Sunday, 22 December 2013

Omne trium perfectum

'Everything that comes in threes is perfect'

With the pure gung-ho attitude that only a man can possess, Andy took his second run at the small ramp that led to the top of the flood defence barrier. Maybe two feet farther up than his previous attempt the wheels began spinning again. So he did as all men would do and floored it spraying mud in all directions. As for myself I was perched half way up a different plane of the mound, out the way of the flying earth, with a mixture of Herefordshire mud and cow shit slowly seeping through my crocs as I watched on. It was not long after this that I heard a local voice call to me from over the field. "Can I ask what you chaps are up to?"  I think it is only natural to feel a little guilty when a figure of authority questions your intent and I could have defensively or sarcastically replied that we were down for a days fishing on this here salmon beat and before we began, fancied ploughing up this here field a bit. But sense prevailed and I meekly replied that we were here to fish and had foolishly thought we could get up on the hill, but had now realised the error of our way and were in retreat. "No one drives up there at this time of year, all the locals know that." I knew exactly what he meant; simply put 'we were not local!'

Our only choice was for Mr Lewis to perform a very impressive rally reverse back down the lane to the civilised parking at the very top of the beat. Once parked where the car was at no risk of reaching its axles in mud, we now had to walk back the distance we had driven twice to reach even half way where we wanted to go. Even with highly reduced kit this was going to be a sweaty walk in the cattle-created Somme-like conditions.

After a little Wye wander we did eventually find ourselves at the point we agreed we would work our way back from through the day. You see this whole venture was conceived as a piking trip and they would be our main quarry, but as the weather has been so mild, we thought the barbel might well be on for a bit of an re-Xmas knock up. So we split our gear down the middle and had brought along a barbel rod each and a pike rod each. So we had headed to the massive sweeping bend that has in the past it has always proved more than reliable were as Bertie was concerned.

I went for the middle of the bend whilst my companion targeted the crease where the flow deflects off across the river. Today though the Wye was as low as I had ever fished it and my first few casts seemed to be hitting the deck far too quickly. In the time it took Andy to land three brownies from the crease swim, I had done little more than fine tune my rig to stop my feeder from rolling around the swim and ruining my hook links. Even with very little water on it, the flow of the Wye still shocks me and me only option to hold bottom soon became the clumsy cow lead.

Honestly, the sound of my feeder hitting the water not only grated on me but I was sure would see off any fish present as it made such an awful thump hitting the water. But I was proved rather wrong when after mere moments on the rest the rod tip tapped once before jerking violently over. All barbel fight hard but these lean wiry Wye fish run like savages in the early moments of the fight. Combine over two ounces of feeder and the fear of hidden trees littering the river and it makes for an interesting battle.

After the first one slipped up, that was it, I thought the flood gates had opened. As soon as the rig made bottom again I got a hard tug which resulted in nothing. The again next cast barley had enough time for a leaf to hang up on my line before another one was on. I had brought along my JW Young barbel rod which I have been using on the Avon for barbel this year. It could be said by many that at 2.5lb it's a bit on the heavy side, but for this river its tough back bone was more than enough to handle the big rigs I was discharging into the river, whilst still being forgiving enough cushion some very intense first runs.

Two more similar sized fish came in very quick succession after the first, but it would seem that the feeding spell was to be very short lived. Either that or my theory that the Tonka truck of a feeder hitting water did spook them out of the area. On the journey down it had been agreed that would would keep moving and not sit around waiting for bites, so after a quiet forty minutes we made tracks back up the beat.

The pike were always going to be a different matter to the barbel. We have fished this stretch of the Wye twice before and truthfully although we had seen one pike lingering in a slack we had no idea of where to begin fishing for them. On the way down we had taken some time to clock out possible areas of attack but nothing really screamed pike as most of the beat is shallow fast riffles. There was a couple of 50/50 spots that we could have tried, but nothing definite. On the way back up from under hoods we discussed where to fish. The rain by now was really coming down and wanting to lighten our loads we agreed to stop at the car and leave most of kit there, and armed with only a rod each and one net we would head to a area that even now thinking of it makes my blood run cold... Dead man's bend.

The very first time we visited this stretch we were chatting to a local dog walker/angler and it was him who pointed out this ninety degree turn in the river. As the water quite literally changes direction instantly as it collides with the bank it creates one of the scariest undercuts I have ever seen. From a distance it looks quite innocuous but when you stand directly above it looking at the massive straight that leads into it you realise the very bank you stand on feels the full force of one of the most powerful rivers in the country. But that's nothing compared to when you look down at the water and see the random boils emanating from twenty feet down under the bank. It quite literally looks like there is a shoal of whales gallivanting under the water. Apparently according to the man who pointed it out this one bend has done more than enough to earn its name over the years.

As dangerous as it looks from above we had spotted that a large still eddy had formed with the lack of water and that luckily it looked like we could easily get down the bank behind between two trees. We were right and soon enough pitched up in a cap between two barren bushes. The bank itself was nothing more than a skid of bare mud exposed by the low water and should the river be any more than a foot up it would disappeared under the Wye. Flanked on both side by trees which hung down into the water it was going to be tight but also looked the perfect pike swim.

You know you're fishing deep water when your float stop is half-way through the rod rings and the bait is in your hand. With depths between ten and fifteen feet this wasn't going to be easy but did look spot on for pike. We had to wait a while for some action and what occurred next was destined to be one of those moments that hurts for a long while. My float had sat motionless for a good three quarters of an hour just off the trees. Then, out of nowhere, ripples emanated from the dumpy float. I remember saying "hey up here we go" before I took the rod in hand. A few more bobs came before the float toddled off classically away from the trees. I watched carefully as I paid out line, then after the float traveled about three feet, it sank under slowly and I tightened up and prepared to drive my hooks home. Not so much a minuscule of resistance was felt and my float, with rig in tow, launched straight out of the water and into the bushes behind me. Only a moment of silence followed as it took me that long to inhale enough air for the protracted and explicate tirade that followed. It wasn't that I had just missed a fish, more what that fish could have been judging by what happened later.

I calmed down from my tantrum by the time Andy's float seemed to get caught by the flow. Then after I convinced him I suspected it was a fish all hell broke loose when he struck and with no choice he had to really force the fish through the swim avoid an obstacle coarse of snags. Luckily the fish cooperated and went pretty much straight into the net. It looked massive lying on its side in the net and I think both of us were equally excited to get it on the scales.

Out of the net it looked just as big, but three sets of scales proved that even though we have both seen our fair share of pike we were well out on our estimates. For my part I had seventeen pounds in my head but could barley believe it weighed just under fourteen pounds hence the three sets of scales.

But that wasn't it! Next cast the bait had barely hit bottom before the float sank away attached to another good fish. This one we saw deep down in the water and it looked very long and thin. Not long after we saw it, a shake of the head set it free before came near the bank. I could barley believe it when a third and forth fish snaffled Andy's baits from the same small area. These two were totally mental beasts that smashed us both around, getting us in a right mess, hence no pictures for either. Both were smaller and so badly behaved that we were glad to see them back in the water where they were unable to twist, snap or trash around.

