Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Fyshes of The River Leam

The River Leam has a certain hold over me it has to be said. Not that I have, as yet, in around twenty sorties to its sometimes uncomfortable banks, had a good catch or even a seriously noteworthy individual fish but it is the wider engagement and enjoyment that drags one passively within its thrall

This past weekend, before the Virtual Gentleman had introduced and then released me from canal perch heaven, a morning was spent dropping lobworms and bread into various attractive swims which concluded with the angler needing to avoid the three to four ounce roach every cast in the hope of fooling one of their larger brethren of a more established year class into having a nibble. It is some change that has occurred that finds the weight-building yet slender and easily swung to hand roach of the match angler's dreams being shunned in favour of something more fruity and ample

Two swims, with the river at a declining a perfectly coloured level after the previous rains, produced small but strongly resistant dace and roach on baits aimed at pound plus fish of any species daft enough to succumb until I suddenly burst with the enthusiasm to fish an obvious peg I had always walked past as being, well, plainly too obvious. Here the roach were even more prevalent and anyone who was of a mind to sit and fill the keepnet for a few hours over the weekend would have been made-up, as they say in some regions (and on the stage), at the level of sport as the water hit it's peak of fishability for the first time this season

Clearly, in the selected domain, no one else had twigged this fact as there were no pegs that had been fished, save the obvious one, and the tall ruderal needed trampling to create pegs anywhere else. No stalking undertaken by the summer visitor here methinks

First cast in the obvious swim with a tail of lob in the hope of catching one of the, thus far neatly avoided but supposedly resident, specimae unawares produced my best Leam perch yet at a measly 12-14 ounces (not weighed, too muddy, couldn't move, boots stuck), but a fighter in the strong current. Then plenty of bites on a small topper running through the 3-4 foot deep glide toward a small raft and teasing the float either side of it whenever possible in that secretly-held hope that a leviathan monster thingy lies in wait just behind didn't, but (the royal) we did have the pleasure of a couple of perfectly formed ten ounce roach before, having switched to a 1.5 swan link leger, the trigger that often makes me up-sticks occurred - a snagged rig and lost tackle

I had told myself I would try another swim, just briefly, before leaving for the day which had been cut into perfect form by last years' apparently incessant raging floods and this was the opportunity to try it. Creeping through the growth and carefully depositing a lobworm over the rushes into the undercut just beyond I felt no action until I sought to retrieve the source of anticipated temptation from the flow at which point a couple of gentle taps and the most almighty of swirls resulted in - nothing. The wozm came back unaffected and the fish undisturbed. Gut feeling says it may have been an opportune strike by a pike but we'll never know

That was the last of the action for the day leaving me full of questions and a burning need to return. Having made the spot eminently more fishable though not exposed I departed for the pleasures of the paint roller

Wednesday, arrived as darkness fell at the perfect undercut peg. Threw in three hands full of mashed bread and wandered downstream with single lobworm while it settled and the great chub of the Leam moved in, or so I dusk-dreamt

Tap-t-tap-p-tap-tap, over and over, and nothing to strike at. Again I could have, and would in the past have, relented and offered just the end of a lobworm; the lob, the worm or even perhaps the obwo middle bit but no a fully spelt and sized lobworm would bring the unexpected and as expected I returned, with nothing to show for the walkabout, to the perfect swim

A large piece of Warburton's best was wrapped around the shank of the hook just sufficient to gently sink against a single swan shot right under the rod-tip, silently and without a ripple. And nothing occurred

The beast in the field opposite became drawn to my ill-perceived concealment giving me away to first a magpie and then a cock blackbird which cried-out its shrill alarm overhead as it crashed into the bushes downstream to hide from the dark until the morn came and Cat Stevens serenaded him back into the open as if never before

Given that my method was tantamount to freelining I found it difficult to remain in contact with the bait in the increasing gloom but as I lifted the rig to refresh what was expected to be a limp and soggy bait - resistance. A surge. The perfect peg, whilst perfect in terms of its depth, flow and ease of access thereto, was only three metres wide between bank and opposing rush bed which, combined, defined the channel. I leaned into the fish and soon realised it to be my first river chub of the season and suitably sized at 2-0-13 though no match for the 1.5lb tc rod of course

The slim fish was gently returned a few pegs below and back we came for more, not expecting anything; it is a statement of fact that I have never had two chub from the same Leam swim in those previous twenty trips

The darkness continued to descend (as I have found it tends to during the evening) and I settled-in for what I intended to be an hour's committed concentration

More mash was added both after the fish and now and then as time slipped by until, some while later, a sign of life with a more gentle bite than I had been used to and a chub of just over a pound was soon spooned out and returned with the least of fuss. The risk had been taken to return it where I comfortably sat, given it was a relative tiddler, in fact my smallest Leam cub to date I suspect, as my headtorch was waning and I could otherwise see myself marooned in the field affeared to move in case the next step took me into irretrievable, and distinctly wet, trouble if it completely failed

Just over an hour into dark I was beginning to contemplate home and a roaring stove with the realisation that I hadn't quite put enough layers on and the chill creeping through to the neck upper back like myceliae of a spreading fungal attack. As they say in the US I hunkered down (we don't really have word for that, do we?) and reverted to mind over matter and absolute stillness until, on tweaking the bait for perhaps the fiftieth time of the session, it was ripped out of my hand by the actual quarry...I assume...the fight was brief and savage; and so I became, as the line parted and literally shot into the tree to my left like a bullet seeking an identified target. A further volley, though this time of verbal abuse, filled the immediate and by-now freezing air as I tried to make sense of the sudden loss of what would without doubt have been the fish I had sought since starting this affair with this small and intriguing stream

By now though the landing net had frozen into lace ice and so a quick dash back to car to tootle home and replenish the body's warmth was in order, and with it the opportunity to ponder what had just happened. In the cold dark of night (okay I admit, illuminated by various dials) it became clear that the rod had locked-out and the clutch hadn't been lightly set to suitably respond. Cue a revisit to Tony Miles' bible and next time I set the clutch to come into play at that very time when the rod fails you and the fish bottoms it out to its benefit

In match fishing times it had been so easy to back-wind when necessary and hope for the best as often, in the old days, playing a big fish for ages would be counterproductive and it genuinely was sometimes better to lose them but now losing them is failure and landing them is all

This is learning the hardest way and, for me certainly, I don't learn until something this dramatic has happened to make it sink in

At the end of last season a chub of 3-13-0 was no match for the same rod in post flood conditions so what size might this fish have been I wonder? It is to easy to say it was this big or that big but the fact is unknown, who's to say it wasn't wrapped up with weed too? There's no way of telling but one thing is certain, the mystery of this little river gets to you and its got me good and proper


  1. It could have been a pike mate, with you twitching the bait an all. A bite off before the clutch came into play.
    Bread is not the bait to catch pike on but stranger things and all that.

  2. The more I think about it the more I think you're right Martin. I did have a zander on a piece of bread last year so anything is possible