Wasing Revisited

It’s been a while since I have trodden those hallowed banks of the Wasing Estate’s Kennet beats.  I was warned that things are never as good the second time around, so it was with some trepidation that I re-joined this magical stretch.  I have lots of very fond memories of fishing here and with great friends too.  My time spent with Geoff, Kevin and Danny are treasured memories.  I also got to meet some great people there and some of them I still see on a regular basis, others seem to have sadly disappeared into the ether!

We visited here during the opening week of the season.  Sadly the barbel were still spawning, so things were going to be a little slow, to say the least.   Still it was a good opportunity to explore and see how things have changed.  Since this first trip we have been back twice and things have certainly changed.

On that first session we managed to explore some of the Dalston and Warren beats again.  The lower car park is still accessible, as are the ones throughout the Warren beat.  The gravel track still appears to be in good condition.  The place was far more overgrown than it once was.  I think perhaps less is done pre-season in terms of work parties.  I noticed that the left hand bank between the two foot bridges had only been partially cleared and was still the same on my last visit almost a month later.  That’s a shame because there are some great swims on that bank that currently can’t be accessed.  I also noticed a number of trees have come down across the paths and also quite a few in swims.  None appeared to have been cleared.  It could be there is a plan to do so but until I email Wasing raising these points, I remain uncertain of what Wasing now do in terms of fishery management.

However one thing is still the same; it’s a very magical place.  Still wild (perhaps a bit too much!) and still teaming with wildlife.  There is a sense of a land that time forgot here, such is its feeling of isolation and wilderness.  The huge towering trees still dominate the Warren beat and you could easily be hundreds of miles from the nearest civilization.  It is a great place to lose yourself and forget about the day-to-day worries of life.

Not surprisingly Geoff and I blanked on that opening week session.  As I stated earlier the fish were still spawning, however after wandering up and down the Dalston and Warren beats searching out likely looking swims I did at least manage to hook a barbel, which unfortunately came off after about 30 seconds.  Geoff suffered a similar fate.  However we felt that perhaps under the circumstances that was probably the best thing.

On our second trip we did an overnighter split between Aldermaston and the Warren/Dalston.  Aldermaston looked as good as ever; very overgrown in places but it still had that big fish look to it.  We’ve had some cracking fish here over the years and I was pleased to be treading the banks again.  The river was still very low and clear but at least that seems to have encouraged some weed growth.  Geoff and I opted to head off in different directions, he wandered off upstream and I stayed lower down initially.

The flow was still pretty good and I found myself in some great looking swims.  I had decided to work my way upstream dropping into swims as I went.  I decided to use a cage feeder, groundbait and pellet attack.  Despite fishing a number of very enticing swims I don’t think I had a bite.  Geoff fared a bit better and teased one out upstream somewhere, it wasn’t a big fish but more than welcome.  That proved to be the only fish of the two days.  Geoff had also brought along a float rod and he managed to find some decent roach and dace at Dalston, which was very encouraging.

Our latest trip coincided with a spell of very heavy and at times torrential rain throughout more or less the entire previous day and night.  We didn’t know quite what to expect when we arrived but were both delighted to see the river up at least a foot and with a bit more colour.  It looked spot on.  It takes quite a bit for the Kennet to flood; days and days of heavy rain normally.  Some rivers would have been bank high after the heavy rains of late but the Kennet remains at safe levels.

We were only here for the day and so after breakfast at Tesco’s we headed off to tackle the roach on the Dalston beat.  With the levels up quite a bit, float fishing was a bit tricky.  However we both managed to find some lovely roach, not big but in magnificent condition, plus chub and dace.  After a couple of hours we felt our time might be better spent hunting for a barbel or two.

I headed upstream and Geoff down.  We had spent an hour exploring the almost inaccessible left hand bank and finally gave up.  By now it was about 1pm so after a quick-lunch the fishing started in earnest.  My fist swim was an old favorite.  This swim was a deep bend on the river with a number of snags both above and below with the additional feature of some overhanging trees.  It looked about as good a barbel swim as you could find.  I baited with some 12mm Lone Angler Caviar pellets and used two of the same on the hair.  A 3ft coated braid hooklink and a size 10 hook completed the end tackle and a straight 2oz lead finished it off.  I kept a very slow trickle of bait going in, just single pellets every minute or 2.  It didn’t take long for the rod tip to wrap round in a furious arc and a hefty barbel headed for the snags.  I managed to ease it away and the fish headed off upstream.  It felt like a decent barbel and after an arm aching fight eventually I netted her and at 9lb 10oz it was the biggest barbel I’d had from these upper beats. I was delighted.  After a few more moves I finally settled into my last swim of the day.

