The Midlands and south of England feature some fine slow moving rivers. Ken Whitehead finds that – if you’re any good at botany – reading the water is easy. floods. It’s tempting to clear one swim and stay with it. But your success depends entirely on water craft. The angler who fishes just one swim, never reading the water, has little success. The same applies to those who only fish where others have fished before. A good angler needs to try out every rig and tactic in the book if he is to make any worthwhile catches.
The lowland rivers of the Midlands and south of England are among the most important of Britain’s angling waters. Characteristically they are slow moving and wide, with extremes of depth and masses of bankside vegetation in the warmer months.
Such rivers hold a good head of fish, many reaching specimen – and in some cases record — size. A wide variety of species thrives in slow waters, particularly bream, carp, tench, roach and rudd.
Many other species have adapted themselves to this tranquil habitat, especially chub, pike and perch. Good-sized eels also feature regularly on the big fish list – especially at the estuary end of such waters.
Round the bend
The soft, rich pasture land often found around these rivers is responsible for their winding course. Winter floods cut and undermine soft banks — these then erode and create bends. Holes in the bed are excavated or filled by successive winter floods -meaning the productive life of each swim is often short. You have to be flexible and ready to fish new swims at the start of each season.
It is the lush growth in and around these rivers that provides the key to reading them. The fertile soil encourages the fast growth of water plants and bankside weeds. These produce the prolific insect life that make the fish so big.
All this vegetation makes access to swims difficult — especially at times of droughts or
The most important skill is being able to estimate the depth of water between the banks. Learning and remembering the different weeds help here. Reed mace and rushes indicate shallow water. Pondweeds (Potamogeton) and Canadian waterweed (Elodea canadensis) show deeper water, while lilies surface in water that is deeper still.
Water with no weeds is probably the deepest of all! It is worth immediate attention.
Slow rivers can be split into three sections. The upper reaches from the source downstream; the main, middle, section; and the tidal reaches.
The upper reaches are narrow and overgrown during summer, with just a trickle of a current. Anglers need to rove around to find the fish, and the places from which they can be reached.
Ken Whitehead uses a long rod. Many anglers use a short rod on these narrow waters, but a longer rod allows you to keep back from the water’s edge and the skyline.
Camouflage or drab clothing is essential. So is light feed that can be spread upstream, or on to water in front of the angler. Maggots are probably best, though many anglers use a light cloud mix, through which a hookbait can be worked.
Freelining is a sure method of success on narrow stretches; so is dapping with floating baits. Keep the hook on the large side and be prepared to bully a hooked fish into the landing net. If you don’t you will lose it -and probably every fish along the next swim downstream.
Winter is the best time to get to grips with this section since weed growth is reduced and it becomes possible to long trot when the flow is normal. Try a rolling leger when there is more water than usual. Big baits such as lobworms and large pieces of crust or paste, fished close to the bottom, bring firm bites — and keep small fish from worrying the bait.
The middle stretches provide extremes in water features. Straight stretches of bank are not only few and far between, but frequently a warning of shallow swims. Here suspended silt has often dropped to the bottom, leaving a muddy bed that encourages weed growth.
Fish, especially pike, can be holed up among the weed. Watch the weeds for shaking and movement as the fish brush against them. Use freeline tactics, or at least as little weight as possible. A plummet often reveals a deep hole where groundbaiting can collect bottom feeders such as bream in large numbers — particularly over a period of time.
It is at bends in the river, particularly wide, slow ones, that the fish are most likely to be found. The current undercuts banks and forms deep runs and these are often weed-free. The silt has usually been washed down, leaving a firm, clean bottom.
With a steady flow on the water, roach, rudd, bream and excellent chub can be caught in large numbers. Light tackle is essential. You should keep low, tucked down behind any cover growing on or along the side of the water. It is an ideal situation for using the roach pole – feeding little and often. Better fish are generally taken on a very light and accurately cast leger.
Where the river widens
As the river widens the flow tends to slow and – during the summer months – virtually stop. The immediate effect is for weed to take hold, blocking good swims. Some hard work with a good rake in a suitable swim soon clears a space. Groundbait scat- tered on this patch of open water attracts the fish.
Winter’s high water levels and fast currents allow long trotting and legering along the deepest parts. Avoid block-end feeders and other legering aids that create unnecessary splash and disturbance. Search for -and mark – eddies, cattle drinks and sheltered swims behind bridge supports or at the end of root-infested banks. They are natural fish collecting areas and provide sheltered water during floods.
Weirs along the course of lowland rivers supply oxygenated water during drought conditions – always take the opportunity to fish them, perhaps using silkweed, fruitbaits and natural insects. They are the home of big chub which, Ken finds, respond to small spinners and plugs, plastic lures and big artificial flies at any month of the year.