Sunday, 23 December 2012

Looking back at 2012

This has been an interesting year on the bank for me. I have attempted to rationalise my approach, particularly to carp fishing, and have reaped the rewards. This blog has undoubtedly been a significant part of that process of reflection. However, whilst I have enjoyed some success on still-waters, my luck has not always been so good on the river. Here I shall look back on some of my best catches and worst failures and contemplate their respective causes...

Company on a quiet session...
I have made a concerted effort to simplify my approach as far as rigs are concerned as I felt that when trying out the latest rig to be featured in the magazines all the time there are far too many variables to keep track of and far too much to potentially go wrong.
However, I have paid much more attention to feeding. Although I can't claim yet to have all the answers I can vouch for the benefits of casting and baiting accurately and constantly to the same spots rather than my previous random whim approach which was very hit or miss. 
My carp from Fordwich came as a result of spreading 20mm baits over a slightly wider area with a throwing stick - the logic here being that I felt the carp at Fordwich are a little more cautious than the other lakes I fish and may well think mountains of bait dumped by the spod load are slightly suspicious. This seems to be working so far...
18lb Common - Best from Stonar in 2012
Fatfish boilie and pink fake corn, June.

13lb 7oz Common - best from Birch Lake, Littlebourne in 2012
'Zigged' crust 1ft from the surface, March.
10lb Common - first carp from Fordwich ever!
'Matrix' snowman rig, August.
Chub and Barbel 
I do enjoy catching chub and a good thing too as they have really made pests of themselves when I have been targeting barbel!
I have found a few spots where small shoals congregate and some are pretty much common knowledge. I have seen them swimming over my bait, the rod arches round and somehow as I pick it up I find that the culprit is a pesky chub. Of course, each time a chub is caught the barbel are spooked for a while at least. A friend who catches a good many barbel has advised me to 'sit on my hands' when the rod is twitching, let chub and eels suss out the trap and clear off and wait for the unmistakable run of a barbel. I really have tried to heed this advice but even with shorter hook-links I find fish often hook themselves.
Although I must confess to getting a little depressed with this situation it has led me to think very carefully about stealth, line-lay, bait, presentation, colour of the water, water level, temperature, air pressure, time of day etc much more carefully. Until the fish start coming in I cannot draw conclusions but the process has started at least and in the mean time I have enjoyed some good chub. Early in the season I took a friend from work out a few times in the hope of helping him catch his first chub. He had a fair few out while I waited for barbel. It was a real pleasure to help him achieve this ambition.
One of my better chub this season just under the 4lb mark.
My friend Marc with a chub just over 4lb!
A nostalgic compilation of tales from a bygone era.
Some poetic words from Chris Yates and Bernard Venables
but an otherwise dull read and not much use to the
modern day barbel hunter.

In other news...
As you may have read in Bream: a little dream, I have somewhat changed my attitude to Bream as a target species though I must admit still find it frustrating when they shoal in on bait intended for something else. I have also had some fun catching carp on the centrepin. I went out for tench a couple of times and caught fish up to about 4lb which was fun. 
This colourful combination of maize and pink fake corn,
combined with hemp and breadcrumb squeezed round a method feeder
has never failed to produce tench for me!
A tench from Pump Lake, Littlebourne which fell to the rig pictured above.
A couple of days float fishing at Grove Lake produced some nice roach, small carp, tench and gudgeon. 
The highlight of a day float fishing at Grove:
a small gudgeon which reminded me of my childhood
fishing experiences.

Feeder fishing on the Worcestershire Avon in October resulted in several eels, bream and dace. A couple of short sessions feathering off Whitby pier rewarded me with over 20 mackerel and a few Coley. The mackerel have been divided between the dinner table and pike fishing. I've not fished the Stour for pike since last December when I caught my PB of 13lb but have had several jacks in Fordwich Lake to 6lb on the bait I caught in Whitby.

