April the 18th, 15 fished.
A Wythall Royal British Legion contest today, at the prolific Hillview Fisheries, and for this event we had booked canals 3 and 4.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the modern commercial fishery, these canals are recognisable as such in width and depth alone. Any barge that was placed on to such a body of water would be – to use a technical term – “pretty fucked”, with no adequate space to manoeuvre, or even to perform a three-point turn. If you booked such a vessel on one of these canals for a middle class weekend jolly with friends, it would be a pretty demoralising experience, consisting of drifting fifty meters in one direction at 4 miles per hour, whilst drinking pitchers of Pimms and listening to Sting’s Greatest Hits, before coming to an abrupt stop, churning up the water and solemnly going back in the opposite direction: drinking warm Pimms, listening to Sting. And so on.
Barges and Sting aside, if you’ve never fished a contest at Hillview, I highly recommend this pretty little fishery. Head out towards Tewkesbury, take a sharp left turn as you approach the picturesque village of Twyning and you’ll find Hillview nestled eight hundred miles away in the Rhine Valley – or at least that’s how long it feels driving along the Em-fucking-Five to get there.
The more astute of you will have noticed that I haven’t written a blog in quite some time. I’m sorry to inform you that I’ve been gravely ill since I posted my Shiplate Farm write-up in the September of 2018. In fact, until very recently, I’ve been in a coma.
I actually fell into this persistent vegetative state during our annual September weekend away. I was sat in the Somerset & Dorset pub, well-oiled and propping up the bar with Eddie Swann, when talk soon turned to fishing and the finer details of pole rigs. As Eddie went into a compelling description of a flat-float rig he had used to some success on the middle Severn in 1984, I unexpectedly blacked out, falling off my stool, hitting my head hard on the floor and fracturing my skull. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I could hear the soft wail of distant sirens, interspersed with the soothing voice of Eddie – who had failed to notice my unexpected tumble – effusing the benefits of ballebini shots over stotz.
A brief aside here, but as I emerged from my two year coma, there seemed to be just one topic of conversation: the pandemic. Or plandemic, according to some. Opinion was cleaved quite distinctly down the middle, with one camp certain that we were being oppressed, locked-down as part of a state-sponsored conspiracy designed to exert total control, a subversive scheme led by a secretive global cabal in an attempt to overhelm and undermine.
The other camp seemed to follow this line of thinking: some Chinese lad ate a bat and we had to stay in for a bit.
As this contest fell during one of those vague, mid-points of lockdown, the rules were quite muddied: we would be allowed to fish of course, to draw our own pegs and perform our own weigh-in, but there would be no socialising after the contest, unless you were prepared to drink hand-sanitiser, which is fine by me.
At 8am we gathered in the car park to draw. It was generally agreed that an end peg would be favourable, but failing this next-to-an-end would do.
One of the first anglers to step-up was Ollie “Ronnie” Corbett, who picked end peg 84 from the ball-bag of destiny and would therefore be difficult to beat. Not far behind him was Jim Smith, who drew neighbouring peg 86. Jim was another firm favourite for the overall spoils, coming off the back of a great run of form where he somehow managed to win eleven of his last six matches – well done!
After I drew middle-of-the-road, middle-of-the-bank, bang-average peg 75, I was joined in the queue by Dave Richards. There seemed to be some confusion regarding Dave’s peg number as whichever way around he held it, it read 96. After a fair amount of spinning the little disk – sometimes dead fast in a bid to catch it out – it stubbornly still read 96. So Dave did the sensible thing and set up on peg 96, which was an end peg. Which was nice.
My plan for this contest was to feel my way in slowly, to enjoy sitting out in unseasonably good weather with my friends and all being well, catch a few. If this sounds like a defeatist attitude then perhaps it is, but it’s been a tough time for everyone, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only angler present who felt relieved to be out in the fresh air, enjoying this brilliant pastime again.
My bait for this contest was based entirely around maggots and pellets; consisting of five pints of mixed whites and reds, a bag of fishery 4mms, a bag of fishery micro’s and some expanders for the hook.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and if I could approach the contest again, knowing what I know now, I would take corn, pellets and nothing else.
At 10.15 the all in was called – or rather, Dave Richards proudly tooted his shiny new horn. I slipped a 4mm pellet into a lasso, but before I had placed a few pellets into a cad pot, I heard, “He’s already got one!” called from the adjacent canal, as Ollie was into his first fish after a matter of seconds. An ominous sign, perhaps.
I began my contest fishing pellets across, in around three feet of water (the shallowest I could find over) just off the reeds. I struggled to get the fish to settle, pricking them just off the deck. I hastily tried a shallow rig, thinking that the f1s might be willing to feed off-bottom, but despite lots of missed bites and dips on the float-tip, I hooked very little, finishing the first hour of the contest with two f1s and two stockies for around 6lb.
