Thursday, 8 January 2015


summer or winter, you can't beat an English sunrise with rod in hand
I’ve made mine … but what are yours?  Go fishing more often? Catch another PB? Enjoy your angling more? Get up earlier maybe?

Well, those resolutions are mine too and the same as last year, so how did I do? ‘Must try harder’ comes to mind but I did go fishing more often and certainly enjoyed it more. Maybe that was because I managed to catch not just one but four PB’s, which for the uninitiated readers means I caught my biggest ever of four different species … which after over sixty years fishing is a difficult trick.

after more than fifty years, my biggest ever roach of 3lbs5ozs
Was I simply remarkably lucky, very skilful, [ok, that’s not very likely], or my PB’s remarkably low? In the case of two species that was true but two others made me a very happy boy. However, before I tell the stories of their capture I’ll return to the start of the year ... so this blog serves as a summary of a truly memorable year shared with good friends.

you can't be put off by a bit of flood water

You no doubt noticed that 2014 was a year of extremes … the wettest for 350 years and the warmest since modern records began in 1910, though actually since 1659! 

our home town of Wimborne nearly went under
we were cut off from Wimborne by the water meadows

Scientists blamed these extremes on high temperatures in the ocean surface, the mean temp a whopping 1.6 C above the long-term average. It’s clear that there is no standstill in global warming so you have to ask what effect might that have on our precious fish populations?

Dorset's beautiful Jurassic coast at Golden Cap
There isn’t the space here to debate the subject but if global warming means more of my favourite tench and rudd fishing, then bring it on!

aren't chunky tench a delight
Threats to our wildlife from these all too rapid changes have been well documented. Last years ‘State of Nature’ report concluded that 60% of the wildlife species monitored had declined over the last 50 years. Loss of habitat was reckoned to be the most significant reason for this but having worked with wildlife for over fifty years, I know that nature, given the chance, has wonderful powers of recovery.

a River Stour otter at Blandford, photographed by friend Stewart Canham
There are numerous examples of course, otters being a notable if controversial example. Once virtually extinct in England due to a poisoned environment, the PCB’s were banned, rivers and fish became clean and as they say, the rest is history. Whether we like it or not, the return of the otter is one of conservations great success stories and if we don’t want to alienate our potential friends in the Wildlife Trusts, we anglers need to accept that.

the carp in our ponds keep on getting hammered by otters so we've given up stocking fish

It’s just sad that anglers choose to fill all their lakes with carp, for otters simply adore eating carp. I’m sure they can smell them from many miles away, for if we stock carp into our ponds in the garden it’s only a matter of weeks before they come and eat them all. We don’t stock them any more and don’t have the problem. Food for thought.

a Fenland osprey with a rudd, taken by a friend
There are many other fine examples of nature’s powers of recovery, not least the osprey, red kite and avocet, thanks largely to the RSPB and it’s supporters that fund major habitat creation, nest site provision and protection. We can do the same for our fish populations, so one of my New Year Resolutions is to do more to support the Angling Trust, the Salmon and Trout Association, the River Trusts and Wildlife Trusts.

Perfect team-work. Trev helped by the EA's Andy Martin, netting roach to re-stock the Hampshire Avon
By encouraging a team ethic we can achieve an awful lot. The Barbel Society are doing just that with research and habitat improvements, just as Trev and Budgie have with their Avon Roach Project and it's working, thus proving that nature does indeed have wonderful powers of recovery. So I implore you to support such projects in your area or create them yourself. It’s easy if you put on wellies, grab a spade and enlist the help of the EA. They love these partnerships and achieve a lot when given help by the likes of you and I. Just give it a go and give our fish a chance.

the source of Dorset's River Allen

I’ve tried to avoid work this last year but failed, for I’ve helped the Dorset Wildlife Trust a few times, along with the BBC and ITV, making a short programme for South Today to promote our lovely little River Allen and it’s wildlife. 

filming for the Angling Trust

I also made a film about roach and cormorants with Trevor Harrop for the Angling Trust in the hope anglers would get behind the new laws for controlling cormorant predation. It seems to have worked.

Sadly our nationally important population of White-Clawed Crayfish in the River Allen became infected by the signal crayfish plague this summer and many died. A tragedy but once again we have to hope that, in time, they will recover.

Back to some more resolutions. ‘Go fishing more often’ – yes, but preferably with friends, then ‘enjoy my fishing more’ becomes easy.

friend Martin Salter joins us occasionally to talk Angling Trust business and catch fish 
Sharing those moments of triumph and despair makes angling more memorable and missing all those bites becomes such a laugh.

happy Trev enjoying a rare day off - they don't always have to be big ...
One pal I fish with a lot is Trevor of Avon Roach Project fame and we are usually in pursuit of big roach, though tea and Sue’s home made cake, along with Trev’s ‘best sandwiches in the world’ are just as important.