9lb 10oz Kennet Perfection

9lb 10oz Kennet Perfection

Very little seemed to be happening.  The phone went and Geoff informed me he’d just had an 8lb 4oz barbel.  By now it was around 8.15 and a few minutes later my rod top yanked round again and after another tense battle I netted my second barbel of the day.  This was a smaller fish of around 6lbs but just as fit and as immaculate as the 9.  I had at least christened my new Shimano Ultegra XTC 5500 reel.  I had been looking for something slightly bigger than a 4000 but not quite as big as a 6000.  My Daiwa had just about given up the ghost and was making all sorts of clonking noises and the clutch was working poorly.   I had a look at the Ultegra in the shop and liked the look, feel and build quality so bought one.  It performed beautifully and casting is a doddle due to the spool design and playing fish on the clutch is a real pleasure again, it’s silky smooth and easy to operate.  It appears to be a very good purchase.

By now the light was fading and we needed to make an early move.  On my arrival back at the car, Geoff informed me he had seen a huge dog otter opposite his final swim.  At one point it came out of the water and onto the bank.  Geoff said it was a huge thing, before it eventually swam off downstream somewhere.  Food for thought I guess.

Time flies by so quickly these days.  It seems like only yesterday we had our first ever trip to the Wye Valley in search of those legendary barbel.  It proved to be pretty productive and I think we were all captivated by the beauty of the area.  I’m pleased to say nothing has changed and even when the fishing is a bit slow, the scenery and wildlife of the Wye Valley never fails to leave you in awe.

It was that time of the year again and after a slow start to the season, the upcoming trip to Hereford was a much needed confidence boost.  The Wye has consistently produced good quality barbel over the years and although generally not big fish they make up for that in their fighting qualities and appearance.  They are exquisite fish to behold and I feel very privileged to be able to fish for them.

Summer on the Wye

Summer on the Wye

Geoff, Kevin and I headed up to the Wye via that car park known as the M25 but eventually arrived at our destination, despite the highways maintenance program trying to make it as hard as possible to get there.  The final hurdle was the closing of the A40 which involved a diversion through Gloucester.  It was mind numbing to say the least but we finally overcame these almost Satanic setbacks and arrived pretty much unscathed at our destination for the next 5 nights.

Swanee, how I love you, how I love you My dear old Swanee

Swanee, how I love you, how I love you
My dear old Swanee

The caravan and awning were soon sorted and we were keen to get down to the river for a recce.  The levels were very low, probably as low as we’ve ever seen them.  However the river looked stunning as always.  We were soon heading off to our preferred areas to fish, wishing each other good luck as we went.  I opted to start at the lower end of this particular stretch, fishing in amongst some weed beds.  Sadly in 2 1/2 hours I never had a bite.  I opted to move to a fast, deep gravel run.   Again after a similar amount of time no bites materialized.   My final move was early evening and again no barbel showed themselves but a few chub put in an appearance and we packed up at about 10.30pm.  Geoff had managed to entice 4 barbel whilst Kevin and I remained barbelless.  So ended the first session.

The following day we headed to Middle Ballingham.  We had fished here once before and had fared pretty well.  I think I caught 16 barbel here previously.  This is one of the prettiest stretches that we fish.  As usual we were not disappointed by our surroundings.  Between us we spotted the usual buzzards plus willow tits, chiffchaffs, willow warblers, yellowhammers and peregrine falcons to name but a few.  They offer a pleasant distraction from the fishing, which was just as well as it was proving very difficult.  I started at the extreme top end, which is a tough walk on a hot day and then slowly worked my way back.  Yet again no barbel showed for me but I did manage a few nice chub.  Kevin was the only one to secure a barbel and so we ended another day feeling it was going to be a very challenging week ahead of us.

Middle Ballingham

Middle Ballingham

The river was very low and rain had been forecast, which we hoped would breath a new lease of life into the river with a good flush through. We at least got the rain, fairly heavy overnight and for some of the next day.  It did push the levels up and made a massive difference to the fishing.  On our third day we experienced another stunning beat.  This was a day ticket stretch and although it entailed a long walk to get to the water, it was well worth the effort.  Yet again the surrounding scenery was absolutely stunning and I found myself soaking up the sights, often oblivious to the fishing itself.  I found a perfect looking swim to fish; it was a deep run just off of a bend with trees to my left overhanging the water.  Below me the level became much shallower and led to a weedy gravel run.  In front of me there was around 4ft of water and it looked ideal.  The other two guys headed upstream for a recce.

