A long time ago I remember being told that time flies more quickly the older you get and it's certainly true. This year has positively flown by but along the way I've been helping guided anglers catch plenty as well as catching a few myself.
My intention was to target eels after I'd finished targeting tench. I only managed one a little under 4lb but the highlight of my eel trips was caught on worms fished on a Dyson rig a good foot off the bottom. After a strange fight more reminiscent of a small tench I drew a fish over the net and it was clearly bigger than even the biggest tench in the lake. When I turned my head torch on I was amazed to see a good carp but it was only when I lifted the net I realised how big. On the scales it went 31lb 6oz.
Guided sessions in July and August saw anglers catch plenty of barbel from the Wye and trips to Linear proved difficult for the tench, however the tench methods proved devastating for the carp on Oxlease. One memorable session saw Dan and Ed land about 20 carp with a number of fish over 20lb whilst the "carp" anglers around us struggled to catch on boilies.
Through the summer my own fishing took a bit of a back seat as I undertook my coaching course and I'm pleased to say I now hold the Level 2 Sports Coach qualification. Sandwiched in between my Level 1 and 2 courses was the Jan Porter Memorial weekend when I fished at Linear with his wingman Andy Lewis. It seemed appropriate as Linear is where I met Jan when tench fishing back in 2012. Andy did a great job organising the fund raising which eventually raised over £10,000 which was split between the Ailsford Unit, where Jan was treated, and Cancer Research UK. We decided to try stepped up tench tactics and it proved a great decision as we landed 18 carp in the first 24 hours including a PB of 34lb 5oz, and when I scaled the tackle down a bonus roach of 2lb 1oz. I think a winter trip targeting the roach is definitely on the cards.
In recent months I've read a lot about people "losing their mojo" and having no enthusiasm for fishing. There is no compulsion about going fishing so if you don't fancy it don't go. One potential remedy is do something different and I cannot recommend a spot of sea fishing too highly. No named fish, just a massive element of mystery. All you need is a pike rod and reel and a few bits of tackle. If a spot of float fishing off the rocks for whatever takes the bait doesn't enthuse you perhaps you should think about taking up golf! This year I had a couple of days on the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales and caught mackerel, pollack, wrasse and even an eel. Try it - I think you'll love the simplicity and novelty of it as well as the barbecued mackerel!
As the nights start to draw in I like to have a few evenings barbel fishing on the Trent or the Dove. Whilst the Upper Trent is nowhere near as prolific as the tidal sections it holds some great fish. This year I decided to target a new stretch of the Trent where few others appeared to be fishing and it proved a good move. Fishing Sonubaits Code Red boilies with about 30 free offerings I caught on all but one trip including a couple of doubles, topped by a 12b 6oz barbel. A couple of nice chub also graced my net and like the Linear roach they will get some attention over the winter.
Highlight of the late summer was a trip to the Wye. I arrived to be told by four anglers it was fishing hard. I decided to avoid the well-worn muddy swims and opted for one that required a few minutes flattening nettles and Himalayan Balsam to gain access but the effort was worth it. I landed about 20 barbel over the day topped by a lovely brace of fish of 10lb 9oz followed minutes later by one of 9lb 14oz. Not big by the standards of many rivers but really good fish for the Wye.
In early October I was at a wedding in Deepest Pembroke and noticed a missed call from my mate Paul. I texted him back to say I'd call him the next day when sober to which he replied 'I've got a boat on Chew on Weds, do you want to come?" Suffice to say "yes" was sent back instantly. I had never seen, let alone fished Chew and whilst the prospect of a 30lb pike was nice I had never bothered spending a day on the phone trying to get tickets. In part I wanted my first thirty to be from the Wye but the with the prospects of such a capture becoming increasingly unlikely a day on Chew was quite appealing. We arrived to be greeted by Kev Shore telling me there are no big bream in Chew!
Every boat was heading to the same area following numerous captures in the previous two days so we decided that if you can't beat them, join them. We had been told bite time was 10am and so it proved - for two of the 14 boats we could see around us! By 1pm boats were moving off to try other areas and we did too but by 3pm decided to return as it was far less crowded. As other boats moved we were able to moor up roughly in the middle of where everyone had started and decided we'd sit it out until we had to pack up. An hour later my float disappeared and I struck into a fish. It didn't fight particularly hard and we thought it might be a trout only for a pike to surface just in front of the boat and shortly after a mid-twenty was in the net. At the first attempt beginner's luck had triumphed and I'd caught a Chew fish. At 24lb 8oz I was more than happy, I just don't know when I'll get a chance to go back. On the bright side I had decided to get a ticket for Farmoor near Oxford. I'll let you know shortly how things go.
