In Search Of Bigger Fish

Into the new year and the new season. December 2002-June 2003

16 December 2002, River Thames, Oxford

I was straight out fishing the day after I got home from uni for the Christmas holidays, as chubbing is all about hitting the conditions perfect, and I reckoned the Thames would be spot on. Friends fishing on the 15th had caught fish in numbers, so striding over the fields to a stretch where I was taught to fish as a child, I was confident of a triumphant return. The stretch held some special memories for me, and maybe I could add a few more to the list.

One look at the water all but dashed my hopes, the river had too much colour for my liking, and although it wasn't quite raging through, I didn't fancy my chances. It had rained overnight, but I had underestimated how much, and with lockkeepers instructed to open the sluices for any amount of rain nowadays, the small downpour had obviously got them pressing buttons.

I fished really hard, but it was just one of those days. If I had been on the St. Pats after barbel I would have probably done well. I alternated bread-flake and paste on the quivertip rod, and used large pellets and paste on the now obligatory second rod, but only a roach of 12 ounces troubled me.

Dressing up in a Santa costume proved to be the only excitement of the afternoon, as tourists and bullocks alike found the red clothing a source of great interest.

23 December 2002, St. Patricks Stream, Berkshire

As the Thames came up over it's banks I ruled out chub action, and sought bites on the prolific, but pressured ‘Paddy's'. Learning from earlier in the season I went for a minimal baiting strategy, and was confident given that according to a fellow angler, the water had risen 2 degrees overnight! As I sat there ankle deep in flood water, I knew that winter barbelling was a slow business, but when the weak winter sun sank below the trees and I still hadn't caught one I started to suspect I was doing something wrong. Packing away my gear I knew it would be a while before I was back on the banks, and I left feeling really low. I had a stack of work to do and couldn't see many fishing trips on the horizon. I also suspected that as the big chub went on the feed on the Thames during March I would be too busy to come back from Nottingham and get in on the action.

16 January 2003, River Thames, Windsor, Berkshire

And so it proved that I didn't get out fishing again until the middle of January, sneaking a cheeky trip home in a gap between exams! Dad had been making the odd trip to the stretch but, unlike last year, had struggled to locate the chub shoals. We roved around in a hope of tracking them down, but failed to make contact. Dad landed a solitary 6 lb barbel from a banker chub swim, which has never produced barbel before, which shows just how much these big winter floods are changing the topography of our rivers. Another exciting trip using exciting methods such as touch legering with light gear had turned into a depressing blank and I was faced with the prospect of driving 2 hours back to Nottingham for more exams! I know I complain a lot about uni, but being away from my favourite swims was really starting to get to me.

On the Horizon….

During my exams I made a decision to change tack a little and target the Oxford stretch of the Thames I mentioned above. I'm sure you are all aware of the big chub present in this area, their existence being known mainly thanks to a couple of keen carpers who started landing six and seven pound chub from the river. It is a big bit of river, with miles and miles of bank, and I reasoned, lots of fish to go at. My dad and I also knew parts of it well from the past so I thought I'd give it a go. At least I knew there were massive chub in the area, and making the long trip back from Nottingham for my final few trips of the season, that was something I wanted to be certain of.

I also wanted to be more strict with my methods and had for some time been looking on maggot feeder tactics with increasing confidence. My personal best chub from the Avon in the Autumn had showed me the potential of the tactic, and I wanted to see if I could adapt it for the Thames. For those who aren't aware of the tactic, its basic idea is that with repeated regular casting of a big maggot feeder to a spot, chub will attack the feeder itself, sucking the maggots out of the holes. So all we have to do is tie on a big maggot feeder and cast over and over again to a good chub spot. When you start getting liners, ie the chub are attacking the feeder with confidence, tie on a 1 or 2 inch hooklength, and cast to the spot again. The chub hooks herself, and hey presto! Well that's the theory anyway…

1-3 March 2003. River Thames, Oxford.

I had a long weekend to finish the season, and headed to the Thames with loads of maggots for 3 afternoon into evening sessions.

