Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Tickets, Timetables & Tight Lines - Itchen Roach (Pt2)

A short walk upstream along the riverside track and I'd be fishing in ten minutes. Other anglers already pitched and fishing over the crash barrier were a cause for concern. I was bound further upstream but once there, would I get a good peg? Never having fished the stretch before, I didn't even know what a good peg looked like, with only very limited experience of fast chalk stream fishing and the bare bones of the watercraft necessary to understanding them, at my disposal.

Remarkably, there were no other anglers above the pub, so I did what any angler would do under the circumstances, and chose the water I thought I understood best , and the method I understood the best for it. I'd be meeting Simon Daley on the bank around eleven-ish, so I had an hour or so to kill before he'd be able to advise on trotting this river the right way, so in the meantime I opted to fish out the back of a fallen tree and its raft of accumulated weed, with a feeder full of crumb and bread on the hook.

If I'd packed any...

Yes I had, of course I had, though I couldn't have checked on the train with the rucksack squashed into the far corner of the luggage rack, and by the way, you'll be pleased to hear if you ever travel fishing by a modern Pendolino type train, that a regular sized rod holdall actually just fits with a good push, into the overhead luggage rack. 

With hooks, the swim was really interesting. The tree and its raft diverted the strong flow both sides and caused a mini rivulet about three feet wide to form under my feet. This converged back into the main river fifteen yards downstream and created an almost dead still, V-shaped slack behind the obstruction. I cast there first but there was nothing in it bothering with bread. Bites came only when the bait was fished in the very apex of the V at the tail of the slack. They were clearly, and unmistakably, roach bites one and all, though they were extremely timid and therefore testing bites to prove.

Then, just as soon as I'd found my roach, two large fish swirled in the slack water to the left of the tail of the rivulet, by a stand of tall reeds at the near bank. I cast there, of course! 

Within just a few seconds of settling, the rod was nearly pulled off the rest by a savage take, and sprang back lifeless as a fish that had clearly hooked itself, moved rapidly upstream. It was a good fish, and a fast fish, but not a heavy fish. The take was not that of a roach, far from it, roach being fish that never hang themselves on bread bait in my experience, so it had to be a chub, but chub don't move upstream, they go downstream, or sideways seeking to get under the cover of the near bank, surely? I never got to find out. The hook-link came back broken below the shot, though the line was under little pressure at the time

Five minutes later, a bait cast to the same place received the same savage take and slack line, but this time I got to see a long silvery fish twisting and writhing in the flow of the rivulet. I hoped it was a grayling, because it was going to be quite a hefty specimen if it was, but then, just as I pitched out the net, the line gave once again. The same break, at the same place... 

Bitten off, or more likely, sliced across, by the teeth of a fresh run sea trout (wild brownies and large grayling are very rare creatures in a free fishery, for obvious reasons) resting up in the slack water that had been hooked inside the mouth, I reckoned, and was possibly the same fish, hooked twice over.

Simon, or at least an angler who at distance I thought might be Simon, arrived and started setting up to fish a little way down. When I eventually saw a very long rod indeed, I knew it was him, and then he came up to find me. He'd promised to bring along a long rod for me to try out. This was 17 feet of lightweight fine carbon, and I'd bought along a reel to team with it, one that up till now I'd never used in earnest, an old ABU 604 closed-face machine given to me by Martin Roberts only just recently, a reel that I'd meanwhile stripped and serviced, and that I'd been itching to use ever since. 

Simon rigged it for me, as I hadn't a clue how best to go about it for this river. He produced the finest end rig imaginable out of a small swivel, an olivette with a tiny shot above, a hook-link with a hook on the end I had to strain my eyes to see, a size 22 I believe, and that balanced with two or three miniscule styl type shot. It looked specialised, designed for this place, and the right way.

I tried it out and was immediately struck by the rods enormous length, its ability to control the float, its huge arc when bent over against a snag, and its propensity to create the most annoying of rod top tangles should I make the slightest mistake with it. My swim though, was not best suited to trotting with its complicated currents, and then it finally started to rain, so after an hour of dabbling with the novel outfit dressed in my emergency cagoule (a permanent item in the tackle bag that's saved me from many unexpected drenchings) during which I don't think I had a single proper bite, I retired it, got under my brolly, and saved trotting for either later in the day when the rain went away, or more likely, the whole of Sunday. 

Simon though, would trot all day long, through the rain and come what may, and he had every reason to, because he was starting to catch. He had the right clothing for it too, and would need it as the day wore on, because from then on in, the rain got heavier and heavier, and persistent with it. I also started catching roach about then, all from the same small patch of water, but nothing outside of it. Just as with the roach in the turbulent waters of the weirs at Lucy's Mill on the Wark's Avon, if I wasn't bang on the spot, I got not a jot.

