Being shallow,get in with waders to run the float down easier

Boilies. Halibut pellets. Distance casting. Braid line.3lb test curve rods. Rod rest systems that look more like an anti-aircraft battery. Excuse me ………but does anyone out there do traditional river fishing any more?  OK… so many of you might like to sleep by the rods waiting the Gerty the Thirty to hook herself, but I have found a tiny river that has made a phenomenal comeback, and it revitalised the river angler in me.


A light mix of sweetcorn and bran feed off the smaller fish leaving the bigger ones ready for a hookbait

The tiny river Blackwater on the Surrey/Berks border. You may never have heard of it, but I assure you it is well worth looking at, especially if you are a small river enthusiast. The river is certainly miniature, but it is on the comeback from a big fish kill it had many years ago when a plating company spilt Cyanide in its waters. Few thought it would ever come back, but it has…..Big time.  I first started hearing about the winter chub catches about five years ago. Mainly local match anglers, a few with tales of being broken up, and a few more bagging up.Then,last season, on advice from Nigel Newport, the manager of “Tackle Up” in Fleet, I found my way onto an unlikely car park behind some gas holders. Generally scenic???  No.    How did the river look   ??  Very fishy indeed. So it was that I started tackling up with ever-so-slightly trembling fingers, as the swims were absolute classics straight out of Mr.Crabtee’s book. Bends, runs, shallows, overhangs …”there’s a Chub Mr Crabtree!”…… and mysterious pools where the current slowed. Some swims you just knew the stick float would hold up, then dip away to a bite.

The river actually starts out from Badshot Lea Little Pond near Farnham in Surrey, but does not become truly fishable until Hawley Meadows near Junction 4 of the M3 motorway. Dace and Roach rule supreme, and in the sanctuary of the prolific streamer weed….big Bream to 7lbs.On this stretch it’s so shallow it’s a wonder their backs aren’t out of the water. There is a sewage treatment plant and the nutrients from this mean there is a strong growth of streamer weed. Good for the fish, bad for the anglers, as it is not until December that you can finally start presenting bait to the occupants. Moving downstream you have a wooded stretch above Shepherd’s Meadow, and the tip off I got from Nigel was that the light being blocked by the trees meant the streamer weed growth was less, so you could fish it earlier than the main stretch. A priceless tip that gave me a couple of enjoyable sessions. Roach to 1lb plus 1lb Perch, gargantuan Gudgeon that would probably strangle a Pike, and plenty of Chub to over 2lbs that woofed down loose maggots like no tomorrow. The other predator, the Pike, is never far away, and they have a habit of letting the matchmen do all the work for them, snatching unwary roach and dace off the hook. Drop them a deadbait and they just swim up and look. But hook a lively silver fish that flashes and dwells in the current too long, and it’s generally a one-way ticket.

There are jumbo Gudgeon to be taken here.

As the trees stop abruptly at the downstream end of the wood, the river opens out, with bends every few yards. All with fish in, and looking every inch as though you are fishing an upstream beat on the famed River Test. Move on down again and the fish get more numerous, the Chub and Roach the predominant species on the float, the former allegedly going close to 5lbs.Small, local matches are held through the winter, and I was surprised to learn that they can be won with weights of 60lbs, 20lbs being a regular net, and nearly every entrant recording an average of 10lbs! That’s phenomenal when you consider the river is barely wider in places than the average match rod.

A thumbs up from Graeme for this stick float haul

Moving downstream again, from Blackwater village past Sandhurst where it eventually moves on to be joined by the clear River White-water. From here it goes into the River Loddon, and eventually to old Father Thames. Now the, behind Church Farm, the Swan Lane area and Darby Green the occupants change again, and are joined by a relative newcomer. The Barbel are believed to have moved upstream in winter floods, and as the river dropped, stayed in the slightly deeper areas. Now how about this….the latest secret stretch…. where the Barbel average between 6 and 9lbs,and have been recorded to a staggering 14lbs,and still rising. So all you Barbel enthusiasts take note. This tiny river could be the unsung hero of the 2010 season.

Another of Nigel’s secret tip offs. There are Carp in the river. Koi and other exotics have been released from garden ponds and aquariums by Joseph Public upstream of the Blackwater area. The Koi have come out to double figures. Then down behind Church Farm the carp have been caught over 20lbs.That’s an awful lot of Carp in such a small river, so be prepared to follow a fish of that size downstream, probably with chest waders. So by now you may well be a gibbering wreck, frantically attacking multimaps aerial overview for more of an insight. Well, worry no more, as all this fishing is available on a day ticket, courtesy of Nigel at “Tackle Up”, and Hartley Wintney Angling Society. Nigel will even draw you a map and mark out the better swims and access.

