The first round of the Team England Lure Squad Trials at Esthwaite was held over the weekend of the 29th and 30th of March. I had arranged to travel up to Manchester with my wife on the Friday evening to stay with our good friends Heath and Sheri Taylor, Heath would also be my boat partner for the weekend. On the Friday night Heath and I sat down over a cold beer to finalise our preparations for the trials. What we did know was because of the mild winter that we were coming out of the seasonal patterns of fish would likely change and our expectations of how to approach the water would need to be flexible. It is relatively common knowledge as to the prime holding areas for pike on Esthwaite but what would be variables would be, could the pike be getting ready to spawn and if this was the case would the trout be on the bite and the shoals of Perch easy to find, these questions would be answered in the morning.
The morning came and we were in the car and on the way, I remember feeling very excited at the prospect of attending the inaugural Team England Lure Squad Trials knowing that there would be a possibility of qualifying for the final squad trials to be held at Llangorse at the end of May and then the possibility of being selected for the National England Lure Squad to fish in France later in the year. Not only was there the excitement of selection but I really enjoy the competition, I was looking forward to testing myself against the rest of the field and knowing how good or bad I am at the sport I love. Heath and I arrived and had to wait for a couple of hours whilst we waited for the other competitors, this gave us a chance to scan the waters and get a feel for the local conditions. The time went by quickly and the other competitors started arriving Daniel Brackley, Jan Porter, Mike Skipper and Ashley Hockham. I was really surprised to see that there would only be six competitors this weekend including myself and Heath. Honestly I though there would be more people interested in wanting to qualify for the national team. Speaking to Mike Skipper the national team manager about this before we set off on the first day it was clear that he was very disappointed with this fact too, as there was only six of us this meant that we all would automatically qualify for the final qualification round at Llangorse.
Day one, 10am we all sat in our boats ready for Mike to give us the official signal to start the trials. The all clear was given and we set off to our respective spots. Looking at the water temperature on my Hummingbird it was 48ºF only 2ºf of the magical temperature that triggers the pike spawning period at Esthwaite. I remember Daniel and Jan headed into the popular car park bay, Mike and Ashley headed into weather bay and Heath and I made our way to the to the set of buoys via the Strickland Bay point where we made a few casts with jerk baits with no success. At the buoys we planned to fish the ledges between 8-20ft of water. I was picking up lots of activity a couple of foot off the lake bead on my Hummingbird which made me try small crankbaits, dropshot and small shads on jigs with the hope that the activity I was seeing was perch. Well hope as I might these were no perch it must have been bream or roach, after about half an hour we made a move to the swimming pool a shallower bay ranging from about 1ft – 8ft of water, it did not take us much time to get there using my Rhino VX54 electric outboard an electric motor with a lot of power that runs very efficiently on the battery. Our approach to the bay was to come from the lower part and work our way to the upper point. Heath was casting a Quantum Battleshad in Dusk to Dawn 15cm and I had a Savage gear Da bush tied on to my Quantum Exo. After a couple of casts towards the deeper part of the bay Heath had a hit on the Battle shad and unfortunately he missed the strike,I immediately casted in the area where I though Heath missed the fish…… I remember my reaction was perfect, as if I had fished every other day in my life to make this one strike.Wham FISH ON it was a heavy fish I felt it pull and turn as I reeled in, my adrenaline was going. I do not know what I was thinking at the time but a nauseating feeling came over me as I watched the large fish role a couple of times shake her massive head and eject my bait excitement turned to dismay as the realisation of what had just happened dawned over me, I reeled in the now slack line. She was on for a few seconds then she came unbuttoned what had happened, what went wrong? If only I could rewind time for a few seconds what could I do differently. I cursed out loud this was a big fish in a competition and I had let her off the hook.
