Thursday 31 December 2015

Happy New Year

Last day of the year and I couldn't resist popping out to try to add to the challenges.

Morning: A quick roll with luncheon meat, a few knocks here and there before one smashed it, about 5lb - seven more to catch...
Barbel Challenge: 93 fish

Afternoon: Trying to find a pike in a new river, pike radar was on fine form but the bait was a bit ropy (bits left over from zander fishing). But I eventually managed to convince a pike about 7½lb to have a go...

Predator Challenge: 281lb 10oz

Tuesday 29 December 2015

BH 8: Strike!

Last trip of the year, and possibly the season to Bury Hill in search of zander. James and I arrived just before sunset and learned that the going had become tough, barely anything had been caught over the last few days.

We weren't worried, a false sense of confidence had washed over us. And just when darkness had descended I had a good knock on the quivertip, time for my new strike... Test Strike #14b...

Test Strike #14b: Standing a short way from the rod I dashed over to it and slipped on the wet wooden platform. I took out the back rod-rest with a sliding tackle while kicking the rod in the air with the other foot. A couple of fumbled attempts to catch it before it clattered to the floor where I eventually grabbed it and struck. It didn't work! The fish was long gone - best stick to the standard strike!

But I have found a real problem with the cut out the run approach; I need bites to keep me hovering in position - every half an hour or even every hour - otherwise I want to chat, eat my crisps etc.

It was nearly 4 hours before I got my next bites - yeah, after waiting ages for a bite both rods were away at exactly the same moment. Standing back chatting to James (probably something about a certain 20lb pike) I raced over and struck the quivertip - missed. I quickly struck the float - hit.

It stayed deep and put up a good scrap - a stocky 7lb 14½oz zander to save a blank. Thanks James for the use of your net, unhooking mat and weigh sling - save getting mine wet for one fish!

Predator Challenge: 274lb 2oz. And I'm hoping to wrap it up with a pike or two...

Thursday 24 December 2015

Two Fat Ladies

Having become obsessed with zander I seem to have forgotten my 100 small river barbel challenge, but today with 1½ hours of daylight on the clock I hit the local river after number 88.

It's mild so I thought they might be up-for-it, first swim I could feel little plucks at the rolled meat - but it was 12 or 14 little knocks before something nailed it. A barbel about 5lb was in the net. Two fat ladies - perhaps I could break top of the shop - the 90 fish mark before Christmas...

The next swim and it was 3 fish in three casts, about 4lb, 5lb and a weighed 5lb 4oz - thought I'd better weigh one as I might be under estimating them as I've been after zeds for the past month or so - I estimated 5lb and it went 5lb 4oz on the scales (top photo) - close enough!

I went for a bit of a wander and eventually bumped into barbel number five of the short session, about 4lb, taking my season total up to 92 small river barbel this season - eight left to catch...

Merry Christmas bloggers!

Thursday 17 December 2015

BH 7: Fluke?

Along time ago in a pond far, far away....

I've been experimenting with rigs and techniques for zander, a fish that is pretty new to me, and last week I thought I'd cracked a way to hook them using a size 4 or smaller hook (11 bites for 9 fish). But in the back of my mind I worried it might have been a fluke and was eager to get back and try again.

So today, after I'd watched the new Star Wars, James and I headed to the lake arriving at sunset. James hasn't seen the film yet so I couldn't talk about it, instead we talked all things zander - we had high hopes for the trip - having both experienced 20+ runs in the first few hours of darkness here before.

But tonight it was slow going, I waited nearly 1½ hours watching motionless rods before the float slid under - instant strike and a 5lb 10oz zander was banked at 5.20pm - technique still works!

Over an hour later at 6.30pm I had another bite, a 4lb 4oz zed again on the float. I wasn't going to get many bites this evening, in fact I only had 5 bites - but each one resulted in a fish.

About 2lb on the quivertip not long after I recast, 6.40pm. Only a little knock but my confidence in the new 'cut out the run' method was growing. Without spoiling James' blog post it was interesting to compare the 2 fishing styles - James was fishing the light pike fishing method and suffered dropped runs, missed fish and a hook pull (but he was getting more action than me).

Another little one about 2lb on the quivertip at 7.10pm - my 50th 'career' zander. The hook holds were pretty scary, just a pinch of skin each time which almost fell out as I opened their mouths - but it was holding.

Last bite of the evening at 7.20pm - a 4lb 14oz zed on quivertip. I thought it was a much bigger fish and even shouted to James, but it was just fighting well above it's weight!

I'm really happy with the method, was nice to repeat the process and get a 100% hook-up rate. When the circle hooks arrive from the States the experiments will start again but this is one method for the box of tricks.

