Though the snow had melted, the ground was still rock hard. A few cattle stood forlornly in a tree sheltered corner of a riverside field. Everything was quiet, it seemed as if death had gripped the surrounding countryside, there wasn't even a pheasant to disturb the stillness. It's very rare not to see or hear this beautiful game bird which was imported into Britain by the Romans some couple of thousand years ago.
As I walked up-river towards my chosen weir pool near that delightful market town of Horncastle, I could see ice along both banks. A moorhen with it's red beak adding a spot of colour to the drab day was spooked from the straw brown riverside reeds. With legs trailing just inches above the smooth green tinged water, it flew low towards the opposite bank where it dived for the sanctuary of a willow bush. A grey heron rose skywards, it's great wings flapping as it made a harsh call which sounds like the word 'fraank' I often say to my friends "there goes Frank". Slowly it gained height, making it's way up river to another resting or fishing spot, either my presence or the moorhen crashing into the area had frightened off old frank, who was either resting or seeking its breakfast.
Herons might not look very graceful when flying and it's quite amazing to think of these long legged birds nesting in tall trees. These nests are called heronries. Though they have been known to nest in tall reed beds, it's quite rare for this to happen. The diet of the heron is varied, from ducklings to fish; it's said the eel is its favourite meal though I don't know what evidence has been produced to prove this fact. I reckon its favourite meal is the one that is most readily available and easy to catch when its hungry. Frogs, toads, fish of all species, voles and other small mammals all go to make the herons diet a very varied one.
When the weather is cold and frosty why not purchase a couple of pounds of sprats from the fish monger, then on your next fishing trip you can spread the sprats around the river bank in an area where you have seen herons feeding at the waters edge. We must do everything possible to help our wildlife when weather conditions make it hard for them to get any food. I probably spend a hundred pounds every six weeks on food for the birds that visit my garden. Over the past few weeks I have often had between 15 and twenty blackbirds in the garden at any one time.
Not only herons have a varied diet - fish are no different, they also eat most things, in fact chub, trout and other fish will eat anything provided they have not been spooked. Most fish when spooked quickly disappear in a shower of spray, ripples or swirls. The chub just disappears ghost like without any trace. If you hadn't seen the fish you wouldn't have known it had been there.
The greatest aid to catching chub is not the tackle or bait. Your biggest asset is approaching the water as quiet as an owl approaching its prey, at the same time making sure you don't create a shadow on the water, which is easily done in the winter time when the sun is low in the sky. Always remember you're the hunter after the hunted.
When we were kids we used to see how close we could get to the rabbits sitting outside their warrens on a summers day. Sometimes one of us would get close enough to grab a young rabbit with our bare hands and not to use our catapults. I reckon it's all those hunting days of my youth that has helped me become a successful chub hunter. There have been many times when I have spent twenty perhaps thirty minutes or more getting into position before dropping the bait to an unsuspecting chub. To be successful at hunting chub you need to know their habitat under a given set of water and weather conditions. I can assure you chub will move from one location to another as the river flow changes, they don't stay in one area.
Today I have new bait, cocktail sausages lightly fried then given a coating of curry powder. When I am chub fishing I like to have a couple of different baits apart from my usual and very successful bread, such as cheese paste and meat which have accounted for a lot of chub over the past sixty years. Some days a new bait will encourage a chub to eat when all else fails.
Curry flavoured sausage will certainly be a new bait in my chosen weir pool today.
Looking upstream through the gloom I could just make out the outline of my chosen pool with its alder tree on the far bank, in the gloom this tree was my landmark. Another couple of hundred yards and one more stile then I should be able to see the turbulent swirling creamy, foam flecked current below the weir, then the slower flowing water towards the tail of the pool. As I poked my head over the bank three ducks and five mallard jumped skywards. My mind went back to my duck hunting days as I said to no one in particular, "That would have been a right and left". In those days from the past I would have had the pleasure of watching my Labrador working.
Today it wasn't a shotgun, but an Avon action rod, centre pin reel loaded with some fifty yards of 6lb Masterline Illusion fluorocarbon line, with a Partridge barbless hook in size 2, 4 or 6, depending on the size of bait. The banks of my chosen pool were very slippery so I decided to go down the bank on my backside, it was safer this way.
As I sat there looking at the various fishing spots available, a kingfisher flew low to the water up towards the pool then came to rest on a small willow bush. Opposite my chosen spot was a big raft of rubbish, mainly floating weed, where a grey wagtail (which in fact is quite yellow with a black bib) its tail continually on the move, was walking about, pecking here and there at some item of food. For some three hours I fished various spots up and down the pool with crust, flake, cheese paste meat paste and those curried sausage without a bite, not even a tremble on the line.
After some lunch and a fresh brew I decided to feed three big balls of mashed bread into the fast swirling water and see what happened. I imagined the bread would get swirled around with various size pieces eventually floating down stream over a period of time and hopefully the chub would wake up and start to feed. I sat there until dark without a bite. It was time to head off for home, a drive of 150 miles. As I walked down river to my car I suddenly realised why the fish didn't want to eat - the river was carrying lots of snow broth which in my book is the kiss of death.
The next day I had a couple of hours on a very low and gin clear river Aire with a water temperature of 42 degrees F. I chose to fish the Bradford City AA water downstream of Silsden bridge picking a spot on the river were the turbulent flow gave way to a stretch of slow steady water. Tackle was the usual Avon rod, 6lb line, centre pin reel and a size 6 barbless hook. I stopped one LG shot some 6 inches from the hook and baited with a bit of crust.
Casting out I set the rod on a rest and sat back to see what happened. After about thirty minutes I had a slight knock then the tip pulled over again - the strike didn't connect. Twice more this happened, both bites being missed. Re-baiting, I cast again, this time holding the rod for over an hour. Nothing happened. With the light fading fast I rebaited, cast once more then put the rod in the rest, pouring myself a mug of hot water. (Why hot water you're probably thinking, I'd left the drinking chocolate in the car!)
Five minutes later the rod tip pulled over and the strike connected with a good fish. It was quickly netted and weighed; the needle went between 5-0-0 and 5-1-0. I called it five, my 16th of the winter but only just. Time for one more cast. I had a bite on the drop - a good chub it weighed 4-8-0. I was a happy angler. It was time to head off home and plan tomorrow's fishing day on the Ribble
Mr Martin James