After the fluky zander I told you about in the last blog, I returned for a proper go, bivvying up for two days. The zander tend to feed at long range in this water and I put out roach deadbaits over 100 yards via my Microcat, each being dropped accompanied by four or five sectioned baits which had been soaked in fish oils. I was really confident of action, at least from the big pike the water holds if not from the zander. But I came home a beaten man 48 hours later. In all that time, I had just one pike about 12lb plus a dropped run that I am fairly sure was from a zander.
With the zander fishing apparently at full stop for everyone else also, I switched my attention for the last few sessions to another water I am targeting for big pike this winter. On the first two days, in mid October, I had just three runs on mackerel tail, but they were all nice fish between 13lb 8ozs and 15lb 4ozs. I was fascinated to see the most incredibly dense shoals of roach, stretching from the margins to well over forty yards from the bank. Perhaps that explained the plague of around thirty cormorants working the water. It might also explain the low number of runs to big deadbaits, but I rarely switch to small livebaits at this time of the year as you can be plagued by jacks. I would honestly rather blank than catch 4lb pike!
My tackle usually consists of some beefed up coarse fishing tackle, leader is 15 lb TFG redmist mono and heavy, 3.25 or 3.5 test curve rods deal with casting larger dead baits long distances.
The last two days have given me real hope that the coming winter could throw up something special. On Wednesday, after arriving at the crack of dawn, I was away on a joey mackerel almost before it was fully light. Ten minutes later, I was unhooking a lovely looking fish of 14lb 12ozs and when this was followed ten minutes later by a 12lb 6oz specimen the omens were looking good.
By mid morning, the strong southerly wind was really gusting, luckily directly behind me. That made an extra long cast with a large deadbait straightforward and at midday a half mackerel was picked up at about seventy yards range by something that felt very big indeed. I have never felt that pike are particularly impressive fighters, when compared with carp or barbel, but this one wanted to give me a scrap. I managed to pump it within about thirty yards fairly easily but then the fun started. I lost count of the times I had it within feet of the net cord before it surged off again, taking yards of line against the clutch. I suppose it was a good fifteen minutes after the run that the fish eventually folded into the net, and I could see that it was certainly a twenty plus. When I had it on the unhooking mat, I saw a magnificent, darkly mottled fish in absolutely tip top condition. It took the scales to 23lb 8ozs, a great start to the winter campaign.
There was to be one more fish before I packed up at dusk, another chunky fish of 15lb 9ozs, to complete a quartet with a very pleasing average size. I was back in the same swim yesterday morning and again the dawn period did not disappoint. This time, however, I had two runs simultaneously, making my decision to set up two landing nets a wise precaution. Once I’d landed the first fish, it was placed safely in the net in the margins while I dealt with the other fish. Both were safely unhooked and released, two more cracking fish of 17lb 12ozs and 19lb 4ozs. Again, they were in brilliant condition.
After that dawn flurry, there was to be no more action until mid afternoon, when the third and last fish put in an appearance. Again, it was a nice double of 16lb 12ozs, maintaining the quite remarkable average size. I also had two baits picked up by cormorants. Luckily, they both dropped the baits. Aren’t they the most horrible birds! This winter could produce something exciting. Although I’ve had lots of 20lb plus pike in my career, I’ve only had two over 25lbs. My target is to make that three before the season’s over.
For all those of you into e-books, I have just placed my third book on Kindle. The first two were titled Top Tactics for Big Barbel and Top Tactics for Big Chub and the titles really say it all. The newest book is called My Big Fish Life and is an autobiography of over 50 years of specimen hunting. It runs to well over 150 pages with 100 plus photographs and is priced at only around £4. I would welcome feedback from all those of you who have my Kindle books or intend to get them, as I intend to complete the Top Tactics series with all the major coarse species.
A PRODUCTIVE SHORT SESSION
Ten days after the last session I told you about, my youngest daughter had to undergo a very serious shoulder operation, meaning that my wife and I had to be on hand to help with our two year old grandson when my son-in-law had to be at work. My daughter has been told she cannot do any lifting for at least three months so my sessions were necessarily short and close to home from mid September. By the end of November things will hopefully be back to normal.
Just before her operation, I again joined Alan Lawrence for a two day Ouse carp/tench session. After the aggravation with signal crayfish on the previous trip we both went in from the off with popped up rubber corn on both fishing rods, in conjunction with sweetcorn laced method mix. We also baited with loose corn via our Spombs. By the time I was sorted on the first day in was mid afternoon, but only ten minutes after casting, both rods were away almost simultaneously. The first yielded a 6lb bream, closely followed by a hard fighting male tench of 6lb 14ozs. An hour later, another 6lb plus tench came calling and then, just before dark, I had a tremendous scrap with a muscular common carp of 10lb 14ozs. It went quiet then for a while and although I had caught no big fish I had thoroughly enjoyed the opening exchanges.
