In part two of the story of the Francis Francis punt fishing club, Bill Rushmer reveals more fascinating insights into this unique Thames club.
These days, the club has open membership with some current vacancies for membership .The club is only limited in size by the number of punts it can operate. The punt fishing technique is specialised so the club invites all prospective members to come out fishing before they formally apply to join.
The reason for this is simply that this type of fishing does not appeal to all anglers. The club believes it is prudent to allow anyone wanting to join to sample the fishing before applying. Club outings are held on Sunday mornings. Members and guests must arrive at least 30 minutes before departure, giving sufficient time to load gear into the punt they have drawn for the morning.
There are two types of member in the club, ordinary members and puntsmen. Ordinary members can fish at any time provided a puntsman takes them out. A puntsman is a member who has passed the punting test which may take up to a year to fully master. The reason for the punting test is for safety and in order to qualify you need to demonstrate the ability to safely handle one of the clubs punts. These punts are not small, being on average 24 feet long and 4 feet wide. They are heavy old beasts and it takes time to learn how to punt them and moor them up correctly using a ryepeck, which is a long mooring pole driven into the bed of the river. This snippet might come in handy if you ever find yourself on Call my Bluff one day.
Old club minutes reveal that the requirement for the punting test was originally put forward by the Port of London Authority as the large punts could be classed as commercial craft. To become a puntsman, you would need to apply for formal punt training. A senior puntsman would take you out on Sunday mornings for training. He taught you safety aspects, poling techniques and the art of mooring the punt with ryepecks.
When visitors or ordinary members first come they go into a draw to determine which punt they are allocated. Each punt will have its own puntsman in charge. Being an experienced punt angler, he will know the swims and will try to place you in a swim that he expects will produce fish.
Most fishing that takes place from a punt is trotting. Over the years, we have found that the centre pin is the best tool for this job. In the past, these reels were expensive, but recently cheaper and perfectly adequate models have appeared on the market. The club can provide you with advice and, given notice, most puntsmen have a spare pin for you to try out. Regarding rods, the river has become so much cleaner and the fish are seldom caught close in. These days, most members use rods of 12 or 13 feet in length and not the short rods of my youth.
There are times particularly on the lower river when feeder tactics reign supreme. This is particularly apparent when we can’t moor in the navigation channel and have to fish into it from closer to the bank. With this in mind, we suggest members bring both trotting and feeder fishing gear to cover both eventualities.
Bread is still the most popular bait and possibly the most productive too. No doubt in many of the areas where members regularly fish, the public are often feeding the ducks and at the same time doing some prebaiting for us. However at times worms, maggots and even pellets have worked.
When I take out a punt I moor across the stream using ryepecks. These are stuck hard into the river bed with chain loops attaching them to the punt, but leaving the punt to rise or fall with the tide whilst remaining in the same position relative to the bottom. My next job is to introduce my mashed bread ground bait into the swim. I mould this around a good sized stone and place it behind where I am going to trot so that it sinks directly in front of me, which is where I want it. Then I quickly set up my trotting gear which consists of a fairly powerful float rod, centre pin loaded with 0.20 mm main line with a heavy float which is often a crow quill avon. The bulk shot is normally a tungsten olivette set about 12 inches from the hook with two or three number six droppers used at times. The depth is plumbed and I start off trotting wet bread. This is bread crust that has been soaked and left overnight to partly dry off between two sheets newspaper with a weight on top. This gives a dense yet soft bread bait, which I have found to be deadly
In the past this technique has given bags of good roach (the club still operates an eight inch size limit on roach where fish must be over this size to weigh in). This year my friend and fellow puntsman Keith “Clackers” Clark used this method to catch well over 200 lbs fish made up of large bream with a few carp to over 20 lbs. The approach has certainly stood the test of time but on the following Sunday match, the same punt in the same swim only produced one bream, but that’s tidal Thames fishing for you.
We take the punts out of the water for repair during the close season. Generally this is just a clean-up, sand down and repaint job. Members are expected to turn up and help out, particularly when lifting the punts out of the water.
This last of the traditional punt fishing clubs has vacancies for members but is down now to only four big punts. For more details phone Keith “Clackers” Clark on 02089 416714.
The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.See more blogs from The fisheries & angling team