How long does it take you to get bored of Christmas when you're a kid? 'Never' is the answer.
A day out on the Lower Itchen Fishery is the coarse angling equivalent of Christmas day and this was my third annual trip to the fishery.
Our party of eleven arrived in dribs and drabs and by the time I'd pulled up Sash the organiser was already at it after roach in the mill pool.
Greetings taken care of I took up a position opposite him on the mill race and threatened to show him how it was done. I fed loose red maggots and followed them down with a 7xNo.4 dome-top stick float. Third run through and strike followed bite and the line was tight.
The fish didn't offer the writhing fight of a grayling nor the zig zag jig of a roach but held steady and deep in the turbulence. The verbal abuse from the other side was only just audible above the roar of the water. "What's he mucking about at?", "Swing it in then!".
Well I couldn't 'swing it in' as although this was no monster it was taking some shifting on light tackle. After a couple of minutes a small barbel rose to the surface and I scooped it into my net. Not only was this my first river Itchen Barbel but also my first ever on a float! Only a pound or two in weight but a good start to my day. What a place this is.
|River Itchen Barbel.|
After the barbel from the rapids I tried a few other likely spots as I shuffled upstream, had some bites and bite-offs but didn't put a fish on the bank.
The river changed character as I wound my way upstream. Deep pools and bends were replaced by shallow glides and gravel bottoms.
I'd had a few grayling up to a pound by now but then I was reacquainted with a dark depression. And what a beautiful depression it was! A croy placed in the middle of a long shallow straight forces water away from the near bank which in turn gouges out a depression in the river bed. With fast moving water above and below it the depression just screams fish. I've fished this spot on each preceding visit and it has never let me down.
|A fine depression if ever there was one.|
I put out a handful of maggots above it and they sped over the dark area of water, descending as they went. Immediately I could see a group grayling darting up from the river bed, plucking the maggots from mid water before disappearing again.
Fishing at full depth yielded a couple of small fish but it was apparent from what I could see there were some better specimens amongst the group.
I scaled down my hook length from 3.2lb to 2.6lb and replaced my size 14 hook with a size 18 Drennan super specialist. I removed all my dropper shot from the line so my bait would fall naturally and set the depth at about eighteen inches.
I could now swing out the float along with a handful of Lane's finest and all the grubs moved along as one group. This tactic was an instant hit with better grayling after grayling falling to my rod. If I put two maggots on the hook they would be left alone. If I ran the bait through without the free offerings it would be left alone, but if I baited with a single maggot and a dozen freebies I caught every time.
This proved valuable information for later on. The result of my temporary depression was a grayling of one pound four ounces.
|1lb 4oz grayling.|
A few conversations later and after a hurried lunch of six, yes six, sausage rolls and I was on the upper limit of the beat.
Faced with deep swift water and a short run I switched to a maggot feeder approach. I wanted to give this technique some room to breath and so got comfy in my chair as though I was staying a while.
Double maggot on the hook brought a number of small grayling and then things dried up. Remembering the behaviour of the bigger fish from the morning I scaled down to a smaller hook and single maggot.
It took a while for my next bite to arrive but it was worth the wait. A writhing tussle resulted in a new personal best grayling of one pound fifteen ounces.
I didn't mess about with fancy photography as I wanted to get the fish back into the water as son as possible. Thankfully, after a worrying few minutes with it lying belly up in the net it righted itself and kicked away.
|1lb 15oz grayling.|
I followed this up with a four pound one ounce chub, a troot, and a second best grayling of one pound fourteen ounces. Maggot feeder works then.
|A troot, aye. (geddit?)|
|A chub hooked on the blind side.|
|Second best Grayling.|
|1lb 14oz Grayling.|
The old enemy time was marching on and I could sense the end of the day just around the corner. Having achieved my grayling target and then some I decided to move back down river to finish off the day, hoping for either an even bigger grayling or better still a roach.
I persevered with the maggot feeder on a slow bend as it had already yielded my two best grayling ever, but the minnows were rife down this end and the light quiver tip vibrated continually.
A proper bite out of the blue saw me drawing a splashy silver fish in to the net. Closer inspection revealed a pristine dace lying in the folds. I'd long written off catching one these!
It weighed a very satisfying eleven ounces - a second personal best for the day - and buoyed my spirits and enthusiasm to new levels.
I left the fish in my net for ten minutes or so whilst I tried to contact Danny and Jeff in case they wanted to see it but as they were now on the mill pool section all I succeeded in doing was filling Danny's phone with missed calls and unanswered texts as he couldn't hear the ringing.
With the light fading I thought I'd stick my neck out and go for a hat-trick and so out came the bread feeder for roach. I had a few indications but couldn't connect with anything other than another chub.
Reflecting on this trip, I've concluded that what I like most about fishing the Itchen is the way it responds so quickly to effort and guile. You soon know when something isn't working and there are so many fish in the river they readily let you know when you're doing it right.
My efforts and concentration across the day were rewarded by two new personal bests. I loves the Itchen.
Here is the challenge scorecard today: