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From the water’s edge

February 2014 - Putting the cart before the horse

I hope that you find my journal interesting and entertaining. If, having read this, you think that I am talking rubbish then at least you have stopped and thought about it long enough to come to that conclusion which is something of a result in my book. If you would like to comment on this article or anything else relating to my website, please feel free to contact me using the adjacent form. Feedback is always greatly appreciated and very helpful when it comes to improving both my site and my angling. Thank you for looking.

I do it all the time, put the cart before the horse that is. I have a bad habit of pushing what I want the fish to do, when I should let the fish pull my plans into shape. Today was Pete’s day, I am happy to say through gritted teeth. He was wide awake and paying attention to what they wanted while I insisted they did things my way. As usual they ignored me.

I make no bones about it, I have been in crayfish mode for three weeks now. I even used them at Grafham on my return visit in 65 ft of water. I caught by the way, just - a one pound jack hooked in the arse. The point is I set out today with nothing else in mind but to dredge the bottom with crays and it was not the right approach at all.

The weather as usual was foul and common sense suggested they would be very susceptible to lures fished slow and deep. In fact, my blank-saver was a small perch on the 2” yellow peril. I ignored the lesson and pressed on with what I wanted to do, and soon had a small Z on a 4” crayfish, proof if it was needed that I was still ignoring the obvious as Pete was catching steadily on shads fished up in the water. In fact it was downright embarrassing really as he got take after take while I was scratching for the odd twitch and tap. Only the fact that he was losing most of them saved me any face at all.

I pompously explained to him what he was doing wrong whilst not getting any takes myself, but it did bring up the interesting subject of striking the hooks home. Particularly with weedless rigs, I think it is important to strike hard, but more important than that is to strike effectively and I think we would both agree that body and rod position are key.

Standing square on with the rod tip fished low and striking upwards and over your head is pretty ineffective. It would be more effective if the rod was being held pointing upwards at about 45 degrees during the retrieve, but usually the rod tip will be low to keep the bait deep. Strike like that and the rod has to move from rest to 45 degrees before it even begins to move any serious amount of slack, no matter how hard you do it. In fact with the rod pointing down, you will be giving slack line until it reaches the horizontal. You’d be lucky to move three feet of line fishing like this. Striking sideways from a position less than square on will begin pulling the line straight away and if you pivot your body and extend your arm at the same time you can move probably ten feet of line on the strike. With a weedless rig you need to strike hard to get that hook moving through the bait before it can even begin to impact on the fish. Taking up a lot of line quickly is very important, particularly with zander, when using slowly retrieved baits. They run toward you so often that a simple tug on the line will not even let you feel the fish very often, never mind set the hook. Even if you do make contact, if the fish is coming towards you, pressure on the hook will still be less than you need sometimes.  

We fished on, heads down against the wind and the rain, and Pete just kept getting takes, while I whiled my way through my lure box trying every colour of crayfish I had to little effect. Eventually the lights went on and I switched to a 3” copper and black hammer shad and caught a few. I had a small zander, Pete had a four pounder and a three pounder and a couple more. I caught a pound perch, Pete had a pound and a half perch. I lost a pike, Pete cast across and caught it and one other besides.

He was catching on a home-coloured 3” copper Kopyto fished on a 3.5 gm jighead. I don’t carry 3” Kopytos any more because I don’t like their action on 3.5 gm jigheads. He had the colour, by now I had lost the best colour in the box - confidence. He had the lure, I left it at home because I had decided it wasn’t what they wanted. They were really having it up in the water today, I was scraping the bottom. I wanted to try the 1” and 2” shads for perch, but I couldn’t because I had left the spinning outfit at home and was struggling to throw those lures on a baitcaster in a gale.

To catch fish on lures, two things are important - knowledge and luck.We all have luck, good or bad, but it always seems foolish to me that we attribute so much to its presence or lack of it. Losing a couple of fish on the trot is probably bad luck, losing three or four is possibly bad luck. Lose any more than that and I would be looking hard for reasons. Actually I would begin looking after one for blunt hooks and after two for anything else. Am I striking hard enough? Is the clutch set to loosely? More likely though is the conclusion that they just aren’t taking it properly. Fine, I need to change my approach then. After all they have taken the lure so they are interested. What is putting them off? Colour, speed or depth of presentation? Bait too big is my first port of call. So often, nipped tails on 3” baits can often be cured by using 2” ones.