Meanwhile, everybody else seemed to be putting fish in the net with some regularity: Ollie was already owning up to 30lb, Granham (not a misspelling) Green was catching steadily on the short pole, Phil Southgate was snaring fish dobbing bread… it was shaping up to be a good contest. The only other angler that seemed to find bites hard-to-come-by was Jim Smith on neighbouring canal 4. We were all surprised that Jim wasn’t emptying it as he was coming off the back of an astonishing run of form which included winning every fishing contest he had entered since he was 14 years old.
After I had tricked a couple of small f1s into the net by “tapping” pellets tight against the reeds, I decided it was time to to catch one properly. I had been priming my right hand margin with maggots from the off and decided it was time to see if some f1s had settled. Each put-in resulted in a pretty little silver fish: lovely to catch, but at ten-to-the-pound, hardly worth the effort.
So, with the edges fishing poorly, I decided to try down the track; a little earlier than I had planned but I was rapidly running out of options. Fishing maggots on the deck in around 4ft of water, bites were plentiful, but again, small silver fish were a hindrance. After a couple of f1s and twenty-six-seven-thousand or so rudd, I scrapped off the track line and ventured back over to the far-bank cover, hoping to snare a few on hard pellets.
Although my display had been disappointing up until this point, I wasn’t about to let clumsy, slipshod angling destroy my day out. After two years of being in a coma, I felt genuinely blessed to be sat out in the shimmering spring sun. So I placed my pole on its rollers, took a sip of hand-sanitiser and paused for a moment, to listen to the birdsong: to the comforting coo of the common wood pigeon and the busy chirp-trrrripp of the nesting chaffinch.
I decided at this moment – and not because I was fishing like a twat and catching fuck all – that if we had to have a winner today, then FISHING SHOULD BE THE WINNER, and not Ollie Corbett, who eventually won.
Into the last couple of hours of the contest, and my abject angling effort was thrown into chaos by the arrival of some pesky f1s. They didn’t turn up due to a skilful tactical switch or an intuitive piece of water craft. To put it simply, I had thrown a lot of maggots in and they had arrived for a chew.
It was nice to finally feel the elastic being stretched, but I was making up little-or-no ground on the leaders, as fish were coming out all over the pool. In fact, the only angler who appeared to be struggling was Jim Smith, which was a huge surprise to us all as he was coming off a stupendous run of form. Apparently, Jim hadn’t lost a sporting event since a game of conkers at Acocks Green Recreation Ground in 1969, when he relinquished a 63er to a lad that wore a leg-brace.
At 3.15 the all-out was shouted/whistled/tooted, to call time on what had been an interesting, albeit frustrating, contest. I took a walk around to see Dave Richards – as five hours is too much and he always misses me during a match – and I noticed he was readying the weighing-in apparatus. I put a brotherly arm around his shoulder, and told him that he wouldn’t be needing the scales and sling, because if we had to have a winner today, then FISHING SHOULD BE THE WINNER, then he called me a little twat and weighed everybody in.
So, I finished the day mid-way, with 51lb to show for my efforts. Not a great return – or a great display for that matter – but then again, not the disaster it could well have been. Oh well, onwards and upwards.
Before I sign off, all banter and wisecracks put to one side, it really was fucking glorious to be back on the bank, spending time fishing with great friends. So before we say goodbye-for-now, I’d like to make a couple of mentions…
Firstly, to this week’s Man of the Match, Dennis Catermole, who fished a tidy contest from the off, caught some cracking fish from an unfancied area, ran out of meat and borrowed some from Graham, realised it was cut too big and whittled it down with his teeth, who didn’t panic, fished a blinder, and took a shiny pound coin off Jim – which according to Dennis, makes him sponsored. Well done that man.
One last mention before I wrap things up, and an excellent cause some of the members of the club have involved themselves in. Like many anglers up-and-down the country, these lads have enjoyed countless hours of bagging, “filling it in” with dead maggots down the edge. So they’ve decided it’s time to give a little back to the sport and sign up to the Dead Red Donor Card, meaning that when they exit this mortal coil, rather than give their bodies up for cremation – which is bad for the environment, requiring lots of natural gasses and producing excess CO² – they will rot out in a field, generously giving their bodies over as a fertile breeding ground for flies, which will produce maggots, which will be collected and frozen for other anglers to use down the edge. Producing big pots of dead reds to snare a wary, wobbly double from Meadowlands or Larford or Shiplate Farm. A wonderful idea and a worthy cause – to those that have signed up, we applaud you.
Until next time…