Three different sets of three different species that all came in threes seems an odd coincidence to me on what I can only say one one of the dampest days I have ever spent by the river. We walked sopping away from the water not long after the last fish as the river was rising fast and I think truthfully we were quite satisfied by the days catches considering the time of the year.

My only regret of the day was that missed run. Considering all the pike Andy caught were low to mid doubles I can only surmise that at the minimum, my fish was at least a double, and considering it was the only bite that came away from the hot spot I can't help suspecting it might have been a loner that the other fish avoided. Adding insult to injury is the reported size of the stretch monster, which I feel most comfortable referring to simply as big! And we all know the Wye can breed them proper BIG...

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Springs and Valleys

It was all light hearted banter when we arrived and even as we set up there seemed an air of possibility about the venue. The place looked like a scaled down trout fishery carved by man into a small stream that serve to breath healthy life into those ever needy game fish. But there was no trout and I am sure if there was, Joe wouldn't have bothered chasing perch.

To me it looked about right, clean water bordered by reed fringed banks and supposedly stuffed with enough small silvers to turn any modest perch into the Perca fluviatilis version of Marlon Brando. It even started as I hoped with a timely enough pause after I deposited chopped worm at the bottom of the marginal shelf, followed by three deliberate bites. The first produced nothing, the second a nice roach and the third a maybe six ounce perch which really got me going. Then nothing, and I mean nothing! Every trick in our collective repertoire was employed before we all concluded it would be dusk before we saw any more bites.

My sarnies were gone when discord spread through the ranks and before the clock struck one, we were away hoping to make better of the light we had left on pastures new. The car seats had barely time to warm before we were descending a winding drive into a valley towards a small lake nestled near the bottom of the hillside.

I think we all knew time was at a premium as the dark would be encroaching around four. Although I had never wet a line in this pool I had heard from a at least two others that although diminutive in size, the stock of fish in this lake borders on obscene. In fact the exact words someone used the other day was "It boils with fish in the summer". Apparently should you sling a gallon of maggots into the water on warmer months it would be doubtful if one would make it to the bottom, there is that many veracious roach and rudd present. But that's in the summer and we were here pretty much as far away from summer as you can get.

After a punishing morning on the previous fishery I for one had got to that point where it was bites and not targets that I wanted. So with Martin and Joe on the opposite bank, I set up on a small point swim casting a ledgered lob worm down the bank a few rods out, before concentrating my efforts and what was left of my chopped worm on a spot just on the edge of the ripple where I would hope a perch might patrol.

Although I fishing what can only be described as monstrous hook baits I did purposely and regularly keep a steady stream of pinkies going in. If it was as packed with annoying little silver fish as I had been lead to believe, then if I could get them moving it had to attract the attentions of anything that might prey on them.

The reported levels of stock turned out to be entirely true and it was my ledgered worm which first got sucked up before my super sensitive rod tip bent round and it began. The last three hours of the day saw pretty much constant action, but I have to say that I was not exactly using roach tactics. Anyone who has ever seen my perch rig I think will agree when I say it's a little agricultural in design; four pound line straight through to a size four hook with nothing more than a string of BB shot and chubber float in between, and the ledger set up only differs with a lack of float really. All that aside the roach were loving my worms and even missing loads of bites I was still landing some immaculate fish from six ounces right up and over a pound in weight.

I wish I had put something in for perspective with this fish as it was a good foot long.

Thinking of the two fisheries I find it hard to believe that given they were so close in proximity  they were fishing so differently. Admittedly the spring pool was gin clear and this one had a tinge of brown to it, but as the valley lake was so exposed I would have thought that of the two, this one would've fished worse than the shelter spring fed pool. Mind you after twenty four years of fishing I have just about given up trying to assign rhyme or reason to why anywhere fishes the way it does on any given day.

I don't think I have ever quite felt the pressure of the sun setting quite so much as I did on this day. There were feeding fish in front of me from the off and I really think it would have only been a matter of time before all the activity would have drawn in what we all sought from that cute little pool. But with every bob of the float and twang of the rod I kept recasting to make sure I had the right sort of bait on should the next taker be potential record perch. 

But it was never to be on this occasion and all too soon the sun sank over the valley and we soon found ourselves straining to see the orange floats in the dank light. I certainly can't say I was disappointed by the second fishery at least and as for that first one I feel sure that too might have some mileage in better conditions. That valley pool really stuck a little hook in me and I fancy I will find myself back on its bank once winter has passed.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Strange fish

We both shot off our stools instantly as if we had been simultaneously jabbed in the bum by a pin. But no squeals or expletives were uttered, as it was a fleeting glance of flank that had drawn our bulging eyes magnetically over the bank and not posterior pain. For more than a moment we stared into the clear cold depths waiting for the fish to surface again and answer my hopes, and maybe even Jeff's hopes as well! 

Then it surfaced thrashing around, still hiding its true identity in the disturbed water. Again though it seemed possible that it might be as we both wished, a giant ruffe. Then in the tiniest swing from water to hand all hope drained away. It was weirdly close... but on this occasion there was no cigar going to be smoked in celebration. What had raised us up on such a uneventful day was in fact not a tiny giant in which we are both inclined towards, but was instead the second oddity of the day, a perch with no stripes...

We were meant to be zander fishing, checking out a new stretch of canal, but it turned out if there was as tipped any big zeds present, they hadn't got the memo to say that we were coming and they should eat. And thus so I had grown a little bored waiting and had begun messing around with my Mach 2 wand, which I have decided as a early new years resolution that I will take every were I go just in case and because it's brilliant.

Back to that perch - it looked normally odd if you get what I mean. Like a tiger that has no stripes. And like a tiger that has no stripes, its no less of a tiger, rather than something doesn't click to say that's what it is. I tried my best to get a good clear shot and in the bright light this was about the best of them. As you can see it wasn't washed out or anything and it's brethren, like itself, were reasonably well coloured but striped. I suppose only some in-depth genetic study of the entire Coventry canal population might determine why this one, or maybe many perch in this area, might lack the synonymous stripe of the billie, or possibly it was just that one in thousands that nature deems to be different. 

It wasn't as I hinted before the first strange thing we had seen on this foray. A few casts prior to this I had caught a not dissimilar sized sarge that although perfectly normal in every way seemed to be in a strange situation for this time of year. Upon picking it up and unhooking it I noticed a yellow glob of what I thought was fish poo on my hand. It's not to unusual for a fish to defecate in your hand when you catch them but this stuff looked weird. Then on closer inspection I found it was not fish faeces but was instead eggs. The plump little fish which was obviously female was crammed full of eggs and it would she was so heavily laden that they were venting under the pressure.

Now I've seen this before, but only in the spring when fish are filling up ready to spawn the next generation of little perch and never have I seen this prior to Christmas. Both me and Mr Hatt were quite perplexed by it truth be told. I know we have some arse about face weather round these parts but spawning fish before winter, that don't seem right if you ask me. I would be interested to know if anyone else knows of, or has seen this before in perch, or do perch actually start filling up before the winter sets in as to be one of the first to spawn, like many other predators do early in the year?

Friday, 29 November 2013

Close encounters of the furry kind.

