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.  

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