Italy Bound Once Again…

andyMilo_2It’s a hard life… but someone’s got to do it.

I’ve read and watched clips on Italy’s amazing river Arno for years but never managed to get close enough to wet a line in it.. Being the lucky soul I am, I have to deal with a certain customer in Italy: Milo. I went out to Italy late last year and spent a great deal of time discussing the styles of fishing and the venues they regularly fish there. All work related of course, research I call it!

I’ve been aware of one of his sponsored events that run yearly, the Red Tetragon event which is held on the Arno around Pisa. This has always got the blood flowing as the reports of the quality of fishing is staggering. Stevie Gardener and Simon Willsmore were regular attendees and have done well there in the past. Big bags of catfish with odd carp and carassio the order of the day. I must have mentioned in passing (slight understatement) how I’d love the chance to fish it one day as the styles of fishing and feeding are so foreign to us UK based anglers. Well, this must have stuck somewhere because imagine my surprise to get a call from Milo some months ago asking if I’d like to join them on the event.

The diary is quite full this year but I couldn’t possibly miss this so I agreed instantly. Excitement levels were through the roof as I pestered Steve and Simon for info on what gear I would need. I kept thinking bait.. hmmm catfish.. carp, bream, carassio.. Big river… everything screamed Halibut to me. I asked around but nobody seemed to use it and the main stay for the cats seemed to be maggots and gravel. Absolutely convinced Halibut Method Mix was the way to go I duly asked very nicely if the boss minded adding several (a lot) kilos to Milo’s order, which was leaving the factory soon. Luckily for me we were all systems go and we were away.

andyMilo_1A bit like a kid at Christmas I packed a load of rigs and hooklinks into a case, threw in a t-shirt or two and was off to meet Steve for the short flight over. Steve lives close to the airport so it’s ideal, in fact it takes him less time to get to Milan than it does most of the fisheries in UK. He told me he fished a league there once and flew over every week to fish each round. Amazing really. Anyway, I digress.

Safely landed we were off to the factory for the first of a million cappuccinos and sort some kit. Cars and vans loaded it was an early night before we left for the drive south to Pisa.

It’s a bit of a strange experience as here I am with two guys who are and have been for many years, some of the most influential anglers of their time. Steve has 32 medals (that he can remember) from international fishing, 11 of them are team golds from World events and many more are team and individual golds from Euros etc. Just stop and think about that for a minute, if built like me and you’ve grown up with a thirst for this sort of fishing, the achievement is simply staggering. Milo… again has an astounding history and of course we all know his tackle brand to boot. One thing I certainly don’t do is take things like this for granted. Wonderful people it is an honour to spend time with and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. One thing was for sure, you can’t fail but to learn from these guys.

andy_milo_10We arrived in Pisa, found the river and a days practice was on the cards. Already dotted in red bodies the bank was full of people waving top 6s about with big flat floats on.

The river is vast. Easily 100m wide and well coloured. I was told to expect a 20grm river but his was pushing through. Also we were on a section they hadn’t used before so the fishing could be interesting. I was in no rush to get the gear out and went long the bank for a watch and to say hello to some of the familiar faces I met there on the last trip.

Fishing in Italy is such a social event, I love it. People do sit quite close together though but don’t ever mention this to Steve as his torretts kicks in straight away.

Milo gets out of the van and immediately people come running. People literally can’t do enough for him. I know from my short time dealing with him, he is a very courteous and generous character you can’t help but like.

andyMilo_3He always has time for you and this seems to be echoed with everyone he knows. Everyone seems to want to help him in everything he does. Even the guys who aren’t fishing come especially to see him. It’s all smiles, all laughter and to me says an awful lot about the man.

I set about walking the bank and after a few yards of watching these huge floats get dragged under I’m back at the car unloading my gear. Steve, already setting up on the downstream end peg (wait for the pattern to emerge here) I settled in just 10 yards above. As Milo’s trusty steed Norris set about mixing 3 lots of GB and Sticky mag for us (yes, we even had a gillie) out came the big flatties. Luckily I had brought a couple of 40grammers and with some 50s in the van we thought we had it covered. Flashbacks from Croatia started as 40grms went through like a stick float. No holding that back. 50 wouldn’t have been much better. This looked like we would have to inch these through as slowly as possible, not ideal for catfish we thought. With depths around 2-3m it was no wonder it was travelling a bit, the other sections we would fish were 6-7m deep and a touch slower although after some rain the river was still pulling a lot harder than normal.

