Tuesday 13 September 2016

Selling My Soul...and Size Thirteen Hooks.

Warning!  This blog entry contains a bait review, and I know some people do not like to bother reading reviews....but I hope there is sufficient other content to remain interesting. Am I selling my soul?

I was surprised a short while ago, yet pleased, that someone asked me whether I might write the occasional review of a product or two in my blog.  I admit that I was initially unsure.  A lot of anglers these days seem to endorse products, especially baits.   I don't read the angling comics much, never buy them, but might be seen browsing their front pages occasionally in a newsagents or in Tesco's magazine racks, Articles in these papers are, in the main, written by the editorial team, well known anglers ( or their ghost writers) , and often seem to ram home the trade names in every other sentence. I do sometimes wonder whether there is any financial relationship between big tackle and bait companies, and the number of times their logo or name appears in an article.  I see many a news item that spends a deal of time describing bait and tackle, naming the manufacturer etc etc.  Often as much attention seems to be given to the manufacturer's named product as to the fish and the capture itself.
    "I caught my magnificent eight and a half ounce bottlenosed gudgeon on two Qualitex elephant dung boilies,  using FFS fortified cat litter groundbait and a size 13 specialist octobarbed, colour coded hook from Stickemup Tackle Co"...Ltd.

Size 13 Hooks
 I actually have a packet of size 13 hooks, (not octobarbed and colour coded), but for those who might have spent an eternity looking for a hook mid-way, between 12 and 14, I am sorry to disappoint you. We all know that hook sizes vary a little from one manufacturer, and one model, to the next, but surely this divergence is going a little too far from the agreed standard?  But I will certainly use one the next time I target bottle nosed gudgeon.

I don't ever have my catches published  in the angling papers, and never did in the past when far more of my fish could have made those pages.  I see so many anglers who want to get their names in the papers as often as possible.  Some have admitted to actively seeking to become a sponsored angler.  I assume it is for the free bait that some of them consequentially get.  Sponsored anglers HAVE to perform of course. They need to justify sponsorship, and to product place the name of whatever it is they are using as often as they may. They have to be seen to be using their sponsored items, and to be using them successfully to catch a succession of good fish. So that, in itself, dictates where they must fish where: mainly recent big fish capture sites and commercials. Commercials give them more or less a guarantee that they are near a "saleable" fish capture. I would worry as a sponsored angler that I should really be fishing their way. I still like to do my own thing.  I like to decide where I fish, when I fish, how I fish, which bait I use, and what I fish for.    When I finally figure out WHY I go fishing then it too will have been for my own reasons.

So when offered a pack of carp bait to "test", at a time when I did not want to fish for carp (something I seldom do), I replied that I rarely sought carp these days, but would be prepared to give the bait a go for other species, and fully expected that they would decline. But no, they accepted.  And  I had nothing to lose, and maybe the bait would indeed be brilliant.   For, if you think about it, why would anyone risk having a bait reviewed if it were not very good? Obviously I would truthfully tell it as it is with respect to results. For unlike a sponsored angler, I have no need to maintain any status. If my words exclude me from further products to try out, then so be it. I would probably never have bought the bait myself, for, never reading any of those angling publications, I am not personally and constantly bombarded with "buy me", "get this" , "use that", and other such adverts.   Therein lie advantages, but also disadvantages: I might never get to try a really superb new bait, and not even know of its existence.

So a pack of bait from "Sticky Baits" arrived on my doorstep, supplied by Keen’s Tackle and Guns.  It contained products from their "Manilla" range. Which was quite a coincidence because my wife was taking a flight to Manila later that same day.  I have two free months in which to play and make the house untidy. Reading the blurb on the Manilla packets, it has a peanut extract base.   This of course sent me off into imagination mode.  I visualized myself throwing in a handful of bait, and then moments later seeing half the lake's fish population  gasping for breath and calling out for ambulances as they suffered anaphylaxis due to a peanut allergy. Coming back to reality I did wonder whether any other species, apart from Homo sapiens, would be vulnerable to a peanut allergy.  And might some of those be fish?

And why has the line spacing in this blog article suddenly changed? I have no idea.  More inexplicable reaction to the peanut word?  Bugger it, I am not messing about changing it back.

