Angling Now & Then – Part 1

Angling Now And Then

Well, the tail end of another river season approaches but have you seen many anglers on the bank? Okay, you’ll find a few diehards grinding away in the well known hot spots and there will always be plenty who talk a good session on the Internet, but if you listen carefully you’ll hear a rather disturbing noise. It’s the death rattle of winter river fishing as we used to know it.
Feel free to contradict me by all means but it seems like an awful lot of anglers are finding it difficult to raise any enthusiasm for turning out on winter days when they know in their hearts that they’ll be extremely lucky to get so much as a bite.
Fortunately I’m not such an angling snob that I can’t enjoy a few hours fishing at one of the better commercial fisheries when the going gets tough. In contrast to what some would have you believe, it’s not all carp, and some of us, who maintain a healthy balance in our outlook, don’t actually go fishing for personal bests all the time; we’re actually motivated by bites.
Good luck to the guy who is prepared to endure endless miserable riverside blanks in the worst weather just to catch a fish that weighs an ounce more than the last time he caught it, but I have to question whether he needs his head looking at – really!
Few would disagree that the fish remaining in our rivers are bigger than ever but there are considerably less of them than there used to be. Clinically clear water means the survivors shoal tightly, feed cautiously and seldom have a go in bright conditions.
But it wasn’t always like this. Twenty-five years ago I couldn’t get enough of winter river fishing and I certainly wasn’t alone. The cormorant plague was in its infancy and the semi-polluted rivers practically teemed with fish. Okay, there was fierce competition for the better pegs, especially at weekends, but with so many fish to go at you could generally get in somewhere decent.
Certainly river syndication wouldn’t have been the utterly selfish act it is today. Syndication – a word that only entered the river angler’s vocabulary when barbel became the new carp; an insidious term, a creeping parasite that sneaks in like a burglar, codes of honour, funny handshakes and pathetic rituals.
“A working class hero is something to be…”
John Lennon fans will know the next line. Well guys, soon you will inherit the lot. I just hope you can afford it.
Water quality has definitely changed, as has the level of predation. The attitudes of some anglers has changed, but I guess the biggest changes we’ve witnessed have been in communication and travel. Angling is on TV from morning till night. Magazines and newspapers are so much better than they ever were, despite what some claim. The Internet is either the best thing that’s ever happened, or the worst. The jury’s out on that one. Today’s vehicles are far superior with their air con, air bags and CD players. Reliability and economy is something taken for granted but the finest car on the planet can’t beat a Motorway traffic jam.
In the early ‘Eighties’ I could drive from my home to Carlton or Sutton on the tidal Trent in about 40 minutes. If I set off before dawn there was hardly a lorry on the road.
Today the same journey takes forever. It doesn’t matter whether I go North or South, the Motorways are congested. Ten-mile tailbacks are practically daily events on the M1 and don’t even get me started on the subject of ‘safety’ cameras.
Those on the A1 seem to result in a remarkable number of accidents and close scrapes. Check out the mass of skid marks at Tuxford next time you’re passing on the Southbound carriageway.
The tree huggers can moan all they like about global warming but with a rapidly expanding population we need more and better roads. Believing that public transport provides a viable alternative is no better than pie in the sky optimism.
Can you realistically take a matchman’s seat box, carryall and holdall on public transport to an open match? And what about the other fifty anglers? How about nipping down to the river with a specialist angler’s rucksack, quiver, folding chair and bait bucket on the bus? And even if you were allowed to board one carrying your gear, rural bus routes are practically non-existent. I know. I live in a village.
As for carting a bivvy, bed chair, sleeping bag, cooking gear, water, food and then the fishing tackle, what right thinking carp angler is going to use public transport? Honestly, it’s a joke!
Anglers cannot realistically pursue their sport without cars but sitting in traffic jams isn’t exactly eco-friendly, is it? Instead of fleecing motorists at every opportunity the Government should be moving heaven and earth to give them a proper road network, but they won’t, so the bottom line is anglers will travel less for their fishing in future, especially in winter when they’ll fish commercials or stay at home.
The sad thing is we never appreciate just how good things are at any given time but heaven forbid that these are the good times for river fishing.
It was all so different 25 years ago.
One of THE hottest day ticket venues in the North was the River Derwent cut-off channel at Borrowash controlled by the Earl Of Harrington AC. With winter water levels came shoals of chub averaging 12 oz to a pound. You’d occasionally hook an odd bigger lump of maybe 2.5lb but they were rare. When it was fishing really well you needed to be on the bank and in your chosen swim long before it got light or you’d be really struggling for a peg.
You may think I’m wearing rose tinted specs but I really am not. You only need to take a peep inside my old diaries for proof. The month is December, the year 1983, and I’m immediately struck by how keen I was back then. Bearing in mind I had a full time job and could only fish midweek by taking a day’s holiday or working a night shift, in the space of two and a half weeks I still managed to cram in eight trips, on the 14th, 17th, 20th, 22nd, 24th 26th, 29th and 31st.
Each trip was to a river and reading about the old haunts, Hazelford, Lady Pit Farm, Sutton, Collingham, Torksey Island and Carlton brought back so many happy memories. The following extracts are copied word for word from the diary and just in case you suspect a bit of romancing we actually carried Avon scales and a weigh net. We took our pound on the side very seriously!

