I'm so sorry for the delay in getting this, promised, post onto the blog. Once I started to get it written there were several lines of thought that were causing me issues. I needed to take a step back and think about what it was I really wanted to say about my time on the banks of the Royal Military Canal. Now it's finished I hope you enjoy the read. It is a campaign that I doubt I'll ever repeat?
I make no effort to disguise the huge wrench it had been to walk away from a lifetime of working in a factory/warehouse environment. On that fateful day, April 9th 2021, I left site for the final time and headed into the unknown. At first I just felt like I was on holiday but, as time passed, the reality of my situation started to sink in as I adapted to this new phase in my life's journey. In the run up to October, realising that I'd have unlimited time at my disposal, I needed to formulate a plan which would provide focus for the coming Pike season. One of the benefits of anal record keeping is that I can delve back into the, deep and dingy, past to see what successes I've previously enjoyed. Looking through old diaries allowed me to discover that in my best season, 1986/7, I landed three Pike in excess of twenty pounds. So that was target number one sorted, could I repeat this feat? My second target was a little less ambitious, as I've taken twenty plus doubles, in a calendar year, several times. The big difference was that these results always included Scottish Pike, could I now repeat the tally without a holiday trip to the Highland Lochs? My third target was, somewhat, a whimsicle notion brought about by a superb piece I'd read in a copy of Freshwater Informer. An unknown guy had used his angling efforts to assist with, both, physical and mental rehabilitation following a stroke. One hundred Pike being his achieved goal, why not give it a go? Target number three, therefore, also in place well before the challenge got underway.
|October 12th 2021 - the RMC campaign gets off to a flier!
It hadn't started out as a single venue project so, during October, my efforts were evenly spread between the East Kent flatland drains and the Royal Military Canal. However, due to a repeat capture, very soon after I'd started, I dropped the flatland drains from the equation and decided to concentrate all my efforts along a four and a half mile stretch of this famous canal. By the end of November, I had reduced the scope, even further, because of the incredible Pike fishing which I discovered in a section little over two miles in length. So, for the vast majority of the campaign, and certainly the most successful period, I concentrated my efforts along a remote and neglected (by anglers) section of this magnificent, and historic, waterway.
|4th November 2021 - "twenty" No.1 is in the bag
I'm a dead bait angler, pure and simple. Some might see this as a very one dimensional approach, and that may be so, but my choice and, therefore, all the justification required. Under no circumstances do I consider myself to be doing it right, thus everyone else is doing it wrong, because I know it isn't possibly true. Any Pike angler, happy to use live baits and/or lures, might have kicked my arse with their captures but, because they weren't present, I'll never know. For the 2021/22 season, the RMC was a blank canvas upon which to make my mark and, at this very personal level, happily did just that.
My thinking is very basic. I want to present a (dead) bait in places where I feel a Pike might be willing to accept the offering. In order to achieve this basic aim, I will use everything at my disposal. Fortunately, even at its' widest, along the chosen section the RMC doesn't exceed twenty yards, the vast majority of the stretch being around fifteen, at a guess. My Nash "Bushwhacker" baiting pole system being perfectly adequate, allowing me to accurately position my offerings tight against snags or underneath overhanging branches without the worry of getting caught up due to a mis-cast. In a different scenario I'd be equally at ease using a bait boat to achieve the same level of accuracy, thus confidence in my bait presentation. As it turned out using the baiting pole was over-thinking the situation and I quickly discovered that although the snags did, indeed, provide cover for Pike, they tended to be on the small side and certainly not the size I was after.
It might be prudent, at this stage, to describe the underwater topography of the canal. Both near, and far, margins shelve off gently for a couple of yards, or so, before dropping away, sharply, into a "U" shaped central channel of around seven, or eight, feet. The canal levels rise and fall dramatically, purely due to the EA sluices, and not at all weather related. However, I'm not sure if maintenance work wasn't a factor during this particular campaign, but water clarity was certainly an issue and, in combination with this random depth fluctuation, did little to assist my cause.
|8th February 2022 - "twenty" No.3 - target accomplished
Rigs were a mix of three, very tried and trusted, methods. Although each had times when it appeared to offer me an edge; over the course of the season they all produced very similar levels of success. The first, and most basic of approaches, was to lay my offerings flat on the bottom of the canal. Secondly, by using "poppers", I buoyed my baits up off the canal bed, sometimes by as much as 18", using a combination of SSG shot and/or a running leger set-up to achieve this. My third presentation was to suspend a bait, in mid-water, using the Dyson rig. My traces were constructed, at home, to suit each situation using 30lbs b.s. Marlin Steel wire and either Partridge VB's or Drennan "Specialist" doubles in sizes 10 to 2's dependant upon actual bait choice. Obviously the traces were finished off with a swivel, of whatever brand, around a size 10? For the vast majority of the sessions, I would be using reels loaded with 50lbs b.s. Berkley braided main line. This was not because the Pike were particularly tenacious but, instead, ensured that if ever a rig got snagged I would be able to get it back because this heavy kit meant a hook would straighten before either the trace wire or main line was in any danger of breaking.
|I'll use any product that'll ensure my baits are not "as they come"
Not too sure the spelling matters? Pike Pro are also a company I would recommend for fish oils.
