Tuesday 23 February 2016

Canal Zander and Other Stuff

We do not have any zander in the local canals. I can say that with 99.99% certainty. No zander, zilch zeds, zero...well near zero. That missing 0.01% is due to a single rumour I heard of one being caught a couple of years ago.  So far from any established zander populations though, that, if the rumour be true, it must have been a fish introduced by a zander angler, and caught elsewhere.  Since that rumour, all has gone quiet.   I mention this because I have read elsewhere that the Canal and Rivers Trust are seeking £5000 or so in order to try and eradicate, (or at least reduce the numbers of) the
A Tiny Zander From the Coventry Canal
species from the Coventry Canal. The Coventry Canal has plenty of zander, I even caught a few myself during a couple of day trips last year.  Nothing big, but if I can catch several without having spent much time down there, then they are present in good numbers.    I had been shocked a year or two before, when I caught my first ever zander, on the Trent. Never seen one before and I had no idea they were present. Thirty odd years away from angling and the grapevine withers.  A subsequent trip to the river with the specific intent to try for a zander was successful. So the Trent is another river in which they must be present in considerable numbers.

There is an infinitesimally small chance that such eradication tactics will work in Coventry. The species is far too well established for any control efforts to work.  Short of draining the canal, and/or killing all its fish, they will remain.  Even if removed, they will soon return from elsewhere in the system.  There are too many connections between canals ( and other navigable waterways) for that not to be the case.  It is far too late.  When those 100 or so fish were first introduced into the Great Ouse Relief Channel back in 1963, the wide spread of zander was guaranteed by their first successful spawning. It was an inevitable consequence.  I remember an article in "fishing" magazine some forty five or fifty years or so ago, wherein pike livebaits were being retrieved with V shaped marks on their flanks and no-one knew why.  I think that was on the Forty Foot Drain.  Soon afterwards the first zander were being caught, and held responsible for the marks on the fish.   Reactions varied from wild panic to gratitude that another predatory fish was there to be enjoyed.   The authorities were not happy, and a cull was attempted back in about 1980/81 on the Middle Level.  It was felt that silver fish were suffering badly. They reduced the numbers of both pike and zander, stocked roach, thus reducing the ratio of predators to prey, It worked for a while, but subsequently good breeding years allowed numbers of predators to once again rise.  An experiment doomed to fail long term, as will any new attempt to control the species.   I have no idea why the decision was first made to stock those 100 fish into an unenclosed water.   Looking back there must be those that have regrets.   The EA, the Canal Trust and others must regret that first introduction into the Channel.  The human race is unlikely ever to learn.   Cane toads, American crayfish, mink, balsam, hogweed, knotweed, wels catfish, topmouth gudgeon, ide, carp,  goldfish, all are chapters in a book that should be compulsory reading for anyone bringing any species into an alien environment.  And yes, I did say carp then.

We do not have zander in the local canals....but they sure as hell are on their way.  And as has happened with carp over the last forty years or so, anglers will be in the forefront of helping zander to spread. I don't approve of such behaviour, but the natural spread is unstoppable, and it matters little whether  I approve of that or not.   Uphill lock flights may help to delay the spread, but sooner or later, even these obstacles will be passed.    I once caught a flounder in the Shropshire Union canal.  It had come up from the River Dee, working its way uphill and through a number of locks in the process, probably quite difficult for a bottom living fish.   In a few years zander will find their way back down that same set of locks that the flounder had negotiated. And once here I will fish for them locally, and as with perch and pike, I shall return them alive.   It makes little sense not to.

