A flexible approach to specialist fishing

A flexible approach to specialist fishing

I very often lumber myself with far too much tackle – travelling light is something I wish I was better at – but sometimes it pays to have a few non-essential items, “just in case”. This is especially true if you’re travelling a long way from home to a fishery and don’t have the option of returning home if things aren’t quite as expected. One can never be sure exactly what to expect when arriving at a fishery; no matter how well you’ve done your homework on weather, etc. there’s always a chance that the water conditions and fish behaviour you’ve planned for are a million miles from reality. I do believe in remaining as flexible as possible in my approach to angling and I know for a fact that having a bit of extra tackle with me has saved me from a blank, or helped me put an extra fish or two on the bank, on many occasions.

A prime example of this was a recent zander session on the Great Ouse. I’d taken some frozen deadbaits with me, but zander are notoriously picky feeders, and they will mostly take a fresh deadbait more readily than a pre-frozen one; so I’d also packed a float rod and some maggots to try and catch some fresh bait. To my delight, I found an area which was full of bait-sized bleak, rudd & roach and within an hour I’d caught enough to last me the whole session. During this hour, I’d also returned many more fish which were too large for use as zander baits, including a few nice rudd over half a pound. Rudd are a species I seldom find myself targeting (mainly due to a lack of local fisheries containing them), but I think they’re a beautiful fish, so when I’d finished zander fishing I headed back to the bait-catching swim to see if I could tempt anything a bit bigger. The day before, I had to shallow-up my rig to catch bait, because the larger fish seemed to be picking off anything which fell beneath the marauding surface feeders. So the first thing I did when I returned was add depth to the rig, which proved to be a wise move as I hooked a reasonable rudd first cast. I kept feeding regularly and varied the depth and bait until I was consistently catching better quality fish. I ended up with two fish over a pound, with the largest weighing a new PB of 1lb 4oz, along with losing a couple of good fish too. I’d landed a rudd of around a pound as a teenager, but this brace were my first confirmed fish over a pound, so it’s nice to have a benchmark to aim for now!

Rudd caught during a zander session

A 1lb+ Rudd, which came as a pleasant distraction during a 48 hour zander fishing session.

Last Summer I’d taken a friend along on an evening session; he hasn’t fished for a few years and I said I’d show him the ropes of Barbel fishing so he could give it a go himself one day soon. We’d had a bit of rain for a couple of days prior to our visit and I was sure the river would be coloured and rising; good for barbel but not much else. As we walked to the peg I had in mind I took a few glances into the water and to my surprise the river was high but running almost clear. These were rare conditions for a spate river in Summer and were almost the exact conditions in which I’d caught numbers of big perch on lures in recent years. I explained this to my friend and, sensing my excitement at the prospect of a good perch, he agreed I should return to the van to grab my lure gear (which I’d kept in there in case the right situation arose over the Summer).

I ran, as fast as my thigh-waders would allow, the 600 metres-or-so back to the car park and returned a few minutes later with a handful of my favourite perch lures and my lure rod. We dumped the heavy barbel gear in some dense undergrowth and threw a few pellets in some swims on our way past, so that we could have a try for some barbel later, then headed towards my favourite few perch pools. After landing a few small perch and a chublet, we ended up at my PB-holding peg. I confidently explained that in these conditions, in this swim, I’d expect a large fish first cast followed by a couple more (hopefully big) perch in quick succession before the swim was fished out. I’ve rarely been so nervous making a first cast, through a combination of expectancy and pressure of being made look a real arrogant you-know-what to my friend, after such bold predictions!

I needn’t have worried because the perch were indeed there in numbers and they exceeded my seemingly inflated predictions! Bearing in mind I had planned to be barbel fishing while this was going on, it seems all the more amazing, with my first chuck out with the lure I landed a perch of exactly 3lb. After a quick weigh and photograph, the lure went out again and was grabbed by a 2lb 9oz perch. A fish of just under 2lb followed this – exactly how I’d predicted so far – then just as I was about to write-off the swim I caught another specimen of 2lb 11oz! This was the icing on the cake, then as darkness began to fall a cherry was placed on top when a 4lb 1oz chub took a liking for a Mepps spinner! My friend was speechless – as was I – and all because I had a back-up method available to me on the right day. Incidentally, we fished a couple of hours into darkness for barbel… and blanked!

Lure caught river chub

A 2lb 11oz Perch and a spinner-hungry 4lb 1oz Chub, both tempted on lures as part of a multi-fish haul on what was supposed to be a barbel session!

Lure caught river perch on spinner

Another time that a lure rod came to my rescue in an unexpected way was a very warm May a few years ago when I fished a small pool noted for its population of large – but difficult – tench. There were also meant to be a few pike in there so I packed a seven-foot lure rod and a few surface lures in case the tench were playing hard to get. Hard was not the word and I didn’t see as much as a bubble around my float all day, but I did spot two carp cruising around near the surface in a shady bay; one of them was maybe 7 or 8 pounds, but the other was definitely a double. I didn’t stand much chance of landing them on the float rod and it would mean removing my tench rig, so I rummaged around in my bag and found a large hook and some clear 10lb line. I snipped the wire trace off my lure set-up and tied the mono hooklength onto the braided mainline. I had no floating baits with me, but hadn’t eaten my sandwiches yet, so a chunk of crust was sacrificed as bait and I flicked this out free-lined in front of the pair of carp. Luck was on my side because neither fish spooked and the larger fish took a liking to my chunk of sandwich. Steering the fish away from snags with such a short rod was a little tricky but I had beefy enough tackle, so the carp was soon landed. This fish was bigger than I’d reckoned, and weighed in at almost 18lb! Had I not been able to improvise with the extra tackle and makeshift bait I had, this fish would not have graced the bank that day.

Common carp caught using improvised gear & bait

This very dark common carp of almost 18lb took my improvised freeline surface rig, fished on a lure rod, with the crust of my sandwich as bait

Fishing is sometimes all about seizing the opportunities laid out before you and making the most of them. If that means that you’re carp fishing but an opportunity presents itself to catch a massive tench or roach, then why not switch, after all a specimen fish is a specimen fish, no matter what the species. Your mates might laugh at you struggling with the extra gear, but if it happens to come in useful then there’s no doubt who’ll have the last laugh.

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