As the season drew to a close I thought I’d wet a line in my local stretch of the Upper Stour. This was long overdue. I’d been fishing locally to comply with Covid guidelines but not as local as I could’ve been-this river is no more than a five minute walk away. Why I don’t know. Every time I fished it in the past, exclusively link-legering for chub with breadflake, I’d caught fish. I suppose it’s a case of the grass is always greener, or just sheer complacency. On one memorable occasion when I was overseeing the fishing badge for a couple of scouts, the youngest and smallest of these two would-be specimen hunters caught a chub of 4lb, it looked like a mahseer against his tiny frame! Between them they had five fish, four chub and a roach. A female scout leader chaperoning the session, who previously had no interest whatsoever in fish or fishing, on witnessing all the action insisted that she had a go, and proceeded to haul out a half-decent chub herself! So it’s a river with a healthy population of silvers, and if local legend is anything to go by, some fair old perch too.
I was told this by my mate Jim, a local resident since boyhood, who had witnessed the capture of monster stripey’s in his youth. Jim’s now in his sixties so memories and recollections maybe somewhat dimmed and mythical perch somewhat dead but one summer’s night in 2018, while walking home after a lively night in our local, Jim had the opportunity to check the perch population out for me first hand when he missed the footbridge across the river entirely and fell in. Thankfully, Jim survived his dunking but I’m none the wiser as to the perch.
So anyway, off I went with my new Shakespeare 10ft trotting rod, (great for small rivers), a pint of mixed and my dog Indy. It was a bright day with a brisk easterly wind but the river itself had some colour and a bit of pace so I was hopeful.
The swims in general are overhung with vegetation so not ideal for a roving float angler, specially a crack-handed one, so I struggled a bit to achieve that rhythm so important when feeding and trotting a peg. Indy didn’t help when he decided to take his morning bathe in the margins, and then continue his ablutions nearby which resulted in me downing rod and rummaging around with a poo-bag for five minutes.
Despite the distractions the fish soon obliged. I had eight in total, mainly chunky, fin-perfect dace with a nice roach thrown in for good measure. This was all in the space of an hour or so. I’d have stayed longer but the easterly was biting deep and my teeth were beginning to chatter.
Back at home in the warm and sipping tea, I vowed to make the most of this fabulous little river right on my doorstep. So next season I’m planning a campaign. Fish my local stretch of the Upper Stour between the weir and the road bridge as often as is practical over an entire river season, using a range of methods, and keep a record of fish caught, weather and river conditions and anything that springs to mind, just to find out what’s in there. I’ll let you know how I get on.
A few days prior to this local river session I’d managed an afternoon on the majestic middle reaches of the Stour. I’d piked fished this stretch throughout the winter and had good sport so I decided to have a crack at the silvers because there had to be a reason the pike were so abundant! I’d also witnessed an incredible number of roach and dace flitting around in the weed when I hired a canoe and had a fish-spotting expedition in the summer. There were some big old lumps amongst them too, roach to well over a pound, and I came across a dead perch that must have been getting on for 2lbs floating in the reeds. A sad sight but indicative of the river’s potential.
The day itself was far from perfect, with the wind in the east, (the fish bite least, so they say), and the pressure rising steadily. It was technically spring but winter had yet to do one, and the sepia-wash landscape was still firmly in its grasp. As I settled in my swim, the eye-popping orange and yellow of a pair of passing kayaks, paddled by two heavily bearded arctic explorer types, left an after-image of bright colour on my retinas, a stark contrast to the iron-grey of the river.
I’d opted to fish from a small island that’s accessible via a combi-lock gate. It’s an unusual spot because it’s moated on one side by a shallow, weedy back-channel that is in fact the original course of the river. The straightened section I was fishing was man-made in the 60’s for flood alleviation. As a result depths are around 4-5m, maybe 2m deeper than the majority of the river locally.
Despite the potential of this extra depth covering the backs of the colossal roach and bream shoals I was expecting to empty the river of, my quiver tip didn’t quiver, it barely even twitched. Too cold at depth I suspected. I gave it two hours to no avail so a move was in order. The shallower, warmer water where the old course of the river gradually melts into the deeper section was looking tempting. First chuck produced a glistening roach of about 6 oz, second chuck another chunky red-fin, then another-I was having fun. Then Pete the pike turned up. He scattered my shoal, as well as my dreams, to the four winds. They flashed and skittered for their lives and that was that. The Stour is well known for pike and I’d enjoyed catching one or two during the winter so I couldn’t really complain, although I did swear a bit I have to confess. While I was lamenting the demise of my sport, I noticed a man staring at me from the footpath on the opposite bank. He was elderly with a shock of white hair, like the “Doc” in Back To The Future. I gave him a cheery wave and shouted a hearty ‘alright!’, but all he did was stand stock-still and stare. He carried on this strange behaviour for at least five minutes, and frankly, he was beginning to make me feel uneasy and I was glad of the river between me and him. Thankfully, he was disturbed by three young blokes, smoking ghanja and chuckling as they plotted a meandering course along the path. He wandered off slowly and eventually disappeared out of site. It was a weird experience.
Despite a few more casts it was obvious that the roach were watching their backs or had buggered off all together. I wish I’d brought my lure rod, I could have had a pop at Pete. But all was not lost, because I had worms, big juicy ones. So rather than trudge home defeated, I slung on a single hook trace, hung it with four fat lobs and twitched them along the reed-line right under my feet. It was instant. Pete obviously loved worms as much as he loved roach. He provided good sport on light tackle, and I had to dissuade him from diving for the many snags a couple of times before he was on the bank. Pete was no monster, maybe five or six pounds, but I’d had my revenge, although Pete got the last laugh.
While I was unhooking him he suddenly twisted and lacerated one of my fingers. The cut turned the water red as I slipped him back. As I was attempting to staunch the flow with a festering handkerchief, the East Anglian Air Ambulance landed in a field opposite! Now apart from marvelling at the truly remarkable response time of Suffolk’s Ambulance Service, I wondered if, after the overthrow of Pete the pike, another cast for the roach was in order. Well, it turned out it was. I had three more within twenty minutes before it turned off. Maybe Pete had regained his composure.