Tuesday, December 31, 2013

That's that then

Christmas Day was good for birdwatching if not for pike catching. I'd never seen a pheasant in a hawthorn bush eating berries before. Not the most dainty of feeders, it looked to be in danger of falling out of the bush every time it leant forward to take another berry!

At least the rain held off and the sun shone - which wasn't what was predicted for the rest of the week. A few swim moves and eventually one of the floats moved. I wound down, connected, dropped the landing net in the edge ready for action and the bloody pike spat the bait out. Not that pike do spit baits out. I'd not actually hooked the fish, which was obvious when I checked the bait to see the top treble had folded over and masked the points in the lamprey's head. No matter. It hadn't been a big pike so I was saved the hassle of unhooking it.

Sure enough Boxing Day started dismally with rain. When the sun did eventually break through I couldn't be bothered giving the rods another airing. So it went until today. This morning was bloody awful. The rain was lashing down so hard at one point as I drove in to town it was like driving through thick fog and it seemed like the day was never going to brighten up. It came as a surprise when, just as I started my lunch, I realised the afternoon was looking promising. So it proved. As far as not getting sokaed went.

I had a couple of float legered deadbaits out by one and began work on a cunning plan to present a bait over the silkweed that is still carpeting the bottom in a number of places. As an area I've seen pike striking, and plenty of prey fish topping, it seems like a good idea to get a bait out there. My usual float leger rig just drags the bait into the gunge and a fixed paternoster is likely to cause other problems. Years ago I encountered a similar situation where the paternoster weight would stay put in the bottom weed and pike would drop the bait. A running paternoster sorted that out. So I sat down and cobbled one together. Having left the house in a bit of a rush for this unplanned session I grabbed the nearest tubed float I could find - and coloured over the bright yellow top with a marker pen to turn it into a sunk float!

By tightening up to the rig the overlong lead link is pulled down and the bait hangs close to the top of the weed. When a pike takes the bait the lead stays put and the line runs freely through the snap link. Not that any pike showed up today to put this into practice. Although I remembered this rig is an appalling caster ( the lead goes one way and the bait another) I'd forgotten exactly how awful it is. Some PVA around the snap would cure that ill, I suppose. Instead I'll be trying a different method next time out. Nothing showed any interest in my bottom fished bait either. My fishing year ended on a blank. One that I'd enjoyed and which had made me think a bit. Which has been the hallmark of most of my fishing this year.

I read somewhere that when you start fishing you want to catch the most fish possible. As you progress you want to catch the biggest. As you mature it is the challenge of the most difficult that becomes the driving force. I might not be fishing for the most difficult fish these days, but my current ambition is to catch the biggest fish I can from waters as close to home as possible. Living in the north west of England those fish aren't likely to be particularly large by national standards. Maybe trying to get as close as possible to what might be regarded as a specimen 'down south' is fishing for the hardest fish to catch? By 'close' I mean no more than 20 miles as the crow flies from my house, preferably half that distance, and better still closer than that. This year and last has seen me increase a couple of my 'local bests', but there's plenty of room for improvement.

Customarily I look back at the year that's drawing to a close, and this one's been a strange one. The roach fishing I was doing in January should have been over by mid-March, but the lingering winter - which felt like it dragged on until May - kept me at it into April. Unable to get motivated for bream and tench I went straight into eel fishing. My chosen venue didn't live up to expectations. I'm not sure if that was because I started on it too early and didn't stick with it long enough, or because it wasn't likely to produce the goods. I rather suspect the former to be honest.

Getting things arse about face I left the eels alone in August, during the seemingly endless summer we'd been wishing for for years, to go fish for bream and tench. While this might not have broken any pots for me it did provide local bests in both species.

While spring had been a month or more late and hardly materialised, summer carried on into October and even now it feels more like autumn with reasonably high temperatures and only a few light frost been had so far. My piking was held back by work and weed in October and didn't kick off until over a week into November. It's been okay though, and has kept be from returning to the roach. The roach urge is still there, but when the pike bug gets me it seems to bite the deepest.

