Friday, 27 January 2017

Gear death hell.

That title reads like the name of a bad death metal song and my most recent outing went down about as well as a bad death metal song. Worst of all though it was totally my fault as for days prior I had been planning on going to one venue and at the last minute changed venue due the recent drop in temperature.

I was initially planning on going canal chub fishing to a spot on the Coventry that seems to hold a few nice ones. Then the day before I went over the Coventry early in the morning and saw ducks walking on the bugger, so decided flowing water was going to be a better option. Now, I have been thinking of doing a bit on the LAA Lido stretch as I have heard on the grape vine that the dace fishing is pretty good down there and lots of silvers means lots of predators, which we all know I can't get enough of. But then in a moment of proper stupidity I thought 'oh what about that bit of the Leam above the town. I've been meaning to check that out'. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it was the wrong decision, but still I went along with the idea which turned out to be a decision I would regret.

Early in the morning after a short drive I found myself crunching across frozen ground towards the river. The sun had just broken over the horizon and golden light spilled all of the Warwickshire country side. The Leam looked resplendent in golden light with the banks shrouded in a hard frost. Literally it looked like a cold beer on a hot day, it looked that good.

How could I go wrong...

It was pike I was actually searching for, as I have heard the narrow upper sections of the Leam hold some quite good pike. So keeping mobile I opted to fish a large sea dead bait on a float rig in any pikey looking slacks or margin I could find. And to keep myself amused I took along a light lure rod and a load of lures to fish with in between landing double figure pike. To all intents and purposes this was going to be the case; in the very first swim I landed a couple of nice perch on a dropshot rig, my float bobbed a couple of times before moving off downstream. I struck and the half mackerel bait was ripped clean out of whatever took it. Hey ho, what can you do, you don't hook'em all and I had still had those perch...

It was in the next swim it all began going so terribly wrong. With my float-fished dead bait positioned nicely in a eight foot deep margin I happily fished away casting my lure rod all over the swim until I found a snag and promptly snapped off. So I set up again and noting where the snag was, avoided casting there. Two casts later I was snagged and promptly snapped off again. This time after tying on a new leader, new jig head and a new lure, I moved swims.

Once again I got the dead bait out in a suitable spot and started casting around. First bloody cast this time and 'doink', straight in a snag and the result as you can guess was new leader, new jig and new lure gone. So for the third time in less than fifteen minutes I was setting up again. Oh, and I moved swims!

By now I should guess you can see where this nightmare is going, and if not, I won't waste time with every detail. Needless to say over the four hours I fished I lost no less than eleven jigs plus lures, along with leaders and a two dead bait rigs. I was the single biggest lost of gear I have ever had. Worst of all is I couldn't honestly say that I knew how the river was fishing, as I had spent most of the morning crouched in front of my rucksack setting up instead of fishing.

The good thing I could honestly take away from this session is that I know now this bit of the Leam is more snag that water and that I should under no circumstances cast any more lures in beggar! And that's putting it politely...

Friday, 20 January 2017

Go big or go home.

Of all the facets of light lure fishing it's the dropshot that intrigues me most. By that though I don't mean it's the only method I use, as I have grown to understand that every method has its moment and I am just as likely to cast a tiny crank bait, jig or Carolina rig when I believe it is appropriate as I am a dropshot. But all those methods have one single thing in common that the dropshot doesn't, and that's that they are predominantly retrieval methods where as the dropshot to all intents and purposes is generally conceived to keep the lure in one area, or at least retrieved at a snail's pace.

The other day I actually went out with the sole intent to fish the dropshot on a section of canal so rife with structure that it would be easy to think it was built specifically for the method. I had with me pretty much the entire spectrum of dropshot lures, from tiny Mebru shirasu worms right up to E-sox Lobworms, but it was the latter sized lures I intended to use... You see I have become adept at using all sizes of lures drop shotting, and see that by using scaled down tactics, micro hooks and tiny lures you can catch tiny predators all day long. Occasionally these mini methods tempt bigger fish, but honestly in my experience they do lean heavily towards small perch, or wasps, as people seem to be calling them in lure circles.