My actual baits were quite important, as I always seek to glean some type of edge over other Pike anglers who might be fishing the same waters. Except in dire situations, I avoid the frozen, pre package dead baits that are so readily available in tackle shops. Not only are they outrageously expensive, they are also freely available to anyone who seeks the easy option. Not for me, thank-you very much. I purchase the majority of my baits from two outlets. Firstly the wet fish counter in our local Tesco and secondly, the fresh fish stalls around Ramsgate Harbour or along Deal seafront. Herring. Mackerel, Sardines and Whiting are generally available and I buy enough, at one go, if they are the right size, to last several weeks. Before any bait is placed in my freezer, it will have been flavoured with a choice fish oils, coloured with various dyes, or Predator Plus, then carefully wrapped in plastic freezer bags to allow me to take them, individually should I so wish. I have a Nash cooler bag which I use to transport my baits to and from the venue. By using freezer blocks, I keep my un-used baits frozen and can return them to the freezer if they are not required on the day.
|23rd February 2022 - "twenty" No.5 - I'm living the dream!
Bite indication, for my style of Pike fishing, is of the utmost importance. Because of my pathetic attention span, due to so many bankside distractions, I am reliant on the efficiency of my audible alarms. Although my digital Optonics and those cheap Redmire alarms do provide perfectly acceptable indication, I have to admit that my Nash Siren R3's are at another level in terms of performance. My other, back-biter type, alarms were manufactured by my younger brother, Sye, and do the job admirably when called into use. Visible indication is via two basic options. The go to method involves a "Monkey" on an angled needle positioned directly beneath the reel, be that a fixed spool with open bail arm or a centrepin with minimal drag settings. I also use loaded drop arms in specific situations but, they're particularly effective when free-lining bait at close range.
|Pike monkey on an angled needle
Methodology and approach to this particular challenge are a combination of many years experience, Pike fishing various venues around the UK. I always want to be at fishing before sunrise and if this means getting up at 03.30 hrs to drive down to the canal, then pushing my loaded barrow a mile and a half, prior to setting my stall, then so be it. There are no short cuts in this caper. Using the "Pike thrive on neglect" hypothesis, I sought out areas where few other, less committed, anglers would be willing to get to. I regularly "twitch" my baits, probably at 15 minute intervals and used the leapfrogging technique to cover as much water as possible during a visit. I keep extensive notes and recorded anything which might have significance, even if unable to do anything about it on the day. I noted bait fish activity, something which was usually most obvious at first light, but also recorded the areas which the Cormorants favoured because their prey choice would be similar to that of Pike. All these little things, as insignificant as they might appear, add up to help understand the situation I'm faced with and allow me to use these clues to formulate my plans moving forward?
|If you're not there, you'll never watch the sun rise
A footnote here might be useful? Some of my fellow Canterbury & Thanet PAC members suggested that "pre-baiting" might provide some improvement in my catch rate. Oh no, not a chance!! Eels are a right pain in the arse, doesn't matter how cold it is. They were quite happy to take baits in mid-water, so pre-baiting would be like opening a Eel KFC outlet.
Conclusions and thoughts!
When I embarked upon this challenge, little could I have known how absorbed I'd become as time passed. My desire to chase wild fish in wild places has never been more important than during this campaign. My results confirmed the undeniable success I'd managed. The best Pike season I've ever experienced, and that takes some doing. That I landed five "twenties" (one repeat capture) is far beyond my wildest expectations, the twenty-one other "doubles" just going to highlight what a special campaign it really was. Now here's the rub! I know that it's only fishing but just can't help myself? My background (cheers Unilever) in statistical process control has ensured I look at the season in a slightly different manner. I managed 57 sessions on the canal during the season, I blanked on 32 occasions and travelled nearly 4,000 miles in the process. How much of a success was my season when viewed in this manner? However, it doesn't matter how I analyse the results there is no denying that it was the most enjoyable period of angling I've ever experienced. The fishing was exceptional, the scenery absolutely stunning, the wildlife that shared the space providing a brilliant sideshow, however, above everything else is the friendships established with Chrissy and Kevin put the icing on the cake. Memories of great times, in wonderful surroundings, with two people who would have never been encountered anywhere else - it was one hell of an adventure and I'm one very lucky guy to have experienced it!