Having lost my minnows, not yet found my gudgeon, and more than a little concerned about catching bullheads for the hell of it, I was at a loss to explain to myself where next to try.
Because I'd only ever seen gudgeon once and then amongst a mixed shoal of roach and perch, because such shoals are typical for the northern reaches of this small river, and because I know where such shoals can be found, therefore, revisiting known haunts armed with worms might well get me what I wanted. Hoping that this genius thought process would send me all the way to the bright lights, elegant bistros, wine bars, and intellectual chatter of the art houses of uptown Gobions Reach...
I got on my bike and went downstream in earnest.
The river looked good. A nice tinge of green from the previous night's brief rain meant that natural cover was over their heads and therefore things should go according to plan. Straight off the bat I had bites and fish too. Roach, then perch, then roach, and then perch. None large enough to warrant much attention but very pretty all the same. My worms were all the rage. Bites a'plenty.
But there were no gudgeon. Nor were there minnows. Bullheads in very short supply. I'd heard that they don't like to be disturbed. Liking their rocks so much they'll live under one alone and for an entire lifetime only going out on the town once a year to meet and seduce a mate, shag, the bloke tending the resulting eggs while the bird presumably continues her flirtations, and when it's all over he'll abandon the offspring, go home and put his fins up, popping round the corner shop for a caddis and shrimp paella ready-meal every now and then.
If you catch one and return it anywhere far from its abode apparently it'll be accosted and mugged by other pugnacious fellows defending their personal kingdoms, and be likely killed. I don't know what 'anywhere far' means for a bullhead. I suppose safe means ten feet or less, because they are very small fish and eleven feet is a long and perilous swim home through the dark, dingy and downright dangerous environs found in the downtown quarter of Millers Thumb Lane.
To be honest I didn't expect worms to fail me. Almost all the fishing I've conducted downstream has been with bread baits and very successful it has been with roach up to a pound and a quarter and often multiple catches of pound plus fish. Bread will take gudgeon on occasion, but I never saw one. I did fish worms once in high summer but I was stalking individual perch that day. Fish I could see quite clearly and cast to. I had loads. I think I caught every one I saw plus the pike who attacked those I'd hooked. Again, the perch reach a pound and a quarter just like the roach. It seems to be the ceiling weight for such a small watercourse.
Worms were not nearly so selective of the larger roach as bread had always been and I was surprised how many small roach I was catching. I don't know if it was the tinge of colour in the water that made them so easy. I'd always assumed they didn't like worms because that day I'd caught all the perch in the entire stretch, the accompanying roach whose numbers trebled those of their stripy shoal mates, wouldn't go near them.
Hopping swim to swim I wound up on a corner pool that I'd never fished successfully. Again, plenty of bites but these were timid ones that I hoped might be from minnows. I could not hook them. I thought that encouraging and so I cut the bait size right down in an attempt to snare one. What I got was a slew of small roach and even smaller perch, but then hooked what was clearly a much larger fish.
Against a featherweight rod the fish in this river fight really hard and so I didn't see it clearly for a time. You can't easily bully them up and till they tire they race up and down, here and there. Sometimes when hooked they'll leave the water in surprise. They really are worthy opponents and give it their all. When I did see it, I thought it was a perch because it wasn't flashing bright silver flanks as roach would. But it was a roach after all. And one of the very oldest residents I'd say because its scales had that peculiar quality that on big rivers ancient two-pounders might acquire. Not so bright and clean as a youth's clear complexion. And despite the fact that its fins were in absolutely mint condition, its armour plating was kind of gnarly.
I didn't quantify the old girl, but I guessed a pound or so.
I do like to catch roach of this size (and who doesn't)? But on this occasion I couldn't help feeling that she was something of a consolation prize for failing to find those fish I'd ventured out for.
I guessed the absence of gudgeon, minnows and bullheads might have had something to do with the substrate of sandy silt and the sluggish flow not suiting them well where the graded gravels of the swifter upstream waters suited better. But I honestly don't know. I only began fishing seriously for these tiddler species a few short weeks ago and though I'm learning every day, I'll freely admit I know next to nothing about their habits and their habitats.
Maybe it'll take years to acquire knowledge of them, but by end of season I hope to have plenty enough errors and hopefully few enough successes under my belt to approach an understanding of sorts.