Glen Pointon relives the day he caught a huge river brown trout from a city river just a short walk from his front door…
I have always hunted specimen fish. Even as an eight-year-old sat there with my non-fishing dad, watching the bobbing of a hand-painted oversized perch float, I always had the thought “Is it a big ’un?”
The adrenaline kick from the rushing thoughts in my mind was my drug. I couldn’t get enough of that feeling and now, at 40, I feel no different. Is this my downfall or a bonus? I don’t know, but one thing for sure is that fishing has driven me to many lows and massive highs.
Travelling around parts of Europe and the UK I have searched out big fish and had reasonable success, but my 2015 season brought something special… and it was right on my doorstep!
Trout In The Trent
Stoke-on-Trent is my home soil, a city of five towns and known in past times for its huge pottery industry, which devastated the source of the river, turning it into a lifeless drain.
The industrial revolution took its toll on the Trent and it wasn’t until the 1970’s recession that the river started to become cleaner. This is when it became the river fishing Mecca of the UK, with hundreds of anglers lining its banks.
Times, however, have changed and anglers have moved onto stillwater commercials to get their fix. Over the last 30 years Environment Agency (EA) groups have kept up with modern times and this 184-mile river has now become clean. It was in 2015 that my River Trent trout fishing story began.
When we think of the Trent we usually imagine the massive river of the lower reaches, but here in Stoke it’s small and has some of the looks of a bumbling trout stream like my local River Dove.
In the last few years I have always looked over bridges after work and watched small shoals of chub and dace, and dreamt of seeing trout. Around four years ago that dream came true as before my eyes I saw a small trout of 8oz flitting around a fast gravel run. I was buzzing and before long had caught my first-ever Trent trout. I felt proud as punch.
Another few years passed and I had been hitting the Dove hard, but now and again I would go and have a look at my little Trent to see if any more trout were about.
The Buttercup Warrior
It was late October 2013 and the trout were out of season as I walked along to my favourite ‘sighter’ bridge and peered over the edge. What I saw turned my next few years into a total obsession.
Behind a boulder midstream, in three feet of water, was a trout; not your average 10-incher, but a huge wild buttercup warrior that looked as wild as they come.
I froze on the spot. I didn’t move a muscle. My eyes gazed with anticipation as I watched its every move.
It was there for a reason. It came to the surface, inhaled a fly, flashed its heavily marked red spots and buttercup flank and bolted downstream to its home.
For me this had everything I could dream of: a big wild Trent trout that rises to the natural, and within five minutes of my house! I went back home with a smile on my face so big my missus thought I was I was having an affair. I was, and for two years it would be with this big, wild, female buttercup trout!
Learning From Nature
My first attempt at this fish was a big lesson. So many Dove fish I had targeted I had caught after a few sessions, but as I strolled up to the river I soon realised I was into something that would be near impossible. It would teach me how to fish at another level.
The first few weeks I had been down all rigged up ready to fish and I simply could not get near the trout. It would drift into position and start to feed above and below the surface but any sudden movements by myself would send the fish bolting to its home under a fallen tree.
This went on for weeks and in the end I found that crawling in from the side got me into a spot where I could be 20 feet away with the fish in full view.
To my right was a bridge where the fallen log and flood debris held, which was home to this fish. It would swim out upstream of the bridge to sit behind a boulder the size of a bucket and move from left to right, focusing upstream on any food sources drifting down or hatching. The boulder would just take enough flow out of the main current for it to be a perfect feeding zone.
The first time I took my rod after all the homework on this fish, however, was my last time for the season…
I was sitting there in position, the trout was in its feeding zone and hard on the feed. This was my big chance. I peeled line off my reel. Behind the trout was a shoal of small chub that saw my rod whip around to the side. They all shot off upstream and the trout instantly sensed danger and bolted.
I was gutted. I now had to deal with shoals of coarse fish above and below this trout that were acting as spies. Rod flashes, coarse fish, movements, and one big, hardy, wised-up trout – I was really up against it. That was about it for my 2014 season hunting down this Trent beauty, as I had become distracted by some River Manifold trout, but in the back of my mind, I felt failure for not carrying on.
Time To Return
After a decent grayling season 2015 came around and in early March I took a wander around my failure spot.
"So there I was in position, the big hen rising at midday, taking the odd olive and anything that looked like food on the surface."
The season’s floods had changed the riverbed slightly and some kids had rolled a big boulder into the river, not knowing that to me this was a gift from the trout gods!
It’s one of nature’s wonders that year after year, after a hard winter of floods and extreme cold temperatures, trout return to their homes in the same spots. I have now watched the same trout on a Dove tributary for seven years and it’s never moved!
The Derbyshire rivers were Glen's normal fishing haunts until the Trent trout became an obsession and addiction.
