That was close! (roach article, entry 139)

After the prolonged spell of winter weather we have had, Tuesday was the turning point – the hinge on which spring would finally arrive and winter would be banished to the dim and distant past. Well, that’s the expectation anyway, we shall have to wait and see whether it becomes reality. But fishing is all about taking one step at a time, and a change in wind direction to a south-westerly meant that we were given respite from the northern blasts.

I decided to take early advantage of the mild weather and return to the River Stour before the heavy rains came, which were predicted from the end of Tuesday onwards. The Stour, once it leaves the urbanisation of the Black Country, and winds its way through the Worcestershire countryside, can be a pleasant enough river to fish. It is certainly one of the success stories as far as waterways are concerned, having a well-deserved reputation in the past for pollution.

It can also be an overgrown river – so swim selection in many ways is not about what looks the best place to set up at, but rather where you can fit in. But the positive side of that is the river can be described as ‘natural’ in every sense of the word. For this session I settled in a swim that I had set my mind on beforehand, and as I have encountered only the odd angler on this stretch before, I knew that my chosen peg would be free.

Although there was steady rainfall, the river itself was still sluggish and so a few loose maggots thrown in by hand was ample to build up the swim. With the river being fairly narrow, a very gentle underhand throw was all that was needed to lay a trail of bait down the middle. A slight colour to the water plus an overcast sky meant that I was confident as I cast out for the first time and tightened to the lead.

It was to be the best part of an hour though before I had the first bite of the day. Obviously a shoal of gudgeon had moved in, as a number of chunky fish were landed. Some of the gudgeon in the Stour can be decent enough in size, certainly bigger than the tiddlers that you encounter in the Staffs/Worcs canal that is never far away from the river. (Both join the Severn at Stourport)

After a while, the gudgeon were replaced by lightning-quick bites and sucked maggots – the roach had also entered the frame. I managed to land a small one about 3oz, certainly not any larger than that. By now I noticed that the river was rising slightly and so on my next cast, as the rod gently pulled round, I figured that some debris had wrapped itself around the lead, such was the nature of the movement.

As I lifted the rod I felt lifeless weight at the end, but then it started to move! It took no more than a split second to make me realise that I had indeed connected with a fish and not a clump of weed. It fought well, and even though the swim I was fishing doesn’t have a lot of pace, nevertheless any fish that is hooked will do its best to take full advantage of any current available.

It fought so well that I had to give it line. My mind was very much on the 1lb 6oz hook length that I was fishing with, but with no snags at all in the swim, I knew that I had plenty of leeway. Prior to seeing the fish, I edged towards a small carp on the other end of the line, as I have had the odd one previously from the Stour. But as soon as it broke the surface I was more than delighted to see that I had actually hooked a very nice perch.

As it edged slowly towards the landing net I desperately hoped that it wouldn’t come off. A size 20 hook in the cavernous mouth of a big perch is not much of a confidence booster. Therefore as I slipped the net under the fish I definitely breathed a sigh of relief. As I then lifted the net onto the bank to remove the hook, it had already come out. That was close!

By the time I weighed, photographed and returned the perch, the river had risen quite sharply and all manner of things were being brought down in the current, from small trees to oil cans. I had to switch weight to a ½ ounce flat lead and cast alongside the near bank, but the problem was the rubbish that immediately wrapped itself around the line every time I cast out.

After a while I knew that I was on a loser so I moved to a peg further downstream that had a slight cut away in the bank, certainly enough to fish undisturbed and to present a clear bait in the water. I managed to do that, but unfortunately had no more fish. The perch had certainly come at the right time. I couldn’t fish too late anyway, as I was going to watch Wolves play Stoke City that night. Well, at least the fishing is not frustrating, that’s about all I can say!

(Originally entered March 2006)

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