Buzzards on the Thermals

Buzzards on the Thermals

Within only minutes of casting out the rod top started to dance.  I had a feeling that this was going to be one of those hectic days and I wasn’t wrong.  The rod top was barely motionless.  I had mixed up some of the Lone Angler groundbait and packed it with 6mm and 8mm Caviar pellets.  I wanted a nice stodgy consistency that wouldn’t drop the bait out immediately.  The flow was pretty pacey here and so a firmer mixture would help to keep the groundbait and pellets in the swim.  I switched hook baits on a regular basis to keep the fish occupied.  I was using both 8mm and 12mm Caviar pellets and the new John Baker 10mm Ocean Pride dumbbells.  I swapped from single to double baits on the hair and kept changing sizes.  The chub were particularly active today and I ended up with 19.  Fortunately the barbel managed to get a look in occasionally and I ended up with 7 beautiful specimens.  I kept things simple with just a 2oz cage feeder and a 3ft coated braid hooklink.  Regular casting kept the swim fed and the fish active.  Geoff and Kevin managed to find a few more barbel than me ending up with 11 apiece to 9lb 7oz (I think).  A great day on a magical beat.

Lone Angler Caviar Pellets

Lone Angler Caviar Pellets

The last two days were spent on one beat that we fished last year.  It’s a long stretch of around 2-3 miles and had some really good mixed water to go at.  There are lots of gravel runs and streamer weed, as well as some deeper areas to target.  Sadly Kevin was taken ill and stayed in the caravan all day on Thursday.  His condition didn’t improve and so he headed home on Friday morning.

X marks the spot?

X marks the spot?

So which is better?  Man made or the real thing.  There's only one way to find out.....FIIIGHT!

So which is better; man made or the real thing? There’s only one way to find out…..FIIIGHT!

Geoff and I explored a lot of the river.  The levels were up and the river had a tinge of colour.  I opted for a fast gravel run with a far bank deep gulley.  There were lots of trees on the far bank offering plenty of cover for the fish.  Geoff headed upstream to a croy to start with.  Due to the increase in water levels, there was a great deal of weed coming down the river.  There is a very simple fix for this, swim permitting.  Rather than stick your rod top skywards as we so often do, cast out, leave slightly less bow in the line than you would perhaps normally do and sink the line as quickly as possible, keeping the tip of the rod just under the water.  Then touch leger. You will find as the line sinks to the bottom the pressure eases on it and the rod tip will spring back.  You will also find that you can hold with even less weight than normal and most importantly of all you will not be bothered by any weed.  Obviously this is swim dependent but it is a highly effective way of fishing in these conditions and you may well prefer to fish like this when there isn’t a weed problem.  You will feel every pluck at the bait, the feeder bumping downstream and anything touching the line.  It is a very organic way to fish and far more rewarding than just staring at the tip.  You have the added bonus of being able to dislodge the feeder with a slight flick of the rod tip and send it trundling downstream a bit.  This often provokes a bite from the feeding fish.

Over the next two days I was treated to some quite amazing wildlife sights and sounds.  I watched in amazement 3 peregrine falcons overhead and remarkably close, certainly the closest I’ve ever seen them.  There seemed to be either 2 adults and 1 juvenile or 2 juveniles, I’m not sure.  They are quite noisy birds.  They were screeching pretty much all day and kept putting in an appearance over the 2 days we were there.  I was also treated to the sounds of the ravens.  There were two on the opposite bank.  They would occasionally fly over head, sometimes circling their way up and gliding on the thermals a bit like the buzzards.  Ravens are huge birds, certainly as big if not bigger than a buzzard.  Best of all are the noises.  They are quite difficult to describe and unique to a raven.    You can listen to them here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/common_raven/sounds  Well worth a listen.  Fascinating to hear them up so close and see them soaring up on high.

The fishing proved to be as excellent as the wildlife here.  I was soon into fish; both barbel and chub.  Some were good size barbel too.  Again I was swapping baits to ring the changes and kept plenty of feed going in, although again a slightly stodgy mixture to try and hold the bait in the swim.  The barbel and chub seemed to love the caviar pellets and when bites dropped off a switch to Ocean Pride dumbbells proved fruitful.   I ended up with 34 barbel over the two days and probably 25+ chub.  The barbel ranged in weight from just a few ounces (a rare sight but one of the best in barbel angling; a sign of healthy reproduction) to 9lb 1oz.  Both Geoff and I caught quite a few barbel around 1lb-2lb which again is very positive to see and makes me hopeful that the Wye’s barbel population are thriving well when it seems apparent that many rivers are not.

