Normally at this time of year, I will write a nice long article for Gardner all about what an amazing year I’ve had, complete with a long string of huge catches of specimen fish. This year however, sadly it will be a bit different. Please bear with me though, as there are some uplifting parts interspersed within the doom and gloom.

So, where do we start? I had all sorts of plans for campaigns chasing giant fish, but that all came crashing down around me, after a trip to the doctors for a random mark on my nose, I was diagnosed with skin cancer. Not exactly the start to the year I wanted, but chin up (or nose in this case) and crack on. I won’t lie, that news did hit me harder than I expected, and I went through some very dark times, but almost a year on now, all is looking good. I ended up having a lump of my nose chopped out, and a skin graft taken from behind my ear, and fingers crossed, everything has healed up perfectly. I am still having 3-month check-ups, but they have all been good so far, so hopefully that will all be an end to it. It was a scary wakeup call and off the back of it, I would urge all anglers (and in fact anyone), to try and avoid sitting in direct sunlight without proper sun block or shade. Being ginger haired (I prefer ‘Ambient Viking’) I have always shunned the sun as much as possible anyway, so it just shows how something like this can affect anyone.

We then all had the Covid 19 situation and I was furloughed for a while, which curtailed my angling even further. I was informed I was ‘allowed’ to fish my syndicate under the guise of ‘bailiffing duties’ to ‘keep an eye’ on the water, but it didn’t feel right to me, so the rods stayed firmly locked away. Some things are more important than catching fish.

Before that though, I did manage to get out for a few trips at the back of the season, but unfortunately I caught relatively little of note, amongst a lot of blanks, apart from one evening (incidentally my last trip of the season) on the Thames. For many years, I had been trying to catch a 6lb+ chub, coming close on so many occasions. I think I have now had over 10 chub between 5lb 14oz and 5lb 15oz, but I could never get one with that extra magic ounce I needed. On this particular evening though, I finally cracked it, not once, but twice! Firstly, with an absolutely pristine chub of 6lb 4oz in the dying light of the evening, then about an hour later, with one an ounce bigger at 6lb 5oz. This one however being the polar opposite of that first pristine fish, being a real old warrior of a fish, that looked like it had gone 10 rounds with Pike Tyson!

The other thing that played a huge part in my last year, was my Father. He had been suffering with ill health for a while, and had been bed bound for the last 18 months. I had moved back to my parents to ease the burden on my Mother looking after him, and in early May, he got markedly worse, until he sadly passed away in his sleep, with Mother and I at his side. Understandably I hardly fished for a while, but I did force myself out a while later just to get some alone time in my head. One thing I shall be forever grateful for, was Michele Gardner, keeping me off on furlough through the first lockdown, as this meant I was able to spend so much time with my Father in his last few precious months.

I actually managed to catch on my first trip out. I’d had my eye on a shallow, sunny, weedy and snaggy bay the previous year, and thought it looked very ‘eely’, so I was more than pleased to get one of just over 4lb on my first night. Popped up lobworms on a ‘twig rig’ in about 18 inches of water being its downfall. I felt there would be more though, so I did a few more trips, but only had one more eel, this time about a pound smaller. I did manage to fool a nice bonus 9lb tench on worms in the shallow margins too, but that was that for that swim. I am still planning on chasing the eels in this particular water, as I feel there is far more potential.

Summer is always a pretty pants time for fishing for me, so it was no real hardship to not really do much fishing, but at least I had a couple of French trips to look forward to, one in September, and one in October. Sadly though, with the quarantine restrictions being put into place, and not being able to afford the 2 week quarantine after each trip, we had to cancel both of these. Thankfully the lake owners of both trips, were more than happy for us to rebook the same weeks in 2021, so fingers crossed all the restrictions will be a thing of the past by then, and we will be able to go.

Moving up to the present, another fish that had been one of my long term targets was a 3lb grayling. I’d had a few 2lb+ fish over the years up to 2lb 9oz, and had certainly seen bigger, but never caught one. This year however, I set my sights on having a proper winter chasing that magical fish. Amazingly though, I didn’t need the whole winter, as somehow, I managed it on my first trip. I was fishing a new water to me, but one I knew had a very good history of producing 3lb+ every year. Having never seen the venue before, apart from on a few YouTube videos, I took a variety of baits and tackle to see what I would need on the day. Once I arrived and had a quick look and seeing how pacy it was, I quickly sorted out what I would need, and set up a trotting rod with a heavy 7g Avon float, complete with a 3lb fluorocarbon hook link and a size 14 hook. I filled my bait pouch with red maggots, and a tub of corn, and off I wandered. Fishing all the nice fishy looking spots, I caught plenty of trout and grayling of various sizes, including a couple of 2lb 1oz and 2lb 4oz. incidentally though, although I caught the trout on both maggots and corn, I couldn’t get a touch from the grayling on maggots, with them all coming to the corn. Speaking to a friend who had fished the same stretch the week before, all his fish were the other way around, with nothing coming on the corn. It just shows you need to take a variety of baits to see what they want on the day.

A bit further down the stretch, I found a nice shallow but steady glide, about 3 foot deep dropping into about 4 foot, and pinged out a few grains of corn upstream. First trot was the obligatory trout, then this was followed by another nice grayling weighing 2lb 1oz again. A few more trout and smaller grayling followed, all coming from the same small area towards the end of the trot, about 20 yards downstream. The next trot, I threw a couple more grains of corn upstream, and watching them in the water, just as they past me, I dropped my float at my feet to let my bait follow them downstream. The float just slowly pulled under though, and I thought I must have hooked the bottom. I lifted the rod and felt a weight slowly move. I pulled a bit harder and then all of a sudden, an enormadon of a grayling appeared on the end of the line, and rolled on the surface. I don’t know who was more surprised, but either way it suddenly decided it wanted to be as far downstream as it could, as quick as it could, and powered off through the swim. I could hardly backwind quick enough to keep up with it, but eventually I managed to slow it down and turn it. By now it was probably about 30 yards downstream, twisting and turning in the flow as grayling do, using that huge dorsal fin like a drogue in the current. After what felt like an age, I eventually managed to draw it all the way back upstream, only for it to see the net and bolt all the way back downstream again. Once again, I carefully drew it all the way back up, only for it to this time decide to get tangled up in the weed under my feet. Somehow it stayed on the hook, and after a couple more hair raising runs downstream, and a couple more utterly ham-fisted attempts, I managed to net it. Only then I could relax. Looking into the net, I couldn’t believe just how long this fish was, far far bigger than any grayling I had ever caught before. I left it in the net to recover whilst I sorted out all the scales and camera etc, though at this point I was a gibbering wreck! It had been a long time since I’d had a fish that had left me feeling like that. Up onto the scales it went, and I was shocked to see the needle swing round and settle over 3lb. 3lb 1oz to be precise. After all these years, and all these plans to spend the whole winter chasing a three, I had done it on my first trip. I wish I had measured it, as it was so long, but I was in a bit of a tizzy over the capture and I totally forgot, despite having a tape measure in my pocket.

That takes me pretty much up to date. As I sit writing this, the weather is looking grim outside, but still surprisingly mild for December. Sadly, I don’t think I will get a chance to bother the banks again this side of Christmas, but hopefully I will get a chance to get out for a trip or two over the holidays. Moving forward, I’d like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and New Year, and fingers crossed for all of us, 2021 brings a bit more normality to all our lives, and we are all blessed with plenty more big fish all round.