Back on the River

At last my wrists have healed enough to allow me to have a day’s fishing for myself, the first since October. I chose to visit the Lower Itchen Fishery on the river Itchen near Southampton. I paid over £100 for the right to fish this stretch from October to February and due to my injuries this would be only my second visit this season. As on my first visit, the river was low and discoloured and I could see very little fish movement during my drive along the stretch to the car park.

I had heard rumours of a massive fish kill in the summer due to low oxygen levels during a period of low flows and high temperatures and this was confirmed by the bailiff later in the day. I decided to fish the sidestream at the top of the coarse fishing stretch and this decision was reinforced when I noticed the wind direction. The sidestream flows approxiamately north-south and the gentle breeze was blowing from the south west, this was perfect for my favourite method,float fishing with a stick float.

Stick float shotting

4 stick floats, varying types

This was the method I had hoped to be able to employ on my first day back on a river for so long, it involves the ultimate in finesse as far as float and bait presentation are involved and can only be practiced perfectly in ideal wind conditions. Let me explain what I mean. A stick float is ideally fished attached top and bottom with a strung out (or shirt button) shotting pattern which allows a natural rise and fall of the bait when the float is slowed or allowed to run with the current. The angler needs a lot of control of the float to make this happen and to prevent the faster moving surface current from making the float preceed the bait on it’s way down the swim. If the float is in front of the bait then its shadow may spook the fish or make the bait travel unnaturally fast, or cause serious bite indication problems, sometimes all three.

This is prevented by the skilful angler slowing the float down slightly by giving out line at a slower pace than the float is trying to travel. To achieve this the line below the rod tip must be kept behind the float and floating on the surface, the angler does this by constantly gently “mending” the line – that is, lifting the line off the water and laying it back behind the float. This requires a very deft touch if the float is to trot down the swim smoothly and in my experience more often than not the wind will make this more difficult. In fact in a strong down steam wind it is virtually impossible.

The reason I was so pleased with the conditions was that when fishing the west bank of the north-south flowing sidestream, the south west breeze would blow my line back behing the float, on its own, every time I lifted the line off the surface. This meant that I could trot my chosen path down the river without the float being pulled in to my bank by the force needed to mend the line and I was even able to slow the pace of the float considerably if I chose to do so. The bow in the line between rod tip and float created by the wind also caused the float to tend to move toward the far bank slightly to counteract any opposite pressure applied by my braking the progress of the float.

The result was perfect float and bait presentation and I would have been satisfied to fish like that without catching fish, it is so rare to be able to do this on the rivers (west to east flowing) that I normally fish.

The only disavantage was that the sidestream was quite clear and I would have to fish with light tackle to fool those wary chub so I set up my drennan stick float rod with a light weight, free running, centrepin reel loaded with two and a half pound line. I tied on a two pound hook length and a size 18 carbon chub hook. Single red maggot was the bait and I intended to feed a little hemp and a few maggots every cast. I moved quietly into the first swim and introduced some hemp and maggot with a very small baitdropper which also allowed me to plumb the depth at the same time. It was about three feet deep and there was only slight turbulence, this meant that my choice of a 4 no.4 wire stemmed stick would be about right, the current and the turbulence it caused ruled out a cane stemmed stick which I would have prefered.

I sat quietly for about ten minutes and fed the swim constantly by hand while I had a smoke and then put on a single red maggot. First trot down the float hesitated and disappeared about three quarters of the way down the swim and on the strike I thought I had hooked the bottom at first. The fish then realised it was hooked and bolted down steam towards some tree roots on the far bank. It took five yards of line before I could stop it which I managed to do just before it reached it’s sanctuary despite the fine hook length.

The sidestream is only four yards wide at this point so as the fish hung in the current just short of the roots, as if it was thinking what to do next, I started to bring it gently upsteam back towards me. This sort of situation is the reason I prefer to use a centrepin, reeling in allowed me to apply a constant relentless but gentle pressure on the fish that brought it round to my way of thinking without startling it by varied pulls and jerks. It was soon out in front of me and well away from the snags and although my injured right wrist was aching quite badly I soon had it in the net. It was the fish I was hoping for a four and a half pound chub although one a pound bigger would have been even better.

I caught three more slightly smaller chub that day but only a couple of grayling, the biggest of which was a little under two pounds.

The fish kill in the summer must have been very serious indeed because normally one can expect anything up to fifty grayling from this river in a day. Nature will recover from this and probably quicker than we think but I ‘m afraid this is probably the end of an exceptional fishery for a couple of years.