Intimate water gains a personal best.

Kingfishers flying low over the water; a sparrow hawk lunging at a colony of goldfinches perched on blackthorn bushes; two wily otters slowly swimming by the far bank methodically looking for food; an observant hare skipping across a wheat field, and a pair of pheasants pecking at their feeder bin below a willow tree…these sightings are just some of many reasons why I love fishing!

I think we spend more time looking what’s around us rather than our float or quiver tip. And this is why I choose to take up the roving approach in winter. There is so much wildlife to see when you’re sat beside the water’s edge. 

My roving kit consists of a feeder and a float rod, spare terminal tackle, three loaves of bread, some worms, cheese paste and spam, a light fold away chair, landing net and scales, a rucksack full of goodies to eat, the thermals I’m wearing and of course, my Ghillie Kettle for a nice hot beverage.

On this particular day I’m to fish the Great Ouse in search of a few loggerhead chub. Recently, whilst walking my lurcher and whippet, I found what I would call virgin water. After a quick phone call to the council, I was informed the stretch of water was free and not belonging to any fishing clubs. The bailiff also mentioned that due to how overgrown it was, and that it’s a couple of miles from any road, anglers generally chose not to fish there. He hadn’t seen an angler in this location for years and that sounds absolutely perfect to me!

This part of the river weaves through spectacular countryside like a snaking road, with pools, inlets, endless overhanging trees, lots of rafts that have built up over the years, gentle slacks and clumps of brambles with fast glides. Perfect for a spot of chub fishing.

Is there anybody home?

Having made the long journey on foot, scouting for a swim, I eventually find one that looks promising. A crease running along a row of overhanging trees. Carefully trying not to step on the driest twigs and avoid tangling my line as I walk through the dense scrub, I get into position. I pinch a large piece of bread flake onto a size 6 hook and gently lob it into a small inlet. Leaving a large bow in my line, the swan shot bounces its way to the bottom of the riverbed. The quiver tip sets into a slight curve and I wait patiently and quietly for a possible take.

My preferred way of hooking bread flake. Mushroomed with hook point exposed underneath. 

In the meantime, I watched more goldfinches flying tree to tree, with their constant watchfulness for predators and what’s around them. The cock bird’s fluid twittering song soon attracts a sparrow hawk. He comes into view on my right, almost touching the water with his wings and then with incredible speed shoots straight up, zig zagging up and over the trees where the finches are perched. The colony starburst in all directions flying to their nearest cover. Was this the sparrow hawks attempt to take one of those finches, or was he just playing with them?

Two savage thumps on the quiver tip and I strike. I’ve connected with a good fish and it instantly heads for cover. You have to bully chub away from any obstructions quickly, giving them no chances, otherwise they’ll most certainly take you to the nearest snag. I managed to turn him away from one of the overhanging tree roots and into the open flow. He continues to thrash away and heads for the next snag, an overhanging tree to my right, he knows his escape routes by heart, that’s for sure!

My rod continues to thump away, absorbing every head bang from the chub. I change the rods positioning, keeping the pressure on and turn him away for a second time. My line is so tight that as the wind hits it, it produces an eerie high pitched whining sound, like the un-tuned note of a fiddle. He’s trying to head back to the inlet where he fell for my trap, accelerating away and taking more line with him, but I keep the pressure on and turn him away for a final time. My rod is rocking and bucking in my right hand. The swan shot soon appears from under the surface, closely followed by a pair of large white rubbery lips. I instantly know by looking at him, he would be my biggest chub to date and I slowly guide this beautiful specimen into my landing net.

The joy I feel as I slide him into my landing net and peer in for a better look; he gave me such a fight and I sincerely thank him for that. The adrenaline continues to rush through my veins and even more so when I see what the weighing scales are telling me. I’ve just beaten my previous personal best of 5lb 8oz! 

He is a beauty at 5lb14oz…a fighting fit winter chub.

Read about my next session…I fancy my chances in higher water floods, trotting with one of my homemade stick floats. And what a surprise there was in store for me there!

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We do it for love

The Christmas shopping has now ended for another year. All that’s left now is to hunt and stalk our Christmas dinner. It’s tradition in my family to provide venison that has been stalked, killed and prepared for the table. This year has been a tough one for me. I was involved in car crash last December. Since then I’ve had lots of physiotherapy and assessments and I’m remaining positive, fighting to get back to full fitness.

