My top 10 coarse fish

Number 10 The Eel.

I've got to start somewhere, so the last spot in my top ten goes to the eel. Slithery and covered in slime; it invariably swallows the hook and that gives me the gyp.

The eel is also surrounded by folklore and I heard that if you caught an eel, the best way to keep it still is to dig out a small trench in the shape of a cross and lay the eel in the vertical part. Apparently, so the wisdom goes, it will never move again. Well, I tried it after catching a specimen of about 2lbs. I thought I'll take this beauty home for my dad's breakfast and so I dug out the trench in the shape of the cross and laid the eel in it, on its back as per instructions. I think rigor mortis must have set in straight away because it went as stiff as a blacksmith's hammer.

Pleased that I'd learnt something new I went back to enjoy the rest of my fishing session. Perhaps you can empathise with my disappointment when I tell you that about three minutes later, the eel slithered past me and jumped back into the pool with all the grace of a high-board diver. It did two and a half somersaults with a twisted back flip and it even paused to wink at me as it entered the water without a splash.

No, I'm not much for eels, they go into the same category as crayfish and bullyheads they're just not worth catching.

Number 9 The Pike.

Now some of you may be surprised by the fish that occupies my number nine spot; it's the pike. One of the good things I can say about this fish is that mother nature gave it some lovely markings. The pike is a beautiful fish, well at least from its gills to its tail. The bit at the front however, is down right gruesome and reminds me of my auntie Ethel chewing on a hob-nob. Here is a fish that promises so much; it looks ferocious and promises a good fight, but I'm afraid that even on light tackle it comes to the net like a damp sack.

Now, before I go any further, I'd like to say that my experience of pike comes from relatively small fish and like some teenagers they are apt to be a bit silly. I am sure large pike put up an impressive fight and provide many anglers with good sport. So if you are an avid piker, don't get upset by my comments, have a little compassion for my lack of proper piking experience. Perhaps one day one will bite me on the butt.

Beyond the lack of fight, the pike is often ranked as a stupid fish and I have to admit I've met at least one that would fit into that category without the need for Vaseline. In my book "Fishing: Learn from the Tips & Laugh at the Tales" I dedicate a whole chapter to the pike; here's a condensed version of one of the tales.

Many years ago I was spinning for pike and, during a moment of poor concentration, I cast my lure into the bottom branches of a tree that was hanging over the pool. As I stood there cursing my own stupidity, a pike jumped out of the water and hung itself on my spinner. I couldn't believe what I was seeing or believe how daft or hungry Percy the pike was. Anyway, Percy thrashed his tail in the water with such gusto that it managed to shake itself free. Meanwhile, I hurried around to the tree to retrieve my spinner before a duck or a moorhen should get caught on it. If I tell you that before I got to the spinner, Percy the Pike jumped out of the water and hung himself on it for a second time you will understand why I think some pike are a bit dim.

I'd love to have a go at catching a big pike, but alas my county seems to be devoid of the right waters. We have some great fisheries, but carp rule the roost in these parts.

Number 8 The Bream

The number eight spot is filled by the humble bream. This fish ought to be called old snotty because it doesn't half put some mucous on your line. It is hard to describe the bream's fighting capability because it has about as much fight as a frightened jelly. In fact, the bream has only one redeeming factor and if it wasn't for that it wouldn't appear in my top ten at all.

The reason the bream is in my top ten is because it is relatively easy to catch. They bite freely as long as you make sure your bait is nailed to the bottom. I know they can be caught in the upper layers of the water in certain conditions, but most often successful bream fishing is done on the bottom. Always plumb the depth, if the fish are in a feeding frenzy mopping up your ground bait and loose offerings, it won't do much good if your bait is just below the surface swinging about like a church bell.

There is one thing that I think is very important when fishing for bream, that is you need to make sure that you get rid of all the slime off your line after catching one. I know it's a bit mucky and it could turn your stomach if you are half-way through a bacon butty, but get rid of the slime, because you won't get another bite until you do. Fish might not be the most intelligent creatures on the planet but they do have instincts and if they see a long string of their mate's mucous strung between a bb shot and a lump of sweetcorn, they are apt to give it the cold shoulder.

Anyway, as long as you keep your line clean the bream comes to the net very easily and that is why it's one of my favourite fish. I have won many matches in my fishing career and the bream has played a major part in a lot of them. In fact, there is only one other fish that has consistently contributed to the number of competitions I've won and that fish comes in a lot higher in the rankings.

Number 7 The Tench

The Tench is the next fish in my top ten. Like the bream this fish also has a problem with slime, but not quite so bad. I have a soft spot for the tench because it's a good looking fish and, unlike the bream, it can put up a very good fight. On the downside, they definitely seem to like the early morning approach and are probably one of the first fish to decide that breakfast is over and they'll go and sleep for the rest of the day somewhere under a big patch of weeds. They don't bother with lunch and won't be seen again until they come out for a bit of light supper.

So that's why the tench only comes in at number seven. It is good for the pleasure angler and I've had some good tench sessions, but it's a fish that has never contributed to helping me win an angling competition. This is probably because most competitions start after the tench has had its fill and gone back to bed.