Well what a start to my new guiding venture the spring of 2017 has been! I’ll run through the highlights to give you an idea of how it’s gone, suffice to say it’s exceeded any expectation, and then update you on my own fishing.
My first guiding trip was with Paul in mid-March. He wanted to brush up on a few things so that he could apply what he learnt through the rest of the spring. I fully expected to struggle but Paul was not bothered – he wanted to learn more than to catch. I think he learnt a lot but the mild westerly wind woke the tench up and he also caught plenty. In total he had 16 tench and broke his PB three times, the largest being a lean fish of 8-15, a very big fish for March!
The first person to contact me about a guided session was Rob. I visited him on a hard gravel pit in Kent. Rob didn’t catch anything – in his words “I didn’t expect to” but the lasting memory of this trip were his words as I was leaving. “That’s the best birthday present I’ve ever had” wasn’t something I heard when working for the Environment Agency and confirmed to me more than anything else I’d made the right move to leave. Whilst Rob blanked on our day he goes down as my star pupil as he kept calling me over the following weeks to update me with his catches that included five double figure tench to 11-9 including a brace of 11lbers. Top work from one of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with.
On another trip to Kent I guided two members of The Tenchfishers. The plan was for them to arrive at breakfast time so I arranged to choose a swim the night before. I decided I would fish one rod over each swim to see if there were any tench about. My luck was in as in the evening I had a 7lb 6oz male and then just as they arrived and I was about to wind in I had a screaming run that took all three of us by surprise. The resultant 10lb 5oz tench was a source of both pleasure and embarrassment! Luckily Eddie and Hugh got in on the act shortly after by catching PBs, Eddie’s being a stunning fish of 11lb 11oz. I don’t think I’ll better that on a guided session!
Back on Linear I had a great trip on Smiths with Malc. He broke his bream PB twice on the first morning, landed a few tench and shortly after I left bagged a 2lb + roach. More importantly he learned a lot and has since caught some really big fish from his local waters.
I also guided on a local lake with Chris. He has fished for barbel almost exclusively for many years and wanted to learn some still water skills. His casting was definitely in need of improving but by going back to basics we got to the point he could cast a feeder where he wanted – most of the time! As a bonus he landed some lovely perch including one just under 2lb that was a PB for him.
At the start of May I spent 4 days on Manor with three customers. Despite a savage East wind the fish fed well and all three landed PBs amidst a total of 42 fish. Steve D had a brace of 8-15’s, James had a 9-3 and Steve K had a 9-5. The week taught me one thing – three sessions back-to-back is too much as I was well and truly worn out.
By mid-May I was raring to do some fishing for myself on a large gravel pit mainly fished by carp anglers. My first trip was an exploratory one and I made a schoolboy error of not taking a weed rake. Most of the spots within casting distance of the bank were covered in a candyfloss-like weed that makes presenting small baits for tench nigh on impossible. I had to make do using my landing net and though not ideal it allowed me to clear a gravel patch sufficiently to fish. The first day was fruitless but a move to another area and more weed clearing resulted in a few tench including a couple over 8lb.
My next trip coincided with some warm weather and I felt confident from the moment I raked a gravel hump clear of weed and could see nice clean gravel. I baited the spot with my normal tench menu of mixed Sonubaits 2mm pellets (S pellets, F1, Krill and Bloodworm), Sonubaits hemp and a few red maggots and chopped worms. The following day I landed a number of nice tench but the big ones were absent. I baited regularly and over the session started catching more and more tench as they homed in on the baited area.
At 6pm on the second evening I hooked a fish on rubber maggots that immediately felt bigger and so it proved when a big fish came over the net. I thought it might be a double but it fell an ounce short at 9lb 15oz.
All my fish were coming on my tried and tested method of heli-rigs with Xpert Power mono hook lengths and Size 10 Korum Xpert Specimen hooks. Why change something that works and is reliable? The presence of a lot of rudd meant I was using rubber maggots more than worms as bait as the rudd were destroying a worm kebab hook bait within seconds of casting on some occasions. The only change I made to my tackle was changing my faithful 1.75lb Xpert rods for 2.2lb Xperts and increasing the mainline to 12lb to combat the weed that was getting thicker by the day.
The following morning amid a good feeding spell I again hooked a fish that felt bigger than average and after a battle that saw her get weeded a number of times I netted what was clearly a double. On the scales she went 11lb 6oz and was a stunning looking fish. I ended the week with 42 tench so was raring to get back for more.
The following trip saw a recapture of the fish I’d caught at 9-15 at 10lb 6oz – I’m not fan of recaptures but if you are going to recapture fish I’m all for them going over the magical 10lb barrier. As before I was catching tench in good numbers but gale force winds made casting and feeding challenging. For four days the wind barely dropped and on the occasions when it did I took advantage of feeding more bait knowing the undertow would be less and more of the bait would end up on the gravel hump I was casting to.
