Red Letter Days to start the season

I figured it was probably a good time to look back on what has been a pretty decent start to my fishing season. With coarse fishing in most stillwaters and canals allowed all year round these days the term ‘season’ is a bit of a moveable feast. For me, as an angler with little love for trout, the river season proper ends on March 14th. A time when, irritatingly, I can no longer fish for chub, roach and perch just as they are at their strongest and fittest and the rivers are in fine fettle. It’s too early to target tench and is good time to get the garden sorted, so my partly self-imposed close season runs for about six weeks until around the end of April, depending how quickly the weather warms up. I might grab a quick fishing fix on my birthday on April 19th but I’ve learned to my cost that this date is invariably far too early to catch tench on my local waters. So this year I headed over to the prolific Watmore Farm fishery near Yateley with some friends to celebrate the occasion by catching some nice bags of roach on skimmers on the float. The rods then went back in the shed for a couple more weeks.

A mid April Birthday bag but still too early in the year for serious tench fishing

My tench fishing is concentrated on fairly large gravel pits that can be slow to warm up. So deciding when to start a campaign on these big, difficult and moody waters is always a bit of an issue. I was given a good bit of advice which was to wait until the air temperature at 5am exceeds 10 C for three consecutive mornings. Predictably my friends and I ignored this and began tench fishing a week too early and it was noticeable that we didn’t start catching until the weather delivered the required morning temperatures.

Where I live in Reading we are surrounded by water and these Thames Valley gravel pits are certainly home to some very impressive specimens. Three years ago they gave me a memorable tench brace of 21lbs including a personal best of 11.02. To the west there’s the Cotswold Water Park where I’ve had them to 9.05 and to the north there is plenty of productive pits in the Oxford area including the famous Linear complex. There are also about 100 million carp anglers!

Sadly, from the point of view of us all rounders, the carp fishing boom has squeezed out both the tench and tench anglers from all too many waters so we are not quite as spoilt for choice as it might seem. Furthermore the increasing tendency to shut waters for ever longer periods when the carp are spawning further constrains what is already a pretty short season for tench fishing. All of which means that the successful tench angler needs to choose their waters with care. Luckily for me my local Reading & District AA maintains a sensible balance between the needs of the long stay carp anglers and shorter staying tench enthusiasts. They have a mix of swims with some designated for day only anglers which avoids having the waters completely stitched up by the bivvy brigade. I wish more fisheries would adopt this approach but I guess money talks.

After a poor season last year, on what is normally my favourite RDAA water, I was determined to put things right. I also had a smaller, back up pit at my disposal which was somewhat easier, even if the fish were of a more modest stamp. I can handle a few blanks but find it helps to have the occasional confidence booster to keep the spark alight. Bearing in mind the cold start to the Spring I thought it would make sense to begin on the easier water, especially as it produced well in late April in previous seasons and, most importantly, the tench can be caught on the float. Sadly the banker pit became the blanker pit as something strange had happened to the water with not a strand of weed or a fin of fish to be seen on the only bank from which we were allowed to fish. And so it was that the end of month saw me sat behind two buzzers on the larger pit waiting for another big tinca to make a mistake. Now this is one of five big gravel pits on the Reading ticket and where I had my first double a few seasons back. The pit still holds some wonderful tench but it does tend to be feast or famine. Location is everything early in the season but happily my fishing mate Andy Dodd tends to put in a two or three day shift on the pit at weekends and is a mine of information as to where they are showing. And to be fair the local carpers are a pretty good bunch and usually let us know if they’ve caught or seen any tench in the vicinity.

Reading & District AA tench specialist Andy Dodd with one of his big Thames Valley fish

Over the next month or so I didn’t exactly set the place alight but a steady progression of fish came my way, usually in short midweek sessions when the pit was less busy. I had several on the float up to 7.08 which was nice and catches of two or three good size tench on the feeder from several spots. Andy, of course, fished longer and caught more and in one memorable morning landed 11 fish including two nines. We even made a club video of our exploits which you can see here –

I only traveled out of the area once for my tench fishing and that was to the Carp Society’s fabulous Horseshoe Lake which produced my only eight pounder this season with a fish of 8.04 on the ever so effective ‘T rig’ invented by Tony King of the Tenchfishers. That has been my best fish so far although I live in hope of something bigger before the I hang up the tench rods until next Spring. Specimen tench fishing certainly isn’t getting any easier but it was still an enjoyable start to my fishing year.

