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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


17/10/2013 - Red Letter Day on London Anglers Association Show Case Fishery at Britford

My passion for the Hampshire Avon started in the early 1950’s, in those far off days it was the Royalty Fishery and Fordingbridge, later on it was Ibsley Ringwood and other venues in the Avon Valley, it wasn’t just the coarse fish but also the brown trout that attracted me to this delightful area of southern England. Recently Dave Hurst of Wigan asked me if I would take him to fish the Avon, I said “No problem just give me some dates” Having got the dates I booked some accommodation at a Travel Lodge which turned out to be ideal at £30-00 a night for two. I then booked a gallon of gentles at John Eadies sports shop Catherine street Salisbury. We had two days fishing on the Britford water, my first job was to record an interview for my At The Water’s Edge series on BBC Radio Lancashire about the fishery and Stuart’s work as a river keeper. After a brew David and myself walked to the downstream end of the fishery where I pointed out various swims , some contained roach or dace others it was chub. David said “I’m living the dream” which started for him many years ago when he watched a TV series Toms River filmed on the Longford Estate water immediately downstream of the Britford beat. As we walked upstream I pointed out some dace on a shallow gravel run below some swaying water crowfoot. I said to David “Those fish are for catching if you don’t spook them “ It was then down on hands and knees as we moved slowly upstream pass the fish. Then sitting quietly behind some nettles and rushes I showed David how to get the fish feeding by feeding in three or four gentles every couple of minutes, fifteen minutes later we had the fish competing for the free offerings. Right lets go and get some gear and have you catching those fish.

                                            Lots of Dace with a Few Grayling

 Back at the car I suggested David tackle up with a centre pin reel 4lbs line matched with a soft action Drennan rod with a size 18 hook to 3lb bottom. Most angler fish a float but in the shallow gin clear water with a depth of about 18 inches I felt the float would spook the fish, I suggested he didn’t use a float but lightly pinch one of the Dinsmore egg shot in BB size on the line 12 inches from the hook. Back at the swim I had David spend five minutes feeding in three or four gentles every minute, soon the fish were back feeding in a frenzy, nice fish probably averaging 8 ounces. I then showed him how to bait the hook with two gentles and with a light swing drop the baited hook lightly on the water. Don’t drop the hook into the water. Cast it like a dry fly so it doesn’t cause a disturbance however small, by laying the hook line and shot on the water it will descend smoothly like a free offering. Ten minutes later David had mastered the correct way and was soon catching a fish every cast. After each fish was caught I had David take it upstream for release which also gave the swim a minute or so a rest which I reckon it’s very important when your fishing shallow water. Having got him into a fish catching mode I went off upstream for a sandwich and brew.


An hour later I made my way downstream with food and drink for David, then I would go and fish the Old River for some chub which I had spotted early in the day. As I walked along the bank of the New River I had a bad fall through not looking where I was going. After being helped up by another angler I took a breather for about fifteen minutes, then leaving my gear leaning on the nearby fence I slowly made my way downstream with David’s lunch. Making my way back upstream I kept feeling dizzy and stumbled a couple of times which got me thinking that I shouldn’t go wading in fact I shouldn’t be on the river. I decided I would go and sit in the car so I collecting my gear on the way and headed off for the car park. Putting my gear away I stretched out on the front seat soon I was quickly asleep not waking up until it was dark when David arrived back from his fishing. Soon he was telling me about how he moved swims then said “I’ve had my best days fishing ever with lot of chub grayling perch with many chub in the 4lb class float fishing with two red gentles on a size 16 hook feeding a few gentles every cast as you showed me”

                                                 Good Food and Drink

David and myself now needed some food, on a previous visit I’d tried the Harvester and similar places. It wasn’t a nice experience, I reckon once visited was more than enough. During my last visit to the Avon I’d been telling one of the assistants at Reeve the bakers shop in Amesbury how difficult it was to find a place that served decent food. The lady said “Visit the Bridge Inn in Upper Woodford Tel 01722 782323 you will certainly enjoy the food” I was impressed with the warm welcome and the interesting menu when we arrived. Some two hours later two very satisfied anglers returned to the Travel Lodge feeling happy and contented. Not only had David enjoyed some great fishing, we had both enjoyed some great food wonderful service and good company. If you’re in the area we can certainly recommend the Bridge Inn at Upper Woodford.

