Monday, 28 January 2013

Another day at Vale farm…

Recently I have found myself angling mainly because I have the blessing, or there isn’t anything else on, and not because it feels right. But, with the changes my world has seen over the past year I really can’t be seen to be choosy. So with a full day Saturday it was down to the simple (that’s sarcasm) task of deciding where to fish late January with the best chance of some form of success…

The local river still wasn’t looking very welcoming, a couple of local ponds were visited Friday afternoon but again looks quite lifeless. To be honest I really didn’t know what to do, I even called the roach pool to see if it was wobbly but was told that it is closed until late February. So in the end, and after a lot of thinking and re-thinking, I settled upon Vale farm. Something keeps drawing me back to that place, although I have to pay for a day ticket and drive 40 minutes each way, I still enjoy fishing there enough to get up early and make the journey when most sane folk are tucked up in their beds.

There was only one pond on my mind again too, the bottom pond. The thought of capturing one of those dark scaly beasts in the midst of winter was very appealing. I set off at a little after 6:30 and arrived just as the sky was brightening at 7:15. There was nobody else there and it stayed that way until almost lunchtime. Well, apart from the shooters, and I’ll get to that shortly. The couple fishing this pond a few weeks previous had some luck fishing to a particular bank from the other side. I’m not one for casting all the way across a lake, so prefer to sneak up and drop them in the edge. I set up well away from the waters egde, dropped two hook-baits just a rod length from the bank fifteen or so yards either side of me into the deep margins and retreated.

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I sat back in my chair with one eye on the rods and one watching the sun begin to climb the sky. At first it just lit up the vapour trails caused by early morning jet aircraft, but gradually the orange glow intensified until the first rays of sunshine had me reaching for the polarised glasses. The bank I was fishing was going to be the first margin to receive the sunlight, thus making it the warmest part of the pool, so I was confident I was at in the right spot. Then, just as I was starting to get comfy, war broke out.

It was very similar to that of a few weeks previous, only this time I was fishing the bank closest to the woods. First there were men with big sticks and sticks with white plastic on the ends. These were waved in the air making a loud whooshing sound causing ducks and pheasants to fly up into the air from their roosts, which is where the gunners came in. The noise was deafening and I felt sure the chances of catching a wary winter carp were ruined for sure; I just had to hope they would get their fun out of the way quickly. Then men with guns started to descend upon the lake. One came over and said they wouldn’t be long and were just passing through.

Every so often I’d hear what sounded like rain, then I worked out it was the shotgun cartridge contents falling to the ground in a shower of lead pellets. Sometimes they would shower me; it was making me feel quite uneasy. But soon enough they retired to the big house for food and warmth and once again I was felt alone with the pool and the job of enjoying my quiet day’s angling.

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As usual I didn’t much feel like sitting still too long so found myself creeping along the banks peering into the deep clear margins hoping to see something moving. But throughout the whole morning I saw no fishy activity and had no attention to the rods. By lunchtime I decided that after my cheese and pickle sandwiches I’d wind in and have a look at the other pools.

Walk the pools I did, during which I bumped into Nick, the owner, who had come to collect his ticket money. We got chatting and he told me of a couple of lads fishing the middle pond the day previous who had caught a few fish. Overnight the pool had half frozen and there were still pockets of snow lying around, but the new still gave me the encouragement to make a move and to see if I could put a fish on the bank.

With all my gear in my new swim on the middle pond I cast the two ledger rods as close as I could to the island and sat back to await events and it didn’t take long to receive some interest. The left hand rod tip nodded, nodded again and slowly pulled round (at this stage I would have expected the Optonics to alert me but both batteries need replacing so they are just used as rod rest heads), I picked up the rod and felt a fish plough off in the direction of a naked willow on the edge of the island. I kept the pressure on and steered the fish into open water, played it out under the rod tip and slipped the net under a small, but portly mirror carp.

