Saturday, 23 August 2014

Damn Eels!... but a nice Pike.

I’ve been out after the eels again recently but have limited it to two short sessions per week now. I’ve been emptying my bait freezer of all my old deadbaits and have been putting in 1-2lb at the end of every trip but yet again there is no sign of the eels!

I knew I was limiting my chances by fishing evenings only but my catches have been disappointing, at the very least. Since the two eels just after I started I’ve not had another eel so haven’t learnt much that might help in the future… that’s the real rub for me, I’ve blanked plenty over the years but I always like to learn something. I suppose I could say that the prebaiting hasn’t worked… in fact, it might have worked against me, but at least the pike got a free feed. They need the help after being hammered by bad angling practices over the last few years.

Anyway, I’ve got just under 100 lobworms and a few weeks left yet so I may as well stick it out until the end. I’m not hoping for much but think I’ll fish one of the weekly sessions in other parts of the lake.

Not sure if anyone else has noticed but it’s felt a bit like late September to me recently! The stormy, and not particularly warm, weather has got me thinking about pike… I usually fish for pike with lures all year round but this year I’ve not done much for various reasons, so the other day I thought I’d get out.

The river was still low but a bit of recent rain had meant it had come up a bit. There was a slug of water coming downstream that would reach my stretch the following day, when I planned to go, but most fish get caught in the mornings here so I decided to go anyway.

I arrived and the water was as I expected; a bit of extra depth, flow and a tinge of colour but apart from a few follows I struggled for the first couple of hours and noticed the river was rising all the time. I eventually saw a decent fish hit the lure properly and a mid double was hooked. It went a bit berserk during the fight and made a few leaps out of the water... it was on one of these jumps that I lost her! Hmmmm, that wasn't in the plan!

I carried on struggling before getting to the last couple of swims but the foliage had been cut behind them and some was piled up against the overgrown swims. I knew there were a couple of spots to fish but I couldn’t see them so it was obvious they hadn’t been fished in a long time. After 5 minutes of getting stung and bitten the first spot proved fruitless and I could now see that the river had come up quite a bit and was getting coloured. Another 5 minutes clearing the next swim and I needed a break… it would also give the swim a rest after my noise but this was probably my last chance looking at the chocolate brown colour the river was fast turning.

I pitched the lure 20ft along the upstream tree and it came back. The second one was straight out about the same distance and, as the lure came into view a few feet from the end of the rod, a good pike shot upstream and nailed it, turning 180° and shooting off round the bushes so I couldn’t see it or what was round there. With 100lb braid and a strong rod it didn’t get very far though and I could feel what was going on so steady pressure bought the fish back up to me, with a short foray into a clump of grass being the only worry. It felt quite heavy and was very lively and it took a couple of attempts to get it in the net but in she went… where the hooks promptly fell out!

A nice chap walking past was good enough to take a quick photo but I didn’t weigh her. At a guess I’d say about 16-17lb in her summer condition. A lovely looking, fit fish that shot off as fast as it appeared.

On a tough day it’s always a relief to catch a decent fish. The disappointment of a blank is averted and you can go home a happy man.

I had another chance in the same swim from a fish about 7lb, which I missed, but the river had come up even further and was completely chocolate brown colour, with big branches coming down. I fished on for another hour or so but it was getting unfishable so the time came to head home.

It’s nice to be back with the pike! J

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Yearly Trip to Wales

With the warm weather in full flow a few weeks back it was time to pay a visit to family in North Wales and get away for a week or so of fishing, which I usually do every summer.

On arriving, I spent a few hours with the family but, although eager to get out fishing for the last couple of hours of daylight, the tide was low which I have never found to be any good here before. I decided to get out, for a stroll along the beach if nothing else, but this time I went to a different mark and ended up in a shallow, rocky area strewn with boulders at the bottom of a granite cliff. I’ve never been able to get to it before as I generally fish at high water but it looked “fishy” if you know what I mean. Whether there’d be any bass there was anybody’s guess.

I made my way around the rocky area casting my trusty Lucky Craft Gunfish 115 in Ghost colour, enjoying the solitude and beauty of the coast, and mesmerised by the surface lure walking and popping its way back with a stunning sunset as the background. On one such journey back, as the lure got close to the swirling water around the rocks, I thought I saw a splash just behind the lure but without giving me time to think about it a bass hit the lure hard and charged off. Wow, what a take and all within 15ft of the rod tip. After a decent fight, with the bass making long runs in the shallow water, it came in and was a bit bigger than the normal stamp of fish for the area, at least for the last few years. Not big by any standards but my first bass of the year at about 3lb. Shortly after another, slightly bigger, fish came up in exactly the same way and nailed the lure at the second splash. It was now fully dark so I made my way back round and started slowly walking along the beach, casting as I went, when I missed an unmissable take at distance. Not sure how as I heard it, saw the splash, felt the fish and struck, but I still missed it! Doh! No matter, I’d had two and it was well past the time to go.

Anyway, the following evening I thought I’d do pretty much the same and again, two more bass were caught in exactly the same way, with a missed splash and then a full on take… I wonder if they were smashing into them first to damage them before coming back to finish them off? I know some people believe that happens. One a bit bigger and one slightly smaller this time but the action and decent size of all of them made me hope that the bass fishing planned for later in the week in a better area might be good.

Before that there was much more fishing to do, albeit not too seriously. This yearly trip isn’t about catching monsters but more about fun and getting about a bit.

First stop was a big glacial lake that I’ve fished for a few years. One of my fishing mates, Jono ( Reel Fishing ), has a caravan there. It was now early Sunday evening and in the last couple of miles before I got there,after driving from the coast, I think I saw a pair or ospreys but can’t be sure. They are seen in that area sometimes and Jono has had a close encounter with one on his boat out on the lake.

Over a few beers we decided on what we were going to do over the next few days; we had a lot to fit in and needed a plan. Somehow, in a drunken haze, a plan emerged and even had the added bonus that there were no early mornings, which was a blessing as we had a barbeque and beers every night until the early hours… it is a holiday as well, after all. J

First on the list was an afternoon and evening on the boat, lure fishing for pike, but before that a plan had to be put in place.

For years I’ve often thought about filling a sealed container with dead fish etc and tying it off in a swim, with the intention of attracting eels and/or catfish. For some reason I’ve never got round to it but I’d planned to give it a go here. I’d picked up a big bag of nasty, smelly fish from the local tackle shop on the coast for £2! To be honest, I’m sure the woman was happy to get rid of the old, refrozen stuff at the bottom of the bait freezer that she could never sell. It suited my needs perfectly, even if I did have to seal it in 3 carrier bags and a bin liner because of the smell.

Anyway, I’d made a load of holes in a big container and tied string to it, and Jono had made one. I knew the area I wanted to try for eels so we made our way across and had a quick scout around with the echo sounder, finding the marginal drop-off and the drop-offs going across the lake. We picked our spot, which was a deep area close to a shallow, snaggy area, and filled the containers with dead fish of all sorts, pigs hearts, livers, kidneys! We tied markers to the string and dropped one overboard on either side of a swim. We spread some food they could get at all over an area about the size of two or three tennis courts, tried to get the smell off our hands, and went off pike fishing.

The pike fishing was tough and after a couple of follows I eventually had a fish hit a surface lure, only a jack but we then caught 3 more off the top before calling it a day… the biggest being a double to Jono. For some reason the pike fishing there this year is poor compared to the last few years with fewer, but bigger average size, fish. With the boat out of the water we went back for beer, bbq and laughs until stupid o’clock in the morning, as usual.

