I fished next to this bridge in Benwick a few years ago. I live closer now, so it’s much quicker to get to. This sheltered spot provided plenty of small fish action last visit, but on returning, the Old River Nene was choked with weed. There were huge floating rafts of the stuff, combined with more to contend with underwater. It was clearer on the other side of the road to my left, but that section is private. I still gave it a go, keeping things simple, aiming a full depth pole rig straight down the middle. The occasional boat traffic you get in this part of the world had created a narrow channel there. After cupping in some groundbait, the swim came alive with small rudd and hand-sized skimmers. As is normal on this network of waterways in summer, it’s almost impossible to get baits like maggots and casters to the bottom because they are eagerly intercepted by teeming shoals of small stuff.
Getting to know the canal-like venues that are called drains or fens, I’ve learnt the massive shoals of small fish can often mask the fact that much bigger ones are present. It’s just a case of getting through to them. I’m always happy with loads of bites in matches, but even then, if big fish are about, I prefer to target them. The same applies when pleasure fishing, where it gets tedious whipping out tiny rudd, roach, skimmers and bleak, especially when there are no prizes at the end. My swim was only just over 4 feet deep, so I bunched up the spread bulk on my pole rig and slid it closer to the hook, moving the float up a few inches over-depth. A change to bigger baits like pellets and sweetcorn soon got through the bits, having to wait longer for bites, but resulted in quality rudd and skimmers. This nice bream turned up, and I also pulled out of what I suspect was a carp.
A few days later, I went back to give the bridge swim another try. It was entirely different. All the floating weed had gone, although I could still see plenty of underwater stuff. I didn’t bother messing around this time, cupping in groundbait laced with lots of casters and micro pellets, banding a bigger pellet on the hook. Bites were instantaneous from rudd, including a few netters, along with a couple of decent roach and a lively skimmer. There were loads of small fish buzzing around close to the surface. It amazes me how incredibly alive this waterway system is, making me even more pleased I grabbed the opportunity of moving closer to it. The only strange aspect during the summer was how places like this were devoid of other anglers. Maybe everyone gets too occupied bagging carp on the commercials, or perhaps they simply don’t know what good fishing they are missing.
The aspect that intrigues me most about having fishing like this on my doorstep, is the way everything constantly changes. It’s never the same twice, even if you visit a place regularly. Quality rudd were present this time, with fewer skimmers and no signs of any bream. But there were big fish indications with odd fizzes of bubbles around my feed area. After a quiet spell, my pole float suddenly darted away, and I was connected to something powerful. The juddery nature of the fight suggested a tench. It tried to dart into underwater weed beds, but thankfully my Edge hollow number 12-14 pole elastic was coping well. The fish did weed me up eventually, but that helped. Staying patient and applying steady pressure, the tench came free with a clump of weed draped over its head, giving up the fight, so I could net it. That was the highlight of another interesting day.
What I like most about fishing in the fens is the peace and quiet. I’ve done my share of visiting busy commercials, along with urban canals and rivers, but out here you can get lost from the rest of the world. Sport is often hectic too. From a footbridge on the Twenty Foot River, I spotted a huge shoal of fish dimpling the surface. I set up my 13ft Cadence Match #2 float rod with an insert waggler, to explore the far side. I fed a mixture of casters and 4mm pellets, catching rudd after rudd straight away. Casters and maggots were getting mauled by small fish, so I started banding hard pellets on a size 16 wide gape hook. This trick got through to better quality samples, with plenty of half-decent rudd, the odd roach and a fair few hand-sized skimmers. It was hectic, and the bites just kept on coming, even when predators were scattering the occupants of my swim in all directions.
I continued experimenting with Drennan Waggler weights throughout the summer. They perform just like big split shot, minus the hassle of trying to lock them on the main line without causing damage. It’s recommended to use rubber line stops with them; however, I like using smaller shot as anchors, which also help to get floats perfectly dotted down. A bigger spread of locking shot still casts okay and most importantly brakes the float as it lands, important when bites are coming thick and fast. In this instance, I used 0.75g and 1g sizes of the drilled weights, locked off with non-toxic number 4 and lead number 8 shot. This format worked perfectly, with no signs of slippage on the 4lb Edge Sinking Mono I was using. I found early versions of waggler weights difficult to thread on the line, but later batches have their silicone buffers slightly protruding and are a bit easier to install.
