Saturday, 19 November 2011

Mullets & other endangered species
Mick Hastings

Despite my youthful good looks, I've been fishing a very long time. Back when I began the journey, the world and indeed the waterside was a very different place. Rods were made of fibre glass, reels didn't have skirts or cones and braid was for carpy hook lengths. Piking was a lot more open in those days too and the carp world secretive. However in all cases we eventually learned the error of our ways. Looking back in time has caused me a giggle or two along with the odd cringe, which I'll hopefully share here.

What can you say about the 80's? Where do you start? Thatcher the maniac, the Miners strike, Falklands war, Liverpool winning everything (yes a very long time ago). Mainstream music was generally dire, Punk was fizzling out and there was sod all to replace it. John Bonham, John Lennon, Bob Marley died... New Romantics? You must be joking! Heavy metal was the thing man. The fashions of that decade were just one disaster after another, trust me, I wore most of them. Then there were the haircuts, just plain scary but more on that in due course.

I became a Piker in the 80's, learning the sport from the patient PAC members I'd pester around my local waters. Back then Pike fishing was really buzzing. Watto and the Norfolk Pikers seemed to be almost always in the angling press with another huge Pike. Then there was the young kid on the block, none other than Neville Fickling making a name for himself. Nev's first book “Pike fishing in the 80's” blew me away. I read it over and over again and pored over the photos. It inspired me and was the reference point for my friends and I. Looking back at my own fishing photos of that time one thing strikes me more than anything else, the hair. There were some monstrous hair cuts in the 80's and I was afflicted with two of them. The first was the dreaded 'Pudding basin' but it wasn't my fault, no the blame lies with my mother. However the latter was entirely my fault and it's something I have something to confess to now. I had a mullet on my head. It's OK, I've had counselling and I can deal with it now.

My Pike tackle in the early eighties consisted of Mitchell 300 reels loaded with Sylcast line in 11 pounds as recommended by NF. (NB By NF I mean Neville, definitely NOT the National Front. Yes right wing loonies were around in the eighties too). Rods were a Daiwa carp rod (not recommended by NF at that time) and the classic North Western SS6, 11foot 2 ½ lb t.c. fast taper, state of the art equipment. Ready made traces were available back then too. I'm sure people will remember the Ryder trebles whipped on with some kind of red....stuff. These would have been perfectly adequate apart from one crucial fact, they were only about 9” long. My friends and I began making our own traces firstly using crimps and some plastic coated stuff from Woolworth's then later with 7 strand stuff, made by Drennan I think. I can't remember what brand of hooks I used in the beginning, probably cheap ones but later I opted for Partridge above all the other brands, not that there were too many to choose from. I'm sure they would have been size 8's as that's what all the proper Pike anglers used in those days. To twist our traces we had to clip a pair of forceps carefully on to the tag end of the wire and then spin the forceps around. If all went to plan we'd end up with a nice neatly whipped trace. If it went wrong the trace might have to be scrapped and we'd have to start again or even worse, the forceps would occasionally fly off with genuine threat to life and limb. Not for the faint hearted.

Most of the time we were fishing the local pits which luckily were pretty good fisheries and in fact actually improved for a few years. The day would begin as soon as the paper round was finished and involved cycling for a mile with gear precariously balanced all over me and my bike. I often had a bucket of live-baits swinging on the handle bars. I cant remember ever falling off but I'm certain I must have done at some point. Back then we usually free-lined our dead-baits. Obviously this is frowned upon these days but in truth I can't remember it causing many problems. We'd let the bait, almost always half a Herring, sink and settle then tighten up carefully and clip on bobbins made of cork. Front alarms were the original Optonics which were very quiet and discouraged wandering too far. Live-baits were fished on Paternoster rigs, always, except for the occasional trip to the River. Once cast out, dead-baits were often just left, all day, without a recast. If a Pike didn't happen upon them they could literally just lay there all day. Seems ridiculous now but that's what we did.

So much of our tackle was home made those days. To begin with I decided to make my rods cool. I stripped them down, painted one matt black to match the other and re-whipped them with Fuji rings. For whipping thread I used old Sylcast line as recommended by NF, as he stated “I am more interested in using the rod than looking at it!” My 42” landing net was 'made' in metal work at school. All I needed to do was bend a couple of bits of hollow steel into shape and add some kind of string for the cord. My teacher wouldn't allow this, I had to solder some bits here and there so I'd “actually done something.” I cheated and bought a spreader block & mesh. A notable piece of tackle missing from our kits those days was the unhooking mat, there simply weren't any. We made do with the weigh sling or carp sack, the mesh of the net and the softest ground available.

Apart from the odd attempt to make floats, which usually sunk, most of our creativity went into making drop off indicators. They began with Wine corks painted red to which we added a piece of string which tied off to the rod rest. Clips were made of small beads glued onto the ends of hair grips which allowed the line to run free and show drop backs. These were tightened up to hang below the spool. These worked fine but it was fun to fiddle around and tinker with them. They later morphed into Poly balls mounted onto the hinge spoke of an old umbrella now giving the thing a rigid arm. These were held onto the back rest by ingenious use of elastic bands. The last and best ones I created had stems made from quiver tips. These were tightened so the stem bent under pressure, any slack line was indicated instantly and they worked brilliantly. The only problem was I never found a really good way of attaching them to the rest so whenever I picked up the rod they tended to fly off in unpredictable directions. My mate Phil Moore managed to trump all of us by making his own 'Back biter' type alarms, they were so good I bought some.

In my memory I'm at my favourite pit which was dotted with islands, bays and features. It's one of those dull, showery days, mild with the occasional breeze springing up. Usually I'd fish with a friend but sometimes alone. My Herring has been cast in deeper water alongside a gravel bar. We know this is a good spot around lunch time but for whatever reason I usually fished it all day? It's early afternoon and the 'hot time' is passing quickly, will I catch? The mind drifts off, “football, girls, cricket, girls...” then thoughts interrupted by a tinny, high pitched sound. Glance up, the drop off is falling slowly, here we go....

As the decade began to wane, the music did begin to improve a little; hip hop and dance stuff started to creep in and the fashions toned down a bit. Unfortunately, as I eluded to before, my hair continued to get bigger. At this time we began to see some of the items of tackle we'd had to make ourselves appear in the tackle shops. A lot of it was aimed at carp anglers but ET began to supply proper Pike tackle. A real inspiration at that time was a book by Bailey & Page “Pike – The Predator becomes the prey”, by and large I think this book has stood the test of time and is still relevant today. The reader was introduced to a host of successful Pikers who fished a wide variety of waters and we learnt we had to adapt our methods to suit various types of water. In reality we didn't actually do this as we were still fishing the local pits however my push bike had been replaced by two wheels and an engine (a Suzuki 125) so my range was extended a little. This book also upped the bar for us, by now my friends and I had caught a few 'twenties' between us but 'Predator becomes the prey' nominated 25 as a target, a really big Pike!

There was one pit in particular that was known to hold a Pike that big in my vicinity but it was a hard water that didn't hold many fish at all. The known big fish only appeared a couple of times a season, she was a big, wise old fish but previously Giles Hill had hooked her on a jack live-bait but lost her at the net. The Suzuki trundled to a halt behind my favourite swim one damp day in November 1987, I only chose to fish that pit because it was one of the few that was unaffected by the first flood of the winter. The island I intended to cast to was just in range of the 11 ft tricast carbon rod and I put a legered smelt here. The 12 ft tricast was loaded up with a heavy lead and a spratt for a longer cast onto a plateau in open water beyond the island. By this time the free-line rigs were gone and my baits were fished on running legers with 2 to 3oz leads. I should add that this spratt was injected with 'Biotrak', the fashionable bait enhancer at that time as endorsed by the late Len Head (for carp & tench at least). Line would probably still be the Sylcast but by now I think I was using QED wire and VB double hooks, still size 8. I can't remember what reels I was using, probably still on the Mitchell's but around that time I began using the very first Shimano bait runners to be sold in the UK.

Around 0900 I had a take on smelt, a nerve racking moment on a 'big fish water' but the fish was small. I'd hardly returned this one when the spratt on the other rod was taken. Somewhere in this house I'm sure I still have my old fishing diary and it would tell me whether the fish pulled my arms off or just rolled into the net, sadly without it I can't remember. I can recall she weighed 25.04 and Giles came out to take the photos for me. The pictures show a lovely dark, spotty fish with a big ol head and tench crushing jaws. My own head sported a quite horrendous peroxide mullet.

