I think she reasoned that it was preferable to me hanging around street corners getting into trouble with 'unsavoury types'. Thus overlooking the fact that for a time there was quite a gang of us that would go fishing after school - though for most the novelty of this soon wore off! At no time was this encouragement more forth-coming than at the beginning of the Christmas holidays.
Bringing up three young boys on her own was never easy and the build up and anticipation of Christmas must have made us even more hyper active. Mum was sometimes desperate to get us out from under her feet so she could concentrate on the festive preparations. As a consequence in the days before Christmas I was often met with a post breakfast 'Why don't you go fishing'. If I could persuade a younger brother to come along with me, so much the better. Now, even in those days I didn't need asking twice and the result of this was that for
many years, the days before Christmas and in particular Christmas Eve, became a traditional time for me to be out on the river.
My diaries of the time show that these trips weren't usually very successful, often just a couple of gudgeon was all I had to show for a day on the river. Only one trip from this period stands out as being at all memorable. Float fishing a long glide at the bottom end of Lower Benyons, I caught over a dozen chub of remarkably similar size; all over 12oz and under 1lb 12oz with the majority hovering in the 14oz - 1lb range. Perhaps a shoal of fish from the same year or maybe, a recent stocking. The fish that really stands out from this session however was my first 1lb roach from the river. At 1lb 2oz it stood as a personal best for exactly a year when it was bettered by 2oz from the same swim the following Christmas. (The chub, alas, weren't in residence for this return trip!). I remember wondering, at the time, if it was the same fish - if it was, it certainly helped 'make' a certain teenager's Christmas 2 years running!
This Christmas ritual continued right up to getting married and beyond. I even started to catch a few more AND persuade Jacqui to join me on the bank a couple of times! Since 1991, the year Matthew was born, Christmas has been 'held' at home (not a popular decision at first!). Now Christmas dinner is my responsibility and Christmas Eve sees ME running around like a headless chicken, stuffing the turkey, peeling the obligatory sprouts and making the bread sauce just the way I like it (well I am the only one that eats it!).
Festive fishing trips now have to compete with other post Christmas priorities such as Boxing Day football and visiting relatives. Time is always found though for a day on the river bank. The first trip after Christmas is usually the time to try out that new bit of tackle you asked for or wear that new item of warm clothing you didn't! Though, thankfully the message seems to have got through to my various aunts and uncles that you can only have so many thermal socks
This year I had an early Christmas treat to look forward to. My club had gained access to a local estate water and Mervyn the Membership Secretary had kindly extended an invite to Paul and me. The syndicate that runs the water usually charge 'fluff chuckers' 1200 UKP a season for the privilege, but like many trout fisheries in recent years, allows limited access in the winter to course anglers. So for a tenner I was looking forward to a day targeting the big dace and roach rumoured to reside alongside the spotties in this classic stretch of the Kennet.
My eager anticipation was somewhat tempered by the weather in the preceding week which saw yet more torrential rain put the river back into a full flood. Forecast for the day itself was for more wind and rain but that didn't put off a couple of dozen or so hardy souls meeting up at the keepers cottage at first light. With introductions and pleasantries over we were led via immersed tracks, across sodden fields to park up right by the river's edge - very civilised!
No sooner had the last of the convoy arrived when the heavens opened again. With the river bombing through and the colour of weak coffee, hopes were not high. The rain was destined to last till lunch time and would be followed by an afternoon peppered with squally showers which belted through on a strong wind. All in all, conditions were pretty grim.
The estate is typical of many chalk stream, trout fisheries. Carrier streams have been diverted off the main river and wind their way across the flood plain (a very apt description today!) via a series of sluices and plunge pools. It was these stretches that were rumoured to hold the roach and the dace. So whilst many of my fellow anglers loaded up their trolleys and trundled off in the rain to 'bags' one of the numerous weir pools on the main river, I tackled up at the car, leaving my gear in the dry and just taking a rod, landing net and a pouch full of maggot. I wanted to be mobile as I intended to cover a lot of the backwaters!
It quickly became apparent to Paul and I that finding the slacks would be imperative and by the end of the day we'd be fishing any quiet bit of water no matter insignificant. Having geared up for a wander it was somewhat ironic that the first spot I tried was still in sight of the car park - a slack - on the near bank of a carrier. I had a small roach first cast and quickly followed it with three more and a small brownie. The first hour was practically a bite a chuck and such was the early action, I nearly considered going back for my brolly and pegging out for the day!
