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A Day On The Itchen

Our resident blogger has been out doing something slightly different to keep the bites coming in the cold!

I am by no means a fair weather carp angler but even I know when I am wasting my time and the recent cold snap has seen me looking for alternative ways to put a bend in my rod.

I decided to take my father in law for a days fishing on the Lower Itchen Fishery near Southampton and the intended quarry was to be anything that swims! Of course the Itchen is famous chalk stream famed for its winter coarse fishing, where even on the coldest of days, there are usually a few bites to be had.

Grayling and Chub were the target species but to be perfectly honest as I set off from home, the car was reading a chilly -2 degrees so I would be happy to catch anything at all. My father in law, Pete, lives in France and I had arranged to meet him at a local cafe where over a hearty fry up we planned the days fishing! Neither of us had fished the Itchen before and for me it was my first time using a centre pin reel so I wasn't expecting miracles and I did have a small fixed spool reel in case I ended in tangle after tangle. Pete had done a bit of trotting on rivers before so between the two of us, we hatched a plan.

Not sure I would be able to move after all that!!











Simple stick float tactics and maggots were the order of the day, I had spooled up with 4lb Drennan float fish line on the centre pin and I had some 4BB stick floats and a couple of heavier options should the flow be heavier than anticipated. 8 inch hooklinks of 2.5lb to a size 18 maggot hook and a bulk shot of 4BB were set 10 inched above the hook. I always like to have the bulk shot on the mainline rather than the hooklink as there is less chance of damaging the fragile hooklink. A single red maggot would complete the set up and hopefully the fish would oblige and appreciate the effort I had gone to!

Fry up consumed we set off and shortly arrived at the river, as we passed through the concrete archway and opened the padlocked gate that signals the start of the fishery, we were met by a beautiful sight. The river was frothing and steaming in the cold morning air and the sun shone through the steamy mist and it looked really rather nice. I was far too excited and as I pulled over to take a photo the river keeper came trundling past in his 4x4 and after a brief chat we had gleaned some nuggets of information that might just help us put a few fish on the bank. The first lesson of fishing a new venue, never discard local knowledge and advice!

The sluice pool at the beginning of the Lower Itchen Fishery.









We set off up the bumpy track and under the M27 bridge, driving through ice covered puddles and small craters, crunching along until we reached a nice parking spot off the track on a big bend in the river. We had been advised to start at the top of the beat and work our way down through the bends of the river, presenting our maggot hook baits as close to the bottom of the river as possible to begin with. We parked up and killed the engines, the silence only broken by the sound of the river babbling through the shallows, it truly was a beautiful place to be.

A more stunning setting I could not imagine








We tackled up and filled the bait pouches with maggots, grabbed a net each and off we went. Travelling super light meant we could cover as much of the river as possible. The ground was frozen and the sun had disappeared which made it feel considerably colder but we were well wrapped up and I had the stove and kettle in the car for a hot cuppa so we were pretty well prepared. We reached the limit of the coarse fishing beat and I crept out onto one of the wooden platforms that juts out into the river and flicked a pinch of maggots out into the river, they tumbled off downstream towards the wooden bridge that Pete was now stood on, there was a good 50 yards of river for me to explore from my position and I could see Pete had already made his first cast into the much faster and more turbulent water from his spot.

The car was just out of shot but the fish didn't seem to mind....









I grabbed the rod and nicked a single red maggot on the hook, I guessed the depth to be about 4 feet so slid the stick float up the line and prepared to make my first cast with a centre pin. Luckily my 14 foot Drennan Acolyte rod reached 3/4 of the way across the river so I simply laid my float on the water and watched as it set off downstream, line sliding from the silky smooth reel as it happily spun only being held back every now and then to allow the maggot to waft tantalisingly in the current. I retrieved the float from the end of the run, flicked out some more maggots and tried again.

After 3 trots through the swim I decided the set the float a little deeper and what a difference it made, the first run through with the float set at 5ft and it shot under! My excitement was short lived as the fish managed to relieve itself of my hook after about 5 seconds. I was warned that the grayling do have hard mouths and I that I should expect to lose a few, oh well! On the next run through the float disappeared from view and I struck, this time everything went to plan and a nice 8oz Grayling was safely in the net! I had another couple of tries in the pool I was in and managed another small grayling before something considerably larger decided to take an interest in my maggot. Instantly the fish felt bigger and I struggled to gain control in the boiling current. With a bit of gentle persuasion I soon had my prize safely encased in my net. Although not the intended species a nice 2lb brown trout was safely slipped back for someone else to enjoy, what a scrap on light tackle!

