Thursday, 26 February 2015

In all conditions.

I knew the conditions were going to end up a little peaky this past weekend and in all honesty I was actually kind of up for a little challenge. You see I've been pondering the subject of fishing conditions, even more specifically I've been considering canal conditions.

For those normal and non Gongoozlers amongst us the common British canal has one condition, that being the colour of tea with not too much milk added. For those of us who spend more than what is considered a sensible amount of time looking at canal water we know that there is in fact a myriad of different colours and tones. On most weekends a new hue is revealed and I've discovered so many myself that they now just don't seem shocking any more, I just get on with fishing.

In the past and in most facets of fishing I have taken part in, I have always looked for optimum conditions in which to fish, so as I might increase my chance of capturing my target. For example, I would look towards the river to catch a barbel if it was falling and clearing after being in summer flood. But something I've been thinking of late is that to be truly good at one particular area of fishing you have to be able to make it work in the worst conditions. Using the barbel as an example again, I know an angler who shall remain nameless who has the skills to catch barbel in most conditions and this skill is what makes him arguably one of the most accomplished barbel anglers in the country. 

Now if I lay it on the table and say that I would like to become an accomplished lure angler, it would then be obvious for me to say to become an accomplished lure angler I would have to try and evolve my lure fishing to the point where I can catch in all conditions, no matter how bad they are. So after a little round about explanation I am back to where this all began and found myself actually wanting to go out lure fishing, knowing full and well that the water would be in a bad way and I would be freezing.

Saturday was my first foray and as predicted it was a bit changeable. The canal was carrying some heavy colour and the sky was made up of a bright azure background punctuated by various black clouds which quickly passed over occasionally depositing their contents. I even made the effort to dip my hand in the water and try to detect any difference in temperature. Simply put, it felt cold but it did feel of a similar temp to the air, which at around three to four degrees sounded about right and made me realize it was going to be a big ask to try and interest fish to attack lures.

In my first spot I went all in and began by chucking a three and a half inch wave Tiki grub into a known zander holding area. I'd only made a few casts before it began to rain which quickly turned to hail. Somewhere in the first twenty casts I was sure I felt something grab the lure, but continued casts brought nothing. I then changed to my finesse outfit and dropped down to a tiny one inch oil coloured kyopto. This bought no interest either so I began working along the canal margins where I eventually received a right old thump as a nice perch of a pound or more engulfed my lure. Stupidly thinking this was just the start and I was about to get into them I never bothered getting a picture.

True to form I never got another hit from a single perch. I did however find a school of tiny zander held up against the hull of a barge which I plundered four striplings from. The quickly setting sun urged me to go and check out a second zander holding spot further down the canal as the dusk came in. This time I ran the day out bouncing a fox spiky shad through the trench where I was sure they were holding. Reluctant to move on I kept covering the water and not long before my time ran out a got a hit right at the end of the retrieve. Unluckily the hook didn't quite hold and after a few head shakes, what I suspect was an alright zander got free.

That was it for that session, but considering the terrible water conditions and the dreadful weather above the surface I actually think that four zander, one OK perch and few other bits of various action was a general result when everything was against me.

If I thought that bit of canal was in a state the bit I dropped onto the following morning was horrendous. Barely a couple of inches visibility, full of twigs were the BW had trimmed a load of cover back and largely frozen. If I wanted a test, this was it! Where I would fish was largely dictated by where didn't have ice and luckily there was a few bits where it hadn't encroached.

Not long in on the first spot bouncing a little grub around I picked up a small yet rather angry perch and by repeating the cast god knows how many times, I got hit twice more, neither of which stayed on for long. After thrashing the water to foam in the first ice free spot I moved onto the next. I’ve never really fancied this area but today it was forced on me a by the lack of other water to fish, and I am kind of glad it was. After working it over for half an hour I moved into a savage snag filled area. Only a few casts in I was feeling my lure down to the bottom with a tight line when I felt a definite tug and a quick strike drove the hook home on a particularly pissed off zander.

Then in the last section of ice free canal I again struck into another zander as it nipped a hold of my tiny grub. I say nipped because I get the impression that zander seem to follow the lure and then just nip onto its tail. Whether I hook them seems purely down to how much of the lure is in their mouth. Weirdly after zig-zagging about a bit I am sure the fish just let go of the lure as there was no head shaking that proceeded the lure coming flying out of the water.

