My friend Steve suggested checking out a golf course lake just outside Lincoln, telling me it can be a superb winter roach venue. I took my umbrella along because I had visions of golf balls raining down all day. Thankfully, it was nothing like that, being situated next to the course, rather than surrounded by it. The beautiful lake was bigger than expected and screened off from the golfers by trees. I liked the look of it and although Steve said he hadn’t seen any bream during past trips, I set up a feeder just in case, along with full depth and shallow pole rigs. The level was well down, I imagine because they must use this place to water the greens. Plumbing up with the pole revealed three feet of water, while casting around with a bomb I could only find a maximum depth of 4ft. Steve had already set up when I arrived because he lives just down the road. He was catching small roach as I got myself organised, beginning by cupping in soft groundbait at 10 metres.
30 METRE POLE
The loose groundbait contained casters, chopped worms and a few micro pellets, a versatile mix aimed to find out what the fish wanted. I also cast the feeder out a few times to get some bait in on that line, before going for a walk to see what the rest of the place looked like. Apart from us, there were only a couple of carpers on the water. One of them was fishing against the far side rushes in a big bay, carefully pushing out the longest pole I had ever seen, with a feed cup attached to the end. It turned out this ingenious chap had made the floating pole himself. I stood there amazed, watching him expertly dumping bait right over his leger rig. The other carp angler told me that bream were resident, but that we were on the wrong bank for them. I noted the area where he said he had caught some proper ones from, and went back to see what was going on my side of the lake. Steve was catching well by this time, netting the odd better quality roach.
15 METRE POLE
Steve’s pole only went up to a sensible length and he was using most of it to find a bit of extra depth. He was enjoying plenty of bites by this stage, but missing a few, mainly I suspect because the fish were more cagey than normal due to the lack of water. It was noticeable he would get a flurry of bites and then the shoal would back off. The bailiff came round and it only cost me a fiver for a day ticket. He said they would be topping the levels up soon, which was good to know because I had a feeling this venue could be well worth spending some time on through the coming winter months. When I went back to my peg and started on the pole it was virtually a bite every put in, but to begin with the fish were small. I cupped in some more groundbait and continued loose feeding casters over the top, switching to the feeder to give my pole line more time to pull in bigger fish. It was slow going on the feeder, but eventually my quivertip sailed round.
The culprit turned out to be a pound-plus skimmer. Dreaming of big slabs turning up, I sat there ages waiting for another indication and when it came it was from a similar-sized fish. Back on the pole, and that area was buzzing with activity. I had to wade through small roach, rudd and perch to get at the better samples, but it wasn’t until I brought a shallow rig into play before things got really interesting. Odd decent rudd and better-quality red fins kept me busy. I could see some big swirls on the surface for my loose-fed casters by this stage. It was hectic and very enjoyable fishing. I did have another quick look on the feeder, and an identical-sized skimmer to the previous pair resulted. I couldn’t ignore the pole for too long however, where suddenly I was attached to a serious elastic-stretcher. The fish had hit my hook bait like a rocket and careered off several metres out into the open water. Everything held and this massive roach resulted.
On a trip to Nottingham I found myself walking the towpath of the bustling canal that runs through the city. There were no anglers about, not surprising really because it was alive with walkers, bikers, canoeists, boaters and joggers. Not safe to push a pole back, but a sign told me that some people must still fish this waterway. It’s run by Notts Federation of Anglers and day tickets are available. Only trouble is parking. If I wanted to get anywhere near, it looked like being impossible. This is something that irks me about many inner-city canals and rivers, in most cases lost to angling unless you take the urban drop-shotting, travelling light approach and the bus. Not practical for me, but I enjoyed dreaming of the roach, perch, bream, chub and carp the canal is renowned to hold over the massive 238 pegs available. I suspect they all remain empty most of the time these days, deserted by the majority in favour of more convenient commercial fisheries.
A few days later I was fishing a natural venue absolutely bustling with fishermen, the Old Nene at Benwick. This small river is still a winter playground for match anglers because even in built-up areas you can park a car without getting clamped or a ticket. In fact, anglers seem to be refreshingly welcome. A farmer told a mate and myself he didn’t mind us parking up behind our swims in his field. A smaller community probably notices the passing trade lots of anglers bring to local garages, cafes, pubs and shops. Big cities don’t ever comprehend this side of things, which is probably why so many of their retail premises are closed these days. Their loss and someone else’s gain. The reason places like Benwick and nearby March are so popular with anglers when the weather turns colder, is huge shoals of fish move into these more sheltered areas for the winter. This annual migration provides lots of action to many methods. More about this soon.
