The Archives – Part 10 – Anyone Seen My Stan Bennetts? (1995)

I’d fished Ilminster’s stretches of the Isle since I’d first picked up a rod in 1980 so knew that part of the river really well but I’d only been fishing Chard’s waters for a couple of years so there were loads of swims I hadn’t fished. There was the Horlicks stretch with 23 pegs which covered three fields and meant some long walks if you drew the low numbers and basically where the Horlicks stretch finished, Ilminster’s Whitebridge pegs began, although there was some overlap as some of the Chard pegs were on the opposite bank. Then there was the Donyatt stretch which was the top end of the river, fast flowing and shallow in places and most of the swims held lots of trout.

The pegs at Horlicks used to dominate matches so in a bid to make things fairer Les basically split the matches and payouts in two, paying the top three in each section and I think he paid the top three overall as well so if you had the top weight on the day you would pick up the overall and section money.

The trout didn’t count in matches and you used to catch loads at Donyatt and I can only describe the frustration of hooking a ‘spotty’ as very similar to hooking a carp in a silvers match! The first match I’m going to write about this year was on 5th Feb and I drew peg 41 at Donyatt which was just upstream of the bowling club and was known as ‘The Concrete Culvert’ due to a outfall that discharged into the swim at the bottom of the peg.

Plumbing up I found a nice deeper run through and inching a little float down the swim with the pole, feeding maggots and casters with double red or bronze maggots on the hook, I started getting some quality fish. It wasn’t fast or furious but just a lovely day with regular bites, I had 23 fish (roach to 12oz, dace, chublets and a pound skimmer which may have been an escapee from the resi), I weighed 6lb 9oz which was the top weight at Donyatt and I picked up £35. I also hooked a big fish that just plodded about before the hook pulled out and I would’ve loved to have known what it was, chub, big roach or maybe another skimmer?

The next noteworthy match of the year was the Ilminster AA Open on 26th Feb, I drew peg 42 which was Selvidge weir at Ilford, a long walk but normally worth it, I fished it a few times over the years and had more good results than bad ones. Parking is a real issue there nowadays and we don’t use the section in matches which is a shame because there are some great pegs.

After a mammoth yomp, I arrived at the peg and I was puffing a bit! I had a nice day catching 5 chub and 7 roach for 10lb 6oz which put me second on the day. The Open was also sponsored by Enterprise Angling so along with the £80 pools money I had a £30 tackle voucher and 3 gallons of bait! I remember doing some kind of deal with Les and not having to buy my weekly bait for months!

Just before the end of the river season, I fished a Chard match and drew peg 9 at Horlicks which was another long walk, I had 6lb 4oz of chublets which put me second at Horlicks and third overall. I lost and bumped loads of fish that day and should probably have been second although I would still have been a long way behind Scotty Russell who won with a brilliant 23lb of dace and chub from a peg at Donyatt.

With the rivers now closed, our attention turned to a variety of stillwaters and I managed a win at Sadborow from peg 2 in the open water with 29 skimmers for 13lb. I also had a lovely day at Crockerton from a peg on the far side behind the island, I fished the waggler shallow for 19lb 10oz of skimmers, roach and rudd which was enough for second place. Another win came in an evening match at Howley with 7lb 6oz, these three hour sprints were good fun but looking back I’m not sure I could manage it now. I’d leave work in Bridgwater early then drive to Chard and load my car up before driving to Howley, walking across two fields, setting up, fishing for three hours, weighing in and then back to the Howley Tavern for a beer and a few games of pool (Janders and Rocking Roy usually cleaned up on the pool table) before getting home around 11 ‘o’ clock, unloading the gear and falling into bed before getting up to go to work again!

Just before the new season started we had a match down the resi on 11th June and my feeder caught 25lb 6oz didn’t win me any prizes but it did include a carp of 8lb 14oz which was my biggest to date. With a new Drennan League campaign just around the corner, after the match we had to drive up to the Cotley Inn where we were presented with our new Halkon Hunt team kit by Mark Saunders and the Chard and Ilminster newspaper came and took a photo.

Sharp Match Group

Out of the twelve anglers in the photo, as far as I know, only Les, me and Bushy are still fishing matches and we sadly lost Dave and Jack, I still see Rob occasionally and speak to Andy who does a fair bit of pleasure angling and has talked about getting back into the matches, c’mon mate, you know it makes sense!

The Drennan League itself was a mixed bag for us with loads of early starts and travelling and the fishing was a struggle at times. We went and practised on the Huntspill, Bristol Avon and the Gloucester canal where I did well catching eight tiny fish on a single squatt and a size 26 hook! The first league match was on the Gloucester and I managed a skimmer and an eel for 14oz and midway in the section, I did lose two eels and missed a few bites. My mediocre performance meant I was bank running for the next round which was also on the Gloucester and the team had a mixture of results, finishing about halfway on the day.

