Thursday, 18 December 2008

Perfect Swim

After my recent efforts on the canal, I had to get out and do some real fishing, and so yesterday morning I took advantage of an early morning lift to Bretford
for a whole day on the upper Avon. The weather promised to be clear and cold with bright sun. However, the water was likely to be coloured to some degree, so I hoped that the conditions wouldn't be a problem.

A lovely place to while away, a frosty midwinter day

On arrival I decided to fish some swims above, between and below a stand of large old willows at the bottom end of the beat. I'd fished here briefly in the summer but had had no luck at all. Then the water was sluggish and deep and today it was likely to be deeper still as the river was fining down after some heavy and prolonged rain that had fallen two days previously. So, I walked across a frosty meadow and chose a swim above the willows on a bend that looked absolutely wonderful. Just so, in fact.

The swim has a deep hole at the near bank full of slack water, but in the main flow along the opposite bank, it is relatively shallow and swift. Downstream are a whole series of rubbish rafts and overhanging trees that looked like they must contain a fair population of chub. I pitched in some dampened bread crumb, a couple of pouches of hemp, a handful of pellets and tackled up. I decided that my standard bait of trout pellet and bread flake would be for starters as it seems to pull the larger chub from everywhere I go. I'd dug no worms this time, though I packed a bucket full of alternatives, including meat and a pack of half used black pudding from the fridge.

The first cast went badly wrong and I lost my tackle in a snag. I was trying to do an underarm wallis cast over some bankside obstacles, and swung to the left. I don't find the Wallis cast useful for anything other than straight out or to the right hand side. Go left and the whole cast becomes too awkward and unpredictable, and cannot be swung around in a left hand arc, which in this swim was the action needed to put the bait around the snags and over into the main flow above the rafts. So I practised a few revolution casts into the same place and this was the easy answer. Nice and slow, and predictable.

Full of optimism

Bites came after a predictable twenty minutes. But the first few did not connect. This warmed me somewhat as the fish were not only present but possibly they would also feed. Then a quite savage take was met with a silly overextended backward strike due to my wrong sitting position and bankstick angle, but that actually connected. It felt a good fish, a chub perhaps, but then it shook its head, and the hook was thrown.

I hate losing fish fearing they will spook the rest, but the bites continued to come, and they were all good ones, but for some reason known only to the fish, I was not having much luck connecting with them. Then I did connect only to have a repeat performance of the previous hook up. This was strange behaviour. Very unlike my previous experiences with this bait and end tackle, which if the fish were feeding well, always did produce good solid hook holds. Nothing I tried seemed to improve matters. I tried striking early, letting the bite develop and striking late, giving slack line, and then decided to refine the end tackle and move down from a size six, to a ten and try a small pinch of breadflake, thinking that I'd located a shoal of smaller fish, chub probably or even good roach, and that my bait was too big.

This tactic served to increase the frequency of bites considerably, but now they were mostly plucks and knocks, probably from small fish. But then at last I had solid tug and connected with a nice fish, which I actually hoped was a roach. The fish kept its head down but didn't feel large. It was jagging about in the deep water of the slack, and then it too, found its freedom.

I sat back down, exasperated. I'd been fishing for hours, had lost three good fish to light hooking, and missed so very many clearly unmissable bites that I was beginning to wonder if I was simply an idiot angler. I would have given anything at that moment to have a good match angler sitting at my shoulder, imparting sage advice on how to cope with a swim full of fish, a winter feeding frenzy and inappropriate tackle and tactics for the conditions. For that was what it all seemed to be about.

At the end of the tether, and freezing weather

I decide to float fish as a last resort, tackled up a cork bodied avon well over depth, and started trotting a small pinch of flake. However, the swim was no good for such tactics as its position on the outside of the bend ensured that every cast would simply drift across the flow and into the near bank snags. And there was no way around this, so I nipped of the tackle and decided to change tactics upwards. Back to a size six, but really big baits now to bring the greed factor into the equation.

I cut a big chunk of meat, hair rigged it close to the hook and chucked it out. Twenty minutes of inactivity later, indeed not even a twitch, and I was seriously considering ditching the meat and going up to two pellets wrapped in flake. But first I poured a cup of tea, and off course, just as I tipped the flask and the hot liquid streamed into the cup in my hand, the rod top pulled around in a savage barbel style take that left the rod bouncing about on the rest. Of course I missed it completely. Well at least I was cool enough not to spill my precious brew, and it proved that meat was good on the day.

I cast again, with enthusiasm now, but the rod top stayed motionless. I went over to pellet and bread but the swim seemed to have finally gone to sleep. Now, for the first time in the whole day, neither a tremble nor a twitch disturbed the peace, and I was alone with just the rhythmic nodding of the tip of the rod as the line cut the current, to keep me company. I resigned myself to a blank, and suddenly I realised, as my shoulders slumped, that I had been wound up like a spring for hours on end. I relaxed, unwound, as the sun began its protracted mid winter setting. The world of light dissolving imperceptibly in a soft hued fade to darkness.


I recast expecting that now, in the fading light, I had my best chance of something good. I threw a few chunks of meat well upstream, put in a few pellets too, and a couple of handfuls of breadcrumb, and then for good measure more hemp. I reasoned that it was all or nothing and that only more food could get the fish moving once more.

Then unexpectedly, the rod top bounced, pulled around hard and I struck perfectly into a fish that I just knew I would not lose. Perhaps it was my unwinding that had produced the change? The fading light? The upping of the stakes? Whatever it was I knew that I would now be OK, and though the fish fought like a demon I got the better of it and landed a prime chub of just under four pounds.

A hard earned fish

Then, the swim fell quiet and I thought that I'd overdone the baiting and killed my chances for good. Then just as I considered changing swim for the last hour the rod top finally sprang into life, and I struck with confidence into another fish, this time more powerful and determined, but one that came safely to the net, in the end. Another chub, this time four and a half pounds.

A big mouthed chub

I switched over to a really big chunk of meat to try for the six pounder that I'd decided this stretch must contain. This bait sat still for some time, and then another savage take occurred that I missed completely as I took photos of the lovely pastel sky. I retrieved to find the bait stolen. Another cast was made, with an equally large meat chunk, and as I put the rod in the rest it was wrenched around by what turned out to be, after a difficult and tricky fight under the rod top, the fish impaling itself in the matted reeds under the bank, the biggest chub of the day, just shy of five pounds. A shame that there was not enough light for my phone camera to cope with (new camera methinks) for it was a beautiful fish.

Truly the perfect swim

As darkness fell, and Judy announced her departure, I fished on, barely able to see the rod top against the feint glow to the south west. I needn't have worried, for when the bite came, it was so violent as to be unmissable, and once again a fish was on. This time, another four pounder, just like the first. I returned it quickly and packed down in final triumph over the unpredictable winter river. It had turned out, after all of the trials and experiments, that what they really wanted was a big fat mouthful.

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