This stretch of the Old Nene is known as Wigstones, where a footbridge crosses the river into parkland on the outskirts of March. I arranged to meet with some anglers who live not far away near Peterborough, who know the stretch well. This was going to be my first go on the famous venue, even though I now only live five minutes’ walk away. It gets far too busy here for my liking during the warmer months, when I prefer to seek quieter areas a bit further from civilisation. The only problem waiting for winter to arrive was the heavy rain it brought with it, making the narrow and shallow river push through hard. It required pole floats of between 1.5g and 2g to gain reasonable presentation, not going too far out into the main flow. The plan was to feed small nuggets of groundbait, containing baits like pinkies, hemp, maggots, or casters.
On first visits it helps a lot fishing with people who know venues, especially places like this where the banks are awkward, requiring platforms for most swims. I met with Pete Wray and his mates because he wanted to have a look at my Cadence CP2000 pole, being in the market for a new 16m model. After explaining how much I rated mine and discussing the top kit variations, we started fishing. Pete obviously knows what he’s doing here and was soon catching stamp roach, along with his mates who were close by. This area can throw up big weights under normal conditions. During the summer there were large shoals of rudd lazily drifting about down the middle and far side, good fish to over the pound mark. They had moved somewhere else now, although I’ve been told they often show up again at the back end of the season.
I walk the banks of this venue most mornings, also watching videos on YouTube of well-known anglers fishing it. This bridge peg is a favourite spot. Apart from the moored boat opposite, it’s quite sheltered, plus the geese get fed regularly and that attracts lots of fish. There are several good pegs along here, before the private moorings on Nene Parade. Angling isn’t allowed there until you get much closer to the town centre, which creates a lot of water to draw big shoals from. Apart from the roach and rudd, perch and skimmers are on the cards. But with so many other connecting drains in the area, there are chances just about anything can turn up. It gets weedy in the summer, but after all the recent heavy rain, all that’s been flushed through. The only hindrance to a smooth trot now was bits of sunken branches and rotting leaves.
I began by cupping in two balls of groundbait, but the water was whizzing through so fast, I wasn’t sure where they ended up. Bites resulted straight away and were all over the place. Watching Pete, I could see he wasn’t going so far out and was feeding more regularly by hand. This prompted me to do the same, putting in small, hard balls of groundbait holding a few pinkies. That helped and I started catching roach. It was tricky using heavy capacity pole floats in such shallow water. I suspected the surface was faster flowing than near the bottom, which meant trotting at the speed of the current was too quick, resulting in many missed indications. To remedy this, I over-shotted the bulk, holding the float tip up on a tight line while running the tackle through. That worked a treat and I ended up with this nice haul of mainly roach.
Pete managed an even better catch, mainly roach with odd hand-sized skimmers. It was enjoyable sorting out ways to keep the fish coming, but not as prolific as when this canalised stretch of river is fully on song. It performs best with less flow, not as fast or coloured as it was on this occasion. My groundbait wasn’t right either. I needed a more binding mix to get pinkies down, finding a single red maggot worked best on the hook. Hemp and tares can sort out better quality roach in normal conditions, after kick-starting pegs with a groundbait approach. A winter league event was recently won with over 40lbs of hemp roach. Punched bread works better when the water is clear, while casters can score too. Chopped worm isn’t used that much in the park area, being far more productive on the wider bypass stretch the other side of town.
Not yet tuned in enough to enter the big March events, I still wanted some competition. Discovering they run sweepstakes on Townsend Fishery at Wisbech, I booked in to have a go. I fished the big lake back in the summer, and it was crammed with lots of species. In winter, they only weigh in silver fish, and I was told skimmers normally dominate. It began as a gloomy and chilly day, with hardly any wind. The car park was awash with mud after all the recent heavy rain, but once you got to the pegs, most weren’t too bad. Just as the match started, the sun broke through, making it difficult to see a float on my side of the lake. I caught a few hand-sized skimmers early on the pole, but that part of my swim quickly came alive with F1s and bigger carp, killing the silver fish action. I tried dropping short and the skimmers soon came back.
