Monday, 23 January 2012

"Down By the River"

Steve Bown

As is usual on one of my many trips down the M5, the hypnotic guitar licks of Neil Young were blaring full decibels on the old Land Rovers stereo and on this occasion it was one of my all-time favourites, a tune entitled ‘Down by the River’. I think I’ll have that as my epitaph as since I started driving in 1988 I’ve been making the same journey down the M5 and taking the various exits below Worcester to fish the Lower Warwickshire Avon, The Magnificent Severn and in later years Gods own river ‘The Wye’ each a different beast and each containing their own challenges.

With very little in the way of Stillwater’s to go at a Midlands angler looks to the rivers of which we have an abundance and within pretty reasonable distances I have hundreds of miles of flowing water  to go at and I love it. The only problem I have is where do I go and what do I fish for as the choice is staggering. Flowing water, beautiful landscapes and a sense of adventure is what my anglings all about. Whether I’m bivvied up on the Avon in the Lea on Breadon hill, on my boat and looking up the River Severn to the Malvern’s or route marching the banks of some remote stretch of the River Wye in search of the monsters that lie within. I just love being ‘DOWN BY THE RIVER’.

Now about the time I started fishing the Midlands rivers these strange little fish from the continent started to appear. As we were piking we started getting dropped runs on a semi frequent basis which was very unusual as we were not fishing for toothless Stillwater mug fish but wild uncaught river fish. It wasn't until a little 2lb Zander hung itself to my mates size 4 trebles the we discovered the reason behind the mystery. With us all wanting to catch one for our species list we spent the rest of the season trying to catch these fish but all attempts were fruitless. They were small and few in number and very hard to catch on pike gear. This little fish was to trigger what was to become a bit of an obsession that would over the next 20 years drive me to despair. The following season opened and I found myself out for the night with light carp rods light traces and a bucket full of gudgeon on the Lower Avon and it wasn't long before tactics were sorted and I was soon notching up a reasonable tally of Zander with my first being a respectable 5lb 10oz.

An early Avon Zed

I guess that as hardened piker, zander became the perfect species to fill in the gap between pike seasons and so this pattern continued and the past twenty has seen me spending many hours ‘Zedding’. Loving the rivers as I do and never particularly been enamoured by still water mud pigs they were the perfect excuse to see me out for a night fishing adventure under a brolly. In later years I have often taken the kids on these adventures and they have become some of my most treasured moments.
So with all the dedicated zander sessions, the accidental captures when piking and the fact that the local canals are full of them, I guess that over the last 20 years I have caught hundreds of them. I don’t keep diaries but I have a good idea that if I have averaged in the region of 20 to 30 Zander a year over the last 20 years then that wouldn’t be too far from the truth. In all this time and with all these fish I have never caught a double…… I have come close on many occasions having caught at least 20 over 9lb and I have landed a similar number of double figure specimens for mates ! It has become a bit of a joke over the years, I mean, I’m not a bad angler. In fact I think I do alright generally and I catch more than my fair share of all the species I target along the way but with these bloody zander I had just come to the conclusion that I was never going to land a "Biggun". Not only was it never going to happen but fate would deal it’s hand against me every time I even came close.

Lotte on one of our Zedding Adventures

Take the day I had Diddy Dave
Horton staying with me and he got so pissed on the night that I couldn’t kick him out of his sleeping bag. By the time we eventually got the baot launched Jims lad Leigh was holding his first ever Zed of 17.12 in the net !. Caught from the swim we would have been fishing on the bait and method we would have been using ! I caught my longstanding PB of 9.10 that day but it somehow felt a hollow achievement when compared to what we had witnessed earlier that day. Then take the day I was on John Shields boat in mid-July with the river 9 foot on and absolutly bombing through. Giving it up as a lost cause I still made the effort and bottom bounced a large roach back to the slipway only for it to be grabbed half way back by a huge fish that spat the hooks as it came to the surface 10 yards off the back of the boat ! Plus again, I vividly recall been sat on my rods fishing quivertip style (as I like to do) with Steve who had his 4 rods so far apart he was driving between them to change baits!. He got the only run of the session and after the chaos of trying to find out which rod it was in the evening gloom he promptly landed a near 13 pounder that had hung itself on his trebles once he’d untangled his Jack Russell from the line!. Then there was the PAC region day when an in-experienced boat partner struggled with the netting of a clear 14 plusser that was fighting hard under the boat until the hooks once again gave way. Additionally, how could I forget my advice given to my very best mukka Rob Shallcroft who promptly went and had a 9 and a 11+ on his first solo trip to a spot I'd put him on!. The tales of woe go on and on and so I had become resigned to a ‘well it might happen one day but I ain’t gonna worry about it’ frame of mind.

