Freelined Chips

Ah, June the… well, 20th. Surely the time to hit the Wye and bag up on barbel? No! Time to hit the M4 and the M25, in the relentless rain and travel to… Hemel Hempstead.

I was off to visit my mate Rob on his home patch. He has a wealth of water available locally and while the Grand Union Canal or the River Gade may not have quite the same pull to the travelling angler as the Wye, there really is some superb fishing available in and around this bustling Hertfordshire town.

Rob’s had all sorts from the Grand Union since he’s lived over here. Carp to just shy of 20lbs, 3lbs perch, big bream, numerous chub over 5lbs and even one over 6. Big fish for anywhere.

He had a few spots for us to try and a couple of wild cards up his sleeve. We started off on the canal, just as the rain subsided on the Monday. I was hoping to try for a carp at some stage and perhaps a chub on the river. We also wanted to have a go at the big bream shoals that patrol the canal.

It was pretty tough going though. We did get some nice roach on lobs and a few quick, violent bites –probably chub – that we failed to connect with.

A move to a renowned perch section saw us get a few decent stripeys, but it was fairly quiet for the most part. We snuck off at 7pm to catch watch England against Slovakia and by full time, wished we’d stayed out fishing! Still the beer was cold and the sun was shining…

The next morning we made an early(ish) start on the canal, but it was even slower than the previous day. The bright sun wasn’t helping and we moved onto the river. By mid-morning the cloud had moved over and we began to get a few bites. We soon had a bream each and plenty of good dace on the stick float. But it wasn’t easy and the fish would arrive in bursts before drifting off for periods of time. We all know early season river fishing can be very hit-and-miss and so we agreed, following a bit of lunch, to make a final move to another stretch of canal, via a quick stop on a much shallower, faster flowing stretch of the river Bulbourne.

canal web

And that’s when the day got interesting! Straight away we found some good chub on the river, cautious but clearly up for a lump of Spam rolled gently through the swim.

I tied on a size 8 and impaled a chunk of meat. And first run through, just as the Spam bumped past that most classic of chub features (an enormous tractor tyre) a good chub dashed out and literally grabbed the bait from under the nose of a smaller fish. I saw the bait in its mouth, waited that agonizing couple of seconds for the fish to turn, and… wallop!

I was buzzing after that. I’ve not stalked a chub in that way since the back end of the season before last. Raw, exciting fishing.

But the best was yet to come! A feral canal carp is something I’ve wanted to catch for a long time. I’ve been especially inspired by Jeff’s writing on his mission for a canal carp a couple of years ago, and Rob has done well fishing for them, ever since he landed his first from the canal the last time I was in town.

So, every moment relating to the capture of this canal mirror will long remain etched in the memory. My springy, unruly line; watching the carp – finally – slurp down the floating crust; the initial minute of absolutely brutal power; quietly helping the fish regain its energy; watching it swim away back into the deep, cool canal. I can’t really take much credit in catching the carp, as Rob had found them previously, but it was a memorable moment and fish. I just need to find my own, local one now…

We then sat down in another area to have a good go for some bream. And we had a few. And just as it was time for me to think about heading back, we found some more carp – warily sampling the odd bread crust.

I left Rob to it – I’d had my carp – and decided to scatter a few of my chips into a snaggy swim up from where Rob was. And it was a freelined chip, over a chippy groundbait, that produced not one, but two big bream, including the biggest of our trip by far. A great afternoon, in the end. Cheers mate.

Rob in one of his favourite canal spots
Rob in one of his favourite canal spots
Returning a truly memorable canal carp.
Returning a truly memorable canal carp.

13_8 Canal Carp 2 web

River Bulbourne chub web

bream and chips


Canal Rudd – A Small Spark

It was by total chance that I found the shoal. In fact, I thought they were plump roach when I found them. But an unlikely gang of canal rudd is what has finally sparked a bit of interest in me going out fishing again.

It’s been an odd one, this summer. There’s nothing specific I can really point too that made me feel quite so indifferent about going fishing. Even when I had the odd chance to get out I simply couldn’t be bothered with the whole process.

And one evening, after some rain, I prepared the gear, psyched myself up and went out. I knew I’d catch barbel and I did. And while I was there, in the moment, I enjoyed the process and the fish and the session – but I didn’t even look at the pictures until weeks after. However, with the arrival of Autumn, the dipping temperatures and shorter days, my enthusiasm feels sharpened and refreshed.

A nice early Autumn barbel from the Wye
A nice early Autumn barbel from the Wye

One warm, early autumn afternoon we took the boys over to the canal to enjoy the sunshine, a picnic and mooch around the Gloucestershire edgelands.

The edgelands...
The edgelands…

My local canal is an interesting, neglected and slightly unusual place. I’ve never seen any fish of note here. The odd tiny roach and mini jack pike. It suffered a bad pollution a few years back and much of it is thick with weed and algae.

A couple of lads were trying for pike, without luck, and had resorted to catapulting maggots anywhere but the water. They assured me there were pike, roach and perch in the canal.
As the sun began to dip, we made our way back to the car. My youngest wanted to look at a boat tied up close to the bank.

We went over and that’s when I spotted a decent shoal of plump and deep bodied sliver fish. I can’t deny I thought they were roach. But there were a few decent ones in amongst the sprats. And one fish, sat deeper than the others really did look a fish worth catching – maybe not 2lbs but, perhaps, not far off…

As I sat watching Match of the Day later that night, while my eyes were watching some infernal 0-0 it was that shoal of fish that were on my mind. How big was the biggest I saw? Were bigger fish were lurking under the boats? Would a bread or maggot approach work? Were they roach or, perhaps, were they rudd?

The next morning I arrived at dawn with a float rod, reel, net and a few bits and bobs and a loaf.

Just after dawn on the canal.
Just after dawn on the canal.

I decided to fish a small waggler close in – one of my favourite methods. 3lbs line direct to a size 16 and a pinch of flake.
I baited with some mash and set-up, excitedly.

Bites soon came, but they were frustrating. The float was dancing around but trying to hit the wonky, wavy and frankly weird bites was proving tricky. I shallowed up a touch and soon enough I hooked into a deep bodied silver fish that thumped satisfyingly in the deep, green water.

The depth of it suggested rudd – but on closer inspection looked like a bream hybrid of some sort. I think it may be a silver bream x rudd hybrid? I’d love to hear what people think.

Sliver bream x rudd hybrid?
Sliver bream x rudd hybrid?

Having that fish extracted from the shoal spooked them a touch and the bites slowed. I tried a mere fleck of flake and the next bite was just a touch more positive. A sparkling rudd this time of 1lbs exactly was the result. I was enjoying this. All too soon the dog walkers arrived and the boats started chugging but not before I’d added a couple more rudd of a similar stamp.

A lovely canal rudd of one pound.
A lovely canal rudd of one pound.

I returned a week later, but on a much cooler, overcast morning. The bites were quick to arrive but even more frustrating this time. Just as I was thinking about trying something different – perhaps a pellet or corn – I hooked a beautiful roach. Then another before another decent rudd made an appearance.

The bites tailed right off. I had a few old maggots with me, so tried a couple. A feisty, darting fish was hooked on the drop – a rare canal trout! And I added two small canal dace as well as more small roach before the sunshine arrived and the canal reverted back to appearing lifeless…

A canal trout!
A canal trout!

So, while these fishes will never set the world alight, they have at least sparked some real interest in me.

Sunday Evening Breaming

I couldn’t help but notice I was sliding down the Bloggers Challenge list quicker than this Championship season’s big bottlers, Derby County… (Good luck at Newcastle Shteeve!)

So, with literally two hours free on Sunday evening I went out in the hope of picking up some much needed Stillwater points before the rivers open.

The venue I’d decided on – a club water with a massive stock of bream of all sizes and varying numbers of most other common stillwater species – is an attractive place to spend an early summers evening, float fishing for whatever comes along.

Fishing a float next to some lily pads - a fine way to spend a summer evening
Fishing a float next to some lily pads – a fine way to spend a summer evening

I knew I’d tempt roach and slabs, and indeed by the end of the evening I was getting a lovely, solid bream every cast on the float, almost under my feet. I was hoping one of the venues big, old cruicians might show up – but they never did.

Still, a nice way to spend a couple of hours and earn a few points…

South Wales slab
South Wales slab
Dusk by the pool
Dusk by the pool

Keeping it local – Highway to Hemel

My mate Rob relocated to the ‘new’ town of Hemel Hempstead a little while ago. After he travelled over to stay with me last year, spending an action packed couple of days on the Wye, this time I headed over to Hemel to sample some of the good variety of local fishing he now has on his doorstep.

