It never leaves you. The anticipation of a day on the riverbank. I thought that after my Very Special Day that I would be more settled the night before a fishing session, that I would mellow, at least a little after 30 years an angler. But I still fidget and wrestle with the bedcovers, disturbing my patient wife. I do fall asleep eventually, usually about 30 minutes before the bleep of the alarm wakes me for the early start. Like a child waiting for Christmas. Sad really but it shows how infectious, how enjoyable and how pleasurable a day on the Bank can be.
My Very Special Day, started with a magazine, falling through the letterbox and depositing within its brightly coloured pages pictures of Barbel and Chub and smiling anglers with their latest triumph. Inspired by the magazine, I wangled a promise from the better half that if the temperature kept increasing, and the mild s/w wind moderated, that she would indulge..."A Few Hours"( for FISHING!!!)
St. Patricks Stream is a truly beautiful river, cutting from the Thames at Sonning it winds its way through a mixture of bends and overhanging trees for about one and a half miles before linking with the Loddon for it's last half mile back to the Thames. The barbel have grown amazingly the last couple of years from when a fish of around 8lb would be the largest caught each year. It has chub to 5lb plus, bream over 8lb and the occasional Thames Carp, my personal best being a 16.6., although over 20's have been caught.
My "few hours" started with a 20 minute drive, done in 10 minutes and a forgotten rodrest to be on the bank at 2.30. The river looked absolutely perfect, hint of colour, about six inches up and smooth steady flow. Being the only angler at the venue, I could pick the swim of my choice, and more importantly the barbel's. A drop off into 5ft following a lengthy ranculus-lined shallows fitted the bill.
My tackle setup is suprisingly simple - but it works. A single tied loopback of nice stretchy maxima around 6 inches long, holding the lightest bomb possible, and a trace from this of low diameter mono with a size 10 long shanked hook. After prebaiting with hemp and mini meat pieces well upstream I simply lowered the tackle directly under the rod tip after baiting the hook with a piece of cajun flavoured meat no bigger than 1/4 inch.
After 15 minutes I knew that fish were there and that they were active. Holding the rod allows for the heightened and exhilarating sensations of being in touch with your quarry. This, the angler who waits for the crashing bite will never experience. Fish in the swim but no bites, so a change of tactics was called for. Replacing the bomb with a swanshot, and the meat with a chunk about 2 inches in size, I cast upstream allowing the bait to work back towards me, mending line as it came. The weight of the bait simply lifted and a firm strike had the rod buckling firstly downward and then tearing away downstream, the clutch on the reel purring, then chattering as the fish tore away. This was a good fish, heading for the sunken tree and a contest of hold and hope, then suddenly appearing in the far bank shallows whilst I tried to gain my thoughts and breath. A dogged battle now, deep and low in midstream, amongst the weeds and water mussels. "Please don't find a snag!" I begged out loud.
Despite having caught a few low doubles in the past, I convinced myself that this fish was going to escape, nearly talked myself into it, and swore and cursed my meanness for buying a landing net only suitable for chub really. Now beneath me and applying as much pressure as the 6lb line would allow, a tug of war began. Up two feet, down two feet until the golden flanks of the fish was just visible, a beautiful wide fish, a massive, portly barbel. Into the net first time - just, and a quick scramble to support its lifting and it was on the bank. Glorious. As fat as butter and not a single mark on it's gleaming body. Plenty of marks on the anglers withered brain.
It weighed 13.1 lb, a new river record by far and, Ok I admit it, I cried with joy to see it swim back to it's domain none the worse for the pleasure it had given me. I contemplated going home, I really was a wreck, but I told you this was a Very Special Day. 10 minutes later I had netted a 7lb fish, that fought like a carp, and an hour after that another fish that weeded me twice, charged through the sunken tree without tangling up and punched the scales to 11.4 lb.
At 5pm I set off for home, having landed two more barbel around the 6lb mark. I simply couldn't hold my rod any longer, the Gods had not just smiled but beamed on me for these were Thames barbel and you need to read some of the "Old Books" to appreciate their true value. Yet still I wrestle with the covers at night. Still I lay awake waiting for the dawn. I guess I don't want to be cured from this wonderful sport of ours.
Well that's the nostalgia bit...In my next story I will let you into a little secret. Barbel are incredibly aggressive and the best way to catch them is a few feet off the bottom!