7 June, 2019 |0 Comments
Specimen fishing ace Tony Gibson looks back on a successful winter campaign targeting big fish.
Tony spent his winter targeting a 40lb plus UK sturgeon, big perch on reservoirs before dropping onto the river where he landed a surprise capture..
As the mild Autumn weather finally slipped away and gained some cold winter ‘bite’ to it, my thoughts started to turn towards a bit of predator fishing.
An opportunity came up to spend a couple of days afloat on one of the Midland trout reservoirs that had produced the odd very big fish in the past, so I was soon booked up on two consecutive days, with the special treat of sharing the boat with Mark Parker on the first day.
Unfortunately for us the weather turned sunny and warm again, and therefore most of the boats, including ourselves, struggled for a fish. However, we stuck with the area that we’d first selected after a good search around that side of the reservoir with the aid of Mark’s sophisticated portable sonar equipment.
We probably worked it out about right, as later in the day one of the guys in a boat close to us landed a big fish and a little while later I eventually had a run on a decent sized deadbait suspended under a drift float. It’s always exciting when you get a run on a place like this, as the fish responsible could be a jack… or could be an absolute monster. Unfortunately, in this case, it was more of the former, as the size was quite disappointing.
However, the brief activity had got the old ‘ticker’ thumping for a few minutes, the ‘banter’ with Mark that lasted all day was totally enjoyable… and we hadn’t blanked. The following day I was out on my own on the boat and without Mark’s excellent company it seemed like a long day, especially as the fishing looked to be even slower than the day before and I eventually ‘blanked’ in fine style.
While the weather remained fairly dry leading up to Christmas and therefore with the local rivers remaining relatively clear, I took the opportunity to have a few short sessions chasing the perch. These sessions produced a few bites and threw up the odd decent fish, but I was struggling to find anything particularly big, so swapped and changed venues on most trips, endeavoring to find either more consistency, or some bigger fish.
As a total contrast, not long before Christmas, I got a call from a mate John that I’d met while fishing a couple of years ago. We had a shared interest in big catfish and other predators and at some point I had mentioned to him that I fancied a go at some UK sturgeon one day.
My thoughts about the sturgeon fishing were not to take anything too seriously, but having caught UK carp, catfish and grass carp all to over 40lb, I quite fancied adding a 40lb+ UK sturgeon to that list if the opportunity ever came about.
John had remembered my sturgeon related musings and with some solid sturgeon experience of his own had gone about arranging a visit to a venue that had produced some very big fish… and would I like to join him in a session early in the New Year? Well ‘yes’ I would actually…!
Spot of sturgeon bashing..
The excitement leading up to the trip itself kept ramping up, as we discussed tackle and tactics and John described the immense size of the fish and dramatic battles that could be expected if we were fortunate to actually hook one of the ‘beasts’… several of which weigh well over the 100lb mark!
Eventually the first day of our session arrived and with a couple of nights ahead of us we could afford to take our time making swim choices and consider how we’d go about presenting baits in any likely looking areas. Eventually we were getting settled into our swims and surprisingly I experienced a dropped run on a deadbait in broad daylight, soon after getting the rods out.
I’d been told that the sturgeon, despite their size, could be finicky and react badly to any changes in resistance during the take, so I’d been careful to try and make things as resistance free as possible. I was therefore both ‘gutted’ at missing a possible opportunity so early on, but we were also excited that we’d experienced some sort of action right at the start of our session and hoped that it would be an indicator that we’d found the sturgeon in a feeding mood.
Because of the size of some of the fish in the venue, it would be an almost impossible task to land the largest of them single-handed. Therefore, with both John and myself having the experience of catching UK catfish to over 100lb, we ensured that we were well prepared to help each other land one of the big fish and were also well kitted out to accurately look after, weigh and photograph any of the monsters should we catch one.
We’d also made arrangements to notify/summon each other if we were playing a fish and needed assistance via walkie-talkies, in case we didn’t hear each other’s alarms while asleep or whatever.
It was the evening of the first day, but already well dark when John hooked into the first sturgeon of our trip. Right from the start it was clearly a big fish and although the fight provided plenty of drama, with the fish clearing the water on a couple of occasions at close range, John was geared up with very strong tackle and kept in control the whole time. The big ones were simply too large to easily net, even with a large catfish net, and were best landed by grabbing with a firm hold around the wrist of the tail and carefully pulling up from the water’s edge and onto the bank over well-placed catfish type unhooking mats.
