Small river tales of the unexpected

July 27, 2016 at 6:02 pm

With left over red maggots in the fridge beginning to turn to casters, it was a case of “having” to go fishing this week and decided that the river Thames at Windsor would be the ideal venue, but by lunch time, cloud cover had burned away, leaving one of those still, hot, dog day afternoons. I didn’t fancy the long walk from the car park to an exposed bank of the Thames and changed my mind at the last minute, to visit my much closer local river for the first time this season, where I would be sitting under trees in the shade.

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My secluded, shady swim was no more, the old oak had fallen, taking out those alongside, leaving an open space blasted by the sun, the recently revealed bank a now popular fishing spot with easy access. Those overhanging trees had given shelter to some rod bending chub on my last visit and I settled down for a comfortable, if hot, few hour’s fishing. The river was down by six inches and barely moving along the outside of the bend.

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The maggots were well past their sell-by date and the frozen lump picked from the freezer thawed out to be an ancient mix of hemp and casters put back in after a long forgotten session. Liberally feeding under the opposite bank with both offerings, I set up with my Middy 3 No 4 stick float, setting the depth for the bait to just trip bottom, while pushing the No 6 shot up to give a 10 inch tail.

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Cast to the far side, the float had no time to cock before it slid away upstream and a healthy rudd was kiting back over to my outstretched net, a bit too big to swing in.

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More casts, more rudd, many too small for the net, the response instant from the shoal packed under the bush. Dropping the float short met a dip, then a lift, before it sank purposefully away, the strike putting a proper bend in the rod as the fish hugged the bottom, the barred green flanks of a chunky perch showing for a moment as it turned.

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Caster, or maggot made no difference to these fish, the float rarely travelling more than a few feet before it sank, regular feed keeping them interested. After an hour the net was filling with small perch and rudd, plus the occasional roach, but the expected chub were still missing, when the float vanished, the rod setting the hook into a fast running fish, that took me down beneath the trees. At last a decent chub, but then a bronze flash well downstream suggested a carp, another flash and a deep thudding fight said bream. The size 16 barbless hook held and the bream turned, heading upstream along the far side, churning up mud in it’s wake, as it wallowed with it’s last ounce of resistance, before laying on it’s side for the landing net.

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Thick set across the shoulder, this bronze bream at around 2 lb, is small for it’s species, but big for this little waterway, more of a brook, than a river. When I first moved to the area and fished six years ago, smaller bream were common among a net of roach, but apart from a three pounder a few years back, they seemed to have disappeared.

Cleaning the slime from the line, I tried again on the same trot, the float easing out of sight, this time the unmistakable bouncing fight of a nice roach met the strike and a good sized, if not battered looking specimen was in the net.

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The roach now seemed over the hemp and I deepened up by six more inches, casting in, then holding back hard, producing bites that almost hooked themselves, one such bringing a small skimmer bream to prove that the big one was not a total fluke.

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At 5 pm my deadline was reached, bringing in another roach. Traffic was building up on the road only yards from the river and I had promised to be home by 6 pm for my favourite meal, smoked haddock with two poached eggs on top.

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A real net full, no chub, or the usual gudgeon, but a good, no pressure catch on a hot, lazy afternoon.

Low water trout search

July 23, 2016 at 4:54 pm

It had been over a month since my last visit to the lower end of  my syndicate trout stream, arriving late in the evening in the hope of seeing a few rising fish, following days of hot sunshine.


The sun was setting behind the trees, while the grass was already full of dew, as I walked down to the bottom of the beat, the  invasive giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam competing for bank space and restricting my view of the river.The river it’self had been transformed, with exposed gravel and attractive runs, where previously I had not dared to wade.

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The lack of working parties in the area was apparent, as I waded up through this run, keeping the casts short to avoid snagging, my Black Devil nymph hooking a few small dace, but no trout in the process. Always carrying a set of secateurs, I trimmed my way upstream, taking out several overhanging branches. Next time I will be able to pass the nymph closer to the left hand bank, where I would hope to find a trout.

