With a cold, and wet, front approaching I thought I'd have a try for a barbel or two before it arrived. The day had warmed up nicely by the time I finished my morning errands but even by the time I was turning the car to leave my street I wasn't sure where I was going! Reasoning that it might be warmer if I headed south that was the direction I headed. Sure enough the reading on the car's thermometer crept up slightly as I travelled down the motorway. It was around eight degrees which would make for a grand afternoon and evening.
However, once I crossed the 'border' the trend reversed. I was stunned to see it plummet a whole four degrees before bouncing back to 4.5. Getting out of the car a chilly easterly cooled me down as I put on my bunny suit and boots. After walking the banks of Dog Turd Alley, and taking the water temperature (5.7) I planned to walk upstream and fish three or four sheltered swims on the way back.
<rant> This stretch is popular with dog walkers, as you may have gathered. So I put the trenching tool I carry in the car into my bait bag so I could remove any offending (and offensive) canine leavings should there be some in a swim I wanted to fish.
The culture of dog walkers in urban areas has changed so that you regularly see them picking up their pooch's poop in a plastic bag, yet when they let their hounds run free in the countryside they also let them leave their shit anywhere they like. In an area that is frequented by anglers and birdwatchers, not to mention other dog walkers, this makes the muddy path an unpleasant obstacle course.
The first swim I dropped into was one I've caught from before, but not at this time of the season. As the level was a good eighteen inches up and the river nicely coloured it looked worth a try. I was still setting up my rods when a springer spaniel burst through the undergrowth and began barking at me, it's owner baying for it's return somewhere in the distance. I tried the friendly 'Hello, boy' approach, but when it wouldn't shut it's yap I loudly told it to 'go away' - or something like that... The first spaniel was soon joined by another which was of a more friendly disposition. After more baying from the unseen owner the two animals disappeared. A few minutes later an apologetic own appeared, dogs on leads. Much as I like dogs it's the owners that annoy me. </rant>
While the water was just about warm enough to give me hope I still opted for winter tactics and attached small bags of mixed pellets, with micro pellets included, to both hooks. I wasn't expecting to have to recast too often as I would be fishing slacker water close to the bank, so a minimal amount of feed would suffice for its attraction properties. The downstream rod was baited with a single 8mm crab Pellet-O, with the upstream rod having two S-Pellets to, so the thinking went, to leak off oils and add further to the attractive trail wafting down the flow. Probably rubbish, but it was a plan!
I gave the swim an hour and an inactive half before packing the gear and moving sixty yards or so downstream. This is not so much a roving approach, where you travel very light and fish every likely looking swim for a few minutes. I think of it as being nomadic. I set up camp for a minimum of half an hour or as long as three hours, then pack it all away and move to another swim. Sometimes I'll bypass a few swims before reaching the next one I like the look of. Sometimes I'll move a few tens of yards sometimes a couple of hundred. Sometimes I'll go back to the car and drive somewhere else.
The second swim was one I hadn't fished before but it had a nice crease with a long tail. It looked the part and both baits were swung out a few feet from the bank. Again it was sheltered from the wind, this time by the remains of nettle and balsam rather than bushes. In the distance a small flock of fieldfares flew to the top of a bare ash tree. A reminder that the small signs of spring are still mere hints at what is to come.
There was a muddy plateau at the water's edge so I set up camp on the grassy bank above it. After three quarters of an hour, as the light was fading, I stood up to stretch my legs. With my back turned to the river I heard something moving in the dried remains of the bankside undergrowth. I spun round and saw just one rod and the other bankstick doing a Tower of Pisa impression. I leapt towards the river and spotted the rod lying on the plateau. Luckily, whatever had caused this failed to hook itself, or I might have also heard a splash - just as I might had I set the rods up right on the river's edge!
After the disturbance of clambering up and down the bank I wasn't too hopeful of another bite from the margins, but I thought it was worth another forty five minutes. By now it was dark. Although the sky hadn't been clear there wasn't thick cloud obscuring the stars and thin sickle moon, but they all had fuzzy edges. There was a ground frost forming on my rucksack and quiver, and an encrustation of ice on my landing net pole. I wasn't cold though, which was odd.
Shortly before the time limit I had set myself expired the downstream, crab pellet, rod tip pulled slowly down a few inches and eased back equally slowly. The process was repeated. It pulled down a third time and I picked the rod up feeling the weight of a fish. I was expecting a chub in all honesty and the initial stages of the 'fight' convinced me. Then it woke up. It was obviously not a chub. Not the biggest barbel by any means, but a plump one and most welcome given the circumstances. Nice to catch from a 'new' swim too.
I'd obviously made some correct decisions, but should I have fished a different stretch with bigger fish? I might easily have blanked there and blamed the conditions when it would have been poor location. Still, I now know not to write this venue off when the water is cooler than 6 degrees. I gave the swim another three quarters of an hour before my final move.
The last swim of the night has produced fish for me in the past, but not this time. By eight thirty I was getting the urge to sit in a warm car for the drive home. The thermometer was now reading just 2 degrees and I'd had to scrape a thin layer of ice from the windscreen. Heading north again the thermometer reading began rising reaching a maximum of five. I thought birds flew south to reach warmer climes? It was all a bit back to front.