Once again an early start was avoided. I had planned to be up and out by eight at the latest, but it was nearly nine thirty before I hit the road to Stoneleigh for the Tackle and Guns trade show. After many years of driving to Stoneleigh I have finally found a straightforward route. The most tedious bit was the M6 which was restricted to a 50 limit in three or four sections of road works that weren't being worked.
I'd only just arrived when I got tapped on the shoulder by John Watson and then I bumped into my friends from my local tackle shop. And so it went on for the usual couple of hours - walking round the stands in circles, looking at new products, chatting to people about tackle and fishing - and annoying the Scousers on the Harrison stand! It's always a good day to catch up with folks, and this year it seemed to be busy.
While I was noseying around the Korum/Sonubaits/Preston Innovations stand I spied a lot of new gear from Korum. Bigger rucksacks and Ruckbag, some daftly large rod holdalls, some nice looking bits-bags and a wheelbarrow. There might have been more. Chris Ponsford gave me a couple of bags of Sonubaits Crab and Crayfish shelflife boilies - which don't smell of much - but which he reckons catch plenty of barbel. I thought I'd give them ago on my way home. The gear was in the back of the car after all.
The good news from the show is that Owner hooks will be available again very soon. The bad news is that they have gone up in price. I might also have something new to stock, but that's to be decided by price at a later date.
With everything looked at twice it was back to the car, drink some tea and set off across country to wet a line in a river I haven't fished since March. On paper the road I'd chosen looked like it would be quick. When I took it it turned out to be a mass of roundabouts, speed limits and Sunday drivers. As I passed Magnas and Parvas in the rolling countryside, the trees in their full autumn glory, I was struck by how built up the north west is. How close together the towns are and how the villages sprawl along the A roads. There is countryside, but it is not so expansive.
The river was deserted. I walked down the bank and the popular swims were not trampled. Then again with the lack of rain they wouldn't be as badly as affected in any case. Things had changed, the Rat Hole was closed in more by the willows, the bank altered too. I drove on downstream. Here two anglers were roving with float tackle and I spent another half hour or so walking the banks. The river was low and clear, gravel beds clearly visible but not much weed to be seen. The path through the undergrowth took different turns to last year at this time. Again swims looked under fished. Some were grown over. As I retraced my steps the angler who had been in the only swim I fancied under the conditions had gone. With the swim being less than fifty yards from the car, and my legs being tired that was where I'd fish.
After dropping my gear at the water's edge I flicked away the dog turds from the grass above with a bankstick. I had no desire to put a foot, or a hand, in them in the dark. I took my time setting up. With the water so clear I didn't hold out much hope until nightfall. My rigs were in disarray. One hook was gone, it having snagged up when I wound in last time out. This one was rigged to fish a 15mm boilie. The other rig I knew had a hook which had been resharpened. With a chance of a really big fish to be had from this river I'm less slapdash with my set ups. A fresh hooklink was tied up to take one of my newly acquired 10mm boilies. Before sorting the rods out I put some bait in. Having forgotten my bait droppers, and faced with a fair flow and depth, I picked a handful of stones from the field behind me and tied up some PVA stocking - dropping a stone in with the pellet mix. Half a dozen of the weighted bags were thrown in downstream just out from the edge, then two handfuls of pellets scattered like corn over the top.
Then the baits were cast out. The small boilie went over the feed, the larger one to an overhanging tree on the far bank. It actually went in the tree but I pulled it free... The cast ended up just the right side of some debris trailing from the branches, so I was happy enough. Time to polish off the sandwiches.
There were a few leaves coming down with the flow and every so often the line on the upstream rod would look to have shifted. With darkness near I decided to have a recast in readiness. I picked the rod up and found it snagged. I pulled and the trailing debris below the tree moved. I pulled again and it all felt spongy. The debris was attached to some line that had been caught in the tree and snapped off. It was probably mono by the feel of things so I'd have no problem either snapping it or dragging it clear with my braid. Not so. I pulled hard and something parted with a crack like a whip. Braid doesn't usually do this. My line had parted and shot towards me, some of the slack wrapping itself round both my rod and the line between the rings. I tried to untangle it but ended up reaching for the scissors. The floating debris had returned to it's station.
I'd got as far in the retackling process as clipping on the lead when the baitrunner came alive on the nearside rod. The culprit was a chub of ten or twelve ounces. Fin perfect and a confidence booster for the new bait. Why don't Ribble chub always take off like that? I dropped the far bank bait short of the tree on the recast then put the near side rod out again.
It wasn't long before the big bait was taken. The bite was one of those that slams the tip down and causes the rod to rattle in the rest as it almost bounces right out of it. Typical chub bite. And so it proved. A bigger fish, but far from a monster.
It was well dark by now but the fields were still being worked. Crops being sprayed and soil being rolled with heavy harrows clanking in the distance. Another of those mild nights that was a pleasure to be out in. But not one which filled me with barbel confidence. The next bite was another rip-roarer to the small bait that turned out to be yet another chub. A five-pound-long fish that I weighed at four and a half.
If I had been closer to home I'd have moved, but I was feeling tired for some reason and getting home at two a.m. didn't appeal. As Watto and I agreed earlier in the day, we fish for our own enjoyment not to prove a point. Rather than move I called it a day shortly after nine. I'll be back again. Either for barbel when the river's carrying extra water, or later on when I'll have my chub gear with me - and maybe a float rod for the grayling.
The drive home was livened up by an alder fly that had found its way into the car and was crawling over the side window in a confused manner. Until it took to the wing. Then it chose to land on my head and crawl down my neck. I can't advise swatting at insects while doing 70 in heavy traffic.