Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Social

The 5th and 6th May had been occupied on my calendar for months and the excitement and anticipation in the advent of this weekend had become all consuming. My good friend Shaun, whom I met whilst pike fishing on Fordwich 7 years ago, is getting married this summer and decided to spend his stag-do indulging in his favourite past-time with a group of likeminded companions. The chosen venue was 'Charlie's Lake' - a small water in the garden of England, predominately home to catfish but also containing a good head of carp and silvers. We had fished here together before, firstly under the previous management then again with the now not-so-new owners, Steve and Karen, and the transformation was unrecognisable. The banks and swims are well maintained, reasonable fish-centred rules are enforced and facilities such as specialist catfish tackle hire (slings, mats and nets) and toilets and showers are available. Now, wild fishing in an untamed nowhere-land this is not but it was a comfortable venue for such an event and whilst some watercraft is still required, at this time of year regular runs are not uncommon.
And so seven of us convened at the gates to the fishery early on the Saturday morning. For me this marked the halfway point on a 424 mile round trip! Tickets were purchased, pitches were chosen, rods assembled, rigs checked and away we went. Owner, Steve, gave some good advice regarding rigs, spots and bait. Without wanting to seem arrogant I had my own ideas about how I wanted to fish on this occasion but decided to take heed to his suggestions on one rod and fish the other two my way and see what worked. Steve was suggesting relatively small baits on a shortish hair however, I had caught well there before on double 20mm halibut pellets and had had my PB on a 30mm bloodied eel pellet. Steve didn't object to me using these baits but seemed very doubtful that they would catch me any fish. So I tried all three and the double halibut pellets were the first to send the reels screaming. First blood was a tiny kitten but then a brace of low doubles followed in close succession and so I changed all three rods over to this approach and gave up on the small baits. The key to this success in my opinion, is that I drenched everything - loose feed and hook baits in glug. Catfish have tiny eyes which are not much use in the dark depths in which they feed. Instead, they detect their meals with their barbels which sense taste and smell from great distances. For this reason I ensure my baits leak as much attraction as possible so they are drawn to them easily.

Shaun with a 24lb wels cat.
Thankfully, as the day progressed most of us had caught at least one. The biggest of the first day went to Shaun at 24lb. Banter was ripe but all good fun. Most conversation was centred around the usual issue of 'carpiness' and taunts regarding the symmetry of our setups, or lack thereof. As the sun started to set a take-away materialised and we all sat together indulging in a veritable feast beneath the stars, affirming how good life can be and drinking to the happy couple.

Everyone promised to jump out of bed if anyone caught a fish but as my delkim started to sing at half past midnight, the antiphonal sound of snoring continued, undisturbed! I landed the fish alone without too much trouble and was joined as I came to take photos by a few of the others who witnessed the scales turn just past twenty pounds.
I had trouble sleeping after this and so, as the sky was clear and the stars were shining bright, I took a moment to take a few long exposures and picked up a bit of Milky Way. The orange glow coming up on the horizon is in fact the moon in its waning gibbous phase rendered a deep red becoming progressively paler as it rose.

The next day brought everybody success. Shortly after the breakfast ritual was complete I lost a good fish. I had never felt anything like it attached to my line. It had ploughed straight for bank-side cover and could not be turned. On the spur or the moment I decided that I could not give any line and that it would be better for it to be left with a short hooklink sporting a barbless hook which hopefully could be expelled eventually, than to allow it to reach cover and potentially become tethered. The line broke at the knot leaving me in a sulk. It did not feel good at all.

Jon weighing in a 23lb catfish under the watchful eye of Shaun.

