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Archive for December, 2008

A combination of luck and hard labour

Published on Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Beside dinner on Christmas Eve, Danes celebrate the festive season by hosting Julefrokosts, or more conveniently known as Christmas lunches to visitors. Julefrokosts typically happen on Christmas Day and they can take up the entire afternoon and evening. The starting dishes include herring, smoked salmon, smoked eel, shrimp salad and other seafood related items. These are followed by meat dishes such as meatballs, pork sirloin and roast pork. Cheese, fruit salad and dessert make up a sweet finish, before tea, coffee and snacks are served. 

After three days of some serious eating, it was time to get back on the beach to chase those impossible winter silvers. The wind has been very light for almost a week, which is an unusual treat in the winter. This makes beach fishing much more enjoyable.

On the weekend I received a phone call from my friend Bill, an American who has resided in Denmark for many years. Bill and I first corresponded by email several years ago when he found out that I was interested in exploring fishing opportunities in Denmark. We agreed on exploring a new beach along the north coast of Sjælland on Sunday.

We arrived at the location, which another friend Thomas recommended, at 10:00am. Being able to have a late start is one benefit on short winter days. Several anglers were already working on the beach, but that was not a concern because there are miles of beach to be covered. Not knowing which way to go, we decided to head west where no one was fishing.

After working across the beach for an hour, I hooked a good sized fish at a reef in front of me. I called for Bill, who saw the rod kicking just before that unwelcoming slack on the line ten seconds after the hook-up. Was the hook-set not proper? Was the hook not sharp enough? Was the drag not tightened enough? Those same questions kept circulating in the head when a sea trout was lost. There was not much to do except making more casts and hoping that other fish were nearby. Not long after the first hook-up, I spotted a smaller fish following the lure to shore without contact.

The waves became larger in the afternoon even though the wind was light. Perhaps the offshore wind was generating them. This made fishing slightly more difficult. After covering the entire section where we wanted to fish, we worked our way back to the starting point.

While working through the reefs where I first hooked a fish, I spotted another sea trout following my fly after the crest of a wave. Perhaps it saw me at the same time, it took a quick peck at the fly before dashing away without being hooked. Bill reported missing a couple of light taps before we called it a day when heavy fog creeped in. As frustrating as it was, this was considered an above average sea trout day.

The thought of losing a fish and the sighting of more followers taunted me when I returned home. I decided that I need to go back for more punishment. Bill phoned soon after and he also had the same idea, so we returned to the beach today.

The sea was even calmer than our last trip, which made reef and fish spotting much easier. The temperature was several degrees lower than last weekend, so we were expecting numb hands and feet once we get in the water.

Being a weekday, the beach was void of anglers. I started my search by heading down to where I lost my fish two days ago. The clear and flat water revealed the exact location of all the reefs. They turn out to be much further out than I thought. We worked through the area quickly and came up empty, so it was time to explore some new waters.

Bill and I believed that we would have more success by moving few steps after each cast. Because it is almost impossible to see the fish in the water, it is difficult to know whether we are working through areas where the fish do not bite easily or no fish are holding at all. There is no point casting at one place over a long period of time and wondering these questions. Instead, we chose to tempt aggressive fish that would readily take a lure or fly on the first cast.

The newly explored waters were fantastic. The water is deep and the bottom is partially or fully covered with reefs, which could potentially hold fish. Just after I felt a light tug and wondered if it was a fish, Bill spotted a rise in front of us. Within a few seconds, a smal sea trout grabbed his fly without hesitation.

We worked the same spot for a few more minutes, hoping that his fish was just one of an active pod. We were unable to generate another bite after many casts, so it was time to get back on track.

Another angler was working his way toward us, so we decided to skip the reefs between us and jumped onto the section where he had just fished. A few minutes after Bill wetted his fly at the new section, he quietly informed me that he had just felt some taps. He proceeded to hook up. It was a fat sea trout, easily in the 2 to 4lb range. This silver fish tail danced on the surface toward Bill, who frantically stripped his line in. Unfortunately he could not keep up and the fish earned its freedom. A few casts later, there was another hook-up! This time the fish was more tamed and brought to his hands in no time. It was a small overwintering fish, which was released for more growth.

