For my first issue as editor, early in 2017, I just had to interview one of the more interesting characters in angling. Paul Newell is a man I have known for a good few years, having met him at Tunnel Barn Farm where he was a force throughout the summer months.
But it was his legendary river exploits that interested me the most. His record on the Midlands rivers is fantastic, having being a key member of the formidable Shakespeare Superteam in their heyday.
When we did the interview Paul promised to take me float fishing on the Avon, and this month we finally got chance. I really enjoy watching the ‘old school’ river anglers, because when it comes to float fishing they are still the best at their craft and great lessons can be learnt!
I have heard many stories of Paul’s knack for catching chub so was keen for him to take us chub fishing, but he was adamant he wanted to do something else: “I have a fascination with bolo fishing at the moment so that is what I would like to show you and the readers.
“For some reason river anglers often believe the bolo is only for situations where big floats, deep water and big fish are targeted. But I think that is an oversight and here on the Warwickshire Avon the bolo can be a fantastic approach.”
“My peg here at Wick is typical of many on this river: six to eight feet deep, very little flow and a mix of species to go at – 10lb of fish will be a good day today, so be under no illusions that it will be easy fishing!
“I am going to initially feed some groundbait and take the session from there. In a perfect world I will be able to feed occasionally with groundbait to create a hotspot and ease the bolo through the swim to find where the fish and bait are.”
One thing I remember vividly from our chat last year was Paul’s thoughts on groundbait mixes. He experiments an awful lot and is always searching for different ingredients in his never ending search for ‘perfection’.
“ Having experimented a lot since my comeback to river fishing three or four years ago, I am now of the opinion that Sensas groundbaits offer me everything I need, and trust me I have tried everything!
“My mixes are created to do a job so let me talk you through it as it is very important; I only use things that actually do a job, I don’t get my bait for free so know that I am not pushing something on you to help a sponsor!
“The base of my natural venue mixes is always Super Canal Black. This is a great base that is quite salty and fish just seem to love it. My good friend Paul Bick put me on to it and I have used it ever since with great confidence so that has to go in! The colour is also important as I think a dark element is needed in the crystal clear water.
“Next we have Gros Gardons Noire, again a dark mix. I follow many great river anglers and one groundbait remains consistent that they all use and it’s this stuff. It gives the mix a nice food content and fish seem to absolutely love it. It has lots of particles in it so gives the mix I nice food content.
“Sensas River is the final ‘name’ blend in my mix. This helps to bind the groundbait allowing me to pack the balls with feed such as live pinkies. I feed a lot of live pinkies and you need some binding power to do so otherwise the balls will break up too quickly. River gives me the binding power.
“The final ingredient is some beautiful brown crumb that I have bought from Swann’s Baits in Coventry. It smells very fresh and as I expect some skimmers here I always like to add a bit. I guess the ratio is 30 per cent each of the Sensas mixes and then 10 per cent of the brown crumb.
“I have mixed up 3kg of groundbait today; I will ball six balls in initially, packed with casters and hemp. I may then top up throughout the session but let’s see how it goes. Oh, and what groundbait I don’t use will be put in the freezer and used on my next trip!”
Rods And Reels
Being a generous kind of guy, I am soon helping Paul set up his kit and can’t help notice the diverse selection of rods he has with him, from different eras too! I bet a few of them have some stories to tell, that’s for sure.
“I have a real mix of rods that I still use depending on the venue/species. Today I am looking to present a 3g bolo down the middle of the river so one of my more recent acquisitions will be the perfect tool for the job. My latest pride and joy is a 15ft Drennan Acolyte, which is stunning. It’s so light and I certainly wish I’d had it in the late 1980s and 1990s!
“I find the 15ft length perfect for this style; I am not faced with a deep swim so don’t need a 17 or even 20ft rod, while the 15ft gives me great rig control.
“In my holdall though, is an array of rods from years ago, a range of Shakespeare and Tri-Cast models that have served me very well indeed! The Tri-Cast Finesse Match rods were an ever-present for me for many years.”
“I have never been one for expensive reels and have had lots of models over the years that have served me well, despite a modest price tag. My favourite float reels are the Spro Red Arc reels. I must have had them for a decade now, perhaps even longer, and they are still silky smooth. I look after my kit and make sure these reels are cleaned and greased to ensure I get my money’s worth!
“They are a float angler’s dream too as they sit nice and close to the reel handle, meaning I can reach the spool easily with my fingers.”
“Line is something I am quite anal about. I test every line properly by knotting them and using scales to see how strong they are. I also use a micrometer to test the diameters.
“My benchmark line for hooklengths is Preston Reflo Power. I have used it for a long time and although the diameters are out, I take that into account and have still found the line stronger than anything else! For example, if I want 0.13mm I know I have to use the 0.11mm, as it is understated by 0.02mm on each spool. But I have still found that 0.11mm Reflo (actually 0.13mm) to be stronger than most 0.14mm lines out there using my tests.
“It’s a line that maintains its strength when knotted, isn’t too stiff and has great abrasion resistance. I have tried to find something better but am yet to find it, trust me I have tried!
“Reel lines are another area where I am constantly searching for the finest material known to man, like I said before, in the search for perfection. Nice float fishing lines can be hard to find these days as more and more manufacturers are releasing lines aimed at feeder fishing. I like lines that are very supple with good floating properties.
