Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ale's well but no big zander

I made an interesting discovery this afternoon. It didn't make my spirits soar quite as much as catching a load of pike would have, but it is noteworthy all the same. At the village shop in Denver - as opposed to the Village Shop in my village - I discover someone's launched a new brewery.

I buy a bottle of ale called Sunny Spell, with a big picture of the sun on the bottle. I plan to save this until I get home, but first cast I miss a pull so out it comes, off comes the top - and I say chaps, the stuff's delightful.

The sun's dropped below the clouds scudding across the Fens by the time I've finished it. A red kite soars over the floodbank. I feel a happy, contented bunny when I get another take. This time, the fish drops it before I even pick the rod up.

I've set up two leger rods with big, popped-up baits cast up and down the marginal reed line. The one that went off's on a big whole mackerel. I give it a twitch or two, feel a sharp bump and give it a heave that fails to connect. I reel in and the bait has two pairs of score marks, close together, around its head.

Do no pass Go. Do not catch big zander.

A mate texts with an interesting suggestion for tomorrow as I'm packing the rods away. I might be tempted.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Probably the best rig for legering for pike

Lots of people come to this blog after searching for best rigs for pike. Here's an easy-peasy leger rig for pike fishing on rivers, pits and drains.

First on the line goes a run ring. Then a rubber tulip bead, followed either by a Gemini clip or a Gemini clip swivel attached to the braid by an eight-turn uni knot.

Tie a mono link to the run ring. You need the lead on a link, as opposed to just sliding on the line for a couple of reasons. One, less tangles as it sinks. With a heavy lead fishing straight off the main line, it can tangle with the trace as the rig sinks.

Fishing drains and rivers, you often need to let the rig sink on a slack line so the bait stays tight to the far bank shelf, that sexy bed of Norfolk reed or some other feature.

Two, you can cast a lot further with the lead on the link if the lead's either the same weight as the bait, or - if you want to get max distance - a bit heavier. For max distance, try baits like a six-inch lamprey section rigged head-up.

Make sure your baits lie straight in the freezer, because if you get a bend in one it'll spin on the cast reducing distance or worse-still, causing a tangle if it turns around the main line on the way out.

I generally fix the link slightly shorter than the trace when I'm fishing the bait on the bottom. When I'm popping it up, I use a longer link.

Either way, I use clear 15lbs Amnesia for tying up links. I doubt the pike can see it, but it's a seriously-robust mono. If I think I'll need to change leads, I tie one of the smaller Gemini clips at the end. If not, I just tie the lead on.

Tighten down to it, as you put the rod in the rests to - hopefully - await some action and you're tight to the bait and the run ring. It might look crude, but it's quite sensitive when you think about it.

Some people use leger stems. But when you think about it, the stem doesn't do what it says on the tin once you tighten up to the rig, because the stem lies over.

Basic stuff, compared to some of the rigs you see these days for fishing for carp or other species. I doubt there's a better way of legering for pike.

Cloudy day and another otter

The wind's howling down the drain but I gave it a go all the same. Eight feet of water, the top two feet bowling along at twice the speed of the flow. I try angling the rods into the blow, tips just above wave height, but I'm not happy with it. When a passing lump of weed unclips me, the braid spills wildly off the reel down the bank.

Off to the river, where the wind's off my back. Two over the far side, one down the margin. Clouds darken ominously, but the rain holds off.

The club chairman appears and we have a mardle. As his 4x4 bounces off down the road, an otter appears in the middle of the river - the first I've ever seen on this part of the system. It's the third otter I've seen in the Fens in a fortnight. 

I don't want to blame these once-maligned creatures for another runless day, as it reaches the far bank reeds and disappears from view.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thoughts on deadbaits for pike fishing

I heave a sigh of relief as I shut the lid of the freezer in my study. Got 'em all in - just. I'm surprised what £61.75 worth of mackerel and lamprey actually looks like, in terms of the amount of space it takes up. For now, the freezer is full.

Then I remember I was going to take out all the fish at the bottom and stick the new arrivals there, so I used the oldest baits first. Instead of doing this, I will now use all the shiny new fish, before I encounter last season's leftovers.

In years gone by, when I bought most of my bait on my then weekly trip to Geoff Baker's shop in King's Lynn, I only kept enough bait for the next few sessions. Apart from the fact I got through more bait in those days, because I was catching a lot more pike, this meant I always had fresh bait. Geoff didn't keep more than a couple of weeks' worth of stock, because he had a more or less weekly delivery from Neville Fickling.

I'm not sure frozen fish become that less attractive to the pike as they age, but they do deteriorate. If the seals go on the vaccuum pack, they get freezer burn and gradually dry out, losing a lot of their oils in the process.

Even where vac-packs remain intact, year-old mackerel is a duller-looking fish than a fresh one. Domestic freezers don't get down to the -20C or whatever temperature you need to get below to stop fish going off - albeit slowly.

