With some great fishing literally within walking distance and much more within a 15 minute drive I rarely venture far for my angling. However, the opening months of 2002 have seen me largely eschewing my usual haunts on the lower/middle Kennet and travelling just a little further afield in search of fish.
It all started on the first weekend of the year with an IAC fish-in organised by Geoff on the Itchen. Geoff wrote at length about IAC fish-ins in February so I won't report the trip at length here. Suffice to say the grayling fishing was everything Geoff promised it would be. Before I arrived my personal best stood at 2lb 1oz (my only ever 2lb grayling), my first fish of the day bettered this by 5oz, by lunchtime it stood at 2lb 10oz and by the time Paul and I drove off the fishery in near pitch darkness my best stood at an ounce under 3lb and my lifetime tally of 2lb Grayling stood at 10!
This really was sport of the highest order. All fish were tempted by single or double maggot and in the fast currents with hard fighting and twisting fish, as many grayling managed to wriggle off the hook as were banked. So the Harrison and Purist really worked over-time and I ended the day nursing a sore wrist and elbow!
Within 24 hours of returning I was planning another trip to pastures new. An e-mail from Mervyn inviting Paul and I to an estate water on the upper Kennet the following weekend was quickly replied to in the affirmative. I have fished this water once before - last winter in the height of the floods and was keen to have a crack at it under 'normal' conditions particularly as the memory of a large, lost, roach still burned bright!
Last year the carriers had fished well and I was keen to explore some of the back-streams I didn't get round to fishing last time. By lunchtime though, it became transparent we'd made a 'wrong call'. I'd had a solitary dace and a 4lb jack which had taken my double maggot and had been hooked in the 'scissors'. Paul was bite-less. Obviously the fish had been in temporary residence last year - seeking sanctuary from the floods.
The afternoon was spent exploring the main river. Most anglers here had enjoyed good sport - Mervyn was typical of many with a good bag of nice chub. Alas, Paul and I still struggled!! Eventually, with barely an hour of daylight remaining I dropped into a swim which started to produce. Feeding heavily, I had frantic sport in the fading light - a couple of dozen dace - a few respectable ones - a dozen roach to a pound, 3 chub, a muscular brownie and countless gudgeon came at a fish a chuck until it was too dark to see my float. I packed up ruefully, cursing my luck for not finding this swim sooner. I'd at least I had something to smile about - Paul was still bemoaning the loss of a huge chub as we drove off the fishery - last as usual!
I didn't have any further trips planned 'til February - a couple of 'organised' fish-ins on the river just below Hungerford. I hadn't reckoned on how mild the weather would turn however...
Returning home on the penultimate Friday in January, noticing the air temperature at a balmy 16§C and with the river fining down nicely after some heavy rain, everything was set up for a winter barbelling session. I had one of those feelings of supreme confidence that the fish would be feeding. Within an hour of stepping off my train from Paddington I'd scoffed down my dinner and was heading across darkened fields into the face of a stiff, mild southerly breeze with heavy rain spattering my spectacles. I was off barbel fishing for the first time since the end of November. These 'spur of the moment' trips are what happen when you live so close to the river!
I was soon settled in the dry under my pegged down, Brotel. Action was almost instantaneous; half an hour after casting out my single halibut pellet, flavoured with monster crab, I had that unmistakable tug of a barbel take. My confidence had been duly rewarded. This first fish fought like a Trojan and twice nearly had me in as I lost my footing on the wet, muddy bank. At last it was netted and I let it recover for a minute before unhooking. A short but very stocky fish it weighed 8lb 7oz.
An hour later and I had a fish a pound heavier on the bank. This was beginning to look like a 'Red Letter' session. Unfortunately, as has happened before in this swim, the chub arrived. I waited a further hour for the next bite - poised in anticipation over the rod as it twitched and gently quivered with 'liners' but when a hittable bite did develop it proved to be a 4.5lb chub. Two more of similar size quickly followed and that was it. I fished to midnight and beyond without another touch and when the rain eased off I took the hint, packed up in relatively dry conditions, and was home, happy, in 20 minutes.
And so it was back to the upper Kennet for a couple more fish-ins. The venue was one I was familiar with from previous IAC 'Grayling Days' but grayling were of only secondary interest - especially after the Itchen. No, dace - and big ones - were my quarry.
The first trip at the start of February was fished in a howling gale. High winds brought branches crashing down in some swims and a couple of trees were blown into the river during our time on the venue. It didn't make for the easiest of fishing. And when the high winds were accompanied by driving rain for the last couple of hours of daylight it made things distinctly unpleasant. I had a number of grayling, a couple around a pound and a half - in size I didn't even bother weighing on the Itchen!! But of the dace, there was no sign.
Three weeks later was a completely different story! In conditions much more clement, I was determined to spend the majority of my time chasing the dace in the slower reaches. However, I instantly found good numbers of grayling. All morning I worked my way round the promising stretches, carriers which led off the fishery into the main river - perfect dace redds. By lunchtime I'd caught more grayling than most, but still no dace. I was beginning to think it wouldn't be my day: I'd fished all the swims that had produced dace on my previous visits and not had a bite.
Still - I hadn't exhausted all the water yet and by early afternoon, still dace-less, I dropped into a swim which looked promising. The swim was in the middle of a straight run (probably why I'd ignored it in the past) but the carrier widened and slowed a fraction at this point. It looked liked it was worth investing some time here. 20 minutes later and although still bite-less I had a real sense something was about to happen. Similar to my barbel session a month earlier I had an intuition, no, a certainty, I was about to catch. Strange, as I couldn't (and still can't) point to anything to back up my sudden surge of confidence.
I scaled down to a 20 and my next trot through, held the single bronze maggot against the flow at the end of the swim, the float jabbed a fraction and I lifted into a fish. A minute later and I could see what I took to be a nice roach coming up in the clear, shallow water. As I slipped the net under it though I realised it was a case of mistaken identity - this was no roach - this was a dace and a huge one. The scales confirmed my suspicions; half an ounce above the magical pound mark. My third 1lb dace and my 2nd from this venue. I was perturbed to note, however, that the fish had at one time escaped the attentions of a cormorant, but the scar was an old one and she was, in otherwise, excellent condition.
I continued here for another hour without a bite before giving in to the urge to explore further. I vowed to return for the last hour of daylight however.
A couple of hours later and I was back. Wandering round the rest of the fishery had produced a few more grayling and a couple of nuisance rainbows but no more dace. Now with the sun setting and with a good half pint of maggots left, I arrived back at the scene of my earlier triumph. The next hour was one of pure, back of the neck tingling, magic. Five more dace were brought to the net; a couple of males, enormous for their sex and as rough as sandpaper in their readiness to breed, weighed 12oz and 13oz. Added to this 3 more females; which at 13oz, 14.5oz and 15oz had me breathless with excitement especially as I was convinced the bigger two would also make a pound.
Paul complained later that I seemed to spend all afternoon ringing him on the mobile to announce another big dace. (I think I phoned him twice!). However in catching 6 dace with a combined weight of 5lb 4oz I hope he excused me my excitement!!