The close season has been a frustrating one. The continuing Foot and Mouth crisis has kept most rivers out of bounds denying access for my traditional reconnaissance trips. I love to stomp the banks of the Kennet in the spring looking out for new swims and seeing the changes the winter floods have wrought on the river. Alas this year such trips have been severely limited. The close season hasn't been a complete waste of time, however. I've read Isaac Walton's, The Complete Angler for the first time! And once you get past some of 'ye olde English' prose some of his advice and observations are surprisingly modern as I shall illustrate later. There is even a thread of angling conservation running through some of the early pages, though in Isaac's days this meant being in favour of hunting otters - not something likely to get angling a good press in the 21st century!!
Ever since I used to fish the peat stained school lakes, as a teenager, June has meant tench. Now I realise this is something of a cliché, perpetuated by Mr Crabtree amongst others, but the fact is 86% of all my tench have been caught in the first 6 weeks of the season. Last year I happened upon a pit rumoured to contain big tinca's. I didn't get to fish it until mid July and having never caught a 6lb tench in my life landed three over that mark in half an hour! The best at 6lb 9oz was nearly a pound over my previous p.b. A couple of visits later in the summer were less successful but the rumours abounded that this lake held not just tench, but big bream as well. A visit in June was a must.
So last season I kept a watchful eye on this water, often dropping by to have a look around and to chat to the few anglers who seemed to frequent the water - which at no time appeared to be heavily fished. Much of the close season has also been spent in preparation for this tench assault. Tony Willis's excellent articles on this site were consulted (they can still be found in the archives). Advice on baits from other anglers was also sought. This seemed to fall into two camps; those that reckoned tench have a 'sweet tooth' so use sweet, fruity baits and those that recommended the humble worm and to ground bait with blood based products. Incidentally Tony reconciles both these views, recommending blood and worm early in the season and switching to fruitier baits as autumn approaches. The lake I was targeting also matched many of Tony's criteria for a big tench pit, being deep, weedy and with a low head of carp.
I was even prompted to consult Isaac Walton himself and I was so struck with his recommendations for tench baits that I ended up reading the whole book! Here is what Isaac has to say on the best baits for tench ( taken from the 5th impression of The Compleat Angler):
"He will bite at a paste made of brown bread and honey, or at a Marsh- worm, or a lob-worm; he inclines very much to any paste with which tar is mixt, and he will bite also at a smaller worm with his head nipped off, and a cod-worm* put on the hook before that worm. And I doubt not but that he will also, in the three hot months, for in the nine colder he stirs not much, bite at a flag-worm or at a green gentle;"
* caddis larva
Well that seemed to confirm that all the advice I'd been getting was nearly 350 years old! I was also fascinated by some of Isaac's insights for other species and I shall share some of these with you over the coming months.
For the past 2 decades the third week of June, as seen my long term angling pal Paul Goulbourn and I; abandon the wives, take time off from work and feast ourselves on a frenzy of fishing. Here's how we got on in 2001
Most anglers will remember 16th June 2001 for how wet they got as much as what they caught! Paul and I were no exception. Huddled under our brolleys, watching the frequent torrential downpours, hooking the obliging commons in our opening day pit wasn't a problem, getting wet to deal with them was - especially for Paul who had left his waterproofs at home and sat out the session sweltering in his thermal suit!
Next up was a trip targeting crucians. One of my club waters has a good head of large crucian carp. Paul and I have both had fish over 3lb, and 2lb fish are a real prospect. A couple of years ago we invited Alan Tomkins along with the promise of his 1st 2lb crucian and he didn't go home disappointed! Alan was returning as our guest in the hope of some more of the same. The day, though, was one of pure frustration. A feature of the water always is the 'un-missable' bites which you err MISS. The float sails away under and is still disappearing, but you strike and there's nothing there! I'd already been subjected to this by the time Alan joined us and I warned him what he might be in for! Alan proved me wrong by quickly having a 4lb tench on the bank but both of us then spent the following hours watching our floats going under and striking at thin air.
We both rang the changes in shotting patterns, terminal tackle, baits etc. Nothing made any difference. Eventually I scaled right down to a size 18 and fished a single red maggot - pretty suicidal tactics given the preponderance for muscular commons to invade your swim. I still had sail-aways but did a least start connecting with a few. Small rudd at first, then a tench of 3lb or so and finally a 2lb crucian - hooray! In the next couple of hours I added a couple more crucians and 3 more tench. Best comedy moment happened when I tried to land 2 fish at once. I was bringing a tench to the net when my 'forgotten' piece of free-lined meat in the margins was snaffled by a carp. Thankfully Alan answered my frantic calls for assistance.
Alan wasn't able to add to his early tench. All that responded to his scaled down approach were the commons which promptly won their freedom by crashing through the adjoining overgrowth. Paul had a blank saving carp on the bank late in the session but we all agreed it had been a frustrating day!!
