Friday, 28 October 2016

Shallow water slashers.

I stood at the very edge of the perfectly manicured lawn and looked out over the water. As I'd approached the lake all I could see was the autumn backdrop reflected on the water. Now though looking through polarised eyes I could see the water was clear, and I mean clear. Literally, I reckon I could have seen gudgeon wink at thirty feet it was that clear and that clarity made me smile. The reason I smiled was because I could think of no better place I could be, than standing in front of a neglected gin clear estate lake full of sight feeding predators with a lure rod in my hand and a backpack full of lures.

Although in pike fishing heaven there was one fly in my ointment; depth, or lack of it as was the case. With the perfect clarity came a fall in the level of the water, and on a already shallow lake this can be problematic. The question was though, how do you lure fish a water that is normally shallow, but right now is so shallow an Oompa-loompa could wade across it with little fear of wetting his family jewels. As if to further complicate the conundrum, this year's weed growth was stubbornly hanging around and though dying, was still protruding off the bottom enough to making fishing any lure with dangling hooks almost pointless.

Had I not already spent far too much time messing round on another weeded up Estate Lake the answer might not have been forthcoming. But I had, and anticipated such an issue might be the case. So I had brought with me the box of surface lures. Now I wasn't thinking that in the chill of October I could actually get the pike taking surface lures, but was instead thinking of using some Lake fork sinking frogs I had that can be with a large single worm hook tucked neatly inside. Although designed to be fished primarily on the surface for bass, these lures sink slowly when not in motion, so they can be worked amongst weed beds. My intention though was slightly different.

First cast I sent the heavy but unweighted lure flailing half way across the lake where it landed with a loud splat of a splash. I watched the white lure sinking slowly and before it reached the bottom I began reeling. With the clear water and wearing my Polaroid glasses I could see the lure the entire way back. As it rose to the surface I would slow my retrieve and let it sink lower in the water. I never even paused as I picked up the lure and fired it out again a few degrees to the right of the first cast. Again I watched the white frog kicking its way back to my bank at mid depth. This time I wasn't the only one watching! From somewhere ten or more feet to the right forty feet out I saw a green torpedo shoot out and I saw a distinct flash of white as jack grabbed the frog and turned away. I never even thought about it as I instinctively struck to set the hook. This was it, two casts in and the first fish on... this was going to a good day. 

We'd not even got off the lawn and three pike more had hit the net along with a few missing the lures and a few not hooking up. I was right, this was going to be a great day's lure fishing with these pike. 

After messing around in the mouth of the feeder stream where we thought some big perch might be lurking in the heavy cover, we moved round to the shallows behind the island where normally you find loads of fish standing guard amongst the old lily beds. On this occasion with the water so shallow it seemed the fish really weren't that comfortable in so little water. I only found one single small pike prepared to attack in all the cover and that one went crazy in the shallows, flipping clean out of the water during the tussle.

Further round the lake once again in open water the weed seemed to disappear entirely and with it the hits. It seemed to point to the fact that pike were using the old dying weed as cover in the clear conditions to attack from and as this area held little to no weed then it held no pike. I did try a few lure changes in this less snag-filled area and after trying a few plugs I switched to casting a savage gear 3D bleak on a light jig head. Rather than bouncing it back, I retrieved it slowly with the rod held high; in doing so the lure wobbles side to side flashing as the lighter belly moves side to side. It turned out there was at least one fish hanging out nearby, when one shot out from close to my own bank and tore into the lure, shaking its head violently as the hook bit.

The bridges on these old estate lakes always look mouth watering and personally I always think they look to be the best spots to nab a perch from. So I followed my gut instinct and deliberately went after them. Rather than cast smaller rubber lures on my medium outfit I instead went old school and cracked out a 7g Mepps spinner and began casting it across the spans of the ancient stone bridge. It took a few casts to get used to flipping the reels bale arm over before the lure reached bottom, but soon enough I was catching it before it hit the bottom and instantly beginning the vibrating retrieve. My descion was quickly validated when something crabbed the lure as I worked it a way out from the bridge. I kind of knew it wasn't a pike from the different fight, but my knees still almost turned to jelly when I saw stripes and red fins when the fish boiled up to the surface. The hook hold held and soon I was unfolding a big estate lake perch from the net like a kid opening presents on Christmas morning.

