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Archive for May, 2009

A swampy experience

Published on Saturday, May 30th, 2009

It has been gusty along the coast for several days now. The wind finally eased up slightly and changed its direction today. This does not necessarily mean that the beach fishing is better. Whenever it is windy, seaweed tends to be washed up the coast so it would be tiresome to drag them up on every retrieve. Beside, garfish seem to still dominate the sea and sea trout fishing is only good late in the evenings. I was looking for a change of scenery and contemplated where to fish this weekend. We decided to slow the pace down slightly, by scouting out some smaller water bodies this evening.

Unlike Canada, the eastern part of Denmark lacks lakes and rivers so most of the fishing is done along the coast. Large lakes and rivers are typically managed by fishing organizations and a day fee is required. Although freshwater fishing opportunities are pretty limited, there are still places where you can enjoy it for free.

Little swamps and ponds can be found across this island, they are footprints of the last glaciation. Trout are absent in these tiny puddles, but they have an incredibly rich diversity of life. Small coarse fish such as roach and rudd make up the bottom of the food chain while large predators such as northern pike and perch keep the populations in check. Other fish found in them include tench, bream and a variety of carp species.

They are species that do not excite most anglers, but I really enjoy seeing new species that I have enver encountered before. While in high school, I briefly watched a few match fishing shows from UK and had wanted to catch these species. Several springs ago, I finally had a chance to do so, but did not have the right equipment for them. During my stay in Denmark this time, I have brought along some of the light tackle that I usually use for peamouth chub back home.

After studying the map, we decided to check out a swamp near Nina’s hometown, which is about 20 minutes of driving from Copenhagen. The swamp is tucked away in the middle of a large field, making it a pretty peaceful setting for fishing even though we are not too far away from the city.


The busiest traffic crossing in the area.


A protective parent.

I decided to set Nina up with a float rig. The thin float only takes two tiny split shots to balance, perfect for detecting bites from small coarse fish. The long spinning rod and thin line allows her to cast the light setup without much difficulty. Knowing that there could be pike or perch around, I chose to bring along my spincasting setup with my 1/8oz green spinners that have always been so good to me on just about all predatory species that I target.


Bait, whip and wait.

Several seconds after Nina’s float settled on the water, it dipped a few times. This is one appealing feature of the coarse fishery, the waiting game is always short! The fish are almost always abundant and never too selective.

She missed the first several bites by yanking the rod too hard. The float flew straight out of the water everytime. I guess that we had been fishing for garfish so much lately, it is easy to forget how soft the mouth of these fish is. With a bite of adjustment in technique, the first fish made its way to the bank.

She lifted it up by the line and tried to see what it was. It took awhile but we figured out that it was a rudd, which looks quite similar to a roach.

After letting it go, Nina rebaited and chucked the rig out. The float once again disappeared before she had a chance tightening up the slack line. It seemed to be a smaller fish as it came in quite swiftly. It was a roach, which was much more slender than a rudd. Two species in two casts, this was turning into a pretty good start.

Nina repeated this process for the rest of the evening. I decided that it was time to throw the spinner out after taking enough photographs. The swamp seems to be pretty shallow and weedy, so I had no high expectations. The first few casts ended with some weed on the line during the retrieve. Once I had determined how deep it was, I made some adjustment to my retrieve and that solved the problem instantly. The grassy bank on the other side actually looked very appealing. If a pike or perch was in this swamp, it would be over there. At least that was my theory. I made a few long casts and the spinner landed right by the weed patch. Still expecting nothing, I watched Nina’s float and chatted as I retrieved it. Suddenly I felt a solid tug. It was definitely not a piece of weed, but I hesitated to pull because my mind was still on the float.