Not the biggest one I’ve ever caught but you certainly can’t complain about an eight pound tench

Early summer is a wonderful time to be in England, especially if you are an all round angler. The lakes are waking up, the sea is warming bringing the bass inshore and the river season kicks off on June 16th. Luckily for me I got to experience all of it in its full glory this year.

When Andy isn’t hunting big tench he likes to get his boat out on the south coast for a spot of bass fishing. I was fortunate enough to be invited along on his first trip of the year and whilst the bigger fish weren’t in evidence that day we enjoyed plenty of surface action with bass up to 4lbs plus a few chunky Ballan wrasse when we dropped our lures down deep. I do enjoy a spot of bass fishing and last year landed a personal best fish of nearly nine pounds. This trip didn’t produce any monsters but I landed 18 bass which I’m pretty sure is the most I’ve ever had in a day. There is no doubt whatsoever that the bass conservation measures successfully won by the Angling Trust and the Bass Angler’s Sportfishing Society have made a noticeable difference to bass stocks around our coasts.

Bass stocks are definitely improving around our coastline thanks to conservation measures won by the Angling Trust and B.A.S.S.

Next up was a trip north to barbel country. I had meeting in the diary at the EA’s excellent Calverton Fish Farm with Angling Trust CEO Jamie Cook. It was Jamie’s first visit to the venue and a good opportunity for us to shoot some video highlighting how our rod licence money is spent. It was also an even better opportunity to fish the Trent!

Now I learned my barbel fishing on the Kennet and, in the days before signal crayfish and the canal opening, it was a prolific fishery where multiple captures could be made on the float. There’s nothing I like better than running a float down a strong flow and hooking hard fighting river fish. Sadly, this isn’t an option on the Kennet these days and apart from a few trips to a particular Wye beat my float fishing barbel options are pretty limited. However, there are parts of the Trent that remind me of a giant version of the Kennet of yesteryear. Fast flowing water over clear gravel with plenty of chunky chub and barbel happy to take a moving bait in the right spots. We only had time for a few hours fishing but Jamie knew where to go. He put me in a gorgeous swim in a split in the river a few pegs down from a weir and told me to run it down the far bank tree line and hold on tight. Being early in the season there was no need for finesse, just as well as it turned out given the size of the barbel that lived there. I set up my standard Wye rig with an 8gm loafer float, 8lbs mainline and an 0.19 hooklink. Half a pint of big hemp went straight in with the catapult followed by a dozen, large, Hinder’s Elipse pellets every cast. The bait to begin with was a cube of bacon grill on a size 10 barbless Kamasan Animal hook. I also used mussels, a local favourite, and even cockles and I’m pleased to say they all worked. After pulling out of a couple of fish trying to bully them up through the strong flow close to where I was standing I upgraded to a No8 with a crushed down barb and thereafter the fish stayed on.

These days I don’t worry over much about weights and numbers. Of course it’s nice to improve on one’s PBs every year but as long as I’m in with a chance of catching better than average fish of any species I’m targeting then I’m a happy boy. However, in 50 years of fishing for barbel I’d never had a double figure one on the float. My best was a 9.06 from Severn in the company of Dave Harrell and I doubted if I’d ever do better. Well this was about to change. In less than threes hours trotting that Trent swim I hooked 11barbel. One broke me, my fault entirely, two pulled off close to the net and of the eight fish I landed the best two went 10.06 and 10.07. Half a century without a float caught double and, just like buses, two come along at once. Now that was a Red Letter Day which will remain with me forever.

My first double figure barbel on the float – definitely a moment to remember

As July approaches I begin to think about getting the boat out on the Thames and having a go for some of the monster perch that live in my favourite river. This year I was asked by John Bailey to help out with a forthcoming episode of the wonderful Gone Fishing programme featuring Angling Trust Ambassador Paul Whitehouse and his irrepressible companion Bob Mortimer. I don’t want to give too much away but our local weirpools are cracking early season spots and it didn’t take long for me to get two lovely perch an ounce or two either side of the magic 3lbs mark. As mine was purely an off camera advisory role I can show them off here but you’ll have to wait until the show is broadcast in the autumn to see how Bob and Paul get on.

‘Gone Fishing’ comes to a Thames weirpool near me’

So with two months of my ‘season’ completed I’ve certainly got no complaints. Some fine fish have come my way already, I’ve got some exciting trips planned and I’m hopeful of few more Red Letter Days. And I hope the fish gods are kind to you too.

2 thoughts on “Red Letter Days to start the season

  1. Great blog Martin enjoyed it very much.
    My wife and I are on a boating holiday and saw you all filming the other day. Look forward seeing the show in the Autumn. Dave Rapley

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