June the 17th, 13 fished.
A lower-than-expected turn out for this Hall Green Home Guard contest, as holidays, Father’s Day and a pretend stomach bug meant that several members had to give this one a bye. Still, with thirteen fishing it would feel like a proper contest – less than ten anglers and it’s a mere knock-up.
Today we would be fishing Solhampton in rural Worcestershire; anybody who has visited this venue will tell you two things: firstly, that the place is absolutely stunning and secondly, that there are a lot of rules to abide by. It could be argued that the quality of the venue is dependant on this extensive list of directives (of which there are 34) but what most anglers take issue with are those rulings which have nothing to do with fish welfare and seem to be in place solely to make money for the fishery.
Whilst I understand many angler’s frustrations at fishery owner Burgess (actual name) Homer’s (actual second name) policies, I can’t think of a better-kept fishery in the entire Midlands. Situated in a lush valley, with beautiful willow trees and deep foliage, you would only know you were on a commercial fishery because of the slabbed pegs, aerators and other apparatus of the modern fishing venue.
Type ‘Solhampton Fishery’ into google and you’ll find numerous posts with negative comments about Burgess. I’ve always found him to be approachable though, so, in the spirit of fairness, I feel it’s only right to state that I believe there to be no truth in the rumour than three new rules are set to be implemented at Solhampton:
Rule 35: STRICTLY no keepnets in matches
Rule 36: NO dead casters
Rule 37: DO NOT look at the fish. EVER.
On arrival at the venue I was pleased to find that one controversial – and somewhat bizarre – ruling is still firmly in place:
At 9am we gathered in the car park to draw. I had no preference whatsoever as to which peg I pulled from the hat; we would all have acres of room, there were fish topping all over the place and every peg was a proper “Mr. Crabtree.” So, I hung around at the back of the queue and let everybody take their pick. Then, as I approached the front of the line, I had a “Soothsayer of Solhampton” moment as I turned to Ian Gibson and said, “… I don’t mind waiting mate – I’m gonna get peg 1 anyway!”
Which I did…
I’d had some good pre-match info about this one. I was assured that there would be no need to fish longer than a top kit from the bank, that corn or pellets over micros would do me bait-wise, and that 150lb would be required to win.
Not knowing the venue particularly well though, I played it safe and plumbed up in several other areas around my peg and assembled rigs accordingly:
Island at 15 meters – 4 x 14 Shippy Island, 18 KKMB – .15, band
Long margin – .2 Hillbilly Grizzly, 16 B911 – .15
Short left hand edge – .1 Hillbilly Grizzly, 16 B911 – .15
Short pole – .2 Hillbilly Thick Chump, 18 KKMB – .15 band
As all-in time approached, I had to admit that I fancied it a bit, there were fish showing everywhere and my peg afforded me plenty of options. Saying this, neighbouring peg 4 looked very fishy, and I fancied Ian Gibson to catch a few from here:
Likewise, Bob Warwick had plenty of room on peg 33 and I suspected he might do well too.
At 10.15 the all in was called, I decided to start the contest fishing hard pellets at top kit-and-a-bit, and I didn’t have to wait long to put my first fish of the day into the net, a ‘stockie’ carp of around a pound and a half. He was quickly joined in the onion bag by four of his siblings, leaving me on 5 “stockie” carp for around 8lb in a promising opening fifteen minutes. I then began to suffer with liners, which inevitably lead to foul-hooked fish. I tried sneaking my feed in by toss-pot, or feeding larger amounts of pellet more frequently, but I was clearly fishing in the wrong depth. So, I quickly got up off my box and assembled a shallow rig, as I thought this might come in handy over the course of the five hours. I had a little spell slapping a pellet around down the track but it just didn’t feel right, so, at the end of the contest’s opening hour, with 15lb in the keepnet, I had my first look down the edge.
