Like the vast majority of anglers I continue my fishing on still waters throughout the “close season”, reservoirs, traditional lakes, gravel pits, even ponds have received my attention over the years. But there is something magical about moving water and towards the end of spring, when May draws to a close and the poppies start to bloom, my focus begins to drift and I find myself dreaming of the vast shoals of bronze slabs that graze the Fenland riverbeds, like sheep in a meadow.

When the “close season” actually was the close season, us fishermen had three months to “fiddle with our tackle”, if you’ll excuse the expression! Rods are checked for wear, reels greased and re-spooled with fresh line. A trip to the local tackle shop will inevitably part me from vast amounts of my money, countless sundry items, such as hooks, floats, feeders, beads, leger stops, swivels, not to mention the latest landing net or polarising sunglasses are all purchased with relish. All of which I will have convinced myself are absolutely essential if I want to stand any chance of outwitting anything with fins ever again! Now, all this activity has to be crammed into a mere couple of weeks.

All fishermen have a weakness. For some it’s rods and reels, they just have to have the latest version of their favourite brand and the big manufacturers are happy to oblige, launching new and evermore expensive models each year. For me it’s bait. Don’t get me wrong, I use modern rods and reels, but fortunately for me only feel the need to replace such items after several seasons use. Bait however, is a completely different matter. I’m an absolute sucker for the colourful packaging and tempting aromas wafting from the bait shelves, often purchasing shed loads of boilies, flavoured corn, Stewed Hempmeat and of course groundbait, which may not be used for weeks or sometimes years at a time. My garage is absolutely full of the stuff.

In these challenging economic times I have been making an effort to reduce my bait bill by preparing some of the bait myself, something I always use to do. I’ve purchased a sack of hempseed from my local pet food supplier for £15.00, which will last me all season. I know it smells a bit like mouldy Horlicks when you cook it, but if done in large amounts and then frozen it’s not too much of a hardship. I soak mine in cold water over night and then add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and some salt, before boiling until the seeds start to open. The pan is then removed from the heat and left to cool. The result is perfect black hempseed, one of the finest fish attracters known to man. Brown crumb can also be purchased cheaply by the sack and sweetcorn from the supermarket is easily coloured and flavoured. I also intend to use up all those half bags of pellets I seem to have accumulated, for pre-baiting. Something I plan to do every year, but rarely get around to.

Pre-baiting can be a bit of a gamble. After all, another angler may reap the rewards of all Cheap Discount Brand Sweetcornyour hard work, if he beats you to your chosen spot. Some anglers leave a sign on the bank explaining that the swim has been baited and asking it to be left alone for opening day. Although they don’t have the right to reserve a pitch, I see nothing wrong with this approach and most fishermen would happily respect such practice. I tend to rely on the fact that most fishermen are lazy (including me) and just select an area a little “off the beaten track”, usually about 50yards from the nearest parking space should do it!  

At the moment saving money is especially relevant for many of us, but perhaps even more important is getting value for money and this is where joining a local angling club can really pay dividends. For less than what it costs to fill up the car with petrol, a whole seasons fishing can be obtained and all the waters are close to home. Perfect for short sessions after work, as travelling time and expense is kept to a minimum. Also fishing a new stretch of river for the first time is exciting stuff, particularly in this day and age of named fish and commercial fisheries where the stocking levels are well known. Rivers can always throw up a surprise or two, for example, my local Great Ouse recently produced a magnificent perch of over 41/2lb for one lucky angler, truly the “fish of a lifetime” and I will always remember a drizzly autumn day on the same river a couple of years ago, when what I know was an immense bream slipped the hook. It makes me twitch just to think about it.

So you’ve sorted your gear, prepared the bait, joined (or rejoined) the local fishing club and booked time off work, all that’s left is to choose that special piece of river for the glorious 16th, right? Well in my case there were a couple of other things I wanted to get organised. 

Firstly, I decided to create the “Bream Team Brew”. Now in the past to celebrate an especially memorable catch, I’ve probably done what most anglers do, take a photograph, email or phone everyone I know and in my case write another story for my diaries or maybe do a painting of the specimen for posterity. Although I shall continue to do all these things, this season it suddenly came to me, what could be a better way of marking that special capture than to celebrate with a glass of home brewed wine!

The recipe was picked as Keith always downs a cup or two of “Earl Gray” before a “Bream Team” trip and is as follows: 


The Brew

  • Brew 6 pints of Earl Gray Tea and add to a clean brewing bucket.
  • Pour in a bag of sugar and stir to dissolve.
  • Chop up a bag of washed sultanas and also add.
  • Extract the juice and zest of a lemon and an orange and pour into the bucket.
  • When cool, add a teaspoon of yeast and the same of yeast nutrient.
  • Stir daily for a week, then strain into a fermenting jar and top up with cold tea.
  • Fit an airlock and wait until fermentation is over (stops bubbling).
  • Finally siphon into a clean jar, add a crushed Campden tablet and bottle when clear.
  • The wine can be drunk immediately, but is better if left to mature.

The response from my “Bream Team” colleagues upon hearing about my brew can best be described as slightly sceptical, but potentially enthusiastic. I’m pretty sure they’ll be keen to sample it, but will reserve judgement until they’ve tasted it! Of course we’ve actually got to catch something worthwhile before we can uncork a bottle or two. Our next trip is at the beginning of July, coincidentally the same time as the first batch will be ready. Cheers! 

Secondly, I wanted a new pipe, something specifically designed for relaxing by the riverside and allowing me to fully appreciate a really good English tobacco, whilst waiting hopefully for that fish of a lifetime to materialise! I could have purchased one of the many commercially available and perfectly acceptable pipes, but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for and as I am intending to spend many hours wetting a line this season it needed to be “spot on”.

The Briar

By chance I came across “Blakemar Briars”, a family run business in Northamptonshire that has been around since the late 1800’s. The current owner Mike (nephew of Dick Martin, who was the son of company founder Thomas Martin) took over the business in 1986, but has been crafting pipes at the small rural workshop since 1970. They produce traditional hand made briar pipes of the highest quality in a wide variety of colours, sizes and styles. If purchased through the tobacconist trade they rank among the best available and command an appropriately high price, but fortunately for me, can be purchased direct from Mike at very reasonable cost. Also if he hasn’t got what you’re after in stock, he will happily create a pipe to your own specifications. I chose a large (as I will probably spend a considerable amount of time relaxing between bites!) “Billiard”, with a black rusticated finish and tapered stem. The knobbly bark like finish should help prevent it slipping through wet fingers and into the drink!

A week later and what can only be described as an absolute masterpiece arrived. The craftsmanship that has gone into making this small thing that I will be burning stuff in is astounding.

Maybe I’ll send Mike a bottle of the “Bream Team Brew” as a thankyou? Perhaps not, I’m bound to want more pipes in the future! 

Complied by Rob Redfin Littleport June-09