Only one area remained to try and that was one I knew would be ice free. The only problem was it was on the end of a bend where all the sticks had collected so the area was in fact reduced by two thirds. I did get on hit right in the margin, but a hit was all it was and no fish was forthcoming

Now, I am going to mark these sessions as a resounding success because of the considerable amount of interest I managed to generate on the light lures when the canals were basically a load of rubbish. Saying that I must say that I find it a little concerning how many fish hit/grabbed/nipped my lure and got off compared to how many I actually hooked and landed. I know I could attribute it to fussy feeding, but I do suspect it could be something else that I will have to watch out for over the coming sessions.

Friday, 20 February 2015

A right old snapper on a brand new snapper.

The things that excite me have changed through my life. When I was ten just the slightest thought of a holiday in Skegness was enough to drive me insane with excitement. At thirteen it was the idea of trying to catch the seemingly impossible fish I'd seen in the Anglers Mail that really got me going. By my late teens it was... well we all know what stimulates lads of that age don't we. By my twenties it was all about the excitement of parties and festivals. Now though in my late thirties things have calmed down a bit and I appreciate the smaller things, although that's not to say that I still don't get excited, it's just that I get more excited about specific things.

Two weeks ago a very nice courier knocked on my work shop door in the pouring rain holding a four foot long hard tube package. This I was excited about, as for some time I had been trying to get my hands on what was inside, with some trouble may I add. When I had first seen the new Korum snapper lure rods I had not paid them much heed. But since beginning this lure fishing thing I currently find myself entrenched in I felt I needed a rod with the capability of throwing some small to medium sized lures. Now I didn't want a broomstick job, but rather something capable of throwing small jerk baits, poppers and some bigger jigs which I intend to use as the canals warm up. The other thing was that I didn't want to part with a great deal of money for this all rounder either. It didn't take me long to come back to the snapper range and quickly the seven foot 10-30gm snapper lure rod seemed a good option. Getting the rod was another thing entirely! Without going into details three or more retailers struggled to hook me up, that was until I checked the Angling Direct website which showed one left over which I quickly purchased.

With a shiny new rod in my possession I was as you might have realized a little excited to get cracking and have a chuck with it. Only everywhere had frozen over, leaving the only option to stare at my new purchase at home indoors, pining to be able to get out and use it. Finally, after two weeks, I found myself ready and able to go. Now though all that remained was the question of where might be the appropriate venue to try and stick a bend in this new rod that would live up to all the excitement... and there was only one place that I could think of that could possibly live up to the expectations I had.

Once again I found myself crossing the fence that marked the boundaries of the little country estate that is home to the shallow lake forgotten by both anglers and time. Neglect though is friend to us brothers of angle and while one by one the chaps that once fished from its well manicured law drifted away to more commercial venues nature took back control and things changed so that now the forgotten lake literally crawls with jack pike, and it's those pike which made this the perfect place to try out my new rod.

Although the neglect of this lake has in one way done me a favour, it is on the other hand slowly but surely strangling the lake with the constant winter deposits of silt. One half of the lake is barely two feet deep, and although the old course of the river they dammed to make this lake still holds some depth, the rest or the bottom still creeps ever skywards. Not only is it shallow but it is also littered with snags of every sort and thus is a bit of a mine field in reality. This was why I made the decision to fish a lure that number one, floated and number two, was cheap.

The devils own floating minnow in orange/gold I chose to use fit the bill all round. At first glance it looks a normal plug and I took me a bit of staring to see it unintentionally isn't. It's the position of the diving vein that's a bit odd. Unlike a lot of plugs the diving vein is positioned quite far back from the nose, that, combined with its small size and its angle means on a lazy retrieve it doesn't dive far and does so with awkward wobble that actually looks good in the water. Bang the rod tip down on the retrieve and this cheap and cheerful lure goes mad darting around, which was just the sort of trait I fancied would stimulate the jacks to attack.

The lure choice was spot on and even given the lure was not good on the cast, my new rod was powering it out well enough. I knew a few runs through the first swim would stimulate the pike from their torpors amongst last year's rotten weeds and all the other debris scattered on the bottom. The first tiny jack struck half way back on tenth cast, and at a mere two pounds fought well above its weight in the shallow water. Then a few casts later number two came along, following the lure right to the bank before tearing at it and surging back out into the lack with the lure sideways on his mouth. The day couldn't have started any better with two hard fighting pike attacking within the first twenty minutes in the first swim. Little did I know that there was still so much more to come early on in the day!

