Almost everyone has ‘go-to’ words or phrases, things they say almost without thinking. I have two (at least!): ‘fantastic’ and ‘unbelievable’. However, on the first day of the season, June 16, both words were more than justifiable.
Tight Lines invited ex-England goalie David Seaman to join me on the banks of the River Thames and we made an early start at Marlow Weir, in the grounds of the Compleat Angler hotel.
We were fishing from the bank but a boat was already anchored when we arrived, the two anglers in it casting huge lures for pike. Another boat soon joined them while we cast our rods for bream (me) and barbel (David).
Roger Wyndham-Barnes, the hotel’s angling guide, soon anchored his boat just above where we were casting – he and his client legering worms – and two more bank anglers arrived, also piking.
After four hours no-one had had so much as a twitch, so I took my barbel rod up to the very edge of the weir sill and cast a halibut pellet, provided by Mr Seaman, into the fast water. Still no bites after 20 minutes, so I re-cast on to the edge of the drop-off, where the fast water met the back-eddy.
A piece of scaffold pole sticks out of the bank there so to save holding my rod I poked the butt in the tube, so it looked just like fishing a beach.
Two minutes later the rod took on a distinct downward curve but on picking it up – bear in mind I was fishing no more than seven or eight metres out – it felt like I’d hooked a weedbed …until the weedbed started swimming quite aggressively. It was no weedbed, it was a fish, and a serious fish too!
Its first appearance in the clear water prompted David to announce: ‘It’s a decent carp...’ then I saw the red tail and immediately called it as a barbel. David did a great job of netting it for me, bearing in mind he spent most of his adult life keeping things out of nets, and it was then the ‘fantastic’ and ‘unbelievable’ words became justified.
You see, in 1998 I fished a match in the weir, winning it with two barbel and eight bream for 54lb 14oz. The first of the barbel was a very odd shape, with a massive front end, then a kink and a more normal tail.
The fish lying calmly in my net was the very same one I first saw in 1998! The scales turned to 11lb 1oz, a pb from the Thames for me and showing a healthy growth rate for what is obviously an old-timer.
Even more bizarrely (and I swear this is true), the only reason I cast to that precise spot is that in 1998 I was struggling to see where to fish in the maelstrom of water pounding over the weir. There was a patch of froth about 35 metres out that seemed to be staying in one place, so I decided to fish under it.
Today, much closer in and nearer the weir was – yes, you guessed it – a similar patch of froth, and that’s where I dropped my rig.
Fantastic fish, unbelievable tale…but true!