Who knows whether this means less runs. Like a lot of things, we'll probably never know unless pike learn to talk. But I'm going out for a few more days' fishing and I know I'll fish a lot more confidently with the fresh, just-in bait than last year's vintage.

This is probably as daft as the old mackerel vs herring debate. A few years back, a well-known angler and I were fishing on some pits and I offered him a joey after landing my second or third fish on one. No thanks Bish, the chap said - I've hardly ever caught anything on mackerel, never had a twenty on one, seem to catch more on herring in the Fens.

I'd always had the opposite view when it came to baits. I had so much faith in mackerel at one point I rarely used anything else. When blueys came along, I went mad on them for a while. Last winter, lamprey produced more fish than anything else. This time around, who knows.

Here's a little tip, whatever deadbaits you use. Chop the tails off. There are two reasons for this. One, it stops the tail fouling the hooks when you pull into a fish - not a regular occurrence, but it did happen to me a few times, meaning bumped off pike because the hook failed to engage.

Two, it stops the bait spinning on the retrieve, which can cause tangles like lead links wrapped around the trace when legering, or every now and then, a kinked-up trace.

Your fish were tracked leaving Tamworth

I have a day off fishing to wait for the fish man. I get up early, in case the fish man is early. I'm hoping this is the case, fish being the highly-perishable commodity that they are. I wait in all morning for the fish man - or rather the representative of a large, international courier company that my bait supplier uses to deliver fish.

The doorbell rings just before 11am. I open it to find it's not the fish man. It's two Jehovah's witnesses - without any fish. I dig out the e-mail I received yesterday, with a tracking number I can use to ascertain the whereabouts of my fish.

My fish began their journey in Chelmsford, from where they then journeyed to the Midlands. After spending a couple of hours in Tamworth, my fish then set off for Norwich, from where they eventually set off on the final leg of the haul to chez moi. Shortly before 3.45pm, there is another ring on the doorbell. The fish man arrives at last.

Despite circumnavigating half the country, the fish are still frozen. Unpacking the box, they're well worth the wait. One reason I use Online Baits is they're still seriously cheap compared to their rivals. The stuff they sell is also first class. Click here for a review.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Calm before the storm in the Fens..?

Today was the calm before the storm, according to the forecasts. Some reckon there'll be gales and heavy rain tomorrow. The Met Office reckons it's going to hit us on Monday.

I wondered if it will be enough to start colouring up the water and shake the pike out of their lethargy, as I set up on a flat calm drain first thing. Within an hour, the reeds were hissing in an easterly breeze and there was enough ripple to bow the braid and cock the floats nicely as the sun ducked in and out of the gathering cloud coming in off the estuary.

I twitched the baits and moved swim from time to time. At one point, I twitched a bait and something twitched back. The float bobbed and the line trembled. I tightened down, stuck the rod tip under the surface and struck after I felt a couple of sharp plucks.

When I inspected the bait, I remembered what else lives in the drains and rivers that empty into the tidal Ouse these days. Lumps clawed out of it were probably the handiwork of a mitten crab. It certainly wasn't an eel, which inflicts a different kind of mark on a soft-skinned bait.

 I decided to have an hour on Enigma. Unusually, there were two other anglers on there, both fishing for bream. One said he'd never seen any sign of pike. The other said he'd once caught a 12lbs specimen on a neighbouring lake.

I gave it slightly more than an hour in the end, enjoying the bird life crashed out in the late September sun.

Mark Barrett at King's Lynn PAC

Mark Barrett's going to kick off this season's programme of meetings for King's Lynn PAC.

Best known for catching the odd big zander, like the lump on the left from the Ouse, he's got a few other notable captures from the Fens under his belt so it promises to be an interesting evening.

He'll be at the Wm Burt Club, in West Winch, on Wednesday, October 31 (8pm). Be great to see you there.

The EA make exceedingly good cakes

I eye up the roach and rudd swimming in a tank outside the lunch marquee laid on by the EA, like you would. I note that they are the perfect size for *ahem*, until a familiar voice whispers: "Don't even think about it..."

I shake hands with one of my contacts I haven't seen in ages, who looks slightly surprised by my choice of tuck - a plate of mainly salad and a bottle of fizzy water. "You should try the cup cakes," he says. "The EA's had them 'specially made."

The cakes are indeed tasty. You can even eat the EA logo on them. I abandon my dark designs on the roach and wander back into the marquee, in search of more cup cakes.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Winter set to blast in early

Here we go folks - it's the first severe weather warning story of the winter, on the front page of tomorrow's Daily Express.

When I saw it, I wondered if it was a spoof splash - a story one of the nationals might lead on for its first editions, available late tonight in London, so as not to give away a much better story and give its rivals time to nick it.

When you check it through, the story's slightly flaky. Yes, it's getting colder <MEMO sub editors, it's autumn...>. Current forecasts also say it's going to rain quite a bit. In fact, the Met Office has issued a yellow weather warning for eastern England for Sunday into Monday.

But the Met Office also says "there remains a large amount of uncertainy at present in the detail..."

