***Tom’s Blog – South West Winter League 2017***

As the leaves start to turn and the nights start to draw in, for me only one thing in my fishing comes to mind and that is the Angling Trust Winter League fishing for my team PI Thatchers down in the South West, where hopefully we would be able to win the league and qualify for the national final once again and hopefully enjoy some great fishing on some great natural venues along the way.

South West Winter League 2nd Round – Bristol Avon, Newbridge

Unfortunately, I was not picked to fish the first round, but the team managed to win the round comprehensively, so my first match came on the second round held on the Newbridge stretch on the Bristol Avon, on peg 63 precise and although not a spectacular peg, the section in the 60s is fairly fair and can normally chuck up a few fish although the river was very clear and had very little flow after a long absence of rain.

This stretch on the river is fairly deep with most pegs around 10-12ft deep, so the plan was to throw 12 balls of groundbait onto a pole line at 13m to draw some fish in, then cup in 4 balls of groundbait full of particles to hopefully hold the fish all match. I also had 10 quick chucks on the feeder to put some bait in, in case there was any bream in the area.

Starting on double maggot, I started catching a few roach, not as quickly as I hoped but steady enough. Unfortunately, this only continued for the first 20 minutes, before the fishing died as quickly as it started and looking up and down the river it was the same for everyone and I quickly regretted putting so much loose feed in my groundbait at the start.

The feeder did not produce anything, so I started to fire bronze maggots down the middle of the river and started fishing the waggler around 6ft deep. This gave me the odd bite but instead of the hoped for dace, roach and chublets, I was catching bleak. With the pole line completely useless at this point, I concentrated on the waggler putting bleak in the net as it was the only way to put any sort of weight together. I did try the pole line again after throwing in some more groundbait at the end and apart from a 4oz chublet out the blue, the fishing never picked up.

In the end, my 100 odd bleak and early roach on the pole tipped the scales at 4lb 13oz, a weight I expected to be no good in the section. However, the river had fished much harder than expected and it was enough to win the section! Unfortunately, most of my team had made a similar mistake to myself in being too positive and we only finished third on the day behind Nomads in second and Bathampton who comprehensively won the day.

South West Winter League 3rd Round – Bristol Avon, Keynsham

I was looking forward to this round as there are normally plenty of fish in this part of the river, although a deluge of rain just before the match resulted in a river on the rise and would make the match a completely different affair than expected.

My draw this time put me on peg H2 at Jack Whites, which is dubbed the Style Peg. This part of the river had been on form with the resident dace in the river moving into their winter home. This part of the river is tidal, so is constantly changing and with the rain the day before would make for a challenging day.
With the banks being quite steep, the pole was left in the bag and I set up a 4m, 5m and 6m whip to hand, as well as a crowquill in case the fish backed off. To keep the fish in my peg with the increased flow I would need to feed any loose feed such as casters and hemp through groundbait.

At the start, instead of throwing a volume of bait I opted to start fishing straight away on a single maggot on a 3g rig and elected to throw a small groundbait every chuck packed with hemp and caster.

This has had the desired effect as I have caught good stamp dace steadily for the first 3 hours, before the flow has started to increase and the fish have seemed to move down the peg. For the next 45 minutes, I have kept catching dace in spells, before I have started to catch on the crowquill right down the peg, but weirdly enough these fish have been roach, whereas I have barely caught one on the whip….explain that one!

At the end of the match, I have caught around 150 dace and 30 odd roach, and these have weighed 26lb 10oz and was enough to comfortably win the section and even finish 2nd overall in the match behind Mark Harpers 35lb weight of bream up below the outfall at Swineford. To cap off a great day, the team have done brilliant to win 7 out of 8 sections on their way to winning on the day.

South West Winter League 4th Round – Bristol Avon, Newbridge

Unfortunatley, for this match any extra water in the river from the previous week had disappeared and the river had returned to its seemingly usual clear and flow less state. My draw this time put me on peg 88, which can be a good roach area, so I was hopeful of a strong result.

Attacking the venue similar to the second round, albeit cutting back the feed considerably. I have enjoed a great days fishing catching some good stamp roach early on before the fish have gotten smaller, but I was still catching fish steadily throughout the match.

