Wingham Fish-in, 21st 22nd & 23rd May 2011
Words that have struck the fear of God into me in the past and I suspect that I’m not the only one. For the past couple of years I’ve shied away from this fish-in, I don’t really have the right tackle/gear and it’s always seemed a daunting prospect. The offers of help and support from members are continually posted on the AN forum though and so this year I decided to give it a go. I’m sure other AN’ers feel the same way as recent events have been undersubscribed but not this time, a full compliment of 30 anglers were up for it and having reflected on the weekend I can see why.
My advice to AN’ers with the same feelings as me is to get your name down for next year as soon as the bookings thread is started. Newcomers are given priority, so Wingham veterans (like me ) have to wait and see if any spaces are available.
For those who are not familiar with this event it’s the annual opportunity to fish one of the finest gravel pits you’ll ever come across. A 40 acre syndicate water deep within the Kentish countryside far from busy roads, railway lines and anything else that doesn’t twitter, warble, squeak, chirp, moo or [insert rabbit sound]. Steve Burke runs a tight ship, membership is limited so the water never suffers from being pressured, the fish benefit and grow like the clappers in their ideal environment and the members are assured of tranquillity….give or take the odd storm.
This is not cheap angling, it’s exclusive but not in the pompous way usually associated with that word. Exclusivity comes from the desire to firstly look after the fish and secondly to ensure a pleasurable angling experience for the members and guests, those are the two highest priorities. It’s a commercial enterprise so it has to generate revenue but if you do the maths and then consider how much effort is required to run and maintain Wingham you’ll reach the conclusion that raking in the cash at the expense of the angling experience is not on the agenda. There is currently a waiting list for membership.
Anyway back to the fish-in.
I’d been visiting relatives in Adisham the day before so I only had a short drive to the fishery. The Fiesta was packed with what I thought was a ton of gear but as I pulled into the car park and unloaded my ramshackle selection of holdalls, cool bags, bin liners and Waitrose plastic bags it was clear that I was ‘travelling light’ in comparison to others. Great piles of matching holdalls and rod bags were everywhere and I’ve never seen so many spod and marker rods in one place (I own neither). In the clubhouse the bacon buttie production line was in full swing so having ambushed one I collected my map of the water, a list of who was fishing where and my name badge. My swim (‘Second Platform’) was within easy walking distance of the clubhouse, this was great news as it meant I could take just 2 litres of water with me and replenish as needed, the shower was within easy reach too.
After saying hello to a few known faces and introducing myself to a few less familiar people I made contact with Budgie & Tincatinca (Paul). I’m very grateful to these guys, Budgie lent a very comfortable bedchair and Paul a most palatial bivvy. So that was it, my gear was delivered to the swim, Paul put the bivvy up for me and I was ready to fish;
Home for the next two days, an outside loo but available with an infinitely variable sun facing garden;
I’d made up the groundbait the day before, four loaves of liquidised bread, two large tins of corn and a large tin of hemp. This would be moulded into and around a free running cage feeder and corn would be on the hook, I had planned to hook the bait directly but had a last minute change of mind and used a hair rig. A tennis ball sized lump of groundbait was dropped into the margins to make sure it did what I wanted. It was perfect, after a while the ball broke down and formed a very visible bed of particles laden with corn and hemp, my hook bait would be right in it;
End tackle before baiting;
Both my rods would struggle to get this out any distance but I’d asked for a short range swim and looking at the lake map Steve had obliged. There were two gravel bars running parallel with the bank, the deeper water between them was perhaps 15-20 yards out, just within range so a lob and a kersploosh later I sat back and contemplated the long wait ahead.
Nobody was more surprised than me when, ten minutes later, the alarm sounded and the bobbin gradually crept up to the rod, line then started to peel off the reel. It took a while for me to believe that I might be into a fish so soon but eventually I came to my senses and lifted into it. I briefly felt a fish and continued to play what felt like a solid lump, too solid as it turned out….I’d been snagged. I pulled and pinged the line but nothing was shifting, I gave slack line hoping that the fish would swim free but nothing, it had gone. I had no choice but to pull for a break in the hooklength which was 2lb lighter than the mainline, after an almighty crack I got the frayed end of the mainline back and no feeder. The conclusion I reached was that the feeder itself had somehow become stuck in the gravel bar, it was a running ledger so even if the fish was still hooked it probably wouldn’t have pulled it free.
The tale of woe was delivered to Andrew and Richard as they passed on their rounds and then Steve as he arrived to collate the catch report. He suggested and provided a weak link type feeder attachment which would break if the feeder was snagged again. I tried this with a couple of practice casts but found it tangled with the hooklength (Steve thought it might), I had no rig tube so needed another solution. The answer was to revert back to my setup but pinch a swan shot about a foot behind the feeder and turn the end tackle into a bolt rig. If the feeder snagged giving line would enable the fish to swim away hopefully taking the feeder with it, the battle could then continue.
