Some­thing for ev­ery­one

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Over re­cent win­ters I’ve come to re­gard the Old Nene at Ben­wick as the pike equiv­a­lent of a carp ‘runs’ wa­ter, mean­ing al­most guar­an­teed ac­tion from fish of a de­cent size.

I’ve yet to catch a pike of over 15 lb here, al­though a pal banked an 18 lb-plus fish on his de­but visit two years back. But I’ve caught sev­eral low-dou­bles, and there seems to be as many in the 7-9 lb range as there are smaller jacks.

Add to that the prospect of a de­cent zan­der – a rar­ity in Fen wa­ters nowa­days – plus perch run­ning to over 2 lb, and it’s easy to see the venue’s ap­peal.

Ben­wick is bet­ter known as a match fish­ery. It hosts Opens and East Midlands Win­ter League rounds from Oc­to­ber on­wards, and is also in­cluded in the Angling Trust Win­ter League fi­nal in Fe­bru­ary.

This con­stant win­ter week­end match ac­tiv­ity keeps sil­ver fish shoals ac­tive, and preda­tors are never far be­hind. I’m good friends with sev­eral match­men who are al­ways more than happy to tell me which pegs suf­fered ‘pike trou­ble’ dur­ing their lat­est con­test.

The venue is un­der new man­age­ment this sea­son. Ben­wick AC had run the stretch for decades, but folded last year due to dwin­dling mem­ber­ship.

Hunt­ing­don tackle dealer Stan Binge – who has ex­ten­sive fish­ery man­age­ment ex­pe­ri­ence – stepped in to take over the lease for the 50-peg sec­tion be­tween

Chapel Farm and Ha’penny Toll bridge. And his day ticket and an­nual mem­ber­ship prices are in­cred­i­ble, as you’ll see in the venue de­tails panel be­low!

Con­sider con­di­tions

Al­though the warm au­tumn sun­shine was nice to feel as I tack­led up, I had a gut feel­ing sport would be less en­joy­able.

Gin-clear wa­ter, low level, zero flow and barely a rip­ple of wind com­bined with high at­mo­spheric pres­sure.

It was about as far re­moved from ideal con­di­tions as it’s pos­si­ble to get!

One of Ben­wick’s ap­peals for short-ses­sion pik­ing is that dead­baits tend to score fast here. I knew they wouldn’t to­day, but nev­er­the­less I un­der­armed a smelt out on one rod and a dead perch on the other be­fore tack­ling up a whip to snatch a few live­baits.

I soon caught a dozen – but all far smaller than the ideal size. Switch­ing both rods to live­bait rigs and leapfrog­ging down­stream over a dozen usu­ally pro­duc­tive swims, the sum re­sult was zero. There wasn’t a sin­gle fol­low, swirl or dropped take!

Un­de­terred, I de­cided to re­turn two days later on a Sun­day af­ter­noon, when a Win­ter League match oc­cu­pied the day ticket stretch.

I wanted some shots from the match weigh-in to show the venue’s sil­ver fish and tench po­ten­tial. But I couldn’t re­sist try­ing for a pike on the free wa­ter be­tween the vil­lage bridges be­fore­hand.

Al­though wa­ter colour was still ‘shades of tap’, a strong wind putting a chop on the sur­face con­vinced me that I’d catch.

My be­lief was strength­ened when the first three casts on the whip pro­duced ideal-sized 3 oz rudd live­baits.

Sure enough, one float was away within ten min­utes. My strike missed, I sus­pected that a small jack that didn’t have the bait fully in its mouth was the cul­prit.

But I re­cast in full con­fi­dence that an­other wouldn’t be far be­hind… and so it proved five min­utes later when I struck into an­other run, bank­ing a lively jack of around 5 lb.

Match mecca

With the pike gear packed away, I headed down the match

con­tin­ued over

■ My pal Dr Euan Simp­son banked this clean 7 lb 13 oz zan­der from the Old River Nene re­cently. 5 For all float pike work I like to have my rods point­ing up­wards, to keep as much line off the sur­face as pos­si­ble. Lock­ing rod rest grips are es­sen­tial,...

■ There’s plenty of nicely marked jacks like this one.

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