Prior to leaving for the weekend I made the hard decision to not do any sea fishing when I visited Suffolk. I suspected it could be a decision I might rue, but truthfully I needed a rest. Like many, my work goes the floods and ebbs and the months leading up to this mini-break had not certainly been a flood. It can be hard to admit as a normally highly dedicated angler, but the idea of standing on a north wind battered beach on a late November morning really held little appeal right now. So with a heavy heart I concluded to leave the big guns at home and opt to just take the easy option filling a few hours of free time closer to warmth, chasing pike and perch in the marinas near our temporary home.

The marinas to which I refer for most of the year offer consistent sport of all kinds and the broad  which they flank has a very good reputation for pike... big pike! With this in mind I took along two outfits. One capable of handling any essox from Jack right through Jill, and the other was just a general float outfit intended to fill the moments between runs. I have in the past made absolute commitment to pike fishing and on such occasions after a few action less days have found myself considering buying cheap rod and reel combos just too break the monotony. So rather than over commit, it seemed best to edge my bets and try to keep my options open.

I never intended to push my luck after arriving by chancing a quick session, but my when other half developed a migraine after a run in with some overly bright shop lighting, all that changed. Hoping to save the first day of the break, she headed for the darkness of a curtained bedroom to try and sleep it off. So I diligently did as I was told and cleared off fishing to give JB some peace and quiet.

The broad was interesting to say the least. With the north east wind ripping across the broad it actually had proper white horses forming across its breadth. The marinas were not much better as the entrances, though small, are positioned on the north side, thus allowing the dissipating mini waves to coarse right in. For piking the conditions looked spot on and excitedly I shot a sprat into a gully where I was sure a pike might lurk. In the meantime I began plying some casters into the clear water hoping focus the roach I was sure that would be sheltering in the marinas.The cut and thrust of it was I could not buy a bite for love nor money. In the end as dark crept in I switched to my ever faithful perch rig to try see if any obliging perch were around. Luckily two tiny Sargent's saved the day just as dusk fell. Walking away I was shocked at my struggle to find fish when I had been lead to believe these marinas were winter hot spots for sheltering fish.

The morning after the night before I was up well before dawn. After the shocking lack of bites I knew I had to try a locate some decent populations of fish to try and eek any modicum of success on any front. The broad could not have been any more different to the previous days incarnation; the waves were gone and in the moonlight the surface was like giant mirror in the freezing cold motionless morning air.

This was perfect for my needs, as even the tiniest movement would have easily been spotted. Over night I had morphed into something like a carp angler trying to locate signs of feeding fish in order to know where to set camp. A whole hour was wasted on this fruitless endeavour, as not so much as fish fart was spotted. In the end I had no choice but to just go for it in what I hoped might be a productive area. Having the day before seen how clear the water was I totally re-rigged using what I thought might be an inconspicuous rig that incorporated a small crystal waggler and virtually visible line.

To cut a long story short I kept mobile and over the next few hours fished four different marinas trying to locate fish. And truth of it is that for my efforts I had managed to catch a single perch. Thinking these perch might be my best option should I manage a second short session around dusk, I quite literally puréed a handful of worms and pre baited two spots just in case I got back in time for another try.

With the days currently so short it was only fleeting day trip before I was back. My other half is a truly good egg and is very tolerant of my incessant need to angle. So she duly shooed me off to try and grab a few hours before the sun disappeared behind the reeds. It looked spot on conditions as I trundled towards the waters edge. The mornings blue sky had be replaced by unbroken roof of grey which now retained any warmth built up by the sun. A slight ripple constantly wobbled across the waters surface and I knew if any fish were going to feed it would be tonight as dusk came in.

I went straight to the baited spots and settled in. I had purposely baited the two areas so as I could fish them from one spot, thus removing any need for a time wasting moves. The broad had swollen up with the tide through the day and now I had an extra three feet of water on top of the mornings depth. My float fished pike rod was cast just onto the slope of the boat channel that ran along the centre of the marina in case any patrolling pike should come along. That set I went about searching out my pre baited spots. 

The first half an hour passed away quickly with no more than what I would call half a bite. I was beginning to think it was about to be a total wash out when something big swirled right at my feet. I stared intently a the fizzing patch of disturbed water expecting to see the flaring gills of a pike. That was all I needed to make moves to reel my dead bait in and reposition it right next to the bank. My pike rod was actually on my left hand side out the way of my float rod and so when I picked it up I had to pass it from one hand to the other. It was as I did this that I heard the water splash again. Instantly I stopped what  I was doing. After uncrossing my arms looked down past my feet and came face to face wiht not a pike, but an otter!

I just stared at this perplexed looking furry faced critter and it stared back. For a moment I thought if I moved it would just disappear but as I slowly lowered the rod to one side it just looked at me unconcerned. Now I took my chances and reached into my bag for my camera which was positioned just under the unzipped flap. In the time it took my damn camera to make that beboopboop sound the very relaxed otter sauntered along the tyres which prevent moored boats from hitting the concrete bank, sat down and began cleaning its paws. Still not bothered by my presence it went about its business as I manoeuvred myself to try and get a good shot.

It's surprising how hard it is to get good shots of these fidgety creatures. Being in such a flap just to catch a shot I never thought to flip my camera in multiple shot mode and instead tried to just get as many as I could manually with that irritating processing pause between each shot costing me valuable time.

After allowing me only moments to get one decent shot of it about to dive back, the otter slid almost silently into the water. With it gone I just sat in shock thinking, did that just happen. Then from behind a row boats I heard a big splash and ripple soon emanated into open water. I knew the chances of me getting any bites now was about as likely as me winning the lottery, so I concluded to retrieve my gear and go off and see if I could get any better photos before the light went.

For the next forty minutes I followed the otter all around the marina as it dived again and again working its way methodically under the boats. Once I had it targeted I actually found it very easy to track, as when they are under water otters seem to send a constant foot wide stream of fizzing bubble up to the surface. Every now and again a head would pop up and I'd try to snap a shot which ultimately ended up with me having some twenty or more shots of where the otter once was. However I was surprised to see how little the fellow actually caught. Assuming I am correct in thinking that otters have to surface to eat, this one caught a single roach of maybe two ounces and found what I can only assume was a small bunch of zebra mussels in the entire time I was watching it.

It was boredom or lack of quarry that seemed to inspire it to move on and this resulted in my second really close encounter. Quite relaxed and really not bothered by this camo clad beast that was staring, it wandered straight up a boat ramp to within feet of me, before turning tail and wandering off down the path.

It looked like it was about to dive back in on the opposite side of the marina but then suddenly veered off . After rolling around under a speed boat drying its self off on the concrete it just got up and tootled off into the buses close to the marina.

After my excitement had died away later in the evening I pondered the encounter. I know that on small/medium big fish rivers it seems likely that otters have undoubtedly had an effect, and that on unprotected carp fisheries it's like an all you can eat buffet for them. But on these massive open water ways I suspect life is not going to be as easy as grabbing an overfed carp from an over stocked fishery. The otter I had seen was having to do a lot of work for very little return and I truthfully think that it and others present will make little difference on such a massive waterway. In no way did I actually ever think that this otter might be responsible for the poor fishing. In fact quite the opposite! It actually showed me there were fish hiding away in the marinas, just that my tactics seemed unable to catch me any of them.

