Forget the false autumn of a few weeks ago with sunburnt leaves and parched lawns. After a long period of unseasonably warm and dry weather the real thing looks to have finally arrived with falling night time temperatures, heavy rain and spectacular arrays of colour in the tree canopies. And so another fishing chapter begins as thoughts turn to the prospect of big chub, roach, dace and grayling from my favourite southern rivers.
Where I live winter is big chub time
I’m off on my travels for a bit to sunnier climes, chasing stupid great fish on ridiculous tackle, but when I return I’m hoping to find the rivers in good trim and will be planning trips to the Kennet and Bristol Avon and the Avon, Test and Itchen in Hampshire. Once the proper frosts arrive, and the water turns that lovely green colour, I will be looking to reacquaint myself with some of the big, brassy Thames chub that are now reaching preposterous sizes. But before I get completely immersed in the river season proper let’s have a fond look back on some more highlights from the summer just past.
Summer is Tench time
It always begins with a tench. Always has for me. When we had an enforced close season that kept us off the banks until June 16th tench were inevitably the first target species and remain so now we can fish stillwaters a few weeks earlier. They are the iconic fish of early summer and I never tire of visiting the places they live and of that delicious sense of anticipation as those tight groups of bubbles fizz and pop over the baited spots. In the past, once July arrives, I’ve normally moved on from tench to other species including bass, mullet, crucians and barbel. However, this year I decided to try for some late summer tench action. Not on my usual gravel pits where ten pounders are the target but on a delightful estate lake where a specimen would be half this size but just as lovely. This particular water is a fair distance from home and necessitates an overnight stay, which is probably why I’ve taken such a long time to visit this little piece of fishing heaven.
The lake is fringed with reeds and lilies but other than that it is completely weed free. Consequently the tench are to be found in the margins, just as it says in the books. With the nearside shelf dropping into seven foot of water just a couple of rod lengths out it’s an ideal place for float fishing. By far my favourite method catching tench. A fifteen foot float rod and centrepin reel was the perfect combination to present the bait properly and to keep these hard fighting fish out of the weeds. The lake has a massive head of smallish rudd, roach and perch making it almost impossible to use maggots or worms. Corn fared little better and was usually intercepted well before reaching the bottom. I tried big knobs of paste on a No8 hook but they were mullered by the piranha-like hordes of rudd. Luncheon meat failed to get me a single bite and since I refused to resort to a method feeder I needed another tactic. Luckily I had some 10 m hard pellets with me and banding one of these on the hook under a bulk shotted 3gm pole float solved the problem. I kept the tench interested by feeding hard balls of groundbait plus a few loose large pellets and avoided adding anything even vaguely rudd friendly to the mix.
They may not be the biggest but there’s something magical about catching tench from a reed fringed estate lake on the float.
In three short sessions I landed over 25 feisty tench and lost a few more through hook pulls and weeded fish. At times the swim was like a jacuzzi and it’s always a mystery why we don’t catch more when they are so obviously on it big time. But that’s tench fishing and they will forever retain a sense of mystery for me. I can’t imagine a time when I’ll have had enough of making their acquaintance.
Cute Crucians and Pristine Perch
I’ve already written about this year’s exploits with bass and mullet and my tuna trip to Cornwall produced enough action for an entire article so let’s skip the salty stuff for now and stick with coarse fishing. For the last eight years its been my privilege to head up, on behalf of the Angling Trust, the National Crucian Conservation Project which has successfully been promoting the stocking and creation of ideal habits for these delightful little fish. It is a pleasure to receive regular reports of clubs and fisheries creating bespoke crucian waters and for anyone else wanting to join our ‘crucian crusade’ all the advice you need can be found here.
I try to never let the summer slip by without getting a crucian fix or two. The excellent Marsh Farm complex run Godalming Angling Society has crucians in both numbers and size. The members only lake gave me a new personal best last year of 3.08 and, since I’m in no hurry to try and better it, I decided to focus on catching a few nice crues on the float and not worry too much about how big they were likely to be. In two sessions on the day ticket lakes of Harris and Richardson’s I caught well on both the waggler and pole by fishing either caster or corn over pellets and groundbait. In Harris the tench are now reaching a size that makes them tricky to land on delicate crucian gear and I did get beaten up a few times.
Never let the summer slip by without a crucian fix
There’s another water a bit further south that I like to visit which has produced some superb catches of crucians with fish to over three pounds. It is a classic, lily strewn, estate lake where the crucians bubble and fizz causing the float to rock and quiver before dipping under. I love this style of fishing and this year’s trip didn’t disappoint. However, for some reason the controlling club have decided to increase the stocking of carp into a water that is a perfect environment for crucians, tench and bream and this is now presenting new and unwelcome challenges. Five times I found myself connected to brutish beasties that took my pole elastic on a tour of the lake. Amazingly I landed three of them, well into double figures, but I fear the days of this lake being a premier crucian water could well be numbered.