After that one was released I was straight back on the spot repeatedly casting the spinner over where I'd hooked the perch and retrieving it back again in the hope there might be a shoal hanging out around there. Persistence paid off when a second smaller perch hit the lure and although I was nowhere near as big as the first it certainly looks like it will be one day.

I do hate to admit defeat, but the smaller half of the lake where the water drains out into the stream was unfishable. This year some reed clumps have appeared out in the lake and with lily pads rooted all over this diminutive section it is pointless even attempting to cast into it. 

Being as it's only a small lake the only option was to take one last tour of the lawn area and see if any of those fish that didn't attack or that came off might fancy a second shot at the lure. Back where I began I changed back to the lure I started with and cast the LFT white frog again across to the island. It only took a few casts to root out yet another average sized pike of three or four pounds. This lake for some unknown reason has an unusually high number of pike between 1-5lb and seemingly none between that size and massive. Really the next sized fish you are likely to catch after a five pounder is probably fifteen pounds. So I was shocked when a few casts later I hooked a better fish. I saw it strike at the lure right out in the lake and once hooked it really kited through the shallow water. Finally, as it approached the net it looked better than all the rest so far and on the bank it did turn out to be that rarest of fish for this lake; a pike that had broken out of the jack ranks but still wasn't a monster.

I think the thing that really sticks out about this photo apart from my hairy smiling mug, is that bite mark. The one on the visible side was deep, but only showed one side of its attackers gape. The other side though had both sides of the attackers jaws scraped in it and that was at least eight inches wide. Although there's quite a few small bream in this lake I reckon there's a good chance these small pike make up a good part of the big girls diets and the missing sizes of fish might reflect years when they really hammered the smaller pike.

In the end I knew I'd had a good session from the state of the lures I'd used. Three or four of these Lake fork frogs are done for with their legs hanging off, full of teeth marks, slashes and huge tears where they've been ripped off the hook. I reckon I had landed twelve pike, lost five and had loads of hits that didn't hook up. The few little perch I had and that single big estate lake Sargent were a very sweet cherry on top of an already enjoyable pike session.  

Friday, 21 October 2016

Zed heads.

The weekend started with a wander down the Coventry to try out a new rod I've just bought. You see I've become a bit obsessed with finding the perfect rod to suit my canal lure fishing. By that I mean a rod that feels right and can perform multiple tasks, as I've been looking for a lure rod that can function both as a dropshot rod and light lure rod. The Sonik lightec I've been using for a while is an outstanding light lure rod for small hard lures and soft lures, but is a bit soft in the top section, which means it doesn't transfer much information back up the blank when fishing the dropshot with it. 

Its actually proved a hard task, as rod manufacturers would prefer you actually bought a rod for each discipline and so don't make an all round lure rod from what I can see. In any case this has led me to actually look for a rod which I think will be capable of multitasking even if it is labeled as something specific. A mistake I think I'd been making for a while though is only looking at light lure rods and thinking they could work as a dropshot rod, but then I saw a review of a dropshot rod on-line that said it worked well with small soft lures as well and realized maybe I'd been looking at the problem this the wrong way round. Once I'd handled several different dropshot rods I settled on Wychwood agitator dropshot rod in the 7ft version which is rated to cast 3-18 grams and I was dying to get out and have a go with it.

Unusually for me there was no real specific target for this little outing. Literally I just wanted to see how this new rod performed fishing both drop shot and small jigs. So I dropped on a section of the Coventry that is generally well populated with predators and began by using a super light dropshot rig to target any fishy looking structure. Straight away I could feel small perch plucking at the tiny pink shirasu lure I was using. After quickly landing a few small perch a little zander zipped off with the lure after hammering it close to some brick work on my bank.

A few stops later I switched over to fishing a 3 gram jig in conjunction with one of my favourite cannibal shads. The rod worked perfectly with this light rig and the stiff dropshot rod actually transfers so much information back up the blank. Literally as I lifted the lure off the bottom at any distance I could feel the paddle tail vibrating away. Happily the local perch were being obliging and quickly they were snatching the little lure as it dropped to the bottom, really engulfing the lure as they attacked.

