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.

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Autumn action – making hay while the sun shines

Some of the tabloids have been whipping themselves into a predictable weather frenzy over the fact that it will soon be winter and probably cold. Duh.

I do hope it doesn’t turn out to be quite as unrelentingly, bone-chillingly freezing as last year though. Last winter was a real grueller. Even on a normally reliable winter chub stretch I went three or four sessions without a fish between late November and January. And it wasn’t until March that things perked up sufficiently and I managed to start catching a few. But maybe it was just me that found things tough?

Still, as I write, we’ve had some rain and with the temperatures still up, the rivers should be in good shape for the late autumn period.

I visited the Barton Court stretch of the Kennet this week with a friend. It was the first time I’d fished the Kennet and this day ticket stretch, that opens for coarse fishing in October, is a charming place to fish.

We hurriedly set up in the hut and the friendly guy working in the car park told us what had been coming out of late and recommended some swims to try.

A road bridge over the river Kennet
The Kennet at Barton Court

I settled into a lovely little spot above a road bridge where two carriers met. And there I stayed all afternoon, contentedly working a float down towards a bush that held a shoal of perch. I had a dozen or more on sections of lobworm or maggots along with a small pike, a gargantuan gudge and a couple of the dreaded crays. It would be difficult to think of a more pleasant and fitting way to spend a mild autumn afternoon.

A river Kennet perch
A perfect example of river Kennet perch

A week or so previously I found my local stretch of the Lea seemingly unaffected by the heavy rain that had fallen over the two days prior to my visit. The gin clear water and falling leaves were making things tricky, but by keeping everything pinned down and the rod tip as low as possible, it was still possible to fish effectively. It was very quiet though and I really thought I was heading for a blank. I was in the process of slowly packing everything up when the rod suddenly went round violently.

The fish fought strongly, sweeping upstream and hugging the bottom of the river. It was an exciting tussle, with the added edge of it being conducted in the now rather chilly darkness.

Despite the gloom, as I drew the fish towards the net I could see it was a good one. And so it proved. A new pb barbel at 9lbs 8ozs. Result!

Big barbel
A right result - 9lbs 8ozs

Autumn action

And so the most exciting part of the fishing season begins. The short period from September through to the end of November offers, arguably, the most productive spell of fishing for most species of coarse fish.

The cumulative effects of some subtle, but tangible changes in the weather seemingly brings the rivers to back life again, as the fish wake from their summer slumber and begin to feed in earnest in preparation for winter.

I was lucky enough to find the river in tip-top shape last week. Warm, wet and blustery conditions for a few days had stirred the fish up and after arriving for an afternoon session I was confident of finding a fish or two.

I started on an upper stretch that is generally good for a few bites. While the fish are invariably quite small, it’s a lovely little piece of water that still requires a bit of thought to tempt a bite. I found the fish in a responsive mood. A bit of loose feed was deposited into a nice run and left to settle. First cast I had a splashy chub of around three pounds. Then three barbel in quick succession that, if they hadn’t been caught so closely together, I would have guessed were the same fish! All about a pound in weight, they were immaculate little fish.

Early autumn chub
A lovely early autumn chub

After the bites dried up to the static baits, I reverted to rolling a piece of spam through the swim. It was nailed by a better barbel getting on for three pounds that gave a great account of itself on balanced tackle in a confined swim.

I moved downstream to another stretch in the early evening. I’d soon re-tackled and gently lowered a boilie hookbait with a little pva bag of crushed baits a few yards upstream of some fish I’d spotted laying under the cover of a tree. After an intense half hour of plucks, pulls, dinks and donks on the rod-tip, it finally went round in dramatic fashion and a very angry, fat little common carp of six and a half pounds came to the net. Despite the fact it wasn’t a barbel, I was delighted as it was my first ever river carp.

I was literally packing away the last of my gear, bar the rod and net, when the baitrunner started whizzing. An exciting struggle in the dark ended with a perfect barbel of 7lbs 1oz coming to the net.

Golden barbel
A nice barbel that came at the end of a nice session

It’s all Greek to me…

My last two fishing trips have been very different affairs, with the vivid blue of the Aegean Sea providing an exotic contrast to my local river Lea.

Unpacking our bags after arriving in the north of Rhodes for a family holiday, you can imagine my partners surprise at discovering my battered six piece Shimano travel rod, a old reel and a few other bits and bobs hidden under the beach towels…

For the first few days the sea was just too rough to even contemplate snorkelling or fishing – just getting in and out for a swim was hard work.

