Sunday 29 September 2013

Grayling - a change is as good as a rest

I've only recently renewed one of my club tickets so decided to head out to the Dove for a quick go on the float rod this morning.  On the journey over there there I had no real aim except to turn up, start fishing and see what came along. I only took a couple of baits with me as I wanted keep it simple and with only a few hours at my disposal I didn't want to waste time re rigging hooks for different baits.

The river was pretty low and gin clear so it might be difficult I thought to myself, "Oh well in for a penny in for a pound" I was here now and time was ticking.  Opening my bag I had two reels in there to choose from, a fixed spool and the trusty old pin.  Now I've hardly used my pin this year and with trotting being the style of fishing perfectly suited to the centre pin, it was time to slip her out of her black pouch and into the sunlight once again.

A 2 gram medium body stick float was selected from the float tube and slid up the line complimented with a size 16 barbless hook to 2lb bottom tied on to suit the baits in my bucket. First up I was going to trickle some maggots through the swim to get the fish moving out of the shadows and into the flow.  As I opened the tub I was a bit surprised to see the tub completely full of casters instead of the maggots that were only just over a week old.  My bait fridge has packed up so I am using the cool of the garage floor to keep my bait 'fresh' and obviously it's nowhere near as effective as a fridge, in which I can keep maggots useful for weeks on end ! Never mind casters will do.

 A short cast out and the float headed off down the run to the end of a nice pool before it shallowed up to some riffles. It only took a couple of runs through before the float bobbed under and a fish was on. I expected it to be a dace but as it darted around I suspected something a bit more ladylike.

First of the morning only a small one of about 7 oz

The scales I bought from Jeff were quick to dispel any exaggeration my eyes might imagine.  I would have given it at least 10 oz.
Next one was a bit better and had me believing it might be a chub as the rod was hooped round during the struggle in the flow back to the net. The fish using its sail like dorsal to full advantage although I don't think this was a male fish. ( I'm still to catch my first male grayling).

Best of the day at 12oz

After quite a  few more trots down I finished the morning off with this last fish, another female. Then just sat and watched her for about 5 minutes while she just hung around in the current, before finally sliding away downstream back to her shoal - magical.


Monday 9 September 2013

Starting on a lifetimes journey?

Whilst sorting out my lure box and making up some new traces,  my little lad suddenly started showing an interest in the lures and asking what they were for.  I talked about what they did in the water and suggested that he come with me for a short session to see if he is going to show a liking for fishing now he's a bit older.  He wasn't that interested last year and he'd not really been too keen on going so far this season up to now, but when he said he'd like to go and see me catch a fish on a lure I was pleased and wondered if I might make a fisherman of him yet?  So yesterday afternoon after a promised trip to the park first, the deal was to then pop down to the river for half an hour before we had visit the supermarket for a few bits for tea.

As I managed to finally coax him away from the swings and slides the heavens opened and it looked like the fishing trip was scuppered. As we drove back I could see the clouds were passing over and it was only going to be a quick shower so I headed to the river anyway just to have a look if nothing else. The river was in fine trim when we got there and Jacob was still keen so we carried on despite the damp grass under foot. We were only trying the swim nearest the car,  just a very short walk and we were ready to fish.

I started off with a new 13cm lowrider to see if I could get any takers but after a few retrieves with plenty of spins stops thrown in for good measure I was still waiting for the bang ! Like all new lures you need to give them time before you reserve judgement, they don't all work first cast.  Jacob in the meantime was looking down at the lure box and asked if he could pick the next one. He liked the medium Big S in perch pattern which he liked to call the ' platypus one ' (as in Perry the Platypus from Phineas and Ferb cartoon  of course, ...I know it took me a while too !)  I couldn't get the Big S to produce a hit so it was soon time for the next contender. 

It was "the snakes" turn now ( 20cm real eel)  and after a few runs through the eel did the job and produced this little tyke saving me the feared blank and putting a big smile on Jacobs face as I lifted it out of the net for him to see.  Jacob even took the photo for me, not too bad for his first go.

" It was this big "

I was pleased to be able to show him the fish and even though he wasn't quite ready for a go on the rod himself yet he didn't complain or want to go home after five minutes so progress was definitely made.  I was able to show him how I unhooked the fish and let him see the teeth and red gill rakers explaining how they work.  It made me feel quite good to be teaching him about nature so close up in a way you could never get from books or TV.

