In Session with Duncan – Tuesday 3rd December 2013.
Venue – River Test, Testwood Pool.
When one of my regular customers called asking if I would be interested in joining him for an all expenses paid day on the legendary Testwood Pool on the lower section of the river Test in Hampshire, well I didn’t have to think for long, a split second in fact.
I instantly knew where he was referring to as just a week earlier had watched Matt Hayes fish the venue during one of his new Rod Race series. It was a bitterly cold day when Matt fished it, yet after dark he managed a couple of big roach ledgering in the main pool in front of the river keeper’s house. I was even fortunate to have a good chat with Martin Salter at the Sandown Carp Societies show just days prior to my outing. In fact Martin pinpointed three swims worth trying, two of which turned out to be right on the money.
Having fished different beats of the river Itchen over the past decade and having learnt the art of using a centrepin I really wanted to use the float as much as possible. In fact I can honestly say that I’ve been missing using a float of any description over the past couple of seasons so with an ideal opportunity had packed a 15ft and 13ft float rod as well as loading the pin with new 3.6lb line and organising an array of floats and terminal tackle to cover every eventuality. The tip rod was also packed just in case the currents proved too demanding as well as prolonging the session with a few hours after dark ledgering. Wanting to protect the salmon parr maggots are banned so it was to be a bread and corn approach.
As can be expected I didn’t sleep well and was lying in bed waiting for the alarm to sound at 5am! Alan was picking me up at 6am and when he arrived I was ready and waiting. The journey down went smoothly, apart from pinpointing the entrance to the fishery, yet we had allowed plenty of time and with the gates opening at 8am also found time to grab a coffee.
The river keeper arrived bang on time and after a quick excursion of the pool and facilities we were eagerly threading line through eyes. Neither of us had much experience of fishing tidal stretches of river and both agreed that the prime roach feeding time would probably be high tide, yet even though it was low tide on arrival were still eager to get fishing. Knowing that directly in front of the house was a good area for roach Alan agreed to start here with me heading to the opposite bank as there was a long steady trot to the bridge, one that Martin had mentioned that to me screamed fish. By the time I settled down Alan was into his first trout, one of many that would come his way throughout the day.
With the run in front of me steady I didn’t see the point of using a massive float so opted for a 6 x 4 stick with five number fours and two number six shot spaced out evenly in a shirt button style. With dace and roach on my mind I didn’t go for a hook that was too big either or one with a heavy gauge so settled for a pattern that has served me well in the past when grayling fishing, a size 14 Kamasan B525. A quick check of the depth with a large plummet showed around three and a half foot and I soon had a small handful of liquidised bread slowly dropping through the swim followed by my float and a small pinch of bread flake. Around three quarters of the way down the run, probably thirty five yards the float disappeared and pressing my thumb against the drum of the pin at the same time as making a short sharp strike saw the rod bend over. The fish didn’t feel that big, yet knowing that it could well be a personal best dace took things ever so steady and when the fish surfaced my heart missed a beat, however as it slid into the waiting net, what I first thought was a massive dace turned into a small chub. The next five trots down saw two slightly bigger chub landed, both bites coming from the same spot. Alan was making lots of splashing in the pool as trout after trout found his bait and soon realised that this position was going to be, what’s known as playing the numbers game, catch as many fish as possible and hopefully a big roach might turn up. I was in my element and was soon in the swing of feeding, dropping the float in this and watching the float head downstream. The swim was doing just enough to stop me moving, every now and again a bite would come and soon I was once again playing another small chub, or so I thought as when it graced my net I once again missed a heart beat as this time it was a big dace, a definite personal best. Alan popped round to take a few pictures and as he walked away I punched the air as dace have been on my mind for a few years, yet catching a big one had eluded me, not anymore. Knowing that dace are shoal fish I was expecting more yet it wasn’t to be, a loner for sure.
Looking downstream and watching the tide come in, then the pool start to back up and the flow almost stopping and going the opposite direction is a strange feeling, yet with high tide almost upon us I was sure that a roach would show. A few trout and small grayling had showed yet the next fish felt altogether different and by the sheer weight l knew it couldn’t be a roach and sure enough it wasn’t but a modest bream.
The effects of a couple of days on decaf coffee as well as concentrating on the float was having its effect so I decided to pop round to the fishing hut, make a proper coffee, chat with Alan then resume fishing. My shoulders, wrist and upper back were also beginning to ache yet I wasn’t going to stop float fishing and headed back just in time as I wasn’t expecting the tide to cover the grassy river bank and found most of my tackle in a few inches of water. This unexpected swim situation made me move upstream, to the second swim Martin had mentioned. He even remarked that if a cast three rod lengths out was made it was possible to guide the float out across the river and into the pool and he was right, yet this meant holding the rod high and keeping the line of the near bank torrent, more aggravation on the shoulders. With the float dragging under on the first few cast I kept taking a few inches of the depth and for some reason swapped the bait to corn. Obviously the fishing god was watching as the float disappeared and I found myself connected to a good fish, yet it was difficult to say what in the current. Gradually teasing the fish in I was able to manoeuvre it into the eddy to my left and it was then that a massive roach showed itself and I went into one of those jelly leg moments. A few anxious seconds passed before I was waving my arms like a madman to Alan and admiring what has to be one of the finest sights in angling, a big river roach. Alan took over my rod, the float disappeared and thinking it was the bottom just mended the line, momentarily feeling a fish. It’s something that I also learnt the hard way when trotting a stick and know strike on everything, even if I think it’s the bottom! Next cast and he was once again into a fish, yet it wasn’t to be his day as a trout turned up, followed by more.
With a feeling that the roach would be showing in the pool he returned to the feeder only for myself to drop another couple of quality roach in the net, a few small grayling and a roach/bream hybrid that had me wishing all the way to the net. It was then that the trout switched on and numerous aerobatic sea and brownies plus the odd salmon engulfed whatever was placed in the river and soon with the water dropping and the current becoming to fast I decided to take a lunch break.
The fascinating thing about fishing a tidal pool is its forever changing, your set up constantly tweaked and the fish within constantly on the move. I found myself using every ounce of my watercraft, often starring at the flow and current patterns to keep in touch with the fish.
Alan was eager to get away from game and into coarse and headed to the far bank with the float rod, yet it just wasn’t his day as in swims that I g=had found few trout he seemed to be plagued by them, yet his persistence did provide him with a few grayling. I tried a few areas, yet the depth and speed of the flow was more suitable to the feeder more than the flaot and with limited time headed back to the far bank dropping into Alan’s swims as he moved out, yet apart from more trout just two chub came my way. I kept at it till I couldn’t see the float no longer before sitting next to Alan casting a feeder into the pool and extracting a small bream, much to his disapproval. When I quality roach found itself into my net I was expecting to get wet, more so when a nice chub followed, it was just my day, however Alan did manage a small chublet and the biggest of chub of the day just before it was time up.
All in all a day of mixed emotion. For me it was not only fascinating but hugely rewarding, for Alan you could probably swap the fascinating with frustrating, yet he knows every angler has his day and after catching a 15lb plus barbel this season, one that I couldn’t catch, well he’s had his day!
Well what’s happening next week, well it’s a river again this time with big pike in mind.