Monday, March 17, 2014

Fish sandwich

Fish Sandwich

Down to the river for a final chuck before the close season. Now, unlike many modern anglers, I'm a big fan of the close season. Gives everyone and everything time to pause and reflect, sort themselves out a bit, and think about fishing instead of having to constantly do it. I know if makes no sense in terms of the original rationale - so as to give fish a chance to breed in peace - but in the broader sense, it's still an important part of my calendar. 

So, bag of casters, some liquidised bread, a little stick float, the John Wilson, Leeds centrepin (God how I love fishing with a centrepin) 4lb line, a size sixteen and the Kelly Kettle in tow, I huff and puff my way over the bridge, through the fence and down to the bank. The old seat basket is still in great nick but the strap has seen better days and I need to get it replaced. For now though, it has two of my knots holding things in place and as long as I walk very gingerly, like a pantomime villain on tiptoe, all will be well. 

I tackle up above the overhanging bush, sling in a couple of small balls of bread and two handfuls of casters and first cast get a good solid bob-bob-under-and-away bite. It turns out to be a small roach. First cast. This could be good.

And it is. The weather's warm and mild, the sun shines, there's a friendly chat with another angler, a good hot cup of tea and several more bites. At one point, a horse high steps over the bridge pulling a buggy behind it. But there are no more fish. Not until the last cast when another little roach snaffles the caster. I pop him back, pack up and retire to the pub for a pint of Harveys and a bag of Taytos' ready salted. There's a loud and fairly bigoted conversation going on about Oscar Pistorious but I manage to block it out by thinking of my little session, topped and tailed by two roach. A proper fish sandwich. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The owl and the chub

"If a big one bites, it will probably be at dusk."

Funnily enough, I nearly didn't go. 

When the man behind the counter in the tackle shop explained that while they didn't have any maggots I could have the last of the dying pinkies for free, I had to think fast. Once I've decided to fish with a particular bait, my tactics take shape in my mind's eye and I don't like to be knocked off course. This is a fancy way of saying that too many options distract me - and that I actually prefer to go fishing with one bait rather than two or three. 

"Have you got any casters?"

"I'll have a look."

He came back with a small packet and the die was cast. I was happy too. Driving home I started to remember how well casters had fished the season before, responsible for my biggest perch for years. I don't know why I hadn't thought of them before. After that, it was back to work, then some toast for lunch and then a quick lie down to gather my thoughts...and what's this? Gone 2.00pm. What happened there?

I checked the weather, saw that it was going to be terrible tomorrow and then horrible the day after (as I write this the next day, it looks cold but clear - so much for that app) and decided on the spur of the moment to go, even though it was late. I emptied the creel of all the things I didn't really need - second rod rest, scales, weighing sling - brewed a pot of tea and then couldn't find the top of the flask, so settled for water instead, grabbed my 15' rod and new, extra length landing net handle and went out the door. 

Then I went back for the casters. 

Bloody hell. So that's why it's called a flood plain. The field was sodden with large expanses of thick, claggy mud. At the last minute, I'd decided to go upstream from the bridge where I'd been last summer. Of course, it's a different river. Wider to look at, fewer obvious features, flat and grey. Still, wading across the field I kept checking the river on my left - a couple of interesting looking overhanging trees, almost in the water where debris had gathered; the wintery stubs of a large reed bed that bowed out from the bank; a crease where faster water nudged past a slack. 

I got to the top of the stretch and had a chat with another angler, a newcomer to the club, who'd spun the length of the field without a touch. I never like asking to see someone else's membership, but as we chatted he seemed familiar with the club and a water or two. He wandered back towards the bridge and I set up with the pin, 4lb line, a small overcocked stick float and size sixteen hook. I threw a handful of casters in, plumbed the depth and then got to work.

I don't know how I float fished this place before I started using the centrepin. It's not that it's a better reel, it's just that I seem to use it more effectively, even in a current this slow. The float moves more naturally, I'm able to keep better contact with it, I don't spend so much time mending the line (15' of carbon fibre helps here, of course) and I like the way you spin the spool and the end of the trot to bring it back. No bites though, and after 30 minutes I move on.

The sun is almost gone and setting the hedges in the distance on fire when it begins to rain - so lightly that at first I think the widening circles are fish rising. I've seen the owl out hunting on the other bank, stood watching it for a full five  minutes as it alternated between long, smooth glides and short flappy jerks as if the bird god was pulling it from above on a piece of string. Occasionally it falls on something, then lifts from the field again while I stand, feeling like Cletus from the Simpsons. 

In the final swim I make a final cast. I've taken one of the shot off so the float sits higher in the water which means I can still see it. Then suddenly I can't see it. I strike and feel a powerful resistance, so strong that at first I have no idea what it could be. Conscious of the 4lb line and tiny hook, I'm as firm with the fish as I dare, but still can't get its head off the bottom. I fear it's a pike and then I get a glimpse of a large spade-like tail. For a mad moment I wonder if it's some out of season sea trout, driven barmy from being stuck in the river all this time, and then the head breaks the surface and I see the enormous mouth and breastplate flank. It's a chub. Actually, it's a huge chub. Bloody hell. It's the biggest chub I've caught from this river in 10 years. 

I've got no scales of course - and no camera - so I snap a couple of photos with the phone and guestimate the weight. It's certainly 4lbs and might be 5lbs. Given how poorly the river's been fishing for me these last few years, it's an enormous chub. As I lower it back into the freezing river and watch it slip away I am - at least for a moment - completely and utterly happy.

Monday, July 30, 2012



Carp photos? What do you take me for?

I don’t often spend much time fishing for carp and when I catch one it’s usually because it’s snaffled a bait meant for a tench or a roach, a rudd or a crucian. That’s not to say I’m unhappy when one comes along, more that I’ve never seen the point of all the rod pods, bite alarms, monkey climbers and the rest that seem such an intrinsic part of modern carping.

The one exception to this is surface fishing, which I’ve done from time to time with some small success. In fact, the biggest guestimated carp I ever caught was bagged right at my feet on a day ticket water on floating crust - I’d seen them snorting about in the reeds and tackled up a rod for that very purpose. When one rose at my feet, took the crust and I struck, I don’t know which of us was more surprised.

Returning to a small lake in Sussex I’d had the foresight to visit Tesco’s and buy some Chum mixer. Took me long enough to find among all the other dried food (do dogs really need to eat fresh rabbit and country vegetables?) and in the end I had to buy an enormous BBQ briquettes-style bag. Still, they smelled good and pongy and I remembered the old trick for softening them for the hook when you’re in a hurry. Get a freezer bag, pour in the dried biscuits, boil a kettle, pour the water into the bag so it covers a single layer of biscuits at the bottom, then seal the bag and give it a good shake. By the time you get where you’re going they’ll be soft enough to hook.

So, the deal was this. Set up a float rod and fish maggots and corn for roach and rudd and periodically wander round one end of the lake in search of carp on the surface. I’d forgotten what fun this is, how frustrating and how extraordinary it is to stare a piece of water that has nothing in it, nothing at all, no sign of a carp - until in the next second there they are, singly, in pairs or occasionally in a line, like carriages in a train. These were beauties, too - dark and broad backed, silent and full of purpose. Two I disturbed as I walked out onto a wooden platform. They simply withdrew unhurriedly to the middle of the back bay and I never saw them again. Several smaller ones stayed in the rushes either side of the platform and were still there when I left, rooting excitedly among the reeds. In another swim, two fish cruised round the reeds and ended up at my feet. The bigger one drifted away as I lobbed the size six hook with two biscuits on it at his tail. The smaller one rose from the bottom, sucked in the bait and then spat it out again, far too quickly for the angler who was just standing there with his mouth open.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Free lining has always been one of my favourite ways to fish - whether it's a large lump of luncheon meat rolled down the bottom of a fast river for barbel or a couple of dog biscuits floating on the surface for carp. There's also something special about free lining on a small river, and something pleasing about using a bait like breadflake, pinched onto the hook and then dunked to make it sink and give it weight for the cast.

