Bloggers Britford Christmas Bonanza

Well, the plan was to meet up with Russell and James for a bloggers Britford fish-in – but after settling into a nice swim right at the top of the stretch and with plenty of bites forthcoming, I was loathe to move…

I love Britford. It’s such an absorbing, interesting place to fish. I started out in a favourite pool that fishes really well at times, yet the mild weather and surprising lack of pace meant it was minnow city. River keeper extraordinaire Stuart came by and suggested a move to the main river. With a tinge of colour and decent flow, this was clearly the place to try.

A glorious place to spend the day trotting.
A glorious place to spend the day trotting.

And it was there I stayed for the majority of the day. The fishing was totally engrossing – I had to run my float across a very specific path, a few feet off the far bank, and then hold back at a certain point to get bites from the better roach and dace in the swim. Anywhere else and a minnow was the inevitable outcome. The width of the river, coupled with blustery, swirling wind made it that bit more difficult to control things. But with steady, accurate feeding and sticking to a routine of feed, cast, run, hold, run and repeat the bites, at times, came every cast.

A quartet of Hampshire herrings.
A quartet of Hampshire herrings.

I had loads of clonking Hampshire herrings, with best dace weighing in at 8ozs. I had a couple of fat gudgeon and some small chub. The pike were highly active too. If a dace was grabbed on the way in, the pike would let go eventually, but with a pike rod set up in anticipation of such a situation, the dead dace would simply be lowered back in the general area of the attack, and a pike was usually the result. I had three jacks in the end, only up to 5lbs 8ozs, but great fun.

Avon pike web

Back you go...
Back you go…

The roach were proving tricky though, and just when I thought I was set for a run of them, they disappeared again. I managed six at intermittent stages, but frustratingly lost a couple of better fish – one which certainly felt just like a good roach: thump, thump, glide… thump, thump, glide… ping!

A trio of Avon roach.
A trio of Avon roach.

I mistakenly tried for a big chub with big baits during the last hour, but the area I tried was still clogged with weed and no chub turned up. I probably should have stuck it out in search of roach.

All in all a really great day – even if I never did catch up with Russell and James!

Working to create

I went piking on the Wye at the weekend. Proper, old school winter pike fishing. Heavy gear, deadbaits, big floats. A flask, a scarf and a hat. Big river pike fishing.

The Wye doesn’t hold lots of pike – but those that eke out a living in those shallow, fast and unforgiving waters are fit, wild and potentially big. It’s survival of the fittest round these parts.

I started after the rain subsided, just after first light. The plan was to rove around with a single rod, fishing near bank features in an effort to locate a fish. By the time I’d settled into my first swim, the sun was beginning to show and it was lovely to be out.

Morning on the Wye.
Morning on the Wye.

By late morning I’d tried three or four swims without any luck. The next one I manoeuvred my way down to featured a large hunched grey tree to the right. Now stripped of leaves and colour its cold branches twisted their way awkwardly into the water, providing cover for both predator and prey.

I lobbed a sprat upstream, to just below the crease, where it sat nicely under the large cigar style float.

After half an hour or so and no bites, I thought about moving on again, but I thought I’d try a last cast with a roach deadbait. I picked out the biggest and positioned the float a little closer in.

And almost straight away the chance arrived. For me, without doubt, the most exciting moment in fishing is watching a pike float begin its jerky, twitchy dance that symbolises something deep below has found the bait.

The float trembled and then jabbed very slightly to the right. Then it stopped. Then it started again. I opened the bale arm and let some line out which was taken, but very slowly. I gave it a few seconds, tightened up and hit the bite hard.

Rod hoops over – dead weight. Dull thump. Another thump. Rod springs back. Gone…

I’ve convinced myself that it was a good fish. In fact, I’ve convinced myself it was a big one.

I fished on. If anything the missed chance had made me more determined. I fished hard, trying plenty of pikely looking spots. But I never got another opportunity. Yet I didn’t, and I still don’t, feel especially deflated. I would have loved to have seen that fish, but I felt energised by the moment. It’s almost as if working to create that chance was enough. And perhaps it is… for now.

Robin 2

Heart over head

I ventured out on Saturday afternoon for my first, much anticipated pike trip of the year. With time at a premium, I decided to head to a stretch of the Wye not too far from home with the plan to rove around in an effort to find some near bank slacks in which to submerge a sprat.

With the river fining down after a prolonged spell of high water, the weather overcast, calm and relatively mild I was confident of making contact with a pike. By the time I’d picked up a bag of big, silvery, fresh looking sprats from the insanity that is Tesco on a Saturday afternoon I was itching to get on the river.

