Tuesday, I went fishing down the canal to meet with fellow Coventry angler, Norman. This was our first meet, only having exchanged mails before now, but as usual, things were easy between us and the conversation flowed without much in the way of formal preliminaries, other than a handshake. I like that about keeping this blog, for it gets me out there meeting people, making friends, and freely exchanging notes and thoughts with others. It creates a social life that I value very highly.
Andy Lewis turned up before we started off, with the gift in hand of an unused rod or two to replace my own knackered and over-repaired steeds. I didn't ask for them, he just gave them me probably because he knows I'm permanently broke! We all got talking. Amazing that strangers who fish, find common ground so very easily.
But when we did start fishing, I couldn't sit down... Two days after returning, the muscles wanted to stand up to fish! I sat on the grassy verge instead, and they stopped complaining. Norman sat down, on a seat box. And there he fished the long pole tight against the far bank. Just as I had on the Itchen, where on Saturday I'd watched what Simon did expertly on his home turf from the respectful distance of my own swim, and digested all the fascinating detail of a wholly different style and and approach to fishing than I was used to, here I got to watch what a well-equipped and experienced match anger would do on my familiar manor.
He caught fish, that's what he did. And he caught fish I didn't even know existed there because I've never seen them. Small ones! Tiny ones! Loads of them! However, that didn't mean that he wouldn't also catch big ones too, and sure enough, the elastic shot out and after quite a tussle on what must have been ultra-fine line, he banked a big hybrid.
I, on the other hand, employed my standard canal approach, which is go for the big fish, and only for the big fish. Now that might well be a mistake. Simon had fished for what ever would take a bait, because there's no way to sift big fish from small with baits moving at pace backed up by lots of free offerings, other than use the same, so its single red maggots all the way, and on microscopic hooks. But, he knows it does work for the bigger fish, because in the end, they will fall to the same approach that gets small fish, and the biggest and wisest might only fall for the very finest presentation on such a well-fished stretch of river. Although fishing so very fine, it's a dicey gamble when actually landing them is taking into account.
Here on the cut, small baits, and some of Norman's wriggly baits were so small I didn't even know their names, not owning hooks small enough to mount them on, also do catch big fish, as Norman had just proved. I persisted with a massively heavy (for a canal!) 3lb bottom as insurance against tench, but decided to indulge myself in a size 18 hook, the same model I'd used on the Itchen, but a size that is three sizes down from my usual canal 12's, and fish caster.
I put two on, because a single just looked too small a bait for a big fish... I just can't resist it!
In went too much feed. But in came a big roach, and within a quarter of an hour of starting. So, was it the size 18 that did it, my typical heavy initial feed, or the double-caster bait way too big for the hook? Who cares! It worked. A roach, that at one-pound, seven-ounces was larger than any I'd caught after all that effort on the Itchen, but who'd tripped up just a stone's throw from home.
I have a great roach fishery in my back yard, it has to be said. Though no-one else but me seems to care that they are there, fish for them, or when they do try, catch them. I seem to be something of a Coventry one-man band where roach are concerned and probably have more big roach from the local canals under my belt than anyone living. And when I say 'big' I mean well over a pound, because a two-pounder is not big, it's huge. But, I've yet to catch one.
But I will, because though they are rare -- and they're as rare anywhere else, in any case, including chalk streams like the Itchen -- they are there. With exquisite fish of the stamp of the one above being regular catches, the roach caught prior to it when carp fishing, the exact same weight too (I've checked, they're different fish...) and the string of the previous eight fish uninterrupted by a single sub-pounder, it is certain that they are.
And I've come very, very close indeed. One, fifteen, bleedin' eight...
But only when I finally catch that 'Magic Two,' will people finally sit up, and listen to me. If that is, I tell them about it... but you know I will.
But, telling people about it, worries me. I have just publicised the fact that a free fishery on my doorstep contains roach well worth their effort tracking down and fishing for, but they won't come because the ultimate prize is not there on a plinth. Yet. However, the free Itchen has a glass case full of such trophies lined up for all to see, and I've just put two more in the trophy cabinet by publishing them here, because Steve's 'scraper two' might not be one now, but by mid-winter, it will be.
It's an ancient dilemma. Do you tell the world, or keep it to yourself? Well, in my experience it doesn't matter. If big 'uns are caught, news works its way out whatever, because angling is a leaky old kettle that spills more boiling water on the floor than ever makes a cup of hot tea for one. However, there's the counterbalancing fact that I also mentioned how very hard it was for three anglers, spending a grand total of 60 man hours on the bank and chucking in twelve pints of maggots between them in the process, to catch just a few roach over pound, one just under two, but none of that elusive magical weight...
Crowds of wannabe roach anglers won't come to the Itchen, I'll guarantee it. A few might, and good luck to them that persist with it and go on to succeed, but it's really hard work with NO guarantees whatsoever, big roach are the most demanding of fish anyhow, and that's, off-putting to many.
But not to me. I like that hardship, don't want my best fish served up on a plate, and I'll go back for more of the same. The Itchen is now one of my venues of choice. I love it, and I'm getting to know it quite well now after four trips to the Lower Itchen Fishery above the weir, and one to the free stretch below. That I can get there in two hours, be fishing soon after, and with an all-in travel cost of just £40 to do so, is every reason to return.
But why ever, with a great roach fishery on my doorstep, would I bother?
Well, the local canals might well be that, and I'm privileged to live by them, but they don't flow so fast! And, believe it or not, the next great roach fishery within easy reach of Coventry, is, for someone who hasn't use of a car, by some fortunate accident of train tracks, cheap tickets and angler friendly timetables, the Itchen.
Three days after my return, looking back over the events of the weekend, I'd say it was one of the best fishing adventures of my life. It wasn't a trip round the other side of the world, or an expedition up a mountain range, only a little jaunt a hundred miles south. However, it was a leap in the dark, just the same.
I've been on many excursions in my time, both farther, and longer, but few took so much out of me. However, few ever put so much back in, and I reaped a wealth of valuables too numerous to list. But amongst them, are, learning something new from a master of another discipline, finding out that he has caught a double-figure bass from the shore just a few hundred yards from his own door (that'll be equivalent to a three-pound roach!) and discovering that people I hardly know, and who hardly know me, are willing to take a punt on my character and help me out of basic human kindness.
It's a brotherhood of fisher-man.
What's next then? What more adventures by rail await? Well, the Bristol Avon is high on my list if only I can find a stretch to fish with the right roach in it, and a day ticket, because Chippenham can be got to for just £30 return, going early Saturday morning and coming back Sunday evening (these are the cheapest of all tickets you'll find) and somehow, staying over. In a one-man tent perhaps, or in warm weather, sleeping under a low brolly will do me fine. Then again, in winter, a B&B might be nice, though it doubles the cost.
I don't know, but anything seems possible, if only it can be got on the cheap side. Which puts a lot of fisheries out of the question, but thankfully, not all. Like all fishing expeditions, they are always going to be a punt on an outsider bet, but with trains, the chances of success are going to be reduced by having to deal with conditions on the day that are booked well in advance at a ticket office. You can't back out of them last minute should the weather be inclement, what you get is what you get, and there's no refunds should it be out of prime when you arrive. Thankfully the Itchen wasn't anything like as unfishable as the weather and the state of Midland's rivers suggested it might be en route.
I lucked out.
But would I make make such a long shot again? And again, and again...?
I see no earthly reason why I shouldn't. One day that long shot will hit...
... the bullseye.