The Grey Angler Part 2
After writing my first article for Cherry, many people said they’d like to hear about some of my river fishing. To write up 13 years, would take me the rest of my life and I didn’t want to write another “here’s how I fished the river” piece, so thought I’d continue from my last article, when I’d fished on the pit, June 6th 2009 and, as one of a six fish catch, landed a 52 lb mirror. I had been thinking for sometime: where would I go? What would I do next, when my work of the pit was done?
Now, the syndicate pit was a special place, not just because of the fish it held, but also because it was not too busy. I don’t like crowded pits and I hate to feel like I’m camping, which is how I see a lot of modern fishing. I like to angle.
My mind kept thinking back to the holiday river fishing I’d been doing with my mate Mark, on his canal boat, the last 2 years. Little did I know at the time, in February 2010, I’d be selling my flat and moving onto a canal boat. But, as they say, that’s another story…
So, back in June 2009, the 6th, I phoned Mark when I got home from that last session and asked if I could book a few sessions in with him over June/July/August of that year. “Yes,” came the reply. Great, I thought, that’s a few month’s fishing sorted out, while I think what I’m going to do next. I hadn’t taken into account how the river was going to take over my fishing life, for the next 11 years.
So, my first proper five day session would start on June 15th 2009. At 9 am we set sail. God, I loved being out on the river, a breeze blowing on my face and the sun shining on my beautiful baldy head. Mark drove and I stood on the roof at the front, looking for fish. We looked for ten hours and covered 14 miles that day, all at 4 MPH. I had a really bad back at the time, so I leaned on a turned-up broom for most of the day, just trying to take some weight off.
After ten hours I was in bits. Mark was struggling, as he was also in poor health, so we pulled into a mooring for tea ‘n’ pills. With tea in one hand and a pile of painkillers in the other, we both sat down on the back deck to rest, when: “Fuck me, look mate!” I pointed, as a mid 20 Mirror came out of a weed bed and swam under the back deck we were sat on. I turned to him and said: “See? I told you I can find fish.” We both burst out in fits of laughter till our sides hurt – we were both crying (must have been the pain or drugs, lol). He said: “Well you found one Burt,” and we started laughing again.
Now, at the time, as I mentioned in my last article, I had reverted to the old rigs I’d been using 15 years before. 3 oz inline leads, 3 ft of lead core and 8” of braid (Kryston Super Nova in 25 lb) leaded up. Let me explain: To help the braid not tangle and also help it sink, I’d take a piece of lead putty, heat it on top of a kettle, hold the hook length under tension and rub the putty into the link hard and fast, so it burns into the fibres (yes it hurts but it’s worth it). To the braid, I added a hand sharpened wide gape hook on a long hair, I added a 20 mm bottom bait, 16 mm pop-up (Snowman).
These were cast out onto the river at midnight (cough!) into holes in the weed, one at the bottom of the margin shelf, my bank; one in the middle and one at the bottom of the far margin shelf. Added to this, I put 1 1/2 oz back leads on the line, screwed down tight, adding heavy bobbins, so all was set like a snare. This is a must, as boats can come past anytime day or night. Carnage.
I baited around each hookbait and also down the river for 20 yards with 20 millers, probably 60 baits in total. I won’t go into blow-by-blow details, but over the next four days, we had six fish, three each. Mine weighed respectively 19-08/23-08/24-04. Now, not big fish for the time or now, but I tell you what, the fucking buzz was massive, and those fish felt very special and dear to me. These were no escapees, they were wild river fish. Born in the river; bread in the river.
Over the next four weeks, we did four, four day, three night sessions. It was really hard-going and it soon became apparent, they weren’t hard to catch, if you could find them. But finding them in 170 miles was incredibly hard. Also, once you found them and caught a couple, they wouldn’t hang about. In fact, you might not catch from that swim again that year.
Over the years though, I learned that you could find the same fish in the same areas for periods of time, at the same times of year, year after year. I also got good at finding ripe spots. What you’re looking for are areas that they’d just started to work and you could tell when areas were done. (I’ll expand on this in part III.)
I’ve read a lot of people saying pre-baiting is the way. I actually found it works against you on my rivers, but again I’ll leave my findings for future articles, along with subjects like bream avoidance, baits to use, carp behaviour, changes through the seasons and a thousand other things.
As time went on, our days were longer and longer spent looking and less and less rod hours. But we gained experience. E.g. one day, we spent nine hours looking, then caught three fish in 20 minutes, followed by two more in 12 hours. But again, that’s a story for next time. We also did a full year of 48 hour sessions without blanking. Anyway, back to this story.
Over those next four weeks, we searched mile upon mile, hour after hour, up and down the river, looking. From memory, we had two fish – both to Mark. I was finding it hard and was disappointed, but at the same time, couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be. I’m very bloody minded and driven, when I have the bit between my teeth. Also, the wildlife, the things, the birds and animals, I was seeing on a daily basis. Also, spending time with my old mate and his two dash hounds – especially old boy Chip, who used to fall in the river regularly and would need saving.
