It is a calm, clear morning in late November. Henry has chosen a swim on the ‘Road Stretch’ of the Trent at Burton Joyce. This stretch is part of a popular match venue that lies roughly between Gunthorpe Bridge and Shelford Weir. ‘It’s a venue which responds to a variety of methods,’ says Henry as he tackles up. ‘There are gudgeon here and quality roach and chub too, and lately bream have started to show in the Nelson Field – just downstream.’ Today he is on one of the gudgeon pegs and hopes to show what the hardworking angler can catch.
Gudgeon are small fish and although they are often sought after by canal anglers, until the mid-seventies no serious match-man would have dreamed of trying to win a Trent Open with them. Then a highly innovative angler by the name of Henry Ashurst found a way of catching large numbers of gudgeon on bloodworm. The technique – which charmed gudgeon by the hundreds into the net in practice sessions – didn’t work so well in matches, though. His best weights were a bag of 11lb , and one of 14lb -which earned him a second place – and eventually he concluded that on the Trent, gudgeon were not a winning species.
Since then the river has changed. Chub feature less, the gudgeon are even bigger and mixed bags containing a high percentage of gudgeon often win matches. ‘Anglers have taken bags over 20lb in matches off these pegs,’ says Henry.
Henry has chosen to use the whip. He had two reasons for this. First, the majority of fish he expects to catch are small. This means that the flexible top section of his whip should provide enough leeway to land them without any trouble. In a match Henry says that he would set up a 10 or 11m pole with elastic as another option.
The second reason is that for each cast the whip is much faster than rod and line and marginally faster than pole and elastic. Over the course of a five-hour match this can make the difference between getting into the frame or finishing as an also-ran.
The gudgeon are found between 3-5m from the bank in about 1.5m of water. Henry plumbs-up and sets the float so the bait just trips along the bottom. His whip is 4m long, so this leaves just over 2m of line between the float and the whip top — enough for a reasonable run through. • with some turmeric added. This spices them up and adds colour but, most importantly, it takes the grease off and makes them sink quickly to the bottom -where the gudgeon are.
Henry baits with a single maggot and ‘drops in’. He’s been feeding a few while tackling up and hopes to get an indication straight away. In a match you can’t afford to wait for them.
The slim black bristle rides steadily through the swim for a metre before burying. A smart lift of the whip sets the tip juddering and Henry winkles out a plump gudgeon. He turns round, grins and with a broad Barnsley accent says: ‘Well, it’s black wi’emin’tit?’
Henry is getting a bite a cast but has only about fifteen or sixteen fish in the net – he’s having trouble hitting the bites. This is a familiar pattern in many matches; after an encouraging start bites suddenly become finicky or stop altogether. So what is the solution?
According to Henry, feeding is critical – you have to ‘feel’ your way into a swim. He has been loosefeeding about 30 maggots each cast but reckons that it might be too many, causing the fish to rush about and resulting in ‘silly bites’. He is going to halve the amount but continue to feed every cast to see whether his catch rate improves. The important thing is to keep feeding every cast and not to make the mistake of laying off the feed – which simply causes your fish to migrate to the next angler’s free offerings.
Things aren’t going quite as well as they might. Throttling back on the feed has improved matters but the more confident bites are coming from fish that are farther out – which means that Henry has to stretch. ‘Another good reason for setting up a pole as well as a whip,’ he says ruefully.
Just then the black bristle sinks into the reflected blue of the sky and there comes the more solid thump of a bigger fish. It turns out to be a bonus perch of about 5oz – worth about a dozen gudgeon and a useful fish in a match. He slips it quickly into the net and drops in again. ‘In a match you should aim to have the tackle back in the water before the fish is in the net,’ he says.
Perhaps it is the perch that prompts Henry into having a go for the bigger fish. He slides the Olivette up the line so that it is about 35cm from the hook and spreads the bulk shot out at roughly equal intervals below the Olivette. This causes the bait to fall more slowly through the last 30cm or so of water where a bonus roach or chub may intercept it.
The float goes and a 2oz roach comes flying to Henry’s hand like quicksilver. He unhooks and drops in again. ‘There’s no need to change the bait every cast,’ says Henry. ‘You can catch bonus fish on skins.’ This time a better fish takes the bait – a perch from the way it is fighting. The hook pulls out. Henry feels that things aren’t right. He returns the Olivette and shot to their original setting and goes back in after the gudgeon. This chopping and changing is not unusual – you often have to experiment to find the fish.
This is more like it! The gudgeon are bigger and coming faster now – sometimes two a minute. ‘If I was in a match then I’d be counting,’ says Henry. He does a bit of quick mental arithmetic: ‘These fish go about 30 to the pound . Say we were catching one a minute. That’s 60 – 2lb0.9kg – an hour, 10lb over five hours and, with a few bonus fish in the net, you might finish with about 13-14lb .’ Let’s hope he catches that today!
The difficulty is in keeping a steady rhythm – and in fact Henry has just bumped three off in succession. He examines the hook and finds that the point is blunt – a common problem here because the river bed is strewn with boulders. Henry pops his specs on and uses a hook-tier to replace the hook – he’s a bit long-sighted these days. He says that during interruptions like this it is essential to keep feeding. He flattens the barb with a pair of Styl pincers, rebaits and drops in again.
The float has become slightly waterlogged – it is sitting lower in the water with only 1cm of the black bristle showing. Foam from Stoke Bardolph outfall pipe floats gently through the swim alongside the bristle. Henry is just wondering whether the float might reach the end of the swim without going under when it vanishes. There is no mistaking this fish for anything else as it darts back and forth, flashing silver and making Henry stretch to keep it on the hook. Finally he slips the net under a 12oz roach. He recasts and almost immediately is into another good roach – the first of many. The swim has come alive and now it is a matter of catching them while they are there. 12oz from this stretch recently and when Mark had a look yesterday evening he saw several good fish topping. So far this morning, however, he has been struggling, only taking the odd small dace on waggler-fished maggot. At his invitation, Henry drops in a couple of swims below.