I really enjoy our fishing trips together as the emphasis is on enjoying a bit of a social, exploring new venues and trying a few different methods in search of whatever comes along . Pure pleasure fishing.

We started on a stretch of the Grand Union canal close to Rob’s home. He’s found a few nomadic carp that he’s been targeting – without success thus far – and as we arrived in the hot afternoon sun, they were moving around enjoying the warm weather, but they were wary too and clearly used to being fished for.

A pair of canal carp - the one on the right was a big fish!
A pair of canal carp – the one on the right was a big fish!

I’m a complete canal fishing novice. The last time I fished a proper canal was the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation sometime in the mid 90’s – time spent basically trying to stay alive on a freezing December day that produced a total of two micro roach.

The Grand Union felt a lot different. The surroundings were pleasant and the weather warm. And there were clearly a few fish around.

I began feeding a few pellets by an overhanging tree and delayed setting up in an effort to encourage carp into the swim and feed. Rob went off to see if he could persuade one to take a floating crust.

It was a hot day, but the wind was swirling and it felt like change was in the air. The carp were certainly responding to the weather, charging around and generally making a show of themselves. I was confident they’d get their heads down. Indeed, it wasn’t long until clouds of silt were wafting up intermittently from my pre baited swim and I couldn’t resist getting a bait out. I started with a small chunk of spam, freelined, with just a couple of large shot a few feet up the line to keep it pinned down.

My classic canal swim
My classic, suburban canal swim

Rob, meanwhile, had found a trio of nice carp a little down from where I was. It just felt like something was going to happen…

And it soon did. Rob called to say he’d got one! A lovely, lean golden common carp of 10lbs. It was a smashing fish and I was chuffed he’d achieved his target and was there to share it with him.

Rob's canal common carp
Rob’s canal common carp

It was also the point when the carp simply vanished. We never saw a trace of those carp again for the rest of our time on the canal, it was amazing. They went from being quite visible, moving around in small groups to melting away completely.

I returned to my swim, which by now was really being stirred up. At the time I thought it was carp and upon flicking the bait out again I was expecting a savage bite any minute. But instead a series of finicky pulls and plucks suggested it wasn’t a group of carp in my swim.

I sat it out for a while and Rob went off stalking again, all to no avail. I decided to set up Rob’s new pole, feeding hemp and caster into the same swim I’d been carp fishing in. It was great fun and despite the fact I’d not used a proper pole in ages, I soon got into the swing of things. We ended up taking it in turns and soon put together a nice bag of mainly perch, the odd roach and one nice bream – great fun.

Rob 'shipping out'
Rob ‘shipping out’

Our plan was to head over to a stretch of the upper Lea in the evening and after a fish and chip supper, we headed over to the river.

The river was very low and clear and I thought things may be tricky. But fishing the last couple of hours of the day into darkness is usually productive on the Lea, and I fancied one of us would get a chance of a chub or barbel.

But we didn’t. In hindsight I think a roving approach would have been worth a try but instead a static bait and wait approach yielded only the dreaded crays for both of us.

The Lea was looking the part, if a little low and clear, but nothing turned up
The Lea was looking the part, if a little low and clear, but nothing turned up


Our plan for the second day was to head over to a quiet, mature gravel pit that Rob had discovered held a great head of roach, good tench and a few nice carp.

As we stumbled out of the door at dawn, the nip in the air and the fine rain indicated clearly that the weather had taken a definite turn. Heavy and grey clouds, now visible in the half-light, filled the sky as we pulled into what was clearly an attractive, tree lined still water with plenty of good features to fish too.

We were immediately greeted with patches of bubbles emanating from various areas across the lake –more than enough encouragement to make us get set up as quickly as possible.

We both opted for light waggler tactics and while Rob’s baiting strategy focused on loose feeding hemp and caster, I opted to introduce some groundbait laced with hemp, caster and pellet. We both opted for maggot hookbaits initially.

We were soon into roach – not big – but plentiful. Rob then tried a small cube of spam and immediately had a much better fish of 12ozs or so. Next cast, the same result and it didn’t take much persuasion on Rob’s behalf for me to ditch the size 18, tie on a size 14 and try meat. The response wasn’t quite as dramatic as Rob’s change, but soon I was netting a solid 12oz roach myself. It was a switch to corn though that really got through to the better roach for me. Throughout the day we had absolutely loads of them. All immaculate, solid fish between 6ozs up to one Rob had at 1lbs 5ozs. I managed a couple of a pound or so and the sheer number of fish we had around the 12ozs mark was amazing. Spectacular roach fishing.