... but two pounders are always welcome

Sway Lakes are a favourite haunt due to the peace and quiet, apart from the big roach … but we also love our adventures out in Christchurch Harbour, doing battle with the manic mullet.

you get wonderful views from the top of Hengistbury Head ... you can see the mullet too
We always hope we’ll catch roach too and when out there in July I got lucky and had my biggest ever from tidal waters, a perfect specimen of 1/12.

a fin and scale perfect estuary roach of 1/12
I was fishing with friend Steve Derby from ‘up north’ and amongst many mullet he caught last year he had an absolute monster of 8/9. It fought incredibly hard in the shallow water, even charging under the boat and with two anchors out Steve had to play it with one hand while trying to lift one of the anchors with the other. I wish I’d been there so I could laugh at his predicament!

Steve's monster mullet of 8lbs12ozs - wow!
the beautiful Croc Pool on the Cauvery River in southern India - mahseer heaven
one of many temples along the river

In January, I had shared an Indian mahseer trip with him and though the fishing was disappointing, we did catch several biggies up to about 30lbs. The river scenery was beautiful and wildlife exciting, with a tiger heard, wild elephants by the river and a bird list of nearly 90 species.

a lump at last - just short of 20lbs

Steve's were always bigger than mine!
careful handling of these rare fish was compulsory
the colourful tadpoles were more numerous than the fish

lots of lovely wildlife thrived along the river
coffee plantations along the river provided a home for many birds
a families coffee drying yard - it was fascinating learning about our tasty drink

the coffee growers family
another yard being prepared for the crop

don't you just love 'em
Steve had a great summer, with several big barbel banked, including this lovely Hants Avon brace one September day.

at 13/8 it's one of a memorable brace for Steve

14/1 of chunky Avon barbel
not as big but at a PB of 11/2 I was well pleased - and taken first cast within five mins of starting my Autumn campaign
One of my PB’s last year was a barbel of 11/2, not in the same league as Steve’s … or most other barbel anglers … but I seldom fish for them and when admiring their beauty on the bank, I always wonder why not. Such gorgeous creatures and they fight hard too. This year I must try to make time to fish for them more often … and to be fair, I did try last year too.

barbel time on a very low but beautiful River Teme - taken by Gerry

I joined Man U legend and good friend Gerry Higham on the Teme and had a small barbel first cast, plus some chub and Gerry also had a super fit barbel along with chub. 

What a beautiful river it is, though for sheer stunning looks, the Wye takes some beating.
as brilliant a picture of a river you could ever wish to see - Martin's camera on good form - I caught barbel there too

Chris Yates with his first ever Wye barbel of 7/9
I was kindly invited there by my pal Martin Bowler and with Chris Yates coming along too, it was a memorable visit. We all caught several chub and will always remember catching our first Wye barbel.

carefully releasing the bar of gold

the Royalty's very fishy Compound 

We also hoped to add to our tally of golden bars by visiting the Royalty. Trev came along on the first day and caught his first ever salmon and Chris caught sea trout but the barbel eluded us. The Kelly Kettle tea and Sue's home made cake were good though.
we all caught lots of sea trout

tea and cake with friends - perfect
what a bonnie fish - it would have tasted good too, if allowed!
On the next day I was joined by my computer guru Chris Wild. I caught a lovely sea trout of nearly three pounds, along with more than 30 others and Chris caught his first ever sea trout and bream. The barbel failed to show once again but we had a thoroughly good couple of days.

a first ever bream for Chris - and a good one too
Chris Wild is a classical guitar maker and having already completed one a year ago, he is just completing his second. They really are beautiful instruments and those who play guitars professionally are well impressed with their tone. He plans to sell the second one so that he can purchase more rods and reels!

all his own work - and he even had to make the tools to achieve the result

a work of art ...

they sound really good too
... and he can catch fish - this 16lb common taken off the surface in March
favourite birches blown over by the gales
49 year old Monterey Cyprus flattened the rose arch and garden

ripped out of the waterlogged ground

a violent end to a 60ft tree
One major setback to angling plans was the rain and gales in January. So waterlogged was the ground in our garden that we lost seven trees of over fifty feet and clearing up the wreckage took me weeks. 

fishing pal Dave helped me cut up the big bits
I seemed to be sawing logs and having bonfires for weeks
Spring arrived and I could go fishing again

The garden has recovered now and with more light reaching the plants, it looked lovely in the summer. Fingers X’d that we get another sunny one to enjoy.

