Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Evolving Situation

The Bloggers' Syndicate stretch of the Upper Warwickshire Avon has transmogrified into a perfect meandering stream over the past month

No longer the sluggish, eutrophic, apparently lifeless ditch. A bank-high torrent has flushed activity into it like steady rain to a recently drilled field. Suddenly the scum-clad becomes the pristine and, to the piscean stomach, comes hunger.

The tinge of colour suggestive of feeding fish, combined with swift narrow runs flanked at bends and obstructions by gentle glides, slacks and tiny whirling depressions easing through the creases and slowly, imperceptibly, diminishing to nothing, had raised expectation to unprecented levels.

Over-excited surface-bursting fish remain rare, but they are now occasional, while confidence and competition for a morsel in the chilling, constant curvature of the channel abound.

A week ago, the tiny River Leam sought to issue forth all its Chub in one magnificent morning.

Fish were so ravenous as to tear-off with large chunks of crust before the anglers' contact with them could be affirmed. Rod tips pulled round barbel like and clutches squealed in otherwise rural tranquility.

Eight fish between 2lbs 1oz and a touch over 3lbs came to the net in a couple of hectic hours while a match angler harvested eleven of these aquatic omnivores for a catch of over 27lbs the following day. 

Quite unprecedented action. 

Those 19 fish averaged 2lbs 6ozs, a fair reflection of the state of this oft misunderstood stream, it's potential shrouded by a paucity of suitable conditions, and yet it has recently been said this is "A River in Decline".

So the era when global warming manifests physically in the feast and famine of fish is firmly established.

Clear or coloured; low or threatening the fields; stagnating or vigorously flowing. Such are the extreme phases of the midland river in the 21st Century. A time when partly forced predation combined with the above climatic influences is turning, or has turned, our fish to increasingly nocturnal behaviour.

One wonders whether angling clubs of the future will need floodlights.


In a recent exchange with that expert Specimen fish pursuer James Denison, we were agreed that we can live with the natural balance that otters will ultimately create once back to a population balanced with their environment but when it comes to the invasive signal crayfish and ever increasing displaced cormorants there is no obvious solution, and, as with all these things, the answer will be considered long after the piscatorial horse has bolted.
What will this leave?

In New Zealand there is a purge on non-native fauna but where would we start, with so many established former invaders and introducees that one wonders what would be left if they were removed from the landscape and how that loss would now affect the indigenous species.

Perhaps rewilding, with the reintroduction of long-lost top predators and landscape-shaping species, would impact these flourishing animals the dissipation of some of which is now ingrained in our culture. The rabbit for instance.

No. It is far too complex to contemplate a solution but, one thing is certain, pot-shotting the odd fish-eating bird changes nothing. If it is man that has changed the balance of nature then it is men that have to live with it.


'Bumped into Zed-hunter extraordinaire Mick Newey on a new stretch of the Leam the Bloggers' Syndicate is trialling just after the aforementioned floods, and prior to the colour completely falling away.

Dressed resplendently as always he leapfrogged my swim at the very moment I had my best twang on the new wand, on its first outing.

Rather than plough the usual chub-likely crease, the day was to have been one of experimentation. The mini method feeder idea recently tested for big canal roach seemed, on the face of it, to be equally suitable for small stream, smaller species.

So arriving at the first swim, a bag of 'liquidised' at the ready, a long, steady glide around three feet deep looked ideal - nothing.

Working upstream, any fish facing away from me,  a deeper hole concealed in trees caught the eye. Tap, tap, quiver, twang and a handful of Chublet was eased back into the protected shallows bankside.

...And so it continued, until we met. The bite was struck sharply and a sparklingly silver fish twirled in frantic action in the clearing water. It had the look of a battery powered silver bream but of course it couldn't be. Soon the net slipped under the biggest dace I had ever seen in the pearlescent-clad flesh.

