The Right Rod, The Right Reel
Playing a fish demands a slightly different approach when you are fishing from a boat. There is one fundamental difference in that it is possible for the fish to literally get right under your feet - a situation which rarely applies when bank fishing. This means that in general, through-action rods are the order of the day in preference to the fast taper rods many seem to prefer. The difference between the two becomes apparent when a fish is hooked and runs under the boat. The faster taper rod takes on an alarming shape while the through-action rod absorbs the lunges of the fish and maintains the anglers control. The likelihood is, of course, that the entire fight will be at very short range since the whole idea in boat fishing is for you to go to the fish rather than to bring them to you. For this reason there is just no advantage to be gained in the use of a fast taper rod. Most of your casts are likely to be in the 0 to 25yds range and striking will be at close range too.
Rods need not be long when boat fishing - indeed a short rod will be easier to cope with and will do the job every bit as well. Telescopic rods are extremely well suited since they can be shut right down when not in use and thus take up very little space - jolly useful when you've got a tangle around the rod tip or have to re-tackle too! I used to use telescopic rods for my Spanish catfishing for years, only recently switching to the more powerful uptide rods I now use.
The only real problem with using short rods is when floatfishing over deep water. In this case a sliding float will be needed and in fact it pays to tackle up with a slider from the off just in case you find yourself in this situation. Sliding floats will cater for most situations but I find that when trotting for roach and chub using a stick float, the float does need to be fixed and on these occasions I will revert to my fourteen foot float rod.
While on the subject of length, don't forget that landing net handle! Landing nets are a bit of a pain in the boat and it's a good idea to replace your long handle with something shorter such as a sturdy bank stick. Indeed, if I am in the boat with a partner we often leave the net packed away until a fish is hooked. Your partner can then either set the net up while the fish is played out or merely hold the two arms of the net and scoop the fish out.
There is much to be said for using glass rods in boats rather than carbon. Glass rods are much thicker in the wall and can more easily withstand the many knocks and bangs which are likely to take place in the boat. I well remember a day on the Ouse when I accidentally gave a carbon rod a whack against another boat. A short while later I stuck into a fish only for the rod to crumple in my hands. Glass has a softer feel to it too in terms of it's action - my glass pike rods can be bent right through 180 degrees.
The main difficulty you're likely to experience with glass is getting hold of a good rod. Quality rods are almost always made in carbon these days with glass occupying the cheap end of the market so most of the glass rods available won't be suitable for your purposes.
The way in which the rod is used is important too. Holding the rod high whilst playing a fish is often a recipe for disaster, especially when the fish is close to the boat. The rod should be held so that the butt is at right angles to the direction of the line. Obviously then if the fish runs underneath the boat, the rod tip needs to be plunged underwater.
It used to be the case that multipliers were considered as the ideal reel for boatfishing. To a degree this is still the case - though clearly this applies mainly to pike fishing. Improvements in reels over the last ten years or so have changed this however. The main advance has been the introduction of the baitrunner facility. In short, this allows the reel to give line under tension but prevents line from being stripped off the reel by wind or the effects of current. Thus line can be given if it is pulled by swings of the boat and sudden bites from taking fish. Moreover the baitrunner gives an audible indication which alerts the angler and enables him to take the appropriate action.
Modern fixed spool reels have a far smoother drag than most small multipliers too. This brings us back to the point that most of the fight will be at close range. I use a variety of reels, ranging from small baitrunners when deadbaiting for pike to large lever-drag multipliers which I use for catfishing. The degree of control these big reels give is amazing and I find that even quite large fish can be subdued in just a few minutes when using them.
Bags or Boxes?
If you are used to carrying your tackle in a rucksack you will soon find how unsuited they are to boat fishing. It always seems to be the case that the next item of tackle you need is right at the bottom and everything has to be hawked out to get at it. This might be ok on the bank but in the limited confines of a boat it doesn't take long before all your space is full of clutter - hook into a fish when the boat is untidy and you start to appreciate just how important it is to stay well ordered. Keeping your gear in a box makes it a lot easier to keep it tidy, what's more, it keeps it a lot drier - an important point in an open boat with no cuddy.
