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Archive for January, 2013


The first episode of this new series was aired yesterday evening.  It was always going to be difficult to try and capture that magic quality of Bernald Venables’ inspirational and best selling work, however for me, that’s exactly what they did from the outset.

Summer tench fishing brought back some very fond memories of my own youthful entry into angling.  John and Sam’s approach was one of simplicity.  From the opening scenes of that misty dawn, with the sun just breaking through the haze and a beautiful Barn Owl, spectre like in it’s soft and quiet passage across the still waters of that peaceful lake, just captured the bewitching power of fishing again for me.  The excitement was almost tangible as they crouched behind the rushes watching the tench feed in the margins, with those tiny pin prick bubbles fizzing on the surface.  And to see the rapture on Sam’s face as he hoisted out that monster tench was a joy to behold, only to follow it up with a fish of a lifetime, was just sublime.

I can remember vividly my early forays into stillwater angling as a kid.  The excitement of seeing bubbles and fish swirling and rolling as I sat next to the waters edge so full of anticipation and genuine excitement.  I fondly recall my late father taking me to a lake in Horsemonden where my Uncle was the local gamekeeper and fishing for carp.  I would have been just about 8 years old.  It was incredible.  We threw some pieces of bread out into the mirror like surface of that lake and soon a throng of small carp moved in to hoover up the fee offerings, slurping at the surface in their eagerness to ingest all there was to offer.

Out went a piece of bread with a hook firmly buried into its fluffy folds and then the singing line and the powerful bend in the rod as a fish fought for its freedom.   Well for me, that was it.  I was as hooked as those carp and the passion for angling flourished within me.  It wasn’t long before I was fishing my local mill pond and I was an avid reader of any sort of angling publication I could lay my hands on from Dick Walker to Mr Crabtree, inspiration abounded.  Soon I was fishing small floats next to lilly pads and feeding maggots or sweetcorn or worms.  I can remember the excitement of the float dipping and the rod bending as a small roach jagged on the other end.

I can also recall the first time I spotted a really big fish, a carp cruising out in the middle of the lake.  So enraptured was I by this leviathan that I was forced into fishing an area that was strictly speaking out of bounds.  I tied on a thick twig which gave me some extra casting weight and baited the hook with some bread.   I waited, the tension building inside me like a pressure cooker.   The carp was still there and circled my ‘float’ when suddenly the stick bobbed and started to shoot across the surface!  I struck and the rod whooped over in an alarming arch.  The power of the fish was phenomenal and I held on for dear life.  Sadly of course my experience and skill at playing a big fish was non existent and so the outcome was inevitable, the line broke and the monster carp sank into the gloomy waters of the old mill pond.  I have never forgotten that first encounter with a big fish and I am delighted to say that I have relived that moment many times in my angling life and hope to for many more times to come.

It was then, as I grew older, that my desire to catch bigger and more varied fish took me to my local lakes in Frant.  Here I learned to leger baits like bread and luncheon meat and I even started to stalk the resident carp with pieces of crust.  Here I fished with my lifelong friend Jules and we even ventured into the exciting boyhood adventures of night fishing.  Wow these were great times, when life seemed so simple and every day was an adventure.  I can remember waking up one morning and there perched on it’s hind legs staring at me from the end of my camping bed was a mink, just sat there looking at me before it scuttled off in search of food.  We caught lots of grass snakes and even the odd adder in our landing nets and had many, many wonderful days just exploring the lakes, watching and learning.