Now although I do not believe that the bigger bait catches the bigger fish, I do believe that if you offer a fish something that is too good to pass up they will more than likely eat it. It's like when you are trotting maggots on a river; once the fish are focused on the maggots that are moving towards them they have to make an instant choice - grab the maggots or let them pass by where they will be lost. Transpose that onto lure fishing and think of it this way; if you drop a tiny lure into the vicinity of a big old perch on a freezing cold day, if it is big enough to catch her attention then she is going to work out instantly if it's worth being bothered with or not and she might have it, or she might not. Now replace that tiny lure with a lure three inches long and suddenly it's a feast not a snack, and when you're weighing up energy expenditure verses reward, bigger baits have to be better, right.

So rather than mess around with 2lb line, mosquito hooks and maggot sized worms set up with a much larger rig intended to fish big lures. Given that the Grand Union was quite clear I chose a core few very natural looking lures, like the Wave pumpkin Tikki monky which looks rather like a newt, the E-sox lob worm which is a great replica of a lob worm and the now ubiquitous Savage gear 3D bleak to concentrate on through the afternoon.

In the past I have had some great results with the Tikki monkey creature bait, but even after working that hard in every conceivable manner around loads of structure, I had exactly no interest in it. The same went for the E-sox lob worm and even the 3D bleak was striking out fished under the rod tip. At this point the thought occurred to me that although the structure offered cover to the resident predators, maybe they were actually in the deeper water looking for warmth. So I resisted changing onto a jig rig to search out the open water and stuck with the drop shot rig so I could work the lure really slowly across the bottom. I knew there was a good chance I would lose some gear fishing this way in a snaggy area but the risk was worth it.

After casting onto the far shelf margin I gently work the life like little fish down the shelf into the trench the barges carve out. I worked the lure slowly down across and up the contours of the canal until finally I located a willing taker close to my own bank just were the shelf began to rise up. There was no doubting it was a fish, there were no plucks, just wallop, as a nice size perch engulfed the lure.

That same area produced three almost identical in size perch in consecutive casts and showed me exactly how tightly these fish were grouped in the clear and recently thawed and still thawing water.

I had my doubts that the zander might play ball at all in the clear conditions, but after working a few more areas over diligently, I targeted a patch of dead rushes on the far bank. Zander I have found can be very subtle taking lures, unlike perch and pike which seem to thump and tear respectively. I have often thought this might be because they sometimes seem to grab the lure and either stop or move forwards, which doesn't give a definable hit until I reel or lift the rod with something on the end. This was exactly one of those occasions where I felt no hit then reeled, the line went tight and the fish moved, then I struck. Considering how far in the mouth the hook was, anyone would have thought the fish had really hammered the lure which was just not the case.

The rest of the session passed by quickly with me working hard to find localized shoals of perch which all seemed to be lurking in similar areas around the bottom of the near side shelf, and I even found couple more small rouge zander loitering amongst them. My confidence in the 3D bleak lasted all day and every fish landed on this session felt the lure of this realistic replica fished as if it was a struggling injured fish, was too good of a meal to let pass by. 

Every single perch absolutely nobbled it and proved my decision to go big or go home right on this occasion. Although I feel I would have probably caught fish on smaller lures, I don't think I would have caught as many or as higher quality perch as I did. I ended up catching twelve good sized perch of between 20-25cm perch and three 25-30cm zander for a rough overall length of 3.5 meters, which I am led to believe is a respectable length of fish from any canal and happily I lost no gear as well.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Dace chase.

Although I can't rightly remember the first time I fished Saxon as it was that long ago, I do remember that it was love at first sight. Anyone else who reads this and has fished there knows full well it is not the resplendent summer river I talk of, but is instead the bare naked, freezing cold winter that inspires us anglers out of bed way before dawn to secure a good pitch.

