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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


12/11/2015 - My Visits To The Rivers Wye and Hampshire Avon

Hooked up to my first fish, note the wonderful action of the rod


Knowing I have problems these days with my health, making it difficult to visit various river venues, including having floaters in my left eye, best way to describe it as a spiders web making it difficult to read or tie on a hook. two of my friends Albert Proctor and John Rowland invited me to join them on the River Wye for a few days fishing, they would target the barbel while I would try to catch some chub. As often happens the conditions are not always what we wish for, the River Wye was extremely low with masses of leaves adding to our problem and of course a few obnoxious canoeists who feel they can spoil other peoples enjoyment, in one instance using a swim as a toilet. With several weeks’ notice before our visit, I got to sorting out food for breakfast and tea each day, having had lots of experience of cooking in the wilderness I planned a varied diet, breakfast was served each morning at 0900hrs included bacon, sausages, eggs, mushrooms, beans and tomatoes with wholemeal bread and butter with tea or coffee, John would follow up his breakfast with a whole packet of biscuits, but there was no flab on John he was a fit looking guy who also worked out in the gym. I had my normal breakfast of porridge, muesli or toast. Tea time was 1700hrs the menu would be any of the following, sweet and sour chicken with rice, beef curry and rice, meat pie vegetables with a thick beef gravy, gammon steaks, fried onions, mushrooms, eggs and fried potatoes were also on the menu. So my friend could enjoy the fishing experience I done all the chores, making sure they had a snack with tea or coffee at the water’s edge.

Chub and Barbel

John and Albert were like brothers, often sitting shoulder to shoulder, both catching their target fish the barbel, also chub on a variety of baits, pellets, gentles, sausage sizzle and cheese, no doubt they had a secret bait which I didn’t get to see. We had a lot of laughs along the way, especially after a late night fishing session, as they fished I would often sit and listen to some jazz music, on my birthday John gave me a much needed present a magazine, I think it was titled How to catch coarse fish or something similar, though it didn’t really help me. What did help was the present from Albert of some Abel nippers, it seemed as if Albert had got fed up with me saying, “These bloody nippers are useless” the new ones even cut through braid, like a hot knife through butter. Thank you Albert, for the last couple of days Tony Booker joined us equipped to fish for pike, but sadly conditions were far from suitable so we spent most of the time drinking tea and discussing the fishing we were going to experience on the Hampshire Avon, including sampling some of Mary’s fruit cake. During the last evening the river started to rise then colour up, I remember saying to Albert and John “This rise of water should have happened at the start of the week”, they both said in unison “Don’t worry Martin it’s been a great week” in which they had barbel to 7lbs 14 ounces IMG 1665 so they were more than happy. Many thanks John and Albert for all the laughs, your help and company was great.

Hampshire Avon Awaits Me.

As Albert and John headed off north, Tony and myself headed off to his home in Buckinghamshire via Tony’s local tackle shop where I met Kevin also a few of the customers, after a welcome mug of tea then being relieved of some twenty pound notes we said our good byes, arriving at Tony’s house around teatime and meeting Lorrain for the first time, what a lovely lady, so helpful and friendly, after a long awaited shower , it was time for dinner, salmon and all the trimmings, followed by homemade fruit pie and custard. Though I offered to do the chores like washing up it was forbidden, Tony said “We have a dish washer” I couldn’t win. After a good night’s sleep I was up and about around 0800hrs feeling fresh and ready for anything that Tony had planned. After breakfast we went off to visit one of his club still waters, then the River Colne which certainly did look great with all the overhanging trees, it was straight out of Crabtree with dozens of good looking swims inviting you to target a chub with a chunk of crust or piece of cheese, I was told chub run to a good size, at every turn of the river it seemed to look even more inviting. Back home we sat down to another great meal pork etc. cooked to perfection, including a nice desert.