Moving on down to a tree lined section, I forced my way through the balsam to find a long pool, where several trout had been rising last month to mayfly, but now the surface was clear, despite the surface being patrolled by clouds of flies of several types, even a few mayfly. Getting down into the water, side casts put the nymph into the faster water beneath overhanging branches, the line straightening as a good dace dived away first cast.

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With so few wild trout showing this year, in the gloom beneath the trees, I thought I had one, until ready to net this silver dart. More followed, most takes missed, some smaller dace merely tumbled. As the light faded fish began to rise all over the pool, ignoring the nymph and I reached into my dry fly box for a Deer Hair Sedge. Rubbing floatant grease into the clipped hair body, I cast amid the rises in the run, contacting another dace instantly.

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Several hits later the fly was waterlogged and I tried to tie on a fresh sedge, not realising in my haste, that the eye was blocked by varnish. Frustrating time was wasted failing the get the line through the eye, until a few seconds using the little spike tool attached to my jacket cleared the obstruction and the knot was completed. The rises had stopped, but I cast the fly around beneath the overhanging branches, barely able to see the fly in the surface film. The water boiled and I was in, the rod bending double with a tail flapping trout, that disappeared into the dark water, followed by the leader cutting a V through the surface upstream. The trout passed by several times, it’s white lips the only visible sign, it’s dark body unseen against the black gravel of the bottom, finally drawing the fish down into my awaiting net.

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In perfect condition, this 18 inch stock fish saved the day. Once a back-up to the many wild brown trout found in the river, they now seem to outnumber the natives. Allowed to recover in the net for a few minutes, the brownie was soon swimming free.




Stick float perch boost mixed bag

July 15, 2016 at 11:41 am

With the coarse fishing season already a month old without wetting a line, a day with no heavy showers forecast could not be missed and I called in at the tackle shop on the way to a local river, for a pint of red maggots to accompany the pint of cooked hemp from my freezer. By the time I’d reached the river it was already approaching noon and the sun was high in the sky. Any serious angler would have be packing up by now, but I like my bed too much these days and was already paying the price, finding all the tasty looking swims occupied by barbel anglers, intent on catching these recently stocked battlers.

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Being a long walk from the car park this looked promising, with the flow coming off a bend sweeping across to the bush on my side of the bend. Setting up with a 3 No 4 Middy Ali stemmed stick float on my 14 ft match rod, I pumbed the depth, finding the river went from 2 ft down to 3 ft deep, 5 yards downstream then levelled out. A bit shallower than preferred, but it should hold a few fish.

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A couple of handfuls of hemp were scattered into the deeper water, followed by a pouch of maggots as I made my final preparations, following more maggots with the float. For 15  minutes the float sank on contact with the surface, a layer of small dace and chub snapping up the maggots in seconds, each fish swiftly unhooked and thrown upstream away from the swim.

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Soon I had either caught them all, or fed them off, as the float carried further down the trot before it sank from view. A small perch put a good bend in the rod before it was swung to hand, red maggots spewing from it’s mouth. Time to ease off on the feed.

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It was now a perch a chuck, an underhand cast downstream, the float held back, then allowed to run at the speed of the current, before being held back again. Most takes were on the drop, the float lifting before burying, these perch fighting all the way to the net.

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I kept the hemp going in as I hoped for some roach, but this encouraged the small dace, many just tipping the maggot, dipping the float and often impossible to hit, or lightly hooked, coming off as I swung them in. A few good gudgeon also managed to get to the bait, some real fatties.

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I continued catching at a pace, passing anglers stopping to watch the forgotten art of stick float fishing, before moving on. One visitor sat in behind me, having been told that I was emptying the river. Like all the others fishing, he was after bigger fish on the quiver tip, using hair rigs and meat.

