Sunday, 19 April 2020

Match Fishing - My Beginning

As the lock down continues I am doing my best to pass the time and stay sane and safe. I am still working from home, and am really busy at times, so that does help a lot and I'm thankful for this. A few more adjustments to the garden (including a few new plants / shrubs gone in) but that's all done now bar the regular weeding / pruning. Of course I get my regular walk in every day, between 30 minutes and an hour, and keep my eye out for the various birds and butterflies, should be good for that this week. A bit of weight work at home and some cardio stuff, but I can feel the muscles reducing and see the fat increasing on the belly due to additional eating and drinking. Ah well it will be a good incentive to get back to pre lock down when the gym finally opens up again.

Trying to think about what I can write fishing wise that might be of some slight interest to others, or maybe stir some memories for you. This time how did I get into match fishing..

As I mentioned in my last post once I got my 13 feet fiberglass beach caster (lol) and half decent reel I was able to fish the river a bit better. I only had one of those plastic tackle boxes which opened up with a few trays in it, so nothing to sit on, but then we always stood up on the river. But then one day I was given a wicker basket, wow! I could put the plastic box in it and my bait as well as food and drink. The old cow food bag which I used to carry my keepnet and landing net eventually got replaced by a net bag, those small thin jobs that you could get nothing else in bar your nets. It was easier to walk to Jackie Whites now which was really the only place I fished other than the very rare foray to Bitterwell lake. I fished with numerous school friends at the time (secondary school) but eventually ended up mainly fishing with two lads Kevin and Dave. Kevin had the best gear, most of it bearing the name Shakespeare on it, a blue and white rod and a plastic box. He also seemed to do the best when we went fishing which I put down to luck, of course it wasn't. Kev and Dave lived close to each other on the local housing estate that had been built in the early 1970's, so they were able to see each other a fair bit, me being down on the farm we had to cycle to meet up. I spent a lot of my teenager years on their housing estate with them and a lot of other kids I met at school, we went everywhere on our bikes.

One day Kev told me that him and Dave had found out about a junior fishing club and they had been to a meeting and learn't lots, and did I want to go with them next time. Think it was Friday evening the club met, in a Church hall in Whitehall, and the club was called Silver Dace. It was a fair way to cycle there from Willsbridge on my 3 speed bike, and to be honest I would have got lost if my mates had left me behind! Going into the hall it was very intimidating with all these kids who knew each other and were chatting away and half of them looked right bruisers, lol only joking. Luckily two gents who were running it were dead nice and came and spoke to me, they were Mike Bird and Derek Floyd, and these two guys were brilliant for junior anglers. There were other adults at the meeting, some parents (of the juniors) who were anglers (John Hawkins and many of his family), and one I recall was Malcolm Holbrook (RIP) who was there with his son Mark. In the nicest possible way Mark seemed to be the top dog, other kids were around him like bees at a honey pot. Another lad was Clayton Hudson, he was a good mate of Mark too it seemed, Clayton was friendly, easy to talk to and I was glad of his company, he's the same these days, not a bad bone in his body.

Another adult was present and this was Eddy Shortman, he was taking charge of the team to fish the Junior National on the river 1985. I was 16, late into match fishing, and if I didn't get picked I would never fish a junior national. A lot of the juniors were younger than 16, so they foolishly thought I would be a good angler, which I wasn't, but it did make it easier to make friends and try to get some information, though most of the words used by the others meant sod all to me, paternoster, hook length, crowquill etc. I had no clue that I was so bad, but fishing a match would soon sort me out.

The very first junior match I fished was on the clubs water, Chequers on the Bristol Avon. I remember the peg I was on, top of the straight just opposite the rock face. The river was flowing right to left and I set up a driftbeater float to fish maggots. I cannot remember much of the match, but I got confused when the river started going left to right but as nobody said anything I carried on. I had half a dozen dace in the keepnet I guess when Derek asked how I was doing. He said look at your net your fish are dying, and the fish were literally in an inch of water in the net. Derek explained there had been a tide and had I not noticed the river drop four feet, ooops. Disaster of a first match, but I think I got given a plastic disgorger as a prize which was better than the old metal thing I had. To be honest the memory is a bit flaky after that match, and I really do not know how but Eddy picked me to fish the National.

