The air thickens with the faint sweetness of decay as I make my way down the track and through the woods to my chosen swim. As I amble through the glimmering thickets, my upper consciousness notices the inner dialog of my quotidian self veer suddenly off track and crash unfettered through the romantic glades and into the shimmering pools of the poetic, and that vision has now assumed all the soft focus cheesiness of a bad wedding photograph, and also that the birds and the trees, seem to be, oh yes, indeed, they really are...they're talking....to me...!
It must be Autumn...
" One too many Martin Bowler prologues for breakfast, hey? Let's get down to business, Hatt. Tench... that is what you come ere for, Tench... and you ain't ere for nuthin' else mate. All right? Oh, and dunk your odic stanzas in the net dip on the way in, like a good boy"
My good sense rights itself like a capsized lifeboat...
This would be probably the last chance of the year for me to have a good crack at tench fishing and most importantly, get that elusive challenge point. I could have gone to Napton and had the thing sewn up in an hour or two if reports are anything to go by, but I don't want to sit in a concrete bowl and catch tench too easily, as such a thing is just not 'right' in my minds eye. Tench are fish that I associate with weed, reed, quill and filmy foam flecked margins. They are also a fish that I fondly remember having honed my fishing skills upon at an early age, so fishing for them always has to be skillful nowadays, artful even. Skullhauling? No thanks very much.
Amazingly, the only pond in the locality that I'd found that offered the right combination of elements was on a commercial fishery. Packington Somers might well be commercial verging upon the corporate (no bad thing, actually) but it does contain a little gem in the form of its central pond, Siblings, a water that is fast becoming one of my firm favorites. I hope the management just leave it to mature and without further interference. It's an interesting shape, has some reedbeds with swims cut in them allowing a nicely obscured view of the rest of the world, and seems to contain a really good mix and balance of just the right size and shape of fish for the serious pleasure anglers amongst us. Precisely the right amount of carp to put the wind up you from time to time but not dominate proceedings all day long, plenty of tench and crucians as a staple, some nice roach and rudd for seasoning, bream too and probably a few big perch for sauce. It's also very pleasant, peaceful and pretty.
Last time here I'd ended up in a reed bed swim and had a late run of tench that suggested that a whole day spent in the same would surely yield the point, if I got my approach just right. I'd a pint of casters, the bait that had produced such interest back then, plus meat for cubing, corn, of course, and a handful of prawns that I really wanted to trial.
I got the swim in the nick of time just before a horde of Brummy herberts turned up and all hunting for a reed bank peg.
I fed with casters and then set up the JW quiver with its newly repaired broken avon top, which I'd sleeved with a two inch length of a broken whip's top section and glued firmly in place, and now the repair was about to get its baptism of fire, I hoped. Hook was a size twelve to four pound hoolength, mainline six pound and the float a homemade goose quill number. Old school...
I did not have long to wait for the first tench but only after I'd worked out that I was not going to see any sail away bites and began to strike at the small indications I thought might well be the from attentions of (unwanted) crucians. When I met with a surge of power rather than a dogged bang - bang - bang of a crucian, I knew I was off the mark.
Soon after the first, a female of 2:11, came the second fish, this time a male of much the same size (2:10) but as with all male tench, twice the power. I count myself lucky to have landed him after he took me for a merry ride right through the reedbed and back.
Then it went off key for an hour or more. All around the fish were bumping and bashing through the reeds, some of whom I suspected were carp. I was getting bites OK, but as the sun came up high in the sky they were becoming increasingly finicky affairs and I missed bite after bite and those I managed to hook, I pulled out of.
Then finally I held a fish, only it weren't no tench, but a small crucian.
It was now well past noon and the sun was glaring straight into my eyes, and, as I had lost my treasured fishing hat and regard most sunglasses as next to useless in direct rays, had to shield my eyes with my hands for long periods between clouds and bites...
The tench seemed to have vanished. So, I broke out the prawns, as it seemed I had little to lose at this time, and the effect, well, it was startling...
The bites suddenly improved out of all recognition. Where there had been only what I'd consider typical crucian carp bites all morning (and with hookups to mostly tench) now I was getting the most confident bites possible, the float lifting high and sliding away smoothly like an illustration out of a textbook and the culprits were crucians, of which I had further three in short order.
