Sunday 25th July, 18:00 - 22:00. Plough AS. 23C Muggy. The tree line on the far bank sheltered me from the wind.
To mix things up a bit, I took a notebook with me on this trip and recorded my thoughts as I fished. Reading this post back now - after I've written it - it strikes me that I'm trying to be someone I'm not i.e. Chris Yates. Trust me when I say this was never the intention. It says as much to me about the pervasive nature of his writing that he should spring to mind so readily as soon as you read anything in the same galaxy of the style which has become his signature. I've spent an hour writing it up now though so......
It was just over an hour ago since I faced my dilemma. I'd arranged to fish this evening with fellow angler Steve Phillips in a joint attempt to catch a barbel on the Plough AS. Returning home from an afternoon at Ryton Pool with the family I picked up his email saying he couldn't make it. Now, do I let on to the wife that my arrangement has fallen through......?
It's now six o'clock and I'm set up on the upper Warks Avon. I'm in a swim I call the 'tree tunnel'. I think others name swims to encode their whereabouts, I do so because I can never remember the numbers. It's an understandable practice if you've found some place where the fish have gathered away from pointed hooks; the aquarium, TV, red ball, the nail, washing machine, white tyre, angle.
Not all names are for covert purposes though and with some swims the name just sticks because it describes the river perfectly. Take the 'Washing Machine' pool: the river narrows and becomes focused above the pool and is then deflected almost forty five degrees to the left by bedrock where it enters. The result is a whirling mass of water which when the river is in flood circulates with vigour.
I saw one chub depart my swim downstream when I arrived. Since then I've fed a few balls of groundbait just off the main current and sprinkled some uncompressed mix into the water to get a scent trail going down beneath the overhanging cover. I expect the chub to move onto the bait shortly.
The day has been hot if not bright. It's been thirty minutes since I settled and quietened down and there's not a fin in sight. The water is clear and the river is low.
I put a couple more balls of grounbait and sprinkles in then went upstream for some fish spotting. I left my rod behind but took a fist full of groundbait with me. I wanted to satisfy myself that other swims were behaving in the same way as the one I'd chosen. I've been here in the first month of the season and had all species hungrily eating in open water within minutes of putting some bait in. I'm worried a club match here earlier today may have driven the fish to cover.
I broke the bait into four small balls and put it into the upstream swim. After five minutes two chub nosed up from the snags and willow. They never made it as far as the bait though, turning tail and returning to sanctuary as if they'd done a double take on themselves when out in the open. It's always the chub out first.
Next to nose up from the dense cover was a barbel. It pushed up over the baited area then as if it too realised what it had done powered off upstream into thick streamer weed.
Apart from the odd nose poking out the only other fish I saw was a murderous pike which silently glided its way up the swim off the main flow. I felt a little sorry for that pike - it might have been on it's Sunday evening stroll for all I know but every movement looked deathly and malevolent. I had typecast it in the roll of villain.
Back at the tree tunnel and the fish are showing remarkable self restraint. Still nothing is visible. What must it be like for them hunkered down in the clear-water gloom not daring to break cover whilst an endless stream of tiny particles drift towards them like the aroma of a curry at the end of a hot day and after couple of pints. I'm not going to make this easy for them.
I've had to change my fishing night in recent weeks for one thing and another and this has disrupted the rhythm which I'd inadvertently developed. Sunday night whilst dropping off to sleep I would hatch a plan. Monday night I would buy bait and ready my gear. Tuesday I would execute the plan (normally badly).
My weekly pattern was just part of a seasonal pattern which in turn formed the annual pattern. Each fishing day even has a pattern of it's own. Stowing the gear for travel, arriving at the venue full of hope, the juxtaposition of realism and dreams and the eventual outcome determined by how you adapt.
Most good anglers have a few seasons under their belts. That's because you need time to accumulate the scenarios you'll unquestionably be faced with. Wind, rain, heat and cold. They all require a decision. Sometimes it all goes well, the purple patch, when a run of trips all pay out the jackpot. Other times your fishing can splutter and misfire and seem like it will never again be the tuned engine it once was.
Robotic programmers have a name for this - Iterative Learning Control - and a formula to boot:
up + 1 = up + K * ep
Essentially iterative learning through repeated action. If any mathematician solves the equation of angling they'll be a very rich man.
The ground Elder which drew me so strongly to the river in the spring is now spent. Brown seeds have replaced the heavy scented white flowers. Bindweed is now rampant amongst the nettles.
It's now seven thirty. The sky has darkened and the air is still. Fly life above the water surface has increased and the shoal of gudgeon at my feet are repeatedly flipping on the surface. Three bi-planes fly overhead no doubt returning from some local airshow to land at Coventry airport. A distant train can be heard, so much part of fishing in the midlands - the heart of so many transport networks.
It's now half past eight and a trip downstream to the TV swim to try and force the issue lead to the same results as here - no fish coming out to play.
Nine o'clock. The mosquitoes are becoming unbearable. For some unknown reason I came out wearing trainer socks and my ankles have been on the receiving end of some serious bites. I've resorted to trying to tuck my trouser legs into my boots for salvation. God damn my waist line, it keeps pulling the legs up.
Half nine now and I can't write any more. If I do the mozzies bite my hands. I am having to shove them deep into my jacket pockets to stop them being bitten. I have my hood up and drawstring pulled tight too.
Ten o'clock and it's taken for the water in front of me to turn absolutely black through lack of light before I've had any indication that fish are in the swim. I've had three tugs on successive casts - all of which I've missed - most likely because my hands were deep in my pockets at the time. It's a dawn 'till dusk rule here and I'm already pushing my luck.
Ten fifteen. Now that's quite enough of that. An unknown animal has just ran along the path directly behind me screaming a blood-curdling scream. I nearly shat myself. I let out an "Aaaaarrrggggh!!!". Deconstructing my outburst I'd say it was fifty percent, "come any closer and I'll bludgeon you to death", and the other half, "WTF is that!?"
I retreated home, blank.