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With the fish returned I recast both rods and sat back. A cold wind sprang up and I found myself lifting my collar to protect my neck from the worst of a biting breeze. I gave it another hour but with no more bites returned to the lure of the bottom pond and, incidentally, part two of the shoot. This time the shoot seemed to be deeper into the woods, perhaps that was for my benefit, but it was still loud and quite off putting.

This time around I opted for a swim a bit further around the pool. The left hand rod fished to my left just to the edge of where a willow hung over the water, and the right hand rod fished out in front around twenty yards distance. As I sat and watched the slack line between my rod tip and the water I noticed it twitch, and it did so a number of times. Thinking that these were line bites and perhaps the fish were between me and where I was fishing I wound in and recast closer in, at around fifteen yards, but the line bites continued.

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Meanwhile, I noticed the left hand rod tip pull hard round and leapt from my chair, but before I got to it the rod tip sprang back. I wound in to see if anything was adrift and cast back out. This happened again quite soon after casting and it was getting quite frustrating as I’d inched the other rod back to around ten yards out and it was still happening. Then I remembered being told that this pool contained a lot of smallish bream and surprise surprise the one bite I struck at resulted in a slimey of around a pound flapping around in the margin.

With the sun already low and the temperature starting to drop, the thought of returning home to the smiling face of Jessica was getting too much so after a slow pack up I made my way back to the car and began the journey home. It was an interesting day, I didn’t spot the chaffinch of last week and even the robins were a little timid, but perhaps that was due to the thought that they might get shot at any moment.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Tip Watching

"The thing to remember with a float is that it straddles two worlds, resting in the meniscus that separates the world of water and that of air. The angler assumes that the float dips from his world into another; the fish sees the float rise into its world – a lift bite so to speak. Who is catching who? Have you ever heard Peter Gabriel's "Downside Up"? It talks of lying on the ground looking up at the blue sky and imagining it as an ocean. I believe that fish think of their 'sky' in the same way. How exciting it would be to break the barrier and enter into another world, to then safely return with all preconceptions changed and a wider view and understanding received. Enlightenment, and relief. A float is an antenna that allows communication between worlds…."

Nigel ‘Fennel’ Hudson



One of the most delightful ways to fish is float fishing. Mesmerised for hours by a little orange tip, willing it to dip, sometimes missing it completely due to some wonder of nature you that spot from the corner of your eye momentarily loosening your grip on what it was you were doing, ‘Tip Watching’. It can be the makings of a restless day, especially if the fish are in a greedy mood, so I recommend regular breaks from your ‘Tip watching’.

But it is what goes on in that underwater world that intrigued me, the dips, swirls and sail away bites that somehow fail to connect. Many modern tackle companies have spent time and money watching fish in their world, how they react to various modern rigs and baits with a view to perfecting everything, leaving nothing to chance and to stack the odds in the anglers favour. Nobody, as far as I am aware, has done the same with float fishing.

Perhaps we could set up two cameras, one concentrating on the float tip and the other on the hook. As a fish approaches the bait and sucks it in we can see how the float reacts, or if it registers at all. We could try a variety of floats, different shapes and sizes, different shotting patterns, different size hook-baits and at various areas of the pool, lake or river. I’d be quite interested to find out just how crucians always seem to avoid getting hooked. How the little dips and sometimes no movement at all tend to be the ones to strike at, the delicate bite one only hits when concentration is at its highest that hook those most cautious of fishes.

We could learn much about those margin dwelling carp, the ones that live under overhanging bushes, the same carp that are clearly visible through the gin clear water and appear to be feeding but do not trouble the float. Has the line merely become attached somehow to a fin or has the fish actually got the bait in its mouth? How long do the small roach feed alone, do the larger specimens really sit off the shoal and only begin feeding once you’ve wound in? There are so many questions we have if we really think about it. But then again, do we really want to know?

