No surprises, it was back to the river (Entry 156)

There’s no way I could possibly ignore heading back to the river. One that had helped me achieve a long standing ambition of catching a pound plus roach from a river just the week before. Of course, I didn’t expect to relive that day again, not for a while at least, but I did feel full of confidence. That I may find a few dace, roach or chub before the day was over. The river was still extremely low and clear, it was late afternoon, and I couldn’t wait to begin fishing.

As on my last visit, the first two swims I fished seemed quite devoid of fish, though I think this was purely due to the time of day and the water conditions. If I had stayed in the first swim and plugged away, until the sun began to lose its potency than the fish would have arrived, I was sure. But with so much river to explore staying in one place for too long was really unnecessary. I hope that with a more coloured river and the onset of the shorter days, the fish may become more obliging earlier on in the day, it’s something I am looking forward to finding out either way. Taking the sting out of Winters’ tail somewhat.

Business end of a fast feeding dace

The third swim, which I started fishing well after six o’clock, offered much more pace than the first two. I remembered my abundant yet misplaced confidence last week, in predicting just where the dace would be hiding, a confidence that was ultimately battered and bruised by a lack of silver darts. I hoped that my predictions would fare a little better this week. And they did. After just a few casts, and a generous feeding of casters, I began to put together a net of dace. Some good ones were mixed in too, up to around ten ounces, though the majority were six to eight. They are striking fish, sleek lines, subdued but glistening colour. Get it right and they are easy to catch but feed wrong and they can be very frustrating. Shelling the caster without so much as a dip of the float. As began to happen after I’d took around twenty or so fish. A modest but worthy opponent for any angler.

A brace of silver darts

Bites dried up soon after and as I wrote earlier, with much river to go at, it was simply a case of returning the fish and moving on. If no further fish came my way then I had already had my fill. As I wandered slowly downstream, in a tree just ahead of me, I spotted a small, fluffy bundle of brown with two eyes. A Little Owl, bobbing his head, unnerved by the presence trampling clumsily toward him. I froze. A Mexican stand off between us. Dare I reach for the camera and the zoom lens? Of course, I thought, and quietly set about doing so. I got the correct exposure, zoomed in and focused, finger on shutter button, just as the bugger took flight and glided across the river and out of range. I’m sure he knew what I was up to all along.

A lovely roach in the fading light

The last swim I fished, with the time now fast approaching eight, was a classic roach swim. Steady, much less pace than the last, and offering a good depth. I fed it with a generous helping of casters and hemp and enjoyed a cup of tea. My mouth was parched. Time for the swim to settle and thoughts of monsters to form. When I began fishing some time later I caught roach, the biggest a pound fish, with the average stamp being 10-12oz. They were much easier to make contact with than the dace and fought brilliantly on light tackle. Double caster once again proving to be the best bait. With the daylight now decreasing, by quarter past nine I was struggling to see the float and ten minutes later, it was pointless trying to carry on. Time to pack up. Begrudgingly of course. Where does the time go? I’d had another cracking day though and left for home a satisfied angler.

A brace of roach before the light fades

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Rivers and roach (Entry 155)

A glorious late summers day was already in full swing, the sky was largely cloudless, birds swooped and sung, and a myriad of insects darted as I made my way along the river bank. The conditions of the river itself could be summed up in two words. Low and clear. Go on then, three words. The wind gusted, strongly at times, and always seemed to be in a downstream direction. The lack of water and clarity presented a great opportunity to take note of the rivers make up though, and I made a mental note of any hidden snags, deeper pools and channels, drop offs and shallow glides. Such as this was, it took much longer to begin fishing than it would normally do but it was not wasted time. I am quite sure of that.

I’d left the barbel gear at home this week; swapped for my trotting rod and a pint of casters. I was hoping that if I wandered between swims I might find a shoal or two of dace or maybe a big hungry chub or roach. Given the conditions, I didn’t expect fishing to be easy, but these things are sent to try us, not that fishing in such beautiful countryside is particularly trying. I donned my waders and carefully made my way out into the river, edging ever closer to a short glide with a little pace, a haven for dace. At least so I thought. After half an hour without so much as an indication I came to the conclusion that my theory was wrong and the dace were not home. Or maybe I had just created a little too much disturbance as I waded out. Next swim ninja mode would be activated.

