Posts Tagged ‘Lower Itchen Fishery’

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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The English weather is as unpredictable as Crystal Palace football team, although the Pardew Boys are looking a bit stronger these days.  Geoff and I had hoped to spend three days down on the southern chalkstream that we have been targeting this winter and have a last go at some big grayling before the season ends on the 28th February.  We kept a close eye on the weather and heavy rains over the weekend put an end to the opportunity really.  We toyed with the idea of heading to the Trent instead but with night time temperatures at around 1c, we felt that wouldn’t be much cop either (as it tuned out those night time temperatures were much higher than expected and would have been ideal for a spot of barbel fishing).  Rain was also forecast during the days, with some prolonged spells of heavy rain predicted.  A change of plan was needed.

In the end we decided to have just a couple of days out, instead of staying away for those few nights.  I really fancied having a crack at some roach on the Lower Itchen Fishery and perhaps a day on a free section of the Itchen on one of the other days.  We opted for LIF on Tuesday and Winchester on the Wednesday.

On the way down Geoff and I chatted about all sorts of stuff when Keith Speer came up in the conversation.  We were discussing his time on the Avon on the Longford Estate with particular attention to his catches of dace.  I had already decided to fish one particular swim on the Itchen fishery, one that I know Keith particularly liked and one that I had watched him fish before.  His success there (He caught a 2lb + roach that day) inspired me to spend a day trotting this swim.  Constant feeding might just bring on those big roach towards the end of the day.  It’s an area where the big roach hold up in the winter and throws up some real clonkers on occasions.

On arrival we found the river fairly coloured and this would particularly suit fishing for the roach.  Luckily no one was in the swim I wanted and the stretch down from the weir was also clear, which is where Geoff wanted to fish and another spot where Keith fished with tremendous success, taking countless chub on another day we spent there a season or two back.  Tactics were pretty simple; 15ft float rod, centrepin reel with 3lb line and an Avon float finished off with an 18 hook and single red maggot.  The swim was deep here, around 8ft and a nice crease veered off to around mid river.  It looked very inviting and I felt quite confident.  Sadly the wind was blowing a hooley, which made presentation very difficult and me curse a lot!  After a nice cuppa I started to fish, keeping the float working along the crease time and time again, always accompanied by a steady trickle of maggots on each and every cast.  If there’s one thing you learn whilst watching and talking to Keith, it’s about keeping the feed going in.  You have to be methodical in you’re approach to switch the fish on.  Sometimes it may take an hour, sometimes 6 hours but more often than not it works.

I saw Geoff wandering upstream towards me with flask in hand.  A bit early for him to be coming up already I thought, he must be unhappy with the conditions.  I looked at my phone, only to see a load of missed calls.  Geoff arrived and the first thing he said was “have you heard about Keith Speer?”  “No, what about him?” I said with some trepidation.  Geoff then informed me that apparently Keith had passed away whilst on the river the day before.  I almost laughed, as it sounded so utterly ridiculous, it had to be a mistake.  Then all of those missed calls made sense and the reality of the news hit home and that horrible sense of dread crept over me.  I phoned the people concerned, only to have the devastating news confirmed.  Both Geoff and I felt gutted, empty.

I certainly wasn’t best friends with Keith; however I got to know him well over the last 4 or 5 years.  He gave up a great deal of his time to the Association of Barbel Fishers, participating in all of our talks and also setting up a float fishing clinic on the Trent for us.  He had recently agreed to take part in another project the ABF were setting up, which would involve quite a bit of his time. In all honesty he was the first person I thought of that would make up a 4 man panel and I was over the moon when he agreed to be involved.  For that I am truly grateful, as are all the ABF’s team members and the membership itself.  He really helped and supported the ABF and he will be sorely missed.

Keith was a warm and generous man but with a wonderful self deprecating sense of humour.  I respected him, admired him, was inspired by him but most of all liked him.  That was the measure of the man.  He was a likeable guy who made you feel comfortable in his presence and enjoy his banter.  His angling experience, or dare I say expertise, inspired many, me included.  I looked at Keith as one of the angling world’s most successful specimen hunters; a great angler who was happy to share his wealth of experience on the river bank or in the pub over a pint.  He will be missed by all those that met him, or read his excellent writings of days spent fishing, or watched him on TV.  My heartfelt condolences go out to his family. RIP Keith Speer.

It took a while to continue fishing but I did.  Then two anglers set up directly opposite me (well I mean there are only 3 miles of river here, so you can’t blame them really can you!!). I tried to ignore them and not be put off by their continual bombardment of mashed bread going in mid river.  I wondered what Keith might of thought about this and just carried on regardless.  Regular bites started to come and I was catching a steady stream of grayling, nothing big, fish to maybe 1lb-1lb 4oz but with most around 8oz-12oz.  So far there was no sign of any roach.  As the light started to fade a bit I finally hooked the target species and lost it at the net, a roach of around 12oz or so.  Still that was an encouraging sign and shortly after another roach was tempted, although not a big fish.

I hooked both roach some way downstream and it appeared they were holding back down the swim towards the bridge.  I decided to move down the swim about 5 yards and see if I could target the spot better.  First trot down and the float buried.  The strike caused the culprit to boil and swirl on the surface and I was presented with a sight I may well never forget; a huge roach turned on the surface.  Well at least there was no uncertainty about what was on the other end.  So began the most thrilling and nerve wracking fight I’ve ever had.  The big roach kitted out into mid river and used the flow to full effect.  I suddenly realised I hadn’t brought my net with me and so started the nerve jangling task of coaxing the fish upstream to where the landing net lay.  The fish boiled and turned on the surface, shaking its head and thrashing violently a number of times.  I was praying the 18 hook would hold, begging for the fish not to come of.  Slowly I started to draw the fish to the waiting net and after what seemed an age I managed to pull the fish over the rim of the net and into the safety of the mesh.  She was mine!

Despite shaking like a leaf, I hoisted out my prize and stared in amazement at this beautiful fish lying in the net.  It looked huge, fat and glistening in the fading light of dusk.  It was the stuff of dreams.  Geoff was by now fishing a few yards upstream of me on the opposite bank.  He was listening to all my shouts, exclamations and expletives as the fight progressed and once the fish was in the net he was already heading over.  He arrived and looked in amazement at the fish.  We both thought it was at least a mid ‘2’ because of its fat stomach.  Then I realised my scales had packed up and poor old Geoff had to walk all the way back round to his swim to get his scales.  Anyway eventually we weighed the fish and settled on 2lb 3oz.  Not quite as big as we thought but an absolute clonker as far as I was concerned and a fish I will never forget.

2lb 3oz

2lb 3oz

It seemed a fitting tribute to Keith’s memory and I know that despite him catching 100 2lb roach he would have been genuinely overjoyed at my success today and the first to congratulate me. I can’t help but think today was meant to be and perhaps an unseen helping hand made all the difference.

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It’s been a while since I visited the Itchen. I had planned on a trip to the Kennet but despite the milder weather, I just fancied a shot at a big grayling.

Geoff, Dan and I headed down to Eastleigh for the regular fry up at the bus stop cafe. It’s gone all up market (well for us) and doesn’t open until 7.30am now either. It used to be 6.30am. Anyway, we still managed the healthy option: bacon, eggs, beans, mushrooms and fried bread. Cooked to perfection.

So by about 8.30 we were on the river. It was quite coloured and looked to be up at little. Coloured water always makes grayling fishing a little difficult, but one has to try ones best under the circumstances, what, what. So with a stiff upper lip, I opted to fish the lower end of the fishery where I might tempt a roach or two. I found a suitable run and on one of the first runs through tempted a roach of about 5oz. A few more trots and I opted to move upstream just a bit. The move proved successful. I took two grayling and then hooked something a little bigger. The fish held station against the current but I eventually coaxed it upstream towards me. A few thumps and runs had me thinking it might be a good roach. Eventually it appeared on the surface. As it turned and dived down I saw the lovely silvery flanks of a big roach. The fish was close to netting when it dived under the thick roots beneath me. I couldn’t extract the fish and it came off. I got back the bare hook. Gutted.


Still I followed that fish up with a reasonable chub of about 3¼lb. I then slowly worked my way upstream, heading for the middle reaches of the coarse beats. I met up with Geoff, who had had a few grayling. I dropped into a nice run off of a bend and stayed here for the remainder of the afternoon.

Itchen Chub

I used a bait dropper to get some maggots in and trotted through on a deepish line close in. The bites were immediate. There were obviously quite a few fish stacked up in this swim. Sadly, as always, I bumped quite a few off. Probably about a dozen. Still I ended up with another 19 grayling to about 1lb 2oz. I also caught another roach. I think I ended up with four roach but none of them were very big. It was one of those rare occasions here where I didn’t catch any trout, just a few small salmon par.

Dan on the other hand, had trout galore. I think he ended up with about 15 to around the 3lb mark. He also ended up with 17 or 18 grayling to Geoff’s 19. For once I actually topped Geoff and long may it continue. I think the biggest grayling was 1lb 7oz, so a modest one really for this venue. I’m back here in February with FishingMagic and also with the Barbel Angler Team, plus a trip to Britford with the Barbel Fishing World crowd. Then it’s off to Wales again for 5 days, hopefully for some big fish.

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