There's a frenzy that develops in river anglers at this time of year. Time is running out, yet the weather's improving. Just three weeks left for the chance of a few more barbel. With work set to get in my way from Monday I thought I'd snatch one more session while I had the chance. Even though the barbel hadn't been playing all week the river was still going to be warm enough. They had to be feeding!
A warm, dry, Sunday afternoon this close to the end of the season and only one other angler on the bank. The rest of them were either filling their boots somewhere else or had had enough of blanking. The Lion's Den swims were empty, the opposite bank I was on was also devoid of anglers. I started off fishing a cage feeder with flake for bait below the Rat Hole in a swim which will now be known as the Skeleton Swim after the remains of what I took to be a moorhen that were hanging in low willow branch - at head height when I was sat on my low chair. I assume it was a moorhen from the few remaining feathers clinging to the white bones. The head and neck were missing. So were the chub. Not a sniff.
After an hour I deposited my gear in the Rat Hole. It was nice and sheltered here, the wind being quite strong and with a touch too much of the north in it for me. I'd left my amazing collapsing brolly at home as the forecast was for a dry afternoon and evening. Had I taken it I might have fished a streamy glide with a good depth close in that looked like it might offer some tempting cover to the fish in the clear water conditions. Shelter seemed a better choice. Unfortunately when I looked across the river there was a roving chub angler fishing almost opposite the Rat Hole. Not to worry, I liked the look of a narrow gap in the willows just upstream.
I fancied this spot for a chub with the cover of overhanging branches either side of the gap. I fancied it for a barbel too, but didn't fancy trying to extract a hard fighting fish from it's confines. After ten minutes on my knees I went back to get my chair! Sitting behind the cover of the hawthorns with the quiver tip poking out over the river I was well sheltered. The long tailed tits ignored me as they worked up and down the bushes. The way the move along in a flock, swinging from the branches as they search for insects, their tiny bodies and long tails put me in mind of a troupe of minuscule monkeys. A large flock of fieldfares flew up river, a few redwings mixed in with them. Something caught my eye, a small bird moving in the branches to my left obscured by the dead stems of some plant or other. I thought it was a wren at first, but when it revealed itself I saw the bright yellow cap of a goldcrest. A biteless hour was long enough, it was getting towards time to put the barbel rods out.
With the popular swims on both banks empty I had the freedom to set up where I liked. The tackle was moved in, rigs checked and a monster crab and mussel Tuff1 cast to mid river and a crab Pellet-O down the inside line. I was hoping the wind would drop after dark as this stretch was taking its full force. Popping behind the bankside bushes it was an overcoat warmer. The wind chill was considerable. The light went. The chub angler headed home. The wind did drop. I gave it an hour and a half then leapfrogged the rods down a few yards.
Given an open bank and snag free water I have that pike anglers urge to spread my rods out! The butts I managed to keep within reach, but the baits were spaced a good twenty yards apart. I can't see any point in fishing two baits in the same spot when you don't have to. Those who say that having two lines in the water might spook barbel can never have considered putting the lines well apart. It's rare that I fish two baits to the same line, only when fishing a channel or similar feature, and then they will be spread as far apart as I safely can. When fishing a swim like the one I was in where fish could be anywhere from the near bank to the other side the baits might as well cover as much water as possible.
My strategy came to nought. By nine thirty I was starting to nod a bit. I'd fished four days out of the last six. No barbel but the batteries had been recharged. If conditions stay steady until I have got work out of the way this week I have a plan of some high degree of cunning that might put a barbel on the bank for me.