Sunday, 22 April 2012

Big Pit Bream & Tench - The Dark Interior...

Friday evening saw Martin Roberts and myself humping out gear down the bank of a nearby gravel pit after the first tench of the year. I was after big bream too, but hadn't any confidence in my swim choice for that species as it doesn't have much form for them, however, I wanted to try out a maggot feeder fished helicopter style, and at range, just to iron out the problems. My swim choice soon proved bad for that too, the cast requiring a short wade into the water just to give enough clearance overhead through the narrow slot of the trees either side of the peg, consequently I had to cast directly overhead on a short drop to the lead like carp anglers habitually do, not at an angle of 45 degrees to the vertical and with a long, steady, power building arc firing a lead hanging from drop half as long as the rod itself, as a beach caster would. Consequently, my range was 50-60 yards absolute maximum. Which seems a long way off when the lead splashes down, but really isn't.

Is this how fish see us ? 
Just to test out another rod that I have lined up for the job, the Garbolino Swinton, a stiff, tippy, high quality carbon affair that was purpose designed for continental style long-range feeder fishing, and with a stated casting weight of up to 3 oz, I rigged it up to a reel loaded with four pound line, and tied on a one ounce bomb and took it along to a peg with plenty of room to cast from.  I wasn't likely to load the rod properly with such a small weight, but I had no shock leader, so wasn't about to. Nevertheless, the bomb flew off into the distance, took off all the mainline and thirty yards of backing too. Winding back, and counting the turns of the reel handle, then measuring how much line was retrieved by one turn of the reel gave a figure of 142 x 2.1 feet, which is approximately 100 yards. Not bad at all, considering the pretty half-cocked chuck I'd given to prevent a crack-off and the distance limiting effect of the backing knot passing through the rod rings. I reckon this rod, properly rigged for real distance, with a two or three ounce lead, the bait clipped down and put under its full casting compression, might well make 150 yards, or more.

You may well ask why I would want to cast so far? Well, since starting out fishing the large open expanses of clear water that Midlands gravel pits are, a few thing have become startlingly clear. The first is that the shallow margins are not the main feature as they certainly are with smaller lakes of just a few acres. The second is that range is important because the main feature of these pits is often the unexplored interior well past the casting range that most anglers achieve, or even try for.

Below are aerial pictures of the 47 acres of Bodymoor Heath on the Kingsbury Water Park complex. It's a medium-sized gravel pit, but big enough to have a very large unexplored interior of half its total size, a place where angler's baits have hardly ever been ~

A cast of 50 yards (from the swim Keith and I fished a fortnight ago) which is about the maximum anglers ordinarily try for, or get.  It's hard to chuck a spod or a feeder very much more than this range with any accuracy, the further the cast the less accurate the baiting will always be, so anglers will invariably choose to fish close-up rather than far-off, and over a tighter bed of ground-bait. This leaves 25 acres of almost completely unexplored territory

A cast of 150 yards leaves just an acre where a bait cannot fish. All the islands, which are the main feature of the interior apart from open water, can be fished to. Even a more easily achievable cast of 100 yards still puts most of the water within reach of the angler. However, you cant easily ground-bait these places without use of a boat, or a bait boat, which is a problem in itself if you don't have one!

When I used to beach-cast, getting extra range was often crucial. I have fished alongside other anglers who could not cast quite as far as I could, and sometimes, when the fish were just out of their range, I would catch five times what they could. Of course there were days when things were equal, or others when the fish were close in, when overcasting was as bad as undercasting, nevertheless, having the option to cast far, and by far I mean well over 150 yards (Danny Moeskops world record is an astonishing 313.46 yards!) was, as it always will be on a beach, an advantage.

In a pit I think the same will apply, and I do think there'll be fish at that range who never venture anywhere near the bank, however, getting to them is never made easy by a fixed-spool reel, as they can only ever limit a cast rather than facilitate one because they supply loops of line on demand that the rod rings must then tame (frapping) rather than feed a nice straight line straight through to the lead in flight as the rotating spool of a multiplier does, so fixed spool casts are always a good thirty percent less than those a nicely-tuned multiplier can achieve. Then again, there's no earthly reason not to use a multiplier, is there? Well yes there is, a multiplier is used over slung on the rod, not under slung, and so when fighting a fish the rod must have more rings than usual to stop the line twanging past the blank because all the rod rings are face up too!

While were at it we might as well look at big pit reels as casting machines. Well, sorry to disappoint the carp boys but the massive spool is actually a liability as it causes larger coils and therefore worse frapping. A big butt ring is not the answer to this, though carp rods have large butt rings in an 'attempt' to control it (actually an attempt to control carp anglers into parting with lots of cash for a bling 50mm butt ring rather than a competitors 40mm!) but actually a smaller one is the answer, contrary to apparent logic, because it reduces the coils quickly at the first obstacle and they are a manageable size thereafter. Big pit reels are just fashionable, not logical. They are actually rebadged surf reels and the huge spool full of hundreds of yards of line is designed not for long casting, but to cope with the demands of fish like giant trevally, who'll strip a hundred yards off the spool on the first run, and in seconds! So a modern carp outfit truly is a triumph of style over function...

No carp moves that fast!

There's nothing like a nice grassy bank in the afternoon...

