Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Avon Roach and Dace - Methinks Methinks

Saturday may have been bitterly cold but Sunday would be a completely different prospect with the mercury expected to rocket overnight and top out at the balmy heights by noon, of five degrees above melting point, an ambient increase of seven or eight degrees. It would be overcast and later it might rain, with mists and fogs by evening, conditions that would seem perfect for roach, the best possible in fact, if only that is, conditions have been stable for some time.  Not surprisingly, with violent change on the way Saturday night, I'd expected very little from either Saturday's cold and expected even less from Sunday's warmth, despite the apparently perfect weather following on, and was to be proved (almost!) completely right.

On arrival at the Saxon Mill I crossed the footbridge and made my way up the path through the woods only to be confronted with Keith Jobling, Danny Everitt, Andy Lewis and Baz Peck all fishing in a row in the first few pegs! Danny and Andy had arrived early, Keith a little later, Baz a little later still, and now I'd turned up. Five of the Cov bloggers accidentally creating a moot on the river because there was no communication beforehand, we'd all had the same idea independently, and at the same time - dace!

It's that time of year though when the female dace pack on the ounces before their March spawning and the Mill is the most reliable place on this river for the species, it being crammed with them, though you'd never have known that by the morning's results, Danny and Andy taking a few around dawn, Keith having had two bites but no fish, but Baz experiencing his first ever Saxon Mill blank.

Andy had had a pike or two, so at least something was feeding, but prospects looked very dire for my bread and maggot attack further upstream. The rest were about to depart for home, so Keith and I went up to fish two consecutive swims where I was sure there was at least a chance of a few fish later on having had so many bites there in previous sessions. I cast, Keith cast, but we sat the first hour out without so much as a tremble between us to indicate interested fish. It seemed we'd have it hard. Two hours later, three hours later, the result was the same -- not a single bite of any kind. It was hard. The fish were simply not in the mood though I knew full well that out baits were landing smack in the middle of plenty of them. Keith believed they would turn on as darkness fell and I believed that they would too. We sat and waited for that time to arrive.

I took a walk upstream, and found what I thought were topping fish. They turned out to be a large population of at least ten dabchicks working the shallows for small fry.

Meanwhile, I spent my time in a theoretical frame of mind, there being little else to occupy it, and fell into deep cogitation ~

Fish are cold-blooded, so any rapid temperature change in their environment, be it upwards or downwards, is for them, a pressing matter of survival. They must always have their blood temperature exactly match that of the water in which they swim and adjust it rapidly to any change. An increase or decrease of two degrees is a lot to cope with. It's the same effect one experiences when stepping off a plane into an ambient temperature markedly different to the environment experienced at home before the trip. At home you tolerated the difference between sub-zero temperature out of doors and sub-tropical temperatures indoors by eating food, drinking water, adjusting your clothing, and the heating system too, to keep your temperature constant at the optimal 98.6 degrees, but as soon as you experience that large change in ambient temperature, you don't know how to adjust your environment to suit, either over or under compensating with the result that your metabolism boils or chills, and you experience debilitating fatigue.

I used to get this problem even when making the one-hour high-speed rail journey from London to Coventry when I was dating Judy. I'd step off the train shocked by the two degree ambient difference between the two cities in normal weather conditions. I formed an opinion that Coventry was a cold place, and these past three winters that has proven to be a correct assumption, the West Midlands always seeming to get the very worst of the cold -- minus one in London, always minus three or four here. The only thing that saved me from fatigue was the sure prospect that I'd be in Judy's bed well within the hour...

Fish don't experience our fatigue, I'm sure (it might cost them their lives if they did...) because they instinctively shut down operations such as feeding, which requires an expenditure of energy in both sourcing and digesting, and simply exist on reserves and resume normal life only when the environmental changes have stabilised and their metabolisms have acclimatised to them. They also anticipate these changes long before we do, because they must rely upon their natural instincts where we simply consult the weather report, so they begin to slow down and enter a state of torpidity long before the change arrives.

I think, though I don't actually know this for sure, that cold-blooded creatures cannot eat during acclimatisation periods because the expenditure of energy caused by the body working on digestion might have the effect of cooling them down and delaying their necessary adjustment, whereas warm-blooded creatures such as ourselves must eat regularly (cows, constantly!) to fuel the furnace that keeps the body at the optimum temperature. Put simply, we need to eat food whatever the conditions because our metabolism requires a constant high grade fuel supply, but fish don't because they only require miniscule amounts of even low grade fuel to keep them going.

Also, adult warm-blooded creatures eat lots of food not to grow, unless that is we overeat to gain weight, but cold-blooded fish eat lots of food when it is available only to grow, and they'll grow all their lives long given sufficient food supply but given the choice between growth and survival, fish elect to survive despite the fact that your feed is laying all around them. They'll simply ignore it for the time being, and clear it up when the time is right. I suppose their very lives depend on obeying this instinct...

Could conditions look any better for a spot of winter roach fishing?

What suddenly snapped me clean out of this frame of mind was a bite. The rod tip trembled once. I called out to Keith, 'bite!' and we both then expected what we'd waited all afternoon for -- for the long awaited feeding spell to commence. Ten seconds later the tip trembled and bounced and the strike met with the solid weight of a good fish, one too forceful to be a roach or a dace, but powerful and heavy enough to be a three or four pound chub...

Only it wasn't a chub at all, but something else, because the fight was most peculiar. Then it came to the surface and I saw an eel, and only a small one too! A midwinter eel, who'd have thought it? It was a bugger to net, climbing over the frame backwards three or four times before I got it in properly. On the bank it proceeded to cause absolute mayhem finding the one small ripped hole in the mesh and exiting tail first, then wriggling about all over the place while I tried to calm it. Luckily, it was completely slime free!

By a miracle of judgement I'd managed to keep the fish from wrapping itself up in the line, unhooked it, whereupon it made straight for the river, snaking its way rapidly through the undergrowth toward the smell of water. I snatched it up and put it in a plastic bag to weigh it, another testing thing to do with a fish that moves backwards. It weighed just a pound and an ounce, yellow-bronze in overall colour, but pretty though it was, it was so lively and troublesome that I returned it without even attempting to take its picture, which would have been an operation too far under the circumstances.

Needless to say, that bite did not signal the beginning of a feeding spell, as no dace roach or chub were seen before darkness fell and we returned to the Mill without much to show for the day except theory and conjecture and an out of season slippery customer, the only cold-blooded creature that was in need of a meal that day, to throw a spanner in the works...

Then again, eels are so unlike other fish, so mysterious and unpredictable, who knows what metabolic laws might apply to them?


  1. Although both myself and Andy noticed a marked temp drop an hour or so after first light I don't feel that was the cause of the lack of feeding.
    I suspect it may have been to do with ether a quick drop in barometric pressure or the fact that this stretch may just have started suffering from some predation problems. Just around the time the feeding dropped off Sunday we saw a pair of cormorants circling over head. Nether landed probably because of our presence on this fish rich environment. But it could indicate that this last bastion of angling heaven may be about to change and bring this stretch into line with the rest of the Avon.

  2. It was the worst Ive ever seen it fish Jeff. I may of blanked some time ago but cannot recollect it . There are so many fish in that bit of river its un real that it was so hard..

    Well done with the eel old chap....