My Saturday fishing session was spent on the Saxon Mill stretch of the Avon once again - I could have fished the Stratford town waters for the roach and bream as Judy was making a Christmas shopping trip there, but her timing was too late, I would have had only a few hours of daylight to fish in and that is not nearly enough this time of the year.
Upstream of the Saxon Mill
I get there early and decide to fish the first swims up from the mill working on a tip off that some of the bigger roach can be found there if conditions are right and today, conditions do seem to be just so for roach; the river carrying plenty of water after the recent rains but fining down nicely and of that particular green hue that committed winter roach anglers dream about - the magical conjunction of variables that usually occur about midweek when work commitments deem that they can't get to the river before dark and which is, on far more occasions than is actually fair, spoiled for the coming Saturday or Sunday, when they can have the whole day on the bank, by a torrential Thursday night through Friday morning downpour...
Well, the rod tips nod rhythmically as the current plays upon the line and every now and then they twitch a bit as some fish or other plays about with the breadflake, but whatever they are, they just ain't 'aving it. I move downstream to more reliable roach waters, where things turn out to be more or less exactly the same. Oh dear, one of those days.
So much for perfect conditions...
Eventually I tire of hoping for a pull around and set up the float rod. I choose to fish maggots in the most reliable roach swim on the entire stretch but find that all the fish have vanished but one, a roach of four ounces that arrives early but proves to be a false start when no more bites are had. I move once again, to a big eddy that usually throws up a roach or a chub. Here I proceed to catch some of the smallest blade roach I have yet seen on the river; none are over an ounce. I have a sleeper rod out to the right fishing a lobworm for one of the perch that I am sure live here but have never seen. I strike a bite to this rod and watch in dismay as the tip of the quivertip jiggles its way down to the water. That's the second broken tip this month. Feeling quite dejected, with the light already on the way out, rain beginning to fall persistently and with little hope of catching anything decent, I move once more.
I come upon a nondescript swim that I've never fished before and without enthusiasm proceed to trot maggots through it, finding depth as I go. At first it seems devoid of life but as I increase the depth in four inch increments I begin to get small indications of fish. Then as so often happens with trotting I suddenly find the exact going depth for the peg and then it's all plain sailing, with knocks and dips every few yards. The first sail away bite results in a small but furious fish that turns out to be one of the hard to find dace, and a quite nice one of four ounces, and, the very next trot sees its twin come to hand.
With fish out front, the light fading fast and with only an estimated three quarters of an hour to fish in, I do what any self respecting angler would do under the circumstances and set myself a couple of goals to perform toward; two numerical targets to reach before I will not be able to see the float at all.
Twenty darts before dark, and one over half a pound in weight!
I actually surpass my personal best with the next fish, a dace of five ounces. I waste precious minutes weighing it and taking its snap and then get back to to work.
It's amazing what an effect willing fish and clear aims can do for an anglers concentration. Now I have never fished a match in my life and probably never will, but here I was acting as a match angler always has to. I was forced to arrange all my tackle around me for maximum efficiency - two rod rests set up at hip height so that the rod could be set down level for fast rebaiting, but I had no way of getting the bait at hip height so had to bend down to the bait box on the floor to my left, I really needed a bait waiter on a bank stick or a bait apron round my waist but had neither and this lack was costing me an amazing amount of time. Luckily I never once needed the disgorger because it was in the wrong place - in the tackle bag!
And I really could have done with a sliding float set up because the biting depth was all the way from tip to butt ring on the thirteen foot rod and with tree branches hanging low above me and out front, I was required to make a very awkward side cast with a very long tail from float to hook that could have easily caught up on a twig and cost me the best part of ten minutes retackling or, if you prefer to measure these things as a match man would, a couple of pounds of match winning fish. Someone else's long lost float and line hanging from a twig was my reminder not to go there...
This really was a spell of fantastic fishing, bites were coming from one side of the river to the other, and after just twenty minutes of furious work with eleven hard fighting fish landed I was approaching one target steadily and with just enough light left I was sure I could just make it, but the second target of a half pounder was proving more difficult to achieve; I knew that such fish were present in this shoal as the average weight was a good four ounces plus with some fish going to six but it was going to be a matter of plugging away steadily until one fell rather than adopt any method of selection.
All around fish had begun to top as light levels fell and the rain drummed on the water. It then occurs to me that I am fishing, for the first time in my angling career, expressly for dace, a fish that I have only ever caught by accident whilst fishing for roach and really having a whale of a time doing it. Then the fish mysteriously cease their feeding and for a full five minutes (an eternity when things are so frantic) a bite cannot not be bought. "Ah well", I think... All seems lost and I resign myself to the end of the feeding spell, but then they start up again, and with renewed vigour...! Now it really is a fish 'a' chuck and the target of twenty looks just achievable. At eighteen fish I can barely see the float at all and I'm having to duck up and down to keep the orange tip ( black would have been far superior, but I did not have a black marker pen handy...) in view against the ever changing background. Fish nineteen comes more by luck than judgement and now it is so dark that I really cannot risk a full cast so I just drop the bait under the rod top where number twenty duly arrives to a barely seen dip of the float. Target one achieved...!
Now, how about target two? Does a big dace like a ledgered bait? And do they feed at night?
I set up a quiver rig and sit down to find out. I decide to pack the cage feeder with maggots plugged between end stops of compressed breadcrumbs and fish triple maggot on a size fourteen. The bites are few and far between and quite delicate affairs but they are from dace as a strike to one of these soft pulls proves - up comes a fish of six ounces. Then the tip moves barely an inch and the strike connects with what feels to be a better fish still. It's easily the biggest of the day, must go eight ounces or so (I'll give myself seven) and is clearly my personal best dace but I don't care to weigh it or even take its picture as I'm still in the match angling frame of mind, very watchful of time wasting and certain that the way things are going tonight I will land an even larger one, soon enough.
The phone rings, it's Judy, she is sitting in the car park of the Saxon Mill pub before the arranged pick up time and well, that as they say, is that.
Well, what fabulous fun that was. I'm dripping wet, covered in mud and spilt breadcrumbs but the smile on my face is a mile wide. I am now a dace fishing convert. With any luck they'll be in residence same place next weekend but I'm not banking on it, after all, fishing is the ultimate game of happenstance where nothing is ever for keeps.