Wednesday 29 May 2013

A colourful birthday slapping.

Over the weekend I turned thirty six and it being my birthday all ideas of me doing any chores or DIY were summarily nullified. As per normal when asked by my better half, family and friends what I wanted to do for my birthday I responded with, 'I want to go fishing'. As no one was really going to question me on my birthday it seemed I was free to do exactly as I wanted, and given it was a bit of a nice weekend with a bank holiday at the end, it seemed it had a chance to turn into an impromptu fish-fest.

So after fulfilling my bill paying duties on Saturday morning I grabbed my ready-prepared gear and headed off into the Warwickshire wilderness to stalk some carp on my friends quiet woodland lake. Though I did have to make a stop on the way to pick up a prize which I found out I had won only a few days ago. 
Any regular readers of this blog might remember last year I spent a large part of my summer fishing a venue I referred to as 'the lake' and for those who had not put two and two together already, the lake to which I referred to was Coombe pool fishery. I was lucky enough to win a free season ticket with one of my huge catches of bream that was topped off by a 10.2lb specimen. Prior to this revelation I really was unsure if I was going to return to Coombe after a successful season last year. But this prize has decided that for me and now ticket in hand I find myself planning for those sleepless slimy nights of bream fishing, and for the amazing dawns when the promise of big tench is almost too much to bear.

After finally leaving the bank holiday weekend meleé of Coombe country park, a short journey found me in the pure peace and quiet well away from the throngs. From the path leading down through the coppice I could already sight a few dark shapes cruising in the afternoon sun. Unusually the fish on the surface were not in the dream state they are often found in here in mid afternoon, and were in fact quite twitchy. It only took one lap of the lake  before a viable candidate was located two feet out from the bank browsing along a small reed bed. 

A cast was made and as if sticking to the script, the fish slowly drifted toward my sinking free lined bread,sucking it in and blowing it out in one deft movement before moving off. I tracked it down the bank to where I found it now only inches under the surface close to a small willow tree. This time a floating bit of crust seemed more appropriate. But after casting it over the fishes head and drawing it close, the fish clocked my ruse and slid away. Only moments later as I waited hoping the target might resurface right under my bait I spotted a chunky fish moving very confidently in the direction of my bait. There was no doubt about the outcome of this encounter! A mouth opened, the rod bent and the pin screamed as it made a very impressive run right across the lake.

This fish fought so hard I did wonder if it had some barbel in its lineage. When I finally slipped the net under it the solid common had a tail which stretched out was as big as the widest bit of the fish, which explained the insane fight that had left my thumb cramped from breaking the pin.

Four or five more fish were landed before they all seemed to disappear off the top. After spotting a disturbance over in a shady bank I moved up on them using the knee high nettles and shadows of the trees to mask my approach. This enabled me to stand only feet away from the fish as the patrolled along a lily bed between me and them.

Most of the moving carp seemed to look like other things might soon be on their mind, but just in the lillies to my right I spotted a very odd face poking from under the pads. It did look like this fish was in that hot summers day trance they get in, but it did seem a viable mark. I hooked on a tiny bit of crust no bigger than my thumb nail and lowered it onto the surface about a foot away so the slight tow would carry it into position. It worked a treat; the crust drifted naturally into place and after flaring its nostrils the fish moved ever so slowly to meet it. The suction was so slight the bread span round on the nose of the fish without going in. Then it seemed to hold it just in its lips for a ages before finally sucking it in.

Whether my strike was to light or whether it was too deep in its comatose world to know what was going on I could not exactly say. It just swam very obediently into my waiting net. I remember thinking that was very odd then as I lifted the net it suddenly woke up and went berserk trying to swim off in the net. Eventually I did manage to calm it down enough as to dare to try and get a photo as it was well worth a snapshot.

The fish had other ideas though, and I had to show this series of shots my friend Rob took of me getting a good old birthday slapping as the fish tried to do one over my shoulder into the undergrowth.

It's a bit wriggly!
Oh god it's trying to get over my shoulder!
Now it's vibrating like mad!
Both of us calm again!

The next day saw me heading off tench fishing to a local lake which is normally very good to me. All too often I find myself sitting behind buzzers waiting for my rig to do the business for me. Today though I had a load of maggot as bait and had also dusted of a fourteen foot power waggler rod which I wanted to see was in working order for a trip later in the week.

