Dai Nightingale and Cliff Prophet on the Wallers

35 west bank of the Wallers between Boreham Bridge and Hog Trow

There are 116 pegs on the west bank of the Wallers between Boreham Bridge and Hog Trow footbridge and it’s an infamously long walk down to the Straight, the last 20 or so pegs — but it can be worth it.

It’s cloudy but sun is forecast. Won’t it be better if it stays overcast? Not at all, agree Dai and Cliff. Surprisingly the Wallers usually fishes best when it’s sunny, as long as the water’s coloured and not dead calm. They should know – they’ve fished it together for more than 30 years. ‘It looks the business,’ says Cliff, unshouldering his gear with relief at peg 110. A warm south-westerly breeze has got up and the Straight is well coloured. No-one else is fishing. Says Dai: ‘You could die here and nobody would find you for a week— not until the next match, anyway.’

This being a noted area for bream, what will they do, ball it in and sit it out on the tip? ‘No,’ says Cliff. ‘The best way these days seems to be to feed lightly and fish for the skimmers — if the bream turn up, so much the better.’ Dai agrees: ‘If you go all out for the bream and don’t get them you’ve overfed it for the skimmers.’

Cliffs son Thomas has come today and stops next door to his Dad at peg 111. Dai drops in at peg 112. Joseph ‘Gabby1 Gabbitas, another local match angler along for the day, takes peg 113. Between the four of them they should have a few fish covered.

The drain here is about 25m (27yd) wide. ‘There are no marginal shelves as such,’ says Cliff. ‘It’s like a saucer in cross-section, with some 6/2 ft [2m] down the middle. When the water’s clear it’s best to fish about two-thirds of the way over but when it’s coloured, like today, there’s no need to fish past the middle.’

He starts just overdepth with a 2I/2AAA, plastic insert waggler. Down the line are three no.6s bunched just below halfway, then three evenly spread no.8s. ‘I’m starting with three sixes down to see if there’s any countertow—sometimes you get quite a strong one here.’ Finding none, he moves two of the no.6s up to the float. Hookbait is a white maggot. ‘I never used to fish here without gozzers but I’m getting lazy in my old age.’

His groundbait is a light fluffy mix of 50% brown crumb and 50% Image Canal. Initial feed is three walnut-sized balls squeezed fairly hard so they go straight to the bottom. They contain a sprinkling of casters, squatts and pinkies. ‘It’s a fairly standard opening gambit — aiming to catch early on the bottom. Until the bites come I’ll just loosefeed a few casters and pinkies each cast. Once they start biting I’ll put the odd soft ball in.’

Dai, meanwhile, sets up a slim homemade peacock waggler with brass loading equivalent to about two AAA and attaches it with soft cycle-valve rubber. ‘This way,’ he explains, ‘you can slide the float up and down as much as you like without weakening the line – provided you wet the line first. And it’s neater and more streamlined than locking-shot.’ Why cycle-valve rubber? ‘Ordinary silicon rubber slips.’

The float takes very little shot down the line – one no.8 just below half depth, then three evenly spread no. 12s. With only a gentle breeze, he explains, there’s no trouble presenting a still bait with such a slim float, and such small droppers register clearly on the fine tip.

He sets it to fish slightly overdepth and baits with a white maggot. ‘Unfortunately I couldn’t get a gozzer blow this week,’ he says, ‘but I’ve put some ordinary maggots in damp bran to soften them up.’

He starts about two-thirds of the way across. ‘This season I’ve found it better than fishing the middle.’ His groundbait is brown crumb with a dash of Sensas Magic. Initial feed is three walnut-sized balls squeezed fairly hard. They contain mainly squatts, plus a few casters. ‘I don’t find pinkies so good here.’ He throws the third ball slightly past the first two. ‘Avoid feeding short, but don’t feed too tight,’ he advises, adding: ‘If there are any lumps about they might poke their heads out with all this feed going in.’ None do, though. ‘From now on I’ll feed one soft walnut-sized ball containing squatts and a few casters after each fish, or every other cast if I’m not catching. Never put more than one ball in at a time—you don’t want to drop balls on their heads. So even if you throw a ball in the wrong spot, wait a few minutes before putting another one in.’

