<----Page 1 - Barbel Wars - Ultimatum

We are due to have breakfast at eight o’clock. At five to eight Glen and I try to get downstairs but find the corridor door locked. We try out the fire escape, managing to avoid the clothes line strategically placed at garrotting height, but the front door is also locked. Micky joins us as we try to get downstairs, eventually we manage to knock the landlord up who grudgingly opens the door and trudges behind us in his track suit and flip flops. There is a long wait for breakfast as none of the tables are laid, during which time the cleaning lady begins vacuuming the floors. This gives me the opportunity to read “Pub Landlord” magazine where I discover that at many supermarkets we can buy a bottle of Stella for 33 pence! And there are plans to open a pub inside a Church; which strikes me as quite a lot of competition for the struggling licensed trade.

The river this morning is a much better colour due to yesterday’s rain. Swim selection is critical; Glen goes where I fished last year and had one and got smashed by another. Micky fishes the swim by the tree where I logged my personal best. I move a couple of times until I’m happy so don’t wet a line until about midday. I’m slightly hung-over which – like the guy who goes to the doctor complaining of bursting into choruses of “Green, green grass of Home” and is told he has Tom Jones Syndrome. “Is that common?” he asks? – It’s Not Unusual!

Micky has an early chub which catches him off guard; he hasn’t set his landing net up. I have to assemble it for him before he can land it. I have to say this is a bit strange for Micky as I’ve noticed recently he is becoming obsessively tidy. He spends most of his time arranging his accessories which have to be in a certain order; then rearranging them after every cast, so to not get his landing net sorted early on is out of character. Is it the pressure of not catching a barbel that is playing on his mind? The chub weighs in at just three pounds which is a good start.

At three o’clock in the afternoon I’m starting to feel better. I’ve switched from a simple leger rig, to a cage feeder and 8mm halibut pellets as Mr Myagi recommends in these situations. I’m fishing properly, holding my rod in the rest, tip down, actually concentrating. I get a text book bite and strike into a good fish.

Dah-ah-ah-yoh!” the lads come running over and watch while I play a 3lb 14oz barbel into the net. I’m beginning to feel a bit guilty, one today, one yesterday. I hope someone else catches one soon.

At about five o’clock I hear Glen call out:

Andy! I’ve got one!” in the excitement he’s forgotten his excellent peacock call. I dash over and meet Micky who has just arrived. It’s obviously a barbel from the way it’s fighting. Glen is having a real battle, despite his 1.75 TC Greys Prodigy barbel rod.

“Glen’s first ever barbel

Don’t bl***y go over there you f*****g b*****d!” he says through gritted teeth as the fish heads for a snag. “F******g h*ll! It’s going like a f******g train!” I know we all swear a bit when we’re fishing I suppose, but Glen is breaking all records with his first barbel, I don’t think he realises he’s doing it. He’s been playing it for about eight or nine minutes and we still haven’t seen it, but it hasn’t stopped him swearing. Grimly, slowly, relentlessly Glen gains the upper hand and eventually I slide the net under the most important fish of the day. Phew! Well done, hearty congratulations all round, I’m almost as relieved as Glen! It weighs in at 7lb 9oz and is a cracking fish, fin perfect and brilliant sport. I ensure that Glen nurses the fish back but it doesn’t take that long, it’s a really fit barbel! After congratulating Glen I leave his swim almost tripping over a half eaten packet of Cheddars, the Timeouts didn’t last long then?

Micky is now the only one who hasn’t caught a barbel and is probably not looking forward to tonight’s drink quite as much as twenty minutes ago.

This evening’s meal in The Bull is pretty good; steaks for the lads, a rather spicy salmon fillet for me. Next we go to the only pub we haven’t visited, about a hundred metres past our digs on the way out of Boroughbridge. The town is eerily quiet; I wonder if it’s the credit crunch? Arriving at The Anchor there is a quiz on and we’ve come in half way through. We stand at the bar next to a team consisting of two young women who are currently in bottom place. Being kindly sorts we help them out with a few answers but they are a bit dim. When asked what country was involved in the Muslim Cartoon scandal I mouth the word.

“D-e-n-m-a-r-k” to which one of them says “Gay Bar?” thick or what?

There is a question about listing the last ten Presidents of the USA, they look vacant. “George Bush” Micky whispers which is greeted with amazement. Between us we manage to name nine but can’t remember the last one. When the answers are read out we’re gutted to realise we’ve missed Ronald Reagan! The landlord and question master is a large gentleman wearing an oversized shirt like those made popular by Demis Roussos. He likes the sound of his own voice, any minute now we expect him to break into song. At the end of the evening, (where we help the two young women to finish second last by one point) we stop for a chat and discover why everyone has deserted our digs. Apparently, the proprietor has been “carrying on” with someone and blotted his copy book. It doesn’t look as though he’s going to be there next year. Also we get to hear about Dennis whose life story I had the pleasure of listening to two years ago. He is a well known man about town and is actually a popular guy, well in the pubs anyway!

Back outside our inn we are locked out, it’s nearly quarter to twelve and all the doors are immoveable. Glen’s for hammering on the door as loud as possible but fortunately, at the last attempt, Micky has eased the fire escape door open and we’re in, carefully negotiating the clothes line cheese wire at the top of the rickety steps.


The landlord has pulled out all the stops this morning, the table is laid!
After breakfast we check out and get into the car which is now beginning to stink appallingly. I’ve smelt fresher air in a roomful of damp dogs next to the toilets on the third day of a beer festival; we leave the doors open for a minute. It must have rained again overnight as there is a thick film of water on the windscreen. I casually flick the windscreen wipers on but the film of water remains untouched – it’s actually on the inside of the windscreen! The wet weather is continuing to take its toll.

