This was my second overnight carp and tench session on the Ouse and I was joined for the two days and nights by my good friend Alan Lawrence, who is one hell of an angler. On this second session, we selected a much wider section of river which we thought had possibly more potential for a big river carp. A few years previously, I had fished a few sessions there and taken lots of tench to well over 7lbs as well as three lovely mirrors, best 19-8.
We both tackled it the same way, with 14mm boilies, putting in around a Kilo of bait each. We were on different baits, which would provide an interesting comparison. We both used a method mix in conjunction with our hookbaits, to provide an extra area of attraction. Our swims were about thirty yards apart, either side of a substantial willow, and we both concentrated our efforts along the far bank cabbage fringe. The Ouse tench and carp have been found to love hugging these plants.
Our results were remarkable, in that they were identical. We both landed six tench and two average bream, but, sadly, no sign of carp. The second night was interesting. Both of us had been plagued by those damnable signal crayfish, and they became more persistent and annoying as the session progressed. Towards late afternoon on the second day, Alan was close to calling it quits, wanting to pack up his fishing tackle as he couldn’t keep a boilie on the hair for more than ten minutes. My baits, however, were harder, and although they came back in with claw marks I was still presenting a bait after two hours. At least two of my tench had come after a lot of attention from signals that I’d simply ignored.
I offered Alan some of my bait for that second night rather than him having to abandon his fishing, and not more than ten minutes after the first cast with it he landed a lovely tench of 6lb 8ozs. Sadly, it had lost part of its tail, presumably to an otter attack. That was at dusk, and as the night progressed, even I started to suffer stolen baits.
At about 2.00am, after another series of crayfish pulls and jerks, I couldn’t fish the rest of the night with any confidence, so I wound in the remains of my boilie and replaced it with two grains of popped up rubber corn. At least I could sit back and relax. Sure enough, all the annoying indications slowed right down until just after dawn, when a screaming take had me grabbing for the rod. A good scrap followed and then, in the bottom of my landing net, was a tench of 6-8 with a damaged tail, the same fish that Alan had returned several hours earlier.
So, we ended the session with twelve tench to 6-8 and four bream around 5lbs apiece. Again there had been no monsters, but loads of fun. We know there’s bigger tench and bream waiting for us and a big carp must surely put in an appearance soon. Here’s to the next time.
6th/7th July 2011
Still searching for that elusive big tench, I again drove along the road bank of Summer Bay at Horseshoe, this time intending to fish more or less opposite boat point. The swim I eventually settled in was 57, close to the farthest car park. I must admit the closeness to the van was a factor, as the rain was bucketing down. I was able to get the bivvy up first and leave the rest of the fishing gear in the van, without getting everything sodden before I started.
Talking to two others who were already fishing, it seemed that the tench were not getting any easier. Every now and again, someone would record a good catch, but it was very sporadic. It seemed either feast or famine. It was either quite a few tench or a blank, with nothing much in between.
Once again, for the two days, I was buffeted by a strong south easterly, which was a bit annoying. The forecast had been for south westerly, and I’d set the bivvy accordingly! The session followed very much my experience on the previous Horseshoe session, in that I kept faith with my presentation of two imitation red maggots fished on a short hair popped up to beat the bottom weed. Sadly, I again had very little to show for my efforts, lots of little plucks from small rudd and a solitary tench netted of just over 6lbs on dawn the second morning. I did, however, suffer the mortification of losing a giant tench at midday of the second day. After a truly screaming take, I hooked into a powerful fish that I first thought to be a carp, but soon showed itself on the surface. I hesitate to put a weight on it, but if it wasn’t a double, it wasn’t far off. I knew I had problems, though. The fish was dragging a great clump of weed in which a branch was entwined, following an excursion close to the overhanging tree to my right. With the extra pressure, I was concerned for the security of my size 14 hook and eventually my worst fears were realised. Suddenly, the fish gave a strong kick and then I found myself just playing the branch. I pull out of very few fish, less than one or two a season. What a sickener for it to happen with possibly my biggest tench for many years.
It was again the search for big tench that saw me back on the banks of Horseshoe Lake for a two day coarse fishing session. This time, I decided on my first session on Summer Bay for three seasons and elected to fish peg 66 which had, apparently, yielded a few nice fish on the recent Tenchfishers event. In fact, there is little to report. For the two days, I was buffeted by an unseasonably cold wind full in my face and the only action I had was from a very scraggy male tench of about 5lb that put in an appearance just after dawn on the second morning. That was taken on two imitation red maggots fished on a short hair pop up presentation to beat the bottom weed.
I did have a very pleasant interruption on the second day, when Neil Wayte and Dean Macey stopped by for a chat. It was the first time I’d met either and we passed a very pleasant hour talking about matters piscatorial. They then went off to fish the opposite bank of Summer Bay, with the wind at their backs, where it was probably ten degrees warmer than where I was positioned. I found out later from Dean that they had both blanked and had evidence of both the tench and carp busily spawning, so that goes some way to explaining my lack of action.
21st/ 22nd June 2011
After a frustrating carp blank at a difficult syndicate water the previous week, I was on the banks of the Ouse for my first overnight carp and tench session. I love river carping, but have done far too little of it in recent seasons. The previous year, I’d had a couple of autumn sessions, taking nice bream and barbel, but no tench or carp. In the past, however, I’ve had good tench to well over 7lbs as well as carp over 25lbs, so the big fish potential is undeniable. I know of a genuine 9lb plus tench and a good friend took a 33lb mirror last season. Unlike a lot of carp waters, river carping still retains an air of mystery.
