There were rods that needed fettling prior to despatch, but as they wouldn't be finished in time to ship on Thursday, and I never ship on a Friday, I left them and headed back to the river.
Why I insist on walking to the furthest swims on the stretch when the ones closest to the access point seem to produce the biggest fish I suppose must be down to cussedness, the fact that it is more peaceful away from the crowds, or maybe I want to prove to myself that I can catch barbel by finding them through watercraft rather than looking for other people's bankstick holes.
I stopped half way to the swims I had in mind on the pretext of throwing some pellets in the swim where I had lost that fish on Tuesday, but in reality it was because I couldn't walk much further! Indeed, I considered plonking down in the next swim downstream to spend a relaxing few hours soaking up the sun and chilling. I didn't, I carried on.
On reaching the swim I fancied, a steady glide below a crease, with grass, nettles and balsam hanging over the margin, I sprinkled in some mixed pellets in the edge a couple of yards below where I set up my chair. Then I went and threw some more in a semi-slack under some trees at the end of the stretch ready for a move towards dark.
I soon had one rod out fishing a Tuff 1 off the rod end and began tying up some spare hooklinks. Then rain began to fall. I'd almost left the weighty brolly behind, but was glad I hadn't as I sat there in my T-shirt tying rigs and then filling PVA mesh bags with pellets. The rain stopped and I cast out a second rod, upstream and slightly across, with a four pellet snake as bait.
It was great to be sat looking across the river at a sheepy meadow bordered by willows with a church spire lit by the sun against the big, Constable-cloudy sky. Life felt good as I listened to the Archers. The programme was reaching a saucy climax when the idyll was shattered by the close in rod top puling savagely down towards the water and the baitrunner screeching like a mad thing. I think a barbel was involved too!
That split second between the take registering in the brain and starting to play the fish are a mystery. Do I pick the rod up then stand, or is it the other way round? I have no idea how I come to be holding on to a bending rod once that tip moves!
This was no four pounder, and it was no eight pounder either. The rod bent to its limit throughout the fight and the clutch ticked a few times too. I'd ditched the mono, and my 'small river' eleven footers, after Tuesday's fiasco and was using my trusty, go-anywhere, Chimera 3s and 30lb Power Pro. The fish was history! Sure enough, after a decent but brief scrap, it was pretty soon in the net and shortly after in the sling and being hoisted by the scales. The first double of the season, chunky, golden flanked in the August light, and a new river PB.
After the photos I started to regain my composure, throwing some more pellets in the downstream swim, before recasting and settling down again. There was a chance of another fish from the same spot before dark. It was not to be. So at nine o'clock I wound the rods in and had a tidy away ready for a move back upstream. The next step was to take one rod, banksticks, landing net and pellet bucket to the end peg for an hour. The Tuff 1 was cast out, about four feet from the bank, at the tail of the eddy, with a big bag of pellets on the hook over another sprinkling of the same mix.
This swim is in amongst a load of nettles, surely the residence of Roland and his pals, which was why I'd left the chair behind and elected to stand by the rod. Sure enough, as the light faded the rustling and scrabbling began. The local owls I had heard waking up, barn and tawny by the sound of it, must be well fed. I experienced a few 'bat bites' in between shooing the rodents away. Funny how I like bats, but detest rats, when the only difference is one letter...
Every so often I'd throw a handful of pellets out over the bait - or at least in it's general direction. Through the leaves of the stand of big old willows behind me I saw the moon, full, as if Atkinson Grimshaw had painted the scene. Full moon + barbel = kiss of death. In clear water conditions and a cool night possibly so, but it was warm and the river was more coloured than it had been on Tuesday. That day's rain having worked through the system the level was up a little too.
I glanced at my watch and there were three minutes to go until ten when I was scheduled to vacate the swim no matter what. The isotope on the rod tip moved down and back, slowly a couple of times. There was something there, but I was still going to leave at ten. Time seemed to slow right down because when I next looked at the white hands of my watch in the moonlight the big one still hadn't reached the twelve. My eyes went back to the rod in time to see the whole top section curve right round. Again I found myself hanging on to the rod, without knowing how, as something barbely tried to head downstream. I'll not describe the tussle in detail, suffice to say it had all the elements you'd expect (powerful surges for cover, ponderous plodding upstream, thrashing on the surface, and the dogged refusal to give up) of a fight with a good barbel. Once netted I realised that I had finally managed to catch two doubles in a session after many near misses.
I staked the landing net to the bank and went back for the scales, sling, mat and sack. Lifting the net ashore the fish didn't look too big. Short it might have been, but it felt heavy. Sure enough my river PB from earlier hadn't lasted long and I had added a third river to my list that I have caught thirteen pounders from. The fish was sacked, checked to be upright, and left while I set up the camera. Once back out on the mat the fish was fit as a fiddle. A few self takes and I popped her in the net to make sure she was okay. No worries. Upright and trying to escape the mesh, I dropped the net cord and she glided back into the dark.
With a bit of a sweat on I thought it best to rest in the first swim for a while before trekking to my next swim. Although I didn't honestly expect a take I cast a bait in the edge while I supped a cup of flask tea and calmed down.
Half an hour later, and an hour after hooking that last fish, I was on my way to the swim where I had lost a fish on Tuesday. Unfortunately I spied an isotope wafting about on the far bank a few yards upstream, so retraced my steps some twenty yards and dropped the gear in a cosy little peg surrounded by balsam. Two baits went out, one close in and one a few yards out and upstream. The night was starting to turn cool. The rods were matted by a film of condensation, and my wooly hat was damp on top. My intention had been to stay on until two am, but an hour early I called it a night with no complaints.
Having had the satisfaction of catching a couple of decent fish doing things my way perhaps it's time to join the throng where the really big fish are supposed to live? Now the fish have lost their flabby, post-spawn condition and are in great nick I think I can safely say I've got my barbel head back on. You can always tell when that's the case - by the bucket of pellets that lives in the back of the car!