Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Thoughts on Shoaling Fish

John and I went out again the same afternoon and caught perch after perch on maggots, so we tried big worms but they produced only the occasional larger fish and nothing over twelve ounces. The roach were sunbathing
, slowly moving along in order to stay in the direct rays, and out of the shade. We decided to try dapping for them with single maggots, and this produced a few small fish (two of which were actually rudd so its now plain that these surface fish are a mixture of both roach and rudd) but only when a curious fish was hooked when in the process of sucking in and immediately blowing out the maggot.

They were not in any mood to feed, in fact just a single maggot dropped on top of the shoal would cause it to move and disperse with only the odd fish investigating the bait. It was interesting to note that one shoal of the many dotted along the stretch contained far larger fish on average than others with the bigger fish up to a pound or so lurking deeper in the water and always dead centre of shoal, presumably using this core position as a defensive strategy against predators, the smallest fish being used as chaff to confuse striking pike.

Is this intelligence, or instinct? I guess it's a mixture of both, large fish are few and they are large because they survive attack again and again. These shoals of roach (and rudd) in the canal appear to be composed of many year classes mixed together with the bigger fish always taking this position of safety and that small shoal of very large roach that I came across a few weeks ago was not only composed of big fish and a few relatively small fish but it was holding station in strict but well spaced formation with all fish facing in the one direction, the big fish dead centre with a heirarchy of progressively smaller fish flanking them but not in front. Interesting stuff, and I think crucial to observe if these big fish are ever to be caught. How to target the large fish specifically is however a question I have no clear answers to at this moment - do you hope for the best or develop a fiendish strategy? The latter seems the only way forward, but I have no idea where to start!

I have bought a book, an old book published in the thirties, and this book starts off with roach and the stategies and tactics that caught them back then. What this book illustrates most is that knowledge of roach was far more advanced then than it is now and much has been lost in the way of sound knowledge of them in the meantime. This is because roach were very plentiful in rivers and canals, were regarded as the most desirable of coarse fish being easy to catch when small, becoming increasingly more and more difficult to catch as they grow larger and almost impossible to locate let alone catch when they are full grown, therefore the roach of all coarse fish is the one that gives all anglers at all levels the chance to grow with the fish, as both fish and angler climb the slippery pole from naive enthusiasm toward artful dodgery.

There was a renowned angler famous for his way with roach and hemp. His feeding methodology was a object lesson in perfect restraint - a pint of hemp reckoned more than enough for an entire session of many hours constant fish catching. It progressed thus ~

He would put in enough hemp to cover the palm of his hand at the start of the session and begin to trot the swim. After a certain time he would again put in free offerings but now just half the amount, and continue to fish expecting no bites whatsoever. He would continue to halve the amount of feed until he reached a point where he was putting in just a few grains knowing that soon the bites would come, which they always did. Then he would fish this way continuously and fill his net until there came a point where bites would begin to fade away. At this point he would reverse the process and fish right up the point where would again feed a whole palm full, and of course then reverse the whole process once again. This would continue all day with him out-fishing anyone else around.

I think this might be the way that I will have to go after the roach. It is all about understanding the very nature of wild wary roach constantly under threat from predators and how they can be induced in and out of their natural caution by the correct deployment of a devious strategy. The modern idea of 'little and often' is nowhere near as subtle as this, it being a linear approach rather than this old school but rather more artful and rhythmic one, and with large roach being the most artful of fish, I guess that subtlety is everything.

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