And far from the predicted icy blast, we're looking at a westerly gale on Monday. It'll be a bit lumpy on the rivers, but if the predicted downpour materialises, it might colour them up a bit and kick start the pike fishing in the Fens by the middle of the week

Piping the wildness back into the River Wissey

It might look like a great big pipeline - but it pipes wildness back into our landscape.

When I look around me, I see more than 100 people hanging on Charles Rangeley-Wilson's every word.

Officials, scientists and conservationists have gathered for an afternoon of talks and presentations about the recently-completed Wissey Fish Pass project.

Charles - better known as TV's Accidental Angler, fly fishing correspondent for The Field, author and passionate trout conservationist - is the keynote speaker. And what an incredible speech.

"If I'm bonkers about sea trout, I'm particularly bonkers about sea trout in Norfolk," he said.

"The very idea of sea trout in this flat, root and crop landscape is a strange one. The fact that sea trout run in these mazy, lowland rivers is endlessly surprising."

Norfolk boasts more chalk streams than Hampshire. We have the Little Ouse, the Babingley, the Heacham River, the Nar, the Wensum. But the queen of them all is the Wissey, a river beloved of pike anglers as well as sea trout hunters.

Yet like its neighbours which criss-cross the Fens through man-made banks and altered courses, there are sluices and all kinds of obstructions which block the way to the sea trout's spawning grounds in the Wissey's headwaters.

"It's amazing that the sea trout has been so resilient in the face of so much change, that a few make it back every year up the Wissey," said Charles, before he gave the new fish pass his eloquent stamp of approval.

"It might look like a great big pipeline, but it pipes wildness back into our landscape. May God bless this siphon and all who swim in her."

Earlier Toby Willison, Anglian regional director for the Environment Agency (right), explained how flood defences like sluices could inpact on fish like sea trout and eels.

"Some of these massive structures on our rivers form a barrier for fish and other aquatic species," he said.

Toby paid tribute to partners including Aquatic Control Engineering (ACE), who built the fish pass, and King's Lynn Angling Association, which controls fishing on the Cut-Off Channel, which the new pipeline connects to the Wissey.

"What the system will do is help the passage of fish, help their passage to spawning grounds, to nursery areas," he said. "I see no problem protecting the environment for its own sake.

"For many people, the environment is all about their enjoyment of it. Being able to see fish in our rivers, being able to catch fish in our rivers is part of their enjoyment. This great news for fish and I hope it will be great news for fishermen as well."

Over the last few months, several people have noted a sea-change in the EA. Most of its top fisheries staff were there today - Kye Jerrom, Paul Wilkanowski, Roger Hannford and Karen Twine - aka the Barbel Lady. When you speak to these people about our fisheries, you can hear the passion in their voices.

I wonder briefly why I'm the only pike angler there. For as the apex predator in our rivers and drains, the pike is as much of a baromoter species as the sea trout - one whose fortunes are just as closely linked to the health of our waters. 

Marjon Van Nieuwenhuyzen, director of ACE, gave a presentation outlining how her company had pioneered fish friendly slackers, elver passes, pumps and sluice gates.

Her company installed the strobe lights in the pumping basin at Welches Dam on the Old Bedford, along with an array of fish friendly features elsewhere including a fish flap in the tidal gate at the end of the River Stiffkey, in North Norfolk.

I have a feeling fishing's going to get to hear a lot more about ACE in the near future, as it provides the engineering know-how to do what anglers and conservationists have wanted to see for years.

Barry Bendall, regional director for the Rivers Trust, outlined some of the work undertaken by its staff and 15,000-strong army of volunteers around the country. While the movement to restore and safeguard our rivers is gaining pace, the powers-that-be are also putting their money where their mouth is.

Barry said government funding for catchment improvements had increased from £1.9m in 2009, to a £10m a year commitment for the next three years, via a catchment restoration fund.

A kingfisher flashed past the marquee where we adjourned for lunch. Rudd were topping in the river. Charles Rangeley-Wilson told me he's drawing up a catchment management plan for his favourite river, the Nar, as we compared notes on the ups and downs of our recent pike fishing. Something similar is planned for the Wissey, with Kelvin Allen, the chairman of King's Lynn Angling Association, the driving force.

In many ways, the future's looking good for both fish and anglers in the Fens. The Wissey Fish Pass will hopefully be the start of a long-overdue revamp of our river catchments. What it does is enable fish of all species to pass between the Cut-Off Channel, dug to relieve the system of excess water after the 1947 floods, and the Wissey.

Incredibly - for what's basically a Fen drain - the Cut-Off gets a small run of sea trout, which find their way in via the Relief Channel and its enormous tail sluice where it meets the tidal Ouse at Saddlebow, near King's Lynn.

But their path is blocked at Stoke Ferry by a sluice which remains closed except at times of high flood risk, along with young eels ascending the system. The new fish pass will enable both to complete their migration, along with bread and butter coarse fish species like roach.

I know of only two sea trout which have ever been caught in the Wissey or the Cut-Off - both of them by pike anglers. So will they become a viable target for our attentions in years to come..?