Hoping that it would go for it again, I aimed for the same spot. I felt another tug after a few turns on the reel. This time, I set the hook hard. The light spinning rod was bent to the cork and I could felt some shaking at the end of the line. What could it be? I carefully guided the fish into the shallow as I only had a size 4 single barbless hook on the lure. The fish appeared on the surface of the copper-coloured water. It was a small pike! The fish was only perhaps 20 inches long, but I was very thrilled regardless. Nina grabbed the camera and prepared to snap a shot while I celebrated. The fish thrashed on the surface and suddenly freed itself. It sat on the bottom and jetted into the deep after several seconds. I was still pretty caught up with the excitement so was not too disappointed by the loss.

Two casts later, I felt another solid tug just as I started retrieving the spinner. The rod was once again being put to work. It felt just as heavy as the previous fish, but it fought differently. A good sized perch appeared on the surface after 30 seconds. Nina once again brought out the camera, but this fish was also camera shy. It dashed away after shaking the hook off without much effort. This catch and release method is working a bit too efficiently.

I proceeded to hook two more perch, but both also failed to make it to shore. I checked the hook for problems, but it seemed to be find so I guess that the angler was not so fine.

When I finally had a fish posing in front of the camera, it was much smaller than the ones that I had lost earlier. Aren’t the ones that get away always bigger? Nevertheless, it was a pretty fish. The green body, black bands, red fins are all classic characteristics of the European perch.


Brightly red fins.

A tiny northern pike followed soon after. This seemed to be a world of minis. Despite of its unspectacular size, this specimen was in very good condition.


Baby toothy fish.

I finished the evening with one more perch on my line. It was a slightly bigger specimen than the previous fish.


Meet spiky!

Unlike yellow perch in North America, European perch can grow up to several pounds in weight. Perhaps due to the swamp size, they are unable to grow much bigger? That is most likely not the case, because we did see some biggies rolling on the surface just before dark. For a scouting trip, it was certainly a rather successful one based on the number of species caught. Perhaps this swamp still has other hidden secrets, which we shall find out when we return in the near future.

The hunt for toothy predators failed again

Published on Monday, May 25th, 2009

After experiencing a different fishery in the Baltic Sea for two weeks, it was time to try something new. I mean, catching one garfish after another was great, but it was beginning to seem quite repetitive. I decided to check out the freshwater scene last Sunday. I recall fishing in one of the streams a few springs ago and seeing large northern pike exploding on the surface for food. At that time, I could only look on helplessly because I did not have the right gear. This time I brought some large poppers with me so I could tempt one or two of these toothy fish.

The nights are getting much shorter in Denmark. I had planned the outing for early in the morning, but sunrise was at 4:44am. Not being a morning person, I struggled to wake up at 3:45am and found the sky already quite bright. The drive was 30 minutes long and by the time I arrived, the sun was just rising in the horizon. It was a good thing that the river is quite shaded from trees, so I still had fair amount of time to bring a pike to the surface.

I quickly made my way to the river and found a couple of large fish rolling immediately. I was not sure what species they were. Perhaps they were sea trout, but judging by the time of the year, they were most likely large pikes. I began casting my popper and working my way systematically down the river. To make a long story short, my early morning effort was not rewarded. I ended the trip at 10:00am. The highlight of the morning was perhaps a herd of cattles that kept following me around by the river. Most river access in Denmark involves crossing a farming field.


What are they up to?

Deflated and tired, I returned home and was prepared to rest for the remainder of the day. I logged onto the net and found an email from Henning in the inbox. Funny enough, the email included an invitation to a pike fishing trip that evening. I was quite exhausted, but did not hesitate to accept that invitation. Henning and I had in fact not met. We corresponded by email because he also documents his fishing trips in a blog. Over the years, the internet has aided me to share my fishing experience with others in both Canada and Denmark. Many anglers often fear the damages that the internet may do to fishing, but I have found it to be more beneficial than damaging by creating a tighter network among anglers.