Around midnight, Alan reported that he’d had a sudden flurry of bream, with four fish in a matter of only ten minutes, and then it was my turn. I only had two fish, around 2.00 am, but they were both nice fish of just over 8lbs.
The onset of daylight saw the tench become active and we both had three fish in the first hour, after which it was very quiet for the rest of the day. In fact, the light was fading before we had any other action, when two more bream each at least reminded us what a bite looked like. The entire dark hours were blank for both of us, highly unusual for that stretch which has such a large bream population. We were both leaving not long after dawn, but managed one more average tench each before packing away. The fishing had been patchy and apart from my common, the target species had again failed to materialise. But the tench and bream fishing had been very enjoyable. On a river, 6lb plus tench are big fish, although they wouldn’t raise many eyebrows on most gravel pits!
The first of my single day sessions was the following week, at a local lake with a night fishing ban. It is strictly dawn till dusk only, but with a decent stock density of good carp there is rarely a day when you can’t get a couple of fish. The stock is mainly mid doubles to mid twenties, but there have been three different thirties taken to 34lb. The most popular swims on the water are four where a 70 yard cast reaches the fringes of a long, narrow central island. Carp regularly patrol there, as they do in most waters with similar features, and I had enjoyed several good days there over the last two seasons. On this trip, however, I decided to fish a tight little swim, hemmed in by willows each side, and put two baits in close, barely thirty yards out. Before I set up, I fired out half a kilo of 14mm boilies, scattering them well to give a browsing area the size of a tennis court at least. Twenty minutes later, with two rigs in place, I put the kettle on.
It took a while for the first action to occur, but at 11.00am the left hand carp fishing rod was shaking in the rests and the reel spool was a blur. What a run that was! After a great scrap, a long, lean muscular common carp of 18lb 12oz lay in the net, a good start. That first fish opened the floodgates. Only minutes after the recast, and topping up with another 100 boilies, the same rod was away again, and this time an 18lb plus mirror eventually rolled into the net. Without boring you with a blow by blow account, from midday until I had to leave at 8.00pm, I landed a further 15 carp, as well as losing one in a snag. The smallest I landed was a common of 13lbs, and the catch included a brace of 20lb commons, of 20-8 and 21-6. As I said for the Ouse fishing, no really big fish, but 17 carp in a day, all over 13lbs and including two twenties, is good fun in anyone’s language. Even for an out and out specimen hunter like me, it’s great to have a lot of good fish occasionally. It makes the hard days and the blanks easier to bear.
The following week, I decided on an overnighter at another local water, which has produced bream to about 14lbs in the past, although doubles are hard to come by. It is only about three miles from home, making it the ideal place for an overnighter should the need arise to get home quickly. The water does contain a big head of bream of all sizes and it is vital to go in heavy with the loose feed to have any hope at all of holding a shoal long enough to catch one or two. The previous afternoon, I’d been over for two hours, when I’d introduced about 10kg of mixed particle feed, as well as a Kilo of 14mm boilies and twenty large balls of a method mix and Vitalin combination. I would be fishing three rods on different baits, one on a boilie, one on popped up rubber corn and the other on a lobworm/corn cocktail.
On the day itself, after a further baiting via my Spomb, I commenced fishing at around midday and packed up some two hours after dawn the next morning. Fish came steadily, and I had four bream up to dusk, best just over 9lbs. Then, as soon as it was fully dark, the bream went potty. From 11.00pm until 3.00am I landed no fewer than nine more fish, best 10lb 4ozs, mostly to boilie baits with two to popped up rubber corn. Surprisingly, there was no interest on the lobworm bait.
The most interesting fish of the session was the last, caught just before dawn. Following a screaming take on rubber corn, I played a strong fish for ages on the light feeder rod, convinced it was a rare big nocturnal tench. When it surfaced, however, I was amazed to see my first ever zander, fairly lip hooked in the scissors. I had intended targeting the species sometime this season, but to get my first in such a way was a little bizarre. Despite the slightly unsatisfactory manner of its capture, I was pleased with my first zander and soon recorded a weight of 7lb 14ozs. At least I can claim another personal best this season!
Fishing I was really looking forward to at the start of the river season was overnight sessions on the Great Ouse after carp and tench. In recent years, carp to over 33lb have been taken and I know of at least one 9lb plus tench. For a river fish, that is monstrous. My own biggest ever river tench is a 7lb 11oz specimen taken a few years ago and my target this season was a relatively modest 8lbs. That is not such a big deal these days for a gravel pit, but it is still a rare capture in flowing water.
The obvious problem early in the season was the floods. While they might have been conducive to barbel feeding, conditions were poor for the overnighters for tench and carp we had planned. At long last, however, a couple of weeks ago we had a river at normal height and clarity for July and set up for two nights on the banks of the Great Ouse. Once again, I was fishing with my good mate Alan Lawrence, in swims about forty yards apart. I fished the first night on my own, Alan joining me the next morning. The stretch we like for this fishing is wider than average for the upper Ouse, fairly clear of bottom weed but featuring wide lily bed margins along both banks. The tench particularly colonise these lilies and we’ve found that by targeting any little bays in the cabbages we can create small hot spots. For the carp, they tend to hold off the lilies toward the deeper water and the usual approach is to put one bait hard against the cabbages under the opposite bank, but drop the other bait a few yards short.
