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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


05/07/2014 - Observations from the Waterside

As an angler, wildfowler, hunter and photographer I’ve spent much of my life observing animals birds and the aquatic life not only fish but all those small creatures which help provide food for the fish we catch, time spent on observation and surveillance of life under the water in many places worldwide is as important as actually going out and trying to catch a fish. I’ve been tuned into sitting for long periods just watching and observing and its certainly paid dividends in my pursuit of wildfowl and fish.  When I’m after wildfowl or fish I’m in the hunter mode and want success whenever possible but I enjoy the challenge whatever the result. Recently I spent some 6 hours watching and observing a shoal of chub in the river Ribble,  the bed of the river sloped outwards from my bank between 2 to 4 feet, I reckoned there were 20 to 30 fish ranging in size from 2lbs to about 5lbs.  At no time were these fish more than 10-12 feet from the bank in clear water so I had an excellent view of the fish which looked as if they were catchable. I wasn’t at the water’s edge to catch but to observe the behaviour of the fish to different baits and how they would react to different baits. I had a rod and reel with line but no hooks, I had tied on a small section of matchstick to the line so I could press bread flake around the piece of stick. Having watched the fish for about 15 minutes I quietly moved upstream then pressed some flake around the broken match stick, after dunking the flake a few times so it would slowly sink I crept quietly back to my original spot then lowered the flake in the water. Soon a chub approached this food item then started pushing it around with its nose. For several minutes the fish watched the flake before moving slowly forward then gently picking up the bait with its lips before swimming off, it had gone about 10 feet then dropped the bait. After a short while it again picked up the bait moving downstream as it did so it eventually engulfing the piece bread which by now was basically about the same consistency of wet cotton wool. Lesson 1 If I’d been fishing blind by watching the line for a bite, I would have made a strike when the line was moving and missed the fish.


I chucked in three bits of flake which slowly sunk to the bottom, the chub just watched the bread settle for ten to fifteen minutes they didn’t attempt to pick up any of the bread. Then one of the bigger fish moved forward picked up the bread gently in its lips leaving most of the bread outside its mouth then moved off across the flow and downstream for about ten fifteen feet. Finally dropping the bread as it sunk towards the bottom the fish intercepted the bread then swallowed it. Again as in lesson 1 the fish would have been missed if I had struck when the line was moving.


I then fed quite a lot of free items into the water, then watched the fish  feeding but with a lot of caution, now remember these fish are hardly fished for as it’s a game fishery fly only. After some thirty minutes  the fish got a bit more confidence, I wrapped a bit of flake around the match stick after dunking the bait in the water further upstream I moved back to the feeding fish. Dropping in half a dozen bits of bait I dropped the bread attached to the line at the same time. All the unattached bits were taken my bait attached to some very fine braid was ignored for about twenty minute. Then suddenly a fish moved in quite fast picked up the bait then moved off as quickly as it had arrived.  There was a slight movement on the rod tip then nothing more.


My next experiment was using some mussels I had left over from last week, most of the fish ignored the bait, only the small fish showed interest. For quite a while I just sat quietly watching fish milling about with an occasional fish picking up the odd mussel. Half an hour later I threw in some Caviar pellets nothing at first but after fifteen minutes some chub were getting interested as they started moving to intercept the falling pellets.  Fifteen minutes later I had several of the fish feeding. Every five minutes or so I would throw in a 5 or 6 pellets the fish were feeding freely, taking falling pellets and others off the bottom. I then super glued a pellet to the line as a threw in half a dozen free offering I dropped my bait in with them. Within ten minutes all the pellets were taken except the one attached to the very fine braid. I put in more free offering which were soon eaten but my pellet remained. Why? was it the smell of the super glue, did it somehow act differently to the other free samples. Some thirty minutes later after the pellet had been pushed around for some time it was then taken. No wander we often get exasperated with the fish.


I moved fifty yards downstream where I had been baiting a spot with Pallatrax Jungle squabs which the fish were happy to eat, I sat there for about an hour watching these chub all the time dropping in a single squab every two or three minutes which were quickly taken. Then with the aid of a baiting needle I fixed a squab to the line with an underhand cast I got the squab to sink down among the fish this time it was ignored, I threw in a free offering which was immediately taken. Now why didn’t they take my offering on some fine braid? Was the bait sinking more slowly than the other squabs? I studied the action of the braid in the water and could see a downstream bow in the line caused by the current pushing against the line causing the squab to move very slowly, the free offering sitting in one spot until lifted an inch or so off the bottom then moving downstream a short distance before settling once again. But my bait was being dragged downstream and into towards the bank by the water flow on the line an entirely different movement from the unattached baits. We all know how critical it is to get the bait to have a neutral buoyancy its seems we have to make sure the bait acts as a free offering to get the best from our sport. How many times have you said to yourself no fish feeding today or this swims useless etc etc just lots of excuses for not catching. Why not spend a few hours watching the reaction of the fish as you put different baits in the water also put a bait onto some fine line then watch what happens. I reckon if you were to spend a lot more time observing your quarry you might learn some good lessons on how fish feed and react to hooked baits. I’ve just got myself a supply of the new Lone Angler Cheese mania squabs, paste and glug, it’s going to be interesting to see how the fish react to some small pebbles that I will coat with the cheese mania glug then quietly drop among some shoaling chub while to the river is low and gin clear making observation of the fish perfect.

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Martin James Fishing
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