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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


16/03/2016 - Kennet was Perfection


I’ve always enjoyed the last few days of the coarse fishing season more so when I’m fishing rivers like the Kennet, Avon, Stour Thames and Wensum, though of course these rivers are not as good today as in the past, often caused by predation of cormorants and signal crayfish, then we have more urbanisation including building on flood plains, water authorities destroying rivers and stream through water abstraction then allowing the heavy rain fall of autumn and winter to disappear downstream to the ocean, rather than spend some of their massive profits on new reservoirs which would enhance the countryside and its wildlife, also offer many social activities to various interests from bird watching, angling, sailing and wind surfing to name a few at the same time offering employment.

March 12th Dave Hurst and myself left Lancashire around 0830hrs arriving at the Berkshire Arms in Midgham around 1300hrs where we’d booked a twin room for two night, the accommodation was good as was the service with a friendly welcome from the staff. We then met up with Colin Cully before driving to a nice stretch of the River Kennet, driving into the car park, I got my first view of the river which immediately told me I was in chub territory, though back in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s my thoughts would have been roach often trotting with bread flake in those days given average conditions I would have expected a dozen pound plus roach, but not today. I was talking to one elderly London angler who had fished the river back in the years mentioned, as we reminisced about the great days of the past, he pointed across the river then said “I fished a match from that swim catching 21 roach for a weight of 24lb 6 ounces” I could see the smile on his face as he told the story. That wasn’t a one off catch we had many days like that.

An hours or so later having been shown some of the swims by Colin, I chose to fish the right bank, while David fished the left bank looking downstream, as I walked downstream it was nice to see after a long season the banks still had a good covering of grass, the banks hadn’t been destroyed, there were lots of the trees, bushes, reeds and sedges, just an odd item of litter, though there were plenty of plastic bottles and cans no doubt thrown into the water by nameless morons out on their country walks rather than taking their rubbish back home with them. In fact on the last day I walked the length collecting a large bin liner full of bottles and cans which ended up at the local council refuse site.

Today I chose to fish a small bay with about six feet of slack water with some large trees at the water’s edge some of the branches trailing in the water, ideal I thought for chub, it should have produced but I never had any sign of interest, after five hours without a bite, having tried cheese paste, bread crust and flake feeding with crumb as an attracter, fishing an hour in the darkness I ended my session fishless. No doubt a better angler might have done to lot better than me, I couldn’t complain when fishing a delightful stretch of water with moorhens, coots, robins, long tailed tits and a tree creeper for company. David fishing a swim on the opposite bank hooked a good fish which immediately went into some tree roots from an old oak tree with roots going deep into the water. Back in our accommodation David went down for a beer while I had a fresh brew in our room.

Chub Feed on my Second Day

It was 0830hrs before either of us were awake, after a brew and shower we went down for breakfast, David had a full English, I had a round of toast with a mug of tea, then it as off to the river, with only one angler on the bank we had a choice of swims, I walked most of the beat putting a small handful of crumb into every likely looking spot, about a mile downstream a row of beech and sycamore trees with the odd willow and alder lined much of the bank, checking the water depth a foot from the sedge lined bank I found some eight feet of slow moving water over gravel, three rod lengths out I had some medium paced water over gravel with lengths of water crowfoot, checking the water temperature I got a reading of 44 degrees F. My swim was some twenty yards in length ending with a large alder bush in the water with trailing branches from one of the bankside trees. This I thought would be my main area of attack, I then baited the swim with a few handfuls of crumb, my feed doesn’t allow the fish to get any food but attracts them into the area looking for the promised food in my case it would have a hook in it. Should you be feeding a swim but find on catching you have bits of bread in the mouth of the fish, you haven’t pounded your mash enough to get rid of all the lumps. When your feed is right the mouth of the fish should be clean. For the next couple of hours I roamed the banks casting a bait into every like l looking spot catching the odd trout or small chub, every thirty minutes or so I would go off downstream adding more feed which is really an attracter not a food item.

