Last Saturday morning James and I headed out for some floodwater trotting, I ended up with a dozen roach to just under a pound (and a surprise barbel). What struck me was the roach were up in the water, the bottom was gudgeon territory.
This morning it was an early start, a couple of trains and an exercise in patience - I hadn't brought a torch and although I could set everything else up I couldn't tie the size 18 until I had enough daylight!
Three hours of trotting later, 2 trout and 2 minnows were on the books but I was running out of time - then the bite I was waiting for, a roach and it looked like the two I was after (I saw it as she lodged herself under a weedbed).
Gently pulled through the weeds, a couple of lunges and she was safely resting in the net while I set up the camera and zeroed the scales. A very different shape to last weeks, this one was longer, thick but lacked depth - last weeks was fresh off the mint, this one was an old bruiser.
The scales rested just shy of the magic number, I had to settle for 1lb 15oz, but a beautiful bronze fish I really couldn't complain - Getting closer!
I've always thought of pike as mid-afternoon feeders, they don't get up that early and they're pretty efficient once they get started.
In my experience on a winter's day the best time is just after lunch until an hour before dark - we all fish that magic hour into dark - it works for other species but pike are done (they are off doing secret pike stuff).
A week or so ago me and James hit the river well after dark (to be honest you couldn't fish here during the day it would be far too busy). And float-wobbled deadbaits did the trick, three pike landed - no doubles but they're in here...
The water is gin-clear and the river is very well lit, are the pike hunting the silhouettes? We'll need to get back for a couple more rounds to find out.
When I started this season's PB Challenge one target really stood out - and for once it wasn't a pike - I really want a 2lb roach! Yeah - I blame you James!!
I was trotting for chub back in the summer when I spotted a shoal of roach, I cast to them and the biggest one nailed my bread flake - size 12 hook to 4lb line, so the odds were in my favour - so I was gutted when it shed the hook right at the net. I don't think it was a two, but still a big roach.
The shoal had disappeared, and although the river is a pain to get to I've been back a few times for look - no sign of them. With the recent rain I went back and fished the spot I lost my fish hoping the coloured water would give them more confidence.
With no visibility it was a bait-n-wait and I'd almost given up hope when just before sunset there was a little tap tap on the tip... The fish I was after, possibly the same one I lost in the summer - I'd like to think so.
There's no getting away from it - it's getting cold out there. There was a harsh frost on The Stour and it seems to have put the chub down, at least until they get used to the drop in temperature. Fish-spotting and rolling was replaced with a bait-and-wait approach. But they didn't want to play in the morning.
Me and James opted for a lunch time fry up in a nearby cafe followed by a bit of exploring some other stretches, reasoning the chub might feed in a brief window of time just before dark.
That window lasted between 4.00 and 4.40pm (sunset 4.24), when we both managed a five, mine scrapped in at 5lb 0oz below. Still we fished on for a couple of hours in the dark - 'cause you never know...
A 4am start saw me and James on the River Frome at sunrise. This sparsely populated river throws up the odd big grayling but it's tough fishing. James had previously put the hours and miles in with little to show for his efforts, it was my first trip.
On the riverbank discussing tactics I flicked out my float - no fiddling with depth, no free samples, I hadn't set the net up - the float shot away, boom - the biggest grayling me or James had ever seen!
New PB of 2lb 11oz, it's better to be lucky than good!
Cracked it in 20 seconds, we joked that I might as well go back and sleep in the van - but I fished on for 10 hours in the rain. I added six more grayling to 1lb 2oz and a handful of small trout over the day before hitting and bumping another big grayling that looked two pound plus...
Just as well really, James was struggling with just a small grayling and a trout landed - I think if I'd added a second big fish he'd have pushed me in!
But just as we were running out of daylight James had the bite he was waiting for... A new PB each - mission accomplished, and soaking wet, we headed for a curry and a pint.
My Mum was a bit worried I'd get withdrawal symptoms from shark fishing - so she bought me this emergency pack of sharks just in case. No need to open them this trip though...
Well back in cold, damp London and looking back on an unbelievable trip - so here's a quick recap before I head out into the frost in search of a pike or two.
The conditions looked great until hurricane Matthew threw a spanner in the works. As well as the dirt and debris the water temperature dropped 8° in 5 days, effectively ending the mullet run.
Finding baitfish and therefore predators was going to be tough, and finding feeding fish was a real ask - fortunately we had the man for the job.
Our best bet turned out to be linked to the tides and fishing at night. And our target was sandbar sharks, really love these sharks; harder fighting than the other species and it's main diet is other sharks - which makes it pretty cool!
I landed 20 sharks, three of them over 6 foot and a new PB and my target - a 7 foot sandbar shark - a big female.
The fight of my life; 55 minutes where often the shark was in control. A few times I thought I was going to have to pass the rod to Paulos or Roger, but I held on with acid pumping through my arms and fingers cramping I used up every last reserve of my strength - what a fish!
As well as the sharks we also targeted red drum, a hard fighting predator. I had caught three of these before on my previous trip - but I was happy to add more.
And 14 more was a brilliant result, I upped my PB to a big 43' female (probably the heaviest I caught) and the last fish of the trip I upped it again to a PB of 44' - a future target to better.
I joked to Paul that I wanted a 100lb class stingray, I even mentioned I wanted it to be a dark fish - then I hooked one on 25lb line. Forty five minutes of back breaking fight later - a magnificent fish was on the beach - great result, but you don't want too many of them!
Other species included pompanos, bluefish and catfish.
It was great to spend time on the beautiful deserted beaches, watching the wildlife (photos to follow). And a great holiday all round - massive thanks to everyone involved. And top ghillie skills Paulos - thanks again. Took a lot of attempts to get the photo below!
Can't wait to return, don't want to wait six years this time. Perhaps September 2018? I'll start planning - and if I'm after an eight footer I might need to hit the gym a few times beforehand!
Today I've got to travel back to London, 2 fights, loads of trains, taxis and tubes and I'm guessing a ton of delays here and there - but it's totally worth it. The hurricane changed the fishing we were expecting, but with Paulos' years of experience he managed to adapt and still find sharks - top work that man!
Me and Paulos were sat on a deserted beach under the stars, talking about the trip - 20 sharks and a dozen red drum, plus a monster stingray for me - far better than I'd even imagined. But Paulos was determined to catch another and send me home on a high note, after all we hadn't blanked yet!
The weather had really turned and it was properly cold now, the last of the sharks will be heading south and the red drum disappearing to wherever they go.
First up was a take on the shark rod, a big bait had been taken by a red drum, over gunned for the fight I wound in the 38' red drum (below). It's hard to see from the photo but this fish had recently been attacked by a shark, a hole in the gill plate and a still bleeding bite to the tail - tough fish!
An hour later a run on the lighter gear, a very hard fighting red drum that really didn't like the beach, tearing off into the surf each time it touched sand. And a new PB of 44' to end on - what a trip!