Thursday 14 September 2023

Back in the valley

I like September, with the kids back at school and parents resuming their normal lives the countryside becomes quieter again, an ideal time to visit beautiful places.  That’s how I managed to convince the Princess we should spend a week in a tent in the gorgeous western valley.  In truth this didn’t take much doing, she’d also been here before though not for more than a decade so knew she’d enjoy herself.  I booked the same campsite as I’d used on my more recent visits and we planned to spend our days mooching around, enjoying a pub lunch or two and enjoying the valley.  But for the evenings I’d done a bit of research and found a stretch of river I could fish at a reasonable price.  It looked the part on google earth, whether it was any good or not remained to be seen but it would be fun finding out.

So we drove west on a hot afternoon, pitched up, went to the pub, chilled out then crashed out.  Our first day proper was spent in a funny little town on the river that is famous for its bookshops.  They’re not big on customer service in these shops, maybe it’s a pact between the shops as one business offering a smile and a welcome would surely encourage people to buy there if anywhere?  But it’s a nice place full of higgledy piggledy buildings built into the landscape.  We had a nice steak at the castle and generally enjoyed the peaceful vibe but I couldn’t help wondering about the whole ‘book town’ thing.  Is it real or a contrivance?  Maybe just somewhere that found its niche and a way to survive in this mad world.  The river here looked gorgeous, shallow on one side of the bridge but with a deeper pool on the other.  Talking of the river…  The road back to camp took us past the chosen stretch and coincidently the gear was in the car so it made sense to pay it a visit.

We arrived around 1700 in the hottest, most humid part of the day.  There was no wind but the sun was lowering and there was enough cloud to stop us from frying.  There were already three cars parked so we walked the stretch finding anglers fishing all the accessible spots near the car.  I just about decide not to fish tonight when I approached another swim that had a boiling deeper channel close in with a shady overhanging tree just upstream.  After observing for a couple of minutes I went back to the car to get the gear.  I was fishing by 1800 using just one rod with a 2oz open end feeder, long hooklength and a size 8 hook with a hard pellet on a hair rig.  This I regularly dropped towards the back of the tree while enjoying the sights and sounds of the valley.

To begin with nothing at all happened but as the light drained so a bit of activity began, plucks and rattles on the tip told me there were fish about though maybe not big enough to take the bait.  By 2010 it was almost dark, I dropped the feeder behind the tree and said “last cast”.  After a few minutes there was a decent knock on the tip but in the gloom I barely saw it so done the sensible thing and held the rod and line.  I felt a couple of sharp plucks but just as I was about to give up the tip pulled round and I was into a fish.  I’d have been delighted with a Chub and this fish wasn’t doing a lot - just plodding but it had a bit of weight to it.  It circled in the deeper channel close in, taking a bit of line at times but didn’t tear off like a Barbel can.  The fish was weeded at one point but steady pressure got it moving again and it was soon splashing just out of reach of the net, then one more heave and it was in!

I couldn’t believe it.  In the recent past these fast water fishes had made me work and made me think but today I’d just turned up and caught one.  This is not the sort of thing that happens to me, it never goes to plan like that!  So we weighed a new PB for the river, took a couple of pictures then slipped it back in the river, packed up and went back to camp.  Job done!  But in hindsight maybe I’d have caught another had I stayed?

The next two days were hot, humid and horrible but we managed to enjoy ourselves wandering around a couple of local towns, strolling along parts of the river and taking refuge in the pub when the heat got too much.  It wasn’t weather to inspire any kind of fishy confidence and with a Barbel under my belt I was content.  But the next day was a bit cooler and a bit fresher and fish I would as I’d arranged to meet Mr S, my friend from the wild west by the river.  Mr S has years of experience on this river but this was one of the few stretches he wasn’t too familiar with.

Once again this part of the river was a bit busy but we kept walking away from the cars and found one swim that inspired a bit more confidence than the rest.  Here it was a bit shallower with clumps of streamer weed with the deeper water in mid river, we sat side by side both flinging similar feeder rigs though crucially Mr S had allowed me the downstream rod.  I should mention my groundbait which I’d forgotten had been fermenting in a car hot enough to kill animals for two days.  This resulted in a little bit of white growth which I mixed back in, a lovely beery aroma and more by luck than judgement a perfect texture.  We started off by balling a bit in then topped this up with the feeders regularly.

