Artificial

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From the water’s edge

December 2014 - Short winter crays.

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I read a post recently on a lure angling forum, in which the author claimed that crayfish lures would not work so well in the winter as he felt that real crayfish would not really be so active at that time of the year. I have even seen it suggested before now that fish couldn’t digest them properly in the winter and consequently wouldn’t eat them. Both ideas might appear on the face of it to be valid and seemingly logical points of view, but in my experience neither seem to be true. I find artificial crayfish to be very productive, and certainly at their most useful on those cold, difficult days when the fish are not up in the water chasing about and shads, spinners and the like are less than useful.

Undoubtedly they can and do work very well in the summer but then so does everything else. Rather than try to apply human logic too strictly to the world of fish, I try to apply some reason. If a wild creature is hungry it will not turn down food unless it is blatantly a trap. In the winter crays may be less active but they are still food. More importantly for us, the artificial ones are the perfect lures to present slow and hard on the bottom. When the fish will feed, but are not voraciously hunting stuff down and attacking it, these lures can be the perfect tool for the job.

I mount them on the hook so that they are retrieved backwards. The hook is a weighted weedless worm version that allows me to drag my bait back through and over all manner of detritus without getting snagged up. I retrieve with one or two quick turns of the reel and the allow the bait to sink slowly back to the bottom, which I believe rightly or wrongly suggests the behaviour of the real thing. My lure will scoot backwards and slightly upwards (according to rod position), disturbing leaves and silt and drawing attention to its presence. Any fish nearby will have time to saunter over and either test it on the drop or when it is lying on the bottom. No dashing about required and little effort needed to pick the lure off. Takes will consequently be slight. Probably obvious if you know what you are watching for, but not exactly bold.

Last week this approach paid off with a new pb canal Z. Today, within five minutes of starting in the half light, the line flickered and a beautiful 2-03 perch was twisting and turning on the end of my line. Once more, the humble crayfish had put another fine fish on the bank in conditions that were to prove extremely testing. Three of us fished the morning out for nine fish landed and half a dozen lost. The vast majority of those took crayfish, and without exception takes were slight. A tic on the line, a flick of the line or a little extra weight on the line was all the indication that I got and neither Pete nor Colin reported anything more definite. Regular attempts with shads and grubs caught me one perch and a small zander. Pete lost an absolute beast, pike or tail hooked carp maybe, or even a special zander, we will never know. Colin fished shads a lot more than us and certainly helped prove that the fish were playing hard to get, hard on the bottom.

 

Considering that the takes were so subtle and that I lost three or four zander, you might expect that they were just not feeding very well, but the truth is the opposite. Most of those that I landed were hooked well down. They certainly were feeding, they just weren’t dashing about up in the water chasing stuff. I notice on going back through my journal that all of this represents a familiar story. The feint takes, the slow retrieves, the decent fish, all were features of last winter’s fishing with crayfish. The moral of the story really is present your bait where they are looking for food and at a speed that allows them to find and deal with it and success will be yours.

On a hard, chilly but bright Christmas eve morning, three 1-4 ish perch, a 2-3 perch and seven zander between 12 oz and two and a half pounds thought that crayfish were worth eating.

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