Monday, 9 May 2011

Gravel Pit Tench - Ever So Big

Gravel pits - I haven't fished one in years. I grew up fishing an old style pit complex in Essex, originally exploiting the ancient Thames gravel terraces, gravels laid down since the last ice age that from time to time throw up elephant and hippo bones and also flint handaxes fashioned half a million years ago by our distant ancestors of the lower Paleolithic. I have one myself in fact, found in the Ravensbourne, a very minor Lower Thames tributary.
I jumped in to the low summer stream to retrieve a lost ball whilst walking the dogs and there it was, laying on top of an exposed gravel spit right at my feet. It was published in Essex Archaeology some years ago along with another much later mesolithic stone axe that I found in a ploughed field.

The Warren, and to the right of Wharf Road, CEMEX Stanford Fishery. The CEMEX pits were recently abandoned workings when I was a boy - we used to swim and dive in the very deep crystal clear and completely fishless water then, and sand martins made a colony of their burrow nests in the high Northern bank. To the far left there is a small salt creek that joins the Thames Estuary just a quarter of a mile South of the fishery - there must be some monstrous old eels in there!

That old pit was The Warren in Stanford Le Hope, a sprawling jumble of every kind of possible lake feature imaginable, from dense reed beds, gravel bars, shallows, deeps and exposed peninsulars to islands joined by wooden walkways, high backed banks, intimate pools and stagnant marsh all created by the fact that the gravel was extracted from the site over the course of fifty or more years by various mechanical processes but in the beginning, by hand.

I thought that this was what all gravel pits were like but as I have found, Midlands gravel pits are, by comparison, relatively modern and therefore tend to be fairly regular and often very large puddles with very little in the way of variety of feature, just a long and monotonously regular bank bounding a small ocean of open water. They don't make em' like they used to...

Keith, Pete and I visited such a place on Saturday afternoon in pursuit of big tench and bream. The 'regular and monotonous' bank was actually very pretty with the fresh spring canopy drooping into the water all around the perimeter of the lake but peering into the clear margins and plumbing the depths in a few consecutive pegs revealed the ruthless mechanical efficiency of modern extraction methods in that everywhere seemed to have more more or less the same underwater topography - a shallow margin suddenly shelving away to five feet or six feet or so a couple of rod lengths out.

I decided to fish the opposite bank to Pete and Keith's choices because I am a glutton for punishment and wanted to see what was there as it was my first visit - by the time I arrived at the best looking peg on the entire lake (gotta start somewhere and it might as well look the part even if it later transpires that it aint!) I was in a sweat - I will have to get a trolley if these kinds of fully-laden pit perimeter hikes are going to become a regular occurence!

Bait was a Green Giant Original Sweet Nibbles corn and Sonubait's Supercrush Green Soft Hooker Pellet cocktail fished on a size six Korum Quickstop hook off a four-inch Maxima hooklength tied to a 28 gram Middy 'Splash Em' Method Feeder. Bloody hell, I'm knackered after all that product placement - I want paying per-capital-letter next time!

My method mix was simple - whizz up a loaf of stale bread (the cheap 'fresh' bread from Lidl works just as well...!) add a handful of Sonubait's Supercru... blah, blah, feed pellets, a handful of corn and the liquor from the can, a handful of hemp and some old cooked rice that had been knocking about in the freezer for too long and hey presto, with hardly any added water, perfect!

I didn't have a spod rod so ten golf ball size lumps were chucked out as far as I could throw them and a bait put straight in the middle of the ripples, then the same quantity was chucked into the water three or four rod lengths out for the 'margin' rod. Surprisingly, judged by the angles of the line from the rod tops to the water once set up level on the rests and buzzers, the far rod was fishing in perhaps four feet of water and the near in at least eight to ten feet, so the lake bed was not quite as even and featureless I had imagined it to be.

I sat in this swim without so much as a line bite for two hours and then decided on a move along to another peg that I had clocked earlier. In the meantime Keith had banked the first fish to all our combined six rods, a skimmer bream that I'm sure he'll tell you all about in due course...

The weather had been deteriorating all afternoon, from a pleasantly warm and muggy start to cool and windy with the threat of imminent heavy rain. It began spitting just as I had my first liner. A few minutes later I had another to the same rod, the left hander. Later I tried striking one of the slow lifts of the bobbin but got nothing for it, obviously the fish responsible were not actually picking up the bait but were interested in the freebies.

The right hand rod fishing in shallow water just off a small island had no attention at all so I shifted it over to the active area of to the left in an attempt to put more baits in front of what I suspected were bream. An hour later and with the rain increasingly in intensity somewhat a fish rolled over the bait I'd put next to the island. I cast back to the spot, of course.

Lee Fletcher then turned up in Keith's peg (opposite me now) on an evening visit sans rods and helped him land a tench of three or four pounds while I sat under my brolly quite unable to make out what they were shouting to me what with the rain drops drumming on the taught fabric of my fishing brolly. A little later Lee turned up in my peg and we settled under the shelter for a chat.

Lee certainly seems to have the required effect upon other tench anglers for as with Keith, ten minutes of him sitting beside me produced the first proper run of the evening and saved me from what was looking like a certain skunking. The fish was immensely strong and determined but was subdued in five minutes and landed by myself as the swim required wading being so narrow and I had wellies on.

It was good to have Lee around as I had forgotten my Gardner Universal Jointed Camera/bankstick gadget and this was a new personal best fish of five pounds eight ounces...

Soon after this the heavens started to open, Lee having performed tench mascot duties departed sharpish and then the rain became torrential, so we packed up, and legged it back to Keith's motor.

Now I know that a PB tench of just 5lbs is not much in today's terms but you have to understand that when I fished The Warren as a boy in the mid seventies, the last time in fact when I ever targeted tench seriously and specifically, a five pounder was a truly specimen fish. So, forgive me if I crow about such a relatively small achievement but I have just passed an boyhood ambition and an angling milestone.

The tench I catch from this moment on will never be so big again, even if one or two do turn out to be, ever so big.


  1. The bottom photo is what I call "the money shot"...very well done on your tench victory.

  2. Glad to be of service Jeff, even though you've pipped my tench score - for now !

  3. Congratulations on your new pb Jeff

    The Warren was a regular stomping ground of mine at about the same time as you by the looks of it.
    From memory my pb tench was about 3:14, there were some cracking roach and many a time at last light I hit fish that just went!