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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Itís That Magic Day Again

Come June 15th I will travel south to hopefully fish a gravel pit for tench, I say hopefully as unlike many, I just donít feel happy at catching fish with spawn coming from the vent. If I do I will just pack up and go chase the pike with a fly rod. I well remember fishing the River Teme some years ago with Tony Farquhason of Southport, The first fish hooked trotting the stream was a barbel about six pounds, with milt coming from the vent. Next cast I had another barbel this time a female fish that was dropping eggs. I packed up and returned to base. Tony said ďWhat's the problem MartĒ I told him what had happened and said ďI'm not fishing any moreĒ. Within five minutes we agreed to return home. Neither of us wanted to fish for barbel under these conditions. I find it strange that anglers who profess to be naturalists and care about the aquatic and wildlife continue to fish even when they are catching fish ejecting spawn from the vent. Yes, we donít live in a perfect world and no doubt I have hooked fish with milt or eggs, but if that spawn is coming from the vent I pack up. Hunters, wildfowlers, game shooters all recognise a close season for their quarry, Why not anglers?

This year sadly I want have my old mate the late John Bodsworth with me; he will be missed, as will his stories and jokes and the toasted current buns. When I arrive at my chosen venue early on the 15th of June I will spend a few hours carrying out a reconnaissance of the water, hoping I can either see some good fish or signs to point me in the direction of where to fish. These days I probably spend more time looking for fish, than actually fishing. Once found and providing I donít do anything wrong I should have success. An item I wouldnít want to be without when tench fishing is my double sided rake. We anglers are strange creatures; we go pussyfooting around our still waters then chuck a lump of iron in the swim creating a big splash and lots of disturbance. But donít laugh that rake could be your answer to making a good catch. We all know tench like two things, weedy waters to lie up in and a clean gravel or silt bottom to feed over. Using a rake for close in swims will clear the weed and make the perfect dining table. It could also save you some money as you will not need so much ground bait. I will also rake and bait a second swim on the opposite side of the lake as a reserve swim, so that come breakfast time and I havenít had any fish, I will have a reserve area to concentrate on.

There have been many times when within minutes of chucking out my rake; I have watched tench feeding, sometimes a dozen or more looking for food items. What ever you do, donít drop in half a dozen cricket size balls of ground bait as you will probably spook the fish in your swim. I suggest you do what I will be doing and thatís using the largest bait dropper you can buy, then after raking a clear spot you should put in 3 droppers of corn, 3 of hemp and 4 of chopped lobworms for starters. Often within minutes you can see masses of pin head bubbles, sometimes these patches are the size of a tea plate other times as big as a table top. Not only will you see pin head size bubbles, you will often see bubbles the size of a ten pence piece. When you have lots of bubbles itís usually a sure sign that tench are feeding, buy not always. Sometimes bits of weed, twigs and other rubbish will float to the surface, even the water gets discoloured.

A useful tip I can offer when fishing a flat calm or lightly rippled water surface is to make tennis or cricket size ball of method mix, then add some sugar puffs. Providing the mix is right it will submerge then return to the surface where it breaks up slowly allowing feed to trickle down through the water. If youíre chosen water contains carp they will often be seen taking the sugar puffs as they float away on the surface. I got this idea from Simon Pomeroy the boss of Pallatrax. I can assure you it works.

There have been many times when I have seen better size fish staying just outside the main feeding area and having seen this on so many occasions I can certainly recommend you drop a few bits of paste or boilie hook baits outside your baited area. I always throw in a few walnut size chunks of sausage meat. Tench certainly love this old fashion bait, old fashion it might be, but it does work. The late Len Head and I were fishing water in Gloucestershire back in the 1980ís and we often caught some good fish when we switched to fishing baits as suggested outside our baited area. I feel the bigger fish feel more confident taking just the odd bigger bait and leaving the smaller fish to hoover up the smaller baits such as hemp, chopped worms and corn. Who knows you might just connect with a personal best fish.

For my midnight start I will use two rods both set up for legering, they will be 12 foot three piece with an Avon action designed for lines of 5lbs to 8lbs, though I reckon I could get away with lines from 4lb through to 10lbs on these rods. This season I might well switch from my Mitchell 300ís to using some old Shimano super aero fixed spool reels which I have had for some years but I have never used them. The spools will be filled with 8lb Gamma line; this line is very abrasion resistant with excellent knot strength. I havenít used better. Many anglers use braid as a hook link material, but I will use a short length of Gamma fluorocarbon as my hook link in conjunction with a Stonze weight; Pallatrax hooks size 6ís -12ís will cover all my needs. As I donít plan to spend the night in a sleeping bag, I will use a Grauvell audible bite alarms toned down so itís just audible.

