The River Lugge (click for bigger picture)
This autumn, just gone, I carefully planned trips to the Bristol Avon, the Wye, the Parrett. I planned to catch some big chub, to get Nigel Connor and Peter Jacobs on the Dorset Stour, and to try to find some Frome grayling. The vagaries of the British weather, river conditions, and insufficient information in advance have all colluded to waylay my plans. And yet, out of all of this mess I’ve had plenty of interesting fishing. That final challenge had a wheel come off at the last minute though the day turned out to be the sort of day any true angler ought to relish, but more on that later.
I suppose that if angling always went to plan, much like life itself, it would soon get extremely boring. There are plenty of anglers that have packed in the whole sport simply because success came too easily. Over the last eighteen months I have tried to get onto rivers that I haven’t even seen before, never mind fished. In most cases, this means a fair bit of travelling, and once autumn and winter conditions prevail, it is vital to have some idea of what to expect when you get there. As ever, the ideal conditions always seem to occur on Wednesdays, or the one weekend when you have to be somewhere else. I suppose I’ve always had this wanderlust, this yearning to try different bits of river or faraway lakes. My match fishing days had that element of the unknown as we travelled to distant venues.
What such travel does is make you versatile. You get to try different methods and ensure that you are equipped to tackle a wide variety of conditions. You learn to read water, to understand where fish might be found, often not quite where you might expect them. So let’s see where my rambling took me over the last month or two…
Wye, Oh Wye!
I didn’t even make the Bristol Avon though I did manage a wistful glance on the way to a weekend near Hereford. The Bristol Avon was in perfect condition, for once, and will have to wait for another day. On the Wye, the floodwaters of the previous three weeks had long receded to leave the river about a foot up. Local advice reckoned that chub would offer the best chance of sport. Heavily laden, I staggered up a slippery path on the outskirts of Hereford in search of a mid-river gully swim. The plan was to attack it with bread using a big chubber. When I finally got there, it was obvious that the Wye had just a little too much pace for this swim to be easily fishable. I gave it my best shot for two hours but the pace and power of the river made it very hard work. A small greedy grayling that engulfed a large lump of flake on an 8 was my only reward. Feeder fishing proved futile as the feeder snagged time and time again. After getting bleaked out in the centre of Hereford, I ended the day on a stretch of the River Lugg that was also included in the day ticket. It was pushing through but I found a pocket slack on the far bank of this fast twisty river. Using a medium Avon float and maggots, I saved the day with a succession of dace. The challenge was in the float control even if the fish weren’t very big.
The Peter Jacobs Rain Dance
When Nigel Connor planned a weekend trip to stay with Peter Jacobs in Wiltshire the plan was to fish on the upper Dorset Stour on the Sunday. It started pouring with rain at 9am on the Saturday and didn’t stop until gone midnight. It was clear that a big flood would be on its way down both the Stour and the Avon by the morning. Nigel’s final suggestion of a side stream on the lower Avon proved a fishable choice. The heavy colour of a rising river made it slow at first, and for too long I persisted in trying to fish by the book with an over-depth and over-shotted float. When I got chewed maggots without the bites registering properly, I began to experiment by shallowing up. The fish were in mid water. I switched to a small pole float on a running line. This proved to be the killer, and a succession of dace succumbed. As the day wore on the better dace fought their way past the tiddlers to save what looked like a washout.