Will I be up for the task, to keep the family tradition alive and bring home a plump tasty deer? We shall see…

Today was the coldest it’s been down south at 0c. There was a sharp crisp chill in the air. The gritters were out in numbers spreading salt turning the tarmac to a tinge of orange. Winter is really here. As my wife drives us home, I had this urge of visiting a stretch of river that particular screams chub. Whilst in the car, I calculated the time to get back home, have something to eat, get changed, and head to the waters edge. If my estimate was right I should arrive at approximately 15:00hrs leaving me a little time to maybe bank a chub.

I crouched down, and slowly tip toed to the bank trying not to step on the driest twig. To my left on the opposite bank was a very large overhanging willow tree. I tore off a piece of bread flake and pinched it onto the size 6 hook. A gentle underarm cast towards the tree. The three swan shots hit the water slowly sinking the bread flake. The quiver tip puts in a slight curve and settles. It’s 15:15hrs, I wasn’t far out with my estimations. It’s cold, very cold, I push my hat down as far it can go to cover my ears and neck, then raise my snood to cover 90% of my face. I looked like a ninja, but a ninja with a fishing rod, a loaf of cheap bread, a bucket to sit on, and covered from head to toe in dark green clothing.

I didn’t wait long. The quiver tip smacked around at a rate of knots and I’m into my first fish. This bugger was determined to lose me in the reeds, to be honest the swim was very snaggy, but if you want chub then snaggy swims it is. After two attempts to break free I eventually landed him. A fine conditioned river chub too.

I had enough time to look for another swim. I walked 100yrds or so to a narrow bend. Again I casted a large piece of bread flake and rested the rod. Whilst rubbing my hands together to form some form of heat, a pair of pheasants on the opposite bank were going up to roost. The hen bird took the highest position where the thorns were the thickest. Once she settled and snuggled in, she was not to be seen. The cock bird however chose the lower position. He took a while to settle, calling his hen “COCK COCK, COCK COCK!” but she wasn’t to move any nearer to him.

A quick tap on the quiver tip, shortly followed by a wrap around and I’m me into another fish. This one felt better and was not stopping for anyone. His escape route was to take me downstream and around the bend to another fallen tree and dart into cover. Keeping my rod low and applying pressure soon got him to change his mind. Now with a new direction in mind he heads upstream. I could just about see my line on the surface of the water, zig zagging as he desperately tried to find another piece of cover to dive into. The more line I put back onto my reel, the closer he was getting. Landing net ready, I managed to position it in the direction he was heading for, the nearest margin to my left. Holding my rod high over my right shoulder, his head appears at the surface of the water. I turn him towards me and he greats me with a huge tail splash. Seeing those huge rubbery lips and his large mouth wide open, I guide him into the net.

It will soon be dark, the pheasant is still there, COCK COCK! I video him as he tries to settle for the night. Maybe he was applauding me!

Two takes and two lovely muscular river chub banked. What else would one be doing on such a cold afternoon, who will torture themselves in cold conditions for a couple of fish? I do 👍

We do it for love 🎣

Here is a little clip of the roosting pheasants. The footage may appear grainy.

Virgin Water

I fished a stretch of water today that has been un-fished for many years. I’ve scouted this stretch for a while, Its very hard to get to and a lot walking is involved to get there. There is no sign of man in this area. My final investigative inquiry was to call the council who confirmed that no club owns the stretch of river and fishing is permitted. So with all the boxes ticked, I hit it.

Parking the truck and carrying one rod, landing net, unhooking mat and a small rucksack filled with tasty sandwiches and terminal tackle, I began my long walk. Stopping every so often, watching the squirrels running up the trees, startled that they’ve seen a human-being.

When I arrived at the location, I chose my first swim. I had to rummage around thorn bushes, untangling caught line from my rod and unhooking the landing net off the thorns and twigs to get to the waters edge. This was going to be repeated all day. Each chubby area I found I had to quietly make a small enough gap for me to enter. Most areas I could only undercast as it was so overgrown. I’m scratched from head to toe and I was still taking out thorns from my gloves, hat and boots when I got home.

