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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


18/07/2021 - Days On The River Soar

Marks best chub at 5 lb 5 ounces


 It was around 0600 hrs when I left home with Brendan Ince to travel to Leicestershire’s River Soar, we had arranged to meet Mark our guide and friend for a day’s fishing on this lovely river which in many places is very reminiscent of the Upper Ouse, in other areas The River Beult, both these other river hold many many happy memories, in fact over the past few years with Marks help I have had many 5lb plus chub up to 6 lb 3 ounces, a 3lb 3 ounce perch from a swim everyone told me wasn’t fishable, but when I get told that it’s like a ‘Red rag to a bull’ I always take on the challenge. Just before lockdown in the February I had an outstanding session when the river was over the bank in laces catching five 5lb plus chub in five casts all on legered crust. It was just after 0900 hrs when we met Mark in the Butter Market Café when you are always assured of a warm welcome and some very good food, it’s like a café of the 50’s and 60’s where you get a very good service. Breakfast over we crossed the road to Bennetts tackle shop where Stuart always gives you a smile of welcome in the shop when nothing is too much trouble. All we needed was a guest permit for Brendan along with some bait and tackle items, then it was off to the river.

The River Looked Wonderful

After a few miles we arrived at our destination in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside, looking around in all directions, were oak beech maple and other trees, fields of ripening corn flower meadows bird song was everywhere, I had been waiting some 18 months to return to the Soar, when I left in February the river was over the banks an ice wind whipped around my ears as I fished. Today one can only describe it as a summers days we experienced so many times in the past, a light southerly wind rippled the corn. Walking a mile or so along the rivers over grown bank, often with head high brambles and nettles the food so beloved by butterflies, I admired the willow and alder trees, the moorhens and swans, swallows swooped low over the water often dipping their beak to get a drink, I couldn’t see a single house, how wonderful is that? These sights and sounds of the countryside, mean as much to me as the fish I hope to catch. Eventually we arrived in the area chosen by Mark, who when he last fished this area caught some nice fish including roach, a fish these days that is well up on my list of species to catch especially with a float. Brendan chose a swim between two willows, Mark a swim with bulrushes lilies and plenty of bankside cover, I chose the last swim, I put together a 14 foot Acolyte with a centre pin reel 4lb line fishing a light crimson tipped goose quill float made by Sussex Mickey taking 2 AAA shot with a BB some six inches from a size 14 hook, my bait could be from a selection of wheat, flake, punched bread gentles and red worms. Plumbing the depth I found seven feet depth tight to some lilies in front of me, which stretched downstream to my right where a willow hung low over the water some branches dipping into the river, a text book chub swim. First Cast Fish Having got myself sorted I baited with a grain of wheat, then threw in half a dozen free offering watching the grains slowly sink being pushed in various direction by the flow of water eventually going out of sight, I followed up lightly presenting my baited hook, then watched the crimson tip as it made its way downstream, after five yards it dipped the answering strike connected with my fish, a small chub perfect in every way, hopefully it will survive a grow into a five pounder. It was relaxing angling, occasionally I caught a ‘Goer’ but most were small chub roach, was I bothered not one bit I enjoyed the whole experience, As I have said on many occasions, when I help another angler catch their best fish, my friends often say “You could have caught that fish” I simply reply “If I don’t catch another fish I’ve had more than my share” I get tremendous pleasure helping another angler catch a personal best. As my fishing had slowed up I joined Mark in his swim for a chat, as we sat there several mayfly hatched off, it was lovely to see these very fragile flies these days with so much pollution of our rivers and stream. Around 1800 hrs we packed away our tackle then made the slow walk back to the cars taking in the beauty of the place, a sight that will see me through the year and no doubt beyond.

