A Good Start on the Wye

With a little extra water in the river and the first month of the river season generally seeing cloudy, blustery days – it’s been a great start on the Wye.

I’m really lucky to be able to head over to the river for a few hours after work as and when conditions dictate. I’ve made a couple of short and sweet trips to the river fishing for three or so hours each time, travelling light with the aim of tempting the odd chub or barbel.

I’ve no real desire to haul in barbel by the dozen, but it’s always nice to get a few fish in the quiet and beautiful surroundings of the Wye valley.

Interestingly, over the two trips I’ve had plenty of shoal size barbel fishing feeder and pellets into the fast water, but a trio of much better barbel and some stonking chub have come to big chunks of meat freelined into a deep slack, right under my feet.

With hot weather on the way and the holiday season about to start, it’ll soon be a lot busier on the river and I’ll probably leave it alone until the autumn. But there are lots of other angling adventures to be had…

The Wye web

Barbel fight web

Wye gold web

Wye chub web

9lbs barbel 2 web

net web

Advertisements

Perch Fishing – Impatience is a Virtue

I’m in a busy London Wetherspoons, having decided on a quick pint before heading home.

There’s an old guy in front of me, clearly struggling with the concept of a drink coming ‘free’ with his meal, let alone the table numbers and cold Guinness. I help him out and he’s soon enjoying his pre-meal pint of almost-room-temperature beer. He thanks me and says: “You’re patient – I wouldn’t have been that patient when I was your age. I would’ve been mouthing off after a minute.” I tell him I’m a fisherman. “Well that explains it son, you’re a bloody garden gnome!” He shuffles off, laughing quietly to himself.

The funny thing is that I’m not really a patient fisherman at all. I rarely fish for more than a few hours at a time and I tend to move around looking for chances rather than sitting and waiting for them to come to me. I really can’t sit still for too long. I’m not saying this is necessarily a good thing, though. There are plenty of times when I think chopping, changing and moving have cost me. But on balance, I think fishing in this way does result in the odd extra fish.

At the beginning of February I had to go and collect an Ebay purchase (a TV cabinet, in case you’re wondering). Fortunately the pick-up location was right by a productive stretch of the Wye, giving me enough time for three or so hours by the river. It was cold and the river was low and clear, but it was nice and overcast after a few days of bright sunshine.

By the time I’d settled into a great looking spot – a nice, deep slack with a big, perchy snag to my left – there were only a couple of hours of daylight left. I started flicking a few maggots upstream of the snag and had a cup of coffee. I positioned a nice, big lobworm close-in. I sat and thought about what fish may be lurking in the area – perch were my target, but it looked to be great chub territory too and an ideal spot for a giant pike to lurk. Then my thoughts turned to the football games that had just kicked off and Ipswich’s slump since a glorious December. Then, all of 30 minutes since I’d started fishing, I decided to move. I was feeling restless.

I tried a second spot. I drank another cup of coffee. I recast. I felt impatient.

I can’t deny by that point I was already thinking about maybe grabbing a bite to eat somewhere warm before collecting my cabinet. There were no other anglers around. Why not? Did they know something I didn’t? It was cold. It was February. “What are you doing out in this, Hennessy?” I thought to myself.

I moved down again and peered into the cold, green and gloomy depths. I settled into a less obvious looking spot, but one with a lovely depth of water right under the rod tip.

Out went a pouchful of maggots, followed by a fresh worm. 3.20pm. 3.22pm – the tip goes round steadily, I hit it, fish-on! The big, strong head shakes gave away the fishes identity, but it was the first glimpse of those black stripes, deep down in the bottle green water that made my legs start going a bit wobbly.

A good tussle ensued, but I soon had the big perch in the net – what a fish. I knew it was a personal best and the scales revealed it to be just that! A long fish of 2lbs 12ozs and a truly stunning example of river perch.

A 2lbs 12oz river perch.
A 2lbs 12oz river perch.

I took some photos and had one last admiring look at the prehistoric beast, before releasing it back into the river.

