The fishing challenge is reaching a very interesting stage with Keith having all but run out of easy targets and now confronting the tricky apex predators, the curiously elusive ruffe and the all but impossible catfish, grass carp and eel. Only grayling is now an easy ride for him but the rest of us still have plenty of the less difficult species left on our plates, and I have the most of all to do with just eight points on the board so far. With three and a half months to go, the end result is anything but a forgone conclusion.
Three of us four competitors met for a Friday night fish-in at Lucy's Mill, Stratford. Keith and I set up opposite the flats and fished from four onwards, Pete would arrive around six o'clock. I planned a third and hopefully final attempt at the weir pool bream and Pete and Keith were gunning for zander and pike. It's a great place for a social is Stratford, as there's a neatly trimmed and level grass bank to sit on, no need to keep quiet what with boats and tourists and the din of the weir to drown out any disturbance, and so we could sit in a row and jaw all night. Perfect.
I began the process of building the swim with a barrage of five minute casts to lay down a carpet of feed in the form of my usual bread crumb and maggot mix in a large open end feeder with breadflake and maggot cocktail hookbait, an approach that had worked quite on the previous two attempts. The bites from small fish started to come after twenty minutes or so and an hour in the rod top bounced and pulled over hard. Something about the bite was out of character for the expected bream and when the strike met with a solid clunk and then a mighty surge of power, I knew I was attached to either a carp or a barbel.
The fight was delicately pursued as the hooklink was just four pounds and tied to a quite fine wire size ten hook, so I didn't want to put any unnecessary strain on the tackle and pull the hook straight or suffer a breakage and as Lucy's Mill is pretty much a snag free zone with a large expanse of open and quite placid water out front in which to play out a big fish safely, I had no need to.
The fish began tiring after five minutes or so, when its head appeared for the first time, ten yards out and I thought it to be a carp. Another bit of trouble close in as the fish crossed the faster water that runs down right against the bank here, and again its head appeared and it was confirmed as a barbel approaching double figures. A little more negotiation and Keith scooped my somewhat undersize (for barbel) net under the belly and hauled her out.
Just under nine pounds and blind in one eye, a barbel caught on breadflake, now that's an unexpected first! The fish was absolutely knackered and had to be held for quite some time face into the current in order to recover safely, but eventually kicked hard, turned and swam off downstream none the worse for the experience...
Now I didn't know what to do next. Should I go all out for barbel now I was of the blocks as the point for them was outstanding and the bream can be caught right up till December, or should I keep on with the bream attempt? I decided to carry on with my approach for with the downstream rod and put a boily out on the upstream rod with eight pound line straight through for a barbel.
I fished this way until dusk but had no joy on either rod. It was obvious by now that the bream were not having bread and maggots and that I'd probably blown my chances with that approach and that no further barbel would fall to the boilies. My answer was to split the difference and fish both rods with a bait that would appeal to both species - corn.
Meanwhile Keith was having a few bites on deadbaits and landed a pike just into double figures
I plugged the feeder with hard rammed breadcrumbs and loaded corn loose feed into the top. Hookbait was two grains of corn hooked through. Five casts per rod were made over ten minutes to once again lay down something for the bream or barbel to grub around for and then I sat back to enjoy the dusk.
Just as soon as the light fell to the point where the rod top chemical lights became more powerful than the ambient light, I was into my first bream. The fight is always the same - thud - thud, haul, thud - thud, haul, and so on until the fish finally flounders across the faster water and is netted. A four pounder...
This is, I hope, the first of many. I am not disappointed and bring a regular supply of four pound plus bream to the net over the next few hours of darkness. No more barbel show but the change over to corn was obviously the right move as it looks very likely now that I will, if things keep on the way they are going, get the bream point after all.
Keith has another pike and couple of zander with this five pounder to top off. Pete, who is fishing downstream of my position has had only a few knocks all evening.
With four bream landed for seventeen pounds thirteen ounces I am just one good fish away from a result. The predator bites seem to have dried up so Keith and Pete take up the slightly disconcerting pastime of staring at my rod tops more intently than me! We wonder if the psychic vibrations of so much fixed attention can travel down the line? I'm just waiting for the rod to bounce a few times in typical bream self-hook fashion, which inevitably and surprisingly it does and I am attached to a bream once again and this is one that is obviously going top push me well over the bar, so long as it comes in safely ...
There's no trouble and its scooped up by Keith to cheers all round. It is, at four pounds fifteen ounces, also a new personal best!
We pack up soon after and carry on an earlier discussion as we walk back past the theatre concerning next years challenge. Keith has covered this in detail in his blog entry for the night - sufficient to say that it is still in the kicking ideas about stage but seems to be going somewhere interesting.
Will fishing ever be the same again?