“I need a guide” said a voice at the other end of the phone.”I have to take a client fishing, and I want guaranteed fish. Can you do it?” Could I do it?? Does a pig like mud? Is the Pope Catholic? The call was from a fishing pal Adrian Hutchins in Surrey and his client expressed an interest in Pike fishing, on a river if possible. Choosing a river that would produce Pike is quite easy; all I had to make sure was that the watershed feeding it had not received rain for four days. The main problem was bait. I primarily use deadbaits and artificials, purely from the point of mobility. I can take a pack of frozen naturals and travelling light, cover three miles of river in a day. My particular choice for the day in question was the Dorset Stour, The Throop stretch. A ticket venue with great mixed fishing, but prone to winter floods. Any colouring in the water would kill the predator fishing, not to mention the client’s enthusiasm.
Throop fishery offers about five miles of scenic river that has been owned by the Malmesbury family for somewhere around 200 years. The fishery offers good Chub, Barbel, Roach, Dace, Bream, Tench and of course Pike. The latter species can be split into two sections. The hardest section would be from the by-pass bridge upstream to the top weir and Old Mill. It has easy access plus some good Pike. It does however receive a lot of attention, while from the by-pass downstream, being a longer walk, does not get quite the same angler pressure. After an 80-mile drive down with Adrian and “the client” I elected to start at the footpath access in Holdenhurst village which would bring us out near the area known as Nettlebed, and the High Bank. This latter area has, in the past, given us Pike to 21lbs, and a 28 came from further downstream.
With a mild break in the winter weather the river was OK, with a slight tinge of colour in it, certainly not my perfect conditions. I knew I could tap out a few Pike, but nothing large unless we got lucky. Travelling light means a pack carrying small Herrings, Sprats, Sardines and Smelt. Rod, Landing net, forceps. Livebaiting is banned, rightly so, as the Throop Pike take deadbaits avidly. I use a swanshot to take the nose of the bait down in the current, and enable me to impart the flashing, slow retrieve action that pushes the predators into striking. After instructing the client on my twitching technique, we worked our way downstream.
It soon became apparent that Adrian and his compadrie were travelling too fast, leaving me behind as they constantly moved to new swims. As guide, you should always let your guest go through first, thus giving him first shot of a take. If you travel through too fast you miss the vital “extra” takers that will end up boosting your tally for the day. That is exactly what happened. I took several Pike to 8lbs that the other two had bypassed, plus turned over a very big double that followed me in twice, refusing to take. By the time I reached them in the pool above the road bridge it was guide 5 Pike, clients 2.
From the by-pass bridge downstream is classic predator territory. Plenty of deep, slow glides, bends, overhanging bushes and trees, all places you would expect to locate baitfish and predators. By the time we had reached what we call the Old Weir, the client had two fish, Adrian had another, but had several takes that dropped the bait. As the three of us stood by the weir twitching baits, I could see the problem. By holding the rod tip low and towards the bait, any last minute takers would not allow him to give that vital second of slack line that allowed him to open the bale arm to free spool the bait. That added pressure signalled to the Pike that all was not well and they spat the bait’s .As I showed them the correct technique of holding the rod high, and working the rod with only the wrist, I felt the bump of a take on my Herring. I passed the rod to the client telling him when to strike. After a good scrap in the weir pool and Adrian slipped the net under an 8 to 9 pounder. No monster, but it put a bend in the rod and a smile on the client’s face.
Further downstream is a spot we call the sewer outfall, and around this a black cloud of fry hovered, covering the water like a moving oil film. By switching to small sprats in an effort to simulate fry we hit several Pike, nothing big, but great scrapping river fish. It was a swim where big twenties are known to lurk, but after twenty minutes and more Pike, we moved on. The client was still on 3, while Adrian’s improved twitching technique saw him find contact with more fish. In winter, daylight hours are short, and with an 11am start I now had to make a decision. Do we fish our way through all the attractive looking swims and reach the lower boundary in the dark ?or walk straight down to the end where I knew big shoals of Roach would invariably hold Pike. I decided on the latter, as the takes fall away in low light conditions.
The walk took twenty minutes, and I collected another two Pike below the stone weir, while Adrian hooked three, landing one. I was keen to get down to the bottom end which had given me Pike to 20lbs before. We switched to large Sprats which would match the average size of the Roach, a species which sometimes start “Topping” in the last hour. It was a good choice, as in swims between two bushes we all struck into Pike at the same time! Mine was about 6lbs, the client’s 4lbs while Adrian shouted for assistance with netting a double. It tipped the scales at 11-7, and at least enabled the client to see a good fish.
As the light faded we had more takes, with Adrian again shouting for the net as he fought another double, this time a 12 plus. As we began the long walk back to the car in Holdenhurst village we discussed our total. Client 4, Guide plus Adrian 20 plus, with the couple of late day doubles. Should we have moved downstream earlier? It seemed so as we hit fish as soon as we got there, but remember the food fish, the Roach would only top in that final thirty minutes of light. This activity is well known to the Pike, so we may just have hit that short but vital feeding period. We had fished about 5 hours, and without a doubt an early start, together with sufficient bait would see two anglers take about thirty Pike quite readily. For winter ticket water that’s still pretty good fishing.
Throop, and virtually all of the Dorset Stour is fed from up by Salisbury Plain, but where its sister river, the Hampshire Avon runs clear, the Dorset Stour is a straight on spate river, and will throw up a tinge of colour given only slight rainfall upstream. The fining down after colour is the classic time to hit the lower end Roach shoals, but if it’s Pike you want, it is essential you time it before rains come. Strange how these two species that are interlinked actually require totally opposite conditions for the angler to get the best spot. Clear for Pike, tinge of colour for the Roach. But whatever you choose, a rip down this part of the country will surely give you a taste of “Dorset delights”
COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.