Spate rivers really are forces of nature, as the floods in Cumbria this week clearly illustrate. When it comes to fishing them they can be tricky to get to grips with at times. The day after my last session the Ribble was over its banks. There'd been little rain since the river had risen so it would have dropped by the time I arrived on Friday afternoon. How much it had dropped by remained to be seen.
My first impression was that the level was about four feet up on normal level. The tideline of beech leaves in the car park showed where it had peaked. I decided to walk the stretch and see where was fishable. As I went up river there was flotsam hanging above my head in the lower branches of a bankside tree, and more flotsam in the field. My guess was that the level had dropped some eight feet since its peak.
There are plenty of molehills in the field, some near the bank's edge had obviously been over-topped by the river, a couple had what I took to be escape holes. Poor old moley must have been flooded out. As long as the moles had made it to the surface they would have been okay. I once watched one swim some distance along the edge of a reservoir I was tench fishing. Moles are good swimmers. The beach (which was underwater) looked worth a try, but then so did a couple of creases closer to the car park.
Making my way back to the car I saw another angler coming along the river. After chatting for a few minutes we went our separate ways. Expecting him to head for the bend I used the opportunity to fish one of the spots nearer the car. A flock of goldfinches flew up and across the river as I made my way to my chosen swim. The ground was firm where I put my chair, which made a pleasant change from sinking into leaves or silt. The flow in the edge looked to be just the right pace with a slight crease being formed by a gentle bend in the river. With the level having dropped so much I expected the leaf problem to be minimal. Most would have been lifted off the margins and should all have been dropped by now. If only.
As I sat tying bags and drinking tea the rod tips gradually pulled down. The downstream lead dragged, all six ounces of it. The upstream lead didn't move. That one was only three ounces and I had a horrible feeling I knew why it hadn't shifted. After recasting the downstream rod a couple or three times, stripping the line of leaves, I had to move. The upstream rod was snagged solid. The lead came adrift and the hooklink cut through when I pulled for a break. After retackling, this time with a rig incorporating a Hair Rigger to fish a lump of luncheon meat, I wound in the leaf strewn downstream line and set off intending to fish a slack below some rapids. The other angler would be on the beach if he had any sense.
The day was warm again, late November shouldn't be giving air temperatures in the low teens. There was a strong westerly blowing, but moving upstream the far bank took the edge off it. When I threw my thermometer's sensor in the river it gave a reading of ten degrees. If I could find a barbel in a spot where my rig would hold out success was guaranteed. They had to be on the chew.
I couldn't believe it when I saw the slack was occupied. The angler hadn't caught yet, although he said leaves weren't a problem. Lucky sod! I carried on, my right hip starting to nag. The bank was slippy in places after the rain and I think I had jarred my leg sliding awkwardly at one point. I was wishing I had left my brolly in the car to lighten my load.
The beach was well covered in water. Some deposited debris seemed to be a little further from the water's edge than when I'd walked up earlier. The flow looked as if it would be pushing the dreaded leaves across and away from where I intended casting my baits. The bank I set up on was the terrace. Previously firm ground with grass and other vegetation. Now it is covered in a layer of sandy silt. One good thing was that the deep layer of leaves which had covered the beach had been replaced by silt. There can't be many more to come down the river.
Each successive flood reminds me that the river is constantly changing. Obvious things like dead trees appearing and disappearing. There are more subtle changes like sand banks changing shape and moving downstream. The silt that's deposited in the slacks must be the remains of rocks that have been ground fine as they roll down the river. I've not experienced it myself, but I've been told that at the height of a big flood rocks can be heard moving against each other as they are shifted by the current. Looking at debris on the banks you can see how sharp edges are ground smooth on everything from branches to bricks to bits of plastic. Come spring and the silt will be consolidated as next year's growth sprouts through it. As one bank erodes so another is extended.
With my chair's legs sunk in the silt the baits were cast out. Meat upstream, boilie down. The first casts went a little too far and the rigs soon shifted as leaves dragged them out of position. Dropping them closer they held for longer. I'd been expecting a rod to pull over as soon as I arrived in the swim. Four hours later things weren't quite going to plan. I should have had a netful of barbel with the water so warm and coloured. Maybe the flow wasn't strong enough to push the fish close to my bank. If my hip hadn't been troublesome I might well have packed up and headed for a different swim or another stretch.
At least the evening was warm and dry. In fact the wind dropped after dark, which was good as the sky cleared a little and the air temperature began to fall. So did the water. I noticed there were fewer leaves on the lines. The boilie rod was cast further out and more downstream. It held for longer. Even so my confidence was waning. All thoughts of barbel gone from my mind I let my eyelids rest while I psyched myself up to face the lengthy limp back to the car.
I'd only been thinking a few minutes earlier that I hadn't had a take that ripped line noisily from the reel for a while when the aching hip was forgotten as I jumped out of the chair and picked up the boilie rod. I guess any leaves on the line came off during the fight, which was pretty good with the extra water in the river. To net the fish I'd had to step down from the terrace and onto the beach, then paddle out a foot or two so the net could reach deep enough water. The silt was quite well compacted and I didn't sink up to my ankles as I thought I might. The barbel saved a blank, and wasn't a bad one at a few ounces under nine pounds. There would have been a photo of it on the mat here if the battery in my compact hadn't chosen the moment I pressed the shutter release to die on me.
The level was dropping well. Another couple of hours and it would be spot on. Every time I moved my hip hurt. I'd give it another half hour, but no longer. At half past eight the rods were stowed in the quiver, the chair strapped to the ruckbag and both loaded on my feeble frame. Off I set, only stopping for a couple of brief rests on the way, passing no other angler. I'll be dosing myself with Ibuprofen and doing some work for a rest before hitting the river again.