Season Opener

Ventured out for the first time this season yesterday. I went to the River Kennet near Newbury and got off to a good start when I found a fiver in the car park, but that’s where the good fortune ended. I made my way to a favourite swim that used to regularly produce a few barbel and chub every session, but that was before the marked decline in the fishing on the Kennet.

Kennet Fidlers 2016-06-19

The plan was to start with pellet on the hook, fished in conjunction with a pellet & groundbait feeder. However, that plan was cut short when opening my bait bucket, only to find that although there was a plentiful supply of pellets, there was no groundbait! Luckily I had some PVA stocking in the tackle bag, so I was able to use this to introduce some free offerings into the swim.

In days gone by, I would have expected the fish in this swim to respond quite quickly to my baits, often getting a fish in the first half hour, but on this occasion, my rod remained motionless throughout the session. A switch to boilies didn’t produce any action either.

The decline in the Kennet fishing has been noticeable for a few seasons now, particularly on once-prolific stretches, where it’s now a struggle to get a bite. It’s close to being terminal in my view. What’s to blame? Could be anything from otters, signal crayfish, increased turbidity, oestrogen from contraceptive pills, even the oils from anglers’ pellet bait. Most likely a combination of some or all of those producing a “perfect storm” that’s led to fish populations not being able to sustain themselves.

Farewell Boleyn

An emotional final game at the Boleyn Ground. A great win over the Mancs.

Some photos and videos from before and after the game

I Did Something I Never Thought I Would

I fished a commercial carp fishery!

I had been invited by Andy to take part in one of his firm’s occasional matches, and was interested to give it a go. There was a minor problem when first invited, as I was hoping that I would be at Wembley to see the Mighty Irons in the FA Cup semi-final on the day of the fishing match, but that wasn’t to be, so thanks to Andy for wangling an extra place for me at short notice.

Alders Farm once held the world match weight record at over 500lbs (not sure if this is still a record), but it had a reputation for the terrible condition of its fish. It’s since been under new management, and many of the fish have been removed, leaving a more sensible –but still very large – head of carp.

Due to the strict rules on the fishery (similar to rules at most fisheries of the type), I had to quickly get together a selection of tackle that I wouldn’t normally use, barbless hooks especially. It was also the first opportunity to try out my new seat box, a Maver Abyss X. It’s a small box by comparison to many others of its type, but it just about holds enough gear for my purposes, and allows for various accessories to be attached to the legs – useful when fishing on the platforms that are commonly found on match lakes. As well as for potential use on commercials, I intend to use it on the platforms on the stretch of the Thames that I fish.

Baits are also restricted on the fishery, notably you can only use their own pellets. Having forgotten to buy a tin of corn, luckily Andy was able to supply me with some, and that turned out to be fortunate, as events would reveal.

We arrived at the fishery and met up with the rest of the guys taking part, about ten of them in all. After dipping the nets, I popped into the fishery’s own tackle shop to stock up with pellets and also bought a couple of loaded pellet wagglers. Then it was down to the site’s café for breakfast. I didn’t bother with a fry-up as I’d eaten before leaving home, but enjoyed a mug of tea whilst the rest of the group tucked in.

Then the draw took place, and I drew peg 11 out of the hat. Not that that meant anything to me, as I knew nothing of the lake we were fishing (Pines Lake – one of 3 main lakes on the fishery), but I was informed that it was a good peg, as it had an island to fish to. On arriving at the lake, we were disappointed to note that some major tree and bush clearance had taken place, removing much of the marginal cover.

I set my gear up, a float rod to fish the pellet waggler, and a method feeder rod. At the all-in, I started off on the float, feeding pellets regularly. But no bites were forthcoming. To my right, the angler there (Gary?) lost four carp in the first hour or so, fishing the margins with a pole, but all the other anglers I could see – both the ones fishing our match, and the match on the opposite bank – were struggling for bites.

This could of course have been down to our own short-comings, but, like most anglers, we preferred to blame circumstances beyond our control, laying the responsibility on both the weather (it had been quite cold overnight) and the decimation of the vegetation.

I persisted with the float for about two and a half hours, which in hindsight was far too long, before switching to the method feeder rod. Baiting up with a crab & krill 10mm boilie, I cast right up to the island. There were some indications in the form of line bites that there were fish out there, but they didn’t seem interested in my hook-bait, so after about an hour of this and several more casts, I changed bait to a piece of corn. The impact was almost immediate, as within thirty seconds the rod tip hooped round and I was into a fish. Unfortunately, I wasn’t into it for very long as the hook pulled out.