We have a morning to kill before we meet Sean for a short, but hopefully productive session on the river Don, so we head for our old bolthole, Brafferton Carp Fisheries. It’s terribly wet and muddy around the ponds, and there are several anglers in the first pond, so we drive down to a pond further down the complex and set up. The morning’s fishing only serves to reinforce my prejudice against carp puddles. Micky loves it; he is hurling grapefruit sized method feeder bombs to a nearby island; the louder the splash the quicker he seems to get a bite, he’s hardly got time to rearrange his tackle. I have a small method feeder on with dainty little offerings, carefully cast to avoid making any disturbance to my swim – practically nothing! Glen is equally unsuccessful, so we pack up and head off down the A1 to meet Sean in Doncaster.

On the way down we are passed by three cars in succession; a mid-engined Audi R8 (£ 92,000); a Bentley Continental GT (£ 112,500) and a brand new Jaguar XK60 (£ 61,000), credit crunch, what credit crunch?

We have arranged to meet Sean close to HMP Marshgate and amazingly enough he’s there on time even though he’s probably just had a couple of hours sky diving! Eventually, we park in the prison car park next to the Maserati’s and BMW’s (true), who says crime doesn’t pay? We make our way down to the river which is not too far away and Sean shows us where to fish. Glen’s not fishing this afternoon, he’s not too sure how far the swims are going to be and the last couple of days have seen him starting to limp a little. Sean puts Micky and I in a couple of good pegs close together and heads upstream after offering us some valuable words of advice.

I’m fishing down a steep bank which has helpful steps cut into the sides, probably by a prison working party! The banks are covered by the ubiquitous Himalayan Balsam and I’m amused when I remember its common name, ‘policeman’s helmet’ which seems particularly appropriate today. Every ten or fifteen minutes there is a police siren wailing along the dual carriageway a couple of hundred metres away.

There not going to sell many ice creams going that fast!” I chirp, courtesy of Eric Morecambe, circa 1971.

Sean comes over to see how we’re doing:

Don’t cast too far over, it’s a bit snaggy” he suggests. I nod, yes, I suppose there will be rocks and branches, maybe pilings, and possibly some remnants of engineering works; “Yeah! Mainly supermarket trolleys and old bike frames!” he adds.

The river looks in good condition, moderate flow and nice colour. On my second cast I hook a supermarket trolley, one of the big ones with double seats for twins, and lose all my end tackle. I’m struggling to thread some 10lb braid through a size 12 hook when I hear Sean behind me:

Just tying a knotless knot, Sean” I say whilst the sweat starts to form on my brow. He’s talking quietly about how surprised he is that we haven’t caught anything yet. The bloody braid just won’t go back through the eye; I’m starting to panic a bit:

I sometimes just tie a Grinner” he says helpfully, hoping to calm me down a bit, but this just makes things worse, I make a complete bollocks of it. Suddenly, I remember that I’ve actually got a rig already made up in my hook wallet (a practice one I tied about a year ago!) so I casually reach for it and attempt to tie it to the swivel on the main line with the aforementioned Grinner. It suddenly dawns on me that you’re supposed to have loads of theses made up to start with, I feel a total idiot, but things get worse when I get into trouble tying my Grinner with Sean looking over my shoulder. This is awful; I haven’t felt this bad since I was at school! Sean must think I’m the worst angler in the world! The silence builds up until I’m ready to break down when Sean says softly:

Would you like me to show you how I tie them?” in such a kindly way that my embarrassment is immediately dispelled.

I hand the limp, uncooperative bits of braid and line to Sean who quietly demonstrates the tying of a perfect Grinner. It all seems so simple as he completes the knot and draws it smoothly to a perfect conclusion. I thank him profoundly and begin fishing once more. He’s still a bit concerned that none of us has caught one yet, he’s sure that conditions are good.

About an hour later and I’ve had a solitary gudgeon on a bunch of maggots. Sean is once again coming along the bank to see if we’ve caught anything, he’s shaking his head.

“I thought we’d have one this afternoon” he says gloomily and, as we are due to pack up in ten minutes, proceeds to tell me the way to get back on to the A1 from here.

Oooorch! -Oooorch!” from the next swim; Micky has got one.

We scramble up the bank as fast as we can go, to watch Micky playing his first ever barbel. There’s no swearing, Micky has just stopped breathing, that’s all. It’s only two or three minutes before he draws the fish over the net. We are all absolutely overjoyed, with the last cast of the day Micky has managed to pull something out of the hat; what a result!

“Micky’s last gasp first barbel

Sean zeroes his scales and we’re surprised when they clunk around to 8lb 1oz, it’s heavier than Glen’s but only put up half the fight. This is where I usually crow on about what a beautiful fish and so on but to be truthful it’s a bit pallid. The fins are ragged and transparent; and the fish has an overall grey tinge. Sean says they sometimes look like this but then other fish can be more colourful; it’s something to do with the heavy metals in the river sediment; a relic from the industrial age. I don’t think Micky is too bothered though, after almost eleven barbeless days he has achieved his goal. Furthermore, Sean has succeeded like he said he would, what a guy!

We pack up and say our goodbyes to Sean who is staying on for a couple more hours. His directions guide us safely through Doncaster and back onto the A1, eventually arriving back in Norfolk during a violent and dramatic electrical storm; a fitting end to a special three days.

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