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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


It’s been a Mixed Few Weeks

Though it’s been above average rainfall this season, I reckon it’s been a good summer, the trees and bushes look wonderful, the green conkers on the horse chestnut trees are starting to fill out, probably due to the wet summer, which is far better for the countryside. How I hate those hot summers with no rain, the countryside looking parched and dry; rivers full of weed and rubbish, streams down to a trickle. What amazes me, when the sun shines are the hundreds of thousands who flock to the beaches to get a tan, often getting burnt in the process? Ignoring the warnings of skin cancer. There are some wonderful wild flower displays, pigeons coo in the nearby trees, blackbird’s wrens, robins, blue and great tits and other bird’s hunt for caterpillars and other food items, Green woodpecker with its dipping flight and maniacal laugh are a welcome sight, and the coots are still as quarrelsome. The flora and fauna mean as much to me as the fish I catch. In fact the whole ambience of my surroundings is most important. No way could I fish the modern still waters with their cafes, bars and all the other trappings of modern life. I just love the pristine wilderness of the English countryside.

On my first trip to Aquateks Lake I chose a swim where the south-westerly wind had been blowing for the previous few days. The water averaged six feet, dotted around the waters edge were areas of water lilies, a text book tench swim. Fifteen minutes of casting around I found a gravel bar twenty yards out from the bank; at the top of the bar the water averaged three feet dropping away to about eight feet. Thinking “Yes a good area for bream” I baited with several big droppers of Cotswold Baits method mix to which I added liquid chopped mussel, hemp, corn, broken and whole 15mm strawberry flavoured boilies with lots of chopped lobworms, red gentles and two pints of casters on the gravel bar.

Raking my swim near the lilies, I baited with Cotswold method mix containing sweet corn, hemp, dead gentles, and casters with some molasses. It was then time to put together my gear; I chose to float fish using a thirteen foot rod, centre pin reel and 6lb Gamma line, with a waggler float set up. During the dark hours I would use soft Avon rods, Shimano reels and 6lb Gamma line, my end rigs were Drennan feeders with a short fluorocarbon hook link and Pallatrax hooks between sizes 6’s and 14’s depending on the bait being used which could vary between corn, gentles, casters, flake or lobworm. I then left the baited areas alone for an hour or more, it’s most important to do this as I reckon the fish will feed with more confidence. I wasn’t in a hurry to get started as I had two days and a night in front of me. With everything sorted out I went off to the cabin for breakfast.

Smoke Screening Fish

As I walked back to the cabin I spotted a smoke screening fish in front of some reed mace, smoke screening is a name given by the late Richard Walker to describe carp disturbing the bottom as it feeds, in doing so it creates an area of cloudy muddy water. I watched the fish move from rooting, to an upright position. A good carp, and there were two other fish in the area. I decided breakfast could wait, making my way back to my car I collected an 11foot rod and centre pin reel with 12lb line and a box of red worms. I tied on a size 6 hook. Crouching down I slowly moved to where I had spotted the carp, it was still feeding, crouching lower behind some reed mace I watched the fish with bated breath, with trembling hands I put 4 worms on the hook, a bunch of these often proves more attractive than a single lobworm. On hands and knees I crept along the footpath to a gap, a big cloud of coloured water appeared five feet in front of me, I could make out the shadow of a fish; the bait was dropped into the muddied water a few inches in front of the fish. This was as close an encounter with a fish as is possible, I controlled my breathing as if I was on a rifle range, trying to control my heart beat which must have increased considerably, the fish slowly moved forward.

The line twitched, and then twitched again, the line moved away from the margins, setting the hook, the water swirled and boiled as the rod tip was pulled down savagely, my reel screamed like a scolded cat as the fish tried to put as much distance as possible between me and itself. The fight was on. Though I have caught literally hundreds of carp like this I am still amazed at the speed and power of a carp hooked in the shallows. I reckon forty yards of line went in that first rush. Fifteen minutes later I had a mirror carp in the landing net. I reckon this is the most exciting fishing one can experience. As I sat having breakfast, my mind as it often does, went back to the far off days of the 1950’s when we often stalked fish in the margins.

