I had a feeling that 2015 was going to be a good year. With fishing trips lined up to the stunning landscapes of the Himalayas for golden mahseer, to the beautiful west coast of Ireland for bass and pollack and later in the year to the Scilly Islands for some big, brightly coloured wrasse it wasn’t hard to see the basis for my optimism! However, the fishing has been pretty good back on the home patch and I can’t really complain about my season so far with two personal bests in the bag and some nice hauls of other favourite species.
Breaming at Distance
First up was a kind invite from my good mate Will Barnard, Angling Development Manager for Thames Water, to try a session on their famous Walthamstow Reservoir complex in North London. I had told Will that I wanted to improve my pb bream which has been becalmed on a rather modest 10lbs 12ozs – a fine fish at the time from Dinton Pastures but which is now barely a specimen on many modern waters. I was told that I could catch them in daylight hours as long as I could feed and cast 90 odd yards close to the island at Walthamstow No 1 where the big slabs liked to patrol. Now I hate playing fish on poker stick stiff rods, especially something like bream which are hardly renowned for their fighting prowess, so I spooled up a couple of soft action carp rods with ten pounds Berkley Big Game line which would be sufficient to reach the spot and just about strong enough to cope with any ‘nuisance’ carp that would put in an appearance. The groundbait was a big mix of brown crumb, fish meal, various pellets, corn and dead maggots laced with oils and spombed out with aid of 40lbs braid and a glove to stop those nasty finger cuts when a cast goes wrong. Friends of mine have often remarked that I seem to enjoy baiting up as much as I do catching and there’s some truth in this as laying the table for an intended quarry is all part of building the sense of anticipation which makes fishing so special. However, this long range bream game is bloody hard work and after 45 minutes of hurling our loaded spombs to the horizon Will and I were ready for a cup of tea and a breather.
On a new water I’m a great believer in listening to advice and so was happy to be guided by Will regarding bait and rigs. A helicopter set up with artificial corn on the hair and critically balanced by three live maggots on the hook had worked well in the past and I was more than happy to go with this. The one thing that did leave me with some lingering doubt was the need to be landing our bait so tight to the island when all my instincts told me that bream prefer more open water. Anyway I knuckled down to a rhythm of long casting and regular feeding with Will and myself sharing the swim which was on one of the many sturdy fishing platforms provided by the fishery and maintained by Thames Water’s excellent team of rangers.
After a while we began to get a few indications and a drop back bite saw Will off the mark with a slab that just scraped ten pounds and after a couple of abortive takes I weighed in with one of a similar size. Despite topping up the feed things went pretty quiet in the middle of the day although the carp angler on the next peg was hauling out his intended species with an impressive display of accurate casting. I popped down to see him a little later and he told me that the carp love to hug the margins and that he had reeled in his open water rod as all he had found there was bream. By now my doubts were beginning to grow and they were compounded when my left hand rod, which had been cast up onto the island shelf, roared off in a decidedly unbreamlike manner. A few minutes later I was hoisting a fighting fit Thames Water mirror carp onto the unhooking mat – not the target of the day but a welcome distraction from staring at motionless bobbins.
Both Will and I couldn’t stay late and as the afternoon ticked by I felt it was time for a last throw of the dice. I slung out a few helpings of feed into the deeper water at 60 yards, right where a couple of miscast spombs had landed earlier in the day. I had planned on leaving the spot alone for a while but when a great big bream stuck its nose out and smiled at us only ten minutes after baiting up I feverishly wound in and stuck a bait in what I hoped was the right area. Time was running out and I wondered if I had missed my chance but right on cue the buzzer sounded on the nearer rod and I found myself connected to a seriously large bream that even had the temerity to take a bit of line on the way to the landing net. At 13.06 it was job done and, as the light began to fade, it was a very happy and grateful angler that released the big slab back into the waters of this amazing fishery right in the middle of London.
Little Bars of Gold
One of the pleasures of working for the Angling Trust is being able to help anglers turn good ideas into practical action to improve fisheries and benefit our sport. When angling artist Chris Turnbull contacted me a couple of years ago to see if we could do something to promote crucian carp and protect and enhance their threatened habitat, little did I realise just how popular this cause would become. We now have clubs and fishery owners contacting us on regular basis for advice on creating bespoke crucian fisheries, much in the way that Godalming Angling Society have done at their trailblazing Marsh Farm complex. We also have a thriving Facebook Group for the Association of Crucian Anglers (ACA) – now where have we seen those initials before? – regular fish ins, advice and information videos and a National Crucian Conservation Project (NCCP) which brings together experts from the Environment Agency and elsewhere with the declared aim of improving the prospects for this wonderful little fish.
