Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ghetto Pike Fishing

Russel Fitzpatric

Skyscrapers…sirens…dog walkers…joggers...graffiti and drunks are a few of the things you will find and see and hear when fishing an urban setting. I have a bit of a fascination with fishing within an urban environment…I suppose it’s the fact that I live within good old London Town. But it is also the venues themselves, places that on first glance don’t look like they could or ever would produce any kind of decent fishing, that interest me, but produce they do!
It takes a certain mindset to fish a water you know nothing about and at times are actually unsure whether they do contain any pike at all, it takes a bit of bottle too. I suppose fishing these venue’s can be tricky with no access areas, areas you really would not want to normally spend time in…especially after dark…undesirables roam around looking for an easy victim, kinda like a pike!

I find when fishing areas you not supposed to be in if you keep quiet and keep a low profile you can often get away with it, after all its fishing and I’m not thieving! Safety is priority, I will rarely undertake urban fishing without company, I can look after myself, but numbers add weight, it helps to have a 6’4 18 stone piking partner- love you Breaker!

So on to the actual fishing…many venues will be snag ridden, specially canal’s where access to the water is normally easy and open to all. Dumped scooters and shopping trolleys are a favourite. These are not places for light tackle at all, strong solid tackle, with thick braided lines are the norm as it makes the job of opening out snagged trebles so much easier. I tend to float fish baits and 95% of the time I also pop my baits up to keep them free of any bottom debris, carrier bags are everywhere in urban venues! Plus it is important- so that Esox can see them loud and clear! One thing I feel is imperative with popped up baits and floats is the use of an up trace, this adds safety to bite off and additional abrasion resistance to snags where it matters most. I do occasionally Ledger a bait, but only after I have scoped the swim out, using a lead tied to the end of the mainline and cast around and dragged along the bottom to find any nasty snags on the bottom of the swim.

There are miles of urban freshwater docks, reservoirs, canal systems and more, there is so much scope for those willing to put in the time and effort required- and this to me makes a capture even more sweeter.Not everywhere will produce fish, some may however produce a big big surprise. To me anything approaching or over mid double figures is big for any urban venue, I personally fish to catch fish these fish as they mean something to me. It's not all about numbers , more about where the fish came from, the story behind it, the weight is the last thing that really matters. It's nice to get a biggie but just being successful and catching is what its all about.

Having spent many hours searching for fish on Urban venues there is clearly no short cuts to success. Trying many areas even if they don’t look quite right is the way forward, fishing to features helps, moored boats, dumped mopeds/trolleys, bridges, marina’s (many are private) overhanging tree’s, the near side and far side shelf’s are all good spots to put a bait. When there’s minimal boat traffic in winter the centre channel can be good as its slightly deeper than the rest of the canal.

There’s also tidal/non tidal rivers to go at, some of these places you can really lose yourself and forget you’re in London. Until a siren shatters the silence. Then there’s the some of the HUGE London reservoirs to go at, there’s at least 10 of them! Most you can’t fish…imagine the possibility’s if you could get on them!

I recently got wind of a good urban fish, arriving at the venue and doing an SAS style sneaky mission to get to the swim we set up quickly and a ledgered pollan was cast to a feature in about 8ft of water. At 9.15am my drop off pinged off and I struck into something very solid which then woke up a bit! A good short scrap and I had a new PB in the net at 28.04…Three hours later the drop off pinged off again and I landed a 26.08 that fell to a ledgered Indian mackerel, from exactly the same spot as the 28.

 This brace proper blew me away, magnificent fish and a proper Urban London fish too boot! My dreams had come true, and the possibility had been proven. Plus for me to actually be able to say my PB is from my home town of London is .... The Bollox !

Inside our Towns there is some very neglected waters, not necessarily he nicest most scenic venues but take a look at them. You might be surprised, after all, as we all well know… Our Esox does thrive on neglect!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

