Friday, 2 September 2011

Sweating in the Cold by John Bailey

This is how my fishing is these days. I’m almost always involved in sessions less than twelve hours long that are intense and very sharply focused. I’ll either be guiding, filming or product testing. And, whichever the three, it’s almost always desperately important to catch. I sometimes envy the carpers down at Kingfishers, asleep in their bivvies, making tea or chatting idly. I’d love that space and that time but I just don’t have it. In some ways, my Carp fishing is almost like fishing a match. There are always pressures; my eye is always on the clock.

Perhaps because of this pressure, I try harder. Virtually every season, I catch twenties, thirties and even sometimes forties for my guided clients. I push them hard, too. I don’t like it if they make mistakes. A missed or a lost fish really is not good. In all probability, we’ll have worked really hard for the chance and the one that got away isn’t much good back in the bar. Of course, I have a wide portfolio of waters, some quite large like the Kingfisher at twenty-odd acres and some much smaller. Some are medium to difficult and others medium down to quite easy. I obviously tend to choose waters depending on my client’s ability and aspiration or whether a film is demanding quality or quantity. Unlike some carpers, I’m also very willing, eager even, to move. I’ll move swims – sometimes almost constantly – and I’ll even move waters. These are often close together along the Wensum Valley but not necessarily so.  If I’m convinced a lake is going to fish better and it’s thirty miles away, so be it, we’ll be in the car. Whether a client or a film crew, you don’t come with JB for an idle sort of day.
Bizarrely, one of my most busy periods, both with clients and in front of the camera, coincided with the worst possible conditions that Norfolk can throw at you – an endless period of northerly winds. I don’t know what it is about northerlies and Norfolk but they really are the kiss of death. I noticed this first when I was a child and every northerly wind since has simply reinforced that. Of course, if you look at any map, you will see there is nothing between Norfolk and the North Pole apart from endless cold sea. In fact, so raw was this northerly at times, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find I was sharing a Carp water with a polar bear!

It’s strange. Your professional carper is constantly looking for a wind, whereas I am not. It’s partly the difference in approach. As I’ve said, I’m always on the move, stalking, actually looking for a feeding fish. I’m a hunter and not an ambusher and I can’t simply wait for fish to turn up on the wind today or tomorrow. Everything has to be instant. And I’m not sure, either, whether even the pro carper likes a northerly. Looking at the results in the Kingfisher log for this period, you are aware of sharp turndown in captures. Okay, one or two big fish came out but nowhere near the number you’d expect.
There are times when you just have to accept that Carp are not feeding. This is how it was for this entire ten day period for me. The northerly blew and blew and the fish simply sulked. You can use whatever bait and tactics you want, the fish just don’t respond. You can put as appetising a bed of bait as you can imagine down on a bar and it will be there two days later. You can see a Carp come for a piece of crust and turn away. Often it’s not fear of the hook or the line or the drag or anything but a simple reluctance to open a mouth. It’s devastating. You’ve got an expectant client or desperate film crew by your side and you realise there is almost nothing you can do to tip the balance.

I do think incredibly hard about where exactly to fish. During these northerlies, I was constantly investigating the calm water in the lee of any island or tree fringe. Our dear Gavin Burn from Hardy & Greys itself, picked up his first ever Carp on a piece of floating crust from just such a place. The lily bed held off the worst of the northerly and created a small patch of totally calm water. In it, half a dozen Carp, albeit small ones, were feeding spasmodically and Gavin had the patience to sit it out and wait for his first five pounder to make a mistake.