At 1300hrs I decided to have lunch, a boil in the bag meal of bacon, potatoes and beans in tomato sauce, I’d just put the bag in a mess tin of boiling water for eight minutes, I can recommend these meals, no plates or washing up, just a spoon, when finished the bag goes in your rubbish bag, the water used to make your coffee or tea and washing your spoon. Collecting everything I would need for a long session in the bottom swim including water, Jetboiler, tea, milk, mug and spoon including a cheese sandwich, I was off down river, hoping in hope no one had gone into my swim, thankfully it was free. My baits were crust, flake and cheese paste, with lots of crumb to hopefully keep the fish interested. Tackle consisted of an 11’ 6” Avon rod with a very soft action, chub hate resistance, the softer the rod tip the better chance of success, even then I will often use a dough bobbin, a small fixed spool reel with 6 lb. breaking strain line to which I attached a size 4 barbless hook with a Palomar knot, my weight would be 1, 2, 3 or more LG shot lightly pinched on the line completed my tackle, the hook link would depend on the bait in use, often with cheese paste fished in the slower water I wouldn’t have any weight on the line. I suppose I’d fished about an hour when I had my first take a slight knock on the rod tip then a slow pull round resulting in a chub about 3lbs, in the next half an hour I had two more fish of similar size, all were released well upstream, I then got a small barbel about 4lbs, then pricked a fish. For the next hour perhaps longer I never had a touch, I decided to move a few yards downstream, it was good move, fifteen minutes or so I had the first of four good fish caught in a twenty minute period, all 4lb plus fish the best weighed 4lb 14 ounces all caught on cheese flavoured crust which had been in the freezer for several months, I was more than pleased with my effort. Even more so to know I still have my water craft to find the fish, at 79 I often forget things, but thankfully not the important one in life. Again I had another quiet spell probably lasting half an hour or more, so I made a fresh brew then sat back watching some long tailed tits in the far bank alder tree. With the light fading I retrieved my tackle then added an extra LG shot then baited with another cube of crust, casting out I dropped the baited hook into the more powerful flow allowing it to slow bump down the swim after about five yards I got a savage take then set the hook into what felt like a good fish hoping it wasn’t a barbel or trout, a few minutes of give and take I eventually got the fish into the slower water then up towards the surface getting my first glimpse of the fish, saying to myself as I pulled the fish towards the net “That a bloody good chub” soon it was in the mesh taking out the size 4 barbless hook I lowered the net into the water while I got my scales and weigh bag out, having zeroed the scales, lifting the net I transferred the fish from net to plastic bag, on the scales I got a reading of 5lb 2 ounces. That’s probably worth a picture I thought then called David his phone just kept ringing until I got the usual message, I was to learn later he had left his phone in the car. I asked myself do I need another pic of a five pound chub? then decided to release the fish upstream then try to catch another chub. Ten minutes later I had another fish about 3lbs quickly followed by another fish in the 4lb class then a couple of chub around 3lbs, Time for another brew, I tried cheese paste, half an hour or so later with no bites I changed to flake on a two foot tail catching a couple of chub close to the bank in some eight feet of water just in front of some sedges, both weighing around 2lbs. It was time to illuminate the rod tip, sitting in the darkness all was silent, not even a rustle in the undergrowth, for an hour the tip didn’t move then I got a light tap, picking up the rod I pushed it forward allowing a bow in the line which I could clearly see in the beam of light, as the bow tightened I set the hook, then a fish swirled on the surface, I cursed knowing it was a trout, eventually it was netted a fish about 2lbs. I fished on for a while without any more action then ended what had been a very good day.

Day Three back on the Kennet with a Surprise Pike

I suppose it was about 0900hrs when David and myself met up with Colin for our last day of the coarse fishing season, after calling into Waitrose for some bread and fresh wholemeal rolls, we went off to a local café for breakfast, today I chose poached eggs on toast which I must say were very good, while Colin and David had bacon and eggs rolls with coffee. An hour later we were on the banks of this delightful Berkshire river Kennet which starts life in Wiltshire, David was having a day trotting, while Colin and myself would be roving, I found a nice looking swim for David with sedges down the margin with some six to eight feet of water, a swim that in past years would be considered the perfect roach swim, hopefully today a roach or two might be present, As I roamed around catching the odd small chub, I met another angler from Surrey who was trotting what looked like a good swim who lost either a big chub or small barbel. Around 1300 hrs Colin and myself had some buttered rolls and tea, the Colin left for a long drive to Yorkshire, I went off to fish a swim that Colin said had never seen an angler fish, a large bush growing from the bank had much of its growth in the water creating what I would describe as a great swim for chub or barbel, hopefully the former, baiting with crust I sat holding the rod, while watching a robin taking meal worms I’d scattered on the ground, as I peered in about three feet of gin clear water I spotted a foot from the bank a pike estimated around 8lbs slowly moving forward no doubt having spotted something to eat under the overhanging vegetation for some five minutes I had a great view of this perfect underwater predator, it then moved out of sight, reappearing five minutes later, that fish is for catching I thought, the only bait I had that could be attractive was lobworms, bring in my tackle I removed the LG shot, then baited with two big lobworms which I’d had for three weeks without using any. Minutes later the pike was back slowly moving at a snail pace from left to right, I quietly lowered the baited hook into the water two feet in front of the fish, when the fish got within a foot of the bait, I jigged the worms up and down, suddenly the fish was off the starting block grabbing the worms I felt a powerful pull on the rod, there was no need to strike, leaping up I watched in awe as the fish powered away from the bank into the fast water flowing, my reel clutch creamed like the proverbial scolded cat as line disappeared, ten minutes or more the pike was winning this tournament, I was a spectator. Then the fish made a mistake as it started swimming upstream then swinging into towards the bank and slack water coming to rest close to the reeds, thankfully I was able to drag myself and net upstream through the shallow water, reeds and overhanging branches. Within six feet of the fish I could exert some pressure slowly moving the fish downstream, then for some unknown reason the fish buried its head in the reeds, after a lot of prodding and moving the net around I got lucky as the fish turned straight into the net, where it thrashed around for several minutes but eventually I dragged it over the shallow water and weeds where I could get hold of the mesh. It was mine. A big thank you to Colin for the deep mesh net, no way could I have got the fish into my shallow net. This fish was bigger than I thought, probably around 12lbs, when released it didn’t dash off but went and sulked close to the reeds in the quiet water. Not the biggest pike I‘ve caught on worms, back in the 1950’s Tony How, Brian Holloway, Billy Race and myself caught many low double figure pike from the River Beult when fishing lobworms for winter bream when the river was high and coloured.

