2018 – MY FISHING YEAR IN REVIEW
Triumph tinged with sorrow... but I’ll keep Wilson’s torch burning
THE loss of John Wilson has cast a long shadow over my angling year.
But the great man loved nothing more than a good yarn to fuel his unwavering love for the sport, so just as I have celebrated his life I will do the same with my own adventures – and hopefully keep the torch burning.
My life is dictated by the seasons and the weather. Rarely do I make plans more than a week ahead,
and I love this fluidity. So when the longest winter I can remember kicked in, grayling and chub were very much on the agenda.
The big colourful dorsal fin of a grayling splashing on the surface of a chalk stream is a sight to behold when you have 14ft of hooped carbon in your hands and you momentarily forget the frost nipping at your toes. Just as exciting is watching a quivertip tap before pulling round slowly as a chub takes a lump of cheesepaste. As the years go by the size of the fish matters less and less as style takes over from substance. Yes, I caught big fish of both species at the start of the New Year but I remember the bites more than anything else.
Winter was as cruel as it was long, with water temperatures consistently low for weeks on end and three bouts of snow here in the South. Snow melt is my only real Nemesis, and when it came I was glad to head to Thailand, where my wife and I run a holiday business.
Surely my return would see the Wye in fine fettle for the start of the salmon season? Unfortunately not. Full of ice, it was more Slush Puppy than river. All wasn’t lost, though, as I had the joy of watching my good old mate Theo finally catch a 30lb pike from Chew after years of waiting. A wonderful moment, and a highlight for sure.
Thankfully, even winter loosens its grip eventually and I enjoyed holding big roach in the cowslips, salmon over bluebells and tench with a swathe of yellow iris in the background.
As a professional angler, carp play a huge role in my year and after numerous thirties I stalked a big yellow-bellied forty out of the margins – another wonderful
moment but one that posed me a dilemma, too, because an otter had bitten half its tail off.
At the time, for this weekly column, I hid the damage by holding it in a classic ‘Jack Hilton’ pose. Should I have shielded the reader from reality? Maybe I was wrong, as otter predation is a reality we all now face.
There was more devastating news to come on the carp front with the complete annihilation of all fish life in a pit from which I had previously caught carp to 59lb. This was a special place, visited by few and kept largely under the radar. When blue-green algae caused an oxygen crash, killing hundreds of huge fish, it barely caused a ripple in the carp world but I can assure you we lost one of our greatest-ever waters.
My final memory of the place was, amazingly, a recapture of the queen of the lake who dragged my boat through countless weedbeds as I gave chase – a fitting finale to an irreplaceable venue that I’ll miss greatly.
With spring over, the coarse fishing season opened again on the rivers and barbel fishing on the Wye is where it all started again for me. Then I headed to the Trent and enjoyed some classic sport with silvery, blue-backed roach.
Staying positive, I have to mention a day on the Warwickshire Avon where the river got the better of me – not because I failed to catch, but because I was so fatigued at the number of chub and barbel I caught that I had to give it best and pack up!
On the work front, 2018 was dominated by two films on carp – one with E-S-P at a beautiful lake, the other a collaboration with Sticky Baits and Chris Yates to produce a hoped-for classic. I enjoy my time with this angling legend and I hope, when the film is released this spring, that it captures the fun our friendship brings to fishing.
Autumn saw a return to the Trent, and my biggest-ever barbel from the river at 15lb 10oz. Part of its tail was missing, and many similar wounds on other fish I landed on this stretch worried me. Things weren’t helped when I spotted the owner of a pair of glowing eyes moving upriver after dark, looking for its next meal.
I needed to return to Thailand for a few days, and I recounted my tales of predation to John Wilson as we fished for what would be our final time together. The trip ended on a high, with leg-pulling and
laughter that I will cherish forever.
Another trip away from our shores to Soroya, inside the Arctic Circle, gave me bucketloads of memories and new friendships. In the land of Thor the northern lights danced while big cod buckled rods. Importantly, it revealed to me a glimpse of how the world could be if only we cared about it a little more.
I cannot close the book on 2018 without a huge positive and personal triumph that took a decade to achieve. My hunt for the Atlantic salmon began long ago and inevitably led to the challenge of crossing paths with a silver tourist of 20lb or more. During the journey I caught numerous fish between 17lb and 19lb, but not one over the magic mark. The number of fish others claim to be over 20lb could have led me to think I was doing something wrong, but let’s just say this sector of the sport is very generous with its estimates!
That said, the Wye does give me a chance of such a fabled fish, as does the Hampshire Avon, along whose banks I crept in May, hopeful of completing my personal challenge.
After weeks of high water the Avon was finally settling down, with the boils diminishing and creases forming.
A collapsed tree created a line in the river, and into this deviation of flow I cast my lure.
The hit was instantaneous and there was an immense flash of silvery flank as an angry cock fish grabbed hold. I had hooked enough springers to know immediately that the object of my long quest was finally on the end of my line.
I had missed out on three similar chances and suddenly it hit me – I was in all kinds of trouble again. The snag to my immediate right told a tale of woe and to my left, only five yards below the fast shallows, it was a similar story.
I couldn’t hope to hold the beast in such a current, and following it downstream wasn’t an option as a thick copse was blocking my path.
All I could do was hit and hold, praying every knot was firm in its resolve. For 10 long unbearable minutes I refused to give more than a few feet of line and twice had to endure a massive adrenaline rush as my Nemesis leapt free of the water before crashing back down with a thunderous clap.
All those hours fished and thousands upon thousands of casts made would be rewarded if the hook held. In such times even an atheist turns to God and I prayed for success.
The godless slamon didn’t seem to care for my new-found religion and I reverted to begging him to stop. Whether or not the fish took pity on me I shall never know, but the huge lunges subsided and the landing net finally did its job.
I collapsed on the grass, knowing why angling is such a blessed addiction. My priority now was to look after the salmon, and with obstructions either side of me I had no option but to lift the monster out of the river. Fortunately I carry an unhooking mat and he was safe as I recorded a weight of 24lb. A quick photo and the springer was on its way upstream again.
A decade had come down to a tiny moment in time, but it was worth every year I had spent chasing salmon for those few precious seconds.
At last – a 24lb salmon from the Hants Avon.
Filming with Chris Yates is always an experience!
Two cracking summer roach from the Trent.
The New Year was ushered in with big chub. Fighting-fit a grayling were winter target.
the Wading in to Warks Avon catch chub.
Tench are, for me, the true fish of springtime.
Terry Theobald brings ashore a 30lb Chew pike.
Thailand, and a final session with Uncle John.