Of course, zander are not the only thing that has happened to our canals over the last 50 years or so. My first serious fishing, from probably the age of twelve, was on a local canal.  It was very clear, and a hard water to fish.   Its clarity meant that you could watch maggots sinking.  Throw in a handful with your hookbait and you could see the roach and perch rush in, taking every maggot but one.   But I learned to catch those fish, and the canal in turn taught me how to be an angler. I mainly fished for the roach, catching many a fish between eight and twelve ounces.   Pound fish were rare, despite the bailiff claiming that he caught many a two pounder, and several over three.  My friends and I never believed him, never saw him fishing, never saw a photograph.  Had such fish been present we would have caught at least the occasional one.   But over several years I only had three fish over a pound, and was well pleased with the best at 1-6.   The bailiff sold the day tickets, probably on a commission basis.  Make of that what you will. I neither saw nor caught a perch of a pound or more: they just did not seem to be there.   
Another change is that much of our canal banking is now protected by metal shuttering driven into the banks.  It helps prevent erosion caused by the wash of boats.  I assume it is due to boat speed rather than numbers.  When the barges were horse drawn canals never seemed to need the metal shutters.  I feel that these metal edgings have contributed to the demise of the water voles: animals which I used to see daily.  There is no longer the bankside mass of reeds and rushes along both banks.  There is probably less food for the fish in consequence. The voles have nowhere to hide, little to feed on and no way of migrating along the canal system any more.  Mink may have had an effect, but I am sure they are not wholly to blame.

 There are now far more boats.  Fifty years ago "my" canal had about half a dozen boats clustered around a small boatyard. Last week I counted well over a hundred narrowboats and canal cruisers in the same spot.  A short distance away is another boatyard, one of several new ones that have been built.  As I fished last week, I admired the skill of one bargee, who turned his 60 foot long narrowboat through 135 degrees into his regular mooring.  He used minimal speed, few engine revs, but great control and slid in alongside his jetty beautifully. I was impressed.   Later a much shorter boat attempted the same process and made a right old signal crayfish of it.  The "captain" collided with other boats and jetties, surged to and fro, and gunned the engine at maximum revs for minutes before completing the task.  In doing so he churned the canal, or more specifically my swim, into large whirlpools, turning the water into a horrible black mess as the bottom silt was stirred and shaken. I moved.   But the end result of so many boats is that the canal is always a muddy brown colour, even in winter.     I used to see one or two boats pass by me during a summer weekend, now I see a dozen or so, even on a cold February day.  It must become unfishable during the summer months.

But is that muddy colour entirely a bad thing?         Maybe not:  over the last three years or so I have
A Canal Perch of About Two and a Half Pounds
fished five different canals nearby, none for  more than four or five trips.  Each of those canals has produced perch of two pounds or more to my rod, together with numbers of others over the pound mark.     My canal used to feel and look good, yet never produced perch of those sizes whilst the water was clear.  I understand many carp filled commercial lakes, churned muddy by the activities of those carp, also produce very big perch.   Can it be mere coincidence, or does muddy water allow perch to better ambush their prey, and hence grow much
Chunky Canal Roach
bigger?  I even had a roach of 1-4 from my canal this week!

Noisy Canal Nuthatch
All those local canals also hold plenty of ruffe, a species I never caught from them years ago. Ruffe must have used the canal system as a highway, and spread into my area of the country over the decades. One angler I know suggested that having ruffe in my canal was a sure sign there were no zander.  Another bemoaned the lack of gudgeon in the Coventry Canal.  Are zander predating so efficiently as to be eliminating these minor species form the waters?  The zander are now using the same highways as did those ruffe. Are my local mini species going to get a rough, sorry, bad deal in the future?  

I hear pike are less common in canals with zander. Is that competition between predators for limited food fish?  Or is it that young pike are also getting snaffled for a zander's brekkie?
Canals are indeed changing, but they are still greatly underrated as fisheries these days, and regardless of their mix of species, will probably always produce some worthwhile sport for those willing to spend time on the towpath. But apart from the odd lure angler, I see no-one on the banks.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Foulhooked Carp, Hook Bending Grayling and Canal Perch

Christmas, New Year, the wife's birthday ( remembered!) and several other minor celebrations are now out of the way, their only remaining presence being 3 or 4 pounds of newly acquired and unwanted fat, and so during this last fortnight I have managed a few trips out.  Perch were my first thought, and I decided to fish a club water for them.  I have read that perch are doing quite well in many carp lakes these days.  I am unsure why, maybe all the feed that gets thrown in  helps small fish to flourish as well as the carp, and the carp also stir the silt up, resulting in cloudy conditions which may well be  making a productive environment in which a perch might hunt.  In this particular water, on the day, they didn't seem to be hunting at all, if they were indeed present, and so to relieve the tedium I put out a float fished bait for anything that might swim by, threw in a handful of pellets and waited.