My swim went quiet for a while and eventually I reeled in for a while. I distracted myself taking photos for the others, some of whom had not fished for cats before and could not stop marvelling at their incredible strength.
I recast and before long I was into another good fish. This fish was hooked by an overhanging tree but I muscled it out into open water early on in the fight by kiting it round in the direction it was swimming - I think I confused it! Nonetheless, this fish tore up the swim and took a lot of line. Shaun, who was fishing in the swim to my right, kindly reeled in to give me more space. There was no way I was going to loose another in the same way so a slightly softer approach was employed. The fish held deep, kicking up clouds of silt from the lake bed as large ripples emanated from each unseen epicentre. By now I was surrounded by friends all sharing their support and delighting in the moment together. An overwhelming sense of relief was felt and joyful cheers were released as a large-headed cat begrudgingly slipped into the net.
As I lifted the scales aloft I realised the sling contained a new personal best catfish of 30lbs 1oz! It is not one of the biggest in the lake and pales into insignificance when compared to captures from the Ebro or the Po but to me it is a spectacular specimen and I am completely made up about it.

My new PB wels catfish at 30lb 1oz.

What I have omitted to mention is that whilst I was battling my fish, Tom in the swim to my left also hooked into a good fish and so we took the opportunity to set the camera running and get everyone into frame for a quick group shot for posterity. Taking a still frame from the video resulted in a slightly lower picture quality but facilitated the shot with minimum fuss, allowing the fish to be returned quickly.
After this I was on a total high. The vibe amongst all the guys had been so positive throughout the weekend and between us, due to some not having caught cats before, there had been 5 new PBs! Aside from a little sunburn the weather had been kind to us and we said our goodbyes with sore necks and aching arms.
So all that remains is to thank Shaun for bringing us all together for a cracking social and to congratulate him and his future wife, Katy, and to wish them every happiness.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Overnight success!

It's been a long time!

I feel completely out of touch and out of practice with regards the finer points of carp fishing, having not spent a night on the bank since August and before that, March last year. The usual causes of abstinence, such as the stressful demands of work, have diminished recently following my uprooting and relocation from Kent to Wiltshire. Now my lack of presence by the waterside is due to a change in priorities, where family - especially my now 1 year old daughter Jessica, is right at the centre and what a blessing she is! However, once the addiction has taken hold, I think it is impossible for a carp angler to be cured completely.
I met Jake on one of my first visits to the magical moat where we both targeted crucians by day and carp by night. Green shoots of friendship began to grow, however geography hindered its fruition until I moved to his neck of the woods. Recognising my desperation for some fishing-therapy, Jake set up an inaugural outing- an overnighter on his syndicate lake.

My muddy set-up!
A fair amount of rain had fallen during the week but temperatures were rising and, on arrival, a reasonable wind had began to push into the South East corner of the lake. We duly positioned ourselves on the receiving end of these gusts and began to look for signs of fish activity. Nosing around the margins with polaroids proved pointless given the choppiness of the water, clouding of its own volition. Just as we were exploring the far margin with a lead from our chosen swim, a fish crashed out in open water to my left. As it happened again it seemed obvious that I had to get a bait on that spot! Three cross-wind obscured casts later the trap was set and the scattering of boilies  around the general area served as a welcome distraction from the embarrassment I was suffering owing to my rustiness.

I had opted to fish single pop-ups on what Martin Bowler has recently been calling a 'real Ronnie' but it is in essence the same as Lee Crampton's 'claw rig' which I have been using for years. I like this presentation as it affords the bait plenty of freedom to move and will turn and set perfectly when approached from any angle. I had however lost a number of fish due to poor hook-holds last summer when using an incarnation of this rig which featured a long-shank hook with a small gape. Whilst this was almost impossible to eject, it did not set deep enough and cost me fish. Therefore, to remedy this I went to the other extreme and tied the rigs up with size 4 wide-gapes. At home I wondered if this might be overkill but I had not forgotten the size of the mouths of the fish I was targeting and proceeded with my course of logic.
Once the rods were out and shelters assembled, gas stoves were lit, beverages poured and conversations commenced. It had been almost two years so we had a lot of catching up to do!
In hindsight the following sequence of events seems almost predictable but the sudden screaming of my left alarm interrupting the serenity of the moment could not have been more unexpected.
Line stripped rapidly from the spool as I clumsily tripped over my dormant right rod to get to the erupting left. As I applied my thumb as a break and the rod arced round the tempo slowed but I began to feel the power of the fish forcefully towing onwards. Erratic vibrations transmitted a warning of the lake's intermittent rocky areas down the line. Very little could be done to navigate a clear path through this treacherous topography. On one occasion all movement ceased and the line seemingly became fixed to a point in the water. A sudden ping and the line went slack. My heart dropped. 
A turn of the handle and I connected once more with what I initially thought to be the snag- until it started making its way off into the distance.
I had attempted to steer the carp with side strain, keeping the rod tip low to encourage the fish to rise. I realised this was futile as it kited across into Jakes line causing his alarm to sound. He reassured me that my apologies were unnecessary but I felt bad. Had I bullied it a little more perhaps it could have been avoided but losing this fish was not a risk I was prepared to take.
As a rather plump looking mirror carp finally surfaced and came cruising over the net cord we both cheered in celebration.

