I remember a good few years back when Nev Fickling wrote a couple of articles about specimen hunting on the River Trent, entitled 'The Specialist Trent'. I'd never fished the Trent at the time, but found his knowledge and advice in these pieces very interesting and could relate it to my own fishing on the local River Nene. Neville has years of experience on the Trent after pike, carp etc and while the two rivers are very different waters, river fish do tend to have similar behaviour patterns, no matter what water they reside in. This means that an angler will be able to apply lessons learned on one water to a different river with similar success. So in the same vein here are a few of my own thoughts on the specimen potential and successful methods for my local river, the Nene.
The river runs from deepest Northamptonshire to the Wash and is the third longest river in England. Navigable along virtually its entire length, the Nene has many locks and associated backwaters giving the river a wide range of habitats. This variation presents the angler with many different and wide ranging angling opportunities.
One of the main problems of specimen angling on any river is that they tend to be controlled by so many different clubs, that a pocketful of club books has to be purchased each season. Each will have a different set of rules and each a different bailiff. Some will have boilie and other bait bans, some allow only two rods and so on. It's sometimes hard to remember what you should be doing on each stretch!
The Nene is a very underestimated carp water. Some stretches are very well stocked and if you're on fish, multiple catches are common. These fish aren't under any sort of pressure, how could they be? They live in the third largest piece of water in the country, and have only a few dedicated anglers pursuing them. However, on average, the carp population of the Nene is thin on the ground, and the fish tend to be very clumped in their distribution.
The rivers stock is a total unknown quantity, and due to its size, will remain so no matter how many people start to fish it. I've had fish to mid-twenties and it produces several 30lb fish each season with two different 38lb commons in the last two seasons. A 30 lb river fish is a phenomenal specimen, truly the fish of a life-time. The average size in my experience is around low doubles, most are commons and all fight like hell. While the very large fish are few and far between, the sport on offer is truly spectacular. The original stock are Leney strain, being stocked in 1952 when 1,500 small carp were released at various points along the river. The warm water of the electric cut at Peterborough, and other similar outfalls led to incredible growth rates and successful spawning, but now the river's stock is a bit of a mystery.
Flooding has served to increase the rivers stock of big carp even further. Numerous fish to 40lb have been lost from the lakes in the valley and some will have ended up in the river, as well as adjacent pits. How a large fish that's lived in a stillwater all its life would cope with the torrent that the Nene can become is a mystery. They may have been washed out to sea, but there is every chance that they found a quiet slack to sit out the worst of it and are today alive and well swimming in the river. In fact a couple of known fish have been taken recently from the river that used to live in such waters.
Rigs and baits can be a simple affair. I've had most of my fish on sweetcorn or home-made boilies over groundbait and particles. Running leads or simple bolt rigs both produce. However, strong tackle is required as most of these fish have never seen a hook before and can really go! I'm yet to catch a Nene carp off the surface, but have a couple of spots in mind that I think should produce to this method, we shall see.
Location is the key element to fishing for river carp. During the summer, fish can be spotted in the clear water with the aid of polarised glasses, they also show themselves after dark. Groups of fish can best be found by walking along the river in the late evening, listening and watching for fish. Large fish throwing themselves out of the water and rolling heavily can be heard from a long way away.
The carp however, do like certain types of swims and by fishing close to bridges, locks, weirs, moored boats, snags etc. fish can often be caught. They do seem to feed more after dark, with between midnight and 2 am being the most productive time. But when you're on a number of fish, action can be fast and furious, 24 hours a day.
A few years ago I took a friend, Sam, to the river for a night's carp fishing. We headed for a stretch that had proved to be very productive for me in the past and as he'd not fished the river before, I pointed him to a particularly 'hot' swim, while I set up a few yards downstream, to be sociable. The two swims were essentially the same but while I only managed one fish during the usual 2am feeding spell, Sam couldn't keep all his rods in the water at once for most of the night, having a total of 17 runs landing 11 of them to 16lb 8oz. I can only put the fact that I didn't do so well down to the fish travelling downstream and simply didn't get a chance to get through to me. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!
The largest pike from the Nene, I believe to be a 27lb fish from the popular match stretch at Orton, Peterborough. But I'm sure the river could better this, if it was fished seriously. The quantity of food fish in some stretches is amazing. Shoals of roach and skimmers proliferate in the rich water, you only have to look at some of the match weights to see what's available to the predators. I've spent many a winter in pursuit of a large Nene pike and have taken fish to over 20 lb. Doubles can be caught most sessions, if the conditions are right, and multiple catches are good sport on a cold day.
