By reading this review, chances are you’re already familiar in some way with the Caught In The Act project, you’ve either watched parts 1 & 2 or read my previous review. I think it was clear that I really enjoyed the first two films and I must say that the Autumn & Winter instalments in parts 3 & 4 do not disappoint.
Just in case you’re not familiar with the format, each of the two DVDs is split into five ‘acts’ of around 15 minutes each. Stu Walker and Bob Roberts film all of the footage themselves besides presenting the films, taking turns to be behind the camera or behind the rods. They are also joined in a couple of the Autumn & Winter acts by friend James Gould, who manages to more-than-justify his appearance with the capture of some fine specimens for the cameras. There’s also a short sketch of what I believe is the first fully animated version of the “Jack’s Pike” cartoon strip by Brian Roberts, which Bob regularly features in his blog.
The fishing in CITA is never complicated, just simple rigs and techniques done extremely well. No angler should feel out of their depth when watching, rather be encouraged by how successful such an approach can be. Whenever any aspect about the fishing isn’t immediately apparent, Stu and Bob provide a rig breakdown or talk through their tactics in a clear and authoritative manner.
The all-important atmosphere and intimacy of the first two films is thankfully retained, as is the engaging narration, the soaring music and inspiring landscape shots, which if anything are even more striking and dramatic thanks to the soft winter light and blankets of frost. The underwater sequences are shorter and less frequent than in parts 1 & ,2, but this is for good reason. The water conditions facing a river angler over the winter months tend to be either bank-bursting murky brown or low and gin clear. Both difficult enough to contend with when all one has to do is catch a fish, but Stu and Bob have to film the occasion too. Murky water doesn’t lend itself to quality underwater footage and on the days when the water is crystal clear, fish can spook even from crude tackle, so what angler in their right mind would want to risk wading into a swim to place a camera in such conditions, before starting to fish? Especially when the films depend on a few fish being caught for the camera. However, the underwater footage which is used in parts 3 and 4 is fantastic. Some of the perch footage really raises the neck hairs and I found the shots of grayling particularly intriguing because they’re a rarely filmed fish.
So, onto the acts themselves. I’ll try to explain the general contents of each act without giving away too many surprises…
In the first act, “Earning Your Stripes”, Stu is joined by James Gould targeting river perch in the Autumn. They don’t simply go and set their stall out for stripeys, instead they make use of the clear water by stalking fish! This is a rarely used (or at least rarely publicised) tactic for catching big perch, but after watching this act I assure you that you’ll want to give it a go yourself.
Firstly Stu explains how he draws fish into the near margin swim by loose feeding and watching for movement. When he‘s happy that fish are feeding confidently below, he then uses a simple loafer float setup to present a lobworm to the showing fish. He duly hooks an extremely hard-fighting 3lb 8oz specimen at close quarters under a tree, which he’s justifiably over-the-moon with when it finally slides over his net.
Next day James Gould has more success at the same venue as he manages to get a perch feeding so confidently that it takes a worm within seconds of dropping in. This fish is something very special indeed and manages to eclipse Stu’s fish from the previous day.
The underwater footage in this act is nothing short of inspirational. Witnessing a perch suck in a worm-baited hook, only to spit it back out again, will have you ‘air-striking’ along. I challenge you not to be reaching for a rod on your sofa when you watch this!
“Esox Equinox” sees Stu roving for pike on a peat-stained river Swale, exploring a number of swims with simple float tackle. Again there is some fantastic underwater footage, including a great head-on shot of a double-figure pike. Stu has an action-packed day with a great number of fish caught and a few doubles thrown in too.
In Bob Roberts’ first act of part 3, “Creatures Of The Night”, we join him zander fishing on the tidal Trent. Using deadbaits on basic low-resistance rigs, mainly around trees in the near margin, we see him lose a good zander during daylight before he makes amends by landing a quality fish after dark. Bob states that the Trent could soon become the best zander river in the country, which is a view I’ve shared for a little while.
To end the act Bob does a bit of after-dark lure fishing and lands a superb fish to show the viability of this technique.
