Roy Love on the lower Thames at Laleham

5 fishing the lower Thames at Laleham

It never rains but it drizzles – persistently. Still, the forecast is for the weather to clear up later in the afternoon -good news for Roy as he has booked into an evening match at Kingston.

This morning, however, he is tackling up in front of the caravan site at Laleham Green, and he’s just going to have to put up with getting wet. Roach and dace are the targets on the float in summer here, and Roy finds you get the bigger ones on caster. ‘On maggot you tend to get bitted out,’ he says. Today he has brought two pints of casters, plus a pint of hemp. ‘The important thing when the river’s just creeping through as it is now is finding the main flow,’ he says. In front of the caravan site the gravel river bed slopes away from the shallow margins very gradually, and the main flow is a good 25m (27yd) out. To reduce casting distance and find enough depth for his keepnet, Roy wades out several metres.

He sets up a home-made, 3AAA+ balsa and peacock waggler with a thickish insert and shots it. ‘The droppers dot the last couple of inches down so you can just still see it,’ he says. ‘If you fish too light down the line you miss bite after bite on caster – the fish just shell the bait and you hardly see a thing.’ He opts for a float with a yellow and black banded tip, so he can keep track of it as it passes through both the light reflections of the sky and the dark reflections of the far bank trees.

Roy knows it’s roughly 2.7m (9ft) deep on the edge of the main flow here, and a few trial runs through are all he needs to adjust his rig so the hook is just off bottom. ‘I’ll start at full depth and take it from there,’ he says, ‘but I’m looking to catch down any- way as the casters and hemp are going to take the fish down.’

He buries his hook in a caster, casts slightly downstream, then rests his rod on his keepnet. After putting a dozen casters and half a dozen grains of hemp in his catapult and firing them out together, he picks his rod up, helps the floating line peel off the reel with flicks of his wrist, and lets the float run down about 10m (11yd) before striking, winding in and putting a fresh caster on. ‘I like dark casters for the hook,’ he says, ‘because they weigh less than pale ones. So they counter the weight of the hook better. They’re crisper, too, so it’s easier to set the hook on the strike. ‘I think it’s best to keep the hemp and casters apart until you feed them, rather than mix them up in your bait apron. This way you can control the amounts of each you put in. Also, if you start getting shot bites you can stop feeding the hemp.’ As to why he casts first, then feeds, he says it’s simply because he likes to have his bait in the water as long as possible. ‘The bait hits the bottom about five yards down,’ continues Roy, ‘so there’s no point in trotting too far. And it’s a good habit to strike before winding in as you sometimes hook fish that are just mouthing the bait without showing a bite. Of course, striking then winding in against the flow usually slides the caster down the hook, so you have to rebait each cast. But always check the bait before you replace it – if the caster has a slight dent in it, you know a fish has been mouthing it.’

Roy fishes for ten minutes with no joy, but watching the smooth, unhurried way he fishes you know it’s only a matter of time. Sure enough, just as his float settles to the tip once more it suddenly buries, and within seconds he’s dragging in a dace, splashing and kicking through the drizzle. ‘That’s the matchman in me,’ he says, laughing. ‘The quicker they’re in the net the quicker you can get out there again.’ It’s a good makeweight fish at around 4oz (115g), but what was that about a smooth rhythm? Roy has forgotten his disgorger and has to wade back to shore to get it!

A few minutes later he nets an 8oz (230g) roach and before long it’s a bite almost every cast. ‘They’re taking it as soon as it reaches the bottom,’ he says. Inevitably he doesn’t hit every one, but he isn’t fazed: ‘Just keep it steady when the bites start coming, feeding the same as before.’

Roy is well into his stride, swinging and netting fish regularly – mostly roach and dace, plus the odd skimmer and perch. He’s casting slightly upstream now, because the fish have moved up the swim to intercept the loosefeed. ‘They’re having it straight away, pulling the float right under,’ he says. ‘I’ve tried a few casts with the bait at half depth but never had a touch. They want it on the drop.’

He also tries hooking the caster on like a maggot, but the fish won’t have it. Likewise an offering of double caster is ignored. ‘They might be biting boldly, but they want the bait presented just so,’ he says.

The persistent drizzle has turned to persistent rain, and the fish have dropped back down the swim for some reason. Roy is still catching, but not steadily now, and no longer on the drop. ‘I’ve gone a bit deeper, just tripping bottom, but I’m only catching in fits and starts,’ he says.

Just as he swings another roach there’s a swirl and a flash in the water in front of him – a pike! ‘Nearly had ‘im,’ says Roy. ‘That could explain why the fish are coming and going, with a pike sniffing around.’

Roy plugs away and eventually the fish regain their confidence. Perhaps the pike has had its fill. Eventually, too, the rain eases up, then finally stops altogether, and at four o’clock Roy calls a halt to allow time to go home, have a well earned cup of tea and put on some dry clothes before setting out again for the match at Kingston. As he is packing up, a forlorn looking, rain-drenched sparrow hops into view. Roy throws it a handful of casters. ‘I know just how he feels,’ he says. tip rattles and the bait comes back smashed. Next cast is a repeat performance. ‘Yep, loadsafish,’ he says, putting the rod aside and reaching for his ground-bait. He knocks up plenty of brown crumb, with a bit of white to stiffen it, then sits back and waits for the tide to top out.

The river slows then stops, dead still and bank high. ‘I’ve got a feeling it’s really going to fish well today,’ says Paul, ‘so I