Monday, March 26, 2012

Sunny evening

Now the clocks have altered it's easier to nip out for an hour or two after tea, particularly when the weather is as summery as it is at the moment. Quite what came over me yesterday I don't know but I dug out my perch lures and headed for the canal.

After ten minutes I was a bit bored and started fishing for pike. After an hour I'd had one take from a micro pike that did that slow flexing thing pike sometimes do when they grab a lure under the rod tip and worked its way free.

That was shortly after I had the strange experience of being watched intently by a three-legged ginger kitten, all wide-eyed and wondering watching my lure fly across the cut.

Although daytime temperatures are ridiculously high they soon plummet as the sun sets with the high pressure bringing clear skies. After an hour and  half I gave up, thinking it might be worth clearing some free time to go camp by a tench lake soon.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pond dipping

With this warm weather the pond is really coming to life. The tadpoles hatched a few days ago and are now exploring their temporary home. Plants are starting to grow - there are new shoots on the loosestrife and the broadleaved pondweed has fresh broad leaves appearing. Waterboatmen are active, and leeches have been swimming around.

I took some time out to sit by the pond and scoop around with a kiddy's fishing net tipping the captured creatures into an old white soup bowl. Many of them were tiny like the midge larvae, others were very active like the leeches. Not having fish in the pond means there are plenty of aquatic mini beasts.

There were quite a lot of the two critters in the photo, in various stages of growth. I knew there were freshwater louses in the pond and I thought I'd seen freshwater shrimps too. The pond dipping session proved they were indeed both present. The photo could be better, but they were pretty lively!

I also found out that there is a nice stinky layer of silt in the centre of the pond, just like you find in a 'real' pond. After eighteen months it is naturalising nicely.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A useful bucket

When I called in to my local tackle shop yesterday the Sonubaits agent was there about to show off their new bait and stuff for this year. There were some of this years Sonubaits catalogue/magazines around and my eye was immediately caught by their new buckets as I flicked through the pages. The nice Mr. Slater had some with him (see arrow) and they look to be as useful as I thought they might.

I've had a bucket with a lift out tray before and found it great on te river and for tenching. Using the tray as a mixing bowl for groundbait/method mix while keeping bags and tubs of bait underneath. At other times I used the tray for tackle with bait underneath, and sometimes used the bucket to carry all my gear on short sessions. It wasn't perfect though.

The difference with this bucket is that the 'bowl' clips in place as tightly as the lid. This means the main bucket is sealed and air tight. The lid clips equally securely to the 'bowl'.

The large size would be good for long sessions while the smaller one should be ideal for evening sessions on the river with pellets and PVA nice and dry in the bucket and hookbaits in the 'bowl'. There will be many ways for anglers to make use of these buckets, I'm sure. As soon as they are in stock I'll be having at least one to play around with.

I think the big bucket will retail around a tenner and the small one half that.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Better fishing photos


Every angler has a camera these days, even if it's built in to a mobile phone, and there are more and more ways of sharing the fish photographs we take now we are increasingly on-line - even while fishing. Many anglers are blogging, using Facebook and posting on forums. Technology has never made it easier to take really good fish photographs yet still we are presented with out of focus, over or under exposed, poorly composed pictures of fish. Given the advanced state of even cheap cameras today there is no excuse of not being able to take good fish photos. If you have any intention of writing for magazines (paper or digital) you will have more chance of being published if you present good quality photographs to accompany your articles. even if you have no such ambitions it's nice to have professional looking photos to recall memories of great days.

With the hope of helping at least a few anglers take better pictures of the fish they catch I've decided to put some blog posts together on the subject. When they are done there'll be links in the sidebar so they can all be easily found in one place. No doubt I'll miss a few details as I write the articles, and I doubt they will be definitive or exhaustive, but there will be enough information to make a difference.

I don't proclaim to be an expert on photography, I know just enough to get me by - which is all that's needed. If I was an expert I'd probably start off by going through the physics of perfect exposure and then go on to why sensor size and pixel count affects your photos, losing all my readers before getting to the important stuff - making pictures! So I'm going to try my best to keep it as simple as I can.  I hope that by the end of the first part even the most cameraphobic point-and-shooter will have learned something to help improve their fish photos.

Even simple cameras will do a great job - in most viewing situations (computer screens or small prints) their results will be hard to tell apart from the output from a top of the range SLR. In fact this has been the case for a long time. A lot of the photos that were used in my Pike and Predators articles before the digital photography revolution were taken with a 'point and shoot' film camera that fitted in my pocket. The results were perfectly acceptable. After the digital revolution my cameras weren't much more sophisticated and 'only' had a maximum of 6.3 megapixels. Again the results in print were perfectly okay.

Auto focus and auto exposure are nigh on perfect these days. Learning to avoid being the cause of duff photos is really quite simple. More often than not it doesn't involve knowing how to operate all the features of your camera.