I first free lined on the Adur out of necessity - there was so much summer weed that almost any method had real limitations. At the height of summer it meant that half the swims were unfishable using traditional techniques because the tackle would get tangled up and the bait lost in all that greenery. Free lined breadflake worked though because it was visible, smelled good, and was buoyant enough to roll over and through the weed. It became and occasional favourite and helped me winkle out some decent fish in difficult conditions.

Initially I had to get over my fetish for tightening up as if I was using a ledger rig - obviously this made the bait flap about unnaturally, but it was still hard to break the habit. No, the trick is to let the bait settle and then find its way in the flow - and this means leaving the line to bow slightly. You can still see bites (even really sensitive ones) and it gives you enough warning before an interested fish really takes the bait.

That's the best thing about freelining. It's almost as if the fish are taking the bait out of your fingers, first with tiny electric shudders that often don't move the rod top at all - even a delicate quiver tip - and then building to the point where they actually tug one way, you hold steady, they tug again and then you don't strike so much as sweep the rod gently in the opposite direction to make contact. It's like the fish are trying to pick your pocket. I caught two nice little chub and a roach like this, did some chores (dumping old, frazzled maggots and cleaning out the boxes) and bid farewell to my blow up cushion which finally gave up the ghost - air gently wheezing out until I was left sitting basically sitting on he soggy bank.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sauce for the goose

I don’t know what they’re feeding the geese at Flintstones but it’s going through them like a dose of the proverbials and means it’s almost impossible to walk two steps in a straight line without enountering something that squirted from a goose’s arse. Which is no fun when you’re wearing Crocs. I’d originally gone to check out the river to the north but that’s going to have to wait until another day when I have more time and access to an excavator. Meanwhile, Ray and I spent a couple of very happy hours catching small rudd and F1 carp of various sizes on ledger and float. There was a lovely sunset and the fish fed enthusiastically until dusk but although it’s pretty enough, Flintstones is a bit one-paced. A bit like Electricity but with bigger fish.

Pickwells on the other hand - I like the look of that.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

It's raining

Sometimes it feels as though the rain has settled in for the summer. It’s had a good look round (the wettest April to June since records began) and likes what it sees, so it’s hunkered down and is here for the duration.

Fortunately, although the weather may be poor for anglers, it turns out that it’s rather good for angling - at least if you’re prepared. Now I’m a long time fan of the poncho. It’s light, reasonably waterproof, leaves your arms free, can cover the rest of your tackle if you’re scrunched down on a blow-up seat, and I just love the way it packs down to nothing. But for weather like this, when the rains have well and truly come, there’s only one thing that’s going to do the trick - a proper fisherman’s brolly.

Funnily enough, I actually own one but I’ve only ever used in anger on an Irish holiday because, let’s face it, the Irish know a thing or two about rain…it’s why the Emerald Isle is emerald, after all. It works fine but mostly I don’t use it because I can’t be bothered, can never get it set up right, move around a lot, moan, complain, bitch…

This time however, I’d decided to stick, rather than twist, and stay in particular spot all afternoon and evening, so it seemed worth humping the brolly down from the gate, through the field and round the lake to the far side, next to the old tree. Bank was hard as hell and I couldn’t push the brolly stick in so I scavenged round the banks and found a huge fence post, lugged it back round and then pounded that mother into the bank. Job done. Set the brolly up, span the top round till it tilted back nicely to protect me from the wind and then positioned the edge of the brolly flat to the ground. It felt solid enough but the first really hard gust of wind threatened to spin the bastard round. Fortunately I had a spare mini rod rest and the tie cord from the brolly was in exactly the right position - a minute later the whole structure was pretty solid.

In went the maggots and while let everything settle down after all that banging I tackled up with a pike rod, 12lb line, a rubber lure with a single hook and a long soft wire trace. There were decent pike in the lake I’d been told and with no-one around to mock my rotten sink and draw technique, I thought I’d have a go. Half an hour later, pretty wet by now, I’d tried half the lake. I couldn’t understand it. The lure wobbled so enticingly I’d almost jumped in a few times after it myself, but of the pike there were no sign. I leaned the rod against a tree and tackled up the Transformer - 6lb line, size 14 hook, centrepin, double maggot and a small 2BB antenna float. First cast - a small roach. Second cast - a smaller perch. Third cast - another small roach which halfway in is suddenly engulfed by a set of savage jaws. There’s a swirl, the roll of a large white belly and then everything goes slack. I reel in another foot and pike surges up from the bottom again and this time puts a death grip on the roach (which I never see by the way). Now it’s not as if this happened to me before but this time, everything seems to go right. The pike is hooked in the corner of the mouth (God knows how) and feels a bit sluggish - nevertheless, it’s dogged and angry and I’m delighted to see it on the bank and then in the sling. It weights 8lb 12oz which makes it a clear 7lbs heavier than my previous biggest pike. Amazing. It’s a nasty looking brute but I’m chuffed to bits and it goes back fast and in good shape, the hook having fallen out in the net. Phew.

After that it’s a question of enjoying the relative comfort of the brolly, brewing up the kettle (forgot both cup and spoon but a quick trip to the car revealed a plastic water bottle which, when cut in half, makes a serviceable mug) eating a sandwich and catching roach and rudd, one after to the other, virtually day. Here and there a tench takes the bait and tears off like a maniac, feeling twice its size and fighting like one of those demonic Blenheim tench of yesteryear. Magnificent fish they were.

I experiment with a Polaris sliding float which works OK but frankly the bites come so thick and fast (often before the float has settled properly) that I think I could have used the other half of that plastic bottle and I would still have caught fish. One roach weighs 1lb 9oz - but unfortunately by then the sling is so wet that it weighs almost eleven ounces itself. Damn.

As I hopalong through the following day with my arse feeling like I’ve been in the saddle for a week, it’s the final proof that a blow-up cushion may be fine for a couple of hours by the river but it’s no substitute for a proper chair if you’re planning a longer stay. There’s no doubt it was worth it though, as the pictures here demonstrate.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012


A beautiful early season river perch

Having kissed goodbye to the wind, it was time to try the river again, so I 'organised' a quick evening raid, figuring that I could get down there for 7.00pm and still have two hours plus to fish. The maggots were turning into casters and had a good strong smell to them (adding a handful of wholemeal flour helps with the sweats and the stench - at least a bit) and I fancied my original plan would still work.

So back to that beautiful uncut wild field I went and with the wind a distant memory, things seemed very much better. The river looks fantastic - good colour, plenty of flow, not too many weeds or cabbages. I made my way to a favourite corner swim and got to work with the surgical shears to make a bit of space for me and my gear. Out came the Transformer again - the 13ft float version this time - and on went the Leeds 'pin with 4lb line and a size 16. I went with an old favourite float - a sort of chubber I think - but no matter how many shot I squeezed on the line the bloody thing refused to cock properly and rode miles too high out of the water. I started with double maggot and soon re-acquainted myself with some small roach, then a dace and then a tiny chub.

But I was missing bites too and when I got into a terrible tangle I decided to re-tackle with a different float. This time I chose a small stick float that cocked perfectly with two BBs and just poked its nose out of the water. Suddenly I started to hit more bites. I caught more roach, dace and chub and the the first of three perch - the biggest of which is here and must have gone a pound and a half, thus making it my biggest ever perch. An absolute beauty that the photo really doesn't do justice.

So I got my June the 16th after all, only a few days late and it was a wonderful evening, the best on the Adur for some time and hopefully a sign of things to come. I saw the owl too, quartering the field on the Henfield side, and watched it dip silently into that long grass and then lift back up and disappear off into the trees.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Previously on River Running...

Hmm, I appear to have let things slip again, so this time around I'm going to introduce a new feature into the blog - the multiple entry. This will allow me to squeeze the last four trips into a single, coherent whole thus saving you the reader and me, the author time and effort. Everybody wins.

Except I don't remember much about the first trip. It was to Whitmore's lake, a favourite spot these days thanks to its relatively small size and the fact that so few people fish it. However, fishing as we know, goes in cycles, and my first visit of the new season lacks a certain something that was a regular feature last year. Fish. Despite trying various swims before settling on the smaller of the two islands (a lovely spot) I manage a single bite (a confident couple of bobs followed by a sail away) and a single fish (a small rudd of a few ounces). Still, the Kelly Kettle gets an outing too and that's a complete success - the trick seems to be to load it up as soon as it gets going, rather than feeding it sticks in drubs and drabs.

