Sunday, November 20, 2011

The impatient rod builder

You might think that a rod builder would fish with rods that are fitting advertisement for his skills. Not this one! Whenever I do build myself some fancy looking rods they turn out to be ones I don't get on with, and the ones I do like using end up covered in mud, groundbait, deadbait scales and suchlike. Worse still are the rods that start out as prootypes but are so good I never get round to finishing them off.

So it was with the rod I caught my personal best pike with. It was the first P-2 blank I had my hands on and I wasn't sure how it needed fitting out - handle length, ring spacings. So I shoved a rubber butt cap I had in my odds and ends box on the end, found two scraps of Duplon to fit either side of the reel seat, and slid that over rolls of tape making a tight fit so no glue would be required. That meant I could change the handle length without having to scrape glue from the blank or cut the real seat off. The rings where at least whipped to the blank with thread (rather than being bound on with black insulation tape) and the thread was sealed with cellulose dope which is easily cleaned from a blank.

Only fit to be seen in silhouette!
A number of years later I was using the P-2 (now fully built with a glued on handle and epoxied whippings) for some drain fishing and finding it wanting. The length was great, and it played fish okay, but it lacked a bit of casting power for the baits I was using. I got hold of the first blank that became the P-5. This time I did glue the handle as I knew where it should go (a couple of inches higher than on the P-2) and the ring spacings were sorted so the thread got a sealing coat of epoxy. The rod performed so well I quickly ordered three more blanks which got build identically. That was in late 2004 and it wasn't until this week that I got round to lettering the blanks and putting the top coat of epoxy on them!

Before and after
The reason for this belated completion is simple. When I've been amusing myself taking photos of my rods while fishing on the local drains I realised that some of the shots would make good backgrounds for adverts - so long as they appeared in silhouette, if there was a close up view they'd look like the tatty things they were! I might have to remove the taped on line clips to make the rods look 'pukka'. To be honest I don't use the clips these days, opting to rely on the baitrunner if fishing 'beachcaster style' with just a front rod rest.

I was finding the lack of a keeper ring a bit of a nuisance when moving swims. The butt ring serves well enough, but it's a little far up on the P-5, so I added keepers while I was carrying out the refurbs. Here's hoping the pike approve.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's all coming back to me

Back to The Land that Time Forgot today for another session determined to do put in a full day and work harder at it. The plan was to fish the west bank in the morning and move to the east for the afternoon working on a theory that the pike might be following the sun. There was no sun to follow. It was overcast and drizzly - which kicked my plan to fish a rod to catch a livebait or two in to touch. The rain did ease mid morning and the feeder rod got taken out of the quiver - spurred on partly by the lamprey section snagging solid and me having to pull for a break. 

The snagging problem is caused by these Pennine reservoirs having rocks, boulders and lumps of bedrock sticking up on the lake bead at random. There's no telling where they might be and weak lead links don't serve much purpose as I'm sure it's the trebles that get wedged behind them. I've used weak links for years and can't recall one ever breaking when I've snagged up. Where I went wrong today was in twitching the bait back. There's a reason I used not to do it, and that's because it sees you twitching the bait into a snag.

For other reasons than the snagging episode, mainly the lack of bites on the maggot feeder, I moved earlier than I'd intended to. By the time I had got settled into the new swim with a sardine paternostered to my left and a big mackerel head whacked out as far as I could the drizzle had abated. I chucked the feeder out and stuck it on an alarm to fish for itself. The Rig is great for this as the fish hook themselves and all I have to do is pick the rod up and wind them in.

On the second fill of the feeder I heard a single bleep to the rod, followed by a few more as the tip pulled round wildly as the line followed a curve caused by the strong wind. Bingo. I soon had my confidence booster resting in the landing net while I removed the sardine from the paternoster rod. Two more roach were caught, plus a tiny perch, before I wound the feeder rod in and rigged up a popped-up sardine. I've yet to come up with a good way to attach pop-up balls to deadbaits. Livebiats are easy to rig just by tying the pop-up ball to one of the trebles with a length of weak nylon, the stuff I use for paternoster links. Do that with a deadbait and it never seems to sit right and/or the hook pulls out of the bait.