So far I had only cast into the slightly deeper water and as yet had not dared venture into the snaggy shallows to my left. Given that the areas I had fished already produced two fish, the next cast had to go into the shallows. On the first couple of runs through I could feel the snatches reverberate back up the line as the lure hooked various bits of rubbish. The next cast I slowed my retrieve further but added a few more taps of the rod to animate the lure. I watched the braid rise up in the water as the lure neared the bank and the out of the blue the water erupted like a mine had gone off subsurface.

The new rod took a much more severe bend than I'd seen so far, which prompted me to exclaim it was a larger fish. Then all hell broke loose as the bigger fish battered around in the shallow water like a torpedo tethered. The water, being gin clear gave me decent view now and again of a nice pike angrily thrashing, mouth open trying to eject the lure. Out of the blue it did the most magnificent power surge from the far left of the swim to the far right. In doing so it disturbed a second big pike that was hiding under a willow tree, which seemed to charge out as if to attack the hooked fish then just shot off out into the pool. Not long after this I got my first good view of the fish and realized why the second pike may have aborted its attack as it slipped into my waiting net.  

As I lifted the net the fish did a little thrash which as so often happens sends the hook or lure flying out of their mouths and makes us think, thank god that happens in the net and not in the water. Then as I lowered the net the true size of this beast became clear, this fish looked like she could be the mother of all the little jack pike that fill the forgotten estate lake,and judging from her girth I fear she might have had something of the cannibal about her as well.

I was damn sure seeing how big she was, that the scales stood a good chance of going past that magic number of twenty pounds, but after a quick weigh in the net (which I had to use as I didn't have a sling big enough) she fell a bit short. Not that I cared though as I had just caught a fish three times bigger than anything I'd ever caught from a lake where I honestly thought there was no real monsters.

As for the rod, what can I say other than bravo Korum. Not only did it feel great whilst casting all day, but it also struck the lure home brilliantly on loads of jacks through the day and it felt responsive whilst seeming to have power in reserve when playing the big girl in the shallows. I wasn't going to include this final picture as I look a right knob with my left arm hooked up on the taught line, but in the end I felt I had to as it really showed how big the pike was in comparison to how slight the new rod that landed it is.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Churlish chubbing.

I am envious of people who live in countries where it actually gets cold enough for their local waters to freeze sufficiently for them to ice fish. Here in the UK when our waters ice up it's little more than a cursed inconvenience, as the ice never gets more than a few inches thick and you yourself would be thick if you even stuck so much as a foot on it. In the likes of the US, Canada and northern Europe it seems they most years freeze up with enough thickness of ice that you can actually drive trucks and some quite large trucks at that, whereas all our ice is any good for is keeping us at home doing flipping chores.

The reason I moan is as you may have guessed the general lack of liquid water after a couple of weeks of low temps. Now I know people will thinking 'well what about the rivers' and I know it might seem churlish for me to say that right now I am not really feeling the flow of the river. It sounds even more churlish when I say that for the last few years I've been not that bothered by chub fishing even though it's probably the only source of reliable winter fishing.

In truth right now all I seem to be able to think about or fancy doing is lure fishing, hence the envy levied at those lucky enough to be able to drive onto, drill a hole and fish a jig under the ice. My envy aside I did actually get out fishing once some time off work finally came round, and even though I was intending to go chub fishing using some more classical tactics I can't deny that I did have a drop shot rod residing in my quiver. 

The heavy frost was still clinging to the world when I pulled off the road, and looking across the field towards the Avon I could see nothing else had set foot in this field as yet. It wasn't this field that drew me though, but instead one down a path and across a few ditches that really seemed right for today. So after navigating two frozen mud filled ditches I found myself looking across another field from behind a barbed wire fence. It should be worth saying at this point that this particular field has caused me a few headaches before by way of its inhabitants. You see for a large part of the year it is used as grazing for a group of horses and in the past those horses have been a little too inquisitive for my liking. Don't get me wrong I am not feared of our equine friends, but when I am keeping low down close to the river the last thing I want is a few hundred pounds of pony sniffing around me or a harras of them hurtling round the field which let me say has happened in the past. Largely my problem lies with this particular group and the fact that they seem not to interact particularly well with me.