Like the previous evening things started slowly but as the light faded a few plucks and rattles began to occur.  As it grew darker we both took to holding our rods but it didn’t look like anything was going to happen.  “Just one bite” we said but confidence was ebbing away though the conversation was flooding.  Around 2045 I felt a bite and swept the rod back, fish on!  This didn’t have the feel of the fish I’d had a couple of nights previously and I soon had a nice Chub in the net.  We resumed fishing with more confidence but forty five minutes passed before my rod pulled over again.  A bit more weight this time but not that throbbing power, another bigger Chub was most welcome.

At some point Mr S missed a half pull but it was another forty five minutes before my rod pulled over again.  I pulled back and was into something solid “this might be a Barbel…”  This fish fought very much like the one from the first trip, staying in the deeper channel without taking much line but refusing to come any closer.  This went on for a few minutes with the rod bending nicely before Mr S managed to scoop it up in the net, bootiful!  The scales revealed another PB for the river, a couple of quick photos then back in the river where it kicked away powerfully.  That was enough for me so I packed up and sat with Mr S hoping his turn would come.  It did the following day but unfortunately I didn’t make it to the river in time.

The Princess and I fished again the following afternoon, it was busy once more and I ended up trying both the swims I’d fished previously and the day followed the same pattern; it was hot again and I had nothing while the sun was up but rattles and plucks as it grew darker.  I saw loads of birdlife including many Kingfishers, Heron, Egret, Long tailed tits, Great tits, Bunting, Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and what I think was a Peregrine.  There was also a strange duck which I think I’ve identified as a female Long tailed duck in summer plumage, unless anyone knows different?  But tonight despite fishing well into dark I didn’t get a proper bite.

Back to the campsite, we ended the day as we had all of the others, sitting outside the tent with a brew and staring up at the stars.  The following day it rained like fuck, typical as we had to decamp then drive almost all the way east.  I feel at home in the wild west, more so than anywhere I’ve visited outside East Anglia.  I think this is because it’s a very rural setting and the pace of life seems similar to home.  I’m unlikely to get back to the valley again this year so I’m looking forward to next already.

Friday 1 September 2023

Road trip

My friends have been visiting the big midlands river for a while now, catching Barbel and Chub including big ones and in the case of the former, fish that would have been British records when we first fished together.  I’d had an open invitation from day one but for a variety of reasons I hadn’t been able or willing, in one way or another life had intervened or I just hadn’t felt the urge, until now.

A couple of hours in the car, heading northward through rain and sun, a RHCP classic oozing from the speakers.  In mid afternoon we arrived in a busier landscape than we’re used to, there was a bit of brick and bustle but we weren’t here to stay, just for chips. But Sod’s law struck, the chippy was closed for renovation so no hot food.  If I had half a brain I would have gone to the nearby co-op and got a load of fuel on board but…  A while later we were driving alongside the big river which was certainly a mighty piece of water though not entirely to my taste.  We soon pulled up at the car park on a warm, humid afternoon; the sort where Jimmy would swing it round corners but the bastard Hundred has gate crashed summer.

I’ve owned a fishing barrow for well over a decade but it had only ever been loaded with festival kit but today, for the first time I loaded it with fishing tackle.  There can’t be too many anglers of my generation that can say that?  Oh well my proud record has gone forever and it’s just as well because even with the barrow the slog to the chosen area almost killed me and from here on in I’d have to ration what food I had and save some grub to give me the energy to get back again.  But to be fair the walk was worth it, this stretch was quiet and beautiful with only the occasional cheerful hiker and the odd boat.  My friends insisted I fish the downstream swim, feeling this would give me the best chance of a Barbel, Rich fished just upstream of me whilst Kev and Cooper were a little further up.  We each had plenty of water but were close enough to make assembling in Richard’s middle swim a viable option but this did mean I had to turn the alarms right up, these are an item of tackle I’d rather do without these days.

I had my rods out by 1730, fishing pretty much how I do on the western river but it was all scaled up a little, alongside my Barbel rod I had an old century twelve footer with 2.5 test curve.  I used a big feeder stuffed with groundbait on this rod while on the other I moulded groundbait around the lead.  Following my friends lead I balled a load of groundbait and ‘pulted some boilies into the middle of the river and it was here I fished the heavier rod.  For some reason I cast the Barbel rod slightly upstream and away from the area, I don’t know why, it seemed like a good idea at the time.  With this done I set up camp, everything fitted nicely underneath the oval brolly and I felt comfortable and content.

