Success and failure on the stick float.

March 19, 2015 at 1:14 am

Spoilt for choice on the last morning of the coarse fishing season, I fancied catching dace on the stick float and headed out after breakfast to a clear fast, flowing river an easy drive from home, having stopped off for fresh red maggots along the way. The local tackle dealer suggested an area new to me and having had it all a bit too easy of late, took up the challenge of the unknown stretch of water.

Picture 002

Although crystal clear, there was a fair pace to the river, running over a gravel bottom, from shallows to a deep run between trees and I felt that tingle of excitement, as I tackled up my 14 foot trotting rod, the swim looking very chubby. A 9 No.4 John Dean stick float was brought out of retirement, the shot, shirt buttoned down, spreading towards the hook to give control to the float, while allowing the overdepth rig to skip and lift over the bottom, as it was trotted down.

Picture 009

I’d added a few shakes of Haldi termeric to the maggots, which aid sinking and also in my view to add an extra flavour, which might bring a few fish up into the swim, having scattered a few handfuls upstream, while getting ready. The wind was in my favour, blowing steadily from the north, allowing the line to billow out behind the float, as it was swept down the swim, but being mid March, it also brought a wind chill with it, that soon persuaded me to pull the hood of my jacket up over my cap.

Those first few trots are to suss out the lie of the bottom and I wasn’t surprised when the float dragged under. A casual lift, saw the rod top bend over as if the float was snagged on a weed, but then it bounced and pulled over as a decent fish fought back, then ran across the stream. At first I didn’t recognise the fight, a slow pounding, that gave way to a skating glide, then another deep pounding, someway between a roach and a bream. It stayed down, until close, then glided to the surface for a second, to reveal the grey flank and massive red dorsal fin of a grayling, before diving again. Knowing what a soft mouth they have and aware of the small size 16 barbless hook, I treated the grayling with kid gloves, applying the minimum of pressure, using the current to do the fighting for me, until the pound fish was lying on it’s side ready for the net.


I haven’t caught a grayling for years and having taken out the hook, held it up for the camera, trying to hold the dorsal erect with my thumb. There was still plenty of fight left in this camera shy Lady of the Stream and it bucked in my hand, flipping over the rim of my landing net, to return with a plop to the river. No picture. It was a beautiful fish.

Ah well, that was the first hurdle over, there were some fish in the swim. All the experience in the world cannot overcome that doubt, when faced with a new water, will I catch here? The brain says that it looks right, but not until that float goes down and a fish is on, do you settle down from just drowning maggots, to catching fish.

The maggots went in, half a dozen every cast, thrown left handed upstream, the float dipped, but carried, bobbed and held, then up again. Held back, it pulled under, banging the tip. Missed it, the red maggots reduced to smashed pink skins. Dace, or chub? More tippy bites. Too much feed.  I tried a line closer to my bank and the float disappeared at an angle. Whoa, another good fish, that ran, twisted and turned unseen as it hugged the bottom. Keeping the rod high, I followed it’s every move, a roll and a long bar of silver said rainbow, the fish working it’s way back upstream, remaining deep, until a kiped mouth broke surface to be propelled by the current toward my net. It was a trout sure enough, but not a rainbow, a silvery wild brown trout making it two in thirty minutes.

Picture 001

There were coarse fish in this swim, the taps and bobs indicating dace, but I couldn’t zero in on them. I tried shallowing up and running through chasing the maggot feed, single and double maggot on the hook, bites but no fish. A change was needed, the float was pulled up another two feet, the shot bulked two thirds down with just a couple of No. 4 on the tail, the lot cast underhand down into the killing zone and held back hard, slowly inched down the swim. Approaching the trees, the float went, followed by line. Sweeping the rod back, the hard rattling fight of a good dace was felt for a few seconds, then it came off. One of the double maggots was smashed. A repeat with a single maggot and the float went again, letting the line run for a second before the strike. That was better, I was in again, but not a dace, as the fish made for the tangle of roots across the river. It was not  large and the run was stopped with a slow backwind, that revealed a chub of around 8oz, when it breeched, before cutting back to the main flow, to begin a head shaking fight to the net, it’s white mouth lifting clear of the rim, as it was scooped up.

Picture 006

The back of this chub’s throat, was full of crushed red maggots, a sign that the bait was getting down to the fish and I cast back in with confidence, keeping my cool, ignoring the first few dips of the float, letting it run, then holding back again. Down it went, I paused and struck, this time definitely a big dace tumbling over and over in it’s static fight, rattling the rod top,  slowly retrieving against the flow. As I readied the landing net, everything went solid. A pike had taken the dace, slowly moving across to the opposite side of the channel, bending the rod double, as I attempted to pull my hook free, feeling the slow shake of the pike’s head, while it turned with the current and drifted downstream. With a 5lb main line and 3lb link, I stood a chance of landing it, if the pike didn’t wake up, but a sudden spurt put paid to that idea, the float pinging back in a tangle minus it’s hook link.

I seem to be cursed by pike on these rivers, especially when catching dace, which form up in tight shoals, but are normally too quick and translucent under water to be crept up on by these big predators. When hooked, dace roll and tumble on the spot presenting a visible target, losing their natural advantages.

Tying on a fresh hook link, it was ten minutes before the dace returned to the feed and fifteen before a confident take saw another dace struggling to escape. Briefly, the line slackened, when the dace skated to the surface pursued by the pike, only to be grabbed in a boil of green spotted water, the orange variegated tail flapping on the surface, before powering away again with it’s spoils. The pike cruised upstream and paused to turn the dace, while I pulled for a break, the line parting on the razor sharp teeth. It was time for a sandwich, washed down with hot tea from the flask, while another link was tied on and I pondered on what to do next.

A bend in the river downstream appeared inviting, but on walking down for a look, snags on both sides of the banks, also seemed likely to hold pike, so I returned to my swim for another go, effectively starting all over again. The dace were long gone and after slogging away for twenty minutes, a trot below the trees produced another small chub, that initially felt like a much bigger fish, but it gave up before being drawn half way back, skimming along on the surface, mouth wide open to the net.

I stuck it out for twenty minutes without another fish. By then it was time to pack up, walking back to the van thinking of the other places I could have tried on the last day, but also grateful that I’d had some excitement, the high point being the grayling, the low, another session ruined by a pike. You win some and you lose some.