My disappointment at losing the fish was only short-lived, however, as the very next cast resulted in a carp of around 4lbs residing in my landing net. I then proceeded to embarrass myself by missing the keepnet and dropping the fish straight back in the lake! So the match was about 4 hours old, and all I had to show at this stage was one lost fish and another that I couldn’t weigh in.

Whether the start of activity was triggered by the change of bait, or the fact that the weather had warmed a bit, I don’t know, but it was probably a combination of the two.

I persevered with the corn and method feeder for the rest of the match, and succeeded in repeating the above, with one lost fish and another landed, although this time I made sure it went into the keepnet. And that was it for the match. I knew that my one fish wasn’t in the running for the prizes, so I didn’t bother weighing in.

Andy wanted to stay on for a while after the match, so I carried on for a while on the feeder, while Andy tried the swim to my right, where there was a pipe inflow that attracts the fish. I had one more bite on the feeder, resulting in another hook-pull. Andy kept getting bites but missing them!

Meanwhile, I’d been feeding pellets in the margin of my swim, which eventually saw the arrival of at least two carp that began stirring up the mud. I switched to the float rod and fished a pellet where the fish were. Shortly, the float sank away and I was into what I thought was a decent carp, as it led me a merry dance around the lake. Once I got it into the net, it wasn’t as big as I thought it would be, and the reason it had given me the run-around was because it was hooked in the pectoral.

Although there was another carp rooting around in the margins, I couldn’t get it to take the bait, and that was the end of the action for the day. Despite the lack of fish relative to expectations, and that I could have had more in the net but for hook-pulls, I enjoyed the day.  The group of anglers we fished with were a good bunch, and I had some good banter with the guys fishing either side of me. Despite the rather cool temperatures for the time of year, I came home with a sunburnt face!

If I’m invited along to another of their matches, I will know a bit more about what to expect and will – hopefully – be better prepared next time.

Season Closes With New PB Chub

My final outing of the river season was to the Upper Benyons stretch of the Kennet, in search of a last-gasp barbel. The river was running high, coloured and was flowing quite fast following recent heavy rains, though it had apparently dropped levels a bit since the day before.

My tactic was to rove the fishery, using large, flavoured meat baits, spending 10-15 minutes in each swim. Where practical, I was upstreaming the bait, working it down the swim.

The first swim I tried produced a decent bite which I failed to connect with. My suspicions at the time were that it was more likely to have been a chub bite than a barbel. More of that later.

The day had started cool and foggy, but by around 11 o’clock, the sun broke through the fog, and the rest of the day was fished in glorious sunshine.

I covered the entire length of the fishery and back, with only one other bite to show for it – a rapid drop-back on an upstreamed line – which again I missed. This time, I was more certain that a barbel was responsible, so was annoyed at missing the chance.

Eventually I returned to the first swim. The bait had been dropped into some steady flow close to the bank and had been there for a few minutes, when the rod tip was jerked round. This time I made contact, and the fish took off like a scalded cat. After a short but very lively battle, I slipped the net under a very large chub.

Chub PB, 6.00

Chub PB, 6.00

The scales settled on a weight of exactly 6lbs – a new PB chub, beating my previous best by 3 ounces. After resting the fish in the net, the trophy pics were taken and the fish returned. I used a new camera for the first time – an Olympus Tough TG-3, which is a waterproof camera designed to take a few knocks, so ideal for fishing purposes. It also can be wi-fi’d to a smartphone, which can then be used as a remote viewer to frame the shots and as a remote shutter release. Picture quality seems fine for trophy shots viewed on the PC.

I fished a few more swims after that, but with no luck, so, reluctantly, I decided to call an end to the session and the season.

The Autumn Sessions

Having had a dismal summer trying – and mostly failing – to catch barbel on the Kennet, word was out that the Thames was witnessing a dace population explosion, so Andy and I decided we should take advantage of it.

Out came the match float rod, closed face reel and stick floats that hadn’t seen action for a few seasons and a couple of sessions were spent trotting the stream. Both sessions were very productive, resulting in around 150 dace each time, plus a few roach and perch. They weren’t big by any means, but it was good fun, with virtually a bite a chuck, and made a nice change from sitting behind a pair of motionless barbel rods.

During both sessions, a number of dace were attacked by pike as I was bringing them in. So for the next few outings, I indulged in some lure fishing, catching a few jack pike, but nothing weighing above a couple of pounds. The pike that were attacking the dace were larger than this, but I couldn’t seem to find them when actually fishing for them.

In October, my dad had a bad fall which put him in hospital for nearly four weeks, and he is now permanently in a bad way, which has somewhat curtailed my fishing since then. I did manage a trip in December, trotting the Thames in an attempt to locate some of the bigger roach that apparently had been showing, but the river was up, swirling and not really suited to float fishing and I blanked. That was it until March.

Depressing Start to Season

Following the dismal opening session of the new season, for my second trip I went to a stretch that had always produced for me in the past, although I hadn’t fished it for several years. I more or less had my pick of swims, which surprised for this popular venue, so settled into a spot that had a good reputation in years gone by.

I was encouraged early on when a small barbel rose close to where one of my baits was lying. But this proved to be a false hope, as the day remained totally biteless. After that one sight of a fish, the river seemed completely lifeless, not even crayfish were plucking at the bait.

I hope that the lack of bites from the two normally productive Kennet venues that I’ve fished so far is only down to the fish being in spawning mode rather than feeding mode, and is not a further indication of the crash in barbel populations that seems to have affected the Kennet in recent years.

On a wildlife note, I spotted several raptors (of the bird kind, not the Jurassic Park ones), buzzards, a red kite, kestrel an a sparrowhawk. I also heard a cuckoo for the first time in many years.

River Kennet

River Kennet

Not a Good Start

For opening day, I went back to a stretch of the Kennet I haven’t fished for many years.

The day didn’t start too well, as I was half-way down the motorway, when it suddenly dawned on me that I’d left my lunch at home. Luckily, I hadn’t yet passed the service station, so was able to pop in and get a couple of large sausage rolls to keep me going.

Things didn’t get much better after that, as I failed to get a bite all day. Then got back to the car to find that some bird had kindly deposited three saucer-sized poos on the driver’s side of the windscreen, which had dried on and took me several minutes to scrape off.

So not a good start to the season.

Dismal Season Ends On High Note

The 2014/15 river season was without doubt the worst season I’ve ever experienced. My total return for the campaign was 6 barbel and 3 chub.

This was partly due to the devastation that’s been wrought on my favourite section of the Kennet, by the twin perils of otter predation and the exceptional floods of winter 2013/14 that have ripped out much of the cover that previously provided sanctuary for the fish. Until the last couple of years, the section was always reliable for a few barbel, mostly in the 4-7 pound range – it wouldn’t have been unusual to have taken this season’s total numbers of fish in a single session. These ones seem to have all but disappeared now.

However, the upside (if it can be called that), is that what fish remain are of a high average size – it’s good for now for the specimen hunter, but does not bode well for the future, and I fear that the river may take many years to recover, if indeed it ever does.

I had all but 2 of the fish by the end of July, and after that couldn’t buy a bite anywhere (Kennet, St Patrick’s Stream, Grand Union Canal), whether fishing for barbel, pike or carp. But the last outing of the season provided a welcome surprise in the form of a new P.B. barbel from the Kennet – the second time in the season that I’d achieved that mark.

I arrived at the river around 3 in the afternoon, to find the bankside quite busy, and all the swims I’d mentally earmarked to try were already occupied. I decided to have a try in a swim that had unknown provenance (to me anyway), and set up 2 rods. One with a boilie fished tight to a near bank overhanging tree, and the other with a pellet feeder rig fished about 3/4 of the way over into the main flow.

River Kennet

River Kennet

River Kennet

River Kennet

All was quiet until dusk was falling, when without warning, the boilie rod hooped round. Striking into the fish, I was immediately embroiled in a battle to prevent a powerful adversary from seeking its freedom under the overhanging tree. I thought I might have lost the battle when I felt the line rubbing on an underwater branch, and briefly all went solid. However, I gradually ramped up the pressure, the fish suddenly came free and I was able to get it into open water.

The rest of the fight was pretty straightforward and soon the fish was in the net. It was obvious that it was going to beat my previous Kennet best, but by how much. I wondered if it might tip the 12 lb mark, but the scales settled at 11-11, a full 3/4 of a pound heavier than my previous Kennet best, set just a few months earlier. The fish was in fin perfect condition.

New Kennet P.B, 11-11

New Kennet P.B, 11-11

After the fish was safely returned and the baits re-cast, all was quiet again until around 9 o’clock, when I had a take on the pellet rod. A lively fight ensued, during which the fish made several strong runs that took line off the clutch, before I  could slip the net under a fine seven-pounder.

