Spring is in the air as the season draws to a close on the banks of the Little Ouse at Brandon. The river is a touch higher and faster than usual following a day or two of rain, but still runs clear and steady through the dark, sandy soil.
Henry reckons there’s a bit too much extra water to fish immediately below the stanch, or floodgate. His friend Mark Stamp obviously had the same thought when he arrived earlier, as he has set up stall a fair way downstream. Henry shoulders his tackle and heads off along the bank to see how he’s getting on. Local anglers have been catching dace to
The river here looks ideal for the stick float today yet Henry, like Mark, opts to trot it with a waggler! Why?
Henry explains that the bottom is very weedy, making false bites hard to avoid. It’s difficult to tell false bites from real ones, so you have to strike at everything. Because the water is shallow, repeated striking with a stick float causes so much commotion that the dace drop farther and farther downstream until eventually you lose them altogether.
Striking with a waggler causes less disturbance. To ensure a cleaner strike still, Henry uses a short, insert waggler – slightly undershotted to stop it dragging under too easily – and leaves a 2.5cm gap between the locking shot.
When the water is clear, as it is today, he believes that a colourless, transparent plastic waggler is less likely to be seen by the fish. He likes colourless, transparent line for the same reason.
Over the years Henry has found that Little Ouse dace definitely prefer reddish baits. White, yellow and bronze maggots do catch of course – indeed, Henry has brought along a pint of bronzes today, just in case -but not as well as red and pink maggots.
Casters can be an excellent bait too. They don’t always work but when they do you tend to get the better fish. Henry reckons that just as red maggots work better than white maggots, so casters turned from red maggots work better, being redder, than casters turned from white maggots. this stretch is about lm . Henry sets his float accordingly and has a few trial runs through. It goes down unimpeded on the first trot so he moves the float up the line a few centimetres each time until the bare hook catches the weed and drags the float under.
Having found the depth to be about 1.2m , he runs it through a few more times on different lines, looking for the cleanest run possible. It’s no good picking a line at random only to find you’re fishing where there’s too much weed. Satisfied that he has found a relatively weed-free line, he starts fishing.
Each cast, Henry feeds about half a dozen maggots and the same number of casters. The dace shoals aren’t very big here and if you feed too heavily the fish miss a lot of the bait going past and end up chasing it downstream and out of the swim.
To begin with he throws the feed straight out in front of him. Once you start catching you can throw it in above or below you according to where you’re getting your bites. The aim is to concentrate the shoal about 10m downstream – any higher up the swim and you risk scaring them off, any lower down and you miss too many bites.
Starting with a caster on the hook, Henry trots the float down about 10m , holding the rod high to keep as much line off the water as possible. Occasionally he checks the float’s progress to lift the bait enticingly off the bottom.
Ten minutes and no bites later, he tries a red maggot on the hook and lets the float run down a few yards farther each time, exploring the tail of the swim. ‘Once you’ve found the dace you can bring them to you, but you’ve got to find them first,’ he says. ‘You often have to move a few times before you locate them.’
Half an hour goes by and still nothing. Henry is running his float down fully 30m now, but the swim is seemingly devoid of dace – of feeding dace, at any rate. Mark, meanwhile, is still getting the occasional small fish. It’s time to move.
Henry tries a swim a little farther downstream: nothing. He moves down even farther: still nothing. He tries back in his original swim: nothing again. Perhaps all the dace are in Mark’s swim; he’s certainly catching with annoying regularity now! To make matters worse, it has turned chilly and started raining. But Henry is no quitter and remains confident he’ll pin down a few dace before the day is out.
Henry moves up to a swim in the shallower, faster water below the stanch and after only a few runs down hits into a lively dace on a pink maggot. It’s only a small fish, but it’s perfectly formed and has the distinctive brilliant silver colouring of dace from clear rivers. Dace from murky rivers literally pale by comparison. He carefully unhooks it and slips it back – the margin here is too shallow to stake out a keepnet properly.
It isn’t long before Henry is getting a bite almost every cast. Flashing and splashing across the surface, dace after dace is plucked from the shoal.
Most of the fish are small males, according to Henry. At this time of the year, when they’re getting ready to spawn, you can tell the difference by how they feel to the touch. Males feel rough, like chain-mail almost, while females feel smooth and silky.
He varies the bait to try to catch a bigger dace, but it makes no difference. Single red maggot, double red maggot, maggot and caster cocktail – whatever he tries, small dace to 6oz or so keep coming. He’s sure there are bigger fish there – it’s just a matter of persevering until one gets to the hookbait first.
Sure enough, after he has been catching small dace steadily for nearly two hours, Henry hooks into a much better one that fights doggedly in the current before coming to the net. Dark backed and metal sided, at over 2lb it’s a grand fish by any standards.