A scaly mirror in the net!

The carp had a considerable belly and a single scar on one side, otherwise it was in impeccable condition. The hook was set perfectly in the bottom lip and was reassuringly dwarfed by the cavernous mouth of my quarry. As I lifted the scales the needle pulled round to 26lb 10oz.

The wind slowed and the sky cleared and as the light began to fade the temperature dropped. A tawny owl could be heard hooting and rather excitable frogs fascinated with my bobbins set my alarms off sporadically throughout the night along with occasional gusts. This and my lack of appropriate clothing for the conditions (in spite good advice from my better half) caused me not to sleep a wink. The night was long.

First signs of summer?!
As the sun rose swallows appeared swooping over the waters surface in search of insects, a heron was seen busily nesting, buzzards soared in circles in the neighbouring field, an English breakfast sizzled enticingly and fresh coffee was consumed. Mist evaporating from the water obscured my view of the fish swirls and fizzing. My semi-slack line tightened up on my left rod once more and a single bleep sung out. I leapt to attention. The rod, though high in test curve, twitched like a quiver tip showing sensitive bites. As we debated whether or not this bite was worth hitting, the moment passed. Before long we agreed to pack up as we both had other commitments that day to get back to but who knows what might have been if we had stayed. It was great to be back on the bank, in great company, beautiful surroundings and thankfully, a tale to tell.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Reflections on my angling 1999-2017 (or re-learning to fish and then unlearning to fish!)

Reflections on my Kentish Angling (1999 - 2017)

I arrived by bicycle at Fordwich Lake shortly after 6am one misty July morning, now many moons ago. This was my maiden voyage to this formidable venue and, armed with the weapons of my youth; my trusty Silstar 10ft match rod, Mitchell 300c reel, Keenets pan landing net, 2 cans of luncheon meat and a loaf of bread, I was hopeful for a carp or two. Running ledger rigs, freelined crust and simple waggler tactics had served me well on the lakes of the Longleat Estate where I learned my craft and, with the aforementioned mishmash of tackle, had landed carp to near twenty pounds, which in the 90s in my locality was a noteworthy capture. In perfect innocence I faithfully fished until dusk, content just to be amidst such idyllic surroundings in spite of my lack of success, laughably unaware of the futility of my approach or the culture shock that awaited me...

Now over a decade since this memory was forged and 18 years after I first moved to Kent, I am now preparing to depart and return to the West Country from whence I came. It therefore seems apt at this juncture not only to reflect on the year gone by but also the evolution of my angling since I first cast a line into the Kentish Stour in 1999. Here I could fish in the way I was accustomed to fishing and caught chub and bream with sufficient regularity to convince myself that all was right with the world. My angling didn't truly start to develop until 2010 when I first joined the Canterbury and District Angling Association.

Me, aged 13, with my first margin stalked carp. I thought I was Chris Yates.

