Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Unfinished Business - Numbskulls

I have a great deal of never-published-material in the IQ archive. This article was probably worth putting your way at the time of writing. But I started, and never finished!

It's was supposed to be about fishing for Zander, and I intended to include pictures of both pike and zander skulls to illustrate my point (which was how to hook them efficiently).

I should have hit the publish button then, and to hell with it!

But I never did....

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The picture above is the skull of a perch. It's well worth studying if you are a predator angler because this skull is the typical one of Perciformes. All members of this huge family of fishes have similar skulls, or at least all members have the same bones in the same configuration with the same linkages between articulated jaw parts but with often very large differences in skull morphology. Marlin, for instance, are Perciformes. But so are ruffe. It's difficult to imagine that such vastly different fish are related at all, let alone that they both share a common ancestor. But they do.

There's just thirty or so Perciformes swimming in British waters but only a handful that attract the attention of anglers both as quarry and as bait (and often as bait for another Perciforme!). There's perch (of course), bass, mackerel, the various sea breams, sand eels, wrasse, and the subject of this article, zander.

You'll notice the absence of pike. Pike are not Perciforme, but Esociforme. These are a very small order of fishes that includes just two families — the pikes/pickerels, and mudminnows. By contrast, the Perciformes comprise of 160 families, about 10.000 species, and who in their splendour represent an astonishing 41% of all bony fish and are the largest order of all those animals with articulated spines — the vertebrates.  

Which order you are party to....

On the one hand we have narrowly specialised fish that evolved many millions of years ago to exploit a very particular niche and remain almost unaltered since then. On the other we have a burgeoning explosion of species each of whom evolved to exploit its particular niche amongst a myriad of alternative situations and no doubt continue to do so to this very day. The Perciformes are, by any definition, one of the most successful orders of animals that ever populated this planet.

Pike aren't related to perch, nor are they related to zander (in fact zander are more closely related to Marlin than they are to pike, which seems preposterous but is true). So, the old 'pike-perch' name for zander is most misleading, though it still persists in usage. It's remarkable that bait fishing for zander is for the most part conducted as if anglers were fishing for pike-perch, that is to say they are fishing for zander with pike tackle as if zander were actually a perch/pike cross. 

Now, you wouldn't fish for large perch with pike tackle and even if they grew to double figures you still wouldn't, and that's because perch fishing and pike fishing diverged centuries ago. Our approach to zander, though, has yet to split away and fully develop in its own right and remains tightly bound to pike fishing practises because the history of zander fishing is so very brief, sprouts from pike fishing in the first instance, and is yet to evolve into a separate and distinct branch of the sport.

What pike, perch and zander do share in common is in their habit of hunting live prey. Lures, therefore, will take all three. But they are also great scavengers, indeed the larger the specimen the more likely it is that it may prefer to scavenge. To explain this it must be taken into consideration that fish are, to all intents and purposes, weightless in water, and therefore it does not matter how big or small a fish is; it takes no effort whatsoever to stay put. However, it does take effort when either the water moves or the fish does because water possesses viscosity and that means them encountering drag.

Because the laws of physics demand that more energy be spent propelling large masses (but not weights because fish weigh nothing at all in water) through a liquid that has the same viscosity regardless of mass, far more is lost by a large fish than a small one in every spurt of speed. Indeed, a very large pike may be out of pocket in chasing and killing one small, quick and highly manoeuvrable roach but will soon be broke if it is unsuccessful too often. And that explains why dead baits take the very largest pike — they prefer an easy meal and have grown large because of it.

Fish have the remarkable ability of being able to grow larger and larger given great supplies of regular food in their annual periods of growth, so, a fifteen year old pike consuming a daily diet of pounds and pounds of hunted live reservoir trout may have grown quite sizeable but a fifteen-year old can feasibly grow just as large as your imagination will allow it to, but only if it specialises in consuming similar weights of dead ones.

Scavenging dead fish requires very little effort by comparison with the expensive act of hunting them down. Every morsel eaten is a gain rather than an expense because acquisition costs less than the morsel's worth. In short, very large specimens are those more successful than their brethren at acquiring food effortlessly.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Pociąg do Poznania

Among the six and a half thousand languages of the world, the Polish language is widely regarded as one of the most difficult to master, and the English language one of the easiest. As a native speaker of English now into his eleventh month of Polish language study but quite unable to string together a coherent spoken sentence, I tend to agree.

If, for example, I'd chosen to learn French last August then I have no doubt that I'd be able to hold my own in conversation by now. Of course I'd trip up from time to time, struggling for the correct word for the context and putting my adjectives before my nouns instead of after, but really, French and English have so very much in common it would not have been such a trial.

As I quickly discovered, English and Polish have zero in common besides sharing the word 'zero'! They are as chalk and cheese...

Of course that's something of an exaggeration. The word 'no' is also shared. But in Polish it means, 'yeah!' Which can be rather confusing, and probably something that will always fox me given I cannot respond to 'no' as an affirmative having received it and used it as a negative all my life...

