Friday, September 30, 2016

Anyone seen my marbles?

After failing to take my brolly with me on Sunday evening's eel session, even though I knew it was going to rain a bit, I discovered my overtrousers aren't as waterproof as they used to be. The eels didn't like the rain much and apart from one stealing one of my baits I was untroubled by them. The chill in the wind and the miserableness of sitting in the rain decided me to give up on eel fishing for this year. That left me in a bit of a state of limbo. It still didn't feel right to go piking, not anywhere close to home and I can't be bothered travelling, so what to fish for?

That wasn't a decision I had to make for a few days because the evil of work prevented me even having the time to get in an evening session until Thursday. Remaining undecided it wasn't until Friday afternoon that I snapped and put the gear in the car to have my first try for the almost-tame sturgeon.  I'd had a look at the palce a few weeks ago, tackle in the car, and got as far as putting the banksticks in before I realised my reels were loaded with the forbidden braided mainline. I managed to avoid paying for a ticket in the few minutes before I left in embarrassment, so it wasn't all bad.

Last minute sessions fishing for something different are always likely to result in something being left behind. I could have sworn I put the tub of sturgeon bait in my Multi-Mat, just like I could have sworn I put a stick of Pepperami in it a week or so back. The Pepperami disappeared into thin air and it looked like the sturgeon bait had too when I came to stick it on my second rod.

I'd arrived around two pm to find three carp anglers blanking away as I walked round the tiny pond. Previously you could have driven round the perimeter of the pond, but after recent rain it looked a bit dicey. I picked a swim as far from anyone else as I could and with firm ground behind it. Everywhere looked as unlikely or likely as everywhere else so I wasn't too fussed about swim selection. This time the eel rods had mono on the reels. All I had to do was tie up a couple of hooklinks to comply with the maximum size 8 barbless hook rule and I'd be in business. The bailiff came round before I had the first rig tied and I handed over the cash.

As I'd taken my eel/catfish tackle box the best I could manage for the hooklinks was 80lb kevlar braid. This proved to be a struggle to get through the eyes of the hooks. But I managed it. The simple plan for this first session was a wafter on one rod and sturgeon bait on the other. While I was rerigging the rods I spotted some bubbling to my left and it seemed as good a place as any to swing out the wafter with its attendant bag of pellets. Then I tied up the other rig and that was when I discovered my bait was missing. Everything came out of the back of the Zafira but still no sign of it. Arse. If I hadn't paid for my ticket I'd have done another runner! Plan B. Fish for c*rp with both rods on the off chance the mug I was after would make a mistake. I had some 16mm pellets in the pellet tub so I chucked one of those out.

There was a definite autumnal feel to the day. The leaves on the distant trees were shades of umber and terre vert, pheasants were scurrying into the maize and a migrant hawker was on the wing. Despite the sun a cool wind was scudding the fluffy white clouds across the cerulean sky and making it cool enough for me to need my fleece.

I'd not been there long when two more vehicles arrived and the anglers walked round the pond. When they got back to their swims it was obvious they were on for at least one night. I'm not sure if I was amused or annoyed by their behaviour. Amused I guess. First the carp cradle was erected, then the chairs, followed by the bivvy, and finally the ritual hammering in of banksticks. It was while watching these antics that another patch of bubbles spread across the surface right where my wafter had landed. Minutes later the alarm sounded and I found myself with the ten footer bent into a carp. It didn't get the chance to take any line and despite pulling a bit was soon in the net where I left it while I got the scales and zeroed them.

Net onto mat, fish into sling, sling hoisted and scales read, fish slipped back. All nice and simple. I only weighed the thing because I'm crap at guessing carp weights and I thought it looked a double, which it was. Rebait, recast, consider packing up. Less than an hour's fishing didn't seem like good value for how much I'd paid and what I'd caught, so I thought I'd stick it until five. Around half three I started watching a chap on another pond playing a fish on the pole. At four thirty I saw him net it. What a lot of fuss to land what looked like a not very big carp.

It was about this time another carper arrived and set up his massive overnight erection two swims away from me. I departed shortly afterwards. Note to self: avoid Friday afternoons here.