Now when I say biggest ever, the excitement must be tempered by the fact that I have never seen one over five ounces, but nevertheless the fact remains. Mick felt it could go seven or eight ounces and I underestimated, match angler style, the fish ultimately weighed-in at seven ounces four drams.

Perhaps a feeble P.B., but it was one, and that would do me, and, for me at least, that moment was enough to confirm the potential of the water.

Further swims produced other previous P.B.-shaking dace. All from steady, shaded glides over gravel.

The 'mini-method' displayed an additional virtue that could, just possibly, set it on its way to being a standard technique in the F, F & F armoury; it enabled the swim to be searched without risking over-feeding the wrong area and wrecking it before casting in. The rig could be flicked around various spots until the fish were found and then the feed built-up cast by cast, and, by increasing the stop shot size, casting weight could be adjusted neatly too.
Certainly with more flow and depth on the stream would take float fishing as well but it shows signs of being a tactic to employ with some regularity, and far less crude on casting than a standard feeder set-up, however tiny 'they' might make them.

That said, it is perhaps time to confess that the past as a 95% float angler has been completely turned on its historical, not to say "hysterical", head in this second, and last, wave of angling submersion. It didn't take long for the taxed and diminishing grey matter to twig that the effort and, let's be frank, discomfort of float fishing for bigger fish really is not worth it all that often.

Catch Mick Newey's blog here

... And James Denison's here

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Film - the Truth of the Matter

The feedback on the Big Canal Roach video has been very encouraging. So much so that we're about to set-out on the next escapade, but, before so doing, I must right a wrong.


The making of this project was underpinned by two key rules that Eric and I set before we started that were strangely coincidentally cast in stone for both of us:
~ First and foremost - no product placement (even though my compadre is irritated in the extreme that we consequently did not state the hook or bread makes!).
~ If the quality we sought couldn't be achieved, or it seemed insufficiently engaging to us and our Guinea pigs, we wouldn't proceed.

It would be an ordinary angler, going fishing. 

What doesn't come across in the film, because it is primarily about the quality of roach to be found in predator-affected canals, is where the inspiration came from to pursue this ongoing venture chasing pound plus fish, and that must be put right immediately. 

Long suffering readers of The Flannel will know that, without any doubt the most accomplished and inventive coarse angling blogger yet, Jeff Hatt, was the first to prophesise that local zander affected canals were capable of producing roach of 2lbs.

This claim would seem wild and fanciful were it not for the fact that Jeff, his blogging keyboard and glow-tip floats now hung-up for the foreseeable future, could back it up with hard evidence of fish snared in the depths of winter at just a fraction below the magical weight. 

We made contact and started to collaborate to the point at which we shared an online spreadsheet populated with our big roach catches to see whether, over time, any unforeseen patterns might emerge. 

Sadly, not too long after this, Jeff lost the urge after life got in the way of his fishing, although his blog is thankfully still there as a resource of wise words for the angler looking to make sense of a situation. 

For me though this brief meeting of minds has been unquantifiable in its importance, with the basis of the method we depict and describe coming from Jeff's inspirational words.
It was he who re-resurrected the lift bite method Fred J Taylor had already previously brought to prominence from even older sources in more classic situations, including pursuit of Estate Lake tench, and applied it to canals at a time when match anglers were still reeling from their decline due to the advent of a lack of small fish and continuing growth only of the relatively few fish remaining.

Coupled with that favourite chalk stream specimen roach bait, bread flake, it proved an unbeatable combination that was and continues to be the best big roach method due to its crudity making it counterintuitively supersensitive. 

When Jeff's writing via the Idlers Quest portal first influenced my thinking I had caught 4 or 5 one pound plus roach from canals, all pre-1995. I'd returned to angling around 2011 with no purpose and no goal. I was going through the motions of fishing in a match style without the matches and it was inevitable that this was unlikely to be sufficiently enthralling to keep me active in the process. 

The experimentation with Jeff's technique was instantly successful with two roach of a pound and a three pound bream all falling to its temptations on the first brief trip attempting a similar approach on the pole. 

