Sunday, 11 May 2014

Osprey Specimen Book Launch

Osprey specimen book launch.

The Osprey group was formed by a group of specimen hunters and built around the pursuit of significant fish. It became a diverse fellowship of like minded anglers who shared their passion and expertise.
The Osprey Specimen Group are pleased to announce the launch of their much anticipated book 'The Osprey Specimen Group and Friends'. Possibly the first ever Specimen Group book of its genre!
Simon King was the records officer of the Osprey Group, as well as a unique  and accomplished angler.  Fellow members past and present have gathered in this book to pay tribute to his memory.

There are contributions from well known anglers from the specimen fishing world that include Chris Yates, Bob Buteux, Martin Bowler, Chris Turnbull, Len Arbery, Tony Gibson, Neill Stephen, Bob Morris, Chris Ball plus many more. There are also some brilliant anglers who have not written in a book before.
It should appeal to anglers of all backgrounds and draws its inspiration from a variety of the traditional, modern, historic and pleasure.  

The book launch shall be taking place 31st May at the Lands End Inn, Twyford, Reading, Berkshire RG10 0UE from 12 noon. The selling of the 50 First Edition Cloth copies will take place at the event. No pre-orders will be taken for these and are on sale first come, first served.  Priced at £40 inclusive of a numbered and signed certificate. At 360 pages, a fantastic book for all to buy, especially for the value!
20 Leather bound copies at £180 have been produced which will be available on general sale through Calm Productions. The standard copy is priced at just £25.

Chris Turnbull has contributed a chapter which includes a painting. This original painting will be auctioned by way of a blind bid.

The way this will work is that anybody wishing to bid can do so by emailing an offer to: placing a bid leaving contact details. This email option will close at 5pm on Friday 30th, and will continue throughout the day at the Lands End Inn. The Auction will conclude at 4pm where the highest bidder will be announced. The auction will consist of the Original painting by Chris Turnbull, and the number 1 (one) leather bound copy. A reserve price of £800 has been applied.

Many other attractions will take place on the day including a selection of paintings by Chris Turnbull and the chance to purchase some other specimen books at a reduced price, plus much more!

Simon K was very much the driving force behind getting the book together before losing a short battle with cancer. It was decided that all profits from the sales of the book be donated to Cancer Research UK in memory of Simon King.
A special Split cane rod has been made in memory of Simon K - further details to be announced.
It is very much a book about specimen fish and the pleasure it brings us. All contributors have been invited and a good turnout is expected. It is certainly an event not to be missed!

Further details regarding the sale of standard copies priced £25 (plus posting and packaging) will be through or call 0845 408 2606 or 0208 320 3886

Should you require any further details, please contact us at:

Monday, 6 January 2014

Location, location, location......

How many times have you heard that old mantra...‘First find your fish’... ‘Fishing’s easy, all you need to do is put the bait in the right place’...‘Learn to read the water’...  This is all very sound advice but doesn’t this all fall far short of offering any real tangible clues to someone new or returning to fishing? I bet if we are honest with ourselves, this is an area which we could all brush up on...

I'll be honest... when you fish a new venue... the 'first find the fish' concept is daunting enough. But... Common themes appear and features commonly associated with your chosen species will stand out on other venues.

those posh jockeys from channel 4
What the hell, another one for any hard core Kirsty Allsop fans out there.

Reading the river.

Rivers are forged and carved through powerful forces. Having seen my home venue in everything from drought to flood... certain features and river bed bottoms are committed to memory... but also try and consider the forces of water carving through twists and bends in heavy spate.... A tree on an outside bend, a swirl of water round an obstacle, root systems from trees apparently long gone... all can create cavernous undercut banks or sharp depressions in the river bed... Deep spots are forged out, clean gravel polished by flow, sediment build up etc. There is generally a reason why river beds change in depth.

powerful forces at work

Effects of predation.

The effect of predation even has an impact on fish movement and location... a lovely snaggy swim plundered by otters can move fish out - or certainly put them on edge sufficiently not to feed for some time after. Cormorant predation I am certain means that fish feel less comfortable in open water.... they seek the shelter and relative safety of tree bough over head. 

Cathedral of sanctuary from comorants

Fish spotting!

Fish observation plays a critical role in my fishing season... I could watch fish for hours - its an obsession.... in fact I visit the river more frequently when I can see them - even more so in the close season. As spawning approaches, pretty much every fish along an entire system can congregate in a very small area. It’s a great chance to actually see what fish are actually in your river.

Fish will migrate around a fishery as the season progresses... however, many are actually far more territorial and can be found close by all year round. If you have seen fish in Summer, it’s likely they won’t be far away come Winter. This could be quite convenient if you have seen something special earlier in the year.

Fortune favours the brave.

Until the floods arrived, we had crystal clear conditions unusual for late autumn/early winter....a cast near the bank or just off a feature was a complete waste...... Far better to risk all and get that bait to 'brush' that tricky branch or raft... let a little slack off and allow a bait to settle under the cover... better still, fish seem to love hugging reed bank cover in these condition... but once again.. a cast needs to be inch perfect close to the bank!

