Thursday, 31 January 2013

pushing our luck against all odds.

I slept badly the other night. It was the rain that caused this fitful sleep. I have never slept particularly well whilst it rains ever since I was a child, and quite truthfully I have never fathomed why. Normally sleeping is not that much of a problem for me. In fact in the past I have slept in places most would consider abominable. The centre of Bristol bus station at peak time, atop a damp haystack next to a canal on a chilly October night and in several cinemas during very loud movie screenings.

The night in question though was in no uncertain terms terrible. Rain drummed constantly on my bedroom window and intermittent gusts drove huge globules against the glass with storm force. In my half sleep my mind was not only battered by the weather, but also by the shadowing thought that whilst I slept the world outside thawed under the hand of the tempest that raged against my window. This may seem like an exaggeration, but everything is exaggerated when you can't sleep, and a few inches of snow melting easily turned into a global catastrophe, like the end of an ice age.

In the dark the thought of all remnants of snow melting ran through my mind and filled the river with awful chilled rock salt tainted water, as the white world was washed away. So there I lay trying to cover my ears from this torturous sound with a hood of quilt and blanket, all the while brooding half conscious on what the Avon would look like when I first saw it in the morning. If I ever got to morning...

The night before the morning after my phone had bleeped to indicate a message just as I drifted off, and in the early hours I burnt my eyes to read it. From it's vague contents I determined Andy now doubted the validity of our intent to visit the river. His normally unshakable confidence had been undermined by the falling rain, rising river and a few doubting comments to a facebook post he had made.
I however was not perturbed by such things and hoped my confidence in our chances would be enough to bolster both our resolves, and if it wasn't then I would go it alone.
My reason for wanting to get on the river even in such frightful conditions is simple. When the river flares up quite often the populations are forced to find sanctuary from the flow. If you can find these safe havens then the audience is captive. As I know certain bits of the Avon area as good as anyone else then I feel confident that I know where the slack areas will be. So if we could find a fish-able area, chances are that fish would more than likely be in them, and if they got hungry maybe one of our baits may get picked up resulting in a trophy whilst most anglers never even left the house. This might seem like a bit of a hair brain rationality to apply to risky endeavours, but as the single best bit of fishing advice I have been given says 'you won't catch anything with your hook out of the water'.

Once we got under way our confidence did soar a little as we batted ideas to and fro. But when we first saw the river our short lived confidence melted much like the snow that now filled it. Option after option were submerged until only two remained. The first was an epic but still borderline slack created by the main flow splitting in two as it passed under a bridge, then colliding again making half the river flow a at least two thirds less than the opposite side.

In a more favourable flood this has been an amazing fish holding area. But today it proved to be not quite sheltered enough. This swim in normal conditions is still water, today however it flowed with some force and after probing it for more than an hour, we had between us cast each one our four rods multiple times. 
I cant imagine there is a single bit of weed left in the Avon this year as most of it came down before Christmas. Now though all that is left skimming the bottom is rotting black leaves which alone can't dislodge your rig. In multiples though they clog leads, cover baits and hang off ever hook point if left to there own devices.

Our confidence halved, we upped sticks towards the last gasp saloon. Behind an island in the track of a lock  we found exactly what we sought. The only flow in this spot was shaved from the main current by the point of the island and left an almost still but deep area on the nearside bank. If ever I saw a more text book zander hideout I would be lying. The conditions were perfect, how could there be no one home.

Four hours we waited, and in that time we received exactly two of the poorest runs I have ever seen on the Avon. Both were over moments after they started and both were left an appropriate amount of time before baits were checked and tell tale tiny punctures were seen on the flanks of the baits.

During our vigil we did see something odd. Every so often a fish would suddenly roll right up the flooded bank amongst the vegetation close to our feet. Ever time we saw it we were convinced it was the same fish. It was certainly silver in appearance, but why it was rolling in this newly flooded bit of ground was beyond both of us. Time and time again it surfaced only feet in front of us. For my part I was thinking it was a small zander attacking prey fish sheltering in the scrub.

