Thames roach fishing at Home Park, Windsor

October 31, 2013 at 12:37 pm

In the shadow of Windsor Castle, Home Park, dedicated to the people of Windsor by Queen Victoria, offers some of the best roach fishing on the non-tidal Thames. With good car parking within a few hundred yards of the river and safe swims cut into the bank by Old Windsor Angling Club, who manage the half mile stretch on behalf of Windsor Council, this day ticket water has to be high on the list of any angler.

The upper section is a relatively narrow, but deep canalized stretch giving boats access to Romney Lock, opening out to a natural bank on the inside of a big bend, which allows safe wading on gravel to trot the stick float for dace, roach and chub. Armed with red maggots, it was my intention for an afternoon’s fishing on this lower section, but one look at the river changed my mind. Heavy rain over the weekend had raised the level a few inches, increased the pace and put more than a tinge of colour into the water. I needed a swim with a slack out of the mainstream, finding what I was looking for towards the end of the canal section.

 Having intended trotting the open lower end, I’d taken my pole out of my rod bag before I’d left home to save weight. This swim was ideal for the pole, but would have to compromise with my 14 foot float rod. Once tackled up, I plumbed the depth at ten feet, two rods out, just on the edge of the crease between fast and slow water. I then discovered something else was missing from my armory, a bait dropper; needed to place maggots hard on the bottom. Loose fed maggots would end up well past the lower tree before they got to the bottom, where the roach are. Another compromise. I knocked up a stiff groundbait  mix and folded in maggots, making a ball that was lobbed in upstream on the crease at the tree on my left. I’d set up with a 5BB bodied balsa stick float, bulked 30 inches above the size 14 barbless hook, with two No. 6 shot evenly between them. This would allow the maggots to swing up in the flow, while holding back to the bulk shot, irresistible to the  roach, I hoped.

An underarm swing of the rod dropped the float at the head of the swim, it settled then ran halfway down before I checked the float with tension from the rod top, released more line from the reel, then held back again. The float bobbed, then sank from view. A steady lift and the rod was bent into a fish, the regular beat from below indicating my first roach of the afternoon.

Not a big roach, but the first of many to come. The float continued to sink out of sight, sometimes halfway down the swim, but always before reaching the downstream bush. I began to get a rythme going, swinging them in, but then began pulling out of fish halfway to the surface. Any pressure and they were off the hook. This is where the pole comes into it’s own, the elastic keeping a constant pressure to the fish, while my rod was a bit too stiff for these roach, bouncing them off in my eagerness to get them in the net. I was catching so fast, that the maggots were not even damaged, taking three, or four roach before needing to change, a single maggot on a size 14 looking wrong, but doing the trick.

A ball of groundbait was going in every 30 minutes, plus the occasional loose fed reds and a different fight indicated a small skimmer bream, which dropped off as I swung it in. Back in again, the float sank away and this time, I netted it just to be safe. A skimmer of a few ounces. A shoal had moved in over the feed, but I struggled to get them in the net, most coming off in the first few feet. The slow thump of a decent skimmer got my full attention, it stayed down and when it came beneath my rod top, I began a gentle raise of the rod. Again the hook pulled free! Another of around 12 oz was sliding across the surface to the landing net and came off. I’d already changed my hook and was at a loss, being as easy on the pressure as I could. My conclusion was that maybe I’d overfed the swim and they were just playing with the bait. Non anglers ask why I still enjoy fishing after all these years, but it’s trying to solve problems like this one, that keep you going. No day is the same, there are so many variables.

A river cruiser charging upstream against the flow soon solved my problem, the wash causing a mini whirlpool in my swim that sucked away the feed along with the fish. When the river had settled down again, another ball of bait went in, but the feeding frenzy was over, the skimmers were gone, replaced by the occasional roach. The light was going, so I decided to call it a day and get home before rush hour clogged the roads. My three hours of  effort accounting for over forty red finned roach in the net. My next visit will be with with a pole and bait dropper.

