In Search Of Bigger Fish

JUNE 2002

Most of the month was spent working for my first year exams up at University in Nottingham, but for the first time in 3 years, academic commitments finished prior to the glorious 16th and allowed me to see in the start of the season.

15th June 2002. Berkshire Gravel Pit
Having not fished for months I was itching to get out there now my term had finished. Not being one for patience or will-power I simply couldn’t wait for the 16th so started the season a day early! So much for the nostalgia of the glorious 16th! Sorry guys. I fished my favourite carp pit, where I caught a lot of fish last summer, which is open all year round. I had fished it twice over Easter for one fish, a 22 lb common, but this was my first trip since the weed had returned. I had raked it over Easter to try and remove any early growth from my favourite swim, but there was a lot of drifting weed which caused a few problems. I’m sure if I had hooked a fish it would have caused even more problems! Anyway I think the carp were getting ready to spawn as they were very playful but not interested in what I had to offer. I knew it was going to be a while before I returned as I had big plans for the river season!

Back in the Day….
June 15th 1963: Black Squirrels

The start of the season saw dad fishing a lake known only as ‘Black Squirrels’ with angling legend Jack Hilton. They were after tench, following some closed season pre-baiting, but hadn’t been able to buy any fresh cockles for bait, and so used the preserved form, washed with sodium carbonate to try and get rid of the smell of vinegar! They soon found that this wasn’t their only problem, finding some so-called undesirables fishing the lake, even being so rude as to use bite alarms… Disgraceful!

“By now, about a dozen loud-mouthed yobs had joined us on the ‘centre island’. Drags were being hurled in, lights and hurricane lamps were beaming a scene that resembled Blackpool more than the quiet of the Bedfordshire countryside. By eleven o’clock, what with the infernal din of buzzes and zinging from bite alarms, it was now more like the Blackpool telephone exchange! With all this clatter, the thoughts of spawning tench and smelly cockles, I felt a little sick as I sat and waited for the official opening of the new season. Poor Jack was blessed with a light and buzzer merchant wearing a white crash helmet. He must have felt very lonely, as he perched himself a few yards to Jack’s left. At about eleven-thirty Jack crept along to tell me that everyone else had started fishing, and that skid-lid Charlie had wasted no time and was thumping out rudd left, right and centre! Some of his casts went very much to the right, sploshing into Jack’s baited swim, no doubt due to lack of practice. What a start to the season!”

16th June 2002. River Windrush, Nr. Witney, Oxfordshire
Traditionally I like my first trip of the season to be on a classic ‘crabtree-esque’ river, where I can run a stick float through and really enjoy myself. I spent the day covering a couple of miles of bank, fishing the likely swims with a stick float and maggots. I found a few shoals of good dace, taking a couple of 12 oz fish, but found it difficult to keep them going. After landing one or two fish the swims would just ‘die’ with fish spooking away. Later on I looked for a swim where I could fish into dark with a quivertip rod, and spotted two huge roach. They looked well over 2 lb 8 oz, probably nearer 3 lb, and were in a spot where we have spotted huge roach periodically over the years. I settled slightly upstream, hoping to keep hidden out of sight, and lure them up to me with a trickle of maggots from a tiny maggot feeder. The plan seemed to be working when I started getting un-hittable bites, but when I connected finally it was a nice chub of 3 lb, not the roach I was after. This probably spooked the roach as all I could catch after that was trout!

