First outing was an exploratory session on the Half Mile section of the Grantham Canal at Woolsthorpe. This pound was recently restocked by Bottesford Angling Association, and their first match of the year was scheduled to be on the venue. The fishing was rock-hard. Chris, seen here, scraped a couple of pounds of roach and rudd together. I had a trio of the newly stocked skimmers, plus a few bits. Prospects for the match didn’t look great, but I joined the club and decided to have a go anyway, because I admire what they are trying to do. Much of this disused canal is unfishable at times, due to miles of floating duckweed. Apart from the injection of new fish, booms have been installed and many swims cleared. Match day greeted us with a heavy frost and several nasty hail showers. Chris edged it with 2lb 15oz of punch fish, while I managed to scrape into the frame with a dozen rudd and roach – the ones I managed to get past a hungry pike in my peg.
With gale force winds forecast, I joined another fishing pal, Dave from nearby Sleaford, for an outing. Dave has introduced me to several great venues around his neck of the woods, so on this occasion we decided to try somewhere closer to where I live, just outside Grantham. I had fished Lavington Lake a couple of years back, knowing it’s only small and fairly sheltered. Dave picked a swim down the far end, close to an overgrown outlet stream, while I opted for open water on the roadside. What’s unusual about this place is it’s heaving with gudgeon, while also having normal residents like crucians, roach, rudd, tench and plenty of carp. I set up a waggler in the howling wind, wading through the hordes of tiny gudgeon, before a carp put a lively bend in my rod. It took ages to pull some rudd and odd crucians in, while I could see Dave was amassing a fair bag of carp on pole tactics. The long winter was persisting, keeping fish less active than normal.
I stayed local Easter Bank Holiday weekend, finding Woodland Waters busy with anglers on all four lakes. A good trick I have learnt when day ticket fisheries are pressured, is to seek out the quietest area you can find. I discovered a likely spot at one end of Birch Lake, where the pegs around a big bay were strangely empty. My plan worked a treat, and I was soon catching plenty of skimmers and roach. The deepest part of my swim was only 2.5ft and a light strung rig, set a couple of inches over-depth, worked perfectly. All I intended to do was to dink casters regularly over my long pole line and work things out from there. If I held the float on a tight line as it settled, I either caught a chunky roach on the way down, or a slightly bigger skimmer if the hook bait got the chance to hit the deck. I could see a few anglers walking around on the other busier lakes, so it appeared I had chosen my peg wisely. It was also looking like my first-choice tactics were spot-on.
It always amazes me on carp-dominated lakes how well the silver fish populations thrive. By not putting much grub in, avoiding the use of pellets and fishing on the light side, pristine roach, skimmers, rudd and perch turned up. These fish are great weight builders, having fattened up nicely while searching for scraps on the fringes of where carp are constantly being targeted. Very few silver fish like these tend to be caught when attacking with pellets, while if you use natural baits like maggots, casters or worms, a different world opens up. I’ve done the mega-weight, multi-keepnet carp thing. But I get far more enjoyment catching silver fish, especially when the bites keep coming and sessions are busy. That’s what happened on this occasion, with roach, perch and rudd up to around 12ozs, along with hand-sized skimmers, plus a few bigger ones. I only fed a pint of casters for this cracking haul, with no interruptions from carp in the open water.
I arranged to join Chris on the Match Lake at Woodies, because we had a club match scheduled on this venue later in the month. Being midweek it was much quieter, although freezing cold nights and heavy frosts persisted, making the fishing a lot harder than normal for Spring. I kicked off cupping in four hard balls of groundbait in the deep water at 12 metres, well-laced with chopped worm and casters. I had full depth and shallow pole rigs set up, along with a pellet feeder, clipped up at 40 metres. Chris was playing a good fish after about 30 minutes, which turned out to be a weighty carp that grabbed a wafter as his method feeder settled. Not long after, I netted a decent bream, which took three red maggots on my pellet feeder set-up. After that, all I could get were tiny movements on my quivertip, with no positive takes. Chris was struggling too, so I switched to the pole and caught a decent skimmer, a few inches over-depth on a red maggot.
Chris managed to winkle out this bream next, while I could only get occasional bites on my full depth pole rig. I tried the feeder again but that was stone dead. The sun had come out and with little wind, this deep lake often switches off until late afternoon. However, there is one good way of tempting some action and that’s to fish shallow. I had been feeding a few casters regularly over my long pole line and when I tried a spread shot rig, set 5-feet deep, I was soon getting lots of indications on a single shell. It took a while to find the right setting and fall rate with my shallow set-up, but by adjusting the distances of the small weights and holding everything on a tight line, I started to connect with some decent roach. I then found by occasionally having a look with my full depth tackle, odd skimmers turned up. Eventually bites ceased on the deck, but the roach activity up in the water increased and I caught some pound-plus beauties and bonus hybrids.