So unusually I found myself sitting tight to the bank regularly firing maggots at my black topped crystal waggler which sat statue like about three rod lengths out. As romantic of a session as I wanted to be, it turned out to nothing of the sort and I was forced to sit watching tench fizz appearing randomly around my swim as my float did nothing whilst other anglers down the bank managed to land a few using methods I would normally use. This Sunday session ended up being a total write off for me even though I knew there was feeding fish in my swim they seemed rather reluctant to take any of the baits I was offering.

The next day I had a score to settle and after chucking the float gear away and tooling up with my normal two rod long range kit I went back to find a wonderful breeze whipping up the surface of the lake. On still days you can spot the feeding fish on this venue, but on windy days they get their heads down in a big way as I was about to see once again.

I had only been cast out ten minutes when Baz turned up in the car park before coming down my way to see if the swim he was after was free. Then as he walked past me rushing back to get his gear my right hand rod jerk into life. The stuttering run ended in nothing, but then as I recast that rod the splash of the feeder caused another fish to bolt through my other line causing a screamer on my other rod that too ended in nothing.

When I had finally got both rods recast and Baz had also got settled in I popped over for a quick word. This inevitably ended up in me doing a sprint back as my one of my rods again melted off attached to this lovely gal.

Up until about eleven it was pretty regular action for me as most casts got some attention within twenty minutes. Four more tench hit the net and another found freedom in the shallows to my right after performing a spectacular kiting run. A small carp pulled exactly the same trick on me to by also flying into the bank where I found myself playing a fish on forty plus feet of line only three feet form the bank.

After my action piped down news reached me that Baz had just landed a mid double common which he was just setting free when I arrived. Not wanting to be away from my rods too long I made a comment I knew Baz was waiting for... The last time I told him I thought it was only a mater of time before he landed a good one from this lake, he landed a twenty plus fish! And after uttering some similar words you will never guess what happened!!!

Yes he landed another one and this time it was a spectacular twenty pound six ounce Ghost common which I was lucky enough to get to photograph for him. He was buzzing as we got some cracking shots of this rarely caught fish which he really deserved to catch.

What away to end a fish-filled birthday weekend, by seeing this wonderful fish fall to one of my friends. Three sessions in three days and a load of cracking fish crossing the cord... I reckon I could get used to this and it almost makes me want my birthday to come round quicker if it wasn't for the fact I don't want to wish my life away, as there are not enough hours in one life time for me to go fishing.

Thursday 23 May 2013

sharks pups and south easterleys

With a nice breeze skipping from the west over the shingle behind me, and the intermittent cloud cover, it looked a fine sort of day to begin things. The tide had two hours of flood left until it hit slack water and the wind was combining with the lapping sea just enough to make me smile. Even as inexperienced as I am, I know that too little surf makes for clear seas and lethargic fish, whilst too much can halt fishing entirely  Hence today the early morning wind had the waves forming a thirty feet off the shore and the sea looked just about right to me.

My last encounter with sea fishing over six months ago had not gone well. Like all types of fishing there are good times and bad, and after many a good time I had fallen, flailing face first onto a bad one. The geography of the environment where beach fishing takes place can make it feel very black and white. By that I mean that more often than not it's a case of there is, or is not, feeding fish within casting range of the beach. So as I stood there with poised to cast with four ounces of lead swinging in the breeze waiting to tow my oozing bundle of peeler crab towards the horizon, I hoped this was not going splash down into fallow water... 

I sometimes think those moments waiting for that first bite of a trip are the most nerve racking, with the tone of the fishing ahead hanging in the balance. Then when that first dip rattle or bleep occurs the relief is palpable and you can relax knowing that all will not be for waste. It took exactly five minutes for my first bite to develop. The initial single nod widened my eyes immediately and called me to the rod, but my brain reminded me I wasn't fishing for winter dace and waiting to strike would be more beneficial in this scenario. Two more nods and then the rod was heaving over like Moby dick himself was attached to my line.

On one hand sea and tackle take away much of the fight of captures made in the waves, but on the other they add to it too. Most rigs drag lead behind on the retrieve as the sea seems to try and suck back fish as you reel them in. Even reeling in the smallest of fish can be a job in itself. My fish was pulling back and had as yet remained a mystery as it kited across the last few waves. Then a pointy nose appeared from under the last wave before a miniature fin was seen in the receding wave and the tone of things to come was instantly set.

Smooth hound pups are undoubtedly cute and their tenacity to consume baits you would have always thought to large for them is commendable, but the capture of one on my first cast usually means the sea bed would probably be paved with them. Frankly though, I needed the confidence boost a morning of catching these little sharks would provide, and I did enjoy it as one after another they searched out my single crab bait on the seemingly featureless sea bed.