The other alternative is to wait till after dark. Fishing into the night is certainly the most productive method under these conditions... This will however test your knowledge of your own river. I would only be happy doing this on my own if I was particularly familiar with the place. Perception of distance and direction are tested to the limits... Its only fishing and isn’t worth risking your life. 


Floods are a weird one... yes it’s easier to find slack water on your near bank and have caught countless fish in such conditions... but flood water  is actually quite deceptive... fast flowing flood water on the surface is actually misleading... due to drag on the river bed, the flow on the bottom may actually in fact be negligible. Chub in particular do not like boily water... I am certain having fished a few other rivers that a faster but smooth flowing piece of water can and does hold Chub - it’s just learning to fish heavier feeders or using more weight to counter the flow on the line. These conditions seem to be crying out for a bollie/bolt rig combination.

I think much could be learnt from anglers who have mastered powerful rivers like the Trent...

Ignore the obvious.

Fish obvious features... but don't get tunnel vision. Some creases seem to hold fish.... rafts seem to hold large numbers of Chub... a bit counterproductive if you want to catch bigger than average specimens (especially if your river holds lots of smaller fish as well as larger ones)....

I know this sounds stupid... but think like a fish.... would you be comfortable in such a swim.... does it offer any sense of protection? Fish need to feed and energy consumption means they are going to be pretty economical about how they go about it.

Hard to ignore swims are easy to find.

Easy to miss hot spot.

So here goes... 10 top tips for finding your fish:

1. Look for them if possible... Fish spotting really pays off. It’s far easier to do this in the close season when there is less weed growth. Study the river bed too... it will pay off in winter when it falls under jade green ribbon.

2. If you see fish in the summer, it is likely they will still be there in the winter...

3. In clear water, cast close as possible to ‘features’. Chub are unlikely to stray far from cover until hour of darkness. I would love to say 'use maggots'.... but it’s very hit and miss.... my river doesn't seem to suit the technique - but saying that it has accounted for my biggest chub to date. Seems to work better if there are fish competing.

4. Floods or pacy water... look for smooth water and for me... be prepared to try something different (heavy feeders/bolt rigs).

5. Avoid the obvious features - sounds daft - but more subtle features soon leap out at you..... A small collapsed patch of reed, a small bush.... a clear gravel patch mid river... whatever...

6. Try different parts of the river and really search productive swims. You may be catching from under the branches of the far bank tree... but you may in fact be picking up the odd patrolling chub that is actually holding up as part of a larger shoal up or down stream.

7. Think like a fish.

8. Anticipate how the flow could affect the river bed and bank.... if you can learn to read and interpret your own river... you can translate similar features to any venue. I like stretches downstream from bends - in particular those described as a dogs leg.....

9. Learn from experience and be prepared to make mistakes.... always try out that swim that 'bug you'..... Perhaps pre-bait and make an artificial hot spot over time.

10. Learn to listen to your sixth sense... that’s your experience speaking. Act on those gut instincts; I interpret this experience as your subconscious tying together all those past experiences and elements above into a coherent expression of 'it’s got to be worth a go here'...... It is certainly very rewarding when it pays off. Get into this habit... this is where your experience will really pay off.

I guess it would be untidy to have an eleventh.... it’s not so much about finding the fish - but how to approach the river. Very often, the best features are in-fact feet away from your own bank.... setting up a chair and bank stick can really make life harder if you suspect this....... I like to approach the river as if I was stalking.... Typically, you will see very little, but avoiding a shadow cast across the skyline or a heavy foot fall is equally well detected. It doesn’t happen very frequently, but be prepared for when the quiver tip fails to settle as a fish has intercepted a carefully presented bait on the drop.

It certainly ain't exhaustive. Just read through that lot and see plenty of sieve like gaps... but it’s a contribution....

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Beating the Winter blues....

Beating the winter blues requires a positive mindset. The shortening of days and tempestuous weather we have of late has been enough to blow the stuffing out of the sturdiest of winter anglers. There were fish to be caught; having said that, December is not my favourite part of the winter season and having to find the motivation is part of the battle. Fortunately this rarely matters as rivers have yet to fall fully into a steady state of winter slumber.

Its times like these I like to look through records and catch data and remind myself that the best is yet to come! I simply love winter Chubbing... but the seasons seem to ever wrestle with universal forces and shifting climatic systems beyond our simple comprehension.  It seems rare to experience those conditions traditionally associated with a winter Chub season proper until well into January!

Jack Daniels induced stupor... dreaming of Chub!
But it is Christmas and it is the time for family! On that note, my Mum and Dad... Missing me... decide it would be nice to drop by and visit me fishing as they are ‘just passing’... Phone rings.... ‘where are you?’..etc.. tell them my precise location... Phone goes a second time ‘where, can’t see you...’ Rod tip folds over, which I respond with a fumbly cock arsed strike – felt the fish solidly on and drop the phone... followed promptly by the fish dropping off... I get a third and final phone call where they decide their foot ware is not really up to the job and they will leave it this time!!! That was my only bite of the day!!!! And I was seeing them all over Christmas!!! AAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! I HATE MOBILE PHONES!

On reflection, it has not been a bad start to the winter campaign... December highlights included a hat trick of fours and a later 5lb9oz Chub on banana cheese paste from a rapidly rising river... and what could possibly have been the last Chub of 2013 at 4lb2oz which came out to Cheese paste.