Charles Rangeley-Wilson admitted his pursuit of salmo trutta to date in Norfolk had not been as successful as some of his forays to further-flung corners of the world.

"You hear rumours about them," he said. "But I've seen even fewer and I've only caught one."

Click here for a bit more about the fish pass and some of the scientific work going on to survey fish movements in the Fens.

Off fishing, then off to write about fish

Off fishing for a couple of hours, then off to cover the official launch of the Wissey Fish Pass Project. I wonder how many of the media will turn up for what's a fairly ground-breaking, first of its kind in the country kind of announcement...?  

I have a feeling what's a fairly significant development for the Fens will struggle to make it onto the news agenda for both angling and mainstream media - mainly because it's in the middle of nowhere and mainly about fish.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why John Bailey once joined rod licence boycott

I don't know if this story will ever make the angling media, but John Bailey made an interesting admission in his column in yesterday's EDP *linky*. He decided not so long ago to boycott buying a rod licence, in the hope he could highlight the EA's neglect of our rivers if he ever got his collar felt and had his day in court.

JB was far more positive about the EA when I bumped into him a couple of weeks back, while he was filming an episode of the forthcoming Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree series in King's Lynn. Over the last couple of seasons - leaving aside one disagreement over a story I'd written in the papers - I've come to the same view.

Whatever's been going on in terms of cutbacks and re-organisations behind the scenes, we currently seem to be blessed with some very motivated fisheries staff in this part of the world. And best of all, they actually listen to the people who buy rod licences.

Like John Bailey - who's now a reformed rod licence buyer - I believe I'm seeing a return on the money I fork out for two rod licences each season - currently the princely sum of £54. Enforcement officers are engaging with pike anglers via the River Watch scheme set up by Denis Moules.

Membership is growing, as is the information now being passed in the right direction. Better still, it's led to at least two prosecutions.

Tomorrow sees another watershed, when the EA officially unveils its new £400,000 fish pass linking the Wissey with the Cut-Off Channel *linky*. Paid for by efficiency savings, rather than rod licence revenue, the hi-tech pipeline will help eels, coarse fish and even sea trout migrate to and from their spawning grounds.

The EA's also undertaking a tagging programme, to monitor fish movements. While still in its infancy, the driviing force behind this is Karen Twine (pictured, right) - the fisheries scientist whose barbel tagging on the Upper Ouse revealed the real cause of the barbel's decline in the river. The EA then went to work restoring the barbel's spawning habitats, to improve recruitment.

I used to regularly complain that there was no enforcement, on the strength of never having my rod licence checked in more than a decade. But enforcement needs to be targeted, because the staff and budget aren't there to have people patrolling everywhere in today's financial climate.

It's down to us as anglers to act as the eyes and ears of the EA whenever we can. This is where River Watch comes in - it's all about working in partnership, to safeguard what we love so much.

As paying customers, anglers have got every right to be a critical friend of the EA and the ways in which it spends our money. But behind the scenes, there's a lot going on we can take heart from at the moment.

We might still have a long way to go, but we've definitely turned a corner and things finally seem to be heading in the right direction in the Fens.

New swims and time to go back to deads

The smell of fresh-mown grass greets me as struggle to open the car door against the teeth of the blow. When I walk down the path to the drain, I find it's changed somewhat overnight. There are gaps in the reeds that weren't there yesterday afternoon, when I took a look and decided to save it for another day.

Whoever's mown the banks hasn't just cut the grass - they've knocked down great swathes of the reeds growing along the banks, which had grown so thick there were hardly any swims.

Now there are lots of swims. Lots of swims which haven't seen any action since the last time someone mowed the field and did some collateral damage to the reedbeds.  I give it a couple of hours but I'm struggling with the lure rod in the wind.

I'm kicking myself because I could easily have fished a couple of deads - one dropped just over the flattened reeds, one cast across and twitched back. Just up the lead size until it holds. Time to go back to back to bait fishing, I decide, as I head home.

Excuse the dreadful pic, by the way - I left my camera in the car and had to resort to the phone to get a snap of it.

These boots are made for walking

I've worn these Salomons for getting on for a year now. They're a walking boot with an incredibly rugged sole and Goretex uppers. The sole seems to give a grip on all but the steepest banks. Steep banks being something you need to get a good grip on in the Fens.

They're not thermal and they're also not 100 per cent waterproof, meaning they're not for the coldest days when you're standing around not doing much and they're no use for standing in the water. But if you're on the move and just walking through wet grass, your feet won't get cold or wet as long as you marry them up with a decent thermal sock.

They're fiddly to do up when your fingers are cold. But once you lace them up and tie them off, they stay tied off. The lugs don't bend when you tighten the laces.

And the soles show no sign whatsoever of wear after a year's use, and while they feel a bit stiff and clumpy to start with, they're a breeze to walk in. 

The Discovery GTX is the nearest model you can get to the now discontinued model I've been wearing. They cost upwards of £100, but should last and last if the ones I've got are anything to go by.

