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Amazing Brace!

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Last Updated: 23rd October 2012

After being given a bag of Club Mix and some Stronghold 101 hooks from a friend I was keen to try them out on the mighty River Thames, where I do most of my carp fishing. This is not a place for the faint-hearted! I’ve previously had to put up with other boats, rowers, drunks and a huge amount of unwanted attention from swans and geese, which love to go glide through your lines at silly o’clock in the morning. Be that as it may, they all add to the challenge of tracking down the elusive Thames carp.

I had an area in mind that I wanted to start baiting for autumn and having ‘acquired’ some Club Mix, it seemed the ideal chance to start doing it. The place I’d chosen was not far from a spot that had been kind to me in the past. It was at the back end of an island that creates a big slack when the river rises, which it tends to do rather quickly at this time of year after a day or two of heavy rain, but it’s an ideal spot to fish in any weather conditions. I started off by putting 50, 16mm boilies and a bucket of hemp on the spot each night after work using a bait dropper with a plan to fish it a week later. I couldn’t hold back though and I had to have a dangle about three days after starting to pre-bait. After work on Friday, September 1st I loaded the boat with my kit and set off. I could only fish this spot from the boat, so I had my brolly set up on the front and the rods on the ‘nod pod’ off the back. It’s not easy being set up for the night in a 14ft boat that rocks as soon as you stand up for a wee, let alone when you hook a fish, but I had to make do because fishing from the bank in this area was not an option if I valued my tackle!               

With the rods all sorted and some simple hairs tied up to a size 6 Stronghold 101 hook, I threaded two 16mm Club Mix baits on the hair and made my first cast into the river. You know what it’s like when you try a new bait or item of tackle for the first time, your brain says yes but your heart says no. Why change what has worked in the past? But I was sure that I was on to a winner with the Solar gear after seeing some of the chunks that my mate had been catching on it. With it being late by the time I had set up, it didn’t take me long to doze off. It wasn’t for long though. Just before midnight I was away on one of the rods. The reel was spinning so fast that I was hesitant to pick the rod up, but I had no choice. A good battle followed out in the main flow, but I was slowly gaining line and I didn’t have to wait too long before the fish rolled into the net.  At first glance it looked like a nice one and I quickly got it aboard to weigh it and take photos. This meant bringing the other rod in and moving the pod to give me enough space to handle a lively carp in a confined area safely. With scales set to zero and the camera set up, I rolled the net up and made sure the fish’s fins were flush to its body before swinging it on to the mat. Unrolling the net revealed a familiar fish. I had photographed it for a friend five years earlier. I went to pop the hook out, but it was in so well that I had to use the forceps on it. This was a good sign that the new hooks were going to be just what I needed out on the river. I’d had a lot of problems with hooks not being up to the job and of coping with the fight and the added pressure applied on the fight from the river’s current, but the 101 had held firm. Putting her on the scales then revealed that she had not grown in the past five years and was still only 16lb. Even so, I was made up, as any carp from the Thames is a major achievement.  A few quick photos and she was lowered off the side of the boat back into the magical waters of the river to fight another day.

So, it was the first trip out using the new bait and the damage had been done. The fish must have liked it as the amount of carp crap on the mat was clear evidence that it had been having a right munch! The rest of the night was quiet and I had to be off early to look after my little girl, but I’d be back for another go in the evening. The same routine as the previous night saw me set up by 8pm, with the rods bang on the money and half a kilo of Club Mix spread over the area. A few rude interruptions through the night from barbel kept me on my toes, but at day break the same rod as the previous night was away at breakneck speed. Another good battle commenced and after five minute I slipped the net under a nice, scaly, Thames mirror. Once again the rods were moved as I prepped the boat for a carp on board. At 15lb 14oz it was not going to set the carp world alight, but I was made up with two Thames mirrors in two quick overnighters - not bad in anyone’s book! Again the hook was so well in that the trusty forceps had to help remove it. The bait and hooks were doing the job, I just had to keep the spot topped up until I could return for another go.

