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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


A Great Weeks Fishing Part 2

In part 1 of 'A great Weeks Fishing' I left you having fished a few days on the River Kennet Wasing Estate fishery, ending up on the Thursday evening with a good catch of barbel to 9-15-0. Though the weather had been against me I felt I had been lucky to catch the fish I did. In part 2 I recount my last three days of the season which surpassed anything I could ever have expected. Friday morning I was up and about before 6 o'clock getting ready for a day on the Benham Marsh Estate where I was going to fish the Wilderness water on the river Kennet. Having cooked breakfast and packed our lunch I said to Mike "Its a rough old day with the wind gusting at times to gale force from the north west". There is nothing spring like about the weather today. As we drove down the twisting country lanes from the Wasing Estate I decided I would start off the day fly fishing for pike, then turn my attention to trying to catch a seven pound chub. That notable angler Paul Smythe of Thatcham had told me of a perch swim well up river from the car park where if I got the chance I would fish sometime during the day.

As we drove over the bridge near the Rowbarge a white van driver coming in the opposite direction could see Mike's car half way across the bridge but still continued to drive on, where do these morons come from?. I gave him a bit of my mind. Thirty years ago I would probably have hauled him from the van and dumped him in the canal. These days being rather old frail and quiet I made do with telling him he was an idiot. Fifteen minutes later we met up with Stephen a local solicitor who had invited Mike and me to join him for a days fishing. After following Stephen along the A 4 for a short distance we turned off the main road then drove down a long track to a car park on the estate set in some delightful countryside. After sorting out our gear and getting dressed up in warm cloths we headed off to the river. A jack snipe disturbed from its feeding flew low across the field towards a large clump of grass and reeds. A green woodpecker flew into a nearby tree, no doubt hunting for any insect it could find. A small covey of partridges flighted across the river.

Thankfully we still have many people who are willing to run a sporting estate, let us not forget, without these owners, the countryside would be covered in concrete, tarmac, houses and flats. No doubt Prescott's travellers would be everywhere leaving their rubbish and disturbing normal peoples lives. After a good and interesting walk we arrived at the weed rack and the riverside hut. A few yards downstream I could see a railway bridge. The wind was gusting straight down the river not the best of conditions for fly fishing, though I have fished in worse. Float fishing and bait presentation was going to be a nightmare in these conditions

Perch On Black Magic

Crossing the small rustic looking wooden bridge known as the weed rack I dropped my bag in what must also be described as rather old and rustic wooden hut. I then walked upstream of the famous or infamous weed rack and put some mashed bread into a far bank swim to get the chub interested in looking for bread. Back at the hut I made up a Thomas and Thomas S C 9 weight 4 piece fly rod matched with an American made Gilmore reel and Ghost tip line to which I had attached 6 feet of tapered leader down to 20lb tippet, using an Albright knot I tied in a foot of 20 lb wire and attached a large eel like looking fly about six inches long tied up on a size 3/0 hook.

Remember that song "That Old Black Magic" Well that's how my dream day started when I cast my 'Black Magic' fly pattern across the waters of the river Kennet at Benham Marsh Estate. On my third cast I had a firm hit. "Jack pike" I though, I then spotted a huge prickly fin. It looked as if a big perch was trying to eat my jack pike. I quickly realised it was a perch, not a jack that had hit my fly. Realising I had hooked a big perch which might be a personal best I eased the fish towards the landing net held by Stephen. Soon a magnificent fish was being weighed by Stephen and Mike at 3lbs. I punched the air with delight. What a way to start the day. After a couple of pictures it was released. It was now time for a mug of tea, as I filled the kettle I realised we hadn’t got any milk. Mike being a true gentleman volunteered to go off and get some milk and extra water. We would need plenty of hot tea today in the howling cold downstream wind.

I continued to cast a selection of big flies hoping for more and bigger perch to beat my personal best of 3lb 4 ounces. Occasionally I walked upstream putting in the odd ball off mashed bread into my chub swim. An hour into the session with no more hits from perch or pike I decided to fish for the chub. In about fifteen minutes I had four good pulls catching three big brown trout one probably weighed five pounds. Knowing I shouldn’t be catching these out of season brown trout I vacated the swim. I then called Paul Smythe for some advice on where I should seek the chub. He suggested a swim just above the railway bridge between two Hawthorne bushes and a broken fence. Following his instructions I fed the railway bridge swim with some mashed bread, then commenced to bounced a chunk of crust down the swim. Fifth or six cast I connected with a good fish.Chub 5-12-0 how lucky can you get get. Rebaiting I bounced another bait down the swim missing two bites in succession. I then pricked a fish. After putting in a couple of balls of mashed bread I decided to rest the swim and try further upstream on a bend in the hope I might find some roach or chub. In two casts I caught a brown trout about 4lbs. As previously stated, not wanting to hook out of season trout, I moved down stream to where I had caught my perch on the fly.