The rest of the morning was spent watching a loafer suspended lobworm whilst listening for the bite alarm on the other rod, neither method troubled the scorers and at lunchtime I wound in and headed for the BBQ. In itself this was a spectacular event and well worth interrupting the fishing for, credit goes to Peggy for the huge effort required to cater for 30 hungry anglers, 36 if you include Budgie.
Fed and watered I returned to my swim and continued with the float and ledger rods. The afternoon is an acknowledged quiet period at Wingham and so it proved for me with no bite on either rod. Early evening I switched to a ledgered lob on the float rod and started to get bites pretty soon after. It took a while to work but just as I was about to turn in an enthusiastic bite produced this;
Ok so not my catch of choice but my first Wingham conquest and I hadn’t blanked. I think I told Budgie it was 2 or 3 pounds but clearly it isn’t anywhere near that. Unhooking it was horrible so lobs were taken off the menu and the rod retired for the night.
A few lessons learned here;
Mummy type sleeping bags are not good for quick exits and the Eurohike Adventurer 200 is not very warm in May. Trainers are the worst type of footwear to get into quickly. No matter how carefully you place the essentials (specs, ciggies, head torch etc) they will never be where you left them when you need them. Zips on bivvy doors work perfectly until the unzipping speed is increased to warp levels.
The night session started well enough. I dozed off quickly and was deep in the land of nod just about to receive my lottery winnings from Kylie when in the background somewhere behind the cameraman came a sort of beeping noise. Kylie evaporated, it suddenly got cold and dark and the noise got louder. Panic ensued and the above lessons were learned very quickly in my attempt to scramble out of the bivvy and get to the rod. I didn’t make it. It was a protracted bite and the bobbin had lifted to the rod but dropped back by the time I’d got my bearings. At that point I wasn’t using long drop bobbins and no line was taken from the reel so it may well have been a line bite….in the morning the hook bait had gone.
I never really got back to sleep properly and never did collect my lottery winnings, I had a few more line bites during the night but none developed into a proper bite.
I was more patient with the bivvy exits which meant that I actually got out quicker but each time I witnessed the bobbin drop back, exciting stuff though.
My lack of enthusiasm for tents stems from my childhood when the annual family holiday was a camping trip to Devon. Four kids and parents crammed into a canvas tent dripping with condensation and the prospect of my elder brother's foot being shoved into my face during the night didn’t appeal.
Sunrise at Wingham changed all of that. I was up before light and in a bleary eyed state wound in and re-baited the one rod I was using. Several fresh brewed cups of tea were consumed while the light gradually improved, the sun finally popping up and warming my encampment half an hour later. It was a wonderful start to the day and I had the prospect of a productive time to come. I fished for a short while before winding in and heading off to the clubhouse to replenish water and take a shower. Freshened up fishing could start in earnest and so could eating. The corn rod was re-baited and the lob rod supplemented with a maggot feeder, that should have covered most bases. Sausages sizzled away in the pan while I estimated how many of the 24 glasses were left in the Shiraz box after a Saturday night under the stars, plenty for Sunday night it seemed;
My camera recorded the following photo being taken at 10:12:23 so it must’ve been 10 o’clock when the corn rod bobbin lifted six inches, the distance between the feeder and the swan shot. After a brief hesitation it continued its journey upwards and came to a halt at the rod whereupon the baitrunner took over and started to give line. I’d been so used to seeing line bites but now I had no reason not to strike so I lifted the 1¼ TC Avon rod and looked to the heavens. My prayers were answered with a strong thumping sensation from the other end of the line, it certainly felt like a good fish and my initial thoughts were tench but something wasn’t quite right. It was powerful but far more active than other tench I’ve caught and I wondered if it was a big eel. I could feel the line grating against the bars and almost never found out as yet again the line went solid when the feeder became lodged, this time I didn’t pull but let out a couple of feet of line and held it. To my enormous relief after a few seconds the line twanged out of my hand as the swan shot did its job and the fight was back on……and what a scrap it was. Eventually the fish tired and came to the net easily, I was pleased that it was a tench albeit an odd looking one. On the mat it had larger, coarser fins than others I’d seen and a couple of what looked like deformities either side of its belly, nevertheless it weighed 6lb 10oz and was the largest tench I’ve caught and my first from Wingham;
I later found out that it was a male of the species and they all look like that, a double PB then, largest tench and the first male I’ve caught.