A few days later I was joined at the waterside by Jon King, as I was helping him to get tackled up, I heard my buzzer bleep, moving off to my swim. I heard a crack then fell in a heap with pain searing through my body. It was my left leg; I headed off to the hospital where I was told I had torn the muscles. After getting it strapped up I was told to rest, within three days my leg from knee to foot was black and blue. Sadly no fly fishing but I could sit beside a lake and try to catch some good fish, but three days later I had to return home. I then visited my local health centre to be told "It could take several weeks of rest, perhaps months" Not the best of news.

Rudd and Perch

A week later I was on different water with Anthony Morris for a two day session where Anthony had some good fish including a 2-6-0 rudd. My best fish was a 2-9-0 perch. After a few days at home I was off again with Martin Salisbury who caught rudd of 1-12-0 1-14-0 and 1-15-0 Both Anthony and Martin were extremely helpful in helping my get to the waterside, and my tackle to my swim while I hobbled along. On my third session at the waterside I put in five droppers of red gentles and chopped worms, on both of my Avon rods I attached an LG shot baiting the size 6 hook with a large lobworm, one bait was fished close in, the other into deep water. An hour later the bite indicator moved upwards, the strike connecting with a good fish. A few minutes I spotted the dorsal fin of a good perch which was soon netted. It weighed 3-1-0 in excellent condition. Martin shot some excellent pictures.

Tench on the float

After catching that good perch and Martin his rudd we moved off to fish a mature gravel pit of about 15 acres in the Cotswolds, I suppose it was mid morning when we started fishing for tench in bright sunshine, though heavy showers had been forecast. My hook baited with 4 red gentles or lobworms, sometime a cocktail of worm and corn, fished two rod lengths out from the bank. I had my first tench within twenty minutes an old black fish about 4lbs. After several hours I had taken a small perch and 7 tench the best at 5-15-8, also a bream of 8-1-0. Sadly I lost several fish in a dense bed of spiked water-milfoil. In my book there is nothing that beats catching fish with nicely balanced float tackle, except a wild brown trout on a dry fly.

Within thirty minutes of the bites ceasing, the rain sheeted down, it was some of the heaviest rain I have ever experienced in the UK. Fifteen minutes later we were fishing in the gloom as the sky turned a greyish colour with patches of purple and masses of black clouds,I heard the rumble of thunder, then a flash of lightning. Winding in our tackle and covering our bait and groundbait with a ground sheet, we hurried off to a local waterside tavern for dinner. Back at the lake the storm raged overhead sounding like a war front with the rumble of thunder, and flashes of lightning? I said to Martin “Bugger the fishing tonight lets get our heads down” Safely tucked up in our sleeping bags we listened to the storm as the rain was hammering the thin tin roof.
A Misty Dawn

The alarm on my phone went off at 7 o’clock rubbing my eyes I peered out of the window; a thick mist covered the lake. The impression I got was as many writers have said before “It’s A Tench Fishers Dawn”. Martin was already off fishing, with all the rain during the night it was going to be very wet walking and pushing my way through the long grass and bushes, so I pulled on waterproof trousers, jacket and boots then made my way to the swim we had fished the previous day.

My swim was fizzing, it looked as if I had baited with a box of Alka Seltzer tablets, though Martin Salisbury would describe it as a Jacuzzi. There were patches of bubbles from the size of a pin head to a five pence. Martin was fishless, I thought how I can fail, but I did. Having tried different baits and getting nothing, just lots of slight movements on the float. The penny dropped, these fish have notice the baited hook doesn’t move like the free offering. Remember tench usually Hoover up their food rather than picking up single food items with their lips. I needed to counteract the weight of the hook.

I reckon the answer was bait with some black casters, I said to Martin “Do you have any casters in your bait box” he answered “Yes” I baiting with 4 red gentles and 2 black casters, I dropped it into the mass of bubbles, a minute or two later the float disappeared; soon fish number one was being unhooked. In five casts I had five good bites, five nice tench to nearly six pounds. After a break of about ten minutes I had three more fish. Martin broke his duck with a nice male tench of 5-1-0 which certainly tested his tackle. The idea had worked. I well remember many years ago when the fish got finicky with sweet corn I would pick out the inside of the corn and replace it with a piece of polystyrene to counteract the weight of the hook. When you’re having problems with finicky bites, think about counteracting the weight of your hook. After a couple more fish, I couldn’t get bite. An hour later with no bites or bubbles, it was time to move on. Why not go out and target the tench.

Martin James Fishing