A fortnight since I last caught a decent fish, last night I went down the Avon with Martin, carrying along minimal tackle but also the burdensome determination to break what has been something of a dearth of pleasurable activity of late. He was to try cracking a glass ceiling of his own. I was planning to roll meat down a fast chute of shallow water in search of big chub.
Yep, that's right. Rolling meat — not for barbel.
This tiring grind has dented my confidence in proven baits, trusted rigs, and my own abilities. It's seen me fishing at local free fisheries, mostly, and trying hard there to find tench, crucians, roach and carp. What I've found in place of all, are respectively birds, weeds, skimmers and crayfishes...
For tench I turned up at a reedy lake armed with a box of hemp and corn and stupidly fed my shallow gin clear marginal swim with pouches of the mix. Coots arrived as if led by radar and proceeded to eat me out. I moved to deeper water thinking that would defeat them. It did for a while as they contented themselves with those stray yellow magnets that had fallen short. But of course, then they turned their attentions toward the more difficult dives over my baited areas and pushed me home.
For crucians I thought I'd have another crack at the little lake nearby where I'd heard reports of their capture. Last time I'd tried it had been too weedy to fish anywhere but the deepest places. This time I found much of the lake surface choked with mature duckweed fern. In this red mire there was just the one viable swim. A shallow area under deep shade where the duckweed had not flourished so well. All I got for my efforts there were a few tantalising liners as fish brushed the bulk shot, but nothing besides.
Roach fishing has become a matter of jostling for desired pegs and then wading through skimmer bream. Bread takes a while to attract roach in this canal unless dropped amongst them. It takes no time at all to attract little bream who seem to have flourished after a couple seasons of very successful recruitment. However, this population explosion is creating a very popular venue. So much so that five or six anglers are seen every day in popular spots. Three or four years ago I'd only see that many in a fortnight.
Carp were a target because I'd inadvertently found some the week before. I'd turned up with my pole in search of silver bream, baited a likely looking dent in the far bank brambles with hemp and caster, and dropped in. Not two minutes later a large swirl erupted under the trailing briars. Attention fixed upon it in wonder at what might have caused it, I looked back to the float but it wasn't there. I found myself attached to what felt like a sodden sofa cushion. But it was not that. It was moving the wrong way. I fancied I'd foul-hooked some kind of large fish.
Or at least I presume it was fouled, because no amount of effort on my part would shift it and it seemed to think it had snagged a scale on a thorn. Rising in the shallow water, the fish rolled sideways when I saw the orange/brown flank and large individual scales of a big mirror carp. It succeeded in shifting the hook and vanished quite unperturbed.
Of course, having witnessed at least two carp and large ones at that, meant effort had to be made to catch one. So I pre-baited that swim every morning for a week with the same mix and the addition of a little corn. Early one morning I fished again suitably armed. But succeeded only in having the hooks stripped clean of corn by the crayfish that my hopeful campaign had drawn in from all around.
And then I went with Martin one evening to a new water. Reputed to hold crucians in excess of four pounds it seemed worth a shot. I could not buy a bite yet Martin two pegs along caught from the outset and continued in that vein of success through till dark Eventually I did manage three F1 carp, who looked remarkably crucian like. Well, that illusion didn't last for long when Martin brought down a real one for comparison and then had two more, and tench too.
Rolling commences at 6 O'clock. The river level is very low but in the chute it seems plentiful enough. Fast paced, gin clear, and with the bright pink bait highly visible I believe I cannot go wrong. However, a few short trots down brings forth nothing. A few longer forays finds a single pluck. It's only when the bait reaches such great distance downstream that hooking fish will be to court disaster that I begin receiving indications that I've discovered the lie of my quarry.
That spot happens to be at the head of the next swim downstream. That peg happens to be vacant. So I occupy it. There's a tricky problem though. The fast water there is some distance out from the bank. And there's a large pool of still water to be negotiated between and flanked each side by dense beds of reeds. Reaching where I'd found the fish to be is a matter of wading out half way, stripping loads of line from the centre-pin and luzzing the meat out to them. But it proves hopeless. Fifteen yards away and fishing at right angles to it, I cannot control the bait in the flow and I'm not in touch with it. It feels plain wrong.
So I return to the bank and hatch a plan. There's a second rod in the quiver. Trouble is it's been used for fishing single grains of corn for carp, it's now too dark to tie on a hair, and I don't seem to have brought any along ready-tied. To compound matters the weight is three-ounces. That means I cannot cast all the way from the bank and have a hope in hell of keeping the soft bait on the hook without a stalk of grass jammed in the gape because the weight of the lead plunging through the water at speed will rip it through most every time and leave me fishing bare-hooked. But if I should employ a stalk to achieve a trusted cast that will then impede the strike.
I'm on the horns of a dilemma.
So I hook the meat through, push the float stop up the line turning the bolt rig into a running rig so that the buoyant bait may pull a little line through the eye of the swivel when the heavy lead enters the water. Hopefully cushioning the shock. Then wade out and lob the rig as low as possible to where I want it hoping for a soft splashdown. I think it's OK. Returning to bank I find I've left my rod rest heads at home and have three useless sticks. Never mind. I wind the bank-stick camera swivel attachment in and rest the rod on that.
The tip bangs hard over, springs back, but no there's hook up...
I repeat the procedure. A really savage take but a hopeless, fumbled, late strike
It's now dark and wading out a matter of safe route memory. I have an iPhone torch but no lanyard and no fish is worth that cost. Time has all but run down and this will be last chance cast should I risk it Nevertheless, I trust my footings by now so out I go. Once out there all alone up to my waist in the drink and the dark I consider staying put and fishing by touch alone, but don't. I feel that the only way a fish is going get pricked and hooked with such sharp and violent bangs is not by my flailing away, but by having the hook pull through the meat on a very tight line.
I can just see the rod now. Then I've an idea. I flip the bait runner off then wind the spool back till the rod tip is bent right over against the weight of the lead but just below tripping point. A sprung trap. Should a fish take then I'm betting it'll dislodge so violently that the work will be done hands free. Within a minute the tip twitches, springs back straight, and then lurches toward the water. Fish on!
There's a little night vision coming on by now. So I wade again to control the angles of the fight. Glad of that when the fish becomes weeded. From the bank that would have become a real problem but beneath a vertical line extraction should be a simple matter. And then, when I have it beaten, I'll just walk it back to the bank and chin it out. The fish emerges into the clear, gradually tires, arises in the water, when I see a pair of big white lips.
The takes may have been strident ones but all along I knew they were never arising from barbel. Too many in too short a time. Chub are what I set out for and eventually, that's what I get. My best for some time and since 2009 the only five-pounder. And I'm sure of that as I heave her onto the grass.
That's her weight , and the scores!
Martin, who's camped in an upstream peg in pursuit of his first double of the season, has yet another single to add to a capture tally standing at 12. Made of sterner stuff than I, he's quite unperturbed.
I couldn't bear it!