Although I have already caught more than twice as many barbel this season as I did in the whole of last season the average size has dropped considerably. This is down to where I've been fishing. With over 50 fish from the Ribble in the last few weeks, and with the rivers all carrying extra water, now I had a day free it was time for that trip away that I had been promising myself. Despite my good intentions a heavy shower while I was drinking my postprandial mug of tea almost dissuaded me from loading the car, but it soon passed, the sun shone again and I was on my way.
Even so, I drove through rain and doubted the wisdom of my trip. Would the river be fishable? It was, and the sun was shining again as I walked the banks. Then it clouded over as I tackled up. That was to set the pattern for the evening - sun and showers, and the night too (without the sun..). I would have taken the water temperature, but the battery was flat in the thermometer. Still, the river was not too high, a muddy brown the way I like it, and not many anglers were about. I picked a swim on the heavily fished stretch I usually avoid. It's all or nothing on this river now. I want to catch one of it's biggies, and this is where they hang out.
Both baits were dropped in the margins to avoid any debris coming down the river. If fish are pressured I think it pays to leave the baits in for as long as possible and avoiding weed and autumn leaves helps this cause. A 'snake' went upstream and a couple of Monster Crab and Mussel Tuff 1s downstream.
Baits out, brolly up and I set about tying some fresh hooklinks. Good job too, because when it got past six I decided to recast in readiness for the anticipated dusk feeding frenzy. The downstream rig was snagged solid. A firm pull saw everything gone with a clean cut on the end of the braid. Commencing to retackle I spotted a frayed section of line a few feet from the end. If I hadn't snagged up I wouldn't have noticed that. Once retackled I put a single Tuff 1 on the hair and cast - more accurately, swung - out the rig.
Then I tied up PVA mesh bags of pellets until I ran out of mesh. Out with the tub of mesh and make a start on reloading the bag filler. Almost done and I'm disturbed by a baitrunner whirring angrily. The PVA is slung in the bait bag and I lean into a fish on the downstream rod. It feels the pressure and heads out into the main flow and steadily upstream. This is more like it! The fish gets a few yards above me then I turn it. Line is taken from the clutch, the rod bends. No eight pounder, but probably no real monster either. The six ounce watch lead rises through the murk and into fresh air. The barbel rolls almost ready for the net. Then it's mine.
Lying on its back in the net it has that width behind the gill covers that barbel develop when they get beyond the ten pound mark. Sling ready I lift her ashore, pop the hook out and read the scales. A bounce to 12, then back a few ounces. Two quick snaps of her lying on the sling and back she goes at a spot downstream where I can get to the water. Before I get here free of the sling she's already fighting to get back home. Sliding into the water she slips downstream, turns to face the flow and sinks out of sight.
An angler had turned up on the opposite bank shortly after I had got settled in. After asking if I minded him fishing across from me he threw some groundbait in, set up his rods and net, then wandered off for a chat with another guy upstream while he let the bait work its magic. Although he wasn't a floppy hatter and his rods weren't cane (in fact he was a Realtree junky - even his landing net pole was cammoed up) his reels were centrepins. Not my approach, but each to their own.
I hadn't realised how annoying centrepins are. When he did eventually cast out they would click loudly as weed dragged his baits down the river. Each time I would spring towards my rods thinking it was one of my baitrunners making the noise. Thank goodness he didn't get a barbel take while I was there! Thankfully he had the decency to switch the ratchet off when he reeled in. Even when weed is collecting on my lines my baitrunners rarely make a sound. Unlike some people who adjust them to match the flow, just stiff enough not to give line, I screw my 'runners up as tight as I can without fear of a fish dragging the rods in. Unless weed is dragging my baits out of position I let it collect on the line. It doesn't mask the bait, and at close range will not be so far up the line as to make netting a fish difficult. You don't catch fish while you are taking the 'washing' in!
In terms of fish the hours of darkness were uneventful. I didn't hear any fish being landed on the other bank, and I had no more action by the time I packed up at eleven. The highlight was a vague off-white shape lazily flapping across the river towards me like a giant moth, pausing briefly over the downstream rod at eye level, turning upstream and away along the river edge. A close encounter of the barn owl kind. I'm sure many a birdwatcher would have paid handsomely for that experience. There is more to fishing than catching fish, but without the prospect of catching a fish or two I'd never have been sat by a river side, in the dark, on a rainy night in October.