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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Back on the Kennet

Sunday September 30th was the last day of brown and sea trout fishing on my local river, but my last day’s fly fishing had been on the previous Friday when I had a nice catch of brown trout on a dry fly, today I was going back down south to the River Kennet with Brendan Ince of Blackburn for a few days fishing on my beloved river Kennet. Brendan arrived about 7 o’clock and within three hours we were coming off the M4 for Newbury. An hour later we are sitting in Will and Sonia Carter’s home with tea for me and coffee for Brendan. Will told Brendan all about the river and some of the ways we fished as he mentioned barbel, I could see Brendan’s eyes light up. Finishing our drinks we went off to sort out our accommodation for the week, leaving Will with lovely Sonia to get on with their chores. After we got everything ship shape we had something to eat then headed off to the river. As we walked down stream armed with axes, bow saws, grappling irons and ropes we looked more like lumber jacks than anglers.

We had several jobs to get done before we could think of fishing, nylon line had to be cleared from a couple of areas where anglers had got hooked up, some over hanging branches along the footpath needed pruning. The big jobs were the two trees over hanging the river in a dangerous position which needed to be cleared. After several hours of hard work mainly on the part of Brendan I considered it was time to call a halt to proceeding and go off for our hot pot dinner which only needed to be heated up. As we waited for dinner I enjoyed a mug of tea, for Brendan it was coffee. Though he was more interested in sorting out his gear for our first evening session.

It was about 6 o’clock when we walked down river from the car park to the Hawthorne swim so named after the two big Hawthorne bushes that over hung the river creating a dark secretive area of water where the barbel could often be found. Our baits were sausage meat paste and bread with lobworms as a back up bait. I suggested to Brandon that he should fish sausage meat paste on a size 4 barbless hook to 12lb line with three LG shot pinched lightly on the line some two feet from the hook. As the darkness enveloped us a pheasant decided to roost in the ivy clad oak tree I was sitting under, a few minutes later a flight of Canada geese flew overhead honking as they did so then all was quiet. I suppose we had been fishing for an hour before we fished on until about midnight with just the owls for company and a couple of Muntjac deer but no more fish. Back in the caravan we sat drinking tea and coffee eating toast and chatting about the day’s events. It was two very tired anglers who crawled into their sleeping bags about two in the morning.

Monday morning we went off to Tadley Angling where we spent an interesting and amusing hour with Kevin the proprietor and some of his customers and of course spending our hard won cash on bit and pieces of tackle including floats though I own far too many. Back on the river I walked one of the beats pointing out various swims to Brendan and telling him how I would fish each one and my choice of tackle and bait. Back in the car park it was time for a brew and a sandwich. On the advice of Will it was decided to put Brendan in the car park swim, it was the right choice. Brendan hooked his first Kennet barbel a nice fish about six pounds, the smile on his face told the full story as he released the fish back into the river. Sometime later he had another fish about five pounds.

As Will and I sat watching Brendan fish Will gave him lots of advice. Suddenly a rat appeared running along the bank, at first I thought it was a water vole which had appeared, then I noticed it had a scaly tail and pointed nose and not the blunt nose of the water vole. After running along the bank for several yards it disappeared into the water where it was grabbed by that big killer in the countryside the mink. Leaving Brendan in the capable hands off Will, I went off to put some pieces of sausage meat into a couple of swims downstream of the salmon hut, while doing so I checked several members’ permits. At 4 o’clock we went off for an early dinner so we could get back on the river before darkness. Brendan had a beef hot pot, while I had a cottage pie followed by some fresh fruit.

Back on the river we went downstream to a new area among the popular trees which were growing tall and straight on both sides of the river. I chose two swims in three feet of water over clean gravel among the swaying water crowfoot, not only is this area a good place for barbel it often throws up a good chub of six pounds plus. Sitting side by side Brandon fishing with crust and me with three lobworms we chatted about the fishing occasionally the rod tip pulled round, I missed three good pulls. Then I hooked a fish on crust which after quite a long scrap slipped the hook close to the net. I sat down feeling gutted it was a good one. Thankfully I did manage three fish while Brandon had a nice fish about 6lbs.