Seconds away, round two. A big club lake this time, a water I associate with surface feeding carp but that now holds crucians, decent perch along with rudd and roach that are growing fast. So what do I catch? Tench. In fact, it looks like the same tench, over and over again - a supersize bar of Pears soap that's just big enough to need the landing net. I go with new club member (and fellow band member - but that's another story) Sam, a sea fisherman who's more at home with 7oz leads with grippers and rods as big as coconut trees; this time round we both enjoy a cup of coffee, courtesy of the kettle. And if I can get the video uploaded, you'll be able to see for yourself.

Round three. My favourite club lake this time. Driving past the alpacas with their funny, Muppety faces, Sam and I find a single club member who's there having had a row with his wife. Storming out he remembered he had all his gear in the car so instead of going to the pub of tramping the streets, he goes fishing instead. Sensible choice. No such histrionics for either of us so Sam settles into my favourite corner swim and I tackle up next door on the other side of the big tree. I start by quiver tipping with maggots, but a succession of fish from the other side of the tree culminating in a lovely crucian carp convinces me to switch to a small float - a leaded, clear short bodied waggler. Luncheon meat goes on a small size 12 (bought from Trago Mills nearly 10 years ago and still sharp as billy-o) and produces a lovely little rudd. Over the next three hours this is followed by a nice bream, some good sized tench (the biggest is here at 3lbs 5oz) and that rarest of all freshwater aquatic creatures, a lip-hooked eel. It was the same day the flotilla sailed down the Thames in celebration of the jubilee, and while London sweltered and soaked in the rain, Sam and I fished into the silence and the setting sun.

Angler holding tench - invisible toilet not pictured

Round four. June the 16th. The most important day of the season, for obvious reasons and for others that I won't go into here. It has to be the river of course, but Ray is cautious because of the wind and tries to persuade me to go the following day instead. I'm determined to go anyway and talk Sam into it ( this takes about two seconds) but as we head over the Downs the wind seems to rise rather than fall and when we park up by the stile, the uncut meadow grass sways this way and that in the ferocious wind. Still, it's the glorious 16th and it has to be done, so we go over the stile and stride purposefully through the grass to the river. It looks great, plenty of water, good flow and not too weedy - but the banks are almost impenetrable and the wind gusts viciously this way and that. We press on downstream. The river winds so much here that I'm certain we'll find a sheltered spot where we can tuck in out of the way but as we continue, the landscape increasingly resembles a sandstorm minus the sand. Long story short? I bottle it and we slink (actually we high step, it's the only way to walk through that bloomin' grass) back to the car and decamp to a small, sheltered pond up the road. Here we catch tiny fish after tiny fish all afternoon and into the evening. After an hour I've already caught more fish than I managed all of last season - rudd and little F1 carp which go like miniature rockets. Sam catches them too, ledgers for the first time, finds he doesn't fancy using a centrepin after all and finally introduces me to a wonderful beer flavoured with ginger. Although the day hasn't had the solemnity of previous June the 16ths, it has still had its moments. More important, I think all the players can appreciate that if a sizeable fish won't show itself, a quiet pint in a classic English pub on a warm, stormy summer's evening may be compensation enough.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Transformer

Hickstead small
I once heard the English fascination with caravans described thus: it's because we love things that fold away. Simple as that. Not because we yearn for the freedom of the open road or because of some deep-seated need to take our houses with us, but simply because we like sofas that turn into beds and sideboards that turn into tables.

I can sympathise. It's one of the reasons I like this here John Wilson Rovex 11-13ft rod, because it can be fished four different ways, as an 11ft float or quiver tip or as a 13ft float and quiver tip. For this flexibility (and because I'll be using it a lot this year and don't intend to keep calling it by its trade name) I've decided to call it something else: so Sir Rovex, I dub thee The Transformer - because although you don't turn into a table, you do allow to take four rods fishing but only one rod bag.

And there's another reason for the name. Fishing with Sam yesterday, I hooked a small carp first cast on the quiver after a bite so ferocious that it almost pulled the rod from the rest. As I struck and realised the fish was on, I let out a sort of weird, hooting chortle that - on reflection - sounded very John Wilsonesque. Maybe the rod has more transformational properties than I thought...

Sam carp
Sam with his biggest freshwater fish so far - a 4lb 5oz carp

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Adur March2012
About this pike, then. I've had it in my head to go pike fishing for months now, but as is the way of these things, have been put off by something simple - I'm too cheap to buy ready-made wire traces and I can't get the hang of tying my own; yet having spent a tenner on the all the required bits, I'm loathe to just give up. I'm also concerned about being able to care for all the pike I'm going to catch so I've bought long forceps, found a strong glove, have an unhooking mat and watched several videos on various pike angling sites. Nevertheless, it's all off putting.

But it's also the last day of the river season, so if I want to give it a go - and not let it gnaw at me for the next three months - it's got to be today. I take an hour in the morning and research various trace-tying methods online but they all seem to require tools or components I don't possess and in the end I put my glasses on, put magnifying clips on top of them and peer at the tiny instructions on the back of the trace wire packet that I bought months ago. It looks more straightforward than I remembered. So I have another go and after a couple of fails, I have something worth testing, so I tie on a 5kg weight, grab the carp rod and give it a try. The knots - and more surprisingly, the. crimps and various bits of folded wire - hold well enough. I make more and they come out like home-made rolls, all different shapes and sizes. No matter how I measure I always end up wasting wire and at the end I've got some traces twice as long as the others. But they feel OK and they look like the real thing.

The river is beautiful. Although in an official drought zone, the level hasn't dropped anything like as much as previous years and there are several anglers dotted along the half mile or so stretch. I walk to the top, tackle up with a little rubber perch-like lure (6 for £3.50) check my gloves, forceps and mat are all present and correct and begin to fish.

Three hours later it turns out I needn't have worried about my lack of pike handling skills since despite near-perfect conditions and the amazingly fish-like movements of my little lure, I don't get a single take. I do hook the bottom six or seven times though, and the only break I get is using the one shop-bought trace I'd had in my tackle box for about 10 years - my own mishapen, higgledy-piggledy ones work just fine thanks very much. So I'll claim a moral victory and return next year to try again.

As I'm packing up a small owl appears, following the course of the river downstream until it reaches the bend where I'm standing with my mouth open. Then it rises over the bank on the other side and floats silently into the trees.

Adur2 March2012
You can just about see the lure above the creel. Sadly, not irresistable to pike after all...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Jupiter and Venus

The close season has snuck up on me and looking back on the entries to the blog, I can only give myself the following mark: must try harder - maybe the fishing book and a succession of articles for Waterlog have wrung all the stories from me.

Yet I know that can't be true. I've just read an absorbing little book called My Favourite Swims by Fred J. Taylor (signed by the man himself - thanks Dave) and what strikes me is not just Fred's love of fishing but his compulsion to write about it too - to get it down on paper for posterity so that these stories, no matter how slight, are not lost.

On impulse then, and realising that time was running out I took the new John Wilson Rovex 11-13 footer to the river, paired with a centrepin and 4lb line, the idea being that I would test its versatility by trotting for a bit before switching over to the ledger for the last hour or so. Bait would be small cubes of luncheon meat followed by worms from the garden. Mmmmm.

There were a handful of anglers there already, taking advantage of the sudden warm, shirtsleeves weather. The first was sat in a swim I'd never seen before, obviously created by club members who’d removed part of the bank upstream where the river splits and cleared out the vegetation choking it as it ambles back to re-join the main current. The result is a wonderful looking swim which flows fast over a gravel bottom before easing round the bend into deeper water. There's a nice looking slack on the far side and plenty of features to fish to. I shall have a go at that next season.

Further downstream for me then, to the bend where I've had several good sessions in the summer. I tackle up with the JW set at 13 feet with one of the new cheap plastic stick floats bought from Dragon Carp Direct (hey look at me Ma, I’m advertising…) which cocks sweetly yet gives me plenty of weight to control it. Half a dozen trots later I'm back in the groove. The rod is heavier than my 15 footer but handles well, is easy to hold and thanks to the relatively short handle, I’m able to move the rod around without hitting myself in the stomachs.

