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Thursday, 14 March 2013 09:01

An African Dawn

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Regardless of what sport you follow, welcome to what has to be a most exciting year, namely Africa's first Soccer World Cup. I'm not the biggest soccer fan, a Liverpool fan deep down, hence the lack of euphoria, but the hype and general upbeat nature for South Africa cannot fail to uplift all aspects of life within our borders, enjoy it and if you get the chance to show off African Carp so much the better.
I've also been very fortunate on my travels to the nineteen or so countries I've visited over the years, many of which have not just been for holidays, but also working and living in the countries themselves that has broadened my horizons and in addition making me realise how lucky we are here. I've been trying to put a finger on exactly what that essence is that we have, which I feel is lacking in other places.
Any temperate climates such as those in Europe, while beautiful and special with historic waters and places to visit, seem always to be only a mere few kilometers away from the road networks and busy cities and suburbia, making them almost claustrophobic and oppressing.
Even some of the wilder parts, such as the moors of England, the highlands of Scotland, Friesland in the north of the Netherlands, the Basque region in Spain or even the Black Forest of Germany, while striking in their own beauty are in some cases isolated and in terms of Carp fishing, just plain boring! They are micro-systems surrounded by cities bursting with population and urban development.
I admit I haven't visited parts of the old Russia and Romania, though I did travel through Bosnia and Serbia during the break-up of Yugoslavia some years ago, and while fishing was not an option, as you'd expect during a war, the further south you travelled, once past Macedonia, the remote places were truly breathtaking.

Perfect strong hook hold, and no damage to a fish which has never seen a hook before. Now for its mother.Perfect strong hook hold, and no damage to a fish which has never seen a hook before. Now for its mother.Taking into account the history, myths and legends of the places, particularly through Greece and down to Crete; the Parthenon, Jason and the Argonauts, the ruins at Mycenae, Sparta, the Minotaur at the Temple of Knossos's - they all come close to that same tingling feeling you get here.
However that was then, and while these places are still able to make hairs on your neck stand up, they remain in the past, a time you can only read about, with the present day versions of what these have become mere shadows of their former selves, domesticated if you will, and the Carp fishing is largely non existent.

Many of the waters we all fish here in South Africa are remote, perhaps 50 or 100km from settlements, which alone makes them pretty special, but if you factor in that some are within farm lands and nature reserves, with the game animals still roaming free, they become a part of your experience at the water.
Rain falling on the hot, dry earth, the sounds of crickets and frogs, fireflies, the jackal's eerie call and the cry of the Fish Eagle can still be heard at many venues, while on others a conscious effort to avoid hippos and crocs is a consideration taken for granted, all part of the backdrop to a session's fishing.
If you are really lucky, the footprints in the morning of the previous night's nocturnal visits to your camp will be visible, perhaps like the leopard and her cub that passed by my tent, or the snake which now lies coiled around your bank sticks. Perhaps this is the proverbial nail on the head, namely our venues and fishing are exactly that, un-domesticated.

Dawn is one of the most spectacular and special of experiences. I suppose on some of the vast plains of America, or in the outback of Australia, they could be similar, but I doubt you would get that feeling or smell of an African dawn. While sunrise is also a special time, I find that the hour and half or so before the sunrise is the real magical time. It's not the same as the evening when sunsets can be just as spectacular, simply because in the early morning it's a fresh new day and others are still fast asleep while you are in limbo between two times, a purgatory of the day, the morning twilight.
The water I'm standing over is an old venue of mine which I just haven't had the time to fully explore. Just a few recce trips over the last few years or so, but it's been one of those waters that you always seem to put on the back burner but never get around to giving it a good go.
Bank anglers long ago gave up on the water saying it was too difficult and un-fishable. A few local specimen anglers - and I'm talking literally of only 2 or 3 - have given it a go over the years, but I guess they too have since also opted for easier pickings.
Only bass anglers seem to enjoy the natural features of their surroundings, and given the access they have via the use of boats, they seem to have plenty of success. No Carp anglers to bother them, no fishing pressure, tough conditions, prolific bass – to me these all signal a potential gem of a water. Add to this tales of Carp bigger than canoes, and for the life of me I can't think why I haven't spent more time here!
With the large water to myself, even the gate attendant seemed surprised I would be staying overnight, and judging by the single tracks my vehicle left in the rain freshened dirt road, nobody had been down the here for some time.
On previous visits to the venue I'd fished most of the open water swims and had a pretty good idea of what the conditions under the surface were like, the very reason many anglers had given up on the venue.