Over the following years, subsequently ploughing a lone gongoozling furrow, the method and, particularly, the feeding and hookbait size has been, dare I use the word, refined and various little alternatives have come and gone or occasionally become part of the arsenal of choices to suit circumstances.

However, one thing has remained constant and that is Jeff's influence. I think it's fair to say that barely a session goes by without me thinking back to that collaboration for one reason or another and it's sad to think that what exists may be its whole backcatalogue, but, as I always feel, be it in respect of otters or whatever, we must embrace the change and take on those new challenges with an open mind.

Of course I'm not the only one who wishes Jeff hadn't retired from the angle and it's, never so eloquently, written word at his apparent peak but he's in fine company in taking that route with sportsmen like Lennox Lewis, Nico Rosberg and Pete Sampras all choosing that option as champions in their own fields. 


So, yes, the film wouldn't have been made at all without Jeff's influence and, as I said to him only yesterday, had he still been active we would undoubtedly have contemplated discussing the prospect of producing a video on this subject with Eric together.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

If You Complain Nothing Happens!

The process of complaining is riddled with a lack of challenge. Degree of difficulty 1 out of 10. Zero being the good old, tried and tested, 'do nothing' option

It is of no greater import therefore not to be seized by that hair-triggered mantrap

To place irrational blame at the teeth of the otter; at the clarity of the water; at the bill of the cormorant; at the whimisical flow; at the indiscretion of the poacher; at the paucity of boats; at the glut of boats; at the clarity of the sky or at the myriad other potential scapegoats for the angler; is surely no more than an attempt to thinly veil a lack of vision, planning and understanding in ourselves

If the angler wishes to catch fish then surely she or he must prepare for that eventuality, and never more so than in the toughest of circumstances

On a certain day, faced with 'good conditions', one might choose to fish a float rather than 'the lead'; to feed caster rather than maggot; to find shallow/flowing or deeper/steady water, and so on. These decisions being based on their likelihood of success driven by a blend of experience, watercraft, common sense and gut feeling

That being the case, when faced with these options over a recent weekend - clear, strongly flowing canals; clear, only recently cold, pools, and; clear, slow, weedy and leaf-bestrewn rivers - what is the angler to conclude?

Well, we could narrow our options in the same logical manner an angler would select a float. A 6AAA balsa would be a touch oversized for the canal and conversely a 2no8 loaded dart would be a pitiful bite indicator for the Severn. So do we know of any local canals that fish well when they are much clearer than normal? Experience says, "No". The next thought springing to mind then is to consider short dawn or dusk sessions in shaded cuttings or tree-lined stretches when fish will be emboldened by low light levels and an associated feeding reflex.

Pools were going to be tricky but pursuing perch or other predators could have been viable choices in clear cold water.

Rivers compare favourably with the canal options except that the odd feature might hold the odd feeding fish during the day, but beware that 11am to 3pm piscatorial vacuum!

Surely the whole point of angling is the challenge and a major part of this, for the thinking angler, is the planning. Making decisions on venues that will produce some action if logic prevails. Maybe this is the difference between an angler and a fisherman?

'They' say angling is defined as the pursuit of fish with an angle, a hook.

Today though I like to think the contemporary application of the word 'angling' is trying to deduce how to catch the target fish by looking for an angle, much in the same way as one might apply a unique personal meaning to a song written about something completely different.

It would be relatively easy to whip a few sprats from most venues even in the aforementioned tough conditions but when such situations prevail it has to be preferable to apply every available ounce of craft to the situation and limit oneself to dusk and dawn adventures which will often offer-up similar results to those of a whole day in snooze mode.

Like many animals, larger than average fish are crepuscular in their feeding habits, albeit perhaps increasingly nocturnal with the increased threat of predation.

Bats, as an order of mammalia, forage earnestly at, and just after, dusk but then have a lull in this activity and it is no coincidence that anyone's experience of fishing at such periods is that the peak opportunity for that trophy catch is around this time and at dawn, with noticeably less action before and after, generally speaking. 


