Saturday, February 12, 2022

When you're on a roll

Knowing that the weather was set to turn wet for the weekend and that I'd have no time to fish next week I made sure I got a session in this week. Luckily the UPS van turned up nice and early on Thursday so I was able to get a decent length session in. I was going to fish into dark anyway to spin it out so I filled a flask, something I've not bothered doing recently just to keep the weight in the rucksack down. Fred was grateful for my effort.

I wanted to give the drifter another try out, so made my swim selection with that in mind. With a bait out close in to my left and another a bit further out to my right I started drifting. Looking at the chop on the water the float should have headed straight for an ice feature I could have inched it back from. What the wind looks like it'll do to a float rarely turns out to be what it actually does. 

Instead it spent a lot of its time blowing the drifter towards my right hand float. Eventually the wind swung a bit and I got the float just where I wanted it. Then the left hand float dipped and started to move off. When I got to the rod the float stopped moving. I have a suspicion that it was my clod-hopping tread that disturbed the pike. I checked the bait and swung it back out, a little further along the margin this time.

There's been heavy overnight rain which had made the banks muddy and slippy. The more I trudged around the swim the muddier it got and my boots were soon caked in clag.

Not having felt the hooks I had a feeling the pike would still be hanging around and up for a second bit at the lamprey head. For once I was right! This time the float kept moving and I connected. By the time I'd netted, unhooked, weighed and returned the fish the drifter had gone off course and was round the back of my right hand float.

It took a while to sort the mess out but at least the wind was taking the drifter out nicely by then. I was pretty confident of more action but none came my way. With an hour and a half of daylight left it was time for a move, and a switch to three static baits to take me into dark. The new swim was quite sheltered from the chilly wind and offered me three nice locations to place baits. It was, however, on a bit of a slope. A bit of a very slippery slope. Moving the rods I felt my feet lose grip and with as much grace as an ice dancing superstar I dropped the rods and pirouetted round to keep myself upright.

After a while I'd worked out where the safest route round the swim was in case I had to leap to the rods to deal with a take. The knowledge only came in handy when it was time to wind the baits in and go home.

I had a lot to do on Friday, but I was still itching to get back for more pike action. And to have another play with some floats I'd made for fishing into dark. Unusually I managed to get my jobs done in good time and was looking for a swim by two. Ideally I wanted the wind behind me but it had swung through almost 180 degrees overnight and I couldn't find a spot that would give me both a good drifting line and let me put bottom baits where I felt confident. One of my jobs had been to buy a clip-lid box to put the drifter in. It did a good job while it languished, unused, in my rucksack.

For some reason the swim I was in, with the wind blowing in to me at a slight angle, felt right. Slowly retrieving the far mackerel head a decent looking pike turned behind it about a rod length out. That made me think that a drifted bait might have scored if all the pike were as active as that chaser.Even so I resisted the urge to move. Instead I took the float and leger weight off the rig and cast the mackerel had around the swim for a few minutes. It looks strange, but I've caught on 'wobbled' half baits before. When the pike didn't reappear I reattached the bomb and float and recast it a bit further out. I'd barely sat down when the float was away.

Winding down I felt the fish. Then it came adrift. Winding the bait in I could see the trace had got round the top treble and the points were facing backwards. Bugger. Never mind, that could have been a different fish. My confidence rose another notch.

It was about an hour later the left hand float, which had been drawn back a few yards from where it had been cast, wobbled over and the line went slack. When I picked the rod up the float was moving away steadily. This one got hooked. Then kited into the reeds. Back in open water it stayed deep then made a run from the net. Time to get the mat, sling and scales out. Laid on the mat for a snap I could see from the patch of what look like regrown scales behind the gill cover that this was a repeat capture of a fish I'd caught last month. It had lost a couple of ounces - although that could be a weighing discrepancy.

Being unable to think of a better swim to move to I decided to break with my usual habit of moving regularly and chose to stick it out in this one until I'd had enough. It seemed like I'd made the right choice when the right hand margin float began to behave oddly. It was just moving away when I got to the rod when... It stopped moving. I'm becoming convinced that when fishing these margin baits a rod length away I am running the risk of spooking pike as I approach the rod. Again my thinking was that the fish hadn't felt steel so might come back. There wasn't enough time to move swims before dark fell anyway.

The sun was low and casting a warm light on the reeds when the right hand float made off more confidently. When I set the hooks I could feel that the pike was somewhere in the submerged willow branches. Once out of that potential tangle area it fought pretty well, but not being a monster was soon laying on the unhooking mat. Not a fish I recognised this time. This rig was the one I'd had the drifter on and instead of my usual quick change lead set up I'd simply attached the bomb to a paper-clip through the top eye of the trace swivel. Coming through the branches the paper-clip had done it's job as a weak link and the lad had gone.