The Inevitable Heron
 The day was cold, a lot colder than the previous week had been, and so, suspecting any fish would be fairly lethargic, and none too keen on feeding I set up the float lift method.  After a while I started to get the odd indication, minor movements, twitches and little jerks of the float, mixed with the occasional better bite, all of which were missed.  It became quite frustrating really, especially as the ONLY fish I saw move was a smallish carp, which cheekily chose to jump  clear of the water just a dozen feet away, right in front of me.  But it did suggest that the fish in my swim were also carp.   And so they proved.  I landed three of them, none of any real size, but all three were foulhooked, and so fought rather better than their size in the net might have suggested.   A couple of others came adrift and I suspect that they might also have been foul hooked.   I have had this before, once or twice, when floatfishing for carp, and maybe with their big, sticky out fins, they are prone to catching a nearby vertical line whilst browsing on the free offerings.  On reflection I should have layed on much deeper, so as to distance the fins from the monofilament.  A lesson learned maybe?   No perch made an appearance though. The only flash of colour was provided by a passing kingfisher.

On to those grayling.  The rivers I fish have been borderline, a little too high and too coloured for my
This Healthy Off Season Trout Went Straight Back
liking, and so only about eight or nine ladies have seen fit to grace my net.  But the catching of them has also proved annoying.   After fishing all day last week I finally got my first bite immediately before dusk,   A real scrapper, and fairly obviously no grayling.  I was in a difficult swim, far more difficult that I expected when I eventually came to net the fish.  It cost me a mandatory welly boot full of water, then proved to be an out of season trout of a little over two pounds.   Not only that, it too was foulhooked in the pectoral fin! Such is life at times.  Interesting and rather unusual spot pattern.

On other days the grayling have proved elusive, being landed in ones and twos only, despite quite a few missed bites.  As is usual, quite a few grayling have slipped the hook.  It almost always happens that some fish are lost and I have learned to accept this as a fact of life when seeking Thymallus thymallus.  They have very hard bony parts to their mouths, which do not equate well to a secure hook hold.   One day was quite exceptional.  First bite a fish, then, from another 8 or 9 bites, 5 fish contacted, all of which got off before being landed.  4 simply shed the hook, in typical grayling fashion.  The other straightened the hook.    The very same hook that had landed or lost the other fish earlier in the day.  This bears a bit of thinking about and some analysis. Why should a trusted hook suddenly bend? I have a theory, but need to conduct an experiment so as to confirm it.

Back soon....

OK, I am back from the laboratory. 
Ordinary hooks are designed to work in a quite specific way.  Ideally the hook will penetrate the lip of the fish, the point then re-emerging nearby, leaving the lip effectively sitting in the bend of the hook. So this might be represented as  in diagram 1, the lip of the hook would be effectively at point b.   F is the force on the hook exerted by the fish on the hook ( remember Newton's Law:  For every force there is and equal and opposite force.  I shall restate newton as "pull on the fish and the fish will pull back on the hook".)

My theory is that the fish that bent the hook had only the extreme point of the hook in contact,  it having hardly penetrated the flesh at all, so in effect the situation would look very like that in diagram 2.    Note that the angle of the hook to the line is much greater.  Only point b in in contact with the fish.

