The Wessex rivers are miles wide; Oxford looks like the Lake District. Even if you knew where the river was it must be doubtful if the fish would feed, and anyway, searching for riverbanks in flooded meadows can be a very hazardous exercise. But I have been getting out. Fortunately M's river does fish well in high water, as long as you can find the fish. Forget the text book "fining down" after a flood - the roach up there like the river good and muddy - 2 - 4 inches visibility is perfect. Why this should be the case with these roach I don't know, but I'm thankful for it - without that I wouldn't be fishing at all.
The first trip of the month was to the Mill stretch (there is more than one stretch of river available). E. accompanied me, his long coarse fish blank still intact. The water was much clearer than we expected, visibility being around 3 feet and a long way from being perfect. But these fish are contrary, thank goodness, and a day of wandering up and down the stretch alternating between float and quiver-tip as the swim dictated produced 6 nice roach weighing 15oz, 1.2, 1.3, 1.6, 1.7 and 1.9. And at the last knockings E. ended his long blank, with a good roach of 1.4, caught just as the light was fading. Most of my fish had been caught on the float, for which I'm grateful, as I love fishing that way. At one point I found myself doing a running commentary on myself fishing.
"Expert angler Wallis casts, dropping his float to within inches of the far bank, then runs it down under close control poised like a crouched tiger, and reacting like lightning to the slightest dip or waver of the red tip, at which he strikes and sets the hook into another fighting red-fin". However when the commentary seemed to be mostly turning to "Angler tries to cast to the far bank, but the line digs in on the reel and the float finishes up in midstream. Angler re-casts, hooks bush on far bank, loses hook, re-ties, re-casts, misses bite, blast, damn fish, why don't they take the bait properly" I gave up and started singing Mike and the Mechanics songs to myself instead.
With no sign of the rain abating and our other venues therefore unfishable we made another trip the following week. However, despite conditions being far better, that is, the water being higher and more coloured, it was a real struggle to find the fish. I think I ended up with just 3 roach, best around a pound, lost 4 others, but also caught several trout which must have been washed down from the river's upper reaches in the floods. And a damn nuisance they are too, crashing about all over the swim when you hook them. Sometimes you catch the same one twice.
It wasn't much of a day, maybe because I'd been presumptuous and taken a keep-net with me, hoping for a nice brace shot. But isn't it typical when you do something like that, how one half-decent roach is destined to spend a very lonely day away from his pals!
Some time during the morning I spotted a curious object floating downstream towards us. At about the same time a young and worried looking small boy appeared on the far bank with his mother. He had somehow lost control of his model boat and it was now floating downstream at the mercy of the current. Fortunately E had borrowed my 15 foot Harrison float rod, and was able to reach out and guide the boat to our bank. The mother and child came round to get it and were extremely grateful. I hope they will remember that when the anti-angling people come knocking on their door! Good rods those Harrisons eh? - Amazing what you can do with them…
While E was fishing one of the downstream swims he was approached by one of the youngsters from the nearby village. This lad was, I suppose, about 13. He proceeded to tell E about the chub in the river. Apparently these chub are absolute monsters, bigger than any chub anywhere, and if you think that their sheer size wasn't enough to impress E and give these fish some kind of hallowed status, you wait until you hear the next bit. According to this lad, when you hook them "they fight like pike with no heads!!"
With the year fast running out I found myself in the unusual position of having some holiday left. So after carefully watching the weather forecasts and trying to pick a period after lots of rain, but during which there wouldn't actually be any rain, I booked a day-and-a-half holiday and a couple of mid-week trips were arranged. The first afternoon was spent connected to huge lumps of luncheon meat in a slack at the side of a raging River Thames. Nothing happened except I kept getting snagged up, and was also paid a visit by a member of the local constabulary who had received a report of an Impreza parked in a funny place! I blanked, didn't even get a bite, but I'm sure there's a barbel there somewhere.
The next morning I was back at M's river, on the Motorway beat, a stretch I have only fished on a few occasions. I haven't fished it when the river is up, and up to now I haven't done too well there, one particular day losing a big roach and then getting another snaffled by a pike. But today the river was up, pushing through and coloured, visibility being about 6 inches. It looked good.
I attacked the first swim with a float, trotting flake alongside a reed-bed. To do this I had to wade in, and in doing so almost filled my waders several times, nearly losing my balance as I climbed up and down on the submerged tussocks which I couldn't see beneath the murky water. At last I was in position to fish. But after half an hour's trotting and only 3 roach to show for my efforts (best 1.1) it began to look as if the river was a bit high and fast for this swim. The slack below looked far more inviting, though reaching it meant negotiating 2 barbed wire fences with a ditch between. The way the water was running through the ditch it could as easily have been 10 feet deep as 10 inches. I left it for a while and persevered with the float, then the quiver-tip, almost coming to grief when I tried to wade ashore to swap rods, and found my feet had sunk into the mud and I was stuck. Twisting and turning threw me off balance, and again the waderful of cold water came close to being a reality. I made it though and then went off to scout around for a safer path to the slack that beckoned from downstream.