Stu returns to a very low, clear and frosty River Swale for “Sticking With Chub”. I’ll leave you to guess the method and target species! Stu finds himself in a swim featuring far-bank overhanging trees and he steadily baits up with maggots for half an hour or so before casting. He shares a useful little tip whilst describing his incredibly simple stick float rig which is used to trot double red maggots past the low branches. Despite the air temperature being -5 degrees (yes, that‘s a minus sign before the 5!), Stu starts off well with a fish first cast. This is a sign of things to come and he starts putting together an impressive bag of chub, but as the session progresses the snow begins to fall. However, Stu does as the title suggests and sticks with it to amass a quite remarkable bag of specimen chub, which must be one of the all-time greatest chub hauls ever caught on video. To say he empties the swim is a massive understatement; he empties the river!
A surprising omission from this act is a clip that was used in the early trailers for parts 3 & 4, which shows Stu defrosting his rod rings with his mouth, in the freezing conditions, so that he can continue to trot effectively. I was waiting for it to appear in this act, to put into context just how hard it was to amass such a catch in these conditions and show how much will to carry on Stu had, to earn this real red letter day. I’m not sure why it was left out because I think it would speak to any angler who’s ever stuck it out in wintry weather to catch fish and certainly deserved inclusion.
“Use Your Loaf” sees us chub fishing on the Swale again, this time with Bob who uses bread in conjunction with a cage feeder. He goes through his tackle, bait preparation and tactics in detail. There’s a good covering of snow on the ground and bright sunshine, so the conditions are extremely challenging. Regardless, the tactics work and by travelling light and roving between swims Bob lands a string of fine fish from a variety of swims, helped by Bob expertly refraining from striking at ‘tip tremors, instead waiting for the full wraparound that indicates a confident take.
In the first act of DVD 4, “Finding The Lady”, Bob goes Grayling fishing on Cumbria’s beautiful River Eden as a guest of Chris Bowman. Trotting maggots, Bob lands several grayling from a couple of reaches. First he gets his eye in with numerous smaller samples before moving to a more difficult stretch where the chance of a specimen is greater.
Here the scenery is nothing short of spectacular and it’s captured beautifully in this act. Bob hooks a large fish that’s a sure-fire PB, only to lose it near the net. Bitterly disappointed, he fishes on nonetheless and manages to hook another grayling, but is this one as large and will the hook hold all the way to the net this time?
This act features some of the best underwater footage of the set. I don’t think I’ve ever seen footage of grayling picking off maggots before and I found it really interesting to see that they only use their dorsal fin when they really need to, spending the majority of their time with it in the folded-down position.
In “Against The Odds” we join Stu quivertipping for chub with a big chunk of lamprey as bait, before dawn on an extremely chilly midwinter morning. Stu explains that this tactic is most effective in the first and last hour of darkness and proves the effectiveness of lamprey as a chub bait by using it to land a cracker.
Then after a thaw, with the river in flood, Bob goes out in the daylight hours to try and locate a chub or two in the heavily coloured water using his favourite floodwater bait, lobworms. Seeking out small marginal slacks, he finds a couple of fish willing to seek out a worm in the murky water.
Stu and Bob go drain fishing for pike in “On The Straight & Narrow”. This is a rare act that features both anglers onscreen together. After discussing their prospects for the day ahead, they venture off to use the time-proven leapfrogging approach whilst presenting deadbaits on simple light legering tactics. Plenty of feisty pike visit the bank, showing just how productive drain fishing can be.
On another session in this act the duo fish a canal and land some exceptionally fat pike for the cameras, with James Gould putting in a cameo with yet another big fish!
For “Just Like The Good Old Days” Bob visit’s the famous Carthegena weirpool on the river Lea and fishes ‘wag & mag’ for its resident big chub. Despite being a highly regarded specimen angler these days, Bob spent many a year match fishing back when the term stood for more than catching 200lb of carp from a featureless, canal-shaped pond. I think he savours the occasional return to his roots and nothing takes him back more than trotting a stick float or waggler.