I have had several jacks like this 6lber on ledgered mackerel
I also started preparing my own hemp and maize. This is considerably cheaper than buying it ready to use from a known bait manufacturer (I paid £15 for 25kg!) and has many advantages besides. It is important to prepare baits correctly though to ensure they are safe to feed to the fish. Would a blog post on how to do this be useful to anyone?
A great discovery this year was bulk buying unprepared maize. 
Whilst all fishing is enjoyable, I think it is important to do a variety of styles of fishing throughout the year to break the monotony of long campaigns for one specific species. Also, sometimes it is possible to care too much about achieving goals and just turning up and having a laugh can be very therapeutic indeed!

Next steps...
I am very pleased to have improved my carp fishing on two waters I had previously found difficult. However, now I must ask if there is a way of specifically targeting larger carp as all the fish I have had from these lakes have been below 20lb. Perhaps that is just down to chance? I don't mind catching fish of any size but I am intrigued to find out if a small tweak to my tactics might produce something bigger.

I intend to continue my quest for barbel into 2013. Perhaps then I shall be able to work out where I am currently going wrong and start getting some fish on the bank again?!

Please feel free to comment on this or any of my posts. I'd equally love to hear if any of this has been helpful or if you have any advice to offer me. 

Friday, 24 August 2012

A Fordwich First!!!

Following my last blog, Fordwich Frustration, I made several trips to try and catch my first Fordwich carp. Every time I fish I am learning all the time, always on the look out for fish movement, observing how that corresponds with the conditions and also take note of my own strengths and weaknesses. Over the last couple of trips instead of beating myself up about my incapability to cast particularly far I have chosen swims which a) face the wind and b) have features within my reach.
Today the wind was blowing up towards the part of the lake known as 'the deeps' and the swim known as 'dungees' fitted this description. I still found making the far bank features a little ambitious but first cast on each rod landed on the money. I only fish two rods, one was placed tight to the far bank lilies and the other between the lilies and a dead sunken tree.
The dungees
My choice of rig was a snowman combi-rig attached to a helicopter setup. There was logic behind all of these choices: when using small / standard size baits I have ended up catching bream which when not your objective can be frustrating. So the snowman solves this issue thanks to its sheer size whilst also being 'balanced' and slow sinking so I could be confident it would sit nicely above the silty bottom. The helicopter rig is simple, almost tangle free but most important of all, casts better than any other setup.
Snowman combi-rig/ helicopter rig

I put about 1kg of 20mm boilies across the two locations with a throwing stick and then settled down for the night. At 4am I was woken up by the sound of my alarm screaming at me and the rod I had cast to the lilies was bending round. The fight was strange as after I turned the fish from the snags it swam towards me until it was almost at the net so I found myself winding in frantically! However, when I submerged the net the fish made a valiant bolt away in a bid for freedom. After a short scrap the net was lifted and I was grinning from ear to ear! It didn't matter that this was not a huge fish, what mattered was that after 3 years of trying to crack Fordwich I had finally done it! I now regret making an effort to hide my ecstasy when posing for the photo. 

10lb 7oz - Not a 'monster' but an achievement!
When it was light enough for me to see what I was doing I repositioned both rods on the lilies and put out more bait with the stick. At 7am the same rod screamed off again. As I picked it up I was taken with how much more power this fish had than the last. I had to bully it away from the lilies which resulted in something of a tug of war. Normally in this situation I would give line but could not as I didn't want to loose the fish in the snags. Suddenly the fish came up high in the water and leaped out. As it made contact once more with the surface of the water I could no longer feel any resistance - it had beaten me!
Again, I was quick to get the rods back out and bait up but this time a large flock of gulls and terns took every boilie I threw in. I tried waiting until they went away but one always kept look-out and squawked to alert the others whenever I so much as picked up my throwing stick! Then tiredness and frustration started to kick in - I made a few duff casts and got a bit grumpy. I can't seem to cast so far with pva sticks or bags and I didn't have a spod with me so had no way of getting the bait out with out it being intercepted. So I decided to be wise and quit while was ahead. I am over the moon that I seem to have sussed out a way for me to be successful at Fordwich and banked my first carp from this tough water at long last!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Fordwich Frustration!