The first day I fished alone, tackling what I what call a ‘feature' peg, casting over to some bushes on the far bank, where the river widened. I cast regularly to the spot for an hour before I put a hook on, and soon started getting line bites. First cast with the hooklength attached, and the rod lurched over and I was into a good fish. I was using a size 18 hook to 2.5 lb line, so needed to be careful. I have quite a bit of experience playing big fish on light line, so kept my cool and the rod high. As I gained on the fish, I got the impression that it was pretty special, as it kept low in the water, giving the typical ‘thump thump' of a big chub and occasionally taking a few yards of line. At about the mid river the fish really started to give me some trouble, taking line again and again. And then, without warning, it all went solid. The fish had found some snags which I didn't know about, and shed the hook. Fantastic. In the end I had to put the rod down and pull the line for a break, getting back my feeder for my troubles. I spent another hour casting just the feeder over, but they were clearly spooked, the tip not giving its usual tell-tale knocks. I decided to put a hooklength on anyway, so when they did get back on the feed I might catch one. An hour after this I got my first knock, and perhaps 30 minutes after this the tip signalled another fish had hooked itself. This time I quickly ran downstream to play the fish past the snag, remembering to pick up my landing net on the way. This fish felt very small in comparison to the lost one, and I was almost blasé as I put the net under a decent chub. In fact, it went 5 lb 4 oz on the scales, a good result! I walked further downstream to release it, having taken a couple of pics. Back in the swim, they were spooked again, and this time it would be a race against time to hook another before dark, as often chub switch off to this tactic as it gets dark. As my surroundings grew increasingly dark, so did my chances of another fish. I was pleased with the chub I had landed though, and would be back the next two days with Barry and my Dad for another go.

Day two, and I fished a different swim, hoping a less featured peg, that isn't targeted by anglers, would perhaps contain bigger, less suspicious chub. Who knows? The fishing was much easier than the previous day, as I chucked my feeder to trees on the far bank. The swim built and built all day, and by the end the tip didn't stop moving. In all I had 7 chub, the biggest going 4 lb something. Not huge fish, but as I walked back over the fields with dad, and he had caught only one fish, I thought the swim deserved my attention for my final attempt of the season.

Day three went much the same way as the previous, the swim building and building as the maggots went in. Each fish was released downstream to avoid spooking the shoal, and I had another 7 fish, but again the biggest was 4 lb something. A really good bag of fish to end the season, and more than any of my mates I was fishing with, but I couldn't help thinking what they would catch over the next two weeks while I was at uni….

The Closed Season. 2003

In recent times the closed season has proved to be one of the best times to target a really big carp, as the fish are fattening up prior to spawning. I didn't hold out much hope for this year though, as I only had three weeks at home and lots of uni work to complete. Never the less I started piling bait in to my regular venue, and hoped that if I did get a chance to get over there for a night, that I would find the fish in a feeding mood…

16 April 2003. Berkshire Pit

I arrived after a day spent on uni projects, and although tired, was very excited to be out fishing. It had been a while, and all the pre-baiting had me really fired up. From the minute I arrived I felt ‘on edge' and couldn't settle down. I had given the fish a lot of bait, mainly Vitalin with particles plus a good scattering of those Red October boilies that I am testing. I reasoned that if the carp had indeed been mopping up the bait, then it would be folly other than to fish the Red October on both rods. I used my usual strong gear, with lead core leaders, slack lines and back leads to keep everything out of the way. I don't find heavy leads an advantage for margin work, so 1oz leads went into the cut down clips. Both baits were wrapped in complimentary paste and swung out over the baited patch. I scattered a few freebies around the general area in case the fish had eaten all of the past two weeks bait.