Upon my arrival, I spent a fair bit of time finding a suitable area with a little extra depth, good cover in the form of rushes and lilies, but little bottom weed to annoy me. In the end, I settled on a lovely little swim with about seven feet of water in mid river that had a nice clean gravelly bed. Under my bank was weedy, and the far bank was also carpeted in dense lilies, so I put in half a kilo of 14mm boilies along each weed fringe. One fishing rod would fish the far fringe straight across river, while the left hand rod was positioned further downstream adjacent to the near bank weed fringe. I also made up a method mix, mixed with natural water shrimps and lobworm juice, and moulded this round my rig on every cast. Hookbait was a 14mm boilie wrapped in matching paste.
I only fished from early evening until two hours after dawn on each night, grabbing some sleep during the second day, and when I packed up to come home I’d had seven tench to a top fish of 6lb 8ozs plus seven bream to 8lb 10ozs. No carp had put in an appearance but the session was great fun. I’m off there again tomorrow for more of the same. I’ve heard that the stretch has produced bream over 12lbs, very big indeed for flowing water, so that’s another exciting target to complement the tench and carp.
So far this spring, my fishing for tench has been singularly unsuccessful, although a succession of hard fighting carp wherever I choose to fish has certainly prevented me from getting bored! But I again had tench at the top of the agenda as I headed well before dawn for Carp Society water Horseshoe Lake in Gloucestershire. I didn’t get down there last season, but enjoyed some great tench action in 2009 with plenty of tench to over 9lbs. The target this year, as it is every year, is a double figure specimen. I’ve only had three doubles in my big fish career, all on the same day in July 1998. I’m overdue another one!
For my first session of 36 hours, I decided to set up in the swim I had my best catch from two years ago, swim number 9 on Winter Bay, known as Choppy’s. Just after dawn, it was lovely, bright and calm and I spent the best part of an hour with my marker rod establishing the areas of lightest bottom weed. Everywhere I cast there was some silkweed and a little clumpy Canadian pond weed, but I eventually found an area where I only retrieved tiny strands on the marker lead. This was at about thirty yards, a perfect range for tenching and simple for accurate baiting with my Spomb.
The feed consisted of a bucket of hemp, containing three pints each of casters and dead red maggots, together with a tin of sweetcorn and a tub of Strawberry Squabs, a medium soft hooker pellet with the consistency of Dolly Mixtures. These are about the same size as corn grains and have caught plenty of tench and bream since their introduction last season. In the daylight hours, the plan was to fish two feeder rods containing live red maggots, with one hook baited with maggots, the other casters. In deference to the light but annoying bottom weed, I decided to use rubber maggots and casters, using the buoyant varieties from Enterprise. Having these hair rigged on short hairs to size 14s ensured that they remained visible above the bottom weed. To ensure that they remained weed free while awaiting bites, I was careful to avoid drawing back the terminal rig after casting by taking in the surplus line very gingerly. For the after dark fishing, which I have never found very productive for tench, I changed to size 10s baited with hair rigged pop up Squab and buoyant rubber corn respectively. This, I felt, would give me a chance with either bream or carp while awaiting daybreak, when I would switch back to my maggots and casters.
The daylight hours were totally uneventful, with the increasingly strong headwind making it feel very unspringlike. This was despite accurately baiting regularly with two Spombs of mixed feed every couple of hours and recasting my feeders at least every half hour. As darkness approached with a still stubbornly dry landing net, I switched to the night attack. Perhaps the bream or carp would be more co-operative. I soon had my answer. At just after 11.00pm, my left hand alarm was screeching as something departed the scene in haste. What a scrap ensued on my relatively light tench feeder rod, from what was obviously a carp with attitude. That fish did just not want to give up; this was made much worse by the fact that it had charged through the other line on its first run. By the time I eventually landed it, after a good fifteen minutes, I had a bird’s nest of monumental proportions. I wouldn’t be fishing again for well over an hour, sorting that mess out. As it was, I had a cracking common in the net, short, fat and pristine. Although it only weighed 15lbs I was really pleased; at least I hadn’t blanked on my first Horseshoe sortie. At 3.00am there was a repeat performance from another common carp just 10 ounces bigger than the first, a much darker, leaner fish. This one had been wolfing the Squabs, judging by the residue in the net.
As dawn broke, I switched straight back to my maggot feeders for the prime target, big tench. I only had until about 3.00pm to fish this second day so had to make the most of the hours I had left. Slowly the morning wore on, again with no interest from tench whatever. Soon, it was 1.30pm and I was looking at another tench blank. And then, in fifteen minutes, I had two fish, both males of just over 6lbs apiece. Again no monsters, but at least I’d had a result.
At 3.00pm I reluctantly packed up and after saying goodbye to Dave at the Carp Society lodge, I set off for home. My last words to Dave were prophetic. He had a look at my new van before I left and I uttered the immortal words, “It’s great to have a reliable vehicle at last”.
I choked on those words half way home. I was just entering Moreton in the Marsh and had thought for a few miles that the van sounded a bit noisier than it should. There was a sudden ear splitting bang from the engine that gave me a real fright and then I lost the power steering. Somehow managing to wrestle the thing onto a side road, I quickly turned the engine off as clouds of smoke poured from under the bonnet. It was now about 4.30pm, rush hour was just starting, and it took the AA over an hour to get to me. When they did, my worst fears were realised. The tension pulley holding the fan belt in place had exploded, twisted itself out of shape, together with one of the other pulleys, and ripped the fan belt into what looked like shredded spaghetti. The fan belt igniting had caused the smoke cloud. Obviously, there was no way that was going to be fixed on the side of the road and I then had another two hour wait for a flat back AA recovery vehicle to load the van and transport it and me home. I arrived home at just after 10.00pm.
