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Archive for July, 2012


I headed to the old Lea today with me old mate Jules, to have a bash at the ‘Green’.  The Lea is hosting some of the Olympic events from Friday onwards and I might add that the roads are already chaotic.

With the temperatures soaring to 30c I was in no rush to get to the river and after a late night in London watching Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths in Neil Simon’s play the Sunshine Boys, which was such a rare treat to see two such superb actors in full flow, I certainly wasn’t going to be going early.  We arrived around 3pm in the sweltering heat.  We wandered along the river, checking out a few swims and found a couple that we both fancied for the evening.

So to start we decided to both have a go at rolling.  I struggled.  The water was unusually coloured and it was difficult to see where the weed was, especially without polarised sunglasses.  So after about 90 minutes and sweating buckets in the blistering heat, I decided to move into my chosen swim a little earlier than expected.

I had picked a swim where shallow water dropped down into a much deeper section.  The swim was only around 3-31/2 feet deep with loads of far bank cover.  Directly above me was a shallow, weedy section.  On a warm evening like this I could envisage the babel heading up to this area to feed…..well hopefully.

So after slowly moving the remainder of the gear into the swim I popped down to Jules’ swim  for a cuppa and a lay down in the shade and waited for the temperatures to abate.  At around 7.30pm I went back to my swim and tackled up.  I opted for an Andrew Witham feeder from cagefeeders.com and plugged some small mixed pellets with a little groundbait.  I fished a couple of large elips pellets on the hair.  I recast every 30 minutes onto the edge of the trees and into an area of smooth water.  As dusk approached I started to get a few knocks and taps and then had a persistent tap, tap, tap.  I decided to strike and it turned out to be a reasonable roach but it fell off near the net.

Darkness soon enveloped us and still nothing had happened.  Just as the light was fading I saw a flash of iridescent blue as a Kingfisher hurtled past.  I think it was in training for the Olympics!  Time was passing quickly and we had decided to call it a day at 10.45pm.  About 10.30 the rod top kicked a bit and then arched violently round.  I was quite taken aback but soon grabbed the rod, which was resting on my chair.  The fish pulled back a little too hard to be anything other than a barbel.  I called down to Jules that I was in.  He came up to net the fish….well hopefully.  At this stage I couldn’t quite decide how big it was but then it turned on the surface and we saw the size of her and she looked a good double.  The fight lasted longer than I thought it would but we soon had her in the net.

On lifting the fish out we both thought it was a mid double.  She was long and looked quite plump.  The scales read 12lb 10oz and although not a PB (although it is from the Lea) was my Olympic gold.  She was stunning.  Long, fin perfect and an absolute stunner.  I took a couple of quick snaps and got her back in the river.  After a few minutes she was fighting strongly in the net to get away and she powered off upstream on her release.

12lb 10oz

12lb 10oz

It makes those blank here all worthwhile when you get a result like that.  Wonderful.

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Yes rumour has it that Tina Turner dedicated this song to Ray Walton and I can well believe it.  Geoff and I headed to the Kennet for the afternoon and evening and I was hoping to try out my latest acquisition:  the new RW rolling pin MKII.

Ray Walton Rolling Pin MKII

Ray Walton Rolling Pin MKII

It was a very pleasant day, overcast and with maybe an outside chance of some rain.  I tackled up the Torrix with the pin which was loaded with 20lb Power Pro braid and tied directly to this was a size 2 Korda hook.  I had molded some extra heavy tungsten putty onto the shank and covered it with some shrink tube.  This would hopefully mean that less plasticine would be required.

So off I went fully of expectancy, the mad fool that I am!  I tried numerous swims and failed in all of them.  For those that haven’t tried this method I shall try and explain.  Basically you put on a large piece of luncheon meat, by simply pushing the hook right through and then turning the hook and pulling it back into the meat.  You then cast upstream and put a large bow into the line.  This means that the bait can then trundle downstream, bouncing along the bottom, in a straight line.  If you keep the line too tight to the bait, it will obviously pull it off line and create an unnatural path down the river.

