In a day and age where the ‘old fashioned’ close season is nothing more than a distant memory for many, and spring captures abound, Tel relives a recent tale to remind us why the build up and buzz of expectancy can be just as exciting, and why it is always worth the wait.
For five years now Dad and I have had a boat with moorings on the Tidal Thames, and no matter how much fishing we do from its decks, I don't think it'll ever lose its magical appeal. For one, the stock of carp is forever changing, and every year we seem to meet a few new faces. Carp come and carp go, and as with all rivers, there’s always that little bit of mystery. You just never know what the next take is going to be from, and it's this element of surprise that always keeps me heading back for more.
On top of the ever-changing stock it's also very different from fishing a stillwater. Flowing water is so much more alive. There’s always something going on, plus its nice to be able to just grab a couple of rods and a bag and head off for a few hours dangling, without having to take a bedchair, bivvy and all the usual clutter associated with a few days away.
One of the other major attractions to me is having new things to write about and photograph, stuff that's different to the norm. Everywhere I look there's something begging to have its picture taken, and as I enjoy the photography side of things just as much as the fishing I always come home with a smile on my face, whether I've been lucky enough to catch or not.
The only downside to having a boat is the maintenance side of things. It's not much different to having a second car really, apart from the fact that if you do happen to break down you can't rely on the AA! The engine needs servicing from time to time to make sure it's always in good running order. Add the petrol, the annual mooring fee, the river license, insurance, and the boat equivalent of an MOT, and it all works out pretty expensive, but then split between dad and I it's not so bad, and so far it's been worth every penny.
For me it's an escape, somewhere I can head to whenever the lakes are busy, or whenever they're not fishing so well. Mid summer, when most big fish venues are looking a bit tired and worn, I head off to the river. The same goes for the winter - when the weathers cold and the lakes are frozen, I head off to the river... you get the picture.
Each year dad and I give the outside of the boat a major clean up, normally during the spring close season. The gulls around our moorings are a real pain and we're forever having to scrub the masses of droppings off, but then once a year it gets a proper clean, t-cut and polish. I swear those gulls have got lime mixed with battery acid for poo, and after a long winter with the buggers perched all over the boat it can take the best part of a day to get 'The Pearl' back to its old gleaming self.
Anyway, this year we went down to clean the boat a little earlier than normal, around a month before the start of the new season on June 16th, and as I had a few kilos of boilies left over from a recent trip elsewhere, I threw them in off the back of the boat before we got to work. It was a bit early to start baiting up really, but as I already had the bait in the car i thought i might just as well stick it in before it went off.
We were well aware that the outside of the boat was in need of a good clean, but for the first time in five years I noticed that even the inside decking area was starting to look a bit grubby. One trip last autumn I turned up to find that a couple of feral pigeons had claimed the boat for themselves, having squeezed their way in beneath a loose corner on the canopy. They must have been living there for a week or more as there were feathers and droppings all over the place, and though I'd given it a quick wipe over at the time, I could see that really it needed a lot more effort putting into it.
'One trip last autumn I turned up to find that a couple of feral pigeons had claimed the boat for themselves, having squeezed their way in beneath a loose corner on the canopy'
And so, a few days after we'd cleaned the outside, I went back on my own to give the inside a proper going over, and like you do, I took another big bag of boilies with me. Once again I baited up before getting to work with the scrubbing brush, and soon afterwards I noticed that there was plenty of bubbling going on, all around the area that I'd put the bait, which was pretty encouraging.
From that point on I drove to the moorings and baited up every 3-4 days, scattering 5-10 kilos of mixed Dynamite boilies, tigers and maize off the back of the boat on each occasion. My freezer got a good clean out this spring, that's for sure! Whenever I have some bait left over from a session on a lake, rather than throw it away I have a couple of big plastic sacks in one half of the chest freezer, which I empty all the odds and ends into. Not that there's anything wrong with the bait, it's just once that it's been thawed out for two or three days it's not much use taking it with me for another session as it would be highly likely to go off halfway through. So, no waste, and as it tends to get thrown or scooped in by hand there's no problem with mixing up the different sizes either. This year my pre-baiting mix consisted of just about every Dynamite boilie I've ever used; The Source, The Crave, Banana Nut Crunch, Savoury Spice…
On each visit I'd always make myself a cup of tea and hang about for an hour or so, watching the river for any signs of activity, and by the time the start of the season was only a week or so away it was clear that at least a few carp were in the area. On a low tide the banks on much of this stretch are pretty barren and beach like, but when the tide is high the water rises right up into the overhanging willows and foliage. One night I arrived to bait up just into dark, and as I scattered the bait about off the back of the boat I could hear carp spawning amongst the submerged vegetation only a few yards away.
Another evening I was pottering around on the boat after baiting up when something hefty turned over on the surface, and though I'd only just seen it out of the corner of my eye, the spread of the rings told me that it had to have been a carp, and a good one at that. I was getting more and more excited by the day and the magical date of June 16th really couldn't come quick enough.
