Monday, 16 July 2012

Tickets, Timetables & Tight Lines - Itchen Roach (pt1)

Ominous. That's how it looked, stumbling out of bed and throwing open windows on the day ahead. An unbroken sheet of the 'rain maker,' nimbostratus, stretched from northern to western, and to southern and eastern horizons. There wasn't a hole, not a tear, nor a rip in its leaden cloak. The air smelled of damp soil, and though the concrete yard was dry, there was a hint of a certain aroma that has no name... but tells you that the concrete won't be dry for much longer, for it's the unmistakable sharp spice of approaching rain.

The interminable faff over preparation leaves the imminent traveller with the dread of what's forgotten. I knew there would be some small but crucial thing languishing on a shelf or table. A this or that, that got itself missing between the item list and its packing. And what packing! Reducing the tackle requirements to their logical minimum for a trip where I had no idea what I'd encounter, was a logistics exercise of enormous complexity. What do I need? What do I not need? What is essential, what is superfluous?

Car borne anglers pack the most extraordinary quantities of gear to serve all eventualities. Every rod and every reel, in quivers bristling with assorted weaponry, from small arms, to heavy artillery. Train borne anglers mustn't. They don't have the luxury. They've a communal luggage compartment, a rack overhead, and a seat next to a stranger. My mind was fixed upon what fishing gear both fits in a train, serves on the bank, but whose stench offends no one.

I'd baked my nets in the sun, whenever we'd had it...

Three rods, my choices being float, quiver and stiff, that every eventuality would be covered by the smallest necessary combination, three reels 
to suit, being centrepin, closed face and fixed spool, an umbrella for the certain rain, nets, sticks and poles and spares thereof, a lightweight cagoule, all the various hooks and shot and lines, baits, weights and whatnots, a folding rucksack cum stool in which stow them all and sit on the bank with, and....

That crucial thing I'd forgotten.

It was too late now, I was in the car and down the road to Coventry Station. Half a mile along I remembered that I might just have just left a tin on the table containing the most essential thing of all after tying up traces the night before. I wanted to turn back, but Judy reminded me of an even more important thing than hooks. Time! It's running down, and there's a train that won't wait, to catch...

I got to platform 2 with just an inch of spare, the train approaching even as I crossed the bridge and was pulling up before I'd managed to throw off the rucksack and rod holdall. The journo in me got its picture though...there was just time enough for that!

Passing through the heartland of the English countryside, the ominous evidence of what much rain does to small rivers was plain to see. The Avon at Brandon & Wolston, a river that in summertime is usually a weedy trickle, was in the fields and even from the distance of the train window, visibly raging in a torrent of milk coffee-coloured water. I looked down, and wondered where on the scale of brown hues between the my own milk coffee and KitKat, the River Itchen, where I was bound, would be...

Oh no! The Avon at Brandon & Woolston

The Cherwell at Banbury was worse, with its floodplain under water, and the Thames in the valley between Oxford and Reading, was contained, but only just. What the hell had I let myself in for fishing a river in conditions such as these? Ah well, at least I'd packed a stiff rod and some luncheon meat. If nothing else, I could fish two days after barbel and chub.

After Reading, the landscape altered entirely. Gone were the low valleys and the clays and the limestones, and in came the chalk. No rivers, no streams, or even water filled ditches seen here. No flooded fields, no puddled tracks, and no mud whatsoever. I breathed a sigh of relief. Chalk. At last. Chalk...where sparkling chalk streams arise from subterranean aquifiers, and the very one I was now passing over as we crossed through Basingstoke & Winchester, the source of the Itchen.

It would be alright...

Though I couldn't be sure.

Southampton Airport and its environs were both grim and new at once. A string of characterless buildings remarkable for their sterile resemblance to the travelers they both process and contain, and what could be more sterile than an international traveller? New shoes, new pants, new hair, new brain. At least I wasn't anything like them with my crusty bread mash smeared rucksack and rod bag full of holes. I stood out like a thumb smashed by a club hammer, but what the hell would I look like, and how the hell would they look at me, if they side-eyed me now as some sort of tramp, when on my way back, after two solid days of fishing and covered from hat to welly in who knows what?

