Sunday, 4 October 2020

A 'How to..' by Way of a Change and 'Why to..'. Perhaps by Way of a Whinge


A genuinely special, unique and almost magical bait

The shells of freshly run-off casters, glistening from a quick rinse, smelling meatily enticing and fading from bright orange to white, are surely one of the most enduring and selective of hook options available to the discerning angler 

Evocative of sparkling nets of quality roach and chub but, capsule for particle, a selective choice for any one wishing to sort the men from the boys, in fishy terms, for pretty much any species

It is with roach however that the bait is synonymous. Even those bionic individuals that have become accustomed to the 8mm pellet aimed at a barbel are unlikely to turn their perfect little noses up at a regular rain of them falling in front of their eyes

So, one might expect them to be a perfectly well understood bait when it comes to preparing, conserving and use

Sadly, however, perhaps with the increased hustle and bustle of everyday life; the onset of instant gratification in the angling world; the ownership of tackle shops by non-expert anglers or the advent of general laziness one cannot be certain but there is little doubt that the knowledge of, and ability to, produce the best casters is a dying art

Many of the angling books that today would be dismissed as 'old school' (because the young don't need to learn from the experience of others anymore) commit whole chapters to the bait, and not without good reason. The plastic-packaged, gaudily-coloured, marketing person's dream that is the tackle shop bait shelf in 2020 and those, in themselves, a sign of the potential for the phasing-out of anything in the slightest bit messy, awkward, time consuming or a loss-leader, demonstrates the problem consummately. The bait fridge has become an incidental rather than fundamental requirement of the trade with even the mainstay of the whole sport, the maggot, the blue bottle larva, being pushed to the periphery such that some shops sell nothing but pellets, boilies and their derivatives.

What a commercialised world angling has become, but those that populate that world will probably not be interested in reading this

Casters buck the trend and in many quarters it has been forgotten that they are living things; a halfway house between maggot and fly, between terrestrial and airborne life. A stage in a quite miraculous process and this is the key factor, in terms of usefulness to the angler, the caster is short-lived and literally has a limited shelf life of around one week. The one complicating factor being that as the caster gets darker it reaches a point, at the deep maroon stage, at which it will start to float and become useless

Shrink-wrapped or chemically preserved casters are non-starters. The only purpose these methods of so-called preservation serve is to make them useful for filling a nearby bin as the bait will be dead and therefore decomposing unless used fairly instantly after packaging

For casters to be appealing in the long-term they must be fresh and most of all alive. Feeding stale to rancid dead bait will only serve one purpose and that is to sicken the fish and put them off next time they encounter such a 'treat'

Lovely early autumn caster caught Rudd of 15ozs

So what is the protocol when nurturing the perfect bait?

Firstly, a good supply of the biggest, fresh bait you can lay your hands on, and if you can't find such a source then consider running your own off by purchasing a couple of pints of white maggots the week before you need them and riddling them regularly, a process that ideally means you are able to go home in your lunch break 

Given a suitable supply though there are a few simple rules to follow to arrest the metamorphosis from maggot to fly such that you can keep the bait both healthy and usable, i.e. sinking, over the days between purchase and use:

- As soon as you get them home, open them up, swirl them gently round to get air to every one and then tie the bag with a bit of air space in it of about 1/4 the volume of the casters. Repeat this 2 or 3 times per day and they will stay fresh

- An alternative is to trap a sandwich bag across under the lid of a bait box with a small air gap under it above the bait. This is quite a nice way of doing things, especially for a canal trip. 

- If you have time, it is worth picking through the bait to get rid of any dead maggots; small, rough, slightly curled chrysalis of other fly species and general alien debris

- Transport the bait in the same manner and, on arriving at the bank, give them another gasp of air and pour a couple of hands full into a tub, and no more. This limits the amount of bait exposed to the elements and starting to turn to a darker shade, creeping toward the floating stage of the life cycle. 

- Covering the casters in water is another option that many prefer as it arrests their progress to a fly but again this should be done using smaller quantities, not the whole bag, as, if fishing for a good number of hours, they could have died and started to sour. 

- It is always wise the keep the spare casters in the manner described, in the shade and cool. This way they'll be useful for a couple more days if they don't all get used 

- If you start to suspect one or two are floating then immerse the whole lot in a deep tub and skim the floaters and any semi-bouyant ones off. These are of no use, especially if used in groundbait when they'll draw fish into the upper water levels as they float off.

- I recently discovered that black bags prevent what is known as 'bag burn' on the casters. This is a mark that looks like a burn from being scorched where the bait has been in contact with a clear polythene bag. It doesn't look good and seems to make the bait progress faster to a floating stage. 

