Part 3: On The Water

I will try not to dwell too much on basics here, just the things that make the difference between disappointment and success.

A fast shortcut to better catches is to fish with more experienced anglers, see what they are doing, see what lures and techniques they prefer, and, on the day, see how your results measure up. Most lure anglers are willing enough to help and advise, sometimes too helpful. It can take a while between being given a piece of advice and gaining enough experience to be able to understand and apply that advice. Make sure your tackle is in good condition, this will at least demonstrate that you are serious about your sport, and if an experienced angler sees that you are equipped to land your fish he will not have to waste his time reiterating the basics to you.

Advice from experienced anglers is always of value, but sometimes it can be difficult to put into practise. The more difficult it is for you to use that advice then the further you are from the level of experience you aim for. The most frequent advice is to buy a particular lure, if you follow this advice every time you hear it you will spend a lot of money and build a formidable collection. To reduce this expense you could try specialising in certain types of water for one species.

In addition to fishing with more experienced anglers it is also obviously a good idea to fish the very best waters. Joining the P.A.C. or L.A.S. gives you the right to fish several privileged access events each year on some of the country's best waters, including some trout reservoirs like Llandegfedd. You may feel that you are a little "out of your depth" at such events but they offer a great chance to see what tackle and lures other anglers are using as well as the chance to catch a very big fish.

We have all bought lures that catch no fish for us. It is a reasonable idea (that I have never managed to implement,) not to buy a new lure until you have caught a fish on the last one that you bought, that way you get to know when, where and how to use it. The biggest single lesson that will lead to success in lure fishing is to remember that the angler, not the lure, catches the fish. You do need a lot of lures, especially if you want to tackle a variety of waters, but you also need to know how and when to use those lures. You should have confidence in every lure in your box, because you know it will catch fish when you use it correctly.

Lure catalogues will bombard you with colourful pictures and hyperbole about all the shiny pieces of metal or plastic that they contain. How do you sort them out? The safest bet is to see what the successful anglers are using on your waters and copy them. If you can not get direct advice for your waters try to get some for similar waters. Obviously the lure catalogue is designed to sell you lures, and every lure is of course wonderful. Some of the information is misleading, and the most frequent misrepresentation that I see is the claimed diving depths for crankbaits, they are always exaggerated, and "neutral buoyancy" lures invariably sink with a wire trace added.

At the most basic level of lure selection try to cover a range of sizes, colours, actions and working depths. Some good lures are very limited in how they can be used, others are more versatile offering several possible presentations - in effect giving you more than one lure. Elsewhere on these pages you will find information about the performance of various lures, if you want information about lures not mentioned there, please get in touch, I have used a few over the years.

There is the important question of lure size, small lures are better at catching small fish than big fish. Big fish do take small lures occasionally, but they take big ones a lot more often. In my opinion the best lure sizes to excite bigger fish and minimise attention from smaller fish are - chub: 2.5 to 4", perch: 2 to 5", zander: 3 to 8", pike: 4" to 12". With pike lure size can be very critical, a water that turns up only jacks to small lures can be transformed by using bigger ones, this is perhaps one of the few hard facts about pike, but if you decide to go down the big lure road the rest of your tackle will need beefing-up to match the lures. It is impossible to stop the smallest pike hitting the biggest lures but with the other species you can avoid wasting too much time on tiddlers by deliberately fishing for the big ones. See article on Baitcasting for more advice on specialised pike tackle.

On the bank remember that fish are wild animals, and are not too keen on people. You often read that chub are the most easily frightened of fish, why do anglers think that? Because chub are so often visible on the surface and their reaction to the angler's sudden appearance is easily observed - they hide; if we could see other fish's reactions to our sudden, noisy arrival we would all be a lot more careful. Pike are often asleep when we see them in the shallows, but wake them and they move off pretty quickly! The point of this is to remember that fish can very often see us when we cannot see them, and they react accordingly. You can not catch fish that have been frightened out of casting range.

