For such trips I particularly favour a roving approach. Pockets are filled with tackle and a bait smock is stuffed with maggots and maybe a few slices of bread and some other baits. I go armed with a 14' match rod and centre pin and the only other thing I have to carry is a landing net. In this way I'm free to rove from swim to swim and will often cover quite a bit of water in a day.
October, however, can often catch me in two minds. If the weather's fine and the halcyon days of summer linger into the early days of the month there's not a better time of the year to go fishing. On days like this I'm really torn between a final fling on the local lakes, late evening barbelling sessions and a roving session as I've just described. And often there may only be one available weekend in which to cram it all in - it's a tough call!
Frequently, on the other hand, the end of the month can herald the first storms of autumn and I've been caught in a few of these in recent years. In 1998 I had to swiftly curtail a session and beat a hasty retreat as broken branches started to fall around me when fishing in a howling gale. The rain was prolonged and as torrential as any I've ever fished in but I was quite happily catching until the increasing wind strength made continuing to do so foolhardy. In the short time I was on the bank the Kennet rose and coloured up before my eyes as if it were a 'spate' river.
Exactly a year later saw me back for a session I won't forget in a hurry. Returning to the same stretch of river at Speen for my first trotting session of the autumn I started off with a perch of 2lb 12oz, followed it with a chub of 4lb 9oz and topped it off with another of 6lb 3oz. The latter was a smashing personal best and over a pound heavier than my previous mark. Add to this a couple of smaller chub, a pound and a quarter roach, half a dozen super dace to 13 oz and a 3lb brown trout and you have the makings of a glorious day's angling in anyone's book.
I won't repeat the full details of this trip as the story of my 'Kennet Red Letter Day' was relayed on this site a year ago, but on the drive home I remember reflecting on the fact I'd matched Mr Crabtree's mythical catch of a chub on trotted bread from the Hampshire Avon. A fish to haunt childhood dreams, that too was 6lb 3oz and it seemed somewhat fitting to have caught one the same size. Fifty years ago, such a fish would have been deemed worthy of a swift tap on the head and consignment to a glass case, just as Bernard Venables' had Peter and his dad doing. Thankfully, such days are long gone and all my fish was subjected to was a couple of quick snaps with a damp camera, before being reverently returned to the river.
Needless to say my first trip to Speen of the season has been keenly awaited.
This year I had even more reason to be excited - I had a new 'toy' to try out. After 15 years trusty service my 14 foot match rod has been showing its age and has been retired. In the close season I replaced it with a Harrison 15 footer! Anyone on the Internet Angling Club coarse list will have read of a certain Alan Tomkins - of this parish - 'banging on' about how wonderful this rod is on numerous (too numerous for some!!) occasions. And who am I to argue! I've been really impressed with it over the summer months. I christened it with an unwelcome and very muscular 10lb common whilst tench fishing during the opening days of the season. It coped admirably a month later when I had 3 x 6lb tench with it in half an hour including a new PB of 6lb 9oz. However it is on the river where I expect this rod to 'come into its own'.
This year early October was very changeable and I ruled out trips to still water. The first weekend of the month saw me continue my new found obsession with getting a barbel from the club stretch at Aldermaston. Having blanked with my friend Paul on our first trip I was back a week later for another try. The quest on this stretch is to find the fish, so location is everything and I had my eyes on another likely looking spot which I was itching to give a go. Yet another fallen alder had been washed down-stream and was lodged in at the near bank on the outside of a slight bend. A good deal of Ranunculus had caught up in the roots and branches creating quite a 'roof'. If there were ever a feature to hold barbel this was it!!
I arrived with half an hour of daylight and quickly realised I hadn't paid much attention to the state of the bank here. There is little evidence of it being fished and there was just inches to spare from the edge of deep water - one foot wrong in the dark and I could see me falling in! So my first job was to 'set my stall out' a little way back from the bank which meant cutting back some brambles (Fortunately, I always carry a pair of secateurs with me). I was fishing by the time it was dark and after a couple of exploratory casts was pleased to note that the bottom was not too weedy right below the rod tip.
Tactics here so close to a major snag would be 'hit and hold' so I'd scaled up to 12lb braid with Kryston Silkworm as the hook length. Bait was pellet and for the first 3 or 4 casts I attached a PVA bag with some free offerings. The tree was less than a rod length downstream and was positioned with the roots facing upstream so it was easy to drop the bait right under this feature even in the dark. The night was mild and overcast and the lumpy showers that were promised didn't arrive. The river was carrying a bit of colour so all-in-all the conditions were ideal.
However, after 3 hours with no action I was beginning to resign myself to another blank Then a little after 10pm, completely out of the blue, I had a savage tug. I must have been on the point of dozing off as the rod was nearly ripped out of my hands. Despite having the clutch set tight the reel still gave line so I just tightened down further and hung on. The fish thankfully was prevented from reaching the snag but still wasn't going to give up that easily and took some coaxing to the surface. After a few of minutes I eventually was picking it out in my headlight and drawing it over my net. It looked a good-un, not a double, but a good fish to break my duck at this venue. 8lb 15oz, I felt quite smug!
An hour later and I was in again! This fish went absolutely berserk when hooked and briefly made it under the tree roots. I had my heart in my mouth as I could feel the line scraping when the fish dived under the tree. Thankfully I soon had it out and on the surface and could see it was smaller than the previous one but if anything it took longer to subdue - it was certainly a very fit fish - all 7lb of it.