Diagrams 1 and 2.
In diagram 1,  much of the force  on the hook lies directly along the of the hook shank, tending if anything to try and stretch it.   There is  additionally a not insignificant force trying to bend the hook, acting mainly in the length of wire from  a to b.  There is here what is called a bending moment which is a product of the force F and the length of the red line (x).    With the set up as per diagram 1, I found that, using a size 14 fine wire hook,  a tension of a little over three pounds in the line was needed to put
a noticeable, but not disastrous ,distortion into the hook shape. Significant, but not enough to stop the hook from retaining its hold. in my experiment releasing that force then allowed the hook to return to its original shape. The elastic limit of the metal was not exceeded, and the hook suffered no damage. This  suits very nicely the three pound line and 14 hook that I was using. Diagram 1 represents a nicely lip hooked fish.

Now consider a grayling, hooked, but hooked in such a way that the point has not penetrated, Diagram 2  now applies.   Look at the red line: x is now much longer.  And the distance from a to b is also far greater.   So the bending moment is greater, and also is being applied to a far greater length of the hook wire.  Anyone knows that it is easier to bend a long piece of metal than a short one,  and so, when I tested this, I found that the same distortion in the hook shape could be produced by a force of just 5 ounces.  Roughly 1/10th the earlier value.  Apply more that that 5 ounces and the hook shape changes dramatically, the gape opening up, even twisting a little, the red line getting effectively even longer, and the hook becoming useless.  Its bend was permanent, the angle of the hook in the mouth of the fish was compromised, and any fish hooked on it would no longer be so. If I had hooked the grayling in this manner, and I suspect this to have been the case, it was inevitable that I should lose the fish...and without any feeling of having unduly pressurised it.    So less than half a pound of force and the hook, a size 14, failed.   Clearly this is what must have happened when I lost the fish.   I certainly don't remember having put very much of a strain on the tackle at all.

What can be done?  Ensure the hook is really sharp.  Use stronger hooks, maybe forged rather than fine wire. Perhaps a longer shank might help. But in any case, a  hookhold such as that in diagram 2 is always going to bend quite easily. Far more easily.

 Hooks, in my opinion, should be sold with a suitable maximum line strength listed on the packet. I often test them myself  to check they are what I require. Different hook makes , models and sizes all change the line strength I regard as perfect for the hook. So with these hooks, size 14, in normal use, I can safely use a three pound line.  Anything higher and I risk the hook becoming a little (or a lot) bent out of shape if I should get anywhere near the breaking strain of the monofil. Even in normal use!

 So now, whenever someone tells you that a fish bent his hook, just realise that, depending upon exactly how his hook hold was seated, it may not have taken a very big fish at all to do the damage. He probably has not just lost a record breaking barbel. None of this changes the fact that I frustratingly lost 5 out of 6 fish hooked on what seemed to be a promising day.  But without new problems to be solved fishing would be far less interesting.

The next grayling trip saw me land a fish first cast, and then nothing, possibly because the river had started to rise slowly as I fished.   So it was back to the perch. I decided to choose a canal, because in recent months, in no more than about ten trips, spread between 3 different canals, I have landed five perch over two pounds. Good fish for a canal.   One of these three venues is a canal I fished regularly, many eons ago, more or less every week continuously for 3 or 4 years when I was a teenager.  I cannot remember in all that time, ever catching a perch of a pound or more from the water.  At the time it was very clear, with little boat traffic, and the fish were generally hard to catch because of the water clarity.  They could see the bait, and they would ignore the one with the hook in it.  They could clearly be seen doing this as I fished.  But although I could see perch mopping up the free samples, I never saw or caught a decent one.  Over 40 years later, having not fished the canal during all that time, my first two trips each produced a perch over two pounds.  But the canal has changed, it now has a permanently muddied look, and boat traffic has increased by a factor of as much as 40 times. So, is this the recipe for far bigger perch: muddy water?  Maybe it is, although unfortunately it also makes the fish look rather washed out, the colours not nearly as vibrant and intense as on fish caught from gin clear waters. Muddy water perch look as if they have been washed in the same jeans pocket as a granny's winning lottery ticket.