Another Beat Of The Soar 

It was Mark and myself today, Brendan needed to head off home, we fished another stretch of river, after breakfast at the Butter Market Café we headed off to our chosen venue, arriving at our chosen swims, Mark went downstream fishing a prawn bait close to the far bank under the trees. I went well upstream to an area of bulrushes lilies and sedges with lots of willows, the water flowed from right to left, my target fish were roach, selecting a swim I’d fished often in the past the swim was screened from the water by sedges, behind me was a high bank topped off by willows. My target fish were roach the tackle was as used the previous day, 14 foot Acolyte with a centre pin reel 4lb line fishing a light crimson tipped goose quill float 2 AAA shot with a BB some six inches from a size 14 hook, the same as used on the first day. my bait would again be from a selection of wheat, flake, punched bread gentles and red worms, though today I would make up a bowl of brown and white crumb adding a good amount of hempseed, its no use just feeding in a ground bait mix without adding either gentles hemp or some other attractant to keep the fish in the swim and looking for items of food. Checking the depth, I found five feet under the rod tip, then about eight feet out from the bank it dropped away to seven feet, that would be my chosen area fishing just over the drop off, at the same time I would also put some bait in close to the lilies, it’s also an area where in the past I have had some very good perch of 2lbs plus. I set the float to fish the bait a couple of inches off the bottom, though as we know the river bed isn’t like a snooker table, there will be times when the bait drags the bottom, during the day I would change the depth as required. Three Gentles Done The Trick I chose to start off with gentles as bait, three on a size 14 barbless, every cast I put in half a dozen gentles followed by the baited hook, immediately I started catching roach around 8 to 10 inches, I was more than happy sitting in my own small world oblivious of everything around me, my whole attention was feeding, baiting and trotting the float through the swim. In the first hour I reckon I had 6lbs of roach, and so sport continued, occasionally I caught a perch around 12 ounces, slowly the roach fishing dropped off, I switched to the inside line I’d continued to put in a small amount of bait, immediately I started catching gudgeon, just like I would in the 50’s and 60’s, not just an odd fish, but lots of these little fellas, which I have always welcomed.

Previously when I have fished this area I have only caught gudgeon when it got dark, using a torch beam to illuminate the float. Around 1200 hrs I stopped fishing then walked down to Mark where I got the Jetboiler on for a fresh brew, I also enjoyed a cheese and tomato sandwich kindly supplied by Mark, he certainly looks after me when I am in Leicestershire. During our break I learnt that Mark had caught some chub around the 3lb fishing either prawn or luncheon meat, He told me there was a lot of clooping sounds from the opposite bank which was over hung by a lot of blackberry bushes, the ideal place for perch to lay in ambush, later on I was to see the perch shoaling the bait fish together, then a few perch would go on the attack.

A Mixed Bag

Back in my swim I started off fishing my swim around a rod length out, at the same time dropping a few gentles on the inside line, First cast the float travelled three feet then dipped, another roach, sport continued with a bite most casts, this time it wasn’t just roach with an odd perch, but lots of dace, chub occasionally a perch sometimes pushing the pound mark to add interest. I was in match angler mode going back to the 60’s, enjoying feeding baiting casting trotting and catching fish, the size and number of fish increased during this second session. Sport continued all through the second session. As Mark was taking me back to the hotel then he would have another hours drive to home I thought I should end the day earlier than normal in fairness to Mark, so ended the session around 1600 hrs. I probably had some 30lbs plus of fish, if I’d been in a match I reckon I would have picked up the coinage., it had been a great float fishing session. More Float Fishing

Today at 0815 hrs Mark picked me up at the hotel then it was off to the Butter market café for breakfast, then onto the river, we chose the same beat, both choosing the same swims as the previous day, today conditions were over cast with a light wind, the water level hadn’t changed also it still had some colour which is quite odd at this time of the year, usually its very clear, I also get to see the bottom contours making notes of the channels etc, ready for the winter sessions. I fished the same tackle but this time deciding to start off fishing with wheat as I have often found you get an increase in the average size of roach, what you must not do is throw in to many grains as wheat is a very filling bait, I use on average four grains of wheat every other cast. I was surprised the first fish was a gudgeon, followed by two more then I got a ‘Goer’ roach then for some thirty minutes I caught roach, nothing big, most around 10 ounces but most welcome as all fish were in great condition. It’s an attractive fish when in good condition roach, colouration is bright scales, blueish grey across the back, with orange coloured fins, the iris is red. Another advantage in angling for roach is it being a shoal fish, catch one and don’t disturb the swim you can often catch many, it’s a red letter day you might get a few pound plus fish, on a special day catch a two pounder.

