Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Snig Hunting

Danny Taylor

Eels have always fascinated me. They have an amazing life cycle, travelling thousands of miles from the Sargasso sea in order to enter our river systems, with some finding there way into the most unexpected of places. Ponds, lakes, reservoirs, lochs, drains, ditches, canals, park lakes, mill lodges etc. It is this that really interests me about the eel, you never know where they could turn up. Often no one even knows if Eels exist in a given water and the only way to find out is to target and capture one. Like most other predators big eels thrive on neglect so there could be a water close to you with no previous form for producing Eels that could just be harbouring “snig” that have grown large left undisturbed for many, many years. Growing fat on all manner of aquatic creatures. They are a powerful fish, demanding strong tackle. They often prefer to feed at night and are rare and elusive creatures all of which only helps to add to there mystery and appeal. To me they now represent the ultimate challenge in freshwater angling.

Last summer I was at a bit of a loss as to what to target, but after watching an excellent talk by top Eel angler Barry McConnell I was well and truly inspired to have a bash at these enigmatic predators. But where should I start? What venues where worth trying? What bait should I use? How would I cope with handling and unhooking Eels. I had a “thousand” questions but this is what I wanted a challenge! It was like starting angling again from scratch and it breathed fresh life into my fishing.

I began to soak up information like a sponge. I Joined the N.A.C and read everything I could get my hands on relating to Eels and Eel fishing (which did not amount to much). Eventually after a few practice sessions catching “bootlaces” on a local “cut” I felt a little more confident with rigs and the handling and unhooking of Eels. It was now time to hunt for a specimen “Snig” but where?

There are a couple of key points to consider when it comes to choosing a venue for big Eels. One of the most important factors is pressure. Has the venue been netted in the past? Has anybody targeted the water for Eels? If the answer is no then the water is worth considering. The next and for me one of the most important factors is the age of a water. The older the better. As the Eel is such a long lived creature it stands to reason that the older the water is then there is more chance that Eels have found their way in at some point and if left alone will have had time to grow big. Another interesting thing to consider is the phenomenon of “prison waters” As eels can easily find there way into the most unusual of waters they can often quite simply just leave. Occasionally they will enter a water where they become trapped - a “prison water” these are classic big eel waters. Waters change over time and just because you think that it would be impossible for eels to get in there, it may not mean that they are not present. If the water is of sufficient age then anything is possible. Couple this with sufficient fodder fish and you have the perfect ingredients for creating the ideal habitat for big eels.

After a bit of homework I was lucky enough to come across such a water and it ticked all the right boxes. Situated within an urban park was an old boating lake in excess of 100 years. Mature trees towered over the lake and marshy reedbeds encroached the water. The water had an old island with knarled and cracked willows which where collapsing with age. There twisted and torn roots probing into the water. It was fished by pleasure anglers and a few lads who targeted the handful of big carp which the water held. When I did some “digging” as to the presence of Eels most looked at me as if I had two heads, the common response being “nay lad thas no snigs in ere”.

I walked the perimeter of the lake but couldnt find no obvious points of entry for eels. But there was something about the place it just screamed “EELS!” It just felt “right” only one way to find out, I would go with my instincts.

As with all the best laid plans there will always be hurdles to overcome and the boating lake had a few. Firstly it was not the most pleasant place to fish. Looks can be deceptive, although the lake looked inviting the surrounding area was, lets say………………ROUGH. Like fishing on the set  of “Shameless” Gangs of “feral” kids and “smack heads” roamed the park after dark drinking, fighting, thieving etc. The walkway around the lake was used as a short cut by drunken pub and club goers from the local town. So as you can see it didn’t exactly lend itself to a comfortable nights Eel fishing. 

Oh! I forget to mention it, there was no night fishing. Great! But I wasn’t going to let a small detail like this spoil my plans. The water was rarely bailifed at night, after all who would be mental enough to want to fish there. On the other hand I didn’t want to draw attention to myself so I decided that discression was the best form of valour. I decided to fish in the swampy reedbeds. They reached above head height and gave perfect cover, it would be muddy and uncomfortable but I felt it would be the perfect place to fish from, remaining undetected. I would only approach and fish the water as darkness fell and then leave like a “thief in the night” as the sun rose. Nights where short at this time of year so there would be no need for bivvies and beds. Just me a seat and the rods. Real night fishing for only the “hardcore”. I love to fish like this, sat by the rods in the dark, awake not sleeping, my senses truly tuned into every night time noise and movement.

Tactics had to be considered. I had a feel for the lake as I had previously fished there for the carp. It was very shallow and incredibly silty, any weight greater than an ounce and the lead would “plug” in so deep that it would take the full TC of the rod to budge it. The water also contained hoards of hungry “bait” fish which meant that using worms and maggots was out of the question. I opted to fish a very light running ledger (¾ ounce) on 15Ib line to a 15Ib wire trace and size 4 single hook. Bait was to be small Rudd as fresh as I could get them. I didn’t want to take any unnecessary equipment to the lake so this meant “snatching” a few baits from a small pond on the way to the lake. For bite indication an alarm and “carp style” bobbins where used.

