It was Sunday 1st December; a few of the members of TFF were meeting up at the Mansbridge stretch of the Itchen near Southampton. I pulled into the White Swan car park at around 8:30 and met the others who were already tackling up for a day’s trotting in the hope of connecting with one of the river’s monster chub or roach. After the usual pleasantries were done the anglers moodled off to find some water to explore.
I fished just downstream of the pub with Martin H to my left and Chubman (Geoff) to my right. After a dozen or so trots through and no takers I was resigned to firing up the Kelly Kettle, just to warm things up a touch. Martin, Geoff and Dave gathered around and whilst I poured the tea out came the cakes and flapjacks. We nattered over tea and discovered that the river had been fishing well for the last hour of the day but that the rest of it was kind of slow.
After another dozen trots with bread flake I switched to a smaller hook and maggot, just to see if I could connect with one of the river’s mini species, but still my float refused to go under. Martin moved off upstream in search of action whilst Dave a couple of swims down managed two sea trout and a 2lb chub. News came of Bumble’s chub also and Martin hooked and after a long battle on light gear scooped up what was either a salmon or a sea trout of around 7lbs. It was an impressive specimen.
Once more I lit the Kelly Kettle and even more cake found itself being sliced and dished out, Bumbles was particularly good. After tea it was almost lunchtime and after speaking with my pal Johnny who was fishing further upstream and was enjoying as much success as me, we decided to leave the river and go in search of some fish somewhere closer to home. We had two ideas; mine was the first pool at Carron Row, full of small fish including roach, rudd and perch with the chance of tench and carp it seemed an obvious choice on such an unproductive day. The second was the river Wallington at Cheeseman’s Bridge. As it was on the way back we opted for Carron Row and said farewell to the others as we left for the motorway.
At Carron Row we found, much to our surprise, a lack of other anglers and took no time settling into the platform swims just along from the dam. With the depths plumbed and a sprinkling of maggots scattered around the margin we began fishing happy that it was quiet and that we had the prospect of a smashing afternoon’s angling ahead of us. After half an hour spent trying the margins and further out we looked at each other and realised that the fish were just as hungry as the ones on the Itchen.
We fished on a little longer and after a quick visit to Steve who was fishing the second pool I called my parents who told me they were just dishing up their Sunday roast and that there was one for me if I wanted it. I got back to John and told him of my predicament and that I was in two minds whether to stay or to head off home and call it a day. It was a lovely winter’s day and spending it waterside was wonderful, but after a dead slow morning I was longing to catch a fish, just one fish would have done.
Finally at just before 2pm I asked John if he fancied fishing the last two hours of the day at Cheeseman’s Bridge. A very brief discussion broke out after which we loaded the cars once more and headed for the Wally. It wasn’t much of a journey and we were pulling up just past the bridge within 10 minutes. We unloaded the car, walked to the bridge and peered over the edge. John told me that the water was well down from the last time he was there but that we should still find a fish or two to angle for.
At first I wasn’t convinced…
The swim looked tight, only enough room for one, so we decided to both fish there but take turns casting. Once in position we realised that if we stuck to our sides we could more than easily fish it together and soon enough we were swinging our floats as close to the far bank as we could avoiding the low lying branches that were reaching out over the river opposite us. It was quite a moment after the day we’d had and almost going home when the float dipped for the first time. The fish was only small, but it was still a monster.
I know, that doesn’t make any sense at all, but what I swung to hand was the largest minnow I’ve ever seen. It was bigger than my finger, a veritable giant. John, at first, couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, but he soon realised by the silly smile stretched across my face that I was ecstatic; not only at catching a fish, but at the fact it was such a great specimen. I took a few photos of the superb little fish along with john taking a nice snap of me from up on the bridge.
From this shot you can see the minnow is longer than my hand is wide…
From this shot you can see the silly grin I had…
Once the fish was returned we got back to fishing. Minnows came thick and fast, not as large as the first one, but lovely fish nonetheless. Then happened upon a roach, only a very small one, but it seemed the better fish were further over close to the far bank. More minnows were forthcoming with both John and I trying to get ever closer to that far bank without getting caught in the branches. I was using one of my favourite little George Lockhart quills so didn’t much fancy losing it, but still I tempted fate with every cast.
The next species on the list was a dace. Again, it wasn’t going to break any records, but it was something to get excited over when the day had started so slowly. It was reminiscent to a little highly polished jig and brightened up the afternoon nicely. With tiny scales shimmering I held it in the water a while and loosened my grip as I wanted to swim off.
A sparkly dace…
It was John’s turn to get amongst a few fish, roach and dace came his way along with more minnows, and then unfortunately he lost what we first thought could have been a perch. It was perch we were hoping to catch at Carron Row so to catch one here from this tiny pool would have been the icing on the cake. The next time my float dipped I hooked something that fought all together differently, obviously a better fish and as I drew it towards me I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was a huge gudgeon!
After jumping around a bit I measured the fish at 7 inches and weighed it at just under 2oz, so that made two PBs in one afternoon, talk about red Letter Day!! It was such a marvellous fish with its pearlescent scales tinged with silvers, blues and browns and little black spots dotted randomly. It was wider than any gudgeon I’d caught before and was yet another highlight to an already splendid afternoon.
Quite soon after commencing the angling to branches opposite claimed their prize in the shape of my lovely crow quill float. The three times previously I’d managed to pull it out successfully, but this time the line broke and all I could do was watch my pride and joy swinging in the breeze. I climbed up onto the bridge and had a look from various angles, but it looked to be a lost cause. I returned to the swim and set up my tackle again using the cheapest plastic float I could find in my box.
We were having so much fun we totally forgot that it was afternoon in winter and realised suddenly when it got difficult to see floats and attach maggots to our hooks, but that’s when things really started to come alive. The minnows stopped feeding and the roach and gudgeon started to become more frequent. I hooked what I though was a good roach but when I swung it in a gorgeous bar of silver nestled gently into my wet hand and shimmered beautifully.
John had a brainwave; to see if I could make it behind the tree opposite, grab the branch that had my float and see if I could retrieve it that way. Off I went across the bridge and down the other bank and returned minutes later with a massive smile and my float back. John thought it odd that in the fading light I decided to re-tackle up with the float I’d just got back, but it felt the right thing to do, the plastic one just wasn’t doing it for me. I think I was rewarded too as the next trot produced a glorious roach, the largest I caught that afternoon and one I’d be happy with from anywhere, especially such a small stream pool.
John packed in for the day, it was too dark to see and he’d had more than his fair share of the spoils. I, however, was fishing with slightly more float tip exposed and could still see what was going on. I though the float dipped, I was sure of it and when I could see it no longer I struck and felt delightful resistance. We both strained our eyes hoping for a glance of something with stripes and neither of us could believe it when an extraordinary little perch came splashing its way towards us.
It didn’t end there either, I managed to squeeze one last cast out of the dying light and was very pleased to find myself swinging in yet another spiny little wonder. We ended proceedings on a high, both agreeing that what we’d just had was quite possibly the best fishing either of us had had for a long while, and certainly the most fun. We caught minnows, roach, dace, trout, perch and gudgeon, when we very nearly called it a day before the fun even started. Just shows that a little perseverance can turn things on their head quite easily.