Friday, 30 December 2011

Midwinter 2011

Midwinter, at least that’s what the calendar said, but the conditions outside and the forecast for the few days ahead were that of an unsettled mixture of clear and cloudy, calm and windy, dry and wet. However, I was going fishing with great friend and all round legendary angler Martin James. The Kennet was the venue and chub and barbel were the target with the option of some pike fishing on the last day.

I arrived at the river around 11am on Tuesday, met Martin and after hand shakes and Christmas niceties it was down to business. He told me of his captures the days leading up to my arrival and also of his losses. The plan was to try for chub and barbell on Tuesday evening, Wednesday afternoon and evening and hit the Lodden Thursday for some piking. Our first job was to walk the river; both banks looking for spots to fish and introducing bait to the areas we’d be laying our traps. It was quite a walk and I must admit it was heavy going in my full winter attire. Martin however, led the way and showed no signs of fatigue even being well into his seventies!! We completed our tour, found a couple of swims we were happy with and retired for a lunch of Hot Pot made by Martin’s wife. During lunch we spoke of many things, the old days, new days, things Martin got up to, things I got up to, there was certainly no lack of conversation.

With dinner consumed and tea drunk we readied the car and made our way to the river, we parked up and found nobody else there which was a bonus. Martin decided to fish upstream of the bridge and I went a few swims down. I set up the rod rests, scattered a little bait over the spots and waited for dusk to fall before casting out. Whilst I waited I remembered a productive chub spot just a couple of swims downstream from me so I took one rod, the net and a few slices of bread along and crept down to the waterside. There was a tree branch jutting out from the bank opposite which spanned almost half the width of the river, at the end of this was a slack spot and it was there I thought the chub might be hiding. Tackle was basic, 2 x LG shot pinched 4 inches away from a size 4 barbless hook, a nice large piece of crust was threaded onto the hook and the whole lot was gently lowered into the slack spot. I sat back from the waters edge with one eye on the rod tip and the other on the bread I was crumbling up in my hand, out went a handful of free offerings and round went the rod tip. I picked up the rod and felt the first chub of the session tear off downstream. I held on and with a fair amount of side strain started to win the battle. With the fish safely within the folds of mesh it was a christening for the new net and rod. The fish weighed around 3lbs and looked immaculate in the fading light. I walked downstream slightly and released the fish, returned to the rod and continued fishing. I few minutes later and the tip pulled round again, only this time the hook fell out soon after making contact. That usually is the kiss of death but I did manage a few more nibbles before the swim dried up.

Back in my main swim I cast one rod out to the spot on the shallows and other down the inside right.  Had four good pulls on the rod opposite but each time I missed, I put them down to chub as they are very tentative takers of the bait and quite often get away with it when a hair rig is being used. I stuck with it on that rod as I felt certain that if a barbell showed up it would be the method to use. Meanwhile the rod fishing to my right also received a powerful lunge, to which I struck and connected with another hard fighting chub. This one surged away in the strong flow and gave me reason to think it could have been a barbel, that was until it appeared in the glow of my headlight and made out the tell take shape of old rubber lips. Slightly larger than the last it weighed 3lb 4oz and I took a quick picture on the mat before slipping him back in downstream.

The sky remained overcast but there was still a chill in the air, owls were busy and rats were numerous and noisy. For the remainder of the evening I sat, kept myself warm and visited Martin’s swim for the odd well needed cup of tea. After a couple of hours with no action to my rods I decided to creep back to where I had the first chub in the hope they would be back. I arrived in the dark and didn’t switch on the headlight for fear of spooking my quarry should they be there. My eyes had accustomed to the night anyway, or so I thought. I just about made out the crease and slack spot so I made the gentle cast, felt the line settle and held the rod. Around twenty five minutes past without a single nudge so I wound in to check the hookbait, although something was very odd, the line was picking up to my left and going upwards. I switched on the headlight to see what was occurring and straight away realised that I’d not failed to remember the branch that came out half way across the river opposite me. There was my hook stuck firm and I had to walk back to pull for the break. It’s happened to all of us, won’t be my last that’s for sure. We both received no more action to the rods and at around 9pm we decided to call it a day and get some supper.   

Next morning, after breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, we visited Kevin at the local tackle shop in Tadley. As per usual we were greeted with handshakes and offered tea. Dead baits and snap tackle were purchased should we decide to pike fish on the last day; we also stocked up on other things and after around half an hour left the shop wishing Kevin a happy New Year. We were to fish the lower reaches of the stretch that afternoon for the chub but after an hour or so, with Martin heading upstream and me heading down, with heavy rain appearing and a strong wind with it, we headed back to the car and back for lunch. Lunch this time round was shepherds pie and I just had to phone Kate and thank her for providing such lovely meals for us. We listened to the radio on the hope of catching the weather report for the following day and readied the car for the evening session along the lower reaches we’d been baiting for a couple of days. We hoped the barbell would start to venture out after dark so were in position ready for them before dusk fell.


