The Opportunist Approach by Andy O’Shaughnessy

I overheard a conversation recently whilst down at the works canteen,” Never had one” and “Never even seen one” together with “More chance of catching a trout”. These I could clearly hear over the general din of chat and noisy cutlery. Funny how the brain is able to lock on to certain key words despite being hidden amongst other conversations?

Armed with my coffee, I wandered over to two guys sat at a table and asked” can I join you?” “Help yourself, mate” came the reply. As I sat, waiting for a break in their conversation, I listened some more, until finally I had to comment. “Excuse me, but I couldn't help overhearing, you're discussing fishing, aren't you?” I announced.

The guys added that they both fished, one was very keen, and the other went to escape from the misses & kids!! I added that I did a bit, when time permits, and then focused on the subject of their discussion. They were talking about Barbel, and it soon became obvious they were inexperienced to say the least.

I became very interested and added that I had caught a” fair number over the years”. “I bet you got them at night”,” they only feed at night”, stated the older of the two. “Well to be honest, most were caught during the day” I added, smiling to myself. I sipped my coffee, made myself comfortable on the chair and said, “Let me share something with you”.

The story starts some three seasons ago, I had joined an Oxfordshire club that held a classic Stillwater, well know for its tench fishing. I had returned to the sport after a lengthy lay off. I was working nights at that time, and this water would offer quality tench not too far from work. This would enable me to be lakeside at around first light any day I chose.

It was a real joy to rediscover things about nature I had almost forgotten. I witnessed many “Tench fishers dawns” mostly by myself, which made it all the more worthwhile. We all know the scene, mist hung low over the water, those summer dawn skies, the stillness as nature slept…The club also held a section of the River Windrush, and after yet another enjoyable Tench session, I thought I would look down there, as It was on the way home.

I arrived at about 7 o'clock, and armed with the map contained within the club card, ventured off though the waist high nettles to the river. The Windrush was following two courses at this point; the main flow looked far more interesting with gravel beds, channels, abundant plant growth with depths ranging from less than one inch, down to deep dark holes of unknown dimensions.

I had hoped to spot some of the Chub, for which its well known, but this was not to be. In fact it looked completely devoid of any fish life at all. One swim though, really took my fancy, the River raced across some wide shallows on a bend, before being funnelled down between a rush lined, gently deepening channel into a slowly rotating pool. It was overhung with a bush which fought to retain its roots on the deeply eroded bank.

I could clearly see the bottom; the gravel was not even, more of a series of stepped ledges as the deeper pool developed. The bank there was low, providing cover so my profile would not be visible against the skyline.

The sun was warm; I sat watching the river, spellbound for a while. A couple of small Chub could be seen, holding position in the current, occasionally breaking out to more open water to intercept food morsels swept down buy the current. I had some corn back at the car, and thought I would test their reaction to it.

Back in position I anticipated where the current would take the grains, once introduced. The first dozen grains were swept down into the depths far too quickly; I wanted to see the bait on the ledge I had noted. The second batch came to rest just where I wanted, and I eagerly awaited the Chub's return.

After a while they did return, and I could clearly see them picking up the bright grains. By now I had a collection of fry and minnows actively working the swim as more corn was being introduced. Suddenly all fish darted in a flash, had I spooked them? They looked to be very confidently feeding, so why this sudden dispersal?

More grains were introduced, and slowly fish would reappear and feed. Just as before, every fish darted off, including some sizable Chub. What was the cause of this? I thought to myself.

To my amazement, what I thought was a huge Chub, rose from the depths. On closer inspection this leviathan was in fact a Barbel! I observed this “monster” as it patrolled the ledge, scoffing all the grains in its path like some piscatorial Dyson; such was the efficiency and voracity of its feeding.

Better still it was joined by another. I was able to witness their behaviour as they competed for the free offerings. I had to introduce more food, this didn't seem to bother them, and I could clearly follow the grains as they sunk, some hitting the Barbel as they fell!! The biggest Chub briefly reappeared; only to be physically bullied out by the Barbel using their snout to nudge him away! This was utterly amazing to witness.

I decided to return to the car for rod and line, this was a chance too good to miss. My heart raced as I ran blindly in the direction of the car, my legs constantly being stung by nettles as I went. Fingers were trembling as I tackled up. 6lb straight, size 8 hook & single swan shot. Forceps and net were grasped and back off I went.

Back at the swim the fish had gone, but more grains soon had the same cycle of events unfolding. Somehow, despite getting my tackle caught up on everything, such was the impetus of this task, I positioned my baited hook onto the ledge amongst the free offerings.

Taking my eye off the bait, looking for the arrival of the Barbel was a mistake, for now I didn't know which of the grains contained the hook! The barbel had arrived, like two intercity trains at Reading platform, sleek, streamlined and powerfully slow. One swam over the ledge, masking my view, and the other turned sideways as it vacuumed the ledge. All the grains had gone, which fish had the bait?

I glanced at the line where it entered the water, and yes it was moving. Winding gently down to retrieve the slack, I struck. I could see the Barbel for a second, gently shaking its head, in mid-water, before turning down the pool very rapidly. Only a boil on the surface remained, all vision destroyed by the surface bow waves.

The Barbel knew every inch of that pool, several times it found undercut holes, and I'm sure at one stage he was directly beneath my feet some three feet into the bank. I hung on, applying as much pressure as I dare, although a tiny river and a tiny pool, this was no easy fight. One last powerful run down the pool saw me apply maximum side strain. I quite expected us to part Company, but somehow we didn't.

The fish rolled on the surface, now had the upper hand, I was able to see the fish in mid-water once more. Much weaker now than before, it was relatively easy to draw him over the waiting net. The fish was mine; the first from the Windrush, the whole incident being observed with such detail was just amazing.

With the net on the soft lush vegetation; it was promptly unhooked and admired. Not a big fish, but at just under 6lbs it gave a great account of himself considering the confines of the pool. Back in the net for recovery, soon it was holding its own in the cool flow. Time to go my friend I said to myself as I eased the net aside, allowing him to swim away unhindered.

I suddenly became aware of my surroundings, I was back in the canteen, the din, the heat, the smell. “Sounds like you were just lucky mate” one of my new friends added, as they noisely kicked back their chairs and walked away, back to whatever…..

Andy O'Shaughnessy

re-generated Feb 2007