Bill felt a few more taps after landing his second fish, then it was all over. A school of fish was obviously encountered. Somehow our neighbouring angler was unlucky enough to miss it when working his way through the same beach. The element of luck can really make you either love or hate this game.

As daylight was coming to an end, we decided to work through some of the earlier fished sections before calling it a day. I headed back to my lucky spot and a fish was hooked in no time. This sea trout followed the lure in like others, except it felt confident enough to bite it just before I lifted the lure out of the water. The hook was not even set, it simply hooked itself. It tail danced all around me as I brought it closer to shore, then it once again fell of the hook! Not only it got off, it decided to taunt me some more before swimming away by doing a few more jumps around me, bouncing itself off a rock after jumping onto it.

I rushed back to shore and grabbed the fly rod, hoping that a school of them was sticking around. Unfortunately many casts later yielded no taps. I looked toward Bill, who was fishing a couple hundred meters away from me. He was making his way to land and my phone rang at the same time. I thought that he was calling it a day.

“Rodney, get up here quickly! A load of fish is in front of me right now, I just landed two.”

The two hundred metre dash could possibly be within the Olympic qualifying time. I arrived to see Bill tailing a rather heavy fish in the shallow water. It appeared to be a post spawner, but a rather silver one if it was. Unfortunately the fish was hooked quite deeply and bleeding, so we decided that it was best to keep this one.

The school of fish that Bill became so excited about was long gone after we headed back out in the water. These sea trout leave as fast as they show themselves, so one really needs to make the best out of it when the fishing is hot. We ended our trip just before dark. With half a dozen fish hooked, this is the best winter outing to date. Is it luck, hard labour or an improvement on our tactics?

Christmas fish

Published on Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

For some reason I have been able to connect with a sea trout on either Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Boxing Day in the past several years. Wanting to maintain that streak of luck, I sneaked down to the Copenhagen Harbour for a couple of hours before the big dinner. After several stormy days, the wind has finally died down and the glassy surface made fish spotting much easier. A few minutes after I set up the rod, I spotted a big splash just outside of my casting distance. I and two other fishing companions all casted toward the direction at the same time. I was at least 50 feet short from the splash while others landed their lures on top of the rise. I guess that the fish was quick on the move and my lure landed right in its face. After a few cranks on the spinning reel, I had a solid pull on the tip and the hook-set was as precise as it could get. The fight lasted a couple of minutes and a fair size sea trout was tailed. It was not the pure silver fish that I had hoped for, but a early Christmas gift from the Danish water nevertheless.

Merry Christmas!

Published on Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Merry Christmas everyone!

Here are some photographs that I took around Copenhagen tonight.

Breath-taking surroundings, but connection short-lived

Published on Monday, December 22nd, 2008

After developing some success last week, I have explored several other beaches in Denmark but none yielded more bites. All the locations that I have visited are on the northwestern region of Sjælland. I have been told that fish along the western shoreline of Sjælland are known to be smaller and slimmer, because they mostly feed on shrimp and other smaller food items. On the contrary, fish along the eastern shoreline of Sjælland tend to be much larger and deeper, because they feed on larger items such as herring and sand eel. Today we decided to explore one of the more popular spots on the east coast, to see if we could connect with one of those bulkier sea trout.

Our destination was Stevns Peninsula, which is just 40km or so outside of Copenhagen. The coastline of Stevns is mostly made of high chalk cliffs, which are popular sites for tourists in the summer. At the southern end of this peninsula, sits a quiet village called Højerup, where a 800 year old church dangles at the edge of the cliff. In the early 1900s, a portion of the church collapsed as erosion finally took its toll.

 

Stratification across the cliff can clearly be seen from the beach. One can discover and marvel many unusual landscapes that have been created by nature overtime.

 

A thin dark clay layer found halfway up the cliff marks an asteroid impact and mass extinction around 65 million years ago. This boundary separates the Cretaceous and Danian Periods.

 

Beside being historically and geologically significant, Højerup is commonly visited by sea trout anglers year-round due to the productive beaches.

Today’s wind was not so favourable. Even though it was not a head wind, we had expected that its strength (over 50km/hour) would resulted in turbulent and chalky water. Luckily, the water condition was not tampered too much. Several anglers were already working hard on the beach upon our arrival.