After the fish was returned it was time to go but as I picked up the net to shake it dry I noticed a little silver glint in the bottom.  Expecting it to be a little roach or chub fry I was pleasantly surprised to find it was neither but instead a perfect little stickleback fry. Amazing to see these little fish living in this once polluted river . They were which were pretty much where my love of fish began back in the stream near my house growing up where we would collect them in jars with our little nets.  I've not seen many since those days so it always brings back fond memories of summers spent wading up and down the brook in Elmdon park with my little net, trying to collect more or bigger sticklebacks than anyone else. I can vividly remember that netting the bigger ones was always more pleasing than just getting loads of little ones, I guess the specimen hunter was always in me from the start!  It was also nice to be able to show Jacob another fish species and one that is not often encountered by many nowadays it seems ? Not sure if that's because they are getting rarer now, or just because we don't get to wander around up to our knees in brook or stream with just a net and a pack of jam sandwiches for lunch anymore ?

This morning (Sunday), I headed out on a cool dawn to get a couple of hours in before breakfast. Not much to report in the way of fish really suffice to say I walked a mile or so along dew soaked pathways and tried lots of likely looking spots but the river seemed moody and with a tinge more colour in it today than the day before, the fish not responding to my efforts.

The only fish came at the end of the session when I heard a splashy lunge from something upstream of me.  I headed up there and cast the real eel to the spot.  Within two turns of the handle the fish engulfed the lure and bolted off through the ribbon weed like an exocet missile.  After one of the most spirited fights I've had from a fish of this size, it was nice to at least get one on the bank to end the morning session with.

Ah the old unintended two finger salute shot !

Sunday 1 September 2013

Zander from the river

Zander are one of my favourite species and I love to fish for them on baits whether it's for the smaller canal variety or larger samples that can be found in some of the Midlands rivers.  With this in mind I headed out yesterday evening after work down to the Warwickshire Avon in hope of the latter.

As I set off along the motorway that nagging feeling loomed in my mind,  you know,  the one that tells you you've forgotten some important item  - in this case the camera left on the table next to the laptop ! Damn, I could have turned around to get it but that would mean getting off at the next junction and going all the way back.  I didn't have the time for that, as I had to get to the river to catch some baits and also if there was any light left have a go with the lure rod before the darkness set in.
The journey takes about 45mins from my house so it was tight enough already. The thought always crosses my mind in this situation, "what if I get a PB "? ah well, I've got the HTC phone camera as a back up, rubbish for pictures though it is. 

 Walking to my swim I was a bit disappointed that my swim choices A and B were both taken by the only two other anglers on the stretch, typical ! Swim choice C was still free though, so I jumped in there and set up the float rod to catch baits and started to cast about searching for bites. The first fish, a nice gudgeon, came soon after but as I popped him into the "holding  net "(landing net) I noticed that the chap in swim B was now packing down and vacating.  Five minutes later I was re-positioning my kit in swim B where would be within a short cast of where the zander would be held up near to a crease in the flow alongside a large slack area. It didn't take long to get a few baits into the holding net, and I was soon thinking about casting the zed rod out. Darkness was starting to edge its way in and I could sense the prey fish were skulking off to wherever they hide for the night as the bites started to fade away rapidly, the float becoming more and more difficult to make out now in the gloaming.

My simple single hook running ledger rig

A small roach was selected from the net and hooked through the lips on a single hook running ledger rig. I use an ESP raptor size 4 hook but any similar hook will work. I generally go for a size four or a two as any smaller and the hook might not catch in the zanders hard mouth. The roach is dispatched first then I usually just cut some slits near the back of the gill plates and stab a few holes in the flank to let the blood and juices flow into the current and draw in the attention of any passing zander. You could try to leave the swim bladder intact which might allow the fish to pop up a bit off bottom, but I generally just puncture holes down both sides of the flank and then I know whichever side the fish settles it will be venting body juices into the current, which is exactly what you want. The fresher the bait the better this flow of scent will be in my opinion, hence keeping the baits alive until the last minute and any that are not used can be released back at the end of the session to fight another day.

I have read comments on some forums and in magazine articles where the single hook rig is poo pooed by some zander anglers in favour of size 8 or 10 trebles fished snap tackle style.  I find the single hook set up I use is very efficient in hook-ups and can easily and quickly be removed with no messing about trying to free two trebles from the hard mouth of a zander.  It must always be used in conjunction with a wire trace of course, I prefer 20lb uncoated wire generally but you can use any strength above this coated or not, however I don't recommend going below 20lb breaking strain in case you get a big pike pick up the bait.

 I do find with pike that a snap tackle rig can be removed more easily than in zander, the pikes mouth is larger and more cavernous and can be accessed through the gills far more easily. Zander are a lot more reluctant to open their mouth up for you and have a tendency to snap their jaws shut quite frequently making the job even more tricky.  Removing a single hook neatly positioned in the zanders scissors or just inside it mouth is a much better prospect than trying to unstitch two trebles from the hard mouth cavity believe me. I don't tend to use single hooks for pike as I generally fish with larger sea baits like mackerel or herring that suit a set of trebles better, but I have caught a few up to 12lb on this single hook set up when after zander, again usually hooked neatly in the pikes scissors.