There are many suitable boxes around - the Plano range is particularly good, but there is no need to spend a fortune on one. B&Q do an excellent selection of tool boxes - many of which do the job admirably whether the cantilever type or those with removable trays. A plastic seat box like those made by Shakespeare is also eminently suitable.
If lure fishing is your thing then you might want to adopt the tube system which many people do. This consists of a bundle of plastic tubes (pieces of drainpipe are fine) fitted vertically into a box. The lures are suspended by their hooks inside the tubes and in this way they are kept separate and the hooks don't tangle.
Without doubt you will catch far more fish and enjoy your boat fishing infinitely more if you are in possession of a good echo sounder.
Sounders have come a long way in recent years, gone are the old battery-eating mechanical devices like the seafarer. Modern sounders really are all-singing all-dancing. There are sounders that scan to the side, sounders that draw charts, sounders that draw three dimensional images and so on and so on. Most have liquid crystal displays which draw very little power and none have moving parts. The main difficulty these days is not lack of choice but too much of it! What are you going to buy with this plethora of functions and features available?
The first thing to do is decide what you want from a sounder. For my money, the things a sounder has to do are as follows, in order of priority;
It needs to tell you the depth
It needs to pick out weed
It should tell you the nature of the lake bed
It should pick out fish
It should have a backlight for use at night.
Beyond these five points there are a host of "bells and whistles" but these things are enough. It goes without saying that a sounder has to tell you the depth and a simple digital readout will do that well enough but a chart will also tell you whether the depth is increasing or decreasing and at what rate and will also give an indication as to how rough the bottom is.
Weed is fairly easy to recognise on most basic sounders with a little practice and if your sounder has a "gray line" facility this will say much about the nature of the bottom. This can be very important since some fish will inhabit silty area in preference to hard bottoms. For instance I have a belief that in the depths of winter, pike will spend some of their time feeding on eels which lie dormant in the silt of the riverbed - a theory which has come about due to having a number of pike in such areas cough up eels when captured. Find the silty areas and you're sure to find the pike!
Fish can be spotted on modern sounders with ease but be careful, many so-called "fish ID" facilities can be misleading, picking up weed, boulders and other obstructions and flagging them up as fish. I have used a number of sounders over the years and have yet to find one with a fish ID facility which I am completely confident in. It is much better in my view to rely on your own judgement in deciding what is, or is not fish. Fish will usually show up as an arch on the sounders display. This is because the signal given out by the transducer is in the shape of a cone rather than a beam. As the fish is approached it is detected on the outer edge of the cone which is a little further from the tranducer than the centre of the cone. Consequently, as the fish enters the centre of the cone it appears to move up in the water and as the boat moves over the fish and is detected by the trailing edge of the cone the signal gets further away again.
The overall image then is of a banana shape with the hump in the middle and the ends pointing down. Smaller fish are often picked up as just dots on an average sounder but the banana shape can be seen even with tiny fish if a sounder with a high definition is in use.
The fish identification abilities of a sounder cannot be over-estimated. Finding concentrations of fish has given me many days excellent fishing and the following tale illustrates this well.
My friend, Kevin Dunne and I were out for a days piking on the Ouse on a cold February day several years back. It had been a fairly slow morning with just the odd jack to show for our efforts and for this reason we were spending quite a lot of time on the move, attempting to find some fish. As we motored slowly upstream we suddenly came across a huge concentration of prey fish on the sounder. The fish appeared to be so densely packed that at first I thought that there was a fault with the sounder - surely there couldn't be so many fish!
By chance Kevin had a maggot rod set up in order to try and catch some bait so he trotted this through the swim. Sure enough, the float had only gone a couple of feet when it was pulled under and a small roach was swung in. Another cast produced a chub and then a bleak - it was clear that we were indeed sitting above a very dense shoal of fish.
We anchored up and lowered in several deadbaits. The first bait was taken within five minutes and I pulled in a small pike. This was quickly unhooked and another bait dropped into the same spot. This was taken at once but in my haste I missed the run. Next it was Kevin's turn and his float-legered sardine registered a take. A quick strike was met with a very solid resistance and after a short but dogged fight a superb pike weighing 29lbs 6oz was brought to the boat. It had been less than ten minutes since the sounder told us of the concentration of fish!
Next months article will be the last in this short series and in it I want to concentrate on methods that are employed from a moving boat - trolling and drifting.