This year's list of 'big' fish isn't too impressive, eels to 2lb 8oz, roach 1lb 8oz, bream and tench to five pounds odd and pike to sixteen and a bit won't raise any eyebrows. However, for the first time in a few years I have got close to filling the annual A6 notebook I record my fishing in. This means I've done a lot of fishing, albeit mostly in fairly brief sessions, despite periods of absence from the bank through poor weather or falling over... In turn this means I've been keen to get out - which means that I've been enjoying the fishing. So this year has been particularly successful in that respect. Getting to grips with a new waters, or new species from old waters, has kept me thinking all year - and that's what it's all about for me these days. Doing the same old same old to catch fish without much effort doesn't float my boat.When the piking begins to pall I wonder what I'll fish for next? Here's to more new challenges in the New Year.

The Mug - what will she weigh next time?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I thought it was all over

It was all planned out. Work Monday, catch loads of pike Tuesday, send out the last of the pre-Christmas rod orders Wednesday, catch more pike Thursday and/or Friday. It worked. As far as Monday. Tuesday I intended to fish from dawn but couldn't be bothered getting up early, so I went for an afternoon session. Despite my usual lack of success fishing for pike after lunch I'd been catching enough in the last few hours of daylight recently it seemed like a percentage chance. Things didn't work out that way and I blanked. Someone else had caught in the morning, so maybe the pike had changed their feeding habits. Wednesday went to plan, unlike Thursday and Friday which got scuppered by the promise of deliveries. Sure enough the promises were met - with deliveries after five pm. So that was that.

By now I'd lost the will to fish so I went out with my camera on Saturday. Sunday could easily have headed in the same direction when I awoke to hear rain battering on the window putting paid to an early piking start. Yes. I am getting soft in my old age! The excuse being that fishing mobile in the rain means getting wet, and I didn't fancy sitting it out in one spot all day. After doing some work after breakfast the weather looked to be improving. A check on the interwebs showed that yesterday's forecast for today of rain later in the day had been modified to no rain until after dark. I hastily sorted the gear out and set out.

It was sunny but cool in the wind so I chose my first swim based on available shelter and past form. There's something bleakly atmospheric on days like this when you're out amongst the reeds with flocks of geese struggling noisily upwind that goes hand in hand with pike fishing.

With an hour and a half of light left I was about to put the rods in the quiver for a final move when rain blew in. Up with the brolly until it passed over. There were two swims I fancied, both were free. However there was another piker in the swim next to one of them. I could have fished my first choice swim without interfering with the other chap but decided to drop in the second choice. Partly because it's a swim I've been meaning to fish for a while.

I rarely use popped up deadbaits, but that doesn't stop me messing about with ways to easily get deads up off the bottom. So far all methods have been less than successful. My latest effort is pretty straightforward. The photo should be self-explanatory. There's a loop crimped into the end of the wire to allow it to be pulled through the bait with a baiting needle of some sort. The pop up float is held in place with a pellet stop. The bait certainly floats vertically on this rig, rather than flopping over as with my last hopeless rig. Not that pike are likely to be bothered!

This bait was dropped in the margin in my final swim while I chopped up a fresh lamprey to use on the other rod. With that baited up I wound the herring in and chucked it further out to the left while the lamprey head section was dropped close in to the right. Things were looking grim given that evenings might have switched off. I sat down and got the flask out. It was warmer in this swim, being sheltered from the strong wind which was blowing from the prevailing direction. The tea was poured and the flask closed. I hadn't taken a sip when I saw the right hand float on the move.

I tip-toed to the rod so as not to disturb the pike and cause it to drop the bait. Then I wound down to feel the weight of the fish. An unspectacular fight ensued with the lamprey hanging from the scissors. In the net the flying treble tangled. It seemed like a good idea to flick the other hook out of the pike while it was still in the net in the edge. It seemed like a good idea.

