Although this is not confined to rivers, they are what I am going to concentrate on. Species such as barbel, chub, and perch, are all packing on weight, with specimen fish appearing in many places, both old haunts and new. The angling press confirms this on a weekly basis, as average specimen weights keep rising, and this has to be down to good feeding. Many people may suggest on some waters that this growth is purely due to the quantity of bait being offered to fish 'on a silver platter' so to speak. But this does not take into account the lesser pressurised waters, if such artificial banquets were the cause. What are however more noticeable, are the abundance of aquatic food items in general, and the rapid spread of the signal crayfish.
I am not suggesting that this is the be all and end all of the growth rate boom, especially when large numbers of rivers and streams do not contain crayfish. However, I do believe that where they exist in any number, barbel, chub and perch do take advantage of the larger meal they offer. For example, a fish feeding on shrimps will need to consume large quantities to equal the meal offered by an average 3-4 inch crayfish. In accomplishing such a feat, considerably more effort and hence energy will be used. Looking at it in this manner, there are no prizes on offer for guessing which source of food the fish opt for. Now what confuses me is, why the hell is hardly anyone taking advantage of the situation?
Reasons & Solutions.
Already I hear the cries of despair as people say "we’re not allowed to use crayfish as bait, they’re an endangered species" (as far as the U.K. variety goes!) There is however no need to fret; I’ve not been using naturals. Artificial lures in rubber, fur & feather have been the sacrificial lambs, the slaughter resulting in good catches of fish, as well as one or two biggies.
So why is it then that after all that’s been written in the mountains of available angling literature regarding this previously superb bait, hardly anyone is making use of the excellent artificial baits now widely available. One reason I suspect, is that despite many articles, and an increase in lure fishing as a whole, the vast majority of coarse anglers still disregard lure fishing. It is also in essence a mobile aspect of the sport, and many people prefer to relax in one area on the occasions when they can escape to the waterside. However I also believe that a lot of anglers are simply unaware of the presence of crayfish within the waterways they fish. This final point is not as ridiculous as it sounds, as crayfish on the whole prefer low light levels. Hence they are most active during dusk, night, and dawn. For this reason, unless a river is densely populated with this vicious crustacean, they can easily go unnoticed.
To find them, simply look around any areas of well-oxygenated water where there are some larger stones and rocks present. Alternatively around bridge supports and bank side vegetation.
Fishing the Artificial.
Despite my references to the crayfish’s preference for well-oxygenated water and lower light levels, success with the artificial can be obtained in any situation. Whether fishing faster water around weedbeds, or along the bottom of slower pools and glides, fish will take aggressively. The only times when a large proportion of fish shy away from such large baits, is during low water conditions when fish tend to reject large offerings in general.
The use of these artificials emphasises the light tackle approach with both ultralight spinning outfits and fly outfits (AFTM 4 – 8 dependant upon the quarry) being favourite tools. For perch and chub, lines of 4 – 6lb are fine with a step-up to 8lb where barbel are the target species. For fly fishing AFTM 4 – 6 outfits will be fine for the perch and chub, providing fun whilst being able to cope with larger specimens. An 8 weight outfit is however a much more appropriate rating for barbel, especially where large fish and/or snags are present.
The artificials themselves also come in a variety of colours and materials, with both rubber jig type lures and intricate imitations created from fur and feather being available. All of these lures can be used with either the spinning or fly outfits described, as sufficient weight is contained in all of them to be cast comfortably with an ultralight spinning rod, and they are also light enough not to require a heavier fly rod to handle them. When experimenting with the jig type lures, various hook patterns allow a broader range of presentation styles.
Patterns from America such as the "Corkscrew Kahle" with a small light weight screw which is worked into the soft rubber of the lure allowing the hook to either hang free, or be pushed back into the rubber body so the lure fishes weedless are available. Other patterns include the "Shank hook" which is light for fishing an unweighted lure and incorporating a crook in the shank to hold the rubber body in place. Standard "jig" hooks with weighted heads are available for crawling lures along the bottom; a corkscrew version also enables a weedless presentation to be made, for instances such as twitching the artificial around weedbeds.
Finally, having put together a small collection of artificials (which is all you need, and they’re modestly priced too) fish can either be stalked, with the lure being cast towards or in the path of the sighted fish (especially effective with chub and perch), or fished blind. In either case, once the lure is on the bottom the retrieve must be slow - and I mean slow! This is where the fly fishing approach scores, with a painstakingly slow figure of eight retrieve in slower pools interspersed with the occasional spurt of a few inches. Such an action incites takes that have to be seen to be believed.
When targeting barbel, casting a weighted lure upstream of them and bringing it downstream into their path seems a more effective approach, again the fish hit the lure hard on most occasions. The reason for such ferocious attacks on crayfish lures is I am sure, down to the fish attempting to disable the crayfish from defending itself with its armoury of pincers, and you can see why when individual crayfish can measure around 6 inches.
Food for Thought.
Considering the amount of angling literature mentioning crayfish, I must admit that I am amazed that it was not until last summer that I started to play with these crayfish lures. What really opened my eyes to the potential for crayfish imitations, were observations made whilst stalking large brown trout in New Zealand’s south island during early 1999. The weather had been extremely hot for an unusually long period without rain and a large number of trout refused to feed during the day. However we found some absolutely huge native crayfish called Koura in many of the rivers we fished. On mentioning this, friends assured me that the browns spend the hours of darkness seeking out these large meals so that they are able to sit out the heat of the day during low water conditions. After arriving home, I used some crayfish patterns to successfully pursue spring trout during visits to some local stillwaters, prior to hitting on the idea of utilising them for other species as well. My main experiences from last summer were admittedly with chub and to a lesser extent perch, with presentation styles used with the natural bait proving effective with the artificial. The barbel though, is the species that I have not targeted seriously with this approach, only really capitalising on opportunities as they have presented themselves. Initially, spotting feeding fish in runs between weedbeds, prior to casting weighted patterns to be worked back down to them. The capture of several fish has however indicated to me the potential of this tactic.
All things taken into account, you can catch the species detailed here on many baits and techniques. During the summer though, when all species are more active than at any other time, the use of lures and a mobile approach provides an immensely effective and enjoyable way of catching these fish. The additional upside to this of course, is that you get the better fish taking too!