Sunday, March 15, 2009

The finishing post

Apologies in advance for a long and rambling post, but I packed a lot into the final two days of the river season. With a bit of a result on Thursday it would have been foolish to fish elsewhere on Friday. Saturday would be more of a problem as that river was bound to be busy on the final day as would my local river. I'd kip in the car Friday night then play it by ear. So it was with this half-plan in mind that I set off after snaffling a bag of fish and chips to see me on.

There'd been some light rain earlier which was forecast to move away and leave the final day and a half of the season dry - but windy on Saturday. Sure enough as I drove past the Lion's Den there was a line of brollies down along the 'hot' stretch. Nobody on the opposite bank though, but I wanted to get back where I'd left off and try to fish the swim that had been occupied on Thursday. Four cars in the car park suggested there might be a problem. Sure enough the swim was taken - by a bloke who had just moved in to it... Chatting to him before heading on upstream he revealed that he'd be moving after an hour or so as he had to be away early.

This session was to start like the previous one with a long walk to the other side of the fallen willow. I dropped my gear some twenty yards from where I fished the other day and went for a wander. As I reached the next likely looking swims the rain came back. So I went back to my gear and erected the brolly. I'd fish there until dark, maybe move a few yards down for an hour. The rain didn't last long. The sky was overcast and the wind light. The river wasn't much different to the day before, a tad warmer and maybe slightly less coloured. Still good though.

Nothing happened. Not a twitch. Nowt. I went and fished one rod in another spot for half an hour or so but it didn't feel right. At seven fifteen I packed up and headed downstream hoping the swim I fancied would now be free. It was. An eight mm crab pellet went down towards the overhanging branches, two S-pellets to the upstream crease. Chub pulls started to materialise, first to the S-pellets then to the crab. The takes to the crab pellet were real rod rattlers. The tip flying round as far and with as much force as a barbel generates when it heads for the sea. The difference being that before the baitrunner gave line the tip would spring back just as quickly, the rod literally rattling in the bite alarm.

After each bite I'd leave it a while and wind in to check the pellet was still intact. Even though I'd replace it if it was. Nine o'clock would be my set time to move. At ten to the downstream rod slammed round and back again. Should I wind in and move? Should I hope the bait was still attached and leave it where it was? Should I do the right thing and rebait and recast? I did the latter.

The church clock chimed nine. Bag packed, chair strapped to it, wind in the upstream rod. With my back to the river so the light from my head torch wouldn't shine on the water I was putting the hook in a rod ring to break the rod down when the alarm bleeped twice. I spun round cursing the chub. The alarm bleeped again. Maybe the fish was hooked? Another bleep and I dropped the rod I was holding and 'struck'. Chub on! A few initial thumps as per usual for a chub then it came easily. Under the rod tip it woke up a bit and proved surprisingly difficult to get up to the surface. When it did it had a typically big gob. As it slid over the net I saw it had a hell of a gut. It also took a while to slide over the net cord. Was it the long fat chub that had previously eluded me? Looking down on it as I staked the net out I thought it might be. I kept telling myself it was good five to save disappointment.

Now I had to unpack everything to get at the tripod and camera, and the scales. When on dry land the chub was even more impressive than it had been in the water. A good length and the fattest I have seen. The needle of the Avons described a full 180 degrees and some. I lifted the scales again to make sure I had read them right. Yep. It doesn't look much in the photograph, but chub rarely do for me.

Long and fat - the fish, that is!

Once photographed I was soon returning the most impressive chub I've seen. Not without mishap. The patch of mud that my right foot sank into over the top of my boot had looked very solid. Just as it had the last time I stepped on it. Fool.

With all the gear packed away for the second time in fifteen minutes I was on my way to what turned out to be the final swim of the night. The week's fishing was starting to take its toll on me. Apart from an aching back I was starting to doze off and the prospect of wrapping myself up in the sleeping bag was very attractive. At half ten that was what I decided to do.

