Ask anyone who fishes Saxon mill and they will tell you that once you cross that bridge and step onto the ancient cobblestone path you undoubtedly feel as if you are stepping into history. The graffiti alone reveals just how long the weir has been channelling that water into the weir pool and just sitting next to it, the notion of how many other anglers for hundreds of years sat in exactly the same spot before me, doing just the same.
I don't know exactly what it is that causes that distinctive smell that weirs produce, but I do know that smell is food for the soul of the early morning angler. Later in the day it dies away as your senses become accustomed to it, but by then usually the mystery of the turbid waters takes hold and you become immersed in your surroundings as you try to fathom where, in such a complicated environment, might be best to drop your bait.
I think it is mystery that draws us to weir pools. Its obvious what sort of fish we seek in what areas of them, but you can never rely on what you know with a weir pool. You might cast into a slack hoping for a carp and catch a tench, or run a float down slow water looking for a roach and catch trout. Either or any way you never quite know what will come next and this is the mystery that draws us to them.
It was that mystery that turned my head the other morning. I should have walked straight on by after looking from the bridge on my way to my intended spot, but I just could not do it as the lure of the weir was just to much. I just had to have a go. Ask yourself, could you walk by when it looked this good...
'Just a quick cast then on I go' I told myself. 'You probably wont get a bite' I said in hushed tones trying to reassure myself I would move on as intended. Then moments after the lead found hard bottom; tap tap bang! A small chub engulfed my meat. That sealed the deal, I was staying a bit longer than one cast. The next one again found a lovely clear spot towards the tail end of the run. With tension on the line and the random patterns of flow tugging gently at my rod tip, I sat back to wait.
It didn't take long for a single knock to indicate a little interest and sit me upright in my seat. Even knowing a fish was around, it still came as a shock as the rod buckled over and the spool began to spin. My strike met solid resistance and hooped violently over. I cannot and will not deny verbalising my thoughts out loud to myself that I had hooked a barbel. However the initial violence subsided and when no savage runs were forthcoming my hopes of a barbel, or a carp for that matter, faded.
Whatever it was, it was giving me some serious stick in the powerful water and I had no idea of its identity until it seemed to pull backwards. Cursing myself for forgetting, I remembered this had happened to me before many years ago on the first peg downstream of here; the same situation only on the first day of the season, and that day it turned out to be exactly what I now suspected this was. A big river eel.
Two casts into the Avon and I was going to get royally slimmed up. If it wasn't that I actually quite like catching eels I would of been livid. With my expectations adjusted I was very happy to see a thick green body spinning in the current attached to my line and this one, like the other, was no boot lace ether.
Self takes are not easy at the best of times and self takse holding small eels are impossible. Trust me I know from experience. But once they get above a certain size eels seem to behave not too badly on the bank, and this 2.7lb one was almost cordial as it lay in the folds of my net in the long grass. The hook was right in the centre of its bottom lip and once that was out it kept quite still as I gently lifted it up for a quick picture.
I don't know why I cast again. I know that normally where there is one there are others, hence my next cast ended much the same way only with a smaller eel on the hook and that one ruined my hook link irreparably. That did move me on.
My next intended port of call was the very first peg of the downstream section and the very place that I had been duped before. Even though I knew there was a chance the same might happen again I still ventured forth as other more special fish have grace my net in that spot. I had not though taken into consideration how much time might have changed this swim and after forcing my way through the head high nettles and cow slip, I was confronted with a much altered swim that seemed not to be a good option, with a large log only a few feet out and dead centre of the swim.
With little choice I carried on downstream using my seat like a shield to defend myself from nettles, trying to limit my already growing collection of stings. The only real option for a cast was right at the bottom of the run where the river breaks hard left at forty five degrees, in a swim known as tramps corner. Its a bit of bleak place as its name implies. Most of the chancers and poachers that sneak a cheeky day here spend their day drinking Special brew or Tyskie under these trees. Apart from that its not a half bad swim; carp and tench often can be seen in the shallow slack on the opposite side of the river where lily pads grow out of the flow.
My first job was to scatter a liberal amount of pellets into that slack to hopefully get any passing fish to stop and have a feed. Whilst that brewed away I amused myself by fishing worms for perch just off the flow. In the past I have had some decent perch from this swim but I don't think I, or anyone else, has ever seen the true potential this swim has to offer.
A few casts in and the perch dutifully turned up, possibly attracted by the maggots I was distributing upstream or maybe by the flashing of silver fish intercepting them as they fell. After an hour I was building the swim up nicely and the fish did seem to be getting bigger, up to a pound and a half. Then out of nowhere there was an awful commotion and the swim erupted with dace flying in all directions. At first I suspected a pike had arrived which is not unusual here, but the the worst culprit possible popped out up right over the spot I was saving for later. A huge cormorant with a white throat bobbed up with a still wriggling dace in its beak. It pancaked, flapping desperately to get airborne just as I was scrabbling for a projectile to throw at it.
That was it for tramps corner. Every fish had scattered in a panic to get away and my once highly active swim swim seemed dead as a dodo. Going downstream where it had emerged from seemed a senseless move and with the two upstream pegs not much of a better option, the weir or higher seemed the only prospect. Just as I packed up Baz let me know he had turned up to trot on the mill race so my only option was the still free weir pool.
Luckily no one turned up as I raced through the undergrowth, though once ensconced again Baz did come down for a chat as the white throated bugger had circled the field, landed above his swim and pulled the same swim ruining ruse to him. As for the weir, its time had passed and not much action was forthcoming at all on my meat line. The last hour saw me contact a slew of beautiful perch fishing a light rig out in the slack area but as for the chance of anything big, I did not hold out much hope.
A few months away from the Avon and I had forgotten how fickle it can be. If you're in the the right swim and the fish are on the feed you can bag up, but it does seem like when its low and clear as it is right now, there is only a small window to catch. Add a few predators into the mix and and the fishing can be over and done with in the blink of an eye.