Well what a month March has been… and for all the wrong reasons! First there was the spiteful ‘Beast from the East’ to contend with, bringing prolonged sub-zero temperatures and significant snowfall, then after eventually petering out it left a legacy of snow melt that detrimentally affected the rivers, potentially right up to the end of the season on the 14th of March.
For me this end of season ‘last fling’ has become something of a tradition, a treasured week when the rivers have usually warmed up, and the days have lengthened sufficiently to stir the Barbel from their winter lethargy. It is a time I, like many river men, book a few days off work and have a final attempt to catch a Barbel or two before the season finishes, however this years trip was in serious jeopardy as my chosen river, the mighty Severn, looked set to breach its banks .
The consequence of all this was icy water temperatures and volatile levels, which made for very hard fishing. Many experienced lads just hung up their Barbel gear until next season but I still clung tenaciously onto the forlorn hope that the rivers would come good for me for the last knockings of the season.
As if this aggressive weather front wasn’t enough, yet another nasty weather pattern arrived soon after the rivers closed, named the ‘Mini-Beast’; it caught me by surprise arriving almost without fanfare, yet bringing another coating of quite severe snow-fall. Fortunately this was just after the rivers had closed so it didn’t feel as bad as the original ‘Beast’, but it still had a negative effect on my enthusiasm for the transition to the stillwaters.
09.03.18 River Dane
Once again I have the river Dane to thank for providing some sustenance during this Baltic blast. I have had just two blanks on this lovely little river all winter, once with bank high snow melt and the other at the peak of the big freeze (and if I’d had my wits about me I wouldn’t have blanked that day either because I lost a fish off the hook…Doh!).
I target winter chub on the simplest of set-ups using nothing but bread and cheesepaste for bait, and so far they have been very obliging. Despite the cold bright conditions and extra coloured water the river was carrying, today was no different as I managed to extract 5 fish, all 3-4lb+.
From the 6 swims I tried 4 produced a fish, and I think mobility is the key in order to find where the fish are located; often they can be in the most unlikely looking of swims. The chub were feisty and generally in lovely condition, but anybody going there expecting record breakers will be disappointed, a 4lb fish is a decent specimen.
The stretch is not overcrowded and I usually have it to myself which suits this style of nomadic fishing, but today I bumped into an old mate and sometime Dane regular Graham. I spent a very interesting and enjoyable hour chatting, and if I’m honest, being educated, because this lad knows his onions when it comes to Barbel fishing on small rivers; we discussed everything from home-made paste to centre pins. He was determined to catch a Barbel but I had convinced myself there was no chance, so I left him near dusk and managed my fifth and final Chub from my 6th swim before heading home.
Season Finale on the Middle Severn
As mentioned in the introduction, traditionally I spend the last few days of the river season down on the mighty Severn but the conditions and forecast almost put me off this year; levels were close to breaching the banks and the temperatures hadn’t recovered enough to instill confidence. In the end I was glad I went; a nice social with a mate the first 2 days, then on my own for the remains of the season, fishing venues between Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth where I was based.
11.03.18 Club water- Middle Severn
The first day I travelled from south Manchester with hope in my heart to my destination a few miles downstream of Shrewsbury. As I arrived just after dawn to meet up with my mate, I was surprised to see snowdrifts still in evidence, but not so surprised to peer through the mist and see water almost at the top of the bank; a temp of 5C didn’t bode well either but we both worked hard in likely looking swims and in the end managed a brace each, my mate had an 8 and a 7 and I managed a 5 plus a splasher to finish. Lobworms proved the most effective bait and I was glad I’d had the foresight to secure some before setting off.
Under the circumstances I was satisfied with the return but I was really hoping the level would fall and temperature rise over the coming days, which in hindsight turned out to be just wishful thinking.
12.03.18 Club water- Middle Severn
A good night in the pub followed by a substantial kebab seemed like a good idea at the time, but left me feeling a bit jaded for the Wetherspoons brecky the next morning, I could only manage the traditional, not the large so definitely below my best. Nevertheless I polished it off and felt better, and we were soon back on the bank and raring to go.