Astonishingly, the very next cast saw the same thing happen again – and another super perch was hooked and landed. An equal of my old personal best of 2lbs 8ozs this time. Amazing!

I cast out another worm. A bit of a wait this time, but soon enough another bite and another good perch thumping away in the depths of the swim. And it was another cracker at 2lbs 6ozs this time – what a session this was turning out to be.

Another big Wye perch.
Another big Wye perch.

After releasing my third two pounder, I realised I had no more than ten or fifteen minutes of daylight left. Another worm was placed in the hotspot. A short while later and again another perch was hooked – but a much smaller fish this time of around a pound. I cast again, impatiently, hurridly, the excitement getting to me and the rig went just a few inches too far and into a small overhanging branch.

I had to pull for a break, but I didn’t mind. I tackled down there and then, content with a mad 45 minutes of the best perch fishing I’d ever experienced. But then I decided to be impatient. Maybe, just maybe there were still perch down there and perhaps one of them may be my target, my long-term aim – a three pounder. I set up again and carefully positioned the biggest worm I could find back in the zone.

And I waited. I didn’t feel impatient now, I felt focused. And when the bite came I was ready. Upon hooking the fish, it pulled back just a bit more fiercely and a bit more aggressively than the others. In the gloom I could see it was another big perch. But it wasn’t until I lifted her clear of the water, making my old net handle creak that I could see it was a big perch. 3lbs 1oz. Perhaps impatience really is a virtue.

The perch I've been waiting for - a 3lbs 1oz river beauty. What a fish!
The perch I’ve been waiting for – a 3lbs 1oz river beauty. What a fish!

A perfect start

While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to grips with my new tench water over the spring, I knew that once the 16th arrived the pull of the river would be hard to resist.

And so earlier this week I made my way down to the Wye for a few hours by the river. Grey clouds had enveloped the valley and after days of clear blue skies and hot weather it felt like a change in the weather was on the way.

I’d simply grabbed a rod, reel and a few bits as well as a few half used bags of pellets and groundbait left over from my spring tench fishing. A quick detour via Tesco ensured I was armed with my favourite river bait – a tin of good old Spam.

After a short drive I arrived at the river. And, as ever, it was a sight for sore eyes. The river’s transformation from its sparse and skeletal late-winter condition to its buoyant, vibrant summer state was striking.

I made my way downstream and settled into a nice looking swim. I’d brought my old beach water shoes so I could wade out into the shallow margins – partly to reduce the distance between me and the run I wanted to target but also because I simply wanted to get into the river and enjoy the cool, clear fast flowing water around my ankles.

Wading into the Wye
Wading into the Wye

I started rolling chunks of Spam around the swim and, to be honest, I thought I’d pick up a few chub quickly. An hour or so later and I’d not had a touch.

So I got the ground bait out, mixed up a quick batch and deposited a few feeder full’s at the top of the run.

I’d soon set up a feeder rig, finished with a couple of halibut pellets at the end of a long hook length.

The taps and pulls from small chub dace started immediately. And it didn’t take long for a more substantial pull to develop – a firm strike a fish was hooked and soon in the net. A lovely chub of around two-and-a-half pounds.

The first fish of the new season is always a special one
The first fish of the new season is always a special one

Another chub soon arrived, only a small fish of less than a pound followed soon after by a lovely, golden barbel of perhaps four or five pounds.

A longer wait began before another chub of around two pounds turned up. Then it did really did quieten down, though I was more than content to simply watch the tip of the rod moving backwards and forwards in the flow and stand in the cool river as it pushed the constant flow of water downstream. It was so peaceful.

Soon the sun had disappeared behind the trees and I guess it was well past 8.30pm when the rod suddenly buckled over dramatically. I lifted into the fish and immediately felt an incredible, purposeful resistance. At first I couldn’t do anything except hold on as the fish took line against a tightly set clutch. Then it began driving in a straight line, directly upstream, with me unable to alter its course let alone move it from the bottom of the river.

And then the fish turned and surged across the river at pace, heading for a sunken tree that, if it reached, would surely result in me being smashed up.