Eventually the bites slowed, not surprising with over twenty perch in the net, the float often carrying to the shallower water and weeds at the far end of the swim, pick up just the odd small chub. At the head of the swim over the hemp, bites were still fussy and I managed to hook a small roach. One of the anglers had given me a couple of slices of fresh white bread, so I got out the bread punches to see if it would make a difference. I’ve sat next to anglers fishing maggots on the canal catching nothing, while I have been taking roach on the punch and it was worth a try. The 5 mm pellet of bread looked too small on the size 14 hook, but the fish didn’t mind, the float sinking out of sight and a better dace swinging in. My visitor was amazed, when the float sank again and a nice roach was pounding around off the end of my rod, needing the landing net.

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The roach were there over the hemp, but not interested in the maggot, only the bread, as the float sank away with another thumping roach, that needed the net again. More bread on and another roach fighting deep. Suddenly there was a green flash and a swirl as a pike took the roach. “Mr Toothy” my visitor said. The line stripped out as I back wound against the strain, the pike running across the river to stop and turn the roach, safe beneath a raft of streamer weed. With 5 lb main line and a 4 lb hook link, I was equipped to cope with big chub, or even a barbel, pressurizing the pike to come out of the weed. Come out it did, cruising upstream, then running down, boiling and turning in the swim. After five minutes it was on it’s side, a pike of  6 to 7 lbs about 30 inches long. The net was out, but one last shake of it’s head saw the line cut on the razor sharp teeth and my float fly back into the tree behind me.

It was over. The float was tangled, the swim ruined by the pike. Resigned to the fact that this could have been a red letter day, I packed up. I would be home early for a change.

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 A satisfying net of fish in a busy two and a half hour’s fishing, despite the abrupt ending.

Brown trout hard won

July 12, 2016 at 2:04 pm

What a difference a day makes. Having enjoyed a couple of hours roaming the banks of an urban river, where the fishing is free for all to fish and losing count of the trout caught, the next day I travelled ten miles west of my home to compare the fishing on my private syndicate trout stream. Like the urban river, the syndicate water has a natural head of wild fish and with good growth rates, plus a policy of catch and release, there has been no need to stock the river, although limited numbers of larger fish are introduced for the members to catch. Last year poor returns and reports of few rising fish were put down to a “bad year”, but this season some members are yet to land a trout.

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Arriving in the early afternoon, the weather was perfect for fly fishing, slightly overcast with a light July wind and I entered the river to fish what was always the best pool on this stretch. Running deep under the bridge, the river here held a head of very large trout and even better chub, which could be seen sipping in flies at any time of the day. Protected by surrounding trees and the bridge, a long cast to these fish was always difficult, but not impossible and for those who succeeded in hooking one, the deal often included a broken line.

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This trout had been the result of one of those long casts beneath the bridge, when a Hares Ear nymph was taken with confidence. Today there were no ripples, or top and tails, just a flat surface undisturbed by fish. With the same rig as yesterday, topped by my Black Devil nymph, I approached slowly toward the tail of the pool, casting to the shallower water and watched a V of raised water speed toward the submerged nymph, culminating in a splashy take, as I lifted a small dace clear of the surface in a shimmer of spray, only for it tall fall back, darting into the pool seconds later.

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Wading deeper, I gradually extended my casts, seeing a few short taps on the leader, but failing to make contact, putting this down to more dace. This shallow end used to be home to juvenile trout, but the dace seem to have taken their place. Although small, at least these trout hung on long enough to hook. Several casts had landed in the target area in the shadow of the bridge, the nymph drifting back unmolested under a slow retrieve, when at last the leader sank, moving upstream. Lifting swiftly, the rod bent into a fish, but after a brief surge it eased, as a small chub came to the surface, which I swung to hand and released. A few more casts and I was done with this pool.

Downstream another banker pool failed to excite and I stopped fishing, making my way down peering over the bank searching in vain for a trout of any size in the clear water. The day before, junior trout had been everywhere on my urban river, with the occasional better fish stationed among the weedbeds. Five years ago, when I joined the syndicate, this had been the case here too, each visit an education rewarded with trout on the bank.