By the time the tide had stalled, then turned, I had caught dozens of them at all kinds of ranges and happily the size of the fish present on this beach seems to be increasing. As normally they they average a eight inches long and maybe half a pound but several were four times this size. Though this could be down to them being veracious little critters, like this one which was determined to gum my finger or hand, which resulted in my rather perplexed look! 

Two days later I had had enough of smooth hound pups and was considering new marks further south. It just happened that early one morning as I drove towards one new area a road accident had closed off access to, that I diverted to a totally different bit of beach. Kessingland beach is a serious competitor for the most easterly point of UK and common belief in this area has it that in the next ten years it will gain enough ground to depose its close neighbour of this title.
After trudging across an endless sea of shingle I for one did not find hard to believe that Kessingland will soon become usurper to Lowestoft's crown. The bank of pebbles I had to descend down to the quickly sloping sand was nothing less than epic. Quite literally I had a small house sized bank of constantly moving shingle jutting up from the sandy bar where I stood at forty five degrees that ended in nothing but sky.

That first morning was certainly to be eventful. Bites weren't easy to come by and the few that did appear were nontheless from more smooth hound pups hanging out way beyond the sanctuary of the bay where most of their relations were residing northwards of. I was considering making a move when out of nowhere my rod really bent over shaking violently as it did. My instant thought was I had found my holy grail and a bass had found my bait beyond the surf... But I was mistaken! 

The culprit really made me work hard to get it towards the beach and if it was not for the definite sideways movement I would have certainly said I was dragging in a clump of weed. By now the tide had begun pulling and that made a hard job worse, but my careful persuasion came good in the end. It was almost reliving to see my bright red line become my orange shock leader and when it finally passed through the top ring of my rod I knew I was about to my hands on a decent prize. Expecting a good bass to appear as the waves receded I was shocked when a rather much larger smooth hound of of maybe five or more pounds materialised. In a total panic I rushed forward to grab it just as another wave came in. Being a trainer wearing landlubber I backed off not wanting to get wet, only to see the fish get pulled back out to sea. I stupidly grabbed the only bit of the rig to hand which just happened to be the lead. A lesson was quickly learnt. Turns out me pulling from the lead end of the line and the sea pulling back too, as well as the shark thrashing around is basically to much strain for two feet of even 30lb mono line to bare.
I felt the line crack the instant it went and for all my vain effort to try and grab hold of the little sharks tail it was gone back to where it came from, leaving me staring at the waves where it had once been. I did re-rig and try again but that was my shot for the day gone in the blink of an eye, leaving me regretting not just holding onto the rod instead of grabbing at the prize.

I stewed all night on that loss and brewed new plans to return to the same spot early the next day to try and set the record straight. But as always the weather had something to say on that matter. At four thirty I woke, dragged myself wearily from my warm bed and set about brewing some tea. Cup in hand I drew back the curtain to be met by the sight of the blossom on the cherry tree outside our digs blowing across the lawn like snow. Overnight night the wind had swung round from the south-west to the south-east and had increased power by three or more times.   

Not to be perturbed I headed out any way. All the way there I tried to measure the strength of the wind by various objects. Yes that bush is bending over alarmingly and yes that wind turbine is moving quite rapidly but I am sure I might get a few casts in. Wrong! Very wrong! Incan honestly say that I did not know that wind over sea moves twice as fast as wind on the land, so what according to the land lubbers weather forecast is a 16 mph wind gusting to 25 mph on the beach, is a 32 mph wind gusting to 50 mph.

The sea was smashing up the land. Waves rose well off the beach and as far as my eyes could see in the sand filled wind, the water swelled and throbbed as the wind wound it into a frenzy of white water.

I don't know if it was stupidity or just the curiosity to know what it felt like to cast in such conditions that made me do it, but I dug my tripod deep into the sand, baited a hook and fired the biggest lead I had out into the surf. That cast was a third the distance of what I am capable of and took less than a minute to break out of the hold it had and roll back up the beach. That cured my curiosity pretty quickly and sent me back home for the entire day in one single cast. Though with the wind behind me the walk back to the car was one of the easiest I have had, I must say.

Reports that the bass had shown up on the more northern coloured beaches had me head away from Kessingland and back to my old favourite jolly sailors mark in Pakefeild the next day. The locals being present was a good indicator of the sport changing too. I even saw two borderline legal bass in the bucket of a father and son pair just down the beach, but for my part all I could find amongst the seeming bass brimming sea was more and more starry smooth hound pups.