The beauty of the rolling pin is that you can turn the spool and cast out normally and then return the spool to it’s normal position and keep paying off line.  The idea is that that you feel the meat bouncing along the gravel bottom.  You just keep allowing the pin to turn to give line and allow the bait to travel downstream, under tree and bushes and between weed (if there is any).  If you feel the meat is going through the swim too quickly, then add a little plasticine 5 or 6 inches from the hook to slow its progress down.  Bites are often quite gentle plucks but you’ll know it’s different to the normal gravel bumps that you get.  If in doubt strike and strike hard.

The Kennet

The Kennet

Well as I said after a few bite less hours I decided to move into a swim for the evening.  I had found an area of shallow water but with a deeper margin flanked by reeds and heading upstream to a large bridge.  This seemed a good interception point.  So about 7pm I swung out a feeder and a couple of super glued Elips pellets.  10 minutes later the rod top slammed round and a feisty little barbel fought for freedom on the other end.  It was a nice conditioned fish of about 6lbs.  Thirty minutes later and the rod top did it’s thing again and this time it felt a better fish.  After a good scrap I weighed this one and she went 9lb 1oz on the scales and was a stunning barbel.

9lb 1oz

9lb 1oz

That was pretty much the end of the action for me fish wise at least.  I was treated to a rare sight though.  A barn owl swooped down at the back of my swim, no more that 8 feet or so from me, to grab a mouse.  The only sound I heard was as the owl’s talons as they grabbed at the tall grass.  Then it lifted off silently, empty taloned and worked it’s way along the water line in search of another tasty meal.    I also saw what I think were a pair of plovers in the field behind me.  They walked a bit like an upright pigeon and made a funny sort of call.  Having checked the RSPB book I’m fairly certain they were Plovers.

So, all in all a reasonably successful session.  I will persevere with the meat rolling but it may take some time to become even half decent at it.  Practice is the key.

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The call of the mighty Trent was too strong to ignore and so Geoff and I made arrangements to do a couple of nights.  It’s a bit of a trek from Kent but the rewards and scenery well make up for the distance.  As always we got to see plenty of Goldfinches which just add some really rich and vibrant colour as they dart about, resplendent in their gold plumage.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

Whenever I think of Nottingham, it always reminds me of that great line from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves when the Sheriff of Nottingham (played by the brilliant actor Alan Rickman) says to a young wench “You. My room. 10:30 tonight.” and immediately follows it up to another young wench with “You. 10:45… And bring a friend.”  Brilliant.

The weather forecast was (not surprisingly) mixed; sunny period interspersed with some heavy rain and thunder storms.  That pretty much summed up the whole of the summer so far.  Still undeterred by such things we arrived at the river early evening on the Tuesday.  She was carrying about 3 foot of extra water and looked really good.  We headed upstream and settled on a couple of swims.  After a few bite less hours in what looked a perfect spot, I decided to move lower downstream.  Geoff hadn’t had a bite either and we really couldn’t understand what we were doing wrong.   Just before packing up around 1am my rod finally slammed over and a small barbel of about 5lb was returned safely to fight another day.

So 1 barbel between the two of us was pretty appalling and we both felt rather inadequate.  Quite what we were doing wrong wasn’t glaringly obvious to us, other than maybe we hadn’t found the fish.   So Wednesday we returned after enjoying a rather hearty breakfast at the local farm shop, which had a superb cafe.  This time we opted to fish a little lower down.  I found a few fish, taking four during the afternoon and I moved lower down again early evening and managed a further two from close in on very small pellets.  Six was certainly better than yesterday but far from good.  Geoff still hadn’t managed a fish.

As darkness fell I got chatting to one of the locals who pointed out the error of our ways.  During high water the barbel shoaled up lower downstream leaving much of the upper stretches devoid of fish.  He proved himself right by fishing the evening and catching over 30 barbel.  We decided to try a couple of swims lower down and Geoff managed four and I had three more.

