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Bob Dellar Coarse Lure River

On The Hunt: Predator fishing 2021/22

Winter is all about predator fishing for me, although I did partake of a couple of short sessions on my local river, the Suffolk Stour, trotting for the numerous dace and chub that inhabit this jungly, overgrown stretch, which I’m happy to say is free-fishing and only a five minute walk from my house. It was great fun using my 10.5 ft Shakespeare match rod, trotting a light stick through and enjoying regular bites using maggots and bread for bait. The bread was less consistent than maggots but seemed to tease out the better fish. That little stretch has become even more jungly and overgrown now following the ravages of Storm Eunice and I may have to wander down there with a chainsaw during the close season to re-establish some swims.

But as I say winter fishing is all about the preds for me, especially pike. In 2021 I joined a couple of clubs that afforded me access to some potentially exciting fishing in The Fens, chiefly on the Great Ouse through Ely and Littleport in Cambridgeshire. In October 2021, I made the hour long drive across the Fenland skyscape to Littleport, armed with a lure rod. I surmised that the best way to get to grips with the Great Ouse there was to walk its banks, casting a jig around as I did so. Saying that, I only walked about a mile and a half. It was hard going, trudging on top of the floodbank fully exposed to frigid autumnal winds the Fens are famous for. Nonetheless, I managed a couple of jacks casting along the near bank reed-line, and a nice perch of over a pound. I had a follow from a bigger fish too but fluffed the retrieve in my excitement and off he went, too wiley for my amateurish jig control.

I returned a couple more times during November to give deadbaiting a crack. My plan was to fish into darkness to see if the odd zander might oblige. But all I managed was a couple of pike just shy of double figures and an interesting tête-à-tête with a group of Eastern European anglers who were fishing in a swim fairly close to mine. It looked like an entire family: a couple of teenage kids, a youngish woman and three (very large) guys. The swim was a mini encampment with two tents and an elaborate BBQ/dining area. It was utterly spotless with not a hint of litter or unkemptness. The very moment I landed one of the pike, the three large guys descended on me, each one a potential Bond villain.

“What you catch there”?, one of them barked. “Only a small pike mate”, I replied. And I immediately thought, “bloody hell he’s going to nab it for his BBQ!” But thankfully my fears were unfounded as they were very congratulatory, saying, “we fish all day for no fish and you come and catch fish, what are we do wrong!” (I paraphrase but that was the general gist). 

So I gave them a few hints on how to float fish for pike and a couple of sardine and mackerel deadbaits. I’ve no idea if they were there illegally or not but they were making no attempt to conceal themselves and were extremely friendly and good natured, I’m very glad to say!

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The Great Ouse at Littleport, Cambs.

The Ouse through Ely is somehow a more welcoming stretch of river than Littleport, which I found slightly desolate and barren. At Ely the landscape is altogether more bucolic with water meadows and gnarled old willows to admire. The only drawback is the people and their dogs, which seem to drift by in a constant stream, with the occasional canine raid on my deadbait bucket or lunch bag. Also, there’s nowhere to have a crafty pee so I learnt quite quickly to lay off the bankside tea. I had a few nice pike during my sessions at Ely, the biggest around 15lb. But the icing on the cake was my first zander for many years, nabbed on a small roach deadbait whilst fishing the well-known town centre stretch, an area where the prey fish congregate during the winter creating a predator hotspot.

