Now a change in direction was just what I needed. The previous season had seen finances tight and my regular long distance piking trips to ‘God’s river’ were having the edge knocked off them by the cost and more significantly the fact that all those quiet little out of the way places I used to sneak off to were now full of anglers. Every legend in their own rucksack had been heading off to the valley, snagging a one or two big pike and splashing it all over the weeklies and social networking sites encouraging everyone else to get on the gold rush and so it was no surprise to find added pressure on my beloved river.
Being at a bit of a loss and having a stressful year at home and work I didn’t really start fishing until December and I didn’t get into the full flow until the Christmas break. I’d already decided that Gods River could wait for season and I’d concentrate closer to home and target the best fish I could locally and by that I mean within 50 miles of home. I’d also had a boat sat on my drive for years going no-where and I love boat fishing so I was getting a double dose on inspiration to get out on the local rivers and to do most of this fishing from my boat.
Naturally I chose to target the Zander which proliferate in my local rivers and grow to true specimen sizes unlike the neighbouring pike. Having ‘got the monkey off my back’ with the 15.04 I was full of confidence with the Zeds but a cold snap lasting weeks was to pour cold water on this idea until on a cold day in February I was to have another PB with a 9.08 out of the lesser of my local rivers that fell to a sardine whilst piking. This was a real bonus and as the temperature began to rise again I my thoughts turned to the other river that had done me so proud a few weeks earlier.
After 2 weeks of evenings in the garage getting my boat ready I was ready to launch her and for the first time in years I was out afloat on Sabrina. The first trip out saw another 9 pounder to my rods and fish of 9lb plus and 10.07 to my good friend and boat partner for the day, Matt Rance. I felt I was onto something special here and vowed to now spend every possible chance until the end of the season ‘up and out and at ‘em’ having first cleared the way for the end of season madness with my poor long suffering wife, Lucie.
And so to the day of my 42nd birthday, I always like to fish on my birthday and a morning on the boat with my best mucker Rob was to be followed by an afternoon on the bank with team Sarkar, or Dil and Karen as they’re otherwise known. The river was looking lovely turning green and fineing down with a couple of feet of extra water on. I was soon into fish and one particular swim saw Zed after Zed coming to alternate rods as Rob and I took turns to trot a rather productive crease. With a couple of 9 pounders in the boat the fishing was as good as it gets but I soon had to retire to the bank for the second part of the day.
Within minutes of arriving on the stretch and having shared greetings and civilities with team Sarkar I was soon fishing and quickly netting a ‘schoolie’ in my chosen swim. The Zeds seemed to really be on the feed and rods were trembling every few minutes. I started to twitch baits and as I lifted the first rod baited with half a roach for the 5th time something grabbed the bait and after a spirited fight that saw the fish head around the only obstruction on the river, I soon slipped the net under my second double figure Zander weighing in as 14lb 02oz. Chuffed to bits with my ‘birthday fish’ I fished on and caught several more small zeds and then lost one that I still have nightmares about that popped up mid river to show me how massive she was before screaming off under a bankside snag where I eventually straightened the hook as I hung on tight.
Next trip out was a few days later and despite a coloured river the Zander weren’t playing ball but this was not a disappointment as the pike were. With several nice doubles coming to the boat as well as bonus Salmon Kelt that gave me a bit of a surprise as it grabbed a small crankbait.
I’m loving this boating lark and I was soon slipping her off the trailer again with another mate and catching some nice Zander in the home of the Bard. The following day I was back on the other river and a slow days fishing saw my first bite of the day come in the late afternoon but boy was I pleased. At 14lb 7oz this fish was an absolute peach. That evening we fished well into dark and several more nice Zeds came to the boat including another 9 pounder for me and a brace of 11’s for Matt.
We weighed the biggest of the brace first and I had to check the scales several times. Photos taken and well and truly nailed by Rob she went and kicked off strong. The first fish weighed in at 10lb 15oz’s, my 4th double of an already incredible season. The biggest of the brace hit the scales at an incredible 18lb and 4oz’s and somewhere in the 20’s on a big list of things Zed like. The combined weight was 29lb 3oz.
I was and still am stunned by this, just 6 weeks after finally breaking the double barrier I put an incredible amount of time and effort into a few weeks fishing and had caught a fish that every Zander angler would die happy catching. I have topped that long standing PB no less than 9 times in those 6 weeks taking 5 doubles in the process and as you can probably guess I’m already looking forward to next season.
The madness was now nearly over now and I had just 2 days left to fish hard before the season closed. The first day was on my own. Launching before first light saw me soon into fish but whether it be pike or Zander it was a day for small fish but plenty of them. I netted 9 pike and 7 Zander loosing a lump on my vey last bait that forced me to call it a day well into dark again. A great days fishing in anyone’s book and a nice haul to put a smile on my face and I drove home tierd. I left the boat on the back of the car and just crawled into bed when I got home ready to give it ‘the biggun’ on the last day. I met Rob Shallcroft at the slipway early doors and we headed up river in search of another big Zed. We watched the sounder and settled on a likely looking spot and a few rattles and taps were soon giving away the presence of feeding Zander. Rob’s float bobbed and attentive as ever he was soon into a nice fish that at first we thought might go the weight but just failed to make doubles. A call from my little lad Charlie before school broke the morning silence as he shouted ‘catch a big fish Daddy’ down the phone. A few minutes later I was to do as he asked as my float sailed away and I quickly struck into a hard fighting Zander that was netted superbly by Rob and looked very big indeed. But before I could lift her into the boat and admire her I saw my other float vanish and again I quickly struck into a solid head banging lump of Zander. This fish felt even heavier and was charging towards the marginal trees, I really had to pull back hard but when after several minutes of playing this fish she showed herself at the back of the boat I eased off the clutch and sank to my knees and took it very, very steady indeed because ‘SHE WAS FOOKIN MASSIVE’.
Rob had got things sorted and the first fish was in the sling and over the side of the boat. He was ready with the net and despite looking as shocked as I was, Rob superbly netted her and whilst I went to bits he made sure I had my baits back out before he would let me sit back, light a fag and have a coffee !.
I eventually calmed down ready to do the business of putting numbers on these two zoo creatures that were sat side by side in the big sling.