Some of the previously open areas had long become overgrown, with nature reclaiming the banks, such as a lone braai facing a wall of 4 meter high reeds, 3 meters thick - even the work parties no longer cleared fishing spots for the flagging visitor numbers.
The area I'd chosen to fish was a remote one, between high banks of reeds on either side of me that would avoid the possibility of interference from any neighbors or potential crowds on future visits. This would also ensure that if I kept quiet, the bank for around 200 meters would remain undisturbed, allowing the fish to remain secure and confident in the area, and perhaps show themselves more freely.
After setting up camp, which for only one or maybe two nights I needed just my brolly, big enough for a single bed chair, and if rain persisted, I could just lower the front - perfect for a short trip like this.

Once set-up and using a small rubber duck, I eased the trolling motor onto the second setting, dropped the fish finder's transducer and began easing out of the bay. No sooner had I reached the edge, around 30 meters from the bank, when the LCD screen went black and the motor locked up.
The weed was much thicker than I remembered; a wide leafed variety was the major component, with fines strands of another type just under the surface. Interspersed between the two were strands of African Elodea, the only type I remembered the name of.
Clearing the motor, I angled it a little shallower and I was able to cross the beds fairly easily, but even as I passed over I could see through the clear water that bringing a fish through this would not be easy. I travelled about 150 meters over the beds, the fish-finder sometimes giving a brief insight to the depth of water between them, before blacking up again, but just past the 160 meter range the beds instantly gave way to clear open water, a hardish bottom, and big fish symbols on the screen. At last some hope! I know I often tell people: "don 't look for fish, rather features" when using a fish-finder, but it's always comforting to get a couple of symbols on the screen. The discomforting thing though was the thick beds all the way back to the bank some 160 meters away.
A firm believer in crossing problems as they arise, I placed two markers out about 5 meters past the end of the weed, in around 5.5 meters of water. The bottom looked like the proverbial billiard table.

Whatever happened, I had two concerns: The first was that my line would lie on top or at best in the upper layers of the weed, the second, as it comes over the beds into the open water it would sink at a sharp angle down to the sinker, making line concealment quite difficult.
I could use a sliding back-lead to pin the line down, first dropping the bait and then flicking the lead backwards along the mainline, which would pin the line down a little, but having the extra weight on the line would only increase the chance of keeping the end-tackle down, and on a retrieve with a fish or not, would certainly drag deep through 150 meters of weed.
The markers were set-up around 20 meters apart, and between the two I spread a mixture of boilies, tigernuts, hemp and maize. I also had some lighter material, like crushed hemp and tigers, but in the strong wind the finer particles would need to be modeled into a heavier feed to make it sink faster and help to keep it in the area.

In terms of end tackle, the general rule when fishing weed like this it to keep things simple. At the slightest chance the lead should be able to be ejected from the system, allowing the fish to come freely to the surface, leaving minimal weight on the line.
The most certain way of ejecting a weight is by using a lead or safety clip, which I set-up on one of my rods, while on the others I decided to see how bad it was to fish with inline set-ups in such dense weed growth.
I went with double Tigers on the one rod, a small snowman presentation on the next, while the third had a single SweetX boilie and on the final rod one of the Omni 10's in 14mm. All were topped off with small PVA bags containing a variety of items, some juicy Tigers rolled in a hi-protein feed to dry them off, preventing the bags from melting, while others had Betaine pellets, SweetX boilies and the Omni's.
The line I was using on three of the rods was the Hi-Vis yellow, which stood out really strongly on top of the weed, making avoiding it with the boat's prop fairly easy, while the third was a new specimen line called Pioneer, which was just barely visible below the surface.
Rain began to fall, quit hard, but I was soon under the shelter, protected and keen to get in some fishing.
Before getting the kettle on and into the first brew of the evening, I took a mixture of around a kilo of boilies and waded into the bay, close to the reeds on the right and spread a liberal helping all along the reed's edge and out into the water close to where the weed beds began. I hadn't seen any fish, but who knows - if they come into the bay at night, with nearly 2 meters of water at its deepest part, it was quite deep enough for even the biggest of fish.
The left hand rod was the one with the new line, and almost as soon as I'd returned from placing the baits I had a number violent line pulls and shakes, but nothing materialised into runs. This would occur a number of times during the session and I put it down to fish or birds swimming into the line, due to its low visibility.