I started to prepare my swim at around midday, baiting with around 100 15mm boilies initially, plus several Spombs full of hemp and corn. I would be fishing method feeders, with method ball packed with corn around my Stonze weight on each cast. The reason for the heavy corn contribution was because of the signal crayfish problem. Last year, after the first day catching on boilies, the crays moved in and made boilie fishing impossible. A switch to rubber corn caught a couple of tench. This year, at the slightest sign of signal interference, I would revert to popped up rubber corn on both fishing rods. My fishing tackle set up comprised a matched pair of Lite Speed 2.5lb carp rods, probably a little over gunned for tench but certainly not for a big river carp. These were matched with a pair of Dave Lane Speedrunners.
With the preparation complete, I set up my camp and made my first casts at around 4.00pm. I was unprepared for quite such an instant reaction because, only twenty minutes later, I’d already caught two tench, both just over six pounds. They gave lightening fast runs, just like carp. River tench really are an exciting quarry. The third tench was the fish I’d set my heart on. After a great battle in and out of the far bank lilies I finally had the upper hand and slid the net under a very big tench. When I confirmed 8lb 2oz I was over the moon. The rest of the evening continued in similar vein, with four more tench falling to my boilies and no apparent interference from signals. As darkness fell, however, I started to get little twitches and gently wound in to find boilies nibbled away and hair stops miraculously removed. It was time for the rubber corn and thereafter the signal problem stopped. I had one more tench before it became completely dark, a lovely 7-4 specimen, and then the bream moved in. I had five of them in the dark hours, to a little over 7lbs, but there was no sign of a carp run. The bream are interesting. Still water bream of 7lbs tend to be flaccid, anaemic creatures, but these Ouse bream really scrap and they are not slimy like their still water counterparts. I have had several Ouse bream just short of double figures, plus one specimen of 11lb 4ozs and they are very worthwhile targets. As soon as it was fully light, the tench began feeding again and I had another three, plus two more bream, before I wound in to get some breakfast in the van and then a couple of hours sleep.
Alan joined me in late morning and was as delighted as I’d been with my 8lb tench. He prepared his swim exactly as I’d prepared mine, with the exception that he started on the rubber corn from the off. In my swim, I reverted to boilies when I restarted fishing, and did catch one nice tench and two bream before the crays moved in again. By tea time I was on rubber corn on both rods, which produced three more tench before dark. Strangely, the second night was completely blank; I never had a twitch in the dark hours. Only as dawn was breaking did I get another couple of fish before it was time to go. I hadn’t seen a sign of a carp in my swim over the 48 hours but Alan did have some carp action. He landed an 8lb mirror but the main event was a big common that came adrift at the net cord at midnight. He reckoned it would have been a good twenty; what a pity he lost it. He also landed about a dozen tench and bream and all in all it had been a good opening session.
I was well pleased. With sixteen tench to 8lb 2oz and ten bream to over 7lbs I’d had a great time and I can’t wait to get back down there. I’ve had to adjust my tench sights to 9lb now; never satisfied, are we!
No matter how long you’ve been an angler, and I’ve been chasing specimens for over 50 years, a run of blanks saps your confidence. I don’t care who you are, you start to question your competence, your rigs and your baits. You know you’re doing nothing wrong, what you are doing has worked well in the past, but you simply cannot avoid that self doubt creeping in.
For that reason, it’s a good idea if you’re on a bad run to have a session at a relatively easy water, simplify your carp fishing tackle and get a few fish to restore the self confidence. That is what I did yesterday. After six gruelling two day sessions at the big tench and bream water with Alan Lawrence, after which we’d had just one tench and four jack pike between us, I was in need of the sunshine break which my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed in Tenerife.
On my return last week, Alan confirmed that the pit still was not producing and he had left it for a while to have a couple of sessions at a more prolific water to get a bend in the rod. I decided, therefore, to have a dawn to dusk session at a local gravel pit which has a good head of carp as well as some terrific roach, backed up by very average tench and bream. The carp were my target, hopefully one of the four known thirties in the water. But, with a fair head of twenties and lots of doubles, I was hoping for a run or two.
On my arrival to the lake at opening time 6.00am, I was not encouraged by the on-site bailiff who confirmed that the water had been very dour for weeks. The ridiculous amounts of cold rain had raised the water level quite dramatically, causing the fish to totally shut up shop. As well as that, although it was dry when I arrived, by 6.30am the rain was falling. What a summer this is turning out to be.