A Tale of Two Braces

Dave Marrs

I first came close to catching what many would describe as the holy grail of Zander fishing (a brace of doubles), only a year or so after starting fishing for them, back in 1994.  I very narrowly missed out by only a few short ounces (four to be precise), during an explosive short session on Frisby Pits in Nov 94.  Amongst half a dozen other Zeds of 4 – 8lbs+, I managed to land two cracking Zeds of 9lb 12oz and 11lb 9oz, along with a 16lb Pike.  Having come back to fishing midway through the season in 1993 aged 23 after a 6 year lay off, I was a dyed in the wool specialist after that catch I can say.  I had Zander fever for sure! To me, Zander are a very worthy quarry indeed and they really get my angling juices flowing.  I’ve caught them when it has been too cold to snow, during temperatures of 80+degrees, at all times during night and day. 
Perhaps my most interesting capture though, was a lovely 7lb 7oz Zed from a slipway under only a foot of water on a very frosty morning back in 2001, which when the water receded less than an hour later, was then rendered completely dry land!  I really just can’t get enough of catching them and these days as my family commitments really hamper my getting out and about, I often drift away to the very many happy memories I’ve gained from so many years pursuing these enigmatic fish.
I caught my first Pike from the River Nene at Oundle back in 1981 on a freelined Gudgeon when I was 10 years old.  Sadly my friends and I had no one with us to guide our fishing practices and the three Pike we caught (3lb 4oz, 1lb 11oz and 1lb 8oz) ended up dead and paraded at school the next day.  Those were hard days in the Anglian region for predators and whilst walking into the Riverside pub to meet our dads, my host and I were actually given a round of applause from a packed bar.  Although only 10 years old at the time, I still feel a stinging remorse for killing that poor little Pike (mine was 1lb 8oz). 
Things were to get a lot better on the Pike front as we had a small pond within a good walk from home which was infested with Jacks and I caught them regularly, taking great enjoyment from the fight before returning them.  Our tactics were somewhat dubious though and a real good day would see perhaps 3 or 4 jacks between 4oz and a pound take our Roach live or deadbaits, often presented on exactly the same tackle upon which we had just caught the Roach!  The main avenue to success was to catch a small Roach and walk around the pit until we spied one of the stunted jacks sat in the margins and present the Roach to it and then watch for the cascade of scales as the hapless bait was taken (no one had a fast enough eye to keep up with the lunge made by the attacking Pike).  Surprisingly we managed to catch loads of small Pike and I don’t actually recall being bitten off too many times, nor losing that many.  Perhaps my most memorable predator catch from that venue though, was actually two small Pike which were like tiny little miniature monsters.  One was literally about 2oz and the other maybe 3oz, I’m sure with the photo imaging software available these days you could have some fun with pictures of such fish.  Perfect in every way, I’d spotted them sat under the railway sleeper which separated the two ponds early one Sunday morning and presented tiny Roach baits of about an inch on a size 16 hook under a matchstick float.  I was about 13 and bizarrely, I rate catching those perfect little beasts as highly as any I’ve caught since, they were such beautiful little creatures, like little twins and both went back.  I really, really wish I’d had a photo of them to look at but I’ll never forget them for the rest of my days.  The biggest Pike I caught as a child on such tackle was a 5lb 8oz fish from the Upper River Welland which took a Minnow as bait, again presented underneath the matchstick float.
Fast Forward........
Once I’d gotten back into my fishing and especially my Zandering pursuits, the 90’s flew past in a haze of nights out chasing livebaits, deadbaits and of course the Zeds.  Having moved my fishing to the Fens in the mid 90’s, using such baits I immediately began to encounter Pike along the way and some good ones too.  Plenty of double figure Pike started to appear and some were even starting to approach the magic mark of 20lbs.  Within a couple of years and despite never using Seabaits nor really having actively sought to catch them, my Pike PB soon found itself pushed up over 19lbs.  Yet even so, I was still completely obsessed with catching Zander to the exclusion of all else (excepting perhaps bait)!
This started to change around about 2002 and to be honest, I have no explanation as to why it did but my feelings genuinely did start to turn round to thoughts of catching a 20lb Fenland Pike.  I’d had a good number of double figure Zeds up to 12lb+ by that time but had never managed to capture a 20lb Pike, I’d seen it written that some broadly compared a double figure Zed to a 20lb Pike but I’d personally found the Zeds far easier to catch but then when I look back at my tactics (small lives and deads) and on prime Zander waterways, that may come as no surprise…….

I met a very experienced angler by the name of Graham Daubney around about this time and having had some very big fish under his belt, Graham really offered some great guidance and some quality company too.  His tactics spot on, he’d had plenty of Pike the size of which I’d love to catch (although a very quiet and private man, he’ll cringe loads if he reads this – sorry Graham) and we fished a bit together.  One of the tricks that Graham swears by in the depths of winter is highly mobile, deadbaiting tactics using a variety of baits including seabaits and in particular, Herring.  In fact he often alluded to the fact that he really rated the Herring as a bait for big Zander and had taken some good ones on it.  Of course it goes without saying, that such a bait is outstanding for Pike of all sizes, including the biggies too!  I now love Herring as a first rate bait, all I do is take off the head and float fish it thus.
I started to fish using more mobile tactics for a couple of winters, previously having fished nights all season round I started to leave the bivvy at home.  Using large and very visible floats, I fished three rods well spread along the drain coving the inside, middle and far ledges of these waterways and utilised a mix of baits including big Pike baits.  I started to pick up Zander too as I always put out a Roach or other similar deadbait and on some winter days you could really find feeding Zeds and take a few.  I also started to pick up a fair few on Lamprey and also the odd half decent one to Herring.
The Braces
Early one March day nearing the end of the 04/05 season and having suffered the flu for the best part of a week, in the pre-dawn darkness I drove the hour or so towards my favourite drain for a mobile deadbaiting session.  I really fancied a day in an area I’d never really fished, I’d certainly never had a fish to talk about from anywhere near it but tipped up nonetheless to start my exploration.  As dawn broke I had three rods spread across the water, one with half Herring, one with Lamprey and one with a nice sized coarse bait.  By 9am though, there wasn’t a ripple on the drain and I decided to move to an area I’d done fairly well on in the past. Within about 5 minutes I was there and as if by magic, so was a lovely breeze picking up and sending the wild horses coursing down the drain.  I soon had my three rods out each baited with the same baits as in the previous spot, as ever one on the inside, one in the middle and one towards the far bank.  After what seemed like only a few minutes one of the rods was away and boom, I had a great scrap on my hands to land the 13lb 6oz Pike which had taken my Herring.  Quickly weighed and put back, my bait was soon heading back to where the Pike had scoffed it up and I sat back on my unhooking mat thinking all was well with the world.  I was soon brought out of my thoughts though as the Herring was away again, this time though the float gracefully moved across the surface rather than dived under, a sure sign of a run from a Zander all day long for me.  Sure as fate, I soon had a battle scarred veteran Zed in the landing net and true to form (it seems the bigger Zeds take Herring), it weighed in at 8.4.  I was well chuffed to say the very least, already I was having a much more enjoyable day than I’d had previously been suffering in bed, dying on my arse.  Little did I know though, it was to get much, much better!
The next couple of hours passed with no runs but a fair few moves along the drain, by 2pm the weather had actually gotten warmer, as a lovely SW wind was blowing some clouds lazily across the sky.  I had another run, a joey Mackerel was taken and a good fish was on, it felt instantly a heavy fish and was fighting hard.  As occasionally happens, after a couple of minutes scrapping the fish swam straight in front of me under the surface and as I saw it angrily pass me a couple of feet under the surface, I realised I had a very good fish on.  Managing to manoeuvre it into the 42in spreader, I lifted it from the water in the net and I knew instantly I’d broken the 20lbs barrier. I was chuckling to myself as the fish was easily unhooked and placed back into the net for a rest whilst I was going to get the camera on the tripod but as I scampered up the bank, I saw the Lamprey float doing one across the surface.  Making sure the Pike was ok I hit the run and immediately felt the fish on the other end,  I can’t really remember too much of the scrap due to being so impatient to get the offending Zed returned, in order to photograph my prized Pike currently resting in the net.  As the fish came close I can remember seeing a Zed which initially looked around 6 or 7lbs, then like a complete buffoon and rather than hand land the fish, taking precious time that could be spent posing with my 20, I let the line go slack to see if the Zed would come off without needing landing, it didn’t!  I decided then to hand land it and as I chinned it, I immediately felt its weight. 
 It was now time for another very big grin, as I realised that I may have just done something really special (20lb Pike and Double Zed, same swim, within minutes!).  Sure as fate, the Zed weighed in at 10.4 and with the Pike weighing 20lb 10oz, I was totally ecstatic.  There were a few beers sunk in the local that night as I recall.  Looking back, for so many years I had persisted with Zandering to the exclusion of everything else; and the obsession of it all burned intensely within me.  Therefore it seemed sort of good karma to me that a double figure Zed accompanied my first ever 20lb Pike in the net.
Zed Brace
When the flash floods of summer 2007 really showed my inexperience at Barbel angling on the Trent for what it was, I decided to fish within a certain waterway network I knew would actually benefit from a bit of extra summer water.  I soon had a bit of light kit packed away and headed to the Fens and to a favourite drain for a night after the old adversary, Zander.  The water was indeed running through as I picked my swim and settled down, a couple of livebaits were pressed into service and a nice sized Skimmer deadbait was put on the far bank.  Now this was a water with a seemingly low head of fairly highly averaged size of Zed on offer, I’d never experienced nor seen any real monsters from my haunts but with few Schoolies showing, the Zeds did tend to average around 7.5lbs and I had managed a couple of doubles from the venue.  Although I’d never really fished it much, I’d always fancied a certain area for a few fish and it was here, dodgy banks and all, where I’d turned up.  I didn’t have to wait too long until my first run about half an hour into dark, it felt like a really good fish and in the net it looked it too.
 I weighed, photographed and returned the fish and at 10lb 3oz I was well happy with this result.  Having nodded off, I was snoozing away a well happy man after that and managed to snatch a few hours sleep.  Slumbering away, I was awoken as the next alarm’s obnoxious tone punctuated the eerie silence around 2am, the far bank Skimmer had been taken and another good fish was on as I struck.  The fish made several deep and striving runs, a sure sign in my opinion of a good Zander but was soon in the net.  There it was, some fourteen years after landing my first Zed and I had the rather obvious second part of a double figure Zander brace, albeit getting caught some 4hrs apart during the same session.  The Zed went 11.6 and remains my venue PB.  Neither a fashionable nor a particularly easy Zed water by any means, it still remains a source of much satisfaction to me in a somewhat childish way that none of my muckers have had a bigger Zander from this venue yet either!
I had one more run before dawn and pulled out of what seemed like another good Zed but that wasn’t to be the only snag after this much sought after catch.  Upon getting home and uploading the seemingly perfect mini-shots from my digital camera, it become apparent that I’d had the wrong setting on the focus and the shots were awful.  Although I could see the size of the fish no worries, they were the worst photo’s I’d ever taken, so I was never ever able to take as much joy from them as other pictures.  A real shame because in all my years fishing, because of the drain involved being a venue very close to my heart and the fact that it can be pretty difficult at times, I’d probably class this catch as my favourite ever.  I returned two nights later and managed another at 9lb 4oz, perhaps the one I’d pulled out of during the special night……….

