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!
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!
We traveled north to Coventry, Richard, James and myself - it was Zedvember the 54th, Jeff's birthday and the annual bloggers meet.
Canal zander were the target and I don't think we could have found worse conditions - the temperature has plummeted in the last couple of days, but my confidence was high after Friday's catch and as Jeff commented "who knows with zander?"
We arrived into the rail station and after a quick Greggs pitstop for bacon rolls we hit the town water with lures. I had spotted a few jack pike here last year and didn't get to fish for them - there was no way I was walking past them this time.
Richard was in on his first cast, what I thought was a zed but unfortunately the hook pulled. My first cast found an angry jack about a pound and a half - I'd waited a whole year to catch this one!
We didn't have long but thought we'd bag up on jacks - but that was it, they didn't want to play. We thrashed the water to a foam for a couple of follows before jumping in a taxi and heading for the main event.
We met the gang and after a quick chat we set out in search of zander - if they were up for it we had enough lines to find them. I float fished a roach slice for the zeds, and to hedge my bets fished a tiny green jig for perch on the other rod.
To cut a long story short, and without spoiling anybody else's blog post it was tough going. Really tough! I did manage a perch on the jig and his shoal-mates bashed it around for the next couple of casts but that was it until it started getting dark.
God knows how many casts I made with the jig but as the light faded something hit it and it pulled. I could tell from the fight it was a pike but had to wait for it to surface in the murky water to be sure, an esox and a good one with my tiny jig hanging from the scissors. We didn't really have the net for it but somehow James managed to get it in a net designed for grayling on the second attempt - thanks James.
Not the zander I'd come for but a pike of exactly 10lb - delighted! You can't really tell from the photos but looking at it and holding it you could tell it had very recently eaten a crayfish - I wonder why it had gone for the little jig?
They had switched on. Next up James landed a zander - but I'll leave that to his blog, then I had a take that nearly ripped the rod out of my hand - and missed it!?! Then we had half-hearted takes, then nips, then nothing...
It was dark and we headed for the pub. Pints and theories on why they hadn't fed (the temperature drop), rig ideas (I'm taking Jeff's lazy rig idea to Bury Hill), and of course past glories. And then things you see on the riverbank, not kingfishers and snakes, more people shagging or having a poo - we're a highbrow bunch!
Just remains for me to thank Jeff and all of the gang - same time next year? I hope so. Or perhaps a bit earlier in the year?
Predator Challenge: 146lb 2oz
So why did that pike take my tiny jig? My brother text me the answer - elephants eat peanuts.
Second trip of the season to Bury Hill. Based on last week I dressed like I was heading for the Arctic Circle and I arrived about an hour before sunset. I fancied trying a new swim and settled on one where I could see the small fish topping. After half an hour casting about with a plummet the traps were set.
I fished a roach section on each rod with chopped sprat serving as an attractant, one ledgered and one on the float - a dropped run followed by a hook-pull as darkness fell signalled we were off. At 5.20pm I landed a 4lb 14oz zed on the float (above).
5.40pm, 4lb 2oz, float.
6.05pm, 3lb 0oz, ledger.
6.30pm, about 1¾lb, float. Nasty gash in it's side.
7.15pm, 4lb 1oz, float. There were dropped runs and hook-pulls in-between fish.
7.40pm, about 2½lb, float. First time a zander has bitten me - does this mean I have progressed from Zander Noob to Zander Rookie?
8.15pm, about 3¼lb, float.
8.25pm, 4lb 3oz, ledger.
Last cast 8.45pm, a 6lb 10oz new PB zander, ledger. Before a race to the train!
An absolutely brilliant session and the new PB was the icing on the cake! That's 9 zander adding 34lb 6oz to the Predator Challenge and a bit of confidence before I head to Coventry on Sunday in search of a wild canal fish.
A very early start, a 30 minute walk to the train and a 45 minute walk the other side - totally worth it - I arrived at Bury Hill as the gates opened. It was zander time and both rods were baited and cast by 7.10am.