Last roll of the dice.

There is always a sense of urgency towards the end of year.. A few scraps of cheese paste lay festering in the fridge from the day before, not to mention festering on my brain. It was on that thought I felt compelled to prise myself away from the warmth and comfort having practically got set in for the evening... It was a complete spur of the moment thing... an agitation brought about by possibly ideal conditions and the thought of a few fish coming out.

Actually, thinking about it... I think I can be a little more precise about my motivation. I simply adore fishing after dark. If its solitude and internal reflection you seek, night time on the river bank is where you’re going to find it! Senses starved of the blinding stimulus of light are heightened; a cacophony of sounds floods the senses with a blinding crescendo. Small voles come thundering through the undergrowth; unknown giants stalk through undergrowth, branches crackling under foot; a foxes screech scratches through the air. I suddenly feel alive and tuned into a new dimension hidden from those that walk by day.

It was a beautiful star lit evening; a mild breeze fought off any risk of ground frost and despite the occasional bluster it felt quite mild. Early indications were sketchy... I would ask questions of various swims certain to hold Chub – but lacked any feedback or reply as my quiver tip swayed in the occasional gust. In circumstances such as these I like to cover as many swims as possible and rarely stay in one place for more than 20 minutes.

Finally at around 10:15pm... A sharp jab on the tip (does your heart still ‘jolt’ on that first tap?); followed by a steady pull and a feeling of satisfying resistance on the strike. Having cast to the far bank, I was surprised that the Chub had made it so suddenly to the near bank mash of broken reeds taking line off a firmly set clutch. Keeping pressure and winding as I battled towards the spritely fellow, I fought to keep in contact walking downstream to gain purchase. Fortunately the rod signalled a connection with an opponent still determined to Part Company. Finally spent, I scooped my prize. At only 3lb9oz, this tenacious little chub put up a fight putting many larger to shame.

I always plan to leave the evening with a favourite swim. Preferring to not use a bank stick for fear of disturbing any nearby fish, I cast to the far bank and settled in. It’s a good reliable swim; one which owes more in depth than feature as to why it holds a better than average stamp of fish. Despite the fact I would have happily waited it out... a slow pull indicated the presence of a chub within minutes of casting out... striking firmly...the hook came back clean.

The hook was re baited by touch and the paste shaped to ensure a clear hook point. A cast tight to the far bank was judged and ‘feathered’ down. After allowing the bait to settle, I like to draw the bait back a few inches to confirm its sitting on clean river bed. In circumstances where a steady bite has been missed, it really does help to be able to give any following bites more time to develop. I don’t know why, but hitting bites early doesn’t seem to be the answer in these circumstances. Fortunately, after what seemed like an eternity, a second chance! Holding a bow of line in the free hand, line was fed out whilst the rod tip was moved to follow the taking fish. Feeling for the final decisive tug of resistance, a strike was met with a lively chub that was keen to weave around mid river. To be fair, it felt a fraction of its predecessor and quickly began to tire. It was welcomed into the net under a blaze of light from a dulled head lamp bulb. At 5lb6oz, it certainly made a great way to finish the year! A few self take shots and it was lovingly returned... I love seeing them swim away under torch light! It certainly seemed to make a highlight to what has been a terrific year and just goes to show what can come from acting upon these sudden urges! The only trouble is getting to sleep after all that excitement.....
I think I can give it a break now till next year!!! Tight lines for 2014.

December highlights.

4lb9oz HBC 'Big Cheese'/Blue Cheese SAC cheese paste
4lb7oz HBC 'Big Cheese'/Blue cheese SAC cheese paste
4lb5oz HBC 'Big Cheese'/Blue cheese SAC cheese paste
5lb9oz Laguna Banana SAC/HBC Cheese paste
4lb2oz HBC 'Club Tropicana' Cheese paste
5lb6oz Laguna Banana SAC/HBC Cheese paste

Saturday, 7 December 2013

It must be Winter!

Wow, it’s been a tough December... recent events sapping my motivation means going through the motions regarding my fishing.  Its times like these I appreciate the true value of the love and warmth family and friends has on my well being. 

Fishing is a pretty insular pursuit and forms an important part of my make up... I actually crave periods of quiet contemplation and the isolation offered by being in natural places. Perhaps this is why I derive so much pleasure from fishing after dark. Our visual references to the world diminish and a more primeval inner consciousness takes over. But, when it ain’t happening... it ain’t happening.

On a bright note, my son is National GKR Karate champion in his belt/age category, a real highlight gaining a Silver Medal in Kata and Gold... Yes GOLD... for Kumate. It was held in Sheffield and was a highlight that good buddy Lee Swords came down with a few words of encouragement... ‘Ryan, a head butt.... it’s devastating.....’...... Love it!!! 

A few thoughts on Winter Chubbing.

For me, perfect winter conditions coincide when the river runs with that beautiful green tinge with a bit of a push from recent rainfall. Stubbornly, the river is still running very low and clear and there has been little stability in conditions. Swim selection is still limited as the river bed is paved with weed and detritus in places. When it’s like this, it can be a bit like banging your head against a brick wall... Its time like these I know I should be putting some time in on the beach in search of some Winter Cod! But, I do love Chub and ‘you have to be in it, to win it’ as they say!