I covered the size 6 hook with a large piece of bread flake, and lobbed it in beside the big fallen willow tree. My swan shots took a few seconds to settle. I didn’t have to wait long. My quiver tip bounced and curved and I was Into my first fish. It felt solid instantly and then a scatty jig from left to right. It didn’t feel like a chub at all. I then saw a flash of a large silver body. I initially thought it was a feisty bream, until I eventually got it to the top and saw its bright orange fins. I landed it with a huge smile on my face, and disbelief. What a fine roach. I placed it on the unhooking mat, took out the hook that was placed firmly in the top lip, and in excitement I shouted “YES!” I knew he was going to be over the 2lb mark. I catch many roach and have had them near to that mark, but this particular one one had a very large girth and it’s the biggest that I’ve ever caught. I was the over the moon. It has taken me (minus the long break from fishing) 24yrs to catch one over the 2lb mark. He weighing in at 2lb 2oz. Just about made it!

What a great start. I continued on roving, looking for those chubby swims and then making suitable small gaps for myself to squeeze through. I didn’t want to leave big noticeable areas just incase someone finds them.

I didn’t get a sniff at any of the cheese paste and this stuff really stinks, however bread flake this season hasn’t let me down. I banked seven chub in total with most of them being over the 3lb mark and four chublets well over a good pound. I lost three chub, two bounced off the hook during the battles and one in cover. I know there’s decent sized chub and of course roach in here, so I’ll be back there very soon.

I’ve also attached a small video clip to not only show you how overgrown it is, but whilst waiting for a take, have look at who was passing through the thorn bushes opposite me.

You may have to zoom in

Roving 1 Chub 2

The saying goes “Third time lucky” that’s me.

Having covered a fair few miles of river over the last two days and blanking is enough to dishearten you. But us anglers carry on and continue to hunt/stalk those fish. The determination gets stronger!

My plan this afternoon was to cover a stretch of river from left to right, moving swims every 40mins. I arrived around 14:00pm to a location that screamed chub. A tree had decided to live out its remaining life onto the water, and judging by the debris it had collected, it had fallen some time ago. Beside this tree, a small narrow fast flowing cut, which joined the main flow of the river.

It was that crease of the river that I was to drop a large piece of bread flake. For me it’s all about going big in winter. Big hook, big bait and 6lb line straight through to a size 6 specialist.

Two small balls of liquidised bread with a little turmeric added, thrown into the cut beside the margins, this produced a nice cloud which will eventually make its way to my hook bait.

I didn’t wait long for the quiver tip to smack down and then bend right around. I lifted the rod too soon, the fish screamed away towards the low bridge and after feeling two or three heavy knocks the hook gave way. It certainly felt like a powerful chub. With that in mind I was prepared to move on and find another swim, but my gut feeling was telling me to stay.

The rod tip settled and I set my stop watch to 40 minutes. 20 minutes later another great curve in the quiver tip. This time I allowed a little more time, bingo! I held the rod low, applying pressure to keep him away from the possible tree roots and most certainly the debris. The location I’m fishing was risky, a 50/50 chance of getting snagged, if I didn’t steer the fish away quickly. Chub certainly give a good fight and will use every opportunity to get you, the angler, in trouble. Away from cover he continues to fight, my rod absorbing each tail thrash and body dive to get to cover. I was glad to see his huge rubbery lips and wide open mouth as I slid him into the landing net.

As I’m admiring his beauty I notice that a small part of his tail was missing, an old injury that had healed. I named him “The Half Tail Warrior” even with some tail missing he fought like one. Who knows, someday I may get to catch him again.

The light was fading, the wind was getting stronger and temperature dropping. The cold wind was smacking against my face making my eyes water. One final cast into the same spot.

I began to pack my things away and as I was rolling up my unhooking mat, the rod tip bends around and I’m into another fine chub. Not as big, but just as chunky and angry as the first.

I slipped him back into the water. It was pretty much in darkness now, the wildfowl had arrived home and several ducks beside me were waiting patiently to gobble up the fallen bread pieces by my feet. I can’t complain, two great chub taken on bread flake. I gathered my things and made the short walk to my vehicle.

Homeward bound for a hot brew and a seat beside the fire.