I have been very fortunate to have some great teachers at the start of my angling days back in the 1940’s and that has continued through to this day. The high light of my roach fishing days was probably the 1960’s when I had more than my share of two pound roach the best at 2lb 12 ounces. The roach fishing I had on the Kennet, Hampshire Avon, Kentish Stour, River Beult, Thames, Ouse, Wensum and many others waters would not be repeated these days. Back to the Soar I continued to catch roach, then after about two hours the fish switched off. I tried several baits over the next hour, occasionally I caught a perch or chub but of no size, sadly the roach had gone. It was time for lunch, once again Mark had done me proud with a tasty cheese and tomato sandwich a banana and small chocolate bar which was really a treat as I should eat such things, though my nurse has told me on several occasions I can now and again have a treat. Back in my swim I struggled to get a bite, just the occasional small perch on a red worm, at 1600 hrs we called it a day. Mark had a very good chub caught on a prawn and well deserved as he had been rewarded for perseverance in fishing the same swim. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Waitrose where I purchased of box of mixed fruit which I would have after my soup.

Another Stretch Of River

Today we are joined by Tam Miller a long serving military veteran, who also donates a lot of time to The Royal British Legion, after breakfast, we chose a stretch of river that was truly over grown along the banks in most places, nettles well above head high, brambles, cow parsley, the occasional hogweed, hedge bindweed, tall grass in many places, in the hot sunshine it was extremely hard pushing my way through all this thick growth, Mark had chosen a swim where he would stay, Tam chose to fish just upstream of Mark, while I chose to go roving, after half a mile of pushing my way through this jungle like wilderness, I started to think “If I was making a mistake in roving this stretch of river?, I continued my struggle, knowing I would have to repeat all this struggle on my way back, but I’m not one to give in I continued. My plan was every thirty forty yards or so I would stop at a likely looking spot, spending fifteen minutes or so fishing crust or lobworms in the hope of a chub. The first spot I chose the flow of water pushed from my bank to the opposite bank, Dick Walker described a similar spot of the Upper Ouse as the “Going away swim” the water pushed into the opposite bank were I could see lilies and bulrushes. Sitting down in the undergrowth I could just see the water, I pinched on 2 LG shot six inches from a size 4 barbless hook then baited with a large bit of crust, I was lucky with the cast, the bait dropped two feet up stream of the bulrushes then drifting down coming to a stop near the lilies. Five minutes later I felt the line tighten against my forefinger, striking I connected with an angry fish which probably thought how did I fall for this bait. It certainly put up a good fight, suddenly it shot straight across the river towards me then crashed into the reeds and lilies on my side. Getting stuck fast in the reeds or lilies, it didn’t many any difference what direction I pulled the rod in, I couldn’t budge the fish, the bank was six feet high no way could I reach down with the net. It was then I realised some two winters ago I'd caught a similar fish that done the same thing to me, I’d hooked that fish under the far bank which then crashed into the bank below my feet. That day I had Mark with me who tried everything to budge the fish without success, at the time a hawthorn grew close to the bank with its roots deep in the water, today the bush has disappeared in the big floods last winter, but no doubt the roots remain. After some ten minutes I got the fish moving, I could see a foot through the water and spotted my fish tangled in some weed. I had to take a chance of a ducking, it was summer time, taking my wallet from my pocket, I dropped it in my bait bag, then taking my landing net I slowly moved down the bank digging in my heels where it was possible, getting to where I could reach down with the net I pushed and prodded eventually getting the net through the weed then under the fish slowly I pulled the net up under the fish then lifted, luck was with me, I got the chub to the top of the bank, it wasn’t a big one, estimated around 3lbs but worth all the effort.

In the next three hours I had two more chub around 2.5 lb both of these fish on slowly sinking flake. I’d struggled through the thick undergrowth for some two miles getting stung, scratched often falling over. A the bottom of the length, I took a breather had a banana and some water, I sat fishing a far bank swim, often baiting with another bit of crust, as the small fish descended on my bait. After a break of around forty five minutes I fished my way back to where it all started, what amazed me was the large amount of butterflies many feeding on nettles, I also spotted several colonies of Common field grasshoppers, also the odd Common green grasshopper, a slightly smaller species, I can assure you they were not crickets. It was like being transported back in time to see so many summer time sights. I had one good bite but missed it. Was it worth all the effort of course it was. Back at base I had a fresh brew then moved upstream but no bites soon it was time to leave the end of another wonderful day.

Tam and Mark Are Quickly in Action

Today Tam and myself met Mark in the Butter milk café where Mark done himself proud with a full breakfast, I had two pieces of buttered toast, Tam two large rolls filled with bacon and egg, breakfast over with Mark leading the way we headed off for another stretch, After a miler long trek we arrived in the area Tam and Mark were going to fish, I would go a further mile upstream again roving and trying to spot a chub. Soon Mark was in action with a 3lb chub, Tam quickly followed with a pike estimated at 5-6lbs.

