Spring 2021 has been a season of fascinating rediscovery of my local fishy riches.
As predominantly a river angler, but also a scientist working on water systems globally and particularly over recent years in Asia, I have generally saved up my long research trips for the weeks after the Ides of March. At that time, the river season has just ended and I have enjoyed my birthday with my family on the Ides. Also, helpfully from a scientific point of view, India is in the drier part of its year leading up to the monsoon.
In spring 2021, for obvious reasons, I have been homebound. But I have been enjoying it so much that is it getting me thinking about how I’d like to spend my remaining springs.
One major surprise, resulting from being in and around home with opportunities to fish, has been that I never thought I’d fall in love with a canal! To me, canals were previously not only not particularly local but were also not particularly interesting as, to my eyes, they do not flow and lacked features. But, this spring, those two assumptions were blown out of the water, so to speak, as I learned how fish respond to the subtlest of water movements such as the distant opening of lock sluices or wind fetch as well as the passage of boats. I also realised that features were not always obvious, but were certainly there to be found.Aside from the roach, common bream, tench, rudd and occasional eel, reacquainting myself with ruffe was a real joy! Amazingly, I have already published four books in the first half of 2021, and the title of one of them – Ruffe: The Spiky Little Freshwater Ruffian (which you can find on Facebook @Drredfinrods) – says is all about this feisty and most characterful of tiddlers.
But the fish that has most captured my heart this spring has been the silver bream. I have knowingly caught silver bream on and off since at least the 1970s, in Kent, Sussex, from the Thames and assorted other places. But, this spring, I have enjoyed them particularly on the Kennet and Avon Canal, catching them on so many different baits and tactics. I have had them on bread, worm, maggots and corn, and on the lift method, bomb, feeder and on the pole. The fact that this has included successive personal bests – currently 1lb 4½oz – is not really the point. What I have enjoyed most is re-familiarising myself with how really very handsome these much-neglected fishes are. Those pectoral and ventral fins are a rich amber, particularly at their bases, and the flanks are brilliantly silvery; in fact, that you only really appreciate how silver they are when you see how bleached the photos are when you have held the fish for a ‘specimen shot’!
And silver bream are tragically overlooked despite their attractive and sporting qualities. A few very experienced anglers that I know have confided with me that they had not even heard of a silver bream until I started posting photos of them. More than a few have also admitted quietly that they could not identify one with any confidence, and probably would have dismissed them as ‘skimmer bream’ or roach-bream hybrids. Yet the silver bream is relatively widespread, and the British rod-caught record weight is more or less the same weight as that of the much-loved (not least by me) roach.
It is time for a renaissance in our appreciation of what must be Britain’s most neglected freshwater fish. The handsome silver bream is a native species deserving greater attention and respect; fun to catch in most seasons and on a range of baits and methods. I hope you too can fall in love this this fish, finding a place in your heart for it and raising its profile as a worthy quarry for all to enjoy!