If I were to talk of a water holding 3lb grayling and 2lb roach, where do you suppose I'd be referring to? Some expensive beat on the Test, Itchen or Dorset Frome maybe? Or perhaps further afield of my southern stomping grounds to somewhere like the River Teviot? Well none of these and if the rumours were to be believed, such a water is to be found right under my very nose - walking distance from the town centre and FREE to boot. It's discovery, if you can call it that, I made as a direct result of the current foot and mouth outbreak.
I had hoped to be reporting this month on a number of trips that I'd planned to squeeze into the last fortnight of the season. Time was booked off from work and itineraries worked out for 3 venues on the Kennet. All were closed when the disease started to ravage the country- side so I was left casting around for alternative venues. I rang every tackle shop I knew for information. Many still waters remained open. One was recommended to me on the basis that one angler had caught 164lb of ghost carp using chopped worm the previous weekend - I hung up!! A commercial carp puddle behind the filling station would be a venue of last resort and I wasn't that desperate - yet!
To make up for my disappointment of the cancelled Kennet trips, I wanted to fish flowing water. I wracked my brains and thought of the stretches in the town centres and then remembered that water behind the social club. This flows through a council park and children's play area and has a footpath which accords a shortcut to the town centre. It is bounded by housing estates and is a busy thoroughfare. Was it worth fishing? Was it still free? I was on the blower to the tackle shops again and had an affirmative answers to both questions. What's more the dealer elaborated that in his view the stretch was highly under-
rated, largely ignored, except by youngsters in the summer and definitely worth a shot (or maybe he was just hoping to shift a few pints of maggots in my direction).
I relayed to Paul that I'd found a possible venue for our last day trip. Paul checked it out for himself and rang a different tackle shop who mentioned the 2 specimen weights with which I started this piece. I was incredulous. (In fact I still am!) Paul and I are planning a trip to the Scottish Borders to fish the River Teviot next winter. Three pound grayling are not uncommon there, yet here was someone talking of similarly proportioned specimens from a spot that I'd dismissed over 2 decades ago, and which I'd never even seen despite living within a couple of miles of it for 15 years. My Mum even used to be a regular at the social club! Now we just had to give it a go.
So the anticipation for the end of the season was stoked up again after the disappointment of all the water closures. First a reconnaissance. The Saturday before I had a short trip to a nearby still water. Not a carp puddle this, but a lake behind a nightclub that I intend to give some serious attention to this summer on the tench front. No tench showed up this time but it was reassuring to see a float disappearing occasionally and I amused myself catching small roach, rudd and perch. I was also able to glean some useful information about the lake's potential from a couple of anglers sussing out the water for a match the following day.
My choice of this lake was deliberate as it was a short drive from the free stretch, so within 10 minutes of vacating my lake swim I was walking along the tarmac path which bordered the river. I was pleasantly surprised! It was wider than I'd imagined and deeper with a strong flow. There was over 600m of water, from top to lower limits with enough features to whet the appetite including a small weir pool, couple of fallen trees and a number of discarded shopping trolleys! I reported back to Paul that we'd definitely found a water worth visiting but we'd have to wait 4 days to find out if it held any fish.
So 6.30am on the 14th March saw the pair of us tackling up our trotting rods by the tennis courts. It was a bright morning and early risers were already walking their dogs in the park. Within 10 minutes we were fishing and as with any new water it took us a bit of time to find the hot-spots. After a couple of hours we were both thankful for our blank saving trout that we'd each caught with our first few casts, as they hadn't been added to. Then, almost simultaneously we both found swims which started to produce. Mine turned up more trout at first, then a small roach and by moving 10m downstream produced 4 grayling in 4 casts, including a brace of pound fish.
Paul also found grayling in his peg and matched my initial catch with fish of similar size. Both our swims then soon went quiet - setting the pattern for the day of 'catch a couple and move on'. Trout seemed to predominate, all brownies and usually quite small, but every once in a while you'd connect with a grayling, solid, tenacious battlers, hugging the current with their large dorsal fins. It was usually easier to hold them in the flow and walk downstream to land them. I had a particular purple patch straight after our lunch break when I had 3, lb fish from three consecutive swims. The last of these was the most pleasing. A toddler of about 4 had broken off from playing on the swings to watch me. He sat cross legged on the grass for nearly quarter of an hour mesmerised as my float continually drifted past him (Why don't my two ever sit as still?)
I was desperate to get one for him and just as his mum was calling for him to go the float buried right in front of where he sat. I had one and not a trout by the feel of it. I held the fish where it was in the current and walked down the bank to a now seriously excited young boy. The fish felt a 'good-un' and stubbornly refused to come to the surface. Eventually a grayling showed, a cock fish, flashing purple from his enormous sail-like dorsal fin. I was soon guiding him to the net. Even by grayling standards this was a handsome fish. It's dorsal fin was simply huge, easily dwarfing the depth of its body and coloured a shocking deep lilac with a crimson fringe; the rest of its silver body peppered with an unusually generous helping of black flecks - a feature I'd noticed from the other fish on this stretch. My new found companion looked on, now dumbstruck, as I quickly removed the hook. I briefly held up the specimen to give him a good look before slipping it back. He suddenly found his tongue again, and pausing only to ask if it was a shark(!) ran back, gabbling, to his mum.
At just over a pound and a quarter, not a particularly huge grayling but one which I'm sure will linger in a couple of memories for quite a while. That was my last significant fish of the session. The next couple of hours became a bit of a struggle for bites as it became apparent to Paul and I that we'd fished out all the 'hot-spots'. By 4.00 o'clock we were making our way home - avoiding the worst of the rush hour.
Despite the incongruous surroundings it had been a highly enjoyable day. I'd exceeded my expectations, having finished with 15 grayling. Given the circumstances we counted ourselves lucky to have even found somewhere to fish. As for 3lb grayling and 2lb roach?? Well, I'm far from convinced the water holds them and suspect, as the venue is frequented by youngsters, some exaggerated myths have built up over the years. Still, the water is worth another visit. I'll definitely be back next winter and if I ever do get a really large specimen then there'll be at least one person in this country with something to thank for the foot and mouth outbreak.
So that brings the curtain down on another season. I hope you've enjoyed reading about it as much as I've enjoyed writing about it. I've been blessed with some good fortune and some great fishing and I now have the close season to look forward to. Yes, you did read that correctly. It's not just the rivers that benefit from a break. 3 months of abstinence adds to my enjoyment as illustrated in this quote from that truly excellent angling novel 'The River Why' by David James Duncan.
"The once-monthly fisherman adores his day on the river, imagining that 10 times the trips would yield 10 times the pleasure. But I have lived the gallant fishers life and have learnt that NOT fishing is crucial to the enjoyment of fishing: fishing is a good thing but too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I don't know why the chronic candy lover so quickly becomes the toothless hypoglycemic, the athletic champ the has-been chump, the dashing Don Juan the diseased lecher, but I know they do. And so does the constant angler become a water-brained, gibbering jerk-worshipper."
See you next season