The next day was eel fishing day so after an easy start and a trip to the local tackle shop, and a quick one in the pub, we got to the boat launch area but could see a load of kids in kayaks had got out of the water exactly where we had dropped the chum buckets. They eventually left but it was now late afternoon. We settled into the swim to fish lobworms on one rod each and fish bait on another. The worms were lobbed (sorry!) out near to the bucket and before I’d even set the second rod up it was away. A short fight and the first eel was landed. To cut a long story short, we fished until about 2am and I had 6 or 7 eels, between 2- 3½lb or so, and Jono had, I think, 3. The eels seemed to like my bucket more than Jono’s and I couldn’t find time to sit down; it was hectic. With the worms all gone I took to using bigger and bigger fish baits but it just meant the 2-3lb eels couldn’t get them in their mouths, although they didn’t stop trying… lots of missed takes. Quite a successful session, even if a monster eel never showed up, and the chum buckets and free bait certainly worked… in every eel we caught you could clearly see several lumps where they had eaten the free bait. To be honest, eels in big glacial lakes are very aggressive when it comes to food and can smell, and will travel, a fair way for an easy meal, so you can use it to your advantage.

The next day we’d decided to go fly fishing for grayling. Now, I’ve not cast a fly rod since I was a kid and only then very occasionally… in effect, a total beginner! I think I understand the mechanics of fly casting but putting it into practice was going to be interesting. Fishing with a tiny dry fly on a 5wt is a long way away from my normal pike gear of 100lb braid and lures of 8oz upwards! Going by my demeanour and general heavy handed approach, some people might say I’m not that big on finesse, but fishing Birmingham canals and park lakes for roach as a kid taught me the odd thing or two about going light, even if I hide it well. J

After a few failed attempts I could see where I was mainly going wrong and eventually I could make a good enough cast to catch something on a fairly regular basis. When you get it right it’s effortless and a lovely way to fish, and certainly something I’ll look into doing later in life. Anyone who knows me knows that if the opportunity arises I’ll surface fish whenever I can so I stuck with dry flies, even though it probably wasn’t the best option in the bright, hot sunshine. No matter, I wanted to get a grip with casting more than anything, as long as I caught one or two. J

It turned out better than I expected. My casting was okay for most of the time and I caught 3 or 4 mini grayling and a few salmon parr and brown trout… all juveniles but these were the first grayling I’ve ever seen and they were all beautiful. To catch them on a dry fly was great as well but a big one that I spent an hour trying to catch was far too smart to fall for my awkward casting.

The next day we made our way up to the coast and set up camp. We’ve been coming bass fishing to this particular campsite and mark for a few years now and the fishing is usually excellent. Even if the bass aren’t around in decent numbers we usually catch a few along with more than 50 pollock each over a few days, along with wrasse, and the odd mackerel, coalfish and launce. This year proved to be very, very poor. Anthony arrived the next day but we all struggled to catch anything at all. Jono managed a codling and a mackerel, and we caught a few small wrasse, but we couldn’t find a pollock or bass at all! Usually you only have to chuck out a toby and you can’t fail to catch the pollock. The bass were elusive until the last night when we tried a different area and fished well into dark, where we all managed to catch on surface lures. Not long before dark we saw what might be one of the reasons for the awful fishing; a commercial netter came along in his fairly big boat and set zig-zags of nets in the area we had been fishing, and the new area we were now in! The bass haven’t got a chance but it might not fully explain the disappearance of the pollock.

Another fishing buddy, Noodle, and his family turned up on the last night and although he didn't fish it was good to catch up with him.

Last years report of this trip had plenty of fishy photo’s ( A Week in Wales ) but we never got any photo’s of the bass, but however bad the fishing is the scenery of the North Wales coast is truly stunning and just being there is good for the soul.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Walking Boots for Fishing – Part 1, 3-Season Boot

For any angler that does a lot of walking in their fishing, a good pair of boots is an important bit of kit and often one that is overlooked. Lure anglers by their very nature adopt a totally roving approach and unless they have got the right boots, long walks or uneven ground can cause fatigue, pain, blisters, hotspots, and even severe injury or death.  No matter what type of fishing you do, walking boots are often your best option.

Most boots made by fishing tackle manufacturers are a poor substitute for proper walking or hiking boots. Although there are no doubt a few exceptions, they generally lack the knowledge, technology and manufacturing prowess to compete with proprietary boots.

My last pair of Brasher boots died on me recently so I went through the usual process of choosing suitable replacements. After previously trying to get one boot that suited all four seasons, it seems that it is a compromise too far (for the fishing I do) so I have decided that the best solution is to get two pairs of boots. This will give me a lighter 3 Season, more breathable, pair for warmer periods and a heavier duty pair of 4 season boots for winter use, and hopefully double the life expectancy of both.

So, which boots?

Walking boots generally fall into a few general types.

Mountain Boots - usually too stiff in both ankle support and sole unit for fishing or walking any distance on flat ground.

Hiking Boots – varied types of boot in this section. They generally offer very good ankle support and built to be used whilst carrying a load. Best suited to the more mobile or adventurous angler, or those wanting a tough boot. Generally a stiffer boot than a walking boot, but slightly at the expense of comfort on easy walks.

Walking Boots – just a lighter version of hiking boot. Good support as usually mid height and flexible enough to prevent fatigue when walking a good distance. Sole units are often too soft to use on rocks. Best suited to anglers who walk to their swim and fish statically due to good grip and comfort, or mobile anglers on easier terrain with a lightweight pack.

Walking Shoes & Sandals; as the name suggests, just a shoe version of a walking boot. They offer little or no ankle protection or support but are very comfortable on easy terrain. Best suited to summer fishing on flat ground. Very breathable.

NB. Hiking boots and walking boots are often stated as being the same thing in shops… the tougher and stiffer they are, the more they lean towards being a hiking boot.

First off, you need to consider what type of fishing you do and what you need the boots for.

In my case, I wanted a fairly lightweight boot that was breathable, waterproof and with a very grippy sole suitable for mostly mud but also, occasionally, sharp and boulder type rocks. 

Type: I needed more ankle support than a shoe gives but not as much as a full height boot. To maximise breathability I chose a fabric/leather boot rather than a full leather boot.

Waterproofing: Goretex (GTX) remains as the market leader (just my interpretation of internet based reviews).

Sole: For mud I needed a deep, aggressive lug pattern that digs in, on both the front and back of the boot. A fairly flexible sole is good on mud and causes less fatigue when walking but a slightly stiffer sole can help when scrambling up muddy banks. Vibram is accepted as the best but some manufacturers make their own proprietary alternatives, some good, some not so good.

For rocks I needed a very grippy sole material for boulders but also a lug pattern with enough places to wedge the edges of sharp rocks into, to stop slipping. Soles for rocks need to be fairly stiff to help movement over rough ground and to stop feeling the sharp edges through the soles into your feet.

Weight & Size: tiredness is often a factor on long, mobile days so lighter/smaller = less fatigue.

I chose a hiking boot as I fish quite a lot in rough terrain, and a Goretex lining was a must, but the sole unit had to be right. Short of getting boots specifically for rocks or specifically for mud the soles had to be a compromise.

As usual, I used an Excel spreadsheet and listed details of the boots that might fit my requirements. A few stood out and made it to the final list.

Everyone has different shaped feet and some manufacturer’s boots are more suitable than others. It is critical when choosing a boot to make sure they fit your feet, otherwise you will suffer, and the only way to do that is to try them on.

Unfortunately this is where it usually gets tricky as you’d be very lucky to have all of your final choices in the right sizes available locally.

First stop was Cotswold Outdoors; it’s a great shop for anglers and the staff are very knowledgeable. The sales girl suggested I had my feet properly measured. Turns out I’ve got wide, size 10's… but I knew that already! J  Seriously though, it’s a great service and helps to select a boot shape that fits, rather than size.

To cut a long story short, I couldn’t find the boots I was after in the right size locally but after trying on the other boots on the list, and a similar boot by the same manufacturer, I took a chance and ordered online. I’d much rather have bought them from Cotswold but their delivery period was too long for a planned trip They also offer price-matching if you ask them. ;-)

In the end I bought my first choice; a pair of Salomon Conquest GTX boots.

