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Phantom fishing

 

artificial lite

Pete and I have had a couple of trips lately that for no apparent reason have been a real struggle. For a while things had been going well with some very nice fish coming out to lures fished both on rod and pole, but of late, despite apparently ideal conditions the fishing has become less productive.

We spend a lot of time expounding with great confidence on the reasons we are successful, probably because we like to think that it makes us look clever, but I wonder if we put the same effort in to understanding why we struggle when fish are hard to come by. It is too easy in my opinion to erase disappointing results from the memory with a casual explanation along the lines of it was too cold, too warm, too bright or they just weren’t having it.

We have all caught plenty of fish when it was too cold, warm or bright, just as we have caught loads of zander in blazing noon day sunshine and perch in heavily coloured water. Of all the reasons I have listed , just not having it, is probably the best, most likely explanation, but there are others that are very pertinent to the canal lure angler.

This week we suffered because we chose to fish a stretch that the CRT had chosen to publicise one of their latest ‘fish rescues’ on. We had initially intended to ignore that particular pound and fish further down the flight where we understood that they hadn’t interfered as yet, but old habits die hard. That pound has produced some really big perch for us before and we succumbed to memory over common sense.

The trouble is that fish do return and official interference is always rectified in time by nature. If they were spending their own money, I doubt their accountants would approve such pointless effort but there it is. Those are the hazards of fishing canals. There is no way of knowing when or if the fish have returned, or been replaced, other than trying to catch some, and I think we have proved to ourselves that they haven’t as yet.

Where we went wrong was in fishing there first. It is a very rare day indeed when we don’t get the first hit within half an hour and a first hour with no fish hooked is almost unheard of. When that happens a tough day indeed is in the offing. We should have fished unaffected areas first and proved to ourselves that if there, the fish should be feeding.

Successful lure angling is in your head, or at least it is in mine anyway. It doesn’t take long for my optimism to fail and with it my concentration. I think myself out of catching fish and on days like that it really takes a lucky break, a take out of the blue, to bring my mind back to the present.

As we fished our way down the flight with no takes at all, I was pondering on the reasons for failure. The fish having been removed is a pretty insurmountable one, but concentrating and applying oneself are easy ways to improve things on a difficult day when fish are at least present. It is a far more reliable way of improving things than just hoping for a slice of unearned good fortune.

We had both this week. Pete had a take out of the blue and then some extra effort with smaller baits turned a blank into a dozen fish. They were all small, but that is another issue. I think, no, I am certain that the moment you realise that a tough day is on the cards, the safest bet is to cover a lot of known to be productive swims, as slowly and carefully as possible with small baits. I would have caught more on the pole because I could have ‘dibbled’ more water, but using the same technique with a short rod worked well enough.

But, and it is a big but, there is another phenomenon in play here. This particular stretch has over the course of two to three years of deliberately light pressure from ourselves produced our best perch, zander and pike. It is a long piece of water, at least a mile of hitherto productive locks, bends and in fact every other feature you could ask for, but eighteen months ago, the fishing declined dramatically. We could always rely on good catches here, now we can only rely on poor ones.

We could, can, still get a few, but both the numbers and the bigger fish have virtually disappeared. Why? Angling pressure, CRT fish rescues, you tell me, but I have known this to happen before. Back in the day, a match fishing friend of mine invited me along to a stretch of the Warwickshire Avon where out of nowhere, 2lbs roach had begun turning up in matches. I couldn’t make it but when I suggested it again a year later he told me that they had disappeared as quickly as they had arrived in the first place.

There is another place that we fish that produced large catches of zander. That venue appeared in one or two books and was taken over by a lure fishing club. A great result on there today was a very average one when we used to fish it. More anglers, and fewer fish caught despite the huge increase in hours of effort by many excellent anglers. They may still be there, they probably are, but perhaps a little wiser. Lure fishing pressure is a big factor. In fact lure fishing is the only branch of the sport where I would consider packing up if I came across somebody else luring such is my conviction that it seriously affects sport.

I believe that a lure cast in front of any fish prepared to take a lure will get a hit. If that swim has been lure fished by one angler, the next is very unlikely to do much good. It is not impossible, but it is a hundred times harder. When I was involved with the lure angling society, I would attend their friendly matches and they were exactly that. Very friendly, but rarely very productive because the first guy into a swim would catch the fish and anybody following along behind and fishing after them had to be very lucky indeed to get anything at all.

When I am out sea fishing, I accept and expect that the fish will come inshore or leave, up river or down on the tide. Results can be non-existent and then takes prolific as the tide turns. In the river estuary, Sharkey and I have experienced many times, a golden half hour of takes, follows and even, occasionally, a fish, in eight hours of otherwise, totally unproductive, fishing.

Maybe we don’t give enough consideration to fish movement in canals. They might come in closer or into shallower water at night, they might move away or towards the locks with an increase in boat traffic. At certain times of the year they may migrate to certain stretches for spawning or better oxygen levels. When you get a take have you moved into a swim containing fish, or have they moved into the one you are fishing? When the takes disappear have they moved past, was there only one, or has catching one frightened the rest, or was only one prepared to feed. We have caught extra fish by casting further along the canal, possibly plucking another from a moving shoal. It’s always worth a try.

One very long stretch that we fish has big fish all along it. We are talking maybe 4 miles of water, yet at certain times of the year, they disappear almost completely. Next year they are back and we wonder what the problem was. It takes a few years to work this out. One year’s experiences might just be the product of conditions, but over the long haul, a pattern emerges. You can’t buy any of this knowledge over the counter by the way. These are the issues you need to understand, new gear won’t help. Buy one set and live with it.