The above was written a fortnight ago, but now, after a week of rain, the local rivers are finally flushing through with a colour and pace that suggests excitement is around the corner.
I'm off now to prepare for that very eventuality but before I do this Bear of Little Brain has been mulling over an appropriate 'angle' to focus more tightly on the perpetual quarry, big canal roach, especially for quiver-tipping into dusk.

How could it be possible to ensure the bait is in the right place in the dark with the combined risk of not wanting to shine a torch over, or into, 3 to 5 feet of clearing water?
What flashed through the darkness and into mind was a superlight mini-method feeder, or at least what I thought one might look like...a tiny coil with bread squeezed into it.

Next port of call, China. Followed by these little beauties in the postbox...

Weighing-in at a gnat lighter than a bluebottle, these far Eastern coils seem perfect repositories for a handful of liquidised bread and, being stopped three inches from the hook with the usual flake floating above it, suggested the perfect night time solution. 

A trial in daylight hours seemed the logical conclusion.

The coil was far too light to clip-up at the mini-range, as it just bounced back off the tip, however it didn't take too many attempts to achieve a regular landing point, emanating ever increasing circles, on the far edge of the boat run.

The liquidised worked very nicely and we (the 'cut coil' and I) actually promoted more bites than had been the case in recent trips float fishing; very often 'one bite, one fish' sessions.

Strangely the first fish might have been target size but certainly was not target species, as a very much out of season, but mighty welcome, Silver bream chewed on the white flake and in doing so tripped itself up.

The bite was positive and no problem to hit with a nine foot wand. So proved the case with the ensuing two roach though the only one of note caused rather more excitement with passers-by.

The event was enhanced by that educated ejaculation, "I didn't know fish grew that big in here, in fact I didn't even know there were any fish in the canal. What is it?".

Certainly crumbs for thought. I wonder where this might take us?

Canal roach on a method feeder! Whatever next?!

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Lead to the Canal

Experimentation had been intriguing but, perhaps, raised more questions than it resolved. 
The changing season had nurtured the urge to seek out that regular cold weather adversary, the roach, and not hand-sized roach but two-hand roach. Anything over a pound of silver would be considered gold.

Since spending a month increasing the carp P.B. by way of a distraction from the generally poor angling conditions other options had seemed so unappealling.

A couple of dawn sessions delivered only hybrids and smaller roach but the changing of the clocks and the prospect of a couple of hours trap-setting at dusk proved a suddenly irresistible challenge.

The idea appeared justified but the sound of oncoming narrowboats up to and after dark stretched the F, F&F congeniality reserves to the brink. 

After around five sessions of this nature it seemed fairly obvious that not to have started on a Sunday would have been wiser. Midweek has been more palatable but not a single evening has gently drifted by without it being punctuated by chugging death at a time so late to be at best plain rude and at worst in contravention of the CRT Boaters Handbook.

Initially the same bombardment of bread mash habitually applied at dawn was introduced on arrival but, with late boats, this was ripped, swirled and deposited everywhere but 'the spot', rendering the whole palaver futile.

Subsequently feeds were only introduced when it seemed quite unlikely that boats were just round the corner poised to send me round the bend, but, even so, on not a single occasion has this proven correct.

On that first visit it was very difficult to detect lift bites with an isotope so the wand was unearthed, fitted-up and engaged. A single swan-shot link was used with a flake of bread popped-up 2 to 8 inches, and, despite the boat irritation, on all but one trip the target aimed at has been hit.

Four roach from 1lb 4ozs 6drms to 1.5.8 have been netted but at the rate of no more than one bite per trip and always at dusk; leaving the post-daylight, apparently likely period, devoid of activity.

I'm left wondering whether bread is an unsuccessful option after dark. I've always thought of it to be a visual bait for roach and so it wouldn't be a huge surprise if that proves to be the case.

To advance this however there is another issue, that of signal crayfish being increasingly active at, and after, sunset and maybe a bait change would be necessary.