Having failed to attract interest at the confluence of another stream, I began a fruitless search upstream of other hotspots, one such a couple of years ago had yielded eight fish from 6 to 16 inches in fifty yards. Today not a twitch of the leader. It was now late afternoon and the air was filled with various flies, even the odd mayfly straggler, but the surface remained unbroken by trout.

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The pool above looked inviting today and I worked the nymph through all the areas, that had produced in the past, moving slowly upstream as I did. As if in a dream, the line dived to the the right and I was playing a trout. Not big, but hard fighting. I took care not to bully the brownie, although aware of the barbless size 14, keeping up pressure, until it was safely in the net. Phew! So few wild fish have been caught this year, that I felt that I would not be believed without photographic proof.

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The river has suffered with an invasion of signal crayfish and mink. Now the mink have run out of trout to catch and are fatally raiding the crayfish nets in search of food. My own theory of  the demise of this once productive stream, is that slurry from the cattle sheds along it’s upper lengths, have leached out into the water course, during it’s many flooding events recently, causing deoxygenation and the migration of the resident trout to lower reaches. Whatever the causes, the parent club need to get advice and act, before the members vote with their feet.


Urban brown trout fly fishing bonus

July 6, 2016 at 11:32 pm

Getting motivated to fish, then being thwarted by stormy weather, had literally dampened my enthusiasm of late, finding myself with the prospect of a dry afternoon free of chores and no idea where I wanted to go. Standing in my fishing shed hoping for inspiration, my various items of fishing tackle were lined up ahead of me, all needing some sort of preparation, apart from my 7 ft 4WT fly rod. Already made up with my own Black Devil nymph tied on, it stood waiting next to the landing net, my waistcoat and bag hanging on the back of the door. In my mood, it was a no brainer, I was going fly fishing.

In minutes they were in the van and I was heading north to my very urban trout stream, the aim to get there and parked before the schools turned out, then to leave before the evening rush hour got under way. Enroute,  a road traffic accident blocked the road and police were instructing all drivers to turn round, a wide detour eating into fishing time and allowing the car parking spot to be full of waiting mums. I drove on upstream towards an industrial estate, squeezing the van into a gap close to the river, where it runs out between the factories.

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Abandoning my waders, I gathered up my gear and walked along the road upstream to the next open stretch, where trout were visibly feeding on nymphs in the clean gravel runs. Beneath a tree, two large fish were actively searching out food items, but I failed to get my offering anywhere near them, finally approaching too close, only to see the 2 lb trout melt back into the leaf shrouded gloom.

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Between weed beds a good trout was stationed and I measured out a long cast ahead of it, watching the Black Devil drift by the fish, which turned to chase it, the white lips opening, then closing on the buzzer imitation, setting the hook with a swift lift of the rod. A zig-zagging fight was soon brought under control and the netted fish placed on the bank under the nose of an inquisitive dog, it’s owners unaware that these shallow waters held such trout.

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Measured at 13 inches, this wild brownie was soon swimming free and I continued upstream bumping a few more 6 inch trout, the Black Devil working well, the copper rib sinking the nymph quickly, while it was held above the bottom by the line greased to a foot above it.

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The next fish took unseen, the line jerking forward, the strike revealing a flash of gold, before the trout dived deep into weed. Slack line fooled the hard fighting brown trout back into the open and an upstream run, that ended back at my feet and the net.

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With the Black Devil just holding in the bottom lip, I was lucky to get this fin perfect fish out of the weeds, the fight belying it’s size.

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These images bring a picture of a rural idle, but a busy main road runs feet from the bankside and casts have to be timed between passing cars. In this short stretch alone, I landed at least six more small brown trout, while tumbling others, my decision to come proving correct, but with the amount of traffic on the road increasing, I had to call a halt at 5 pm, my last trout being a plump 8 inch fish.

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