Thursday, May 31, 2012

More lure fishing for pike this season

One thing I plan on doing more of this coming season is lure fishing. One reason for this is I've never caught a twenty on a lure, despite having phases when I was really into it. After getting my lure-caught best up to a whisker over 18lbs a few seasons back, I lost interest  as my efforts to improve on this failed.

Most of the time, I seemed to catch fish around the size of the one of the left. Last season, the lure rods gathered dust. Seeing a picture of a 28lbs fish from a water I've never quite got to grips with has whetted my appetite. I've never had a twenty off the water concerned either, so it's one to pencil in for a look when autumn comes around.

And then there's Enigma, the water which doesn't officially have any pike in. I'm not into summer pike fishing for obvious reasons, but I'm going to have an evening or two on there before the weather warms up just to see if I can catch one to confirm it's worth a go later in the year.

I now know for certain that there were pike in it many years ago. But they died, like everything else in the lake, during a catastrophe that occurred one winter's night a decade before I was born. 

Mason's Multistrand trace wire for pike fishing

This isn't just a steal at £26.10 inc P&P for a 200yd spool of 30lbs from Veals of Bristol - it's also a seriously good wire for bait fishing.

Sold as a trolling wire by US tackle firm Mason, of Otisville, Missouri, it's a little thicker and stiffer than most seven-strands for the same breaking strain.

It twists up easily, if this is your chosen way of making up traces. Just heat the tag end for a neat finish. It also seems more kink-resistant and a lot less prone to tangles than some of the thinner wires on the market.

No more changing traces every other jack. No more running out of wire either, as a spool of this will easily see most pike anglers through a couple of seasons.

Probably the best compliment I can pay it - apart from the price - is you can just forget about it and get on with your fishing. It won't let you down. You can also get it in 45 and 65lbs breaking strains for slightly more on the pennies front.

Bearing in mind other wires are £5 or more a spool, usually for between 10 and 25m, this stuff works out half the price.

So if you use around 3ft of wire to make a trace, allowing for all the twisting, going round the hooks etc, you can make 200 of them from one spool of this stuff. Click here for a link to Veals website.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Whale ahoy, from the archives

You could see it from the point at Thornham Harbour. A dark shape on the sandbank in the mouth of the channel, a good mile across the marsh away. So we put our coats on, me and Matthew the photographer.

We ignored the snow warnings on the radio, being me and Matthew. And we set off across the salt marsh as the tide turned, in search of an exclusive on the whale.

Several winters back, in the February of 2004 or maybe 2005, a 60ft whale washed up on the North Norfolk coast. It was blocking the harbour and there were rumours the RAF were going to be called in to blow it up.

Best get up there quick then, we thought. They hopefully won't decide to launch a precision strike while we're out there doing pictures for the papers. It took us a good hour to get there, as sleet showers lashed the coast.

They stopped for half an hour or so, as we reached the corpse of the enormous creature. Matt made me stand next to it to give the picture some scale. The wind turned and I had an action replay of my lunch thanks to the incredible smell of decomposing whale.

Then the weather closed in, with more sleet and a gathering gale. Instead of going the long, sensible way, we took a short cut across the marsh as dusk fell - scary bears as the tide began to flood the creeks and the visibility deteriorated.

This was my first proper whale. As in the first one I got up close to. Close enough to marvel at the incredible size of an animal few get to see in the flesh. Close enough to wonder what killed this great big blow fish, what drove it to beach on the edge of The Wash.

I found the picture amid some fishing snaps from the time. I was catching plenty of pike, back then, judging by the images on my old laptop. But the whale stands out, amid all the doubles and the odd low-twenty - a far more amazing encounter with the natural world than any pike I caught that winter.

A few days later, it was gone. Carried off by the sea, dragged across the estuary to Terrington Marsh on a spring tide.

That's like Mad Max in the Fens, that is

"Hear there was a few out down there last winter, I mention to a mate, in passing, as we discuss a drain. "Fair old trek, down a long old road."

