Monday, 19 December 2011

An Anglers Ghost Story - The Watcher in the Woods

Those recent reports of big Warwickshire Avon roach had me salivating at the prospect of catching one myself. Now, just because a couple have been caught doesn't mean it was certain that I would manage one first time out, in fact I think it will be a task to get one before March as they aren't going to be any less common just because of a few fish on the bank. However, just knowing they are around is enough of a spur especially as before these reports I was labouring under the impression that the river simply didn't have it in it to provide them. Now that it is certain that it surely does, the job is made a whole lot easier as there's bound to be more around of that class than just the two we know about.

I hadn't fished this stretch of water for some time and was surprised to find it very low for the time of year despite plenty of rain falling over the last month. I planned to start off high up in an area where few anglers ever tread and then work my way back swim by swim to the well trodden swims further down toward the weir. Up there I found the river as shallow as I have ever seen it, in fact I had no clear idea before of how very shallow it was because then it had more water in it, but now I could see the bottom right across the width of the river in places.

All the deeper areas were searched out by casting around with an empty feeder and a circular discs of bread on the hook punched from a sliced loaf with a short section of a broken carbon whip. When the weather is really cold, as it was today, I prepare a bag full of these discs of bread at home as it aids the tricky art of getting bread on the hook with fumbling fingers. I find that pulling chunks of bread off a slice with iced digits a real chore the colder it gets -- this little trick makes it easy, just get a disk from the bag, compress it, fold it in half and hook it through the bend. It can be done with blue fingers! As soon as it hits the water it begins to expand, the bend opens out, and in just twenty seconds or so you have a big mushy ball of bait wafting in the current.

What I was looking for was bites, however small, and from roach. Even one little indication would be enough to keep me on. What I would do then would be to trickle in a few small nuggets of feed to get the roach to bite more boldly and if they did, then feed the swim more regularly with the feeder. The thing is there's no point in loading the feeder on these exploratory casts as all that happens is you waste tons of your ground bait in places where fish are not, when you will need lots of it later on when the fish are found.

After thoroughly searching ten swims with only a few small nervous trembles (from what proved to be minuscule dace when one was foulhooked) to show for it, I found myself back in deeper water at the very start of the long millrace at the end of the shallows. The water here gets progressively deeper and deeper as it approaches the mill ending up at a maximum of nine to ten feet but at this head swim it was just four feet or so. A noisy green woodpecker yackyacked as it flew to a stump on the opposite bank and perched in stark silhouette against the icy blue sky. I dubbed the swim, 'Woodpeckers', as the hole riddled stump looks like a woodpecker's stump even without one there to prove it.

The first bite came after five minutes and it was a roach bite for sure. The second came five minutes later still and it too was a roach bite only a little more strident than the first. Two balls of ground bait were pitched into the head of the swim to get them going and sure enough the bites increased in both frequency and stridency, all I had now to do was catch one. Ten more minutes of casting around frequently to find the exact lie of the trail of breadcrumbs, a nice firm bite came along, and a fish was hooked. A roach of six ounces.

For the next hour the swim came more and more alive but the roach caught were proving to be on the small side, but then I had an encouraging ten-ouncer followed by a most un-roach-like twangy bite that proved to be from a six or seven ounce dace. All the fish were stowed in the keep-net to keep them away from the shoal and save the swim from the certain slow death that follows should I not.

Then I struck a bite only to have the line come back minus feeder, the paternoster snood having been sheared by what felt like an underwater snag. When the self-same thing happened to the replacement a quarter of an hour later and in a different place it was clear that I had a pike in the swim who was mistaking the moving feeder for a fish meal! I hope she spat them out as indigestible but knowing pike, like sharks with a belly full of car number plates and other indigestion inducing metalware, she didn't. The swim tailed off though bites were still coming but I'd decided now to move three pegs down into the head of the long strip of dank, dark woodland that runs along the millrace, and fish the rest of the evening out there.

I pulled the net but found just one fish where there should have been the commotion of ten or more, the rest having escaped through a neat circular hole in the base that had somehow created itself without my noticing it, or perhaps that feeder eating pike had created it for me? A two pounder would have just got through it, thankfully none were in there... but no wonder the swim had died!

The Watcher in the Woods

It really is a most spooky place, and even in the daylight hours, this thin strip of ancient woodland. The old river used to run in a now blocked and silted channel at the back and the river now runs along the revetted millrace out front. Between is a narrow winding path and some truly magnificent old trees including a huge London plane and some of the most impressive ancient chestnuts I have ever seen, all cloaked as they are in thousands of sucker shoots that rocket upward and completely conceal their massive trunks. Just the sorts of thickets restless spirits hide amongst...

I sat to fish on the hollow bank that floats on the water beyond the revetment and cast out. Every heavy movement here creates a resounding boom in the water that the fish can certainly hear so quietness is paramount. Molly frisking about at the waters edge didn't help things but the bites came anyways. This time the bites were mostly from chublets, obvious even before fish came to bank by their extreme nature, the top bouncing about in great twangs as the greedy little fish rocketed away with the morsels of bread, nevertheless a roach came along so I wasn't about to move soon.