17th June 2002. River Thames, Berkshire
One of my main targets for the summer is a big carp from the Thames. I’ve been talking about having a go for several years now, but kept on getting sidetracked. This summer is definitely the time and so I headed to a stretch where I have seen a couple of carp over the years. It’s quite a shallow weedy stretch, so I used beefy gear to give me a chance of landing the hard fighters. I was accompanied by school, and now uni mate James Mawby, who I’m slowly encouraging back into fishing. We rigged up with 3 oz semi-fixed pear leads, Kryston Mantis hook-lengths and size 4 ESP Stiff Rigger hooks. Basic fishmeal boilies with pellet paste moulded around was bait. Because of the weed we used P.V.A. bags filled with pellets and broken boilies. We knew that there were a lot of spawning bream in the area so were keen to keep our lines flat on the bottom, and so used lead core leaders and flying back leads. We still got a lot of liners, and despite seeing no carp had the feeling they were around. At around 9pm I was chatting to a dog walker when all of a sudden my far bank rod exploded into life and a carp leapt from the shallow water, my rig in tow! After a hectic fight I had a lovely 13 lb common carp in my net. This was my first Thames carp caught by design, and on my first trip, I was very pleased and hoped more would follow! Turn the clock on a bit and at 2am several drunken teenagers jumped in and had a swim only 50 metres upstream! We both had work the next morning and were thinking of leaving anyway. “Definitely won’t get another one now!” James proclaimed. 10 seconds later the far rod shot off again and I was into a much better fish. Almost as soon as I realised this was a big fish everything went solid. For a while I could still feel the ‘thump thump’ of a snagged fish, but then it stopped. I knew the fish had got free so used a towel to pull hard on the line to get my rig back. It came back with part of a big branch and the hook-point was blunted. No need to swap rigs though as that was enough excitement for one night. I threw in a scattering of bait, and went home to bed.

 18th June 2002. River Thames, Berkshire
I returned to have another crack at the stretch as there were obviously numbers of fish in the area. This time I was accompanied by my lovely girlfriend Nadia who had never been fishing before and wanted to see what all the fuss was about! Arriving a couple of hours before dark, we were amazed to see numbers of carp playfully swimming and grouping in pods getting ready to spawn. There were no thirties amongst them but a couple of mid-twenty commons really caught my eye! I knew that when carp are behaving like this there is very little chance of catching, but I had promised Nadia to go fishing so we stayed. I used identical tactics as the previous night and sat back to await developments. As I thought, the carp didn’t feed, in fact they were chasing and jumping all over the place, several nearly beaching themselves in the process. They were so preoccupied with getting ready to spawn, that they weren’t scared by our presence, my lines or even P.V.A. bags sploshing next to them! We stayed till 2am, just watching the carps’ antics, and landing three bream. They were all about 5lb, covered in tubercles and in very bad condition. They had probably gone on the feed following spawning.

19th June 2002. River Thames, Buckinghamshire
James and I visited the stretch from the previous two trips in the late afternoon and found not only that the carp still had other things on their minds, but also there were anglers in our swims. An alternative venue was needed! I had a few other stretches I fancied trying, so back in the Fredmobile and 20 minutes later we were carrying our gear over the fields towards a big Thames weir-pool. We fished where the water slowed down and deepened up, hoping that there were a few carp around. I had seen a carp there about 4 years ago, and it was a very big one too, but this was a real needle in a haystack job! There was a lot of water in front of us, and we fanned our rods to different features over the fishable area. Identical tactics were used and the session the night before, and it followed a similar pattern of liners and catching bream. Whilst I was landing a bream on one rod, my other rod shot off in a very carp-like manner, James hit the run, but struck into thin air. I’m sure this was no bream, my money is on a chub or carp. Probably the former! Anyway that was it for another night, but we’d be back!

20th June 2002. River Thames, Berkshire
Before fishing we walked another stretch of the Thames, to try and suss out parking and access etc. With some mental notes made, and some really carpy swims spotted, we went on to the stretch where I had the common earlier in the week. As you can see, I’m trying a lot of stretches but not pre-baiting anywhere…..Yet. I want to make sure there are some really big carp and no other carp anglers present before I start putting bait in regularly. That’s when I expect to catch carp. If I can’t find anywhere worth putting in the effort, or pre-bait without other people benefiting then I will go back to fishing gravel pits in the area.

Back at the other stretch, and the mood of the fish was slightly different. They weren’t in groups and seemed like they might feed. The rods went out as before, one to the far bank, and the other right under my feet. We were quite confident, and hoped to land a carp before driving home the next morning to have a fry-up and watch England beat Brazil. As we all know that didn’t go to plan, and neither did the fishing! The carp were rolling, like they might well be feeding and even pick up a bait, but it didn’t happen.

