Sunday, 19 May 2013


The weekend enabled some fishing, some water meadow wanderings and, armed with new otter sign knowledge, some general naturey meanderings were undertaken in an area not seen since I was at school largely at the upper end of the Warwickshire Avon and its crossing of watery paths with the North Oxford Canal

First thing Saturday saw the usual roachy shenanigans on the cut. Cut it was, but accompanied by the word 'short' as 60 walkers and 12 narrowboats, each one associated with a Rugby Union Premiership Club, headed off from Rugby to Twickenham in aid of the Matt Hampson Trust. The leader-off was a gentleman, and a former canal match angler, who broke his back seven years ago and was attempting the route on crutches for the fourth time, and sometimes we are inclined to complain about our lot. Complain, about the boats and otherwise considered disturbance, I did not; for once I was humbled by the sight and bid them good day and good luck as I parted with the only two shiny coins deep inside many-layered clothing and slowly packed my gear away in awe of the effort these people were putting in for a worthy cause

The catch had been good in any event, albeit a couple of solid fish were bumped on the strike for no apparent or logical reason later on. The roach fed well from the moment the rig hit the water as seems to be the case at present with the water not noticeably cold when mashing the bread to pursue the method described in the previous post. Indeed they came thick and fast before bream moved in on the heavy feed. The best roach (pictured above) went 1-3-5 and sits safely in 10th place on the all time canal list

The Saturday Catch. 5 roach to 1-3-5 and 3 bronze bream to 2-6-0
An event I hadn't witnessed on a canal for many years unfolded before my eyes and, initially, ears when I heard a definite 'plop' to the right and looked round to see an orange fluttering as a kingfisher emerged from the water with its, or its kids', breakfast, which was duly beaten into submission on a branch. The extravagantly coloured bird which, when flying from twig to stem, in the hunt for fry has that bumble bee-like impossible design aesthetic converts into a jet propelled blue missile when commuting more urgently around it's territory. The roach almost seemed as nothing by comparison to this little wonder of the waterway

Later in the day The Lady Burton had an appointment; The Dog was batting no.5 for the local town club so Parps and I headed off for, in one case, some nostalgia and, in the other, a new adventure

We started on the canal and found evidence of otter having passed through under the very first bridge. I, we, found it incredible that this large elusive mammal could possibly live in such a busy place, but they do and, while I had expected to find such evidence by the river the canal was hardly the first spot I would have looked  

Some good looking pegs were passed in an area I had only once before fished in the Rugby Schools Championship back in the mid-late 1970's, when ounces were the order of the day(s)

Then we decided to follow the river, first downstream, then up. I remembered a few of the features of the landscape but naturally it had changed in the ensuing 35 years. There is no direct link for fish through the area of the river with the downstream section cut-off from the upstream by outfalls, overspills and concrete, not to mention a fine collection of aquatic Tesco trolleys and discarded bikes.

Some bread pellets thrown into some pacey, dark, and therefore deeper, water soon had chub of around eight to twelve ounces pouncing from the depths and further upstream beneath a weir a few roach were to be seen with a least one worth fishing for

Soon we abandoned this man-made riverine route and headed for the natural streamy river further up-flow where the most beauteous water meadows still exist and remain just as I remembered them from my youth.

So variable is a river at this stage of it's life. First fast-flowing through channels in phragmites beds, colonised by reed and sedge warblers as they vie for the loudest most repetitively incessant song, then slowing to the standstill of wide, deep bends inhabited by shoals of deeply-coloured roach which top with abandon mid-day in hot spring sunshine as if to celebrate the quite wondrous habitat the are fortunate enough to treat as their own

Top - reed warbler, softly plumaged and with an eye-stripe stopping at the eye
Bottom - sedge warbler, more bold wing striations, with a complete and deep eye-stripe
We knelt in the emerging lushness of bank side herbage, with the rich smell of crushed leaves coursing through the nostrils, and came to regret the absence of a picnic now that we had wandered so far

