A slow start…

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!

 

Bream Feast

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.

Overnight on the Ouse

7th/ 8th June 2011

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.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

Effects of Weather on the Winter River

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.

5lb 8oz chub taken in perfect winter conditions

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.

Hardly ideal barbel conditions

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.

16lb 6oz barbel taken in a high warm flood

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.

11lb plus Ouse bream taken on a mild February morning

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.

My first 7 pounder on an icy winter evening

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.

Try for grayling in extreme cold conditions

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.

Barbel love warm winter floods

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.

Dusk is the prime time for winter perch

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.

A nice winter double on a freezing cold day

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.