in the Danube and other waters of northern and central Europe,but it has been introduced as far west of England and its range is slowly spreading.
some introductions have been controversial ,with zander zander being blamed for drastic reductions in local fish populations,but in many waters the introductions seem to caused no major zander story like snakehead in usa..

Michael Hastings said...

Thanks Mizlan, don't know much about Snakehead in the USA, only they have a bad rep.
Zander / prey balance has settled down in most places over here now but they were unjustly blamed for poor fishing in some areas around 25 years ago.