If anything the river had risen even higher overnight, but on a positive note the water temp had also risen slightly to 6C. Neither of us were familiar with our chosen venue with water at this level, so we walked it first to asses if it was even fishable. I was pleased to find a couple of near-bank slacks that looked reasonable and I thought they might at least give us a chance of a fish; one in particular really looked the part. We both wanted it so a coin toss settled the issue in favour of my mate and I wandered off dejectedly to do my best elsewhere.
The problem with fishing bank high rivers on unfamiliar stretches is that you don’t know what lies below; I found out after working hard for a bite in a couple of swims for several hours, and when it finally came the fish found some submerged feature to lodge itself in. I count myself fortunate that after giving it slack line it decided to swim out and I manged to land it. It was just a splasher and the reality was that I would have surely lost anything more substantial. My mate was due to leave early so I jumped into his vacated swim purely because the swim was relatively snag free. He had caught one around 7lb, which was also encouraging.
I fished feeder upstream with pellet on the hair, and straight lead downstream with double lob worm, but I wasn’t getting any action. I decided to stick it out to the finish as the swim certainly looked good, but the lack of indications hardly filled me with confidence. Consequently I was caught napping by a rattling knock on the worm rod which had me jumping off my chair, but it didn’t develop any further. After a few minutes with hand hovering over the rod handle I decided to move the bait slightly to see if the fish could be tempted to bite; I drew the lead just a couple of inches then put the rod back on the rest and immediately it yanked over and battle commenced. Battle is an apt description as the fish fought like an athletic 7lb’er but with far more substantial weight behind it, using the enormous volume of water to its advantage and charging towards downstream trees. I was very relieved to turn it and get into the slack in front of me, but disaster struck and it found a snag and was stuck fast. I gave slack line and waited until I felt a few tugs, tightened down and was relieved it drew free. Just the last couple of lunges and it was in the net!
As it rested there in the murky water I could see it was a good long fish, but it was a bit thin, so when the scales registered 10lb14oz I was more than happy; a new middle Severn PB for me when I really didn’t fancy my chances, can’t be bad!
I still had the scales in my hand when I heard the sweet sound of the bait-runner screaming on the other rod, after all that time without a bite a double hook-up…you couldn’t make it up!! Priority was the fish on the bank so I jammed the landing net into the bank and ensured the fish was in good deep water and that it had righted itself before I pounced on the other rod and wound down to feel another substantial fish; sadly there was to be no happy outcome to this tale as after 30 intense seconds frantically turning the fish away from snags real and imagined, and with the fish just yards in front of me the hook pulled and the battle was lost. I have had exactly the same experience before on the Ribble with a double hook up, the fish left to roam while prioritizing the fish on the bank has time to loosen the hookhold and somehow sheds the hook close to the net. It’s an absolute gut wrencher, but in this case my disappointment was mitigated by the fish still resting in the landing net and I didn’t shed too many tears over my loss.
Once I had stopped shaking I continued to fish on feeling rather smug with myself, until once again the lob-worm proved to much to resist for another nicely conditioned Barbel of exactly 9lb, this one was as fat as butter; it put up a decent account of itself but nothing like the previous specimen. Soon it was in the net and a nice looking fish it was.
That concluded the action for the day but I was still a very happy lad driving back to my digs, making plans to re-acquaint myself with the hospitality of the ale houses of Bridgnorth.
I have never done particularly well on here but I know a couple of decent flood swims and I had the pick of them when I arrived to an empty carpark. I chose the nearest swim, not because I am a lazy git but it looked so good with a completely still margin that dropped rapidly to 12ft depth just a couple of yards out from the bank. The crease was about 5m out so I placed both baits on this line and hoped for the best. Upstream was a feeder with some oily groundbait and pellet, downstream was a lump of flavoured meat to start, which I soon changed to lobworm.
It was slow going, neither rod picked up debris so I sat watching motionless tips. Even the lobworms failed to impress, so I wound in and had a wander along the length. I realised just how high the river was as I recalled fishing here last summer at normal levels. The whole nature of the swims change as the levels fluctuate; some become better, some worse, but isn’t it refreshing to have to rise to the challenge and read the conditions in order to catch your quarry?
I still thought my current swim had the right features so I stuck at it and finally the worm rod arced over and a splasher was in the bag. Two more similar sized fish followed during the evening and I decided to call it quits just before dark, but not before I had an inspiring chat with a departing local lad who had been a few hundred yards downstream; he told me about his technique of float fishing meat in the summer and the effectiveness over the standard pellet feeder approach…very much food for thought for the summer.
14.03.18 Club water, Mid Severn
The last fanfare of the season, always a sad day but one that has to be grasped and every last second of opportunity wrung out of it. I was heading for home and I am fortunate to have many waters to choose from in that general direction, however I just couldn’t resist having another go on the length I had my double from.
I had it to myself and grabbed the same peg and set up exactly the same as last time, but there was a subtle change to the flow. I checked the marker I had used last time and it was around 6″ lower and as the day wore on it began to drop quickly. It still looked great so I was confident of some action and I didn’t have long to wait as the downstream lobworm proved irresistible to a feisty 7lb’er.
That proved to be the pinnacle of the day; five more Barbel landed but all 4-6lb in weight. The water temp was still 6C but the river fining off was the catalyst for a fairly lively afternoon of improving sport.
I had mixed feelings about how the trip went, the conditions are usually much better at the tail end of the season so I had to be happy to have nabbed a few. Obviously the double was the highlight on the fishing front, but there is always more to it than just fish. I explored a few new areas and found some new swims with the river at the top of the banks; the social side was good and I re-acquainted myself with Bridgnorth, my favourite Severn-side town. What a pity that this was the end of the season, the conditions were improving steadily and next week would have been grand I’m certain.
The close season is a hot topic currently as the EA are conducting a survey of the impact of all year river fishing. Watch this space! Personally, I’m sure the dates we currently have are way off the mark and don’t align with the spawning windows of our river species, but I think the break benefits not just the fish, but the riverine environment as a whole Maybe the dates just need to be adjusted, I will wait and see the scientific evidence produced by the EA before making my mind up, but the cynic in me can’t help thinking this is commercially driven.
That was it for another year on the rivers, time to take stock, have a short break from fishing, do a few jobs round the house, clean up the gear and prepare for the transition from Barbel and Chub to my bungling attempts at Carp and Tench fishing.
25.03.18 Cheshire mere
My resolve lasted 10 days then I cracked and I began my close season Tench campaign way too early…will I never learn? I bought some maggots and headed for my chosen venue, without too much optimism I have to admit. I recalled last season, brimming with enthusiasm for my first attempt at this Cheshire mere, and how I fished it a few times during March for a grand total of nothing. Thankfully everything clicked into place during April as the water warmed; it became a different story and I had a fantastic close season pursuing the Tincas.
I arrived to a plethora of bivvies all seemingly in the process of being dismantled, so I had a walk round the lake and chatted to the departing Carp lads only to hear a dispiriting tale of a busy wekend with just a single carp gracing the bank. Not very encouraging, but I was told a couple of tench had been caught so went and set up on a swim that did me proud last season. Unfortunately it was shaded and facing into a strong breeze, and without the week sun it was really nippy. I took a water temperature of 6C which was another dissapointment but not entirely unexpected.
I fished two 1.5lb test barbel rods, 8lb mainline with in-line feeders and short 6lb flouro hooklengths. One rod was baited with red maggots, the other lobworm tipped with a maggot, both about 35m out onto a small platteau a couple of feet shallower than the surrounding area. I was confident my baits were in the right location from last seasons experience, but I was still in 12ft of water and on reflection might have been better going for a generally shallower area that could have warmed up in the sun a little.
As you may have guessed from my negative introduction I blanked, but I consider it a fact finding mission. I will definitely try one of the shallower areas until the water warms up. I was happy with my set-up in general and had a good look at a few of the pegs that I skipped past last year, so it was a worthwhile exercise.
So that was my lot for March, I shouldn’t harp on about the weather but it was absolutely foul and I really felt like I was on a hiding to nothing a lot of the time. Nevertheless as they say, you don’t catch sat in front of the telly…
Things can only get better, the current flurry of icy rain is purported to be the last this year and I am hoping for a steady improvement in temperatures and consequently an upturn in sport. April is usually a decent month…God knows we deserve it!!!