I think I'm getting there now. All I have done is rig a bait flag on to the pop-up link so that it can be snugged down by a braid stop. There's a loop in the end of the link which enables it to be pulled through the bait with a stringer needle. The loop is passed over one point of the end treble which is then stuck in the bait. The flag is snugged down by the braid stop and holds the hook tight to the bait. The sardine stayed rigged nicely until I packed up. The acid test will come when (if...) I get a pike to take the popped-up bait. My concern is that the loop can come free of the hook, so might eject itself. Next time I think I'll tie in a sliding knot (two turn uni-knot) with a long tag for releasing it in place of the loop.

Despite the warm southerly and dull but brightening conditions, and a nice lively bait working away, I had no action at all. And I fished until it was dark enough to require the head torch to see what I was doing as I packed up. It had been a pleasant day in the outdoors, but more things I dislike about pike fishing round here came back to me. Little things like having to climb over dry stone walls, tripping on brambles in the dark, stumbling over loose rocks, and the lack of pike.

At least when I first fished this place it was a good runs water. The chances of a double were slim but the bobbins would drop off more than once a day - often quite a few times more. You need waters like that when the others you fish are headbangers. Round here it seems to be that all the waters are now headbangers. Good fish present, some very good fish, but very few of them in a lot of acres of water. Having pike fished in other parts of the country I got used to expecting to catch every time out. Expecting to catch doubles when I caught, and often catching more than one or two. That kind of fishing doesn't seem to exist locally. If it does people are keeping it very quiet! It was a combination of this situation and the pain of getting up really early to travel to better piking that saw me give up on it and turn to barbeling. I'm enjoying what I'm doing at the moment, but the lack of pike is depressing. I no longer want to be a time bandit and bore the pike into submission. I want to catch fish regularly, but I don't want to do the travelling any longer. If things don't improve soon my return to the piking fold will be over for good.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Out with the big guns

After my recent sessions scrabbling about on the banks of the drain I felt like a chillout session sat in one swim on a stillwater. I headed for The Land that Time Forgot, seeing the hilltops shrouded in the usual low cloud of the area's peculiar micro-climate as I approached in the dark. For once this wasn't a prelude to a drenching, in fact the sun got quite warm later on, although there was a hazy mist in the valley. It is a strange place. The bases of all the trees are thick with mosses and lichen in the perpetually damp atmosphere. It's a perfect place for fungi, and there were plenty to be found in the leaf litter. While I waited for something to happen on the pike front I took a few photos of some. I didn't have the right lighting to do them justice though.

I'd left the drain rods at home and rigged up the old faithful P-1s, nigh on 20 years old now but still hard to beat as all round pike rods. Initially I was going to pair them up with the 10,000 Baitrunners I'd recently spooled with fresh mono, but when I came to remove the old Spheros's from the rods I just couldn't do it. The spool sizes are pretty much the same but the Spheros has a nice chunky single handle, a big anti-reverse switch (the new Baitrunners have minute ones), are more compact, lighter and just feel bomb-proof. So I loaded two of them with the new line and put the 10,000s back on the shelf where they have spent most of the time since I bought the bloody things.

Spheros 5000F + P-1 = piking perfection
Before it had come fully light I had three baits out; a joey mackerel legered without its head at medium range, a sardine paternostered close in on a sunk-float rig, and a lamprey head belted to the horizon (well, maybe 60 yards) using a Baitblaster I had fitted a new handle configuration to the other day. The 'Blaster was coupled with a Biomaster 8000 which has seen very little use since I acquired it shortly before leaving large stillwaters alone!

With the weather remaining unseasonably mild I was full of confidence. The hint of easterly in the wind I had taken shelter from should have made me think otherwise.

The Big Guns
It was good to be out and not feel like I ought to be moving every hour or so. Then again if I had had more time I think I would have made a move, but I was using the session as a way to visit a plastic bag factory on my way home, so couldn't fish until dark. I did move the baits around though. Twitching one or two, recasting to new spots, even leapfrogging one over the others. It did me no good. Most of my entertainment came from watching the wind blowing mini tornadoes of rusty leaves through my swim, some hitting the bobbins with enough force to cause the alarms to sound.

The bird life was notable by its absence to start with. As the day warmed more feathered creatures showed themselves along with the robin that had found the remains of a another day's angler's maggots. A pied wagtail was the first to appear along the water's edge followed by blue and great tits in the willows. An unusual call alerted me to a movement on a tree trunk where I eventually spied a nuthatch working its way up and down, inspecting crevices as it went. As nimble as a squirrel it ran down the trunk head-first at an alarming rate. Another quick movement made me think I had seen a treecreeper taking flight to the base of an adjacent tree, but I wasn't sure. A few minutes later my intuition was proved correct as I watched one make its way up a tree trunk and along a thick bough.