Other commitments kept me from getting out until a week or so later, but I continued to keep the bait going in every day after work. By this time I had stopped using the hemp and was just on the Club Mix, not loads though, only 40 to 50 boilies each evening.
Next trip out saw another mint Thames fish sat in my net, this time a common of 15lb 14oz. The spot was getting bigger by this point and I had a Friday booked off work so it made a nice change setting up on a quiet river on a Thursday night. Just before midnight I had a belter of a bite that turned out to be a 19lb 8oz mirror. I was pleased my catches were slowly getting bigger. After the usual fun and games of doing the photos and weighing I sorted the rods out and slipped back in to bed only to be awoken at dawn by a couple of drunks laughing as they launched rocks and stones at me across the river. Oh the joys of fishing flowing water in the more public areas! I didn’t hang around to see if they were going to sink me as they had proclaimed, and I packed up and headed home, but not before sticking some more Club Mix on the spot.
I could not get back out until the following Saturday night, but my confidence was running high as I eventually pulled the boat in to rest on the back of the island and dropped the 52lb mud weights that keep me in place for my stay. No matter how hard I try I can never get as cosy on the boat as I do on the bank. It must be all the movement from bobbing around and not being able to move more than 5 feet for the whole night that does it. The river was up and running a bit faster since my last trip, but the spot was slack and I knew that those crafty Thames carp would not be far away. Just one barbel disturbed me during the night, but as the sun poked its head over the horizon I decided to add another rod to the spot as it was now twice the size it had been when I started to bait it and would easily accommodate a third rod.

The freshly cast rod had barely been in the water 20 minutes when the bobbin pulled up tight and just started to slowly take some line. This was a totally different bite to any of the others I had previously had from this spot. It was slow and steady and I knew before I even picked the rod up that it had to be a better fish. As I bent into it the rod took the strain, as did the anchors, and the boat lifted forward slightly as the fish used its power to get out into the flow. It was picking up speed as it made off down river. Since using the Stronghold  101 hooks I have gained a lot of confidence and was much happier to give the fish a bit of stick, because if I didn’t get a it under control then this fish was going to make it down to London. Pressure seemed to make the fish turn and swim off to my left, toward some moored boats. I had no choice but to close my eyes, clamp down and hold on while praying that it wouldn’t fall off.  Luckily it all held firm and the fish came to the surface before powering off and sending up a huge spray of water as it made its way off back down river. The fight seemed to go on for ages and I wanted whatever was on the end to hurry up and get in my net. I didn’t want to rush it so I tried to keep calm and gain some more line.  Slowly but surely it looked like there was only to be one winner. Then, the fish had other ideas and wanted to make me sweat a bit more by going up towards a snag tree that hangs in the water alongside the island. Once again I closed my eyes and held on. It seemed to work as all of a sudden the fish was next to the boat and in the net. I secured the net to the boat and had a little look to see what prize I had managed to bag this time.

As I rolled the side of the net up the fish just got bigger a
nd bigger. I had to roll a fag and compose myself, so I left the carp safely in the net to get its breath back while I caught mine. I phoned my mate, who could tell I had a good one in the net due to the tone in my voice, and after a brief chat he told me to hurry up and weigh it and then call him back. I knew it was a good fish but I didn’t expect it to go 30lb 4oz on the scales. I was blown away. A Thames thirty is still a rare beast, I know people who have fished the river all their life and have still never had the pleasure, yet here I was with my seventh over that magical mark, from Old Father, in as many years.

I was still in shock and what happened next just tipped me over the edge. I had another bite and this time I lead it straight into the net like a dog on a lead and in first time. As I approached it, I saw the scales and recognised the fish as one I had caught three times before over the last six years of fishing this particular stretch. It’s a proper bait eater and I had already caught it this year at 28lb 12oz, which had been down in weight from its usual 30lb mark. Because of this I nearly didn’t weigh it, but as I rolled the net up to pop the hook out it looked like it had been on the munch so I had to stick her on the Rubens, more out of curiosity than anything else. You could have knocked me down with a feather, she was back up to 30lb 2oz and I had a brace of Thames thirties in a hour or so. This was amazing, I was buzzing like never before. All my effort of baiting up and putting up with all the grief had paid off - big time. I slowly packed away after that, still in a state of shock. I called my mate Tony back and he asked how big it was. I replied; “Which one?” He didn’t know what to say and was over the moon for me.
I’ve been keeping the bait going in since the brace and I’ve had another quick night on the spot for another mid double mirror and a 12lb 8oz barbel. I’ll be back out next weekend, so fingers crossed I may have another story to tell. One thing I will say is that confidence is a funny thing and having good bait makes life a lot easier in the task of chasing the Thames carp. As for the 101 hooks, well what can I say that has not been said already? They really are the best hook I’ve ever used.

Ben Hinton (a.k.a River Junkie)