Lure-fishing wise it had been a frustrating morning.
Despite walking the banks of the Medway from the lock at the Teston picnic-site to
Down-stream of the bridge at Barming, and most of the way back again, I had not had a single take, but some days are like that (for me a lot of days are like that).
I wasn't complaining though, it was a lovely early Summer's day, the bank-side was abloom with wild-flowers and the river and adjoining fields full of wild-life. However, I was feeling knackered, hot and in need of a rest.
Spreading my unhooking mat on the grass, I lay back and gazed skywards, watching a hawk hovering above the far bank and looking for shapes in the drifting cumulus clouds. Didn't that one there look just like a......
I suddenly felt the urge to start fishing again. Picking up my rod I crept to the bank and surveyed the river. Mid-stream, I could see small fish topping. There was a large clump of weed in front of the reeds lining the far bank. 'A perfect spot for a pike to lay in ambush', I thought.
'If I drop the lure right against the reeds, I can retrieve it with the current and at an angle that will pass right across, and in front of the weed-bed'. With growing expectation I clicked the release bar on the multiplier and positioned the rod for a cast.
"What are you doing", said a voice, startling me.
"Wha..?" said I, looking round for my interrogator and seeing no-one.
"You're wasting your time casting there!" said the same voice, coming from down near my feet somewhere.
I looked down, and nearly fell over. Sitting within a couple of feet of me was an otter. My jaw dropped in amazement.
I had never ever seen an otter in the wild before. I had heard somewhere that they were back on the Medway but I never expected to actually see one. Imagine a real live otter on my stretch of river, amazing!
"Wh-Why!", I stuttered in reply, half afraid that the creature would slide into the water and disappear at the sound of my voice.
"I thought that would be obvious", replied the otter, "you're casting up-sun of the weed".
To be truthful, I hadn't given any consideration to the position of the sun in respect of the weed-bed.
"Does it make a difference?", I spluttered..
The otter regarded me with an expression between disdain and pity. "Of course it does!" it stated (I also thought it whispered 'you plonker', but perhaps not). Seeing my dumfounded expression, I guess the otter felt I was in need of further explanation.
"Look at the colour in the water" (it seemed pretty clear to me), "Now imagine, you are a few feet beneath the surface looking up-sun. All you are likely to see through the diffused glare are a few indistinct shadows, and not very far at that, especially when the sun is bright and low."
"Now imagine you are looking down-sun with the light coming from behind you, You would be able to see much more detail, and be able to see much further. You would easily catch the sudden glint of a misplaced scale"
"Now imagine that you are a pike looking for a perfect ambush site in a weed-bed. Which side of the weed-bed are you going to choose?"
Before I had a chance to reply the otter continued. "Now imagine that you are a prey-fish swimming up-sun of the reed bed and with a pike lying in wait, on the sunny side of the bed. With the light behind you, you're likely to see the waiting pike quite clearly, and keep well clear. However, down-sun of the weed-bed is literally a different picture, and very dangerous. With the pike hidden in the shadow of the weed bed, and against the glare of the sun, you're not going to see him until far too late. Pike know this instinctively".
I suddenly saw the point the otter was laboriously trying to make, "Beware the Hun in the sun!", I blurted. The otter looked at me quizzically. "Sorry?"
"Never mind", I replied" I think I know what you are getting at". "Actually the roach say "Watch out for the pike in the bun"", said the otter.
"The bun?" I queried.
"Yes, bun - current bun - sun" (the otter was beginning to sound exasperated again, reminded me of one of my teachers from long ago).
"Just think about it, how often a pike hits your lure striking from an up-sun direction" said the otter. Then suddenly, "Goodbye!"
The otter rolled over, into the water and was gone, barely disturbing the surface with a trace of a ripple.
I stood there alone, feeling slightly foolish and a little peculiar, I needed to sit down.......
I must have fallen asleep, I awoke to a snuffling as an overfriendly collie-pup tried to wash my face. "Come here Jess..", shouted the walker, "..Sorry about that".
"It's OK" I shouted in dazed reply.
I stood up and, carrying my rod, I walked back to the river-bank. I studied the weed-bed and cast, down-sun of the green weed mass".
The lure hit the water with the gentlest of splashes.
I tightened the braid and started to wind into the retrieve. The water erupted as the pike struck at the lure, straight out of the sun. "Wow!" I exclaimed as 6 pounds or so of fury tail-walked and dived, bending the rod tip into an arc.
As I returned the fish to the water, I couldn't help notice the otter prints in the soft mud.
As I walked back to the car-park, I struck into fish on two more occasions.
Each time the fish had come at my lure from directly out of the sun!
Now I am not sure whether this was all a dream, and if it wasn't whether the advice given by the otter has a
ny value. I suppose what I should do is to try to do some comparative tests, you know, fish one swim casting up-sun of likely lairs, one swim casting down-sun, but I'm a twenty pike a month man (well at least ten - well some months, maybe), so I guess I'll leave the objective testing to you 20 plus pike a day anglers. Please let me know how you get on.
If he is right, I'd expect pike to rest mostly facing away from the sun, where their view into murky (or murkyish water) would be enhanced. This probably has some implications for you trolling-guys.
Trolling into the sun, you'll be coming at the pike from behind and vice versa.
This might also explain some of the feeding-spell intervals on gravel pits. It's probable that the pike are feeding throughout the day, but for them it's pointless choosing an ambush site at, say, a down-sun drop-off, where the sun is lighting them up. Much better, as the sun moves across the sky, to move to another part of the pit, where the drop-off is up-sun, and where they will be able to camouflage themselves more effectively in partial shadow.
As the sun moves across the sky, the pike would need to seek newly shaded areas, leading to temporary hot-spots. The angler would assume that the pike had suddenly come on-feed, then suddenly gone off-feed an hour or so later.
I would guess that the sun's position is only one factor governing the pikes' positioning, along with current direction, temperature and depth etc (it's interesting that rivers in the west tend to flow west, those in the east, east. If there is some correlation between sun position and river flow, it may mean that anglers, on different sides of the country, need to adopt different tactics, depending on the time of day!).
The sun's position will be most relevant on bright and sunny days. The relevance probably increases with the lowness of the sun toward the horizon, when shadows are longer and the glare is greatest.
Anyway, if I get any further tips from my otter friend, I'll be sure to pass them on, but in all the trips to the river since, I've not seen any sight of him, though I often feel as though I'm being watched and sometimes, when a moment's lack of concentration has resulted in an horrendous bird's nest, or when a favourite lure has entangled firmly with some underwater obstruction (like a World War II bomber, or a dumped Lada), I'll swear I've heard a familiar snigger coming from the bank-side vegetation.
Tight Lines - Leon Roskilly
(Originally published in issue 20 of ‘Lure Angler’ (Summer 1998), the Magazine of the Lure Anglers’ Society (LAS) )