Paul and I were in for more of the same the following day as we tackled our first visit to our 'big tench' water. Things started promising enough. In a perfect 'tench fishers' dawn, the lake looked a picture. Mirror-calm, there with a liberal dusting of tree pollen mixing with the occasional bubbles showing on the surface. The tranquillity was soon shattered as Paul and I sent our respective weed rakes arcing into our swims sending ripples out across to the far bank. And within 20 minutes of wetting a line Paul was slipping the net under a 4 lb tench. A perfect start. Alas, this would be the only bite the two of us would get for the next 8 hours!
I eventually connected with a fish around lunch time. I actually was experimenting with making up rigs to present a halibut pellet in preparation for some sessions on the Kennet for barbel (having long given up on the tench!) when I at last had a run. The tench of 4lb fought hard but landing it revealed that it had been foul hooked in the anal fin - which seemed somehow fitting. I then had another fish of a similar size to the last cast of the day - having already packed away most of my gear.
Having had a very frustrating day I decided to squeeze in a short evening session on the river - to give my 'new' pellet bait a try. As usual all the action came after dark. By 10.00pm I'd fished over 2 hours without a bite and had waved goodbye to 4 other anglers who, having caught one barbel between them, saw fit to miss the best part of the day! An hour and a half later and my thoughts were turning towards bed, having banked 3 fish. Barbel of 6lb 3oz and 8lb 13oz had fallen to the pellet and sandwiched between these two captures a big 'ol gran-daddy' of a chub which weighed in at an impressive 5lb 9oz - it more than made up for my disappointment on the tench lake earlier in the day.
The following day saw Paul and I introduce another guest to one of our prolific club waters. Edward Adcock is well known to listees of the Internet Angling Club for his sometimes unusual questions and for introducing all of us to some, err 'interesting' Angling web-sites. All this has earned him the sobriquet of 'Edward the Obscure'. As usual, the ravenous commons were much in evidence and Edward seemed happy enough to get his string pulled by them. Paul and I rather hoped the other species would get a look in and eventually I had a tench and 4 crucians - which lived up to there reputation of shoaling with fish of the same size as they were all between 1 and 1.5lbs.
The last trip of the week saw me again after tench. A different venue and something of a 'known quantity' given that it was an oft fished club venue. In previous years I've found that it often fishes better in early July, seeming to need a few extra weeks to warm up. However reports from a match on the opening weekend were favourable and a warm dry week tempted me to give it a go.
The lake holds a good head of tench whose average size has crept up over the years and, if you find them feeding, the prospects are good for 5lb fish. There are a few commons but not as many as the other lakes. The 'bonus fish' on this water are the crucians. They are few and far between - in 17 years of fishing this lake I've only caught 11, but if you get one they are likely to be over 2.5 lb - 2 years ago I had a 3lb 10oz fish; a pb I don't expect to beat in a hurry!!
Something else I've learnt here, particularly in recent years is that the fishing is infinitely better at night. The tench seem to actively cruise the margins at this time - preferring to sulk in the depths during the heat of the day. So the plan was to fish the evening and on into the night packing up whenever it got light or the bites stopped - whichever came first. Paul didn't plan to fish till the following morning but planned to join me if I was still on the water.
Arriving on a warm, breezy evening I was very pleasantly surprised to get my favourite peg and noted quite a few of the lake's commons cruising on the surface but no sign of any tench. However, within an hour or so of tackling up I was starting to get bites - which I was missing! Just a twitch and a couple of bleeps on the buzzer to show a fish had passed by. So it was time to resort to touch ledgering tactics. I prefer this to float fishing the margins, as a float at night, particularly with a ripple on the water, mesmerizes me to sleep. Another advantage with touch ledgering is, you can edge your bait gently through the swim, something the tench can find irresistible. It is a tactic which demands concentration but feeling the 'pluck' of a tench picking up the bait can be an electrifying experience.
It wasn't too long before I had my next bite; this one I didn't miss and was soon landing a tench of 4 and a half pounds. It was an hour's wait for my next touch which produced a fish a pound or so lighter - a fish that would prove to be the smallest of the session. Then as the shadows lengthened across the lake I had a real purple patch, catching 4 fish of 5lb 9oz, 5lb 3oz, 5lb 1oz and 5lb 6oz in 4 casts and all within half an hour. This set the pattern for the night, though bites slowed a tad. Around midnight I had 3 carp in quick succession - the first took my bait so savagely it cut the index finger that was sensing the bites. This fish was 8 lbs, was quickly followed by a common of over 12lbs, my biggest from this lake, which in turn was followed by one of just under 10lb.
Things went a bit quiet on the tench front after this but my next fish, another 5lber, took the bait after I'd twitched it all the way to my feet and was just lifting it to recast. The bait just got to the surface when it was snaffled in a massive swirl, which made me think for a second it must be a pike! By the time Paul phoned me a little after 3.00am to say he was on his way I'd accounted for 12 tench in total and had added 2 more by the time he arrived some 45 minutes later.
By now, in the gathering light of dawn the bites were drying up in the margins and I hadn't added to my nocturnal total by the time I packed up at 6.00am. But it had been a cracking night's sport - of 14 tench landed only 3 were under 4lb and 6 were over 5lb. Paul fished on until lunch time and managed 5 tench, 3 of which were over 5lb so we were both pretty happy with our last trip of the week.