  So this week I decided to try a fourth canal, another I have not fished since I was about 12 years old.  Two trips so far: the first on a Sunday.   Major mistake as there was a constant stream of dog walkers along the towpath. I hate dogwalkers. They should all be muzzled and kept in their kennels. But amongst eight  perch caught was a fish of about a pound and a quarter.  Three roach and a couple of
"Daddy" Ruffe
daddy ruffe completed the catch.  I wonder why such a small fish has attracted the nickname of "daddy"?  The ruffe used to be completely absent from local canals all those years ago, so their presence is now quite surprising yet so welcome.  They now seem to be present all along the canal.  I like ruffe, so cute in that they reckon they can threaten me with their tiny raised dorsal and expanded gill plates. The operculums are admittedly very sharp edged. I saw a young lad fishing last year, about three miles further "downstream" on the same canal. He had limited knowledge of how to fish effectively, and so I gave him a few tips. As a result he caught a couple of small perch and several ruffe as I watched. I was pleased for him, only small fish but his best day's angling ever. I decided to use one of my three small roach as a livebait, hoping to get another perch on it, and did have a run.  But missed it.   Fairly sure it was also a perch, but there was also a pike around as I was cut off with a lobworm on an earlier cast. The roach still lived after the run, and had it been a pike that had taken it, I am sure that would not have been the case.

Trip two: laying on with a big lobworm.   First cast with the Avon and centrepin produced a bite which was a bream, maybe a pound and a half.   A second similar fish came a while later, but no perch.  Not until a barge owned by the Canal and Rivers Trust had come past did I get another bite. Then over a period of about 90 minutes: 4 perch took my lobworms.   I tend to fish lobworms with excess depth, laying on, and often with a flat float.  My idea is that for any slow bite on a big bait, I like to be able to see what is happening.  In this shallow canal, in three feet of water, I was able to judge what the perch were doing.   Was it not old Izacc who said that "One should give perch plenty of time, for there is scarce any angler has given them too much"?  This applies today, but maybe not so severely.  Isaac was probably fishing for the pot, and so a deep hooked fish would not be of concern.
Canal Perch
In modern times one has to judge more carefully, for giving too much of that time would result in a deeply hooked fish: not good.   I was lucky, and all four fish were easy to unhook. Three of them were around a pound and three quarters. I weighed one at 1-13.  With such nice perch around I tried, on a second rod to catch a small livebait. Not owning any hooks smaller than a 14 probably did not help, and it was additionally frustrating to see a pole angler 40 yards along the bank catching tiny  roach and gudgeon every couple of minutes.  I just hope he was as jealous of my perch as I was of his gudgeon. Why are small fish so hard for me to catch sometimes?

One final trip saw me fishing in a wide part of the canal, designed to allow boats to turn.  It had scarcely got light when a boat decided to turn.  Its pilot did it most skilfully, and in a very annoying manner. Gunning the engine at just the right moment he swung the boat around beautifully, but in doing so stirred up the bottom sediment completely, and the water clarity changed from a couple of feet maximum to a couple of inches at most.  I suspected this would not help the fishing.  When a second boat an hour later came along, I reeled in to the side of the canal to give him room, and decided to pack up and head for a deeper straight stretch of the water.  All otherwise packed up  and ready to go, I reeled in the rod. Damn! Another snag.   But it wasn't: a perch had taken the bait during one of the few moments in which I was not really fishing.  Later, after a move, the deeper water was producing bites, quite a few of them, but all missed.    I suspected crayfish initially.  Do crayfish feed in cold winter weather?  Eventually I tried a ploy I used once before where ruffe were present and reduced the bait size.  Ruffe were again the culprits. They toy with large baits, dragging them slowly along, never giving a good indication on a float,  and give a good impression of a crayfish bite.  I ended the short day with three other perch, a few ruffe, none of any good size.

P.S.  I bought some size 18 and 20's hooks.  How does anyone see them, let alone tie them on?   I even hear there are such things as size 22, 24 and 26.    What about 21,23, 25?     It made no difference of course.  I was still completely unable to get a small fish to bite, even on a size 20 hook.