One of the many angling related presents I received for my 40th birthday back in January was a couple of days fishing on The Royalty. My Mum had booked the Top Weir Compound for my exclusive use at the end of February and Jacqui had booked us into one of the numerous B&B's in Christchurch which cater for the visiting angler. Mum agreed to have the boys for three nights and with this the conspiratorial preparations were complete.

There can't be an angler in the land that hasn't heard of this famous fishery and it goes without saying that I was thoroughly looking forward to my first visit. Jaq had deliberately recommended that my Mum book it for a good month after my birthday so that I could enjoy the anticipation as much as the angling itself - she knows me too well! The month was spent garnering as much advice as I could from tackle shops, bailiffs and other anglers who had fished there. I have often visited the area and had walked the venue on numerous occasions and all the advice helped me form a plan of attack. But oh the anticipation - it was almost unbearable!

I soon established that I actually had the run of the entire fishery (except the Parlour Pool) and having the Compound to myself meant I could lock most of my tackle up in the hut, bait up a couple of swims in the weir and then wander round the rest of the fishery to return later in the knowledge that 'my swim' wouldn't be occupied - well that was the plan. In a perverse way I didn't even mind if I were to blank but I wanted to give myself the best possible chance of getting SOMETHING! The ticket was for two anglers and Paul jumped at the chance to join me on the SaturdayHow did we get on? Well more on that later

Before that, though, there's a couple of trips on the Kennet to report on. The second of these, a trip to the upper Kennet with a bunch of anglers from the Internet Angling Club for our annual 'Grayling Day' visit. The first on a club stretch lower downstream. This first outing of the month, presented me with something of a dilemma. Where to fish and what to fish for?

Pike or Barbel? That was the question posed by Phil - an angler from the Midlands - on the IAC list in the week before my planned trip. Unhelpfully for Phil, opinion was divided evenly about which species he should target. I too was having similar deliberations and as the early part of the week was mild with the river fining down, I'd settled on a barbel session. By Friday, though, I'd gone cold on the idea - as had the weather. Sleet had fallen on the Thursday and was followed by two nights of frost. Yet as I dove up the A4 in the gathering light of a Saturday morning, watching the car thermometer register a slowly rising temperature outside, I was beginning to have more doubts.

I'd decided to 'play safe' and have a morning's trotting at Newbury. I also loaded up a carp rod and some dead-baits as I promised myself I'd spend the afternoon piking. The morning produced the expected mixed bag from this venue; the first 2 casts produced a small chub of around 2lbs and what would be my biggest dace of the day at 11oz. The next 4 hours produced a large bag of dace, roach, chub, gudgeon, perch, grayling and trout but nothing more to trouble the scales. With mild weather and overcast skies returning I was ruing my decision not to have been a little bit braver and gone for the barbel.

By 11.00, then, with my wrist aching, it was time to switch to the pike tackle. This season I've been using lamprey sections for the first time. I know this dead-bait has been popular with pike anglers for a while and whilst I had yet to catch on them, their rubbery skin do resist the attentions of the crayfish better. For the same reason they are also a good bait if you want to cast long distances as they stay on the hook well, though you must be careful you don't hook them up to deeply - you don't want your trebles turning into the bait if a pike takes.

Casting long distances was not on the agenda here and all I had to do was swing my 6 inch long head section, attached to 2, size 8 semi-barbless trebles, into a near bank slack. Confidence is everything in angling and I wasn't convinced I'd quite got it right with my first cast, so 5 minutes later I was re-casting - much nearer to the bank this time. Results were almost instantaneous. I'd just 'settled the rod' when I had a run straight away. I picked up the rod and, rather than wait as some pikers do, struck immediately - I'd rather lose a pike than have a deep hooked one. My first thoughts were that I'd hooked a branch as nothing seemed to be happening but this branch was swimming upstream! AND heading for a major snag. I made little impression on it at first but just managed to stop it before it got into the roots of the snag, so it turned and belted off in the other direction with my clutch screaming in protest. The next 5 minutes continued in this vein though each time the run was shorter and less powerful than the one before. Once on the surface I could see it was a good fish and hooked neatly in the scissors with just one of the trebles. Beaten, I guided it to the net and had it on the bank.

Now that I got to see it properly I started to think that it might be my first 20 but whilst the scales nearly registered that mark, with the net subtracted it was 18lb 10oz - still, my best from the river. I was well chuffed - particularly as I hadn't anticipated a fish of such size even as I was playing it.

I carried on piking for a while though had no more interest in the other two likely-looking spots I tried. For the last hour, I returned to the float rod and was rewarded with a bream of nearly 3lb and a lovely conditioned chub an ounce under 4lb. The latter was followed to the net by a jack pike of similar size! The onset of heavy drizzle and a brisk breeze prompted my departure and I was off to the tackle shop to get more bait for the following week.

Pike or Barbel?? Well I think you know my answer to that one!

