This season I had a plan and one I wished to stick to, that was to target barbel on the Blackwater. Time spent watching and building up a mental image of various stretches of the river over the last few seasons whilst targeting other species had helped a lot, that said on the couple of occasions I did try to tempt one during last season I felt that I approached it half heartedly and lacked the single minded focus it required.
So this season I decided to do evening trips, fishing till midnight hoping with the dry weather that the cover of darkness would help combat the low water levels. Three trips in I was beginning to scratch my head and stare at a piscatorial labyrinth with which to become lost in. The barbel were still spawning and that was definitely making it tricky, thoughts about leaving it till a bit later in the season did cross my mind.
During the fourth trip I had settled into a perfect looking swim, dense streamer weed giving way to dinner plate sized gaps where a bait could be gently lowered and presented, it was a lovely warm evening and there was signs of fish on the opposite margin, the tell tale signs as the foliage was being vigorously nudged back and forth, a sure sign that something was engrossed with spawning activity. Around 10pm a fish in my marginal swim spooked and a trail of bubbles was all that could be seen, I was starting to think that things were not going to go as I hoped. Half an hour later and a mink paddled by, not the best sight in your swim and it followed it up by passing by yet again on its way upstream. This scenario was set to repeat itself and in all honesty it could have done a backstroke on its next lap past my rod, it would not have surprised me had that happened!
I really should have moved swims, as I have always found when fishing its larger sibling the Loddon that you may have a good spot which can produce some very special fish, however once the mink become active you are sometimes better off relocating. Alas I stuck it out and this furry critter that seemed like it had overdosed on energy drinks just kept on going (could well have been powered by Duracell). I headed home with a bee in my bonnet about furry critters that might make nice coats!
On the evening of my fifth trip there had been a welcome sprinkling of rain, conditions were very humid, with plenty of cloud cover and a welcome breeze. It felt right, but would the river agree? As I made my way to a new spot I passed by a few swims that showed obvious signs of angling activity the Himalayan balsam and reeds trodden down, enough room for an opportunistic cast up or downstream. Tempting as they were I had one area in mind and was hoping the extra depth just might give me a chance.
As evening drew in I had placed some birdseed via bait dropper slightly upstream and lowered the rod into position, a scant amount of free offerings were placed round the hook bait, the last thing I wanted to do was over feed fish that seemed to have an abundance of natural food.
Every fishing trip I am a fairly excitable angler but this evening you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife, for some reason I was like a tightly wound, chubby spring sat on a landing mat.
An hour later and the rod nodded once and tapped a couple of times before the clutch started ticking steadily, not the usual manic bite you would associate from a barbel, oh no that was to come when I lifted the rod and boy did she awaken, tearing off downstream and trying to take me for a tour of the weed bed, as I walked to the limit of my swim to gain some control over her I could feel every surge and with it the attempt to make for the sanctuary of some nearby snags.
My headlight caught her flank as she broke the surface, words tumbled out my mouth regarding her length and build, along with a slight helping of expletives. The net seemed to take an age to slip under her, but once it had and she lay recuperating I punched the air with joy, daft as it may seem but I don't think I have ever felt such a feeling of contentment.
|A dream realised from one of my favourite Thames tributaries (12.1)|
I was over the moon, I don't think there is a much better feeling than adrenaline combined with knowing that groundwork had culminated in such a reward, if only she could have known how much she had gladdened my heart. As I released her it was with an emotionally choked goodbye.
Part of the key had been unearthed, but this waterway has so many more special secrets that it withholds and has fought its way back from the brink of death by pollution in 1995, long may it continue.