I am grateful that my childhood experience of angling was a simple one. I began as a young boy throwing a jam jar on a string into the River Wylye at Henfords Marsh, catching minnows, three-spined sticklebacks and bullheads before eventually progressing to rod and line. Whole summer holidays were spent mastering the art of float fishing for tiny perch and roach which later became slightly bigger specimens and a wider array of species. A Passion for Angling aired on TV at the perfect time in my formative years to truly capture my imagination. This was also the catalyst for my obsession with carp. I learnt watercraft as a course of necessity and became adept at catching within my simplistic means. At that time, Wiltshire seemed to be something of a bubble, sheltered entirely from the rising movement of modern carp fishing that was developing elsewhere - perhaps most notably, at Fordwich!

There is perhaps some poetic justice in the water where HNV baits were pioneered being the place where I submitted to using them. I cannot pretend I did not buy the odd bag of Richworth Strawberry Jam (I will never forget that smell, evocative of so many memories) or Tutti Fruity boilies as a teen but I always much preferred to use natural or traditional baits and felt some sort of unsubstantiated superiority for abstaining from anything that did not conform to my purist ideals. However, there came a point in my campaign for a Fordwich carp where I had to conform. The rod was the first to change and eventually I succumbed also to boilies, alarms (which previously I thought laughable), spodding, bivvies and barrows. I may have sold out on my traditional Utopia but finally I was able to compete and stand a chance of catching. However, it was very humbling to suddenly switch from a position of competence to being an absolute novice with everything to learn. However, I made learning my business and therein I found a new satisfaction. Figuring out Fordwich became something of a jigsaw puzzle and putting together the pieces one by one derived much satisfaction.

Whilst I starting experiencing success at Fordwich prior to the summer of 2014, that is when the stars really aligned for me. I had by this point acquired lots of knowledge from seasons of trial and error and, particularly over the summer, I had plenty of time available to spend at the lake - not only fishing but sometimes just walking the lake, watching the water and talking to the regulars. It paid off with a good string of carp to 28lb 4oz and a sense of accomplishment and elation.

A chunky Fordwich Mirror.
My best fish from Fordwich, 28lb 4oz.
The following season felt strikingly different. The warmth and camaraderie seemed to be replaced with aggression and hostility. Perhaps I'm over-sensitive but the influx of new members, caused by another local club raising their prices, all seemed to have a sense of entitlement and I got tired very quickly of being forced to disclose when I intended to leave my swim only so that they would then sit, sometimes camp, behind me until I left. So it was time to move on. I took what I had learned at Fordwich to Mid Kent Fisheries' Handle Lake and their lesser-fished Chartham lake and found the solitude that I was no longer experiencing at Fordwich.

22lb Chartham Common caught on the mag' feeder!

7lb male tench, the best of last season's tinca campaign.

Something else I will take with me from my time in Kent is friendship. I've learned so much from the other anglers I have met along the way. Iain, the barbel master and incredible all-round specimen angler, has been quite an inspiration over the years and one of the most helpful people I have ever met on the bank. 

A good barbel, nudging double figures, that I would not have caught without a point in the right direction from Iain.

Social trips with Shaun, Richard and Goo will always stay with me - you can't take yourself too seriously with these guys and they remind me that we engage in this pastime for fun! 

Left to right: Richard, Shaun and Goo all with 20lb something wels cats.
Kent and I at Bury Hill last summer.

Kent has become a dear friend over the last few years and a great companion for road trips up to Bury Hill. Gareth is quite a character. Endearingly eccentric. We trained  to be teachers together almost 12 years ago and formed a friendship based on our shared love of angling. We both enjoy writing about our experiences in the great outdoors. I always enjoy reading Gareth's Postcards from the English Outback which truly capture the romance of the garden of England.
Matthew not only befriended me but has had a significant influence on my angling and greater still, my enjoyment of angling. My first trip to the River Itchen with Matthew, when he was adamant I should experience the sensation of catching a lady of the river on a cane rod, made quite an impression. This was the catalyst for change. From thenceforth I gradually learned to focus less on catching fish and more on enjoying the experience of fishing. After all, work had over the years become increasingly stressful and with the birth of my daughter this March, time to angle was severely limited. My approach became more gentle, stealthy and traditional. It is almost as if, in order to receive the therapy I required, I had to unlearn everything I had learned in my time at Fordwich.

My new muse, the lady of the river.

