It’s a cold and foggy morning in late November. There was a slight frost in the night and rain is forecast for the afternoon but Bryce Love is hopeful of a good day’s fishing. He explains that drizzle in the previous few days has given the Mole what looks to be just the right tinge of colour without raising its level and flow. He thinks that, while sport may be slow to start with because of the frost, the fish should come on later.
Bryce reckons this stretch near Dorking is ‘the best bit of the Mole, without a doubt’. Twisting and turning at the foot of Box Hill, the river here is narrow with long, shallow, gravel runs between slightly deeper pools and bends.
It’s regularly match-fished and the permanent pegs are spaced to coincide with the swims that have the deepest water and most bankside cover. The main species are chub to 4lb , roach to 1lb and dace to 10 oz , though there are also pike, perch and the occasional bream to be had — not to mention loads of gudgeon and millions of minnows.
Bryce chooses peg 98, a swim where the river deepens off at the end of a long, shal- low gravel run – and where overhanging bushes on the near bank and a dead tree stump at the downstream end scream chub.
In the Izaak Walton called chub ‘the fearfullest of fishes’ and on a clear, narrow, shallow river such as the Mole they are doubly so. Stealth and concealment are essential, which is why Bryce crouches down and tackles up well away from the water’s edge.
The fish here usually prefer a moving bait to a still one, he explains, so the ‘tip rod stays in the holdall. A small stick float is the obvious choice today – there’s little or no wind, no depth to speak of and no distance to cast.
Bryce selects a 4 no.4, wire-stemmed stick with an orange top. A wire stem causes little ‘clunk’ on the strike – an important consideration in shallow water – while orange shows up well against the dark reflections of bushes and trees.
He opts for a hooklength -light enough to tempt bites, strong enough to bully small to medium-sized chub away from snags – and a 19 hook, which is just the right size to fit inside a caster.
Surprisingly, given the snaggy nature of the swim, it’s a barbless hook, but Bryce believes a barbless hook penetrates more cleanly on the strike and – provided you keep a tight line – rarely slips out of a chub’s gristly mouth.
Bryce has brought a pint of casters, a pint of hemp and half a pint of maggots. Caster is usually the best hookbait in conjunction with caster and hemp loose feed. Maggots tend to attract minnows but are worth taking as a standby.
Set up, he tips his bait into the pouches of his apron, hangs his disgorger round his neck and moves his tackle quietly into position at the head of the swim.
A few trial runs down tell Bryce the nearside run is about 3ft deep. He sets the float so the hookbait just trips bottom and feeds about twenty grains of hemp and ten casters each trot. ‘Feed very lightly to start,’ he says, ‘to feel your way into the day’s fishing – to see how the fish respond. Later on, if you’re struggling, stepping up the feed can produce a late burst.’
Bryce expects bites early on to come at the end of the trot, where the current slows as it flows around the dead tree stump. Later, he hopes, the fish will become bolder and work their way gradually up the swim to intercept the feed – but only if there’s no bank-side disturbance!
After about ten minutes the float dips and a small dace comes to hand. A big gudgeon follows quickly then Bryce misses a good bite. The next cast produces a minnow — even using casters you can’t avoid them altogether. He shallows up a couple of inches and a chub is on.
Bryce gives the fish plenty of stick from the moment it’s hooked, to keep it away from snags and get it out of the ‘killing area’ as quickly as possible. He plays it with the rod top almost touching the water because of a large branch fallen across the river from the tree stump. Once clear of that obstacle, the chub has nowhere to go but into Bryce’s landing net. It’s a plump fish in excellent condition and weighs about Mb .
Bryce takes another dace, another minnow and a smaller chub before it starts to drizzle and sport slows.
Feeding steadily as before, he experiments with depth alterations to his rig, shallowing up another inch, then deepening off again so that the hookbait just trips bottom. ‘Keep feeding, keep adjusting your rig, don’t scare the fish and it can suddenly be a chub a cast as a shoal moves in,’ he says, still confident.
Fifteen minutes and no more bites later Bryce tries maggot on the hook but a minnow pounces on it straight away; back to single caster. Still no bites. He thinks the chub have shied off behind the stump because of bankside disturbance.
Bryce is fishing his hookbait about three inches off the bottom now and working his float right down the swim and around the stump. It’s a manoeuvre requiring masterly tackle control and his face is furrowed in concentration. His efforts are rewarded as three good roach are fooled and plucked from their lair.
Winter roach usually like a bait fished tight to the bottom at half the speed of the current, so Bryce tries fishing overdepth and holding back hard, to see if there’s a proper shoal down there.
A dozen biteless casts are enough to tell him there isn’t, so he shallows up again and switches his thoughts back to luring some chub out of the sanctuary of the stump at the end of the swim.
It’s still drizzling but Bryce has plugged away and is starting to catch a few dace from the chicane of water where the flow hits the stump.
He also hooks a chub of about 1lb almost behind the stump but manages to steer it safely round and into the landing net.
All of a sudden it’s not raining any more, the clouds are breaking up and the sun is shining! On cue, a 2lb chub snaffles the hookbait and tries valiantly to put as much tree branch between itself and the landing net as it can. But Bryce has seen it all before and the fish is soon outwitted and being drawn towards the net like a dog on a lead.
Small-river fish have a special quality and this one is no exception, being fat and fit with not a mark on it. Bryce reckons many of the fish here have never been caught before. Given the venue’s popularity with anglers, that can mean only one thing — it holds an exceptional head of fish.
Bryce steps up the feed and soon has chub averaging 2lb seemingly queueing up to be caught. Bites start coming only halfway down the swim as they lose their caution and move up to compete for the loose-fed casters and hemp.
The combination of steady feeding and keeping quiet has paid off, though Bryce believes a slight increase in water temperature may also be a significant factor in the sudden upturn in sport. If only it had been a match!