Don’t Judge A Brook By It’s Cover
Chris Yates learns that big fish can lurk in the
most unexpected places
After a few seasons watching the habits of freshwater
fish, it becomes less of a puzzle guessing where a particular species might
lie on a given day.
If I’m looking for perch, for instance, and the river is running high, I
will fish the quiet, deep pools on the inside of bends or below sunken
When the river is low and clear and I am hoping for a chub, I’ll look for a
steady, streamy run between reed or weed beds, where small groups of these
black-tailed fish are often visible, holding station, just under the
Big, powerful barbel prefer strong, deepish runs, especially if there is a
roof over their heads in the form of an overhanging willow.
Like roach, dace and bream, these are shoal fish, which makes them easier to
locate than the more solitary trout and pike; but whatever species I’m
after, if I start hankering after a monster, I have to remind myself that
monsters move in mysterious ways. Furthermore, they often inhabit places
where even the most experienced angler would never think to look.
I had my eyes opened when I went for a walk along a tiny tributary of the
River Loddon – which is a small stream, anyway – looking for wild brown
My companion, Edward Barder, who had been exploring the water over the
previous few years, pointed out a little scoop in a very ordinary stretch of
shallows where, not long previously, he had seen a fish that looked, in that
bath-sized pool, like a salmon.
Apart from the overhanging trees, which gave a bit of cover, I would never
have imagined it as a likely spot for a big fish. Yet the “salmon” proved to
be a tremendous trout. On a mayfly of his own tying, Edward hooked it. After
a spectacular battle, he landed it: a wild fish of 5lb 4oz, the sort of
creature that most fly-fishers can only dream about.
On the day we were hunting for big fish, we didn’t see anything monstrous,
but I watched Edward stalk a canny three-pounder, which looked enormous in a
bottleneck of a glide beneath an old footbridge.
The bridge seemed superfluous, as I could almost have stepped across to the
far bank, but the fish obviously appreciated it and would not venture out of
its shadow, even when a fat, juicy mayfly floated the merest tail flick away
in the sunlight. Edward had to cast his artificial fly from below, trying to
get it through the bridge so that it landed lightly on the surface before
drifting back downstream.
This may sound straight-forward; but the wooden crossbeam was only about two
feet above the water and he was up to his armpits in reeds, 30 feet along
the bank. It was amazing that he managed it several times – and at each
attempt the trout ignored him. Edward gave up in the end and we went on
upstream until we came to a little hollow of a pool below a leaning willow.
Nothing was visible when we crept up to it, but Edward spotted something
beneath the surface just upstream of the tree. It was another good fish,
which swayed in the current, showing its neb (its nose) every time it rose
to take a mayfly.
Generous as ever, Edward said it was my turn for a cast, even though he had
seen the trout first. I crawled through the long grass, but could not get
too close because the fish was in a little open glide between reeds, and if
I could see him, he could see me.
I was using my featherweight cane seven-footer, which has a lovely action,
even if I don’t. As I extended the line, I realised this was a tricky cast –
not as tricky as Edward’s under-the-bridge effort, but tricky enough for
someone who fishes the fly for only a few days each year.
My first attempt sent my fly into the reeds; the next put it into the
trailing bough of an alder, upstream of the fish. Finally I got the thing to
land almost perfectly. It floated down over the quivering greyish shape in
midstream – which didn’t rise for it. I was wondering whether I could ever
repeat such a good throw, when the fish turned and snatched the fly just
before it swept under the willow. The line tightened. I’d got him!
The rod went into a sharp curve as my trout dived, circled and buried itself
beneath the leaning tree. I presumed the game was over as soon as it had
begun, but steady pressure gradually brought a response and, to my relief,
the fish came free, dropping down into the deep pool next to us.
I was convinced it was going to launch itself into the dense reeds
downstream, but as it circled the pool, Edward said I should keep the
pressure as steady as possible while he waited with the net. After a minute
or two, as the trout made a slightly slower pass, close to the surface, my
gillie leaned forward and scooped him expertly out.
It was a lovely golden 2lb wildie, with just a few speckles and a broad
square tail. He went back in the stream to grow into a five-pounder.