Red fin letter day with roach and chub on the River Blackwater

August 23, 2023 at 2:43 pm

Arriving at the Farnborough and District’s stretch of the River Blackwater this week to fish the stickfloat with bread punch, I turned left at the bridge and walked upstream, having ignored this shallow reach in recent years. It was difficult to find a swim that offered casting room for my preferred 14 foot Browning, settling on short gap between trees, with barely room for my 12 foot Hardy. Giant hogweed bordered the bank preventing a side cast, so that was the next task, knocking it flat. Having sorted out the house keeping, it was time to set up the Hardy with a 4 No 4 Ali stickfloat to a size 14 barbless hook to 3 lb line. This small river has some big chub, bream, barbel and carp, apart from some quality roach, plus my nemasis, pike, so it is better to be safe rather than sorry. Being so shallow, a hooked fish only has one option, RUN!

This swim is on the outside of a bend, with a narrow channel five yards from the bank, but plumbing the depth showed less than two feet, with the bottom visible to the far bank. I was not confident and set up my box well away from the bank, adjusting the float to fish over depth with a long tail, to be held back against the hot downstream wind from the south.

A run through the swim with a 7 mm pellet of bread on the hook got no response, but a three way mix of liquidised bread, ground carp pellets and ground hemp, damped down enough to form firm balls, made an instant difference; one either side of the channel bringing a small chub, that dragged the float under.

Next trot, another small aggressive chub, that dived away with the bread, then cartwheeled across the surface, when I set the hook.

I dropped in a ball of feed, then inched the float down behind it. Rings radiated out from the float tip as it ran through at half speed. I eased the rod back and the float sank, the roach hooking itself with a flurry of red fins on the surface. Quite a nice roach in the landing net.

My doubts of earlier had been dispelled, now I was trying to control a fish that had snatched the bread and was heading downstream at a rate of knots! I wasn’t sure if I had actually struck, guessing that the hook only had a light hold, as it headed across to the far side creating a bow wave. I could see the shape of a chub and reeled back line, the Hardy soft enough to resist the head shakes. Drifting it across to the landing net, I could see the hook barely hanging on to the white lips.

There was a bite a chuck, mostly from small dace and roach. The dace would hit the bread at speed, often knocking it off the hook, while the small roach nibbled and dipped the float, both difficult to hit, especially while the red float tip travelled through the dappled sunlight. I tended to watch the line for movement, or a surface ring left by a sinking float. The better fish were no problem, the float going down and staying there.

I went down to a 6 mm punch, the catch rate went up and now I was hooking dace.

I had started throwing the groundbait further upstream, which brought the fish closer, out of the dappled light, although this meant that most fish were hooked under my rod top, which could cause heart stopping moments with roach like this one.

In contrast, a rare run through the swim resulted in a downstream take, that hit into one of my best dace for years.

What a clonker. Like all dace, they never give up fighting, even out of the water!

I was running out of groundbait, throwing in my last offerings, while I mixed up some more and refilled my energy banks with a couple of sandwiches, washed down with tea. I say washed down, as I had added  two feet to the float depth and layed on in about a foot of water at the edge, missing a couple of rod bending bites, that saw the contents of my cup go everywhere.

The quality roach continued to fill my net, but the strong sun had veered round to shine directly on my back and I was considering packing up, although the roach were still tightly packed in the shade of a the tree downstream. It is always difficult to walk away from a productive swim. In my match fishing days, the whistle blew and you stopped fishing, today it was a pike. Bringing a nice roach close to the landing  net, it suddenly dived under my keep net. I thought that I had seen a green flash, but there was no mistaking the surface boil. A pike had finally followed the activity of feeding fish.

This roach survived for another day.

I was now on edge, worried about a pike taking a captive roach and did not waste time netting the next few, swinging them in.

Feeding roach to pike makes me feel guilty, so after another swirl and a follow, the roach below was my last fish.

It had turned out to be a hot sticky afternoon and had been shaded by trees for most of it, while the fishing had exceded my expectations, helped no doubt by only using the bread punch and groundbait.

Three dozen fish does not sound many for three hours fishing, but I was happy with it.