It was crazy fishing, with indications on the float every cast. It was solid, even during occasional pike and zander attacks. Rudd were jumping out of the water, and yet my float was still going under. The fish weren’t huge but chunky weight builders. I was hoping something bigger might move in, but I was happy catching regularly. Casting a waggler and trying different things with it is always quality time. Pushing the tackle tighter to the far bank sometimes resulted in slightly larger fish, also deepening off and dropping short made a difference in finding odd netters. It was mainly rudd and small skimmers that responded to banded pellets, along with a few surprise perch. As I packed up, a couple of EA bailiffs arrived to check my rod licence, surprised I was the only angler on the bank. They gave me some good info about other venues and kindly took this photo of my catch.
I returned to the spot by the bridge a week later, finding the surface still alive with activity. As I mentioned earlier, it’s always a different experience on the fens, even when employing identical tactics and going back to the same peg. Continuing with a waggler, it was still a bite a chuck, but this time there were a few better fish knocking about. The numerous rudd were a tad bigger, with odd ones around the 12oz mark. Skimmers turned up too, but none of the weighty ones I’ve caught on the other side of the bridge, where the rudd also tend to be much larger. I was still working on my apprenticeship in my new playground, but by now enjoying some bumper hauls. It was suddenly September and the nights were getting chilly, but the fishing was still superb. You quickly realise how busy you’ve been when you wear out the elastics on several favourite catapults.
Predators were active again, but I noticed they weren’t all pike or zander. I thought I spotted the dorsal fins of big perch arrowing through the surface fry. I tried shallowing up with double caster the next time this happened, and the float obligingly shot under. My Cadence 13ft Match Rod absorbed several heavy thumps, as whatever was attached to my hook showed its displeasure. It turned out to be one of the marauding perch, but not the largest of those I spotted hammering the fry that were above the other fish. Next time I noted to bring some worms, maybe even some prawns, but that will be another story. Back to business and the rudd kept coming, with a few fair-sized ones, but none of the monsters I enjoyed catching during the warmer months. I amassed another cracking haul, before departing to service my battered loose feed catapults with new elastics and pouches.
One of my new neighbours told me there was a small lake nearby, located a short way down a turning I had driven past many times. I checked it out on Google Maps and sure enough, the water showed up behind some houses and a farmyard building. My mate Andy Griffiths was around, so we went to give it a try. I was half expecting a muddy carp puddle, instead it turned out to be a beautiful sheltered stillwater, featuring manicured lawns, lily beds, islands, and rushes. There was plenty of tree and bush cover too. Only around 15 pegs, but it all looked amazing. The owner charged us a fiver each and left us to explore. Nobody else was there and the place looked barely fished with its pristine banks. There were signs of life everywhere and with so many features to choose from, it took a while to decide where to set up our gear. I had a feeling this was going to be a good day.
We were only a stone’s throw from the fens and to begin with it was just like fishing them, once again trying to get through shoals of ravenous rudd. I had set up my Cadence CP800 margin pole at full length with a strong rig, not knowing what to expect. It was only 4ft deep, but a bite every put in resulted. When there are lots of small stuff to contend with, I’ve discovered on shallow lakes it’s often a better to target the margins, rather than busily shipping longer lengths of pole. Dropping short to a top kit plus two sections, allowed me to feed more aggressively by hand. This gives better chances of finding anything big that might be resident. It wasn’t long before elastic stretchers arrived, in the form of lively carp from 2lbs upwards. It was great fun and pleasant, thanks to the lake being surrounded by high banks that acted as perfect windbreaks, set back so as not to be in the way.
Although carp were active, it soon became evident there were lots of other species. Decent roach turned up, along with plenty of skimmers and hybrids. The rudd were never far away either. Andy caught a nice crucian too, while the carp we landed were mostly pristine fish, including this fully scaled sample. I lost track of the catch ratio I was amassing, but it must have been a tight call between the numerous silver fish and carp. My confusion was due to the only fishery rule: not to use keepnets. This water obviously had a big head of quality roach and skimmers, so it will be interesting to visit again when it gets colder and the carp shut down. There’s not much respite from wintry winds in the surrounding flat Cambridgeshire countryside, making this new sheltered spot an interesting option for when the weather turns bad. I suspect it could produce some big red fins.