Category: Matt’s fishing trips

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.

At the seaside

For the first half of August I was on holiday in Cornwall, catching up with family and going fishing most days.

My first job was to head up the nearby estuary to dig worms for bait. Lugworms live in fairly soft mud and sand; you dig where you see their casts. Ragworm seem to prefer coarse sand and shell grit. They don’t make casts so you choose an area and turn it over.

(If you try bait digging, make sure to backfill your holes – people sometimes leave craters and piles of sand all over the place. This is unsightly and also damages the worms’ habitat. The result is that future digging becomes less productive and there are fewer worms available for the estuary birds. Do it properly and there is no problem.)

Next morning my brother Ned and I were out at daybreak, using carp rods with 2oz leads to present the worms on the sand:

Cornwall rock fishing

Nothing happened for the first couple of hours. Just as I was saying it was about time we had a bite, something picked up my ragworm. Winding down slowly it was fish on, and a bit of a head banging fight ensued. It was a gilthead bream, a species I had always expected to catch here but which had always eluded me:

Gilthead bream

Soon after that, we had a tub gurnard each:

Tub gurnard

A couple of days later I was back in the same place. First cast produced a better sized gilthead:

Head of gilthead bream

After that it was quiet except for a couple of small bass and another gurnard. Packing up, I threw my unused mackerel and squid bait into the water and soon after a shoal of mullet came swarming round. I set up a makeshift float rig to present a bit of squid to them on a small hook. I then had a frustrating time as the mullet were apparently taking the bait but I kept missing them on the strike. Eventually I got one:

Mullet

Next day I was back with proper mullet tackle (coarse fishing rod, 6lb line and waggler float), plus mackerel and bread for bait. Initially I couldn’t get a bite, despite odd fish showing in front of me. I guessed I was too visible sitting high up on the rocks, so I got lower and kept well back. More mullet now appeared, seemingly attracted by my mackerel and bread groundbait. I caught three of these hard-fighting fish, all at very close range (that’s my rod on the rocks with the float just visible a few feet out):

Mullet fishing
Mullet on waggler float

My niece Tess came with me for another dawn session. She caught this ballan wrasse on a lure fished deep close to the rocks:

Tess fishing
Tess's wrasse

She followed it up with a mackerel and the largest launce (greater sandeel) I have ever seen, which weighed in at 4oz. Launce feed on small fish, including sandeels, and she caught it on a metal sandeel imitation:

Mackerel and launce

As we were packing up, we saw a large, silvery fish jump three times way out to sea. To be visible at that range it must have been at least several pounds in weight. Quite possibly a bluefin tuna, but we will never know.

Hampstead carp and tench

There was a moment of drama during the recent school tuition day on Hampstead Heath, when one of the pupils connected with a large fish which eventually broke away. The general consensus was that it was probably a tench – one of my favourite species.

A few days later I came back at daybreak to try and catch one. It was warm, overcast and still:

Highgate boating pond

Nothing happened for a couple of hours, except that twice I saw large tench roll silently right over my bait. They have a way of smoothly breaking the surface with barely a ripple. As you can imagine this kept me in a state of tense expectation, but my float remained motionless.

In a shallow corner of the lake not far away, I could see signs of life – boils and splashes at the surface. I crept in quietly with my gear and after checking the depth, cast in with a piece of bread set to fish on the bottom. As a couple more fish showed I could see that they were carp, but I was still hopeful of a tench.

The float shot under and the rod started bending round before I could pick it up. When I did, there was a massive surge of power. I was only using a 4lb hook length so I had to just let it run at first. It took a few minutes to get it in the net, with the help of a mate who had turned up to fish just before – a 21lb carp:

Hampstead carp

A few days later I gave it another go. It was a misty morning:

Misty lake

I was standing there in the half light deciding where to fish, when a tench rolled right in front of me. That made my mind up for me, and I placed my bait in the exact spot where the tench had been.

An hour later, the float lifted and twitched before disappearing. A tench of 6lb 9oz was responsible – a handsome fish with its olive scales and bluish-black fins:

Hampstead tench

Soon after that, the rising sun started to burn off the mist and light up the far bank of the lake. Eventually its rays crept round to my corner, and I was glad of their warmth after the chill of the early morning.

Early morning sun on the lake
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