No bites though, so after an hour I take the rod and just potter about in the swims either side, fishing very close in, letting the float tickle the dead margin reeds. No bites but it's pleasant enough in the sunshine so I wander further afield, putting on a tiny worm and casting further out and suddenly the float's gone and I'm into a chub of two, maybe three ounces. A rod that catches first time out is going to be a lucky rod, and I'm pleased. There's a tiny bit of the worm left so I re-cast and get another bite, see the flash of a perch and then it's off again. The swim looks promising though so I amble downstream and get the rest of the gear, then re-tackle with a quiver tip section at the top, add a small Arlesey bomb, switch up to a 12 and put on a bigger worm.

Two things happen in quick succession. A stupid dog appears silently at my shoulder and barks loudly at me and out of the corner of my eye I see the tip judder and then pull round. It's a perch of about four ounces. Very welcome. I fish on.

Another bite, firmer this time and it feels like another perch and I'm taking my time, enjoying the scrappy little tugs and darts when the water in front me explodes. There's a moment when the river seems to suck in its cheeks and then rod's in a hoop, the tip almost touching the water and I'm attached to a very big and very pissed off pike. A pike so big that this can only end one way - and so it does, with my tackle up the tree beside me, hook gone, line sheared through, river still again, me laughing with the adrenalin rush. Amazing. It’s like having your very own Aussie croc story.

The swim obviously dead, I move on to see if that new spot the top of the stretch has been vacated. It has, but though I tackle up again and fish hard in the fading light I don't get a single bite. But it doesn’t matter. Above me in the west, Jupiter and Venus, the father of the gods and his consort are riding together high in the heavens, dazzlingly bright, lighting my way back across the field, over the stile to the car and in time, all the way home.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The rocket carp

My wife asked my this morning how fast carp swim. Seriously. I love that woman. I'd been talking about the wild carp (or near as dammit wild carp - lean, little torpedoes that look more like barbel than carp) in a local lake that I hadn't fished for years. I'd forgotten what they were like. Three casts in and I was mugged - float gone, line snapped, water in front of me all a-commotion, trousers round ankles (well, almost...). I can't believe anyone can actually catch these buggers they take a bait so fast and I've certainly never come across a fish with such pace.

I went to show Ray the remains of my line snarled around the end of the rod and we both laughed. I went back, tackled up with a cheaper float and had another go, this time holding the rod and waited.

There's an amazing thing that happens sometime when you're fishing. Something changes, the air almost crackles, the water comes alive, you can see shadows, sense movement beneath the surface, almost hear the fish as they move over the bait. Everything becomes hot and - let's face it - a little sexy.

So this time my early warning system went off and I managed to get the rod up and hold the fish when it tore off towards the reeds. Did I mention I was fishing with a size 14 hook, six pound line and a centrepin? Thought not.

What a fight, harum scarum, back and forth, left and right, zooming up and down the swim like a cat with its tail on fire. Ray came round about half way through to see what the fuss was about and stood quietly behind me as I huffed and puffed the fish into the net. I weighed it in at exactly 5lbs, my biggest fish of the season and a magnificent specimen - lean and solid, it looked as though it was cast in metal.

Afterwards, over a cup of tea, shaking my head I said again that I didn't understand how the carp could be so much faster than any other fish I'd ever caught.

"It's because it's so shallow," said Ray. "They can't dive, so they shoot off because they've got nowhere else to go."I looked at him, wheels turning oh-so slowly.

Of course it makes perfect sense but it had never occurred to me before.  I still don't know how fast carp swim, but at last I know why these ones seem to have rockets strapped to their backs.

As always, cheers Ray.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

New book

I'm delighted to report that I've been commissioned by a publisher to write another fishing book. Can't say any more than that at the moment except that the outline will be finished in a few days and the whole thing wrapped up before the end of October.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, July 04, 2011

That's so hot

But not in a good, US TV show, sexy way, but in a it's-got-no-business-being-this-hot-at-eight-o'clock-in-the-morning way. If I'd got here an hour earlier then I would have stood more chance. But as the fellow club member I met as we both parked by the gate (Hi John) observed, it's just nice being out at that time of the morning. Just the two of us on a half mile stretch of river in early July, dendrabenas in the bait box, courtesy of Sean, and a new rod and centre pin combo courtesy of Dragon Carp Direct. Crumbs - as if an angling story would ever be an appropriate medium for product placement.

The 12ft twin top barbel rod was £20, looks a bit horrid but feels OK. The centrepin was £30 and looks lovely - not quite a Bob James, but not bad either. Despite an over-lively ratchet, it performs well, at least when catching two small perch and the world's smallest pike. Seriously, I didn't think pike started life that small - it looked like a garfish. Next time I'm going to try bread flake and see if that will sit on top of the weed because too often the end tackle came back festooned - those worms do like to burrow.

Still, I stayed true to my plan and fished and moved, dropping a worm into half a dozen likely spots over the course of four hours, starting off about 7.30am. Within half an hour my ears were burning. And not in a good, US TV show, sexy way.

I'm a giver, me

It's nights like these that I feel extremely fortunate to be living here and now. There's enough wrong with England in the 21st century - this spiteful government for starters - that it's easy to forget places like this still exist, pretty much on your doorstep. It's also easy to forget that one of nature's properties is the extraordinary ability to ease a troubled spirit or make still a restless soul. There's a rejuvenating side to fishing that non-anglers - who see only the caricature of sitting by a canal in the rain, chin in hand - don't get, but if you've been lucky enough to experience it, you'll know.

A quick raid then, with Sean as a guest, to see if we can't sort out his recent tendency to blank whenever he looks into the water. To be fair, this is because he's been on the Avon three times already this season and is after not just a particular species (barbel) but a particular fish (Hubert? I don't know, and Sean's not telling). Anyway, given Sean's skill level (high) and the water's inhabitants (plentiful, obliging) I'm pretty confident we can do something about it. Last time I bought someone here they caught a 22lb personal best mirror carp. Bodes well.

It's overcast but warm with a wind from the west and conditions are pretty nigh perfect. We both start catching roach and rudd, Sean on some mad strawberry mini-boilie and me on sweetcorn (I've also brought a couple of handfuls of crumb from the tail end of one of my home made loaves which produces the best, stickiest groundbait I've ever used). I catch a little tench. Then a bigger one, then Sean shouts something. I reel in and scoot along the bank to find him deep in negotiations with a rather large fish. Because he's using 6lb line and a centrepin, this turns out to be great fun. I video it and we take turns in guessing the weight. I start at 12lbs, mainly because I can't see the fish yet. When I can it immediately becomes clear that this is a mirror carp that won't be seeing 12lbs again - it's considerably bigger. Sean plays the fish gently, coaxing it round the swim, calling it 'fishy' from time to time as if in reassurance. There's the occasional powerful run but mainly it stays deep, pulling hard rather than tearing off. When it finally comes to the net it looks nearly 20lbs and turns out to be a spit over 17lbs. It's a beautiful fish as you can see. Sean's the one holding it, looking ridiculously pleased with himself.

I went back to my swim and caught more roach and rudd, a smashing 4lb 1oz tench (I love having a set of scales after all these years) and then inspired, tackled up a carp rod and tried the swim next door on the other side of the tree which I'd been baiting up with corn and bits of luncheon meat. If this were a story I'd have saved myself a 20 pounder to insert into the day about now but all I got was a couple of taps from a passing rudd.

So that's Ray and Sean sorted out with big carp from the lake, both from the same spot. My turn next.

Spit or swallow?

It's good to be fishing with Ray again, even if we don't arrive at the same time and don't even sit together, and it feels to get re-acquainted here, at the little lake where we started fishing at this club all those years ago. June the 16th it was, when there was still a close season on the lake and everyone arrived the evening before so they could start fishing on the last stroke of midnight, even if it was just with one symbolic cast. I caught 17 tench that day. Seventeen. That's more than I've caught in 10 trips to Blenheim Palace lake.