At 2.20pm, a full seven hours later I had my first run! The float shot away - a proper run - and it wasn't long before I banked my first zed of the season. Not a monster at about 2lb but as zander are new to me I was still delighted.
As I held it in the water to recover my ledger rod was away - fish on - for about 10 seconds before the line went slack, I think it felt a bit pike-like. But at least they were on the feed...
Two hours later... As it was getting dark my float was away again - another proper run - and another zed landed, about 2¼lb, size doesn't matter at the moment I just want to bank a few zander.
The wind was howling and I was chilled to the bone but thought I'd stick it out for the first hour of darkness but they didn't want to play. Still I was more than happy to have banked two rare (for me) fish, I packed up the float rod, all the gear and even the rod rests - picked up the ledger rod and it was away!
A better fish and as I watched it with the head-torch it put up quite a scrap with it's spiky fin and glow-in-the-dark eyes. I estimated about 5lb, if I had weighed it I would have definitely missed my train and another hour in the cold didn't appeal - close but don't think it would have beat my PB. A quick snap and after making sure she swan away well I hacked off down the hill to my train. Great result.
And the moral of this story: If you're chasing zeds don't get up at 5am - have a lie in. Have a nice breakfast, possibly even a nice lunch. Because they aren't going to play until they're ready to play. Oh yeah, and if you're heading to Bury Hill dress warm - it's colder than a snowman's smile up there!
I did pop out for an hour's rolling on Saturday for one little barbel (total now at 85). But instead of a photo of a little barbel I thought I'd continue my Photos From The Riverbank collection - it's been 2 years since the last update. Camel on the beach in Agadir, Morocco above.
Atlas Mountains, Africa.
Female stag beetle.
Looking into the eye of an Egyptian goose - looks pretty evil!
After a 4am start me and James headed south to the Test Valley and onto a beautiful little chalk stream, we'd been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks and had made very different plans. James headed off in search of grayling, I walked in the opposite direction in search of pike.
The pike here don't grow into large proportions, no twenties, in fact a scraper double is the upper limit - but I find it fascinating stalking them in the gin-clear water, watching them stalk & strike the bait and on a light lure set up they fight like stink!
Wobbled sprat was the method and it was brilliant watching them hit the bait, sizing it up and engulfing it. One cast was hit by a jack who instantly spat it out only for the jack right behind it to take it. Another one bombed downstream to take it inches in front of the one I was targeting - I wonder what happens when we can't see the bait?
In all I hooked 8 jacks and landed 6 of them, all except one could be unhooked without forceps. Sight fishing at its best. And some fish to add to the Predator Challenge; 5½lb, 3lb, 2lb, 6lb, 4lb and 2lb - a total of 22½lb.
There were a few showers throughout the morning and the water clarity was dropping, when I hit and landed a trout on a sprat it was time to put the pike gear away - next target was roach on the pin. I had already spotted a shoal while searching for pike - and it didn't take long before I banked an 8oz fish - I knew there were bigger.
And I found a couple, 1lb 1oz above and 1lb 0oz below - two over a pound! And another one about 4oz before I seemed to spook the shoal. James phoned and I told him I was into the roach - Batman couldn't have got there quicker!
Roachman was on the case, but they didn't want to play - I think it took over an hour or so until I heard James shout 'LUMP'. I went running with the net but it was all under control - what a fish, but I'll leave it to his blog. Shortly afterwards I got my chance, one of the big girls, but she shed the hook - I think the term sounds something like 'clucking bell'.
By now the heavens had really opened, it looked like the rain was set for the day - I left Roachman™ to it and went to find a grayling or two before the shallow water was too dirty to avoid the trout. And I did, landing half a dozen or so to just over a pound - and didn't get a single photo - jumpy, twisty bastards! Great fun!
Soaked through and running out of daylight James went after another shoal of roach he'd spotted and I went to catch a little jack I'd seen in a side stream - and it would have worked had I not tried to swing him in instead of netting him, only about ¾lb - but a pike is a pike.
All in a brilliant day. Thanks James, thanks Chris. The only question that remains: now that all my radiators are covered in wet fishing kit - where is my cat going to sleep?