It was a pleasant morning on Saturday with just a hint of spring in the air. After a slow, steady rise in temperature through the week and with the now noticeable extra daylight, I was sure the Wye perch shoals would be starting to spread out and get on the feed in preparation for their imminent spawning rituals.
We’d had a decent amount of rain earlier in the week and I was confident the river would be in good shape. I arrived shortly after lunchtime, just as the sun burnt away the last of the cloud cover and warmed the valley. The river was very low and very clear – not what I was hoping for!
I opted to try trotting a few swims with maggots in an effort to at least find a few fish, but it was desperate … I must have tried half a dozen before I managed a tentative bite from a micro grayling – my first from the Wye. I had a couple more, both small, but eventually they disappeared. On a previous trip a local angler explained grayling are the kiss of death on the Wye, as he felt coarse species would simply be elsewhere and never with the grayling. An interesting theory.
I persevered with the trotting for a while, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I set up a link ledger and moved upstream to my favorite perch spots with the idea of trying a few swims leading into dusk and settling into one once I’d located them…
After an hour or so I knew the perch simply weren’t in the area. Even in difficult conditions, they normally give themselves away once a lively lob worm is presented tight to their snaggy refuge.
I probably had three-quarters of an hour left, but instead of settling for a perch blank, I went for a walk.
And it was worth it. First cast into a new swim, well away from the usually productive areas, fishing tight to a smallish bush, I hooked into a good perch. And in the space of half an hour or so I had five, as well as losing a couple. All were lovely, fat fish with the best two weighing 2lbs 3ozs and 2lbs 4ozs. Magic.
Isn’t it nice to be back on the rivers? I tend to leave the Wye alone for the opening week or two, just to let things settle down a bit. My first session of the new season was spent on a stunning part of the river, fishing a short evening session for barbel and chub. It took a while for them to switch on, but on dusk they duly arrived. Great fun.
I went piking on the Wye at the weekend. Proper, old school winter pike fishing. Heavy gear, deadbaits, big floats. A flask, a scarf and a hat. Big river pike fishing.
The Wye doesn’t hold lots of pike – but those that eke out a living in those shallow, fast and unforgiving waters are fit, wild and potentially big. It’s survival of the fittest round these parts.
I started after the rain subsided, just after first light. The plan was to rove around with a single rod, fishing near bank features in an effort to locate a fish. By the time I’d settled into my first swim, the sun was beginning to show and it was lovely to be out.
By late morning I’d tried three or four swims without any luck. The next one I manoeuvred my way down to featured a large hunched grey tree to the right. Now stripped of leaves and colour its cold branches twisted their way awkwardly into the water, providing cover for both predator and prey.
I lobbed a sprat upstream, to just below the crease, where it sat nicely under the large cigar style float.
After half an hour or so and no bites, I thought about moving on again, but I thought I’d try a last cast with a roach deadbait. I picked out the biggest and positioned the float a little closer in.
And almost straight away the chance arrived. For me, without doubt, the most exciting moment in fishing is watching a pike float begin its jerky, twitchy dance that symbolises something deep below has found the bait.
The float trembled and then jabbed very slightly to the right. Then it stopped. Then it started again. I opened the bale arm and let some line out which was taken, but very slowly. I gave it a few seconds, tightened up and hit the bite hard.
Rod hoops over – dead weight. Dull thump. Another thump. Rod springs back. Gone…
I’ve convinced myself that it was a good fish. In fact, I’ve convinced myself it was a big one.
I fished on. If anything the missed chance had made me more determined. I fished hard, trying plenty of pikely looking spots. But I never got another opportunity. Yet I didn’t, and I still don’t, feel especially deflated. I would have loved to have seen that fish, but I felt energised by the moment. It’s almost as if working to create that chance was enough. And perhaps it is… for now.
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.
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.
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.
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.