Our day on the Lower Itchen Fishery was booked for mid-October and so I once again immersed myself in the ritual of deep-dive internet research for prospects, strategy and tactics for the day.
The deeper I dug and the more information I consumed about this amazing river the more my ideas inevitably burst out of the constraints of a single days fishing. So, I used up the last of my holiday quota at work, made my reservations with a local B&B and found myself in Southampton a day and a half before the starting tape was raised on the Lower Itchen Fishery.
If you'd asked me a month ago about my targets for this trip I'd have stated a one pound grayling, but by the time I arrived in the south they'd ballooned to a two pound roach, an eight ounce dace and a one pound grayling.
The coarse fishing on the left bank of the river Itchen below Gaters Mill down to Woodmill lane is gratis courtesy of Southampton City Council and it was here I intended to spend my time prior to the main event.
Bitterne park was busy in the bright sunshine of a warm Sunday afternoon. A walk along the bank talking to as many local anglers as possible before collecting my gear from the car didn't succeed in dampening down my roaring optimism. "Dace!? Rare as rocking horse $£!^ round here nowadays!", said one. "Big roach!? You'll be lucky! It's a bit early for the bigun's mate", said another. etc. etc.
I set up on a bend in the river in the park and ran a stick float through with maggot on the hook. Now if I were a creational deity with a penchant for the 'pin I'd ensure one bend like this went onto every river along every mile of it's length.
The current pushed off from the near bank towards the far side pulling your float with it and then as the flow reached the apex of the bend the float skirted the far bank crease passing perfectly alongside the far side cover. Perhaps there is a god. I'll drop some Lanes gift vouchers onto the alter of the local church just to cover that base.
|A trotting swim designed by a higher power.|
It wasn't long before the float buried and I had a chub of about a pound in the net.
All the time salmon porpoised and often cart wheeled through the air above and below my position.
As the afternoon passed I caught two further chub, some small roach, a shed load of gudgeon and an increasingly frustrating number of minnows.
It felt right for a roach as the light started to fade so out went a small cage feeder containing liquidised bread and a pinch on the hook.
First put-in and a slight tremble was followed by the tip slamming round and me bringing in a broken hook length. Eh?! That wasn't in the plan. Could have been a game fish I suppose.
I stepped up to a 6lb bottom and this time squeezed my bread flake onto a mini-hair coming off the hook.
I'm never the most confident using small pieces of flake and this technique enabled me to give the bread a firm squash onto the hair without blinding the hook in a doughy mass.
A couple more casts and the tip slammed round again. Whatever was on the end was weighty and not at all happy with the meeting arrangements I was trying to put in place. It made powerful run after powerful run, trying to get under the trees on the far bank (forcing me to plunge my rod tip underwater) and then heading upstream at a zinging nip.
My money would have been on a salmon had it not been for the brains involved on the fishes part. Salmon rarely have the wherewithal to try and snag you deliberately. Nitro-charged aerial gymnastics are their weapon of choice for snapping a line.
When a carp broke the surface my outstanding questions were answered. I didn't weigh the fish but estimated it at between twelve and fourteen pounds.
I carried out the unhooking on the grass at the back of the swim and only rested it on the hard surface for a quick snap before returning. I know, a fish on a hard path is not a good look so apologies are due.
After dark the tip went round again and this time I was prepared for the powerful carpy fight which followed.
A lady walking her two spaniels which were both wearing flashing LED collars approached me and the inquisitive dogs went mental; barking at the fish in the water and jumping up and down with excitement at the fish being drawn slowly closer to them. They also found time to take it in turns scoffing my bucket of bread crumbs whilst I wasn't looking.
One of the dogs jumped off the bank into the shallow water and had to be sternly called back out. I might be anthropomorphising here but I'm sure the jumping dog was grinning as it flew through the air, ears-a-flapping.
The second carp was a fat one and I weighed it as the lady showed more than a passing interest, but nowhere near as much interest as the now ecstatic dogs. The fish weighed thirteen pounds eight ounces.
|13lb 8oz Itchen Carp.|
My final bite of the evening resulted in a totally straightened hook and so I retired to the pub for a last orders pint and then to the B&B for a couple more and then bed.
After a full English the next morning I was on the bank by eight o'clock a little further upstream than before. The wind had picked up something rotten meaning I very soon wound in my float and had the maggot feeder rod out.
My maggots were being chobbled by minnows every cast, coming back like granny's tights more often than not.
[I look forward to seeing the website hits from the keywords, 'granny's tights' - weirdos! 'Ryton dogging' still gets me about ten visitors a month believe it or not! They don't stick around long though.]
I persisted with maggots and had a chub, three pounds one ounce, and a small roach.
|3lbs 1oz chub.|
I then moved around a lot for very little gain during the remainder of the day, finally fishing a lovely pool below the old bridge for a few more roach, perch and minnows.
|Free fishing at its finest.|
I retired earlier on the second day as I knew from experience that the following day would be demanding both in terms of concentration and staying power.
I walked the bank at dusk chatting at length to other anglers - making sure they properly realised the quality of the fishing they had in front of them - and observing fish on gravel glides. The people I met were friendly and the river astounded a midlander like myself, but I'd nothing points-wise to show for my efforts so far, so a whole lot rested on tomorrow............