Everything was a bit of a blur after that, the Sunday BBQ was looming and I had no more bites before lunch. The post lunch waddle back to camp got me thinking that I should set both rods up on the corn bait as I’d proved it worked. Lobs hadn’t generated much interest and my maggots were turning into casters at an alarming rate of knots anyway so that sealed it. The afternoon session was very quite so I used the time to try and set up a long drop bobbin just in case a bream came along during the night. It was tricky in the wind and the swim platform didn’t help but by moving the rod right back towards the bank I could achieve a reasonable drop, the wind would die down during the night too;
Evening came with no significant increase in activity, I read a bit, eroded the number of glasses in the Shiraz box further and while it was still light enough re-baited both rods and cast them out for the night. A quick arty photo and I headed for the bivvy;
I didn’t settle at all during the night. The long drop rod would give me a chance of indicating a bream bite and both rods were baited with successful corn. To be honest I was expecting to catch something and so didn’t commit to a full on snooze. Ironically though the line bites were less frequent and shorter so even with my improved exit strategy I never got out of the bivvy before the bite stopped. Conscious that I had to drive home the following morning I decided not to react to the blips and beeps and fell asleep at about 2:00am, a proper long bite with the alarm volume turned right up would wake me anyway. It didn’t happen.
Well this was my last morning. On the downside I only had half a day left and at the end of it I would need to fit a packed up bivvy back into its bag. On the upside tea, shower & sausages beckoned (in that order), the morning had proved to be the most productive time and I had confidence in my chosen method. On balance things were looking good. The water replenishment/shower trip to the clubhouse took place earlier than Sunday, I was back fishing at 7:00am and three sausages were in the pan half an hour later being closely monitored. Once they’d assumed the correct tone of blackness I turned off the gas to let them cool down a bit.
I remember it like it was yesterday (because it was). At the precise moment of turning off the gas the long drop bobbin started to slowly rise, I’d repositioned the swan shot to a foot behind the feeder and sure enough once the bobbin had lifted a foot it stopped. The pause was longer this time and I could just visualise the fish realising its mistake and wondering what to do, it decided to move away, the bobbin went up to the rod and the baitrunner started turning. With no hesitation I lifted the rod from the high rests and struck firmly. It was immediately apparent that this was a larger fish than the male, the struggle was different, less frantic than before but still with hugely powerful thumps and surges. It kited along the channel between the bars where I’d been casting and although the Avon rod was coping I couldn’t make any impression, then the penny dropped, it was trying to find a snag as the other two fish had done.
To my horror it succeeded as once again the line went solid, I had visions of my Wingham trip ending in disappointment…..as it had started two days earlier. With my heart in my mouth I tried the slack line trick again and let out a yelp of joy as, after a few seconds, the line was torn from my hand indicating that the fish was free of the snag. I gradually coaxed a very reluctant fish to the platform and on first sight I estimated the large female tench to be about 8lbs, whatever the true weight it was the biggest tench I’ve caught and a fitting way to end the fish-in. As I lifted it out I revised my estimate to 9lbs.
Photos taken (this time remembering a scale) the extra large Waitrose plastic bag was needed for the weighing and I had a little guess to myself as to how far off 10lbs it might be. It genuinely never entered my head that it might be a double and so I was completely un-prepared as the needle pinged around to 10lb 2oz, I nearly dropped it!
After releasing the fish, sending a few texts, eating the three barely warm sausages and drinking more tea I’d calmed down sufficiently to consider how lucky I’d been. The Wingham record is 10-06 and a 10-04 made the angling press recently, it’s true that I did have a plan based on a known tench bait, the tackle I have and a bit of common sense but Steve allocated the swims calling upon his vast Wingham knowledge and the fish were there. Had I just arrived and decided where to pitch up I’d have had no reason to pick Second Platform.
My Gratitude goes to
Steve Burke for making the fishery available at all and then for spending a lot time allocating swims such that we all had the best chance of success.
Peggy for making sure that we didn’t starve during the weekend. The BBQ preparation started well before lunchtime and it can’t have been much fun standing in front of several trays of hot coals for a couple of hours.
Budgie for not leaving his old underpants in the shower room and for lending me a very comfy bedchair.
Tincatinca for the loan of a bivvy. This and the bedchair enabled me to fish at the times the tench were active, had I been sleeping in the clubhouse it would have been a different story.
Terry & Glynn for the taxi service to and from my swim saving me several trips lugging gear.
Andrew and Richard for advice and swim mapping services. These guys patrolled the lake offering to mark and map swims. Stupidly I didn’t utilise their services, I tried to do it myself borrowing Steve Walker's marker rod, there’s a knack and I didn’t have it.
All of the Wingham members for freely providing tips and help.
I got the bivvy back in its bag;