Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Saxon Mill Madness — It's a Jungle Out There! (report by Jeff Hatt)

It was a crazy scheme. Insane really considering what we both suspected we'd find out there in the wilderness. Nevertheless, enthusiasm got the better and us thinking that low, clear water would afford the best chance of spotting fish over clean gravels in country so remote and inaccessible that the populations hardly ever see an angler's bait, off we trotted armed with very little gear, and even less idea...

Over the stile and into the woods it looked bad. And, it just got worse and worse and worse until we finally exited the woods and made our way into the top meadow where worse became worst. Nettles up to  your neck, cow parsley over your head and at the fertile soil of the river bank a continuous unbroken strip of the tallest, toughest and most impenetrable vegetation of all.

It was why came to be fair. Because we knew no-one else had. Now it was abundantly clear only a madman would...

However, we knew that Andy Johnson had come before us by a week or so, not by his tracks which were long closed back, but by W&DAS Facebook page communication. It was his first ever trip as a new club member and he had a bike to contend with too!

Some are crazier than even us!

It's over there somewhere!
Having to strike a new path almost the whole way we reached the top of the stretch about an hour after setting off from the car park — about a 3/4 mile walk so you can calculate our average speed without even thinking! It was, to make matters worse, really hot and humid in the trapped air between the stalks and we were sweating our guts out!

Tramping a slot across the bankside strip of most rampant growth we came to the edge of the water and peered over. It looked fabulous — to a naturalist that is. It was beautiful to us too, but to anglers the sight of thick cabbages over shallows and lilies lining the banks ten feet deep is not good. Can't fish in that!

Plan 1 — choose a nice spot and fish how you wanted was abandoned at first sight. Plan 2 — beat a peg out wherever possible and fish however you could — was put into operation.

Baz Peck decided to try a couple of possible swims up from the railway bridge while I went downstream a little way and attempted to find one down there. I failed and had to resort to prior knowledge gained in wintertime, beating a path to a place where I knew the bank had a gentle slope to the water rather than a vertical 4 foot drop.

Apart from the fact that nothing could be seen of that bank it felt familiar underfoot, a comfortable niche was soon made and fishing commenced at last. Bait was bread because from prior experiences of  wintertime fishing along the stretch at our disposal today, having never caught a single roach or dace who are by far the predominant species further downstream, I believed that chub and large ones too, were the the predominant species here because that's all I'd ever caught then.

Those experiences were clearly flawed because roach were what I caught now and when I managed to locate a small promontory upstream and fished off it awhile, the story was the same there. Roach and more roach.

It was good to see them even though they were the average stamp and no more. The larger fish are very hard to find in these middle stretches of the Warwickshire Avon. I've plugged away at it every summer and winter for years but never yet had a single fish above a pound, but Baz fishing during the winter of 2011 managed to locate a shoal, took a number at that watershed weight and topped his catch with a two-pounder. They are there, but this particular area is so densely packed with small fish that it's almost impossible to wade through them all.

The top half of this fishery holds curious populations. Down in the millrace there's one of the best dace fishing spots in the entire country and through the season large numbers are easily possible with big weights late February and March. Dace are found throughout but dominate that particular area whilst roach come into their own further upstream where 20lb catches are feasible. Amongst them are lots of small chub with large fish relatively rare.

So far as anyone knows it holds no perch whatsoever and no bream either because none have ever been seen on the bank but with plenty of deep slow water you'd think both would be commonplace but they seem entirely absent. It does have its carp and is supposed to hold barbel too but as far as I know none have ever been caught. Eels, occasional gudgeon and pike pretty much round the thing off.

When I finally stumbled across Baz by following his tracks back down through the nettles, where I frightened a basking adder who zipped off into the overgrowth in alarm, the story was the same. Small roach, a few chublets but nothing exactly exciting. Pitching upstream of him a little way I then fished faster shallower water than I had thus far hoping that it would improve matters. Just a few feet deep it seemed to offer a chance of something better just out of difference.

Looking upstream toward the shallowest water in miles
First cast the bread settled, the tip twitched and slowly inched down — the perfect roach bite. A fish was on and it felt a really good one but it got stuck in trailing weed. Then I saw the big broad back, silver flanks and impressive length of what would be easily the largest roach I'd ever hooked here. All I had to do now was bank it!

It came out of the weed under sustained pressure and with racing heart and trembling legs I readied the net. It was easily over a pound, well over half a pound more and possibly that two!

Quite how it turned into a 2lb chub I don't quite know... There's never usually any confusion but I swear, viewed in clear water beneath the weeds it looked just like a giant roach in every respect. I suppose refraction warped its apparent shape and the sun gave it a silvery glint. A beautiful perfect uncaught fish it was, though not what I wanted in my net with the adrenalin rush I'd hoped to sustain through the after-catch rituals, in rapid decay!

Then the real roach began to show but as usual, they were the usual. A disk of bread might be a small but powerful magnet to roach but casting one into these shoals and hoping for a specimen seems like attracting a very small needle in a vast haystack. Possible, but unlikely. I don't know what's to be done except abandon ledgering bread altogether here and begin a serious campaign of trotting through a constant downpour of hemp and maggots. That might be best — feed the small fish off over the first hours and give the specimens a chance to show in the last...

At least the day had shown the bones of the river and I now knew things that aren't easily appreciated in winter — the subtleties of its various deeps, shallows and pace. All useful stuff to any angler and often the kind of knowledge that leads to future success so as with all reconnaissance, never was it wasted time.

All we had to do now was get back to civilisation!

And that truly was a waste of time when it should have taken ten minutes but took three-quarters of an hour!


  1. Jeff I think Agent Orange is the best bet........I have just got a ticket so you may see me up there some time...... But as I where camouflage gear....... You will not see me but will hear me if I get a 2lb Roach !!!!!

  2. I know you'll love it there Rob, and there's another mile of bank downstream of the weir too. Very different water down there but similar species wise.

    We'll have to hook up at some point for a roach session. Lots and lots of fish but there needs to be few heads thinking together for strategies to overcome the difficulties of the sheer volume of young fish in the small size ranges. I reckon Dorset Stour style trotting over a gallon of hemp and maggots might work well

  3. Hi Jeff, as a local to the Saxon Mill area and new to the W&DAA, its a real pleasure to get your report. I abondoned last Fri evening to venture into the wilderness upstream after suffering too many nettle stings. I admire your bravery.....

    What I will add though is that from legering worm and luncheon meet, there are plenty of eels about both above and below the Mill. Perch have also been taken on legered worm.

    This is a fantastic stretch of the River Avon, it seems a shame that it has become so overgrown and abondoned, although to a certain extent that is part of the attraction...

    And my last point I would like to add is that I regularly come across Eastern Europeans fishing the stretch between the two Mills, without Membership, rod licences and without respect for the closed season.


  4. David,

    There's always a contingent of our friends from the East every weekend, isn't there, and it's been that way ever since I began fishing it 5 years ago. The fishery has been neglected but as you say, that's part of its attraction but maybe more legit anglers on the bank will keep them away. Next time I encounter them I'll ask for their club book and EA License, that might get the message across!

    I've had a few eels myself. I don't fish baits that attract them though, and were those oerch from below the Mill?

    To be fair to the club, it is a huge stretch of water and there's simply no way to control every part of it with occasional work parties. The upper and lower beats will, and I think should, remain as wild as they are now. They are the preserve of the crazy in summer but in mid winter a great place to roam.