I have been looking back through some of the stuff that I have written for the angling press, most of which hasn't been used because of some reason or other. This is just an example of the type of article I've produced since my discovery of Google Docs!
East Kent allure - it’s a personal thing!
It was 6th November 2011 that I first cast a line in this particular venue. I had returned to “speci-hunting”, after an eighteen year break (bird-watching); Pike were my quarry and a wild twenty my target. My previous incarnation had seen me chasing (and catching) big pike in big waters, because that’s what was done back then. I had now made it my mission to do things very differently. Do it my way and deliberately avoid the masses. Fashion and fads were no longer to play any role in my pursuit of “big fish”. This is not a criticism of the current state of angling; more a statement about where I am along my journey of angling discovery. Having passed through the “catch the most” followed by “biggest is best” phases, I now find myself focussing on enjoyment of the moment. It would be utter folly to say that I have lost the desire to catch big fish, but it is no longer my only consideration when setting off to the waterside.
Out on the marshland of East Kent there are hundreds of miles of small dykes, providing the farming community with the ability to keep these flatlands well drained, assisted by the Environment Agency pumping stations strategically positioned around the area. I only have knowledge of the fish populations in a small section of these venues, there is still much to be discovered. Only the main drains are club controlled, the vast majority of the others are free to fish, once permission has been sought, and granted, from the respective land owners. Access is not always straightforward and often involves lengthy walks; so the key is to travel light, tackle cut down to the bare essentials. It is this back to basics approach which I now find so enjoyable. It’s me against the fish, one on one, I am not in competition with other anglers for swims or chasing yesterday’s news. Success and failure, alike, are all down to my own abilities, not due to the activities of others. It’s just how I want it to be at this stage in my angling.
That first pike season back was to see me really test myself as I pushed the boundaries of what I thought was a right approach. I was in a situation of “catching the impossible”. No, I hadn’t morphed into Martin Bowler, the twenty, that I so desired, simply didn’t exist in the drain system that I’d chosen. I was on a hiding to nothing. I ended up catching the biggest pike in the venue on three occasions, with a top weight of 19 lbs 5 oz. It would be ridiculous to say anything negative about such a magnificent wild fish. Yet you simply can’t catch what isn’t there! I have to make it clear that my approach to pike fishing is very much based upon the static dead bait. I don’t use live bait because I couldn’t offer a reasoned defence to a passer by. I know how effective the method is, but have chosen no longer to employ this tactic for personal reasons. I also don’t chuck metal/plastic artificial lures into the water, in order to induce a bite, that’s far too energetic for me, plus I have so much more that I can be looking at whilst awaiting the audible alert from a bite alarm. Angling purity? Of course not, but it works for me and that is all the justification I require.
The Environment Agency have a carte blanche ruling over the entire East Kent drainage network (R. Stour catchment area) which decrees the traditional “close season” still applies, so no fishing between March 15th and June 15th, both dates inclusive. I have absolutely no issues with this, it played such an important role during my early angling experiences. Awaiting the midnight chimes, on 15th June, was a sacred ritual which was observed, with almost fanatical zeal, by those fellow members of The Tring Syndicate way back in the 1980’s! That first cast of the new season had a very special place in my annual cycle; the anticipation of a new chapter, from an unfolding story, just about to start.
I took a break, for a couple of seasons, before returning to these humble surroundings. It was a pure fluke that I’d rung my son, prior to leaving for a barbel session on The Stour, only to learn that there had been an extensive weed cutting exercise, well upstream of my chosen stretch, and it was absolute chaos. I’d have to revert to plan B then? Very early on, during my first campaign along these drains, I had been made aware of the “big” tench that were also present in the system. This negative news from The Stour was just the excuse I required to get back out on the marshes; I’d go tench fishing instead! It was 6th July 2015 and I used the particle mix that I’d prepared for my barbel session and fished two 14 mm halibut pellets (buoyed up with ½ flouro pop-ups) over the top. It was a very spontaneous session, swim choice being totally random. I fished where I felt I had the best chance of a tench. A quick lead around located a clean area in a heavily weeded channel - so I dropped two baits in there with no real expectations. I was using pellets purely because that’s what I’d have used if I’d been barbel fishing; no other reason.
I have no idea of the time lapse, but I had a fast take, on the left hand rod, and found myself attached to a very spirited adversary. If it was a tench it was a bloody monster! My Duncan Kay carp rod, all 1 lb 10 oz t/c of it, assumed full battle curve and soon took control of the situation resulting in me leading my prize over the drawstring of my waiting net. 18 lbs 2 oz of wild common carp, get in! Success or failure? I hadn’t caught a tench! Is it possible to make such judgement? The whole scenario was due to an unrelated event at another venue - so fate played a massive role in the capture of this magnificent fish. It didn’t end there, because I also landed a 3 lbs 6 oz eel as it got dark - so a session to remember. Just four days later and I make a return visit, this time for a dawn start. My gear was adjusted for a carp biased attempt, my hook baits being chick-peas, rather than pellets, although my “munga” remained the trusted barbel mix. I fished the same spot and came away having landed two carp, the biggest being a 20 lbs 9 oz Common and, as such, my first over this magical statistic since February 1984.