The fishing began and the rods sat quiet, bats appeared and the owls were back. The wind was keen and very cold, I lifted my collar in the hope of shielding myself but somehow, even dressed in my full winter wardrobe, I still felt chilly, and we didn’t think that was doing any favours on the fishing front. After around an hour we met back at the car, had a cuppa and a few biscuits and warmed up our bellies and spirits before returning to the rods. Another hour went by and with only one small amount of interest each we had another cuppa and fished on for just one more hour before heading back for supper. We felt certain that one of us would have had some sort of action but it just wasn’t to be. On the way back we chatted about the prospects of the last day and came to the conclusion that we’d do much better scrap the pike plans and spend the day stalking along the river seeking out one or two chub, also, in the morning Martin wanted to show me a pond in the woods of the Wasing Estate where he stalked carp during the summer months and also to record an interview for his radio show on BBC Radio Lancashire. Supper was beans on toast and I discovered strangely enough that after not liking pepper on my dinner for 38 years, suddenly I do! More tales from the BB, Walker era were told and we chatted for a good while before getting some rest.

Thursday morning was grim, the wind could be heard inside and there were frequent showers against the window. We had breakfast early, in fact, I was lucky enough to be given breakfast in bed!!! We set off for Tadley and more supplies and after another cup of tea with Kevin we headed to the pond in the woods. A delightful pond in wooded surroundings, hence its name, which looked amazing on a bleak winters day so I could imagine how pretty the place would be in the height of summer or even late spring. We strolled along the banks and Martin pointed out where he would fish and creep up on the carp that lived there. On one bank there was shelter from the wind so we thought it would be a good spot to watch the pond and carry out the interview. It will be aired on Martin’s “At the Water’s Edge” show on BBC Radio Lancashire on Thursday 2nd February at 7pm.

We left the woods and headed for the river and, ultimately, the chance of ending the trip on a few fish. Martin opted for the platform at the lower end of the stretch and I drifted to the top upstream and intended on working my way back. At the top of the stretch, a good couple of miles (which Martin later confirmed to be 800 yards!!!), I stopped at the spot I caught my personal best chub this time last year, but to my surprise I couldn’t fish the spot as it was far too shallow. It was then that the lowering water level really hit home to me. The next swim down had a perfect looking overhang to its left with a nice deep glide underneath. Presenting a bait under it where I thought the chub may be hiding looked difficult at first, almost impossible, but then I noticed a gap in the branches just wide enough to poke my rod tip into, lower the rig off the rod tip and retreat but lowering the tip under the water. Tackle was the as basic as it needs to be, 2 x LG shot 4 inches back from a size 4 hook and a large chunk of squashed crust threaded on, this was carefully lowered onto the spot and the top tip was dunked and soon I was awaiting that first twitch. A couple of minutes passed and a few free pieces of crust were fed under the tree.
The rod tip nodded once, very gently, if I wasn’t holding the rod I might well have missed it. It nodded again, and then again, but still ever so gently. I pushed the rod tip forward a few inches so to create some slack and it tightened up and the tip nodded gently once more. I jerked the rod back and felt an almighty lunge as a spray of foam almost soaked me and the fish charged off downstream. I held on for dear life at the start of the epic battle that was taking place and wondered what the hell I’d hooked. Then the fish turned and started to swim upstream against the flow, I thought it could be a barbel but as it swam across a shallow gravely area I could see that it was just a big, and very angry, chub. I soon netted the fish and let out a little yelp of excitement, it looked a really good fish and it was apparent straight away that it was a very long fish. I thought for a minute it could be larger than my 5lb 10oz best but the scales settled at 5lb 2oz. Still, a great fish, and for someone who rarely gets to fish for such chub, it was a great moment. I rang Martin and told him and set about snapping a few self takes for the album.

Well Pleased

Still buzzing I wandered downstream some more and found a spot I remember we caught from the previous time I was visiting, although the same as before there wasn’t enough water where the baits were placed before. The water did deepen off a little downstream though so a sharp flick pushed the bait around a branch, across the flow and just where I wanted it. I sat quietly flicking small bits of bread into the flow when the tip swung round and I almost dropped the rod, completely the opposite to that last bite this one wanted that crust, and badly! The battle commenced just as the rain began to fall, I only realised when the fish was landed, during the fight there was only one thing on my mind and that was winning this tug of war. With the fish safely netted I hoisted it up and the balance read 4lb 4oz, another glorious fish, much shorter and fatter than the previous one. With one nice chub already in the camera I decided not to cause this fish too much fuss and released it just downstream, gathered my things and continued downstream.

No more fish were forthcoming for me although Martin found a few nice chub. Just before dusk was due to fall we both felt the lure of a hot bowl of shepherd’s pie so called an end to the fishing, the day had been kind to us and as we’d planned to be away on the Friday morning before the rush of traffic we headed back for a hot meal and lots of tea. After even more stories of yesteryear, a supper of cheese on toast and more tea was polished off, I lay awake a while reminiscing the few days whilst listening to the howling wind and lashing rain outside.

In the morning, around 6am, I wished Martin a safe journey and thanked him for looking after me so well over the previous few days. He was magnificent company as always and after wishing him a Happy New Year I embarked upon my own journey south and to a nice hot bath...

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