With one last chance I seriously went hardcore to catch some fish. Float boxes were turfed out and the lightest float I had was threaded onto my line. Scratching around I located the smallest size hooks I had and the bread bin was raided. Then at first light I gently plumbed up the very area where I had seen the otter close to the boats, before half throwing and half spooning two handfuls of bread slop in. I had no choice but to actually fish bread punch. Yes, me, the one of the agricultural rig, fishing slop and punch in a desperate attempt to catch fish. Anyone who has knows me knows that me fishing punch is like a gorilla riding a really tiny little bike! But what the hell, needs must eh?

Lo and behold it damn well worked. After only moments of that tiny speck of bread sinking, the float dithered before half dipping and bang, a little roach.

I have never been so happy to catch a little roach as that one, and it didn't stop there either. The next three hours saw me doing a rather convincing impression of a match angler. Constantly trickling in small amounts of bread slop to cloud the water with shower of tiny particles kept the roach moving. The float was barely still and even with me hitting only one in five bites I managed to build up a respectable amount of precious silvers.

Thinking back now I was exactly right about me regretting not doing some sea fishing, but I did manage to relax whilst still catching some fish in the end. As an angler I know I am are meant to be a venomous hater of the now demonised otter. But I have to say that  my close encounter where I could practically smell the fish on ones breath actually has to have been the highlight of my trip away. Even more controversially I have to be thankful for it turning up, as had it not I would have never had known there was actually was some fish present.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

It felt so right... and yet fished so wrong

We all love Autumn, of that there is no doubt. I think as Spring is filled with hope, Autumn is tinged with reflection. They are both times when fishing can be bountiful as the fish like all other animals are either refreshing stores of energy spent over the Winter, or stocking up for the lean times ahead. And although we are still hanging onto Autumn like those last few leaves that cling to the tree outside the window, there is still fruit to be plucked before the world becomes barren.

Like most I find myself in a predator state of mind right now; fattening pike, hungry zander and of course mammoth perch fill my mind. I count myself to be particularly blessed where the latter are concerned, as I have been lucky enough to, on the top of a solid base of two pound fish, land three three's and a four in the last two seasons, from a variety of  differing waters.

The canals have been good to me in these endeavours and although right now I feel it unlikely that they will produce a massive fish, they have enabled me to hone my perch float fishing skills to a point where I have total blind confidence in my method. Conversely the rivers locally don't inspire me enough to spend to much of my valuable time chasing after stripy ghost stories. So I find myself looking at a myriad of commercial pools that have recently become more viable places to search out those oversized Sargent's I so want.

I really do like fishing for these unpressurised predators on commercial style venues. The idea that they were never stocked intentionally or only as a filler fish and that they have now begun to grow to record shaking sizes kind of gives me a kick. But a small worry has crept in my head over the situation. You see I have begun to look for a certain size of water in this search for perch. I don't want it so big as it would make finding them near impossible and I don't want them so small as they don't have the resources to grow big. For me, and I say me as this is only my personal opinion, half a football pitch to a full football pitch is ideal. This sort of over stocked water can produce more than enough fodder for a perch to become big and it's not to hard in only a few sessions to search a lot of it out. BUT! this theory has kind of undermined itself for me, as now I am beginning to think that I and others might be re-catching the same fish again and again in these limited sized waters. Truth be told nothing spoils a water, peg or capture for me as a re-catch. I don't know exactly why it is that I find so disagreeable about them, but if I see the same fish out of the same swim of lake twice I just tend to walk away.

Oddly though it is a recapture that I took me fishing to the little lake where I was at the weekend. But then this recapture hasn't yet happened and in defence of my contradiction, the original capture happened some ten years ago. The water in question is the tiny woodland pool often used as a salve when lean times take their toll. It was on this small secluded pool that I caught one of my very first big perch by accident. At that time in my life I was merely concerned with catching any fish and was in no way inclined towards the pursuit of bigger sport. I think to say it was an old warrior would of been an understatement: worn down fins, one white eye and a distinct lack of flesh between the dorsal spines would describe the fish quite aptly. Even looking as rough as it did it was one of the biggest stripy's I had ever seen. Then low and behold on the same venue a few weeks later my mate Neil had another totally different one. As with a lot of information it gets discarded to the back of the human mind until something prompts recollection. In my case is was on a warm summer evening a couple of summers ago as I sat watching a quill next to lily pad that I spotted a corner of the pool erupt with fry. The float I was watching lost all appeal for a while and  I reeled in and went off to investigate...

The corner was black with fry and like a pelagic scene the little fishes moved as one. Every so often I could see them dart off in all directions leaving holes where the water would become disturbed by a larger fish charging into the shoal. I must have watched for half an hour before the rush of silver panic came flying from the water and what followed was the thing that prompted my memory. It wasn't a big perch by anyones standard but that single half pound perch, that with one pass of it stripy flank made me simultaneously remember those big fish and realise that this water was stuffed full of prey fish, and that perch were the only real aquatic predator.

Off and on  have been visiting and have had a modicum of  success that has kept me inspired. Although I have only had fish to just over two pounds they have all been young looking fish and that is good enough for me. Though saying that, this like many waters of  it kinds does have a draw back....carp!

As I am sure anyone who goes fishing for perch on these types of venues knows, big baits intended for perch have the magnetic ability to attract even the most lathargic carp on the coldest days, when people that are intentionally fishing for them can't get a bite! They're like anglers going past tackle shops - 'we just cant help ourselves' and neither can they.

The weather was just so perfect this past weekend. Not bad temps, heavily overcast sky and a light scattering of leaves on the water. I even got a pass out for an afternoon into night session. So this seemed the perfect opportunity to fish that most prized of angling times around dusk. The heavy cover of leaves that normally shroud this pool were more than half gone and in the tall oaks at the end of the spinney the crow roost was clearly visible. I was shocked to find no less than six other anglers lined up all along on bank hurling baits within feet of the opposite bank (that is accessible) trying to catch carp. Seeing them I headed up to the deep and thankfully deep end.

Trying to catch perch in a lake stuffed full of carp is a fine balancing act. Attractant is a must, but too much and your swim will be ruined when the carp turn up. So with this in mind, a few chopped worms were mixed into some maggots and lightly scattered into my own margin close to a semi submersed dead branch. It didn't take long for the intoxicating scent of the worms and hypnotic sight of falling maggots to attract some half-right attention.

I never think small fish being attracted to your bait is a bad thing when you're after perch, especially when fishing as clear a venue as this. The occasional bob here and there informed me of their constant presence and kept me confident they could bring in some perch. Even with fish in the swim my float never actually indicated a proper bite until just before dusk when a random hybrid zipped off with my bait. Undeterred, I cast back onto the spot where moments later the float bobbed once then slid off slowly. At first I did think a big perch was on the cards but disappointingly the fish soon surged away with far to much power for my quarry.

The outcome was always inevitable if my lightish tackle held. It did and after several runs out into the lake a big gaping mouth appeared just off the end off my net before I landed...