Double red maggot produced the better Roach, just at dusk

Having mentioned that it is a small river; put away the heavy groundbait as this only kills the swims off. Loose feed is the answer, not by the bucketful, but certainly on the little and often basis. Maggots, Caster, Hemp and Sweetcorn all mixed together and tossed in regularly will get the bites coming. I found little to be had on the sweetcorn, but plenty of fish on double red maggot and loose feed of caster and hemp. Use barbless hooks, and there are no bait bans as I write, plus you can use a keepnet. Here is the main point, taken from the matchmen. Don’t flog a swim to death as there are only so many occupants that you can catch from a given stretch of river. Start at the top end of your designated area and work downstream through the day covering, say, six swims. The fishing should then actually get better as some of the feed missed by the fish in the first swim, will already have been noted by those living in the next swim down, boosting their confidence before you even fish it. I expect a bite on the first trot down in a new swim, but my tip is to shallow up the float slightly for the first run down, as any Chub will already be higher in the water level, snaffling loose feed. Only when you get a few blank runs through, would I revert the depth to trip the bottom.

Local matchmen do well on the llittle and often basis

Depths in the Blackwater run a foot to three feet, so a small stick float taking 4 x no 4 shot, or 3 x bb shot will be enough. Hold the float back slightly using something like a 9-foot Avon rod, as I found the standard 13-foot match rod too long for the upstream stretches with overhanging trees. Nigel advises a hook size of at least 16, as a size 18 can be a bit small on a 4lb Chub in a fast current, and may spring open. I used a 3lb hooklink to 5lb maxima chameleon mainline to get more bites. Going any lighter is risky. If you do want the bigger fish you can try a maggot/hemp mix in a small blockend feeder, with chunk of bread or pellet as hookbait. Some people cannot handle the river skills of trotting a float down shallow water while holding back, so opt for the ledger and quivertip. They will undoubtedly be getting less fish, but they will probably be bigger in size, particularly on the bread.

Same old,same old. Double reds for the Chub

There is definite scope here for using a centrepin, and for anyone who enjoys searching swims with a stick float. My advice would be to dispense with the keepnet, large tackle boxes etc and do your fishing mobile taking just a seat and a rucksack, the river will then produce for you. I only used a keepnet myself to give you an idea of the quality of the fish and species that I caught. While I had no big Chub or Barbel I was on the wooded upper stretch and not the deeper, slower areas for the better specimens. That has been scheduled for the backend of the 2010 season, when I will hope to cover several hundred yards of river in the one day. The big Barbel are more likely to fall to a large stationary bait like meat or pellet, and to be honest  trotting with a stick float is what the River Blackwater is really all about. Plenty of bites, plenty of fish from a river that looks like a miniature Hampshire Avon. And here’s the final treat for you to mull over. According to Nigel, who is the Fisheries Manager for Hartley Wintney, the Environment Agency do a special electro fishing report on a 100 metre stretch of the upper Blackwater, in the same week, at the same time of year as part of their habitat research after the end of the season. Their assessment has seen them rate the river as one of the most prolific river environments they have tested anywhere, with the highest cross section of species.

                        As another guide, they cut down two trees, and left them staggered in the water to see how the flow might produce a better species habitat. Their findings were that they had several hundred roach, all attracted to the clear gravel created by the scouring effect of current tumbling over ands around the trees. They are also very interested in the Barbel population of the Blackwater, as it has been found that Barbel only spawn in a certain depth, and with gravel of a certain size. And there are only two spots on the River Loddon where the Barbel spawn naturally. Duplication of this depth/gravel size may be applicable to the Blackwater, which is why the Barbel are now coming out to 14lbs.My own view is slightly different. If they are spawning naturally in the Blackwater why are anglers not catching smaller Barbel in the 2 to 4lb range on the float, as they are using ideal baits? I reckon the Barbel are those from spawning on the Loddon and have simply migrated upstream. All interesting stuff, so if you fancy a winter session with a “roving float”, contact Nigel Newport at “Tackle Up”-Tel-01252-614066. This is just like fishing as a youngster again, with all the different river species. Mr Crabtree would surely be there !.

COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved