Mixed Fortunes

27/28th April
I was back on the tench trail. A good friend runs a carp syndicate which I intend to give some serious attention as it has produced some really stunning scaly mirrors to high thirties. For this session, though, I was scratching an itch I’ve had for some time in trying for the water’s very elusive and apparently modest tench population. The reason for my interest is the fact that among the handful of good tench that have fallen accidentally to carp anglers’ boilies is one fish last season that weighed in not far short of eleven pounds. That is a giant fish from anywhere.

I went armed with traditional tench fare, four pints of casters, two pints of live red maggots, a gallon of deads, mini halibut pellets, sweetcorn and a bucket of hemp. In discussion with the regulars, it seemed that those tench that had been caught had all come from a very small area at the far end of the pit from the car park, where a shallow area of about five feet runs out some forty yards before dropping sharply into twelve feet of water. Everywhere else on the pit sees over ten feet of water within a rod length of the bank.

What I hadn’t appreciated was the distance to the far end of the water with a loaded barrow which, despite all my manoeuvrings, required two trips to transport the gear for a comfortable two day stay. By the time I had the swim sorted I was well and truly knackered. I’m 67 now and realised at that moment that tench fishing at this particular water would probably not be a long term affair, not with traditional volumes of bait anyway. It will be worth tackling with small boilies in the future so there is far less weight to carry.

In the event, the area I was intending to fish was occupied by two carp anglers, so I had to move even further round the bay and eventually settled on an area with 9ft of water ten yards out, gradually falling away to twelve feet at forty yards. With no other features apparent, I opted to fish at thirty yards in 10ft, and proceeded to introduce eight Spombs of mixed goodies into three areas. The intention was to top up with two or three more over each rod every few hours. That done, three rods were cast into position, all three being feeder rigs using Kamasan Black Caps. One carried two hair rigged Enterprise buoyant rubber red maggots to a size 12, the second hair rigged buoyant rubber casters and the third a true bottom bait of two natural maggots directly on a size 14.

There is really not a lot to say. Despite diligently recasting my feeders at least every hour and regularly refreshing the swim with bait, I never had a fish in nearly 40 hours of fishing. The only action I saw was a heavy roll over the feed just as the light was fading and a slow lift of a couple of inches on the left hand rod at dawn, which never developed into anything strikable. All in all it was a highly disappointing session and by the time I’d sweated blood again getting the gear back to the van I’d mentally crossed the water off my list as one warranting attention as a big tench venue! It’s a gorgeous water, but when I go again it will be with carp in mind. If a big tench hangs itself on one of the rods I’ll take it as a welcome bonus.

4/5th May
After the great first carping session at my local water two weeks earlier, I’d decided to return for two more days in the hope of getting a fish nearer to 30lbs. With the water being very local and only available in daylight hours it would also be a nice change not to be sleeping out in a bivvy.

I duly arrived at the official opening hour of 6am and moved into the same swim I’d fished on my first session, from where I could place baits in close proximity to the fringes of an island at about 60yards. The first act was to fire out fifty 14mm baits to each of two areas (there is a two rod rule), which would be topped up with a further 20-30 baits after every fish or missed run. The hookbaits consisted of two 14mm baits on the hair and every cast was accompanied by stringers carrying a further six freebies.

Over the two days, I fished from 6am until the designated leaving time of 9pm and the fishing was simply brilliant. Suffice it to say that I ran out of bait both days. On day one, my final tally was six carp landed, all good doubles with the best a corking common of 18lb 8ozs and I also suffered three hook pulls, which I put down to the barbless hook rule. Day two was even more hectic, with ten carp landed. Again, all the fish bar one were good doubles to 17lbs, the exception being a cracking mirror of 23lb 14ozs. There were also two fast runs missed for no apparent reason.

In my searches for fish to beat my personal bests, which is my usual motivation, the water certainly does not have the potential to beat my current best of 44lb-2oz and therefore is one that will be used only for the occasional fun session. Having said that, the fish all fought like tigers and it was a nice change to be having my string pulled frequently by good carp, rather than consistent blanking in the hope of a superheavyweight from a rock hard water. The new venue will be a great confidence re-builder after tough sessions.