I reversed the angle and applied as much pressure as I dare – and after a few seconds of stalemate the fish turned and headed back downstream to the calmer water on the inside of the run. It was at that point I knew the worst of it was over, as long as the strong but small size 14 hook held!

And it did. And when I netted the fish I knew I’d finally done it – my first ever double figure barbel.

I let her rest in the net in the margins while I grabbed my scales and camera. A couple of snaps and a quick weigh revealed a new personal best barbel of 10lbs 12ozs – I was ecstatic. I’ve fished for barbel for over 20 years and despite many fish of 8lbs and upwards I’d never managed a double. My previous best was a 9lbs 8oz Lea fish I caught on Halloween night a few years ago.

A new personal best barbel - 10lbs 12ozs
A new personal best barbel – 10lbs 12ozs

I took a last, admiring look at her before wading back out to let her get her strength back in the flow. She was soon ready and gave a flick of her tail as she swam back into the river.

I did consider packing up there and then, but I thought I’d give it another half hour or so. A couple more chub put in an appearance, both sparkling, chunky fish that made me smile, but it was of course that big old barbel that had made my day.

The Dog Days are over

Firstly, apologies to anyone that clicked through to my blog yesterday only to be presented with an article about choosing the perfect conference venue! Gremlins in the system or something like that…

***

I’m fairly sure I went fishing on what was the last real day of summer last week. When I made my first cast mid afternoon from a set of large, jagged rocks jutting out of the river Wye, the genuinely hot weather was slowly being replaced by overcast conditions coupled with a cooling breeze that saw the temperature really drop. And it’s stayed that way since – there’s no doubting autumn is here.

The Wye was looking stunning as I arrived. Though the river was low and clear, it was looking fresh and healthy in the sunlight. Clambering out onto the rocks with a minimum of gear was real Boy’s Own stuff – precarious and fun.

I started off having a good look into the clear water, using the Polaroid’s to look for where to fish in the short, feature-rich stretch of water.

A deep pool at the top end of the rocks shallowed off into a streamer weed filled run that then gave way to a rocky, boulder strewn pool that looked like it’d be good for a barbel.

I made up some groundbait, pre-baited the lower pool and left it to settle. In the meantime I set up my old Avon rod, attached a reel loaded with 8lbs line and finished with a size 8 super specialist hook. A couple of AA shot were pinched a few inches from the hook and I was ready to roll!

Fishing from the rocks
Fishing from the rocks

I used to struggle with rolling meat. I think the key is really not to think of it as an exact science. It should be a fairly loose method and letting the bait settle and then bounce slowly along the river is what makes it work. I like to flick a good sized bait with the hook buried in the meat well upstream and, keeping the rod high, almost ‘walk’ it downstream with a slight bow in the line. Bites are usually fairly obvious.

It was the chub that I was hoping would respond, and respond they did. An early, sparkling fish of 4lbs 5ozs hit the bait hard and gave a great tussle in the flow, charging in and out of the streamer weed.

A perfect Wye chub of 4lbs 5ozs
A perfect Wye chub of 4lbs 5ozs

Soon after a second chub of two pounds or so intercepted the bait, before the shoal spooked.

Just as I was about to move down and try my barbel swim, a final cast into the more oxygenated water mid-river resulted in another splashy two pounder.

I moved downstream to the lower pool and topped up the swim with another few balls of groundbait and set up my barbel rod.

I opted to start with a small chunks of Spam on a hair rig with a strong size 14 hook, 10lbs mainline and a long mono hooklink made up of the same mainline material. A good sized groundbait feeder completed the rig.

It wasn’t long before the taps started and I was expecting a bite. But it wasn’t until the third cast that the tip finally whacked round and an arm aching, exhilarating tussle with a stunning, golden brown barbel ensued.

A stunning Wye barbel of 7lbs 12ozs
A stunning Wye barbel of 7lbs 12ozs

After a quick photo and a good rest in the net, the barbel swam off strongly. I rested the swim and introduced a bit more bait. Another wait began and after half an hour or so of inactivity, I decided to try a pellet hookbait.

