A short tributary of the Thames, the Loddon is typical of many small rivers up and down the country in that it can vary enormously in character in the space of less than a mile. Tony Bloomfield’s club, Farnborough and District Angling Society, controls two stretches near Sindlesham that illustrate this very well.
One, The Loop, is a mostly fast, narrow and shallow offshoot that leaves the main river just above Sindlesham Mill. The other, The Main, immediately downstream of where The Loop rejoins the main river a quarter of a mile or so below the mill, is considerably slower, wider and deeper.
Alive with fish
The Loop varies greatly in width, from barely a couple of strides to around 15m (16yd). In summer the water is clear and you can see the gravel bottom almost everywhere. ‘Many people look at it in summer, think it’s too shallow and don’t bother,’ says Tony. ‘This is a mistake. They think that because they see the bottom and can’t see any fish, there aren’t any fish there — but they’re there all right! ‘The water is often deeper than it looks. In some places there are only a few inches, but mostly it varies from about a foot to around five feet. And fish, of course, are masters of camouflage. ‘In summer The Loop is home to roach and perch to 1 1/2 lb (0.68kg), chub to 5 lb (2.3kg), lots of jack pike, minnows, gudgeon, bleak and small dace, and a few barbel, most of which are from 5-lllb (2.3-5kg). The fish are there for one simple but very good reason — the water is fast and shallow. That means it’s well oxygenated, even in hot weather and at times of drought.’
Ways and means
You can take either of two approaches to fishing The Loop in summer, as Tony explains. The first is to choose a likely looking swim, stay put and draw the fish to you. By feeding and floatfishing small baits such as casters or maggots you can expect to catch lots of small fish – gudgeon, minnows, bleak, dace, roach, perch and chub – for the first few hours.
Eventually, however, you can draw the bigger fish – including chub and even barbel — out of the cover of the streamer weed, rushes and overhanging bushes and trees. Feeding heavily with hemp helps to get them out and feeding. ‘You can catch these bigger fish this way even on hot, bright days,’ he says, ‘but it’s definitely best to fish on into the evening, as that’s when you’re most likely to get them.’
The second approach is to target solely these big fish by legering, freelining or floatfishing big baits such as bread, cheese, worms and luncheon meat, wandering the bank and trying likely looking lies. ‘Early morning or late evening is best.’
So what makes a good swim on The Loop? ‘Really, it’s a matter of commonsense,’ says Tony. ‘You want a combination of flow, depth and cover in the form of rushes, streamer weed or overhanging vegetation – preferably all three. Some swims have good flow, but are uniformly shallow, with little or no cover. Others have depth and cover, but not enough flow. ‘Bends can be good or bad,’ he notes, ‘depending on whether the flow undercuts or washes away the bank on the outside. Ideally you want to be sitting slightly upstream and on the inside of a bend that undercuts the bank on the outside. And it’s better still if there are bushes or trees overhanging the undercut bank.’
In The Main
Just below where The Loop rejoins the main river, The Loddon passes under the B3270. ‘Often in summer you see lots of people fishing The Main and no-one fishing The Loop,’ he says, ‘but The Loop beats it every time.’ The trouble with this wider (20-25m/22-27yd) downstream stretch in summer, explains Tony, is that it is much slower and deeper (up to 2.5m/8ft), and therefore less well oxygenated. In places it is also chock-a-block with streamer weed, » X making it virtually unfishable.
In winter, however, it is a different proposition altogether. ‘You wouldn’t recognize it, it’s amazing,’ says Tony. ‘The weed goes completely.’ Good bags of roach, chub and bream can be taken here in the colder months – the slower, deeper water is much more attractive to them than The Loop, as it is warmer and the fish burn up less energy fighting the flow. ‘When the water’s clear here in winter you’re most likely to catch chub – the roach and bream feed best with a bit of colour in the water. And the good thing about winter here is that the small fish tend to disappear. The bream and the bigger roach and chub, meanwhile, are easier to catch because there’s less natural food in the river, so when they feed you can easily wean them on to your bait.’
A brief glimpse
To show us the potential of The Loop in summer, Tony fished for an hour or so in the middle of a warm day. He chose a swim where the river was about 10m (11yd) wide, with the main flow along the far side. From the near bank out to past the middle was slack water only a few inches deep. Then the bed dropped sharply away into a fast, narrow channel where the main stream had scoured out a depth of about lm (3ft). On the near side, this channel was flanked by streamer weed. For 20m (22yd) or more downstream it flowed under a mass of overhanging trees, before funnelling between dense beds of rushes.
By sitting on his platform out in the river at the edge of the channel, Tony was able to run a small stick float down under the overhanging trees. By feeding every cast with hemp and maggot he caught a steady succession of gudgeon and small dace, roach, chub and perch. Had there been more time (and less bankside disturbance from The Art of Fishing staff!) he would surely have eventually drawn a few bigger fish too.