Fishing lay-bys and eddies pose complex problems when you | first tackle them and change in character at different times of the year—but they can be remarkably productive of fish.
Over the years I have found that lay-by swims regularly produce specimen fish. Much of my ex-perience has centred on the Dorset Stour, Thames, Kennet, Hampshire Avon, and Great Ouse, but swims up and down the country are just as productive.
This type of swim is at its best during the winter season after or during floods, when the contrast is most sharp between the main flow and the sheltered lay-by. About 70 per cent of my river fishing is done between December and March.
Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish between a lay-by and an eddy. Some lay-bys are also eddies, or can be at certain times of the year. At normal winter level, with a steady flow, a small lay-by makes an ideal chub lie, but when the winter rains push the level up a couple of feet the stronger current creates a boiling eddy as it hits the bank. This is likely to send the chub elsewhere. In bigger lay-bys, changing water levels may turn part of the lay-by into an eddy while the remainder of the swim may still remain a suitable environment for the fish. As well as the ‘normal’ type of lay- by which consists of a natural inden-tation cut along the bank, there are other features that have a similar effect on the flow of water and therefore harbour big fish. A fallen, submerged tree, for example, will gradually collect rubbish around it to form, in time, a fairly solid raft: it may even get silted up. This will result in a nice pocket of water close to the bank with a much reduced flow. The fishing here is even better than in a normal lay-by swim since the submerged tree and the rubbish raft can provide both fish and angler with generous cover.
I can also remember several pro-ductive winter chub holts on the Great Ouse where we used to take them from an ‘artifical’ slack, or lay-by, produced by moored cabin cruisers. When the river was at its normal winter level, the chub would be found between the offside of the boat and the main flow. But in high water, they tended to drop back downstream and tuck in close behind the boat and the bank where the flow was reduced.
Pike, roach and chub are regularly found in lay-bys. Look for a lay-by, without countercurrent or eddies, that has a slow, steady flow. In highly coloured floodwater, big roach hole up in dead slack lay-bys. Small fish of most species spend time out of the main flow. That is why big pike are never far away.
Lay-bys with undercut banks, underwater snags, or tree roots attract big chub—the perfect setting for those stories of a 25lb pike grabbing a four-and-a-half pound chub as it is being played!
Barbel are usually found close to lay-bys rather than in them. A few specific examples illustrate that other big fish also favour lay-bys with a steady, even flow, but prefer to intercept their food on the edge adjoining the stronger main current. The two exceptions are pike and chub, which often hunt their food from under the angler’s feet.
There is one kind of lay-by that I have hardly ever found productive. On several of my favourite stretches of the Thames and Dorset Stour there are some very deep lay-bys where the bank drops away almost vertically into water very much deeper than elsewhere— 12-14ft within a few feet of the bank. These deep lay-bys look very attractive but nearly always result in blanks —even when the water is very cold and good results could be expected. Strong undercurrents may account for these ‘exceptions to the rule’. Or perhaps I have simply failed to master the situation. 4 .
A far-bank chub lay-by on the middle reaches of the Great Ouse is overhung by a large willow. The river is 30 yards wide and the swim is reached by upstream ledgering. At the downstream end of the lay-by is a cabbage patch, and behind it chub lie up in 8ft of slackish water among tree roots.
A long lay-by on a straight stretch of the Dorset Stour is much less sheltered. In high water an eddy forms at the upstream end and, although pike continue to be found all along the inner lay-by, the great majority of roach to take advantage of this interruption to the flow are found on the edge of the lay-by. Chub are taken downstream, from the very end of the lay-by, in front of overhanging hawthorn bushes. The water there is 6ft deep and quite unaffected by the turbulence of the main flow washing abruptly into the lay-by.
An ideal pike lay-by is found on a similar stretch of the same river. The lay-by is deeper than the rest of the river bed, which grows shallower in mid-river. The deepest hole (9ft) harbours big chub, but in front of the submerged trees which project out from the back of the lay-by, pike find ample cover for their ambushes. They are not directly enjoying the shelter of the lay-by, but are lying on its verge, positioned to take prey from the passing main flow.
In a very small lay-by on the up-per Thames, the effects of high water make the bank’s indentation a hostile environment for any fish. But barbel are found in large numbers on the edge, and not the middle of the eddy that forms there. The swirl is so powerful that the gravel bottom has silted up completely at the rear of the swim. Chub gather on the opposite bank in the shelter of some big willow trees. Their feeding may well be affected by the lay-by’s interruption to the river’s pattern.
Eddies and lay-bys have one thing in common: big fish are found in them comparatively rarely, although they are often found very close by. Some think this is a sweeping generalisation. But after many years of attempting to conjure fish out of a wide variety of eddies, I re-ject much of what is written about eddy-fishing. Nevertheless, an eddy is a most significant pointer for the specimen hunter. He needs to know how to identify the dozens of different kinds of eddies, and to an-ticipate just where his fish will be in relation to them.