You can also drive in them, unlike bulkier boots offered under the banner of a certain big name tackle company, which cost half as much but soon developed holes where they'd rubbed on the pedals in the car.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shallows thick with roach and rudd

I tried and tried to get a sharp picture of the roach and rudd as they flashed across the shallows. The backwater was black with them when I peeped over the top of the rushes. But as soon as I took the extra step or two I needed to frame a shot with the camera, they dashed off for the safety of the main river.

Hand-sized fish that made up the main shoal were dwarfed by the odd larger specimen that might have gone a pound or so, bright red dorsal fins breaking the surface. They hung back once they'd spotted me, leaving the younger, rasher members of the shoal to chance it.

The water's so clear, this summer's end, that fish are very easy to spot. Perhaps an early steer for the winter ahead makes up for the lack of pike as autumn rocks up. The roach and rudd crammed into the tiny side channel are a sight I've often seen over the last few days, when I've spent as much time looking as I have fishing.

The little backwater leads on to a reed-lined bend, where the river deepens. As I gave up trying to get a decent shot of the fodder shoal, I pictured the pike rods fanned out around it, floats waving in the gentle winter flow as the river colours up and the predators move in to take advantage of the well-stocked larder.

And who says pike are stupid..?

Half a dozen follows from pike of different sizes in the mile or so of river I fished today, without one of them paying a visit to the bank. Even my ignorance of the finer points of lure fishing can't account for this whitewash.

They were interested enough to follow the lure. Interested enough in one or two cases to follow it a snout's length behind. I tried different lures. I tried different retrieves. I'm 99.9 per cent certain no-one's fished this bit of river for ages, so the fish can't have been spooked.

Maybe in the clear water, they had time to give the different lumps of wood I threw their way a good look. Maybe they just weren't in a feeding mood. But anyone who thinks pike are daft is barking up the wrong tree on the strength of today.

I learned a few things all the same. The main one being how many different things you can make a Shad Rap do, besides just chuck it out and reel it back in again. When the sun broke through the clouds building over the Fens, I could clearly see what the lures were doing. A downwards tap on the rod makes a Shad Rap keel and flash. A sharp upward flick sends it down with a waggle of its tail.

While neither were to the pikes' liking when it came to having a pop at one, I'll remember that one for when I next go lure fishing. Another thing I learned today was it only takes the slightest bit of weed to mask the diving vane or foul the hooks to completely muffle the lure's action.

After a large boat went by, it left a trail of bits of bur reed and cabbage, which the lure caught every other chuck. At this point, after the best part of three hours, I decided it was time for a re-think. Glancing off a bridge on another river on the way home was another object lesson.

There was a shoal of roach - hundreds, maybe thousands-strong flitting in and out between the sunlight and the shade. And there, beneath them in the clear water, were a pair of pike around the 8bs mark almost side-by-side.

The roach went about their business ignoring the killers in their midst. The pike just sat there, ignoring their fodder, with just the flicker of a fin or the occasional ripple of their gills.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More and more areas out of bounds to anglers

One thing I've noticed over the last few days is the number of areas which have now been rendered out of bounds to anglers. Here and there, new fences have appeared. And a 50yd mooring which I've never seen more than a couple of boats on in 15 seasons, a No Fishing sign.

I wonder if anyone's challenging this - apart from the pikers who go down the obvious civil disobedience route once the hire boats have tied up for the winter and even the die-hard cruisers who own their own vessels have deserted the river.

Slubbin' time in the Fens

I fancied a bash on this little drain, making a mental note to come back for another look in a few months when the reeds have died back a bit. Cor, blast, hold you on there buh - they're cutting the reeds out already.

Dog days of autumn continue

We walk half a mile before I find a half-interesting stretch and set to work with the lure rod. It's fresh and blowy and by the third gap in the reeds, I'm feeling hungry. The dog looks on expectantly, as I open the rucksack.

His tail is still wagging, as it dawns on me I've left his food in the car. The dog chomps half of my food instead. Sausage and onion sandwiches, with onion relish.

The dog has not completely behaved himself. He is just as capable of disrupting my efforts to lure fish as wrecking the peace and quiet of a day's deadbaiting. I can't, however, blame another blank day on the dog.

I have a feeling water clarity's got a lot to do with it. I don't think I've ever seen anywhere in the Fens as clear as the river we fished today. The fish must surely still be there. I just need to work out how to start catching them.

At least one hunch proved spot-on today. Not even air con on full blast can shift the foul smells from the back seat, as the dog dozes on the way home, digesting sausage and onion, with onion relish.

View across the Fens - near Grunty Fen

View across the flatness out near Grunty Fen. And yes, there really is a place called Grunty Fen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I promise...

If you take me fishing tomorrow, I won't poo in your study, ever again. I will not chew your nets or slobber on your clothing.

I promise I'll sit quietly in the car throughout the journey. I won't bark at cyclists, even at traffic lights or road junctions when you have the right of way.