They were comfortable straight out of the box but I did feel a few hotspots at first... changing the lacing soon sorted that out. So far they’ve been waterproof and the sole is good on different terrains. I may do a longer term review of the boots at some point but so far I’m very happy with them.

If you're in the market for new fishing footwear then I'd strongly suggest you consider a pair of walking or hiking boots. The comfort they offer is unparalleled and can revolutionise your fishing, allowing you to fish longer and harder if you want to. It’s also good to know you have a good, grippy sole unit that you can count on to keep you upright and/or dry. On a few occasions I've gone a cropper and a broken wrist on your casting arm puts a real dent in your fishing time.

Part 2 will be about Winter Boots, when I buy them.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Time for Change

Another week or so has passed and despite fishing 5 or 6 evening sessions in good conditions the eels have done a disappearing act. A little background on the lake in question; I've fished this lake on and off for 40 years and know it like the back of my hand. I taught myself to pike fish on this lake as a kid and had my first 20lb pike and first 20lb carp from here so, although it isn't a very nice place (many brummie park lakes aren't), it holds lots of memories for me.

There has always been the odd eel in there but not enough to make fishing for them a worthwhile proposition. In all those years I could count the number of eels caught on one hand until the recent activity. In the space of a few weeks there were 2 eels caught by accident, including the big one, and 2 that I have caught! That is unheard of for this lake but it seems as though their activity was very short lived and for the last 3 or 4 weeks no other eels have been caught. Very strange behaviour which I've not seen before. It may be that the eels are gathered around the spawning grounds of the coarse fish but due to hundreds of tench and bream being stacked in one corner there's no way a worm bait can be fished anywhere near them.

So, I'm about 25 short sessions in now and I'm not that happy about my catch rate. I've fished most of the lake and have now reverted back to my original area. The perch that were a big pest have mostly moved out of the corner where I'm fishing which has opened up the chance to change my strategy and my thoughts have turned to prebaiting.

It is widely thought/accepted that eels usually feed every 3 to 4 days so this can be used to your advantage. By baiting an area every 3 or 4 days I'm hoping to attune the eels into my feeding pattern. If the plan comes off it might, hopefully, mean less time on the bank and more eels. Now the rivers are open again and the bass have stopped munching on peeler crab other fishing opportunities are calling so I'm looking to reduce the number of eel sessions.. prebaiting works for you whilst you're not there so is ideal if I can keep the numbers of other fish down.

On a session last week I found a fresh, but dead, bream about 5 or 6lb in the corner of the lake. Not one to pass up a chance to use something that comes along I took the opportunity to grab it, cut a few holes in it so it didn't float, and hoofed it out. There's nothing that could eat something that big but the hope is that it may attract the eels to the area... even if it doesn't work it's not going to put them off. I've now changed one of my rods over to a fish bait which is fished a few feet off the dead bream. I've started chucking in a few fish pieces at the end of each session as well.

As well as using old deadbaits from the bait freezer there's not much you can't use for prebait. Such things like meat, birds, dead maggots, slugs, cockles/mussels, offal, roadkill etc can all be used. The list is endless. A trip to a local butcher earlier today saw me walk away with a big bag of chicken carcasses for the princely sum of 50p! The first four ½ chicken chunks are going in tonight with the next lot going in on Sunday evening. Throwing in offal might seem strange but is an old eel fishing trick used by past masters, and probably by a few eel anglers on the quiet. There's no hard and fast rules with regards to how much prebait as every water is different and you have to try and figure out how much depending on how often you prebait and fish, along with stock levels, water size etc. I know of anglers who have chucked in 20kg of prebait in one go on their waters and they have caught well but I don't like to give them that much food personally.. hence the whole bream, chunks of chicken etc.. they can take bites but it should keep them coming back for more... well that's how it works in my head.

On the other rod I've started throwing in a few balls of groundbait, soaked with liquid worm and laced with dead maggots, in the spot I've caught both eels from. I plan to increase the amount of food on this spot but it is only 15yards away from the fish bait so I won't put too much in.

Well, that's it for now. I'm hoping that my tactical changes are going to pay off although I now remember, exactly, the essence of eel fishing... plenty of blanks! PB's and dream fish shouldn't come easy though.

ps. In an earlier post I mentioned the hooks that I use but I forgot to say that I crush the barbs on all of my predator bait fishing hooks. When fishing for predators that swallow baits I always use barbless hooks in case the worst happens and the fish is deep hooked and would strongly urge everyone do the same. I keep the baits on with pieces of rubber band or, even better, last years catapult elastic.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Eels - Handling and Conservation

It's been very quiet on the eel fishing front over the last couple of weeks. I've caught tench and bream along the way but no more eels. It doesn't surprise me too much as the moon has been in it's full phase and the nights have been very lit up. I always found that eels prefer the dark, warm, muggy nights, as do catfish.

I also managed to catch this when I saw it in the margins (albeit in a net. :-) ).... a perfect predator in miniature..

I'm still fishing my way around the lake and with the nights getting darker I'm hoping the better conditions bring a fish or two but yesterday evening was a complete bust despite good conditions.

In the absence of anything happening I thought I'd write down a few things so here goes:-

So, you've decided on tackle, bait, rigs and everything else you can think of and your bail arms are open, you have a sensitive indicator set-up, and you're fishing. Eel takes can differ but quite often they go off on a steady run, assuming there is no large or change in resistance. After watching how my pet eels behaved after taking food I think they move away from where they picked up the bait to stop other eels from stealing it.. pure speculation of course but it seemed that way to my juvenile brain after spending hours and hours watching them.

Exactly like the outdated view of leaving a pike to run with the bait before striking, eels suffer badly from the same practice and the need to leave the run is complete nonsense. It is very important that a run isn't allowed to develop, or worse still wait until the run stops then starts again, as that is when deep hooking occurs. When you get an indication of a take and a run develops just calmly close the bail arm, wind down fast and lean heavily into the fish when you feel the weight.

A tactic used by some eel anglers to reduce deep hooking is to affix an inch long or so piece of tubing near the hook eye so it sits at 90° to the hook shank. It looks a bit like a cross but the theory is that as the eel tries to swallow the bait the "T" formed by the tubing jams in the corners of the mouth, and so stops it from going any further. I've never tried it to be honest as I've never had a problem when striking immediately. If in doubt whether a full blown take is occurring then it must be investigated, as in all predator fishing... they don't all run off.

You've now had a take, hit it and you feel the typical side to side headshaking of an eel. Fish on! Eels can swim backwards, which I believe makes them the only fish in the UK, apart from wels catfish, capable of doing so, but they can also move very fast and can be very powerful. I've had fights with eels where they have come to the top and shot across the surface at incredible speed, like a turbo charged snake... very impressive, if slightly unnerving. :-)

If they do stay deep then try not to give too much line... this is where the soft through actioned rods come into play as you can exert lots of pressure without ripping the hooks out. When you draw the eel to the landing net, which has been sunk almost down to the spreader block, bring the eels head right up to the spreader and keep the pressure on while you lift... if the tail isn't over the net cord they make it look easy to swim straight out, backwards.

Success! But what the hell to do with it now? This is the point where most anglers start to dislike eels immensely and if they were all small eels then I'd probably agree with them, as I don't think there's any known way to calm down a bootlace. We've all been there I'm sure.

If it is a decent size though things all change and it's relatively easy to handle them. With the eel in the net I usually cut the mainline close to the swivel as this helps if the eel does start to writhe. Lay the eel on the mat and place a wet cloth or weigh sling over its head. That should start to calm it down but if it's still active there is a neat trick that can be used. Wet your hands and gently stroke the eel along the flank and belly, and it will go into a state of tonic immobility, similar to how sharks react when turned on their back and/or their snouts stroked. I think it may be related to sensory overload but whatever it is, it works, and the eel will lay there pretty much motionless and allow you to unhook it and handle with ease. If e eel is still writhing, then place it on it's back, cover it's head and stroke it again. Turning them on their backs and stroking them always calms them down but it is important not to leave the eel on it's back for very long as it will lay there and die. The thing that wakes them up is gripping the fish... if you grip the fish hard it will fight you, if you treat it gently it will keep calm. It's a defence mechanism and years ago I witnessed a heron grab an eel from the margins of a flooded river Avon where it wrapped itself around the birds head and neck.

