Overgrown river gives up its secrets

November 4, 2017 at 5:14 pm

With work in progress by the Environment Agency to improve my local urban river, I thought that it was worth a visit to try out one of the recently constructed fishing platforms, but walking down to the river, Thames Water contractors were busy trying to clear up the latest pollution spillage from the town outfall.

While returning to the van I considered my options and decided that a first time visit to a tributary of the Blackwater about ten miles away was a viable option. I had recently seen the half mile section of river listed in the handbook of one of my fishing clubs and Googled the location, putting it down as Must Try One Day in my mind. Today was going to be the day.

As I neared the club car park, the roads became narrower and the hedges taller. There were few passing places, but being in the middle of nowhere, there was no traffic either. A narrow gap in the hedge with a bar across was the car park entrance. Blocking the road, I released the padlock and pushed open the bar, hooking it back on a conveniently placed piece of nylon string. The parking area was overgrown and full of dumped garden waste, with just enough room to turn the van round. This club usually has well kept parking places, but this has seen little use.

The handbook said that the river is 600 yards from the carpark and I loaded up my trolley to cross an open field toward a tree line in the shallow valley, eventually reaching a tangle of long grass and stinging nettles, before pushing through to find the fast flowing little river twisting its way between a jungle of fallen trees and over hanging branches. Leaving the trolley, I searched between the trees for an opening with room to cast a float rod, finding a spot where the Himalayan balsam had died back leaving a relatively open bank.

It was already 2:30 and I hadn’t made a cast, but I was now committed to get the best out of the swim and tackled up with a 3 No 4 ali stem stickfloat to a size 16 barbless. Testing the depth, maximum was 2 feet past the middle, shallowing to 18 inches as it rounded the bend, with an area of cabbages on the inside. The river looked deeper further down, but a higher bank and overhanging branches gave me no further choices. I had only been prepared for a few hours fishing the bread punch on the slow moving river near home, now with treble the pace and half the depth, I would be working for every bite.

I squeezed up a couple of balls of liquidised bread and threw them well upstream, dropping the float among the cloud as it passed. Every tenth trot, I compressed another ball and followed it down. A sharp dip of the float in the deeper water encouraged me, although a rapid strike and no bait did not. I was folding each 7 mm pellet of bread round the hook, to allow me to hold back the float without washing off the bait. If I had known I was coming to a fast flowing river, I would have rolled up some steamed bread for the punch.

Following several false alarms the float held down long enough to make contact and after a short run a small chub was swinging to hand.

Usually where there is one small chub there are others, but not so this time, as a shoal of small dace began dipping the float and taking the bait. Running through I could not hit them, but moving a shot close to the hook, adding 6 inches in depth gave me a chance. Dip, dip, tug and I was playing the first strip of silver.

The dace were in about 18 inches of water, chasing the swirling grains of bread, rattling the rod top without being hooked. I shallowed up again, running through, this time the float held down, a good dace came tumbling to the surface, then came off. Another small one stayed on, spinning beneath the surface. The rod bent over and another good dace was on the surface, fighting doggedly to the net.

I had been preoccupied trying to hook these dace and it took a pair of cock pheasants flying into the tree downstream to roost, to make me realise that the light was going. It was only 4 pm, but the sun was behind the trees already and the mist was coming down. I decided to give it another 15 minutes before packing up, scraping up the last of my feed to form a ball, again dropping it in upstream. Minutes later the float dived and a much better fish rolled on the surface, before kiting over to the far side. It felt like a roach, not my hoped for chub; whatever, it was fighting well, coming back to my side, then to the middle. The landing net was waiting as a 6 oz roach obliged by turning on its side, before sliding into the net.

This roach extended the session as I tried to catch another, to no avail. It was going to be a long up hill trek back to the van and I had to get a move on to avoid walking in the dark.

Not much to show for such a busy session. I had expected more and bigger chub, although the roach made up for that. I saw slower deeper swims, but they were unfishable. Next time I will bring my pole saw