Spring is knocking on our door and it's signs speedily increase, but the frost still forms on the chilly March nights and in the last remnants of dark the world sparkles white. During the daylight the early suns soothing rays dry deep every tarmac road of an entire Winters worth of damp, leaving them white with salt dust. It's those powder white, half light highways in which I speed to try and beat the rising sun to the river. The end of the season fast approaches and after a maddening winter not ability to pay the attention I wanted to the river, I now feel if I must take every chance I get to spend whatever time I can casting onto running water before the last hour comes.
Four different people on five different occasions boasted to me only the day before that the Avon was in perfect condition. Winter green, clear and with the just the right bit of colour. It always sounds contradictory when I hear people say that the river is clear with just the right amount of colour, but I know exactly what they mean and so does any other angler worth their merit. I for one believe it is that rare state where the water has the perfect combination of good visibility so the fish see every morsel from a good way ahead, whilst the having adequate colour to enable them to feed confidently even during the brightest of days. Its ironic however that the rivers attain this perfect nirvana-like state just as the season ends.
It's about this time that the Avon's dace population find optimum condition, ready for the temperature to become constant enough for them to spawn. That's still a little way off so they are still feeding hard, and happy coincidence means that I just happen to know where probably the best dace fishing is to be had on the entire Warwickshire Avon. Only problem is... I am not the only one who knows this information, hence my need to get to the river before first light.
This ever popular section is only really fishable at the tail end of the season. During Summer the banks are so overgrown that you would need a machete just to access the river and it would hardly be worth it anyway. You see when Winter comes and the temperatures drop, the majority of the rivers dace and roach seem to drop downstream from miles and stack up in this deep slow section forming a bonanza ready for the taking, much like the sockeye of North America.
Is not the smell of a weir in the half light the most intoxicating scent? With the wind in the right direction that very specific smell can be detected miles away from the waters edge. That wondrous aroma licked round the corner, down the alley through the dank and went straight up my nose, and in one quick sniff, I knew it was going to be a good day on the Avon before I had even left the car park.
Every time I come to this bit of river and cast out my feeder I wait expectantly with a hint of worry, even though I know that as long as Winter is cold and I have bait the fish will more than likely bite. You see nine times in ten the fishing is insane, but that one time it is not it is the worst kind of dire, and trust me, this stretch on a bad day is the exact opposite of it's many good days.
Worry was soon abated when two casts in the first bite came. From then on in it never stopped for one moment; every feeder load of grubs was eaten with nothing less than gay abandon At first it was little roach that viciously pecked at my maggots, then after a while the dace began to show. Small ones first, then not long after that they began to grow in size.
Hitting dace bites using a quiver tip is never easy and truthfully sixty or more percent are missed. But my theory on this has held me in good stead for many years fishing this particular area. Yes, fishing the stick or waggler as many of the match style anglers do undoubtedly converts more bites into fish, but while this will put together a match winning bag it does pander to the smaller fish. Undeniably bigger ones do get caught, but probably on a ratio of ten little ones to one big one, on the float.
Using the feeder those little dips of the float caused by smaller fish never enter in the equation. You never strike the trembles or slight nods: you just wait for a convincing bite, hit it, and more than fifty percent of the time it's a better fish for sure.
Sport was fast and furious and the speed in which my maggots were dwindling reflected that. It was about this time that Andy who was downstream encountered some action on the pike rod he had cast in the margin.
I watched him strike, play and land the fish before venturing over to have a look and offer help if it was needed. He had the nice plump double well under control so being surplus to requirement I slipped off to have a quick cast before he wanted a picture taking.
The tiny hook re-baited I flicked the feeder underarm using physical memory, straight onto the line I had hit all morning. I felt it drift down to the soft bottom with a muted thump before resting the rod on the butterfly rest and my knee. The other day I talked to a friend about those times when you instinctively hit a bite; seeing the rod tip begin to move in a way that countless previous experiences tells you will be a proper bite, and striking before it has had time to develop. This was exactly what I did. This whole minute may well be one of those few perfect minutes of my angling life. One cast into exactly the right spot. One bite which was detected instantly and reacted to before it happened. Then that heavier pressure than I'd felt all day followed a long bar of silver rotating towards the bank. No dallying, no losses, just straight into the net in one shot. A PB dace!
I looked at in the net and called out to a distracted Andy that it was a big dace. He though had just freed up his pike and was getting ready for me, who was in that heady PB zone, to come and do the camera job on his pike. That done I went back and took a second look. That was when a hint of doubt came into my mind and I thought maybe it was a little chub. I have had a few that I would describe as decent dace, but this thing was in a different league and I think that's what threw me at first. It took two hands to hold the wiry critter; it's features were not like all the others I had caught. Instead of solid silver it had different tones of colour. A dark back fading into a silver belly, it had a huge mouth and was wide across its back.
I know anyone who has reads this who fishes any Southern rivers might think I am over reacting to what they think is not that special of a dace. But for the Warwickshire Avon this is a absolute monster the likes of which I have never seen before. The shot of the fish in my big old ham hock hands really did not show the fish for how big and fat it actually was, so this mat shot shows her for the kipper she was.
Ten inches long, pigeon chested and with a stomach like Pavarotti. She was with all the best possible meanings an absolute hog of a dace, and luckily for me I had my digital mini species scales to weigh her on.
The plastic box I have been using to hold my captures on the scales was only a little over eight inches long so the poor girl found herself a little bent in there whilst the scales recorded her weigh,t and my new PB, at 12oz plus.
After that capture the keenness was taken from my cast. I often feel like this when I land a big fish, like I should just stop fishing and bask in the afterglow of a great capture, not sully the moment by casting again. But I never can not cast again as my whole ethos is based on the fact that I cannot have caught the biggest fish out there. On this occasion I should have stopped and gone home. The bites withered away as did my attention and soon I wandered off upstream for a few casts in another reputable spot.
Although well populated by anglers it seemed they were having a fruitless time, bar a few small silvers. So I soon wandered back to find Andy about to chip off, and Keith who had slipped in my swim working hard for bites.
Later myself and Keith wandered off downstream to explore what I can only describe as the oldest looking bit of the Avon I have ever fished. Sitting under the sandstone cliffs in the warm winter sun feeling for the tug of a perch as it picked up my worm, the question of how long it took the river to carve that stone down from the fifty feet peak of the cliff to where I sat was mind boggling. Jeff has often written about how spooky this place is at night and I was beginning to realise what made it feel that way. It is its age! The slip of land that surrounds that river has probably not changed for thousands of years. The cliff above has, as have the fields that flank it, but the bit where I was sat couldn't due to its geography How many other anglers had sat aside this river searching for a fat perch dangling a worm I can't imagine. Anglers, like those dace, have probably been returning to these same few fields for hundreds of years and I know that I, like many, will continue this tradition come what may so next year I will be back.