I can also confidently assure you that the flatulence issues I have suffered from time to time are now well and truly in the past - regardless of whether the air conditioning is working in the car.

On arrival at the chosen venue, I will not bark loudly and advertise our presence to all and sundry. I will adopt a stealthy air and sit quietly, while you carefully approach the water, to avoid scaring off every fish for a mile radius.

I won't jump and try and catch the baits when you cast them. I won't cock my leg on any of your rods. I won't have a crafty whizz on your rucksack when you're not looking.

I will also refrain from trying to hump your friends, should we encounter any of them. In the event that you catch a pike, I promise I won't jump in the river after it.

Please take me... I promise I'll be good...

Sightseeing in the Fens

Today turned into a sightseeing trip, with a bit of fishing thrown in. I started off on a bit of river I used to fish a lot 10 years or so ago. Clear wasn't the word for it, but a lazy swirl that scattered a roach shoal every time them dropped back close to a bridge took my fancy.

I could chuck a Shad Rap over the other side and let the current take it into the shadows before a couple of taps on the rod sent it diving into the darkness. Five or six casts later, a pike that looked like a decent double followed it right into the shallows, sending up a cloud of silt as it turned away.

I tried different lures. I tried different retrieves. But the pike didn't show again, before a huge barge came through and I cleared off to check out one or two other places I've been meaning to take a look at.

One looked the dog's bollocks, with overhanging trees and bur reed snaking in the gentle flow. I gave it an hour's worth of chucking lures tight to the branches without seeing any sign of a pike. Something's got me half-interested in this bit of river, all the same. Maybe that's where I'll head tomorrow.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

So can anglers now trust the weather forecasts..?

This was the scene back in February, when show covered the Fens and the River Ouse froze from bank to bank. The cold snap only lasted a few days - unlike a couple of years earlier, when the freeze-up lasted for weeks.

After that winter - which came after forecasters said it was going to be a mild one - the Met Office stopped issuing long-range forecasts. Now it says new technology means it can make more accurate predictions.

Wouldn't it be great if you could actually trust the forecasts more than a day or two in advance..? This summer's widely-touted drought, which had the water companies imposing hosepipe bans, turned out to be a damp squib. Damp being the operative word.

Perhaps the real story when it comes to winter is just how briefly it's lasted if you average things out over the last decade or so. And just how volatile our weather's become in that time.

Yesterday, it was slightly warmer than the average for this time of year. Yet in the Fens, it was 16C - not the 20C predicted as the maximum temperature on local radio. Once the brief cold snap ended, it was warmer than that in February in the badlands.

Go figure.

Maybe the pike will hit one of these

More of same tomorrow, with an added twist. I'm wondering if it's worth trying shallow-running jerkbaits over the top of the weed, having found a couple I bought years ago.

I saw other signs of pike stirring on the new stretch I tried today. One or two fish were interested enough to come after the lure, but turned away in the clear water instead of attacking.

Maybe the faster-moving jerks will provoke a response as they flash over their heads. I'm pretty sure the pictured specimen only gets down to around 18", though I can't for the life of me remember what it's called.

It's going in the bag, with one of its equally-garish cousins anyway.

Gotcha..! A pike at long last

I haven't fished this bit of the drain before and the first few casts see the lure weeded. There most be three or four feet of the stuff growing up off the bottom, as well as great patches of cabbages where the lillies never quite made it to the top.

It takes a couple of swims to suss out I can fish a Shad Rap over the top of it, tapping it down a couple of feet, then pausing to let it rise slightly before the next twitch and a couple of turns on the reel handle. I can see the lure flash and turn under the surface three quarters of the way across.

I get quite immersed in this, watching how the lure responds to different movements of the rod. I can even see why people like doing this. Then there's a swirl behind the lure and I see a shape launch itself at Mr Rapala. Up comes the rod and I've got one.

Into the net it goes. I drop it on the mat and snick the hook out of its light scissors hold with my fingers. A quick snap for posterity and back goes pike number one of 2012/13 - all three pounds of it. Mustn't grumble though.

I can't remember when the last time I caught one was, off the top of my head. But it feels like  long, long time as I watch the little pike swim off to become a twenty.

+++Monster pike in village pond mystery solved - click here.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Clear drains, deep river, no cigar

I can tell no-one's been here for months, as I set off for a distant stretch of drain that's getting on for a mile from the nearest road. Getting there's a breeze with just a couple of lure rods, a rucker and a net to carry through the high grass waving in the breeze.

My heart sinks when I reach the bit I fancy. I can see the bottom two-thirds of the way across. I give half a dozen swims a go and set off back to the car. Next stop, a river.

There are people in the areas I fancied trying, so I head for a bit where you rarely see anyone. I hop over the bank and there's no-one about.

As I rummage through my lure box, I can tell someone's been here. Someone who's bagged up their rubbish after a session and thrown it in the reeds. Nice.

I gave this stretch an hour, using a Magnum to get down deep into the clear water. After a while, I even started thinking I was going to catch one, as the lure was doing what I wanted it to. I tried another stretch, where the roach and bream have been showing lately. No cigar again.

