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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


A Great Weeks Fishing Part 1

Several days during the week leading up to Sunday 6th of March I was regularly checking the BBC weather forecast and various internet sites for the latest weather situation and prospects.As the week progressed I become a little more despondent with low day and night temperatures being forecast northerly and north-easterly winds and no rain, just the chance of sleet and wasn't what I wanted to read or hear about. Mike Osborne of Carlisle and me had booked a caravan in Berkshire for the last week of the season in the hope we could perhaps find and catch some good chub barbel and perch. Already my season had been one of the best with three personal best fish barbel 12-7-0 crucian carp 3-3-0 and a huge river Ribble chub of 7-10-0. As always I was still seeking bigger fish, but at the same time enjoying all the other fish which I catch.

It was around 12 noon when Mike and me arrived on the Wasing Estate near Woolhampton in Berkshire to be greeted by Kevin Rolls and his two young sons who were extremely well mannered. As we waited for the kettle to boil for a fresh brew, we unpacked what looked like a mountain of equipment, our two berth caravan was an ideal home with hot and cold running water, shower, cooker and fridge. Most important of all, it had a gas fire,also a hot air heater. We would have no problems with the cold.

Having got everything shipshape and a fresh brew we headed off to the Warren beat on the Wasing Estate fishery for the last few hours of the day. On checking the water temperature I was surprised to find it at 41 degrees F I expected it to be a couple of degrees lower. My tackle set up was an Avon action rod centre pin reel 6lb line size 4 barbless hooks with one two or three LG shot lightly pinched on the line. We decided to roam the beat dropping baits into all the likely looking spots in the hope of catching a chub, perch or barbel. The latter two species were absent but we did catch some chub on crust. An hour after dark we ended our session, calling into the Rowbarge on our way back to our home for the week, where Mike enjoyed a pint of bitter. Back in our mobile home we tucked into a good beef stew.

No Perch Just Some Small Chub

Monday morning we walked the canal stretch up to Aldermaston, where we had a good look at the Enborne, it looked an interesting piece of water which we planned to fish on the Saturday. Over breakfast we had discussed fishing the canal stretch, but having seen all the dog dirt we decided we would fish another beat. We chose to fish the stretch at the back of the Rowbarge Inn. Not a wise decision, it was noisy, we had to put up with the usual motley group of dog walkers who's pet wanted to either eat your bait or cock its leg next to our gear. Hoping to catch some perch I fished float tackle and lobworms for the sum total of six chub averaging about a pound and a half, the best was a fish about 3lbs. The water temperature was still 41 degrees F For most of the day I had a robin for company that kept my interest going, it certainly had a liking for chopped lobworms. On the opposite bank, small family groups of Long-tailed-tits could be seen hunting for tiny insects, occasionally a bird would shoot skywards to grab a flying insect. A green woodpecker could be heard hammering hell out of a beech tree. At dusk I moved upstream onto the Dalston beat where I fished into the dark with two owls for company until about 7-30pm when we called it a day.I didn't need to cook dinner, Kate my wife had cooked some good meals, all I had to do was heat them up. After a good feed, a few mugs of tea we crawled into our sleeping bags about 11-0 pm.

Back on the Warren

After cooking breakfast, then packing our lunch boxes, it was about 10 o'clock when we headed off to the Warren. Pulling into the car park we had the river to ourselves, we also had the Brimpton beat. As we tackled up I dropped my thermometer in the water, on checking the reading I could see the water temperature had gone up a degree F to 42 degrees. Mike chose to roam down the right hand bank while I chose the opposite one. We agreed to meet back at the car park at 2 o'clock for lunch. Every likely spot I passed I chucked in a couple of hook size baits. In fact every time I visit the Warren I put bait into swims even if I don't plan to fish them on the day. Its a plan that works quite well as the fish get used to eating my baits without being disturbed.