At the time of writing, I’ve just returned from a very welcome holiday in Tenerife and while I was there a close friend, who is a top mechanic, has put the van back together for me. The last year has been somewhat trying on the fishing vehicle front, to say the least!
I was back on the tench trail. A good friend runs a carp syndicate which I intend to give some serious attention as it has produced some really stunning scaly mirrors to high thirties. For this session, though, I was scratching an itch I’ve had for some time in trying for the water’s very elusive and apparently modest tench population. The reason for my interest is the fact that among the handful of good tench that have fallen accidentally to carp rods and their boilies’ is one fish last season that weighed in not far short of eleven pounds. That is a giant fish from anywhere.
I went armed with traditional tench fare, four pints of casters, two pints of live red maggots, a gallon of deads, mini halibut pellets, sweetcorn and a bucket of hemp. In discussion with the regulars, it seemed that those tench that had been caught had all come from a very small area at the far end of the pit from the car park, where a shallow area of about five feet runs out some forty yards before dropping sharply into twelve feet of water. Everywhere else on the pit sees over ten feet of water within a rod length of the bank.
What I hadn’t appreciated was the distance to the far end of the water with a loaded barrow which, despite all my manoeuvrings, required two trips to transport the gear for a comfortable two day stay. By the time I had the swim sorted I was well and truly knackered. I’m 67 now and realised at that moment that tench fishing at this particular water would probably not be a long term affair, not with traditional volumes of bait anyway. It will be worth tackling with small boilies in the future so there is far less weight to carry.
In the event, the area I was intending to fish was occupied by two carp anglers, so I had to move even further round the bay and eventually settled on an area with 9ft of water ten yards out, gradually falling away to twelve feet at forty yards. With no other features apparent, I opted to fish at thirty yards in 10ft, and proceeded to introduce eight Spombs of mixed goodies into three areas. The intention was to top up with two or three more over each rod every few hours. That done, three feeder rods were cast into position, all three being feeder rigs using Kamasan Black Caps. One carried two hair rigged Enterprise buoyant rubber red maggots to a size 12, the second hair rigged buoyant rubber casters and the third a true bottom bait of two natural maggots directly on a size 14.
There is really not a lot to say. Despite diligently recasting my feeders at least every hour and regularly refreshing the swim with bait, I never had a fish in nearly 40 hours of fishing. The only action I saw was a heavy roll over the feed just as the light was fading and a slow lift of a couple of inches on the left hand rod at dawn, which never developed into anything strikable. All in all it was a highly disappointing session and by the time I’d sweated blood again getting the gear back to the van I’d mentally crossed the water off my list as one warranting attention as a big tench venue! It’s a gorgeous water, but when I go again it will be with carp in mind. If a big tench hangs itself on one of the rods I’ll take it as a welcome bonus.
After the great first carping session at my local water two weeks earlier, I’d decided to return for two more days in the hope of getting a fish nearer to 30lbs. With the water being very local and only available in daylight hours it would also be a nice change not to be sleeping out in a bivvy.
I duly arrived at the official opening hour of 6am and moved into the same swim I’d fished on my first session, from where I could place baits in close proximity to the fringes of an island at about 60yards. The first act was to fire out fifty 14mm baits to each of two areas (there is a two rod rule), which would be topped up with a further 20-30 baits after every fish or missed run. The hookbaits consisted of two 14mm baits on the hair and every cast was accompanied by stringers carrying a further six freebies.
Over the two days, I fished from 6am until the designated leaving time of 9pm and the fishing was simply brilliant. Suffice it to say that I ran out of bait both days. On day one, my final tally was six carp landed, all good doubles with the best a corking common of 18lb 8ozs and I also suffered three hook pulls, which I put down to the barbless hook rule. Day two was even more hectic, with ten carp landed. Again, all the fish bar one were good doubles to 17lbs, the exception being a cracking mirror of 23lb 14ozs. There were also two fast runs missed for no apparent reason.
In my searches for fish to beat my personal bests, which is my usual motivation, the water certainly does not have the potential to beat my current best of 44lb-2oz and therefore is one that will be used only for the occasional fun session. Having said that, the fish all fought like tigers and it was a nice change to be having my string pulled frequently by good carp, rather than consistent blanking in the hope of a superheavyweight from a rock hard water. The new venue will be a great confidence re-builder after tough sessions.
Off to Horseshoe next week. Let’s see if the tench are any kinder down there!
In my last feature, I summarised the last few weeks of the river season, and it’s now time for me to look forward to the year ahead. From now on, I shall be posting a fortnightly report on the site, letting you all know what I’ve been catching, or not catching as the case may be. So, let’s kick off with an overview of my general plans over the coming months. Obviously, they are all fairly fluid depending on circumstances, but they certainly do represent my wish list for what I hope will be some exciting action.