Our next session was at the beginning of August, five days and five nights. In brief, Monday morning to Thursday lunchtime, we covered miles and searched for hours. We’d fished ten swims and not seen a thing. I felt ruined physically and mentally – I was in pain and so tired. (Back in the day, I didn’t sleep well when fishing, because I was usually so wired.) I remember walking to the back of the boat and saying to Mark: “I’m fucked mate. Can we go home?”
Mark pulled the boat into some reeds, made me a cup of tea and said: “Listen mate, we have one more night. Let’s look the last three miles to the bridge. If we see nothing, we’ll moor there and have a good run home in the morning.” “Okay,” I said, “but we’ll eat early and get to bed early.” Cool. It was settled.
A mile on, we found six fish feeding in the edge, which scattered as we approached. That’ll do, I thought. I was running on empty and felt like I was doing everything in slow motion. We managed to get into the bank, 50 yards on. Remember, this is a wild overgrown river, with no swims. You just get in where you can; tramp the nettles down and place your bed and brolly on top, which is what we did.
The other thing I used to do, was if branches from trees were in the way, I’d tie them back and when we left, untie so no one would know I’d been there. Leave nothing but footprints.
I found three spots with good drops, clipped and marked my lines, leaving my rods baited up in the rings I baited, using my scientific baiting approach: 20 freebies for a 20, 30 freebies for a 30 and 40 for a 40! I returned to the boat, beating my way through the nettles and briers, getting stung and scratched. I prepared and started cooking our evening meal. It started to rain. Whilst cooking, I started to read the chapter in Terry Hearn’s first book, (for the 100th time,) where he’s fishing a backwater section on the relief channel and catches a 39-04 Mirror. I turned to Mark and said: “I hope to catch a carp from flowing water that big one day.”
Bang on 7 pm, I said to Mark, “Right mate, I’m off to bed,” treading my way back through the nettles and thorns, now soaked in rain. I lobbed out my three rods to the marks, popped the back leads on and climbed, soaking wet, into my bag.
It was one of those nights – really hot and sticky. Despite the rain, the mozzies were relentless and I was swatting my nuts off. I was so tired, but couldn’t sleep, so I was getting more and more pissed off. I could hear a swan working its way along the margins feeding. As he went to my right, I glanced at my watch. It was 3 am. I pulled the bag up over my head and, in a right huff, turned to face the back of my brolly.
A short while later, there was a series of bleeps on my left hand rod and I turned to face my rods. I was in a foul mood and said out loud to myself: “Bloody swan.” I slipped my shoes on and wondered through the rain, down to my rods, picking up my left hand rod, expecting a swan to be wrapped up in my line. I started winding down and my rod hooped over with the line pointing straight down into a weed bed. The weed bed started to move and suddenly the penny dropped. It wasn’t a swan, it was a fish.
I basically reeled it straight into my net, at which point, it went ballistic, for at least two minutes. I honestly believe, this fish didn’t know what was going on and possibly, had never been caught before. I pulled the net towards me and glancing and rolling the fish on its side, I stuck my headtorch on.
Wow. It was massive! But I didn’t have time to think, because my right hand rod was suddenly away. I stuck my foot on the landing pole, I picked up the rods, played that fish in, and netted a second fish in the same net.
Seeing the second fish was a low double figure Common, I slipped the hook out and slipped it straight out of the net and back home. I secured the big fish in the net and sat down on my bed, trying to take in what had just happened. I was soaked through to the skin.
I managed to get myself together. I arranged my water, my mat, sling and scales, before lifting the fish ashore and placing her as gently as possible, on the mat. I weighed her at 39-04 (there’s a picture of her in my last article). What a very special fish and the same weight as Terry’s fish, that only nine hours before, I said I’d like to catch from a river. I sacked her and lowered her into the margin, looking at my watch. It was now 4 am.
She just wouldn’t settle and drop down. Thinking quickly and with more clarity that I had all day, I thought, ‘right, I’m putting her back, fuck pictures’. I just wanted Mark to see her and that would be enough for me. I ran to the boat, waking Mark and blurted out, “Got a fish and she’s a monster Common, 39-04, won’t settle, putting her back, come look.” Mark grabbed his coat and followed me back to my swim (nettle pile). I shone my torch on the sack and there she lay, 4 ft down, quiet and calm as you like. Mark said, “Come on Burt, get back on the boat, dry out, it’ll be light in an hour. Have a cup of tea and calm down, she’ll be fine.”
At bang on 5 am, the rain stopped and, in the half light, we took her pictures. It was only after I’d returned her, I remembered I’d had another fish and told Mark about the little Common. There had been so many ups and downs, so much hard work, but that moment was very special and all these years on, I still glow when I think about that fish.
As I’ve sat here, writing this story up for you, I’ve paused from time to time, as memories of my time on the river have paced through my mind; many magical memories; these rivers I’ve fished for carp, the same rivers I started on my fishing path 44 years ago. The 13 years I did carp fishing on those rivers were very special to me and I’ve been extremely lucky, as I caught the end of an era, sadly gone, probably never to return.
If I write a follow-up article to this one, I’d like to give my own ideas and theories/opinions on stuff I have read, that others have written about river carp fishing. If any Cherry Carpers have a question, maybe Stuart could compile them and I’ll do my best to answer. But as they say, that’s for another time.
Best wishes -Jack