I've kept a record of as many aspects of zander fishing on Bury Hill as I can; times, methods, swims, features and temperature - I know it varies from location to location, conditions to conditions - but this is my foundation course in zander fishing and I'm hoping to take these lessons on to new waters in the future.

I'm planning a few more trips here this season to refine this method and experiment with new ones, and who knows - perhaps even connect to an elusive double?

And the predator challenge; If I known at the start of the season I was going to get this obsessed with zeds I'd have created the zander challenge, probably with a target of 100lb upped to 200lb. Perhaps I'll manage it within this challenge - it looks possible at the moment - but on the drive back to London mine and James' attention turned to pike...

Perch1620lb 4oz
Pike15 (3) 80lb 14oz
Zander40165lb 2oz
Total71266lb 4oz

The Force Awakens

Saturday 12 December 2015

BH 6: Hooked Up!

4.00pm, 6lb 2oz, lead. I've adapted Russell's fin-up-photo technique to work for self takes.

So Wednesday was an eye-opener. I'd just bagged the nine pounder when I wrote the report so I was delighted, but over Thursday when I thought about it they weren't great stats.

Runs:20+Missed Runs:14+
Fish Hooked: 6Fish Landed: 5
Hooked In Mouth:3Hooked In Throat: 2

Less than a 25% hook up rate. It makes you think; was one of the missed runs a double?

4.15, 5lb 0oz, lead.

I have been pike fishing for zander, after all I know a bit about piking and these are predators. I've scaled stuff down but essentially it's the same approach, and with a bigger hook I think it would work - it works for Jeff.

But I can't use a bigger hook. I've hit a dead end.

4.55pm, 3lb 7oz, lead. At this point I'd totally forgotten about the fin-up-photo technique!

Time for a completely new approach, and this morning - with the hangover only a work Christmas party can bring - I decided to turn things on their head. I'll start with the hook as, when it comes to zander I seem to be obsessed with them!

Hooks: I can't clamp around the jaw or find skull holes - I'd need bigger hooks, but perhaps I don't need to. Everything in their mouths that isn't teeth is covered in skin - I only need a pinch, I don't need to find gaps in the skull of a chub or barbel.

Barbless size 8 chemically sharpened hooks were attached to soft wire traces. Small enough to find a pinch, strong enough to land the biggest fish in the lake.

5.45pm, 3lb 15oz, float.

Tackle: I left the predator rods at home, today I took a quivertip and my float rod. My bait runners also stayed at home, I took two front drag reels loaded with 12lb line.

Tactics: Same as if I was fishing for chub. The quivertip was on a tight line, pulled round so I could spot a drop back bite. The float again was on a tight line and was shotted down so I could just see the tip. Bail arms were engaged - I wasn't after runs I wanted bites.

I sat down (normally I stand when I'm piking) with my hand hovering over both rods - I lined them up so I could watch both at once and any movement would be hit instantly with a hard strike. Exactly the same as chub fishing.

6.20pm, 5lb 4oz, float.

Bait: Roach slice, they seem to like them, but this time it was a tiny slice. I needed enough bait to tempt them but needed it all (and the hook) in their mouth in one go - this needs more experimentation - they have big mouths when flared.

Usually I give them some free samples in the way of sprat slices but today I forgot them - did I mention it was the Christmas party the night before?

6.40pm, about 2lb, float.

And it worked! Any little knock or rattle was instantly hit, cutting out the 'run' part of the process - and almost every bite resulted in a fish.

I will need to repeat the process to make sure it wasn't a fluke - but at the time of writing I think I've found a way to catch zander! Stats from today:

Bites (Not Runs):11Missed Bites:2
Fish Hooked: 9Fish Landed: 9
Hooked In Mouth:9Hooked In Throat: 0

That's a much better picture!

6.50pm, 6lb 4oz, float.

And they really have woken up fight-wise, I was using lighter rods and was aware they might only be hooked though a pinch of skin - but they really didn't want to meet me - absolutely brilliant stuff!

Nine zander in 4 hours. I'll take that.

7.10pm, 3lb 7oz, lead. And 7.20pm, 3lb 1oz, lead.

Thanks to everyone who commented on the previous zander posts, your encouragement, tips and ideas were great - gave me a lot to think about. There is still a long way to go in understanding these fish but I'm hoping this is a leap in the right direction. And Jeff, the size of the circle hook from Wednesday is here.

Predator Challenge: 247lb 8oz

Wednesday 9 December 2015

BH 5: Full Circle

The circle hooks my brother sent me haven't arrived yet, but I managed to get some from Ebay - were they going to be the answer I was looking for?

