Foot and Mouth Disease. Remember that problem? Well it seems odd now, but unless you’re a Farmer, the outbreak seems an age away. How that’s happened, I’m not sure. But it’s like the disease, which was front-page news not so long ago, has now slipped into history. Remember the slaughter of thousands of head of livestock? That surely must be a calamity in anyone’s book. Farmers are still suffering terribly from it.
Other things occurred during and as a result of the FMD outbreak of course. Amongst them was a shutdown of many fisheries. Productive stretches of river became “Out of Bounds”, for most of that season. Lakes were shut, as were canals. This left quite a lot of us champing at the bit, waiting for the closures to be lifted. During that period, I spent quite a lot of time out on my motorbike exploring new waters, looking for what was open and what wasn’t. Amongst the waters I found, was a lake of about 7 - 10 acres. I could see the lake in the bottom of a flood plain valley. I couldn’t get down to the waters edge, due to the large flock of sheep in the field by the lake. But I filed the view away for future consideration.
Eventually, the start of the new season came around and I started my fishing up on the Windrush in Oxfordshire. I spent a really good summer on various rivers; no personal bests were caught, but as so often happens when river fishing, the anticipation and the excitement of what you may catch, kept the interest bubbling away quite merrily.
For instance, you may catch one of these...
...or maybe one of these.
Summer gave way to autumn and so my interests started to head toward Lure fishing.
I do fish with lures in the summer, but for me, the best time is from August-September onwards. The Perch seem to start to get more aggressive and Pike seem to want “have a go” at artificials. But I suppose, it could be because weed starts to die back after blooming. Holes in weed beds start to become more visible, water clarity can be at it’s best. The sight of a fish as it flashes at the lure can be very exiting, especially if afterwards, the glint of your lure extinguishes at it’s engulfed inside a cavernous mouth.
All the time though, the thought of the flood plain lake was in my mind. I decided that the best time to explore the lake would be early winter, with a Pike session or two. I’d come to that conclusion after re-visiting the lake, to do a bit of fish spotting. I saw a few carp milling around, basking in the hot summer sun. A bream shoal was circling one of the bays, swirling slowly in the shallow water, presumably mopping up small snails, or bloodworm. But what struck me most was the undisturbed look of the waterside. It was quite evident that nobody had fished there for quite a while. There were no beaten paths through the long grass, no bare patches at the water’s edge. I looked hard and couldn’t even find any holes where bank sticks might have been. The two hundred odd yard walk from the nearest car parking probably put a lot of people off. Most of the club’s waters were fishable straight out of the back of the car. This was great for me, as I don’t mind a bit of a hike, if the prize is a good fishing spot. Now, as I said, I reckoned that the best time to really explore would be early winter. I could see weed beds in the summer. I could see fish in the summer. But I believe the biggest key to understanding a water when you want to get to grips with it, is when you can find out what the riverbed topography is like.
This means plumbing. The dips, peaks and gullies of a water, are more detectable when you can drag a plumbing set-up around, un-impeded by weed to a great extent. When you find a drop-off, a dead-bait can be placed there to see if it’s a good spot. While you are waiting for that one to go off, you can explore a bit more, either with a lure or by plumbing again. Successive casts to the various areas found, can soon give you a pretty good mental picture of where the fish may be. These findings can be either transposed onto paper (I’ve tried this a few times, but seldom manage to keep it up for long) or simply committed to memory.
A work mate of mine, Sean, had said he wanted to come fishing for some time. Sean hadn’t fished much for a few years, due to work and family commitments. I knew he was desperate, because I could detect his frustration every time we sat in the café in the mornings and I’d tell him how I’d got on the previous evening, or weekend. We sorted out a day when we could go and I obtained a guest ticket for Sean and his son, Sean (the name Sean 1 will from hereon refer to Sean the elder, Sean 2, the younger). Sean 1 and I dropped down to the lake one evening after work, just to have a look-see. It didn’t half look good! We got there just as the sun was dipping down behind the nearby woods. A few water birds were sending ripples out across the water’s surface, which was pretty much a flat calm. We walked the entire circumference of the water, imagining where we were going to fish. After about an hour, we returned to the car and went home to dream about what was going to happen on our trip.