Once it's calm take a look where the hook is. If it is visible then, without touching the eel if possible, take a pair of forceps or long nosed pliers and try to get it out in one go. You may have to calm the eel down again if the hook is awkward. If the hook has been swallowed then do not try and unhook it by using a disgorger or forceps as you risk killing the eel. If you cut the hooklink just outside of the mouth the eel has a good chance of getting rid of it by itself.

Again, calm the eel down if it has woken up and for weighing and photo's gently support the fish underneath without holding it.. remember, as soon as you fight it, it will fight you! Savour the release as big eels are rare creatures and to catch one is a privilege. Once it goes smoothly for you, you may view eels a little differently and have a deep respect for their lifestyle and abilities.

Well, that's pretty much it for the technical aspect and handling of eels. I'd hoped to include a few photo's on how to handle them but the lack of action recently has put a hold on that.. it's difficult when you fish on your own though so we'll see.

I'll finish with just a few facts and thoughts about eels:-

Eels can take 10 years to reach 1lb in weight and don't exceed that pace by much throughout their life. That means very big eels can be over 80 years old.

European Eel (Anguilla Anguilla) numbers have plummeted in the last 3 decades and they are classified as "Critically Endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The Fisheries Byelaws require that all freshwater eels in England & Wales are to be released.. to clarify; it is illegal to kill eels.

Eels die once they have spawned in the Sargasso Sea so it is easy to see how important it is for every female eel to complete it's lifecycle in order to maintain sustainable stocks.

The good news is that eels seem to be making a comeback and the last few years has seen a good increase in elvers, or glass eels, returning to European rivers. The Eel Management Plans that were put in place across the EU have no doubt played a part, and there are a lot of good people fighting to protect the eel, but whatever the reason, as anglers we all owe it to the eel to treat it with the utmost respect and release them unharmed.

Waffled on a bit there (as usual) but there's a lot to compress into a blog. Any following eel posts will most likely be limited to tactical and strategic changes so that should keep them a bit shorter.. right then, I'm off fishing for eels again. :-)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Contact Apologies

To those that have tried to make contact with me through the blog, I must apologise for not responding. For some reason my emails weren't being forwarded but that has now been resolved. It was probably something I did or didn't do. Once again, sincere apologies as it is nice to know that someone actually reads my ramblings. I'll be in touch.  :-)

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Rigs, Baits and a Plan

Throughout the eel posts, particularly this one, I'll tell you what I'm using and why I'm using it. This will develop as I try or learn things but I'm about 12 short sessions in so far so have a bit of backtracking to do. This may not relate to anyone else's situation, and some might have reason to disagree with what I say, but hopefully my thought processes might help decide what could suit them best and what to adapt to their own fishing. Fishing for eels is simple... catching the big ones is the hard part.

For my rods I'm using my old and trusty North Western Rodcraft 12ft, 2¼lb tc rods.. these were the first set of three rods I ever bought back in the 80's and they're still going strong. They're perfect for eels as they have a nice soft through action which helps stop the strong headshakes from pulling the hook. Although I've used braid for virtually all of my fishing for 20+ years there are a couple of situations where I prefer mono and one of those is eel fishing. This is because the stretch in mono also helps alleviate hookpulls. Some eel anglers actually use a length of powergum in their rigs for the same reason but I've never been confident in the knots I get with powergum and dismissed that a long time ago. So, I've loaded 12lb mono onto my old 4000GT's, which is plenty as I'm fishing at very short range in a water with relatively few snags.

Onto rigs; when it comes to eel fishing, in fact most fishing, I'm generally in the "keep it simple, stupid" camp. I see no reason to complicate things unless you have a specific need. Start off simple then change and adapt as you need to. In reality there are very few eel rigs per se but which cover 99% of eel fishing; The JS (John Sidley) Rig, The Uni Rig and the Dyson Rig. Personally I rarely get past the JS rig and prefer it to the Uni rig but the Dyson Rig can be a very useful to present a suspended bait or livebait. It might surprise some to know that eels can be caught well off bottom and some anglers think that it can single out the bigger fish.

When approaching a new water after eels then the first thing to do is find out whether they are crustacean or fish feeders. When eels enter a new water they soon decide what is their best food source and as a result their heads and mouths develop to suit. If they choose crustaceans, snails, grubs etc they develop a pointed head shape and a small mouth with small teeth. If they choose fish as their main diet they develop bigger and wider heads, with bigger mouths and teeth. Both types are perfectly suited to how they feed so it is important to find out which they eat. Quite a neat trick really and one which very few fish can do to the same extent. It's like evolution speeded up, which is ironic seeing how slowly the eel grows.

So with these things in mind I started off with the JS rig on both rods.. it's the simplest rig and would be ideal to use with a bunch of lobworms on one rod and a roach head on the other... the only difference being that I used 15lb Caliber Wonderwire for the fish bait as there are a few pike in the lake.

Simple really; a low resistance buoyant ledger boom on the mainline to a protector bead which covers the top swivel on the boom section, which is made from 7-10" of 20lb fluorocarbon. It doesn't need to be fluoro, amnesia is just as good, I just had a big spool of it to use and like the fact that it is heavy when compared to mono. As in the photo, this is how the rig actually sits on the bottom and the heavy FC and bottom swivel fall parallel to the buoyant stem. This boom section helps lay the rig out and keeps your hookbait close to the swimfeeder if you use one. The hooklink is 5 or 6" of 35lb Quicksilver to a size 4 ESP Raptor T6 which is a short shank, wide gape pattern with the barb squeezed flat. Baits are kept on with a small piece of rubber band. Keeping both the boom and the hooklink short is important. It enables the earliest indication of a take as the eel has less distance to move before it pulls line through the low resistance ring, and so minimises the chance of a deep hooked fish.

So, I started off and it soon became apparent that the recent revival the perch are having on this lake, after being virtually missing for 20 odd years, was going to be a problem. The deadbait rod was largely ignored but the worm rod lobbed 10m out was constantly going off in short pulls as the perch pulled at the ends of the 3 big lobworms. I caught one about 6oz and it seemed to scare the rest off but since then they have become a real pest, sometimes getting through 30-40 worms in 3 hours! I also got fed up replacing tin foil rings that ended up in the lake so thought I'd revisit my indicators.

I looked around for a 2nd hand pair of Fox swingers to convert into mini, clip-on, rear arms but after tinkering at home found that I couldn't get them to work as I'd like as I wanted to do away with any line clip. I came across the Matrix Cheeky Monkey climbers which would have been ideal except for the silly price. Only one thing for it, make my own, so with bits and bobs from my lure making kit and tackle boxes I came up with a prototype rear arm swinger and so far it seems perfect for the close range fishing I'm doing. With the Delkim sensitivity turned up it is an incredibly sensitive set-up. I've rested the end of the arm on scales and they only register 2g so are very light. The next version might have a weighted arm but I've no need for it yet as the prototypes are holding up well. The line is just laid under the bent section of the swinger arm which just falls off when it lifts up, thus totally getting rid of any "bang" as the line exits a clip.

Jump now to a couple of sessions forward. I'd been fishing roach heads with mashed fish in the feeder on one rod and lobworms with chopped lobs in the feeder on the other. One evening about an hour before dark a steady run developed on the worm rod. I wound down and struck immediately, and knew straight away that I'd hooked an eel. The wild, side to side headshakes is a dead giveaway. After a short tussle I drew the eel's head right up to the spreader block and with a quick heave the eel was in the net. I didn't weigh it but she looked 2½-3lb. Not a monster but a decent start. A quick inspection of the head showed that it was most definitely a crustacean feeder.. a very pointed snout and small mouth.