On the day of the national I had two rods as I now had a 10 feet ledger rod which came with one screw in quiver tip that was white. I remember sitting on the coach going to my section with nobody saying a word, but not me, I asked the lad next to me if he had fished a national before. Turned out he had, he had only won the national last year, and then I told him my peg number and he was next to me, shit why didn't I keep my mouth shut. By now I had at least got some sensible floats, wagglers, crowquills and stick floats, as well as a small selection of feeders. I set up a waggler (far too much float showing and heavy shot for droppers) and a groundbait feeder. Both rigs were fished direct since I still didn't know why you needed a hooklength.... I was having a poor match, I just was not going to catch those clever roach was I. When I chucked the feeder out I was having problems with the feeder sliding down to the hook, the BB shot wouldn't stay in place (god this was bad) even when I squeezed it hard with pliers, yep I had no paternoster. Somehow I snared a small skimmer, and then a proper bite and proper fish on the end. I'd not felt anything like this fish on a rod before, and my heart was going mad. It took an age to get this fish in close after casting so far out, and I now had 3 or 4 adults watching me. It was a bream, and the adults said 4lb+  as it slid towards my landing net, but withing a couple of feet the hook came out. I felt like crying, that was my team points gone right there. My 350 grammes was atrocious, and Eddy was not best pleased, but a few of the other lads struggled and that was that.

As a junior I fished in the Silver Dace B team in a winterleague match on the Avon at Barton Farm. On the way to the peg the strap on my wicker basket broke at one end, but I could still carry it. I managed to catch a 2 1/2lb bream which was better than halfway in the section. During the match I had a sudden bad stomach and ended up shitting myself, you can't make it up. Walking back was not comfortable at all, and then the strap on the other end of the wicker broke. I was glad one of the other juniors Dad's carried my box for me, and did my best to "cover" my ass lol.

It would have been easy to give up on match fishing, after all I was miles behind, and nothing was going well. But I've always been a stubborn person from a very young age, and would rather struggle and fight to get something sorted than to give up. I carried on with the juniors that season, and Mark and Clayton helped me a lot, I also started buying Angling Times and Anglers Mail and reading all manor of books. Another junior match I recall was a team champs on the Huntspill, I fished a waggler feeding maggots using my new found shotting pattern, 1 no4 1 no6 and 1 no8. I had a 20 hook but this was still tied direct! Anyway I was doing OK it seemed when Andy Britt came along and told me to carry on doing what I was doing. He asked me what strength hook length I was using, and I said "what hook length?". He told me I would be catching twice as much if I used a thinner line. Well that stuck with me and it was an important lesson learned. I ended up 10th on the day in a big match for juniors and won a bait tray with 4 bait boxes in it, I was well chuffed!

The rest of my season for the juniors wasn't anything to write home about, but I was learning fast and as I was working I had been able to buy better gear, carbon rods, a closed face feel, a mitchell match, and of course a Shakespeare box. I was catching a lot more, but not enough to stand out, but things were now beginning to click and the basics were falling into place.

Stay Safe everyone.

Monday, 13 April 2020

The early days, very early days

It has been a fine Easter weekend that is for sure, lovely warm weather for the most part and other than a couple of walks out I've spent much of it in the garden. Painting a lot of the time, and I've got a small vegetable patch and have planted eight different vegetables, fingers crossed I'll get something to grow. As the garden is new I'm not sure exactly what plants are growing, so I'll wait and see and decide on future flowers, bushes etc. I've seen masses of butterflies this weekend so would like to get more of them hanging around the garden.

