All Aboard

Tuesday 29th August 2017, 15:08PM Feature

I guess if you read my stuff it must seem like I’m always fishing ‘flat out’ but that’s not always the case. Any type of fishing these days’ costs money and as I’d already spent out on a boat and been subsequently faced with all the unseen costs of getting it afloat this year, I was glad I hadn’t also spent out loads on tickets as costs had spiraled. Not that I ever do you see (spend much on tickets that is) but in recent years its been prudent to have a few options for work stuff alone as carp fishing has just got busier and more contested. This year was to be different though as I planned to escape the crowds and fish mainly on the river from my boat once the start of the traditional season came around on June 15th. Now at this point I should explain that despite a strong desire to get the boat ready I’d also got into fishing a lake in Reading through the spring which had thrown a spanner in the works a little, as I was enjoying the great fishing there no end.

Of course a quick and cheap tosh up of the boat quickly turned into a full custom carp refit and I had to call in a few favours to keep the costs down as materials alone were just so expensive. Of course everyone who had offered to help also works making it difficult for them to give up time easily so my Idea of being on the river for a good amount of recon and prep during the close slipped by with me all the while telling myself that if it was done right from the off then it would only need to be done once, and I’d be able to get on and concentrate on the fishing. In fact, as the start of the season approached I was still way off being ready as I was yet to get a new trailer and finish the cabin, as well as fit a new window, more tres expensive purchases... and more time. With every week I could see the perfect start of spending the opening night on the river slipping away.

I told myself that missing the start wouldn’t be a bad thing and as it turned out it wasn’t. I was not ready but all was not lost as the river was in poor condition after ages without much rain amid a heatwave and only odd snippets of catches filtered back to me over the first fortnight. I wasn’t missing anything other than the first flurry of keenness who would mostly fade away in search of easier pickings.

With one thing and another it was a few weeks before the last of the jobs was finally completed and I was, well the boat was, ready. I could hardly believe it. Now I’d never towed a boat before or reversed with one attached to my car but I was undaunted and keen to get going, there’s only one way to learn. I was however a little nervous and anxious that all went to plan on my first outing as anyone would be. I spent the day before my first mission making sure I had everything I could possibly need for a couple of nights afloat, and that I was stocked up on everything. There was quite a list. A trip to Tesco ensured that the food box was full with everything from toilet rolls to spare milk, breakfast cereal, gas, noodles, bin bags – you name it. The same was true on the boat, two full fuel tanks, two leisure batteries, a spare Minn Kota electric outboard in case of emergencies, anchors, ropes, life jackets, head torches, tools, spare bait, again, you name it. I even had a spare propeller for the big outboard, you could say I had it all covered, perhaps I’m getting a little ocd in my old age... fail to prepare, prepare to fail I kept telling myself.

In the cabin my friend Kev had created a cool bed design with an insert to turn it from a single to a double (should I ever be entertaining a saucepot afloat). I also had shelves fitted as well as 12v lighting and lots of usb ports to keep everything charged. I even fitted electric fans for warm nights. The boat is certainly compact and bijou at 14 feet long but its actually perfect as I can easily launch and recover the boat alone with absolutely no drama, just as I’d hoped. I have loads of useable deck space and a comfortable cabin with lots of clever storage and I even made myself a cabin extension which looks like it was tailor made for the boat but was in fact an old Atom bivvy that I cut down slightly. For short overnighters where I don’t need to attach the full bivvy I had also cut a doorway out of another old bivvy which fits over the cabin doorway meaning I can have a proper door and a mozzi panel for warm evenings, and a roll down door for when it rains or a clear plastic door. I much prefer the bivvy style door as I can still hear and smell what’s going on outside and I feel that’s critical. With a traditional hinged door I could well imagine on a rough night, shutting the door tightly and falling into a deep sleep, not something I want to be doing if I’m at anchor out in the river for safety sake. The very last job left to do was to replace the navigation and anchor lights with new LED bulbs and I was all done, ready, and more importantly, fully legal to hit the river for the first time. The boat was registered, I had my insurance all sorted, I’d also had my outboard fully serviced, it was time to put the next phase into action and hit the river for my first fact finding trip.

