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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Two Days In Autumn - Martin James

I'd been home about 48 hours from my latest five day trip to the Kennet with John Bodsworth of Sussex, when the urge to get back on this delightful river was once again strong in my mind. This despite having the River Ribble within 800 yards of my home. The Ribble is a big river which I rate as one of the top five coarse and game rivers in England. Salmon, seatrout, brown trout, grayling, carp, chub, barbel, pike, bream, dace, roach and a few perch all swim within the confines of this Red Rose river which starts life in the White Rose county. But unless one is fishing the upper reaches, the Ribble cannot be described as an intimate river like the delightful River Kennet.

A Delightful and Intimate River

The Kennet with its tree lined, reed fringed banks and small weir pools can best be described as a Crabtree river. As you quietly walk the banks of this delightful river which starts life west of Marlborough a delightful market town with a fine school. You will find dozens of different swims, varying from slow deep mysterious looking pools, often over hung by an old ivy clad oak tree, that really does look the spot where you would expect a big pike or perch. Then there are those fast gravel runs so beloved of the dace, where among the swaying water crowfoot you will, often see the orange pectoral fin of a barbel or the black tail of a chub. Immediately your pulse quickens. Many old trees over the years have crashed into the river at crazy angles, you will often see banked against the dead branches, a raft of rubbish making it superb fish holding spot, where chub and barbel lie up on those bright sunny days when the river is low and clear. Only coming out in the more open water after dusk.

Getting Ready for Another Session

I had just returned home from a short session on the River Ribble when I had a call from Mike Osborne of Cumbria, after a chat about everything barbel, I said to Mike "I have to go and produce an hour long programme, do you fancy a couple of days on the Kennet? His immediate answer was "Yes and when" I suggested Wednesday and Thursday the weather forecast is excellent. After some general chat Mike said "I will pick you up at five am Wednesday morning" Putting down the phone I sorted out tackle and baits, a change of cloths, cameras and recording equipment. I then called Jan to see if she had a B&B vacancy, the answer was a positive, Yes. After all the planning was done I told my wife Kate I would be away for a couple of days on the Kennet. "Would you like a saucepan of stew to take". What a good idea I thought and said "Yes please"

No Motorway Hold ups

At five minutes to 5 O'clock in the morning, Mike knocked on the door, he had left Carlisle at 3-15 in the morning. Fifteen minutes later we were heading along the A59 for the M6, then it was on to the M5 off at junction 11A on to the A419 then the M4 off at junction 13 for Thatcham and the River Kennet. We had covered the journey in an incredible 54.5 miles an hour which included a stop at a service station, to stretch our legs. I refuse to pay the rip off and exorbitant prices for food and drink. If I need a mug of tea I make one at the back of the car. It tastes better and doesn't cost an arm and leg. As we pulled into the Wasing Estate's fishery syndicate water at Brimpton I could see the water was flowing low and clear. A thick mist enveloped the bare and gaunt trees, which had now lost their lush summer foliage. The odd oak tree had a covering of ivy which offered cover to roosting pheasants. After all this is a sporting estate catering to the shooting man and anglers. Two ducks jumped skywards, a lone pheasant flew low across the river. Mike having parked the car, it was time to put the kettle on for a fresh brew.

A few orange coloured leaves hung precariously on some branches waiting for the next gust of wind to float them earthwards. Hawthorn bushes certainly had an abundant crop of red berries. As kids we often ate the berries and leaves, known as bread and cheese. The Fieldfare which come from Scandinavia will certainly find the berries to their liking. A bunch of Goldfinches alighted on a nearby wild rose bush giving a beautiful touch of colour to the drab countryside. The low light levels combined with the thick mist and high daytime air temperature at 54 degrees F, made me think of roach. Back in the 1950's and 60's I would say to my angling friends "It's a Roach Fishers Day". Sadly the Kennet doesn't hold the quantity or quality of roach as it did in my youth.

With a fresh brew, I set about putting together some tackle, I decided on two outfits, one for chub an 11' 6" Avon action rod, centre pin reel and 6lb line and a size 4 barbless hook For barbel I chose a more powerful 12' Avon action rod, centre pin reel and 8lb line again I tied on a size 4 barbless hook. Probably one of most asked question I get are "What rig are you using" Apart from sometimes using a small length braided hook link and a running leger, I usually just use one two three or more LG shot lightly pinched on the line. Though I have used the Stonze occasionally on the River Ribble when barbel fishing.