I snared the odd small carp fishing down my edges, but again I foul-hooked more fish than is ideal. I had a proper Catch 22 situation on my hands as I needed to feed to provoke some interest, but feeding led to hooking fish anywhere other than the mouth. I generally put this scenario down to one of two things: either that it’s too early in the day for the fish to settle, or I’m fishing in the wrong depth. Another issue was that I couldn’t figure out which bait was best; I experimented with expander pellets, single and double corn, worms and casters, but none of these felt right. So, rather than pull my hair out going after fish that hadn’t settled properly, I took this opportunity to ship pellets out long to the island. This would never be the most efficient way of catching small carp, but I felt I needed to steadily put some fish in the net until the final period of the contest when they would (hopefully) settle properly down my margins.
It was hard work shipping back and forth at 15 meters but worth the effort, as the next hour resulted in 15 fish for over 20lb. I believed that shipping long was definitely the right thing to do as those anglers fishing down their edges were suffering with foul-hooked fish; next door Bob Warwick cut a figure of frustration, at one point losing nine carp on the bounce. Although I felt for him, if I can quote a theory of Einstein’s “… Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Bob was putting his bait down the same hole, feeding the same baits, shotting his rig exctly the same and was left dumbfounded when yet another fish pinged off. This copybook fish-loss performance became so bad at one point that fishery owner Burgess, hearing the huffing and cursing coming from peg 33, came across to see what was occurring. I secretly hoped that he might be about to hit Bob with a new fishery guideline:
Rule 87: Do not complain about losing fish – everybody loses fish.
Or, more simply:
Rule 96: Please, shut the fuck up.
Instead, Burgess took pity on Bob, and found the time to study his rig, eventually suggesting he go up a hook size from a 16 to a 14.
I entered the final two hours of the contest in no hurry to come away from the island – I was catching small carp most put-ins, and more importantly they were hooked cleanly in the mouth.
Down on peg 7 Mark Seaborn was catching well on the tip, but apart from this I felt I was ahead of those around me. All was going well and I was thoroughly enjoying my day. That is until I embarked upon my customary, embarrassing moment of madness – here goes. After a sideways movement and sharp dip on my float I lifted into a fish, the first one in a long time that felt foul-hooked. This carp tore off around the end of the island at some speed, so I hurriedly shipped back before it took my rig, elastic and all into some overhanging foliage. As I threw my pole back behind me the sections came apart at the 11 meter joint, splatting onto the water and travelling up the right hand side of the pool at some speed. I quickly ran around to Bob Warwick’s peg where my pole rested on the water’s surface, moving slowly now from left to right. Bob quickly shipped out his own pole, pulling my stranded sections back with a small pole-mounted pot. He was doing an excellent job, inching this expensive length of carbon towards him, until things took an even more farcical turn-for-the-worse as Bob’s pole sections also came free and suddenly, we were faced with two lengths of Daiwa pole stranded around 9 meters from the bank. My sections were now beginning to take on water, so there was nothing for it but to get my kit off and leap into the drink.
This is the third time I have ended up taking an unexpected dip whilst on a fishing contest in the last year; In this period there have been hundreds of other anglers competing in matches whilst I have been present and I have yet to witness another fisherman entering the wet stuff. I previously thought that my wife’s claim that I enter the water at any given opportunity, just to make my blog interesting or for mere “Lol’s”, was a playful sleight on my character, but evidence suggests she has a strong argument.