Fish The Spots Others Pass By

It never amazes me how you can drop a bait into a quiet bit of water the size of a dinner plate, which everyone has passed by, then within thirty seconds you get a good pull from a chub or barbel. Many of my fish are caught this way. Its not often I sit in one swim for more than an hour unless I know for certain there are some good fish present. I like to have at least three swims on the go. Even at night I roam up and down the river bank trying all the likely looking spots. I don't use a light when walking around which has caused a few members to have a fright when I stop and ask "Have you caught" After catching a fish I will often move to another spot returning to the going swim later in the session. by moving around trying other swims you don't get the fish so spooky. Arriving at the outfall pipe I had the areas to myself, baiting with a chunk of crust I dropped the bait tight to the bank just downstream of the outfall pipe. Five minutes later I had a barbel about 7lbs. Returning the fish well downstream I returned to my swim where I dropped in half a dozen bait size chunks of bread then moved upstream. I rolled a bait down under an alder tree where I quickly hooked a chub about 4lbs. It was then back to the outfall pipe swim where I connected with a good barbel of 8-2-0 on double lobworm. As I sat quietly waiting for a bite two munjac deer appeared on the far bank at a spot where they could drink. It was fascinating watching these shy creatures from close range. I would love to have shot a couple of pictures but if I moved so would the munjac. Ten minutes later they moved on, not realising I was sitting there on the far bank.

In the next thirty minutes I had three good pulls catching two barbel about five pounds apiece. I have never fathomed out how we can miss those bites when the rod tip is pulled right round, you feel your striking is spot on, but you don't get a "Hook up". I fished on for another twenty minutes without a bite then moved. With no more bites I crossed over the footbridge fishing my way back to the car park. At the dead tree swim I met up with Mike who had caught some chub. We walked back upstream talking about the prospects for the afternoon evening session. During lunch we watched a robin feeding on some gentles.

I suppose it was about 4 o'clock when we moved off from the car park, Mike chose to fish a swim below the footbridge while I fished several spots down to the next footbridge catching a cracking chub of 5-14-0 on crust near the black hut. At dusk I settled in a swim just upstream of the outfall pipe. In the next hour I had two slow pulls missing them both. It was time to call it a day, when I got back to where Mike was fishing, he told me how he had lost a good barbel after playing the fish for about ten minutes.

The weather on Wednesday morning seemed a few degrees warmer and we were on the river by 9-30am. Today I had a guest Stephen Collins a solicitor from Hungerford. Stephen had written to me a few weeks previously asking me to sign his book Red Letter Days which I was more than pleased to do. I suggested he join me for a days fishing. As Mike, Stephen and me tackled up we discussed the prospects for the day, having checked the water temperature at between 42 and 43 degrees F I said I felt our chances were quite good if we worked hard. Stephen being a match angler come prepared for anything including pints of casters, gentles, bread and worms. Mike decided he would fish the dead tree swim while I was guiding for Stephen. Stephen and me tried several spots finally. I put him in a swim that often produces a few barbel and chub. I pointed out the areas where he should concentrate some bait. Having got him settled in I moved just upstream where I dropped a bit of crust in a spot where the bank is undercut, within seconds I had a barbel of about five pounds. Showing the fish to Stephen I said "At least we know the fish will eat" The spot where I had that barbel from was one I had been baiting with a few hook baits over a long period without attempting to fish. At 3 o'clock we met up in the car park where I cooked some lunch which was followed by a mug of tea. Mike and Stephen shared a packet of biscuits while all I could do was look on with envy.

I suggested Stephen should stay in his swim and continue fishing as he done during the morning session, Mike went bank to the dead tree swim , while I fished opposite Stephen with lobworms in the hope I might catch a perch. As dusk settled over the countryside I moved into a swim upstream of Stephen where I caught some nice chub and a couple of small barbel. We called it a day around 7 o'clock. Mike had caught some chub, Stephen a perch and a small chub. But he had lost a good barbel on gentles. Back home I cooked dinner then we sat listening to the football and other programmes on the wireless until nearly midnight.

Losing A Monster

Thursday we are back on the Warren with Tony Booker the water temperature was now 44 degrees F, I thought we had a good chance of barbel and suggested we should all concentrate on this fish. Mike chose to fish the Brimpton beat with trotted gentles for chub, I suggested Tony fish the dead tree swim while I chose to rove. I suppose there were half a dozen anglers on the beat but just the odd fish being caught. Fishing a swim I call the jungle I quickly had a nice chub about 4lbs on crust. I slowly moved down river trying all the likely looking spots which were free. As I moved down river I was able to help a couple of members catch a barbel apiece from their swim by showing them where to drop the bait and changing their rig slightly.It always feels good when you help another angler catch a fish. from the outfall pipe swim I was lucky to get a couple of small barbel.