Not a perch

Its always an awkward time when there's not enough light left to move and build up a new swim, and with that in mind I decided to stay put and take my chances. The perch though were a no show and hell, even if they did turn up, they would never have a look in as after that first carp four more winter coloured commons stuck there noses into my spot. The combined commotion and fuss left my ideal little perch paradise looking like the half settled foam from a pint of cheap larger.

Ultimately even though I had in a few short hours landed some very nice carp I did feel a little disappointed as the conditions were text book for big perch and it felt so right... and yet fished so wrong. But hey, no matter how hard you try and how much you want to catch a particular species you can't stop others from eating your baits, can you?

Friday, 15 November 2013

The lake #24 Infectious enthusiasm.

My wings are feeling a little clipped at the moment regarding transport and thus I did not feel like travelling far. At times like these either the Sowe or lake become my go-to venues, and as the Sowe is doing a very convincing impression of that chocolate river from the 1971 Willy Wonka film, the lake won first place as my chosen venue. But! and that's a big BUT! I know that right now that the predator fishing is probably best described as... well, not good. 

Even though I fancied a little bit of piking I did not have it in me to wait all day for one run. So I thought it would be nice to take just one predator rod and my new favourite little feeder rod and go down to the brook pool to just have a bit of fun bashing bites whilst maybe fishing out a few errant pike to relocate back to the lake.

I do love an Autumn walk around the banks of Coombe pool. With such a differing mix of tree species, the season gets dragged out in a slow riot of Autumnal shades. As I kicked the leaves along the bank I must have passed at least eight pike anglers all eagerly awaiting their floats to bob or alarms to squeal. They all seemed in high spirits although I suspected when I passed back later they may not be in such good moods...

The brook I must say did as it always does and fished well. A constant stream of veracious roach, rudd and hybrids found my scaled-down feeder rig and quite quickly I found myself carrying a small pike up to the lake. The second jack came along as I was supping my cup of tea not long later.

It was as I was considering heading for home that two silhouette,s one large and one small, appeared over the top of the ancient old sluice that drains into the lake. At the time I was watching my dumpy float bobbing around close to the wall, only half concentrating when I heard my name called through the trees. It turned out that the figures above were in fact readers of this blog who have followed my adventures on Coombe with some interest. Soon after we exchanged initial greetings, a young fellow called Gabe burst through the undergrowth, rod in hand, exited to cast into the confluence pool.

As Gabe cast around the pool catching a mix of roach and perch I stood chatting to his father. I have to say that the young chaps enthusiasm was infectious. It was very refreshing to be reminded of how keen young anglers can be in these  modern times when children are so easily distracted . He actually bought a real smile to my face with his antics and I couldn't help but be reminded of my own formative angling years.

Gabe, with a pike we caught

It was a pleasure to meet Gabe and his dad and I hope that his enthusiasm for fishing continues in the future. I also hope he gets his wish and catches the tench he so much desires next year.

After I left the my newfound acquaintances fishing the little pool, I walked back along the leaf strewn path. I don't know whether kicking leaves as you walk is a proven to help contemplation, but it seems to help me reflect. So as I tempted the dog poo gods and kicked leaves, I began to muse a train of thought Gabe had prompted. Of late I hardly see any young anglers at all! In fact I reckon I could not recall seeing any more than ten, tops, within the last year. 

I know I don't fish too many commercial venues which I am sure have larger populations of young anglers, but even so you would expect to see a few here and there. When I was growing up there wasn't a single body of water that didn't seem to have a group of kids fishing on it. I suppose times have admittedly changed and parents can't just let young kids go roaming around as I used in my youth, and that the technology addicted generation have become a little reluctant to leave the the proximity of their WiFi connections  But I am left in no doubt that young anglers might actually be becoming a rarity, therefore what future does that hold for our sport? Will the number of anglers dwindle so much in the next thirty years that we will see big manufactures starting succumb to lack of buyers in an over-inflated tackle market. Will Danny Fairbrass be seen in some Essex dole queue,  or will Peter Drennan be seen be begging outside Starbucks?  I actually suspect not, as something else comes to mind. Unlike young anglers I have actually seen a lot of new adult anglers. By that I mean people who have taken up fishing a lot later in life. People who may of had a dabble as a youth and didn't continue fishing but have actually had another crack later in life only to find they enjoy it and go on to take it up properly. And I suppose that's even better for our tackle companies as older anglers have more money than kids. So no need to worry Danny or Peter, you might not be for the poor house just yet...


As an afterthought I do think that we as anglers are actually doing our best to encourage youngsters interesed in the sport. Andy, my regular fishing companion, often takes groups of budding young anglers fishing through his school. I've followed Rob Thompsons passage to becoming an qualified angling coach on his blog and several other friends/bloggers encourage their children and friend's children to go fishing. However still I am willing to bet that there are loads of kids out there who like myself had little access to angling who would love to have a go. Unlike me they will never have the freedom to just go off on their own, as sadly our society has changed so irrevocably so that it's just not safe for them to be out alone. And that makes me very sad for those would be brothers of angle.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Scratching my brain... do you know this lake.

I remember it perfectly as if it were yesterday. I was standing in the chilly morning air outside the bungalow science block of my comprehensive school. That itself was nothing unusual as I often hung around this part of the school both in and out of school hours. What was unusual was on this particular occasion I was here just as the light was breaking on a Sunday morning and I was sat shivering on my old fishing box. Even wrapped in the ill-fitting wax jacket my mother had bought me from Bedworth market, the nip still crept in. Mind, my Hummel tracksuit bottoms and wellies really weren't cutting the mustard on my lower half and I suspected that was where the cold was being felt. Not long before this I had walked headlong into the dank as I often did on a Sunday morning, loaded up with my leatherette fishing box, which dug into my back, and my fusty second hand rod bag cutting into my shoulder something savage. But on this occasion I had not ended my trudge at the canal or one of the local ponds and had in fact end up at this would be rendezvous point at school.

I remember feeling particularly nervous about the days proceedings as it was to be my first outing with the Nicholas Chamberlain school fishing club and as my normal fishing companions were not available to attend, I assumed I was going to be the only first year in the group, hence my nervous nature. It wasn't long until others began to arrive, most of whom were in years three and four and most of whom ignored me as they arrived. Much to my relief it turned out that one other first year had signed up to come on the trip, though sadly he was a particularly highly strung individual who stood more chance of irritating me than anything else. Soon enough though the leader of our party arrived in a battered old LDV mini bus; the cheery face of Mr Downes looked out of the bus towards the small group and beckoned us to grab our gear whilst forming an orderly queue to load it into the transport.

The journey itself holds little memory for myself apart from one aspect, the smell! As we all know pongy fishing gear has that unique ability to emanate smells no matter how dry it is. So then stick ten loads worth of it into what is essentially a tin can and add ten teenage lads and you have a very... very... special aroma. I have often wondered if the sickly sweet smell of that mini bus was secret stashes of continental ground bait. But more realistically thinking back it was more likely something along the lines of the newly released lynx deodorant or insignia or maybe just plain old lingering ermin. Either way it certainly was a one all over smell!

