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All Fish Great and Small - Tony’s Specialist Scene


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Not a notable chub in national terms but for the stretch it was one of the biggest ones... Not a notable chub in national terms but for the stretch it was one of the biggest ones...

This month big fish man Tony Gibson is once again making a big effort for the smaller species and, like many pike anglers, he’s been hanging on the telephone...







January started in a most frustrating way as I joined the hundreds of other keen pike fishermen in the telephone lottery trying to secure a few days pike fishing on Chew Valley Reservoir for the series of limited pike trials taking place in 2014.

Unfortunately I never managed to get through before all the allocated tickets had been sold, so pretty much three and a half days of continuously trying to get through to the lodge were ultimately wasted. I‘m sure that to some anglers the whole palaver associated with trying to get Chew pike tickets each year is a complete nonsense, and I have to admit that, especially this year, I found the whole thing an awful chore. However as the saying goes, ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’, and with Chew continuing to prove itself as the place in the UK to be for a chance of a very big pike, then I’m still willing to make the effort… for now anyway.

Fortunately all has not been lost as Ian, my ‘partner in crime’ for last year’s Chew efforts did manage to get through before all the tickets were sold and was able to grab a few days off the bank. He’s generously offered me a two day session with him towards the end of February, so that’s a very exciting session to look forward to.

With most of my plans for this part of the year revolving around various river species, with dace and chub my priority targets, the continued downpours and subsequent flooding haven’t really helped matters and have greatly impacted the chances I’ve had to get out on the bank. To help ensure that I’ve at least been targeting fish that are better suited to the conditions I’ve included several short afternoon/evening sessions after a big barbel into my rescheduled short term plans.

On the stretches that I’ve been fishing there’s not many fish and I don’t think I’ve managed to locate the swims where the fish have been hanging about as yet. Certainly I’m still waiting to experience the sudden thrill of that ‘three foot twitch’ that often comes without any prior warning, and for me is one of the very best things about barbel fishing in coloured water conditions. 

Fortunately I’ve had the odd window of opportunity to try for my original targets, as trying to ensure that I can be as flexible as possible with my own plans and a willingness to rearrange the schedule for an entire week at very short notice has enabled me to get onto the river and have a go for the dace on the odd occasion. This has resulted in a couple of nice fish, so the effort hasn’t gone totally unrewarded.

As I mentioned in last month’s piece, the dace sessions are rarely uneventful and often a nice mixed bag can result from a day’s hard effort on the float with a couple of pints of red maggot or caster for feed and for hookbait.

For the first dace session of the year I chose to go into a swim that tends to be a favourite with the guys that fish for the chub. I’ve fished the swim on a couple of occasions in the past and have caught plenty of chub, some roach and the occasional dace, but never anything of a notable size. However in the past, when it’s been clear and I’ve spent some time looking carefully into the water at the groups of chub I’ve suspected that some of the smaller, pale looking fish hanging about with the chub might, in fact, be big dace rather than simply just small chub, so I keep going back to give it a go.

However, this session pretty much followed the pattern of other sessions in this swim and after getting into a nice rhythm, and once the fish were confidently on the feed, I was able to land plenty of chub, with the odd roach, but the dace were almost totally absent.  Eventually I ended up hooking and landing a small barbel and rather than having to build up the swim again after the disturbance of the barbel I decided to wander off downstream in search of some dace and hand my swim over to another angler who was itching to move in after watching what I’d been catching over the last few hours.

Moving swims eventually proved to be worthwhile as I ended up catching a handful of nice dace towards the other end of the fishery. Nothing spectacular, but they were some pigeon breasted females of a good average size, which helped to give me a good idea of the area to head for on my next trip.

On the next visit to the dace stretch I headed straight towards the area where I’d ended up catching the better dace on my previous trip. I went into a different swim, a little way downstream from the swim I’d been in before, as on the previous trip most of the dace were coming towards the end of the trot and the next swim downstream provided an easier position to get to the same area. 

The wind wasn’t ideal, as it was blowing virtually into my face and with regular showers it made float control a little tricky. Using a float that required a heavier load to cock it than normal helped a little with maintaining a decent line for the trot, but whenever a good gust combined with the main line sticking to the wet rod blank the float would regularly be dragged off line and I’d end up having to complete trotting the float down a line much closer in.

A giant of a gudgeonRather than treating the spoiled trots as a complete negative and allowing myself to get frustrated, I tried to treat them as a mini rest for my main line of attack. Also, as most of these trots ended up passing over a slightly shallower area, with the hookbait dragging over the bottom of the river, they tended to produce a bite from a gudgeon more often than not. The average size of the gudgeon on this bit of river is pretty impressive anyway, but one fish in particular was clearly a monster of the gudgeon world and looked to be the biggest of the species I’d ever caught. I can’t really find it in myself to treat big gudgeon as serious specimens, but I was curious to find out exactly what it weighed as I was guessing that it would probably go somewhere between 3½ and 4oz. 

