The year started for me at Clawford Vineyard on the 1st January after a rather hectic Millennium party. It was naturally a rather shaky late start but by midday I found myself fishing Fletchers lake in front of the accommodation.
My approach was to lightly feed a swim in front of the reeds with a mixture of hemp and caster before setting up my tackle. This consisted of a 12ft float rod with a centre pin reel loaded with 31b b.s. line. The float was a small peacock waggler with a short length of crow quill inserted as a tip. This is a very sensitive waggler and was locked in position by 2 BB shot. There was only one number 6 shot down the line. The terminal tackle consisted of an 18 inch 21b b.s. trace to a size 14 hook baited with two casters.
To be honest, I was not expecting to catch much but after 10 minutes I had a bite that produced a nice, plump 12oz roach. This was quickly followed by a 1lb 4oz roach and several more between 4oz and a pound. I had had about 10 good quality roach when I struck into a real fly away bite. In seconds the fish had stripped off 15 yards of line. Obviously this was no roach as I played the fish for over 10 minutes before landing a scale-perfect ghost carp of about 61b. Although I had accidentally broken my New Years resolution, I was not disappointed and fished on. I had several more roach including another over a pound with a nice orfe and a few rudd.
Virginia had fished Wanda's lake and had done well with the carp, and she had also caught some ide and chub. Neither of us were disappointed with the sport. Considering the time of year we thought that it was very good.
When we returned to Ashford we decided that we would concentrate on fishing rivers until the river closed season on the 14th March. In late January, we went down the River Test to visit our old friends Dave and Kay Stuart. Naturally we had to fish this exclusive bit of water. Well, it would have been rude not to! We trotted with maggots and really bagged up with roach, dace, grayling and brown trout. The best dace fell to my rod and was accurately weighed at a fraction over the pound mark. I was very pleased with this specimen.
At dinner David told us that even on his section of the River Test several carp had been caught. In his words "Carp appear to be getting in everywhere". I must admit that I was surprised that they were becoming a problem on an exclusive trout stream like the River Test but knew that David was right.
Most of our local fishing during the Winter was confined to the Lower Thames and in particular, the Tidal Thames. We used a variety of tactics ranging from the open-end feeder with bread to the stick float with maggots. These tactics gave us some great days bagging up with bream to well over 61b. The tidal certainly is producing much bigger bream these days.
We also fished sections of the lower Thames that were not tidal, including a section at Sunbury where we found some barbel that were very keen to take red maggots fished on a block feeder. Although this is not a favourite method of mine, I really enjoyed catching the barbel which were mixed in with a few chub and dace. They were not particularly big barbel, averaging between four and five pounds but were excellent sport.
Travelling further afield we concentrated our efforts on grayling, roach and dace. I particularly enjoyed my weekend breaks staying in a friends flat at Swanage in Dorset and fishing the tidal River Frome below Wareham bridge. I had some nice roach to pushing 21b and big dace to a fraction over 14oz. No doubt I will be back again as this is one of the few free fisheries that regularly produces roach to over three pounds.
During the old closed season, our editor, Geoff, wanted me to do some trout fishery reviews. I hit the trout trail starting off with Letchlade Trout Fishery where I had a great day catching big rainbows. The lake was an old very mature pit that had been a trout fishery for years. I saw a good pike down the edge and discussed the matter with the owner, Tim Small. He told me that they did not kill the pike but removed them in the winter to stock up their pike water that was over the road. He then said that they had to be careful, as the big brown trout that ran to over twenty pounds would take a large half mackeral. The brown trout evidentially had turned cannibal just like pike. That raises the question - are ferrox a separate species or just big browns that have turned cannibal when they have achieved a certain size?
Other fisheries followed; Syon Park, Hazel Copse with its salmon, Frensham Trout Fishery, Avon Springs with its clear water, Duncton Mill and Bushylease. It was great fun and no doubt, Geoff will want me to cover others later. I had learnt a lot and would seriously advise any grayling hunter to contact Avon Springs later in the year. They have nearly a mile of the Upper Hampshire Avon that, out of the brown trout season, can be fished for grayling. Those Upper Hampshire Avon grayling can run very big. My best is a 31b 6oz specimen caught from a section above Avon Springs but they are also present on this section.
In April, I had a weeks holiday at Anglers Paradise. As this was my A.B.C. year, I deliberately avoided the carp lakes. Instead I concentrated my efforts on the ornamental species and really enjoyed myself, catching plenty of orfe and golden tench with specimens of both going well over five pounds. All I was doing was fishing either trout pellet paste or worm over a small carpet of trout pellets. The tackle I was using was simplicity itself. A float rod with a centre-pin to a small pole float and a size 8 hook. I was also fortunate in having a lot of space to myself, as most of the anglers were on the carp lakes.
Returning from Anglers Paradise, I had a few days at Bury Hill. The sport was terrific and no matter which lake Virginia and I fished we bagged up. I particularly enjoyed our day on Miltons Lake where we each had over 1001b of crucians and tench. The crucians ran to 21b 10oz whilst the tench went to about 51b. It was just a case of using either casters or trout pellet paste close in and watching for those shy crucian bites.
