Having decided to take a day off work it gave me a nice three-day weekend, with the intention of using the extra day to get out on the bank. The first question was where to go. Because I was due to be in Cheltenham for the weekend, I looked at venues that were not to far off the route between Lymm and Cheltenham. Due to the fact that I will be fishing Tunnel Barn Farm multiple times this year for competitions such as the Pole Fishing Masters and the North v South match, I settled with this venue, if nothing else to familiarise myself with the complex.
Tunnel Barn Farm consists of nine lakes, which equates to more than 300 pegs across the venue. Facilities on site include a well-stocked tackle shop and a café that does breakfasts and, as we found out following the Pole/Match Fishing Subscriber Classic last summer, hot food for after matches have finished.
Having been informed by the guys in the shop when booking onto the match that we would be on House Pool come match day, I did my usual in-depth research using various sources. The internet is always a good starting point but having been keeping an eye on the teams-of-four winter league results over the last couple of months, I decided to ask Joe Carass, who has been picking up some impressive results, for a few tips and up-to-date knowledge of the venue, something you can’t pick up unless you’ve been to it. Further to this, it just so happened that the 7th issue of Pole Fishing Plus was released on the Thursday, which included an hour-long video of Jamie Hughes fishing the venue.
After an early start to the day, I made the 90-mile journey and arrived a lot quicker than expected because there was next to no traffic of the roads, which meant I was at the venue for 7.30am. It was just as well because I needed to sort myself some bait after Helen, who usually very reliably takes my bait home with her from the shop, forgot it, meaning at this point I was without the bait my plan for the day revolved around – maggots.
Luckily, I managed to pick up a couple of pints from the on-site tackle shop to go with with dead maggots that Helen had found in her freezer the night before.
The draw was due to start at 9am, so with plenty of time to spare, Les, Tunnel Barn’s resident caretaker and angler, offered to take me round the complex. Knowing I could pick up some last-minute tips, I accepted the offer.
Just before the draw was about to be done it was decided between a few of the regulars that instead of House Pool we would actually be fishing on Club, a decision that didn’t really make any difference to me. The only real difference being that I knew I wouldn’t need to get my tip rod out of the car!
I drew Peg 23, a decent one from what I was told. Although I was also told that the opposite bank generally produces better weights.
Club, like all of the other lakes at Tunnel Barn, is capable of massive match weights, predominantly consisting of F1s. Taking this into account, my approach revolved around catching these. A simple three-pronged approach would be my plan. My far-bank dobbing rig comprised a 0.2g Carpa Ape, 0.11mm hooklength and a size 18 B911 F1. My 5m maggot rig was a 0.3g AS5, 0.10mm hooklength and size 16 Gama Green. Finally, my 10m maggot rig comprised a 0.3g AS5, 0.10mm hooklength and size 16 Gama Green.
My approach was simple – hope to catch what I could dobbing bread to the far bank, while building the confidence of the fish on a short and long maggot line, moving onto and rotating these lines during the match.
On the all-in a potted around 15 maggots on my short line and picked up my dobbing rig. It didn’t take long before my first bit of the day. Unfortunately, just a small roach took a fancy to my 8mm disc of bread.
On my second drop-in again I didn’t have to wait long before my float shot under. This time it was the species I was after, an F1 of around 2lb.
During the first 30 minutes I proceeded to put five F1s in the net, all between 11/2lb and 3lb and all falling to the dobbing rig. It was a solid start but whereas others seemed to be getting regular fish from this line, especially the lad on Peg 1 who was fishing to a small lily bed on the point of the island, I was struggling to put a couple of fish together. Of the far-bank features, only one small cutout seemed to produce any indications. Ideally I could have done with a couple of areas to target fish from on this line but that didn’t seem to be the case.
The next 30 minutes was slow, although I did manage to pick up another couple of fish, including a carp of 2lb and a chunky F1 around the 3lb mark.
At the hour mark I estimated to have between 15lb and 20lb, a good start but I would need my maggot lines to produce because my dobbing line had dried up.
I had held off moving onto my maggot lines too early in the match because quite often these need time to develop, allowing the fish to move in and start feeding confidently over the feed. In hindsight, I should have really replaced my long maggot line with pellets because they are a bait that more often than not produce instantly, rather than having to build the swim up in the same way that is needed with maggots.
I had been trickling a few maggots over my short maggot line to try and get the fish interested by ensuring some bait was falling through the water regularly; four or five maggots every few minutes.
