Trotting our way into Spring

As we reach the last few days of the season there is no better time to be out with your fishing rods, trotting the odd red maggot into an unwary shoal of Grayling or Roach. As winter slips into spring the rivers become slightly warmer and the days that little bit longer which provokes a strong feeding urge in most of our fish species. There is no better time of the year to target roach especially as they are fighting fit in readiness for their spawning activities in a month or so’s time.

I have been fortunate to fish a couple of exclusive sections of two of the Southern Chalk rivers, the Test and the Wylye but returned for a very pleasant trip on a small river much closer to home, the Lugg. Each river is very different from the rest and my approach had to reflect those changes in the methods used, here is how I went about it.

The Test was my first port of call, its a trip I make most years and I know that the fishing will be relatively easy but you still get more out of it the harder you work. I used a 13′ float rod with a very soft tip as I was predominantly fishing for the grayling that swim there in large numbers and they have an uncanny knack of shedding hooks due to their twisting action during the fight. My ‘secret weapon’ when grayling fishing is the Guru QM1 hook, its circular design helps to secure a firm hook-hold and I find that more fish are landed as a result. They are barbless and easy to remove from landed fish indeed often the hook falls out in the net. I tied a size 16 or 14 to a 4lb hooklink attached to 6lb mainline which may sound strong but, it was low visibility fluorocarbon and, as the river is very fast, the fish have little time to decide whether to take the bait or ignore it, so there is no point in going ultra fine. The other factor in choosing line strength was the presence of numerous large brown trout which ignore the fact that they are out of season and gorge on the bait, fish up to 15lbs have been landed and their toothy mouths and powerful fight makes short work of light tackle.

Although the river was only 3 to 4 feet deep I put most of the bulk shot about 15′ from the hook with a no4 dropper 10” below that to get the bait to run deep and I was immediately into a shoal of grayling taking several over a pound in the first hour.

Fishing with my mate Tony, we leapfrogged down the fishery trying several glorious runs and pools catching more grayling, numerous trout to about 4lbs (I lost one much bigger!) and a few roach albeit mine only went to 12oz whereas Tony had one knocking the door of 2lbs and another almost as big. We both scored best with red maggot as bait whereas on some days its sweetcorn that sorts out the better fish. I did find that sweetcorn attracted the attentions of too many trout so I baited with corn to keep them chasing the yellow grains whilst I trotted maggots beneath, it seemed to work well on the day and it shows that experimenting with bait is always worthwhile.

The next day saw us fishing a tiny tributary of the Wylye where you could almost touch the opposite bank with the rod tip. A smaller float shotted ‘shirt button’ style was called for. This means  spreading the shot evenly spaced down the line (like shirt buttins) which allows the bait to drop slowly through the shallow water and also enables the angler to hold back and get the bait to rise up off the bottom so, by holding back, you can get your gear to negotiate depth changes and weedbeds along the run. Also, holding back and letting the bait rise is an enticing movement often irresistible to fish.

For such a small river the fish stocks are astounding and we caught countless grayling from a number of different features, my best, which must have been very close if not over the magic two pound mark, came from a slightly deeper bend where I had bites from just one small area beneath an overhanging branch.

The last swim we stopped at was in the main river and is renowned for it’s abundance of grayling and Tony had the privilege of fishing it. He had switched to his old split cane float rod and had countless grayling testing its soft action. I borrowed it and had a few myself, it reminded me of the rods I used as a kid but I was also struck by the forgiving nature of the cane and how it absorbed every lunge of the grayling, the old rod and the new hooks meant that every fish hooked was landed in that pool and that, for those of you that grayling fish, is food for thought.

Back on home soil I was after chub on a narrow, overgrown river, time for a tackle change. I have a Drennan float rod designed for carp fishing, it is however, perfect for chub and barbel and can be used as an 11 or 13 footer. I opted for the 11′ version and set about trotting any likely looking swim. I was using a 3 AAA balsa and can float which was shotted fairly well down with a single no4 shot between the bulk and the hook as the current was quite fast and I wanted to get my bait down quickly. I had a 5lb hooklength and was again using the wonderful Guru QM1 in a size 16.

I had my first bite by slowing the float right down and letting the bait waft up a little off the bottom at the end of the swim, a 2lb chub couldn’t resist the two red maggots and it fought hard in the tight swim seeking sanctuary amongst the overhanging branches of a willow tree. I have always found that balanced tackle will stand a lot of pressure and have landed much bigger chub on much lighter gear albeit in far less snaggy waters but, as long as you move smoothly and let the rod absorb the lunges, you can steer hard fighting fish with relative ease. This point was proved with the biggest fish of the day, a chub not far short of 4lbs that got stuck around a branch but, by walking down to point opposite it, my constant pressure slowly brought it back into the current and eventually to the waiting net.

In these days of our obsession with bigger fish the humble float gear seems to be ignored by many anglers which is a pity, it really is a great way to learn about the contours of the river and the art of presenting a bait on the float will bring guaranteed pleasure. The other benefit of trying it nowadays is that so few are actually doing it, its a method that is unknown to many of the fish. Go back a few years and everybody float fished to a point where it was often necessary to go ultra-fine to entice the wisest fish but nowadays they are as green as grass so you can get away with quite robust gear on many rivers so it is still a viable method for chub and barbel but with the possibility of having some wonderful sport out coarse fishing. Give it a go.