Towards the end of the decade our local waters became renowned for the quality of the fishing, new faces arrived, some travelling quite a distance. Most of the newcomers were decent anglers but there were one or two that weren't. “Coincidently” the fishing began to deteriorate as did the condition of the Pike. Luckily two wheels had been replaced by four and our travelling range had increased again. We were very lucky that we still had good quality fishing within a short journey. Our Pike fishing horizons broadened but I still didn't get a hair cut until 1990.

Thankfully mullets are all but extinct nowadays but home made tackle is still around. Nowadays I use professionally home made lures by Dave Greenwood, drop arm indicators by Mark Houghton and the awesome Billy's back biters by Steve Bown. All of these are superior to any equivalent items of tackle made by any of the major tackle companies. My own home made spinner-baits have caught me loads of Pike but aren't in the 'professional' league of those guys. The happiest thought to come from my look back in time is it was during the mid to late 80's that I met and began fishing with Giles & Rich. These blokes are amongst my oldest friends, we still socialise and fish together a quarter of a century later and I'm sure we always will.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Opportunity Knocks
Duncan Philips

The particular venue in question is best described as a mature gravel pit. The excavation work commenced in the 1960s in order to provide much needed gravel for the regional boom in road building and industrial programmes which were in evidence at the time. The pit remains a working project to date.

Some 300 plus acres of extraction has left a typical non-uniform landscape of troughs, gullies, bars and shallows. And deeps that, when filled with water, give no indication of the topography beneath. This water has a history in local angling circles, with many tales from yesteryear of huge hauls of bream and tench and with large specimens landed of most typical coarse species.

However, a large scale fish kill some years back (attributed in the main to the run off of fertilizers from local farms) decimated vast stocks of fish with many year groups wiped out in one foul swoop. A disaster from which (according to many club members of old) it has yet to fully recover. However, it still remains a beautiful if not daunting venue and one that always presents the angler with a worthy challenge. Here is a tale of one particular chain of events that saw me rewarded after many fruitless sessions whilst in pursuit of the pit’s pike stocks

Having joined the local angling club I decided to target the pit for pike almost straight away, and so began a protracted campaign of discovery. Having spoken to other anglers on the venue and in my local tackle shop, I was under no impression that this was going to be easy. Suffice to say I spent my first seven 'haphazard' sessions spaced over three months on this water with next to nothing to show for my efforts. Every method tried, failed and all baits seemed to attract nothing bar the odd 'crush' marking from a resident eel and even then with little or nothing registering on the floats. Offerings presented hard on the bottom, popped up off the bottom, coarse and sea dead-baits, drifting baits far out, and selecting marginal placements. Nothing, Nada, Nichts!

With little gravel pit experience to draw upon I decided it would be easier to divide the fishable areas into smaller more manageable pockets of water and to then tackle each pocket accordingly. Having walked the banks of most of the available and fishable areas and mapped them with a plummet and float, I immediately eliminated vast tracts of the water as looking either too uniform, bland or shallow, or perhaps because they seemed void of grebes or any prominent signs of bait fish topping. I finally settled on three swims in areas I had selected as worthy of a more concentrated effort.

The first swim (photo above) was in a basin of water attached to the main body by two small channels at opposite ends. The water dropped right down to 8 feet less than a metre away from the bank and a small tree to the right of the swim held 11 feet of water below it. The depths around the entrance though were shallow with only 3 feet of water in one area. The weed growth in the margins was rich and thick and I had seen an angler catching small roach and perch on the pole from there on a previous occasion.

The other two swims were again next to trees in the water and held deeper water, up to 16 feet, dropping off quickly from the bank. Having decided on my swims I now proceeded to spend time in them all. As with all waters a pattern began to slowly emerge. Despite continuing to blank in each of the swims I noted that I was invariably fishing early morning sessions and was rarely on the banks past mid-day. However, an unforeseen event forced me to fish an afternoon session and with it came my first fish.

The session in question saw me setting up in the first swim and cursing the fact that I had left my weights box at home. So, selecting a small roach deadbait I shallowed up and cast 10 meters over to the right of the basin and let the roach settle gently on top of the thick marginal weed with no additional weight to pull it further down and away into it. An hour later and the float bobbed gently and slid accross the water. A firm strike and a lively 7lb fish was soon resting in the net. The time was 2 pm.

