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).

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