I must admit that in recent years for the most part, I have given up fishing small waters, concentrating instead on large gravel pits for tench and pike, or fishing those famous rivers such as the Severn, Hampshire Avon, or Kennet, but previous to that I spent thousands of hours fishing small ponds, tiny streams and dykes. Even now I occasionally have an evening, or morning, walking a small stream with a rod and dropping in all the likely looking spots.
Back in the sixties and early seventies, long before I ever cast a fly on a man made trout fishery, I would spend the closed season fishing small streams for wild brown trout. And, until I met up with Dave Park of Crowborough, who demonstrated a different approach, would fish for them with a worm. In fact, my first ever brownie was caught from the Ashburnham Stream around I960. It weighed about 1/2lb and I hooked it alongside the bridge on float fished worm. In those days I would walk the streams and either trot my float through as many pools and runs as I could by pushing my rod through any break in the bushes and trees which generally lined the banks. Of course, there were always swims which were unfishable and no doubt these were the swims which held the biggest trout.
It was sometime in the sixties that I met Dave who, just like me, had spent time fishing small streams for wild browns, but his approach was different and when he had shown friends and myself how, it opened up all sorts of possibilities. His method, although simple, wasn’t, as far as I know, practiced by any other anglers locally and suddenly our catches increased both in numbers and size.
Spinning was the answer, but you had to be in the water wading upstream under the tunnel of bushes and brambles that often grew completely over the stream. It was as simple as that, but by no means easy. In these narrow streams, which an athlete could have jumped, casting was the problem and although it wasn’t necessary to cast long distances, the longer the cast, the more the chance of catching. Practice and perseverance eventually gave us accuracy and distance, which increased our catches.
Tackle, although not expensive, was certainly specialised; a 5ft through action rod, a fixed spool reel with 4Ib line, a few small spinners, mainly Mepps No 1 and, of course, a pair of waders. Usually it was thigh waders, but it was surprising how many streams held water that was 1/2 inch deeper than the height of the waders. I did eventually purchase a pair of chest waders that gave me a greater range of streams to fish and I even managed to find one which went over the top of these. On one occasion, while wading up the top of the River Brede, I reached a pool I couldn’t get through and decided to climb out. I was pulling myself out of the river on an old dead tree which gave way and I fell back into the river. The waders filled up and I was soaked from head to foot.
The trout we caught from these tiny streams weren’t very big and the best fish I managed was 1lb 8oz, though a friend of mine did catch a fish of 3Ib from the Watermill Stream. It was a true brown, but another fish of a similar size I was told about turned out to be a rainbow which had presumably escaped from a lake that had recently been stocked.
Even though we caught 90% of our trout on spinners, there were times when we fished a worm, but that was in the days of county river authorities i.e. Kent River Authority and Sussex River Authority. Once that changed and they became Southern Water Authority, it became illegal to fish with bait for trout during the closed season, in case you caught coarse fish. When Southern Water Authority became National Rivers Authority and then the Environment Agency, the law remained the same and still stands today. It is strange when you think that you can now fish any lake, pond, reservoir or gravel pit for coarse fish in what was the closed season, but you cannot fish for trout with a worm in a stream for trout even though that stream may not even contain coarse fish.
It had been years since I had fished a small stream for trout, but when I was invited to fish a private stretch of the Bull River by the Fishery Manager of Belfrey Coarse Fishery, Stuart Ellery, I jumped at the chance. I no longer had my 5ft rod and waders and this water did hold coarse fish as well as trout, so I decided to fish with worm.
Stuart took me to a stretch of river which he assured me hadn’t been fished by anyone other than himself for several years. I free lined, but made sure I was in constant touch with the bait, for trout will quickly swallow a worm and, since I had no intention of keeping my catch, I certainly didn’t want to deep hook one. I held the rod with my right hand and the line with my left between the reel and first ring. Within minutes of casting in I felt a knock, followed by a pull and I struck. It proved to be a perch about 6oz, but although it was small, it was in pristine condition and the colours were amazing. Every stripe stood out like black fingers across a green flank, fading into a creamy white belly. It’s bright orange tail and fins glowed like the evening sun and it’s spiky dorsal fin was erect and menacing. I slipped it back and caught an identical fish, which was followed by a crucian. Never before had I caught a crucian from a river and to catch one from this little stream was the last thing I expected. There are several ponds and lakes close by so, no doubt, they came from there. Another crucian and then a trout. Perfect, like all wild browns from a stream, bright red spots, a tint of blue and a brown back. Stuart had also landed a few perch and trout, but nothing of any size, not that we really expected to, though in the past he has caught trout and chub to 2Ib plus.
I caught another trout by the bridge and missed a few bites, then it was time to move on. On another stretch where the Bull River enters the Cuckmere, we fished for chub, but they were not feeding that day and we had to pack in soon after. It wasn’t a long session and we had only caught small fish, but I enjoyed fishing that little stream as much as I had fishing some lakes where catches have been made up of double figured carp.
There is a small dyke on the Pevensey Marsh which last time I looked is so overgrown it is now impossible to fish without dragging a swim, but a few years ago some of it, at least, was fishable. It wasn’t any wider than 15ft and was no deeper than 2ft 6 inches, yet it was alive with fish; rudd, roach, perch, tiny pike and on one occasion I saw a massive eel laying in a gap in the weed close to the bridge. It was probably two, perhaps two and a half inches thick and over three feet long. Probably weighing 4Ib or more, I made no effort to catch it, but I did float fish for the rudd and roach which I caught to 12oz. Perch followed to a similar size, but because of its size I only fished the water two or three times a year until it weeded right over and I didn’t bother after that.
So far I ha
ve only mentioned the small fish I have caught from these small waters, but in fact it is surprising how big fish can grow in very small waters. A few years ago I was invited to fish Copwood Pool by it’s owner Tony Barnard, where I not only landed a leather carp of 20Ib 7oz, but also caught two crucians of 2Ib 3oz. Fishing on a separate occasion with my son Andrew during a strong south westerly, we started off fishing with sweetcorn and during the morning Andrew caught seven carp of which four were doubles and up to 14Ib 14oz, while I remained fishless. The tables were turned in the afternoon when it was my turn to catch and I landed ten carp including six doubles to 16Ib 10oz. Not bad from a water which was barely 1/2 acre.
There is another little pond that I sometimes fish in the middle of an oak wood just to the side of a bridle way. It contains rudd, perch, crucians and carp, but exactly how big any of the species grow is not known to me, for I have only fished it a few times. So far I have landed perch to 1lb 6oz, carp to 5Ib and several crucians to 1lb 10oz. Not monsters, I know, but the pond is so small it only has two swims.
A few years ago the Romney Marsh was littered with small dykes and most of them held good fish, but sadly, many of them have been filled in by farmers, or dewatered by the drainage authorities. At one time you could drop into almost any dyke and expect to catch and the delightful thing about it was they all had an air of mystery about them; you just didn’t know what you were going to catch.
To a lesser extent the Pevensey Marsh was similar and even the top reaches of the Waliers Raven, where one of its tributaries runs up to Ashburnham, was full of fish. In the late sixties and early seventies, I would fish this tiny stream with small pieces of bread flake, or the tail of a worm to catch all manner of fish. I didn’t catch anything very big, but I did catch species which you couldn’t catch in the main river. Dace were not plentiful, but they could be taken in one or two swims, including a small weir pool and they went to 8oz. I even caught a couple of chub around 12oz, along with roach to 10oz, small bream, perch and a few wild browns.
Back on the Romney Marsh, I caught my first 5Ib tench from a small dyke where early morning sessions were really the only time to catch. Dragging and baiting a swim the evening before and fishing it first light often produced tench. Rarely, though, did I catch more than a couple of fish from a swim.
A small dyke from which friends and I caught numerous tench also proved to be a good pike water and, while it never produced a really big fish, we did catch bags of them. They ranged from 3Ib to low double figures and sometimes a dozen fish could be taken in a short session. Deadbaits, livebaits and spinners all produced fish and it seemed there were so many pike in this little dyke that it was a wonder any fodder fish survived at all.
Catching fish from these smaller waters in earlier years has helped me to catch fish from areas which most anglers would overlook on some of our bigger and more famous rivers. On the Hampshire Avon, for example, there are lots of side streams which receive very little attention. The seductive weir pools and slow glides are usually fairly heavily fished, but it pays to keep an eye open in these streams, no manner how small.
On a visit last winter to the Avon, my first cast was made upstream in a stream which came off the weir pool and re-entered the river further downstream. The swim was by an old brick bridge which was impossible to fish by casting downstream, or rather it could be fished from the bridge, but I could see no way of landing a fish once it was hooked. There were bramble bushes on both banks and an ash tree dipped its branches into the water, creating a raft. However, a cast upstream produced a slack line bite and a 4Ib 1oz chub. All other anglers had walked by the swim to fish the rnain river.
Later, I moved to the main river where I missed a bite in the first swim I fished, but then moved further downstream to a swim where a ditch entered the river on my own bank. Only in flood conditions would the ditch hold water in its entire length, but the water had recently subsided and all that was left was mud, except for a little bay where it entered the river. Covered almost entirely by a canopy of hawthorn, the little bay appeared to have no more than 2ft of water covering deep silt.
To start with, I fished the main river allowing my bait to swing around to the edge of the bay, but there were no bites. In the meantime, three people crossed the muddy ditch in an effort to reach the next field and, although I was polite, I cursed my luck, thinking that the disturbance would have put any fish which may be willing to feed off. Nevertheless, ten minutes later I noticed a shape under the hawthorns and to start with thought it was a branch, but as it rose higher in the water, I could see it was a chub. As my eyes became accustomed to the light I could see there were four of them. There was just about enough room to push a rod through the small opening, but landing the fish was going to be a problem and I had to test whether a landing net would also go through the hole between the hawthorn branches. It would, just, so I reeled in my tackle which was still cast in the main river and stripped off the weight. By now the chub had disappeared and a pike showed itself in the swim, but it too disappeared.
I was sure the chub were still there, but laying deep, so I flicked a large piece of spam into the hole and, as I closed the bale arm, the rod tip pulled round. All I needed to do to set the hook was to tighten up. It was an exciting, but short, fight which ended when I weighed it at 3Ib 11oz. I wondered how many anglers would have fished either of these swims, but I know from experience that good fish can be taken from all manner of small waters and tiny areas.