I think the best thing about that journey was getting out of that fetted brummie made stink waggon and once again finding fresh air. And how good that sweet morning air smelt once I had extracted myself from behind the stacks of Shakespeare plastic fishing boxes, I can barely describe. The moment my foot left the rickety half rusted step of that van and I touched down on solid earth I looked around the the misty woods and saw a world that to young Daniel was as yet totally alien.

From behind the wooden sign by the side of the car park and beyond the crowd of young anglers I could see a scene that would become burnt into my mind. Only just visible through the early morning mist a picture perfect vision of a lake could be made out. An old woodland flanked the water along one bank with a strange walled bank holding back the lake. On the far side half hidden the mist was an expansive lawn leading up to a modest manor house. The early morning calls of birds all over the lake echoed through the air. Having spent my short fishing career fishing only canals and ponds this was a serious culture shock for my young self and I had another one coming...

Mr Downes, to save any arguments, announced that today's fishing would be done under a guise of a fishing match. Though not everyone was expected to have to fish in the match, but they would be expected to draw a peg to decide where they would fish. I suppose this was just to create an orderly manner for which to settle where we would be fishing rather than have any kind of meleé We all formed a circle round the teacher and hands began to dip into the hat drawing out little white slips of paper. I must have been one of the last to get my grubby little mit into that hat and when it came out I instantly spotted a large number two on my scrap of paper.

It turned out that my spot for the day was quite literally thirty feet from the mini bus on the well manicured bit of grass that ended abruptly in a walled edge of the lake. Setting up in my peg I distinctly remember feeling very overwhelmed by the sight of this huge sheet of water. Most of my fishing was done right under the rod tip on the edge of a canal or at most a short swing to a weed bed. So not knowing any better I did what I knew best and set up my standard float rig and swung it out.

I cannot regurgitate any romantic stories of special fish as for the entire morning I had exactly zero bites as did the lad to my left. By eleven I had already begun dipping into my lunch box. Not long after that I went for a wander up towards Mr Downes. I was shocked to see my situation was reflected all the bank with very little being caught all round. Mr Downes himself had drawn a particularly overgrown spot next to my year mate who was repeatedly chucking a ledger out towards some big carp which were sunning themselves close to a small island.

On the way back down the bank I did actually feel better about my own blanking knowing I wasn't the only one doing it. Upon arriving at my own peg I was about to sit down when I heard a loud splashing. The only peg or occupant I hadn't nosed in on was the lad to my right in peg one. What I found when I peered round that bush was amazing to my young eyes. The lad sat on that bright blue Shakespeare box turned out to be a forth year and he was catching fish like I had never seen before in my life. His float would arc though the air landing in the same spot way out in the lake every time then moments later it would dip under he would strike and one of a cornucopia of fish would come flipping in. Some of them even needed a netting which I had very rarely seen before.

I stood silently watching for ages before he spoke to me to ask where I was fishing. I duly told him that I was in the swim next to him but had caught nothing. His reply that I had drawn one of the best three pegs was news to me. He asked me what bait I was using, what weight of line and what hook size I was using, and all seemed relatively similar. As he carried on removing fish from the lake he seemed to be thinking very hard about what was different in an effort to help me out. Then after a while asked me a question I had never heard before. "Have you plumbed up?" to which the naive young me replied "What's plumbing up!" A few moments of explanation had me filled in and I was soon rushing back to my own peg with a loaned plummet to ascertain my swims depth.

It will not come as a surprise I think when I say I was a mere four and half feet of the bottom in six feet of water. Although it was a struggle with my poor casting ability I did manage to get my float at least one rod length from the end of my rod and that combined with my miserly distribution of my limited maggots finally got my float moving in the right direction. I don't think I had ever concentrated as hard as I did for those last few hours and by the time the whistle blew I had accumulated a staggering two pounds of small roach and rudd.

It was a humbling yet important day in my fishing life and although I came nowhere in the match it did serve as an poignant introduction the what I now know was an estate lake. And that brings me to the whole point of my sharing of this little tale. I have never for one moment since been able to recall the name of this lake. I have tried contacting my old school to try and eek out any info only to be met by a wall of resistance. I even once contacted the other first year via Facebook but he didn't even remember going. Once I looked into trying to contact the teacher, but it seems the authorities are reluctant to share any detail as I might be a disgruntled former pupil looking for revenge. So now this has lead me here to you, the reader of this tome, to ask the question:

Do you know this lake?

I know that although cute (thank you JB, for the illustration) it is vague. The venue was within an hour of Coventry, so could be anywhere in an imaginary circle as far as Leicester to Worcester, to Northampton. It was obviously an estate lake and had that very distinctive damn wall at the car park end. It wasn't a massive venue but certainly could be described as a medium sized lake. The lake probably tapered away after the island but I only walked as far as the island so truthfully don't know what was at one end.

The weird thing is that I am not seeking it out because I believe it holds some great strain of fish I wish to catch, but instead am trying to put a name to a memory in the hope that I can return to this place where I first dipped a line into the world of estate lake fishing and began a life long love of these types of waters.

If you think you might have any ideas of possible venues please just leave the name of the lake or rough location and that, together with the help of the Internet and Google maps should be enough for me to investigate.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Testing my new toy.

There are countless undeniable facts in fishing, two of which are; 'the anticipation of catching your first fish on a new rod is wonderful feeling', and 'perch cannot resist lob worms'. I experienced both recently! You see last week I purchased me a bargain new rod. Unlike most of my new gear this rod didn't come from either the local tackle purveyor or some discount tackle website. It actually came from Keith Jobling who after a fervent evening of clicking and bidding ended up with five of them if I recall correctly. The rod in question was a Shakespeare mach 2, 9ft wand, and after unwittingly winning most of the rods he had bid on Keith began selling them off to recoup his outlay. Some time ago but whilst chatting over a few civilised drinks one evening he mentioned to me he still had one left and thus arrangements were made for me to purchase the final remaining wand, with the idea that it would be perfect for plundering my local brook in the depths of winter when I can't be arsed to drive anywhere.

Anyway the rod deal was finally done and I found myself with a new toy. Though I am way off using it on the local trickle, the sight of it glistening in our dining room did get me thinking that I would like to give it a go to see how it handled. Previously I had planned to go down to the secret squirrel hole on the canal to do some zander fishing and it seemed a great idea to take this wand along to see if would conjure me up a few nice sergeants.
It was actually Keith who put the idea of free lining worms using its lightest quiver tip in my head, so once the zander rod was cast out I left that to do it's thing and took some time to get to know this wicked little bit of carbon a bit better.

Since seeing how fish had reacted to my baits and rigs on the Itchen a few weeks ago I have obsessed a little on how my baits look and act underwater, and although I would never in a million years be able to see my baits in this latté coloured canal, the idea of having nothing on my line at all bar a hook seemed to my minds eye the perfect low resistance rig. The length of the rod too seemed perfect for this job as well, being only 9ft long. I found that if I sat well back from the canal I could position the rod with only the last foot or so hanging over over the canal. This enabled me to either fish a few inches over depth or actually suspend my worm off the bottom a little. I was amazed to see that the super sensitive tip actually registered if the weight was off the bottom or not.

