Smooth-stalking Smith at Shipton-on-Cherwell

How to get there

By car From Oxford, take the Banbury Road (A4165) which becomes the A4260 after crossing the A40. Follow this road through Kidlington, and once you have passed the Thrupp turn off, the turning to Shipton is on the right.

By train Oxford is the nearest BR station. A bus runs from near the centre of Oxford to Shipton-on-Cherwell.

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clip_image002 The ‘puma’ pounces and feels the pull from below. Ian wastes no time landing the fish because of the danger of fast currents and snags nearby. Before moving on to another swim, Ian places a slice of bread on the bank. This is something he often does to warn any anglers coming after him that the swim has been fished. It’s a nice gesture because it could well save an angler wasting a lot of time in a disturbed swim.

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After a crack with cheese paste Ian scores with breadflake, netting a 2lb (0.9kg) fish -Forceps are crucial for unhooking it (above).

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Under a willow crossbeam a fish takes the bait close in and resists capture. Ian plays it carefully away from the tree’s roots and into his anding net.

chub weighed in at a shade under 3lb

The chub weighed in at a shade under 3lb (1.4kg). It was an old fish – a bit emaciated and covered in leeches. Nevertheless, it put up quite a fight in a confined swim.

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A cast to the edge of a mat of debris meant Ian’s bait could search under it. Sure enough this risky method found a chub and he had to act quickly and firmly to guide it away from snags.clip_image014Settling in to fish the three post swim near the railway bridge. A small chair adds comfort and is easy to carry while roving.clip_image016 Inserting a cocktail stick into a piece of silicone tube on the main line is a nifty way to keep the short, shot-holding tail in place,” says Ian. “It’s also flexible enough to alter the position of the tail easily.”An early start for Ian in the weir -trotting a float down into the channel. Later he tried a bait anchored on the bottom – in case the chub were unwilling to follow a floatfished bait in the cold. Ian used a bait dropper to feed the weirpool swim with liquidized bread which breaks down into little pieces in the water. He doesn’t squeeze the bread too much or it swells and the bait dropper won’t open. Ian has fished since he was 12, but before trying it himself he read everything he could get his hands on. After a lot of fishy study he was soon on the trail of specimens. He has caught many big fish including two double-figure barbel to 12lb 9oz (5.69kg) and a chub of 5lb 10oz (2.55kg). clip_image020

A languid heron veers off as we approach from the canal towpath and tramp over a field. In the hedgerow a wren and then a chaffinch make a fuss. Following the river upstream we pass a farm and a motley herd of goats before reaching the weir.

Ian opens his rod bag and removes a ready-set-up lift (3.3m) rod complete with Mitchell 300 fixed-spool reel, line and balsa float. “I don’t normally do this but I thought it would save time, and I really want to fish this spot as early as I can.”

His rod is a (0.6kg) TC Avon-type with a threaded tip ring for screw-in quiver-tip, but it’s fine for float fishing too.

Below a concrete weir the River Cherwell splits into two branches. Ian plans to fish the side channel which flows along one side of a large goat-inhabited island before rejoining the main flow downstream. He knows there are several good swims along this channel and some very promising ones downstream on the main river, so he means to keep on the move — trying in likely spots rather than sticking to one swim. It’s a style of fishing Ian is very fond of. “I tend to be a bit of a loner because you can’t share a river with an exploring, roving style. Though it’s fine if you go with a mate who is of the same frame of mind and will wander off in a different direction.”

To kick off the day’s fishing he attacks the weir – trotting a float down into the neck of the channel. Across the river a watery lemon sun hangs low, glistening through ivy-clad trees. The water isn’t too coloured as it settles back to its normal state after recent flooding.

Ian pinches a bit of breadflake on a size 10 hook and casts out. “I’m using a bait dropper rather than throwing bait in,” he explains. “The river current is strong here and it just sweeps bait downstream if I don’t get it quickly down to the bottom in one lot.”

Winding in after every 20 seconds at the end of each trot, he rebaits and recasts. The sky is spattered with clouds and patches of light blue but it’s pretty cold – especially when the breeze picks up. There has been hardly any rain and no overnight frost for a couple of days, so Ian is hopeful that the resident chub are willing to feed. At the moment there’s no sign anything is going for his trotted flake, but he perseveres.

After a while Ian gives up on the weir and decides it’s time to head downstream. He travels light with one rod and reel, a landing net, a small seat and a bag containing a loaf, a couple of plastic tubs of cheese paste and dog biscuit floaters, bait dropper, weighing sling, flask and a small box of hooks, weights, feeders and so on. He can cany the lot without difficulty – essential for his style of angling.

The channel looks chubby. Ian screws in a 2!4oz (71g) quivertip, rigs up and before he’s gone 100m (110yd) he’s casting to some classic dipping branches and then moving downstream, to check out other likely looking holes and eddies with his bait. A simple rig is ideal for this job. He has 4lb (1.8kg) line straight through to a size 8 hook, with a tail of 6lb (2.7kg) line coming from a piece of silicone tube on the main line about 6-8in (15-20cm) above the hook. He pinches between two and five swan shot on the tail to take the bait down.