Off to Horseshoe next week. Let’s see if the tench are any kinder down there!

Hot Cats

For several years, I’ve been interested in the huge catfish from the Ebro in Spain, but never got round to actually going after them. Then, at the NEC in March this year, I finally arranged with Colin Bunn of Catmasters Tours that Fran and I would make our first visit on the 10th August.
At the appointed hour in Terminal B at Barcelona, we met Colin by the Black Horse statue, along with 5 other anglers, and all piled into his 8 seater mini bus for the two hour drive to Mequinenza. On arrival, we were all shown to our apartments, which are superbly equipped and comfortable, and arrangements were made to meet up later at the Bar Ebro. There we would have a meal, a few drinks, and meet our guides to make arrangements for the fishing the following morning. Fran and I had been allocated John Deakin as our guide, who I didn’t know at the time but who I now consider a great friend. Also with John were another older couple, although not quite as old as us, Phil Jones and Rose Knight. Phil and Rose had been there for several days, although not cat fishing.
On Monday morning, we started our fishing on one of the swims on Mequinenza’s promenade, which had produced some gigantic fish for John over previous weeks, although he did warn us that it had been slowing down because of the pressure. In fact, that first day, there was no action whatever, although we all sat it out until midnight. When John dropped Fran and me off at our apartment, we had decided that I would be up at 6.00am but that Fran would lie in until 8.00am. John would leave me with the fishing rods while he called back to pick Fran up. We already knew that Phil and Rose had other plans for the day and, in the event, it transpired that they did no further cat fishing until the Friday.
On Tuesday morning, John and I set up at a new swim, immediately downstream of the main bridge over the river Segre, a few hundred yards above the confluence with the Ebro.
For five hours, all was peaceful. And then, in late morning, a tremendous bang on the nearest rod was followed by the high pitched rush of braid being torn off the reel against a tightly set drag. After tightening the star drag on the multiplier, I struck hard into the fish. The power of what I’d hooked nearly took my breath away and that first experience of a big Segre catfish was truly awesome. I could soon see why I’d been told to tighten the drag as much as possible. Although I could not physically take line against the drag, the catfish had no such problem. Braid was whistling out! I had to strain every sinew to keep the rod up and avoid being pointed, and after about ten minutes of truly arm wrenching action, with my groin well and truly bruised from the pounding of the rod butt, the fish approached the rocky bank. John carefully made his way to the water’s edge where he grabbed the trace and gently drew the fish to where he could get a firm grip on the jaw with a gloved right hand. While maintaining a firm hold, he told me to keep a tight line as he inserted a soft rope stringer around the strong jawbone and out through the top of the gill cover. Then he popped out the hook and the fish was secure. I’ll never forget John’s words at that moment. “It’s about 150lbs, mate”.

In the event, he was just 1lb out. After zeroing the sling, we confirmed the weight of my first Segre catfish as 149lb. Ten minutes later, photographs taken and the fish safely back in the water, I turned to John, only to get a full bucket of water over me. “It’s traditional for a 150lb cat”, he said, “and 149lb is close enough!” In truth, the water was very welcome. I was hot, sweaty and covered in catfish slime, but couldn’t be happier. The three of us had silly grins on our faces as we broke open celebratory beers from the cool box.
In mid afternoon, I was in action once again and this fish went off as though jet propelled. It was interesting as that was a pattern that was repeated for the week with the smaller fish. I use the word “smaller” in a very relative sense as this second fish was 72lb, a modest cat by Spanish standards but a monster back home. Once again, I was soon covered in slime and grinning like a hyena, with arms full of catfish. That second fish was returned about 4.00pm and there was to be no further action that day, although we fished until midnight.
What was really interesting over the next two days was that the late morning to mid afternoon feeding spell remained consistent. On the Wednesday, I had a fabulous brace in under an hour. At 11.30, my third cat of the trip pulled the scales to 103lbs and then my personal highlight was taking a beautiful buttercup yellow half albino of 128lb at 12.15pm. Again, the evening and after dark fishing proved fruitless.
On the Thursday, two cats again came in the same feeding time zone, with an 87lb fish at 11.30am and a 78lb fish at 2.30pm. After the second, carp moved in on the feed and three were landed between 3.00pm and 6.45pm. One was estimated by John at 18lbs and released, while the other two were brought on to the bank and weighed properly. I was delighted to confirm two gorgeous commons of 25lb and 34lb, although of course they’d had absolutely no chance on the strong catfish tackle.
That evening, the pattern was broken, with our first fish in the dark, a catfish of exactly 40lbs. Although I was pleased to have another one in the bag, John was telling me how unlucky I was to get three fish in a day and not have at least one over 100lbs. I tell you, what I would give to have three such fish in a day at home!

