Monday afternoon Keith & I went dace fishing down at the Saxon Mill on the Wark's Avon, a place renowned for its large head of said fish, shoals so vast that they have to be seen to be believed — in summer they inhabit the top layers of water and a low flying coot can cause a massive surface eruption of spooked fish. They can get respectably large too, eleven or twelve ounces being the target with half pounders a likelihood.
There may even be larger fish still but I'm afraid that in my experience, the sheer volume of smaller fish will pretty much ensure that catching anything really large would be akin to winning the lottery, a one in a million chance. However, the average stamp is four ounces, which is pretty damn good actually, with five and six ouncers quite common. My best from the stretch is seven ounces or so (weighted on 32 lb rotary scales, utterly unreliable as such low levels, unlike the 4lb max Salter's that I have since purchased for the job of weighing dace, roach and other small species, which have no trouble whatsoever even in lower possible ranges, as we shall see later on) but I have my suspicions that an unweighed fish caught the same evening that I also failed to photograph was perhaps nine?
You see things were getting better and better as the evening wore on, the fish steadily increasing in size and I thought that soon enough there would be a real lump turning up, but of course that was it, the feeding spell waned away and eventually the fish stopped biting altogether. I went back a couple of times more but failed to find the larger fish. Such is fishing!
Today it was my hope that I would find them again. The fly in the ointment was that neither of us had any red maggots due the Christmas period tackle shop closures and so we would have to fish only bread, a bait that will certainly catch dace and big ones, but not anywhere near as effectively or as frequently as the crimson grubs will, at least that is, on this stretch of river.
What a stroke of luck it was then, when one of our fellow 'Fishing Challenge 2011' competitors out on the long distance trek through the wilderness of the seldom visited and almost unknown upper-reaches of the stretch, an arduous hike through head height veg that I am well acquainted with, should serendipitously arrive on our bank en-route to the rather more civilised lower reaches of the two mile stretch, and then offer us a pint of his red maggots to share...!
We accepted, gratefully. That's the spirit, and what a gent!
I'd elected to use a medium size cage feeder stuffed with liquidised bread and maggots, with three maggots on the size twelve hook, and I believe Keith was using something similar. I was optimistic as the water looked prime, nicely coloured with a natural green tinge after the recent thaw and its associated filthy looking charcoal-grey and salt-laden tarmac wash had mostly passed through, and with a manageable pace and volume, but getting no bites whatsoever in the first half an hour between the two of us was out of character - I felt we would have it really hard because of this lack of early interest and have to scratch for fish throughout the afternoon.
Keith was first to get a bite, and on the hour mark the first fish, a dace of 3 ounces according to his 50lb digital scales. We decided to check the fish on my scales and got a reading of just over 4 ounces. That's a very big difference; a forty pound carp mistaken for a thirty, no less. Just a few minutes later he had an even better fish that on the Salter's weighed no less than 6 ounces 4 drams, a cracker, and perhaps of a signifier of even better to come?
I then started to get my own bites and every now and then, a fish, always a dace and always four ounces or so in weight, in fact I went on to catch seven or eight all the same size during the session.
As evening approached I caught a small roach and then my first chublet as falling light prompted them to feed. Keith also began to catch chublets and even wangled a proper chub, a bonus three pounder. The dace stopped feeding long before nightfall and so the early six ounce fish was the best either of us would have, unfortunately. Soon it was chub after chub, my best going just under the pound at 15 ounces.
All the dace here are 4 ounces apiece, the big chub is 15 ounces, so just imagine a record breaking dace of one pound six...
I'd amassed a respectable net during a tough five hours of fishing and put three species on the challenge scoreboard, albeit at low scores, but we finished up when we finally realised that the dace, the fish we'd come along for, had gone to bed for good...