That was the first stage of the plan complete; I'd had a bite and caught an eel so what, if anything, had I learnt? I've learnt that worms are most probably the best way forward and I've learnt that the perch are a real problem so loose feeding or prebaiting are not options. I've also learnt that although I'm at a disadvantage by not fishing nights, catching them in the evenings is viable.

With any sort of baiting programme impossible I've taken to the "rifle shot" approach. This means no free bait in the swim but a concentrated attraction in the swim feeders. Both rods would now be fished on worms but as far as rigs go I doubt things will change much. I'd expect a bunch of lobworms suspended off the bottom would attract even more perch and pike so a Dyson rig is out for now. I've modified the swim feeders and blocked several of the holes and have started using a fishmeal based groundbait I put together along with dead maggots... thawed at least once and left out to make them really stink. Any used worms are chopped and added. I don't want to leave any bait in the lake as it will just attract perch etc but just use the eel's strongest sense, it's smell, to attract it to the feeder.

This standard set-up allows me to have little experiments going on, which I always try to do in all my fishing. I'd fish one feeder with a bit of groundbait but mostly dead maggots and in the other I'd use a few dead maggots and more groundbait, but adding a chopped worm liquid attractor. It'll be interesting to see if one outscores the other.. if it does, I'll change both rods to that option.

Move forward a few sessions again; I've caught a couple of tench and a tiny jack on the worms before one evening a steady run starts. I wind down and hit it and again knew it was an eel straight away. Bit bigger this one at 3½lb...

So far I've concentrated all my efforts in one corner of the lake to try and draw them to me but the perch have made that difficult. Now I know that the bait and rigs are working I'll start moving around fishing likely areas and hopefully the next eel will be a bit bigger. :-)

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A Mini Quest for my Dream Eel

Eels! Some people love them, most people hate them, but whatever side of the fence you stand on there's no denying that freshwater eels are one of, if not the, most enigmatic and mysterious fish we have in the UK.

Apart from a few single overnighters and a bit of daytime fishing I haven't seriously eel fished since the late 80's so this local opportunity has given me a chance to review my gear and tactics and bring them up to date.

There are a lot of myths surrounding eels and many people struggle to handle them but any fish with the lifecycle like theirs deserves huge care and respect so hopefully along the way I'll be able to help people safely fish, catch and return them to carry on with their unseen life.


There's nothing special required for eel fishing; I'll start off with my current set-up which is about as light as I'd comfortably go but will mention the heavier end of eel fishing. Somewhere in between is what most people should use depending on the venue they are fishing.

Rods: I generally use 12ft, 2¼lb tc rods as most of my fishing is done at close range but for heavy duty eeling in snags, rocks etc then heavier rods upto 3lb tc are the better choice. The fighting ability of eels shouldn't be underestimated and a 4lb eel will put a serious bend in a 2¼lb tc rod. Rods should be through actioned as the headshakes of an eel will often result in a hookpull if the rod is too stiff.

Reels: any 4000 size, or bigger, reel can be used but I prefer baitrunners, purely because I find it handy when setting up the indicators. Loaded with mono - minimum 12lb, upto 20lb.

Nets, mats etc: You want a triangular landing net with a minimum of 42" arms.. any smaller and you will struggle to get the eels tail in and it will reverse out. Mats need to be long enough to comfortably lay out any eel in a straight line. For unhooking tools I'd suggest both long nosed pliers and forceps, along with hook cutters. If you really have no other option then eels are pretty good if kept in a carp sack, but as ever, not for too long and not in shallow weedy, water. Make sure there are no holes in any nets! You have been warned. ;-)

Indication: Most, if not all, eel fishing is done with open bail arms as they are prone to dropping baits if resistance is felt. Over the years I've used anything from 2p pieces on the spool, tin foil rings, bottle tops, ping pong balls, monkey climbers and rear drop arm indicators but whatever you choose they need to be very sensitive and light. I've made myself a pair of indicators specifically for the eel fishing I'm now doing and will elaborate later in the series.

Even more so than most of the UK's predators, eels can swallow a bait if the bite is not seen or left too long, resulting in deep hooking and possibly death. This is an important point when it comes to predator fishing and one which I will most likely refer to several times over the course of the eel blogs. I apologise if it offends, or more likely bores, the more experienced but if it helps anyone to safely catch and release an eel then it is juice worth squeezing in my book. All predators are a resource we need to protect and preserve.

Well, I'm off on a short evening session after the eels again now but next post will show the business end and the reasons for using it, along with some bait talk, as they are sometimes very closely related.

See ya! :-)

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

End of Season Blues

The end of the river season came to an end and the finale had been disappointing on the big fish front. I caught decent pike upto 16lb on most trips but on two of the stretches I couldn't find more than the odd fish, typically this size..

Went to a completely different area one day and had a few fish to 18lb.... in t-shirt weather!

The fish had obviously moved to their spawning areas getting ready for their yearly romp.  I'd found a group of fish on another stretch but it is easy to get to and so very popular. Getting on them was proving difficult; they were moving around the area and were only occasionally feeding. You were either on them or you weren't! To show how tightly grouped they were; one day I'd taken my Dad along bait fishing. In the morning he had a 19lb something on the first stretch but on the afternoon we went to the second stretch and found the three main consecutive swims free. My Dad chose the middle one and I started in the downstream swim... to cut a long story short he had a 6lb'er, a 12lb'er and 2 x 20's. I fished just below him then moved above him and only had one take late on, which I missed!   He's caught a few bigger pike over the years but it was his best ever day's piking.... and I'm still hearing about it on a regular basis.

Well that was the end of my river season. As I do every year once the pike have spawned I give them, and me, a rest to recover after spawning. This year I'd decided to pretty much leave the pike alone everywhere as warm water temperatures after the mild winter and the extending daylight hours meant that most pike in the lower part of the country had spawned.

I must admit, although sometimes I would like to fish a bit longer into the year on the rivers in cold years I do quite like the break. I fish long and hard on tough ground from October to March and it's quite frankly exhausting. A typical winter on the rivers for me usually includes walking at a guess about 300 miles in mud, at least one trashed landing net, a couple of twisted ankles or wrists, cuts, scrapes, bites, stings, 10 faceplants in the mud, 20+ slips on my ass, a couple of sideways slips (which really hurt your ribs), several barely controlled slides down to the waters edge and a couple of close shaves which nearly ended up with me wet, or worse. It's hard going and I welcome the rest.

So, when the rivers close and pike fishing is done for a month or two I often end up dabbling for small zander down the local canals for short evening sessions. Always the chance of a decent pike or perch as well down the cut. No monsters but a few hours on a peaceful, warm evening quietens the soul and any memories of the tough winter fade almost immediately... lure fishing therapy.

This spring has been very tough down the local canal. Numbers and size of zander and perch are way down on recent years and after having a chat with an old fella I often speak to, who lives on the canal bank, it became evident why. He told me that the section had been electro fished about a month or so ago and they, I assume the Canals & Rivers Trust, removed the zander and a handful of decent pike. He didn't know about the perch. I guess the zander were killed. Now I don't know if this is true or accurate but it would explain a lot and this section has been electro fished several times over the years. A sad state of affairs and an issue that the authorities need to seriously reconsider. Zander aren't the monsters they are made out to be by some and the numbers in canals are usually well overestimated.

With the real lack of predator fishing locally, this has left me with nothing to target but while having a couple of hours fishing recently a chap showed me a photo on his phone of an eel he'd caught when float fishing. It was a bad photo but it was a big eel. In my teenage years I used to be a member of the British Eel Anglers Club and do a lot of eel fishing locally. I even kept two I'd saved from being eaten by my neighbour in a garden pond, hand feeding them worms and baby frogs. The biggest I caught back then was 5.6lb along with several 4lb'ers. Where I was fishing at the time a 6lb eel would have been an unheard of monster but it was an unlikely ambition of mine.. although I used to dream of catching a 7lb eel on the quiet, knowing that I'd most probably never even see one.