Wild brown trout flyfishing season closes with a bang.

October 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or so they say, but with a lack of rain still affecting my syndicate chalkstream, it was almost a call of duty, that drew me back for the last days of the trout season, deciding to visit the upper weir pool at the head of the fishery for the first time this year.

As I waded upstream from the tail of the weir, Daddy Longlegs were skittering across the surface, but there were no signs of any interest in them, the water and probably oxygen levels remaining low despite heavy showers in the week. A Daddy dry fly was cast up towards the weir, but it’s slow drift back was ignored. Twitching the fly did likewise. A Gold Head Hares Ear was the next choice. With the lack of flow, I worked the pool with various rates of figure of eight retrieve. It all looked right and every cast had that anticipation, which keeps us fishing. Last year one such cast saw a vicious take and an aggressive fight that took me round the pool, until I netted a fin perfect rainbow, an escapee from an upstream fishery.

With no sign of a fish this time, I decided to cut my losses. I made my way back downstream to the van, making a few half hearted casts to places, that had held good fish earlier in the year, to no response, keeping the rod set up and driving downstream to the one fast flowing bit of river, where I was confident of a take, or two.

Just standing in this run filled me with a spurt of enthusiasm, the short stretch offering a range of fish holding pockets. Tying a size 16 Pheasant Tail nymph onto the 4lb tippet and making short upstream casts, I prospected the river in front of me, the line jagging out, when  a small dace took the nymph, the silver coarse fish getting airborne for a moment, before coming off the hook and splashing into the water behind me. A small brown followed in much the same way, then another dace. At least this was fun and moving up to the bend it became dace alley, with fish bumping the nymph at every cast, some better ones fighting hard in the shallow water.

The pool above this run had provided some big trout earlier this season and keeping low, I made casts into the tail of the pool. A bulge as the line stopped, indicated a better fish and the frantic run upstream, followed by a leap, confirmed it as a wild brown, not big by this pool’s standards, but a rod bender no less.

As I slipped the trout back, there was a slow rise in the faster water to the outer edge of the pool fifteen yards up, the first I’d seen all afternoon. The late autumn sun had come out, sedges and crane flies were scudding about. Was it time to try the dry fly again?

I scanned the pool for more rises, but apart from dimples of minnows and fry, there were none. I moved a few yards upstream, then measuring my casts away from the edge, not wanting to disturb this precious fish, I cast above where I’d seen the rise and the nymph dropped gently to the surface, sinking slowly. I let the leader drift beyond where I’d seen the rise, lifted to recast and the line tightened as the nymph was seized. An accidental induced take. A flash of gold from the tumbling fish and I was playing a larger brownie, which kited across the shallows and down the run, bending my seven foot rod with the full force of the stream. I let the fish pull line from the reel, then wound it back against the flow and netted the well marked wild brown trout, the nymph dropping out in the net. A quick photo and it was swimming free.

Giving myself another ten minutes fishing time, I decided to try the deeper water at the top of the pool, making longer casts to cover more water and retrieving with a figure of eight to stay in contact. Several drifts later, the leader gave a pull back and I lifted into solid resistance and a large fish accelerating away upstream, round the bend. One of the big stockies at last I thought, as line stripped from the reel and I followed, rod raised, expecting to be broken in that first rush of power. The rod eased, the fish dropped back, plunging round the pool, then surged to the far side through the reeds. Keeping pressure on, it wallowed beneath the surface, another flash of gold and it was away again. A big brown? Then another wallow and I saw the large scales of a monster chub, my biggest ever. Soon it’s massive white mouth was open and being drawn across to my net to be scooped up and carried to safety.

Judging by this chub’s fins and scales, which were perfect, this was possibly the first time that it had been on the bank. At twenty inches from nose to fork of tail and four inches across it’s back, with no weighing scales, I estimated it to weigh 4lb, not my target trout, but a fish well worthy to close the season with.

