Angling Essays – Graham Marsden

Graham Marsden is one of angling’s gentlemen. He’s also a bloody good angler and great company. Can’t say I understand his love of both Stoke City AND Manchester United but I guess it takes all sorts. There are those who swing both ways in this life and we must be thankful for diversity, but even so, that’s pushing it a bit!

Many will agree when I say that Fishing Magic isn’t quite the same without him since he gave up the editorship but he’s not exactly been letting the grass grow beneath his feet. He’s launched his own web site, recently joined Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and just to cap it all he has a new book coming out called Angling Essays which, in his own words,’ is a collection of articles, some previously published and rewritten, added to, and brought up to date except where it wasn’t necessary’.

The leather bound copies have all gone to pre-orders, I’m afraid, but you can still obtain a hardback copy from Calm Productions for £25 plus P&P.

At 400 pages it is certainly bigger than most fishing books. Produced on a very classy cream paper and brown ink, most of the photographs will be sepia toned although there will be a 32 page colour plate section.

Expected publication date: Early July, 2011.

Graham has kindly offered an extract from the books pages. It’s from the bream chapter, chosen by him because, ‘I suppose they’re the species I’m most known for, in the early days at least, and it covers the approach I used to catch bream in those early days.’

Here are the dust jacket notes:

Inside Cover Book Info

Graham Marsden takes angling by the scruff of the neck, gives it a good shake, and picks the bones out of it in his own in-depth, diagnostic way much loved by the thinking angler.

Angling Essays is an interesting and entertaining read about how the author tackled different problems with different species, his approach to fishing, the successes, the failures, and not forgetting the fun and the humour he found along the way. He is assisted with chapters on big roach and big perch by Mark Wintle and Gary Knowles respectively.

With the same wit and wisdom he penned in his popular magazine and newspaper articles, Angling Essays is thought-provoking, sometimes controversial, frequently educational, often funny and undoubtedly entertaining.

The book is a collection of in-depth essays, rather than a step-by-step guide to catching fish. Although not an autobiography, the book reflects the writing life of a successful all-round coarse angler.

Even the most experienced angler cannot fail to learn and be entertained by this long awaited sequel to Graham’s original ‘Advanced Coarse Fishing’ (A & C Black) which was published in 1980.

And here’s the extract that Graham has kindly provided:


I have never been hesitant to assert that big bream – those weighing over 10lbs – are the most difficult of all coarse species to catch. I have said as much for many years and in that time have never had cause to change my mind. I’ve known, however, that there will be many anglers (notably those who have never fished for big bream!) who will scoff at the claim and put it down to the self-deceptive ramblings of a long-time bream fanatic. And who can blame them? We all think our favourite species are the hardest to catch. Yet I may differ from many who make the claim for the simple reason that I am not a single-species man, but an angler who will fish for anything that swims and, indeed, have done just that where most coarse species are concerned.

Today there are two approaches to catching big bream, the traditional way, using lighter specialist tackle, and baits such as maggot, caster, bread, worm, etc, or the ‘new’ way, comprising the now standard hair rig/bolt rig tackle, along with boilies and pellets. This is the traditional way.

Techniques and Tackle

Specimen Fishing for big bream has an atmosphere like no other; it has a special, unique feeling to it, that defies logical description, but culminates into a deep sense of satisfaction when that pot of gold slides over the rim of the net. Perhaps it is the stark contrast between smaller bream and really big bream that provides the answer, for on the one hand we have large shoals of relatively big fish, which are easy enough to catch in decent numbers, and on the other hand we have the bronze giants, usually in small shoals, that can be extremely difficult to catch, and present the ultimate challenge. Many years ago I considered a bream to be a specimen when it reached 8lbs, but today, with the ultimate growth of most species increasing, that figure has to be 10lbs, a ‘double’. But this of course, has to be tempered with where you are fishing, for there are certain areas of the country where a 10lb bream is nothing particularly special.

Choosing a Water

Although there are one or two rivers that hold big bream, it is stillwaters – large lakes, meres, reservoirs and gravel pits – that are the typical venues for this fish. You can make it a rule of thumb that any water that has a reputation for producing big nets of bream, made up of individual fish weighing less than 6lb, is very unlikely to hold bream of more than 8lb. It is essential then, that you look for a water where it is said that bream of 8lb plus have been caught. Don’t be put off if only an odd one of this weight has been taken, for big bream are rarely caught by accident, and just such a water may be waiting for someone like you to come along and set their stall for these big fish.

Choosing a Swim

Once you have found a water that holds big bream, the best way of selecting a swim is to visit the water at first light and watch for the bream performing their well known habit of rolling at the surface. Take particular note of each spot the bream are seen and you will soon realise that a pattern is forming; that the surface is being broken along a certain line, or arc, along the surface. This route along the surface is a reflection of the route the bream are taking along the bottom, and anywhere along the route is the swim to fish. There are some waters where the bream are hardly ever seen, where they appear to have forsaken the rolling habit. In such an instance another method of selecting a swim is to plumb the depths, from a boat preferably, or as best you can from the bank, and find where the ledges, bars and basins are. These features are usually very attractive to bream and are the best places to begin fishing. If there is one, choose a feature that lies off the south east bank, so that any north westerly wind will be blowing directly at you. And bear this very much in mind: the vast majority of big bream are caught at least 25yds from the margins.

When to Fish

Through summer and early autumn big bream tend to be nocturnal in nature and feed sometime between dusk and dawn. So night fishing is important, if not essential, to get the best of them. From late autumn onwards, they begin to feed more during the daylight hours, and the early morning to lunchtime period is usually the most productive.

