There I was, on a windy old day in May, next to a gravel pit called “Ivo” staring at an old, scarred, mahogany-skinned male, and no I wasn’t enjoying a day’s fishing with Morgan Freeman, but admiring the biggest tench I’d ever seen.
It was my third outing to St Ives Fishery in Cambridgeshire, a complex of truly wild gravel pits containing some exceptional fish, including tench, bream, pike, perch and, of course, the ubiquitous carp.
Carp take centre stage as far as the bulk of the anglers with a ticket are concerned, but there are also many fisherman who are there for the others, and by others I mean the tench and bream. Thankfully, the management actively encourage this quirky trait, and seem au fait with the gradual, but very perceptible, waning of all things carp, exemplified by the minor exodus away from fish-stuffed commercials towards the exciting challenge that gravel pit and river fishing can provide.
The prospect of a lovely big tench or bream, and the opportunity to hone my non-existent gravel pit fishing skills, was the excuse I needed to buy a day-only season ticket. Night fishing, if my limited knowledge of pit fishing is concerned, isn’t a prerequisite when it comes to catching big tench, get your approach right and you can bank them at all times of day, so I saved myself the double discomfort of bivvy-back and sleep deprivation.
My very first trip to St Ives was in mid-April, but it felt more like February as the winter refused to give way to spring. By far the best-looking pit in that section of the complex is “Anderson’s”, a gorgeous reed-lined water of around three or four acres, reminiscent of an Irish lough, festooned with weed beds, bars, islands, spits and deep margins. It looked bloody tench-tastic and it had to be my first port of call.
I chose the only peg at the end of short, narrow spit that gave access to a fairly extensive area of the pit that included a large, emerging lily bed and a gravel bar at about twenty yards. I had a little rake around, chucked out a bit of spod mix, not much as in reality the pit was still in late winter mode, and followed that with in-line rigs, bagged-up, with red maggots on one and a worm kebab on the other; one against the lilies the other on the bar. Then proceeded to stare at motionless bite indicators and gradually freeze to death all day. So first visit was a blank. I wasn’t surprised, the place felt a bit dead, or not so much dead as asleep.
I wasn’t disheartened as I knew it often takes effort and a blank or two to crack a new pit. So a few days later I was back in the same peg, with more or less the same approach. This time, however, I felt I had a shout. The weather was much warmer and Anderson’s had begun to emerge from its winter snooze. Fish were moving about and topping over the bar I’d baited up. But when the bite came it was off the rig by the lily pads, and was a rip-roarer. I was dozing off when the alarm wailed, bringing me back to my senses in the blink of an eye and causing the old ticker to race.
The fish fought like a demon and made numerous attempts to find snags but I held on and at last there she was, a beautiful female tench languishing in the net, still bristling and angry. I let her calm down a bit before I weighed her, 6.9lb of pristine tinca, an absolute beauty.
It was 10.30 am when I caught her, and I was hopeful for another run of two, but that was it for the rest of the day, despite fish showing themselves, the cheeky blighters.
I didn’t mind that much though, I was pleased I’d cracked Anderson’s and I was content to sit and watch the terns scything through the air above, calling out their harsh shout as they ploughed the water, sending up a perfect V of sparkling droplets. Sharing the air with the terns were swifts, still fit despite their long, arduous journey from Africa.
I once knocked out a swift, as I cast a Driftbeater float out into a lake somewhere in Surrey. Poor little sod chose the very moment I cast to fly just above me and caught the rod full in the face. Naturally, I thought I’d killed it and was mortified. I laid his little body on the grass under a nearby hawthorn and began to pack up, the fishing was hopeless and frankly I’d lost interest. Then I heard a faint cheep, and a feathery shuffling sound. The swift had come back from the dead, tough little bugger! I picked him up gently and cradled him for a minute or two as his senses returned and suddenly, with an indignant cheep, he shot off, apparently none the worse for his bash on the bonce.
Anyway, back at St Ives, the day wore on and the fish failed to show, so it was time to go home. As I loaded the car, another angler stopped for a chat, and as is the norm for this fishery was extremely friendly and informative, despite looking like a vagrant! “Bloody hell, I said, how long you been bivvied up! Too long, I stink!” he laughed. And then went on to inform me that Anderson’s wasn’t fishing well and hadn’t since a flooding event a few months earlier. My best bet for consistent fishing was the pit called Ivo, a rectangular-shaped water of about four acres adjacent to Anderson’s.
So, without further ado, I dragged my marker rod from the car and had a little cast around before I went home.
A few days later…yes, I was back again but this time I walked straight past Anderson’s and headed straight for Ivo. I’d found a tucked away peg with deep margins and a gravel bar at about fifteen yards, which was perfect as I prefer not to have to cast too far, and it’s much easier to bait up.
So, out went a few balls of groundbait and a couple of in-line maggot feeders…and, well, I refer you to the very first paragraph.
I caught three bream in quick succession, all well over 6lb with a personal best of 7.9lb
Then the old warrior came, and by God he fought. He wasn’t pretty but I was very, very pleased to meet him, my biggest tench ever at 7.4lb, not a monster by modern-day tenching standards but a monster to me and a promising start to my St Ives campaign; although that endeavour may have to take a back seat for a while because the rivers are beckoning and the barbel rods need a polish!