Despite the obvious drawbacks of other anglers on a tiny pond I'll be back a few more times when I'm bored. I saw some interesting signs which might lead to something unexpected. But will probably lead to more pesky carps. No matter what happens, I'll be double, and triple, checking that I have everything I need wherever I fish and whatever I fish for next time out!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Equinoctical eels

Short sessions when not much happens aren't really worth writing about on their own. especially when there aren't even pretty sunsets to photograph. With the weather still staying dry of an evening, unlike earlier in the year when it seemed to be dry all day and start raining as soon as I felt like getting the tackle ready, I've squeezed in three short eel sessions this week, with mixed results.

The first session, on Tuesday, saw me have a move from the area which had been producing on teh grounds that the law of diminishing returns might start to apply. The swim I chose has lots going for it with overhanging trees and lily pads. It was a quiet evening with sunshine but hardly a ripple. To the right of the pads fry kept scattering as what I took to be perch attacked them. If one predatory species was feeding the eels might too. With darkness around eight fifteen I thought to myself that half an hour before that would bring me some action. No sooner had I thought it than it did. The deadbait by the pads was taken and an eel that didn't make two pounds, but was over a pound and a half, was soon returned.

Since adding buoyancy to my lead links the swivels haven'[t been getting clogged with silkweed. I don't think this has affected the eels when they take the bait, but it saves me cleaning the stuff off my rigs. Two more takes, both inexplicably missed, to the replacement bait cast back to the pads and it was time to head for home.

Thinking that it was worth continuing with the eel fishing I considered doing an overnighter on Bleatmere on Thursday but settled for fishing until eleven. I tried to get there in good time so I could play around with some rig ideas, but that didn't pan out. Darkness is falling earlier and earlier each night now and I timed it wrong. The baits were out by six fifteen, though. It was settling down to be a pleasant night. Or it would have had the wind not been blowing in my face cooling me down. The eels weren't bothered though.

It was still broad daylight when the first run came to a roach tail fished at the foot of the marginal shelf. Then all went quiet for an hour when the suspended worm, which I was fishing close in over a lacing of dead maggots, was taken. The resulting eel was one of the smallest I've caught this year. With the light gone and the geese making so much noise I had to turn my radio off as I couldn't hear it, the frustration began. endless nibblings of worms producing nothing. Whereas on the other water this kind of frustration has been replaced by a lack of action Bleatmere still seems to hold lots of bootlaces and straps.

After two hours of up and down to rebait and recast the worm rod (you can't chance leaving a bait unchecked after a couple of bleeps on the alarm or you'll sit there with no bait on the hook for hours) another, even smaller, eel was landed. Although most of the takes were to the worm, often immediately after a recast or a top up of the maggots, I did have a couple of short, abortive runs to the roach and squid baits.

Friday and Saturday evenings saw me doing the last couple of hours thing again in an attempt to catch something bigger. I managed to avoid small eels, but this was by avoiding eels all together. The first session was another windy one where I chose a swim with no shelter. I'd gone armed with a fiendish plan. Not only did I have more dead maggots, but I had some pellets with me to fish in a mesh bag on one of the baits. The plan fell down when I opened up the PVA mesh bag loader to find there was no PVA mesh in it. I scattered loose pellets over the marginal bait instead. Other than a couple of chomped worms, action was there none. Maybe I shouldn't have fished the opposite end of the lake to the one I'd been catching from? Undeterred I was back the following evening, which was warmer but still windy. This time I made sure I was sheltered. It made no difference. Not a twitch was had.

A lot of the swims I fish these days have been 'improved' by packing with stone chippings. Fine if you sit on a seatbox/platform thing or use a rod pod, but I like to have some room between my rods and angle them down the line. This has lead to me snapping the tips off a couple of my solid point banksticks as I tried to wiggle them through the stones. One evening I was reduced to using my worm bucket as a back rest. This lead me to looking around at a way to make a simple rest that could be stood on the stones, or any other hard, flat surface, to prop the rod butt up. In most swims I can manage to get a front rest into the lake bed beyond the swim so only need to support the rod butt. I know it's fashionable to manage without a back rest in some circles, and I have been known to do it myself, but it's not always appropriate in my experience.

