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. :-)