A few discs of best bread were compressed and flicked into the stream under a hawthorn. Roach chased and harried for the treasure until, each time, the white speck suddenly was gone, the view enhanced by Polaroid lenses, and then, from the dark water below, a chub burst through the roach and in a tight arc took the bread and was gone in a instant. All it left, the memory of the flashing flank of this one golden pirate

We followed the course downstream for few yards, past nesting moorhens and more sedge warblers disputing territory, for soon the rushes would be high enough to nest and by that time the need to argue would be better ignored with energy directed to the necessity to procreate in a world so fragile

On a winding section of river an eight inch wide surge of small bubbles commenced at the far bank and progressed downstream with some speed, mid-stream. We both knew this could only mean one thing - the mammal that had eluded us in England for so long was before us, we just had to be still and wait for it to surface. 20, 30, 40m the bubbles continued, ducklings scattered in panic and the perpetrator suddenly burst from the water in a flurry of wing beats, warning quacking and spray. A female mallard had to advise her young, urgently, that we were about to catch and eat them...and so the otter can wait until another day!

Somewhat embarrassed at expecting the unlikely and being proven wrong we offered some more bread to roach in a deep pool on a tightening bend and they accepted without question. We suspected a pellet of bread punch from a slice would have these little chaps beyond redemption come June 16th

In about 1975 The Old Duffer and I came to this very river to find it bright red with roof tile dye from a factory upstream. Fish sought refuge out of the water, so painful was it for them to withstand the effects. We could not rescue them all but raised the alarm and managed to get to a two pound chub which took up residence in our bath for a day or two while we pondered its fate. Given the Avon was likely going to be poisoned for some time into the future we introduced it to the Swift, a small tributary, upstream of their confluence some mile or two downstream of its rescue. An admittedly futile gesture but it made us feel as though we had done our bit

As we traipsed back through the finely preserved, and somewhat literally breathtaking, ridge and furrow to the path a young ginger-backed rabbit proved very confiding; basing it's survival on the old human baby theory 'If I cover my eyes they can't see me', or, in this case, it hid behind a blade of grass and we, being expert spotters, saw through it!

The day was one of discovery or, in my case, rediscovery and no lack of emotion and plain old sentimentality to see this landscape very much untouched since my youth and simply bursting with such a biodiverse community of animals.To think that all of England must have been of this natural quality once though even more species-rich, until the water companies straightened it out, no doubt

The first hooked fish of the morning comes to the top against a backdrop of sunrise
This morning started much as the last one but an absence of good roach did not go unnoticed. They seem to be in tighter areas now and the bream and hybrids are beating them to the feast when they are dominant in number

A hybrid with spawning time tubercles on it's head is gently replaced in the water 
Apart from a fascinating internal debate over blackcap and garden warbler song, I think I had both during the morning, the highlight was an old three pounds five ounce love-scarred bream with its sides and chin scratched and bleeding. Otherwise hard-fighting hybrids again proved the attraction together with an interesting bird list which kept me amused for the duration of the three hour session that commenced just after 5am

Next weekend sees us off for our annual spring Highlands trip and based on it being half as good as last year, I cannot wait

Species list for weekend:
Mallard, moorhen, wren, blackbird, carrion crow, chaffinch, woodpigeon, collared dove, swallow, swift (they're back!), kestrel, buzzard, goldfinch, dunnock, kingfisher, skylark, goldcrest, great tit, magpie, blue tit, lapwing, jackdaw, whitethroat, blackcap, willow warbler, reed bunting, pheasant, pied wagtail, jay, reed warbler, sedge warbler, chiffchaff.
Rabbit, grey squirrel, brown rat.
Roach, bronze bream, roachXbream hybrid.
Orange-tip, small white, speckled wood


  1. stevetheteacher21 May 2013 at 21:18

    Beautifully written as always- a real treat. Thankyou

  2. Very kind Steve. Quiet emotional tbh, as you will no doubt have gathered