It was my idea it was a zander and my knowledge of how much those little critters love lobworms that inclined me to swap my heavy outfit for a lighter one and try a worm down the edge. The light was going and the world was growing darker before anything happened. 

spot the weir
I was a little upstream taking a photo of the river as the sunset over its still swelling banks when Andy whistled sharply and indicated that I had just had some interest on the rod that he had been watching for me. I got back just to see it nod again then begin bouncing round hard. Then after hours of confidence sapping nothing I was playing a fish. But the question was what sort of fish was it exactly.

Really I never thought it would be what it was but the sight of a pretty big roach was pure joy and almost made our gamble worth while. It was a bit washed out but it was undoubtedly a thoroughbred roach of one pound and one ounce.

Now I must come clean and make an admission here and certain friend of mine may want to pour himself a large shot of something strong before he reads this. This was not my first encounter with the rolling in the shallows on this session.

Immediately after swapping over to my lighter outfit and about an hour before I landed the roach I had got an pretty much instant bite. This fish was connected and played until I found myself in a bit of an two and eight with my landing net out of position and me cutting off Andy from it. At this point thinking it was probably some minging skimmer that I decided to try and bank the fish by pulling it into the flooded edge instead of getting the net. As I lifted its head a little more to get it over some nettles its identity came apparent  Andy shrieked its a big roach I panicked and applied more pressure then my hook came free. Now that first and lost roach as far as both as we both could make out was at least half if not more as big as the one I landed. So by not having my net on the right side of me I actually bumped off what could of been a Warwickshire Avon roach of one pound eight or more.....maybe much more!

As the light went we did focus on our attempts to land more of these chance captures, but only found eels. Though we should have focused on the rising river! Knowing we could get into to trouble we had ensured and exit point into the field behind was always available. By home time we were convinced that although the river had risen we could still leave via the way we had come in.
The moment we turned the first corner we came face to face will a wall of water. Keeping calm we turned to our reserve exit and hoped the barbed wire fence. A bit further on we found the Avon spilling noisily into the field we were now stood in and a knee deep wade was our only option to get out of it.

Once through that we believed we were high and dry. That was until we had to go under a bridge where we soon found the Avon was very much over its banks and flowing hard. At this point our pair became a trio!
Why anyone other than stupid anglers would decide to try and get through this flood was beyond me, but the old chap we found clambering along a fence in the dark alone was at risk of getting into some serious trouble.

This second wade was different. The river was not just escaping is banks but running over them with force straight onto us and dragging your feet forward caused the water to crash up our legs like waves breaking on a reef. One the other side we made sure the old fella made it across then we all crossed the foot bridge to the other side together where we knew a third dip in the Avon was inevitable.
By far this one was the longest wade, but good on Mr Lewis for going all the way back through it a second time to give our new friend a piggy back up onto dry land and safety.

Walking back towards the car away from the river I could not help but think that we had really pushed our luck on this occasion. I was damp from a little above the knee down, my boots I knew would take weeks to dry out, but some how it seemed worth it. Yes we had not caught the chance trophy we so hankered for, but we had caught some fish against all odds and had ourselves a little adventure whilst doing so as well.


  1. Bloody ell Dan that was a decent Roach, weird about the splashing margin fish, I witnessed it myself on another stretch of the Avon a few weeks back, I put it down to Chub but now I am having a re-think. Glad you managed to escape the rising H2O also, sounded touch & go.

  2. It was some very odd behaviour from those roach on such an awful rising river. I have only ever seen something like it once before when I was fishing a bit down the road from you mate. Again on a flooding river I kept seeing this swirl and a white flash right under my rod tip. It went on for ages then finally a small barbel came flying out of the water and continued to do it for a few hours. I wonder if sudden change in water conditions sometimes sends fish a bit loopy.

    As for the rising river... it was close... very close!

  3. Now that's a nice roach, innit. This is the second time you've caught washed out fish in brown water, Danny. They change fast! Lobworm too. Fish love lobs when the water's coloured and after dark. They love them anyway, but roach really like them in dark conditions for some reason