Rolling on the River
Rolling has become a somewhat neglected tactic in the modern barbel angler’s armoury so Eddy Widdup gets his meat out and has a bounce...
Firstly may I apologise for not having written for a while. As it transpires getting a new job seriously gets in the way of fishing time. In fact, it also gets in the way of writing time as well; so much so that the following session actually took place all the way back in July!
I had just finished a job interview and decided that a session on the Royalty Fishery in Christchurch would help me to unwind.
What can I say about the Royalty that hasn’t been written a few hundred times already? It may well be the most written about two miles of river in Britain. It certainly is one of the most heavily fished. That said, it has a certain atmosphere that keeps me going back. I can’t put my finger on it, usually I like quiet, peaceful and out of the way stretches but somehow watching a train flash by and chatting bollocks to a stranger is just par for the course on here.
So what better way to enjoy the atmosphere than to grab my meat rod and have a bounce about? (oo-er Mrs.)
Now, it should be said that rolling meat is a funny method. Like the Royalty itself, much has been written about it down the years and if you were to read all of it you would be as confused as hell; but here’s the thing, there is not actually really a right or wrong way of going about it.
I reckon it is like dancing at a wedding: everyone has their own style and as long as it works for you that is all that matters. Granted some seem more skilled at dancing than others, perhaps an aunt who once had some salsa lessons when she was younger and is now showing off her rusty skills (another oo-er). I tend to fall into the embarrassing uncle trying to impress the girls category...but the less said about that the better.
At the end of the day, if you can get your lump going through in a straight line and still be able to feel for bites, then you will catch fish on it. How you do this is up to you. I will leave a full description of the method for another time. I had to stop myself diving headlong into a mire of dullness there - hook patterns and the use of Plasticine make a phone book from Belgium seem exciting.
The thing is rolling meat is notoriously hard to explain in writing: think the offside rule but with luncheon meat. Suffice to say you cast upstream of yourself, leave an amount of slack line, let the current form a bow and feel for bites through the line with your finger. It is a lot more complex than that, but with a bit of practice you will have the bait nicely bouncing along the bottom sending up little ‘dink dinks’ through the line. Just like trotting a float or double hauling a fly line - unless you are there doing it, then it is very hard to explain how it works properly. With this in mind, I’ll skip the technical aspects and tell you about one swim, three casts, a bite...and a barbel.
The swim in question is called ‘Greenbanks’ on account of it having green banks, I assume. It is just above the famous Railway Pool’ (under the railway bridge) but just below the even more famous ‘Pipes Swim’ (it‘s got big green pipes in it). Now it may appear that the names of the swims on the Royalty are fairly self explanatory; until that is you realise there are swims called ‘Fiddlers West’ and ‘The Piles; one’s mind boggles!
The river at Greenbanks is straight, of fairly even depth and has a lovely quick pace even when the river is relatively low. The water is quite high today however so the pace is even more brisk so I‘ll need a larger lump of Plasticine than usual. Down the years I have caught more barbel from this forty yards or so of river than anywhere else on the Royalty I have fished. It would seem these swims like me, so whenever I approach the excitement always starts to build.
By the time I arrived it was about 4 o’clock and once again I had spent far too long chatting and not enough time fishing. I survey the scene for a moment, eat a Ginger Nut and sip my water. I like to watch the river for a few minutes sometimes just to see where the boils of weed beds are ,or work out where to put my first cast. Whether this helps with my fishing is another thing but it gives me a chance to ‘see’ rather than just ‘look’.
I decide to put my first cast long, literally casting into the swim on the opposite bank. It lands just where I wanted it to and I slowly feel the line pull tight as it forms the all important bow which enables the rig to bounce along the bottom. Unfortunately, and only seconds later, the line pulled unnaturally taut and I felt the dull and heavy pull of a thick weed bed through my finger.
I pull the line at the rod butt, fly fishing style. It often works to free the rig and means the bow in the line remains should the bait come free. Alas it didn’t work this time, so in the end I have to reel in a little and pull the bait from the weedy clutches. I try to let the bait settle again but I am unable to reform the bow and the cast is over far too quickly.
My next cast I drop a little shorter, and in line with a large clear hole I know is almost always there in summer. This time the bait runs through like a dream. I gently turn my body and follow the line downstream with my rod tip. The bait itself is probably about level with me when I get a sharp ‘bang’ in amongst the constant taps from the moving bait.
Was it a bite? Too late now to strike, the bait was still for a split second before the bang but then the taps came back again and the rig was moving further downstream. I wait until I feel the bow come out the line and slowly reel the rig back in.