Maybe all we want to do is to go fishing without knowing what goes on under the surface. Happy to go ‘Tip Watching’ for the day and not actually too bothered if it dips at all. Of all the different methods of fishing, float fishing has to be my favourite. Since becoming a traditional angler I have been acquainted with a plethora of artistry. Folk spending all of their spare time, and indeed making a living from, making floats that wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery. Some tend not to see these as fishing floats, I do. The beauty is in the float and watching it, I see that as a separate exercise to the actual fishing itself. My relaxation begins when I perch on my creel, cast out and watch my new float sit pretty in the surface water. The angling side of it comes into play when it disappears out of sight and the rod tip arches to signify a fish is hooked. Once the fish is banked and the heart-rate returns to a normal level the beauty returns once again in the shape of a wonderful fish.

How many times have you been fishing and a damselfly lands on your float tip? It has happened to me in the past causing the float to dip. When the damselfly comes into contact with the water it flies off briefly, allows the float to right itself and repeats the process all over again. I enjoy watching this as much as the damselfly appears to enjoy toying with my float. It worries me not that the whole charade might cause me to miss an opportunity, for it is an opportunity not to be missed in itself.

From a young age I wondered what goes on out there, even through my sea fishing days when I would target the flounders in my the local creek. I’m talking twenty five years ago now, I always wondered what it would be like to have a camera built into my lead so I could see the flounders approach, smell the bait, start to feast upon it and then to strike at the perfect time so not to deep hook them; so all this underwater camera work isn’t a new idea, far from it. My outlook on it all now is that we really don’t need to know, and in fact, it would spoil all that is wonderful about fishing, for me anyway. When will it happen? What will it be? Will it happen at all? To remove these questions from the equation is to remove the essence of angling. Chance is a lovely thing, embrace it, do not eliminate it.

Float fishing, for me, is all about focus, our focus on whatever it is our mind wants to concentrate on, leaving everything else around us to become a foggy haze that we are neither conscious of or bothered about. A tap on the shoulder whilst staring at a float would make us turn, although that person could have been there for any length of time. It would take us to feel the tap on the shoulder to snap out of whatever trance we were in and to realise there are other things apart from the float tip; but we would need to resume our float watching as soon as possible, like a drug fuelled obsession. The same does not apply to the world beneath the surface, in as much as although we are mesmerised by the float tip, we are all the time imagining it slipping under, imagining our target species swimming below and spotting our bait all the time conjuring up glorious images of monsters in our mind. That childlike imagination never wanes, not for me anyway.


Note. The previously unpublished opening quote was kindly provided by ‘Fennel’ for use in this article. For more information about ‘Fennel’s Priory’ visit his delightful website

Monday, 14 January 2013

Wintered Oaks, Naked Willows and a Relentless Chaffinch

The day could not have been more different from that of the previous weekend. Last Saturday brought a mild, overcast affair with carp trying their best to meet me. In the woods surrounding the pools a pheasant shoot took place, it was a carnival of beating, banging and hollering followed by a smattering of shotgun fire as hunter engaged the enemy, this went on all day.

This weekend, however, painted a much different scene. From Thursday evening I began looking at the forecast, wet weather leading up to Sunday with a dry but cold day. Cold I can handle, dry even better, but rain I really do dislike. Thursday night saw a deluge of biblical proportions, it carried on through most of Friday and the whole of Saturday, but the forecast still looked promising.

I left home at 6:20am and the journey took forty minutes. The final leg saw me driving through the classic terrain we associate with carp pools, countryside lanes that twist and turn, hedgerows either side and archways of wintered oaks. I arrived in darkness, although there was a faint glow in the south and soon enough the landscape began to show its colours. I had planned all week to fish the trickier bottom pond, the bailiff had previously showed me some pictures of splendid carp, carp to mid-twenties with plated scales and flanks of chocolate that had been caught recently. It was always going to be a waiting game, but after the hectic session I had endured the weekend before I was quite happy to sit and enjoy the day in the hope that something special may come along.

