These days I find myself in the very, very fortunate position to live a matter of a hundred metres from the banks of the middle reaches of the Warwickshire Avon and boy do I appreciate it. The ability to get to the river at a moments notice and fit my fishing in around the weather, water conditions and, of course, my young family.
I am very lucky that I have no need to fish for hours on end, during barren periods of the day, waiting for the most productive time at dusk when the invisible switch is flicked on the fish's appetite. I can simply pop over the road for a couple of hours before dark, keeping the angling cold turkey at bay at the family happy too.
It is for that reason that I have made it a habit not to fish at weekends. I value my fishing sessions and, of course, want to catch fish but there are other factors at play too, namely peace, solitude and the feeling of being at one with nature. Something that is hard to find at the weekend. I put huge store on these, often to the detriment of catching large or multiple fish. I would rather catch less on my own terms and on barely trodden banks than join the melee. I enjoy angling...catching is merely the icing on the cake, not the be-all-and-end-all.
However, for this session I decided to break my own rule. What a fool. Things started off badly and got progressively worse.
Saturdays are a busy family day and I can't generally get free until 3pm. Not too bad with still time to get to the river before dark but on this occasion several holdups saw us not not arrive home until nearer 4pm. A bit annoying but not the end of the world. Just before we reach home I am able to see the section of river I have been targeting recently for predators. As I glanced over on passing I could see a large and not very narrow narrowboat stopped close in to the bank. Very strange I thought, I hope they haven't broken down. "They'll be in the way" I chuckled to myself.
A few minutes at home saw me grab the gear and get bankside to find the interlopers gone. Fantastic. Oh, hang on a minute. On closer inspection I could see they had left the vicinity via the bankside vegetation, as far as I could see upstream, churning the water and destroying what was left of the marginal reeds. The result was a continual conveyor of sticks, branches, reeds, grass, plastic bottles. You name it, it had been disturbed and was floating past me.
I nearly turned tail and headed for home but I had arranged to meet an occasional fishing mate there and he was travelling a distance so couldn't just abandon him amidst the carnage. I ploughed on, setting up the rods and minimal gear I take. Withing a few minutes I was ready to cast. I turned to the water to see a dog walker on the opposite bank. Well it is the weekend I guess. He is, of course, taking no notice of his dog and is typing on his phone. The black lab, bored from lack of attention now has me in his sights, trembling in excitement on the other bank. Not a problem as I'm a dog lover and labs are everyone's friend. Plus he's on the other bank, some forty or so metres away (this is a very wide section of the Avon).
I swing the deadbait to the middle of the river. No sooner as it hits the water Mr lab launches himself into the drink as if he is going to collect my 2oz lead for me. Bit irritating but still not a problem I think as he swims towards me. He keeps coming and keeps coming. He is now only ten metres from me and is apoplectic with the sight of all these lovely sticks floating down the river, swimming round and round in circles biting at every one he could see. It is only now that its owner notices what's happening. What does he do? Yells at the top of his lungs to the dog, over and over again until finally the lab takes heed and returns to the opposite bank.
So much for my peaceful session. At least he apologises for the commotion and is on his way.
By now I've really had enough. My fishing sessions are too precious to be putting up with this. I go fishing to enjoy it. It should not be a chore or graft or something to be endured. It should be a pleasure. A few hours to savour. However home is not an option on this occasion as James's arrival is imminent.
I finally get all the deadbaits into the river, rod tips sunk well under the water to avoid the worst of the flotsam but even then it was proving problematic.
After an hour or so my mood was aleviated by a run. Brilliant. I lifted the rod from the rests and let the fish pull line between my fingers, taking the smelt bait downstream. As suddenly as it starts the line goes limp. I close the bail arm and slowly wind down to the fish (no striking as I'm using circle hooks for my predator fishing). Nothing...
Oh well, they are clearly feeding. Good news.
Half hour later and it's almost dark and I get another run, this time on a roach deadbait. A much more gentle take this time but I'm paying out line with no resistance and the fish is trundling off. This time, with the memory of the first take fresh in my mind I wind down to the fish whilst the line is still moving. Nothing...
Things can't get any more infuriating can they. How wrong I was.
By this time James had given up on his lure fishing, defeated by the constant stream of detritus. As we stand there chatting at about 7pm through the darkness I noticed that unmistakable shape...an otter swimming upstream in the middle of the river. It disappears below the surface right over my middle rod. OMG NO!
That's that then I said to James. Last time I saw the otter here the swim died on its backside instantly. I was again tempted to knock it on the head (pun intended) and even though James was leaving I decided to give it until seven thirty. I must be mad.
Seven thirty came and went with not a nibble so I started to pack up. The rods were placed onto the floor, propped up on the reel handles and baitrunners engaged so the baits could be left out as long as possible in a vain attempt to salvage something from the session. Soon all the gear was packed up aside from the landing net and rods. The first rod was wound in, packed away and the end gear stowed. Nothing from the remaining rods. Rod two followed in similar fashion. That was it, time to reel in the last rod. I walked towards it, tip illuminated in my head torch. As I bent down to grab the handle I saw the tip twitch. Once, twice then a steady pull round and the baitrunner started to click. I rapidly lifted the rod and opened the bail arm. Line fell from the spool as the fish took line slowly but steadily. "I'm off the hook" of a blank I thought, "just don't mess it up". After the evening I've had, the chance for redemption...but when to strike?
When the fish is still moving, when it had stopped? Dilemma. I decided to leave the fish. It seemed from the previous takes that the fish weren't taking the baits with confidence so I opted for a patient approach, safe in the knowledge I was using circle hooks that would wind out of the fish and lodge in the corner of the mouth. Finally the run stopped and I wound down to the fish...and wound...and would. Nothing...
My heart sank.
Tail between my legs I trudged home.
It's not over zander...until next time.