Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Avon Roach — It's a Jungle Out There!

It was a crazy scheme. Insane really considering what we both suspected we'd find out there in the wilderness. Nevertheless, enthusiasm got the better and us thinking that low, clear water would afford the best chance of spotting fish over clean gravels in country so remote and inaccessible that the populations hardly ever see an angler's bait, off we trotted armed with very little gear, and even less idea...

Over the stile and into the woods it looked bad. And, it just got worse and worse and worse until we finally exited the woods and made our way into the meadow where worse became worst. Nettles up to  your neck, cow parsley over your head and at the fertile soil of the river bank a continuous unbroken strip of the tallest, toughest and most impenetrable vegetation of all.

It was why came to be fair. Because we knew no-one else had. Now it was abundantly clear only a madman would...

Having to strike a new path almost the whole way we reached the top of the stretch about an hour after setting off from the car park — about a 3/4 mile walk so you can calculate our average speed without even thinking! It was, to make matters worse, really hot and humid in the trapped air between the stalks and we were sweating our guts out!

Tramping a slot across the bankside strip of most rampant growth we came to the edge of the water and peered over. It looked fabulous — to a naturalist that is. It was beautiful to us too, but to anglers the sight of thick cabbages over shallows and lilies lining the banks ten feet deep is not good. Can't fish in that!

Plan 1 — choose a nice spot and fish how you wanted was abandoned at first sight. Plan 2 — beat a peg out wherever possible and fish however you could — was put into operation.

It's over there somewhere!

Baz Peck decided to try a couple of possible swims up from the railway bridge while I went downstream a little way and attempted to find one down there. I failed and had to resort to prior knowledge gained in wintertime, beating a path to a place where I knew the bank had a gentle slope to the water rather than a vertical 4 foot drop.

Well, almost nothing could be seen of that bank but it felt familiar underfoot, a nice comfortable niche was soon made and fishing commenced at last. Bait was bread because from prior experiences of  wintertime fishing along the stretch at our disposal today, having never caught a single roach or dace who are by far the predominant species further downstream, I believed that chub and large ones too, were the the predominant species here because that's all I'd ever caught then.

Those experiences were clearly flawed because roach were what I caught now and when I managed to locate a small promontory upstream and fished off it awhile, the story was the same there. Roach and more roach.

It was good to see them even though they were the average stamp and no more. The larger fish are very hard to find in these middle stretches of the Warwickshire Avon. I've plugged away at it every summer and winter for years but never yet had a single fish above a pound, but Baz fishing during the winter of 2011 managed to locate a shoal, took a number at that watershed weight and topped his catch with a two-pounder. They are there, but this particular area is so densely packed with small fish that it's almost impossible to wade through them all.

The top half of this fishery holds curious populations. Down in the millrace there's one of the best dace fishing spots in the entire country and through the season large numbers are easily possible with big weights late February and March. Dace are found throughout but dominate that particular area whilst roach come into their own further upstream where 20lb catches are feasible. Amongst them are lots of small chub with large fish relatively rare.

So far as anyone knows it holds no perch whatsoever and no bream either because none have ever been seen on the bank but with plenty of deep slow water you'd think both would be commonplace but they seem entirely absent. It does have its carp and is supposed to hold barbel too but as far as I know none have ever been caught. Eels, occasional gudgeon and pike pretty much round the thing off.

When I finally stumbled across Baz by following his tracks back down through the nettles, frightened a basking adder on the way who zipped off into the overgrowth in alarm, the story was the same. Small roach, a few chublets but nothing exactly exciting. Pitching upstream of him a little way I then fished faster shallower water than I had thus far hoping that it would improve matters. Just a few feet deep it seemed to offer a chance of something better just out of difference.

Looking upstream toward the shallowest water in miles
First cast the bread settled, the tip twitched and slowly inched down — the perfect roach bite. A fish was on and it felt a really good one but it got stuck in trailing weed. Then I saw the big broad back, silver flanks and impressive length of what would be easily the largest roach I'd ever hooked here. All I had to do now was bank it!

It came out of the weed under sustained pressure and with racing heart and trembling legs I readied the net. It was easily over a pound, well over half a pound more and possibly that two!

Quite how it turned into a 2lb chub I don't quite know... There's never usually any confusion but I swear, viewed in clear water beneath the weeds it looked just like a giant roach in every respect. I suppose refraction warped its apparent shape and the sun gave it a silvery glint. A beautiful perfect uncaught fish it was, though not what I wanted in my net with the adrenalin rush I'd hoped to sustain through the after-catch rituals, in rapid decay!

Then the real roach began to show but as usual, they were the usual. A disk of bread might be a small but powerful magnet to roach but casting one into these shoals and hoping for a specimen seems like attracting a very small needle in a vast haystack. Possible, but unlikely. I don't know what's to be done except abandon ledgering bread altogether here and begin a serious campaign of trotting through a constant downpour of hemp and maggots. That might be best — feed the small fish off over the first hours and give the specimens a chance to show in the last...

At least the day had shown the bones of the river and I now knew things that aren't easily appreciated in winter — the subtleties of its various deeps, shallows and pace. All useful stuff to any angler and often the kind of knowledge that leads to future success so as with all reconnaissance, never was it wasted time.

All we had to do now was get back to civilisation!

And that truly was a waste of time when it should have taken ten minutes but took three-quarters of an hour!


  1. Well Done Jeff, all the best swims at this time of the year are only accessible via a 6ft high nettle bank. Even better if there are brambles in there as well. Got the marks on my arms for the weekend to prove it.


    1. Thank God there were no brambles — we'd have never got out once in, Stew! It is a lot of fun though poking around in places like that. We were on a club recce really, looking at how to tame it and create pathways to swims. The scale of the problem though, just defeated us, and I think we abandoned all hope of ever making a fist of it. The only way forward is to have other anglers tread the same paths more frequently.

  2. I felt it this morning mate .......

    And am hving what is turning out to be the busiest week of the year work wise !!! to add insult to injury .


    1. My skin still smarts. Didn't get too badly stung though it has to be said. The legs are a bit stiff and I walk a lot of miles each week, yours must be aching like hell seeing as you led the way out and half way back! Cracking day out though, really good fun and informative I think

  3. That's my sort of river stretch, I've already got three club books this season so I'd rather not add to my collection as I'm already spoilt for choice of where to fish.

    I'm sure I've seen somewhere a scythe type blade that you can attach to a bankstick that would be ideal.

    1. It is a rover's paradise Mick, and really it's an unknown quantity in the upper reaches. Who knows what's up there lurking — we certainly don't. The scale of the weeds would defeat anything but farm machinery really. even a gang armed with strimmers would make little headway, but come winter it's actually a great deal of fun out there. Still remote and wild but the weeds are dry and no longer dangerous!

  4. I got completely lost hiking back across fields in the dark after a barbel session once in 6ft high nettles and plants etc. Think "signs" but in pitch black. Never thought i'd make it back to the car. Lost my bearings big time, can be quite a scary experience especially alone.

    1. Well you don't want to do that at this place, Lee. The nettles are bad enough, but when you make it to the relative safety of the woods, then there's the bloody ghosts to contend with!