Possibly the biggest problem anglers have is a short time to work in. We want to get the fish back in the water as quickly as possible. A little preparation helps here. Keep the camera handy, and leave it set in the way you are going to use it. Then all you, or who ever you hand it to, will have to do is  point and shoot. Part one (below) is about how to do just that.

Better fishing photos - 1

Taking the photo

Perfectly framed. Thanks Nige!
There are three things that ruin trophy shots. The first is poor framing. There's no need to get everything in the frame including acres of landscape. With digital this is less of a problem than with film as images can be easily cropped on the computer, or even with the camera's inbuilt software. But it's always better to get it right from the start so you have more pixels to play with. The subject of a trophy shot is the fish. So get in close, or use the zoom to make the fish as big in the frame as you can.

Don't get in so close that part of the fish is chopped off, and leave enough space around it in the viewfinder to stop the picture looking cramped, just not so much that the angler looks like he's in the next county.

The second biggest cause of awful fish photos is the light bouncing off the fish into the lens and causing over exposure. This seems to be a major problem when photographing pike as they have flatter flanks in comparison to other species. 'Round' fish like carp and barbel only reflect light into the lens from a small portion of their body, resulting in a highlight usually near the top of the flank. A pike's flat sides become one huge highlight and can result in photos of white pike with no markings. Sometimes this can be corrected at the computer, but if you only want to point and shoot you probably don't want to delve into photo processing.

Imagine the fish is a mirror and get things set up so that the light doesn't bounce directly into the lens. The easiest way to do this on sunny days is to line things up so the sun is behind and to one side of (rather than directly behind) the person with the camera - as in the perfectly framed photo above. Another benefit of having the sun hitting the fish at such an angle is that it eliminates the possibility of the photographer's shadow being cast on the captor and fish - which always ruins a picture.

If the situation prevents positioning angler and photographer in this way, or if using flash when you are pretty much stuck with the position of the light, the angler should turn the fish  in such a way that it reflects light to one side of the lens. Rolling a pike so that its back is slightly closer to the camera than its belly can do the trick, or angle the fish so it's head is closer to the camera than its tail.

Particularly when boat fishing, but also when the angler is on the bank with his back to the water, another problem arises. The camera takes an average exposure reading and the angler and fish become dark. The photo on the left illustrates that. Don't despair.

The built in flash on most cameras is very intelligent. Switch it on and the camera will do its best to balance the flash with the daylight. The shot below was taken a few seconds after the dark one, but with the flash popped up and fired.

If you're wondering what clever settings were used, and what fancy camera, you'll be disappointed to learn that all the pike photos on this page were taken in 2004 with a 3.1 mega pixel, bridge camera set to Program mode. Not state of the art at the time, and ancient technology by today's standards.

Forget any scene modes your camera might have which are supposed to deal with various lighting conditions. They're nothing but trouble in my experience. If all you want to do is point and shoot stick your camera in to Program. If it's dull or dark, or the sun is behind the subject, use the flash. This approach will work well enough with most cameras - even  SLRs. Flash is also useful on sunny days when the captor is wearing a baseball cap irrespective of the sun's angle. The flash will take away some of the shadow cast by the cap's peak.

In this age of autofocus cameras I'm not sure why the third common fault manifests itself, but I still see plenty of blurred trophy shots. Some are the result of the camera missing focus for some reason. I have had this happen occasionally myself but usually because of user error. A quick zoom in on the camera's review screen should reveal any major problem in this department and allow a retake.

Autofocus isn't foolproof. In dull light, and even more so in the dark, it might struggle. Most cameras will have a light that helps in these situations so check it is not disabled. Shining a light on the fish also helps once the sun has set.

All the above applies equally well to self-takes (if doing a self-take in the dark use your head torch angled down over the fish's flank), and unless you want to start doing more than straightforward trophy shots there's no need to get more involved in using the camera's settings than sticking it into Program mode, thinking about the direction of the sunlight and using the flash when necessary. If your camera gives you a choice of focus modes select the one which automatically picks out the object closest to the camera. That should be the fish, which is what you want as sharp as possible.

Another cause of blurred photographs is camera shake. In dull light Program mode might select a shutter speed that is too slow to avoid wobbly hand syndrome and your photos will be blurry. A warning will usually display on the screen or in the viewfinder if this is about to happen. This is a signal to use the flash. The duration of the flash is much shorter than any shutter speed and will freeze any motion your shaky hands might introduce. More and more I'm finding that the flash is useful in fish photography during daylight. It certainly helps in the gloomy days of winter when pike fishing.

There are a few more compositional matters to be considered that will improve trophy shots. Selecting a spot with an uncluttered background helps make the fish stand out. This isn't always possible of course. Whatever the background try to look out for trees growing out of the subject's head, and for other objects that intrude into the picture. Move them if possible, or shift your position to move them in the frame.

This is all well and good if you are the person with the camera. If you are the lucky captor of a big fish, and you are not going for a self portrait but handing the camera to a friend (or worse, a stranger) then it is up to you to set the camera up and get yourself into position so the light and background are favourable. Don't be shy about giving directions to the person with the camera.