In spite of my limited time on the bank this year, 2017 has still furnished me with some significant captures. The highlight of which has to be the crucian carp I caught when I was invited back to fish at The Moat. Most of my sessions have been spent trotting on the river stour for silvers and in the autumn, dangling a lobworm beneath a bobber float. These sessions have been highly therapeutic - quite productive too and whilst nothing large was ever brought to the net, this was neither a bother or my objective.
A crucian from the Moat.

A 20lb 12oz Handle carp caught on my last 'proper' carp sesh before my daughter was born.
A good double figure pike from Chartham lake.
An Itchen Grayling from back in January. 
The staple of my weekend angling these days!
So now for the recapitulation of this piscatorial sonata (sorry for the musical reference but it works quite well) as I return to the West Country to be closer to family and have the opportunity to visit some of my old haunts but now with the benefit of the experiences I have gained during my time away. I will greatly miss the Kentish waters and those I have whiled away the hours with there but every great story needs exciting new chapters and this will be no exception.

Monday, 4 September 2017


The crow quill fell flat on the surface, laying snug between beds of lilies. Meanwhile, unseen, shot plummeted to absolute depth, taking with them an appetising bell-shaped bread-flake with clouds of white fluffiness around the gape and dough clenched tight to the shank of a small wire hook, causing the float to cock, standing slowly to attention; simultaneously gaining mine.
A year had passed since last I sat beside these waters, during which in my mind, fantasies played out frequently of my return. The revery had haunted me so often that now it was almost impossible to tell if this was dream or reality. Reflections of weathered red brick, softened further by the perpetually restless rippling of the water became further obscured by trademark bubbles betraying the secret presence of tench. I had watched the float disappear with my eyes firmly shut many times before and this was no different until the tangible response, as my cane connected with tinca tinca, told me that this was no longer a passive fiction but a reciprocal reality. I had indeed returned to The Moat.

My thumb, pressed firmly against the rim of the pin, could not prevent its turning as this dark purveyor of power peeled line from spool and heart to mouth. The swims' serenity shattered as this tench tore through it in a fine display of masculinity. Any hope however of encountering a quiet crucian faded with the light whilst this gladiator from the depths submitted to my net at dusk.
Perhaps in an attempt to reenact triumphs of the past, I settled for the night in the place of my previous tarriance. This however, proved to be a foolish endeavour as the carp I tried to tempt thought best to let me sleep! I woke with the dawn, birdsong, strong coffee and Full-English nourishment, ready also to devour the day.
I set out from my place of slumber for a tree-lined stretch, thick with weed and waterlilies only sporting the occasional clearing through which to post a line. I had intentionally taken the long route here in order to invest some time and conversation into friendships old and new, as is my way and of at least equal importance to the pursuit of fish. Here however, I was sufficiently removed from the melee of anglers and felt a sense of solitude and serenity- a sensation to be savoured by a new father!
Stealth, watercraft, patience and good luck came together in something of a hurry as my first cast accompanied by a small ground bait appetiser remained undisturbed by me until the float began to twitch. At first, only subtle ring-shaped ripples emanating from my homemade float were distinguishable but as the surface fizzed with pinprick bubbles and the archetypal gentle lift ensued there was no mistaking this for the delicate bite of a crucian carp. Every hypothetical scenario that had paced in circles anxiously around my head regarding when to strike was rendered completely irrelevant as autopilot took over and before I knew exactly how I had done it, a weighty crucian carp caused my rod to arc over as it spiralled down in search of sanctuary. Noble though its bid for freedom was, it was also thankfully short-lived and before long the sense of elation every angler lives for consumed my being.

Two further fish flirted with my float, each giving themselves up with relative ease at the thought of free food but neither were so uncanny that they would succumb to my net. Late morning swiftly slid into an afternoon lull and though not negating the enchantment of this Crabtree paradise, I had to create a little magic of my own. While persevering with cane and quill, an additional ledgered offering of worms watched over by my ever faithful optonic quickly conjured a plump tench to break the silence by triggering the alarms' distinctive tone. With demonic drive the doctor fish charged, relentlessly wreaking havoc and testing my tackle beyond comfort. Without fail each near submission was followed by yet another 'last' bid for freedom. The fitness of these moat fish is in my view unparalleled.