"They got the Colonel's Pike in the pub an' all that, biggest one ever caught in the Fens an' stuff," he said. "But the roads round there's like Mad Max an' all that. As in it's like Mad Max and all that. 

"Don' even know anyone what go there mate. Th'ass proper bandit country. Roads are like Mad Max an' all that. Like Mad Max they are."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Markings show there are less pike than you think

Going back through last season's pictures reveals that these two pike are one and the same.

The giveaway clue is just behind its pelvic fin - the mark like a reversed letter C, with a dot just to the left of it. If you look, you can see it in both pictures.

Pikes' markings are unique, just like our fingerprints. Go back through your pictures carefully - looking at pike you've caught at different ends of the season, or over longer periods of time - and you'll sometimes find a repeat capture or two.

This fish grew from scraping 20lbs in early October, to 23lbs by late February. When I first caught her, she was long and lean with a big head and not much behind it.

She packed some weight on in the meantime, when I think at least one other person I know had her out. Those five months weren't without the odd mishap.

The second time I caught her, she had some obvious damage to her scissors and someone else's trace in her. Neither proved to be fatal.

And if she mades it through the last few weeks of the season and spawned successfully, she might even re-appear this time around - hopefully a little larger.

Here's a close-up of the mark that gives the game away - the reversed letter C and dot.

Look carefully and you can see that they're quite clearly one and the same fish.
One thing we can learn from repeat captures is they sometimes show there are fewer specimen pike in a water than you might think if you just take catches on face value.

At least three of the twenties caught from this bit of water were actually the same fish.

What this illustrates is just how important it is to conserve them. Because there are a lot less of them out there than a lot of people would sometimes have you believe.

If you care about tomorrow's fishing in the Fens, look after the pike you catch today.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Th'ass called Mike - as in Mike the pike

You have one new message. Press one for main menu, press two for... "Hella, hella - yew there Cress..? I got some more information for you about the pike w'oss in the Village Pond. Th'ass called Mike apparently. As in Mike the pike.

"I heard that off the Bread Man. He say him and the Village Shop Lady's been feeding 'im on the quiet so they don' upset the parish council.

"An' yew know what - that likes sausage rolls, old Mike do. Bread Man reckon he was on his lunch break, threw half a sausage roll in and ker-splosh, that come right up and took it.

"He say that hatta' be a pike, great big long ole thing, so they call't 'm Mike, like - as in... Anyways they bin bungin' the odd sausage roll in ever since. They reckon he live right in the corner by the shop. Sits there waitin' to be fed he does. Bread Man reckon he's a real big 'un too. Thought I'd better let you know. See yew roun' podna."

I 'd forgotten the pike in the Village Pond. Put there (allegedly) to thin out the ducks. The one I was going to try and catch before it got boiling hot. The one that's now developed a taste for sausage rolls. The one the Bread Man and the Village Shop Lady have christened Mike. As in Mike the pike.

I weigh up the options. Popped-up sausage roll on two size four Owners. Catch pike and offer story to Village Magazine in exclusive deal. Ace village pike angler foils monster in Village Pond on snack from Village Shop.

I retire to my study, to get a rod sorted.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The best club for pike fishing in the Fens

"I reckon Chris spent so much on day tickets last year he could have bought the river," says the Chipper Bailiff to my mate, in a  frisson of bailiff humour. I bite my lip, as I put my brand new shiny King's Lynn ticket back in my rucker. The man had a point.

When I rejoined Lynn AA last season, I re-discovered a few old haunts I hadn't fished for years. I also re-discovered what great value for money the Lynn Book, as locals call it, is.

There are various membership options - you can fish all the rivers and drains for £38 a season, add Tottenhill Pit for another £2 a year, or include the Shepherd's Port complex for £56 a season. If you go once a week between October and March, that's less than £2 a throw. Go twice a week or more and it's peanuts to fish over the course of a season.