Monday, 23 January 2012

"Down By the River"

Steve Bown

As is usual on one of my many trips down the M5, the hypnotic guitar licks of Neil Young were blaring full decibels on the old Land Rovers stereo and on this occasion it was one of my all-time favourites, a tune entitled ‘Down by the River’. I think I’ll have that as my epitaph as since I started driving in 1988 I’ve been making the same journey down the M5 and taking the various exits below Worcester to fish the Lower Warwickshire Avon, The Magnificent Severn and in later years Gods own river ‘The Wye’ each a different beast and each containing their own challenges.

With very little in the way of Stillwater’s to go at a Midlands angler looks to the rivers of which we have an abundance and within pretty reasonable distances I have hundreds of miles of flowing water  to go at and I love it. The only problem I have is where do I go and what do I fish for as the choice is staggering. Flowing water, beautiful landscapes and a sense of adventure is what my anglings all about. Whether I’m bivvied up on the Avon in the Lea on Breadon hill, on my boat and looking up the River Severn to the Malvern’s or route marching the banks of some remote stretch of the River Wye in search of the monsters that lie within. I just love being ‘DOWN BY THE RIVER’.

Now about the time I started fishing the Midlands rivers these strange little fish from the continent started to appear. As we were piking we started getting dropped runs on a semi frequent basis which was very unusual as we were not fishing for toothless Stillwater mug fish but wild uncaught river fish. It wasn't until a little 2lb Zander hung itself to my mates size 4 trebles the we discovered the reason behind the mystery. With us all wanting to catch one for our species list we spent the rest of the season trying to catch these fish but all attempts were fruitless. They were small and few in number and very hard to catch on pike gear. This little fish was to trigger what was to become a bit of an obsession that would over the next 20 years drive me to despair. The following season opened and I found myself out for the night with light carp rods light traces and a bucket full of gudgeon on the Lower Avon and it wasn't long before tactics were sorted and I was soon notching up a reasonable tally of Zander with my first being a respectable 5lb 10oz.