Eventually, June 15th was upon us and I made my way down the long wooden jetty with extra spring in my steps. This time round, instead of just a bag of bait, I had a pair of rods in my hand and a rucksack on my back. Dad had intended to fish the start of the season with me, but unfortunately he'd come down with a bad bout of flu a couple of days beforehand, and so I was on my own.
I'd arrived extra early, 2 o'clock in the afternoon, a full ten hours before casting out time but to me it was all just part of the buzz. First things first I baited up, introducing around a kilo of the mixed boilies. Next I tied up a few rigs before getting the rods all ready to go, and after that there was little more to do but make tea, watch the other boats go by, and watch a film or two on the DVD player.
'Eventually, June 15th was upon us and I made my way down the long wooden jetty with extra spring in my steps. This time round, instead of just a bag of bait, I had a pair of rods in my hand and a rucksack on my back'
The tide reached its lowest point just after 11pm and was due to stay that way right through until around 7am the following morning, which was absolutely ideal. It's possible to fish the tidal during both low and high water, but when I'm night fishing off the moorings I always prefer a low tide, as this is when the river is at its kindest, when the pace is just right and when there's not too much rubbish drifting downriver.
Midnight finally arrived and two rigs were cast the short distance to the baited mark, both with simple snowman presentations. I've used lots of different hook-baits on the river over the years and I've found that they've all worked well. The carp really aren't that fussy. On this occasion I used Dynamite Savoury Spice with 10mm pink Crave pop ups on top.
I'm sure that there will be a few anglers reading this that will remember the old close season days, and the sound of all the leads thumping in around the lake as everyone cast out at midnight, followed by a chorus of buzzers bleeping away. Well, here on the river it was completely different. Although I'm sure there would have been other anglers elsewhere on the river, on the section that I was fishing I was all alone.
The last of the party boats had already passed me by shortly before midnight, and from that point on the river was calm and silent. With the rods out and the Tilly lamp turned down low, I settled back into the cabin and made yet another brew, all the while keeping a close eye on the tips.
I doubt if ten minutes had passed before I had the first indication, just a slight pull on the right hand rod as something brushed against the line. The bream on this stretch can be a bit of a problem at times and so I prayed that they'd leave me alone long enough for the carp to get a look in.
A couple of minutes later the same rod knocked again, and then all hell broke loose as the tip slammed over hard and line screamed from the clutch. I actually waited a couple of seconds with my hand hovering over the rod before picking it up, savouring the moment and watching the take gain in pace, as it was crystal clear that a carp was responsible. River carp are well known for their fighting capabilities and this one was no exception. For the next five minutes we did battle, with the fish repeatedly exploding noisily on the surface, trying its hardest to pull my arm from its socket, until eventually I was sliding the net beneath my first river carp of the season, a deep, chunky mirror of 25lb 6oz.
With the fish safely slipped into a sack I quickly set about getting a fresh rig into position, and with that done I then settled back into the cabin and tried my hardest to get a bit of shut eye. By now it was almost 1am and the cool night air was starting to make feel drowsy. It wasn't long before I was in the land of nod, dreaming of monster river carp.
The next thing I remember was waking up to a buzzer howling as another carp made its mistake. This one stripped an incredible amount of line, almost making it to the far bank of the river, but once I'd managed to slow it down it was just a simple case of leading it back towards me on the surface like a dog on a lead. Into the net it went, another corking mirror, this time a lovely broken linear. I left the fish in the net for a short while whilst I got the unhooking mat ready, and then, amazingly, just as I went to lift it out the remaining rod burst into life!
By now I had a good feel for it and I could tell from the off that it was even bigger than the two carp I'd already caught. Standing on the deck of the boat playing that fish on the morning of June 16th really was an incredible buzz. The river was calm with a hazy mist rising from it, and the horizon was already starting to turn pink as night turned to day.
'Standing on the deck of the boat playing that fish on the morning of June 16th really was an incredible buzz. The river was calm with a hazy mist rising from it, and the horizon was already starting to turn pink as night turned to day'
With my line stretching way out into the river I saw the fish surface for the first time, it's wide back visible for a brief moment, and then just like the others it kicked and sent up a big spray of water as it powered back into the depths. I've been lucky enough to catch plenty of river carp over the years, but this one really did have me shaking.
A few minutes more and I had it beneath the tip right alongside the boat. Remember now, I already had a good mirror in the net, the only net I had with me as it happened, and so when it came to landing it I had to be extra careful not to let the other fish escape. I waited until it was truly beaten, with it's head above the surface coughing water, and then in one swift movement I dipped the net and scooped it up.
Although it was beginning to get light it was still dark enough for me to have to use a torch, and once I'd flicked it on it's beam illuminated two big mirrors resting side by side. I was reluctant to lift them both out at the same time and so first of all i tried slipping one of them into a sack whilst it was still in the net, but they were too lively for all that and it was awkward trying to do it whilst leaning over the boat. The only one way to deal with them was on the mat.
