I can think of few months when I have spent so much time on the bank as i did in November, yet my results have been resolutely poor to say the least. That is not to say that some fantastic fish have not put in an appearance for my friends, guess and boat partners, for it has been a fantastic month all-told, we just me dragging down the catches.
I have known Gerry Higham for a couple of years now and we try to get out for a day on the Warwickshire Avon every so often to try and catch Gerry some of the rivers elusive barbel. I always look forward to my guiding days with Gerry, we always have plenty to talk about, drink plenty of coffee, and he generally he brings plenty of good luck with him, which is always appreciated!
The Warwickshire Avon has been a bit patchy this year, although this is nothing new. The fish on some stretches are highly mobile and can move several miles throughout the season, making tracking them down difficult. To try to combat this I had originally planned to take Gerry to one of my banker swims on a quiet day ticket stretch. I only normally fish this swim once or twice a year and it would appear that few other anglers ever bother with it, despite the fact that barbel are almost always present. With the river falling fast after being quite high for a few days I had a look at the swim the day before our trip out and with the steep banks covered in a film of incredibly slippery silt it looked like an accident waiting to happen. It would have to be plan B.
The morning of our trip arrive and after a leisurely start we met up on the banks of another day ticket stretch a few miles downstream, where the banks were slightly less precarious. This stretch would certainly be more challenging, reports were that a few fish were being caught, but the fish do not normally appear here in numbers until fairly late in the year, so it would be touch-and-go if our timing was right.
To try and increase our chances of catching I decided to bait 3 swims along a half-mile stretch of the river. With the water still a couple of foot up and falling I reasoned that a few barbel would still be hanging about around their high-water spots, and so this is where we would concentrate our efforts. A pint of hemp and half a dozen broken up Monster Pursuit and Krill boilies were ‘droppered into each swim and then topped up every couple of hours. We had all day to catch, there was no rush, so we would give each swim a couple of hours or more before trying the next one. With no signs of fresh footprints in any of the 3 swims I could be confident that if a barbel was present we would get a bite, or at least an indication, fairly quickly if it was hungry.
Swim 1, despite having a very good track record, failed to deliver the goods, so shortly after lunchtime we moved into swim 2. This was a near-bank slack that would be easy to walk past, but with around 6-foot of water off the rod top and a decent snag well down the swim it was an obvious holding spot. I had introduced a bit more bait onto the crease an hour before we moved, so the swim was well and truly primed now.
After an hour I was starting to get itchy feet again, and was contemplating introducing so more bait into swim 3 when Gerry’s rod top pulled round steadily and held. The resulting strike met something animate on the end, but unfortunately a 2lb skimmer bream proved the culprit, not the intended barbel. Still, if there was one fish in the swim, there could be more, so we would give it another hour. This would still leave us a couple of hours in the final spot if required.
Half an hour passed and the rod top remained motionless. I was half-expecting more bream, but it seemed we had found a loner. Another couple of droppers of hemp were introduced as a final gambit and I started to tidy up a few bits of gear ready for a move. Finally though the rod topped nodded twice and then pulled round hard in that unmistakeable way that means a barbel and the fight was on!
You can always tell the fight of a good barbel, especially in reasonable cold water. The fish just hug the bottom after the initial run and despite putting plenty of pressure on the fish they just hold position, slowly moving up and down almost at will. After a minute or so it was obvious that Gerry was attached to a good fish and I tried to keep calm, not wanting my excitement to spread. The fish put up an absolutely cracking performance, twice passing us as it went upstream, before powerfully turning back down river. Finally on its third trip upstream it released its grip on the bottom and we got our first sight of her. She was a good fish, in fact a very good fish, this was getting serious! Fortunately the sting had been taken out of her tail, and a couple of minutes later she resurfaced once again, this time ready for the net and in she went first time of asking.
There in the net lay a lovely proportioned autumn barbel, fully recovered from spawning and thick-set she was a fantastic sight to behold. After a few minutes of rest for all 3 of us, I transferred her to the weigh sling and recorded a weight of 14lb 8oz. One of the biggest fish in this stretch of the Avon that we know of.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly. No more bites came our way, but neither us were that fussed. The Avon had been kind to Gerry once again. We packed up a little before dark and headed for home content with a job well done.