I know what we really need is consistency! It’s never too cold for Chub... but in colder weather they do take time to acclimatise to sub zero conditions... A warm spell followed by a quick cold snap really seems to knock them off their... um... fins.

Even better, an influx of warm rain after ‘said’ cold snap... fining down after floods.... snow Chub... it’s still all to come! See? How’s that for positivity!!!!!

Hot to trot.
With little chance of fish coming out in daylight, a purchase of maggots seemed a sensible option... It’s a brilliant method and on its day is a killer... I sprayed and prayed, pouching maggots towards a bush just above a dense snag that holds good numbers of Chub for around 25 minutes.... sent my Drennan Puddle chucker loaded wagler... Nothing! The Chub failed to ‘switch on’ and I did not get so much as a dither of a bite...
A few similar attempts at fish holding spots were met with strong oppositional defiance!

It is a method I admire and the artisans who perform their magic on rivers like the Stour are nothing short of remarkable. For whatever reason, I find it a very hit and miss Winter method on Suffolk rivers. It’s probably a number of factors; we do not get the same density of fish to really get them going, we don’t get sufficient flow to carry the maggots when conditions are clear, or I’m crap at trotting.... take your pick! When we do get the right flow and colour, trotted bread is devastating (and much, much cheaper)..... and for me? Summer is the time for maggots.... I like to see what the rascals are getting up to.
Reliably, a switch of tactics to ledgered Cheese paste had a modest sized chub of 3lb11oz grace the net (I do hate blanking) just on darkness.

The magic hour.

It is never more so important to hack it out till the golden hour of last light in Winter. As temperatures plummet and line begins to weld to icy rod rings, this is typically the very moment you are likely to get bites. 

Fishing effectively involves being comfortable in yourself and your equipment functioning correctly. I take a rather old fashioned approach to staying warm. I love my Barbour Jackets; I always feel at home in the countryside wearing them. They do require frequent attention to keep them operating effectively and warm... they are not. I rely on a system of layers to ensure warmth even in the very coldest of conditions. Two hats worn one on top of the other reduces heat loss and my Mum has knitted me a 10ft scarf!!!!!

A warm neck and head really do make a difference. I find if I can keep my core body temperature high, my fingers do not suffer too badly so fingerless mitts are perfectly adequate. My favourite jacket is over 10 years old and wears patches and repairs like long service medals – there are not many modern fabrics which can boast such histories.

Feet? I splashed out for some thermal boots. They really do make life far more comfortable.


Well you wonder what they were for!
Here’s a little trick, I have always used a small twiglet or bit of dead grass to coat and soak rod rings in glycerine. It works pretty well, but when I went into our bathroom cabinet discovered my Son’s interdental brushes for cleaning his brace sometime last year. These are absolutely perfect for applying glycerine into those fine quiver tip eyelets..... The last thing you want is line freezing to rod rings!

Glycerine’s ability to resist freezing is legendary and forms the basis of the Laguna range of SAC juices. Its addition into the cheese paste was in part due to the effects of its ‘anti freeze’ properties as much as its high nutritional make up... The blue cheese SAC juice has more than adequately justified its addition milk protein based cheese paste mixes over the traditional egg binder.

Glycerine is actually quite a complex chemical compound. It’s used as a preservative; an intense sweetener; is added prevents solids from setting too hard; can resist freezing to -46 degrees; acts as a solvent and emulsifier allowing solubility of fats in water and as well as other compounds..... For me, any one or number of those reasons justifies its inclusion in my cheese pastes.

Wham tribute!

George Michael... always had 'Chub' on the brain....
Flavouring cheese paste has been an effective edge that has certainly helped me to plunder the modest Chub populations round these parts far more effectively had I used the same old, same old... time and time again. With that in mind... and bananas on the brain, Darren and the team from Hook Bait Company have put a new trial flavour together creatively called ‘Chub Tropicana’ for now! Blended with the Big Cheese bollie base mix cheese paste, results in November were very encouraging... catching on its first trial trip with chub of 2lb11oz, 3lb11oz and 3lb4oz. Later Chub followed including Chub of 4lb3oz and 4lb4oz bring the total to 77 over four pound this year.
The winter is young and the best is yet to come... There is so much to look forward to. 

I know it won’t be long before the bigger Girls come out to play.. Till then.. Tight lines!

A few highlights from November

November 3rd HBC/SAC Cheese paste
November 7th 4lb5oz HBC/SAC Banana Cheese paste 

November 15th 4lb HBC/SAC Cheese paste
November 17th  4lb3oz HBC Chub Tropicana 
November 20th 4lb4oz HBC Chub tropicana

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The river of life.

An obsession was born.

My love affair with fishing started over three decades ago. I was fortunate to have a father who taught me the basics and a river minutes from our home. My first rod was memorably a garden cane with wire eyes whipped carefully and a reel cobbled together from a spool of line. Our bait supply was garden worms sourced from underneath compost bails or dug from a steaming compost heap. We would then suspend our mini beasts two foot beneath home-made cork bobber floats - irrespective of the depth of swims.