You’d be amazed how many people have asked me why I have decided to get a boat now, why didn’t I do it years ago? Well the truth is that I’ve sort of had my hand forced as it were as it was something I always intended to do a bit further down the line when things came on top, by which I mean if general carp fishing became untenable and I’d had enough.

I started fishing on the River Thames nearly thirty years ago, for the first few years we spent our time looking at marinas and adjoining lakes off the main river and it was a good few years before I began to look at the main river itself more. Anyway in the intervening years I’ve fished the river less and less but I always kept an eye on what’s going on with a view to having a good go one year rather than odd nights here and there, perhaps if I got a boat. Well that year turns out to be now and here I am with any part of the river realistically within my grasp and not before time as Thames carp fishing isn’t in the best of states. Historically the river has in the past lost lots of fish to pollution and fish theft but mother nature always redressed the balance and just one good summer flood could bring fresh fish to the river in their hundreds, from all manner of sources which would disperse up and down the river.

But, the thing is we now also have a predation problem with otters and this is seeing many more fisheries fencing in their fish to stop predation. This might stop the otters getting in but it also stops the carp getting out and because of a mix of all these factors the river carp stocks are only decreasing and not increasing, its a worrying state of affairs and high time we as anglers did something to keep a healthy stock of carp in the river or they will become rarer and rarer and that would be terrible. When you look at everything together it was I guess partly a subconscious sense of urgency which forced my hand and made one year this year.

In the run up to my first outing I had a good drive around and looked at many of the public slipways between Stains and Oxford. The more I looked the more it dawned on me just how little good places there are to launch with somewhere even half safe to leave the trailer nearby, and while there are odd marinas along the river that will let you launch and stow a trailer they want a kings’ ransom for you to do so, a frustrating situation. Still, I’ve ended up with a few good slipways to start off with which opens up a vast amount of hopefully good fishing, more than enough to be getting on with and I’m sure I’ll find a few more places to launch after spending a bit of time afloat.

Early the start of the following week I left home at 7am and headed around the M25 toward the river. Towing the boat turned out to be easy, almost too easy and a couple of times I completely forgot I was towing anything at all.  I made it to my chosen slipway without incident and even managed to get the boat reversed down into the water and launched with ease after first making sure the plug was in this time. (there was the time I swapped the boat from the old knackered trailer onto the new one and in my excitement I forgot to put the drainage bung in and half sunk it before we worked out what was happening) With railings next to the river I chained my trailer up with the heavy duty chain and put on the wheel clamp I’d just bought. I’d also had a tracker fitted to the trailer, I could do no more to prevent it being nicked I told myself and would just have to put it out of my mind once afloat.

With the boat ready I went and parked the car and then set off up river for a look hoping it wouldn’t be the last time I saw the gleaming new trailer. To be fair I got used to handling the boat pretty quickly and throughout the day I guess I must have travelled 15 to 20 miles as I checked out stretches up and downstream from the launching spot. Negotiating the locks was the first challenge but it was plain sailing really, especially as through the day they are manned and the lock-keepers do all the work. Out of hours though I’d have to manage it myself, something to look forward to.

The river was still low and very clear and I saw next to nothing in the way of fish apart from the odd small chub in the edge. As evening drew near I found myself in a small weir pool off the main river, roughly three miles from the slipway on the next stretch downstream that looked the part, as it was very overgrown and unfishable from the bank for the most part, so it looked like as good a place as any to spend my first night. Considering the low clear condition of the river there was a very good chance that any carp locally would be nearby. Dropping the anchors alone in the correct position in the weir was the most difficult part of the operation but I was soon happy with my position and confident I was secure.

As the sun began to drop behind the trees I was feeling contented and leisurely set up a couple of rods for the night ahead whilst sipping a celebratory glass of wine to toast my first night, it had been a long old road to get to this point and I could at last relax and get on with it.

