Let us start off with a quick look back at 2016. The general consensus among the specimen hunting fraternity is that, overall, it was a tough year.
For myself, diversification has been not only been enjoyable but also quite productive. I beat my Perch PB by a solitary ounce at Pitsford with a fish of 3lb 13oz. My two 3 12's from the river will always be more special but it was nice to creep ever closer to my ultimate goal of a four pounder. I had five over 3lb that day, sharing the experience with friends made it one of the highlights of the year. Other PB's included a 15oz Dace and a modest 2lb 10oz Eel. I broke my Rudd best three times in January with fish of 2lb, 2lb 5oz and 2lb 11oz. A new PB Rainbow Trout of 8lb 2oz was taken on a fly and I caught some new sea species too. A tiny Weaver fish wasn't particularly welcome but my first Thornback Ray was. Not having a sling with me means the weight of my biggest Smoothound in 2016 will remain a mystery.
While it seem voguish to highlight personal achievements I have come to realise that some of my fondest memories from 2016 were not necessarily related to exceptional captures. A blazing summer dawn on the beach with our friend Lee sticks out, we didn't catch much but it was a marvellous couple of hours. Benidorm Dave choosing to spend one of his precious days off from his work and young family with me at a tricky Pike venue. A day with Andy on his boat on an exclusive Perch venue. The list goes on and on. Progressively I've come to realise that a successful outing is one that you simply enjoy. Isn't that what pastimes are all about? In a social media world of a few thousand catch shots the enjoyment factor is often lost. Worth noting.
Scratching my head
Chub can be most obliging, even in the most atrocious of conditions. They can also be the most recalcitrant little sods in the river. I spent a few days targeting some big fish on a local stretch and it was as hard as I've ever known it. It isn't a big river, far from it. I know the Chub are there and while I don't credit any fish with human-like intelligence it did leave me wondering if they knew I was there trying to catch them, such was their obstinance.
The usual method was employed, link-legered cheese. Starting off at the bottom of the stretch a few free offerings were scattered in various spots along the river before I methodically worked my way back down. Bites were incredibly hard to come by. In three trips I caught three fish, a poor return. They were a modest size too compared to the usual stamp. Last season you'd be unlucky if you caught one below five pounds. It has never been exactly easy but after three sessions I decided to leave them for a while in the hope they become more eager to feed. My best of the week was this 4lb 13oz fish.......
In total contrast to my Chub exploits the Pike on a different river were displaying an almost suicidal tendency to feed. Deadbaits, lures, it didn't matter. I had a great morning on a lovely mild day. I caught six Pike in total to just under 14lb. They all fought like crazy, particularly the biggest one that refused to concede for a good few minutes. I have switched to braid for static fishing and it certainly magnifies every lunge and run. The Super PE I recommended last time is what I use, opting for the dark green in 40lb. That might seem like an overkill but it's quite fine and I like the extra security of the higher breaking strain. It's often wise to replace your mono with braid of a similar diameter. While it offers little in the way of presentational benefits you get the reassurance of probably never having a breakage. With the braid I recommended it works out as cheap as mono. A no-brainer.
At the start of the winter I bought a small inflatable from my good friend Andy Loble. As usual it took me a while to get organised before I was ready to give it a try. Now the elephant in the room is the use of an inflatable for fishing with sharp hooks. In reality it takes little care in avoiding a possibly catastrophic scenario. You really would have to do something incredibly stupid or deliberate to puncture the ultra-tough rubber. The advantages far outweigh any misgivings. I can transport it in my car boot and launch it almost anywhere. This opens up a plethora of new opportunities and on my maiden voyage I overheard a couple of bank anglers professing their desire to get one after seeing the freedom it had afforded me.
The venue was the river Witham at Tattershall bridge. A big, wide river, ideal for exploring in a boat. It took me about twenty minutes to pump up with an electric pump and get everything organised. A couple of hours spent around the bridges produced nothing so I went downstream towards the Bain mouth to try around some moored boats. Again this area was unproductive and I was beginning to doubt the usefulness of my new purchase.
