Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Zander heaven and zander hell.

The Oxford canal has perplexed me for a very long time now. The reason being is its general lack of ability to live up to its potential by way of predator sport; when compared with the other local canals which I also fish it comes dead last behind the overrated Ashby, the moody Coventry and the overachieving Grand Union.

I have been unable to come up with a viable theory, never mind reason why it fishes so badly. As canals go it has all the right features in all the right places for it to have some good predator sport somewhere along the tow path. How somewhere that looks so good can fish so badly is beyond me and worst of all is it's actually the most convenient canal geographically for me.

I once again decided to give the Oxford another look. Even though that I suspected it would be as bad as ever I still committed to actually fish not just once, but three times in succession. Over the three visits I must have walked miles and miles of prime looking canal whilst diligently fishing all kinds of areas. Sadly, as per normal, it was normal service and after some twenty five hours of searching all I had to show for my efforts was an unconnected hit, a scrawny zander which got off at the net and three crayfish on the deads.

Really I don't want to leave it at this, but right now the only thing I can possibly think to do is maybe return in the summer or the autumn to see if possibly it's a seasonal canal. Aside from that I needed to recharge my confidence so headed back to the Coventry for my latest session, to a section I discovered a while ago that seems to be very reliable early in the morning when the sediment has had a night to settle and the water is a bit clearer.

In this clearer water the lure that always seems to work for me is the savage gear clown cannibal shad. It shows up really well in visibility of around two feet and it has so much movement in the tail that I can feel the lure vibrating all the way up the braid and through the rod. Once again it worked a treat and three casts in a small zander could not resist grabbing it.

I was over the moon to get into the fish so quickly, as not only was I out to build my confidence back up, but also to put my new rod to the test. Since beginning to do a lot of lure fishing I have quickly figured out what I want from a rod. Finding that rod has been a real test of patience though. I must have actually held in my hands some thirty different rods from just about every manufacturer making them. What I was actually looking for was a lightweight rod that would yield under pressure but still have a relatively fast action. The reason I was after this holy grail of a rod was mainly to do with zander. Perch and pike I have concluded just smash lures as it's generally a case that they either want them or not. Zander though are buggers for chasing, nipping and hitting in various different ways. It was because I felt that I wasn't converting enough hits from zander into fish landed that I felt I needed a rod that would not only transfer any information of the hit back to me, but could also drive home the hook on these renowned hard-to-hook fish.

Eventually after travelling quite a lot and waggling a lot of rods and disregarding some very highly commended rods, Dave from contacted me to inform me he had something I might be interested in. The next day I went over and after only a moment holding the Sonik Light tec 1-8gram spinning rod I was sold. Teamed up with a 1000 size reel it felt perfect and it was just unfortunate that my first few outings with it were on an underperforming venue. Now though I was on the right canal, the zeds were on the hunt and it was the perfect place to see what this rod could do. 

As I said before the fish were on the hunt in a big way, and straight from the off the cannibal shad was working. Every five casts I seemed to get some interest and after an hour I had eight fish, although there seemed only to be small schoolies of between a few ounces to two and half pounds around. Even though they were small, most were in great condition and very aggressive. 

With me catching so many fish it was only a matter of time before something odd turned up. After the bites dried up in one spot I had just moved up the canal to fish the next. My lure hadn't even hit bottom before something grabbed it and sent a sharp tug back up the line. I struck and the fish shot off. It was a normal spirited zander-like fight until the fish rolled and it almost looked black for a moment. At first I wondered if it was something different but then it surfaced again and I saw it was definitely a zander, though it was a bit weird looking. On the bank it soon became apparent that the reason it looked strange was because it had a blue hue all along its underside. Around the mouth it was just a hint of blue but along the body it darkened until right at the tail it was almost navy blue. Honestly I have never seen a zander like it before! I have seen them from that pale white colour they get in muddy water right through dark green, but never blue. 

It's not like it was to do with the area as not long after I caught this one which was green and pale white, and that came on literally the same spot.

