I suppose if you have to compare an asp with any fish that youíre likely to know about immediately, it would be a chub. They are roughly the same shape, have approximately the same scale patterns and are blessed, also, with big bullish heads. However, itís here that these superficial likenesses end. The asp is a bigger fish than the chub. It can grow quite easily to ten, fifteen or even twenty plus pounds.
The asp is also a much more aggressive fish than the chub. We know that chub will take live fish if they present themselves in numbers but the asp is a hard and fast predator actively seeking out shoal fish. Thirdly, although we all love our old chub hereabouts, we have to admit that theyíre not the quickest off the blocks when it comes to the scrap. The asp is. Weíre talking about a real fighter here that puts up its fists and goes at you from the moment it feels the hook. So, all in all, it baffles me that more British anglers donít hunt out asp specifically when theyíre travelling abroad. I suppose this is because big trips have to have big objectives Ė mahseer, sturgeon, catfish or the like Ė but this shouldnít always be the case. Fish like the asp are gems waiting to be uncovered.
Whatís more, the asp is not nearly as inaccessible as some other species. Okay, itís not present in great numbers everywhere throughout its range - but its range does offer some interesting possibilities. For example, Johnny, my dear Danish friend, picks some really sizeable fish up in parts of Scandinavia. And believe me he doesnít have to travel far out of Copenhagen for his sport. There are also asp in the Netherlands and my pals in the Czech Republic do very well in the river systems of Central Europe. Perhaps the asp is at its finest, however, in the river systems emptying into the Black and Caspian Seas. Iíve had my own personal best from the Volga for instance Ė a brute of a fish weighing just on eighteen pounds. And, I might add, a fish that hardly raised the eyebrows of my boatman that day. So, there you have it, a bruiser of a fish that you can catch from the civilised environs of Denmark to the wilder waters of the Russian Republic. The adventure is yours.
Letís have a look at the habits of the asp in a bit more detail. Asp are primarily a shoal fish Ė or at least they are until they reach a real lunker size. School asp tend to average between two and ten pounds or so and they operate together in marauding gangs. Youíll often see a big number of asp really hammering into shoals of small fish, driving them into bays or shallow lagoons where they can be picked off easily. The asp hunts rather more like a perch than a pike Ė targeting individual fish and chasing them over a few yards or so if necessary. School of asp like this, I believe, tend to have large territories and roam pretty freely. The best way to locate them is by watching for surface activity. Believe me, once youíve spotted it, sport can be volcanic.
Bigger asp tend to be a little more solitary. Of course it could just have been that their original shoal has died off around them leaving one, two or three big fish. Very big asp also tend to work on the ambush theory a little more. Youíll often find them in typical places youíd expect a predator, lying up waiting for prey to come to them.
To be honest, Iíve only ever Ďaspedí in pretty warm conditions but Iím told they feed well through the autumn and winter in more northerly latitudes. As youíd expect, Iíve found dawn and dusk to be the best times but you will occasionally find them feeding during the day.
To get the best out of your asp fishing you will very probably need a boat unless the river is not too large and has really good bank access. Youíve got to keep on the move and itís no good really waiting for a group of asp to come to you. Binoculars help you scan the water looking for that telltale surface activity. Rods, reels and so on? Well you donít really need anything special Ė my favourite gear is a Drennan spinning rod, medium Shimano reel and lines around about eight pounds breaking strain. I take with me a good selection of spinners and small plugs and always tie them up with a light wire trace Ė asp do have very rough mouths but throughout their range youíre always likely to pick up a pike or a zander as well. Iím not really going to pontificate on the choice of lures because if the asp is in the mood it will hit pretty well anything. Iíve got to say though that most of the Mepps range seem to work very well for me. Also, anything silver tends to turn them on Ė I suppose their prey fish are nearly always that colour anyway. Small surface-popping plugs can really attract heart-stopping takes. Itís rare that youíll need anything that works downbeat, in my experience. Itís also not a bad idea to try small dead baits Ė anything between two and five inches in length makes the ideal asp bait. Hook in the head and the back and fish sink and draw. Strike immediately or youíll get a dropped take.
I should have mentioned one other thing that asp have in common with chub: wariness. Just because weíre talking about an aggressive predator this does not mean to say that the asp is anything but cute. If you blunder too close to an asp shoal with your boat then youíll find they simply melt away. Nor is a mechanical retrieve much good: youíll pick up the odd small asp but to get the better fish youíve really got to put your mind into working that lure as realistically as possible. This is a theory I havenít put to the test yet, but I guess that the new range of jigs and soft lures becoming increasingly popular will really score heavily with asp. Thereís something so natural and succulent about them compared with traditional metal, wood or plastic.
When you hook an asp, try to bully it away from the shoal as quickly as possible. Very frequently youíll find three or four of its fellows following a hooked fish right up to the boat. They see whatís going on, wheel away and thatís the last you see of that particular shoal. Have a pair of long-nosed forceps handy also because when an asp makes its mind up, it will really wolf a lure down and you often get deep-hooked fish. For this reason it makes a great deal of sense to snap off the barbs.
If the asp arenít actively on the prowl, then a bit of accurate casting is often called for. When not hunting, the asp will hide up in amongst tree roots, behind rocks, amidst reeds and so on. Casting into clear water is unlikely to bring a take but if you can get a lure really close in then chances are youíll get a snatch immediately. This is where the shorter rod comes in: making it that much easier to place a bait with absolute precision. Youíll often find asp lurking in dense weed beds during the daytime, areas that can be worked effectively with small, surface-working lures. The message is simple, keep thinking, working and experimenting and youíre bound to pick up fish.
DOíS AND DONíTS
DO your homework thoroughly. As Iíve said, just because the asp has a wide range this doesnít mean to say that it is present in every watercourse. You can easily find that asp are present in one river system but absent on an adjoining one.
DONíT consider going to Russia or Kazakhstan or anywhere in this region on your own. It is absolutely vital that you sign up with a reliable operator. Sport fishing in these areas is growing in popularity and this is not the impossible task it might seem.
DO return your asp. Theyíre not always as prolific in any water as they might initially seem. This is especially important in the more northerly areas where asp populations are frequently under threat.
DO try very long casting on warm, still days when there seems to be no activity at all. Itís at moments like this that Iíll probably go down to five-pound breaking strain line and put on a Mepps number five. With gear like this you can cast real distances and find fish that arenít alarmed by the boat.
DO make the effort to get up as early as you possible can. Dawn in my opinion is the prime asp feeding period.