Nightfall denoted the final hours of my stay. I watched the stars circle slowly in the sky as the hours passed waiting hopefully for a final fish. As it became too dark to see without the assistance of a torch, line tore hurriedly off the spool of my left rod and I lifted into a hefty specimen. I anticipated the danger of nearby snags and held on for dear life, attempting to kite the carp to open water with side-strain. The line suddenly went slack and my heart sunk. I sulked back to bed and so began the dreams of my return to settle this unfinished business...

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Nostradamus 2012/ A very carpy winter...

The end of life as I know it has been foretold and whilst the true believer does not fear death, any mere mortal inevitably clings to the life they have known with a sense of desperation. I am now counting the days to the very opposite scenario, a new life - my own daughter whom I cannot wait to meet and yet since Christmas have felt the necessity to fulfil something of an angling 'bucket list'.

Winter is seldom as I remember it as a child: Toboggan rides, snowball fights, those blue Parka jackets with orange lining and faux-fur hoods that every school boy wore in the 1980s and the disappointment of another weekend I could not fish at Lake Shearwater because it had a thick lid of ice on it. I never thought I would crave the cold but warm winters are not conducive to pike fishing and so as soon as the frosts first came I was out looking for esox lucius.

My first few excursions conformed to the cliche of the modest jack that was 'this big' by the time I spoke of it and of course tales of the behemoth 'that got away'. Minutes past home time frequently accumulated, spent with frost bitten fingers, mentally conflicted between the perceived shame of an unproductive trip and the trouble I would be in when I arrived home late. I have a habit of giving a 'final countdown' from 1 - 60 after which I am obliged to pack up but during which, if I have a bite - or any indication that could possibly be perceived as a bite, then the countdown must start again. On this occasion I had completed this ceremony faithfully without even the most tenuous excuse for a nibble on my float-fished sardine and so dutifully picked up my rod to reel in, which in doing so agitated the bait slightly and suddenly the float slid away... 

A 15lb Pike from a stour valley stillwater.

Grayling are synonymous with winter and regarded perhaps comically as a commendable quarry for carp anglers during the colder months. Last February I made my first pilgrimage with Matthew to the River Itchen where I was baptised into the cult of cane. Such fun was had with the 'ladies of the river' that we seem to have made it an annual fixture. Once at the waterside we went our separate ways until our mid-morning donut was due. "How many?" he asked - "Three" I said proudly "you?" - "Thirty!". Thankfully I didn't hold on to the embarrassment but continued to enjoy the day losing lethiathans and landing littler ladies, untangling birds-nests and admiring a hunting marsh-harrier. 

My mornings most weekends begin with a couple of hours at dawn, trotting a worm beneath a bobber along the jetties and between moored boats on the River Stour watched over by hungry and highly-opportunistic robins, redwings, blackbirds, song thrush and this not so koi kingfisher.

This has spot has been a tranquil haven for me, providing necessary escape and solitude until recently as it has become overrun with pike anglers clutching at the last straws of the season. By no means is this a criticism but in order to maintain my enjoyment, ever mindful of the sands of fishing-time slipping through my fingers, I opt not to compete.

As the season draws to a close, my tickets approach expiry and the wriggles and kicks visible on the surface of my wife's incredible baby-bulge become evermore violent, I know that each trip may be my last. For a while at least. I assign myself one last mission to catch a carp from one of the gravel pits abundant in this part of Kent.

