Thursday, 13 September 2012

Catching the smallest fish using the biggest bait.

Almost a year ago to the day I was sat next to a massive sheet of water behind two rods baited with worms. My intended quarry that day was the declining eel. But before an eel could find my bait and after the marauding perch disappeared off wherever they go, a little fish picked up my bait. That capture of that little yellow fellow really stoked a passion.
I had forgotten how much I appreciate the capture of these fish, each one always a surprise. After this I wrote passionately about them, but as always my intent to fish again for the humble ruffe was shelved once home in favour of more glamorous fish.

I did however promise myself that one day I would make a concerted effort to fish for them again. I say again because once before myself and three others nearly drove ourselves over the brink of sanity trying to track them down in our local shire. I even under took a journey with Jacky in Norfolk to try and locate a broad where I had encountered them before, only to fail miserably. But his time I had conclusive and up to date evidence of their existence in a body of water, which by happy coincidence I would be holidaying at.

If you were to mention to most that the aim of your fishing whilst away was to chance upon the smallest most maligned fish that swims in that particular lake, they would probably think you mad. Facebook alone is filled with proclamations by anglers that they are heading to a far away venue to capture a new PB or any other of the myriad expeditions we anglers undertake. No one goes away trying to catch a PB ruffe or even tries to catch them, do they.

This I think is where the problem lies. Unless the memorable capture of any fish is not punctuated by a photo of a slime soaked angler cradling some giant as it spills from between his or hers fingers, it would seem it just not worth doing. Though there is a few which dedicate time towards small fish. Dennis Flack is one. He currently holds three UK records all of which are mini species. Another is Mark Everad, whose book 'The little book of little fishes' was like petrol to my smouldering desire to angle after ruffe. I know there must be others who do this too. But it would seem that unlike the more popular aspects fishing which are rammed down our throats daily by the angling media, that the hunting of mini species is a truly underground.

How do you catch a ruffe? Frankly what is written about specifically targeting the diminutive ruffe can be written on the side of one. Prior to leaving I had as much as one can, researched the topic of angling for ruffe with little results. Being a minor species it would seem that they are not worthy of fishing for. Aside from the afore mentioned book by Mark Everad and a few snippets on the web, only Falkus and Walton seem to have dedicated much time to put pen to paper regarding the species, and sadly the majority of what both have written seems directly aimed at the taste and consumption of the poor yellow fellows. Though who would want to eat a ruffe is beyond me. 

With little to go on I knew before beginning that this was going to be a voyage of discovery compressed into a short space of time! But luckily my target area was a medium sized marina aside a massive broad lined by reeds. This would act as one huge feature of which I was not going too, but fish within.

Like most anglers, my automatic assumption was that small fish equals light gear. After all we live by that unwritten rule to give our quarry a sporting chance. So naturally I began using light lines, small hooks in conjunction with an super sensitive float. Bait was the only thing I or anyone else seemingly had a lead on, as what lead me to this point was the previous capture of a trio of ruffe using worms to fish for another species.

Initially my thoughts had been to fish a pole with the obligatory light rig attached. But before setting foot out of  the Midlands I shelved this idea due to the cumbersome tackle involved, instead opting to use a 13ft light float rod and a super sensitive Drennan still water dart float.

My first outing onto the broad in search of of ruffe was by all accounts successful. A liberal helping of chopped worm did its job and attracted instant bites. Time after time the orange tip of the float slid away as ether a small roach or perch gobbled up my single dendrobaena hook bait. After catching a quantity of fish that would not only satisfy a match angler and probably win a match, I received a slight dip on the float before it traversed the swim left to right. My first transparent yellow ruffe was landed and the quest was on.

Another soon followed but my excitement to keep a shoal in the swim by topping up with more chopped worm proved a detrimental decision. More freebies went in and the roach and perch again turned up on mass.

Even though my elbow now ached from action I could not help but think that my success with other species was proving to be my downfall with my quarry. Pondering the problem over ale away from the bank I ran through the session. My rig although successful did not discriminate any species. In fact so sensitive was it that should a passing roach fart, the float would dip. Previous experience told me that although small in stature the ruffe is a bold biting fish seemingly unconcerned by fine rigs. So the drennan dart was gone and replaced by a much less sensitive 4BB peacock waggler.

The 2lb hook link attached to a fine wire size 18 hook soon followed that, to be replaced by a size 12 specimen hook tied direct to my 3lb main line.

Bait was my next thought. The single dendrobaena worm was easily and readily consumed by any fish that swam in water I was fishing. So that was replaced with a section of lob worm which I hoped would at least deter the small roach, thus reducing the bites by half, but did seem totally preposterous at the time.