My first ever grayling on a centrepin!








I decided a change of scenery was in order and leap frogged Pete who had just lost a fish from the bridge pool! I walked down to an area known as 'the bends' and crept out onto another wooden platform and fed a pinch of maggots into the river. I was on the apex of the bend and the flow was being pushed under a fir tree on the far bank which looked like a great place to start, I was sure there would be some chub under the raft of debris created at the end of the swim by all the weed and branches washed downstream and catching on the over hanging branches.

The water was moving fairly quickly but looked to be fairly deep so I set up for a 5ft depth and tried my luck, my single red maggot set off downstream and by carefully holding the float back and retrieving line at the right moment I was able to steer the float (luckily) right under the fir tree and next to the raft of debris, the float carried on and just when I thought it was too far down the float shot under and a decent fish was on! I very carefully played the fish back up stream and into the shallower water, just as I thought I was winning I caught a glimpse of a 3lb chub squirming away under the surface with my red maggot hanging out the side of its mouth.

Out of nowhere a blooming great pike shot out from under the near bank and grabbed my chub! The rod doubled over and I was now attached to a 3lb chub and a pike that was almost certainly double figures. It was only seconds later when the float flew out the water like a missile launched from a submarine. The hooklink had parted and the pike had won that battle and with the swim now clearly ruined it was time to move on! Pete had joined me and we decided to fish the shallow faster flowing water just downstream, although I felt the fish would be in deeper water it was worth a go and we set up for a shallower faster swim. Pete dropped in first and I positioned myself just downstream, as I nicked on a maggot I heard a splash and Pete was into a fish on his first trot through! A Grayling of about a pound rolled into the net and I wasted no time in flicking my float out into the faster current.

Frozen beauty








The float set off and was carried along by the fast current, it had barely travelled more than 5 metres when the float lifted then sailed away! After a short battle a similar sized grayling was soon in the net, maybe the fish were not in the deeper water after all! We tried a few more areas of the faster water but to no avail and by now we had worked our way back to the car so we decided a well earned cuppa was the best plan. As I filled the kettle and lit the stove, I flicked a few maggots out into the river right next to where the car was parked, it was a deep glide of about 12 foot depth so I put the maggots in well upstream and set the float to 10ft! While the kettle was doing its thing I plopped my float in the river and it slowly set off but not travelling more than a few feet before flying under!


Trout were plentiful and they don't half scrap on light tackle....









Another grayling and this time slightly bigger at about a pound and a half, I had another run through the swim but nothing occurred and we sat and ate chocolate digestives washed down with a mug of tea. We decided to set off downstream and fish the straighter, deeper areas of the river and as we walked along the track our feet broke the ice forming in the puddles, the temperature had dropped noticeably barely getting above freezing all day but we were constantly moving up and down the river and hadn't really noticed.

We walked further and further, warming up as we went until we reached a likely looking area. First run through I had a decent trout, then a small grayling before it all went quiet. It was clear we could nick a fish or two before the swim went quiet so that is exactly what we did. Leap frogging each other down the river, catching a fish then moving on we ended up catching quite a few grayling and the odd trout.

With about an hour of fishing left we decided to head back up the beat towards the pool where the pike had taken my chub earlier! I really wanted a chub and this was where I was going to get one.

I set up as before and fed the swim while watching for any signs of chub. With nothing to go on I sent my float on its way and carefully tweaked the line until the float run directly under the fir tree and past the raft exactly as it did before. The float drifted on and on before finally sliding from view. I struck and the rod hooped over and I prayed it was a chub and not a trout! I let the fish tire itself in the faster water and I caught sight of my prize, it was indeed a chub! Now all I had to do was not lose it, give it too much stick so that the hook doesn't fall out and hope the pike didn't fancy another chub for its dinner! With some careful manoeuvring I had the chub beaten, I leaned down and scooped it up in the net, mission accomplished. I had wanted to catch grayling and we had caught stacks of them but the chub was a rare creature for me and I couldn't have been happier.

Finally got the big chub I was after!










I estimated the fish at about 3-4lb and slipped her back none the worse for her ordeal, the sun was now beginning to sink behind the clouds and it was time to get going. It was now really cold and Pete had time for last run through the river near where I parked the car, true to form the float dipped and Pete slipped back another grayling, a fitting way to end a fantastic day on the Lower Itchen.

We had caught about 30 grayling, 10 trout, a salmon of about 4lb and a chub similar in size not to mention a few small salmon par. It was a great day and relatively easy fishing and I would urge anyone to go and give it a try!