All too soon it was time for a late lunch which I said I would cook at about 2-20pm, when I arrived Mike and Tony were sitting around tongues hanging out as they waited for me to put on the kettle. As I waited for the water to boil I started cooking some food. which certainly beats sandwiches in the winter. Lunch over we discussed the fishing and the prospects. Mike had caught some good chub and a perch just below the platforms, Tony had missed a couple of good pulls. It was decided they should fish the same swims. I chose to fish two swims which I had been baiting on and off for the past few weeks. just before I moved off Alan turned up. I then spent some time showing him various fishing spots and giving him a demonstration of how easy you can get a pull when chucking baits into spots others pass by. In return he rewarded me with half a dozen newly laid free range eggs. Alan like me is a keen shooting man with a love for working dogs and like me he has Labrador's. Sadly my shooting and field trial days are over but I still love talking and reading about the subject.

Having put Alan in a swim I settled into one of my two baited swim where I spent an hour or so rolling a large piece of sausage meat down the swim. Suddenly I felt a light pluck knowing instantly a fish had moved the bait. I lifted the rod some six inches then fed a bit of line allowing the bait to trundle a bit further down the swim. I felt a savage take, striking I connected with a solid weight which moved slowly upstream. I quickly realised I had hooked one of those barbel I had been seeking for a long time. Suddenly the fish wanted to go across the river to a fallen tree. I cramped on all the pressure I dare. As the rod bent right down into the butt and cork handle, the power told as an angry fish turned away downstream then suddenly boiled on the surface. I could see I had hooked a good barbel. Perhaps a personal best. For several minutes I just hung on hoping the fish would weaken. Suddenly it changed track and moved upstream where I quickly gained some line. after a couple of more minutes, when I thought I was winning, the line went slack.I was gutted. I sat on my seat feeling crestfallen. Ten minutes later I had to tackle up once more and was soon going through the motion of rolling sausage meat down the swim. Thinking to myself. What might have been. Half an hour later I had a barbel about 6lbs. At dusk I had a good pull connection with a hard pulling fish, after a bit of give and take I netted a nice fish which pulled the needle round to 9-2-0. Ten minutes later I had another good fish of 9-4-0. I then moved upstream where I quickly had a fish of 8-12-0. After about half an hour without a bite I moved back downstream.

I suppose it was about 8-30pm when David Hallett who runs the Cookham syndicate called me to see what was happening. As we chatted I had a savage take, not only did the rod pull over, but the reel screamed like a demented demon. Striking I missed the perfect bite. David I've got to go as I have just missed a bite, He said "I heard the reel going". Rebaiting I cast out, rolling the bait down in front of a tree that had crashed into the river. I was soon netting a barbel about 6lbs. The weather was perfect thick cloud cover, no wind and a water temperature of 44 degrees F I was confident I might catch a double, perhaps a big one. Suddenly all around me the cock pheasants were crowing. It was quite a din that lasted some ten minutes then it was all quiet. I spotted a light tap on the rod tip quickly picking it up, I thrust it forward so I could give some slack line. Suddenly I felt a heavy pressure on the rod, striking I set the hook into a good fish which gave a fine performance. After some minutes I netted a good barbel. At last I thought another double. Sadly the scales gave a different story the fish weighed 9-15-0 I was well contented.

With the time at 9-15pm I had another 45 minutes to catch that big one, it didn't happen though I had one more barbel about 6lbs. Then it was 10 o'clock time to get off home and get ready for the next day on the Wilderness. Tony had caught chub to 5-4-0 while Mike had caught a few chub, the best perhaps going six. Sadly he could only guess its weight as his scales were broken and I was well down the river from Mike. It had been a good day all round. It was a tired Martin who crawled into his sleeping bag where I was quickly asleep. In part 2 I will discuss the trials and tribulations on the Benham Marsh and the Sutton Estate

Martin James Fishing