At least three of the waters on the ticket did fish over 25lbs last season. The Fens might not be what it was a few seasons back, but there were numbers of 20lbs fish from two of the drains on the ticket. Back up fish were a different story. But the jury's still, out on why. And while the people I regularly see out and about enjoyed their share of blank days, most ended the season with a few more twenties to add to their tally.

Hence the title of this post, because if you weigh up what came from neighbouring clubs' waters last season, the Lynn club was streets ahead of most of them. It's also a friendly club, which welcomes predator anglers as warmly as it welcomes matchmen and maggot drowners. No silly rules in other words. And no bait bans.

This probably explains why the club continues to thrive despite the recession. That and the fact you get a lot of water to go at for your money, including 85kms of the Great Ouse, Little Ouse, Middle Level Drain, Cut-Off Channel, Relief Channel and Old Bedford River.

Click here for links to Google maps and info on club waters.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lured away to the Antiques Roadshow

"So then laddie, what have you brought along to show me..?" I'll swear Fiona Bruce looks sterner in real life than she does on the telly. 

I feel a little uneasy, having reached the front of the queue. Behind me are people with real works of art, antiques and medals won in the trenches of the First World War.

I have brought a box of lures along to show Fiona, after having a sort through my collection.

"Um, they're some of my pike lures," I mumble, as the cameramen close in on the box with the broken lid I got in the New Year sale at Homebase in King's Lynn, reduced from £9.99 to £1.99 with double Nectar Points not to be used in conjunction with any other offer.

"Och, quite a collection," says Fiona, lifting out a rare yellow perch-pattern ShadRap. "That has'nae seen much action, has it. Hardly a tooth mark on it. And these spoon fellas with the rusty hooks - I must say they'd be worth more if you looked after them. Oh my, what's this - a Jointed Rapala in firetiger..? Very last season, I'm afraid.

"Thanks for coming along today. I'm sure these would be worth something in the right hands, but I've had my researchers take a wee look at you and I'm afraid they say you're nay lure angler. Tenner the lot on eBay if you're lucky. Next..."

"MWAARP, MWAARP, MWAARP, MWAARP. Good morning Malcolm, it's 9AM," barks the alarm clock I borrowed from Malcolm.

It all comes back to me as I rub my eyes and drag myself out of bed. Today is the day the Antiques Roadshow comes to RAF Marham, in Norfolk. I have taken the day off, to take the wife along.

An hour later, we're through security. We stash the car by a sign saying Runway In Use, No Parking before we join the long queues of people bringing stuff for Fiona and her panel of experts to pore over.

There are people with paintings, people with carrier bags full of crockery and people with family heirlooms large and small. The crew of a Tornado jet are explaining the finer points of its multi-faceted armed reconnaissance capabilities, ready to be unleashed on the next middle eastern dictator who makes the price of petrol go up, to a bus-load of pensioners.

"How come they can park here," asks the wife, unimpressed by the 800mph warplane's bristling array of weaponry. "They must have got here early, before the queues," I shrug.

As we near the hangars we spy Fiona Bruce, waxing lyrical about some exciting find. A few rows back in the queue, a man waits clutching what looks suspiciously like a lure box - bought in the New Year sale at Homebase in King's Lynn with double Nectar Points not to be used in conjunction with any other offer.

"I bet she's going to go through those and say they're all pants," I say to the wife, as Fiona looks up and throws a brief, knowing glance in our direction.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Disco Dave with a big zander from the Fens

They say every picture tells a story. Back in the autumn of 2003, a rag-tag band of honchos hired out a cabin cruiser for a week's zander fishing on the Ouse, thinking it would be a bit like a floating bivvy and allow us to fish in comfort while enjoying the odd glass of shandy along the way.