Molly was suddenly and inexplicably agitated by something and began to bark in that muffled choking way that dogs have when the source of their agitation is something less seen than felt. There was nothing there but I was aware that something was indeed around, somewhere down along the gloomy footpath to my left, and watching us closely --- though for the life of me, I couldn't fathom what it could be.

To allay Molly's fear I got up and walked down the footpath but saw nothing there and heard nothing scamper away either. She wasn't allayed at all because as I sat back to deal with the fish, she started up barking once again. I switched on my headlamp because the light was fading fast and then turned to see if its dim rays would illuminate things. There was nothing to see, but the feeling of being watched had returned.

Now I'm never scared of the dark or anything it contains besides big mad men with big bad knives, as anything else I have ever encountered in the dark of night, alone, and in the most remote places has always proven to be nothing more than badger, fox, owl or rat going about her nocturnal business. I once encountered an albino deer in the middle of a vast field of stubble on a moonless night and she really did look like a ghost of a deer, but she eyed me and I eyed her and we went our separate ways. This experience however, was different.

It wasn't exactly threatening or even scary to me, as having a barking dog around does much to remove all trace of silent threat from the air. But the presence was real enough to scare the dog, not badly, but enough to have her in this state of high anxiety and barking in that curious choking way, and real enough for me to be aware of the presence too despite it. Oddly enough, the presence was female, I was certain of that, indeed, I was very sure in point of fact.

Eventually I tired of both the barking dog and watching eyes and as the fishing wasn't going well with all the distractions I packed down and decided to go fish off the wall of the weir pool till Judy's prearranged pickup arrived in an hours time. Once laden with the rods and bags and nets we made our way down the footpath, Molly still yapping fitfully but allowing me to go ahead of her (which is unusual for a springer spaniel, a dog breed who usually tear off into the near distance on the off, dark or light) and followed behind skittishly. When we reached the point where the presence had been felt to stand all along, she came to heel and then raced ahead ten feet, still barking, and there stopped in her tracks, sniffing the air.

Then she found the courage to move twenty feet ahead of me and then further still until she was fifty feet along, stopping and starting, barking and testing the air as the presence retreated along the path in front of her. Then she reached the great chestnut and stopped in her tracks there to allow me to catch her up. We passed the giant tree and then Molly flew ahead as if nothing more was to fear and behaved as she usually does, whatever had been the source of her anxiety having vanished by, or hidden away in, the dense thicket of chestnut shoots.

We walked the last quarter mile without incident, crossed over the stile at the end of the race and there I set up to fish of the weir pool wall for the last hour. Last time I'd tried this I'd caught a surprise roach on a lobworm and wanted to see if that would happen twice, but it didn't. It was peaceful though, despite the roar of white water crossing the weir sill and crashing into the pool to my right hand side.

Then Molly started barking again, but this time at the stile behind me. The presence had completed its journey along the path after hiding away by the chestnut and was mounting the stile and crossing over to the weir and the bridge. I got up and went to the stile urging Molly to do the same. She came over and sniffed it all over, and then stopped barking at the stile but now at the bridge over the river leading to the mill. The presence was crossing over!

When 'she' had, Molly promptly stopped her barking and went about her spaniel business of getting into and out of water once again, but she was still a little skittish about it, as if the watching eyes would cross back over the bridge and turn our way again at any moment. On the way home in the car Molly was clearly agitated and wouldn't settle down -- at home I took a hot bath and she came to sit in the corner of the bathroom, something she has never done before. She huddled herself in as small and tight a ball as she could make, looking about with those big pink spaniel eyes ever watchful and alert as if searching for spirits in the air.

That night I slept peacefully, but in the morning over breakfast Judy told me of a dream she'd had in the night. I'd forgotten all about mine but as sometimes happens, the telling of another's dreams prompt the recall of your own. There was a fragment, but that was all that I remembered -- I wasn't fishing -- but my back was turned, and then, as if I knew I had to, I turned about to catch a glimpse of a dark-skinned girl just as she was about to jab a finger in my back... I laughed out, and was about to talk to her, but she'd vanished just before I could get a word out...

Ever since I've been sure it was she who really was, the Watcher in the Woods.


  1. What a wonderful read Jeff.
    I can remember trotting for some silvers as a lad with my father, we had a small keepnet out for them, there was no sign of commotion at all, but upon lifting the net my father mentioned that it felt snagged, he finally managed to lift it and there was a short, but very plump Pike still gripping on to the net, shaking its head.

    The watcher sounded very eerie and most surreal, making for quite an unnerving and very enjoyable read.

