I've known Allan Stone for many years and a couple of weeks ago I finally got myself along to one of his regular charity fish-ins.
Allan, for those of you that don't know, is the driving force behind Stoney & Friends, a charity that raises thousands of pounds for Macmillan Cancer Support, with the money being raised by sponsorship from anglers and entrance fees to competitions and fish-ins such as this one.
The venue on this occasion was at a picturesque lake in the wilds of Essex, and was to be a Friday to Sunday session. I turned up just gone midday only to find many of the lads already bivvied up and starting to fish... suppose I should have believed co-owner and good mate Gary Sparks when he'd said it was a 5.30am start to grab your swim!
Once parked up I made my way over to Allan, Gary, and Andy, the other co-owner who had very kindly allowed us onto their private syndicate water for this event. A quick catch up on how things were going and then Andy obliged by walking me round the lake to talk me through the vacant swims, and what they might offer in the way of features, plus it was a chance to say hello to some of the other lads as we passed.
As it happens we had almost completed the circuit round the lake when I noticed a swim tucked away behind some bushes, and Andy explained that it was not often fished as anglers tended to cast across to the reed lined area in front of it as opposed to sitting right on top of it.
But me being me, thought it looked like it was perhaps a quieter looking spot, as most of the other guys were next to one another in each consecutive swim, and I'm not one for big chucks across the water, so I was going to side cast a bait along the margin in front of the reeds and see what happened.
It was only as we walked away that Andy remarked that this was where the members usually park their cars and that a lot of their unused bait got thrown in here before they left… sounded like this could be an interesting spot then?
It was then time to unload the car and set up the rods, at what would be my home, for the next few days. I also opened up a gap in the reeds a bit further along the bank which allowed me to throw out plenty of hemp and maize that I would fish over later on.
With everything sorted I wandered back to Gary, Allan and Andy to grab a cuppa, and also watch them assemble the BBQ ready for tomorrow, now how does the saying go 'how many men does it take to put up a BBQ…?' Well they did it in the end, along with a serious amount of mickey taking from each other!
Next on their agenda was to deliver a 'goody' bag to each angler from event sponsors Gardner Tackle, and some nice handy bits of end tackle there was too.
As Gary and Andy live locally they finished up then left us to it, and I ended up going round to see another good mate Mike Lyddon.
Mike was here as representative for Gardner Tackle, who have been long time supporters of Stoney and Friends... and he was also here to fish. So we chatted about how he was setting up for this lake and then on to more general gossip.
It wasn't long before Allan joined us, and we were soon putting the world to rights. The sound of the lads talking, laughing, and cracking open a beer or two, drifted across the water as the social side of these events, for which they're known, became more apparent.
Before dusk starts to fall I decide it's time I was fishing and make my way back to my swim. I'd already made up my mind to use marine halibut pellets as bait, I just thought it would interesting to try something different from boilies, which from what I'd seen and heard, were being used by most of the lads.
With a slight flick out to my right the bait is cast alongside the tall reed stems, hopefully sitting nicely on top of the hemp and maize bed I'd put out earlier. The other bait I put straight out in front, I'd searched around with a lead earlier but there were no obvious features, but I had noticed patches of bubbles coming up quite frequently so that's where it was going.
As darkness approached a distinct hush fell over the water, perhaps the lads had finally got their fishing heads on, or then again, perhaps a few to many beers now needed to be slept off! I too hit the sack hoping to be awoken later in the dark?
It seems I got my wish, as around 2am one of my alarms was beeping away like mad.
Grab the headtorch, out of the brolly and down to the rods... but then it all went quiet. My indicator dropped back and everything was still again. Damn, it seemed like a proper take and not a liner, but the fish had dropped the bait somehow. Not wanting to recast in the dark as the bait was obviously on the right spot, I checked the line and reset the bobbin.
I'd not heard any other alarms up to that point, was I going to have the only bite that night, then lose it? By the morning this seemed like the case.
Gary's head popped round the side of the brolly at first light, and he asked if I'd had any, to which I grimace and said 'No'. He tells me the kettle will be on in a few minutes and to come and join him for a brew.
Once I'm up I pull in my baits, only to find the rod I'd had the run on has no bait left on the hair!
The pre-drilled pellets I'm using are great attractors but they can break up quite quickly so I always wrap them in Arma Mesh, which can then make them tricky to keep on the hair and now I'm realising just how, as something had managed to suck down the pellet and not my hook!
I join Gary and Andy for a cuppa and tell of my woes, and find out that nobody else has caught. Looks like I was the only person to make contact last night.
The morning disappears quickly as I help Allan, Gary and Andy get everything ready for the BBQ and around midday the coals are lit. Within a couple of hours the first burger is cooked, and then eaten, as Gary tests his cooking prowess followed quickly by his ability to swallow the burger in about three mouthfuls!
Word goes out that the BBQ has started and soon the lads are homing in on the smell of burgers and sausages being slowly turned into blackened charcoal, but that doesn't stop them being eaten by the hungry gathering. With a few beers, and the odd glass of wine being enjoyed the atmosphere is very relaxed and the fishing stories, and general banter is in full flow as the guys chomp their way through loads of hotdogs and burgers.
Once our bellies are full a few of the lads come round to sell us raffle tickets, and soon there are tenners and twenties coming out of pockets and being handed over, as this is the real reason we are here to show support for Stoney & Friends and the MacMillan Cancer charity.
When we've all bought some tickets Allan starts the raffle, and it's a simple set up with the winning ticket holder picking what he likes from the many prizes that Allan has brought along. With fishing books, bags of bait, packets of terminal tackle, all of which is kindly donated by the top tackle companies, it was all good stuff and everyone got a prize.
And while we checked out our winnings Allan did a quick bit of adding up and happily announced that we'd raised over £1200 for MacMillan which brought a hearty round of applause from the lads.
The guys slowly return to their swims and I help Gary, Andy and Allan pack away all the food and BBQ gear before we take down the gazebo. Gary heads off home and that's my queue to return to my rods and get them set up for the night.
We'd been lucky with the weather as the forecast had said rain for the afternoon, but we were going to pay for the glorious sunshine we'd had as slowly the skies darkened and thunder began to rumble away in the distance as it worked its way toward us.
So the night began with a massive storm and continued with bouts of torrential rain through till early morning. And besides the thunder nothing disturbed my night's sleep.
Gary and Andy popped over in the morning to see if I'd caught anything, but I told them it was going to be a blank weekend for me, and I asked if they'd heard of anyone else catching? They hadn't but were going to do a lap of the lake to see how the others had got on.
An hour or so later and I joined them again to find out that one of the lads had actually caught one. It wasn't huge, but a pretty little stockie had been landed, and as we stood there chatting txt's came throught to say he'd had another, so finally the fish were showing.
All of which didn't help me as I was starting to pack up now as I needed to be away by mid morning, and I wasn't the only one as barrow's were now being loaded and wheeled back to the cars and vans.
It had been a cracking weekend, great company, a good laugh, and the knowledge that we'd done our little bit for this deserving charity... I'll certainly be back for another!
If you'd like more information on Stoney & Friends have a look at their site here www.stoneyandfriends.co.uk
Or if you want to keep up with Stoney & Friends events and have a chat too, why not sign up on their forum www.stoneyandfriends.forumfree.co.uk