Of all the waters I fish, Fordwich is the one that promises to fulfil my boyish fantasy of catching a true monster carp. Ever since watching 'A Passion for Angling' as a child I have been obsessed with this quest and to a certain degree have been successful in my pursuit. However, the waters I fished until joining Canterbury & District Angling Association 3 years ago just didn't hold fish equal to the size of those in my dreams.
The one problem is, Fordwich is a hard water for those that do not know its secrets and by those in the know, the secrets are well kept.
Thankfully, it is one of the most beautiful places to spend ones days and, especially as the sun rises and sets, I have whiled away many an hour trying to capture its beauty whilst capturing its carp eluded me.

In the autumn of my first season on Fordwich, the very thick weed that had bloomed in the silty areas between the gravel bars had started to die back. The wind was westerly and coming directly towards me. I had both rods set up with the infamous chod rig and had spread just a handful of boilies across the swim. Admittedly, I am not in the know about which baits catch well here but had ascertained that fishmeal based baits are the way to go and so that guided my selection. Within 30 minutes of my first cast the alarms were screaming. Could this be the monster I had been waiting for?!! It certainly fought like a spartan and managed to remain deep in the water so I could barely catch a glimpse until it was near my feet. I reached for the net and foolishly allowed the line to slacken momentarily and with a roll and a splash the fish was gone. My biggest confession and deepest regret is that this happened two more times before the session was out.

The 'infamous' chod rig
I have tried to replicate this scenario on many occasions, sadly to no avail. I was once mocked by a neighbouring angler for using the chod rig. He has since become a good friend but I must admit resenting his comments back then as this was the first time we met. It's too complicated, he said, everybody is using it and the fish are sussing it out. He encouraged me to simplify my approach, advice I heeded gladly and have done ever since. Besides; copying everyone else will only ever work for a time until the fish wise up. It is far better to do your own thing.

So since then I have been using variations of a simple hair rig, tipping the boilie off with some maize or fake corn to balance the bait and blend in with the loose feed or stick mix that I am hoping will keep fish rooting around in the area. Unfortunately, whilst this approach has paid off elsewhere, at Fordwich I have still caught nothing.

Well, that's not strictly true! I have had 2 bream in excess of 10lb, which equals the club record. I wish now I had taken decent photographs and had the captures witnessed. I guess at the time, whilst pursuing carp, I did not value these bream as perhaps I should or would have if I had set out to catch them intentionally.
Another species I have been fortunate with at Fordwich is pike. Although my PB of 13lb 4oz was taken in the River Stour and hasn't been bettered here, I have enjoyed catching numerous jacks in Fordwich this last winter on float-fished dead baits.

A jack pike of around 5lb.
Until the magic combination of factors align serendipitously in my favour once more, I will continue to keep faith in my approach and keep it consistent. Hopefully someday soon I can write the final chapter in this story and draw conclusions on successfully tackling this formidable water.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Bream; a little dream...

Early this morning I set out in my kayak to explore a lagoon near Chislet which was created in the early 1950s during a tidal flood on the Kentish Stour. Before I continue I must state that this water is only available for members of Canterbury and District Angling Association to fish and permission must be obtained from the land owner before commencing. Although I am aware of the wide variety of coarse fish that inhabit the Stour I had no idea idea before arriving (after an hour of paddling upstream!) what I would find.
Chislet Lagoon is home to a wide variety of wild fowl including *hundreds* of Swans!
The first thing I couldn't help but notice was that the water was crystal clear and about a foot deep. My paddle could push down an additional foot into very soft silt. My first impression was that this lagoon was completely baron. However, I am told it is 48 acres and had by no means explored the whole thing. Moving further in I saw an amazing spectacle; a large shoal of big bream all feeding, noses down and tails out of the water! I wish my camera was good enough to capture this but alas I could not do it justice.
This is the life!
Before long a quiver rod was set up and out amongst the shoal sporting a small method feeder loaded with a ground bait made of bread crumb, hemp and maize, a couple of grains of maize on a simple hair rig and a size 10 hook. The first fish took a long time to come but I kept the feed going in little and often in the same place each time and sure enough...

