Well, there has not been much change in the weather, the last week has been both wet and warm, and the rivers are still a little bit too high for my liking, and so the answer to whether grayling? on the river remained the same. So a change was needed and whether I might have a bash on a stillwater came into the frame. But what stillwater, and what to fish for?
I decided that, because the weather has been so mild, at least for the time of year, I would have a go for a Winter tench. Water temperatures in both the rivers and lakes locally seem to be about 5 degrees. I don't think that I have ever caught a Winter tench before, carp yes, tench no. In the good old days of tench fishing I would be poised to cast in at midnight on the Glorious 16th of June. The close season used to ban all coarse fishing between 15th of March and June the 15th. A good thing? A bad thing? I won't be drawn on that today, but the 16th of June was always very special. It no longer is. We usually were successful in that 16th quest for tench, and the thoughts in our minds were that the tench had started to feed maybe just a couple of weeks before the season opened. That they had only woken up in late May. Most tench used to be caught in June, and by the end of July, they were getting hard to find. Anglers thought that they fed very well to produce the spawn and then again to recover their condition, but that after July they mainly changed their food intake to much smaller items, and thus became hard to catch. We all now know that not to be the case, as I confirmed it myself , having caught a few tench in mid April over the last couple of years. But how early in the year would they feed? January still seemed a wildly optimistic prediction.
Yet I felt strangely confident, for despite the cold, 5 degree water, it had been unseasonably warm the last few days, and it was quite cloudy, and had been so right through the night, and consequently I did not have that "today will be a waste of time" thought in my head. No, I actually had the idea that I would be in with a chance. I arrived at the water at first light, and was not too surprised to find it a good foot higher than it had been back in June. There is still much water in and on the land that has yet to flow back into the rivers. Donned the wellies and made for a swim about half way along the lake, one that would give me a good view of the entire water surface. In the almost complete windless conditions, that lake surface was flat calm, and as the day progressed it never got to more that a very slight undulation. It never managed to break into a ripple, but the surface moved fractionally with that "oily" look, just enough to blur the reflections of the trees on the far bank. Unlike during the Summer, the lack of leaves revealed to me that the lake was very near the town. In Summer little evidence of dwellings and other buildings is visible. Within minutes a carp jumped near to the far bank, It jumped four times in quick succession. Even after much thought and considerable reading, I still have little real and convincing ideas as to why fish break surface in this way, jumping and rolling. I didn't have the chance to further that investigation, for the fish was the only one, of any species, that I was to see on the top all day.
A flight of birds passed overhead in a "V" formation. About thirty of them. They were not geese, but
|Cormorants on the Moon|
cormorants, and I mentally trained an ack-ack gun on them as they passed. Thirty is not the most I have seen at one time, a few years ago a flight consisting of several branching "V"s passed over near to my house. I estimated that there were about 500 of them. Here is another picture I took a couple of years ago. I had to run so as to get the moon in shot too, and actually ended up invading the pitch of the Lacrosse game I was watching at the time. I was lucky to get the picture, and probably lucky not to lose my life in the mêlée of jolly hockey sticks and heavily armoured players. Vicious game, lacrosse. Probably why my son likes it so much.
A young great crested grebe positioned itself over my bait. It was to remain there, seemingly at anchor, for over two hours. It looked like one of those raised in this last year's brood. The lake being so quiet, I settled down to read Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms". I find that, on slow stillwater sessions, I am able to read, whilst still watching the dough bobbins from the corner of my eye. Hey! Proper dough bobbins mate, made from real bread! The day was slow enough to enable me to read half the book. About 11 o'clock the left hand bobbin twitched a bit. Nothing more, just a twitch. I reeled in a couple of minutes later to find one sucked maggot, the other one missing. The most likely candidate was a small roach, but I still had a tinca in mind as the culprit. My two rods were fishing about 25 yards out, ten or twelve feet apart, and I had chucked out 7 or 8 small feeder fulls of maggots. The maggots had languished for over two weeks in my bait fridge. The fridge is probably a little too cold, and when I first opened the lid, the maggots looked to be quite dead. I compensated by not clipping the lid down on the maggot feeders, hoping that, on hitting the water, the maggots would be spilled and scattered immediately. The maggots did recover and start to wriggle, but it was a full three hours or so before they showed any visible signs of life. Note to self: back off the fridge thermostat a smidgeon this evening. The fridge though has been a boon. A freebie from a friend who had had quite enough of both her student tenants, and Manchester council's heavy handed rules for landlords. She gave me two small fridges, and one now, with the wick turned up full, acts as a bait freezer, the other has reduced my maggot costs tremendously.