When I dropped in on my short line I had to wait a little while before getting a bite but soon enough my float dipped and a small skimmer was the result. It didn’t take too long before my next bite and this time my No6 Preston Slip elastic was given a good stretch by an F1 of around 11/2lb.
I spent the next hour picking up odd fish from this line and also had a couple more from my dobbing line. I could see the guy on Peg 1 was catching very well and had sat on this rig from the start, catching well from the off.
The middle hour seemed to be when the fish switched on and my 5m maggot line produced best. My rig was a 0.3g AS5 float, a new pattern that I have been using over winter and have been impressed with. I had set the rig to fall slowly through the water with a strung-out shotting pattern and it seemed as though the fish were watching the bait fall through the swim. Within 30 seconds of the bait hitting the bottom they were taking it.
My fish were ranging between 12oz and 2lb and I was finding the best way to trick them was to lay my rig in on a tight line and flick four or five maggots over the top, trying to make the bait fall through the water as naturally as possible.
With two hours of the match remaining bites started to tail off. I knew I needed to rest this line to not kill it completely, so proceeded to move onto my other lines. My long maggot line didn’t really ever kick on throughout the match and just a few small skimmers and roach came from here, further adding to my regret of not putting pellets in here instead of maggots. Maybe this would have produced some better fish during my quiet spells throughout the match? I did manage to pick up a couple more small F1s over to the far bank but this period of the match was the real let down during the match, especially because I could see Peg 1 had continued to catch fish dobbing bread from the off. Other than a couple of slices of Warburtons Toastie, he really needn’t have bothered with any other bait on his side tray.
Luckily for me, the rest I had given my short line had worked wonders and when I moved back onto it I started getting indications straightaway. For some reason the fish all started fighting a bit harder as well; they’d probably woken up a bit as the water temperature had risen throughout the day. A couple of very hard-fighting F1s attempted to take me under the platform, with one resulting in my rig snapping above the float! Annoying, but my own fault really – hopefully that wouldn’t prove too costly.
Due to the speed at which I was now getting bites I made the switch onto a slightly more positive rig; still a 0.10mm hooklength but a rig consisting of a strung bulk teamed with a size 8 Preston Innovations Slip elastic.
This worked wonders and the last 30 minutes saw me catch well. In the end, the best bait proved to be two dead red maggots but earlier in the day a single red maggot stood out.
From what I could see looking around me during the match, nobody on my side of the lake had caught particularly consistently, with some people struggling. However, Peg 1 had caught well from start to finish, catching all his fish dobbing to the point of the island, and at the other end of the lake rumours were that the guy there had done similar.
I was first to weigh in. I would have guessed at around 65lb but when my first net went round to 40lb 5oz I was pleasantly surprised. Knowing my splitting of fish between nets is usually spot-on I was expecting around 80lb. My second net weighed in at 40lb exactly giving me a total of 80lb 5oz.
The guy to my right didn’t weigh in, having struggled throughout the match, and the bloke to his right weighed in 28lb 13oz. The next biggest weight on the same bank as me was P Ainsworth from Peg 17 with 64lb 6oz, then there was a weight in the 40lbs and two more DNWs.
On the opposite bank there were a few weights between 40lb and 60lb. Peg 11 produced 83lb 5oz, dropping me down a place in the overall standings, and that lost fish due to my own fault could well have been the difference. Peg 1, as expected, produced the match-winning weight with an impressive winter’s day catch of 103lb 8oz. It just goes to show the effectiveness of dobbing. However it’s annoying to be beat by such a method that in the majority of cases isn’t really targeting what I would call actively feeding fish, instead finding a ball of fish and presenting a bait right in front of them.
1st – O Corbett – 103lb 5oz
2nd – P Black – 83lb 5oz
3rd – Jake Fowles – 80lb 5oz
4th – P Ainsworth – 64lb 6oz
5th – A Ainsworth – 58lb 5oz
6th – M Grey – 44lb 11oz
It was yet another brilliant day at Tunnel Barn Farm, finishing the match with 3rd overall and a lake win, coming home with some decent winnings. Overall I think the match went well, especially considering that this was my first visit to the venue since September and my competition on the day was largely regulars. However, I still believe I should have done better. I’m not sure that I could have had the 100lb plus needed to win the match because I believe I got what I could from the majority of my lines. However, a lost fish due to not changing a rig that had come under some stick and choosing to fish maggots on the pole long rather than including a pellet line could have seen me finish at least one place up in the overall standings.
You can follow Jake on his Facebook Page here https://www.facebook.com/jakefowlesfishing/?fref=ts