Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Zedvember the 53rd

Three years ago today I organised an event on the canals round my way using the excuse of my 50th birthday to pry anglers out the door on a freezing night to try their best to catch zander. To my surprise a dozen local zed heads turned out for what turned out be a dire evening's fishing but a memorable social and so this year on Danny Everitt's recommendation that I should, I decided to hold it again.

'Zedvember the 53rd' was a long way off when I first attempted to get in touch with all the anglers I've met in the last eight years. But I was crapping myself the whole of the prior week with weather predictions forecasting Sunday 23rd — the day I'd thought best — as the worst possible day I could have chosen in the entire month!

It's a long way to go for the uncertain prospect of wild zander averaging only a couple of pounds from a drab wintertime canal I wouldn't venture round the corner to fish during this sort of weather, but, sarf Londoners, Brian Roberts, brothers James and Richard Denison, braved it. I don't think they ever did worry, but I needn't have. Rain before seven and all that. By ten it was easing and by half past when I met with Brian at Coventry Station, it had stopped altogether.

Walking the 5.5733 miles to the venue at Hawkesbury Junction, Norm, who was to cut his first zander tooth today, phoned as we hoofed along the gin clear canal at Electric Wharf in the City. Exiting from the first road bridge and taking the short cut up the Foleshill Road passing through the bustling main thoroughfare of Coventry's Asian quarter, we were amazed to find him accosting us from behind... He'd got his missus to drive him back down to town and had run all the way up the road through the crowds and vegetable stalls to catch up, rod in hand!

After a swift pint at the Greyhound moorings where we met up with the rest of the crew, we were off. Danny and Keith Jobling joined by Joe Chatterton went on a northern excursion into the semi-rural stretches of the Bedworth bound Coventry Canal, while Mick Newey ventured eastwards and alone to the Oxford Canal and one of my regular swims, Grassy Bend. All the rest of us pitched up in and around the mouth of Exhall Marina.

For all, but especially those up from the The Smoke, I really hoped that the fishing would be the kind that happens often enough here — you know, run after run after run.  But it seemed clear it wasn't going to happen that way. For an agonising half-hour — nothing. Then (thank the Lord!) Brian's float was off, he struck, and was attached to the thrash and flurry of a respectable zander. Phew! 

Next cast back to the very same spot of water he had a fingerling too. But no one else got a bite either side so after an hour or so we all moved along. Passing the four others along on the way, Danny had had three small ones by way of his live worm drop shot method, Mick had lost a fish on the Oxford Canal before moving back to the Coventry, Joe had yet to get a bite, ditto Keith. Biteless likewise, I was bound for one of my recent discoveries, just to see if on such a tough day it would throw me another bone...

Anglers to the left of me. Richard and Brian
I've written once before about this particular bush. In the meantime I've fished it again and with result. One bait cast into just a square yard of water beneath it, the second cast here, there, and everywhere nearby, the first has scored over and over again while the second has gone utterly ignored except for a few odd dibs and dobs that never developed into proper runs. Also, the stamp caught has been encouragingly high with every fish between three and four pounds set against a general canal average of two to two and a half pounds. But today I fished just the one rod. There were plenty enough others fishing nearby to ascertain if this entire area was indeed a hotspot or just one remarkable yard of it. 

Anglers to the right.  Norm beside me, James chatting with Mick in the background
The bait was put out and within two minutes the float was vanishing under cover. Fish on! Not a bad one either. Everyone including myself thought it a five pounder but it weren't. Dead on four pounds. Zander — deceptive creatures with more air in them than you'd think. 

The bait is already back in the magic square and I'm watching the float hoping for a brace shot!
Norm just to my right hand side was casting his bait no further than a few yards from mine but was getting strange bites. I have never had such bites myself — and yet he was using one of my rigs so our set ups were identical. The float was burying slowly but not running as it should. Then Brian had a bite under the near bank that was a most curious one too. Neither hooked up. We suspected crayfish and when Brian slowly lifted his rig on the next bite, sure enough there was a Reggie hanging on.

One  caught last year...
Apart from these unwelcome guests, no one either side had even a touch from zander, which was disappointing because I really wanted Norm to catch his first ever and James to break his Coventry Canal duck too. When night fell we returned to the vicinity of the pub where Richard had a zed from beneath the footbridge and we met with Martin Roberts (who is in no conceivable way brother to Brian!) out for a social.

The fishing didn't last long after that and so it was off to the pub where the beer flowed mostly into my thirty gob being birthday boy, n'all.

My heartfelt thanks to those who attended and I do hope you really enjoyed yourself. I certainly did, and that's because of you and your willingness to leave Sunday lunch behind, come fish alongside me, and lay no blame for the lack of bites or the bloody signals...



Sunday, 16 November 2014

Canal Zander — Nuff Said

You learn something about zander every time you fish for them. Most of the time what you'll learn, and it's a lesson you'll repeat over and over again, is how little you really know! Take the other night, for instance. Danny and myself went out night fishing at a new spot on the Coventry Canal some way out in the sticks. We set up a zander rod each and a quiver tip rod for the chub we'd heard could be caught around those parts. On arrival there was a flotilla of boats moored along the towpath and so we were forced to fish the gap between two sterns. Almost as soon as we cast out both started their engines to charge batteries for the evening's telly sessions. It was noisy, and soon we were enveloped in diesel fumes and so it was doubly unpleasant.