I looked at various tackle shop options, tried cobbling something together with bits of old bankstick and cable ties, then had a Eureka moment. I'd bought a table-top lighting stand for doing product photographs. All it needed was a rod rest head and it might do the job.

Good old gaffer tape to the rescue and I tried it out on Saturday. It did the job! I wouldn't recommend the stand for fishing locked up, with a gripping back rest, or with a tight baitrunner - it's not heavy and I could imagine it and/or the rod entering the lake! But for open bale or slack baitrunner use it'll be fine. At full extension it will also serve as a single front support. All I need to do now is modify the top to take a standard rod rest head thread and give it a proper trial. Less than nine quid, I bet they'd be nearer £20 if branded for carp fishing!

This bright idea might fail. The fittings might rust and the whole thing seize up or some other unexpected catastrophe occur. In which case I'll have to start taking three buckets with me...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Last knockings

Despite the temperatures remaining high there's an obvious change in the seasons going on. It feels like high summer, hot days and sultry evenings going into dark. But that dark is arriving earlier and earlier every day. On Saturday sunset was around twenty to eight, tonight it was not quite twenty five past seven. All this means is that for my last couple of hour eel sessions I'm having to set out sooner and sooner. The eels don't seem to care and are still feeding.

Saturday's session was one of frustration caused by pinched baits. How they get the baits off the hooks when I have a piece of cycle inner tube holding them on is beyond me. But they manage it some how. even so, getting a few takes made me keen to get back, but events conspired against me until Wednesday. Sunday I was pratting about editing photographs, Monday was scuppered by work and Tuesday the rain put me off.

I'm not sure why I fished a different swim when I did return. It was close to where I'd had the baits stolen, but allowed me to cover more water. Seeing s the fishy bait had got more attention than the worms on Saturday it was one worm, suspended, and two legered deads. The Archers had not long finished, with plenty of daylight left, when I got a positive run to the right hand deadbait rod. The strike connected and an eel was netted, unhooked, weighed and released. Not a big fish but not a bootlace either.

At ten to eight I had a run that stopped, and after a pause I wound in a bare hook. Again. With the moon on the rise and almost full I wondered if the bootlaces were active. A very twitchy set of goings on to the worm rod, which also revealed a bare hook when the activity stopped and I was sure it was tiny eels on the prowl.

It was when I began to pack up that the fun began. Dropped runs to the deadbaits and one to the worm all in the space of a few minutes. Hearing some line come off the reel as I picked the last rod up to lay on the ground as I put the sticks away I thought it was just me moving the rod. The line kept going when I let go of the rod. The strike met with thin air!

landing just the one eel I felt the same swim might be worth another try this evening. There was still plenty of water that hadn't seen a bait, so I tried to cover that. Once more action started early. It was only ten past seven when the bait cast out the furthest got molested. A series of tiny twitches and short pulls that came to nought. Apart from an eel getting a free meal. Twenty minutes later there was a repeat performance.

Half an hour later the same rod was giving me the pinched bait treatment. Fifteen minutes after that I hooked an eel to a bait in the same spot. It looked and felt about the same size as the one from the previous session, but I'll never know for sure. It fell off at the net. At least it gave me confidence that it wasn't tiny eels annoying me. After rebaiting the hook I cast the bait slightly closer in. Rightly or wrongly I didn't want it back in the same spot I'd hooked and lost an eel from.

It proved to be a good move as the bait was quickly taken and a positive run ensued. And I connected with the culprit. This one unhooked itself in the net and proved to be a bit bigger than the one from the evening before. Then it was time to leave.

Tomorrow is looking doubtful for a session as I'm off to the PAC Convention in Kettering early on Saturday morning, which rules out Saturday evening too. Looking at the forecast the hot spell is starting to cool down. With a bit of luck there might still be eels on the feed for another week or two though, although it's getting towards the end of eel season for me. But maybe it's the time for a biggun?

Friday, September 09, 2016

Surpise, surprise... Surprise.