I had the Friday off work so I began my assault on the Thursday night. It had been a nice bright, warm day with gentle southerly winds which eased off to nothing as dusk descended. I arrived at the lake to find a couple of pole anglers and a gang of teenagers fishing who where more intent on “smashing” in a crate of booze than catching fish. I left the gear in the car and sat on a bench cracking open a can myself. I surveyed the water, Roach topped, Grebes dived and a Carp “boshed” by the island crashing down sending ripples pulsing outwards like a watery crop circle. It felt good to be here despite the waters reputation. I imagined what awaited me tonight and as the shadows lengthened and the sun began to sink in a blaze of crimson reds and pinks my excitement grew. This was the unknown, something that I crave for in my fishing and something that until now had been lacking for some time. Dusk crept across the park, the last of the anglers packed up and left, now was the time. I grabbed the gear and made my way round to the reedbeds, I disappeared into them undetected, like entering a tropical jungle, I pushed and sloshed to the waters edge. By the time I got there I was sweating in the sultry evening air attracting swarms of biting mozzies that had a taste for blood.

Rods where pocked through the reeds, one towards the island, one down the margins and a third just off the island. I settled down in my chair poured tea and took in the nights atmosphere. Time trickled by but the anticipation remained. Another hour and the doubts like nagging demons began as i questioned myself. What was I doing here? Where there even Eels in here? This is shite, BBBBEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPP! Left hand rods away, a strike and nothing. I stood there numb, there was  not long left of the night, it could have been my only chance. Gutted! I only had half a small bait left due to some mis-casts, so with the last hope impaled on the hook I sent it out to the extreme left by a submerged snag branch. It was only a foot deep here but something told me to put it there.

Slumping back in the chair I zipped up my fleece as the night air cooled. The water was still like black steel. The world slept and the sky turned from black to a deep blue as the last of the nights stars burnt out as dawn approached. The first notes of the dawn chorus had begun when the recently re-cast rod went into meltdown. No preliminary bleeps or warnings. The line just tore off the spool as the alarm let out a single one tone, piercing the still dawn air as the bobbin tried to smash through the alarm. Picking up the rod I knocked off the bait runner and the rod pulled down hard as an un-seen force took line from the reels clutch. At first due to the ferocity of the run I thought that a carp had picked up the bait but as I pumped the fish back a strange thumping sensation transmitted down the rod telling me that this was no carp.

 This tug of war lasted a  minute or so but steady pressure soon had the fish on the surface. There in the half light a snake like form writhed and thrashed churning the calm water to a frothing foam, this Eel was massive and my head and legs went! I got it to the net but I just couldn’t get its body over the drawstring. Twice I lifted the net putting the rod down thinking the eel was in and twice more the fight began from scratch. I was now a mess convinced I had lost the fish of a lifetime. Finally I heaved its head almost up the net handle before I saw the Eels tail collapse into net. Relief and adrenaline flooded my body.I had done it on my first night! Resting it in the net I couldnt believe its size. At first the Eel was well behaved, probably exhausted from the fight. I took the opportunity to flick the hook out which was perfectly impaled in its lower lip. I popped my prize into a sack and then set about tidying the swim and sorting out my camera and weighing gear. Once all this was done I retrieved the sack from the margins, one thing that will always stick in my mind from the night was just how warm the water was. It really was a perfect morning, plumes of mist rose from the waters surface in the soft morning light and birdsong filled the air.

Un-zipping the sack I now took time to admire my prize. The Eel was in perfect condition, unlikely to have ever felt the touch of human hands. It had a lovely two-toned coloration. Various shades of brown merged into a beautiful silvery pearl underbelly. I gazed into its jet black eyes trying to imagine what events had befallen this fish during its strange almost timeless existence. “As old as the hills”.

On the scales the Eel pulled the Reubens round to 6Ib 10oz. An awesome fish and one that will burn bright in my minds eye for many years to come. I set up the self-timer on my camera, cradling the fish, I captured its image a very personal moment for me. Just me the Eel alone on a perfect summers morning. As I slipped the fish back into the muddy waters of the lake I wondered if it would ever be captured again? Would it die? Or would it leave the water in search of pastures new. Who knows ?....... that’s Eel fishing more questions than answers. 

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Family Fortune

Jay Barnes

I have met and fished with some great people over the years and formed some good friendships,shared great days fishing and had many many laughs along the way.As this is my first article i would like to share a season that most sticks out in my mind. A special one shared with my dad (Buddha) and my son Josh in my boat fishing the Broads and rivers.

The winter season was fast approaching,the annual PAC Convention had taken place, gear was sorted,the freezer was crammed full of deadbaits and for once i was well prepared for the season ahead. The only downside was this all coincided with my old man having his hip replacement operation around the second week of October.......Bummer!. Just how much of the coming season would he miss I asked myself ?. Oh well, more fish for me.... or so i thought !

At the time my son Josh was doing a fair amount of fishing with me, so it was just the two of us that got the family season underway while dad Buddha was preparing himself for his looming hip operation. Our first few trips out that season did not really amount to much, apart from the usual few jacks and odd small double all mainly falling to livebaits. Josh did manage to hook one of the biggest eels I've ever seen on a whole lamprey but sadly we didn't get it into the boat to weigh it as this enormous eel threw the hooks at the side of the boat.

