Saturday 5 April 2014


you've got to be there before dawn, even on a 'no hope' frosty morning - magic
If you are a mad keen roach angler like me there is one place you have to visit before the river season ends and that is the famous Hampshire Avon … and if you hope to catch a roach, your best bet is at Britford.
there are still shoals of big roach at Britford

a pair of mute swans with just one cygnet left - the others got 'ottered'
Dawn is always a magical time and there is nothing better than to watch the sun coming up and the wildlife starting to stir. It is also a good time to see rolling roach ... and if you know where they are you might just catch them, though I never hold my breath.

what beautiful creatures they are - don't you just love 'em
Those who fish for roach will be well aware of the demise of the once legendary shoals of Avon roach and there are now very few places on the river where you stand a chance of making contact. The Britford stretch is probably the best river in England for a big one and that’s thanks to the relentless protection they receive from the LAA’s river keeper, Stuart Wilson.

guardian of those glorious redfins - Stuart Wilson with camera shy Misty
predator eats predator © Stewart Canham
once only a coastal bird - not any more © Tunnicliffe
near two pounder damaged by a cormorant downstream of Britford
Tireless in his pursuit of the ‘black death’, Stuart is a diamond, as hard working, friendly and helpful a guy as you could ever wish to meet … and his attitude rubs off on those who visit, for the atmosphere is one of camaraderie among those who seek the elusive silver ghosts. So the friendly character of those around you is one of the best reasons for just ‘being there’.

what a lovely chubby spot
a sad end to our 49 year old Monterey Cypress

it was a magnificent 70 feet tall - what a crash!
I couldn’t visit much this last winter due to the gales ripping eight huge trees out of the ground in our garden, so lots of clearing up to do. But when I was beside those crystal clear waters I did manage to catch a few, including a beautiful male grayling of 1/11. It took a long time to recover from the violent fight it put up, so if you’re lucky enough to catch a good ‘un, do take your time in releasing it and only do so when it is strong enough to swim off strongly.

grayling recovering in the flooded shallows
And while I’m banging on about fish welfare, why is it that so many who visit feel compelled to use a keepnet? We love our roach but then subject them to the cruellest imprisonment. Many of the roach I saw caught were missing many of their scales and had frayed fins … and no surprise when they have been trapped in the strong flow for up to eight hours.

cormorants or keepnet damage - what's the difference
There were several anglers too who commented on catching roach that weighed 1/15 instead of the magical 2lbs. Now if those roach had been free to feed instead of incarcerated, maybe many of them would have put on that extra ounce and become fish of a lifetime! The LAA are never going to ban the use of keepnets for roach, even if they should, but we could all do our bit by not using them, or restricting their use to a few minutes while waiting for Stuart to come and take a trophy shot. I no longer use keepnets because they damage the very creatures that we treasure most. Ask yourself why you use them. Why?

classic Constable country
Enough of that. I had a great few days on the river and not just with the fish, which included several roach to a little short of the magical two pounds, along with that bonny grayling and a fat chub of 5/3. Apart from some warm friendships, the other highlights were of the feathered variety. A peregrine in full stoop, kestrels, buzzards, sparrow hawks, a red kite and that rarest of sightings, a goshawk circling above the Downs. Unlike so many species in the UK, they are increasing ... but only slowly due to illegal persecution.

powerful hunters © Tunnicliffe
I spent two years making a film about gowhawks for ITV and the Americans called ‘Phantom of the Forest’ so was able to assure Stuart that it was indeed a gos when he suggested I was wrong! What powerful birds they are, so impressive when they bring down male pheasants in full flight, a highlight of my film.

called the 'seven whistler' after it's call © Ching
There were plenty of those delightful water rails creeping about, snipe and lapwing on the flooded water-meadows too and I was surprised to hear whimbrel calling from the marshes so early in the season. They were on their way from West Africa to their breeding grounds in Scotland or Scandinavia but the birds that surprised and excited me most were a pair of hawfinches, spotted in the trees opposite my swim on the final day of the season. They are getting increasingly rare, their breeding numbers  having fallen by 75% in the last 25 years, so I counted myself extremely lucky to have seen them, even though Stuart has seen hawfinches there in the past.

you don't want to get bitten by that beak © Ching
Just as ‘the magic hour’ was gloaming and to put the icing on the cake, I caught a roach of over a pound trotting to the tail of my swim on the ‘last cast’ … though a few more casts followed after that success!

the perfect end to the season
There wasn’t a mark on this immaculate roach, almost as if it had never been caught … and to put the season to bed I saw two barn owls and a tawny owl on the way home. Now how long is it to June 16th - I can’t wait.
a perfect sunset to end the season