Once the temperatures begin to drop before Christmas, the fish from miles up river seem to drop down and congregate in huge numbers above the ancient weir. Any of the ten or so accessible spots above the weir are well populated throughout winter, but the last three in my opinion are some of the best winter fishing spots on the Warks Avon you will find. The only fly in the ointment of this wonderful bit of river that gives so much when the going is so hard, is how little respect is given to it by some of the anglers that frequent it. Not really wanting to point any fingers, but beer cans of all nationalities are always present littering the banks, along with all kinds of rubbish like ground bait bags, old margarine tubs that were probably makeshift bait tubs, food packaging, coffee cups, tackle packets and so much more. 

It incenses me to see all the mess left by people who come here. This bit of water has been and will be an oasis in many an anglers long fruitless winter and really should be respected by those who fish there. Seriously, how much bloody effort is it to take the rubbish away. For me it was a sad day when Leamington Angling Association passed up the opportunity to acquire this gem of the Avon. I feel sure had they taken it on they could have done wonders with this lawless bit of river.

Back to fishing though and it is one species that draws me to these muddy banks, the dace. I have real soft spot in my heart for the dace and there aren't that many opportunities to catch them round these parts. In fact the numbers of them at Saxon Mill does seem to have dropped in comparison to the amount of small roach present, but still they are here and with the plying of plenty of maggots you can work your way through the numbers to root out a few better ones here and there.

More often than not it's the float, or more specifically trotting a float, that people use on this venue. For me though the maggot feeder works best. So in the dark the other day I struggled to thread a loop of line through a tiny swivel atop a small maggot feeder ready for the light to come up enough for me to begin feeding the horde. The light finally came up and I swung out the first feeder brimming with fresh maggots to a run two thirds across the river. The feeder barely made bottom before the tip was bouncing under the attack of hundreds of hungry fish.

It took a few casts to get into the swing of things, but soon I was repeatedly dropping the feeder onto a area about the size of a pool table and with plenty of feed on the bottom, things calmed down enough for me to wait for a solid pull of the tip before striking into a fish. The roach were coming one a chuck and did so for maybe half an hour before I landed a small dace. With this place it's just a case of numbers and I worked the numbers hard all morning, fishing with the rhythm of a match angler until finally I found a few nicer sized dace. 

With this many silver fish present and this much activity concentrated in one spot it is always going to attract some attention and Saxon Mill has its fair share of fish thieving pike. A couple of splashing silvers had been torn from my line and several others had been slashed at through the morning, but these pike weren't dealing with the average dace angler were they. I've fished here so much I know exactly how they attack and I had brought along a pike rod especially for the job.

I fished a small dead roach on a free running paternoster two feet off the bottom in the flow. By mounting the dead roach with a slight bend in it, I could see it moving around in the flow, pretty much like a hooked fish. Using such a cumbersome rig it took a bit of effort a few casts to make sure it was tangle free, wiggling around in the area just below where I was lifting fish from the water and tossing them back. It didn't take long for the bite alarm to bleep a little as the rod tip bent over and the line pulled from the clip of the drop off indicator. After a fierce and frantic battle a solid jack pike was landed, had its picture taken and was released well away from where I was fishing.

The next attacker ripped into the spinning dead bait so hard I barely had chance to blink before line was whizzing off the reel. Luckily I had set the free spool very lightly on the reel or the rod may well if taken a dive into the river. I don't think that fish had the bait fully in its mouth, as after a single run it just seemed to let go.

A while later I saw some odd pike behavior. After answering the call of nature in the scrub behind me I returned and before sitting down I peered into the water. Was it not for an odd pinkish growth protruding from her mouth I would have never seen the decent sized pike lying a foot from the bank in the dead weed bed, but once I'd clocked her head I could soon pick out the other three foot of her. After a while she rose up in the water and swam up stream. Thinking I'd never see her again, I sat and got ready to fling more maggots, but as I bent over to load up the feeder I saw her drift back into the edge from downstream and settle close to where I'd seen her before. This was too good an opportunity to miss, so I slowly picked up the pike rod and carefully drew the bait back in towards her. She definitely saw it, I could tell from the way see moved a little as if to line it up, but then she turned back.

