It doesn’t do to plan too far ahead when river fishing. I say it every year: I should know better. But the only way to get away is make room in the diary for it and then just go, even though the conditions may not be favourable! The following events happened to me a couple of weeks ago when I travelled from Norfolk to the west Midlands in mid-September:
Day one: River Severn; howling gale, fallen branches catching line every cast; the river a thick soup of leaves and debris became totally unfishable. Packed up early.
Day two: River Wye just upstream of Hay on Wye. Heavy rain becoming torrential; a few fish including a couple of nice barbel, but blooming hard work. The wind picked up and blew my brolly over cutting my thumb in the process. Packed up early.
Day three: River Wye, Sugwas Court, Hereford. Lovely day, hardly a breath of wind; skies bright with some cloud. I’m the only one here with every swim at my disposal. River came to meet me in the field! It had risen overnight by twelve feet at Hereford Bridge. I couldn’t fish.
Day four: Didn’t Fish.
Day five: (Sunday): River Wye, Stacklands, BAA water. Arrived about quarter to ten and had the place to myself. The river still carried a couple of feet of extra water and was coloured, but was okay. I chose a swim where the deeper water is on the nearside, carefully making my way down the very muddy, very slippery bank to a reasonably comfy spot. Expecting the worst, I had brought a spade with me and dug some steps down and levelled the swim. It was the last peg on the length which stopped at the Sellack-to-Kings Caple footbridge that spans the river.
I started fishing about half past eleven casting a 90gm feeder packed with mixed pellets with a hair rigged cube of luncheon meat. About three quarters of an hour later a nice bite produced a chub of about three and a half pounds, I was dead chuffed, it had taken me into some branches downstream and I managed to get it free by giving it some slack line and it swam out on its own accord. You don’t get to my age without learning a trick or two. About an hour later, after switching to an 8mm spicy sausage pellet, I had another chub of exactly 4lbs which I managed to play safely into the net. I was quite satisfied; I hadn’t expected much given the conditions of a few days ago.
All day there had been ramblers and dog-walkers crossing the footbridge, most ignoring me, but one or two showing an interest and taking the time to have a chat. A very pleasant Sunday afternoon. About four-thirty, two young men carrying rods strode onto the footbridge. I was wondering whether they’d been fishing another section and maybe come to look at the river from the bridge. Then I heard one of them say something to the other in a foreign language, almost certainly eastern European. They moved to the middle of the bridge and one of them cast downstream with what I can only describe as a large tennis ball for a float that had a flashing light! This thing floated down the river for about sixty yards and was then retrieved. They cast and ‘trotted’ (if that’s the right word) several times then switched to fishing upstream, it was weird.
I was thinking to myself about the legalities of fishing from the bridge – whose water would it be? They almost certainly wouldn’t have a rod licence: should I contact Birmingham Anglers Association? Then a recollection of a city-break in Budapest many years ago popped into my head. A group of us were crossing Chain Bridge, over the River Danube, when I noticed someone fishing. He looked like the sort of chap who would sleep rough, dirty overcoat, old trainers; he was holding a short boat rod, very thick line and was using spark plugs for weights. As we approached he was winching up a 2lb barbel about forty feet! At his side he had a plastic supermarket bag with three small barbel in it, alive. It’s a memory that has never left me, a totally different culture.
My thoughts returned to the guys on the footbridge. They’d been fishing for about twenty minutes and I was hoping they would soon get fed up and go when disaster struck: I had a wrap-round bite! I automatically grabbed the rod and was into a good fish. The usual nerves and adrenalin related feelings were magnified by the presence of the two chaps with brutal haircuts and track suits! I was hoping that they might not notice that I’d got one on but no such luck. At first one came a bit closer while the other one was reeling in. I was acutely aware that, apart from these two guys, I was all alone.
The dog-walkers and ramblers had disappeared; it was tea-time. I was the only angler on the stretch. I started to feel very uneasy. What if they wanted the fish? Visions of knives and threats surfaced in my head. It doesn’t do to have an overactive imagination in situations like this – unfortunately I have watched too many Hollywood films.
This barbel was taking some playing. All I could think about was landing the fish quickly and returning it before they had a chance to get any closer. By the time I had the net underneath it both were leaning over the bridge grinning; if this had been a cartoon they would have had knives, forks and bibs, drooling.
Finally, I had the fish in the net. It must have been a good nine pounds. No messing. I got the net straight up on my knee grabbed the fish firmly and removed the hook. A last quick look of admiration and back in the water it went to recuperate. The chaps were still leaning on the bridge so I could give the fish a minute to recover. I then slipped the net out of the way and it swam away safely.
I looked up at the two lads and gave them a sheepish ‘thumbs-up’ and buried my head in my tackle pretending to be engrossed in some detailed repairs. The next time I looked they had gone. I was on edge, listening for any noises that they were coming through the fence, but there were none.
I packed up about half an hour later reflecting that I hadn’t enjoyed catching that barbel, probably the biggest one for me this season. I’d felt threatened and hoped that I would never face a similar situation.