Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Mysterious Waters of Guys Cliffe House - River carp

The best fisherman I know try not to make the same mistakes over and over again; instead they strive to make new and interesting mistakes and to remember what they learned from them. John Gierach

The Warwickshire Avon just below the Saxon Mill is a lovely place to while away a summer afternoon. Below the mill the river runs into an outcrop of red sandstone and makes a sharp left turn at right angles to its intended direction
. Here the abrasive action of seasonal floods as they have scoured the obdurate rock has caused a cliff to form on which a large and now mostly derelict country pile totters; the spooked remains of fire ravaged Guy's Cliffe House. It is dramatic backdrop, the bare bones of the towering house rise above the river, dark and moody beneath the dense canopy of alder and ash. The waters are deep, slow moving and in flood, powerful. The banks are shielded by vast beds of nettles Fringed with lilies on the cliff bank and decidedly fishy.

I'd fished just the one session here, had caught small chub then and so a return visit saw me equipped and steeling myself for something in the same line and hopefully bigger . I chose a swim that looked likely, just on the bend, casting across the main flow into the pool of slack water off the far bank. I set up the simplest of running ledgers, baited my hook and cast well beyond the crease. The strong current pulled the lead in an arc downstream until it settled, I rested the rod on a most convenient branch sticking out from the bank and sat back to enjoy the day, wait, and see what would happen.

Stump Swim. Handy rod rest in just the right position

Fifteen minutes after baiting with mashed bread and loose pellets the usual knocks, trembles and jerks of the rod tip started to come, probably small chub or even gudgeon I thought. Then the bites stopped and I sensed that the tiddlers had fled as some dominant force moved in on their free lunch. I edged closer to the rod and waited for a small eternity for what I knew was a racing certainty. Sure enough, the rod tip twitched and then bent right around and I pulled into solid living resistance deep down. This fish, obviously a very, very big chub, or even a barbel (I'd heard that there was no chance of barbel this far up the Avon) was fighting really hard. It made full use of the strong current taking line and powering upstream and down, not trying to run into cover or snags, but pulling with all its might. Once or twice it seemed that its strength would overpower the light rod but I found that the centrepin enabled the most controlled negotiations and after ten minutes of play, the fish finally appeared near the surface.

It looked like a chub, I couldn't be sure. If it was then it was a big one! Then it came up to the surface, almost defeated now and I saw clearly the unmistakable lines of a small common carp of 7 or 8 pounds weight. The net was deployed and the fish was mine. A lovely dark fish, flanks of patinated bronze, creamy white belly, big yellow eyes. The swim was quiet now, the light fading and the Saxon Mill called. I packed up and trudged back through the nettles (in shorts!) and met Judy on the mill wall, who being and endlessly considerate soul, had bought me a pint of cold beer.

A tough little carp

Next session saw me in the same swim, same tactics. After the usual knocks came an odd sluggish bite that I fully recognised from my beachcasting days. I struck and hooked what had to be an eel and sure enough, its twisting fight belied it and when it came to the surface after half a minute it was duly netted, and swiftly unhooked before it had a chance to writhe its tail around the line and lasoo itself. The eel had cause little real disturbance and so I cast back to the same spot with confidence. After five minutes the rod quivered and curved over and I was into another bigger, stronger fish. Like before it fought well but was in the net in less than ten minutes. Another common carp, just into double figures, but oh what a disappointment this time! The fish had a deep gouge out of its mouth that had removed a barbel. Braid damage. Unmistakable. This carp had been hooked by someone who had probably lost his entire terminal tackle in a sunken snag, the fish had been tethered by the lead of an inexpertly set up bolt rig and had ripped open its mouth on the cheese wire of the braid line, just to avoid starvation.

I'd seen the unmistakable sure signs of inept anglers further downstream, in a swim by a placid pool, the only one on the entire stretch that could hold a bivvy. The signs were everywhere, in the form of discarded rubbish, coils of waste line in the undergrowth and broken green branches. I dug a hole with my heel and buried the lot. Why go fishing in the depths of tranquility and the thrall of beauty and then proceed to destroy the very thing that makes it so - the absence of the traces of humanity?

The warrior

I planned a trip the very next day and a change of tactics. A roving day it was to be, exploring some of the swims downstream toward Leamington and working my way back. I wanted to avoid carp in point of fact, and catch some more of the rivers pristine chub. I was caught in a torrential downpour of hail and had to shelter in the lee of a big willow to avoid a total drenching. When the sun finally emerged to dry my hat I squatted on the soaked ground next to my rod, hoping for something. Alas the river seemed to be in a bad mood and bites were few and far between. I moved all day and caught nothing whatsoever, eventually ending up in the very first swim I'd tried on the stretch. After a number of inept casts I finally got the bait where I wanted it and sat back expecting little or nothing. I baited up but nothing knocked. It would be a blank I thought, as the rod arched around.

I was startled by the surprising moving wand at my right hand and struck fumbling and late, but connected with what seemed a reasonable fish. It had to be a chub, it felt around the right size and power. After a few minutes a ghostly pale yellow shape emerged. A Koi? Surely not! It was certainly a carp. No doubt about that. It put on few of the bursts of power that the species are famed for but nothing unmanageable and then it came uncomplaining to the net. Only when over the net did I realise that it was somewhat bigger than the other two I'd caught, into double figures for sure and a ghost carp, I believe. I weighed it in the net and the scales thumped down to exactly fifteen pounds.

Ghost carp, sadly infected

It was a nice portly fish with an unusual snout but sadly damaged on the skin and scales possibly from the often violent and frenzied spawning ritual they indulge themselves in, or worse, infected with fish louse perhaps, (I did not want to think that this was more evidence of poor handling) which had caused bloody spots at the base of the scales on both sides of the body and so its beauty was somewhat flawed. Nevertheless it was a welcome fish after a day of little else but a partial soaking. I could do nothing for it unfortunately and so returned it without fuss.

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