Heading Off To The Majestic Hampshire Avon

At around 0600hrs I was up and dressed for an early start in the hope of beating some of the traffic on the dreaded M25 then the M23, as we got onto the M23 Tony said “The traffic wasn’t so bad after all” travelling along the M23 I passed several familiar spots as we got closer to our venue. I though back to the 1950’s when I often visited the area to fish and shoot, thinking of my dear friend and gentleman Col Crow, which also reminded me of Dick Walker, just upstream of Ibsley Bridge on the old Bournemouth road Walker had a caravan within a hundred yards of the river courtesy of a local farmer no doubt negotiated by Col Crow. Another great shot of the time was Major Archie Coats, I doubt if there was a better shot when it come to the number of wood pigeons bagged in a day, Coats was reported as shooting over 400 birds in a day, obviously he would have been welcome by all the farmers in Hampshire. Tony had booked accommodation in the Bull at Downton, In 1932 Flight Lieutenant L A Parker, late RAF, becoming proprietor remaining until 1950 Flight Lieutenant Parker, known as ‘The Skipper’, was an acknowledged fishing expert. His classic text book, ‘This Fishing – or Angling Arts and Artifices’, was first published in 1948 by Cleaver Hume. established its reputation as a fishing hotel. Anglers from the four corners of the UK who fished the Avon in those days, will turn misty eyed at the mention of the ‘Board Room’, where they would talk about the days adventures into the early hours –The Skipper having retired in May 1950 then moved down the Avon to Bickton Mill. He died on 3 February 1959 at the age of 72. His book This Fishing or Angling Arts & Artifices is a great read containing lots of information including the subject of water temperatures and their effect on our fish. I have 2 copies a first edition which is never read, my second edition is well thumbed, has given me lots of inspiration over the past 60 odd years and still does to this day. When the Skipper retired, Edmund Harris was proprietor up to 1959 when The Bull was taken over by Peter and Mary Scott- Newman.’ What a great character Scott-Newman was, even today he is sorely missed by the few older anglers alive today. If you’re looking to fish the famous Hampshire Avon I say “Join the London Anglers Association” Izaac Walton House 2A Hervey Park Road London E17 6L J Telephone 020 8520 7477 E-mail [email protected] then book a room at the Bull for a few nights, after an excellent breakfast you head off to the Britford fishery just a handful of miles away where you will meet River Keeper Stuart Wilson who in my book is one of the top river keepers in the business today Tel 07847-10 9153. At the end of the day return to the Bull and enjoy a meal and drink while doing so relive your day on this Majestic river.

Fishing The Middle Avon

Tony and myself would be fishing the middle reaches of the Avon, after breakfast I called in at the local bakery for some fresh rolls also two pieces of bread pudding which would be enjoyed at lunchtime with a mug of tea. As we drove to the fishery with low light level, light wind with mist low over the fields, conditions looked perfect, I said to Tony “It’s a Roach Fishers Day” after driving along several small lanes and farm tracks we arrived at our venue. Today I was going back down memory lane, as I quickly put together a Richard Walker M1V Avon rod, matched with a 1953 Mitchell 300 reel still working perfect after all those years, the spool filled with 6lbs BS Gamma line to which I tied on a Pallatrax size 4 barbless hook using a Palomar knot, then pinched on an LG shot finally impaling a thumb size piece of crust on the hook. As I moved slowly towards the water, Tony said “I reckon you will get a chub in about three minutes” With an underhand flick the crust baited hook dropped beneath the overhanging branches of a far bank tree sinking slowly out of sight, within a minute I could see the bow in the line start to tighten, the strike connected with a fish that put a nice curve in the rod soon my first chub of the session about 3lbs was netted. After a fried egg sandwich and mug of tea I went off to fish several more swims catching 3 more chub around the 3lbs mark, while Tony targeted the pike and perch with lures getting two follows from below a weir but they didn’t want to eat. After lunch we both tried various swims, I didn’t get a bite but it was most enjoyable experience, just before darkness we both had a boil in the bag meal before fishing on until late in the evening before heading off to the Bull.

Day 2 Another Avon Beat

We started off walking the beat covering around a mile of water with several exciting looking swims, without doubt the best area I spotted was a far bank swim, no doubt it would have been possible to put on a big lead then cast across to the other side of the river but this isn’t my scene, I like to fish areas where I can creep in and fish just a few rod lengths away. I pointed out to Tony a big raft then a pool below which was another big raft, the whole area screamed chub. Tony then told me of an experience early in the season when fishing a waggler float set up close to the far bank when he hooked a big chub eventually losing the fish, Tony is a far better angler than I am, it’s certainly not for me. Making my way back upstream I come across a nice chub swim deep water under the bank with lots of cover known as “Mary’s Swim”. A few yards further downstream the water flow cut across the river towards the far bank taking a lot of the leaves and weed, leaving a large slow moving stretch of water. As we walked back to the vehicle I thought about the swim, then decided I’d leger a chunk of smelly cheese at the top of the swim, after about an hour with nothing to show for my effort except lots of floating weed and leaves. I moved downstream into the slower water switching to stret-peg using a 15 foot rod with a centre pin reel using gentles as bait. Though I fished hard well into the darkness, all I had to show for my efforts were the odd minnow plus lots of bites from these little fish nipping the end of the gentles. Meanwhile Tony fishing further upstream didn’t fare any better. It was around 2000hrs back at the vehicle, we were greeted by Reg who suggested we called in for some of Mary’s famous fruit cake, it turned out to be a small world as some three years ago I’d interviewed Reg for my weekly radio show. As we sat talking Reg showed me a cane rod that he’d had refurbished, it would certainly have made a lovely chub rod, also Mary’s fruit cake was as good as everyone had told me. I was in luck as Mary gave Tony and myself two slices of cake to take away for our next day’s fishing.

