With the air temperature having made it into double figures for the first time in ages seeing three other anglers sorting their gear out in the car park when I arrived was no great surprise. Spying a rod rest that had been left behind I let the other anglers move off before pouncing. It's always a good omen to find some tackle at the start of a session!
Not being sure what conditions I'd be faced with after my long drive I packed two barbel rods, my tip rod and a float rod. The usual pellets were accompanied by lobs, dendrobenas, cheese paste, maggots and liquidised bread. I was rather loaded up as I braved Dog Turd Alley. I managed to avoid the turds but was pursued by spaniels at one point. This time I walked on past the alley itself to a spot where the river deepens below a riffly stretch and a crease cuts across from the bank I was on to the opposite side of the river. A bush in the water upstream to my left and one overhanging to my right gives plenty of room to spread the baits out.
An 8mm crab Pellet-O went upstream with a small bag of pellets, while downstream I cast a maggot feeder with a lobworm on the hook. Although the river looked to be a foot or so up it was fairly clear, but with a greenish tinge suggesting snow melt and it was dropping. However the thermometer read an encouraging 6.1c.
Settling into the swim I decided to bag up some pellets and while rummaging in my bait bag for the pellet tub and stocking-filler I thought I saw the quiver rod bounce. Maybe I'd knocked it. With the pellet tub between my knees idly bagging away the rod bounced again. Definitely a fish. It did it a third time and I struck, flinging some half-bagged pellets and the filler to the ground, and connected with something that was pulling back, trying to make it to the downstream bush.
My first thought was a barbel, then I remembered the light rod I was using and changed my mind to chub. Which was what the slate grey fin that emerged confirmed. I'd chosen to fish a lob worm partly to tempt a chub but also to see if there are any perch in the stretch. Half an hour and a fish on the bank. A chub would do. Not a bad start.
Although plump enough it was in a bit of a state. As the photo (not too clearly) shows some of its scales seemed to be covered in a thick brown mucus, but on trying to scrape it off it proved not to be slime but something beneath the scales that was raising their texture.
On recasting I began to get non-stop tiny tremors on the quiver. Some would almost look like decent bites, most would not. I thought minnows might be the cause, but when I examined the worm after a while it had been bitten half way through at the tail. Minnows with minuscule knives?
I switched the lobworm to two dendrobenas, thinking a smaller bait might encourage whatever was down there to take a proper hold. The vibrations of the tip continued until I struck at one and found the smallest minnow I think I have ever seen impaled on the hook. The dendrobenas were mere tubes of worm skin. This time I rebaited with a single, but larger, dendrobena.
I'd just wished an attractive dog walker on the far bank a good afternoon when the quiver sprang purposefully into life. The strike met sold resistance. Then something leapt from the water. I'd hooked a spotty creature. A rather thin, and out of season, brown trout.
The worms didn't produce anything more, but were still getting pecked at. I crammed four or five red maggots on the size eight and gave that a try. As soon as the rig settled the tip came alive. I struck into something that pulled for a second then fell off. In an attempt to see if they really were ravenous minnows I swapped the size eight for a fourteen with two red maggots. It didn't take long for a plump minnow to be swung to hand.
Although it was frustrating knowing there was probably a shoal of the greedy litte beggars mopping up my maggots, sucking at my hookbaits, and driving me mad with their tip twitching antics I stuck at it missing most bites, hooking a few more minnows. On the point of giving up the maggot fishing I remembered how I had put up with this in the past for one or two of the bites to turn into grayling. I carried on enduring the tap-tap-tap of the Chinese Minnow Torture.
It struck me that there might be some better fish hanging back downstream of the minnow shoal concentrated on where the feeder was landing, picking off what maggots the minnows missed. The next cast went a bit closer to the overhanging bush. The tip was still when the rig settled. Then it registered a proper bite and I was playing something more substantial. At first I thought it was another chub, until it started jagging when I considered a perch. The flash of silver finally said grayling. One that would obviously require the scales. Not a specimen in most people's books, but when you haven't caught many grayling, and none that were worth weighing let alone setting up a tripod for, it was a nice fish.
It didn't take long for the minnow hordes to discover the feeder was landing somewhere else and I was soon back to the constantly trembling fibreglass. I got a friendly wave from another lady dog walker. Again on the far bank. The tip kept trembling. Some noisy fieldfares flew overhead, quite high. The river was warming. The tip rod started bouncing. Another grayling, smaller by about a pound, was unhooked and returned.
All the pellet rod had caught was a long length of heavy mono that was easy to remove from the river. It was lightly caught up in the upstream bush's branches and hardly attached to anything downstream. It must have been lying on the river bed the full run of the swim - some twenty yards or more. I can't understand why the angler who lost the line lost so much of it.
What to do after dark? With the constant feeding of maggots I decided to try fishing a couple of plastic casters over them on one of my barbel outfits for an hour. This failed. The pellet rod was also immobile. The evening was warm. By the time I settled into another swim downstream, the swim I caught my last barbel from, I was wishing I could have stopped the night. This new swim was, like the banks themselves, much drier and firmer than last time out. So I set up on the 'plateau' by the water's edge. Tucked down the bank there it was nice and cosy. If I'd had a bedchair I'd soon have nodded off.
All afternoon I'd been listening to England's good progress in the hastily arranged third test from Antigua. I'd give it until the close of the West Indies innings or close of play, whichever came first. Pleasant as it was sitting by the river my confidence had ebbed away. When the last wicket fell just before nine I called it a day. It had been enjoyable. Although the minnows were frustrating it was almost like being a kid again. Sometimes getting bites and landing anything is all you need to satisfy the soul. Even a small, and unexpected, PB can do the same for you.