I set up camp halfway along the road bank, it was still slightly dark but I could just about see unaided. Two bivvies perched on the bank to my left, not ideal but there was still plenty of water for me to angle in, but I still made the effort to visit my neighbours to ascertain where they were casting. Back in the swim I plumbed the depth next to a withered bush to my right that leant out over the water a little creating a hiding place and was astounded to find a depth of over five feet almost directly against the bank; the perfect winter margin. I set up the 10ft mark IV with a centrepin, small quill and size 6 hook for the margin spot. The other rod was my 11ft Mark IV teamed with a Mitchell 300 culminating in a ledgered bottom rig which was to be flicked out in the direction of the willow in the corner. Whilst setting up I was sung a beautiful song by a nearby blackbird and a chaffinch did its best to join in.

I had prepared the dry ground-bait mix at home the previous evening, Marine Halibut mix, crushed hemp, tinned hemp and a few pellets of various sizes. All that was left to do was mix it with a little of the icy lake water to complete the job. Three tangerine sized balls were deposited on the areas I intended to fish and after a break of fifteen or so minutes when I consumed cold toast and hot coffee I commenced angling with a chunk of luncheon meat on each hook.

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Gradually the sun appeared behind me, lighting up the far bank first but then reaching my neck bringing the most pleasurable warmth. It was the wind clawing at me me from my right that was the real issue; I fixed up my brolly which went some way to shield me. I was later to learn that the day never got above two degrees with a chill factor of minus two. A couple of hours went by and nothing moved apart from the two coots circling the pool diving at random. A young lad I met last weekend pitched up to my right, he came over for a brief chat and quickly scurried back to tackle up, cast out and hide from the elements in his popup tent.

I took a drink from my flask and was greeted by a very friendly but obviously fussy robin. He perched on the edge of my ground-bait bowl and sifted through seeming only to pick out the hemp seeds. The chaffinch also flew down but didn’t come quite so close, soon after he was back among the trees chirping away with that all familiar ‘Chink Chink’. I must say I didn’t spot a female throughout the whole day so perhaps he just wanted some company; on the other hand, maybe he was just trying to charm me out of a few titbits so that he would not return to his lady in the woods empty handed. Whatever his motive, he was very pleasant company.

At lunchtime I wound in and started on a tour of the pools to stretch my legs. I circled the fishery chatting to other anglers along the way but the general consensus was that the fishing was rock hard and that the drop in temperature over-night and the bitter icy wind were to blame. I made a joke with one guy saying that perhaps it wasn’t the weather and that perhaps we just weren’t trying hard enough, but he seemed to take umbrage to my comment and proceeded to explain to me his methods and went on to tell me that they had worked perfectly in the past and that today shouldn’t be any different. Some people are so touchy…

I did notice on my travels that an area of the top pond had some marginal disturbances that looked remarkably like feeding fish. I stored that in the back of my mind and kept it to myself in case I needed to call upon it later. I also spotted the same male chaffinch, a little scruffy around the head, sat in a holly bush. He was looking around seemingly innocent and chirping away, but I knew he was following me, he was far too blatant.

Thinking that resting my swim without any line going through it would be a good move I returned with renewed confidence, but within half an hour of shivering it was soon discarded and the lure of the top pond and that discoloured margin was getting more and more difficult to ignore. I did have one twitch on the float though, albeit probably a roach with no eyes swimming into the line. I checked the time with my neighbour and at 2:30pm I packed away some things ready for the move to the top pond.

As I got there I heard the chaffinch call out as if to greet me, welcoming me back. He hadn’t followed me but stayed put; perhaps he knew I’d be back. ‘Chink Chink’ was the sound I heard all through setting up. Just the one rod was assembled, the float rod and due to the fish being close to the bank I stepped very lightly and kept noise to an absolute minimum. A little ground-bait was deposited close to the bank next to some vegetation that formed a cavern and my quill followed baited with the usual luncheon meat.

The float bobbed a few times very quickly and sailed away after only a couple of minutes. I connected with the fish which put up a very good scrap with the centrepin spinning so fast it almost causing friction burns to my thumb. All the while I was thinking it was one of the better fish so I played it very gingerly, but was quite surprised when a mirror carp of around 4lbs came up for a gulp and slipped gracefully into the net. It was nice to see a fish, I was sure a blank was on the cards if I had not made the move. I took a quick snap for evidence and slipped her back into the next swim along.

