I made an unexpected return to the Wye valley a week or two back. A celebration for Nick’s 50th to which I was generously invited.
I only fished for the final couple of days but missed very little earlier in the week. On the Monday, Nick and Tony had arrived to find a river in unprecedented spate. The Wye had swarmed across the fields and licked at the gate of the cottage in which they were staying. For 700 years those walls have stood and likely never been so threatened by flood – certainly not in recorded memory.
As the rain eased and the sky cleared, so the lying water chilled like a chardonnay in an ice bucket. Glooping back through frost bitten soil into the river itself, plunging the temperature and benumbing the fish. Nick managed to eke out a half-frozen chub on Wednesday, but that was the only fish for anyone in those first few days.
At least I arrived to find a river within its banks, although Thursday remained tough. A few tentative bites came late in the day, and I lifted the rod after one small pluck to find a decent chub attached, but, as Nick had found the day before, there was no glut to follow.
Last year, almost to the day, I had fished the Wye in short sleeves as a plume of warm air billowed up from the Sahara. The river had been low and clear and a world away from the scarf and glove wrapped present. However, Thursday evening saw a weather system roll in from the Atlantic, and Friday morning, although far from warm, felt relatively tropical.
My early efforts were hindered by a hangover, and with a long drive home to come, I chose to slip back to the car for more sleep. Lunchtime had passed by the time I woke, but it seemed that the river was also stirring. Garrett and Tony had both caught barbel, Nick had lost a couple, and bites were considerably more determined. Having finally found a responsive river, the other three headed for home, hoping to break the back of the M4 in the light of the day.
I would have the stretch to myself until dusk, and (after an invitation to do so) dropped into the swim that Nick and Tony had primed. It was a perfect floodwater swim, on the inside of a shallow bend with deep water right beneath the near bank with the main current being nudged out into midriver by a willow on the left.
I had a sharp rap within about ten minutes, almost certainly from a chub, but nothing further developed and I pondered my options. Nick and Tony had been feeding fairly heavily, but all I had for bait was a tin of spam that had already lost a couple of chunks. I could move, head upstream to the Ash tree swim which was a noted barbel spot or I could try and stir a fish here. I broke three good sized baits from the wedge of spam and cut the remainder into small pieces which I trickled in.
The response was instant, and a smart chub of around 3 and half pounds was soon in the net.
With 2 baits left I cast again and had an unmissable wrench that I somehow missed.
Eeesh…..one bait left, but with the light fading fast I would be unlikely to make more than one cast in any case. This time, there was no immediate bite, but it felt as though it would come. I drifted into that perfect sense of contented anticipation. Blinking as the colours drained into grey. Waiting.
A flick on the line, but not a bite. In the half light I saw a bat flicker past the trailing branches to my left. I’ve been tricked like that before. Then came a loudening thudding of feet from behind my right shoulder. Badger, I reasoned – but turned as an otter trotted along the top of the bank only feet from me. Seconds later came a swirl beside my feet. A peered into the ink and saw a flash of teeth. A second otter, who responded to me with a hiss of contempt. I hissed back – we repeated the exchange, and the otter turned tail.
Within a moment the rod heaved over, and I briefly thought the otter had swum through my line. But no, a powerful throb sung through my hands – a barbel, surely.
I had already decided that should I hook a barbel, I would be fairly heavy-handed. This was a tight swim, with a willow immediately downstream as well as up, and I couldn’t risk a tangle. More pertinently was the fact that an exhausted fish might be tricky to return. There was a spot downstream that I had noted as a better point to hold a fish in the current, but I didn’t want to be moving around on the steep and slippery bank anymore than I needed to.
So I quickly tightened down and let the barbel know who was going to boss this encounter, whereupon it rose up in water, turned into a chub, and dived straight into the submerged branches to my right. Nice plan, Kev.
It was obviously a good size chub, but not big enough to battle its way free of the willow. I reached out as far as I dare but couldn’t get the rod tip out beyond the fish. I slackened off, I tried tweaking the line with my fingers, but it was solid. Tethered just below the surface, tantalisingly out of reach.
I felt sure I could resolve the impasse though – with a little bit of thought.
My safety was paramount, but with two well buried rod-rests (hazel is surprisingly solid – thanks Rob), a well planted right heel and some gentle see-sawing I managed to get the fish into the net, bite the line, retrieve all of the tackle and trailing end, and get the fish safely back into the river without any major hiccups – save the crutch of my new waterproof trousers ripping open, but something had to give….
And I even had time to weigh the chub – 5lb 12oz and my best from the Wye, although I had thought it might be bigger still. Not that it mattered of course. I was safe, the chub was safe and Nick’s birthday week hadn’t ended on a slightly sour note.
For more fishiness, do pick up the latest issue of Fallon’s Angler – available here – FA18
There is also a stunning new film, ‘The Outsider’, available for free here – The Outsider