On a mild morning in late November the lower Bristol Avon flows steadily past the chocolate factory at Keynsham. ‘The fishing here is absolutely brilliant when it’s on song,’ enthuses Morris, leading the way along the top of the bank. ‘There’s bream, roach, chub, dace, carp – everything.’
This stretch downstream of the A4175 is known locally as Jackie White’s. It’s a popular match venue but isn’t permanently pegged. No fishing is allowed from the factory side, the far bank — one reason the stretch is so good, reckons Morris. The banks on both sides are high and steep, and lined with overhanging trees and bushes — making most swims ‘right parrot cages’.
Morris wants to fish a swim in the trees where the river widens and slows slightly. He fancies it for a few bream and skimmers.
Jackie White’s isn’t the only stretch of the Bristol Avon with high, steep banks and ‘parrot cage’ swims – much of the river has them. Much of it is also deeper than 2m (6ft), and much of it flows east to west, which means an upstream prevailing wind.
What you need on this river, therefore, is a top-and-bottom float taking plenty of shot down the line, so you can easily cast it underarm – right across, if need be — and so you can either run it down with the bottom current, against any upstream wind, or hold it back without riding up or dragging under. The Morris Avon is that float.
The key feature of Morris Avons is lightness. While standard Avons have cane stems and several coats of paint, Morriss have crowquill stems and just one thin coat of paint or varnish. They therefore support more shot for a given size, cast better, and generally fish better. You can get commercial ones based on Morris’s original design, or you can make your own. ‘You can use the flight feathers from any member of the crow family for the stems,’ says Morris, eying a clamour of rooks on the far side of the field. ‘They’re hard and strong, and relatively straight. ‘I used to use balsa wood for the bodies, but it’s hard nowadays to get balsa that’s light enough, so instead I use builders’ wall-board polystyrene, which is dense enough to shape on a lathe, but very light. The stem must go right through the body. ‘And I always use varnish, not paint, to keep the colour of the float light. This is because you’re usually casting into a dark background on this river and you can lose sight of a dark float in mid-air.’ shot and float on about 1.5m (5ft) of line with a small loop in each end. He slips the float off over the top loop, puts it on the main line, then ties the main line to the loop with a half blood knot. This way, if the line breaks it’s likely to break below, not above, the float. At the end of the day he slides the float back down over the loop then puts the rig back on the winder. ‘You need a beefy rod with such heavy rigs in deep, flowing water for big fish,’ explains Morris as he tackles up a trusty old through-action weapon. ‘Most modern match rods just aren’t up to it.’
He carries a range of Morriss taking from five Bbs up to ten AAAs, including a few with three small side-eyes for slider-fishing. Today he’s going to fish the main flow alongside the far-bank foliage. It’s a cast of about 20m (22yd) into around 2.5m (8ft) of fairly fast water, so he chooses a fixed float taking nine Abs.
It’s a float he uses a lot, so he keeps it on a winder. He explains that the bulk shot for Morriss should always be Bbs or Abs -AAAs and SSGs aren’t streamlined enough and don’t ‘grip’ the flow so well. The slits of the shot must line up, otherwise the shots spin when you wind in. By storing rigs on winders, you don’t have the chore of putting lots of shot on the line, and of making sure the slits all line up, each time you go fishing.
Morris’s winder rigs comprise the bulk
He hopes to nick some early chub on bread then switch to maggots as the bites tail off. ‘Bread’s an instant bait,’ he says. ‘If it doesn’t get you a bite within a few casts you know it isn’t going to work.’
He mixes up a bowl of white crumb — damp enough to squeeze so that the balls hold together until they reach the bottom. He uses a 50/50 mix of commercial white crumb and white crumb that he makes himself from dried bread: ‘Commercial crumb on its own doesn’t mix so well, I find.’
His groundbait mixed, Morris wades out and sets up stall on the edge of the main flow. Instead of plumbing up he runs his float through a few times and adjusts the depth until the hook is just off bottom.
He casts slightly downstream with a smooth swing that sends the rig snaking across the river, the float following the bulk shot through the air like the flights of a dart. By skilfully feathering the line, he lands hook, bulk shot and float in a tangle-free line every time.
Each cast he feeds a ‘golf ball’ of crumb. Hookbait is a pinch of flake on a medium-wire, microbarbed 16. If he starts bagging he will switch to a forged 16. At the end of each trot, if he hasn’t had a bite, he strikes the bread off the hook.
On Morris’s sixth cast the float slips under near the end of the trot and a small dace comes splashing to hand. The next few casts result in missed dace bites, then the float buries right at the end of the swim and a good ‘un is on.
The fish surges downstream, but Morris gives as good as he gets and seconds later he’s dragging a somewhat startled chub of around 2lb (0.9kg) across the surface and into his landing net. ‘There’s a small outfall pipe from the factory somewhere under those far-bank trees,’ he says. ‘I don’t know, but I think it discharges some sort of chocolatey residue which attracts the chub.’
Minutes later Morris nobbles a slightly smaller chub only half-way down the swim. ‘They’re moving up, looking for the bread,’ he says. Another few casts, and another net-chub – at the tail of the swim again. ‘They come and go,’ he says. How typical of chub, to be both greedy and fearful.
Morris pulls out of a big chub, after which things go quiet apart from a 6oz (170g) roach and the occasional dace bite. The initial flurry over, he cuts back to feeding groundbait every other cast. Soon the bites stop altogether. ‘This is quite usual with bread,’ he explains, ‘unless you’re on a stack of fish.’ He cuts out the groundbait, changes to a medium-wire microbarbed 18 hook baited with two red maggots, and starts loosefeed-ing a pouch of casters and a pouch of red and white maggots every cast. ‘The casters are just in case there are any bream and skimmers about,’ he says.
Soon he’s getting bites, but they’re ‘iffy’ and the few he manages to hit produce only small dace and small roach. He tries single red and white maggot and caster and various combinations thereof, but there’s no noticeable improvement.
There’s also no sign of any bream, so he stops feeding casters and tries stepping up the loosefed maggots to two pouches a cast, hoping to feed off the small dace and roach and tempt a few chub back.
All that happens is that small dace move in en masse. Morris catches the odd one or two but most of the bites are fast dips, and he misses one after another. ‘They’re biting short,’ he says. He goes back to feeding one pouch a cast, shallows up a few inches, and has the occasional look on a slightly closer line, but all to no avail.
The problem is a tricky downstream breeze that has gradually got up. He would really like to be able to hold back hard, to lean the bait into the dace’s mouths and get slower, more easily hittable bites. ‘That’s the beauty of this method when you’ve got an upstream wind,’ he says. ‘You have absolute control over the float. You can run it at them, hold it back, stop and start it, jiggle it – you can even stop it dead in its tracks by feeding a big upstream bow into the line. Today it’s hard work just keeping the line off the water and stopping a downstream bow forming.’
Morris mixes up a bowl of brown crumb, stirs in a load of casters and starts feeding a ‘golf ball’ a cast, instead of maggots. ‘Let’s see what response we get to that!’ he says. ‘At least it’s something different.’ Five minutes go by, then the float crash-dives as a Valb (0.68kg) chub grabs the double red maggot hookbait.
As it’s being unhooked it spews up groundbait all over Morris’s hands. ‘That’s fishing for you,’ he laughs. ‘Usually, you can’t go back to groundbait once you’ve fed maggots – but you never can tell.’