Sunday 29 November 2015
Weather?! Pah. Lets go fishing! It maybe that the weather man was predicting the worst rain and high winds we've seen all year but what the hell, I was desperate to get out the rivers with an aim to catching a pike!
Dad and I have been searching for a club to join for a couple of years now. All the river stretches (with the exception of the Conham Water Park and Saltford) seem to have been snapped up by clubs and it's a tough call to find one that covers everything you want...
In the end, we opted for the Keynsham Angling Association as it has excellent stretches of the River Avon and the River Chew. They also run the excellent looking Century Ponds over in Keynsham that I'm very keen on giving a go once we get back to summer. At £20 for 13 months membership, it's a bit of a bargain!
I'd taken a walk with the kids the weekend before at the Swineford end of stretch which runs for three fields starting at the excellent Swan Inn pub. There were a couple of anglers in the 1st swim we found and they'd just had a double figure pike out! Not bad, not bad at all. Although there were no other anglers in the rest of the swims, the river looked very inviting and perfect for targeting pike.
So the date was set and I arrived in the dark the following Saturday at a very ambitions 7am! Trudging across the 1st field in the pitch black with my gear was no picnic... As predicted, the weather was grim: although it wasn't yet raining, the wind was hacking across the fields and the footpath was very wet and muddy...
Not surprisingly, the target 1st swim was empty! I wonder why?! Although Dad hadn't yet arrived, I was eager to set up which as it turns out could've ended in disaster... As I'd brought frozen baits (a triple pack of mackerel from Scott Tackle) they'd need defrosting before I could separate them. Easy I thought, get a bucket of water and let them cool off in there...
Not so easy: a very steep and slippy descent down the bank side saw me nearly ending up in the very fast flowing river and getting back up again was near as dammit impossible! So, lesson learnt: in dangerous conditions, never fish alone, have a bit of patience and wait for your Dad to arrive.
But with a bucket of water obtained and the bait starting to defrost, I decided to get the rods set up and ready for when Dad arrived. I'd decided to fish both rods on ledgers as the flow was going to be fast. Having checked out countless options online, each rod had a swivel 3oz gripper lead, a bead and helicopter sleeve so the rig would 'run' with little resistance and a shop bought wire trace with two trebles. Compared to the carp set up, this was simple!
Dad soon arrived with the rain and after walking him back through the fields, it was time to get the rods out. Finding a slack spot was tricky but the luckily the swim offered lots of options: there's an inflow pipe directly opposite, with a platform either side and a fallen tree to the right. Once we'd found the slack water in the gloom, the 3oz leads helped keep bottom and we were fishing!
We had a few knocks and taps to begin with but nothing positive. I had an experiment trying to 'twitch' sprats (I'd managed to pick up 10 or so from the supermarket, either to use as bait or as prebaits) but the weather and treacherous bankside conditions made it very difficult to keep active.
The first sign of a fish came at around 10ish when Dad noticed a string of sharp knocks on the right hand rod out in the bay by the fallen tree. These were far more positive than any other signs we'd had (which we'd put down to the flow or possibly eels?) and as the bobbin started to move along with the rod tip I slipped excited over to the rod... could this be my 1st river pike?!
I'd practiced in my mind how to 'set the hooks' but practice is no substitute for the real thing! I picked up the rod, wound down and hit (what I hoped was) a fish with a hard sideways strike and...
What a fight! The fish took off downstream, then came across the river, then tail walked in front of the swim, then dived into the reeds...
I was very, very glad Dad was there not only to offer advice but to help me net it as getting down the bank side with the landing net and rod wasn't an option.
In the end, a fine looking double figure pike sat in the landing net. To say I was made up was an overstatement, what a result!
Then came the tricky task of unhooking the fish... I've not done this for over a decade and the last pike I handled was considerably smaller and from a lake with a nice steady platform. Not a slippery as hell bank side with a river charging by...
Putting your hand inside a pike's jaws and then diving in with a pair of forceps is and interesting experience but finally the prize was held up for the camera. Happy days!
After that excitement, the weather really set in and we decided to head to the 2nd swim I'd scoped out as it offered a bit of shelter under a fallen tree. As it turned out, the swim wasn't as 'pikey' as I'd first imagined and after braving the elements under an ominous creaking tree for an hour or so, we headed back to the 1st swim.
Although we had no more pike, it was a really exciting day's fishing. I learned loads and to catch one on my first visit to the river was a massive confidence boost.
