I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on (roach article, entry 84)

It’s been a long time since I fished a canal, and so with the weather conditions dictating that barbel were out of the equation, I decided to head for the local Staffs/Worcs waterway to see if I could catch what is proving to be a very elusive specimen roach. Loading the car, I stopped off on the way to buy some maggots, when I had the thought that I hadn’t put my boots in the trunk.

So before I drove off from the shop I duly checked the back of the car, and my thoughts were confirmed – no boots. So, instead of going to the canal, I turned round and headed back home. Still puzzled as to how I could have forgotten them, I stopped once more on the way, and again – no boots. Arriving home I told my wife Debby why I had returned. ‘No, they’re in the car’ she said. ‘I saw you put them there’.

And guess what…she was right. I had checked twice and yet they were there all along! Anyway, I resumed my journey again and this time made the canal without turning round. Debby even called me to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything else. ‘Don’t worry’ I replied, ‘I’m not that daft, the boots were a one-off incident’. Well, would you believe it, I had left my rod rest at home! But that was quickly remedied with a branch that I found strewn on the towpath!

Anyway, I soon found myself fishing. With rock-bottom temperatures it was going to be hard, but I did manage to catch a minute perch in the first hour, so at least I had something to write about on the fish front! I added a gudgeon during the afternoon, plus a bigger perch, but my target species was noticeable by its absence, apart from a fish of about three ounces!

I was surprised at the steady trickle of boats that came past, as it is normally very quiet at this time of the year. Then I remembered that it was half term, and so it all made sense. With my youngest daughter still at school, you’d think the penny would have dropped before the fourth barge went past wouldn’t you! I fished into dark but had no further fish, and so in due course packed away and made it home in time to watch ‘Keeping up appearances’ on TV, which is one of my favourite programmes.

With a very slight rise in water temperature I decided to round off the week on the River Severn, again in pursuit of roach, as it was still too cold for realistic barbel fishing. Arriving at the water’s edge car park, I put on my fishing suit, gathered all my stuff together, and was about to set off along the river when I realised I had forgotten something – my bait bucket. Although I had a small amount of maggots for hook bait, the bucket contained crumb and dead maggots, and as I had come prepared to fish with a cage feeder, it meant that I was well and truly up a creek without a paddle!

There was nothing for it; I had to go back home. Setting off, I was angry with myself for forgetting essentials. And together with the previous experiences, maybe I was going mad! Anyway, as I had to pass through Bridgnorth on the way home, I had an idea. As there is a fishing tackle shop there, and I had some loose change in the glove compartment, hopefully I would have enough to buy a packet of groundbait, so at least I could do some fishing.

As it happened I had just 7p to spare! But it meant that I could avoid a totally wasted journey. As time was now moving on I decided to head for a stretch where I have already fished a few times this season, but had not caught a single roach. Still, it was a blessing just to be able to cast a line so I wasn’t complaining. It was not that far from Bridgnorth, and so I was fishing in less than half an hour after walking out of the tackle shop.

I had a few sucked maggots, but rather than being from roach, the culprits were actually minnows. I knew this because I did actually land several. I always find it amazing how tiny fish will take a hook with three maggots on it. With the weather being very cold, at least the tiny tremors on the rod tip kept me active and alert. But as the afternoon wore on, there was no mistaking the bite that I had next, which obviously was not a minnow!

Striking into the fish I was certain I had hooked a small barbel, so I was pleasantly surprised, after a decent fight, to see a good chub break the surface. It was certainly a relief to net the fish, as I knew realistically that it would probably be the only chance I would have to land a genuine specimen for the week. And so it proved to be, as nothing else (apart from the minnows and a tiny gudgeon) decided to play ball with me.

However, for as much as I was pleased with the fish, the real thrill of the session came with still two hours of light left, as I spotted a pair of otters swimming downstream in mid-river. I had a great view, until they drew level with me, and then becoming aware of my presence, dived and were not seen again. Until this season I had never seen an otter in the wild, and now like the proverbial bus coming one after the other, I have observed several. But these presented by far the best view; the others were all in poor light conditions, or at a distance.

It’s funny how things work out, if I hadn’t forgotten my bait bucket I would have missed the otters, and the fish of course! On the other hand, who knows what might have happened if I had fished the original venue. But that’s life isn’t it – full of questions. Whilst we may not have all the answers, one thing I do know for sure – I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on.

(Originally published February 2005)

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