Soon enough, the second barbel of the day was hooked. And again the raw power of the fish was breathtaking. I love barbel fishing and that slow build up of anticipation of that dramatic, raw moment when a fish is hooked – exhilarating stuff.

Only this time, mid way through the scrap, the hook pulled. On checking the hook point it was completely blunt! Serves me right for A: not checking the point and B: using hooks without a beaked point on a rocky river such as the Wye.

By then the weather had changed and I only had an hour or so left of daylight.

I introduced some more bait and left the barbel swim. Moving back to the upper pool, I reached for the Avon rod and spam once again. Almost straight away another good chub hit the bait. 4lbs 4ozs this time – brilliant. Last season, on the Wye, I landed a chub that was almost certainly five pounds but it slipped back into the river before I could give it a number after I foolishly left it on the mat while I reached for my scales. Since then I’ve only managed the odd three pounder, so it was nice to finally get a couple of better chub.

A few more runs through yielded no more chub, until I cast much further, into the middle of the river and let the bait bounce back towards me. A sharp pull on the line was met with a firm strike and another good chub was on.

This one was really pulling back, surging out into the flow and it was a relief when a long, brassy chub went into the net on the second attempt.

This one went 4lbs 13ozs and it was a lovely, powerful fish. I tried a few more casts but by then the chub had again dispersed and I went back to my barbel swim to fish for another hour, without any sign of a another fish.

Another lovely Wye chub that fell to rolled meat at the end of the day
Another lovely Wye chub that fell to rolled meat at the end of the day

Keeping it local – Highway to Hemel

My mate Rob relocated to the ‘new’ town of Hemel Hempstead a little while ago. After he travelled over to stay with me last year, spending an action packed couple of days on the Wye, this time I headed over to Hemel to sample some of the good variety of local fishing he now has on his doorstep.

I really enjoy our fishing trips together as the emphasis is on enjoying a bit of a social, exploring new venues and trying a few different methods in search of whatever comes along . Pure pleasure fishing.

We started on a stretch of the Grand Union canal close to Rob’s home. He’s found a few nomadic carp that he’s been targeting – without success thus far – and as we arrived in the hot afternoon sun, they were moving around enjoying the warm weather, but they were wary too and clearly used to being fished for.

A pair of canal carp - the one on the right was a big fish!
A pair of canal carp – the one on the right was a big fish!

I’m a complete canal fishing novice. The last time I fished a proper canal was the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation sometime in the mid 90’s – time spent basically trying to stay alive on a freezing December day that produced a total of two micro roach.

The Grand Union felt a lot different. The surroundings were pleasant and the weather warm. And there were clearly a few fish around.

I began feeding a few pellets by an overhanging tree and delayed setting up in an effort to encourage carp into the swim and feed. Rob went off to see if he could persuade one to take a floating crust.

It was a hot day, but the wind was swirling and it felt like change was in the air. The carp were certainly responding to the weather, charging around and generally making a show of themselves. I was confident they’d get their heads down. Indeed, it wasn’t long until clouds of silt were wafting up intermittently from my pre baited swim and I couldn’t resist getting a bait out. I started with a small chunk of spam, freelined, with just a couple of large shot a few feet up the line to keep it pinned down.

My classic canal swim
My classic, suburban canal swim

Rob, meanwhile, had found a trio of nice carp a little down from where I was. It just felt like something was going to happen…

And it soon did. Rob called to say he’d got one! A lovely, lean golden common carp of 10lbs. It was a smashing fish and I was chuffed he’d achieved his target and was there to share it with him.

Rob's canal common carp
Rob’s canal common carp

It was also the point when the carp simply vanished. We never saw a trace of those carp again for the rest of our time on the canal, it was amazing. They went from being quite visible, moving around in small groups to melting away completely.

I returned to my swim, which by now was really being stirred up. At the time I thought it was carp and upon flicking the bait out again I was expecting a savage bite any minute. But instead a series of finicky pulls and plucks suggested it wasn’t a group of carp in my swim.

