Continued from part one.
Shortly thereafter everyone gave up and moved onto pastures new. By now we fancied a bit of easier tench fishing and so it was to Sywell Reservoir in Northamptonshire that we began to make regular visits. Now it must be said in all fairness and respect to the anglers fishing at Sywell that it’s not the hardest or most challenging of waters, due in the main to the vast head of tench this sixty-acre reservoir contains. However, come the end of autumn with falling water temperatures and the fact the tench had taken a fair pasting since the middle of June, catches had dropped dramatically, with just the odd fish putting in an appearance.
Our first two sessions there saw only one fish come to the net, another shed the hook and three other bites missed. One afternoon whilst scanning the water with binoculars I noticed several fish topping over the deep water in front of the dam wall and around sixty yards out, way beyond normal float range (only float fishing is allowed at Sywell). This activity continued on and off all afternoon, and according to one of the regulars was a common sight at that time of year. During the next few days I couldn’t get the thought of those tench out of my mind, and set about plotting their downfall.
Special big floats would be needed to hold enough weight to cast the distance, hold upright in the strong undertow and cross winds as well as being clearly visible. My local tackle shops couldn’t supply the answer so I set about making my own. To cut a long story short the final result was a float with a nine inch long by half an inch wide balsa body, and into the top went an eight-inch stem of cane, to the end of which a black dart flight was firmly fixed. The bottom of the float finished in a strong 2mm plastic insert to which a float adaptor was attached. Testing these out in the garden pond they supported an ounce and a quarter of weight leaving most of the stem and flight / sight bob visible. Out in the field in conjunction with 10lb braid and pound and a half test curve rod I found that seventy yards could be reached with relative ease, even with baits and stringers attached. This had much to do with the ‘flying’ design of the float, but that’s another story.
The following Saturday as we made the 80 mile trip to Sywell in the pre dawn gloom I told Len of my plans for the day. Shaking his head with a smile, "we’ll see" is all he would commit to say. Arriving just as dawn broke we made our way to the far side of the dam; I took up position on the beach sixty yards up from the dam wall whilst Len went another fifty yards towards the wide point. From my position with a long cast my two floats sat up perfectly and were very visible, almost embarrassingly so. Twenty feet below, the single 14mm butterscotch boilie hook baits were soon joined by twenty or so free offerings around each one, to compliment the five that were attached by a PVA stringer to the hooks. As the morning grew so did a strong northerly breeze, but despite this blowing from my left casting with a fair degree of accuracy presented little problem. Even with the changing position of the weak sun the black floats, which by now had been christened "Sywell "Scuds", stood out clearly against the grey water.
It was almost sandwich time when two big black blobs became one, and as I reached for the rod the reel handle had already began to revolve backwards. No strike was needed as the rod bent to its full test curve and four minutes later a 7lb 2oz tench battled its way into the net. Len, ever being the opportunist, said he might like to try the long-range tactic, scrounged my third Scud, moved 25 yards closer and added a third black blob to the scene. A little after lunch as if on cue, tench began to show themselves in twos and threes in the area of our baits. In fact, so spot on were we with the positioning of the floats that on several occasions tench actually rolled right onto the lines causing the floats to sink for a second or two and for our hearts to leap into our mouths. Unfortunately we didn’t catch another fish that day but it did give us the confidence to try again.
And so we did a few days later. As before the tench put on a show in the early afternoon but this time no bites were forthcoming. At dusk we packed in, and back at the car park we chatted to some other anglers who each recounted a blank. Once again during the following few days I couldn’t get those tench out of my head, so much so that it was slowing me down with my work. We’d located the fish, and by our reckoning they should have been feeding as experience told us a rolling tench is generally a feeding one. I felt confident in the bait mix and flavour and eventually came to the conclusion that maybe the fish needed help in its location.
A chance meeting with an old friend put me on the path to further experimentation. He for some years worked overseas as a diving instructor and we chatted for some time about underwater photography and how quickly vision was impaired by even clear water filtering out the daylight. Telling me that deep red was the most visual colour in shallow water, whilst at the other end of the spectrum greens and blues were at their most visible in deeper water over twenty feet, set me off on my next trail. One evening a couple of days prior to our next visit to Sywell I busied myself making bait for the pair of us to use. In fact extra was made because Sarah my wife, no stranger to big tench, was due to join us, and in her words "show how it should be done". This also meant a few extra Scud floats would be needed along with the ones I promised to make for Len. On top of the normal boilie mix I made up another batch to which was added some blue food colouring at the rate of 30ml to a 1lb mix. This I kept quiet about and secreted away the three bags of little blue balls in the bottom of my rucksack.
During the drive the following Saturday back to the reservoir I really had to fight hard not to reveal my secret to the sorcerer (Len) and my apprentice (Sarah). At dawn we hiked our way across the dam wall and positioned ourselves about thirty yards apart on the beach, Len and I at either end with Sarah sandwiched in the middle. This I would add was at her request because, as had too often happened in the past when the three of us fished together, she would give us a right pasting, therefore she wished to be clearly visible to the pair of us. And this was exceptable to us also, for if she began to get bites and even catch fish we would close in on each flank, and poach! To say that Sarah is competitive in her fishing and a wind up merchant to boot would be an understatement. Plain luck, female pheromones, Sarah would say skill, so often the only way we could save face was to remind her that we had taught her how to fish.