Another cracking gravel pit roach
Another cracking gravel pit roach

We chatted to the friendly bailiff who informed us the lake offers good perch fishing, and some really big rudd, though sadly we never made contact with the latter or the big tench that inhabit the water.

I did go for a wander mid afternoon with a rod, net and bag of bits and bait and tempted a lovely, plump perch of 1lbs 14ozs from a classic snaggy, perchy looking area.

A super summer perch
A super summer perch

All too soon the prospect of the M4 began to creep into my thoughts and it was time to round up what had been another great couple of days with Rob, exploring the fishing opportunities on his local patch.

Bream Bashing – A Species Scorned?

Is the humble bream the most scorned species of our native coarse fish?

All the evidence points to it. Starting with the less than complimentary terms used to describe them; Snotties, slimeys, dustbin lids and skimmers (throw away) – these seem harsh compared to some of the more affectionate terms we use for other species.

They are perhaps the ultimate ‘nuisance’ species, mainly because they seem to live and prosper everywhere from fast flowing chalk streams to the deepest reservoirs to vast, windswept inland seas – they’re everywhere. Their catholic tastes result in even pike anglers deadbaits being taken by bream, from time to time.

There’s no fun in reeling in a flaccid bream on gear more suited to stopping a rhino and I can’t deny there are times when I’ve bemoaned a small bream taking my strategically positioned bait intended for a barbel or carp.

And roach anglers bemoan the bream’s interference with their favourite species. How often has what appeared initially to be a big roach morphed into a roach bream hybrid upon closer inspection?

They’re not fighters either. Though most anglers have a tale regarding a turbo charged bream that they were convinced was something else and both pike and chub can be as dour in the scrapping department – they generally put up about as much resistance as a wet leaf.

The poor old bream. Perhaps it’s a species in need of a bit of fishy rebranding. Whilst almost every coarse fish enjoys either a popular or cult following (even the eel is more loved amongst its diehard fans) the humble bream is just always likely to play second fiddle to more ‘glamorous’ fishes.

Despite all this, I enjoy certain types of bream fishing. I used to love launching a big groundbait feeder into a deep weir pool on the Suffolk Stour in search of its resident bream shoal. It was never prolific fishing, but come dusk the bream would switch on and two or three or four big, bronze slabs in the 5-7lbs range could usually be relied on to turn up. Playing those fish as they manoeuvred in the strong flow of the snaggy pool was exhilarating stuff, especially as the light was dropping on a summers evening.

Suffolk Stour bream
A big Suffolk Stour bream taken from a weirpool at dusk

I’ve never been especially interested in multi-rod fishing on vast still waters for seriously big bream (fish of over ten pounds in weight in my book). I’m not over keen on sitting stationary behind buzzers for long periods and I simply don’t have the time or inclination to do the session fishing thing. But bream are undoubtedly impressive fish once they reach such sizes.

Quite near my home lies a nice, mature lake located in the south Wales suburbs that is available to fish on an inexpensive day ticket. It holds a lot of bream. While they reputedly grow to over ten pounds in the lake, there are so many in the one to three pound range that anything over five or six pounds in weight is an achievement. The lake also has a small stock of genuine crucians and some elusive tench as well as a range of carp species along with roach and rudd.

I made a trip there the other day at dawn for a quick morning session in search of the slabs. The beauty of the place is that the bream come in very close to feed in the mornings and evenings, so light float fishing works well. I cursed as I arrived on what was a clear and fresh morning upon realising I’d left my camera at home. Luckily my HTC phone has a respectable camera on it and should a giant turn up I would simply have to go and wake the sole other angler on the lake who was camped out in search of carp.

Spring dawn
Spring dawn

I’d prepared some micro pellets mixed with hemp seed as ground bait and simply fed a small amount on each cast.

After an hour I’d tempted just one skimmer and watching the carp thrashing around with glee was more interesting than my stationary float. But as the world began to wake, so did the bream and by the time I’d packed up I’d managed a respectable number of them with one little tench, my first from the lake, and a deranged common/F1 carp of around three pounds that took a grain of corn on the drop.

The best bream was a fine male of five pounds – a lovely bronze fish that was in rude health and that thumped away doggedly under the rod tip.

