Friday, 27 March 2015

Just one more spot.

Sometimes there is nothing worse than having a preconceived idea of how a fishing session will go. Last week I ended my session on the fish. By that I mean I was lure fishing, had located fish and was getting hits even though I wasn't converting them. Time though ran out on me and I had to walk away from fish which were up for attacking what I was offering. So for days prior to getting out all I could think of was getting back and finding that shoal of zander and trying pick up where I'd left off.

I was convinced that they would still be in the area as they seemed to be lingering off the edge of a collection of flotsam pushed into a bend by the wind, and given conditions had been consistent, I was sure it would still be there with the shoal of zander somewhere nearby.

On the tow path again I headed straight for the area and began exactly as I had left off, bouncing a two inch orange koypto shad slowly across the bottom. But the zander it seemed had been replaced by snags. Quite honestly the week before I had not found a single snag in the vicinity, today though every other cast found one. I'd sacrificed two brand new lures and leaders to the canal before I eventually moved off.

After a little explore I found myself fishing right alongside the debris littering the surface on the bend, whilst trying desperately to not stand in any of the hundreds of dog turds that litter the bank. Still though I couldn't raise any attention after two hours had elapsed. By now I'd been through most of my A-team of lures using various speeds of retrieve. The really worrying thing was that last time the little perch had also been up for it and this time like the zander they seemed to be very absent, which seemed to indicate nothing at all was on the hunt.

It was the faithful black curly tail grub which broke the stalemate in the end and found a small zander under the rubbish. That first one came off but a few casts later I snagged its bristling and angry shoal mate.

I really thought that was it and now I had located them it would all kick off, but before it had begun it just fizzled out and I couldn't find another willing fish. So we decided to move on to another stretch a car drive closer to home on the same canal to see if we would fare any better there. The area we arrived at had been very reliable over the colder months and I hoped it would be on this occasion too. In truth, it too was off form and after well and truly thrashing the water to a foam, I was elated to hook a sprightly micro jack which was hanging around just on the marginal shelf.

The next day I was planning to fish the same canal in a different area, but the lack of interest had me thinking that zander and perch were not responding to lures very well at all at the moment. Not wanting to write it off I decided to still go ahead with the session but rather than just commit everything to the lure fishing, I'd take a light dead bait outfit along to see if they might be interested in a static bait rather than a moving lure.

My worries that I wouldn't get much response on the lures were well founded. Once again I worked hard to wring anything out of all the areas I fished, but no matter what changes I made I could not fathom out what it was going to take get these fish to actually lash out at a lure.

On the other hand every swim I cast a dead bait into was populated by something interested in eating the small roach on my line. As with many waterways the signal crayfish seems to be making a big impact on the midland canal network. Undoubtedly their spreading population is contributing to larger fish sizes, but the little beggars are a proper pest when you're dead baiting. Although I was lucky and didn't lose any gear I did have to pry my hook from down a few crayfish burrows throughout the morning.

By midday the sun was out and I had just about had it! I'd been casting and moving constantly since early morning and had nothing at all to show for my efforts. Having travelled so far along the canal I had actually come close to a swim I used to fish many moons ago that had good record for holding perch. Thinking this would be my last chance to break the blank, I decided to fish one last area just in case.

After dropping the dead bait on the far bank to my left I went about working the swim over using a tiny green koypto that has scratched me a few bites in the past. I'd hooked and removed a couple of minor snags and had not long dispatched one of them behind me when my float began moving as if something with claws was dragging it off. I watched it thinking I would have to sort that out before it got dragged away, when the float did a single large bob and the culprit quickly went from crayfish to small zander in my head. I've seen enough little zander picking up baits to think this was definitely one. Crouching down by the rod I waited as the float did that little circular movement they so often down when a schoolie is farting around with the bait. I waited and waited for it to actually run before I struck and then as the float slid off I struck low and hard.

The tightening braided line instantly drove the hook home and the fish shot off. I've had loads of zander do this when hooked; they shoot off in a moment of panic and run about ten feet or so generally in the direction the float was travelling and it's really hard to keep a tight line. This one headed straight towards me on my right hand side. Luckily the reel picked up the line quickly as and the rod bent over. For a moment I was being a bit blase, but then I saw a huge white flash in the murky canal water and the fish went from schoolie to monster.