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Ely Town Centre Zander

The Suffolk Stour is a river that has a reputation for consistent pike fishing and I’m happy to say I’ve had some of my best sessions on this lovely waterway, specifically through Sudbury. With the river and air temperature still relatively warm, I had an early season Red-Letter Day in late October, banking six fish and losing two, all on float-fished sardine and mackerel. Most were low doubles and the fish were in fine fettle, still powerful and sleek, yet to succumb to cold-induced lethargy. But that was to be my only pike session on that stretch of river. Whilst I was playing my final fish, an otter swirled just a couple of metres from the struggling pike and I nearly had a cardiac arrest. Visions of me having to unhook an angry, frightened otter had me bully that fish to the net and call an end to the session pronto. I did return on a few occasions as there are a couple of deeper, near-side swims with overhanging vegetation that scream perch and chub, and this proved the case as I managed to catch perch to 2.2lb and chub to 5.2lb. Remarkably, during an evening session, another otter porpoised through my swim and I thought, “that’s that then.” But the second he disappeared I had a decisive bite on the tip and landed the 5.2lb chub! What that’s all about I don’t know, but that otter didn’t deter the fish from feeding, on that occasion anyway.

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A Suffolk Stour perch of 2.2lb

The re-introduction of otter’s has become deeply controversial amongst anglers and I can understand why. But I for one love to see these animals and I’m sure that before too long nature with prevail and a balance between predators and prey fish will be achieved. Although to see one swirl at a pike I was in the process of playing was disturbing and put an end to my deadbait fishing on that section of the Stour.

I did fish a couple of stillwaters too, with mixed results, but by far the best session was just before Christmas on a lake managed by Clare Golf Club in Suffolk. There’s only a couple of fishable swims, the best in my opinion is directly alongside the course itself, in a sheltered corner. I fished three rods for a change as I had the room to do so but it became apparent quite early on that that was a mistake as bites were coming thick and fast. At one point, I was unhooking a fish when the alarm shrieked and I had to quickly return the fish on the mat to attend to the new run! I wasn’t complaining as frantic sessions like this are infrequent to say the least but fish safety is paramount so I opted for two rods only. Even then I was kept busy. In the afternoon, a couple of golfers wandered by, one of whom had obviously overindulged in the Christmas festivities. First, he offered to land a fish I was playing, only to become tangled in the mesh as he picked the net up. Over he went. His mate picked him up, giggling as he did so. I was giggling too, it was slapstick at its best. I landed the fish myself only to see the same golfer topple into a bunker. His mate was hysterical by this time and too weak with laughter to offer any assistance. So all in all I had a brilliant day. Nine pike to 12lb and impromptu, side-splitting comedy Laurel and Hardy would have been proud of.

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Clare Golf Club Lake-the mat was busy that day.

Now, with the pike and river season drawing to a close it’s time to focus on my favourite fish-the tench.

Categories
Bob Dellar Coarse

For The Love Of Chub

I think I’ve grown to love chub. It wasn’t an immediate infatuation, like my experience with tench and pike, more a slow-burn, a gradual awakening of admiration, prompted by Matt Hayes and ably assisted by the river Roding.

One crisp winters morning about twenty years ago, I was driving to work down the M11 when I noticed a river meandering through the farmland adjacent to the motorway. It was the Roding, glistening in the low winter sun.

I knew it was there, it makes its presence known most years when winter rain causes the river to break its banks and saturate the surrounding fields. But I’d never fished it, never given it a thought really, despite it being practically on my doorstep. But this was soon to change, thanks to Matt Hayes. 

Obviously John Wilson had the edge when it came to compulsive viewing fishing shows with ‘Go Fishing’, but Matt’s ‘Total Fishing’ came a close second in my book. One episode featured him stalking chub on a tiny river, fishing link legered breadflake amongst the numerous rafts, overhanging trees and snags; crawling along on all fours avoiding the cowpats and nettles, “jungle warfare” as he christened it. He caught a couple of pristine chub, tussling with them as they dived for the snags.

I had to have me some of that, it looked a lot of fun and it was a style of fishing I’d never attempted before. So, after securing the appropriate ticket, I found myself on the banks of the aforementioned Roding with a newly purchased ultra light quiver rod and a loaf. 