That proved to be the final action of the day. So the last trip of the season was a good way to see it off, and at least provided some relief to an otherwise very disappointing term.

3 months to wait now until next season gets under way, and I’ll have to give some thought as to where I’ll be fishing, as the lack of bites on my previously reliable waters means I may have to look elsewhere. In the meantime, when the weather warms up, hopefully I’ll be out after some canal carp, and possibly a tench or two.

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

It’s been a strange start to the season for the mighty ‘ammers. First off, we managed to lose the first game, at home to the Spuds, when we should really have won it. Having been awarded a penalty and seeing a Spurs defender sent off for the offence, Noble then pulled the spot kick wide of the post. We played well in the rest of the game, and it was notable that we were playing a more expansive game and the “hoofs” were much limited compared to recent seasons. Unfortunately we didn’t take advantage of the apparent superiority and also went down to 10 men when Ginge was sent off. Then we got caught by an added-time sucker punch to lose a game we should have won. New boy Kouyate had a fine start, as did Aaron Cresswell.

Next up was Palace away. With Nolan injured, it meant we saw Zarate for the first time in claret & blue, and his opening strike – a volley demonstrating excellent technique – was perhaps the highlight of a fine team performance, although Downing’s goal capped a good move from out of defence. Apart from a nervy few minutes after Palace pulled a goal back, we played well throughout, and Cole’s strike for our third goal saw us out comfortably for the win.

The League Cup tie against Shitfilled United was a strange affair, where once again missed chances cost us the match. After taking the lead through new boy Sakho (making his first start for us), and playing reasonably well, we then conceded a Reid own goal. The game remained deadlocked so it came down to penalties. Yet another of the new boys, Enner Valencia missed our 5th kick, and we were out. The positives were that Valencia & Sakho both had decent games, short of taking a few more opportunities

Now for the ridiculous – Southampton at home. As poor a performance from us as you’d never wish to see. We looked lacklustre (to say the least) all over the park and couldn’t seem to do anything right. We lost 1-3 and deservedly so.

Thanks to Sky, we had a Monday night trip to Hull (don’t bother to worry about the traveling fans, Murdoch!). After the Southampton debacle, some changes were required, but even so, I don’t think many Irons expected the team selection and formation that BFS came up with. Out went Cole and Vaz Te, to be replaced by Sakho and Valencia, both making their first league starts for us. The shape of the team was changed from a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 depending on your point of view, to a midfield diamond, with Downing as the attacking point. Although we managed to concede the first goal, we played well in the first half, with the new boys up front causing all sorts of problems for the Hull defence. Soon after the break, we pulled ourselves level through a stunning 25 yard strike from Valencia. Then the inevitable happened when former Hammer Mo Diame managed to find the net in his first game for Hull. Fortunately we equalised within a few minutes, with a Sakho shot that went in off a defender. We continued to look the better side and very nearly won it at the death when a Valencia header was cleared off the line.

Now for the sublime – following the encouraging performance at Hull, we faced Diverpool at home. Despite the Scouser’s dodgy start to the season, this was likely to be a tough fixture, particularly given we’d lost all 3 of our home games so far this season. We certainly couldn’t have imagined the sort of start we got. Starting with the same line-up as at Hull, with Song replacing Zarate for his first start for us. From the off, not only were we were right in Liverpool’s faces, chasing down every ball, but our movement and pace up front was causing their defence all sorts of problems. In seven minutes, we found ourselves 2 up through Reid converting a well worked free kick move, and then Sakho lobbing the keeper for the second. We had further opportunities to score again, but it was Liverpool who scored next through Sterling. The second half was always likely to be tougher, and we didn’t impose ourselves on the game as much, particularly after the excellent but tiring Song was replaced and Kouyate was carrying a knock. But we largely defended well, limiting them to a few half chances. Even so, I felt we were always likely to create more opportunities on the break, and so it proved as yet another new boy, Amalfitano nipped home a late third to clinch the win.

