He may be a master of the ‘pig-skins’, but my old man is by no means a master of angling, in fact he’s crap, and I had no desire to emulate Buddy Rich, as it was his counterpart, Chris Yates, who captured my imagination. My dad did take me fishing though, and I can vividly remember the first trip, stopping to get sweets from a sweet shop called ’Lanes Tackle Shop’. He returned and passed me a brown paper bag, stuffed to the brim, and bizarrely taped shut at the top. I sat patiently and it must have been a full minute before I could wait no longer. Being taped, I thought I’d just tear a little hole and sneak a few gums out. I made a little rip in the paper and then bang! A pint of maggots exploded out into my lap. AHHHHHH!!!!! I had no clue what was going on and had a full on, screaming, panic attack. Sam (my dad) just cranked up the Mozart and pissed himself.
The canal was our destination and we went on to make weekly trips, casting maggots, worms, and sweetcorn to anything that moved. We caught perch and roach, with a lucky few coming back to the bath tub in our garden. I would then feed them and study them in great detail, before taking them back on our next trip. Other early memories include the Guardian Swan of the First Bend, a formidable beast that successfully stopped me from venturing to new stretches round the corner, and the first little pike I caught on an Ondex spinner.
I can recall fishing a couple of tiny streams with Sam, catching a mixture of little bejewelled wonders. Looking back, these were the resourceful stickleback, the alien-like bullhead, the beautiful gudgeon, and the ubiquitous minnow. They are quite simply little works of art, and were of course, destined for the bath tub. There were also some tiny little hermit crab type things, that I now know to be caddisfly nymphs, which construct minute protective cathedrals using sand grains, twigs, or little stones; just the most amazing spectacle. In fact, some clever sods have enslaved these master craftsmen, and by supplying them with jewels, use them to build trinkets and earrings for posh ladies! In fact, I may start flogging sequin heron-nest hats at Royal Ascot
Things changed for me one day on the canal whilst I sat perched high in the boatyard crane. I saw two huge black shadows glide over some sunken white building sacks; they were carp of course and the obsession grew. I fished everywhere local with my hilarious friend Richard, searching for the ‘King of the Pond’, and, whilst I knew I had some skill in finding and observing fish, I lacked the knowledge on rigs and baits. It’s the same to this day, but I love nothing more than presenting bread, worms, or sweetcorn to unsuspecting giants. Then, around 10 years ago, my angling took a further exciting new path, when the generous artisan that is Matthew Beddows opened my eyes to the wonders of fishing on rivers.
'I’d heard many stories of his exploits with Rocket and Si, and over beers and tunes, I’d urge him to get out his massive box of fishing photographs'
After a few summers of stalking carp together, chasing every piece of blue on the OS map, Matt, having improved my floater fishing, urged me to join him one evening for some winter chub fishing on our local River Blythe. I’d heard many stories of his exploits with Rocket and Si, and over beers and tunes, I’d urge him to get out his massive box of fishing photographs. Stories of ‘the wall’ on the Blythe or the ‘sunken weir’ on the Stour got the juices going, and with liquid courage I told him that I was up to the challenge. Shortly afterwards, on a freezing winter’s eve, Matthew let me accompany him down to the river, where watercraft took on a whole new level. In the pitch black he made an arrow-like cast to a tiny spot on the far bank, and caught a 2 pounder effortlessly. It was my turn now and I quietly crept downstream and made a dodgy cast under his direction. With my heart racing, the isotope rattled, and my instinctive strike was met with nothing but thin air and a loud ‘crack’- my line had wrapped around the bankstick. My foolish mistake was noted as my tutor laughed behind me…..
I was very fortunate to have such skilled guidance and ‘genned up’ on all that I could. However, the only real way to learn was to get out there and make mistakes (a technique that I am also seeing through when it comes to establishing a dress-sense). My apprenticeship had started; reading flows, moving with ultimate stealth, casting with accuracy, and developing the ‘feel’ for what was going on under the surface. My knowledge of swims expanded, tolerance to the biting wind increased, and successes began to outweigh the failures.
