Glue was setting, the day was dry, I had a plan. It didn't work out. The way to the stretch I had in my sights was blocked by a tractor and a laughing farmer. They seem to take perverse pleasure in barring your way down narrow lanes. I formulated another plan.
It was only seven thirty but with the threatening cloud cover was dark enough to require the side lights. I'd have to get a move on to be settled in before dark. Joy! There were no cars parked up. My new plan was to fish away from my usual haunt on the outside of a bend. I stumbled down the bank, pitted with hoof marks and littered with partly grassed over rocks, to see an angler on the far bank, his rods pointing towards the channel I had hoped to fish. I suppose I could have been belligerent and claimed the 'half way rule', but I don't like fishing opposite other anglers even if they are out of casting range. There was plenty of vacant river to go at.
I wandered up and downstream a ways. The river looked inviting, but the bank somewhat treacherous and the water rather a long way down. Given time I could have worked out a way to fish safely and to net fish. That was time which was running out. For some reason I didn't feel like dropping in a well known swim. The recaptures and fishing by numbers has got a bit tedious despite catching plenty of fish. Back in the car with a third plan and upstream to the length I'd fished on Thursday.
Just in case there was anyone else there I had a quick walk to the swim I fancied, one up from the previous session, and found it vacant. The entire length was free in fact. I was soon back and tackling up. Following the failure of the rod I had last used for the bait dropper I had cobbled something together from some aborted rod conversions I'd tried over the years. It had come out at eight feet, in two very unequal sections. It chucked the dropper okay though. What I'm trying to achieve is a shortish rod that will lob out a dropper while still being suitable for barbel fishing under trees and in tight spots. That would allow me to carry the one rod for the two jobs on another river I fish. I might be getting close.
Anyway, the pellets were duly deposited slightly downstream, out from the rocks, in the channel. The level was down from the previous session here and the marginal rocks in the first swim I'd fished were even more exposed. This swim looked less hairy for playing fish. Good enough reason to fish it.
The boilie rod went over the feed, four or five droppers full, with as big a bag of pellets it was possible to make attached to the hook. I'd leave that out until it was taken, or dragged out of position by weed. The pellet rod was cast upstream and further out with a more reasonably sized bag of pellets on the hook.
The first thing that drew my attention to the sand martins was their chattering. They were sweeping over the far side of the river seemingly without flapping their wings as if they were rocket powered. The ease and speed with which they fly must make their long migrations pass quickly for them. Straining my eyes in the failing light I could see that they were flying to the nest holes in the far bank sand-cliff. I doubt they have broods to feed, so I'm assuming they use the burrows to roost. They'll soon be gone, being one of the first summer migrants to arrive and the first to leave. No doubt the winter floods will inundate their deserted nests, maybe even crumble the entire bank.
Despite the commotion the dropper caused it was only ten or fifteen minutes before the rod tips started tapping. At five past nine the boilie rod hooped over even though it was set low. Barbel really do scrap well when hooked close in. This fish really had me fooled as it took line with the rod arched into a near semi-circle. I couldn't believe it was 'only' a seven pounder. Much more fun that pumping in fish from distance.
More taps and twitches were seen. Mostly to the pellet rod. I suspected eels and sure enough one finally hung itself. Then a chub took the boilie and tried to drag the rod in. It fought pretty well on the heavy gear, convincing me I had hooked another barbel for a while. I made a pig's ear of netting it. The first attempt being a complete failure. I was sure the fish was in the mesh when I lifted it. My eye's aren't what they used to be! Second time round I got it right.
It was gone ten thirty by now and there was a light drizzle falling. I had my waterproofs on and erected the brolly to keep the rucksack dry. Five minutes before eleven the boilie rod was off again. The fish was away at speed. I picked the rod up and was trying to stop the fish with finger pressure on the spool's skirt before engaging the gears. My baitrunners are set pretty tight, almost as tight as the drag, but I made no impression. Probably a good thing as this allowed the fish to get well out and away from the boulders in the edge. It slowed and I flicked the lever to the off position and began to apply some proper pressure.
All through the fight the rod was at its limit, the fish took some line, made a few serious lunges and at one point I felt the line pinging off something. It was quite nerve racking not knowing exactly where the fish was in relation to the potentially line cutting rocks. As soon as I had the fish on the surface I bullied it into the net. No mistakes this time.
The ritual of staking out the net was gone through and the scales readied. This time my guesstimate was optimistic, but not my too much. A long fish that I wouldn't mind meeting again later in the season. I slipped her back in the net to rest while I set up the camera. The swim was a bomb-site by now. I'd collapsed the brolly and slung it in the balsam after the landing net pole got tangled in its ribs. It had stopped drizzling by now. My jacket had been removed and hurled on the back of my chair, the pellet bucket on the seat. The rod was chucked next to the umbrella. I calmed myself down and took my time.
Tripod and mat in place I was sorted. Or so I thought. First press on the bulb release which I had repaired with Aquasure after it split, and used successfully last week, failed. I checked it over and there was a hole in the repair. I tried to remember how the self timer worked, and failed. Two snaps of the fish on the mat and I slipped down the now treacherous rocks to the water's edge and released her. She was raring to go and quite a sight to watch gracefully working her way through the jumble of stones back into the channel. Daft as it seems I'm sure it is the moment of release that we often enjoy most.
Another shower came in on the wind forcing me to put the brolly back up. The rods were unmoved. I contemplated leaving for home at the next break in the rain. That came at midnight. It lasted until the umbrella was back in the quiver. Back on with my jacket and the rain stopped. It had been an eventful outing that hadn't gone entirely to plan, although the outcome couldn't have been scripted any better - a nice fish from another new-to-me swim. If only it was always so easy.