Starting the ‘Season’ with a mixed bag and plans for a Silver King.


Martin has plans for a birthday tarpon in 2014
Martin has plans for a birthday tarpon in 2014


Bit of a crazy period coming up with lots of engagements, prize givings and talks to deliver. I guess it’s that time of year and a throwback to the days of the old close season when angling clubs held their award nights at the end of one season and before the start of the new. Talking of the Close Season we’ve had a significant response to my blog asking if it was time for a rethink on the river closure dates. There have been some really interesting and thoughtful contributions on both sides of the debate and you can read a selection of views on the Angling Trust bespoke webpage here


After a rather wonderful last session on the river, which saw me put together a seriously nice bag of chunky upper Kennet dace, I’ve been having a bit of a break from the bankside. But the onset of this welcome early spring weather has seen some of my favourite species switching on sooner than usual so I’ve dusted down the tackle, replaced a few well worn lines and got at it again. A close season of about four weeks for me – not quite as long as my other half was hoping for !

Some chunky upper Kennet dace ended the season in fine fashion
Some chunky upper Kennet dace ended the season in fine fashion

I saw from various Facebook postings that the bass are starting to show off the South Coast and that the mullet are shoaling around the pontoons on one of the most productive Hampshire estuaries. Then, just to add to the confusion of where to go next, a friend had been catching some rather tasty Thames Valley tench from a lake that was particularly kind to me last year. Obviously these are nice problems to have and I decided to chase all three species in my next three fishing sessions. The bass were to be first as I had a longstanding commitment to take a young Aussie guy out for the day to show him that we do have some decent sportsfishing up here in the frozen north. Jack Harnwell is the son of my mate Jim who is editor of Australian Fishing World, a magazine that I still write for from time to time. Jack is over here on a working gap year and as much as I would have loved to have sent his dad pictures of his firstborn proudly holding a ‘stinking carp’ I decided that a proper saltwater bass caught on a lure would make the old man both jealous and proud. Although the forecast looked good for the weekend in question, with the wind easing back, the colour from the winter floods had yet to drop out of the inshore waters so our planned lure fishing session was switched to a nearby reservoir with pike in mind. Unfortunately, the pike were not having it but a few chunky trout with a liking for soft plastics made for a fun day and my young Aussie mate left a happy chappy.

Aussie 'fisho' Jack Harnwell chasing some pommie pike.
Aussie ‘fisho’ Jack Harnwell chasing some pommie pike.

I did squeeze in an early morning tench session but managed to pick the day after a cold night and sat biteless and bemused in what is a normally highly productive spot. Things were hardly going to plan at this point and I was hoping that Hampshire a mullet trip could rescue the situation. These fish need a bit more planning as the tides have to be right to justify the longer drive and to maximise fishing at the most productive times. I had also promised Thames Water’s Angling Manager Will Barnard a chance to catch his first ‘Grey Ghost’ so we picked the day with care. Arriving just as the tide was peaking we popped our heads over the sea wall to see the most promising of all sights – a shoal of big grey mullet, with several over four pounds, happily swimming around the pontoons right beside our chosen fishing spot. As ever, seeing mullet and catching them is not necessarily the same thing but I did manage to tempt a beauty of 3.15 to open my account for the year. Sadly Will missed the couple of chances that came his way but has definitely caught the mullet bug and is keen to return to the salt. Even if he did end the day losing his footing and collapsing into the tidal goo like a stranded seal !

The first 'Grey Ghost' of 2014
The first ‘Grey Ghost’ of 2014

Much as I love my roach, chub and barbel fishing on the rivers it really is great to have a change and pursue other species using different techniques. I have never been a single species angler and I don’t think I ever could be. One of the different techniques that I had to learn pretty damn quickly when I arrived in Australia in 2010 was how to fish with soft plastics. Lure fishing was just something I had never done with any real intent until I arrived in Sydney on my post parliamentary fishing sabbatical. Having learnt a few crucial knots and how to tell the difference between a jerk bait and a paddletail I can now call myself a lure fishing enthusiast, although certainly not an expert. Consequently when the Lure Anglers Society got in touch to ask me to be one of the speakers at their LureFair I was happy to oblige, having learnt their strange ways and with a few rather nice pictures of lure caught critters from around the world to pad out my talk.

The first person I bumped into was river guide and Zimbabwean exile Mark Anderson who was there promoting some of the great products in the Spro catalogue. Mark knows that my ambition for this year is catch myself a tarpon on my forthcoming trip to Cuba to celebrate a particularly significant birthday. And of course I will be taking a fly rod complete with the finest selection of tarpon ‘bunnies’ that the guys at Selectafly have on offer. However, much as I enjoy chucking the fluff at tropical sportsfish my fly casting is agricultural to say the least – particularly with a twelve weight rod and ‘half a dead chicken’ on the end into a stiff breeze. Given that we might only manage a couple of shots a day at the silver king, in between all those annoying bonefish and jacks, I figured that I wanted to have another option rather than miss the chance of a lifetime. Consequently I was on the hunt for some shallow water lures that could be worked over the top of the flats with a chance of attracting any tarpon that were beyond my limited fly casting range.

Mark took me through his range and we settled on the Spro Komodo Shads which I’ve seen my Angling Trust colleague, and well known lure guru, John Cheyne, use to great effect on pike in shallow weedy water. The next challenge is to find some weighted weedless hooks strong enough to cope with a big tarpon.

Komodo Shads - they work for pike but will they be tarpon candy?
Komodo Shads – they work for pike but will they be tarpon candy?
The irrepressible Mark Anderson at the Lurefair
The irrepressible Mark Anderson at the Lurefair

Before I go on any foreign fishing expedition where fly fishing might be required I make a point of contacting my mate Martin Webster who now runs the impressive Selectafly operation. There is very little Martin and his team of consultants don’t know about fly fishing in even the remotest corners of our planet. I’ve caught my first bonefish and first GT on their products and I daresay the first tarpon will be added to that list if the Fish Gods are smiling on me next month.

They’ve just revamped their website and added several new product ranges which you can check out here

So, the new ‘season’, whatever that means nowadays, is up and running. The sun is shining and the water is warming up nicely. I hope you are making the most of it – I certainly intend to !




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