Winston’s affection for the Huntspill is simple to understand. ‘It’s always stuffed full of fish, and I’ve had the luck to draw well in matches,’ he says. His best match weight was 44lb of roach and bream, but it is not the easiest of waters to fish. It’s a working angler’s venue, which suits his style well.
It’s high summer and the water is very low, but Winston has the feeling that a pretty good bag is possible. His main task is to get the bulk of fish before noon, when the temperature is set to hit the eighties if the forecasters are to be believed.
Winston has chosen to start on the inside line using a 4m whip and a 0.5g pole float with a 0.6mm thick, striped, glass-fibre shows. His hooklength is 1.8lb b.s. Ultima line tied to a size 20 microbarb – a good all-round summer hook, lightweight but strong.
Winston starts feeding caster and maggot in equal amounts, with single caster on the bristle. At Gold Corner the fish start feeding close to the near bank, but move farther out into deeper water during the day.
The float works best with the line sunk between the float and pole tip and is deadly in windy conditions because it is so stable — like a waggler for the pole. The shotting is an Olivette which cocks the float with the bristle standing proud. Four Styls spread evenly between Olivette and hook sink the long bristle smoothly – showing any bites on the drop clearly – until only the tip hook. He knows from long experience of the water that this combination usually encourages the bigger fish. Almost straight away the float dips, Winston strikes and brings in a nice roach that weighs in at about 5oz .
In half an hour a dozen roach and roach-bream hybrids have fallen for the charms of the caster. Judging by their average size it’s going to take six for every pound, but it’s early days yet and Winston expects bigger fish to show later. The typical Huntspill pattern is small fish in the first hour or so, and this is especially true in the summer months.
The depth in front of Winston is about 1.4m , and he’s fishing 15cm off the bottom. Fishing right on the bottom is almost certain to produce eels and just to prove it, Winston lays on — and straight away he’s into a small eel. The Gold Corner stretch of the Huntspill has lots of these fish and quite a few top the pound. of fish in his keepnet.
Three weeks of this hot weather have raised the Huntspill’s water temperature. There is no shade whatsoever. It’s a long, wide cut through the Somerset countryside so the entire water surface gets the full heat treatment.
Despite the increasing temperature and lack of shade, Winston’s catch rate remains steady. A hybrid weighing nearly 1lb gives hope that bigger fish might be starting to move into the swim.
It’s really very warm now, in line with the forecasters’ promise of 27°C plus. The fish have moved farther out from the bank and this, combined with the strengthening breeze, makes loose-feeding by hand impossible, so it’s out with the catapult. He’s not over-doing it – feeding just enough to keep the fish interested.
He’s also added to his whip, so he’s now fishing the 5m line. For the next half an hour there is a flurry of activity as the fish feed avidly, but then the action slows down and only one sizeable hybrid is caught.
The fishing goes into the doldrums for a good 20 minutes. There are plenty of line bites, but nothing on the hook. This is not unusual on the Huntspill during hot days, but fortunately it doesn’t last forever. Winston increases the loose feed and the fish are not slow to respond. He bags five roach in quick succession, but is disappointed that the bigger fish aren’t showing.
The fish are still moving slowly towards the far bank and this, coupled with the increasing wind, prompts a change of tactics. Out comes the long pole, and with it a Milo carbon-stemmed float, which is very stable and ideally suited for fishing against the wind. He believes the float is particularly good at beating surface drag caused by the wind. He starts feeding the 9m line as he assembles his pole. Winston chooses a No.3 elastic – not too heavy for small fish but it has extra poke if needed.
Winston notices a degree of water movement. Despite its ‘river’ tag, there’s no natural flow on the Huntspill. Obviously the water level is being boosted with water pumped in from the South Drain which is on the far side of the pumping station. It doesn’t usually encourage the fish to feed more, but it does make bait presentation more difficult. Winston has to hold the float back against the flow.
Holding back the float is paying off. There are more bites and the catch rate improves. In 15 minutes of hectic activity Winston increases his net weight by about . In a match he would be more than satisfied with this return.
The roach in the swim may be small, but they’re stunted adults, not youngsters, so are just as hard to fool as bigger fish. They are fast, delicate feeders and it is essential to fish with great sensitivity.
The increased depth of water and perhaps the movement are now creating a much better bite rate. However, the fish are still moving farther out and Winston has to add another section to his pole to fish 10m from the bank. On top of that, a slight eddy is disturbing the float and he’s also got to overcome an increase in the wind. Every so often a strong gust comes straight down the waterway.
The fish are playing hard to get again, so Winston changes to the 11m line. The float reacts straight away, but the fish seem to be playing with their food – they bite, then drop the bait. In an attempt to hit more of the increasingly shy bites, Winston adds another shot so the bristle is now only barely visible in the surface ripple.
Almost straight away he picks up one of those elusive fish. It’s a hybrid of about 12oz and it’s followed by half a dozen more hybrids and a couple of roach, but it’s hard going, and getting harder.
Bites have become very difficult to come by. The heat is intense and the catch rate is unlikely to improve until the cool of the evening, so Winston calls it a day. With 18lb 9oz of roach and roach-bream hybrids in the net, it has been a steady and productive six and a bit hours.
Winston’s quite satisfied with this weight considering the heat, but disappointed that there wasn’t a show of large roach. However, this is not the end of his fishing day. He’ll get a bite to eat and settle down for a few hours at a favourite spot on the Exeter Canal.