Roach magnets

Well, I am either a pretty poor ninja or the fish were just not in the mood for any late afternoon feeding, having tried several more swims without any joy. I sat on the bank amongst the tall grass and ate a cheese sandwich. The most loyal of all fisherman’s snacks. Made even better by some red onion relish. For now the fish could wait. As my tastebuds were treated, so were my eyes, not just by the countryside but the slow realisation of were I needed to fish next. Just downstream of where I now sat; a shallow area gave way to deeper, steadier water and a fine gravel bottom melted into earthy darkness. It screamed fish. It screamed roach. Then again all the other swims I’d already fished had screamed dace and so far I was drawing a blank.

Food devoured, I made my way into position, easing myself through the gentle currents, the water rising to knee height and beyond. I reached into my bait pouch and began to feed a few casters. Small, regular helpings that cascaded wonderfully though the water. The sunlight hit them, making them look more like jewels offered up, than bait. Red, orange and yellow. I restrained from casting for all of five minutes before the stickfloat was joining the free offerings, carrying its own payload downstream, a double helping of course. No bite came. Not on the second or third trot either. But this swim seemed right. I felt a confidence I hadn’t in the others. I persisted and was after a time rewarded. The tiny orange speck of my float tip stuttered from sight. I struck and bumped a heavy fish! A sharp intake of breathe. Then time to begin again. On this trot too the float sunk and I once again bumped a heavy fish. Expletives escaped my lips this time but the wind carried them away from any ears upstream. And the cows downstream of me didn’t speak ‘human’ so no offence was caused.

Staring back at me

Ten bite-less minutes passed and I feared that my chance had come and gone. I tried running the float on a different line, a little closer in, and on the first trot through the float sank confidently. Thankfully I made contact with a fish, a jagging, head shaking fish, that erratically darted in one direction then another. It felt a good fish. I carefully lead the unseen prize upstream where it became visible in the clear water. I was kind of sorry I saw it. A big roach. Certainly the biggest I have ever hooked in a river. Once its identify was confirmed, every twist and turn became amplified, and I was sure the fish would come off. It would surely find a way to flick the tiny hook free or steer the line onto the sharp edge of a rock. Somehow, and I really mean somehow, I managed to net the fish. I can’t remember doing so.

A stunning old roach

I took a moment to compose myself before wading to the bank, in front of me, safe in the net, was a new river PB roach. I could tell just by looking at it. Brassy flanks, highlighted with streaks of gold, a brilliant red eye and glowing orange fins. It was a rare sight. Quite honestly one of the the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. A photo quickly taken and then onto the scales. My new river PB roach was confirmed at 1lb 11oz. What a great day this had turned into.

Another pound plus roach

It didn’t end there though. Once the roach had been returned, I halfheartedly had another cast where quite to my disbelief, I caught another roach. A little smaller this time but still a fish anyone would be proud to catch. Especially on a method and bait so synonymous with the species. At 1lb 7oz it made up the brace of pound plus river roach. Little did I expect a result like that as I had headed river-ward just five hours previously. A memorable day had indeed been made.

Beautiful colours

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Ninety seconds of crazy (Entry 154)

One

It got quite cool once the sun dropped. I’d been sat on the riverbank for five hours now. In that time I’d been soaked by a torrential downpour (that wasn’t helping the temperature situation now), lost several rigs in snags, and had 90% of casts thwarted by weed being washed down in the floodwater. Oh, and my shoes had decided to start leaking. A pretty dire situation and yet here I sat. Still watching the rod top nodding. Still hopeful that in a fraction of a second my mood would be lifted, soaked clothes and soggy feet forgotten about, as a barbel hooped the rod round. I poured some tea but even this didn’t induce a bite. I sat back and looked up at the sky now free from any clouds. Starting in my peripheral vision, bottom left and exiting top-centre, a sharp streak of feint light. I furrowed my brow. Was that shooting star? Too fast to focus on but too unusual not to notice. I sat for a second or two and accepted that it had to have been a shooting star. What a great thing to see. A point in favour for still being sat here. Feet now feeling less soggy indeed. I drank my cup dry and reached down to put the cup back on my flask. Thats when I became aware of the presence at my feet.

When it rained, it rained

Two

I tilted my head down sharpish. So caught up in astronomical decision making, I’d failed to notice something within touching distance, inches from my outstretched legs, head poking out of the shallow, flooded margins. It was an otter. Large flat head, short, rounded nose and long whiskers. It’s hard not to be appreciative of this animal when so close. The otter bobbed his head then disappeared under the surface, only for a second before re-surfacing again, this time the other side of my feet, and now even closer. I cursed the rain for forcing me to keep my camera stashed in my bag, How I would have loved a picture of this close encounter of an otter kind. It seemed like he was getting the measure of me. The otter, now pretty sure I was nothing special, dived into deeper water and out of sight, a line of bubbles the only clue to its direction. No wonder I wasn’t catching any fish, I mused. At least I now felt much warmer in my damp raincoat.