So at about eleven, I had a bite on my maggots, maggots which were lying in a thin small carpet of maybe two hundred other similar maggots. This is worthy of some thought. How likely is it that a particle bait is picked up by a fish, from amongst an area of scattered, similar particles? It is possible that only your hookbait has been picked up. It is equally likely, or perhaps equally unlikely, that yours was the very last to be eaten. Neither is the most likely scenario. Provided that your hookbait is no less attractive, nor more attractive than any other particle, then on average, half the free bait will have been eaten before yours. Some days a quarter will have been eaten, on others 4/5 might have been consumed. There will always been minor, or perhaps major differences in how your hookbait is seen by the fish, when compared to the free offerings, maybe the hook will put the fish off a bit, maybe you have presented it in a way that might make your hookbait more attractive. Therefore it will never be truly rigorous to apply statistics in this way, but it most certainly can give a general idea.
So, ignoring such bait/hookbait differences we can say:
1) When you get your first bite, the most likely scenario is that only half of your freebies remain.
2) When you get your second bite, the most likely scenario is that a quarter of your freebies remain.
3) When you get that third bite, the most likely scenario is that just 1/8th of your freebies remain.
4) Regardless of accuracy of the statistics, by the 4th or 5th bite, very little feed will be left.
Is this important: Yes it is. One other obvious conclusion is that on a stillwater, if you are getting NO bites at all, yet have thrown in what you feel is a sufficiently attractive bait pattern, then there is no point in throwing more in. Just a waste. Either the fish are elsewhere, not feeding or they don't like the dinner you have provided for them, and maybe they are away getting another of their five a day.
The consequences get harder once you start to get bites: do you feed more, and if so, when? If you do feed more to enthusiastic fish, how easily and quickly might you overfeed, or might the splashes scare off a feeding shoal? One thing that is certain when adding bait, the number of bites you have been getting is another factor to consider, along with how many fish are expected to be in the swim, the time of year, how warm the water is, and are they feeding hard or just peckish. I cannot give precise answers to any of this, it is just one of those questions about which the experienced angler will think, and then strive to get the right answer on the day. There is far more for an angler to consider, than there is for a golfer facing that 6 foot putt on the 18th green. It is the infinite variability that makes angling so wonderfully fascinating, and which also gives rise to the mountains of absolute rubbish talked (and written!) about it.
So I put in a small amount of extra feed: two more feeders full. I was rewarded, if not instantly, by two line bites. A few chapters later, in the early afternoon, a good bite on the left hand rod, and I hooked into what I initially thought was a perch. But as the fight progressed it intensified, and was unmistakeably a tench...or a carp... Tench it was, a nice slim fish of 4-6. Always a pleasure to see that tench shade of green. It fought no worse than any Summer fish, although it was initially sluggish. I had expected a poor fight, but in a cold-blooded creature it might be that the muscles get more efficient as they warm up with use? The fish was no slouch and gave an excellent account of itself. My first Winter tench. In water of just five degrees Celsius. So pleasing when the plan works out.
There were no more bites. A kingfisher flashed down the length of the lake, eighteen inches above the water and at speed. It landed in a low overhanging tree a couple of hundred yards away, just a tiny orange-brown point of light in the distance. It looks as if quite a lot of them have so far survived this Winter, as I see one or more on most fishing days. A bunch of about twenty finches flew over, each bird flying very randomly in the overall group. Very untidy looking assembly of birds, each bird exhibiting random motion within the group: goldfinches? greenfinches?
There is more thought that can be applied to bite frequency. In the lazy hazy days of Summer, bites can be frequent. Even without the use of groundbait of any kind. It is common for anglers to get dozens, in some cases hundreds of bites in a single day. So what can we read into this? Certainly that the fish are hungry....but look deeper. That single maggot on your hook has been seen and taken dozens of time during the day. And that means that any other visible food item in the same area of that lake will have been seen by the fish too. And almost certainly eaten by them. So the conclusion is simple: there can be very little natural food easily available to the fish, if you are catching fish regularly. There may be food there, but it must be hidden in the weeds or buried in the silt. Every small handful of bait you throw in represents a very large increase in the local food supply for the fish. I may have said this before, but any heavily fished water becomes a fish farm, with MOST of the fishes' food being hand fed by the anglers. Cold-blooded creatures like fish have a very low requirement for food outside of the breeding season, very little is needed to retain their body weight constant. Once anglers supplement that very low food level intake, then the fish can grow easily to the huge sizes we now see in our waters.
All this may explain why, in the past, large fish were seen as hard to catch. Before the introduction of heavy baiting, large fish were only present in very rich natural waters. Waters with a lot of readily available natural food. And so, unless you were able to introduce food that they liked better, catching the fish was difficult. All this changed with the introduction of various modern baits, when suddenly there were available a large choice of very tempting items for these fish. So big fish became far easier to catch, at the same time as they have grown larger and become far more numerous. And as long as anglers continue to pay for the bait, so they will keep catching.
|Blackcap Being Chased Away by the Male Bullfinch|