One morning it was almost calm at first light and I took advantage to bait heavily with 2 bags of 2mm pellets and 4 tins of hemp. I thought the disturbance might put the fish off for a while but within 10 minutes I had a bite. The fish came in to the heavily weeded margins like a small tench but then started fighting hard. I could see it was a long fish and was just debating whether to stay on the bank or wade out over the shallow water in front of me when I saw that it was a bream as its tail came out of the water. Decision made – I grabbed the net and jumped in to wade out the 10 yards to the top of the shelf, as I didn’t want to have to bring it over the shallow water directly in front of me. Within seconds I had the fish under my rod tip but unlike most bream this one was a fighter and it shot away from the net 3 times before I could eventually net it. In the early morning sunshine the scales looked like armour and the stunning fish weighed 15lb 13oz. Another couple of tench followed before a second bream took a fancy to rubber maggots and at 14lb 3oz made a brace of exactly 30lb. What a brilliant way to top the session.
My final trip saw me in a different swim and after catching some small tench a little voice in my head was saying, “go and fish the gravel hump, the bream might be there again”. Sometimes a hunch produces a good result but on this occasion it produced an undisturbed night’s sleep! Within an hour of dawn I knew I’d made the wrong decision but undertook to try and correct it by moving swim immediately. By 7am I was set up in the swim I’d started in. I was finding the feeder on the heli-rig was catching the weed so early in the day started using in-line grub feeders which proved a good move as I found the streamlined shape caught up in the weed far less. Fish came steadily through the day with best of 9lb 4oz and 9lb 6oz amongst an incredible haul of 33 fish.
As I normally do when tench fishing I wound in at night. Next morning I put more bait out and within half an hour had my second 9lb 15oz tench of the year. That proved to be my last tench of the Spring 2017 campaign as it soon became clear the tench had moved away. I suspect given the hot weather they were going to spawn so I packed early and came home to celebrate a successful campaign with a few beers.
By mid February I was itching to get back on the rivers, especially the Upper Severn to fish for chub. On my first trip I was talking to my mate Adam Firth who was fishing a bit further upstream and had caught 2 small chub. I said to him that in the area we were fishing approximately every third chub is a 'five' when my tip pulled round. The inevitable happened as the scales showed 5-2. I retained it in the landing net so as not to spook any others and next cast a 4-7 took my bread flake offering and joined it in the net. After a quick start bites dried up and the only other memory of the trip was walking about 600 yards in the dark to a new swim only to find I'd left a pocket on my Ruckbag open and my tackle box, forceps and other bits had fallen out. I returned to the previous swim more in hope than expectation but found all but one item within a few feet of where I'd lifted the bag.
Shortly after the rain came and the rivers rose rapidly meaning the chub gear was left at home and the barbel rods were given an airing. Trips to the Dove and Trent were fruitless but I finally got a bend in them on the Severn, firstly with a fish-shaped log and then with a modest, but very welcome, barbel.
I also had a close encounter with a sparrowhawk when standing at the back of my swim. I saw it come over the brow of the hill and just stood still and it flew towards me and passed within 2 feet of my head! Moments like this aren't the reason we go fishing but they certainly add to the enjoyment.
In early March I was back on the banks of the Severn with Adam Firth to film some footage for the new Korum DVD. The original plan was to rove for chub but the river was still in flood and over 6 feet up so plans were changed and barbel were the target. I didn't manage anything big but I was happy to land something for the camera.
An impromptu social trip to the Lower Severn with Nate Green and Ash Bradley saw my barbel baits remain untouched but the zander that the pair of them caught whetted my appetite for next winter. Nate's only weighed 6lb 15oz - I use the word only as all three of us thought it would weigh over 8lb. It left me wondering what a real big zed will look like - hopefully I'll find out later in the year!
The last three days of the season were split between the Wye and Upper Severn. Two days piking on the Wye proved to be great exercise as I walked over 6 miles fishing likely spots. Sadly the pike were either not in them or not feeding and a solitary pike of about 10b was the only one I landed. I did miss a couple of very fast runs on lamprey sections which I suspected were from chub not pike. On the second evening I finally hooked into one of these runs and a chub of about 3lb confirmed my suspicions.
After the first day's pike fishing I fished into dark for chub. After missing a bite on luncheon meat I tried flake and hooked into a fish that initially just shook it's head like a chub but it then decided to tear off downstream and in three sustained runs went about 30 yards. I suspected it was a carp as it fought just like the only Wye carp I've caught which was many years ago in a swim close by. Very gradually I gained line but it was clear the line was running through a willow tree 10 yards downstream and when it reached this tree the inevitable happened and the line parted. My disappointment was eased by a couple of chub soon afterwards, including my best from the Wye of 5lb 14oz.