I found a slightly less perilous way round and packed all my gear away before setting off (I've learned my lesson about carrying set-up 15 foot rods through bushes and trees!). Arriving in the swim it became immediately obvious that the angle of attack was quite difficult. It could only really be fished with a quiver-tip, and you could only get at the spot the fish were likely to be holding up in by making a cast very slightly upstream. And you couldn't make a downstream strike as there was a bush in the way. I'm going to use this as an excuse for missing so many bites - I had plenty, and I missed plenty. I caught seven roach, a few half-pounders, a few three-quarter pounders, and just one over the pound at 1.1.
I was getting withdrawal symptoms from float fishing, so decided to move on down the river, looking for some of that slowish even-paced smooth water that roach love. I found a swim about half-a-mile downstream that looked perfect. The float went through at just the right pace - again and again it went through, unmolested, unhindered. This was funny - there had to be roach here somewhere. In desperation I tried a small slack right in the edge, just 2 feet deep - the sort of place a small boy would dangle a worm. Talking of which, what is it with lobworms? The classic big roach bait some would say. I have used them regularly over the past few seasons, in all sorts of conditions, but I have yet to have a bite on one, let alone land a fish. Do the roach know something I don't know? Whatever, I always take some with me - my lob-worms last for ages in the fridge and enjoy their outing at the weekends even if they don't get to go swimming!
Anyway, back to the little slack. Within a short time the float darted under. I struck and the float flew high in the air, like it does when you are caught unawares by a fast bite in the shallows. Can be embarrassing that, can't it! I re-baited with another small piece of flake and dropped it back into the slack. Again it shot under, again I missed it. Hmmm… what was this? M was fishing on the far bank and I called to him to ask if there were minnows here. He said that you do get a few, but unlike the Oxford minnows, they keep their heads down in floods. I tried again, missed again, tried yet again, missed yet again. But fifth time lucky, I connected, and not with a minnow, but with a nice chubby roach of about half-a-pound. For the next hour or so this hit-and-miss pattern continued, and I finished up with twelve more roach between half-a-pound and three-quarters of a pound. That made 22 roach in all - a good day so far.
I'd like to tell you what I did next, but do you know, for the life of me I can't remember! And it was only last week. It's bad enough not being able to remember other things in life, things like anniversaries, but when your fishing memory starts to fade, then that is serious! I expect that what I did was to quiver-tip for a while when it became too dark to see the float. And I probably had a few bites and missed them This is becoming a regular occurrence, and something will have to be done about it…
Saturday. The rains had eased, the river had dropped, and the colour had gone from a roachy brown to a chubby green. The trouble was we had had a very sharp overnight frost. That wouldn't help things. I was back on the Motorway beat with E. I thought that a Good Samaritan act I had performed on the journey from home might stand me in good stead for a decent roach. Not far from home I had stopped at a red traffic light while someone crossed the road. It was a man of about thirty dressed in a black overcoat, and curiously with a black bin liner wrapped around his shoulders. He stopped in front of the car, looked at me then came round to the driver's door. I opened the window.
"Please mate" he said in a voice shaking with cold, "please can you give me a lift up the road there - I'm bloody freezing - I'll give you a fiver to drop me off - I'm so cold I've wrapped this bin liner round me".
It seemed he only wanted to go a half mile or so - personally I would have run there, but he was obviously half frozen, and his body temperature had no doubt been lowered beyond the normal by the copious amounts of alcohol had obviously been drinking. He looked a decent sort though so I told him to jump in and drove him up the road. I dropped him off but refused to take his money. I was grateful that he hadn't thrown up in the car - I only thought about that afterwards. It reminded me of another time many years ago when I had done someone a favour. An old chap had flagged me down from a bus stop and asked for a lift. Taking pity on him I let him in the car. But he didn't sit down in the conventional manner - instead he climbed in putting both feet on the seat and then hunched with his back pressed against the car roof. Very odd. It wasn't until he got out again that I noticed a funny smell in the car. Looking at the seat I found a big smear of what I'll politely call excrement - I presumed it had been on his shoe. If it hadn't I dread to think how it had got there though it might answer the question as to why he was squatting and not sitting on the seat! I tell you, there's some funny people about….!
I started off in a deep swim at the top of the stretch that looked like it should have held a few fish. It didn't look suitable for the float so I started off with quiver-tipped flake. I had bites almost immediately, very cagey taps on the three-quarter-ounce tip which didn't develop into anything I could strike. Finally one fish gave it a good pull round - and I missed it - again! Then the bites dried up so I headed for the swim in which I'd started on Thursday, the swim that had been a bit too high. Unfortunately, it was now a bit too low, and despite attacking it from several angles, with both float and quiver-tip, I didn't get a bite. E had moved into a swim upstream and was fishing below a flood-raft that deflected the current. After about hour he landed a chub of about a pound, to add to the one of similar size he had caught earlier, further up the river. He said it fought very well for its size, in fact, he thought it might have fought like a "pike with no head!"