Next week my spring fishing commences with my last ever sortie after the big carp of Acton Burnell, as the venue closes for a break on April 15th. I’ve been in the syndicate since 2003, taking over fifty 30lb plus fish and ten 40s, but I’ve now decided to relinquish my membership. There are two main reasons for that decision. First, it is expensive and, as someone now on fixed pension income, I can no longer really justify the cost. Added to that, the water is over eighty miles from home and with the ever escalating cost of fuel it is time to sever my links with what really is a fabulous fishery. Secondly, though, after seven summers of intense carping, I want to free up more time for more diverse angling adventures. When you pay a very high price for syndicate membership, you feel you have to go all the time to justify the cost. In some ways, that is quite restricting. So, next week will see me bidding an emotional farewell to a water I have really grown to love. If the gods are smiling on me, I may even get another 40 plus to send me on my way.
From then on during the rest of April and the first three weeks of May it will be tench time, and for that fishing I have two waters lined up which both have an air of mystery about them. The first is a local, much cheaper, carp syndicate, at which none of the other members fishes for anything other than carp. And there are some stunning carp; the best so far is a 37lb mirror. Of more interest to me, though, are the tench and bream. They have both been caught into double figures accidentally by carp anglers but I intend to target them intentionally with more appropriate tactics. As I very rarely catch tench in the dark, I shall fish with both bream and carp in mind during the dark hours in the hope of a welcome bonus.
The second water is a local park lake, which is a bit busy but which produced last season a string of big tench to a friend, with fish to an unbelievable 11lb 9oz being landed. The fish have all been caught at short range on lift float tactics and corn in the lilies during short morning sessions. By mid morning, there are apparently too many people around feeding the ducks, but it could certainly be worth a few mornings of early rising.
After a break in Tenerife with Fran, my plans for early June will be more tench fishing until the 16th, after which I plan to have a few sessions after a big river carp on the Ouse. It’s been several years since I fished for river carp and it’s a lot of fun. I’ll be joining a friend who’s been targeting a particular stretch for a couple of seasons. As well as carp to over 25lbs on his overnight sessions, plenty of bream to nearly double figures, as well as 8lb plus tench and the odd big chub, have visited the landing net.
My other main target species for the summer months is the barbel. It’s been eight years since I’ve fished for summer barbel, concentrating on the winter fishing exclusively. Again, I will be mainly focused on the river I adore, the Great Ouse, but I really must have some serious sessions on the Warwickshire Avon. It is no secret that I am a hopelessly addicted specimen hunter and I still feel that the Ouse has the potential to unearth another real monster. But, the Warks Avon is certainly catching up and with it being relatively close to home has to be seriously examined in light of the fuel consideration.
If I have time before the end of the warmer weather, I’d like to squeeze in a few trips after catfish, crucians and rudd. Although I’ve had lots of huge cats in Spain, biggest 186lb, my biggest ever English cat is a 50lb 12ozs specimen from Lakemore in Cheshire in 2009. Lakemore is a lovely well run fishery, very intimate and scenic, with a good head of cats to over 80lbs. Still on catfish, the second week in August sees Fran and I back in Mequinenza as guest of Catmasters Tours; I’m really looking forward to that as always.
As for rudd, I intend to get the float rod out and have the odd session spraying maggots at a gravel pit which has produced several three pounders in recent years. My biggest rudd weighed 3-5 and I must be in with a shout of coming close to that target. For the crucian fishing I suppose I ought to travel to Marsh Farm, to try and beat my best of 3lb 3ozs, but closer to home I’ve been told of a water that has certainly produced genuine crucians to 3lb 8ozs. As it’s only 15 miles from home, rather than the 90 odd miles to Marsh Farm, it has definite attraction.
I’m 66 now and, believe it or not, I’ve never yet caught a zander. That certainly needs correcting and from early autumn I shall be putting in some time at Coombe Abbey, which is just two miles down the road. I have now acquired a Microcat Mk11 bait boat for this fishing, as almost all the Coombe zander are taken at long range. Without a bait boat you are at a serious disadvantage, as it is virtually impossible to cast a small deadbait over 100 yards. Autumn will also see my first serious crack at the giant Ouse perch. I’ll always start with my favoured method of laying on with large lobs, but if the signal crayfish are troublesome I’ll switch to slow sinking lobs, minnows or spinning with my old red tasselled spinners.
Sometime during October or November I shall make a couple of trips to the Test, with two targets. The first, obviously, is some grayling fishing, looking for a fish over 2lb 4ozs. I do very little centrepin work, long trotting, and of all rivers, the Test is one of the most enjoyable to fish in this style. But I will certainly be switching to feeder rod and a cage feeder from mid afternoon to dark, using liquidised bread in the feeder and flake on the hook. The Test holds some enormous roach to well over 3lbs and lots of fish to beat my current best of 2lb 11ozs are caught every season.
December is when I have found that the midland reservoirs really come into their own for pike deadbaiting and I’ve had some tremendous fishing in recent seasons. One of the most interesting comparisons I’ve been able to make between the pike fishing of gravel pits and reservoirs is that the pits I’ve fished get quite hard after the first frosts. Reservoirs, on the other hand fish really well in such conditions, and I’ve had some great sessions when it was positively arctic.
From January until the end of the season, my fishing will become much more weather driven. If we have any warm floods, barbel fishing will be high on the agenda, and chub, of course, will always figure highly at this time of year. Before next season is over, I’ll be looking for another personal best on the Ouse with, hopefully, an eight pounder in the net. Can’t believe I’ve just written that. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever seriously contemplate catching an 8lb chub. But now, with a 7lb 13oz fish to my credit and four confirmed ‘eights’ from the Ouse last season, I must take advantage while the chance is still there.
There, in outline, are the plans I have made for the coming twelve months and, every couple of weeks, I’ll keep you updated on my progress. No pressure, then!!