9lb 1oz

9lb 1oz

I think over those last two days between Geoff and myself we had 63 barbel and about 40 chub.  The last few days had offered some of the best scenery, wildlife and fishing we’ve ever experienced on the Wye and I certainly hope to re-visit this area again in the future.  After a lackluster start to my week I never thought that I would end the week with over 40 barbel and around 60 chub.  The saddest part was Kevin wasn’t there to share in our enjoyment.  Get well soon Kevin.

Perfection in minature

Perfection in miniature

Kev's Wye 9

Kev’s Wye 9

Yes that dreaded 4 letter word….work.  The bane of many an anglers life I’m sure.  Still it pays the bills, as they say.

I did manage a trip to Wasing on the opening week.  The fish appeared to still be spawning, so understandably the fishing was slow.  Despite trying lots of swims, baits and methods I could only muster one bite which resulted in a lost barbel.

Since then I’ve been working solidly each day and can’t get bankside until next week.  On the 6th August I’ve got a shoulder operation that could knock me out for up to 4 months.  I could quite easily go mad!

Fortunately I’m on the Wye from the 13th July for 5 days and should be able to squeeze in a couple of trips to Wasing again before the forced hiatus.

To all those that have been out, I hope you have been doing OK?

The glorious 16th is just around the corner and I’m starting to get a bit excited! I have fished very little this closed season.  I suppose it was a combination of things that kept me away.  The weather played a large part in that decision, particularly the first couple of months when the weather conditions and temperatures were somewhat lackluster.

However with the new season just on the horizon, new challenges have been set.  I’m not too bothered about catching big fish, I just like to see (or feel) that rod tip yank round in the furious way that it does, when a barbel powers off with the hook bait.  I think it is the ultimate in angling for me.  It’s so exhilarating to see that tip whack round, not knowing what’s on the other end.

This season I have three main venues to target.  Most of my fishing will probably be on the Kennet and I have rejoined the Wasing Estate.  I have yet to fish anywhere that is quite as beautiful and captivating as this area of the Kennet and after a few years away I have really missed it.  My time spent there over the years bring back some very fond memories because it’s such an evocative and mesmerizing place.

I will also be dabbling occasionally on the River Wey in Surrey and a few trips to the magnificent Wye and the breathtaking views that the Wye Valley offers.  I also love the peace and tranquility that are on offer there, far from the beaten track with only the wildlife to keep you company.  It truly is a magical place.

This season I’m going to try and mix up the fishing a little bit.  I will be adopting a more roving style, particularly on the Kennet.  My thoughts at the moment are to fish slightly lighter (where feasible) and fish in a more natural way.  By that I mean free lining and very light link legering.  Baits will be paste or pellets with a back up of lob worms and possibly small squabs and casters when float fishing.  The new John Baker baits from Lone Angler are just amazing.  The paste is incredible I can’t wait to get out and start using it.  The squabs are much softer than before and I love that.  I’m not a fan of rock hard baits and much prefer something softer.  They look, smell and dare I say even taste amazing.

John Baker's Range of Lone Angler Baits

John Baker’s Range of Lone Angler Baits

There will be times when I will be feeder fishing or using a slightly heavier weight and adopting the more familiar bait and wait tactics but I really miss the roving style and dropping into likely looking spots and tempting the odd fish here and there.  I don’t want to sit in one swim all day staring at a motionless tip.  I’m really looking forward to getting back on the river and the challenge that Wasing will bring.

Still, armed with decent baits, sensible tackle and a few ideas I’m hopeful for a good season.  Nothing beats good company, wonderful surroundings and being free to do want you enjoy.  With all of the madness going on in the World at the moment I feel incredibly grateful and privileged to be able to pursue the things I enjoy in life, without the fear of any consequences.  We are very lucky people and long may it continue.

Good luck to you all and may 2015-2016 be the season you hope it will be.

Another season draws to an end and all too quickly.  The years seem to fly by.  I remember, as I’m sure we all do, when in my younger days the adults would always proclaim that years pass far quicker when you’re older.  At the time it seemed a silly notion but I’m beginning to see the truth of that statement.