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Although I fed the swim with a small amount of free offerings regularly and the float dipped and swirled quite frequently, I received no more fish, even though I struck at a handful of what I thought were certain bites. It could have been that a shoal of small bream had moved in, or maybe it was because I had one eye on the glorious sunset that was forming to my right, a deep red sun that had started its decent into the horizon. At a little before 4pm I decided that I would begin to pack away and head for the car, but not before taking my camera on a little jaunt to see if I could take advantage of the wonderful scene I was witnessing. The sun was mesmerising as it shone through naked willows. Before I picked up my things for the final journey the chaffinch flew past, sat on my bucket lid and said ‘Chink Chink’, as if wishing me a safe journey home.

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The day, although a cold one, was perfect for many reasons. I was outside for a start at one of my favourite times of the year doing what I love at a place I really enjoy visiting. I made new friends; although mostly the feathered variety, new friends are always welcome whatever shape or form. But it was the break in the weather which pleased me the most, rain for days leading up to the trip and snow and sleet today (Monday). It was as if Isaak had a hand in it, perhaps the chaffinch was also of his doing, to keep me company through the day and keep spirits up.

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Friday, 11 January 2013


I’ve made a few in the past, gave some away, kept some for myself and had a few that others had made. I’d always been used to using shop bought floats and when match fishing relied upon pole floats, super sensitive and very fragile but they served a purpose. During my carp fishing days I forgot all about the joys of float fishing, it became a lost art, and that was a real shame. But eventually I rediscovered the float and began targeting waters that leant themselves to float fishing, especially margin fishing/stalking.

Recently I have given up on modern tackle, and that includes shop bought floats. I had started to build quite a collection too, but recently, during a day’s roach fishing, I left my float tube behind and only realised my mistake a couple of weeks after the event. With a trip our grayling fishing I called upon Stuart of Fat Fish Floats to help me out, and soon enough there was one of his semi-fluted grayling trotters winging its way to me.

The float looked beautiful, and performed impeccably. It was a little nervy using my only float as I am prone to casting into trees and such like, but fortunately, although I did have a few scares, the float came home with me at the end of the day. What it did though was make me want more of Stu’s work.

No sooner had I got back I sent him a message and asked for two reed wagglers and two avon style trotters. The idea was to rebuild the collection from Stu’s handy work, not something I could do overnight but eventually I would get back to having something for every scenario, to cover each situation.

Stu told me that along with the floats I’d ordered, he would make a little something special for my Jessica. This evening I returned home from work and found a parcel waiting for me. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I opened the is what I found.

Reed Wagglers, Avon’s and The Grayling Trotter.


Jessica’s Float...
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Sunday, 6 January 2013

A great way to start to 2013...

Unlike previous January’s, it was 9 degrees when I left the house well before sunrise. The weekend was originally planned to be spent trotting for grayling on the Itchen, but due to commitments I found myself on my own and remembering a conversation I had a couple of weeks previous. Rob told me that the fish at Vale Farm were still wide awake and that he’d recently enjoyed an afternoon there landing five winter carp.

Vale Farm is a wonderful little fishery comprising of three ponds. It will never go down as a big fish venue with car averaging 4-8lbs, but you’ll be hard pressed to find another venue that provides so much fin and fish in tip top condition all year round. So when I was left with deciding where to spend the day, it didn’t take too long to make my choice.

When I arrived it was still dark, just after 7am and I was the first one there. I unloaded the car, made my way to the lakes and started to walk them one by one weighing up the best plan of action for the day. To be honest, there were half a dozen people fishing before I actually made my first cast, but these days it’s not all about getting fishing straight away, but assessing the situation and finding the best possible swim to start in.
View from the point swim

After watching the fish on the top pond crash out for a while, I opted for a muddy outcrop in the centre of the pool commanding a lot of water and acting a channel for fish to pass from one end to the other (shallow to deep end). I put together the Mark IV carp rod, attached my Allcocks Delmatic and fished with just a hook and a piece of fresh crusty bread bought still warm that morning.