The swim I selected looked a cracker for a carp or two, where my right hand rod could place a bait off the point of an island under an overhanging willow at 70 yards. The left hand fishing rod would be cast to the same island twenty yards to the left, where there was a little bay overhung with what looked like brambles. In view of the information from the bailiff, I was unsure of how much bait to introduce initially. My plan had been to bait heavily to start with. After a little deliberation, I decided to go with the original plan and fired out about a kilo of 14mm baits around each rod.
By the time I was ready to cast out, it was around 7.30am. Alarms set, I sat back with a cup of tea under my umbrella to wait on events. I never had time to finish it. It must have been less than three minutes after the cast and the right hand carp rod was off to a real flier; I struck into a powerful fish that was kiting right at a rate of knots. By now, the rain was lashing down and that, as well as the oppressively humid conditions making me as wet under my waterproofs as on top of them, it was decidedly uncomfortable. The fish fought well, although it was obviously no monster. Eventually, it was in the net, a really pretty, fully scaled mirror of around 15lbs. Just as I was about to lift it onto the unhooking mat, the other fishing rod screamed off! Placing the net and fish back I the margins, I struck into another fish, this one going at breakneck speed. Immediately, I said to myself that this had to be a long, lean common, and I was spot on as it turned out. It proved to weigh just under17lbs. I had a problem during the playing. I had only set up one landing net, although I always carry two, so I had to jam the rod between my legs, with an angry carp ripping line off the clutch, as I hastily assembled the second net. By the time both fish had been unhooked, released, and I was cast in again I was absolutely soaked. I had fired out another 100 baits around each rod. That had been quite a start and the confidence builder I needed.
From then on until 2.30pm, with the rain virtually non stop, I was to enjoy the most incredible action. In all, that period had produced a further eleven carp, all over 14lbs with the best at 19lb 11ozs, plus three small bream. I would have loved a shot of the 19-11, a gorgeous linear mirror, but unfortunately, when I landed it, we were in the middle of an incredible thunderstorm with mega hailstones. It wasn’t worth damaging my camera and I reluctantly slipped it back and dived back under the brolly.
Strangely, the action then stopped as suddenly as it had started and from then until 7.00pm all was quiet. At around 5.00pm the rain had stopped at last and hot sun broke through. What bliss! It stayed quite hot for a couple of hours, drying my carp fishing gear nicely, and then I noticed further ominous black thunder clouds approaching once more. I had planned to fish until 8.00pm but decided to pack up there and then and get my fishing gear back into the van before it got another soaking. Like all anglers, I suppose, I gathered all the ancillary stuff together first and was just reaching for the first rod when the alarm shrieked and line began pouring off the spool in a blur. As I struck, I felt the first few spots of rain and played the fish as hard as I dare. By the time it was approaching the net cord the rain was getting heavy again and I was soaked once more, but this time I’d already packed the umbrella away. Quickly returning the fish, a mid double common, I quickly folded the rod into its sleeve and then, unbelievably, the second rod was screaming away. In a now torrential downpour, I played in yet another hard fighting common which I estimated at about 17lbs. Minutes after returning that second late arrival, I was making a mad dash for the van, unceremoniously dumping the sodden gear into the back before scrambling into the driving seat. It would have been impossible to have been any wetter and never before has a hot shower been more welcome!
Looking back on the day, it was what I needed. I had not managed one of the water’s bigger residents, but fifteen double figure carp, from about 14lbs to 19-11, makes for an incredible days fishing in anyone’s book. I couldn’t do it too often. The odds against a really big fish are too long but, as I said at the start of this blog, when you’re struggling, action like I’d just enjoyed is tremendously therapeutic. I shall go into my next big fish session with renewed confidence.
After the highly unseasonal cold east winds and heavy rain, accompanied by hail, it was a pleasant change last week to find the new tench and bream water bathed in very warm spring sunshine. However, any thoughts that Alan and I were holding about the sun sending both species into a feeding frenzy were well wide of the mark. The only fish that were showing any life were the dozens of carp cruising the surface layers, but even they were very disinclined to feed. One angler pursued them both off the top and with zig rigs for two whole days and managed just one take from a 16 pounder. All those of us fishing for the big tench and bream recorded, once again, total blanks. In fact, since the end of the river season, there have been very few fish of any description banked.
