Chris Holmes, or Bonesy, as everyone knows him, is one of those blokes who gets on with everyone. He’s a proper joker, ran the BCAC, and is one of the highly successful DNA Baits team, arguably the best team never to win a top award in a competition. More to the point, whilst he’s “in the business” as it were, he’s a normal angler who battles with weekend traffic, does the odd overnighter and is also a regular on the events scene. But on a limited timeframe, holding down a very busy job as a teacher at catering school, he does still manage to bag a few so we sent Hughesy along to catch up with him at Linear’s Hardwick where he’s chasing a real stunner.
I don’t get a lot of time to fish so I have to make it count,” said Bonesy. “With an occasional overnighter and a busy calendar of events such as the BCAC, Erics and various regional rounds, I have to be prepped, on my toes, and ready to make every minute on the bank count.” That’s a story that is familiar to many of us with busy lives as we look and dream about the 48hr to weeklong sessions that many anglers somehow seem to put in.
He’s come to Hardwick having fished it a few times and is chasing one particular fish although he’s quite happy catching whatever comes along. On overnighters in the week, with work the next day, lots of bites is a problem so he wants a chance of something decent. Hardwick’s Big Scaly mirror is 37lbs now and it’s a cracker so fits the bill perfectly. Opting for The Point on the Track Bank he’s in situ and plumbing up when I arrive.
“The swim offers access to an area of open water that can only really be reached from two swims, and Hardwick being Hardwick, there are quite a few deep areas and a few plateaux and bars around. This is a great interception swim for those, plus the wind’s blowing this way and the cut-through to Smiths is just to my right. It also has the benefit of being a little closer to the car park, and whilst that isn’t at the top of the agenda, it does make life a lot easier when packing up and heading off to work in the morning.”
Chris always uses a marker and when I asked him why, he said that particularly on Hardwick it’s vital to know what you are fishing over. The slopes are steep, the bars are narrow and there’s plenty of weed, mussels and other “stuff” that can trip you up. Fishing blind here is a no, no. Accuracy is vital, not just for bait application but also for rig placement. 6ft out can be 10ft deeper or shallower.
The spot was a bar/plateau type thing which was about 14ft deep. “It’s relatively clear but there is some weed on it. I’ve bought a bit back on “test casts” but on the whole it’s not bad. There’s a few mussels around but they are everywhere in this lake, but I think it’s mainly silt over a hard bottom with clumps of weed and a bit of low lying weed. One of my drops felt a bit soft so I think I may land in a bit of weed so I’ll pop the rigs up a bit further in case.”
Having found a spot with the marker, he dropped the float to the lead, clipped-up and proceeded to wrap the lines round his wrapping sticks to get the exact distance. In true OX29 style, both fishing rods would be fished to the same spot but he added 1ft for every 4ft of depth so in this case it was the distance plus three-and-a-bit-feet. He then proceeded to mark the lines with marker elastic. Interestingly, he used two on each rod in case one moves, and used a yellow on one and a red on another. “Using different colour marker braid reminds me which rod was on which side and also because in this situation I’m using different colour baits on the same spot, the markers on the line will remind me of the colour of the hookbait used.
With the rigs in position, the spot was then baited up with a Midi Spomb. This time he reduced the distance by two-feet and every few Spombs he added a foot on or took one away so it wasn’t all in the same line. “I like to have my hookbaits on the back of the area and marking and clipping everything like this means that it will be, or at least I hope it will be.
Bait was the Oxford favourite of parti-blend and corn, and a dozen Spombs were scattered pretty tightly around the area. “The water’s 14-odd-feet deep here and with the wind I’m not expecting it to be incredibly tight, but it will be pretty good. The parti-blend is straight parti-blend, but the corn isn’t any old rubbish. It’s the catering tinned stuff which is miles better than frozen. It smells nicer, tastes sweeter and is also steeped in its own juices which is an attractor in itself,” announced Bonio. “However, to give it a little extra boost of attraction I like to add some flavour booster. Myself and Neil Rivers have had incredible success using Wrasyberry flavour over the top of maggots in our competition events. I then tried the PB version (from DNA Baits) with corn and it just seemed right. Having used it a few times, it’s one of those things that just fits and works well.” Over the top he was to be fishing a pop-up on each rod.
Onto rigs, which were quite simple: leaders of Illusion Trans Khaki as the water in Hardwick appears gin clear, and there are a few mussels round. Camo-Tex Soft Dark hooklink material, a few blobs of putty to keep it down and a Multi Rig arrangement for the SR hook.
With the rods in place, we sat back and talked birds… primarily the feathered kind, and he said that he had a lot of confidence, especially on Hardwick, if the birds were in the area. “They can see a lot more than we can and I’m convinced that they follow the fish,” he told me.
