Saturday, 8 October 2011

Ask the right question
by Dave Lumb

Every so often people appear in print or on forums claiming to have an explanation for why they fail to catch on some days and do well on others. Over on The Pikers Pit recently Al Rawlings has been expounding on his theories about pike 'feeding scales' and how they are influenced by the weather and other forces of nature.

Waiting for something to change
Now I am not for one minute disputing that such forces play a part in pike behaviour. It's plain that they can do. A sudden influx of cold water can stop pike being caught, just as a rise in water temperature will see barbel being caught in winter. Fish are far more in tune with the element they live in, water, than we land based animals are. They detect changes in their environment long before we become aware of them. Pike will start feeding when a drain that has been still starts pumping –even though we might get our first take before we see the water begin to move.

More obvious to us are the ways light levels can affect our catch rates. Contrarily this can be a switch either from dull to bright or bright to dull! Many things can affect pike behaviour. This is not in dispute. What I do dispute is our 'need to know'.

There are supporters of theories concerning the moon's influence on angling results. Although I am sceptical I remain open minded. Eels are certainly reported to migrate under the moon's influence, and other watery creatures spawn or mate when the moon is in certain phases. There could well be a correlation between the moon and pike behaviour. I have yet to see evidence I can trust, but that's another issue.

But how useful is it, to the average angler, to know if the moon or certain weather patterns have a positive or negative effect on their catches? Given that most anglers can fish when they can fish and don't have the luxury of being able to pick and choose their days in order to fish when conditions are optimal, I would say it is no use. In fact I think 'knowing' you are fishing on a 'bad' day might lead you to fulfil the prophecy by not trying hard enough. It's a bad day so why put in any effort as it's doomed to failure. A rather negative logic. Albeit with a built in excuse. Not that anglers need help finding excuses for blanking!

The question everyone asks is: “Why aren't I catching?” Some phrase this as: “What conditions are causing me to have a bad day”, when the right question to ask (ifyou want to catch fish) is: “What can I do to make this bad day better?” You can't influence the weather or the moon - ever, but you can make better decisions about where and how you fish - always.

When I am not feeling lazy and just accepting my lot on a bad day I try to think like a match angler. Match anglers are lumbered with fishing when the match organiser tells them, and even worse they have no say in which peg they fish. If there are fish in the swim they draw then it's their fault if they fail to catch them. They can't blame the man in the moon or the weather girls on TV. It's down to them. They might first off start fishing for bites. Maybe searching the swim to find the fish, maybe feeding a particular spot to attract them. Then if the bites materialise but they aren't being converted to hooked fish they alter how the bait is presented until they convert bites into fish in the net. In the limited confines of one swim they are doing for a few hours what a pike angler can take all day to do over a wider area.

While pike fishing demands a different approach to, say, pole fishing this attitude is something a lot of pike anglers fail to take on board. It's a lot easier to say that your rigs/baits/lures worked last time so the reason you blanked is down to conditions than to admit you fished like an idiot. Sharing a boat with a better angler than you is a great way to learn that failure is down to how you fish. Two anglers in a boat fishing the same area are faced with the same conditions and the same pike. If one catches more than the other it's all because of how he fishes. The difference can be as subtle as bait size, or as obvious as casting to a particular place. Given the number of variables open to the pike angler there's a good chance that there'll be a way to catch something on most days.

I think it quite likely that there is a difference between a pike's willingness to feed and its susceptibility to being caught. Certainly when fishing with lures many pike are caught that aren't feeding.

Trying to make something happen
I see no reason why the same couldn't be the case with live or dead baits. I don't want to ascribe human traits to fish, but something akin to curiosity could be at play, or aggression, or any number of impulses that have nothing to do with feeding. All that matters is that they are sometimes willing to take our baits and lures into their mouths. That is all we are after. How we get them do do it is what fishing is all about. And for the most part it is down to location and presentation.

If you subscribe to the view that on somedays pike don't move far to feed/take baits then there is little point casting out at dawn and waiting for the pike to find your herring. On the other hand if you keep moving that herring around(recasting, twitching, leapfrogging) you've a chance of putting it close enough to a pike to get a pick-up. Get the location right and you are almost there. Pick the right presentation and you're on a winner. That is all there is to successful fishing, be it for pike or any other species.

Just like the match angler it's up to you to find the presentation that works on the day – with the added advantage that you can also go find the fish. Irrespective of the conditions, if you have the right mental attitude you will be trying to work out what that presentation is instead of worrying about why conditions are stopping the pike getting caught. Getting follows? Change the lure. Getting dropped runs? Refine your bite indication or end tackle, maybe change your bait. Sitting around waiting the fish's mood to change is poor angling. It wouldn't win a match angler much money. You have to make it happen.

Do I always follow my own advice? Of course not – I'm lazy! If I'm fishing to chill out I usually accept what comes my way for as little effort as possible, but when I'm really up for catching fish I do. If I blank on those days I only blame myself.

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