What followed on from this was further afternoon sessions again using a weightless bait approach and with the baits being allowed to rest on or just in the weed. More 'one fish' sessions became the norm with a couple of scraper doubles being the best weight achieved. The fish remarkably all seemed to come close to or on 2 pm. Despite always varying the baits it soon became apparent that roach and skimmers with the occasional trout were the winners. Sea dead-baits got me absolutely nothing and the floats bearing my usual favoured joeys mackerels, herrings and sardines beneath them remained motionless. All three swims were now responding and on a couple of occasions I actually put two fish on the bank, though nothing much bigger than ten pounds, usually jacks and without doubt a few repeat captures.

One late Saturday afternoon in November I was returning in my car after fishing the swim furthest up the pit, when, having slowed down in order to scan the water, (as you do) I noticed it held four adult grebes all dipping madly into the margins. Pulling over and peering down into the margins by my feet, I soon discovered the reason for this activity. Hordes of 2 inch fry in their thousands balled up in and below the weed for as far as I could walk along the bank, it was black with them. The grebes were catching near on every dive and I was gutted because, already late, I had to return home and didn’t even have time for a cast. Surely, if the grebes were so readily feasting, and the fry were there in such numbers, then old esox must be down there amongst them partaking in a share?

The following day I returned early in the morning (more to prevent the swim being nabbed by another angler than with any hope of some new found morning success) to find the fry still evident, though depleted in numbers, and no grebes in sight. Hoping I was not too late to take advantage of this fry feeding frenzy oppo, out went the two rods baited with roach and trout and a whole lotta hope.

The wind had got up overnight and small waves were lapping the margins at my feet. The wind was blowing directly into my face and the increasing wash of the waves was beginning to colour up the water in the margins. Soon I couldn’t even see the marginal weed let alone any remaining fry amongst it.

Nothing happened until mid morning when the grebes started to arrive in numbers, but having noted my presence they kept themselves to the margins further round the basin. I could see that they were still catching despite the colouring up of the water so my hopes remained high. The first run when it came took me by surprise as the float disappeared straight down in a small wave trough and didn’t reappear. I struck and to my delight it was 'fish on'.

The feisty critter had me on my toes as it was hooked close to the tree on my right and made a strong run across to the right with the line pinging the lower branches where they brushed the water. However, all ended well as she moved out into the clearer water in front of me and succumbed to the sunken net. As I lifted her out I recognised her as a scraper double that I’d caught previously and I set about moving her and the net onto the grassy verge behind me. Marvellous!. Then incredibly, having just unhooked and lifted the fish up in order to return it, I saw the other float bouncing into view towards the tree, so after quickly slipping her back I grabbed the other rod and struck. A short scrap resulted in another similarly sized fish on the bank, but with both rods now out of the water I decided on a picture and after unhooking her quickly snapped a shot before recording a weight of 10lb 6oz on the scales.

What was tantamount to a double bubble (well almost) was something I had only dreamed of thus far from this pit and I had to pinch myself to believe it. Two doubles in almost as many minutes, so with heart thumping it was both rods back out with a roach on each and optimism unnaturally high.

The wind continued to increase strongly and the next run was not long in coming. With the wash of the water colouring up all the water in the basin and the wind still blowing hard, I squeezed two SSG shot to the top of each trace and fished the baits a foot or so over depth. When the float positioned to my left grew legs and marched the march, I struck home and was rewarded with what felt like another reasonable fish.
After a short and scrappy affair she too was in the net. At 11lb 10oz she was my best fish from the pit thus far, and the third double of the session. A quick photo and back in with a fresh bait. Within 10 minutes the newly cast roach was away (what was going on down in those murky depths in front of me?) and after a hard tussle a really nice looking fish of 12lb 12oz graced the net. Staggering!

The wind was still hoolying away right into my face but I hardly seemed to notice it anymore. So much for the 2pm theory! It all seemed a bit surreal having spent hours previously on this venue supping coffee and warming my hands whilst willing the floats to twitch and it hadn’t finished yet.

