It's a Funny Old Game

When the venue of this years fish-in for the Barbel Catchers was decided, I can't say it filled me with any great enthusiasm - mental images formed from discussions with those who have fished the Tidal Trent and a few pictures in the comics left me feeling that it was not going to be my cup of tea. That combined with a mega drive from Dorset would have made it easy to give it a miss, but the fishing is only a small part of the reason for going to a Fish-In and the general "crack" is always the highlight of these occasions so I convinced myself it would be a shame to miss out on the opportunity to fish a new river.

I was going up with my regular fishing partner Chris "Thommo" Thomson. We decided that if we were going to travel that far then we would make a long weekend of it and travel up on the Friday so we would have a realistic chance of catching a first Trent fish.

Having no idea what to expect on a tidal stretch of such a big river I had a chat with Club Chairman Mick Wood and Secretary Steve Chell who have fished the river before and on their advice we set off armed with more lead than I've ever carried in my life, heavy (ish!!) rods and a pile of bait. As we were going to be fishing for two days the plan was to choose a swim, pile in the bait and try and fish it for the two days in the hope of pulling in some fish. If we managed to catch a Barbel from a new river it would be judged to be a success.

A five hour journey from home on the Friday found us booking into the digs just after lunch and following a quick pint we were on the bank by mid afternoon. This was certainly going to be a culture shock compared to the Dorset Stour and Hampshire Avon - just where do you start? Other than a weir pool, which was about the size of a football pitch and had anglers shoulder to shoulder, there seemed little difference with much of the water and there were no real features to make anywhere stand out as an obvious holding area. A fair number of Catchers had the same idea about fishing the Friday and after a walk and chat with some of the lads we decided to slip into a couple of swims between the car park and weir pool. The choice was based on nothing more than the thought that the weir pool was an obvious holding point and at least we were not too far away should the fish move out after dark and probably more importantly with the amount of tackle and bait we had brought it wasn't very far to walk!!

The plan was to fish until midnight in the hope that this would probably give us the best opportunity of the weekend of catching something as everyone was of the same opinion that success was much more likely after dark and we wouldn't be fishing late the following day. We set up and had a few casts to see if there was anything of interest - about 8 ft of steady water with no obvious features, so out went a truck load of hemp, groats and pellets and we sat back ready to see if anything would happen.

That evenings fishing was without doubt one of the most bizarre of my angling career. The weir pool was a complete circus - I've never seen so many anglers on a river crammed into such a short length of bankside. Talking to a couple of guys fishing there soon set the scene - long stay fishing with lots of competition for the "going" swims. There were three bivies, complete with tilley lamps, and as dusk approached a glow in the sky signified the lighting of a large bonfire. To make matters worse, when we had set up the nearest angler to us was about 100 yards downstream but at dusk two or three of his mates arrived and they proceeded to set up camp below us - we were now surrounded!! With everyone using what appeared to be the standard tactics of two rods pointing to the sky with bite alarms this was not going to be a quiet night, and so it proved.

Guys were walking the bank collecting huge lumps of "driftwood" to keep the fire raging, showers of sparks rising into the air as they were deposited them onto the fire. Anglers were still arriving well after dark, stumbling through the undergrowth with head torches and wheelbarrows full of tackle, disappearing into the weir pool which seemed to have an endless capacity to take even more anglers. There was a constant stream of bleeps from bite alarms in all directions and head torches flashing across the water like something from the dambusters. This combined with large rafts of foam coming down the river and barges compete with headlights created a quite surreal scene.

Amazingly, despite all of this at 8 o'clock my right hand rod flew round. I leaned into it and it was obviously a good fish as it powered off, but disaster struck after only a few seconds and everything went slack as the 10 lb line parted either on a snag or the gravel shelf. I was not a happy bunny because I knew this was not going to be an easy venue and I had possibly blown my only chance of the weekend to catch a Trent Barbel. To make matters worse over the next couple of hours I had two snotty Bream - Thommo's ribs were now in agony as he watched me return the second one!

One Barbel of 9lb plus was caught by the guys fishing downstream of us, so at least some fish were around in the area. We packed up around midnight and made our way back to the pub where we were staying to face the final insults of the day in having to trek through the bar laden with all our tackle to much amusement and heckling from a bunch of locals enjoying a late night lock in - surely it couldn't get any worse!!

Breakfast at 7 o'clock the next morning came round all too quickly and we were soon back on the river again trying to drum up some enthusiasm. At least we had the stretch booked and amazingly the circus from the previous evening had been levered off the water by the bailiff and we had it to ourselves. Mick Wood and Duncan Mellors were fishing in the weir pool when we arrived, so the swim we had baited was still available. Despite a few thoughts of slipping into the swim below us which had produced the previous night and was apparently one of the "hot spots" we agreed to stick to the plan and fish the same swim again. No further bait was put in at first in the hope some fish may have moved onto the bait from the previous evening but it was not to be and we plugged away for most of the morning without a sniff before doing the social round and catch up with all the gossip. The day was quiet and it appeared that only Duncan was having any success in the weir pool taking three fish on long range feeder tactics and loosing a few more.

We agreed to fish until 8.30 pm which would give us an hour into dark and still allow enough time to get back to the digs, change and meet up for the curry. So in mid afternoon the rest of the bait was hauled into the swim, more with a view to not having to carry it back to the car rather than any expectation of success. By late afternoon I think everyone was just going through the motions with more than one eye on a few pints and the evenings curry and a few started to drift away. Just as dusk was gathering I had the first indication of the day with a sharp pull on the downstream rod just to prove there was life out there. About 20 minutes later just before 8 o'clock I had a repeat of the evening before when the downstream rod flew round and I was into a fish that powered off downstream at a great rate of knots. This time I was determined to keep the rod as high as possible in an attempt to avoid any snags and the gravel shelf. At first I was convinced it was a good fish, then it seemed to wallow around and eventually I just wasn't sure whether it was a game 8 lb'er or a real lump but as it came towards the net it was obviously a decent fish and looked to be a double. Thommo did the honours with the net and when we put the torch on it the estimate grew to a good 12, however it was one of those fish that every time you looked at it, it just got bigger. On the scales and it started b
ouncing around towards the 15 lb mark and was obviously something very special. Thankfully not everyone had packed up so those fishing nearby had the opportunity to share the moment and witness a truly magnificent fish. 30.5" long with a 19.5" girth and a final weight of 14.11, in excellent condition with hardly a scale out of place. An overdose of photos and lots of superlatives from all followed before it was slipped back hopefully to disappear for a while.

I must admit that catching the fish left a strange mix of emotions - obvious delight at catching something so special, and if you are going to choose a time to do it who could ask for more than on a National Fish-In. On the other hand a sense of almost embarrassment at walking onto a water for the first time and knocking out such a fish when many others have put in lots of time and would be so much more deserving. However, as Greavesy would say, "it's a funny old game", and I guess it's true that at times you should just accept the luck when it comes your way knowing full well that in the long term things will probably balance themselves out. That's the worrying part though because if it's true, I've got some real hard times coming my way!!

Finally there were a few rumours doing the rounds in the curry house that evening so I've just got to put the record straight.

NO - the fish wasn't caught on a rubber caster (although I was fishing them "Yorkshire style" at one stage i.e. too tight to buy the real thing!), it was a rubber boilie!

YES - the fish was caught on a rod that had the reel taped to the handle with electrical tape. When I got onto the bank and took the rod out of the rod bag I found the butt cap and reel fittings had slid off at some stage and got lost. Left with only a cork handle I had to resort to taping the reel in position much to the amusement of a few during the day.

YES - and most shamefully of all from my point of view the fish was caught on a rig borrowed from Thommo, and he's never let me forget it since!!

YES - It really is a funny old game!

Steve Withers
Wessex Region

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