Henning and I agreed to meet at 6:00pm near the lake where we intend to fish. The lake is “private”, like most freshwater systems in Denmark. Fishing is only granted for those who belong to the fishing club that manages it. Members, such as Henning, have the privelege to keep their boats at the club dock and use them whenever desired. For non-members, they can pay around CAD$20 to use one of the club boats and fish the lake for one day. It is a slightly more expensive system than what is available in British Columbia, but it is still within reasonable cost.

The sun was still shining brightly at 6:00pm. It was rather calm, which is really unusual in this windy nation. We made our way out in Henning’s boat. Poppers rigged, it was time to nail some pike.

We rowed past an island at one point and it was just covered with blackheaded gulls. Henning said that these birds return each summer to feed and breed. They were very active and noisy. At times a bird would be interested in our poppers on the water surface but quickly turn away after realizing what they were.

The first three sections of the lake that we tried did not produce any risers except a couple of possible movements just below the surface. After a couple of hours, we reached a shallow bay where small fish were feeding on the surface. Perhaps there were bigger ones lurking beneath? They were indeed! Soon after we began casting, henning had the first chaser right behind the popper but he failed to connect.

I suddenly became rather excited. Being able to see a sign of fish always raises the confidence. I aimed for a patch of weed not far from his bite. While still chatting with Henning about his miss, a large fish suddenly thrashed over my popper. I yanked the rod but also missed the fish! Now the excitement really started just when the sun set behind the hill.

We casted to the same spots repeatedly, but these fish seemed to have learned quickly. They never came back for another gulp. Henning rowed the boat out of the bay slightly so we could drift back in and give it one more try. I decided to switch the popper to a large spoon. Perhaps a sub-surface lure could tempt the same fish. I aimed for the area where Henning originally missed a fish. It only took a few casts before we had another sighting. While retrieving the spoon back to the boat, I watched it in the water as usual. In a split second, I could see a large pike emerging behind it. Both Henning and I screamed, I guess he had seen it too. I felt a slightly bump, but it never commited to a bite.

Hope began to diminish as the sun disappeared. We slowly rowed toward the dock and made a few more stops for some casts, but it seemed like all the fish had gone to bed. We ended the trip at 10:00pm and there was still enough daylight for us to make our way out of the forest.

Although no fish were connected, it was another new, different and exciting fishery for me, with another fantastic fishing company. For several years now, I have been seeking for these toothy predators. When I first decided to target northern pike, my presumption was that they would be much easier to catch than salmonids. After many attempts, it has become quite apparent that it is more challenging than I had expected.

One more crack on the gars

Published on Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

It seems like when I have had enough of catching one garfish after another, I decide to give it one more try. I had originally planned to switch my target species to sea trout this evening but decided to go back to the usual spot instead briefly. The garfish were plentiful as usual. The size 4 single barbless hook that I switched to seemed to keep the fish on much better than the small treble hooks that I have been using. Here is a series of photographs from this evening, taken by Nina. Perhaps it is finally time to start chasing other species.

The biggest challenge that I encounter when planning a fishing trip in Denmark is the weather, which seems to be constantly changing. The wind direction and strength shift by the hour, rainstorms roll in with only a few minutes of notice. Early this morning, a rather large thunderstorm passed by and woke me up. It was a photo opportunity not to be missed because I rarely see lightnings around Vancouver. After a few dozen tries, I managed to capture this lightning shot in the dark.

Surprising catches in the evening

Published on Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

The evenings have been quite pleasant lately. The light southerly breeze is quite tolerable, especially when the temperature is hovering in the mid to high teens. Seeing that garfish are abundant to the point that every cast would result in one bite after another, I thought perhaps evenings may bring out other species when these long needlefish go to bed.

We went to a nearby beach at 8:00pm, giving ourselves a couple of hours to find a few tugs before dark. Armed with the video camera, Nina kept the film rolling while I brought in one garfish after another. The bite went on for about an hour and died down suddenly, which seems to be pretty normal as it gets dark. Seeing that we had captured enough footages (please look for the video later this summer), I handed the fishing rod to Nina so she could make a few casts.

