Monday, 13 February 2012

Avon Chub and Roach - Jacking the Stream

I rarely get the chance to fish twice in the same weekend and even less often on the same river, but Saturday and Sunday both threw up opportunities to get out and put in some serious swim caning. I knew it would be hard, expected the worst, but hadn't bargained on granite hard...

Saturday morning was preceded by a hard overnight frost and the daytime temperature would never climb above zero even in the sunnier spots under a clear blue sky, so I expected the fish to be somewhat sluggish, if not comatose, with perhaps a brief feeding spell some time in the afternoon, and for the roach I was hoping to find, if my prior experience fishing for them under these kinds of conditions is anything to go by, between two and four O'clock if it occurred at all.

Martin Roberts and I set off early morning for the Avon at Stratford, intending to fish very different stretches over the day. The Lido, which is a natural meandering stretch, the town waters opposite the theatre, which is a very wide man-made stretch of quite even sluggish water kept back by the third option, the weirs at Lucys Mill.

The Lido was new a one to me. Never having fished it before we relied upon Martin's knowledge and he took us to the S-bend, a place renowned as a banker for roach. It certainly looked good for them in the swims on the first part of the bend, and so we set up there. Because the river was wide enough, I elected to 'jack the stream' by casting discs of bread unaccompanied by any feed, repeatedly, to every conceivable quarter and along every conceivable line of a Union Jack flag pattern, to find the shoal, that if around at all, would certainly be tightly packed in the cold water and would give their presence, and exact location away, by even a single tremble of the quivertip.

The first problem was ice packing in the small rings of the quivertip, a problem that isn't easily overcome. The second problem was that there weren't, or didn't seem to be, any roach in residence, because we got no bites of any kind in the first hour and a half. Having explored every place a bait could be cast downstream and across stream but without result, I now began to cast upstream, pulling the quivertip around in a tight arc to the lead to show the inevitable drop backs experienced fishing in that awkward direction.

A cast was made just a third of the way from the near bank and twenty yards upstream. The lead settled, the rod was carefully adjusted in the rest, the tip twitched and then dropped back a few inches only to curve around hard as a fish bolted upstream with the bait. I thought it was a small barbel the way it fought, taking yards of line and generally playing hard to get, but it turned out to be a feisty chub of perhaps three pounds. I put her in the keepnet, not wishing to risk a spooked shoal.

The next ten casts were made to all other quarters of the upstream half of the swim but nothing occurred in any of them, so all the casts from thereon in, were made to the exact spot where the first chub had shown. Half an hour later the tip twitched and bounced back and forth as a fish made off downstream with the bait, jagging the line through the eye of the running paternoster as it went. There's no need to strike such bites, the fish has hooked itself against the weight, so the rod was pulled back smoothly to take up the slack and a second fish was on. Clearly another chub this, but not nearly so difficult a customer as the first.

By now I was casting three or four times over just to get the bait to land bang on the money -- it's worth it when the fish won't move very far off line, I find. Interestingly, this tiny hotspot was only a few feet deep half way down the incline of a clearly visible, near-bank shelf of clean gravel, whereas the unproductive parts of the swim were anything up to six or seven feet deep over a silt bed flecked with the remnants of rotting weed. The chub, on the day, were not where you might expect them to be. They were biting only just out of bankside visibility and not in the safety of the murky deeps.

Top fish, three pounds something, bottom fish, three-pounds-fourteen, though they look almost same size in this picture. 

The third bite came an hour later and also from the same two square yards of water. I fluffed it though. Nevertheless, I was sure that if we had stayed all day in that place, I would have landed seven or eight chub by evening, but we had to move because in all that time, Martin, who had chopped between ledgered bread, maggot feeder and waggler all morning, had not a single pluck to show for his efforts and it was clear that the way things were panning out, he would thrash his swim to foam all day long but with the same result.

The town waters were hopeless. Up at the Lido we'd seen no less than five pike anglers catch nothing whatsoever on either deadbaits or spinner. Here, we met with four more equally despondent disciples of  Esox lucious, and two of them, fully badged-up members of the PAC -- true, dyed-in-the-wool, single-species fanatics. We both cast out a sleeper rod for pike, just in case, and proceeded with bread for the roach.

Covering such a large expanse of water in a Union Jack pattern is quite a task. I'd only covered half of the available water downstream, and that the first quarter, near bank, before we'd both conceded defeat to the boat traffic, the idiotic swans, noisy stupid geese (I do like birds, but Stratford birds are a hoard of unruly chavs!) and the distinct lack of anything remotely like a bite.

I was glad to get to the Mill. My swim of choice, the first weir pool, looked in fine fettle with plenty of water pushing through and a nice looking oily flat spot the size of a billiard table in the turbulence at the tail of the wash, where from prior experience I knew the roach population would be. There, and not too far from it...

And they certainly were, because first cast slap in the middle of that spot brought a firm bite and a thumping fish to net that weighed in at exactly a pound. In the keep-net with her, and I'm fully expecting a bumper haul before last light. A few bites later, Martin came along from his swim at the second weir to enquire about the fish. As he stood there the rod tip trembled, ducked and a strike was made.

It connected, to something, but then the line went slack having inexplicably parted somewhere close above the stop. Had I hooked a fish? Been bitten off by a pike who'd attacked the feeder? Or simply hit a sharp snag? I don't know, but this has happened quite a few times since I've adopted this constant casting strategy of mine, having the 12lb line of the paternoster link bitten clean through on enough occasions for me to be considering stepping up to stranded wire for the job, using six-pound mainline above the two pound hooklink to take the strain at the stop, and avoid breakages (and swallowed feeders!) if pike are indeed the culprit.

Whatever it was, after this the bites became very hard to hit indeed. What had been nice confident pulls had now turned into impossible trembles and with an increasing period between them till the bites simply stopped altogether. The shoal was clearly spooked, either by a hooked and lost fish, or by interested predators. Or, the brief feeding spell had simply ended at four O'clock, as predicted, for that was exactly the time now.

It was so cold by the time the net was pulled that neither Martin nor I were fully functional. My teeth are chattering in my head, which is a hard thing to convey in a picture, but I think this one pulls it off! 

A further brace of half-pound roach were caught before dark when bites finally recommenced, but they were very hard won, even though it was clear I was still casting straight amongst plenty of fish. By then I was frozen half way to death as the frost descended, the last fish landed in a net frozen flat as a pancake and stuck fast to the ground, requiring a strong jerk (no puns please!) to free it. Martin ended his entire day with just two small raps on the tip to maggot feeder tactics, but no fish at all ...

As I've said, it was 'rock hard', my total of five fish and all the associated bites, hit or missed, coming from areas of water no larger than just a few square yards amongst acres of what may as well have been dead river. Outside of those hotspots, there was nothing doing at all. 'Jacking the stream' had worked at The Lido, locating a chub hotspot where chub were thought most unlikely to be, and as for the roach hotspot in the weir, well that was only found, and clearly defined, by using the same method there last February, so I'll be continuing with it in future.

It works in the desperate cold and it's cheap too, requiring as it does, absolutely no groundbait! But perhaps that's its trick -- just the one little morsel may be all they'll want and no more, and they'll want it exactly where they want it, and not a foot outside...

Tomorrow, things go from bad to worse... but with an unseasonal surprise at the last.


  1. A beautiful read Jeff and some nice rewards.That Chub brace looks simply brilliant.

    Kind regards

  2. The first problem was ice packing in the small rings of the quivertip, a problem that isn't easily overcome.

    Glycerin (£1 from any chemists) and a cotton bud works well for frozen rings, living in Buxton we use this up to mid summer!