Six o'clock sneaked up on my unexpectedly. Time would be tight to get to the river and set up in daylight as I was going to give Buzzard Bend another bash and there's the walk to the swims to take into consideration. I searched for something to eat before setting off but couldn't find anything I fancied. The chippy beckoned. There was a queue. By the time I had wolfed down the chips and sausage it was ten to seven. Still, the roads would be clear. The stretch I was heading for is most easily reached via the motorway so that was the route I took. To be faced with a slow moving tailback. Great.
The traffic kept flowing but when I reached the junction before mine I could see it snarled up well ahead. On to the slip road and put a hastily thought out Plan B into action. Back to the stretch I fished on Thursday and if the car park was full again try a spot I've had my eye on for a while but never seen anyone fish. With the level low it could be worth a dabble. As luck would have it there was just one car and the white van that seems to be a permanent fixture parked up. With the light starting to fade I'd fish a banker swim.
The air was cooling. I'd watched the read out drop three degrees on my journey to the river. With no need to rush I put the bunny suit on for the first time this season in anticipation of the clear sky causing a further drop in temperature later. The upstream swim was free so I dropped in there, just about managing to get set up without the aid of my head torch.
The evening star shone. It grew cooler. Dew began to form. As nine o'clock approached I reached for my fleece. With both arms out of the bunnysuit the upstream rod came alive. As I played the fish the suit slowly slipped down to my knees and beyond. Thank goodness the fish wasn't a big one. Even so it gave a good account of itself and got downstream to catch the other line which set the rod bouncing. Or so I thought. With the fish safely netted I looked to see where the lines were tangled when a baitrunner burst into song. It had been a take, not a tangle!
Hopping to the rod as if in a sack race I wound down, felt the fish, then it all went solid. Phew. The rod was propped against its rest and the reel flicked into free spool. The first fish was safe so I pulled the suit up and got myself mobile again. When the first fish was returned EH arrived on the scene having just packed up and pointed out that the snagged rod was bouncing. Gingerly I picked it up. The fish had come free. It didn't put up any resistance although it was a wee bit bigger than the first fish. EH left and I now had the river to myself. Once the mayhem was sorted out I put the fleece on and then cast out!
I got to thinking how the average size of fish seemed to have dropped recently. Earlier in the season there had been few of the scamps and scampettes showing up. Now they were commonplace. Was this a seasonal movement? Did the bigger fish move out of this stretch or the small ones move in? Or maybe the big fish feed harder early on as they need more building up after spawning and the small fish don't get a look in?
Over the next hour and a half a chub and small barbel came to the party, but it was a dull affair. The best option was to make my excuses and leave in order to gatecrash a more lively bash. I stowed my gear and moved to the swim that EH had vacated. The baits, a 15mm boilie and an 8mm crab pellet, were cast out well apart before I settled down.
In the upstream swim I had felt restless and uncertain, now I was relaxed and confident. It must only have been fifteen minutes before the upstream pellet rod was away. All the recent fish have been pulling well. Perhaps it's the cooling but not cold water, perhaps the clarity, but six pounders have given me the run-around at times. This fish was certainly doing that. It was ticking line off the drag too. I struggled a bit to slide it all over the net but it wasn't until I lifted the frame that I began to get an inkling of it's true size.
The needle on the Avons spun round a bit further than I had expected. I must be getting blasé. These eleven pounders don't look as big as they used to do. In the sack with the cord well staked out I took my time calming and cooling down and arranging the camera. When the fish was photographed and released peace returned. Only briefly as the boilie rod tore off before I could sit down. The fish was on for a second or two, then gone. I rebaited both rods and cast back out.
By now I was feeling warmer. Glancing skywards the stars had disappeared. Looking round there was complete cloud cover. That would explain it' and why the dew hadn't got any heavier. Then the boilie was off again. Another battling six pounder was released and the rig baited and bagged. Time for another bagging session to the accompaniment of distant dogs barking. Something must have been disturbing them as I haven't heard such constant barking, from many directions, before.
There were six or seven neatly, and untidily, filled mesh bags of pellets in the bucket when I flung it aside to deal with the boilie rod. This fish didn't take much line, hardly any, but was dogged. A plumpster of fish but not too long. Looking down on it I gave it nine, maybe. It was a heavy lift though. For the second time I was out in my guestimate, and for the second time the needle spun well round. A few ounces further this time. So much for the bigger fish having gone or switched off...
With the fish sacked I stripped off my fleece. I was sweating like mad. The camera didn't take much setting up this time as I'd left the bulb release bracket attached. For the second time I put my new camo brolly up as a background - just for the hell of it rather than to hide anything, it being pitch black anyway. Looking at the photos I might as well not have bothered!
By now it was midnight. Another hour and if nothing else came along I'd head home. One more six pounder at quarter past was followed by chub knocks. That was the signal to wrap it in. I was rather glad the motorway had been congested and changed my plans for me after that lot! It goes to show that being flexible pays. At least it does for me when it comes to barbel. With pike it never seemed to. Other people would move and drop on fish. I wouldn't. Mates would twitch their deadbaits and get takes. I'd twitch mine and find the only snag on the lake. With barbel I make a change - bait, swim, river even - and fish come along. Not every time, but often enough to make me willing to do it on a regular basis. Funny game, fishing.
The Dutch have their metresnoek, for Americans its 50 inch muskies, when it comes to barbel for us it's ten pounds. It's strange how we set great store by round figures. I have been telling myself that when I got to ten doubles for the season I'd have a change of venue or species. The trouble is that it's difficult to stop when you're catching. Then again, when you're catching maybe that's the best time to try something else before burning out? I suppose the alternative is to stay home and do some work. The garage really could do with a lick of paint. I'll just refill the pellet bucket and tie some more hooklinks, then I'll find the white gloss...
PS - It's that fish again... and that one!