It’s fair to say that my winter fishing never really had chance to kick off until after Christmas, following a series of domestic disasters that stopped me getting out. Finally, in late December, with the new van fitted out, the garage roof repair organised, and my daughter’s back operation behind us, I was able to go fishing with a clear head. With only a few weeks left to fish, my original winter plans were shelved in favour of pursuing just two targets, a chub to beat my current best of 7lb 5ozs and my best pike for twenty years, which would require a fish of 25lbs plus.
My very first day of winter chubbing was destined to provide me with the first target. There is one stretch I fish which is a blank waiting to happen, by which I mean that bites are always very scarce. The plus, though, is that the fish when they come along are usually exceptional. The conditions when I arrived were far from ideal, with the water as low and clear as in summer. Because of that, I chose the deepest swim on the fishery, where a midriver right hand bend forms a classic crease. I’ve had good fish from there in floods but never fished it under such low winter conditions. I made my first cast at around midday, and was still biteless as the light started to fade. Then, out of the blue, the tip of my fishing rod shot round and I found myself in contact with a strong fish which I first thought must be a barbel. I soon realised, however, that the culprit was an extra big chub, but I hadn’t realised just how big until I saw it slide over the rim of my TFG landing net. Here was one truly massive chub; I had a possible 8lb in mind. I wasn’t too far out. After carefully twice zeroing the scales, I confirmed a new best of 7lb 13ozs; what a fantastic fish.
After that leviathan on my first serious chubbing trip of the winter, I made another three two-day trips to the stretch, fishing past midnight on each day, but that seven pounder remained the only bite I had. That was to change on the last day of the river season, when I fished from midday until the official season close at midnight. I managed two solid bites in the evening, landing good fish of 5lb 14ozs and 6lb 9ozs. So, I’d landed just three chub from the stretch since December, but what a great average size.
In between the slow chubbing sessions, I enjoyed some much more active deadbaiting at local waters in the search for that elusive 25lb plus pike. In total contrast to the river experiences, I never had a single blank. In all, I landed 16 pike under 10lbs, plus another 18 fish in double figures. Seven of those fish were over 17lbs, the exact weights being 17lb 10ozs (2), 17lb 12ozs, 18lb 6ozs, 19lb 4ozs, 19lb 6ozs and 19lb 8ozs. You can see from those statistics that not only did I fail to get anywhere near 25lb but I didn’t even beat 20lbs. On my very last piking trip I thought I’d done it at last when I had a fantastic scrap after hooking something heavy on a whole mackerel. Bizarrely, it turned out to be a mid double mirror carp fairly hooked on the bottom treble. The fishing was tremendous nevertheless and I felt in with a real chance of an exceptional fish at all times; one of the waters had produced a 33lb fish.
At the time of writing, I’m just off for a week’s holiday with the wife and then I’m beginning a spring tench campaign. I’ll let you know how it goes.
As an all round specimen hunter, our normal wildly variable winter river conditions rarely see me stuck for which species to target. Other anglers, specialising in one species, can often go for weeks where the conditions give them very poor prospects indeed. There are now a large number of anglers who fish for little else but barbel, and I’m often asked what are optimum conditions for winter barbel, and, conversely, what species would be best sought when conditions are adverse for barbel.
Let’s look at the winter barbel angler’s dream conditions first of all. What I want to see is a rising water temperature, and the sharper the rise the better I like it, coupled with dropping air pressure. These conditions are at their most dramatic when a high pressure dry spell, coupled with clear skies, night frosts and low river levels, is ended abruptly by an intense low pressure belt that brings gales and heavy rain, leading to rising water levels carrying deepening colour. After days of low temperatures, barbel do go on the feed with a vengeance when the temperature starts to climb and the river starts to colour up. I’ve had some of my biggest barbel in such conditions, barbel being one of the few fish, along with roach, that feed avidly in a rising river. As long as I can find a swim where I am not too frustrated by the floating crap that usually accompanies such conditions, I can virtually guarantee sport. There is an important point to be made at this juncture though. A winter flood can also result from melting of heavy snowfall, which has a serious deoxygenation effect. If this is also accompanied by ingress of rock salt where road de-icing has been taking place, don’t even bother going fishing. Of all water conditions, these have to be the worst.
Knowing your river is important for fishing in floods, for safety obviously, but also because you need to know the bottom composition of all the newly created marginal swims, which will normally be on dry land. A gently sloping dry gravel bank will become a classic floodwater swim. High natural banks are also important because the bottom of such a bank in flood conditions, tight in to the edge, can have a remarkably steady flow, even if the surface current seems impossibly savage. Similarly, where undercut banks occur, the undercuts are usually packed with fish of all species in a high flood, where they can escape the full force of the current. Although I have caught most river species from undercuts, I particularly associate them with perch. Legered lobs, fished light enough on long tails, so that the bait washes right under the cover, has yielded me some memorable bags of good perch.
Once a flood has peaked and starts to ebb, losing some colour and current speed, most species respond to anglers’ baits avidly. I’ve had some great catches of chub and roach as a flood just comes off its peak, and when the river has dropped to almost its normal level, while retaining some colour, the conditions are absolutely perfect for perch. Bream and carp also respond well to a slightly coloured river. Both of these are neglected river species by specimen hunters but I can assure you that they are both well worth targeting.