What they do share in common is bewildering complexities. English may seem easy but its spelling is not phonetic so the correct pronunciation of every single word must be learned by heart (woman, women!) and the critically important stress patterns that native English speakers apply naturally to every syllable of every word and every word in every sentence make speaking English very challenging for those not born to it.

Its grammar may appear easy, at first, but I can think of very few non-native speakers who know how to use stress correctly and believe me, it is everything, because in English a simple six word sentence can probably carry twenty different meanings depending on which words are stressed and how.

The complexity of Polish is not in the often bizarre looking clusters of consonants, as many might think when taking a cursory glance at a Polish text. With a little training, pronunciation of even the most horrendous string of letters is actually fairly easy because the Polish alphabet is entirely phonetic and without any exception I have discovered, words are spoken exactly as they are spelled, even to the point of double consonants (dd, bb, etc) being sounded twice. Hobby is 'hobuby', for instance.

As for stress. Well, by comparison with English, Polish stress patterns are a doddle. Just stress the penultimate syllable of every word and the last syllable (with a rise in pitch) of the last word of any sentence that asks a question.

The hardest thing for me is controlling my natural inclination to stress the words in a sentence as I would in English, and coping with the strictly limited range of vowel sounds. The language only possesses six, when I'm used to employing twelve!

No, its true complexity is in its frightening verb conjugation and its daunting seven-case grammar which demands that nouns and their adjectives (and even determiners such as 'my' and 'your' it seems) must all receive different endings depending on their function in the sentence. But even that is not the half of it...

You just wait till you have say 'hello', or worse...


Sunday, 3 January 2016

Clattercote Roach, Pike and Tench — Unexpecting

Yet another mild day forecast for the next. A piking session at Clattercote Reservoir planned. And Tesco fishmonger's slab a broad expanse of scrubbed stainless steel on New Years Day. Luckily there's a single pack of sardines hiding amongst the smoked haddock and Vietnamese river cobbler in the reduced rack, and besides, I'll take along a few worms. Should the sardines prove a bad bet, then I'll wangle fresh baits.

But I find Mark Wintle extolling the roach potential of this venue on Fishing Magic forum. Apparently it holds fish well into the two pound bracket and the average stamp is high. The venue record stands at 2lb 10oz according to the Canal & River Trust and given the size of the venue it seems more than plausible. Too much information for me to ignore. I think I'll grab a pint of caster on the way down.

It's painfully low. All the pictures I'd seen beforehand had shown water lapping at the boardwalks but today there's bivvies pitched on the beach below and just a few feet of water out front where I'd planned to float fish. However, there's plenty of depth to be found off the rocky dam...

Martin nabs an ideal peg for fishing two pike rods. Certainly the one I'd race to if I were about to do the same. Setting up to his right, the depths found by the ledgered sardine sleeper are surprising. The line enters the water at near 45 degrees for a shortish lob out and I have plenty of depth to work close up with caster. But I find myself snagging rocks too often for comfort. So I move around to easier prospects within shouting distance. 

Seems a good bet. Four feet of water and a nice clean shelving bed. Very occasionally I'm spotting lazily rolling fish between our positions. Certainly not carp. I fancy they might be large roach. These signs occur always along a line two rod lengths out from the dam. No further, no nearer. And one occurs just a few yards to my right. That's where I concentrate. 

Martin scores a small pike in the morning. Looks like it might prove a good day for runs. Perhaps one of those twenty-pounders we've heard about will trip up later...

However, by mid-afternoon further runs have not come and it's looking grim on the pike front. As for the roach front, well, I'm certain that every free offering I've chucked about the float still sits on the bed ignored. And so I decide that I must go tough it out on the rocks and fish right in the middle of the line of signs I've seen and where they were most frequent. 

As the light begins to fall, finally I have a bite and reel in a very small roach. Martin steals it, holds it in his capacious net, and rigs up a live bait rod. Of course, I think my roach sport is about to begin. So I change the shotting to fish more actively on the drop rather than motionless on the deck. It doesn't quite happen, though an hour later I do get another equally tiny blade. It's desperate stuff!

But then a fish rolls nearby and I spot it clearly. A good sized tench...

Perhaps it was them all along, eh?

There's a dilemma. Should I consider tying a larger hook straight to the four pound mainline? This size 18 will hold a tench of any size should it find a good hold but the 2lb hooklink will struggle should one take the bait.

I don't bother now that I'm catching small roach regularly and thinking large ones may turn up around dusk...

And what's the chance of tench feeding early January? 

Martin comes over and sits behind. A fish rolls in the swim. Down low all I see is the swirl but up high he spots it clearly. It's another tench. 

Of course the next bite comes and I hit what I initially think to be the good roach I've fished all day for. But that's what you get for expecting. For a few brief seconds there's the illusory sensation of just the right kind of middling weight without any great power driving it, but then things do get heavyweight. There's a very strong lunge for the deeps when I know I have tench problems on my hands. But the hook didn't set well. Off it comes.

