I had been looking forward to the start of the river season the day the last one ended in March, such is my love of flowing water. However, as the clock ticked away, I didn’t think I was going to make opening day, due to illness.
My wife’s version is that I had a cold. Mine is that I had the worst flu that anyone has ever picked up in the history of the universe, and it was touch and go whether I would make the next morning, never mind any angling. Of course, I am a man, and I am just like the rest of us when it comes to illness!
By the time Tuesday came round though, if it hadn’t have been for the fact that the rivers were opening at midnight, I’d have stayed indoors. However, bravely fighting the sickness (It’s my male perspective once more!) I decided I just had to be at the water’s edge. And so it was that I headed north on the A38 to connect with the Derbyshire Dove.
The river was low and clear, which was to be expected, considering the lack of rainfall we have had recently. Still, it was just good to be back, and arriving at 9.00 p.m. I had just enough time to set up before darkness kicked in. An hour or so later I was all ready, just waiting for midnight to roll round, and the new season to begin. I felt like I do at Molineux every August when a new football year is about to get underway!
Sitting there, I spotted a Little Owl hunting in the meadow behind me. It was a fantastic spectacle, and the first time I have ever seen this particular species of bird. If you read my Angling Journal regularly, you will know that this year I am combing my fishing with some bird watching, and the Owl took my species to the year to seventy-nine.
As I have done for the last couple of seasons, I will once more be fishing exclusively with boilies for barbel. Hence, as part of my preparation and planning, I’ve ensured that my bait freezer has ample supplies of the little red balls. I am quite organised, and so since I signed off my eel campaign in the previous week, I had been focusing on getting all my barbel tackle ready.
As the clock ticked down, I was getting very excited. The analogy of a kid on Christmas Eve would not be out of place! And even though it seemed to drag, eventually time did move on, and as the Church bells started to sound in the local village, I got ready to cast out my rods. I was fishing one down the side and the other up against some far bank willows – a typical Dove barbel swim.
Within the hour I had a run on the left-hand rod, but striking I retrieved a broken hook length. What caused the break in the mono I don’t know, but I was hoping that this was not a sign of things to come. I really wanted to get the new season off to a decent start, even just initially putting a fish on the bank, irrespective of size.
My wishes were granted however at 1.15 a.m., as the far bank rod bent over and I found myself playing a hard fighting Dove barbel. Once away from the willows, the odds were in my favour and I ended up slipping the net under the fish. It wasn’t the only thing slipping though, as I found myself up to my knees in the river. Yes, I had fallen in!
In fact it proved to be my first double, because as I returned the fish, I once more ended up in the water! However, at this point let me say that when choosing the swim, I had picked somewhere that was safe. The problem was with the access for netting, because of the low river level.
I knew that, should I end up in the river, it was a very shallow section in front of the peg. I spent the rest of the night and most of the next day fishing in my boxer shorts, as my clothes dried out! The fish itself was just short of 8lb. Still, I was very happy to be off the mark. My barbel campaigns have always got off to a slow start, and if I can just catch in the first couple of weeks, I’m usually a happy camper!
With all that splashing around though in the river, I figured it would go quiet for a while, and so it did. I did have a few slight taps on the left-hand rod at 3.00 a.m., but it was to be first light before I saw any more real action. And what a piece of action it turned out to be!
Again it was the far bank rod that provided the fish. A couple of knocks on the rod tip and then bang! I found myself striking into a fish that did its utmost to take me into the willows. In fact it did! I could feel the line grating, but I always use braid hook-length when fishing in those situations, so I was confident.
I got the fish to the landing net on three occasions before I finally netted it, but each time it powered off again towards the safety of the far bank trees. The first glimpse I had of the fish, I could see that it was a good one; but it was only as it was safely in the net that I thought I was looking at a double. Once on the unhooking mat, it was quite clearly a ten-pound fish, the only question was which number of ounces would be alongside the magical ten. The answer was that it weighed in at 10.9.
Whilst recently going through my angling records, I discovered that I have caught a double figure barbel in every month of the river season – except for June! It’s not very often you achieve a target straight away, but here I was, less than five hours into the season, and it was mission accomplished! And for the photographs, by the way, I put my trousers back on!
I carried on fishing through the day, but didn’t get any more fish. It was a very hot day, and nothing stirred. As dusk set in though, I was hopeful for the second night. However, not a touch. But as I reeled in on the Thursday morning, I discovered that I had no bait on the right hand rod and a big clump of weed on the left! Ah well, at least I had the memory of the double to cherish.
I was glad to get home, take a shower and get some rest. Then, in the late afternoon, to tune in to the England vs. Switzerland football match on TV. A good win saw Wayne Rooney and I have something in common – we both had a double! By the evening I was really tired – two nights on the river had taken their toll – and so I was more than happy to sink into my bed. It had indeed been a great start to the new season!
(Originally published June 2004)