Geoff and I decided to see out the last session (for me anyway) on the Trent.  We have been fortunate with the weather over the last week or so; much better day time temperatures often reaching well into double figures and not too much rain.  The downside seemed to be close to zero night time temperatures which would obviously keep the water temps down too.  Despite that, a river like the Trent always gives you a chance of a fish or two.

I particularly like using maggots at this time of the year, providing the water isn’t too coloured.  A few pints of maggots with a liberal spray of Ocean Pride or Sausage Sizzle, can really produce a mixed bag; roach, dace, chub, bream and barbel love em too.  If you can keep a good steady trickle going in, it won’t take too long before the barbel move in and start hoovering them up.  To do this successfully you do need 5 or 6 pints though.  Down here in the south that would cost a small fortune.  Maggots are around £3.20 per pint at my local shop, compared to Nottingham where you’ll only pay about £1.50, less than half price.

I intended to fish one rod with a big maggot feeder with 6 or 7 maggots on a size 12 and on the other rod a double caviar pellet and groundbait feeder.  During the winter months I would introduce less groundbait than I would in the summer, however where maggots are concerned I tend to pile them in, so regular casting with a big feeder will start to pull the fish in.  In my groundbait mix I will put in  6mm and 8mm Lone Angler caviar pellets which I just mix into the dry groundbait and then add water creating a nice sticky mixture.  This stays in the feeder a bit longer and that way I don’t need to cast as much, perhaps every 20-30 minutes.  In the summer I would be casting every 5 minutes for the first hour and then down to 15 minutes after that.

Lone Angler Groundbait and Pellets

Lone Angler Groundbait and Pellets

My first choice of swim was between some trees, which offered me shelter from a very strong, chilly wind.  The temperature today was actually pretty good; around 12-15c but the wind chill made it feel much cooler at times.  Sadly this first swim was very tight and on a steep slope.  With heavy rain forecast for that afternoon I decided to move into a safer swim.  I moved upstream into an area I’ve done well in before.  By now it was around 1pm and with rain predicted for about 3pm onwards I thought I would quickly pop upstream to another stretch where pals Danny and Pete were fishing.  After a good chinwag, I returned to my swim to get some bait in and hope it would produce a fish or two.

On the way back I could hear the sound of a hunt horn sounding.  It seemed the hunt was on the other side of the river and I stopped to watch the dogs in action.  Several large stags broke cover and headed across the meadows followed closely by the pack dogs, which were by now baying like crazy as their excitement reached a crescendo.  The huntsmen were furiously blowing their bugle and eventually the dogs returned.  It certainly added a bit of excitement to the afternoons proceedings.

I returned to my swim and cast out both rods.  The noise opposite had died down and I watched what looked like a red kite flying just over the tree line.  I had a good view of the bird and I’m 95% certain it was a kite.  Geoff only caught a brief glimpse and he also felt it was a kite.  If so, it is the first we’ve seen of them here. (we saw a further one on our way home but not far from where we were fishing, so it makes it likely that the first sighting was indeed a kite).  Suddenly the left hand rod banged and the tip started dancing.  This was the maggot feeder rod and I pulled into the culprit.  It was a very spirited fight and resulted in a small barbel.  A couple more followed and they seemed to be getting a bit bigger.  Geoff reported that he too had caught a couple, one of which was 8lb 15oz.



It was great to catch and we hoped for maybe one or two more before the end of the session.  The forecast was not good, with heavy rain predicted between 3-6 pm.  However we were lucky, other than some steady drizzle and showers we passed the session more or less dry.  Suddenly my maggot rod whooped over and as I was playing the fish, the other rod went too.  A double hookup, always a bit of a commotion when this happens.  I lost the first fish in a snag, for a while I could feel the fish and then the fish was gone but I was still caught up in something.  Eventually it went solid and I pulled for a break.  I did however manage to land the 2nd fish.

I finished the session on 8 barbel, with the best two going 8lb 7oz and 9lb 6oz and a couple of 4lb+ chub.  Geoff managed five barbel to 9lb 10oz and chub, roach and bream.  Quite a mixed bag.  By 8.30 it was raining steadily but certainly only a heavy sort of drizzle.  We headed back to the car fairly pleased with the results.  Danny had tempted the only fish on the upper section but at 10lb 14oz it was a good ‘un at least.

After a hearty breakfast where fellow guest Dave aka Meddy Man joined us, we headed back to the river for just a couple of hours before heading off.  We were doubtful of catching much but thought it was worth a go for a short time.  The weather was good and the temperature at 9.30am was already around 12c and rose to 15c later in the day.  Out went two rods and I pinned my hopes on the maggot feeder.  I soon had a couple of roach and dace landed when my next strike connected with something much stronger and angrier.  After a really hard fight I landed and released a lovely 7lb 8oz barbel.  A couple more promising bites failed to produce a fish and it was time to go.