There are no signs on the bait of a fish having grabbed it, not that I could tell if there were, but I immediately decide to run the bait through the same spot again. Part of the magic behind this method is that if a barbel is feeding or indeed simply just curious then a piece of moving meat is too much to refuse. It is worth bearing in mind that the Royalty is a very heavily fished venue and probably sees at least one person rolling every day during the season. All the bigger barbel must have been caught on the method several times and yet it still catches more barbel than all of the other methods put together; if there is any greater testament someone better tell me.
I make my third cast. The light westerly catches my line and blows it into a perfect bow even before it hits the surface. Again I turn my body slightly as I feel the line tighten and the bait start to trip along.
It reaches about the same area as I had the bite before when suddenly I strike and wind down hard. My sudden reaction is always a shock to me, it is as if my arms know there is a fish down there and react even before my brain knows what is happening. I have caught dozens of barbel, which when asked later “What was the bite like?” I have had to admit I did not remember. One moment there was nothing...next thing there was a fish!
It is an instinct I have yet to fully understand; I must have felt the bite, or else why would I strike, but once I am bent into an angry barbel I appear to have forgotten even the merest hint of it. Anyway, all that reflection completely distracted me and the fish is taking full advantage, I have to put aside the pondering and concentrate.
The fish has charged off downstream and across current so I rush to get closer to the river where I can get a better angle on it. The banks are steep here and as the river is swollen I end up hanging on for dear life on a very slippery bank as an angry creature shoots off downstream.
I have to exert all the power in my rod to stop the fish driving too far into the thick weed on the far bank. I have strong gear but nonetheless I do not want the fish to transfer the hook. Luckily, after maybe thirty heart stopping seconds, I have the fish turned and it duly swims across the river towards where I am standing/wobbling precariously.
I keep the rod low and pump the fish slowly towards me, but just as I see the fish mid river it turns and flashes away in that typical tail beating way only a barbel has. My reel gives out a clicking protest and I hear that mournful whistling melody as the line sings in the breeze. I stop the run well short of the far bank weed this time and, once more keeping the rod low, draw the fish closer to me. But it darts again and this time into the near side weed beds.
From my position I am now in I really am stuck. The river is too high for me to get below it, at any rate I’d have to climb out of this swim and I am not too sure I can without falling over. At any rate I’m a little tangled in the bungee cord of my landing net. I can see the barbel's flank in the weed just downstream but if I try to lean out any further then I will get very wet indeed. We look at each other in glorious stalemate.
It is then I decide to take a risk and take a step into the unknown. The clump of hemp agrinomy to my right looks just strong enough to support at least part of my weight, if I can get a bit side strain for the downstream angle it maybe enough.
“Thank phew for that!” I say out loud to myself...or at least words to that effect. I nearly went in there when the fish came free and I got stung all up my arm trying to grab my balance back. It worked though and a nice looking barbel is now wallowing in front of me. I grab the net and literally engulf it in one fluid motion, before dropping the rod and making sure I have the net and my balance properly controlled.
Now comes that moment I think all anglers love - the sudden euphoric sense of relief. I take off my hat and sunglasses to wipe my brow and it is only then I release my left boot is decidedly wet, being a good ten inches under water. I had managed to avoid getting wet right up until the last minute when I made the lunge with the net.
But such a fish is worth a wet sock.
A golden bar of raw shining copper. The formula one car of the fish world, glittering in the weak sunshine. It is not the biggest of barbel, no more than 6lb but as far as I am concerned there is no such thing as a small one. Any barbel, even (especially nowadays) one of only a few ounces, is a specimen in my book.
The hook was neatly in the scissors and the fish behaves impeccably as I remove it. We share a brief moment together as I cradle it while we both get our breath back and then it is time to for our goodbyes. In a shower of rainbow droplets and an almost audible ‘whoosh the barbel disappears back into its pulsating, Ranunculus-strewn world.
Such was the rest of the day I tried in vain to get another hook up, but either my radar was out or the Avon decided on my luck. I managed, after considerable trying and no amount of swearing, to nab a small chub but there was to be no more whiskered ones.
Rolling meat is such a pleasant way to fish, one wonders why so few people do it. It enables me to feel at one with the river, much closer than sitting behind Baitrunners and PVA bags. It is as if the river’s very life is transferred up the line and into my finger, painting a picture of a living breathing entity. Every bump and bang of small stones or gentle pull of weed can be read like turning the pages of a picture book.
I may well have just eulogised and romanticised about a lump of processed meat but sometimes these things just deserve saying.