With the season now underway and a good few trips under our belts Buddha had just  had his new hip operation,so a quick visit up to the hospital to see how he was doing was in order. On getting in to see him the day after his op it was clear to see he was doing just great,in fact they had him up out of bed even taking a few steps. OUCH the thought of it !.Perhaps i will have him back out in the boat fishing sooner than i thought. As it happens it was two or three weeks following his operation when I managed to get him into the car and to a little swim we could park the car close to.Just a couple of hours fishing and a blank, but at least i had got the old man out the house.

The following few weeks and we are into November and things were now on the UP! Josh and I had been out in the boat together catching several nice fish up to 19lb off the river, all on static dead baits, the only thing missing from our boat was Buddha.

Getting home one evening i called in to see if Buddha fancied getting out the following day with us, although the fishing was good he wasn't overly keen as it had only been around 5-6 weeks since his operation.I did however convince him that as long as i could get him in the boat with no problems then the rest would be plain sailing so to speak.

The next day saw all three of us in the boat together for the first time in what felt like years. I found Buddha a nice big comfortable chair sat him down and we were off up the river. Great ! On reaching our first swim a mixture of static deads and livebaits were cast out all round the boat and straight away we were into fish, several small fish were boated in the first hour then it switched off , a quick move further along the river was decided. Josh had lifted the front mud weight and i assumed everyone had sat down, we both had but Buddha hadn't quite. Then when i gave it a bit too much throttle on the outboard he ended up in a big heap down by my feet !  "Ooops sorry mate" I said once I had checked his leg was still attached to the rest of him.I got him back in his seat and saw he wasn't in too much pain but I couldn't help but laugh,he wasn't very impressed at all though!. Two or three other swims were fished that day that all produced fish but nothing above 12lb or so, a great day was had none the less and importantly we had Buddha back!.

Over the coming weeks and leading towards Xmas it was mainly Josh and I getting out and very occasionally Buddha. Some good catches were made with plenty of nice doubles thrown in. The fishing just seemed to be  getting better and better each time we went out. Looking back now it seemed we just couldn't do wrong. With Xmas fast approaching i decided on long holiday from work to get a bit more fishing in ( Oh ! the beauty of being self employed)

With Xmas now upon us  the next trip out would be Josh and I on Boxing day with Buddha joining us both the following day.With the boat launched and leaving the slip we noticed a huge number of cormorants were working a very tight area close by. What do i do.... get back to where we had been on previous trips or give this area a go?. As we were only fishing a half day i decided on staying put and see what this area might just throw up. Bang! Josh cast out and he had hardly put his rod down when he shouted he was away, great stuff i thought and even better a new p.b for Josh was netted, a fish just shy of 20lb , He was all smiles until i told him i had left my camera at home ! He was extremely happy with his new PB but absolutely gutted he did not get a picture as you can well imagine. The rest of the day was hectic to say the least, with good sized doubles caught and plenty of them. As we packed up I thought it a shame we'd only had half a day at them, would they still be here tomorrow ?

The next day as planned Buddha joined us and at first light just like the day before we were out and boat launched. Again there were loads of cormorants working in the same tight area, a small channel some 200 yrds long appeared to be stuffed with silver fish. A mixture of deads were cast all around the boat and we were soon into decent fish yet again, great stuff! . Several doubles to 18lb were caught during the morning before the runs dried up so we decided on a little move of probably no more than about fifty yards. Baits were cast out and Josh was "in" again almost straight away ,the fish was netted and weighed and was yet another PB for him at 23.08. A quick couple of pics were taken this time and on putting the fish back i noticed one of  my floats sliding away.This fish didn't feel too bad either, on netting her i thought maybe the fish was another 20 and so she was at 22.10. Result !.

As the day went on a few more fish were boated before Buddha joined us with a 20 as well at 21.04. We had never managed together to all have a 20 in the boat on the same day until this day. It really was  a great day for the three of us!

Unfortunately the next few days were spent away at the In-laws for the New Year. Christ did that time drag, thinking about what we could be missing out on fishing wise, selfish bugger that i am lol !. When we did eventually get back out  a week had past. But the fish were still there and yet again decent doubles were soon being boated again all to static deads.I recall  thinking Blimey does fishing get any better that this !. We fished that same area all day and finished with a stack of good doubles between us and another 3 x 20s, all to me, the biggest going 23lb.

A day or two went and it was decided to have yet another go , this time though a couple of other boats were poking about so it was decided to bypass the swim and perhaps give it a go later in the day. We crashed down to reality as four or five swims up river were fished and we were now blanking big time. With the day running out. fast we decided to get back to the hot swim for last knockings, we had about an hour of daylight left.

On getting back the other boats had gone, GREAT ! . Baits out and it wasn't long Buddha was first in with a 23.10 , shortly after i had a 22.06 then Buddha came up trumps again with a 21.08. All these fish literally caught in the last hour of daylight. We only had three runs on that day with the result being another 3 x 20s. Happy days!. We fished the following day and to be honest it became hard going, not that i was complaining, we had just had some of the best days sport we had ever shared together.What did it matter if we blanked?.I did however manage a low 20 at last knockings.