Conditions were spot-on; mild and overcast with a slight tinge to the river after recent rain. I was excited. I had a huge choice of overhanging trees, undercut banks, rafts and slacks to cast a fluffy lump of bread at. I chose a far bank raft of debris beneath a willow, slightly downstream and a relatively easy cast. Much to my deep joy, the flake had hardly settled when the tip dinked twice and then pulled round. A lively chub of about 3.5lb. What followed was a rarity, certainly as far as my angling experience is concerned anyway: a Red Letter Day. Six chub in the space of an hour, biggest nearly five pound. When that swim died I moved to another and caught another three. Then I ran out of bread and switched to lobworm, and caught another two. What a day. I’ve stalked many small rivers for chub since and have nowhere near equalled that very first session. 

I came close on the river Wye last July whilst barbel fishing. I caught eleven chub over three sessions but to be honest they became a mild annoyance as barbel was the target fish. Only one managed to fight it way through the chevin to my hookbait and I was very pleased to make its acquaintance, a good looking fish of about 6lb.

One afternoon session found me, my wife Cath and my dog Indy perched atop a precipitous bank for which the Wye is famous. They picnicked on a sunny plateau while I risked my neck trying to fish from a cliff face. Nonetheless I managed a couple of chub, one of which created a temporary but major rift in my marriage. The chub in question felt a lot like a barbel when I hooked it, and tore off downstream. Then it reverted to norm and headed for a very snaggy willow overhanging the bank. I could do nothing to stop it and before I knew it had crocheted its way around the tree’s lower branches. There was only one thing for it: I had to go in. Off came the kecks and into the Wye I waded, but I forget my landing net, the only appropriate tool for getting at the line wrapped around the tree and ultimately the fish. Wife Cath was summoned and as she lent over the cliff edge to hand me the net (in hindsight she could have just thrown it) she slipped down the bank, through a jungle of nettles and joined me for a swim. As you can imagine she wasn’t best pleased, scratched, stung and soaked as she was. I told her to tread water for a minute while I got at the fish, a really nice chub that would have warranted weighing in less trying circumstances. I eventually managed to clamber up the bank and extract the wife on the way, treating her to yet another nettle anointing for good measure. Needless to say showering was a trial for Cath for a couple of days, such was the extent of the nettle-rash. But apart from that we had a good holiday.

As a boy I fished the river Lea Navigation at Cook’s Ferry in Edmonton, usually with my fishing pal Gary. I’d bus it to Chingford Mount where he lived and we’d walk to the river via the service roads that provided access to the reservoirs and pumping stations, where the Lea departed from the Navigation into ugly concrete water channels that emitted a dystopian dreariness we couldn’t wait to leave behind. The Cook’s Ferry stretch itself wasn’t exactly a bucolic idyll either, what with the North Circular Road’s traffic thundering past and the nearby incineration plant’s colossal chimney belching out toxic fumes all day, but if you walked a half mile or so down river you’d come to a great swathe of far bank willows that we often fished opposite. We’d knock out the usual schoolboy fare of tiny perch, gudgeon and bleak, with the occasional unlucky roach, but one day we were treated to an angling masterclass, which became an epiphany to me in terms of what the river really had to offer and the skill required to harvest it. 

A middle-aged man was fishing a few swims up from us, casting a long, slim float with pin-point accuracy in what looked to be an impossibly tiny gap between the far-bank willow branches. As soon as the float settled he’d catapult maggots around his float; repeating every thirty seconds or so. Fish were falling to his tactics at an alarming rate, and they were big, silver-backed fish the likes of which we’d never seen before. We had to have a closer look so we went and stood near him; he didn’t seem to mind. “What fish are those” I said. “Chub, mate”, he replied. He didn’t talk much but showed us a chub before he slipped it into his net, and we were enthralled by its sheer size and beauty. Suddenly, our six foot Woolworths starter rods and “Black Prince” reels seemed wholly inadequate. This man fished with a long, elegant match rod and a reel with line filled to the spool’s rim. His tackle was neatly arranged around him, with a bait tray close to hand  brimming with bronze, red and white maggots all in separate boxes. Witnessing a real angler at work was a double-edged sword for me. It enlightened me to the sheer potential that fishing had to offer, but also made me painfully aware of the gaping chasm in my own skill-set.