I watched that pike for half an hour as she observed the bait, moved off and returned to her spot. She did this three times and every time I was sure she'd hit the bait when she came back, but no nothing. Then after she moved off again a second slightly smaller fish came moving in quickly. This one was going to have the bait for sure, but then the one with the growth drifted in and the new fish bolted off. Finally thinking she just wasn't into feeding I gave up on her and moved the bait back out into the flow a bit. 

The pike distraction over I began casting the feeder again and happily the silvers were still lined up ready to go. But after a few casts fish came flying out of the water just beyond my casting zone as they were chased by a predator. Quickly I chucked the dead bait into the area and sat it on the rests. I'd not even sat down before something took the bait violently. I struck hard and was soon playing another hard fighting pike. After running me a merry old dance right through where I'd been fishing sending fish scattering clean out the water, I managed to subdue the angry fish into the net. It wasn't a huge fish but it was bigger than the first, and like that fish it too was heavily patterned and certainly well fed.

After releasing that last pike to sulk under a tree in the margins upstream I went back to the maggot feeder to finish off the session. Sadly though that last pike's antics, combined with a clearing sky, had changed the dynamic of the area I'd been feeding. For all my efforts with the last of my bait I only scraped a few more small roach to finish off the session. I wasn't disappointed though after catching literally hundreds of silvers, a few nice examples of my target species and two nice pike. I reckon that I had pretty damn good session as once again Saxon Mill came through on a cold winter morning.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

On the matter of self takes.

As an angler and certainly as a blogger, the self-take has become an integral way of recording fish captures for me whilst fishing alone. I remember almost fondly years ago, balancing my compact camera on my seat with the timer whizzing away as I wrestled a fish. Then later I began taking a tripod along, which lasted all of a few sessions as it was so cumbersome. Technology moved on and with the arrival of digital cameras I began using a tiny adaptor to attach the new digital camera to a bank stick and use the self timer to capture a few snaps. My camera grew though when I began using a bridge sized Nikon; somewhere between a compact digital and an SLR, this camera worked well with the adaptor and took some great photos. The only problem was size; when you begin doing a lot of lure fishing on foot, you quickly realize that mobility is key and thus tackle gets cut right back. Now, I actually like to lure fish with a back pack rather than a smaller shoulder bag or hip bag, as it seems to stop me leaning forward gradually through the session and helps balance me. The camera in its bag though was making up close to 25% of what I was carrying in the back pack, add to that a 500mm extendible bank stick to mount it on sticking out of my bag and it's a lot of kit for a few photos. Having to carry the camera round in my kit seemed a hassle to me for ages until just recently when an accidental discovery changed everything again...

I had been playing around with the camera settings on my Samsung A300 mobile phone when I noticed it had a voice activation mode for the camera that is activated by saying a command word, of which the pre-set version was obviously, cheese. A couple of cheeses later and my phone picture storage was sporting some dashing half head shots. This got the old brain goo flowing and a plan to use a selfie stick to hold the phone, plus rucksack to support it soon formed.

It has worked out unbelievably well in practical use; number one, I always have my phone with me so the bigger camera is left at home, number two, I can upload any taken pictures to my Google drive instantly, so messing around with memory cards is a thing of the past. It is so much more user friendly than having to use the camera timer. Literally when I catch a fish I want a photo of, I leave it in the net in the water whilst setting up the phone on the bag supported selfie stick, then I do a quick practice shot before placing my unhooking mat in place as a marker of where I need to be. Then get the fish out hold it up and ring of a load of shots using the cheesy command. Even the quality of the pictures is reasonably high as the camera on my phone is five mega pixels and as we change phones that will just get higher with subsequent generations of phones.

All it took was the purchase of a couple of selfie sticks from the local pound shop, one for each bag, and I was away. I have been doing this for about six months now, it is so easy and I don't think there's been a massive difference in the quality of my pictures for using a phone rather than a camera. So, if like me you take self-takes regularly and have the option on your phone for voice command activation on your camera, give this a go as it really is a convenient way to get some good trophy pictures when fishing alone.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Christmas catch up.