It really is head scratching time. As with a lot of waters holding a smallish head of very big fish, when they have not really got their heads down in earnest, they tend to be very nomadic. On a big gravel pit, therein lies the problem; location is a lottery. I’m sure that, if we had unlimited time on the bank, say seven consecutive days and nights, heavy baiting would eventually draw the fish in. But those days are long gone, Alan and I are both 68 years of age, and two days in a bivvy is quite sufficient! I did have some action, though. During the daylight hours, I concentrated my three fishing rods on rubber maggots and/or rubber corn, popped up to beat the bottom weed. At dusk, though, I switched two of the rigs to rubber corn/lobworm cocktails, with bream through the dark hours the target. As with my first session, this produced two screaming runs from small pike just as the light was fading. Not what I’ve waited for, but better than a blank, I suppose. Despite the lack of action, I’m thoroughly enjoying the fishing. It’s a very pretty pit and the potential of the water is outstanding, and when the fish do switch on, I want to be there. My other news, for all the barbel fans out there, is that I’ve just had my first e-book published on Kindle, via Amazon. It’s titled Top Tactics for Big Barbel and is available for download at £2.85. If you’re interested, visit kdp.amazon.com for more details. The picture is of the 17lb 2oz barbel that features on the front cover of the new book. This new publishing outlet excites me a lot and I have a whole series of books planned under the Top Tacticsbanner. I’ll keep you all informed of progress on this front, as well as, hopefully, some big bream and tench. Got to keep the faith!!
My main target this spring and early summer is tench and bream, and the chosen water is a very pretty gravel pit containing big specimens of each species. Certainly, bream to 16lbs and tench just under 11lbs have been caught and verified. My biggest bream is the 15lb 2ozs specimen from Queenford Lagoon over twenty years ago and it has been 14 years since my last double figure tench; so, I’m champing at the bit!
I’m fishing the water in the company of my good friend and brilliant angler Alan Lawrence. Alan fished the water last spring and, after a slow start, amassed a staggering total of big fish of each species. He also took a handful of good carp on his tench rigs and, with the carp running to mid 30s, there’s the potential for a heart stopping battle on light feeder rods. I’m going to resist the temptation to deliberately fish for the carp, though. I have other carp waters to target; I am totally focused on the tench and bream.
I’ve just returned from my second 48 hour session on the water, and have to report that neither Alan nor I have had a bite! I do not count a 1lb pike that took a swimfeeder on the retrieve. We have been suffering the malaise of many waters up and down the country, with unseasonably cold conditions including strong east winds, heavy driving rain and water temperature more akin to February than May. I know, speaking to many friends, that most anglers are also struggling with the decidedly wintry conditions. I live in hope, though, that these cold, wet conditions will see some really heavyweight tench being caught once the weather normalises. My three double figure fish, plus a string of nine pounders as back up, were taken after the water warmed following an equally miserable spring in 1998.
Although there is no exciting fishing to report back on at the moment, I can report on some of the new TFG products. Having finally retired my battered old Armadillo bivvy, I can say that I am delighted with my new Lok Down. Finding bivvies that will do everything with enough space is hard enough. With almost two inches of rain on my first night using it this week, it could not have had a more strenuous waterproofing test, which it passed with flying colours. Also, the Armo was the Two-Man model and I did debate whether to go for a two man Lok Down as well. In the end I opted for the one man and it is very generously sized, more than big enough for a six footer like me plus a mountain of gear. The Two-Man must be like a dance hall!
The monsoon like conditions were also an extreme test for my new Dave Lane Mag Runner bite alarms. Where bite alarms are concerned, I have no patience with all the bells and whistles some anglers seem incapable of being without. All I ask is that they sound when I get a bite, they don’t give up the ghost in the cold or damp, and they don’t require a second mortgage to keep up with the battery use. I don’t need tone alteration or volume control, although the alarms are supplied with mufflers for those who insist on ultra quiet alarms. Personally, I am not a fan of remote receivers, although one is supplied with the Mag Runners. I suppose I’m a bit old fashioned, but still believe that when I have baits out I should be behind my rods. I will use the remote receiver, though, if I’m forced to sit well back from the rods in very rough weather, so it is an important addition.
I can confirm that they passed the cold and damp situation with no problems! What I particularly like is the small size, the lightness and the dumpy little 12V batteries which are so quick and easy to change. A few years ago, I had other alarms that used the same batteries, and the battery life was outstanding. The alarms themselves, though, were a nightmare in damp conditions, but that’s another story!
Lastly, I am delighted with the new Hardcore Heavy Duty Carryalls. For bivvy fishing, and for using a barrow, the traditional rucksack is hardly ideal. I wanted a tackle bag that was solidly free standing, and not always toppling over, making finding items a lot of messing about. Similarly, the rucksack is altogether the wrong shape for barrow work. I acquired two of the carryalls, one for my tackle and one for my food, stove, cooking equipment, water etc. As well as the easily accessible load carrying, the hard top makes an ideal table. I had several very favourable comments about this luggage and I predict this will become a big seller.
See you again in a couple of weeks, when hopefully I’ll have some big tench or bream to show. In the meantime, here’s a shot of a big tench from a year back to remind us all of what one looks like!
I’ve had a query from a reader of my last blog, after I mentioned that I was embarking on a tench and bream campaign this spring. Specifically, he wanted some advice on location of gravel pit bream. So, let’s have a look at this important aspect now. I’ll be reporting back on my first sessions in my next blog in a couple of weeks.