Neither species was a prospect for my next trip which saw me, the following Friday, back on the river, 8 miles further upstream for our annual 'Grayling Day'. For what seems the first time this winter the weather was as we would have wished A wet Monday was followed by a week of dry settled conditions producing a high but fined down river by the Friday. Paul had organised the trip which had been pencilled in since early December so I could timetable it at work to be sure of getting the day off. Our fellow anglers were mainly drawn from the Internet Angling Club lists so whilst not organised by Alan it was to all intents and purposes an IAC outing.

The venue is a trout fishery which allows access to coarse anglers in the winter months. There is a series of carriers and feeder streams all with bank-side vegetation cut back in deference to the fly angler. There are grayling to be had in some numbers; I caught over 50 last season and was to get a similar number this trip. Whilst the owner has caught them to 2 and a half pounds, most of our party had more modest ambitions.

Initially my ambitions were not for grayling at all. While last year my first 2 fish were grayling of 1lb 10oz and 1lb 14oz, the latter a personal best, the fish that really got my pulse racing was my last of the day, a dace of one pound, one and a half ounces. This is a venue which really attracts the big pregnant females at this time of year and it must be one of the few venues in the country to offer a real chance of getting a pound fish. My hopes soared in the week leading up to our trip, with reports that a 15oz fish had been taken. So whilst, at first light, our party dispersed to the known grayling hot spots I trekked down to the bottom of the venue to my dace swim.

I planned to fish the first and last hour of daylight here. With a bright sunny day correctly forecast I reckoned this gave me my best chances of getting a fish from this, the slowest stream on the venue. Sure enough on my 3rd trot through the float slowed just perceptibly and I struck into a nice dace of about 8oz. A couple of minutes later and I had another the same size followed 5 minutes later by one 2 or 3ozs heavier - getting bigger, I thought! The next fish was a lot bigger but unfortunately wasn't a dace. Instead it was a very acrobatic rainbow of around 2lb. The trout can be a real pest here when you are trying to target other species and sure enough the commotion caused by this one put paid to any more bites from the dace - but I intended to return in 8 hours.

Those 8 hours were spent exploring the rest of the venue for grayling. Every 2 or 3 hours Paul and I would meet back at the car to re-supply bait smocks, take on drinks and victuals and generally compare notes as the day progressed. Paul had quickly caught a couple of dozen grayling from the top of the venue including a new PB of 1lb 5oz which was bettered by 2oz from the dozen grayling he added in the afternoon. He also spent three-quarters of an hour in the afternoon battling with a 5lb 2oz rainbow, hooked and landed from the fastest stretch of water on the fishery - how's the arm Paul??

Having made a slow start on the grayling front, I too had a couple of dozen from the top stretches of the fishery before lunch and the same again from the swims below the car park after. The late afternoon was spent 'leapfrogging' each other as we worked our way down the long 'road stretch'.

By 4 o'clock I'd reached the bottom of this stretch and was fishing behind a weed stop above a pool. I was thinking that I wanted to be back in the dace swim within half an hour to fish the last hour of daylight. Unexpectedly though, my next trot through brought a dace from this spot. A big one too. It looked close to a pound and my scales confirmed its weight at 14oz, my best of the season. I fished on for 20 minutes without a bite and a further 20 minutes brought my best grayling of the day from the pool - a fish of 1lb 5oz. By 4.45 I was back where I started the day with literally only a handful of maggots to see me through the last hour.

The sport though was brisk, my first fish was another beauty, it too was 14oz and was followed next cast by a fish just fractionally lighter - Wow! 3 dace over 13oz on the same day! I could ill afford to loose feed to keep the swim going and although I had 3 more smaller dace, by 5.30 I had 3 maggots left in my smock! One of these was sucked out without the float registering - or maybe I didn't notice in the gloom. The other two resulted in small roach. And that was that! It was getting dark anyway but would have been light enough to see for another 10 minutes - note for next year - BRING MORE BAIT!

And so to the trip to the Avon and the weekend my luck finally ran out. The results were pretty unedifying; 2 days angling, 20 hours on the bank produced just 3 bites and no fish! Add to that the 8 bite-less hours Paul spent with me on the Saturday and it makes for gloomy statistics. Conditions were against us of course - well you've got to look for some excuse! The river was still very high and most of the east bank was inaccessible due to flooding yet the water was crystal clear. My arrival coincided with a cold snap - overnight snow flurries, days of bright sunshine and a bitter north-easterly wind - plenty of excuses - take your pick. We weren't alone. Very few caught on the fishery on the 2 days I was there including the 4 anglers I met from Reading who, like me, were having a change from the Kennet.

My only chance came fishing rolling meat under the railway bridges. I had a sharp tug but in my excitement snatched at it and didn't connect. A shame. I felt under pressure from my family to catch something; they being non-anglers equating fish on the bank with my enjoyment. I had a tough time convincing my mum that my weekend had been worthwhile. BUT it was; if angling was predictable we wouldn't go

So, the grass isn't always greener and next weekend I'm back at the estate water on the Kennet that I fished for the first time just before Christmas. I've got some unfinished business with a big roach - but that will have to wait for next month

Well that was the plan - alas due to the Foot & Mouth outbreak, the trip is off - wonder if I'll get to go again this season??