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!

tone-fishing-web

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.

fishing-the-tone-webruss-webreturning-a-grayling-webstunning-grayling-web

Perch fishing with Russell

I spent a really enjoyable day fishing with erstwhile angling blogger and top bloke Russell Hilton on his local canal patch recently.

We had perch in mind. Russell’s had some really good perch from his local canal network and despite the prospect of a cold, bright day, enthusiasm was high as we met at dawn on a section that was alive with small fish topping under the pale pink skies.

Russell’s strategy involved building a swim by feeding liquidised bread and then waggler fishing bread punch or maggot over the top. Bites from roach, rudd, silver bream and perch came every cast. A bigger bait was then presented nearby in the hope a big perch may be attracted by the commotion.

I was content to reap the rewards of these carefully laid plans by simply sitting next to him!

Russell was soon into a lovely early morning perch
Russell was soon into a lovely early morning perch

We had a really good day with plenty of big, colourful perch, a pike each and all sorts of other fish on the waggler – including some serious rudd. Russell managed a special perch after a flurry of activity just after lunch. Frustratingly, the majority of big perch we hooked during this particular feeding spell came off. I had a decent one not too far from the net when the hook pinged out and Russel also lost a couple of good ‘uns… But of course it didn’t really matter a jot.

My best perch of the day. I lost an even bigger one later.
My best perch of the day. I lost an even bigger one later.
Slick-sense
Slick-sense
X marks the spot?
X marks the spot?

It was a pleasure simply sitting and chatting. From angling blogging to angling blaggers; from bureaucracy to bream via politics and perch – we discussed a range of subjects, interspersed with some lovely fish and regular enquiries from passers-by. Russell was even called into action to help a guy, who explained in broken English that he’d lost his bag by the water. He failed to grasp the notion that the police were unwilling to treat this as an emergency and come out immediately to root around for his bag!

A cracking day all-round. Hopefully we’ll find the time to do something similar again soon.

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.

Wye roach – finding silver

Having a birthday at the arse-end of January has always been a bit shit. Christmas is but a distant memory; the weather is invariably dire; the days are short and most people are still a week off payday and skint after the festive excesses.

And yet I always seem to manage a decent birthday fishing trip on or around the 22nd Jan. A few years back I had a lovely, big Lea barbel on the day itself and I had a personal best perch at the time just a couple of years ago.

A lovely Lea barbel that I had on a memorable birthday trip a few years ago
A lovely Lea barbel that I had on a memorable birthday trip a few years ago

This year I managed to get out the day after my birthday, for a few hours on the Wye. I’d originally planned to fish purely for perch, but the tackle shop had no lobs. I thought I’d hedge my bets and try trotting maggot with a view to targeting roach and perch, hopefully.

The river was in great shape. A lovely murky green colour, up slightly, and after the freezing weather just a few days before, we were back in the early teens in terms of temperatures. The fishing was really enjoyable – far from a bite a chuck or even any really big fish – but totally absorbing; technical, methodical, interesting. I managed nine or ten really good roach, with the best two weighed at 1lbs 8ozs and 1lbs 4oz respectively. Plump, silver, unblemished fish – Wye roach really are lovely creatures. I had a solitary, small perch and one dace too.

A brace of big river Wye roach
A brace of big river Wye roach

1lbs 8oz Wye roach web

I’ve only been fishing the Wye for four years now, but by all accounts much of the river offered great roach fishing ten, fifteen or so years ago. Yet today they are quite localised with many formerly productive areas now barren of roach and other ‘silver’ fish. The Wye rightly is famous for its truly fantastic barbel fishing in beautiful locations, but this wonderful river offers all sorts of other interesting opportunities for some of our less glamorous, but perhaps more interesting species.

Winter on the Wye
Winter on the Wye

Perch Fishing – Impatience is a Virtue

I’m in a busy London Wetherspoons, having decided on a quick pint before heading home.

There’s an old guy in front of me, clearly struggling with the concept of a drink coming ‘free’ with his meal, let alone the table numbers and cold Guinness. I help him out and he’s soon enjoying his pre-meal pint of almost-room-temperature beer. He thanks me and says: “You’re patient – I wouldn’t have been that patient when I was your age. I would’ve been mouthing off after a minute.” I tell him I’m a fisherman. “Well that explains it son, you’re a bloody garden gnome!” He shuffles off, laughing quietly to himself.

The funny thing is that I’m not really a patient fisherman at all. I rarely fish for more than a few hours at a time and I tend to move around looking for chances rather than sitting and waiting for them to come to me. I really can’t sit still for too long. I’m not saying this is necessarily a good thing, though. There are plenty of times when I think chopping, changing and moving have cost me. But on balance, I think fishing in this way does result in the odd extra fish.

At the beginning of February I had to go and collect an Ebay purchase (a TV cabinet, in case you’re wondering). Fortunately the pick-up location was right by a productive stretch of the Wye, giving me enough time for three or so hours by the river. It was cold and the river was low and clear, but it was nice and overcast after a few days of bright sunshine.

By the time I’d settled into a great looking spot – a nice, deep slack with a big, perchy snag to my left – there were only a couple of hours of daylight left. I started flicking a few maggots upstream of the snag and had a cup of coffee. I positioned a nice, big lobworm close-in. I sat and thought about what fish may be lurking in the area – perch were my target, but it looked to be great chub territory too and an ideal spot for a giant pike to lurk. Then my thoughts turned to the football games that had just kicked off and Ipswich’s slump since a glorious December. Then, all of 30 minutes since I’d started fishing, I decided to move. I was feeling restless.