Emotionally it was a challenge on the most recent attempt, just yesterday...
A firm, determined pull on the tip on an unusually crayfish-free night resulted in a battle with a good strong fish. So much so that the clutch needed adjusting. Trying a new area, nothing above an ounce had been seen to rise at dusk and so even the bite was a relief but during the fight I allowed myself to dream.

It felt very roach-like and heavy. The pinkness of the fins on surfacing in heavily coloured water added further to that diagnosis but above all when the fish eventually lay flat and beaten on the surface it had that unmistakable shape.

A heavy sudden gasp for breath and the breathless words, "My God, it IS a roach" hissed out into the darkness like a burst tyre, and well over two pounds for sure; as confirmed when I had to lift it onto the bank.

Incredulous, wired and shaky, with the fish getting ever closer and the dream it represented then laid out on the bank, the head torch illuminating its features, blankness.

A vacuum of thought. 

Momentary confusion.

"This could be a hybrid".

It was.

As close a hybrid in appearance to a roach as one could imagine (in the dark), but a hybrid indeed, and somehow the disappointment barely registered. I've come to like hybrids for that extra fighting dimension and their ability to outgrow their slimier parent in canals.

There's time yet for a bar-raising roach with winter waiting to take over.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Something Completely Different

Eric Weight, of Artificial Lite blog, and I worked on a project last winter and now is therefore the appropriate time to share it

This is our first foray of this nature and it has been a great challenge but hopefully it will be suitably received

I cannot thank Eric enough for his expertise, advice and honesty in this journey.

Click Here!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

An Indication of Syndication

At the end of last term's Bloggers' Challenge a very prominent loose end was left wafting in the breeze

The end that was loose related to the next undertaking, the next challenge in fact. Whilst usually the alternate season away from the competition is welcome, when I came to look the letters had crumbled from the signpost

Disatisfied with the limitations of local known river fishing options my mind started to wander, followed closely by the F,F&F bus and then my poor old feet

As it happened I ended-up spending the close season seeking-out new venues, mainly rivers and, initially, mainly my (now beloved) River Leam

Somehow it was almost as though each landowner I approached had never had the idea before and, in what seemed like just a few bewildering days, rights were acquired to some lovely waters all of which have one thing in common - exclusive peace and quiet. One massive plus of a small Syndicate, admittedly with higher fees than your average Angling Club, is this factor. You know that it is hardly ever going to be a race for a swim. So, after extending the angling antennae, there were soon ten like-minded individuals on board and, if everyone fished the whole range of venues on a given day, on average we'd still only see one other angler and we'd know him anyway.

At least four of our number are Bloggers and thus "Warwickshire Bloggers Angling Syndicate" was born...WBAS

The latter was an idea three or four of us had previously floated briefly when the Saxon Mill stretch became available after Warwick club relinquished rights, but at the time we concluded it was a difficult venue, being generally too public


I must confess first thoughts were to try to gain access to as much of the Leam as possible as most of it is not fished and those areas that could be are slowly shrinking away. Godiva have lost half of their water and much of Leamington A A's is inaccessible.

Once it had dawned on me that I couldn't fund the whole venture myself I started to ask around and before we knew it there we were all sat round a table next to the weir at the Saxon Mill, with that unmistakable cologne of treated sewage that pervades the intimate areas of the Warwickshire Avon mistily perfuming us like an air freshener working in reverse. We ran through the venues and after some polite arm-wrestling with landowners I think it's fair to say we are all still pinching ourselves with what we have managed to achieve so quickly.

Part of the initially evolving idea was to gain control of the remaining North Oxford Canal and possibly also some of the more accessible combined Oxford and Grand Union Canals but it transpired this was probably my own dream and no one else's(!) so we quickly dropped that idea and concentrated on rivers and the search for a pool.

Sean Dowling (Off the Oche, Down the River) was full of suggestions and came-up with some crackers that came to fruition, with more that we didn't have the wherewithal to follow-up.