I got there early, while Ray was still working out the kinks by doing his yoga routine (and shaking off the effects of Yvonne's birthday party the night before). Despite the forecast, there was no sign of the sun, only a damp mist that hung over the fields, broken by the necks of dozens of bright-eyed alpacas, as the car bounced down the track to the bottom. Not a soul about (unless alpacas have souls) and a wonderful time to be out and about in the world. I wandered over to my favourite corner and baited up with the last embers of my opening day maggots (they'll only last a couple of days indeed - take that, tackle shop owner) then opened the plastic bag of casters to be greeted by a smell so foul, so sweet and mealy that it swept me back to the days when we holidayed with auntie Margaret in the little house next to the piggery. Strewth. I smelled my fingers. How am I going to eat my Ginsters?

Now I've watched my share of John Wilson videos where he cooks up a ground bait concoction of maggots, caster, bran, beer, corn, all the kind of stuff and then balls it up for the fish, but smelling my fingers again and looking at my static float, I just can't see it. No fish is going to want to put that in its mouth.

The float sails away twice in two casts. Both times I strike perfectly and completely miss the fish. It's as if they're trying to eat the bait and spit it out at the same time. After a while I give up and switch to luncheon meat. After the casters, this smells like little pieces of chopped and shaped and mechanically reclaimed heaven. The fish think so too and in quick succession I catch silver bream, roach, rudd and then a couple of nice tench. I've got a set of digital scales my daughter bought me and they're pressed into service for the first time today on the largest of the bream - a good 2lbs 1oz. Lovely.

I fish until the midday sun gets uncomfortable and then pack up. The vile maggots and caster are flung into the pond (interestingly, the little dark frogs that hopped round my feet all morning have gone to town on the luncheon meat but steered clear of the casters - and they say youngsters will eat anything) and I walk round to where Ray's fishing in the opposite corner just in time to see him catch this lovely little tench.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You'd think

You'd think I'd know by now. That I wouldn't fall into the trap of believing that the same thing can happen twice in a row. I mean, who'd be daft enough to go back to the river three days later with the same tackle and bait, arriving at the same time and expecting the same outcome? I'd had a different swim in mind of course - can't go living off past glories in their entirety, because where's the fun in that? So off I wandered, heading downstream to the swim where Ray used to fish a lot, where we both caught rainbow trout that mad June 16th five or six years ago (hell, everyone caught a trout that first morning, the silly buggers were everywhere).

You'd think that all the swims would be the same but they're not. Can't get near this one because the bank's too high and overgrown and it's too bloody dangerous. I need a longer landing net handle, a stouter rod, 6lb line and some freelined luncheon meat or cheese paste, not all this trotting gear.  Still, by the time I realise this, I've had a perfectly good walk and ended up back at the first swim I fancied, round the corner from I where I fished the other evening and the first port of call for lazy anglers who - like me - have parked by the gate. I always feel ambivalent about swims like this. On the one hand the fish here are accustomed to food, on the other, they may also be a bit knackered.

You'd think it wouldn't take long to tackle up but it does, mainly because my first float has a split in the eye at the bottom so having attached it to the line and tied the hook, the line pops out at the first opportunity. So I take it off (and put it back in the float tray so I can make the same mistake again in a month or two) and re-tackle with Thursday's float. It's deep here, a good 18 inches deeper than round the corner. Slow too. I see shoals of dark bream filling my keepnet (not that I've got one) but intsead, third cast I hook a big chub and then lose it.

You'd think I wouldn't be using the same size 16 hook that lost me all those fish on Thursday, but there it is. How do I know it's a chub? Because I can see one of its scales on the hook. Judging by the size of the scale, that was a big chub - the scale is almost bigger than the roach that I haven't caught yet - and losing it kills the swim. I move upstream, catch the tree on the far bank on the first cast, the reeds in front of me on the second and then the bottom on the third. The supid, fish-ejecting hook refuses to give way and each time is returned unharmed. Then I sit on a slug.

You'd think that after a fishless hour in the new swim I'd resist the temptation to move back to the scene of Thursday's triumphs but I'm too weak-willed and moments later I'm at the same buffet, catching nothing but a tiny perch, barely hooked on the outside of the mouth, who looks up at me with his angry little eye as if to say 'only just mate, only just'.

Yeah, you'd think...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The lost fish and the Loch Ness Bream

The river's been fishing pretty poorly of late. When I think back to when I first started coming here (after the initial getting-to-know-you phase was over) there were good fish to be had. We caught carp to 10lbs, bream to 5lbs and chub to over 4lbs; pretty good for a river that in parts, you can almost jump across. Recently though, those fish seem to have vanished, or at least moved off to pastures new and trips over the last few years have disappointed. Truth be told, the river has sometimes felt a bit fished out, as if it was in decline and unable to renew itself.

But it's June 16th and that means I have to be here, even if the weather's like a jack-in-the-box and there's a smart wind blowing hard from the west. Despite going through the motions (choosing my 15 foot float rod, centrepin, 4lb line, a few stick floats, going to the tackle shop to buy maggots with a bait box so small that the guy there smiles and asks if I'm taking the kids) I don't seem to want to go. Haven't been since March and it's only later that I realise my last two trips have ended blank or with just a couple of little fish to show - small wonder I'm not motivated.

Nevertheless, I'm here, wading through uncut, thigh-high wild grass down to the river, delaying my first sight until the last possible moment, until I have to see it or turn back and go home.

It looks good. Despite the lack of rain it's not too low, there are lilies in the slow stretches but it's not overgrown with weed and stone me if it doesn't feel a bit fishy. There's only one angler on my bank (everyone else must be upstream on the other side of the road bridge) but he's tucked away out of the wind and approaching rain under a brolly so big that I can't see him at all - just the tip of his rod pointed at the river. It makes me think of Strider's pipe poking out from beneath his hood in the Prancing Pony.

I walk down to the willow and - remembering an arm-wrenching take from  few years back - nearly set up there, but the swim's been cut a bit too large for my liking so I carry on downstream, past the old tree and round the corner. I see a large fish drifting in the current, just below the surface. At first I think it's an enormous roach but then it flicks a steadying tail and I can see it's a decent bream. I make a note of the spot for later and move on.

I've decided to fish the bend. Although it's completely exposed to the elements I like this spot because it's a bit like a buffet. You can fish close in to the left, trot through slightly further out, trot the far bay and then pull the float round in from of the lilies before letting it travel on downstream, or flick it round to the right and let it sit in the slack or pull it out into the current and hold the float back so the bait rises in a tempting Crabtree-esque fashion.

I tackle up, cast out and the fish come. I get pretty much a bite a cast for the next two hours, starting with dace, then roach and then perch - the biggest of which you see here (it's only when choosing the photograph that I notice something has tried to take a chunk out of its flank). But I'm also losing fish after fish, and not in a barely-hooked-one-tug-and-they're off kind of way, either. One of them's certainly a jack (the line comes back minus the hook) but others are not - one feels like a good perch while another has chub written all over it. Stepping up to a size 14 makes no difference and although I catch continuously, I'm still losing almost as many as I land.

Things slacken off about 9.15pm and it's then that Nessie makes her appearance. A bream of perhaps a couple of pounds comes wobbling through from my right and heads upstream to the top of the swim, then turns and comes back before making a tight little circle in front of me and disappearing back the way it came. It - sensibly - ignores the bait I try and drop in front of it's questing snout (twice) and for the entire visit keeps its back a clear inch and a half out of the water. It doesn't seem distressed in the slightest, by the way. It's just moseying.

The bites die out around 9.45pm and I take a last look round and pack up. Heading back up the field to the car in the dying light I realise I feel terrific.

Thank you.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Sometimes it doesn't take much to sum up a fishing trip. There's always the temptation to over-think or over-write what's gone on, but usually the fewer words you use, the better. Especially when there's not actually very much to say. The day was bright - too bright as it turned out - and the water still cold from the long winter, so it wasn't surprising that the fish weren't really interested. I saw one carp banked - not by me - and it came in like a small sack of spuds, barely bothered enough to flick its tail. Nice fish though.

As for me, all the action was concentrated into a single moment just as the sun went down. Bob, went the float. Bob. (That's me repeating the same bite for emphasis, rather than me describing a second bite). And that was that.