One winter’s day I found a swan snared up on a small island out in the middle of the lake on some fishing line.  I was quite distraught at this sight and was in a quandary as to what to do.  Obviously this was long before the advent of the mobile phone, so there was no option of calling for help.  I felt there was only one acceptable solution.  I had to go in!  I stripped off, despite the chilly conditions and just jumped in.  The water was freezing and took my breath away instantly.  I could hardly breath as I made my way slowly towards the swan, taking in shivering breaths of air which seemed to stab my lungs, such was the iciness of each breath.  The swan was obviously exhausted from it struggles to get free and put up no resistance at my attempt to untangle it.  Soon I had managed to snip away at the line and the swan was free and I emerged cold and dripping from the lake.  I had to stay like that all day until my dad came to pick me up and I recounted my story to him.  I think he was quite proud of his little boy that day and again it’s such a fond memory of my youth and of my late father.

So to me this first series of ‘Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing’ has offered so much more than many of the modern angling series of recent years.  It’s simplicity and youthful exuberance reminded me of simple days spent chasing mythical monsters, of balmy evenings under an umbrella waiting for a bite, of misty summer dawns and the heat of the sun as it shone down at us from clear blue summer skies  and when catching small tench, roach and carp seemed to fulfil all of my childhood requirements and fuel years of dreams about catching fish.

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Temperatures have plummeted with hard frosts and as I write this, heavy snowfall covers most of the country.  I guess this is what winters should be like.  However we are often spoiled and  end up with relatively mild winters and become a little soft when mother nature bites back.

Often at the outset of these chilly conditions few fish are keen to feed.  Once they have acclimatised, chub, roach and dace will feed quite happily.  However after that initial hard, biting frost there is only one fish that will provide the float angler with plenty of sport and that is the beautiful grayling.  No matter how cold it gets, the grayling will still feed quite voraciously at times.  So the winter float angler is very fortunate that not only is the grayling so accommodating but also that it fights fantastically well and is one of our most stunning of quarries.

At this time of the year we like to head to Hampshire and Wiltshire to fish the numerous chalk streams that abound in this region for these magnificent fish.  Today we were heading to the upper Avon.  Although a relatively short stretch, it does hold a really good head of decent sized grayling and some nice dace too.  After a good breakfast in the local cafe, we headed to the river.  It was quite high and has been since those late spring floods but worse of all it was much more coloured than we had anticipated.  Levels are never really a problem where grayling are concerned but a heavy colour in the water can be the kiss of death.  Still we were here now so had to make the most of it.

The Avon

The Avon

I opted for the carrier stream to start with.  As I tackled up a buzzard drifted by overhead and circled the meadow.  What a magnificent sight these huge majestic birds are and they offer such a nice distraction from the fishing sometimes.  Once tackled up I got as close to the waters edge as possible.  The river was quite high and the banks were partially submerged in places.  At some points the river had broken its banks and there was a heavy flow to contend with too.  Despite that there appeared to be some nice smooth glides available and there was bound to be a few grayling in situ.

I fished a heavier stick float than usual to contend with the flow, with sufficient shot to get the bait down.  This would also enable me to hold the float back and allow the bait to remain deep in the water.  First trot through and the float buried but the fish came off.  Then I hooked into a reasonable fish.  It turned out to be a trout of about 2lbs.  Often in coloured water trout are aggressive feeders and at least put a bend in the rod.  A couple more trout followed and then a very small grayling.  Nothing more was forthcoming and so I decided to have a wander.

The Avon

The Avon

The sun broke through the clouds and suddenly the grey gloom of recent weeks was lifted and the sun’s rays transformed the countryside into a bright and glittering vista.  It was so heart lifting and warming to see it again after what seems like an eternity of greyness.   I opted to fish near the main road bridge and the flow here was smoother and there was a nice deep glide to fish.  Soon a fish was gyrating in the coloured waters and it was obvious it was a grayling.  A flash of silver and the sight of the sail like dorsal fin confirmed my beliefs.  Sadly it then came off.  Typical I thought.  Still at least they were there and feeding.  I missed a few very sharp bites, which I suspect were dace before eventually banking a couple of nice grayling pushing the pound mark.  A few more trout also put in an appearance.  The fishing was slow though compared to normal and both Geoff and Kevin were also struggling to find the fish.