I walked up past E and found a swim that looked promising. I ran the float through a few times, but nothing stirred. I'd been on my feet nearly all morning and had hardly had time for even a cup of tea. That situation needed remedying, so I set up the quiver-tip, cast into the area where I had been trotting and sat down. Within 20 minutes I had 3 good bites, and missed them all. I tried the float again and first time through down it went, not in the sharp fashion so typical of roach, but more in the way a grayling stops a float - more like it was caught on the bottom. I lifted and the rod came to life. I soon had a nice roach of 1.2 on the bank. I kept him in the landing net for a while, hoping for another, but as usual he seemed to be in a shoal of one, so I moved on. I came to the slack where I'd caught several roach on Thursday, and though it was clear that the water had dropped nearly 18 inches since then, I had to give it 5 minutes. But all I caught was a skinny brown trout which nearly pulled the rod in as I was pouring a cup of tea (from my new stainless steel flask - oh, didn't I tell you about my new stainless steel flask….?).
As E will confirm, I'm very restless when I'm on the rivers, and I was soon off and roving once again. I came to the swim that had produced twelve roach from the two-foot deep swim on Thursday. It was now only 6 inches deep and I could see the bottom. I ran the float through further out and picked up three roach, nothing big, 8 - 12 ounces. It was now late afternoon and the light was starting to go. Fish were starting to roll too, especially on the far side. I'd just started quiver-tipping on my bank, and though the light was fading fast, the sight of the fish on the other side was too much for me, and once again I was off wandering with the float rod. I picked up four smallish roach, 8 - 10 ozs, missed a few bites, decided that there were only small ones there and returned to the other bank and the quiver-tip. The next half-hour was hectic - bite after bite. Unfortunately followed by miss after miss - I just couldn't hook them. This is getting to be a habit - I think I'm going to have to come up with a devious rig! I tried various angles of attack, various lengths of hook-link, different sizes of bait, but all to no avail. It is easy I suppose, and certainly comforting, to dismiss these bites as being from small fish. They probably were, but there is always this slightly disconcerting feeling that really big fish bite like that too…
So - nine roach and a skinny trout - not too bad. E had a lovely five-and-a-half pound chub, and a few roach, so he too was happy, though like me, he had missed plenty of bites on the quiver-tip.
Still with holiday to use up, I decided to go again the following week. The weather forecast looked dismal for Tuesday, varying from mild with rain to freezing cold winds with snow - depending on which web site you looked up! But as Tuesday was the only day I could go, I went. We decided to start on the Mill stretch and move to the motorway mid-afternoon - hah! The best laid plans… The weather wasn't actually too bad. It rained for a few hours, mostly in the morning, trapping us in our muddy swims for a while, but it was mild, and still, and with heavy cloud cover giving the low light levels which encourage the roach to feed with gay abandon. Does it? Not here it doesn't.
The first swim produced bites to the quiver-tip almost immediately. I carried on the trend by missing them all. Well not exactly true - the first strike resulted in me retrieving the end-tackle minus the hook and hook-link. I decided to go off wandering with my trusty float rod, but no sooner had I reached the intended swim than it started raining. I had to walk back to where I'd left my gear and erect the brolly over the top of it to keep everything dry. I don't usually spend long float fishing a swim if I don't get a few bites early on. I may be wrong in doing that, but it's just how I fish. This is a classic "far bank" stretch, and some of the swims are really quite difficult to trot effectively if the wind is unfavourable - which it was. I managed to get the float to run through exactly where I wanted it about one cast in three. Bites weren't immediate, not good bites anyway, but some suspicious little taps on the float kept me in the swim for longer than I would normally have stayed. In the end I was proven right about the float movement when I caught a fat half-pound roach. Then the rain got heavier so I ran for the brolly. And there I was trapped for maybe a couple of hours. During this time I missed a few more bites, and E. fishing just above me had a three-quarter pounder, all this activity being on quiver-tip.
During one of the brief pauses in the rainfall I was amused to see E pottering about around his brolly with a pair of gloves hanging from the back of his trousers. I called to him, telling him he had two gloves stuck to his backside. Apparently he had been wondering where they had gone. They have Velcro attachments (which surprises me as E detests Velcro with a vengeance), he had sat on them and they had stuck to him!
As soon as the rain allowed I was off with my float rod again, and fishing several swims I picked up eight roach to just over a pound on trotted flake. I called to E to come down and fish one of the swims I had been fishing. He settled in with a quiver-tip and like me, began missing bites, though he did eventually connect, first with a roach of about 12 ozs, then with a small pike that bit through his line. Contrary to popular rumour though, this pike definitely had a head. I guess the headless ones are further downstream. And no doubt they fight like chub!
I tried quiver-tipping just below E, and had 2 really good bites, neither of which I was ready for, and both of which I missed. It was now decision time - should we drag all our muddy tackle back to the cars, get all our gear off and drive to the other part of the river. It was 50-50 for a while but E didn't seem keen. I suppose I was influenced by the fact that I knew the water wasn't that coloured there, and in those conditions we would be unlikely to catch big roach. So, slowly the clock went past the point of no return, and we stayed where we were. Just before dark I moved back to the swim where I had started, and had just one bite, again on quiver-tipped flake. This one I didn't miss, and landed a lovely roach, the best of the day at one-and-a-half pounds.
Now how come I hooked that one??