Readers expecting a bit more action than that after all this time, I'm sorry for your trouble and I apologise if you feel you've wasted the last two minutes. You should have been there for the other four hours...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Reelin' in the years

It's not often that I've had my rod  pulled in - or nearly pulled in. It happened on Munky Island once on the Thames when I returned from a crafty slash to find my rod, reel and everything to do with both had just...gone. I eventually spotted the tip of the butt end poking out of the water about 20 feet downstream and then when I retrieved in and wound in there was a single large bedraggled swan's feather on the end. That was nearly 40 years ago.

But the other night, no sooner had I cast in with two grains of corn on a 14, light ledgering where I imagined the shelf dropped off into the main lake, than the rod jerked off towards the water and I had to drop my camera, grab the butt, lift the rod and strike all at the same time. The culprit was - another - roach and by this time I'd caught 15 or 20, between four ounces and maybe a pound (I've still no scales) and all in  beautiful condition. Add a three pound tench, the fact that I caught in two swims using float and then ledger and that I spied not another soul (unless deer have souls) all evening and it was my best catch of roach since the Latchmoor pond days.Nothing to match the glory of that maginficent river roach caught earlier in the year but just as wonderful. This here's a typical fish. What a beauty.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Back on the horse

I nearly bottled it. Driving back from Bucks through sheets of rain (and only a poncho in the boot because the brolly's still under Marion's bed) I just thought I'd leave it. I'd get soaked, the banks would be beyond treacherous - and recalling my last visit, well... But as my brother had joked earlier: "Back on the horse," and as I drove south the skies cleared, my mood lifted and I thought - why not? I'd return to the same swim, fish the same way with the same bait (some things will never change) and hopefully, catch some nice roach and rudd.

What a difference five weeks makes. Last time I was here I could barely get in the car my knee was so knackered (plump actually, like a strange knotted fungus) yet here I am, almost tripping gaily down the hill to the lake - which despite expectations is empty - and then opening the gate before stepping gingerly onto the bank proper and looking around suspiciously.

Hmm.This doesn't look slippery at all. In fact, it's just like any other bank that gets wet from time to time so that when some eejit...etc.

There's been talk that the unpredictable weather ("it's hot!" "it's cold!") has confused the silver fish so that they might either feed like the fury or be off spawning, but I'm hopeful because it's warm, overcast and there's no-one here to see me fail. On such an evening, what could go wrong? Well, there are no bites for a start. I remember to feed little and often, I move the float around the swim, I lift it and let the bait drop, but there's nothng happening here. The Canada geese are having fun though. It's really hard to tell if they're fighting or asking each other out - but whichever it is, there's a lot of screeching and flapping about, flying off as if they don't care, then wheeling back to renew hostilities. Of course it doesn't help that to a human they all look the same, so there are probably all sorts of subtleties that are escaping me.

But what's this? I get one of those lovely deliberate bites that looks as though someone's leaned in and rubbed part of the float out really quickly - and then clicked 'Undo' so it pops up again. Then there's amother nudge and the float wanders off. It's a smashing little rudd. not as golden as the one I caught last time, but very welcome. I re-bait and re-cast. After a few minutes there's a similar bite, though if anything it's more deliberate. I strike and things start to occur.

First, it's clear that this is a much bigger fish. Second, it's clear that it's half-asleep, because it feels like a wet bream in washing machine and third - crikey-heck - it's woken up.

Now I've never been one to trouble myself too much with the technicalities of reel drag, but for some reason I remember setting up properly this time - probably because I recall colliding with a carp some years ago in almost the same spot. So blow me down if the reel isn't set almost correctly when chummie wakes up and starts parading round the swim as if he's serious about getting off. And he nearly does. It's like real fishing this - the sound of the drag, the reel being wound fast and hard in short bursts, the grabbing of the landing net to shoot it forward into the water ready for the moment when the fish is coaxed towards the bank, hooking the rod butt under the arm slightly to relieve the strain on the elbow before - bugger me - he's off again, haring over to the left towards the reeds, then back again towards the lilies on the other side. All the while the rod - all 15' of it - is thumping up and down and up and down. Then I see it - a big common carp - and I sneak a look at the landing net, then back at the carp, then back to the net again. Oh, oh. Expecting silver fish I've bought my Adur landing net and as I eventually ease the fish over the edge I watch as it keeps coming and coming until there's no more net left to hold it. Fortunately, right at that point, there's no more fish either and the tail folds neatly into the net.

Up on the bank I unhook and photograph it. I don't possess any scales (there's never been much point) so I estimate the weight. More than 10lbs and less than 15lbs. I give myself 12lbs, which makes it my joint biggest fish ever. He goes back and I fish on, but my heart's no longer in it. There's no point anymore. The lake has given me more than I could have hoped for so I pack up and ride my horse slowly up the field and back to the car, stopping at the top to feed him an apple. Then everything goes into the car, the gate opens, I drive out, stop, close and re-lock the gate and return to the car. Minutes later I'm back in the world.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Sweetcorn works

I've got a new lake. It's not really my lake because I share it with a few other like minded fellow anglers, people who prefer to take things a little more slowly than most and who enjoy a beer and a chat as much as a barbel and a chub. (Well, maybe not quite as much).

At two and a half acres, it's barely a lake really, but there are some nice carp here, big perch and plenty of decent roach and rudd that not many people fish for (until now heh, heh). I've been before as a guest, but this was my first trip as a full, fee-paying member.

There was a lot of weather about as I arrived, but nothing untoward and having parked up, secured the gate and scanned the water, I fancied my chances.  Croc wellies on, basket slung over the shoulder and 15' float road in hand I marched off down the hill, following the loose stones on the path going down to the lake where I could - it looked pretty slippery - before heading across the corner of the field, through the gate, left down the bank and then whoa....?!? Hmm. Why am I laying here face down on the bank with mud up my nose?

As I lie here, mud slowly permeating my frontage, let me tell you briefly about my knee. It was like most knees until November 14th, 1978 (not that I remember or anything) when it fell off some scaffolding and then rammed into a brick wall. It has spent the subsequent years in remarkably good nick considering the bone graft, the various manipulations, the arthroscopy and the fact that it still has two large Welsh screws inside it. It walks (a little haltingly) and likes cycling - though not enough to let its one not-so-careful owner stand up on the pedals. What it doesn't like is being wrenched, twisted and then fallen upon, even if that fall is broken in part by the aforementioned 15' fishing rod. Oh mother and toss.

So I stand up, pick at the mud disconsolately and flex my knee. It feels like an enormous tube of not very bendable rubber. It really doesn't want to bend. Or straighten. It certainly doesn't want to fish, but having come this far and established so far as I can that nothing's broken, I'm going to give it a try.

Amazingly apart from a slightly bent ring, the rod is in one piece (or rather four pieces, but at least it's supposed to be) so I feed the swim with some sweetcorn, tackle up with 4lb line straight through, a barbless 16 and a nice float with a bit of weight on the bottom which lets me add a single shot about two feet from the hook - the idea being that I'll attract bites on the drop as well as when I reach the bottom. I'm also aware that someone's said there could be a lot of silt on the lake floor and reckon that the terminal tackle and bait will be light enough to not disappear.

I get a bite first cast. Who'd have thought it? It's a small roach, though not so small as I normally catch. It's followed by another and another and then a fourth. After half an hour it occurs to me that this is the most frenzied fishing I've enjoyed in years (see the last entry for a more typical experience - three anglers, all afternoon, one bite, no fish). Sweetcorn obviously works and I sit looking happily at the float while down below my knee throbs grumpily at me - it's a bit like having Gimli the dwarf stuck to your leg. Another club member drops by for a stroll and to feed some bait in. We chat and he sympathises before wandering off - both his knees seem to be working just fine.

So I stand up, try and put some weight on it, wince and sit down again. I catch a tench of about a pound a half and my mood lifts. I stand again and it sinks. Then I catch this lovely, dark rudd, almost caramel coloured in the fitful sunlight. But I can't sustain it and although I'm still getting bites, the walk (hop?) back to the car is playing on my mind so I pack up and waddle slowly back to the car. It's a pretty ugly sight, really.