The River Parrett (click for bigger picture)
Lost in Langport
In my article ‘Frost’, I mentioned fishing the upper Stour. What I didn’t tell you is how I wasted three hours of that morning trying to come to terms with the River Parrett near Langport. I had a permit but little idea of what stretch to try when I got there. This canalised river on the edge of the Somerset Levels offers some good fishing for bream and roach. The journey from Dorset took much longer than I anticipated. It’s only sixty miles but very much cross-country, and it was nearly two hours before I got to the small town of Huish Episcopi (try saying that after ten pints). What I didn’t realise is that Langport was adjacent to this town, and I was heading for Bridgewater before I knew it. When I did get back on the right road I found that the side road to the hamlet of Wick was closed which meant a diversion of five miles down tiny back roads to find the river. I set up on the banks forty-five minutes later than hoped. The canalised river was certainly deep here, for I found fourteen feet of water. Why is it that ten minutes after you start fishing the wind gets up? With the temperature barely above freezing and that icy wind coming across the river, there was little shelter on the exposed banks (the South West’s answer to the Fens). Not only that, there was a massive snag in the middle of the river that quickly claimed some hooks. I did catch a couple of fish; a small roach and a gudgeon but it was obvious that persevering was pointless. The good thing to come out of this day is that first I know where the river is, and secondly, when I fished the Stour later on in the morning the other angler there put me right on where and when to go on the Parrett. I shall return on a warmer day.
Safer on home ground?
All of this high mileage fishing left me frustrated at not being sure what to do each time. I decided to spend a day fishing around my old home town of Wareham in Dorset. At least there, I know all of the swims; there’s a wide variety of water, two rivers with tidal and non-tidal water, and several stillwaters. The previous day it has rained all day but only a drizzly miserable rain. I though that the grayling swims a few miles upstream on the Frome might be okay and set off across the meadows. I’m glad I was travelling light for when I reached the riverbank it was obvious that the rain had affected the river. The river was slowly rising with a tinge of colour and lots of small bits of floating weed. Though a grayling might have succumbed, I decided that the much wider tidal reaches were a much better bet and headed back for Wareham.
Here it was high tide, ideal for starting, and, by the time I’d tackled up with a stick float, it was drawing off steadily. I began trotting in perfect conditions, feeding maggots every cast with two on a size 20. Two local angling friends had wandered down and we chatted away trying to predict what might happen. It was half an hour before the first bite, a small brown trout. Next came a slob trout of about 21/2 lbs followed by a seatrout of 11/2 lbs, and then one that got away. I finally hooked and lost a small roach after well over an hour. There were coarse fish there after all. It took another hour before the dace finally began to feed properly along with some more trout and little roach. By the time the tide turned for the half-tide, I’d had two dozen dace to 8oz, nothing spectacular but a reward for perseverance. The slackening current stopped the fish biting and it was time for another move.
One of the lakes in the vicinity had fished well the previous Wednesday for bream. Though I only had a pint of maggots the ideal conditions made it easy fishing. I set up a waggler so that the bait just tripped bottom in thirteen feet of water just two rod lengths out. A bunch (4 x no. 4) of shot four feet from the hook got the bait past most of the tiddlers. I fed it with handfuls of maggot every fifteen minutes. Drip feeding pulls in too many small rudd and roach and I wanted to get a bed of maggots on the bottom. The first fish were small roach, rudd and hybrids to 4 oz. After half an hour, the swim quietened as the bigger fish started to feed. First a pound and a half hybrid then a succession of bream from just under a pound to four pounds with one or two perch, roach and rudd mixed in. My tally for three hours in the short afternoon was in excess of thirty pounds. It had been strange day yet hard work and confidence in my own ability paid off in the end.
Wintle’s World of Angling is taking a break
Having contributed over ninety articles in the last two years, and run this column without a break for nearly seventy weeks, I feel it’s time I had a break. Frankly, I’m amazed that I’ve managed that many articles though I’ve still got plenty of new ideas.
Like Kevin Perkins (keep up the good work Kevin, I enjoy every one of your articles), there comes a time when other matters have to take priority. Nothing serious, it’s just that not having the pressure of a deadline for a while will give me time to re-charge my writing batteries and allow me the time to get a load of overdue jobs done. Like Kevin, I write under other names when it suits me, and the odd article might continue to come from me until I’m ready to re-start some time in the New Year.
So, in the meantime, I’ll wish you all a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
We look forward to seeing you back again asap Mark, and your contributions are very much appreciated – have a great Christmas! – Graham