    Kind Regards

  2. Thats an excellent piece of writing Jeff I really enjoyed it

    Best of luck in your search for a river "2", a target I'd dearly love to chase myself one day


  3. Great post Jeff. I know that feeling of seeing something "half seen". I've had it in houses but not yet on the bank. I believe that certain animals, dogs and cats, have an "older eye" which pick up these vibes naturally whereas ours have had this sense knocked out after millenia of civilisation.
    Have a great Christmas.

  4. Jeff as big and ugly as I am I never stay after dark on the mill. There is an air of somthing there and particularly down by the old house ruins and guys cliffe.

    The feelings I get when Im down there are so strong that I looked into it. There is a book (the ghosts of Warwickshire) and it tells of a lady taking her own life at guys cliffe by jumping in to the river. So you have it bang on when you say the prescence felt female.


  5. Crikey just when I thought I'd conquered my fear of the dark and being out alone. I'll be s***ing bricks next time.

    Another good read as always Jeff. You're fascinating use of the English language is inspiring to us other mere mortals in fishing blog land.
    Keep it going mate !

  6. Having fished down behind the Cliffe on a couple of occasions I agree that an after dark session would not be at the top of my list! Lot's of history surrounding that place and there is definately something 'in the air' down there.....

  7. A ghost story for Christmas, just how good is THAT?! Thanks for writing what (sincerely) has become the best blog of its type.

    Happy Christmas!

  8. Cracking post Jeff, gave me goosebumps. I know that feeling well and I think all nocturnal anglers can relate to it,even if we can't all convey it as eloquently as your good self....regards Gurn

  9. I don't think I'll ever fish there alone again. Though I have many times before, I have never experienced anything out of the ordinary but down by the cliff and the ruins is one of the most oppressive atmospheres I have ever felt - I never would be there at night - even in daylight hours and especially when its raining it's unbearably depressing.

    Up in the fields it's fine, it's the woodland stretches where the weird atmospheres are. Without Molly around who knows what might have happened? I still don't think she has fully recovered from the experience though, yelping in her sleep last night, so she may not want to go there again!

  10. I'm petrified. I'm never going out again.

  11. What a lovely but of prose Jeff. I found the site by a very tortuous route. I was just reviewing what the SPRITE organisation had done for urban trout fishing in Sheffield during 2011 and that lead me to a link about an Irwell barbel stocking on a blog called fishing fiend. I followed a link to your blog from there and I have just spent a most enjoyable couple of hours while the wife has some Christmas TV on.

    I shall visit regularly - thank you.



  12. Having come across your blog I'd like to offer a possible explanation of who the watcher is. I know Guy's Cliffe well and have had many strange occurrences about the vicinity myself.
    Many psychics have given over their insights on what is prevalent about the actual property but occasionally such insights also include the area as a whole.
    I'm going to refer to a walk I took with a psychic around Guy's Cliffe, about the area you fished. Near one of the large trees down on this area the psychic picked up on the spirit of a black girl in her twenties called Bess. She had apparently been lynched after witnessing something illegal, taken to the tree, hung and buried hastily. She now walks the area as a troubled spirit desperate for the area to be blessed before she can move on. It was the dark skin of the girl in your dream that bought the recollection from the medium home to and it may relate to who you and your dog came across? There are apparently many other spirits about the site and I don't doubt that many have felt them and felt as if they're being watched.
    I know on quite a few occasions I've felt eyes upon me down on the lower walks of Guy's Cliffe.
    Hope my adding to the eeriness of the location though hasn't put you off fishing this stretch of water though.
    Tight Lines!

  13. Do you know I spent a full three days stewing over this event afterwards, I even researched missing people just to see if any dark-skinned girls were pictured who would jog my memory of the dream, but found none.

    I had the inkling that if there was anything in it at all, apart from my vivid imagination running riot, that it was a murder that would be at the bottom of it. The psychic's account of a linching at the Saxon Mill is precisely the kind of thing the whole experience felt to be about. I'm intrigued, and surprised !

    I hope she finds someone to help her. Perhaps she thought that I might? If I can do anything for this girls spirit than I suppose relating my story might go some way to making her known to someone else best placed and experienced enough to help?

    I must say that I am a sceptic when it comes to much
    said about ghosts and spooks and the like, but in this instance I am quite convinced that there's a very real person (in spirit only of course) out there and trying very hard to get people's attention.

    Perhaps I should have tried to talk?

    And thanks Conrad, glad you enjoy it. I have added a link to your blog on my sidebar.

  14. jeff for a realistic chance of a 2plus roach from the warwickshire avon you need to check up river seventeen miles away the fish are there its up to you to catch them at this time of year they shoal up under a certain bridge not a big shoal but enough to get the adrenelin going a few of these fish have white mottled spots on them make of that what you like but dont over look the narrow avon geoff

  15. I've searched for them around Bretford but found nothing but small fish, but have always wanted to venture up to Rugby way and beyond as I feel that small streams have a great deal more to offer in the way of focussed roach fishing than the wider river, where its so much pot luck. Small streams concentrate things greatly. Thanks for the tip!

    If you have any detailed info that you don't mind sharing then mail me on even a general area will get my blood up!