Wednesday, 27 April 2016


a lovely brace of River Kennet biggies while filming 'Catching the Impossible' with Martin Bowler - the best went 2lb5oz

I’m going to nail my flag to the mast and vote for the roach because I believe it should be the national fish. Thriving in every sort of water in Britain and available to all, it is not only beautiful but if you’re seeking a big one, a real challenge ... so please excuse me if I show a few too many pics of the rare moments when I got lucky.

a scale perfect roach and close to three pounds
roach live in some beautiful places too
Many of you will be aware that there is a vote in progress that is going to lead to a decision on what is to be the nations favourite fish. It might not be as important as deciding whether to leave Europe or stay but it sure is worth a moment or two of your time.

The idea and initiative has been created by our very own underwater hero Jack Perks. He is masterminding an attempt to raise awareness of our fishy wildlife and we owe it to our watery critters to get behind him and VOTE. After all, the birders among us recently chose the robin as our national bird and we don’t want them to think we don’t care about fish.

So this is the link which will enable you to get behind the venture and make the general public sit up and pay more attention to our fishy wildlife and the places they live ... and who knows, they might even respect us anglers more too.

Jack has managed to gain the BBC’s support by having the vote publicised on the ever popular ‘Springwatch’ so several million will be aware of his initiative.

Ely Cathedral was the place I grew up and thanks to the Great Ouse nearby, also became a fanatical roach angler
I chose the roach because it chose me, for when fishing in the Great Ouse at Ely as a child, I caught a big one by design. We normally caught  just small fish, a few roach along with gudgeon and perch off the wall at the Cutter Inn but one day I cast a lump of flake to a large bed of cabbages and fluked a 10oz lump which to this small boy was a monster. I was hooked for life and have been trying to catch big roach ever since.

a Hampshire Avon two from the good old days
Luckily I grew up in the glory days of the H.Avon and Stour when two pounders were the expected catch and I had dozens, even managing a three pounder from both of those rivers and all on trotted bread flake. I even managed two pounders from the Broads, notably from the River Bure and Wroxham Broad, often using cheese paste as bait. This was in the 50’s when it seemed big roach thrived everywhere.

To catch the Broads roach I’d cut up Kraft cheese slices into small particles and scatter them around the float and it worked a treat ... but not before I’d used a quant pole from our cabin cruiser to poke around the bottom to find gravel runs. There was a particular patch on the start line of the sailing club in the middle of Wroxham Broad and though I irritated the sailors at race starts I caught many big roach from the spot, especially in the middle of the day, perched in my little 8ft plywood dingy. Happy days for sure ; I wonder if they’re still there?

2lb6ozs - fat as butter but not taken on cheese

I learnt the cheese technique when fishing with the old boys on the Regents Canal at Paddington in the school holidays. It was good roach fishing and if using cheese paste using a small porcupine quill, we’d avoid the small ones and catch them to over a pound, my best going one pound two.

The bait also worked well on the Serpentine where I caught numerous good roach but never as big as a pound. Unfortunately the bait also attracted eels and when struggling to unhook an above average wriggler, an old lady ran up and angrily telling me I was a cruel boy, beat me over the head with her umbrella!

I’ve tried the cheese technique in notable roach water several times since and never had a bite, though this is one of the joys of roach fishing. You can never be sure where or when you are going to catch a big ‘un, if at all!

good mate Trevor Harrop of Avon Roach Project fame with an Avon two pounder
We all know about the dramatic declines in roach due largely to the invasion of thousands of non-native cormorants but I’ll spare you a rant and simply celebrate the apparent recovery in several rivers, even in the iconic Hampshire Avon, not least because of all the work by the Avon Roach Project.
Trev releasing the future into the H.Avon and hope for keen roach anglers

Britford still produces two pound roach, largely because of the tireless work of river keeper Stuart Wilson in protecting them from the 'black death' .... that's cormorants if you hadn't guessed.

the LAA's river keeper extraordinair Stuart Wilson with one of his precious Britford roach
Still waters are providing some great roaching too, especially when they thrive under the radar, fattening up on carp anglers bait. Sway is just such a water, though Stuart thinks still water roach should only count as half and I kind of agree!

what massive roach those Linch Hill beasts were ... this one went 3lb3oz. caught while fishing with friend Gary Newman
The famous Willow Lake at Linch Hill produced amazing roach, even if they tended to be caught on 'unsporting' bolt rigs. I am guilty of trying the technique there too, just so I could see one of those huge roach you understand! I became known as a ‘jammy bar-steward’ because in only four visits I was lucky enough to catch a three pounder every time. In defence, I did try a sliding float and caught a few two pounders but never a three on the float.

admiring my PB of 3lb5oz - caught on a float too
I had roach to 3lbs4ozs at Linch but my PB came from Sway, just an ounce heavier but caught ‘properly’ on a delicate float. I also had my PB pole caught roach there too, an ounce under three pounds, so a much desired three on the pole is still out there to achieve. However, in my book any roach of a pound or more is a big fish and makes me a happy man and even if I’ve wasted a lot of my life in a quest for big ones I’ve loved every minute of it - well almost!

the pole can be deadly for really big roach
a gorgeous early morning two pounder - what beautiful fish they are

Sadly, a two pounder is now a distant dream on several once famous fisheries but the challenge remains and for me and many of my best pals, roach are still a constant cause of much head scratching and effort. So please get voting ... and if roach are the species that pulls your string, good on you ... but if not then still vote. I could easily have chosen tench or barbel, perch or pike, sea trout, mullet or bass, even carp for I love them all but as the saying goes, my favourite fish is the one I'm fishing for at the time. I just need to go out and fish more often!

beaut. 'nuisance fish' - carp are quite a struggle on roach gear!
As for my wife Sue, she loves tench, as I do ... but she says her favourite fish is the last one she eat!
time for tench

Saturday, 16 April 2016


The sun is out … days longer … air warmer … trees bursting … bees buzzing … butterflies flapping … migrants singing … flowers blooming … water temperatures rising … and it won’t be long before the tench are bubbling.  Happy days … Spring is simply wonderful.

I love the variety that our seasons provide and though most folk dislike winter and aren’t all that keen on autumn, I have never heard anyone saying they don’t like spring.

The great joy of all the seasons is the variety of wildlife that each month brings, from the wildfowl flying south after a summer in the wildest Arctic wilderness to the spring songsters arriving from dusty African savannas.

Wildfowl are a speciality here in Corfe Mullen, probably because we have five ponds linked by a small stream that runs through marshy areas I’ve dug over the years. Sometimes it seems more like the Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge. 

We have regular visits from the delightful mandarins and mallard nest on the island in the main pond and produce broods of ducklings. This year one of our females had an escort of six males. She must be some lady to attract that many men!

our annual production of mallard ducklings numbered fourteen this year, though another pair will hatch soon

We’ve also attracted a gorgeous male pheasant that we’ve called ‘Prince Wilhelm the Second’. He’s recently pulled a bird that we’ve simply called ‘Princess’. She’s nesting somewhere in the garden and her offspring had better not eat our precious plants.
there are still a few days to go before our giant oak bursts into leaf

Wilhelm has been keeping an eye on us for several weeks now
Our garden comes into sharp focus in the spring, not just because the migrant birds come here to take advantage of the habitat we’ve created for them but because all the flowers and shrubs turn our patch into a colourful wonderland.

we love our camellias, amelanchiers and magnolias and reckon it's a privilege to live here

Admiring these flowering shrubs while listening to the fluty calls of blackcaps and blackbirds is an annual treat.

blackcaps sometimes overwinter in the garden, though spring is when they serenade from the shrubs © Raymond Ching

Sue has done a lovely job planting lots of pots so that we have colourful displays throughout the year.

The snowdrops might be finished but the daffs are still blooming and have recently been joined by great clumps of vivid yellow marsh marigolds.

These in turn attract butterflies, especially the yellow Brimstone and as the sun’s warmth increases, these are joined by all the usual suspects such as peacocks and commas, the wild flowers providing an early nectar feed.

One lawn has been left to become a wild flower meadow where numerous orchids rise up in the summer but until then, we have to make do with the delightful snake's head fritillaries. Unfortunately the pheasants took a liking to them so next year our adopted 'pets' with friendly names might simply be called dinner!

stock doves are among many birds that enjoy a bath in our clear spring water
Our ponds provide a home for hundreds of minnows and when the water temperature rises enough, they gather at the streams entrance.

Once confident enough, they migrate up the shallow flow to spawn in the gravel. It’s quite a sight to see the violent contortions as the dozens of males compete to fertilise the eggs, sometimes causing the females to become stranded.

This doesn’t go unnoticed by the magpies and even the blackbirds. They are always quick to take advantage of an easy meal.

Hundreds of eggs are laid each day but the ducks soon thin them out. An otter visited four years ago and destroyed the pond in front of the house while chasing and eating the minnows. It looked like a bomb site by the time it left, the lilies ripped up and almost all the fish gone.

We’ve recently stocked it with four golden orfe to go with the two surviving rudd and hope the ‘playful’ otter doesn’t return any time soon.

over the years, most of our treasured fish have been killed

I love otters because I enjoyed the privilege of living with them in Shetland for three years while making the first ever films of truly wild otters for the BBC. Their return to almost every county in the UK is a conservation success story but after a deadly raid in our garden I sometimes wish they had stayed in the far north!

Our twenty year old cat called Tiger used to fish for our minnows but he's a bit too slow now, just like me when trying to catch roach.

Once the local waters really warm up, the garden will be abandoned in a quest for a tinca or two. Happy days to come … even if I can't catch them.

I have only managed a few days fishing, mainly with my pal Trev of Avon Roach Project fame and he snared this cute little tench last week while all I could catch was large perch. I was trying for a big roach of course but they have so far proved elusive.

this perch did weigh over two pounds but I still wished it had been a roach

However, we have lots of colour to enjoy in the garden and a summer of sunshine to look forward to. We hope you are able to be out there too, enjoying those long, warm days by the waterside.
the magic of a summer dawn