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The River Lea at Cook’s Ferry, Edmonton, N.E London

Every winter nowadays I look forward to chubbing sessions. I’m very lucky to live near the Suffolk Stour, the upper stretches and the middle. It’s not the easiest of rivers but the rewards are there if you’re willing to make an effort. A number of times now I’ve fished the upper reaches, either legering breadflake or trotting maggots. I’ve never blanked and have caught chub to 3lb and some huge dace. On one occasion, when I was a scout leader over- seeing the fishing badge, a young scout called Patrick caught a 4.5lb chub on breadflake. None of us could believe it! Needless to say Patrick got his badge!

I fish the middle reaches of the Stour through Sudbury as much as possibly. It’s taught me a thing or two and has enabled me to witness the evolution of angling theory into angling practice. One phenomenon in particular springs to mind, namely the importance of deeper than average marginal water coupled with vegetative cover, providing sanctuary for young fish, especially in the colder months. I’ve fished, on maybe five or six occasions, a swim with all the above attributes and have reaped the rewards, particularly when targeting predators. It really is a sight to behold, at dusk, watching this swim come alive as pike, perch and chub take advantage of the burgeoning food source. On a good day, the water literally teems with fleeing fry as the preds strike. I’ve been lucky enough to catch pike to 14.5lb, perch to 2.2lb  and this lovely old chevin of 5.2lb. What a swim!

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Categories
Bob Dellar Coarse

For The Love Of Perch


There’s been a bit of a perch bonanza amongst fellow Essex Anglers bloggers lately, so I thought I’d show my appreciation for this magnificent fish too. 

Like most anglers, my very first fish was a perch, in fact I think I caught about nine, at the age of nine, from Highams Park Lake in Woodford Green, Essex, an estate lake originally part of a landscape designed by Humphrey Repton in the eighteenth century. That first session had a profound effect on me, and I was utterly hooked from that moment. Part of the allure was the fish itself; they were tiny but they fought like tigers, flashing back and forth in the pellucid shallows, all spikes and stripes with great, gaping mouths and huge, predator eyes. They certainly put a bend in my six foot Woolworths fibre glass rod. I’ve still got the folding, red fishing stool I used on that day and the Golden Virginia tobacco tin my dad gave me for my hooks and bits.

Perch loomed large in subsequent trips to the lake, as I’d yet to hone my angling skills enough to tempt any of the more wiley tench, roach and carp that lived amongst those kamikaze stripeys. Eventually, after discovering the revered books of tench guru Fred J Taylor, I managed to bank a tench or two, plus a 1lb roach. But that was a couple of years away, and me and my best friend and angling pal Gary were content to hoik out “wasp” perch on line thick enough to hang your clothes on.

Gary was a street-wise kid who’s personality contrasted with my laid-back, mild manner but our mutual appreciation of wildlife and fishing forged a strong bond. We once witnessed an older group of boys catching perch after perch and dashing them to bits on nearby rocks, laughing as they did so. We were utterly appalled and shouted at them to stop, from a safe distance obviously. Thankfully they did stop, despite hurling threats and abuse, but the shocking sight of those poor, eviscerated perch is still emblazoned on my mind.

Later on, after I left college and moved back to London, I discovered what was at the time one of the best big-fish rivers in the south-east: Coppermill Stream, Walthamstow. A short, two mile tributary of the river Lea it is nowadays a shadow of its former self but when I fished it was renown for specimen fish of many species including barbel, roach, chub, and perch.

I enjoyed good sport from all the above, apart from (and despite my best efforts) the perch.

