It’s the sort of day that might bring Gene Kelly out to perform his splashy song and dance number in the street. But on the banks of the Wye at Fiddler’s Green the only hoofers around are the sheep. Soaked to the mint sauce, they are accompanied by a lone figure crouched under a green umbrella at the bottom of a muddy bank. With rod extended in stubborn determination over a swollen river, Jenny Foster defies the black skies in search of some fish.
Jenny has chosen a swim about 185m (200yd) downstream of the bridge. To get to it from the road, you have to cross a caravan site which is busy in summer – but at the moment the caravans are empty. One permanent resident though, a boisterous springer spaniel, is pleased to see visitors and promptly commits a bit of high-leg indiscretion on Thomas Orme’s tackle bag. Thomas has come along to give Jenny a bit of moral support.
On Jenny’s side of the river there’s a slippery bank which leads up to a field and the caravan site. Willows fringe the river. A tree to Jenny’s left dips the tips of its branches into the water which is, not surprisingly, up quite a bit after the rain. The river here is about 45m (50yd) wide and the flow is fairly strong from right to left.
Jenny sets up her lift (4m) feeder rod – a sample from a major manufacturer. ‘A lot of feeder rods tend to be quite stiff — tippy but with powerful mid and butt sections. But I like a fairly all-through action so you get a nice bend when playing a fish.’ She puts on a fixed-spool reel which has a shallow metal spool. It’s loaded with 3lb (1.4kg) line. Now she attaches to the main line a /4oz (14g) block-end swimfeeder with a running leger bead, a snap link and a feeder link protected by stiff plastic tubing. The hooklength – about 60cm (2ft) of 1lb (0.45kg) mono – is joined to the main line by a brass ring. Jenny ties a size 20 hook on to it. She’s more or less ready to go. Maggots go into the feeder, a couple go on the hook -and she’s away.
The swimfeeder hits the water about 6m (20ft) out – towards the submerged willow branches. Jenny feeds in a catapult-load of maggots, places the rod in a rest and sits down under the umbrella. ‘I love fishing in the winter more than I do in the summer but the trouble is I get very cold hands,’ says Jenny. Today though it’s extremely wet and uncomfortable -she’ll need some stamina if she’s to catch.
Jenny lives nearby and knows the River Wye well. ‘In summer you can walk along and actually see the chub, and there are some nice roach in this stretch as well if you can find them.’ There are also hordes of bleak here apparently, but for the moment there’s not a dicky bird – apart from a brace of mallard that splash-land clumsily near the far bank.
By now a fair amount of maggots have gone in with the feeder and through loose feeding but not a single fish has shown. ‘The fish must be tightly shoaled up somewhere. ‘Even if no chub are showing I’d have thought there might be some dace or bleak.’
A small gull flies over the swim as Jenny refills the feeder, casts out and catapults in a batch of maggots a little upstream, allowing the current to carry them down somewhere near the target area.
The rain is still sheeting down and the embankment along the river is getting more and more treacherous. Jenny can handle the rain all right but she’d rather fish the river when it’s dropping back a bit. She focuses on the white tip section of her rod.
Every few minutes she winds in, refills the feeder with maggots and gently pumps it back out with an overhead cast, adding a catapult of loose maggots before replacing the rod in the rest, ready to grab it if anything happens. Her reactions are tested when the tip responds: ‘Bite! – blast I’ve missed it. No, you won’t believe it, the line’s broken.’ Sure enough she winds in to find the hooklength has snapped. Jenny’s a little surprised by this but decides to stick with 1lb (0.45kg) bottom to her 3lb (1.36kg) main line. If she chooses to fish the meat or cheese which is sheltering under her umbrella, then she’ll use 3lb (1.36kg) straight through. She puts two maggots on the size 20 hook and recasts. Soon there’s a distinct bite and Jenny strikes and winds in. ‘I don’t believe it, the hooklength has gone again! I’m going to have to step up now.’ She changes to a 2lb (0.9kg) hooklength. Jenny’s a bit peeved about this, but at least she can see the funny side when our photographer slips on to his backside in the mud. She changes her hook at the same time. It’s still a size 20, but this time it’s a carbon chub hook, not a fine match hook.
