At the time of starting this piece (mid Jan.) the fishing has been awful. Normally I don't get my serious roach fishing underway until after Christmas, but the few recces I had before Christmas, consisting of 2 trips to the river Windrush, and 2 to the Hampshire Avon have produced just one roach, and that only weighed about 4 ounces. The first trip, to a very low and clear river Windrush produced a 3.8 chub, a small barbel (2.8?), quite a rarity on this stretch, and a dace of about 6ozs. All fish came to trotted bread-flake. The second trip produced another chub of about 3lbs on quiver-tipped flake, a pike on trotted flake, and several minnows. I left one of the minnows on and trotted it down the river in the hope of connecting with one of the big perch that I know to live there. It had only gone a few yards when the float dipped and I struck into a good fish. Alas though, it wasn't a perch, but a brown trout of about a pound. As I landed it I was quite glad to see the minnow break free and swim off. Nuisance as they can be at times, I really do quite like minnows. I admire their boldness and aggression in attacking baits, and the way they seem to survive and feed in almost any conditions. And I've said this before - several times - if only they grew to 8 pounds. Considering their voracious feeding habits, I’m surprised they don’t!

Just prior to Christmas I decided to make a trip to the Hampshire Avon. Conditions were very bad for roach fishing - a very hard overnight frost with temperatures dropping to 28F, a freezing and foggy dawn followed by a bright sunny day. To help matters even further, (not!) the river was low and very clear. It was obviously going to be one of those days where you have to appreciate just being there. Mind you, I had known this in advance, but I wanted to go anyway, just to re-familiarise myself with the area.

I started off trotting flake as ever and had one or two tiny & unhittable bites on the first few casts. I wasn't sure whether these were cagey roach, or minnows. In these conditions you might expect roach to be tentative, so I changed to a smaller hook and baited with maggot. But I never got another bite in that swim, which I found a bit odd. Moving down-river I changed back to flake and caught what is to date my only roach of the winter, a magnificent specimen of 4 ounces! Then the swim died completely. Not surprisingly I was the only angler fishing so I had plenty of room, and wandered around the fishery trying both float and quiver-tip. But of the roach there was no sign. I had a small chub, just over a pound, then hooked a bigger one that straightened the hook. I had changed to a small hook and small baits to try to get bites. Both of these fish were on the float. Thinking about it, I've hardly caught anything from there on the quiver-tip - even in previous seasons virtually all my fish have been on the float. I sat it out until just after dark, by which time the temperature had dropped severely, my net froze and frost was forming on my rod bag.

I'd had a few problems during the day with trying to Wallis float tackle to the far bank on one of the wider stretches. The float would sail about halfway across the river, then the line would dig in on the reel, go back around the spool in the wrong direction and the float would come flying back at me. Only one cast in about a dozen was not doing this. I was using a wide drum Speedia, which is generally a very good Wallis casting reel, loaded with about 40-50 yards of 4lb Maxima as main line. The problem seemed to be two-fold. First, like most older centrepins, the line is supported on a series of cross-pins. These pins make angles in the line and it is here that it tends to dig in. The problem with line "digging in" is exacerbated by using supple lines, and though 4lb Maxima isn't the supplest of lines, I still felt that perhaps a heavier and therefore stiffer main line might help solve the problem. The other thing to do would be to build up some kind of arbour underneath the main line to remove the angles. I've tried this before, unsuccessfully. If you use line for this purpose the digging in gets worse as you have a soft bed beneath your main line. I've tried putting tape on top of backing line, but the sticky stuff always seem to work its way through to the other side and makes matters worse. A cork arbour would be ideal. Back home I made some enquiries about this, and found someone willing to make me a bespoke cork arbour for the reel. Only problem.. an apparent world shortage of proper cork. I would have to find a block of cork. Well, I couldn't, but in my efforts to do so came across a car spares shop that sold cork in sheets, for making gaskets. This seemed ideal, so I bought some, backed it with some self adhesive ethafoam, the kind you use to line fly-boxes, cut out a strip and put in on the reel, putting about 50 yards of 6lb Maxima on top. I would have to wait for my next Avon trip to see if it worked.