You can see it looked to have almost normal colouring on the top, but that underside and fins were definitely blue. Although it's not easy to see, the fins were really accentuated by the blue tint and white edges.

Maybe the strange colouration of this fish was something to do with its environment, but surely I would have seen the same thing in other fish. I am thinking that it's more likely either just a genetic anomaly or maybe an infection. I have seen tench with a red speckling that's caused by a bacterial infection. Either way it wasn't making any difference to the fish as it was in good condition, very aggressive a fought like stink.

The sport continued right through the morning and by the time I seemed to have exhausted the area I was fishing I had landed eighteen small zander and lost three at the net, add to that the numerous hits and the two small perch that got in on the action and all in all I had a great morning. I don't really think there is any need to babble on about the new rod. Literally it felt comfortable using it, I wasn't tired after casting it for six hours none stop and the number of zander I caught alone is testament to how good it is. In fact I can't wait to take out after big perch and small pike in the future as I know it will be just as good playing them as it was with the zander.

Friday, 10 April 2015


'You buy one, you get one free!  I say you buy one, you get one free' 

Those were the words that kept ringing through my head again and again as I stood on the tow path the other day. And why shouldn't they have been stuck on some torturous loop in my mind, because after all this was a bank holiday weekend, it wasn't raining and the boat wankers were out in force. At some points 'buy one, get one free' was an understatement to say the least. Seven boats in convoy was the record for the day. Honestly that lot coming down the cut was like an armada passing by, all churning up the bottom and blankly wishing good morning whilst inanely asking if I'd caught my supper. If it wasn't for the fact that I was actually having fun catching a few perch and some rather obliging strip zander I feel sure I would have been jumping up and down on the bank shaking my fist and ranting in ancient long forgotten language that they should keep their witty japes regarding my tea to themselves, before I am tempted to shove their barge pole in their rear hatch.

I had always known it was going to get a bit manic with boat traffic and to try and get some done before they started I had arrived just after first light. Weirdly the action prior to the boats beginning to rumble by had been in my opinion, a bit sporadic. All I had managed was a single chunky perch which I had winkled out by dancing a tikki monkey along the nearside shelf on a drop shot rig. 

The drop shot rig was partly why I was fishing in this area. You see I had a few new lures I wanted to try out and they all seemed more suited to the drop shot rather than a jigging rig. Given the past few weeks had been a little zander filled and that I have much more success with perch on the drop shot, I had come to a area stuffed full of the critters.

Convinced the margins were paved with the stripy Herbert's I stuck it out on the drop shot, working around any structure I could find. Although I wasn't finding them in numbers, when I did spark any into interest they were absolutely smashing into my lures.

The oddest part of the session came after a couple of boats really stirred up the canal. I have always thought that it actually takes a boat going through to stir the resident fish into moving, and off the back of that I have developed a theory that sometimes when the boats churn up the bottom, zander for one, actually go into the clouds of silt looking for anything that has been disturbed out of the mud, like worms, leeches and small fish. It proved exactly the case when the boats have moved on and I shot my rig right to the far side of the canal before pulling it back into the murk. Four or five small strip zander and a single nice perch fell for a black grub on a slow retrieve through the clouds of silt.

The boats I knew would all too soon begin to wear on my patience, and it was then that I sought a bit of respite and headed for the relative quiet of a small row of moored boats. Working the rig rhythmically as close to their hull as I could, I tempted one final nice perch that I can only say has real potential in the future. Although not much over a pound in weight I don't think I have ever seen a little fish that looked so much like a big fish before and that for me was the perfect point in which to leave the canal to the boaters.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Goldilocks and the three braids.

Up until about seven months ago all my knowledge of braid was related to how it was used in hook links and I can't really claim to be any kind of expert on that either. Since then though I have pretty much used it exclusively as a main line and in doing so I have really developed an idea of what I want from a braid whilst learning that not all braid is equal.