“Again I have tried numerous brands and no doubt will continue to do so. But for now I have settled on Gardner Hydroflo in 0.16mm. This line behaves beautifully for float fishing and is a mono that several top float anglers use on the quiet. I will also treat my lines to a spray of line floatant too, although it is a bit pricey!”
Rooting through Paul’s kit, I can’t help notice how well prepared he is. I know how the era of the super-prepared angler is very much a modern-day phenomenon so was interested to talk to Paul on the subject.
“Preparation has no doubt become a huge part of the game and most successful match anglers now spend many hours lovingly tying hooks and making rigs. I have had to bring this into my game too; you cannot be tying hooks on the bank anymore, that’s for sure.
“Back when I was very successful on the rivers, the prep was still there but rather than thousands of hooks, we spent time making floats. Remember back then there weren’t that many floats available and I spent countless hours making my own wagglers and stick floats. So we prepared but it was just a little different.
“I have no end of hooks tied up now; you have to if you want to be at the top of your game. What may surprise you are the hook patterns that I use. I love rooting through the bargain baskets of tackle shops and for some reason like trying obscure hook patterns.
Today, for example, I am using an old Trabucco Pro Sword pattern that I found in the bargain bucket at Smithy’s! I liked the look of them so bought all they had for 20p per pack. They have actually turned out to be an excellent hook pattern and are similar to a Kamasan B611.
“But take a look through my hooks and you will see some classics in there, as well as a few modern hooks that have been recommended to me.”
The Bolo Setup
“Let’s get talking about the bolo setup and firstly the floats themselves. There are some great bolo floats around and for fishing the Avon a body-up Sensas pattern is my choice. This has a sensible bristle and isn’t too ‘chunky’ for the depth of water and smaller fish I am likely to catch. Today a 3g float is more than enough and gives me great presentation, despite a sometimes tricky wind that wants to push my float through nastily.
“I shot this with a bulk – in this case an olivette – and two droppers. Simple is best when using a bolo to keep tangles to a minimum. The aim is to get the bait to the bottom, so there is no place for more shot. If I want a different presentation then I will try a stick float or a waggler. Simple is best!”
“I have a large collection of floats, again many of my floats are found in bargain buckets of tackle shops! In particular, larger floats that may not sell too well. I have some bolo floats up to 10g that may look a bit funny, but boy do they work on a fast river.
“I still like to adapt my floats and it is rare for me to not have changed the bristle or the stem somewhere along the way.”
“If you follow me on Facebook you may have seen my ‘concerns’ about quality livebait. When I came back to natural-water fishing, after 10 to 15 years of commercial fishing, I couldn’t find bait that I was genuinely happy with.
“I am fastidious when it comes to bait quality and my search for the best bait led me to Smithy’s Angling Centre. Great bait, and some of the finest casters in the land.
“It does surprise me how some anglers don’t pay much attention to their bait; it is the most important factor in my view, especially when trying to catch clear-water roach and chub.
“Today I have two pints of casters, a pint of bronze maggots with a few reds, some hemp and finally some fluoro pinkies. Maggots, casters and hemp are my first choice but there is no doubting the effectiveness of pinkies. I will feed casters and hemp in my initial balling-in mix and see how the day goes. But if I am struggling I will pack a ball with pinkies, throw it in and try that. It usually works a treat!”
The Quest For Perfection
Having watched Paul fish for an hour now, there are several things immediately obvious to me. The float goes through the swim beautifully, unhindered and smooth. The ease of cast is a joy to watch as he effortlessly casts one-handed.
But more so than those things is how often Paul is adjusting his rig; seemingly every other cast he is changing the depth or moving his shot slightly, more so than any other angler I have watched.
“It’s the quest for perfection. Too many anglers just mindlessly run their float through the swim waiting for things to happen. I like to think that I earn every bite by working hard and I am trying to find the ultimate combination of depth and shot placement that allows me to hit every bite! Of course that is not possible but I won’t stop trying to reach that point. I rarely have more than five runs through without changing something. It may be a habit, but I believe over the course of a season, making these adjustments will catch me a lot more fish.
“Today it seems best to fish the rig about four inches overdepth and run it through at full pace of the peg.”
Read The Swim
“Now today was an interesting situation. I haven’t fished this stretch before and was told to expect skimmers, hybrids and roach, so I felt my groundbait approach would be perfectly suited to these swims.
“After an hour though, it was clear that there were a lot of chub about; not big fish, but lovely chunky ‘cigars’ that are not what I would call groundbait fish. I plugged away for a bit longer and feeding the pinkie balls was definitely working, I was catching some nice roach and perch and getting a bite most casts. But I couldn’t help feel that those chub could be targeted.
“I decided to stop feeding groundbait, start loose feeding casters and see what happened. It worked a treat and I was definitely catching better – not just the chub, but also the roach seemed to be responding well to loose feed.
Trying various hook baits is a habit and I rarely had two runs through the peg with the same hook bait. A single caster seemed very effective today, but saying that every time Joe jumped on the box he caught well on a maggot! It pays to experiment.”
What a great day with Paul. Much of his success has come on float tactics throughout his long career and it is so easy to see why. His ‘quest for perfection’ is there to be seen, whether it is his terminal tackle, bait or presentation. Paul works very hard at his fishing that’s for sure, and there are lessons to be learnt for everyone.
Paul has put together a lovely 12lb net of fish, which is such a typical money-winning bag on a river such as this. While we love seeing huge nets of fish, we also know that they are often skewed when in a pleasure fishing situation. But this was a proper, hard-working river net of fish taken by a proper hard-working river angler. Superb stuff.