Most gravel pit location is a painstaking affair of mapping the contours of the water, and then trying to interpret how they will affect the location and feeding behaviour of the bream. During mapping, I am looking for the gravel bars and humps, areas of extensive bottom weed, areas of clean bottom and what that bottom composition consists of. Is it, for example, fine gravel or hard packed mud or silt? Most importantly, which features are naturally weed free? Unlike tench, bream show a distinct tendency to favour naturally weed free areas. Also unlike with tench, dragging has never proved very productive; I have had very poor results after manual weed clearance.
For the actual mapping, there is no doubt that the job is far easier if there is access to a boat or baitboat, together with echo sounder. But let’s assume neither are allowed, which is the case on many waters. Compared to the boat and echo sounder approach, the time spent mapping a pit with the standard plumbing methods from the bank is colossal. But it is time that must be spent to maximise chances of sport with big bream. The correct coarse fishing tackle must be used to generate a picture of your chosen fishing grounds. I use a TFG marker rod, in conjunction with Banana Braid braided line especially designed for feature finding. A bobbled 2oz Fox feature finding lead is slid on to the braid and large buoyant float tied on the end. The lead is mounted on a short link with a large enough eye to allow the float’s buoyancy to easily pull braid through it. To avoid the lead resting on the float during the cast, the lead is stopped about 18” up the line by a rubber float stop and bead. When this is cast out, the buoyancy of the float naturally makes it pop to the surface. Depth finding is then simple. Smoothly wind down the float to the heavy lead until the line is taut, and then allow off six inches of line at a time until you first see the float again break surface. You have now established the depth at that position.
Now wind in a few feet and repeat the procedure, establishing the depth once again at the new position. By continuing this process back to the bank, you now have a rough idea of the contours between you and the furthest cast. Any areas of real interest discovered can then be relocated and examined more carefully. I use a second rod, rigged identically. Having cast to the feature to be more closely examined, the float is then left in place as a focal point, and the float on the second rod cast all around it. You can build up a remarkably accurate picture of each feature in this manner. An hour’s work will give you details of feature size, and steepness of gradient. There is no need to use special braid on this second rod. The information I require about bottom composition will have already been established in my initial investigation with the actual feature finding set up.
I may want to leave in place a permanent marker for the duration of the session. To do this, I set up a marker float slightly differently, in a traditional sliding float arrangement with normal monofilament line. If you haven’t fished a slider, it is set up as a normal float rig but the float is not fixed in place but simply allowed to run freely on the line. A stop knot or rubber float stop is placed at the appropriate place depending on the depth of the water. Having again located the feature and made any fine adjustments necessary, I cut the line about a foot above the float stop and tie a loop in the free end. A similar loop is tied in the end of the reel line and the two loops joined with a firm tie of PVA. The float is then cast to the required position, left for a minute or so until the PVA has melted, at which time the free line is retrieved, leaving the marker in place. Make sure that you can retrieve the float after use. I use a special grapple made up of an in-line lead and large sea treble, which casts like a rocket.
Having found the features, which ones do we fish? Reliable areas do seem to be gravel bars, especially those that exist in otherwise weedy areas and are themselves clear of all but light silkweed. The other reliable feature is the clean, apparently barren area of either mud or silt. This area more closely mirrors the situation in a reservoir, and big pit bream, once they arrive in such an area, will often hang around for days. Small gravel bars and humps, while reliable, rarely hold big bream for more than the odd night.
If I am fishing within range of my Spomb, about forty yards, I usually do not bother with leaving permanent swim markers in place. Having found the area to be fished with a marker float I then cast one of my rods so that the terminal rig alights alongside the marker. The line is then inserted into the reel line clip and the line marked at the spigot with a thin sliver of insulating tape. When doing this, it is important to wrap the tape round the line with the sticky sides perfectly flush with each other and that the tape is then squeezed flat so that it adheres properly to the line with no air gaps. Then trim the tape as close to the line as possible and put a slight bevel at each end so that there are no sharp angles to foul the line during casting. My finished markers are around 1mm wide. I then walk out the rod on the bank until the line tightens to the clip, and mark the bank. Next, assuming I am fishing the other rod or rods at the same range, it is a simple matter to walk them out, clip up and tape as before.
The same procedure is carried out with my TFG spod rod and, before retrieving the marker float, the line is put into the reel line clip as well. This now means that every rod when cast out will land the terminal rig, baiting cone or marker float at the same range. All I have to ensure is that my direction of cast is not wayward, simply by lining up a horizon feature such as a tree or telegraph pole.
For baiting up, all I have to do is cast my Spomb hard enough to tighten to the clip and then I can be certain that the bait is in the correct position. The reason I also fix the range on my marker float as well is if I decide to do any baiting by catapult, say for balls of groundbait or loose feeding boilies. Obviously, I then need a visual target at which to aim.
Since my last Fishtec blog in autumn, my fishing became very disjointed from October onwards and only really came back to normal in February. The main reason was a succession of health issues within the family, which saw me missing a lot of fishing and only going locally for a few hours when I could get out. Consequently, I was never able to get a proper campaign underway and the results suffered as a result.