CZ452 Varmint .17 HMR backs up Magtech 7022 .22 semi auto in 5 minute shoot out.

October 17, 2013 at 8:54 am

Several years ago I was recommended to a local farmer, who was struggling to fatten cattle on land being ruined by a growing tide of rabbits. He’d tried to reduce the numbers with a shot gun, but didn’t have the time , or the weaponry to do a proper job. Within a month I’d decimated the rabbit population and regular visits over the years had kept the numbers under control, allowing the grass to grow back, supporting a larger stock of beasts.

It was while visiting this land and cropping another five rabbits with my CZ 452 HMR, that I was introduced to another owner of a small farm suffering the same problems.

 Behind his house was an acre paddock, that he used for rearing Angus calves, but this year the rabbits had rendered it useless, claiming it as their own, digging up the grass roots and burrowing at will. I agreed to visit him the next evening with two of my rifles, the Magtech semi auto .22 with it’s red dot sight, which is ideal for close range, multiple targets and the CZ .17 HMR for the longer range considered shots. On arrival, I felt the adrenalin rise at the sight of over twenty rabbits, casually going about their destructive business in the paddock the other side of his garden fence, unfazed by the two humans peering over it.

 I decided to get straight to the job in hand, bringing both rifles back to the fence, along with two full ten bullet clips for the the .22 Magtech and two full five bullet clips for the HMR, the spares going in opposite pockets. With the Magtech rested on the fence, I placed the red cross in the sight on the nearest rabbit’s head behind the eye, eased the trigger and pop, it jumped up dead. The Magtech moderator is whisper quiet and the next rabbit toppled over seconds later, it’s near neighbours sitting up in alarm, perfect targets, another two, or three falling, before confusion set in and rabbits were going in all directions. Keeping my own excitement under control was difficult in the heat of the moment and I missed, or winged a few, needing extra shots and the other clip of .22 RWS subsonics. One rabbit, head shot, was running in decreasing circles, until it fell over of it’s own accord, despite my efforts to down it on the run.

The remaining rabbits had now either reached the safety of their burrows, or were scattered around the far edges of the paddock. Time to switch to the HMR. The heavier CZ 452 rested on the fence, gave a much more stable shooting platform, but my heart was beating hard, causing the cross hairs of the scope to move on the next target, looking back at me 60 yards away. A deep breath, followed by a slow exhale, steadied the rifle, and I squeezed the trigger, watching the rabbit leap skyward. Even with it’s moderator, the HMR bullet makes a loud crack when fired and the last rabbits were soon making for the exits, but not before a few more were added to the tally from the five minutes of carnage.

The land owner was most impressed, having watched from his verandah. I could have shot more, but head shots mean saleable rabbits and humane kills, so it pays to take that extra bit of care, when sighting on a target. I’ve been back a few times since, getting the odd one, or two, but they have made themselves scarce during daylight. I’ve now been recommended to the two other farms along the lane and have already added a couple more butchers shops to my list of customers.

Farmoor 2 Reservoir Fly Fishing. Two old men in a boat.

October 10, 2013 at 7:03 pm

I joined my childhood friend Peter for a day afloat at Thames Water’s Farmoor 2 Reservoir this week, my first visit for twenty years and his second in as many months. Having fished the 17,000 acre Strawberry Reservoir in Utah a month ago, I was keen to see how Farmoor’s 160 acre concrete bowl compared.

A friend of Peter’s, a Farmoor regular, had fished the previous week and put us on the method, HD lines fished deep with long tails and an Orange Blob fly on the point, while stationed off the northern tower. Using this technique Peter’s friend had over twenty rainbows, while recommending that Hoppers and Daddy Longlegs were killing them on the floating line. This pleased me, as I prefer to fish the floating line and was already armed with an assortment of Hoppers from my trip to the US.