Without much hesitation, we quickly bundled up in our waders and jackets and rushed down to the beach. We managed to get several hours of fishing in under the warm sun. The air temperature was 7 degrees Celcius, which is rather unusual for this time of the year in Denmark and quite a contrast to what Vancouverites are currently experiencing back home. We were able to tuck ourselves away in a calm bay during the entire outing.

The fishing result was nothing to brag about. We watched one angler hooking a rather acrobatic sea trout on his first cast after lunch. The fish was around 18 inches long. While watching the fight, I detected a bite on my rod but managed to miss it. I continued retrieving and a second hit came shortly. The fish was hooked but came off after a few brief shakes, which is rather disappointing. It is hard enough to find a bite, even harder to be sharp enough at all time to make sure a fish is well hooked and kept on the line. Persistence is not always rewarded in sea trout fishing. Perhaps a school of fish was moving by. This again indicates that sea trout would not hesitate when a lure or fly is presented to them, the catch factor comes down to finding the fish and intercepting them.

Here are some more photographs taken during the trip. I would also like to use this opportunity to wish all a safe and happy holiday! Enjoy the snow!

A small consolation after numerous chances

Published on Monday, December 15th, 2008

The wind was blowing hard from the east today, which was perfect as I wanted to fish a spot on the west coast of Denmark where I couldn’t last week due to the strong head wind. Strong head wind does not only make casting difficult, it stirs up bottom substrates and reduces clarity. With a tailwind, the sea becomes flat and it in fact becomes an advantage when distance is needed in casting.

As usual, it was a misty morning start in Denmark. Temperature hovered at 3 degrees celcius and was expected not to change throughout the day. One couldn’t really ask for better beach fishing condition on a winter day.

I began working the beach with the spinning rod. Spincasting is popularly fished on the beach in Denmark. It allows the angler to cover much larger area and deeper water, so chances of getting into larger sea trout are also increased. Unlike migratory pacific salmon that travel in large masses, these fish school and travel in an irregular pattern. The behaviour is somewhat similar to coastal cutthroat trout, except the travelling space is much larger. To increase success, one can only systematically cover a beach by taking a few step after each cast.

Typical beach lures used while spinning are long, thin yet heavy ones that resemble either herring or sand eel. Combining the retrieving/pausing pattern and the wave motion, their swim becomes rather realistic in the water. These lures weigh between 10 and 30 grams, so they allow the angler to cast them as far as over 200 feet when needed.

Sea trout hunting ground is usually covered with algae (Specifically, fucus, a species of brown algae that tends to dominate the inter and subtidal zones) and rocks. Reefs, as the locals call them, are prime habitat for shrimp, worms and small fish. They hunt by travelling over, in, between the dark substrates. The idea is to work your presentation through them and hopefully it would grab a hunter’s attention.

Exploring these reefs closely with your eyes while fishing can often lead to small yet fascinating discoveries. They are alive with organisms. Snails, starfish, shrimps, jellyfish and barnacles are often sighted. Today I found myself standing next to a juvenile flounder that laid on the bottom comfortably.

After working across a beach for an hour, excitement began to fade as no bites were detected. The outing usually starts with a high anticipation, not a high expectation. After being blanked so many times, I’ve learned that if one shows up with a high expectation in a beach sea trout fishery, then the disappointment at the end of the day may just be too much to handle.

I decided to walk over to a new section slightly further north from my starting point. The ground appeared to be heavily covered, so perhaps there was a trout hiding in it. When the lure approached me on the first retrieve, I noticed a dark clump of matter behind it. My first guess was a clump of weed but I could not feel any additional resistance on the line. A few seconds later, when the lure was much closer to me, I could see that it was in fact a fish following it! I suddenly paused the retrieve and a second fish showed itself beside the first one. Just as they were ready to fight over the piece of metal, I ran out of retrieve space!

At this point, both panic and excitement were having a party in my head. I made another quick short cast beyond where the fish were spotted. As if a pack of wolves had been woken up, a dozen sea trout suddenly darted out from the weed beds and a few small boils could be seen on the surface! Once again, not a single fish committed to a solid bite before I ran out of water to retrieve. Another short cast and retrieve triggered mor fish to chase, but none were tricked. It ended as fast as it started, after three casts all of them disappeared instantly.

