Towards the end of our conversation I asked him if he had any particular venues in mind and he told me that he was primarily going to fish locally as his biggest tench to date was only 6lb and he was happy to push his personal best up in ounces rather than try and go for the biggest he could straight away. I was really pleased to hear that he was taking this approach and it contrasted massively with a conversation I had a couple of years ago with an angler who wanted to catch a tench but was only really interested if he had a good chance of catching a double, even though at the time he had not caught one of even half that weight.
The conversation got me thinking how different anglers want different things from their fishing. The latter angler’s approach was all about ticking a box, reaching the top of a mountain if you like. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach but there is an old adage that it is better to travel than arrive and for me specimen angling is a journey catching big fish and arriving is catching something special such as a personal best.
Since targeting big fish became a large part of my life in the early 1980s, I have been on one long journey and have been fortunate to have landed plenty of personal bests and each one has been special. Personal bests are far from the only measure to gauge success in big fish angling, but I think most of us would be kidding ourselves if we don’t pay at least some attention to them. In most cases my personal bests have been increased a little at a time and looking back many of them would not have been quite so special if I had previously caught fish much bigger. This is the story of the many personal best bream I have caught on a journey that is still going. I have been very fortunate that as I have got older, so bream have got bigger, massively increasing the scope to catch bigger and bigger bream.
Growing up in Staffordshire the options for catching big fish were somewhat limited, but there was one exception – bream. The meres of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire have a long history of big bream and back in the early 1980s my local water, Cop Mere, actually held the bream record with fish of 13lb 8oz to Alan Heslop and then a fish that Tony Bromley caught twice, firstly at 15lb 6oz and then again the following year at 16lb 6oz.
At the time my friend Adrian Cox and I had had some success with the tench on Cop but the bream fishing on was generally very hard so we decided to try for elsewhere to try and up our personal bests which at the time stood at about 5lb. Plans to visit a different mere were made and a four-day trip undertaken. Unfortunately, on the final day a local who was walking around informed us that all the bream had been killed in a pollution incident. On our return to Cop it turned out that whilst we were fishing for ghosts, five doubles had been out in a week. There and then we decided that we would have to knuckle down and jump in at the deep end.
All of the anglers fishing Cop at the time were using legered lobworms, invariably at 50 yards or more. After a number of blanks and plenty of frustrations with worms flying off the hook or being taken by eels, I finally caught my first Cop bream in 1985, a fish weighing 11lb 3oz. Since then I have pushed my personal best up little by little starting the following year when a run of ten blanks in little more than a fortnight was ended with a 12lb 12oz fish. By the following year nearly all of that year-class of bream had died, and it was some years before I fished for bream at Cop again. In the late 1990s I gained access to a local canal-supply reservoir and in a short campaign boated in a number of doubles topped by on that beat my biggest by a single ounce. Sadly success brought out the worst in one of the venue regulars and the atmosphere rapidly became sour so I decided to leave him to it.