Somehow the tangled hook caught one of my fingers when the pike woke up. Luckily, or not, the hook ripped out again. I left the still hooked pike in the net while I sorted out the mat, sling and forceps out.

The hook in the pike was easily removed. It actually came free when I tried to pull the lamprey off it to get a better grip on the hook shank. The pike was weighed, then sacked up while I sorted the chaos out and found a plaster for my now bleeding finger as I wanted a photo for comparison purposes as its weight seemed familiar. At this point the other angler arrived and did the photographic honours. After the fish had drifted back whence it came it was time to find a fresh trace. That done it was almost time to pack in but I gave it another fifteen minutes. Maybe the pike haven't switched feeding times after all. That suits my lazy old bones!

With the photos uploaded to my computer it was time to make the comparisons. The tail root area is always reliable for comparing pike markings. It didn't take long to identify a number of matching spots, wiggles and stripes. There were some other markings on the flank which matched too. That's the third time I've caught that fish now, from three different swims. Mug?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

More pike

One thing about doing frequent short sessions is that you don't mind the occasional blank. More so when you are on the move all the time. Sitting in one swim from dawn to dusk, especially on a cold winter's day, can be demoralising when nothing is caught. When you move ever hour or less there's fresh hope in each swim. Not only that, but you don't have to bother preparing any food or drink if the session is only to be a couple of hours.

Of course this sort of approach is only viable on local waters which can be reached within a few minutes drive. Round here that limits the expectations of what size fish can be caught where pike are concerned. One reason I have never amassed a huge tally of big pike is partly down to the poor (in relation to other areas of the country) pike fishing available locally, and also because, when I have my fishing head on, I prefer to fish more often than to concentrate fewer sessions on more productive waters.

I could save up my free time and spend one full day a week somewhere where a twenty or bigger is a possibility, but I'd rather pop out for a few hours three or four times a week these days. It's a return to how I fished when I started piking. Only in those days I was forced to fish locally for reasons of cost and lack of transport.

A nice thing about mobile piking is fishing with floats. It does away with the bother of getting two rod rests and a bobbin set up every time I move. A lot of the time the front rests stay in the quiver and the rods lie on the ground, propped up against the reel handle.

There haven't been many cold days so far this winter, but yesterday dawned with a cold south easterly pushing into my preferred swim. A couple of hours was all I could bear before moving to seek shelter. By then the misty haze was burning off and the sun breaking through as restless flocks of fieldfares kept taking to the air.
A float dipped, bobbed, fell flat. Then nothing. The bait was checked and there were small teeth slashes in the sides of the lamprey head. Jack attack. Another move was made and the lamprey recast in the general direction it had been picked up in, the herring dropped to my left in the margin.
Watching floats is a bit like watching a tennis match. Head constantly turning from side to side. Left float, right float, left float, no float, left... Zzzzzzzzzz! The lamprey float's gone and the baitrunner spinning furiously. I'm into the fish straight away as it tries to bury itself in the reeds. Being a little un it doesn't make it. A hook catches in the net and the fish unhooks itself. The lamprey was gone so I stick a joey on the hooks and drop it same spot.

After a cup of flask tea I move the macky further out. Sitting down after the recast I spot the margin float dither briefy then stop. Again the bait is marked by tiny pike teeth. I swing it back out and it's taken more positively within minutes. Another jack hits the net.

The wind seems to have eased, or maybe swung to a less penetrating direction and the sun is warming the day. When two o'clock comes the heat is going out of the sun while I move again. A final unproductive move for the last hour is spent watching the sunset from behind the brolly I'd put up to keep the wind off me. Only my second full day pike session this winter and I'm ready to get back to the short sessions. I'd caught just as much from three moves in two and a half hours on Monday! It might be time for some roach fishing. If the cormorants haven't had them all.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Old workhorses

Writing about my latest piking reels yesterday got me thinking about others I've used over the years. I am a bit of a reel nerd - as will become plain...