5lbs bream web

I’ll no doubt get distracted by the other species over the course of the season and as soon as the rivers open that is where I will undoubtedly spend virtually all of my precious fishing time, but, for now, I’m looking forward to another trip in search of slabs.

Feeding time...
Feeding time…

Ahhh, Ahhh, Atchoooooooo!

Yes, hay fever season is here. The hot and dry conditions have meant that ghastly grass pollen is suddenly everywhere. Horrid. I used to get the fever badly growing up in Suffolk but it was noticeably less fierce over the last twelve or so years I’ve been in London. In fact I’d almost forgotten about it until this weekend. But here and now, in glorious and green Wales I have a streaming nose, eyes that are red raw that sting unless they are shut and stupid bouts of hardcore sneezing. Bloody hay fever.

Pollen horrors

The good news is it will soon pass. It was always basically June that was the problem month and with the Beconase on hand to ease it, I’m hopeful that my first trip of the season to the river will be sneeze-free.

I’ve been out for a couple of short trips to my local club lake over the last month. The first trip was a few hours on a bright and blustery evening, the second, a classic summer dawn affair in search of tench. I’m really enjoying getting to grips with this interesting lake, as it offers a lot more in terms of variety and challenge than the two commercial style fisheries that, although closer to home, offer little other than the ubiquitous ‘match’ sized carp.

However, I didn’t manage to tempt either a tench or crucian carp, my two main target species on the venue, but I did have fun putting together a respectable bag of bream on the first session. The slabs apparently go to over ten pounds in the lake – my pb is a shade over 7 – so the potential for a new pb is there. The first three bream I tempted were all over four pounds in weight and dark, muscular fish that gave a respectable account of themselves on the light float gear.

When I arrived for the evening session the sun was bright and the wind was blustery. I opted to start on a very light lead, fished next to some pads a rod length out. It took a while for the bites to come, but by consistently feeding little handfuls of hemp and pellet, the fish soon arrived. A small roach preceded the arrival of the first trio of slabs and by dusk the wind had dropped sufficiently to warrant a switch to float tactics. I decided to use a pole float fished slightly over depth, the idea being that the extra sensitivity may show any possible crucian bites a little more positively. No crus in the end, but five more bream and a couple of skimmers fell to the pole float tactics. As it was getting properly dark, the swim really started to fizz and I briefly hooked something much stronger before the little hook fell out. Oh well.

A nice bream from the club water

I also spent a beautiful, but strangely quiet morning on the lake as the weather started to improve, but before my hay fever hell began.

Plenty of skimmers, but no better bream or tench or cru’s. Still, it was a stunning morning to be out and there’s nothing quite like watching a little float, next to the pads as the morning mists swirl and drift across the surface of the lake.

A classic summer dawn by the lake

Back on the river

I love those gloomy, muggy and drizzly summer days that generally precede a dramatic electrical storm.

Not only do they deter many anglers from venturing out, they also usually mean the fish will be nosing around and having a feed. I find the atmosphere of being by the river on days like this to be, well, electric. Actually being out in a storm is far less fun and not something I’d recommend, but those few hours before…

It was on such an evening that I ventured out for my first river trip of the new season.
“Isn’t it miserable?” asked the lady working on the till at Tesco’s as I popped in on my way to the river to collect some spam – “yes, miserable” I said, smiling.

I was on the bank by early evening. The glorious transformation of the sparse, brittle river that I left behind in March to its bright and bold summer condition was as magical as ever.

I quickly settled into an interesting looking swim that I’d always fancied as a potential holding spot but had never taken a fish from.

Casually feeding little handfuls of hemp and the odd pellet for half an hour or so soon had some unidentified dark shapes drifting in and out of the main flow. By then I could wait no longer for my maiden cast of the new season and dropped the bait quietly into the swim. I wasn’t really surprised when the rod swept round after 20 or 30 minutes of little pulls and twitches, but the sudden and brutal charge that the fish made downstream upon being hooked shocked me.

A lovely orange and gold barbel of 6lbs 4ozs was the result. I let him catch his breath for a few minutes in the net and after a quick snap he swam off strongly back into his watery home. A few more little handfuls of hemp and a scattering of pellets went into the swim and eventually a slower more steady bite developed. This time a nice river bream of around four pounds made his way to the net. A lovely way to start the season.

Lea barbel
Battling summer barbel