The Avon has got my attention. For the longest while she had fallen from my mind, whilst other far away rivers and moody lakes have preoccupied me. But now she has changed from a memory to a target again with a monumental discharge of power which has turned my eyes back toward her.
The slow sedate flow is gone and the level has risen violently, bursting bank, covering field and fence as the familiar channel in which it flows was unable to cope with days of rain. The entire country has been reminded of how water governs our lives. Gone are the picture postcard images only to be replace by scenes of disaster and woe.
Unlike most who would rather get away from the frigid water sopping through their lives, I find myself intrigued by it. The flood plains now call to me and I have been watching for an opportunity to explore and see it in a different way. I do not want to see her as I always do, I want to cast into new slacks or differing pools which are only temporarily there; to play whilst she is a different mood.
Sense over valour has prevailed though. When midweek I ventured near, I found banks still very submerged. It's not that I did not want cast into the flooded water or that I did not feel confident to wade through the flooded meadow, it was more what I knew of this stretch!
Last year I sat on frozen banks in total silence as the evening drew in and from nowhere, the bank no less than twenty feet upstream crumbled into the river reminding me of how undercut it was. With no other reason than it was no longer able to support its weight, a sizeable chunk of dark brown Warwickshire mud, grass and all slid into the river. How many times I had sat atop that bit of earth with not a single thought to it's stability I could not have recalled if I tried, but what I did know was that I had sat there. Witnessing such a thing has ever since acted as a reminder to probe the ground I intend to sit on carefully with a bank stick before I settle in; should that bank stick suddenly dive deep after half a foot or so, then I always move back a little more, extending my landing net as I do.
No fish is worth your life, and for me this day alone in the half light it was easier to walk away. Giving the old mother Avon a few more days to temper herself, a nearby fishery I suspected might hold big perch came to my aid, and after plying its chocolate waters with left over grubs and a few lob worms, my suspicions were confirmed a little. That bitter morning a landed two nice perch of one and half, and a little under two pounds along with a rouge chub, proving that I will return again for a bigger perch.
Two more days passed before I ventured back to the river and when I again found myself looking over the fields. The water was again hidden within cuts on flat land and although the river was back where it belonged, signs of the floods remained. Just over the barbed wire fence a tide mark of debris marked high water and my normally straight path was today more of a game of hopscotch, as I traversed from mound to mound.
Though familiar at first glance, a few moments watching revealed my timing seemed quite right. The water flowed right to left but the currents were like a jigsaw put together all wrong. In the past my knowledge of some of the swims have lead me to believe that should I fish blindfolded, I could get my baits in the right place (if I did not fall in first that is). Today, however, the swims were new and I had to again think how to best fish these old haunts.
After a few probing casts of a light rig, where I watched diligently as the weight skipped across the river bottom before snagging on old weed, I spotted not far from the rod tip the tiniest of eddies, no bigger than a metre in width where the current deflected off a slight jut in the reeds.
Just lowering the bait into the water I saw my worm waft in opposition to the flow, and the tension in the line went as the lead made bottom, the bow of the line indicating my bait, now on the bottom, was possibly upstream.
How in such flow the rod tip registered such a half hearted enquire is a miracle, but the rod tip did judder just once hinting at some interest. I nearly struck the second, but just stopped hand on cork and said to myself 'next time' which took no time to come at all. We have all heard the popular saying referring to a barbel bite as a three foot twitch. Well this was a three centimetre twitch, and I hit it at one point five.
Every moment of the spirited fight was enjoyed, and the satisfying sight only a small chub of a maybe two pounds vilified my choice of casting into the temporary eddy at my feet.
I do not often chance a second fish from such small features. But given the power of the current between this eddy and the rest of the river it seemed perfectly plausible there could be a whole shoal of chub crammed in it. A short interlude and a few broken worms flicked tight to the bank and I again lowered the bait into the opposing current.
Another tinkle came and went before I checked to see if I had been robbed, and I had! So pushing my luck I recast, set the trap and waited. Longer than before it took, but there is not many chub, no matter how fickle can resist the allure of a worm in fining water. The bite was the identical to the last. Only this time on the second twink down the white tip never sprang back. The fight of these chub in the more powerful flow was impressive, but unusually for the chub of the upper Avon they pulled none of their normal dirty tricks instead opting to hold out in the flow rather than dive into every available bit of rush.
This slightly larger one proved me right concerning the presence of more fish in the tiny eddy. But it was also a clear signal to move on downstream and spend the last hour or so fishing a favourite old swim, which I was convinced would certainly flow differently in my favour and would be a great last swim as the light went.
From the first cast to the last, fish were very interested in what I was offering. The only problem was that the quick and half hearted rattles were not caused by chub, but rather perch and if the chub bites were shy these could drive a man insane for sure.
Not one of those quick rattles were connected, no matter how quick I tried to hit them or how long I waited. These perch had robbery down to a fine art. Somewhere in the rash of violent tugs the tip pulled round very slightly, as if a tiny bit of weed had hung up as it passed by my rig. Even if I am just reeling in I give my rod a tiny strike just in case it might be a fish and on this occasion it was. A third chub smashed up the swim before broaching my net.
After that it really turned into one of those one last bite things. By the time the sun dipped below the horizon I was still getting bites, even though I could barely see the white tip of my rod in the dark. Even unable to hit those pesky perch and with my hands numb from the cold, it was well worth being on the river to see the sky first turn dark blue, then purple as night fell.
Even after a Saturday night fuelled by rum and cokes I was always going back the following morning despite knowing how cold it would be after a clear night. The one thing that kept me ever confident was that I knew the fish were on the feed.
In a new swim however, it was no chub who struck first. With the turbulent flow close to my feet a large eddy was accessible by fishing my rod tip pointing skyward, lifting my line well over it into the slack. I had already stuck at a very perch-like rattle before recasting, and just as the weight touched down I fancied the slight nod of my rod tip indicated another may of attacked the worm as it fluttered down. Nothing more happened though and suspicion grew that once again I had been turned over.
My little flick of the rod just before reeling revealed the rig may of snagged up on some unseen obstacle. This was in part true as the hook was in fact snagged in the mouth of a pike who had grabbed the falling bait. For the first few runs it was all good, and even using a relatively light outfit I felt sure I stood a chance with this toothy critter. That was until it did a very unseasonal jump over on the far bank and revealed itself as an nice size jack of maybe five pounds or more. I survived the first bit of acrobatics but on the second my line stood no chance as it thrashed its head and severed my line like cotton.
I think the reason I cast back into the same spot was because I wondered if its prescience may have in some way hampered any other fish present, and that may of been true, as after only moments the tip once again went before I hooked another chub of two to three pounds.
Three more swims I fished after this one and no more fish were landed. Then thinking it was about time to get off, I chanced that pesky perch hole again wondering if on a different day their confidence may have grown overnight.
Straight off I missed two wicked bites which I am still kicking myself for missing now as I write this. They were the only proper bites I had in two different occasions in that swim, and somehow in a fumble of hands I struck both as the tip was going the wrong way. One fish I actually felt vibrating up the line for shortest of time before the rig popped clean out the water.
Even with that hint of regret of missing what could have been a nice river perch, I am glad to see that one of my favourite stretches of the upper Avon is showing no signs of suffering from the recent floods, and now I find myself really looking forward to those short cold winter sessions and maybe rooting out a five pounder here or there.