fly fishing sport fishing freshwater fishing
Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


05/06/2022 - A New Season June 16 2022

Chub and barbel Country


Only a week or so before June 16th always a special day for me and thousands of other anglers, this year it will be my 80th year of angling, having caught my first fish on June 16th 1942, as German Bombers flew overhead. Sadly there have been occasions when I’ve packed up fishing on the first day of the season, having caught fish with milt or eggs coming from the vent. I did not want to catch these fish, so departed for home.

This June 16th will see me having over two weeks nonstop angling on the rivers, also a still water, no doubt there will be many more anglers doing the same after a three month break. Let’s be honest there is something very special going back to a venue after a long break, my first day will be with two special friends Mark Sarul who I first fished with on the River Kennet some years ago helping him catch a personal best chub, also Brendan Ince who I also first fished with on the Kennet, where I helped him catch his first double figure barbel of a 12 lb 6 ounces.

It was Mark who invited me to fish his special bit of river which I have fallen in love with, in many ways it takes me back to the 50’s where I will see how mother nature has healed all those worn banks, putting a smile on my face. The lilies will be looking resplendent with their yellow, red or white flowers , bulrushes, sedges, water crowfoot often with white flowers, Mare’s tail, Spiked water milfoil and Starwort, also water violet to name a few. The trees and bushes looking resplendent in their new cloaks of various shades of green.

I will sit at the water’s edge behind some reeds, or push myself through brambles and head high nettles, getting stung and scratched in the process to reach a spot where I might catch a chub. I will hear the hum of insects, see dragon and damsel flies of which there are many species, many bites have been missed through watching the flying and hunting displays of the Emperors known as hawkers, whereas the smaller dragon flies are known as darters. When it comes to damsel flies they are the delicate ones, they often perch on the top of our float, though I don’t remember getting a bite while this is happening. I will also have bird song, sounding like a well-tuned orchestra, even more so when arrive at dawn. The river is one of those delightful waterways, flowing through some attractive countryside one could wish to spend time in, twisting and turning, I will stop every few yards or so, at another attractive spot that demands my attention. Keeping quiet and low, I will peep over the bulrushes, to see a mass of small fry, on the shallows, perhaps some chub, or like I did two seasons ago, watch a big barbel chasing bullheads, or nymphs in this rich environment. There must be several miles of bulrushes growing down both sides of the river, often you will find a long stretch of rushes, in places creating a tunnel appearance between the rush beds, that’s where you could find a big chub. Dick Walker writing about fishing such areas in his case the Upper Ouse as “Lugging For Chub” making sure you use strong tackle, it’s a case of hook and hold, then dragging the fish out, hence the term “Lugging”

When talking of bulrushes, I don’t mean those reeds with a thick brown furry head which most people call bulrushes, this mistake started when a Victorian painter described them as bulrushes, when in fact they were a species of reedmace which are usually found in still or slow water often with muddy conditions. Whereas bulrushes are found in gravel sandy conditions often in fast flowing shallow Chrystal clear water much loved by perch, chub and barbel, there you will usually find invertebrates. If I’m lucky I might find the White-clawed crayfish a, bronze-coloured crustacean with pale undersides to its claws. Sadly it is under threat from the American Signal an invasive and introduced species of crayfish which is causing major problem today on many rivers and gravel pits, sometimes through idiots from restaurants dumping them, also there have been are cases of anglers introducing them, such as in the river Aire.

On river Soar there must be a mile or more of water lilies, where at some time or another, you can expect to find most of our coarse fish species. Below the surface of lily leaves with their various colour of flowers you will find the cabbages, these are crinkly leaves that resemble the outer leaves of cabbages not sure who come up with the description. I think it was either Dick Walker or Fred J Taylor, it’s an area roach find attractive, come September October, I will often be seen seeking those roach with stewed wheat. Having spent some three hours walking the top beat, I have been amazed at the large number of damsel and butterflies of various species I have seen, in fact I would describe it as amazing, it just goes to show what a rich environment the river is for the aquatic life but also the amount of insect life that inhabit the riverside environment. How long will it remain when various water authorities dump sewage into our rivers?

Tackle and Bait Selection

No doubt I will take more cane and glass rods than I need, a Millwards Swim Master, an Abbey Avon, two Davenport and Fordham "Peter Stone" rods, legermaster and specimen 11’ 2 piece plus detachable cork butt, finally my Oliver’s 12ft Tench-Avon rod in green glass with a separate handle, for when I fish a still water for tench. Should I find some roach I will have my 17 ft 6 in cane pole The rod is like new. As a youngster I used some 10 inches of silk topping fixed to ring on the end of the pole with a loop system, then a cast holding float, shot and hook which were made up beforehand, I would use a loop to loop system for joining cast to the topping, the silk topping was then replaced by Terylene. I now use an elastic topping which Tony Booker made up for me in several strengths. It was my grandfather Thomas who started me on my apprenticeship with the pole, I was around 12-13 years old, a few days before I was to fish a junior match on the Saturday, he told me I could use his pole, he was also taking my friend Billy and myself in his car to save catching the train, he also wanted to watch us both. At the end of the match he gave me the pole saying “You will certainly be better than your father with the pole” Certainly a very true statement, my two grandfather Lenard and Thomas were great role models.