This is the best we managed, a scraper double to Disco Dave. I have a few other pics I'll try and find, including one of a double I fluked by casting across the river to the same spot as soon as I'd done the pics of Dave's fish. Happy Days.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A couple of old pike pictures, weights not noted

When I fished alone a lot, I went through a phase of photographing pike lying on the unhooking mat with just a tape measure or the Avons to give an idea of scale. Going back through the pictures on an old laptop five  years after the event, I struggle to remember much about the detail - or even the weights, where the file name I saved it under doesn't offer a clue.

The fish above was caught in October, 2007, according to the file name. I don't know what it weighed, looking at how out of condition what was obviously an old fish was even before I banged the hooks into its gob. I wonder what it might have weighed at the other end of the same season, assuming it survived to see it.

This pretty double paid me a visit on February 21, 2007, according to the metadata on the original picture, though again I can't remember anything about catching it more than five years on.

I don't enjoy my pike fishing any less for not having the exact details of what I caught several seasons ago logged down for posterity.  In fact if I'd kept better records when things were a whole lot easier, I have a feeling all they'd show looking back, is how hard it's got since then.

I did find a few gems on there though, which I'll share when I can be bothered to have a proper sort out.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Boxing clever when you're pike fishing

I know people whose tackle boxes are works of art. They lug everything they could possibly need, all tidily arranged accessory by accessory, down to the last float, bead or swivel.

There's a much simpler way of doing it. Stow all your gear at home and just transfer what you're likely to need for the day into one or two of those snap-lock lunch boxes you can find in different sizes in most supermarkets.

While in an ideal world, you'd probably use a different float set-up on a pit than you would on a drain or river, you can get by with more or less the same rig on all three if you carry floats and weights in a couple of sizes. Legering's even simpler. One, two or three ounce lead, plus some polyballs and powergum in case you need to pop a bait up off the bottom.

So what you actually need comes down to a couple of small boxes, with room to spare for spare hooks and wire in case you need to knock a trace up on the bank, plus twiddling stick, braid/wire cutters and a  sharpening stone for touching up hook points.

Smalls bits and pieces like spare beads, snaps, swivels, run rings etc go in one of those little folding bits boxes you can pick up for a couple of quid. A few spare traces on a home-made rig bin and it's job sorted, taking up less than half the space in the rucker. Simples.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

We are the Sultans of Swing

The pub is heaving like the Relief Channel in a good blow. I have sunk a Friday night's worth of beer alongside my friend Malcolm, who is an architect - matching him glass by glass as the evening unfolds to the sound track of a live band.

Nature calls, as Norfolk Enchants launch into their penultimate Dire Straits cover version of the night.

"There's a shiver in the dark, tha'ss a rainin' in the park," sings the singer, as I ricochet down the corridor on my way to the toilet.

"Band was blowin' Dixie, double four time. An' a big well done to Marnie Hodges hooz won the turnip carvin' at the young farmers do for the third year on the trot, we are the sultans, let's hev a big hand for Marnie, we are the sultans, of serrr-wing."

"We are the sultans," the bar chorus. "We are the sultans, of serrrr-wing."

The lights flash on and off as I select a urinal and make room for more beer. Last orders. I fend my way back through the singing, swaying throng in search of a top-up, as the band begin their final Dire Straits number.

"Jer-hoo-lee-yurt, the dice was loaded from the start," they sing as I spot Malcolm, who has acquired a 30-degree list during my absence. "When you gonna realise, it was just that the time was wrong, Jer-hoo-lee-yay-yay-yay-yurt..."

Malcolm is waving a £20 note in the air over the bar. This is what architects do on Friday nights, as closing time nears in rural Norfolk to the final strains of an eponymous love song inspired by Shakespearean tragedy, which reached Number Eight in the charts in January 1979.

The barman shakes his head and points to his watch. Malcolm shrugs, puts his money away and breaks into song without correcting his lean, as the band begin to pack away their instruments.

"Jer-hoo-lee-yurt, the dice wossh loaded from the sshtart. You ole tart. Hwoaah, hwoaah. When we made love. Get in there son. Phwoaah, hwoaah, hwoaah. You used to cry. Jer-hoo-lee-yay-yay-yay-yurt. Bitpissedbettergohome,"  he explains, as I lift a pint of Black Shuck which appears to be between owners.

