A startling catch of roach...
I do get loved up with proper cold weather and especially if I can get out and fish. Take today for instance; overnight we'd had 'the worst snowfall in living memory' (to those under 20 years of age) across the entire nation and are now 'enduring the worst winter for 30 years' according to the rags and are in line for 'the worst winter in a century' and so forth, so of course, this morning I was scouting about for a fishing opportunity so that I could enjoy the very, very 'worst' of it, head on.
Judy had work to do so there was no chance of a drop off at the Avon, and actually I had pressing work to do too, as it happens - but my work is never so pressing or quotidian that I cannot always have it take a back seat to fishing just so long as I don't take the mick - the canal was now frozen six inches thick and so, I decided, that I would take up on an old challenge...
Let me explain.
There is a certain local and how shall we say, 'nubile' watercourse that in high summer did contain a population of roach of what I thought then to be considerable size, considering the diminutive dimensions of said habitat.
In high summer...
I confided in Keith and he said, "fish for them, Jeff".
"But Keith, they're my little pets" say's I.
"My pint, I believe" say's Keith.
...and mid winter
It seemed a mad and unlikely prospect, but if I was to get any fishing done at all then it had to be this little brook, this mid winter bourne, or lump it. Of course nothing would bite in these conditions, if indeed anything was actually there to bite - I really had no confidence in the idea that anything but sticklebacks would be swimming in this tiny rivulet. I took along the bare minimum of stalking gear. A tripod seat, an eight foot DAM 'winklepicker' rod that has never seen service whilst in my ownership, a centrepin reel, landing net, scales, some maggots and two slices of bread, with hook, shot and the like stowed in my fishing vest.
Upon arrival I was surprised to see how much the stream had broadened and thickened since summer.The bankside vegetation was now gone, the midstream weed and reeds had died back to nothing and a healthy winter flow had filled it up somewhat. It now looked fishable along its entire length.
The first peg chosen was one under some bushes on a sharp corner. I flicked a piece of free-lined flake under the very low branches of a bank of hawtorns, set the short rod down on the ground and watched the tip. To my amazement, after just a minute or two it began to move as something made enquiries about the bait and then, after a while more, the tip twitched and bent over sharply. I missed the bite, as I did with the next, and the next.
I'd arrived amid a blizzard but now the weather was clearing; blue skies heralding the arrival of not only a brisk and freezing breeze, but plunging temperatures. The line was freezing in the tiny rod rings of the quiver tip and snow was filling up the spool of the reel every time I laid it down and compacting to ice making it very hard to turn. Eventually I moved along to a less tricky and exposed prospect convinced that the bites from under the cover of the trees must have have come from sticklebacks or minnows.
This next swim chosen was a narrow but relatively deep (at a full two feet!) smooth glide. Across the way a fox went about his business, exposed against the stark white of the snow laden bushes. I flicked the flake downstream, set down the rod and just as soon as the flake sank out of view the rod tip twitched and then bent around. The bite was missed...
The short rod was tricky, I must say. I'm used to ledgering at a short to mid distance with an eleven footer and have learned to strike in a certain way. When I tried to strike in the same way with this tiny wand I found myself not only striking at the fastest twitches without delay because of the very quick take up of line but also striking too hard and ripping the single shot and hook out of the water and up into the bankside bushes. Eventually I think I began to get the hang of it.
The pattern of missed bites continued for an hour or so and just as I was on the verge of finishing up and dismissing the place as the exclusive haunt of small fry, by dint of either luck or judgement, finally connected with a bite and felt the solid thump of a good fish. The little rod arched over admirably as it took up the strain - when a roach around the pound mark flashed in the murky green waters below I could not believe my eyes! This tricky customer got under the near bank due to my inexpert use of the unfamiliar short rod but in the end she was safely netted, and what a beauty she turned out to be...!
After returning the fish upstream I soon realised that I was getting extremely cold; my fingers were stiffening , turning blue after fiddling with the hook and handling the ice cold fish, the wind had now picked up uncomfortably and the temperature was falling dramatically as the sky overhead cleared completely. It was going to be a very hard frost the coming night and I was dressed for snow, not wind chill. I dithered over the question of whather to go now and quit ahead or stay on and suffer but I decided to fish on regardless and into the evening if I could stand it.
The very next cast I hit the bite and had another roach, this time a half pounder. By the time I'd dealt with this specimen I was in pain!
After this fish the bites stopped for a while - I thought that in such a confined space as this that the fish might have soon refound the shoal and spooked them, but after twenty minutes or so the bites resumed. Unfortunately, I had by then lost co-ordination and control of my digits and now the wind was finding every weakness in my defenses, and wearing me down. It seemed I would never hit another bite again even though there were plenty to be had, or get that imagined two pounder quite so easily as I might have wanted!
When my meagre supply of bread dried out in the cold to the point where it would not hold on the hook for the cast, I decided to call it a day and walked off home pondering extreme weather, small streams, short rods and unexpectedly big roach.