Lady luck and the River Princes by Andy O’Shaughnessy
Recently, I was approached by an ex salesman who I had worked with during my Car dealership days. Nick had walked out some three years before me, and had set up a landscape gardening business. Sometimes our paths would meet and we would talk about the “bad old days”. He knew of my Decking involvement and was keen to involve me, in a kind of joint venture.
He had just taken on a commission and asked for my help. This would allow him to concentrate on the hard landscaping and planting, with the construction of a Decked area being left in my hands. This was great news. Nick and I were good friends and I was keen to impress both him and his client, so agreed.
We soon had everything planned and a start date was fixed. Work started at a most beautiful Thames side property, an absolutely stunning residence for any Angler. Naturally as work started, and got well underway, I found time to think about the river, and this stretch in particular. Some readers may know that Barbel populations are monitored by The Environment Agency. I had been informed of these areas, and the results, some months before, by another friend whom I also worked with many years ago. One such stretch had already produced the current Thames record, along with some other large fish. It just happened that we would be working right in the middle of another monitored stretch!
During a Tea break one morning, I chatted with the owner, and the conversation naturally turned to fishing, “My grandson fishes when he's down this way” he said, “He has caught some big ones”. Big what? I thought to myself. “ I have a photo if you're interested” he added. I said that I would be very interested in this and he popped off to get it. The grandson turned out to a strapping university-student, holding a Barbel, which, he added, “was over nine pounds”.
Over the next few hours I put two and two together and realized that here was a golden (no pun intended) opportunity of perhaps some seriously quality fishing. I thought about the possibilities of gaining permission to wet a line, and the potential of improving my Thames P.B. We talked later as we packed up, and it was agreed that upon competition of the job, a few hours would be granted, the offer of which was readily accepted.
During my evening “job” in the warehouse, I planned the session meticulously. A programme of pre-baiting would precede the short session. Planned for the following Thursday afternoon. The chosen area would receive a mixture of “leftovers” from the summer, and samples would be introduced several times each day, in the same spot.
Next day, on site, a lead was cast around and a suitable feature was found. A nice crease was explored and an area of clean bed appeared ideal. Two rests were positioned and the line clipped at the correct distance. All was ready for stage two.
Later in the day I would introduce the first of many droppers of free offerings. I had devised my own type of bait dropper for the purpose. Made from one of those “onion mesh” bird feeders, the ones that come filled with peanuts, the open end and side would be laced up with PVA string. This allowed a much bigger payload, and distance, than my Fred Crouch droppers could allow. Also I was confident that the contents would readily spill out each cast, having tested the device in the Koi pond at home. The only problem being the need to dry the mesh out each time, prior to filling.
I would use a mixture of sweetcorn, meat, pellets, various chopped boilies and hemp. This was all mixed together in a bucket and taken to site. Hook bait would be two Elips pellets, which had been successful for me in the past. Once superglued, back to back on the hair, the entire hook length would be placed in small individual jars with a small quantity of obsession dip. Preparing my hook lengths at home is something I have always done when targeting Barbel. I fish confidently knowing that the knots are correctly tied and tested, hooks can be closely examined, and baits attached in a relaxed controlled environment. The reason for the oily dip was to “waterproof” the pellets. I had discovered they would breakdown considerably quicker having aged, as well as added attraction.
The deck went well. I completed on time, and after its final sweep off, looked superb. The client was very pleased with the result, a real asset to his already beautiful garden. It was now Thursday, the second of my rest nights, so no dashing off at 4pm to clock in at the warehouse. The afternoon was mild, very mild for early spring, with a low weak sun that hung low during the day. Behind me was a riot of colour with foliage and stems of reds and yellows. Hazel catkins were out, along with some very early Blackthorn blossom whilst the ground was littered with snowdrops. It was certainly the most beautiful swim I'd ever set up in.
An inline lead was chosen, fished as a bolt rig, and the first prepared hook length attached. With the rests still in place, (they had been all week), and the mainline still clipped on my reel, it was very simple to ensure the placing of the bait was correct. Once cast, I tied a short length of powergum, in place of the clip, to mark the distance, and set the runner.
Around me, Great tits and Blue tits were in abundance. Tiny wrens worked the stems in search of early insects, actively picking grubs and suchlike from the dry grasses and undergrowth. I could hear a distant Woodpecker making its distinctive call as he did his rounds. These I noticed were almost common place these days. The local Church clock chimed 2pm as I sat back, relaxing in my chair, unwinding from the past few days (and nights) hard graft.
The bait runner spinning broke the serenity, the Avon top taking on a familiar curve as it pointed towards the action on the riverbed. Engaging drive, the fish kited out to mid river, then dashed upstream, I could feel its head shaking though the braid as it objected to being controlled. Kiting again to the far bank towards the overhanging trees caused me to cup the skirted spool in an attempt to halt such behaviour.
