Fishing the tiny River Gade – Simon Wilsmore
Top match angler Simon Willsmore re-visits a childhood angling haunt, Hertfordshire’s River Gade, with stunning results to show for it
WIGGLING its way through Watford, the tiny River Gade was one of the first places former England international Simon Willsmore started fishing. At Croxley it runs a couple of metres wide and mere inches deep in places. When the river is low you can see the bottom virtually the entire way across. It’s a popular spot for dog walkers, but you’ll be hard pressed to find an angler trying their luck on this venue in miniature. But often the smallest of rivers hold the biggest surprises, as Rive and Spotted Fin ace Simon recently discovered after a long layoff from his childhood fishing grounds. “My friends and I used to get the tube here from Harrow – we’d pile on all our bags and Efgeeco seatboxes! It used to be packed out with anglers and we’d think nothing of coming every day in the school holidays. It was absolutely full of gudgeon. We’d catch them all day long, and the odd roach or chub if we were lucky,” he said. “Some of the best match anglers in the South used to come and fish matches on the canal next to it, and I’d stand on the towpath and watch them – it’s what got me into competition fishing. I actually came down here for the first time in about 30 years in the first few weeks of 2018 to fish with a float rod for a few hours. “I wasn’t really expecting to catch much but I had some lovely dace and a couple of perch up to a pound. There’s plenty of potential in the Gade and I’ve heard there are some decent chub to be caught too,” he revealed. Catching a small river like this ‘right’ is paramount to a good day’s fishing. As Lady Luck would have it, the Gade was in perfect condition for Simon’s visit in front of the IYCF cameras. It carried a tinge of colour, not so much that it was running chocolate, but enough to give fish the confidence to feed. And with a clear, bright day forecast, anything which would help to obscure the presence of Simon was always going to help matters on such a small, intimate venue.
This isn’t the sort of place you need to cart a full set of match gear to, he pointed out. In fact, it pays to travel light so you can move swims easily. And although Simon had set up his seatbox, he’d brought precious little else with it, just a ready rod bag and a bait waiter. “I wouldn’t expect to catch from a single swim all day because the river just isn’t big enough! If there’s a shoal of fish in front of you you’ll get bites quickly. I’d expect to catch them for two hours or so before it goes quiet, then it’s time to move on. You could even wander around with a feeder rod and fish a bit of bread on a link leger as there are quite a few chub in here,” he said. Tactics-wise, it was a simple approach for Simon. A 6m whip to hand and a match rod housing a stick float had been assembled to tackle the swim. It was a 2ft 6in deep run directly below a disused footbridge, before the river narrowed to a bottleneck of reed beds either side. His bait menu simply comprised a three-pint tub full of red and white maggots. Trying to keep disturbance to a minimum, he began on his whip to hand. A handful of maggots went in slightly downstream, and with a deft underarm flick his 0.5g pole float went sailing out about three-quarters of the way across. Simon kept the line in check behind the pimple of his float top, to control it down the swim, and on his third run down it shot out of view. A swift strike was met with a significant ‘clonk’ as the flick tip end of the carbon connected with a half-decent silver fish. A spritely 3oz dace was persuaded upriver before coming to hand. And it wasn’t alone. Keeping the maggots going in, he enjoyed a string of bites as a series of dace provided great sport, while the occasional roach or chublet added variety. “Some of the dace are 6oz apiece. There aren’t many rivers where you can go and catch fish like this any more. The Gade here is directly linked to the Grand Union Canal, so there could be
“It made a beeline for the reeds, forcing Simon to take evasive action”
anything swimming around in here, probably even barbel and carp. There was actually a 20lb sturgeon caught in the canal not far from here. “It’s nice to be able to fish a whip for a change too. The fish are intercepting the maggots in a 6ft area slightly downstream of where the bait is landing. Because the shoal is in reach of a whip it’s the most efficient way of catching them. If they back off further downstream then I’ve got the stickfloat set up ready,” added Simon. After an hour or so bites became fewer and farther between, just as Simon predicted. Struggling to retain his blistering early pace, he picked up his match rod. Faced with a shallow swim and a minimal cast required, there was no need for a big float. A tiny 4 x 4 original John Allerton alloy float had been selected and his shotting pattern was almost identical to his pole rig. A bulk shot of No.8s were secured a third of the way down the line, together with three equally-spaced dropper shot of the same size beneath, leading to the hooklength connection. A few more fish followed, before a lull in activity. Simon kept the maggots going in, however, as a lot of the dace he had been catching had mouths crammed full of his grubs. Suddenly a bite close to the far- bank reeds saw something much bigger hooked. A few shakes of the head and it made a beeline for the reeds, forcing Simon to take evasive action with some serious side strain. “Chub,” he announced. It was at times like this that he was glad that he’d tackled up with a 4lb (0.14mm) hooklength, his reasoning being that these unpressurised fish would not be hook- or line-shy. Everything held and a 2lb chub came up for a gulp of air before being gratefully received by his landing net. Simon ended the three-hour session on the whip, mindful that there wasn’t much more for the narrow peg to give. Unfortunately he also lost a big roach which threw the hook, but the quality of fish already in the keepnet more than made up for this late blip. “When you haven’t time to spend a whole day on the bank, a short session on your local mini river is a great way to get a quick fishing fix. You can have a bag of fish in the net by lunchtime for the price of a few pints of maggots. There are plenty of opportunities like this all around the country, so never discount a venue, no matter how small it is!” said a happy Simon. With a near-double-figure catch of quality silver glistening in the early afternoon sunshine, small river fishing rarely gets any better than this!
Simon used relatively strong tackle as the unpressured fish wouldn’t be hook or line shy
Rod: Rive Whip: Milo 6m Mainline:
0.16mm Rive Power Rig Hooklength:
0.14mm Rive Hooklength Hook: Size 16 and 18 P132 Floats: 4x4 John Allerton Stick and Ballabini 0.5g
Fishing a whip to hand is ideal for catching silvers on small rivers
Regular feeding of maggots produced a string of dace