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On the Second Day

The advantage of picking one's mum up from Luton airport is that it's then possible to squeeze in a second fishing trip on the way back home. Haviing scored so mightily with the barbel the day before, I didn't need to persuade myself too hard to try again. Having negotiated another early rise I arrived at the car park at about 6.30am. No-one there but myself and a man who appears to be living out of his van with two enormous shaggy dogs.

It's colder this morning and the blister from the Doc Martins is playing up on my right heel as I wander down the road to the track. Turning the corner, two tiny farm cats come pelting through the gate and stop dead right in front me. They both spring vertically into their air and then one cuts off left while the other goes right. It's like finding yourself suddenly in the middle of a cartoon.

I know where the river is now, so there are none of yesterday's geographical distractions. I head straight for the right swim and tackle up exactly as yesterday. First cast I get a hilarious chub bite. Second cast I get a nice little chub - about 2lbs - and then nothing. The swim goes dead and I wonder if I've put everything down by returning the chub into the water at my feet. I try different parts of the swim and start to pick up bites. At around 8.30 I see a kingfisher zipping low across the water, heading downstream and shortly afterwards I'm buzzed by a small flock of finches who take it in turns to be surprised at finding my head directly in their flight path. They settle into the tree beside me and chatter away happily. Then the swans move in and sit right in front of me for 20 minutes. I make a cup of coffee while I wait for them to move on.

Last cast, I drop the bait almost directly in front of me, a few feet out from the bank. The rod is in the rest and then it isn't. I'm striking a solid thump and it's another barbel. It comes up off the bottom faster than yesterday's one but then wakes up and proceeds to take me for a tour of all the interesting-looking snags in the swim, almost getting his nose into the big one in the middle before I turn him away. I'm using pretty stout tackle so it's relatively easy. When he comes in he's larger than yesterday's and is turning to golden brown, the way barbel do when they get bigger. Only one more and it'll equal my best ever tally of barbel in a season.

Where's the river?

There's always a frisson of excitement when you return to a well-loved and well-known stretch of river. Lakes you see, don't really change that much. Oh, they do over time, but they don't change the way rivers change. And today's a case in point. Everything else is the same. The common where you have to leave the car since the residents kicked up about anglers parking in the lane, the potholes in the road that they can't be arsed to fix, the quaint little - and not so little - houses that look over the common (and the weird thing in the middle that looks like a sweat shop, but can't be).

The cut down towards the fields is still there, but hang on...this bridge is new and where's the gate? What gate? The rusty gate that adorns this very blog. Cunningly you see I'd intended to try and reproduce the shot of the horses in a Surrey field at sunrise at different times of the year and then switch the picture at the top to reflect the seasons. Maybe even sell it as a calendar. No chance of that now the gate's gone.

Having crossed the lock and started downstream, I'm faced with a more serious problem. The river has gone. Or rather it's hidden behind a wall of foliage that stands higher than me and seems comprised of stinging nettles on steroids and this weird pink stuff that has stalks a bit like rhubarb but doesn't taste as nice. I wander down parallel to where the river should be until I see a faint trail heading in the right direction and waving my landing net handle in front of me strike off into the jungle. It takes a couple of minutes before I can see water, by which time I've been stung all up one arm and am covered in pink petals from the rhubarb stuff - I look like a bride at a Hindu wedding - except I'm a bloke and have a beard.

But this can't be the right spot. The tree's gone. And half the bank's been consumed by rhubarb and...wait a minute, this is the right spot because there's the gouge out of the bank on the other side, and that's the tree where the sun comes up and - having looked a little more carefully - there's the tree on my side. It's just fallen in the water. Bloody hell.

Having stopped mucking about with all these side issues I turn to the swim itself. This is lovely. Actually, it's luvverly. The water's doing all sorts of weird contortionist things. There's a fast run with whirls and eddies coming off it, there's a slow deep bit, then shallows on the near bank and something over the other side that looks like deep water. Right in front of me the water actually flows in a circle. There's so much to choose from I don't know where to start.

So having tackled up with 8lb line straight through to a size 4 hook with a 3/4 ounce Arlsey bomb on the end, I settle down onto the inflatable cushion and look towards the river. I'm so low down and the undergrowth's so high that I can't see where I'm casting - so that solves one problem, then. I get a corking tug first cast on luncheon meat and then we settle into a familiar frustrating progression whereby I waste two hours on 'bites' that are mostly weed before getting a real bite that nearly pulls the rod out of its rest and makes me realise I've been wasting my time.

I call my missus to bemoan my fishless plight and promptly hook something heavy that holds the bottom just like a barbel, but comes off after a few only seconds. I phone back to explain why I hung up on her. The swim disturbed, I boil water for a coffee (though looking around me I wish I had some custard powder) and then sit and drink it noisily. Re-casting I proceed to get a series of unmissable bites which I miss every time.

Finally, aware that I need to leave to pick my mum up from Luton airport, I have one last cast into the slow circle of water in front of me, pop the rod in the rest and then lean back to contemplate where it all went wrong. At which point the rod tip throbs and pulls down in a series of steps and I strike. It's a barbel again, and keeps low in the water for about three minutes, forging this way and that, invisible, yet so much a barbel that I feel like I've seen it already. When it finally comes to the surface it's smaller than I hoped but still a lovely fish. I give it between five and six pounds and happily pack up, crunch back up through the rhubarb to the path and return to the car, pausing only to photograph the ugliest horse I've ever seen.


It's been so long that I'm not sure I remember how to go fishing, let alone write it up in this thing.

I havn't set foot near water since my last diary entry here - too much going on at home, scouting round for work, finishing writing projects and starting new ones. Still, on my way up to sort my brother's broadband connection up I stopped off in Surrey to fish my favourite (indeed only) barbel river. The conditions were close to perfect. We'd had three or four days of solid rain so the river was high with plenty of flow but the forecast for Saturday and Sunday was settled with sunny intervals and warm for this time of the year.

Once again the river banks have changed. For two seasons now it's been a jungle here with only one or two fishable swims but now there are some beauties. An old guy was fishing in the top swim about 100 metres down from the weir. The bank juts out and gives you a great trotting swim where you can face sitting downstream. He had his dog with him but neither of them saw me.

I moved down to the swim I usually fish and it was free. The bank had partly collapsed and the water was coming through thick and fast but it looked - as you can see - very barbely. There are lots of fast bits of water, eddies, strange currents and, right in front of you, an enormous snag.

I baited up the swim with luncheon meat and tackled up. Blew up the cushion and sat on it. Set up the rod rest. Cast in. Enormous bite, just as I'm reaching to adjust the position of the landing net. Bugger.

Reel in, re-bait. Re-cast. Rod goes back on the rest. I wipe my hands on the cloth. The rod bends round as if attached to a small motor car and we're off....What a fight. Typical barbel. Stays close to the bottom, using all the traction it can get from its superbly designed triangular body, just hugging the river bed for all its worth.

Remember the snag? The barbel does and heads straight for it. There's been so much movement on the bottom of the river that I'm not sure where the snag is any more, but the barbel knows alright. Everything goes solid. The rod is in a hoop, 8lb Maxima thrumming. I ease off slightly and wait. After about a minute there's a succession of slow tugs and then the barbel's on the move again. About another ten feet up the river and back into the snag again. We repeat the tension-and-tug dance and eventually he comes out again. There are a couple of short dashes and another one when he breaks the surface but essentially he's done. I'm slightly disappointed that he's not bigger but it's still my first barbel of the season and my biggest fish all year. I estimate he's about 6lbs, in lovely condition and after the photos I ease him back into the water inside the net until he recovers and then, with a flick of that spade tail, he's off again.

I'm laughing. I don't mind that for the rest of the session I only get two more bites and catch an eel. Today I have caught a barbel. That's enough.


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