In the period between Christmas and the end of the traditional fishing season, I’ve struggled to catch over the last few years. Many species are at their largest, but they’re by no means easy to catch! I was hoping this year to buck this trend, but I’ve managed less late winter fishing sessions than I would have liked and the fishing’s been tough. The unsettled weather has led to heavily fluctuating river levels, which made planning fishing trips very difficult. Despite this, I decided that my first session of the new year should be spent targeting chub on a prolific stretch of river…
When I arrived, I found the river high, but falling. It was very coloured, but my confidence was boosted by news that an angler had landed a chub over 6lb on trotted breadflake earlier that morning. This was the size I was aiming for, to set a new personal best. Breadflake was a bait I didn’t have in my armoury; I opted instead to fish strong-smelling, oily baits, hard on the bottom. I fished hard all day, keeping mobile in an attempt to find the fish, but one very half-hearted take was my only reward. No fish, and not a good start to 2006.
Deciding that rivers may not be my best option during such unsettled weather, the following week saw me return to the drain from where I landed my biggest pike. Surely with 20lb pike on the cards, I stood a good chance of a result here?
Heavy rainfall in the days prior to my trip meant that the drains were being pumped off, so they had a similar amount of flow to that of a slow river. The water had also become coloured because of this. These weren’t good conditions for pike fishing, but I’d travelled a long distance, so I had to make the most of the day. The pike didn’t seem to be moving much in the coloured water, so I tried in vain to search them out with lures. Late in the afternoon I saw a fish strike in the near margin, so I lowered a bait a couple of feet away and within a minute I was into my only fish of the day. It was a small jack, hooked in the corner of the jaws, so I flicked out the hooks without even lifting the fish from the water.
Next session I decided to trot for grayling, hoping to emulate my success just before Christmas. Once again, the river level was falling and the water was a distinct shade of tea. I had anticipated these conditions, so as an added attractant, I took along some of Archie Braddock’s Winter Magic flavouring for my maggots. An hour’s trotting yielded only a couple of minnows and when I snagged a tree root, losing the hook, I decided on a change of attack. Luckily I’d taken along a quivertip rod and a selection of small maggot feeders. The theory was to concentrate my feed on the riverbed, with a trail of flavour-boosted maggots leading the fish upstream to my hookbait. Grayling feed close to the bottom most of the time, so this was my best chance given the conditions.
Matt Liston, who runs ML Ecology Services, is the person I fish with most. He joined me on the bank and fished a few pegs upstream of me. He didn’t manage a grayling, but he took several gorgeous wild brown trout, all over a pound in weight. These fish were unintentionally caught out of season, but such is the greed of trout, that they will often beat the grayling to an anglers bait. Matt wasn’t the only one catching trout either, as I ended up catching more trout than I did grayling. None of my fish went over a pound, but eight fish was my total, which wasn’t a bad tally on a day that I feared minnows would be all I caught.
For various reasons, I didn’t manage a session after that for 6 whole weeks! Then in late March I finally made it back to the banks, with a renewed enthusiasm and a great determination to turn things around before Spring arrived. I fished with my friend Craig, who hadn’t managed many angling trips for a while either. The venue we chose has been crystal clear every time I’ve fished it in the past, which makes it a great lure fishing water for pike. At this time of year, pike congregate in large numbers so lures are perfect for finding these groups of fish. I had several new lures to test out, including some home-made ones and some new commercial designs.
For whatever reason, the “always clear” water had managed to colour up as well, meaning we struggled with lures and spent quite a few hours roving and casting with no fish to show for it. When I eventually saw a pike take a swipe at a home-made lure, I could hardly believe my eyes! It was only a small fish, but I radioed Craig immediately and we both set up bait rods in the area the fish had struck.
About an hour later, my float-legered smelt was picked up and a slow, stop-start run ensued. It was such a strange take that for a few seconds I thought the pike had dropped the bait. At the next slightest movement of the float, I wound down to the fish, at which point it bolted and set the hooks itself! The first run was fast and powerful, but this fish seemed intent on playing with my nerves. All of a sudden, the line went slack and I thought I’d lost the fish. I carried on reeling and suddenly the fight resumed! The fish had swum towards me causing the slack line, so I was very relieved it was still attached. It wasn’t long before I raised the pike to the surface for the first time and it became apparent that this was a double figure fish. A minute or so later, she was in the net. This was my biggest fish for over four months, weighing 17lb 1oz! Not a bad reward on a slow, hard day.
An hour or so passed, before Craig got an unmistakeable drop-back bite. He struck into a fish which was very much in the fighting mood. The fish weighed 10lb 8oz and is Craig’s best pike for a long time.
What a result! Two takes resulting in two double figure fish on the bank. Now that is more than enough to take the post-Christmas angling blues away.