Just as I was beginning to do well with the skimmers, a big carp interrupted proceedings. I had managed to get attached to it on a 0.10 mm hook length, using hybrid elastic in a top kit without a puller bung. Big mistake! With the fish being sluggish due to the cold, I couldn’t do anything with it. The harder I pulled; the more super stretchy latex came into play. I tried pumping the elastic back inside the top section. Otherwise, there was too much pole out there. It amazed me how much pressure I could apply, but still, the lump continued to wallow around my peg. If I had been on a puller bung set up, I could have applied the necessary pressure to either quickly tame the fish, or straighten out the light hook I was using. Instead, it was stalemate, wasting loads of time and losing the silvers with all the disturbance. My low double figure return wasn’t enough.
Match Fishing magazine wanted an article. With the Old Nene bombing through again and most swims resembling a mud bath, we decided on a small lake I had discovered locally, which had shown promising potential. It brought back memories putting a feature together, like I used to do every week for Angler’s Mail over many years. It was fascinating trying to get the best out of the session, working hard on making things happen. It turned into a cracking day, with plenty of action, but you’ll have to get the February edition to find out what happened. Having a photographer in tow reminded me of all the weekly shoots I did in the past. It wasn’t always easy getting good results and thankfully come rain, ice, gales or sunshine, there were no real disasters. I learnt a lot, travelling far and wide, discovering a wealth of amazing places.
More big matches were scheduled on the Old River Nene, and I watched with interest the way competitors set up. You soon get to know the best equipment because many are using it. The most popular platform by far is the Matrix Duralite Mk11, which is the design Alex at Rookery Waters sold me. Barrow wise, number one appears to be the Preston 4 Wheel Shuttle, although I did notice a few motorised models, which was interesting. I bumped into my old Essex County teammate Bob Nudd, setting up with his usual infectious enthusiasm. The four times World Champion showed me the rigs he uses and the precise way he sets them up. It was great to see him again and to go over old times. I still have trophies in my study, we won together, such as the NFA Team Challenge and the Drennan Super League. They were truly wonderful times.
I met with my mate Andy at Biggen Lake near Oundle, which is set in a golf course. They hold silver fish matches on here, so we decided to approach it differently, to find out what works best. Andy carefully cupped bait over two pole lines, while I simply set up an insert waggler, planning to loose feed a mixture of small pellets and casters. It was cold and windy, but it didn’t take long to string some bites together. We had been told the main species to target was skimmers, although roach were also present, but sorting out the bigger ones was not an easy task. I caught a decent skimmer first, fishing into just over 4ft of water, a fair distance out. I began with red maggot on the hook, but quickly got troubled by tiny roach. Andy experienced the same problem, switching to pellets and began netting a few decent skimmers.
It wasn’t easy fishing because numerous tiny roach were impossible to feed off, hence the reason I suspect most people use pellets to get through to the skimmers. But the issue with the latter bait is it also attracts carp, which are prolific in this 5-acre venue. Casters seemed a sensible option, but the small silvers loved them too. I made the mistake of upping my loose feed, getting carried away when a brace of nice skimmers resulted, before latching into an inevitable carp. It was a proper lump that proceeded to completely wreck my swim by churning the bottom up, taking me for a ride all over the place. I was only on relatively light gear, yet it amazed me the amount of pressure I could apply against the fish. Even then, it ploughed through Andy’s peg and took his delicate pole rig with it. I eventually landed this 17lb monster.
With the sound of the odd golf ball being hit in the distance, the rest of the session turned into a game of trying to coax the skimmers into feeding, while not encouraging the carp. The problem with feeding lightly was the hordes of tiny roach were mopping everything up, not leaving anything to hold the bigger skimmers. We both enjoyed a few good spells, but also got bunkered by carp a few times. Staying on the right path wasn’t easy and required more work. I didn’t bother adding any tiny roach in my keepnet, putting a few pounds of them straight back. I ended up with this bag of skimmers, but would need a lot more I reckoned for a potential framing weight. Andy did better than me with low double figures of silvers, but again not quite enough we suspected to get in the coin on a match. More work was needed to sort this place out.