Friday 27 June 2008

Back in the Saddle

I love fishing from my boat but equally I hate all the towing, launching and palaver that goes with it. However once I’m loaded and afloat and the engine is ticking over I’m as happy as Larry. That’s what I done today, for the first time since March I was fishing from my boat, trolling a Fenland river for Pike and Perch to be precise. The weather was mainly cloudy with the sun poking through every now and again and a fresh wind from the west. The river varied from stretch to stretch but was mainly clear and weedy. I had three rods set up; a heavy Jerkbait rod for large Pike lures, a medium lure rod for Pike & Perch and you’ve guessed it a light rod for Perch.

Trolling really is great fun, I love it! Some people seem to think it’s purely a case of dragging lures behind a boat and the fish will throw themselves on the hook. Sadly this isn’t true and trolling needs as much thought and attention as any other style of fishing. Here in East Anglia we don’t have to battle with the technicalities of trolling the vast depths and open waters of a glacial lake, no nothing as easy as that. Trolling the shallow fen rivers is a battle against the weed. The stuff growing up from the river bed or flat on the surface can be overcome quite easily after a bit of trial and error but the stuff that is loose and drifting is a bloody nightmare.

Today there was loads of the drifting crap coming down stream to piss me off and on days like this there’s nothing else to do but wind in, strip the lure and get it back out there again. Try doing that whilst trolling two rods and steering at the same time and then say it’s an easy, lazy method. Those guys up north have it easy, all that deep, clear, weed free water – they couldn’t hack it on a proper eastern river! Usually this river is prolific and the sport can be hectic but today started slowly, partly due to chopping and changing a few lures to find a couple that would run in the zone between the weed and the surface.

I spent a couple of hours going over a stretch between two drains that had been very productive in previous seasons. I began by fishing the heavier gear and larger lures, catching a couple of Jacks for my trouble then scaled down and caught my first Perch of the season on a trolled spinner. When I was a kid, Perch were not exactly rare in this part of the world but nowhere near as prolific as they are today. All the time I spent lure fishing as a youngster – using plugs and spinners that would be considered small by today’s standards yet I can only remember catching one or two Perch on lures. Last season I jammed an absolute monster whilst Pike fishing and since then I’ve caught many more Perch on lures by design yet I still get a buzz from doing so, it may sound daft but every Perch I catch on a lure is still a surprise to me.

After trolling the stretch a few times I cut the engine and drifted down on the current, switching rods and lures as I went. This produced another Jack and another small Perch on the spinner before I noticed a good sized Perch which seemed to be using the boat as cover. I flicked the spinner just ahead of it and wound it back towards the Perch which swam forward and engulfed it, easy as you like! This fish gave a good scrap on the lighter gear before I got it to the boat. I weighed it at 1lb 9ozs and to be honest I thought it was bigger. It was a tatty old fish with missing fins and scars; it looked like it had been in a close encounter with a decent Pike in its past. Or maybe it got in this state because it’s so daft and easy to catch!

Soon after I was back on the engine and went for a long troll downstream. I noticed that a lot of so called bankside “improvements” had taken place since my last visit about six months previously. Lots of bankside bushes had been removed and I can’t think why? They overhung the water and provided cover for fish but nowhere near enough to impede navigation, I can only guess that an over zealous angling club want to make access easier for their members. Twats! Anyway I caught a couple more Pike in areas that I had caught from in the past but noticed that some places that had been consistently good previously were unproductive. Was this because the bloody bushes had been cut down by some no brain Nazis? Only time will tell.

I started to make my way back to base, concentrating on the Perch and picked them up at intervals. The spinner generally caught me smaller fish of 6 – 8ozs whilst I picked up fish of 12ozs + on an alphabet lure called a “Cobra” which is odd as it has a flashing red light inside it. I’m not sure if this improves catches but it doesn’t seem to put them off. I wasn’t far from the launch site when the spinner was taken again and I wasn’t sure what I’d hooked. It turned out to be a Chub of about a pound which was a welcome surprise. I finished fishing around 1:30 pm with six small Pike and eight Perch, (as well as the Chub) which was nice but nothing special for this river. Disappointing? No, a day afloat on the Fen Rivers is always time well spent.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Due to circumstances beyond my control (i.e. work), I hadn’t been able to get on a river since the season opened last Monday and the first weekend was taken up with a family break. However this weekend break was on the Norfolk coast within striking distance of my absolute favourite fishing venue; a river I call Eden. At 0530 I found myself on the banks of the river with a lure rod in hand. After weeks of fishing behind buzzers with buckets of bait and a pile of tackle, the simplicity of lure fishing was a joy; Rod, net, rucksack, a box of lures in my pocket and me. As much as I enjoy Tench fishing I struggle, I really am a fish out of water but with the Pike fishing I just feel comfortable.