I decided to float fish with a lobworm bait in the hope I might catch a couple of perch with this method, which was the start of a truly magnificent days perch fishing. In fact A Red Letter Day of all Red Letter Days. Its interesting to note that my day was all down to solicitor Stephen Collins of Hungerford sending me an E-mail politely asking me to sign his book 'Red Letter Days'. I suggested Stephen join me for a day on the Wasing Estate as my guest when I was next down that way. Stephen having fished with me, invited Mike Osborne of Carlisle and me to fish as his guests on the River Kennet at Benham Marsh. I chose an 11 foot Avon rod, centre pin reel, 4lb line and a size 8 hook. To complete the tackle I decided on a red top balsa float with five BB shot on the line. Plumbing the depth I set the float at about four feet so the bait was either lightly dragging or just an inch or two off the bottom. During the day I found the depth critical, even moving the float an inch often made the difference between a bite and no bites.

The Start Of A Dream

As I have done so often in the past even back in my school days, I dumped a pile of gentles on the bridge in two areas. In twos and threes the gentles would drop into the water keeping a continuous flow of gentles going down the swim. Encouraging any interested fish to move into the area. On my first trot down the swim the float bobbed, but nothing else happened. I was convinced it wasn't the bottom. On retrieving my bait I could see the worm had been chopped in half. Rebaiting I cast into the head of the swim at the same time dropping in some chopped worm. In half a dozen casts I caught five perch all around 12 ounces to a pound and a quarter. I then had a quiet spell for twenty minutes. Moving the float up the line about five inches. Casting out I held the float close to the weed rack in strett pegging style. Suddenly it bobbed then bobbed again before disappearing below the wind swept surface. I tightened into a good fish which I could see was trying to get in a large sunken branch of a tree. Stephen seeing I had a good fish quickly appeared and picked up my landing net and soon a super perch was netted. Stephen acting as weigh master told me the fish weighed exactly 3lbs 4 ounces. I was like the proverbial kid in the candy store. Two three pound perch in a day I had never achieved that in 64 years of fishing. On the next cast I lost a good fish. I thought that’s it for a while but I was surprised to quickly catch fish of 1-12-0 and 2-10-0. Meanwhile Mike had arrived with some milk we celebrated with a mug of tea and a sandwich.

After our tea drinking session Mike went off upstream, Stephen moved into the chub swim above the weed rack and I continued in my perch swim. Casting out a big lively lobworm I watched my red top float slowly moved down the left hand swim, the float bobbed twice then moved to the right. The strike connected with a powerful fish.For several minutes my heart was in my mouth as a good fish tried to get into various snags. Slowly I was winning the fight and soon I had a good fish with its head out of the water coming towards the waiting landing net held by Stephen. Meanwhile Mike appeared no doubt he had heard all my cheering as Stephen netted my fish. With Mike looking on, Stephen weighed the fish then called across to say it weighed 3-8-0 I punched the air with delight. A new personal best. Despite the very cold and blustery north westerly wind which often howled downstream I was extremely warm and contented. I really did have to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I felt like a kid in two sweet shops. Next trot through the swim I connected with another good fish which weighed 3-4-0 equalling my old personal best. Next cast I bumped off a good fish. I was gutted thinking that my chances of any more good perch were gone.

Not so, on my next trot through the swim I had a couple of perch, though not three pounders I was seeking. When Mike put a mug of fresh tea down beside me I said "This season will certainly go down as one of my of my better ones with 4 personal bests Crucian carp of 3-3-0 barbel of 12-7-0 chub of 7-10-0 and now a perch of 3-8-0. I can't really believe this is happening". I then had a few trots through the swim with no sign of a fish. Baiting quite heavily with chopped and whole lobworms, I rested the swim and retired to the hut for a break from the wind, a sandwich and a hot mug of tea. An hour later I had another fish of 2-12-0 followed by several pound plus perch. A Kingfisher flew upstream,at the same time a cock pheasant added some colour as it crept slowly along the far bank. As we sat drinking tea I looked skywards where I was surprised to see a huge Hornets nest about the size of two perhaps three rugby balls. It was certainly a work of art, that only a great sculpture could create. After shooting some pictures I finished off my tea then returned to my fishing. Meanwhile Stephen and Mike had now decided to stop fishing to watch me. I wasn’t involved in weighing any of the perch. Between them they weighed and recorded each fish I caught. I continued to strive for another personal best perch. After a while Mike suggested I should fish down the right hand swim, where I was immediately rewarded with another personal best perch of 3-9-0.