So, I hastily entered the drink, rescuing the wayward pole sections – and thankfully Ian Gibson caught the entire shenanigans on camera. Before you view the below image though, I must point out that I take the somewhat unusual step of breathing out when being photographed. I do this so that those who see the images aren’t overwhelmed by feelings of body shame and pangs of jealousy at my Ronaldo-esque physique:
I was pleased to find that the fish was still attached to my hook as I carried my pole, clothes and all back to my peg. I don’t know what the National Federation of Anglers’ ruling is regarding playing a fish in another part of the pool before landing it back at your peg, but I’ll openly admit that I don’t care, if I’ve had to suffer the indignity of splashing around in a silty pond and the inconvenience of sitting around in wet pants all afternoon, then the fish is rightfully mine. Also, as this carp had caused me so much bother, I fancied getting it into the landing net and treating it to a swift flurry of slaps to the head. Unfortunately, I didn’t get an opportunity to commit a pre-meditated act of violence on a fish because as I crossed a bridge back to my peg, I asked Bob Warwick to assist, passing my pole back to me over some reeds. Not content with losing his own fish all afternoon, hapless Bob lost mine too, displaying an unenviable case of reverse-Midas, as everything he touched turned to faeces.
Unsurprisingly, when I got back onto my seat box, It took a while for me to regain my composure. I put the odd fish in the net out long but had definitely slowed-up, so I made the decision to concentrate on fishing short and down my edges for the remaining ninety minutes of the contest. My best line was the right hand margin, but as it was a little deep I had the problem of false-indications as fish swam into my line. I also hadn’t found a bait which felt “right”, that is until it occurred to me that if I had caught across on hard pellet, why wouldn’t I catch on the same bait short? So, I replaced my B911 with a banded Super LWG and this worked extremely well. I even had a spell of catching at half-depth down my right hand edge, where carp were slurping at the loose-fed pellets which had caught-up in the reeds.
Regardless of the fact that I sat in squelchy-arsed discomfort for the final hour of the contest, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I finally nailed my feeding in this period of the match, drawing just enough fish into my edges without causing havoc in the peg. I even switched my shallower, left-hand margin to a hard pellet line and this became noticeably more productive as I had a run of fish on a banded 6mm pellet over micros.
When the all-out was called at 3.15 I was sad that the contest had come to an end. I had enjoyed a great day’s fishing spent with brilliant people in lovely surroundings – what more could I ask for? I believed I had around 50 small carp in my nets for approximately 80-85lb; down on peg 7 Mark was owning up to 87lb. As we thought it would be a close call, we took the decision to start the weigh-in with Bob Warwick, travelling anti-clockwise around the pool, weighing my fish in last.
Bob kicked off proceedings with a hard-earned 58lb – I’m sure his swim settled once I had taken a dip in it, as he suddenly stopped foul-hooking fish. Next along John Gibson plonked a respectable 27lb on the scales: well done. We then made our way along to Brian “Christmas Face” Fowler, who was admitting to 50lb, these fish must have put on a considerable amount of weight whilst in his keepnets, as they actually went 82lb; Brian had been in my eyeline all day long and I genuinely believed he had around half that weight.
The next two anglers both produced nets which contained lots of lovely ide, as Dan Lunn and Joe Wood weighed in 40lb and 71lb respectively. Then we made our way to the car park bank of the pool, where Dicky stole the show with another 82lb weight, falling an agonising 4oz short of Brian’s total.
It had clearly fished well, as there were weights of 45lb and 48lb as we made our way to Mark Seaborn and the moment of truth. As soon as Mark took his nets from the water though I could see that his feeder-caught fish were of a small stamp, he had managed the greatest amount of carp numerically but weight-wise he fell short, moving into 3rd place with 75lb. After this Ian Gibson chipped in with 38lb before it was my turn. My first net went a disappointing 38lb but picking my second net up it was clearly heavier. It actually went a level 58lb, giving me a total of 96lb and the match win.
It had been a close contest with plenty of decent weights, in fact we averaged 54lb a man. This may not sound like a huge return, but considering the fishing has been tricky of late at many venues across the midlands, we were all pleased to find a few feeding fish.
This week’s Man of the Match award goes to Dan Lunn, with a fine mixed-bag from peg 26. Well done, mate.
Finally, before I sign-off, I’d like to share with you a shot of this week’s lucky match winner, surrounded by his wonderful friends…
Until next time…