The fishing was quite slow till around six O'clock, at which point I had a jangly run on the maggot feeder rod. I expected either a bream or a tench because almost every bite received on this lake produces one or the other, but it felt too light to be either. I was right, it was a half pound roach! Roach are hardly ever caught on this lake to ledgering tactics and I don't know anyone who has, hence the exclamation mark...

Later on, Martin had a small male tench, but that was it for the evening. I went home tench-less, and bream-less, but felt a return visit on the following day, and to a distance friendly swim, was in order...

Next morning I changed plans and decided to fish another pit instead, one where bream have been documented up to a weight of sixteen pounds and where double-figure fish come along occasionally to the carp anglers. The lake was about the same total size as the previous water but divided into three sections forming a clover leaf shape when viewed from above.

My first choice peg proved impossible because of a thick coating of fine weed on the lake bed that made presenting a bream bait impossible. I couldn't find any clear spots, so moved over to the bay behind, but on the same promontory. Here there was a cleaner gravel bed, so out went the maggot feeder to the left, and out went a method feeder right. A number of balls of method mix were put around the method rod, the maggot feeder was left to fend for itself. In six hours, all I had were a few tiny line bites and sucked maggots. Mid afternoon, I abandoned the place because all the likely alternative pegs there were occupied by carp anglers, so I went back to my original plan.

Back on the open water I dropped into just the peg I wanted. The next peg along was occupied by another angler who'd fished all day long for one missed bite, but who turned out to be Steve Philip's colleague, Rob, so we had plenty to talk about.

Modified maggot feeder. Not perfect, but far better than it was. To get real distance though, the thing would have be front loaded, and domed. I'll be in the market for one that is, and is heavy enough for the purpose too.

I hadn't rigged up the distance feeder rod yet, so decided to get as much out of the rods I had. The method rod was pitched thirty yards out, but the maggot feeder was chucked far as I could manage, which wasn't nearly enough, and only reached 70 yards at very most. The problem was that the two ounce feeder was wobbling in flight and causing too much drag, so the thing was dismantled completely and the exterior mounted lead, which was causing the drag and instability problems, was remounted inside the feeder body itself, lessening the capacity, but improving the streamlining and the stability of the feeder out of all recognition. All of a sudden, 90 yards was feasible, even with the soft rods and their sloppy casting action.

I liked one cast very much, it seemed to land just so, so I left it there. It came down near the back of a gravel bar usually fished to from the far bank and requiring only a cast of twenty yards to reach, but hardly ever from this bank. An hour later, this cast was picked up by a fish and a fast run was lifted into. Even at range it was clear this fish was really big, though it was not clear exactly what it was as the fight was slow, heavy and ponderous, my pressure gaining line inch by inch and the fish, despite my best efforts, refusing to turn off a line that was taking it further and further to my left.

I suppose three minutes had passed but I'd only gained back thirty yards of line in that time. If it was a bream then it was a monster of a fish as I was unable to turn its head, if a tench then very respectable too, but something about the way things were progressing made me feel that it might be neither.

The fish seemed to be headed for somewhere purposely, or searching for something like sanctuary. No matter what, it just would not come off that line it was bound along. Little pressure, lots of pressure, nothing made a difference, and then it all went solid. I thought the fish was off and I was snagged, so bent the rod over against the sky and looked at the tip for nods that would indicate either it was, or it wasn't.

It was. The tip bucked a little from time to time as the fish heaved against what had to be a snagged line. Then it all went slack in an instant and the rig came back seemingly complete, but when I looked closer, it was minus the 5lb hook-length. And, there was a small ball of thick slime on the line, but considering that both bream and tench carry slime, that proved very little either way.

Ahh. Bollox...!

At home I contacted Phil Smith, the one angler I know who would know about such things as big fish behavior when hooked at distance, and who might shed some light on what fish was most likely. He discounted bream, saying even the biggest of them almost always come straight in to the rod under pressure, discounted carp because the lake probably contains none, and besides, they kite at speed. He predicted a good tench, but then added an alternative, and it was one that I had considered possible all along...

An eel, and not necessarily a big one either!

Holy cow! How hard does a big eel fight if that was a small one? If it was a three-pounder, then what tackle is necessary to heave a six-pounder out of what must have been only a small snag?

I don't know, but I'll guess I was seriously under-gunned for eels, if eel is what it really was.

I'm gonna need a bigger rod, bigger reel, bigger line, and bigger biceps too, if big solitary eels are what you find in the dark interiors of gravel pits! Perhaps I'll dust down the beach-caster and fettle the multiplier. That'll get a worm out there, no problem, and any eel of any size back in again, snags notwithstanding!


  1. Jeff, what a gutter. Better luck next time. Sounds like one of those "I just wish I'd seen it" fish!?

  2. you want the bigguns Jeff stick to the 'cloverleaf' shaped lake, forget Bodymoor cos youll have to hack your way through hundreds of tiddlers to get to the bigguns.

    Youll recognise some aspects of the former lake from my earlier blog posts if you read back through the last couple of closed seasons(wink wink)

    Ill be back on there soon myself seeing as my usual Tench lake is going syndicate at the end of the month by all accounts.

  3. Russel, it certainly was one of the strangest tussles I ever had with a fish. I haven't clue, but wish I did.

    Leo, I'll be going back but you have to get up early in the morning to beat the carp lads to the swims, I see! Any good pegs?