So what did happen when I threw in my first handful of the bait?  Nothing.  Nothing for a full five minutes, at which time a good crucian carp splashed over  the groundbait.  More were to splash in the area. None were splashing anywhere else in the lake. It would be unrealistic not to have associated the fish activity with the bait I had chucked in.   On a second trip a crucian splashed within a minute of throwing in the bait.  I did catch a few fish too.     Mainly crucians, but a late evening tench took the bait on both days.  The first I lost, after a good scrap.  It dived  bankside a couple of yards to my right and became solidly snagged.  There was nothing I could do on my crucian tackle. Even with heavier line, I might still have lost the fish, for no-one has yet invented a line that allows me to push a fish further out.  All I can do is to pull it nearer, or at best try to make it deviate a little from its intended course.   Knowing the snag was there on day one might not have helped me much at all. All these tackle dealers, and manufacturers, and not a single one has come up with a push me/pull me line!  Nor even a conductive line, allowing the angler to Taser an uncooperative fish were it to get too close to known snags. But perhaps that would be cheating? The tench on the second day swam into the same snag.  But it was myself with the lucky break this time, and a tench of about five pounds was duly landed.  One good factor, which I liked, was that I was still able to catch fish in the swim, using baits unrelated to the groundbait.  This is important to me, I don't like to see fish that will only take one specific type of bait.

As a scientific thinker, I should have to say that two instances are hardly statistical proof of how effective a bait is, but as an angler I cannot ignore what seems to be an indisputable fact: the bait stirred some fish into action, and did it very quickly. It seems highly likely that they were feeding on the free bait I threw in almost immediately.   Back into scientific mode and I have to ask: "Would any other brand of bait have had the same effect on those mornings?"   Answer: I don't know.  In angling it is almost impossible to make any direct comparison between products.  Far too many other factors involved: factors that cannot be excluded. In the laboratory, such tests are easy to set up, where only one factor can possibly have any effect, anything else being systematically excluded.   Get two anglers in adjacent swims, one catching, the other not, and there are a myriad of variations to consider.  Starting with skill levels at one end of the rod, down to whether or not a pike was idling away its time a foot from one  angler's bait at the other end of the line. Impossible to make a viable comparison. So it comes down to: Will I buy some more of this bait, when my supply runs out?  I would have to say yes, even though to me it smells very much like the popcorn that people inexplicably must eat in cinemas, the smell of which I quite detest.   I might have to just use this bait downwind.

The splashing crucians are worth another mention.  The splashing certainly seems to be related to feeding.  They seem to dash straight up, vertically, to the surface,  and then descend equally vertically.  This is certainly the case in deeper water, as it is possible to see the expelled bubbles rise up to the surface, betraying the path the fish has taken on its way back to the lake bed.   In shallower swims the fish may have dashed back down, and then swam along the bottom, still expelling air.  Why they do it remains a mystery to me.  Another endearing quirk of the crucian carp.

I had intended to take a friend after grayling the other day. He has never caught one. Damned line spacing has jumped again!!   But rain made the river unsuitable for the capture of that species.  So to while away some time I headed for a little local pond, and cast in with the crucian set up,   light line that was still threaded through the rod rings.  I had some of the bait left, so cast in the float, and laid the rod on the ground whilst I put the lid back onto the bait.  Mistake!   I nearly lost the rod, together with my favourite centrepin, as a carp grabbed the bait almost before the float settled.  The rod was headed pondwise at speed.   I lunged and saved the rod, but too late: the carp was already deeply buried in a rather impenetrable grangly type of floating weed.    Superb for crucians, the size 12 hook proved unsuitable for a snagged carp, and came back straightened.   That is as much as I can say about how suitable the bait is for carp. One unexpected  carp was rather overenthusiastic about it.  

In short, I should have liked to have been able to be more scientific about how good the bait was. The practicality is though, that a single angler could never give a statistically valid analysis.  Too many variables, too little time to experiment.   So I have had to fall back on a less rigorous approach and just say that it worked for me, on those days I used it.    Hmmm...the peanuts appear to have forgiven me and allowed my usual line spacing to return.  Weird. And the text size in the published article is different from that in this draft. There is another odd thing about this blogging site. I still have occasional troubles where I have to enter into physical combat with the blog, in order to persuade it NOT to rotate one of my photographs through 90 degrees. It can take me several attempts, messing about with the detail, to get the photograph aligned as I wish it.

Half Tail Crucian
Returning to recent pond trips, and coincidences.  One crucian had a half tail,  somewhat spoiling its looks.   Two days later, on the same water, but well  over a hundred yards away in another swim, I caught the same fish.  I compared the tail, and various blemishes in the scale patterns and it was very definitely the same fish.  It had also gained 2 ounces, just scraping over two pounds on the second capture.  Probably the difference between a full stomach and an empty one, rather than any real growth.   I had another half tail crucian on a different water much earlier in the year.  It came from a water in which I have only caught two crucians, the first being two years earlier, and from the same swim.  Both of those had half a tail, and I suspect they also were the same fish.  I must re-examine the photographs. If I can be bothered. The second capture had also gained two ounces, up from 2-7 to 2-9!  Coincidence again?   