The main target of my river fishing was the upper Warks Avon near my home, principally because it is so close and I could be home quickly if need be. Unlike the middle to lower stretches, the chub and barbel of the upper river are fairly modestly sized, 5lb chub and 10lb barbel not being that common, this looked to be the perfect place for a few short coarse fishing sessions. So I made those two weights my initial targets and would go from there. My first few trips produced a few barbel to just over 7lbs and chub to about 4lbs, but the fishing was very slow at times. Blanks were common. Then, in late November, I had my biggest Avon barbel of just over 9lbs plus a chub of 5lb 4ozs ten minutes later. Obviously, these are quite modest fish by Ouse standards but I did feel that I was getting somewhere. Over the next couple of weeks I had another two small barbel, but struck a purple patch with the chub, taking three more five pounders on the bounce. That made four 5lb plus fish in a few weeks and, according to regulars who have fished the stretch for years that is very unusual.
Just after Christmas, I was fishing the lovely crease swim where I had taken my most recent 5lb chub. A large near bank rush bed projects five yards out from the bank, throwing the main flow across to the far bank and creating a really pronounced midriver angled crease. At a steady 5ft depth and smooth gravel bed it is a perfect set up for chub and barbel. I was fishing an 18mm boilie, with a PVA bag of broken boilie pieces impaled on the hook on each cast. My first cast was made around midday but it wasn’t until nearly dark that I had my first serious indication. I don’t count a kamikaze 12oz chub that nearly choked itself on the boilie in mid afternoon! A vicious pull had me on my feet and I soon realised that this was another chub, but what a beauty. It weighed 5lb 7ozs, another very big fish for the Upper Avon. It was my biggest Avon chub by a couple of ounces.
Ten minutes after the recast, I was in again and this time it was obvious that I was connected to a big barbel. That fish gave me a memorable scrap, making the clutch scream more than once, and I was soon netting my first Avon double figure barbel. It weighed 11lb 5ozs and I was absolutely over the moon with it.
After those fish, with all family worries now behind me, I was able to resume my love affair with the Great Ouse. Like waters everywhere, it was painfully low at the back end of the season, and four trips to a stretch where bites are always few and far between, but the fish are big, saw me averaging but one bite a day. And a day means fishing from about mid morning until well after midnight. The previous season I had taken my 7lb 13oz personal best chub from the same stretch, and I was never able to come close to that this time. In all, I landed eight chub, which comprised a baby of 4-12, four more five pounders to 5-15 and a top three of 6-1, 6-2 (featured below) and a 6-6.
Most pleasing was a final session barbel of 13lb 6ozs, my first barbel from the stretch for three years following the attentions of otters.
As well as the chub fishing, I also had two sessions at the perch stretch where my 5lb pound fish was taken in 1999. Sadly, that has also been badly affected by otters and, although there are still big perch to be caught, the numbers have been drastically diminished. Apart from a solitary small perch, all I caught on my lobworms were average chub and a small pike.
I can look back on the season just ended as one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced, for several reasons, and in some ways I was glad to see the back of it. Now, after two weeks off, I’m planning some tench and bream fishing, commencing next week. The water has produced tench to 11lbs plus and bream to over 16lbs so I’m hoping for some exciting fishing. I’ll let you know how it goes.
An estate lake close to my home has long held a big head of bream but never, until recent years, did it produce fish to interest a single minded specimen hunter like me. The average fish was always around 4lb and 6lb was about the top limit. But, in recent years, that average has apparently started to climb quite significantly, so much so that I was hearing rumours of regular doubles being taken, with fish to over 12lb certainly genuine. Now, while 12lb is still nowhere near the top end of bream weights these days, it is still a very worthwhile target and definitely rates as a worthwhile specimen in my eyes.
Having taken delivery of three of the gorgeous new TFG Classic Nan Tec barbel fishing rods, I decided to put them to use as feeder rods, using the Avon top joint rather than the separate quiver top. A bream session was planned, and as the water is close to home I took advantage by driving there on the afternoon before my session to introduce bait into the selected area. In an hour, using a Spomb, I had fired out a large bucket of mixed Pigeon mix, corn, stewed wheat and TFG mixed halibut pellets. I also included a few 15mm fishmeal boilies.
The following morning, it took a fair while to set my camp and it was around midday before I was casting the first bait into position, after having introduced a further twenty Spomb loads of bait. That was baited with a boilie wrapped in paste, and accompanied by a method ball. As I set up my second rod, which was to be baited with lobworm/corn cocktail, the alarm on the first sounded and line started to disappear off the free spool reel. The bait had only been in place about two minutes! As soon as I struck, I knew I was attached to a fair fish but, typical of bream, it never gave me any anxious moments. Soon, I was weighing my first fish of the session, 8lb 6ozs, and a good start.