The following Saturday conditions were almost identical to the previous week, except if anything it was colder, my car thermometer showing temperatures as low as 25F on the way to the river. One saving grace, maybe, was that it had been cold all week. (Do I hear some of you saying "clutching at straws??). The river would, if anything, be even lower and clearer. Ah well... when I retire hopefully I will be able to pick the conditions I fish in, but for the moment, and for some time to come, I am stuck mostly with Saturdays, come what may. As anticipated, it was a real struggle to get bites. Trotted or quiver-tipped flake or maggot were treated with equal scorn, and by mid-afternoon I looked to be approaching my first blank of the season. I had hooked a reasonable chub, in exactly the same place as I had last week, on exactly the same bait. Unfortunately, it was also on exactly the same size and make of hook, which again I'd put on in an effort just to get a bite. And again, exactly the same thing happened - the hook straightened, and the chub came off. Back in the same swim later on, with a slightly stronger hook, and hoping the chub might have recovered from his early shock, I had another bite. Well, actually, it looked as if the float had snagged and when I lifted the rod, it came to life. It was only a small fish, but when you are desperately trying to save a blank, anything will do. I lifted it out of the water and swung it in only to find a 6-inch salmon parr nestling in my hand. It was quickly returned leaving me with a dilemma as to whether catching an out of season salmon parr constitutes saving a blank day.

Despite fast dropping temperatures I again fished into dark, and at the far end of dusk started getting some very cagey bites on the quiver-tip. Eventually one kept the tip round long enough for me to strike and I was into a good fish… would it be a roach.? Edward grabbed the net and after a short struggle a big fish was gliding towards it. Not a roach, but a bream, and as soon as I spotted this I told Edward not to net it - the last thing you want right at the end of the day is a net covered in bream slime. I guided the fish into the shallow margin where he lay quietly on his side while I flipped the hook out. We agreed he probably weighed about 5lbs, and I gave him a little push towards the deeper water where he swam off. Bream aren't my favourite fish, but at least I'd saved a blank…

One more thing.. although the fishing hadn't been a great success, my modification to the centrepin as described earlier was, and though the fish weren't playing, I was able to get my float to the far bank when I required it. The only drawback I can see is that building up an arbour of sufficient depth to remove the angles created by the pins can increase the weight of the spool, and might therefore reduce the potential length of the cast. At the moment the jury is out on that one - for now my float will go where I want it to. Whether it will remain that way I'm not sure. These sort of problems have a way of recurring for no apparent reason after many trouble-free sessions.

I haven't so far mentioned the grayling fishing. I've had 3 trips during the past month, and all have been very good. Grayling are wonderful sporting fish, and I love to have a day or two trotting for them in winter, more so when on that day I am accompanied by good friends. The great thing about grayling fishing is that you can go out in winter, fish the float and get plenty of bites, and catch quite a few good size fish. On a good day you might catch 40 or 50, and they can average over a pound. There aren't many places, or many species you can fish for, where you can do that. On my 3 trips I've caught close to 100 grayling. Some days have been better than others, and it is noticeably quieter when, as happened to us on one occasion, the river has been fished hard on the previous day. I've caught quite a few over 2-pounds, easing my personal best up a little more, and also caught a phenomenal amount of fish between 1.12 and 1.15. Grayling seem quite happy to feed in almost any conditions, and they provide a welcome relief to the more serious business of stacking up the blanks in pursuit of big roach. Generally, tactics are simple, a float carrying enough shot to enable you to get your bait on, or very close to the bottom, a match-type rod of 12ft or longer, a centrepin or fixed spool reel loaded with 4lb main line, hook-links of 3-4lb b.s. and hook sizes from 10-16. Bait is usually maggot, though sometimes small red-worms, sweet-corn or bread are also effective.