That was pretty much it for the hot swim that season, so our efforts were concentrated elsewhere but our success  continued with a few good fish caught throughout the season no matter where we went. As i said earlier, i was a season where it seemed we couldn't put a foot wrong. Ending up as one of the better seasons we had with seventeen fish over 20lb netted. Sadly Josh's pike fishing these days plays second place to girls and nightclubs and who can blame him at 19 years old. Hopefully one day though, he will get back into his fishing so he can share the special times that me and Buddha still have together.Even if that does not happen the memories of that season will stay with me for ever !

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Biggest Not Always The Best

Rob Sidell

Many people have a soft spot for certain waters and they are usually the ones that they first cast a line into on the start of their angling journey with whatever species they fish for and I'm no different. Being brought up in Norfolk with our multitude of waterways, it was a certainty that at somepoint I would try angling as this was what my brother did. I used to be a bit of a pest to him by sitting and watching him for hours on end in the boat dykes at Wroxham near where we lived. I would always be begging him to let me have a go whilst he was catching small Roach,Gudgeon, Cocky Ruffe and if he was really lucky a decent sized Perch that were ever eager to engulf his double maggot that was presented on crude tackle.
It was in one of the boat dykes that I first came face to face with a species that has captivated me more than any other during my angling career. I remember I was about six at the time and whilst rumaging through my brothers old wicker fishing kreel while he was out I found a small spinner and some sea fishing line (must of been about 20lb BS). I don't know what possessed me to do this but I thought that I would try some sort of jigging method with the spinner.It was only when I had dropped the spinner between a moored boat and the key heading and jerked it up and down(ooh eer) that I felt something pulling at the other end and it turned out to be a tiny jack of about 8 oz. From there on in a pike angler was born.

It wasn't until about 6-7 years later that I tried piking properly and this was during the school holidays when myself and a mate used a rowing dinghy to troll livebaits through the stretch of the Bure at Wroxham. We caught mostly jacks with the odd double thrown in which seemed an absolute monster to me at the time. It was from this time onwards that I used to go piking regularly and steadily my pb's got bigger until eventually I managed to surpass the magical 20lb barrier one late November day with a 22lb fish whilst fishing the river at Horning.

Since that day the Bure system with its many miles of river and broads has produced stacks of doubles and several 20's for me, by fishing on average two and sometimes three sessions a week, over 100 doubles for the season (Oct to March) was not too difficult to achieve. However in recent years I think this has become a little harder to achieve due to various reasons that include increased angling pressure, Otters and salt tides. One thing the system never used to produce were many fish over 25 lb and a 30lb fish came up once in a blue moon!.So for many years my pb on the system stood at 24 lb and whilst this is a very good fish I felt that if I was to improve my pb I would need to search some of the other Broadland systems to achieve this.With this in mind I left the Bure system alone for a while and did in fact manage to improve my pb half a dozen times topped by a cracking 30.4 from another one of the Broadland rivers.
It was then brought to my attention that a certain part of the Bure system which had been left alone for quite a while was indeed worth a look again.With my pb now increased I decided to give it another whirl to try and catch one of the specimens that the Bure rarely throws up.... a 25 plusser!.

It was one late November day that I found myself going up the river with the outboard at full tilt due to the fact that the area I intended to fish took the best part of half an hour to get to. Once the area was reached I was full of optimism as there was a lovely light to moderate south westerly blowing with recent night time temperature not dropping below 9 degrees. I was feeling confident and after a couple of swim moves my confidence had been well founded as I caught eight fish up to fifteen pounds and all in fantastic condition. After that initial session I began fishing the area fairly regularly and caught plenty of fish with several of my early sessions on there producing over twenty to just under 20lb and at times keeping all the rods in the water at once was a bit of a feat in itself!.

Over the next couple of years I continued to fish the area with decent catches being made with a few low 20's thrown in and with my best from this particular part of the Bure being upped to just over 23lb. The one thing about these particular fish that kept me going back there were their stunning markings,bluey grey with very vivid grey spots quite unlike anything that I had seen before. I can remember one particular fish that I'd caught in 2005 that weighed 18.8 and was a truly stunning looking fish that had obviously never seen a hook before and having the aforementioned gorgeous markings. She was a fish that was always going to stay etched in my mind to some degree. After this capture the thought of catching a real big one with these stunning markings really did give me increased drive to fish the water more often even if it did mean possibly missing out on potential big fish from other areas of Broadland.

Looking back over time I've found an attitude to move on in several other instances of my piking where if I've had a decent run of good fish from a certain place,I'll go somewhere different. Even though the chances of a big fish are very slim,I do this just to get away from the crowds.I do get a buzz from catching a 20 from a water that struggles to produce such fish as much as I would catching say a 25lb fish from an area that does quite a few if you get my drift. I have seen myself do this several times by fishing the lesser fashionable areas of Broadland. Now to maximise my chances of catching a 25 plusser from this part of the Bure I thought that I would only fish the area at the back end of the season or at least from January onwards and only if the conditions were also conductive to good fishing.