Ready for Action

Ready for Action

We attended Keith Speer’s funeral on our way home.  Keith did a huge amount for the Association of Barbel Fishers and both Geoff and I wanted to say our farewells to this great man.  We were astonished at the number of people attending, it must have been several hundred.  That really is a fitting tribute to a much loved and admired man.

The English weather is as unpredictable as Crystal Palace football team, although the Pardew Boys are looking a bit stronger these days.  Geoff and I had hoped to spend three days down on the southern chalkstream that we have been targeting this winter and have a last go at some big grayling before the season ends on the 28th February.  We kept a close eye on the weather and heavy rains over the weekend put an end to the opportunity really.  We toyed with the idea of heading to the Trent instead but with night time temperatures at around 1c, we felt that wouldn’t be much cop either (as it tuned out those night time temperatures were much higher than expected and would have been ideal for a spot of barbel fishing).  Rain was also forecast during the days, with some prolonged spells of heavy rain predicted.  A change of plan was needed.

In the end we decided to have just a couple of days out, instead of staying away for those few nights.  I really fancied having a crack at some roach on the Lower Itchen Fishery and perhaps a day on a free section of the Itchen on one of the other days.  We opted for LIF on Tuesday and Winchester on the Wednesday.

On the way down Geoff and I chatted about all sorts of stuff when Keith Speer came up in the conversation.  We were discussing his time on the Avon on the Longford Estate with particular attention to his catches of dace.  I had already decided to fish one particular swim on the Itchen fishery, one that I know Keith particularly liked and one that I had watched him fish before.  His success there (He caught a 2lb + roach that day) inspired me to spend a day trotting this swim.  Constant feeding might just bring on those big roach towards the end of the day.  It’s an area where the big roach hold up in the winter and throws up some real clonkers on occasions.

On arrival we found the river fairly coloured and this would particularly suit fishing for the roach.  Luckily no one was in the swim I wanted and the stretch down from the weir was also clear, which is where Geoff wanted to fish and another spot where Keith fished with tremendous success, taking countless chub on another day we spent there a season or two back.  Tactics were pretty simple; 15ft float rod, centrepin reel with 3lb line and an Avon float finished off with an 18 hook and single red maggot.  The swim was deep here, around 8ft and a nice crease veered off to around mid river.  It looked very inviting and I felt quite confident.  Sadly the wind was blowing a hooley, which made presentation very difficult and me curse a lot!  After a nice cuppa I started to fish, keeping the float working along the crease time and time again, always accompanied by a steady trickle of maggots on each and every cast.  If there’s one thing you learn whilst watching and talking to Keith, it’s about keeping the feed going in.  You have to be methodical in you’re approach to switch the fish on.  Sometimes it may take an hour, sometimes 6 hours but more often than not it works.

I saw Geoff wandering upstream towards me with flask in hand.  A bit early for him to be coming up already I thought, he must be unhappy with the conditions.  I looked at my phone, only to see a load of missed calls.  Geoff arrived and the first thing he said was “have you heard about Keith Speer?”  “No, what about him?” I said with some trepidation.  Geoff then informed me that apparently Keith had passed away whilst on the river the day before.  I almost laughed, as it sounded so utterly ridiculous, it had to be a mistake.  Then all of those missed calls made sense and the reality of the news hit home and that horrible sense of dread crept over me.  I phoned the people concerned, only to have the devastating news confirmed.  Both Geoff and I felt gutted, empty.

I certainly wasn’t best friends with Keith; however I got to know him well over the last 4 or 5 years.  He gave up a great deal of his time to the Association of Barbel Fishers, participating in all of our talks and also setting up a float fishing clinic on the Trent for us.  He had recently agreed to take part in another project the ABF were setting up, which would involve quite a bit of his time. In all honesty he was the first person I thought of that would make up a 4 man panel and I was over the moon when he agreed to be involved.  For that I am truly grateful, as are all the ABF’s team members and the membership itself.  He really helped and supported the ABF and he will be sorely missed.