Well, the eel this chap had caught was that big! Hard to say exactly due to the poor photo but I'd say an absolute minimum of 6lb and more likely 7lb+.. maybe even bigger! It was BIG! I've geared myself up again for eels but just for short evening sessions.. it's local to me and I don't want it to become an obsession like it can get with these enigmatic fish.

That's where I am now. I'm quite excited about fishing for eels again and have already been a handful of times. It'll also give me something to add to the blog so I'll be doing a few posts about how I go about it... it's not likely fishing 3 hour sessions but you never know, a monster just might make a dream come true. He who dares, rodders!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Faltering February

I've not updated the blog in the last few weeks so a little catch up is in order. The start of the month saw the rivers very flooded and coloured and there didn't seem any opportunity to fish them so I had to get my fix somewhere else.

The month started slowly with the rivers being out of sorts so I had a couple of trips out for zander but apart from a couple of pike to about 14lb (a fish I'd caught a month or so ago) the zander were very hard to come by... it's not unusual for them to disappear on this big venue.

I then saw an opportunity to fish the river so I planned to fish deadbaits, and if the water wasn't looking too bad, go back the next day and fish with lures. I had a good idea where the pike might be but despite fishing two stretches I never had a single take on the baits. The river did drop another foot whilst I was there though so I went back the following day with the lure rod. Yet again, despite fishing two stretches I didn't even get a follow. Something had changed and the fish were off the feed big time.

The river then flooded again so another plan was put into place. Off I went early the next day to collect my Dad. On arrival the lake looked perfect.. good level and good water clarity meant expectations were high for a few fish. A quick pootle around in the boat looking at the sounder showed the baitfish still shoaled in deep water but also a little more spread out down the lake; ideal for trolling lures through the shoals. Well, we stuck to deep water and it turned out nothing like the plan. I didn't get any hits at all and the old man had one pike about 7lb.

It was now mid February and the next session was boat fishing on a trout reservoir. They like baits in this particular venue so my mate and I decided to fish baits from the boat in a known hotspot for a few hours then move around looking for fish with baits and lures. The first spot seemed dead but after casting lures around the boat my mate managed a jack about 6lb or so. It was obvious from seeing all the other boats moving around that everyone was struggling a bit and at the end of the day the earlier jack was the only fish that came our way. Chatting at the jetty with the other anglers it turned out just a few jacks had been caught although there was rumour that a good fish had been landed from the shallows.

We're now up to last week. A mate and I had planned a 3 day session somewhere and although the rivers were still high they were dropping, so we decided to go to the river. The first day it rained incessantly and despite fishing a whole stretch with baits I managed the only fish of the day on a whole mackerel. It was very short and fat so out of interest we decided to weigh it. I wasn't far off the mark when it went 13.12lb. All the kit was now soaked through so we called it a day about 4pm and set off to the hotel, a lovely country pub with a few quaint rooms to stay in.

Knowing that the rain was going to make the river rise again it was likely that baits would be the better bet the following day and the hotel were very accommodating when they agreed to keep our bait in their freezer. I'm not sure they would have been so keen if they'd seen the amount of mackerel, herring, blueys and sardines we were packing. After a night of good food and too many San Miguels the next day dawned.. and it wasn't raining! Well, it wasn't for 5 minutes, but whilst eating breakfast it started again. Luckily it was only a bit of rain which stopped after 15 minutes or so. Today we were off to a stretch I rarely fish. Although it allegedly holds big fish I've only ever seen one double follow my lure in along with a few jacks caught but I knew it would have a few big slacks in the flooded conditions. A couple of whole mackerel were under-armed into the slacks and we stood there watching the floats. After 10 minutes my left hand float bobbed, then slid under and a quick strike saw me hooked up. After a good fight she went in the net and although longer than the fish the day before it was much thinner. I guessed her to be about 14lb or so. We fished on, fishing every suitable spot, but nothing was happening so decided to spend the last 2 or 3 hours in a good area on another stretch. This area had given me 3 different 20's and several other fish a few weeks ago so I was confident that there would be some fish there.... nothing, nada, zilch! At least we knew the river was dropping as we stuck sticks at the water level and after an hour the water was 5" down.

Back to the hotel and during another night of much beer and piss taking a plan was hatched for the last day. The last day arrived looking much more pleasant. The river had dropped about 18" or so from the day before with not so much colour. The plan was to lure fish along stretch 1 as this is the area that holds the most 20's. We fished down and then back up for a few hours and didn't even get a follow between us! We went back to the car and made a plan to baitfish in the afternoon in some slacks by the car. These slacks are strange; I've had plenty of doubles along this short stretch, sometimes 4 or 5 a day, but I've never seen a pike bigger than one I had last year at 18lb something. Not fish to be sniffed at by any means but if there's 20's nearby willing to feed I'd rather be fishing for them. As they weren't these swims can be kind for a fish or two to get a bend in the rod. We managed to catch a fish each in the next few hours, mine being 13-14lb again, and Jonos' a bit bigger at 15-16lb and very fat. We fished downstream for the last couple of hours in the hope of a last gasp 20 but it didn't happen and that was the end of the trip. A shame we didn't catch any bigger fish for 3 days effort but I had a fish each day so not all bad. The worrying thing is that every fish we caught was just a random, lone fish from no area or swim in particular and I hadn't found out where most of the pike were!

Knowing the river had dropped, off I went again a couple of days after my return, this time to fish lures in the hopefully clearer water and hoping to find the whereabouts of the fish again. On arrival the level had dropped 3 or 4ft from mid week but there was still a bit of colour in it; clear enough. I fished stretch 1 with no sign of a fish. I was also sharing the bank with two other pikers who were roving with bait rods so I moved to stretch 2. I drove round and promptly bumped into the two bait anglers again at the gate. They managed a fish about 12lb or so and I managed a scraper double but yet again, no real concentrations of fish. Off I went to stretch 3. I fished down and back up for just one lively jack about 5lb, which came off as I was about to net it. Saved me unhooking him.

With the warm, if wet, winter we've had the water temperatures have stayed relatively high and as the days are now getting longer I'm certain that they are gathering to spawn much earlier this year. The last few weeks have been very hit and miss despite conditions that, although not ideal, were easily good enough for the fish to feed.

I get the feeling that my run of big fish has come to an end for this winter, well almost. I'll keep fishing until the rivers close but if I catch a spawned out fish I'll leave that stretch alone. I like to give them a good rest for a month or two to let them recover and heal their wounds from spawning.

Think I might go fishing tomorrow! :D

Ps. sorry for such a long post with no photo's.. I got carried away a bit  :cheers:

Friday, 31 January 2014

One of the Weirdest Days

The incessant rain has knackered the river again and apart from a zander trip earlier in the week where I caught a 14lb pike on a 4" crankbait I've struggled to get out so after finding a group of fish in the same area last week I thought I'd try a little experiment. When the river is in flood lure fishing becomes pretty much a waste of time, and the few times I've tried fishing deadbaits in those conditions that has failed as well. Why this has been I don't know as I've caught well in flooded rivers before on big smelly deadbaits; was it because they switched off or was I just in the wrong place?

Knowing the whereabouts of a few fish allowed me to test for an answer so off I set with a coolbag of baits and a couple of rods. On arrival the river was a good 4ft above the levels of last week, with heavy flow and quite a dirty colour.

Float fishing the slacker margins was the order of the day so I dropped a whole mackerel on the left of the swim and half a mackerel to the right. Twenty minutes or so later the whole mackerel float bobbed. I picked up the rod and pulled the line out of the clip as the float started to bob again. A quick strike saw me into a fish which although didn't seem to have a lot of weight made up for it by charging around the swim. I got it near the surface and with a swirl she shook the hooks! It felt a low double at best so I wasn't too concerned.