After having a chat with a mate it became apparent that the area had produced a fish in excess of 30lb about 15 years previous which didn't surprise me, due to the fact that the area was mostly left alone and had a healthy population of overwintering preyfish.These obviously being two of the main ingredients needed to produce a really big fish. Then in the Autumn of 2006 came a real hammer blow when we had a big salt surge after a couple of days of strong north westerly winds, these two factors combined pushed salt water through the broads system and killed thousands of fish on most parts of the Broads. This really did put a big dent into my fishing plans. Luckily a mate of mine had managed to get me on to a Trout fishery in Suffolk that was very rarely pike fished, so with the fishing on the Broads looking a bit bleak it was there I did most of my piking in the late autumn of 2006. By the turn of the year I had managed to catch quite a few fish from the Trout lake including a sprinkling of 20 pounders to 26.8 so things hadn't actually worked out to badly with the change of scenery too.

On a late January morning when I was due to fish the Trout lake I awoke only to discover that the weather was different to what had been forecast the night before.The conditions were still and overcast and not ideal for the fish in the Trout lake to feed well in my limited experience of fishing there. Thoughts of what to do were spinning through my head, then it struck me that I had said to myself I would,when the conditions were right go and troll the part of the Bure that I had been doing well prior to the salt tides. I would then find out if anything had survived the salt incursions. Armed with some decent livebaits I thought I would have a good chance of tempting anything that had survived with the methods and baits that I was going to use.With the weather conditions as they were it would be easier to attain the right trolling speed which I do find important especially when trying to tempt the bigger fish using this method.In my experience going to quick while trolling will cause the bait to rise up in the water too much and out of the strike zone, this may not be so important when the water temperatures are a bit warmer, but when they are really cold I feel that you need to have the bait presented just at the right speed to keep the bait at the right depth to tempt them.

Once I had made my decision not to fish the Trout lake,I had to quickly load the boat with the relative tackle and sort my baits out. I was soon on my way and by about 7.00am I was making my way up river in the half light, negating the 25 minute run up to the area that I wanted to fish. On reaching the area I found I could see the prop on my outboard motor quite easily which I use as a bit of an indicator as to whether the water colour is ideal for livebaiting. Coupling that with the previous night time temperature not dropping too low things were looking promising. I hooked up a Roach of around 8 oz on the first rod ,then on the second went a Bream off around a pound and I managed to get a decent spread on the baits which can be a bit tricky when using baits of this size. After trolling for about 50 yards with the baits working well I noticed one of them getting extremely agitated !.This is always a sure bet that there is a pike in the vicinity, although there were no takes forthcoming it still made me fairly confident that something had survived the salt water. I'd moved about another 30 yards when a take came without warning, as the rod with the roach was seized. Line was leaving the reel at a fair pace and I was fairly confident that a small fish would be responsible.I wound down and leaned into the fish I found this to be the case as a chunky fish of around six pounds was soon unhooked and released.

With the optimism gained from the first fish I soon hooked up another bait of around the same size and I had hardly repositioned the oars in the rollocks when I had another take on the same rod which turned out to be another chunky fat fish of around thirteen pounds. The fish had a similar build to the fish that I'd been catching at the trout lake, which at the time I didn't think too much about, but it was however a bit unusual for these fish to be like this, but more on this later....

I carried on trolling over the area but no other takes were forthcoming so other areas were tried but to no avail, which after such a good start this was a bit of a blow especially as through the day the sonar it had shown quite large concentrations of prey fish. With only about two hours of fishing time left I decided to go back over the area where I had started and after a short while the Bream was taken in a large vortex. Anyone that has had this happen it makes you tremble slightly when winding down !.When I wound down to set the hooks I found a reasonable resistance and was optimistic that I had in fact hooked a decent fish, but as with most Broadland fish the fight was fairly unspectacular with the fish making a few short runs when it neared the boat. When I first caught a glimpse of it I didn't think it would weigh any more than 18-19 lb and my view had not changed when it went over the draw cord of my landing net. It wasn't until I lifted the net that the fish revealed the depth to its flanks that I realised I had a good 20 on the boat. It was also an absolutely stunning looking fish and totally unblemished.
I rowed over to a piece of bank to do the weighing and photography and after safely unhooking the fish I popped it into the weigh sling to reveal the needle on the Reubens spun around to 26.14. I'd finally accomplished what I had set out to do several years ago, to catch one of the Bures rarer fish a 25 plusser. As I laid the fish on the unhooking mat I was in total awe of the condition of the fish as it looked like it had a totally undisturbed life. It had even more girth than the two fish that I had caught earlier, this got me thinking as to why? The only reason I could come up with was the salt tides that had came in the Autumn two years before had perhaps littered the bottom with dead fish which would make easy pickings for the pike that had evaded and survived the salt water. Alternatively as the sonar had suggested the salt surges had squeezed alot of prey fish into a small area which again would end up making catching food for the pike relatively easy, resulting in the build and weight of the fish caught.