On those all too rare mild and dry winter days, with light winds, and rivers running at normal winter level with only a hint of tea stain colour, most species will feed well enough, although barbel and roach not as avidly as when conditions are murkier. Barbel that may be very aggressively feeding on large baits in well coloured water, actively foraging all over the river, are usually much more static in clearer water, suggesting that feeder fished maggots would be the most effective approach in daylight. With temperatures holding up after dark, however, barbel will respond normally to large baits in the conditions of low visibility. This is my favourite approach as I absolutely love winter night fishing for barbel. On stretches with big barbel a possibility, I hedge my bets in these conditions by targeting chub in the daylight hours, getting serious about barbel as dusk approaches. There is a definite parallel here with roach. In clear conditions, I find the species more effectively targeted with maggots, either on the feeder or on light float tackle. However, in coloured water, or at night, those same roach respond eagerly to large chunks of flake or full sized lobs.
Chubbing in such mild, settled conditions is an absolute delight and after forty years of using the technique, I still never tire of wandering the banks with a light quivertip rod, baiting several swims with mashed bread, presenting legered bread crust. It’s fair to say that, these days, I fish more often with special pastes and boilies, looking for mega specimens. But when conditions are right, legered crust in conjunction with bread mash is as effective as it ever was.
Another species for which settled conditions are ideal is the pike. Every pike in the river is feeding when the conditions are like this, and it is a mistake to linger too long in a swim if there is no response. Just as with feeding perch, if there’s a pike present, a bite will not be long in coming. For river piking, I’m probably more mobile than with any other species apart from grayling, and at the end of the day may have covered over a mile in fishing for them. My favourite swims for river piking are those slow, near bank crease swims, which are obviously attractive to prey species. I rarely fish livebaits these days for any pike fishing, and generally trot with natural deadbaits fished horizontally on the trace or freeline sea deadbaits in the slacks or inside of crease swims.
The best perch conditions are found on heavily overcast days, as perch appear to detest high light intensity. They don’t like heavily coloured water though. Whereas great pike conditions include a clear blue sky and pleasant winter sunshine, perfect perch conditions are found on those muggy days when it never seems to get properly light. If there’s drizzle in the air so much the better. The absolutely prime time for a big river perch in winter is the hour just before dark, and my favourite method is to be laying on a large lobworm under a night float if the current is sluggish enough. I use a Drennan insert crystal with a snap in night light. To see that glowing float tilt and slide away in near darkness is a magical experience.
So far I’ve talked about various combinations of water conditions featuring favourable water temperatures in the mid forties Fahrenheit or above. Where temperatures are struggling far below these ideal levels, however, fishing becomes much more challenging. The first extreme is that of high pressure with clear skies, leading to cold, frosty nights and days of weak winter sun when the thermometer struggles to creep above zero. At the time of writing, late November, those conditions are here with a vengeance! With low, clear water at a temperature down in the thirties Fahrenheit, the only species we are going to find feeding with gay abandon is the grayling, which revel in the cold water. They respond readily to both trotted maggots and feeder tactics. For the better quality fish you cannot beat feeder fishing with corn on the hook and crushed corn grains in the feeder. Grayling absolutely adore sweetcorn. Other species that are still very worthwhile quarries, despite the low temperatures, are chub, dace and pike. It is important to stress that all the preceding comments assume that the cold conditions have been prevalent for several days. Sudden frosts after mild weather kill all sport stone dead initially until the fish have acclimatised.
I’ve fished for chub in arctic conditions with breadcrust for the best part of fifty years, and have learned and applied important variations to my approach from that in more favourable feeding conditions. First, the fish are certainly more sluggish and prone to stay in one comfortable swim. I always want steadier water than that which they normally inhabit. A crease swim is a perfect example of what I mean. In normal temperatures, the chub will be found adjacent to the fastest flow, feeding with gusto. In cold water, they may have migrated inshore to be tucked into the very gentlest flow under the banks, even skulking right under marginal ice. They are still happy enough to take a bait, and still accept a good mouthful. But they are not prepared to chase all over the river for it. I therefore cut right back on free feed and cast regularly. Over the years, most of my chub in these conditions have come within a minute or so of a recast, obviously suggesting that a bait needs to fall close to a fish before it will consider taking it.
When we have weather severe enough to freeze rivers, I’ve found piking can be excellent. My solitary thirty pound pike, the 32lb 1oz Thurne fish of the mid eighties, was taken in water that had only been ice-free a matter of minutes. When I’d arrived that morning the river had been frozen bank to bank, apart from a few hundred yards upstream of the dyke where I kept my boat moored. I had commenced fishing at the edge of the ice and as the ice gradually receded during the morning in the strengthening wind, I continually worked my livebait into the newly available areas.
Where we have very low temperature, but the river is fast, high and coloured, we really are up against it, especially if the temperature is still falling. I must admit I rarely bother fishing a river in these conditions. It is totally hopeless when a rapidly falling thermometer is coincident with a rising dirty river caused by melting snow, coupled with deoxygenation caused by ingress of road salt. I definitely admit defeat on rivers in these circumstances.
In every other combination of weather and water condition, though, you need never be stuck for a species to go for that will give a good chance of sport. Play the percentage game and choose the species where the likelihood of success is greatest.
For several years, I’ve been interested in the huge catfish from the Ebro in Spain, but never got round to actually going after them. Then, at the NEC in March this year, I finally arranged with Colin Bunn of Catmasters Tours that Fran and I would make our first visit on the 10th August.