- After the end of the session commences the same storage protocol of occasional gasps of air. Eventually however, about a week after being run-off they start to show signs of ageing, even though they may not have been on the bank or at a floating stage. The shells start to look less bright and go a dirty sort of shade. At this point they need be used immediately as this is the start of their deterioration and soon they will take on a certain aroma, suggestive of the early stages of decomposition. 

So the key aim is to have fresh, tasty casters at all times and when this is the only bait you are using, or it's in conjunction with hemp, the better the bait, the better the fishing and the more chance that, as you use them increasingly, the fish will get a proper taste for them. 

So that's the "How to.." bit out of the way. Apologies if I come across as preachy but I do love my casters! 

Onto the "Why to.." then...

'Everybody' fishes the feeder these days. I've been fishing the Severn and Warks Avon a lot this past year and a float angler is a rare sight indeed. There are certain stretches where the float is still favourite, such as Stratford Lido, but largely the scene is one of stiff rod tips in the air and wait for something to pull it round in a violent and unmissable arc. 

Well that's fine in itself of course, each to their own and all that, but it does strike me that many anglers have found a way of catching the odd decent fish when conditions by chance coincide with this approach, when, with a bit of advice or deeper thought, they could be doing so much better. 

A couple of weeks ago I was fishing the Severn in it's then incredibly low, clear and slow state. A time when ideally you'd apply crepuscular tactics and just fish first and last thing in the day, but living over a hour from the river, that's not a regular option in my world.

A 4lbs+ chub taken loose feeding a low and clear River Severn last week when very little action was evident

In my youth, rubbing shoulders with experienced river and canal anglers at their peak, was a source of valuable information, as little gems fell from their lips in everyday conversation that have been glued into the memory and reinforced by personal experience since. 

Hoofing a 3 or 4 ounce feeder full of groundbait into a shallow, clear river doesn't even register as an option in my head but, for many, this is probably what they've read and seen being done and so it's taken, literally, as read that this is the method; but angling has never been about one method or approach. As conditions vary, so too must the angler, and his or her tactics, targets and expectations. 

At the age of 15 or 16 I gleaned one of the most valuable nuggets of information I ever heard, from a member of the local 'National' team, as we used to say, by the name of Pete Jarvis. I don't recall how it came about but he said, "I thought I could get away with more groundbait today, as it (the river) was so coloured". 

It took a while, but over the years this short statement infiltrated the thinking and has influenced so much of what has proven correct on the day. I now have a simple adage that rarely fails; clear = loose feed; coloured = groundbait. On a river therefore, loose feed can be coupled with the straight lead and groundbait with a feeder; again as with anything, it's not 100% reliable but it's a fair guide.

Most things are not universally applicable. You might fish a block-end feeder and bronze maggots in coloured water, you might use bread mash on a clear river but, generally speaking, the principle is sound. 

A 3lbs 2oz chub taken this very evening on bread mash and flake from a rising and coloured River Leam. The best of two fish in a brief and rain-drenched session either side of dusk

So, when I see anglers doing as I described above, with heavy open-end feeders pounding into clear water like Howitzer shells, following a pattern that works by chance from time to time, it's baffling, but if the angler hasn't had the benefit of long experience, punctuated by snippets of golden information, where is the knowledge to come from? Surely life is too short to work it all out oneself!

Videos are largely product-driven and similarly limited to match fishing commercial fisheries. Top match anglers will always hold something critical back (otherwise how do they remain at the top?) and it is not since the days of genuine pioneering, ground-breaking anglers such as Kevin Ashurst and Ivan Marks that we have had their evolving ideas, failures and successes laid bare in the weeklies. Having been a long-standing match angler, albeit decades ago now, I know that there is more to angling and success in it than meets the eye, and most of it boils down to reading a swim and doing the thing(s) most likely to succeed on the day. The more often we can achieve this, surely the more enjoyment and satisfaction we can feel from having cracked the code on the day. 

Angling is very much divided between commercial, so called 'specialist', pleasure and carp anglers in 2020 and, while there is undoubtedly a massive catalogue of information out there, very little of it is genuinely what one might term 'watercraft'-related, in an era increasingly insistent on instant success. 

There used be a 1970's product, it might have been one of Green's, the Quick Jel makers', and the strap line was, "Just add an egg". Fast-forward to today, and the righteous indignation at having to add an egg would be palpable. 

Moaning, commentating or inviting a better future? 'Not certain but it's a fact, nonetheless. 

As the Great Man himself said, 

"I've got a grapefruit matter, it's a sour as s**t, 

I have no solutions, better get used to it". 

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