Weather Conditions

The best conditions you can wish for are a warm north westerly wind which has been blowing for at least several hours. Then, if you want icing on the cake, hope that this wind will continue to blow through the night, and that it will be a moonless, muggy night, with maybe a hint of rain.

Baits and Prebaiting

The most successful baits for big bream are maggots, casters, lobworms, redworms, bread and sweetcorn. Not necessarily in that order, for bream in different waters have different preferences. Before you wet a line bait the swim for at least several days with hookbait samples. This is usually done with two baits, a holding bait and the main hookbait. This can be a bed of casters as the holding bait, and a handful or two of maggots as the hookbait. Other combinations are, with the holding bait given first:



Squatts/maggot (or caster)


There are several permutations of these baits, all of which are worth a try. Many anglers will add another holding bait, as well as the main one. Hempseed, rice and stewed wheat are popular. The most difficult thing to recommend is the amount of bait to use when prebaiting, for this will vary from one water to another. A pint of maggots, two tins of corn, 3lb to 4lb of dry weight groundbait, and similar amounts with other baits, should be regarded as about the minimum, with twice as much as the maximum, until you know, from experience, what is the right amount for your water. Try to prebait at the same time each day, preferably at the time you will be introducing bait on the night you intend to fish. And always place it in exactly the same spot each time.

Tackle and Technique

Rods are always a very personal item, with one man’s meat being another man’s

poison. My own preference is for a rod 12ft long, with a 1.5lb to 1.75lb test curve. The action is quite supple for a third of the way from the tip, and the rest fairly stiff. The stiffness gives me the means of casting long and accurately, and the power to pick up a long line on the strike, and the suppleness in the tip is the shock absorber I need to play big fish on light line and to give me a safety margin when striking. I fill the spool of my fixed spool reel with 5lb line and use hooklengths of 4lb when fishing open water, which is almost always the case when fishing for bream. I use spade-end hooks up to size 12, then eyed hooks in the bigger sizes. A 14’s is my favourite size, when using maggot, caster and redworm, but I’m always prepared to go smaller when the bream are being fussy. A size 12 upwards is better for bread. sweetcorn and lobworm. My favourite rig is the fixed paternoster with a long hooklength, which allows a slow-sinking bait for when the bream are taking ‘on the drop’. A swimfeeder or a bomb can be used on the short link. I always use two rods and place these on a rod-pod, with bite alarms at the front. A hanger or swinger butt indicator with built-in betalights for visual indication, can be used. Always have the landing net, baits and torch within easy reach. Arrive at the water at least an hour before darkness so that you will have plenty of time to bait up, tackle up, and settle in. Note any tall tree, telegraph pole, or similar on the far bank whose silhouette will be a good guide for accurate casting through the night. Make sure you cast to the swim several times before darkness to give you a feel for the cast. Big bream have a habit of feeding at approximately the same time each night (on the nights they feed at all) so always make a note of the time when you catch one. Eventually you will learn their feeding times and know when to be especially alert. When you catch a bream, get a bait back into the swim as quickly as possible, for bream can enter a swim, feed for a short spell, and move out pretty fast.

Deliberately setting out to catch specimen bream began in the 1960’s on the Cheshire and Shropshire meres. The target weight then was 8lb, with a double figure fish the ultimate goal. This remained so for many years, until the T.C. Pit in Oxfordshire came along and produced a glut of giant bream to over 14lb, and broke the record at the time. The bream record was then broken with a 16lb 6oz fish at Copmere, a private mere in Staffordshire. Then another gravel pit known as Queenford Lagoon came to prominence and also came very close to breaking the record, producing a number of giant bream to over 16lb. Today bream are topping 20lb. It is only in fairly recent years that bream have grown to such phenomenal proportions (not because anglers and their equipment are getting better) as has happened with tench too. The main cause of this change is the mild winters we’ve been having; the so-called greenhouse effect, that has provided fish with the right conditions to feed for many more months of the year and, of course, the right conditions for the food on which bream and tench feed, to multiply more often. Now we seem to be back in an era of icy winters it will be interesting to see what happens with average fish growth rates. Will they reduce, or can they be maintained?

Today, and for the past 20 years or so, as the popularity of carp fishing increased to a point nobody expected, and an increasing number of waters stocked with the species, many waters are being well fed with highly nutritious baits in the shape of boilies and pellets. On some waters this is affecting the growth rates and ultimate weights of all the species in that water that take advantage of these rich foods. Consequently the bream record could have reached an almost unbelievable 22lb 9oz, but it was never claimed.

5 thoughts on “Angling Essays – Graham Marsden

  1. Of course, in this day of carp having been stocked, both legally and illegally, in every water, the approach I’ve outlined in the extract is rarely used. You need to fish heavier to be able to land the ‘nuisance’ carp you hook and you need to fish the now standard bolt-rig and hair-rig method, with boilies and pellets. Why? Because the bream have become just as fond of such highly nutritious baits as have the carp, and the bolt-rig and hair-rig are equally as efficient for bream as they are for carp.

    I cover fishing for big bream with this modern approach in more detail in the book, as well as regretting the fact that carp, hair-rigs, bolt-rigs and boilies have robbed us of much of the diversity in methods and baits we used to have at our disposal. Of course, we still have that diversity. But how many choose to use anything other than the standard bolt-rig/hair-rig/boilie to catch big fish?

  2. what can i say what a hero of mine the great graham marsden the book looks great saving up to buy a copy,i wonder if graham would sign a copy for me all the best dream bream chris hancox

    • That’s good old Graham Marsden fishing for bream on Daventry Reservoir nearly 30 years ago. Unfortunately the fishing at Daventry has changed beyond all recognition since then and the venue is stuffed to the gills with carp, carp and even more carp. Day tickets are available on the bank at around £8 I believe.

  3. Pingback: Casting Bait with Graham Marsden

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