They had barbs which were easily squashed flat with jewellery pliers and they were quite small for size 4, smaller than my size 4 J hooks - but I headed to Bury Hill to test them out...

I fished them on both a float and lead set up and as it was getting dark the ledger was away - powerful run which I gave a couple of seconds then wound into. And felt the hook pull out of the fish's mouth. Not a great start!

Back out and I didn't have to wait long - for the same thing to happen again. Not what I was hoping for. Next the float shot under, I wound down and fish on, A 3lb 15oz zander was in the net (top photo). The hook was trapped around the bottom jaw - perfect!

They were on the feed and I didn't have to wait long for another run on the ledger - and pulled the hook out of it's mouth exactly the same as before.

Then the float was away and I connected to this one - at least they were working on the float rod, about 2lb. But the hook wasn't trapped around the bottom jaw it stuck in the top of the throat and as I reached in with the forceps it fell out on it's own.

I had more runs on the lead and didn't connect to any of them. Perhaps the gap between the point of the hook and the shank wasn't wide enough? Perhaps I need to give the hook more room to turn by using a crimp or a bigger loop knot? My plan wasn't working.

I had another run on the float, and it was hooked (trapped) perfectly. A 4lb 8oz fish above - nearly got it all out of the weigh sling for a photo!

Eventually I hit a fish on the ledger, about 2½lb, but this one was hooked in the throat. Circle hooks aren't the easiest of things to unhook from here, you need to double it back on itself - two pairs of hands would be nice. I got it out with minimal fuss - but if it was an inch further down I would have struggled.

I'd had over 20 runs and landed 4 fish - this wasn't the leap forward I was expecting. I'm looking forward to receiving the hooks from the States for some more experiments - especially with hook gape and movement. And I have a few other ideas as well as some suggestions in the comments on my other zander posts - but for the last hour I gave up and put J hooks on both rods.

Just one run, and as I picked up the rod my brain was saying "remember to strike, remember to strike" - I connected to the fish. All the zander tonight fought hard but this one was really gave it some, it surfaced in front of me before hammering off again - a double!?

I breathed a sigh of relief when it slid over the net without shedding the hook - it had made up for all of those failed hook-ups. On the scales she went 9lb 1oz - equalling my PB - or so I thought at the time - comparing the photos (split left pelvic fin) I'd recaptured my PB!

I was still delighted and I've taken the Predator Challenge to over 200lb. I realise I still have a lot of experimenting to do to improve my zander hook-up rate, but that's half the fun of fishing - there is very rarely a quick fix.

Zander now take up the largest percentage of the challenge - I think it's time for some more pike - 91lb left to catch and 96 days left to do it...

Perch1620lb 4oz
Pike15 (3) 80lb 14oz
Zander26107lb 14oz
Total57209lb 0oz

And as a bonus there were no ghosts about tonight!

Friday 4 December 2015


Today James and I headed down to the Lower Itchen, where we met Mick and Jeff, and we all had our own plans. I had a potential personal best chub, grayling or roach to target...

Using the stick and pin I had plenty of these - the best perhaps scraped the pound mark...

Quite a few of these - out of season trout...

And a ton of these!

But every time I spotted a slack that might contain a pike, the pin was abandoned for a float fished / wobbled deadbait... But unfortunately the pike didn't want to play today.

It's a beautiful stretch of river, with long glides, deep holes and plenty of fish. And good company as we leap-frogged our way up and down the stretch (me hoping one of the others had seen a pike each time our paths crossed), as we fished into dark.

A good day's fishing, and I'm sure other reports of our collective successes and failures will appear on the respective blogs over the weekend...

Jack's Pike #262

Thursday 3 December 2015

BH 4: 'J' Quicky

So circle hooks look like the way forward for zander - the only problem was I couldn't get hold of any in the right size. Didn't have long today, arriving just before dark and fishing until 7pm.

Fishing 'J' hooks in size 4 it wasn't long before my float rod was away and I connected to the fish... For about 5 seconds - bloody hooks - but as it turned out that was the only fish I lost this evening. Next up was a 4lb 0oz zed on the ledger (4.50pm).

5.05pm, 5lb 12oz, lead.

6.30pm, 4lb 10oz, float.

6.40, about 2¾lb, lead. And I packed up in the rain and strong wind at 7pm - great few hours fishing.

Quick report today, getting ready to hit the Lower Itchen tomorrow where I'll be chasing grayling, roach and who knows - perhaps even a pike to push my challenge weight to over 200lb?

