With winter continuing its firm grip on the weather, I once more headed for the River Stour to see if I could end the season with a nice roach. In a way, any decisions I may have had about where to go were all made for me due to the conditions. The still waters were frozen over, and the other option, the River Severn was carrying too much water for my liking.
One good thing about the Stour is that even when it rises, it falls back very quickly. It definitely comes nowhere near the Severn as far as volume of overflow is concerned. There are times when the latter not only bursts its banks, but also covers several meadows either side of the channel.
Arriving at the river, the first thing I did was to throw in a few maggots. The next function was to check the water temperature. This is an important task, as not only does it allow you to monitor temperature trend, but also it gives you an idea of how much feed to put in.
With the water being just 5C, I knew that the half a dozen maggots I had initially thrown in wouldn’t need to be increased for a while. Remember that we can always put more bait in if necessary, but once it hits the bottom then you can’t take it out. Caution is the name of the game, and particularly so at this time of the year. I always aim to play it carefully, and as the fish come on the feed then I can increase what goes in.
The first hour or so was slow, just the odd bite and a small roach and a gudgeon to show for my efforts. However as darkness began to draw in, the roach started to get bigger, although still just the odd one. But then as the tip twitched and I struck, I realised that I had connected with a better fish. Slipping the net under it, it certainly took my mind off the cold weather and justified my leaving the warm fire behind at home.
Actually it turned out to be the best roach of the campaign, so that definitely was icing on the cake. Returning the fish, it swam off into the now dark water of the river. I continued to fish on, but a trickle of gudgeon had replaced the roach. Plus I needed to make a telephone call to Tanzania, and with Africa being ahead of us in time, I needed to get back home at a reasonable hour.
With time running out very fast I managed one more session – on the very last day of the river season. It was a much milder day, although the water temperature was up just one degree on the previous visit. Back in the same swim, I was once more fishing a very small lead, just 1/8th of an ounce. Hook length was 1lb 6oz and a size 20 hook on a very short length completed the rig. I again fished a single maggot, which does have the disadvantage of being attractive to all and sundry, but experience has shown me on the Stour that it is very feasible to adopt a policy of wading through the smaller fish, knowing that something better is just around the corner.
On this session I did have to do quite a bit of wading though, as the increase in temperature, although quite minimal, had obviously brought the gudgeon on the feed big time. It was as if the river had become alive with them. No sooner had I cast out and reached for the reel handle to tighten to the lead then the tip would start to twitch.
Eventually though, my wading theory worked and I started to catch roach, particularly as the afternoon wore on. Then right at the very end I struck into what was obviously a much better fish than the small roach I had previously been catching. Lifting the net from the water I was pleasantly surprised to see a very well proportioned dace staring back at me.
There are some very good dace in the Stour, in the past I have had some really nice fish, although on the few occasions that I have fished it this year I haven’t caught one. After weighing it, I set the camera up and pressed the self-timer, then posed before the lens. However, the fish did an almighty flip, flew out of my hands and ended up back in the river.
So you will just have to take my word for it! But nevertheless it was still a decent enough end to the season – considering the weather. And talking of the weather, my plan was to switch to a gravel pit bream campaign to take in the next couple of months. However, when I start is now in doubt. With temperatures here still sometimes hitting minus overnight, not only will it be severe for me, but also more importantly I can’t exactly see the bream queuing up to be caught.
At the time of writing I’ve got a few days to think about my plans for the coming week, but one thing is for sure – I will be doing fishing of one sort or another. Even if I have to break the ice to do it! Now there’s a thought, ice fishing. I’ve seen them doing it in Canada when they drive onto the lake and literally pitch up a solid structure and drill a hole in the frozen surface. Makes our winters look a bit pathetic really doesn’t it?
(Originally published March 2006)