Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Walking the dog down memory lane

The cupboards were bare, the sun was shining and the lawn needed scything. It was time to get my priorities right. Time to go fishing. Carrying on with this season's policy of pioneering. Well, fishing away from the banker swims, I headed for the scene of the capture of my longest standing (albeit unweighed) personal best. I have a very good visual memory but the lane to the river looked different to how I remembered it from what must have been thirty-five years ago (give or take). The dwellings were far more gentrified. However the hedge line angling to the gate, although more manicured, was just the same. The metal gate, though, was gone.

I'm sure the island was further upstream in the 1970s

It was hard to figure out exactly where I had sat on my wicker basket and trotted my float all those years ago. Partly because the river was carrying at least two feet of strong-tea-with-a-dash-of-milk coloured water. I think I found the tree that had shaded me. What was that PB? It was gudgeon. And it was a gudgeon, not a baby barbel. Barbel, even when small, have an aggressive look about them. Gudgeon are friendly, almost cuddly. Not unlike the border collie that greeted me as I stepped out of the car.

The sky had clouded over but it was still warm and muggy despite the wind. I donned my fishing boots and in t-shirt order set off upstream. My new found companion leading the way, stick in mouth. There were two anglers on the bank and they had both caught barbel. Not surprising as the conditions looked ideal. They said the river was falling. That should mean less weed coming down. Now to find a swim to fish.


Being unfamiliar with this part of the river I walked well upstream. Sweating as I went. Stooping to pick up my pal's stick now and then. It's hard to judge a length of river when it's carrying extra water, but a few spots looked worth a dabble. Those further up river would have to wait for another time. I wasn't carting all my gear back up there after my exertions. I turned round and retraced my steps, this time ignoring the stick bearer's pleading eyes. There were two places I really fancied, I might fish one then move into the other. Rain was forecast, however, and that might scupper the plan. As might the falling level which could make one, or both, of the swims a waste of time.

At the car I had a breather. Swigged some pop (unlike some I couldn't run down to the river for a drink on my way back) and had a couple of bites of a Lion Bar - watched droolingly by you-know-who.

My new best mate - for a while

As I did my Sherpa impression through the field I was glad to have shaken off a chest infection that had been slowing me down for over a month. I wasn't out of breath by the time I carted my tackle down the bank between the rank balsam. The furry one had bounded off ahead and was being stroked by one of the other anglers when I passed him by. How fickle dogs are. They'll be anyone's best buddy for a bit of attention. I never saw her again.

My first task was to clip a lead to the snap link on my new dropper rod and have a feel about. The depth seemed acceptable judging by the time it took for the lead to settle. It wasn't pulling out of position when I held the rod steady - it was only 3oz - and the bottom seemed snag free.

I'd selected the swim because the flow was almost a crease. I say almost because there was no defined crease line, but there was a definite increase in pace further out. A rod length and a half from the bank was where I intended placing my baits. That's where I put in five droppers of pellets. The new rod doing just what I hoped it would.

Banksticks were set up, rigs baited, pellet bags added and out they went. An 8mm crab Pellet-O downstream, the feed having gone in slightly downstream of my fishing position, and an Oyster and Mussel boilie upstream away from the feed. After making my camp comfortable I filled some more mesh bags with pellets. After half an hour, just as a light rain began to fall at quarter to four, the downstream rod hooped over and the baitrunner purred its sweet sound. That was a good start. A smallish barbel was quickly returned and the rod recast. I'd managed to get the brolly up just before the fish came along, which was a good move as the rain soon got heavier.

Fifteen minutes later I was in again on the same rod. This time the hook came free. It was quicker to wind the upstream rod in and cast it where the two bites had come from than to rebait and recast because I thought a shoal might have moved in. Then the pellet was cast upstream. The rain had stopped but I left the umbrella up as more was forecast to arrive in the evening.

I was now pretty confident of non-stop action. It was over half an hour later when the upstream rod took off - shortly after I had swapped the two rods round again. A more dogged fish that hung motionless under the rod top at one stage. The extra flow was assisting the fish making them feel bigger than they turned out to be. A nice eight and half pounder, even so.

It was quarter past seven before I had another bite. This time to an S-Pellet on the upstream rod. Another dogged fish, in the seven-plus bracketBy now the rain had arrived in earnest. It was already starting to look like dusk. By eight thirty it was pretty well dark. The river was noticeably lower by then. It had been dropping about an inche an hour. I thought I'd try casting the baits a little further out. At ten past nine the upstream rod, by now back on a boilie, was off again as I was resting my eyes! Moving the bait seemed to have done the trick.

The rain was persistent and heavy. At times it looked like the artificial rain you see in movies as it swept across the river in vertical bands. It was making listening to the radio difficult too! Just before ten, after I'd swapped the pellet for a 10mm Tuna Wrap (I have more confidence in them now), the downstream rod was in action again. Another little scampette.

I was starting to get a bit fed up of the swim now the rain had turned the soil to grease. My tramplings weren't helping matters. It was becoming a bit of a quagmire. Despite the rain it was still quite enjoyable. Apart from the mud. I started to tidy up the rucksack. Almost everything was zipped away when I was disturbed by the unmistakable sound of a barbel making off with a Tuna Wrap. I was able to grab my rods without leaving my chair, so I did just that. I then engaged the gears and pulled into the fish. As I stood up my feet were lubricated by the slimy mud beneath them and I slid down the bank onto my arse. I was on my back like an overturned beetle, being rained on and holding a rod with it's tip bent towards the river as a barbel thrashed maniacally on the end of the line.

Somehow I managed to gain an upright position and regain control of the fish, and my senses. It was another wee one that had used the flow to it's advantage. I think a double might have dragged me in! I put the bait back out while I packed everything else away, then wound in and trudged my way to the car park. The rain had all but stopped, of course.

Quite a pleasing session. Six barbel landed on a first visit. No monsters, but I never turn my nose up at an eight pound barbel or two. Four different baits had caught, further reinforcing my belief that bait is not the most important issue to consider in barbel fishing. No doubt with all that rain the river will be on the way up again, and with the weather predicted to be unsettled that might be the pattern for the rest of the week.

The drive out of the valley was like so many in previous years, along shiny wet tarmac littered with leaves and twigs blown from the trees by the autumnal winds. And yet it was still August. Is this climate change at play?

Before the rain arrived I had a mess around with the video facility of my compact camera. I tried to get footage of me playing a barbel, but failed. I had to settle for some badly framed unhooking and weighing action before the memory card filled up. I don't think Bob and Stu have much to fear. At least not until I get a proper video camera...

I'm sure the barbel police won't like the video. Well, they know what they can do with their truncheons!