For the record, and perhaps it doesn't seem so good nowadays, but back in the early seventies I caught my best ever tench. It was a specimen of 5lb 4oz and was considered such a specimen at the time that it was reported in our local newspaper. I know a tench of that size wouldn't get a mention now but at that time any tench over 4lb was considered a very good fish. Anyway, I caught the fish at a venue called Copmere, which is just north of Stafford. At the time the fishing rights were with GEC angling club, but I think it is now in private hands.

It was at Copmere, that one of my regular fishing companions introduced me to the disgusting world of blanched maggots. It was also the last time I used blanched maggots and hope I never come within sniffing distance of one again. You can find out more about the story of blanched maggots in my book, "Learn from the Tips and Laugh at the Tales".

Number 6 The Perch

Old stripey, otherwise known as the perch, has a lot going for it. Firstly, when a perch bites, it bites. It doesn't fuss about with your maggot like an old lady, the perch puts it straight in its mouth. This probably accounts for why the perch was the first fish most anglers ever caught, and the one that set them onto a lifetime of pleasure.

The second great attribute of the perch, is that pound for pound, it can put up a decent fight, especially when compared with cissies like bream. Perch have also been responsible for many of my match wins especially on the canal because they often turn up as a bonus fish. Most anglers could have caught a couple of pounds of gudgeon, but the one with the bonus perch was the jammy bugger who went home with a pocket full of pools money.

However, having sung its praises, the perch does have a couple of weak points, and that's why it only occupies the number six spot. Firstly, it is so voracious and has such a big mouth that it often swallows the hook. Now I'm a gentle soul and hate to think I was causing fish any pain, (If I did I'd give up fishing) so a fish that swallows the hook is not a good thing for me. Thankfully, I'm so damned good with the disgorger (perhaps I should've been a brain surgeon) I can usually remove the hook without the perch even twitching a fin.

Secondly, they are a bit spiky. The first thing you learn when you catch your first perch is to make sure you fold down its dorsal fin as you grab a hold of it. However, the perch has more than one spike that it uses to inflict pain on the ususpecting angler. Just behind the gills it has another couple of spikes that have managed to get me on several occasions. I know they are there, waiting with a pain worse than the dentist needle, but I've been done by the spikes on a perch's gills several times. If you've suffered the same fate, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Number 5 The Barbel

The barbel is ranked so high because of it's fighting qualities. I know many of you have encountered barbel in still waters, but it's in rivers that barbel will give you the fight of your life. They are designed to cope with fast flowing water and they know how to use the current to best effect as soon as they are hooked. The river Severn is well stocked with barbel and it was on this river at Coalport in Shropshire that I had my first encounter with this fish. It was in the early seventies; I'd purchased my first car (a MK1 Cortina 1500 Super) and I thought a fishing trip to the Severn would give it a nice run out.

Anyway, I told my father what I'd read in the angling press about this fish called a barbel, and he agreed to accompany me on my trip from Stafford. He thought I'd gone mad when I showed him the two tins of luncheon meat I intended to use for bait. I did offer him some, but he gave a hearty laugh and said, he'd stick with his worms.

I won't bore you with the details, but I remember casting out my ledger and a cube of luncheon meat and setting the rod up at 45 degrees to the river. By doing this I expected I'd see a bit of a tremble on the end if I managed to get a bite. Well I needn't have worried about missing a bite because when my first barbel took the luncheon meat I thought my line must've been snagged by a passing boat. I was using 5lb breaking strain line and it took me about ten minutes to get the fish under control. My dad stood by and watched the fight and agreed that the bend in my rod would indicate that I'd hooked a fish of record breaking proportions.

I guess you can imagine the look of bewilderment on our faces when the fish broke the surface and we realised it wouldn't weigh much more than a pound. It wasn't a record breaker, but it had been exciting and I went on to catch a lot more of the same. And my dad, well after I'd caught the first five, he couldn't stand it any longer. He chucked his worms in a bush and begged me for a bit of meat.

I haven't been down the Severn for a long while because I don't think it is as good as it was in the seventies, but I'm still catching a few barbel in still waters like Baden Hall, near Stafford. They don't fight as well as those on the severn, but they are as welcome as any other fish and more so than most.

Number 4 The Roach

The roach, even though it isn't a big fish, manages to take the number 4 spot in my top ten fish. A roach weighing a couple of pounds can be considered a specimen and, although I've come very close, I never quite managed to crack the 2lb barrier.

So, what is it that makes the roach so appealing? Well, to start off with, it looks like a proper fish. It's the right shape and colour; it isn't slimy like a bream or tench and doesn't have spikes or teeth.

The fact that the roach is so widespread, also helps it in the popularity stakes. It is caught all over the country and is equally at home, in canals, still waters or rivers. There are few other fish that are truly happy in such a variety of waters.

When it comes to bait, the roach comes up trumps again. It will take almost every bait that the angler can throw at it and even some baits that aren't used for other fish. Here I'm thinking of tares, I've never used this bait for any species other than the roach.