If I fish corn it will be hair rigged, one piece of canned corn with one piece of artificial, the latter will help to counter balance the weight of the hook. If you watch tench feeding you will see they tend to hoover up the free offerings. In fact I canít say I have actually seen them pick up the bait in their lips like chub do. Hence the reason for counter balancing the hook. Back in the 1980ís when I was doing a lot of tench fishing I would put fifty or more grains of corn on a sheet of newspaper. I would then sit with a baiting needle hooking out the inside of the corn and replacing it with a tiny bit of polystyrene. It worked perfectly.

Back in the 1980ís I had five seasons fishing an area on very difficult water where the tench were always browsing an area of clean fine gravel where the depth of water averaged three feet. Fifteen twenty feet out from the bank, the bottom sloped away quite sharply into deep water, the slope being covered with a mass of Canadian pond weed. So as not to get line bites which I reckon would spook the fish, I would point the rods down into the water so the tips just cleared the gravel bottom by about an inch. The line from rod tip to baited hook was flat to the bottom. There were times when Len Head and I would wade out with our baited hook of two or three casters super glued to a very fine hair, then drop it on the gravel bottom a foot in from the edge of the sloping bank. We would then put a pile of casters over the hook bait. As we made our way back to the bank we would cover sections of the line with some fine gravel. These tench were extremely difficult to catch. Sometimes we would watch them move in, hoover up all the casters just leaving our hook baits.

We have all seen tench rolling over a gravel bar, which often means casting thirty or more yards. If you plan to fish at these distances I recommend you spod some bait out, or if itís allowed use a bait boat. My rig would be either a swim feeder, or binding some method mix around a Stonze weight. Both can be successful. But I try when ever possible to find a swim as close in as possible. If you live close to a tench water I suggest you spend a few days raking and baiting a swim leading up to the season. All that extra hard work usually pays of handsomely

Back to my midnight start, during the two hours leading up to midnight, I will be putting in a dropper of chopped worms, corn and hemp every twenty minutes. On the stroke of 12 oíclock I will bait my size 6 hook with a big lobworm which will have some air injected in the tail segment so it wriggles just off the bottom. This will be fished in the prebaited area. My second rod I will bait with sausage meat and drop it a few feet away from the baited area. I have used sausage paste bait since the late 1950ís; in fact most fish will eat it. If you want carp, chub or barbel give it a try. A bait that has proved successful over the past couple of years is the new Pallatrax Jungle paste. A lot of anglers when they start catching tench go and drop big balls of heavy stodgy feed on their heads. Donít do it or you will send all the fish fleeing from your swim. If it looks as if youíre on a Red Letter Day, just increase the feed enough to keep the fish grubbing in your swim. Baits such as dead gentles, (maggots) casters, chopped worms or hemp should do the job. I suggest you put in half a bait dropper of feed every two fish caught. If after a couple of hours I havenít had a fish, I will have a re-think and probably change over from lobworm too two pieces of hair rigged corn; I might even change my sausage paste baited rod to a free lined sausage paste bait. Its surprising how these little changes work for the better.

Come dawn I will put the kettle on for a fresh brew. With my binoculars I will be scanning the water surface for rolling tench, if the water is rippled you might see a small area of smooth water that could be a tench or carp which has rolled keep your eyes on the area. If during the dark hours the fish havenít got their heads down, they might have a feeding spell around dawn. Its happened on many occasions, I will now switch tackle, choosing a J W Youngís 13í float rod, matched with a centre pin or fixed spool reel, 6lb Gamma line, a waggler float will be locked on the line by two lightly pinched AA shot; with four BB shot pinched on the line about 15 inches from the hook with the bait fished just over depth. Hook size will depend on the bait being used.

This season will see the start of my 67th year of angling, though I must say there have been many June 16thís when only the odd fish has been caught. In fact I have had more first days with the odd fish than days when I have had a net full. I donít mind its being back for another nine months in all weather, sometimes catching, occasionally blanking. I caught my first fish in 1941 and today I am still passionately in love with this great pastime, sport or passion I reckon itís a bit of all of these. I hope you all have a good 2008/09 season with lots of pulled strings and bent sticks.

Martin James Fishing