Late in June we went with Steve to the south bank of the river at River Lane, opposite Glover’s Island. It’s the outside of a sweeping bend and the steep bank here is reinforced with rocks against the main flow. Below the bank the river bed slopes away to an even gravel and boulder bottom.
At irregular intervals along the bank are steps down into the water. These were built for launching boats but are ideal for fishing – you simply move down a step at a time with the tide.
Conditions were perfect: it was warm, still and overcast. The water colour – a murky green – looked ideal, too. Steve was confident that the fish would feed and that he was on for a good catch.
It’s high tide and the river is at the top of the steps but by the time Steve has tackled up it will have started running out.
He sets up a 6.5m whip . It has a stiff action, ideal for speed-fishing for dace in flowing water. Main line is the standard 2lb .
The hooklength is a low diameter brand. It has a breaking strain of nearly 2lb but the same diameter as ordinary 1lb line, so takes the strain of constant catching while remaining fine and limp. It is about 45cm long – any shorter with a stiff whip and you risk snapping it on the strike, says Steve. The hook is a medium-wire, micro-barbed 18.
Main line plus hooklength equal the length of the pole, so that the hook comes to hand when the pole is raised.
He chooses a top-and-bottom pole float with a papyrus pith body. Papyrus pith is more buoyant than balsa, so supports more weight for a given size. The bulbous body allows the float to be held back in the flow without it riding up out of the water when shotted down so only the sensitive bristle tip shows.
The bulk of the shotting is a size 5 Olivette. A thin silicone rubber tube inside the Olivette is there to protect the line from chafing. A tiny piece of plastic bristle is pushed into the tube to hold the Olivette securely in place.
The float has a light cane stem below the light papyrus pith body. With the Olivette just above the hooklength, there is therefore no weight at the float, so Steve can flick the rig out smoothly with no risk of tangling. With a wire-stemmed and balsa-bodied float the Olivette would be competing with the weight of the wire and balsa.
Below the Olivette are three no.8 droppers. Having three droppers allows him to vary his shotting according to how the fish are feeding, but to begin with he puts one dropper immediately below the Olivette and the other two at equal intervals between the Olivette and the hook. Many anglers use no. 10s, but Steve doesn’t like such fine droppers for dace as they make it harder to spot bites. And if you don’t spot the bites, you won’t catch the fish.
He will start on the pole, but sets up a waggler rod as well. This way, if he wants to use the waggler later he can do so without having to stop to tackle it up and so risk losing the fish in his swim.
The tide has turned, the river is running out and the level is already down to the fourth step. Steve will fish standing up, running his float down a line about 5m out from the bank. After plumbing and finding a depth of about 2.5m , he baits his hook with one large white maggot and commences fishing.
He feeds about two dozen grains of hemp and the same number of white maggots by hand each cast. The flow is strong so he throws them upstream. Maggots are lighter than hemp, so he throws the maggots in about 5m upstream and the hemp about 2m below that.
The aim is to get the hemp and maggots down to the bottom together about 5m below where he is standing. Ideally the dace will gather at this point, and when Steve gets a bite he’ll have a straight line between pole tip and float, allowing him to hook the fish, draw it out of the shoal and lift it into his waiting hand in one movement.
He starts by feeling his way; sometimes running the float through at the speed of the current, sometimes holding it back; sometimes trying a bit farther out, sometimes closer in.
He gets his first bite on his third run down – and bumps the fish off. Bites start coming every few casts, but each strike results in a miss or a bumped fish. This often happens, says Steve, when small fish are jostling each other for your hookbait, because they only snatch at it and don’t take it particularly cleanly.
Floating grass mowings and the like are making things tricky too. This is a common problem here in summer; some people who live by the river chuck their garden rubbish straight into the water.
Steve gets his first fish – a 3oz dace. A small perch and several more small dace follow, then a 10 oz skimmer, his first ever from Richmond.
The bites are coming thick and fast but are still hard to hit. The fish are only stabbing at the maggot, leaving it almost unmarked. Steve thinks the fish aren’t used to anglers’ baits yet after the close season break.
The river is dropping rapidly and Steve has to shallow up every few casts. He’s catching quite a few dace, but they are only small and he is missing too many bites and bumping off too many fish for his liking.
The flow is slowing and the dace are coming up the swim to intercept the feed. To , moves another dropper up to the Olivette, and stops feeding hemp. But none of these changes he tries makes any apparent difference and after just a short while he starts feeding the swim with hemp once more.
The flow is slowing all the time and the river is down to the bottom step, leaving an even depth of about 1.5m 5m out from the bank. Steve is catching the odd small perch, roach and eel as well as dace.
Still feeding as before, he tries tare on the hook, looking for the bigger roach that tend to hug the inside slope. He gets an 8oz roach, but only after a long wait, so reverts to maggot on the hook.
Two 6oz dace in two casts signal the arrival of a shoal of bigger dace, but he’s still being plagued by missed bites and bumped fish.
Quite suddenly the flow stops and the river backs up a foot or so. Steve explains that the lock-keeper downstream at Richmond Lock has lowered the gate to prevent the river dropping to an unnavigable level. After about a quarter of an hour, enough water should have flowed over Teddington Weir upstream to allow the lock-keeper to raise the gate and let the river start slowly flowing out again. This sequence of flowing and backing up is repeated regularly until the tide starts coming in.
Steve carries on feeding in front of him every cast. For a while he continues to catch dace, but soon they are replaced by only the odd perch and roach. This pattern continues, dace moving in when the river flows, perch and roach taking over when it stops. , the 45cm hooklength 1lb .
The hook is a barbless 18. Steve prefers barbless hooks for waggler fishing. With a pole there is a tight line directly between the pole, float and hook. The strike is therefore direct, and a barbed hook can penetrate past the barb. With the waggler there is more line to pick up between rod and float, and the strike also has to overcome the angle between rod, float and hook. The strike is therefore indirect, making it harder to penetrate a barbed hook past the barb.
Steve chooses a fine-tipped balsa waggler taking 3BB locking shot and five no.8 droppers. The locking shot leave about 5cm of float tip sticking out of the water. Steve bunches four of the five no.8s at 5cm intervals above the hooklength loop. This gives more definite on-the-drop bite indication than spreading them down the line. The fifth no.8 goes on the hooklength about 20cm above the hook. The five droppers sink the float tip until only 5mm or so shows.
Feeding in front of him about 10m out from the bank, he starts catching dace again on single maggot. Occasionally he casts short, and picks up roach and perch off the inside slope. He also gets a small rudd -another first.
There’s quite a bit of boat traffic now, but Steve reckons this upsets anglers more than it does fish. As if to prove him right, he gets a 1lb perch, his biggest fish of the day, just a few seconds after a large boat goes past.
Changing to the waggler definitely improves Steve’s catch rate, and the fish are still feeding well when the time comes to pack up and find something to eat ourselves!
His bag for the day is impressive at around 30lb – over 100 fish in all, caught using only two pints of hemp and the same of maggots. It just goes to show how good tactics, skill, local knowledge and experience can work together to produce a very respectable weight of fish.