She found the bites pretty quickly. The rod was kicking just after her second cast. It did not behave like a garfish. This fish kept itself in the deep and put up a rather good fight as Nina reeled it in. When it surfaced in front of us, both of us shouted out at the same time, “It’s a cod!”

In the last couple of years, we have been told that cod is a pretty common species in the coastal fishery. This was our, or should I say, Nina’s, first cod in Denmark. Although not very big, it was worth celebrating. We took a couple of photographs before letting it swim away. This little guy will eventually grow up to its potential size, 40lb, at least that is our hope.

There must have been a school of them, because we managed to connect with two more cod and miss many other strong tugs. The light spinning rod definitely kept the action pretty fun even though these fish were no more than 40cm long. Perhaps I should return next time with a stiffer rod and heavier lures to target larger specimen in the deeper sections.

Garfish fever

Published on Monday, May 11th, 2009

 

In Scandinavia, the month of May marks the beginning of a season that is celebrated by every life form. The spring landscape is much more pleasant. The green fields are covered by wild flowers. The rocky shoreline is thickened with algae and other microscopic inhabitants. After a long, dark Baltic winter, people are eager to be out in the sun as much as possible by jogging, kayaking or simply relaxing in a park. It is a celebration that no one would want to miss.

While this is happening, another annual phenomena is not being unnoticed. The migration of garfish (Belone belone), which is either love or hate by anglers, usually starts in late April and tapers off by the third week of May. Not to be confused with North America’s freshwater gars, these garfish are in fact a species of needlefish that are pelagic in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and Baltic Sea. They are loved because they are easy to catch and tasty on the dinner plate. Sea trout anglers tend to find them a nuisance because quite often they take over the sea, making it harder to target sea trout specifically.

What impresses me about this fishery is the large amount of people who take part in it. Last weekend, we spent an afternoon sitting at a popular spot in Øresund, the strait that runs between Denmark and Sweden, we found ourselves surrounded by families that were out for the same reason. Dozens of boats could also be found just outside our casting distance. A gong show, you may think, but it was in fact very orderly and enjoyable. This fishery is family-friendly due to the fact that garfish are very willing biters.


Nearby windmills, being put to work on this breezy day.


Øresund Bridge, connecting Denmark and Sweden since 2000.

Just about every fishing method works for garfish, so it comes down to what the angler’s preference. Floating a piece of herring is relaxing and suitable for kids, but it can pose a challenge on a windy day. Spinning lures can generate many bites, but quite often the hook does not penetrate through the fish’s hard beak enough so landing rate maybe low. Since I was introduced to this fishery few years ago, my preference is still flyfishing for them. Garfish do not discriminate, so even a piece of yarn on the line can entice them. There would not be a shortage of bites when stripping a size 10 orange fly just below the surface with a 4wt.

While one cannot expect reel screaming runs from garfish (after all, their average weight is less than a pound), garfish do fight reasonably well with leaps and dives mixed in between.

Today I decided that we should keep a few for eating. Danes enjoy eating garfish. They can be BBQed, pan fried. I have quickly discovered that killing these fish is a messy job. Their length is easily over half a meter long and the body diameter is no more than ten centimeters. Handling them is perhaps best described as snake handling. You grab onto their gill plates, they slap the rest of the body around. You grab onto the mid section, they slip away freely after a couple of wiggles. The line quite often wraps around their body and the hook can sometimes be hard to remove because it is so embedded into the hard beak. When the job of untangling, unhooking, dispatching was done, I was completely covered in scales, slime and the oily fish smell that I used to find when targeting pelagic species in Australia.

That being said, this is definitely a light tackle fishery that I wouldn’t mind putting up with for a few weeks per year. I think that I will go down to the beach and enjoy it a bit more tomorrow.

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