What I also find is that I am constantly watching conditions. I’m checking air temperatures virtually all the time. During this period, they were averaging 15° – 16° during the day but if they ever lifted to 18° or 19°, I’d suddenly sense a window might open. Wind strength became another major, dominating factor. If it fell from an average of 3 or 4 to 1 or 2, then again, you’d begin to see insects hatch out and know the carp would begin to respond given half a chance. In fact, it amazed me how quickly the Carp would switch on to anything like more favourable conditions. It wasn’t a case of waiting half a day, sometimes half an hour was quite adequate. Equally, though, once the temperature dropped back to 15° and the wind rose again, they would switch off like a light bulb.
I suffered the ignominy of two total blank days, tragically both times with bright, enthusiastic eighteen year olds who were desperate for a fish. I was gutted that they were gutted. There is, though, that compensation that tells you that fishing shouldn’t always be guaranteed and too easy and it’s a lesson that is best learnt young. As I stressed to them, this is the beauty about fishing, its total unpredictability. Yes, you can go to a heaving commercial and know you will get bites but you might just as well find your fish stacked on ice at the supermarket.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates the ups and downs of this style of fishing in adverse conditions better than a description of the day I spend with Ragi on the Bottom Lake. This is a hard water at the easiest of times at about five acres, deep with very few features of any sort. The Carp are big, old and incredibly spooky. Ragi, too, likes to take his fish from the surface so I knew we were in for a grueller.
For the full eleven hours, we kept on the move. Rod, reel, hooks, net, bread and dog biscuits, Polaroids and binoculars. We circuited the lake again and again with absolute stealth. Every time the wind dropped, even minutely we’d be on tenterhooks. We’d investigate intently those pockets of water sheltered from the northerly, protected by reed beds or tree fringe – willows  are great wind deflectors on any lake.
We had an early chance. Two fish in the mid-twenties came towards his crust just two feet from the bank in a puddle of calm water. They peeled away but behind them a fish twice the size rose through the water column, accelerating, heading straight for the crust. It turned away, absolutely at the last centimetre, in a big boil of water. I don’t think it saw us or the gear. I’m convinced it just was not hungry. Its instinct led it to the crust but that was where its interested ended.
An hour later, mid-morning, the wind died and a big fish appeared twenty yards out. It located a piece of crust cast to it and actually held it for four or five seconds between its lips before letting go and slipping back down into the water which, once again, had a chop on it. The rise in the wind certainly didn’t help but, yet again, I feel there was no real hunger behind the investigation.
In mid-afternoon, again in a lull, two very big carp appeared in front of us, rising ever closer to the surface. We sensed a chance and put a piece of crust out in the direction to which they were travelling. Almost instantly, the wind in the poplars began to moan, a ripple hit the surface and the fish dived without trace.
The day appeared to be heading for grim conclusion when, at five thirty, the wind, once again, died away completely. A fish was moving right in the reed fringe and almost instantly took a very small piece of crust. We decided that if the fish were not hungry then we’d better scale down the offerings dramatically. That fish weighed a fraction under thirty-six and once it was returned we simply headed for the pub physically and mentally shattered.

I appreciate that not everyone has the privilege of access to so many carp waters that are often not heavily fished. Sometimes, it is just a case of taking the last available pitch and I’m well aware of that. I’ve fished many venues like this and I’m grateful for what I’ve got today, believe me. However, I still believe my observations are valid. Even if you are a traditional, long-stay angler, it really does not hurt to be right on top of your game, really in touch with the water and the changing conditions on even a quarter hourly basis. Often the window of potential capture is an extremely small one. I’ve said before in this column, it’s no surprise that some of the most successful of the Carp anglers at Kingfishers are those who keep mobile, who aren’t afraid to move, who constantly watch the water and who spend an endless amount of time simply considering the options before setting up camp.
I sincerely believe that successful carp fishing is far more than having the right gear with the right rig and the right bait. If you have unlimited patience then you will win out in the end but there are quicker shortcuts to more consistent success.

MNDA Event Raises Thousands by Chris Lowe

Every year Linear Fisheries hold some sort of charity event and over the last few years I have attended these events to give my full support to Linear and whichever charity they are supporting.
The last few years have been in support of the Tony Parsons Memorial which has been mainly an event held for kids. This year however was the first year an event has been held at the Fishery in the hope of raising as much money as possible for the Motor Neurones Disease Association (MNDA).