                                              My Red Letter Session

 Next day after a leisurely breakfast in Amesbury, we headed off for the river arriving around 9 o’clock to find just one vehicle in the car I was surprised, standing on the bridge I looked up and downstream I could see one angler, we had most of the river as far as we could see to ourselves. We could fish any swim and not worry about someone spooking the fish. David chose to fish the New River a swim where willows overhung the water on the opposite bank a well-known swim for its roach, ten yards downstream two thirds of the way across the river was a good raft of rubbish I reckon it would be a good for chub. Leaving David I made my way further downstream to a large island which I planned to fish at the back of where most of the main flow went down to the left island, with a narrow stretch of water going down to the right. Most anglers fish light float tackle 4 BB shot float with a size 16 or 18 hook. I’m not saying it’s wrong but it’s not my choice, I chose a 13 foot Avon action rod designed for line of 4 to 7lbs matched with a centre pin reel 4lb gamma line with an Avon float taking 8 BB shot bunched 15 inches from the hook, with a BB lightly pinched on the hook 6 inches from a size 10 Pallatrax hook, It wasn’t going to be two gentles on a tiny hook but a big bunch or a worm should I feel I had some god perch in the swim. These fish would probably give themselves away as they swirled near the surface showing their prickly dorsal fin.


Having got my tackle set sorted, I waded across the river so I could stand close to the far left hand bank giving me better control of the float as it moved downstream, I could also mend the line better in the strong downstream wind guiding the float to where I reckon the fish would be shoaled up and hopefully feeding in confidence. Having made a dozen or more trial trots through the swim until I was happy with the depth and float control, I spent the next half an hour feeding red gentles to draw the fish upstream into my swim where I hoped the fish would feed in confidents. The last thing you want is some spooky chub. Slowly and quietly I made my way back across the river to replenish my supply of gentles. Fifteen minutes later it was time to fish, once again I slowly made my way to far bank swim, baiting with five red gentles I made a cast laying the baited hook gently on the water then holding back the float I watched it like a hawk as it made its way downstream occasionally checking it hard where I had a weed bed allowing the float uninterrupted passage. As the water flow split into two directions the float buried, my answering strike connected with the first fish of the day, minutes later the fish dived into some weed shedding the hook. I then noticed David on the bank watching with interest. He called across “It’s an education watching you control that float” which I took as a compliment, then I suppose after fishing for some 70 years I should know how to float fish a river.


Baiting with fresh gentles I again watched the float make its way downstream, after ten yards the float buried once again I’m fighting a good fish this one was 4lb plus. Releasing the fish it coughed up a dozen or more gentles. In the next dozen or more trots through the swim I had a fish on every cast all between 3lbs and just over 4lbs of course this was only estimating the weights. I then hooked a fish which really did pull the string and bend the stick, several times it tried to get into some tree roots and other rubbish on my right, all would be lost if it succeeded. With well-balanced tackle with a good strong Pallatrax hook I was able to heave the fish clear of the danger every time. After sometime I was able to gain line some line, I felt I was winning this struggle. A few minutes later I had a fish coming to hand a big chub certainly 5lbs plus. I couldn’t get my hand around this fish in a safe way where I could get a firm grip, sticking the rod under my arm I used both hands to grip the fish then made my way back across the river. Laying the fish on the thick grass, I grabbed the scales and weigh bag which were all set up, it weighed 5lb 6 ounces. As I released it in the margins it cough up a load gentles just as all the other fish had done. One reason for having four or more pints of bait. I was now feeling cold wet through as my waders leaked rather badly it was time for a hot drink and a sandwich. Making my way back upstream I passed David who told me he had caught some roach and a couple of chub, the long walk warmed me up. In the car park as I waited for the water to boil, I chatted with Charlie one of the Britford regulars who really does know to fish for the roach. It was interesting to know we both fished hemp on the hook also elderberry, in fact we spent our time discussing roach fishing and some of our experiences with some of the great river roach anglers from the past. It was an interesting lunchtime discussion.