There was one other surprise in store for me as I was comparing this particular fish to some of the photos of the other 20's that I'd caught from that part of the Bure. I noticed she was not actually any of them. It was only when I looked a the 18.8 that I had caught two years previous that I recognised it as the same fish and amazingly it had gained over 8lbs in weight, for a wild fish to do this in such a short period of time I found remarkable!

I now have a A4 size picture of this fish on my garage wall to remind me when going through a lean spell of what can be achieved with a little bit of persistence,drive and without doubt a little bit of luck.This still remains my most cherished capture to date, even though I have managed to catch bigger fish from various other places.

Be Lucky

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Benefit of Bait Boats

Neilson Baxter 

Back a few years ago now, I had an alloy 12 foot Sea Nymph and I found that I’d only used it once. I thought it was time to sell the boat or swap it for a bait boat which I had in the past thought were for the tackle tarts of the fishing world, how wrong I was!
I stuck the Sea Nymph up for sale on the old Pike and Predators forum and after a few days I got a message from Grant telling me “Hi Neilson, I have a new micro cat with all the toys if you would like to swap” Grant kindly sent me pictures of the Micro Cat. The deal was made and I set off the following day and met up with Grant “half way” from our homes. We had a coffee and a chat, Grant is a very nice chap. So it was back up the road North with my new toy to go straight to a water and try my new baby out!
I was truly amazed at how good the fish finder was on this bait boat. It would detail the depths the fish were at, the weed on the bottom the drop off's, everything was there in detail for me, I was truly amazed with what I was seeing. Also I was pleasantly surprised just how far the boat could go out and back. When I got home and I can remember sending Grant a message telling him just how happy I was with his Micro Cat.
My intentions and plans were to use the boat only for pre-baiting and I did so for many weeks. Time moved on and with two days off work I thought 'right' it is now time to try this boat out on big wild water. So off I went at 6am and got to my water at about 7.20am. It was a very, very cold morning and the water was flat calm. Getting the boat out I delivered the first bait out about 90 yards right on a distinctive drop off about 5 feet in 25 feet of water then the other rod followed with another bait on the same drop off. The third rod I took out around 70 yards with a fresh sardine that you would never cast that distance without it coming off the hooks, I put the sardine in a little spot beside a huge big stone within a pile of stones.
As I was putting the bobbin in the last rod my first rod was away with a cracking looking pike of about 15lb netted, unhooked and returned. I was very happy with myself after thinking that I just knew that the first rod would go! I remember I had a few fish that day nothing huge but it opened my eyes to bait boats.
I then started to take the boat out on all my trips and would not go without her. Of course I got better at using the boat and the fish finder, all new experience and learning. Sadly me and the Good Lady (well at that time not so Good Lady) had a bit of time apart. I moved into my caravan which I loved. I was fishing a lot but unfortunately at the same time I found myself running low on cash.Sadly, needs must and the bait boat just had to go ! 
So about a year or so later with life sorted I really wanted another bait boat but didn’t want to spend crazy money on one. Again I saw one for sale on the old forum, a Viper Icon that Kev Berry was selling. I got the ball rolling and purchased the boat for a very good price from Kev. When the Viper landed on my door step I could not believe the condition of the boat as it was brand new (cheers Kev). So, I now thought that I must get a fish finder for this new wee baby of mine! To cut a long story short I got one for £120 which had a 400 meter range, to be honest I would never try and go out that far, the finder also had lots of other interesting stuff it could use too.

I remember taking it on its first trip and being over the moon with how good this wee boat was and the finder was giving me the details I wanted. The water I was fishing was a bit rough that day but that did not stop this wee boat at all, it surprised me. Once again with this boat I found exactly what I was looking for, a drop off at 70 yards out, in 14 feet of water and a sexy five foot shelf.
 With this discovery, I ran the boat back in,put my macky tail inside attached to my hooks it and dropped the bait right on the shelf. I was not long before I got a run struck into what felt like a very good pike, how right I was when looking at 32.04 of mint pike, it was in great condition, fin perfect and to top a great day I also caught a 25lb fish later on in the day.
So as you can imagine, that was me “buzzing” and it was in no small part thanks to the help of the bait boat and finder. I still thought in the back of my mind is the boat helping me or is it just luck? Only one way to find out! I set of with her again and found other shelf's, features and drop off's and caught a 24.08 a 27 and a fat as hell 31. These fish all came from the baits that were taken out at range with the bait boat. The boy I was fishing with blanked! That was when I said to myself this is NOT just luck, as it was my reading of the water combined with the help of the bait boat that was helping me catch.

After using the Viper for some time I thought could do with a bigger boat. When I say bigger I mean one that would hold more bait and bigger baits so I then purchased The Angling Tecknics standard bait boat, once again second hand off the forum. This I found an OK boat but the one I bought was letting in water and my fish finder did not fit on it very well.

 Anyway, I got to work and split the boat in half and re-sealed it and put it all back together and all seemed fine. A few days later I set off for a few days piking with the AT boat . I got the boat out the bag and put my bait in her ready to go out to my hot spot and the boat started to go round in circles! I was raging and felt like smashing the thing up! I fished all day and only had a few jacks as I could not get to where I wanted!

