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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Two Personal Bests In A Dream Session - Martin James

Arriving home on Wednesday 2nd February from my recent trip to the United States, I was disappointed to find the Rivers Ribble, Aire, Calder and Hodder low and gin clear. Conditions didn't look good for fishing. I spent the next the day working on my new book and getting some gardening done. I had planned to spend the Friday on the Hodder, fly fishing for grayling, or on the Aire chasing pike with a fly rod. As I sat writing on Thursday evening, Mick Holgate of Standish called to ask if we were going fishing on the Friday. If so he wouldn't be able to make it until the afternoon. I didn't want to tell Mick I thought we would be wasting our time so I said. "Yes, lets fish close to home. Either on the middle reaches of the Ribble or the Aire at Kildwick"

Friday morning was spent cleaning all the bird feeders, then sorting out some tackle. I then had an early lunch. Just after 2 o'clock Mick who is the Director of Excellence at Macclesfield Football Club arrived at my house, he had been held up due to work commitments. With so little time we agreed to fish the River Ribble. Now I consider I am very lucky angler, as I have several stretches of this fine river where I can fish and take a guest. Recently one of my very good friends purchased an excellent beat on the River Ribble where I can fish at anytime. As we drove down the long track to the river, I could see a sparrow hawk hunched over a ring necked dove having a late lunch. Hopefully it was one of the half dozen which frequent my garden. Leaving the car to open the car park gate, a blast of cold air hit me in the face, I shivered.

The forecast was right. It had given cold northerly winds. I could see the river was low and gin clear. In fact I could see some of the bigger rocks in the water out towards the far bank. As we pulled on our chest high waders I said to Mick "I don't give much for our chances until dusk, then I think it will be tough going". Having got dressed up against the cold wind and sorted out my tackle and bait I checked the water temperature 44 degrees F. Where to fish was the next though that crossed my mind. Should we go upstream, fish the weir pool or go downstream, we chose the latter choosing to fish on a bend with a small copse on the far bank. An area well known for being a good salmon and seatrout holding area, where I had also caught some excellent chub, barbel, grayling and dace in the past.

My tackle was quite simple an Avon action rod, Mitchell 300 reel 1953 vintage, and though my friends say they sound like a coffee grinders they still do the job. In fact, in my book they are perfect for my fishing. Line was 6lb Cortland Cam-O-Flage, today I decided to use a three foot length of 10lb braid to which I tied on a size 4 barbless hook. No doubt some of my fishing friends on reading this will ask themselves. Why is Martin using braid? I can't answer that question, except to say. A sixth sense said I should. With virtually no flow I lightly pinched on an LG shot about 4 feet from the hook. The shot was to give me some casting weight. My chosen bait today was breadflake. Not small pieces, but a whole slice of Farmers Boy extra thick with the crust removed.

Over the past few weeks I have been fishing my flake, slightly different to how most other anglers fish this bait. Instead of pinching it on the shank of the hook, I have been folding the slice of bread in half then compressing it so it sinks. I then stick the hook through the compressed bread, as I would a worm or side hook a boily. Once the light weight reaches the bottom, the bait then sways from side to side before slowly settling on the bottom.

Having settled in my chosen spot I catapulted eight pieces of compressed breadflake towards a far bank tree over hanging the water. This was followed by my flake baited hook. After thirty minutes without a touch, Mike and I decided it was time for a fresh brew. of Yorkshire Gold tea. As we sat drinking tea and enjoying pheasant sandwiches, a big kelt swirled in the water close by. It looked a well mended fish, we badly need some rain to lift the river a couple of feet then that fish along with many others would probably make it back to the ocean.

As we sat talking a skein of Pink-footed geese flew over head, then a Heron flew across the river to land in the big beech tree, a dozen or so long-tailed tits were looking for insects in the fading light before going to roost. How these birds see these small insects and flies I don't know. I can't see them in the middle if the day. Tea finished I moved back to my swim.

Rebaiting I made a long cast downstream into a small gully. Minutes later the rod tip quickly pulled down. Fish number one was 'missed'. Winding in I rebaited then cast to the same spot, with the light now gone I illuminated my rod tip. Fifteen, twenty minutes later the tip moved about half an inch, picking up the rod I thrust it forward giving some slack line. I felt the pressure build up on my index finger, I then gave a firm strike. The rod tip pulled over quite savagely as the reel gave a few inches of line. Then it all went slack. Fish number two missed, but sadly this time I had pricked the fish. Not a good thing to do.