An early Avon Zed

I guess that as hardened piker, zander became the perfect species to fill in the gap between pike seasons and so this pattern continued and the past twenty has seen me spending many hours ‘Zedding’. Loving the rivers as I do and never particularly been enamoured by still water mud pigs they were the perfect excuse to see me out for a night fishing adventure under a brolly. In later years I have often taken the kids on these adventures and they have become some of my most treasured moments.
So with all the dedicated zander sessions, the accidental captures when piking and the fact that the local canals are full of them, I guess that over the last 20 years I have caught hundreds of them. I don’t keep diaries but I have a good idea that if I have averaged in the region of 20 to 30 Zander a year over the last 20 years then that wouldn’t be too far from the truth. In all this time and with all these fish I have never caught a double…… I have come close on many occasions having caught at least 20 over 9lb and I have landed a similar number of double figure specimens for mates ! It has become a bit of a joke over the years, I mean, I’m not a bad angler. In fact I think I do alright generally and I catch more than my fair share of all the species I target along the way but with these bloody zander I had just come to the conclusion that I was never going to land a "Biggun". Not only was it never going to happen but fate would deal it’s hand against me every time I even came close.

Lotte on one of our Zedding Adventures

Take the day I had Diddy Dave
Horton staying with me and he got so pissed on the night that I couldn’t kick him out of his sleeping bag. By the time we eventually got the baot launched Jims lad Leigh was holding his first ever Zed of 17.12 in the net !. Caught from the swim we would have been fishing on the bait and method we would have been using ! I caught my longstanding PB of 9.10 that day but it somehow felt a hollow achievement when compared to what we had witnessed earlier that day. Then take the day I was on John Shields boat in mid-July with the river 9 foot on and absolutly bombing through. Giving it up as a lost cause I still made the effort and bottom bounced a large roach back to the slipway only for it to be grabbed half way back by a huge fish that spat the hooks as it came to the surface 10 yards off the back of the boat ! Plus again, I vividly recall been sat on my rods fishing quivertip style (as I like to do) with Steve who had his 4 rods so far apart he was driving between them to change baits!. He got the only run of the session and after the chaos of trying to find out which rod it was in the evening gloom he promptly landed a near 13 pounder that had hung itself on his trebles once he’d untangled his Jack Russell from the line!. Then there was the PAC region day when an in-experienced boat partner struggled with the netting of a clear 14 plusser that was fighting hard under the boat until the hooks once again gave way. Additionally, how could I forget my advice given to my very best mukka Rob Shallcroft who promptly went and had a 9 and a 11+ on his first solo trip to a spot I'd put him on!. The tales of woe go on and on and so I had become resigned to a ‘well it might happen one day but I ain’t gonna worry about it’ frame of mind.

Anyway you get the picture and so after a difficult summer I finally got my fishing mojo back in December last year. I had in the back of my mind that I was going to make the big push for a double figure Zander. I needed a new challenge and what better than to target the fish that had eluded me all of this time. The cost of fuel on the 150 mile round trips and the growing popularity of the Wye had tainted my fishing there at the end of last season and a fresh challenge is always welcome to stop your fishing getting stale. There were other reasons for this change in direction to be fair, not least the fact that my best mukka had geared up for a full winter on the Severn and I had an open invite to join him. This coupled that with the fact that through a new friendship with a true gentleman of Piking, Dilip Sarkar, I had gained access to a cracking stretch of river fishing that was less than half the distance I usually travel. It seemed that I had all the cards laid out for me to "play" and catch a goodun.

I started my winter Zedding on a stretch of the Avon close to work where I was honing my methods and working on a new bite arm to attach to my Billy’s Backbiters that aided bite registration with these finicky feckers. Lighter rods and nylon mainline became the norm and I started catching plenty having eight in one memorable short session before Christmas. This stretch was unlikely to give me my double though and so I arranged with Dil to have a session together on the Severn. First trip and the river was up and coloured and despite a few nice pike to 16 plus the Zeds weren’t showing. The following day Spam had 5 zeds including 2 doubles off where I’d been fishing and doing nothing different to how I’d been fishing. Typical of my luck eh! So back down the following weekend when the temperature dropped well below the zero and despite staying well into dark until the frost was settling on my shoulders I didn’t get a single knock.

So moving on to last Friday........ another Friday afternoon and another chance. I was full of confidence and told the missus to expect a phone call. The temp had risen 10 degrees during the week and the river was in fine fettle. Despite calling me to a meeting at 1pm I managed to dodge my bosses calls all day and so by mid afternoon I’m back at the start of the story bombing down the M5 with Neil blaring on the stereo. I was soon on the stretch and fishing and I didn’t have long to wait before a schoolie of around 3lb was in the net. Another hour past-by and a similar fish. I’m fishing well tactics were small baits with a double hook in the flanks and a black cap feeder full of roach mash. I am full of confidence and now fate is in the hands of the Fish Gods.  A few rattles and shakes was all I had to show for the rest of the afternoon but as the light faded the rod tip trembled, the arm of my Billy’s Backbiter lifted an inch and I struck into what was no-doubts a Zander and obviously a Goodun. It was taking line off the clutch and headed under a tree, a bit of side strain,she was out in the flow with my light rod bent double. She came to the top and flashed in front of me before diving for the bottom on what was to be the first of a number of attempts to get away. I could see it was easily the fish I was after, just take your time son.... take your time….. Fully confident that the soft rod and the give in the nylon would maintain the hook-hold I played her out as I sunk the net and drew her to the spreader block. She was in and I was looking down at the fish that I have spent 20 years of my life trying to catch. A quick phone call saw Spam in attendance to help me with the proceedings. On the scales at FIFTEEN pounds and FOUR or your finest imperial ounces, I couldn’t believe it. What a way to break the double figure barrier and what a way to smash my PB…. out of sight!. She was soon kicking off strongly and I was to say the least ‘Chuffed to Bits’ high fives and hugs with Spam (I think I shocked him) and I’m still buzzing as I write this.

I fished on for an hour as I phoned the missus and a few mukkas, Dil text me to say that a celebratory curry was on it's way and I slowly packed up to go and share my joy with one of my mukkers which is always such a pleasure to do.

