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For several years now I have spent a considerable number of hours in early spring on a big gravel pit in pursuit of bream and tench. And this year I am back again – and as long as the venue remains open to anglers, I will return until the time comes (if ever) when I have had enough and want to move to pastures new. I do plan my fishing in advance, but with flexibility. After all, it’s about enjoyment and pleasure. My commitment – if you can call it that – is to angling, not to a particular venue. As winter draws to a close and I find myself thinking ‘gravel pit’ then that’s where I will be focused for a time. And on a day that would have done justice to the middle of summer, I found myself driving the well-worn route for a couple of nights pitched up at the water’s edge.
I find that the fish mostly come out during the hours of darkness, so before the days start to get too long I like to kick off with a two-nighter if I can. Then it will be down to mostly overnighters, arriving late afternoon and departing the next morning. There are carp in the pit – in fact I’ve had a few myself – and that’s what the majority of other anglers fish for. It’s not an easy venue, but if you’re a regular reader of my Angling Journal then you will know that I am always up for a challenge. And with tench just ounces short of 10lb, bream into double figures and bonus carp to 30lb then you’ll know why I am prepared to put the time in for just a few fish. This place is definitely quality over quantity, and that suits me perfectly.
Although I had fished the swim before, I still put the marker float through it. With acres of open water in front of me, and fishing some distance out, I wanted to be fresh and not relying on twelve month’s old memory. Plus I wanted to drag the lead through a few times to see what the weed growth situation was like. As expected, the bed was pretty devoid of weed, courtesy of the winter we have just come through. But that was ideal. The pit does become quite weedy, and that’s one of the reasons why I do just an early spring campaign before it becomes too choked, and you end up with a big clump around the lead and hook every time you retrieve.
Once the marker float was in place, positioned to the side of a plateau, I began to catapult balls of bait out. Corn and dead maggots were moulded into tangerine sized balls with brown crumb and SBS corn groundbait to a 4:1 ratio. Fishing two rods, one was a bottom single bait the other a pop-up set-up that you can see in the first photograph. They look like pieces of sweetcorn but they are actually SBS corn shaped boilies. That’s a piece of rig foam behind them to give maximum buoyancy. The bottom bait was also a corn shaped boilie, they are marketed as poppers and sinkers on the labels. Soaked in corn dip, I was confident that the bait was attractive. My tackle set-up involved 8lb Sufix Synergy line, with a hook length (approximately 12″) of same breaking strain Drennan Double Strength. Hook size was 8 for the single bait, 6 for the pop-up.
All in all I was expectant of a fish or two, but sadly that wasn’t to be. However it wasn’t such a great shock, after all if I get two fish per night-session I’m doing really well – and that’s once I get into it, as the venue has always been something of a slow starter. Some other things never change either, as the rats were out in force. Big, bold and brash are the three words I would use to describe them. Although I’m a lover of British wildlife, somehow the brown rat doesn’t feature on my list of mammals that get me excited. And it was on this gravel pit a few years ago that I woke up in the night to find one on my pillow!
The session did provide some other more welcome naturalist highlights though. I saw my first chiffchaff of the year, amazingly exactly on the same day I clocked my first 2010 bird – and at the same venue as well. I also saw my first butterfly, a red admiral and ticked my first sand martins. Around 30 birds were in dusk feeding mode during the first evening, with this number increasing to approximately 100 a day later. Four resident noisy oystercatchers made me feel like I was back on the North Wales coast,; but the top bird sighting was a female smew that I spotted some distance away on the pit. That’s two years on the trot that I’ve seen a red-head (as they are called) while out fishing. I do prefer to self-find my birds: it brings a lot more satisfaction that when someone tells you to go to this place and see that bird. In a way it’s the same as our angling. It’s great when we catch a fish because someone put us on it, but so much more rewarding when we ‘find’ it ourselves.
The days were warm on the session but the nights were quite chilly and the second photograph, looking out across the pit, shows what awaited me each morning. Damp and misty conditions with clear visibility down to just a few yards. I was thankful for my sleeping bag, but I would gladly have welcomed the opportunity to flee the warmth and comfort at any time to strike into a fish. If I want a good night’s sleep I can stay at home! My second visit, just a ‘quick’ overnighter also provided me with plenty of opportunity to catch up on sleep as once more the bite alarms remained silent and the rods stayed put. I knew this campaign on the gravel pit was going to be a tough one, but this was my slowest start yet. But I’m a great believer that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And so I prepared myself for the third visit, another two-nighter.
I had ordered a couple of new Daiwa reels from Harris Sportsmail and with true efficiency they arrived at noon, which gave me time to get them spooled up and fitted to my rods, which incidentally are also Daiwa. I loaded 10lb line, a slight step up from the 8lb of the previous reels as I will continue to use both breaking strains after the gravel pit fishing is long gone. And although the new reels have a spare spool, my original Daiwa don’t and so I can’t afford the luxury of four spools of 8lb line. My original ones, which I have four, have been very faithful to me over the years and have accounted for so many big fish, but they really are in the late autumn of their life. They are in the 4050 range with my new ones being 3500. Although slightly smaller, they don’t lose out in the quality department. And as most of my fishing is done fairly close in they will suit me fine. If I want to fish the far bank margins, I set up on the far bank!
With a brisk SW wind coming in across the pit, I was really confident as I set up on night one. But as morning came round I was surprisingly fish-less. I was totally confident in my tackle, bait and presentation, and I put everything to the ultimate test in my mind as I sought out weaknesses, thought outside the box and generally explored every avenue and possibility. But all I knew was that it would come good in the end. And so on the final night – and the fifth of the campaign this spring – I was very happy to get a wake-up call from my Micron at just before 2.00am. I really didn’t want to lose this fish, and I can’t tell you how excited I was to net it and lift it on the unhooking mat. In fact I tweeted that I was over the proverbial moon. As you can see from the final two photographs, she was a big girl, and look at the gob on the full frontal shot. No wonder they take massive baits designed for carp.
I used my time away to listen to the entire Third Day collection on my ipod. Third Day are an American Christian rock band and I loaded all 14 of their albums with the intention of listening to them chronologically during my time away. Although I am more than familiar with their music, it was an experience listening to everything in such a focused way. I will certainly do it again, and I just managed to get through the complete set on one battery charge. Although with secular music I am a soul man, when it comes to Christian music I have a much wider appreciation. So whilst I’ve never listened to rock in general, I love bands like Third Day. It must be because of their faith I think; that must be the main attraction!
And finally, I have just (as I write) posted a question on my facebook page asking if you could only fish for one species for the rest of your life, what would it be? The power of the facebook medium means that in just a very short time there have been 27 replies already. At the moment pike are in the lead with 7 and carp running them close with 5. There are two votes for perch, one being mine! But of course it’s not a race, it’s just a snapshot of where anglers are at.. Check out the poll on my facebook page (link below) although depending on when you read this article of course, it may have long disappeared into the distance. (Article published April 16 2011)