I sat down, tidied my gear and poured a brew from my flask. The cup wasn't half drained when I heard a baitrunner whirring and looked up to see the Chimera tip pulled over. Ten minutes in and I was returning a six and a half pounder to cat calls of derision from another angler whose swim had died!
Just over half an hour later I caught sight of the mongrel's tip stabbing repeatedly down and I pulled into a heavy feeling fish. Then I remembered the rod wasn't as powerful as the Chimera. It had a lovely through action though. This barbel was little heavier. I changed the rig over to fish one of the larger Pellet-Os. Just before 5.30 that bait was taken. Alas, I pulled out of the fish. My fault entirely, I should have tied on a fresh rig with a bigger hook and a longer hair. I swapped the mongrel for my other Chimera which was rigged like this and replaced the S-Pellet that was on the hair with a fresh one.
Dusk was falling but the action dried up. A few chubby rattles and taps but no proper bites. Darkness settled in and it stayed nice and warm. A good hour into darkness a three pound chub picked up the downstream bait, then a few minutes later the upstream rod started bouncing. This was to be the biggest, and last, fish of the session at seven pounds. I fished on for two more hours before winding in. I didn't fancy a late night as I planned to fish again on Sunday.
I was up with the lark on Sunday morning. A lark that had had a lie in... Even so I was on the road by nine. With the weather forecast to turn cold again I wanted to spend as much time on the bank as I could. If I had a plan it was to fish one venue for a few hours then hit the big fish stretch into dark. My plans changed and I ended up driving to a spot I hadn't fished since September last season - almost a year and a half ago. I set up in a swim near the car park that I had fished before and had a bite straight away on the maggot feeder. Then nothing more, even though the water was encouragingly warm at 8.3c and carrying a little colour.
The sun was shining, birds were singing, larks ascending. I was tucked away in the willows and sheltered from the still cool wind. Pleasant as it was I wanted bites. So I went for a walk downstream. Things had changed considerably. Swims I hadn't been able to see for the vegetation the last time I ventured this way had been made accessible. And they all looked inviting!
The first one I settled in was a rare old sun trap. There was enough heat in the midday sun for me to strip off the bunny suit and the fleece. However, it only took a wispy cloud drifting in front of the sun for me to put them back on again. It's still not summer. Like the majority of these swims it had overhanging bushes at either side, slackish water under the rod tip and the main flow creating a crease beyond the bushes. A bite came fairly swiftly to double maggot. A small chub.
Small but pristine
A switch to lobworm resulted in a positive bite and a fish that jagged like a perch before turning into another chub, a little larger than the first and with a throat full of mashed red maggots. There was a robin quietly singing in the bushes to my left. I threw some maggots towards it and it began to pick them off one by one, flying into the willows to eat each one in peace before returning for another. While I was relaxing watching the robin's comings and goings I noticed some fishing line in the willows. I untangled and removed most of it, including the rig that was attached.
There are carp in the stretch, I've caught one, so I guess it could have been a carp rig. My guess is that it was used for barbel though. The short hooklink suggests an angler who either buys his rigs ready tied or can't think beyond carp rigs for anything - or both. I know short hooklinks catch barbel, but longer ones work much better. And there really is no need for a fixed rig like that on a river either. Still, I have another lead in the bag!
I planned to move again at four. That was when the quiver tip tapped again. Undeterred I moved anyway. After dropping my gear in one swim I moved it again to a more open swim with a bush directly upstream to my right and another a good few yards downstream. The flow was slow under the rod end, but not slack. It was an hour or more before I had a good pull to the lobworm. The strike unbelievably failed to connect. On inspecting the hook I saw the worm was balled up over the point.
The last of the clouds cleared from the sky and, as the sun lowered towards the top of the far bank, the air cooled. A cock pheasant chased a couple of hens about the field of sprouting crop on the other side of the river. A hare ran silhouetted along the ridge line. Two signs of spring as sure as the larks, lambs and motorcyclists I had seen and heard earlier in the day.
Another sign of spring
The isotopes were almost aglow when I started getting finicky plucks on the quiver tip. They weren't enough to make me stay. But I was unsure where to move to. I'd try the big fish stretch. This meant packing the gear in the car and a bit of a drive.
It was an hour later that I was setting up one rod in the Rat Hole by the bright light of a crescent moon. Even though I was out of the wind, now dropping in strength, I was getting chilly. After a couple of hours with the last of the tea in my flask cold, my nose colder still, I packed up. When I was putting the rods in the quiver I realised why my nose was so cold - there was some of that dreaded sparkly stuff on it. Back at the car the thermometer read 5.5c, but the roof would have made a nice skating rink for small animals. The gritters were out on the road home. My plans for a frantic end of season barbel campaign look to have been scuppered for now.