Tuesday, 15 October 2013
I seem to be getting more and more nomadic as autumn kicks in. I feel like I've spent more time in the midlands the last fortnight than actually at home. Zander explain at least half the reason why. Not only do I love fishing for them, I've also been eager for more canal fishing material for my current book project. My high opinion of zander might well cause a sharp intake of breath from pole anglers who read the finished article- but I not only enjoy catching these stylish killers (or trying to!), I consider them a very welcome species.
For one thing, they are so constantly mysterious and intriguing. Perhaps it's because they thrive in dirty water and hence defy attempts at careful observation. They are also beautifully mean to look at. That huge, cold eye. That mass of great fins and angular, sinister profile. And nor is the fishing predictable either, with lures, deadbaits and even flies all thrown into the mix. It started with bait tactics last week however, as I tackled the maze of canals near Fazely:
Rain follows me like a bad smell at the moment, as you can see from this "character building" (and for some time utterly biteless) scene on a boat junction. I tried small, freshly killed dead baits here- and for the record, I always think catching a handful of baits is instructive in itself when predator fishing. Anyone who thinks zander, or pike for that matter, "eat everything" needs their brains testing. I found stacks of small and not so small fish here on pinkies, half a dozen of the smallest making perfect zander baits.
With space cramped and banks hard, quiver tip style tactics seemed ideal, with the rod tucked in parallel to the bank. I also made use of a swimfeeder packed with a fishmeal ground bait. I got a soaking for several hours, but the zander responded well and I had four in total, to about the four pound mark.
The real eye-opener came a few days later however, although it nearly didn't happen as my car refused to start at 5am that morning. A visit from the AA and a new battery later though and I was back on the road and on my way to fishing a different canal in the company of John Cheyne and Andy Mytton. These guys absolutely love lure fishing and it was hard not to feel buoyed by their positive attitude. I decided I just had to try the fly rod- even though the water was so coloured it didn't exactly fill me with confidence. We roved between a handful of areas- although one thing I immediately noticed was just how long these chaps will linger in specific areas, covering water really thoroughly.
The nips and pulls arrived early, building a sense of anticipation. I had been wondering if I needed my brains testing trying the fly, but one of my jig style flies, tipped with a tiny grub tail, soon got a big whack mid-canal.
In fact my jig fly came back looking vandalised after this first hit, half of it gone. Revenge was sweet though, and the third solid pluck I received led to a proper hook up and a thumping, perch-like fight from this handsome devil:
That was the best of a fly caught brace in the end. Very gratifying, although our lure enthusiasts took the most fish, using jigging tactics mostly with small shads. What a brilliant, skilful method this is too. I learned tons just by watching them- not least of all that zander demand a finer presentation than pike. Retrieves are quite gentle and the key is in keeping in touch with the lure at all times, often keeping the rod at quite a high angle to jig lures in the bottom foot or so of water. That said, both these lure men catch a lot from right under the rod tip, sometimes just by walking along the sides of walls and boats:
Perch also joined several typical canal zander, this one falling to Andy's 4" shad:
Honours were about even at close of play I would say, although John had the best zander of the day with this better sample. What a fantastic looking fish!
It was a great day and the banter was every bit as good as the quality of the fishing. The most disturbing part of it was the sudden squealing sound of excited turkeys taking me by surprise. "The locals like plucking them round here," John told me (or at least that's what I think he said!!!). As for where we fished, well- I'm not going to lead you there by the hand but there is great potential for roving anglers here with twelve miles of water on the Grand Union to explore, controlled by the LACC on a cracking value five quid day ticket (see www.lureanglerscanalclub.co.uk).
With John acting as Regional Coordinator for the Angling Trust, it was also great to get his thoughts on the state of our canals in general, and a whole range of current ideas for their continued use and development. And on this note, I can't stress highly enough how important it is for all of us to put our weight behind the sport we love. Times might be hard, but one great current initiative is to offer membership for just £2.50 a month. That's less than a pint of beer, and an affordable way to give angling your much needed backing! (Check out the Angling Trust site for more details at www.anglingtrust.net)
The way the last two weeks have gone I may as well relocate to Birmingham, my final trip taking me near Coventry for the Tackle and Guns show. I was there with Turrall, and also got to play with one of their lovely new Peak vices to turn out a few dozen flies for roach, rudd and pike.
Events like this are brilliant. So many friendly people and friends I hadn't seen for way too long. It was also a great chance to spread the word about my work with Turrall, who will be producing an entire range of flies specially made for coarse fish species under my name in early 2014. The response so far has been really exciting- and when you think about it, it's about bloody time somebody made a series of tried and trusted patterns for roach, chub, perch and the rest. Coarse species are everywhere, not only accessible to everybody but often so much more affordable than trout waters. My favourites so far are perhaps the chub flies- which include beauties like a cricket, a kicking beetle and even a wasp (or "jasper" as we Devonians call them!). I'm hoping the range will provide a lot of fun and really take the headache out of fly selection for anglers in the new year: