If It’s Not Broke… Break It!

By definition, human nature nearly always seeks to retain things that are working until the very end of their usefulness. I’m not convinced this is always for the best. We can probably all too easily recall bands or sport personalities who should have taken a bow earlier than they did, but knowing when to call time is a rare gift that few of us foster. As a U2 fan, I remember during the launch of their album Achtung Baby an interviewer asking the band how they would describe the new album. To the shock of the interviewer and later his readers, they answered, “It’s the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree”! Joshua Tree was the album that really put U2 on the map and it included some of their best songs. Yet they believed that to continue to be successful and remain on the cutting edge, reinventing themselves meant leaving some things behind in the pursuit of what was fresh, new and potentially better. Ambitious confidence, or reckless foolishness? You decide!

I think ambition and confidence are desirable qualities, and the risk of failure exceeds the boredom of never trying. I try and carry this mindset into my angling.

The snowman rig is simple and reliably effective
Mainline’s Clockwork Orange pop-ups have added a slightly different twist to my snowman rigs
This 23lb mirror was caught from a unlikely looking swim within a short time of casting out

Stuck in a rut

A few years ago I enjoyed one of those periods that usually you only dream of. I found a large percentage of the stock of the syndicate lake I was fishing held up in a small bay, the majority of the fish safely tucked under a large willow tree on the far bank. Over the course of six weeks I caught more fish than some members caught in a whole season. To say I was pleased with my success would be an understatement. Nevertheless, my angling was becoming increasingly uninteresting. I would arrive, quietly position the rods and then await the certain action. It was fun, my photo album grew and for a time I had the fish very much at my mercy. In hindsight, however, I was stuck in the rut of success.

Firstly I was learning very little about either the venue or its inhabitants. My angling approach was predictable and even slightly tedious towards the end. Secondly, and no doubt more importantly, I knew that the success would not last forever. I was becoming increasingly adept at fishing only one swim, but this one-trick-pony approach would surely prove shortsighted, even if consistent success was forthcoming for a while. Predictably, I continued to plunder the same swim until other anglers caught on and the arrival of warmer weather combined with increased angling pressure moved the fish on. Time for a change…

My involuntary move to fish other parts of the lake yielded mixed results. Sadly, and somewhat expectantly, success wasn’t as predictable. I was, however, enjoying exploring new parts of the lake and, for the first time in a while, learning as I went along. It’s the exploratory aspect of fishing that keeps things interesting. Learning new spots, identifying feeding habits, and if nothing else, viewing a different backdrop rekindled my fishing from the somewhat stale state it had become. It has long since amazed me the delight of interest that anglers can muster to stare at the same swims, day in day out. However, if we’re honest, it’s very hard to walk past a known going swim in search of something new. But fortune is suggested to favour the bold, and occasionally the unexpected can bring success that certainly takes us by surprise.

The chod rig is possible the best rig for exploratory angling
Checking the rigs before casting out into the unknown

Unpleasant swim

Last April I had a 24 hour session where my results certainly took me by surprise. In true fail-to-practice-what-I-am-preaching-here mode, I arrived at the venue very much with a preconceived idea of which swim I would fish. I had fished the venue a handful of times before, and angled in a particular swim on all but one of those visits. I knew the likely feeding areas of the swim well and in earnest preparation tied rigs to suit these very spots. Unfortunately, the reception that met my arrival at the lake was somewhat disheartening. The car park was full, really full, and any chance of getting anywhere near my desired plot was ambitious thinking. True to form, the anglers in ‘my’ swim were settled in for several days and any chance of a slotting in was unfeasible.

After a slow and somewhat despondent walk around the lake I saw what appeared to be some fish rolling in front a small, slightly overgrown swim. At a glance the swim was unappealing on a number of fronts. Several trees impinged on casting, tight bank space meant landing fish would be ‘interesting’, and to top it all off the bank was sloping and offered little room for a full bivvy, if any comfort at all. As strange at it may sound, in many ways this was absolutely ideal! The unpleasantness of the swim deterred anglers from fishing it, so on a busy day like this it made sense that fish had found sanctuary there – certainly something worth considering if you are fishing popular venues. With a continuous flow of anglers arriving I decided this would be my best option, so I pessimistically unloaded the barrow.

When considering how best to fish my new-found swim, several thoughts, some of them conflicting, entered my mind. Ideally, having a cast around with a marker rod would be beneficial. However, fish were already present, and if the presence of anglers casting and spodding elsewhere had moved the fish into this swim, surely me doing the same would move them out. I decided, therefore, to fish simple snowman rigs and feel the cast down, hoping for a solid drop. Thankfully, the weed was scarce, so it was only with slightly blind confidence that the rods were out and fishing.

A gentle tug on the middle rod calls for my attention
A light scattering of boilies can attract and hold fish when the spod might work against you

I resisted the urge to spod and simply recognised that fish were already present. Instead I gingerly scattered a few boilies around the area by means of a throwing stick. This baiting approach caused little disturbance, but gave the fish something to look for and, in my mind, would hopefully hold the fish in my area.

Within the hour the Evo was up and twisted creatively to fit the cramped swim and the kettle was on. To my delight, just over an hour into darkness the right-hand rod signaled my first bite of the session. A steady battle commenced and concluded with a long lean mirror of just over 23lb. As is often the case, with the blank out of the way, I recast the rod and sat back on my bedchair with a pleased smile, affirming my choices and approach to be correct. To my surprise, I didn’t have to wait long for my next bite; in fact over the course of the night I caught a further four twenties. Interestingly, the chap in my initial going swim had a quiet night…

Into the unknown

When it comes to fishing a new swim or even a new venue, there are some tactics and approaches that are more suited to exploratory angling than others. The chod rig is perhaps best-qualified for this situation. On nearly any lakebed the chod rig fishes effectively. Solid PVA bags must also rate highly when casting into the unknown. Other consideration should be given to areas of the swim to target. Obvious features like islands, lily pads and gravel bars can sometimes be more attractive to anglers than feeding fish. I was fishing one lake with both rods at range when a good mirror tentatively swam past me under the rod tips, barely three feet from the bank…

Whilst I like to think of myself as being somewhat creative in my angling approach, I know too well it is very easy to do what you do best. Whilst this is not necessarily a mistake, it can be restrictive. We all know examples where a new angler on a water catches well above their fair share, or catches the target fish on their first or second trip. It’s this different thinking, and in turn fishing differently, that can yield surprising results, so maybe there is a case for breaking something that appears not to be broken.

A marker rod is useful but not always essential
You never know, so every session for me ends like this
Both rods are fished at range, but sometimes they are closer in than you think

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