Rich Wilby – A Season to Remember

As an all-round angler, the start of each season brings excitement and new challenges. Plans that have been made, start to become reality, as tickets are purchased and new bits of tackle are unpacked in the hope, they will be the tools needed to help me achieve my dreams.

Last season was probably the most prepared I had been in terms of having several venues selected and targets set. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter fishing was organised in my head and I could not wait to get cracking. But life and work always have other plans and right at the start of Spring, before I had even got the Tench and Bream rods ready, my wife unfortunately slipped a disc badly in her back. On top of that the fisheries I run, had really kicked off and were at their busiest.

Suddenly all my big plans were up in the air and I started to except the season was not going to be as I planned. Just getting out fishing for anything would be a bonus. That is the reality for most of us, so it’s not a sob story or a whinge. Going fishing always must be put in perspective and family and work must come first to achieve a happy balance.

Going fishing always must be put in perspective and family and work must come first to achieve a happy balance.

I just had to work around my problems, so my fishing time was kept to short, often first light, morning sessions, before the school run. Or, I would do overnight sessions, arriving in the dark and packing up before rush hour. Every now and again I did manage to get away for an afternoon and the rare, luxury 24-hour session.

But what I did have on my side was picking the best conditions to go in, along with venues which I knew could produce the specimen fish I was hoping for. I’ve always said that timing is more important than time itself. If you have a flexible life or job you can make the most of it.

It took me a while to realise how being self-employed was a huge advantage to catching more specimen fish. I probably put in the same amount of rod hours I did when I had a “nine to five” type job, but I now can put my precise time into the best conditions for the species I’m after. That sounds simple and sometimes it is, but I still get things wrong and often the weather conditions promised are different to what comes along.

My spring campaign started out on a couple of local gravel pits just to get the dust off the gear and enjoy catching a few Tench or Bream. Nothing big, I just wanted to build some confidence up before I tackled the more challenging lakes, which held my target specimens.

I was happy with my Tench rigs and very confident with my method feeder mix and rig for the big bream. I then had to pick the best morning or night to try my luck for a monster.

Bream thrive in rich gravel pit waters, but the lake I had plans for was not the most naturally rich venue. Instead it was a specimen Carp water, where the “nuisance” bream had got big on the high protein Carp baits. I did not know the lake, but I knew enough to head there confidently and target the open water, big clear areas, where the resident bream would surly move regularly across. These were the main swims, which see a lot of Spombing, so a great location to catch Bream, which most anglers on the lake were trying to avoid.

It was one of those lakes and plans that just went so well. I ended fishing the place for just three over-nighters and couple of day sessions and got rewarded with some lovely double figure slabs including two over 16lb.

My big Rudd hunt was also straight forward for once. I knew a crystal-clear pit, which had a good track record of producing giants. It only had a handful of Rudd present, but they could be found by walking and climbing trees, so I popped over there one afternoon for more of a look than a go. Second lap round had me running back to the car for the waggler rod, corn and net. I had spotted two monster Rudd, not very far out.

I crossed my fingers as I made one delicate cast towards them. The first Rudd spooked quickly, but the second looked interested and swam up to the corn and inhaled it. I couldn’t believe my luck! The most pristine Rudd was soon in my net and it weighed a staggering 3lb 6oz. This fish equaled my personal best, but looked so impressive on the bank, it was an absolute honor to catch.

The Tench plan was the opposite, the venue I was hoping to fish was mega busy, most anglers doing long sessions in the decent swims. I had to find somewhere else with less angling competition so I could get a swim for starters. The lake I picked was a very hush hush little pit. Another carp lake, which an old friend had tipped me off holds a few big Tench. And a few is correct, I knew this place was all or nothing, but I craved a decent double and was prepared to blank until the magic bite came.

The trouble was, time was running out, my wife also had her back surgery booked in and I knew getting away to fish was going to be a rare treat throughout the next month. The lake I was fishing was also two hours away. I had almost written it all off, but perfect conditions in late May were on the menu and I found myself in the middle of the night driving to the lake.

I knew where I needed to be and headed to the weedy corner bay, waiting for first light. Worm kebab style rigs were flicked out with feeders packed full of attraction. I opted for just a couple of Spombs of bait over each rod made up of caster, maggot and pellet. It was my last chance, and nothing happened for hours, but at 10am I was into a fish and the hardest fighting Tench I have ever played.

I was praying for it to not fall off, it weeded me up a few times, but I managed to get it moving. It came up to the top, slap its big paint brush tail and dive down several times. Heart in the mouth stuff, but eventually I won and a huge, fat 11lb 11oz tinca was mine. I just couldn’t stop looking at it. This was a specimen I had dreamt about for years and one I never felt like I would catch. It was a big, personal moment for me, I really felt on top off the world.

I didn’t fish for a while after the Tench as things were busy at work and my wife was recovering from surgery. The break was good for me though and I had achieved all three Spring targets, which felt amazing. And I had to prepare myself for the next challenge, which I was certain was going to be the hardest one to achieve, a big Eel.

Catching a big Eel the previous season had driven me mad! I put more effort and time into trying to bank a big ‘snig’ than I had done so for any other specimen. I had learnt a lot as well, mainly from my mistakes. Big Eels are like no other species and certainly require more patience, effort, good angling, and luck than anything else.

Any venue can be worth a try, old gravel pits or estate lakes are my favorite, but even commercial match lakes and canals can produce monsters. Last summer I had selected to fish a small, deep gravel pit, which I heard may contain what I was after. It looked and felt right, but I was not sure if there was even an Eel in the pit.