Anyway, I was thinking after writing the last blog that I could have probably gone right back in time to when I first really thought about fishing and probably how did it come about. I was brought up on a farm in Willsbridge, just along from Londonderry Farm, and it had Siston Brook running through  which eventually flowed into the Bristol Avon at Jack Whites. As a very young boy I remember the stream had a weir, sluice gate and mill pool, and it was the weir pool that attracted anglers attention. I would sit and watch them occasionally, no idea what fish they were catching other than eels which I soon learned looked different to everything else. The weir pool must have been about 400 years old, and some of the fish that were in there (roach, chub, perch) were not to be found in the rest of the shallow stream. I was allowed to search the shallow part of the stream, where I used to see sticklebacks, millers thumb, and stone loach. I'd watch these little fish and learned to be naturally still and quiet, and of course other wildlife would show itself to me, water voles, grey wagtails and kingfisher. A few memories of the pool are once seeing the weir sill alive, it was covered with elvers. A lad's float being caught by a crayfish, and falling in over my head and being dragged out by my cousin (although that last memory is more like a dream but it did happen).

Disaster was to strike, the council informed us there were to be thousands of houses to be built along the stream and around it upstream. This would cause much more water to run into the stream and in all probability cause the farm to be regularly flooded. The council advised the weir pool, weir, and sluice gates would have to be destroyed and the brook itself be dug out, so instead of the banks being a couple of feet above the stream they would be in places 20 feet. Even though I was a very young boy the damage and destruction was very upsetting to me, but who listens to the complaints of a 8 year old. All we were left with were banks that were either steep and muddy, or piled and covered in stones. It was only a place where water flowed, there was no habitat.

It took quite some years, I do not remember how many now, for life to return to the banks of the brook, bushes, the odd reed, and saplings. Weed began to return to the brook, and eventually fish, but they were different fish. No more stone loach, now what appeared were mainly dace, the odd trout, and chublets. The weir pool was still a little deeper and wider for a few years, before eventually it became as any other part of the stream. One fish that I began to see was flat fish, think they were flounders, these obviously came up on the high tides, and in the early 1980's I often saw them in the stream, and caught a few on the river to (including one at Fry's in a Xmas match which saved a blank). The water voles returned to the stream, as did other bird life, and as I got older I was given a catalogue fiberglass rod and Intrepid Black Prince reel loaded with 6lb+ line. Didn't catch a lot on it, but you've got to start somewhere I guess. Then the black plague came to our waterways, mink, within a fairly short time all the water voles were wiped out and mallards and moorhen became less common. What we didn't realise was that the mink also had a liking for eels, and they were merrily churning through them. I hated those mink, let out of the cages of mink farms but "animal welfare" do gooders who ended up in that one act eradicating huge amounts of our native wildlife. I managed in later life to shoot a couple of mink that were in the stream, but the damage was done, no more water voles ever since. Thankfully Avon Wildlife Trust set some traps and mink were eventually wiped out or at the very least became a rarity.

When I got my first longer rod a 13 feet fiberglass job (known by others as a beach caster) and a half decent reel I began to be able to fish further out in the river. It had to double as a float rod and a ledger rod, and I still didn't catch a great deal but I got better, and luckier. Back then, a few roach or dace would be enough to keep me happy. Perch were absent on the river at this time, but eels were still plentiful. Bream and chub were just a dream. I could go out all day and just get a handful of fish and be happy, fishing on into the evening was the best though. 

These days the stream on the farm still contains mainly dace and the odd trout, but gudgeon and odd roach and perch are in there. I have seen heron, little egret, redshank, snipe, kingfisher, dipper, as well as lots more common birds there. Otters have also ventured up there too, and foxes and badgers make their homes in the steep sided banks where hedgerows now flourish, and even deer are often close by.  And, despite at least three pollution incidents over the years that I can recall, nature has returned to the farm stream and I hope it can remain. For sure living close to water gave me a great interest in wildlife and fishing, and I have a lot to thank that little stream for.