A lesson learned as they say.

The next morning the heavens opened and we had to pack away the tents in heavy rain.  We couldn’t even have an early morning cuppa.  So this is what Hell’s like then…..bugger!

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Wednesday was going to be a strange sort of day but I think quite a fitting one. I had been due to go to London but that had been cancelled and so I opted to go to my beloved Kennet instead. Geoff and I arrived fairly early and parked up in the car park with the intention of taking a recce of another new stretch for us this season. We wandered downstream and then about 1/2 to 3/4 mile upstream. We were very impressed with the section. Loads of bankside cover, a good flow and plenty of gravel and snags. It looked perfect for barbel and we couldn’t wait to get going.

The Kennet

The Kennet

We had spotted numerous swims that we both fancied and I decided to start at the uppermost of these and work my way back towards the car. Initially the weather was pretty good, quite clear and the sun felt warm, however that was soon to change and seemed quite fitting for the day in question.

The first swim produced nothing so after a couple of hours I opted to move downstream, especially as the wind had now picked up and the odd threatening storm cloud had started to billow up in the sky. I tried another swim and then moved again into a deeper area where I had found a deep hole by a overhanging tree. I cast a block end feeder out with some pellet inside (they are too big to come out and are there just for the scent trail), held it back slightly so the whole lot swung in towards the tree and then dropped it down into the deeper water.

The Kennet

The Kennet

I hadn’t been there long when I started to get a few crayfish knocks but shortly after I had a real roach type bite, which I never struck at. Then a guy walked up past and we had a short chat, shortly followed by another chap. At this point the skies had blackened and I felt it sensible to get an umbrella ready, just in case. Then I felt the first spot of rain, so decided to just put the brolly up anyway. With that, the rain started and within a few minutes it was torrential. The rain was pounding on the brolly and water was cascading down the sides. Then I had a couple of taps on the rod tip. I thought “oh no, not now”. With that the rod top ripped round and the strike met with a powerful fish, barbel on. The fish took several yards of line before I stopped it. It then kited out towards mid river and took a few more yards of line and then nothing. The hook had pulled. Again I thought, well perhaps that’s how it’s meant to be today.

The previous day I had attended my brother David’s funeral. He was just 47. It’s fair to say that after a rather difficult period we had become estranged. Our parents both died young, my Mum at 44 and my Dad was 54 and they died just two years apart, both from cancer. I think I was 17 when Mum died and 19 when Dad did. David was 3 years older than me. I hadn’t seen Dave since I was 21, so 23 years. I was contacted just before I went on holiday to Hereford to say that he had terminal cancer. I had arranged with some family members to go and see him once I was back, but sadly after just a few days of that initial phone call, I was informed he had died.

At the service I had learned a few things about my brother that I wasn’t aware of, or perhaps had just forgotten. He loved fishing, the countryside, wildlife and in particular gardening. Some of this surprised me because of his history and none of that quite fitted his persona. But of course he couldn’t be all bad, he came from the same parents as me and we shared the same traits.

I also learned of his generosity and compassion, which again shouldn’t have surprised me because that was what our parents were like. I now wish I had tried to see him before the end and I only wish that we could have maybe spent a day by the banks of the Kennet together, just once. Although he was a carp angler, I know he would have reveled at the wildness of the river. Become enchanted by its magic, the beautiful array of trees, plants and wild flowers would have captivated him. To see the wild deer dart along the track and disappear into the tangle of undergrowth. He loved birdsong and as I sat there today I could hear a multitude of beautiful songs and calls from the resident bird life and it seemed so clear and loud. If only he could have seen the buzzards and Red Kites soaring overhead, a kestrel hovering above the field and that iridescent flash of blue as a beautiful kingfisher hurtled past. He would have fallen in love with the place, just as I have.

So today was not just about fishing. It was more about contemplation, for sparing a thought for the departed. Fishing has given me so much, not just the catching of amazing fish but everything that goes with it and I owe it a debt of gratitude, for without it, I too could have easily gone off the rails and led a very different life. Even the weather today resembled my brother’s life. At times bright and warm, at others dark, brooding, angry and violent. Perhaps just unpredictable would some it up well. But there was an underlying generosity and compassion to him that endured. The lost fish also seemed fitting. I was hoping to catch one for him but perhaps he remains the better angler and he had the last laugh today. And quite right too.

Out of the ashes of this sadness came a bright and burning phoenix too. For I met other members of my family that I hadn’t seen for 25 years. My two cousins Kim and Jackie from London, my Auntie Anna (on my Dad’s side) and friends from childhood. I also met my nephew Josh and Niece Natalie for the first time. They were fully grown now and both wonderful young adults, who did their Dad proud and it was an honour to meet them.

I also got to meet my sister again after many, many years and I was amazed at just how much she looked like our Mum. Most of all I was reunited with my youngest brother Tony. When my parents died I looked after him for a year or two, before he went to live with my sister. I wished that had never happened. We share a very strong bond and he means more to me than anyone alive. I’ve missed him and best of all he has become a caring, generous and decent man, one that I know our parents would have been incredibly proud of. He put’s me to shame, that’s for sure!

Anyway you must forgive my indulgence, but I hope that it highlights that fishing is not just about catching fish and keep it all in perspective.

Not long before packing up we heard a roar of engines and watched in childlike awe as a Spitfire and a Mustang roared past us overhead. They then commenced an aerial display which took our breaths away. As they soared high in the sky and then dropped, hurtling towards the ground and turned sharply into another flyover. It lasted about 5-10 minutes and was a fitting end to the day. A fly past for David…well why not eh. By the way Dave I hope we meet again somewhere better, but not for at least 50 years or so! 🙂

Awesome display

Awesome display

Needless to say, neither Geoff nor myself managed any more bites that day. We bumped into Trefor West in the car park and now we’re not sure who’s stalking who! It was great to meet him again as he’s such a nice bloke.

Tight lines.

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After spending a few days on the Wye, it was time to head back to the Kennet for a couple of days.  I started off with Geoff on a Newbury controlled stretch.  It was a deep, heavily overgrown area.  The top end was a little shallower but gradually deepened as it went downstream, ending up with 10-12 feet of water.  The average seemed to be 6-8 feet.  Despite finding some nice swims and managing to take a nice upper 4lb chub, very little else happened.  Personally I think that it’s a stretch that will come into it’s own from Autumn onwards, as the barbel look for deeper water.  Geoff only managed a bream and so we packed up around midnight.  We’ll definitely be back but not for a couple of months.

The following day I headed to a Reading section of the Kennet for the first time.  I was due to meet Micky Holtom, owner of the Barbel Angler website, to hand over the Association of Barbel Fisher’s ‘Beast’ centrepin reel.  Whilst there, Micky suggested we did a bit of rolling.  I haven’t done this method for a couple of seasons and even when I did,  it was with little aplomb, however I fancied giving it a go again.  Without a doubt it’s a tricky method to get right and therefore plenty of practice is required to get a feel for fishing this method.  Basically you fish a large lump of luncheon meat on a big hook (size 2) and if extra weight is required you can add a lump of plasticine 6-8 inches from the hook bait.  You can add a little weight to the hook too.  One way to do this was shown to me by rolling meat supremo Jez Brown.  You mold a little extra heavy tungsten putty around the shank of the hook and then encapsulate it in some industrial type shrink tube.  It works extremely well and I wished I had carried on with this method a couple of years a go, I might have been reasonable at it by now!