All those doubts soon went on my first session as I landed the biggest eel I had ever seen, at 6lb 9oz and its girth was an incredible nine inches. Half of a small dead Rudd produced the bite and the fight was ferocious. Even on the bank it was angry, I really couldn’t believe my luck

the biggest eel I had ever seen, at 6lb 9oz

I did go Eel fishing a few more times that summer, but the hunger wasn’t quite there because of my early success, which I was not expecting. I also enjoyed catching / stalking a few carp out from some local lakes and taking my kids for a few overnight sessions. But my next serious target was a big Stillwater Roach.

I had joined a carp syndicate, a deep reservoir, which had a good track record for throwing out a few big Roach each season. Most of the big Roach were caught by accident by the Carp anglers and it was late august, early September, when I started to see a few of these mistake captures being made on social media. My original plan was not to start on there until October, but I could not wait any more.

I even took my 11 year-old son, George, for my first night there at the end of the summer holidays. My approach was to keep things simple and just fish 10mm boilies on scaled down rigs. The first night produced a few missed bites but eventually a few Roach hung themselves and the best one went well over 2lb. It was the confident start I was hoping for.

A week later I arrived early in the morning and I had time to stay until midday. Action was instant on the little boilies once again, but this time biggish Bream and double figure Carp were responsible. They were hard fighting, lovely fish to catch on my light Roach outfit, but not what I really wanted. The morning session had nearly come to an end when the tip pulled round like another unmissable Bream bite but after a few seconds it felt different and started to kite down the bank, I knew I was attached to a big Roach.

Once more, whenever a dream fish is on the hook, my heart is in my mouth and I’m praying the whole fight that it stays on. You can’t rush big Roach as they have such delicate, soft mouths, so I was playing it so cautiously and it really did fight hard. Eventually I scooped it up and let out a yell of delight. I knew it was huge and the scales confirmed 3lb 2oz. My first “three” and it was a Roach I had longed for.

My next target was to catch another big Roach but this time from running water. Big river Roach are extra special and unfortunately very rare in my area of the country. However, I did know a couple of spots on my local river Waveney which may still hold the odd 2lb plus specimen.

There is no room for error when approaching and trying to temp one of these shy big river Roach. The conditions must be in your favour, overcast, and a little bit of colour in the water. Not too much flow, but enough to move a bait through under a float in a natural manner. Fine gear is also a must, but it cannot be too light as the river is overgrown and a touch snaggy.

I used my favorite Centerpin reel to trot a piece of bread flake through the channel to where I suspected the roach were waiting. I had a couple of modest sized fish before my third bite produced a river monster weighing 2lb 9oz. A lovely fish, which had obviously been through a lot to make it to an old age and size in that particular river. It was a privilege to hold for a brief moment and I made sure it swam away strongly.

With Winter approaching I was hoping to stay on the rivers targeting Dace, Grayling, Chub and Pike. Conditions were testing with so much rainfall and plans were being made and cancelled most weeks. I spent many afternoons with my ultra-light gear trotting or tip fishing for fast biting Dace. I was really enjoying it, catching several decent ones on most outings, but unfortunately, I lost a monster one, which I couldn’t get out of my mind. I remember Pike fishing the next week and still thinking about that huge Dace slipping off at the net, so I couldn’t let it win and I returned for more afternoons sessions before I eventually got rewarded with a 15oz and 1lb 1oz brace. Once again rare fish to see these days, but I knew they were there and I putting the effort and time in paid off in the end.

My dream of a big Grayling would require a long drive south or north as we don’t have many in East Anglia. I opted for the Scottish borders as I had been tipped off by a mate where a few big ladies of the stream lived. Good friend Chris and I shared the drive and headed up to the beautiful highlands during the hours of the night.

After lots of coffee and McDonald stops, we eventually arrived at first light at the most exquisite bit of river I have ever seen. We were so excited to start; the lack of sleep was soon forgotten. We walked up and down the banks looking for likely spots in the fast water where the Grayling could be. I love travelling light and roving around so I was in heaven.

We soon caught a few pristine Grayling and they stared to get bigger with several around and over the 2lb mark. Then I hooked one I couldn’t stop; it was so powerful my beloved pin reel was screaming as it raced off. I think the fight lasted ten minutes before Chris scooped her up. An incredible sight, over 3lb and 50cm of long, lean muscle. A grayling of my dreams was quickly held up for the camera (they are very hard to hold) and carefully returned to recover and swim away.

A Grayling of my dreams

The last couple of the months of the season were mainly spent Pike fishing on stunning but difficult Norfolk Broads. A mixture of lure and dead bait fishing kept me, and boat partner Lee entertained in the picturesque scenery. The wildlife on the Broads is special and every trip is exciting even if we blank.

Between us, we managed some decent Pike, Lee had the biggest and I chipped in with some crackers to over 20lb as well. Some days were hectic and other days were biteless. It is certainly not a place for the faint hearted as there are hundreds of acres to explore, many of them without fish. But his season I plan to hopefully devote more time and effort in to achieve my dream of a 30lb Broadland esox. Even if I fail, it will be good fun trying.

The last couple of weeks of the season saw me having some fun Chub fishing on the Waveney. Once again travelling light with just a pocket full of bait and tackle bits. Stinky, garlic infused, cheese paste is hard to beat on most winter days, especially as the Waveney is usually quite a coloured river. The action was pretty good and I banked a good dozen or so Chub in three short trips to over 6lb. I never get tired of watching that tip pull round.

Looking back at last season, now feels like a blur and a long time ago. I certainly had my share of luck, but I think the planning and timing of each trip was a big part of the success. I’ve fished with many top anglers who make me feel very average, but I know if I keep things simple and get on the right venue at the right time, I stand a decent chance. And if things don’t work out it always makes me more determined to get back out and try again.

Be lucky, Rich