Thursday, 13 December 2012

My Favourite Swim

I think a lot of us have a favourite swim. I do, 'though I was in denial for a while. I like to think of myself as an angler that takes things as he finds them and acts accordingly: it is not true. I'll qualify that: it is true - up to a point.

When encountering a new water for the first time I try, as previously mentioned, not to put the cart before the horse. The first cast into a new water, I put it to you, O' brothers of the angle, is the epitome, the greatest thrill; challenged for the first time by a new place, new spaces - above and below the surface - to be explored, enjoyed, and exploited. Haven't we all cast into unknown streams, rivers and pools with only the vaguest notion of what may lurk within? First casts into unknown water can have surprising results, as we all know. I have hooked huge chub and barbel on the first chuck, but I have also hooked signal crayfish: ah, life's rich tapestry...

But there are times - are there not? - when we yearn for the reassurance of the known; the familiar, the previously successful. There's a river that I first went to in search of barbel. I was moderately successful. I caught my first barbel there and had, later, some truly barbeliscious times with fish up to eleven and a half pounds. After the Great Flood of 2007 (was it 2007? I'm not sure - you know the one I mean though) things dropped off. I plied the usual swims with the usual baits but with little success. I plied the usual swims with unusual baits. I plied unusual swims with usual - and unusual - baits with similar lack of success. One day I got so bored not catching barbel that I wandered off to try something else.

There was a swim that no-one ever tried enthusiastically. I had seen the occasional angler trying there with no success. The chaps I'd seen legering there had not been members of the circle in the know, barbelwise, as it were, and did not tarry long.

It was the method that was the problem. This river is known as a barbel river. Once I watched an old-timer expertly, and successfully, casting bread flake at basking chub with fly tackle (brilliant), but that was a one-off and all the more memorable for it. All other anglers I encountered there up 'till that day and, indeed, to this, were barbelers. They all, invariably, utilised leger tactics. Why, indeed, would they not? They were fishing for barbel after all and for many years legering for them had been de rigueur. Additionally, the most successful baits were large and not at all of a type that lent themselves to effective presentation beneath a float.

I like a float. I am a shameless trot-o-phile and enjoy nothing better than to ply an avon through a likely swim using light tackle and a centrepin. Indeed, I confess to having plied various avons, sticks and balsas through plenty of unlikely swims over the years, such is my enthusiasm for the art-form. The point though, is this: On that day, when my fruitless quest for barbel using the tactics of yore descended finally into listless and unbearable ennui, I came to the swim in question and the scales fell from my eyes. It revealed itself for what it was, and remains; the best trotting swim I've ever fished.

It's a pool; topographically, a classic trout pool. If it were in West Wales or Cumbria or somewhere like that you'd tiptoe down there in the inky dark of moonless spring nights and be quietly confident of a sea trout or three. At its head the width is restricted and runs through right sprightily at less than eighteen inches, sometimes less. The depth then plunges dramatically to about eight feet as the pool widens slightly and the current undercuts the precipitous far bank, from which, somehow, an old willow maintains a tenuous root-hold and provides overhead cover. After that the water unfolds into the pool proper and the current is at its gentlest. Finally, the bottom rises towards the tail where the banks narrow once more and the pace regains its former impetus before exit. The whole is some thirty yards long.

I've caught good fish at every point through this swim - usually trotting, natch, but sometimes on the fly. On good days there are goodish grayling just after the drop-off to the deepest part; in the depths of winter too, when other species won't play. Most sessions usually account for at least one decent chub, usually more. Early season, and through summer, huge shoals of dace pass through occasionally. When this happens I tackle right down to a 1.5lb bottom and hold back trotted maggot hard to get rid of the smaller, reckless ones then let a piece of bread flake go through at depth before lifting it for their bigger brothers loitering at the back of the shoal. I'm always amazed at the fight a half pound dace can muster in a decent flow. I always trot right down to the end of the tail. I've picked up some very decent wild brownies there on a few occasions, holding right back until the bait has almost stopped and is oscillating unnaturally in the flow - crazy fish, trout: sometimes only the finest imitation of the natural, cast just so, will rise them on the fly, then within the hour they'll fall for a large, soggy, clearly tethered bit of flake wafting about like an underwater kite; baffling.

There are frustrating times. In early season minnows can be a right royal pain when fishing maggot. Feeding them off is usually impossible, but it spurs me on to change baits and method which is all to the good.

I'm always drawn back to this swim. It compels me to fish it and seldom disappoints. There's even an otter holt just beyond the tail of the pool (wutchya say to that, all you lutra fascists out there? - the most prolific, bio-diverse swim on the stretch right under the ultra-sensitive noses of those you would have us believe decimate fish stocks just for the murderous fun of it - ha!). I often have cause to drive within a few miles of the place when travelling for work. I have been known to take the occasional detour and breakout the travel avon rod to sneak a furtive hour or two in the familiar environs. it draws me back. I find it hard to pass it by without a look-in. I rarely bother with the barbel nowadays. I much prefer the prospect of a session on my favourite swim. No-one else bothers with it and, for that reason, I'm not even going to show you a picture...

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