Giving up after a surprisingly hard fight!
Under usual circumstances I am not a big fan of bream. I must admit that they always seem to be an unwelcome surprise when angling for other species but today, targeting them for the first time, I was really excited to have caught this. It went into the keepnet, a second rod was assembled but all the time the water level was rising...
An hour passed before my next decent bite and during this time both rods had met with the rising surface of the water so that the reels were submerged. I could not fish like this so gave up on the bank sticks and rested the rods on my kayak. To prevent the boat from moving around I had to stand in the water (as there is very little accessible bank) with bare feet in the silt- nice!
Then came the rain... and then 6 more good sized bream! 

Having fished from 8am and being soaked through, at 4:30pm I decided to call it a day - after all, I still had to paddle for an hour back to the car! The bag weighed in at 26lbs. I know this doesn't break any records but it had been a real joy to have got out on the boat, explored a new and fascinating water and fished outside my natural comfort zone, finding unexpected pleasure in this underrated species. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Stonar Success

Stonar Lake in Sandwich is not a water I have spent much time fishing but has always captured my imagination. Since joining CDAA, who manage Stonar, I have heard a wide variety of reports about it being really tough, some saying it's dead easy, others spoke of its depth and hidden snags such as abandoned trains. Most curious of all is the brackish quality of the water which hosts not only course fish but sea fish as well, including mullet, bass, flounders and shrimp!

Wednesday 6th June 2012 was a warm day with a strong north westerly wind. I took myself over to the far bank so the wind would be directly in my face. A good friend recommended very strongly that I should try a certain spot and so my confidence built when I saw that it was available...
There were reed beds either side of a small opening and open water ahead of me. I had been told of a plateaux out ahead which I cast one rod to and the other I dropped virtually beneath the tip of the rod on the corner of the right hand reeds. It was not long before this rod was bent right round with a very hard take from my first ever fish from Stonar. Over the next 21 hours another 23 fish were landed and less than an hours sleep was had! None of them were monsters or PB's but all quite respectably between 5 and 18lb aside from a 2lb chub and a 4lb bream. First some pictures then we'll look at rigs, tactics and what was different this time...

I had two 'double takes', one in the night and this one in the early morning...
12lb mirror

18lb common

So what was the key to this success? The conditions were favourable, I was in the right place at the right time but there are 3 factors that I was in control of that previously I have not mastered:

1. Simple rigs
I am as guilty as the next angler of copying the latest rigs from magazines and wondering why they don't work for me. On this occasion I stuck with a simple bottom rig with single baits and a bit of rubber corn to make it stand out. I believe this rig will present the bait well in most situations other than really deep silt or thick weed.
Simple combi-rig: Size 10 wide gape hook with a little shrink tube kicker. The line is coated braid with an inch stripped back for the supple section. I put a sinker on to keep it pinned down and help with hooking.
2. Consistency
Another bad habit of mine is to cast here, there and everywhere when my first choice of location doesn't produce bites quickly. The problem with this is I end up baiting over a very wide area instead of drawing the fish into one location. On this occasion I got this bang on I think and fed little and often in just 2 concentrated areas.

3. Quality bait
There is a big part of me that believes that if your bait is in the right place at the right time it will catch but this session taught me that having a quality bait really does give you a massive edge. I was fishing right next to another angler who was dropping his rig just a few feet from mine in the same reed bed and yet he only landed 4 or 5 fish in the time that I managed 24. I don't believe that I'm a better angler- evidence suggests this guy (who I shall not name) has caught many decent fish way bigger than my PBs. However, on the day the 'Fatfish' boilie, available from Fat Fish Tackle, near Canterbury came up with the goods and was obviously the superior bait.

NB - I will endeavour in these blogs not to name drop or promote brands as I find that so tedious and really resent articles pushing products down my throat. I'm making an exception here as the Fatfish boilie is not widely known but is an awesome bait and the guy who makes them, Andy Reynolds is an all round good egg. Nuff said!

So now I am left asking a) will I be able to repeat this success on my next trip if I apply these basic principles? and b) how could I adjust my tactics to tap into some of the bigger fish that this water holds?
Please feel free to comment with your thoughts on these questions or this blog in general...
Thanks for reading.
By Richard Naylor