To understand how I nearly came to be standing next to a padlocked gate, peering down at the nearly invisible numbers on the lock while holding a burning rag in my other hand, I'll need to explain how things had come to this pretty pass.
Having used years of angling experience to sense a favourable change in the weather (OK, I checked the BBC weather app) I'd decided to go to a stretch of the river that's proved very fruitful for me in the past - 12, count 'em, 12 chub in the last two visits. It's a bit of a slog to get to, but that only helps to keep other, less hardy anglers away. So cheesepaste in hand (together with a few manky old prawns) I set off for the river.
Getting there is a bit of a mission. First there's a locked gate protected by an electronic keypad, then a walk across two fields which are protected by electric fences. These fences are configurable, and the farmer appears to delight in switching them around like some outdoor Crystal Maze. Once I swear they'd changed between me arriving and leaving for home. Having negotiated the fences, there's a final padlocked gate and then a perilous traipse through woodland, pockmarked with ankle-deep holes. It's almost as if the club doesn't want you there.
It's all worth it when you arrive though, to find the river burbling beautifully through the wood, from the weir at the top (never fished it) to the longer, slower stretches below. This is where I'd set my sights, so I was disappointed to find another angler already there. So the weir it was. Here's what the tail looks like.
At the last minute, I'd taken the John Wilson Rovex travel rod, bought for a trip to Scotland but never used. What a lovely little rod, especially paired with a Purist II pin. I fished a simple running ledger with 4lb line, straight through and a size 8 barbless. Bait was cheesepaste and I softened the swim up with a few balls of liquidised bread. The photo doesn't do justice to the true treacherousness of the banks here - high, steep, slippery, covered in fallen leaves - where any mis-step is likely to send you windmilling down into the water. Second cast, I caught a fine looking chub of about three pounds and when the bites dried up and darkness fell, I switched to prawns and caught a perch. Not a spectacular session then but rewarding enough for making the effort on a bright winter's day.
Packing up I discovered my head-torch wasn't working. Then the rubber stopper fell off the bottom of the landing net handle (it probably rolled down the bank and into the river, laughing all the while) and I had no chance of finding it in the undergrowth. This meant I had a four metre landing net pole with nothing on either end to stop the extendable innards from sliding out every time I tipped it over the perfectly horizontal. I managed to pack up in the dark but couldn't work out how I was going to see to read the padlock (that's where the ridiculous burning rag notion sprang into my head) until I remembered a stocking filler purchased by my daughter for Xmas - six tiny keyring torches. Surely I'd dropped one of these into the creel when I was tidying them away? Sure enough, on emptying everything out of the creel and onto a cloth (to make sure I didn't lose anything else in the darkness) there it was. My way home was lit and the padlock negotiated. The bits of landing net pole only fell out three times as I crossed the wood and went throug the gate. Now all I have to do is find way back across that ruddy electrified field...
Rob Beattie is the author of several popular fishing books. He's also a regular contributor to Waterlog magazine.