Silver sprats - what pike could resist?
Silver sprats – what pike could resist?

My route up the Wye takes me through the Forest of Dean. I love going into the forest at any time of the year – but in the dank autumnal gloom it takes on an especially atmospheric personality.

A few minutes before I was due to reach the river I passed an old pool that I’d heard held pike. It’s an under fished, secluded water that is gin clear and moody. I stopped the car there and then, turned around in a lay-by and parked up by the pool.

Anglers often talk of these sudden instinctive moments – moments when we change our pre-planned course in some way. Perhaps as anglers – folks who generally spend a lot longer out in the wild than the average individual – we are more in tune with the environment and can ‘feel’ these things – a sixth sense of sorts… or perhaps that’s a serious load of bollox!

Either way – I really fancied the pool and as I made my way down to the water I was already playing out the scenario of watching a pig pike charge from the near bank cover to grab my bait.

Pike pool?
Pike pool?

I rigged up my favourite, rather battered old Drennan pike slider float – one I’ve had for years – and cast out a sprat, before slowly twitching it back across a weedy bay. I honestly thought I’d get one first cast…

Three hours, seven or eight swims and no bites later and I realised my gut feeling wasn’t going to pay off today.

I waited for the pike to emerge from their snaggy home in search of an easy meal - but they never did...
I waited for the pike to emerge from their snaggy home in search of an easy meal – but they never did…

Wye pike – before the storm

Before the deluge I made a trip to the Wye with a loose plan of fishing a maggot feeder in search of whatever came along and chub later in the day with perhaps a bit of piking in-between.

Amazingly, the Wye was at the lowest I’ve ever seen it and after nearly a year of fishing the river, finding it running fairly clear and with a lovely greenish tinge instead of up and coloured, was a nice change. The day was overcast and mild and I was confident of a fish or two.

Autumnal colours on the Wye

I initially set up a small maggot feeder and cast it to the crease, just upstream of a large, semi-submerged bush that had created a nice slack on the inside.

Straight away, hordes of bleak hammered the maggot hook bait and it was impossible to keep a bait in the water without a little silvery bleak hooking itself.

By the fourth or fifth cast I realised I’d have to either attempt to feed the bleak off and try and draw the better fish into the swim through constant feeding or possibly revert to a larger hook bait. I lobbed the feeder out again and as it landed a big swirl by the bush was preceded little bleak leaping clear of the water in all directions – alerting me to the fact that something bigger was already in the vicinity!

I didn’t need a second invitation and soon had the pike rod set-up with a simple float paternoster rig with a heavy wire trace and a strong, single size 4 carp hook, baited with a sprat.

By the end of the morning I’d landed three pike of 5lbs, 7.5lbs and a cracker of 14lbs 10ozs as well as losing another to a hook pull. All of the pike gave a really good account of themselves in the flow and it was an exciting few hours fishing. In my last blog I thought about the most exciting moment in angling and if the initial dip of a pike float is perhaps the most exciting moment, then getting that first glimpse of a good pike in clear water has to be up there in the excitement stakes!

A chunky Wye pike of 14lbs 10ozs

I decided to take a wander after the morning’s pike action and try and search out a chub. I never had a sniff, but the day was already a good ‘un.

The most exciting moment

What is the single most exciting moment in angling? It’s an oft-asked question and of course there is no definitive answer – but, for me, there is little to beat that genuinely electric moment when a previously stationary pike float begins moving ominously and purposefully across the water…

I was lucky enough to experience just such a moment on Sunday.

I’d arrived on the banks of the Wye at dawn for a short pike session. It was one of those thick, misty autumnal mornings that make even a familiar place seem ethereal.

An Autumn dawn on a misty river Wye

The bold autumn colours; the aforementioned mist; the smell of slowly decaying vegetation and the clean scent of the swiftly flowing river; the almost total silence – all these elements combined to make it an atmospheric setting as I tackled up.

I’d purchased a bag of sprats from Tesco’s a few days previously and having failed to get to the tackle shop for any more exotic deadbaits, the humble sprat was to be my sole bait option today.

Still a great, if not fashionable pike bait – the humble sprat

My plan was to simply cast around into likely looking areas before moving on after an hour if nothing was happening.

The first swim I tried was quiet, the current a little too strong for my float fished sprat to settle as I wanted it to. I’m still getting used to pike fishing on such a powerful river. I’ve caught hundreds of pike from a variety of waters and on a range of techniques, but presenting a bait effectively on a river like the Wye is still something I’m getting to grips with.

The next swim looked perfect though, with the current diverted around a little pool that was sheltered by a sunken tree. However after half an hour without any interest in my sprat, I decided to reposition the bait so it was fished just off the crease to the left of the mini pool.

