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Pearls of the Orient; China’s Freshwater Lakes

On my regular trips to China, I’ve always tried to find some time to wet a line in the myriad of freshwater lakes dotting the countryside. The fish species found here are some of the most unique and attractive anywhere in the world, and more importantly, they go HARD on lures. 

Pearl Lake, nestled in the heart of Chongming Island, just outside the Shanghai city limits, is the stomping ground of one such beast, the infamous Yellowcheek Carp. This silver freshwater rocket was once considered a pest for fish farmers in the area, as its voracious appetite meant that even a single fish could put a serious dent in the population of their fish cages. Often travelling in packs, these fierce predators have gained a reputation over the years as a real trophy pursuit for anglers, famed for their blistering surface runs, and lure-smashing, tackle-shattering antics. 

Fishing for Yellowcheek Carp is a real test of your resolve. Because of the fast-moving weirs they use for hunting, it is a struggle to keep your lures in the strike zone. They demand constant casting and re-casting in order to position your lure in a perfect arc through the current, allowing it to wiggle enticingly past the eyes of a patrolling Yellowcheek hiding on the edge of the flow. The locals rely on large paddle-tailed soft plastics for most of their Yellowcheek work, as hard-bodied lures are more susceptible to being swept off-course by the current. 

This trip would prove to be no different. Arriving at the lake, we were greeted by the same churning waters I have grown accustomed to over the course of my earlier trips.  The difference was, I had no idea what I would be in store for later that afternoon. 

After a morning of uneventful casting, I was locked in the zone, slowly scouring the water for signs of life. Around a bend in the river, I noticed some sub-surface activity a few meters from the boat. With visions of dark shapes looming, I grabbed my Combat Beast rigged with a locally made soft-plastic, and lobbed a cast past the swirls. Something was definitely up, and I caught a glimpse of colour taking a few half-hearted swipes at my lure. The first two casts yielded no results, and the boat was beginning to drift off the mark. I launched one final, long cast.  

The moment my lure hit the water, all hell broke loose. In a flash, my rod buckled over and I felt the familiar surging of the guided silver missile cruising downriver on the other end of my line. Yellowcheeks have extremely bony mouths, and punching hooks into them is always a challenge. Locked drags and thick PE line are a necessity, not an option. I took a couple of steps back and swept the Combat Beast with powerful sidearm strokes, praying that my single, large hook would stick.

The second the rod loaded again, I knew that this fish was no ordinary size. Now well and truly aware that he was in trouble, he sprinted for the fast current to try and yank me downriver. Fortunately the Combat Beast’s powerful backbone stopped him dead in his tracks, but not before he rocketed off with nearly half my spool of line.

   

When the fish’s head surfaced, we all screeched in unison. It was easily one of the largest Yellowcheeks I’ve ever seen. This was a new personal record, and drew plenty of curious stares from onlookers. After a few quick snapshots, the fish was released to fight another day. 

Not to be completely outshone, another greedy predator occupies pole position right under the shimmering rockets patrolling the waterways; the elusive Mandarin Perch. Relying on the element of surprise, they lie in wait for tasty critters to leisurely amble by, before unleashing a cavernous mouth that sucks them straight to their deaths. Every rocky crevice, every sunken log and nasty weed bed is a potential hidey-hole, and going after them is about as technical a pursuit as anything else lure fishing has to offer. Pinpoint accuracy is essential to ensure that your deep cranks and sinking swimbaits don't get hung up on nasty timber and other sunken surprises blocking their front door.  This is where the Combat Beast really shined.

The problem I’ve always had with a lot of heavy-cover bass rods is poor tip response. To compensate for brute pulling power, they are built with a very parabolic action that distributes the load throughout the blank all the way into the butt. Although this style of blank generates much more power, it also comes with its own inherent problems. Hooksets become more difficult because there is a specific technique involved, where the angler has to lean-in to the rod with body weight in order to generate the same amount of power during a hookset. The excitement of seeing or feeling a fish smash the lure lure makes people forget to do so, often resulting in lost fish. The tip action of these rods also suffers from excessive stiffness, making it difficult to accurately toss lures to a specific spot.

With the Combat Beast, the carbon-cloth crosswrap ensures even distribution of pressure on the blank even under heavy-stress conditions, eliminating the need for the blank to be built with a gentler bend. This means that you can use the tip of my rod to accurately pitch lures into the holes, rather than relying on the flipping or overhead casts that heavy rods are usually designed for.  It also means that hooksets feel more similar to a lighter-class bass rod, where a simple sweep of the rod generates enough leverage to drive the hook home. 

Because of their tasty flesh, Mandarin Perch populations have dwindled in many areas, owing to commercial pressure decimating their numbers in the wild. Although Pearl Lake sustains a healthy population of the species, they are by no means an easy target. Their cautious nature forces you to launch your lures into some of the nastiest environments on the lake to even stand a chance of running into them, let alone pull them out of their holes. 

Again, the Combat Beast proved its worth under these challenging conditions. This nice Mandarin Perch was pulled easily off the river bar it was hiding behind, using a Deep-Diving Crankbait smacked against the rocks. The knocking sound teases the Perch out of their relative safety to check out the commotion, hopefully causing them to stray as far away from their tackle-murdering habitats as possible. When hooked, these bruisers can and will make a beeline straight back to the muck, so it’s importantly to turn them away as quickly as you can. A stout rod and high drag helps prevent any mishaps that might cause you to lose your trophy of the day. 

These Chinese freshwater lakes offer a welcome change of pace for any angler looking to test their mettle. And of course, they are a the best sort of proving ground for any tackle looking to make its way into you arsenal.


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