The next day, I was to get another 40 pounder at 3.30pm, but that was the sum total of the action in the daylight hours. We had to wait until 11.00pm, on an uncharacteristically chilly evening, before one of the fishing rods roared off at last. This was another memorable scrap, with the fish hurtling downstream across the other three lines. This was where John’s experience proved so important. With me battling the fish as hard as I dare, John was playing knit one, purl two with the other lines. When I eventually had the fish ready for landing at the lowest part of the bank, John had managed to avoid even a momentary tangle. As we heaved it ashore, I could tell that it was another 100lb plus. So it proved as the needle swung to 107lb, and John and I cracked open two beers before calling it a night.
The next morning, our last, was truly memorable. We had decided that we would only fish until 3.00pm before returning to our apartments for a shower and change, and then meeting up in a good restaurant for a civilised meal and drinks. Up to now, we’d lived on take away meals on the bank, which John had fetched for us while we watched the gear. Phil joined John and me at 8.00am and would be staying until the end. The next run was Phil’s and, at mid morning, one of the rods hooped over and Phil joined battle with a real leviathan. For the first time, he experienced the brutish power of a Spanish cat. This was the first time I’d had the opportunity of being behind the camera for some action shots and through the viewfinder I knew that this was one massive catfish. When its tail broke surface some thirty yards offshore, John and I looked at one another. When it was eventually ready to bring ashore, it took the three of us to drag it to the tarpaulin, and two of us could barely support it for the weighing. Soon, we confirmed 184lb and, a few minutes later, Phil got two buckets over him. “It’s two for a 180”, explained John.
Not long after that monster had been returned, I was soon in action again with another big fish of 121lbs, and then Phil completed an unbelievable brace when we eventually hauled ashore another cracking cat of 175lb. At that moment, I promised that I’d send him some of the special cream I bought years ago, especially formulated for polishing golden appendages. On a serious note, I’d have loved to have caught on of those last morning monsters, of course I would. But I was delighted for Phil. If I wasn’t destined to catch them, I was certainly privileged to be there to witness them. It also proved that you don’t have to be a fanatic like me to catch monster fish. With the expert guidance that Catmaster Tours provides, anyone can enjoy such fabulous fishing. Give Colin Bunn a ring and get yourself on a plane to Spain. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Golden Delight

When you spend as much time as I do in a determined search for extra big fish, it can make a refreshing change occasionally to have a much less serious session. I had such a session last week. At the tench pit I took my 8lb males in the spring, I’d caught loads of rudd accidentally on tench tackle, so I decided to have a day after them with light float tackle.

When I arrived a little after dawn, I found that the water had changed a lot since May, in that there were great rafts of surface weed everywhere. Talking to the few carp lads who were fishing, it soon became evident that they were struggling, as the weed was really closing in. Nothing much had been caught for a while, the tench also having gone quiet. In the prevailing conditions, the one fish that would be worth pursuing in the upper layers would be rudd and I was bubbling with anticipation as I made a slow circuit of the pit looking for signs of surface activity.

Although there were lots of evidence of surface feeding carp, making me wonder why none of the carpers were offering floating baits, I saw no evidence of rudd until I arrived at a quiet corner where golden backs were breaking the surface. I’d found what I was looking for and was soon set up for a day’s “maggot spraying”, using my TFG Starving Whippet 13ft light float rod. At the business end was a Drennan large puddle chucker float, set three feet deep, with a hooklink of a ready tied Kamasan size 14 animal spade to 3lb mono, baited with a buoyant Enterprise red maggot and two real ones. That combination took around a minute to sink. By regularly casting and catapulting, I wanted to keep the bait slow sinking in the upper layers while freebies sank all around. Every thirty seconds or so throughout the day ten to fifteen maggots were catapulted around the float, to provide a constant rain of bait, and at the end of the day I’d got through half a gallon of reds.