15.04.... The fish I'd waited 20 years for

I got back to the car and felt it important that I choose the right tune to suit the momment….. Feeders ‘Just the Way I’m feeling’ blasted out in the back streets by the river as I got my muddy fishing gear off. Plenty of messages came through as the Jungle drums sounded, me?. I'm just chuffed to bits with a big smile on my face and "ten feet above the ground"! 

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Switching Over?

Andy O'Brien

One of the big attractions of Pike fishing for myself - and many others I'm sure - is the many different types of water in which they can be caught. It’s nice to have options, and I suppose living where I do, I have a few options. Personally, I'm not one for sitting on the same water season after season, and it’s normal for me to have a few options of venue in mind each season. One of the good things about that is that you can chop and change the waters you are fishing to suit the conditions. Regardless of that fact, it’s also nice if things are not going to plan, on one water, to just change venue and try something else.

This autumn just past, I'd started my Piking around the very end of October. My first session was on a Fen Drain that I'd done OK on the Season before, and after 'leap frogging' along for an hour or two, it was nice to see a bobbin drop and catch the first one of a 'new' Season. It was only a low double but, a nice start all the same. I later caught the same low double and that was it for the day, strange, I'd expected a few more really, but you don't always get what you want !
From then on I'd flitted about a bit, with another session on the Drain, a blank, and then the odd short session on some local rivers. I then had a bit of a go on a neglected stretch of a river, which I'd had in mind. Several sessions per week over a 2-3 week period saw no action at all, not even a run! I knew it was going to be hard and it was. The Pike had obviously gone elsewhere and I'd decided before I started with it, that if after the 2-3 weeks nothing of note had happened, I'd go elsewhere, but where?
After fishing mainly Rivers and Drains the last couple of seasons, I fancied a dabble on a pit, and I knew just the place, so on my next session I headed there. The pit in question is a nice water, with the added bonus that it doesn't really get Pike fished all that much, which just added to the appeal.
Now, without going into too much detail here, I'm a big believer in the effects of the Moon (and Sun) influencing when fish will feed, and with my prediction that there would be a feeding spell around Mid-day. I arrived in the morning as I wanted to have a good look around the place before setting a couple of traps ready for the predicted 'spell'.
I had a good look about and as there was a strong and quite cold westerly wind blowing, I decided to fish off the back of it, in some calmer water, this calmer water also caught quite a bit of sun too, so I decided to give it a go. Setting up a couple of rods with simple ledgered Dead bait tactics, I cast a Smelt out to my left around 35yards out, next to a still visible weed bed and the other rod a bit shorter and to my right, in some deeper water.
Well I ended that session with two doubles, which was nice for a first session and planned a return within the next few days. On my return the weather had changed a bit and instead of mild and cloudy the day started out with a hard frost, another smaller pit next to the pit I was fishing was half frozen over.
With 3 predicted feeding spells for the day I'd soon ruled out a couple of areas, by fishing each of the first two 'spells' in different swims. I hadn't so far received any action to the rods, but by Mid-day, I'd seen a few clues! Round to my right, in front of one of the swims opposite, I'd seen quite a few small fish 'topping' and I'd also heard and seen a couple of better splashes, all this activity taking place next to a weed bed that was visible, still reaching the surface in places. I'd made up my mind to move into a swim that I could fish this area of activity from, for the Evening feeding spell.
A little later I moved round to one of the swims on the opposite bank a good hour or so before my predicted pm feeding spell. I had with me some nice fresh Mackerel, so onto the first rod-in the ‘hot’ area went half of one of those and a sardine onto the other rod, both with plenty of oil in and on them, that Sardine rod was fished a bit closer in and more to my right and the Mackerel lobbed about 30 yards out and more to the left of the swim. At this point of the lake there is only a track separating the lake I was fishing from a smaller one behind me, and in a swim behind me was a friendly old chap, just packing up after a blank day Carping. I put the kettle on and stood chatting to the fella and I’d only just poured the water into the cup when, out of the blue, a buzzer sounded as the bobbin on the left hand rod dropped off and the braid was peeling off the spool nicely. I wound down and leaned into it and the rod went right over as there was obviously a decent fish on the end, I started to bring it closer, all the while feeling ‘solid’ and weighty. Once I’d got it to around the 10 yard mark the fish broke the surface for the first time, and I’d got to see that it was a good fish, a 20 for sure anyway. It kept trying to go round to the right near my other line, so I had to give it a bit to bring the fish back in front of me.
 A few thrashes and head shakes and she was in the net, peering into the net I could see it was a very good fish (by my standards!) and on the scales she went 25lb 12oz, I was well pleased with that! I retained the fish while I sorted the Camera out etc, but first I quickly lobbed the now mangled half Mackerel back out to see what else the weed bed held. Before I had a chance to do any photos, the bobbin on the same rod (which had probably not even been back out 2 minutes) dropped back, I was probably a bit eager with winding down and striking and what felt like a Jack wriggled about for a few seconds before it came off, oh well. I put the rod back out again and with the photos sorted, I sat back to have that cuppa. Nothing else happened that evening but there was plenty of small fish topping still, and with another prime feeding time expected at Moon set the following morning, I had to get back down for it.
I had a very late night that night and didn’t get to sleep till maybe 3am and with the alarm set for 5.30 it was going to be an effort! This, after a hard week at work, meant that I could hardly keep my eyes open all the way there, but somehow I made it in one piece. By the time I arrived, it was still dark and a bit of fresh air while setting up woke me up a treat. The weather had changed overnight, with cloud cover in the sky; it also felt a couple of degrees warmer. I put the baits out, keeping the left hand one on the hotspot of yesterday, next to the weed bed and enjoyed a nice cup of tea in twilight. It wasn’t even fully light when that same left hand rod signalled a take as the bobbin dropped back, I wound up the slack and leaned into it, and again it felt like a decent weight on the end. The fish kited round to the right, then came in easily, until it surfaced, whereupon it went into a series of runs, then it tried to go along the right hand margin, near my right hand rod like the previous fish had done, I clamped down on it hard, turned it and pulled it over the net and lifted the net around it.