I tried a second spot. I drank another cup of coffee. I recast. I felt impatient.

I can’t deny by that point I was already thinking about maybe grabbing a bite to eat somewhere warm before collecting my cabinet. There were no other anglers around. Why not? Did they know something I didn’t? It was cold. It was February. “What are you doing out in this, Hennessy?” I thought to myself.

I moved down again and peered into the cold, green and gloomy depths. I settled into a less obvious looking spot, but one with a lovely depth of water right under the rod tip.

Out went a pouchful of maggots, followed by a fresh worm. 3.20pm. 3.22pm – the tip goes round steadily, I hit it, fish-on! The big, strong head shakes gave away the fishes identity, but it was the first glimpse of those black stripes, deep down in the bottle green water that made my legs start going a bit wobbly.

A good tussle ensued, but I soon had the big perch in the net – what a fish. I knew it was a personal best and the scales revealed it to be just that! A long fish of 2lbs 12ozs and a truly stunning example of river perch.

A 2lbs 12oz river perch.
A 2lbs 12oz river perch.

I took some photos and had one last admiring look at the prehistoric beast, before releasing it back into the river.

Astonishingly, the very next cast saw the same thing happen again – and another super perch was hooked and landed. An equal of my old personal best of 2lbs 8ozs this time. Amazing!

I cast out another worm. A bit of a wait this time, but soon enough another bite and another good perch thumping away in the depths of the swim. And it was another cracker at 2lbs 6ozs this time – what a session this was turning out to be.

Another big Wye perch.
Another big Wye perch.

After releasing my third two pounder, I realised I had no more than ten or fifteen minutes of daylight left. Another worm was placed in the hotspot. A short while later and again another perch was hooked – but a much smaller fish this time of around a pound. I cast again, impatiently, hurridly, the excitement getting to me and the rig went just a few inches too far and into a small overhanging branch.

I had to pull for a break, but I didn’t mind. I tackled down there and then, content with a mad 45 minutes of the best perch fishing I’d ever experienced. But then I decided to be impatient. Maybe, just maybe there were still perch down there and perhaps one of them may be my target, my long-term aim – a three pounder. I set up again and carefully positioned the biggest worm I could find back in the zone.

And I waited. I didn’t feel impatient now, I felt focused. And when the bite came I was ready. Upon hooking the fish, it pulled back just a bit more fiercely and a bit more aggressively than the others. In the gloom I could see it was another big perch. But it wasn’t until I lifted her clear of the water, making my old net handle creak that I could see it was a big perch. 3lbs 1oz. Perhaps impatience really is a virtue.

The perch I've been waiting for - a 3lbs 1oz river beauty. What a fish!
The perch I’ve been waiting for – a 3lbs 1oz river beauty. What a fish!

Perch and Portman Road

It was my birthday just recently. And as it was my birthday and because I really do enjoy float fishing for perch more than any other type of fishing at the moment, I went float fishing for perch.

I decided on my usual short session and arrived just after lunch. The lake was clear of ice, even if the water was extremely cold. I tacked up my new Drennan Red Range 13ft silver fish float rod (a brilliant tool, by the way – slim, responsive and a pleasure to use and only fifty quid or so!) with an insert waggler, three pound mainline and a two-and-three-quarter pound hooklink and finished with a size 18 hook. I had a feeling a maggot approach would pay off with the water so cold, so I started off feeding just ten or so every cast and used a double red offering on the hook.

A few small roach came quickly before it all went ominously quiet. But it was for good reason that those little roach disappeared as no more than 30 or 40 minutes into the session, I had the bite I was hoping for. Upon striking the solid resistance and firm, angry headshakes told me a big perch had arrived early. And she was a beauty – 2lbs 5ozs of stripy perfection.

After such a quick result, I was hoping there may be a few other perch around, but by the time I’d cast back out the small roach had returned and the perch had gone. I had plenty of roach, skimmers and even a pretty little linear mirror carp, but by about three o’clock it all switched off and I never had another bite – I expect the fish are feeding in patches during the warmest part of the day.

A big cold water perch.
A big cold water perch.

Then on Saturday I travelled back to see the folks. I was thinking of sneaking in a couple hours on the Suffolk Stour after a chub, but the sleet put me off to be honest. And anyway I had more important matters to attend to – Ipswich vs Wigan with the old man. Terrible game, but it was fantastic being back at Portman Road. We had season tickets for years, but being in London and now out West as well as having a young family has limited the opportunities I get to go and see them.

Great to be back at Portman Road with the old man.
Great to be back at Portman Road with the old man.

McCarthy has worked wonders and we’re finally seeing a bit of positivity around the club after the dark days of Keane and, particularly, Jewell. It was great to see young Tyrone Mings in action too. Always a split second ahead of the others on the pitch, he is genuinely comfortable on the ball – unlike the majority playing on Saturday who when they received a pass simply wanted rid as soon as possible – and incredibly strong, yet graceful. Things didn’t always work out for him on the day, but he got over it quickly and moved on without fuss. A class act, I’m sure he’ll go far.

The close season is looming. Lots of ideas and plans – another crack at the perch, a trotting trip or two and maybe another go for a big pike – quite which of those I’ll get around to before the 15th remains to be seen.