I knew they were there, I’d heard the fishy tales from fellow anglers of giant stripeys, either caught or spotted skulking amongst the streamer weed. My own personal experience of these gorgeous giants was to be bitter sweet; to be truthful more the former than the latter! But nonetheless I’m glad I had it. One evening in the late summer I was fishing for barbel with no success. A few swims up was another young angler fishing hard up against concrete bridge pilings. He was hoiking out perch after perch, whooping with delight as he did so, every cast produced another fish. And they were massive, the biggest perch I’d ever seen. He was carefully placing them in a keep net and after a while my curiosity got the better of me and I walked up to him to witness his remarkable catch. He was a humble, good natured bloke and appeared almost embarrassed by his success. He asked me to take some photos for him and I was happy to oblige, a bit jealous of course but very pleased for him and in awe of his catch: six specimen perch to 3.8lb; not fresh, clean-skinned, fin-perfect youngsters these but old, muscular warriors, with scarred flanks, blood-red fins and bristling spikes. If there had been smart phones at the time I’d have asked him to text me a photo or two, but this was the late eighties and mobile phones resembled house bricks. I’ve still got some vivid memories of those perch though. The fella packed up shortly after, a very happy angler. I asked if he’d mind me poaching his swim and he graciously obliged, but although I fished into darkness I had not a touch, despite replicating his tactics: legered lobworm against the concrete pilings, feeding maggot over the top. 

Over a decade later, I would employ the same approach to catch my own big old stripey. Not a 3lb monster but a beautiful fish nonetheless. One autumn evening in 2004 at Dobbs Weir on the river Lea in Hertfordshire, I took the advice of a friendly bailiff I’d met at the weir the day before, and fished hard against the concrete bridge pilings adjacent to the weir. I had two perch, the biggest 2.12lb. Luckily, that same bailiff turned up again, and with a smile and an “I told you so” took a couple of photos for me. 

Here’s one of them.

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Nowadays, perch fishing is enjoying an amazing revolution. The opportunity to catch specimen fish from a wide variety of venues using a wide variety of tactics are legion. I have myself been bitten by the lure fishing bug, and in the space of a year have bought numerous multicoloured, jelly-like lures; some resembling fish, others the “Bugs” from Starship Trooper movies. But to be honest, although I’ve enjoyed fishing with them, I’ve not caught many perch! Plenty of jack pike though, which on light gear are a joy.

Saying that, I had two nice fish of around 1.5lb from the Great Ouse near Ely, on a jig resembling another perch! The little cannibals…

I had to resort to the time honoured perch catching marvel that are lobworms to get amongst something bigger. On a favourite stretch of the Suffolk Stour is an old railway bridge and a very deep pool with perch, (and chub), written all over it. One evening in December last year I  decided to give the pool a crack. As dusk settled in numerous fry were making their presence known, their tiny bodies iridescent in the margins. In went a link-legered lobworm and within twenty minutes out came a beautiful perch that pulled hard and shook its head all the way to the net. She went 2.2lb, again not a monster but a fish that had me buzzing for days after. 

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Bob Dellar Coarse Lure River

Avoiding The Football


I’m afraid I’m a tad indifferent when it comes to football. I only ever take a mild interest if Spurs, the team favoured through family tradition, or the national side start to perform well and show signs of actually winning something significant. Such was the case with England’s recent Euros performance but I have to admit as the final drew close I had a desire to escape the build up and hype as the doubts, anxiety and inevitability of failure came to the fore. So I decided to go fishing, and although failure is often inevitable with this pursuit also, at least I’d be outside enjoying the natural world.

The local river Stour in Sudbury was my chosen venue, and on arrival it became apparent that large swathes of the river were unfishable, either because of overgrown swims or copious weed growth. I should have known really. This year, probably due to the wet, warm summer, grasses, nettles, bankside reeds and all manner of vegetation has grown with wild abandon, completely transforming spacious, comfortable pegs into impassable jungles that would make even Indiana Jones hang up his machete. Nonetheless, there were enough accessible swims to make a cast or two worthwhile, so I thought I’d have a go with the lure rod as I love the roving nature of this type of fishing and the opportunity it affords to reconnoiter stretches of the river I’ve yet to explore. Also, I’d recently seen a photo of a 3lb perch caught from the Stour in Sudbury which had whetted my appetite, as had a dead perch of well over 2lb I’d discovered on a canoe trip last summer. But I’d have to contend with the pike, which the river is famous for.