When I started pike fishing in earnest in 1982 my reels were the same Mitchell 300s I used for tench fishing and all my other legering needs. I wasn't alone. Most pikers at that time used the same reel, or the faster retrieve 410 - which I also owned, having bought a used one from a lad at school. In common with most pike anglers I was using 10lb mono, and the Mitchells coped well enough. Not least because most of my fishing was done on the local drains and canals where no long casts were required.

Gradually line strength increased to 15lb (Sylcast sorrel) and the reels still managed well enough at close range. However, a shift to fishing reservoirs saw me using ten pound mainline with a fifteen pound shock leader in order to get the required distance from my three ounce lead and sprat combo. In order to wind down quickly using the stretchy line I bought a fast retrieve Mitchell, the 810. This all served for a couple of years even though I dabbled with a bggger Mitchell 306 thinking that it's wider spool would make for longer casts. However, I found that the increased weight of this monster worked against me for some reason and I gained nothing.

Then everything changed. Shimano hit the UK market with their revolutionary Baitrunners. I saw them at a NASA conference in Reading and Eddie Turner and his flash southern mates were using them. They were out of my price range at the time, but the spools were a little larger than the Mitchell's and the reels quite lightweight thanks to the composite body material.

My regular piking companion at the time, Pete Hesketh, had been using Shakespeare reels ever since I met him. They weren't 'ultra cult' like the Mitchell, and one of them was a metallic blue colour! They did the job though, and the skirted spools on the front drag reels were larger than the Micthell spools. Around the same time the Baitrunner emerged other manufacturers were also switching from cast alloy reel bodies and introducing rear drags. Shakespeare was one of those companies.

Having moved on to Cumbrian lakes and Scottish lochs my main line was now 15lb by default, even when I needed to get a decent range. I was in the market for new reels. I drew up a shortlist that got whitled down to the Baitrunner 4500 and the Shakespeare Sigma Whisker Titan 060. Based on value for money the Shakespeare won out. I reasoned that I didn't need the baitrunnner feature, and saving around a third of the price made more sense. I bought one reel to try out.

In pre-Aero line lay days most reels made an untidy mess of spooling the line. The Shakespeare was no better or worse than any other. The spool was a bit smaller than the 4500 Baitrunner, but a bit larger than the 3500, and larger (physically and in capacity) than the Mitchell too. It wasn't long before I had four of these reels set up on my pike rods.

The gear ratio was just right for cranking baits in and for backwinding. The large wooden handle warm and easy to grip in the cold. The reels weren't too bulky or heavy and balanced nicely on the carbon rods I was just starting to use. And the reels gearing was smooth. Smoother than the Baitrunners.

There were a few novel features on the Whisker Titans. The bale arm had a switch which collapsed it for transport. In the days of three rod holdalls this was handy. The reels left on the rods fitted better in the holdall's pouches, and the fourth reel folded up neatly in the rucksack making it less prone to damage.

I was, and still am, a fan of reels where the handle is loosened for folding by simply turning it backwards rather than loosening a threaded nut on the opposite side. Those nuts can work loose and drop off. I also feel that the handle can be tightened more securely. Not least because it is tightened by winding it forward so should be less likely to work loose when fishing.

As a committed backwinder I found the anti-reverse system on the Whisker Titans most useful. Older reels like the Mitchells had noisy anti-reverses. When engaged the anti-reverse clicked loudly. Annoying. It did, however, alert you to the fact you couldn't backwind, so you could knock the anti-reverse off before a fish flat-rodded you. Baitrunners and other reels coming on stream at the time had silent anti-reverses. Great if you were a clutch user, but dodgy if you weren't. The Sigmas had a three position anti-reverse lever. Off - silent -and audible. The lever was also on top at the back where it was not only visible, but easy to get at. How good the drag system was for giving line I can't say. It did lock up good and tight though!