After dark I felt like there might be another chance but after half an hour that feeling had left me, so I left the pike and the pit for home. I've caught a few pike from this place which have required the use of a headtorch for me to see what I'm doing when unhooking them. Stopping into dark hasn't paid off though. Maybe I need to stop more than an hour after sunset? Or maybe the pike don't feed in the dark. Having caught one when eel fishing in the dark I'm not too sure. I might give it another try when I can get back. It would allow me to make later starts and have a decent length session when the UPS van doesn't turn up early.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Never say never

After my last session I'd been thinking about piking quite a bit, the idea of covering water with an off bottom bait had inspired me to get making prototype drifters (see previous post) and also mess about with some other float ideas that are probably superfluous. I'd even stocked up on deadbaits as my supply in the freezer was limited in both variety and quantity. Reluctantly I'd bought a pack of lamprey halves. I much prefer being able to chop a whole lamprey down to a size I like, and keep the tail sections short enough to discard as they don't fill me with confidence when used on the hooks, But no full lamprey were to be had. So it was Hobson's choice.


With a replenished freezer and new floats to try out I couldn't wait to get back to the pit. Ideally that would have been on Thursday when it was dry and warm. With the temperature set to drop for Friday and with showers forecast it wasn't my preferred day. My couriers had other plans, so when they arrived late on Thursday for a collection it was Friday or not at all.

Not only had the temperature dropped, the wind had picked up and was adding a considerable wind chill factor coming from a roughly northerly direction. The rain had gone by lunch time but a shower was predicted around two. Oh well. I took the chance of leaving the brolly at home and after I'd decided where to go left my waterproofs in the car. 

My plan before setting off had been to fish the far end of the pit as that would give me good long drifts to test the float out. I had a short wander before loading my gear on my back and saw that a closer swim might also offer a drifting opportunity. As it's a swim that has been good to me before it seemed like an idea to start there. By quarter past one I had two float legered baits covering the margins and a third drifting about further out.

I hadn't bothered putting my fresh packet of lamprey in my cool bag as I was sure I still had a head section left from before (I put the bag in the freezer complete with contents after every session), but added the pack of small smelts I'd bought to go under the drifter. When I got to my swim I discovered the only bits of lamprey I had left were two tails I'd cut off. One of them got stabbed with my bait knife and the other rod got a decent mackerel head.

The drifter  float did a great job. Alas the smelt wasn't to the pike's liking. I'd forgotten how much work is involved with fishing a drifter. They never go exactly where you want them to, and in a slight cross wind have a tendency to drag in to the bank you are fishing from. As that could have resulted in the float going behind a point it restricted my range. The rain arrived a bit late, at two thirty. It wasn't heavy and by standing behind some shelter I only got damp. When it turned to hail I almost wished I'd put teh brolly in the quiver. After fifteen or twenty minutes the shower had blown past and I was starting to dry in the wind. It was time for a move.

Again I thought of a productive swim that might let me get a drift in and by three I was set up with the left and right margins covered with the bottom baits and the smelt drifting over the site of a lily bed. After twenty minutes the mackerel head rod was in action. Another confident run that, as last time, saw a lightly hooked double in the net after a short but dogged scrap. This time the hooks hadn't come out in the net but the bottom one was only just inside the mouth.

The macky head was replaced with a tail section and I went back to working the drifter around a few features. By four it was time for my final move to a swim where the drifter would be no use. It was wound in and I started to unship the float in readiness to switch to a bottom end cigar float to use with a float legered bait. I was just about to swap the one ounce lead for a two when an alarm sounded. The useless lamprey tail had been taken! This fish was again lightly hooked and just as the first went mad in the net after a more lively fight. It didn't quite make double figures but it did make me consider stopping where I was. I recast the lamprey tail and carried on with my rig change. I'd move regardless.

When I got to the last knockings swim I wasn't sure if I could face an hour or more with that icy wind blowing straight at me. As I had the place to myself it would be an ideal chance to try a swim I'd never caught from, and had only tried briefly once before. It had the added benefit of being nicely sheltered. I retraced my steps and started a slow set up.

In my early piking days I was always in a rush. I'd turn up and head straight for a swim I'd had in mind before I got there. Then I'd sit it out all day. I didn't want to spend any time without a bait in the water. As I got older and (hopefully) more experienced I slowed down and became less concerned with keeping a bait in the water. I now know that spending time thinking about where to fish is usually well spent. Ten minutes in the right spot with one bait is worth more than a full day in the wrong place with four baits.

The new swim had a lot going for it. A marginal bush overhanging the water, like so many swims here, and marginal reeds, like so many swims here! The lamprey tail went by the bush the weight of the mackerel tail was used to cut across the wind to reach some far reeds, and a smelt went to my left close in.

I'd not been there half an hour when the lamprey tail, yet again, was taken at five fifteen. Maybe it's the cold or the time of year but the pike are doing a lot of bulldogging, staying down and shaking their heads. I had no idea how big this one was. When a Pike opens it's mouth during the fight it acts like a drogue and makes for a lot of resistance making the fish feel bigger than it is. This one was another ten pounder. I thought it might have been the same one I had last month as it had a similar look to it's teeth. However, it was chunkier and a comparison of the photos showed differences.