Next trip was to Peacock Waters at Timberland, where Dave Eastwood was going to fish a slider, Ian Heaps style. Dave had actually been speaking to Ian on one of his podcasts and I was glad to hear the great angler, who must now be in his seventies, is as enthusiastic as ever and still running his fishery in Pembrokeshire. Ian fishes the slider differently from most, using a small stop shot well above the bulk. He explained how to do it when I fished with him many years ago in Denmark, while filming the Hooked TV show. I find his technique okay for short to medium distances, but prefer the Irish style for long range, using a semi-loaded float resting on the bulk. This set-up casts much better at distance, but is prone to the odd tangle. Anyway, Dave was making it all look so easy, expertly casting his rig out and it wasn’t long before bream turned up. I haven’t fished that way for ages and must give it a go at some stage, but for this occasion I had other plans…
I liked the look of a reedy bay to my left. It featured deep margins and a large area that’s inaccessible from the bank. The only way to get a bait in there with float tackle was a good chuck with a waggler, where I discovered six feet of depth, just a few feet away from the margin cover. I attacked this spot with hemp and casters, getting indications right from the start. A few small rudd and roach were quickly followed by a lively 2lb hybrid, before some quality roach turned up. A few pegs away I could hear Dave landing another good fish on his slider gear. However, I decided to stick with my margin attack, especially after seeing a big dark shadow casually drifting in and out of the rush stems every time I fed some bait. There are some big chub in this venue, and where I was casting to looked a perfect haunt for this species. After casting out again, it took a few minutes before my float tip buried out of sight, resulting in another healthy bend in my rod.
I’ve caught big hybrids on every visit to this lake and as a good fish bored deep under my rod tip, I suspected it was yet another one. Hybrids fascinate me. Most are obviously roach/bream crosses, but I’ve also caught rudd/bream versions over in Ireland on the River Suck. Those fish were streamlined like chub and fought in similar fashion. I’ve also caught hybrids from loughs in the Emerald Isle that some locals suspect might be breeding. Sounds strange, but on places where you hardly catch any other species but these fish, it makes you wonder. Anyway, the good news is there are lots of hybrids in many of the Lincolnshire lakes I now fish and I’ve caught some whoppers, my biggest so far close to 5lbs. This one wasn’t that big but still a cracking fish. There were strong hints of roach in its head and fins, but the body was too thickset, while the tell-tale extra-long anal fin had bream written all over it. This was developing into a nice session.
I noticed that big dark shape cruising in and out of the rushes again. It looked too long and streamlined for a carp, so I began to wonder if it might be one of the elusive chub. Bearing that in mind, I tried increasing the loose feed, shallowing my rig up, and casting even tighter towards the cover. This only resulted in a flurry of small rudd. I deepened off again and caught a proper bronze bream, followed by another good hybrid. A string of quality roach came next but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get the suspected chub to have a go. Meanwhile, Dave had been catching a few more bream on the slider, a method I rarely see being used these days. Feeder fishing is currently the “in” method, but I’m not sure that would have worked so well where I was casting to on this occasion. I had a feeling that even a long margin pole might have spooked the fish down in the bay, which had so far produced well enough to stay with waggler tackle.
Dreaming of finishing off the session with a bonus stillwater chub, I tried forcing things to see if I could catch that dark shape down in the rush-lined bay. But all I did by increasing the loose feed and introducing it more regularly, was pull in smaller fish again. The surface cruiser disappeared, so for the last half hour I deepened my rig off and tried dropping it further down the shelf. This brought me a flurry of good roach, which typically were hanging back just off my feed area. I then hooked what I thought was another hybrid, but it turned out to be this smashing red fin. This old 2-acre clay pit at Timberland has turned out to be a brilliant find. In the end Dave, just a couple of swims away, put a reasonable bream haul together on his slider set-up. It was good to see this method back in action. I remember how fanatical Ian Heaps was with it. Whenever I spoke to him all those years ago, he always used to say, you would have done better if you had used a slider!
It never ceases to amaze me how different the fishing is on a competition, compared to pleasure or practice sessions. The club event on the Match Lake at Woodies was a weird one. I drew a peg I have fished before and thought I knew exactly what to do. Similar to my previous visit, I cupped in groundbait on the long pole line, before kicking off on a pellet feeder. No bonus bream this time. When I tried full depth on the pole, I caught a good skimmer almost straight away, but then hooked into a snag. I think it was a big sunken branch, only trouble was, I must have lifted it higher. After that, my rig kept getting caught up and the bites at full depth ceased. The only thing left to do was fish shallow with the pole, like I had when practising a few pegs away. It took ages to get bites, but eventually they started to happen. Instead of the big roach I had caught previously, it was skimmers and hybrids that responded, feeding surprisingly high up in the water.
While I had been plugging away with my shallow rig, the eventual winner John Hanforth (in the middle of the photograph) was having some epic battles with carp next door. He too had been struggling but noticed big fish cruising on the surface, prompting him to start spraying casters and to try a waggler rig. He was soon playing a good-sized carp, but the heavy foliage either side of his swim was causing problems, under which the fish kept diving. Somehow, he managed to expertly extract three, plus a few bits for a winning 23lb 7oz total. Runner up Steve Fisher included a cracking 5lb tench and a big hybrid in his 12lb 7oz catch, while I managed to scrape third with 11lb 7oz of silvers. I had added a few better skimmers, strangely catching them 6ft deep in 14ft of water. I don’t know what that was all about! Anyway, I was happy because a lot of good anglers blew out. I’m now well up there in the club championship, with the canal coming up again next.