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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


A Red Letter Day Session

At the start of last week I decided to have a few days on the River Kennet and Aquateks gravel pits at Midgam near Woolhampton Berkshire run by Kevin Rolls Tel 07877649840 I reckon a big plus on this water is the safe car parking and the litter free banks, and during my many visits I learnt a great deal about the fishing from Bailiff Paul Smythe who imparts his knowledge freely. I had a good trip down the M6 M5 A417 A419 then the M4 to Newbury a total of 240 miles, well worth the effort. I planned to fish from Saturday through to Thursday, during the day I would fish the gravel pit, and then after dinner I would fish the River Kennet for barbel.

After arriving and sorting out all my gear I had a brew then went off with Will Carter to do some work on the Wasing fishery syndicate water. Will had kindly offered to help me put down some chicken wire on the wooden bridges over the various streams that flow into the Kennet. During the autumn and winter months these bridges become very slippery and dangerous. Two hours later the job was finished, members can now feel safe when crossing the bridges. Back at the cabin enjoying a fresh brew and some buttered toast, Will told me about his successful barbel fishing which included catching two doubles in less than thirty minutes. About three in the afternoon we parted company, Will went off to the Aldermaston beat on the River Kennet, while I went off to the gravel pit to rake and bait a swim. Itís surprising how the Canadian pond weed had increased in just two weeks. After an hour of raking I had cleared a swim, and within minutes the tench were feeding. I hadnít planned to fish for the tench, it was the big perch I would target. But should a carp, tench or a big roach take my float fished lobworm I wouldnít complain?

Sunday morning about nine oíclock I was back on the gravel pit with a south westerly wind blowing straight into my swim creating a nice ripple. I used a 13 foot Avon action rod, centre pin reel, and 4lb Gamma line. Itís a line I have been using for about five years; with good abrasion properties and knot strength. I had checked the depth of my swim on a previous occasions, it was around twelve feet deep close to some water lilies. I use a sliding float rig with a three swan shot waggler float and a size ten barbless hook. To stop the float at the right depth I tie in a nylon stop knot using 10lb line at thirteen feet, About six feet from the hook I pinch on two swan shot then a BB shot at one and two feet from the hook.

(A sliding float is designed for use in water that is near or deeper than the length of the rod, during casting the float will sit on the two swan shot. After casting the weight will pull the line through the eye of the float until it reaches the stop knot. )

I ground baited with chopped worms and brown crumb, and to attract small fish in the swim, which hopefully will draw in the big perch. I spray some gentles (maggots) every fifteen twenty minutes. With a strong wind blowing I positioned my rod rests so the rod tip is a few inches under the water, this stops the float being dragged out of position. My bait was two lobworms, I then slide a tiny square of rubber on the hook which stops the worms wriggling off; then use a Wallis cast to get the tackle to the baited area, within minutes the float dips, and then submerges. The strike connecting with a beautiful marked perch about a pound.

On my next cast the float disappeared within seconds. Striking, I didnít feel anything, the bait was gone. Rebaiting with double lobs the baited hook was cast to the same spot. Seconds later the float submerged. Striking!! I hooked a good fish; I was forced to give line. I could tell by the jagging action on the line it was a good perch; suddenly the fish swirled on the surface head shaking gills flared prickly dorsal fin erect it looked magnificent. Within minutes the fish was engulfed in the folds of the net. Swinging it on the bank, I parted the mesh, there lying was my prize a big beautiful and highly coloured perch. Zeroing the scales I watched the pointer go round to 3lbs 5 ounces.

As I was bringing in the tackle for another cast after a bite less twenty minutes, there was a big swirl on the surface; a fish hit, I tightened the line as I did so the rod tip pulled down savagely the reel grudgingly gave a few feet of line. ďPikeĒ I thought. Seconds later I realised I had hooked into a good perch by the jagging action on the line. Twice it tried for a big bank of Canadian pond weed; I cramped on the pressure then pulled the fish through the weed and out into the open water.

Soon I was gaining line, then for some unknown reason the fish went berserk. I was forced to give line. It was a couple of minutes before I had the fish completely under control. Pushing the net in the water I drew the fish towards it. As the fish went over the net I lifted. It was mine. Admiring the fish. I remember the written words of the late Dick Walker who once described the perch as the biggest fish in freshwater. They certainly look the biggest, of all our freshwater fish pound for pound. I also reckon the perch is one of the most exciting of all fish.

Certainly far better than the barbel. I still havenít fathomed out why so many anglers put the barbel on a pedestal, treating them as something very special. To hear some anglers talk about the barbel you would think no other fish exists. In my book all fish are special; no one fish is more special than another species. Zeroing the scales I weighed the fish, it tipped the weigh needle to 3lb 3ounces. This was quickly followed by another fish of 3lb 3ounces.

The swim was now a mass of bubbles not the pin head size ones we get when tench are rooting about, these were big bubbles I reckon they were carp. Ten minutes later the float disappeared on feeling the fish I soon realised it was a good carp as I was forced to give some line. For several minutes I reckon the carp had the upper hand but by keeping on constant pressure and letting the tackle take the strain and not bullying the fish I was able to get some line back on the reel. In these cases when possible I slowly walk backward keeping pressure on the fish. When I gained some line I walk forward putting some line back on the reel, I then repeated the exercise. Itís important not to snatch the line; soon I had a good common carp about 12lbs in the net. When weighed it went 13-6-0.

It was time for a very late lunch, after throwing in a good supply of broken worms; After scrubbing my hands with soap and water, I then used some hand Gel which is anti-bacterial, I reckon you canít be too safe these days. Using my Jet boiler an American invention which I can recommend, I soon had a mug of tea. As I sat enjoying my lunch of beef sandwiches and fruit cake I though how lucky I had been during this session. It had been worth the long drive. I fished on for another couple of hours without a bite; I couldnít complain. It had been a Red Letter Day Three 3lb plus perch, a dozen over two pounds, seven tench best at 6-5-0 and four common carp to 16lbs losing two other carp. I also missed four perfect bites. Why I donít know. I then went off to the River Kennet at Aldermaston for a couple of hours, I didnít catch but Will had a nine pound barbel

Monday I was back on the Aquateks gravel pits in the hope of catching some more big perch, fishing from eight in the morning until seven that evening, I didnít get a bite or see any fish roll. All this after my previous Red Letter Day. The only sign of life on the water was the sighting of a kingfisher flying low over the water. After dinner I chose to fish the Wasing Estate water on the Kennet rather than the Newbury Angling Association water, where for the first time and taking the advice of Will Carter I fished one rod with feeder and hair rigged pellets, but when that feeder landed with a splash I imagined all the fish fleeing from the immediate area. My other rod was baited with a chunk of sausage meat which I fished tight to the bank, in a three hour session I caught seven barbel on meat the average weight about 6lbs, I had just one chub pick up the pellet baited hook. Enough said.

Tuesday Will and I fished the Aldermaston stretch of the Kennet the weather was atrocious gale force wind and heavy rain. We stuck it out for about four hours then decided we were wasting our time. Back in the cabin I had some dinner then packed up the car for the long drive home. What made the journey home more enjoyable was the football on the radio. The rest of the week was spent on the River Ribble and Aire, in between the heavy showers I have done some habitat work, clearing plastic bags and other rubbish from riverside trees and bushes, I also spent time checking permits and removing a fallen tree from the footpath on my fishery. Saturday evening I fished the River Ribble for sea trout but with a rising river I soon realised I was wasting my time. Sunday all I could do was check the mink traps and look at a bank high brown coloured river.

Martin James Fishing