The bite was awful, fight wasn't epic but my panicking excitement made up for that, especially when the fish came to the surface shaking its head trying its best to discard the hook. It was then it really hit home what I had on the end of my line. With the thoughts of a hundreds zander getting away I was desperate to get this one into the net. With only a fleeting moment of worry when it seemed reluctant to cross the cord, the fish was in the net. Resting in the edge it looked huge from above and then on the bank it seemed even bigger.

It was absolutely fighting fit and perfect in every way apart from the top of it tail being missing. Looking closely, the wound was perfectly healed and looked to be from a boat propeller or possibly an otter attack. Either way it had healed up well and judging from the condition of this magnificent fish, it wasn't effected by the missing bit of tail.

I knew how heavy I thought it was going to be before I even put it on the scales or maybe how heavy I wanted it to be, but it didn't quite make it. It was two ounces off what I so wanted it to be, but was still I very happy with 9.14lb and it truly made walking that little bit extra and giving one last spot a go before chucking in the towel worth it.

Friday, 20 March 2015

All about the perch.

Since I've begun dedicating much of my fishing time to lure fishing I've found myself spending quite large amounts of non-fishing time perusing lures online. The selection out there is unimaginable and the huge choice has got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, it's a case that the lures have to be designed not just to catch fish but catch anglers too. Take any pattern or design of lure you care to think of and I am sure that in some situation that design will catch fish. Then in most cases the manufacturer will produce said lure in between five and fifteen colours. But if the producer was to extensively test this range of colours in various conditions fairly (I know that's only theoretically possible) I am sure that one or two colours would probably fare badly, thus making them not-so-good-of-a-lure. But still the manufacturer makes, markets and sells them, and why should they do this? Well, because as I said before, anglers are like magpies and sometimes we just want bright things that attract us.

It's because of this theory and the general addictiveness of collecting these lures that I've become very careful of what I purchase. I quite often fill my online basket with lures I think look good and then spend ages reassessing how I think they will work and look in the water before filtering down to things I think will be successful for me. It's important I should say for me as for someone else they might well work. Either way you have to think they will work or there's no point purchasing them or casting them because confidence in what your offering is key.

Just the other day I arrived back at my desk to see a mailite bag sitting on my keyboard and knew exactly what was in it, as I'd been hoping the batch of new lures would arrive in time to take them out on my next session. There were two specific lures in the bag that I already knew were going to come into play on the canals.

The Tiki monkey! I love the name of this lure, and not only did I like the name of it but I liked the six small paddle tails and it's creature-like shape. I reckon it looks quite like a newt or possibly even a crayfish when in the water, but whatever it looked like I am damn sure it would make some serious disturbance. The only thing I had my doubts about was its size. Up until now I've been a little reserved with the size of lure I've been using on the canals, this however falls into a whole larger size bracket. 

Once I had it in hand and my nostrils were filled with the scent of fresh rubber and molopo (whatever molopo is) I quickly concluded that I fancied this might make a really good drop shot lure and I was right as well. A few days later I found myself on a regular haunt working a drop shot rigged Tiki monkey slowly along the inside marginal shelf when it got absolutely smashed by a big perch. How chuffed was I to have not only had some interest but landed, for my first fish on this weird and wonderful lure, such a stunning Sargent.

It really was a looker and not the normal shape of perch that have been caught here in the past. Most of the residents I've landed here are short, stocky, football shaped fish whereas this one was longer with a defined hump. Possibly it could have been a male fish as it seemed not to show any signs of having spawned or getting ready to spawn. 

Beyond that one decent fish I did get plenty of interest from smaller perch of which one in five attacks of the flailing Tikki monkey resulted in the lure going in a fishes mouth. There's no doubt that this attractive offering works, it's just whether the attacker is big enough to get the whole lot in its mouth.

Only a day later I got a second albeit much shorter session on a new bit of canal. Early morning I made my way down the tow-path of a bit of cut I wouldn't fish a evening session unless I had a loaded AK47 slung over my shoulder. As you can tell it's a bit of a dive and that's made worse by a few old Junker barges being resident. One of which seemed to be leaking fresh diesel into the canal from its listing, rotting hull.

I should go on record and say that I don't per se have anything against boaters apart from they don't really have much respect for anglers and have even less for the water ways, and when I see half a mile of canal with reflective oily swirls all over its surface it really gets up my nose. After walking what seems like miles I did eventually come to some seemingly unpolluted water, which was surprisingly clear... I mean really clear.