Gradually Jenny is shifting her target area away from the submerged branches and coming a bit closer in. She had the two bites in the same spot, but with the water as it is, it’s difficult to feed an area accurately. ‘You try to put the feed out and it goes all over the place.’ The rod tip curves strangely and Jenny reacts: ‘I hope I’ve got him – nope. I’m going to go mad – the whole lot’s gone this time.’
She reels in to find the line has gone near the knot. That’s three times on the trot and she’s not pleased at all – and even a little suspicious. ‘I might have to risk 3lb (1.36kg) straight through if it happens again. They’re not bad bites those. I reckon they’re chub.’ But for now she stays with a 2lb (0.9kg) hooklength and a size 20 hook.
Jenny is more determined than ever now. Concentrating hard on the rod tip, she spots a movement but it’s only a floating stick on the line. She reels in and recasts. ‘Right, let’s see if we can have some fish.’ The rod bends firmly. ‘Oh here’s one,’ says Jenny, ‘but I’m frightened to death of playing it. It might not be a bad fish.’
Eventually a splendid chub comes to the surface, its big mouth gaping and its dorsal fin erect. Jenny nets it. The fish is in fine condi- tion and weighs about 2/4lb (1.1kg). ‘You can tell they’re not fished for much around here, the mouth’s in good nick,’ says Jenny, examining the fish.
Thomas appears in time to see it landed and he’s impressed. But when Jenny tells him about the break-offs she’s had and what line she’s using, Thomas sheds some light on the situation: ‘That stuffs rubbish. The first time I used it I lost two barbel.’
That does it. Jenny changes the dodgy hook-length for another brand of 2YAb (1.1kg) strength. She also decides to go for a size 14 hook and fishes four maggots on it. She casts out with renewed confidence.
The weather has started to clear after a period of light rain. High up there’s a screech which we trace to a pair of circling buzzards. ‘I’m starting to get a few little knocks now,’ says Jenny, looking out to her rod, hand at the ready.
A cormorant follows the river course, looking highly prehistoric and inefficient in flight. Jenny knows a tree nearby where lots of cormorants settle – there must be plenty of fish there. Unfortunately you can’t fish that stretch — it’s private. ‘Where are these chub?’ Jenny wonders as she starts to wind in for a feeder refill. Then a second later there’s a take and she strikes. Pretty soon a roach shows itself. ‘That’s the first roach I’ve caught from here – it’s quite a nice one. He must’ve grabbed that as he saw it move. It happens sometimes when I’m deadbaiting for pike. A fish that’s been waiting there all the time will have a go just when I’ve started to wind in.’ The roach is a good size, around the Valb (0.7kg) mark.
Jenny is eager to get her bait back out but everything is quiet for half an hour or so. The sun manages to break through and shines on the swim. Right on time there’s a take and Jenny guides a small roach to the net. It weighs about 4oz (113g).
After a slack period Jenny changes down to an 18 hook and double maggot. ‘Sometimes you step up the line and so on, and don’t get a bite and you start to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing.’ On the far side of the river fish are topping.
The light is going now and Jenny’s rubbing her hands in the chill air – still hoping for some more chub. But instead of a positive chubby bite she starts to get light knocks. ‘I’m getting plagued with little stuff now. The roach tend to take the bait quickly and let go but the chub take it and keep going.’ Jenny recasts and strikes a few times – but doesn’t connect. She wonders whether the cold and damp have slowed her reactions and she’s not striking fast enough – but the tiny fish are only playing with the bait.
A bigger fish tops not far away but out of range. We can’t see it in the dark, but the splash is our signal to pack up.