........................................................Again I took the boat to bits and found that one off the pumps had packed in. So I’d had enough with this boat and sold it and went home in a foul mood! The wife said to me “What’s wrong with you”! I told her that I should never had of sold my Viper Icon and that the AT boat was a pig in a poke and it was effecting my fishing!
On the 9th of December I walked in to the kitchen and there was a huge box sitting there. I said to the Good Lady (very good lady) “What’s in the box”? The Good Lady replied “It’s your Xmas present”. So I opened the big box it and I could not believe what she had given me! Oh Yes, a brand new Micro Cat. I was indeed like a cat with two tongues. I said to her “Is this a wind up” .She said “No, it’s yours a Xmas pressie from me and Lennon “. I was over the moon and I said to her how did you know I wanted a Micro Cat?. My Good Lady told me that she had looked up all my last listings on EBay and she had seen they were all Micro Cat Bait boat viewings! I was now looking at my best X-mas  ever.
As you can imagine I was bursting to get out and at the pike and have a go with my new baby, so off I went to give her a test drive. I was very impressed with it how fast the new boat was and the life in the batteries is great and I have still yet to run them flat. It’s the same old story as you get what you pay for. This is by far the best boat I have ever used. These days I would not be without a bait boat as they are great for new waters, for finding fish holding areas, depths and features. In the last two months all the pike I have caught are all down to no little help of this bait boat.
Tight lines to you all.

Friday, 3 February 2012

The Love of Learning

Andrew Nagel

My first visit to waters is usually in the summer. There are people around and I can usually get a bit of a lead on how to get permission to fish. After moving to Denmark from England, I learned most of my Danish by speaking with farmers about fishing rights.

The standard of roach fishing can be as good as it gets. The fishing is straightforward feeder fishing in the evenings. I’d found a good-sized water, and found it at the point in its cycle when the roach population was booming. The average fish was around a pound and three quarters.  On the first evening I fished it I quickly came to the conclusion that I’d be spending more time here. Fishing corn over a silty area gave me about 50lb of roach. I was hoping to get some smaller ones for baits.

I nipped back to van and got a couple of rigged pike rods out and a few bits. I put 2 baits out and stood by the rods enjoying roach after roach. A bobbin clanked against the bank stick and the float was moving off. Two hours in and so far I knew the food supply was good, and that there were pike. A summer double charged around a bit and looked awesome. The fish was in great condition. It looked young and muscular. So began the learning of a new water.

................................( The first clue while roaching. The markings were enough to make me want more)
I hadn’t managed to find permission, and opted for fish and find out etiquette. This wasn’t me pulling a stroke. I’ve found over the years that if you are upfront when approached, show a willingness to pay without question, then most folk understand. My first bollocking came from a red-faced butcher; the keeper of the fishing rights. Geordie charm exports well. I got a year’s worth of permission plus some info, and he got a bottle of fine whisky. He told me other people who fished it caught very few pike, ate them, and that the lake occasionally produced fish to low 20’s with a one time exceptional fish of 26lb being the long standing biggest. It also had zander as he caught fry in his eel nets each year. The picture was filling out, learning with every opportunity.
I started off with a live, dead and a jig in the autumn. The jig set up was a perching outfit and I got a few belters while using jigs to feel around. There was a lot of soft silt, with very defined areas of firm stone and sand. These were not only isolated to the marginal drop, but also featured randomly further out in areas. Pike came from all areas, and the Butcher’s ‘very’ few turn out to be ‘quite’ a few. By late November the scattered fish had converged, seeming to be coming off the stony bottom areas. Lives did little, it was deads that were being taken mostly, and there was a distinct lack of jacks. There was also little cover, so maybe the better pike thinned the jacks out? Or maybe the others who fished for dinner were clearing a lot of jacks out?

By December I’d lost one big fish and caught a lot of doubles up to 16lb. This wasn’t a water that had my full attention, but the variety of good roach, perch and pike was pleasing between tougher projects. Zander didn’t show and I wondered if he was getting ruffe in his eel nets instead of zander fry? I was very pleased with the numbers of doubles I was catching, and I decided to take a shot of their right flank. I fancied studying the photos to build up knowledge of the population. The 16lb fish appeared an old fish fading out. It was definitely the odd one out in appearance. Although I only caught it once, it was long and lean and I thought it’s skin didn’t have the radiance of the better-conditioned fish. I took a good mate there for a day and on his first cast as he set his bobbin it was pulled from his hand. He caught a 17 before his bait had sunk, and it looked fit! The plump fish made me hopeful of getting something big, and the fish that I’d lost was in my mind.

(The 16lb December fish was far longer and leaner than it’s sisters at that point of the year).

I didn’t expect it at the time but my study is still on going after 8 years. As I looked back on photos I noticed that I’d had the same pair of fish on 3 occasions, yet never one without catching the other. A bit odd! I also noticed that I’d caught lot in the dark. It became apparent that I was not the only person studying the pike population and movements. As a fish was landed I noticed a bit of silver wire running along its flank. A little lower was a single stitch. The wire was an antenna from a biologists tracking device. I’ve had a couple of fish with these to date. I’ve not found the biologist, or any data though. The fish tend to be real beauties, the majority displaying big bold spots, clean flanks and full fins.