The last day of the season was spent on the Upper Severn which is one of my favourite venues. The chub might not be as big or prolific as some rivers but it is a wild river where I feel every chub caught is a success. I baited four swims as I worked downstream with a mixture of mashed bread and small cubes of luncheon meat. I tend to change hook bait each cast and like using meat as it increases the chances of a bonus barbel. At the downstream swim I put mash in and left it for a few minutes as I tackled up. First cast I missed a good bite but next cast the strike met resistance and a chub headed for cover but strong pressure turned it into mid river and soon it was in the net. It looked at least as big as the Wye fish but the scales recorded 5-8.
The other swims were unproductive so I headed upstream repeating the process. After trying three more swims I settled into one I hadn't caught from before but it looked perfect with a lovely crease and slow, deep water under a willow. I was just giving up hope of anything and planning a move to a different stretch to fish into dark when the tip pulled round and I struck but there was nothing there. Anybody who has fished for chub will be able to relate to what followed. The next three casts exactly the same thing happened - perfect bite followed by a seemingly perfectly timed strike, but nothing. I then put a bobbin on and it rose with the next bite and just as I was about to strike it stopped! When the tip pulled round again I finally struck into a fish which proceeded to swim into a sunken snag and shed the hook. Sometimes I hate chub!
The reason for the move was partly to fish new swims but also it was to a stretch which I know well. This was important as the recent big flood had left the banks coated in the slippiest mud known to man and for safety reasons I wanted to be on familiar territory where I knew the lie of the land. Just before dark I had a 4-8 chub but I had nothing from the next five swims other than finding the small tackle box dropped on my previous visit, which gives a good idea of the level of angling pressure on the Upper Severn! On some rivers it would have been picked up within hours if not minutes! At 10pm I settled into my final swim and with the moon rising behind a line of trees I was looking behind me when the rod nearly took off! I hoped I was attached to a huge chub but I knew it was far more likely to be a rare Upper Severn barbel. This was confirmed a couple of minutes later when I could make out the shape of a barbel deep in the water. At the second attempt it went into the net and I felt all the effort of the previous three days covering miles of river and fishing more than 30 swims had been rewarded. The barbel weighed 10lb 1oz and was my first Severn double - definitely vindication of using meat as well as bread and a great end to the season.
I'm sat with Olly Cadman trying to finalise a website and the prospect of leaving the Environment Agency after 27 years is becoming real. I am in the fortunate position that I am now able to pursue working in a field that many people would consider their ideal job. I guess in a few months or years I will know if this is the case for me! After some guiding for charity and showing a couple of good friends a few tricks I realised I often get as much pleasure helping others catch fish as I would catching that fish myself. This was brought home to me last spring when I received a call from John Osborne who wanted me to be the first to know he'd just broken his PB tench on a rig and bait I had shown him a couple of weeks earlier. I'm hoping that he won't be the last to do so.
I don't think there are many set guidelines for tutoring angling and my hope is I can tailor the tuition to what the angler wants. This could be relatively short sessions perhaps looking at rigs through to longer sessions lasting 24 hours or more. Initially I shall be looking to take anglers to a couple of day ticket venus, Linear and Bluebell, however I will be happy to meet you at a venue of your choice if you prefer.
Enough of the future and time for an update of recent fishing trips on Cop Mere. Cop is a stunning natural water that is ideally suited to piking from a boat. Last week I tried drifting and laying on dead baits but all was quiet so I decided to cast a copper spoon about and first cast had a pike of about 9lb followed shortly after by a much small one. Given they seemed keen on moving baits I decided to try trolling and on a circuit of the mere had three runs, one was dropped and the other two produced jacks. Just as I was reaching the point where I had started a further take resulted in much more solid resistance and after a spirited battle an exceptionally fat pike was netted.
I immediately suspected there might be signs of something in its gullet and after unhooking her I could see the tail of a tench just visible. I could actually feel the tench in the pike's stomach and if you look carefully you can see the bulge in the photograph above.
A short return trip a few days later produced a take within 10 minutes and I immediately knew it was a good fish. In the gin clear water I got a great view of her twisting and turning close to the boat before coming to the net. I wondered if she might scrape 20lb but the scales confirmed my suspicion she would fall slightly short at 19b 10oz. Shame she hadn't just eaten a 3lb jack! Unfortunately I had forgotten my Nikon so a self-take wasn't possible but the iPhone shot on the mat is surprisingly good and you don't have to look at me as bonus!