Friday, 29 January 2016

I nearly kissed it.

I don't think many people currently living in the UK would disagree if I said we were having at bit of an odd winter this time round and frankly it's a bit confusing. Nature to seems a bit off balance due to this cockamamie weather. Outside my work shop there is a filbert nut tree which dropped its last catkin way before Christmas and all around its base there are wild garlic shoots three inches high. On my journey to work there is a cherry tree sheltered in a corner of a building which I am sure has blossomed twice already, and in the churchyard down the road from my house there is a pair of daffodils in full bloom. With it being sunny one day, wet the next, then freezing and snowy in random turns, I don't think we or nature knows if it's autumn or winter or possibly even spring.

With the snow having melted what seemed a lifetime ago, the weather had gone full circle and the temperature was now back in double figures. It's because of this I really thought the fish would be in the mood for a good old feed, so I wasn't at all concerned about only having a very short window of opportunity to get out. Really I thought I'd just rock up a few hours before night fell and start smashing them out.

Wrong! After two hours of walking casting and changing lures, I literally had not had a sniff and it seemed like I would have had just as much chance of catching a fish casting into one of the many puddles that lined the tow path as I would casting in the canal itself.

Even with the heavy cloud cover I was well aware that the sun was setting quickly and my chances of putting a bend in my rod were dwindling. But somewhere in the half light I finally scratched myself a very tepid hit on a curly tail grub and swung in a small perch. Normally I don't get too excited by small perch, but this, this one I nearly kissed. Literally after thanking the chilly little fella I nearly kissed it, I was that grateful for it taking my lure. 

If it wasn't for that little perch that I came so near to snogging I would have never had bothered to carry on casting. But I got the strange feeling that there was certainly fish around and that even though they had spent the afternoon fasting, now the light was going they might just come on the feed. Casting right into dark using a very white cannibal shad I finally connected with something better which after smashing the lure, battered around the canal like a demon, and when it came to the net through the murk it looked a bit odd. The thing must have been four or more inches thick and looked like it had swallowed a ball. 

The picture barely shows how thick it was, but as far as feeding was concerned this fish wasn't going without. This fish certainly had been gorging on something to keep itself in this sort of condition at this time of year. Maybe these unseasonal conditions are keeping prey active and the perch well fed, which might give some answer to why on this occasion they only seemed to feed at that optimum hunting time around dusk. Whatever the reason for its great condition I am glad I never kissed that first one as this one was a much more attractive prospect at the end of the session.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Snow day.

I love being out in the early morning fishing in the snow, and as we don't really get that much opportunity to do this, I was really looking forward to getting out and having a few casts in the white the other day. One type of fishing I would love to have a go at is ice fishing and thus I am quite jealous of my old fishing buddy Noo-noo Harrison who moved to Grand Cache in Canada a few years ago for work, who I saw on Facebook the other day was out ice fishing on Grand Cache lake.

Bar a bit of a distraction watching Adventure Land cartoons with BB, I was out not long after sunrise. Though there was little more than a dusting of snow, I could easily see that I was the first person to set foot on the tow path of the Coventry canal. Other than my own footprints the only tracks were that of foxes and possibly a deer which had come down from the woods and wandered along for a while before nipping back into the cover.

Large swathes of the canal surface were covered in a layer of thin ice topped off with a few centimeters of slush, but a few decent size bits of water had been kept free of ice by either the wind or had possibly thawed the day before. The water that was still accessible looked a really nice clear winter green that would give good visibility to the fish, whilst not be so clear as to make them nervous due to a lack of cover.

I knew I would have my work cut out and previous experience told me that the zander probably wouldn't play ball in the freshly chilled water, so perch, the illusive pike and the super rare chub would be what I was after. I also suspected it wouldn't exactly be hectic sport given the conditions, so first things first I just needed to get a hit. That first hit came quite quickly in truth after I hooked up a red head spiky shad lure which has done quite well previously on this bit of cut, and did so again attracting a welcome pristine perch.

They seemed to be quite tightly shoaled up at the bottom of the near side shelf, but once a I found a group of perch I managed to convince a couple of three to attack before the action dried up. Only problem was finding the shoals, and in trying to do so I covered quite a lot of very slushy and muddy tow path. Before I located more fish I did cross paths with yet another water vole. This one was crossing the canal to forage under some brambles overhanging the water. I watched it cross back and forth once before trying to get a picture. The next time it came back across the canal I pulled out my phone and just as I pressed the button it did a neat little dive never to be seen again and left me with this picture.