I’m not going to describe the ‘where’ too much because it’s someone else’s paradise but suffice to say it ticked almost all of the boxes.  The river itself was big, wide and powerful and apparently up a bit, it certainly had a tinge of colour but catching fish wasn’t really on my mind.  Despite my friends assurances I was fishing blind and had just copied what they did.  Recent trips had seen the fish coming out after dark so once we had got ourselves sorted we assembled with various beverages and relaxed on this pleasant summer evening.  As we put the world to rights the sky dimmed then darkened and we layered up.  There was the occasional beep which snapped our heads round but apart from that it would have been easy to forget we were fishing.

Just after 2200 the tranquillity was shattered by a screaming alarm followed by a buzzing baitrunner and it was mine.  Within seconds I had a bent rod in my hand, this was the fastest I’d moved since I disturbed a bees nest a couple of years ago which was just as well as this fish had been steaming down river.  It had to be a Barbel but after the initial run it was just plodding, allowing me to draw it slowly upstream.  At some point it registered that this was the rod cast away from the baited area.  By now I had company, Rich and Kev were as excited as me, offering abuse and encouragement in equal measure.  I was glad I’d hooked it on the lighter rod as I’d become comfortable using this set up out west in June.  When the fish neared the shelf it woke up and tore off again, all the way back across the river, this it done twice more before Rich scooped it up in the net.  By fuck that was fun!

We done the right thing, rested the fish in the net while we got everything ready then got the formalities done quickly.  It was obviously a PB, Rich said “maybe a double?” I hoped it would be but wasn’t the slightest bothered that it wasn’t quite.  Then a couple of quick photos and I held my perfect Barbel in the stream until it kicked away, still visible in the torch beam before vanishing into a black river.  Grins all round and a group hug; Kev and Rich were buzzing, they’d wanted me to catch and felt as much satisfaction as me, result.  After that things were rarely quiet for long…

I’d hardly got settled again before the other rod banged over hard and I found myself attached to another fish.  This had a bit of weight but nothing like the power and soon I drew a Chub over the net and by my standards it was a big one.  After that the action moved upstream to Kev’s swim, in a short space of time he netted three Chub, all bigger than mine and three Bream, two of which were proper ones.  Then when things tailed off in Kev’s swim, Rich fishing in the middle got in to a couple of good sized Chub.  By this time midnight had long passed and we were all laid out on our bedchairs grabbing some rest.  After a spell of around three hours the bites had certainly died down but all through the dark hours I was stirred by sporadic bite alarm beeps.  One of these, on my rod, was more persistent and I winched in a Bream of a couple of pounds.  After this my swim was quiet and I managed to have a couple of hours kip.

Sometime later an alarm screamed out, a proper fast take, it wasn’t my alarm but I swung my legs off the chair and staggered out into a misty daylight.  To my right Rich was doing battle, his rod had a proper bend on so I shuffled up to his swim, stumbled down the bank and took position with the net.  A few minutes later I returned a favour and slipped the net under a nice sized Barbel for Rich, it looked big to me but apparently this was a run of the mill fish for this river so it was slipped back without a fuss.  Last night the first Barbel had sparked a spell of activity and we hoped this would be the case again but as the sun climbed higher so the life seemed to drain out of the river.  In the dark of last night we’d had an electric couple of hours but the day became soporific and we spent the morning dozing, resting our eyes and our bodies, saving energy for later.

In the early afternoon, having dodged a shower we tidied up, loaded the barrows and pushed our way back upstream.  Kev and Rich were looking for new water in which to spend the second night while I was happy to break my up my slog back to the car with a couple of hours soaking pellets as I had to be off, work had got in the way this time and I be back at it the following morning.  These couple of hours were uneventful and to me the river still seemed lifeless but part of me was envious as the lads were confident the fish would be active after dark and so it proved…

The push back to the car was more manageable and maybe my body was a little more used to the exertion.  I turned the stereo up and pointed the car in the direction of home.  It had been hard work for a couple of days but I’d enjoyed myself, a couple of ‘champagne moments’, the company was the best and yes I’m sure I’ll find myself back there sometime.