There hasn’t been much time for perch fishing in the last few weeks and with the fish looking young and with a few more growing years left in them I decided not to pressurise them too much, preferring to leave them until next autumn when hopefully they would be even bigger. There was time for just one day out though, a long arranged trip with Paul Bird from BaitBox. Paul and I try to get out on one of the ressies each autumn in search of predators, and with the zander fishing still a bit off we decided to go perching instead.
Interestingly, since my last trip to the venue, the water temperature had fallen several degrees and this had a definite effect on the behaviour of the perch. Where before they had been easy to spot on the sounder, now they were sitting tight to the lake bed, with just the odd fish showing up. Most were smallish fish, but occasionally I spotted a little group of bigger fish on the screen.
The fishing was fairly slow as expected, but I was quietly confident that sooner or later we would bump into some better fish. Covering a new piece of water where the depth quickly rose, Paul hit into a better fish and soon a new PB of 2lb 7oz was having its picture taken before being quickly returned. Then late in the day Paul was in again to what was obviously a better stamp of fish. This time I could see the fish twisting and turning in the clear water and prayed it would not fall off as this one was in a different league. Eventually she surfaced next to the boat and I scooped her up, a lovely young looking 3-pounder.
Hardly a trip has passed this autumn without a 3-pounder coming to the boat, brilliant fishing and I can’t wait for next year. We have learnt so much about their behaviour now that we can put into practice next year that we have a massive head-start. I am looking forward to it already!
Most of my fishing time this month has been spent reservoir fishing for pike, mainly at Chew Valley; not something that I had originally planned, as I had just 2 bank days left from my allotted allocation, but as events transpired I was to spend a lot more time there than that. Towards the end of November the boat fishing was extended for a further 2 weeks with tickets only available to anglers who had not already had tickets that year. Now several of my friends fell into this category, and with tickets sold as pairs, I was lucky enough to get several offers of the second seat in the boats. I must admit to being in 2 minds about this, as I much prefer to bank fish in November on there, but beggars cannot be choosers, and as long as there was a bait in the water there was a chance of a fish.
As expected the fishing was pretty slow and I faired badly, not in terms of numbers of bites, but certainly in terms of getting amongst the decent fish. On average I managed a take most days, but most of the fish were jacks and low-doubles. The 2 fish that picked up my baits that I felt were bigger (from the bite marks left on the baits) both came adrift during the fight. A bit unlucky, but I wasn’t alone in suffering this fate. So much for it being easy!
I think we fished fairly well on most days. I was certainly fishing effectively and getting the boat onto spots where I felt a good fish might come from. This was born out by one spot where I lost a decent fish producing a 36 pounder the following day!
Whilst I was fairing badly others were having more success and it was great to witness a couple of friends catching good fish. My old mate Paul Ockenden boated a lovely 22 pounder right on last knockings on the penultimate evening of the trials, along with a couple of jacks to give him a good days sport. Piking highlight of the month though was another old friend, and the person who introduced me to Chew, Wayne Adcock, banking his first whacker for a while, and what a fish it was. Another last-knockings capture as the light faded. I was sat talking to Wayne who had been on the bank all day for little reward, when his drop-off did what it was supposed to do and line started to trickle from the open spool. The culprit was an absolutely cracker of a pike that pulled the scales around past the 34 pound mark.
It has been a hard month, hours and hours spent driving from one side of the country to the other, days spent walking the banks and bobbing around in boats for little personal reward. The captures of friends though that I have shared have made it a magical month though and one that I wouldn’t want to swap for anything. I’m just glad it is over and it is now time for some fishing a little closer to home.
The last day of the month was spent at home putting the pike boat fishing gear away and preparing for some new challenges in December. I have probably put in more pike fishing effort this autumn than ever before, with poor results to be honest. But that’s fishing, and as one chapter in my fishing year closes another is about to open….