After about ten minutes of casting and catapulting, the bites started in earnest and, as well as the fish I landed, I must have missed another twenty bites. I also had a ten second encounter with a big carp that made a complete mockery of my gear! I also had the mortification of losing the biggest rudd I hooked. It took the bait the instant the float hit the water, taking me a little off guard. There was a tremendous boil on the surface, a flash of red and gold, and then the fish was gone. It was certainly far bigger than anything I landed.

At the end of the day, though, I’d really enjoyed the change; I ought to do that kind of fishing more often. I had a total of 27 rudd, all over a pound in weight, with the best two 1lb 12oz and 1lb 13ozs, plus 13 nice roach to 1lb 6ozs. What was very interesting was the average size of the rudd. During the spring tenching, I’d had loads of rudd on my feeders, but the majority weighed only ounces. I also found out that the biggest verified rudd from the water, taken two seasons ago, is 3lb 11ozs. That one will do! However, I had no monsters and certainly no personal best, but what a brilliant day!

Horseshoe Revisited

Not long after dawn, I was again setting up in swim number 1, for another crack at the tench. The general consensus had been that, the previous week, I had been a little unlucky not to have at least one big female of 8lb or over. In fact, the swim had produced a few doubles already, to over 11lbs. As my personal best is 11lb 11ozs, I was certainly in with a fighting chance of upping that with a little good luck.I approached the fishing in the same way as the week before, only this time I was using some of the new generation of rubber maggots that Chris Hormsby of Enterprise had sent me to try. He has imparted a very lifelike “wriggle” into them, so lifelike in fact that my wife was loath to touch them! I was also using for the first time my new TFG Specialist Bivvy, and was very impressed with it. The erection time stated of 20 seconds is certainly no lie, in fact it took longer to peg out than it did to erect. And pegging out was important in the very strong south west wind which, luckily, was directly behind me.

The session was the complete reverse of the first, the first day being completely blank apart from just one small rudd. Other anglers on the water were saying that the fishing had become very hard with very few fish landed for a few days. On the second morning, after an uninterrupted sleep, I still had over a pint of casters left and debated whether I should introduce any bait on account of the total lack of action in the previous 24 hours. In the end, I put them in, with half a pint to each rod. All or nothing, I said to myself.

At mid morning, another angler Leigh stopped for a chat and as we talked the wind really got up and a fine, squally rain started. I said to Leigh that hopefully the rain would bring the tench on and within seconds of the words leaving my lips, both rods were away. You wait hours for a bite, and then two come at once! With Leigh on hand to deal with one fish, both fish were played at the same time and landed in the same net, quite a bizarre occurrence. Leigh weighed them for me and declared two males of 7lb 6ozs and 6lb 8ozs. Quite an exciting way to end a quiet spell!

There were to be two more tench of 7lb 3oz and 6lb 6ozs before I eventually packed up in late evening, plus a few rudd. The one negative was a big rudd that got round my other line, dragging the second feeder into thick weed. Eventually, with everything solid, the hook pulled out of the fish and I was left cursing my luck.
I’m off to Acton carping next week ; I’ll let you know the outcome.

First Horshoe Experience

I’ve been meaning for some time to have a go for the fabulous tench of Carp Society water Horseshoe Lake near Lechlade in Gloucestershire and this year I finally did something about it. On my arrival I was greeted by Luke and Dave, who man the lodge at the venue, and I was immediately impressed with their professionalism and the terrific way the water is run. They were also very helpful with advice on where tench had been showing and I was soon ensconced in peg number 1. the most productive swim had apparently been Summer Point, the swim next closest to the lodge in Summer Bay, but it was temporarily closed, as were the swims round the shallows, as carp had started spawning.