25th June 2002. River Thames, Oxfordshire
I hadn’t fished over the weekend, having fished six nights in a row the week before, but on Tuesday was back on the banks of the Thames for an afternoons fishing with good pal Martin Salter. I wasn’t expecting to do much fishing, I was there mainly to interview him for my new “Fred fishes with…..” series. (LINK) We fished a small weir-pool on the Upper Thames, where neither of us had fished before, with barbel our intended quarry. I sat and chatted and photographed Martin for most of the afternoon, discussing topics as diverse as cormorants to high tech barbel baits. Martin fished maggot feeder during the afternoon, taking a few perch and skimmer bream, switching to bigger touch-legered baits such as meat later on. I joined him, fishing just downstream, and as the interview piece will tell you, landed a new Thames personal best barbel of 8 lb 14 oz.

27th June 2002. River Thames, Oxfordshire
I had been promising to take my much older brother Richard fishing for a long while, and we had pencilled-in Thursday to meet up. Rich has fished on a few occasions over the years, and we decided to fish for a fish we both liked • barbel. We targeted a stretch of Thames I knew from my childhood, sitting side by side, and talking about our favourite fast food take-aways! The barbel on this stretch of Thames are not really pressured, like much of the Thames, so there was no need for high-tech expensive baits. I had droppered our two spots with a mixture of corn, pellets and small pieces of luncheon meat, and we fished meat over the top, feeling for bites. It was a very cold evening for the end of June, and as day went into night I was sure no bites would come. Eventually the braid tightened over my finger and the rod hooped over, a barbel was on! A typical strong deep fight followed, the fish often stripping yards of braid off the spool, but at some stage the braid got into a snag in front of me, and I was playing the fish through this unseen obstacle. Eventually the fish was lying beaten on the surface, floundering in the flow, with the braid anchored in the snag on the river bed. There was a healthy bend in the rod, perhaps a bit too healthy!, and maybe the 14 lb braid was a bit much for the 1 lb 6 oz test curve Avon, but I certainly didn’t expect the rod to give way • IN TWO PLACES!!! It was a 3 piece rod and had given way at the two joints. I hadn’t given any sudden pressure to cause the break, but understand that my setup wasn’t very well balanced. Amazingly after the breakage, the braid had magically removed itself from the obstruction and the fish had escaped. I got my rig back, but had just broken an expensive rod, which I have caught some good fish on over the years. I wasn’t in a mood to carry on, and packed up cursing my stupidity. Rich’s swim had never seemed like producing anything and I promised him another go soon! GGGRRRRRR!

The rest of June and beginning of July 2002
As a regular sufferer of Tonsillitis I have been in need of a tonsillectomy for a while, and when I got back from Nottingham I had booked myself in for the next available slot at the hospital. Little did I know that they would have me in the following Monday! I needed the op, but I hadn’t expected it to interrupt my early season Thames carp plans. Anyway it went well, in fact they found an abscess in my throat which was probably the cause of my repeated infections. I’m feeling quite good now, and can’t wait to be out fishing. Fortunately the weather is pretty bad at the moment so I’m not missing much. When I’m better and the weather turns a bit more clement I’ve got a few days R&R planned at an Oxfordshire pit after tench. Pile in the particles, sit back and relax! Can’t wait.

12 July 2002. River Thames, Oxfordshire
After my op I had initially felt really good, and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, even finding time to walk the bits of the Thames I had been fishing for carp. Sadly the carp had disappeared, along with my optimism, and I couldn’t find the enthusiasm to get back after them. But after my initial good health I felt pretty nasty and it was almost two weeks before I was ready to fish again. I headed back to the Thames where I had broken my rod fishing for barbel. It was a cold night and despite droppering bait to try and work the fish up, all I could get were knocks and twitches. Perhaps these fish weren’t as uneducated as I thought?! If I fished there again I would certainly change my approach to boilies or paste. A bolt rig might even be called into service!

On the Horizon….
After my one carp from the Thames, and subsequent disappearance of fish from my target stretch, I am keen to get amongst the fish again, and have started baiting up the Berkshire pit where I had enjoyed such success last summer. I am using a mixture of hemp, pellets, corn, boilies all held together with Vitalin dog food and crushed hemp. I feed about 30 “babies’ heads” every night or two, to try and make the spot a stop on their nightly circuit of the pit. At least the lake would be ready when I felt the time was right…..