Almost straight away, it happened. First a deliberate and sharp bob of the float. Then that magic moment, as it slid menacingly away, the little orange bob disappearing into the Wye.

It’s those moments, between the first twitch of the float to that split second before you hit into the fish that are so intoxicating. On the Wye it could be a three or thirty pound pike that’s taken the bait, perhaps even larger! That just adds to the excitement.

In this case it was only a few seconds after I’d set the hooks that I realized this wasn’t one of the leviathans of the river, or even an average fish, but instead a splashy five pounder that made my day. My first Wye pike!

Little Wye pike
My first pike from the Wye, happy days.

Wye woes

I spent a few, sun soaked hours last week on a majestic stretch of the Wye that I’m slowly beginning to get to know, if not really understand. Despite finding the river in seemingly fine fettle – fining down after recent high water and with the air temperature mild – I again failed to make contact with any barbel. Two average Wye chub were my reward, both taking single boilies fished away from the ground baited area.

The river looked the part, but only a couple of average chub turned up.
A chub of 3lbs 6ozs – an average Wye fish, but still a nice one.

I really thought Boris would make an appearance, but after speaking with some other guys fishing the stretch it turned out they were also struggling. And after I’d returned home, reading some of the online reports it seems the part of the river I’m fishing is generally a bit out of sorts at the moment, at least in terms of the barbel and chub fishing. It seems to be adjusting to the changes in temperature and is affected by extra water in a different way to my old stomping ground on the Lea, where the conditions we’ve experienced recently would have no doubt encouraged the Lea barbel out to feed in earnest.

I also chatted to a friendly pike angler who had fared better, despite the colored water, managing a brace of mid-double figure fish. I think I’ll try a spot of piking on the stretch in an effort to hopefully tempt my first Wye esox! ­

Ending the season on the Avon – in pictures

I spent a really enjoyable final session of the river season with a friend, on the Hampshire Avon at Britford. It really is the most superb coarse fishery and the quality and variety of fishing available make it one of my favourite venues in the UK. Here are a few pics from the afternoon:

Avon chub
My first decent fish of the day, a golden flanked chub at 3lbs 2ozs that fell to trotted maggots.
16lbs 6oz Hants Avon pike
After a quiet hour or two, I went for a wander and came across a couple of nice pike lurking in a slack. A dead minnow tempted this superb pike of 16lbs 6ozs - my best croc in quite a while.
Bread mash and bread flake hook bait
Bread mash feed + bread flake hook bait = ...
Hants Avon chub
... chunky Avon chub.
Hants Avon roach
For a short period, a shoal of roach arrived in the swim giving subtle plucks and pulls on the quiver tip. However I only managed to extract one from the swim - this beauty. Britford produces much bigger roach, but this is easily my best from the stretch.
Britford chub at dusk
The last fish of the season. Another chunky Avon chub that fell right on dusk and rounded off a great day.

Predator

He’s killing us, one at a time.” – The words of Arnie (as Dutch) in the 1987 classic, Predator. But they could equally have been the thoughts of a particularly nervous roach shoal I found in a shady pool on my first ever visit to the Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire last week.

Predator
"Get to the chopper!"

Perhaps it was because I’d been watching the former Governor of California fighting a giant alien just a few days previously, but I just had a feeling there really was something out there as a friend and I passed the pool.

We initially headed for the oxygenated water downstream of a tumbling weir. But without shade and with the midday sun burning strong, it wasn’t long until I wandered off to find a cooler area to have a cast. After a pleasant hour or two float fishing maggots for some little bleak, dace and roach, I made my way to a chubby looking backwater I’d noticed earlier.

I stopped at the shaded roach pool again. But this time something told me to stick around.

On second glance, the pool looked perfect for a perch. The deep water close in was flanked to my right by a lovely bed of rushes that looked the ideal spot for marauding Perca fluviatus. And it was full of little roach and bleak – ideal snacks for a big Billy!

I set up a light barbel rod and floatfished lobs tight to the rushes. First run down and the float buried. After a short tussle, I soon had the upper hand on what was a decent perch and lifted it towards the net. And that’s when I saw him. A big perch suddenly appeared; easily three times bigger than the fish I was playing. For a second I thought he may have been eyeing the smaller, hooked fish for his dinner.

Seaching for a perch
The search for a perch

I couldn’t get another bait out quickly enough. And as I worked the float down the nearside run, until it was just kissing the rushes, it buried again.

It was him. An altogether more aggressive scrap began, with plenty of violent head shaking and nerve-shredding runs into previously unseen beds of blanket weed. As I began to get the upper hand, he then made a charge for some cabbages under my feet. But everything held and I got him in the net on the second attempt.