But the coincidences kept coming.   A couple of years ago a certain big fish angler made contact with me through facebook. He mention that a friend of his knew and respected me as an angler from way back. We discussed various things, before, after about six months of chatting, we realized that our sons knew each other well,  both  being brilliant jugglers, and having met frequently at juggling conventions.   Back now to the pond where I nearly lost the rod.  I was fishing it for only the second time in about four years.  As evening approached, it was beginning to drizzle.  I was getting no bites from the target crucians,  the intensity of rain was slowly increasing, and I was travelling light,  minus brolly, so I was considering packing up.  As that thought entered my head, a couple strolled onto the pond.  The guy engaged me in conversation and we discussed initially crucian carp, and then we moved onto angling history. He spoke of many of those anglers I knew well in the past.   After about thirty minutes he suddenly asked me my name, and we realized that he and I had both served on the NASG (National Association of Specimen Groups) committee nearly 50 years ago. He was up from the Midlands visiting his ladyfriend.   And I then twigged that I knew her too:  my usual B&Q checkout lady. Meantime the rain increased yet more, and all three of us became Rattus wettus.  Veryus Rattus wettus. A long way past damp, we soared past wet and substantially got well into drenched. I remained on the water a few minutes after the two of them had departed.  Just long enough to be sure he didn't see me abandoning my post because of the rain, and I left with my reputation intact....my reputation as an idiot?    Coincidences abounded.   And a few days later I discovered that he was also the very friend that my facebook contact had talked of two years ago!    I feel I dare not leave the house now in case I bump into my old grammar school English teacher in the street.  I detested him and would probably still do so.  He probably still carries that cane. Coincidences happen to everyone in life. Some people inexplicably call them miracles.  Others accept them as an occasional fact of life.   I am getting more than my fair share of them recently.   But the statistical "rules" of coincidence do say that some people will have far more than their fair share.   

I had a two day trip to the Trent recently, ostensibly chasing a barbel or two.   A couple of factors were against that stated intent.  Firstly the river was quite low and very clear.   Otherwise not too much weed flowing down so as to snag and drag the end tackle.  But low water was against me catching a barbel. Then, the locals told me that the stretch has relatively few barbel in any case, being in the upper river.  I have not fished the upper stretches much at all, but am informed the fish live in very small shoals, shoals of maybe 4 or 5 fish, often separated by long distances to the next shoal.  Makes it all a bit hit and miss, but I was not really set up for a roving approach on the day. 
Long Lean Four Pound Chub
  I'll know a little better next time.   I did net a few chub, best about four pounds, a long lean fish, that at other  times of the year must weigh far more.  I hit all the good bites, but on the last morning noticed a few chub plucks. Failed when trying to hook them, but had I held the rod more and tried to hit those for the full duration of the session, I may have had far more chub.  Holding the rod constantly though, on a two day session?   I chose just to hit the good bites. I also spent some time chasing
Trent Perch
perch,  and in one, three hour spell had about fifteen.  No monsters though, with the largest about a pound and a quarter.   I am sure bigger are present.  More reasons to be mobile I guess. I did see an otter: crossing the river until it dived. It was some 80 or 90 yards downstream of me, and as it dived it silhouetted a good foot or so of tail against the bright water, leaving just a ring of ripples in its wake.  Only the second wild otter I have seen in the UK, the first encounter with one being far, far better, one of those to treasure forever.  This Trent otter, on reaching the near bank disturbed a moorhen, which scuttered its way across to the far bank in an evident state of panic.   I still have no confirmed, or rather, 
trusted, reports of otters near to my home.  Rumours of the odd one supposedly sighted about 15 miles away in a couple of different directions.  But so many people misidentify mink, that I cannot  yet take any report as being true.  I wouldn't mind the presence of an odd local otter or two.
Trent Sunset

En route back from the Trent, I hit on another club water, one previously unseen, never mind unfished.   Suggestions of there being crucians present, and an unwillingness to return home during the rush hour, caused me to stop and fish.   And there were indeed some crucians.  Three over a pound and a half being landed, amongst a ruck of tench to five and the odd little roach rudd and perch.  This has been a good crucian season for me, but the lack of small ones in all waters, save one which I may mention in the next post, is rather worrying.   Crucians do not do well in the presence of predators, especially pike, and my only catching larger individuals suggests strongly that the crucian potential of these waters is one of a limited lifespan. I think that angling clubs have almost a duty to try to encourage the species.  A great species for kids to catch, and as I tend  to be a big kid myself at times....

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