At 11.30pm I had another run. This fish took off upstream and within a couple of seconds everything went at first very solid and a second later very slack! Blast! It got off!! I can only assume it had quickly got into a bed of Ranunculus and thrown the barbless hook.
An hour later and clearing skies were encouraging a thick fog to form and though I'd planned to stay a little longer a warm bed suddenly seemed preferable to a cold damp river bank. Just before I packed up I was treated to a firework display from the nearby village to celebrate - I know not what - but it seemed an appropriate way to mark my first Aldermaston barbel.
A week later and I was back on the bank, not Aldermaston this time but back on home territory. I knew I wouldn't arrive at the bank till after dark and whilst I was tempted at another trip to Aldermaston I wanted to be on familiar ground. I wise ploy as signal problems at Twyford delayed my homeward journey by nearly an hour ruling out any chance of there being any daylight. The swim I'd chosen is a known hot-spot on my local stretch but this was my first visit to it this season. The character of it was changed somewhat last winter when - you've guessed it - a tree fell in. This is now effectively damming the river and I'm sure it will have to be removed soon, in the meantime it adds to an already excellent swim!
The night was forecast to be a cool one with a chance of the first frosts of the autumn being predicted. I wasn't unduly worried that the drop in temperature would put the fish off as the day had seen a peppering of thunderstorms and the river was carrying a good bit of colour so I was convinced the barbel would be feeding. And so it proved.
I arrived just as the last fingers of daylight stained the western sky and tackled up in pitch darkness beneath the trees. Seconds after casting out and settling into my seat I had a pull and was into a fish. Not a big one, a little under 6lb, but no sooner had it been returned than I had an absolute screamer of a run. This was a much better fish and as I eventually glimpsed it in the murk thought it might be a double. It didn't quite make that mark but at 9lb 9oz is my 2nd biggest. What a start!
Things settled down after this manic first 20 minutes and it was nearly 3 hours before my next bite which resulted in a fish an ounce under 8lb. This was followed immediately by a tiddler (well a 4lber) and finally at a little after midnight another seven pounder. I fished on for another couple of hours, had one run at about 2.00am which I missed and was walking home under a wonderful crisp clear night sky by 3.00.
A week later and I was back with a sense of deja vu. The dash home from London was delayed by 'track circuit problems at West Drayton' and conditions promised to be very similar. I had intended to fish the same swim but as I entered the field 2 brollies indicated that both pegs - above and below the fallen tree were taken. A quick chat revealed one angler had had a couple of nice chub but had been bothered by a large pike (that info will go into the memory banks for the winter!!). The other angler, nothing. So I carried on walking and pitched up at 'my' swim some 100m upstream.
I was pleased to see the river in a good state. The heavy rains of the last few days, which brought so much devastation to Kent and Sussex had been a little lighter over central areas and whilst the Kennet was a little swollen and carrying some colour it was eminently fishable. A brief ridge of high pressure had brought a temporary respite from the wind and rain and also meant the night would be clear and cold - I would be thankful for my thermals. As darkness fell a bright harvest moon rose in the south-east giving the river a milky translucence and obviated the need for my head torch for all but 'close-up' work. With owls screeching in the woods, voles rustling along the margins and bats swooping over my head - my senses were alive - it was a magical night!
Bites would be at a premium and although I was fishing 2 rods - one into a near bank eddy, the other, across river into a hole, all the action fell to the near bank rod. 5 hours fishing brought 4 bites and 3 fish - 2 barbel and 1 chub An hour after darkness my first clonk bought a weary barbel of 8lb 3oz which hardly put up any kind of scrap. Unhooking revealed not one but two other hooks in its mouth, both 16's trailing lengths of mono which couldn't have been more than 2lb b/s, they looked incongruous beside my size 8. All 3 were quickly removed and the fish was swiftly weighed and returned - thankfully it swam off powerfully splashing my face with a swipe of its tail.
An hour or so later and I was treated to my best tussle of the season by far. I struck at a gentle rustle and was met with the awesome power of a large barbel powering off with the current. For 5 minutes it kited back and forth using the main flow to assist its efforts until I eventually got it back into quieter water. It was landed by the light of the full moon and weighed exactly a pound heavier than it's predecessor an hour earlier. A 3 and a half pound chub finished the session and when I missed a real clonk of a bite because I was nodding off, I realised it was time for bed!
The penultimate weekend of the month saw the eagerly awaited trip to Speen. Paul had decided to join me with the expressed intentions of trying to better his Perch PB, a 2lb fish caught from the school lake as a teenager. I was convinced this was the venue to produce one for him having had a 2lb plus fish in each of my last 5 trips here. However it would turn out that I was somewhat 'counting my chickens' with this prediction!!
The talk - well the flurry of e-mails - the week before was of the weather and in particular whether we'd actually be able to get to the water! The track to the venue shares a bridge under the by-pass with a carrier stream and I mean share quite literally, as if the river's at all up, access is impassable unless you're driving an amphibious vehicle! So we we're mildly surprised to find the route bone dry and the stream, judging by the 'tide mark' on the concrete, nearly a foot down. And so it proved when we got to the river, which was, far from being in flood, well below its usual levels and running 'gin clear'!! Very puzzling given the rain we've had this October.
I'm sure the lack of water contributed to our comparative lack of success. The dace had all but disappeared - we only had 4 between us all day, Paul didn't get his 2lb perch though he had a couple either side of a pound and I had a couple of chub either side of 2lb. Generally though, we had to content our selves with small roach and gudgeon in equal numbers. Another Red Letter Day? Far from it!