I stood there like a fool. Should I continue casting straight out, or move left, or move right? In river fishing, if a fish is spotted, you can pretty much find it again as there is only so much room to cover. It becomes a bit tricky when there are a gazillion litres of water in front of you.

I decided to continue my path and work my way toward north, hoping that I would intercept more fish. Were they sea trout? Perhaps these were escaped rainbow trout from farms. They were after all, chasing and exposing themselves quite blatantly or foolishly as if they were untouchable. Well, they were not touched, so I guess they were more blatant than foolish. Escaped rainbow trout are problematic in European coastal waters. Like any invasive species, they alter the balance on sea trout’s ecosystem. Local anglers believe that rainbow trout farmers purposely lose their fish for insurance claims.

On second thought, I believed they were in fact sea trout. All fish I spotted were estimated to be between 12 and 18 inches long. Their bodies were silver and possess the slender shape that one would see in a natural growth.

Ten minutes later, more fish followed the lures during my retrieves and once again none could be tricked. Further north from where it first happened, another fish followed right in again. This time, I decided to drop the lure onto the bottom when I ran out of retrieve space. The fish paused, suspended beside the lure and watched. When I lifted the lure up once and allowed it to flutter, the fish took a light peck at it and sped back into the deep before I had a chance to react!

Somewhat deflated, I kept working across the beach. More fish were spotted for another hour then it all stopped at noon. Perhaps they had decided to move on. Not so, because a few more followers appeared an hour later. This time, I decided to quickly rush back to shore and rig up the fly rod. Originally I had thought that these fish were following in from beyond my flycasting range. After seeing so many, I suspected that they were all sheltering in the reefs just a short distance away from me. Retrieving flies that immitate shrimps is another common method used on the beach. Maybe the large lure was attractive but too big and heavy for the pan-sized trout to ingest. Maybe a size 8 fly would do the trick.

Once I rigged up, I made my way back to the location where I last spotted some fish. I casted toward the nearest reefs and before I even had a chance to anchor my footing, I felt a solid take! The simultaneous feeling of the tug on the rod and the unnoticed slip of flyline through the fingers is always wonderful. Such a solid take could not be mistaken and the natural reflex made sure the fish could not get away. It was a small one, yet I was very delighted. I slowly backed up, making sure I would not trip over the round boulders. A dip in this water on this winter day would end the trip instantly. The fish came in fast, but began aiming for all the algae planted around me. The excitement let the guard down briefly and the little bugger managed to get its way by wrapping around one algae mass. I ran over to free the line as fast as possible but it was too late. I could see it making its way back into the deep while my line was still stuck on the obstacle.

“You gotta be kidding me.”, I thought. What must one do to bring a fish to the beach? I thought persistance is always rewarded. This was like smelling a good meal without eating it, or watching a movie without the ending being shown. You get the idea, the satisfaction of closure is missing! At least I now knew what could tick them off, so back into the water I went. On the fifth cast, another fish grabbed the fly. Both fish were taken as soon as the fly landed in the water before the retrieve, so obviously these fish were hungry. It appeared to be a much bigger fish, judging by the splashing on the surface. Just when I was ready to get even happier, the fly flew straight back at me. Fish number two was now back and returning to the laughing squad in the water.

By this point, I had about one hour of daylight left. I worked through the area where I had seen fish from start to finish one more time with no success. Just as I was walking back to call it a day, I spotted one more fish moving casually by me in the water. The day was not over yet! I grabbed the fly rod, creeped back into the shallows and made one direct cast toward the last place I saw it. After a few strips, I felt a good tug and fish number three was now dancing at the end of the line. It was another small fish, but at this point I could not careless how big the fish was. I managed to capture a photo with my frozen numb hands before sending it back to become those 20lb fish that I often hear about.

Finally, after six hours of teasing and being teased, I gained one point while these fish gained fifty. It also was my first beach sea trout on the fly, which made all that effort very worthwhile. Seeing these fish darting in and out of the dark reefs like ghosts was also another memorable highlight, which will probably taunt me in my dreams for awhile. On my way back to the car, I conversed with two gentlemen who fish the area regularly and told them about my rather exciting experience. After hearing about the small findings, one of them pulled out his digital camera and showed me a 60cm long specimen caught at the same location last week, and another 4kg fish caught just north of us. Perhaps I will find some bigger ones next time too.

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