Once again, I was using a size 12 Pallatrax hook on short Gamma fluorocarbon hooklinks, fished above the Kamasan feeder and held between rubber grip beads on rapid sink rig tubing. This rig ensures that no fish can possibly be tethered on a main line break. It is also easily adjustable to fish the hook bait right alongside the feeder or as far away as deemed necessary.

After finding a nice clear area about 30 yards out, with light Canadian pond weed around the fringes of the swim, I baited with six of my large cones of mixed hemp, casters, mini pellets and dead red maggots. Hook baits were two Enterprise buoyant red maggots with two real ones accompanying. By the time I was sorted out it was late morning, and the first two hours passed uneventfully as far as tench were concerned, although I was being regularly plagued by small rudd. Then, at 1.30pm, I had a real screamer and soon landed a superb tench of 7lb 8ozs. That fish opened the floodgates and in the next four hours tench came regularly. I wasn’t to get a really big fish but there were three more seven pounders and a few sixes. Nothing under six pounds was landed.

After a quiet night, I was expecting more tench action on the second day. But, typical of fishing, for some reason the swim had just died. Apart from more rudd, not a tench was tempted on day two.

It had a been a great first session on a fabulous water and I couldn’t wait to get back. That was planned for the following week.

A First Catfish Session

After missing a week’s fishing fulfilling a promise to the wife to re-decorate the hall, stairs and landing, I was certainly in need of two days fishing! This season, I have made myself a promise to catch a catfish to beat my current best of 22lb 12oz and headed for Cemex water Jones Pit on Wednesday morning for a 48 hour session. It was my first visit to the water and I was given some tremendous help by bailiffs Ed and Chris on the water. On their advice, I settled in a swim called “Dead Man’s Hole”, so called because an angler shot himself there a few years ago!

It was all close range work, with interesting small islands to left and right at roughly 10 O’clock and 2 O’clock respectively. A cast of barely 30 yards would be needed for those, while to my right, wooded margins coincided with a nice lily bed only feet from the bank. Ed informed me that a bait fished right alongside those lilies was a reliable tactic for the cats. Eventually, I settled on one rod to that margin, one to the fringe of the right hand island, and the third about a 40 yard cast midway between the two islands.

Because of the closeness of the swims, loose feeding was easy enough, and I prepared the margin swim with 1kg of 18mm Halibut pellets plus another 1kg of fish meal boilies. To this was added a bag of Fox Blood Red groundbait, which is specially formulated for attracting predators with its heavy fish oil content.

The middle of my fishing rods was baited just with halibut pellets via catapult, and I went in initially with 3kg. I wanted a bed of bait that would stop a marauding cat in its tracks, and as they go to near 70lb in the water, 3kg would not be overdoing it.

The left hand rod was just a boilie attack, and I fired out the best part of 3kg of 18mm boilies.

The left and right fishing rods were both baited with 18mm boilies, wrapped in fish meal paste to make offerings of around 30mm, and then dunked in a thick, gooey gunk of anchovy flavoured dip. The middle rod was baited with a 30mm Catmaster Tackle Mega Chunk halibut pellet. These are specially formulated for large cats and feature a tough exterior but soft interior. Unlike many pellets, these can be left out for several days if need be without dissolving.

There is not that much to say about the fishing. Both nights I was plagued with line bites from the lakes large bream population, but never had a proper run in the dark hours. The only real run I had occurred just after dawn on Thursday when a I struck into a very big fish after getting a real screamer on the open water rod. Unfortunately, and a rare occurrence for me, the hook pulled after about three minutes and I practised a few well rehearsed swear words to myself!

The lost fish could have been a big carp, of course, but, as the hook point was turned over when I examined it, I rather fancy a catfish hooked in the hard, Velcro like pad on its top jaw.

Ah well, there’s always next time!

Another personal best

Once again, I was back on the tench trail, in the same swim as last week, in identical weather conditions. This time last year, I seemed to find the pit plagued with hurricane force winds whenever I chose to go. It was pleasant to fish a gentle ripple for a change.My approach to the fishing was identical to last week and on day one the action was manic from the first minute. I had a run only ten minutes after casting out at dawn. Annoyingly, I lost that fish but then had four tench in the next hour to 6lb 3oz, before missing another run.