Note the tail A big piece of bread used on a size 6 hook

Surprise river carp

Do you ever get those days, when no matter what you do, or what bait you choose and what depth you fish, they just will not take your bait?! Today was one of those days.

It was a crisp afternoon, 3c with no wind and overcast. There was no one in sight. I usually see a few anglers scattered around, trying their luck with spinning rods, but today – zilch!

I arrive at my location, a pretty little swim where I’ve had many a day catching good bags of roach. Approximately 13ft deep with a gravelly river bed. I set up and adjusted my float so I’m touching bottom. Today’s baits were mixed maggots, some leftover castors and bread. On my ledger rod I had a nice piece of spam with a size 6 hook buried inside it.

I always start with 9mm bread punch, then if the roach home in, I’ll move on to 11mm to get the bigger stamp of fish. 30 minutes in and the roach are definitely not liking my Warburtons. Two bites, two in the net. Pristine examples of river roach. It’s so nice to see that roach are making a comeback, but not today. Over the next two hours I changed baits, depth, hook lengths, hook sizes and distances. No matter what I did, they just wasn’t interested. Winter fishing eh!

At around 15:45 I had caught five roach, my ledger rod was as still as could be, not a twitch. As the light was fading away I decided to retire my float rod. I made myself a brew and had a chat with my dog whilst packing the rod away. The plan was to fish until darkness.

I moved my chair nearer to my dog and he took this as an invitation, and jumped up and perched himself upon my knees. The warmth he generated was definitely welcome. I think he was thinking the same about me, we were both content to just sit and wait.

There’s nothing like listening and watching the noisy Canada geese return home after a days foraging, as they circle several times before landing. Adding to the melodies of dusk; The distinctive whistle from mallard ducks as they fly past at speed; The pheasant cock birds calling their hens as they go up to roost, and the sharp clapping of wood pigeon wings as they settle and nestle onto branches above me. I couldn’t be in a better place.

Well what happened next really truly surprised me. I was hoping for a possible chub, a nice sized perch, or even an eel as I’ve caught eels at dusk before. I was about to switch on my infrared light, when my dog jumps off my knees and stares at my rod. I press the switch on my head torch to full beam and see my rod tip twitching. By the time I got to my feet the twitch transformed to a slow deep bending knock, which was getting faster by the second. The bells on my line started to chime in time with each heavy knock. I waited for a further two pulls, then lifted the rod from it’s rest.

The next eight minutes, I was in battle trying to control a fish that felt almost like a barbel. During the summer I had lost four fish that felt exactly like this one.

Each thud it gave, I prayed I didn’t lose it, but each turn of the reel I felt I gained some luck. After several runs and trying my best to keep him out of cover, he starts to tire. When the fish eventually came to the surface, I honestly thought it was a bream, yes a bream – a fighting one! As I got it nearer and ready to land, my head torch shone directly on it. I moved my head forwards with my neck stretched out like a rooster and squinted my eyes. “A carp!” I shouted in excitement. Several unhappy wood pigeons took flight from the woods, slapping their wings in disgust at being disturbed. And in that moment I froze, forgetting to land it. I’m standing there with a landing net in one hand and in the other my rod in full curve. The carp must have been thinking “Come on mate you’ve won, what are you waiting for, bring me in!” I quickly came out of my daze and slid the net underneath him. “Yes!”

I didn’t have any weighing scales so I’m not too sure of it’s weight, however it didn’t really bother me because a river carp to me is special. I may not ever catch one again. What a surprise!

I’ve heard of them being in this area, and now I can truly say they are actually here.

Float satisfaction

There’s nothing quite like making your own fishing floats, then using that same float to catch fish.

I not a professional float maker by far, but I enjoy making them, and I make floats to be used. I use traditional methods and materials. Different diameters and colours of silk and cotton threads are used to whip (a term to tie/wrap around) on brass eyes and to sometimes decorate the body of the float. There’s not too much skill involved, but you need patience, a steady eye and hand. Prepping floats takes time. If bird quills are used they must De-feathered, cut to size, sanded, painted and then varnished. Reeds will need drying up to several years before they are ready to be made into floats.