After the vole I struggled to locate fish in any numbers and just hooked a single small perch here and there until I moved onto a very snaggy area which last year produced a belting chub for me. I could feel the lure bumping into small branches on the bottom of the canal that had fallen off the overhanging trees. I often find fish lingering in these sorts of areas probably using the small branches as cover for safety or attack. The lure found its hold in three or four more serious snags where I had to twang the line and change angles to retrieve it. Then right at the end of another retrieve I felt the lure get thumped hard just as I was lifting it up in the water. I really prayed for it to be another chub but the fight lacked the power of the last time and quickly a solid perch succumbed and went in my net.

With the snow quickly melting and several very unwelcome drips finding their way between my hat and hood onto my neck, I didn't last long on the thawing canal. It really was well worth the effort of getting down to fish in the snow to catch a few perch on freezing morning when everyone else had stayed in bed.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Winter water.

I fancied a bit of a change the other day and not long after fancying that change, the idea of catching a big old crocodile of a pike on the lure crept into my head. With the rivers still off colour and the canals not really fitting the bill, I pondered a few lakes until Napton reservoir came to the top of the list.

Napton with its deep clear water, should rightfully hold a few nice fat pike in my mind, and I have heard it's produced the odd kipper here and there. In the past it has proved its metal with lure fishing and tossed up a red letter day with a mass of perch with a good helping of jacks sprinkled on the top.

But being a large open lake perched on the side of a hill it is an unforgiving place to be in bad weather. The fishing too can be unforgiving, with the whole lakes fish population seemingly turning off for unknown reasons. Due to this I sought information from Dave Cook, a regular fisher at Napton, to its condition. Unfortunately he hadn't been much lately, but was going the day before me and said he would happily pass on any intel after his visit. Turns out it was clear and high in level due to the rain, but nothing had come out on the day. Undeterred by this I thought maybe by keeping mobile and covering as much water as possible using slow moving soft lures, I might be able to convince even a small pike to rouse itself to attack.

It looked just right when I arrived not long after first light. A bitter wind whipped across the lake rustling the reeds in their winter colours from side to side. On the clear water a huge flock of tufted ducks were gathered along with the coots and seagulls. Two grebes repeatedly dived along the reeds and their presence boosted my confidence further.

Sadly though it turned out to be one of those days when you feel you have done everything right and still you can't make it happen. Even in the wind my casts were sending the lure far out enough to make me confident I was covering good water. The lures I began with were so subtle that not even the most clued up pike could see fault with it. I worked them at a snail's pace, quickly, slowly and even erratically over so many different areas that I had to have come at least close to a pike, but still nothing.

In the end I think it was just one of those days. In years gone by I may have tried to conceive some idea of why I wasn't catching. Nowadays though I realise that sometimes that's just the way it is and even if you try you can't make fish bite. Strangely I didn't feel down by the lack of fish and seemed to quite enjoy being out on a wintry lake on a clear chilly winter's day, and why not, as it's been a terrible wet winter so far.

One thing I did find very interesting whilst I walked the bank was a huge flock of unknown birds which were swinging around over the lake. At first I thought they were just a flock of wood pigeons looking for a farmer's field to destroy, but as the passed overhead I could see they were bigger than pigeons and had almost square cut wings. For some reason I think they might have been some kind of wading bird like oyster catchers, but I have only ever seen them in ones or twos, never in hundreds like this.

I can't see this poor session deterring me from going back to Napton as I really think there has to be some good pike swimming around under those waves and it is one the few nice clear reservoirs in my area where you can go and bank fish into the closed season.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Save the zander.

Once again the subject of zander culling has reared its ugly head, this time by way of the Canal and River Trust asking anglers to donate to an ill-conceived fundraiser aimed at regenerating the roach population of the Grand union canal Besides the preposterous idea of asking anglers for money so as to remove and kill born and bred English fish this subject just plain old incenses me!

I am an angler, canal angler and a zander angler. Having spent close to twenty-five years of my life fishing on the canals, specifically the last year pretty much solely fishing the canals, I find myself with a pretty good perspective of how they have changed over the years since the zander have colonized the midland canal network and the effects that colonization has had.

I find it very disappointing that an organization such as the Canal and Rivers Trust seem to have, with little research into the matter, come to the conclusion that the big bad in the canal ecosystem is the zander and that they are largely what is responsible for the decline of the roach. Well, first of all are the roach in decline? From what many anglers see, that might not be the case. Have they ever done any major research into roach numbers or are they just listening to fishing clubs moaning about the lack of them.