17th and 18th July 2002. Heyford Pits, Oxfordshire
I really like lakes where I can fish for one or more species at one time. I’m always on the look out for new personal bests, and this group club-waters could yield new bests for me of many species; tench, bream and carp being the ones I would target this time…

I set up on the bank receiving a nice fresh wind, where I knew a few clear gravel spots in the margins. Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of margin fishing, liking to feed accurately, place rigs accurately and know what’s going on. Keeping quiet is a small price to pay. One rod was cast about six feet out, slightly along the bank, in about eight feet of water over clear gravel. I used a 1.5 oz semi-fixed in-line lead, short hook-length and size 8 hook. Bait was the brilliant rubber pop-up corn, condensed-milk flavoured, in a P.V.A. bag of hi-betaine pellets. Before casting I had six balls of vitalin groundbait ready to throw into the ripples made by the rig entering the water. With everything set, and back lead on, I set up my other rod, which was to be a float attack! This was fished directly in front in about six foot of water, also over gravel. I used 8 lb class gear and a mixture of rubber and real corn on the hook to balance the weight of the hook. Pellets, hemp and corn were catapulted at regular intervals to try and work up the swim. At night the tip from the float was swapped for a starlight so I could spot any bites.

I had always done best at these pits fishing the float while leger rigs haven’t been so successful for me, but this trip turned out to be the opposite. While the float hardly dipped all session, the leger rig only yards away, shot off a total of three times! First up was a 5 lb 8 oz tench at around 11pm. A re-cast and a further six balls of groundbait followed, before a 9 lb 6 oz bream picked up the bait at around 2.30 am. The process was repeated, (how I hate tying up P.V.A. bags when I should be asleep!) and I was back in the land of nod soon enough. Despite being a new personal best bream for me, I have vowed not to photograph any bream until I catch one into double figures, so it went back straight away. At 4.30 am the rod screamed off for the last time and I was into something more substantial! After a short fight an absolutely beautiful mirror was in the net. I’m sure this is the best looking carp I have ever seen, with it’s linear scales, huge tail and gorgeous chestnut brown colour. Added to this the fact that it weighed 26 lb 12 oz and you can understand why I was pretty chuffed with myself!

After a couple of hours sleep I was up and about, considering whether the swim would produce for a second night, or if a move was in order. My mate James had nothing during the night so we agreed a move to a slightly ‘easier’ pit next door, where hopefully he would also put a few on the bank. As we both had work the next day, it wouldn’t be another overnighter, but we’d fish till midnight. I used similar tactics, using a margin float rig, and placed a leger rig over groundbait, slightly further out. The same species were present and so the same bait was used. This time my float rod was the first to show signs of life, and eventually it dipped and slid away and I was into a big carp. I tried to keep my cool as it took lots of line and shot up the margin to my right, going right through James’s swim! It then turned and came back past me trying to reach the far left hand bank! I had to clamp down as it headed straight for some lilies, and the fish rolled on the surface as I refused to give it any more line, giving away it’s considerable bulk. Inevitably the hook flew back at me and the fish was free. I reckon that fish went about 24 or 25 lb. The rest of the session was strangely quiet, as the skies cleared and the sun burned hard. Even after dark our swims didn’t come alive and I headed home with mixed feelings. The first day and night had been a complete success, but the move and subsequent lost fish had left a sour taste!

Back in the Day
July 19, 1963: Black Squirrels

Having recovered from the opening weekend, Dad had proceeded to catch several big tench from the lake over the next few weeks. In this exert he explains some of his reasons for being so secretive about the venues he fished.

“As many readers will no doubt realise, big fish on heavily fished club waters are not easy to come by, and for the angler who does now and again catch such fish, minor complications and irritations can often follow (non-medical of course). If one has been successful in a particular swim, this doesn’t go by unnoticed by fellow members. If one doesn’t tell every Tom, Dick and Harry, ‘where, when and how’ one caught a big fish, it is unfortunate that one should soon get the reputation of being a …….. liar. I have found from experience that if you don’t want the word to get around you must be one hundred percent secretive; unfortunately I do not possess such self-control. If anyone sees me catch a good fish which, as you have now found out is rare, I give him the hint to ‘keep quiet if you don’t mind.’” 