The drive back isn't much fun but it doesn't feel as though anything's permanently damaged. So I end the day propped on the couch with a couple of cushions under it, a glass of wine in one hand and the remote in the other, while on my swollen, sorry knee there sits a bag of frozen sweetcorn. Well, if it's good enough for the fish...

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Farewell John Wilson

The Sussex Adur in winter
No, not TV's Mr. Angling, but rather the rod that bears his name. I've owned and enjoyed the original Avon/Quiver for over 10 years now. It's a quality little rod - though the lack of a threaded reel seat means my Mitchell periodically falls off and tumbles down the bank - but it's finally had its day. After the glories of last episode's massive roach, it was back to the Adur for a last chuck before the end of the season with Ray and Tom. Warm, overcast, a decent flow...the river looked good and with bait boxes full of the finest maggots I've seen for years, we all had high hopes.

Once again, the Adur, old friend, old trickster, got the better of us. No-one caught. I had one bite all afternoon on trotted maggot. I'd quiver-tipped for a couple of hours with a small feeder without any joy but was enjoying the afternoon sunshine when I got tangled up in a large unfriendly bush. I managed to bully the hook out but as the end tackle flew behind me I neglected to cushion its flight. Result? An ugly snap, and the end of the quiver tip just shattered. I was remarkably sanguine about the whole thing which leads me to believe that deep down I didn't really care for the rod (if it had been the North Western I'd have been much more upset).

That's when I switched to the other tip and tackled up with a small float and centrepin. Much more fun, and it produced a cracking bite and tense, foreshortened fight before the fish - surely a chub - came off. Nice afternoon though, and now I have the excuse to buy my first new rod in years.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A long way from Latchmoor

I once held the record for the most roach caught in a day from the village pond - 40, if memory serves. I caught them all on tiny bits of cheese fished on a size 16 hook with a matchstick as a float. In order to reach the fish I took off my shoes and socks and waded into Latchmoor pond, then fished right in front of me. Forty roach in one day. Herculean. Of course, it was only a 'record' among myself and my friends (or rather friend, Chick) and I had no possible way of knowing whether anyone else had ever caught more fish in a day than I had. Still, as with many of the things that happen to small boys, the 'fact' stuck.

I had plenty of time to think about all those roach (and 40 fish of any description take a while to process, no matter what their size) as I sat on the motorway, late for an 8.00am rendezvous with Sean. I hate being late and didn't much like the idea of beginning a day on one of the finest rivers in southern England by not turning up on time. I should have known there was no rush (at least not beyond common courtesy). There rarely is in proper fishing, where there's a genuine chance of catching a monster, and as I nose the car down the lane I can imagine dark shapes rising to sip from the surface, skirting the roots of old trees or tucked under overhanging banks, fast asleep.

We park up and Sean shows me the river, like  magician doing a reveal. He starts to explain how we're going to fish and I realise this is the first of many lessons I'll be learning today.

So let's see now. First, grayling really are as lovely as everyone says they are; second, they smell like roach and third, I could fish my local river for the rest of my life and never catch a fish like the one that waits at the end of this story. In other words, in order to catch a really big fish you have to go where they live.

It's self evident really, but until today I didn't realise that the quality of the fish you catch depends on the quality of the water you're fishing. This is both troubling and liberating. I've always directly equated my fishing successes and failures with my own levels of skill and concentration - that peculiar combination of muscle memory and practice that an angler feels when, rather like a footballer, he's on his game. Now it turns out this may not be the case. It may actually be easier to play well at Old Trafford than it is at Vicarage Road.

Here skill seems less of an issue. For a start the river is exquisite. On a cold winter's morning, clear and bright, it shines like a silk ribbon laid across a bolt of green cloth. I also know - and not just because Sean has told me - that it's full of fish. You can tell just by looking at it,  and it suddenly strikes me that I'm about to experience the leather seats of a Jag when I've spent my whole life in the back of an Escort. There are two pound-plus grayling in here, and roach the size of which I've only ever seen in Bob James' landing net on the telly. Second, I've got a secret weapon - Sean. He knows the river and during the course of the day he will do everything but catch the fish for me - re-tackling at regular intervals, re-tying hooks, leaders, the perfection knot...and re-applying lost shot with endless patience.  At various points we even take turns using the same rod and the 15 footer and Leeds centrepin I've brought do a great job.

In a current like this, where each cast is over almost as soon as it's begun, trotting suddenly makes sense. It's also easier than it's ever been before because Sean's chosen the right float and the river does the rest, peeling line from the pin while I do nothing except stare at the glorious stretch of water in front of me and try to follow the bobbing float as it tears off downstream. In quick succession I hook and lose a large chub (note to self: apparently there's a difference between playing a 4lb fish on a size 6 and 8lb line and playing it on an 18 with a 2.5lb leader - who knew?) and then a trout which stays on just long enough for Sean to identify it, then buggers off. I have a last cast in the same swim and in seconds the float has dashed 20 yards and vanished. I strike gently and then (as instructed) follow the fish downstream, treating it - and the stupid rice noodle leader - with ridiculous restraint. The fish fights powerfully, using its great sail fin in the current to good effect, but soon gives in and moments later is in the net, then in my hands. A 2lb grayling is an extraordinary sight. It's metallic with hints of camo green and perhaps just a dash of peacock. Its body feels solid in my hands, like a miniature barbel.

We continue downstream, stopping occasionally to run the float through various likely looking spots, trying a slack here and a faster run there. The sun flashing on the water makes it hard to see the float but the bites are steady enough and we catch trout and grayling and chub throughout the day before turning for the clubhouse and the roach hole above the bridge. The roach hole. There, I've said it. The hole where Sean says, my favourite fish of all is waiting.

On and off during the course of the day, Sean's loose fed me stories of the roach hole, of five enormous fish over 2lbs in as many casts, how it'll fish hard for 20 minutes and then go dead, that it's home to the largest roach in the river, and that - aargh - the swim might already be taken by the time we get there.

We negotiate the walk back, the clubhouse, retrieve the extra maggots from under Sean's car (where fat robins have gorged on them all day) and have a friendly chat with the landowner. All the while I'm inching towards the gate, desperate to get across the road and upstream to the bend and the roach hole. Finally he leaves and with a final wave, we can get into the next field. There's a pause. The banks are empty. We're set. Sean talks me through the swim, explains where the run is and how to pull the float back and into the slack at the end of the trot. "If you hook one," he says unnecessarily, "don't lose it."

What's peculiar is that the whole thing is over so quickly. In my case, catching the fish of a lifetime takes only a couple of minutes between flicking out the tackle, watching the float  settle and then waddle down the swim, seeing the bite in slow motion, feeling the resistance (praying it really is that 'jagging fight') at first truculent and then just heavy, remembering the fragility of the hook length, the size of the hook, and then drawing the giant roach over the landing net and letting go, sinking back down into myself with relief. Relief that I haven't messed it up. Relief that I haven't let Sean down. Relief that I have delivered such a fish. Of course, down the years I've rehearsed a short speech in my mind, practised how I would look into that beautiful eye, breathe in the roachy perfume and then share my innermost thoughts with the waiting world.

All that comes out is "Fuck."

"Fuck," I say again, looking at the sky. I think that's all I say for about the next five minutes, over and over again.

The roach is weighed Passion for Angling-style in a plastic bag on Sean's digital scales. No room for doubt then, it really is an enormous roach. Strange how something so profound can be demonstrated so easily and so unequivocally. Stranger still that I can't wait to get it back into the water, as if I'm afraid it'll disappear in a puff of smoke or I'll wake up. As I watch its tail give a final, slow flick before disappearing back into the depths I get the most curious feeling - as if it is releasing me back into the world rather than the other way around. Exit, pursued by a roach.

On the way home, something occurs to me. Maths was never my strong suit but assuming that each of those forty Latchmoor roach weighed an average of one ounce, then by my reckoning that gives them a cumulative weight of  2lb 8oz, exactly the same as this singular,  magnificent fish that I don't deserve and will never forget.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

First of the year

Sometimes fishing is supposed to be difficult. I don't mind that. It makes the moment when you winkle a bite - or even a fish - out of a swim that's beligerently refusing to play ball, that much sweeter. But sometimes, nature turns her back on the angler. She just shuts up shop and hangs a sign on the door that says 'Go Away', and yesterday was a bit like that.