We started that game with 5 of our summer signings (Cresswell, Kouyate, Song, Valencia & Sakho), and 2 more came on as subs (Amalfitano & Jenkinson). Song looks class, but is not yet fully match-fit. Hopefully that will come soon, as we will be a much better team with him in it. The strikers, Valencia & Sakho, look to be very useful acquisitions, both pacy and with good movement and Sakho seems to know where the net is, having scored on each of his 3 starts for us. Kouyate has the potential to be a beast of a player for us, with bundles of energy and no little skill. Cresswell has looked useful, but needs to build up experience at this level. His poor throw-in at Hull cost us a goal. Amalfitano and Jenkinson have only had a couple of subs appearances each so far, so can’t really judge what impact they’ll have for us. As well as the 7 who played the last game, we’ve also seen an eighth newby in Zarate. He had a fine game at Palace, but since then has been a bit hit and miss. Assuming the others maintain form and fitness, I can see him being only a bit part player. If we can maintain the level of performance seen in the Hull and Liverpool games, one wonders where club captain Nolan and record signing Andy Carroll will fit in once they’re fit again. It’ll be an interesting dilemma for BFS – I hope he doesn’t bring them straight back in at the expense of in-form players, but I have a horrible feeling that’s what he’ll do.

Overall, Southampton apart, it’s been an encouraging start to the season, but where results mostly haven’t matched the performances. It’s been good to see us play a more attacking style on the deck. Hopefully the results will pick up as the team gels both with the new players and the new style.

It’s Been a Long Time Coming

Sixteen years ago almost to the day, I caught my first Kennet double-figure barbel, a fish of 10-05. Since then, Kennet doubles have eluded me, with the exception of a solitary fish just an ounce over the ten-pound mark, caught in 2002. I’ve had my fair share of nine-pounders in that time, but couldn’t quite manage to top the ten pound mark.

But yesterday at last I managed to break that long-standing PB mark. To say it came as somewhat of a surprise is a bit of an understatement. Partly because the weather was hot and sunny, so I wasn’t expecting much action before twilight set in, and the fish came on the second cast at around half four in the afternoon, just twenty minutes into the session.

The bite was typically barbel, with the rod tip pulling sharply round. As soon as I hit it, I felt this was a good fish, as it headed downstream, not at pace, but with a power that took line steadily against the clutch. As it was heading towards a fallen tree, I leaned into it and stopped it from taking line, which put the BFW Torrix rod into its full fighting curve.

Just as I felt I was beginning to win this part of the battle and retrieve some line, it all went solid. This was not good! A steady pull didn’t seem to be making ground, and neither did the trick of letting out slack line. Getting worried now! Next trick was to walk downstream to see if a pull from a different direction would work. Having to hold the rod high to keep the line above the large bed of reeds that started immediately downstream of me, I manged to get just downstream of the fish, and luckily it came free and I could pull it away from the danger.

However, the battle had a way to go yet, and I was worried that the snag may have damaged the line. Manoeuvering my way back above the reeds to where I could land the fish, I got my first sight of the fish, which confirmed that it was indeed a very good fish. The adrenalin was pumping nicely now, with all the doubts about what could go wrong before netting it running through my mind. But there were no further serious alarms, and a few minutes later, the fish was in the net.

Letting it rest in the net for a few minutes, the mat, weigh-sling and scales were prepared. Then it was time to weigh the fish. I was reasonably sure it was a double, but would it be big enough to challenge my PB mark? It was, tipping the scales at 10-15.

Barbel, Kennet, 10-15, 2014-07-26 (2)

Barbel, Kennet, 10-15, 2014-07-26 (3)

The fish was rested again in the net while the camera was set up. Eventually the trophy shots were captured on film (well, pixels anyway), and the fish was returned after a further rest, to swim strongly away.

After this early action, the swim remained very quiet, apart from the actions of crayfish. I’d been fishing across and downstream towards the fallen tree I mentioned above. But a change of plan late in the session saw a bit of a hunch pay off. The river in front of the reeds down from me ran deep enough to think that fish could be drawn to feed there, so as the sun began to drop towards the horizon, I started to feed a few boilies and pellets down the inside line, just a few feet from the bank.

As it got dark, I changed from the pellet feeder tactics that had accounted for the “biggie”. Putting on a straight lead and a boilie hook-bait, I cast it gently into the swim along the line where the feed had been going in. For about thirty minutes, the rod remained motionless in the rests. I’d just checked my watch and decided it was time to call it a day, when the rod tip suddenly pulled ferociously round. Grabbing the rod, I found myself into a fish that was determined to get to Reading at a speed that Usain Bolt would have been proud of. Following a lively and spirited fight, a nice seven-pounder slid into the net. A second good fish to close the session, and a satisfying feeling due to the nature of its capture.

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