I use mainly bird quills, my favourite to work with are swan and goose, but you can use crow, peacock, pheasant seagull and more. My classic all time favourite has to be the porcupine quill. Strong, attractive, and super sensitive. I’ve caught many good bags of roach using a porcupine quill. It’s an all round float in my books.

I also make my floats using reeds, Sarkanda. A delicate reed imported from India. This can be hard to find in the Uk but there are suppliers out there that have already completed the drying process and will sell you a nice batch. I make wagglers, both insert and straight. I very recently made one and took it to my local river and caught 15lb3oz bag of roach. Super floats indeed.

There are many float makers producing stunning floats. It’s an art and the more you make the better you get at it. There are secret society groups you can join, where in depth discussions on materials and what methods are shared. You’ll even get a uniform to wear if you get accepted. A cult of the float makers.

This tribal method luckily continues, I have friends in Thailand who continue to make their own floats. They’re nothing special to look at and there’s no complexity to their design, but they catch many fish, lots of them.

A float should be never be judged by it’s looks.

Porcupine Quill

Sarkanda reeds drying after varnishing

Sarkanda Reed wagglers finished

Swan quill prior to varnishing

Goose Quill

Growing up with Poultry and Canaries

From a very early age I was introduced to poultry, rabbits, pheasants, canaries, racing pigeons. The list is endless.

My father kept Yorkshire canary’s (large ones) German Rollers, Fife’s, Borders, bullfinches, linnets and mules (Goldfinch x Canary) I can always remember as a young boy helping my dad clean, feed and condition them. Colour feeding his red factors, which back then was my favourite, seeing those feathers eventually change to light or dark orange. In the summer he would bath them by gently spraying each bird with water. The birds loved it. I remember seeing them lift their wings and start to preen themselves, hopping on the perch and whistling. The songs that each particular canary would sing would fill the room with pure bliss. My favourite canary for its song is the Roller Canary. It sings with an almost closed beak and swollen looking throat, it rolls a beautiful quiet song, in fact their song is in surround sound as it looses itself in the background. Very melodic. My favourite mule, Goldfinch x Canary. Mules are not everyone’s cup of tea and those people tend to stay close to pure finches.

At times I could hear my dad communicating with them in the sheds by whistling to them. He would respond to their song and vice versa! Canary talk haha. In the shed where he kept the roller canary’s, he would have a tape playing all day of recorded songs by other roller canary’s, it’s to train young birds into song. It’s quite fascinating stuff. Going to bird shows was exciting as I got to see lots of other breeders canaries. The sound was just as bad (but in a good way) as poultry shows with lots of different songs from the male birds competing with each other. Back then it was really about getting the right shape/colour and song, but nowadays it’s a much different story and people who attend/compete are interested in money. A bit like crufts…

And so my love of birds began. My dad also kept lots of poultry from silkies to heavy Sussex crosses x Indian game for eating. My strain of English Oxfords both large and bantam remain in our family today. I remember collecting eggs from the individual pens and placing them in trays to be later placed under broody hens. I learnt a lot from my father and it was poultry that interested me more than any other bird. At the same time my brother was racing and breeding pigeons. It’s fun and a lot of work is involved regarding conditioning, but I never took to it. He’s remained a pigeon fancier to this day.

Back in the 80’s lots of families bred rabbits and poultry for the table. Today it still goes on, but in a smaller scale. My brothers and I helped skin and gut many a rabbit, pluck wood pigeons and pheasants, and gralloch deer from the age of 9 and then helped to prep them for our dinner. Our family diet mainly consisted of game and lots of fresh veg that was grown from the garden. Food was either shot by father or bred by him to be killed or fished. We ate it all, pheasant, rabbit, hare, wood pigeon, venison, partridge, duck, goose, teal, trout, salmon, pike, zander and eels. I always remember seeing the freezer always stocked with food or something hanging in the garden like a brace of pheasants, hares and rabbits. I never ate the fish as I was put off it when I was at lower school which was schooled by nuns. They forced it down my throat (literally) and since that day I will not eat fish. Weird I know, because I absolutely love fishing and I put every fish back to live another day.

Mule

Red Factors

Golden Pheasants Ginger Oxford BantamsEnglish Oxford Large Fowl

Cock bird I bred that was gifted to a friend.