The glorious June 16th was something I’d looked forward to before, the pace and winding nature of the flow had well and truly got me then too. The build up, suspense of what could be, and sheer unknown of the Avon was captivating back then, and even more so now after my failed attempt two years ago.
I’d baited for a few weeks in anticipation for the start of the season, but out of my control the river levels rose to an unfishable level, and with that my once dedicated commitment had been shattered. I didn’t return that season, nor did I the following year. Side-tracked by family life and other tickets the return was always inevitable, and the 2016/17 season seemed like the perfect time to give it a go once more.
Before the season start I had a wonder down the same stretch and spent some time down there over the coming days, re-igniting the fire, and trickling some bait in as I went. A half four start one mornings saw me stroll up the banks with a chair and brew kit in hand, and I sat and watched for a few hours before work – there was plenty to see too. One morning I heard two good shows and it was clear there were fish getting on the maize I’d been putting in, whether they were bream, chub, barbel or carp I never quite saw, but either way the spots were getting visited and fed on, which surely had to be a good thing. A sack of maize set me back less than a tenner, and once boiled up was well over the 20kg start weight, so it’s a really cheap and efficient way of feeding and localising the fish in the stretch. You’d be surprised how much bait they can eat in a short space of time and for me it was more about getting down there and feeding them regularly, rather than the same quantity once a week – I wanted them to recognise my spots as a food source.
With my other waters containing bigger fish always on my mind, and the time and effort of baiting and cooking the maize up it really was a labour of love. That little bit of unknown had really captivated me this season and never quite knowing what would be on the end excited me to keep going. In reality it was only a few weeks of pre-baiting, but the 15-minute drive alone between baiting the far and near side of the river, plus the walk from the car, time to actually bait, distance from my house and everything else, it wasn’t a 10-minute job, but I managed three times a week on average at various times of day. A 10 litre bucket of maize would be split between each side of the river on each occasion. A friend had put me on to using maize and the visual carpet it would leave on the river bed made me think it was a good way to go.
The quiet stretch was a long walk from the car park, which although was arduous for baiting, I couldn’t run down it fast enough for my first evening session. The effort had been put in, and in all honesty, I didn’t have a clue what would happen. As I neared the swim and rounded the corner for the first time with gear in hand, it was a huge relief to see the banks completely empty – admittedly it was mid-week and a few days into the season by now, but it was empty all the same.
It was pushing 7pm by the time I arrived in the swim, and although I didn’t have long before dark I still hadn’t tied any rigs up. As I sat there hurriedly tying some simple blowback rigs, cursing myself that I hadn’t done this at any number of opportunities beforehand, a carp broke the waters surface and showed right over the spot. I hastily dropped a rod on top of the show as any carp angler would, set the rod down on the alarm, and began prepping the other rod. I didn’t even get the rig tied on and the first one was away. Three weeks of pre-baiting and delving into the unknown and the rod was tearing off at pace already – magical.
A small common was soon in the net after thrashing around in the river, probably around 7lb in weight, but that was more than enough to give me confidence in what I was doing. I’d put nearly a full bucket of maize out the day before so to get a bite so quickly was quite remarkable, especially as I’d added the last of the bucket before I started the session. The uncertainty of ‘have I put too much bait out’ was gone, and I was sure there’d be more before I was off that evening, but it wasn’t to be, and I left as tall as the night’s sky with my first river carp.
I returned the next morning, early, well before first light to get down the bank. I arrived to an empty stretch of river once again to my relief and set about getting the rods out. With two rigs already tied on, I put a fresh boilie and grain of maize on the hair of each before casting them out in turn. Only a short amount of time passed before the rod fishing across the flow to the far bank screamed into life and in the inky darkness I was attached to another Avon resident. This fish gave a much better account of itself as it tore up and down the far margin. From right to left it swam at pace, under the boats, through tufts of weed, and even threatened to bolt into the marina. This had to be a much better fish, the rod was bent double and there was little I could do but hold on and gain line when I could. Eventually the fish attached began to ease, and as it drew nearer to me it boiled on the surface confirming it was in fact a carp, but despite the arm wrenching only appeared to be in the double figures – the rumours really are true about these fish being hard fighters.
On the bank I weighed the fish in at 13lb 8oz. I was elated to have had a second fish for all the effort I’d been putting in, early mornings, long walks and everything else it had taken out of me and I photographed the fish just before it got light and slipped it back.
I was using extremely simple rigs on the river, as it’s highly likely that they never see a rig. I don’t think they’re going to be rig-smart so a basic knotless knot with a blowback ring, with a small piece of shrink tube for a kicker was all I used. I did make sure I had a large hook to ensure they didn’t bump themselves off once the hook was set and I also upgraded my braid to Kryston Jackal, a strong, abrasion resistant coated braid.
As the day began to break the rod on the far bank was away again. I lifted into a heavy weight as it began to move from right to left, before darting towards me, and locking up solid. The instant bite had come from nowhere, no warning and no time to react. Within 30 seconds of the rod going solid the hook popped up from the bottom, needless to say the fish was long gone. I checked the rig over and got it straight back over the river after wrapping to the clip, and followed it with a pouch full of S-Core boilie over the top.
An hour or so passed and the morning was fully light by now, with fish knocking the surface at regular intervals. Shortly before I packed up to leave the same rod was away again for the third time that morning, and this time it hugged the far margin for what felt like forever. Running up and down, backwards and forwards, eventually I began to gain some line on it. Just like that the fish sought the same sanctuary as the previous one, and I was locked up solid all over again.
I moved up and down the river bank trying to get a better angle on the fish, I could still feel the slight kick from whatever had run me into the snag, but after 5 minutes or so I felt the best option was to let the bail arm loose and see if it would come out on its own. The alarm never sounded again and the line stayed slack while I had a quick brew, and upon lifting the rod again the same situation was evident. I walked right past the point the line entered the water, and with a big kick the fish was free, but that only lasted a matter of seconds as it dived for cover again, snagging me once more. Remarkably this happened twice before it managed to dump the hook, and I left that morning quite despondent at the events that had unfolded.
It was a week or so before I returned to fish the river. I’d baited every few days between and now my confidence was high. I’d got down before work on the Friday too to chuck some maize in, and with my wife and daughter’s out shopping on Saturday, I took the opportunity to put a longer session in, well, five hours instead of three anyway. I arrived just after midday.
I got the first rod cast to the far bank and then baited the near bank rod. Just as I lowered in the near bank rig, two bleeps came from the far bank buzzer, and I looked down to see the tip pulling down to the back lead.I quickly dropped the left hand rod in the vegetation out of the way and wound down into the fish. There were a few healthy thumps from the other end so I knew I was attached to a carp, and the fish moved off downstream – whenever I gained line, bringing the fish upstream, it felt quite heavy.
Eventually the shoulders of a mirror carp broke the surface about a third of the way out and it looked to be a decent fish. I gently coaxed it into the margin and shuffled it into the net. It was a good fish and clearly my best so far from the river, and at 19lb 10oz I was over the moon. My first river 20lb carp is looking a realistic target and the thrill of fishing for the unknown is a real buzz, hopefully that moment isn’t too far away.