Saturday, 4 October 2008

Bracing stuff

There will be days when the fishing is better than one's most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home. Roderick Haig-Brown

I had planned for Sunday, but woke at 7am this Saturday morning only to hear Radio 4 telling me to hastily change tack and make damn sure that if I wanted to fish this weekend coming, then it must be today, or not at all
. I looked outside and the weather looked quite benign. A streaky bacon sky sort of sky. I decided to go, and brave whatever came.

At the river it was warm and breezy, and bright, for grey weather. I wanted to explore the last meadow on the beat and there, found a run of willows with lots of interesting rubbish rafts that looked as if they might hold chub that could be caught if only I could coax them out and into my stream of breadcrumb. I spied in the distance, another angler walking across the far side of the field to the river with his tackle and I thought, if I moved that way later, that I might wander up to chat fish with him. Within twenty minutes he appeared behind me, just a boy, with a rod and lure, net and bag, who had been casting for pike, but without luck. We chatted fishy things for a few minutes, wished each other luck and then he moved along downstream and a few minutes later, as he passed a nearby property, awoke the resident dogs who howled at his intrusion into their domain.

A swirl in the swim caught my eye, and an oily black cormorant emerged from below the water like some latter-day winged dinosaur and upon seeing me sitting there staring at it, erupted sharply from the water and arced over the far bank, disappearing downstream. I had wondered why I'd seen no minnows in the margins and no sign of roach or dace on the previous trip. I had wondered why my bread bait had not attracted the immediate attention of fry and minnows as it had on the mid reaches of the Avon. Perhaps it was the doing of the cormorant? I'd heard that fisheries were employing scaring tactics to rid themselves of the cormorants decimating their stocks. Perhaps they should invite me to fish their waters instead if the reaction of this one bird to my presence is anything to go by.


I couldn't see the point in persisting in this spot any longer, figuring that all fish in the stretch would now be hiding deep in cover and unwilling to emerge and so I moved back to the swim near the bridge where I'd seen the chub and the big perch on the previous trip. I baited the swim and with some difficulty in the choppy wind, freelined a chunk of flake into the hole just below the bank. I could see the riverbed here and threw in a few small balls of kneaded bread and watched them settle. Over the top I threw a ball of breadcrumb and as the cloud broke up and dissipated a large chub emerged from the weed and picked up some of the free offerings. I hovered over the rod expectantly but nothing happened. I retrieved only to find that the wind had pulled the bait from its original place and into just the wrong place. I loaded the line with a few shot to hold bottom and tried again, but the chub was gone. Then the resident family of swans came to visit and hovered in the swim hoping for a free lunch, which as I have learned the hard way, an angler must never under any circumstances, give. The swans then proceeded to up-end and clean the riverbed of my groundbait, and so they got a free lunch after all.

Eventually the swans bored of me and cleared off. It was fairly sheltered in this swim, and comfortable, so I stayed for my own lunch, rebaiting the swim with crumb and hemp and fished on expecting that the chub would return if they had not been unduly upset. Whilst there was nothing much happening I experimented with a few methods of improved bite indication and line control as the wind was increasing substantially now and making the watching of line impossible. I settled on a dough bobbin, a method I'd not used since youth. It worked as beautifully as it always did, loading the line with just the right amount of weight to keep the line under control and giving excellent indication, even out of the corner of the eye. But the chub did not return to give it a proper tug.

Old fashioned, but effective

It happens with fishing on the move, that the decision of where to go next is one made by rational deduction, dictates of comfort, absence of swans, cormorants, etc, or prior knowledge of swims and fish therein. More rarely it is a decision made because some ineffable but racing certainty is divined. I knew exactly where to go - where I had to go - to the swim that had been pulling me toward it all day, and I knew that once there, I would not only find shelter from the wind, but would also catch a fish. On the way upstream I met the lad with the lure who looked more windswept and less optimistic than the lad I'd met a few hours earlier. He'd caught nothing but weed and was, I suspect, about to quit the day. He looked like all anglers who have tried and blanked; wide eyed, slack jawed and somewhat exasperated. I suggested he come back here in the winter when the weed would be gone and the swims more suitable for lure fishing, and then we went our separate ways.

The new pitch was above a series of rubbish rafts that had accumulated under the willows on a sharp bend and I spied a likely clear spot in the water crowfoot, just above the first raft, to drop a bait into. I set up shop some way upstream of the chosen spot, sat down the bank near the waters edge and sheltered from the weather. I threaded a light running lead on the line and walked a bait down to the hole, keeping low and crafty, trying to not alert the fishes to my dangerous presence, and just dropped the bait from the rod top. A cloud of crumbs and hemp was sent downstream to land above and well below my bait, right under the raft to entice the inhabitants out, and sat back to wait.

Rubbish rafts below the willows

A dough bobbin, my favorite thing right now, was squashed onto the line between the butt and second ring and then I sat back and fiddled with my pitch to get it just so. Twenty minutes in and the bobbin rose smoothly to the blank and I struck into a good fish. The battle was fairly short and clean and in due time an immaculate chub rolled over the lip of the net. It really and truly was a beauty. My fist fish from the stretch and though not a big fish by the standard of say, the Severn, in such a place as this, I'd say about the stamp. Three and a half pounds of bronzed perfection. It was returned upstream so that it couldn't tell its friends about me.

A pristine Avon chub

I thought about moving but decided to stay, just to see, rebaited the swim and settled back. Twenty minutes further in and the bobbin once again rose smoothly to the blank and I struck into a good fish. Indeed, a repeat performance, only this fish was wild. It flicked and jagged, spurted and dove. It was fighting for its very life. After enough time it was brought to the net and was, I believed, exactly the same size as the first fish, but not quite so pretty. Its tail seemed stunted, as if it had not grown at the same rate as the body and a diagonal scar from the anal fin to mid belly suggested a run in with a pike. Flipping the fish over was a shock. Not only was there the expected matching scar but also an unhealed and very sore looking bright orange welt.

The survivor

The fish had fought so unusually hard that any other fish still in the swim must have got the message and gone back to the rafts. Reluctantly, because the wind was making exposure a bit uncomfortable elsewhere on the beat, I moved back to the swim I'd vacated a few hours before. It was getting dark and I felt I had a good chance of making a trio of chub. All was well for a time and bites came, the first of which was missed and the second a hook up that dropped off. I cast again and then the swans appeared, gliding downstream from the bridge. Of course they came to say hello, they alway do. I put the rod on the bank to lessen the angle of the line and threw distractions in the form of pieces of paste downstream in an effort to get them to go. I began to retrieve and found my line attached to one of the birds legs which only then moved off quickly with me twitching the line in an effort to dislodge it. It was not working and had no choice but to bite off at the reel, lose the tackle, thirty yards of line and the will to fish on into the darkness. I retired from the fray, till another day.

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