Before the lockdown

Arriving for a coarse fishing lesson I found cold, clear conditions. There had been a frost overnight and I was worried the fish would be slow to respond. In fact I caught roach straight away. In the middle of winter I think it would have been different, but with spring kicking into life the fish were becoming more active.

Spring morning by the lake

When Jessica and Jana turned up, one of the first things they learned to do was bait the hook with maggots. This required concentration at first:

Baiting the hook

They were soon both catching roach using whips (short rods with no reel):

Jessica's roach
Jana's roach

They then had to unhook them. It is important to handle fish with wet hands (warm, dry hands damage the fish by removing their protective slime), so I always have buckets of water handy:

Unhooking a roach

The disgorger is essential for extracting the hook when it is inside the fish’s mouth, out of reach of your fingers. It is best to practice first using a towel in place of a fish, as Jessica is doing here:

Using a disgorger

Once we have unhooked and admired our fish, we return it carefully to the water. A gentle lob is OK with small ones, but keep low so as not to scare any which still lurk uncaught nearby:

Returning a fish to the water

Next we had a look at how to set up a rod and reel. First we attached the reel to the rod:

Setting up rod and reel
Setting up rod and reel

Then we threaded the line through the guides:

Threading the line up the rod

Jana did a dry land exercise on how to bring in a fish (played by Jessica!) without it breaking the line:

Learning to play a fish

Then Jessica had a go. It takes time to learn how to handle a rod and reel, but these exercises at least give you an idea what to do when a large, powerful fish takes hold.

Learning to play a fish

After that we spent some time waggler fishing with the rod and reel. My pupils both got the hang of casting and controlling the line, in fairly difficult crosswind conditions, and caught a few more roach. We finished off by learning some knots:

Knot tying

By the end of the session we were basking in the first properly warm conditions this year. Unfortunately the virus lockdown started the next day and I had to postpone all my bookings. Let’s hope we can soon get back out on the banks.

Trout on lures and buzzers

To prepare for a fly fishing lesson the next day, I fished Millennium Lake to see what mood the trout might be in. It was a grey day with a light NE breeze:

Grey day at Rib Valley

The first couple of hours were slow. Odd fish were showing at the surface – probably taking midge pupae. The only response I got to midge patterns fished shallow was one fish hooked which came adrift. I changed to a goldhead Cat’s Whisker which would fish deeper:

Cat's Whisker trout fly

(The original version of this lure featured actual cat’s whiskers to stop the fluffy marabou catching round the bend of the hook. I don’t use them myself, so my local moggies can come and say hello without being pinned down and trimmed.)

Still nothing, but when I saw a fish boil a few yards out I covered it, raised the rod to make the fly swim and got an immediate take. A rainbow trout:

Rainbow trout

After that I worked my way along the bank towards the downwind end of the lake. Two more fish came to the Cat’s Whisker, plus one on a midge pupa imitation (aka buzzer). I moved to the other side of the lake where fish were moving some way out:

Rising trout

I changed the Cat’s Whisker for a buoyant pattern but kept the buzzer on the dropper. This setup would present the flies close to the surface. First cast and the line pulled tight as a fish took the buzzer. A few minutes later the same thing happened again.

Rainbow trout

It is difficult to say if I would have caught the last two fish if I had stuck with the Cat’s Whisker. The rise to buzzers seemed to intensify in the late afternoon, perhaps giving the relevant imitative patterns the edge. Who knows?

Next day I met Kevin at the lake. He had already done an initial casting lesson but had not been able to practice since due to work pressures (helping people get set up to work from home during the coronavirus).

It was sunnier than the previous day with an annoying swirling breeze. Kevin’s casting was inconsistent, but he was getting the fly out a few yards:

Fly casting
Fly fishing

After a blank 30 minutes or so we changed the Cat’s Whisker for a black goldhead (another non-imitative lure). Shortly after I was rigging up another rod when Kevin shouted that he had a fish on. He did a good job keeping the line tight but letting it run when it wanted to:

Playing a trout

It was a three pound rainbow trout, his first fish on fly:

Kevin's first trout

With odd fish rising (but not as many as yesterday) we changed to a shallow rig. This quickly produced another hard fighting trout, which we unhooked in the net and released.

We kept the first fish so I showed Kevin how to gut and clean it for the table. He went off planning to cook it tandoori style. I might try that with the next one I catch.

Mixed fortunes on the river

Over the last few months, heavy rain and flooding more or less put a stop to my usual winter river fishing, but recently I did manage a few trips.

On the first of these the river was absolutely bombing through, so I made a start in a slack water swim where fish might be holding on the edge of the current. When I arrived the sun was shining, but soon the skies darkened and it started raining. I put up my umbrella and peered out from underneath it:

Fishing under an umbrella

For bait I was using cheese paste which creates a scent trail detectable by fish even in muddy flood water. After a couple of hours I had a positive pull on the rod tip which I somehow missed. Of course, it might have been a branch or bit of weed catching the line; one of the problems of high water fishing is the amount of debris brought down on the flow.

I moved to a swim at the top end of a lock cutting which offered an even more sheltered environment for the fish. Here I had a couple of chub quite quickly. The sequence of events was interesting:

  • First cast – missed bite on worm
  • Second cast – chub caught on worm
  • Third cast – missed bite on cheese
  • Fourth cast – chub caught on cheese
  • Fifth cast – missed bite on bread
  • Sixth cast – nothing!

It went quiet for a while, but as the light started to fade a sharp bite on worm resulted in a lovely roach of 1lb 5oz – a good size for this species. The photo does not do the colours of this fish justice; in reality it had shades of blue, orange and pink which were quite remarkable.

Roach 1lb 5oz

On the next trip I started on a side stream of the main river. It was a much warmer and brighter day, feeling somewhat spring like:

Small river

Again, the issue was to find the places where the current was not too turbulent. Fish don’t like being pushed around. They prefer a steady flow of water. In about the third spot I tried, this small chub quickly grabbed the cheese paste:

Head of a small chub

In the afternoon I was back fishing the lock cutting. Here the cheese and worms were ignored but I managed to catch a variety of fish on maggots including roach, perch and bream. This is one of the bream:

River bream

For the final session, two days later, I headed straight for the lock:

Fishing a lock cut

The previous time I had missed a lot of bites with my bait anchored to the bottom by a swimfeeder. With this setup, fish sometimes drop the bait before you can strike when they feel the resistance of the feeder. I wanted to see if using a float would result in more fish hooked – it is a much more subtle method.

I adjusted the float so the bait would drag the bottom, then tried to hold it back to slow it down as it drifted through the swim. This was a bit tricky as trees to my right stopped me holding the rod in the right position. Luckily the breeze was pushing the line in that direction and bringing about the desired outcome. Soon the float shot under and I felt a solid pull from this 4 pound chub:

A 4lb chub

This was a good start, but it soon became apparent that the fish generally were not in a feeding mood. All I caught otherwise was a roach. Thinking that maybe the feeder would be better after all, I gave it a try to no avail. It was a good example of how from one day to the next the response of the fish can differ, despite apparently identical conditions.

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