Anyway back to the fishing. Conditions looked good, broken cloud and a little wind, the river was calm and clear. I considered clipping on an old faithful spinnerbait but decided on something a little more subtle to start off with, a Zoota Wagtail fit the bill, a curly tailed soft bait that was light enough to fish up in the upper layers. I worked my way along the boat dyke, here the weed had been cut and I didn’t see any sign of a fish. Reaching the main river the Polaroids revealed thick weed growing to within about a foot of the surface, it looked perfect. First cast upstream, a couple of turns of the handle and bang! The first Pike of the season was hooked and after the briefest struggle on over powerful tackle, was lifted ashore. She was small but very, very welcome.

I slowly made my way downstream, casting the Wagtail ahead of me and covering the water thoroughly. Another small Pike followed aggressively then sat dead still as if nothing at all had happened, despite my best attempts to stir a reaction that Pike just didn’t want to know. A bit further downstream and the Wagtail was nailed properly for a second time and a slightly larger Pike brought to the bank and quickly returned. I kept moving downstream, through a narrow reedy section where access was difficult, and was rewarded with Pike number three which had engulfed the Wagtail. I reached a nice bend which allowed me to cover a lot of water and looked like it just had to hold a Pike or two. It took a while but eventually the Wagtail lured a fourth Pike of the morning. This one would have weighed around six pounds, not a monster but good fun all the same.

I was happy with what I’d caught so decided to retrace my steps back to the car with a cast or two here and there along the way. I switched to a “Slither” Jerkbait made by Dave Greenwood. Short sharp turns of the handle kept this lure gliding side to side quickly, just above the weed and below the surface. Two more small Pike came in consecutive casts, from a swim I’d already fished with the Wagtail. Halfway along the stretch I couldn’t resist a cast into a weedy side drain which looked very Pikey. Bang! Pike number seven of the morning was soon lifted ashore. As I neared the car I could clearly see a couple of small Pike in the weed but they weren’t at all interested in my lures, not the Slither or my home made spinnerbait. Another slightly larger fish roared up to the Slither looking for all the world like it was going to slam into the lure but stopped dead in its tracks and never moved an inch afterwards. I realised that I hadn’t hooked any of the Pike I’d actually seen, all seven fish that I’d banked had come out of nowhere.

That was that, two hours fishing, a couple of miles walked and seven Pike hooked, landed and quickly returned. All the fish were bullied to the bank using a Fox Elite Jerkbait rod, Abu 6501 reel loaded with 80 pounds Power pro and 90 pounds lure trace, both the latter from DLST (see link). All seven fish powered off, none the worse for the experience when released. Oh and if any members of the Pike police are horrified by the lack of unhooking mat in the photo, the fish were laid on soft grass dampened by overnight rain. Believe it or not, unhooking mats haven’t been around forever and if the banks are soft, Pike do survive without them.

Saturday 14 June 2008

One of those days....

I was back at the pit and fishing in my pre-baited swim by 0515. It looked great, eight feet of water beneath trailing Alders and an Island in front of me with a nice westerly cross wind rippling the water. I chucked a method feeder baited with fake corn & maggots out to the Island and dropped a PVA bag rig baited with mini boilies into the margins, then sat back to wait for the fish to crawl up my rod. From this high point the day went slowly but steadily downhill.

Problems started almost straight away, the cast to the island was more difficult than I anticipated due to trees growing above me. I had to wade out and crouch down in order to get a clean cast and in doing so managed to wet my back side more than once. Even so my casting wasn’t as accurate as I liked and if anything got worse with each attempt, perhaps I should get a bait-boat! After a couple of hours I had a moment of complete genius! I swapped rods, dropping the method feeder under the tree and casting a PVA bag to the island. I decided to put a few balls of groundbait out to the island but on the fourth ball my catapult gave up the ghost, spraying the bait and rapping my knuckles in the process. My casting accuracy improved straight away but my next problem was damp PVA as a couple of bags decided to fly one way while my rig went the other. While all this was happening I had the radio on, listening to England getting hammered by the “All Blacks”.

