Posted by: benhmurray | March 8, 2010

Big zander, small zander

Zander can be like buses – you wait ages for one and then two (or more) turn up at the same time. That’s what happened tonight, anyway.

After several unproductive sessions over the past few weeks I decided a spot of night fishing might break my duck, so I made a familiar trek across some Fenland fields and pitched up opposite some moored boats on a nice deep stretch of the River Cam.

Sunset over a riverside Fen field

I positioned one rod on the near-side shelf and the other tight to a moored boat and, just before darkness set in after a stunning neon-pink sunset, I had a decisive run on the rod cast towards the boat.

A quick strike set the single size eight treble (attached to a small dead roach, 15lb wire trace, 15lb mainline and a lightweight 2lb test-curve rod) and a hard-fighting zander worked its way across the river, eventually surfacing just in-front of my landing net before doing its best to shed the hook through a series of runs and thrashes.

I hate moments like that. I could see it was big – a possible double, I suspected – and that the hook had a precarious hold, so having it perform various acrobatics in an attempt to evade capture provided a few nervous moments before eventually coming to the net.

8lb 6oz of Fenland zander caught on a small dead roach

8lb 6oz of Fenland zander caught on a small dead roach

My second biggest zander of all time

I unhooked and weighed her straight-away (8lb 6oz, my second largest of all-time!) before puting her in the keep sack so I could get the camera set up but, just as I was securing the sack’s retaining cord to my rod-rest, the other rod signalled a drop-back bite and I hit into another fish. This one, however, was clearly a lot smaller and quickly surfaced.

The first thing that I noticed about the smaller zander was its markings. It had a full back of distinct tiger stripes which I’ve not seen before, but this might have been due its juvenile size (it weighed two pounds maximum) or the time of year. I’m going to try to find out which.

A tiger-striped zander

So within a five-minute spell I caught my smallest zander ever and my second biggest of all-time – not a bad way to spend an evening that, I imagine, saw most people sitting in-front of the TV and leaving the entire river free for me. I’m quite happy with that arrangement.

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Posted by: benhmurray | March 5, 2010

Bathtub Pike

I went fishing today and something quite unusual happened.

Myself and my buddy Andy, who you may be familiar with as the captor of micro-pike and a bait-catcher of considerable class, wandered down to a favourite Fenland stretch of the River Cam around dawn, hoping to encounter some pike or zander.

An early-spring dawn over the Fens

We fished on the opposite side of the river to normal and, after an hour’s fishing with nothing to show, we came across an abandoned bathtub in the middle of nowhere.

It wasn’t being used as a cattle drink as it was beside a deep river and had no paddock or field nearby and had no apparent use or purpose – most odd. Someone had just abandoned the bath far away from a road, building site or skip.

After fishing near the bath for a while, Andy wandered across and had a look. It had a few inches of water in the bottom due to the heavy rain and, more surprisingly, two small fish swimming around inside, despite being several meters from the river and too high up for the flood-water to enter.

The bath. Andy forgot his swimming trunks.

Their presence is a total mystery as there is no way they were born in the bath (they were year-old fish and it is impossible for them to have spent this length of time living there) and the water was iced over, making their long-term survival even more doubtful.

Being fisherman, we discussed this oddity for a few minutes without conclusion before carefully removing the fish (one bream and one roach, both about five-inches long) and sending them back out into the nearby river attached to some suitable pike gear.

We didn’t have to wait long. First, my rod signalled a take but the bathtub bream was dropped before I could strike and I wound in a bait that had clearly just been attacked by something toothy. Andy then put his bait right over where I had the take and within a minute his float disappeared and he was into a fish on the bathtub roach.

After a spirited battle, a nice jack pike surfaced and angrily flared his gills at us. I took some photos and Andy slipped him back, with the roach now residing in the pike’s stomach (the dog-eared bream is now in my freezer) and both of us thanking the bath for the unexpected livebait supply.

Andy and his bathtub-bait-caught pike - a really nice clean, healthy fish

No matter how hard we thought about it, no conclusion or reasonable explanation could be reached as to why a bath with two fish (of different species) should be found in the middle of the East Anglian Fens.

But fisherman are grateful for any help or free bait (especially if it wiggles) and, as the great Hunter S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird go pro” and this was one weird situation that Andy turned a pro hand to and caught the only pike of the day.

That’s right, I blanked again (apart from catching some baitfish at the end of the day).

Posted by: benhmurray | March 2, 2010

Japanese Akame

I’ve just seen a very interesting video on the BBC website about a species I’ve not heard of before: the giant Japanese Akame.

Japanese Akame

I can’t find any information on this fish other than that contained in the BBC program but I assume that, as it’s Japanese, all of the websites regarding fishing for Akame would also be in the Japanese langauge and thus unreadable for most of us.