Keith was a warm and generous man but with a wonderful self deprecating sense of humour.  I respected him, admired him, was inspired by him but most of all liked him.  That was the measure of the man.  He was a likeable guy who made you feel comfortable in his presence and enjoy his banter.  His angling experience, or dare I say expertise, inspired many, me included.  I looked at Keith as one of the angling world’s most successful specimen hunters; a great angler who was happy to share his wealth of experience on the river bank or in the pub over a pint.  He will be missed by all those that met him, or read his excellent writings of days spent fishing, or watched him on TV.  My heartfelt condolences go out to his family. RIP Keith Speer.

It took a while to continue fishing but I did.  Then two anglers set up directly opposite me (well I mean there are only 3 miles of river here, so you can’t blame them really can you!!). I tried to ignore them and not be put off by their continual bombardment of mashed bread going in mid river.  I wondered what Keith might of thought about this and just carried on regardless.  Regular bites started to come and I was catching a steady stream of grayling, nothing big, fish to maybe 1lb-1lb 4oz but with most around 8oz-12oz.  So far there was no sign of any roach.  As the light started to fade a bit I finally hooked the target species and lost it at the net, a roach of around 12oz or so.  Still that was an encouraging sign and shortly after another roach was tempted, although not a big fish.

I hooked both roach some way downstream and it appeared they were holding back down the swim towards the bridge.  I decided to move down the swim about 5 yards and see if I could target the spot better.  First trot down and the float buried.  The strike caused the culprit to boil and swirl on the surface and I was presented with a sight I may well never forget; a huge roach turned on the surface.  Well at least there was no uncertainty about what was on the other end.  So began the most thrilling and nerve wracking fight I’ve ever had.  The big roach kitted out into mid river and used the flow to full effect.  I suddenly realised I hadn’t brought my net with me and so started the nerve jangling task of coaxing the fish upstream to where the landing net lay.  The fish boiled and turned on the surface, shaking its head and thrashing violently a number of times.  I was praying the 18 hook would hold, begging for the fish not to come of.  Slowly I started to draw the fish to the waiting net and after what seemed an age I managed to pull the fish over the rim of the net and into the safety of the mesh.  She was mine!

Despite shaking like a leaf, I hoisted out my prize and stared in amazement at this beautiful fish lying in the net.  It looked huge, fat and glistening in the fading light of dusk.  It was the stuff of dreams.  Geoff was by now fishing a few yards upstream of me on the opposite bank.  He was listening to all my shouts, exclamations and expletives as the fight progressed and once the fish was in the net he was already heading over.  He arrived and looked in amazement at the fish.  We both thought it was at least a mid ‘2’ because of its fat stomach.  Then I realised my scales had packed up and poor old Geoff had to walk all the way back round to his swim to get his scales.  Anyway eventually we weighed the fish and settled on 2lb 3oz.  Not quite as big as we thought but an absolute clonker as far as I was concerned and a fish I will never forget.

2lb 3oz

2lb 3oz

It seemed a fitting tribute to Keith’s memory and I know that despite him catching 100 2lb roach he would have been genuinely overjoyed at my success today and the first to congratulate me. I can’t help but think today was meant to be and perhaps an unseen helping hand made all the difference.

It’s been a while since I wet a line with my good buddy John Kemp, too long in fact. At last we managed to put this right and agreed to a session on the Sussex Ouse, a river I’ve not fished before.  I have to say I was looking forward to the challenge of a new venue and I always enjoy new surroundings too.  The Ouse runs through some stunning countryside in Sussex, places like Sheffield Park where people flock to in the autumn for the stunning colours of the trees.  A veritable cornucopia of hues to marvel at and bewitch the eyes and minds of all those who visit.

Sheffield Park

Sheffield Park

We stopped at a few well known spots for a look see.  I have to say I was impressed.  We ended up at a fairly narrow and heavily wooded section that looked barely fished in all honesty.  The river here winds its way through the Sussex countryside, with steep banks and endless features to fish to.  It is a fairly small and very intimate river, with a good mixture of shallows and deeper runs.  There appeared to be a very healthy amount of gravel on the river bed too, which looked ideal for summer barbel to flourish in.

The Sussex Ouse

The Sussex Ouse

John and I were here for the chub today.  The weather conditions have been fairly steady over the last week, with a slight increase in air temperatures and very little rain to speak of.  All in all it was ideal chub fishing conditions.  The river had a good tinge of winter colour and looked spot on for a fish or two, well hopefully!  I was armed with a 12′ quiver tip rod, a reel loaded with 6lb line, some 2 and 3 x swan shots for the link leger and some 4 and 6 Pallatrax ‘The Hooks’.  This was a day of simple fishing tactics.  I thread 4 grippa stops up the line and then bend over a piece of mono between them and put on 1, 2 or three of the swan shots, whatever I need to just hold bottom.  A big hook is used to fish either lob worms or even better a big piece of crust.