It was about nine o’clock on Tuesday morning when I woke up, after a wash and shave it was on with the kettle for a brew. After measuring out my porridge I set the microwave on three minutes, then having eaten the porridge I had two rounds of buttered toast and another brew. Then Brandon appeared so I thrust his first cup of coffee of the day in his hands. I suppose it was nearly 11 o’clock when we made our way to the river, first stopping in a lay-by to dump our rubbish in one of the litter bins. As we pulled into one of the car parks, John Butler the fishery manager of the Wasing Estate was just leaving so we had a quick chat. I also told him I was attending John Bodsworth cremation on Wednesday in Brighton. Leaving John to get on with his many jobs we made our way downstream through the Dalstone beat. In a four hour session I reckon we tried a dozen or more swims using crust, lobworms or sausage meat paste with no fish to show for our effort.
Back at base we had dinner both choosing cottage pie, then it was back on the river for another late evening session. The barbel were on the feed with Brendan catching five nice fish, I had several including a 9-2-0 fish. I suppose it was gone midnight when we packed up.

Wednesday was John Bodsworth’s cremation in Brighton, after breakfast Brendan dropped me off at Tadley Angling where I met Will and soon we were on the M3 heading for the notorious M25. Thankfully Will is a skilful and careful driver who soon had me in Brighton in good time. It was standing room only at the crematorium, with everyone dressed in bright clothing and with a blue sky and warm sunshine. It was the perfect send off for one of my best friends who I will miss a lot, and one John would have agreed with. In the crematorium Steven John’s son talked about his Dad’s life and as we walked from the building some good 1960’s music was being played. At the wake back in Plumpton Green I addressed the mourners for several minutes about John and some of the fun we had enjoyed together.

Then it was back to the Kennet where Brendan gave me the news that he had caught a barbel of 6lb plus, when other anglers failed. He was learning fast and getting his rewards. That evening Will joined us and we all caught. I dedicated my first barbel to John, Me and Will sitting together talked about some of the great days we had enjoyed on the Kennet in the past, remembering the toasted current buns and bacon sandwiches that John was always serving up for us hungry anglers. I reckon my fishing with young Will in the future will be just as exciting as with John and hopefully I will have many more days with this young guy. For a split second I hooked what I thought was a good chub then it was gone. Retrieving my gear I could see a big chub scale impaled on the hook. Back at Base I said to Brendan “Would you like to fish another evening session and travel home on Friday”? His face looked as if it was illuminated with a six hundred watt bulb, it was a picture and he had a grin like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. After a few mugs of coffee for Brendan and tea for me we sat chatting until two thirty in the morning.

Thursday After breakfast it was back on a gin clear river with bright sunshine, conditions couldn’t have been worse. I fished one of my old swims with a big lump of sausage meat taking a good fish that I reckon was just less than ten pounds. Moving around I managed a couple of small fish. It was a day for walking the river, checking out new areas and ideal conditions for fish spotting. At lunchtime I told Brendan we needed to go upstream to the car park. Waiting for us was Will who after a chatting for sometime presented Brendan with a copy of Quest for Barbel signed by both of us. We both felt Brendan was willing to listen and learn, unlike some who reckon they know it all.

During the day I dropped a few bait samples into a couple of selected areas as insurance in case Brendan didn’t catch from the other baited swim. We packed up quite early for dinner so we could get back on the river well before darkness. The evening session was a tale of missed bites; I reckon I missed four chub bites on crust, my barbel falling to lumps of sausage meat paste. Will had one fish and lost another in a snag. I suppose it was about ten o’clock when I suggested to Brendan we should move down river. After showing him where to drop his bait I waited for the take. Within minutes, probably no more than three he was hooked up to a nice fish about six pounds. After dragging the fish through the weed I was able to net his fish. We then called it a day and went off for some tea and toast. While Brendan drank numerous cups of strong coffee we discussed the past few days’ events. It was another very late night or early morning when we went to bed.

It was a late start on Friday where after a leisurely breakfast; we packed away all our gear before loading the car. After sweeping out all the rooms, cleaning the kitchen tops and making sure everything was in order we sat down and enjoyed a fresh brew while listening to the traffic reports on BBC Radio Five Live so I could plan the best rout home. We chose the A34 M40 then the toll road and the M6, The driving standards by many of the motorists was suicidal how there were not more accidents and many of these idiots were using mobile phones for texing. Summing up the trip I can say Brendan was a willing learner, he listened then put into practise what we showed him and under difficult conditions he caught some nice fish with the best just two ounces of nine pounds. His many questions were intelligent ones and unlike some people he didn’t want to use pellets knowing the way we were fishing was probably the best on the day.

Martin James Fishing