They look like some sort of big perch, like a barramundi or nile perch, and they certainly grow to over a metre in length, which puts them well into the 25lb plus bracket. Plus that upturned mouth and hefty fin-back shape points to it being a mid to top-water feeder and most likely very predatory. What an interesting prospect that would be.

If I ever find myself in Japan I’ll definitely be having a go at one of these. If anyone has anymore information on this species then i’d be fascinated to learn more.

Posted by: benhmurray | February 27, 2010

Top five pike and zander deadbaits

Bait is probably the most critical variable in pike and zander fishing that you have direct control of: match what the target species are feeding on (or want to feed on) and you’ll be in with a chance of catching whatever happens to be swimming in-front of you.

But get it wrong and they won’t take a second look, no matter how well you present it. This is particularly true when fishing with deadbaits as the fish has time to consider and inspect the bait, meaning anything that doesn’t look natural or acceptable to eat will be left untouched.

Sea fish deadbaits, despite being foreign to a freshwater fish, are effective in many circumstances but I believe the best all-round baits are small coarse fish – either fresh (preferable) or carefully frozen – for the simple reason that such fish form a majority of the pike’s diet and they rarely let me down as a hook bait.

So here are my top five baits for pike and zander (although the latter rarely take sea baits, but the top ones are my go-to baits for a big zed):

1. ROACH / RUDD

A perfect-sized rudd showing off its highly-visible colouration

A roach after a nice zander has finished with it

2. BLEAK

Mr Bleak reporting for duty. A perfect-size silver fish for zander and pike

3. SCAD / HORSE MACKEREL

Scad

Small, silver, big-eyed and durable - the scad is a superb bait but hard to find

4. HEADS AND TAILS

Halved and cut-up baits (tails and heads, especially) produce on hard-fished waters for pike and zander

5. HERRING

The herring - a great big pike bait due its oily flesh and high visibility

A nice pike caught on a whole herring

For the record, I caught my personal best zander of 12lb 7oz on a whole roach, my previous personal best pike on a scad and I’ve used all of the above baits on rivers and stillwaters with notable success.

I’d also be interested to hear about any other predator fisherman’s top deadbaits or your thoughts on the list – please leave a comment.

Tight lines

Ben

Posted by: benhmurray | February 26, 2010

A hard day on the Lode

Today was one of those which reminds me why this sport is called ‘fishing’, rather than ‘catching’ – it was hard work.

I arrived at a windswept Burwell Lode (Cambridgeshire, UK) around lunchtime and fished until 10pm, trying several different swims and every permutation of bait without a take the entire time.

The conditions – overcast, warm, a gentle wind and a full moon – were perfect for pike and zander and as the main river was flooded, the Lode would be an obvious refuge for baitfish and predators. This was not the case but I still had a pleasant day out in the Fens and I took some photos of the sometimes-spectacular weather that was coming in.

Burwell Lode - a classic British Fenland drain

A storm brewing over the Lode and a fishless angler

As you can guess, it rained quite a lot that night

My buddy Chris joined me just as dusk was setting in and he caught a small jack on his first cast which made the day worthwhile. It fell to a small legered roach and was the only the run of the day between us both. Not even a tiny dace cast perfectly beside a wooden structure – the fishiest-looking spot in the whole water – got any response after dark.

Chris's pike - the only fish of the day between the two of us.

But great ideas often come out of periods where you have little else to do apart from think, and we came up with an absolutely killer idea for a deadbait rig that will be put into action this weekend. I won’t reveal anything now but it has that simply-can’t-fail feel, which probably means it’ll be about as successful as my attempts at catching pike today.

Posted by: benhmurray | February 24, 2010

Angler’s Mail 23/2/10

Angler's Mail 23/2/10

Posted by: benhmurray | January 26, 2010

Angling Times pike fishing feature

Angling Times 26 / 1 / 10 - page 1

Angling Times 26 / 1 / 10 - page 2

Posted by: benhmurray | January 26, 2010

Big Zander

One of my ambitions came to fruition at the weekend – I caught a double-figure Zander. More pics and full story to follow soon.

For the record, she weighed 12lb 7oz and fell to a small deadbait on a Fenland river last Saturday (24/1/10). The most relevant river record I can find lists a Zander at just over 10lbs as the current best. The fish was returned alive and well.

Personal best Zander

So long, Mr Roach...

Posted by: benhmurray | January 19, 2010

Pike fishing on the Fenland drains

Last weekend I went on a classic pike fishing trip to one of the UK’s most unique fisheries – Burwell Lode on the Fen drain system in the East of England.

