The new river season is just around the corner.  I can’t believe how quickly the last few months have gone and here we are into June.  Thank goodness the weather has at last warmed up and it was certainly noticeable as we headed to Godalming Angling Society’s Marsh Farm.  The car was showing 26c!  It was overcast and rather humid.  All in all, pretty good conditions.

After the traditional brekkie at the local golf club and a stop at Apollo tackle on site, we were soon full of eggs and bacon and armed with a few maggots for the fishing.  After a quick recce I decided to remain in the corner, in peg 1.  It was out of the wind and looked very fishy.

After a quick depth check, I baited up with some groundbait, mini pellets and a liberal dose of Ocean Pride spray.  The maggots got the same treatment plus a sprinkle of chili powder for good measure.  Reserve baits included garlic luncheon meat, an assortment of soft hooker pellets and some corn.  As it turned out maggots yet again proved to be the winning bait.

The fish were soon fizzing in the swim, mopping up the loose fed maggots and groundbait.  It didn’t take long to get some action and a small crucian succumbed to the tactics. Today I was using a 1 1/2 bb waggler, 3.8lb line and a 13ft float rod.  A small 16 hook would be sufficient.  In this particular peg there weren’t any real snags, so I could fish comparatively light.

The fish continued to fiz right through the evening until about 9pm.  Then things slowed down.  By about 9.30 I had managed to tempt 7 crucians but then things went quiet.  This seems to be a familiar theme of late.  I start really well but can’t seem to catch as the light fades for some reason.  Geoff seems to do the opposite, which is all rather inexplicable.

By the end of the evening I’d managed 9 crucians including fish of 1lb 14oz, 2lb, 2lb 3oz and 2lb 5oz.  Pretty good going really.  Geoff ended up with 8 fish but his first was the best at just a smidgen under 2lb 11oz.  I also managed to land a small tench but lost a decent fish to a hook pull after it had towed me all over the lake.  I also lost a couple of crucians, which is fairly normal.

Geoff's Crucian

Geoff’s Crucian

We left about 12.30am feeling pretty chuffed with the results.  We certainly won’t be back before the new season starts.  We hope to be on the river next Thursday 16th for the first day challenge and we are hoping for a barbel or two!

Good luck to all you river anglers out there and may your rod bend and your tight lines sing in the wind!


Bars of Gold

There’s a lot of thrashing around in the reeds at the moment as tench and crucians get a little jiggy with it!  Yes it’s spawning time folks and the fish tend to be a little preoccupied when it comes to spawnification. 🙂

In bloom and full of spawning fish

In bloom and full of spawning fish

Nevertheless some fish have finished, whilst others are still rampant.  A sudden drop in temperatures probably wouldn’t cool their ardor either. With the thermometer dropping from about 18c or 19c to just a miserly 12c it was a bit of a shock to the system, particularly as by 11.30pm it had plummeted to about 5c or 6c.  Fortunately the SAS training kicked in and Geoff and I brushed off the inclement conditions to try for a few more crucians.

It was a good start with a small crucian coming to the net within a few minutes.  Sadly it then went quiet for a while.  However a few more followed as the evening wore on.  I was having a bit of trouble landing some of the fish.  Both the tench and crucians seem particularly aggressive fighters at the moment, tearing off at break neck speed for the reeds.  I must have pulled out of possibly 8-10 fish, mainly tench but certainly 1 crucian.

Luckily a few were subdued and I ended up with 4 crucians including a nice brace of ‘2’s at 2lb 6oz and 2lb 3oz, plus a couple of feisty tench.  As with my last visit I opted to stick to white maggots but also tried reds, firing out an almost constant trickle of bait.  The maggots were flavoured with Ocean Pride and this time I also used a small amount of OP groudbait and some crushed pellets.

As usual I was plagued with infuriating, unhittable bites.  The float would rise, dip, sway and bob.  No matter at what stage you tried to hit a bite, it failed miserably.  Without a doubt, in my opinion, some of these if not most, are line bites.  Fish moving through the swim and perhaps feeding, just pull the float around.  Sometimes a perfect sail away bite fails to connect with anything.  Its quite mind boggling really but all adds to the experience and there’s never a dull moment.

2lb 6oz Bar of Gold

2lb 6oz Bar of Gold

Geoff bagged the fish of the day; a nice crucian at a smidgen under 2lb 11oz.  Well done that man.  We are hoping that once spawning has fully finished the fishing will be electric and we’ll be there to see it.  Fingers crossed.

Just about the only virgin you're likely to see around here!

Just about the only virgin you’re likely to see around here!

It has been a long time since I wet a line at Marsh Farm.  However now things have warmed up and spring seems to have sprung, Geoff and I felt it was time to pay it a visit again.  The set-up and MF is excellent.  They have a superb shop on site with very friendly, helpful staff, excellent toilets and secure parking.  Access to the lakes is via gravel paths and although car access is limited to disabled drivers, walking isn’t hampered by overgrown, pot-hole infested roads, like some fisheries can be.

The lakes are just coming into full bloom, with the trees, bushes, bankside vegetation, reeds and lily-pads bursting into life.  The wildlife is a buzz of activity with all manner of waterfowl and other bird life to be seen.  There has been many a time when I have witnessed dramatic events unfold, as crows, magpies or even herons spot small, defenseless ducklings or eggs and steal them away from under the nose of a distracted mother.  The harsh realities of nature are all too apparent when you spend a great deal of time in the countryside.  Luckily it is balanced and you see some wonderful sights from all manner of animals and insect life to help redress the balance.  Spring and summer are delightful times to be in the great outdoors, soaking up the sights and sounds of the Great British countryside.

The Great British Countryside

The Great British Countryside

Despite almost torrential rain throughout the previous night and pretty much all morning, the lake looked remarkably clear when we arrived.  In fact it looked pretty damn good.  As always breakfast at Broadwater Park Golf Club was excellent and set us up for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  Steve and the guys in Apollo Angling on site at Marsh Farm were dishing out plenty of abuse but some great advice too.  So armed with a tub of white maggots and a few odds and sods, we were soon trudging along the path fully laden like some sort of Himalayan yak!

I opted for a swim sandwiched between some reeds.  To my left a large bed of reeds sprawled out into the lake and I could see the stems vibrating and the tops dancing around, as fish moved through them.  To my right there was a much smaller reed bed that remained fairly tight to the bank.  Well there were certainly fish here, that much was obvious.  As I stood watching, a nice tench swam past in the clear water, totally oblivious to my presence.

I trickle fed maggots into the swim after a liberal dose of Ocean Pride flavouring.  I do like to flavour maggots, it just gives them an edge.  I tackled up with my 14ft float rod, 4lb mainline on the fixed spool and a small insert waggler.  The float needs to be sensitive for crucians as they can be the finickiest of bitters.  I like a tiny bit of the float tip visible and try and hit the slightest dip.  Some days it works and some days it don’t!  They can drive you mad.  Patience is the key and expect the unexpected.  I use a couple of gripper stops to hold the float in place (with a float adapter attached) and I use a small swivel to join the mainline and hooklink.  By doing this I can mold some extra heavy tungsten putty to the set-up, without the need of using any split shot.  The reasons for this are two fold; firstly you can set the float to exactly how you want it with ease and secondly there are no split shot that can pinch the line or get caught up in the reeds or lily pads.

Today I was using a size 16 hook to accommodate two white maggots.  After spending some time plumbing the swim, I had the bait just resting on the bottom.  I fed two swims; one to the left and one to the right.  That way if one spots dries up, hopefully the other will produce a few bites.  By now it was about 4pm.  The float was flicked out and a few maggots tricked in over the top on a regular basis.  The float was gone almost instantly and a nice dark green tench was quickly landed.  It was in beautiful condition and was soon swimming back to its mates.  A few minutes later and a lovely dark bronze flank of a crucian shone in the late afternoon sunshine.  This was a much darker hue of bronze than I seem to remember from the crucians here and it looked a minter.  Not a big one; probably 1lb 8oz-1lb 12oz but beautiful to look at.  Each cast met with almost instant bites.  Sadly I missed dozens, which is not uncommon and sadly I seemed to lose almost as many as I landed.  It was quite a tricky swim and even the crucians were fighting hard, with all the fish heading straight for the sprawling reeds to my left. Luckily the combination of the right rod and reel line subdued most of the fish and I only got broken on one occasion, when a fish shed the hook and left it in the reeds.

From 4pm until 8pm I managed to land 4 crucians and 6 tench, however from 8pm until 11.30, which historically has been the most productive time, only 1 more crucian and a couple more tench put in an appearance.  Normally as the light fades crucians start to roll and become very active.  Not so tonight, at least in my swim.  Still it was a lovely mild night of around 16c and I really enjoyed my session.  Geoff had started off very slowly, I think I’d had 5 or 6 before he tempted his first fish but he ended up with about 8 tench and a crucian, after his swim eventually woke up at dusk.

Most of my fish were in A1 condition and their colours were certainly the best I think I’ve seen here at Marsh Farm.  I didn’t manage to land anything of any great size but enjoyed the ones I did land.  I’m sure we’ll be back very soon for another go at those magnificent crucians.


It’s been quite a while since I last wet a line.  The end of the traditional river season was a bit of a damp squib, although I did manage a number of good sessions on the Itchen.  Since then I haven’t been that inspired by the weather conditions to venture out.  However after a 6 week hiatus I was keen to have a dabble at something, before I completely forgot how to fish!

Geoff and I decided to give it a go, even though the forecast was yet again nothing special and a cold wind was predicted.  We didn’t get to Bury Hill Fisheries until around lunchtime and after a chat with Dave Roberts in the shop, we headed over to Milton Lake.  It looked fairly busy at the fishery today, with anglers well spread out across the main lake, Bonds and Milton.  It was nice to see the trees and bushes showing signs of spring.  We can’t be too far away from a noticeable improvement in the temperatures.

We headed to the far bank and set up in a couple of adjacent swims.  After a bit of plumbing we assessed the swim depth and mixed up some groudbait.  Mine consisted of Ocean Pride groundbait mix, a dollop of glug and some micro pellets.  It was a simple as that.  Tackle was a 14ft float rod, 3lb mainline and a size 16 hook to nylon.  I used a small waggler but big enough to cope with the by now, windy conditions.  As I started to fish the wind seemed to pick up even more and I soon found myself fishing into a strong wind which was affecting the float.  Despite fishing over-depth the float was being blown into the nearside bank.  As I was targeting the crucians, I didn’t really want to sacrifice the delicate presentation by having to compensate too much for the wind.

I decided to go for a wander and soon found a nice swim tucked in next to a huge reed bed containing reeds around 6 feet tall.  This area was also out of the wind, being protected by the island opposite me.  It looked perfect.  Plumbing soon revealed the swim was around 3 feet deep, even close into the reed bed.  I started out just off the reeds and put in a couple of small balls of groundbait and a few loose maggots.  I tricked the maggots in over the next 45 minutes but couldn’t muster a bite.  I then shallowed up and tried the waggler at half depth, firing just a few maggots out constantly over the float.  I thought this might entice a few roach to take but even that failed.  By now it was gone 3pm and I hadn’t had so much as a twitch.

I decided to try tight up to the reeds, just to see if maybe they were feeding in among the stems.  It seemed they were; and at last the float slid away in a confident bite. A good thumping fight ensued and it wasn’t long before a beautiful bronze flank gleamed in the spring sunshine, as a crucian broke the surface.  At last!  I soon poked the float in right next to the reeds again and put out 2 small balls of groundbait. Again an instant result.  The float kept sliding away for the remainder of the day.  Sometimes it went quiet for a while but the fish soon returned.  I was catching crucians regularly between around 1lb to probably just shy of 2lbs.  They all looked glorious with that lovely buttery gold colouration and orange fins.  They were not all genuine crucians; a few F1’s or brown goldfish were mixed in.  The true crucians are normally easy to spot; if they are a lovely golden colour then they are likely to be genuine.  If they look brown, silver or grey then they are generally something else.

A few good tench also put in an appearance.  I ended up with 5 or 6 with a couple of good fish around the 4lb mark.  They put up a spirited fight on the light tackle and added a bit of variety to the proceedings.  By the end of the day I’d caught 24 crucians and the tench.  Geoff had started off well, taking a couple of early fish but then faded as the wind increased.  Eventually he moved in next to me and managed to winkle out a few more crucians.  I think he ended on 15 crucians a couple of tench and a nice 1lb 5oz roach.

On those occasions where the sun came out and the wind abated, it was surprisingly warm.  It does lift the spirits when you feel the warmth of the sun on your face again.  I have to say I’m really looking forward to some warmer weather now.  Obviously when it gets above about 25/26c I’ll be moaning its too hot of course!!


With the close season almost at the half way point it’s worth looking at a few ideas to help with some spring fishing and to prepare for the new season ahead.

Spring Fishing:

Spice up your ground baits with some extra zing.  Add some flavouring to give that extra boost.

Liquid Flavouring

Liquid Flavouring

Soak hook baits to give them that extra edge too; whether its luncheon meat, pellets or even maggots, an extra glug of flavour can make all of the difference.

Hook Bait Glug

Hook Bait Glug

Make sure your line is in good condition and replace it if you’re unsure of its age.  Don’t loose a big fish because of complacency or laziness.

If you haven’t used your float or tench rods since last spring, clean them and check for damage prior to use.

Ensure your hooks are sharp and that hooks to nylon have been checked for poor tying or signs of damage.  You may prefer to tie your own hooklinks like I do, so that you have total control over their quality and reliability, particularly if you’re targeting big tench, bream or crucians.



Most of all enjoy your time on the bank.  It’s about escapism and pleasure.


The Season ahead:

If allowed, get down to your chosen stretch of river for a recce.  If your selected river flows clear, then in good conditions try and spot the barbel and chub.

Find out where they spawn and you’ll see exactly what numbers and sizes of fish are in your stretch.

Watch the behavior of fish.  Look for feeding patterns and patrol routes.  Look for where the fish tend to frequent on a regular basis and identify why they like these areas so much.

Even in rivers that do not flow clear, you can still look for potential holding or feeding areas.  Early season cast a lead around to try and locate features and depths.  Look for deep holes or gullies, gravel beds and runs or anything out of the ordinary like hidden boulders or snags.  A day spent doing this can make all of the difference to your catch results.

Look beyond the well trodden paths and try and locate remote areas that have the potential to produce fish.  Once off the beaten track, you’ll often have the place to yourself and the fish will be far less spooky.

Pre-baiting can help introduce a new bait or get the fish used to finding a readily available food source in particular areas, potentially giving you an edge come the new season.







Yes it was back to the Itchen, although this time lower downstream in search of the big roach that inhabit this delightful chalkstream.  As is typical of late, heavy rain the day before had coloured the river and it looked like it had pushed the levels up a bit.  Overall though the river looked pretty good.  The forecast was for a dry day with no rain, so quite what this wet stuff was falling from the sky is beyond me!  Luckily the rain didn’t last too long.

Geoff and I were particularly after the roach, however beggars can’t be choosers and so anything would be nice and in all honesty a roach would be a bonus.  We opted to start at the lower extremity of the fishery and work our way up, dropping into the occasional swim for a trot through with a float.  A chat here and there with a few local old boys pointed us in the right direction and we kept moving to see what was about.

At the top end I found a very nice, smooth glide.  It looked about right for roach; it was around 4ft deep, smooth water and a distinct crease between the faster flow down the centre and the slower water on the inside.  I’d set up with my 15ft float rod, centrepin and 3lb line.  I opted for size 16 hook-to-nylon and double red maggot.  The float was a 3g bolo, which is about 5AA or 10bb.  If I’m fishing for roach I will bulk the big shot around the float and fish a few much smaller shot shirt button style down the line.  Normally I’d use a few No 6’s and 8’s.  If I was purely after the roach I may use a smaller float but it does need to be able to cope with the deep water and heavy flow.

I’d managed to tempt a number of grayling and salmon par before eventually connecting with something much bigger. Initially it was difficult to know whether I’d hooked a fish or the bottom and then that tell tale ‘thump, thump’ indicated a chub.  After a dogged fight Geoff finally landed the chevin and it looked a decent fish.  After the initial “it looks huge” comments had elapsed we weighed the fish at 4lb 8oz.  It was a lovely fish and would take some beating.  Nothing else emerged and so another move was in order.

4lb 8oz

4lb 8oz

A few trots through the new swim and the float buried.  After a spirited fight it turned out to be a sea trout of about 3lbs.  It put up a great scrap in the flow and a few passers by had stopped to watch the action.  A round of applause followed once the fish was safely landed, unhooked and returned to fight another day.  After that this swim went a bit quiet and so I moved downstream to a pedestrian bridge.

A roar of Merlin engines filled the air and announced the arrival of a Spitfire hurtling upwards overhead.  The Spitfire was first flown from Southampton Airport and with a anniversary coming up soon I believe, I guess this was a practice run.  I do love the sound of those Rolls Royce engines and the sight of that majestic plane maneuvering through the skies.

After the excitement of the Spitfire I managed a couple of nice dace to just shy of 10oz, a few grayling and the ever present salmon par.  Geoff and I then targeted a really nice far bank glide.  It was tricky casting that had to be inch perfect to trot the correct line but the masters that we are, we managed to get the odd one right!  Geoff had the only fish though but it was a lovely roach of 1lb 4oz and any roach over a pound tends to be the highlight of the day.  It had been fun with a good mixed bag of fish and with the season drawing to a close in a week or so, would probably be our last visit to this particular stretch until next winter.

1lb 4oz

1lb 4oz

Hooked on Grayling

I was very privileged to be invited to fly fish a delightful syndicate water in Penshusrt last Spring by a fellow piscator.  It is a lovely spot in the shadows of Penshurst Place and takes up a minuscule part of Penshurst’s 2500 acres of formal gardens, woodlands and parkland.  Although only a tiny part of this grand and ancient estate, the setting is beautiful and seems very secluded despite its proximity to the main house.

Penshurst Place

Penshurst Place

I’m no fly fisherman but I do enjoy thrashing the water to a foam occasionally and Peter Bentley was the perfect host.  After a few casting lessons I was free to wander and enjoy the spring delights.  Numerous changes to the fly followed throughout the day and Peter finally found one to the trout’s liking; a small black buzzer.  I swapped and it wasn’t long before the fish were hitting the fly.  We both managed to coax a few fish out and I left a wealthier man for the experience.

It was now my turn to return the favour.  I offered Peter a day trotting for grayling.  I think Peter said he had not coarse fished since his childhood but a fisherman is a fisherman.  I hoped a day on the Itchen fishing for grayling wouldn’t bore him senseless and I’m delighted to say it didn’t!  A day’s fishing isn’t the same unless a hearty breakfast is involved and our usual eating establishment was the port of call.  The breakfast is ideal to keep you going for the remainder of the day.

A good quality centrepin

A good quality centrepin

We arrived at the river around noon and began the laborious process of getting the waders on and all of the other usual apparel before heading off to the river.  I think Peter was pleasantly surprised by the Itchen.  I guess that’s hardly surprising; it’s a beautiful, fast flowing river that winds its way through some lovely countryside. I think what really amazed him was the fact that so much of the river offers free fishing.  We wandered the river a little bit but settled for a really nice long glide that angled away from a long sweeping bend.  With the waders on we were able access the river and trot the perfect line.

I attempted to demonstrate to Peter the art of trotting with a centrepin.  As a fly fisherman Peter was pretty much used to the concept of a pin and now it was just a case of familiarizing himself with the reels action. The key was to ensure the line came off the reel with a controlled motion.  It’s imperative to keep a very slight pressure on the reel’s drum so it doesn’t over-spin resulting in the line spooling off the reel in a huge tangle.  It also allows you to strike whilst using the thumb as a break.  There is no need to use your other hand to feed line, a good centrepin will need no assistance there, unless the flow is barely discernible.

I have to say that after a very short demonstration Peter was soon trotting reasonably well.  I left him with some maggots and corn and wandered off to have a dabble myself.  The river was a bit higher and more coloured today after quite heavy overnight rain.  It didn’t look ideal and judging by the results, it had obviously affected the fishing.  I managed to tempt a few grayling from the top of the beat but nothing of any size.  I noticed Peter was talking to Geoff, who had wandered upstream and they looked like they had just landed a fish.  It turned out to be Peter’s first grayling and a very worthy one too at 1lb 8oz.  Not a bad fish for this stretch.



It didn’t take too long to add a few more to Peter’s tally including another fine fish over a pound.  Peter seemed genuinely delighted with his day and the method of catching them.  Fly fisherman are used to constantly doing things; casting, moving, changing flies and looking for fish.  Trotting is also a very active method and can so often involve being in the water as well as changing baits, depths, shotting patterns and floats and of course working the float through the swim at different speeds and lines.  I think Peter found it a very rewarding method and I could see him doing it more frequently.

As the day drew to an end I decided to try a deep run of around 6-7ft that I had found by wading upstream.  A few trots through this hidden spot produced a quick result.  The float buried and the fish on the other end felt very heavy and fought hard.  It thumped solidly on the end of the line.  I had a couple of problems; no net and I wasn’t near an accessible bank.  As I drew the fish close I realised it was a really decent grayling.  I managed to hand it out and only just managed to keep hold of it.  I had no scales and no bag either to weigh it in.  I don’t think it would have gone 2lbs but it wasn’t far short; maybe 1lb 12oz-1lb 14oz.  A very nice fish to end the day on.

Geoff had managed to tempt a few fish too and Martin Porter had also turned up for a go and he too winkled a few out.  I haven’t seen Martin for a while and it was good to catch up again.  Hopefully it won’t be so long until our next encounter. As the light faded we decided it was time to head home.  All in all a successful day and hopefully a new course fisherman has been born.  I think Peter will venture down again and I’ll be kept busy with another golf club member looking to try his hand at a spot of trotting in a week or so’s time.


Wonderful Winchester

After some fairly exhaustive research trips around the Winchester area for more fishing opportunities, Geoff and I finally gave up and headed off to a stretch of river that we knew well.  Conditions have been tough recently and we knew the Itchen had been running high and coloured.  We finally arrived at the river around midday and were pleasantly surprised to find the river looking spot on; a nice smooth pace and just a tinge of colour.

I headed to the top of the fishery and tackled up.  The usual set-up would suffice; 14ft float rod, 3lb mainline and a 16 hook-to-nylon.  I opted to use a 3g Bolo style float and had the option of red maggots or sweetcorn.  I ended up trotting a swim that dropped off into a deep glide under a bridge.  In fact it was the M3 flyover!  Noisy but productive.  I seem to have a thing for motorway bridges at the moment!

First trot through produced a bite and they kept coming.  I trickled in a few maggots every cast and after around 30-40 minutes I banked around 8 grayling, 1 trout and at least half a dozen small salmon par.  I then decided to drop downstream slightly into a beautiful glide on a slight bend.  There was a good depth of around 4ft and an easy pace to the flow.  It looked perfect.  First cast; grayling on.  More followed and in fact by around 4.15 I’d had 31 grayling to approximately 1lb 4oz, with the average around 8-10oz.  Not monsters, but on a cold day it was very rewarding sport.

I decided to move downstream further as the afternoon wore on.  My last swim was a long glide which then narrowed by an overhanging tree.  Again it had a good depth and a nice smooth flow.  Yet again immediate results.  The grayling here appeared to be of a slightly better average size, closer to a pound.  10 more grayling followed to around 1lb 4oz+.  I must have lost 12-18 grayling too, probably down to the barbless hooks.  I find micro barbed tend to loose fewer grayling, although some days it’s hard to keep them on any hook, they all seem to be made of rubber.  Still that’s the fun (?) of fishing for grayling.  The trouble is loosing the biggies tends to hurt a bit.

Gay Pigeons or s scene from the Birds!

Gay Pigeons or a scene from the Birds!

Geoff had also fared pretty well.  He had managed to take 26 grayling to around 1lb 8oz and had averaged fish to around the 1lb mark.  By 5.00pm it was bloody cold and we decided enough was enough.  It had been an interesting and productive day in search of new venues and getting the rod bent again.  Those 2lb+ grayling are still proving to be rather elusive though.

There is something very special about big roach. The desire to catch them seems to consume me sometimes. However finding them and spending enough time actually fishing for them, is difficult. It must be a throwback to my childhood days, catching those lovely red finned, silver bars from my local lake and the river Medway that has never really left me. As much as I love catching barbel, chub and grayling, roach still gets the adrenaline pumping and the sort of excitement levels that a kid normally only experiences on Christmas morning when Santa has been! I just can’t seem to shake it off.

For me a big roach is over a pound. At that weight they become rather special, no longer something that just gets pulled in on a couple of maggots every cast. No, the bigger specimens are harder to come by, particularly from flowing water. Of course there are a few venues that I could visit like Lochnaw Castle, Sway Lakes or Linch Hill and one day I may just do that. These days I much prefer to trot a float for them and if absolutely necessary lob out a small blockend feeder. For me it’s the venue and the method that gives me the most reward.

It's quality roach like this that keeps me coming back for more!

It’s quality roach like this that keeps me coming back for more!

There are plenty of rivers that can and do throw up some really big specimens. The Frome produces fish to over 3lbs, the Kennet still produces the odd big fish, the Hampshire Avon produces plenty of fish to over 2lbs and of course further afield the Trent and Wye both produce big fish. It’s not so much finding the rivers to target, its more of a case of finding the right stretches and then spending plenty of time trying to catch them. I seem to spread myself a bit too thin sometimes by fishing for everything, all over the country rather than concentrating on just one species at possibly one venue. Mind you that’s how I and my mates like to fish, so I’m certainly not complaining.

The Lower Itchen Fishery

The Lower Itchen Fishery

My latest effort was a venue that produced some nice roach for me last season. It was close to the end of the season last year when I heard the tragic news of Keith Speer’s passing. On that particular day it produced a magnificent 2lb 3oz fish for me. I will always remember that day because of that fish and the sad circumstances that transpired during the morning.

So I was due a return visit to the Lower Itchen Fishery, again in search of a special roach. I had a swim in mind and on arrival at the river Geoff and I were met with promising conditions. The river was a bit higher than normal and perhaps pushing through a bit harder, but with a touch of colour and very mild conditions, it looked good for a roach or two. Geoff decided to tackle the straight below the weir, whilst I headed upstream to a known holding spot.  With planes taking off from Southampton Airport at regular intervals and the M27 traffic thundering past, it was hardly tranquility personified!  However I’m used to it and actually enjoy watching the planes taking off and I hardly seem to notice the motorway traffic either.  There is a distinct lack of wildlife at the lower extremities of this fishery, however wander upstream a mile or so and that changes quite dramatically.  I’ve seen quite a few deer, owls, buzzards and an assortment of other feathered wildlife to keep even the most ardent of twitchers occupied.

A big Itchen Grayling from a few years ago

A big Itchen Grayling from a few years ago

My plan of attack was quite simple; feed in an occasional ball of groundbait laced with maggots and a good glug of Ocean Pride flavouring whilst keeping a steady trickle of loose feed going in all day. My hope was that it would eventually bring on the roach. Tackle was a 15ft float rod, centrepin reel loaded with 3lb line and a size 16 hook-to-nylon fished with either a single caster or maggot. I also had some size 18s if the fishing was proving a bit slow, however with the colour and pace I felt fishing that light unnecessary. After a cup of coffee and a toast to absent friends, I tackled up and started to trot through the swim. It was around 6ft deep and started to shallow as the swim reached the bridge around 20 yards or so downstream.

Groundbait laced with maggots, a tub of casters and a good quality bait pouch.

Groundbait laced with maggots, a tub of casters and a good quality bait pouch.

Almost immediately the float dipped and something writhed on the other end. It felt like a grayling and indeed it was. The float continued to dip most of the day and I ended up taking around 25-30 grayling to just over a pound. On around 12 occasions I hooked something much bigger, which pretty much towed me all over the river, once or twice heading towards the Solent!  They turned out to be trout of course, either brownies or sea trout up to nearly 4lbs. They were good fun to play in the flow but I don’t think they helped with the roach. Sadly, despite my best efforts, I only managed to tempt one small roach. Perhaps the flow was too much and the roach had moved, or maybe I should have fished lighter? Who knows?

I managed to hire a model for the day....yes young Danny is still going strong.

I managed to hire a model for the day….yes young Danny is still going strong.

As the light faded I had a call from Geoff who was now barbel fishing below the weir. There was a palpable air of excitement in his voice and he informed me he was playing a big barbel but was struggling to get it into the net. I reeled in and with a few bits of gear tucked under my arms, I headed downstream to Geoff. I dumped the tackle at the car and rushed round to Geoff’s aid. It was already over and a big barbel lay recovering in the net. It was thick across the back and looked comfortably a double. We both thought it looked 12-13lbs however the scales recorded 11lb 5oz. It was a lovely, well conditioned fish and without a doubt the highlight of the day. It was also Geoff’s first Itchen barbel and a day he won’t forget in a hurry. It seemed a fitting time to end our proceedings for the day and head back home. We’ve had some great sport at the Lower Itchen Fishery over the years and although our visits here are few and far between these days, we still enjoy our time here and it can still throw up something a bit special occasionally.

Geoff's magnificent 11lb 5oz barbel.

Geoff’s magnificent 11lb 5oz barbel.

Itchen Valley Grayling

The Itchen Valley offers the chalk stream angler some of the best grayling and trout fishing in the country.  The run of salmon may not be what it once used to be but they do still show in reasonable numbers.  The Itchen starts it’s life in Mid Hampshire near the village of Cheriton before heading north and then south through the historic city of Winchester.  Winchester dates back to certainly the 1st century BC.  It became a Roman settlement and later fortifications were added and Winchester’s importance was set in stone, if you’ll pardon the pun!  The cathedral grew in significance and the city later became the home of one of England’s most famous kings; Alfred the Great.

Winchester Cathedral - Courtesy of Wikipedia

Winchester Cathedral – Courtesy of Wikipedia

After Winchester the river flows south to join the Southampton Water below the Itchen Bridge in Southampton.  Between Woodmill and the upper reaches the fresh water provides some exciting opportunities for the coarse angler.  Pretty much all species can and are caught from these crystal clear waters; barbel, chub, pike, perch, roach and of course grayling.  The roach grow to exceptional sizes and I’ve seen chub to over 6lbs caught and barbel well into double figures.  All in all its a great place to while away a few hours trotting a float.

An Itchen Roach

A 2lb+ Itchen Roach

Geoff and I have been fishing the middle Itchen on and off over the last few weeks.  Sadly due to the exceptionally wet and windy conditions these trips have been few and far between.  Luckily the Itchen copes quite well with heavy rain and both the levels and colour improve very quickly, although it does have to stop raining at some point for it to do so.

These recent trips have provided plenty of action as always.  It would be almost impossible to blank here I think.  Often we end up with a really good bag of grayling and trout.  Our latest 2 trips couldn’t have been more different though.  The first saw us tackle our usual stretch from around 10.30am.  We always start with a cooked breakfast in a very nice local cafe that has a roaring wood burner to keep you toasty on those cold frosty mornings.  The river was up and quite coloured and we know that will be more challenging.  Still we explored the mile or so section of river from one end to the other.

The water was pushing through quite hard and so a big bolo style float seemed appropriate.  I ended up using a 3g one straight through to a 16 hook.  Bait was the faithful maggot or sweetcorn, lightly nicked on.  Both of these have been tremendously successful here in coloured and clear conditions.  It’s remarkable that in one swim you’ll only catch on maggot and yet in another only on sweetcorn.  Also as the day passes, again a change from one bait to the other seems to make a marked difference.

On this particular day the fish were hard to come by.  I think that was mainly down to the heavy, tea like colouration.   Grayling are sight feeders and therefore harder to come by in these conditions.  Still we persevered.  By constant bait changing and a mobile approach, we ended up with quite a few between us although mainly on the smaller side.  I think the biggest was perhaps a pound.  We had to cover a lot of ground to keep catching and all in all managed to see most of the mile plus stretch of river.  I can’t remember the actual numbers of fish caught but it was well down on what we would normally expect.  I seem to recall around 10-15 grayling between us but it could easily be more.  The old grey matter is not what it once was I’m afraid!

The second trip this week saw improved conditions.  The river was still higher than normal but a lot of the colour had dropped out.  Earlier in the day (after breakfast of course!) we took the opportunity to check out another stretch, which sadly proved to be not so good.  We finally arrived at the river around noon.  The flow had lessened and the river was looking damn good.  I opted for a slightly smaller float; an Avon with 5bb shot and a 16 hook.  I started off in a favourite spot with double bronze maggot.  The results came after about 5 minutes of trickling bait in.  A really hard fighting and heavy fish used the flow to its full advantage.  They turn sideways into the flow and feel incredibly heavy in the conditions.  Initially I wasn’t sure what the fish was but soon that magnificent sail like dorsal cut through the surface film and gave its presence away.  This looked a good fish and after a heart in the mouth fight we netted a really decent fish.  It looked every bit 2lbs but looks can be deceptive.  It weighed 1lb 12oz and is certainly up there with the biggest specimens we have caught from here.  I followed that up with another similar sized fish but probably a few ounces smaller.

1lb 12oz Itchen Grayling

1lb 12oz Itchen Grayling

The afternoon proved to be most enjoyable.  The sun was out and it was a typical cold, frosty winter’s day.  The sort we are more used to at this time of the year.  There was a slight wind but not enough to make it unpleasant in the winter sunshine.  The water was cold though and wading almost waist deep at times had a certain time-span.  After around 20 minutes the cold got into my bones and I would have to get out and try and warm up.  I love days like these.  To me it’s what winter fishing is all about.

Geoff and I covered around half of the beat during the afternoon and some really good quality grayling came our way.  I ended up with 19 nice fish and probably a similar number of trout.  Not bad for around 4 1/2 hours fishing.  At one point I hooked a proper zoo creature.  I couldn’t budge it off the bottom and it just headed wherever it wanted.  It powered upstream until it got bored and then decided to head off towards Southampton with me in tow, chasing it down the bank until I could go no further.  Something had to give and it turned out to be the line at the hook knot.  I never saw the fish but suspect it was a decent sized salmon.  A little later on Geoff hooked something similar and the fish came out of the water like an Exocet missile,  It was indeed a salmon of around 10lbs, so my leviathan was likely to be the same.

The Itchen Valley

The Itchen Valley

This was one of those rare occasions when I managed to catch more grayling than Geoff.  That’s two consecutive sessions I’ve managed to outdo him.  It’s so rare for the maestro to be bested, I thought it worthy of inclusion here!


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