Winding in I checked the hook. It was needle sharp, rebaiting I cast to the same area, then catapulted four bait size pieces of flake around the hook. I sat holding the rod with the line looped over my finger. I felt a light pluck, then the pressure built up. The strike connected with a powerful fish, which went off downstream. The reel grudgingly giving line, the clutch doing its job perfectly and making that sound I so love to hear. Across the river an owl started hooting as if to say "Thatís a good fish". I thought I had hooked a kelt as the fish powered away. The last thing I wanted was to play a kelt, so it was tired. They are suffering enough in the low water. Should I pull for a break I thought, then the fish rolled on the surface. It wasn't a kelt but a good barbel. Not what I was expecting

After a few short runs I had the fishing coming towards the net, As we switched on our headlights the fish swirled then dived away in fright. Thankfully the clutch done its job and gave line at this critical time. A minute late Mick had netted a good barbel for me. On the scales it weighed 10-10-0 a personal best River Ribble barbel. How lucky can you get. If Mick hadn't called me on Thursday evening, I wouldn't have bothered to bait fish, preferring to fly fish instead. After a few pictures we watched the fish swim off.

My Dream Fish

On checking the water temperature, I found it had dropped another degree F It didn't surprise me as the cold northerly wind ruffled the water surface. How I would love to see a week of rain and south westerly winds I though as I rebaited, then made a cast to the same area. I catapulted four hook size chunks of flake around the hook. Within minutes I missed a good bite, then a minute after casting out another bait I again missed a fish. Baiting this time with the hook just on the edge of the flake a made a more gentle cast, then sat holding the rod, in less that a minute I felt a pluck on my finger, striking I connected with a good fish. This was a chub, I didn't need a second guess. Soon I had a good fish in the net. It weighed 5-4-0. This in my book was a Red Letter Day session under these conditions.

Mike had a soccer match the next day, while I had to be in the BBC Radio Lancashire studio by 5 o'clock in the morning, it was now nearly 7 o'clock in the evening. Time for one last cast. Baiting with another big chunk of compressed breadflake I nicked the hook into the edge of the flake then made another gentle cast downstream into the gully. I sat holding the rod, occasionally shivering in the cold wind, I was missing my fleece. Some five minutes later just as I was thinking of calling it a day, the line was savagely pulled across my finger, my answering strike connected with an angry powerful fish which took line from the reel, Small barbel I thought. Five minutes later Iím thinking this is perhaps a better barbel. Two or three minutes later I had a good fish close to the bank pushing landing net forward, I switched on my headlamp. I could see a big chunk of silver body, then I realised it was a big chub. "That's a big six" I thought. Once in the landing net I had a good look at the fish. It wasn't big, it was huge, it looked even bigger than my 6-15-0 I had caught at the backend of last year. Could it be a seven I said to myself.

Out with scales and weigh bag which were then zeroed, I carefully moved the fish from landing net to weigh bag, then hoisted it on the scales. The needle went to nearly eight pounds then dropped back a bit, I could believe what I was seeing and checked the weight again 7-10-0. I punched the air shouting to no one in particular "I've got my seven". I shouted to Mick "I've got a seven pound chub can you come down". Winding in his rod he was soon beside me. We weighed the fish again, then checked the scales before weighing it a second time. Still the reading was 7-10-0. All my birthdays and Christmases had come at once. I said to Mick at 68 I've achieved what I wanted to do for many years and thatís to catch a seven pound chub. I don't care if I don't catch another fish. I will pass away happy.

Placing the fish in the landing net We looked at this magnificent beast laying there. It reminded me of the time when I first went aboard the killer submarine HMS Churchill, as I stood on the dockside looking down at the submarine I marvelled at its size and shape, that's just how my chub looked. It was a smaller version of that submarine.Thankfully I had my digital Nikon S.L.R. and big flash gun with me. After showing Mick how to operate this piece of equipment he shot some pictures. We then watched the fish swim off. I was on a high I didn't need drink or drugs, just a big fish. I called Mike Osborne, my wife Kate and Alan Roe to give them the news. We called it a day. As we walked back to the car in the buffeting wind I felt as high as kite. At long last I had achieved my dream of a seven pound chub. When I caught the 6-15-0 fish I thought that my chance had gone. How lucky can one get, when the conditions looked so tough. Still that's the great joy of fishing. We anglers use many excuses as a reason why we didnít catch. Its too hot or cold, the rivers too high or low, the moon isn't right and so on. Just remember we can't catch, if we don't have a bait, fly or lure in the water

Martin James Fishing