The report that tipped me off about the bass too also put a shining gem of information into my head. Apparently about a mile south of the area where I had lost the better smooth hound was a very rare and productive feature which is considered to be a banker spot by the locals. Now I have been fishing this area for a few years now and have never heard a thing about it but and adventure to find this sacred spot was just the sort of thing I was well up for. So the next morning I again was up before first light and slipping out the door to go and investigate, even though I knew full well it would be low tide when I arrived.

It was hard walk over loose pebbles through the dunes and half way there I came across the collapsed remnants of a pill box built to defend against the German invasion if it had ever come. Standing three hundred feet from it with maybe five hundred feet to the sea it's hard to imagine anyone could have crossed that bit of flat open land and made it to the other side alive even if the Germans did land on our shores. I nipped up to have a look from its point of view and standing on the very top of it I could see other relics of world war two sea defences along the coast and inland, which showed the full extent of how much of a key feature this particular area could have played should the war have gone another way.

It seemed more like five miles before I finally sited a small building on the horizon. Then as I neared fences and rocks became visible before I finally found myself a the mouth of the Benacre sluice. 

Features on the east coast are rare and this sort of feature is probably the only one of its kind for a very long way. The Benacre sluice is essentially the mouth of a river. Like many places on the east coast the land is just about level with the sea and thus sea defences are needed to stop high tides claiming back that land. But rivers flow to the sea... So where this little trickle meets the tidal defences it has a pumping station and sluice to carry the water up and over the barrier.

When in use at high tide the sluice dumps out the contents of the river built up over the low tide into the sea, creating a small but prominent feature which is said to attract fish from miles around. Standing on the beach at low tide I could even see where the water entered the sea and the combined forces of both formed and trench where they flowed together.

It is not easy to see in the foreground but if you follow the dark trench further down the beach back up you can see the differing shade of pebbles at the bottom of the photo. The only difference between the beach and the trench is that the trench has no sand whatsoever in it were as the beach is a mix of both pebbles and sand.

Intrigued by this new found feature and with the tide now turned I made camp higher up the beach so as to have a go on this spot, even though I was going to be fishing at the worst part of the tide. I did suspect it was going to be a real waiting game so after making a cast I left the rod fishing whilst I mooched around close by investigating the area further.

From the rocks at the bottom of the sluice I could make out the full picture of how it has and does influence this mark. Directly in front of the rocks I could make out the skeletal remains of a predecessor. It looked like before the brick and rock sluice had been built a wooden one had been used and the random spikes of  rotting wood that appeared jutting out of the waves got me wondering how far out they went. On closer inspection, and by closer I mean standing on, I concluded that the old river beds lack of sand to fill the spaces between the pebbles made for a very unstable bit of beach. The first foot I put onto that narrow swathe of pebbles sank about a foot into the single and really made me step back rather quickly. I now knew this was to be avoided when walking down to the surf to cast.

It was as I returned to my rod that I spotted it nod a couple of times before bending over. By the time I had got on the right side of my tripod the line was fully slack and lying on the beach. It was so slack it took ages to pick up the line and make contact with the rig and when I finally did the wondrous sensation of a good fish vibrated back up the line. As always it was a real effort to drag fish back towards the shallower water but thankfully the tide was right now actually helping my in my efforts for once. The fish was moving hard to my right and as it did my vision tracked the line moving in the direction of the wooden remains of the old sluice. My instant reaction to put more pressure on the fish I think may of made things worse, and no time at all I found myself snagged solid.

I had only made one cast and by some modicum of luck I had hooked probably my best ever sea fish and now I had snagged it up on the only flipping bit of rough ground on the entire beach. I tried every trick I know to try and free it; changing the angle, slackening off and slow pressure - none of it worked. I even just put the rod down in the hope the fish might somehow pull the rig out but nothing. In the end I had not choice but to pull the break. Sea rigs always go in the same place, just above the shock leader, and the little pig tail of curl indicated this to be the case here.

I was absolutely gutted that after discovering this wonderful place I had on my first trip here, and on my last session of the trip, lost what I can't help but think was a good bass, even though I knew full and well there could be some nasty stuff hidden out in front of me. Worst off all was it was my only chance too, as after re-rigging and risking the same cast again and again not another bite was forthcoming that morning.

Although it was bitter pill to swallow at the time I now have a slightly better understanding of this mark and even though it is a while away, I am returning east later on in the summer. I am sure with a bit of planning I will find myself on this mark again, fishing a better tide when hopefully the sluice is pumping and those bass are hanging round looking for tit bits.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Fake 'n bake.

