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.