I had been looking forward to meeting up with the Fishing Magic and Thomas Turner team for months. We were staying at the Red Lion Hotel, which manages eight miles of fishing on the River Wye, just outside Hereford. It was also great to see John Bailey again, exploring the beats he knows so well. He put me on a beautiful glide, with stunning countryside all around. The only other angler in sight was the owner of the FM and TT brands, Richard Hewitt, seen here in the distance, fishing with an Avon rod. My choice was a traditional float rod. For those who don’t know, I developed the award-winning Hardy Marksman Supero range several years ago. But Hardy have now reverted to game only, so I’m working on what would have been a follow-on range. This time for Thomas Turner, using even more advanced nano carbon technology. Richard, John and myself were like kids in a toyshop with the new samples, which urgently needed testing.
I’ve never fished the Wye before. The most similar to it I can think of was the River Vyrnwy, a tributary of the Severn, another powerful and wild-looking waterway. The Vyrnwy was full of chub and this place looked like it should be too. To begin with, it was small dace and minnows, but it wasn’t long before my 13ft rod was heavily bent into something much bigger. I was only using my usual light line, small hook approach, but get the action of the blank right and it’s surprising what you can land. A good four-pound chub went back, followed by a pair of lively brown trout doing all kinds of acrobatics in and above the fast-flowing water. I was using a stick float, a method I still rate highly and a tactic you don’t see many anglers employing these days. I love the way you can build up a swim, especially on a long glide, gradually pulling fish up from downstream. This was to be the smallest chub I caught during my two sessions on the Wye.
Next day John took me to another part of the river, which featured in the popular Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing TV series. He left me for a couple of hours to get into the swing of things, starting again with a stick float. This time I got swamped by minnows and small dace, but also hooked a good chub out of the blue. Another four-pounder that gave my new float rod sample a good run out. When J.B. returned, I invited him to have a go fishing just upstream of my peg, because I needed to see how the new 11ft Avon sample was performing. I also wanted to see how he approached this fascinating river. By this time I had switched to a feeder, introducing pellets instead of hemp and casters, to try and get away from the small stuff. It wasn’t long before a huge swirl next to my feeder rod signalled John had got attached to something big and powerful. He was using hair-rigged Scopex boilies on a light, rolling leger set-up.
The concept behind bringing out a range of classic rods, but made from cutting-edge high-tech materials, is a new route for Thomas Turner. I don’t think enough Hardy Marksmans were produced to meet demand, which is probably why they often currently change hands for the same RRP, or even higher prices, than they did originally. They were great products, winning the European Fishing Tackle Trade Exhibition Best New Rod award in their Amsterdam show in 2012, also Angling Times Best Specialist Rod the following year. But even when Marksmans were at their peak, I was discovering exciting new nano carbon technology emerging in the Far East factories I visited. I left Hardy and Greys on good terms, mainly because I wanted to move further south to be closer to family and better coarse fishing, but never forgot about what I had seen. Back to the present, and I was witnessing new rods I had dreamt about finally in action.
I was fascinated by the tactics John was using. He was casting upstream with four spread-out large shot nipped on his main line. These were spaced at roughly 10-inch intervals, ending in a short hook length and hair rig set-up. He was feeding boilies a fair way out and when he cast out over the top, his unusual rig made a similar sound as it hit the surface. He was touch legering and the fish were on his hook bait almost instantly. A couple of large chub resulted, the best probably 5lbs. By this time I had hit into something big too on the feeder, loaded with Polony-flavoured pellets, banding a 6mm size as hook bait. I felt a heavy thump as the fish realised something was wrong, but then it hit into a previously unknown snag and everything went solid. I lost that one and missed a savage take next cast, quickly winding in because J.B. was playing yet another good fish. This fought differently to the chub and it turned out to be a wonderful River Wye barbel.
John had to leave as he was meeting up with some friends on another stretch nearby. I of course started to cast upstream where he had been feeding plenty of boilies, but still staying with my pellet attack. My quivertip dropped back dramatically and I was immediately into a good fish, using a 12ft feeder rod sample this time. It dealt beautifully with all the surges and thumps, as something wild at the other end of my line used the strong current to try and prevent me from bringing it in. I eventually netted a lump of a chub. I put it in a keepnet for a few minutes because I could still hear John in the distance, packing his gear away into his car. He came down to take some photographs and estimated it was close to being a six-pounder. After he departed again, I sat there hoping for a barbel. I did pull out of something that might have been, feeling a tad more powerful than the other fish I had been catching. I finished up with this even bigger chub.
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