I’d also been waiting for an opportunity to use my special scales that I’d bought a couple of years ago when I’d got serious again about trying to catch a 1lb dace. These scales are sensitive kitchen ones that weigh down to fractions of an ounce as I wanted to be sure that if I did catch a dace of a pound or more that I would be happy that it had been weighed accurately and I wasn’t left thinking ‘is it, or isn’t it?’ with a borderline case.

I’d bought the scales when they were on special offer in one of the supermarkets and after a quick check at home to make sure there were no signs of obvious damage I raided the kitchen cupboards to find a plastic bowl with a base that fitted onto the weigh-pan area of the scales. Once I was happy with the scales and bowl combination both items were taken out to the car and tucked away behind the passenger seat, ready for a special occasion. Unfortunately the scales had stayed stashed away in the car, unused, ever since and as eventually two years had gone by without a real need to use them I’d been looking for an excuse to put them to the test and to see if they actually worked ok.

The special dace scales

While I made up my mind whether to go back to the car to fetch my ‘special dace scales’ to weigh the big gudgeon I popped him (or more likely her) into my landing net, draped over the edge of the reeds with the net in the water, while I made a few more casts. As it happened, a couple of trots later, the float disappeared half way down the preferred line and I hooked and landed a good sized dace which I was able to net without losing the gudgeon. I knew that despite being a good one, the dace wasn’t going to threaten the 1lb mark, but it would also provide another good test subject for the scales so it joined the gudgeon in its temporary housing within the confines of my landing net while I wandered back to the car park for the scales and bowl.  

I was probably more curious about the weight of the gudgeon, so after pulling the little plastic tab out to activate the battery and setting the scales up on a nice flat piece of ground, setting the unit measurement to weigh in pounds and ounces and zeroing with the bowl in place, it was time to place the first test subject into the bowl.

The scales with the pan fittedThe scales were obviously very sensitive and even with just a gudgeon having a little flick around, the reading jumped about quite a bit. However it soon settled and a reading of 3.8 ounces was recorded. Then it was the turn of the dace and even with what I’d originally thought was a big, huge bowl (originally used for putting together boilie mixes), it looked a bit too bent, with its tail sticking out from one side as it went into the bowl for the ‘weigh in’. The dace registered just over 12 ounces (I can’t remember if it was 12.1 or 12.2) and so deserved a quick photo as I slipped it back.

There was one more experiment with the ‘special dace scales’ performed later in the afternoon when I landed a nice chub that looked to be around the 5lb mark. 5lb may not be a particularly about, so was worth putting on the scales. I was curious to see how the special scales performed with something bigger than a dace, as I was considering using them to weigh any big crucians that I was thinking about targeting later in the year.

I knew that I somehow needed to use the bowl to weigh the chub, as I couldn’t try to simply lay the fish across the balance part of the scales, so I tried to lay it across the top of the bowl while wrapped up in the damp weigh sling that I’d previously placed in the bowl and zeroed. With the chub wrapped in the sling it did sort of lay ok across the top of the bowl, but it all looked a little precarious and even the slightest flicker from the fish sent the weight reading jumping around all over the place.  Rather than mess about trying to get a spot on reading with the special scales I gave the fish a quick turn on the regular scales to record a verdict of 5lb 4oz.

It had been interesting to have a play about with the scales and the suitability of the equipment for accurately weighing really small species was beyond doubt. Weighing dace was just about OK, but I needed to think about some further modification if I wanted to use them again for anything above dace size. The other thing I had to do when I got home was to check whether the decimal point digit on the ounces part of the weight readout when in pounds and ounces mode was giving me a reading of tenths of an ounce or drams, as the instruction leaflet didn’t make this totally clear. As there seemed to be just the one digit place after the decimal point, it seemed likely that the reading was in tenths of an ounce. A quick check once I was back at home and able to check from the comfort of a nice warm kitchen bench confirmed this, which meant that the weight of the gudgeon, that showed on the scales as 3.8 ounces converted to a weight of 3oz 12½dr. 

The best of the dace, just over 12oz

That just about wrapped up the fishing related happenings for January, like all of us I’m hoping for a period of rather more settled weather next month, with less rain, so the rivers can drop a bit and I can get out for my main targets a bit more often. I’ve also got a PAG (Predation Action Group) meeting with the Angling Trust to attend around the middle of Feb, a charity evening slide show presentation at Sandy in Bedfordshire and of course those two days’ pike fishing at Chew towards the end of the month, so hopefully some interesting news to share with you next month.

Whatever the case I’ll let you know next time.

Until then, if you can manage to get on the bank somewhere… happy fishing!


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Tagged as:

Dace Fishing, Tony Gibson, gudgeon