As I was still having to break one rod down without a reel in the holdall the push button spools were more convenient than the front drags on the Baitrunners. They had another neat feature too. While Shimano and others still supply washers to place under their spools in order to adjust line lay slightly by bunching it towards the back of the spool, the Whisker Titan spools had a 'Skill Cast Control' where the drag knob would have been. By turning it one way or the other the spool was pushed forward or backward on the spindle to perform the same function as washers on other reels. The adjustment wasn't much, but it did make a difference. I doubt it made much difference to casting in reality though.

I can't remember how long my four Whisker Titans were in regular use for. It was a good number of years, and a few of my friends bought and used them too. Hence me writing my name on the reel feet!

Being a reel addict other reels have been attached to my pike rods for various reasons. When the first big pits appeared I got some for my reservoir fishing and the Sigmas took a back seat being used mostly for boat fishing - one reeled in my PB. When I returned to drain piking I had three Aero Baitrunners which I'd bought for tench and carp fishing so I used them. They never felt robust enough to me, nor smooth enough when backwinding, so I dug the Titans out again. By now they were loaded with 50lb Power Pro rather than 15lb Sylcast or Big Game and performed equally flawlessly. Only a couple of winters back they were still in use when I returned to my local drains until I switched first to my Aero Baitrunners and then my Baitrunner Bs.

To be honest the only reason they are in retirement again is because they lack the one feature I find indispensable on a reel that is to be used on rods which are used with braid and broken down and carried in a quiver. Infinite ant-reverse. With mono this lack isn't a problem as rigs are held in tension by the stretch in the line. They don't drop off the rods in transit and attach themselves to bankside trees! With braided line it's difficult to adjust the tension, even by turning the spool against the drag (which always seems to have some play in it), sufficiently to ensure such mishaps never occur. Instant anti-reverse compensates for the lack of stretch.

If the Sigmas had IAR and better line lay they'd be pretty near a perfect pike reel for close to medium range fishing. One thing is for sure. Despite the use and abuse these reels have had over the years (one fell off a rod rest and smashed the plastic part of the bale arm - superglue still holds that together) they are still in excellent working order and at least as smooth as some less-used Aero Baitrunners I have bought more recently.

I can't bring myself to part with these four old workhorses. Not only because of the memories they hold, but because they might have another lease of life yet. You never know!

Friday, December 06, 2013

Interim report

The eel fishing I did with the 6000OCs wasn't much of a test for them, but they have now had a bit of a workout with a handful of mid double figure pike and I love 'em! The reels balance great on my P-5s making a potentially perfect set up for close to medium range piking.

While the line lay isn't up to that on an Aero Baitrunner it's a step up on the old B series. Not that line lay matters as much with braid as it does mono in my experience. To be frank spool diameter and length make more difference than line lay no matter what line is in use. The OC spools are a little longer than the Bs, so that helps. Casting seems smooth enough, and distances achievable are dependent on rig and bait more than the reel's limitations.

As I mentioned a few posts back I'm fishing off the baitrunner at the moment. This is mostly through laziness! As I'm float fishing while being semi-mobile I can get away with lying the rods on the ground and flicking the baitrunner on, turning the spool to tighten the line and cock the float. Much simpler than messing around with line clips and/or two rod rests and bobbins.

Although not particularly loud the OC's baitrunner can be set very slack. Slack enough for a buoyant float to pull line from it. The front drag is equally sensitive. I usually backwind when pike fishing, but I have adjusted the drags the same way I do on my barbel reels - so that line can just be pulled off against them. There's no sticking when a fish takes line, the spool simply ticks slowly and smoothly. I might even leave the anti-reverse on in future and rely solely on the drag!

When backwinding the reels feel really smooth (time and use will tell if they stay this way) and the rotor has no sharp edges, which allows me to brake the rotor with  my forefinger to prevent the rotor over-running if a pike makes a bolt from the net. Let's not forget the sensible single handle with the big grip. Double handles are crap for piking with cold hands. I can really crank smaller pike in with these reels.

The only problem I have with the 6000OCs is having four P-5s and three reels...