Fishy Tales


I was told there was an angler who regularly caught big bream from a local reservoir, but after many visits I failed to come across him, or any of the big slabs. I was beginning to think the bream and the mystery person were both myths, until one day I spotted someone in the distance launching out a feeder. It took ages to hit the water and must have travelled 80 metres. Just as I reached the guy his rod was bent into something big. It turned out the stories were true because it was a superb double-figure fish. Since that fateful day, I have got to know the long-range feeder maestro. He explained the reservoir is a notoriously hard nut to crack and people either love or hate the place. One day, after we had both sat biteless for many hours, out came one of those Deeper sonar devices. The screen sprung to life with lots of big fishy shapes, mostly hovering at mid-depth. The same picture in both our swims. The fish were there, but not ready for this angler, just yet.


I was fishing a busy commercial complex in the height of summer, not knowing the venue or doing particularly well. A chap turned up and settled 20 metres away. What caught my attention most was he was dressed like a game angler, the type of clobber you would expect to see someone wearing on an exclusive salmon beat. But this was carp puddle land. Another big surprise occurred when he started tackling up an extra-long Bolo-style rod. How weird I thought, but it soon became evident this person knew what he was doing. Every time I looked around he was playing a lively carp. It was steaming hot and tough going for most, but Mr Cool emptied the place. This reminded me of another unusual result on a canal match. At the draw, a hopeful youngster was showing everyone a special bag of black paste powder he had bought, but was soon told by towpath regulars he was wasting his time with it. Of course, he just had to go on to win the event.


My old match fishing mate Andy from London, known as ‘Epicentre’ due to his ability to draw fliers, occasionally joins me for some fishing in the Midlands. Andy used to be well known on the London and South East match circuit. He was so good at picking winning pegs, locals would refuse to tell him what numbers the best ones were! These days he still has the uncanny knack of sitting on a pile of fish. He loves experimenting with different pellet flavours, to the extent the bailiff at Woodland Waters affectionately calls him ‘Chocolate Orange’. That refers to the latest weird flavour pellets Andy has been bagging up with on the venue. On a freezing cold day in the middle of winter, his hands turned bright orange as he mixed up his bait, but the smiles were soon wiped from our faces when he emptied the place. Carp and skimmers were almost crawling up his pole. I tried the same gear a few days later and exactly the same thing happened. Very strange.


Work trips to the Far East were hard graft, with so much travelling in my job as a product developer, but I did get the odd chance to go fishing. The Chinese version of a commercial is vastly different to our carp puddles. Big concrete bowls like swimming pools are filled with sea fish. On one trip, with temperatures in the high 30s, I retreated underneath a gaudy umbrella, which would have looked more at home on a beach. I still enjoyed it, catching some interesting fish. I spotted a whole family on a pool behind me, participating in a full lunch, laid out on what looked like a dining room table! Dad was reclining in a massive armchair, rod in one hand, beer in the other. Fishing is a lot more laid back over there. On another trip, a crazy businessman I became friends with challenged me to a match. I won it but didn’t realise we had to buy all the fish we had caught! We ended up selling them, parked up in the middle of the busiest intersection in China.


There are some great characters in a local club I sometimes fish with, and the standard of angling is very good. One of the first matches I went on was won by Cyril, who caught carp after breaking the ice on a freezing cold day. Since then I noticed Cyril is particularly good on carp venues, always winkling fish out of nothing. Last year I was following the scales around after a club event and he was in the running, just missing out on another victory, as you can see from the accompanying photograph. Only thing is, this angler’s real name is Dave! Nobody knows where his nickname came from. Reminds me of Trigger always calling Rodney ‘Dave’ in ‘Only Fools and Horses’, and the classic lines: “My name is Rodney”, followed up with, “Okay Dave”. I sometimes see Cyril in town when I go shopping with the wife, and on one occasion after saying “Hi Cyril”, she asked me who he was. I told her it was Dave, and that he was one of the best anglers in Grantham.   


I was working in the Alnwick offices of Hardy and Greys when someone from the shop out front said I had a visitor. It turned out to be Nick, who runs a huge estate just down the road. He asked me if I would kindly test-fish a small pond on his land, which had been neglected for many years. I of course obliged! The pond was nearly a lake, just over one acre in size and situated in a heavily wooded valley. My mate Andrew Sowerby came with me and it wasn’t long before I was attached to something very big. I was using waggler tackle, but whatever it was didn’t want to play. My 13ft float rod was bent alarmingly and stayed that way for a long time. In the end there was a bit of a stalemate, with a huge lump of a carp wallowing in the marginal weed beds to my right. Andrew tried to get it out, but it was too big to fit in my landing net. It sadly came off in the end. It turned out the place was full of fish and I enjoyed many happy days there.


At one time my parents only lived a stone’s throw away from the River Glen at Pinchbeck. It’s just 40 minutes’ drive for me these days, and I’ve enjoyed going back. When I fished there all those years ago it was teeming with roach, but is now renowned for producing big perch. Although designated as a river, this is really a drain with a bit of flow. It’s surrounded by steeply dredged flood banks and there are roads on either side for several miles. But once you get down to the water, the venue is nicely overgrown. You are in your own dream world down there and I’ve caught some cracking perch, along with several other species, even bleak. Mum and Dad’s old house is still there, along with the local pub. It’s like a time warp every time I return. I remember going to the shops in nearby Spalding and seeing a big match on the River Welland, which is still a winter hotspot. Bob Nudd and his famous white cap was there, standing out from the crowd.


It was a nice surprise when the local angling club secretary sent me an email to say an old fishing pal of mine was trying to get in touch. Mark’s wife had somehow found out I was living not that far away and had passed on a phone number. It turned out they were situated on the outskirts of Lincoln, just 30 minutes up the road from me, so I arranged to go visit. They had told me to bring some tackle and bait. Mystified, I parked outside their house, wondering where we were going to wet a line. It looked like the normal leafy suburbs you see around most major cities. But the big surprise came when my old mate took me through to his back garden. There was a massive lake at the bottom of the lawn, which must be every angler’s dream setting. We sat there for many hours exchanging stories of when we used to fish together, recalling all the wonderful characters we knew, way back when we both lived in North London. That really was another lifetime ago. 


When I lived in Northumberland there wasn’t much coarse fishing. One of the few standout venues was Whittle Dene Reservoirs, close to Hadrian’s Wall near Hexham. The Northern and Lower Lakes, as they are called, were the most popular, providing quality roach and skimmer fishing, although my favourite was the Great Southern. Not many anglers were prepared to cart their gear down to this big reservoir, which was a good hike to get to, so I often had the place all to myself. Although regularly ravaged by cormorants, somehow the big roach managed to survive, but they were extremely skittish. It wasn’t easy fishing, but by using a mixture of watercraft and stealth, I gradually learnt how to conjure out some good nets of prime fish. Feeder, pole or waggler methods worked, depending on the depth and terrain. Fluorocarbon made a big difference to my catches, which also included some bonus big dace and a couple of surprise chub.


I’ve always liked reservoir fishing because it’s challenging. When I was a kid, I used to fish the famous Walthamstow complex, well before it became a carp and specimen bream mecca. Back in those pre-cormorant days, the place was heaving with skimmers and roach. I returned many years later, working on various features, catching some jumbo slabs into double figures. As mentioned previously, my local reservoir these days is a much harder nut to crack. Although I haven’t caught any of the big bream yet, I have enjoyed some cracking tench sport. On one occasion I was chucking a feeder way out into the open water, but kept noticing tiny clusters of bubbles close in, by a big weed bed. Luckily, I had a margin pole with me, so I quickly cupped some bait in and sure enough, after 30 minutes, the bubbler returned. I was soon latched into this wild tench, which gave me a few hairy moments, even on black Hydro elastic and a strong carp-style rig.


As a thank you for writing about Whittle Dene Reservoirs in their annual fishing guide, Northumbrian Water Authority used to kindly let me loose on Fontburn Reservoir after it closed at the end of the trout season. This beautiful wild looking water was situated high up in the hills north of Rothbury, offering an amazing 87 acres to explore! I wasn’t after the game fish, instead targeting the shoals of prime roach that had somehow got in there. I enjoyed some top sessions, catching many fin-perfect red fins to well over the pound mark. The waggler was better than the feeder because these fish used to patrol the gently shelving margins. The trick was to feed casters and hemp in small balls of groundbait by catapult, around 20 metres out, where the depth was between 6 and 8 feet. Sooner or later, the roach would arrive and then it was bagging time. I took this haul in a frantic last hour of daylight. It was eerie fishing there by myself, but I cherished every minute.


I was recently going through some of my older photo files and came across this snap of an amazing roach, sent to me by one of my German friends I used to work with at Hardy and Greys. I can’t remember who the guy was who caught it, but I believe the fish was over 5lbs! The magnificent creature was caught in 2010 from the River Ebro I think, soon after when I went over and fished there. It’s not that crazy to imagine specimens much bigger than normal. Years ago, nobody would have thought carp could grow beyond Dick Walker’s Clarissa, or barbel and bream to over 20lbs. Even the humble ruffe once surprised me. The record is only just over 5oz, but I’m convinced I saw one double that size when fishing from a boat on the River Thames. I could have almost touched the fish, but managed to spook it when dangling a bait in front of its nose. It looked a good 10ozs to me, hovering in the shallows by an island. Perch-like, but clearly spotted. 

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