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EYE-SPY

EYE-SPY

I like a bit of technology as much as the next guy, and we predator anglers are certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to spending our hard-earned cash. Talk about technology and thoughts probably turn immediately to echo sounders, but in this article I am going to stay mostly away from these, as I wrote about my experiences fairly recently, and may well cover the subject again. Still, there are some other useful bits of kit out there too. 

Like a lot of anglers I have always had a fascination about what is really happening below the water surface. In fact, a few years ago my friend Stuart Morgan and I wrote a book on this very subject. Called Underwater Angling, it documented our findings from a few years spent scuba diving on various venues, primarily in terms of how tackle actually performed underwater. 

I still dive to this day, being one of the ‘lunatic fringe’ who prefers to dive in shallow, murky lakes and rivers in the UK, and not jet off to exotic coral reefs teeming with aquatic life. Ironically, diving in tropical climes leaves me a bit emotionally cold, whilst diving in the UK most certainly leaves you just bloody cold! 

We had big plans to follow up with more diving, more fiddling about underwater and crucially, lots of filming fish behaviour, but as so often happens, life got in the way for both of us and I expect it will be left to keener folk than us to do this in the future. Still, the passion to learn more never really leaves you and on every session I sit or stand there wondering what is really going on, and still like to try and work it out. Hence, I have collected all sorts of bits and pieces of kit, some expensive, some relatively cheap, which has taught me some important lessons.

The yellow duck

So, lets start off with my little yellow duck. One of the more inexpensive bits of electronic kit that you can buy, but which also happens to be rather useful is a castable echo-sounder. These were quite fashionable about a decade ago, but since then have rather faded away. This hasn’t stopped a host of Chinese companies from copying the initial idea, which has seen prices tumble. Today you can buy one of these units from a UK-based Ebay shop for around £50. The model that was recommended to me some years ago, and which has proved reliable is called a Lucky FFW718. This consists of the handheld sounder screen and the yellow duck-like transducer that can be cast quite some distance on a deadbait or lure rod. I’ve never found the maximum range of the radio signal on my duck, but something in the region of about 50 metres is as far as I can chuck it anyway. If you want to go further then carefully super-glueing a small weight to the base will give more casting weight and also improve the readings you get when there is a bit of a wave action. You can buy models with an extended antenna too, which gives extra range.

Believe it or not, I’ve used the duck quite a lot when boat fishing, alongside my normal sounder. For locating precise features, such as stream beds and drop-offs, it is surprisingly useful, especially if you don’t have side-imaging. With the boat at anchor I will often attach it to my lure rod and have a quick cast around before using it as a marker when positioning my deadbait rigs. 

Where the duck really comes into its own though is when bank fishing. Much quicker and causing less disturbance than a marker float, I can get a good idea of the topography of a swim in double-quick time. Either used whilst out fishing, or for mapping whole venues, it is a time-saving piece of kit that takes up very little room in my rucksack. 

I suppose the modern equivalent of the yellow duck would be the Deeper fish finder, which I must admit I haven’t tried. On paper though they look an interesting bit of kit and certainly open up new ways of gathering information about what is going on below the surface whether you are bank or boat fishing. 

Unleash the Wolves

Underwater cameras have been around for many years now and whilst the early ones were often bulky and expensive, today you can get ones that are actually useful and not budget-blowing. 

I can recall my first faltering trials with a waterproof CCTV (surveillance) camera on Grafham a few years ago. On the tiny screen I could see the odd fish, but with only 50 feet of cable and the water being 55 feet deep, it was always doomed to failure. Why I never tried it on a shallower spot I will never know! After that it blew a fuse and got chucked in the shed, never to see the light of day again. 

Today I own several underwater cameras, each of which has a use, but the ones that gets pressed into action most are the commonly available Water Wolf cameras. These aren’t fool proof, but have proven very useful in a number of situations, and going by the amount of footage on You Tube, I am not alone in using them. Now, I will probably come over as a bit of an advocate for these cameras, so I better make it clear that I have no connection to Svendsen, the distributor, but just find them very useful. 

The major plus of the Water Wolf is that it has been designed for angling. So they are pretty robust, attach easily and securely to your rig and are not too bulky. If it could be made even smaller and have better image quality (so that I could grab still images from the video) then it would be perfect. The latter point though is only really of interest if, like me, you want to take still images from the video. For seeing what is going on below the surface though it has proven a major step forward. 

Swim mapping

Having spent a fair amount of time scuba diving over the last few years I had a fair inclining that what we think a swim looks like and what the reality is can often be very different. Even with careful plumbing you can get a false impression of what is going on out there. This of course isn’t necessarily a problem because if you find a feature or spot that is producing then you can just look for spots that are similar, but as always, I want to know more and that led me to deploying a camera. 

Last summer I was tench fishing on a very clear gravel pit and decided to do some filming of the lake bed. The set-up that I cobbled together was a camera suspended about two feet off the lake bed. A 4oz lead made sure that I could drag along the deck OK and by attaching a small pilot float above the camera I knew that it was always held away from the bottom. This rather Heath-Robinson contraption worked remarkably well, and gave me a fantastic insight into exactly what the topography of my swim looked like. 

Details, such as the depth of the silt layer, the patchiness of weed and even the abundance of caddis larvae and small fish could all be seen clearly on the recordings. The results were so good that, full of enthusiasm I set about recording a whole 40-acre pit, but managed to make an almighty cock-up in the process. Trying to be a bit clever, I thought I would use the inbuilt microphone to simply record what swim I was in and where I was casting before casting the camera out. For some reason though the microphone didn’t pick up what I was saying, so I ended up with several hours of footage of numerous swims, but with no idea of which was which! 