The reason for picking this very worthy cause is because not long ago Len who runs Linear Fisheries, wife suffered this awful condition and as a result lost her life to it so it’s a charity that is very close to his heart and, I’m sure we will be doing as much as we can to support Len and this charity over the coming years.
The idea of this event was that the public pay to fish with a ‘star’ of the fishing world. People like Frank Warwick, Lee Jackson, Tim Paisley and many more attended the event includingn Scott Maslen who plays Jack Branning in Eastenders! Scott also donated an Albert Square sign to the cause signed by the whole Eastenders cast which will be auctioned off after the event to raise even more money for the worthy cause.

The event was run very well and the hard work and long hours put into organising it by the Linear team was very evident.
A BBQ was held on the Sunday evening for the people who were donating their valuable time to the event before the public arrived the next morning. The evening was great with everyone being able to relax and catch up – often it’s the only time of the year some of us actually get together having so many commitments throughout the year.
The next day each ‘star’ angler was allocated a member of the public(s) upon arrival. I had a father and son team, Mike and Dan Smith who had generously supported the MNDA and did so right through the 48 hours -even on the last day when an auction was held to which they gave generously.

We headed off to our peg that I had picked the night before. When we arrived we got straight down to it, getting Mike and Dan fishing as soon as I could and hoping for a fish. We didn’t have to wait too long before one of Dans’ rods roared away. We had a great few days fishing with plenty of fish caught for both anglers, some of which were quite hectic – at one point we had four fish on all at the same time!
We continued to catch fish nice and steady throughout the 48 hours with about fifteen or sixteen fish being caught and about seven lost. Mike and Dan also both picked up some really useful techniques and tips to help them with their fishing for the future.

We fished a few different methods when we were there starting by fishing over a large spodded area with solid PVA bags over the top which caught right from the off. Then, on the second day we changed to fishing singles over the top of the spod which also worked very well, all having to drop the lead on the take because of the weed that is present at this time of the year. We also tried the chod which also got runs but we never managed to land any on this due to still having the lead attached so we switched those rods over to solid bags that were cast to showing fish. These produced quite a few fish because we were dropping the leads on the take. All in all though it didn’t matter what we used as we caught.
For our solid bags we used micro pellets and a scattering of 3mm pellets with a few special bits added which I always add to my mix – some rock salt, black pepper and BBQ ground chillies. The pellets were the usual from Bankside Tackle and my hook baits were SBS baits phase 1 wafters. Occasionally I add some hemp oil which can pull fish down from the upper layers if things are a bit tough to get a bite.

The experience at the MNDA event for me was more than just fishing – the company was second to none and it was a pleasure to be with Mike and Dan over the 48 hours. I must say it has been the best event that I have been involved with and I would like to thank everyone at Linear and everyone involved in this well worthy event.
£13,627.90 was raised by the end of the 48 hours – a tremendous amount and, not to be forget there is still more to come with all the auction items still to go on the internet.

Autumn Fishing

The autumn always gives me mixed feelings with regard to my expectation of some final success before the cloak of winter shrouds the countryside with decay and depression. Yes, you can probably tell I don’t like winters. I also don’t particularly like the autumn, mainly because everything starts dying or changing.
Over the last few years you would have to be either insane or locked away in some continuously controlled environment not to notice how the UK climate has changed. I also think anglers like me, who have been around a few decades, will have noticed it more. You may ask yourself, “What’s this to do with autumn fishing?”
Firstly, you have to decide when the autumn actually starts and with changing climatic problems that is sometimes hard. To me it’s all about average yearly temperatures and secondly geographic location. The perception of the seasons to us hasn’t changed, but nature doesn’t know about annual periods, it will react on weather conditions and our ever-increasing warmer climate isn’t helping. I have, like most anglers followed weather conditions with more than a passing interest. I also have been monitoring average temperatures across the UK and trust me it’s getting warmer. I split the country at the moment into three distinct bands: north, which I class from Newcastle to Sheffield, midlands from the south of Sheffield to just below Birmingham. The land below this point is the southern region. This area has some quite large temperature variation so it has to be looked at very closely. The temperature variation for instance between Oxfordshire and Hampshire can be very marked over the autumn and winter periods. However, I have very little interest in this area mainly due to the extreme distance from my home and the subsequent geographic disadvantages it holds.
The other zones generally are more stable and have only minor temperature fluctuation between their southern and northern borders. Over a year you can have an ambient temperature fluctuation between the north and south zone of more than 4º Celsius. This means the traditional seasons don’t impact on the southern region waters like they do in the north. The longer water temperatures stay above 18º Celsius the longer fish can feed effectively and consequently grow. Now I’ll probably get slated for this statement, but it’s probably why southern waters are generally easier and more prolific. However, it’s also the reason the north has only a handful of big fish. I know one fact for sure, there isn’t many big Carp caught in the north between November and March and it’s also not for want of trying.