A nearby-ish drain was covered in weed and unfishable. I had a go in the boat basin next door, before setting off for another part of the system to have a look at another drain, which didn't look quite as clear as I peered down off a bridge.

I'll save that one for tomorrow - along with a bit of river that doesn't look like anyone's bothered with in ages.


How to find the pike in the Fens..?

A plan formed last night, as I went through the lure boxes. Sort them into those I've caught regularly on (this does not require a very big box...), the ones which have done the business once or twice (big box not required again...) and those which have never caught anything (big box could come in handy here...).

I tell myself it will greatly increase my chances if I only use lures from the first box - even if it isn't a very big box. I have read and re-read a few things I read when I first got interested in lure fishing. Most were written by people who knew a lot about lure fishing, which convinced me at the time that all I needed to do to emulate their success was use similar lures, in the way they described.

When the twenties failed to follow this logic, I went back to bait fishing and caught a few. This convinced me that either lures didn't work on the waters I was fishing, or I was so crap at using them it was pointless carrying on.

Life's moved on since then. What I now need more than anything is a means to cut a few corners when it comes to locating pike.

Common sense says use the lures and spend the weekend touring a few stretches to see if I can get a handle on where the fish are. Then I've got the week to go back and give the more promising options a  thorough work-out with the bait rods.

I have no idea whether this will work, because I've never approached pike fishing like this. I've always been a bait angler who's relied on some of the old, accepted wisdom when it comes to finding them - with varying degrees of success.

I have plenty of time to fish, for once. So I'm going to hit the reset button, try something new for me and see what happens. Maybe it's the answer.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Twitter, tweeting on about pike fishing

Here's another thing I plan to do a bit more of. If you use Twittter, you can click on the birdy logo thing on the left to follow me.

Having used it for both work and fishing-related things for a year or so now, I've got quite into it. It's a great way of  keeping in touch with things you're interested in.

I'll be tweeting how I get on fishing-wise over the next couple of weeks. I have a feeling fishing's going to have a lot of fun with Twitter, once it gets round to discovering it.

Two weeks off, bring it on

And so the long-awaited time off to go pike fishing begins. And it starts with yet another sort out of the lures, as yet another half-baked theory hatches with regard to finding the fish.

I have no idea what's going to happen over the next couple of weeks, but I have a plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel - like they say in some parts.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Another fine view of the Fens

Here's another swim that's a little off the radar. I wonder if anyone fishes here, as I hop over the bank for a quick look-see. Beer cans crumple underfoot, amid the baccy packets and other crap. Someone clearly spends some downtime here. I'm guessing they're probably not anglers, whoever they might be. Words fail me when I look at how we treat our rivers. They really do.

Time to dew diff'runt in the Fens

Time to dew diff-runt, like they say in my adopted Norfolk. With the rivers and drains running clear as gin as I get back into the swing of things, two alternatives spring to mind.

Alternative one is try a stretch of drain which I'm 90pc sure will have some colour in it. Not a stretch I've really fished for years but as well as the possibility of some coloured water, it's a fair bit deeper than a lot of its near neighbours.

There's also the Enigma Lake, but I have to admit I'm losing interest in the place because it just hasn't felt right when I've gone to have a look at it or on the brief sessions I've fished on it to get my head round the depths and look for any sign it's a viable pike water.

I don't mind fishing waters which are hard or slow, as long as I know there's a chance of a decent fish or two. While Enigma almost certainly holds pike, I'm not sure whether it's worth spending hours on the bank trying to crack it. When I coined a name for it, I half suspected this.  

Alternative two is bite the bullet, leave the bait rods and home and make an effort with the lures. This one's growing on me mainly because I now find myself with the possibility of a week's fishing and want to get a few pike under my belt.

Lures clearly offer mobility and a means of covering a lot of water. Not to mention trying different waters and places which are a mega walk to reach. As autumn arrives, I have time on my hands. Time to start exploring again.

Korum Clips great for tweaking pike rigs

Magic chickens aside, yesterday did have one small positive. I had a couple of rods tackled up with just small floats and trace clips, intending to drop baits in the margins with them. When I got to the drain, the wind and flow meant I needed a lead to anchor them.

Out came the little Korum Clips and bosh - lead added in a second, without needing to break the rig down. I guess I could also have just put a run ring on when I set the rods up as well, but I have a feeling I'm going to get to like these clips.

I can think of one or two other uses for them. Maybe they're a rig bit that's wasted on carp anglers. Bit more on 'em here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Magic chicken doesn't spell 30lbs pike in the Fens

A huge swirl rocks the margins 20 yards up the drain, scattering fry in all directions. That's some pike, I tell myself as I reel the rods in, grab my rucker and hoof it down there. Moving swims requires two trips and the best part of five minutes by the time I've stumbled down the bankside undergrowth and found a couple of gaps to poke the rods through.