'A week in the party box; fishing by day and returning to the caravan after dark to share tales with fine port, big tunes, and barrels of laughter'
At this point Matt and Rocket invited me to join them on their annual ‘end of season’ pilgrimage to the Dorset Stour, a gesture that I will never forget, and we have gone on to make this journey almost every year since. A week in the party box; fishing by day and returning to the caravan after dark to share tales with fine port, big tunes, and barrels of laughter. These boys can seriously fish and I gleaned anything I could from them, whilst also trying to put my own stamp on things, where possible. They are also highly entertaining bastards and I cherish the non-stop piss-taking I seem to attract. Frosty mornings would see me rise last and find my iced windscreen had been used as a fresh canvas for ‘Pete Casso’… rude graffiti which mainly featured me fishing with cocks, fishing for cocks, or me being chased by a fish with a cock; very well done though, they obviously have talent. Once booked, our time fishing was set in stone, so no matter what the weather or the level of the river, we ventured out, trying our damndest to catch. This was a key step in the learning curve because, as the locals looked out of their window, pressed snooze, and rolled back over to sleep, I blocked out the pain and concentrated on putting a fish on the bank. Just the best times and long may these trips continue!
For me, the Stour really is the queen of rivers, offering countless scenarios, with every swim changing its characteristics under different flow conditions. I relished every opportunity available to me and would cover miles of river in a day, fishing as hard as possible as I continued to hone my skills. I went on to catch my first five and then first six pounder, and it was then that I really fell in love and in tune with the Stour, catching lots of big chub along the way, and at one point becoming so addicted that I would make the 330 mile round trip for an evening’s fishing. It reached a pinnacle at the back end of 2010, when I caught a fish of seven pounds on a monstrously swollen beast and then a week later, under a shooting star and on my last cast of the season, nabbed a Stour giant of seven pounds and four ounces. Dreamland…
'at one point becoming so addicted that I would make the 330 mile round trip for an evening’s fishing. It reached a pinnacle at the back end of 2010, when I caught a fish of seven pounds on a monstrously swollen beast and then a week later, under a shooting star and on my last cast of the season, nabbed a Stour giant of seven pounds and four ounces. Dreamland…'
Whilst I do enjoy building a swim on the float or the feeder, my passion for roving the banks, touch ledgering, burns like a thousand suns. Cheespaste is nearly always my bait of choice, as chub can’t leave it alone. Lobworms do provide an alternative option for that instant hit, but they can attract perch and barbel, and, whilst those are lovely to see on the bank, they are not the intended quarry. Yes, if the river is low and clear, you’d be foolish not to get fish competing on grubs, as it will outscore any other approach, but I need to move, and if you’re quiet, the biggest fish in a swim is usually the first to dance.
My kit consists of a skateboarding bag containing the essentials, my Sportex quivertip rod and Cardinal C4X reel, 5lb Maxima straight through to a strong hook and enough shot pinched on the line to hold bottom. The net of course must not have chub shaped holes in it to avoid embarrassment. I have full confidence in the balance of it all, and it feels like an extension of the arm, leaving me ready to battle. By sitting on the floor, I never get too comfortable and am quick to move. The lack of comfort has tested my resilence in some pretty wild conditions: freezing to the floor as the temperature plummets, clinging to the bank through galeforce storms, and giving it my all from midnight until morning in torrential rain. It can be exhilarating to be in the teeth of the beast, but sometimes I welcome the sanctuary of the car after a savage night. I’ve also had some great catches when the river is dangerously high, but I’m always reminded that the river is the king, and can wipe out anything in its path, the force of nature just sublime in its ferocity and venom.
'I’m always reminded that the river is the king, and can wipe out anything in its path, the force of nature just sublime in its ferocity and venom'
Over the next couple of winters, lots more rivers were fished and we all caught some very big chub. One evening Matt declared that we were chasing ‘The Portmanteau’. What a name…‘The Portmanteau’. It’s actually a ‘large travelling bag made of stiff leather’ but it sure beats ‘Bucket Mouth’, ‘Satchel Gob’, or ‘Loggerhead’ (which is weird because they’re the names of my last three girlfriends). His view was that we were after a giant, from any river, but the biggest of fish. A big seven pounder was the target and it was on. I made the decision to get a ticket for the Lea, which had done some real whackers in March 2012. Looking back through captures, I had not blanked in nearly three winters, so when I rolled into the car park at Fishers Green in October 2012, I was full of confidence and anticipation…
The first session was really exciting, as it always is on a new river. There were lovely open water swims, runs, glides, deep holes, snags, and green tunnels. A new stretch will see me explore every inch of every swim from top to bottom and bottom to top, sometimes covering a few different beats in a night. If you fish the same few swims that everybody else does time and time again, then your catches will be the same as everybody else’s. It’s bad angling and boring. So, by walking the whole stretch and making a few casts here and there, I had begun to build a mental picture of areas that would hold fish, and, as the winter progressed, this knowledge would undoubtedly expand. With free reign, I felt a certain vibrancy about my fishing, as if the fishing gods had written me a blank cheque, where I could operate in the shadows.
