Due to domestic duties, a day long float fishing session on the Thames at Home Park, Windsor, had to be reduced down to a few hours in the afternoon this week. A team match on Sunday had produced double figure bags of roach and dace from swims spread along the length of Old Windsor AC’s day ticket water and armed with the winning peg numbers, looked forward to a full net. My morning did not go to plan and driving out of my way to get some maggots for bait, meant that it was almost 1 pm, by the time I reached the river.
Peg 5 was the nearest banker swim, having produced over 14 lb of roach and dace in the five hour match and and set up my 14 ft float rod with a 6 BB Avon float only to find on plumbing the depth, that the shelf extended well beyond stick float range and a waggler, bottom end only float was needed. Having spent ten minutes setting up the Avon rig, I decided to try this bottom only, cutting off the top rubber and locking the bottom with two AA shot, while changing the drop shots to suit a waggler pattern.
Finding the bottom leveled out at about ten feet deep, three rod lengths from the bank, I began catapulting maggots and hemp upstream to cover the area. The float cast well and sat upright, shotted down to the orange tip, the bait just tipping the bottom, the first bite holding down and being unmissable, hitting into a good dace, but losing it in my enthusiasm to bring it up from the depths, the size 16 hook pulling out. A spray of maggots and the float sank again, another dace juddering away to the surface, this time staying on.
I settled into a rhythm, cast, spray maggots, pick up rod and strike, the float usually going under directly out in front of me each time, reeling in slowly to bring the dace to the surface. Number ten was just visible, when the green flash of a pike burst the bubble, as it grabbed the dace, diving deep and turning downstream toward an overhanging willow. My curse had struck again and I kept pressure on, trying to steer the pike clear of the tree. I could see it was only about 3 lb, holding the unfortunate dace across the middle, as it swam back out across the river, before letting go.
Not too damaged, the dace swam off without a second look, but the damage had been done to the swim and had just started catching again, when a massive barge came charging down from the lock, close to my bank, pushing a bow wave ahead of it and sucking everything behind it, including my keep net, which was dragged one way, then the next. Cursing that the barge had been so close, the reason for it came chugging upstream, an equally large barge.
Like two juggernauts passing on a narrow road, it must have been a hairy moment for those on board the two vessels. My swim was now stirred up and any fish scattered. Nothing for it, but to start again, laying a base of hemp on the line and feeding at intervals. A couple more dace, then missed unmissable bites, with smashed maggots. The fish had come up in the water chasing the bait and I shallowed up by two feet, hitting a fish first cast, the tap-tap bounce on the rod top telling me it was a decent roach, the landing net coming out for the first time.
Showing signs of at least one visit to a keepnet, this was the start of a roach, or dace a chuck, the float going under upstream of me now, often before I’d picked up the rod, after each feed with the catapult, the fish hooked deep in the mouth, feeding with confidence. Wop! The pike had struck again, this time a roach was seized and was sure a bigger pike had taken it, hugging the bottom, bending my rod right over, surging upstream, then turning to sulk on the bottom, probably to turn the roach before swallowing it. I pulled for a break, not wanting to waste time trying to land what was now an immovable object, only for it to begin a slow drift downstream toward the willow. The line sang with the tension, but with 5 lb main line and 3 lb hook link, all I could do was backwind to avoid breaking my rod. Then it was over. The hook link had been cut on one of the razor sharp teeth, only six inches remaining.
This was not going anywhere to plan. Tying on another hook link, the sound of an amplified voice warned of the next obstacle to come. Two speed boats accompanying a pair of rowing eights, full of young novice rowers from the Eton College boathouse, just upstream of the bridge, came drifting down towards my swim, their tutors and coxes calling out instructions, thrashing their oars through the water in front of me.
I endured this for the next 20 minutes, barely able to cast, or feed, just in cast they thought that there was bad intention, when firing maggots in their direction. Eton College own most of the land bordering the Thames at Windsor, although the bit I was on is owned by the Queen. The bites had stopped and I increased the depth again, fishing closer to my bank, now getting a gudgeon a cast, plus the odd perch, losing a pound plus stripey at the net, when it shook the hook out.
The Eton College clock had long struck 3 pm and decided to go for broke, firing out my maggots until they were gone, the bites now telling me that bleak had moved in, the float bobbing and lifting, these shiny silver fish taking on the drop.
Every now and then the float would sink out of sight and a dace, or roach would come swinging to hand, but with bleak making the running, I was happy to put the rod down, when the chimes rang out 4 pm. It had been a testing few hours, but the sound of churning fish, as I lifted out my net was a fair reward, my digital scales showing 2.7 kg, translated to 6 lb in old money, not bad for under three hours fishing.
I could not help having a “What if” moment looking at this bag. More time and bait, no pike, or boats, that’s the trouble with anglers; never satisfied.