I didn't intend to fish casters at all but I'd managed to successfully turn 2 pints of red maggots into casters by accident. The two pints were in separate tins; one full of old maggots and one of freshly bought, but the old maggots had got wet so I left the top off overnight so that they'd dry out.
I forgot all about them...
And it rained the next day...!
When I finally remembered them, on the morning of the trip to Packington for a concerted effort after a tench point on the challenge scoreboard, I was dismayed to find that all the old maggots were now a pint of dark casters in a pint of warm water and half the new had turned too in the now damp mush of the sealed bait tin.
However, on the upside I was surprised to find that all the casters were sinkers, even the darkest of the dark. Every time of the very, very few times that I have shop bought casters they have, to my dismay, turned floater in next to no time, so what did I do right here? At least I had some bait, even though it wasn't my red maggot of choice.
To be honest, not only have I never trusted casters and never used them properly, I have never actually caught a fish on caster used alone. Don't ask why, but they have always been the bogey bait, the bait that never worked out for me. For some it's bread flake; poor souls who worry themselves into not using one the best baits possible because they fear it will not stay on the hook and who take the fact that it does not come back at the retrieve as proof positive that, just as they thought, it fell off just as it hit the water, whilst for others, it's lobworms, fearing that they will somehow wriggle off the hook and so, if they have to use them at all, double or triple hook them into a knot.
I could lecture those sorts on how to use both not only properly, but confidently...!
But before I set off for Packington I would have dearly liked one of them to give me a sharp kick in the seat of the pants about casters - because, I have to say, it being sunday and no chance of buying maggots, that I was worried...
Of course, I over-compensated by taking every useful alternative bait in Londis.
On arrival around noontime it was becoming a beautiful day of breezy broken sunshine, getting warmer by the hour, and I felt confident of having a good time even if I could not get a shot at my target, but when I walked down to the lakes and saw banks packed solid with forlorn and dejected Sunday anglers, my heart sank. They weren't catching nuffink, not one last of em. They may as well have had big signs proclaiming 'Wot a Chump!' behind them! They looked so sad and useless with their dry nets and slack lines, and they'd all been here since morning, clearly...
I've been there before. I understood. I'd no sympathy with their plight as it seemed it would very soon be my bad luck too.
I chose the very peg that I'd witnessed a fella catch three good tench from on my last trip to the fishery a few weeks back, not only for history's sake, but as it happened to be the only decent peg without an angler incumbent. He'd had his fish on cubed meat, and though I had meat on me, somehow, under present conditions, I could not see it working. Nevertheless I baited up with a couple of handfuls of casters, cubes of meat and a sprinkling of pellets and cast out a cube of meat first cast just because of what little I knew of the peg's recent form.
The bait sat there exuding its oily magic but the float would not dip. It didn't in half an hour, and wouldn't, I could tell. Eventually I bit the bullet and loaded the size ten with casters (and it took three four of them before it looked like a proper hookload for a tench) cast it out expecting less than nothing, but, to my utter amazement, I soon had a lovely confident sailaway bite, struck, hooked and then landed a pound and a half tinca...!
Woohoo! Not only flying off the mark, but with my first ever caster caught fish of any species.
I soon sobered up when I realised that it was going to take far more than the mere handful of fish of the very useful size that the other bloke had caught here to get over the fifteen pound hurdle that a tench challenge point requires, if this stamp was all I could get. If so, I was looking at a mountain of ten fish to climb, or more...
Sure enough, it soon became difficult. I did have a crucian carp as my next fish...
... which was not encouraging! I decided that from then on in, and based up previous experience here, that if I were to try to hit the little dips and dibbles of the float that followed on from this charming looking, but off topic little fella, then I would start crucian fishing proper and probably succeed. No, I would ignore them and wait for more positive 'tench' bites, but I shouldn't have worried, the casters were actually proving so popular that skimmers, and finally roach began to turn up. I knew from previous experience that I'd committed a feeding mistake. I'd overdone it, and probably spoiled my chances here.
Now I had a choice. Either move swim, which was impossible as no others I liked the look of were available on this lake, or visit the river for a few hours and return when most would have packed up and cleared off home for Sunday lunch.
To The River
The river was looking better after some recent heavy rain but had less water than I'd hoped for, running through, and with only the slightest tinge of colour. It's clearly going to take rather more rain than I'd imagined to get the running water courses in fine fettle again after such a prolonged drought. Most of what has fallen of late has been soaked up and retained by the parched soil.
