Jig fisher virgin.
And so the colder months are upon us and I’m keen to get amongst the spikes, teeth, stripes and manly jaw-lines of our native piscine predators.
Although I’ve had the odd dabble already, if the truth be known. And I’ve discovered a new way of catching them, well new to me anyway. Jig fishing.
My very first outing was an opportunistic one, when I sneaked the jig rod in amongst the chainsaws and climbing ropes before I left home in the hope of nicking a quick session on a lovely stretch of the Upper Stour near Liston, Sudbury after a morning’s work. The weather was red hot, bright and sunny with a brisk wind so not that perfect! Nonetheless I was keen to take my new six foot rod out for its maiden voyage and to pop my jig fishing cherry at the same time! I’ve fished with spinners and plugs on and off for years but the jelly-like jig lures with all their assorted names, colours and strangeness are new to me. When I arrived the river was crystal clear and what was really pleasing to see was the sheer number of fish from fry to the more mature flitting around in the shallows. And where there’s prey there’s predators, so the sight of all those silvers boosted my confidence. Features abound in the Stour at Liston with lilies, cabbages, reed beds and overhanging as well as submerged branches. All great to cover the backs of a spiky-toothed pike or a bristling perch but a bit of a snag-magnet for a cack-handed jig-fisher virgin.
Incredibly, my first cast with a perch fry micro-lure had a follow from a little jack which might well have had a pop had I not panicked and plucked the lure from right under its nose sending it skywards into a hawthorn. I don’t know who was more surprised, me or the pike. It hung in the water stock still for a second or two and if it had blinked and shaken its head in disbelief I wouldn’t have been surprised.
After disentangling my lure and trace from a particularly vicious hawthorn branch I continued my trek down the bank on the hunt for more predator holding hotspots. The wind had whipped up sending tiny manes of white water across the river’s surface obscuring potential snags and hazards, so every cast became a lost-tackle lottery. At one point, the eddying wind and water subsided briefly offering a brief glimpse into the depths like a porthole on the Nautilus. It was then that my spiky little lure came into view no than than four metres from the near bank. Just as my wrist tensed on the rod handle to induce a last enticing flick, a jack pike shot out from his liquid lair with astonishing speed and grabbed it. I still am astounded, when I think back, at the sheer pace and savagery of that lunge. What ensued was a brief but powerful tussle with a summer pike of no more than two pounds. He gave it his all that little pike and I’ve had less enjoyable tussles with Esox many times his size who have thrown in the towel early and limped to the net like a hooked bin-bag. A second, slightly bigger fish of about three pounds followed from a swim overhung by one of the oldest and gnarliest white willows I’ve ever seen, it’s squat, fissured trunk rubbed smooth and shiny in places where generations of cattle have scratched an itch or sheltered from sun or rain. It must have been pollarded countless times over the years as well as thrashed and decollated by countless storms but as is the way with willows, new growth soon emerges to replace the lost and damaged. There must have been an absolute maze of fibrous red-tinged roots wafting in the flow where the tree’s huge buttresses enter the water, a perfect ambush point for that hungry little pike.
Next swim was a tight one and I had to kneel to cast. The jig was snapped up as soon as it hit the water and I fell back in surprise and flailed about in the nettles before I regained my composure. I was attached to a lively perch of about half a pound which, as it thrashed about in the margins, was escorted sympathetically by three or four of its shoal mates to the waiting net. Anthropomorphism is a dubious trait I know but as I released him back into the flow I like to think that his mates took him to one side, checked he was ok, and gently rebuked him for being so impulsive.
So, for a first session on the jig as it were, things went quite well and overall was an enjoyable experience. Remarkably, I didn’t leave any lures, lost and forlorn, snagged up in the underwater jungle, but I did crush my fibre glass landing net pole when the perch pounced and I fell back on my arse.
I’d recently joined Sudbury and Long Melford Angling Club, impressed by the range of river fishing they offered, mainly on the Suffolk Stour. But amongst the river delights were an intriguing trio of well established gravel pits: Glemsford 1, 2 and 3. The pits are collectively a nature reserve and an SSSI, primarily down to its outstanding population of dragonflies. I love dragonflies. If I spot one I’ll stand and watch, because every time they enthral. Absolute masters of the air, and aerial predators par excellence they can turn on a sixpence to grab an unsuspecting fly, midge or mosquito mid-flight. Without them they’d be a lot more mossie bites to scratch, a lot more hydrocortisone anointing. And their names are perfect aptronyms: darters, hawkers, chasers. On the Norfolk Broads, I once witnessed a southern hawker doing battle with an angry hornet, a bout that the hawker lost but the ensuing dog-fight was a spectacle as both insects wrestled mid-air, end over end, free falling then ascending, a contortion of brightly coloured abdomens goring at each other until the hawker was thrust away defeated, its perfect wings trashed and crumpled as it ditched in the river Ant and gently floated away, a fitting Viking burial, back to the water from whence it came.