Half an hour later I was cosy in the back of the car by the side of another river. I soon drifted off. My mind must have still been working because when I woke a couple of hours later I couldn't get back to sleep trying to plan for the last day. The wind was picking up. When the alarm sounded at five thirty I was awake again. The wind was now roaring through the bare branches of the trees. I was still undecided. I really wanted a crack at the Lion's Den but couldn't face the crowds. The Burdock swim is a reliable spot. I got up, put on my bunny suit and boots, and carried my gear to the peg. I felt rain so put the brolly up. The rain was just a few spots and soon passed. The sky clearing and the sun shining warmly I left the brolly up to keep the wind off my back.

Still feeling dozy I had my alarm switched on. The swim is too tight to fish two rods. Well, I have fished two but the upstream rod has only produced one smallish barbel. The place to cast to is some twenty yards downstream. An awkward cast given the surrounding willows. Willows that have been trimmed back since last year, since July in fact. The area has seen a fair bit of 'swim clearance'. It's obviously been seeing some attention this season. I noticed what looked like barrow tracks to one swim. Quite why I can't fathom. There's a stile to traverse by the car park and the swim is less than a hundred yards away. Still, just like rod pods, if you have a barrow these days you have to use it...

I'd settled in and it was time to put the kettle on, then fry the bacon later. Disaster! I had two gas bottle to choose from when I packed the food bag. One was three quarters full, the other about a fifth. I could visualise the fullest one sitting at home where I'd left it. I made the brew then had to ponder whether to fill the flask or cook the bacon. Reasoning that I could drink cold water but that uncooked bacon sarnies wern't too attractive the bacon won out.

My attention elsewhere I heard a single bleep. The rod had leaped out of the alarm! There's a strong flow in this swim, being on the outside of a bend. All you can do is hang on during the initial stages and allow the barbel to tire themselves on a long line against the bend of the rod. When they tire you have to lead them upstream. Brute force gets you nowhere. Steady pressure brings them up slowly like a dead weight. Everything went to plan and a weary barbel was drawn upstream of the net and allowed to drift down into its folds.

At the start of the week I was wondering if I could make it to ten doubles for the season. By the end of November I had caught eight and ten for the season looked easy. But then I'd thought that in October 2007 when I was on four and suffered a famine until the final night of the season. Now, with less than a full day to go I was on nine. Was this plumpster number ten? The scales said it wasn't. It was my 90th barbel of the season though - meaning that one in ten had been double figures, which I consider a decent percentage. It also meant I hadn't blanked at season's end, which is always satisfying.

Plump, but short

The wind continued to howl, the sun was bright and warm, I fancied a change of scenery. As the days have lengthened so the prospect of sitting in one swim all day wasn't too appealing. After managing to boil enough water to fill my flask I packed up at half nine, the stretch still devoid of anglers. I wasn't sure exactly where I was heading except it would be downstream. On a whim I stopped to look at a length that I have walked a couple of times but never fished because of the difficulty in accessing the river bank to fish and partly because of the cattle. It's not that I'm scared of cows or bullocks, it's the fact that the car parking is in the field and cattle damage cars. This time the field's only occupants were some far off Canada geese.

I walked to the river and the banks had been cleared. This work had revealed some tasty looking swims. Most more suited to summer fishing, at least to my eyes. Shallow streamy stretches lined by rushes, and similarly shallow runs with tangles of branches. I went back to the car, removed the brolly from the quiver to cut down on weight, and set off. Two baits were put out close in in a spot where the river narrowed. I had a slower crease upstream and more pacy water below it. There wasn't much depth but there was enough colour to give me confidence.

The wind really was blowing, barrelling up river creating small white capped breakers. The rods were bouncing in the rests, I felt like I was getting rosy cheeks. After less than an hour I wanted some respite. A wander further downstream found me some even more inviting, slightly deeper, swims under large trees. One had clearly been fished for chub in recent days. There were tell-tale crusts of bread on the bank. I was soon back with the rods.

As crab pellets had been doing the business I decided fish them on both rods. The S-pellets were removed and three crab pellets took their place. Because the hair had been tied to accommodate two 16mm pellets (and I'm lazy) I threaded on two 12mm crab pellets sandwiching an 8mm pellet between them.

