Well, the end is nigh. Another week and it’ll all be over on the rivers for three whole months, unless of course you’re an Angling Times reader because they think that a complete non-newsworthy story and a puffed-up readers poll can change things.
According to the story a huge majority ‘of readers polled’ want to see a change to the closed season on rivers and apparently 100 per cent of National Front members prefer white to black while turkeys have just voted against Christmas…
Come on guys, perhaps it’s been a bit quiet on the news front, but you can do better than this. Just because the weather’s been pants for a couple of weeks is no reason to start messing around with the closed season. Now if you come to me with a suggestion that the closed season should be amended to cover the prime spawning weeks, let’s keep it to 3 months and say 1st April until 30th June, I’ll listen. But let’s discuss things in a sensible manner. We can talk now about changing next year, or the year after, but changing it in a few days time is ludicrous.
I was going to call this piece the Closed Season Blues but such is the nature of fishing my emotions are enjoying a bit of a roller coaster ride. Last week I had convinced myself that the snow water, the subsequent rain and then a bit of frost would have put the Idle in perfect nick – you can’t fault my optimism, can you?
So down to ‘the Gate’ I went. With only a couple of blokes on the bank I pretty much had my choice of pegs – for what good it did me. I began in a swim that has always been pretty kind to me and was full of optimism for a good ten minutes. The river was practically stood with a skimming downstream wind which is not ideal but I kept telling myself that it would run soon and then I’d start catching.
In these conditions it can pay to lay on in the edge because you might miss most of the bites, it does tell you there are fish to be caught and that they are actually feeding. But no bites materialised.
After half an hour I decided to up sticks and move a hundred yards downstream to a peg I’ve never fished before but I’ve seen others catch well from it in past weeks. That raised my optimism for at least five minutes but when no bites materialised I was getting itchy feet. A move to the Torne might pay off, or even a pay-puddle.
I decided to have a look at the other two guys and see if they had caught. Well, the first was blanking manfully. His mate, not 30 yards away was practically getting a bite a chuck. He’d also had a pike and I could see pike striking in his swim. Whether it was pike or whether it was cormorants, a lot of fish had been herded into a very tight space.
So I moved again. This time I dropped in about 40 yards below matey-boy who was making us all look a bit crap. For some stupid reason I plonked myself beneath the overhanging branches of a tree which made lifting the rod a little precarious. Stupid, I know, because I could have sat 3 yards to my right and been clear, but whatever, some of us like to be awkward.
First run down, the float dipped and I missed a bite. I did the same on the next three runs down. Then I caught a bleak. And another. I was in bleak city and with a pike striking on cue below me I knew I needed a decent sized roach for a livebait.
The bleak began to drive me potty. Every now and then I’d get a tiny roach but not one I considered good enough to use as a pike bait. Eventually I got one and out went the pike rod set just towards the end of my swim. The river had begun to run now and this simply sent the bleak potty in the surface layers and I struggled to even get a bait through them. Ten minutes later the line plucked out of the clip and began to peel from the reel. At last, a bit of joy.
So I wound down onto the pike and my reel line parted. This was brand new 15lb line and I was trying out a brand new rod and reel combination. I didn’t actually feel the fish, it was just as if the line had been pulled across a razor blade. It was too high up to have been a bite-off by the fish that took my bait and I’m guessing that by some freak occurrence there might have been a second pike between me and the taking fish, swimming around with its mouth open, or something.
Choose whatever, I wasn’t a happy bunny. I hate leaving hooks in pike, even small barbless ones like these. Indeed I was so frustrated that I called it a day. When you’re not enjoying fishing it’s sometimes better to pack up and try again another day.
A weekend on the Wye loomed. I’d been invited to spend a few days with Graham Marsden (editor of Fishing Magic), John Hunter (editor of Tackle & Guns magazine) and Peter Smith, who owns the Caer Beris Manor hotel.
I arrived early on the Friday afternoon and took an opportunity to drop into the Wye & Usk Foundation offices and have a chat with Simon Evans about some upcoming filming we’re doing on the Wye this summer. The Foundation has opened up so many salmon beats to coarse anglers it is unbelievable. Have a look at their web site and just see how many exclusive fisheries it now controls and the fantastic thing is they manage them in a way that makes sure nowhere gets hammered. Normally the number of rods on a beat is limited and then they try and rotate the pressure so you will always be able to target unpressured fish somewhere.
Anyway, it was good to meet up with Graham and John again as it had been a fair while since I’d had much contact with either. We ate up at Peter’s house, watched the rugby and pretty much put the world to rights over a few drinks.
