The tide is still coming in when we arrive at the narrow river near Small Dole. A noted stretch for skimmers, it also holds some big carp and bream. ‘There are some massive bream here,’ says Paul, stopping at the end of the footpath down from the landfill site, ‘but you can’t count on them.’ He scoops a palmful of water out of the muddy river and gives it a good sniff. Satisfied it isn’t salty, he starts tackling up. A small fish tops. ‘That’s a good sign,’ he says. ‘As long as there’s a few jumping we should be all right.’
Paul casts a maggot baited bomb rig down the edge. ‘We won’t catch anything,’ he says, ‘but hopefully we’ll get a few knocks to tell us fish are there.’ Straight away the think I’ll bosh it in to start with.’ Five cricket balls loaded with casters, pinkies and maggots go in down the middle in front of him. Five minutes later the river starts flowing steadily seaward. ‘It’s making now,’ he says. ‘Let’s start fishing.’
He kicks off with a very stiff, 6m flicktip pole, fishing a 1.5grigto hand. Baited with two white maggots, the hook is set to fish just off the bottom of the 1.8m (6ft) deep swim. ‘This is real bagging gear,’ he says, ‘for crunching out the skimmers — let’s hope!’
Paul stirs some more casters and pinkies into his groundbait and each run through feeds a golf ball, squeezed hard so it goes straight to the bottom, plus a small handful of maggots – the crumb directly in front, the maggots slightly upstream. ‘I’m not quite deep enough,’ he says after a few uninterrupted runs through. ‘You want to be hooking the rocks or weed occasionally.’ He deepens up a couple of inches but five minutes later still hasn’t had a bite. ‘You catch pretty quickly here if you’re going to catch at all,’ he says. ‘I’ll have a quick go on the feeder. I don’t really expect to catch much on it but if I get a bite I’ll know I’m okay.’
The link is short, too, to help nail the bait to the bottom and – because Paul is fishing close in — to reduce the angle between hook and rod tip. Because the link needs to be short, he prefers it to slide.
With a gentle underarm swing Paul sends the feeder out to the middle and a couple of metres downstream, where he reckons most of his earlier feed has ended up. Resting the rod parallel with the surface and pointing straight out in front of him, he pays out a bow into the line until there’s just a slight bend in the tip. He carries on loose-feeding maggots as before.
It isn’t long before there are a couple of taps on the tip and Paul lifts into a dace. ‘Well, it’s a start,’ he says. ‘But dace are more tolerant of salt than skimmers. The water near the bottom might still be a bit salty for skimmers.’
After missing a couple more bites Paul goes back on the flicktip. First run down he plucks out a small skimmer. Second drop in he swings a small dace, then in the next few runs through he misses a bite, bumps a fish and swings another skimmer and dace. The flow has picked up and, despite his throwing his groundbait and loosefeed farther upstream, the bites are coming right at the end of the trot, with Paul at full stretch. ‘I could do with 7m, really,’ he says, ‘I can’t quite reach them. I think I’ll have a go on the stick.’
This rig comprises a 6 no.4 float. Like the flicktip rig, all the shotting is in the bottom half, to keep the bait down. Paul can now trot his bait as far as he likes, but after a dozen casts all he has added to his bag is a small dace. The problem is that what was a gentle upstream breeze has gathered considerable strength. ‘It’s holding the float back too much,’ he says. ‘You want to run it straight at them, or hold it back only slightly.’ He abandons the stick and tries the flicktip again.
With less line for the wind to catch, the pole float isn’t held back as much as the stick was. First put in it hasn’t travelled more than a couple of feet when it’s yanked under by a big dace. Two more dace follow, then a skimmer. ‘They’re there, now,’ says Paul, ‘right over the groundbait.’ In an attempt to keep them there he knocks the loosefeed on the head and puts the maggots in with the groundbait instead. ‘It’s whacking through now,’ says Paul, dragging another hand size skimmer in against the current. Out again the float slides under and he lifts into something solid. ‘I’ve hooked the bottom,’ he says. Then ‘the bottom’ starts to move towards the far bank, very slowly but very deliberately. The taut line sings in the wind like a high wire and there’s nothing he can do except hold on as the fish hangs heavy in the flow. ‘Right, this is walking time,’ he says, as the unseen monster turns and heads ponderously downstream. ‘It’s got to be a big bream,’ he adds, following the fish along the riverbank.