A trout (I'd run out of roach) close in to the left was taken and on striking the fish on the end instantly felt a bit better. She stayed deeper this one and I had to bully her up to the top noticing as I did a fresh nasty looking red weal on her flank. I also noticed she was quite lightly hooked with just one hook from the top treble holding firm. Down she went again and again and after more gentle coaxing she was finally mine. Now at 14lb 14oz she was still no giant but the thrill that fish gave me was immense. I really felt like I was on a roll.

The wound on this fish, was fresh and seeping and I could think of no explanation for it. It didn't detract from my pleasure however, and the fish, when returned, swam off strongly. They had just got bigger and bigger with each fish caught. Was there a lunker still out there with my name on it? The answer sadly was no. Despite having another hour before I had to return the time just flew by. What I did decide on was a return visit there as soon as I could. A day like today was (for me anyway) a rare butterfly on this venue and on returning to work the next day I was quick to book the following afternoon off for a return.

I needed more bait and a quick visit to the tackle shop and a word in the ear of my confidante Rob Tibble of my success, had me breaking speed records to get back down there on the Tuesday. As I stood surveying the scene that had provided me with such delight just two days ago, it was unrecognisable. The wind had gone the water was clear again little or no fry or grebes in sight and it all seemed so flat and quiet.
However, the rods were soon in position again and I sat there hoping there was another surprise in the locker.

After an hour or so a retrieve of my right side rod for a recast saw the attached roach come off right by the edge of the bank and though I could see it clearly caught in the weed a couple of feet below the surface, I took another one from the packet and cast it out. Having sat there quietly and patiently for a while with nothing happening I was then privy to an amazing sight. A small commotion in the margin not three feet away from where I sat caused me to glance down and see a large fat tail emerge slowly, shake and then slip down again out of sight accompanied by an audible 'slap'. Gone in a blink!

I crept forward and peering down noticed immediately the discarded roach had disappeared. Right! I quietly walked the furthest rod out round to the side to cause as little disturbance to the swim as possible then wound her in and gently lowered the bait in a mere foot off the bank and back down to where the discarded roach had been. Quiet as a mouse I sat back down again and held my breath imagining the fish still down there digesting her meal and hopefully still wanting more. Well it took an hour and the impulse to move the rod, to creep up to the waters edge and peek down again, was massive, however I resisted, and for that was again rewarded. The float which sat just off the bank cocked upright and then started to move off. I struck down hard and the weeds & water in front of me exploded as a good fish tore along the margin towards the tree on the right. She was literally right under my rod tip when I connected and gave me a few nervy moments until still shaking with the 'buzz' I drew her in and over the net. I remember just sitting there holding the net in the water and not daring to look. Anyway, out she came and I knew right away she was now my gravel pit PB. At 17lb 8oz she was a fine fat specimen that looked a definite ’Twenty’ come March.

A fine Gravel Pit Pike at 17lb 8oz and the culmination of a fantastic run
She proved to be the only fish of the day but I really didn’t care. I floated home and there contemplated the results of those two sessions - five double figure pike in a four hour stint, followed by a solitary beauty the following trip.

Sometimes, when it gets tough out there, its the memory of days like these that makes me realise why I still want to drag myself out of a warm bed and venture out in the rain and fog and just do it.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A tale of Confidence, Success and OCD!
Marty Mulcairn

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be a debilitating illness, and manifests itself in many different ways. Some people have to count the stairs every time they climb them. Some have to arrange their wardrobe in a certain order, and Gazza wouldn’t leave his house until he’d cleaned all his shoes twice.

I think I have a touch of OCD when it comes to my fishing. I always plan my trips like military operations and spend a lot of time thinking about where I should go, what tactics and tackle will be best, where the pike will be sitting, which baits to use etc. etc. . Once I’m happy and confident with the plan I’ll spend two hours the night before sorting and cleaning my kit, making up the rods and rethinking my plan again before hitting the sack. Every time I go fishing I have to follow this procedure, and if I don’t I just don’t feel like I’m going to catch!

Now this probably seems like anal behaviour to most hairy arsed pikers, but I actually enjoy the planning and preparation almost as much as the fishing, and like to think that more often than not it maximises my chances of putting fish on the bank. One thing I am sure of though, is that it gives me confidence. If I’m not confident the chances are I’m not going.

