Tales from China- Gareth Jackson

Part 1

China is recovering well from the current pandemic, and more of society is starting to open slowly. A quick phone call confirmed a small commercial fishery in Zhongshan, China that I had never visited before was open. So I decided to give it a try.

When I arrived at the site, the lake itself was quite small with just 7 pegs on two of its four banks. Probably measuring about 15 meters across and 20 meters in length. So the fishing area was far from huge. At the commercial there were other facilities such as a popular BBQ area and a restaurant. However the restaurant was closed due to social distancing but many families used the covered BBQ area on one bank of the lake, although the tables were further apart than normal.  The fishery owners were encouraging people to spread out when fishing, i.e. use every other peg, although this would be hard on a lake with just 7 pegs, luckily my family and friends were the only ones to fish on this lake today.

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The cost of fishing here was 20rmb (about 2 pounds 20 pence). This was catch and release, although you could take fish home at 30rmb a kg to eat if you wanted too.  The rules were quite simple here. It was fishing the whip only (no rod and reel approach allowed). The maximum length of the whip could be 5.4 meters. Every peg had a concrete platform. You got a bench to store your equipment, 2 chairs on the peg and the fishery provide a landing net too. This fishery didn’t give me a keepnet, but instead gave me a large polystyrene box which you fill with water and use it like a keepnet.

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My approach to fishing in China is very simple. I used a 2BB float, with all the shot around the float except one number 8 dropper. Mainline was 0.18 to 0.14 hooklength with a barbed 14 hook. I used a 4.6 meter whip on my peg as there were some trees above me so would have been difficult with a longer whip. After plumbing the depth, it was about 5ft deep with a gradual slope outwards. Bait I used was swimstim mixed into a very wet paste, and I loose fed 6mm pellets over the top. There was a large amount if small tilapia in the margins and some big swirls further out which was promising. The weather was normal for this time of the year here. Zhongshan has a sub-tropical climate. I went fishing at 9am and the temperature was already 29C’ with bright sunshine over head and no wind. Fishing in the afternoon would be harder with temperature up to 34C’ later on.

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I was getting bites straight away. I managed to get 6 small tilapia in the first 30 minutes. All of them about 1oz each, Then it went a bit quiet and I hooked into something a bit bigger. After playing this fish for about 5 minutes, I managed to land a larger tilapia of about 2lbs. These fish really fight hard, especially on a light whip. Catching fish this size really is a lot of fun on these Chinese whips. Then next cast I got snapped by a fish that I couldn’t do anything with. So I upped the hooklength to 0.16 then. Still fishing swimstim paste, I landed another 14 small tilipia and 5 large tilapia too. Each of the large tilapia was between one and a half to two and a half pounds. I weighed the fish in the end for 13 pounds. This was not at all bad for just over two hours fishing on this small lake in increasingly hot conditions. At 11.30am the temperature was now 32C’ and it was time to go home for lunch. As I was packing up I think I saw some grass carp cruising under the surface, I wonder if it was that I lost.

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So fishing these places in China it pays to take a very simple approach and the rewards are there. For each of the large tilapia I caught, I had over 20 people stood round my peg watching me. People even came onto my platform for a closer look. Don’t expect the same level of privacy you get in the UK, can’t complain about people standing too close, you just get on with it. But I can’t stress enough, with these light whips, playing these fish is a lot of fun. Maybe when the lockdown is fully over in the UK, you can give this very simple approach a go.

Part 2 (or how to break a rod and still catch a fish!)

Having a bit of time to spare on a weekday morning, I decide to go to a river in Zhongshan to see what I could catch.  There has been some heavy thunderstorms in the last few days, so rather than risking taking my bike and getting caught in a storm, I took the bus instead as I could always get a taxi home if the rain kicked off. I visited a river that I had been too many times. It is a small tributary of the main river and the water quality is much better than many rivers around here.

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I arrived at the river at about 9am. The water was quite coloured when I arrived due to the thunderstorm rains we have experienced in the last few days. Luckily when I got to the peg I wanted to fish, I could see plenty of fish moving under the surface. The river is about 20 meters wide. There is a 5ft fence in front of the river and you are about 20ft up off the water, so it is a long way down. The depth is about 5-6ft. The main species is tilapia, but here are also many other species in here including some big catfish and grass carp. The weather was good, a nice cool 26C with a strong breeze.

Due to the fact I had taken the bus here, I decided to take my little telescopic rod which is 7ft in length, but can fold down in my bag on the bus very easily. I was due to fish swimstim paste on a 2BB waggler float set at mid-depth, about 2ft deep. Line was 0.12 to a 16 hook. I just used a small bit of paste on the hook and fish over a couple of balls of swimstim groundbait.

