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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!
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.
With the pike gear packed away, I headed down the match
■ My pal Dr Euan Simpson banked this clean 7 lb 13 oz zander from the Old River Nene recently.
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, to keep the set-up secure.
■ There’s plenty of nicely marked jacks like this one.