However, Danny's chub rod brought in a really good looking roach x bream hybrid within minutes and then his zander float was off too and the first zed of the night was banked. He was off to a flyer but only when I brought my zander bait from its distant position right into the vibration zone did I get a run.  And then I had another, and another, and another. Then Danny had another as well. So we'd banked five zander so far, I'd lost a very small one, an hour had passed by, but it really looked as if we'd be at it all night long. And then both boaters decided to watch the goggle box, switched off their engines, and it fell silent.

We didn't get another bite between us the rest of the session but at least we could breath and hear each other talk...

When I got home I found I had itchy feet, wasn't sleepy at all, and wanted to get back out just to see if the cessation of feeding was a matter of us catching all members of a pack, imminent changes in weather and barometric pressure, or lack of vibration! I went back out at two in the morning to fish the junction just around the corner from home with a cup of coffee in hand, where I enjoyed washing down a couple of pork pies whilst watching two static floats do nothing at all till the clock struck four when the predicted heavy rain began to fall.

Next day I went out again just to see if daylight would have improved matters...

Nothing doing in my 'barometer swim' where there's always fish present doing away with the doubt that I'm not on fish in the first place. Second swim used to be a banker but it seems it isn't these days. I did enjoy the very rare instance of a pike though. Thinking my line was too near a submerged snag, I moved it, and he snatched up the bait.

But rare? Pike?

I've lost count of pike the local zed anglers have not caught. They are about, but about as uncommon as the proverbial. You'll get one in every hundred zander. Oddly enough, Danny had had one just the other day. Now I'd had another. And, I'm just hearing first reports of a 25 pounder caught within peddling distance — a sixteen-pounder viewed through the distorting lens provided by lager and lack of a spring balance, most likely...

But you never know!

Because this very long canal pound certainly does contain well documented and accurately weighed pike above thirty pounds and probably a few exceeding forty I tend to err on the side of caution about the veracity of stated weights but there's no smoke without fire and locations are always accurate enough so I will follow such rumours up because when large pike are ever found, they're likely to be found lurking around the perimeter bounds of large shoals of large bream and there'll be more than one present.

Juggling a 'five pounder'.  A lively and slippery bugger this! 

On the subject of subjective weight estimates. I moved out into the countryside to the bream shoal in question (about forty strong. I saw them in January 2011 swimming just an inch below thawing ice) where I had my only zander of the day. It wasn't weighed but was a mid two-pounder, maybe scraping three-quarters. Catching so many in this size bracket I can weight them by eye and be only ounces out. A couple of local boaters who live on the cut the whole year round passed by as I netted the fish and proclaimed it a 'good un' and 'easily a five!'

Nuff said.

A couple of lads fishing four rods between them had two zander that day between 9am and 5pm. That's not so good for such a long session but given my own results, I suppose OK on the day. They reported losing way too many over the last few sessions, though. I enquired about their hooks and sure enough they had been using trebles. I recommended them Danny's hook choice because they wouldn't be able to get hold of mine and it works every bit as well.

Thankfully, the Gamakatsu 'wide gap' pattern seems to be back on course with every run hooked cleanly, and only one fish lost out of seven since that weird session by the bush a fortnight ago. I'm going to trial circle hooks next. I don't actually expect them to work well for zander and for specific reasons to do with gapes and jaw bone peculiarities, but we'll see.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Canal Zander — Push, Push...

Intending to drop into the Marina swim for an hour and then go exploring neglected places I found two fellas already fishing six rods between them there and with so much hardware out almost all options covered. Nevertheless, I dropped in at a respectful distance to their right hand side just to observe what they might catch in what has to be the most easily accessible and comfortable swim I know of on the entire Coventry Canal. I only go there for the inevitable chinwag with passers by and their 100% reliable but 20% accurate local fishing reports. And that it does give up a run or two when everywhere fails...

They hadn't caught in their first hour. They were fishing live baits and they looked like imported rudd to me (tut, tut...) what with their scarlet fins. Anyhow, they didn't seem to be working. I think dead baits were out too, but neither did they. Two hours after my arrival on the scene they still hadn't had a run between them and neither had I, but then my right hand float moved decisively towards the far bank, where it stopped, as they often do. I expected it to move again when I'd strike. But it didn't, so I waited and waited and waited again, finally deciding I'd experienced what I never had before. The dropped run of zander fishing lore and legend.

How peculiar. They were playing up all fickle and fussy this morning!

Deciding that the day really was all wrong for zeds, as it often is, that I'd probably blank by staying put and I'd nothing much to lose by an excursion out into the sticks, I upped mine and went. I chose a spot where I could leapfrog the rods up and down against a continuous run of far bank cover in the form of hawthorn bushes and partially sunken tree branches. Casting here and there and by moving about constantly I finally found a spot that held at least one fish because I had a run there.

There was absolutely nothing at all unusual about it — just a bush, and an ordinary one at that.  But, over the next hour and a half I had seven runs and banked three fish around the three to four pound mark from a spot no larger than a square yard beneath it whilst the second float, no matter where I put it, stayed stock still and any cast of the first rod that did not land plumb in that square yard went ignored.

What was also odd was that none of the banked fish were hooked very securely and four runs were bumped after hooking. Dropped runs, bumped fish. That's what other anglers experience. Not me! Ah well, pride before a fall and all that. After my last post when I thought it almost certain that the Gamakatsu 'Finessse Wide Gap' might well be my future hook of choice, now I was not so sure about them and wished I had a packet of my trusty 'Ultimate Bass' to hand.

Eventually the bites dried up when I reckon I'd caught all three residents of that particular lair and so I went home quite chuffed to have found another good and probably reliable spot for the future but a little bemused by such unusual results.