The Avon at Evesham.

Although my favourite style of fishing the Avon is with a pole for roach, there are times when you have to accept that the peg you have drawn isn’t good enough to win with them and that you’ll have to focus attention on other fish, writes venue ace Rob Middleton.

Over the past few years there has been a remarkable amount of big fish such as barbel, tench, perch and eels playing a significant part in many of the matches held on the river.

There was a time when a big-fish approach on rivers like the Avon, particularly in winter, meant throwing out a feeder or a big leger bait and sitting back until a fish came along and hooked itself. Now, while this approach can still pick up fish from certain swims on some days, the use of a pole with the correct terminal tackle means you can put your feed and your hook bait in exactly the same spot every time. That’s a huge advantage, whether the match turns out to be a low-weight affair or a free-catching session. You can control exactly how much feed you want to put in and you can keep it really tight.

Let’s look first at bonus fish in the summer. It would be foolish to ignore them and in any match I go to I always take a couple of pints of casters and half a kilo of worms to feed down the edge. This is the best bait in my opinion for catching what I call the ‘ugly fish’ of the river – namely perch and tench. To target these fish, I set up a rig to fish downstream from where I’m sitting. This allows me to build up the swim with loose feed, and also allows fish to settle confidently in an area away from any others I might (hopefully) be netting.

This ploy is particularly important when the river is running clear. I always plumb up carefully before I feed the inside line because there is a lot of weed and lily pads in many of the swims. Once I’m confident that I’ve found a clear bit, as close as possible to the nearside ledge, I feed the swim by hand with casters, and with a bait dropper for introducing chopped worm.

Flow and depth obviously determine where I throw the casters or if I need to do it all through a bait dropper. But in summer the river is normally quite slow, so in front or just slightly upstream is usually right. I use No6 elastic and a 1g to 11/2g Sensas Bernard float on 3lb Shakespeare Omni line for this approach but I never go straight in on the inside line as I think it’s best to build this line up gradually before trying to plunder it.

As I told you last month, my main approach in summer is with hemp but the first hour of any match is usually spent going for small fish with a groundbait-and-pinkie approach while I’m building up the hemp line. At the same time I’ll be feeding casters down the inside with big fish in mind, so I’ve always got options if the hemp fish don’t show.

Always remember that this line can produce big fish at any stage in the match, so you must keep some feed going in all the time to attract and keep the fish in your swim. Keep trying this line every 30 minutes or so and if big fish are present you’ll be very unlucky not to hook at least one. By switching between this line, your hemp line, pinkie fish over groundbait and, possibly, a bleak line, there’s plenty to go at to try and build up a weight in a systematic way.     

In winter months, with extra pace in the river, it’s still possible to catch some very good weights by using heavier float rigs. If the river isn’t pushing too hard, I again use the Sensas Bernard float up to 4g capacity. Usually I loose feed a close-in line by hand with either bronze maggots or casters. For my long line, which is between 13  and 16 metres out, depending on wind and flow, I feed between six and 10 balls of groundbait at the start.

These contain casters, hemp, pinkies and a little chopped worm. I use Sensas groundbaits and the mix is made up with a bag of Gros Gardons, a bag of Match Blend, a small amount of red dye and some Terre de Rivierre (soil) if I need to get the groundbait down quickly. After the initial bombardment, I top up the feed by either loose feeding or with small, hard balls which I introduce with a pole cup.     

When the river is pushing through very hard even a 4g float can be difficult to control and it’s at these times that I switch to using a flat float. Several companies produce these but the best patterns in my opinion are the ones produced by Sensas under the names Stach and Bogdan. God knows where they come up with the names from, but take it from me that they work really well!

Both floats are similar in shape but the Stach has a thicker bristle, making it better in very strong flow. I carry these up to 10g and when the rig is in the water I hold the float totally still by resting the pole across a bar which is fixed onto the footplate in front of me.