In my bait bucket I had two loaves of thick sliced bread, some very soft cheese paste, sausage meat and a few Cotswold Bait Creation boilies. I also had a large plastic weigh bag and scales. My fishing vest contained a selection of shots, weights, swivels, links, baiting needle, floats and a thermometer, in fact everything I would need during my wanderings. I don't often carry a chair unless I know I am going to spend a few hours in one spot I am more of a hunter than trapper. A piece of sponge is all I need to sit or kneel on. Mike decided to go upstream and fish the weir pool and boards, while I planned to fish a dozen or more swims going down river past the black hut, during the morning session. We agreed to meet back at the car at 1-30pm for a brew and sandwich.

I was rigged out to record an hour long special for my At The Waters Edge series on BBC Radio Lancashire. As I walked downstream fishing various spots, I would be painting a picture in words and sounds for my listeners, not just the fishing but the river and the surrounding countryside. My first chosen spot was a quiet bit of water tight again the bank. It was about four feet deep. Before casting out, I checked the water temperature, it was 49 degrees F. I then worked the crust baited hook under the over hung bank. Ten minutes later without any signs of a fish I moved off for another swim. I chose a swim where the river swings slightly to the left. On the opposite side of the river a large tree had crashed in the water tight against the bank, making it a good spot for both chub and barbel. For some thirty minutes I rolled bits of crust and sausage meat down in front of the tree without any sign of a bite.
My First Fish

I decided on one more cast, dropping the bait well upstream of the rotting tree, then easing it down the swim for probably the twentieth time. I felt a slight pluck then a slow dragging pull similar to rubbish on the line. Striking I connected with a nice fish. I was forced to give some line. It was give and take struggle lasting some five minutes before I had the upper hand, then slowly I pulled the fish coming across the river towards my landing net. A minute later it was mine. A barbel about 5lbs. I fished on for another fifteen minutes then moved off downstream.

My next swim was a shallow stretch of water with plenty of water crowfoot, kneeling down on the bank I scoured the water looking for signs of fish. Halfway down the stretch with the aid of my binoculars I spotted the black tail of a chub. Fixing two LG shot about six inches from the size 4 hook I baited with a big chunk of crust. A dozen Long tailed tits appeared in a nearby willow trees, I made a long cast upstream then quickly drawing the baited hook downstream before releasing some line allowing the baited hook to drop at the head of a clump of swaying crowfoot fifteen feet about where I had spotted the chub, which was partially hidden by another bunch of weed. I rarely cast a bait directly into the swim. I either cast upstream or across the river, before drawing it back across the water until its in the right position before releasing the line. I feel the sound of the weight hitting the water near a chub will spook it.

I could clearly see the bait as I eased it down the swim, a foot from where I had seen the fish the crust disappeared from view. The answering strike connected with an angry fish which rolled on the surface, before diving for the cover of the weed. I quickly moved downstream pulling the fish from its cover and across the stream. My Avon rod and 6lb line easily beat this chub of about 3lbs. No landing net needed, bending down I unhooked the fish in the water before watching it disappear under some bank side cover.

With the mist getting thicker and the air temperature rising I felt conditions couldn't be better, though I would love to have seen an extra two feet of water on the river. From a nearby Beech tree I heard the knocking of a woodpecker as it searched for some beetles. I decided to move back upstream to the car park for a brew, on my way I thought of fishing the point swim opposite the riverside cottage. As I was crossing over the bridge I decided to roll a bait down in front of some over hanging willows on the right hand bank just downstream of the bridge. Baiting with a bit of sausage meat, with one LG shot fifteen inches from the hook I made an underhand cast, controlling the reel with my thumb I worked the bait downstream. Half way along the front of the willows I felt a savage pull the strike connecting with an angry chub. Again my well balanced tackle quickly had the fish under control. Sliding down the high bank on my backside with bent rod in one hand and landing net in the other I was soon able to net a nice chub of perhaps four pounds plus. Again the fish was unhooked without being touched by hand. The ease of unhooking fish is one of the reasons I use barbless hooks. I can honestly say I haven't lost a fish through the hook being barbless. I have lost fish because I made a mistake. I use barbless hook for all my fishing including fly fishing for tarpon which jump and jump many times, they also do a lot of head shaking.

On the point swim above the footbridge I spent half an hour without a sign of a fish and decided it was lunchtime. Mike had beaten me back and already the kettle was on the stove and two mugs waiting to turn some Yorkshire Gold into a lovely brown liquid. We sat on the back of the car discussing the events of the morning Mike had two small barbel on meat from the weir pool and two chub on crust off the top platform. Lunch over we decided to fish together in some of the downstream swims. Mike hadn't been downstream so it was all new water for him. We fished several swims with just an odd fish to show for our efforts. As dusk enveloped us we chose a swim where in the past we had caught a few barbel. After an hour I had a good pull taking a chub of about five pounds on sausage meat. An hour later we moved upstream In the first swim I had two barbel averaging just over seven pounds on meat bait.

