Fishing on the upper Witham

Fishing on the upper Witham

Jim used an 11m pole to fish a bait close to the far bank ‘cover’, and was rewarded with a few small chub on a very cold day. The Bottesford AC stretch of the upper Witham is at Westborough in Lincolnshire, near the A1 between Grantham and Newark. From the A1, turn off for Long Bennington, then follow the signs to Westborough. Park in front of the church, then walk down the right hand side of the church to the river Bottesford AC do not sell day tickets for their stretch of the upper Witham, but club membership cards are available from tackle shops in the area.

As well as lots of chub, the venue has a good head of roach and dace, and there are also isolated shoals of big bream.

Chub hug the far bank wherever there is the slightest bit of cover -even where there are only a few inches of water.

The river is of uniform width and depth, and the banks are featureless and very steep, thanks to drainage engineering ‘improvements’ in the 1960s.

clip_image004 The third spot Jim tried was at the bottom of the long field, where the main flow spreads out along the far bank. He didn’t catch anything here, but he did get a bite to tell him that there was at least one feeding fish there.

It’s easy to slip into bad habits, and one of the commonest, according to Jim, is to forget the importance of keeping off the skyline, treading softly and staying quiet and still so as not to scare the fish. This is obviously important on narrow, shallow rivers.


The second swim looked inviting enough, with a sweeping bend opening out below Jim seemingly sure to house a chub or two.

But on a day when the water temperature was only 3°C/38°F he was unable to tempt any chub from the main flow, despite his very best efforts with both waggler and bomb.

The lower Witham around Kirkstead

The long pole is a good method in matches, when bankside disturbance is inevitable, but Jim never thought he would have to resort to it on a pleasure trip.

The lower Witham around Kirkstead Bottesford AC stretch of the upper Witham Features are conspicuous by their absence on the Bottesford AC stretch of the upper Witham, but chub can be found wherever there’s the slightest cover from overhanging plants.

The lower Witham around Kirkstead is wide and featureless, offering few clues as to the whereabouts of its resident bream and roach. Sheffield match anglers have long regarded the venue as a home away from home – among them Jim Baxter.

The upper Witham is a delightfully unspoilt venue, twisting and turning its vay through the Lincolnshire countryside, with tree-lined banks and every kind of imaginable swim, from eddies and riffles to deep, dark pools… at least it was until the 1960s, when much of it was ‘improved’ by drainage engineers. In many places its course was partially straightened, its trees were uprooted, its bottom was dredged and its banks were ruthlessly landscaped – all .n the name of flood prevention — leaving it is featureless as the lower river, only narrower and faster-flowing, with chub the nain species.

Challenged to take on such a stretch of the upper Witham – two fields al Westborough run by Bottesford AC – Jim readily accepted. He had never fished the venue before, so prior to our January jaun he obeyed the first rule of water craft, whicl is to ask around. A few phone calls established that another club, Grantham AC, controls the pposite bank, and that the stretch is regularly match fished. Unlike the fish in most ther small rivers, therefore, the fish here re ‘educated’ – in other words, they are difficult to catch, having learned from previ-us capture. Worse, our trip was booked for

Tuesday, only two days after a big match. Lots of chub were caught in the match, so these fish were likely to be very difficult to attempt again so soon.

Jim also learned that the venue averages lm (12yd) wide and is around 1m (3ft) deep in the main flow, and that the best methods for the chub are the stick, waggler md straight lead – and the long pole right across under the far bank.

A reasoned approach t is a raw morning following an overnight frost, and a bitter wind is blowing across the bleak landscape, but Jim likes the look of he water. ‘There’s a bit of muck in it,” he notes, “but I think you want a drop of extra water and a tinge of colour on rivers like his – in fact, I’m sure you do.”

So how do you choose a chub swim with 10 obvious features to guide you? Jim says he flow is the key. ‘There are no bankside features, and the river is shallow, so I expect the fish to be in the deepest water, in he main flow,” he says. “In a match, I would think bankside disturbance pushing the fish across is the reason the long pole can be good, but as we’re the only ones here today I don’t see that applying.”

After walking the stretch, Jim earmarks four swims. The first is just below an S-bend at the top of the long field. Here the main flow is on the inside and, as Jim puts it, “just picking up speed again”.

Given it is so cold, he thinks the chub will want a stationary bait. “But if they’re there and feeding I still expect a bite or two with a moving bait,” he says, “so I’ll start on the float.” The wind is putting upstream rollers on the water, so he trots the main flow with a waggler, trying first bread then maggot. Forty-five biteless minutes later he thinks it is time to move. “I don’t think they’re there,” he says. “You get this in winter. The fish shoal up, leaving many swims barren.”

Jim’s second spot is halfway down the long field, just above a long, sweeping bend where the main flow is again on the inside. This time he tries maggot on the straight lead, but half an hour later he still hasn’t had a bite. “This is strange,” he comments, “I would’ve thought they lived on this bend, wouldn’t you?”

Carrying on downstream, Jim stops in his third spot, just above the fence dividing the two fields. Here the main flow sweeps towards the far bank. After a couple of casts there is a quick tap on his quivertip, but the bite fails to develop. Winding in he finds the maggot has been chewed. “At least we’ve found a fish,” he says. “There are no excuses for not catching now!”

Despite his best efforts, though, Jim can’t buy another bite. Out comes the thermometer, which shows a water temperature of 3°C/38°F. “That’s cold,” he says. “Thirty-nine point two [4°C/39.2°F] is supposed to be the critical temperature, but don’t ask me why.”

A surprise ending

Jim moves to his fourth and final swim, at the bottom of the short field, where the main flow is on the inside. But again he can’t get a bite. ‘The only thing we haven tried is the long pole,” he says, “but doesn’t look very inviting over there, doe it? Still, we’ll give it a go.”

There is only about 45cm (18in) of water tight to the far bank, and the only cover -: you can call it that – comprises a few over hanging dead grasses and weeds. Jim goes across with an 11m pole, pinching his maf got bait down the far bank. Out of the blue he catches a small chub, then follows it wit a couple more — he has cracked it! “All I can think,” he says as we make ou way back across the fields, “is that the fish are used to being fed on the long pole line, s they hang about on it. Unless the water slightly warmer over there, or they’re there because the flow is a bit slacker. But I’I sure we would have caught in the main flo1 if it hadn’t been so cold.”