Always, always try and buy your crust from a high street bakers.  I promise you they are far superior to the supermarket ones.  I don’t know why this is the case but it is.  The supermarket ones generally have very brittle crust and don’t freeze particularly well and rarely stay on the hook for long.  A baker’s loaf has much more pliable crust that you can bend in half without the crust splitting and breaking apart and it will stay on the hook for ages.  Unfortunately my local baker’s has closed down and I was forced to buy a loaf from Waitrose and it was awful.  Luckily John had some decent stuff so I pinched some of that, thanks John.

The right sort of crusty loaf

The right sort of crusty loaf

We headed to the upper section of the beat, with the intention of leap frogging swims back down to the bridge.  There was a lot of water to target and most of the swims looked likely to produce a bite.  My first choice was near an outflow from a waterworks.  From here I opted to fish for maybe 20 minutes per swim and head downstream.  The first swim failed to produce and so I moved down into the next favored spot.  Here a tree had come down right across the river and the depth looked good right along this section.  I threw out 3 balls of liquidized bread and cast out a big piece of crust flavoured with Sausage Sizzle.  This was anchored about 4-5 inches from the hook.

A few tiny pings on the quiver indicated interest from some unseen watery inhabitant and then the tip pulled round slowly into a full arc.  I struck and felt something solid and heavy on the other end.  A nice chub I thought.  But no, this was no chub as it tore off downstream and right under the tree.  I managed to coax it back and again it headed  off under the tree.  This toing and froing continued and I still hadn’t seen the culprit.  Over the first 30 seconds of this fight the fish had gone from chub to barbel to carp.  Eventually the unseen leviathan boiled on the surface and it was indeed a big carp and it looked like a ’20’.  This fish hadn’t given up yet and it went on a series of runs again, albeit much shorter and far less powerful than the initial ones.  I shouted for John, who luckily had moved downstream nearer me and soon came running to see what all of the commotion was about.



The fish was now wallowing on the surface and John just about squeezed it into my chub net!  As he lifted there was a horrible cracking sound and my Drennan net handle snapped in half.  We still managed to lift my prize out and there lay this big, fat and beautiful mirror carp.  It did look big and I lifted it with one hand and it felt a twenty to me.  We weighed and photographed the fish and it was 20lb 4oz.  I was over the moon.  You often loose fish like this on light set-ups but it is a testament to the old adage of using balanced tackle.  I have often said that you can exert an awful lot of pressure on big fish with light gear providing it’s balanced.  A quiver tip rod and 6lb line can easily subdue big fish, the only thing that often causes a loss is a hook pull, particularly if using very small hooks or the fish becoming snagged.  If I had been barbel fishing here, I would be using much heavier tackle due to the amount of snags.

20lb 4oz

20lb 4oz

We continued to fish and move slowly downstream but with no bites forthcoming.  I watched a Buzzard being mobbed by several crows.  You see so many buzzards now and I even saw three whirling overhead of one another whilst playing golf at Knole Park the other day.  They are the first ones I’ve seen here.  I knew they would eventually move in.  I saw my first and only other Kent sighting quite a few years ago in Stone Street, so it was good to see that they have populated the area now.  Of course you often hear them long before you see them, that forlorn cry as the circle high up on the thermals.  After talking to another angler lower downstream who had also failed to get a bite, we decided it was time to head off to another venue.

The Eden

The Eden

This time we headed to Kent to fish the Eden.  The Eden is a diminutive and intimate river that eventually joins the River Medway.  It’s largely gravel bottomed but rarely deeper than 2-3 feet.  There is plenty of bankside cover with steep banks down to the river.  Fortunately there are plenty of ledges to fish from.  Again we leap frogged downstream, fishing lots and lots of superb looking swims.  I was still struggling to get a bite, whilst John had lost a chub of around 3lbs and managed to net a slightly smaller one.  With only 15 or so minutes to go I moved into my last swim, having just lost a nice fish further upstream.  Out went a big piece of crust into a nice long glide under some overhanging branches.  The tip suddenly pulled round and a good chub fought on the other end.  I could see from the size of the chub’s mouth that it was a good fish and on landing, it proved to be a very healthy, bulky fish and weighed in at 4lb 7oz.  A fitting end to what had been a rather exciting day in the company of my very good mate JK.  Thanks for another great day out John.

4lb 7oz

4lb 7oz


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