It still required both of us to maneuver the fish up onto the bank proper… and for a second or two we both were blown away by both the size and the prehistoric looking majesty of this amazing fish. With everything including mats, tripod, sling, cameras and lighting equipment already set out in readiness, we wasted no time in getting the fish weighed in at over 70lb, then photographed and back into the water.
It was safe to say that we were both suitably impressed with everything about the fish… and were left giggling like kids as we swapped thoughts with each other regarding what a fish twice that size might look like, as the largest in the lake were reputed to be…
A big girl…
A few hours later we were to find out, as a deadbait that John had positioned back in the same spot that had produced his first fish produced another run! Unbelievably it seemed that this was an even bigger fish than the first one and again leapt clear of the water close in during the fight. Fortunately, all our preparations for the event and the practice with the first fish enabled us to land and take care of the fish in a very professional manner, but we were still blown away yet again by the fish, as this sturgeon weighed in at an incredible 153lb!
After his second fish, John very unselfishly offered to share the area of his swim that had produced both his fish, as he could see that I dearly wanted one of these magnificent fish for myself and we’d previously agreed that we could conclude the session as a totally unmitigated success if we were fortunate enough to both land fish over the magic “ton”. After John’s invitation, I wasted no time in getting a bait out towards the “hot spot” and eventually retired to my bivvy full of excited expectation.
It was in the early hours when I was ‘away’ on the rod that we’d moved to the “hot spot” area. The take coming to hair-rigged mackerel section, tipped with a small piece of luminous plastic. To say that the fight was dramatic would still be something of an understatement, as although I was using my standard UK catfish gear, this was probably rated as on the light side for these massive sturgeon.
I had my clutch set as tight as I dared, but this fish still dragged 50 to 60 yards of line off the reel on some of those powerful early runs and still had the energy to leap out of the water on several occasions. After what seemed like an age, when we eventually saw the fish close in, despite the fish that John had caught earlier, we were both a bit shocked, as this sturgeon looked to be even longer than John’s monster!
When I finally had the fish properly subdued and we could wrestle the ‘beast’ up on the bank, it was obvious that it was going to smash the 100lb barrier; the only remaining question was by how much? Although it did appear a little longer than John’s 153lb fish, it clearly didn’t have the same girth, but still weighed in at a massive 142lb!
After the photos and the fish was safely returned, it all started to slowly sink in. Prior to the trip we’d set out with the simple objective of trying to catch a sturgeon apiece, with hopefully a fish over 40lb to add another species to my UK 40lb+ list. With John’s early success, we’d ambitiously amended that too a ‘ton’ plus sturgeon each and still managed to ace it in the first night…
With the bonus that we both now had two different UK freshwater species over 100lb to our credit! With that, we decided that it was “job done” as we couldn’t realistically hope to improve things. We were both absolutely shattered, so it was time to crash out in our bivvies for a few hours before packing up once it was light.
Time to head to the river…
Once I’d recovered from the sturgeon session, I was keen to get back on the rivers to see if I could get back among the perch and chub during the milder weather. Or when it was colder, the plan was to do some piking on the big reservoir, where I’d enjoyed some success the previous winter. As it happens, both venues provided some nice bonus fish.
Late one evening I was well into a session after the chub on a deep slow section of river that I quite fancied for a big fish but tended to be slow going. I’d had no action whatsoever, when out of the blue I had what appeared to be a strange line bite that I managed to stop myself from striking at. A couple of minutes later the tip pulled round again, but this looked more like a proper bite and the resulting strike met with heavy resistance from the second I’d made contact.
For a while I imagined that I was playing a monster chub that wasn’t quite aware of what was going on and was just plodding about without making any sudden dashes anywhere. It wasn’t until I’d slowly and carefully worked the fish upstream and it was coming close towards the outstretched landing net when I realized I’d hooked a decent bream and not the monster chub I’d been hoping for.
It wasn’t until the fish was in the net that I remembered that the section was rumored to produce the odd big bream, but I was still surprised by the size of the fish and when the scales registered a weight of 10lb 5oz; a rare river “double”.
The other large bonus fish was a massive brown trout that took a fancy to my deadbait one crisp and frosty morning when chasing pike on the big reservoir. Again, when I first hooked it, I was assuming that I’d hooked my intended quarry and it wasn’t until it was in close that I could see it was a massive “brownie” and not a pike at all.
I’ve had a few big trout from some of the reservoirs while piking over the years, but this was easily the largest example to date, and I was happy to see it swim away strongly after a few quick self-takes.
With the end of the season fast approaching and still plenty of plans to continue with the pike fishing and more sessions on the rivers after perch and chub. I’ll let you know how things worked out in my next piece.