I spent Saturday morning swimming with my wife, which is the only form of exercise she can really do at this stage of pregnancy, then on to mothercare and boots to buy the remaining miscellaneous necessities in preparation for our daughter's debut. By the time we were done and my gear was loaded into the car there was an hour left of light. Once at the lake my eyes strained to make out far bank features and after tentatively casting a lead towards intended spots only to find a multitude of overhanging branches I decided I had time for 1 cast per rod before dark- at a push and so put the rigs on and confidently pinged each rig precisely into position. That was a first for me!
Making use of landmarks on the distinctive treelined horizon I fired free offerings out in the dark with my catapult, a wild shot in the dark if ever there was one!
As I nestled down for the night beneath an almost full moon, the onset of sleep was intermittently interrupted by line-bites - encouraging to know that carp were chasing around after their widely scattered supper. The witching hour was announced by the tone of my alarms, a bite which dropped back rapidly as the fish took the bait away from the reed bed it had been kissing since sunset.

 As I lifted this glorious common carp out of the water I realised it was bigger than I had first thought in spite of its feistiness. As I held the scales aloft the dial turned to 20lb 12oz. 
"20, 12" I said aloud. The implications of this ominous number began to dawn on me as I recollected Nostradamus had predicted that the world would end in the year 2012. Could it be that my angling might also end with this 20-12 in accordance with the prophecies of the many wise sages coupled with anecdotes of their own parental experiences? 
Thankfully, Nostradamus was wrong!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Looking back at 2016

Carpe Diem; a good motto to live by and certainly one that has seemed all-the-more relevant to me of late, especially where my angling is concerned. 2016 has been a year of impossible demands, soaring highs and crushing lows but that is life and it must be acknowledged that without the challenges there would be little ecstasy in achievement. 
The challenges I have faced have led me to be more proactive in my leisurely pursuits, including my fishing and as a consequence the shape of my angling has changed, resulting in more opportunities and more varied experiences than I could ever have hoped for.
The first moment of significance was a day on the River Itchen with good friends Matthew and Colin. They were keen for me to experience the joy of a grayling on a cane rod and whilst this meant little to me prior to this excursion, the sensation of the connection through this medium simply cannot be put into words and has since become a focus of fanaticism. With some sterling guidance in a stunning setting, several 'ladies of the river' were seen.

Whilst I do enjoy long session carp fishing with all the associated trimmings, aside perhaps from the blinkered outlook and laddish antics, I have found it much easier snatch short sessions early in the morning or late at night on the Kentish Stour. The stretch I used to frequent in pursuit of barbel is in a sorry state owing, at least in part, to gross mismanagement and sadly also, the other anglers who fish there. For this reason I have spent most of my time elsewhere on the river and have enjoyed some good chub, roach, gudgeon, bream, perch and pike, very often without seeing a single soul.

I have to thank my dad for my love of angling. He introduced me to sea fishing, his preferred denomination of our sport, when I was young and we have relished every opportunity to get out together since, messing about in boats or blanking on the beach - it matters not. These moments together are important bonding time and angling the perfect medium. These days, sadly, they are few and far between. This year however, for his 60th birthday, we made a concerted effort and arranged a string of angling adventures; punting in the jungle at Bury Hill, beach casting from Herne Bay, carping on Broadlands Lake and the highlight, coincidentally also the most epic haul, fishing for thornback rays off the coast of Dover in March. I can't claim it was difficult fishing, though timing the strike was critical to hooking the fish successfully but these hard fighting creatures really were fun to catch. Now we are back in the habit of booking in 'bank time' or even 'boat time', it would be a crime to let it slide once more.

Come spring all I could think about was tench fishing. I was blessed with a couple of days on the banks of a new water at Easter when I made sure this was my sole focus. I fished two rods with black-cap maggot feeders and a maggot clip on a simple hair rig and took 20 tench over the session. They started around 4lb and progressed to 5, 6 and eventually a 7lber before the end of the session. Most fish came at night meaning I had hardly any sleep!In spite of this being a highly successful tench session, the real highlight had to be the surprise capture of this 22lb common carp which picked up the big ball of maggots intended for a tinca! Incredible fun, if not a little hair-raising at times, on light tackle... I have only returned to this venue once since this session to try and track down some more big scaleys but missed the one chance I was given. I'm sure this lake has incredible potential - it is certainly not fished very much so who knows what is in there. However, over the summer months I had other venues to focus on.