I am surprised that so many people resort so quickly to adding hooks. Stingers, you read about them all the time. Using one, to me, is an admission that your presentation is inadequate. Get it right and it is surprising how short a hook you can get away with. I used to spend a lot of time trying to source long hooks on light jigheads, these days I prefer short hooks to long ones. They retain more of a baits inherent action. Long hooks stiffen the body of the lure forcing the action towards the tail and making the bait less flexible. If you can find a copy, this is a really informative book in which the authors make just this point. ON SOFT PLASTICS AND HOW TO USE THEM by Steve Starling and Kaj Busch. Footy lent me this Australian book and at the time it was a real eye-opener.

 

I am a big fan of action in a lure. I grant you that my crayfish have little action of their own, but even then I like to see the claws moving when I work it. On lures like this, action is imparted by the rod and I am aiming, as always, to replicate the natural behaviour of what my lure represents. Shads are, as far as I am concerned, swimming fish and as such they work best when their tails are wagging. Several people over the years have told me that they still catch fish on lures that have had the tails bitten off and therefore it is not important - really? So cut the tails off your new lures then if it is better. Nobody but nobody ever cuts the tails off of the shads to improve them  - do they? I want my baits to be as effective as possible, not to ‘still work’ now and then.

 

It may be that I have been side-tracked here, but the point is I feel it is important to offer the fish a lure that gives them what they want. Two weeks ago, I wrote, “Just now I am in crayfish mode, so that is what they get. Like it or lump it , until I see somebody catching more than me that is.”

Today proved that putting too much faith in your own abilities is fraught with danger. It is the fish that ultimately decide how we fish, not us; assuming we want to catch as many as possible that is. Sometimes it is just nice to fish a certain way or to persevere with a new method in order to learn more about and become more effective at using it. Whatever the excuse it always comes back to the same thing. If they want it up in the water, then the crayfish dragged through the silt, no matter how well it worked a fortnight ago is a waste of time.

Our original intention was to fish a new stretch, but the weather forecast was so bad that we settled for a safe bet instead. Now that we had been proved wrong in our assumption that it would be hard, and when the fishing slowed up at around mid-morning, we moved  a few hundred yards further up the canal to try a section that has never produced for us before. We figured that if we could catch in one spot, then the time was ripe to try another nearby that had proved fruitless in the past. Again my presumptions let me down. I really should have fished this section with little baits for perch to give me the maximum opportunity of a catch, but didn’t have the gear with me. Now all I have done is reinforced the idea in my mind that this bit is a waste of time.

 

It probably is but how does that work? One side of the bridge takes are easy to come by then it is at least a mile before we get to another stretch that produces. Go in the opposite direction and we have five miles of unbroken productive fishing. Miss that mile out and we are back on the fish again, yet the dead bit is at the top of the hill and water flows away from it in both directions. It can hardly be a water quality issue.

Whatever the reason, we headed back and worked our way towards the pub. Pete just kept getting takes, I just kept getting cold and frustrated. I don’t know how many we missed or lost before getting to grips with what the fishes wanted, but Pete caught twice as many as I did. We caught 10 Zs to 4lbs, 2 jack pike and 4 perch to 1.5 lbs on 2” and 3” kopytos, 3” quantum battle shads, 3” hammer shads and 4” daiwa tournament shads fished weedless and just one small Z on 4” Lindy craws, which I suggest shows exactly what they wanted given that I used the crayfish for most of the morning.

By noon, it was howling, and the rain was setting in properly, so we headed back for lunch. By the time we had trekked back to the motor, the wind was so strong we had a job to walk into it. This has been the strangest winter I can ever remember, but we shouldn’t complain too much. We have not had the trials that some poor folks have been and still are going through in the South-West for example. The fishing has been like the curate’s egg, good in parts. Loads of fish, but not as many 2lbs plus perch as last year. I suspect that they just haven’t shoaled up as tight as they usually seem to in hard weather. Autumn has been running since October  and this has been classic autumn fishing for us.

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