By now it was mid morning and despite having the odd twitchy liner type thing on both rods, no proper takes had developed. I thought I’d try something different as I was losing faith in the strength of my PVA so I rummaged in the bottom of my rucksack and found a block end feeder. With a bit of tinkering I had a feeder rig set up which I could actually cast where I wanted and keep the feed where it was supposed to be. This was working fine, still no takes but I was casting accurately and my confidence was increasing. Then I managed to knock my almost full bait box full of maggots into the drink… back to the PVA bags then. I decided to rig up a waggler rod and float fish some corn in the margins to pass the time and perhaps catch a Roach or two, if not a Tench or Bream. I should have known better. I fished with this rod for about half an hour without a bite before a brainless cast saw my float hanging from the trees above me.

Enough was enough, the fish didn’t want to know and I decided to take myself away before any more disasters befell me. My annual spring bash at catching a proper Tench ends in glorious failure once again. Strange but when I used to fish for Carp, I couldn’t help but catch Tench; perhaps there’s a lesson there? The rivers open on Monday so I will spend a few weeks fishing for predators; Pike first, then Perch and Zander with the kids when the summer holidays start. Who knows maybe I’ll have a rematch with those bloody Tench before the summer ends!

Thursday 12 June 2008

Not Tench but...

I was looking forward to another crack at the Tench so much I couldn’t sleep. This is usual for me when Pike fishing but Tench? I’d checked out a nice looking swim on my last visit and really fancied my chances. I rolled up at around 5am this morning and the swim was free, so after a brief look around I settled in. An hour later I was moving out again!! Unfortunately I hadn’t accounted for another three weeks weed growth, not only was the reedy point I wanted to cast to now a weedy, reedy point but a lot of lily pads had surfaced in between. I could have found a way to fish my hookbaits where I’d intended but I wasn’t confident I’d be able to land any fish I hooked. In short I was neither comfortable nor confident so I had to move.

It wasn’t long before I was settled in further down the bank. I dropped a PVA bag full of pellets into six feet of water along a sheltered margin to my left, this was baited with popped up mini boilies. I’d considered using a maggot feeder on another rod but ended up using a method feeder with a tuna groundbait and a highly sophisticated hook arrangement. I hair rigged a piece of fake corn and put three red maggots on a size 14 hook. This was cast about thirty metres to the edge of a bed of lily pads. On a third rod I fished a waggler and used a single grain of corn close in on the right of the swim.

As usual the method feeder was getting attention from the start, with short pulls and twitches. After half an hour a proper take developed but the hook pulled almost straight away. By now the sun was high and another warm day, the third in a row, was underway. Several Carp were cruising around, not cruising in a looking for food kind of way but in a highly animated fashion and were spawning by early afternoon. This surprised me as Carp had been spawning exactly a month ago when I fished this pit for the first time.

I’d spent ninety minutes in the new swim before the method feeder trundled off again. At first I thought I’d missed it but in the margins I noticed a skimmer hanging on the end. An hour or so later the same rod went again and another Bream landed, double the size of the first. I had a few bites on the waggler rod too, landing a couple of nice Roach. When I say nice, put it this way, had it been winter, one of the Roach would have been too big for the livebait bucket. The margin rod with the PVA bag hadn’t moved so I cast it to the pads where I’d been getting action on the method feeder. During the remainder of the session I had a few pulls on this rod but no proper takes. At this point I have a confession to make, as nothing happened I decided to try to catch a Carp on this rod. They had been cruising over my baited areas without showing any interest nor had they even looked at some floating baits I had thrown in. I changed this rod to a zig rig with a pop up bait fished a foot below the surface………..but this didn’t work either!

Just after 11am with the sun high in the sky the method feeder roared off once again and this time I found myself attached to something a bit more substantial. The culprit was another Bream and this one actually put up a bit of a fight in the margins. Over the years I have been even less successful at catching big Bream than I have Tench. Does that make sense? What I mean is, I’m crap at catching Tench but even worse at catching Bream. Anyway I slipped this on the scales and it weighed 5 ¼ pounds which was nice. If my memory is correct I caught my very first ever Bream from this very pit nearly thirty years ago and in all this time I’m sure this Bream is the largest I’ve ever caught here.

