Colin Mitchell, our popular weekly general coarse angling blogger, is back. Here he recounts his first ever trip to the bank and asks.... could this be the end of the gudgeon?
ASK most people what was the first fish they caught and it’s a pretty safe bet they will reply ‘perch’.
You won’t get that answer from me though because my debut species was a fish that I’ve loved for the rest of my angling career. It wasn’t big and it might not even be regarded as the prettiest but to me it was a superb fish, a great species and one I still love catching.
Hats raised please for the humble gudgeon! AKA gonks, gobios, pongos… just like Angler’s Mail magazine columnist Steve Collett (pictured above), I am a fan.
Over-gunned… or what?!
I still remember what I caught that first fish on: my old home-made rod, created by my Dad from a garden cane, teamed with a tiny centre-pin which, like the rings, was stuck to the ‘rod’ with black electrician’s tape.
On the end of my 4 lb Bayer Perlon line – you needed at least that breaking strain just in case you hooked a fish over 4 lb, you know! – was a size 14 barbed Mustad hook. Talk about being over-gunned! That little lot would have ripped the eyes off the rod if I’d hooked anything of a decent size.
There were two white maggots impaled on that hook and the rig was completed by a good old coffin-shaped leger free running on the line, stopped by a split shot, most likely a BB as we rarely had any other size!
Line was stripped from the reel, coiled on the bank and then the business end heaved into the River Tees, then still tidal at Yarm. Then the ‘rod’ was kept out of the boot-clenching oozing mud by the good old fashioned v-shaped rod rest.
The bite was more like a tremble on the cane – you could see the line jerking first – and banked after what seemed an age of reeling in was a giant gudgeon. It really was a giant too as the Tees those days held gudgeon of near-record breaking proportions.
Where are gudgeon now?
I’d one match where 10lb of them was taken on a straight lead. But where are they now? Where are all the big gudgeon? Or more to the point, where are the gudgeon?
It was fascinating to read the informed thoughts of Dr Ian Welch on this topic in Angler’s Mail magazine (above). It was a delight to see a gudgeon on the front cover.
I used to catch loads of them from the Trent before all of that river’s small fish disappeared a couple of decades ago. In fact I think you could catch 5 lb of gonks off nearly every peg.
Then I used to love matches on the Oxford Canal where the gudgeon created a virtual carpet and you could catch them on the shallow nearside ledge using just a top section of a whip!
In winter they shoaled up tight and if you got among the big gobbies you could win a match with them easily – something I saw current England boss Mark Downes do a number of years ago.
The Thames and Wey used to hold plenty of gudgeon and in harsh weather a trip to the Wey Nav was my way of guaranteeing sport no matter what the conditions.
Now there are very few gudgeon in any of those venues.
Cyclical trend – or pushed out by carp?
Fish species can arrive and disappear in cycles. Like perch at the moment – you get boom times. I used to believe it was three years between one species disappearing and then arriving again. But the gudgeon went and we are still waiting!
I can’t believe they all died off – they didn’t as some are still about – or that they are becoming extinct.
A theory on the Oxford Canal was that the arrival of carp saw the gudgeon get eaten…yes they would eat the gudgeon; I have seen carp take deadbaits!
We have also had an explosion of many big fish – which also makes you wonder if the poor old gudgeon became another predator food.
I don’t profess to know the answer and we would love to hear your views… and if you happen to know where a number of gudgeon could be hiding out!