For the first time in ages the day dawned dry and stayed that way. There had been sunshine between the showers all week, but as soon as I thought I'd get the gear together another heavy shower would set in. So I spent the week working. Sunday was too good to miss as the temperature soared and the sun shone. Well, got pleasantly warm.
Things didn't go smoothly. First of all there was a strange smell rising from my rucksack as I packed the flask and food. This was traced to my lucky cap. It wasn't exactly savoury to start with but the mould growing on it put me right off wearing it. Another cap was thrown in to take its place. Then I got the rods out and found one boilie gone and the other chewed, a shiny mess of dried slug slime encasing it.
I knew the river would be up and coloured. Earlier in the week the barbel would have been feeding hard, the mess of leaves would have made fishing difficult so I wasn't too worried about missing out on that pleasure. The car park was empty, which surprised me with the sun shining after a week of rain. I'd have plenty of river to go at. The level was high, about four or five feet up. There was a spot I fancied would be fishable and sheltered from leaves. That was where I headed, looking for other likely places to drop a bait or two in later.
The field that had been mown a few weeks ago was now short but lush grass, and in the distance it was being grazed by sheep. Sheep in the valley are a sure sign of winter. The cattle are in their sheds to prevent them churning up the land, while the sheep's dainty hooves do less damage. Across the water a few leaves were clinging on desperately to the trees on the lower slope of the bank, the high branches that catch the wind now stark and bare.
With the river so high I was set up on the first terrace of the bank, my baits dropping on, or just past, where my chair would normally be placed. The rigs held out pretty well with the main flow angling across the river. For a change I had one rod baited with a lump of luncheon meat. A sure fire floodwater bait. So I'm told.
Occasionally a rig would shift. Few leaves were fouling the line though. But no bites materialised. A kingfisher alighted on a lone hogweed stalk to my right then zoomed off, low across the water. A grey wagtail landed and wagged its tail. A lightning fast thin brown streak passed from right to left turning into a wren when it stopped. As the light began to fade it happened. The tip of the meat rod began to jag down. As I reached for the handle it stopped. Then jagged again. It had to be a chub. That's all I ever get on meat. It sure felt like a chub when I tightened to it. But it wasn't. It was an unseasonable eel.
The river was on its way down. Dropping at least an inch an hour. The leaves becoming less and less of a problem. For some reason I wasn't happy. At twenty to six I packed the gear as the mist began to rise from the water and headed downstream. Hovering at sheep-level was a pall of mist, the air above it clear showing the warm lights from houses on the ridge to the north where the river had flowed in the distant past. A belated bonfire burned in the distance, having resonances more to do with the coming of winter than the punishment of a terrorist. There's something ancient about the valley after dark.
The spot I most fancied fishing was below a big slack. The bank quite steep, but grassy. I think I'd left it too late, though, as the depth was less than I'd have liked and the level seemed to be falling faster. That's one problem of moving after dark when the river is on the way down or up, you can't get a good look at the flow patterns. This is made more difficult when you don't know the stretch all that well. There is a spot I know, but no longer have a ticket for, where I'd have been confident, and happy, to fish with the river as it was. Or I would have a few years back. It could have changed since I last fished it.
Although the sky had cleared I wasn't feeling the cold. My feet were warm. Even so my heart wasn't in it. By eight I'd had enough. Partly it was because I didn't have much confidence in the swim, or the options open to me. Also niggling away at me was the urge to spend a day by a stillwater for a change.
The car's thermometer read 5.5c, rising a couple of degrees as I left the river. It didn't seem that the forecast frost was likely. When I looked out this morning it had arrived. The cloudless blue sky and still air suggesting winter is on its way.