Bob patiently feeds up the swim for an hour before making an exploratory cast. The fishing is tough to start with, tiny silver fish are coming thick & fast but no big chub are feeding. However, Bob knows they reside under a far bank tree, so he continues to feed and occasionally cast, until he eventually attracts the attention of the chub. When the bites dry up he further shows his skills in deciding to scale down to keep the bites coming. Bob amasses a healthy bag of chub and even latches into a bit of a wild surprise!
On a beautiful but harsh frosty morning Stu ventures out again in pursuit of pike, in “Cold Comfort”, which is the last act of the set. Despite it being -4°C he manages to get amongst the fish by fishing a combination of deadbaits and livebaits and ends up in a real predicament when he has to contend with a double hook-up in a fast water swim!
On reflection, having now watched all twenty acts, I would have liked to have seen Stu and Bob onscreen together more often. I’ve no doubt they share a lot of banter on the bank, as I do with my fishing mates, and the on-screen chemistry is something which works particularly well in series’ such as A Passion For Angling. This would certainly alter the DIY dynamic of filming each other and may require a third party to do some camera work, but I think it could add another dimension to their films.
The absence of a roach fishing act in the autumn & winter set was surprising, but it probably says a lot about the state of river roach fishing nowadays. It would have been easy for Stu and Bob to visit a commercial and shoot a sequence where they bag up on roach between half a pound and a pound, but what would be the point? It would be neither spectacular nor enlightening that such sport is available and I think most anglers will benefit far more from seeing how to cope with a river in varying states than how to catch silver fish from a puddle.
There remain a few minor niggles with CITA, in occasional sound quality and editing issues. There isn’t quite the gloss of a Hugh Miles production and in some of the acts, which feature footage from more than one session, the transition between the sessions feels clunky and thrown together. The theme will be the shared (e.g. fishing after dark in “Creatures Of The Night” or chub fishing in difficult conditions in “Against The Odds”), but they lose the ‘feel’ of a single ‘act’ and feel less cinematic than the other acts as a result. I’m sure that a little more explanation in the voiceovers and some creative visual editing could help smooth out such transitions in any future films.
These technicalities don’t detract from the fact that all of the CITA films are extremely enjoyable and few anglers on film can match the all-round angling abilities of Bob or Stu. I think the pair are now left with an enviable conundrum; do they move on from the CITA project having covered the four seasons, safe in the knowledge that they’ve committed an ambitious and extremely accomplished project to film, or do they continue and find new angles from which to approach a second series? Either way, I think that we’ve yet to see the best from Messrs Walker and Roberts. They’ve forged a unique working partnership by each being adept at both angling and camera work and after the Barbel Days & Ways series and now this, they have been ahead of the curve by featuring underwater footage, which seems to be becoming a keystone of all quality angling films. With the advancement of technology and the practice they‘ve had from filming and presenting this, I think Bob & Stu are in the position to create even greater work in the future and I look forward to seeing what comes next.
In my review of parts 1 & 2, I highlighted the importance of angling films & programmes making one want to pick up some rods and go fishing. This is what Caught In The Act succeeds in above all else! I love winter fishing but don’t get the opportunity to go as much as I’d like and some of the views, moods and captures in the autumn & winter acts are inspiration to make the most of any sessions over the colder months. This is summed up perfectly in Keith Elliott’s opening sequence narration, “The winter angler becomes part of a greater landscape, less man against fish, more man against the whole of nature”.
Caught In The Act is essential viewing for all anglers, especially those looking to reconnect with the simple pleasures of the pursuit of specimen fish, in all seasons.
Sadly, I couldn’t get this review together in time to inspire anyone’s Christmas wish lists, but it would have been a perfect stocking filler for any freshwater angler. If you’ve got a bit of Christmas money to spend, parts 3 & 4 are available to purchase from Bob Roberts’ website, or for a limited time you can save £10 off the full set of CITA parts 1-4, at the following link: http://www.bobrobertsonline.co.uk/sales/
If you still need a bit more persuasion you can watch the full YouTube trailer for parts 3 & 4 below:
I would also urge you to subscribe to Stu’s fantastic YouTube channel, which features everything from tench to tigerfish, barbel to giant trevally! Find his channel at: https://www.youtube.com/user/Stubarbel