This was too perfect a scenario to go wrong and soon enough that super sensitive tip twanged once as a perch engulfed the worm, then bent the rod immediately afterwards as the fish moved off. Although the first comers were small by this stretch standards, I can hand on heart say that I did not miss a single bite for ten fish. Then soon enough some bigger billies turned up and Jesus did they pull that light tip round! It took only one bigger fish for me to reposition my rod rests into more of a river stance with the rod pointing into the air slightly to prevent the delicate tip contacting with the bank edge and damaging the tip when a big perch ate my bait.

Even some little zander got in on the action, especially when my bait was off the bottom, though their bites were so different from the perch; they came with zero warning and just hooped the tip round just like a barbel bite scaled down.

Speaking of zander, I had totally neglected my zander rod which had strangely been rather inactive for most of the morning; even watching the float from the corner of my eye it had registered zero interest. When I recast though it went off within five minutes. Zander sometimes flummox me outright. My rig when cast out again had landed literally four feet from where I had originally cast and I know this area is a bit of  a zed hotspot. So I suspect the culprit was certainly in the area of the bait originally and for what ever reason would not go for the little dead roach in its first position.

The first one that took my dead bait was little more than two pounds and came in very quickly. The second one really gave it the big one, shooting all over the canal shaking it's head in fury trying to rid it's mouth of my biting hooks. I did think at first it was a more serious canal zed but once in the net it shrank a little. The savage fight was explained though easily by the size of its tail. 

I don't think I have ever seen such a massive tail on such a small zander. That thing could make a marlin feel inadequate about the size of its rudder. After that though the zander-like perch became rather cagey in their feeding. I did scrape a few more perch here and there, but like most canal sessions for me they last as long as my patience does with the boat traffic and that is not that long.

As for the new rod I have to say that I am over the moon with this little carbon wonder. Not only is it just the right length for near side shelf fishing on the canal but the super sensitive tips are great in close quarters and it also doesn't lack in power for a rod rated to only four pound line.  I suppose in naming it a wand Shakespeare were spot on as it really does fell magic at times and I can't wait to try it out on the sow come winter.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Lake #23 The top of the pyramid.

I have for the last two weeks been banging my head up against the brick wall that is Coombe Abbey lake. I think describing it as a brick wall is perfect as what I have been trying to do there is as tough as brick is hard! As I had said many times before, myself and this lake have had an up and down kind of relationship over the years, but of late we've been doing alright. That was until the predator season came along and now it's all turned to rat shit... 

Even with this water teeming with pike of all sizes I find myself fishing only for zander. If you believe anything written of Coombe and zander in the past twenty years, you would think that there is loads of the damn things right up to record shaking weights. Well, the reality is that things here have settled down on the zander front and I think that the pike outnumber the zander twenty to one, and that's being conservative. Then if you will, think of the classical ecological pyramid with millions of prey fish making up the wide base of the pyramid and a smaller amount of predators forming the tiny point at the top. Now if that pyramid had a shiny little flash of light glistening right at the top that would represent the zander. I am sure you see where I am going here. Hence I have been seeking a very small amount of very special fish in a massive lake full of not very special fish and it ain't been going well.

So far I've spent time staring in bushes as the rain has been coming down so hard that I had to turn my back on the lake...

I've sat watching motionless rods all day, only to find my bite alarms have succumbed to the damp...

I have also spent hours scanning the huge expanse of water looking for signs of predation...

And so far all I have achieved is to read a book whilst I waited!

Truthfully right now I find myself thinking that the time I spend trying to winkle a single run from this lake is just time wasted. I could wait day and night until Christmas and not receive one bleep, let alone a run. From what I have heard on the grapevine it;s not been going well for any other anglers pursuing them either and so far if I am right, the grand total of zander caught this season totals the daunting number of one! Right now for me that is just not appropriate or conducive to what time I have to spend on this foolhardy quest and as a result I have decided to leave it alone.

With my Coombe zander quest shelved for now I need a bit of pepping up so decided to head back to the lake I now refer to as Area 51 that I fished recently for sturgeon, hoping for a run or two. Every time I visit this anomaly of a fishery it has a weird feel to it. Take this resident duck for example...what the hells with that hairdo!!!

The fishing and captures on this occasion were relatively normal. The sturgeon failed to show but I did not lack action. By noon I had actually run out of bait as a steady run of low double figure carp kept me very busy stuffing my oversized baits into their mouths with gay abandon.

It kind of made me wonder about the intelligence of carp as this lot were more than happy to force my match box sized cubes of luncheon meat in their cake holes, along with what can only be described as some very agricultural rigs attached to it. These stupid blighters made the now popular carp fishing term of 'riggy' redundant. Thirty-five pound braid... not a problem! Size two choddy hook... not a problem! two ounces of luncheon meat... nom nom nom (sorry for the use of 'nom nom nom' I am ashamed of my use of this terrible consumption reference as I hate it, but it does kind of work in this case)

In between random runs I found the rest of my time filled trying to repel my borders against a rather over confident goose. There is is a flock of farm yard geese that waddle around the lakes constantly all day long. Most have a healthy respect for personal space but there is one who thinks nothing of coming blatantly right up and rooting round in your bag, then when you try and shoo him off this cheeky gander just stares you out like you done him some wrong. 

He was a damn nuisance sticking his head were it did not belong, and on at least one occasion found himself in pretty bad situation from his general inquisitiveness..!

Even though I did not actually catch any of my target fish it was nice to get some action after spending so much of my valuable angling time chasing ghost fish in some pretty awful weather. So I suppose this trip did actually serve purpose and has pepped me back up. But even with my renewed vigour I wont be rushing back to Coombe after zander any time soon and will instead change my venue in which to look for a big Zed.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Effective vulgarity wins over artistic romance for me.

I suppose that right now I should be regaling a tale extolling the virtues of fishing a pristine chalk stream using a beautifully crafted centrepin reel and of how the line flows from the spool like silk, before my vintage style hand made topper float is pulled from sight by a lady of the stream. But I can't! I simply can't, as the truth is I tried to fulfill this romantic notion that I had created in my head and failed dismally. It wasn't that I didn't try and it wasn't that the fish weren't there, because they were. It is just a simple case of I am no trotter! and the worst of it is that I have the technique and the skills to send a float sailing down stream smooth as I like.The bare fact is that after very little trying on my part and only a few finger sized fish, I discarded the artistic and embraced the vulgar. Within an hour of arriving on the river Itchen my float rod was set aside and a forty two gram block end feeder crashed into these hallowed waters shattering the tranquility forever.

By playing to my strengths and fishing a way I felt more comfortable I turned what I felt was going to be a bad morning on its head instantly. I picked a swim no angler trotting in their right mind would fish, loaded an almost gross feeder full of wriggling goodness and let rip. Straight away dividends was paid; every cast the tip rattled round attached to one of the hordes of grayling nailed to the opposite bank.

I think to say the water was shallow and clear was an understatement. As I was fishing a deeper gully on the exit of a bend far across the river, I had a huge shallow mound no more than a foot deep which extended so far from the bank that I reckon not many anglers would have bothered with this one. But temptingly all across the shallows if you looked hard enough you could see small to medium sized grayling holding in indents and behind patches of weed.