Milo settled in 20 yards above me and with nets in he shouted up for a side bet with a colleague fishing further up. Whilst he was readying himself we had a few runs through to check the rigs. Bites came straight away and both Steve and I caught a few small catfish feeding nothing. The bottom must be paved with them.

Norris delivered the bait (yes, I know… luxury eh..) and a big bucket of Halibut Marine Method mixed with some soil to add weight and a little of Milo’s carp mix was plonked on the side tray next to a big bucket of Sticky mag and a few maggots in a tub for hookers.

andyMilo_5Now, rules. No two-handed balls allowed. Everything to be balled up and fed with one hand. I did look at my little boy hands and wonder how I was going to do that but try I was going to. We moulded 20 or so balls in readiness then in we went. We baited up and put the poles in the rest to feed. After 5 or 6 balls had followed the float I looked down to Steve to see his elastic out and a fish was on whist the pole was still in the rest. This often happens he said. They come to the noise. In disbelief I looked back to see my float pop up again as I too had had a bite.

It wasn’t long before most of us along the bank were catching a few. These catfish were anything from 2oz up to the very occasional 3kg and by Christ did they pull. A kilo fish would really take the piss so you can imagine what a big one felt like.

We had a wonderful afternoon’s fishing and loads of cats of all sizes were caught. Keeping that feed going in was the key and accuracy was very important. I had to remember we were fishing a natural river and not a manmade stocked venue. The fishing was brilliant. The gear we used was in one word.. Proper! 0.26mm main lines to 0.21mm hooklinks and a big size 10 with loads of maggots bludgeoned on it.

As the afternoon drew to a close we had a look what we had caught. I had roughly 20kilos of mainly smaller cats, a lovely day. Milo up above me had around 30kilos and Steve (end peg) had an easy 35kilos plus. This I might add got a round of applause from the group watching us.

andyMilo_8A rose between two thorns I sat between two masters and they oozed experience at this game. Great to see and I’m sure if they had given me some more room I might have got close.. still, plenty to discuss back at the hotel in readiness for the start of the 3 day match we were fishing.

This was a match with a difference. A pairs match but… a pairs match Italian style. Here you draw a box (peg) and both you and your paired partner fish in that box and combine your weights. Milo and Steve were fishing together and I had the brilliant Maurizio Teodoro as my partner. Teo as we called him was a true class act. He manages the ladies international team as well as having a lot to do with the youth teams. He was unlucky enough to have to put up with me every day.

So.. day 1 arrived and we drew Calcinaia ‘town’. This is the stretch where you will see flotsams 30 feet up the bridge stations. Added to that the bridge that had been washed away and you suddenly realise the amount of water that flows through this river… wow!

Peg drawn 7. One away from the downstream end box. Happy days we thought as previous years had shown this was the area to be in. a lot of hard work on the steep bank and 4 top 6s out to cover everything form 40grms flatty to a 15grm round body float for running was assembled. It was a lot slower than the day previous so 40 grms could be inched through. I was looking forward to this and thought we would do well with the end box dominating.

We started and the usual bombardment was met with early fish for most. I kept an eye on Steve and Milo as they had drawn the top end of the section, box 3. The instant flurry soon slowed for us and most around us. The end box had hooked and lost a lot of big fish managing to land a few in the process. The wind then arrived and my feeding pattern was obliterated as I couldn’t take my hands off my pole to feed. The pole was being ripped off the rest, it was a job to do anything apart from clamp down on it and hold still. Ferocious doesn’t come close. That spell meant I’d fed very little and really ruined my day. The area we were in had been tough going and typically all the fish were caught at the other end of the section where it was a toucandyMilo_9h slower flow. Frustratingly we came plumb last with a kilo or two more would have put us 4th. Such small dividing lines! 58k had won the section and Steve and Milo 2nd with 52k between them. All in all, not the start we had hoped for! Simon and Massimo his partner had won the top section they drew in so a great start for them.

Day 2 soon arrived and we drew the ‘new’ section we had practiced on. The top weights the day before had come from the bottom 3 boxes, 8,7 & 6. Typically we drew box 4 and Steve and Milo above us in box 3. This was going to be a battle as I sat next to Steve trying to put him off his game.

