Picture the scene, said Kelvin Lomas: the lower tidal Trent on a still, sunny late afternoon in August. A lone angler is quietly doing the business with a shoal of big river bream…
We pictured the scene and decided it seemed just the type of fishing we were looking for, so we named a day. It turned out to be one to remember.
Kelvin was going to fish a stretch of the river known as the Dubs, just a little upstream of Dunham Bridge – near Lincoln. It’s early in the morning, and already things are not going to plan. Far from being still, a small but viciously noisy water pump is busy siphoning water to a nearby field. The trouble is that the pump is right by the best swim, on a deep undercut bend that acts as a food-trap and a natural fish-holding area.
It is amazing how quickly you become used to the noise — we just hope the fish get used to it too.
Kelvin sets up his tackle. The rod is an lift 6in (3.46m) feeder rod with a medium quiv-ertip which he won at a National Association of Specialist Anglers (NASA) conference! Kelvin thinks it has a good action for this water. He uses his faithful old Mitchell fixed-spool reel with 4lb (1.8kg) line straight through to a size 10, forged, barbed hook. He’s fishing with a homemade open-end feeder on a short running link. The feeder is designed to plane up off the bottom when Kelvin strikes, so as not to disturb the swim and allow it to lift clear of snags. The rig includes rubber tubing to eliminate tangles.
The bait is Kelvin’s special weapon, and the key to his success – we hope. It’s plain groundbait paste, with brown crumb, hemp and tares in the feeder. It’s an unusual bait, and seldom used on the tidal Trent, but Kelvin normally does very well with it. Since the paste dissolves after five minutes or so, it encourages Kelvin to keep recasting, keeping feed going in to the same spot.
The tide is going out, flowing to the right. Kelvin’s fishing a few rod lengths out, and slightly downstream – looking for drop-back as well as ordinary bites. It’s around 2.4-3m (8-10ft) deep here. On just the second cast there comes a bite that powers away like one of the huge barges that keep
It pulls the rod clean off the ‘idleback’ -Kelvin’s term for a rod rest. After putting a healthy bend in Kelvin’s rod a fine big carp is hauled ashore. It weighs about 8lb (3.6kg) and we’re all pleased at this bonus – it should make a change from the many bream we’re expecting to catch…
About half an hour later there’s another bite. This one is not as strong and Kelvin expects to see the first of the day’s bream. Well, it nearly is – but it could well be a silver bream — a separate species. Now the record silver bream is just 15oz (425g) but Kelvin says they are regularly caught over this weight – but generally dismissed (probably because of the many difficulties associated with verification).
Dunham Dubs was the regular fishing spot for a legendary angler – J.W. Manny, the ‘Trent Otter’. He fished the area at the turn of the century, and his books are still on many anglers’ shelves. He was famous for catching huge barbel and chub on lobworm here, long before the banks were reinforced to cope with the wash from today’s big barges. Sadly, the secret of his success died with him – there are few, if any, barbel caught in the area now.
A long lull sets in. By 10:30am we begin to wonder if the bream have gone the same ‘ way as the barbel. Suddenly the quivertip bends sharply and, after a short struggle, a 2 ½ lb (1.1kg) carp appears. It’s a small fish, not worth getting excited about, you might think – but Kelvin is delighted. It’s the smallest carp he’s caught in the Trent for 20 years and it means there’s a new generation on the way.
But where are these bream? Kelvin laughs: ‘It’s a natural aquarium, this. There’s all sorts in here. The bream are probably being elbowed out by larger carp.’
Kelvin tells us about his daughter, Claire. She’s away from home for the first time on a school trip. It’s hard to say who is missing who most! Claire has outfished Kelvin on occasions. He’s talking about a night fishing trip, when all hell breaks loose…
The tip bangs right round. Caught in mid-sentence Kelvin thinks he’s missed the opportunity to strike. He reels in anyway, but the line is slack. Suddenly there’s a splash right on the surface. Then the quiver bangs again. Something strange has taken the paste. Whatever it is, it dives and then bombs first to the left, and then to the right.
Kelvin tries to work out what has happened. ‘Something has taken my bait near the surface and crash-dived,’ he decides. But what? Carp are strong fighters, but this fish is fighting in short, sharp bursts, and -no disrespect to bream – this isn’t how your average bream fights. We catch a glimpse of something greeny brown and solid looking. A pike has taken the paste! ‘These summer pike scrap.’ says Kelvin. It really doesn’t want to come in.
We’re not convinced that Kelvin can land it the pike could easily bite through the line, but Kelvin doesn’t give it any slack line to bite. Eventually it arrives in the landing net a healthy 4lb (1.8kg) fish. It’s not every angler who has caught a predatory pike on paste!
Kelvin tries sweetcorn for a while, with little response. Now the tide stops and starts to come in, flowing to the left, but he doesn’t find the change productive. He tries further to the right, which is now downstream.
Kelvin’s a lecturer in building crafts in Sheffield, and in the lull we find out he built our photographer’s local burger take-away. It’s a small world!
Back in the early seventies, Kelvin remembers, the Trent was ‘an open sewer’. Since then it has improved greatly. He doesn’t fish matches, but he follows local match results keenly, and talks to as many anglers as possible. It helps him to know what fish are where. ‘It’s not money in the bank, but it’s fish on the bank.’
We decide to eat our sandwiches, but as soon as we settle down, there’s a bite. The line snaps suddenly for no apparent reason. Kelvin changes to an old favourite glass-fibre rod with a softer action and 372lb (1.5kg) line. He still likes the responsiveness of glass-fibre rods.
He casts in more to the left, in case the changed tide is washing the food in that direction. A /2lb (0.23kg) skimmer sets the quivertip bending. Kelvin hopes the bream are moving in. Around 15 minutes later he catches another skimmer.
The line breaks again, on a snag. Kelvin goes back to the carbon rod and 4lb (1.8kg) line. Thinking about it he decides there are sharp rocks fraying the line, so he casts farther out. Nothing happens.
By 3:00pm Kelvin has decided to concentrate on his original spot, even though the tide is still the other way. He hopes something has moved in on the heavily baited area.
Kelvin is beginning to settle into that familiar trance that develops when nothing’s biting. But eventually he had a big nibble. Nothing takes the bait, but next cast there’s a decent skimmer. Shortly afterwards there’s another bite – but this time the fish shakes the hook.
There’s time for a final flurry. Kelvin catches a number of skimmers and some roach/bream hybrids. Around 4:00pm there’s a good bite, and the fish battles to the left, then to the right. As Kelvin wrestles with it the Mother of all Barges appears, creating a bow wave that nearly washes us from the bank. Ignoring the water filling his waders, Kelvin battles on, finally landing a 4lb (1.8kg) fighting-fit carp. He struggles to hold it for the pictures – not easy since this seems to be a particularly lively specimen. ‘It’s nice to see the small carp – this means they will be here for years to come,’ says Kelvin. It was also good to see that casters are not the only great tidal Trent bait for bream and carp. Kelvin’s groundbait paste pasted the local carp -just a pity about the bream!