After just an hours rain, the water level was rising gradually, and the water colouring up. Three hours in, and I was pushed up the bank, sitting on a tiny hump of muddy land, with my feet under water. About mid afternoon the rain eased to drizzle, and within an hour the water had dropped an inch, then finally it stopped, and the water continued to slowly fall. 

It never appeared to be much of a problem to me though. I'd thought the river was only just above normal levels, but a passer by angler (and there were many) out for a recce assured me that I really was fishing the Itchen 'in flood.' and the fact that we were catching any roach whatsoever  was very good going. I thought he was deluded about what the word 'flood' actually means, which is 'breaching the banks,' and we were two or three feet away from any threat of that. The Severn rising nearly twenty feet in five hours, is a flood. This wasn't a river in flood. Ah, these Southern counties coarse anglers have it good, don't they? It rains all month, and they can still fish the streams.

Well no, to be fair. They can't. Unless they're cash rich. What makes the Itchen and Test, Hampshire Avon and Frome, along with all the other smaller chalk streams such good fishing, also makes them the most expensive, highly managed, and staunchly defended fishing venues in the world. They are the cream of streams, and you don't get a lick of them in the summer months when the fresh sea-liced salmon are running, unless you are a very fat cat indeed who can afford to pay £232 for a day in July and enjoy the privilege of flicking fur balls at 'em.  

In Winter there's just a few game fisheries that allow coarse anglers a shot at their excellent coarse stocks for what appears to be a reasonable price of just £20 for a day tripper, but not for a local, so I guessed as a Midlander, I was very lucky indeed being able to fish just about any place I'd choose to on my local rivers for the price of a dirt cheap day ticket or very reasonable club book. That I could easily fish the whole season through on Warwickshire rivers for the cost of one day's salmon fishing on the beats not five hundred yards upstream from where I was now perched, and by dint of the fact that I was now fishing on commonly owned land, wasn't required to pay even a penny, and could, if I had the right rod license, fish for the very same salmon here, that others would pay so dearly for, up there, struck me as the greatest of all angling absurdities.

There's no law against it is there? Salmon fishing on free beats? That would be more absurd than absurd. Hell, I don't know if there is or there ain't!

We pulled our nets at the end of the day. Mine was a trifle compared to Simon's impressive weight of roach and chub. I thought that such a hard-earned result was really something considering that the river really was properly coloured by then and had been for hours, but still he'd caught on trotted red maggots flying by the fish at high speed in the murk, when most would have taken one look, and not bothered to try.

What had been interesting, was to contrast and compare our individual fishing styles. Simon has clearly gone a long way down the road to mastering trotting for roach, living as he does, near to many rivers where ledgering is not easy to manage because of the pace of the water. I though, have gone a long way down the road to mastering ledgering for roach, which is every bit as tricky and fascinating in rivers such as the relatively sluggish Wark's Avon, where it excels as a method if you can handle and time to perfection, the infuriating delicate bites. It turns out that we had both been practicing these two very different styles of roach fishing for approximately the same length of time, having both moved from our home counties to our respective new locations in the same year.  

Over the course of the day I had just a trickle of roach, and only roach, but none over my perennial target weight of one pound, a weight that I take as a firm indication that I'm doing something right and puts me in with the chance of fooling one of the big wise fish. I guessed either I'd been doing something wrong, or perhaps ledgering was not the way in summer on chalk streams, when the fish are active in faster water than the feeder can easily handle.

A brace of nice roach that have seen a fair few nets in their time. They ain't fin perfect, but they are not at all easy to catch either.  Fished for all their lives, and having seen every possible trick in the book, they are very cautious.

Ah well, no two pounders for either of us today, and Simon had the only pounder out of a good catch of lesser roach. But that's roaching. You never can tell what you're going to get, can you?

We drove to Simon's House in Portsmouth, where Tony, his wife, had prepared us a lovely meal of spag bol and apple crumble. We watched an episode or two of Catching the Impossible after and then went to bed, but before I hit the pillow, I watched one episode more. The classic one where Terry Lampard expertly pulls a 'three' out of the blue. Tomorrow there would three of us, because Simon's mate Steve was coming along too. We'd surely get the 'Magic Two' between the three of us? With twelve pints of maggots flying out, it just had to happen...

It would be all a matter of tumbling numbers, a lot of skill, determination, and a pinch of luck. I'd the determination, and numbers and luck take care of themselves, but first I had to learn the skill from the experts before I was in with even half a chance.

I fell asleep dreaming of gaining that crucial half-ounce, the half-ounce my best roach was short of. One, fifteen, eight... one, fifteen, bleeding, eight... four years on, but in with another half-chance.



  1. Very impressive post. Love the diagram photo and your commitment to ledgering. Well done again, my friend.

  2. It was a pleasure Jeff great reading looking forward to the third installment

  3. Steve, thanks, and I think I'll do more diagrams. They make things plain I think, I mean how would you see what flow is what without those lines and arrows?

    Simon, you're a star.