It was some years before I owned my first ‘proper’ rod, a fibre glass blank that when completed (we had to save up for the eyes and reel seat with our pocket money) was matched with my grandfathers Nottingham Starback! This would then be pressed into action catching the numerous perch and eel that inhabited our own private piece of fishing heaven, a mill pool on the Gipping complete with a Mill race!

The sight and sound of water crashing and bubbling still touches the core of my existence. The fire was lit! This watery piece of paradise was to captivate and draw deeply on my soul. From an elevated view, the fish were plainly visible and could be seen sunning themselves on balmy summer days, still and torpid. Occasional monsters would be spotted, the first pike I saw was all gaseous and bloated with death. Pike were viewed with suspicion, their taste for flesh and dark menacing form made our blood run cold.  There were some interesting characters that worked at the Mill; there was Doddy, a proper old Suffolk boy and former Desert Rat who had short shrift for predators. An old garden fork on a rope was the down fall for many a Pike that dared to make its presence known in its watery lair. Out of curiosity, my Brother, Ashley, dropped the fork onto the rotting carcass, only for us to recoil at the foul stench that erupted from the punctured bobbing corpse.

You may have gathered by now, my father was not really a fisherman, well not a fisherman any more. He was born and brought up on the Gipping, literally. His family home overlooked the premises of the Old Paper Mill and Mill pool. In fact, he could actually fish out of his bedroom window when he was a young boy, which to us just sounded ridiculously sublime and caught our imagination! Sadly, I feel the burdens of responsibility and adulthood must have taken its toll. My father took on the running of the family business, which at that time produced animal feeds in a rather antiquated fashion. I feel that taking a struggling family business in a new direction and the pressures and responsibilities that entailed ensured that the once mysterious pool with its occupants suited in stripes and chain-mail drifted from his conscience and became his shackles. To this day I do not believe that fishing exists within the thinking of sane grown-ups. Fishing is a defiant stand against growing old, put a rod in my hand and will show you the boy!

Boys will be boys.

I shared my passion for angling with my brother and we would disappear for hours at a time on a Saturday, or those endless long balmy summer days of the school holiday. For two young boys of twelve and ten, I was the older and therefore responsible, the fishing was secondary! We had experienced unbridled freedom for the first time, an almost twilight zone where time did not follow the normal conventions of lunchtime or tea time at home, and school bells punctuating our incarceration within an apparently irrelevant education system – I wanted to learn fishing! Our love of fishing was only further fuelled once we acquired a tatty copy of Fishing with Mr Crabtree in all waters and a Ladybird Book appropriately titled Coarse Fishing. 

Armed with this ‘new’ knowledge gleamed from the pages of Crabtree and Ladybird we set forth in our quest to meet the other residents of the river – this time with Gentles (I can still see the bemused look on the tackle shop proprietors face, an obvious problem since our reading was some 20 years out of date!) – I still call maggots’ gentles.  We soon learnt the importance of keeping low to the water and placing our feet carefully so as not to alarm our quarry to the point where it is now a subject of paranoia today.

We were drawn to the weirs, bridges, high banks, and most significantly an old bridge pilling that broke up the course of the Gipping. It was sometime before I appreciated the subtleties of reading a river, we would visually seek out our quarry, an obvious influence from our experiences fishing from the walls above the Mill pool.  I don’t really remember being that successful, bar for a few red letter days when more than one perch or eel were banked held captive in a bucket. But on reflection our learning curve was steep. I remember the first time I saw a tiny perch apparently breathing in, and then out, a worm bait suspended from my brothers bung float – it was actually inhaling and exhaling the thing just like in Crabtree! This was the Eureka moment, it dawned on us that there was so much to be learnt by observing fish within their watery habitat. You could actually see how fish behaved to our crude presentations.

More than once a kindly angler took pity on us and furnished us with some more appropriate tackle, fine tiny hooks to nylon and a float that could be dotted down. We were obviously suspicious, we had seen the size of some of the fish – surely we would be broken if were to catch a fish of monstrous proportions.  Big hooks and strong line were always the order of the day if we wanted to catch giants!  To our surprise, our experiences were transformed; we caught more fish and to our surprise they were bigger than the stunted perch we were used to!!

As time passed we were trusted to make the trip into town to visit the tackle shop on our bicycles. That first trip was made with my brother riding my old Chopper with the non-health and safety gear selector that could tear out your future family potential and me on a Raleigh Arena racing bike. I recall with amazement the racks of rods and reels, but most of all the beautiful reams of floats - onions, loafers, still water waglers, canals and sticks. We had visited before with our Father , the smell of gentles heaving in sawdust and tobacco smoke that lingered heavily from the old anglers that inhabited this emporium of delights. It was like entering man-hood itself. This is what the adult fishing world smelt like. I didn’t feel I quite fitted in; I was an imposter, a trespasser in the world of real anglers.  But this time it was different! We attended as fisher boys, two young pretenders in our own right and we had pocket money to burn. 

Picking out items that could quite possibly transform our fishing fortunes, we must have picked up dozens of floats and hooks, returning nearly all of them as we totted up the final reckoning to a final choice of an Onion float (I loved Onion floats at that time), hooks to nylon and a pack of assorted split shot. I still visit the same tackle shop to this day and perform this ritual, though my misplaced affection for onions as a river float has passed.   Birthdays and Christmas saw us acquire more suitable tackle, an Ivan Marks 13 foot glass fibre match rod and Daiwa Harrier fixed spool reel. Plastic lever arched tackle boxes, quickly filled with the accoutrements we had bought or rescued from trees. I loved the smell of that tackle box that can only be described as a stale fishing musk. It was rarely cleaned, remnants of escaped maggots with their broken casters which had cast forth their flies rattled around.