So far so good with the Wychwood agitator dropshot rod; it does seem to be able to perform both as described as a dropshot rod and as a general purpose light lure rod. This hopefully should enable me to only carry the one rod and switch methods when I need whilst having confidence that the rod is doing a good job in any scenario.

A couple of days later I arranged to meet up with a fellow zed head Mick Newey to fish the Avon at night for zander. But a trip to Stratford with the JB and BB gave me a glimpse of the condition of the Avon and all confidence drained away after seeing it was very low and incredibly clear. On this occasion sense prevailed and we rearranged to instead have a session on a bit of canal that has produced some big fish quite consistently. I was almost tempted to take the new rod along, but as this bit of cut has such good form with big zeds I wanted to gamble and go big, taking instead a medium sized outfit so as to fish bigger lures.

We met up before first light miles away from anywhere and just as I arrived the rain began to fall gently in the half light. By the time we'd fished one known haunt, the rain began to pick up pace. By the time we were at the third spot it was torrential. We had no choice but to just shelter as best we could under some trees, Mick in his water proof jacket and me in the poncho that I always carry in my bag.  As we sheltered I had little choice but to abandon the lure rod which Id been casting repeatedly all morning, and this left me staring intently through the rain at my float rig. Nothing whatsoever happened whilst it was raining which was a bit perplexing as the dank conditions looked perfect for the zander to be feeding. Eventually the rain abated and once my soaking hat was rung out and abandoned it seemed like we could happily get out from under the trees and restart the session.

Not long after the rain stopped dimpling the surface, the canal seemed to spark into life once again. Fish were rolling up and down the canal and after persisting in one spot as I was convinced it held fish, a zander finally hit the 90mm spiky red head shad I was working along the bottom. After waiting it out in that chilly rain that little zander really put a smile back on my face.

With the weather now a bit more conducive to fishing, we both switched into proper zander fishing mode. With three dead bait lines and a lure rod on the go, we worked over every area we fancied for a maximum of thirty minutes before moving onto the next. This is the great thing about fishing with other zed heads, they fully appreciate the need to constantly keep moving to find feeding fish. So many times before I have just kept moving all day until I hit a sweet spot and the action just goes off instantly. On this occasion I don't think there was ever going to be a sweet spot though.

We both worked hard moving constantly and covering each swim we targeted well by moving baits round,  in my case covering every square inch with lures. Luckily for me I found another similar sized fish to the first close to an overhanging bush and then later in another swim a boat went through and that seemed to get a few inactive fish moving, in turn sparking a missed run for each of us.

The final fish of the morning sniffed out my dead bait in the now chocolate coloured water in  exactly the same spot as where I'd had the missed run and turned out to be yet another similar sized zander.

Time soon caught up with us and even though we could have gone on and on looking for more spots and scratched a few fish out of them, prior engagements called us away from the canal. With one Mick landed early on and the three I scratched out after the rain stopped it might not seem a bad result, but on this canal this was a bad days zander fishing. On any other canal in these conditions this would have been a blank I am sure. On some occasions on this canal I've had four out of a swim in under half an hour and it's not uncommon the get some action every swim you fish. But whatever the case it was good to catch up with fellow zed Mick and put a bend in the rod, and we are already planning going back once we've had a few frosts.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Change of plan.

It's not that often that I walk away from a venue before I've even started fishing, but that was the case the other day! I'd dropped off both JB and BB and made my way to a predetermined section of canal for what I had planned as a day of light lure fishing and roving off into the Warwickshire countryside. Admittedly I was a bit on the late side arriving. But after I did eventually arrive I got the gear out of the car, walked the short distance to the canal and peered at the water to see the boats had been at it for hours and done their worst. Literally, I reckon moles would have been more at home in that water than fish. Any love for the venue evaporated quickly and left me feeling rather flaccid about the whole session.

It took me a while to go through the local venues to choose an alternative that was in reasonable proximity to where I was and where I needed to be. As all I had was a very light lure outfit, the choices narrowed quickly and rather than go to another section of the same dirty canal I opted to head over to Leamington Spa to have a session on the Leam town waters again. The torpid Leam I surmised might be a good candidate for some light lure fishing and having been there a while ago I knew the waters running through the Victorian parks  held a few nice fish amongst all the bank side cover.