Anyway you get the picture and so after a difficult summer I finally got my fishing mojo back in December last year. I had in the back of my mind that I was going to make the big push for a double figure Zander. I needed a new challenge and what better than to target the fish that had eluded me all of this time. The cost of fuel on the 150 mile round trips and the growing popularity of the Wye had tainted my fishing there at the end of last season and a fresh challenge is always welcome to stop your fishing getting stale. There were other reasons for this change in direction to be fair, not least the fact that my best mukka had geared up for a full winter on the Severn and I had an open invite to join him. This coupled that with the fact that through a new friendship with a true gentleman of Piking, Dilip Sarkar, I had gained access to a cracking stretch of river fishing that was less than half the distance I usually travel. It seemed that I had all the cards laid out for me to "play" and catch a goodun.

I started my winter Zedding on a stretch of the Avon close to work where I was honing my methods and working on a new bite arm to attach to my Billy’s Backbiters that aided bite registration with these finicky feckers. Lighter rods and nylon mainline became the norm and I started catching plenty having eight in one memorable short session before Christmas. This stretch was unlikely to give me my double though and so I arranged with Dil to have a session together on the Severn. First trip and the river was up and coloured and despite a few nice pike to 16 plus the Zeds weren’t showing. The following day Spam had 5 zeds including 2 doubles off where I’d been fishing and doing nothing different to how I’d been fishing. Typical of my luck eh! So back down the following weekend when the temperature dropped well below the zero and despite staying well into dark until the frost was settling on my shoulders I didn’t get a single knock.

So moving on to last Friday........ another Friday afternoon and another chance. I was full of confidence and told the missus to expect a phone call. The temp had risen 10 degrees during the week and the river was in fine fettle. Despite calling me to a meeting at 1pm I managed to dodge my bosses calls all day and so by mid afternoon I’m back at the start of the story bombing down the M5 with Neil blaring on the stereo. I was soon on the stretch and fishing and I didn’t have long to wait before a schoolie of around 3lb was in the net. Another hour past-by and a similar fish. I’m fishing well tactics were small baits with a double hook in the flanks and a black cap feeder full of roach mash. I am full of confidence and now fate is in the hands of the Fish Gods.  A few rattles and shakes was all I had to show for the rest of the afternoon but as the light faded the rod tip trembled, the arm of my Billy’s Backbiter lifted an inch and I struck into what was no-doubts a Zander and obviously a Goodun. It was taking line off the clutch and headed under a tree, a bit of side strain,she was out in the flow with my light rod bent double. She came to the top and flashed in front of me before diving for the bottom on what was to be the first of a number of attempts to get away. I could see it was easily the fish I was after, just take your time son.... take your time….. Fully confident that the soft rod and the give in the nylon would maintain the hook-hold I played her out as I sunk the net and drew her to the spreader block. She was in and I was looking down at the fish that I have spent 20 years of my life trying to catch. A quick phone call saw Spam in attendance to help me with the proceedings. On the scales at FIFTEEN pounds and FOUR or your finest imperial ounces, I couldn’t believe it. What a way to break the double figure barrier and what a way to smash my PB…. out of sight!. She was soon kicking off strongly and I was to say the least ‘Chuffed to Bits’ high fives and hugs with Spam (I think I shocked him) and I’m still buzzing as I write this.

I fished on for an hour as I phoned the missus and a few mukkas, Dil text me to say that a celebratory curry was on it's way and I slowly packed up to go and share my joy with one of my mukkers which is always such a pleasure to do.

15.04.... The fish I'd waited 20 years for

I got back to the car and felt it important that I choose the right tune to suit the momment….. Feeders ‘Just the Way I’m feeling’ blasted out in the back streets by the river as I got my muddy fishing gear off. Plenty of messages came through as the Jungle drums sounded, me?. I'm just chuffed to bits with a big smile on my face and "ten feet above the ground"! 

No comments:

Post a Comment