No sooner did the rivers begin to settle than we got even more rain, and in my area the levels of the Thames held up very high even after seven dry(ish) days. The river was extremely coloured too. Whether this was caused by the Thames barrier being closed to prevent the high tides accompanying the full moon sweeping up river I don't know. But the river certainly stayed extremely high for a long period.
The first fishing trip was to the Hampshire Avon. On the last trip the river had been probably 4 or 5 inches higher than I would have liked. The banks were like a quagmire. A great pity that, as there are areas of this river that are supposed to fish well in high water. Unfortunately the mud was so deep you couldn't get to them. Still, after a relatively dry week I expected the river to be a little lower than on the previous trip. No chance - it was in fact a couple of inches higher. We had been pointed to a far bank swim by the bailiff, but using my long quiver-tip rods (the converted float rods which I find excellent on the Oxford river) is not too practical on the Avon when fishing across the stream. They just bend double. And you can't fish this swim from the other side (what is it about far bank swims??) So I chose the near bank swim where I had managed to miss three bites (well, actually missed two & lost the hook on the third) on the last trip, while my friend Bill moved into the other area, casting across to some slacker water. I obviously picked the wrong swim.
I fished it for an hour without a single bite, while Bill had a roach of 1.8 on the first cast, before even the feeder had emptied. It was a new personal best so I went down to photograph it, and Bill was just about to slip it back when I told him to keep it in the net for a while. With such immediate action I strongly suspected he would get another fish, and probably a bigger one. I returned to my swim and had barely sat down before I noticed Bill's rod bent around. Another good roach, 1.15 (d'oh!), and another best.
After taking more photographs of the roach brace I went off wandering with my trotting rod, the trusty 15-foot jack-of-nearly-all trades Harrison Match. I walked upstream and found a quieter area, trotting it down several times. I caught a few roach too, four in fact, but all very small, weighing between 2 and 10 ozs. Still, it's good to see young fish in the river. I hope the cormorants don't get them. In between catching these roach I also landed a trout (bah!) and lost what felt like a big roach, which I hooked about 30 yards downstream. It felt big, jagged a bit like a roach, then the hook fell out. The only other fish was a moderate chub. I tried various parts of the river, on both float and quiver-tip, but had nothing else. Once again all my fish came on the float. This is getting to be something of a habit! Billy missed a few tentative bites, and I've completely forgotten what Edward caught, though I think it was a couple of chub, one of which might have weighed 4lbs 8ozs.
I couldn't wait to get back, especially as during the following week I had acquired a new pair of quiver-tip rods that seem ideal for the Avon. These are the Drennan DRX 12ft 10inch quiver-tips. Tests dragging weights around the front room with them using light line produced a nice curve, and enough give to cushion the plunges of a big roach. I'll let you know how they perform if I get a good fish on them. I had to wait a bit longer than expected to try them though, as I was unable to go on the following Saturday due to family commitments.
Missing a day seems so much worse at this end of the season doesn't it, particularly when you are trying to make up for lost time after fishing most of the winter in dire conditions. For a while it had looked like I might be able to go, but I hadn't prepared the new rods yet. The quiver-tips (4 with each rod) supplied with them come in black, with just a few inches of fluorescent paint at the tips.
Good as these rods may be, I still think that the colour for a quiver-tip is white, and I'm at a loss as to why so many are produced in black. I always paint mine, usually giving them a quick spray with an aerosol can of white paint which has been in my garage for years. But as I hurriedly tried to spray the new tips, and remember there were 8 of them, the paint began to run low, coming out in fits, starts and splutters, and drying all lumpy. I was in so much of a hurry that I also managed to spray half a one-piece suit, a rod holdall and various landing net poles, having been too lazy to cover them up.
The tips range from .75 oz to 2ozs. When I examined them I realised that in my haste I had sprayed over the lettering telling me which was which. I gave up. By that time I knew I wouldn't be fishing that weekend anyway. I finished the job more leisurely the following week, managing to scrape enough paint off to read the lettering beneath, and having bought a fresh tin of paint.
By the following weekend I was raring to go, and intended fishing the far bank swim Bill had been in. That's not a problem as the swim can be shared, there seems to be a long patrol area on the far side. I arrived to find the river even higher than 2 weeks previously. That wouldn't help.
I set up in the swim and clipped extra leads on the small feeders to help hold bottom. I really prefer to use the smallest feeder I can get away with. I'm not sure whether big roach will stand for the regular crashing of a big feeder over their heads for too long, especially in relatively shallow water. I was fishing an open-ended feeder with liquidised bread on one rod, and a small block end with maggots on the other. Both were cast within a couple of yards of each other.
If you have been a regular reader of these diaries you know that I have had a hook crisis since I found I was no longer able to get the superb Gamakatsu 6318 eyed hooks. I even tried to source them in Japan, but with no success. It seems there are none left in the whole wide world. If anyone finds any in sizes 8,10 or 12 please buy them all for me. I mean it! So, I have recently converted to spade ends, tied on with the aid of a hook-tier. It's not that I can't tie them on, just that my nails are long on my right hand (in which I hold the hook - I play guitar you see) and they get in the way when tying a spade end knot on a small hook.
I have always had reservations about the sharp edges of a small spade cutting the line when playing a strong fish, and had lost a hook on the strike a few weeks ago. I'm not saying that the line did cut on the spade, but in the next hour or so I had 3 good bites, and lost 2 hooks, missing the third completely. This is a good roach swim, a big roach swim, and I hate to think of the potential of those missed chances. I will just have to search again for an eyed hook that I like.
Those bites had all come to bread flake. In the end I landed just two fish from the swim, both on maggot, a chub of about 3lbs 4oz and a bloody trout. Billy had also hooked a trout, which came off at the net. It was probably the same one. Edward had gone off chub fishing and fared somewhat better with a 4lb 8oz chub, plus a smaller one. Joining us at dusk he speculatively cast upstream. Within a few minutes his tip dropped back and he struck. After a short time a good roach rolled on the surface struggling at the end of Edward's line. Billy immediately put it at 2lbs 8oz, while myself, being a little more conservative and knowing full well just how big a 2lb roach is went for 2lbs 4oz. We were both wrong - it weighed 2lbs 1oz, a superb conditioned roach which absolutely sparkled in the light of my new LED head torch. A new personal best for Edward too which he celebrated by buying us dinner in the pub on the way home. Can't argue with that!
Only one more day to report this month, fishing being curtailed prematurely by a weeklong skiing trip to Scotland with my 2 sons. And it wasn't a roach day either. It was my annual grayling day, when a group of us get together and fish for these lovely fish, raising money for charity in the process. They are fun days as, given the right conditions, and a good number of fish, which there are, the grayling are not really difficult to catch. The appeal for me is to have a day's trotting where I get lots of bites. Last year I had over 40 grayling to 2lb 1oz. But as soon as I saw the river this year I knew things would be more difficult. It was so high that you needed waders to walk in some places where we had driven the cars last year.
Seven of us turned out, including my two sons. Trotting maggot, with an occasional change to sweetcorn I picked up a grayling or two in most swims, but the shoals, if present didn't seem to be feeding. My eldest son had one of about 1lb 8ozs on his first cast. It took the younger son a bit longer. He hasn't really got the hang of trotting. He can run the float down OK but hasn't quite got the knack of striking & playing fish. When he gets a bite he clamps his hand over the face of the reel ( a fixed spool, haven't got him onto centrepins yet - I have to sort out enough tangles for the pair of them during the day without that!) then strikes. So far so good. But then in order to close the bale arm he lowers the rod, letting the line go slack before re-establishing contact with the fish. When contact is once again made, he has a good fish thumping away in a current, on fine line and with the rod pointing straight at it. He then tries to reel in! Gives you a heart attack it does. When the fish does get in range, he will then try to reel it through the tip ring. Not easy with a one-and-a-half pound grayling! He'll learn though, eventually!
I was hoping for another 2 pounder, possibly an improvement on last year's. But apart from one fish, the really big grayling evaded me completely. I landed 16, which was as many as anyone, the biggest weighing 1lb 14ozs. I also had a chub of around 3lbs 4oz which gave me a few knee-wobbles until I realised what it was, and the inevitable trout. But I did lose a very good fish, hooked about 25 yards downstream from where I was standing. Immediately I hooked it I could tell it was a big one, and as I held it in the current contemplating whether to walk downstream to land it, it came to the surface, rolled, then the hook fell out. It was clearly a big fish, looking big even from 25 yards. Certainly the biggest I've hooked. I'll get him next year.
Others fared better with the big fish, Neil landing no fewer than seven 2-pounders to a staggering 2lbs 10 oz, all from the same short stretch of river, and out of a total of 10 or 11 grayling. He also had a big chub. I forget the exact weight but it was close to 5lbs. Edward managed three 2 pounders to 2lbs 6oz, three new personal bests. He is having a good month. Even my (elder) son had a couple of big ones, at 2lbs 1oz and 2lbs 2oz.
As I write we are approaching, certainly as far as roach are concerned, and particularly with regard to the awful conditions endured through most of the winter, the best time of all for the big roach. A period many roach anglers will have been looking forward to, though with mixed emotions as it also heralds the end of the season. But this year, as you can't help but know, a huge shadow has been cast over the countryside in the form of a very serious outbreak of foot and mouth disease. People are being asked to stay out of the countryside. Certainly if your fishing takes you anywhere near to farms with livestock, then keeping away is a sound precaution. Doesn't make it any less a pity though, not being able to go fishing and with all those big roach about to start feeding their heads off. My friend Matthew likened it to angling's version of coitus interruptus - a brilliant analogy I thought…
I don't yet know for sure how this will effect my "grand finale". Certainly there is no livestock, not of the cloven hoofed variety, within many miles of some of the places I fish. Perhaps I shouldn't go. I could then say with some conviction that if I had been able to get out, I would certainly have caught a 3 pounder! I'll let you know what happens next month. If I don't go fishing maybe I'll make something up!