For the longest time I remained unconvinced by fake baits. I could not for the life of me put any faith in these imitations over the real thing. It was time that told though, and gradually fake baits wheedled their way into my fishing. At first the bright and buoyant nature of fake sweetcorn seemed a perfect compliment to a 10mm bottom baits; not only did it act as a visual flag for the fish, but its buoyant quality counter balanced the weight of the boilie, making it so light that should a passing gudgeon foolishly suck when it was within half a foot then my bait would surely end up wedged in its mouth.

Soon the flexibility of plastic corn became evident. Flavouring it to suit how I wanted it to taste for any particular season. Sweet in the cold, savoury in the warm, the permutations were endless. I also began to use it in different situations and different ways. Many an aloof patrolling canal carp came undone by two grains popped up ten inches or more of the bottom  fished tight to the far side cover. A zander too was genuinely caught out by this ruse. Lord only knows why it ate it, but it did!

As always one thing always leads to another and soon enough found myself pondering other false foods being sold at the local tackle retailer. At this point I must make it clear that I did early on draw a line regarding fakes. With baits such as bread, worms, meat and boilies I never thought that in any way would the fake versions out-fish the real thing. It was only ever going to be corn, maggots and casters that became part of my armoury, and the latter has fast become the most relevant revelation to my fishing in years. Not long after I began using them I stopped using the real thing, as there is no point buying both fake maggots and casters! The maggots generally come in only single colour packs where as the casters come three of four different colours in one pack, and the shape of them is only different by maybe one millimetre at one end.

Why these little rubber grubs should have had such a profound effect on my fishing is down to one of my most favourite of fishes, the tench. Why the tench is so susceptible to both fake corn and fake casters I do not know, but they are without a doubt, and I can hand on heart say that since I started using fake baits for them four or more years ago they have accounted for no less seventy percent of the tench I have caught.

Early on as the tench are just waking up I am a big fan of not putting any large amounts of bait down and instead fishing small piles of unobtrusive highly flavoured bait with a bright hook bait, such as a single grain of sinking plastic corn or a 10mm boilie critically  balanced with a bit of floating corn. Either one will fly into any enquiring mouths before anything of the real bait does.

Later as the temperature rises, much as it is now, similar tactics as just described work well for me over loosely scattered ground bai,t and when smaller fish like roach, rudd and perch begin picking over beds of bait that's when the fakes come into their own. Quite simply its a case of knowing you have bait on your hook with hundreds of pecking mouths are around and with fake baits it is always still there when a maggot would of been skinned and a caster shelled.
Adding dead maggots to ground bait or fishing live ones in feeders are both devastating methods I don't mind admitting I have ignored in the past. But after I began using fake hook baits the idea of attracting loads of little fish just seems a good thing rather than a annoyance to be avoided.

As we see so many new products and techniques in the angling media nowadays it hard not to find yourself being cynical about most of them and I think it is fair to say a lot of the things they are selling and we buying are just ways to get us to spend money. But as someone who thought fake baits were a bit of flim-flam I can now truly say I am a convert, and as my tench fishing for one has done nothing but benefit from it I cannot help but recommend to anyone who reads this that you have to give it a go.

If that's not enough to inspire anyone to replace your real corn for fake or fish a fake grubs in conjunction with live ones, then here is a few examples of some lovely tench I caught fishing a mid week session on the hottest day of the year so far. After mixing together all the left over bits of pellets a few handfuls of ground bait, half a pint of left over dead maggots that I had frozen, I found a nice clear spot an easy cast from the bank of my favourite tench lake and cast fifteen or twenty large feeder loads roughly onto the area.
My feeder baited with two fake casters hadn't been out for ten minutes before the first tench took the bait.

Steadily through the day fish up to just under five and half pounds kept on stopping by my baited spot, and it seemed they found my fake grubs just fine as they sifted around the swim picking up freebies.

Although on this occasion the rubber casters were responsible for the lions share of the fish I landed, a single bit of pop up corn in conjunction with a small method feeder fished just off the spot did also account for a few nice fish as they swam in and out of the baited area.

By the end of a truly glorious day filled with some wonderful fish I still had every hook bait I had used, as well as a rather severe case of truckers arm, where despite my best efforts to keep in the shade, my right arm had still managed to catch the sun.

I know I will be preaching to the converted for a lot of anglers, but if anyone is on the fence or needs convincing that it works, then I hope this may have given you a little push to try it again or else wait a little longer before changing your hook bait back to the real thing.