I kept moving and picking up the odd trout and a few more grayling.  I ended the day with 9 trout and 5 grayling.  Initially I had thought it was four but forgot about the first and rather small one that came from the carrier.  Both Geoff and Kevin had 5 grayling but very few trout.  Geoff had the best fish of the day at 1lb 6oz.  All in all not bad given the tricky water conditions but not a patch on this stretches normal results.  Once again good to be out even though Geoff nor I were in the best of health.  For me it was just the beginning of a nasty spell of the flu.

 

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I have to say I haven’t felt 100% well since Christmas Eve.  I couldn’t quite say what exactly was wrong but I just haven’t felt right.  Then I went down with a touch of the flu I think.  It started with a lump in the throat and a inner cold feeling.  That night I couldn’t stop shivering.  In the end I had to get dressed and put an extra blanket on the bed and yet I still shivered constantly.  The next day the hot sweats started and this along with the cold shivers lasted another two days, along with aches and pains, blocked sinuses and on one occasion a giddy spell where I very nearly passed out.  Typical that this happened at work!  As a long haul pilot you can imagine the consequences…….!  Only kidding, but it would have been interesting 🙂

Anyway enough of my self indulgent, self pitying nonsense and on to some fishing.  As you can imagine with the weather since Christmas, the rivers have been up and down like a whor…er well you know what I mean.  However we did have a spell of less wet weather as opposed to dry and this gave us a chance to visit the Kennet near Thatcham.    With this rather wet and windy spell came much milder temperatures and that always spells barbel, although you wouldn’t get away with that one in scrabble.  So we arrived bright and early to find the car park flooded and the river still spilling over the banks and into the car park and woods.  We managed to park up right over to one side on a dryish spot, without blocking the entrance.  Again it was a very mild day, around 11c and had been for some days, so the water temperature ought to be pretty good.  Personally I’m not into taking the temperature but I know people do.  If I’m going fishing then I just accept the conditions as they are and fish for whatever species I feel is appropriate.  If I feel it’s right then I’m generally confident and I always think that if I took the water temperature and found it was dropping I’d be inclined to just pack up and go home, so I don’t bother with it.

Anyway, we loaded up like a load of Himalayan  pack horses and headed off carefully downstream.  The footbridge was partially flooded but traversable.   The river was as high as I’d ever seen it and had burst it’s banks in numerous spots.  However it had a nice tinge of colour and a really good push on.  Due to the nature of the this stretch with it’s winding bends and lots of bankside foliage, there was lots of fishable opportunities.  Dan was already ensconced in his swim, having arrived slightly earlier than us.  Kevin remained upstream, I walked lower down and Geoff somewhere just above Dan.  I have to say the river looked spot on and someone was bound to catch.

A flooded Kennet

A flooded Kennet

I set-up in amongst the trees and fished out into a lovely smooth glide with a canopy of overhanging trees to offer shelter to perhaps a few resting barbel.  Generally in these conditions its widely acknowledged by barbel anglers that a large smelly bait is best.  Some garlic or spiced luncheon meat often being the most  recommended.  I had some plain meat with me and also some home made boilies and paste.  I decided to fish a straight lead and hope that the smell of the bait would attract the fish in quite quickly.  This is when choosing the right swims is so important.  You really want to be as close to the fish holding areas as possible, even manoeuvring a bait into the lair itself, which is easy to do with a light leger weight or just a link leger with ssg’s on.

A high River Kennet

A high River Kennet

Well despite fishing numerous swims, which all looked spot on and alternating baits, I couldn’t so much as muster a twitch on the rod top.     Fortunately around 1-2pm a short feeding spell occurred and offered the other guys some action at least.  First in was Dan with a beautiful barbel going 8lb 9oz and then he sadly lost a fish shortly after that.  Geoff had by now moved and he too struck into a barbel which unfortunately came off.   Kevin had numerous whack rounds on the rod top and bumped off a couple of fish which he felt were barbel but did land a magnificent brown trout of nearly 4lbs.  So some missed opportunities perhaps but at least some action.