If conditions were not so bad I would have been tempted to hit it during one of these "liners", but to remove a line only a few minutes of placing it, knowing that you wouldn't be putting it back out till morning, kept my hands off it.
The first rod to go properly was the one on the right - I was fully prepared to jump into the boat and go out to collect the fish, but first wanted to know the extent of how this weed would hinder the bringing in and landing of it. The take had been quite strong, taking I'd guess about 10 meters of line by the time I picked it up, and tightened down on the drag. Feeling that it wasn't too big, I reeled in a little tougher than I would usually, and then solid - the fish was in the weed. The weight of retrieving the fish just deadened down and I could feel a slow pulsing of the fish as it came through the weed. It actually came in fairly easily, by just keeping the rod tip up and the tension on the line the fish came straight in through all that weed and grass with the line tight, then out into the clear bay in front of me. There was no drama, no kiting or sudden lunges, it was as if the travelling through the weed had taken all the fight from the fish, and it slid easily into the net. As I thought - not big, might make 7kg. Although I'd used the safety-clip set-up, even this had remained intact during the retrieve, and the heavy method lead that I'd used was still also in place.

During the landing of the fish, the wind and rain had picked up considerably, with white caps visible in the dark on the open water. Without a life jacket is would be very risky to take the line out in these conditions, and even with one, capsizing or falling out, alone in the dark, into thick 4 meter deep weed beds is just too dangerous.
The line would remain out until morning.
Bar another series of knocks or shakes on the left hand rod, the evening was quiet. The rain stopped just after midnight, but the wind was still blowing.
First light had me bringing in the other lines. The lack of action could mean one of a possible two options: one the carp didn't want the bait, and two, the wind on the surface had dragged the lines into the weed beds.
Lifting into the first rod it was clear that this one at least was in weed. However this was the line which had had a number of false knocks, so perhaps it was to be expected. Another thing I expected was that the lines would get stuck on the retrieve.
Unlike when the fish was on the evening line, this one was stuck solid, deep in the weed. The only option was to get into the boat and try to retrieve as much line as possible.

The same had occurred with the other lines as well, while not as embedded as deeply at the left hand rod, they were all stuck solid. The combination of no fish on the line, exposed hook and heavy weight dragging down, all made the retrieve pointless. The use of the boat though soon made short work of retrieving the previously solid terminal tackle - just passing over where the line disappeared into the undergrowth, and with a steady pull from the opposite direction the hook links easily came free.
In fact I can't remember ever loosing a hook link when getting into a boat, as all it takes is a little pressure from the opposite side. Even hooks buried in sunken trees seem to come free easily, so not only is it the correct thing to do and retrieve as much or all of your line and terminal material as possible, but you'll be saving a few pennies as well.

While we're on the subject, if you are fishing with a floating braid and get cut off for whatever reason, especially if you've lost quite a few metres, keep an eye out and especially in calm water the braid will float to the surface and you stand a good chance of getting most of it back.
Once I'd retrieved all my lines, I decided to just go back in with just the one line, the one I'd previously had the fish on, same rig, new bait, same flavour. I had some other things I was busy with so decided one line was enough.
Once that was back in position, just beyond the weed, I decided to check on the loose baits I'd scattered close to the reed bed. The boilies I'd fed were a mixture of colours, mainly browns and yellows, but even through the gin-clear water I couldn't see any of them. Deeper out the surface ripples made for more difficult spotting, but still nothing, then in about 1.5 meters of water a single yellow ball looked up at me, clearly visible despite the ripples. Something had definitely come into the bay and cleaned up most of the freebies!

While contemplating whether to put a line in the shallows during the day, the single line I'd just put in went off like a train, with a single tone on the Micron. Running in waders, while in 1.5 meters of water is not easy, but as soon as humanely possible I was out, lifting the rod and into the fish.
It was in open water and immediately I could feel it was a better fish, not huge but better. I wanted to again first try and bring it in through the weed like the first one, but at the first hint of becoming totally bogged down, I'd be in the boat after it. The fish behaved exactly like the previous one, up in the water, heavy but pulling and pulsing through the weed. As before, the fish broke free from the weed banks after about 10 minutes, swimming freely into the bay, weedless, bar a few loose fronds from the surface's loose items, all played out and into the net. The hook-hold in the fish's mouth was spot on: in the bottom lip to the side in the scissor section of the jaw, a very tough hook-hold. I have no doubt that if the hook-hold had been less effective or was in a poor position, then the sustained tension through the weed may have caused the hook to pull, but in these two cases, it had been spot on.
I decided to call it a day after that fish, as I'd achieved what I set out to do, namely discovered where to fish, with potentially some close- in night fishing too. I'd also found the bait that was working, and for the moment the best way to play the fish was through the weed. Armed with this knowledge, the next trip to the water would not be far away.

"Creeps and idiots cannot conceal themselves for long on a fishing trip". —John Gierach

Read 1258 times Last modified on Friday, 15 March 2013 11:31

John is a specialist Specimen Carp Writer who was instrumental in establishing specimen carp angling in South Africa.