I had a quick look at it and thought it looked like another ‘20’ although a smaller one than the ‘25’ of yesterday and so it proved at 20lb 8oz. I really was pleased with these fish, it might not be much to shout about for some more successful anglers but I was happy with it! After I’d secured her in the margins, re-glugged the half Mackerel and chucked it back out, I was just sinking the line when I felt a tug, then the braid started pulling through my fingers as I was into another already! This fish turned out to be a low double and with a Jack on the right hand rod half hour or so later signalling the end of the action, I asked a Carper further round the lake if he’d take a couple of photos for me. With the pictures done, and the fish returned, I sat back with a fresh cup of tea, and reflected on what I classed as a superb start on a new water.

So there you have it, a change of venue, an open mind and a couple of ‘nice’ fish on the bank. That’ll do me!

Good Luck to everybody with they’re fishing in 2012.


Saturday, 14 January 2012

Bitter Sweet

Phil Cheriton

As many of you that frequent the Pikers Pit Forum will know, I just love fishing the Loughs of Ireland. I have been going over for twenty six years, and always with my same mate Marc. We have been meeting up for the last twenty five of them with two Irish mates George Higgins and Roy Smyth. Our trips have taken us to most of the big famous Loughs with the most famous being Lough Mask and it was to be my favourite of them all.

Irish Pike fight far better than anything I have caught in England. It did not seem to matter where we caught them, they would fight as if their life depended on it. On some Loughs with game anglers and continental anglers who killed pike it most probably did. So with the great scenery, good mates and hard fighting pike it was enough to make me want to move there.

Oh !….the Guinness is to die for !

With so many trips there have been many good ones and quite a few not so good, with awful weather and little in the way of feeding pike encountered.

I have got wet and cold on some of those trips but have still stayed out until eight pm feeling like I have hypothermia and all for nothing. However the good days make up for the poor ones along the way.

I have many stories, such as our first trip to Mask when we had a few twenties and Marc had a 36 pounder and that is not the story I am going to tell. We have had such a laugh and there are dozens of great stories.
When I think back to some of the times and to everywhere we have been there has always been something to remember. Not all good by the way, one trip on Loch Conn, my and George’s car were vandalised. That said we have had trips with loads of twenties and loads of doubles, Blimey I sound like Gordy !

One trip that sticks in my mind is for all the wrong reasons. I had to look in my diary to see what year it was, April 1995. Eighteen years ago this April, where have they all gone ?

Our cottage on all of our trips to Mask has been right in the back of Cushlough bay, It is on the Eastern shore where the Robe river flows into the Lough. It is probably our favourite area, and when the Pike are there you can really bag up. On his particular week they had done a vanishing act, so we had to fish the other bays to catch. These bays are stunning and they are all mentioned in Fred Bullers Doomsday book. Names like Bay of Islands’ , Ballygarry keel’ , Burnt house, Cushlough Cahir , Dringeen , Roshill They have all done their share of big Pike in the past and we have caught Pike from all of them too, apart from Cahir.

I only have to read Bullers book and I am transported back to these truly wild bays. So knowing the history of them we were all fishing with a lot of confidence. Trolling between the bays using mainly deadbaits when we got into them then, we would then drift and spin lures. Back then we did not have many large lures to choose from, unlike the vast choice that we have today. When I think now of the results we could have had with Bulldawgs or Replicants’ it makes me smile !.

Most of our lures would be classed as small now. And two of our favourites were the
Rapala original I think 180 or 190 mm. and the other was the good old Shakespeare big S in Perch scale. The big S had accounted for some of our biggest Pike including Marcs 36 pounder. I still have my one somewhere but it does not get used anymore.

All of the above mentioned bays are on the Eastern shore so there was always loads of water to go at, and on this week we were catching a few doubles but could not pinpoint any really good areas. On the Sunday I had caught a twenty five from the main Lough outside Castle bay by drifting an area with loads of rocks showing on the surface with twelve feet of water between them. This area could not be trolled as it was far too snaggy but it was a great area for lure fishing, however my fish was the only Pike we caught in the area.

On the Wednesday Roy fancied a day on the bank, so we decided over breakfast that George would join us in our boat,as the weather was perfect with no wind forecast we decided we would venture over to the Southern end and have a look at Upper Mask’. If you look at a map of Lough Mask it can make you laugh !. Upper Mask is actually right at the bottom of the map ! ,but as the water flows out of it it is actually higher than the rest of the Lough. Hence the titleUpper’ Lough.

Anyway on with the story...........

We had been drifting down the Lough and I cant actually remember catching anything until we reached an island opposite where a river ran in. By now it was midday. I had been trying different lures and decided to change lures yet again and I clipped on the good old Perch scale Big S’. Bang ! ,first cast and I had a take. Now these pike fight as I have already said but this was something else. I play my fish hard but this one really gave me the run - around. I dont time my fights but I doubt I have ever had one fight longer or harder than this one. Time after time it would look almost ready for the net but she would power away again. Finally George managed to net it and announced she would be close to thirty pounds. We had drifted into the island by now so we decided to do the weighing and take the photos on the shore.

Anyone that knows me will know that I always leave the pike in the net whilst I get things sorted, unhooking gear, scales and camera etc., we got the fish out and unhooked and weighed her at twenty nine pounds two ounces. At the time this was a pb for me so I was absolutely over the moon. We took a few photos and I took her and held her in the water. It was taking a while for her to regain her strength and I was now getting a backache. So Marc took over and held her………still she would not go back…….. so I had another go……… and Marc again. All the while this was going on, George had been walking the bank with a lure rod and had caught weighed and released an eighteen pounder. I took my turn with the fish but noticed that her gills had gone almost white. We had tried to revive her for one hour forty minutes.

I called George over and showed him, we all agreed she had died. We tried to make some sense of it and all we could think was that she had fought so hard she had probably had a heart attack. In fact she had fought as if her life depended on it. I was completely gutted and I actually wished I had not caught her.

