A dorsal fin breaking water, a mass of bubbles, the big splash in the distance and resulting water rings breaking the oily calm. The sound of running water in and around your feet or surrounding the beam of the angler’s boat. The sounds of early morning and late evening as all around us comes alive, oblivious to the angler hidden and nested awaiting for the float to bury or the tip of rod to bounce or even that horrible man made shriek of electronic alarm.
Big fish or little fish, swimming in the water are oblivious to the world order of things. But perhaps the predator underwater world order is only majorly disturbed by other predators. Otters have certainly disturbed the natural order of things though their unnatural and fast spread across our inland waterways during the last ten short years. Any self respecting big pike will need to adapt to avoid an otter out running and out gunning our pikes natural short burst of speed. I hang on to the hope that the senses of our pike can smell the oily otter territory and holt or at least be on red alert when the danger of this critter is close. When roving the banks of my rivers I always look out for otter droppings, these are often left on the overhanging base stumps of willow trees and are green/brown and often a bit shiny in appearance when fresh. If you really feel inclined to test their freshness, have a sniff and they smell just like a fishmeal carp boilee. It’s worth a look out as fresh droppings equal zero pike on that bank and you are completely wasting valuable fishing time in the area. I know of a water with a population of otters surrounding a big pike. This pike has amazed me with her ability to still be around, she has been seen this summer alive and kicking and I’ll not be disturbing her as she has enough to worry about without the man made disturbance of capture and a day or two sulky recovery from lactic acid overload and tooth ache to add to her surrounding vulnerability.
I kinda have a love/hate relationship with cormorants. There do appear to be less of them around on the waters I fish, than say 15 years ago. I well remember watching a group of around thirty of them feeding one early morning on a welsh river. Up and down they dived, feeding in formation and more often than not surfacing with a decent dace to be gulped down quick smart before diving again. As an angler it was heart breaking to watch. After having their fill, during an hour of feeding I wondered how in the aviation world of mechanics and design they actually managed to get off the water and fly back to their favored white, self excrement covered branches. The first year that Chew opened up for us, in fact on the second day, Big Dave and I lost count at three hundred cormorants up in the trees on Denny Island as we headed towards Stratford. Our hearts sank, we’d seen this during the early 90’s on our local Chichester pits where a decent pike would be a big double looking like lizard thing. How wrong we were, over 100x20’s came out on Chew that day and all as fat as you like! These days they are still around on the rivers I fish, but more often than not feeding solo or in two’s. Perhaps a couple of generations of cormorant bother has seen the DNA of prey fish coping with the big group feeding of the cormorant and the big black oily bird has adapted by feeding more solo or moved back to improving in-shore waters. These birds certainly give us a pointer towards prey fish location and I’ve often moved sticks to areas where I have seen cormorants feeding and found pike and in particular zander not too far away.
Talking about improving waters, across all the different rivers I fish, fry survival has been great over the past ten years. Silver fish populations have fared pretty well as the match weights demonstrate or my own cack handed bait snatching sessions prove. I don’t think it is any coincidence that the well published demise of our eel population has contributed greatly to this. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s eel bother when fishing was all part of the game. I can well recall having to pack up barbel fishing on many a sultry summers evening with swims a heaving mass of the wriggly things. Having plenty of eel sections in the bait freezer was taken for granted back then. A mass of eels will have had their fill of eggs on the shallow spawning grounds of our rivers, keeping fry survival low in tandem with large groups of cormorant feeding. In 1999 I reported to the EA that I’d seen hundreds of dead eels rotting on the bottom of the welsh river on a close season canoe paddle trip. The old bailiff on the Royalty had reported the same on the Hants Avon. Something bad was obviously occurring to mature eel populations and a few years forward the eel was in real danger, or so we were told. Bang ! , last year saw the biggest reported elver populations on my rivers for a couple of generations. I witnessed the amazing sight of 10,000’s of elvers running up a small feeder river close to my home, the small bridge where they could be seen in elver soup became a local viewing attraction for a few days. This year eel bother during zander fishing has become the norm again, so not only have the elver population returned big time but the more mature bootlace – 2lb eel population have appeared again too. Interesting and I’ve not a scooby doo idea as to why. I kind of expect fry survival to demise again over the next ten years in tandem with increasing eel numbers, hopefully some decent big river roach fishing will result as good current populations thin out and get bigger. Decent big river roach fishing has been very scarce for a decade or more so I look forward to that very much in the future as my bones get older and a nice comfortable roach swim will be the order of the day. It’s all about cycles and the anglers who have been kicking around for a good while, year in year out, will get a feel of what is happening on their waters and take advantage of the tip of the cycles for whatever species are at their peak sizes.
Apart from mankind’s ability to effect water quality, the biggest predator with an influence is naturally us the angler. For all the repeat captures reported there are equal losses from poor angling practices, handling and fish ending up in Tesco carrier bags and as we know our quarry ain't no carp in the ability to survive and thrive on human intervention. Angling pressure in my experience does affect fish behavior and I’ve never agreed with the pike anglers who state pike catching is all down to times and moon phase. Natures push and pull obviously has a big influence and we all know there are windows of time when everything comes together perfectly allowing fish to be caught fairly easily when they are directly in front of us and that fact is not exclusive to predator fishing. Too many times however I’ve seen pressurized fish follow and worry decent live baits and not grab them, when on the very same day in a different place the float would be buried time after time with fish on the mat the end result. It’s no coincidence that at the end of the pike dates on Chew many of us report dropped pick- ups that three or four weeks earlier would likely have resulted in a fish on the boat mat. It’s during these pressurized more finicky times when blending into the background becomes important. Not joining the carp world completely in the disguise of rig and line but thinking about what may be seen underwater by a big fish that has seen it all in the past should be a consideration. There’s nothing more finicky than zander at the best of times, add a dose of angling pressure and converting pick-ups becomes an even greater headache. I’ve always believed that these really big predators in our natural waters are the Queens of their domain and no happening or event underwater escapes their senses. They haven’t survived and grown on to a great size over a decade or more without being in some way smarter than their surrounding compatriots. Perhaps it is luck, if that is the case, they certainly make their own luck. Stealth on the bank and equally on the boat can be the difference between a blank day or driving home with a smile on your face. Too many anglers are too ferking noisy for my likening and I’ll often shout over and tell them so before upping sticks and moving on! Disturbing the peace should be a red card offence and the noisy angler banned for a month, with repeat offenders sentenced to a life of fishing any old puddle full of stunted F1’s.
Thanks for reading my scribble and Play Up Pompey !