I went off well upstream to Chub Country an area of bulrushes and lilies with small areas of water as close as one could be to the Upper Ouse in the 1960’s before the water authority completely wrecked the fishery in their ignorance, they don’t seem to have learnt much since those far off days. Back to the Soar where I am today, chub could sometimes be seen tight to the reeds or lilies, other times cruising from one spot to another. It was often down on hands and knees when fishing for these very spooky fish, getting stung and bitten by horse flies occasionally putting you hand or knee in a cow pat, its par for the course. Tackle today was 121.6 three piece Avon action rod, small fixed spool reel with 15lb braid to which I tied on a size 4 barbless hook with a Palomar knot. My plan of action was to walk slowly upstream, using my binoculars to try and spot the chub, should I do so I would use the catapult to drop a piece of crust in the area, all together I’d spotted around 10 fish through the length, at the top of the beat I went out into the field then return downstream to my starting spot.

Three Chub

After a break, I put bait bag over my shoulder then on my backside slowly slide down the bank, keeping as low as possible I slowly moved up towards the first pool, then noticed a ripple n the surface, no doubt caused by a cruising fish, I dropped a bit of crust on the water, within a minute a fish pushed the crust then swirled at it, time to bait my hook, once I’d seen the crust disappear, it would be replaced with my baited hook. Twenty minutes later I made an underhand cast dropping the crust quietly as possible on the surface, with bated breath, I waited not daring even to move my head, soon I spotted a swirl close to the bait the bread bobbed, then was pushed a few inches, suddenly it was gone the line sliding over the surface, I lifted the rod the setting the hook immediately I’m on my feet ready to go in if the fish weeds me. After a brief struggle I was drawing a chub about 2lbs towards my net. As the fish dropped in the net, the hook fell out, all I needed to do was turn the net over then watch the chub swim away. I sat on the bank for about fifteen minutes then slowly approached the next swim repeating the process as in the first swim, after twenty minutes with no sign of a fish except the fry attacking the bread, I moved on, in the next two spots there was no sign of a chub. The next spot was on the far side of the river in some clear water next to the bank. I dropped in two pieces of bread then sat on the bank watching for some action, without any warning first one piece of bread disappeared quickly followed by another piece, creeping low and slowly I approached the water’s edge, it was a long cast, “Should I use a shot and anchor the crust” I thought answering with a firm “No” to myself. I baited with a crust then dunked it in the water adding some weight, making a long cast dropping it at the very top of the pool, slowly inch by inch it moved downstream ten minutes later as it drifted next to some rushes, I noticed a swirl then another followed by the crust rocking, then disappearing, the strike connecting with a chub which was quickly hauled towards the net, as Dick often said “Lugging the chub out”. estimated around the 3lb mark I was well pleased. I continued to the top end of the patch but no more action.

I then slowly worked my way downstream fishing several swim some towards the far bank others midwater some close in under the trees, apart from two missed bites which I shouldn’t have done that was my lot for the day. With the weather getting extremely very warm, there wasn’t a breath of air, in fact stifling is the word to use. I made my way back to base I’d had enough for today. We all agreed to leave early, the trek back to the car was enough, the end of another day.

The Final Session

With the weather forecast for very a warm hot few days we decided to leave early the next morning, tam and I had breakfast at the Butter milk café as usual, then headed off to the river, I wasn’t surprised to see anyone parked up in the car park with the current weather forecast, I soon got as call from Mark saying he couldn’t fish today as he had a bad Migraine. I wished him all the best thanked him profusely for looking after me during the trip. Tam chose to fish for perch, I would float fish to see if I could catch a few perch baits, I was in luck, Tam then baited with a small roach, soon he had his first perch estimated at around 1.75 lbs during the course of the session he had three more good perch the others we weighed going 1 lb 8 two at 1 lb 10 ounces, I ended the day with a pike estimated at 9 lbs caught in a small dead bait and my chub outfit, the fish put up a great fight going tail walking on two occasions, on this tackle it was enjoyable playing the fish which was hooked in the scissors so unable to bite through the line. So ended my first trip in eighteen months with some great company, I can’t wait for the next one hopefully in about four weeks’ time.




One of many 2lb plus roach I have taken over the years

Mark enjoyed his breakfast each day

My first day swim

One of several nice perch caught by Tam

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Martin James Fishing
Email: [email protected]