Ricky Lees on the Severn at Stourport

29 angling at the Severn at Stourport

Now Ricky is best-known for the legered-meat technique which has caught him so many match-winning barbel — hence his nickname, Ricky ‘The Meat Master’ Lees -but he is an excellent float angler too. In fact there’s nothing he likes better than inching a lightly shotted stick float down the inside of a deep Severn swim. It’s for this very reason that he has chosen today to fish a peg known locally as ‘The Long Hole’.

This particular peg is on Lyttleton Angling Association’s waters above Stourport Bridge and it’s a peg with a little history. Says Ricky as he tackles up: ‘In the mid-seventies the issue of whether the leger or the float is the better method was a great bone of contention among Midlands river anglers. So we had a match here – The Meat and Feeder versus The Float – to decide things once and for all!’

It transpires that a fellow Brummie of somewhat rakish appearance and greatly respected on the Midlands circuit — an angler by the name of Keith Evans -decided the result conclusively in favour of the float, by sneaking out 25lb (II.3kg) of belting great roach from this very swim!

The peg is set between a couple of alders, and the fact that they are a comfortable distance apart is what gets the peg its name. At the bottom of the bank there’s a sturdy little platform which pushes the angler slightly into the flow – giving him a command of the water right down the inside. According to Ricky the river’s about 2.4-3m (8-10ft) deep here and this, coupled with a steady pace and boil-free flow, is what makes it a classic trotting peg.

Ricky uses a 13ft (3.9m) rod with a soft, extended spliced tip. It is quite capable of handling 1lb (0.45kg) hooklengths, but is fairly powerful in the lower regions – important here because apart from roach there are chub and barbel too. Ricky finds that a large, closed-face reel – like his old Abu 507 — is ideally suited to the job. When trotting, its large spool delivers line with complete freedom — something he feels is essential — and its sturdy construction makes it a fair match for a barbel. What’s more, the line doesn’t tend to bed into the spool after a hard fight as much as it would with a smaller spool.

The float is a 4 no.6 stick, made by Thomasny Sherwood – yet another legendary Midlands matchman and a great and longstanding friend of Ricky’s. The hook is of fine wire with a round bend and a long shank -such as the Drennan caster hook — tied to a 1lb (0.45kg) hooklength. Says Ricky: ‘I’ve taken barbel to 10lb 4oz on lV^lb line so we should be okay.’ it underhand into the cool blue of the reflected sky – about 4m (13ft) off the tip of his rod. The plummet finds the bed of the river 2.7m (9ft) below the surface. ‘I like to have a few runs through before putting any bait in,’ he explains, removing the plummet and burying the hook in a caster. ‘There’s no point in throwing bait on top of a snag.’ Having run the float through a couple of times unhindered, he is finally ready to go.

Out in the middle of the river and borne downstream by the flow, concentric circles radiate from the spot where a hefty barbel has just crash-dived. Says Ricky, however: ‘I’m a great believer that there are more fish close in than out in the middle – roach are a gentle species and barbel are idle.’

With his stick shotted so that it sits like a pimple on the water, he pushes his hook into the cork strip of a plummet and swings ‘Feeding is everything with roach,’ says Ricky, as he drips in some casters. ‘I’m working on a 30 second cycle – looking to catch 3-4lb of fish with no more than two pints of casters and a pint of hemp.’ He puts six casters about 3m (10ft) off the end of his rod — fractionally upstream of it — and two handfuls of hemp on the same line but about 2-3m (7-10ft) downstream – because hemp sinks faster than casters. Ricky believes that hemp acts very much like a groundbait. ‘If it was a perfect day and I knew I was on roach, then I’d put two pints in straight away. When fishing for barbel I’d chuck a gallon in for starters!’

Letting the line trickle from beneath his little finger, Ricky coaxes the float slowly through the reflections. ‘It hasn’t fouled the bottom, so I’m going to go three inches deeper,’ he declares, sliding the float up. ‘If I catch anything within three or four chucks I’m worried – it’s usually a sign that it’s going to be bad,’ he says, dropping half a dozen casters off the end of his rod. According to Ricky, fish come quicker to maggot but they don’t stay as long. Although he admits that in a match, unless he’d drawn a very long peg—long enough to be unaffected by other anglers’ loose-fed maggots – he’d have to consider using them. ‘I think that was a bite,’ he adds,. winding in. Sure enough the very tip of the caster has gone, leaving an empty shell – a sure sign of roach. ‘I believe that for every bite we see, there are six that we don’t know about,’ he continues, dripping in four casters and squinting hard. Now that the sun has moved round he’s watching the line rather than the float. ‘When it starts to ‘vee’ down a hole in the water that’ll be a fish!’

Holding the rod high, he keeps all but 45cm (18in) off the sun-spangled water. Somewhere just past the shadow of the alder is the float — but we can’t see it — and about 2.7m (9ft) below the float, tripping over mud, twigs and dead autumn leaves, is the caster. There’s something else there too because the line suddenly zips smartly across the surface as it follows the float under. The rod tip bounces round and Ricky patiently draws the fish up the swim. ‘We all think that roach are the ‘fisherman’s fish’,’ he says, beaming. ‘They look nice, come in nice and they don’t dive for snags.’ He carefully unhooks the 8oz (0.23kg) roach and pops it cheerfully in the keepnet.

One small roach later and it has gone quiet. ‘They’re down there – they ain’t going anywhere – it’s just that they ain’t opening their gobs,’ says Ricky philosophically, laps- ing into schoolboy Brummie. The river’s ancient name is Sabrina. She’s a lady of many moods and can be a tough nut to crack. Still, Ricky ought to know her as well as anyone – he’s had an extra-marital affair with her for long enough!

Says Ricky, ‘I’ve fished matches when the river has been in flood and seen dead sheep, cows and horses floating past. I’ve even seen a perfect, newly painted, green and white shed come down – windows intact, and door wide open with a brand new brass padlock on it!’

After spending a short and fruitless spell on the meat hoping for a barbel, Ricky has returned to the float. He has changed down to a size 22 hook baited with maggot and just missed a bite. Says Ricky: ‘By using a maggot we’re being less selective -just hoping for a fish.’ In fact, next run down he’s into a better roach — this time a quality 12oz (0.34kg) fish. He’s kept just a few casters and hemp going in like clockwork right through the session and it looks as though things are picking up.

After bumping off what felt like a chub, Ricky has had two more 8oz (0.23kg) roach. The sun is much lower now but if anything it’s a bit easier to see the float. He’s changed to a slightly heavier stick – taking 12 no.8 shots – and has shallowed off by 60cm (2ft) – so the bait is right off the bottom.

Just past the alder tree, the top of his float – nothing more than a black silhouette now – vanishes and he’s into a good roach. Darting frantically back and forth it fights hard right to the very last – and comes off! Says Ricky: ‘If you don’t lose roach, you ain’t fishing properly.’

And that’s the trouble – the fish are so shy under these conditions that to coax them on to the hook is a tall order – while keeping them there is nigh on an impossibility!

It’s half an hour later – and Ricky breathes an audible sigh of relief as he lifts the landing net. A F/Jb (0.56kg) roach lies safely at the bottom. That fish has made all the difference. The clarity of its orange eye and the sharpness of its crimson fins—which look as though they might have been shaped with scissors — the overall perfection somehow accounts for what makes these fish so difficult to catch.

When Ricky pulls out his keepnet he finds, much to his surprise, that it contains quite a nice little bag of handsome, hard-earned fish – less than he’d have liked, of course, and not enough to win a match – but worth all the trouble.