The Kennet

The Kennet

One of the other reasons for giving up on it was the reel I was using.  I opted for a fixed spool whereas the more accomplished meat rollers invariably use a Ray Walton rolling pin.  This is a centrepin that can be turned so that the drum faces up the rod and then switched back to it’s normal position after casting.  This means casting is easy and more importantly allowing line off the reel is efficient.  You need to create a bow in the line so that the meat will trundle downstream along the bottom of the river, in a straight line.  The use of braid allows you to quite literally feel the meat bouncing along the gravel.  You then need to keep feeding line off of the pin to allow the bait to continue downstream in a free manner.  When you feel a pluck, whack it.  Often bites are quite delicate and I can clearly remember Jez saying that you often sense a bite rather than feel it.  I can only concur with those sentiments, it’s hard to describe what you are striking at sometimes but you know its a fish.

Anyway Micky lost a fish early on and then wandered downstream after showing me a hot peg to feeder fish.  He soon phoned me to report that he had caught a couple of small barbel and a chub.  I decided to wander downstream and join him for a while.  He kindly allowed me to have another go.  I found the main difficulty was getting the bow in the line right, so that I could feel the bait trundling along the gravel.  I often felt nothing and therefore wasn’t in control.  Still with a little guidance I eventually had a few knocks and one good one which I whacked.  The fish was on but sadly not for long.  Still it was a fish on, so I was doing something right.  With more practice and the right equipment, I’m sure I’ll improve quite quickly and I’m really looking forward to another bash at this method.

I returned to my swim for the remainder of the afternoon and evening.  I was fishing a deep run under a tree.  I started with a block end feeder filled with pellet.  This is designed to just offer a scent trail rather than dump bait on the bottom.  It’s a method that I have used many times and it has been very successful in the past.  The idea is that the barbel pick up the scent trail and it triggers a feeding response, however the only bait there is the hookbait, so they don’t have a lot of choice in what they can eat.  It’s not a method which everyone is convinced by and often people look at you like you’ve just been let out of the looney bin but it has worked extremely well for me on occasions, so there!

The Kennet

The Kennet

Anyway it wasn’t too long before the rod top slammed round and a feisty little barbel was scooped out.  It was only about 4lbs but was my first Kennet fish of the season.  Sometime later and the rod tip whacked round again.  This time it was a slightly better fish of around 6lb+.  During a quiet moment in between bites I glanced up for some reason (maybe a shadow caught my eye) and a beautiful barn owl swooped silently by, just above my head, with a mouse clutched firmly in its talons.  What a stunning sight and just before that I watched a Kestrel swooping and hovering in the field opposite looking for a similar meal to the owl. I decided to call it a day about 9.45pm and headed home to Kent.

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We arrived at our next venue quite excited having met an angler who had fished here the day before and said the river was in good sorts and he’d ‘had a few’.   However all expectations were soon dashed when we clapped eyes on the river.  Although only maybe 18″ up it was very coloured and pushing through a bit.

It was a stunning piece of river though and part of it ran through the National Trust property – Weir Garden.  There is also a magnificent white mansion that overlooks the stunning gardens and river and is now a care home.  As the title says ” If Carlsberg did Nursing Homes…….” it would look like Weir Garden.

Weir Garden

Weir Garden

I felt a good wander was in order.  First swim up and several casts equaled several lots of lost tackle.  So back on with the gear and I marched up to the end of the fishery.  It was much wider and slower here, with a clear bottom.  However after about 20 minutes I decided I didn’t like it for some reason, so opted to head back downstream nearer to where I had started.  So off I marched again and with sweat pouring off me in the heat of the summer sun, I finally found somewhere that looked more suitable.

I stumbled across a nice swim in amongst the trees.  Fast water dropped off into a deeper gully on a bend, offering a deep crease swim.  However this was a tackle graveyard.  After loosing several items of tackle I was close to giving in and moving, however the swim looked so good I had to just try once more.  I swapped to a lead and started to cast upstream slightly with a heavy lead so it wouldn’t move and then slip into another snag.  This seemed to work and suddenly the rod top slammed round and a very fit and healthy barbel was soon subdued.  This gave me renewed enthusiasm for the swim.  So again I cast slightly upstream and catapulted some bait out.  Very soon the rod top whacked round again and another very hard fighting barbel resulted.  I swapped to a feeder again to get some bait going in. I ended up with 6 or 7 good sized barbel, all ranging in weights from about 6lbs to nearly 8lbs.