Waiting

Three

I scanned the water upstream once more before accepting the otter had vanished. Turning my head left I looked back at the rod tip as it started to shake and pull over. Surely not a bite? What was happening! I picked up the rod, hands trembling slightly, and was met by solid weight. Solid, moving weigh. Then a violent head shake and deliberate power. I simply couldn’t believe how events had just unfolded. If I’d have had a third arm I would most certainly would have pinched myself. Five hours of redundant actions then ninety seconds of madness. This wasn’t the time to reflect though. I had to concentrate. Already the fish, definitely a barbel, had made several yards on me and was heading for the main flow. I didn’t want it reaching that. I tightened the clutch, the pinging sensation from last week still fresh in my mind. This time, thankfully, the hooklength held and the fish was stopped. I kept the rod high, in an attempt to stop the line grating on any rocks between me and the fish, as the barbel dived into deep water.

A message from the universe

Almost

I managed to lead the fish in close, inch by inch coaxing it to the surface, praying the line would hold, grimacing at the thought of unseen snags close in, made accessible by the extra water. As the fish surfaced I could see it was a good size, the net was flung in its general direction, and just in time too. The barbel lunged down and found sanctuary. Thankfully, in the mesh of my net. I rested the fish in the margins and readied the scales. A deep breath and a chance to take it all in. The universe had just treated me to an amazing skyward spectacle, a very close encounter with a beautiful (if controversial) mammal, but as it turned out decided to withhold one ounce from making this fish my first double figure barbel. A wry smile upon a beaming one. Once more rested the fish, another cup of tea, whilst the minutes passing by. Just what else was going to happen? A Sasquatch casually walking out of the field and joining me for a quick brew? I packed the rod away. The barbel, still in the net, was kicking strongly now. Time to let her go.

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Fuel (Entry 153)

To the river it was, another evening session where I hoped to meet up with some of its  fighting fit barbel, no doubt still hiding themselves away from the afternoon sun. The river was still painfully low and clear, even more so than last time, but I felt that a bite or two would be possible if I fished into darkness. The thing I am learning to appreciate about barbel fishing in these conditions is that time seems to tick away a lot slower than usual. This is not to say that it drags, not at all, but the session can be planned and executed with an almost Germanic precision. A bit like bream fishing.

Nature provide if only you look

Bait can be mixed properly and allowed plenty of time to rest. The perfect constancy achieved. This can then be casually fed, a bed of bait laid down in readiness for a few hungry fish to be mesmerised by, then once more simply left to fester for an hour or two. Plenty of time for the rods to be tackled up, rigs tied carefully, and of course, a cup or three of tea consumed. Its quite incredible how much more you can notice when given this extra time. The flora and fauna, the nuances of the river itself, and the the setting it is a part of. How I tried to unsuccessfully blend in, on numerous occasions trout spooking from the shallow margins, alerted by tiny movements from an angler sticking out like a sore thumb.

I made my first cast around eight o’clock, a running rig, light ledger weight, and very long hook length sent two thirds of the way across the river. I’d started fishing with a few casters hoping that I may pick up a chub or two while waiting for the barbel. The fish had other ideas and not a tap registered on the tip.

A change of bait

With the light blue sky starting to darken, dusk was not far away, so the rig was reeled in and the hookbait changed to pellets. Still presented on a short hair in case any big chevins fancied some supper. The swim was topped up with regular helpings of small pellets and it was simply a case of sitting patiently and awaiting the gloom. The sun had been below the horizon for twenty minutes and the sky held on to what was left if its blueness. The rod was yanked savagely. Line began to melt from the spool. The first barbel had been hooked and was heading, turbo charged, up river. Thankfully this direction was away from any visible snags and once I had made up the line, the barbel came in quite placidly, waking up only when in the net. Resting in the margins recovering, was a very healthy looking barbel, a respectably sized one too. What a great result.

A great looking barbel on dusk

It must have been ten minutes before I recast, having made sure that the fish swam away strongly, but no sooner had the lead touched down than the rod was heading upstream once more. The fish lunged more aggressively than the last but fought less frantic, and at the point where the other fish turned, this one kept going. Faster and faster, clutch spinning, heart rate increasing. I managed to turn the fish, gaining several yards of line in the process, before another surging run pulled the rod over. In seconds, twenty yards were lost. Raw power. Heavy weight. I tightened the clutch a tiny amount and ping.