There was then a bit of a break until mid morning, when I had a 3lb fish plus a sleek female of 6lb 8oz. I was then to lose what felt a really big tench in early afternoon, when this time I lost the battle with that tangle of branches to the left of the swim. No sooner had I re-tackled and recast than the bite alarm was screaming again; this time it was a very big carp that did me all ends up!

In mid afternoon, I managed a 4lb bream and a string of rudd to about 1lb. The rudd bites stopped abruptly about 4.0pm and that was the signal for two more big males to come calling. First into the net was another personal best of 8lb 7ozs, closely followed by another cracker of 7lb-11oz. What a super brace.

After that brilliant first day, I was up at the crack of dawn on the second, full of anticipation. But isn’t it typical of angling that day two was a complete blank!

A first 8lb Male

coarse fishing tackle

I was again tench fishing for two days and one night, this week being very hot and settled, apart from two hours of heavy rain on the second morning. I fished the adjacent swim to last week so that I had 7ft of water at 30 yards rather than 9ft. Once again, there was a pleasant gentle east wind.As far as the loose feed was concerned, I decided to eliminate the hemp, casters and pellets as an experiment, just baiting over each rod with two cones of dead red maggots to kick start the swims, and then casting the feeders every half hour or so.

The first tench came at midday on day one, and then at regular intervals until mid morning on day two, when the action stopped. I even caught two tench in darkness, a rare event for me. The average size of the fish initially was very disappointing, with the first six fish only up to about 4lbs. In fact, two were the smallest tench I’ve caught for years, barely a pound apiece. But at dusk, I did get into a bigger fish, with a cracking male of 7lb 5ozs coming to net. Two hours later, I had another of 7lb 3oz. Things were looking up; a brace of 7lb+ male tench was a first for me.

Just as it was getting light the following morning I had a screaming take which resulted in a lovely clean fish of 6lb 8oz, but the last fish of the session was the highlight. It was still pelting down when the reel handle was again a blur and I hooked into something that was obviously substantial. I had a real battle keeping it out of marginal branches to me left but eventually the fish was in the net. It was another cracking make fish, which soon proved to be a personal best of 8lb 2ozs. I was delighted with that and it made a fitting conclusion to the trip.

Tench – To feed or not to feed!

Now that I’m back from a very enjoyable two weeks in Tenerife, it’s time to start some serious fishing. I first started deliberately targeting big fish on June 16th 1959, so I’m now entering my 50th year of specimen hunting. God willing, there’ll be a lot more years yet! I’ve made a plan to fish for as many different species as possible over the next twelve months, and increase as many personal bests as I can. It won’t be easy as there are some awesome fish on my present list, but whatever the outcome it will be fun trying.My first target species is the tench, present bests 11lb 11ozs female and 7lb 13oz male and if I beat those it will be like winning the lottery. Having said that, the pit where I started operations produced a 12lb+ fish three years ago so you never know.

This trip, my fishing was from dawn on the 7th until dusk on the 8th, and I was able to enjoy nice calm, sunny days, although the night of the 7th was cold and I needed my fleece jacket. Characteristic of this spring, the wind was in the east, although very gentle.

When I arrived, I bumped into an old friend, Tenchfishers member Matt Dooley, who has some very big tench to his credit. Matt had been on the pit since late March and been taking lots of fish. Interestingly, he told me that beds of bait had not been working and he’d taken all his fish just using feeders. As I always value local knowledge I decided to hedge my bets on the baiting. I put my normal; few baiting cones of casters, hemp and mini pellets over the right hand rod, but the left hand rod would be baited with feeders only.

The fishing was fairly slow for us all that week, but, as well as assorted small rudd and a couple of 4lb bream, I did manage three nice tench to 6-14. End rig was my normal short hook link fished above a Kamasan Black Cap 50gm feeder. The link consisted of a size 12 Pallatrax hook to 8lb Fluorocarbon. This is secured by two sliding beads each side of the hooklink swivel on anti tangle tubing, thereby allowing the distance between hook bait and feeder to be varied easily if there are weed problems. Hook bait was an Enterprise buoyant rubber red maggot together with three normal red maggots, giving a neutral buoyancy offering.