My dog Indy was my fishing buddy for the day and true to form he did his usual impression of a rhino and bulldozed his way through the undergrowth totally oblivious to the stingers and brambles that were tearing holes in me and constantly snaring my landing net. 

I had a few casts to no avail, constantly thwarted by the weed and cabbages, so I changed from a jig to a Cheb rig, with a view to fish a creature bait using the “weedless” approach where you hook the bait in such a way as to conceal the hook to reduce snagging up. As I was rearranging my tackle (?!) I noticed that Indy had disappeared. 

I needn’t have worried. Tucked around the corner in the next swim were a couple of Polish anglers who had taken a shine to the dog and were feeding him bits of their lunch. 

“Nice dog”, the older one said as I walked up to them. “He’s always nice to people that feed him” I said. “Nice dog”, he repeated, nodding his head.

They were both smoking fags that smelled mighty pungent, not ghanja, more likely cheapies brought over from Poland made from weightlifters jockstraps sprinkled with festering grass cuttings or something. I bade them farewell and left before my nose fell off. After a few more fruitless casts, I found myself at a familiar spot, an old railway bridge  spanning the river, with arches casting deep shade and wide brick pillars descending into the depths; perfect ambush points for perch and pike. In addition, below a straggly willow is a back eddy above a very deep hole that on a winter’s evening the previous year delivered a nice brace of sizeable chub and a perch of half a pound or so, all on legered lobworm. I’m sure I’d have caught more had I not been scared half to death by the dog, who suddenly started growling low and deep and staring fixedly into the blackness beneath the bridge. It was all far too “Blair Witch” for my liking so I buggered off sharpish, dragging the dog with me who carried on growling all the way back to the car!

This time, however, it was broad daylight and the sun was out, perfectly illuminating the space beneath the bridge along with all the beer cans, plastic bottles, fag packets and general detritus common to river banks nowadays; bloody horrible but not a knife wielding maniac.

Annoyingly, the bridge swims produced nothing so I flicked the creature bait into the hole beneath the willow and was rewarded with the smallest pike I’ve ever seen, a micropredator not much bigger than the lure. And that was it, not a sniff for the next twenty minutes so a move was in order.

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The micro pike from the deep hole

I headed for a stretch of the river that’s maybe three or four foot deeper than the general course where apparently dredging work was carried out in the sixties. I figured they’d be less weed in deeper water. First cast proved that theory was flawed when I reeled in a big chunk of lily rhizome but it was definitely less snaggy than the shallower area where I’d started, and there was also more fish action as I caught two jacks of about 4lb in quick succession, one of whom nearly tore the rod out of my hand with a thwack of a take. I was beginning to enjoy myself, and light levels were dropping as the evening rolled in so I begun to work the deep margin cover for perch.

But then what can only be described as rowing rush-hour began. One man sculls, two man sculls, four man sculls, they all kept coming in what seemed an endless regatta of men and woman in boats; puffing, blowing, shouting, splashing, laughing, swearing and even some waving at me and the dog. It was practically impossible to fish. During a brief lull in the paddling I chanced a quick cast and, unbelievably, hooked another jack! I just managed to land it before it was keelhauled by a single rower totally oblivious to me and the tussle going on beneath his boat. As I unhooked it, a passing two man scull shouted “show us the fish mate!”, which of course I did. And that was that, the boat traffic seemed to fade away and with it my enthusiasm to fish on. So my football avoidance session hadn’t exactly been Premier League but I had some sport from those lively jacks and had spent a couple of hours walking a river that was a pleasure to behold, watching ethereal dragonflies skim and dart and kingfishers hunt for fry from riverside perches. Which was, of course, way, way better than watching football.

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None the worse for wear despite the keelhauling!