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Then disaster struck. On my first cast my rod snapped into 2 pieces. I couldn’t manage to put it together, the top of the rod had become weak in a number of places by the looks of it. So now my rod I could use was 2ft long, the snap occurred just after the first eye on the rod. Now I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t really have time to go back home and get another rod. I decided to tough it out. Catching just a fish was now the target. I quickly realized that I couldn’t fish the waggler, there was a strong downstream wind and I could achieve no presentation. The rod wasn’t even long enough to reach over the water.

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I changed to a link lead approach. I put a half ounce bomb on and decided to hold to line tight to see if I could detect any bites or fish. Unfortunately I kept going  with this approach for 1 hour and not a single bite. I could see fish moving but they were all in the top 1ft of water. To get a fish I would need to get up in the water somehow. As this was happening another angler turned up and set up his swim about 2 meters away from me. The concept of personal space is very different here. It has happened many times to me before so I didn’t really bother at all about it, despite there being so much empty space on the river, this guy decides to fish right on top of me

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So I went back on the float and fished just 4 inches deep, I couldn’t really cast it very far but managed to get it into the water. Presentation was so difficult, the wind was so strong now and just carrying the float wherever it pleased. Two hours had passed and there was a slight drop in the wind, I somehow managed a longer cast and then the float zoomed under. I struck with the remains of my rod and yes, a tiny tilapia on the end. To me this was a big achievement. I had met my goal, I caught a fish in these circumstances so I could go home happy. What an interesting and challenging fishing session

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Part 3

Having found myself with a spare couple of hours in the evening, I decided to head to a river that I had not been too for a number of months. This river in Zhongshan is actually next to the school I work at, however due to the school being closed due to the pandemic situation, I hadn’t visited in a long time. Normally I like to grab a hour here at lunch time so it would be nice to see how it was fishing as the school is due to open again in a couple of weeks time. This river is a little different to the other rivers in Zhongshan. It doesn’t seem to flow into the main river, rather it flows into a large reservoir which feeds the main river with a number of tributaries.  It would be interesting to see how I got on.

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I arrived at the river at about 4.30pm. The weather was actually cooler than normal but was still 29C’ with some patchy cloud.  We had a lot of thunderstorms last week but today none were forecast which was a relief. The depth here is very shallow, only about 1ft deep at it deepest. Don’t let the depth fool you though, I have seen some very big fish here.  The peg itself was about 10ft up a concrete wall. The river was is about 30 meters wide. When I arrived there was no one fishing on my bank, although there were about 10 people fishing opposite. The first thing I noticed was a slight bad smell from the water. This can happen here, as pollution levels can sometimes be bad. The water was quite coloured due to the rain but I could see a lot of fish moving.

I stuck to my standard tactics. I fished a 4.6meter whip, 2BB waggler with 0.18mainline to 0.14 hooklength with a barbed 14 hook. Bait I used was swimstim paste again and imitation corn as a change bait.  On my first cast I didn’t get any indication fishing at the maximum length of the whip. I decided to drop the bait in a bit closer. I immediately was getting bites and I got my first little tilapia in the net.  The constant noise of the float hitting the water really brings the fish in here, and within 5 minutes I had literally hundreds of fish under my feet. I kept getting small tilapia about the half ounce mark all the time, a bite a chuck.

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The beautiful thing about fishing this peg is that due to the depth of the water you can see what is in front of you at all times. All of a sudden I saw a large shoal of what wasn’t tilapia move in. I put the bait on top of this shoal and straight away I hooked one. Now this fish, I am not sure what it is. It looks like a cross between a chub and a dace. If anyone knows the true identity of this fish then please tell me. Chinese people tell me it’s a trout, however, it clearly looks nothing like that to me. I was very happy to land something other than a tilapia. This is a huge achievement here, like a bonus fish really.

I kept getting a tilapia every put in. Looking into the water was very interesting. I saw some large tilapia about the 4lb mark, but I couldn’t get the bait anywhere near them without small tilapia getting in the way. I also saw two catfish about 2-3bls, and strangely enough a large goldfish which must have been 2lbs itself. Still pulling out tilapia one after the other on the paste I saw 3 large Koi Carp swimming together. Very interesting what is down there.

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Having caught 36 tilipia (all about half an ounce except one red bellied one about 4ounces) and 1 other mystery fish, I decided to give the imitation corn a go. After 15 minutes trying nothing decent took the bait., just small tilapia knocking it all the time. For a session a little over a hour you can’t go wrong with this fishing. Plenty of bites, plenty of fish and lots of interesting things happening in the water. Next time I should bring some different kit and try to target some of the other more specimen fish in here, although the small tilapia seem to strike at anything. I will keep trying though.