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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


31/12/2018 - Very Enjoyable Fishing over the Christmas Period


Very Enjoyable Fishing over the Christmas Period

It’s been many years since I can remember the winter such as we have had with a long period of excellent weather for angling, with overcast skies, low light levels, light wind with rising day and night temperatures which has given us good water temperatures, yes we did have a couple of nights just before Christmas Day with very heavy frosts in the North West of England, when the water temperature on the River Ribble plummeted from 44 degrees F to 39-40 degrees F , apart from the, temperate drop, the weather has been near perfect.

On Christmas Day chub were my target fish, with legered crust as my first choice bait, but I also had lobworms, cheese paste and bread flake, if crust didn’t produce. Today I chose to use my Abbey Avon an 80th birthday present from Colin and Sarah Culley, I feel it’s the ideal rod for chub fishing with its sensitive action, also I can hold the rod all day without fatigue, at all times I’m ready for any bite I get. The rod was matched with an old Mitchell 300 reel with 6lb line straight through to a size 4 hook, as I’m fishing over a rocky pebble strewn bottom for much of the time I chose my usual plastacine set up with two floats stops on the line then moulding plastacine over the stops. In my bait bucket I had some sloppy bread mash to which I’d added some cheese flavour, there are times when I use honey which is like a thick liquid as a flavour, I first used honey back in the 50’s, after experiencing success with mashed up wasp cake which is where I got the idea from of using honey. I could get wasp cake in the winter months, in those days, also we didn’t have a freezer. Honey was costly and often hard to get, so I mixed the honey with some hot water to break it down a bit. Having sorted out tackle baits and ground baits. I then went off and baited, several favourite spots with a handful of mash, back in the car park I made myself a brew .

Roe Deer, Buzzards, Hares and Kingfishers

Walking across the meadow I then headed off downstream to a swim in a small copse at the bottom of the bottom of the beat, where in the past I have had some nice chub. Creeping quietly into my first spot I sat down on a piece of sponge, as I glanced down through the trees I could see 3 roe deer no more than ten yards away, it would have made the perfect Christmas Day picture, but no way would they stay waiting while I got my camera from the bag, so I just sat quietly watching them munching on some leaves, fifteen twenty minutes later they walked off quietly, as I sat there, I also watched a pair of buzzards circling high in the sky, then I heard a slight plop, then a kingfisher rose from the water with what I thought was a bullhead which was quickly dealt with and swallowed, having fluffed up its feathers, it flew off downstream.

Trout are a nuisance

Baiting with a thumb size crust I cast slightly upstream then slowly bump the bait downstream, it’s quite a simple practise, after five minutes, I lift the rod gentle then give a few feet of line so the bait settles in another spot, then repeating the process until I reach the bottom of my swim. When the water temperature first drops below 39.5 the viscosity of the water become thick, like the oil in your car on a cold winters day, fish become very lethargic as do all the nymphs and other aquatic life. Chub are no different from any fish, I have found you need to search the water in the hope you will drop the bait in front of a chubs nose, in fact it wasn’t my observation it was than man Walker. Who told us about what happens when we get a sudden drop in the water temperature. Rebaiting with another crust I cast a few further feet out so I could work the bait down another line, it had travelled no more than ten feet when I felt a small pluck followed by a determined pull, I set the hook into a hard fighting fish but quickly realised that I’d hooked a trout, it wasn’t a diploid but a triploid fish but doesn’t spawn so remain in excellent condition through the winter months, after some ten minutes I netted a 3lb plus fish which was neatly hooked in the scissors, quickly extracting the hook without touching the fish it was returned to the river. I then moved upstream to another spot, again trout grabbed the bait after catching two similar size fish to the first one I moved on to my third swim, after half an hour with no action I was on the move again, the next spot was a blank.

