08/02/2021 - The River Mease re-visited (another COVID-19 special)

I suppose it was in the early ‘90s that I first started thinking of myself as a “specimen” angler, having become an avid reader of authors such as Phil Smith, Tony Miles and Peter Stone.  However, my first proper “big fish” campaign wasn't on the River Ouse or a big Midlands gravel pit, but on the tiny River Mease on the Leicestershire/Staffordshire border. I’d just started work as an Assistant Biologist with the National Rivers Authority, based at Fradley near Lichfield. At the time my commute back home to Nottingham saw me cutting across country from the A38 to the M42 through the numerous villages along the Mease valley. One late summer’s day, just out of curiosity, I happened to stop and stick my head over a bridge and instantly spotted a massive (well, to me anyway!) chub drifting through the cabbages. A sign nailed to a tree indicated that day tickets for the stretch were available from the local pub, so I had a venue and a target! The first few trips in daylight that Autumn resulted in very little, so I decided to change tactics and fish into dark, thinking that the fish would be more confident. 

This was a perfect arrangement as it turned out – I was able to finish work and then drive to the venue to bait up a few swims before starting to fish as the light faded. Tackle and tactics were nothing fancy. A cheap Shakespeare quiver tip rod coupled with a Mitchell reel (bought second-hand off my friend Dai Gribble – not quite as well-known as he is now, but already a very experienced angler), which was loaded with 6lb Maxima. 

At the business end, a simple link leger and a size 6 hook to accommodate a big lump of garlic sausage. At the start of each session a few freebies were flicked into suitably chubby-looking spots, which were then fished in rotation. With no isotopes or head torch, bite detection was achieved by keeping the rod high and propping up a torch at an angle on the ground to illuminate the white quiver tip.

Fishing after dark with big baits did the trick as straight away I had a string of 3 - 4 lb chub. My notebook started to fill with information, including details of the best swims that, in budding specimen-hunter style, were given names including “the cattle drink”, “the willows” and “the straight”. With hindsight, I was a bit overly keen to share my early success and I invited my friend Tim to join me for a session, only for both of us to blank on a cold, wet night with the river carrying extra water. 

However, a few days later, Tim gave me the news that he’d been back and, you’ve guessed it, had caught exactly what I was after – a fish over 5lbs! On one hand I was absolutely livid having done all the legwork (I didn’t talk to him for days!), but on the other hand this was confirmation that bigger fish were there.

That Christmas I saved my pennies and treated myself to a Tony Miles “Quiver Supreme” from Scottie Rods and the following February I resumed my campaign with renewed enthusiasm. By the end of March I’d had two fish over the magical barrier and several back-up 4lbers, all but one coming after dark on a big lump of good old garlic sausage. Needless to say I was back the following autumn and things got even better in the shape of a chub of 5lb 15oz – a fish that is still my PB! 

That capture is still particularly memorable as I’d arrived to find a chap and his son, who was sat in a swim that I was intending to pre-bait, already fishing. After a quick chat and some subtle intelligence gathering I therefore headed further upstream. Much later, after catching just a couple of small fish, I wandered back downstream in the dark to find that they’d gone.

I was in two minds about fishing the spot where the lad had been sat but, as it usually produced, decided to drop a bait in for a bit anyway. Turned out to be one of my better decisions as a few minutes later I was looking at a mint, deep bodied, monster of a chub in my landing net. Just an ounce shy of the 6lb barrier it coughed up a load of red maggots undoubtedly provided by the previous occupant of the swim but, luckily for me, it had obviously fancied a more substantial main course! 

Two more 5lbers followed before the end of the year. However, my association with the River Mease ended abruptly after the section was taken over by a small club from Birmingham.

Whilst they were happy for me to join our relationship went South after I turned up to find the banks cleared, tree branches removed, the banks dug out for seat boxes and – worst of all – two freshly killed pike left on the bank. Almost immediately after that the opposite bank was leased by another club – all this happening on a river barely twelve feet across. Disillusioned, I didn’t bother fishing after Christmas and never fished it again.

By all accounts the fishing went rapidly downhill, possibly due in part to issues with water quality, but the angling pressure wouldn’t have helped. However, that might not be the end of the story. Mid-pandemic, but under the more relaxed circumstances of the summer, I found myself travelling along the River Mease valley once more. Again, out of curiosity, I stopped at a bridge and peered over into the water below. The river was clear and weed-filled with a clean gravel bottom and, whilst I didn’t spot any monsters this time, there were a few small fish dimpling on the surface further downstream. Enough to re-kindle some interest? We’ll see what the rest of lockdown brings!


  1. Rivers peak and dip and always at the whim of man. Watching a good water fade is a tragedy but, it's also the impetus to make you look further and find somewhere new. Also, as the Mease loses it's appeal for the idiots that ruined it, it will thrive on the neglect. One day it will peak again.

  2. Absolutely Dave. If I can get down there before the end of the season, lockdown-permitting, who knows what surprises might be waiting.

  3. Match fisherman have form round these parts too, not god I might add.