I'm really, really looking forward to winter on the rivers!
The last bit of river fishing I did was a couple of years back when we were travelling in Australia. We'd stopped for the night in a camp site up in the Atherton Tablelands and it had a river running along the valley. I'd been free lining worms along a very shallow stretch, only 30 or so centimetres deep and had caught loads of really dark black bream and turtles! I had a feeling the Avon maybe a bit different...
By far the biggest challenge we've had is finding any reliable info about river fishing in and around Bristol. It seems most of the river stretches have been snapped up by clubs and any of the 'free' areas change hands regularly meaning nobody seems to know where you can and can't fish! But after exhaustive googling and asking in three different tackle shops, we settled on Saltford with the Conham River Park as a back up.
The advice had been to fish the stretch from the weir by the Jolly Sailor pub down to the shallows. We managed to find it on the map and arrived around 7ish, just as the light was coming into the sky.
The first spot to try was just outside the sailing club as the road curves away from the river. There's a concrete jetty and a metal walkway around 20 metres long that runs along the river bank, perfect for fishing off! I rigged up one of my carp rods with a open ended feeder and loaded it up with liquidised bread plugged at either end with a mix of hemp and maggots in the middle. A real simple hook link of 6lb mono with a size 12 hook with 4 or so red maggots and that rod was ready to go out in the flow right in front of some boats and a wooden jetty to my left. The other rod was my trusty 13ft float rod which I've had for years. It's prefect for river fishing and I soon had that out trotting in the flow with a thin waggler dotted with 5bb shot and a couple of red maggots on the teeny tiny size 16 hook to nylon (such a different from the 'bent nails' I use for carp fishing!).
The first fish of the day was an eel! Caught more through luck than judgement as I'd dropped my float in at the edge by my feet while I sorted out a cast on the feeder rod. It was a good sign though and as I'd had nothing from trotting the float out in the flow, I started to cast along the jetty literally just 1/2 a foot from the side (although I guess it was a good couple of foot in if you think about the undercut). Over the next couple of hours I had bleak, good size roach, minnows and a decent perch - all inches from my feet!
I'd been getting knocks on the feeder rod all morning but nothing really seemed to take. Then at 10ish, the tip started to rattle and I struck into what felt like a decent fish! A short play in the flow and a decent size bream of 5lb or so slipped into the net - not bad! I'd put the knocks down to eels nibbling at the bait but if there was a shoal of bream out there...
But no more bites... In fact, the bites tailed off altogether at 11ish so I decided to take a wander the other side of the weir past the pub. There's a footpath that runs down the side of some fields that are plastered with signs stating 'Private Fishing, Keep Out! Holston Fishing Syndicate'. I've never heard of 'Holsen' but everyone I'd spoken to had said that part of the river was controlled by Bathampton AA?! Anyhow, there were 5 or so swims dug into the bank that looked really good. The river thins down here and the flow was slightly calmer. Would love to give it a go, need to find the mysterious club that runs it?!
I gave the boat ramp spot another hour or so as dad had pulled in some more silvers and a decent perch but a mixture of surprisingly warm weather and an increase in the flow seemed to have killed the swim dead. The wind had really got up too making trotting floats almost impossible...
The biggest tip I'd been given for river fishing is to stay mobile, so I took a wander up the bank in the other direction of the weir. There were two more fishermen spread out over 5 or so swims a couple of minutes walk from the jetty. They'd had nothing out as yet, but I'd noticed the wind was a bit more sheltered here and the swims had small areas of slack water - worth a go?
Once in my new swim I got the feeder rod going in regularly every 15 mins and tried the float rod again. Nothing was forthcoming in the 1st hour then the feeder rod jumped in the rests! I struck into the fish and it felt really good, maybe one of the river carp?! As it turns out, it was a dustbin lid bream of around 8lb.
These river bream are in a different league to their still water cousins. I was amazed by the fight it put up and what a fat fish!
That was to be the last big fish from the swim but I did manage another eel and a ruff, a fish I'd never caught before and had to resort to Google to identify.
The weather had really changed now with the wind howling down the river and threatening looking black clouds gathering on the horizon. I moved the gear back to the jetty for a few last casts and we packed down packed down at 5 and went for a pint!
Saltford is a good spot and it's free, well worth a look if you fancy having a shot at river fishing. It was great to catch so many fish, especially as the Avon's reputation doesn't seem to be that glowing? And to catch so many eels was amazing as last I heard was that they were nearing the endangered list ;)