Monday, 17 November 2014


fish heaven - or is it?

The Royalty is one of the most iconic fisheries in Britain, if not the world. It has a long and distinguished history but I and my friends hardly ever fish it. I wonder why?

The last time I was there was in 2006 when filming Bernard Cribbins catching a salmon for our C4 series, ‘Catching the Impossible’. As if that wasn’t enough of a miracle, I’m told it was the first salmon caught there for over a month, was also the last one taken that season and Bernard caught it on his first cast. Sometimes the gods are on your side and this was certainly one of those magical occasions.

Bernard with one he caught earlier
This Royalty visit happened because I got lucky at another magical occasion, The Avon Roach Project annual fund-raising dinner at the end of September.

happy times for all

tea and home-made cake with friends - you can't beat it
I decided it was time to catch a Royalty barbel so bid for the kindly donated lot of a day and night fishing the famous Compound. I won the bid and so as to make it into a grand occasion, bought the next day too. This meant that friends could join me for a happy social, with tea and Sue’s famous Victoria sponge the addition to catching a shed full. Dream on.

shirt sleeve sunshine greeted us all
October 27th arrived and we were greeted by a low, clear river and warm sunshine – lovely to sit out in but maybe not ideal for catching fish. We were given a right royal welcome by John the bailiff who did his best to point us in the right direction.

oxygen enriched water

The weirpool looks quite daunting with it’s fiercely rushing water and so many delectable looking swims to choose from. 

where to cast? - it all looks so fishy
We knew that over the centuries dozens of legendary anglers had fished here … and were also aware that some of them even blanked.

famous folk have fished here for centuries

 don't suppose Fred often blanked - I wish I understood barbel like he did
I’m first and foremost a roach angler and a novice when it comes to barbel so felt sure I’d struggle. Mind you, the last time I’d fished the Royalty some twenty years ago with Mr.Yates as my guide, we fished Fiddlers West. He caught one barbel and I caught two, all eight pounders so we knew what we were doing … well Chris did. If you haven’t read his barbel fishing book ‘The Deepening Pool’ then do try to get hold of a copy. It’s an inspiring tale of searching for those muscular, golden beauties, as good if not better than any other book he has written.

Chris blending in while perch fishing

Chris was to join old friends Trevor Harrop and myself for a dabble in this famous pool. Trev and I were after a barbel but Chris was content to try for one of the Royalties legendary perch. He caught a sea trout instead.

making contact but is it a perch?
a bonnie sea trout instead
a silver beauty fresh from the sea
for a roach angler Trev was quite skillful!
Trev did a passable impression of dear Ray Walton and his rolling meat technique and promptly caught his first ever salmon. For a long few minutes he thought he had connected with his intended quarry but eventually the gold turned to silver. He wasn’t disappointed but excited at catching his PB silver tourist, all 7+lbs of it, though no pics taken as he released it immediately to continue it’s remarkable journey.

waiting for the 3ft twitch ... and I've read Fred's book too
We all caught small sea trout but the highlight of the day was catching a few eels, or first for many years and a hopeful sign that their numbers are recovering. Good news for our barbel too. Maybe the otters will go back to eating their favourite eels instead of our treasured bearded wonders. They, of course, eluded our best efforts.

Trev returned home to carry on the brilliant work of trying to restore the Hampshire Avon roach to their former glory … and for those cynics who suggest that all Budgie Price and Trevor are doing is feeding the cormorants, then dwell on this. Nature has wonderful powers of recovery and if you release enough young roach into the river, the laws of nature virtually guarantee that some will survive to be big roach.
Andy Martin of the EA gathering the babies at the stews
a netful of beauties for the future

thousands of roach have already enhanced the Avon's chance of survival
Over the five years of the project, thousands of true Avon roach have been released all along the river and there is firm evidence that some are surviving long enough to breed, thus fulfilling the dream that one day there will be self-sustaining populations of roach back in the river.

The fund raising dinner was proceeded by a friendly match on stretches kindly donated by clubs and landowners and for the second year running, several roach were caught from areas where no one has caught roach for years. They happen to be in the areas where Trev and Budgie have released their roach so isn’t it just possible that these are indeed the projects progeny. 

a result of all the hard work
The signs are very encouraging so a few words of encouragement are richly deserved … instead of the negative attitudes. At least they are doing something … and looking after thousands of little roach is relentless hard work, along with the habitat restoration … so many congratulations to the guys and their supporters.

What’s more, as a result of the dinner and fishing match, a total of a little over £6,000 was raised to help fund the work for the next year, a splendid result from just one days support from so many generous roach anglers. I did my bit by buying the day on the Royalty Compound, along with a couple of Trev and Budgie’s lovely home made floats constructed from cormorant quills. They are called ‘The Revenge Series’!

the auction lot created by Trev and Budgie

they are decorating my computer as I write
You can read all about the Avon Roach Project on the recently updated website -

Meanwhile, back to the Royalty. I don’t tend to fish at night, preferring to see all the wildlife around me, so once dusk had descended into night, Chris, Trev and I left the Compound and headed for home.

Chris having his bait stolen by chub
I was back as dawn broke, this time with Chris Wild for company. He’s my computer guru, teaching me everything I know. Without his patience ‘Catching the Impossible’ would never have been completed, for I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer, let alone edit films. I couldn’t afford a proper editor for our series with Martin Bowler, so had to learn on the hoof. I managed to fool some of the TV executives some of the time, for the series nearly ended up on BBC 4. The fact it ended up on terrestrial TV at all is a complement to Chris’s skills as a teacher.

stalking sea trout in the shallows
Leaving work aside, I’d decided after following bailiff John’s instructions to fish meat on a very long tail all of yesterday that I was rubbish at barbel fishing and so today I was going to catch fish, any fish. I plumped for maggots, lots of them, so offered a large bait dropper full before every cast in the hope of attracting a barbel that might have been scared by that not so magic pink stuff.

Do you follow the accepted techniques or try something different in the hope of avoiding what almost everybody else achieves, namely - a blank?! What do I know … but I certainly caught plenty of fish and it was like high summer too, sitting there in shirt-sleeves to avoid melting. 

at 3/5,the largest of more than 30 sea trout - great fun
Sea trout after sea trout rapped the tip round every cast and for a moment I thought I had cracked it as something heavy pulled back ponderously. I soon realised this was no barbel when a feisty bream, if such a thing exists rolled into the net.

for a moment I thought I might have cracked it
Chris waiting for the big pull
As for Chris, he stalked sea trout, then sat it out for barbel opposite me. When he’s not fishing with me he’s making the most wonderful truly traditional Spanish guitars and beautiful they are too. But could he catch a Royalty barbel? 

He didn’t … but caught his first ever sea trout and a first ever bream … so two PB’s in a day can’t be bad … and we enjoyed the last of Sue’s cake too.

for a first ever bream it's a good 'un
As good a two days fishing as you could ever wish for, and we never caught our intended quarry either. Was it us who said in ‘A Passion for Angling’ ‘there’s more to fishing than catching fish’ … what a load of old tosh! Where are those elusive barbel and why can't we catch them? ... must try harder comes to mind.

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