The fish was lost. It was a lot heavier than the first and I feared it may have been a big barbel. The feeling in the pit of my stomach one every angler experiences. One of complete hollow disappointment, fuel for the future though, I tried to convince myself. I had a consolation barbel an hour later. A smaller example but a lovely looking fish. Rested, cared for and returned healthy to this magnificent river. One that obviously holds big fish. Boy, I would loved to have seen what I lost, and maybe I one day will.

A late, little barbel

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Just the session to part on (Entry 152)

They usually turn up quite quickly in your swim, then start to delicately pick on the particles you have provided, sending up little bubbles as a momentary ‘thank you’. At this point the float, which is delicately shotted, remains still. Perhaps drifting slightly in the currents, made near the bottom, by their busy fins. Time to reel in. They are not interested in this hookbait at all and so a change to something more palatable is in order. Yes, that sweetcorn really wasn’t pulling them in but this pellet will. Once more the float settles, the bait flutters down, and expectation grows. Those ‘thank you’s’ begin to mount up but still no bite occurs. You try altering the depth and cast a little further out, or closer in, crucians are fond of the margins after all. But it seems nothing you do can tempt them. Time ticks on.

Just as your sanity is in real danger of vanishing, along with the morning, your float will dip, a tiny, quivering movement, more akin to vibration than motion. You almost strike but in the nick of time manage to subdue your instinct. Don’t bury it to far as you’ll need those reflexes when that float vanishes at lightning speed. Out of a blue the breeze springs up. It catches the line and moves the rig slightly. An intervention from Isaac. Far below the surface a crucian sees an easy meal escaping. Making its own instinctive play the crucian snatches at the bait. All caution forgotten. Ironically, its sweetcorn that’s taken, the bait you started with but was convinced was useless. Time becomes blurred and twisted as the float simply vanishes. The rod is whipped upward. A fish is hooked. It all happens so quickly that you can’t even call to mind the bite that just occurred. An indistinct memory, transparent and incomplete. Maybe it wasn’t even a bite at all? The solid weight at the other end of your line that would suggest otherwise. One hell of a tug of war has begun. And it’s at this point you have just joined me.

The fish fought so powerfully, that for a few seconds, I was convinced I had hooked a tench. Small but brutish tail movements propelled this acute fighter into deeper water, and when for a moment the tail had to stop to gather a second wind, the fish turned on its side and used it deep flank to create as much drag through the water as possible. A foot or so of line was gained before that tail started powering up again. A deadlock lasting thirty seconds or more. A foot in my direction and two against. With the light tackle I was using it was impossible to impart any more pressure on the fish. Not just for fear of snapping the line but of pulling the hook. They had been feeding very delicately and the hook hold would most certainly be a light one. If there is one thing you cannot do when fishing for crucians, it is rush them, both before the take as well as after.

Eventually the fish succumbed to the constant, sapping pressure of the rod and ‘flopped’ to the surface. It’s weird to describe a fish as flopping, especially when in the water, but its the nearest adjective I can think of. They suddenly just give up. Fed up of fighting. Knackered. With pectoral fins waving their strange kind of crucian greeting, this enigmatic block of gold can then be drawn over the landing net as easily as any skimmer bream, or wet sock. A strange, and almost disappointing end, to a very active process. A fish ready to unhook, admire and return. Time to start over again. I hope you’re ready, nerves.

Another brace of two pounders

Over the last six weeks I’ve had a great time fishing for these beautiful fish, and this session was no different, following a tip off from a friend, an early start was observed and I had caught a run of crucians since my arrival. Not thick and fast, more slow and steady, but we all know which one wins the race. I’d had seven so far. Seven two pound crucians topped by a fish one ounce short of three pound and the first of the day. The session was about to take a turn for the worse however as I lost four fish in a row. I then hooked two more fish that would simply refuse to stop. Both required a full re-tackle once the hook pulled. A birds nest created as the rig catapulted back, at close to the speed of sound, and one that Houdini himself couldn’t have untangled.

A trio of big two pound cruciansIt was at this point I stopped and poured a cup of tea. I began to think about the crucian fishing I’d experienced. I didn’t want to simmer and stagnate over the fish that now frustrated and escaped me. I’d much rather look back in fondness on the cunning, but fallible enigmas, I had already had the pleasure of pitting my wits against. And would inevitably do so again. With so many other venues to visit and fish to fathom, I began to feel very content indeed, so much so that I poured another tea. I simply sat and soaked it all in. There was no need to tackle up for a third time. This is possibly the last I will see of the crucians for this season, and if so, then so be it. In my opinion it’s the best way I could leave them. I’ll see you next spring.

A fond farewell

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