My obvious reaction was to go natural with the colour of my lures and use a few favourites including the newly deflowered Tiki monkey, silver Koypto and pumpkin paddler grub, the result of which was nothing for an hour's casting. Honestly I was thinking this new section might not turn out to be as good as I thought it was going to be. Then I remembered a new pack of gaudy Koyptos I had bought and surmised that maybe going to the opposite end of the colour spectrum might work.

The bright orange and black shad looked a little obvious when I tried it in the water and with such good visibility I could see it a foot and half down in the water. So I began working along the stretch casting the bright lure into the far side cover. Three casts in something grabbed at the lure and I struck into a good fish which turned out to be a nice looking zander. Well, it looked nice thrashing under the water before my lure came free. From then on I worked the cover tight and hard.

I'd just sent the lure into a small hole under an overhanging hawthorn when I felt a real thump as it dropped on a tight line. A quick strike and I found myself playing a rather chunky perch that had really engulfed the bright orange shad.

I have figured out a lot about lure fishing during this intense period of doing it and one of the key things I've concluded is that it's ten times harder to get a good hook up on a zander than a perch. Part of this is to do with the zanders preclusion to try to disable the lure/prey by nipping its tail. A lot of the time you feel the hit and strike, then contact no fish and that's when I suspect they're just grabbing the tail of the lure. Other times they really engulf the lure and you strike into the fish, only to have it come adrift in the fight because the hook hasn't really got a good hold in its bony upper mouth. Perch on the other hand, nine times out of ten really have a go at the lure and the hook gets a much better hold in their softer mouth. 

This theory really became evident when a bit further down the canal I located a shoal of zander grouped in the middle of the trench. The first fish I hit came all the way to the edge before thrashing around and throwing the hook. A smaller fish was next and that one got hooked in the side of the mouth, but the following one I felt hit and thrash before that too escaped. From then it was all nips on the lure until they had enough of my antagonization. Strangely though after the zander sport died off in that swim I found a shoal of smaller yet very aggressive perch which, given their size, were really having a pop at the orange Koypto right at the end of the retrieve right under my feet, and I had some fun with for my last half and hour on the bank.

The whole zander problem is a bit of a catch-22 two really. Yes, I could solve the problem by using a lure like the new fox drones which trail a small treble underneath. But any lure with a downward facing hook that gets used on the canal has, in my opinion, a very short life span and their use is going to send expenses sky high sooner or later when they get claimed by natural or unnatural snags. Or I could rig in a trailing hook around the tail, but I know from experience that this can effect the lures movement. My solution for now though will be to continue using the lures I am as they seem to be working and to instead use a stiffer rod which I have, whilst trying to adopt a more aggressive reactional strike to try and set the hook.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Fun in the sun.

I couldn't get out of the car quick enough and into the fresh air. My whole body was tingling and I could feel my internal temperature maxing out. The moment the hand brake was on I pushed the door open and the cool outside washed over me. Like a child trying to throw off a coat, my hands were stuck into the cuffs of my winter coat which only added to my panic. The coat finally gone I instantly bent over retching as my stomach turned. The convulsions only last seconds and soon I was upright sucking cold air through my nose. My eyes were watering as was my mouth, but the worst of it was over and I could feel myself cooling and my mind cleared enough for me to now think, what the hell was that all about.

That was not a good way to start a session, but it's not the first to begin like this lately. A little while ago back I had the very same sensation after driving a large proportion of the A46 in fog. On that occasion I was sure I was travel sick due to my eyes and my brain not marrying up over the strange focal range. This occasion too I think could be attributed to travel sickness as the entire twenty minutes driving prior to me parking I was travelling at speed with nothing but the back of a huge truck to focus on. For a while in my late teens I suffered from travel sickness, but that stopped once I learnt to drive. I think maybe a trip to the opticians might be in order just to check that my glasses prescription doesn't need updating.

All that palaver aside I did actually stick around to actually do some fishing. Years ago I fished a bit of canal literally in the middle of nowhere and it was its remoteness that in my opinion made it so good. I was hoping it was still as good as it was and that it was still stuffed with prime naive zander for me to angle after and cast a few lures at.

I began at a spot where an ancient crumbling brick wall lined the canal. After I let rip on the first cast I watched from under the woolly hat which I still wore to cover my sensitive ear as the line arched off down the canal in the bright sun. A few more searching casts in and I got hit by something determined as the lure came over the shelf. I got a brief view of a good perch before it threw the hook. It's always a relief to get an early hit as it gives you a focal point to cast at. Several repeated casts later I hooked into either the same fish or it's shoal mate in exactly the same spot, which turned out to be a an equally heavy set perch.