The crust was dipped in the margin to give casting weight and landed with a plop in the centre of the channel. It didn’t tae too long for a pair of lips to break the surface and engulf the bait, and as soon as the vortex appeared I struck and the Mark IV hooped and bucked. I was half expecting the rod to jag around a lot, the smaller ones do that, bouncing the tip up and down, but this one hugged the bottom, ploughing around, just like the better ones do.

The fish broke surface after a couple of minutes and was starting to see my side of the argument, a very pretty common of low double figures was almost ready for the net. As I scooped and lifted I was surprised that I’d caught such a fine specimen on the very first cast, I guess all that walking and thinking does pay off sometimes. One thing I wasn’t surprised at was the condition of the fish, very clean and wonderfully coloured.
A lovely start

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With fish number one photographed and released I quickly set about making another cast and caught another, much smaller carp, almost instantly. Sport was great and within the first hour I caught five carp with the first being the biggest and the other ranging from 5 – 8lbs. Things slowed up a little after that, the fish were taking but avoiding getting hooked. It was time to wander off to the middle pond for a look.
Winter bronze

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Another golden scrapper

On the middle pond there were four other anglers, during the summer it’s tricky to find a swim to fish but I had a fair amount of the pool to wander that day. With the wind over my shoulder I started to break up pieces of crust and let the gentle breeze carry them out across the pool. No carp surfaced but the coots seemed hungry. After half an hour I upped sticks and moved on to the bottom pond.

The bottom pond has always been the trickiest of the three, perhaps the smallest of all this pond is the one I plan to spend more time this year, for within it’s waters lie some fascinating carp, fish to over twenty pounds with big plated scales and flanks of chocolate. I did one tour and didn’t see anything, fish or other anglers, but when I completed the circuit they appeared, not big fish but a shoal of half a dozen carp in the high singles bracket.

Somehow these fish, although the smaller ones, still seemed much more wary than the fish in the other ponds, shied away from crusts and moved off whenever I tried to creep up on them, however quiet and stealthy I was. Watching from behind some freshly chopped branches that were laid on the ground acting as a shield I saw the group again and watched where they went anticipating there next move.

I made my cast several metres ahead of their path and crouched down hoping to intercept them without them knowing I was around. Soon enough I made the strike at the second swirl and a bottom pond common charged around spooking the rest of the shoal. Netting was tricky as the swim wasn’t really a swim, but in the net she went first time. It was around 7 or 8 lbs, perfectly proportioned and sporting superb seasonal colours.
Bottom pond success

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I stayed for another hour or so looking for more fish. I located the same shoal again and hooked and landed two more commons from it, both slightly smaller than the last, but I didn’t spot any of the biggies the pool contains and at half two decided to return to the top pond for the final couple of hours. In the summer the final two hours can be very hectic sport and usually some of the larger fish gain confidence and feed as dusk falls.

Back on the top pond I found the same six anglers as before in the same spots which was handy as I fancied fishing opposite where I was before with the wind over my shoulder, this is always good when floater fishing as it keeps the line straight and allows you to cover more water. The lads to my right were already starting to flick out a few crusts which were drifting in front of me ad were being eaten by hungry carp. To see such activity isn’t much of a surprise at this venue and in the height of summer, but January?

I was excited at the prospect of those last two hours and it didn’t disappoint. The question was how quickly I could land them, get a quick snap and cast back out. Before dusk fell and I couldn’t see what I was doing any longer I landed another thirteen carp, taking my tally for the day to twenty one, more than I could have ever imagined at this time of year. The carp came in various shapes and sizes, from small scale perfect commons to larger, leathery streamlined mirrors. All the while the camera was on the tripod set up ready for a quick self take, here are a few of that final flurry of fish.

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So with the rod and net dismantled I made my way back to the car in the dark, much the same as the start of the session but in the opposite direction. If at the start you’d told me I’d catch twenty one carp on floating crust in January I’d have said you were mad. Needless to say I can’t wait to get back….