Two on the Tone

I met up with Russell on the banks of the wonderful river Tone for a few hours’ grayling fishing on a bitterly cold afternoon recently.

As I ambled my way down the M5, I was struck by the number of rivers I went over on my way down into deepest Somerset. The Avon, The Yeo, The Blind Yeo, The Kenn, The Banwell, The Lox Yeo, The Axe, The Mark Yeo, The Brue, The Huntspill, The Parrett and finally the Tone. And that’s not including the numerous rhynes that weave their way across the wide open spaces of the Somerset levels. I’d really enjoyed my first trip to the diminutive river Chew in December, so I was looking forward to trying another new local(ish) river. I’m keen to have a go on some of these other waterways sooner rather than later too.

It was my birthday weekend, and after a couple of glasses of red too many the night before and a kid’s party in the morning (ouch) it was around 1pm before I finally arrived on the bank. Russ had kindly sorted out tickets and bait, so all I had to do was turn up and fish his prime spots! In the cold weather, the grayling is a reliable species for a few bites and the Tone is a prolific grayling river. Having grown up on the Suffolk Essex border and then spending nearly 15 years in London – none of which are exactly grayling hotspots – it was 2009 before I ever saw one. And the first grayling I ever saw was one I caught – from the Avon in Salisbury weighing two pounds exactly, promptly followed by one of two pounds and three ounces that remains my best.

A stunning autumn grayling
My Hampshire Avon grayling of two pounds

Russell’s advice, as ever, was sock-on. He advised trotting maggots, spending no more than half an hour in each swim and to try even the spots that look as though they wouldn’t contain fish.

We had grayling from just about every swim we tried. One deep, sweeping bend really did produce a fish a chuck for me – I must have had over 25 from that one spot towards the end of the day – all immaculate fish between 8 and 12 ounces. That’s well over double the number of grayling I’d previously ever caught in my entire life!


However it was a curious, overgrown little run that produced the best fish of the day, with Russ and I taking it in turns to trot through the depression and each taking a couple of pound plus fish.

What also struck me was how differently the grayling fought – with some really thumping doggedly, others twisting and running at speed and some even giving a good impression of a small and especially bored bream.

Between us we must have had over 100 grayling, and on a bright, cold mid-winter day I think that shows what a little diamond the Tone is. A fascinating and hugely enjoyable few hours in great company.


Bloggers Challenge – Aiming for Europe

While Leicester continue to confound expectations in the Premier League, I don’t think it’s any surprise to see James Dennison running away with the Bloggers Challenge 15/16. A very good angler indeed.

I think Russell and George have second and third place tied up respectively, but beyond that I think there are Champions League and Europa League places up for grabs!

I’m quite pleased with my current seventh place position. And I’ll try and squeeze in two or three more short trips before the 1st May in an effort to find a few more points.

My one shot at real glory came a few weeks back on the Wye. A tricky day came to life as dusk arrived and I hooked a succession of good fish on worms. A surprise 1lbs 8oz roach / bream hybrid had me convinced I’d hooked a special roach in the gloom (and earned me an invaluable ten challenge points) and was accompanied by a number of good perch to 2lbs exactly.

Tintern gulls
Tintern gulls
A decent roach/bream hybrid and the only river example recorded in the bloggers challenge.
A decent roach/bream hybrid and the only river example recorded in the bloggers challenge.
A nice perch of two pounds - how I wish I'd landed the fish I hooked a few minutes later!
A nice perch of two pounds – how I wish I’d landed the fish I hooked a few minutes later!

But the last fish I hooked was, I’m 99% sure, a very special perch indeed. I never got a glimpse of it, but having had the two pounder just previously on the same gear, this fish felt easily twice as heavy, with my 6lbs line and medium feeder rod at times feeling seriously under-gunned. I finally steered it away from the nasty snags downstream, got it to the relative safety of the near bank and out of the flow, only for it to do me on a totally innocuous looking twig right under my feet.

I went back for a couple of hours at dusk a week later – but the river had dropped and was cold and lifeless.

I finished the river season in traditional fashion – at the wonderful Britford fishery with my friend, Mike. Mike’s getting hitched this summer, so we had a mini stag-do of sorts, fishing followed by beers in Salisbury.

It wasn’t easy, but a couple of swims on the old river produced the goods. I was hoping for a decent grayling for the challenge points, but also as I’d not had one in a few years. I think third trot down I had a lovely fish around a pound, followed by one a shade bigger at 1lbs 1oz.

A stunning Hampshire Avon grayling, beautiful fish.
A stunning Hampshire Avon grayling, beautiful fish.
An Avon perch
An Avon perch

We had dace, trout, perch and minnows – all great fun on the float. After a good few beers in town and an overnight stay, we awoke to the most horrid weather. Very wet, very windy and bitingly cold. ‘Orrible. We put it off for as long as we could, but eventually trudged down at 1pm. The river was rising rapidly and to be honest we toyed with the idea of heading straight home. Still, at least it hadn’t burst its banks – yet. We headed to the sluice to hide in there for a bit, have a coffee and see if things might improve.

We decided to flick out big baits from the sluice and see if a suicidal trout or chub might oblige. None did, so Mike went wondering and I set up a maggot feeder and began casting from the sluice again. Half an hour later I had, during the briefest of lulls in the wind, a subtle pluck. Next cast and I was in. I just presumed it’d be a small chub or trout, so when a big roach rolled on the surface I eased right off!

It was a stunner of 1lbs 9oz and a best of the season for me. Neither of us had another bite, but it’d been a good couple of days in great company.

1lb 9oz Avon roach
1lb 9oz Avon roach
Mike hiding from the elements
Mike hiding from the elements
Mike braving the elements!
Mike braving the elements!
Couldn't resist getting a few night shots of Bath on the way home.
Couldn’t resist getting a few night shots of Bath on the way home.

