13 August 2012

'Munters' in the margin

On its first outing, my new pole had proved highly effective at emptying the Leam of perch and roach. But since it says 'Carp Margin' in big letters on the side, and the worryingly macho marketing material suggests it is perfect for 'taming munters in the margin' (whatever they may be), it seemed appropriate that its next tour of duty should take place somewhere I could put those promises to the test.

Stockton Reservoir seemed ideal. It's a fishery I've always enjoyed, particularly in the summer months. It's very close to home, full of double-figure carp and a good head of silvers, and, on two sides at least, it strikes a good balance between commercial style fishing (gravel paths, wooden platforms and high stocking levels) and a mature, natural environment including lots of planting in those all-important margins.

5lb 11oz, a nice start...
I started my early morning session using the tactic that had always served me well here, a small method feeder. Barely had the second cast settled when the rod wrapped round and I was into a 5lb 11oz mirror carp - lively enough to give my small bomb rod a good work out.

However, that was the last of the wrap rounds. Instead I started getting plucks, shudders and violent little snatches - behaviour I had seen on a recent session in Devon. Then as now it was roach to blame, delicately plucking meat from the hair rig without getting hooked - and then as now I proved it by foul hooking one of them as it tried to swim away. I made a couple of tweaks, and a shorter hook length helped me pick up a nice couple of crucial carp (to 1lb 7oz).

But the carp seemed to have moved on so it was definitely time to switch to the left hand margin that I had been priming with hemp and meat cubes - and time to get that pole out.

the main event - and my carp pb is
now the same as my pole pb!
The result was even more instantaneous than the method feeder. The rig went in, the float went down, and suddenly I was hanging on for dear life to what would turn out to be a pristine 11lb 4oz mirror carp. And it really didn't want to meet me.

To be honest a fish like this, caught so close in, can be a pig to land on a rod and line. It turns out that on a pole it can be many, many times harder. I'd read all the books and gathered all the advice about playing big fish on the pole, but when it comes down to it, if an angry double figure carp which is full of energy on a warm August day chooses to make a fight of it, all you can really do is let the elastic absorb run after run and wait until, eventually, he gets tired.

It took perhaps half an hour for me to finally scoop the net underneath the fish, by which time I was physically exhausted and mentally shredded. The main problem was not knowing what the kit was capable of - exactly how much pressure could I apply to bring him to the surface without pole, elastic or line coming under threat of breaking? To make matters even more complicated, I was acutely aware that I was fishing a relatively slender size 16 hook and a 3lb 8oz breaking strain hook length (to make sure that any breakage would definitely be there, and avoid any risk of a fish being left towing a float rig or pole section around). I felt instinctively that the whole set up should be strong enough to bring the fish in (eventually) - I just couldn't be sure!

To be honest I wasn't sorry that this wonderful mirror was to be the last carp of the day - I'm not sure I could have coped with another so soon afterwards. Instead the roach moved in, and I switched my attention to my ongoing quest for a pound plus roach. The general run of fish picking up the luncheon meat bait was the right side of half a pound, but when I hit 12oz and 13oz fish in quick succession I felt sure the prize was to hand. As my appointed hour of departure approached I finally struck into a roach capable of stretching that heavy carp elastic and I drew what I felt sure was a one pound fish over my landing net.

oooh, so close - a bit battered but
the closest I've come to the pound yet
Fifteen ounces. Fifteen. I was gutted but still happy all at once. It wasn't the fish I was hoping for, but that left me free to reflect on the magnificent mirror carp that had earlier helped me give the 'Munter tamer' a proper workout.

And now, next time at Stockton, I can clear my mind ready for a proper run at the big roach I'm sure are in there.

9 August 2012

Pole position - the appliance of science or pure coincidence?

With a young son wanting an introduction to fishing, I recently found myself in Baileys of Warwick getting to grips with the intricacies of whips and elasticated whips.

Thanks to the expertise on hand, that issue was quickly settled and my boy is now the proud owner of a 4m elasticated whip - no doubt a report will follow soon on its maiden voyage.

The real problem was that the whole exercise left me thinking about all those times when some sort of fishing pole would have been useful in my own fishing - margins, tight swims, windy days and so on. And, as sure as night follows day, that led me back to Baileys for the purchase of my own lightweight lump of carbon fibre.

It would be hard to explain just how crack-handed I felt, and doubtless looked, as I shipped this beast out over the Leam for the first time on Sunday morning. I'd never even watched a pole angler in action, let alone used one myself, and the learning curve was fierce.

I'd tied a couple of river float rigs the night before, and soon had one shotted and plumbed just the way I wanted it. I experimented with various lengths of line between pole tip and float, and tried to work out how the beast could be shipped back and forth across the river with any sort of speed and smoothness (in truth I never really managed this, but the next night I snuck back for an hour and discovered that correct placement of the bag I was using as a roller absolutely transformed the whole process, ensuring smoothness and balance where before there had been nothing but tension and panic).

a typical Leam perch, next to a 25cm pole winder -
not the best fish of the morning, nor the best of photos, but
I'm afraid I had my hands pretty full most of the session!
The whole process felt uncomfortable and alien throughout, but here's the rub: I caught, and caught at levels I have never managed before on the Leam. Sure I lost a few fish to cack-handedness and inexperience, but despite that I caught perch after perch after perch, with plenty of roach in between. Nothing over half a pound, but perhaps 30 fish in all over the three hours I was fishing. Thirty fish! My previous best over a similar period wouldn't have reached double figures. So was this sudden bonanza down to the pole? Or was it pure coincidence?

On the side of coincidence was the fact that I have done a lot more winter fishing on the Leam than summer fishing, so the results would almost inevitably be poorer. Also it's true to say that fishing is prone to erratic results - one day you catch and feel like a fishing god, and the next (and often the next and the next and the next) you are scratching around for a bite wondering what you're suddenly doing wrong.

But there were a couple of factors which suggest the pole may have had a part to play.

For a start I almost certainly wouldn't have fished this swim with my normal 13ft rod and line. There was a lot of vegetation behind and around me that would have made casting difficult, and I was fishing beneath a far bank willow on a line which would have been all but impossible to reach with stick or waggler.

Perhaps most critically of all though, the pole allowed me to hold the float back hard against the flow and inch it through the swim bit by bit, something that would have been impossible at that distance using a rod and float. Since it was generally while holding back that I got the perch bites, I don't know how I'd have got on with either the waggler or stick.

So, was this bumper haul due to the sudden introduction of an 11m lump of carbon fibre to my fishing, or was that just a total coincidence? Only time will tell, but I'm fascinated to find out how it performs next time out on the Leam, as well as on the Grand Union canal and, of course, in those carp-filled stillwater margins for which I really bought it in the first place.