As I worked my way back upstream I bounced a 10g Jig Head with a 8cm Battleshad off the bottom, mid-river. Almost immediately I started to catch. I had four Pike to around 8lb in quick succession. By then the light was fading, time was running out and I was keen not to break my new rod on turbo-charged Pike so I concentrated on trying to find some Perch. In the end I had four to just over 2lb. Hardly earth shattering but great fun for my first trip.
I had another trip to the Witham with similar results minus the Perch as I had to go before the witching hour. They certainly seem to be very elusive in full daylight on that river. I'm sure they are there, they just don't want to feed.
Feeling I was becoming quite proficient with my new craft I decided to take it to a smaller, more intimate river. I wasn't sure how the fish would react to a boat over their heads in shallow water but there was only one way to find out. After motoring about a mile upstream a made my first cast. The plan was to drift down with the gentle flow, targeting spots unreachable form the bank. The plan hit a slight hitch when I snapped an inch off my rod tip on that first cast. Now normally I'd just cut the carbon back to the next eye but the rod was quite pricey and I could glue the tip ring back on after a bit of preparation when I got home. This left me with an almost unusable casting tool, the braid wrapping around the tip at every opportunity.
I can be arrogantly stubborn when it comes to fishing in adversity. Probably harks back to when I went on a fishing trip with my brother and his mate when I was very young. Halfway there I realised I had forgotten my reel and started to cry, like a baby. In the end I caught more than both of them put together by using my 7ft rod as a pole, line tied to the end ring, the downfall of a multitude of Perch down the edge.
Anyway I soldiered on. I lost a couple of Pike and then what felt like a decent Perch. Not only was my equipment conspiring against me, the fish seemed to be revelling taunting me. One cast, that's all it took. Behind me, where I'd seen some reeds moving. Before the lure had hit bottom the line went taut. I struck and was almost instantaneously disappointed because it felt like a Pike. It charged around for a while and then as I drifted down, I caught a glimpse of it. It wasn't a Pike! My best Perch of the winter at 3lb 6oz.......
We have company
After a rather unproductive feature I did with the Angling Times on the Fossdyke canal I thought I'd share the experience with fellow Lincolnshire all-rounder and our friend Martin Barnatt. Arriving early at my usual starting point we both enthusiastically gathered all our gear together and made our way both up and downstream casting our lures expectantly. It was rubbish, really rubbish. Neither of us had a touch. A quick look on google earth provided a couple more potential areas to try and we took to the cars. As the day passed we finally found a few fish, well Martin did. Martin is typically self-effacing when it come to lure fishing. He spotted some small fish scattering on the surface some way upstream though. Within minutes we were both on the spot and into Perch. A small Pike gave Martin a few nervous moments before he saw it. In the end he managed to bank a fine Perch of 2lb 3oz. I didn't fare so well quality wise as the bigger fish eluded me. Still a nice day and while it isn't exactly local every trip gives me another bit of venue experience to draw on.
Our next trip was to try for some Roach on a different venue. I can barely write about it. The river contains some stunning fish included a Dace Dave and I saw a few weeks ago that would threaten the British record. I'm not exaggerating, it was enormous. Despite the obvious stocks it fished terribly. Martin had a Roach of 1lb 3oz and I chipped in with a few smaller examples. Quite what the problems are I can only speculate on. They do get fished for quite a lot which is, in part, my fault. It is shallow and clear and they are very cautious. I remember reading John Bailey's account of fishing for big Roach and enduring 33 blanks in one particular spot before any success.
Whether that was artistic licence or not, if that's what it takes then count me out. I can only look back with fondness on my first ever visit there just last year and catching a Roach of 1lb 14oz on my first cast along with a few of its friends..........