In fact, it was an NCCP trip down to Marsh Farm last month that gave me an opportunity to grab a few hours after work on the adjacent and famous Johnson’s Lake which is the home of the current record crucian. I was there to film the release of some brood stock into Godalming’s wildlife pond which will provide a future resource for both the EA and for other fisheries in the area. Because of the stupid restrictions on public sector marketing imposed by this daft government it is sometimes difficult for my colleagues at the Agency to promote the fabulous work that they do. Luckily we have no such qualms at the Angling Trust so I bowled down there with film maker John Sutton from Clearwater Photography to record proceedings. John, who is a good mate, is a former EA Fisheries Team leader turned photographer and is a whizz with the camera, especially when it comes to anything outdoors or with fins, and we quickly had all the shots and interviews we needed.
I had no meetings that evening so the rods were packed in the car and I set about tapping up my friend and Godalming A.S. committee member Mike Holcombe for some advice on where on the lake I might find those little bars of gold. I had fancied the deeper railway bank where it’s possible to fish a float up against the lilies but I had been warned by a fellow ACA enthusiast that some of those swims were teeming with tiny tench and pastie size king carp which rather put me off. The wind was warm and blowing strongly from the South West as Mike and I walked around prospecting likely spots. The lake was busy but there was one swim I fancied on the windward bank that would put me into the area where a big bag of quality fish had been taken a few days earlier. It was a shallow weedy part of the lake but a bit of leading around revealed that the marginal weed ended about 18 yards out so I clipped on a medium spomb and lightly baited the 20 yard line with a mix of sweet fish meal groundbait and a few casters and pellets. I’ve found at Johnson’s that the crucians are attracted to groundbait but over doing it on the particles can either make them very picky or fill up the swim with tench.
Some overhanging branches meant that casting was slightly tricky but by adopting a kneeling position I could avoid leaving my gear in the tree – something the previous occupant had clearly failed to do. I much prefer catching crucians on a float but there’s no doubting the effectiveness of the flatbed feeder, short hook link and banded pellet as a method. I used Sonubaits F1 hooker pellets on the hair and loaded the feeder with a mix of dampened 2 mm pellets topped of with more of the sweet fish meal groundbait. It only took a couple of casts before the tip crashed round in what was obviously a tench bite. From that moment on it was virtually a bite a cast, first from tench from 12 ozs to 5 lbs and then from chunky crucians, almost all of which were over the two pound mark.
My personal best crucian of 2.12 was soon bettered by a fish of 2.13 but this PB was short lived as within the hour a beauty of 3.02 came to the net. Despite a few fish falling off the hook on the way in – an occupational hazard with short links and barbless hooks – I landed ten tench and ten crucians in a little over three and a half hours fishing. Quality sport from a top class fishery and proof positive of what can be achieved with good fishery management.
If you want to find out more about the National Crucian Conservation Project go to the Angling Trust webpage at
Or check out our videos here
And the sun keeps shining…
My other great love is test match cricket and there is no finer spectacle than The Ashes. Having lived out in Australia for a while, and been privileged to watch England lift the trophy at the Sydney County Cricket ground in 2010, I am an avid follower of this great competition. Not least because it gives me an opportunity to hand out some serious stick to my Aussie mates – that’s when I’m not on the receiving end of their own unique brand of abuse! August 6th was already shaping up to be a good day. The sun was set to shine and I was looking forward to visiting some habitat enhancement schemes on the upper Kennet with the impressive Sarah Chare, the Head of Fisheries and Biodiversity at the EA. Driving up to Hungerford I had to make a few calls and forgot to check the radio for news of the first session at at Trentbridge. I needn’t have worried as the texts were soon pinging in with the news of the Australian batting collapse and Stuart Broad’s amazing bowling figures of 8 wickets for 15 runs in a less than ten overs.
Best of all I’ve got three Australian fishing mates staying the weekend so it seemed only fair to record the highlights for them so we can watch it again, and again, and again !