Although I do target perch in the winter it tends to be when the Kennet is up and coloured and the bait fish push into the RDAA’s canalised sections with the predators following behind. I’m mainly fishing worms either with a small bomb and soft quiver tip or laying down the edge on under a float. In the summer months I like to get the boat out on the Thames and chase the big stripies with livebaits. We’ve had some great catches in recent years but best of all was the day I took out my good friends Keith Elliott and Mark Edwards for their annual Thames perch fix. We found the right spot at the right time on a favourite weirpool and in a two hour feeding spell, which included several unwanted pike captures, we landed perch of 3lbs, 3.04, 3.11 and 4lbs. It was Keith’s personal best British perch (he’s had monsters in Holland) and the first four pounder to my boat.
Keith Elliott is justifiably proud of his first ever four pound perch
And I was pretty pleased with this beauty caught a few minutes later..
There really are some exceptional perch in the Thames at the moment and I couldn’t be more delighted to hear of the successes of some of our young anglers from Reading & District AA who are catching some fabulous specimens from the river locally. Pride of place going to Callum Davies for a 4.10 lure caught monster.
Reading youngster Callum Davies with this stunning 4.10 Thames perch
A final barbel fling
The July and August heatwave and drought conditions meant that the usual two day barbel excursions that I take to the Wye with my friend Sean were cancelled. We did winkle out a couple of nice barbel from the little River Wey in Surrey by timing our sessions to coincide with a rare rise in water levels following heavy rain the day before. However, multiple bags of barbel are never going to come from these small southern rivers.
My first River Wey Barbel for 40 years and one for Sean too!
And so it was that I headed north to the Trent once the temperatures dropped to a point where it was safe and responsible to target these hard fighting fish. I won’t bore you with endless details but suffice to say that in four visits, to a stretch of water that I’m still getting to know, I landed four double figure barbel – two on the float and two on the feeder – with the best a lovely fish of 11.11 in a 13 fish haul. And quite frankly this is nothing compared to catches made by people who live locally and know the river far better than I do. A friend of mine landed 18 in a little over three hours fishing so I really don’t think I’ve yet scratched surface when it comes to Trent barbel. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Trent is the finest coarse fishing river in England right now.
The day you stop learning is the day you should give up fishing and those barbel trips to the Trent persuaded me to refine my rigs to cope with both the rocks in the river and the power of the fish, which do seem to like to live very near to some huge snags. Barbel are rarely tackle shy but will not always come right up to the feeder. Being able to lengthen or shorten the hook link without having to tie up new traces is an advantage. So instead of the usual 12lbs mainline through to a link bead and ten pound hooklink I had the feeder running on the mainline and stopped with two rubber Grippa stops. At the business end was a size 8 Korda wide gape hook on a five inch length of 15lbs braid attached to the mainline by medium swivel. This offers both flexibility as the barbel sucks in the bait but enough weight to flip the point over and deliver perfect hooking.
All was going fine until I found myself in a brutal swim with the fish tucked into a big downstream snag and a bunch of line shearing rocks, carpeting the bottom, a third of the way back up the peg. Keeping the barbel out of the snag was a mission in itself and involved standing in waste deep water whilst holding the rod to ensure an immediate and direct pull on the fish. Giving them anymore than a foot or so of line was fatal so this meant having the reel fully locked up. Real hit and hold fishing. Out of 16 barbel hooked only one did me in the snag but I lost two more when the line sliced on the rocks above and below the feeder. Luckily, I found an eight foot length of tough, 15lbs flourocarbon in my bag and spliced this onto the mainline giving me three foot of protection above the feeder and and five foot below it. With the braided hooklink at the end it didn’t really matter how thick the line was above it and the extra abrasion resistance ensured that all subsequent bites were successfully converted into barbel on the bank.
Trent barbel like this have triggered a love affair with yet another river
The barbel rods have had a good workout and are now packed away. I’ve put new line on the centrepin and other trotting reels and the bait freezer is starting to fill up with winter products like bags of liquidised bread and knobs of freshly made cheesepaste. I just need to find those thermals and make sure the mice have not destroyed my winter coat.
After two years of various lockdown and travel restrictions 2022 was the year when we could once again fish where and when we want. I certainly intend to make the most of these rediscovered freedoms as who knows what’s around the next corner.