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Tinca Time

With spring upon is, there is only one thing on my mind and that is the tench will be waking up from their winter slumber and soon be getting their heads down and feeding themselves up. With such a short season to fish for the big ones, I like to be properly organised for the months ahead and have everything carefully prepped.

I initially try to make a firm plan on where I will be fishing over the season and see if these spots need some work done with them. I have an early season water that I fish and this usually gets my tench head on as it’s quite an easy lake for small to medium fun sized tench. It’s a lovely little lake that sort of eases me into the season, a place where I can get my eye in and iron out any changes I need to make with my tackle. I do make fleeting visits back over the season too when I need a boost of confidence if things get tough, but I do tend to get easily distracted from it very quickly when the urge of bigger fish from the lower stock waters arise.

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Although I may not fish some of the harder waters for a few weeks, this does not mean I forget about them. Clearing a suitable swim and getting some feed in is just as important as fishing them I find. As some of the lakes I fish see no angling pressure, it is imperative to get the fish feeding in your desired area on a regular basis with some free grub if you want to stand a chance of catching them later in the season. My first port of call is to decide on which swim i fancy and give it a rake. Having stupidly lost my old rake through negligence, it was recently time to rustle a new one together.

They are not too complicated to make and with the help of a mate (thanks Ollie), some scrap metal and a soldering kit we managed to piece together a rather barbaric looking contraption with ease. Although it may look a bit medieval, I can confirm it does work a treat and with a decent knot on the rope this time, will hopefully come back to me every time its thrown into the wet stuff.

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Next on the list is to get some prebait on the go. Unlike Bream fishing where sacks of stuff is used to lure the slabs into your swim, I find the little and often approach for tench is by far the best. The feed I use is not expensive and is readily available in most pet stores or co-ops. Having had quite a bit of uncooked pigeon conditioner along with a sack of wheat left over from last year helped the cause and a big bag of uncooked hemp along with another bag of red dari seed, both of which are cheap were added to the arsenal. I will also use quite a bit of sweetcorn, pellet and dead maggot in my baiting approach but these can be picked up as needed.

The pigeon mix really is a good one to use and doesn’t need much preparation. I have a few different buckets filled with water and seed mix going in the shed and these are soaked for a minimum of 24-48 hours, but can be left longer. After a soak they go into my big boiling pot which was masterfully pinched off the wife a couple of years ago and is unfit for human use at this stage so is a full-time member of the bait club. I cook the mix off for around an hour as the bigger maize particles do need a good zap. When they are cooked I then add in some more liquid which is usually watered down molasses (also cheap from the co-op) or a bottle of cream soda fizzy drink, which has a real scopexy smell and taste to it. Popping in a litre of this to the particles when cooked seems like a lot, but overnight night the mix will continue to absorb the flavour and in the morning will have swelled even more and smell delicious.

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As long as the particles are kept airtight and covered in liquid, you can keep these buckets in a cool area of the shed for a few weeks or more if you are brave and they will mature nicely. Some baits that have been left a little longer than planned and can nearly climb out of the buckets on their own accord can sometimes prove even more irresistible to fish, but then again, they don’t look out for a best before date.

Other cheap baits I have picked up recently that work great for prebaiting have included some Turkey finisher from the local pet shop. At 6 euro for a 20 sack, this is real value and a couple of sacks kept in a bait bin will last a season when used with other feed. It comes in pellet form and takes little to no time to prepare. Whack a couple of kilo into some buckets and add some water and particles, and you have some great bulk feed which can be moulded into balls and applied to you chosen swims. Another great particle bait which the tench seem to love is wheat. This can also be bought in bulk and I still have half a sack left over from last year. This is prepared the same way as the pigeon mix, but doesn’t take as long to boil. Loose fed into your swim with other baits and the tench really home in on it and I find it doesn’t fill then up as much as stuff like halibut pellets or make them get preoccupied with smaller seeds like hemp. There are no hard and fast rules though and half the fun is finding your own winning combination and messing around with the various different ingredients.