Back out with another whole mackerel in the same spot and half an hour later the same float bobbed, then moved off. I quickly picked the rod up and leant into the fish. This felt a lot heavier, staying deep and feeling powerful. After a couple of minutes of her trying to shed the hooks in the vegetation hanging in the water I got her close and could see she was a nice fish. I lowered the net and in she went. This is where it got really interesting. I lay the rod down and grabbed the net frame with both hands but as I lifted the rubber mesh gave way and the fish fell through a big hole and back into the river. It took me a split second to realise what was happening; I was still attached to the fish but the braid was running through the hole in the net! I grabbed the rod again but at 12ft it was too long to manoeuvre so took hold half way up the rod. It was now a bit easier to control through the outstretched net but the fish was now fighting harder than it did initially, charging left and right. I eventually got her close but the swim meant I had no chance of handing her out so she'd have to go back in the net. As I was steering her to the net she lunged and now the tip ring was caught in the mesh as well! What a mess! I got it off after a minute or two and as she came into view I scooped her up. With one quick motion I dropped the rod and hoisted the net straight out onto the bank. I couldn't believe I'd actually landed her after such a calamity!

Luckily she was well hooked otherwise I wouldn't have got her in and on the scales she went bang on 24lb...

I thought it might be the same fish I had from the same swim last week but photo's show it is a different fish. I already had the camera set up for a self take but as the timer was nearing its countdown the other rod went off so you'll have to excuse my facial expression as it took me by surprise at the critical moment. I quickly put the fish in the margin where she bursted away, picked up the other rod and wound down. The fish had dropped downstream but wasn't very big so she quickly came in. Just a tiddler of about 5lb.

I stuck it out in the same spot for a couple more hours but with nothing happening decided to move to another swim downstream. After making the move the baits were put out and I sat back for a coffee. Within 10 minutes the whole mackerel float bobbed and started to move off downstream. I was on it in a flash and leant into the fish. It felt small and came in with no problem but as it came to the surface something didn't look right.. it was a chub! The bottom treble was a couple of inches inside the mouth; now I know chub have big mouths but to take a whole mackerel is a bit much.

On the scales the chub went 4.11lb..

I lost another fish just after this before deciding to move back upstream for the last hour. I fished a swim which looked "right" for 15 minutes but with no takes I made my way back to my original swim, which I'd fed with chopped up baits before I moved.

Out went a couple of whole mackerel in the same spots as earlier and a small handful of mashed fish were thrown around each bait. Time passed without incident and with dark nearly there I decided to move one for the last 5 minutes. I stood watching the float for any signs of movement before picking up the rod but it wasn't doing anything. I'm not sure how but on picking up the rod there was suddenly a fish on; whether it picked up the bait at the exact same time I lifted the rod or whether it snatched it as it moved I'm not sure but was certainly glad of the action. Again, this felt like a good fish but as she hit the surface I could see the top treble was a few inches out of her mouth, meaning the bottom treble was only just inside her mouth at the snout. I eased off, fearing a hookpull but after a minute or two she was in the net. Hmmm, bigger than I thought! I got her out and straddled her to remove the hook but it had come out in the net. I took hold of her to put her on the scales but as I did so I noticed a mark on her chin.. it was the same 24lb fish I'd had earlier!

That was it for the day and what a strange one it was... very successful but fraught with incident. I'm glad most days aren't this weird but it was good to get a conclusion to my experiment.

Friday, 24 January 2014

When it all Comes Right

Well, it's been a busy week as it has seen much less rain and with it the rivers started to drop and get somewhere near fishable conditions. With the river close season fast approaching I decided I'd make the most of it and get out as much as possible.

On Tuesday I arrived at first light and found the river still pushing through but the colour wasn't too bad so hopes were high of a fish or two. I fished down the first stretch with little to show apart from a follow off a decent double but fishing back up towards the car my lure got hammered in a swim I've never had a take from before. She was heavy in the strong flow but went in the net without too much trouble. I rested her in the net while I got my scales, camera etc ready thinking she looked about 18lb or so, so was surprised, and very happy to see the scales go to 20.01lb... Sweet!

I fished the rest of the section but with nothing doing I headed off to a different stretch. I fished down but again only had two follows from the same double. Time was now getting on a bit so I changed my lure and made my way back upriver. I had a jack from the same swim the fish had followed earlier but as I got back to the start of the swims I had a good fish hit the lure off the surface as I was about to lift it out. After trying to keep her out of the snags afforded by the high levels she went in the net first time. She was a very thickset fish and on the scales she went 20.10lb..

With the light now fading fast I walked down to the end of the stretch to give it one last go. After a few casts I was glad I did as another fish hit the lure right next to a sunken tree. With a controlled slide I got down to the water level and netted her; a nice long fish but not as bulky as some and on the scales she went 18.06lb.

I went home a happy boy and looking forward to the next day.

On arrival the water seemed to be in better condition than the day before and after fishing half a dozen swims the lure got walloped as a fish shot out from the margin. She was very lively, charging around the swim making strong runs before she went in the net. On the scales she went to 15.06lb and gave me a soaking as I let her go. On I fished but apart from a jack about 6lb that was it. I went back to my second choice stretch as the day before but struggled to find a fish. Perhaps fishing this relatively short stretch twice in two days had put too much pressure on them but I eventually landed one about 12lb.

I arrived on Thursday morning feeling a bit worn out.. knackered really! Early starts, late finishes and lots of walking was wearing me down, but this was the last chance before more rain moved in to ruin the river yet again.

I fished down the river without a sign on a fish before I got to the swim I'd lost a good fish from last week. I pitched the lure short under an overhanging tree and a nice double followed it to the edge before turning away. Next cast the same thing happened so I decided to let her rest for a few minutes and fish the rest of the swim. I made a short cast, knowing that the fish wouldn't be in the fast water in the middle and as the lure came into view in the marginal slack a fish came out of nowhere and chomped down on it. It all happened so fast all I could do was instinctively react and suddenly there was a good fish thrashing about on the surface. My thoughts went back to how I'd lost that fish last week but this time all went to plan and she went in first attempt. With a big grin I got the stuff ready before struggling to lift her out.. a nice problem to have. I got her out and scrambled up the muddy bank. She was a real beauty and on the scales she went 24.03lb..

That was it for that stretch so I'd made my mind up to go to a stretch that I rarely go to. I've fished there several times but was yet to catch anything other than jacks. I knew it held good fish as I'd seen one lying on the bottom last year. I started off in the first few swims and after a few minutes my softbait got smashed off the surface as it neared the edge. After a scrappy fight I perched myself on a clump of grass where I could reach the water with the net, where she went straight in. Another cracker and on the scales she went 21.14lb..

I couldn't believe I'd had my second brace of 20's in a few days and couldn't stop grinning. I sat down for 5 minutes letting it all sink in before moving 20 yards downstream and sending the lure back out. As it came into view another pike shot up and whacked it but it came off after a few seconds. I'd guess it was a mid double.

I carried on fishing every swim for a mile or so with just one more jack about 6lb. Time was now getting on so I made my way back intending to fish the first swims again. I stopped off in the swim where I'd caught the jack and promptly missed another jack. I got back to the first swim where I'd caught earlier and a good fish followed the lure in twice on consecutive casts but wouldn't take it. I sent the lure back out in a different direction and as it came in close a decent fish hit it but after a few seconds of it thrashing on the surface she came off. I moved along a bit and made another cast when a fish hit it. This one stayed on and was about 9 or 10lb.

I went back to the first swim and after changing my lure made a few casts. This time another good fish hit as I was bringing the lure into the edge. It looked a good double but I'm not sure if tiredness was taking it's toll because the scales settled on 24lb exactly!