I sat it out for a while and Rob went off stalking again, all to no avail. I decided to set up Rob’s new pole, feeding hemp and caster into the same swim I’d been carp fishing in. It was great fun and despite the fact I’d not used a proper pole in ages, I soon got into the swing of things. We ended up taking it in turns and soon put together a nice bag of mainly perch, the odd roach and one nice bream – great fun.

Rob 'shipping out'
Rob ‘shipping out’

Our plan was to head over to a stretch of the upper Lea in the evening and after a fish and chip supper, we headed over to the river.

The river was very low and clear and I thought things may be tricky. But fishing the last couple of hours of the day into darkness is usually productive on the Lea, and I fancied one of us would get a chance of a chub or barbel.

But we didn’t. In hindsight I think a roving approach would have been worth a try but instead a static bait and wait approach yielded only the dreaded crays for both of us.

The Lea was looking the part, if a little low and clear, but nothing turned up
The Lea was looking the part, if a little low and clear, but nothing turned up

****

Our plan for the second day was to head over to a quiet, mature gravel pit that Rob had discovered held a great head of roach, good tench and a few nice carp.

As we stumbled out of the door at dawn, the nip in the air and the fine rain indicated clearly that the weather had taken a definite turn. Heavy and grey clouds, now visible in the half-light, filled the sky as we pulled into what was clearly an attractive, tree lined still water with plenty of good features to fish too.

We were immediately greeted with patches of bubbles emanating from various areas across the lake –more than enough encouragement to make us get set up as quickly as possible.

We both opted for light waggler tactics and while Rob’s baiting strategy focused on loose feeding hemp and caster, I opted to introduce some groundbait laced with hemp, caster and pellet. We both opted for maggot hookbaits initially.

We were soon into roach – not big – but plentiful. Rob then tried a small cube of spam and immediately had a much better fish of 12ozs or so. Next cast, the same result and it didn’t take much persuasion on Rob’s behalf for me to ditch the size 18, tie on a size 14 and try meat. The response wasn’t quite as dramatic as Rob’s change, but soon I was netting a solid 12oz roach myself. It was a switch to corn though that really got through to the better roach for me. Throughout the day we had absolutely loads of them. All immaculate, solid fish between 6ozs up to one Rob had at 1lbs 5ozs. I managed a couple of a pound or so and the sheer number of fish we had around the 12ozs mark was amazing. Spectacular roach fishing.

Another cracking gravel pit roach
Another cracking gravel pit roach

We chatted to the friendly bailiff who informed us the lake offers good perch fishing, and some really big rudd, though sadly we never made contact with the latter or the big tench that inhabit the water.

I did go for a wander mid afternoon with a rod, net and bag of bits and bait and tempted a lovely, plump perch of 1lbs 14ozs from a classic snaggy, perchy looking area.

A super summer perch
A super summer perch

All too soon the prospect of the M4 began to creep into my thoughts and it was time to round up what had been another great couple of days with Rob, exploring the fishing opportunities on his local patch.

London river adventures

I had a few spare hours after working in central London towards the end of last week, so naturally I decided to go fishing.

I’d travelled in with my trusty travel rod and a little bag with the bare essentials. I was accompanied by a friend to the wonderful little urban river we’d elected to try. Our plan was to try trotting in search of silver fish and then to perhaps try fishing a bigger bait at dusk in search of a barbel or chub.

The weather was overcast and very mild, but occasionally a cooling breeze provided welcome relief from the humid conditions. After working in a hot office all day escaping to the river for my first session of the new season was just what the doctor ordered.

It was also my first trip to this fascinating waterway – a venue that’s had its fair share of issues with pollution over the years. Yet it seems to have bounced back again and offers some interesting and varied fishing for local anglers.

Urban river
Urban river

I must admit I was simply enjoying walking along the course of the river using my polarising glasses to find likely looking spots and finding signs of aquatic life and it was well over an hour before we actually settled down to fish.

Feeding maggots into a lovely looking deeper run soon had little fish darting around in an effort to get to the grubs. It was magic watching them and soon my friend landed the first – a little chublet. He soon added a dace, a roach and some other chublets and I was itching to have a go. I did, and landed a chublet as well, a lovely little fish that darted around the river determinedly.