I did well in the next Bristol Avon practice and was in the team for round three, I was on peg D2 at Newbridge, not too long a walk and I had a nice pallet to sit on, but there my good luck ended, between me and the pallet, there was a wasps nest in the bank and every time I went near the entrance hole, it would agitate them and a load would fly out looking for trouble! Now I hate wasps with a passion and even though they calmed down a bit when I was set up on the pallet, I was right in their flightpath and all day long they came and went, stopping to give me grief on their way!

I started off okay, catching chunky little roach on the waggler but then noticed the insert was at a funny angle and it had snapped! I also lost a decent perch at the net, snapped off on the strike when the line wrapped round the rod tip, my catapult elastic snapped and along with the boats and the wasps, I just wanted the match to end! I did manage a chub around a pound and half which proved to be a lifesaver as I weighed 3lb 3oz for third in the section, it should have been better though as only 3lb 10oz was second. As a team we did really well, finishing second on the day and overall we moved up from ninth to fifth place.

The next round was on the Huntspill and our team plan revolved around feeding maggots heavily on the pole for the eels, I had quite a nice day catching 21 eels, 4 roach, 1 perch and a pound plus hybrid for 6lb 11oz which put me third in the section but after I’d weighed in, there were 2 eels left in my net and I’d lost a couple of better fish and as the top two weights in the section were 8lb 3oz and 8lb and I should have had that. The team did okay again, Captain Les was second overall and we finished fifth on the day to stay in fifth place overall.

For the August Bank Holiday me and Andy Saunders went up to watch the John Smiths festival at Evesham, Andy had booked us into a pub that did bed and breakfast so we could have a night out and a few beers. I bought loads of gear including a Shimano reel, some Whizzo groundbait and a really nice Whizzo hoodie that I had for years. I also bought some lovely Stan Bennett wagglers and was looking forward to using them on the Bristol Avon but I never got the chance. They were in a little plastic bag and I had them on the dashboard of Andy’s turbo charged BMW, on the way home, I was starting to doze off (it had been a hectic few days) and as we hit Mach One speed, I heard a fluttering sound and my floats had gone, they’d been sucked out of the cars open window! Andy still reminds me about it now!

The fifth Drennan match was on the Bristol Avon and I drew a really good peg, first run through on the waggler I had a 3-4oz roach that dropped off as I tried to swing it, I caught really well with a bite nearly every cast and ended with around 100 roach, bleak, chublets and a perch for 6lb 11oz which won the section and I picked up £40 plus a bottle of champagne from Mark. I was a bit gutted though as last in the frame was 6lb 13oz and along with the fish I’d dropped off, I also spent some time on the maggot feeder when I should have stayed on the waggler. The team finished third on the day.

The final round was on the Kennet and Avon canal and despite struggling in practice, I was in the team and just couldn’t get my head round it, my 48 gudgeon, roach and perch weighed 1lb 6oz which was last in the section, the team didn’t fare very well either and we only beat one team on the day and dropped to sixth in the league.

The resi was still fishing really well and Les ran some Wednesday opens which started to attract some really top class anglers like Mike Stone, Ian Parsons, Nicky Collins, Kev Lawler, Tony Rixon and Pete Sivell to name a few. I fished a few of them and managed some decent results, on 4th October, I drew peg 15 on the dam wall and had 67 skimmers, roach and perch for 29lb 6oz which won the section and I was fourth overall behind Mark Leahy with 35lb odd which included 2 carp, Stoner with 34lb plus and Tom Rattenbury with 33lb which also included a carp.

The Isle matches started in October and I had a lovely day on peg 29 (the stump swim in the copse) when I had 10 chub and a dace for 16lb 3oz and first place on the day. Then my drawing arm had a major malfunction and I couldn’t get near a decent peg for the next couple of months! On 17th December, Chard held their Xmas Fayre and the river was really high after lots of rain and it was put to the vote whether we fished the river or the resi and the river came out on top. I drew peg 26a at Donyatt, a flier on a normal river but it was basically unfishable until the last hour when I hooked and lost what felt like a decent roach or small chublet. I thought my chance had gone but I’ve then caught a little 2oz bootlace eel but as I put it in the net, I knew it wouldn’t be there at the end as my keepnet had a few small holes in it.

When the scales arrived I took my net out and as expected there was nothing in it but water, on closer inspection I found a little slime ringed hole – bugger. So I blanked along with 29 other anglers from a field of 40. Martin Heard had the top weight on the day with 5lb odd and Barney Crockett was the best weight at Donyatt with 2lb 5oz which included a foulhooked 2lb chub. I still won a nice bottle of rum and all the anglers enjoyed a fantastic meal at the Cotley Inn afterwards.

