Arriving back from Suriname during the third week of January was a definite wake up call, I say ‘wake up’ but in fact it put my fishing on a definite sleep mode waiting for the temperatures to rise up again to something like normal. Many years ago I would go fishing irrelevant of weather, but now I’ve gone soft and like it to at least be above freezing when I’m on the bank in daytime.
From a time when I did go in freezing conditions.
After about three weeks of this layoff I decided I must go fishing and so I arranged with a friend to spend three days on the Hampshire Avon after the monster chub that live there. It was still quite cold especially in the northerly winds, but enough is enough and I wrapped up well and arrived at Ringwood about midday on the 10thFeb. I already had a thought as to where I would start providing the swim was free and as I drove down the nearby track I looked across the field to see it was indeed available, first part of the plan in place. For me, winter fishing for chub is fine tackle, small hooks and either maggot or casters. Cheese, meat and pellets and other baits will obviously work as well, but I love the feel of a very large chub on tackle that he could break with a flick of his tail, now that is exciting. My tackle this time is a Drennan Medium Feeder rod and the usual Mitchell 300 reel loaded with 6lb main line. The large maggot feeder is used with Drennan ready tied size 18 or 20 Superspade hooks to take either a single or double maggot.
A smaller feeder than used but still a chub setup.
My swim is typical of the Avon in winter in that it is racing through on a very fast glide but my saving grace is that of slower water alongside the rushes on the far bank, with 30gram of extra lead on the 50gram feeder and the rod held high to keep most of the line out of the faster water I can just hold. In these conditions the extra weight does not deter the chub too much, finely balanced against the flow the slightest pull on the bait will dislodge it and the tip is seen to quiver as the fish moves downstream with it. With small hooks there is no need to strike, just pick up and play the fish, no problem in that, except the fish is on the other side of the raging river and I have got to bring it across on the tiny hook.
Opening swim on the Avon
I bait dropped both hemp and maggot at regular intervals and around 5pm I finally got my reward as the tip quivered and I began the heart stopping fight against a fish that initially was determined to run into the rushes by his side. Fortunately I could pull him away or at least hold him in place, if I had been on that bank I would undoubtedly lost him since there would be little chance of stopping him moving the few feet to his side. Holding him making the rushes was the first part of the battle and now as he moved away from them he was in the extra flow to help his already powerful runs. This is where the Mitchell comes into its own for me. I have used them for near 50 years and in this situation they become part of my arm, I don’t need to think when playing a fish on fine tackle and I rely on a backwinding method as I feel necessary. With most reels if you set the clutch to cope with the sudden lunges on 2.5lb line you cannot reel against a powerful run, hence the backwinding method. It has been over a year since I had seen a very large chub and as this swam past under the bank in crystal clear water I thought I had a 7lb specimen on the hook, when I finally landed him the scales showed my error in that it weighed 6lb-6oz, still very pleasing for the first day.
6lb-6oz Avon Chub
The following day produced just one bite again and this time it weighed in at exactly 6lb so good average but a definite lack of bites. With a total blank on the last day it confirmed the local opinion that the fishing was hard at the moment, still with two 6lb plus fish not too disappointing!
The second 6lb of the trip.
My first river trip for barbel was in fact on the 17th February and I went to the local Warwickshire Avon with the thought that just possibly a stray barbel might feed. It had been very cold for some considerable weeks and now there was a definite increase in temperatures going 6C or even 7C during the day so worth a chance trip. An extra bonus was the heavy rain a couple of days earlier and the river had rising noticeably, I’m a firm believer the floodwater can beat the cold when looking at whether barbel will feed or not so here goes.
I had gone onto a section of river that I had not previously fish and my first choice of swim looked perfect, a large obstruction mid river gave a big slack below it and fast flow down either side, surely a barbel must live here. Several casts and one 2lb chub later I had found the problem, with the river well up it was not so noticeable but I’m sure a visit in the summer will show either heavy rush beds or cabbage beds all along the nearside bank and out into the slack area. Each cast had been snagged on roots and a couple of times I thought I would need to pull for a break before it finally came clear at the last moment, time for a move.
The next swim was a narrow neck where the river came off a good size pool, strong flow along the far bank and a far steadier pace from the nearside bank out to just over half way across. There was not a crease as such but the difference in the flow rate was noticeable and I felt hopeful that a fish would lie in the water just off that fast pace to conserve energy, worth a try anyway!
Tackle was as usual 1.75lb test Drennan Barbel Specialist with Shimano 5000RE reels loaded with 12lb line, a large swimfeeder to take my pellet mix and hemp goes down to a 12inch length of 15lb Pro Gold mono to act as a stiff rig and this is tipped with 6inch of 15lb brain with a size 8 Drennan Continental Carp hook tied with a knotless knot leaving a 0.5inch hair rig in place. Two or three 10mm Elips pellets are then superglued onto the hair and all is ready.
My first barbel of 2015.
Fortune favoured my efforts and it was not too long before I was looking at my first barbel of 2015, a fish of about 7lb that did not fight all that well in the cold water, perhaps he had only just woke up from his enforce nap. My next trip on a river the following week proved far more productive, but I will write that up tomorrow.
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