The more I read about coarse fishing and the more I actually practice it, the more I realise that I need to alter not just how I fish but how I think about the fish themselves. Only by doing that will I become more successful. 2020 has seen me starting a journey to be a coarse angler and the differences from that and when I learned how to fly fish for trout and salmon are stark.
Like many game anglers, as a kid I started out spinning small lures and worming to catch trout on my local river. I got my first fly rod at 12 years of age and took to it immediately. I found casting pretty simple and aside from some hard to understand drawings in old books I was largely self taught. The only books I could afford were those ‘Uncle Bill Davies’ paperbacks. Sadly, they were almost all lost along with a huge collection of other books during a house move many years ago. I only have one on my bookshelf now (priced at 4 shillings!). These books hammered home the need to be silent, to sneak up on the trout. A heavy footfall would be enough to spook a fish. I got it, these were wild creatures and they survived on their wits. From a young age I practiced stealth when fishing and in turn I landed some terrific fish. I learned by spending time on the water in all conditions. I learned from the mistakes I made as well as the successes.
Fast forward to 2019 when the first stirrings of an interest in coarse angling began to stir. The world has changed and now, with a few clicks or swipes, anyone can access tons of information. It is almost too easy, there is very little effort required. Over the winter of 2019/2020 I read books and blogs, watched videos and listened to podcasts about coarse fishing. I was taking in information all right but I’m not sure I was actually ‘learning’ in the true sense of the word. To me, there is an important distinction between information gathering and learning and while the internet can provide a basic level of knowledge it cannot teach as such. Regardless, this information gathering was the best I could do and when the lockdown came it just intensified my thirst for all things ciprid.
July 2020 saw me venturing forth with floats, feeders et al. I immediately felt out of my depth and that some of my deeply ingrained game fishing knowledge apparently did not apply. It all seemed incongruous fishing tiny size 18 hooks while at the same time lobbing in great lumps of groundbait which hit the water like Napoleonic cannonballs. Was stealth in or out? I was confused.
It is often the case that you only understand something by actually participating in it. I had read and listened to advice but some important aspects had not penetrated my dense thinking processes. Some coarse fish congregate in shoals – I got that. They graze on the bottom, consuming large quantities of food – yep, I could understand that bit too. They can be attracted and held in a spot by effective groundbaiting – OK with that concept as well. The groundbait will attract them, usually regardless of the noise caused by introducing it to the swim. That is the bit I struggled with. Surely wild fish will scatter when foreign objects splash down into the water close to them? I know any self respecting trout would bolt if I hurled a ball of groundbait close to it.
Only through time on the water and learning how coarse fish respond was I able to make any sense of this new sport. Only when I actually did throw in balls of ground bait and catch fish was I able to accept the fact that coarse fish do not scare as easily as trout. I am fishing ‘wild’ waters not commercial fisheries but I read that fish in commercials are attracted by the commotion when groundbait is tossed in. They have learned that the noise is a sign that food is coming, like a dinner gong sounding!
The analogy of cyprids being like sheep is a good one. A shoal moves around, grazing on the bottom. They hoover up the small creatures and quickly denude the area of such organisms so they keep moving on. Sheep move in herds and grazed the grass but need to keep moving as they quickly eat all the herbage. The aim of the anglers groundbait is both to attract the shoal and then keep them occupied in front of you. I try to keep this thought in my mind when coarse fishing but judging how much groundbait and how often it should be introduced is the bit I am still learning. It feels like I over feed but maybe not, I’m really not too sure and have no idea how you can verify if your groundbiat is there in sufficient amounts.
The next step for me really is crossing the Rubicon, I have bought a rake. When I first read about raking a swim it seemed like utter madness, the fish must high-tail it to the next parish when someone lugs a dirty great lump of metal into their water and then drags it back covered in weeds. In case that was not enough tom-foolery the whole process is repeated until a clear space is formed on the bottom so the angler can cast into.
It was only when reflecting on the ‘grazing’ aspect of my quarry that raking a swim made any sense at all. If they didn’t mind the cannonballs of groundbait them they probably would not be too put out by the rake. The idea of the fish then entering the cleared swim to look for food also became less far fetched.
It will be spring 2021 before the new rake gets a chance to show its metal (sic) but I have high hopes it will be another arrow in my quiver, especially on the canals. Irish canals are notoriously weedy and my small experience of them leads me to think the rake might be at least part of the answer when seeking bream, tench and roach.
I am not an expert but from what I can gather you can cast the rake out with a rod and reel loaded with 30 pound breaking strain braid and slowly wind it back in again. Rather than mess about with a reel just to do that task I will try simply attaching a length of cord to the rake and lob it in by hand. A much bigger swivel needs to be fitted to handle the cord I plan on using. The rake itself is of very simple construction and looks like it is too small to be effective but I have read they are more than up to the job and are easier to lug around with you than the homemade efforts constructed out of a pair of garden rakes lashed back-to-back. My one won’t be able to stir up the bottom like the garden rakes do though so I might be missing out out that benefit.
My plan for the canals is to rake out a few swims as I walk along the towpath then fish my way back. This should allow time for the swim to settle down and for the fish to find their way there. I could also throw in some ground bait too I suppose. If this all sounds a bit vague that is because I need to experiment and learn as I go along.
If I am perfectly honest with myself the learning process is at least as much, if not more enjoyable than actually catching the roach and perch. It’s like being that wee boy again on the banks of the Don in Aberdeenshire learning the art of angling. The failures and occasional successes marking my slow progress. This lockdown is only increasing my passion for getting back out there to wield the old coarse gear again.