We met up again, the following Sunday. Unfortunately, it’d been raining. Now, normally, that wouldn’t be a problem. But remember, this was a flood-plain lake. When we arrived at the lake, it was plainly, flooded.
Sean 1’s disappointment was obvious, by the way he swore loudly and said he was going home again. The lake was now about 25 acres in size. Features in the water included a few barbed wire fences, the odd tree, and about forty to fifty feet out, sticking out of the surface were one or two notices saying “Danger, Deep Water!”. I insisted we walk down to the lake (after all, it wasn’t as far as before) and at least had a look. Reluctantly, and grumpily, Sean 1 agreed and all three of us pulled on our wellies. Sean 2, stayed somewhat quiet.
Arriving at the water’s edge, I was relieved to find things weren’t as grim as they might have seemed. A patch of high ground had formed an island, which was only about thirty feet from the original edge of the lake. We went back to the cars and loaded up with gear. With a new air of expectancy, we sloshed and splashed, back to the island, laden with tackle. Gingerly lowering it down to the ground among the puddles and pools, we started to look out across the water and wonder where our baits would go. The answer was soon evident as I looked above our heads. Power lines. Both Sean 1 and I are electricians by trade and as such we soon deduced that we would be very close to 32 000 volts, each time we lifted our rods, certainly not advisable when standing ankle deep in wa
ter. Sean 2 stayed quiet, as we shouldered our gear and waded off around the lake, to look for another island.
This meant a walk of about 200 yards, until we found a long stretch of bank, which was high and dry. Tackle was soon set up and out went the baits. I plumbed around a bit and found that the bottom was level, with just a few humps and bumps, rising from 9 feet deep, to 5. A pronounced ledge in front of us, showed where the old lake perimeter had been swallowed up. From where we were, I could see sprigs of grass poking up from the glasslike stillness of the lake. This marked the bank only sixty yards or so away, where Sean and I had walked a few days earlier. This day, the far margins of the water were 300 yards in the distance!
With 7 rods out between us, I felt we had a fair chance of picking up a fish or two, although to be totally honest, I didn’t care that much.
As much as anything, the purpose of this visit was exploration. Finding a seldom fished lake with un-pressured stocks is always a treat. With care, I’d be enjoying this water for a long time. Small fish started to show, whenever the breeze stopped. The sun came out sporadically, which showed the lake in literally, a new light. I put up my brolly and sheltered out of the breeze, which was quite cold. Watching the Seans (1 & 2) fish I could see that they were starting to relax after our less than encouraging start.
Although the water was very cloudy and possibly not quite right for it, I put up my lure rod. I attached a spinnerbait to the trace, knowing that it would be ideal for slowly drawing across the lakebed without snagging up. With this, I’d be examining the water at the same time as fishing it. Hopefully, a set of jaws would interrupt me. In my waders, I was able to go places where the floodwater was deeper. I worked my way out onto a spit, which had previously been a good route to one of the islands and flicked the lure out and drew it back several times. No luck. Then, on hearing voices, I turned to see Sean 1 talking to someone. I was a bit surprised because I really hadn’t expected to see a soul. Realising it was a club bailiff, I returned to the others and got out the guest tickets for inspection.
A conversation was struck up and the usual bailiff-angler chat was soon flowing. We were informed that the lake did indeed hold a few good fish. Roach, chub (which I’d assumed to be present), carp and bream (which I’d seen), perch (big ones) and even the odd wild brown trout, which had come in from the nearby river. Only when the bailiff looked at what tackle we were actually using, did he ask, “Are you pike fishing?”
“Why”, he asked.
“Because we like pike fishing” was our reply.
“But there are no pike in here”.
“Oh” said Sean 1. Sean 2, stayed strangely quiet.
But I was unconvinced. Show me a water where there are no pike and I’ll show you a water where there are probably no fish! I asked the bailiff why he thought there were none and his reasoning was that “Nobody’s ever caught one”. I was even less convinced. Look at it this way: You have a river. Not really stocked or de-stocked by anything other than nature. Pike are caught in the river, at several other places I know of. This river also contains trout. The river floods into a lake where there are a number of other species, including roach, the staple diet of a lot of pike. By all accounts, the roach in the lake reach reasonable size, up to 1lb plus. If there were no pike, I believe there would be a lot of very small fish (stunted). Add that to the fact that pike love eating trout and well…
So I asked the bailiff “How many people have tried to fish for pike?”
“Well, nobody actually”.
“And in fact, not many fish this water anyway, do they”
“No, only one or two” he said.
“So, it’s unlikely that pike are going to be caught then, isn’t it”
“Yes, I suppose it is” he said with a grin.
Finally, semi-convinced of my train of thought, he turned and started to walk away. Then to finish, he left us with a request to let him know how we got on. I suggested that if he saw me there next week, it’d give him a fair idea. When we were alone again, I asked Sean 1, if he was as convinced pike were there as I was. He affirmed that he was, and started setting up a float rod. Once set up, he wandered off and started to fish the river with worms scratched up from nearby piles of driftwood.
I had a stroll along the bank and had a chat with the strangely quiet Sean 2. I asked if he was having a good time, which he said he was. Sean 1 had set up a spinning outfit and Sean 2 was throwing a lure at the water. I gave him a few casting tips, like pointing out where the fish might be. He duly aimed at these spots, but to be honest, I didn’t really have a clue. Though as long as the lure went splash when it landed, I felt he stood a chance!
We’d noticed that the water level was dropping quite quickly, which was good. Soon, the fish might move out of the adjacent cabbage field and move onto our baits. I watched with interest, as two Environment Agency vans drove along a road in the distance. I mused how it was normal to see them driving along roads, but how unusual it was to see EA chaps checking licences. They went out of sight, but then re-appeared on the other side of the water. Two teams then jumped out and worked their way along to where a sluice gate was located. Then, with rakes, they started to pull debris out, which was obviously causing the river to flood.
Seans 1 & 2 eventually returned to base and our collective minds started to focus on willing the pike to take our offerings. My right hand rod had been set up with a popped up smelt. It was this rod, or rather the alarm to which the line was attached, which gave a bleep. I stood up and went over. Another bleep. I’d cast about sixty or so yards over to the slope from an island. As I was using braided mainline, indication was going to be good. A third bleep and the rod was up in the air in a sweeping strike. I wound down and struck again, as the line was slack. Nothing was there at all. But even though I’d missed, my heart was going strong! It was now about two thirty in the afternoon and we aimed to pack up by four, so I wasted no time in getting a bait back out again.
All too soon, the sun dropped to the hilltops and started to slip away. Packing up, I thought how quickly the day had gone by. OK, there were no fish. But that’s not always necessary is it? Sean 1 said he enjoyed it and wanted me to plan our next outing. He wanted to go to a reservoir, where we could go out in a boat. I said I’d do my best, but didn’t tell him about the last time I’d been reservoir pike fishing. When I turned up that time, the reservoir had flooded, from roughly 300 acres, to about 600!
Still, I’ll try again. Sean 2 said he’d enjoyed it, but quietly.
Rain started to fall as we arrived back at the cars. I pulled out of the car park onto the road. Seans 1& 2 however, were not so lucky and were stuck in the mud. After much swearing, sliding, more swearing and judicial applications of the jack, we managed (Sean 2 and I) to get Sean 1’s van onto the road. To me, it was one final bit of exploration. I now knew where not to park.
Will I go back to the flood plain lake, even knowing that there may be no pike there? I’d be a fool not to!