Apologies for the radio silence of late, but after best part of three weeks in India chasing mahseer in one of the remotest of Himalayan rivers, it has taken me a while to get back on top of the work and email backlog that greeted me the moment our plane touched down at Heathrow airport.
It was an amazing trip and we caught some great fish in the stunning surroundings of one of the last pristine wildernesses left on this planet. But as anyone who has spent time in this vast and diverse country knows, India not only assaults your senses it leaves you with a melting pot of confused emotions, memories and images and it takes a while to get your thoughts back into some sort of order. We are still sorting out the photos and videos and all will be written up in due course but in no particular order my flashbacks include: crashing down thundering rapids with the inflatable rafts squeezing between giant boulders that could pitch us into the foaming white water in an instant; trekking ever upwards on a jungle track to visit a mountain top village and drink rice beer with the wonderful Adi tribespeople; camping on silver sand amongst the leopard prints under a clear starlight sky with no sign of human presence beyond our tents and campfires; the electrifying thump on the rod as a mahseer attacks the lure, feels the hooks and turns downstream in a bid for freedom and the sadness at end of the trip as we approach the half built giant hydro electric dam which will wipe out a huge part of this beautiful river valley forever.
So the mahseer stories can wait for another day but there’s plenty of fishing to enjoy back home, particularly at this time of year when the rivers are in good nick and the close season is approaching fast. The Kennet has benefited from the past two wet winters and the chalk aquifers have been at a healthy level for a while now. This is marked contrast to the situation in January 2012 when I was doing TV interviews standing on the dried up bed of the river near Marlborough and railing against the twin evils of drought and over abstraction. The Angling Trust campaign, fought in partnership with our colleagues from Action for the River Kennet, to limit the damaging abstractions from the boreholes in the upper Kennet catchment has finally produced results and substantially less water will be taken during those crucial low flow periods as a result of the decision by Thames Water to proceed with the pipeline from Farmoor to Swindon.
Increased flows means cleaner gravels and better spawning conditions. Already the grayling are on the increase and there are signs of a dace revival in places. Keen to show off some rare good news from the Kennet I suggested to Angling Trust Ambassador Dave Harrell that he might like to pit his float fishing skills against some chunky upper river grayling for his excellent Angling Times column. Dave had caught grayling before but not to any size and had certainly never targeted them deliberately. We had a wonderful day on a stretch near Hungerford catching fish all day long and with Dave landing a two pounder on only his second trot through.
An interesting observation from our day after grayling was the almost total absence of hen fish. Every grayling we caught over a pound was a male, and all were colouring up nicely in preparation for their annual spawning ritual. I asked the river keeper why the big girls were absent and he laughed saying that you never catch them at spawning time. More food for thought to feed into the debate over the dates we currently use for the river close season.
A few days earlier I was able to take advantage of a period of dropping water levels to visit some favourite stretches of both the Hampshire Avon and the Loddon. The chub came out to play in the late afternoon with some chunky fish to over five pounds falling to trotted bread and legered cheese paste. I love the simplicity of winter chub fishing. No need for fancy high tec baits or self hooking rigs. Just a bit of watercraft, the right conditions and tried and trusted methods that work as well today as they did 50 years ago.
Signing off in style?
I’m hoping to end the river season in style with a six pound Thames chub, a big net of chunky dace and perhaps a rare specimen sized roach from the upper Kennet. I’ve got three trips left and if the weather stays as forecast Old Father Thames will be sock on for chub with some decent flow and the water carrying that lovely greenish tinge that screams ‘fish me now’. The dace are all but guaranteed, as I know a spot where they shoal up at this time of year, but the roach are a long shot. There’s this little shoal on the upper river but the trout move in the moment almost any lose feed is introduced and wreck the swim. I’ve got a plan to feed the trout out of the pool and prime the swim with an occasional bait dropper of hemp before sneaking in at dusk with some link legered casters. It will probably all end disastrously but isn’t the joy of fishing as much in the planning and anticipation as it is in the catching?
See you at The Big One
My job takes me to more tackle shows than is healthy for my wallet but I always look forward to The Big One at Farnborough. Colin and Vince have created a superb event with just the right balance of retailers, wholesalers, displays, talks, activities and exhibitions.
The Big One takes place at FIVE Farnborough, GU14 6AZ, over the weekend of 21st and 22nd March and is now the UK’s Largest Fishing Show and Tackle Sale. For more info on The Big One go to http://www.fishfacepromotions.co.uk
I’ll be joining the Angling Trust Membership Team and a host of angling celebrities, including members of the England Teams, on our stall all where we will be holding a fantastic fund raising raffle and signing up new members. I’ll be there all day Saturday so do come along and let us know what you want the Trust to be taking a stand on – whether it be the river close season, the 3 rod licence issue, poaching, predation, pollution, fracking, over abstraction, bass conservation, estuary netting or any of the other work that the Angling Trust carries out in our fight for fish and fishing.
I will also be presenting a talk on Mahseer Fishing in the Seminar Theatre at 4.00pm so I guess I better get those photos sorted out sooner rather than later. Seriously though, it would be great to see you on the Angling Trust stand or in the seminar where I shall be singing the praises of one of the most sought after targets in freshwater big-game angling.
Finally, I wish you all a cracking end to the river season and hope that at least some of your plans lead to tight lines and wet nets!