Before rebating, I cast the lobworm rod into position and then attached a new boilie to the first rod. With that one in place, I turned my attention to rod number three, which was to have a soft pellet hookbait. Just as I was moulding the method ball in place, the lob worm rod was off in a fast run. This was ridiculous! Soon, I was weighing a second 8lb plus fish. Fifteen minutes later, with all three rods out together at last, I was able to contemplate a cup of tea and fired up the kettle. However, before it had time to boil I had to turn it off again as bream number three came to call. 9lb 3ozs this one registered and did give me a decent scrap for a change. Just as that was being slipped back, a fourth bream had galloped off with a boilie. A few minutes later, and less than an hour after the first cast, I was weighing a fourth fish, this time 7lb 14ozs.
After that fish, I did have a couple of hours very welcome respite before another flurry of action commenced, and by dusk another four fish had been netted. These fish were significantly bigger, at 9-2, 9-9, 9-13 and the fish that turned out the biggest of the session at 10lb 7ozs. From then until about 11.00pm there were four more fish before the action stopped completely and I was able to get a little sleep. In a hectic afternoon and evening session I’d landed a surprising 12 bream with a very respectable average weight.
The action started again at first light, but during the daylight hours fish only came spasmodically. In fact, only two more bream came before dark, although I did land a solitary five pound tench and get bitten off by a big pike that had taken a liking to a boilie. After dark, though, the action turned absolutely manic. I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account but, during the night I was landing fish about every forty minutes. By daybreak, I’d had no sleep whatsoever and was absolutely knackered. In total, I’d landed 27 bream from 7lb to 10-7 plus the tench, approaching 200lbs in total.
Looking back on the session, it was great fun but obviously the chances of a really outsize bream appear to be limited by the sheer numbers of fish. But with bream you never really know. Anglers who have spent far more time than me after bream have told me that it’s very common for a huge fish to suddenly show up amongst much lesser individuals. I shall certainly go back and hopefully improve on my 10-7 result.
Since my last feature, I’ve been back for one last session at Horseshoe Lake, reverting to one of my favourite swims, Choppy’s on Winter Bay. Once again, though, my timing was poor. Why is it that I’m always told that, “you should have been here last week etc?” I know I couldn’t have fished any more effectively, having carefully located a nice clear gravel bed in the middle of silkweed and baited it accurately. Although I did catch a couple of tench, they again were only average fish up to just over 6lbs. My searches for a really big tench have been constantly thwarted this season.
I’ve also been back to my local carp fishing water for a day session, taking seven more lovely carp, all good doubles and had several exploratory sessions on the upper Warks Avon, which is close to my home. The signal crayfish situation on my beloved Great Ouse has now reached plague proportions and I have to say that the fishing is no longer enjoyable at times. Summer fishing is now a real trial, the damn crays are on the baits in minutes. Even the usual tricks of encasing in mesh or trying to lure the crays away with tins of cat food or tethered fish are not working very well. There are simply too many crays. What the river needs is an injection of a few catfish in each affected section. They will soon thin down the crayfish population!
On the Avon though, I can still find peaceful fishing. I’ve been on the extreme upper reaches, which have no real form for anything other than average chub and barbel, but I do feel that there may be a big fish or two to be discovered. Apart from one very accessible section, the river receives little pressure and I’m very hopeful of uncovering something exciting. So far, barbel to only 8-12 and chub to 4-10 have rewarded my efforts, but I do know of genuine 11 and 6 pounders respectively. so, the search continues, which is great fun in itself.
Early August saw me back on the Ebro system in central Spain, fishing the river’s tributary the Segre at Mequinenza with Catmasters Tours. The fishing was as much fun as ever, although a little slower than previous trips. Apparently, a combination of an extreme heat wave and late spawning had resulted in many of the bigger fish not being in the usual areas. Fran and I were joined by two father and son combinations, Paul and Patrick Reed and Paul and Zach Sparrow. Patrick, who is 21, had never before landed a catfish and on the first night landed one of the biggest cats ever caught by a Catmasters customer, in fact one of the biggest cats ever caught anywhere, at 224lb. For good measure, Zach, 15, also had his first ever cats, his biggest being 182lb! Both lads were teased about their golden appendages for the rest of the week!
Compared to those two monsters, my catches this year were quite modest. My best was 126lb, well short of my personal best of 186lb caught last November. I also fluked a 28lb common on a catfish rod, as well as dropping a carp in the margins that looked every ounce of 40lb plus. That was the only 100lb plus fish I had this year, although I did manage two very hard fighting fish of 83lb and 84lb.
If you get the chance you must give it a go. You do not need to be an experienced big fish angler, as the guides do all the important work of selecting the swim, rowing out the baits, baiting up and so on. They also are on hand to advise on playing these immensely powerful fish and landing them for you. As Pat and Zach proved this year, anyone can catch a monster, even the most inexperienced. So you cannot take it too seriously as it is certainly no measure of angling skill. What it is though is bloody good fun and I can thoroughly recommend it.