Most of the club stretches have a live-bait ban, and nearly all my Nene pike, especially the larger ones, have fallen to deadbaits. But in recent years the river has almost constantly been in flood throughout the winter months, not ideal conditions for the main river channel, but perfect for the slack water found in backwaters, side ditches and off-cuts. During flood conditions, large numbers of both prey fish and predators gather in these areas and a big catch can be on the cards.
The condition of the river can have a great bearing on the quality of the fishing and as the extra colour from floodwater is just dropping out of the river and levels are close to normal, sport is usually at its best. A mobile approach is often best when in search of pike. Leapfrogging the rods downstream every half an hour can often be productive and allows large amounts of water to be covered in pursuit of feeding fish. A typical Nene swim will normally have a couple of pike in residence, often in the margins, both close in and on the far bank. If a feeding fish is present, runs normally occur soon after casting out. I've found baits presented a couple of feet off the bottom on a paternoster to be most productive, relying on the baits visibility and the movement given to it by the current to attract the Esox.
My normal method is to fish two or three rods, depending on the rules, all on the same paternoster rig, and set them up a couple of metres apart casting one or two to the far bank and one along the margins. Particular attention is paid to any features like slacks, over hanging trees, reed-beds, backwater / dyke entrances etc. Every 15 minutes (25 if only using two rods) one rod is moved to the left or right and recast, while the other two rigs are twitched back a foot or so. This means that each bait will be in each spot for about 45 minutes, giving any feeding fish plenty of time to snap up the easy meal. The added movement achieved by twitching each rig can often result in an instant take. Baits are normally small smelts, sardines or roach. Lures and wobbled deadbaits can also be productive at anytime of year.
The Nene has produced very large chub in years gone by but I don't think it has the potential to produce fish of much over 6lb these days. I know of a few spots that contain fish over that magic 5lb mark, but I just don't seem to be able to catch a fish of this size. Friends have had them to this weight, but all the big chub I take from the river seem to weigh a maximum of 4lb 8oz, but I have managed one of 4 lb 12 oz.
There is a good head of chub averaging about 2-3lb in the river and these can be caught from all the classic chub swims but particularly spots with overhanging trees or snags. Most of my fishing has been on the backwaters around Peterborough. Stalking fish with bread flake, worms and big black slugs is both highly enjoyable and productive. I've also had nets of chub to over sixty pounds and witnessed bags to nearly a hundred pounds, taken on match style tactics, maggot feeders fished to overhanging trees on the main channel.
The Nene has very few Barbel, but has done fish well into double figures. During the 1950's the river received a stocking from officers of the Rivers Board, some London anglers and staff from the Angling Times. The species has not proliferated, and seems to be very localised in spots like weir pools and lock-cuts.
I know only of three spots that have produced barbel, and these have just been the odd fish captured 'accidentally'. However, over the past few years the Environment Agency have stocked several backwaters between Northampton and Peterborough with the species to add a diversity to the rivers angling. These seem to be doing well and have been caught to about 5lb, so the future looks good.
The Nene is also home to some fantastic bream. Recently Sam and I decided to prebait some areas with large quantities of particles with a view to attracting some carp to the area. Instead we attracted huge numbers of bream! Match catches also reveal some big shoals of bream all along the river, but particularly in the lower reaches.
I've also had Dace to a pound from a tiny little tributary. In fact it was so narrow, it was only possible to fish using the top section of my float rod with the reel taped to the bottom, in order for it to be short enough to manoeuvre in the confines of the overgrown channel. The stream was no more than five foot wide and a foot deep, but while I was after chub and wild brown trout with free-lined worms, maggots and breadflake, I also took a number of large dace.
Zander found their way into the Nene from the connecting fen drains, and quickly colonised the lower-most sections. One area that soon became a really good zander fishery were the lakes at Ferry Meadows near Peterborough. Two large gravel pits have been connected to the river here, and now form a large country park. Large bream shoals and extensive water sports leads to the coloured water these predators are so efficient in. I remember fishing little bleak deadbaits here one summer, catching numerous zander to about six pounds plus a few pike and eels along the way. Now the lakes are established zander waters and have produced many fish into double figures.
In conclusion, the river can provide the specialist angler with a wide range of challenges and unknown potential for a variety of species throughout the season.