I reckon I'd been fishing all of ten minutes before I figured I'd made the right decision to move venues. The Leam it turns out is rammed to the reeds with small perch, and those small perch loved the tiny lures I was casting into the river and hopping slowly across the current. Literally every cast was getting some kind of  hit and in many cases multiple hits. There must have been groups of these tiny little predators chasing the lure back to the bank, gobbling it up and spitting it out until one got caught out.

All the perch activity raised the attention of the pike as well. Several small perch got chased around in the first swim until the naughty jack in question saw my lure and had a go itself, ending up getting hooked close to my bank after thinking its quarry was about to get away and engulfing it with a flare of its gills.

The fun went on all day and catching huge numbers of tiny perch meant it was only a matter of time before I located some bigger ones. In the shadow of a huge white building the far bank cover ended at a brick wall. Just where the cover ended, the wall began seemed to hold some different sized perch. At first it was just ones half as long again as the wasp average, but with the odd half pounder here and there. Someowhere amongst the multiple plucks from the smaller fish came a hard thump as something bigger hit the small spiky shad I was retrieving. The little fish and the small pike had proved sporty enough on my 1-7 gram outfit; this fish though was really having it. After playing it out in the flow in the middle of the river initially, it moved into the shallower clear waters close to my bank and I saw one chunky perch with my lure hanging out of its mouth being tracked by its identical twin. The second fish disappeared at the sight of my net in the water but the hooked fish went in good as gold.

I ran out of fish-able bank by mid afternoon and after a quiet break for lunch on a park bench in the sun, I turned around and worked my way all the way back down the stretch. Amazingly even after casting hundreds of times into the already fished swims, the stripy hordes were still well up for attacking the tiny lures as they skipped across the bottom. By the time I reached the end of the stretch, the river was in shade and the sun was heading towards the horizon. How many of those tiny perch I caught through the course of the day was impossible to calculate, but what I do know is the Leam where it runs through Leamington Spa is a brilliant venue for light lure fishing, and I will definitely be back for another go before winter sets in.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The return, the wow and the exit!

I reckon it's safe to say that we have actually been enjoying a bit of an Indian summer this year. The leaves cling stoically to the trees and only now as we reach October are we beginning to feel that night time nip. As for me, I've been waiting for autumn to arrive so as to begin fishing the canals again after what seems like a long summer absence. This late heat has held me off for a while, as the lack of bad weather means the canal system is still rife with boats and there are only so many smiling boaters bidding me good day as they steam through my swim I can take.

Turns out it was an unplanned session that sent me back to the tow path though. I have been trying to align the all the stars correctly so as I could fish one last time for tench at Napton on a warm day, but every time I get a chance a fly lands in my ointment. This time it was a heavy downpour of overnight rain that got me thinking today was not the day. Lying in bed questioning what four hours of heavy cool rain might have done to the fishes feeding, I concluded a change of tack was in order. That decided an inventory of available bait was taken. The casters I had purchased might well compliment the worms I always keep around just in case, and if I am plying chopped worm and caster I may as well do it for big perch, and as I know a big perch honey hole on the canal I might as well take some dead baits and fish for zander!

So off to the perch honey hole I went with a bit of bait, my 9ft Shakespeare wand and a dead bait rod for good measure. The area I was heading to does seem to attract boats to moor up there for some unknown reason, so as I walked the tow path I was hoping it would be free, as fifty foot of narrow boat can really ruin this swim. Luckily even though there were boats moored up overnight in the area, the spot was clear and free, so I located myself dead centre of the sweet area and quickly baited up just off the shelf with a couple of pots of chopped worm and caster.

As the free bait stewed, sending its oozing scent off to draw in customers I set up the dead bait rod and placed the rig down the wind from the bait. Zander I know love worms and even though the bigger ones might not be concerned with rooting out small baits like worms as they did when they were smaller, they are still attracted by the smell, and a well placed dead bait in the scent trail is always a good place to start I reckon.