This network of waterways, reminiscent of a group of small connected canals, are mostly man-made and used to drain the flat farmland that covers East Anglia. But of far more interest than their benefit to the agricultural community is the fact that they’re full of fat, greedy pike, including some true legend-sized beasts.

Dawn on the Fens

After a pre-sunrise start, myself and Chris, my fishing buddy for the day, arrived to find the water in perfect condition and dawn breaking over the horizon. We made our way to a junction where two drains meet and set our deadbaits (small bleak, sprats and joey mackerel) in about two-feet of water.

Burwell Lode at 8am

I had one bait – a fat, oily sprat – popped up (suspended) about six-inches off the bottom towards the far bank and a float-fished bleak anchored hard on the bottom mid-river, both rigged with 11ft 2lb test-curve rods, Shimano Baitrunners, 18lb mainline, 20lb Drennan seven-strand trace wire and size eight trebles.

My favourite sight in fishing - a well-set pike float just crying out for a take.

Within ten minutes my float-fished bait twitched and trundled off slowly towards the reed bed. I struck and a small pike held on for a few seconds before making its escape. I cast back into the same spot and within a few minutes my float started to make its way downstream in an odd, trundling run, this time the hook-hold was true and a nice little pike was unhooked and returned after a photo.

A nice start to the day

I caught one more of a similar size using the same tactic and a few quiet hours followed but as the light started to fade we moved spots for about the sixth time, back to the junction where the drains meet, and within ten-minutes I had an explosive run on my legered bait.

Seconds later something chewed my deadbait...

The pike was running towards me as I struck and I simultaneously managed to get a wind knot in my slack line as the fish tore towards the bank (and angler) from about 25-metres away. Luckily, the line straightened out with no knots and I wound down onto a good fish. After a short but spirited fight Chris put the net under a wily old pike of about 9-10lbs – my third of the day.

The pike, I suspect, was an elderly male (they grow smaller than the females and, thus, you could assume that it’d take longer to reach this size and be more likely to have had a hard life) because of its ragged fins and some pretty hefty scars that you don’t see on many female fish of that size, but it’s common for fish of any size to be attacked by cormorants so it may just have been unlucky.

A battle-scarred Fen pike

But the first fish of the day had two matching pike-inflicted scars on its flank . The teeth marks and shape of the jaws were very apparent and probably belonged to one of the monsters that inhabits the shallow reed-beds and deep holes – usually huge cannibalistic females.

Put it this way – I’ve ever caught a big pike with jaws big enough to match those bite marks. Yet.

Sunset over the Fens

Posted by: benhmurray | January 14, 2010

First great day’s fishing of 2010

Yesterday I went pike fishing on the River Cam’s upper Mill Pond with the aim of breaking new 2010 duck, in that I’d not landed a fish (other than the bait) since Boxing Day 2009. I also took my buddy Andy along and gave him the job title of Executive Bait Catcher, a position which he filled admirably.

First cast with the bait rod (size 22 hook, 1.7lb line, small crystal waggler and double pinkie bait) and the Executive Bait Catcher (EBC) swung in a nice-sized roach. So far so good. I sent that straight back out (attached to a size 6 treble, 18lb line and a small float) and within five-minutes something was chewing on that too.

It turned out to be a nice pike of about 5lbs, and that’s how the rest of the day went – bites and runs all over the place, resulting in seven pike successfuly caught and released and several more lost perch and smaller pike.

We used two rods all day, one with 8lb mainline and a small bubble float and the other with a heavier set-up (18lb line) for larger baits and a bullet weight to keep it near the bottom. They seemed to prefer the lighter rig but none of the takes were real screamers, probably because the water is still really cold and they’re not that active at the moment.

Andy, who was also taking some photos for a newspaper feature I’m working on, went to get the coffees in around mid-morning (and to chat up the waitress) but as soon as he disappeared my right-hand rod – fishing a small livebait under the tiny bubble float – went.

A shoal of fry scattered around the float as the pike hit the bait with a huge boil, I struck and it responded with a solid run and a big head-shake. Andy was out of earshot so I played the fish for about five-minutes until it was ready to be landed, whereupon my EBC returned just in time to get some shots of a perfect and vividly-marked River Cam pike of about 10lbs.

A nice double-figure River Cam pike

All in all, a great day’s fishing and Andy caught a couple too, including one of the smallest pike I’ve seen. It was a true micro-pike and took a large livebait – greedy so-and-so.

Andy and his micro-pike

The slight increase in temperature and general thaw seems to have woken the fish up and I’m going out again tomorrow to see if we can catch the micro-pike’s great-grandmother. I’m confident we can catch at least another double with some stealthy tactics (like the small bubble float), some nice baits and a bit of luck.

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