Friday, 22 April 2016

Just one fish.

All the local canals seem to really be waking up a bit now after a sputtering spring thing. I think it was three weeks ago that I saw the first little fish dappling the surface on the Grand Union. The zander might have spawned and now seem firmly on the feed and the catch rates are reflecting this. Perch though are another matter! A couple of outings ago I caught one solitary perch which was ready to pop, it was that full of spawn. Since then though the temps have risen so much that I was sure as hell the perch population should have got their mating done with.

One canal that I have neglected a bit lately is the Coventry as the general lack of a hard winter season did not benefit it at all. Usually when we get a good consistent winter the Coventry responds well and fishes consistently. In previous years when the temps have been up and down I have found that the fishing can be very patchy, even on normally reliable areas. Hence I have purposely been reluctant to fish there.

The warmer weather got me thinking that maybe it might have settled down and that the perch might be feeling a little peckish should they have spawned. It was a bit of a sputtering start for me on the day after an early wakeup call from my boy resulted in me turning off the alarm to glim a little more kip. In the end though I did get there and did fish, although the fish seemed hard to find or should I say, hard to convince to eat.

I was very diligent about working along the stretch, methodically using several different lures in various ways all whilst fishing a small dead bait as a sleeper rod at the bottom of the marginal shelf to hopefully appeal to a zander. But even working very hard it quickly became clear that the canal was still not on form.

My one sole bit of action was as pure as pure can be. From a short distance away I saw what I was sure was tiny roach flipping out in a flat calm section of canal hidden from the wind. As I approached, two more small silver fish jumped out of the water. After quickly flicking through the lures I had to hand, I settled on a small silver glittery paddle tail grub which I cast tight to the far bank cover beyond the jumping fish. I must have cast and recast twenty times before the lure got hit on the fall as it dropped into the trench. It turned out to be a big perch which had taken my grub and what a fatty it was as well.

You could put a saddle on that!
One perfect hit from a perfect perch. I would love to say that I walked away and went home satisfied with my perfect moment. But the truth is that I combed that area again and again, hoping in vain that it might have been a shoal of big perch in the area, but I never got another touch.

It did however confirm that the Coventry canal perch at least haven't spawned yet, as this one definitely had spawn in it and had a very swollen vent. I can't deny being confused as I was sure as predators, the perch would have spawned already to give those little munchy baby perch a good head start.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The view from above.

For some time now Google maps and Bing maps have played a very active role in my angling. Really, I don't think there's many dinner times go by when I don't at some point have a little looky-loo on one of the two online maps to scope out somewhere I might be planning on fishing. Google maps I find best for just general scrolling in satellite mode and for when I want to have a look over a bridge here or there to see what the cover looks like on a canal. Bing maps is my go to if I want a bit more detail, as it has that rotate option that is sometimes made up of four images taken at different times, which can occasionally offer a gem of an image that makes me go wow! One of the best examples of this was a few years ago when I was scoping out a lake I was about to fish for tench. The Google option was OK, but when I found it using Bing maps and rotated the image a couple of times a view of the small lake came up which had been taken on a calm sunny day when the water was gin clear. Every gravel bar, weed bed and gully was visible. Then a few days later I found myself on the lake opting to fish a gully between two bars where I was sure a week's worth of prevailing wind might have inclined the tench to patrol. The result was me smashing the place up and landing a load of tench all from that one spot at the bottom of the gully.

Back to the point. I was sitting filling my face with couscous, hummus and some rather tangy feta one day last week as I worked my way along the Grand Union canal tow path in Google maps, when I spotted a feature that looked irresistible. Even on the screen from a few hundred feet above it looked the perfect predator holding spot. The only fly in the ointment was that I was already planning a morning on Napton reservoir to see if I could winkle out any perch or pike. A small diversion on route though could give me an hour to check and see if this newly located area might have any mileage predator-wise.

On the day when I arrived the conditions were less than perfect, with wall to wall blue skies and the blazing sun chasing away the cold quickly. The canal was very coloured and the wind whipped down it, keeping the water constantly moving. The movement of the water though actually for once played into my hands, as the feature I was targeting was an opening to a marina on the tow path bank. By fishing it from up-wind side the waters tow drew my dead bait rig perfectly into what, on a river, would be a crease. I suspected that this area at the mouth of the marina might be a magnet to predators wanting to ambush prey fish moving in and out of the opening.

