Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Of Roach, Trout, Perch, and Men - Forward Planning for Fishing Trips - River Itchen, Hanningfield Reservoir

With two big trips coming up in the next two months my mind is awash with dreams and plans about how to make those dreams come true. The first trip comes up Friday next when me and Keith, Danny and Baz toodle off South to that gem like wonderland of piscine promise, the Lower Itchen Fishery in Southampton. The second is a planned, though not as yet confirmed trip, with a bunch of Coventry bloggers to the inland sea that is Hanningfield Reservoir in my home county of Essex. Both venues promise big fish, the latter, record breakers.

Straight out of 'A Passion for Angling' The Itchen

The Itchen is a chalk stream and one of the finest in the world. I know of only one other stretch of river apart from the LIF with such a head of fish and that is the Wark's Avon at the Saxon Mill. But head of fish is where the similarity begins and ends, for the Itchen there doesn't just contain lots of fish, it contains a seemingly never ending supply, on the right day (and I have never yet experienced a wrong un!) of surprising fish. One minute you're happily catching grayling by the dozen and then you hook a fresh run salmon that tears the sinews from your arm, a cock sea trout with an impressive kype that insists upon leaping four feet in the air, then a chub, a brownie or two, parr of various sorts, near record breaking gudgeon, carp too, bream in places, barbel, and of course, there's the very real chance of a very big roach or dace. You never know what's coming next, and never let anyone tell you they do. It's crazy fishing of the very best sort and worth every single penny of the £26 ticket.

The fast boats shrink things, though not the size of the smiles! Steve at the tiller back last June

Hanningfield Reservoir is vast, but I've fished bigger waters, Windermere and Thirlmere in the English Lakes are far larger, and far more worrying. Thirlmere, in calm weather, is silent and spooky, in wild weather with the wind funneled down in the ice age valley it sits in, terrifying, whilst Windermere's black impenetrable depths put the wind up me when out on one of the electric boats hirable by the day from Bowness Quay. As an aside, there's a tale to tell.  Pike mad kid on holiday who'd lost a frustrating succession of Thirlmere pike, I then had my first run in with one of Windermere's residents near the fish science centre. There were some big swirls emanating from some shallow water, so I cast a lure right across them hoping to catch what had to have been a massive pike. I had a hit, but struck into only a small one who was quickly released so I could get another chance, because the big swirls were still erupting. Just as the lure approached the commotion, a diver in full wet gear and tanks popped his head above the water....

The Pumping Station at Hannningfield.  50 feet deep below the boat

Hanningfield's vastness derives from its lowland setting. There's no surrounding mountains to give it a sense of proportion, just a low flat valley flooded with water, and, at first, a sense of intimacy. That is , until you get out in the boat, when distances open up, the pumping station on the east bank, for instance, looks insignificant from the quay but when you eventually get there, it towers high above you like a some kind of medieval castle in cast concrete. Its fish are an unknown quantity, if you discount the trout who are predominantly newly stocked, or grown on, rainbow trout. In recent years some truly impressive perch have been taken by fly anglers -- five pounds fifteen ounces is the largest so far recorded, but a number of other 'fives' are known of, and there's reports of far larger fish still out there waiting for some lucky angler to pass over its lair with the right bait or lure.

Itchen Broon troot ...

For the Itchen I have a plan that encompasses and considers its variety of opportunities across the day, starting off early morning with a spot of exploratory roach fishing with bread to take advantage of the undeniable fact that the Itchen fishes best for roach at dawn and dusk. Then a side trip to one of the carrier streams that looks to be small, intimate, and very much a small stream adventure. Then I'll trot away the mid morning on the main river after whatever wants to snaffle a couple of red maggots and so on till the early afternoon, when the entire character of the place seems to change. From then on in, it'll be trotting for bread for roach to find out where they might be on the day, and later ledgering bread for the big roach and chub where my prior experience tells me they'll be if I don't find a shoal by other means.

Hanningfield Rainbow Troot ...

For Hanningfield I want to fill my boots with trout, the bag limit being eight fish, which is more than enough to defray the costs of ticket and petrol, but I want to do this whilst searching for perch. How to find perch in such a volume of water is a bit hit and miss (last time here, both Steve Philips and I, missed!) if you 'plan' to go about it in a random fashion, so I'll be working on what little prior knowledge I have as to their whereabouts at certain times of the year, and using methods derived from deep sea fishing and specifically, reef and wreck fishing for bass.

A dream fish. Ovidiuus Venkus and his massive perch of five-pounds-fifteen If this fish can't grow on to six, or even seven pounds, then I'd be surprised. It's young! If you've ever seen a ragged old perch then you'll know what I mean...

There's no tide of course, but given a little wind (too much would wreck this plan) I'd like to try drifting across the 'known' perch holding areas whilst drop-shotting or jigging a live lobworm, and this simply so that large areas and quantities (it's quite deep!) of water can be searched. Anchoring is OK when fish are found, if they are found, but it's just too big a place to hope to simply drop on their heads even when in the relatively local confines of the likely areas, as we are still talking about a hundred acres or more there, or if you like, 40 acres more than the entire area of Coombe Abbey Lake, not just two or three! If our other boats do something similar and report catches of any perch, then we might just stand a chance between all of us, of breaking the record for perch by a team effort!

Ah, dreams...

We can have them, even achieve them. Do plans make any real difference?

Well, it's a lot more fun to fish with them as a guiding light than hopelessly fumbling in the dark. And if one plan pans out, then there's a greater sense of achievement to be had than there ever is from lucking out, and at least the sense that something useful has been learned even if a @&%$ is drawn.

I won't even spell 'the B word' in advance, too superstitious, too much like tempting fate...


  1. I cannot wait until Friday Jeff and hopefully my first Grayling .
    Once that duck is broken its dace and roach from there in .....

    See you at first light old chap.


  2. If it fishes like it always has Baz, that first grayling will fall on the first cast! It'll be nice and warm by the looks of it, Oh, and sweetcorn sorts out far the bigger fish when trotting, so pack a small tin, you won't need to feed any - last year danny had a 'two' that coughed up enough of the stuff for a days work! No-one had a clue where it had got it from though! No-one had fished any before he caught it!

  3. wow looks like a good job and a great catch there.i have started to learn angling as a sport,and with such great posts, i definitely look forward to learn its and bits of being a good angler..

  4. Found your excellent blog today, some great essays, and fish.

    Best Wishes.