It had been light for half an hour before both my baits were in position, one at around twenty yards, the other at sixty. Careful note was made of far bank objects for sighting and a short length of mono was
tied with a stop knot onto the mainlines in front of the reels as distance markers. Len did the same and Sarah, bless, something similar. Free offerings were introduced, teas poured from flasks and the wait began. The only thing that was different between us was that, unknown to the others, I was using the blue bait beneath my far float in the deep water. The first sign of any action was a couple of hours later when Len struck as his nearest float disappeared. Rising to his feet the ensuing fight lasted only a minute as he slid his landing net under a "tuffty". The air as you can imagine turned blue and was prolonged by the ribbing he got from Sarah and me!
Well into mid-morning I’d begun to feel less relaxed: in fact intuition was telling me that something was about to happen. I didn’t have to wait long as minutes later my long range float disappeared and the strike found me attached to a hard fighting, angry and big tench. On the scales it weighed 7lbs 10ozs and was a welcome sight, especially a new bait, which at that time of course only I knew about. Within 15 minutes another tench followed, although smaller at around 5lbs, but this didn’t matter as my confidence began to soar. Sarah took the third fish of the session on her close in bait which, following a long and hard scrap turned out to be a big male of 6lbs 5ozs. Just as this was netted ‘the secret’ bait did the biz for me again in the shape of a magnificent looking and deep bodied 8lb 5oz fish. By this time quiet mutterings about luck and golden do-dah’s could be heard coming from Len’s direction, with the odd word of support from Sarah. This led me to contemplate letting them in on my secret, but in the interests of scientific testing (and revenge) I decided to keep it to myself until after lunch. During this period I caught a further three fish including another low 8 pounder, plus dropping a further fish at the net. By now Sarah had moved up closer to me and Len had shifted into her old swim, so keen were they to get in on the action. Time I thought to let them in on my secret.
It cannot be put into print the abuse they gave me when I told them about the blue bait, much of which revolved around my parentage! However Sarah readily excepted some of the new bait which she soon had attached to her hair rigs, Len on the other hand being a true stubborn Suffolk b*gger decided to stick to his guns. For just about an hour anyway, during which time Sarah took two fish, both sevens and I another of around six. With a beaming smile on his face Len mooched over with a hand outstretched. "I’m supposed to be the expert here" he said, "And I’m not about to be outdone by you whippersnappers, especially her" he went on, pointing to the ‘jammy one’ "Give me some of that concoction of yours quick". I was shocked! This was a compliment coming from the Master, the one and only I could recall in twenty-five years of fishing together.
Baits changed, he soon had them in position followed by some free offerings. Sarah landed another fish, I missed a bite and a few tench begun to roll in our swims. It was only about twenty minutes later when I heard the whooosh as Len struck. Glancing over I saw him rise to his feet, rod hooped over in battle curve. At last I thought, just before his head dropped in frustration and another tuffty flapped on the surface! "Why oh why" Len mumbled, now shaking his head from side to side. Of course Sarah and I were creased up double, me holding my stomach, whilst Sarah crossed her legs in case of accident and then sought the cover of some gorse bushes!
Len was always a great lover of wildlife but on this day I thought he was about to lose it. However, I’m pleased to say that after giving the stupid little boilie- gobbling bird a good talking to he set it free, re-baited and cast out. By the time Sarah and I got our act together, although still sniggering, Len caught a tench, all two pounds of it, but a tench nonetheless. This started us off again, and even Len with his very dry sense of humour joined in this time. How I wished I ‘d photographed him returning probably the smallest fish to have been caught from this big tench Mecca. The light relief and banter was great and anyone looking on at that moment would have thought we were escapees from some nut house and not serious anglers, brilliant stuff! Whilst all this fun was going on I somehow caught another five pounder and must admit to not seeing the bite, instinct taking over I guess.
Settling down for the afternoon / evening session Sarah and I agreed to fish the blue bait on just one rod each whereas Len, who needed to catch up, fished them on both his rods. We kept the bait, both coloured and plain, going in steadily on a little and often basis. The tench in turn obliged by feeding most of the time right up until an hour and a half before dusk, when they just switched off. By this time in any case we barely had thirty baits left between us, but what a session we’d enjoyed and what we’d learnt. With the new bait Len had got stuck in taking an eight, three sevens and four fish over five, plus of course the two pounder and two tuffties. Sarah managed a further four fish including the biggest of the day at 8lbs 9ozs, thus firmly living up to her title of the ‘jammy one’. Overall I fared better than the others in terms of numbers due to my early start on the blue bait. During the afternoon period I took a third eight pounder at 8lbs 3ozs plus half a dozen smaller fish between four and six pounds. Overall a very good catch of tench even by Sywell standards and all except one falling to the blue bait.
Back at the car park we awaited the return of a few other anglers who’d spent their day tench fishing, and all with the exception of one angler who caught three fish, had either blanked or caught just one fish. Interestingly, not only did we catch a lot of fish, but their average size was also bigger. Naturally we didn’t reveal the full extent of our captures although some had guessed we had done well, probably having seen us from the far bank.
We enjoyed three more good sessions there that season but as the weather chilled we turned our attentions to some big perch, a bit of chubbing and of course pike. During the following seasons we fished a local reservoir and two gravel pits that all possessed areas of water in excess of twenty feet. Here too we found that once the tench moved out of the shallow weedy water into the deeps, they found the blue baits much easier to locate than any other colour. And it wasn’t just tench, both carp and bream were attracted to these baits. I also experimented with other colours for deep water and enjoyed some success with green, although I found this colour worked far better in water between 15 and 18 feet deep.
The waters being fished at these times were either clear or had a slight colour. Common sense would say that in coloured water with less light penetration, the depths at which blue and green baits would come into their own would be shallowed up somewhat, and thus some further experiments would be needed.
But then that’s all part of the fun in fishing - trying new things and reaping the rewards when it all comes together.
Alan Pearce - May, 2001