Try to approach the water quietly, use the cover to hide your silhouette, if you have the option try to stand in front of a tree or bush. A fish following a lure in close will often bolt when it sees the silhouette on the bank, not every day perhaps, but over a season these add up to a lot of fish that you might have caught had you not scared them. Try to get into the habit of catching the nearest fish first. From time to time we all fall into the bad habit of marching up to the water and trying to cast to the horizon, but a pike hooked at long range will scare any fish near the bank as you try to net it, cover the water near the bank first, this goes well with a stealthy approach. You may notice that you catch more fish when you are alone, two anglers, competing for water and chatting, make ten times as much noise as one.

The splash of your lures hitting the water can frighten fish as well as attract them. A 3oz bait crashing down a foot above a pike's head is going to frighten it, but perhaps if it landed four or five yards away it would draw the pike to investigate. It can pay not to bombard the same piece of water with lures for too long, if there is no result after a dozen casts at the same hotspot then give it a rest for a few minutes. I sometimes imagine unresponsive pike cowering in tin helmets under the weed as lures rain down above. With a visible shoal of chub you will soon learn to land the lure a few feet away from them or risk the entire shoal scattering by dropping it in the middle. A lighter bait, lobbed rather than cast, will land more softly and frighten fewer fish. Take note that when there is no wind and the surface is not rippled, fish will be more easily frightened.

The weather will have a marked effect on your results, especially for pike which seem to switch on or off with every cloud that passes. Given the choice, I would always like to fish for pike in a freshening wind, they always seem active then. I have not found any particular weather conditions that are good or bad for other species but I have caught very few perch and chub in winter or in coloured water. I regularly catch pike and zander in cold winter water but heavily coloured water generally makes life difficult for the lure angler. But how coloured is coloured? On the lower Severn, we are used to little over a foot of visibility. It perhaps depends on what the fish are used to, the Avon is usually much clearer with lures visible perhaps three feet down but when the clarity drops to a foot it gets very hard. I think that water with clarity down to much less than a foot is usually going to be hard for lure fishing, but other factors come into play, like: is this normal? Is it clearer than yesterday? Is the water temperature and wind speed rising? Is this a really good spot?

Keep a rough diary, write an account of your day's fishing, your results with the weather and conditions, and your thoughts on what you were trying to do. It is surprising how much clearer your thinking will become when you are having to write everything down. Since I have been writing these pages my results have improved as a result of thoughts and ideas that have arisen from the writing. If you keep writing or thinking the same things check that your results bear out your suppositions. Most of the ideas we have are wrong, or only partly right. When your theories are betrayed by your results it is the theories that are faulty - not the fish. If you keep trying a technique, based on a supposition about the location or behaviour of the fish, and it keeps failing, then scrap your suppositions.

As for trying to prove a theory, how long do you stick with a water or location before you give it up as a hopeless case? This depends on your level of experience and what alternatives you have. If you are competent in using a wide variety of lures and techniques, and are confident that you are not missing anything obvious, then you should catch fish if they are present. But the more fish you catch from a venue, the better you become at fishing there.

Something I do so routinely that I hardly realise I'm doing it is to check the depth, I want to know how deep the water is. Usually the easy way is to cast a jig around, you measure the depth as you fish. By counting a jig down I obviously can't say that it is 8'3" deep, but I can tell that it's about 8ft, and more importantly know where the deepest and shallowest water is, and what the underwater gradients are like.

One of the fastest ways to improve your catches is to get afloat. Lure fishing from a boat, even into water you can reach from the bank, seems to immediately improve your results considerably. Being able to retrieve snagged lures means you fish in confidence, and deep water, awkward from the bank when you have to retrieve towards shallower water, is opened up. Varying the direction of the retrieve is effective and of course you can reach water that is out of range of the bank, allowing you to use lighter lures if desirable. You can also carry a lot of kit, and spare rods so you can exploit the full range of species available. Once you have lure fished from a boat a few times you will feel that bank fishing is a poor substitute for the real thing.

Experience really tells in lure fishing and you can not learn everything overnight; the vast number of lures and techniques, the huge variety of waters and the vagaries of the fish mean you will never know what tomorrow is going to be like. You will get better if you use your brains, experiment, learn, ignore nothing and keep an open mind, but expert, never.


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