The season of mists and mellow fruitful-1 ness’ is how the poet Keats described autumn. Obviously he never fished the tidal Trent in mid-October. Standing on top of the bare grass embankment on the Nottinghamshire side of the river at Middle Lane near Littleborough, we are exposed to the full force of a cold east wind ripping across from Lincolnshire and the North Sea beyond. And as every angler knows, when the wind’s in the east, the fish bite least. incoming tides have pushed farther upriver than usual. This explains the heavy suspension of reddish-brown silt in the water. As the river drops with the tide, however, it will clear considerably.
There’s no need to fish more than a couple of rod lengths out, even on the stillest of days. Today, because of the strong facing and slightly upstream wind, Tessa plans to run a fairly heavy stick float down the side, just past the rocks, so she has maximum control of the float.
But this is Tessa’s favourite venue, and she’s here to fish her favourite method, the stick float, for her favourite quarry, roach. Determined to give it her best shot, she turns her back to the wind and gets down to the business of tackling up.
High tide was around 9:30am and the river’s down a couple of feet, revealing the tops of the rocks along the edge. Past the rocks the bottom shelves away to silt. There hasn’t been much rain of late, so tidal Biver
Most of the roach here are in the 6oz-l2lb bracket, and there are also quite a few chub and bream plus the odd carp , so it doesn’t pay to fish too fine.
Tessa tackles up a 13ft through-action rod, closed-face reel, 2lb main line, 4BB stick float, hook-length and size 21 microbarbed hook. Were it not for the wind, she would also tackle up a second, lighter rig for when the flow slows later in the day.
Set up, she fills one pouch of her bait apron with bronze maggots, the other with hemp – she has brought four pints of each. ‘I don’t like coming here on my own, just in case I fall in!’ says Tessa with a laugh as she negotiates the steep bank in her waders, rod in one hand, keepnet and landing net in the other. She manages the descent safely, however and, standing in the water’s edge, starts fishing.
From experience, Tessa knows it’s about 1.5m deep down the side, but she sets her float to fish some 25cm overdepth. The float has a dense lignum base, but she has put one BB immediately beneath it for even greater stability. The rest of the shotting is below half-way between float and hook. This set-up allows her to hold the float back hard and ease the bait along the bottom without the float tilting out of the water.
Tessa baits her hook with double maggot, which she believes shows up better in coloured water than single maggot and is more tempting to the larger roach.
She gets straight into a routine of casting and feeding. Every cast she throws in a small handful of hemp directly in front of her and a small handful of maggots slightly upstream – to allow for their different sinking rates. By casting feeding, and holding back the float, the hookbait and loose feed reach the bottom together. She expects to have to wait about half an hour before her regular feeding draws a shoal of roach. Then, if she’s catching well, she might have to feed twice each cast to keep the fish coming.
Each cast, until the bites start, Tessa runs the float down about 20m before retrieving it, to explore the length of the swim. When the bites come, most will be about halfway down, where the feed reaches bottom. Then, she will wind in if she hasn’t had a bite after running the float down about 15m — to save time and to avoid hooking a stray fish at the tail of the swim and having to play it in, struggling, through the main shoal.
No bites yet, but Tessa is still feeding like clockwork. She has moved the float up the line and is now fishing about 45cm overdepth, holding back even harder.
Occasionally the float dips as the hook catches on a rock. Each time this happens she checks the point and replaces the hook immediately if it’s at all blunted. Tessa reckons on having to change her hook about six times during a session here.
She checks the hookbait carefully, in any case, after each cast, because sometimes roach suck it in and spit it out again without a bite registering. You know a roach has had a go, however, because they nip the end of one or both of the maggots with their throat teeth. To make such bites register, Tessa advises moving the dropper shot nearer the hook and dotting the float down farther to reduce resistance.
There are no signs yet of roach in the swim, however. Floating rubbish, meanwhile, is making it difficult to mend the line, but her concentration and rhythm of casting and feeding never wanes.
Still no bites, but Tessa has seen a few fish top in her swim, so remains hopeful. Are they roach, though?
Meanwhile she has been shallowing up as the river drops. As it drops, however, large rocks on the bottom cause swirls and boils in the surface flow, dragging her float offline, towards the bank, making good bait presentation more difficult.
At last Tessa gets her first bite – a fast bob, much too quick to strike. She thinks it was only a small dace, but starts concentrating that bit harder all the same.
The flow has slowed somewhat and small fish are still topping, so Tessa has spread her shot out shirt-button style in case the fish are taking on the drop. She starts getting odd dips on the float, and each time the end of one of the maggots has been nipped. Taking her own advice, she dots the float down farther with an extra no.6 and moves the droppers nearer the hook. ‘This swim down we’ll get a fish,’ she predicts.
Sure enough, the float disappears and a fish is on. It’s not very big, but the relief shows on Tessa’s face as she unhooks the first fish of the day, a roach. pack up now that she’s catching. Her float buries and she strikes smartly into an obviously good fish. Is it one of the big roach she was hoping for? At first she suspects a bream; playing it gingerly in the current, it’s a while before she gets the first sight of the gaping mouth of a chub. Safely landed, it’s in prime condition and weighs about 1Jb .
It’s almost dark but the skimmers are still biting. Can Tessa get one more decent fish? She keeps saying ‘I’d better make this the last cast,’ and ‘This really will have to be my last cast,’ until finally at the end of one more run down the float slips under and another chub is on. It’s smaller than the first, but still a nice fish to end the day.
The next hour and a half passes without any more action, though. It seems the roach was a false alarm. The water clears quite a bit, meanwhile, as it continues to drop slowly. Tessa gets the odd quick bite, but nothing she can really connect with.
Tessa catches her second fish of the day, a bleak that takes on the drop. Next cast, another bleak has the cheek to attack the backshot above the float!
Finally, Tessa’s perseverance is rewarded as the bites start coming thick and fast -but not from roach. First one skimmer, then another, and another, takes her hookbait and she’s soon building a good weight.
Tessa attributes her change in fortune to two factors: the river dropping beyond the rocks, meaning no more surface boils and therefore better bait presentation; and the saltwater of the high morning tide having pushed the fish farther upstream than usual, to drop down again with the outgoing tide only very late in the day. Others would put it down to her feeding every cast, regularly adjusting her shotting, and occasionally trying a little farther out or a bit closer in, searching out every inch of her swim.
The light’s fading but Tessa’s not about to