Chalking it down to experience

Having unexpectedly relocated back to the area I grew up in, one of the biggest challenges I had faced was finding places to fish! I’d moved to London some 15 years ago having given up fishing as a teenager. I didn’t really get back into fishing until I was in my early 30s, but I had built up a good knowledge of places to fish in London.  I didn’t know of many places in my old/new area or if the places I remembered were still worth fishing. After the breakup my relationship, I had plenty of time on my hands and I needed to get out of the house.  

I’d done a bit of googling and found a day ticket fishery that has got 4 lakes and a section of river. It was the river that caught my eye. I felt this was a good place to start as I knew there would other anglers there and probably a bailiff to talk to. Unfortunely my old local tackle shop had just gone out of business, so no joy there. 

I booked a swim on the lake that backed onto the river (booking was essential due to the pandemic). I fished the lake for a while with a waggler using corn and maggot and had some small carp and bream and a couple of reasonable roach.  I had to chat to the bailiff and was advised that there are some reasonable sections of the river on the ticket, so I changed my float to a stick and went for a wander. I trotted a few swims and had some minnows, not the chub, dace and roach that were assured to me by the bailiff. Soon it was time to call it day.

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As I walked my bike back along the river and out of the fishery gate I looked over into the river where it crashed over a small weir and just above the weir I saw 4 hand sized roach just hovering in the current. This looked promising! Unfortunately, I had packed my gear away and it was also getting dark, so I resolved to return the following weekend.  

That week I did some googling and discovered that this small river was a somewhat neglected chalk stream and the section I had seen the roach was controlled by a local club on one bank and was uncontrolled on the other bank being a council run park. What did interest me was the write up on the club website said the stretch was seldom fished, shallow and did not contain larges numbers of coarse fish – my gut told me that was probably wrong.  

Having discovered a few small rivers in East London I had developed something of passion for roving, and trotting a float, you get the satisfaction of covering a lot of water with the excitement of never knowing what lurks round the next bend. 

It had rained in the week and when I returned the river was less clear and faster flowering than the previous week, but it was by no means unfishable, the weather had also turned cold. With conditions less than ideal I thought I’d fish light and scale right down to see what I could nab, I’m an equal opportunities angler and will take a minnow over a blank any day. I used one of my home made porcupine quills, held with 2 float rubbers down to a size 18 hook, baited with a tiny bread flake for the 1st cast. 

On the 1st trot down the float whizzed off downstream getting jostled and bumped in the eddies this was shallower and faster than I had fished in a long while. Toward the end of the run in the slightly slacker water the float just dipped, the bait was gone when I retrieved. “Minnow” I thought. On the 2nd cast the float shot off again and at almost the same spot it shot under! I struck although it was a bit hap hazard as I had just been about to mend the line for the last few meters. The fish was on, and I could tell it was small. None the less it was going mental in the flow! Jumping and flipping out of the water! I swung it in, and I was delighted to have caught, my very 1st wild brown trout! An hour later I had 2 more small trout and 4in roach the latter coming on a single white maggot. It was time for a move. 

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I headed upstream away from the weir to where I had seemed some natural reed banks, I found a likely looking spot that probably has been flattened down by dogs entering and egressing the river. The bread and white maggot had built my confidence on the lighter coloured bait in the slightly murky water. A few casts trotting downstream under a tree yielded no results so I decided to cast up stream and bring the line in as the float approached to keep contact for the strike, 1st cast up stream yielded positive bite, and I struck, this fish felt bigger and fought against the current and flashes of sliver in the sun as broke the surface told me it probably wasn’t a trout. Using my 11ft match rod I guided it round the various patches of weed and rushes and netted it! It was a cracking roach, a real beauty. I seldom carry scales as I like to minimise my gear as much as possible however on this occasion, I probably should have weighed it.  

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It was time to move and as I wandered upstream the park gave way to a thickly wooded area, there was some bank access but it was a bit of a faff fighting through the brambles, when I got to the water the banks were much steeper and higher and the channel narrower and as a result faster. I managed to squeeze into a less overgrown spot and dropped my line at my feet baited with 2 white maggots the float took off at a blistering speed, dashing toward the bend, I managed to keep sight of it through the brambles and as it shot under I struck albeit not expecting much as I has assumed it had caught a snag and gone under. I was wrong! The drag on the reel screamed as what ever I’d hooked bombed off downstream, I thought it might have been a chub favouring the darker cover of the trees but as I managed to turn fish and start to bring back upstream the tell-tale wiggling and flipping gave it away as the dark spotty flank of the trout breached the surface. It wasn’t whopper by any means but on my light gear it was brilliant fun. The next challenge was netting it, every time my net touched the water (it was extended to the maximum 8ft) the current took it tried to rip it out of my hand… I can see why fly fisherman use those very shot nets for game fish. The trout didn’t like the look off the net and shot off again. After some cajoling and managing to get the net straight and open I guided the fish in and banked it. It’s still my biggest wild trout to date.  

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A few more roach and small trout were had that afternoon and it was soon time to return to my bike, and cycle home. I knew that I had found something special with chalk stream and was already plotting my next campaign. It just goes to show; don’t always assume the paid stretches of river are best and that the clubs know exactly what they look after. It’s always well worth fighting through the undergrowth to get to a less fished swim! This adventure and many other can be found on my YouTube just search “the budget angler”. 

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