It’s been a long hard winter this year, with daytime temperatures rarely above 8c, and nights often dropping below zero. The cold north easterly had a bigger impact on Alton than I’d expected, and fish location was difficult to say the least. The best I had to show for my many 48-hour sessions were two or three winter weary bream.
However, this Sunday (9th April) it all changed. And boy did it change, with the midday sun bringing a scorching 25c. This – like many of us – was just what I was waiting for. With the dial reading 23c at 3pm (15:00), I headed for a shallow area I’d fancied for some time and arrived around 4pm on Sunday. With the nearest car park rammed, I made a quick check to see that my fancied – off the beaten track swim – was still free. It was, so I headed back to the car, loaded the barrow, and arrived in my swim at 4:30. With nearly 4 hours of light, I decided to have a good mark around (depth checking for those overseas unfamiliar with this term). From a couple of previous visits, I had a reasonable idea of the overall depth. However, having been plagued by tufted ducks munching their way through my baited area on my prior excursion, I fancied fishing closer in. One thing I have noticed with this species of duck is that although they seem to nonchalantly ignore us, while eating their way through our bait, they won’t come within 50 yards of the bank.
With a fine gravel and sand bottom, I was wary of fishing too close, because no matter how quiet I was the fish would pick up my presence. Besides, I have a belief that no self-respecting double figure bream will come within 40 yards of the bank (no doubt, there are exceptions and one of these I will come to later). The maximum depth I had found recently was just over 11 feet – 11 feet 5 inches to be precise. Yeah right, I can hear you thinking. Well, here’s the thing, the match angler in me has a need for detail. Like the rest of you, I use a marker float. However, I use a small silicone bead above my float. This way, I can change the depth accurately, and identify even the smallest of variants along the bottom. I am plumbing at 50 plus yards if you like. See illustration:
I set my maker at 12 feet and cast it out to around 80 yards. Interestingly, the float lay flat, suggesting it was shallower. Eventually, I found it to be 10 feet. I eased my float in, checking the depth every few feet – something you can do with this set up. As expected, I found just over 11 feet at 16 rods (64 yards). For me, this was at a distance where the Tufted ducks would have a field day. Again, I started easing the rod in and found it consistent with only the occasional variant, right into about 40 meters. Now this is where luck plays a part. With my bait ready, spod and rods all set at 40 meters, I decided to have a little play around with the marker. Am I glad I did, as I eased the float back a few feet, it vanished. I’m going on a bit here, sorry. In essence, I’d ‘stumbled upon a 14-foot deep gully, which was 30 meters long and 10 meters wide. It had a nice clean sandy bottom, perfect for big bream.
I baited up with around 6 kilos and set up to fish along the far side of the gully. I cast my first rod out, and found myself questioning why it was taking so long to tighten down. (I like a tight line when fishing for big bream). With my rods out, I wasn’t happy, because anyone who knows me, knows I have a need for eye-ball accuracy when fishing. I sat mulling over why it had taken me so long to tighten everything up. It was bizarre, as if I was somehow dragging my feeder in. Now even though the bottom was smooth, I was using 60-gram feeders fully loaded with bait. Not dragging them in, that’s for sure. Then the penny dropped – I am sure you’re ahead of me here – the feeder was rolling down the far shelf/slope. Even though I didn’t want to cast the marker back out over my bait, I had no choice. I found the slope dropped 3 feet over a 6-foot wide shelf. In my opinion, it was a perfect area to fish. So, I changed all my feeders to 90 grams in-line, flat-bottom feeders. It did the trick.
I would like to share with you my opinion on fishing near to a shelf, and in particular, the shelf on the far side of a gully. First up, the fish only has to make one movement before you get a good indication. Put another way, on a flat bottom, they have to tip up to get the bait, then sit upright and finally turn to the side before you get anything more than a single beep. On a shelf, not only is the bait right in front of their eyes, for the fish to take it requires one movement – sucking it in and turning away – that results in a ‘single-toner’. In addition, with a steep shelf like this, as they grab the bait, they dislodge the feeder and hook themselves. Bingo 😉
On the subject of bait, I’d managed to get my hands on some of Nash Baits ‘Key Cray’ and that was my mainstay for this campaign. I am actually excited by this bait because it is the first bait that has a fresh-water fishmeal as its primary ingredient. All previous boilies have used marine source fishmeal. My mix was 2 kilo of brown crumb, 1 kilo of crushed Cray boilies, 1 kilo of crushed corn, 1 kilo of flaked maize (well cooked) and 1 kilo of Cray meal. I had plenty more bait as back up just in case this fish were on the munch.
I had one rod on my reliable hair-rigged lobworm, one on a rack of corn and one on a 12mm Key Cray boilie. At 9:30 pm the action started, first fish being a scraggy 7lb bream. One that looked like it had been through a hard winter.
By midnight, I had three fish, two bream of a similar size, and a mint carp – stocked last October – that went just over 13lb. Interesting point here, the biggest stocky went in at 11lb, so this fish had put on 2 lb over winter, which is a good sign of things to come. Besides the three fish, I’d also had a couple of indications, all of which came on the Key Cray. Although, I believe in this bait – even though this was my first time with it – I was shocked I had not even had a twitch on the worm or corn. So, with that I mind, I switched the corn rod to Cray.
Over the next 48 hours, I had 16 bream with the best being a comfortable double, which was my biggest bream from Alton so far. The two doubles I had were the perfect body shape to get much bigger. I also had three carp, two stockies, and a resident mirror that was an upper double. It turned out to be a thermal underwear free, excellent session, greatly appreciated after the hard, cold, nomadic winter that I endured. Interestingly, all fish fell for the Key Cray. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my Alton exploits as much as I take pleasure in writing about them.