(The stitch and antenna clearly visible. Although I didn’t and wouldn't, I’ve never fancied trans-locating a fish more than this one. Just for laughs you understand).

(A typically marked and proportioned fish – like a new pin).

Over the years I’ve given the lake short spells of concentrated effort. As I fished around the water I found an area with a few interesting stony features. There were other features dotted around, but this area was an exception with the amount of large stones. I would love to tell you I found them with the jig-n-feel approach, but the truth is I fell in tripping over one while wading before I’d had a chance to cast! Fishing this area quickly delivered results. The number of fish seemed to rocket. I remember one day where I went down from 3 rods to 1, as I couldn’t keep up. That particular day I caught another odd-one-out. A darker fish that was long and lean. It had a flesh wound on its flank and pale gills that made me doubt its health.  By now, with loads of photos of fish flanks to study, there were only two in this condition and I’d never caught either of them a second time. After this attentions went elsewhere again.

(In comparison to other fish, this mid double appeared weak and skinny). 

A couple of years later I returned. The same area quickly produced the first 20+er. It took a roach on an inside bend of a stony feature. The next session I had a brace of 20’s and a 19. The 19 had a trace in its throat. That winter I found a washed up herring. One advantage that bank fishing has over boat fishing is the learning you can read from signs of other anglers in the margins and on the banks. Knowing the other anglers would be eating the fish it created a new factor in my study. Fish would be disappearing not just dying off.

(I’ll not deny it – I do like good-looking fat lass! It's a deer hunting syndicate water and getting shot is even less appealing than my head-ware).

(A slimmer built 19 after ‘surgery’ to unstitch its stomach from some knacker’s trace. I’m no photographer as you can see).

(Nightmare on trace-street! Nylon trace of barbed trebles from the gut of an otherwise healthy fish).

New fish were showing regularly, which made me wonder if I was simply not finding or tempting the better fish in previous years? Or was it that these were grown-on and that the glut of mid doubles were now bigger? I’d developed my presentation, fishing a slow sinking bait that allowed me to retrieve a link-rigged lead along the bottom immediately after the cast. I did this until I got that distinct knocking feeling of the lead dragging on stones then let the rig settle and clipped up, knowing it was in a prime spot on the lake bed.

Seemingly out of the blue came a 27-12. A well made fish, which was very powerful. Again it came in darkness, and again to a dead fished on a stony inside bend of a feature. I’d now beaten the long-standing lake ‘record’ of 26, which made me wonder if the lake could do better again. It also kicked my ‘going down’ 16lber observation into touch, as to my surprise it was the same fish four years on. This gave me a growth rate figure for the mid doubles. This fish had avoided recapture by me, and more importantly by others who would eat it. The growth rate is not particularly fast, but it put my mates fish in my mind. I’d not caught the fish he’d had at 17, and at the time the 27 was a 16, his was a bigger fish. So was it still here, or was it served up as fish cakes at some local farmhouse?

(I’ve had this one twice. Once at 16 and once at 27-12. Both times to the same bait, and both times in darkness).

Satisfied that I’d beaten what I expected to catch, and having learned a presentation trick that paid off several times, I was happy with my lot. The water is an enjoyable place to be, but I felt I’d found the key area and the learning curve would only level off to allow boredom to set in. If I'm not learning something, I tend to find the fishing dull. I’ve kept loosely in touch with it over the last few years while roaching in the summers, but that was taking a down turn and I’d since found a water where 2s-3s are an average fish! I moved on.
As a sufferer from a mind that never shuts up, whenever I thought of the water, my mate’s 17 would tease me. The fact that one of the two odd-ones-out that I thought were going down, grew on to be my prize made me accept that I certainly didn’t know it all!  A few years past and to my horror I got a letter from the owner, informing me that three lads had been poaching it hard for a year and removed all the pike for the pot. Initially I read this as terrible news, but a lesson learned from another water told me it might just be the opposite.

A return was on the cards, even if only a couple of sessions to confirm the decline. Another water was giving me a steep learning curve and big fish, so I didn’t want to get distracted. I fished to two features from one spot on the bank. A good bit of prebait went in over 4 weeks, as I abstained. The first session was disappointing. Deciding to stop the prebait and go back a week later worked. With a sudden cold snap moving in fast I got some action. The first fish of the day revealed the deep action of a DLST Bait Blaster. A telling sign. She charged around without showing. I love it when you still don’t know what you’ve got! I bullied her home and jiggled her length down over the net cord. Unsettled in the sling, she was bouncing the scales around. On steadying I laughed out loud – a new best for the water. During her brief visit to the bank, it only half registered that she was unusual looking. I was too happy to compute!

A comparison of right flanks showed the other ‘odd-one-out’ six years on. You can see the scale-less flank wound has healed and she’s filled out. The two fish my instinct had written off years earlier proved me wrong, and turned out to be the cherries on top of the pie. The love of learning.

(Andrew Nagel © Copyright 2012).