The last match of the year was the Teams of Four on the Isle on New Years Eve and I was with Basher (Pete Wellman), Brian Netherway and Jack Symonds and we had four really good draws. The river was up and coloured again and I ended up on 133 at Isle Brewers, there were odd fish topping but it was chomping through and I didn’t have any rigs heavy enough, I ended up catching around 25 small roach from the slack water under my feet for a pound which only beat a few in the section. Fred Brown won our section and the match with 15lb 8oz of roach on the pole feeder from peg 128, a great performance.

Back at the results and Basher and Brian had both won their sections and Jack had done well in his, we ended up second and picked up £46 and six pints of bait each but I was gutted that I’d let the team down and I should have done better from my peg on the day.

Next up – Part 11 (1996)

Posted by Jamie Rich

  1. […] 18th and I pulled out peg 37 at Donyatt where Scotty Russell had the big weight last year (see Part 10 – 1995). I got there and it looked lovely with the odd fish topping, I only set up one rig, a fairly light […]

    Reply

  2. Jamie,

    your archive articles are very enjoyable and a real trip down memory lane for me , I did something very similar myself 10/15 years earlier, also I recognised many names and faces, sadly not all are still with us – (does anyone remember the Y.I.P. mini league ? – some of the venues were more than a tad soul destroying and hard – I remember that did win a section with a single stickleback in Newton Park – Yeovil – it didn’t even register on the scales from memory I think I was fifth overall.

    All long before the days of long poles and a complete nightmare to fish with only the middle third of the river free of ice and at about 1pm it started snowing heavily and didn’t stop for 2 days, Windwhistle ridge on the A30 was interesting for the drive home in a rear wheel drive Mk1 Ford escort estate.

    I hope you and all your readers are well and staying safe during these very strange and worrying times . The stretch of the Yarty outside my backdoor is fishless other than a few Minnows shoaling up for spawning in the warmer backwaters not a sign of Brook and River Lampreys spawning and as for a Brownie forget it !!! hardly surprising after the incessant spates and maize stubble field soil run off between Nov – March.
    No fish so I haven’t even got any sport fulfilling my Cormorant culling licence.

    I am reliably informed that the grey Mullet have arrived in the Axe as far upstream as Whitford, they usually get as far as the A35 Axminster bypass on the Yarty and Stoney Bridge – Castle Hill on the Axe but rarely as far as MiddleWestwater.

    thanks for the memories

    Andy Locke

    Reply

    1. Hi Andy,
      great to hear from you again and I’m really glad you’re enjoying my reports from the archives. I used to fish a mini league many years ago on venues including the Isle, Parrett and Yeo, I don’t recall catching a lot and even blanked at Sherborne lake two matches on the trot! When we can get back out again, you’ll have to point me in the right direction for those mullet on the Axe.

      Reply

      1. andyfromtheaxe 21st April 2020 at 18:38

        Hello mate,

        re the Y.I.P mini league – Sherborne lake was never a venue back in my day – from memory it was 1 match on the Isle (Ilminster.A.A.) 2 on the Parret (S.S.Hamdon.A.A. / Langport A.A. ) and 3 I think on the Yeo
        ( Yeovil / Ilchester and Westlands ??).

        As for the Grey Mullet on the Axe the further upstream they go the harder they are to catch – you can come along with as an Axe Fly guest anytime or there is free fishing below the old concrete bridge at Seaton.

        As for tackle I suggest no less than a 3lb b.s. fluorocarbon hook length –
        I use stroft FC1 (the best there is in my opinion) a dumpy loafer / chubber float 5aaa+ ideally a crystal / clear version bulk shotted with a no1 dropper and don’t fish it too deep (e.g. 3′ in 8′ of water) it feels odd this way but it does work – a 13′ match or soft avon rod and chose your reel to suit – I use a centre pin (but I am an old traditionalist) –

        bait – pinched bread flake on a 10 /12 but leave the point showing,
        if i get myself organised I take some liquidised bread and feed it little and often.

        Very occasionally they will take a chum mixer or crust off the top so I carry a few dry biscuits and pellet bands with me which drives my 3 Labradors nuts, try and get them to compete for mixers then they drop their guard a bit (the fish not the dogs….).

        I have tried many times with fly (Richard Walker dry fly nymph or bread imitations) always without success.

        I have never seen or caught a thin lipped grey in the Axe so a baited spinner is a waste of time, but you could pick up a Bass this way.

        A very quiet commando approach is best no skyline silhouettes or heavy footfall as the greys are the spookiest fish I have ever tried to catch.

        Don’t be completely surprised if a large fast moving shadow follows your float on the retrieve and takes a swipe at it – big swirl and a sickle tail disappears at 50 m.p.h – Twaite Shad in the river to spawn in mid May, usually at low tide around the M.H.W.M.

        take care and stay safe

        Andy

        Reply

        1. We’ll definitely have to have a go once we can get back out again mate and can we catch flounder down at Seaton as well?

          Reply

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