You'd imagine I'd have learned by now that one new item of tackle is the kiss of death for a session, so a multitude of new items and new rigs will be apocalyptic. Although it is getting late in the year Wednesday night was forecast to be hot so a trip to Yosemite Lodge to play with my catfish hooks and some other gear was in order. After catching a supply of livebaits I stuck two out, one on a pop up leger rig the other on my slightly modified dumbell rig. The third rod started out with three 16mm halibut pellets on a running leger.

All I've done to the dumbell is fit different sized polyballs. The idea being to prevent the bait pulling the one closest to the lead under as it swims away. It works, to a degree, although I doubt it matters. All rigs were fishing the Varivas Chinu hooks in various sizes. New hooks must be the most certain jinx of all. Or maybe not.

New rods usually mean a string of fruitless trips. If only one rod out of three is new than that's the one that won't get a take in ages. As it turned out the rod I was hoping to put a bend in did get a take. But it was dropped. The legered livebait had been savaged during the night. What I'd imagined were bleeps caused by the bait getting agitated must have been a dropped take.

As it got dark I gave up on the pellets and set up a suspended worm rig. This was using a more catfish oriented hooklink to present a bigger bait than one or two lobs for eels. Unfortunately my lobworms had pegged out. One or two had some life in them but the majority were limp. Thankfully not turned stinky, so I shoved a good bunch on the maggot clip and cast the rig out.

Twice during the night, which was so warm I didn't need a fleece until morning when the wind and rain arrived in the morning,  the worms got attacked by something. The short lifts of the bobbin suggested that something small might be nibbling at the worms. Roach or perch, perhaps. But both times the twitches turned into slow steady runs. Which I missed. Both times the worms were gone. I was reduced to using dendrobenas. As many as I could cram on the maggot clip and more on the hook itself.

This got almost immediate attention. The twitches followed by slow runs and missed strikes continued into daylight. I was beginning to wonder if tiny kittens were the culprits when, at five to eight, I got a surprise when my strike met sold resistance. Whatever it was didn't fancy coming my way and a tug of war ensued. This didn't feel like a kitten. After a few yards it didn't feel like a cat either. That side to side head shaking suggested eel. This was confirmed when a big head broke surface. Amazingly the fish went in the net first time.

All became clear. Although it was a big (for me) eel most of the worms being on a hair rigged clip had probably prevented it engulfing the lot as I'm sure a catfish would have. The small barb on the Chinu made getting the hook out easy. Much easier than holding the darned thing for a trophy shot. Hence the photo below!

With that mystery answered I reverted to the pellets. Once more I got a surprise when they steamed off at a rate of knots. And another when the culprit turned out to be a carp of about seven pounds! Sod that. Time to try squid. My experience of using squid as bait for eels got me thinking of ways to mount bigger pieces for catfish. Another of my ideas was put into practice. The hair goes through the bait towards the head end, a Fox 'Pellet Peg' acting as the stop. The hook isn't nicked into the bait at all. To streamline things for the cast the hooklink is half-hitched around the tapering part of the squid. In the photo below one half-hitch is used, but this was just my starting point. There's more experimenting to be done with hook positions if I start using the bait more in the future.

Both the previous fish had come close in where I'd baited with trout pellets so I cast the squid well out away from the feed. I had a funny feeling that I should have fished the windward bank instead of getting the wind behind me. Then again, when the wind picked up and drove the rain it would have been a touch unpleasant with it in my face. Thankfully the forecasters were on the ball and by tennish the sun was shining and drying things out nicely. Even the wind was warmer.

When the alarm sounded once more and the spool on the squid rod was spinning at an alarming rate I knew it had to be a cat. Wrong. A silly little carp had decided to try a squiddy snack. That was the final straw. Although I cast another bait out it was time to draw a line under the session before I caught any more carp. As it turned out my timing was good. I had barely got in the car when the rain returned.

Three fish landed. None of my target species and all three to the one rod that didn't have new line on the reel and the one which was my least preferred of the three to use for catfishing. The Chinu hooks look like they might suit me, at least in sizes larger than a 2, but the rod and mainline I wanted to evaluate didn't get a testing. The suspended worm rig worked again  for the eel... It looks like it'll be a good long while before I try it for cats again, and that eel has knocked another target for the year off my to-catch list. So I'm back to being stuck for inspiration. Or am I?