I'd only been casting round a lure for a few minutes before the float which I had set over depth popped up straight, did a couple of bobs and began sliding off into the main canal. After waiting as long I dared I struck into a decent fish which went mental, zooming around the canal before heading back towards me, where I bundled a nice looking zander into the waiting net.

Not a bad first fish from a new spot.
After releasing that zander I got a bait straight back out on the spot and began casting around trying to find something on the lure. Last year I purchased some Diawa duck fin shads whilst in a Angling Direct store and for some reason I had overlooked them ever since. Normally I would have been using a lighter outfit, but as I was going somewhere else I had opted to bring my medium weight rod to try and fish some bigger lures, rather than the smaller ones I generally use on the canals. Having this heavier outfit seemed the perfect time to try out the Duck fin shads. They felt amazing, with the vibrating from the tail of the lure reverberating all the way up the line through the rod. With all the disturbance they cause I knew I would get hit sooner or later, and I did when a pike thumped the lure right under my feet. Somehow after playing it right to the net, the little bugger threw the hook by thrashing around, mouth open. It didn't matter though as three casts later I am sure the same fish struck again as I lifted the shad off the bottom. 

I was pretty chuffed with landing two canal beasties in under half and hour and was sorely tempted to bin off my Napton session and stick around, but I really want to try and unlock the code to the Napton predators as I think it has so much to offer. So I stuck with the plan and opted to return to this spot again soon for a dedicated session, hopped in the van a drove off to my original engagement

If you don't know or haven't fished at Napton reservoir it's a kind of heaven or hell type water. On its best day when the weather is fine and the fish are feeding it's wonderful. Good tench, big perch, savage pike and rare crucians that make your eyes bulge clean out your head. If it's cold and the wind is blowing it can be the worst place on earth and on those occasions even if the fish are feeding it can be near impossible to fish, or to keep warm for that matter.

There was a good wind blowing across both halves of the lake and although on any normal place this wouldn't of been an issue, here the breeze that caused the ripple felt ten times worse than normal. The water did have a slight tinge of colour to which is actually unusual for Napton.

Using a ten gram jig and various colourful lures I worked my way around targeting any features first, followed by covering open water. Even in the normally perch filled spots I couldn't land myself a nice Sargent. I reckon on this occasion the size of the lures I was using might have worked against me and using smaller lures may have incited at least some attention from smaller fish, but really it wasn't small perch I wanted.

Having worked all the more comfortable water with no interest of any kind I had no choice but to fight it out and stand toe to toe with the wind. With the breeze coming straight into my face, any direct casts were cut short by more than half and any angled casts streamed out my braided line in a massive loop. It was hard work in truth, but having caught nothing on more sheltered bits of the lake I hoped there could be something on the windward bank.

With all the rocks that have found their way out into the lake from the bank it can be confusing actually getting a bite. I'd bumped into several convincing rocks with the lure and struck at them before I got another distinct bump, this one however turned into a fish. My first little Napton pike of the year was freezing cold and covered in leeches.

Although it turned out to be the one and only fish of the Napton half of my session, it actually feels pretty good to finally get some predator action from this lake. Maybe now the weather is warming up the perch might once again turn up and you never know, I might even dust off the float fishing gear and have a crack for the tench and dare I say....crucians, later in the year.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Old schoolies.

There are a few old canal haunts of mine that I had been thinking about getting back to for a long while now, but the only thing is that these old haunts have in recent years been acquired by a new fishing club. Now truthfully I have never been big on joining clubs to fish on canals. I think it's a bit of a grey area regarding clubs laying claim to canals, as generally they make no effort whatsoever to bailiff or look after them and as anyone can just tootle on up and fish without being approached, then in my mind it's basically a free for all. 
That was until the Lure Anglers Canal Club came along. This relatively new club seems to be a new, different sort of club, unlike the stuffy old relics that cling on to their old canal stretches just in case the river is out of sorts or they've got a match on their one and only pool. Online membership, regular fish-ins and a well organized lure league. If all of that wasn't appealing enough to make me purchase the bargain £20 membership, the fact that they have under their control some twenty five miles of prime canal that will never get electro fished to remove zander, certainly is. So after joining up via the Internet and harassing the chairman with a few questions, my membership pack arrived and I added a Crimewatch classic photo to my membership card ready to hit some old haunts.

