Top 10 On The Thames

One of the highlights of my season has to be the River Thames Festival. If nothing else it’s just nice to fish somewhere less than 40 minutes away! There’s no better feeling than being sat in the river catching decent roach and that’s what I was praying for over the three days. Last year it was game over after Day 1 with 20+ tail-walking pike trashing my chances, so I was praying I’d finally get three good days. I normally get one or two, but to win these festivals you must have fortune on your side for all three! 

Day 1 could not have gone better! Peg A1 at Appleford. Maybe I won’t be getting rid of my number plate after all? We hadn’t fished this bit last season but I was well aware that on the first day there is always an outside chance of a bream weight. With that in mind I kicked off on the feeder and really fancied getting a pull or two. But being a section-points event I knew if they didn’t show I must get my head down and catch some roach, perch or bleak instead. 

This peg is seriously high off the water, so I’m glad I packed my longer keepnet as it only just reached the drink, and being so high up with trees either side sticking out a long way it’s quite a tricky swim. Swinging roach that high up was very risky, so I netted everything. Glad I packed my 4.5m Ultra Slim handle as well! 

Anyways, all I managed on the tip was one chublet, despite trying it numerous times. My 13m pole swim was fed with Sonubaits Black Roach, Black Lake, brown crumb and River. It was bleak city for two hours but they eventually thinned out the last two so I could really get my head down, catching some nice redfins. I caught some early fish on maggots but the last two hours pinkies were best, topping up regularly and fishing anything up to four inches off the deck as the bottom was covered in sticks. I was really motoring the last hour with some nice net roach and with minutes to go I’ve struck into something much bigger. The way it jagged around I instantly thought it was a tench. As it started to plod around and rise to the top I then realised it was a bream! After a very long and nervy fight with it staying out in the river, being sat so high up and then it diving under the branches dangerously close to snapping me and only just reaching it with my net I eventually got it in. Not bad with a 20 hook and 0.08mm bottom! As I unhooked it the whistle went. What a bonus fish to end on! 

It turned out that I didn’t actually need that bream as I weighed 15lb 6oz and just over 6lb was second in the 12-peg section. I also won the entire 23-man zone as 12lb won the Lower Moors 12 pegs. So, the perfect start to a festival! Oh and thanks Kelvin Tallett for the great catch piccy! 

Day 2 was at Culham and I was praying to draw in the reeds around the 20s but was more than happy to be on peg 12. They had left out the wood so there was a big gap between me and peg 13, so technically another end peg! 

Weed was bad close in so I spent some time with an extra long landing net and blade, just to make sure any fish I hooked didn’t get snagged on the way in. I then popped my platform in which took ages to get right as the sloping clay bank was so slippy. Ended up wedging it against the bank and pinning it with two banksticks but it was worth all the effort. 

I’ve only fed two swims; 13m in front where I cupped eight balls of groundbait and 10m downstream where I just potted in two. I expected to fish the same as yesterday with early fish on maggot and then getting my head down on pinkies, but the bleak were a nightmare and I ended up catching 80% of my fish on casters. My favourite way of catching them, so happy days! Plus I had the best casters in Oxfordshire, lovingly turned myself. 🙂

After a great five hours I’ve ended up weighing 16lb 3oz of roach, winning the 12 pegs and just 1lb behind Bradley Gibbons who won the 23-man zone from the top section. 

Two days, two great pegs and two great catches. I was tying at the top with Steve Harwood and Richard Chave and our section was the last to draw. Steve had end peg flyer at Upper Moors. Rich got an end peg flyer at Culham. Surely Sir ‘end peg’ Arthur of Abingdon was next in line for one too? Er… nope! The one area I didn’t want was the low teens at Abingdon as it had been dire the previous two days, full of weed and you can’t get in the water. So I found myself stuck in the middle of that area on peg 15 and right up against it as only 5lb had come off it the previous two days. I was really gutted but still felt IF I could winkle out 7lb+ and IF the 20s didn’t fish I might do some damage limitation and hold on to decent place in the top 10. 

The coat was definitely on today as this is the widest and most exposed part of the river and being sat up high with the wind hacking diagonally into your face it wasn’t comfortable. I couldn’t even ship a plummet out at the start, so I spent time cutting a channel in the weed with my 4.5m handle with another section that conveniently wedged up the back of it. Eventually I located a fishable area at 14.5m plus a little dustbin-lid hole down the peg at 11m as a throwaway swim. I also set up a wagger and bolo rod, but the headwind was going to make feeding that all but impossible. 

I carefully potted in eight balls of groundbait at 14.5m and two at 11m. Expecting a lower weight I diluted it with soil and added a lot less particles (pinkies, hemp and casters). Straight away I was into little perch and tiny roach at 11m, but needed to really accurately lower my rig down and fish well off the deck to avoid it catching on the weed. After 15 minutes I was out to 14.5m and had a fish a chuck… but they were the smallest Abingdon roach I’ve seen and not even an ounce! 

Eventually they got a bit bigger, catching best on a single maggot and then a nice run catching some slightly better ones on casters and loose feeding, but no much-needed bonus samples. Things were going OK but really slowed up the last two hours. Top up balls were largely ineffective and a spell on the waggler produced two tiny roach and not a lot else and was just too difficult to fish or feed properly. Eventually a few small roach returned… and that’s when the pike moved in. 

The last 45 minutes were spent hooking little roach, hooking pike and changing hooks. I did play one massive fish for a while that didn’t know it was hooked and just kited around before it came off, which I have to assume was also a pike. 

At the weigh in I actually felt I’d worked my socks off for a 6lb 15oz catch of little roach, beating the pegs either side. However, just as I feared, the first six pegs all caught well and the last peg in our zone also had a decent catch. I ended up a very disappointing 8th in the 12 pegs. Even if I’d broken my target weight I would have only gained one more point, so I felt well and truly beaten by the drawbag when it mattered the most. 

Never mind as I’d still caught a respectable net of fish and not sure I could have worked any harder for them fishing 14.5m in that wind. I’m certainly aching a bit today for it anyway! 

People must definitely have felt sorry for me as David Mills came along to see me and very kindly brought me TWO Freddos before the start! As if that wasn’t enough, on Day 2 I photographed Ian Madden with his child’s packed lunchbox which contained ‘Roarsome Snacks’. Well, on Day 3 his wife has only gone and given ME a kid’s packed lunchbox as well! No Freddo but EVERYTHING else you could think of inside: chocolate bars, rolls, crisps, Pringles AND a pie! Now that’s what I call comfort food! 

As always I took forever to pack away. So long that Colin Perry nearly beat me back – and no one takes longer than Col! Thankfully there was still one jacket potato and chilli left for me at the football club as I consoled myself. Really wasn’t sure if I would stay in the top 10 after that cruel last day, but thankfully I managed it. A podium place wasn’t to be but I’d still finished top 10 and caught 38lb of silvers over three days, so great fishing and two out of three brilliant days sport is not to be sniffed at. 

A big well done to Steve Harwood and Richard Chave, both on maximum points, with Steve winning the trophy on weight count back. Also a huge thanks to Tim Nix and Colin Nicholson and the weighing in team for running such a refreshingly well organised event. 

I’m definitely due a weekend off now, so next up will be the Feeder Masters Final! Oh, and as I had a complete disaster with the recent heatwave if anyone has any redworms please please message me!

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