It's this time of year when the rivers in my area are worth putting in some real effort as the fish are in great condition and have put on some serious weight since the summer. Not only are the fish worth catching, but winter water levels mean they are actually catchable! A bit of extra flow and colour can be all that's needed to get them feeding.
When I say that a bit of extra water will get them feeding, it doesn't have to be as severe as this!
During November, I decided to curtail my perch fishing for a bit and put in some effort to catch a two pound roach from Oxfordshire's River Windrush. The fish are notoriously hard to catch, and with the Matt Hayes' of this world sometimes struggling it's a wonder I bother to go. But there's something about the river, and of course its inhabitants, that keeps me going back again and again.
I kept an eye on the weather every day when I was at school or working etc., in particular the temperature and rainfall. Roach will feed in very cold water, but only in short spells and hitting on these can be a real game of chance, so I always prefer to go roaching when the temperature is rising or has at least been constant for a few days. I also like the river to have a decent tinge of colour to it. This gives the roach a lot more confidence to feed and means you can catch during the day and not just at dusk.
This far bank slack will hold fish in floodwater conditions. The Windrush doesn't often see levels like this because of over abstraction.
In fact I only managed to fish the river 4 times, but caught roach over 1lb 8 oz on every visit. My best catch was 3 over 1lb 8 oz up to 1lb 13 oz. I was lucky to get amongst the fish, but missed out on a two-pounder once again. I know that the shoals on the stretch I fish can be very mixed, one cast may result in a one pounder, the next a two, but as far as I can see there's no way of discriminating between the fish, so I'll have to just carry on fishing and hope the biggun comes along!
All the roach, plus some big dace and small chub, fell to single caster on a size 20 to a 1lb 8oz hooklength and 3lb line. I've been using a small Drennan groundbait feeder tilled with bread and casters to get the fish near the hookbait. My favourite bread for use in a feeder is a fresh white loaf that has been put through a food processor. I use it dry and it explodes straight from the feeder and releases those lovely casters. I have used maggots but find them less successful. The usual bread flake approach doesn't work as consistently here as the fish are quite finicky. I reckon it might be that they've got smaller mouths than other roach and so aren't as effective at eating larger items like bread. They do fall to flake occasionally, but more people use bread for big roach than casters, so who knows what's going on?!
My Dad with a brace of Windrush two-pounders - notice their small mouths.
After these 4 trips not only did the weather turn arctic, but I got very ill and was forced to spend a week in bed. I couldn't eat or go out of the house so fishing was off the cards for at least a fortnight. Apparently I had serious internal bleeding caused by a food poisoning bug. The reason that I tell you this kids is to teach you that kebabs are bad for you and no matter how much Stella you've had the bugs will survive and make you ill! The message is "Kebabs: Just say NO! ".
Once I had got better I didn't bother to fish for 2 weekends as the weather was still dire and I didn't fancy scratching for bites in sub zero conditions. Instead I went clubbing, went out with mates etc. so that when then the conditions were right I didn't feel like such a saddo going fishing all weekend. The weekend the conditions hit spot on I had already arranged to take Steve "The Perch" Burke up to the Great Ouse, so the Windrush would have to wait.
The Great Ouse has been fishing it's head off again this season for big perch, but has also been getting a lot of pressure. Perch aren't too good at dealing with sustained angling pressure and so the fish will probably start to disappear either this season or next. The amazing catches from the river have written it into the record books as the greatest perch river ever, but I hope it fulfils it's potential to provide some lucky angler with a record before the fish disappear.
A net of small chub caught in terrible conditions.
Steve is the best stillwater perch angler I've met, but due to his position in Kent, he doesn't get much chance to fish for river whackers. I offered to be his ghillie for the trip and to help him with his bags etc. so that he could have a go for a river personal best. The weekend we fished was spot on condition-wise and I was sure one of us would get a big stripey. The fish are a bit more difficult to track down this season but sure enough Steve found a good spot and bagged a 4lb 5oz fish. That fish was the result of careful swim selection and choice of tactics. I on the other hand couldn't decide where to concentrate and mucked about for two days. I suppose my 6 small perch and a pike sum up my season so far - dire. I was chuffed for Steve as he hasn't been able to fish much lately, but the weekend got me thinking about my season and where I've gone wrong.
This is actually the worst fishing season that I've ever had, and after the past 2 or 3 which have been really good I'm finding it difficult without the buzz of catching a big fish. Although I haven't fished as much due to A levels, pubs, women etc. I'm still annoyed at the lack of success. I've still got a few weeks left to try and redress the balance with a 2 lb roach from the Windrush but I'm not that confident seeing how my luck's going at the moment.
Although it's not a monster, Fred is happy with this 2lb 8oz perch.
My A levels finish towards the end of June from when I'm having a year out before hopefully going to university in September 2001. In my free year I'm going to work half the time and fish the rest. This at least gives me something to look forward to fishing-wise. I'll be hoping to catch big carp and tench from the syndicate I've been fishing and come winter I'll be on the rivers again after a variety of fish.
In the meantime I'll keep you up to speed with how badly my fishing's going.
Fred - 2000