However the wind eventually dropped and at daybreak the next morning I went down to the sea with Tom, who had broken the unofficial code of the teenager and got out of bed to join me at least five hours before he normally surfaces.

We took it turns, trying different baits including bread, mussels and corn that I’d snaffled from the dinner table the night before. After two hours and with the sun rising rapidly, we returned home bite-less for breakfast.

Snorkelling that afternoon revealed the main reason we hadn’t had any fish earlier in the day. There were none there.

However further out on the edge of a sand bank, we found the odd cluster of rocks and sunken beach umbrella stands that had attracted a variety of fish including bream, some colourful exotic species and the occasional, good sized mullet.

They were well out of casting range so the next afternoon I devised a plan. I made up a couple of hand-lines featuring a half ounce lead as a sinker running through to a size 12 super specialist baited with corn. The plan was to just float above anywhere we found fish and drop the rigs down into the rocky areas.

After an hour of searching we found a little group of wrasse type fish that looked big enough to pursue.

I missed a bite then Tom almost had a little bream that was too quick again. And then finally I hooked one. I think it was a species called serranus cabrilla and, at five or six ounces he was not only a new pb but one of my most memorable captures of late.

During a trip to Rhodes town itself, I had a great conversation of sorts, involving lots of hand gestures and broken English with a highly animated, big bearded chap who drove a cab all summer then went spear fishing through the winter months.

He said the area was quite poor for fishing until around October time when the small fish would move into the area in numbers followed by the larger fish. His favourite catch were “four kilo octopus my fren!” and he told us on October the 1st, after all the tourists had left, he and several of his friends would go out on a boat and simply hunt and eat Octopus and drink Ouzo for a few days – sounds fun!

Tom fishing the beach at dawn
Cheers!

The river Lea was a far more familiar, but no less enjoyable place to wet a line last week.

After heavy rain hit the valley for a few hours over the afternoon, I thought the barbel would switch on.

But I spent two hours fishing for them in a swim I fancied without a proper bite ever looking like it would develop. I could have sat it out, but I fancied a change.

Firstly I went up to a reliable hole that always has a few fish shoaled up and spent an enjoyable hour or so snatching hand sized dace on maggots before a pike moved in.

As the evening approached, I reverted to attempting to extract a chub from a particularly precarious swim. It required a difficult upstream cast to an overhanging bush that had a number of dark shapes warily cruising beneath it.

After a while spent scattering the odd crushed spicy prawn boilie into the hole, the chub seemed to be in a confident enough mood to risk a cast.

However they certainly weren’t throwing themselves on the hook and it took two or so hours of careful fishing to extract a couple of the smaller fish in the shoal. Great fun nonetheless.

Last and least, I know this is a fishing blog, but – what’s going on at Ipswich? Sort it out Jewell!

I finaly tempted a chub out from his hole
A nice Lea dace

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

Luck on the Lea at last

Every angler has a bogey venue. It could be a tricky stretch of river, a daunting gravel pit or moody pool; somewhere that no matter how much effort you put into fishing it, you still come away feeling somewhat defeated by the place.

Every angler has a bogey venue. It could be a tricky stretch of river, a daunting gravel pit or moody pool; somewhere that no matter how much effort you put into fishing it, you still come away feeling somewhat defeated by the place. My bogey water is unfortunately also my local one, the river Lea. I don’t mind admitting that I really struggled to get to grips with the stretch at Fishers Green and over two years I didn’t manage to land even one of its famous monster chub or barbel. The closest I came was one September afternoon when I hooked a fish that was fooled by a little source boilie cast next to some bushes. I got a glimpse of what was a very nice chub before the hook pinged out and the line fell sickeningly slack.

I’ve just started to fish a different stretch of the river where there are certainly more fish, even if they don’t appear to grow to quite the proportions of their cousins downstream.

I spent a most enjoyable afternoon on the stretch recently, even managing to catch a few fish. Running a light stick-float down a short, shallow glide rewarded me with some nice roach, perch and dace before a pair of pike came to investigate and spooked the little fishes. Switching to link ledgered pellet in another spot that I’d primed with some hemp resulted in a few plucks and pulls that never quite materialised into proper bites. At dusk I dispensed with the pellet, tied on a size six hook and simply lowered chunks of meat into some likely looking areas. Firstly a handsome chub of just over three pounds did a good impression of a small bream before a larger specimen of 4lbs 7ozs put in a far better performance, giving a great scrap as the sun disappeared behind the trees.

A chub from the Lea
At last! A decent chub from the Lea