'If you fish the same few swims that everybody else does time and time again, then your catches will be the same as everybody else’s. It’s bad angling and boring'
As evening drew in, that time descended when the whackers come out to play, and I was shocked to land five fish in a mad hour, topped by a perfect specimen of six pounds and ten ounces. That magical period when the river comes alive is to be savoured and it’s like a switch has been flicked. Whether it‘s a shift in temperature, the cover of darkness, a nymph banquet, or just a lucky swim choice, it’s electrifying, and those moments are to be savoured.
There was so much to explore and I relished the challenge ahead. I had taken the fish from the bottom end of Fishers Green, which wasn’t fished as much, and I dreamt of the giant chub that could be in residence all week, itching to get back. I would dose off each night and dream of an isotope bouncing gently; the tip would rattle and I would wake with a swift jab to my ribs, the dig courtesy of the Gaffer, as I had awoken her whilst sleep-striking at this imaginary bite. This became commonplace and I pleaded with her to let me see what was on the end.
The following week I covered the whole stretch on both banks and tried a host of new swims, with a few small chub falling to cheese. As evening drew closer, I knew where I had to be and made my way back to the area that I had scored in the week before. The witching hour engulfed me, my senses heightened and I sat there like a predator of the night. The Daubenton’s bats came out to skim the last of the insects before a long hibernation, and one grabbed at the line a few times as its echo-location honed in the line, further focusing my attention. As my hearing sharpened, I became aware of some high pitched squeaking to my right, and it felt pretty special to fishing amongst the bats and the water shrews. With the tension building to a point where I felt spring loaded, a pull on the line had me inch forwards, it pulled again, so, with a sharp intake of breath, I whipped the rod from right to left. What a feeling it was when the rod stopped half way through the strike with a massive fish hooked. It held station mid flow and all was solid until my heart skipped a beat as the fish tried to rid the hook with two massive head shakes. Bang…. bang….. Two more followed with the rod groaning to the right and bending until the cork came away slightly at the handle. It was obviously a chub of monstrous proportions and it powerful lunges tested the tackle to its limits. After exchanging initial blows I realised that this fight was going to last the full twelve rounds, and with instincts taking over, I guided the fish out in front of me. The scrap continued on for a few minutes with the unseen giant boring for anything that would secure its freedom, but with fortune favouring me, a chub wider and longer than any chub I had ever witnessed surfaced, slowly sinking into the waiting net.
Oh my god. Oh my god. Fucking hell! This was definitely a big seven and I couldn’t quite believe its size as I hoisted the great fish onto the bank for a closer look…I was gobsmacked. The chub was stupidly wide and deep, and the Avons read eight pounds and twelve ounces!! I weighed it three times and just dropped to my knees. Elation and hilarity in equal measure; kneeling there with one of the biggest chub in the world for company. With no numbers in my latest phone, I luckily recalled Matt’s from memory, and tried to call him about 7 times, garbling some nonsense voicemail, before eventually settling for a text.
'The chub was stupidly wide and deep, and the Avons read eight pounds and twelve ounces. I weighed it three times and just dropped to my knees. Elation and hilarity in equal measure'
With such a rare creature in my care, I was very eager to return it to its home, so quickly rattled off a few self-take shots and studied the fish at close quarters, totally mesmerized. I also captured it lying on the unhooking mat in a short video, and all I can say is ‘just look at that’. No sooner had I lowered it into the water and let it go, did my phone started to ring…Matthew had received the text and was only 40 minutes away in a service station. He was elated for me and completely understood my reasoning for not wanting to retain the fish, but it would have been special to share the moment with him on the bank. I declared a race to the off-licence and that we would meet in two hours. It was all a surreal blur and the news must have filtered through to Rocket and Si as they both sent their congratulations. The car journey was spectacular, as Tim Smith and his ship full of pirates played their beautiful songs to me all of the way back up the M1. Matthew and I stayed up in the small hours and opened anything we could lay our hands on, reliving every moment. Magic times indeed. We all gathered for a good knees up a few weeks down the line, and with ‘Nomeansno’ blasting, we did what we had to do. One latecomer described it as ‘like walking into an experiment’.
Since then I have continued to search for monster chub, but as my eldest child, Woody, turns four, I can step back, and look forward to being part of his journey; turning over stones, catching minnows, and maybe, just maybe on to the river…… That is unless he wants to be a drummer of course!
Original story in Subsurface Journal, Issue 3, available HERE