The landowners have all proved very amenable and open-minded, within their obvious business limitations, and each venue has it's own quirks that we have to work within, one of which, by way of example, limits river access to winter problem, it's weeded-up in summer anyway!

What could be better? Exclusive access, no other anglers, way off the beaten track, peace and tranquility, unmanaged river banks, no litter, good fishing, new locations to grapple with, great variety. Nothing beats it.


So here we now sit with options as varied as the Warwickshire Stour, River Leam, Warwickshire Avon and a picturesque, comfortable, sheltered pool. The latter being the subject of a long-term project to create a tench and crucian fishery, and for which we are opening membership to ten others to share the challenge.


The Tinier Inhabitants of the Warks Stour

The one magical thing about these waters is their mystery. The majority have not been fished in anger for years, if at all, and the potential is thoroughly engaging.

We've set-up a WhatsApp group to share findings and shallow-off a potentially steep learning curve. This also helps to quickly and easily disseminate more strategic messages without time-consuming meetings. Something I think we all welcome even though the amount of messages inevitably becomes a touch unwieldy at times and WhatsApp Fatigue (and known disorder!) can kick-in.

For my part, my first visit to the Stour stretch was my first visit to the Stour, the only contact I'd had with it previously being running my finger over it in BAA Handbooks as a teenager,  enthralled by tales of deep holes and giant bream. Fish that I never felt capable of catching I should add, assuming they were snared either by accident or by smelly, bewhiskered men with ivy growing up their legs in the way people currently nurture tattoos. This at a time when my modus operandi was to stand in the water wearing a thick jumper and tie, fishing the roach pole, like the late Ray Mumford (who I once watched openly cheat in a match on the Great Ouse by the way, a moment that quickly changed my wardrobe. What a magisterial name for a river that is, the Great Ouse, capturing it's scale, history, latent power and piscatorial magnitude in but two small words, and yet, I look back at them on the page in a reflective, Miranda-type, way and think what strange words they are).

I've drifted.

The Stour was, is, everything the Leam should be, were it not for the extent of its clay geology. Similar in width; shallow then deeper; rushing then still; weeded then clear; shaded then sunlit; devoid then infested; untouched yet touchable and with wildlife abounding. I actually flushed a little owl from the bankside field margin midday while roving with rod, net and bumbag full of the usual. The first one I have seen away from one known nesting site for some years, since their decline in lowland Warwickshire.

Natural Beauty of the Warks Stour

Both Warks Avon stretches are a totally unknown quantity and when access commences to the Upper reaches on October the 1st, it being five minutes from Chez Nous, there's no doubt where I'll be.

As for the pool, well, there's work to do to meet our expectations. Currently it's overrun with small rudd, roach, perch and various hybrids so the long-term aim is to thin those out to give the preferred species growing potential and to remove the carp under double figures so that they become a treat rather than a certainty. It will take time but it has all the potential we need to create an estate lake without the mansion!

I'll keep updating on our adventures via this portal I'm sure but, in the meantime, I was driven to prose while basking in the glory of a deep pool on the new Leam stretch at the end of the hot weather:

Flowering Arrowhead on the Leam

Many a step from a road, from buildings, from fellow man; an oasis of water, giving life.

As I sit, the sun, awkward on the eye, floats imperceptibly higher like a lemon pip gently lifted by the bubbles of a fizzy drink.

The irritated churring of the great tit in a mixed family flock of animated baubles, complete with hangers-on of numerous fattening chiffchaff, breaks through the now strained-for rustling of leaves on a gradually rising breeze as if in a relay without rules.

Fulfilled without false entertainment, the rod tip still, I watch as the flow grips specks of duckweed in its movement and tweaks them, drifting like tiny skaters, spinning and careering in perfect natural chaos toward their own overpopulated metropolis awaiting them in deriliction of decay downstream.

Surely no finer experience is to be discovered than by the stream.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Pursuing the Stream

Reading and researching every available article and note (there ain't much) to squeeze that extra drip from the fruit that is the tiny River Leam has helped, but not as much as one might prefer.

