The Hampshire Avon at Ringwood is an unspoilt stretch with a good head of fish.
Lifelands is a stretch of river popular with pleasure anglers and specimen hunters alike. The waters are clean, weedy and quite pacey with a good head of chub, barbel, dace, roach and pike, and there are even carp, bream and tench there too.
According to Martin the weir is fairly new and compared with most weirs, doesn’t do an awful lot. You’d expect that above a weir of this size there’d be at least 3-3.7m (10-12ft) or more of water. In fact the depth is closer to 1.8m (6ft).
Automatic flow Water runs through four sluices which automatically regulate the flow and they can operate at any time. The middle vent — actually a salmon ladder, not a gate – takes most of the water, which then passes under a concrete footbridge. On the downstream side of the bridge two concrete walls extend into the weirpool, dividing it into three channels. Winter fury Although the weir is rather tame in summer it’s a different story in winter. That’s when extra fioodwater churning over the gates bites into the gravel, creating a deep depression. Even in summer the depth in the central channel is around 4.6m (15ft) and in the side channels it is between 2.4-3m (8-10ft). In winter it may be l-1.2m (3-4ft) deeper.
Clear waters The water’s black appearance as you look over the bridge is due to the depth rather than the water’s colour -which is actually quite clear. In spite of the turbulence in the central channel you can sometimes see double-figure carp swimming fast just beneath the surface! Martin says that the water is very clear by the end of July – so clear that in the slower swims you can pick out a grain of sweetcorn lying in as much as 2.4m (8ft) of water.
The near channel is popular with anglers because it has a comfortable bank. It’s too deep for weed to get a footing here and fish rely on the speed of the water and its depth for cover. This actually makes it rather a difficult swim. You need a lot of weight to anchor your hookbait and you have to overcome the problem of feed being washed away. In spite of this, large barbel, carp and chub are taken from here.
At the tail end of the weirpool there’s a much steadier stretch of water about 20m (22yd) long. It looks perfect for running through a stickfloat or small balsa. Ask Martin whether it’s worth trying though, and he’d probably shake his head and tell you not to bother — unless the weed cutter had been down here, that is.
The problem is that apart from the depth -it’s about 3m (10ft) deep here-it has nothing to offer the fish and with nothing to tempt them out of the weed why should they move? Martin says that if the weed downstream was cut then the fish would probably move up to the deep water since it would provide the nearest source of cover.
A cross-section taken lengthways along the river below the weir would show a typical wedge-shape — the water shallowing as you get farther away from the turmoil. At the end of the deep, steady run the river bed rises to a depth of about 1.8-2.lm (6-7ft) — where a sufficient amount of light reaches the bottom for weed to grow. Weed and flow At first just a few clumps of ranunculus manage to anchor themselves : in the margins of the far side. But only about 10m (11yd) downstream thick clumps have established themselves mid-river and soon, what appears to be a solid weed bank forms an emerald barrier across almost half of the river.
The water from the weir hits this weed bank. Some filters slowly through but most is deflected into a channel on the inside of the river. Apart from a few thin strands of submerged weed this channel is virtually clear. This means that it offers less resistance to the flow and the water escapes quickly downstream.
Hidey holes To the untrained eye, the weed bank looks solid – but Martin knows different. Anchored firmly by its roots in the gravel, a single plant starts from only a small base but its stems are extremely long. They trail downstream and, depending on the strength of the current, may not reach the surface for 5-6m (16-20ft) or more. All the while they spread out and up towards the surface — creating a wedge-shaped cavity beneath. It is in this cavity that the specimen chub, double-figure barbel, and 2 lb (0.9kg) roach live.
As the fronds of one plant peter out, so the sunlight penetrates and allows others to take root. Where weed is thickest, the impression is of one vast bed. It is made up of individual plants overlapping one another; and according to Martin, 99.9% of the fish live under this canopy!
You’ve only to pull a handful of weed from the river and examine it closely to see why fish like it – it’s stuffed with freshwater shrimps and snails. Not only a source of food, it provides security from predators, shade from the sun and a breeding ground. The angler’s task of persuading fish to leave the weed isn’t an easy one!
Martin says that there are only two ways of doing it. One is to make a hole in the weed, drop a bait in and, when you hook a fish, try to bully it out – a highly specialized technique that is not recommended unless you really know what you are doing. The other is to find a steady-flowing run alongside the weed and try to coax them out with some loosefeed. The Slab swim is ideally suited to this.
Salmon groyne There used to be a good run of salmon up the Avon and the Slab was built into the river bank to help them on their journey. It creates an area of slack water in which the salmon can lie and build up their strength before broaching the weir. Martin reckons that there are few if any salmon now but the Slab still creates deep, slow water which is ideal for ambushing barbel and chub.
Fish look-out There are two areas of interest here: one is the steady-flowing water out towards the weed, and the other is a slack that lies right up against the bank.
Martin’s tactics are to bait both swims with hempseed and sweetcorn and then to climb a willow below the Slab to see whether any fish have moved in.
A pair of polarizing glasses and a wide-brimmed hat help you to see into the clear waters, and on the inside swim you don’t even have to climb the tree. Peering quietly over the bed of reeds and nettles at the water’s edge, you can usually see the fish when they arrive. The dark blunt shapes are the chub — and you may see a flash of white as a fish’s gills flare or as its mouth opens. Slighter shapes with sharp, angular fins are roach and the longer, streamlined, torpedo shapes are barbel. If you aren’t sure which are which you can usually tell by hooking one!