As I'm baiting up the traces, the pike stages a repeat performance. I see it's dorsal fin and tail lobe this time and it's a big old lump. The first bait goes bang on the nail. I drop the others on either side. They sit there for an hour, as the breeze gets up into the beginnings of a blow and the rain starts falling.

A large chicken walks past on the opposite bank. I've never seen a large chicken walking on the opposite bank of the drain before, so I wonder if it's an omen. Perhaps it's a magic chicken, which only appears when you're about to catch a thirty.

Maybe a mate who caught one on this drain a few years ago saw a chicken immediately beforehand, but neglected to mention this detail when he finally 'fessed up to where he caught it. The chicken ambles off. The bungs remain motionless.

My phone buzzes. "Caugth any fing yet 4eyes?" says the text. No, I reply. But I've seen the magic chicken. The car's only around the corner, so I reel the baits in and run back for the stove to get the Charlie on.

It lights first time, despite the fact it's been festering in the back of the car for six months. As I'm stirring my capuchino with a baiting needle, there's a massive swirl in the swim I vacated earlier. I debate whether to up sticks and leg it back there, but I recast the baits and sit on the floodbank nursing my coffee instead.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Decisions, decisions

My weather wotsit reckons the temps are going to be down to low double figures tomorrow. I like the sound of that. Where to go's the obvious question.

Both places I fancy are a fair old stomp. One's the best part of a mile, the other can't be much less than that.

But both probably haven't been fished since one or two of us gave them a tickle last winter. And if I cut the gear down, the walk's no real problem and I can swim hop back towards civilisation.

I may even force myself out of my comfort zone, leave the bait rods at home and lure fish. Then again I might just plot up somewhere and sit it out behind the deads.

My rough stats tally says I've fished around 14 hours so far without catching a pike.  This doesn't worry me unduly, bearing in mind how many hours I've probably spent not catching pike over the last few seasons.

What interests me, looking ahead, is how to get the most bang for my buck when it comes to bigger fish within the radius I can now afford to travel, as diesel prices move closer to the £1.50 a litre mark in rural Norfolk.

I know one or two people who no longer fish for pike because it's "too expensive". Getting there's now a far bigger outlay than bait, tackle and the cost of things like licenses, club cards etc over the course of a season for me.

Weighing up tomorrow's prospects, I can get there and back on a tenner's worth as long as I don't cane it.

Decisions, decisions.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Is silt slowly choking the system in the Fens?

Did the shrimp boats sit this high and dry in the Fisher Fleet at low tide a few years back..? I'm not so sure they did.

The tidal river's silting up so badly in Lynn that the council is looking to buy an amphibious vehicle to replace the ferry that runs from King Street to West Lynn.

The report to councillors makes quite interesting reading when it comes to the state of the Ouse - scroll down to the first agenda item here.

What's all this got to do with pike fishing, you might ask. Well the tidal Ouse is the end of a system of rivers and drains that stretches far inland. In recent years, siltation has caused problems in the Delph, when water wasn't cleared off the Washes because of the shrinking window when it could be run off via Welmore Sluice.

Reading between the lines regarding the recent renovation of the Relief Channel tail sluice, the Channel's going to be increasingly relied upon to discharge water, as it by-passes the silted up stretch of the tidal between Denver and Eau Brink. This could prove a blow to hopes that fishing on the Channel might improve once the gates were de-silted which allow the Ely Ouse to flow into the tidal between tides.

Things are changing fast out there. Not even the rain we've had over the wettest summer for nearly a century has been enough to scour the tidal. The tide comes in with more force than it goes out, meaning the flood brings in mud faster than the ebb can clear it.

Disaster might not be looming toworrow. But the tidal river governs how the entire system operates. And sooner or later, there's going to be a tipping point when it comes to actually getting water away. Take the new pumping station at St Germans, which can now move water out of the Middle Level  at all states of the tide.

This relieves the immediate risk from the Middle Level, but where does the water go against a rising tide - back upstream, adding to the problems of siltation upstream in the tidal, between St Germans and Denver.

This might make the Welney and Ouse Washes more prone to flooding - what they were designed to do, some will doubtless argue. But what happens as the tidal Ouse between Denver and Welmore becomes more silted, reducing the scope for clearing water off the Washes.

Click here for schematics which show how that part of the system works. See what I mean..?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

A better way to police illegal fishing in the Fens?

I escaped the office at lunchtime to check out the Bentinck Dock in King's Lynn, which was open today as part of the annual Heritage Open Days weekend.

One reason was to have a look on board the Three Counties - the fisheries protection vessel tied up alongside the buoy boat, tug and pilot launch on show. It's an incredibly-sophisticated boat, which is run by the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA).

It spends its time out in The Wash, monitoring the activities of the shellfish fleet and other fishing vessels, as well as keeping an eye on the health of stocks in the estuary. There's a piece to write here somewhere, when I finally get round to fixing up a trip with them.

But it got me thinking, as I admired all the hi-tech kit on board. Would the EA be able to police the Fens more effectively if they had a smaller version available to operate on far-flung stretches of our inland waterways..?