Once tackled up and aboard the boat, we headed out towards the tower at the down wind end of the water, where it was already decidedly choppy and the skies leadened with threatening rain. I was reminded of days spent battling the waves at Datchet Reservoir, where three foot breakers were common. In tribute to those times, I decided to have a couple of drifts using my heavy trolling lead core, on my original French multiplier reel, with a Pennel rigged tandem Whiskey lure, the 3 inch long monstrosity accounting for many 3lb +  rainbows back in the days of my youth. Dropping this collection of antiques over the side, I was paying out the thirty yards of backing, when the rod bent double and line flew through my fingers, when the lure was taken on the drop. I lifted against the pull. I’m in! Then, it’s off!

This was always a problem with this ultra heavy line, despite an 8/9 weight rod, setting the hook was never guaranteed.  Encouraged by this on the first drop in, I continued the drift, getting a further two tap,tap bangs and misses. I suggested we put out the drogue to slow the boat, as it was flying along, driven by the wind. Peter was getting no offers with his No.4 HD, as I think it was fishing too far off the bottom. In the old days we would tie thirty yards of rope on to a buoy, drift down, cast the rig as far as we could, then pay out line, before pulling our selves back to the buoy. We would then begin a slow retrieve back to the boat on the reel.  Often a take would occur as soon as the lure began to move, the line going solid, or a series of knocks and taps would develope  into savage take, usually when the lure lifted off the bottom. This was a laborious form of fishing, certainly a long way off from purist fly fishing, but the fish, when they came, were big and angry. 

After a couple of drifts with no offers for Peter and more misses on the lead core for me, we decided to tie off to a buoy close to the shore and fish down wind. I swapped to the floating line with a Hopper on the point and a Daddy Longlegs on the dropper, casting down and across and letting the combo work through the wave, where a wind lane had formed. Peter stayed with the HD and Blob, fishing several depths. With no takes for twenty minutes, the motor was fired up again and we bashed through the waves back to the tower. Several more fruitless drifts and we headed back towards the boat jetty, where the wind was more kind, stopping above one of the empty holding pens and tied up to a buoy. First cast in, Peter’s rod bent double and he was into his first fish. At last something worked and the first bar of silver was in the boat.

Now it was my turn, when the rod pulled down with a fish and kept pulling, as a rainbow hugged the bottom, the Orange Blob holding on during a rod bending run, that took it from bottom to the surface and back again. My luck and the hook held and Peter was on hand to net a perfect 21 inch, 2 lb 12 oz rainbow. Battling the conditions earlier, we had both begun to doubt our ability to catch fish.

Peter now hooked another fish, a fine two pounder, while I bent into a fish on the lift off from the bottom, which came up like a submarine and I lost contact, when it surfaced. Another large rainbow, which zig-zagged around the boat, just under the surface at speed before heading off. Peter was now the one to curse, when he was taken on the drop in a lightning dive, a doubled rod, a ping and a lost Blob. Peter continued with a Yellow Blob, while I decided to give the floating line another go, as a few fish had begun to top close to the boat.

With the Hopper on the point and a Daddy six feet away on a dropper, I watched as a trout showed interest in the big green hopper, then swooped on the Daddy, a nose, then a tail, while the line slipped beneath the surface. I lifted and the line flew back. No contact. Preoccupied I continued like a desperate gambler, convinced that the next cast would result in a fish, trout after trout swirling at the flies, without me making contact. Almost unnoticed by me, Peter netted another good rainbow from the bottom. I should have tried another combination of flies, but five hours on a boat had dulled my brain and strained my body, we two old boys grunting and groaning from aching limbs, due to the cramped conditions.

Boats were returning to the jetty and we decided to call it a day and compare notes with our fellow anglers. Almost to a man, they had all fished small sedges in the surface film not far from the boat, often drifting slowly with the aid of a drogue. Their fish were not as big as ours, but they had more action, one having taken 16 fish. On a less windy day, our efforts out by the tower may have paid off, but rain and cold had driven us back to the comfort of the leeward shore. Ironically this had caused a premature ending to my day at Stawberry Reservoir. It’s not only in England that the weather can ruin a day’s fishing.