Great Ouse perch
A Great Ouse pb perch of 2lbs 7ozs

Okay, so comparing a Great Ouse perch with one of the baddest baddies in film history may be overplaying it a little, but there really was something quite mean and magnificent about this battle scarred old predator. He was a dark, angry chap and weighed 2lbs 7ozs, a new PB by four ounces!

A colourful Great Ouse pike
I also tempted this strikingly marked Ouse pike

My tale from the river bank

My mate Nedsy and I had enjoyed a successful autumn pike campaign catching plenty of fish up to a weight of seven and a half pounds, a true giant in our eyes.

***This originally appeared in Anglers Mail, Feb 16 2010. Hope you like it!***

cropped page from the AM.

Lewis Hobson was not a lad to be messed with. At 13, he was not only a year older than us, but also twice as big and his reputation preceded him. Lewis didn’t appear to like many things in life, particularly school, but he was a keen pike fisherman and it was rumoured he had landed many pike over 30 pounds in weight from our local Suffolk Stour.

My mate Nedsy and I had enjoyed a successful autumn pike campaign catching plenty of fish up to a weight of seven and a half pounds, a true giant in our eyes.

It was a particularly cold and bright Saturday morning at the beginning of December when we left the comfort of Nedsy’s warm living room, having finished our traditional piker’s breakfast of pickled onion Space Raiders and Mars bars washed down with sweet tea.

Grabbing our rods, already rigged up from the evening before, and a bag of sprats from the freezer, we made our way to a productive stretch of river where we had managed a brace of four pounders on our previous visit. Before long we were settled in the prime swim by the bridge, our pike floats settling apprehensively in anticipation of the inevitable moment they would be slowly pulled under the glassy surface.  It wasn’t long before I had such a bite and after a brief tussle a nice pike of five pounds was netted, unhooked and carefully returned to the murky depths.

Shortly after, he appeared. It was Lewis Hobson. Lewis was dressed somewhat inappropriately for the weather in baggy jeans and a denim jacket which was undone to reveal a t-shirt that said ‘House of Pain’. He did however have a black woolly hat on which had a rather fetching image of a green leaf and the words ‘Cypress Hill’ across the front. “Caught anything losers?” enquired Lewis, in a tone that didn’t suggest total hatred. Perhaps, I thought, the very fact that we are fishermen like him has saved us from a surely inevitable beating? Upon revealing our success Lewis actually managed a pitiful smirk before telling us he’d already landed a pike of 25 pounds that very morning! As he recalled the tale of his monster pike, I remember thinking that his tackle didn’t look up to much, with line that looked like it had seen better decades rather than days, a curly wire trace that boasted a set of huge, rusty trebles and a rather sorry looking sprat hanging limply on the end. Also, with no landing net how had he netted such a leviathan?

Lewis, again confounding our expectations, actually seemed quite pleased that there were other anglers about that morning as he proceeded to sit down and fish with us. Discarding his decrepit dead-bait and helping himself to a fresh one from our bag, Lewis cast out his huge, ancient looking pike bung rather clumsily, the line struggling through the rings of what seemed to be a sea fishing rod from 1950. Sitting back and lighting up a Benson and Hedges cigarette, Lewis seemed surprisingly at ease with the world. Nedsy and I listened intently and respectfully as Lewis spoke, covering such diverse subjects as his hatred for the ‘townies’ of Sudbury, his love gangster rap and, of course, his astonishing list of giant pike.

And then it happened. Lewis’s bung which was sitting awkwardly between our floats, started to drift sideways, bobbing dramatically as a pike picked up his bait. What happened next surprised Nedsy and I. Lewis, instead of confidently striking and playing the fish as we would have expected such a pike expert to have done, started to look increasingly concerned at the events unfolding. First a look of surprise and then fear spread across his face. “WhaddoIdo , whaddoIdooo?” Lewis pleaded, standing up sharply and moving away from the rod as it started to jerk round. Nedsy stepped in and grabbed the rod and helped Lewis gain control of the pike which after a short tussle, I netted. An immaculate six pounder lay in the bottom of the net. Lewis sat back down. He’d obviously never landed even a modest pike before in his life.

As we sorted everything out Lewis sat quietly looking a little pale and shaken by the experience. “Thanks lads” he said.

Fast forward to Monday morning, back at school and that weekend already seemed like a lifetime ago. Lewis was back to his normal self, recalling another successful pike trip to his mates in the corridor. As Nedsy and I walked past Lewis on our way to double maths, he glanced in our direction and gave us a quick nod, before continuing the tale of his 30 pounder from the bridge.