The Distant Past

In the late 1950’s I paid my first visit to Tring Reservoirs, and although it appeared to be an inauspicious event at the time, it was one that influenced a great deal of my fishing for many years after it. I had heard of the huge bags of bream that had been taken in the past – mainly from Startops Reservoir – and they were the reason for my visit. Unfortunately though, I soon realised that I was not going to be fortunate enough to have a bag like any of those, certainly not on that visit anyway! However, I wasn’t a very experienced angler and the bag of bream of up to around two pounds was enough to hold my interest, so I continued to visit the reservoir and occasionally drool over the huge bream that were displayed in the pub across the road. At that time, it was called The Old Queen’s Head, but in later years the name was changed to the Angler’s Retreat and I believe that those same bream still look down at anglers who dream of catching something like them.

As the years passed, I began to pay more attention to Wilstone Reservoir as I began to feel that it was the most likely reservoir of the Tring group to produce the fish I was really looking for. Certainly the condition of the fish appeared to be much better than those in Startops and Marsworth Reservoirs, and by virtue of the fact that boats could be hired on Wilstone Reservoir, it was possible for me to prepare a swim and know that I would be able to go to it and not find someone else fishing it.

During the ‘60’s, a six pound bream was very high on my list of wanted fish, and I fished a lot of waters including Wilstone in the hope of catching one – all to no avail. I had a number of bream of over five pounds, but the six pounder remained a dream. However, early in the season of 1970 I had a few days to spare, so I asked a young guy with whom I was working if he fancied sharing the expense of hiring a boat and preparing a swim at Wilstone. He felt it was a reasonable idea, and so we went ahead with it. During the four days that we fished we caught only two bream, both in the one session and within minutes of each other. Bob had one and I had the other – they weighed 6lbs 12ozs and 6lbs 10ozs respectively! I had my 6lb bream, but what was most exciting was their condition, they were the best conditioned bream I had ever seen. They were obviously fish that were still growing, and I felt that my ultimate goal was at last in sight.

I didn’t tell too many people about what I believed at the time, just one or two special friends who I knew would not talk too loudly about my plans, and who I knew would provide the help I would need if I was going to succeed. Fred J Taylor and Richard Walker were two of them, Rod and Mick Lane were another two, and John Mason was another. From that year onwards some or all of us prepared swims in Wilstone Reservoir at the beginning of the season, and suddenly encouraging results began occur. One year Fred ‘phoned me and told me that he had baited a swim that he was going to be unable to fish and I could go to it if I wished, of course I was happy to take him up on the invitation, and Rod Lane and I quietly anchored the boat at it just as dawn was breaking. We threw in a bit more groundbait, and cast our maggot and flake baits before the ripples of the groundbaiting had subsided. We were using peacock quill floats and were using the lift method. It was a most unusual morning, misty with not a breath of wind, and the sun rose as a huge red orb. On it’s face we were astonished to see some large black spots that were obviously sun spots, I have never seen anything like that either before or since. Unfortunately what was not unusual was the fact that our floats never moved. Not an inch, at least, not until about 7.30 am when mine lifted a little and then just slid away. The strike connected and shortly afterwards Rod slid the net under a bream of well over 7lbs. By far my biggest bream, and again in superb condition. There was obviously a shoal in our swim and from then on for an hour or so, we had quite a number of the bream from it. The smallest was 7lbs and the heaviest 8lbs 8ozs. Delighted with our success we phoned Fred as soon as we got home and arranged to fish the swim again the next day. Fred said he would be there, but not until later in the morning. We also ‘phoned Gerry Hughes of the Angler’s Mail and he said he would visit the water in the hope of getting some pictures. Rod and I repeated our movements of the previous day, and again we got a number of bream to eight and a half pounds. Gerry got there in time to take some pictures of the action and did a feature on them in the Angler’s Mail. Unfortunately, we had to leave the water before Fred arrived but he decided to fish the swim anyway, the shoal moved in again and he had even more fish than Rod and I had had with the biggest also being eight and a half pounds. We were obviously on to something, but despite more visits that season, we never caught any more of them.

The next couple of seasons were pretty lean ones, despite all of us fishing the water on several occasions we had very few bream and none of those we did catch exceeded eight and a half pounds which, believe it or not, was beginning to disappoint me.

As the closed season of 1976 progressed I began to get very excited, it was a very dry period and the previous summer had also been dry. The level of Wilstone was very low and in fact it had reverted to the three separate reservoirs that it actually is! We, (Rod and Mick Lane and I) had asked Bernard Double to ensure that the boats would be in the part we wanted to fish, and about three weeks before the beginning of the season we began to prepare our swim. We baited with mashed bread and brandlings every other day and while those watching us through binoculars thought we were baiting a boat swim, we were in fact concentrating on a swim we intended to fish while the boat was against the bank. The weather held during the whole of the baiting programme and I was so confident of success I even predicted it in a weekly column I was writing at the time!

On the Sunday before the opening day, Rod, Mick and I took the boat out and moved around the Reservoir very quietly in the hope of seeing some fish. What we saw sent our pulse rates soaring, we saw bream like we had never seen before – not even in the glass cases in the Angler’s Retreat. We were certain that some of those bream had to exceed 14lbs and as far as ten pounders were concerned, there were dozens of them. We put the boat away and went home to dream of the Tuesday morning.

