Some people might think it rather irresponsible, but lately I’ve become quite good at catching barbel in my sleep.
One morning last week, for instance, I tooled down to my favourite stretch of flowing water with a spot of float fishing in mind. I had spent the previous evening imbibing a few more ales than was, perhaps, advisable. This often happens on the eve of fishing trips. I think excitement and the vague notion that “I’ve not much on tomorrow…” combine, compelling me to conclude that to sink a few would be a perfectly sensible course of action. Consequently, I often arrive at the bankside a little worse for wear. This was the case on the morning in question.
I've always held that an early morning hack ‘round the links is the best hangover cure. However, it is a truth universally acknowledged that arriving at a deserted stretch of promising water, swathed in the steaming mist of a hot, heavy June dawn invariably girds the loins of even the most forlorn angler. As I tackled up I was aware of the oppression lifting from me, as if borne upon the fluttering wings of the blackcaps foraging through the Willow-down and the sand martens swooping up and down the river on their unerring quest for insects; “This is the life…” I thought, and cast in.
First chuck – a really very nice grayling of about a pound. The next few casts produced more of the same, perhaps slightly smaller than the first. I was trotting a 5BB Avon down through a swiftish swim where a sudden drop in depth made the surface boil. Exactly 6 bronze maggots were fed into the head of the swim before each cast. After more grayling, a few chublets and a feisty brownie were banked the bites started to drop off. I began to hold back the float considerably more than had been the case hitherto (naturally I was using a centrepin). The upshot was that I began to catch dace – pretty nice ones too. I reckon a couple might have been 12 ounces apiece. All in all, a very pleasant session of trotting.
Morning had flown by and I sat down and ploughed through the hearty repast kindly packed by Mrs Retiarius. As I ate I watched the sand martens performing their astonishing aerobatics, noticed three or four very big chub basking beneath the overhanging branches of a low Willow on the opposite bank, and asked myself why I don’t do this more often.
The lunch and the temperature, which had soared throughout the morning, had taken their soporific toll. I decided that to continue trotting in the mid-day sun would be just too demanding on my depleted reserves of stamina: so I decided to tackle up the barbel rod and have a nap.
Now, I accept that there are those who consider fishing for barbel while sleeping to be the height of irresponsibility, but let me explain. These days, I don’t get to go fishing very often; and when I do, I am often tired and knackered out (see above). These two facts conspire to evince a dichotomy which I find difficult to balance. I feel I ought, on the rare occasions I get to go, actually to fish while I’m there. However, on days like this, I often feel the need for an afternoon nap. I merely attempt to combine the two things so as not to feel a sense of, respectively, regret or exhaustion.
And let me assure you that on such occasions I go to great lengths to avoid catching the blighters. Conversely, when the conditions are favourable – the river fining after high water, moderate air and water temperatures, inside knowledge of a ‘can’t fail’ local bait, the moon being in the correct phase etc. (see previous post) – I never consider such a course of action (although I do nod off occasionally and have previously caught while napping). No, I approach my carefully chosen swim with the utmost stealth and diligently apply every nerve and sinew to the task in hand. I concentrate and focus every pore and fibre of my being to the cause. I then dedicate my - admittedly limited - angling skills to pursuit of the quarry. Naturally I invariably fail to provoke the merest nibble. But when the sun is high and bright, the water temperature akin to bathwater and as low as I’ve ever seen it, and where no barbel are visible through the crystal clear flow I feel it’s ok. I stack the odds against any success further by using a bait which has a proven track record of failure on the water in question. In this case an unfeasibly enormous chunk of bacon grill, a sweetmeat with which I have conspicuously failed to garner a sniff on the many occasions I’ve tried it here.
So it was with absolute confidence of blanking that I cast into the most improbable swim I could find, chosen entirely for its aesthetic appeal and comfy looking bank rather than any likelihood of its producing a fish. My ‘rig’ was a simple running leger tied to 12lb line with a 10lb fluorocarbon hooklength of about a foot in length. A size 8 hook was inserted roughly through the meat with a bit of grass stem stuck in the bend to hold it on.
I reclined, contented and drowsy, upon the grassy mattress beneath a particularly leafy willow which offered a little protection from the blazing sun. Having put the rod into the rest at about 45 degrees I wedged it tight under my armpit with my forearm along the length of the butt and my hand tightly gripping the foot of the reel at the fittings, and dozed. I had just fallen into what I believe is known as the Alpha State, that weird knife edge between consciousness and unconsciousness – the real and the unknown - when the rod tip banged hard, once. I opened my eyes and peered, affronted, at the rod tip. It was still wobbling in recoil, definitely real. In the few seconds that followed I decided it was probably a line bite, caused by a panicking fish alarmed, not unreasonably, by my Neanderthal terminal tackle. My lolling eyes closed once more. The rod tip banged again - twice. This time I sat up and adopted a striking posture, albeit lethargically. I didn't think I’d get a third bite of the cherry, no more than I thought any self-respecting fish would be dim enough to take a third bite of the bacon grill, but blow me if the rod tip didn’t bend round into a tight curve. I struck into a decent fish. It turned out to be a very lovely chub of about 5lb.
This pleasing interruption having been dealt with, I re-baited with an even more ludicrous sized chunk and re-cast. This time I had at least managed to nod off properly before being rudely roused. This time there were no preliminary knocks (well, there may have been, but how would I have known?). The fish, a barbel, clearly, was trying its best to pull the rod from my grasp as I battled to shake the sleep from my eyes and work out what needed to be done. Line was being taken from the clutch and I could see the vee where it penetrated the surface. It was moving steadily toward some sunken boughs on the far bank, about 20 yards downstream. It’s astounding how hooking a barbel can clear the mind (Or should I say how quickly instinct takes over when you’re still half asleep?). I applied as much side-strain as I dared while lowering the rod tip to an inch or two above the surface. At the same time I slowed the spinning spool with the tip of my finger. This combination stopped the fish’s initial run with only a couple of feet to spare. After five more minutes of shenanigans, including mistakenly thinking the fish was ready for the net on three separate occasions, I landed it, admired it, estimated it at about 8lbs, took a quick pic and returned it.
It was clear that, with inconsiderate fish such as these swimming around the place, I was hardly going to get a moment's peace. The only sensible thing to do was to return home to a bath, a beer, and bed.