Friday 27 March 2015


what a lovely place to start the day
There must be one of those sad Country and Western songs with a title like “End of Season Blues” but if not I’d better write one … ‘my girls left, my dogs died, my river’s shut down, now I can’t even fish no more’… I’ll find a tune later. However, on thinking about it, is the end of the river season sad … or a relief?

the river looked perfect - but was it?
It’s certainly a relief not to have to agonise over all those imponderables that we’re told might make a difference. The air pressure, the phase of the moon, the water temp. rising or falling, the colour and height of the river, the wind direction, the strength of flow … or whether someone has beaten you to your favourite swim! You shouldn’t have a favourite of course but base your decision on the conditions and that ‘sixth sense’ … sometimes called ‘watercraft’, whatever that is.

doesn't look promising today - hard frost overnight
Anyway, enough of the quandaries of fishing. Just being out there is often enough but being a roach fanatic, I badly needed to catch a good ‘un before it was too late, so chose to spend a day or two at the end of the season on the LAA’s stretch of the Hampshire Avon at Britford. It was busy of course, as you’d expect of a water that still has a good head of big roach. But there’s a lot of swims out there in the water meadows and plenty of choice.

the main carrier and roach heaven

the water meadows are a reminder of old English landscapes

I tried the Old River for the first time in many years and caught some lovely fat dace, good grayling, some beautiful brownies up to 3lbs and several chub, the best going 5/8ish. [I was roving with just rod and landing net so didn’t have scales, but it was larger than the 5/4 I’d caught the previous week.]

The scrap this fish put up was memorable because of where I hooked it. River keeper Stuart had pointed out the swim to me as a possibility for a big roach, a hollow under the far bank trees followed by a float-losing run alongside densely submerged willows. The cast to the far bank had to be arrowed through a small gap in the overhanging alder and the floats hanging in the branches served to stress the need for accuracy.

First trot produced a nice dace, followed by a small roach and a minnow. Then I managed to manoeuvre the float alongside the downstream willows and as it scraped past the branches, it dragged under. Assuming the hook had snagged on a sunken branch I pulled to free it but the branch pulled back. Violent thuds deep under the trees left me in no doubt that I’d hooked a large chub and all I could do was bend the rod to the butt and pray. Given the dense branches and the fast flow I hadn’t a hope of landing it but the seemingly inevitable parting of the ways didn’t happen and once the chub lost ground and plunged in mid stream I felt I had a chance. It tried to snag me on the nearside brambles, as they do, but in the end, despite it’s large mouth dragging in the fast flow like a drogue and taking the thin line close to breaking point, it succumbed to the net. Classic chub fishing.

a colourful grayling off to fight another day

Wandering the banks, it’s fun simply spraying maggots, trotting a float down the fast stream and seeing it disappear. Those grayling and their colourful dorsal fins certainly provide some entertaining resistance when hooked.

Most of my time was spent searching for the big roach but generally they were proving elusive for most of us, especially as the minnows had reached plague proportions. Add to that the pressure from numerous anglers and it was hard, so I was pleased to catch one or two roach to 1/5 and a great big chub on a last cast at dusk that convinced Trev and I that it was a huge roach. When hooked it rolled on the surface in true roach fashion and repeated the trick a couple more times before revealing its true identity. We were disappointed of course but at 5/4 it was still a fine fish.

a chunky chub - it would have weighed more than 5/4 if an otter hadn't eaten half it's tail
a beautiful dawn and feeling lucky today
On my second visit before seasons end, which proved to be my last, I tried to find a place where the big roach might seek refuge from the  angling pressure and arrived at dawn. As the sun rose I flicked my half sweetcorn bait under a far bank tree and caught a 1/11 first cast. This bait is reputed to be useless at Britford but at least using a bait other than maggots avoids the minnows and I always worry about the disturbance to shy roach when minnows are hoicked out of the swim.

river keeper Stuart and 1/11 of pristine roach
I wanted a picture of ace river keeper Stuart with one of his treasured roach, for it is due to his relentless efforts to protect them from cormorant predation while also providing good habitat that the roach thrive there in the first place. If only all river keepers were as hard working as Stuart, tireless in his mission to try to ensure anglers have a good day on his fishery.

So with a good roach photographed it was job done … though I still felt I was in for a good day, having started so well. Eleven hours later I caught my next fish, a big fat dace at dusk … but as if to prove I had waited in the right place, a roach rolled alongside my float as it disappeared into the gloaming.

the magic hour ... and sometimes it is
No two pound roach this time but I considered it a successful end to the season, for on the three days I fished in March I had enjoyed seeing 53 species of bird, along with water voles and wonderful views of a stoat hunting the river bank alongside my swim.

numerous roe deer decorate the meadows
Non of the birds were rare, though you can never tire of watching the glorious colours of bullfinches, admiring a tree creeper mousing up a tree alongside you or the floating beauty of a barn owl. Stuart and I saw one out in the meadows every day at around lunchtime. You’d expect to see it at this time if it was feeding young but they never breed in the winter. Perhaps it’s a result of last years productive breeding season, one of the best since records began. Perhaps this bird was just learning the ropes. The previous years breeding had been a disaster so it proves once again that nature has wonderful powers of recovery when given a chance. Let’s hope the Avon Roach Project and Stuart’s efforts prove positive for roach. Meanwhile, seeing a barn owl is always a treat.

our barn owl never came as close as in 'A Passion for Angling'

Birding is just as rewarding as catching another roach – well almost … and I’m always reminding myself that ‘there’s more to fishing than catching fish’.

So sadly, that’s it for another season, one full of happy memories of days spent with friends and their fish by the waterside. It's been an unforgettable one, for I managed three PB's - a 3/5 roach, a 3/9 rudd and an 11/2 barbel. Must try harder comes to mind and I will ... but now it’s on with the gardening and with luck, a tench or two.
a spectacular sky to end my season