                                                      The Second Half

 After a long walk back downstream I was ready for my second half session also feeling a lot warmer having had a good brew and a sandwich. Loading up my bait bag with fresh gentles I stuffed scales and weigh bag into the top of my waders so they would be handy should I need them. Back in my swim I was able to hang the scales and weigh bag on the branch of an overhanging willow tree so they were close to hand. For fifteen minutes I stood feeding a few gentles every two or three minutes. Baiting my size 10 hook with five gentles I made a gentle cast down and across the stream then allowing the float to slowly move down the swim, five yards it dipped then moved across the flow. Striking I connected with a nice fish, perch I thought by the jagging action on the line and soon a prickly dorsal fin broke the surface a perch pushing 2lbs neatly hooked in the bottom lip. Releasing the fish I made another cast towards the same area, by holding back the float hard at it moved downstream so the bait wasn’t impeded in its movement. A few yards down the swim the float slowly submerged I tightened into another good fish, again a perch pushing 2lbs. This was turning into one of those days that I wouldn’t forget in a long time.

                                                  Hooked Up to a Big One            

 In the next hour I had several good size chub averaging 4lbs, I then hooked a fish which hugged the bottom moving slowly and powerfully downstream, flicking on the ratchet I used a combination of finger pressure and drag to try and control whatever I had hooked. Some five minutes after hooking up to this unseen quarry, the line suddenly went slack. Reeling in I checked the bait to find the gentles were all squashed, not as I thought a foul hooked fish. I didn’t reckon it was a carp or chub, perhaps a barbel though I shall never know. Baiting with fresh gentles I trotted the float downstream suddenly there was a huge boil on the surface as a pike grabbed a fish I’d just hooked. The reel made a whirring noise as line was stripped off the reel, putting as much pressure as possible on the fish I tried to slow down it down, it didn’t work until about twenty thirty yards of line had gone. Then the fish made a mistake moving upstream allowing me to take a bit more control, fifteen minutes perhaps longer it was a battle of give and take but slowly the fish was slowing down I was gaining more line than I was giving. I then got my first glimpse of the fish a pike about 12 to 15lbs slowly I continued to gain line until the fish was within six feet of me, suddenly it shook its head and was gone I was left with a limp line.


Tying on another hook I baited with fresh gentles within seconds of casting out a trout grabbed the bait, it was quickly dragged to hand then unhooked and released. Within minutes I had another trout quickly followed by a third fish. I rested the swim for ten minutes then made another cast quickly hooking a nice chub followed by three other fish all around the 3lbs mark. On my next cast the float travelled no more that fifteen feet then buried, I hooked a good fish five minutes later I had a nice chub. “Five pounds I thought” on the scales it went 5lb 2 ounces. This was quickly followed by another good chub of the same weight. I then had twenty minute spell when I didn’t have a bite, even the minnows had gone. I was feeling very cold occasionally shivering and staggering a bit, I thought it was the start of hypothermia and decided on one more cast. Baiting with fresh gentles I moved the float down the line about a foot so the bait was well clear of the bottom. The float moved smoothly down the swim for about twenty yards then submerged striking I connected with a powerful fish which really did pull the string and bend the stick. From the power of this fish and its weight on the line I realised I had hooked something special, certainly not a big trout. Slowly I was getting line back on the reel, but all the time the fish was trying its best to get into the tree roots on my left, but I would exert all the pressure I could which done the trick every time. Soon I had the fish close to hand it was too big for me to grab, stuffing the rod as best I could under my arm I grabbed the fish with both hands then quickly moved to the bank no more than three feet away where I had the weight bag. I was lucky to have a small spot where I could put the fish down for a few seconds grabbing the weigh bag it was easy to stuff the fish inside. On the scales I got a reading of 5lb 10 ounces. What a great fish and a great way to end the session. After watching the fish move off downstream It was a cold wet weary angler who struggled back across the fast flowing river trying not to fall over but slopping water over the top of my waders, once on the bank I sat there for about half an hour trying to get some warmth into my body. As I did so looked back over a great days fishing. Eventually I got back to the car park where I had a hot drink, then changed out of my wet waders, putting away all the gear David and myself went off to the Bridge Inn in Upper Woodford to celebrate with a steak to celebrate a great couple of days on one of England’s great coarse fishing rivers. To have great day on this top chalk stream river will cost just £10-00. A season permit will cost just £57-00 which covers all the excellent waters the LAA control available from. Izaac Walton House 2A Hervey Park Road London E17 6L J Telephone 020 8520 7477 E-mail [email protected]

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Martin James Fishing
Email: [email protected]