The rushes rustle in the breeze as Dai’s float settles in the ripple. Moments later it sinks slowly away and a gentle strike sees his soft rod top nodding pleasingly. He swings in a hand-sized skimmer, unhooks it and pops it in the keepnet.

Next cast, nothing. ‘They don’t like the look of that maggot,’ he says, changing it for another. Several casts later a tiny roach takes on the drop but falls off on the way in. More time passes. ‘Not a very good start, but normally if you catch straight away it doesn’t last long.’

Out of the blue he latches into a good fish and has to apply severe side-strain to keep it out of the nearside rushes. Rod and line form a taut hoop but everything holds. Then it just seems to give up. Slowly a 2lb (0.9kg) bream surfaces and he steers it, unresisting, into the landing net. ‘I thought it was a bench [park bench – tench] the way it fought,’ he laughs.

What now, lash in the casters? ‘No. It came to what we were doing so we’ll carry on as before. I’ll try double maggot though -you get the better skimmers on double, there’s no doubt.’

Gabby and Thomas have had a couple of small bream apiece – Gabby on worm on the

Cliff is still catching steadily, mainly small roach and skimmers with the occasional netter. Hearing that Gabby has just taken a bream on worm, he gives it a go and takes a big skimmer straight away. But it proves a one-off and he goes back to maggot. ‘Fishing six inches off the bottom seems to be the way they want it,’ he says, striking into another on-the-drop bite and swinging a skimmer. ‘It’s just a matter of plugging away and taking what comes.’

Gabby has added a slab and a tench to his bag. Fed up with being pestered by pesky little roach on the float, Dai joins him on the tip. Gabby has fished a small pug feeder from the start, but Dai decides to continue feeding by hand and fish the straight lead. His rig comprises a Vioz (7g) bomb and a 90cm (3ft) tail, with a medium-wire, micro-barbed 20 and 1lb (0.45kg) hooklength. First cast a sprat roach takes his double maggot on the drop.

Next cast the tip flies round but the strike is a clean miss. ‘There might be the odd eel out there. Let’s try loosefeeding big maggot and leave out the crumb.’ Three big feeder, Thomas on maggot on the waggler -but how’s Cliff doing? ‘I haven’t had a bite yet,’ he admits. ‘Could be there’s a few bream around – they tend to move everything else out.’ A few minutes later an 8oz (230g) skimmer takes his maggot on the bottom. ‘There are lots of big skimmers showing this season. Some years it’s just milk-bottle tops. It seems to go in cycles.’ Soon he’s taking small roach, perch and skimmers, then a 12oz (340g) skimmer on the drop prompts him to shallow up by about 45cm (18in). ‘You can catch everything up in the water, lumps and all.’ A second big skimmer adds weight to the theory. ‘They’re certainly having it now.’ ‘They’re not having it,’ says Dai. ‘I’m being plagued by poxy little roach on the drop, even on double maggot. You just have to put up with them — you can’t feed them off by blasting in bait or you end up with nothing.’ The sun is out now. ‘The bream ought to feed, it’s sock on. But they often don’t come on till late. Mind you they’ve not rolled today, which isn’t a good sign.’ and steps up the maggot loosefeed. It works, too, producing a dozen or so big eels, one after the other, then a big skimmer. A few casts later the tip wraps round again and the line sings in the breeze as he connects with something solid. ‘It could be a swimming eel, or a bench. It’s a heavy fish, whatever it is.’ Under the rod tip the water erupts – and the humped back of a 4lb (1.8kg) bream breaks surface. Nice one! pouches go in. Two casts later the tip whacks round again and he drags in a ‘barking big’ 12oz (340g) snake. ‘I’ve cut back on the groundbait now,’ says Cliff, ‘only feeding it every four or five casts. They don’t really seem to want it. I’m mainly loosefeeding pinkies and casters and it’s a bite a chuck, but I can’t seem to pick out the better fish. Sometimes the bigger skimmers hang just off your feed, but not today. That said, I’ve had a few over the pound now.’

Dai is being bothered by small roach again, so to get through them he changes to a lAoz (14g) bomb, shortens the tail to 60cm (2ft)