The roach, will also happily feed in the winter, when most other fish are tucked up in the nearest weed bed. And is there another fish that will feed so obligingly at any depth? Tench and bream for example, like their food nailed to the bottom, whereas a rudd likes it higher in the water. Roach don't care, they'll feed at any depth as long as it's wet. So there we have it. The roach is a good looking fish, that will take any bait, in any water, at any depth and that is why it comes in a number 4.

Number 3 The Carp

I guess a lot of anglers would put the carp in the number one spot because it's a great fish, but I've placed it in bronze position. Most anglers love the carp because it provides excellent sport, even the little crucian carp can put up a good scrap on light tackle.

In common with other anglers, the biggest fish I've ever caught was a carp, so why doesn't it doesn't rank higher with me? Well, it's probably because the carp is a relatively new fish. It may surprise some younger anglers to know that before the advent of commercial fisheries, the carp was almost a rarity in England, well it was where I grew up. It wasn't until the late seventies that I caught my first carp. Perhaps if I'd grown up with this fish it would be in my number one spot but that glory goes to another.

My favourite carp is the crucian; mirrors, commons and leathers may grow much bigger, but they lack the charm of their smaller cousin. I fished a lot of matches when I was younger but I also liked pleasure fishing and crucian carp were often the main quarry. Many a summer's morning was spent fishing a pool that was surrounded by mature oaks. My pals and I would be the only ones fishing in that rural splendor and we would enjoy some great banter whilst catching a succession of crucians. Punched bread, light tackle and crucian carp; oh how I cherish those memories.

Number 2 The Chub

I guess a lot of people will be surprised to find that 2nd place is taken by the chub because it isn't the best fighting fish in the world. That's true, but the chub is a good looking fish and it feels solid in the hand. The chub is also the right shape and isn't covered in horrible slime like some species. The fact that it isn't edible doesn't come into the equation because only desperately hungry folk and barbarians eat coarse fish.

Having said all that, the real reason I like the chub is because it was the first decent sized fish I ever caught. When I got my first set of wheels in the early seventies, it meant that I could fish further afield. Up until that time my fishing had been mainly confined to farmer Brown's pit, in the village of Seighford, nr Stafford.

Anyway, one day I was driving along the Eccleshall Road towards Great Bridgeford, when I looked across the field and saw a chap fishing the little river sow (pronounced like a female pig). Now, I kid you not, but the traffic was not so heavy in those days, so I parked up at the side of the road and went to see how he was doing. Those who know the Eccleshall Road between Stafford and Great Bridgeford will not believe it was possible to park along that road without being flattened by a truck, but at that time it wasn't a problem.

So, having parked up, I walked across the field and approached the angler with some caution. As I got close he motioned for me to stay low and to proceed quietly to his downstream side. I did this and crouched down low beside him. My father had always taught me the need to be quiet when fishing and this angler confirmed what he'd said. If you are going to catch big chub in a small river you've got to use some river craft because if you spook the chub you will be fishless all day.

Anyway, this old fellow, who spoke in whispers, showed me how he went about catching big chub on a small river and I was very impressed. Whilst I sat at his side he caught 3 chub all going close to the 4lb mark and my relationship with the chub and my love affair with the craft of angling was born. And that my friends is why it takes the silver medal.

Number 1 The Gudgeon

It might surprise most of you to know that the humble gudgeon is my all time favourite fish. I've fought some great fights with river severn barble and I've subdued many a fercious pike. I've caught big tench that made my line whistle in the wind and some even bigger carp that have made my clutch sing. However, these fine fishing moments are nothing when compared with a match winning catch of gudgeon.

My proudest moments in fishing have come from winning a lot of matches and seeing the admiring glances that came from other anglers as I regulary filled a spot in the frame. For two years in succession I won my local championship that was fished over a number of matches on our local canal. Each of several matches were fished on a different stretch to even out the luck of the draw, so consistency was the name of the game. I had a plan and a style that worked but the gudgeon was the fish that allowed it all to happen.

I won't go into details here, but my plan was always to go for gudgeon from the moment the whistle blew. I'd go straight in with a small whip, just over the near shelf, with a rig that would get my bait down quickly. Other anglers couldn't wait to have a crack at the roach that might be living on the opposite side, so they went straight over hoping to take a few before the boats became a problem.

While they were splashing about on the far side, I'd be putting a steady stream of obliging gudgeon into the net. Ninety fish in the first hour and another sixty in the second was my target and if I achieved that I knew that I'd have a good base weight. For the last three hours of the match I would alternate between the far bank, the centre channel and my near side swim. The latter would very often rejuvinate after a short rest. I would also change my rig so that the bait decended more slowly and this often brought me a few small bonus roach and perch.

The gudgeon is a most obliging fish. It has a fantastic appetite and will take a range of baits. It might not weigh much, but it has a big rubbery mouth and is always easy to unhook. It won me a lot of trophies and a nice amount of pools money, so that's why it will always be my favourite fish.

Here's one last thing about the gudgeon. I looked up the fish in my dictionary and the entry says it is a small fish and often used as bait. Well I'd never dream of doing such a vile thing to such a magnificent fish. How about other anglers, have you, or do you know anybody who uses gudgeon for bait?