Dylan Roberts on the Kentish Rother

14 fishing Claydon Park, near Winslow in Buckinghamshire

Sussex has two River Rothers: the Western Rother in West Sussex… and the Kentish Rother – a short stretch of which is indeed in Kent but most of which is in East Sussex or forms parts of the Kent/Sussex border.

The Kentish Rother is actually more a land drain than a river and has little natural flow. The main match length, from Iden Lock to Blackwall Bridge, has an average width of about 30m (33yd) and an average depth down the middle of 3m (10ft) or so. A warm August morning sees Dylan tackling up on permanent peg 129 – on the east bank, only a short walk down from Newbridge… in East Sussex. ‘I must say, I wouldn’t mind living around here,’ he says. ‘It’s so quiet and unspoilt.’ He’s right. There’s not another angler or a scrap of litter in sight.

Last summer here, according to Dylan, the skimmers and small roach ‘went barmy’ up in the water on the waggler, but this year (1991) the roach haven’t really shown, while the long pole/short line/Olivette rig attack has scored better than the waggler for skimmers – not to mention eels.

This could be due to the cold, wet start to the season, he thinks. He’s keen to try and make the waggler work today, though. ‘It’s something of an experiment,’ he says, ‘but the ingredients look right, as you might say – it’s been hot for a few days and the water’s a good colour. The only problem might be bleak – there’s a few topping. But with a little bit of luck we’ll find lots of nice chunky roach and skimmers nestling among them.’

Dylan starts fishing about two-thirds of the way over with a 3AAA waggler rig set almost at full depth . Hookbait is single big maggot: ‘Colour is immaterial, but it pays to ring the changes,’ he says. Feed is a good pouch of mixed large maggots each cast (about every couple of minutes), sprayed from the middle to two-thirds of the way across.

Each cast he also feeds a pouch of mixed pinkies and a small ball of brown crumb down the middle. The crumb is a dryish, fluffy mix and the balls lightly squeezed, to burst on impact. ‘Don’t try to put them all down the same hole,’ says Dylan: ‘you want to cloud an area, not a point.’

He doesn’t put the pinkies in the crumb as they would split such a dry mix. And he doesn’t bother with squatts because, he says, ‘there are so many little fish here, they annihilate them’.

The idea is to catch skimmers and small roach near the bottom on the 3AAA rig until the constant feeding draws the fish up in the water, then switch to a 3BB waggler rig, set at half depth with pinkie or big maggot hookbait, to catch down the middle on the drop .

As a back-up, in case the waggler experiment fails, Dylan also regularly loosefeeds a 9m (30ft) pole line – at the bottom of the near shelf- with hemp and casters. ‘Don’t ask me why, but the eels here this year definitely want hemp! Pinkie’s what you catch them on, though, with caster and big maggot next best.’

A downstream breeze is picking up, so to prevent a bow forming in his line Dylan casts slightly downstream and downwind, following the wise old advice ‘fish with the wind, not against it’.

Straight away he gets bites on the drop, but the few he hits yield only bleak. On the rare occasions his hookbait reaches the bottom intact, no bites result. ‘You get this sometimes, a rake of fish up in the water and nothing below,’ he says.

The question is, are there any roach and skimmers in the rake? He tries the light waggler, gets a bite a cast, but still catches only bleak. ‘I think I’m wasting my time,’ he concludes after a while.

Dylan tries two-thirds of the way over with the straight lead, to get the hookbait quickly through the bleak and see if there are any roach or skimmers down there yet. ‘If there are,’ he says, ‘I’ll switch to a third, heavy waggler rig – one with plenty of shot down the line – because it’s easier to hook small fish on the float.’

First cast, with double maggot on the hook, the tip twitches and a 4oz (115g) skimmer comes napping to the net. ‘That’s what we should be catching on the float,’ he says: ‘net padders.’

Dylan thinks not enough feed is getting past the bleak, however, so as well as chang- ing to a heavy waggler rig he stops feeding pinkies, big maggots and cloud bait, and starts feeding heavier, wetter tangerine-sized balls of groundbait two-thirds of the way over – one every other cast. Containing plenty of pinkies and casters (big maggots would split them), the balls break up near the bottom – underneath the bleak, he hopes.

The float dips and a loz (28g) skimmer skims to hand, followed next cast by its twin. ‘Blades,’ says Dylan. ‘I’ll start making this work in a minute.’ But soon he’s being plagued by bleak again, only now they’re following the bait down to the bottom! ‘This is terrible. I’m getting bleaked out – even on double maggot.’

But things gradually improve and he gets his first small roach of the day among a run of small skimmers and hybrids. ‘Tve got it sorted now,’ he says, netting a 6oz (170g) skimmer. Before recasting, he gently scoops a butterfly out of the water with his landing net. After a short rest on the bank it flutters off downstream.

The stiffening breeze is creating a tricky downstream skim and is pulling drifts of duckweed out of the margins. Dylan sets his hookbait well overdepth in an attempt to hold it still, but the skim is too strong and he is forced to go back on the tip.

Bait presentation is now better, but it’s a job reading and hitting.the bites — the bleak are still there and the skimmers are that bit too small. A good fish rolling raises hopes of a bream, so he swaps his bomb for a small pug feeder and stops feeding groundbait by hand – but no joy.

Dylan is struggling – before his hookbait can even settle it is getting ragged by bleak and small skimmers homing in on the feeder. He’s also missing most of the bites – the feeder causes too much resistance on the strike with very small fish, he explains. He replaces it with the bomb and resumes feeding heavy groundbait by hand.

The result is more bites hit, but it’s just bleak after bleak. He thinks there are too many to feed off by blasting in big maggots, but with nothing to lose he gives it a go. The surface erupts with each and every pouch-ful. ‘They’re like piranhas!’ he says despairingly. ‘It’s no good, it’ll have to be eels on the pole.’ ‘Crumb’s the kiss of death for eels so I’ll stick to loosefeeding hemp and casters,’ explains Dylan, baiting up with two pinkies and pushing the pole out to 9m (30ft), just beyond the worst of the duckweed. He’s fishing about 30cm (12in) overdepth. ‘You must hold the bait still for eels,’ he says. The float slides away but it’s no elastic-stretching eel, only a small roach.

After half an hour he’s catching a fair few small skimmers, roach and bleak, but the eels don’t want to know. So he changes from loosefeeding hemp and casters to feeding small but heavy balls of groundbait packed with casters and pinkies.

Meanwhile the wind has eased, allowing him to present the bait perfectly at the exact depth . He’s soon picking up net-padding skimmers regularly on single big maggot, with a few bonus ones up to about 10oz (285g). What better way to end the afternoon?

Summing up the day, Dylan says: ‘The pole’s obviously still the method, though bleak wouldn’t have been such a nuisance in a match. They tend to skedaddle in matches and they don’t come in close enough in numbers to build a weight with the whip, except sometimes when there’s a bit of extra water in the river. Today, being the only one fishing, all the bleak for miles around swarmed into my swim.’