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.


Dave Lumb said...

It's a lovely part of the world.

Fifty or so years ago (!!!) I went to that book town on a family holiday to see the biggest book shop in the world. IIRC that's what started it all.

Female Mandarin duck I'd say.

Michael Hastings said...

Yes the landscape is so different to home. I actually live at the bottom of the highest hill in Suffolk, the "summit" is almost five miles away... And the river is a different beast to our tidal swamp, hence the fishing is such a novelty.
I think the biggest bookshop we went in was in an old cinema? I love a bookshop but it was all a bit much.
I think you're right about the duck which is a bit disappointing as we have them in one of the Ipswich parks but I've only ever noticed the males.