Drifting apart.

My brother and I had lived an entire childhood in an ethereal world where John Wilson was worshipped almost to the point of being a deity. His program used to be literally air-guitared in as the gentle folk music guitar intro played to introduce his series Go-Fishing. Two boys never read so much, our thirst for knowledge insatiable. I really think schools have underestimated the learning potential locked up in the passions of their students.

But such is the inevitability of life, at around the age of fifteen, something completely un-foreseen, something unthinkable had happened. My compulsion for fishing was replaced by the biological need to seek out partners of the opposite sex. My brother continued to fish with newly acquired fisher boys from the village. But he too soon succumbed to a hectic teenage social life and had to follow the necessary social conventions of a new sub-culture centred round ‘fitting-in’.

Various forms of employment were pursued, followed by an opportunity to re-address my lack of academic achievement at school through redundancy. I had also met the wonderful woman that was to become my wife! As a mature student with time on my hands, I felt a compulsion, no a strong yearning and longing for something else in my life.  Becoming a student in later years is akin to a regression and looked no further than my childhood for inspiration. This is where my passion for fishing came back to the fore, it only required the subtlest reintroduction to reconnect and discover that despite a period of abstinence, there was still a river coursing through my veins. It was almost the re-awakening of the restless spirit within, a moment of piscatorial re-enlightenment.

New deities were acquired and the availability of magazines made information accessible.  There was always an emphasis on the appropriate tackle for the job, new techniques to be learnt and perfected. Tackle reviews swam round my head, dreams of owning the right tackle to help me pursue the pastime that had consumed my youth. Ownership of fishing tackle almost became a parallel sub-passion. My brother was also reconnecting at this time, but constraints of holding down a career meant we only spent a shared session once a year targeting our favourite species which at that time was the Pike. There were additional bank side visits on fishing trips, with my brother sharing a rod whilst wearing an Aquascutum business suit. Due to his hectic works schedule and a desire to escape, these visits were the norm.  You see, my brother and I shared an intimate bond with the river and the swims we made our own. My parents still owned the Mill with its pool providing a visual window into our obsession, but we rarely fished there. It was not the happy place of our childhood, my Father consumed with managing a family business in partnership with his brother and the family politics that followed meant that we didn’t feel the magic anymore.

Sadly, my brother was to die in a road accident shortly after the birth of my first son. Burdened with grief, the only place I could find solace was the river bank of our childhood. Drenched in memories of happier times, I would just fish or sit and observe the fish kidding myself that my brother would appear walking along the bank to share the moment as he often did, suited and booted. This was a period of numbness, a year passed without even passing – I can’t explain it any better than that! I can honestly say that fishing was the therapy that held my own family together during this period. Not obsessive, or driven, just an occasional need to connect with my brother through our river and shared experiences of a happy childhood bond.

Carp caught on float fished lob worm.
My focus moved back onto my beautiful son and patient and supportive wife. Of course, I was determined that fishing would have to play a major role in my son’s future. I looked to my own formative fishing experience for inspiration. My son was to accompany me on fishing adventure in his buggy, followed a few years later by his first fish, a small Rudd caught from the local park pond in the town where we live. Of course, a fishing trip to the Mill pond had to become a foundation stone in his angling foundations. 

The Old Paper Mill had now been sold, laid empty awaiting its fate. I guess we were technically trespassing, but this did not matter now. It was my Mill pond and my son’s right to fish this piece of family fishing history. It has since been converted to luxury river side apartments and a massive office complex complete with landscaping that saw fit to rip the bank side vegetation along the adjacent river bank. I can’t now face going back. He is now an accomplished angler in his own right and enjoys float fishing with lob worms!
Paper Mill in flood. 

A reconnection.

Taking my son fishing was an important learning experience for me. I was conscience that my angling interests had taken a particularly consumerist slant. The desire to own rods and reels was almost as central to my existence as the fishing itself.  I am now deeply indebted to my son for helping me to redress this balance. It was pure bliss seeing Ryan catching fish on the most simplest of tackle. It was a slow process to break the addiction, but at the core of my fishing existence was always the importance of understanding the changing moods of a river and its inhabitants. I had grown to realise, that as my tackle collection, including buzzers, matching rods etc. grew, it had taken me further from that all important connection nurtured and hardwired into my instincts. I had become a clone, a fishing robot following the advice of polarized sun-glassed fishing heroes, seeking guidance and growing in dissatisfaction at what fish my beloved river could surrender.

Growing in dissatisfaction, I stripped back my fishing to the basic essentials. This angling re-realisation was to arrive in the form of Hugh Miles beautifully crafted Passion for Angling. I loved the poetry and atmosphere that Chris Yates evoked through his charm and very obvious eccentricities.  A rod is obviously not just a rod; it should become a personal item that helps you achieve your goals. 

