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Posts Tagged ‘Chalk stream fishing’


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.

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As those wonderful long summer evenings relentlessly draw in, winter arrives all too quickly.  However it’s not all doom and gloom.  With those dark, cold mornings when breath vaporizes in an instant, comes the grayling season.  Despite hating the cold I feel a certain tingling sensation at the thought of chasing those ladies of the stream.  Not sexual healing as Marvin would put it but rather a therapeutic endeavour that sends the pulse racing at the thought of a large grayling gracing the net.

A sign of things to come?

A sign of things to come?

The colours of a grayling’s fins and dorsal are quite exquisite, with hints of blue, magenta, red and other exotic hues.  They truly are a magnificent fish.  They are famed of course for the impressive sail like dorsal which they use to good effect in the fast flowing chalk streams of which they call home.

A decent grayling

A decent grayling

A big grayling can test the very best tackle in the pacey flows and often results in heart in the mouth action.  Sadly all too often, as you draw the fish to the net, a final head thrash will throw the hook and a monster grayling will sink back into it’s watery home.

I have traveled the length and breadth  of the country (well almost) in search of these jewels amongst freshwater fish.  The Shire’s have produced well, as have the valleys and mountain streams of Wales.  Now we have returned to the southern chalk streams in search of that elusive 3lb grayling.  In one or two rivers the grayling have prospered on the quality and biodiversity of their surroundings.   A chance of a 3lber is a real possibility and so over the coming winter months, Geoff, Kevin and I (aided and abetted on occasions by Danny) will be targeting these most magnificent of fish in some of the South’s most scenic and unspoilt countryside.

Our first opening gambit saw us tackle the river over a two day period.  First up was a stretch that has produced some seriously big grayling and has a reputation as being one of the prime beats on the river.  The levels have returned to normal after a great deal of rain over recent weeks, however the colour hasn’t quite dropped out and probably doesn’t over the winter months.  This is a fast, generally shallow river with lots of twists and turns.  This creates an abundance of fishable glides both deep and shallow and all over pristine gravel.  It’s simply mouthwatering.  Depths range from 18 inches to around 4 feet, with the odd 6 or 7 foot hole or short run.  Personally I don’t like the deeper areas and have rarely succeeded in these swims.  For me 2-4ft produce the best results.

We traveled light (well light for us) with a single rod, centrepin, net and an array of floats and odds and sods.  I still use my rucksack that I use for my barbel fishing, only because it can accommodate my flask, float tubes, towel, food and a camera.    I have just purchased a new trotting tool in the shape of a 15ft Matchpro Ultralight.  I have also just treated myself to a new Young’s Purist II but sadly that has yet to be put through its paces.  However the rod performed admirably and I’m delighted with it.

On the first day I chopped and changed baits and depths to try and tempt some fish.  However the fishing, for me at least, was slow.  I covered most of the upper two beats, giving each swim an hour or so to produce.  Bites were few and far between and perhaps the first of the heavy frosts had chilled the grayling’s appetite somewhat.   So I kept swapping baits with red worms, maggots and corn all getting a workout and altering the depth and speed of the float.  Anything was worth a try, just to entice a bite or two.

2 pints of maggots, sweetcorn, worms, spare hooks, shot and still room for more in the Lone Angler Bait Pouch.

2 pints of maggots, sweetcorn, worms, spare hooks, shot and still room for more in the Lone Angler Bait Pouch.

Eventually a few fish put in an appearance and I ended the day with 6 grayling to 1lb 4oz and 5 trout.  Like me Geoff also found it hard going, whilst Kevin had more success taking 12 grayling and I think 8 trout.  I’m not sure what the secret of his success was down to but he certainly finished well ahead of the field.  I don’t think any particularly big fished were landed but I lost around 12 fish with 3 being notably big.  However their identity remained anonymous as I never actually saw the culprits.  Sadly one fish in particular felt like a very big grayling indeed.

Later that night we were treated to a superb meal in the local pub and washed down with perhaps the finest real ale produced in England; Timothy Taylor Landlord!  Wow what a pint of ale that is, my absolute favorite.   Early the next morning we left the cottage and headed off to our final destination.  This section was around a mile long and again abounded with twists and turns and long gravel glides galore.

I achieved early success taking a couple of nice grayling and several big trout including a really big brownie of around 4lbs.  I enjoy searching a river and so spent the day swim jumping and trying to cover as much water as possible.  This helps to map the stretch and slowly build up a picture of the beat and gain some essential knowledge of depths and likely swims.  Grayling do tend to move around a lot, so a swim may produce well in the morning but nothing later on, or vice versa!  In fact a brilliant swim one day can be useless another.  I find it best to keep exploring and fish several swims in a day.  I think it’s worth persevering in a swim if you think it looks like it’s got potential, so give it an hour or so before moving on.

I kept a trickle of maggots going in on every cast and today maggots seemed to produce the most bites.  Worms and sweetcorn caught just a couple of fish.  By the end of the day I had landed 9 grayling to 1lb 7oz and 6 trout.  I lost around 4 or 5 grayling that I saw and a few that I didn’t.  Geoff was also struggling a bit but towards the end of the session he came up trumps with a new PB; a grayling of 2lb 5oz.  Meanwhile Kevin was yet again top rod, taking 13 grayling and a number of trout.  More significantly he manged fish of 1.12, 1.14, 1.14, 1.15 and a beauty of 2.4, five stunning fish.  He just seemed to have the knack over the last couple of days and put Geoff and I to shame.

Geoff's new PB 2lb 5oz

Geoff’s new PB 2lb 5oz

So our time here had come to an end.  It certainly showed promise and we are looking forward to many more trips here over the remainder of the season.

Kevin's 2lb 4oz Grayling

Kevin’s 2lb 4oz Grayling

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No, that’s not a reference to Middle Earth and Bilbo Baggins but very much one of England’s fine chalk streams in the Shires.  Geoff, Kevin and I ventured to a new river to try our hand at the stocks of grayling.  It was a bitterly cold day, with a keen wind that could cut through granite.  The temperatures remained sub zero pretty much all day, with a wind chill factor well into the minuses.

We arrived at our venue mid morning and walked the length of the stretch.  It was a lovely, narrow chalk stream.  There was an abundance of cover from the trees and bushes and plenty of features in the river itself.  Riffles, deep gravel runs, groins and depressions all looked likely to offer some exciting fishing prospects.

Must be mad

Fortunately we had all worn chest waders and without these we couldn’t have accessed some of the best spots.  Anyway we started at the top and worked our way back down the stretch.  I must say chalk streams often look remarkably shallow, that is until you decide to go in all ‘John Wayne’ style and find yourself in over 3 feet of icy cold water.  Not only does it make you shiver, it makes you ‘shrink’ pretty damn quick too!  Gin clear water and gravel are very deceptive.  What appears to be a foot or two is often much deeper.

So after that shock I tried the swim for about 15 minutes without a bite.  I decided it was a little too deep for the grayling so moved downstream.  After a short distance I found an area that narrowed up quite considerably, creating a really nice flow over clean gravel and then it dropped into a deep run under a weeping willow.  It looked perfect.  Set-up was the usual affair: 2.6lb mainline, 16 barbless hook and a 5bb stick.  Bait was double maggot either red, bronze or a combination of both.

A few trots through sorted out the depth and I eased the baited float through by holding back fairly hard.  I missed a couple of bites and bumped a fish off but then as the float dipped out of sight I stuck into a much better fish.  After a hair-raising fight (well OK not on my head but there are other places……) I finally managed to net the culprit. It was a fine grayling that weighed 1lb 7oz and was just stunning to look at.  The colours on these fish were quite exceptional.  I took a few more fish from here including several more over a pound.

1lb 7oz

This continued on and off all day in all of the swims that I tried.  Some swims produced better than others but always with the best ones being with a good flow over clean gravel, even in fairly shallow water.  Kevin was having a similar day, although he didn’t seem to get in amongst the bigger fish.  Saying that, he still had a good few over the pound mark.  Geoff, as ever, was having a field day.  He moved into one particular swim that gave him about two dozen grayling and each subsequent move produced a few more for him.

Geoff ended the days proceedings with 48 grayling with approximately 15 or 16 over a pound and up to around 1lb 8oz.  I ended on the same number as Kevin, which was 34.  I had around 12-14 over the pound mark with numerous of those between 1lb 4oz and about 1lb 8oz.  All the fish were pretty much taken on maggot, with the exception of maybe one or two to corn.  They were also in mint condition and perhaps the nicest coloured grayling we have seen.

Considering it was our first effort here, we were delighted at the results.  Another visit should see an improvement in those catch statistics.  One thing that surprised me was how much the grayling seem to totally ignore you in the water.  This is something I have encountered before but I walked upstream through a couple of reasonably deep runs too and then trotted back down through them, catching good fish almost immediately.  It just shows that once you are in their home, they seem a lot less bothered by the angler, than they would if they spotted you on the bank.

So even in such Arctic conditions we ended up having a really good day and look forward to a return visit before the end of the season, time permitting.

A good grayling

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Thought I’d have a cheeky pre BFW grayling day at Britford this week.  It was the four Musketeers in action; Kevin (Aramis), Dan (Athos) and Geoff (Porthos…or Poor Sod)  and of course myself.

Conditions were good and I just hope they stay that way for February’s visit on the 15th.  The river level has increased since the drought like conditions of earlier last year but the level is still perhaps a foot down.  The clarity was good, with just a hint of colour.

It looked like a good day for maggots and worms.  I headed off to the lower section, below the lower sluices, for a dabble and immediately hooked and then lost a big chub.  I stayed in the area for a while and managed to loose another fish (yes, very careless, I know) and then banked a small brownie.

So, along with Kevin, I decided to start making my way upstream.  Both Kevin and I decided to drop into a few likely looking swims along the way.  The river is still fairly low but we found some nice runs.  The dace were throwing themselves on the hook.  I couldn’t begin to guess how many we caught between the four of us.  Most of them were fairly small but later in the day a few better quality ones showed themselves.

I couldn’t seem to find any grayling and neither could Dan, despite our best efforts.  Kevin started to catch a few to a pound+ and lost one particularly good fish at the net.  He said it looked every bit a 2 pounder.  Great shame.  Britford does hold some stonking grayling but they are few and far between at that sort of stamp.  Kevin sadly lost two other big fish afterwards, which is starting to get a bit careless, if you ask me.  Hard luck Kevin, we have all experienced it and it’s bloody frustrating.

Stuart the river keeper was on hand as always offering advice on swims.  He put me in a swim that provided me with half a dozen nice grayling to just short of the pound mark.  Geoff found a few decent chub and some grayling and Kevin’s swim dried up.  Dan finished on a high taking some very good quality dace on breadflake.

A reasonable day as ever at Britford, where fishing is always enjoyable and offers the tantalizing opportunity of some very big fish.

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