Big fish are available in an ever increasing number of waters. You can either choose a target species and travel to waters that contain fish of specimen size, or fish for species which grow big in your local waters.
The aim of this, the concluding part of my article, is to point the novice specimen hunter in the right direction. What baits, when and where should you go about trying to catch each species? These are the questions I hope to answer.
TIME OF YEAR
Fish are cold blooded creatures, and so they are acutely affected by water temperature. Many of the species we have in the UK have been introduced from warmer climes, and others are close to their southern limits, so it is obvious that not all species will be equally catchable throughout the year. By targeting the right species at the right time, an awful lot of time can be saved in their pursuit. The following table gives a breakdown of the number of specimen fish reported in each month during the 1997 season.
As you can see, captures of most species are highly season specific. So, if you want to catch big pike, don't fish for them in June, while conversely, if it is big tench you want get out there in the summer months. The only exceptions to this are two of our native species, perch and roach, which can be caught at any time of the year, although even here there is some pattern.
There is obviously some bias in this table, as more anglers have traditionally pike fished in the winter months and more anglers tench fish in the summer. We still have a close season from mid-March to Mid-June on rivers, which explains the lack of chub and barbel during this period. Still, I think this bias is at least partially off-set by the newsworthyness‚ of a specimen fish caught out of the it's traditional season, which will increase the chances of a capture being reported.
I don't think the results in this table really need any further explanation. The results are pretty clear cut, and it is possible to plan out your season based upon this information allowing you to take in several species during the course of a year. The only thing that I will say is that the tactics used to target a species can also vary through the year, although to explain this in depth is beyond the scope of this article.
Once you have chosen the right time and place, the most important factor in my opinion is the choice of bait. To catch a fish legitimately it has to eat your bait, so this has to be a vital link in the chain. For the purpose of this section I have divided the main species into two groups, the predators and the "others", for want of a better word. There is a small amount of overlap, but this can really just be put down to the odd exceptional capture. Let's start with the predators.
What I find remarkable about this table is the fact that only pike are generally caught on sea baits. Why this should be the case I do not know. Why is it that zander are so much less likely to be caught on a fresh smelt than a pike? What ever the reason, it is obvious from these results that if you want to catch predators then a live fish is probably your best bet. There is some evidence that livebaits are less selective in catching just big fish, although having talked to some of the most successful pike anglers in the country most rely heavily on livebaits. With dead baits you may catch a higher proportion of large pike, but I believe that overall you will catch less big pike and certainly far fewer pike of all sizes than the live bait angler. The spread of pike caught upon different sea baits I think broadly corresponds to their use as bait. Mackerel tail is THE pike bait and is used by most pike anglers at one time or other. Herring are readily available and are thus another old standby. Smelt have received a huge amount of publicity, but are rarely available fresh enough for my taste. Similarly, top quality sardines are rare.
Lure fishing, although gaining in popularity, still makes up a suprisingly small amount of the total, less than ten percent in fact. I am sure this figure will grow, but for now, a live or fresh dead bait is your best bet for a big predator.
The mud suckers
And so finally to what I feel is the most confusing table of them all. This is because these are the fish that are most often caught by accident by the "pleasure" angler‚ (what a poor description that is, for surely we all fish for pleasure?). You will notice that for most species maggot far outweighs the other baits, the exception being barbel. This I am convinced is because of the sheer number of anglers who fish every weekend with a pint of maggots. Although in the right conditions maggots can be a brilliant mass bait for getting specimen fish interested in feeding, they are not generally a good way of selecting just the bigger fish. Generally, the more numerous small fish will get to the bait first and get themselves caught. This generally only serves to spook the bigger fish off the bait.
The dominance of the most commonly used bait can also be seen for barbel where a lump of meat appears far better than anything else. Once again, although it is undeniable that more big barbel are caught on meat than other baits, I believe that this is partially because more anglers barbel fish with a piece of meat than anything else. I don't expect you to believe this at face value, but keep an eye on your local waters and see what catches and what doesn't.
I find several other things about this table interesting. No tench were caught on corn, yet we have been told for years that corn is a brilliant tench bait. Well, in my experience it is next to useless, and the results bear this out. If it is tench you want then maggots or small boilies are definitely the way to go. I also find it strange that no tench were caught on bread, although once again this is a classic tench bait. Bread has actually done quite poorly, although it is still an excellent bait. I guess the younger generation of anglers are being brought up on a diet of boilies, which have many of the same properties as bread. It's only the old codgers who still have the knowledge to use bread effectively, although on it's day it can outfish anything else. The ability to instantly vary the density and compactness of a piece of bread make it one of the most adaptable baits available and if I had to fish with just one bait for the rest of my life it would have to be a loaf of bread.
Worm also comes out poorly for most species, although I believe this is probably because most people use the horrible mushy ones bought in tackle shops. I am afraid that in most cases these are only good for one thing - chucking in the bin! Boilies are beginning to make a bit of impact for species other than carp, and this is a trend that will surely continue as they are being fed into our waters in huge quantities, and the other species don't need long to recognise them as a viable food resource. The boilie result for tench is somewhat biased because of the huge number of entries for Sywell reservoir where this has become the standard approach, but I am convinced that tench pick up on boilies almost as quickly as do carp. I predict that barbel and bream will quickly catch on to boilies as they are introduced to them. This is certainly something I have found while bream fishing carp waters. A midi-boilie is devoured with gusto and catches more bream than carp. Prebaiting with boilies is beginning to be applied to rivers and, whether you agree with this or not, it will continue and as fish are caught, it will increase. At the end of the day I have no problem with it as a boilie is only another bait and one that is readily available to all.
The rest I think you can probably deduce for yourself.
Well, that is as much analysis as I have time to complete at the moment. I hope that you have found the results interesting. There is much more that could be done with the information. I have lists of venues, tackle, etc, all on the database, but I want to go fishing, not sit here typing away!
Until next month, whatever you do keep enjoying it and keep those lines tight!