And so for my first trip to Glemsford I opted to fish No 3, a fantastic, prehistoric looking water, wild and swamp-like, a Louisiana bayou without the heat and alligators . A maze of spits, islands and craggy-old willows with dislocated, fractured limbs hanging precariously in the trees or strewn around, as if an angry giant has crashed through.
The weather was mild and overcast, absolutely ideal so out came the jig rod again for a couple of hours of jungle fishing. This is about as near to wild angling as it gets round these parts. Every swim I cast into screamed fish, such was the abundance of predatory lairs and ambush points. And such was the case as I netted three perfect little Jack pike and a couple of bristling perch up to half a pound within the first hour. I’ve been told that the pike are restricted to youngsters at the moment as a couple of unfortunate summer oxygen starvation events put paid to the older fish. But the perch are an unknown entity. There could be some big girls down there, hopefully I’ll find out.
Conversely, next door is a commercial fishery that’s the polar opposite of Pit 3. Comprising of a ‘traditional pond’, a ‘pleasure/match’ pond and a larger, ‘specimen’ lake, the two ponds are barren puddles with the odd drift of sick looking lilies, no bankside vegetation, very few features and certainly no fishing appeal. A rusting JCB that may well have dug them out skulks nearby, giving off an air of after-thought and that’ll do to the fishery as a whole. The specimen lake is behind a gated fence so is difficult to see. It does look slightly more appealing with some reed beds and a couple of islands, but comparing this fishery to Pit 3 would be like comparing Stephen Fry to Joey Essex.
But I suppose it’s a case of horses for courses. No doubt these ponds are packed full of fish and would provide a a welcome bend in the rod if you’d suffered a few blanks elsewhere. And these fisheries are often fantastic confidence boosters and training grounds for new fisherman. But I’d prefer a wild-water, any day of the week.
Apologies to the pike. Winter, 1977 (or thereabouts.)
As a schoolboy of twelve or thirteen, I fished fairly often with Steve, my brother in law. I remember fishing a stretch of what was probably the river Roding in Essex; a small, narrow stretch festooned with vegetation and overhanging willows, a chub fishers paradise.
One Sunday afternoon during the winter, while Steve and I immersed ourselves in this chubby heaven, probing the depths with ledgered luncheon meat, I got bored with the lack of action and slapped on a rusty old Mepps spinner that had been knocking around in my tackle bag for ages, regularly puncturing my fingers if I delved too deep. I just tied it straight to the nylon mainline, no trace, and no thought to the consequences.
I think I had perch in mind as Steve had said that fishing near features like bridges and weirs, especially during the winter, was a useful tactic for big stripeys, so I blame him entirely for the years of guilt and trauma I suffered as a result of my foolhardiness! Just upstream from our swim was a small weir coupled with a small footbridge; perfect perch territory according to angling oracle Steve, so off I trotted in the naive hope of snaring a giant stripey . I’m not sure if it was first cast or not but everything seemed to happen very quickly. As I reeled the spinner back towards the bank I had a great, lunging take that very nearly ripped the rod from my hand and sent a great shudder of shock and fear right through me. This was no perch, for if it were it would have shattered the British record, and I would have been a famous schoolboy fisherman. What had grabbed my rusty old Mepps was an enormous pike. I’d been a fisherman for about three years up to that point and my biggest fish to date had been a five pound common carp. Now I thought that fish put up a fair old fight but it was truly nothing compared to the pike. I had little concept of playing a fish of any size, and the clutch on my Intrepid ‘Boyo’ reel was cranked up far too tight, so that poor old fish jagged, tugged and tail-walked right under my rod tip. I held on for dear life; from a distance I probably looked like a manic conductor suffering a fit during the final movement. But as soon as it started it stopped. I have a searing image, still vivid to this day, of that great pike’s head disappearing below the foam it had whipped up, my rusty old Mepps spinner, with its flash of red-wool, dangling from its face like some cheap, back-street piercing. I’ve caught pike to 25lb since then, so I have some idea of pike proportions. I’m guessing that pike could have easily been a mid-double and I hope it shed that spinner very quickly and lived a long and happy life, or maybe grew to love its facial adornment and wore it as a token of its prowess in battle. Puerile musings aside, I still feel guilty about that pike. And now, as a convert to the art of jig fishing, drop-shotting, ned-slinging, creature chucking and so forth, I always use a trace, despite the general consensus amongst the lure-fisher fraternity that it’s ok to use fluorocarbon hook lengths, because if you do hook a pike and it bites you off it’ll soon shed the hooks. I think to a great extent this is wishful thinking, so I’m a trace man, in memory of the Mepps spinner pike.