Gaining line now, the runs became weaker, but still staying deep it continued to seek sanctuary of know snags. More pressure soon had it on the surface, but it was not over yet. It made two very hard attempts to get downstream of me, I later found out why this was, but at the time, gave grave concerns. I hung on, I found myself saying out loud, “easy, easy”.
The Owner pattern hook held and soon the fish was back upstream ready to grace my waiting net. A barbel for sure now, she lay tethered under the rod tip, wallowing in the slow current. My first Thames fish for almost a year. Wow! She was a biggy, possibly she might go over ten!! My heart was racing as I lifted the net with both hands onto the mat. Memories of my first Barbel flashed before me, how that first fish had such an impact on my future was incredible. Inspiring me forward to the level I now stood.
Yes, she was certainly much bigger! Safely in the sling, she pulled the scales round to 10lb 1oz. I was speechless, my first Double, and from the Thames. After a quick visual check over, she was quickly returned, non the worse for the experience, unlike myself! Pleased that I didn't have to re-bait. I felt incapable of performing any intricate operation, I was trembling so much
A new baited hooklenth was attached and cast as before, then wound back to when the powergum stop knot just reached the first ring. Perfect positioning. A further fish of 8lb 4oz came around 15minutes later, again trying hard to reach the area downstream swim. Two fish in under an hour, this was getting good.
Another bait was duly cast, and after some minor knocks, developed into a full-blown run at just before 3pm. A heavier fish than the others, it too stayed deep, plodded round very slowly. Frantically trying to anticipate its next move, I played this fish gentler than the others. Its behaviour hinting it might be something special. I saved the reserves till needed. I had an idea this fish would also attempt to reach the downstream area.
Sure enough downstream it went. I applied as much pressure as I dare. My rod hooped over, parallel to the bank, like I'd never seen before. Strange noises came from within, creaking forceful sounds, combined with the taught singing line. Scary stuff I assure you. Lady luck was with me, everything held together. After all, I was confident that everything was balanced and each knot carefully tied under “controlled” conditions. I felt pleased that I had chosen do this. To loose any fish though hastily prepared terminal tackle is unforgivable, why subject yourself to chance? This was the one, the one that really mattered. This was the grand finally of all the preparation and groundwork.
She was turned and immediately kited out to mid-river before I guided her closer in. I first caught a glimpse of her form as her pale golden flank rolled, two rods out. She looked enormous, and quite deep, a stocky, powerful fish. I wanted this fish in the net, more than any other. Stay calm; don't do anything stupid, I kept saying to myself. A huge vortex came to the surface followed by the rod tip being forced down at my feet, She was not going to give up easily, and again she sought sanctuary below. This was win or loose, ecstasy or agony, success or failure.
On that day I won, a glorious victory, she was mine, I felt almost sick with joy, a second double for sure, as she wallowed on the surface, before being gently drawn over the net. The reel was put in free spool, rod dropped, and with both hands my prize was hoisted onto the mat, what a stunning, magnificent creature. My eyes ran from nose to tail as I admired her, spellbound by what I saw. Her huge pectorals like elephants ears, tipped with coral pink, her huge golden flanks, large brassy head and black pupil, simply gorgeous.
The scales confirmed her weight at 12lb 10zo this was unbelievable. I considered myself one very lucky angler. Back safely in the net she was carefully carried to where I could get down to the waters edge. I held her whilst she recovered. She looked fantastic in the water, her huge pectorals, tipped with coral pink, assisting her to balance, her gill covers working rhythmically as she breathed. I knew I only had a short time left with her presence, my senses absorbing as much detail as possible it what time I had remaining.
Then with a shake of her head, she drifted sideways and powerfully thrust her tail, propelling herself back to her watery liar. I decided to fish on, one last cast. I felt this experience couldn't be matched, let alone bettered, but welcomed the chance to sit, and recuperate on the afternoon's events.
The sun was now much lower and a distinct chill was in the air. I shivered, partly though cold, partly though excitement. The heady scent of Daphni Mesirum filled the air; I was once again elevated to a higher dimension. I was almost unaware of the next take, lost momentarily, in another world of serenity, and euphoria. The resulting fish of 7lb 3oz somehow didn't matter as much. Although still a worthy capture for some.
I felt I had gained access, earned membership, to some elitist world of anglers present and past. An unforgettable day when myself, and lady luck, met the River princes.
Footnote: It was later revealed that downstream lies the remains of an ancient boathouse, the site now of a derelict landing stage. Reason enough for the barbel to desperately seek sanctuary there.