By this time the carp were busy trying to demolish the lily pads and I could see small Tench cruising around in a similar animated manner to how the Carp had been behaving earlier. I’d had enough, time to head off home.

So far I’ve only fished the older part of the pit, which apart from silt encroachment in places is very similar to how I remember fishing it as a kid. Before leaving I had a look around at the northern end of the pit which has been reworked and is deeper and has less weed. As I’ve neither seen nor caught any big Tench in the shallow weedy area its high time I gave this end a go. I found a nice swim tucked away which looks like it hardly gets fished. There’s a cast to the back of a small island as well as a nice tree shaded margin. As I’m back on the pit in a couple of days I decided to pre-bait with the leftover groundbait and a couple of kilos of tuna pellets. Watch this space.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

Summer ??

Although its June already there seems to be no sign of summer just yet. Rain, rain and more rain which is not all bad as it should freshen the rivers up for the start of the season in just over a weeks time. As much as I like the Tench fishing, nowadays I spend most of my time fishing rivers and when they open on the sixteenth I'll be spoilt for choice again.
I enjoy fishing for Pike in the summer and as summer Piking is a contentious subject I’ll get it out of the way now. It is important to remember the great diversity of Pike waters in the British Isles and what applies to a relatively shallow pit in the south of England will be irrelevant to the fishing on a glacial lake up north.
My personal rule book is as follows;
  • I never target Pike with live or deadbaits from April through to September. I believe the Pike’s faster metabolism at this time of year makes deep hooking a possibility. This will potentially lead to the Pike being out of the water for far too long. All my Pike fishing during the warmer months is done with lures.
  • In the past I’ve enjoyed fishing stillwaters in the spring but as soon as the river season opens I exclusively fish rivers or drains in the months of June and early July. The waters I fish are relatively fast flowing and well oxygenated. By mid July the waters are usually too weedy for effective fishing and water temperatures are high enough to put the Pike off the feed.
  • I use heavy tackle, Jerkbait rod with 80 pounds b.s. braid and bully the fish to the net as quickly as possible. I’m not a fan of huge lures, the biggest I use are around 8 inches or 20 cms in length. Fish are very often unhooked in the water, hooks cut out if necessary, those that are brought into the air are returned as quickly as possible.
  • I do not fish for Pike in hot weather, (warm weather –yes, hot weather –no), as a generalisation sustained air temperatures of 22 to 24 degrees Celsius make me think twice about Pike fishing, any hotter forget it. Personally, nothing I have witnessed leads me to believe that Pike caught in hot weather are likely to die, however I do know from experience they are unlikely to feed.
Summer Pike caught on a surface lure

There are more guidelines on summer Pike fishing available on the PAC website. Having said all of that, I haven’t fished for Pike at all this spring, nor have I felt like doing so but I am looking forward to launching the boat when the rivers open, not just for the Pike but for the Perch too.

Sunday was the annual open day held by NACA at Bawburgh lakes in Norfolk. Despite sounding slightly rude, NACA actually stands for Norfolk Anglers Conservation Association. This is a very forward thinking club that run some excellent fisheries and is more than just a fishing club. To quote the club’s objectives; “To campaign for and to promote a clean and healthy aquatic environment in which all forms of wildlife can thrive and prosper.”
Sunday’s event was sponsored by the Environment agency (shock horror) and consisted of a few tackle or bait stands, plus lots of demonstrations and coaching in all disciplines of angling including; Match, Carp, Tench and Pike fishing. I was there to help with the PAC stand. It was really nice to see lots of kids getting involved and having a good time. Bob Nudd was there too, with his new white cap complete with Fox logo, more living proof that being a full time professional angler is not a guarantee of happiness. Although he didn’t come anywhere near the PAC stand, I can categorically dispel the rumour that Bob’s hair is actually attached to the rim of his hat.
It’s a crying shame the angling clubs in Suffolk are not run on the NACA model, instead of the insular, match dominated organisations we are stranded with down here. I suppose it could be argued that these clubs are run by match anglers for match anglers (with a few crumbs cast aside for the carpers), therefore we get what we deserve. Attempts by local PAC members to open dialogue with these "power mongers" were met with blank stares and giggling into hands. The club lost half a dozen members that night but at least our cash won’t be converted into silly little carp and stuffed into an over stocked murky puddle.