Having returned the fish, I had a boil in the bag meal of sausage and beans followed by fruit salad which was quite delightful, on the advice of Colin I then went off to fish another stretch of river, during my time on the Kennet I couldn’t work out why I wasn’t catching in many of the chub swims. I reckon I’d found the answer, a lot of chub have started shoal up for spawning later as I found out, arriving at the new section I had a slow walk upstream looking for fish, conditions were perfect clear water with bright sunshine. After some five hundred yards I come across a long slow moving stretch of water where I could virtually count the pebbles, moving slowly upstream I spotted chub between one and two pounds, not two or three fish but dozens, arriving at a large oak tree I climbed up onto an overhanging branch then dropped in some pieces of flake about the size of a fifty pence, I doubt if any of those bits of bread got far downstream before being taken.

A dozen or more fish

Back on the ground I moved well out into the field then made my way upstream keeping in the shadow of a big tree before moving close to the water’s edge then kneeling down, with just 1 LG on the line two feet from the hook I baited with a piece of flake then let it slowly drift downstream, within a minute I’d caught my first fish about a pound. I thought I would have to wait while, but no my next cast I got a fish of similar size. In some three quarters of an hour I’d caught fourteen chub the best about one and a half pounds. Thirty minutes with no more fish, I climbed the tree looking down into the water, I didn’t see any sign of fish. As mentioned seeing those fish all shoaled up told me the reason I wasn’t catching in those lovely looking chub spots.

A Good Fish On My Last Cast

As we were leaving at around 1900hrs for the long drive home, I had about an hour and a half left, after a brew I tidied up the car, stowing my gear to one side, David’s the other side. Earlier in the day I asked Colin about a certain swim being told no one to his knowledge had fished it, yes it was difficult lace to fish, one had to get on hands and knees to reach the spot, one false cast and you would be caught up on the tailing branches, I chose to fish the spot, putting in three good handfuls of mash, I pinched on 4 LG’s six inches from the hook baited with crust. Winding in line until the shot and baited hook were just an inch from the top guide, I worked the rod through the branches then released some line so I could make an underhand cast hopefully getting the bait in the right spot, success first time as the bait trundled downstream to be swept under the overhanging bush, as the light started to fade I sat hoping for a bite, fifteen minutes later I felt a light pluck more like a crayfish, though I knew otherwise, then the rod pulled round an inch, I thought that’s no crayfish as I tightened, nothing, slowly I retrieved the tackle which was a feat in itself. Baiting with another bit of crust I slowly pushed the rod forward then released line allowing the bait and shot to swing like a pendulum of a clock, then made a cast. Half an hour later I got a light pluck by now the light had gone, then a bigger pull at the same time I made a strike feeling myself hooked up to what I thought was a good chub. Now the fun really started I needed to get in position to grab the net and somehow pull it though the undergrowth. Suddenly a voice said “That’s looks like a good fish want any help”? Yes please could you grab my net then move into that gap in the reeds and I will move upstream, I moved forward slow until I was standing in a foot of water then made my way upstream to Chris who was waiting with net in the water, after another minute or so then Chris had a good 4lb plus fish in the net. What a way to end the season I was over the moon catching my best fish on the last cast of the day ending the season on a high. Thanking Chris we made our way upstream to the car park, he went off to Richmond I packed my gear away then sat in the car waiting for David who had caught some thirty plus good dace from a swim well downstream. As we drove off home we agreed it had been a good trip also we had the pleasure of listening to Leicester win their league match against Newcastle.

Sorting and cleaning tackle and other equipment

Today I spent wiping down all my rods, also cleaning the cork handles with washing up liquid brushing with a nail brush, then replacing the rods in their bags before hanging in cupboard, line was stripped off reels, which were cleaned then dried and polished before being put away in cabinet. Tackle and bait bags were scrubbed then put into washing machine for a good cleaning, now hanging in the garage to dry, water proof clothing was given a good wash then hung out to dry. Bait boxes etc were cleaned and stored away, bait still left in the freezer was disposed of, then freezer switched for a good cleaning. Then it will be stocked with fresh bait and bags of fresh mash. It’s now fly fishing time on the river, all I want is some warm south westerly winds a rise in water temperature to encourage some fly hatches, the Grannoms will be the first of the big hatches, though there will be some large dark olives and buzzers.




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Martin James Fishing
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