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Getting down to the nitty-gritty of fishing, I will turn to the more specialised baits available in the tackle shops but this is just a confidence thing. Early in the season, feeder fishing is my preference for tench. My two main methods would be using an inline maggot feeder with a couple of fake grubs on the hair. The other is the method feeder approach using a fairly active mix which can get the inquisitive tench really rooting around and if they are in a hungry mood competing for the feed. My favourite mix to use at this time of year is the ‘Bloodworm and maggot crush method mix’ from Pallatrax. This really is an active mix with all sorts of mini particles and natural invertebrates that won’t over feed the tench. The dried maggots and bloodworm along with other goodies will rise up of the method ball even in colder temperatures whilst it breaks down and form an attractive cloud which the tench can home in on.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTP3ASJsveA

A quick video on how the method mix works

Hookbaits I tend to use in the early months don’t differ too much from later in the season, but I find you can get away with a lot more when they first go on the feed and prespawning. After tench have gone through their spawning ritual and the summer really kicks on we all know scaling down everything is the key to finicky fish. However, as I have already mentioned, early season fish will take much larger foods and when they are really on the feed will hoover up quite a wide selection baits if they are presented correctly. Natural favourites like worms and especially lobworms really do turn the tench on and whilst other favourites like corn, maggots and castor are all in my armoury. These days though more and more of my fishing will see me using plastic imitation baits. When I first delved into the world of plastics maybe ten years ago I was usually just tipping off other baits like stacks of corn or boilies. As my confidence grew through the years with them, I found myself using them more or less exclusively on the hair and with really good results. With such an array of imitations to choose from the possibilities are endless.

My three favourites are maybe the most obvious but none the less they do seem to really work. Fake maggots can be used in so many ways, but are lethal in conjunction with maggot feeders both inline and the popular blacktop which I fish helicopter style. Along the same lines are fake castors and these are another killer tench bait. Three stacked sideways on the hair with a pva bag of real ones fished on an inline set-up can snare the wariest of tench. I have in the past always used the floating ones made by Enterprise and these pop up nicely leaving the hook just hovering on the lake bed. I recently got some sinking ones which have just been released and I am looking forward to using these with the floating ones to critically balance my set-up and vary the way they fish at different heights on the lakebed.

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The last and probably the most commonly used are the plastic corn and larger maize. These will always be fished on one of my rods and have accounted in a lot of tench and other species. They come in a wide range of colours these days and I have had great results on both the yellow white and pink ones. I have dabbled in the flouro ones too at night and these have produced some results too but who’s to say if they did give an edge or not. I have messed about with flavouring them over the years and always have some glugged in various scents with my favourite three being pineapple, esterberry or winter almond.

On the subject of end tackle I will always have a selection of hook lengths made up ready on the bank so I can chop and change as quickly as possible if I am faced with different situations on the lake bed. When I am fishing a lake I know quite well, I will already know exactly how to approach it and have already decided on which hooklengths to use. But when fishing a new water or even a different swim, the make-up of the bottom can vary drastically and I might need to changes tactics completely. 80% of my hook lengths these days are braided ones and I find the various Kryston braids can cover most of my needs be it a soft supple braid like Silkworm or a coated material like Super Mantis. I have also been dabbling with the steamlink which Pallatrax do and have been very impressed with the many applications the one material can do.

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On a more traditional front, I have been getting some floats together for the coming season. I find floats quite a personal thing and everyone has their own favoured types for different situations. On wild Irish loughs it is quite hard to use very delicate floats with a lot of finesse and I for one have never been one for using really small patterns. Whether this has caused me to miss out on fish, I don’t really know. There have been some situations again later in the season when I have had to really scale down to connect with a bite and I have adapted to the situation to the best of my ability, but my main floats of choice when tench fishing are quite bulky things. Just recently I got some floats made by a gentleman in the UK called Robert Lancastor and they really are things of beauty. I asked for a range of floats ranging from 9 inch up to 12 inches as they suited what I needed for a couple of swims. They will work well for the lift method but also for laying on but while have enough to hold station in a big wave. I plan to get a few more done in the coming weeks in different patterns with his giant onion floats really catching my eye.