The last lamprey tail got hooked up and cast out to the same spot. By now it was starting to get dark. Not as soon as last week though. At this time of year the speed with which daylight hours lengthen is picking up. I could still just about manage without my head torch when an alarm sounded a warble accompanied by a crackling sound. At first I thought the alarm was playing up again. Seeing a float steaming out from the bank suggested it wasn't! This one had taken the smelt, a bait I have almost as much faith in as lamprey tails. It was obviously the smallest of the session. Again only just hooked, it wasn't going to get weighed but as the sling and scales were out it got the treatment and proved to be heavier than I'd guesstimated.

I put the last smelt on and had a final cast. By six it was too dark to see the farthest float clearly so I wound the rods in and drew a surprisingly successful afternoon session to a close. F\our pike, three on baits I don't rate! An added bonus was that by hanging on the rush hour traffic had thinned and I didn't have to queue at the junction with the main road. Happy days.

Foamy Drifter

Drifters don't have to be used simply to get as far out as possible on huge water, they can be used to cover water on small venues, and even on them there can be places just out of casting range. Also on very shallow waters, say four feet, a standard drifter always struck me as having too long a stem for fishing baits set at a couple of feet. The standard vanes also struck me as too big and can also move the float too fast at times. On small waters a large vane isn't required for visibility in the way it is on big pits and ressies. I made my first mini-drifter back in the 1980s for fishing a shallow sand pit and it worked a treat. As with my big drifter I fished it bottom end on a boom. This set up was my preferred rig, but meant having a rod dedicated to it, or putting up with the faff of rigging it up when required. Threading the boom was a real pain when on the bank.

More recently I made a small drifter that could be used on my normal stillwater float leger without having to break the rig down. That worked but I do like tinkering. Plastic vanes have never seemed ideal to me. They crack, fall off, and are just generally crap. I've seen carbon vanes somewhere, but they struck me as unnecessarily heavy. A few years back I bought some 3mm EVA (Duplon) sheet to make an attachment for a flash gun. Why it took me so long for it to click with me that it might work as a drifter vane material I put down to a lack of interest in drifting. Or old age! last week the lightbulb lit up when I was thinking of making some more pike floats. I only had black foam sheet but gave it a try. While I was at it I bought some foam eggs and some line clips. I'd used line clips on my last model drifter so I knew that bit would work.

This was to be a cross between my previous version, which was based on a design which appeared in Coarse Angler many years ago and the much imitated ET design. First time out it did what it was supposed to do as far as drifting a bait, unclipping under pressure, and being easily swapped to a bottom end float for fishing static.

The construction is dead simple. The only tools required are a pair of scissors, a craft knife, a heat source, and possibly a fine saw. For the illustrations here I am using orange foam sheet. The materials are the EVA sheet in a colour of your choice, a foam egg, a bamboo skewer, a swivel, some 3mm glued heat shrink tube and a line clip (I used a Tackle Box own brand this time). The only glue I used was some Gorilla Glue Clear to fix the line clip in place, although I'm not sure it was required. I coloured the foam egg and skewer using a UniPaint marker pen. Less hassle than a brush or spray can!

There's not much to the construction. Colour up the skewer, or not, and push it through the pre-drilled foam egg to get the dimensions you fancy and cut it to length. Attach the swivel to one end of the skewer using the shrink tube. This is a surprisingly strong connection and I'm sure would work for making leger stems, provided long casting wasn't required.

The line clip is screwed into the foam egg just above the waterline. I didn't bother to make it adjustable but set it to a tension that I thought would unclip under a bit of pressure before screwing and glueing. If you did want to retain the adjustability then you'd have to keep the glue off the mechanism.

The egg can either be glued to the skewer, or wedged by building up the stem with more shrink tube. I opted for the latter approach on the prototype. Finally cut the vane to your preferred size from the sheet of EVA. Use the sharp end of the skewer to poke a couple of holes in it for the float stem to go through. The vane will hold in place.

That's it. This photo shows Prototype 1 in use and should explain how it is set up. A one ounce weigh is just right to cock the float and a bomb clipped to slide on the line as for a float leger might look a bit uncouth but works well enough. I'm sure the pike won't care as that's what I used to do when float trolling! The float's swivel is attached to a snap link on the line as for a float leger rig. If you're paranoid and use an uptrace for drifting the lead can be clipped to the mid-trace swivel using a paper clip which will open out should the lead snag up. Alternatively use monster split shot squeezed round an open loop of weak nylon in link leger style.

As yet this float hasn't sunk in anger. But it has been quickly swapped over to fish a float legered bait which caught a pike. And that was half of the thinking behind it's design.

Variations on the theme are, of course, possible. The same design will work at a more usual size but will require a different longer stem, probably using a different material. There's no need to use orange eggs, drab coloured ones will also work. The only concern I have is how long lasting the vanes will be. I wonder if too much abuse will see them split where they are pierced. If they do then I have a cunning plan to overcome that drawback. But given the price of the EVA sheet, it's probably easier to cut a load of spares.