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Size matters

What is it with hook sizes? The bane of my life these days is finding hooks of a pattern and size to do what I want. If tackle shops stocked a wider range of hooks it would be easy to pop in, look at what there was and select the exact hook I want. But they don't. That means ordering on-line. In turn that puts me at the whim of the hook manufacturers' sizing strategies.

I recently came a cross a commercial which has something in it I'd quite like to catch which has a maximum size 8, barbless, rule. So I ordered some size 8 barbless hooks, sight unseen, and when they arrived they turned out to be smaller than the size tens I use - more like a twelve. This was unusual because I get the feeling that hooks intended for use on commercial fisheries are larger for their stated size these days than hooks used to be in order to get round these daft rules.

It's been no better in my quest for catfish hooks. This search has been continuing among the sea fishing sections of various websites. I've bought hooks marketed for catfishing and been less than impressed. Some have been more like shark hooks in the wire gauge. In my limited experience of catching catfish they are a bit like barbel in that when a hook goes in it stays in, and if a hook goes in to the bend it's unlikely to open out. The same with pike and anything else really, there's no great need for extra thick wire. Thick enough, but not so thick as to make penetration difficult. Another pet hate of mine is rank barbs.

As the top photo shows I have got hold of a few patterns of hook to compare. The Eagle Wave (A below) and Penetrator  (E) are proven catfish hooks, although I'm not keen on the look of them! The others are sea fishing hooks. The Mustad 'Big Gun' (C) was bought years ago to tie pike flies on, but was too heavy. It looks almost perfect in shape and wire strength. The Tronix 'Big Dog' (B) is very similar but a little finer in the wire and with a neater barb. The Varivas 'Chinu' (D) has the perfect wire gauge and a neat barb, and is available in a wide range of sizes from 3/0 to 8 - whatever that will be like when I get some delivered! When it comes to ordering the sizing again becomes a lottery. The hooks below are sized: A - 1,  B - 1/0, C - 2, D- 1/0,  E - 1/0. It's nice that the sea hooks are a lot cheaper than those marketed for catfishing. Surprising, because when you do some internet digging it becomes apparent where the catfish hooks come from, and that their original purpose was sea fishing.

Of course price shouldn't be a major consideration when it comes to hooks. The hook and the line are the most important items of tackle which demand ultimate reliability. But those traces of Scots and Yorkshire blood in my veins mean I can't see any good reason to pay a fiver for a packet of hooks when two or three quid will get me some that do exactly the same job. If the Tronix hooks are up to the job they're only a pound for ten!

I'm also looking out for hooks to use for eels. I slipped up recently when I sold off the last of my stocks of Owner single hooks, only to discover that a couple of patterns were useful for eels. The C5-X makes a good worm hook for eels in an eight, and the size 1 C-4 might be handy for boilies or worms for catfish.

While involved in my hook odyssey I've come across some interesting monos and braids for hooklinks and mainline for various species. I hadn't realised that Amnesia is available in 6lb, for example. It's surprising what can cross over from one discipline to another if you forget the label that says 'sea' or 'game' (I've been looking at saltwater fly hooks) or whatever the marketing people think tackle should be used for. I realise that some anglers only buy stuff that is labelled for their kind of fishing, but that's their loss. I remember when I worked in a tackle shop one customer refused to buy a 3lb test rod because it was called a 'specimen' rod and not a 'pike' rod. I must have a word with some of my rods for catching the wrong species!

It's getting in to autumn now so my chances of more eels and catfish are likely to reduce as the month goes on. More catfish? Well, I have sneaked one out on the only session I've managed since I got the urge. That's how I know the Big Gun is a decent hook but with slightly too big a barb, and that my revised polyball leger rig works as well as its predecessor. If work hadn't been getting in the way I'd have had more cracks at cats instead of snatching short eel sessions recently. I might have to make time before it gets too cold. I'd forgotten how much fun catfishing is, and how cute catfish look. I want to try that suspended worm rig out for the cats now I know it catches eels and pike, and I have a new blank to play with. Sod it. If it's warm next week work can wait!