Fishing A flooded river – the Great Ouse

These days British weather seems to tend to extremes. Faced one season with drought and the next with flood conditions, anglers have to be adaptable.

Some rivers fish better when flooded than others. Southern chalk streams such as the Stour and Avon don’t colour as badly as those muddy rivers, such as the Medway and Great Ouse, that flow over clay. Fish do seem to be put off by high turbidity, so the dirtier the water the more you have to reduce your expectations. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but with muddy rivers your chances of good fishing on a rising water are much less than on one that is fining down.

End of season session

Nigel spent a day just before the end of the season fishing the Great Ouse in Bedfordshire, below Haversham Weir — part of the Linear Fisheries complex run by Len Gurd. Many perch occupy the stretch and chub, roach, pike, dace and barbel are also present. ‘As my bad luck would have it,’ says Nigel, ‘the river was well up and still rising when I arrived, so I knew my chances would be reduced. Nevertheless, I decided to carry on.’ This is how he tackled the day’s sport. ‘As always,’ he says, ‘there are two main strategies you can adopt. Firstly, if you know the water well, you can pick a swim with which you are familiar and settle down for the day. If, like me, you are not so confident, then you have to take the second option which is to travel light and go in search of fish.’

Nigel started his day just below the weir. In normal conditions the fast, shallow water of the race can be expected to hold large shoals of minnows, fry and small fish of most species. The abundance of fodder fish attracts predators and so pike, perch and chub are likely to be found just off the main flow, waiting their chances. On the edge of the fast water, on the left-hand bank looking downstream, there is a small inlet formed by a redundant mill stream. Here the current was backing up and relatively tranquil, so Nigel reasoned that some of the fish normally found nearer the main flow might have taken up temporary residence— it saves energy ifthey can lie up in the slack water out of the fast current. ‘I knew that any fish would be very close to where I had to fish from, so I crept down to the water’s edge very carefully, with a float rod at the ready and my minimal tackle mostly stuffed into my pockets. Since I was after perch, I began fishing with a lobworm tail carefully trotted along the crease formed between the main flow and quieter water of the mill stream. ‘A couple of tentative dips of the float resulted so, suspecting very small fish, I tried smaller and smaller worms and then maggots in the hope that I would get a clear enough bite to hit. My tactics didn’t work, but I knew that fish were resident so I decided to return after having a look for other likely spots.’

Right place, wrong method?

A couple of hundred metres downstream the river enters an S-shaped bend. On the outside of the bend the extra flow had created two very fishy looking eddies. ‘It has long been suggested that eddies are refuges for flood-sick fish,’ explained Nigel, ‘and I have had success from similar swims in many rivers, so I elected to try my luck in the bigger eddy on the outside of the lower part of the bend. ‘Again, I trotted a float carrying half a worm through, trying to follow the crease around the outside of the eddy all the way down and back towards me along the near bank and then around again in a continuous circle. By adjusting my float until it began to drag bottom, I found that the water was about 6ft deep, about half as deep again as that in the mouth of the mill stream. I was hoping that any feeding fish would lie in the slower water inside the crease, ready to nip into the main flow in pursuit of any passing food.’

Despite his perseverance, however, no fish took Nigel’s bait. It’s worth considering why. Nigel reckons that the most common reason for failure, especially when fishing at close range, is that the angler scares the fish before he even makes his first cast. It’s far too easy to assume that if the water is well coloured then you don’t need to be as careful as usual in keeping out of sight of your quarry. ‘What else might I have been doing wrong?’ asked Nigel. ‘Fishing too large a bait? Maybe, but fish are often hungry in flood conditions when they may have to work a bit harder than usual, so I doubt it. More probably I was using too small a bait.

Back to base

It was back to the mill stream below the weir. Nigel’s return to this spot turned out to be fruitful. ‘After careful searching,’ he says, ‘I succeeded in deceiving a number of small perch, roach and dace with trotted maggots, together with a 6 lb [2.7kg] pike which coveted a worm intended for its stripy neighbours.’

A reasoned-out attack, careful observation of the sheltered areas and eddies in the fast-flowing flooded waters and a painstakingly quiet approach were what made the I’-iwf day a success.

Perhaps I was fishing the wrong part of the swim, but I searched every inch of the crease and many other spots too, all without success. But I might just have been fishing at the wrong time of day. That I would find out later…’

You must keep QUIET

Before returning to the mouth of the mill stream, Nigel decided to try one more spot just below the bend. Here the lower branches of a row of hawthorn bushes had collected a raft of flotsam and the water was rather slack.

Here he had high hopes of perch, chub or even big roach — any of which could have sought the shelter and easier conditions out of the main flow in this area. It looked very promising indeed.

But just as he had prepared a quiver-tipping outfit with which to anchor a bait under the cover of the raft – and had crawled painstakingly and quietly into position – a bailiff turned up and, silhouetted against the skyline behind him, asked for his permit. No chance of a fish now—he’d spoilt things for quite a while. Frustrated, Nigel gave up without a cast.