If the river is very high and coloured after a lot of rainfall I do away with a float altogether, preferring to use a method which is rapidly gaining in popularity with Avon regulars – the pole feeder. I can’t take credit for pioneering the method on the Avon.

That credit must go to Lee Gardner, a regular Avon winner who adapted a method that was originally devised, I think, by East Anglia star Nick Larkin. Lee’s had a lot of good weights with this method and I’ve also had some good returns on it this season, with my best being 22lb of bream and roach from Hampton Ferry when the river was carrying an extra two feet of water and was very coloured.

My way of fishing the pole feeder is quite simple and if you look at the diagram shown you can see just how it works. The main thing to bear in mind with this method is that you must have sufficient weight on the feeder, to ensure it holds in place immediately under the pole tip, or it won’t work properly. Also, you must get the length of line correct under the pole tip.

A pole float bristle held in place with two rubbers is fixed just touching the water and just below the pole tip. Because of the set-up, bites are usually unmissable as the fish normally hook themselves if everything is balanced correctly.    

To try and prove the effectiveness of my big-fish and high-river methods, I chose a peg on the Evesham and District AA stretch of the Avon at Common Road, a short distance above the town. It’s a very good stretch of water when the river is at normal level, with roach, chub and bream making up most of the match-winning weights. An overnight frost had lowered the water temperature to 7oC after being almost 10oC the previous day.

The river was very coloured and there was a lot of debris coming down. Although many anglers might have turned round and gone somewhere else under these conditions, I was confident my methods would work.

Loose feeding the swim was out of the question as the river was pushing through really hard. So I put in 10 good-sized balls of groundbait on the 11m line at the start and initially tried to catch by running a 4g Sensas Herbert float over the top of the feed. Any top-up feed would have to be put in via a pole cup, in small balls of hard groundbait.

Despite slowing the bait down as much as I could I didn’t have a bite with this rig, so after half an hour I switched to a 6g flat float. Still no bites were forthcoming and, with the river rising and getting steadily faster, I switched firstly to an 8g and then to a 10g float to hold the bait steady. I introduced a further six small balls of feed over the next hour but plan A and plan B failed.

After two hours all I’d got to show was one small eel, so it was on to plan C – the pole feeder. If this didn’t work, my only other option would have been a running-line, straight-lead rig or a feeder fished past mid-river. I didn’t fancy doing this, though, because there was a lot of rubbish coming down the river and it would have been difficult to hold a bait out there and keep it clean for very long.

After just half an hour on the pole feeder and with sections of worm on the hook, I was relieved to finally start receiving a few bites. After landing a skimmer bream, I hooked into a good fish that stretched the elastic out quite a distance before the hook pulled.

That fish felt like a decent-sized bream, so I was fairly confident of catching a few at that stage. The fish I lost must have spooked any other fish that were present, though, as bites were hard to come by again. After another 20 minutes or so a big roach hooked itself, then I had another eel which was bigger than the first one. This eel proved to be a bit camera shy and promptly did a disappearing act back into the river!

A 1lb roach followed by another bream around the pound mark proved to be my final fish of the day. My weight of just under 6lb would not have been enough to win many matches on the river so far this season but, under the conditions, maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. The overnight frost definitely had an effect on the fishing and the river was rising rapidly and colouring up all the time I was there. In hindsight, I feel that maybe I fed a bit too much bait at the start of the session… but I don’t think I’d have caught any more fish on alternative methods.

The pole feeder was without doubt the best method on the day and it will, I am sure, continue to grow in popularity as one of the main methods anglers use when rivers around the country are carrying extra water. If you’ve not tried it yet, give it a go the next time your river is up and coloured. If the temperature isn’t too low, you could be surprised at how well you do! 

Venue Fact File

Name of fishery: Warwickshire Avon, Common Road

Controlled by: Evesham and District AA

Location: Warwickshire Avon, upstream of Evesham

Contact: John Davis on 01386 41273

Match Fishing