What a day.. I've managed to catch three 20's in a day once before and this time it didn't really sink in either. After spending countless hours and walking countless miles searching out these big fish it all seems a bit surreal when it all comes together but one thing's for sure, these are the days, indeed weeks, that stay etched in your mind forever... I love fishing!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Good.. and Not So Good

The deluge has put paid to most of my regular river fishing for the last couple of weeks but managed to get out for a bit of zander fishing. Not much happening there either but I had a few small ones and several pike, including a couple about 13lb.. one on a deadbait and one on a lure meant for zander!

Things changed earlier this week though and with the rivers dropping a bit I saw a chance to go out piking. I arrived on Monday and the river was still well up and flying through. The colour wasn't too bad though, although it was still a bit mucky. I fished along one of my regular stretches but nothing was happening. Swims which usually fish well during high water seemed barren of fish. I eventually got to one of my favourite swims of last year, but which has only produced one take this winter, and sent the lure downstream and out from a marginal tree hanging in the water. By holding the rod high I steered the lure under the tree and although the force of water meant that the paddle tail was working without winding in I started a slow retrieve. A few turns of the reel and the lure got hit hard. It was difficult to judge the size of the fish due to the extra flow but eventually she came round to my way of thinking and neared the net. At first glance she looked like a 20, with a big wide head and broad across the back but as it turned out she wasn't very long. In the net and onto the scales where she went 19.12lb...

Happy with the fish in far from ideal conditions I carried on but nothing else wanted to play so mid afternoon I went to another stretch. After the long walk to the swims I made a cast full of high hopes that a new bit of water brings. A few casts later a nice double shot out from the margin but stopped an inch short of the lure! She looked at me crouching behind a clump of grass with disdain and with one swish of her tail she disappeared.

On I went and several swims later a fish hit the lure close in. I struck but after showing me her flank whilst shaking her head she came off in a split second. A couple of swims later the exact same thing happened but this time I at least got a good look at the pike.. an upper double who nonchalantly idled off after throwing the hooks. That was it for the day but with the weather looking to hold I decided to come back the following day.

I arrived back at first light and found the river in similar condition.. high and fast but with just about enough visibility. I fished the entire stretch without a take and on the way back up dropped in the most likely swims again. In one swim I made a few short casts, fanning the river downstream of me and on the last cast I swung the lure into the margin before starting the retrieve. I'd hardly moved it when it got hit about as hard as a lure possibly can be, wrenching the rod round. I struck and was into a good fish at last. The force of water made it feel very heavy but I eventually bought her upstream to me where she surfaced. This one was definitely a 20! I reached down with the net but the heavy flow kept pushing her out of reach. I could see she wasn't hooked very well and feared a hook pull. I had her half in the net but every time I tried to lift her the flow pulled her back out, then once she was 3/4 in I lifted again and realised that the mesh had now caught on an underwater bramble. This wasn't good; I dropped my rod and heaved but she wouldn't go all the way in.. then the inevitable happened. As the flow backed her out of the net the spare hook caught in the mesh. She was still attached but to the outside of the net. She was almost within touching distance so made a split second decision to try and hand her out but before I had chance to lay face down in the mud, with a big swoosh she was off! Gutted! I hate losing fish of any size but this one was about 22 or 23lb at a guess. The rod got chucked up the bank and I just hope there weren't any children close by to hear me curse.

I fished on with the loss still hurting and eventually landed a scraper double for my troubles. About lunchtime I went to another stretch  and on the first cast a nice double followed the lure in. She wouldn't take it though and sank away. I fished down to the end before changing my lure and fishing back up. A few swims in and a fish finally hit the lure. She went 16.02lb on the scales..

A few swims further on I had another hit from a big slack and after a short fight she went straight in the net. Bit bigger this one at 18½lb..

That was it for the day and although I'd had a couple of decent days on the river the loss of that fish still pains me now. Don't get me wrong, I love catching any fish of any size but my efforts generally revolve around catching 20lb+ pike so to lose one like that didn't sit well. Oh well, the rivers are now flooded again so it was good while it lasted.

Friday, 3 January 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different

As I'm sure everyone knows, the rivers have been in a terrible state over the Christmas period and with the high levels and colour putting the pike off I decided on a change of tac. Zander don't mind the colour so I thought they might be worth a go while the pike fishing is so poor.

I arrived at the venue just after first light and the water was coloured but not too bad. On went a 15g, 5/0 jighead and a 4.5" Kopyto shad in my favourite yellow flavour but after an hour nothing had happened apart from a couple of tiny dinks that may or may not have been zander. I changed the lure for a 4" Kopyto in red and orange and sent it out on a long cast. About 10 yards towards me I had a solid hit and struck when I felt the pleasing headshakes of a fish on the end. As I started to bring it towards me it didn't feel anything special but then the line went slack! I thought the fish had come off but I quickly wound down and was relieved to find that it had just bolted towards me. It came across the river not doing much until it got close then it started to fight, a typical dogged zander fight with plenty of headshaking. It made a few deep runs in the margins and seemed to be bigger than I first thought. At one stage it left a big vortex on the surface even though it was too deep to see. By now I thought that it might be a half decent fish and as always with zander I started worrying about the hook pulling. A couple of minutes went by before it came to the surface where a big head shocked me. With knees shaking I led her to the net and my mate netted her first time. I could see it was the biggest zander I'd ever seen but wasn't prepared for her width and depth when we lifted her out. Big zander are very impressive when you see them on the bank.

I lay her down and opened her mouth, which had the bite power and dentistry of a pitbull, and the lure was a good 5" back with the hook firmly embedded in a fleshy part of the mouth. I put her in the sling and onto the scales which sailed round to settle on 13.11lb... a new pb to start the year off...

I spent the next 15 minutes drinking coffee and grinning like an idiot before I fished on. Although I'm not a regular zander angler, maybe 10-20 short trips per year, I've been after a big one for a few years and to catch one as my first fish of 2014 was a bit surreal.

The day passed by with just a few missed zander hits and a bit of lure fishing for pike but they were unlikely to feed and no hits came my way. I was happy with what I'd caught anyway so wasn't too bothered but about an hour before dark I had another solid hit from a zander. This one fought all the way back, but didn't have the power of the earlier fish, but I was still very happy to get my second of the day at 6¼lb..

Short of catching a 30lb pike I couldn't have wished for a better start to the new year and I went home a very happy man.

Happy New Year to all and I hope 2014 brings you all the fish you wish for!

Be Careful What You Wish For!

With the river levels being so low for weeks I'd been praying for a drop of rain to bring them back up to winter levels... I should have known better really as since then the weather has been atrocious with gale force winds and torrential rain making the rivers almost unfishable.

In between downpours I managed to find a day where the river was dropping do headed out for a session.. it was a bit of a gamble as it was still high but if the colour had dropped out it could have been good day. As usual lately though this wasn't what I found when I got there. The river was still very high and pushing through at a rate of knots but there was some visibility in the stained water.

I started off with my usual big softbaits and fished the stretch without a sign of a fish but the water had visibly dropped by 6" and had cleared a bit so decided to go back to where I started and fish it again. This time I changed my lure for a bright firetiger pattern and after half a dozen swims a fish hit it in the margins. After zipping around the swim she went in the net first time and on the bank I estimated her at about 11½lb or so. Blank averted, I continued in the happy knowledge that at least I'd caught something.

I decided to put a catfish rattle on my leader in the hope increasing attraction and whether it was because of it, or in spite of it, a few swims later I had another hit. This one was a bit bigger at about 14-15lb. I was unhooking her as a walker came past so she took a quick photo..

A few swims later another mid double shot out from the margins at the lure but missed it and no matter what I did she never came out to play again.

I fished the stretch once more hoping that the clearing water might help my cause but had nothing else show any interest so went to another stretch for the last couple of hours. This stretch turned out to be much dirtier and I never saw a sign of any fish.

Still, 2 doubles isn't a bad result in bad conditions.