You will never catch sitting by the fire (roach article, entry 138)

With rock bottom temperatures all week, I wasn’t exactly missing out on anything by managing just the one session. Hitting lows of minus six, it was hardly surprising that as I loaded the car outside the house, a passing man asked, ‘It’s too cold for fishing isn’t it? Plus as I arrived at my destination, in a much more blunt approach, another said – albeit with a smile on his face – ‘You must be mad’

Well I suppose there must be an element of insanity somewhere, to actually enjoy being out in conditions like we had this week. It obviously cuts across the normal logical human approach. But then again I am addressing fellow anglers via this site, so I don’t need to justify myself and explain that I am actually very balanced and rounded and that all accusations of madness are totally unfounded…

Apart from the weather, it had also been a difficult week emotionally as my dad’s funeral was on the Wednesday. In some ways I wasn’t that bothered whether I went out or not, but it’s important to continue as much as possible in the normal routine, hence I pushed myself a little and set off for an afternoon session on the River Stour.

No, not the Dorset version but the less glamorous one that flows through the industrial Black Country before eventually emptying itself into the River Severn at Stourport. It’s not the sort of river that you would travel across country for, but if you are local then it’s definitely worth a visit. And the good news is that most of it is free fishing – providing you can access it in the right places of course.

Continuing with my roach campaign, I fished 2-½ lb main line and 1lb 6oz hook- length. This was a short length of just four inches meaning that I would be in touch with any slight taps or enquiries. And with the temperature being what it was, I wasn’t expecting lots of fast and furious confident bites. I needed to know exactly what was happening around the hook bait, and the short length would enable me to do just that.

With the stretch I fished being quite sluggish, I opted for a very small flat lead, just 1/8 of an ounce. It was ample in weight to allow me to cast out and tighten up, with the quiver tip registering the slightest movement. I took just a pint of maggots with me, and feeding just a small number every now and then as fish were caught, I hardly made an impression in the tub.

The session started off lively enough with a few taps on the rod tip but no fish were caught. It reminded me of my children when they were young. They wouldn’t be particularly hungry and so would play with their food. I could picture the fish beneath the surface of the river doing just the same thing, thinking to themselves, ‘It’s that cold I couldn’t be bothered to eat, but I’ll play with the food anyway’.

Eventually though I did catch a gudgeon. Well at least I wasn’t going to be a blanker, and with conditions as they were, any fish was a bonus. I actually added a few more gudgeon as the afternoon wore on, but it was later before I started to connect with my target species, the roach. They were all in excellent condition; I don’t like to see fish with mouths ripped open, particularly when all you need is a little bit of care and a disgorger.

Following the session a few weeks back when I decided to get a keep net out of mothballs, but didn’t really use it apart from a mallard taking up residence in it, I haven’t bothered since. I certainly wouldn’t criticise others for using nets, but it’s not for me really. I was only concerned about released fish spooking the shoal anyway, and as this session proved, even on a small intimate river, that wasn’t the case. So for all those out there who feel an intense passion about keep nets, you can now take me off your black list. (And no, I didn’t received any mails about using a net, just joking)

As well as the fishing I also managed to spot a water rail in the immediate area where I fished. The bird was around for some time, and although they can be pretty elusive, I managed to get some excellent views. Which reminds me, I really do need to take my binoculars with me every time I go fishing.

I also noticed a small hole in a tree on the far bank that had me thinking, ‘That is small enough for a lesser spotted woodpecker’. Then towards the end of the day I caught an extremely brief glimpse of a bird disappearing into the hole, but it was so quick that I couldn’t be 100% certain that it wasn’t a great spotted. I think I need to return…

Some of the roach caught were decent enough. From a river like the Stour, anything over the 1lb mark has to be considered a good fish. From other places that may not be particularly special, but when determining what a specimen is, one of the most important factors is the venue.

The fish really came alive as the sun set, which ironically was the coldest part of the day. In fact the only reason I packed away eventually was because the rod rings froze solid and I couldn’t fish any longer. Maybe it is true. The bit earlier about being mad. But one thing is true – you’ll never catch sitting by the fire. Unless it is a bivvy heater. Hmm, now there’s a thought. In camouflage of course.

(Originally published March 2006)

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