My only worry was that the fish on the Trent would have been old and died, but on March 14th, my birthday and the start of the trout season, I was gifted with a sighting of the big buttercup hen trout I had been targeting.
Just the sighting gave me palpitations, she moved into the flow for at least 30 seconds, and that’s all it took for me to become totally obsessed with holding this beauty. I had a clear mind, it was early season and I began to study this fish like no other.
Trout On My Terms
The first few weeks of the season brings the magic large dark olive hatch. The big girl knew this and from 11.30am until 12.30pm there was a burst of activity when she would swim out of her home and bully all the other fish from the feeding zone. I got to know so much about the behaviour of this trout from hours of watching it.
The boulder that had been thrown in the river was the new spot for the trout; it was some 10 yards further upstream from its last feeding zone and it gave me a chance to get into a decent casting position.
I have watched trout rise for many years but I had never seen one as wary as this, it was so zoned into being predated itself it would rise to one single olive and bolt to its home downstream and within a minute it would cautiously ghost back to the feed zone. With heavy predation from birds and pike, to survive in these conditions takes some skills.
Everything was set up for me; even the chub were in the deeper water out the way this early in the season!
So there I was in position, the big hen rising at midday, taking the odd olive and anything that looked like food on the surface. It wasn’t locked on to a certain food source – they never are on these neglected rivers, they eat what they can to survive – and I peered into my fly box, with size 19 Blue Winged Olives, Large Dark Olives and F Flies, all tied on thin little quaint hooks.
I knew this fish would take anything but I needed something with a strong hook. I am not an angler with rows of immaculate flies and when I saw a size 14 Bibio from Scottish loch fishing it just screamed out at me.
The famous Bibio is sadly a pattern not associated with rivers but that’s the anglers’ loss – this fly has caught me more big trout than any other.
I had planned in my head what would happen when I hooked this fish; it would bolt downstream under the bridge in at least two seconds so I had just that amount of time to turn it. If it went under the snags it would be all over very quickly. I opted for some 1.8kg Stroft, something I could hopefully turn the fish with.
Two Years Of Waiting
I tied the Bibio on with a Palomar knot – one that is a pain to do and rarely used on dries, but the strongest there is – and greased the fly up.
I waited, glaring like a madman, for the fish to rise to a natural and it did, I loaded the rod once and shot my Bibio five feet above the fish.
The fish twitched its head as it confidently sighted my fly. I just knew it was going to take it. I watched in amazement as it approached the fly, this was sheer adrenaline like I had never experienced. There’s a quick flash in my mind thinking “two years, don’t mess it up!”
The trout’s mouth came over the fly. I was shaking and stalled slightly from the total pressure in my mind and struck! I felt nothing and the Bibio flew behind me! The fish bolted home and I had my head in my hands.
I sat there totally deflated, thinking of ways to make me feel better. At least I got it to take the fly but I messed it up big time, my nerves went.
Ten minutes passed; a couple of local homeless lads were drinking Stella on the bridge. I had got to know them as they had seen me spending so much time there and even they looked gutted for me as I told them.
As they strolled off I glanced into the river and did a double take as the big buttercup hen was on station looking for surface food again.
I went through the whole process again, only this time my line tightened up as I struck the Bibio home. The fish went absolutely berserk and leapt out the water straight up like a salmon three times in the same spot. I had never seen a trout do that.
It then bolted so quickly it took me by surprise and I had to go running into the middle of the river to stop it going into the roots.
I gave it some serious stick beyond what I was happy with but it worked and it stopped in its tracks with another spectacular jump.
I saw a weakness then in its fight as it started the old trick of staying deep and plodding around the bottom. The fish was tired but not letting go.
The trout made one last dart but it was too late, I had won the battle. I turned the fish and sank the net under it.
The buttercup warrior, well worth two years of waiting!
The buttercup warrior, well worth two years of waiting!I left the fish in my floating net at the side in the water, threw my rod on the bank and sat in the edge with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction.
The fish had not yet been out the water and I let her revive before I took a good look at her.
I lifted her out to see the most amazing looking big trout in its glorious colours! I had studied and watched this fish in the water for two years and now I was blessed to see her in a way only a fisherman can.
She was lovelier than I thought, a picture postcard for how a trout should look! I took a quick picture and just let her drift back off – oh the satisfaction of catch and release.
I drove home that night with a smile on my face. A car cut me up and I had to swerve over the road, I remember it well. I even waved to the driver and accepted his apology with a smile! Fishing is good for the soul and mind.
Safely returned to the clean water of the Trent!
Later in the summer, I walked the banks of this urban Trent with a cocky attitude and often watched the big hen rising. I never once had any intention of casting at her again. I saw lads with spinning outfits off the bridge but she is too wary for them.
Half a mile downstream I saw a dark shape under an overhanging tree… it turned and showed its flank, a fish so big it made my knees wobble!
Oh no, it’s starting all over again…