Anyway as I stood looking into the pasture it seemed I might have been in luck and not a single colt, mare or stud could be seen within the boundaries of the field. That was quite literally until I cocked my leg to step over the barbed wire fence, whereupon the ground began to rumble and the ice in the ditch cracked as two huge stallions appeared from nowhere and charged within feet of me steaming snorting and braying like the devils own steeds. Still frozen on the spot half cocked over the fence I watched as they proceeded to do tight circles in front of me before beginning to buck like broncos shot in the ass with a cattle prod. There was literally more chance of me winning the lottery than me going into that field after that kind of display. So I did the only thing I could and uncocked my leg, waded back through the ditches and went back down the path towards the certainly vacant yet all together poorer fishing field.

In the end I found myself perched rather precariously on a vertical bank fishing what I can only describe as a spasmodically productive run. It's a cracking looking spot where the main flow is pushed onto into a narrow shallow gravel run by a massive reed bed. At the end of the run which was for the record just a bit further upstream than myself the water suddenly deepens off as it collides with a overhanging tree. Between me and the flow it is just a big eddy where some of the deflected water heads back up river to be sucked back into the flow. It really is one of those swims when you have to make the right cast or it just doesn't happen. There is a hole in the overhanging branches just before the tree that's in the water and if your under arm cast doesn't get caught up on its way in, your bait ends up making bottom right under the mat of debris.

For the longest time I used to try and fish this swim on a tight line, but I soon figured that by using a weight that only just held bottom and by paying out a small bow of line, I could actually get the bait to get dragged right under the snags by the current. Once I discovered this my catches from this swim went from the odd fish to multiple catches

So, first cast I leant forward on my seat and fired the rig into the gap better than I had ever done before. I paid a bit of line and put the rod in the rests. For once I'd got the weight to flow ratio spot on first time and periodically I could see the weight hold position for a short while until the flow dislodged it. Then out of the blue my rod tip nodded twice before springing back and that where I struck into my first chub. Sadly my reel didn't feel much like paying out any line and somewhere as I fiddled with the clutch the first one got free. I thought that was the end of it in all honesty, but after giving the swim a bit of time to settle down whilst I farted around in the eddy with the drop shot rod I again chanced a cast. Lo and behold I was right to stick around as the next tootle through the rod banged over as long lean chub engulfed the bait. It was as that fish recovered in the net that I realized that I had forgotten to pack my camera and thus my only option for a photo was crappy phone snaps today.

I knew I would end up regretting forgetting my camera and I wasn't that wrong either, as even in the bright sun the chub were up for a feeding. After landing a couple of small black tail chub  I found a third and final better fish hiding right at the end of the snags which after a particularity dirty fight, found its way into the net.

All in all it ended up being a successful little outing, and even though it wasn't what I really wanted to be out doing it actually was quite satisfying to see that even though I have neglected both the river and chub of late, my skills and knowledge are as good as ever. Saying that if the temperatures stay high for a while I think I will get my actually be able to get onto a few waters I've been dying to fish that have been off the menu due to their generally frozen nature, and if not well maybe I will chance those wild horses for a cast in the other field.

Monday, 2 February 2015

A new mobile approach.

Prior to the weekend I spent an inordinately large amount of time trying my best to devise a suitably efficient way to fish using both lures and dead baits. The crux of which has come down to quantity of tackle I want to carry. The reason I want to refine everything is my need to keep as mobile as possible whilst still giving myself options. Having already scaled my general kit down to a backpack, fold up landing net which hooks onto the aforementioned backpack, rods remained the only decision. I was always going to take my super light finesse outfit as it's the method I most wanted to concentrate on. The dead bait rod though was something I needed to review. 

I have for the longest time favoured barbel rods of either one and a quarter or one and three quarter pound test curve for my zander fishing and to save having to swap between the two I have always leaned to the heavier end of that spectrum just in case. But lately having seen how well modern short lure rods perform I've been thinking the barbel rods needed reassessing and that after doing so that they wouldn't make the cut for my updated canal kit. Hence I came up with the idea to scale down my zander rigs so as I could fish them on a shorter and lighter general purpose lure rod. This way not only could I use the outfit to fish a small dead bait on a float, but should I want to remove that rig and tie on a trace to fish larger lures I would have that option at my disposal.

With a two week solid block of work in the pipe line I was eager to hit the tow path as soon as possible to try out this new system. Now I should make it clear that given the current weather conditions I knew it was going to be a bit hit and miss in regards to finding unfrozen water and therefore even before I left the house I had the feeling I would be concentrating my efforts on metres of tow path instead of miles of canal.