Birdwatching is fun, but catching fish is better. As I wasn't catching fish I wasn't to bothered to have to leave. I packed up at two and went to buy my plastic bags. Leaving the factory I headed towards my local tackle shop. I've been finding new uses for Braid Stops all the time and am in need of some more. There were other things I wanted so a stop at the tackle emporium would see me prepared for another session soon. The autumnal light and the mist hovering over the Coastal Plain as I descended Parbold Hill made me change my mind. I'd go and give it an hour on the drain before dark. While there's a bait in the water there's always a chance. So some say.

The chance was slim. No chance as it turned out. What heat the sun had soon dissipated as it set. With no shelter the chill from the east was more apparent than it had been earlier in the day. I had my excuse - when the wind's in the east the fish feed least. It hadn't stopped them topping at first light, however, and it didn't stop them at dusk either. What do we know of fish behaviour?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Too old for this game

I'd be on the banks right now if my body could keep up with my desire to catch fish. After yesterday's early start and fishing most of the daylight hours, moving not only swims but stretches, I was completely knackered when I got home.

Despite the 'favourable' moon phase not a pike came out to play. Conditions were good, to my eyes. I fished areas I have caught from recently too. On both lengths there were food fish topping. I was confident and I think I fished well. The drain seems to be returning to its old habits having lulled me into a false sense of change for the better on my first few sessions. Or maybe my 'barbel' reels are the jinx?

Still, the sunset was nice and gave me a chance to play around with my camera.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Something old, something new

Full of enthusiasm I was up and out well before light on Friday and soon had three baits in the water in a popular spot. There was a light mist hazing the distance, even threatening rain, but still warm enough to do without the bunny suit. There was little flow and the water was quite clear. All was good. Indeed it took less than half an hour for something positive to happen. The alarm to the mackerel rod gave out a single bleep which had me standing up to see the float dip and rise in just the same way a float does when a roach sucks at a maggot. Then it keeled over and began to move upstream slowly. I pulled the line free from the clip before the fish could feel any resistance, the float's progress speeded up and then it began to submerge.

It was at this point I made my fatal error. As I wound down to set the hooks I was telling myself I should be close to the water and not stood on the top of the bank. I felt the fish, dragged it halfway across the drain, then watched it spin and rid itself of the hooks. It was only a jack, a better stamp of jack admittedly but still only a jack. I knew I should have got myself closer to the water so the angle of pull was more parallel to the water than vertical. It's a lesson I learned many years ago. yet I didn't bother to follow my own advice... The day was still young and I was still confident.

Around nine or a little after the sun began to break through the mist and warm the day. A sparrowhawk hedgehopped over the far bank reeds and into a copse causing the smaller birds to twitter their alarm calls. The flow increased. I made a move. Then I saw an EA van on the bank. Minutes later I realised why. The weed cutting boat was making its way towards me. Great. Maybe the pike wouldn't have been put off by it's passage, they might even have been put on the feed, but the cut weed would undoubtedly create presentation problems. I packed up just a little dejected.

In my idle moments I'd been thinking again about refining my tackle. I've never really liked Aero Baitrunners for piking and had been considering switching to my old school 3500Bs. The line lay is poor but that doesn't hinder them for casting on the rivers for barbel. They're more compact than the Aeros, and more rugged. Just before they were discontinued I'd picked up two as spares in case my original pair ever wore out. This meant I could rig up  three P-5s I'm using with these reels. The only drawback being that I would have to strip one of the spools of 30lb braid. I didn't really want to do that in case I fancied a barbel session.

I could either try to find a used reel or track down a spare spool. On Thursday I had found a spool on the Ted Carter website and arranged for it to be put aside for me. This would give me two spools with 30lb Power Pro and three with 50lb. Excellent!


A consequence of having regained my pike mojo is that I am planning some sessions on other venues. One in particular has seen me lose a couple of rigs when the braid has been cut. This time round I'd approach them with mono, much as I detest it these days for pike fishing. But which mono? Time was it would have been Berkley Big Game, or latterly Nash Bullet. Big Game is a bit on the wiry side and Bullet is no more. I'd tried ESP Crystal briefly for barbel and in my limited experience found it okay. Good for hooklinks if that takes your fancy. I have no objection to a clear mono, it was always my preference in Big Game, so the Crystal would do me.