Weds 14th December, 1983
River Derwent, Borrowash
Change in the weather again. Overcast, Southerly winds gusting to gale force. Air temperature up around 8 degrees C. River around a foot up, water cold with some melting snow, some colour.
Dropped in two swims below bridge – completely sheltered. Caught 62lb of chub with three roach (biggest over a pound) on waggler and maggot. I fished very well, catching steadily all day without the fish really going mad. Never missed a bite. Pulled off a few though.

Mon 26th December, 1983
River Trent, Hull water, Winthorpe
Beautiful day. Strong wind off our backs, broken by thorn thicket and umbrella. Sun shone all day on our fronts. It was like September again.
River has dropped 2 feet but is still coloured. Two days should see it perfect.
Fished feeder all day. Caught a gudgeon and an 8oz chub early on then it went very quiet. Changed from a 16 forged to a size 20 Au Lion Dor 1206, single maggot and started getting bites straight away. Caught a skimmer, a hybrid, a dace and a few gudgeon, then, in the last hour, a 3lb chub followed by a 3lb bream to round off a pleasant day.
I would probably have done better to fish a swan shot link and loose feed as I was fishing fairly close in, in shallow water. A feeder does not really allow you to search a swim.
River too high to get near the island.

Thurs 29th December, 1983
River Trent, Hull water, Winthorpe
The ‘heatwave’ continues. Fairly strong downstream wind. River has dropped a further 18 inches and is now running clear – at last! Today we should have been rewarded for our persistence over Christmas but fate kicked us in the teeth. Virtually every peg was taken when we arrived and we were able – only just – to wade out to the island. I fished in a washing machine of a swim with a large bush, half submerged at the bottom end.
By placing a feeder in front of this I picked up a nice chub of nearly 2lb and three gudgeon on red maggot.
Unfortunately I hooked half a dozen fish that I just couldn’t handle. Hooks straightening out, pulling out, snapping, snagging, etc. These were animals! I only saw one and it looked to be a chub of at least 4lb.
I struggled to get a bite using a size 16 hook but switch to a 20 and single red maggot and it was a different story. Caught my first fish at noon – packed up before 3pm in total frustration. It seemed pointless to carry on.
Must look into small forged hook patterns.

It’s interesting to note that twenty years ago a 3lb chub on the middle Trent was regarded as an exceptional fish, as was a 4lb bream. How different things are today. The other thing is we caught our fish in daylight. And there were still some gudgeon around.
Most telling tactically was that we fished one rod without a bite alarm or a hair rig and maggots were the number one bait choice with narry a pellet in sight.
It didn’t seem to matter what the conditions were like, we’d usually get a few bites, and it’s only when you get bites that you can you can develop and address tackle improvements. Don’t forget, we were regularly dropping down to pound and 12oz bottoms back then when using small hooks.
Who does that these days?
Typically, now, when I fish a river in winter it’s not uncommon to be blanking right up until the witching hour and then I might get a big perch (if that’s what I’m targeting) as the light fades or if chub are the target a last gasp pull. Only staying on into the dark for a couple of hours appears to greatly improve the chances of a few decent chub and that certainly gives me no incentive to go claiming ‘hot’ swims an hour before daybreak.
And you know what? Unless I’m missing something, most of the winter anglers I bump into out there are struggling, too, and they’re mostly on the wrong side of fifty-years-old. That’s why I fear winter fishing on rivers is not just on the wane, it may well be doomed. Let’s face it, where are the kids? On the commercials, that’s where.
Before long you’ll not even be able to buy a stick float rod that will handle 12oz bottoms and size 22 hooks. It’s difficult enough as it is to get decent stick floats and when did you last see a bait apron for sale?
It’s a scary thought.