Henry Ashurst on the River Weaver

24 fishing the River Weaver just above Northwich Locks

It is early November and Henry is on the banks of the River Weaver just above Northwich Locks. He is wearing a troubled expression. particular, the casual way in which he speaks about fishing that what he does is in any way casual. For Henry, everything else is simply a means to an end – getting fish in the net is what counts.

Take today for example: many matchmen would arrive at the peg and go through a routine of contriving all their bits and pieces around them and then thinking about tackling up the rods. For today, at least, Henry does it differently. Having decided on the waggler he sets up a rod and within five minutes of arriving is scrambling down the bank with a plummet on the hook, eager to set his float to the correct depth – though he hasn’t even moved his tackle down to the water’s edge yet. There’s a lesson to be learnt from this and in a way it is the most essential lesson: recognize what is important and attend to it.

The sky is a leaden grey and the water mill-pool calm. Although chilly, the weather is not excessively cold. ‘Had it been a match, first rod out would have been the tip,’ says Henry. He thinks that when the water is cold and slightly up legering tends to score over the float because the roach – the main species here — are just that bit more reluctant to move. So he is really fishing the waggler as an experiment.

Henry’s set-up is simple – a straight peacock insert float with four AAA locking shot around the base and four number eights equally spaced down the line .

The fish are found seven to eight rod lengths out from the bank in about 3.4m of water. Casting with a fixed float in this depth can be a problem. For this reason some anglers use a sliding float but because Henry uses a 4.2m rod he can still cast a fixed float comfortably: ‘Some would say that a 4.2m rod was too long but mine has the same feel as a 3.95m rod and for waggler fishing in deep water it makes casting much easier.’

The Weaver is a hard-fished water and the main line of attack is directed against the river’s small roach. Henry carefully baits his size 22 hook with a single bronze maggot and casts effortlessly into the middle of

Henry is a thinking angler and you can almost hear the cogs turning as he tries to fathom what is going on under the water. ‘There are two ways you can feed,’ he says as he watches the float creeping slowly down the middle of the river. ‘If the fish are responding – as they are now – you might feed about 50 maggots every cast…’ He strikes, winds in quickly and inspects the maggot. ‘Look at that, that was a big fish,’ he says, holding up the transparent skin of the maggot, ‘it’s completely bladdered.’ the river. At first about 2cm of the orange insert shows above the surface but as each number eight falls through the water and settles, the insert sinks lower and lower. It should settle as the last shot comes to rest but in fact continues to sink -right out of sight. Henry strikes and misses the bite. He catapults about 50 maggots out into the middle of the river – roughly in front of him.

The second cast results in a sucked maggot – Henry didn’t even see the bite. Third time lucky – Henry winds in and finds a 2oz roach on the hook . According to Henry fish are coming up off the bottom to take the loosefeed and this is making bites difficult to see. ‘Sometimes when they are really shy it is necessary to go down to a size 26 hook,’ he says. However, he does not make any adjustments but keeps on persevering.

He rebaits, casts and catapults more maggots. ‘Another way of feeding is to blast in about 200 maggots in one go and then leave it for about four casts.’ The trick is in knowing when to use the right feeding pattern and that is only learnt through trial and error.

Henry strikes into a better fish. It turns out to be what he calls a ‘catalogue’ perch – the kind of one-off fish that a beginner catches by a fluke on tackle which he has freshly purchased from a catalogue! The point is that the fish is not an indicator of more to follow and Henry isn’t impressed.

Suddenly the fish seem to have switched on – Henry has just had two in a row. The float inches through on the edge of the dun-coloured reflection of the far bank, blinks a couple of times and vanishes. Henry strikes hard and straight up in the air. The very tip of his rod bends over and he smoothly winds the fish in with great care. For Henry each fish is special – it is one more towards a catch which might put him somewhere in the frame. When he enthuses about a fish being ‘big’ it might only be 10 oz but this is a valuable fish to a serious match angler. This one turns out to be a 4oz roach – Henry’s favourite because fish of this size can be caught quickly but soon make up a good weight. Still, it seems unlikely that he’d turn his nose up at a 3lb bream right now. ‘Well I can’t even seem to raise a bite now,’ says Henry despondently. He picks up the catapult and blasts out three pouches of maggots. Then he baits up, casts, shakes the tip of the rod and sits and waits. The float is lying lower now and in the poor light is nigh on impossible to see. Henry must have remarkable eyesight – can he really see it? ‘No, I can’t,’ he admits and laughs. Still, he must have seen something because he strikes smartly and the rod tip takes on a healthier bend. He has soon got the net under an 8oz roach.

The next cast produces another net fish — slowly but surely some kind of feedcatch pattern is beginning to emerge. This is the secret – persevering and trying to instil some kind of order to the chaos. It doesn’t always work, though, and if things start to fall apart in an Open Henry will only fish on in order to experiment.

Henry says that he has learnt something today – the heavy feeding pattern seems to have paid off when he would have least expected it. He has a vast stock of angling experiences like this and can draw on them freely — recalling a match to illustrate just about any point he cares to make.

On the surface there is not much to set Henry apart from other top anglers, but when you speak to him you soon realise that the depth of his fishing knowledge is quite phenomenal. Furthermore he is very free with his knowledge — and that is the mark of a truly great angler.