Now fishing with cane rods may be a step too far for some, but for me it was a statement that enabled me to turn my back on a consumer driven packaged fishing experience that left the senses numb. I fish with cane when I feel the need, and obviously appreciate the evident benefits of modern materials when it comes back to rod construction. But it almost feels that my fishing has come full circle, back ironically to the same material I started with - and my fishing is in a better place for it. For me my fishing is centred on those moments of angling purity - the twitch of the line, dip of a float or best of all, watching the fish accept a carefully presented bait! The tackle is just a means to an end. Bliss!

In memory of Ashley Barker.

An Anglers prayer.

God grant that I might fish until my dying day
 and when it comes to my last cast
I then most humbly pray
when in the Lords safe landing net
I’m Peacefully asleep that in
His mercy I be judged as good enough to keep
(Author unknown)…

Ashley Barker. A great angler... A much missed Brother.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

In praise of bread.

I thought I’d share a few thoughts on that all time classic bait – bread! Cheap, versatile and adaptable... it’s an amazing bait for pleasure, match or specimen fishing. From Crusty bloomers to the innovative ‘Original Flakey’ fake bread ... With an emphasis  on seasonal winter angling, it’s here!

The white crusty bloomer

The baked on the premises Crusty bloomer is the bread of choice for link ledgered crust. In truth, the majority is wasted, or indeed eaten by myself as it is only the outer crust that holds any appeal to me as an angler. Though in its fresh form it is practically useless as the crust is too brittle and difficult to place a hook without it breaking out on the cast, or in-deed, just washing off the hook.

Preparation could not be simpler; it just needs to be left for a few days to go stale. I know of anglers that like to flavour their crust by coating the inside of a bag with a chosen flavour and placing the loaf into the bag. The porous crust does take on flavour very well, but I seldom feel the need to tamper, preferring its natural appeal. 

The stale crust is transformed and gains a tough rubbery texture that can be torn easily, but flexible enough to negotiate a hook – it casts really well and isn’t going anywhere. Crust has inherent buoyancy that I feel ads to its versatility, though needs to be considered when tackling up.

Link ledgering Crust 

The Classic presentation of bread crust is the link ledger. It is simplicity itself, the job of the weight is to enable casting and anchor the crust at the desired depth. Bread crust can be likened to a pop up bollie.  A swan shot 2-4 inches from the hook helps to suspend the crust at a fixed height from the river bed and is about ideal. I like to imagine the crust wafting enticingly in the current taunting the Chub to make its move. Bites tend to be a very appositive affair, much because the chub needs to nail the moving target or perhaps just simply out of frustration!

Sliced bread 

We probably all have an opinion on this one, but for me it has to be Hovis medium white slice bread in the orange wrapper - the softest, freshest loaf I can find! It has the perfect doughy consistency that lends itself to a multitude of uses. It is one of the more expensive brands, but I will only ever buy one loaf and as it only serves the purpose of staying on the hook, it will last all day. The bread I use for free feeding will be the cheapest brand I can lay my hands on.

Sliced white bread is a deadly bait for ledgering; simply pinch a piece of flake matching it to the size of hook taking care not to obscure the hook point. With care, it is possible for bread to remain anchored to the hook for well over an hour.  The fact that the flake fluffs up concealing the business end of our deception can only add to the confidence.
My other favourite brand is medium or thick sliced Kingsmill Wholemeal – yes... that’s right... BROWN BREAD!

Trotting bread

Chub can be real suckers for trotted bread. It is a method I rarely get to use as my local river loses its flow and colour quickly. But, on those rare occasions where there is a tinge of colour in the water and a reasonable flow, trotted bread-flake takes some beating. A heavy 4 swan loafer float does the trick. Simply bulk the shot about 10 inches from a size 6 or 8 hook, with a single swan dropper shot about 4 inches from the hook.  Typically, I will use a 4lb line straight through to the hook. A problem with float fishing large flake chunks is its buoyancy; this can be overcome by wrapping a piece of lead wire around the shank of the hook, thus improving the presentation dramatically!

Bites are usually pretty instant. I tend to fish smaller rivers, so for me it is a mobile approach. I find it is best to start as far upstream as I am prepared to walk and then fish swims as I travel back towards my van. Allowing half an hour per swim, I tend to feed small hand full’s of sloppy bread mash on a little and often basis to build up the swim and then trot the flake down the same line as the free falling particles.
With a constant trail of bread going downstream, it is not uncommon to have fish take the bait anything from 30 yards downstream or indeed just off the rod tip as they follow the source of the bread.  Setting the depth does not seem to be an exact science as I am sure that chub will come up in the water to intercept the bread, even in winter. Set the float at approximately half depth and then you can change deeper or shallower to find out what they want on the day. I have always found this method to be most effective when the river is fining down after a flood and still holding a little colour. It is quite a crude method in many ways and usually entails very positive sail away bites – heart stopping stuff!!