Crab Pellet-Os

It wasn't long before the tip of the rod fishing the big bait signalled a chub pluck. Even under the trees the wind was sapping my enthusiasm. Two swans sought the haven offered by a cow drink on the far bank to rest from struggling against the wind. A hare lolloped across the field opposite while a lapwing wheeled and called above it. Had it not been for the wind I could have spent some time working that area. The big bait was taken again, this time the chub was hooked. A real beauty. Bold and brassy. Not quite a five but, as always with a first fish from a stretch, still pleasing. Time to go seek shelter.

A chub

By now I was feeling peckish. Back at the car I chanced frying some bacon on the last of the gas. It just made it. The flame flickering and dying just as the fat began to crisp. I reckoned that further on down river I could get out of the wind in one of the swims I'd fished a few weeks ago. Sure enough they were sheltered. I couldn't believe there was only one angler on the stretch - getting blown about in a productive, but exposed, swim. He was welcome to it!

Rods out I started to nod off as the swim was not only sheltered but getting the full benefit of the sunshine. I awoke to hear a car boot closing. Another angler had arrived with the same idea as me - to get out of the wind. I'd had one chub pluck, nothing conclusive though. With three, maybe four, swims that were out of the wind the new arrival chose to fish the one directly below the bush I was fishing to. Another move was called for. I wound the rods in and took one to check out a swim I hadn't inspected before. It was pretty interesting. Four or five feet of slower water close in with a neck down area in the river just above. It was protected from the wind too. It didn't speak to me though. I went back to my swim, packed the gear and headed for the car.

By now it was half four. I'd have time to look at the Burdock Swim again and if it was taken to head on to where I'd fished the previous two days. Driving down the lane to the river I saw what looked like sheep droppings all over the track. Sure enough as I drove into the field there were sheep everywhere. Ewes and their young lambs. Some of the lambs were tiny things and completely unaware what a car is. They made no attempt whatsoever to get out of the way. Quite the opposite. They walked towards the car. Further into the field where the track is quite deeply rutted there were lambs aplenty. They were small enough to make use of the ruts to shelter from the gale! I managed to drive round the lambs and reached the still deserted car park. It was going to be an interesting drive back dodging lambs in the dark!

Almost twelve hours, many miles of driving, and a bit of bank tramping later I had a bait back out where I'd started the day. Although surrounded by scrub and trees I put the brolly up to make for a pleasant last few hours. I was, by now, feeling the full effect of almost five days of fishing. Fresh air, sleep deprivation, exercise. I was starting to flag and could easily have headed for home. Not least because the food, like the gas, had run out.

At long last the wind started to drop as the light faded. The radio weather forecast predicted Sunday would be a day of light wind and high temperatures. Obviously... I was listening to an interesting Profile programme on R4 when the brolly suddenly lit up with a bright green flashing light and the air was rent by a high pitched wail. Either aliens were invading or I had a take. The rod being hooped right round rather hinted that aliens weren't involved.

The fight was a repeat of that from the first fish of the day. There was one difference. The weight I was trying to draw upstream felt heavier. The fish looked to be just as well filled out, but longer. I staked the net while I sorted the sling and sack. Taking the weight of the fish as I lifted the net by its arms it felt satisfyingly heavy. In my head I was guessing at eleven pounds. I was only an ounce out. My biggest off the stretch and number ten for the season. For the second time this swim had ended my season on a high. The fish was sacked briefly before the photos were taken.

Number ten

For release I put the fish in the landing net where she lay upright, gills working slowly, her head out in the flow, the mesh supporting her body. After a minute or two she moved her body gently from side to side and slid out of the net disappearing deep into the darkness.

Time to chill after sorting out the mess my swim had become. I rebaited and recast. I might as well. The spirit was willing to sit it out until midnight, but the body wanted some scran and to fall asleep. At eight thirty the rod was wound in and the river season was over for me. All that remained was to negotiate the sheep and hit the tarmac. Sure enough with acres and acres of grass to go at they were congregated along the track. At one point I had to get out of the car to shoo the dopey bleaters away.

Who says sheep are stupid?

My right hip hurts, my back aches and my 'good' knee is giving me gip. It's been a great end to the season but I'm all fished out - for now!