The following day I put these new ideas in to practise in conjunction with a new baiting attack. The first day the initial helping of chopped worm attracted a lot of fish but the ruffe had not shown until the bites from the other fish had stopped. So going with this theory I baited a single large shot of worm at the start of the session and fed no more.

It worked and the pest fish turned up. Happily no small roach got in on the action but a few larger ones pestered me early on, and they were followed by a mass of annoying perch which I concluded would not be avoided at any cost...

After the intial action subsided I sat back thinking that now was the time when all others had lost interest, that a shoal of scrounging ruffe may appear. Intermittently bites that seemed correct appeared. Single dips followed by travelling floats. Just as if someone was skimming across the bottom with my bait in its mouth. The only thing now was I could hook one for love nor money.

As I re baited with a section of worm, it occurred that although the big baits were getting interest, the way I was hooking them through one end meant that unless the entire bait was consumed the hook stood a fifty percent chance of not being in the right position. So the hook was moved into a more central position...

and pop! First cast, Mr Ruffe was in hand!

Two more followed that morning giving me the distinct impression I was on the right track. Big baits and a strict feeding routine, combined with heavy rigs fished over depth seemed to winkle out the ruffe from the mass of hungry roach and perch circling over their heads. 
Landing a forth just before I finished and strolled back home with the scent of beer back bacon filling my nostrils, I felt this idea to actually spend some time ruffe fishing was not seeming so mad after all.

The sea.
Time spent close to the coast must at sometime be spent casting into the the surf. And as I have become very partial to the odd pendulum cast here or there, it was inevitable that sooner or later I would feel the lap of wave upon toe.

Sadly though my monitoring of the catch reports for the area prior to arriving revealed it had been a torrid summer for the sea angler. Zero swell and nondescript conditions had resulted in only the most dedicated anglers that were prepared to spend all night on the right tides, staring at rods tips illuminated by lamps, reaping a few sole here and there.

Even knowing what was in store for me I still offered myself up to the sea. Wall to wall blue skies and blazing sun greeted me. The beaches although well populated by people were suspiciously lacking in anglers. I felt like a gooseberry standing staring at my rod tip as sun bathers bathed and kids made sand castles alongside me.

Jacky, however, loved it. Normally when I am enjoying myself throwing lead towards the horizon, she finds herself sheltering in a tent smiling through gritted teeth as I enjoy the bounty of the sea. This time the tables were reversed and she reaped the rewards of a late summer, relaxing on the beach as I thrashed the water to a foam trying every possible way to scratch a bite from even a crab. I even brought a lure rod and a selection of shiny lures along to chance a bass in the blue waters. But this only resulted in sun burn from my normally hidden feet being exposed to the savage sun.

Of three sessions where I fished into the sea, the highlight was when, from nowhere, an Apache gunship swung low onto the beach  and tracked along the coast only a hundred feet or so over head. I would have run off down the sand like some scene from a action movie imagining he was strafing rows of bullets into the sand, if I weren't so intent on getting a picture of it as it passed overhead.

With little sport to be had, relaxing became more of a focus, and the time when I appeared to be staring at the motionless rod tip I was more than likely thinking of ruffe fishing and associated things.

Back on the ruffe hunt  I was now catching them regularly and as with always my thoughts turned to weights. I had all along being weighing all the ruffe I landed using my flyweight scales and as always they were proving unreliable as best at these low weights.

An average one like this could weigh anything from half to three ounces which I knew was not right!

Though with my familiarity I had begun to examine and photo them quite closely. In doing so had not only developed a sore patch on my left hand where there spiny gill plates grated on my palm. But I had begun to see the myriad of patterns in their skin and the intensity of violet colour in the eyes, which differed from fish to fish. 

With a good average catch rate developing, I decided to invest in a set of digital kitchen scales capable of accurately weighing my captures in ounces and drams. This proved enlightening not only to the weight of the fish, but to how useless flyweights in their lowest measurements.
This has been a readily discussed topic amongst myself and my good friend Jeff over the years, especially when dace season arrives in late winter. The addition and comparison of the new scales against my fly weights has for me proved that they are totally unreliable below the five ounce mark due to their internal mechanism taking a certain amount of load to initiate. BUT! once that five ounce barrier is broken they are actually quite accurate.

Every ruffe landed now went through the same routine of being weighed and photographed, much to the amusement of any other anglers who were out chucking feeders into the broad chasing bream. 

A giant among tiddlers The broad was shrouded in early morning mist as the sun rose on day five and after walking the three spots I had been targeting plus a few I was considering. I settled back on the area which had so far produced the best results. Even though it was no looker of a swim.
I knew the sun would soon burn the mist from the water and facing east, my eyes would not last long staring  in that direction, so this needed to be a quick one.