Last Friday was an instance where it paid off. I checked the weather- after a couple days of light rain the next few were dry so the river would be in good condition. I noted the wind was turning to a South Easterly, the moon was waning gibbous, and the day would be mild with sunshine. A positive combination in my head. Usually either the river conditions or the weather is against you in this part of the world.

Now where to go? I had a flick through last year’s fishing diary (I know, I know!), then mentally went through each of the twenty odd different stretches I fish. I decided on a one mile stretch that has a powerful flow throughout, except for two large slacks. I’d never fished it in good conditions and only had mediocre results, but it was classic pike territory and I’d always thought it would throw up a good fish in the right conditions. I’d fish the biggest slack on the stretch as it looked a great lay-up and ambush point for any pike.

Now for the tactics – the river would be fairly clear, chances are the pike would be feeding primarily by sight so my favourite float-legered rig with a popped-up dead-bait would be spot on.

I’d get there at first light and put in a few chopped up baits in whilst setting up, fishing a washed-out roach on one rod close to the bank at the back of the slack, and on the second rod a whole fresh bluey, just on the edge of the main river flow. I prefer washed-out freshwater baits as I believe the big old females see them as a natural and easy meal, and my four largest pike have all come to these. When it comes to sea baits though I prefer super fresh as I’m sure their main attraction is the scent/blood they give off.
After turning my living room into a tackle shop and selecting all the gear I’d need, cleaning it all, making up the rods and filling the cool bag I was so confident that I posted on the Pikers’ Pit forum that I had a feeling a good day would be had. I then slipped into bed for a quick four hours of kip.

On arrival at the bank it all looked as I’d imagined, and after spreading a few chopped baits around I positioned my baits as per my plan. My OCD then kicked in big time and I spent the next half an hour arranging the unhooking mat, sling, scales, landing net, packed lunch, camera etc. etc. in military order until everything was ship shape and Bristol fashion!

To be honest I was expecting a run within the first hour or two, but nothing was happening. I rethought my plan but it still made sense to me and I was confident something would happen sooner or later. After three hours with not even a tremble I suppose most people would have upped sticks or changed tactics, but everything still seemed right and my confidence remained high. The day trundled on, with the sun now shining brightly. A few dace started to show, flipping at the surface and my positive (or delusional!) thinking suggested maybe there was a big old girl down there herding them up for a feast. I looked at the swim, thought about my rigs, about the position of my baits etc. and still felt confident that I was doing everything right - there must be a pike in this slack and that at some point it would want one of my baits!

Six hours after arriving the float positioned nearest to the bank gave a slight tremor, a bob, and by the time I’d moved the four feet to the rods it had slid confidently below the surface and was moving at a rapid pace towards me. I picked the rod out of the rest and reeling like a maniac to pick up the slack I wound down and struck confidently to feel that solid resistance we all love.

Off she went, slowly gathering speed, heading out of the slack into the main flow; which is exactly where I didn’t want her to go! I tightened the clutch but she had locked the rod up and was still pulling line off, so I manoeuvred up the bank slightly and used as much side strain as I dare. It slowed her up and she did a hundred and eighty degree turn and headed back into the slack, this time intent on reaching the roots of an overhanging tree. Who says pike are dumb? Not me! After putting up a dogged ten minute fight -twice powering away when a foot from the net- I eventually slid the net under her. A good fish too! I knew it would happen.

She’d put up such a tremendous fight that I wanted to get her back in as soon as possible. Luckily my OCD had made me set the camera up all framed and focused on arrival, so after an easy unhooking, a quick weigh and three quick snaps I had her back in the water within a minute or so. I nursed her in the margin till she told me she was ready, and with a sweep of her tail she swam back to the depths as powerfully as she’d come in. What majestic creatures these big river pike are, combating the powerful flow day in day out leaves them solid without an ounce of fat, and this one turned out to be my third biggest river pike ever at a hefty 27lb 11oz.

Now I’m not saying this is the way to go about it, it’s just MY way. I have a friend who is just as successful as me but has the polar opposite approach. He makes no plan, never sorts or cleans his gear, grabs any bait he happens to have, chucks his rods in the car, arrives at the bank and everything he does is decided on the spot. He has no OCD, no premeditated strategy, he just takes it as it comes and he enjoys his fishing just as much as I do. The one thing we do both have in common though is confidence in what we are doing, and most of the successful anglers I know have this in buckets . So think positive, be confident and may the force be with you!