Lunch Break

I enjoyed a freshly cooked bacon and egg sandwich for lunch with a fresh brew, half an hour later I was ready for the second half. Walking to the top of the beat, I chose a swim where a stream flowed into the river, it was a very attractive spot with a huge old oak with many of its sweeping branches over hanging the river, many trailing in the water, again crust was the chosen bait, having cast out I sat there quietly with my back against the tree trunk with the line over my fore finger while listening to a wren kicking up a fine old racket close by, I then spotted a hare hopping along the bank towards me, I sat quiet as a mouse, slowly the hare continues its journey until it was within just a few feet of me, then realised something wasn’t right, it slowly turned then hopped off quickly across the meadow. Around 1500 hrs as I started to think of going home before it was dark, not that I’m frightened of the dark, I’m not happy driving in the darkness. Suddenly I felt a good pluck then a savage pull as the rod tip was pulled downwards and sideways, I didn’t need to strike, but just tighten into a fish, no trout this one, it was a chub which gave a good account of itself, but soon the balanced tackle told who was boss, I netted a good chub around 4lbs, I was more than happy with my Christmas Chub I could go home happy.

Boxing Day

Today the water temperature had risen to 42 degrees F, I chose to fish another stretch of the Ribble, I walked the chosen length, putting in a handful of cheese flavoured bread mash in several nice looking swims three of which had over hanging trees, another swim was where a stream flowed in to the river, knowing from previous experience, the swim was around three feet deeper than the surrounding water which had produced in the past. My first two swims were barren, not a touch, I then moved onto the stream swim, this time I removed the plasticine, then baited with a walnut size lump of soft smelly cheese paste, ten minutes later I had my first chub around 3lbs, which I released some twenty yards downstream. Fifteen minutes later I had my second chub this time it weighed 4lb 4 ounces which was released well downstream, this was followed by another 3lb chub, but that was my lot, not another bite in the next three hours, not even a trout I packed up and headed off home more than happy.

Thursday 27th December

Today I was fishing with my friend Brendan Ince, we chose to fish a weir pool in the hope we might catch some chub or perch, perhaps both species, after a couple of hours without any interest in our baits we chose to move, within minutes Brendan had a knock then nothing, thirty minutes later I had two quick knocks striking on the second one to find myself hooked up to a trout. Half an hour later we went off for lunch. I made Brendan a cheese and pickle toasty, also a beef and mustard sandwich for with a mug of coffee, I then heated a can of tomato soup with some wholemeal bread and butter followed by a mug of tea. After a long lunch we went off fishing, Brendan choosing a swim where he had hooked and lost what he thought as a big fish, I moved into an old favourite, where early on a had thrown in some chunks of meat, sitting myself down I started fishing big chunks of meat, casting across the river so I could roll the bait down under the far bank beech trees, I had several pulls all missed, I couldn’t think what I was doing wrong if anything. As darkness settled over the river Brendan turned up not having had a bite, we sat a few yards apart, within ten minutes I had a good pull on meat which resulted in a 4lb 2 ounce chub. For the next hour we didn’t have a bite between us, so we moved swims. Yes we got several bites between us, all trout, after an hour we had got fed up with these fish as neither of us enjoy catching out of season fish. It was a strange evening, nothing stirred even through it was very mild, the only sign of life were dozens of slugs, we didn’t even hear an owl or call of a fox, no ducks were about so we decided to go off home, Brendan dropped me off at my house then head off to his home some fifteen miles away, it had been a good sharing time with Brendan.

Friday 28th December

I paid a visit to the river arriving around 0900 hrs to meet up with my senior bailiff Ted for a brew and chat, also to discuss any problems he might have had, but with 40 years as a gamekeeper he was aware of every trick in the book that poachers used, though we prefer to call them thieves, as that’s what they are. After walking all the beats we shot a goosander, before anyone mentions they are protected, yes that’s correct but I have a licence to kill 2. So we have one left, its rare we have to shoot them, as we have fifteen 9mm blank firing hand guns that really do frighten off cormorants and goosanders, around noon I left Ted to visit the dentist. Having read in the local paper that two of my friends were selling up their business and retiring I decided to drop off a couple of bottles of red wine. For some time I have been thinking of buying an electric cycle for the time when I can no longer drive, Julie had just the job I was looking for with a good discount so after a long discussion with the staff and two customers who both had these cycles, I bit the bullet then put a deposit down on the Hawk model with a 16 AH battery by FreeGo electric bikes. Back home I spent some time riddling off several pints of gentles that I had in my bait fridge, then spent the rest of the day reading and snoozing.