We sat there talking about it and as Marc has a tackle shop it was decided that so as not to have her death in vain we would have her set up and displayed in his shop. We wrapped her in a waterproof sheet and fished on for a while. When we had finished we picked the fish up and got back to the cottage. Later that evening we went to the family that owns the cottage to ask about getting the fish set up. The lady of the house told us that lots of the game anglers have their trout mounted and she could arrange it. While we were there she phoned someone in Ballina and arranged a price and told me when she was next in Ballina she would deliver the Pike and it would be done. We asked if she minded but she gave the usual Irish answer and said it would not be a problem. So this pike was duly wrapped up and placed in the bottom of her chest freezer in her garage.

We fished hard for the rest of the week but did not get anything near beating that fish, so with heavy heart we packed up to leave but before we did we booked again for the next year. We had another trip to Lough Beg in the November so April soon came around again

We arrived back again and went straight to her house to get the key to the cottage and to enquire about my pike only to be told it was still in her freezer !. This was 1996 and the netting had started, we really struggled that week. We were told that a couple of thirties and a handful of twenties had been netted from our bay the week before and while we were talking about it in the pub that night the netting was confirmed and we were told the fact that a guy had the thirties in his freezer. Knowing how laid back the Irish are it would not surprise me if my one is still in the bottom of the ladies freezer today !

Until this day we have not been to Mask againbut I live in hope. We have been to some other stunning Loughs and caught many more big pike. But those trips to Mask are the ultimate for me. Mask will make a comeback one day, maybe not in my lifetime, but I have good memories and some good video to remind me.

One small but important point, I have noticed the desire for faster boats,bigger engines and racing to far of marks. I cannot stress enough the need for caution on Lough Mask , it is probably the most dangerous place you could ever fish. Especially the East shore. It should come with a health warning !


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Chew " The Beginning "

Andy Berwick

Walking back along a local drain at the backend of the 2000 season I stopped to chat to another pike angler and he mentioned that Chew Valley lake was opening in October for pike fishing. I had stopped taking the angling weeklies for a few years and had missed this special news.

Chew had been in my thoughts throughout my life, a big beautiful stillwater that only trout anglers could fish seemed cruel in a area of fairly average pike fishing. A trip fly fishing when I was about thirteen was not enough to convert me to that side of the sport but having to drive past the lake on a regular basis when on a trip to Bristol kept the water in my thoughts.

Sometime in the late 90’s our local paper reported in the small fishing section that trout anglers had been having trouble with small pike. This was new as all previous enquiries to me there was no pike in there,only perch etc. A couple of years later on the grapevine I became aware that some pioneering anglers were fly fishing for the pike, but mostly small fish were caught or so I was told!. Applications were posted and we got our dates for October 2001.

Chew was not my first experience of trout reservoir fishing as in 1988 I fished Llandegfedd with Trev Roberts, we both had a poor results, but one of my best mates Carl Garrat famously did ok !. Subsequent years with my pal Domonic Strawbridge were no better and I called it a day on there with only a handful of average pike to show for about a dozen days fishing although I did witness Stuart Gilham catch his forty pounder.

During the mid 90s my pike fishing slowed down as a young family came along and I got into lure fishing as it suited the shorter sessions I was doing. It was through reading the excellent series of articles by the late Charlie Bettell that gave me some inspiration and good fish followed, although no monsters.

The advent of specialised lure fishing companies made collecting some lures easy, if not a little expensive and addictive!. When we fished Deggy my lure box, an ice cream tub, held the usual Abu Tobys, Atoms, Hi Los, some mepps spiners, one spinner bait, a Creek Chub Pikie ,Rapala Minnows and various odds and sods! 

We decided that with the Chew opening approaching some bigger lures would be handy and we ordered some Ace Flipper jerk baits despite knowing little about using them!. When they arrived I thought it best to try one on my local ressas, first cast using a 11ft carp rod and 30lb braid, crack !, my lovely new lure went flying out to a watery grave. A bit more damage to the plastic saw another one on it's way, an expensive lesson learned!

October arrived, Dominic and I had days on the 2nd ,4th and 6th and one nearer the end of the trials. We expected lures would be the number one method after remembering how poor Deggy was on dead baits.

Friends of mine had been to the West of Ireland during the 90s and the main method there had been float trolling herring or mackie so we decided that this would be our first line of attack, trolling using the electric motor.Dom purchased a Garmin fish finder as mine was permanently fitted to my boat............ we were ready!.

The opening day came along but I remember this was pre-texting onmobile phone days so I had to wait for the evening before I spoke to Carl to find out how it had fished, remember those days!.Today everybody is ringing and texting on Chew and when sat at home you know what is being caught!. Funny now but looking back the first mobile call I was party too was Carl using Stuart Gillhams mobile on Deggy to tell us he had caught had his historical 44. Full of anticipation I rang Carl only to be disappointed, they had caught just two jacks but an angler we knew had a huge catch with a 34+ plus and there were at least two other thirties caught.The island and dam wall area seemed best avoided but the rest of the lake from Villace up to Stratford seemed well worth a go.

Dominic met me in the car park and we went for breakfast in the Lodge.Carl joined us and gave us a general breakdown of the previous day, telling us that the three thirties had come from different areas so we decided we would float troll deads and see if we could find some fish of our own. This was a tactic I had employed in my own boat and was successful in Ireland.

We got off to a slow start as boats raced off in all directions and we were setting up the brand new finder and my electric motor but we left the jetty and trolled our way into Villace Bay which looked tempting. We decided to turn left up the lake and do what all Chew virgins do and some more experienced anglers by nearly running aground on the Nunnery spit! Soon we were opposite the entrance to Herons Green Bay and still with no action we anchored in about seventeen feet of water and cast lures with an instant result of a brown trout and two small jacks. We were deciding whether to move into Herons when we noticed a camera flash in the region of three boats in Stratford, decision made, rods in an up we moved on the petrol motor to this area.

