If I was frustrated at the lack of real fishing opportunities in March, then April seems to have been trying to make up for it and I’ve managed  to organize things so that I’ve had plenty of time out on the bank…not that I’ve caught anything to show for my efforts though.

But before I go on to describe the last month’s fishing I ought to mention about the Northampton Specimen Group (NSG) annual dinner that we held towards the end of March, as I didn’t have space to include it in the last piece.

This year’s dinner was something of a special event, as the group is celebrating its 50th anniversary. We often have a guest speaker at the annual dinner, but this year, as it was our 50th we decided that Bob Church, a founder member of the group and our honorary President, should say a few words instead.

Bob is a true legend of our sportBob is a true legend of our sport, from both specimen hunting and trout fishing perspectives. A true ‘all-rounder’, and a very successful one at that!  Bob was the Chairman of the Northampton Specimen Group for a long time before I took over the responsibility back in 2007 and as a founder member it’s quite an amazing thing to think that he’s been helping to nurture and keep the group going for so long. Bob is now well into his 70’s and hasn’t enjoyed the best of health over the last few years, but that doesn’t stop him getting out fishing whenever the opportunity presents itself. In fact Bob is a real inspiration when it comes to summoning up that extra effort that is often required for some of the more challenging venues I fish. I’m sure he’s also an inspiration to many others in the NSG and to an awful lot of other anglers that he’s come into contact with along the way. I only hope I can summon up half of his energy and enthusiasm if I manage to get to his age.

After the dinner itself, and after Bob’s lovely speech, it was time to dish out the various prizes for some of the fish caught and various catches from 2012. It was especially fitting that Bob himself was awarded the Cyril Inwood memorial trophy, awarded for what the group members consider the best game fish of the year. Some of the other very noteworthy prizewinners were Paul Douglas who was awarded the much coveted ‘Best All Rounder’ trophy, for a stunning year of specimens of many different species, Jamie Cartwright who was awarded the “Otter” trophy for the best specimen of the year, a group record 8lb 4oz chub and Rob Pitkin who was awarded the trophy for the best multiple catch of the year with an amazing catch from the river Nene of no fewer than nine barbel to 16lb 1oz!

Well, they do say giving is better than receiving...Despite a second placing and a couple of thirds I was completely frozen out of the top prizes this year. It wasn’t for any lack of effort on my part either, which I think reflects on the very rich talent and amazing fish catching ability of so many members of the group.   

The NSG dinner tends to act as a seasonal marker for me and prompts final preparations for the serious spring campaign. As I’ve done for the last few years now I would be targeting the massive bream on my favorite big Cambridgeshire pit. Each year it becomes more of a worry that the fish I’m after may be dead and that I’m just left fishing for ghosts. The pit has only ever produced a handful of big bream over the years, but with natural death from old age, being swept away in the floods and predation worries from otters and seals,  the chance of the water no longer containing the fish I really want to catch becomes an ever increasing probability. 

Despite all of the worries and the ever existent challenges of fishing a huge gravel pit with restricted access, I managed to fit in three separate sessions last month, with the weather and conditions seemingly improving with each session.  However I’ve yet to receive a single bite for my effort  and in fact, with the exception of some predators to the guys doing a bit of pike fishing during the colder months,  there’s not been anything out of the pit to anyone so far this year!

Normally on this pit, despite it being such a tough nut to crack, I’ve usually had a tench or something by now. Not this year though and I’ve yet to see any definite signs of the carp, so things have been pretty grim so far. I thought I might have seen a carp crash out at long range one evening during the last but one session. I’m not so sure now though, as I fished a swim much closer to this same area on my last session and I’m now suspecting that what I may have seen was a tufted duck with some sort of physical problem. Several times I saw one particular tuftie making a huge splash every time he dived, and I’m guessing that he may have had a broken leg or wing, making each dive a real difficulty.   

In fact the bird watching has been a whole lot more successful that the fishing on the big pit so far this year…yet again! Amongst the pick of the bunch have been several sightings of a Slavonian grebe and it’s also been great to hear a male bittern booming out its very distinctive mating call on a couple of relatively still early mornings.

At least spring appeared to have 'sprung' on the bream pit!Last year the record bream came out from the swim that I’d just been fishing, which I guess might have helped to prove that I’d got my location sorted out ok, but perhaps not timing or tactics. I’m off down to Kent soon, for a session fishing for some big carp with my mate Ian, so I won’t be back bream fishing on the big gravel pit for a while. I’m really hoping that the big bream doesn’t come out while I’m away…although, that said, it would be nice to confirm that it’s still alive.

In fact Ian and I are travelling down the morning after tomorrow, so I really need to start getting all the necessary gear together soon, or it’s all going to be a last minute rush. It’s a venue with a barbless hook only rule, so I’m also going to have to tie up a few new rigs in advance. I don’t normally fish barbless and, until very recently, didn’t actually have a barbless carp type patterns in my entire hook collection (you’re not alone there Tony – all of my hook boxes are barbless free zones! Ed.)

Thankfully Nash, my tackle sponsors, have come to the rescue again and have supplied me with loads of barbless hooks in a variety of patterns to cover all possible options.  Not surprisingly I’ve been using various Nash hooks for the majority of my fishing over the last few years and I’ve got to say that I’m gaining an ever increasing amount of faith in them. They’re super sharp straight out of the packet and come in some interesting shapes that fit virtually all of the standard requirements that I can dream up. After the success of last year’s big carp campaign, without a single fish lost and the final extensive scrap   that eventually resulted in the netting of my PB 45lb 2oz common I’ve got stacks of confidence in their ability to stay in, which is hugely important.

It’s the ability to stay in during the fight that concerns me a little with barbless hooks. The trouble is that I’ve not got an awful lot of experience with playing decent sized fish on barbless hooks, so I haven’t really got personal information to go on to help form a strategy for playing fish on these hooks… if indeed any changes to my usual techniques are in fact required. I guess I’ll have to try and forget that I’m using barbless and just play the fish to the net as normal should I hook anything. Let’s just hope that I get a few bites and end up with the right outcome as a result. I’ll let you know how I get on next month. 

Until next time… happy fishing!