Something else that the camera picked up clearly was bait on the bottom. I would regularly cast out mid-morning to check how much, if any, bait was left and top up accordingly. as it was a very quiet venue I started baiting swims around the lake and checking the spots to see if the bait had been eaten. For anyone that pre-baits for pike this could prove to be a very useful tool, enabling you to not only gauge whether the bait has been eaten or not, but which spots are being fed on. 

Go mobile

One problem that I did have to overcome was that you have to remove the micro-SD card from the camera and play this back on a laptop, phone or tablet as there is no room for a screen on the camera. To begin with I was lugging around an old laptop with a dodgy battery, plus a power inverter and leisure battery, just to be able to view my footage - thank goodness I could park behind my swim! 

A friend of mine soon realised that he could plug the memory card into his Samsung smart phone, and after a hunt around I bought an Amazon Kindle tablet for £50 and downloaded the free VR reader app that allows me to watch my footage very easily, even when boat fishing. These days if you see me out on the water with my coat over my head to cut out the sunlight then you know what I am doing! 

A different option that a friend of mine has used to similar effect is the Fish Spy camera. This has the advantage of being designed specifically for feature-finding, so is easier to rig up and crucially has built in WIFI that allows it to send pictures live to your smart phone, as long as the unit is on the surface (radio signals are very quickly absorbed underwater). If you have an up to date phone or tablet then this is a serious contender and something that I will buy when I get around to updating my phone.

Watching pike

When predator fishing I have so far mainly used my Water Wolf’s to watch my lures and hopefully see how the pike and other species are reacting to them. I must admit, that I haven’t recorded anything like as much footage as I should of done, simply because I forget to rig the camera up. The conditions have to be good too. Clear water with visibility of ideally six feet or more is required and the water shouldn’t be too deep as light levels quickly drop, making filming difficult. 

One time that I did remember to put a camera on was during a bit of a red-letter lure session last winter. After having struggled all morning, I eventually had a follow off a pike and with nothing else to go on dropped the anchor and set about fishing the area properly. It soon became apparent that the pike wanted the lures slowed right down, ploughing the bottom in around 25 feet of water to be precise. A quick chug about with the side-imager on my sounder revealed no visible pike - confirming that they were sitting on the deck. 

To cut a long story short, the next hour resulted in nine fish, mostly doubles, and about halfway through the fish I remembered to rig up a camera and see what was going on. As expected, the pike were sat actually touching the bottom and would leisurely sidle up to a lure and either take it, or follow it for some distance. As soon as the lure came more than a couple of foot off the deck most stopped following. 

Perhaps the most important thing I learnt from that bit of filming was just how slowly I had to work the lure - a six-inch shad mounted on a 30gram jig - to keep it in the zone. Crucially, even though I was crawling the lure, it was still working nicely at a speed much slower than I would normally have used. If nothing else, you can get a good idea of how your lures work at different speeds by filming them. Most work (and attract fish) at much slower speeds than you might imagine. 

Mesmerised

Other days have been spent towing a camera around in front of a trolled lure. I tend to remember to dig the camera out more often than when casting, so have got more footage. 

Two things really stand out from this. The first is just how often, if your location is right, you will get pike following lures. More often than not, would sum up what we have found. Often we have speculated just how often a pike has inspected out lures without us knowing about it and from bumps and follows we had assumed that this was happening two to three times as often as we were getting hook-ups. I now know that this can be a massive underestimate.

Some of the pike (and other species) will follow trolled lures for minutes before taking them or turning away. This can mean they have travelled hundreds of metres, expending quite a lot of energy in the process, strange behavior from what is supposedly an ambush predator. It is often as if the pike have become mesmerised by the hypnotic movement of the lure, which lacks the trigger to make them eat it. This explains why on some days imparting more variation in the action of a trolled lure by pulling and dropping it back, can definitely bring more hits. 

Vertical

Finally, whilst messing about on the ressies this Autumn we have hung a camera above a lure when vertical fishing, with some interesting results. Because the camera and lure are now within the acoustic cone of our sounder we can watch on the screen what is happening in real time and then relay this back to the footage we capture on the camera. 

On a couple of occasions zander have followed and taken the lure whilst we have been filming. On another the zander ignored the lure and tried to eat the camera! This has been a real eye-opener, with perhaps the most important lesson being that we have been able to check that what we are seeing on the screen are actually fish and what size and species they are. In one area of Rutland we fished away for what looked like a group of small zander sat close to the bottom. Unusually, we didn’t get a hit. The camera revealed that no, they weren’t zander, but in fact six-inch long perch. That same group of perch followed the lure for about 50 metres, giving the impression that the bottom was paved with fish, when it fact it was the same couple of dozen all the time! 

When we have viewed zander taking our lures they have always attacked the centre of the lure, which if it has been soft enough has been folded almost in half as it goes into the zanders gob. This explains some of the weird hook-holds that you get when jigging, and why some lures (soft, narrow ones) give a better hook-up than others. It has also led us to abandon normal jig hooks when after zander, as the hook position and stiffness these give the lure can lead to missed bites. 

To say that we have only just scratched the surface with these cameras would be a real understatement. Whilst I don’t always use them, my ‘underwater spies’ are always in my box and they enable me to answer so many questions, many thrown up by what I am trying to interpret on my sounder. Fascinating stuff, and something that can only help us improve as anglers. You may or may not agree with the ethics of using kit like sounders and cameras to help you catch fish, but rather than just being a short-cut to success, they give insights that would be impossible to get any other way, which for me is what fishing is all about. 


Published:
24/07/2017 07:20:00

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