With the wall running out of the weir to my right I dropped a rod close to the edge in teen feet or so of water on rock hard flat bottom. I’d cast only a few rod lengths behind the boat and slipped on a light back lead to pin the line down. I put a few handfuls of crushed and whole krill boilie and a handful of nuts and pellet over it. The other rod went out to the centre of the pool, again in a deepish clear bottom and again baited with a few pouchfuls of krill soaked boilie. With the rods out and perfect I was feeling very happy with my lot and my mood stayed buoyant as it got dark – I hadn’t seen a soul let alone any fisherman, perfect!

I spent the evening watching TV and drinking coffee and sending little videos to my friends of my swim and gloating about what a lovely time I was having.  My mate Ben was also out afloat that evening, albeit way upriver and we text back and forward until late when I settled down for my first night afloat. Of course I was a little restless, way too many coffees, red wine and a touch of nerves meant I would only sleep lightly but I was soon relaxed enough, laid out as I was in the captains’ cabin watching Jaws on TV, literally the perfect fishing evening.

Well would you believe it I slept like a log, completely undisturbed, not so much as a roach rolled or plucked at the hook baits, the deadest piece of river I think I could have chosen but I cared not, operation escape was in motion and I was feeling good about life on such a nice morning.

Now as relaxed as I was the lack of action had me twitchy, so not long after the first coffee of the day I started the engine and let it warm up while I pulled and stowed the anchors, I was off once more, keen to push all the way down to the next lock at least. It was clearly going to be another hot day and the forecast was for anything up to 30 degrees so I decided to have a good scout about and look at all the river within reasonable range of the slipway. (up to an hour and a half in each direction) this gave me three separate stretches to investigate fully which is exactly what I did. I had a great day but what I enjoyed most was that in the middle of the day when it was hot I moored up in another weir pool beneath the shade of a big old willow and plopped out a rod and had a bit of lunch, and then a nap until the heat went off in the early evening, super civilized.

The next night, like the first I stopped in a spot that offered a lovely view, after a long hot day of looking I’d seen not a single carp and I was happy just to moor up and chill out once more. The spot I chose was just off the main river in the mouth of a channel that ran around an island where there are big weed beds, lots of snags and a good depth of water. Had I been looking at the area on google earth at home I’d have definitely dropped a pin on exactly the spot as it looked like there should be carp about – a lovely spot.

Compared to the stretch downstream this was a very different prospect as at dark there were lots of small fish topping, the swim was alive with fish, in fact this stretch was alive in general as I could see odd bigger roach and probably chub topping way off down the river as the light went. Again I fished as before a rod not far behind the boat just off some nearside snags and the other cast off to the right close to the weed beds but still in the main river. Both were beautifully clean and both received a few pouchfulls of bait.

Again I got settled and watched a film and before I knew it I must have dozed off as I awoke to a bleep or two and I stumbled out from the warmth of the cabin into a chilly night to deal with an unwelcome bream. This happened twice more with a nice sized roach and a small chub, both who somehow hooked themselves on the oversized rig. I was just leaning over the boat to drop back the little chub when I heard a heavy sounding but distant roll way off upriver, “That was definitely a carp” I said to myself.

As I was up I put the kettle on and put a fresh candle in the little lantern and I sat listening. Three more carpy sounding sploshes upriver had me pulling the anchors once it was light enough to see and I crept upstream in the half light watching for any signs of fish up ahead of me. As I approached a sharp bend in the river I noticed a fish bubbling so I slowed to a crawl, and as I passed the area I had a couple of flicks with a lead. It was surprisingly deep, maybe eighteen to twenty feet I thought but it looked prime and it was definitely the area where the fish had rolled, so I decided the best plan of attack was to bait it and go home, stock up on everything and come back the following day as it was going to be yet another hot one, and after two nights afloat I needed to get back to land. I learnt a good lesson that first trip, and that is that 48hours is long enough on a small boat unless you are mooring up and fishing off the bank so you can get off and stretch your legs as I found it hard.

Of course having the boat sorted and on a good trailer I started to think about the potential of taking it to other rivers as well as across the channel. I instantly started to imagine month long trips to the big rivers of France and some of the big lakes too, but tried not to get too carried away with what could be, first things first.