Lifting the net into the boat required some serious effort and I knew then that there was well over 60lbs of Thames carp in there. In fact there was over 65lb's in there, as the first fish weighed in at 29lb's and the second one was 36lb 3oz. The maddest thing of all is that the '36' turned out to be one that dad had caught on June 16th a few years before. All that river and I'd caught the same fish as dad, from the very same place on the very same date. It just goes to show that lightning can strike in the same place twice.
'The maddest thing of all is that the '36' turned out to be one that dad had caught on June 16th a few years before. All that river and I'd caught the same fish as dad, from the very same place on the very same date. It just goes to show that lightning can strike in the same place twice'
Dad had said that he'd leave his phone on just in case I had a result, and so with three sacks hanging off the front of the jetty I figured it was time to give him a call, and a short while later he turned up to help out with the pictures. They all looked good, but the big one in particular looked incredible, a proper old Thames warrior, with brown and orange hues to its flanks and big bulbous eyes, perfectly evolved to the muddy waters of the tidal Thames.
Other than four bream in quick succession, that was it for the rest of that morning, and as the high tide reached its peak I shot off for the day. It was forecast to be a hot and sunny Saturday, an ideal recipe for boaters and canoeists, and so I figured that I'd be better off grabbing some shut eye at home - as I'd managed very little - before returning in the evening. I made sure to bait the spot with another couple of kilos of mixed boilies before leaving.
Feeling rather keen I was back on the boat with two tips stuck over the side by 6.30pm. By 8pm I'd caught three more bream, and by the way that the tips were constantly plucking and trembling with liners it was clear that a big shoal of them was moving through. As I watched the lines one of them fell slack from the tip, and so I picked up the rod, thinking there was another bream on the end. To begin with it even felt like a bream, but then as it neared the boat it suddenly woke up and I soon realised that I was playing a carp. The tide was beginning to come up by this point and with the flow now going in the opposite direction it had simply swum towards me. In fact it carried on going and I had to pressure it out from underneath the boat, with the tip held deep beneath the water. When the tides ripping in the fish can fight twice as hard and feel twice as big, but eventually I managed to net a long, scaley mirror, a real corker which I'd never seen before. At 23lb's it was a more than welcome prize, and so I done a few quick self takes before slipping him back.
I felt confident of more action through the night, but surprisingly that was it, even the bream went quiet.
The next night was pretty much the same, but then at first light one of the rods launched itself from the boats makeshift steering wheel rod-rest and the clutch went into meltdown. From the speed it was taking line I felt sure that it was going to be one of the smaller ones, and sure enough it turned out to be a bionic common of around 15lb. Just as a small common often signals the end of a run of good fish on a lake, so the same thing often happens on the river. The following night was a complete blank. However, I did pop back for another night a few days later, and this time round I managed a ghost common of 20.4. As I've often said before, the Thames holds many different strains of carp, ornamentals included.
I only intended to fish the first few nights of the season on the river, but you know what it's like, once bitten and all that! And so I've carried on fishing off the boat elsewhere on the stretch, and only a week or so back I took an Oxfordshire friend, Lenny, with me. I'd been promising to take him for a while, and so, with the river in good condition we set off for a spot that I'd recently started baiting up-river. In fact I'd baited four different spots the day before taking him out, just to ensure that we had plenty to go at.
I was really hoping for Lenny to catch his first Thames carp and was willing his rod to go first, so when it was mine that signalled the first take I felt a little guilty. It was a nice carp mind, a snub nosed 20.4 mirror with a few scales dotted along its lateral line.
The rods went back out and this time I told Lenny he could have both of them, but he was having none of it. So I gave him the choice of either the left or the right one, but he stuck to his guns and kept to the left rod. He reminded me that there was always a chance of catching 'The Dream', a certain 40lb plus Thames common, a fish which I'd already showed him a well worn and regularly gazed at picture of in the cabin earlier that morning. After reminding me of that I shut up!
Although our baits were no more than ten feet apart, the next take happened to come to my rod as well, which made me feel even more horrible, especially when it snagged me up and I had to ask Lenny to reel in his rod so we could up anchor and try to retrieve it. We boated out to it but it was stuck solid, and so I held the mainline tight, and using the landing net pole i following it down with the 'v' shaped section of the spreader block. I could feel that the lead core leader was caught beneath what felt like a small boulder, and though I'd soon managed to guide it free, unfortunately the carp was already long gone, my first loss of the season.
Everything went quiet for a bit after that, but then just as I was thinking that was the last of the action, the tip on the left rod, Lenny's rod, bounced and twanged as something shook the lead from its clip... "That’s a take mate, hit it!"
Lenny was on it in a flash, and looking at the arc of the rod as it lunged away against the skyline, it was clearly a carp. For the next few minutes it ploughed up and down in front of the boat, and all the while I think we were both praying that the hook held firm and that it didn't find one of those darn snags. There was no need to worry, as into the net it went, 23lb's of dumpy mirror. Result, Lenny had caught his first Thames carp!
We finished off with a bream or two soon after, and then with evening closing in we lifted the mud weights, fired up the outboard and motored off into the sunset, mission accomplished.
Until next time,