What I think I like most about barbel fishing is how civilised it is. There's no need to rise early! Being self employed this means I can get half a day's work, or more, out of the way then go fishing. I know some people manage to go fishing before work, but for me that has a number of drawbacks. If the fish are feeding it means that work gets pushed back because I can't drag myself away - usually to the point where it's not worth starting work at all. If they are not feeding then I'm usually tired and ratty for the rest of the day. Yesterday work was out of the way by noon when I headed for the Post Office and the chippy. I was on the road shortly after one - complete with boots!
It was strange driving down the motorway in sun so bright I had to drop the visor down, and rain so wet I needed the wipers on. By the time I reached the river the rain had cleared and the sky was blue. Better still the river was looking nice and muddy, but pushing through at a fair old pace. My intention had been to enter the lion's den and fish one of the popular swims, but I drove on to a point downstream where I could look at the river and get my fishing gear on - on drives longer than an hour I usually get changed when I arrive at the water.
There was a cool wind blowing so the bunny suit was required. For the hell of it I walked upstream for a look at the river. I spied out four or five spots that looked eminently fishable on the slower side of creases. Things had changed since I last fished the stretch towards the end of last season. A big old willow had cracked, part falling in the river, creating a fishy looking feature, the other falling across the path. It all looked quite inviting. So did the overgrown and deserted nature of the stretch. I was developing a twinge that suggested the call of the wild might need answering.
Back to the car and on with the mountain of tackle then take the easy route along a farm track to the upstream swim I fancied. Sure enough, by dropping the rigs in the slower flow I was able to hold out with three ounces, almost completely free of debris, while the main flow charged past in mid river. I spent over two hours in that first swim, scurrying into the bushes when the twinges got to critical mass... Just a chub knock or two were had, but there were fish about and I was sheltered from the wind.
It was still light when I moved down a swim for a similar result in terms of bites. Here my radio was competing with a tractor working on the other side of the river into darkness. Oddly, I didn't notice the engine fall silent as theme tune to The Archers started, but I did hear it fire up once again when the tune played at the end of the show. Thanks!
Half an hour later I moved again. This was quite a chore in the dark as I had to get past the fallen willow. Some gear I carted the long way around it, some I dragged under the bough, taking three trips in all. With both rods fishing again I was sweating a bit. The swim was deceptive underfoot. What appeared to be a tangle of plants creeping across the earth was actually suspended over a drop and I nearly lost my footing a time or two. There was another chub tap but I wasn't confident. I moved again.
This move entailed packing everything away and negotiating the winding and slippy path through the tangle of nettles and balsam. I was looking for a swim about half way back to the car. When I dropped my gear down I was surprised to find that I had actually walked past that swim and was in the one nearest the car park. I couldn't be bothered going looking for the swim I'd had in mind and determined to give this one a go for an hour or so, then drive to the stretch I'd originally intended fishing for a couple of hours before midnight. Before casting out I swapped the snake for a single 8mm crab Pellet-O. I'm not sure why. I just did.
I noticed that the wind had died down. Although the sky was clear it didn't feel cold - even after I had been settled in and stopped sweating. Like last night it was great to be by a river after dark just enjoying being there. It's that time of year when the Himalayan balsam lives up to the name I knew it by as a child - the popper plant. The seed pods are ripening and every now and then in the still of the night I would hear seeds pattering through the dying stems of thinning undergrowth.
Thinking about a move at half nine, which would give me at least an hour and a half further upstream before a midnight finish I rested my eyes. They sprung open when I heard a rustling in the dead stems. I looked round expecting a rodent, but saw my downstream rod was arched over and the front rest was doing it's Tower of Pisa act.
I braced myself against the fish that was thumping away on the end of the line and somehow managed to get down the bank to the flat bit by the water's edge without slipping on my backside or sliding into the river. Then battle commenced. All I was doing really was hanging on while the barbel used the current to its advantage. A couple of times it got in the main flow, but slowly I made some progress and gained some line. At one point it came to the surface making thin, splishy-splashy sounds suggesting it was a middling fish made to feel bigger by the extra water in the river. That was until it surfaced again. Tiring, laying on its side in the light of the silvery Petzl it had a deep golden flank and looked extremely long. Another short run against the clutch and I gained the upper hand.
Lying in the folds of the mesh the fish lost some of its length, but was still the deepest barbel I had seen for some time. I leapt up the bank to get the scales out and grab the sling and sack to wet in the river. This time I did end up on my arse going down the bank - and nearly in the river too! When I popped the hook free I was surprised to find it was the one that had been fishing the single small pellet. In my daze I had completely forgotten which rod was fishing which bait.
It was difficult to keep the scales steady and the needle was flickering wildly between a very impressive weight and one almost as impressive. I remembered that I had bought myself a pair of 'S' hooks from the DIY shop for just such an occasion. I put one over the 'V' of the spreader block of my landing net, and hung the scales on it. Success. The needle settled. Not beyond the mark I'd guessed it would, but close enough for rock and roll. I was happy. I almost smiled.
Sacking the fish in the margin it was obviously in no distress so I dried my hands, had a cup of flask tea and set up the tripod. The bank was sloping quite awkwardly and I struggled to get things as sorted as I would have liked. It would have to do. No matter how well the fish had been photographed a picture would never do it justice. There was something about it's bulk that no two dimensional image could ever capture.
I popped her back in the sack to be carried back down the bank for release. I thought I'd try and get a snap of her going back, but once her head was out of the sack she was away. Sod that final move, I'd stick it out where I was until I'd had enough. That was a little over an hour later. Maybe I'd have caught something else if I'd stayed longer, but what the hell? I'd a new PB under my belt, and a really belting fish it was too.
The journey home was notable for the attack of the dopey fly. Where it came from I'm not sure. I suspect an escaped maggot. This creature first crawled across the windscreen evading my swipe at it. It's next move was to land on the side of my face. Luckily there wasn't any traffic about as I swatted at it in surprise and zigzagged across the carriage way. Then it laid low, leaving me hyped up anticipating it's next blundering move. This was to land on my head. Missed it again! More time passed waiting for another assault. I heard buzzing to my right. Then it was on my head, from where I flicked it to my neck. I had it on the back foot (or feet - it having six of them). I felt it's body squish under my hand and roll to the floor.
At last I could relax and reflect that if the fish had weighed what I first thought it might I could possibly have lost my urge to barbel fish. As it didn't I still have the pleasure of increasing my personal best in increments to look forward to. Does fishing get any better?