My first session was a bit of a gamble as I was having to travel with no knowledge of whether the stretch of canal where I was going would be frozen. Luckily for me there was at least some free water when I arrived but it was still thawing, probably reducing the temp of the surrounding water as it did. So undeterred, I picked a starting point and began. In these conditions I knew I was looking to try and find pockets of fish grouped in specific areas and therefore if no indications of interest were forthcoming within half an hour of working and area over I moved on.

The first few spots produced zip, but not long after finding a sheltered area out of the wind where I surmised the sun had been on the water recently, I got a run on my scaled down dead rig which was holding steady just at the bottom of the trench off to my right. The culprit which turned out to be a small zander was very welcome not only to break the blank but as an indicator that other fish might be present.

After returning the micro zed I turned the attentions of my finesse outfit onto the area only to receive a definite snatch as I bounced a small black and chartreuse kopyto shad slowly along the clean bottom. But even after casting the water into a foam I couldn't get anything to really grab the lure. I did go through a few other different soft lures but they to brought no response either. 

Knowing there was fish that might be persuaded to attack in the area I was reluctant to leave and so instead changed angles by moving a short distance to my left. I was watching the dead float catching the tow as I once again retrieving the little kopyto shad. As it came up the nearside shelf it went solid as if I'd found a old branch of something on the bottom, but then it moved off zigzagging the line across the water. This little outfit might seem a little frail a first glance but I've quickly realised that once the sensitive tip bends right round the back bone of the rod kicks in and absorbs all the fight. In this case it was a beautiful thick set perch that had grabbed the little green shad.

I was out the very next day on a totally different canal and the conditions were totally different. As on the previous venue there was still ice which was also thawing, but whereas yesterdays stretch had maybe a foot and a half visibility, this one had mere inches. The water was that ubiquitous winter canal tea cup brown and the lures disappeared almost instantly after entering the water. Last visit though I had quite a bit of success using a small black curly tail grub and I still had confidence it would work again.

For once I was right and in just about every area I fished I would locate a shoal of perch somewhere whilst fan casting around the swim. Even as small as they were its very rewarding casting around and regularly getting miniature thumps and hits from these veracious little hunters. 

Quite happily I moved along the canal all morning fishing half an hour or more in each area until I felt the bites dried up and moved on. Even catching only small perch I was content knowing that sooner or later with the number of fish I was catching that something bigger might turn up. But I could never have predicted what that bigger fish would be.

There was a group of ducks getting a bit frisky a ways up the canal and truthfully I felt their amorous behaviour had probably spoilt the area they were in. Nevertheless I gave it a go and when I arrived they had shoved off. I flicked a slightly larger Hart M minnow on a 2 gram jig head tight under the far bank cover, felt it down onto the bottom and watched the yellow braid fall slack as it hit the mud. Literally I tightened up and jerked the lure up once, twice then a third time before I felt one of the hardest bangs I've ever had on a lure.

Obviously I had hooked something of a much larger size and straight away it was powering around the swim as I stood on the opposite bank desperately trying to steer it away from the snaggy far margin. Having only caught perch so far my first thoughts were of a big perch, or maybe that was just hope. Sense though soon prevailed and my theory changed from perch to zander. The fight though went on far too long for a zander and then the obvious culprit became a pike of possibly some size.

The fish though seemed to not be satisfied with just powering around in the centre of the canal as I would of expected a pike to do. Then all too soon things got a bit dirty as the still unseen fish began charging towards any bit of cover on my own bank. Finally it came to the surface and I spotted a very un-pike like flank roll. Then a few more charges and turns later it surface properly and it's true identity was reviled by a pair big rubbery lips that framed a mouth big enough to throw a golf ball down. I had landed certainly my biggest canal chub and even better I had done it on a finesse lure outfit. 

Lying in the soft grass on my net which it was nearly as long as. Next to my tiny rod and reel, it almost seemed comical  that I landed it on this light gear. 

After a couple of pictures that were hastily taken by a very excited me I slipped it back a good way away from the swim. It was on the way back to the scene of the capture that I remembered years ago I caught a couple of albeit much smaller chub from this stretch fishing worms for perch. I did hazard a few more casts but really I knew that the epic fight had ruined the swim and that any other chub would have done one after the pair of us caused such a commotion. One thing I can say is that I will be going back to this stretch again and again as the year progresses and that I am already concocting some surface lure plans in my head to try and nab one off the top once it's warmed up.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that even thought the dead bait line produced only one fish amongst many I was actually satisfied enough with how it worked out to think that this will for now be how I will be fishing this second rod in conjunction with my new super mobile approach.