Learning from some of the great pole anglers

In the 50’s and 60’s I was very fortunate to see some great pole anglers in action, the likes of Frank Murgett, Freddy French MBE who a successful insurance agent, who moved to the Lake District in later life, as did several LAA anglers who had given good service to the Association, I spent hours watching the pole anglers as they fished the LAA Shield matches, another great stalwart was Bill Gardner, Captain LA Parker who was ‘Mine Host’ at the Bull Inn in Downton for some years. was another great pole angler he was also author of This Fishing one of my most read books, I doubt if a month goes by when I don’t read something, when I needed inspiration. It wasn’t just the Thames and Lea where anglers fished the pole, many took their skills to the Medway, Suffolk Stour, Arun and Avon, even on the Norfolk Broads and Fenland drains you would find a pole angler.

When I started out every angler of my acquaintance would have their rigs on wooden winders, I had winders that would hold 4 rigs with a small box in the centre holding shot and float caps, sadly all mine were all destroyed in a house fire, even Hitler and his Doodlebugs or V2's couldn’t destroy my wooden tackle winders, though he did destroy the house we lived in, also my fishing rod. I now have a collection of old winders from the 1920,s/50,s thanks to my friend Paul Elliott.

Centre Pin and Fixed Spool Reels

I will take 4 reels, my small Beult centre pin made by Watermole, which I feel is the perfect float fishing reel with 3lb line for roach, it’s a joy to use. Another reel is my copy of a 1939 Aerial Match without a line guard again made by Watermole, loaded with 6lb line, I will have a couple of fixed spool reels, with braid and nylon. In my leather float tube I have a selection of floats including sliders, these latter floats are not just for deep water, I often use them in shallower water swims, a slider can make striking better and more efficient with less disturbance.

Ground Bait And Hook Baits

My selection will include cooked hemp, not flavoured, some riddle off gentles saved in 1 pint bags that have been stored in the freezer, remember, dead gentles want wriggle away, acting as a good attracter, holding fish in the area. In my garage there had been a dustbin full of rock hard dry bread, now much of this has been soaked in water for some 24 hours, I drain off as much water as possible by squeezing the wet bread in a mesh bag, then spend around 20- 30 minutes giving the bread a good bashing with a very strong potato masher, if you don’t have a good masher, (don’t even try the plastic masher as they are useless). Do as I done in the past, use a piece of 2”x4” timber. Having broken all the bread into a fine mash, I put around 3lbs of the mash into zipped plastic bags then freeze for future use, I also in my garage I keep a dust bin with wheat bran, I buy this in 20 kilo bags, I wouldn’t advise you to purchase bran from health food shops, supermarkets or pet stores, go to a corn merchant, you will save a lot of money. I always take some bran with me in case I want to stiffen up the mash depending on the swim I am fishing. By making your bread mash you will save money on the packaged brands of ground bait, often plain bread mash is as good as any other product, fishing fast water, I often add some mole hill soil, gravel or small pebbles to bread and bran mash. I will have some loaves of bread, for use as flake or crust, one bait I wouldn’t want to be without is a good supply of lobworms, I have purchase a tub of 100 lobs, you can keep these in a bait fridge, temperature set at 40 degrees F. in good condition for around 10 weeks, often longer, you must make sure the lobs you purchase are really fresh. DO NOT ADD anything to the worms, just leave them alone.

Today I thought I would try and put a few ideas on paper to help some of the new and less experienced anglers. At some club meetings often the only topic of conversation is “What bait are you using this season”?. We all know a good bait can help us catch fish, we also know that a well-made and thought out bait made with quality products will out fish a poor quality bait. But bait isn’t the be all and end all of catching fish. I will say it again as I have for seventy odd years or more, the bait on the hook is only part of the knowledge needed to catch fish. I will repeat what the old master Richard Walker taught me. A fish will eat anything unless its taught not to.

I have said more times than I can remember, fish don’t feed 24 hours a day. I was told this by my grandfather when I was in my early teens, I have never forgotten that simple statement. Let me say now fish might just have a fifteen minute feeding session, perhaps you only have one fish in the swim, this is especially true when targeting a big chub. We all spend many hours fishing the wrong spot at the wrong time. I’ve used a sausage paste since the late 1940’s it was a bait that my granddad used, I have caught lots of fish from roach to carp, it’s certainly been a winning bait for me. I often ask myself what makes it such a good bait, well that’s one question I will never know only the fish can answer that question.

I use all type of baits both natural and manufactured, one of my top natural baits without a shadow of a doubt are caddis which I’ve used since I was a kid, today when I want to fish caddis I put a hessian sack in the river for a couple of days then pick off the caddis which I keep in wet moss until needed, sadly today the caddis are not present in the numbers we could find in the 50’s and 60’s, by the 70’s I did notice a decline in their numbers. If you’re a roach fisher and you’re prepared to spend some time getting your caddis, you couldn’t have a better roach bait. Where ever your fishing this June 16th and forward into the season, I wish you success, also some luck as I’m certain there is some luck needed at times though the more we go the more lucky we get. Finally would everyone please take a litter bag with them? as no doubt you will see rubbish left by the idiots, including meat, sweetcorn and beer cans, which can be dangerous to yourself, also cattle, sheep and small mammals especially hedgehogs. I wish you all a good season.








A tench Water

my 100 year old pole purchased by my great-great grandfather in 1920

The Beult centre pin

copy of 1939 Aerial without line guard

Back to the News List

Martin James Fishing
Email: [email protected]