Friday, July 13, 2012

Attack of the bootlaces

There was plenty of fish activity as I selected my swim. Not so much fish topping but bubbles. The first bite came quickly but was not the anticipated skimmer, it was a ruffe. These peculiar little fish were unheard of from this canal in my youth. They were unheard of until a few years ago, in truth. Where they have come from is anyone's guess, but hardly a session fishing maggot goes by without one or two making an appearance these days.

Bites were coming frequently enough to keep my interest up. However not many of the fish were suitable eel baits. They were either too big, in the case of a couple of bream - one of which required the landing net, or they were ruffe or perch. No doubt eels will eat these two species, but they don't inspire confidence in me.

In amongst the potential baits were two bootlace eels. I wasn't sure if this was encouraging in as much as eels were feeding in broad daylight, or ominous in that they were small. It did fuel my suspicions that some of the dropped and finicky takes I get could be caused by these little chaps. They were the broad mouthed variety, so possibly partial to fish.

Although the day had been sunny and warm, by the time I got to the cut the weather had done its usual trick of changing for the cooler. The sky had filled with clouds and the wind picked up. The fleece went on early and I was hoping that the wind would ease as the sun set. Otherwise I was going home early as I had left both my brolly and jacket at home. Either of which would have given me some shelter from the wind.

There was the usual bird activity. It was nice to hear chiffchaffs still singing. The oystercatchers were thankfully silent however. At one point there was a loud engine noise and a very low flying Hercules rumbled westward. It looked like it was only a little above tree-top height, but obviously wasn't. Where it had come from, where it was going and what it was doing was a mystery.

The clouds to the west had a strange silky glow to them before the sun lowered sufficiently to turn them red. When it did get low enough the wind dropped and the clouds turned salmon pink, a powder blue sky showing in the breaks. The sunset lasted an age. It didn't impress the eels much.

I had put a couple of dendrobenas in the channel and a roach head to a gap in the reeds on the far shelf. The dead bait had been picked up and dropped. Or so I thought. I left it a while beofre winding in to recast when a floating mat of reeds drifted towards the line. When I picked up the rod and tightened to the bait I felt something briefly jag as if there had been a fish on. The bait was gone so I put on a tail section.

Nothing happened. Not a twitch or a anything. It looked like it was a bootlace day. I wondered if eels were like pike in that respect. Some days all you will catch are jacks, yet on others the small pike keep away and every pike is a good one.

Sitting there looking at the bobbins doing nothing, being distracted by the barn owl out hunting well before dark, my enthusiasm for this eel fishing lark was dwindling. I started thinking about places to go barbel fishing. Disconsolate, I decided to pack up early. The worm rod was first away. The worms had been nibbled. That could have been anything I guess. Bootlace eels, bream, ruffe. Everything was in the rucksack when I picked up the deadbait rod and felt it stuck fast. Then the weed the rig was plainly stuck in started to wriggle and writhe. There was an eel attached which was using the weed to its advantage. Steady pressure shifted it and in the open water of the boat channel it started to fight clean. This was no bootlace, and it felt stronger than the other eels I've had this year. I managed to get it in the net first time where a quick glance proved I'd be messing around with the tripod.

I got the sling out and zeroed the scales before lifting the net ashore and unhooking the eel. It proved to be the third biggest eel I've caught, but the most satisfying because it was caught, albeit flukily, while eel fishing, and because, at just over three pounds, I'd reached my initial target for the canal.

When I set out on 'campaigns' I try to have interim targets with an ultimate goal. I'd love to catch a six pound eel from the canal, or anywhere for that matter, but my first target is alway to do better than I've done before. The canal had given me a number of pound and a half eels in the past, but having hooked and lost one a fair bit bigger when piking, and having heard of one five that I'm pretty sure was genuine, I thought a three was a realistic weight to aim for at first, then a four, a five, and then...!

I left the eel wrapped in the damp sling as I set up the camera. This took longer than it should have because I'd forgotten the routine. Eventually I got it sorted. Then I calmed the eel. I got one shot before the bugger woke up. I calmed it again and checked the photo. Perfect. Apart from a load of dry grass stuck to the fish's tail. Aren't digital cameras great for fishing? I tried again. The eel was still lively. By the time I managed to get another decent shot it was well dark, and I was covered in slime! I must get some lessons in eel wrangling.

Mission One accomplished all thoughts of gullible river pigs were ousted from my mind as I walked back to the car racking my brains as to how to secure a good stock of eel baits.