Paul, having seen me get some instant success wandered off downstream to find a slack of his own and we agreed to meet up for a coffee in a couple of hours. The next fish was what I'd come here for, a dace and a good 'un, about 8oz. The next 4 were also dace and went even bigger, the best one I weighed at a fraction over 12oz and its three shoal mates were only marginally smaller. It's amazing what a few fish does for the spirits. A couple of weeks previous I was soon fed up blanking for pike in an atrocious downpour but today, in similar
weather, I was thanking my lucky stars to have landed in a hotspot immediately. Nothing the conditions could throw at me could have dampened my enthusiasm.
I met up with Paul at the appointed hour and was pleased to find that he'd caught as well. He too had found a slack and recommended it heartily, despite the fact you needed to wade up a flooded ditch to fish it. Paul had landed a number of roach and the odd dace, so after a very welcome warm cuppa, I wandered downstream to have a look at what he'd found. The swim was a tricky one to fish as it was under trees but it did look a cracking eddy and with my first trot through it I was into a good fish, which soon leapt in spectacular fashion to reveal itself as a brown trout of about 2lb. With all this commotion I didn't expect much for a while but next cast I was in again, again something solid, I held my breath as I saw the broad shoulders of a large roach break surface in midstream, alas that was my only glimpse, a flick of the tail and it was broadside to the current and off the hook. Ecstasy and agony in the same second!
The sight of that splendid fish meant I hung around in that swim for a lot longer than I should have because all I had to show for the next 2 hours fishing was 4 more nuisance trout and a couple of small dace. Meeting Paul back at the car for lunch we weren't surprised to see nearly half the cars had already left, though most anglers we spoke to had winkled a chub or two out of the main river.
The afternoon was more notable for the walking than the fishing. Paul and I explored the top of the fishery and weren't helped by setting off in the wrong direction to find ourselves, after 20 minutes walking, on the wrong bank from where we wanted to be. After a couple of hours walking the back streams and carriers, fishing any likely looking slack, and picking up the odd small roach and decent dace here and there, we arrived back at the car park as the light faded. By now only 2 other cars remained. There was a quick chance to catch up with
Mervyn and thank him for the day. Mervyn had caught in his weir-pool - some chub and a 4lb bream.
Eventually when it was too dark to see our floats we were the last to head back through the floods, deciding what pub we'd aim for and reflecting how, all things considered it had been a pretty successful day (even with the 'big-un that got away' cliche). I only hope I get the chance to return one day and have another go at that roach
Ten days later I was back on the river bank for a pre-Christmas trip. Last month I described a classic flood swim - a big eddy which appears when the river is up and how the river hadn't risen enough for this slack to have appeared. Well, with another wet month and more flooding I was sure the time was ripe for a visit, and with the prospect of a calm mild day after a weekend of frosts my confidence was high for a good trip - and so it proved.
I arrived at first light to find the river in full spate and still over its banks in many places so that finding a dry place to tackle up was quite tricky. Sure enough my eddy was there - it really is a large area of calm water in comparison with the main race. Despite the height of the water I was reassured to see a lot of the colour had dropped out. It looked perfect.
Big smelly baits! That's what the 'experts' recommend for flood conditions isn't it? Well, for nearly 2 hours I offered a range of paste, garlic sausage, curried meat and pellet. All studiously ignored by the residents of the eddy. Eventually the temptation to get out the centre-pin was too great and within 5 minutes I'd switched my focus from a static quiver tip to a moving float.
The change in tactics bought instant success; the float disappeared on my first trot through the eddy just at the crease with the main current and after a lumpy fight I was bringing a chub of about two and a half pound to the net. The next cast produced a perch of nearly a pound and a half. Cast number three brought a nice roach of about 10oz to the net followed next chuck by a dace half the size. A gudgeon was next up followed immediately by a jack of about 3lbs, fortuitously clean hooked in the scissors. So my first 6 casts had produced 6 fish - all different species! All taken on a single red maggot on an 18. As I suspected, the place was stuffed with fish but big smelly baits were not going to get them on the bank!
The rest of the day pretty much continued in this vein. Grayling and trout were added to the species count and the dace showed up in numbers - not as big as my trip earlier in the month but a good average size and a lot of them - I caught dozens. These were punctuated with the odd small roach and every 20 minutes or so I'd connect with something more solid - a chub or a perch. My first chub was the smallest of the day. I caught another half a dozen, only one of which was under three and three-quarter pounds. The perch got bigger as well and I had a brace of 2 pounders as well as a couple more just shy of this mark. All fell to trotting tactics - boy, did my wrist ache! When the pain in my wrist got too much, I put a sprat out for 20 minutes or so and had a couple more small pike by more conventional means, the best, a little under 9lbs. Unfortunately this was the shortest day of the year and fading daylight brought an end to the fun shortly after 4 o'clock but it had been a cracking day's sport.