Its strange that the first fish I encountered was a perch as even though they must be resident, this canal had no real reputation for them. Zander though used to be unbelievably prolific in this murky water, and they still are as I found out in my next spot situated in some heavy cover. I'd barely had to search them out as I just saw a very zander looking haunt cast to it and got instantly hit my a little zedlet. Next cast too produced a few grabs and then I finally found a slightly better fish half way across the trench.

The sun though was getting brighter as it began to peep over the trees over the far bank and I was thinking this could make all the difference as the day wore on, but luckily it didn't and even begin blinded by the sun the fish still responded to my lures hitting the water. It was the ever faithful silver and black Koypto that sorted a bigger fish out. I'd just lifted and let the lure drop when the line suddenly tightened and changed angle by forty-five degrees. After a really good scrap a very angry zander was in hand, bristling in the sun.

I had to work for it but the action kept up through the rest of the session and although I didn't catch anything much bigger I did find quite few other fish willing to have a go at the lures in the sun. All in all it was a very satisfying return to an old haunt, and I don't think it will take me that long to come back again as I know there are some proper big girls lurking in this water way, as well as the large numbers of smaller fish which gave me action right up until the last cast.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Last gasp success.

One of those days comes round every so often when with all experience and knowledge the fishing is just terrible. I had hit the tow path around midday in an area I knew held pike, perch and zander in range of sizes going from uh right through ahhhh. I had started in a spot that has produced some startling captures in the past and which is generally quite reliable, only to receive about as much attention as a white crayon. 

I worked that canal over like I have never worked anywhere before in my life. I was methodical and broke down every area I fished into zones and covered each with varying tactics. Lures were changed, line was scaled down and the variations of retrieve were just about incomprehensible, but still nothing could raise a take.

By two hours in I was dreaming about pole fishing and by four hours I had come to the conclusion that the only possible explanation was that a mass alien fish abduction had taken place. But we all know that isn't true and the fact was that the fish were just switched off or were at least switched off to what I was doing! It was a bit of a pisser really as this was really the only session I would get over the weekend and here I was with it dribbling away in what I thought was perfect conditions.

After working tight along the margins for what seemed like miles I resigned to give in and turned tail for the car. By the time I was in sight of the auto mobile the canal had began to look good again, but I just didn't have it in me to make any more casts. Instead I concluded to just tow a small orange paddle tail along the margin until I had to turn off to get to the car.

Lazily I tugged and dropped the lure backward and forward until I could see the path that lead me off the canal. I was somewhere between dreaming of mixed grills or beer when the line went solid. I swear I would have just yanked violently for the break if the line hadn't of surged off in the canal. Holy sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph it was a fish.. a wonderful slimy wriggling writhing fish. I was as gooey eyed as Gollum with a trout in his hands by the time it was middle cut, and then I got the most spectacular fight I have had in years.

The little jack went in acrobat mode and lunched itself from the water little a tarpon shaking its mouth violently from side to side. It had only just disappeared back into the water when it came cartwheeling out again. After shooting into the margin and me reeling down, it tail walked into a third jump projecting itself a good three feet out of the water. Bearing in mind this jack was little more than a couple of pounds it would not give up. Every time I got it near the net it shot off across the surface until the pressure of the line and clutch sent it into a little jump. After it nearly jumped onto the bank I made a daring scoop for my prize. It did go in the net but no net was going to hold this determined fellow. It only began trying to jump out of the net which resulted in me having to lift it from the water and keep it wrapped up until I could find my forceps.

I have to give this little fighter credit for being the most determined and hard fighting Jack I have ever seen. Though I think there might be a clue to why this fish was so eager to escape on its flank. Given that this fish is probably only a few years old, the scar two thirds of the way down it's body looks to me like it's guile and determination may have already got it out of a much bigger cannibal pikes mouth some time not so long ago. 

Maybe it thought it had been got again and thats was the reason for it's very impressive display or maybe it was just a particularly spirited young jack. Either way I don't mind because it absolutely made my day with its antics and was the perfect way to end a generally poor session.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The fishing gods giveth and the computer gods taketh away.

As I walked down the deserted tow path it seemed that the wind had finally dropped a bit and all the remaining wind caused was a repetitive ripple that coursed along the canal. I thought to myself maybe this was my break for the day and I wouldn't be fighting against the wind all afternoon. By the time I arrived at the spot where I would begin casting and work my way back from, the wind had totally died and with it the ripple I'd followed along the canal.