The start of autumn is when week on week average lake temperatures start to fall coupled with the reducing daylight hours. You will find they may stabilise for a while and the fish begin to feed heavily, but for short periods. However, this doesn’t always mean success or any bonanza periods. The secret to fishing the autumn is identifying these short periods and applying the right approach. This will vary extensively and will depend on your venues geographic location and the type of angling pressure your venue receives. You will also probably find the fish start frequenting deeper water especially if they have a good cross section of depth available to them.
I’ll always remember this happening at Three Lakes in Selby. The lake has a good average depth of between 6-8ft, but it did have a deeper area down at the road bank end near the houses. This end of the lake is now cut off, but the average depth was 12ft plus. If you were lucky enough to get your timing right this area could be your last chance of some good action before the lake died for the winter. I know the biggest fish in the lake came from this area both years I was a member and at its peak weight.
Another instance I experienced finding fish in the autumn starting to frequent deeper water was at Lyng in Norfolk. The lake depth is very variable and has small pockets of deeper water positioned all over, but for two years running they gathered in good numbers in an area to the left of the island point. This area isn’t very big, but depths of up to 12ft can be found. During both the last weekends of October for two years running I experienced some very good action, catching five thirties to 38lb and several other fish in the upper twenty brackets. After both sessions the area and lake closed down for the winter and despite further attempts no more takes were forthcoming. The window of opportunity was probably a period of less than two days. The lake temperature the timing and approach needed to be exact. A week too early they wouldn’t be there, and after, the fish just switch-off. I also believed that the fish hadn’t moved, all they had done was close down and stopped feeding, mainly because that was always the first area to produce fish early the following spring.
This passing from shallow to deeper water is just a reaction to falling lake temperatures. Warmer water will be found for a period in the deeper areas depending on the rate of cooling. It’s the Carp’s natural behaviour to seek out an environment they are comfortable with and if that is still right for feeding they will continue regardless until something changes.
Another aspect you will have to consider during your autumn campaign is how much pressure has your chosen quarry seen that year. I didn’t start to experience this problem until the close season was abolished. In fact it’s my reason for being a supporter of reintroducing a close season. I also purposely look for venues with close seasons, because they are generally better prospect for a working angler. Autumn fishing prior to the close season being abolished was definitely better. Its all about pressure and catch rates. Remember your target fish could have already been caught four times that year by the end of August. It’s hardly going to be easy to make it slip-up again, especially when its environment is changing so rapidly. The constant presence of anglers also takes its affect. Under the old system by September most lakes had only seen three month’s pressure. Our new regime, this could be seven months of intense pressure, which will ensure a big change in behaviour and environmental impact. So you will have to decide where your venue falls in this situation because your approach needs to reflect these potential problems.

My approach to bait at this time of the year does vary depending on pre-autumn angling pressure. Lakes that have seen extensive pressure do not respond well to heavy baiting with normal HNV type baits. You have to remember you are probably fishing for very wary fish that have been successfully eating large quantities of angler’s baits without getting caught. I have seen this happen on so many lakes over the past decade. Most anglers have difficulty accepting that they are being done and will start to change, thinking there is something wrong with their bait. Generally there isn’t, the problem lies with how the fish have become conditioned. They can in very extreme conditions become very selective, especially if they have been eating bait that is not fit for purpose. Cautious and stressed fish will slow everything down and will only feed when they are completely relaxed. I do advocate making some subtle changes in these circumstances, but this will largely depend on the type of bait you are using.
Carp will eat baits more readily if they are easy to digest. A simple mechanical solution to this problem can be to use them just lightly boiled ensuring the centres are still soft. If you don’t have that luxury then pre- soaking them can help. This method has two advantages in certain circumstances firstly your baits are softer than normal and secondly they give the appearance of being older than they are, but remember pre-soaking should always be done in lake water from the venue you are fishing.