I had to fish several venues during the Summer for venue reviews for this magazine. Although this was great fun, it was not what I would describe as my 'bread and butter' fishing. This was on large local gravel pits where I concentrated my efforts on bream with some interesting results. The bream that I caught all appeared to be relatively young fish. This was odd in itself as many of them were over 81b but there was no sign of the bigger older looking double figured fish that I was seeking. Comparing notes with other anglers on the venue it appears that the older fish have died out, leaving space for the new younger fish to grow more quickly and take over.
It was also interesting to note that we never caught, or heard of, a roach being caught on that venue but there were a lot of big roach/bream hybrids appearing with the bream. This water was also popular with carp anglers who greatly out-numbered anglers fishing for any other species. Obviously they were introducing a lot of carp baits into the water. Most were fishing boilies over trout pellet that resulted in the bream getting a taste for trout pellet. I am certain that more bream were caught on carp type baits rather than traditional bream baits like worm, caster or maggot. I caught most of my bream on legered trout pellet paste or boilies.
During August, I had to write several reviews of various ponds and still waters, together with a few holiday venues. All these waters held carp as one of their main species. I had to break away from my A.B.C. year to do these reviews as in fairness to the owners, I had to catch carp to show the venues full potential. To this end I caught a lot of double figured carp to twenty pounds and I must admit that I enjoyed it.
In early September, I had rather a lot of medical appointments and did very little fishing. Then there was the fuel protest that made it even more difficult to go fishing. I was getting rather frustrated when I received a phone call from John and Wanda Ray inviting us to Clawford Vineyard for a weeks fishing. This was an offer not to be missed as the petrol blockade had just been lifted. After waiting half an hour to get fuelled up, we were on our way and arrived just in time for a terrific evening meal in the restaurant.
The following morning after one of Wanda's legendary breakfasts, I walked down to fish Wanda's Lake whilst Virginia fished next door in the intermediate carp lake. I adopted a completely different style to Virginia as I targeted the roach and was trying to avoid the carp in the lake. I had not had time to buy any casters before leaving and had to be content with using bread. I set up opposite one of the islands that was an easy cast from my swim. The tackle was kept simple. A 13ft waggler rod with a fixed spool reel loaded with 2.5lb line with a spiced crow quill insert peacock waggler holding just over 3BB. The float was locked in position by the 3BB shot with just two number six shots spaced out on the 21b b.s. trace to a fine wire size 12 hook. The swim was about two foot from the island and about 3 or 4ft deep. This was baited up with a little fluidised bread. I must stress that I mean a little, as too much would have attracted the carp. The hook was baited with a little wet bread and the tackle landed on top of the very small ball of fluidised bread that I had just introduced. The float immediately flew away as a roach took it on the drop.
It was a nice roach of just over half a pound and was quickly followed by a much larger specimen weighing a fraction over a pound. I caught another two nice roach before catching a few bream up to over five pounds. Then I hit a small carp of about four pounds and stopped feeding. After catching another four carp, the roach returned and sport continued. This pattern was to repeat itself during the day, some nice roach followed by bream then the carp would move in. I ended up with about 16 roach averaging about 3/4lb, 8 bream, 15 carp, 4 rudd and a chub of approaching a pound. In all, about 701b of fish.
Virginia had moved about stalking out carp to 171b 6oz with some good back-up fish. She had set up a 9ft stalking rod with a centre pin loaded with 121b b.s. line using a Tyson pole float. Her hook was a size 4 baited with a large piece of dog meat. These crude tactics can really bring results from Clawford carp that can run very large.
As the week continued we continued to catch fish. For me it was the roach that I really wanted and my little carpy wife was happy catching carp.
I made one deliberate exception to my ABC rule and that was ghost carp. I really like the look of these and when I move house I will have a pond that has ghost carp amongst its stock. Clawford has some very big ghost carp in its Fletcher's Lake that is directly in front of the accommodation. Naturally I had to give it a try for a day. I used conventional boilie tactics with a matched pair of 11ft four joint Harrison Balista rods. I used the new multiplex boilies from Richworth and was soon catching some nice ghosties up to 131b 6oz with plenty of good back up fish. One of the back up fish was a 1lb 2oz roach on a 14mm boilie!
In early October, I eventually was granted early retirement from teaching and spent much of the month celebrating "The Great Escape". However in my more sober periods I managed to get some fishing in, and restarted fishing Sunday mornings with the Francis Francis Punt Club on the Tidal Thames at Twickenham. I caught some nice mixed bags of roach, dace and bream. It was good to see the roach and dace putting in an appearance but it was still bream that were dominating the catches. One odd catch I made down at Richmond really surprised me. This was a foul hooked sea shrimp of about 2.5 inches long. This is the first sea water shrimp that I have ever seen in my forty plus years on the river.
Again I had several reviews of trout fisheries to do including revisiting Duncton Mill and big fish water Dever Springs. The results were much better than I thought possible and I found myself spending more and more time fishing for rainbow trout during the Winter. This was great fun and I really enjoyed it.
Unfortunately with my new craze for Winter trout, the time I spent fishing for chub and barbel on the River Kennet really suffered. I suppose it proves that you can never really have the time to fish for everything. Pike were another species that I neglected as when I was not trout fishing, I was either on the Tidal Thames or Tidal Frome trying to catch roach and dace.
I really enjoyed my A.B.C. year and expect to continue with this theme next year. There are so many other species to fish for I did not have sufficient time to do justice to them all. However now that I am retired I should have more time devote to my fishing.