Bread punch

I could never dream of Roaching without my bread punches!! Often thought of as the preserve of the match man, bread punch is devastatingly effective for specimen roach, bream and chub of all sizes. When ledgering for roach I carry a range of punches varying in size from the miniscule 2mm right up to the Drennan bread punches that land a wallop of pear shaped bread onto a size 10 hook. To keep bites coming it may be necessary to change hook size and the length of hook material many times during a session to connect with rattles on the quiver.
One of the elements of roach fishing that I most adore is that it is akin to a piscatorial game of chess. Firstly, you have to anticipate the movement of a shoal of roach and of course the position and movements of the major players – the elusive specimens that dreams are made of.  To make matters more complicated, specimen roach tend to move around in their own little pods, no doubt remnants of a once mighty shoal of smaller individuals.
To further complicate matters, the roach can be a finicky feeder at best requiring a range of strategies that keeps the angler on his toes. Match this with the tireless drive and desire to capitalise on the rare windows of opportunity that constitute ideal conditions – you can see why specimen roach captures are rare!
Preparation of bread for punching really couldn’t be simpler; place the slice of soft medium white bread in the microwave for about 20 seconds and then place into an airtight plastic bag. This produces bread with a lovely doughy texture that punches well and stays on the hook. On my less prepared days, a very fresh loaf of medium white still does the trick but is far inferior. The beauty of punch bread is that it can be used for float fishing or ledgering!

Hook Bait Company ‘Original Flakey’ 

Fake bread is by no means a new concept – but ‘Original Flakey’ stands head and shoulders above the crowd... Each piece is individually crafted and steamed to lock in flavour. It is soft enough to side hook, but works best on a hair rig. Each shape is subtly unique, however, pieces can be broken off to increase leakage and change size. Original flakey video

Hook Bait Company is a bespoke company and can produce ‘Original Flakey’ to specific requirements; any flavour, pop-up, neutral or standard. Combined with the brilliant Gloop, it has quietly been doing the business with the Hook Bait team taking Chub to over 6lb and Barbel over 13lb... Definitely one to watch!

Preparing bread for pre-baiting

This is a critical part of using bread and can be the difference between success and failure. Always conscious of over feeding, a small egg sized piece of mash, or a micro feeder of crumb may be sufficient in the depth of winter to elicit a response... in milder conditions I would suggest it would be difficult to over feed when fish are really having it.

Bread mash

It is always best to use the cheapest possible sliced white for mashing as it should always be allowed to go stale over night in the bucket. For me, bread mash used to be a very standard affair. A bucket of stale bread soaked in river water, drained and then mashed by hand. The only problem with preparing bread in this way is that a bucket of mashed bread is incredibly heavy to lug around from swim to swim. I now prefer to make mashed bread in small batches by soaking a few slices in the landing net in the margins. It is possible to make mash of different consistencies depending on the method. When long trotting bread, I prefer a mash that is quite sloppy so that it sinks quite slowly drawing fish towards the feeding zone. For baiting up swims for ledgering I favour a mash that will sink quickly whilst still breaking down sending particles downstream in the current. This can be achieved by draining the bread in the net and the giving it a hard squeeze to get rid of all the excess water prior to mashing.

Liquidised bread

Liquidized bread allows a small amount of bait to be deposited when ledgering punched bread or where you want to control the amount of feed going into a swim. Take fresh sliced bread, cut off the crusts and discard. Whizz a few slices at a time in the liquidiser and store in a plastic bag. For slower paced or shallow rivers, it is best to gently squeeze the liquidized crumb into a wire cage feeder so that it can swell and disperse where you want it. On deeper swims or faster flowing rivers I prefer the plastic feeders to ensure it gets down to where I want it.

Adding flavours

To make the mash or liquidised crumb even more attractive it is possible to add flavours and colours.  In particular, aniseed based additives has proved to be one of my favourites and has accounted for stunning roach sport.  

Laguna Special Edition Blue Cheese SAC juice

Chunk of Brown bread flake soaking in Blue Cheese SAC juice.
It’s no secret I have been totally impressed with the Laguna range of products and can’t rate their SAC juice highly enough! As a chub angler, the ‘Special Edition Blue Cheese SAC (Soak And Coat) Juice’ caused more than a bit of excitement on my part. I have caught some stunning Chub this year using brown bread flake soaked in Blue Cheese SAC juice.  It is a very potent attractant that is made using enzymes to pre-digest real food ingredients – a process that takes many months under carefully controlled conditions.

The glycerite base halts microbial ‘spoilage’ – however the culture of enzymes are free to continue their work... Like a bottle conditioned ale, SAC juices improve with age and continue to break down proteins. From the fish’s point of view, this releases a rich spectrum of precious amino acids to home in on – they are most certainly natures Dinner bells! SAC Juice
Chunky Suffolk Specimen that took a liking to brown bread flake soaked in Blue Cheese SAC Juice.

Magic bread

I hope that gives you a little insight into this under rated, under used super bait. I have on occasions given bread much contemplation...  What is it that makes bread such a wonder bait? It does not exactly represent anything that a fish would find in its natural diet and yet it has an almost instant appeal.  But the answer was to come in a most unexpected manor. I was preparing my mash in the net at the margins, on lifting the net I was met with a beautiful sight. A sparkling mass of tiny silver shards, bright and alive - the greedy masses of this year fry had descended upon my soaking bread. Like sparkling gems, I had to ensure each precious individual was returned to continue on with its uncertain future. ‘Good bye little fellow! Take care, stay in the slacks and shadows, grow strong and perhaps we shall meet again sometime and share a feast of bread’!