At the appointed hour in Terminal B at Barcelona, we met Colin by the Black Horse statue, along with 5 other anglers, and all piled into his 8 seater mini bus for the two hour drive to Mequinenza. On arrival, we were all shown to our apartments, which are superbly equipped and comfortable, and arrangements were made to meet up later at the Bar Ebro. There we would have a meal, a few drinks, and meet our guides to make arrangements for the fishing the following morning. Fran and I had been allocated John Deakin as our guide, who I didn’t know at the time but who I now consider a great friend. Also with John were another older couple, although not quite as old as us, Phil Jones and Rose Knight. Phil and Rose had been there for several days, although not cat fishing.
On Monday morning, we started our fishing on one of the swims on Mequinenza’s promenade, which had produced some gigantic fish for John over previous weeks, although he did warn us that it had been slowing down because of the pressure. In fact, that first day, there was no action whatever, although we all sat it out until midnight. When John dropped Fran and me off at our apartment, we had decided that I would be up at 6.00am but that Fran would lie in until 8.00am. John would leave me with the fishing rods while he called back to pick Fran up. We already knew that Phil and Rose had other plans for the day and, in the event, it transpired that they did no further cat fishing until the Friday.
On Tuesday morning, John and I set up at a new swim, immediately downstream of the main bridge over the river Segre, a few hundred yards above the confluence with the Ebro.
For five hours, all was peaceful. And then, in late morning, a tremendous bang on the nearest rod was followed by the high pitched rush of braid being torn off the reel against a tightly set drag. After tightening the star drag on the multiplier, I struck hard into the fish. The power of what I’d hooked nearly took my breath away and that first experience of a big Segre catfish was truly awesome. I could soon see why I’d been told to tighten the drag as much as possible. Although I could not physically take line against the drag, the catfish had no such problem. Braid was whistling out! I had to strain every sinew to keep the rod up and avoid being pointed, and after about ten minutes of truly arm wrenching action, with my groin well and truly bruised from the pounding of the rod butt, the fish approached the rocky bank. John carefully made his way to the water’s edge where he grabbed the trace and gently drew the fish to where he could get a firm grip on the jaw with a gloved right hand. While maintaining a firm hold, he told me to keep a tight line as he inserted a soft rope stringer around the strong jawbone and out through the top of the gill cover. Then he popped out the hook and the fish was secure. I’ll never forget John’s words at that moment. “It’s about 150lbs, mate”.
In the event, he was just 1lb out. After zeroing the sling, we confirmed the weight of my first Segre catfish as 149lb. Ten minutes later, photographs taken and the fish safely back in the water, I turned to John, only to get a full bucket of water over me. “It’s traditional for a 150lb cat”, he said, “and 149lb is close enough!” In truth, the water was very welcome. I was hot, sweaty and covered in catfish slime, but couldn’t be happier. The three of us had silly grins on our faces as we broke open celebratory beers from the cool box.
In mid afternoon, I was in action once again and this fish went off as though jet propelled. It was interesting as that was a pattern that was repeated for the week with the smaller fish. I use the word “smaller” in a very relative sense as this second fish was 72lb, a modest cat by Spanish standards but a monster back home. Once again, I was soon covered in slime and grinning like a hyena, with arms full of catfish. That second fish was returned about 4.00pm and there was to be no further action that day, although we fished until midnight.
What was really interesting over the next two days was that the late morning to mid afternoon feeding spell remained consistent. On the Wednesday, I had a fabulous brace in under an hour. At 11.30, my third cat of the trip pulled the scales to 103lbs and then my personal highlight was taking a beautiful buttercup yellow half albino of 128lb at 12.15pm. Again, the evening and after dark fishing proved fruitless.
On the Thursday, two cats again came in the same feeding time zone, with an 87lb fish at 11.30am and a 78lb fish at 2.30pm. After the second, carp moved in on the feed and three were landed between 3.00pm and 6.45pm. One was estimated by John at 18lbs and released, while the other two were brought on to the bank and weighed properly. I was delighted to confirm two gorgeous commons of 25lb and 34lb, although of course they’d had absolutely no chance on the strong catfish tackle.
That evening, the pattern was broken, with our first fish in the dark, a catfish of exactly 40lbs. Although I was pleased to have another one in the bag, John was telling me how unlucky I was to get three fish in a day and not have at least one over 100lbs. I tell you, what I would give to have three such fish in a day at home!
The next day, I was to get another 40 pounder at 3.30pm, but that was the sum total of the action in the daylight hours. We had to wait until 11.00pm, on an uncharacteristically chilly evening, before one of the fishing rods roared off at last. This was another memorable scrap, with the fish hurtling downstream across the other three lines. This was where John’s experience proved so important. With me battling the fish as hard as I dare, John was playing knit one, purl two with the other lines. When I eventually had the fish ready for landing at the lowest part of the bank, John had managed to avoid even a momentary tangle. As we heaved it ashore, I could tell that it was another 100lb plus. So it proved as the needle swung to 107lb, and John and I cracked open two beers before calling it a night.
The next morning, our last, was truly memorable. We had decided that we would only fish until 3.00pm before returning to our apartments for a shower and change, and then meeting up in a good restaurant for a civilised meal and drinks. Up to now, we’d lived on take away meals on the bank, which John had fetched for us while we watched the gear. Phil joined John and me at 8.00am and would be staying until the end. The next run was Phil’s and, at mid morning, one of the rods hooped over and Phil joined battle with a real leviathan. For the first time, he experienced the brutish power of a Spanish cat. This was the first time I’d had the opportunity of being behind the camera for some action shots and through the viewfinder I knew that this was one massive catfish. When its tail broke surface some thirty yards offshore, John and I looked at one another. When it was eventually ready to bring ashore, it took the three of us to drag it to the tarpaulin, and two of us could barely support it for the weighing. Soon, we confirmed 184lb and, a few minutes later, Phil got two buckets over him. “It’s two for a 180”, explained John.