Have they even considered that there may be other contributing factors such as;
- Increased numbers of signal crayfish in the canals which feed on fish eggs.
- Increased amounts of detergents entering the water ways from the ever growing pleasure boat fleet possibly effecting reproduction.
- Increased numbers of larger perch due to the crayfish boom, which in turn consume large amounts small silver fish.
- Lack of suitable spawning sites due to inappropriate bank clearances and habitat removal.
- Reintroduction of other predators, such as otters.
- Increased agricultural chemical run off into the canal network as a result of wetter winters.

In all the limited information offered as justification, the CRT haven't really bothered addressing any of these other possible theories and just seem to suggest it's all down the zander.

As a regular canal angler I don't believe there is a lack of roach. In fact I for one believe the canals have quite a good balance of predator and prey fish. But what I believe is irrelevant as its the clubs who rent the stretches who are moaning about the lack of roach sport, and this leads me to the totally different point of view I have often wondered, which may sound a bit controversial 'Have anglers lost their canal fishing skills?'

When I began fishing the canals many years ago it was a world of squats, bloodworm/joker and half pound hook links. Now though we fish in a world of hundred pound bags of carp, pellets and where commercial lakes that have become popular. Now and again I have come across an angler fishing on a tow path, looked in their bait box and seen all the stuff I'd take carp fishing, but nothing I would use for roach fishing, such as bread punch or pinkies, and then I've looked at their set up and seen power waggler rods, massive floats and line so thick Argos would be ashamed to retail it. It's no wonder many pleasure anglers aren't catching much when they are using these inappropriate methods and tactics.

Frankly the canals have been forgotten by many of the angling fraternity in favor of easier venues, and if you want evidence of that, take a walk down your local cut any Sunday of the year and I guarantee you'll be lucky to see any anglers. Conversely head to any commercial fishery and it will more than likely have anglers dotted all round the place. The majority of people fishing the canals nowadays are predator anglers after perch and zander, or the occasional stalwart canal angler who can put together a nice bag of silver fish. So if you take away half the fish those anglers are targeting the only thing this cull will achieve is fewer anglers on the bank, which works against what they are trying to achieve.

Does culling zander actually even work? The simple answer is NO! Removing zander is the single biggest waste of money in angling. I live in an area which was considered an epicenter of the zander population by many, and over the years I have fished stretches on different canals before and after the culls have taken place and guess what, zander always come back every time!

Only the other day I was out on a stretch of canal that has been targeted multiple times for zander culls as its within easy access, and here are a few examples of what those culls achieved.

Absolutely nothing! The zander were moving back into that stretch before the people who did the culling were even back in their cars, because the canals are a massive open network. Furthermore, in many cases the lack of larger zander causes the amounts of tiny little zander to increase exponentially, and those hungry miniature zander are eating machines that thrive on devouring fry.

Going back to this roach restoration project though, I actually think that trying to increase the roach numbers is a good thing, even if I consider the method of removing zander to be a waste of time and money. What everyone involved should realize is that more prey fish means more predators and as they won't stop the zander coming back there will ultimately be more zander when they repopulate once there's a bloom in roach.

Time and time again this subject always comes back to the same old conclusions. The more open minded of us understand that zander are here for good and that nature finds a balance; with a healthy predator prey balance, and that after nearly fifty years the zander should be naturalized. Then there's the anglers out there that can't see past the end of their keepnet, who believe that because they haven't caught a fish a cast from the small section of canal their club rents, that the entire canal is devoid of silver fish, and because they obviously need something to blame, they conclude its all down to the zander. I feel I should mention that prior to zander it was the pike who was to blame; I for one remember the bad old days when clubs requested that pike under five pounds to be killed!

Ultimately the ship has sailed on zander being in our water ways. Their population is so big and widespread that no cull will ever be effective. That means any cull which does take place is quite literally mass killing for the sake of appeasing a small section of anglers who believe that killing a few predators will stick a few more roach in their nets. But ask yourself this 'what if it doesn't?' What if doing this doesn't increase the roach populations. Surely if the angling trust wants to really increase the roach populations they should just concentrate on improving the reproduction rates of the roach in other ways rather zander genocide.

So this brings me to this! The Canal and River Trust are using the Internet and social media to appeal to anglers for money to actually remove and kill zander. Well the Internet is an open forum so have your say if you object to them killing the fish many of us want to catch by showing support for the zander at

And send a message to the Canal and River Trust airing your opinion on their Facebook page.

Or if anyone who reads this has any friends who work in the angling media give them a nudge and see if they might bring some of these issues up in their publications.

I think all I can say to end is to reiterate my own opinion that zander are here to stay, no culls or surveys will change that and with the zanders rise in popularity as a target species the only option that remains is to naturalize them and let nature take its course.

Save the zander!