For a start, my chosen swim was underwater; actually it was under freezing water. If you look closely at the picture you'll be able to see the tops of the poles at the end of the platform, poking out of the water and looking a bit sorry for themselves. Second, the promised temperature rise barely happened. The thermometer may have read seven degrees, but even the gentle breeze made it feel half that - and later when the light began to remove itself, the way it does in Winter, layer by layer, I could hardly blame the fish for their no-show.

So, no fish and no bites. I quiver tipped into the corner, having liberally loose fed with red and white maggots before setting up. Trouble is, this little club lake is so weedy that even in Winter, you can't guarantee your bait isn't simply buried beneath all the gunge. In Summer the fish may be enthusiastic enough to follow the scent of maggots, but in this cold you can tell that they're not bothered.

Good to see Ray and his son Tom though. It's been years since the three of us have fished together - probably a local carp lake and probably more successful than today - and it bought back happy memories. And despite the cold and the complete absence of fish, I felt comfortable on the bank for the first time in ages. Time past and time passing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Still searching for it really. Planning a trip to the Adur this Saturday. The temperature's inching up and it doesn't look like rain. I've been watching a John Wilson video on stalking summer chub and in a weird way it's energised me. At the moment my fishing mojo is so low that I'll take anything I can get.

What the hell, he said nice things about my book and I find the way that he always uses his own branded products in the videos - even the ones that aren't much cop - oddly heartening. Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

No coffee

The swim above the bridge, complete with rope swing

Sometimes you need to know exactly where you're going - and why - in order to relax and really enjoy it. For example, when I thought about returning to the river in Surrey I started to get antsy, thinking about the slog to the bank, then hacking down through the undergrowth. But when I realised I could fish elsewhere instead (hey, it's OK) everything breathed out and fell into place.

To the bridge then, and a short walk upstream. I haven't fished here for two or three years and the character of the swim has changed in all sorts of ways. Some - like the little platform and the tree swing - are obvious, while others, like the slower flow and more weed are less so. I've never done very well here but always remember remember Sean's tale of a mighty roach session one Christmas morning, so approach the swim with high hopes. I decided to fish with cheese paste and a 12, smallish lead and quiver tip. I'd brough the John Wilson for an outing, a great little rod only spoiled by the lack of a screw thread to hold the reel in its seat - cue comical reel bouncing down the bank action.

Three gudgeon were my spoils, a kettle that wouldn't boil, so no coffee (if you can't get your kettle to boil you don't deserve any) and then a happy hour freelining luncheon meat in three or four other swims below the bridge. It's remarkably light stuff luncheon meat, even on a big hook, and it's fun to watch it rise and fall in the current. No bites, but plenty of enjoyment. And as you can see, a lovely setting as the sun came up. Need to sort that kettle out though.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

On Golden Pond

Now, I'm no great fan of 'tidying away' where people sort out Nature to make it more palatable and easier to handle, but variety is the spice of you-know-what, so I took it into my head to visit a small local pond which had been 'improved' by keen angling club members. And I have to say that they've done a great job.

It may have been because there was no-one else there - apart from a couple of swans and a few busy farm cats out on the prowl - but I found the sense of order to be rather a nice change from my previous two trips, hacking through 100 yards of nettles before I could even see the water. Here it was visible from the car park and I could walk to any swim in less than a minute. So I did. A small water encourages you to have a proper wander and for the first time I can remember I checked every swim before deciding where to set up.

It was the wrong choice of course. As usual I went for the prettiest swim rather than the most practical one and ended up fishing over weed so dense that nothing - the bait or the shot - stood a chance of reaching the bottom. The result was an over-shotted float and a bait that probably never went near a fish. If I'd had a rake on the other hand....

So I moved to the disabled swim nearest the car park because this seemed to have the most open water in front of the wooden stand. It was like fishing in Ireland again - all that space and comfort - and as it began to get dark, things started to happen. A splash here, a lily knocking there, a skinny ginger cat tearing past me. I fished under the fourth ring on the rod (i.e. closer than the rod tip) and caught this strange, beautiful fish that the photo doesn't do justice to - a sort of ornamental golden tench. Ten minutes later, when it was almost too dark to see I caught another. When I packed up I was back in the car in two minutes and home 20 minutes later. Easy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bites Galore

Back to the river the next day then. Having phoned the club to try and secure the weir swim for the evening I could hear the laughter in their voice when they told me the next free slot was Saturday. Who says anglers don't have a social life?

So I wandered down to my usual swim, hacking through the nettles to find someone already wedged in there. Don't know why he looks so surprised to see me - the undergrowth is so thick you could hide a river in here. So, I slogged back out to the towpath and made my way downstream to a spot above the sandbank where the river is wider, slower and deeper. I'd turned two slices of bread and a chunk of blue cheese into the world's most attractive cheese paste...or so I thought...but when I removed it from the creel it had turned into an unholy, sticky stinking mess. Impossible to keep on the hook, it stuck to everything else like glue. At one point I had some on the end of my nose. Shame, because I'm sure I would have caught something here, fishing almost under my rod tip, with the bait drifting tantalisingly just under a weed wrack; if only I'd had a float. And some proper bait.

So, a few terse tugs and one missed lunge later, I was back below the sandbanks where the previous day's experience was repeated. Sharp bites I couldn't hit, no matter whether I used a big olive lead that held the bottom wherever I cast it, or an Arlsey bomb that rolled around a bit before settling into place. Best fun I had was right at the end, freelining a large lump of meat round the swim. I almost hit one of those.

The following morning I counted the cost of those bites that weren't misses - two on one knee, one on the back of my other leg, one on my throat and one - the worst - on a toe. Time for the Nepalese atomic insect repellant methinks.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The River Where?

The swim I'd intended to fish is about ten feet right of this

Well, we've been here before, scrambling through eyebrow-high stinging nettles and strange rhubarby plants with big pink flowers on them trying to find the river. I know it's over here somewhere because even a river can't change its spots that much. Mind you, I didn't manage to fish here at all last season, so you never know.

These boots don't help much. By the time I've slogged over the weir (must fish that this season) I've got a humming feeling on my left heel and right ankle as whatever ingredients that go to make a blister (baby soft flesh and unforgiving rubber methinks) begin to mix a-fatefully. Still, the river's here somewhere and eventually I find it, emerging not where I wanted to be, but about ten feet further downstream. My original target swim doesn't exist any more. It's gawn. The result is that there's not so much space to work with so I struggle back up the bank a bit and tackle up. Nice big lead, 12lb line - looks a bit weedy - and a size 4 hook. Bait will be a piece of luncheon meat the size of a baby's fist.

First cast is lobbed into the middle of the swim and I settle down on the mat. Everything's in position. I've taken my shirt and am using it as a foot rest, the wretched boots are off and my toes are wriggling in the summer heat. I'm about to take a swig of water when the rod thumps left hard, stops, then thumps again. I strike and feel a heavy resistance. There's a flash of gold just under the surface and then everything goes slack. I reel in the empty hook. Arse, as we anglers say, that's probably bollocksed the swim. Although I know better, I still fish on for another hour without a bite.

After that I move downstream and after trying several paths down to the river that just peter out, arrive below what used to be the sandbank swim. The bank is long gone, the fallen tree that used to dominate the swim has been swept by the current away to the far bank where it's become an irrevelance. Shame - it was a great feature.

The water in front of me is shallow but then goes dark, indicating depth, so I try the same tactics and cast the bait to the far edge of the deeper water and then twitch it round carefully. I get half a dozen hit-and-run bites of the kind you associate with teenage chub...all flash and gobby impatience. Can't hit a single one.

With forty minutes of light left, I wander back upstream (by now my feet are killing me) and return to the original swim. First cast gets this lovely little three pounder. Second cast a smooth, dark jack pike of about the same size. He slips back down the bank and into the water before I can take his photograph. This is a shame because limping back across the weir I realise that he's the biggest pike I've ever caught. No kidding.