Ian approaches a cut-away in the bank and immediately stoops into a puma crouch. He creeps away from the bank into the open field. Silently he turns and approaches the cattle drink again – now bent double and primed for a stalking assault with rod, net and bait bag in hand. He knows that he’ll be highly visible at the edge of the bank here, but the cattle drink offers an area of calm water off the main flow which might hold a chub or two. If he can get a bait in without frightening them off he’s in with a good chance.

He creeps, then crawls like a sniper, to the edge of the bank and lies on his side with his gear close to hand. He picks up his rod, pinches a bit of flake on the hook and swings it out over the edge. He’s in straight away and strikes. Definitely a bite — but he doesn’t connect. Ian withdraws, rebaits and swings out again just over the lip.

Concentrating on his quivertip from his prostrate position he lobs a little liquidized bread into the water to keep the fish interested. The rod tip shivers and Ian rolls over paratrooper-style, strikes – and a fish is on. He plays it from a sitting position then slides along the grass to pick up his net and quickly collects a 134lb (0.7kg) chub. “It’s a chub, not a big one, but still a chub,” he celebrates.

He returns the fish to the cattle drink. “There’s probably a few chub in here but the trouble is you catch one and that does it. I’ll just put some bait in and try this swim again later,” he says, feeding a few small balls of liquidized bread.

Ian fished this stretch of the river a few days ago so he has an idea of its chub-holding potential. However, the character of the river has already changed quite a bit since then. Some of the places that looked promising before are now unfishable. “It’s a combination of a strong wind and the high water level changing the bottom that makes it difficult to read the water,” he concludes. “The water is lower than it was the other day but what were sheltered areas then are now boils and the boiling areas are now slack.”

He continues along the channel searching out potential. Most of the time he just walks and looks but occasionally he squats down and flicks a baited hook in the water -resting his rod on some handy reeds or branches. “I don’t usually carry a rod rest. You’ll always find something to lean your rod on. Carrying a rest is not conducive to creeping up on fish.”

It’s still icy cold because of a strong intermittent wind. And some very dark clouds in the distance are heading our way. The sun comes out again as Ian reclines on the ground, concentrating on catching his next chub. He’s hoping for a bigger fish. They reach about 3-4lb (1.4-1.8kg) in here.

Ian settles in a swim just above the railway bridge, opposite a church. This is the full Cherwell now since the side channel rejoined the main flow. In the swim three fence posts stretch out in a row half-submerged into a slack water pocket. Ian likes the look of it so he doesn’t hesitate to get a bait out.

He changes to cheese paste and casts to the end post. “If the water was really brown I’d just use the cheese paste but it’s quite a nice colour. It has been flooded for weeks and the dirt has already gone through.”

Convinced there’s a fish in the swim somewhere, he changes back to flake and gets a bite straight off. He misses first time but on the next cast he connects with a fish right by the farthest post. It splashes and wrestles downstream but Ian keeps the pressure on and soon guides a two-pounder (0.9kg) to the net.

Not a man to hang around in one spot, Ian collects his stuff and walks under the bridge. Sleet begins to fall as he mentions something about catching two pound (0.9kg) Kennet roach on a pole – a very odd confession from a hard-bitten specimen man like himself. But his true colours show when his beady eye spots a slack area below a large willow which sets his specimen hunter’s alarm gland throbbing. In goes a ball of bread followed by the hookbait. He quietly sits under a big lateral bough and it’s only a matter of seconds before the tip trembles and he strikes. “It’s a better fish,” he says, applying side strain to play the fish in the confined swim.

Once landed, it is clear the fish is bigger than the last two. Ian thinks it will make three pounds (1.4kg). The fish is a bit tatty though and is playing host to a cluster of leeches. “It’s an old fish — a bit hollow-bellied. Perhaps he’s been lying low in the margins during the floods. It could be the first day he’s decided to move.” Ian weighs the fish and the scales of justice absolutely refuse to go higher than 2lb 15oz (1.33kg) -unlucky! “I knew I shouldn’t have rubbed the leeches off. The fish would have made three pounds if I’d left them on!”

Ian spots a smooth glide which looks just about right. Before fishing it he moves downstream and feeds a handful of liquidized bread in a few swims. ‘The swims are bigger here and a bit of bread might draw the fish in a touch,” he explains.

Back to the glide and the pursuit of the next fish. A moorhen flaps on the water, climbs on to the far bank and pelts off like a road-runner. Ian studies the rod by his side. moves to grab it, but nothing develops Seconds later he strikes and a telling bene appears in the rod. The fish maintains a terrier-like struggle – definitely the toughest scrap of the day. Ian has trouble playing it away from snags close to the bank. Eventually he brings the fish to the net but his line catches in branches overhead and breaks as he lands the chub. “That’s z cleaner fish. It came just under that mat o: weeds,” he says, looking at his capture. He quickly weighs it and puts it straight bad into the Cherwell. It’s the final fish of the day and justly thrashes the 3lb (1. 4kg) chal lenge barrier by four ounces (113g).

There are still some lovely swims to fisr. but they can wait. There’s a large blact cloud overhead and rain is falling. Besides with four splendid Cherwell chub, Ian’s had more than his quota of fun.

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