Oh dear. I can barely see the float by now. It's too dark to be fiddling about changing hook. But I just know that the next bite will come soon enough and it likely won't be from roach! And sure enough, when it's so very dark that the float is seen better by looking slightly askance rather than directly at it, away it slides and a risky bout commences. 

I think I stand half a chance. So does Martin. "Keep the rod high and the line vertical!". He's right. The nearer fish comes the greater the risk of disaster. These rocks are 45 degrees of trouble. Nevertheless, the fight is dour, uneventful, and well-controlled despite the light tackle. Well. It is till the fish finally comes up in the water and the float emerges, when, it suddenly decides enough is enough, stops pussyfooting about, and charges back down to deep water and the safety of the bed...

Where the hook-link breaks three or four inches above the knot, and we part company.

Ah well. Eel at Christmas. New Year tench...

Caught unexpecting again!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Canal Roach and Eel — Slow-n-Easy

A couple of spare hours Saturday evening just had to be used up fishing. The mild overcast weather demanded it. It won't last... Surely it can't last? But while it does it is an unusual opportunity that must be taken advantage of. 

Grassy Bend once more. And further trials of the helicopter rig with lobworm bait. 

I'd set up in the same swim as last time but was struck by the attractiveness of a boat some way along. Don't know why she was calling me but she was. Should this swim not be good then I would surely follow my nose and fish there instead.

It was hopeless where I'd sat down. In start contrast to the previous session the bobbins did not drop and all I got for my initial hopefulness was a little tremble of the left hand rod top. 

So off I went to 'Slow-n-Easy' to see precisely why she called...

This time around I cast the worms to positions a few feet off the middle and stern end of the hull and over the top went handfuls of hemp, five or six broken worms, but far fewer maggots than before because most by now had turned to floating caster. I chucked in what I had. They were no use after.

And there I sat to wait things out.

About an hour in and without the slightest indication of fish a portly fella turns up on a stroll out from the pub and it turns out he's an angler, his young son is fishing off the pub bank, and he's trying to establish the whereabouts of Tusses tackle shop half a mile up the towpath. No need to go any further. And so we strike up conversation about fishing and he sticks around a while longer...

Out of the blue the stern rod arches over bending into the butt before I get my hand on the grip when I pick it up against a hugely powerful and heavy fish tearing off down the side of the boat and taking a great deal of line with it. My immediate thought is 'male tench' but there's something worrying about the angle of the rod which is straightlined against my best effort to put a bend in it. I just cannot do a thing right there and then.

But the fight is soon over when abruptly the line falls limp and I'm believing the 2lb hook-link snapped. Casually walking up the bank winding in 20 yards of slack I find the rod veering toward the near bank and then realise that the fish is still on. 

I speed up the retrieve and regain straight contact when all hell breaks loose...

The rod jerks like some demented death metal headbanger and the tighter the line, the more neck-breaking the breakneck rhythm of this astonishing kick drum hammering becomes. 

Slow and easy this is not! 

But close contact is hard to maintain. The fish rips line off the spool one direction only to go into immediate reverse when all goes slack. Nevertheless, the hook hold is good because frantic winding throws me back in the mosh pit every time. But now it's tearing up and down directly beneath the near bank revetment trying to find a snag...

I dismiss the few species it might once have been and arrive at the only one it can possibly be — when I know that I don't stand a chance in hell of banking it. 

This roach tackle is just not capable of tiring such a monster before it surely does find some small solid thing to wrap its tail round when it will smash the flimsy line. I consider plunging the net down so it can find that and tangle itself up in the meshes, but I'm too far off to grab it. If it tears back up that way then I think it my only real chance!

The vicious pounding that the rod is trying its level best to absorb is becoming worrying now. Beneath my feet there's no real sensation of weight or linear power. Just the one of being attached to a furious ball of violent energy. Something must give. And of course, something does...

Winding in the rig I find just a single float rubber on the line. The rest is gone. The failure point is the line at the point of contact with the bead protecting the knot to the feeder. The hook-link held up. But the stress point with this rig is where the swivel meets the bead and I guess the crazed head shaking just weakened the 3lb line by degree till it gave out. 

In all the time I've fished these canals I always wondered when the day would arrive when I'd finally hook one. Thousands of hours spent dabbling with all kinds of baits that might attract one yet I'd never yet succeeded in luring one of these elusive secretive creatures and feared the moment when I finally would. But that moment had arrived and my worst fears were confirmed. On the day I was fatally undergunned. 

George Burton's account of his successful tussle with such an unexpected beast chimes with mine. Though I did not see the fish, the fight was so very unusual that I was convinced about what it was in the heat of things, and when George recounts that same jack hammer fury then I'm absolutely certain.

If only it had fallen to a zander rod then I'd have banked it for sure...