It was my absolute pleasure and privilege to be granted to opportunity to fish on two occasions this year at a very special venue known simply as 'The Moat'. The first visit was for a day in July and was somewhat sweet and sour  - the venue cast something of a spell on me, I was totally in awe but the fishing was more challenging than I had anticipated. I was targeting crucian carp and had forgotten just how finicky their bites can be. I was over-gunned and complacent. On my second visit, this time in August, I had more time to play with and was able to relax into the experience and, with the benefit of learning from my previous experiences, make the necessary adjustments to be successful. I targeted carp by night resulting in two stunning mid-doubles on simple ledger tactics. During daylight hours I fished for crucians again this time slightly scaled down, fed less but more frequently and was less hasty on the strike and, though the first day passed without a bite, on the second I was rewarded with a commendable crucian taken on a small piece of bread flake fished beneath a quill float I made. 
The moment was absolute magic, compounded further by the fantastic friends who shared it with me. On my return I was compelled to write about my experience and am proud to say an abridged version of my blog about this trip has been included as a 'Reader's Story' in issue 8 of Fallon's Angler - a super quarterly publication with the subheading 'a medley of piscatorial prose'. To see my story in print alongside angling writers such as Chris Yates and Kevin Parr, truly is an honour.

The rest of the summer was spent chasing carp on a venue I had not fished before this year. I took a trip or two to figure out how to catch here but once off the mark had a reasonable string of catches until the end of the summer when they seemed to dry up a little, though I was not alone in this. I had signed up to club that hosts this venue in addition to the ticket I have held for the past 7 years or so as I had become frustrated with rammed lakes and the agro I had experienced on the bank last season and needed to have a break from all that. During the summer I was able to get out mid-week which on this new lake often meant I was the only person fishing down there! Whilst it is not a patch on the beauty of Fordwich and the fish I caught, not as big and brag-worthy, it was a pleasure to find some solitude and still be having fun catching carp. I am still debating whether or not to keep this ticket on but it certainly did me good this year!

Most of the autumn I have spent fishing for perch either with float fished worms or using light drop-shot or jig tactics. I have been fortunate enough to find some prolific spots on the river. The longest I have fished in one sitting is 3 hours and have always caught a few but sometimes in excess of 40 perch in a session with most fish averaging an estimated 1/2lb - 1lb with no discernable distinction being apparent between methods. A friend has had some whopping-great perch from a still-water venue and commended live-baiting tactics as a way of singling out the bigger fish. I am yet to try this approach but can't help feeling that this might not pay off on my stretch as the fish caught on lures, which are effectively impersonating a live-bait, have not attracted bigger fish than the float fished lobs. I can only conclude that either the larger fish are not present or I have not been lucky yet. It is however, no hardship to keep trying!
Occasionally, when they have been showing, I have put a larger jig on and targeted pike. I have had a few decent jacks like this one but am yet to have the opportunity to go out with deadbaits on a frosty morning to try for anything bigger this season.

In late November, I travelled up to Hereford to fish the River Wye for barbel for a weekend. On the Saturday I fished alone and met up with Tony - a friend first met at the moat, on the Sunday.
It was fortuitous to have been without company on the first day as I fell victim to the steep, slippery banks on more than one occasion, as did my camera! It was bad enough taking an involuntary swim so I was grateful to have been spared the embarrassment of doing it before company. I did however catch 2 fighting fit, fin perfect barbel - the first weighed in at 5lb and the second returned without a fuss. I also had several decent trout on both days though no barbel showed on day two, probably owing to the frost the night before. Tony winkled out a lovely chub and we enjoyed some mince pies and a natter!

I don't think I have ever before caught such a range of species within a year - certainly not by design and so this feels like something of an achievement. I have enjoyed my fishing so much more also by focusing on the experience above the end result. 
I am going to be a dad next spring which I know is going to completely change my life. It is already giving me so much to look forward to! Who knows how much fishing I will be able to do once my baby girl arrives but where there is a will, there is a way and I believe my proactivity this year has formed healthy habits which will certainly give me a good chance of wetting a line whenever possible.