A Good Fish On Sausage Meat

Mike then moved upstream of the road bridge to fish the platforms, I chose to move downstream where the tree trunk was alongside the right hand bank. Where I had caught the small barbel in the morning session. I threw in a dozen bits of sausage meat, then cast a walnut size piece downstream feeding out line so the bait would be pushed by the water flow in towards the bank coming to rest on the outside edge of the tree trunk. An hour into the session the rod tip pulled over and the centre pin screeched into life. I connected with an angry and powerful fish. For ten minutes neither I or the fish were winning this one. It was stalemate, but slowly the 12 foot Avon rod and eight pound line started to take over, after a lot of head shaking and short bursts of power where I had to give some line. I felt I was in control of the situation. Another minute or two a good barbel appeared in the headlamp. It looked a double. It was soon netted. Though it had the length of a double it was a bit thin. After zeroing the scales, I got a reading of 9-7-0 Still an excellent fish. I don't care what others say I still reckon an 8lb barbel is a good fish. I have caught six pound chub from several rivers with the best at 6-15-0. But a four pound fish is still a one.

Half an hour later with no more bites I walked back to the car park feeling happy, an Tawny owl called from some trees across the river. It was great to be alive and with all my health problems I consider myself lucky to get out and about at the waters edge. Mike arrived about the same time as I did. He had lost a big chub which when hooked had slowly but powerfully moved upstream where it dived into some rubbish. No amount of pulling would shift it. Though he did have a barbel and two chub. The barbel on pellet the chub on crust. Back at out B&B I listened to the Arsenal European Cup match which ended in a 1-1 draw.

A Great Looking Chub

The weather on our second day at the waterside was about the same as the previous one warm misty but occasionally the sun would make a brief appearance. We both decided to rove downstream fishing several swims without any positive bites. Halfway between the two bridges I suggested Mike fish a known barbel spot, I chose to fish a spot I have fished on many occasions without success. Casting upstream with a chunk of crust I allowed the bait to sink down through the clear water and within thirty seconds I felt a pluck, striking I connected with a powerful fish. I called out "Mike fish on" Sliding down the bank Mike handed me my net soon a good chub was engulfed in the mesh. I clambered back up the bank dragging the net with me. Once I had a good look at it I new immediately that it was a five pounder. Zeroing the scales with the weigh bag I weighed the fish. 5-4-0. It was one of the nicest looking chub I have caught, with its big pigeon chest, silver flanks, big blunt head and black tail. It was fin and scale perfect. I had Mike shoot a picture then we watched it swim off to hopefully grow into a six pounder.

Just One Fish For Me- But Mike Gets A Few Chub and Barbel

Having fished a few more swims without success, Mike suggested it was time for a brew and lunch. We made our way back upstream passing Reg the bailiff on the way who told us he had caught some nice perch on trotted gentles. Lunch over Mike and I went off upstream, I chose to fish the weir pool. After an hour without a bite I decided to go downstream. Passing Mike I said "Any fish" the answer was "Yes two chub and a barbel two fish lost". I wished him more fish and went downstream. I tried all my usual spots with nothing to show for my efforts. I spotted a likely looking area I had never fished before . It was a tight spot close to a bush hanging in the water. I decided to anchor a sausage meat bait with an ounce bomb. Sitting low to the water I watched a motionless rod tip. Suddenly I was shocked into action by a screaming reel, The rod tip was well bent. I didn't have to strike, the fish had hooked itself. A good scrap followed before I was able to net a nice barbel about eight pounds.

With dusk approaching I made my way upstream to fish a pre-baited swim, where most times I catch two or three barbel in the darkness. I was full of confidence. During the next two hours I didn't get a touch. The tawny owls called to one another, a fox barked on the opposite bank
A fish rolled on the surface in my swim but still the rod tips remained motionless. At six fifteen PM it was time to pack up for the long journey home. Back at the car park Mike told me about his session which had proved a lot better than my session. Mike had several chub and two barbel. Packing away our gear, we had a last mug of tea then it was on the road for home. A journey done in a record time of about three and a quarter hours. After three days at home I would once again make the long journey south for a four or five day session with my mate John Bodsworth on my beloved River Kennet.

Martin James Fishing