20th July 2002. Old Bury Hill Fishery, Surrey
Bury Hill was the venue for me to meet up with old pal Colin Davidson and compile my second “Fred fishes with….” interview. Carp over 20 lb graced the banks and to read all about what we got up to, you’ll have to keep your eyes on Anglers’ Net.

On the Horizon
During my latest trip Colin showed me a couple of lovely new baits he’s been involved with, and I’ve decided to give them a bit of a go. We caught lots of fish on one of them at Old Bury Hill and of course Colin has had loads of big fish on them at other venues. First up is a prototype Crafty Catcher freezer bait which is made with various goodies, and then the Neons range of pop-ups and sprays.

The freezer baits are made from a variety of different ingredients including water-soluble fishmeals, birdfoods and robin red. They’ve got other goodies and flavours that I can’t put my finger on, but they and have a very well-rounded smell and taste. I’ve baited up with them at my favourite pit and will let you know how I get on.

The Neons are pop-ups (12mm and 14mm) and in three lovely flavours: Plum (yellow), Pineapple (green/yellow) and my favourites Squid and Octopus (pink). They are all really bright colours and come in lovely little screw top pots. Sometimes baits, especially pop-ups smell slightly fake, but these smell really edible and so do the sprays. The sprays aren’t just flavour, but various goodies have gone in for all round attraction. This is also true of the baits, with the likes of N-Butyric acid being added for top attraction. The baits and sprays don’t just complement each other, but contain the same ingredients, so the fish won’t be getting confusing signals! Seriously I’m not really a bait man, but these look like they could be a winner. Again, I’ll let you know how they do.

26th July 2002. Berkshire Gravel Pit
Having baited up for several weeks I was sure the fish would be visiting my swim regularly by now, so put in the first of several intended short evening sessions. Using my favourite light lead, short hook-length rigs, over a scattering of pellets, hemp, corn and boilies, I altered my hook-bait for the first time in ages. One rod still had the ‘good old’ rubber pop-up corn, but the second now had one of the aforementioned Squid and Octopus Neons. I was interested to see which would score. The evening followed the usual pattern of fish first rolling far out, and gradually working their way in till they were over my baits. It was 12 pm when the run came, and it was to the new bait! Interesting. The fights have always been spectacular at this pit, but this fight was something else. The fish leapt straight out the water having picked up the bait at 12 feet deep, and kited across the surface taking line at a rate of knots. I managed to turn the fish back towards me, but it went on another run and despite me clamping down, it had enough momentum to reach the weed. I tried to get it moving again, even giving it slack and seeing if it would move itself, but that was the last time I was connected. I think once in the weed they find it quite easy to shake off the rig. Again that was a nice carp and I left feeling pretty pissed off! Good things to take from the session were that the pre-baiting had worked, and that Colin’ pop-ups had done the trick.

28th July 2002. Berkshire Gravel Pit
With it being the hottest day of the year so far, and being flat calm I should have known not to bother, but as I had been pre-baiting I thought I was in with a chance of a fish. Despite the bait, the swim seemed very ‘dead’, and I went home without a run. The fish here are very predictable and don’t really feed in flat calm conditions, so I decided to wait for some better (well, worse actually!) weather.

 29th July 2002. Berkshire Gravel Pit
The bad weather I was waiting for came quicker than I thought, with yesterday’s hot weather brewing up a lovely storm! Yummy! The lake felt much more alive than the previous night and I could tell I would have a chance. This time I didn’t use my trusty pop-up corn but gave Colin’s prototypes a go on one rod, and his Neons on the other. I used P.V.A. stringers and a few handfuls of free boilies to try and encourage the carp to pick up big items instead of filtering out hemp and pellets. The plan worked and soon after midnight the prototype Crafty Catcher freezer bait was picked up by a lovely 18 lb common. With more bad weather forecast for the next few days I piled in a load more groundbait happy that I’d be back soon!