So far I used a few types of braid and in doing so have concluded that although they all essentially do the same thing, they are not all the same in reality. I began with an older version power pro which unlike the new generation of the same stuff was very noisy when reeled across the rod rings. Next came Jig silk from Fox which I love to use on my finesse outfit but is rather prone to wind knots, and wind knots aren't cheap where braid is concerned. Then I came across a good deal on Savage Gear Finezze HD4 braid on-line. My God, the low diameter of this was unbelievable. Apart from the colour which I bought it in that isn't great, only one thing let it down for me and that's the way it beds into itself when you have to pull out a snag or out of a snag.

I have also spent quite a lot of time examining various other braids to try and find one that's just right and I have not been doing too well with that in truth. That was until I by pure chance found a spool of HTO Rockfish ultra braid in a local tackle shop, Specimen Tackle UK, for the paltry price of £10. I'd heard a lot about how good their LRF rods are and given the great value of this line I thought it would be worth a punt.

With two sessions on the cards on consecutive crappy days I decided it might be interesting to actually fish one with what I was currently using and then in between sessions re-spool with the new stuff to see how it compared on the second session.

So firstly I hit the tow path with the Savage Gear Finezze HD4 and given how windy it was I knew this was going to be a real test. It wasn't easy trying to present a lure well with the wind tugging the line around, but I did manage to find a few fish. Firstly, a small zander grabbed one of my favourite Pumpkin paddler grubs right as I bounced it over the nearside marginal shelf.

That was followed by a second smaller zedlet which I tried to hand out and ended up losing. A lot of canal, a few snags and change to an orange kopyto later, I struck into another a really nice thick set zander tight to a boats hull, which went crazy and thrashed round all over the canal before going in the net.

Three hours on the cut and three fish was actually very good going considering how bad the wind was. The braid performed well, but as I knew would be the case, this line is impossible to see on even the shortest cast in the day's dull conditions and every time I put any pressure onto the line to pull from a snag it would take several casts to un-bed the line. This bedding-in issue I am sure is down to the low diameter and profile of the line, both of which combine to let the tightening coils pull in between any below them that aren't under as much tension.

So at home a few hours later I carefully wound the Savage Gear Finezze HD4 onto a spare spool and re-spooled with the HTO Rockfish ultra braid. Straight away I could see it was thicker as the diameter implied on the packaging, but I could also see the lines profile seemed to flatten on the spool which made it lay better on top of itself.

The fact that this new line is a very bright yellow obviously made it easy to see as I cast a clown cannibal shad into the far bank cover. The jig head never got the lure to the bottom before a micro jack hit and I actually saw the line tighten before I felt the fish, which was great.

It was purely down to fairness that I kind of wanted to find a snag, and as I was on a canal it didn't take long before I was towing a large branch across the canal. The braid was tough as they all seem to be, but instead of bedding into itself it seemed to just lay on top as I hoped it might. Then it only took a single cast to check the line would spill off the spool well on the cast before I was off and fishing again.

The canal in this particular area seems to clear really well overnight and that combined with the bright white cannibal shad, was the perfect combination when I found a shoal of small zander loitering in the trench. By covering the same ten square feet of canal from different angles I kept the eager little hunters coming after the lure. On most casts they were chasing the shad and nipping at it, judging from the pulls on the bright yellow braid. Then when one would make a committed grab a quick strike would send pressure down the new braid and catch the culprit in the lip most times. 

It wasn't until the rain started and a trio of rude speeding boaters passed that the sport stalled. Even by changing lures and retrieve I couldn't get any more fish to attack in the now turbid water.

As for the braid I have to say well done to HTO with the Rockfish ultra braid. It performs just as well as all the other braids I have used, but has lays on the spool well, doesn't bed in under pressure and the high visibility not only helps to see what your lure is doing but makes watching hits pure joy. On top of that I never encountered a single wind knot even with the wind in my face all day; all that for only ten quid is a bargain in my books.

I must say that as braid lasts forever I never throw it away. The original power pro I bought I use on a heavy lure outfit for bigger plugs. The Fox Jig silk for all the trouble it gives me remains my favourite braid for super light lure fishing and the Savage Gear Finezze HD4 is being saved for any possible trips to deep reservoirs that might come along in the future, where those super fine braids are key.