Wanted in connection to crimes against fishing lures.
My first short foray was to a section of the Grand Union that used to be a quality bit of water. Apart from the fact that it was late in the afternoon and the boats were thumping down the canal, it turned out to be an interesting return. Straight away I found a couple of small schoolie zander lying in the deeper water where the locks raging water had scoured away the silt. I moved away from the lock after it was opened and targeted a deep section of cover small a red spikey shad on a three gram jig tight into the cover, where I picked up a slightly bigger than average schoolie.

Along with the boats one other thing was proving to be a bit problematic; large swathes of the canal surface was littered with hundreds of thousands of spent catkins that had been blown from the trees lining the banks. Although pretty innocuous, these little buggers made casting the lures a nightmare. They got hung up on line and leader knots, they were so thick in some cases that the line could even get through them and the lure didn't sink. Even moving spots didn't help that much as when the locks opened up the collections of them moved on mass along the canal.

I finished up having to really pick where I was casting carefully, but even doing that I still managed to root out a few more small zeds fishing tight to the concrete structures above and below the many locks dotted along this section of canal, using curly tailed grubs.

A couple of days later I was back on the same canal but few miles downstream to meet up with Mick for a session. It had been a dreadful night weather-wise, with storms battering the south of the country. Although we seemed to have been spared much of the wind, the rain had really come down and was predicted for a large part of the morning.

Given that my faithful waterproof smock has grown a little tighter of late I had to make do with a stinky old poncho that has been lingering in my car boot where I'd dumped it since last year and looking like a proper old bank tramp I wandered off into the rain to find Mick.

Not long after hooking up with my accomplice for the morning I got the first tentative signs of action. Having brought a dead bait rod for this session which I had flicked out onto the edge of the trench as I was searching around for a tug on the lure. The small float sprang to life first when a tiny zander thought his luck was in and found my roach head. That one came off, but in the next spot I hooked and landed a slightly better one which objected to being photographed and made a slippery escape back into the canal as I fumbled with my camera. 

As we moved down the canal we came across a slightly sticky situation. A pair of swans had decided to nest literally right next to the tow path. With what looked like Mum on the nest and Dad lurking on the canal, slipping between them was done quickly with a definite squeak of the arse as you went. I've seen how aggressive nesting swans can be and this set up has got 'attacked dog walker' written all over it.

Worst of all was the fact that after doing the swan slip once, the pounding wind and rain turned us back for a second pass as we backtracked into the cover. Once cast out between some boats, Mick had a couple of small zeds and lost a better one on his dead bait rod, before I snagged a very spawn filled perch on the jig from the centre of the canal. Obviously still to spawn, the perch have me a bit confused as I would of thought with them being predators they would have spawned already.

The highlight of the session was still to come though. After fishing a few fruitless areas we came to a heavy bit of cover which looked right to both of us. Mick cast his dead bait out on the right hand side of what is now called 'Mick's bush' and I cast mine to the left. As we searched around with small jigs, Mick's dead rod showed signs of life. His strike was met with a good bend in the rod and straight away we both knew it was a good fish. I barely got hold of the net before he was doing the F*~# F*~# F*~# zander lament into the sky knowing he'd lost a big one. Then within ten minutes my float sank off like a U boat submerging. I struck and my rod bent round as another big fish shook its head. It was on long enough for me to see a long light shape under the water then it too came off leaving me cursing the sky like a mad man.

Really I thought that was it until after a little while Mick's recast float did a few different movements. He held that rod for ages waiting for some kind of definite movement. After watching the float move like a crayfish was doing one with the bait for ages, he finally struck and once again a big fish was on. This time it never got away and elated by the sight of a new PB zander, Mick was all smiles. We both thought it was bigger than it turned out to be, but even a pound and a half lighter than originally predicted it was still a brilliant fish of  7.6lb which I was really happy to see become Micks new PB.

I don't think either of us will ever be sure if we stumbled onto the land of the giants in the 'Mick's bush' swim or if it was the same fish that struck thrice. I've personally seen the same zander caught and landed twice in the same session, as well as the same fish pick up, come off and come back again a few times, so part of me says it was the same fish on all three runs. But then there is part of me that loves the idea of a rogue pack of big zander mooching around like they own the cut.

That was it for the action for the day and considering the weather conditions weren't exactly enjoyable, we did have a good session in the end. The old haunts seem to be as good as they ever where and hopefully any skills and knowledge I've learnt since I last fished these stretches will help me stick some nice fish in the net. I can't wait to get out again and have already made plans to get on another tasty looking bit of new canal on the LACC waters as soon as I can to try and find myself a big old Grand Union monster zed.