Anyway, back in the swim, the roach had been in position on the bottom by the edge of the crease for about 10 minutes with the rod positioned tip high on the rest in the way rightly or wrongly most barbel anglers set their rods up. In this case there is a good reason to have the rods set in this way.  The zander aren't renowned for savage takes and are usually quoted as being very sensitive to resistance. This might be true in some cases but I think it gets overplayed a little, don't get me wrong they will often drop a bait if they are not happy but importantly you can easily see a bite when they pick up the bait up, and as long as you see the tip move and you are on the rod quickly to strike you should not miss the take. Having the rod high is a good way of the angler seeing the tip move as the line is able to transfer the direct movement to the tip better. You need no slack in the line though, if fact I tighten down so there is a slight bend in the tip so it will even register a drop back (when the fish moves upstream towards you).  Therefore no need for bobbins or alarms or such like, just you and your observational skills back to basics fishing really.   I only like to fish one rod like this, as fishing with two rods in this way could easily mean a missed take, a dropped run, and worse still deeply hooked fish.  Zander are not going give you an unmissable three foot twitch like a barbel might, so you need to be alert at all times when the your bait is in the water. Also, I don't always like the additional problems that fishing two rods brings, especially in the dark, so why make it more difficult that it needs to be. If you don't get a take in 15 to 20 minutes just reposition the bait somewhere else in the swim, or move to another spot along the river. The bites when they do come will be quite recognisable just purposeful small pulls and taps on the tip similar to a bream bite I suppose.  If you've done any sort of feeder fishing before you will not have any problem in discerning this movement as a definite bite. It's harder to explain than to see in reality so you'll have to trust me when I say "you'll know".

The tip of my rod pulled down slightly then jabbed forwards a couple more centimetres and I was striking into the fish before I knew what had happened. It came in quite easily but I could tell it had a little weight to it and was not just small schoolie.  First zander of the night was in the net and weighed in an equal to my canal pb at 6lb 10oz.  I was pretty chuffed with that result and managed to draft in some dog walkers that happened to be passing to help with a picture on the phone camera.

I wished I hadn't forgotten my bloody normal camera, as the pictures were pretty crap quality and that's being polite ! The framing is a not too clever either, not really their fault as it is difficult in the dark when you can't see what's on the screen, but I've ended up with a pretty severe haircut !

6lb 10oz caught on fresh dead roach 

With the fish returned it was time to get another fresh roach on and the rod back in quickly in case there were more fish about and on the feed.  Soon enough I had another tap, tap and a pull on the rod tip revealed nicely by the little green isotope on the end. The rod hooped over as I struck into another fish, shaking it's head and hugging the bottom about 7ft down. This fish seemed altogether stronger and all I could do was guide it upstream towards me slowly for a while. I could do nothing to get its head up and I started to wonder what I'd hooked ? For a second it crossed my mind that I might have a reasonable eel as it felt a bit like the fish was swimming backwards as it neared the margin in front of me?  Eventually I decided to go for it and haul it up to the surface with a bit more force. When another zander popped its head out I was a little surprised to see it.  It thrashed about a bit, head shaking violently as they do, but luckily it was in the net before it could throw the hook.  At 8lb 4oz I was more than pleased with the result. Whilst not my biggest ever zander (that came from frisby lakes) it's the biggest I've had from a river so far and so is still quite a special capture for me.

Don't let anyone tell you that zander don't fight as they can give a good account of themselves when they want to. Granted some come in like a wet sack but not all, and this one was certainly as mean and feisty as they come.  This time I managed to draft in the barbel angler 20 yards downstream of me but the best photo he got was the one where he zoomed in on the fish,  unfortunately the other one  he took was completely blurred.

8lb second fish and new river caught PB

Finally the release, always allow the fish time to recover in the net before you release it with the head facing into the flow if you can, like in the picture above.  Make sure that the fish is up right and stable as you can see here. Also check the gills are moving in and out in a regular rhythm and the fish is looking comfortable before you let it go, especially while the weather is still a little warm. On really hot days it is probably better not to fish for zander in case they go belly up due to the reduced amount of dissolved oxygen in the water during hot weather.   Now we are into September things should start cooling down a bit anyway but always take proper care of every fish, no matter what the conditions.

And one last thing if you do like a photo record of your fish don't forget your camera or like me sods law will kick in and you'll end up with just disappointing phone shots of that special fish ! still, better than none at all I suppose.

6lb 10oz
8lb 4oz