I always find myself trying to catch up in the New year with my blog. What with working in an industry that relies on the holiday season and having a large family, my time becomes rather constrained over the holidays. As I am a true angling addict and cannot not go fishing it's all other non necessary time consuming actives that pay the price and blogging is in there with them. 

Anyway the holiday season has finally passed away into the memories along with 2016. Looking back through last year's posts I quickly concluded that I had a decent year all things considered and judging from the photos I caught a lot more pike, zander and perch than I can remember doing. In catching all those predators my affinity and love of lure fishing has grown along with my knowledge and ability. Literally ten years ago I would have never conceived becoming such an avid fake flinger. A year of repetitive casting though has been peppered by a few memorable sessions using other techniques that have paid dividends in years gone by, inspiring me for the coming year. Carp of both the crucian and king varieties weigh heavy on my mind in these young cold months when so many plans are conceived and so ideas that have been shelved away for too long will get dusted off later in the year.

Back to catching up and I did actually do some fishing over the holidays. From what I remember the first was a relatively successful micro-fishing session on the Coventry canal. It was successful as all I caught were micro fish and quite a lot of them. The whole idea of using these tiny lures to search out every nook and cranny on a canal is novel enough, but seeing how deadly the method is proves exactly why this is such a fast growing fun area of fishing in the UK.

I absolutely love these tiny Allure creature baits by Crazy fish. Through the session I fished both drop shot and on jig heads all around any structure I could find and they always seem to find small pods of fish and persuade them into attacking.

My next outing I went chub fishing... Yes you heard that right I went chub fishing, quiver tip rod, bread and all chub fishing. With only a few hours of daylight left one spare afternoon I grabbed my newly assembled short session kit and nipped to an old stomping ground high up the Warks Avon where literally you could jump the river should you be brave enough to try.

It was great to be back creeping around in the under growth, well I thought I was creeping anyway. The reality is that with spending so much time on the civilised banks of canals I had forgotten how much harder it is to move round through banks lined with old reeds and six foot high nettles blown down by the wind. My techniques for traversing barbed wire fences could do with some polishing given that I nearly  hung my family jewels up like washing on a line on a couple of crossings. It was all worth it though when you get a view of sections of river that is hidden from view for most of the year and only reveals itself for a few short months at the point when the year's growth has died away and is still waiting to renew again.

My fish location proved a bit rusty as well, and it took me a couple of clumsily wasted swims to finally get that quiver tip to rattle round, before a small but very clean chub grabbed my nugget of bread as it skipped under a raft of rubbish collected round the branch of a tree.

Both previous sessions had been relatively short and sweet as they were mere stolen hours here or there. It wasn't until right at the end of the holidays when I finally got my act together enough as to spend an entire morning out fishing. Getting out on this morning wasn't the only problem though. The night before the sky had cleared and the temperature dropped drastically. With a heavy frost and frozen puddles lining the city roads I felt it was a safe bet that both the canals and the commercial pool where I wanted to try my luck for a new perch PB would topped with a thin layer of cat ice. So I switched kits, grabbed a lure rucksack and a light/medium weight lure rod and nipped of over to Leamington to target the sluggish waters of the river Leam.

I'd heard from a friend of mine, Dave Cook, that there was quite a few prey fish shoaled up in the sheltered stretches around Victoria park, and if I know anything it's that the resident pike will not be far away from those smaller fish.

My tactics were quite simple in truth. On previous visits I had formed a mental map of the depths and summer time features of the stretch. Using that knowledge and a few select lures I felt were suitable, I worked my way up through the park targeting the shallow margins where the dead lily pads were, using shallow diving hard baits like the storm ghost minnow and the deeper centre of the river using medium sized fox spiky shads on 10 gram jig heads.

It took most of the morning and a lot of casting before I located the prey fish holding just in the deeper water behind a shallow area at the top of the park. After arriving and making only a few casts, I spotted fish topping and new this would be the area to concentrate on. After eventually dropping the weight of jig head to 5 grams to slow the lure movement down, I cracked the code and got a couple of slashed takes before hooking a micro jack pike. From then I just concentrated on the area; repeated casting and a few lure changes routed out two more tiny pike and one slightly better one which I was very happy to finish with.