The next morning we headed down to the Llanwye stretch for a bit of grayling fishing. I’ve rarely seen the river this low and it was possible to see the river bed halfway across to the other bank which is a fair way. Seriously, you could easily see the bottom in 6 feet of water and we were stood in places that you might normally fish. Hopeless.
In spite of this we still caught a few fish but Graham had the vast majority of them. Like us he struggled with the float and reverted to ‘splodging’ with a feeder. Cheating we called it as we gathered around him in numbers to heckle and abuse!!! It was great fun and thank the Lord someone actually caught a few. We took a few nice pictures including the old feller posing with a brace weighing 1-13 and something else(!). I forget, but those who measure success in pounds and ounces will never know the true value of fishing with friends.
With a few fish under our belts the tales flowed that night over dinner. Great company, great food and about as good a weekend as you can really hope for in winter.
Alas Graham had to head for home on Sunday morning but not before we’d dropped in on Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith for a quick chat. Stephen is a mover and shaker in the new Angling Trust organisation and lives in the most spectacular setting imaginable with a lounge that looks down on a famous Wye salmon pool.
John and I went through the motions of fishing below the suspension bridge at Llanstephan but I was not really in the mood for struggling so I hit the road early. A four-hour drive isn’t much fun these days, even when there is some football on the radio.
Yesterday (Friday) I fished the Swale at Asenby on the Leeds and District water. The Leeds book is fantastic value in this day and age and it does offer a chance to catch some seriously big specimens if you put in the time and effort.
I’d half expected the river to be high and coloured but Stu rang on Thursday to say he’d driven over it at Topcliffe and the level looked spot-on. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I decided to give it a go. I arrived around 9am to find the river in good trim but with ice in the margins and a clear blue sky. The sun was low in the sky and very bright, not great omens. Anyway, I’d brought a few pints of maggots left over from the grayling trip with every intention of plotting in and bringing the fish to me.
It wasn’t too long before the tip sprung back gently and I lifted into a fish. Now the run of the mill fish set off at high speed in search of cover when you hook them. This fish didn’t. It stood its ground and gave a couple of big head shakes. Then it swam steadily upstream into what I thought was open water but the chub clearly new different as I felt everything lock up. Oh no. It had found a snag.
Rather then pull and tug, I just kept light pressure on the fish hoping that it might go back to whence it came but I felt a sudden, powerful jag and I knew straight away that it had just cracked off the hook link with a single shake of its head. Gutted at the loss of what was clearly a seriously big chub, I had little option but to pull for a break.
That would be my last bite for three hours. The only things that livened up the rest of this morning were seeing a crow mob a sparrow hawk, presumably in a squabble over food and a fantastic aerial display by our boys in RAF Blue. It began as four planes in formation with one observer plane and finished with nine in perfect tight formation, sometimes coming right overhead.
On a hunch I repositioned myself 20 yards downstream so that I could cast tighter to the far bank willow bushes I was targeting. My cast would remain on the same line that the maggots had been trickling through for the past three hours. This would put me in peril from a mid river snag that I couldn’t actually see but the boils were a dead give-away.
Ten minutes later the gentlest of bites saw me strike into another lump. I was ready this time and skipped off downstream over what were quite treacherous banks but it put me in the pound seats as I drew the fish across the river well below the mid-river snag always mindful that there were snags below me now, on the nearside.
She almost came to the surface in mid –river and I got a clear view of the fish. Crikey, I thought, that’s a lump! And so it was but as I drew it to the waiting landing net the hook slipped under no pressure whatsoever. How did that happen? Well, the language was choice as I went 2-0 down and I was feeling pretty frustrated.
At least the fish were having a go again.
The next bite, as gentle as the last, finally saw me stick a fish in the net. ‘Twas a lump, too! Two more followed including a right old beast although to be fair it didn’t look old at all. This was a pristine fish. In fact all of them where pretty much immaculate specimens.
Then the phone rang. It was Stu Walker. I told him about the fish and said, “That’s brilliant! I’m working up on Teeside so I’ll drop in on my way home.”
So half an hour later Stu turned up and did the honours with the scales and took these pics. Thanks mate.
The biggest went 6-1 and 5-7. Clonking great specimens for a northern river and every bit as worthy as fish a pound bigger on the southern rivers
Well, there’s still a week to go and I’m hoping to get out again for another couple of trips but the weather ain’t looking too promising but the plain fact is, you can’t catch ‘em sat by the fire watching TV.