With limited time and a fare quantity of worms left over I went for a big hit. Depositing at least the half a pint of chopped worm into the swim around my float. Moments later the rod was hooped over and the line cut across the still surface. This was no ruffe for sure. The dogged fight hinted towards something silver and I suspected another pound plus roach of which I had already landed several of had nobbled my bait. When it shot up the surface and I caught sight of a large silver flank my heart thumped. The next time it came up and dived it succeeded in freeing itself much to my disappointment. One of the old chaps who spend their summers living aboard there boats ventured over having seen me lose the fish, and smirkingly asked if it was good one. My confirmation that I had lost a good roach prompted him to inform me that the marina had produced roach of two pounds in the last few years. Which although hard to believe, might not have been that far off the mark as my best so far had been 1.4lb.

Putting the loss behind me I endured a string of perch before the swim again went dead. As per normal the lack of other fish gave the ruffe time to sneak in for scraps and two small ruffe soon obliged. The next quiet spell lasted ages before my float dipped, then actually slid away. Immediately I suspected the perch had drifted back in and the fish on the end of my line pulled back as much as something this size can. I was being very nonchalant, until what I was convinced was a small perch turned into a big ruffe. Almost embarrassingly I swung it straight into my chest quickly so as not to lose it.

This bar far the biggest ruffe I had ever caught, or seen for that matter. I knew from a previous check of the UK record list that the current record stood a 5.4 oz and this one was about to reveal exactly how big that record ruffe must have been.

Weighing 2.4 oz on the scales it did not look that big, but in my hand it seemed huge. Six and half inches long and totally different looking from all the others, this one stood a chance of being the mother of all them all.
I had caught what is now my official ruffe PB.

The next day I came down to earth with a thump. After landing three fish including the new PB I could not find a single ruffe. Over two different sessions I rotated through four swims and all I could land was flipping small perch. Even when they stopped feeding the ruffe were very much absent. I got the distinct impression that was it. On tidal lakes when the level drops low, which it was doing this month, the fish sometimes push out from the edge of the lake and it can take days for them to reappear.

An angel saves me. On the final day the wind kicked up and I knew the sea would swell. Knowing this would be my best chance of catching anything off the beach I headed seaward to try one last time for even the smallest whiting. Again I walked away after failing to entice a single nibble from the desolate north sea, even after chucking some primo bait at it. It was Jacky, the gem that she is, who as I stuffed rods into bags, that suggested that I might squeeze one last session in as she packed ahead of the journey home.

Moments later I deposited the last of my free offerings into the broad, sat back with only three lob worms left and sipped a bottle of beer  as I watched my float.
It was a close call as two worms worth of bait went down perches throats before a ruffe turned up. It wasn't a PB shaker but still made the top three at 1.7oz, and was very welcome.

With only two thirds of a worm left I clung on till the very end, and after landing a final perch on my last bit of worm, I recast the chewed remains of the bait I had delicately disgorged from it's mouth. Just as the sun hit the reed bed behind me the float bobbed and drifted slowly to one side.  My last cast on my last bait landed my last ruffe. I carefully photographed it and took one last look, before flipping it back.

I watched the sun set over the water as I packed up and mulled over the last few days. After baiting up with over a kilo+ of free offerings, and using over a hundred and twenty lob worms as hook baits, I had waded my way through hundreds of small perch, a handful of semi decent roach and few skimmers, to land sixteen ruffe.
I suppose to a lot of anglers this would qualify as the most unbelievable waste of time, but for me I loved every minute of it, and it may well have pushed me into a new facet of specimen hunting forever.


  1. Sublime post Danny Flack, easily one of the best I have partially read in ages! I'll get back on it tomorrow and comb through the detail for clues, because I'm going to go out on a ruffe hunt of my own.

    I had a whacker a few years back, but like you, I had only Flyweights on me, accurate below the pound to, well... you could make it up to anything you care to mention.

    Can you imagine how big the record was? What a lump that must have been!

    1. At a rough estimate I think the record must have been the full size of my hand. Which for a ruffe is mind blowing.
      Let me know when you get started of your ruffe hunt mate and I will join you for session.

    2. I will. You know where it'll be though! However, I heard of more caught some way distant, but that a place I only ever fish with bread, so ain't seen any myself.

  2. Fantastic read and excellent photos!!!!!

    See you in a couple of weeks old chap .......7lb chub


  3. Mad reading this Dan, I had 3 of the bleeders on the upper Avon last Saturday, seems like they are ready for world domination!

  4. I love the head shot photo, great colours.