Day 3 Another Avon beat

Our last day on the Avon was spent on another beat, which was partially on opposite bank from the day before, away in the distance I could just make out the oak and beech trees I’d seen from the opposite bank the day before which looked so good for chub, it was a long walk but I was determined to reach the swims with their big rafts of weed, foam and other rubbish. After crossing numerous stiles I eventually arrived perspiring and feeling rather exhausted, twenty minutes or more I sat looking at the bottom of the two swims watching the water flow trying to work out where I should cast my chunk of crust so it would be swept under the raft in an area I thought a chub would be waiting for food to be pushed into its lair. Lightly pinched on an LG shot six inches from a size 4 Pallatrax barbless hook then baited with a large chunk of crust, making a long cast upstream and well out into the river I held the rod high guiding the bait to the chosen spot then dropped the rod tip as the bait got to the edge of the raft where I thought a chub might be, within a minute I felt a light pluck pushing the rod forward I watched the slack get taken at the same time the tip pulled slowly round, the answering strike connected with what felt like a heavy fish. Five or six minutes later I netted my prize, as I lifted the net I realised I’d got a good chub, swinging the net ashore then laying it on my unhooking mat I got my first glimpse of the fish, “That’s a five pounder” I thought weighing the fish I got a reading of 5lbs 9 ounces, having pegged the net in the water I called Tony with the news then sat for a minute or two trying to decide if I wanted to make the long walk back to the vehicle for my camera, then though “I’ve got more than enough pictures of 5lb plus chub” then released the fish. An hour later I had a nice perch around a pound and a quarter on two lobworms. I fished on until about 1400hrs before heading off for some lunch, Tony was having a good day trotting, catching dace, chub, gudgeon and grayling, the man has great float fishing skills which I admire. After lunch I made the long trek back to my swim, though I fished both swims hard for several hours all I had to show for my efforts was a chub about 3lbs. In the darkness with a strong wind and rain in my face I made my way back to the vehicle. We both agreed it had been a great three days even though the fishing was hard, it was immensely enjoyable with a great companion. On the way home we stopped off at a pub, it was 1945hrs for some food to be told ”We stop serving at 1930hrs”, no wander there were about six customers in the place. Near home Tony called into his local Chinese for a take away so we didn’t go hungry.

Fishing Tony’s Waters

The next day after breakfast we went off to a gun shop where I purchased a new Minigap cal. 8mm pistol with a load of ammunition for scaring away cormorants, it will also frighten off the poachers. For today’s rivers keepers having a starting pistol on the river bank, is as important as any other item of equipment used during his work. Back home we put some tackle in the vehicle for fishing the River Colne, on the way to the river we stopped off for some lunch in a local café. It was a nightmare on the river, the rain sheeting down didn’t bother me, but the Signal crayfish certainly did, another immigrant originally released by the restaurant trade, now they are causing major problems in many waterways, in the end we gave up on trying to catch a fish returning home. The last day was spent in Kevin’s tackle shop, then onto a private estate where we both float fished for roach, rudd, perch and tench, though my float moved across the surface a few inches that all the movement I had catching the smallest perch I ever caught, Tony had a small rudd, also a nice looking common carp estimated around 14lbs on float fishing gear using a grain of corn with two casters, he also lost another fish. Saturday morning we left for Lancashire it was horrid driving conditions nonstop heavy rain for most of the trip with gale force wind. After arriving at my home Tony had a well-deserved break and a good meal before heading off home. Thank you Tony and Lorrain for being great company and looking after me, you’re a great pair of Diamonds.


Chub caught within a two minutes of fishing

Mary's Swim

Albert's best barbel 7lb 14 ounces

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Martin James Fishing
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