I  was happily enjoying regular sport from grayling, but  I knew it was only a matter of time before another interloper shoved in, so I wasn't disappointed when I struck and something silver shot from the depths like a cruise missile. Every time I see this happen I am always amazed. Trout anglers pay a fortune and invest huge amounts of time to chase sea trout on rivers throughout Wales and the South, often failing to catch one for huge amounts of time, and here I am lobbing maggots out wholesale and the damn things can't get enough. Six of these deranged fish took my baits in the first swim alone and everyone made such a fuss it was unreal.

"The worst day on the Itchen is like the day of a lifetime on any other river" someone said to me the other night regarding this river and he is exactly right. This was exactly why we upped sticks and left an area that was producing constant bites and insane amounts of fish. We hadn't travelled all this way to just catch loads of average sized grayling and a few sea trout. We wanted to catch something special and with the Itchen setting such a high bar for what is special, it was a case of getting onto the area that is capable of producing such a fish.

With that in mind we dropped down to fish the gin clear run off the weir pool. I have fished this area a few times before and have only ever caught trout and grayling, but I do know from other sources that it contains some very special fish. Though what I already knew hardly prepared me for what I saw. At the tail of the run where the bottom shallowed towards the surface, a shoal of two to three pound chub hung in the flow. Two to three pound chub aren't that special you will think, and you're right, but they provided a handy point of reference against which to size the other inhabitants of this area.  One of those monster chub looked to be at least twice as big as the little two-pounder, so was maybe five to six pounds. The other one was markedly bigger than the other! So conservatively could have been seven plus even in late summer condition and it wasn't even the chub which were that shocking, it was the roach.

Three roach all over two pounds repeatedly circled along a very specific route, stopping behind various clumps of weed to rest intermittently. At first I thought they were immature bream like the ones that were hanging out in a slack upstream but soon enough their red fins became obvious and they morphed into roach. It was Andy that bagged this swim and as we watched the roach and chub, two huge koi carp rose from the weeds to make our eyes bulge even more. Not wanting to possibly detract from what Andy hoped to do I headed off above the weir to fish what I consider to be both the best and worse swim on the entire fishery.

The M27 swim is where the oasis-like feel of the Itchen and reality collide. It is by my own admission the noisiest swim I have fished ever. The east bound carriageway thunders constantly over the river on the fish-able side and between the sounds of wailing engines and truck sidings flapping in the wind, you can barely hear yourself think. Add to that the fact that every truck that passes by quite literally shakes the ground for hundreds of feet and you have a very strange experience involving a beautifully river and the UK transport network.

Though as bad a place as it is, there is no doubt that it is a fish magnet. My theory is that the constant thunder of traffic, shelter of concrete and deep run all serve to make a very safe haven for resting salmon and shoals of everything alike. Once ensconced the feeder was dutifully filled and swung into the flow. The first fish to oblige were just mediocre grayling, but soon enough the tip hoofed round and a real dirty fighter was on the line.

This very long and lean chub did everything it could to get into every weed bed in the entire swim but patience wore it down and eventually it went into the net, where it did the oddest vibrating I have ever seen from a chub. That fish released upstream I again cast to the exact same spot and this time I never got the rods on the rest. If the bite was savage and sharp the fight was unbelievable. I at first thought I'd hooked another salmon but an amazing cartwheel jump revealed a big brown trout was the culprit.

After the trout the swim seemed to die a death, though this did coincide with the sun being at its highest. It was around then that I got the call from Andy who had been persevering with those infuriating chub and roach. He had on the float hooked and lost the biggest of all the chub in the weir run off. I know the feeling he just gone through only too well. You hook a huge fish in very pacey flow and the damn thing just holds flank on, with the whole pressure of the river on it before flicking its tail and sticking far too much strain on your very light outfit.

Not long after this I too dropped down to the weir and fished above him. Though honestly I should have known better with all the bream around in the swim. From the moment my rig went in those dammed bream knew the food was around. Their whole demeanor changed and I watched time and time again as they circled round my bait picking up freebies. It was not them that I wanted but the single large roach that had broken away from its companions and joined up with the bream. But that was never going to happen! The moment I looked away the rod was nearly wrenched into the river by a rather dozy bream. It was however very interesting to see what happened when the hooked fish panicked. The shoal broke up flying in all directions, only to reform and wait off down stream the roach included. By the time I had unhooked the bronze bugger and released it away from the swim, the damn things were back on the spot, head-down like nothing had happened.

By late afternoon I was done trying to avoid the bream whilst picking out a single roach and was a bit lost for what to do. I was tempted to fish the barbel swim but not having any gear suitable I gave it a miss. With only an hour or so left I decided to just return to the motorway swim and sit it out for another chub or a big roach on the bread feeder. Putting my bank sticks back in the previous holes I settled into the worn swim thinking it would just be a case of whiling away my last hour watching a motionless tip in a used up swim.

First cast the feeder touched down on hard bottom and I put the rod down. Moments later the tip slowly bent round as if a huge clump of loose weed had snagged on my line. Anyone who has ever fished a chalk stream will be familiar with the massive chunks of weed which randomly come down like icebergs through the day and dislodge your rigs constantly. Picking up the rod I gently began to haul back my rig only to find the weed hugging the bottom and moving up stream some serious intent. It was a little surprising that my weed clump had suddenly turned into a mystery fish. Having seen carp in this swim before and from it's laborious fight, I suspected I was about to get turned around and spanked when a carp woke up, but no it just plodded around until it saw a weed bed, where it dived straight towards. Even more surprising was the fact that could stop it and my five pound line held. Maybe it wasn't a carp after all. With no salmonid acrobatics and it being far too big for a roach, identification was simple. It was a chub and a good one at that judging from its length when it rolled on the surface. With nothing but clear water between me and it the result was a forgone conclusion. With another decent chub in my net is was made up but when I went to lift it over the reeds the net pole began bending worryingly and I soon found out why...

This chub was in a different league to the first. It was around the same length but with a head bigger than my fist, shoulders to match and it seemed twice as thick as the other one. I think the term I used to Andy when I gave him a call to come help photograph it was 'Goliath'. Seeing the size of it I was shocked to find it only weighed 5.7lb but like all the fish we had caught it was very lean and still in summer condition. 

From examining the fish we both agreed where it was lacking body mass was in its stomach. This one like the other had a lot of feeding to do before winter, which makes sense as for months now it had only been non nutritional fly anglers on the beat. Given the overall size of this chub I think realistically that it could easily pack on a pound to a pound and half before Christmas. Which could make its top end weight close if not seven pounds.

The pictures we took didn't really do the fish justice but that was down the fishes poor behaviour. I'd rested it for a good while before the photos as it seemed very dazed and that consideration came back to haunt me as you can see from my top behind the fish.

The chub was a fine way to end an already productive trip back to the Itchen, but I wont deny that the sight of those giant chalk stream roach is burnt into my mind and I still can't believe that neither of us came remotely close to hooking one. It is as I said before, the Itchen like many Southern chalk streams, set such high bars for what is a good fish that a fish of a lifetime back home is just an average fish on these wondrous rivers.