Nearing the first boat we switched to the electric and seeing Carl and Harry we shouted over asking if they had they had any. Carl cheekily replied five, what doubles I inquired, no twenties Carl replied !.Bloody Hell! five twenties to 29.14 to be exact. We backed away a bit and dropped anchor. I clipped on one of my new jerk baits and first cast, whack !, it was hit before I could retrieve, I shouted to Dom who was yet to cast out that I was “in” !. I could hear Carl laughing, he told me later he knew we would hit fish instantly as their area had gone off the boil a touch and they were thinking of a short move.This fish turned out to be about 14 and I decided to pop it straight back as we expected there was a chance of more and bigger fish.

Next cast me and Dom are both in at the same time and after a good scrap I had my fish in the net and decided to net Doms in the same net too, not ideal but it worked out ok, mine was 20.08 and Doms 23+!.

This action went on with constant fish a cast of the like I had never experienced before. Dom then went on a run of amazing fish of 22.08,16,19,23.12 and 22. Harry and Carl were also catching steadily.I lost two sets of gear in a bad snag which set  me back a bit. When the action slowed Dom changed to a Abu Uto spoon which made a huge improvement and he added a 26.08 and a hooked a large upper 20 which threw the hooks at the boat. Dom suggested a move of about 70 yds after a lull and instantly we caught, I had two large fish follow me in and I remember Carl getting a 26 and a 27 to add to his total !.

There was constant banter going on between our two boats as to how many 20s we`d all had but I was still stuck on just the one then right on dusk almost pitch black I had a 23 with everybody willing it to be a bit bigger. Our total catch was 28 double figure fish of including 7 x 20s, Carl and Harry had a staggering 46 double figure fish including 13 x 20 pounders. Dave Gawthorn and his partner Theo had another huge catch with Dave having a 32+ and 4 x 20s. Theo was hampered by getting a large treble stuck in his hand, picking the wrong day to do it.

Back at the boat pontoons I spoke to The Pikers Pit very own Dave Lumb who too had enjoyed a similar day to us with 7 x 20s, Dave and his partner were not that far from us. That whole bottom of the lake about the size of a football pitch must have been solid with big pike.That night the phone was red hot as friends rang to find out more and it felt nice to play a small part in a special day.

You can not believe the excitement of preparing for our second day!. Carl and Harry were again on and we knew exactly where we wanted to head to. The days start was more like the Deggy ones i remember, Le Mans style !. Mine, Carl and Dave Kelbricks boats were soon positioned in the hot area from the two days previous. Casting out the Utos from the first day (Dom lent me one) my boat partner was in first cast like a repeat of the first day with a fish of 13 or so. This was going to be another day of hauling we thought but the pressure of the previous two days had taken its toll plus also nearly every boat was in the same small area of the lake !.

Then Bang !, after an hour I had my first take with a lovely 23.12, then a while later Harry had a 29.15 but still hardly any takes were forthcoming. Then Dom tells me he is in and I can remember his braid singing as an obviously big fish came in slowly kiting to the left. As it came close to the boat it swam past just under the surface and it was enormous!. After seeing lots of recent 20 lb pike in the water this fish was just immense, it turned away from the boat and powered away coming to the surface. She was just so wide across the back, she then took 20 yds of line and disappeared diving deeper, then disaster happened with the line going slack and the fish was off !. Dom and I fish together every year and this fish always get mentioned. I know it hurt to lose it. The following day Pete Morgan had his 38 plus and I suspect it may have been this fish.

Interestingly I was never blown away by the photo of this fish in  Nevilles Mammoth Pike book but I had the pleasure of fishing with Steve Marshall a couple of years ago and he told me the wrong picture had been used in the book and the fish shown was in fact an upper 20.

Anyway.... Dom whacked out again and bang 19.10 but I don’t think it made up for THE FISH he'd lost. It then went very quiet so we decided we would try Herons Green bay,trolling over there on the electric I lost a good fish and had a double before we even got in there,the whole bay was empty of anglers and a big fish swirled invitingly as we were studying the finder to decide where to start. Straight away we were into fish with Dom having another 19 plus a 16 and then a new pb of 27.04. This went some way to compensate for his earlier loss.

I then learnt an important lesson. Picking a big Buctail spinner I’d had in the box for years I hooked a fish which stripped yards of line then dropped off. Then another fish took under the rod tip which felt very good too also dropped off. On checking the hooks I could see they were far from sharp having been rattling about in my lure box for years !.I never now go without a hook sharpening file and spare trebles.

 To finish off a special afternoon for Dom we saw another fish strike and we both cast to it with Dom landing a 24.14. Carl and Harry came across for the last half an hour as the hot area at Stratford was not producing. Having a pint in the bar later we told Dave Kelbrick about our fish from Herons and he had a 30+ and 4 x 20's from there the following day.

Day three came round and the boats raced over to Stratford and Herons and we gave each area a short time but the amount of boats and pressure from the previous couple of days made me want to try and find a new area and away from the armada of boats. We went into Villace Bay which surprisingly had no boats on it. The fishing here was a lot slower but we
caught some small fish.There was virtually no wind and it was very mild with no other boats about so I moved us around the bay very slowly on the electric motor.

 Dom picked up two  doubles then I had a 19.08 on a Creek Chub Pikie, but Dom was getting regular action from small fish and trout and out of frustration I put on a Mepps Aglia Longue in it's largest size thinking it might get me a jack as I had not had a take for a while !. Then Bang it was hit by a lovely 21.00, manoeuvring the boat into some shallow water at the end of the bay casting towards a weedbed I hooked something special and after a terrific fight in the clear shallow water a beauty of 28.06 was landed and a new pb to boot. Interestingly we saw another boat come into the bay and troll around the whole bay and leave with no action but my three fish took most of the day to winkle out casting countless times.

Our final day proved to be uneventful but we couldn’t complain after three amazing days.