Sue quickly discovered that this starling in the Hengistbury car park knew all the tricks
Jim and Trev bagging up on the edge of Clay Pool

Sue and I had our usual ‘Dorset Doddle’ holiday, a troll around some of Dorset’s beauty spots, including Hengistbury Head and Golden Cap. We even went on a boat trip in the harbour so that we could check up on friends Trev and Jim and their attempt to catch mullet. They did.
at 5/6 this is Trev's biggest mullet so far. It beat him up big time

We’re blessed to live in such a glorious county so why go exploring anywhere else … less time travelling means more time in the countryside.

we were hoping for silver at the end of the rainbow
One of the advantages of fishing Sway Lakes is their close proximity to home, so it saves money on fuel and even more valuable, saves time. Big roach are on the top of my quarry list and this year, not content with catching one of 2/15 on the pole, I beat my 3/4 PB by an ounce. Taken on a tiny waggler and 10mm boilie, I was chuffed to bits.

that 3lb5oz roach again - a very special fish, even from a lake
fat two pounders galore on the pole - perfect

What’s more, staying on into dark and using my pole with a starlight on the float, I could fish sensitively and very accurately, even in the dark. Listening to tawny owls calling while watching my little ‘lighthouse’ being dragged under the surface and extinguished was magical. I caught lots of twos as well. Perfect.

exploring the land of skies

a hiding place for lots of tench, bream and rudd
Ely Cathedral where I sang in the choir and grew to love wildlife
However, one of the places I love are the Fens, for I grew up at school there from eight years old to eighteen, so it’s my ‘spiritual home’ and confirmed my love of wildlife and wild places. I find this land of skies inspiring and as tench and rudd are two of my favourite species, I make a yearly pilgrimage up there to explore.

there's a fascination in walking the drains in search of big fish
great crested grebes galore

The pencil straight drains are a haven for wildlife, especially these special fish and this last year I managed several tench, some big bream and better still, a few rudd of over two pounds.

a fiesty tench - some of them broke me - they are hard!

the ultimate summer quarry - 2lbs of gold
aren't they simply beautiful
Saving the best to last, on one grey, rainy day with the waterways deserted, I had a 1/12 first cast, a 2/4 next cast, then fulfilled a lifetimes ambition by catching a rudd of over three pounds. I’ve been trying to catch one since my school days at Ely and there it lay, an absolute monster of 3/9. I was so incredulous at it’s weight I had to check on another set of scales but what a wonderful old warrior it was. As you can see, it had tangled with more than one cormorant but survived for well over a decade. It took a large piece of free-lined flake and for the rest of my life I shall be grateful that I went out in the rain instead of staying in the bar.

my monster rudd of 3lb9ozs - I'll never see a bigger one but I'll still try!
I have no ‘proper’ pic of it because I was keen to return such a special creature quickly and with the rain drizzling down, just took a quick snap or two and slid it back into the lilies.

my embarrassing PB mirror of 21/9 - must try harder!
My fourth PB takes me from the sublime to the ridiculous. I never fish for carp, except to stalk them under the bank which I find really exciting but while tenching with lightish tackle, I managed to land a lumpy mirror of 21lb9ozs. It fought hard and had two rigs still attached, so there had been at least two carp anglers on the lake that didn’t tie their knots properly.

I've never seen a more beautiful carp, though several big commons would run it close
While roaching at Sway earlier in the year I caught a beautiful mid double linear mirror that also had tackle still attached. How it had broken carp tackle when I landed it on just two pound line surprised me but if all carp looked as beautiful as this one, I’d fish for them more often. I would anyway but where’s the time?

A New Year is here and I have lots to look forward to, as no doubt all us anglers do, so I’m hoping to beat my PB tench of 8/9. I’ve had five of that weight, all from different waters so I’d better make more of an effort to catch a double - dream on. I'd better catch a bigger barbel and carp too.

looking for mountain lions in the Andes © Laurie Campbell

With time being so precious, I'm going to write fewer blogs and try to write a few 'Tales from the Bush'. I've had so many privileged adventures in the wilds that I'm always being pressed to share them with others, so I might give it a go.
                                   my puma Penny certainly had some big teeth but I trusted her © Laurie Campbell

looking for a seal dinner - from BBC's 'Kingdom of the Ice Bear'
As usual, I’m going to help with conservation projects and implore you to do so too. You could always make it your New Years Resolution too but the least you can do is join the Angling Trust. As mentioned, I'll start giving myself time to go down memory lane. Sue has already provided the title “Everything’s a Long Time Ago” ... and how right she is!
snow leopard at 17,000ft in the Himalayas