It is the final day of practice for the World Championship in Croatia.
Drennan Team England are practising in Box 4, which is in A Section, at the downstream end of the match length. Five of the six anglers have already caught after an hour from what is expected to be a reasonable area on the day.
After two days of non-stop rain the weather is actually decent today. However, the watercourse had already risen a couple of inches before the start and the flow shows no signs of slowing. The Dubrava Lake that feeds this watercourse is full to the brim, so the hydro-electric power plant it feeds will keep running the water off to prevent flooding.
Huge lollipop floats averaging 40 grams seem to be the most popular choice. However, it is virtually impossible to hold these floats back against the tow. Instead, the anglers have a six-second run through before they have to lift the heavy rigs out of the water and begin the process of running a bait through again at the top of the swim. This means they could be repeatedly running a float through hundreds of times in the search of a bite.
Most teams aren’t ‘balling in’ at the start. Instead, feeding is typically done in short bursts of three or four hard balls of groundbait and/or stickymag loaded with heavy gravel so it gets to the bottom within the confines of their swim. This is repeated every five minutes or so. Maggots, worms and bloodworm are all tried on hooks as large as a size 10.
The target species are nase averaging 400g. Barbel are the second most common species and range in size from 300g right up to 6kg. There are also a few chub, Danube roach and vimba about.
England’s Sean Ashby managed to catch a 3kg barbel yesterday, which took some getting out against such a violent current. However, he lost its brother a little later!
Getting a bite is the first obstacle. After that they have to have some luck to actually get it in the net! Fish losses are very common as the flow is so strong, the fish shake repeatedly and bounce against the huge bulks of shot on their pole rigs.
There is also the added problem of razor-sharp zebra mussels which line the bottom. Today, in just the first hour alone, all the team have hooked them. Often, small clumps attached to rocks and pebbles are swung in; some attached to the hook, others to the line above it. Even with thick fluorocarbon main lines of 0.23mm and thicker these mussels are causing a headache with rig damage. It is therefore very common to hook a fish but lose it soon after from line breakages.
The anglers are typically fishing 11 metres out in 6 metres of water. Other tactics are few and far between. Some teams have tried using bolognese rods to fish further out and have caught a few fish but the length they can run a float downstream with a rod and reel is very limited. The top bleak teams have caught very little, too, but small fish could be vital as the prospect of a blank is very real.
Both co-managers, Mark Addy and Mark Downes, agree that this is the most physically demanding match they have ever witnessed. The anglers all ache after constantly running heavy rigs through so many times for just a handful of bites.
More worrying is the fact that, “the window of opportunity for catching is getting narrower each day,” explained Mark Downes. It sounds like the bulk of fish are caught after 30 minutes or so and for the next hour with a tough last hour to endure – unless anyone can catch a barbel.
England can take encouragement in the fact that they are faring quite well in practice. After all, it is alien fishing to most of the other nations involved, too.
Others teams faring well are Poland, Germany, Italy, home nation Croatia and all of the Eastern European nations, who tend to be more accustomed to fishing with large flat floats.
All of the England team have had good and bad sessions. However, Alan Scotthorne seems to be the standout man and has caught more fish than anyone else so far. He seems to be coping with this demanding style of fishing well. New recruit Callum Dicks has also fared well and managed eight fish Tuesday, which was the team’s highest tally for that session.
It’s going to be a hugely difficult task to hold onto their World Championship crown this weekend as it looks like every nation will need a small slice of luck on their side to do well. It could all boil down to those teams that can convert bites into actual fish in the keepnet.