I unhooked the brand new pumpkin paddler grub that was mounted on a three gram size four jig from the keeper ring of my rod, before pulling at my braided line to check the clutch was set. Then with a single-handed cast I fired the lure down the canal aiming for somewhere centre of the trench. Not long after my finger released the line the wind once again gusted from behind me. This wasn't ever going to be problem for the little lure as the following wind would only ever add to its already high velocity, when it made water though, that's when the problem occurred. Having not checked the line the moment the lure stopped I caused the baby hair thin yellow braid to billow out into a massive bow in the wind instantly. It was then I knew it really wasn't going to go well chucking lures around on this occasion...

The problem with fishing super light lures in the wind is that as I have just described the light braid really gets tugged around. If wind knots in mono weren't annoying enough, try getting them in expensive braid where if you snap the line untangling it can cost pounds instead of pennies. Then there's the retrieve. The whole point of what I was trying to achieve was finesse and control. When I am trying to pull the little lure up off the bottom by six inches before it drops enticingly my presentation gets ruined by the wind bowing out the line adding god only what to the rise and possibly even slowing the fall. But most of all it takes away your confidence that your'e fishing effectively and it's not taken me long to figure that this lure game is all about repetitive confidence.

It didn't take me long trying to cast around in the wind to figure out that if I wanted any chance of presenting the lure well on this occasion I would have to keep it on a tight leash and just target the margins. With a little over mile of open windswept canal between me and the car I began working the lure slowly along the marginal shelf, and what do you know it worked.

I must have covered less than fifty feet and hung up twice on snags before I got a proper blasting hit. Something had shot out from a tiny patch of cover, hit my lure and just surged out into the canal. Judging by the power of the fish I was sure a good zander would soon surface shaking its open mouth in anger. When it did eventually surface I don't mind admitting I nearly crapped myself when I saw it was a massive perch. After a serious fight with my stubborn folding net I eventually bundled it into the now open net and took a moment to catch my breath as I knew this certainly a canal and lure PB perch. After few attempts I managed to get a satisfactory trophy shot of the fat old girl before I released her back a ways down the canal.

The fishing gods must have seen my sheer determination to carry on and had rewarded me, but! the computer gods would soon take some back. You see I was being a little less than patient with my work computer booting up and in my haste didn't give it the necessary fifteen minutes it seems to take for it to settle down after coming on. Thinking I could get my pictures uploaded from my memory card I immediately went for the money shot. Why I didn't just copy rather than move the picture I don't know, but somewhere after clicking OK there was long pause before a warning box flickered up and too became inanimate and then everything became unresponsive. A manual shut down, a reboot, a reconfiguring scan later and my money shot was nothing more than a corrupted useless file. So with gritted teeth this is the only trophy shot of my new canal PB perch. 

Not knowing what would later befall my trophy photo I was cloud nine on the bank. My confidence was high and after catching such a great fish so early on in the session all I could think about was how big they could grow if I'd just had such a monster first shot. With my net back on my back I quickly worked the area just in case and then moved off as before with the now not so new looking grub actively searching the shelf. The stupid grin hadn't worn from my face before my rod juddered over. This fish was hardly even a meal for the first but it was just as important. If the first one was possibly a spot of luck the second smaller fish proved I was doing something right and it wasn't all luck. Considering it was even a tenth the size of the first fish this hungry little predator certainly hit my paddler grub hard.

The method of just covering what canal I could well using the little paddler grub seemed to be working, so I had little reason to change what I was doing and it was just a case of covering ground before another fish would come along. Twenty feet later an I was into another significant perch, which just like the first came steaming after my lure. Not only was I fishing a short line but I was playing them on one as well, as the whole battle went down within quite small area before a second beast of a perch went in the net.

This one was bristling angry which made for a very good picture.  It was a bit smaller than the first but exactly the same shape and never noticed until I got the picture up on the computer but it didn't have any stripes.

After this one though, I couldn't find any more further along the canal. It might sound greedy but I had it in my head that here had to be other big perch around so I doubled back and recovered all the ground I had already been over. Unfortunately I didn't land any, but I did at least make contact with what I am sure was one more big perch.

This little foray proves to me you never exactly what lurks beneath the surface of any canal, because as far as I know this stretch hasn't really had a reputation for throwing up big perch in the past. Now though I know they are here and given what I think are some critical factors I reckon they have a good chance of growing even bigger.