What a strange year 2020 has been! Who would have thought on the last day of the river season (March 14th) that a week later, we would be put in to a nationwide lockdown until the middle of May. As well as countless household chores, the lockdown gave me plenty of time I previously hadn’t had to clean and organise my fishing gear, as well as research new venues to try once the restrictions were lifted. I’m lucky that I live within walking distance of several rivers, and our exercise walks along them became the highlight of the day. Watching fish in their natural environment is almost as exciting as fishing for them, and towards the end of the lockdown, we witnessed a fantastic mayfly hatch, which the Trout and Chub absolutely loved!
During the time we were in lockdown, what my Dad and I both noticed was that my local rivers, which normally suffer from abstraction, had a much better flow than normal, despite a dry spring. I’m sure that was probably because water abstraction was less than normal due to businesses being shut. I think nature appreciated the break we gave it when we were in full lockdown, and even before the government loosened restrictions in England on May 13th, I realised how lucky we are to have a sport where we can social distance, whilst enjoying the great outdoors.
When we were allowed to fish again, Dad and I had a few walks around local lakes (as it was still the river closed season), and many were the busiest I’ve ever seen them. Although it was great to see so many people out fishing, we didn’t really fancy joining the crowds, so our first trip was about 10 days after the relaxing of rules. We visited a venue we hadn’t fished before - a large, deep gravel pit, that we’d joined for the 2020/21 season. It’s a fantastic lake with a lot of potential, and it was nice to not only have a change of scenery to fish in, but a change of scenery full stop after two months of no travel! Those first few casts actually felt weird, almost surreal. Fish would be a bonus on this recce trip, but we ended up landing four pike between us - our first fish from the new venue, and our first fish post lockdown.
As I’m still furloughed, I’ve had a bit more time on my hands to fish, and explore new venues. Dad and I have varied our fishing quite a bit since the restrictions were loosened, so what I’ve decided to do is instead of trying to fit everything in to one blog post, focus on freshwater fishing in this post.
I was absolutely buzzing to be afloat on the midlands reservoirs again. The Anglian reservoirs remained shut until early June, so we missed the first few weeks of the flyfishing for predators season, a time where I really enjoy fishing around weedbeds for Pike and Zander. Interestingly though, there was actually very little weed growth on Grafham, which is probably because the water levels had been so low from the summer of 2019 onwards, that the areas where you normally find weed had been dry land for months on end. On that first trip, we managed to find fish in between 11ft and 20ft of water, and in the last few hours of the day, boated 15 zander, each landing a fish over 80cm.
It had been an action packed day, and as you can imagine, Dad and I were keen to get back as soon as possible, and I managed to book a boat for four days later, which was on a Friday - the last one left! However, the weather forecast changed during the week, and it turned out to be too windy, so I called up and postponed our boat to the following Friday. It was a good idea I changed the day, not just because of the wind…
Whilst we’d been fishing on the previous trip, I started developing a pain in the left side of my jaw. It progressively got worse during the week, and I also began to get a sore throat and had difficulty swallowing. On the Thursday night, I started to get aches and pains all over my body, felt a little bit sick and was struggling to open my jaw, so I Googled jawlock and sore throat, and found the symptoms can be linked to the early stages of Tetanus, which is caused by bacteria entering your bloodstream through cuts or punctures. It takes anything between 4-21 days to develop, and I remembered I'd been spined by a zander quite badly on our first trip flyfishing the reservoirs, four days before my very first symptoms. I checked my innoculation sheet and realised I had been due a Tetanus jab back in February this year, 10 years after my last.
I decided to call 111, as the pain was getting worse, and the GP told me to go straight to A&E to get it checked out. Although there isn't a test to confirm diagnosis of Tetanus, I had other tests to rule out other things, and the hospital said it all pointed to the early stages of Tetanus. So, I was given a Tetanus jab, and put on antibiotics and painkillers for the next week. If you, like me, enjoy fishing for toothy or spiny fish, or get a cut somehow and have these symptoms, it might be worth checking to see if you're up to date with your Tetanus innoculations. If you're not immunised and let the symptoms develop, I was told it can sometimes get quite serious, even life threatening without treatment.
Five days later, it was June 16th. I still wasn’t feeling 100%, but was very keen to get out for a few hours on the first day of the season on my local rivers. We managed to get fishing by 6.30am, however, by about 10am I started feeling a bit rough, so decided to return home for a few hours rest, before heading out again later that afternoon. We caught a few chub, nothing massive, but I did manage to stalk a barbel on a creature bait!
Although it was nice to get the season off to a start with a Barbel, during those first few trips to areas that had been successful in the past, we spotted far fewer fish. At first we thought it could be something to do with Otter and Mink predation, but we soon heard rumours that a couple of stretches of our local rivers had been netted, which was terrible news. As I mentioned earlier, during the lockdown I spent a lot of time researching venues to try with the potential of producing some great fishing, and now was the time to venture further afield and try them.
So far this season, I’ve really enjoyed exploring new venues. We’ve actually fished 10 different rivers now since June 16th, and six of those we hadn’t fished before. It’s been a case of trial and error, with some places fishing better or having more potential than others, but I’ve certainly been learning a lot. We’ve caught some nice chub on a variety of different hardbaits, with lures such as the Salmo Lil’ Bug, Hornet and Minnow, that have worked well over previous seasons, being very successful.
Earlier this year, Salmo introduced the Rattlin' Hornet Shallow to their range. As soon as I first saw them back in February, I knew they were going to be a favourite of ours for summer chub. They're perfect for when the chub are a bit wary about taking a surface lure, as they dive to a maximum depth of around 2ft, although if you keep the rod tip up and slow down your retrieve, you can fish them just under the surface. Not only have they proved a winner for chub, but perch seem to like them too!
This year though, I’ve been using more and more sinking crank baits. Where I’ve found them particularly useful is when I can’t drift a floating crankbait downstream under overhanging trees and bushes, because foliage is hanging in the water. Selecting a sinking model will allow the lure to drift down with the current, underneath the foliage, reeds or undercut banks, reaching fish hiding away.
As we’ve had a very warm summer, our main target species has been chub, but whilst exploring these new venues we’ve come across a few surprises too. One of those was on a tiny, little known chalk stream, famed in the past for its roach fishing, but we thought it had potential to hold some nice chub. We only spotted a couple of chublets, but it had an incredible head of Trout, catching quite a few between us and spotting many more.
Talking of roach, whilst fishing another river, we spotted a nice fish of around 1lb 12oz, and Dad decided to try for it with the tiny sinking crankbait he had clipped on. He let the lure drift downstream, and as he was retrieving, he gave it a twitch, and one of the smaller roach in amongst the bigger fish nailed it!
Another river we’ve fished also seems to hold some nice perch, and I managed to catch my biggest of the season so far, that beat the chub it was with to a Micro Grub!
Whilst we've been concentrating on the chub, you can't help catching pike, and we've caught a good number this season so far. It's been a constant reminder why it's best to use a light trace, even when targeting chub.
As the water temperatures cool down, I’ll probably be spending less time on the rivers and concentrating on reservoir predators, as many of them open up for lure fishing soon. I’m also hoping to continue fishing for bass, which I’ve really enjoyed this year - but I’ll talk about that in my next blog post!