Sunday, 9 October 2011

Low River Blues

Top & second top: Low levels on the Teme

Second from bottom: A typical Teme dace

Bottom: This lovely brownie fell to bread

I expect the water level in the Teme to be low but I have clearly underestimated the extent of the drought. As I walk along the high bank in the pre-dawn darkness I sense the river is a lot further below me than it ought to be.

I've come in search of chub, and I want to fish specifically for them. Most of the sizeable chub I've landed here have been caught en passant while barbelling and, although I've landed chavenders to within an ounce of 6lb, catching them under such circumstances brings scant satisfaction. The Teme here is narrow and snaggy and when barbelling I use very sturdy gear; the chub are easily played out on such tackle. I've caught lots of chub here long trotting with maggot and relatively light gear, but smaller fish only, of the 3-4 lb stripe, succumb to this hugely enjoyable tactic.

But I've seen bigger chub here, 7 or 8 pounders, so today I want to stalk. I've got an 11ft avon rod and 5lb Maxima on the fixed spool reel I use for legering (why is wallis casting with lead so much more difficult than with float tackle?) and bread and worms for bait. As my eyes become accustomed to the half-light of the slowly breaking dawn I spot four or five black-dipped tails holding station languidly beneath the willow on the far bank. I retreat, quickly tie a size 8 to my mainline and pinch a swan shot a foot above it. I leave my bag on the top of the bank and descend gingerly to a point directly opposite the lurking chub. I spend ten minutes flicking pellets of Warbuton's Toastie across to them but, from this low position, their response remains unseen.

Squeezing on a generous piece of flake I dip it before flicking the tackle across the river to a position a few feet above the predicted taking point. I can feel the shot trundling along the bottom before a sudden yank pulls the rod tip around sharply. The speed with which the fish heads off upstream takes me by surprise; I was expecting a thudding retreat deeper into the undercut of the far bank. I'm holding the rod as far out over the river as I can, because there's an overhanging bush on my upstream side and the line is being pulled through its lower branches. Unable to see it, my view being obscured by the bush, I feel the fish jump and hear the splash of its re-entry: clearly a trout.

I'm miffed because a couple of those chub looked a decent size and this interloper, with its attention seeking acrobatics, has blown my chances of catching one. But it's calmed down now and comes to the net with no more fuss, and it's a stunning looking fish. It seems exotic and somehow out of place. I've caught lots of trout here on fly and bait but, at a pound and a half, this one is a monster by comparison. I forgive it because of it's beauty, and because it has revealed the possibilities of the fly here next season, before I slip it back.

Back on the high bank my dew covered bag casts a shadow as the weak autumn sun sluggishly ascends. I can now see just how low the river is, and how alien it makes this familiar stretch appear. The bottom is visible everywhere and I know it will be difficult to stalk anything, let alone get a bait to an unsuspecting fish. Worrying though this state of affairs is, my angling id compels me to map the riverbed while conditions allow, and I do so, walking the entire stretch, noting every feature, trying to consign it all to memory, to draw upon in seasons to come.  I'm shocked by the extent of my ignorance of a stretch I thought I knew so well.

There are two deep holes that I already knew about, but as I walk back downstream I pass an angler setting up by the one I wanted to try, so I head to the other, half a mile downstream. Chub are showing here and there but I can't get a bait to them without putting them down. A shoal of dace (I count fifty odd before losing my place) forms a shifting teardrop shape beneath a willow.  Switching to the centrepin I catch a few on float tackle and bread but don't catch the big ones at the back of the shoal; their younger, more naive, shoal-mates snaffle the bait with quicksilver bites before it reaches the daddies.

I reach the deep swim and trot a worm tail through it, resulting in more dace, grayling, trout and chublets. There's a raft of flotsam right at the head of the deep run and I'm trying to cast my float as close to it as possible, feeling that there must be something exciting lurking beneath; but nothing betrays itself. I feed with chopped worm and trot the float through again and again, picking up a fish most casts. The tackle stops and the float glides slowly under so I give it a twitch to free it from the bottom but it's stuck fast. I give it a sharper tug and the bottom begins to move, very slowly, in the direction of the flotsam. I apply as much pressure as I dare but I can't stop it reaching the raft. There's no fight, it just keeps going further beneath the cover until, inevitably, it breaks me. I suspect an esox, attracted by the small fish I was catching, or the smell of the chopped worms. I regret the disgrace of being broken, but offer silent thanks that I didn't have to deal with it.

I walk back to the car and worry about the barbel.  What do they do when the water is a low as this?  I'm only 7 miles above the confluence with Big River and I fear they might have upped fins and departed thither. I chat to a couple of barbellers who tell me they've never seen the river so low. Nor have I. They say they haven't heard of any barbel being caught for a couple of weeks.

We've had a bit of rain since then and I'm going back this week to try for barbel, just to know they're still there.  We should be coming into the best part of the year for barbel now, but I'm not holding my breath.

Note:  Apologies for the poor quality of the trout picture.

1 comment:

fishermanrichard. said...

That is big chub in the 7 pound class. I my local river I fly fish for them in the summer when the trout will not play. My best is just over 6lb. The bigger fish just melt away when I appear??