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Well this is just a part of my pre-tench yearly ritual, and in between getting all my bits and bobs together I did manage to get some time on the water. My first session was not for the tench but for roach on a local lake. Although I plan to do some proper roach fishing in the coming weeks on the rivers, I thought i would try to winkle a few out on the feeder as I know the lake in question has seen them increasing in number and size. I hoped to get anything over 1lb in weight but was secretly hoping for a 2lber. Well I wasn’t that lucky but did catch a few ranging from 1lb up to 1lb 8ozs in amongst a smattering of hybrids and perch. Tactics consisted of using a large black cap maggot feeder fished helicopter style in conjunction with a longer than usual flouro hooklength and a size 14 ‘the hook’ pattern. It took a while to get the bites going as I hadn’t done any prebaiting and I was fishing on a hunch but the fish seemed to be in the area and after half an hour or so of recasting to the same spot at 60 yards I started picking up a few decent fish. I was using a 12 foot Shimano Stradic heavy feeder rod as I wanted to try out some new braid for distance fishing and it was probably not the best rod to use in the situation as I did bump a few fish off, but it was good to see I could get some distance into a serious headwind that nearly blew me off my chair.

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I plan to do my first proper tench this evening and will employ both feeder tactics and possibly try out one of my new floats. Hopefully the warmer weather of the past week will have them on the move and I will have something to report in the next blog. To all you tench anglers out there, I hope you have a cracking season and bag some crackers.

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On Your Pike

December has really crept up on me and if it wasn’t for the decorations sprouting up everywhere, I would have sworn it was still late October. Apart from a brief cold snap a couple of weeks ago, the weather has been unseasonably mild and I am not sure if this has been affecting the pike fishing or not. Well I say pike fishing in general, however some lucky anglers have been getting among the crocs so it has most likely just been me who was back to blank for the past couple of weeks.

After my last catch I thought I could really kick on and get among the fish, but as ever pike fishing has a cruel way of kicking you in the arse and just when you think you have got their number, they turn their nose up to every bait you offer them.  In all likely hood though the truth probably paints a different picture. The last couple of times I have been out the conditions have not been conducive to catching the bigger pike I yearn for.

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Bright cloudless skies with not a breath of fresh air don’t fill me with optimism when I am on the bank, and as I can’t just up sticks and hit the water when the conditions looks right, I have to take what cards the weather man deals me on my free days.

I know it is a cliché, but as I have said in previous blogs, fishing is not all about catching fish it’s about so much more. Each trip is a learning curve and even if I blank, I try to take something positive from the experience. I mentioned my scatterball approach in my last blog and since then I promised myself I would stick it out on a water, try and learn as much as possible about the place and hope that my time on the bank would in turn produce some fish.

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Well you guessed it my following three sessions didn’t produce a single bleep on my alarms, follow on a lure or bob on my float. I did however learn more about the water in question. A few hours plumbing around various swims and finding out the depths helped give me an idea of where the drop offs are and where the fish are likely to hold up at various times of year.

Another clue that helped somewhat was to keep my eyes peeled on the water to watch where shoal fish were topping in the mornings and evenings. Find the prey and the predators should not be too far away. I was also lucky to bump into a local angler known across the land as the ‘bream king’, but who also is a dab hand at tempting big girls from their lairs. He had spent some time on the water in the past and was very helpful in pointing out what he knew about the place. Cheers mate. All these things I find help put the odds in your favour for when you do get a good day to be out and help you make the right decisions on where best to fish.