"Howcomeyougotanotherpint. Julietthedicewasloadedfromthesshtart. Sultansofswingyeahright. Direstraits. Gotalltheiralbums. Lissenreallygreattoseeyou. Mustdoagainmateytopnight. Bitpissedbettergohome.

"Lissenmustgofishingsometime. Heardaboutpikeinthevillagepond. Letsgocatchit. Givemeacallyah. Seeyoutomorrow. Wheresthefrickindoor. Julietthedicewasloadedbaby. Dicewasloadedfromthestart. Sultanswearethesultans. Sultansofswing. Seeyouseeyou. Bye."

I wave meekly, as Malcolm lurches into the night, still singing. "Right then," says the barman, as he heads towards the door to cut off any further escapes. "Who's on for a lock-in..?"

+++Monster pike in Village Pond rumpus mystery solved exclusive click here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

When Phil nailed the Secret Pike

"Listen, I know where it came from," I can still hear myself telling Phil as we compared notes on a water we used to fish over the phone.

As in the thirty that came out from the least likely swim on the whole river. The bit everyone passed by without a second look. As in the Secret Pike - the big fish nearly everyone thought came from somewhere else.

It was late autumn, back in the days when this particular bit of a certain river had fallen well and truly off the radar. It was past its prime, a runs water which did doubles and the occasional low-twenty according to the grapevine. One or two of us knew different. We knew about the Secret Pike.

"It was definitely from there," I said. "It's been out two or three times, from the same spot every time. Same spot, as in spot the size of your kitchen table."

"That right..?" says Phil. "Interesting." Fast forward a few days and the phone goes at work. "Chris..? That's Phil. I'm down the river. Got your cameras on you..?" Might have. Why mate..?

"Had a day off mate. Nice day, so I went down the river with the dog. Chucked the baits in where you said. Then I caught it. It's in a sack. Any chance of getting down to take some pictures..?"

An hour later and I'm looking at the huge tail waving in the carp sack in the margins. Phil heaves it out, sticks it on the scales and it goes 27:08. I'm looking at it through the viewfinder of my old Nikon, thinking it's probably the most gorgeous pike I've ever seen.

The Secret Pike's fin-perfect. Assuming it is the Secret Pike and not its stunt double. I do the well done mate bit as I watch it go back. I kick myself as I walk back to the car, because I could have had the day off. Not to mention why did I bubble it. As in d'oh - why, oh why did I tell Phil..?

But the jealousy passes as I drive back to work, because I've shared a secret and Phil's shared the Secret Pike with me - even if it's just through the lens of the camera.

If the picture looks familiar, it's the one that's appeared on PAC membership leaflets and adverts for the club for several years. Phil caught it in 2004, before life and fishing took him to pastures new.

When I found the pictures on an old laptop, they took me back to the Secret Pike and some of the days I spent trying to catch it, before it melted away into the mist. Happy days.

An essential pike fishing accessory

"Are you Chris, the pike bloke," asked a shaken-looking young carp angler on some pits I used to fish a couple of seasons back. "The bailiff said you'd have some stuff to sort this out..."

He unwrapped the dirty towel and wad of blood-stained bog roll wound around his hand, revealing a deep cut across the tips of three fingers.

"F'ing luncheon meat tin," he explained, as I pulled the stuff to sort him out from my rucker. "Me and my mate don't even have a plaster. The bailiff didn't have anything. He said you'd be on here somewhere, so come and find you."

Bearing in mind how easy it is to end up grazed or cut when you're out fishing, it always amazes me how few people carry any kind of first aid kit with them. While even carp anglers ought to carry a few essentials like antiseptic and plasters with them, it's a must if you're a piker.

The stuff above costs less than a tenner and fits in one of those snap-lock plastic boxes you can easily stow in your rucksack. As well as spray-on antiseptic to clean a cut, I also carry antiseptic wipes, waterproof plasters and micropore tape - which is brilliant for raker rash.