Saturday Day 29th December

Today there was a drastic change in the weather, from the quiet still overcast days, today it was a gale force north westerly often gusting to 40 plus mph, I arrived on the river around 0900 hrs, today I was going to have a fishing day for dace, chub and hopefully a perch, no doubt a trout or two would put in an appearance. I chose a swim between two willow bushes which offered some shelter from the cold wind, before putting together some tackle, I spent twenty minutes hopefully feeding a swim and drawing some fish from downstream, I fired a catapult of red gentles in every two or three minutes for around ten minutes, then cut the feedback to a dozen gentles every three or four minutes, I now added a small egg size ball of mashed bread and bran. Twenty miles or so late I left the swim to settle down while I put together some tackle. As Looked downwards to where the bait box was I could see a robin feeding on the loose bait scattered around, what a lovely sight and the robin stopped with me right through the session.

Float Rod and Centre Pin

I put together a 12 foot Kennet Perfection, matched with an Atom 12 spoke centre pin my children gave me for my 80th birthday suitably engraved, which had 40 yards of 4lb line, then put on a 4 AAA float that Russ Shaw had made me which had a very bright orange tip, which I would be able to see thirty or more yards downstream. I chose a size 12 wide gape hook to 3lb bs nylon, the reason for choosing a wide gape hook, there would be times when I would want to fish two large pieces of bread punch, to the line, the hook length was attached to the line with a loop to loop set up. Having put my box in place, I laid out my boxes of bait, also a bread punch set up, along with ground bait bowl so everything was close to hand, I would be in match man mode today for a few hours.

Some Good Grayling

I spent a few minutes running the float through the swim adjusting the set up after each run through until I felt everything was in place, starting off with the bait an inch or so off the bottom, I would then adjust the depth of the float as needed depending on the depth fish were willing to feed, but a good starting point is always close to the bottom. On my first run through the float travelled no more than fifteen feet then dipped sharply, I could tell right away I had a grayling as I netted it I thought “That’s a pound plus fish, hopefully there will be more of them being they are a shoal fish”. I was right in the next ten casts I had a grayling each time, one of the fish I reckoned could well be 2lb plus, but not so on the scales it weighed 1lb 14 ounces, but as the head bailiff said “That’s a good fish”

Trout Move In

After a fishless spell of around half an hour, I got a fish but sadly a trout which was around the 2lb mark, nicely hooked in the scissors so could be unhooked in the net then quickly released, then it was trout after trout al good fish but not what I wanted, I switched to punched bread but it didn’t make any difference. I then decided to feed heavy with bread mash in the hope the fish would have had enough and move up or downstream, it seemed to have worked, as twenty minutes later I run the float through a few times, no trout, it looked as if this idea had worked.

Bread Punch

I then fished bread punch with no feed and started catching some nice dace around 10 inches, occasionally I had a 12 inch fish, these were very good dace for the water I was fishing, I’m always happy catching these beautiful fish of our streams and rivers, they are like chub, they will feed in all weather conditions and temperatures, you can even catch them from bank high rivers. I had an interesting hour catching dace but no chub which disappointed me as usually when I fish this area of the river I catch chub and the occasional perch but not today. I was around 1400 hours when I had to pack up when the sun had risen above the tree tops, making it difficult and painful for me to see the float, back in the car park I had a couple of pain killers for my shingles then made a brew before putting my tackle away, I then spent an hour waiting for my eyesight to clear before going off home after another good session on the river. On Monday 31st I’m hoping to give my cane pole an outing.



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Martin James Fishing
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