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Andrew Pilgrim

FREE BAIT !!

Autumn is my favourite time of year for fishing. Most Carp anglers are now cleaning and putting away their gear for the winter and will spend the next 5 months gazing wistfully out of the window dreaming of warm nights camping under starry skies. I know some super keen Carpers fish all year round and there will always be a few out at weekends braving the elements tucked up in their bivvys watching TV with the heating turned right up but that’s not for me. Today I set off for an afternoons fishing in the pouring rain on the River Stour just north of Colchester.

Here’s a question for you. Have you ever been fishing without any bait? I don’t mean in a forgetful whoopsie left it at home way.  No I mean I went fishing today and I took just a rod, net and small bag of tackle and a flask………., NO BAIT!

I know what you are thinking and it has indeed been said many times before, and much worse (usually by my beloved Sheena), but I do like a challenge. Perhaps I should elaborate.

At this time of year fish are often feeding well as they know that the slim pickings of winter are just round the corner. Luckily for them as the trees shed their golden gowns and slowly display the true beauty of their structure something else happens – berries! Berries everywhere, lots and lots of berries. Elderberries, Blackberries, Rosehips, Rowan and many more.

These little morsels are often taken by our wild birds who have the same hungry mindset as the fish but some will fall to the ground ready to grow into new plants once the warmth of spring arrives or depending on the location sometimes into the river. This annual cycle is known to the fish and Roach and Chub will eagerly gobble up natures free banquet.

Half an hour foraging and I had a bait box, and half a belly full, of some of the best fishing bait you could wish for and as a true Yorkshireman I found the cost to be highly agreeable.


The Stour is an intriguing, winding river and quite wild in places as it snakes along the Essex/Suffolk border with no discernable footpath along the stretch I am targeting. It is a river that I am still getting to know but one that excites the angler at every deep bend and  fallen, half submerged tree.
I decided to begin on float fished elderberry, and I would have done had I remembered to put my shot tub in my stalking bag…. D’oh! I tried to use an un-shotted waggler but it felt ridiculous and I thought the presentation was all wrong, and clearly so did the fish who eagerly awaiting their five a day.
After half an hour of fighting the flow with an unweighted float I gave up. It was time for a rethink.
At this point I would like to tell you that link ledgered Elderberry is a little known method that I have perfected over my many decades fishing for Roach, but to be perfectly honest I can’t recall ever even trying it, so I rigged up a 2 SSG ledger slipped a berry onto the size 16 and swung it out while I went foraging for some worms to try and save the day. Twenty minutes later and I had the bait box filled with enough red worms to last an hour or two so I wound in the Elderberry.

Actually I wound in the Elderberry and a small Roach !

“ How interesting” I muttered. So Idecided to forget the worms and try again with the berries. This would have been mush easier, and less painful, had I not emptied them into the nearby nettles to make space for the worms!
Once rebaited, I recast and sat rubbing my hands together, not in anticipation but in pain. A few minutes passed and the tip on my Acolyte shot round and I had another roach, this time a little better, and then another.

Clearly I was onto a winner but my painfully retrieved berries were few and the foraging area was further downstream so I picked up my gear and trudged back to replenish my supplies with more Elderberries and Haws.
Freshly stocked up and ready to recommence  I picked a cracking looking swim where a large fallen tree blocked half the river and pushed the flow to the near bank.

There were a couple of areas of slack water that I felt sure would hold some good roach and maybe a bonus Chub. The Elderberries were quite soft and tricky to get to stay on the hook so I switched over to the Haws. (Berries from the Hawthorn bush) and Blackberries.
It took a while but eventually, as dusk approached, I started to connect with a succession of good sized Roach.

As the day turned to night the torch came out and the bites dried up, around 6pm I decided to call it a day, well I decided to call it a very nice day indeed with a final tally of 27 Roach up to 1/2 lb or so.
Then a strange thing happened, as I began to pack up I was just contemplating how much satisfaction I had gained through only fishing on natural foraged baits and what a thoroughly agreeable day I had just had when I looked down and by the light of my torch, on my bag, I saw a miracle……….. Well it was a slug actually!

As any hardened Chub angler knows the humble Slug is the king of all baits and so the warmth and dryness of home was quickly forgotten. I am not a religious man but neither am I one to ignore a sign from on high so I picked him up and put him in the bait box.
A 20 minute re-rig with a No8 hook would have been quicker but for three things.

Firstly I am old and can see naff all when it’s dark,

Secondly I only have a small torch and

Third, the little fella kept crawling out of my bait box. I think he was desperate to get to the Chub. But eventually I was ready and I have to admit to raising my head to the dark cloudy skies and whispering “Thank you” to whichever deity had sent me this gift.


As I carefully slipped the hook through one end of Mr Slug I gently said “Off you go little fella, go find a Chub” and I swung him out into the blackness.


Then I waited…..

And waited….

And waited,,,,,

At this very moment a gap opened in the broody sky and a shaft of moonlight lit up my swim.

I suppose you are now primed to hear of my mighty tussle with the monster Chevin?
Well, dear reader, I’m sorry to have to tell you that the Holy Slug was defective.
Two bloody hours sat in pitch darkness in the pissing rain and not a touch.

I trudged wearily, through the darkness, back to the car going rod over bankstick a couple of times.
And that, my friends, is why I shall remain a devout atheist (until the next divine slug appears )

Footnote…….. If you are out Carp fishing this Autumn and fancy putting a bait under a nearby bush, go take a look at said bush and see it it has any berries, maybe you could find a overgrown bramble/blackberry bush overhanging the water. Ask yourself this, would the Carp waiting under that bush prefere your Egg & Lettuce boilie (or whatever this weeks flavour is) or maybe they are feasting on natural food dropping from above. Hair rigged Blackberry?……. Try it…I have… it works!

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