New (Diameter is as stated, not thicker to make it seem stronger.)
I was all set to pick up a spool of 15lb Crystal in Burscough Angling Supplies, where I originally bought the 12lb I'd used for the barbel (although I had bought it for bream fishing). They had none. What they did have was another ESP mono - Syncro XT. My usual 'tests' in the shop were passed. It was limp, smooth, fairly resistant to pigtailing when draw over my thumb nail under some pressure. It seemed to be quite abrasion resistant when dragged repeatedly across a rough edge, and it knotted nicely - again without pigtailing. There was also very little stretch. I parted with my cash and now have three reels spooled up with the stuff waiting for an outing.

Unfortunately I somehow managed to get a loop of line sticking out of one spool which would need the entire fill unloading and rewinding. The easiest way would be to walk the line out and back on again. I could have done that on the playing field, but the bank of a drain seemed a better location!

Sunday morning saw thick fog hiding my street when I woke early. I hate driving in fog, even short distances, and hate fishing in it even more. I went back to sleep. When I did leave my pit the fog was lifting. There was still a frost on the grass which didn't encourage me to get the tackle together. I did some work. The urge was too much to resist and an early lunch was had, the flask half filled and the tackle chucked in the car. By quarter to one I was fishing in bright sunshine on a drain that had been pumped down a good six inches.

The 3500Bs looked the part. I took the rod rigged with the dodgy spool of line and cast a 2oz lead as far as I could. Then I walked the other way to reveal the offending loop. I walked a long way. There's far more line on the reel than I'll ever need in any normal piking situation. It's not like I'll be using the reels for distance fishing, I have other reels for that. I made a mental note to mark my spools with some bright orange braid at something like 100yds, or maybe less, so I only top them up with the minimum required in future. When I did reach the loop it turned out not to be a loop at all. It was an untrimmed tag end where I'd joined the fresh line to the old I had left on as backing. I wound the line back on after trimming things as they should have been trimmed in the first place.

There wasn't much flow to contend with so fishing the far margin was easily done. As has become my habit I moved the baits around, moved back towards the car, and generally tried to make something happen. It turned more than pleasant when the light but cool breeze abated. The sky was cloudless and the sun bright. I got the binoculars out and watched four species of finch feeding on alder seeds. One bird was a greenfinch. Previously common they are in a noticeable decline around here. I haven't seen one in my garden for months while they used to be the primary devourers of the hempseed I put in one of my feeders.

I had a spot in mind to spend the last hour in, and the paternostered smelt was positioned more or less directly across from where I was sitting the two float legered baits to my right. I'd not been in place more than twenty-five minutes when the bobbin on the paternoster rod dropped back slightly and commenced twitching. There was no wind so it had to be a fish. I like to place my chair back from the edge so as to reduce the chances of me sky-lining and spooking fish in the shallow water. This means I can't always see my floats if the flat bank is above the water level. This was such and instance. When I stood up I saw the float had moved out from the bank and was coming towards me. I grabbed the landing net and pulled the line free from the clip when I got to the rod.

Remembering my cock-up last time out I made sure I would get a good angle on the fish before winding down. I tried to be as stealthy as possible getting down the ban at such close proximity to the fish in and readied myself to make the strike. At which point the bait was dropped. Maybe I'd been too clumsy and the pike had sensed my presence. The bait was only lightly marked, so I'm telling myself it was one of the multitude of three pounders. What had surprised me was that the smelt had been taken at all. It was far from cucumber smelling. I've never done much on smelts but they have worked better for me when smelling strongly of cucumber. You never can tell. By now the sun had set and the air temperature taken a rapid tumble. I fished on until dark without further action materialising.

The trudge back to my car was less than comfortable. Having got fed up of my leaky boots I'd remembered the Baffin's I bought a couple of cold winters ago. They'd keep my feet dry and warm. I'd forgotten how little support they give my ankles. The walk out had been bad enough, but on the way back my ankles were aching from the time spent moving rods and swims, and worse still one of my socks was migrating off my foot. I'm sure the Baffin boots are great for keeping feet warm for  people sat on skidoos in the Canadian Arctic. They're bloody useless if you want to walk any distance in them. I'm going to have to find some decent boots soon. Why is it that when something perfect comes on the market, like those Chiruca Canada boots, it gets discontinued and replaced by something inferior? It drives me nuts.