As well as the small kit I carry around everywhere with me, I have a bigger box in the car containing plaster strips, dressings and bandages to deal with more serious accidents caused by hooks from lures, burns from stoves and barbed wire fences.

You're going to get cut fingers sooner or later, no matter how long you've been doing it or how good you think you are at handling fish.

Cleaning even minor cuts is vital when you're near water, to guard against infections or even Weil's disease - a nasty virus rats and other animals carry in their urine. A simple first aid kit can give you a lot of protection against both. So it makes sense to carry one.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pike fishing..? Can't afford that these days

Hey there podna - haven't seen you in ages. Must be two years since we went fishing. Been out much..? Doing any good..? 

"Naaah, never went all season," says my My Old Mate from years back when I bump into him in King's Lynn. "Can't afford to keep pissin' money down the river like you boys any more. Must cost you a fortune these days."

Not so long ago,  MOM lived for his pike fishing. He had all the latest kit and used to laugh at my battered old gear. I'd turn up looking like I'd been dipped in glue and thrown through the window of an Oxfam shop. He'd be in the latest realtree, imported straight from the US. When he went through a slow spell, he'd have a buying spree. He probably kept half the tackle trade in business single-handed.

"I still go carping and stuff," he shrugged. "Least with that you know if you spend the money you'll catch something. I'm off for a few days next week if you fancy it. I can guest you on a syndy lake I'm in, I can take someone on for £50 for 24 hours. Even you could catch carp on there - if you've got the right gear, mind. And the bait, obviously. You'll need to chip in a few quid for that."

Even me MOM..? I'll pass on that one. Pissing money down the river..? I smile to myself, knowing that's what it felt like half the time last winter. While I've found myself short of a few bob or two enough times in my life to know what it feels like, I've never been so skint I couldn't go fishing.

I reckon the sum above's roughly what an average day's pike fishing costs me when it comes to bait and tackle, adding a bit more to cover rod licences, club tickets and so on broken down over the course of a winter.

What does cost, entering a whole new dimension, is the actual getting there, as in the cost of fuel. I have a feeling I'm not the only one looking at a cheaper mode of transport.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

To the Village Pond, for a pre-breakfast session

It's time to put the pike in the Village Pond story to bed one way or the other. If I get up at 5am, I can give it an hour to see if it's a goer, as in there might - or might not - be a large pike, introduced to said water with intent of serious duck removal.

The roads are quiet, mainly because it's 5am, as I snap a trace on the single rod and sling a mackerel tail out in the middle. I've set the float at 6ft, but it still lies flat as I tighten up.

I set it at 4ft, recast and the orange blob sits up reassuringly, as I drop the rod beside the net in the reeds and sit on a park bench to roll a fag. The lights go on in the Village Shop, as the bread lorry arrives.

"Fifteen sliced Hun, fifteen bloomers and hev' you got any more o' them crusty rulls..?"

"Cor blast I dunno how many rulls I got on board darlin'. How many yew lookin' for..?"

"I rickun about 100 cos that's bridge club today an' they got a coffee mornin' at the church."

"Blast me I dunno if I got that many, darlin'. Carn't yew tell 'em to make do with samwidges..? I got some cheese here somewhere. That'll do 'em with a bit o' pickle."

The Bread Man's van lurches off up the lane. The float remains motionless, as kids begin queueing for the school bus. I reel it in to make my way to work, dropping the mackerel tail in the nearest dog poo bin. I pop into the Village Shop in search of sustenance.

"Yew the chap what was fishing when I open up for the Bread Man?" asks the Shop Lady. "Thought I'd give it a go," I shrug, as I eye up the pile of newly-made cheese and pickle rolls in the fridge.

"Well you'd better go back and catch a fish or summit," she smiles, as I open the door. "Cos yew can't have any of them - they're for the bridge club. I got sossidge rolls, mind. An' crisps."