I was living the dream, these drains providing angling experiences that were beyond anything I could have wished for. What else was to be discovered in their watery depths?
I carried on for a few weeks more, landing a couple more carp to 16lbs +, but my focus had already shifted and the drains became, once again, outside of my plans. However, even when I’m not targeting them, I will often just drop on to these venues to wet a line if results, elsewhere, are a bit of a struggle. My dismal catch rate, pike fishing, on The Royal Military Canal, following two exceptional seasons, was the reason I found myself back out on the marsh. I just needed a bite, although what I planned was an eel campaign! I was going to have a month deliberately targeting the species as I had recently become aware of the “critically endangered” status bestowed upon them. Strange, they don’t seem too endangered in East Kent, bloody slimy, bait nobbling, pests! What a decision? October 2015 was to see the start of an unbelievable sequence of events. On the 24th I captured an eel of 3 lbs 1 oz, the heaviest eel I had ever caught by design and the seed of an idea came to light. Could I deliberately catch an eel in every month of the “traditional” pike season (Oct - March)? The next four and a half months (remember that the close season starts on 15th March!) was to prove as testing an angling challenge as I’d ever undertaken. My open dislike became a grudging admiration for this Sargasso Sea interloper and the project developed into a voyage of discovery. I certainly pushed the limits of my angling way beyond any comfort zone and discovered quite a bit about myself as time went on. I became totally absorbed in the venture. A lost fish, right at the net, in December seeing me behave like some, dummy spitting, kid. Eels had really gotten to me.
That fateful night of 12th March 2016 was to see me land the biggest eel of the whole campaign and provide a fitting finale to, what had been, a crazy project. I was emotionally drained, such was the intensity of my commitment to succeed. The close season had to pass, twelve weeks away from the marshes. Twelve very enjoyable weeks carp chasing on The Royal Military Canal. There was now another twist in this adventure, the introduction of two sixty year old split cane Mk IV’s. Nothing else for it but a June 16th first cast, so I was back out there again. A blank first night was simply a symbolic ritual, the drains then provided some superb carp fishing. I took two twenties and a nineteen before the deteriorating health of my father was to put a stop to my fishing, period!
It wasn’t until mid-August that I managed a return to these flatlands. Quickly back in the groove, I was brought to earth with a shuddering thump because of the thoughtless actions of another angler. I did, however, manage to winkle out another twenty before it all went pear shaped. So once again I walked away from the drains and sought challenges in other arenas.
The onset of Winter saw me have a dabble for the eels and play around with an idea for pike bait presentations, both of which provided bent rods, if not the specimens I’d hoped for. So that sees me bang up to date. I’ve experienced some superb angling out on these small waters. The maximum cast would be less than fifteen yards and, as such, watercraft and bait presentation has played a key role in all of my successes. There’s been no requirement for powerful rods or fancy reels - the emphasis has been on making the most of the experience by using tackle which allows enjoyment without the welfare of my quarry being compromised. To this end I have employed, 1980’s, Duncan Kay carp rods - 1 lb 10 oz t/c, 11’ 6” compound taper high modular carbon fibre and, since December 2015, two B James & Son “Dick Walker” Mk IV’s - 1 lb 8 oz t/c, 10’ compound taper split cane - circa 1957! Reels have been a hotch potch mix of Mitchell 300’s, ABU Cardinal 44 & 66 X’s, fixed spools, plus Match Aerial and Matt Hayes centre-pins, but that’s where the folly ends. My terminal gear is the best that I can afford/acquire. Under no circumstances am I prepared to gamble with my chances by using cheap line or hooks, terminal gear has to be the best I know how to use. Bait placement and presentation is a critical factor in my approach to these situations; I have to be confident in what I’m doing and know that I couldn’t do more to achieve my goals. If ever I have a niggling doubt, then it’s time to do something about it. With time being such a precious commodity, I can’t sit it out and wait - something's not right? Correct it! If I do nothing - nothing changes, it really is that simple.
In the “crowded SE” it is an absolute joy to spend time at such neglected/overlooked fisheries. The fish that have graced my landing net far beyond anything I had envisaged when I first visited. I happily acknowledge that this situation doesn’t appeal to everyone but, for me, it is very close to angling Utopia!