Not long after that monster had been returned, I was soon in action again with another big fish of 121lbs, and then Phil completed an unbelievable brace when we eventually hauled ashore another cracking cat of 175lb. At that moment, I promised that I’d send him some of the special cream I bought years ago, especially formulated for polishing golden appendages. On a serious note, I’d have loved to have caught on of those last morning monsters, of course I would. But I was delighted for Phil. If I wasn’t destined to catch them, I was certainly privileged to be there to witness them. It also proved that you don’t have to be a fanatic like me to catch monster fish. With the expert guidance that Catmaster Tours provides, anyone can enjoy such fabulous fishing. Give Colin Bunn a ring and get yourself on a plane to Spain. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
When you spend as much time as I do in a determined search for extra big fish, it can make a refreshing change occasionally to have a much less serious session. I had such a session last week. At the tench pit I took my 8lb males in the spring, I’d caught loads of rudd accidentally on tench tackle, so I decided to have a day after them with light float tackle.
When I arrived a little after dawn, I found that the water had changed a lot since May, in that there were great rafts of surface weed everywhere. Talking to the few carp lads who were fishing, it soon became evident that they were struggling, as the weed was really closing in. Nothing much had been caught for a while, the tench also having gone quiet. In the prevailing conditions, the one fish that would be worth pursuing in the upper layers would be rudd and I was bubbling with anticipation as I made a slow circuit of the pit looking for signs of surface activity.
Although there were lots of evidence of surface feeding carp, making me wonder why none of the carpers were offering floating baits, I saw no evidence of rudd until I arrived at a quiet corner where golden backs were breaking the surface. I’d found what I was looking for and was soon set up for a day’s “maggot spraying”, using my TFG Starving Whippet 13ft light float rod. At the business end was a Drennan large puddle chucker float, set three feet deep, with a hooklink of a ready tied Kamasan size 14 animal spade to 3lb mono, baited with a buoyant Enterprise red maggot and two real ones. That combination took around a minute to sink. By regularly casting and catapulting, I wanted to keep the bait slow sinking in the upper layers while freebies sank all around. Every thirty seconds or so throughout the day ten to fifteen maggots were catapulted around the float, to provide a constant rain of bait, and at the end of the day I’d got through half a gallon of reds.
After about ten minutes of casting and catapulting, the bites started in earnest and, as well as the fish I landed, I must have missed another twenty bites. I also had a ten second encounter with a big carp that made a complete mockery of my gear! I also had the mortification of losing the biggest rudd I hooked. It took the bait the instant the float hit the water, taking me a little off guard. There was a tremendous boil on the surface, a flash of red and gold, and then the fish was gone. It was certainly far bigger than anything I landed.
At the end of the day, though, I’d really enjoyed the change; I ought to do that kind of fishing more often. I had a total of 27 rudd, all over a pound in weight, with the best two 1lb 12oz and 1lb 13ozs, plus 13 nice roach to 1lb 6ozs. What was very interesting was the average size of the rudd. During the spring tenching, I’d had loads of rudd on my feeders, but the majority weighed only ounces. I also found out that the biggest verified rudd from the water, taken two seasons ago, is 3lb 11ozs. That one will do! However, I had no monsters and certainly no personal best, but what a brilliant day!
Not long after dawn, I was again setting up in swim number 1, for another crack at the tench. The general consensus had been that, the previous week, I had been a little unlucky not to have at least one big female of 8lb or over. In fact, the swim had produced a few doubles already, to over 11lbs. As my personal best is 11lb 11ozs, I was certainly in with a fighting chance of upping that with a little good luck.
I approached the fishing in the same way as the week before, only this time I was using some of the new generation of rubber maggots that Chris Hormsby of Enterprise had sent me to try. He has imparted a very lifelike “wriggle” into them, so lifelike in fact that my wife was loath to touch them! I was also using for the first time my new TFG Specialist Bivvy, and was very impressed with it. The erection time stated of 20 seconds is certainly no lie, in fact it took longer to peg out than it did to erect. And pegging out was important in the very strong south west wind which, luckily, was directly behind me.
The session was the complete reverse of the first, the first day being completely blank apart from just one small rudd. Other anglers on the water were saying that the fishing had become very hard with very few fish landed for a few days. On the second morning, after an uninterrupted sleep, I still had over a pint of casters left and debated whether I should introduce any bait on account of the total lack of action in the previous 24 hours. In the end, I put them in, with half a pint to each rod. All or nothing, I said to myself.
At mid morning, another angler Leigh stopped for a chat and as we talked the wind really got up and a fine, squally rain started. I said to Leigh that hopefully the rain would bring the tench on and within seconds of the words leaving my lips, both rods were away. You wait hours for a bite, and then two come at once! With Leigh on hand to deal with one fish, both fish were played at the same time and landed in the same net, quite a bizarre occurrence. Leigh weighed them for me and declared two males of 7lb 6ozs and 6lb 8ozs. Quite an exciting way to end a quiet spell!
There were to be two more tench of 7lb 3oz and 6lb 6ozs before I eventually packed up in late evening, plus a few rudd. The one negative was a big rudd that got round my other line, dragging the second feeder into thick weed. Eventually, with everything solid, the hook pulled out of the fish and I was left cursing my luck. I’m off to Acton carping next week ; I’ll let you know the outcome.