Fishing Lines: Watch the birds, not the birdie

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The Independent Online

Don't ever believe fishing books when they advise: "Make sure you take a camera to record that special catch." Load of nonsense. A camera (especially one on a mobile phone, which should be banned from the bankside anyway) is a surefire way to guarantee you'll be skunked.

I added an extra twist on 101 Ways to Ensure a Blank this week by guaranteeing a couple of friends a day they would never forget. And it could have been, too. The latest edition of Midland Angler carries a spectacular article, in which Gareth Purnell, the editor, catches more than 20 perch over 2lb in a couple of hours. He tipped me off about this special place, Toft Newton reservoir, near Market Rasen. It's actually designated for trout fishing, but somehow perch have sneaked in and grown fat.

Locals have caught some whoppers while fly fishing. Peter Cowan, who has fished there for 31 years, has managed one of 4lb 4oz, and lots of three-pounders. The Environment Agency, testing new kits that can identify specific species underwater, have spotted perch to 7lb. The British record is 5lb 9oz 8dr.

Toft's perch fishing is so good that the wildlife photographer Hugh Miles, working on a new series of A Passion for Angling, travelled there to film a perch sequence. So how could I (biggest perch: 1lb 14oz) fail to better my personal best dozens of times?

Only one teensy snag stopped this column being about How I Broke the Record. Gareth forgot to mention that he made his spectacular haul in October. At the time, the perch were carrying out hit-and-run raids on huge shoals of fry. Three months on, the fry have disappeared. No fry, no perch.

Well, we gave it a good crack. In other circumstances, it would have been a pretty fair day. The reservoir is a bird-watcher's paradise: over the past few months, species have included smew, goldeneye, little stint and red-necked phalarope. It's also close to RAF Scampton, where the Red Arrows are based. Most days, you'll enjoy a free air display.

The new owner, Neil Grantham, has stocked 6,500 trout, 300 of those 10lb or larger, since he took it over in September. The reservoir, opened in 1974, was once so popular that as many as 100 anglers a day crowded in, drawn by fine fishing and a quirky policy of stocking landlocked salmon to more than 20lb.

But over the past few years, it has lacked TLC. Grantham has vowed to return Toft Newton to its glory days. You can fish there all year, and at £16 for four fish (£20 for six), it's terrific value too. We caught trout to 3lb. But we had come for giant perch.

Bailiff Ian Robinson speculated that they were all lying in a 30ft gully below an underwater pipe that runs right across the reservoir. When it's cold, perch often head to the depths. But without diving gear, we weren't going to reach that gully. "Come back when the fry are around next autumn," he said. "You're bound to get some really big ones."

Maybe. But I'm leaving the camera behind.

To book a day's trout angling on Toft Newton (fly fishing only): 01673 878 453

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