Unfortunately we are never to find out, as the inevitable happens and the hook-length suddenly snaps. At no time was Paul able to make any impression on the creature. ‘The trouble is,’ he says, ‘you usually only get one big fish in a session here, so that could well have been my one and only chance today.’
Paul is struggling now. The bites are hesitant and infrequent and he isn’t hitting many. ‘This rig’s not right,’ he says. ‘It’s okay when they’re biting with abandon, but a bit crude when they’re not.’
He changes to a pole and elastic rig comprising a lg float. The pole has No.5 elastic set tight through the top two sections and he fishes it at 7m, unshipping at 5m.
With a lighter, finer rig on a slightly shorter line, bait presentation is better, the bites are bolder and more frequent, and his catch rate improves. Still fishing double maggot he has a run of skimmers and dace, then another big fish is on!
Hardly surprisingly, Paul is on the feeder again. With the flow faster than before he has shortened the tail to 30cm (12in). Alternating between double maggot and double caster, he’s getting rattles and taps all the time on both. Some might be line bites, but he has had a few dace, skimmers and eels. A thumping bite raises hopes of another bream, but the strike is a clean miss and, although the hooklength comes back slimed, Paul is sure it was an eel.
It’s a lot livelier, this one, and with all the elastic out Paul hastily adds extra pole sections then has to scramble off his box and follow the fish as it motors off downstream. Ten, twenty, thirty yards – the fish just keeps on going. ‘This is a joke, innit?’ he shouts, now fully sixty yards down the bank. It’s a good job it isn’t a match – if it were, he would have walked through two or three other anglers’ pegs by now. ‘It must be foul-hooked,’ he says when we finally catch up with him with his landing net.’ It’s going to take a bit of getting in. Have you ever seen anything so stupid? ‘
Eventually the fish tires and surfaces for the first time – a 3lb (1.4kg) bream, foul-hooked in the anal fin. After what seems an age Paul expertly steers it into the net and walks back to his box with it, looking suitably relieved.
Out again with double caster on the feeder, Paul lifts into another gentle tap and instantly has to backwind as a big fish charges off upstream. ‘This is no bream,’ he says, as it turns and accelerates downriver. ‘I’m going for another walk.’ The fish leads him a merry dance for a short while, then snaps his hooklength with a sudden spurt. ‘That was a carp, surely,’ says Paul, winding in. ‘I’ve never hooked so many big fish here in my life.’
He retackles his feeder rig with a forged 18 and 2.1lb (0.95kg) Bayer Perlon hook-length and carries on catching skimmers and dace, plus the occasional small perch, roach and eel — most on double maggot.
No signs of any more big fish for a while, so Paul goes back on the pole. The river has dropped quite a bit while he has been on the feeder so after plumbing up he shallows his pole rig accordingly. He’s anxious to put a few more small fish in the net, since he knows they tend to go off as the river drops. But twenty minutes and a dozen small fish later the temptation to tiy the feeder again is too great and the pole goes up the bank.
After a few fruitless casts with double caster he changes to double maggot. ‘That’s where they are,’ he says, plopping the feeder in. Before he can put the rod down a 2VAb (1.1kg) slab snaffles the bait on the drop. It fights doggedly in the current but Paul always has the upper hand.
Shortly after, he’s in again on double maggot and after a brief but spirited fight a pretty common carp of about 2/4 lb (1.1kg) is nestling in the net.’ I’ve never seen one that small here,’ he says. ‘It gave a little tap, just like a dace.’
Paul has had another bream on maggot and is getting more small roach than skimmers and dace now. ‘Maybe they’ve come down with the tide,’ he says. ‘You used to get some really nice roach here, but not any more it seems.’
Just as we are beginning to think the big fish have gone, the tip drops back as something engulfs Paul’s maggots, and the fight is on. Judging by its speed and power, it’s another carp. Then a broad tail shows briefly at the surface before plunging away again – a bream. Gradually it tires and Paul guides it over the net. At 4lb (1.8kg) it’s the best fish of the day – you can’t help wondering how big were the ones he lost earlier… mosquito larvae! In comes another little fish, this time a perfect mini-rudd. ‘It’s solid with ‘em out there,’ grins Frank.