Predator Challenge: 187lb 0oz

Circle hooks my brother is sending me, they're already in the post, 10-12 days to wait - cheers Paulos.

Size 4 in Kayle, Owner Circle and Gamakatsus circle for comparision.

And a size 2 and size 4 inside a size 15/0 shark hook!

Saturday 28 November 2015


The end of November - only 107 days left of the season - time to check on the challenges. And do a bit of barbel fishing.

Barbel Challenge: I hit the local river for a couple of hours this afternoon rolling for barbel - I needed 15 more to hit my target of 100 little river barbel this season, I managed this a couple of times in one session in the summer - but it's tougher going now it's cold.

I spotted a few fish but they weren't even interested in the free samples. I eventually had a pick up but didn't connect, then spotted 2 fish feeding in the shallows - and caught them both - about 5lb top and about 4½lb above. Result!

Total of 87 barbel on the books - hopefully I'll get back into them when it warms up - and I really want a double this season.

Predator Challenge: A couple of weeks ago I worked out I still needed 12lb a week to hit my challenge target - doesn't sound like a lot but the weather is turning. Soon there will be floods and freezes - and it really lit a fire under me - I really want to hit this target.

I've really enjoyed targeting the zander and I think I'm starting to get a slight handle on them. Rigs are being developed (with a lot of help) and I think circle hooks might provide a leap forwards - but getting hold of the circle hooks is proving tricky - Paulos I think I'm going to need your help.

I fancy a couple more trips to Bury Hill before Christmas. And a few pike trips to The Wye are called for, hopefully to track down a twenty. Photo above is a jack from a few weeks ago.

Current total 169lb 14oz and I'm hoping to break the 200lb mark before Christmas.

Oyster Treble: Years ago, before I started this blog, I had an idea to try and catch a double figure pike from river, canal and stillwater within the London tube network - after a bit of research I thought it was impossible and forgot about it. But my canal pike in the summer made me realise between me and James we've done it. And I just need an Oyster river pike to do it.

So yesterday I hit the river where James caught his. Unfortunately there was work taking place on the river and a normally year-round gin clear river was murky. Not helpful in a river that only contains a handful of pike. I gave it a couple of hours but it was a needle in a haystack, if they'd even feed in these conditions.

But I will be back, and I'll be doing research into other rivers on the network - be great to complete the collection!

Thursday 26 November 2015

BH 3: Big And Lazy

Third trip to Bury Hill this season, and the same as last weeks trip arriving late ready to fish into the dark. One change this time though - I was going to use Jeff's Lazy Rig on the ledger rod (with a tight baitrunner so I didn't loose a rod in the dark), the float rod would be fished the same as last week. And both were baited with roach slices.

4.05pm, 3lb 12oz, float. It was a lot milder today and more cloud cover - we were off before it had even got dark - terrible photo though, camera was set to night.

I thought the action was going to be hectic but the baits remain untouched for an hour and a half, not knowing a great deal about zander I did an old pike trick and brought the float right into the margin just off the reeds. Where it sat for about 3 minutes before charging off.

Not a great fight but the fish stayed deep, I only got a brief glance as she slid over the net - and I really did think double - 5.40pm, 9lb 1oz, float. What a stunning fish and I'd smashed my PB (lead photo) - man they're big for their weight - and I was over the moon!

6.00pm, 4lb 0oz, float. Under the rod tip again - they were in the edge. Next I brought the ledger rod into the side as well.

6.15pm, 4lb 10oz, lazy ledger. The Lazy Rig was away, but I didn't have to rush over and strike the fish was already hooked and pulling against the baitrunner - I strolled over and joined the fight! The circle hook was around the bottom jaw at the scissors - not hooked more trapped - and easily unhooked with fingers. This seems the perfect way to hook zander.

Except a run on the lazy lead 5 minutes later failed to hook-up. And then one about 10 minutes after that also failed. I spotted the problem and could have kicked myself - I only had size 8 circle hooks, the first bait had been really small the next was too big - the bait was sliding out of the mouth without the hook having chance to take hold. Size 4 circle hooks added to the shopping list - and a smaller bait added to the hook.

8.05pm, 2lb 15oz, float. But they had moved or they had stopped feeding - I gave it another hour and a half but the baits remained untouched. As I was packing up the ledger rod I glanced over to see the float slide away - zed number 5 and the smallest of the bunch.

Another brilliant trip was in the bag - and a cracking new PB - a nine pounder - fantastic!!

Predator Challenge: 169lb 14oz

Edit: Jeff's post about the 'Lazy Rig', circle hooks and skull-holes can be found here. Very interesting!