To get around the problem of using soft baits for your hook bait the easy solution is to prepare some pre-meshed before soaking. The process of pre-soaking helps the mesh bite into the bait as it swells making the mesh almost impossible to see. I’m convinced that after much debate with like minded anglers that softer baits do work better during the autumn months on pressured waters.
However, it is not the best solution in my opinion. I prefer to add ingredients to my baits that will aid and support the digestion process in addition to the above method. This is only possible if you have complete control over your bait making process. A carp’s digestive system is initially almost completely controlled by temperature and it starts to be less effective at temperatures below 18º Celsius. The next most important aspect is to ensure your bait can both be digested by the enzyme trypsin and support that processes i.e. don’t include ingredients in your baits that are trypsin inhibitors. Now if you are buying a good commercially manufactured bait mix this should never be the case. However, I wouldn’t use any bait that I didn’t know the complete make-up of. Most Soya proteins (with the exception of full fat Soya flour) are tripcine inhibitor along with most basic wheat flour products. There is a difference between an inhibitor and a product that just passes through the digestive tract without hindering the main digestive process. For instance most commercial made fish feeds will have an ash content, which is a portion of the product that is just nutritionally unavailable. An inhibitor on the other hand will stop the digestive process almost like alkaline neutralises acid, making nothing available for the fish to absorb and this is obviously not good for their health. Ash or fibre content just helps the food pass through the digestive tract. It can also give bait the right texture and structure to help in the first stage of digestion, crushing and grinding. Bait that can be easily crushed into digestive slurry is always going to have an edge.
I’m a great believer in using Betaine HC1 not because of its attraction qualities, but as an aid to the digestive process. The hydrochloric acid portion of this product helps breakdown proteins and aids trypsin digestion. It is also very water soluble so it can be used comfortably at moderate levels. In fish meal based baits I will use this product at this time of the year up to a level of 20g per 500g of dry mix. In any bait that has a high milk protein content I will reduce that by about 25%. This is mainly due to the bait texture; milk protein baits have a tendency to form a tighter structure and absorb water at a lower rate. The other ingredient I do favour, but it is difficult to use effectively is trypsin. I don’t know of any commercially available source other than what’s present in Nutrabaits addit digest. I source my supply direct from a chemical distributor that specialise in selling digestive aids. Anyone interested,  just put the word enzyme into Google, you will find lots of information and places to buy any of the different varieties. Not sure about all the others available, so for all you budding bait boffins caution is the word. Most enzymes are manufactured for the human market and our digestive process is far more complex. I also only use this when I’m making bait in small batches. This product is very sensitive to temperature so bait boiling times should be low to negligible if you want to achieve optimum results. The highest level I have ever used this ingredient is 2g per 500g of dry mix and have only ever used in two different baits, BFM and another bait made to similar proportions of milk protein to fish meal content. Chemically some bait would not be suitable for this product it reacts to readily with certain ingredients turning them into a slurry and making the bait rolling process almost impossible. However, that may be an advantage for ground baits!
During the autumn my baiting-up levels will vary as previously stated in accordance with my chosen venue’s annual angling pressure cycle. If I’m fishing a normal close season venue then during the autumn I won’t change much from my summer levels, but as a general rule I tend to increase them slightly. However, that very much depends on action experienced and how the fish are behaving. On year round waters my baiting levels do slow down and you do tend to find yourself just fishing for a bite. The carp may be very active, but as previously stated they will have had a very long spring and summer to wise-up. It’s under these circumstances that I find myself usually having to slightly tweak my baits with those little additions that can make all the difference.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

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