What a transformation in the usual habits of crucian carp! The only downside I can see as a pure crucian bait is that perch also love them too, as I found out to the tune of two. I also had a bream but no roach as I'd thought I would, even though I'd had a couple earlier on caster, as you'd expect.
Unfortunately the tench did not seem to care for prawns much, as was proved when I changed back over to caster and immediately took a brace (1:06 & 1:10) within minutes of the change over of baits.
Oddly enough, to very confident bites...
And then it all went quiet once again, even the prawns were left untouched.
By four o'clock, with the sun arcing lower into the western sky, the shafts of blinding light were becoming unbearable and I was praying for cloud...
I tried the sunglasses but things were even worse, I couldn't make out the float amidst all the refracted light from the innumerable scratches on the lenses. I really will have to get myself some new RayBans and stop relying upon cheap shite from Lidl!
Then I had another tench to caster, dead on the pound, and quite out of the blue...
...followed by a string of bites that culminated in a new personal best crucian of one pound six ounces, a modest fish but one that's beaten my old record by from Stockton Reservoir by just 8 drams (good scales!) and a record that I really want to beat out of sight next year.
By this point I am doubting that the tench point is possible. I have amassed a weight of just nine pounds and fifteen ounces thus far, have more than five pounds yet to catch with just three hours left and with over two thirds of the day already gone. I am banking on a late feeding spell now, after Joe Public has packed up and gone. If that does not come then I won't, I decide, be trying for the tench point again and will have failed.
As dusk approaches things are looking really grim. The swim seems to have died the death. As a saving measure I decide to try diced luncheon meat in an effort to get the fish moving once more. I cube a couple of thin slices and chuck them along with handfuls of casters into the both open water and also the reedbeds to get fish that I know are there, rooting about and moving out into the peg where I can get to them.
The bait in the reeds has the desired effect upon the residents after twenty minutes or so and they start their movements once again. The strategy works, but to confound matters I catch another tench, yes - but it's a baby half pounder!
I don't even need the net for this one!
Then the swim really comes alive and I hook a bloody carp (I see its scaley flank, so no big tench here) who drags me straight into the reeds and thrashes them to foam. The hook pings out, and amazingly for a match size twelve tied to just four pounds line, un-bent and unbroken. That's a testament to the JW quiver and its powerful, yet endlesly forgiving elastic blank, and I must say, my tip repair too, which has survived its toughest test yet.
I expect the swim to have suffered but no, it happens again, another carp picks up the meat as soon as it hits bottom, and with exactly the same exhilarating but ultimately detrimental results. Once again the hook is fine! This time I decide to retackle completely and cut the frazzled mainline from the reel to the bait, upping the size of hook to a thick wire size ten and decide to fish meat till close of play.
By now I have just an hour left. It's seven O'clock and fishing ceases at eight on this estate. I don't think I have chance, but just as I am thinking precisely that, I connect with what I know is a tench, only the hook pops out early in the fight...
I am now sitting on my hands to stop myself striking at dips and knocks, forcing myself to wait for positive bites knowing that downstairs the feed has triggered a feeding rampage even though there are very few bubbles to prove it up top.
Sure enough next cast I get a tench, that gets to the reeds, thrashes about a bit and then just caves in like a bream. Most un-tench like, but who cares, it's another pound and nine ounces toward the total and I am now on, by my rough mental calculations ( I've been keeping track of actual weights by shooting little video records on the compact all day long) about twelve and half pounds.
One more good fish and I think the point is mine...
And it comes, next cast. A difficult customer of two pounds twelve. I think I have clinched it, though my brain cant quite work out whether I am just under or just over, as I cant clearly remember the actual target weight, so I decide to keep on as I have at least half an hour left, just to make absolutely bloody certain..!
The feeding spell is obviously in full swing as I get another tench first cast, but for a time I think it to be another pesky carp because of its sheer power. Nevertheless, after a few hairy moments careering through the reeds it goes head up and I slip the net safely under another male of exactly the weight of its female predecessor.
The final tally...
So there we have it. I needn't have worried, It was a close run thing, but not that close, and so with half an hour remaining till the fishery gates will be locked for the night...