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.
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.
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.
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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