The two most common instructions you will have to give will be 'kneel down' - having the camera at the same level as the fish rather than higher makes for more natural looking pictures (unless you are deliberately trying to hide the background!), and 'get closer'. The photo of me with a tench illustrates both of these faults perfectly. If the stranger tells you they know what they are doing and ignores your suggestions you'll soon be purchasing a tripod to do it yourself!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Three strikes and I'm out

The sun sets at the end of another river season (except this was last week when the sun shone)

  • Friday - afternoon until dark, zip. 
  • Tuesday - afternoon until dark, one dropped run from an overeager micro-jack. 
  • Wednesday - before light until dusk, one dropped run from mini-pike. 
I was glad I'd taken the stove, kettle and frying pan today. It gave me something to do while nothing happened. If the season hadn't ended today I'd have been looking for a new venue for my next trip. The biggest of the last two pike I caught, last Thursday, might have weighed three pounds if I'd shoved the smallest one down it's throat! There seemed to a lot of small, or very small, pike picking up baits for the last two weeks of the season on the drain. Possibly a pre-spawn phenomenon.

Although the drain is closed until June 16th, this might not be the end of my piking for a while. I'll not be seeking tench until late April at the earliest, so I'll have to fish for something else in the meantime. It might as well be pike. I might even drag a lure or two around the canal!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Terry Clip Tip

Regular readers will know I am lazy. One lazy thing I do is leave my home-made drop-back bobbins attached to my banksticks when I stuff them in my quiver. Every now and then one would pop off and drop to the bottom of the quiver's pocket. I was expecting one to pop off and get lost, so I came up with this quick fix. A section of cycle inner tube doubled  around the sticky-out bits of the Terry clip. It appears to do the job while still allowing the clip to be slid up and down the bankstick to set the bobbin. Suitably sized O-rings would probably do the same job and look much more like they were part of the design. But that would mean a trip to the DIY shop...

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Pond news

The recent warmer weather has seen the pond coming to life. Waterboatmen skitting about on the surface dodging the snails and a brighter green to the pondweed. Although I have a peer into the pond most days it was this morning I noticed something new. A ball of frog spawn. That will give me something else to keep an eye on as I watch it develop and the tadpoles hatch.

UPDATE: Four frogs spotted cavorting in the pond today (10/3/12). Here's one of them.


Sunday, March 04, 2012

Monsters of the mere

I like to get away from the crowds at times, so it was no surprise for me to be out among the flatlands with just the sound of a tractor to be heard the other afternoon. A warm south-westerly was blowing and all was right with the world. Apart from the pike not playing ball. One bait grabbed on the recast then dropped was all the action I'd had by the time lunch had been eaten. Judging by the marks on the bait it had been a tiny jack, a rooter.

Having arrived well before dawn I'd had one of those wildlife encounters that anglers have on a regular basis. The rods were on their rests at the water's edge and I was tucked back against the floodbank, sat in a low chair sipping the first cuppa of the day. The sky was starting to lighten, but not enough to bring full colour to the world. Everything was still desaturated in the half-light when a movement over the drain to my right caught my eye. A barn owl, the same shade as last year's grass, silently passed over my rods oblivious to me sitting some twelve feet away. The owl carried on a few more yards before crossing the drain and disappearing from view behind the reed tops. In the distance a tawny owl hooted in the quiet before the rats began their daily race.

Time was getting on and a move was being contemplated when the tractor's engine fell silent making the raucous calls of the gulls which had been following the plough sound louder. I recast one of the rods and turned to see a chap in blue overalls approaching, flask in hand, preceded by a young German shepherd. I guess spending all your days driving a tractor, even in an air-conditioned cab with all mod cons, can lead to a need for human interaction. When asked I told of my failure so far.

"Me and my lad used to do a bit of piking. See those trees over there? There's a drain at the back of that wood. I used to keep well in with the keeper and he'd turn a blind eye to us fishing it. We had lots of pike out of it. Plenty of doubles and twenties, biggest thirty-two pounds."

The dog wandered under one of my rods and knocked the bobbin off. My companion looked confused by the bleeping coming from my rucksack as I tightened the line back up and reset the indicator.

"Mind you we've had nothing like that for getting on fifteen years now. Me and my big mouth told the keeper. He had a group of Chinese on the shoot one time and they got wind of it. He let them fish the drain and they ate everything they caught. All we've had since have been small pike."

He drained the last of the contents of his flask and bade me good luck as he went back to the ploughing. Megan stopped playing with a rock she'd found and trotted after him. I sat down, unscrewed the top on my own flask and poured myself a brew while I wondered why I'd been fishing the wrong drain all these years....

Fishing photos

I've added a page (link at top) where I'll be indexing the upcoming fishing photography posts so they'll be easily findable after they drop off Lumbland's home page. Initially it's just links to my posts about self-takes.

Less than a fortnight of the river season to go and not much chance for me to get out to catch a back end monster. Such is life. Still, it only takes one run to make it happen.