I was now running out of bait, Stephen came to my rescue with his box of worms. Over the next thirty or forty minutes I caught perch of 2-12-0 3-4-0 3-6-0 and 3-5-0. After a few trots through the swim without any sign of a bite I switched over to my left hand swim. First trot through I connected with a fish which felt extremely heavy which hugged the bottom. For thirty seconds nothing moved, I thought I had hooked a big bream, then I felt the head shaking so reminiscent of perch. I gained a few feet of line. then fish moved powerfully off downstream, then kited to my right. Suddenly the line fell slack. I said to myself "That was a huge perch, probably a big four" Winding in I checked the hook It was sharp as a freshly made needle and drew blood. Rebaiting with three brandlings I trotted through both swims for sometime catching a three or four small perch. Another fruitless spell followed. I decide to run the float down the centre of the river, where I was immediately rewarded with the float bobbing twice then plunging beneath the wind ruffled surface. Another good fish was hooked, I carefully bought the fish upstream to where Stephen waited with the landing net. I could now see the fish down in the water as it tried to get around a large branch. Applying side strain I pulled the fish clear of the danger then slowly worked it up to the surface where Stephen successfully netted another big perch. "That could be a personal best" said Stephen A couple of minutes later he called across to say "It's 3-11-0" By this time I was ecstatic, I was on a high. I called my wife Kate with the news. I had caught a lot of perch with nine of 3lbs or more what a great day it had been despite the tough weather conditions. As I sat there trotting the float downstream in the fading light Stephen said to Mike "We have had worse days" Having to be off the estate at dusk we called it a day. I don’t think my feet touched the ground as I made my way back to the car and despite the cold weather I was perspiring. What a great day and it all started with a bit of Black Magic.

A Few Small Chub On The Delightful River Loddon

Saturday morning we had a late start meeting up with Stephen at 10 o’clock and once more we had a cold gusty north west wind with occasional bright periods. We spent the morning roving upstream on the top beat, without success. Stephen chose the swims for Mike and me to fish. I had two bites all morning from one swim. I missed the first bite on crust, then I lost a fish on lobworm. Mike fishing a pellet with some of my pellet paste wrapped around the pellet had a savage take but it was sadly missed. Score 3-0 to the fish. Back at the cars we then drove to the bottom beat where we had a fresh mug of tea and our sandwiches. Once again Stephen was the perfect guide putting us in what he thought was a good swim. I fished just upstream of a bridge catching one fish losing another, meanwhile Mike was fishing a swim downstream of the bridge where he caught 4 chub and two rainbow trout. I moved on downstream catching the odd chub averaging about 2lbs. At the bottom end of the beat Stephen suggested I should fish a swim with a lot of tree roots in the water. Fishing crust I had two chub, then switching over to lobworm I hooked a good fish which after a couple of minutes got off. I had a strong feeling it was a barbel. With the light fading it was off home. Mike and me were dining with Kevin and Julia Rolls and their two sons Michael and Matthew. It was great not having to cook, we also dined on venison and lots of fresh vegetables. I don’t know how many bottles of red wine were drunk during the evening but it was certainly a great meal with fine company. It had gone well past midnight when I crawled into my sleeping bag. At 5-50 am next morning I was up and getting ready to fish the on the Sutton Estate water as a guest of the river keeper and some members of the Newbury Angling Association. Mike decided not to fish, he was going to get everything sorted out in the caravan, then get the car packed for the trip home.

Paul picked me up at 7 o’clock, in half an hour we were on the river bank. Not knowing the fishery I asked Paul where I should fish. As most of the other anglers disappeared Paul and I walked off upstream. Paul the perfect host suggested I fish the big weir pool, Clark the chairman of Newbury AA told me the areas in the pool where I should fish. Paul pointed at other swims upstream of the pool towards the railway bridge. Paul and Clark went on a walkabout while I rolled big chunks of crust down the pool towards the over hanging branches of a big tree. In fact some of the branches trailed in the water. My first four casts accounted for three fish, the best at 5-12-0. I called Paul up on my mobile asking if he could shoot some pictures for me. Ten minutes later Paul and Clark appeared after shooting some pictures I put the Jetboil on for a fresh brew. I chose four swims to fish and baited them all with mashed bread and a few hook samples. After catching another couple of fish inn the pool then bumping one off I moved to the other swims catching the odd fish. Returning to the pool after a break of about an hour I quickly caught five chub averaging about 3lbs a piece on crust. I also tried worms and luncheon meat without success. Though fishing in a swim tight to the bank under a group of coppiced willows I did catch a couple of chub on double lobworm bait. After calling Paul on my mobile to ask if he had any bread and getting an affirmative I walked down to find Paul fishing off a bridge having the time of his life catching fish on light float tackle. It was about 4 o’clock when I got back to my weir pool swim where I immediately started catching. Nothing big but great fun. All I wanted on this last day of the season for me to have get my string pulled and stick bent. By fishing all my baited swims I ended the day with 19 chub and 3 brown trout. A great day on a delightful river with some nice company.

Martin James Fishing