Fishing the Edgelands

I’m halfway through reading a wonderful book called Edgelands. It’s a charming read that explores the overlooked and undervalued spaces that exist between urban and rural areas – spaces authors’ Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts argue represent Britain’s true wilderness.

A lot of my favourite fishing places past and present are located on the Edgelands. I find it thrilling to find signs of life in these disparate and often neglected areas of the UK, and as Farley and Roberts note, many species of bird, fish and plant prosper in such places.

The majestic river Avon that flows around the edges of the Cathedral city of Salisbury is one of my favourite spots to fish and while the Avon’s lauded angling history mark it out as a more special place than the average suburban stream or pool, its location alongside busy roads and under graffitied bridges make it a venue on the Edgelands.

I travelled down to Salisbury to meet a friend, Mike, at the end of last week. At the beginning of the week the freezing weather had us in two minds whether to make the trip, but as the temperature slowly began to creep up and with the river at a good level, we opted to head down to the Avon.

The river was cold but things felt positive and after half an hour of priming my swim with maggots I trotted my float through a pool towards a narrower, reed-lined area that I’ve taken many good chub from in the past.

It took a while for the first bite to materialise, from a nice dace, then another and then a nice roach. My fourth fish was a special one – a dace of 12ozs and a new personal best.

Avon Edgelands
Avon Edgelands
A new personal best dace of 12ozs
A new personal best dace of 12ozs

Before long the swim really came to life, and for a while a big dace or chunky roach (and the odd missed bite) came on nearly every cast.

A big Avon roach, magic

I’d recently replaced the missing eyes and whipped on some new ones to my favourite Shimano Hyperloop match rod. It’s a smashing tool for trotting using light tackle and I’d soon got into that mesmerising routine of feeding, flicking out the float and then working it downstream and my DIY repairs were working well.

By the early afternoon things had slowed down. I had a cup of coffee and a cheese roll and rested the swim, keeping the bait going in.

Upon resuming, I took a lovely roach just over pound followed on the next run through by a wonderful grayling of a pound and a quarter, which twisted and turned in the water.

A nice grayling and roach taken on consecutive casts
A nice grayling and roach taken on consecutive casts

After that, things really slowed and while I continued to pick off the odd, nice roach, they’d dropped right back and were obviously a lot more cautious.

Holding the float back hard worked for a while and it felt like I was almost easing the bait into the fish’s mouths. A fat, bristling perch of a pound or so gave a good account in the flow and a couple of six inch salmon parr also put in an appearance.

A chunky Avon perch that put up quite a scrap
A chunky Avon perch that put up quite a scrap

But eventually the swim died completely and I really wanted to try and get a chub, having not had one since October. I decided to rove around for a couple of hours, but even the swims I’ve taken good chub from in the past were quiet and I didn’t manage to tempt one in the end.

It was a great session though, and putting together a really mixed bag of wild, river fish that are living and prospering on the Edgelands was immensely enjoyable.

Ending the season on the Avon

As I write this piece in late March, temperatures are now in the high teens and the rather gruesome winter we’ve just endured already seems like a long time ago. The carp and tench are really waking up and as soon as I get some free time, I’ll be heading out for a day to try and land a few, hopefully using a little float in the margins.
I would dearly love to make contact with one of the big crucian carp that reside in a local pool. I witnessed a chap land one of two and three quarter pounds last spring and he had already landed some other big crucians that day. My best ‘cru’ is about a pound, a fish from Somerley lakes in Hampshire.
I’ve also yet to land a 20 pound ‘king’ carp – my best is a common of 19lbs 2ozs that I hooked one April morning eight or nine years ago now. The same pool that the big crucians hide in has some big carp, and I’ve had them to just over 15 pounds there. I would really like my first ’20’ to be a dark coloured, clear-water fish – even better if it was from a river. But finding such a fish could be both time consuming and tricky. The lower Lea around Enfield may be worth a shot and the Suffolk Stour has produced some great looking fish over the years, so when the river season kicks off again perhaps I’ll spend some time looking for a big river carp.
Finishing the river season at Britford on the Hampshire Avon is becoming a bit of an annual treat. Bight sunshine and a difficult side wind made things difficult, but in the morning I managed a lovely trout, a little grayling and some small dace to trotted maggots. I settled into a favourite swim at dusk, link ledgering bread by some overhanging trees. As the sun went down a couple of taps were followed by a more substantial pull and a lumpy chub gave a powerful account of itself in the flow. He weighed four pounds and twelve ounces and was a great way to end what has been a good season.

Avon trout
A lovely trout from the Avon.

A Hampshire Avon chub
The Britford chub that fell to link ledgered bread at dusk.

Autumn glory

The period from September through to Christmas has always been a productive time

Looking out from the office window at the leaves on the trees as they quite suddenly start changing from their slightly dishevelled, late summer green to a definite yellow really makes me want to get out on to the river! Combined with a noticeable chill in the evenings and the increasingly short days; autumn is certainly upon us.

I love fishing in the autumn, despite it being a short season compared to the summer and winter, like the spring, it is perhaps one of the best times to be out on the bank.

The period from September through to Christmas has always been a productive time for me and in the past I’ve managed some stunning individual fish as well as enjoying days where the bites have come consistently.

I haven’t managed to get out at all recently, although a few hours on a Suffolk Stour weir pool in August did see a few nice perch come to the net. The river then was in need of a good flush through, and as I write reports suggest the rivers I fish are all quite low.

Can’t wait to get out again though, it was during a mild day last October that I actually found a barbel on the Lea at Fishers Green, I even had him feeding at one point before my clumsy cast saw him melt away never to return!

A stunning autumn grayling
A stunning autumn grayling