My first fish of the season, a little chub
My first fish of the season, a little chub

It was already becoming gloomier when I decided to go for a wander with my rod, net and a bag of bits and bait.

Despite trying some really nice looking areas, nothing took a fancy to my link ledgered spam. I almost walked straight past a swim that looked a little too shallow at first, but with some cover at the end of the run it looked like it was at least worth a cast into.

Despite giving it half an hour or so, nothing materialised. My friend had joined me by then and just as we were debating whether to make a move I noticed a long fish roll just off the faster water – barbel!

I repositioned the spam at the top of the run. It was probably five minutes before the rod top began to nod and a fairly gentle pull was met with a strike and – fish on! It was a classic, feisty battle and the barbel gave a good account in the flow. I was able to play the fish quite hard though and we soon had it in the net.

The barbel was bang on 6lbs and in good shape after spawning. It took a while to nurse the fish in the water after an energy sapping scrap but its strength returned and it was soon powering off back into its urban home. It capped what had been a memorable first session of the season.

A lovely barbel of 6lbs that took a chunk of spam at dusk
A lovely barbel of 6lbs that took a chunk of spam at dusk

Fishing the Edgelands

I’m halfway through reading a wonderful book called Edgelands. It’s a charming read that explores the overlooked and undervalued spaces that exist between urban and rural areas – spaces authors’ Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts argue represent Britain’s true wilderness.

A lot of my favourite fishing places past and present are located on the Edgelands. I find it thrilling to find signs of life in these disparate and often neglected areas of the UK, and as Farley and Roberts note, many species of bird, fish and plant prosper in such places.

The majestic river Avon that flows around the edges of the Cathedral city of Salisbury is one of my favourite spots to fish and while the Avon’s lauded angling history mark it out as a more special place than the average suburban stream or pool, its location alongside busy roads and under graffitied bridges make it a venue on the Edgelands.

I travelled down to Salisbury to meet a friend, Mike, at the end of last week. At the beginning of the week the freezing weather had us in two minds whether to make the trip, but as the temperature slowly began to creep up and with the river at a good level, we opted to head down to the Avon.

The river was cold but things felt positive and after half an hour of priming my swim with maggots I trotted my float through a pool towards a narrower, reed-lined area that I’ve taken many good chub from in the past.

It took a while for the first bite to materialise, from a nice dace, then another and then a nice roach. My fourth fish was a special one – a dace of 12ozs and a new personal best.

Avon Edgelands
Avon Edgelands
A new personal best dace of 12ozs
A new personal best dace of 12ozs

Before long the swim really came to life, and for a while a big dace or chunky roach (and the odd missed bite) came on nearly every cast.

A big Avon roach, magic

I’d recently replaced the missing eyes and whipped on some new ones to my favourite Shimano Hyperloop match rod. It’s a smashing tool for trotting using light tackle and I’d soon got into that mesmerising routine of feeding, flicking out the float and then working it downstream and my DIY repairs were working well.

By the early afternoon things had slowed down. I had a cup of coffee and a cheese roll and rested the swim, keeping the bait going in.

Upon resuming, I took a lovely roach just over pound followed on the next run through by a wonderful grayling of a pound and a quarter, which twisted and turned in the water.

A nice grayling and roach taken on consecutive casts
A nice grayling and roach taken on consecutive casts

After that, things really slowed and while I continued to pick off the odd, nice roach, they’d dropped right back and were obviously a lot more cautious.

Holding the float back hard worked for a while and it felt like I was almost easing the bait into the fish’s mouths. A fat, bristling perch of a pound or so gave a good account in the flow and a couple of six inch salmon parr also put in an appearance.

A chunky Avon perch that put up quite a scrap
A chunky Avon perch that put up quite a scrap

But eventually the swim died completely and I really wanted to try and get a chub, having not had one since October. I decided to rove around for a couple of hours, but even the swims I’ve taken good chub from in the past were quiet and I didn’t manage to tempt one in the end.

It was a great session though, and putting together a really mixed bag of wild, river fish that are living and prospering on the Edgelands was immensely enjoyable.