One of the reasons I moved here

One of the main disadvantages of coaching full time is that over the last nine years I have had less time to fish how and where I would prefer to fish and whilst I enjoyed the achievement of the lad in the picture below almost as much as he did, it was not caught on a venue I would have chosen myself, nor is it a species I would have spent what has become my valuable time, pursuing.

His biggest carp

I love to fish rivers and I prefer to be active all the time, trotting a float satisfies that need. It also requires some skill and is totally absorbing, so much so that I often forget to eat my lunch until late afternoon (and that is most unlike me as anyone who has shared a meal table with me will testify).

Float fishing on a river requires that you learn the geography of your chosen swim and use your knowledge of your prey to locate feeding fish, you then try and use the skill that you have acquired after much practice, to present a bait to the fish in as natural manner as you can.

Yes of course I love to catch big fish but the size of the fish is often secondary to achieving a skilful presentation of the bait beneath a float in difficult conditions. Some years ago when I was in the Police at Heathrow Airport, two of my best friends were avid golfers but very much at the learning stage. They talked continually about the one stroke in a round of golf that just turned out right and they spoke of saying to themselves that Arnold Palmer could not have played one better. I resisted their entreaties to take up the game but I knew the feeling they were experiencing. Float fishing a river, like playing golf, is a constant struggle to achieve the perfect presentation but only the fish know when you have got it right. This must sound like a recipe for a spell in secure accommodation with sorbo rubber wallpaper learning to weave baskets but, in fact, it is very therapeutic and has helped me get through some very stressful times – you can’t fish and worry.

The river Kennet is my favourite river and has been since I first fished it in 1967. I was a boy soldier stationed near Reading and I must admit I poached a stretch called beat five (The Jam factory) using borrowed tackle. That day I caught some dace trotting a float with a centrepin and I was hooked. Since then I have returned again and again to various parts of the river after various species using different methods but it is the flowing water and the problems it presents that brings me back time and time again.

The most difficult and exacting method of float fishing a river is using a float called a stick float, this is a balanced float made of a very buoyant wood at the top and a heavier less buoyant wood or some other material at the bottom. It is very sensitive when used properly but only functions at its optimum performance in ideal conditions. It is preferable to fish this float with a gentle upstream wind blowing slightly from your bank and as most of the rivers in this area flow from west to east and the prevailing wind is south westerly I rarely have the opportunity to use this float in its most effective role. Also much of the river Kennet is too turbulent for this float but Martin James recently recommended a stretch of the river that is eminently suitable for this method and I have been fishing this recently.

This stretch is located at Woolhampton just below a restaurant called the Rowbarge. Here the river and the canal flow in the same bed and the result is much wider and deeper than the river stretches I usually fish and therefore less turbulent and slower. Yesterday I went back with the wind in the ideal quarter for the stick float, armed with six pints of maggots and some hemp. The river is also famous for its perch so I also brought some lobworms and it was with this bait that I started the day, fishing in the margins with a method called stret pegging, having introduced some chopped worms with a bait dropper.(Martin Bowler describes this method HERE)

I had set up two rods both with centrepins, one for the margins was a Harrison Interceptor stepped up float rod with four pound line and the other a Drennan super stick float rod with two pound main line. I spent the first hour exploring the margins with worm and apart from one perch about half a pound the only response was from the crayfish but I continually fed a little further out with maggot and hemp on the line I intended to fish with a stick float.

It was about 1pm before I started with the stick float and with dace and roach being my target species I chose to fish a single maggot on a size twenty Kamasan 510 tied to one and a half pound breaking strain line. It is necessary to fish this fine to get the presentation right in clear water. Over the next five hours it was a “bite a chuck” and I soon lost count of the fish I had caught. They were mostly dace, some in excess of half a pound maybe even ten ounces, some small perch, a few gudgeon and a few very small roach but the total count must have been about two hundred.

Just after 6pm I was getting quite tired when half way down the swim the float shot under the surface and my strike was met with a much more solid resistance, the tip of the stick float rod arched over and the fish slowly powered off down stream, the rim of the centrepin turning under my thumb. This was not the headlong, panicked flight of a fish in fear of its life but more the powerful exit of a fish, mildly irritated, who just decided he wanted to be somewhere else. The fish did not realise it had been hooked and if it did so whilst travelling downstream with the current, then my forty or so yards of line with which I always load my centrepins would soon be used up. Very gently I applied side strain and turned the fish towards the far bank and let it kite across the current for a while, then a little more side strain until the fish was headed upstream. He seemed to think this had been his own idea and carried on back towards me, so I lessened the pressure and let him cruise past me. Once he was five yards or so upstream of me I applied all the pressure I dared and made him fight both me and the current and hoped that he ran out of steam before I ran out of line.

It was close, the base of the spool was showing clearly and only a few turns of line remained before he slowed and turned toward the far bank, again. I applied side strain and turned him down stream back towards me but he had got it in his head that upstream was the direction he wanted to go and after I had gained ten yards of line he turned again and continued to fight me and the current. I have tried to describe the fight as it happened but I would not want you to think that this was in any way frantic, the fish was moving slowly and methodically but very, very powerfully – I was not, as you may think, dictating the direction of travel to this fish but rather making subtle and gentle suggestions to it.

The fight lasted about thirty minutes and all that time I was expecting the tiny hook to pull out or the fish to find some snag such as a sunken tree or weed bed. My right arm was aching and finally the fish surface and rolled. I knew then why I had been having so much trouble with this fish, I had suspected a barbel was my tormentor but not one this big.

Big barbel on light tackle

It weighed ten pounds ten ounces in the net and as my net weighs a pound, it was nine pounds ten ounces, something I have only just realised, in all the excitement I forgot to deduct the weight of the net at the time.

I spent the next ten minutes nursing the fish back to full strength in the shallows, as such a long fight takes a lot out of a fish and a lot of acid is built up in the muscles. I would not advise anyone to fish this light for barbel and I shall be re assessing my tackle when fishing this stretch again.

The reason for the title of this post is that this venue is just twelve minutes drive from my front door!