On Monday evening, Rod and I were disappointed to get a message from Mick saying that he couldn’t make it, but that he hoped we’d have a good time. It was sad, but Rod and I had no need to change our plans so we left my place at 3.00am on the morning of the 16th.

By the time we were half way to the reservoir it was raining! It hadn’t rained for weeks, but of course it had to rain that day. Things were looking a little gloomy in some respects, Mick couldn’t make it, the weather had broken, what else was going to go wrong? Still we weren’t too despondent, the water level was still nice and low at the reservoir and one rainfall wasn’t going to change that. There was no wind and as we tackled up and only the drops
of rain disturbed the surface of the reservoir.

We cast our baits, again the maggot and flake mixture, into the swim, and again we were using the lift method. We tightened our lines to the float and watched them do absolutely nothing for an hour! The swim felt dead, and it was dead, nothing at all moved in it, and I think we both knew that we were going to catch nothing in it. Gradually my attention wandered, and while looking along the bank, I noticed some disturbance at the waters edge about 50 yards away. A few moments later there was another swirl, and another. I decided it investigate, so I picked up my rod, crept along the bank and carefully flicked my bait in to the area I had seen the activity. My float never had the time to cock before a fish had moved off with my bait, I set the hook and a heavy fish did what they always do when hooked in shallow water! It went of at a rate of knots taking me completely by surprise and easily snapping my 4lb.b/s line! Somewhat stunned by the power of the fish, I returned to the baited swim and re-tackled, this time with 6lb.b/s line.

I crept back along the bank and again flicked out my bait, again it was taken instantly, but this time I was ready and was not taken by surprise. The fish gave a good fight, but I was soon able to slip the net under it and I lifted out a nine and a half-pound bream! What a fish to has as the first of the season. I slipped it into my keepnet, re-baited, re-cast and was instantly into another of the same size. That was enough for Rod, he too decided that there was more future in the unbaited swim than there was in the swim we had worked on so hard, and so he came along to join me. During the next few hours we realised the dream that I had had for so many years.

The swim was thick with bream, most of them very big, but all of them very hungry! Our floats rarely had time to settle before a fish had taken our bait and on several occasions we were both fighting large bream at the same time and were unable to help the other land his fish. On one occasion when I wasn’t playing a fish, Rod hooked one of the huge ones we had spotted a couple of days earlier, he got it to the waters edge but it shed the hook just as I was slipping the net under it. The lunge I made pushed it into deeper water and it just slid away! I was mortified, but Rod was understanding even though he had just seen what was undoubtably a record bream come off his line.

At 10.30am, despite the fact the bream were still feeding every bit as ravenously we packed up, we had caught 46 bream between us and we were both emotionally and physically exhausted. We also knew that before we could leave the water the fish had to be weighed and photographed, and that was going to be a task in it’s self! We knew that we had an incredible bag of bream on our hands, but we hadn’t appreciated just what we had achieved at the time. We really didn’t begin to appreciate that until we saw the look on the faces of Bernard Double and Gerry Hughes whom we met in the Angler’s Retreat on our way home. I think at first the look was one of disbelief, but both of them knew Rod and I well enough to know that we were not prone to exaggerate, and if that weren’t enough, the nervous tension emanating from us would have convinced them, we were really on a high. I guess an outsider would have been amused to see the four of us and the landlord of the pub pouring over an old tobacco tin on the bar. While we weighed the fish we had discovered that we had nothing upon which we could record the weights, so eventually they were scored on the bottom of the tin with a baiting needle!

Between us at the bar, we read out the following figures.

I had caught 25 of the fish for a total weight of 202.5lbs. Their weights were: 10.5lbs, 10lbs, 3x9.5lbs, 9lbs, 6x8.5lbs, 3x8lbs, 4x7.5lbs, 3x7lbs, 6.5lbs and 2x6lbs.

Rod caught 21 fish for a total weight of 175lbs. His weights were 10.5lbs. 10lbs, 2x9.5lbs, 2x9lbs, 2x8.75lbs, 3x8.5lbs, 2x8lbs, 6x7.5lbs, 7lbs and 6.5lbs. The total weight of the bag was 377.5lbs!After a few beers and enjoying the congratulations of the others, Rod and I continued our journey home from where we contacted Fred, Dick, Mick and John. I think all would admit to being more than a little impressed, and in Mick’s case disappointed not to have been there after putting in so much work on the swim that actually failed to produce anything. Still we had the boat for the next day, so Rod, Mick and I arranged to meet up at dawn and try the same area. We met and fished until 10.30am with not one bite between us!

Unfortunately June the 17th, 1976 was the last time I fished Wilstone Reservoir, and being as I now live in Australia it is unlikely that I will ever see the place again, let alone fish it. I believe that some of the rules concerning the fishing there have been relaxed and that night fishing is now permitted, though of that I am not absolutely certain. One thing of which I can be certain though, is that the water still has the potential to produce good quality fish, and I am sure it will continue to do so. Throughout the history of the Tring group of reservoirs, the big bream catches appear to have been made in cycles. There are a lot of lean years between a couple of good years. I am sure that if other anglers monitored one of the reservoirs over a number of years they would see a pattern emerge, and sooner or later they would find them selves taking a bag of fish the size of which other anglers only dream. It may not be an easy road to follow, but a certain amount of single mindedness does pay off – even though it might take almost twenty years as it did for me!

chevin - 1999