It's now around five or six years since the tiny Warwickshire River Leam drew this convert into its thrall with that irresistable 'Trust in me' aura.

In those years the perpetual targets have been a 4lb chub and a roach of 1lb 8ozs.

The best chub to date had been one of 3lbs 13ozs a few winters ago, but I know I lost a bigger one on the penultimate day of the season before last, confirming the suspicion that they are in there.

Records are kept of all chub over one and a half pounds in weight and up until this partucular day 69 had been caught, headed by the 3.13 of course.

In terms of roach, the number falling to the float, flight & flannel rod that exceeded one pound have been very limited, numbering in fact less than a handful of individuals, with the biggest 1.4.6 taken from a shallow gravelly glide with some water on.

Whenever chub are the target the approach is similar, tried and trusted. Bait is the established favourite of bread usually fed as mash but occasionally loose pellets of flake squeezed for a slow sink. Then the hookbait alternates between crust on a 3" pop-up and flake with a 15" tail. Line is 5-8lb straight through and, although often coupled with a 6 or 8 hook, currently the rig carries a 10 or a 12 in the clearer water while getting to understand three new meadows of The Stream.

When roach might be around a 1 or 2 swan link of stiff 8lb fluorocarbon that the main line can glide through is preferred to pinched-on shot, just to provide that psychological comfort that the first thing the fish feel as they pick up the bait will not be the weight. Of course this is all irrelevant because when a decent fish bites, be it chub or roach, it's always positive, but it can make an angler confident to have thought these things through.

Enough of the 'how to...' though.


So, yesterday evening, after a tiring day, a couple of hours crawling in the undergrowth seemed appealing and the F, F & F bus headed for the new stretch.

Previously, different pegs had been fished each time and this time would be no different.

Flicking a few loose flake offerings, squeezed just enough to make them slowly sink, into the fastest flow emerging from behind a heavy green bulrush bed, dulled by a blistering summer, and down under a willow casting a mysterious darkness over the water preceded the first free-lined 'cast'. The flake floated though and, drawing it back, it appeared to want to sink so sink it did and it was given slack line. Immediately a shape emerged from the darkness and the faint white blob was consumed.

In a confined space, where the only rod curving option was horizontal and sideways, it instantly became clear that this would be the only fish from this swim as it churned clouds of silt from long-unwashed weedbeds but at 2lbs 1oz this chub was a good start.

Creeping upstream, via a couple of blank dobs in a tiny clearing, a narrowed channel of accelerated water caught the eye, as it rolled off the base of a gravel bar and swirled into a pool. An upstream cast was the obvious solution and, with a large chunk of crust to maximise the chances of a chub spotting the waft of temptation, the line was tightened.

As the muscles relaxed into a repose, a twitch, a twang and battle was taken-up. Soon though the head-shaking turned into the typical dive for nearbank cover and, this time, still being out of practice, this was the one that would indeed 'get away'.

Further swims were investigated. Overhanging trees, steady glides, rapids between reedbeds; small one lost, two pounder landed; and eventually, as dusk fell, the trusty Avon took on a nervy arc, bent double. The line singing under pressure and the clutch ticking accentuated the fact that this was a worthy opponent. Certainly more so than anything else on the evening.

Recalling and learning from the lost fish this one was 'mouth-out' as soon as was feasible, without taking too much risk, and, with the gasp of air taken, it was ready and waiting to be hoiked onto the bank.

Without ceremony upon exposing it's true value from the folds of the enveloping mesh, a fish floating around the magical mark revealed itself.

Would this be it? I could have been

Scales settling at 75.1 ounces made for some optimism, less 64 for 4lbs left me hoping the net weighed less than 10.1ozs.

11.8ozs - disappointment, but then elation at a new Leam P.B. and knowledge that by February this could be that target 4 pounder.

3.15.5 - so, so close!

...but now I know where it lives!