A far more reliable Roach venue is my local drain. I often overlook it in pursuit of really big specimens but it really does offer some great fishing. My first visit was only for an hour or so but I was soon catching quality Roach every run through. Feeding a little liquidised bread the swim was alive with fish before they backed off a little. They don't get fished for very often and as such are remarkably obliging. I had a couple of short forays and plan on utilising it for limited time sessions a little more in the future.........
Toft Newton near Market Rasen is a Trout water that allows any method fishing for a few weekends of the year. Martin and I really fancied a trip to try and find some Roach which we knew would be a needle in a haystack type affair but we couldn't have picked better conditions for it. It was very cold but a very light wind made it tolerable. It took my own motor so the price of the boat and a days fishing for both of us worked out at a very reasonable £13 each.
In the morning we started off with the lures. Only one other boat was out and they too were lure fishing. After a couple of hours we only had a few Perch to show for our considerable efforts. The other boat had drawn a blank.
By midday we chose a spot to anchor up in and fished baits on sliding floats in 18ft of water. Martin soon hooked into an absolute beast of a fish on lobworm. We never saw it but as it bit him off a couple of minutes into the fight we can only presume it was a Pike. What little wind there was had totally subsided by then but even so the boat was swinging around, slowly but enough to make fishing the float a chore. After an hour or so of inactivity we decided to go and explore some other areas. After another fishless hour we succumbed to the Trout which kept rising in one particular area. It provided a welcome dose of entertainment on a bitterly cold day. We had a bite every cast until we exhausted our desire to get our rods bent. Hardly becoming of a couple of supposedly dedicated specimen hunters but we had a great time and they all went back unharmed.
Back at the dock we found out the two other lure anglers blanked. It is usually quite prolific for both Pike and Perch. I can only speculate that the cold snap had diminished their desire to feed. If the following weekends get warmer and more settled I shall go again but otherwise the window of opportunity will be gone for another year.
SHUK round up
A quick trip around the country now to see how the other members of Specimen Hunting UK have been faring.......
Andy Wilson has been making the most of some twilight Perch action. On this particular water in the midlands he says fishing in broad daylight is almost futile. As soon as the light fades though the stripeys go on the hunt.....
Darren Clarke travelled to a small Welsh river to catch some superb Grayling including this fine fish of 2lb 2oz.
Martin Barnatt again. This time with a near 18lb Pike from a Cambridgeshire drain.
The much maligned Mike Lyddon with a PB Roach of 2lb 5oz shortly after catching a fish of 2lb 4oz from a southern stillwater (an easy one).
Small but perfectly formed. No, not Nate Green, the Perch.....
Ash Bradly with a bostin' Chub from a midlands river.....
Last but not least is James Aris with this 5lb 10oz specimen from a home-counties river.
Since Fox Rage stopped producing mini-fry in the gold-glitter pattern I've been on the look out for an alternative. These shads from DAM Effzett are a perfect replacement. They have a great action and have already accounted for lots of Perch. Pay around £6 for 10.
I fear I am a little late to the party with these but having used them for the last few months they are fast becoming the first lure out of my box. The pattern is devastating for both Perch and Pike. As ever colour is largely down to personal confidence. The Firefly seems to catch me most fish while others swear by the salt and pepper. The 8cm Quantum Battleshad.
When James Aris and Andy Wilson say they might just have discovered the perfect Perch rod you have to take notice. With a favour from Andy Loble I was able to get one at a discount. A Daiwa LRF 8ft 3-10g hollow tip was soon at my door and on removing it from the box I was impressed by its slim blank but also slightly concerned. I'm not the most delicate of individuals and had a feeling I might break it. I was right. I did break it. It was my fault though. So what can I conclude? It feels very nice in use but then again for £75 it should be. The fittings are impressive and it has a super fast action. If you are light of touch and have a need for a new rod in that weight range then have a look. James and Andy have the lighter versions, James also broke his, so for me, the jury is still out. A shame because they are beautiful rods.
A couple from Toft Newton. Just as the sun was going down the Red Arrows decided to have a bit of a practise. A truly spectactular sight. Lastly is a shot I took while playing a Pike from the river.
Till next time............