Getting Back On The River

Jon Arthur looks back on an eventful weekend competing on two very different stretches of the River Thames.

The River Thames at Culham.

It was great to get on the riverbank at the weekend to blow the cobwebs away. After an up and down year I’d kind of lost my mojo and not been match fishing so seriously but I hoped a weekend on the river would help. Believe it or not, I’ve only ever fished one match on the Thames before, and that’s despite living this way for two years now. It was time to put that right.

First up was a 42-pegger on the Upper Thames. This was the Stan Matthews Memorial open run by Clanfield AC. I’d never even seen the Upper Thames before but it sounded like an interesting stretch, narrow and winding, with small fish dominating and odd big bream and chub. A modest weight of around 10lb was most likely to frame or even win, which suited me. Being able to park behind almost every peg was also very very appealing!

Jon’s peg on the Upper Thames.

I drew peg 44 and was told it was decent. Once I’d negotiated the barbed wire fence with my crown jewels intact it looked lovely. I was immediately above a sharp bend but the water was completely stationery in front of me for several metres. Everyone I spoke to reckoned you needed a peg with flow right under your feet so you could catch small fish to hand. That didn’t look too likely on this swim, but I still set up a positive 1.5g pencil float just in case I had a nest of fish sheltering out of the flow.

I also plumbed up a comfortable swim at 10 metres and set up 1g and 1.5g prototype AS floats for here. I would normally have assembled some lighter, strung-out rigs but with bleak and tiny fish expected to be a nuisance I went down a more positive route. Eight big jaffas of groundbait and soil went in on this line, three metres downstream, where I had a nice shadow and where it flattened off to about 7ft.

A barrage of 50/50 groundbait and soil kicked things off.

My only other swim was for big-fish where I bait-droppered chopped lobbies and casters at 14.5m. The flow still wasn’t too strong here which meant I could easily hold back with a conventional 2g round-bodied float rather than rely on a flat float. I was told my peg had some bream form but with it being so bright and sunny I didn’t expect too much action with that species.

I started close in over three potted-in balls and had four roach in four chucks, then nothing. Deepening up and swinging the rig further out gave me a run of little chublets and the odd dace but that was also short-lived. I was soon venturing out to the main 10m swim and, as expected, bleak and tiny fish were troublesome. The only bait I could get through to the better fish underneath was a single caster and that yielded a few roach and dace to 2oz.

The middle hour was weirdly unproductive and despite trying my big-fish swim I only had one little chublet off it. Groundbait top ups did nothing to improve the 10m zone but with the bleak also miraculously gone at least I could now loose feed properly. This eventually did the trick and firing in 10-20 maggots every cast and the occasional pouch of hemp saw me have a roach a chuck for the last 90 minutes or so. All on single maggot on a fine-wire size 20 to an 0.08 bottom, varying it from four inches overdepth to four inches off bottom to stay in touch. Great fun!

I could see Trevor Chalk further downstream swinging in fish to-hand all day and knew he was on for a framing weight. Despite me having to ship 10 metres for my fish I felt I was doing reasonably well and could have 8lb or so by the end. About two minutes to go I finally hooked a bonus fish on single maggot that eventually broke me. It could have been a big bream or chub, but we’ll never know!

A nice day’s fishing in anyone’s book.

I ended up slightly off my estimate with 7lb 6oz. That barren middle hour had really cost me. There must have been a big fish in the area but despite my best efforts the peg completely switched off. Perhaps I should have persevered on my big-fish line? Or chucked a feeder? Either way I still enjoyed the day. It’s nice to catch a hard-earned net from a place you’ve never seen before, running a rig down and not knowing what to expect.

As I expected Trevor framed and was 2nd overall with 12lb. A healthy 15lb won the match from the upstream end peg and I was actually 11th on the day, so that 10lb target was about right for framing. A lovely and well looked after bit of river, so I’ll definitely try and get back one day!

Next day I was booked on the Feedermasters qualifier on the much wider and deeper stretch of the Middle Thames at Culham and Appleford Reach. This was a ticket I had booked some time ago and the main reason I opted for a weekend on the river.

A good effort but not enough to qualify.
A good effort but not enough to qualify.

I shall cut this one a bit short as I could write a whole book of excuses! Suffice to say I drew very well and probably should have qualified, but it was one of those days when I was clearly destined not to. I kind of enjoyed it, in between all the calamities, which included a broken reel, a snapped tip, a foul-hooked bream coming off and struggling to get a bite in the all-important last hour.

jon-arthur-thames-6I ended up with one bream and a load of skimmers for 17lb 2oz and 3rd in my 12-peg zone. Worm was easily the best hook bait; either a big dendra or two or three redworms. I just managed to ounce my old mate Dean Barlow but it wasn’t enough to beat Simon Fry’s 19lb and the section winner further up who had 22lb. Could I or should I have had that? Most probably. I clearly didn’t deserve to win, so it was just nice to get out on the bank, have a laugh and catch up with friends.