Unfortunately, the wind has made presentation on the waggler impossible till the last hour, where I have managed to catch 8 bonus chublets (4-6oz), a 1lb+ chub and a couple of good stamp roach (4oz).

This late top-up has given me a weight of 11lb 2oz, which was very good in the section, until we got to the Bathampton angler on peg 103, who had snared a 5lb bream and a couple of bonus skimmers in the last 20 minutes to weigh in 13lb! Although, I would have liked to win the section, this is a common occurrence on this part of the river, and it appeared the bream had been on the munch as most anglers in the next section downstream have caught bream.

Luckily, the team managed to win the day by a point, so we were taking a 1-point lead into the last 2 rounds on the canal.

South West Winter League 5th Round – Kennet & Avon Canal, Trowbridge

Going into this round, we were met with a down turn in the weather and a heavy frost, therefore, we were all expecting the fishing to be very difficult. The team draw gave me peg A4, which I was initially disappointed, as I expected it to be in the narrows at the King Arms, but luckily due to the boats the pegging started further down and it has put me on the end of a large Norfolk Reed peg, which reached nearly halfway across the canal. This is normally a great draw, but it had not produced in the last few matches on the venue, so my best bet was to take it steady at the start.

My plan of attack was to fish bread at the bottom of the near shelf to start, before feeding a groundbait line in 3.5ft of water around 1/2m short of the reeds, as there was a lot of snags tight to them, before having two worm lines, one at the bottom of the far shelf 13m to my left and another one alongside the reeds in around 2ft of water.

The start was very unproductive as the bread line produced nothing, before I started to catch small roach on maggot and pinkie over groundbait before a small 4oz hybrid provided a bit of enjoyment. The roach kept on coming for the first 2 hours, however I was going nowhere fast.

Then as if out of nowhere the float slightly wobbled on a maggot hookbait and a quick strike has met with a very inviting amount of no.3 elastic shooting out the pole tip and the characteristic thud of a skimmer on the other end. After a quick fight, I have netted a 1.5lb skimmer before in the next 20 minutes another 4 small 4-6oz skimmers have joined its mates in the net. As expected the canal was fishing hard so these were a massive bonus.

A quick look on the worm line, was met with a quick bite and some firm resistance as a 1.5lb perch has made a bid for freedom in the reeds, although this proved futile as he was soon added to the keepnet. The rest of the match has been nice catching another 10-12oz perch on the other worm line and catching another 6-7 skimmers in between plenty or roach.

These fish were enough to tip the scales to 11lb 11oz, which was enough to win the section and also win the match with only 7lb taking second on the day. Once again, the team won the day, so we now had a 2 point gap going into the last round.

South West Winter League Last Round – Kennet & Avon Canal, Bathampton

Once again, the mercury had plummeted on the eve of this match, but unlike the last match, we were still hoping for a few bites as this stretch is normally very productive. The team draw gave me peg A1 at Meadow Farm on the end peg of the match and I would be lying to say that I didn’t fancy it.

With Bloodworm and Joker allowed, my plan was a three pronged Bread, joker and caster attack. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the fish, because the first three hours and 20 minutes have been nothing short of awful as I have scratched and tried multiple things for a meagre 30 small perch for approximately 8-10oz.

Luckily, for me some roach did eventually switch on as I have caught the odd fish for the last 90 minutes on bloodworm tight against the far bank to bump my weight up to 3lb 8oz, but this was not good enough as I only finished joint third in the section.

Looking back, I am still unsure of what I would else I would have done, as I have tried nearly every trick in the book but to no avail and I am still perplexed as to the complete lack of fish in all the free water to my right, but I guess that is why we call it fishing and not catching.

In the end, I was not the only one in the team who had struggled as we finished 3rd on the day, but we have managed to just sneak the league win based on round wins from Bathampton. We have now qualified for the Final split across Decoy Lakes and The Fens and I am looking forward to fishing the Fens again after some great matches on there last year.

The league on the whole, has shown one of the reasons I love natural venues so much as although they can be very frustrating at times, the rewards are there to be had and the fishing is never the same from one day to the next. Therefore, if you have not given your local river or canal a go, I advise you to give it a go as you may be surprised to what you may uncover. Tight Lines!

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