It’s 9am and the cafe at the Twyford Country Centre has not opened. The day is clear but windy and there is the promise of showers. Dave Kitts arrives and instantly the cafe opens for breakfast. Is this an indication of the day to come?
The drive from the cafe down to peg 13 on the Deadman’s Ait is not a long one. Yes, it seems that in Twyford the advantages even include Drive-in fishing. Dave chose the peg because it is a popular summer chub peg and it had fished well in the match the night before. This fishery is a favourite of his because it is so efficiently run.
Dave unpacks his gear and sets himself up in comfort. He is not in such a hurry to get a baited hook in the water that he’s prepared to sacrifice convenience. In doing so, he probably saves half an hour of fumbling for tackle. He certainly knows how to make things easy for himself, and barely has to move to set up his umbrella in the first of the morning’s showers. It’s the sign of good match anglers that they can do everything from a sitting position.
The catapult goes into action six times while he is tackling up, with a few handfuls of casters and hemp, in a proportion of 2:1, heading out into the middle of the river. According to Dave, the chub are found in the centre on the Warwickshire Avon. Also, feeding a swim nearer one of the banks makes losing fish that much more likely.
Time for the first cast. It misses the swim and lands too near the reeds – a bit of a puzzle, until Dave explains that he is deliberately overcasting and drawing the rig back into the feed. This way he doesn’t scare off the fish.
Dave’s tackle is light and simple – an insert waggler fished just off the bottom with double bronze maggot hookbait. Like many match-men, Dave flavours his maggots with turmeric after buying them.
His fine hooklength means using a rod with a very soft tip, and knowing exactly how much stick the tackle can take before all is lost. Being a bit of a perfectionist, Dave designed his own rod blank – 13ft with a spliced tip and it casts without effort.
Dave’s motto is ‘If in doubt, strike’. He does strike, and a small dace makes its way unceremoniously to the bank. The fine insert means Dave sees far more of these tiny bites. Being a matchman, he’d much rather have a small fish on his hook than a damaged bait. This insert also prevents the larger and more cautious fish dropping the bait on feeling the resistance of a big float.
Dave changes the hookbait to double caster which should encourage the chub, as should feeding with casters and hemp. The dace don’t seem to be listening as he explains this and the first one is followed by two more. According to Dave, in summer on the Warwickshire Avon, maggots are best for the smaller fish – dace, bleak and, later in the season, minnows – whereas casters bring on the bigger fish. In winter maggots are the only bait worth trying, partly because the minnows don’t seem to be present in any numbers. barge cruises past, stirring up the water. Though a constant stream of traffic is no good for fishing, Dave is sure that the odd boat, colouring the water, gives the fish confidence to feed.
The fish must be listening in on our private conversation. A few seconds after the boat has passed, the first chub comes to double caster. It’s not a very big one – about 8oz – but it’s a start. The next cast brings a second – slightly larger. There is a pause of a minute or two, and suddenly the river is alive with chub, each one bigger than the last.
A thunderstorm arrives with no warning, but the fish don’t mind. After about six casts, they’re up to about 2alb and it’s no longer a case of just cranking them in. Dave has to check the initial rush into the reeds at the far bank. He doesn’t like to use the clutch, preferring to backwind with the handle because ‘it gives me more control.’ It’s just a shame he can’t control the rain.
Every time the catapult springs into action, big, slow swirls appear at the surface as the feed hits the water. Dave reckons that despite using hemp and casters as feed, there are now so many big chub in the swim that they have risen right to the surface in the tussle for food. The bites have slowed up too and it’s no longer a chub a chuck.
Dave shallows up to a depth of about a foot – in summer the fish are often near the top, especially on bright days. Straight away there is another bite and another chub powers away towards the far bank. That rush is stopped and the fish comes fairly easily until it is nearly at the landing net. Then it sees the ‘cabbage’ weeds at the near bank and makes a determined effort to reach safety. For a few seconds it’s touch and go as Dave has to give line. But then he has its head up and it’s in the net – a chub in good condition and the biggest fish of the day at just over 3lb .
The bites slow down again so Dave changes the bait to double red maggot . He is rewarded almost immediately with another rod bender, but this one makes it into those reeds. Still, it hasn’t stopped the chub biting and straight away he’s into another.
The use of this change bait, and its success, illustrates perfectly what Dave has been saying all day. If you’re not catching, change something – bait, depth, feed, rig, swim, hook size or anything else you can think of that might help.
The waggler isn’t sitting in the water properly, so Dave brings it in to reset it. He tests it under the rod tip. As he reels in to recast, he finds a small perch has taken the double maggot hookbait. Greedy pig.
More chub, all about 2-2ilb come to double red maggot. Dave laughs, maybe a little embarrassed, ‘It’s not normally this good. It’s really solid out there, innit?’
In one of the rare pauses in the action, Dave lets us in on the secret of his success. ‘It’s all about work rate. Once you get a good rhythm going, it’s easy.’ What he means is that unless you concentrate on fishing at an unhurried but efficient pace, you’ll never be a top match angler.
Dave gets a hunch and changes to feeding maggots. The chub aren’t exactly being shy but there isn’t the rush to throw themselves on the hook that there had been 20 minutes or half an hour ago.
Almost immediately Dave is rewarded by a dace. And then another, and another. It’s exactly as he has been saying. In summer, feeding with maggots brings on the smaller fish to the extent where the chub, angry that their restaurant has been invaded by these upstarts, stop competing for food. It also brings the small fish higher up in the water. After two or three casts the dace are greeting each feed by jumping out of the water to be first to get at the maggots. ‘Funny how the maggots get the little fish going,’ says Dave as he reels in yet another dace. He goes on, perhaps a touch sadly, ‘I’ve destroyed it by putting all those maggots in. It’s completely changed the swim.’ Ah well, who wants to catch 2Klb chub all day?
This is usually the worst time of the day, when the sun is too high. The fish are still feeding, however, so it’s time to change the hookbait back to double caster to encourage the chub. Or rather, to discourage the dace and give the chub a chance to get at the bait. It doesn’t work perfectly but at least there are some bigger fish in among the small fry. If Dave set his waggler to ride higher in the water, he wouldn’t see all the small bites, but to a match angler this goes against the grain. The fish keep coming, both big and small, and Dave misses none.
Finally lunchtime arrives – in less than four hours Dave has taken a bag of chub and dace, with a couple of bonus perch, which weighs just over 30lb . It just goes to show what a difference changing the hook-bait and feed can make . Or at least it would have done if there hadn’t been so many feeding fish about. In normal circumstances, whether you are match or pleasure fishing, being prepared to try something new can make the difference between bagging up and simply getting a few lucky fish, or even between catching and blanking.
Dave is quite upset: ‘I wish this was a match,’ – not really surprising as the fishing has been fast, exciting and has gone pretty much as he said it would. In the highly competitive world of match angling, ignore the ‘king of feeding’ at your peril.
Dave’s main line of attack is to fish 11m of his 14m carbon pole, with elastic, on top of the far side ledge. He also sets up a 2.5m carbon whip to fish just beyond the near side ledge. This means that if a boat comes through, he can continue to catch by switching from his far bank swim to the near side.
He has two spare sets of the top three sections of his 14m pole, so he can set up three different rigs for the same pole. Today he’s using a bloodworm rig and a caster rig, but in a match he’d set up a hemp rig too.