On the all in the usual happened and we were all catching well. We were losing the odd fish that darted out of the swim really quickly. Teo landed one and it was a big mullet. What other surprises did this river hold?

As the match progressed the cats slowed up whilst the downstream pegs continued to bag up. Steve then foul hooked AND LANDED 2 big 3 kg cats and 2 huge mullet (I can’t talk about this anymore as I’ll get the ump again! Watching the biggest cats you’ve seen in the stretch being pulled backwards over the end of you keep net does nothing for the moral! Although Steve seemed to enjoy it! and don’t even get me started on the huge lassoed mullet… yes lassoed! I shit you not!)

Anyhoo, we are now struggling a bit, Milo is changing things all the time to stay in touch with the fish. Teo then picks up his round float running rig and starts feeding soft GB. Straight away he’s playing big mullet. He caught a staggering 31kgs of them!! Unbelievable! Luckily for my blood pressure he had done enough so that our combined total just piped Steve and Milo’s by 2kilo. Got what they deserved after putting me through that. It was all in vein though unfortunately as the lower pegs all bagged and 3 x 60kilo weights were recorded. We were 4th and Steve and Milo 5th.

Back at the café for the after match ice cream (25 degrees..) beer and cappuccino it appeared the middle section that was making a bit of a name for itself as a big fish section had thrown up a massive 107kilo for one pair with two individuals weighing over 60kilos each… this is a river remember!

We were going there tomorrow… yippee!

The morning of the last day and into the draw bag we went. Box 7.. End box as Box 8 was not drawn. Oh happy days, a few fish here by the looks. Steve and Milo had the other end box, box 1 so this was going to be a real battle. It was 7m deep and had slowed right up. The best rig was a 10grm round body float and this was assembled to fish 7 joints out with flat floats set up for that line and longer.

andyMilo_7The all in came and we were off. 20 balls were thrown in and surprisingly it was the 3rd run through before the float went under. We were so used to getting bites instantly I wondered if I should be using a flattie and nailing it down. Finally it rammed under and I hooked the bottom. Then the bottom shook its head and motored out into the middle of the river. This is what it was about as wrestled with a 3kg fish. These things are angry beasts and you certainly know you have one on!

I managed 3 of these as well as the usual stamp fish in the first hour and things looked good. Teo on the other hand was struggling as the bottom where he was was a minefield of rocks. We were fishing as a pair so had decided that I would try and stay short and he would fish longer above me to try and give us the best chance of a few fish each. This worked well to start but soon enough my peg was fading and fish getting smaller so I had to go another section. Sure enough so Teos peg soon died too so he went longer to compensate. Although clearly fishing a lot harder that the previous day there were still a load of bites to be had and although mainly small I managed to keep fish coming. The last half hour I latched into a few of those big brutes again to end a shattering few days. Honestly, anyone who doesn’t think fishing is tiring… go and have a go at this. Even mixing the bait is an event!

andyMilo_6At the scales Steve and Milo were winning with 74kg. Then the middle pegs had thrown up some good weights also. On the scales I managed 35kg to be beaten by Steve by 20grms!! Typical! Milo won the section from an individual point not that it mattered. Unfortunately Teo had really suffered with the rocky snaggy bottom and his 25kg meant we had to settle for 4th in section. I guess we just hadn’t had the rub of the green at all that week.

One thing that did shock me and kick me up the arse was the best rig for catching these cats was a running rig fished just over depth. Cats naturally make you think you need to nail it but it simply wasn’t the case. That will stay with me for a long time as we all discussed how we weren’t prepared enough to know this at the start!

andyMilo_11What an unbelievable trip with some great people. I love it and can’t wait to go back. Watching two guys like Steve and Milo with all their accolades and experience, it was amazing to see how dedicated and hungry to win they still are. Their drive, their ability, their ambition.. I guess that’s why they are who they are..

So.. onwards to next year.. it can’t come quickly enough!!

To everyone I spoke to and helped me, all I’ll say is THANK YOU! see you next time.

Oh and as for the Halibut Marine Method Mix… shhhhh don’t say anything to anyone! It seems cats are quite partial!! I have a feeling it won’t be the last time it gets fed into the Arno! 😉

Andy Neal



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