Rob Wootton takes the PF cameras to an idyllic stretch of the River Wye, in Herefordshire, for a running-water adventure.
My brief was to catch quality fish from an idyllic-looking stretch of river, so my first job was to find a venue that fitted the bill! Plenty of rivers up and down the country offer good fishing for big fish, but local knowledge is hugely important to find a peg or area that holds a lot of them.
Rivers aren’t like commercial fisheries where the fish generally move around quite freely in an often featureless lake, they are a totally different ball game – trees, gravel runs, extra flow, moored boats, deep holes and undercut banks all hold fish at some point during the season and make things even more confusing.
Docklow Pools' stretch is simply a feast for the eyes
Rivers are often an ever-changing environment with floods and strong winds adding extra hiding places in the form of fallen trees or scoured out riverbeds. My initial thought was to take Pole Fishing to my local River Soar; there are plenty of big fish there, but to be honest I fancied a change and in my opinion half the enjoyment from fishing comes from sampling new challenges.
A quick phone call to Jonathan Bozward at Docklow Pools revealed that the stretch of the Wye that Docklow owns was fishing well. It’s a long way from my Leicestershire home but Jonathan assured me that the trip would be worth it; he hasn’t let me down yet, so the van was loaded and I set off for Hereford.
On arriving at the river’s edge I can’t believe how nice the place looks – slow and deep stretches intersperse with fast-flowing shallow areas, which the many canoeists using the river seem to love, and if I wasn’t excited enough before I certainly am once I’ve got the trolley loaded and am making my way to the peg that Jonathan has suggested.
The ultimate baitdropper combo for bigger fish.
It looks perfect for the pole; slower and deeper water means that I’ll be able to get some sort of decent presentation in the confines of my swim, which is obviously important when I’m using a pole with a limited reach rather than a rod and line. Plumbing up I find about five feet of water at seven metres and I reckon that this could be the ideal area to target those bonus river fish – far enough out to be away from any bankside disturbance and also just into the main flow of the river. By fishing at this shorter range, I also hope that I’ll be able to control my feeding and rig presentation a lot easier.
oily hempseed - the 'magic' attractor?
I plan to attack the swim with a static bait approach – by feeding predominantly with a baitdropper and using a flat float to present the hook bait I should be able to keep the fish grazing on or near the riverbed, where they’ll be easier to catch. The rig itself is a 10g Cralusso Shark float made up on 0.20mm Shimano Exage main line – the shotting is simply a 10g olivette with the droppers being No8 Stotz. I use these smaller Stotz as they are kinder to the line than larger weights and I’ll simply push two or three together to create a larger dropper. The hooklength is a 1m length of the same 0.20mm Exage tied knotless-knot style to a mega-strong size 12 Guru MWG hook.
To attach the hooklength to the mailine I like to use a small swivel; this helps to stop the bait spinning in the flow, which must look unnatural.
As I’ve mentioned, feeding for the day will mainly be carried out with a baitdropper and to go through that I’ve brought with me a classic big-fish bait menu – hemp, casters and worms, and plenty of each, will be my feed with a few halibut pellets as backup. You just can’t ignore pellets on rivers as they have become the staple diet of many species due to the amount that get thrown in by specimen anglers.
My target species for today are chub, perch and I’m hoping that a barbel may put in an appearance at some point. All three of these species are greedy and require plenty of feed to hold them in the swim so I kick off the session with four large droppers of bait, two crammed with a caster and hemp mix, and because perch tend to be very quick on to the feed I’m feeding two droppers full of chopped lobworms.
River perch - exquisite
My experience of perch is that they generally feed very early in a session as they gorge themselves and become full very quickly, so I fully expect to catch most of my stripeys pretty early. Half a lobworm is my opening hook bait and by using a spray bar and setting the rig a foot or so over depth I can make sure that the hook bait stays still on the bottom.
It doesn’t stay still for long, though, as a perch takes a liking to the hook bait. Bites from perch are unmissable, as a fast dink is followed by the float slowly sliding away before I lift and my ‘pingy’ purple Hydro sets the hook.
After every couple of fish I feed more bait via the dropper and after an hour I get my first sign of a decent fish in the peg – a strange bite and I lift into a good fish for just a few seconds before I pull out. The large scale on the hook proves the fish was foul-hooked and the scale looks very chub-like. That foul-hooked fish seems to unsettle the swim and I struggle for the next half hour, so I pick up the catapult and start firing large amounts of hemp into the swim just to make something happen.
It works, and after 10 minutes of feeding heavily chub number one hits the net, only a small one but a welcome change from the perch I had been catching. That small chub signals the start of a run of them, no huge fish but quite a few of around 12oz to a pound, then the session is improved by a cracking three-pounder that puts up a great scrap in the flow.
The action quickly comes to a halt during the afternoon – while I have been fishing the river level has risen by around two feet (quite a common occurrence on this type of spate river); this rise in water level and increase in pace has not only put the fish off but it has also made pole fishing at even short range very difficult, so after a great selection of quality fish we decide to call it a day.
One comes to the net for Rob!
It’s a shame that I’ve not latched into any of the Wye’s really big fish or the barbel that this river is famous for, but I can’t grumble at the fish I’ve caught in such idyllic surroundings.
- River fish fight incredibly hard; add plenty of snags and a strong flow into the mix and if you’re using kit that’s undergunned you’re asking for trouble. Wild fish feeding on big baits are rarely line or hook shy so make sure you fish nice and heavy.
- If you’re not getting bites, FEED! Big river fish like a lot of bait, after all they spend most of their days fighting a strong flow so they need to replenish that energy.
- If in doubt, put a worm on. The most natural of all baits and attractive to any species, a big worm will catch anything and also mask a nice big hook.
- Swim selection is critical – there’s no point choosing a shallow, fast-paced swim only to realise that your loose feed and rig are out of your pole’s reach before you can get any sort of presentation.
- Be patient! It’s very rare that it’ll be a big fish every chuck, so understand that you may only get a couple of chances during the session.