Some pole anglers take great pains to get the length of line between the top of the pole and the float just right, and Frank is one. A closer inspection of his rig reveals several knots where he has adjusted it to suit condi- tions on previous sessions. Factors such as wind strength and flow come into it. On a calm day like today, when the wind is not going to bounce the pole around and where the flow doesn’t require the angler to follow the float very far, a short line is ideal. Frank has his set at around 60cm (2ft) so that his pole tip is right over the float.
Not only does this help him to ease the bristle through the swim but it helps him to hit bites too. The extra knots don’t worry him. It is far more important to get the presentation right, he feels and it works too. There’s a steady succession of silver fish coming to the net now. ‘The good news is that they’re getting bigger,’ says Frank.
Through the fence, in the factory grounds, two rabbits chase each other over the lawns under the willows. Thoughts turn once more to chub under those far bank brambles. Frank reaches for his catty to flick out another dozen casters. ‘You get carp here too, but they’re crafty,’ he says. ‘There used to be a tree where I fed them as a lad. You never failed to get them to come up but you couldn’t catch them. They just knew when a piece of bread had a hook in it.’
Frank has lived in Nottingham all his life. As a teenager he played football and cricket for Notts Boys. ‘Cricket was really my first love, though,’ he says. ‘My father — Joe – sent me fishing to keep me out of trouble. Joe was a great angler – his moment of glory came when Notts won the National in 1957 on the Severn. He got a team winner’s medal for that. Following in his footsteps, I won three team winner’s medals.’
Having added a perch and a bleak to the growing list of species, along with more roach, it’s time to see if we can get a chub. Frank switches to his other rig which incorporates a homemade peacock and cocktail stick dibber. Burying the hook inside a plump caster, he flicks out the rig, adds another five sections of pole to take him up to 14m and pushes the float carefully towards the brambles. Having already plumbed up, he knows there’s about 75cm (2’/aft) of water — ample for a big fish. Leaning forward with his forearm firmly trapping the butt of the pole, Frank concentrates hard on the orange speck as it creeps down the brambles.
Now it may sound daft, but a float seems to change in appearance when you are going to get a bite – it actually looks as if it’s going to go — and that’s what Frank’s does now. The little orange ‘pill’ fairly glows against the drab green reflections before vanishing. Frank misses it. The same happens again. ‘I think these are roach,’ he says. But a minute later the elastic is stretching more than usual. A chub (only about 4oz/114g, but a chub nevertheless) has taken his double caster.
Sadly, that chub was a loner. Says Frank: ‘The Trent’s running off- it’s been right up • that’s why the canal is so coloured. It doesn’t suit them. Right, I’ll just eat me sandwiches and lay-on down the middle.’
He deepens-off his caster rig and drops it in on the 8m line, where he has just fed a few casters. Then out comes the ‘nose-bag5 his wife Mo has prepared, and Frank tucks in heartily.
Well fortified with tea and butties, Frank plumbs up the 8m line with his caster rig so that he can have a proper go. He shallows off so the hook is just on the bottom. ‘That’s the beauty of this rig- it’s so versatile. You can fish it in different spots.’
Soon small roach are coming steadily to the caster but Frank is having to wait just a little too long and the fish aren’t any bigger than they were on the worm. A gudgeon prompts him to change to bloodworm. This seems to do the trick. First a roach then a skimmer silver bream come to hand — they seem to be lining up and are even taking it on the drop. Next it’s a gudgeon. Slowly but surely the Beeston Canal fish are piling up into a nice little bag.
Frank’s Weekly Report’ is read and loved by thousands of anglers and tells of recent matches he has entered. Rather like the rest of life, fishing is rarely simple and Frank knows that people enjoy hearing about what went wrong as well as what went right.
Today it has gone well – he has finished the session with a mixed bag of around 5lb (2.3kg) – but it isn’t always like this. So for example, he might tell of a day which started with an expensive but poor-quality breakfast (a ‘rip off); of his swim being disturbed by the owners of the house on the opposite bank and devoid of fish (a ‘cess pit’); of the sandwiches stolen by a dog; the pole that snapped; of himself falling in and the bad post-match pint (a nightmare)!
When an angler of Frank’s calibre makes these confessions he is reassuring the reader that it can happen to the best of us — which is probably why he is so popular. In fact, Frank is modest to a fault. He happens to be a brilliant angler too. To use one of his own phrases: ‘what a great bloke’!