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.
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)