The rig I began with on the worm line was very unlike the normal rig I use in these situations. This was because with the brighter than normal conditions I felt I needed even the slightest edge, so the chubber float was done away with and replaced by a sensitive pole float. Normally I fish the three pound mainline direct to the large hook, but today a fine fluro hook link and fine wire size fourteen finished off the final foot. Even my bait was scaled back on this occasion and my normal split lobworm was replaced by a much smaller dendrobena.

Without blowing my own trumpet. Paaaaaaaaarp! My scaling down was pure genius! The thin red tip sent out the tiniest of ripples followed by a hint of a dip. Then after settling a moment it sank half way and I needed no second signal to strike. The rod took on a bend instantly and the standoff between man and fish was reached with the float out of the water only halfway up its carbon stem. There was a pause, with the float just hanging still above the turbid water... then the fish whipped off banging away for freedom. The well set clutch gave line perfectly and I just held as the rod absorbed the fishes power. It was a powerful fish and judging by the swirling water its might matched its size. I was almost disappointed when no spiny fin appeared and what looked like a decent hybrid rolled over. But then in the sexiest turn ever, she came up on the surface all silver with red dazzling fins and a face of a true thoroughbred canal roach.

What can I say of such a stunning fish, other than is there any better way to return to the canal in autumn than by catching a perfect and massive roach. Even more shocking is this is my third canal roach over 1.14lb. Surely this year a two has to come my way.

I was pretty stunned after that start and had a almost involuntary smile on my face when the zander exploded onto the scene. The first tiny one took a worm as I dropped it gently back onto the baited spot. As I released that one, out the corner of my eye I watched the small float tootling off under the water as another made off with the roach head dead bait.

After that they were like buses tracking up the wind to my bait. Simply put, every time I got the bait perfectly placed at the edge of the trench another zander would locate it in minutes. The average size was nice as well, with most of them being over three pounds and a couple closer to four.

Throughout the flurry of zander runs I was barely able to keep the worm line active in the water, though somewhere in the mess of dead baits, teeth and spines I had thought to keep the bait going in on the worm spot. When the runs eventually dried up I once again deployed the pole float rig and my attention to it. First drop in and the float never cocked properly. I struck just in case and was immediately playing yet another small but rather aggressive zander that had the biggest tail I have ever seen on a zander.

The swim eventually went quiet and it seemed the perfect time to try and top it back up with more worm and caster. The worm was topped up with one large shot and this time I held back on the casters flicking out six or so every ten minutes, until finally the swim sparked back into action. Finally a small but well proportioned perch turned up with a mouth full of casters. That single perch heralded the arrival of the striped crew. A few more small but good looking perch snaffled my worm before an unwanted crayfish made off with my bait and got a heel to the head for its trouble. The crayfish's corpse had barely made bottom before I had checked, re-baited and recast the rig onto the spot. The next bite was very confident, with one good dip before the float sailed off and I was finally playing a decent sized perch. A huge humped back and spiky fin was seen just as the net slipped under it.

The big perch had finally arrived after the little ones had led the way. I had another one of this near two pound stamp and several smaller ones of 10oz - 1lb before disaster struck. There had been boats passing me all morning and so far I had kept cool and calm fishing on the inside away from their track. The problem occurred when I spotted two narrow boats moving towards me from both sides. It didn't take long to figure they looked as if they might cross right in front of me. All I could do was watch as they slowly plodded towards me, as if in an old disaster movie where it takes ages for the punch to arrive. When they did finally cross things went even worse than I could have expected; one the boats was a rental and the inexperienced pilot cracked just as he crossed bows with the second boat. In a panic filled moment reverse gear was engaged and the tiller was pushed hard over for some unknown reason before forward thrust was re-engaged with extreme prejudice. In the blink of an eye my carefully prepared spot was decimated back further than it was than before I started.

My silent response to the boater's apology I think was more than enough to convey my anger. As tons of metal and wood chugged away from my swim the water swirled like the Severn in full spate. Rather than scream into the sky I quickly concluded it had already been a brilliant session, and rather than stick around to try and rebuild I opted to quickly pack up and disappear like a magician whilst the cloudy water hid my exit. As I walked away I tallied up seven zander and ten plus perch with a couple of near twos among them; good for relatively short session, but add in that superb roach and it adds up to an amazing return to the canal which really has me looking forward to future canal sessions and what surprises they could bring.