Mr Crabtree tactics net quality roach, chub and perch from the Blackwater

December 18, 2021 at 9:51 pm

I did not argue when my wife suggested that I go fishing for the afternoon, while she wrapped Christmas presents. It was short notice, but I always have plenty of liquidised bread in the freezer and frozen slices for bait, while a walk down the garden to the compost heap produced plenty of small red worms from under the old piece of carpet laid on top. Where to go? I had been promising myself a visit to the River Blackwater, but the bush telegraph had been saying that it was not fishing well, however this would also mean that popular swims might be empty, so with the van loaded, I set off after lunch on the ten mile drive.

This was one of the first swims that I had fished, when Farnborough and District AS took over the lease. On that day I had a net of big dace, roach, plus a couple of chub on the bread punch, but ever since it had been occupied by another club member, whenever I visited. Today I seemed to be the only angler on the river and set out my stall to trot a 4 No 4 Ali stemmed stick float along the ivy covered shuttering lining the opposite bank, where a tight left hand bend directs the flow.

Mixing up a tray of ground bait, liquidised bread, ground pellets and ground hemp, I added enough water to squeeze up some stiff balls of feed, throwing one hard over to the shuttering, watching it swirl round and sink in the current, the crystal clear water allowing me to follow its progress to the bottom.

When I had fished before, most of my bites had come beneath the protruding branch, where the faster water curves away towards my bank on the right hand bend. Casting to one side and upstream, the flow off the bend behind me carried the float tight to the shuttering and I checked the over depth float to keep the 6 mm pellet of bread clear of the bottom. As it approached the protruding branch, the float dived and my 14 foot Browning bent with the weight of a decent fish, that disappeared downstream at a rate of knots, easing the load by lifting my finger from the ABU501 spool, then clicking over the bale arm to backwind direct to the fish. Steadily reeling back on the fish, a long flash of silver beneath the surface said chub and after a late run along the opposite bank, it’s white mouth was open on the surface as it slid into the landing net.

The hook was just holding on, being on the outside of the chub’s mouth. I was lucky to land this one. I threw over another ball and followed it down with the float. The flow was quicker than expected and was tempted to swap to a 6 No 4 float to keep the bait closer to the bottom, but the attraction of the stick float is that you can fish well over depth with a long hook link and light shot down the line, fluttering the punch over the ground bait. The float stabbed down and I felt a fish. Damn! Then again with the bait gone. I reckoned dace were snatching at the bait. Too much feed.

Each time the float reached the branch, the float dipped, then popped up, then dipped again. No bait again. On the next trot I decided to hold back hard at the next dip. The float dipped, I stopped the float with my finger and it disappeared, pulling out line. Bang I was in! Definitely not a dace as the rod was pulled down to the water, lifting my finger to feed out line, while I raised the rod and back wound the reel. An even better fish ran off, then fought with a slow kick, thump, thump. A bream, or a big roach? Then I saw the silver flash of a pound plus roach, bucking and sliding towards the shallows on my side, there was a branch protruding from the water and I steered it away, getting my net ready as it turned on its side. A last roll before the net and the hook pulled free. It hung in the water for a second, then was gone in the flick of a tail. No matter how many fish we catch, it does not get any easier to lose a decent fish. This would have been my best roach for years. Blow it!!

I put in another ball of feed, then got out the flask and sandwiches. The wind had begun to blow hard downstream and oak leaves were falling like confetti, making it difficult to hold back the float, the leaves following the flow along the shuttering. Finding a gap was difficult, the float collecting leaves, when I held back. The float reached the branch, I held back, then released, the float was gone again. This was another decent fish, dace, or roach it tumbled out of sight as I reeled it back, zig-zagging to the surface, a plump roach.

Again lightly hooked, I was pleased to net this fish. There are some quality roach in the Blackwater and this was one of them. My next trot the float went down and yes, I was in again. The rod went over, then stayed there. A snag. It began to move. I’d hooked a long length of heavy line attached to a branch, which I pulled in. Unravelling the tangle was a latex lure hooked into the branch. I wound up the tangle of line to take home, while the lure will be added to my lure box.

Another trot among the leaves, the float dipped, I held back, but it popped back up, I twitched the float back and it sank hooking the fish. The initial rattling fight made me think that I had finally hooked one of the bait stealing dace, but a row of black bars on a green flank proved that it was a perch. I know perch aren’t supposed to eat bread, but this was far from the first that I have caught on the punch. I’m sure that they think that the fluttering bread is alive and take it, or a small fish is nibbling at the bread, either way I don’t mind, it’s a fish.

My next fish was another good roach, bigger than the last and I took my time bringing it in.

Wow! The roach were getting bigger. This fatty falling for the hold back, release and hold trick, burying the float, then running off like a chub.

At last a dace, this one sinking the float half way down the trot and staying on to the net.

Look at the hook in this perch, outside the lower lip, how it stayed on I don’t know, but it did. Yet another bread punch carnivore. Time to get the worms out. Two perch on the bread must mean that there is a shoal down there.

I often take worms with me, just in case, but rarely use them, there is something about going back to the days of being a child, fishing with my Dad, when the only bait we used was bread and worms and I wished that all fishing was as straight forward as in Bernard Venables classic fishing book, Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing. “Put on a worm Peter and you will catch a perch.”

I put on a worm and trotted it down, the float dipped a few times, then went under, just as Mr Crabtree said it would to his nephew Peter. I left it, then struck back in a sweep. Missed it. Half the worm was gone. Leaving the worm on, the float went beyond the branch and dipped. I pulled back and the float submerged and stayed down. This time there was a fish but a small one, a perch as expected. I cut a worm tail off and tried again. More dips and a twitch were followed by a run to the right, this time more resistance as a better fish fought all the way back from thirty yards.

Another small perch, convinced me to switch back to the bread punch, the next trot being text book, the float following a ball of feed down to the branch, where I held the float back hard, then let it go, the float sinking followed by the line. The strike was automatic and I was playing my fourth quality roach of the afternoon.

My bait tray was almost empty and I scraped up another nugget of feed to throw over to the shuttering, then followed it with the float, which reached the sweet spot and half submerged as I instinctively struck. It was another roach, the smallest yet, but a good size by my usual standards.

I still had half a worm left and double hooked it on the size 14 hook, trotting it down beyond the branch, as it carried out to the middle of the river. The light had faded now and I had trouble seeing the float, pulling it back at intervals to see the ripples. The float was out of sight, had it gone under? I pulled back and a fish surged away taking line as I backwound furiously. This was a good fish, I had no idea where it was and retrieved when it let me, eventually seeing the float tracking along the opposite bank, then the barred flank of a decent perch cruising beneath the surface. It turned and dived, returning to the surface to shake it’s head. Don’t lose it now. The net was under it and I relaxed. Phew!

The light was going. My eyes could adjust, but my camera could not, washing out the colours. Time for one last cast and it had to be on the punch. The leaves had all drifted off downstream once the wind subsided, leaving time for an untroubled trot, the flow had decreased all afternoon as the level dropped by three inches, allowing more control of the float. When it reached the sweet spot under the branch, I slowed the float and it dutifully sank, connecting with the last fish, a clonking great roach, which did not come quietly, giving me a scare, when it hugged the shallows below me, pushing through dead leaves, but being guided into the landing net without any fuss.

A superb fin perfect roach was the ultimate end to a too short afternoon. The fish were there, I just had to figure out how to catch them. Once again the punch had worked well, while the worms had added bonus fish.

The result of a cold, dull, afternoon in December, when I spent more time playing fish than fishing for them.