Well it was two days before I got back to the bend, plenty of time to let the bait do its thing. The river was busy with boaters, all of which cut the corner and came very close to the bank so I had to be careful where I moored up. By evening both rods were out and on the money and I was happy.

I was joined that evening by my mate Dan who came down for a bbq and we had a nice evening chilling out by the river and watching the boats go past.

Early the next morning I awoke to a bleep and looked out to see one of the rod tips pulling down slowly. I was up and into the fish in a flash which, once the line had tightened, jumped clean out of the water like a salmon.

Thankfully the fish was encased in a shroud of pondweed and I was able to pump it across the river and into the net before it knew what was happening and I turned to Dan with a smile. The first carp to cross the deck of the good ship searcher. It was obvious that there were a few carp around as we saw one show not long after my bite so I packed up later that morning and headed back to the slipway intent on returning that evening to hopefully catch another. With an hour motor back to the car I decided to return on foot that evening and fish from the bank as there was parking half a mile or so from the spot.

Well I made it back home without incident and the day passed slowly as I sorted out the kit for the night ahead. It was evening by the time I got back to the river and hurled out the rigs across to the deep hole on the far bank, no mean feet on ten foot rods with 20lb line and six ounce leads I can tell you but out there they went. All was quiet until dark when not long after zipping myself into the mozzi dome I heard a carpy sounding roll out in the river and I dozed off hoping I would be awoken by a bite.

Well that’s exactly what happened at 2am when my third rod that I’d cast mid river downstream tore off at a rate. Whatever I had hooked was not messing about and ran downstream taking line, a lot of line. After a hundred yards or so it was clear it was not stopping, and with every passing second I became more and more sure that I wasn’t going to get to see the culprit. By the time the last few turns of line were left on the reel I had no option but to grip the spool and clamp down hard and it worked. Slowly, ever so slowly I started to pump the fish back up river but it began to grate heavily. I kept it coming with gritted teeth and half an hour later I was still pulling as hard as I dared. Eventually the grating got worse until I simply couldn’t gain any more line and try as I might it was stuck fast and I cursed myself for not coming back in the boat where I’d have simply unclipped the anchors and gone after it. Whatever, needless to say that in the end the hook link broke and that was the end of that. Now I’ve fished my whole life, I’m way, way beyond sulking about what might have been but the loss hurt, not for a long time have I hooked something I couldn’t stop sooner or later but this fish was just an animal. Oh well some you win...

As if to ease my pain the carp gods gave me a break and by first light I had four more bites and landed them all, the best a common of 27lb which cheered me up no end. The fish were clearly on me as by the time I reeled in I’d seen loads rolling mid river but they faded away as the sun rose and I headed back to the car and onto the cafe for coffee and bacon to toast a great nights angling.

Now me being me I got distracted. It was the school holidays and I was having my little girl for three weeks so the next time I was afloat it was on a swallows and amazons style adventure where we headed up river and made camp on an island and had a fire and a great time. Of course entertaining kids isn’t easy so I decided on a last minute adventure to Belgium to see my friends and have a couple of nights fishing while I was there. The last time Wes and Kelly had seen my daughter was at their wedding when she was three. Now ten and very sassy they were going to be in for a shock.

The following week we were off on our next adventure. We took the tunnel to France then drove across the border into Belgium and headed to Wes’ place. It was great to see everyone and by evening the rods were out in Wes’ garden and I was hopeful of a bite or two. I need not have worried as the lake was kind to me and by the time we headed home after three nights fishing I had some lovely fish under my belt, but more importantly had a lovely time. Of course the three weeks with my girl flew by and before I knew it she had to go home and it was back to ‘work’ for me, well work is a loose term...

So what now? Well, I’ll be back out on the boat this coming week, there’s much prep and looking to do and before I know it I’ll be off to France again as its coming up to adventure o’clock. I’m heading to France for a fortnights fishing with my ex pat friend Mick, we will be out on the big lake for a spot of boat fishing, fingers crossed for a whacker for us both. That’s it from me this time around, you could say I’m keeping busy.

Be lucky



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