As I walked downstream I saw quite a few middling chub gliding around in the shallows, and what looked like roach too. I dropped into likely swims with my favourite freelined breadflake.
To fish this way I pinch a large piece from a very fresh slice of Warburtons blue wrapper bread, fold it in half, squeeze tight and then hook once through the folded end, then dunk the bread in the water to start it swelling and give casting weight, and then chuck it downstream, put the rod in the rest and allow the line to tighten of its own accord.
I use one BB or AAA shot on the line pinched about a foot to eighteen inches from the hook depending on water depth and flow; this is not for casting weight but because bread used this way rapidly swells into a large ball of semi-floating mush (which is why it's so devastatingly effective) and if you don't have something pegging it down, will gradually rise unseen right back up to the surface because of line tension and flow, and you'll soon be wildfowling, rather than fishing.
I caught a gudgeon from one peg ~
And then a surprise from the next swim downstream in the form of the only dace I've ever caught, or seen caught anywhere, from the River Blythe.
I stuck around for a while as I'm always interested in getting bigger dace than usual, but no more came, so kept moving downstream sampling swims. In the last fishable peg down (and I'd decided, my last river stop) I hooked and lost a strong fish, probably a chub, but then again, by the way it moved swiftly and powerfully upstream when it suddenly woke up to the fact that things were amiss a few long seconds after hooking, and not straight downstream or into the nearest snag like a chub mostly will, could well have been one of the Blythe at Packington's, rainbow trout who've moved upstream a mile from the stocked game section of the Packington Estate's lower river stretch.
Back to the Lake
As I made my way back around the lake making for a shallow swim cut in the reed beds that had looked most promising earlier in the day (even though back then it too had contained anglers catching now't) I stopped off to talk to a guy who I'd seen on the way out. He'd "not had a touch" in the hours I'd been messing about down at the stream...
Luckily most of the anglers had, as predicted, vanished, leaving me a full range of swim options. It was now six thirty in the evening, the sun was approaching the horizon and I had three hours of fishing time left in which to make up my target weight. I needed a full thirteen and a half pounds, and a bit, of tincas...
My chosen swim was alive with fish when I got there! There were some large carp and what looked suspiciously like small tench knocking about in the reeds to my right. The swim was just two feet deep and snaggy out to the left and the right, but I elected to keep fishing the float rod, six pound mainline and four pound hooklink I had started off, with rather than step up. My reasoning was that it is always easier to beat a fish in shallow water than it ever is in deep. Get the head out, make it gulp pure air and it's all over regardless of species, is my maxim. I'd hook and hold high...
I put out a big bed of casters and sat back to await events. Soon the bubbles started and I had my first bite ten minutes later. A tench, of just half a pound!
Then the bubbles really started...! Sorry, I meant to say that they really, really, really started, the swim was fizzing like a tray of lager slops...
There's a clearly visible fresh batch of bubbles erupting to the right of the float but what this picture does not show is the mass of pinprick bubbles covering the entire area of feed
Only this was a problem. I got no bites now even though the float was waving and bobbing about amidst of the commotion as fish competed to snaffle the crunchy soft centered treat. So, I racked back on the feed. And then I got bites again, and another tench. Later another, and then another, but not one of these very welcome fish went over one and three quarter pounds, and so I was bound to fail, on this occasion.
This cycle of feed, bite, fish, stop feeding, feed again, continued until I packed up. At times the swim got too busy or the bream and roach made an appearance, and each time I had to back right off till the activity ceased and then feed once again to keep the desired bites from tench coming my way. It was hard work, but fun work. An education, if you like.
If they'd all been bigger fish then maybe I would have sewn it up.
By eight thirty I doubted that there was another angler in the entire fishery, let alone my lake, but all around the fish were topping and the margins heaving full of fish mopping up the discarded and the untouched bait offerings thrown in by the day's anglers.
I failed, on this occasion, to make the mark, landing only six pounds and a half of the 'right' fish, but it was an instructive day out nevertheless. Clearly, on a hard day in Summer, if you want to catch a few bonus fish then you really should head for your local commercial, not at ten in the morning for sunburn and an early afternoon close, but after lunch, at precisely six in the afternoon and proceed to make a killing out of the unintended largesse of others...
Oh, and don't whatever you do, forget to pack casters. Right!