It was starting to get late and the sunset was more than stunning, so rather than going into the water now and potentially spoiling his chances for the evening I decided to leave it until the following morning and see what might occur. Just on dark the first fish started to move, clearly a fair way off us but looking like they might move in our direction. One crashed not too far from the spot and after watching and listening for a while we turned in expecting a night of action.
First light is often a good time, but nothing showed and nowhere else around the lake was producing. “Not a problem,” announced Bonesy in his ever-cheerful way. “Hardwick isn’t an easy water. There are occasions when you can be on them and have a multiple hit, but a lot of the time an overnighter is unlikely to produce that sort of result. I thought we might get a bite and there’s still time yet but it’s not that sort of a water and that’s how I like it.”
I hung on as much as long as possible before announcing that bite time would have to wait and I needed to get in.
Below the surface
The first thing that you notice about Hardwick is how clear the water is. From outside looking in, it’s gin, and that’s the case until you drop down about 6ft and then the algae starts to cloud the water. It’s in the upper layers, just not as noticeable.
Following the marginal slope down, it drops at the sort of angle that round baits will roll down. I followed the line out until it almost disappeared but at that stage I could see the Spomb patches in the distance. Interestingly, on one of the “rogue ones” that had fallen away from the patch I could see that the seeds had separated from the corn on the way down. By the time they had landed in 14ft they were about 2-3ft wide with corn at one end and seed at the other. It was relatively windy so there was a bit of drift and tow.
I could see the bright yellow hookbait first as it stood out on the bottom and then, about 6ft away from it, the pink one. However, before we look at the hookbaits I’ve got to mention the leaders. He was using a Illusion Fluorocarbon leader and once again it has proven itself to be almost invisible. I’m biased of course because I helped develop the stuff, but I’m not trying to score cheap points by saying this. I did have a little grin to myself thinking how good it looked – or not as the case proved. It’s a bit like your child doing well on the pitch: a bit of pride isn’t a bad thing and the photos don’t lie.
To be fair to Chris now, the bait and rigs were almost exactly as he said he wanted them to be. Pretty close together and just to the back of the baited patch. The bottom wasn’t quite as weedy as he had said it would be, and whilst there was the odd patch of Canadian up to about a foot deep, the bottom was, in the main, silt and it is probably this that caused him to think there was more weed around. The rigs were sat perfectly, with both leads sunk into the silt and the hooklink material in a slight curve along the bottom. The presentation was almost as perfect as you could expect it to be, apart from the fact that, in my mind, the pop-ups were sitting a little too high. It was of course intentional as he has felt there was some weed around, but in the absence of said weed, they were sitting quite a way off the bottom and certainly more than I would choose. That said, they would almost certainly produce, and looking at the bait, spread, silt disturbance (or lack or it) and the fact that everything looked pretty damned good, it’s fair to say that they never got a chance to be tested as the fish had clearly not visited the area.
Running the indication test was the next thing to do and the rig was picked up and moved in the usual manner, Bones fishes tight lines, slackened off to allow a little bit of settlement and at the 50-odd-yards or so that he was fishing I moved the rig the almost regulation finger to elbow before feeling a strike.
In all, everything was in order apart from the fact that he didn’t catch one but that was something that almost certainly would have happened if they ‘d visited.
Back to Bones
Back on the bank and looking at the pics, the first thing he commented was how green the water looked at depth despite the fact that it was gin at the surface. It’s always the case in UK still waters, even if it looks absolutely perfectly clear, there is always some algae so green is the default colour to look at. I then threw across the three final questions…
Highlight of the dive
“The fact that everything was as I expected it. I’m buzzing to be honest as they were close, in the right place and although I was a little out on the weed, it was pretty damned accurate. I particularly like the way the rigs sit and the pop-ups look on those rigs, and the fact that the leader had almost disappeared is amazing. It just goes to show that attention to detail is the key in fishing as it is with everything else. It’s got to be right.”
“Not catching one obviously. I should think everyone that does this feature wants to catch one to show they know what they are doing, so it was a bit disappointing, especially as everything was so good. The other thing, although it’s not too serious, was how high I’d popped up the hookbaits. I’ll drop them a little for sure unless I’m positive it’s weed. I thought the Sinker might sink into the silt but it didn’t so that’s food for thought.”
Biggest lesson learned
“Difficult one this, as everything was how I hoped it would be. It’s reinforced to me that attention to detail and accuracy is important. It might take a little longer to get everything set-up but it means everything is right. I suppose the biggest actual eye-opener was how it isn’t as clear as I thought it would be down there and how important the camouflage of the lead and rig is. On the whole though I’m well happy.”