Beastly angling trips are far from over

Beastly angling trips are far from over

By Martin Read | 03/02/2021

Beastly angling trips are far from over


SOMEONE commented recently about how cold it had been and the fact that because of global warming we don't see winters as cold as we used to do.

I’ve no doubt that's right but that doesn't mean the freezing cold winters have gone altogether.

Does anyone remember the Beast from the East in 2018 or prior to that the freeze up in 2011? It really was cold then. Down came the snow and with it the temperature. So much so most ponds and lakes froze over with 8ins of ice not being unusual.

It was a dire time for anglers, so much so that even the Walkley Winter League had to cancel two matches — an event unknown in recent history.

The recent snow and cold weather provide a useful reminder of what winter can offer and the following notes in my diary give a stark reminder of how hard it was back then. Let’s hope we don't have to suffer that all over again this year.

“Now this is real winter league weather! Time for the men to go fishing and the wimps to stay at home, or so they say. It's strange but at times like this, when it's almost impossible to get out, let alone take the tackle, I miss going fishing more than ever. Forbidden fruit and all that.

I was the same in my steelworks' days, unable to go fishing and midweek I rarely missed a day on the bank at the weekend regardless of weather or anything else for that matter. Now I can go whenever I want, everyday should I wish, but I don't. In fact, sometimes I'll go days on end without even wanting to go fishing. But this snow is getting me back into steelworks' mode, perish the thought.

Just the other afternoon when temperatures had barely risen above minus six degrees I got lots of my tackle out and began tidying it all up, putting new elastic on one of my catapults, redoing a couple of trashed rigs, even tying a few hooks.

It wasn't long before my thoughts wandered to the next trip, as soon as the weather improved. Needless to say, the same thoughts passed through my mind again and again that evening as I sat trying to amuse myself watching a telly full of rubbish. Later that night before going to sleep I simply couldn't put the idea of going fishing to the back of my mind.

And so, it wasn't long before I was filling my flask with hot soup, packing half a loaf of sliced bread and a bag of punch crumb into my box before hauling the lot out to the car. Fortunately, I wasn't taking the usual kitchen sink. Everything in the rod bag had been removed except one float and one feeder rod.

The box had been emptied of winders, my pole roller and all the other ‘essential’ equipment we need for pole fishing and been replaced with my old stick float box and a handful of small feeders and bombs.

The plan was to fish the river Don in Kilnhurst in search of chub — possibly not a plan since it was the only option I had. At least I could get the car to the river — just — which was more than I could say for most of the still waters I fish, all of which were frozen over with a good few inches of ice, as was my local canal.

Even clearing piles of snow from the car wasn't enough to put me off, although second thoughts were beginning to appear as I sat inside the car with the heater on full blast trying to clear the windscreen of ice and get the feeling back in my cold hands.

Still, I reminded myself that it's not about catching fish as such, more the challenge of catching them. Within minutes the heater had responded and the mile-and-a-half treck along unsalted roads began.

I arrived safely, although there were one or two hairy moments.

Fortunately, being early in the morning there weren't too many others users on the road. I left the car alongside the road since even getting onto the car park was too much of a chance, and off-loaded my simplified gear onto what should have been a pavement. Leaving the warmth of the car for the -5 degrees outside the cold suddenly hit me — I must be mad.

Moments later I was climbing over the angler's gate, the lock being frozen solid, and onto the river bank, the sub-zero temperatures being negated by the walk and having to carry, rather than barrow, my gear.

I'd planned not to fish far from the entrance but now having got so far I decided to go the extra mile to a peg I knew at least held some chub, my best from it to date being just 5lbs.

Getting to the platform was something of a challenge but using a combination of lowering down my tackle and sliding down the steep banks, I made it.

At the top of the bank the water looked dark and coloured in contrast to the white snow. Down at the water's edge it still had the dark contrast, but was gin clear as might be expected with the cold.

I congratulated myself on making the effort to fish reminding myself that once the thaw began, if it ever did, the melting snow together with all the tonnes of salt that have been used to clear the roads, would soon enter the river turning it into a raging brown flood more suited to cod and haddock than coarse fish.

Although the cold had now begun to get at my fingers, I threaded up my float rod with 3lbs line and opened what once was the jewel on the bank, my stick float box, to find something suitable. Many I know, when bread fishing for chub, suggest great big plastic floats or toppers and large pinches of flake on the hook. That might be fine under normal circumstances but in the continuing extreme cold I favoured a standard stick float with a piece of 10mm punched bread on the hook.

I set the depth at two metres and a couple of runs through told me I'd got it about right and I introduced a tightly squeezed ball of crumb just past the middle, flicking the float and bait out behind it.

By now my finger ends were going numb, but it's amazing how much warmer the world becomes as the matt orange top of a stick float gradually makes its way down the swim, occasionally checking as it does so.

I didn't expect a bite immediately, which is just as well because none were forthcoming, but that did nothing to limit the pleasure of the line coming gradually off the reel as I lifted the rod to control the float's journey along its course.

After 20 minutes another ball of bait was called for, and I watched it as it began to break up just below the surface into an enticing white cloud. What chub could resist that?

I didn't have long to wait for an answer as the float sank as though torpedoed and despite my now numb right hand I lifted into a fish, and a good one too.

The brain-numbing cold was suddenly forgotten, this was what it was all about, I told myself.

Forgetting the freezing hands that could hardly hold the rod, let alone punch out anymore hook bait, I chuckled to myself, happy with a plan coming to fruition. But the chub was having none of it. On its first run it tried desperately to hide among some hawthorne branches on the far bank, something I managed to avoid it doing.

Having failed there, it then made a bid to reach the willow tree to my right, but again it failed.

By now it was tiring and I reached down to find my landing net, prizing it from the snow-covered ground and positioning it in the water to my left. I could now clearly see what looked like a huge fish flashing below the water's surface in front of me.

And then it happened. No, it didn't break me nor did it shed the hook just as I was about to scoop it into the net. None of the usual things, instead I heard a girl's voice. Concentrating on the float, I'd not noticed anyone else on the bank, and I wondered, conditions being as they were, why anyone would be there.

As I looked round, trying to find the voice's owner, it became clearer, the words being quite distinct. “Dad, dad, wake up, it's bucketing down with snow and you promised to take me to work”.

I awoke with a start, warm as toast, relieved that the pain of the cold had gone and wondering just what I'd have for breakfast and how big my dream chub had been.

Time for the men to go fishing? You must be joking, this wimp is staying at home!”