Monday 3 August 2015

Tenching at Bradleys

a chunky one nearing the net
What a great season it’s been for big tench this year, in spite of what seemed to be a cold and dodgy spring … and as for our ‘summer’ … best not to mention that at all. We all want to catch a ten pounder don’t we and I’m no exception but any tench is a good one in my view because they are such beautiful fish.

Martin with a ten plusser from Kent
I’ve seen many big ‘uns, especially while filming for ‘Catching the Impossible’, Martin Bowler and Terry Lampard catching several at Mid-Kent Fisheries and awesome they look too. I’ve been lucky enough to catch ones of 8/9 from five different waters so felt it was time I tried to up my PB and even catch a double. Trouble is, not only did I respect the old closed season, we also have a large garden and spring is a busy time out there.

view from the office window - nice!
the wild flower meadow is a wildlife magnet

Added to those obstacles to success is my preference for float fishing and it’s clear from the angling press that the way to bag a double is to bolt-rig maggots behind bite alarms. Not quite my bag. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I sought access to the Cotswold Water Park’s Bradleys Lake and was granted the privilege of a Spring Ticket.

My long time friend, Mark Woodage fished it last year with good results, my mate Martin Bowler too, so thought that with luck I might at least up my PB and even catch a double, for most years Bradleys has produced one or two tench of my dreams.

Mark waiting for action ... for weeks this year
It’s a beautiful lake, all 120 acres of it and though some might be daunted when faced by this open ocean, I love the challenge of fishing into the unknown. What’s more, the place is jumping with wildlife, the water dancing with insect life and the skies filled with birds. On one memorable day this spring a thousand sand martins and hundreds of swallows were hawking over the waves to replenish their fuel reserved burnt off during the long journey from Africa.
so many sand martins the huge expanse of water was covered with them

... just say agh ...

There are ducks galore and the trees and bushes bounce to the songs of returning warblers that have survived their perilous flights from south of the Sahara. Terns from even further away dive for small fish, great crested grebes too, so even when the buzzers stay silent, blanking is a delight!

the grebes certainly caught a lot more than us
My first visit in late April coincided with one of Mark’s early attempts … he’d blanked on the previous two … but I felt a need to start putting some effort in and try learning a little about the place and it’s fish life if I was to earn my stripes … and catch a tench. We arrived in time to plumb our swims and bait up before dark and though we saw no rolling tench, we were optimistic that next days sunshine would encourage them to feed.

I think I was warmer in the Arctic with the ice bears
I slept in my old VW nearby but by 2am I was so cold I had to get up, put pullovers and coat on, light the gas, drink tea and read a book. I hadn’t been so cold since filming polar bears and wished I’d packed my arctic sleeping bag. The only consolation was a nightingale that serenaded me all night from just outside the window. Delightful.

Mark in Arctic mode - by 'eck it was cold
Dawn came as a blessed relief but when I reached my gear at the swim and lifted the covering tarp, the shards of ice splintering off convinced me that even grayling would be difficult to catch on such a day. However, Mark and I soldiered on, sustained by numerous cups of tea, coffee and sausage sarnies. We blanked of course, not even a liner raising our hopes … but the wildlife and banter ensured it was an enjoyable day.

these naughty red-crested pochard were forever diving on my ground-baited spot
I didn’t return for three weeks but Mark fished at least one day each week and in the end he did actually catch a tench! Now if you’re thinking he’s a plonker, think again. He’s a really tidy and skilful ex. match angler and does know how to catch Bradley’s tench, so I guess his excuse would be that a large deep lake during a cold Spring fails to warm up like the shallower waters that were producing all the doubles. What’s more, carp anglers were bait-boating their bolt-rigs and feed out unbelievable distances, 150yds. or more, so I guess the tench had no need to venture nearer the edge and in range of our feeders to fatten up for spawning.

there was otter spraint on those rocks by my swim

I’d decided on a two day mission, picked my spot next to Mark and waited for a bite … and waited some more. I had the occasional hint that there were actually fish in the lake but maybe they were crayfish tugging at my baits?

a perfect fat lady for Mark ... but will the singing even start
In the meantime, Mark caught a chunky female tench of 5/14 so despite the fact that I am a plonker, I was confident of some action, especially when I was told it was this very swim where my pal Martin Salter had caught a beast of a tench only two weeks before. At 9/4 it was an impressive fish.

what an awesome beast - the tench is quite chunky too!
Failing to raise a smile, let alone a bite, I packed up at 20.30 for a bite of my own and a celebration of the joys of fishing with Mark and his pal Matt. We empted various bottles in the old VW and it was just like the days when making “A Passion for Angling” with Bob and Chris, lots of banter, laughter and as good a fishing night as you could ever wish for. 

location caterers for both A Passion for Angling and Catching the Impossible
Bought in 1989 as a location base for our filming, the campervan is held together with rust now but still serves me well. It's been my escape hatch from the world for twenty five years … and long may it continue!
my escape hatch from the world, hidden in some far off corner surrounded by wildlife and wild skies

the black swan was lonely so fell in love with his white cousin
We were up at 04.30 on a cool morning, the water temp. having dropped over-night from 58f to 54f  and the only rolling tench about 200yds. out into the ocean. I fiddled endlessly with my rigs and baits as did Mark and it was he who caught a tench after a thirst quenching lunch, a fat female of 6/6. Then after a tea break he caught a lovely looking male of 5/14.

a muscular beauty ... no, you'll be relieved I won't repeat that gag

I was still fishless and biteless … I told you I was a plonker … but not for long as at 18.30 my bobbin rose sharply and held there and upon raising the rod I felt that very unfamiliar sensation of a fish on the end. 

praying the hook won't pull at this critical moment
After a suitable length of time praying for it not to come off it was in the net, my first Bradleys tench and a cracker to boot, all 8/2 of immaculate female.

a 'proper' tench of 8/2 and a good 'un to start my tally at Bradleys

back the beauty goes
It was tricked by two fake casters and a speck of plastic corn and I was just a bit pleased that I’d fiddled around to achieve the right amount of buoyancy to create a balanced bait. Childs play to a seasoned campaigner but a new challenge for a roach angler like me. I tried for another but retired to the van at 21.00 for a snack while listening to the dulcet tones of a nightingale close by.

despite dramatic declines, this is still a star bird in the Cotswold Water Park
It was still singing next morning, along with a persistent cuckoo but the most surprising wildlife was a large hatch of mayfly. 

a tasty meal for birds as well as fish
We all associate them with shallow chalk streams but here they were, rising in dozens from a deep gravel pit.  The swans, ducks and terns were delighted by this feast of tasty morsels.

always on the scrounge
Gerry, Bob the catcher and John over acting!

Other old friends arrived to fish and a great bunch they all are too, but Bob was the only one to catch … so the lake was well below par compared to the previous year. Mark only managed 4 tench this year when during the same period last year he caught 38 to a best of 8/10. I told you he was good!

I was fishless on my final day and by 19.00 I was home, having spent 39 hours waiting for one bite  … but what a tench I’d had the privilege of catching … and what a lovely place to blank! As Arnie says “I’ll be back”.

a windy evening sky taken through my Polaroids