It was almost five years to the week since I last went zander fishing. There aren't many of them in my neck of the woods. Quite possibly none at all. So it was trip to a midlands river for an overnighter, followed by a daytime session barbel fishing elsewhere on my way home. That was the plan. I wish I'd come up with a better one now.
Although summer was due to turn to autumn overnight the weather was ideal for fishing as I began to set up in mid-afernoon, warm enough to walk around with nothing over a t-shirt, but not so hot as to be uncomfortably sweaty. The cloud cover was keeping the light level lowish and heralded a warm night ahead. The track to the river was dry and dusty, the fields recently cut stubble. It was great to be out by a river that was running slow and clear with small fish topping al along the length.
I actually started out with barbel baits on the rods as I had no suitable wire traces made up. But when my mate Nige had a finicky take on one of his deadbaits I was quick to swap over myself. There was nothing fancy to the rigs. Simple running legers were the order of the day, wire traces fitted with a couple of size six Eagle Claw trebles completing the set up. Bite indication was provided by the ever reliable Delkims, the line being trapped in an adjustable clip above the reel's spool. In case of a drop-back (unlikely but possible if the lead tangled) a bobbin was hung on the line between butt ring and alarm. All in all it was just like I used to pike fish in the 1980s - apart from the Delkims!
The clips are the current Gardners. In the 'old days' these were much better. The clips are just as good, but the adjustment nuts are too slack on the thread and seem to have a less fine adjustment than they used to. You can get them tight, but setting them to just hold the line can be a bit tricky. When you do get it right they sem to loosen after the line pulls from the clip. The nuts are also prone to working loose in transit and falling off. I'm going to try a small section of silicone tube pushed over the thread to see if that helps.
Setting up camp for the night had gone smoothly. I'd remembered to take the storm poles for the bivvy from my stillwater quiver. That went up smoothly and the swim was flat enough for the bedchair legs to remain unextended. The only problem was that I keep my bivvy pegs in a my stillwater bait bag and I'd brought my river bag with me. No pegs. Not to worry, there's always three or four in a side pocket of my rucksack. Oh no there aren't! There was one and a pair of forceps. These got pressed into service to peg the front out. The ground was soft. A little too soft for the pegs to be really secure. As long as the wind didn't get up I'd be okay. The soft ground would allow me to improves on the peg front, however. I went in search of suitable slim willow branches and, with the help of Nige's hand folding saw (doesn't everyone take a saw fishing?), soon had four custom made wooden bivvy pegs in place.
During daylight we both got a few indications. they might have been zander picking the baits up or they could have been line bites. It wasn't until darkness fell that these bites became more positive, but still failed to result in fish on the bank. Even when the line was running out nicely a strike would meet no resistance. Sometimes the bait would be gone, but if not it would be barely marked. No tell-tale stab marks to suggest zander, no slashes to suggest pike, no ripped bellies to place the blame on eels.Mysterious and frustrating.
It was so frustrating that as I slept under the bedchair cover, it being warm enough to manage without getting into my sleeping bag or donning my bunny suit, I dreamt of finicky takes and missed runs between having to deal with them in the real world!
Shortly after daybreak NIge connected with one of his runs, and so I was able to at least photograph a zander. A nicely conditioned fish that was guestimated at some six or seven pounds before being returned.
Nige was on holiday and had promised to be on his way home by seven so he could have a day out with his partner. It was gone eight thirty before the dust cloud followed his van along the track back to civilisation! It was already warm enough to strip down to the t-shirt and promising to be a sunny day, and although I quite fancied another night in the swim I wasn't keen on lying around all day waiting for the sun to set, so half an hour later another dust cloud headed away from the river.
Some fifty miles later, after a detour I seem to remember taking once before when the road signs mislead me, my car was throwing up another dust cloud along another farm track taking me a mile from habitation. There was one other car in the car park when I got to where I was going. I think it's two years since I last parked there and the place had changed dramatically. Some of the upstream swims were now inaccessible as a jungle of head high balsam and nettles had sprung up. No doubt a big flood would clear the way, but there was only one barely discernible path which lead to an overgrown swim.
Downstream was different, but the swims clearly hadn't seen too much use in recent months as they were not trampled to bare earth. I chose the swim nearest the car, partly for convenience, partly because the flow would offer me some protection from the clumps of weed which were floating down river. Having fished this swim before I knew it was a sun trap, facing south as it does, and sheltered from any wind other than one blowing directly into it by dint of it being cut into the willows. I also knew that there might be a chance of a carp cruising the shallow slack water a few rod lengths out. So my plan became one of plonking a couple of baits out close in, then lying back and dozing in the sun.
This plan worked well. I dozed on and off, my waking moments being spent watching brown and migrant hawkers zipping around the willows and bankside reeds and over my head, zooming across the river, catching insects and occasionally clashing with each other, and in the case of the migrants sunning themselves briefly on the marginal reeds. banded demoiselles fluttered around, a few of them in my swim, but most over on the far side of the river in a rush bed. There was a light breeze ruffling the river's surface and scudding thistledown upstream. In many ways an archetypical English late summer day with wood pigeon cooing high in the trees behind me, and un-English maize growing tall in the field bordering the river opposite me.
By five o'clock the shadows were beginning to lengthen, the amber sunlight skimming the tops of the maize. The air cooling as the willows shaded my swim. I was growing tired and, frankly, my heart wasn't in the fishing. I was wishing I was back in the zander swim. I slowly loaded the car and pointed it at the red disc sliding towards the western horizon.