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Archive for February, 2015


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.

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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.

Whoops!

Whoops!

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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No, not some form of charity event to rival the Three Peaks Challenge unfortunately.  This was more your physical and mental challenge; human endurance.  Can the body and mind take the harsh and demanding challenges of fishing three beautiful rivers whilst being battered by wind and rain!

First up was Hampshire’s River Itchen.  The area we fished was fairly exposed to the elements however the rain actually held off on this day, although it was perishing cold.  Still one perseveres you know, stiff upper lip and all that…well it was frozen after all, so that wasn’t difficult!

The Itchen here is fairly narrow and quite pacey.  There is a fair bit of bankside cover and we found a lot of enticing swims to fish.  Waders came in useful as they allowed access to swims which would have been very difficult to fish from the bank.  We employed the usual methods; trotting with red maggots.  I think I tried sweetcorn too, although it failed to produce much.

Both Geoff and I lost a few decent fish but we both caught a number of nice grayling to around 1lb 6oz or so and a few trout.  Chatting with a couple of local anglers we manged to glean some useful information about the stretch for future visits.  We will certainly be back for another go at some point.

The next river was in Wiltshire in the shadow of Salisbury’s magnificent cathedral.  We had arranged an Association of Barbel Fisher’s grayling day.  Sadly the conditions forecast were pretty dire and it looked like it was going to be a poor turnout.  I like to think the cream of the crop were present on the day, although that maybe pushing it a bit.  Anyway four of us made the long journey to Britford to try our luck; Colin Walford and his Dad Bill, Geoff and myself.

The weather was pretty horrendous in the morning; very windy with gusts pushing 50mph and some fairly heavy rain.  At times it was difficult standing up in the icy blasts of this northerly wind and walking into the teeth of it was even more challenging.  Luckily the rain petered out by lunchtime but the wind remained strong all day.

I fancied trying a bit of light link legering to start off with, using some big juicy lobworms.  Sadly despite dropping into a number of very promising spots I couldn’t buy a bite.  Eventually I gave up and decided to float fish for the remainder of the day.  I had started off at the lower weir, where the carrier meets the old river and by the end of the day I was fishing on Harnham Island, so I certainly covered some ground.

Trotting double or single red maggot up amongst the trees at least offered a degree of shelter from the wind.  Presentation was still very difficult and this was borne out by the results.  We all caught some grayling and a few dace, roach and trout but results were poor for here.  I am delighted to report though that the two grayling virgins present both broke their duck, so Colin and Bill hopefully left feeling pretty pleased with themselves having caught their first ever grayling.  We finally called it a day about 4.30, the wind and cold eventually getting the better of us.  However as always Britford offers a pleasant distraction from the harsh conditions.

Next up was yet another southern chalkstream.  It cuts through some lovely unspoilt countryside but today it was being battered by strong winds, rain, sleet and even snow.  We arrived around 10am and the wind had abated and conditions were looking rather promising.  The river was at a good level and with only a tinge of colour.  It never appears to be clear at these middle to lower reaches.  I think the upper river runs much clearer, which I guess is due to maybe feeder streams that run into the main river lower down.

The fishing was slow going.  I managed a average size grayling early on but was struggling to get bites after that.  I had a moment of excitement when I hooked what appeared to be an Exocet missile that came headlong out of the river.  It looked like a silver tourist but maybe it was a large sea trout.  Anyway it came off unfortunately, so I’ll never know.  I did follow that up with a 4lb brownie which put a bend in the rod.

Geoff also had 1 grayling and had decided to feeder fish for a while.  This was proving more successful, with a bite a chuck and a number of grayling being netted.  Just to prove a point, he then trotted the same swim for half an hour and couldn’t buy a bite!  Swapping back to the feeder resulted in almost instant bites and fish.  Food for thought I guess.  Perhaps the answer, as far as float fishing goes, is to stret peg.  Fishing a couple of feet over depth and allowing the bait to rest in one spot at a time before lifting the tackle up in the water and allowing it to move downstream a bit.  The only thing that bothers me with this is the likelihood of deep hooking the grayling and therefore I’ve avoided it thus far.

We ended the day by moving to another very short stretch of the river and although we only fished it for an hour it proved to be more than worthwhile.  I found a few grayling where two parts of the river met and tempted several in fairly quick succession  to over a pound.  By now we had some snow falling and it was bloody cold.  The last cast of the day proved to be the most worthwhile.  Geoff hooked into something much bigger and with a few heart in the mouth moments as a big grayling swirled on the surface, shaking it’s head, Geoff won the battle and a lovely 2lb 5oz grayling finished us off in style.  Well done Geoff on a great fish to end our odyssey.

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