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Fishing gone by, long gone!

Normally I would be writing about a lovely day in April sat in the sun with a lovely Southerly breeze and shed loads of carp, well I can dream. I would also normally be writing following on from 2001 but a few things on Facebook have made me thought about digging up some old stuff. By the way if you are on Facebook you should look up Bill Knott, he is putting on some really great old articles from years ago, fascinating stuff.

As I recently moved house I had to pack and unpack a few things, and in doing this I came across some old photos, and documents which I thought I would share.

I don't possess any photo's of me as a real young un with a fish but I have found some from when I was about 16 years old.

This photo was taken by Andy Britt and it shows me holding my one and only tench caught from Jack Whites on the Bristol Avon. I think I would have been 16 years old. I remember walking down to the river from my house (when I used to live on a farm close by) and I walked up from the mouth of the brook and all the way up to the steps and every peg was taken. I was gutted. Luckily the guy on the steps said I could get in just down below him as he was packing up soon. I chucked a feeder across and remember having a few chub in a couple of hours, and then this tench which lead me a merry dance. I was astonished when I landed it, Andy who was walking the bank reckoned it was 5lb+. Not long after I hooked another decent fish, but this disappeared upstream snapping me in the process. For a very long time this was without doubt my favourite fish caught on the river.

My first ever fishing related photo in the local Evening Post was taken I think in the same season as above but the last week of the season. I had decided to fish Chequers Straight for one last time and set up a waggler which I really enjoyed. After 20 minutes I hadn't had a bite, and was getting worried as the river was going a little fast. However, when the float finally went under it was a solid resistance, but halfway back it came off. Another 15 minutes and another  decent fish and I lost it again, but this time I saw that it was a bream. I quickly set up a feeder and chucked it out and proceeded to catch a few bream. Two guys came walking along with cameras, and started asking me questions and wanted to take a photo if I caught a bream. Well I did hook one, but the feeder was snagged, so they got a picture of the rod bending lol. Later in life I realised those two guys were Ray Bazeley and Dave Haines. However, when the article was printed they got my picture and Mike Kent's name, and vice versa lol. I cut out the two things and kept as my first sort of claim to fame!

In the close season we found some small ponds called Upham Farm, well found it via Paul Dicks who organised some coach trips there. I then went there on and off for a few years, and got to know the owner, a the farmer James Wilcox, quite well and he even let me and my wife stay in a spare room for a few quid. This place was genuinely my first real taste of small carp fishing, and before I had a pole it was all waggler fishing. I found you could catch in close and I would fish a short clear plastic waggler by the bank and feed maggots. Always lots of fun, and caught literally hundreds of carp. Think this was one of my earliest photos of a carp at Upham.

Just up the road from Upham was another venue called Hogsbrook Lake, quite different, this was two much bigger lakes and they were spring fed and bright red in colour. Much harder fishing generally but the carp were bigger. The upper lake was fished mostly, but the lower lake had plenty of fish in it, and I once found carp in the shallows feeding in the inlet from the upper lake. We used to take a day trip down to here and I caught my biggest carp back in the day at 7lb here.

When I was 16 I had a holiday with some school mates and an older chap that took us every where for a couple of years, we went to a place in Cornwall called Shillamill Lakes. It was hard fishing for us most of the time, and I caught 100 roach and some very small carp on the first day on wag and mag, then I had 17 tench on straight lead an meat on the next day. After this it was rock hard. But by going for walks round the lakes I found odd carp feeding in close, I adopted a free line bread flake approach so the bread would sink to the bottom. Depending where the carp was feeding I could either watch the carp take the bait or just watch the line on the surface. Although not my normal style it was certainly exciting.

Well I think that is enough pictures of a young me, lol. Hopefully they give you a few minutes distraction and a chuckle, stay safe everyone.