So following on from the blanks, I got a pass to get out again this week and with things looking better weather wise I felt a lot more confident about my chances of getting a fish. From both experience and reading what the experts write, bigger pike do like to have a munch before a colder front arrives, and with such a system on the way coupled with a new moon, I was out the door this morning quicker than rat up a drain pipe.

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On arriving at the lake a stiff breeze was blowing right in my face and as it was not a cold one I hoped this might bring the silvers with it to my bank. On the downside casting any great distance wasn’t helped by the gusts. However this was not too much of a problem as a lob of thirty to forty yards is all that is needed in this swim to get a nice depth.

I set up two deadbait rods one with a smelt and the other with a roach. These were both popped up off the bottom about 18 inches to try and slow down the crays which can have a field day on your baits. Even though popping them up won’t stop them I find it does keep your baits intact a little longer which is helpful when trying to catch a pike.

Don't mess with the Crays, they'll mess you up

Don’t mess with the Crays, they’ll mess you up

Both baits were in the water by 8am which was pleasing as I feel a lot more confidence piking in the morning than the afternoon at the moment, plus I had an appointment with my three-year old and a Christmas tree at 4pm.  The first few hours went by like the past few sessions without as much as a murmur but I wasn’t too disheartened, as when the bigger fish are on the move the smaller ones sometimes make themselves scarce if they think they are on the menu. Well that was what I was hoping was happening out there. Cheeky 3lbers hiding in the weedbeds as their mothers went out to grab a bite to eat.

One thing I have been finding a lot of at the lake was crushed up crayfish shells and discarded claws on the shoreline. I had wondered if Mr Heron was to blame as I had seen him out on most trips poised silently waiting for a small roach to get within striking distance.

My question was answered in a more abrupt manor however when an otter hoped out of the water and onto the bank next to me with a mini lobster in his mouth. I don’t know who jumped highest as we both looked each in shock not expecting each others company. As quickly and quietly as he had arrived, he dived straight back into the water laughing at the fool on the bank covered in coffee. I know otters are not everyone’s cup of tea for various reasons but in deep rural Ireland on a vast loughs they are a sight to behold up close. I just wish I had my camera to hand at the time.

Back to the fishing and with not much happening I decided to crack out a chicken sandwich salvaged from the roast the night before in an attempt to trick the pike into following my lead. With just one bite left my left hand buzzer on the smelt gave a couple of beeps. Had the fish read the script ? I reached over and felt the faintest of movement on the braid, enough to reel down and strike. Solid resistance was met and it felt decent too, then within a split second the fish must have roared up from 14ft below to crash out of the water letting me know I had hooked a proper one.

battered trace after the fish, and small popped up smelt

battered trace after the fish, and small popped up smelt

The fight was fairly tame until she got within netting distance and started to show off again tailwalking out of the water. I got the net under within a few moments and that was when the real fun started. My 42inch landing net snapped at the spreader block and the fish somehow came out and tore up the bank wiping out my other rod in the process.

I managed to compose myself and kicked my other rod back out of the way whilst trying to lure her back into arms reach so I could chin her.  She had tangled herself in my other line but I managed to  slip the hand under her gill and got her out onto the unhooking mat with braid  wrapped around my feet nearly sending me flying. She was nicely hooked in the scissors and the hooks popped out with ease. On the zeroed scales she went 23lb on the nose and to say I was delighted was an understatement.

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I set up the phone for some self takes instead of the camera as I wanted to try out a new app which lets me shoot 10 shots in 30 seconds. With the phone balanced on my bag they went surprisingly well, apart from some gurning faces when she had a flap in my arms. She went back in the water none the worse for wear from her experience and gave me a soaking with a flick of her tail.

As with most big fish days that was the only bite of the session. If I had stayed on till darkness who knows what could have happened. However, I was more than happy with my mornings work and I drove back home a little earlier than usual so  I could spend a bit of extra time sorting out Christmas matters with my girl. It’s funny how a decent fish can turn a grumpy old sod into a happy chap in the space of a few moments.

 (Self Take – Out-take, don’t drop her)

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