I needed to sit down gather my thoughts and check my equipment to work out what had gone wrong. The spinner bait was bent out of shape but the hook was as sharp as anything, my trace was all in good order with no kinks or twists. By now I had started to replay the series of events in my head that lead up to, during and just after the brief encounter I started to work out what I did wrong. It was not the equipment that was to blame it was my own careless error and lesson 1 in competitive UK lure fishing for me. What I worked out to be my error was the way I was trying to fight the fish into the boat. I had my drag set far to high and tried to muscle a very big fish straight into the boat. Why was this wrong you ask? Well I have seen this several times and it mostly happens to new anglers. I should have learnt from it myself as it has happened to me enough times when I started out. It comes from excitement and adrenaline When you first start out fishing every time you get a bite your bodies instinct is to strike and reel as hard as you can to land the fish, right? well this is what I did on this occasion the excitement and adrenaline got the better of me and I tried to reel the fish in not thinking about the amount of tension I was creating between my line lure and the pikes mouth, I did not give the pike a chance to fight the drag and swim away from the boat instead I helped the pike unhook itself because of the tension created. Not only was it my fishing skills on this occasion that let me down but in my experience if a pike is going to unbutton itself from any lure I would bet on it being the single hook of a spinner bait and thats lesson 2 of competitive UK lure fishing for me always have trailer hooks on spinnerbaits to avoid this type of disappointment. Now that I had worked out the error in my ways I refocused quickly on the task at hand and that was to re-catch this fish and her friends. I lay down the spinnerbait rod and casted out a few times with a 16cm Jerkbait the Quantum Specialist Spooky Jerk in fire tiger pattern a great suspending bait with awesome hang time making it irresistible for pike not to bite. We worked that water to a froth with all the lures at our disposal but could not attract a follow let alone a bite this went on for another hour with no change. The time was now approximately 1:30pm meaning we only had another 2.5 hrs worth of fishing remaining to us. We needed to make a move and fished a close bay in the hope that our absence from the Swimming pool bay would allow the fish time to recharge and when we fished the Swimming Pool again they would bite. This was not the case they did not bite for a further half hour. We decided to move on to fresh water we jammed the Rhino VX54 into high and zoomed down Esthwaite water to the reed bed on the way to the boat house. We passed the reed line with no luck the lures were just not doing the business today. We started fishing the carpark bay where Dan and Jan had been fishing all day and I took this opportunity to shout over to them to see if they had any luck. Dan had a few follows and had lost one at the boat on the Quantum Battle Shad in the Thunderstorm pattern but had not landed anything. By now as you could imagine having not landed a fish in 5hrs things were getting desperate and as an angler you start to doubt yourself and your skills. Lesson 3 of competitive UK Lure fishing don’t ever doubt yourself keep confident and don’t give up. Keep on casting keep on changing up until you find what makes the fish bite. After fishing for a further hour without any luck it was time to call it a day. We motored our way back to the dock to unload and see where the scores stood.
On exchanging stories with Mike Skipper at the end of the day it turns our Ashley was the only angler on day one to land a fish caught with a jerkbait. In the car on the way home Heath and I discussed the days events what we had tried and what we had not tried. What was concerning and Heath agreed was all the other anglers had reported having fish follow right up to the boat and we had seen nothing of the sort the only fish we had come across were in the Swimming pool bay and in shallow water of about 6-8ft of water on long casts and no follows to the boat. As you could imagine this put a lot of doubt in my head, why did everyone else get follows and we did not or could it just be Fisherman’s Tales ? With my battery on charge for the night Heath and I discussed our tactics for the following day.
On the second day of competitive lure fishing we agreed we were going to fish shallower as we felt the pike could be moving up from deeper water in preparation to spawn with the water temps close to 10ºc. We had agreed the day before that we would head straight to the Swimming pool bay as we knew the fish would be here it was just a matter of getting there and staying there until we got them to bite. Unfortunately events would prevent us from being able to fish this bay as planned. We arrived on the second day slightly later at about 8am and started loading up our boat. Whilst we were loading the boat Ashley and his boat partner came in as they had already been out fishing in the car park bay. Speaking to Ashley they had only had a couple of follows but were going to be heading straight out again as they felt that the best chance of catching fish would be getting them early. To my dismay they had decided they were going to head to the Swimming pool bay, I have to be honest I would be lying if I said I was happy about this. They now had an advantage over all the other anglers in the fact that none of us had even loaded our boats and 3 of the competitors had not even arrived including Mike Skipper. Ashley did explain that they had paid a lot of money and wanted to give themselves the best opportunity to catch a fish and fair point fishing is generally better first thing in the morning. Had we not all already qualified I am sure I would have objected to this. Nevertheless Heath and I needed to go top plan B which was to head into weather bay and try the shallow reed lines here. Once the other anglers arrived we all packed our boats and head out with the agreement that we could fish until 4:30. Well the second day was no better than the first day for us and all the other anglers. We tried everything dropshot, jig, crankbait, swimbait, jerkbait and spinnerbaits short of throwing out a stick of dynamite the fish just were not interested. At the end of the day the theory was the fish we spawning the water temp reached the 10ºc and the pike were not interested. All in all the weekend was a great experience for me I had taught myself a few lessons in competitive lure fishing which is a big thing for me to continue to learn and get better at the sport I love and I got to meet some new anglers who are as passionate about lure fishing as I am. A big thank you must go to Mike Skipper for arranging the whole weekend and for showing such commitment I do not know many other people who would be willing to organise and fish in a two day competitive environment and then take a mammoth train ride home lasting 6+ hours with stops, getting home at 2am and then going to do their day job at 8am. Now that is showing commitment for the sport you love.
You can see the official Team England Lure Trials results by clicking here