At dusk the rolling started far out in the lake, and by midnight the fish were in my area. Despite being very tired I was too excited to sleep and kept alert on the edge of my chair. The liners would have kept me awake in any case! As the night went on, and still a run didn't materialise, doubts started to enter my mind. I thought perhaps my rigs could be tangled, or even my hook points masked with debris. Re-casting could spook the fish, but then again a re-cast would sort any unseen problems. Eventually I decided to maintain the status quo, and hope things were ok. By dawn I was feeling very unhappy, with no sleep and no fish, but a huge amount of activity over the area. I had resigned myself to a blank, and that actually seemed to relax me somewhat, and I actually drifted off in my chair. Obviously you know what's coming next…. I was woken up by a screaming run. Straight away I was upto my knees playing a very angry carp, which wasn't happy at being interrupted during it's scoffing session. I could feel it was a big fish, and when I got it in the net I estimated it would weigh over 30 lbs. I was very pleased to find I had underestimated it, and see the scales go round to 35lb 10oz. It was my second biggest carp from the lake, so I was a very happy man! The return to uni a few days later, and impending exams were made a little easier to bear.

The New Season

I started the new season with high hopes. I had several campaigns planned, for a wide range of species. To save space and heartache, I can tell you now that not one of them paid off! Although I caught a few nice fish, the summer's weather and a few tough venues have given me a real battering! A few of the ‘highlights' were as follows:

15 June 2003. Wingham Fishery, Kent

A visit to Steve Burke's lovely fishery for a night was an action packed affair. I fed maggots in a margin swim to try and bag a big tench. I fished one rod with maggots on the hook, and one with a pop-up boilie as an alternative, trying an Ocean Fresh Pineapple Neon as an experiment. I ended up with 6 tench up to 6lb 15oz, and a rogue 20 lb 12oz mirror carp, which gave me a good tussle on tench gear! Although the tench were smaller than I had expected, the venue made a real impact on me. It is such a beautiful tranquil place, miles from anywhere, and loads of big fish….. just how every venue should be! Perfect. I will definitely be going back!

July 3 2003. River Thames, Oxford

On a previous evening on the river I spotted a group of very big chub cruising up and down the margins of a very busy stretch of river. A few days later I returned to try and catch them. Finding the fish over some gravel I nervously threw them a handful of halibut pellets to see their reaction. The chub soon polished them off! Within half an hour I had the group swirling at the surface, taking every pellet I threw in. Over the course of the evening I had five chub, the biggest creeping to just over 5lb despite being in excess of 20 inches long. These fish were obviously well down in weight and ravenous after spawning. In winter this is the group that weigh over 7 lbs. A good net of fish despite their relatively low weights.

Rudd Campaign…

A campaign for big rudd on a local lake was one of my biggest disappointments of the summer. A string of night sessions without a big rudd left me scratching my head. A load of tench to around 6 lbs kept me interested in my bobbins, and an ancient 17 lb mirror carp went ballistic on light rudd tackle. But a real disappointment all the same.

Messing about on the river…

One of the best things to happen over the summer was me buying a lovely little 10 ft fishing boat, with outboard and trailer. I spent lots of evenings ‘sussing' out access to local stretches of the Thames. I found a huge pike dead, probably from spawning earlier in the year, as it was quite well gone. But I shall definitely visit the area in the winter. A few sessions flinging small lures around resulted in fighting fit pristine pike upto 15 lbs.

Dinton…

I couldn't fish my usual venue due to horrendous weed, so I decided to have a mini campaign on Dinton. In total I think I fished about seven times, with only one bream to my rods. But I learned a lot about the venue, and was very close to nailing a big fish. A spot which I had been baiting finally started to show signs of feeding fish, and rigs were in place. A few rolls (by a real biggy) later, and my heart was racing. A tufty drifted over my patch and dived into the swim, picking up one of my baits. As my line tightened and then slackened off again as the bird let go, I knew my chance had gone. Bloody tufties! A lovely venue, and I'm sure one I'll visit again in the future.

And so back to Uni…

And so you can see that this summer hasn't been my most successful in terms of big fish caught. Oh well you win some, you lose some, as they say, and hopefully this winter will be my time to win some! In the meantime it's back to uni for me, and the final year of my degree. I'll be back! Tight lines.

Fred - 2003