God help them...

But they had a Hawker Hurricane (yes, it's a Spitfire...) mounted on tripod at a roundabout, so I was assured that I was still in Britain, and not cast abroad in some likewise anonymous place.

The river was a mile and a half walk. It was easy for me, even laden down so unusually heavily because of the water bottle, extra bait, and spare clothing stuffed in whatever space I could find in the rod bag, being well used to the brisk optimistic march to some local place on the local canals. It was remarkable how, after all the faff, I'd come with what I'd usually take up the cut! I should have just readied myself for that, and I'd have been alright.

After a dead on two hour train journey, within twenty minutes of that, I'd found my first signpost.

By half an hour, I'd arrived at the river, and there got my first view of what I'd prepared for...

... and,

It was good! Very, very good!

Fabulous! The Itchen in fine trim.

Peering over into three feet of water, I could just see the bottom! Even though it had rained as hard here as it ever had in Cov, and was high, and pushing through at pace, it was perfectly fishable. I'd have said it was just ideal for roach, actually. A good bit of colour in the water but not too much, the sky heavily overcast and with the likelihood of such ideal conditions persisting the whole day long. However, the air still smelled of approaching rain, and the clouds were still the same unbroken veil of RAF grey a 100 miles South of home, so who'd know, and who could tell, what would happen next?

I was about to find out, possibly the hard way, probably the only way, but I was about to find out...

But, I didn't care a jot. There were fish to catch, and plenty of time in which to catch them, but would I have hooks to catch 'em on?

I still had no clue about that little detail...


  1. Irrelevant of the result you deserve a catch with that effort.

  2. Petrichor is the name given to the distinctive and wonderful smell of rain on dry earth.

    I don't know what the prelude to that smell is called.

    You're bonkers! But it's already shaping up as quite a memorable adventure.

  3. We'll see Phil! The target was a single rare 'two' between the two, but eventually, the three of us, but, we'll see...

    Petrichor! Fantastic! The plants know it's coming, and so do the fish, I'm certain. It stank of fish on that familiar bridge Keith, but what fish it stank of, I wasn't entirely sure. Could have been barbel, could have been chub, or even fresh run salmon. You'd have recognised it. You can't name it though! Surely?

  4. Jeff I can empathize with you,being a non driver(hate it) most of my sessions when alone I travel by train.

    It does cause a few problems now and then.

  5. You are an Itchen addict jeff and its easy to see how, having been there with yourself.

    I had night sweats for 7 nights upon my return home !!!


  6. Jeff mate, more power to you, trains and me don't mix, even without fishing gear. I take my hatt off to you. In fishing, you get out what you put in, so you should be well in.
    You do need a crash coures in WW2 british plane identification though. Your Hurricane is a Spitfire as every airfix school boy pilot like yourself should be able to tell them apart.

  7. Monty, I'll bet it does. Looking back it was really easy. No trouble at all. next time it will be a cakewalk

    Baz, I love it, fascinating river, but very, very different below the mill.

    Mart, I knew it was a Spitfire by the wings, but it looked wrong somehow in the picture I took from the back! It's a replica of the original prototype I believe? I should have known, as I've seen enough real ones flying and on the ground

  8. £2.95 for a kitkat and a coffee!? The world's gone mad... we're all doomed!

  9. Ooh, I'm already wetting myself for Parts 2, 3 etc.
    As Keith said, nearly 3 quid for a biscuit and a polystyrene cup of brown liquid?
    What's wrong with some greaseproof paper wrapped egg and tomato sarnies and a lukewarm flask of tea? (Although I can't abide tea!)

  10. Interestingly, the coffee tasted remarkably like a cup of steaming Avon flood water!