The Kennet in normal winter conditions

The Kennet in normal winter conditions

By 5pm a hard frost was forming as the temperature plummeted.  It was time to call it a day and head to the services for a nice hot cup of coffee.  As always it was good to be on the banks and in good company.

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At long last an opportunity came up at work to get out and fish.  It’s been a few weeks since I was last out and come hell or high water, I was going to fish a river somewhere.  Talking of high water, it seems that most rivers are still incredibly high and really pushing through.  I suspect the heavy colour has dropped out a bit by now and with it some of the nasties that get into the river system during floods i.e. oil, untreated sewage etc.etc.  So if its safe to get access to a swim then its well worth a go in these unseasonably mild conditions.

After much deliberation Kevin and I opted to fish the Lea in Hertfordshire.  We hoped it wouldn’t be too seriously affected by the recent deluge of rain.  We arrived early and found we had the place to ourselves.  This particular stretch contains some very big roach and dace and it was with these in mind that I set up a light float outfit.  The 14ft Drennan Matchpro Light, Bob James (am I allowed to mention his name still?!) 2.5lb mainline, 1.14oz hooklink with a 22 barbless fine wire hook.  This was fished in conjunction with a 6xNo4 stick float.  Bait was single red maggot and loose feeding maggot and hemp, with a small pinch each and every trot through.

Now with the weather being so mild I thought it prudent to take a second rod and reel set up a little heavier in case the barbel were active.  So the second outfit was made up of a 13ft power float rod, Fred Crouch aerial centrepin and 6lb mainline.  The hooklink was 5lb and I used a strong  size 14 barbless with 2 or 3 maggots.  This was fished with a much larger float which helps to pull the thicker line through the rod’s eyes and enable the float to travel downstream more freely.  Well that was the idea anyway.   To be honest due to the tight confines of the swims here, an 8 or 9lb low diameter mainline used in conjunction with a 7lb low diameter hooklink would be much better but I was still confident it would suffice.

As the light slowly began to filter through the gloom, I ran the stick float through a nice deep glide.  The float continued downstream in a lovely unhurried fashion and I eased back on the stick so the bait fluttered up and ahead of the floats passage.  With each trot through, a few maggots and hemp were flicked in to travel along with the hookbait.  After just a few trots the float buried and the strike met with a solid resistance.  Whatever was on the other end soon realised and was off on a powerful run.  I bent the rod into the fish and allowed line as sparingly as I dared.  The fish was just too powerful and it straitened the tiny fine wire hook.  It was obviously a barbel.  Shortly after another barbel took the bait, followed by another.  It was fairly obvious at this juncture that roach fishing was going to be pointless .

I now swapped the roach outfit for the heavier rod and reel in anticipation that only the barbel would be active from this point on.  After just a couple of trots through, the float buried and this time I was able to subdue the barbel comfortably with the stronger tackle.  It was a barbel of about 5lbs.  Several more followed before it went quiet.  I decided to return to the roach fishing as it appeared the barbel had moved out of the swim.  Er big mistake.  A dozen or so trots through and another barbel was hooked and again lost to some unseen snag.  So it was back to the heavier tackle.

Mud, mud, glorious mud.....

Mud, mud, glorious mud…..

This went on pretty much all day.  I ended up with 8 barbel to about 6lbs but lost quite a few too, which I always feel bad about particularly if I’ve left a hook in them.  Luckily they were small, fine wire hooks so wouldn’t take long to work free.   The rain started early to mid afternoon and it all got a bit messy.  The banks were sticky with wet mud and most of my equipment was soaked through.  As the light faded both Kevin and I were more than happy to call it a day.  Both Kevin and I also had one chub apiece but sadly the roach and dace didn’t put in an appearance.

 

 

 

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