Then casting in exactly the same spot I began to loose tackle again.  Numerous casts resulted in numerous lost feeders.  I swapped to a lead and ended up with the same result.  So this time I cast slightly downstream and further out.  Again I found a clear spot and this accounted for several more barbel.  Then, quite bizarrely I started to loose tackle here too.  I was close to moving but had one more trick up my sleeve.  If this worked I would stay put, otherwise I was off.  I used the same setup but instead of a feeder or lead, I used a string of the 3 x swan shots on a piece of line.  I used 8 of these shot, which held bottom nicely.  The reason was that if they were to slip into a crevice in the bedrock, they would just bend and pull straight back out.  It worked a treat and I lost no more tackle and ended up with 16 beautiful barbel.  I also had a run of good chub taking 3 different 5 pounders on the bounce at 5lb, 5lb 1oz and 5lb 6oz.  I was over the moon.

The other guys were struggling.  Geoff had 4, Dan 3 and Kevin just a couple.  It’s all about swim location and I got lucky finding this one before the others did.  Get it right and you can end up with a shed load, get it wrong and you can struggle for a bite.  However the conditions were tough and that had some bearing on results.  I’m certain we’ll return but hopefully in better, clearer conditions so that we can see what the make up of the river bottom is like.

So another week passed.  A pretty good result for me and I did genuinely feel bad for the other three guys.  It’s a bummer when you go all of that way and look forward to it so much, only for the fishing to be poor.  Still it was good company, great scenery and some amazing wildlife and you have to take that into account too.

 

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After finally recovering from a touch of mountaineering the previous day, we managed to tackle a far more muscle friendly stretch. We headed just above Ross to fish a club water.  Initial appearances were good.  It was quite overgrown in the most part which would indicate a lightly fished stretch.   Obviously nearer the car park there were more signs of human activity but once you started to walk upstream a bit, that evidence grew less and less.

The Wye

The Wye

I wandered up to what appeared to be the upper limit of the beat and found a couple of very nice swims.  Access wasn’t too bad and I had soon cast a lead around the swim to see what the bottom was like.  It appeared to be pretty good, although I did get snagged a couple of times.  I was fishing just off of a bend and a nice crease went across from the nearside bank right over to the opposite bank.  I particularly enjoy these swims, especially if using two rods (which I very rarely do) as it gives you plenty of room to work with on these bigger rivers.

Using two decent sized open end feeders packed with pellet and plugged with groundbait, I started to build up the swim.  It didn’t take too long to get a response and I soon bumped a fish off but followed it up with a couple of nice barbel.  They put up a very spirited fight and were in tip top condition.

It was a very hot day and I needed to keep getting up and wandering about, otherwise I find myself just dozing off in the heat of the day.  Anyway another couple of fish quickly followed, including one just over 8lbs, plus a couple of small chub.  Then the swim just died.  So during a quiet spell I went for a walk with Geoff.  After a bit of investigative work we found that in fact the beat finished quite a bit further upstream.  We wandered up and found several really fishy areas.  By now it was getting a little late and due to the heat and near exhaustion from the previous day, I just couldn’t find the energy to carry my gear another 1/2 mile upstream to what looked like the best area on the river.  However it’s there to be explored another day.

The Wye

The Wye

So eventually we arrived back at our swims and said that the next day we would travel much lighter and visit this newly discovered Eden.  In the meantime it was back to the barbel.  For some strange reason my swim had completely died as I said previously.  I did manage two more barbel and a couple of chub but otherwise it was pretty quiet.  Geoff was not too far below me and struggled to find any fish.  Kevin also seemed to be having a difficult time with just one small barbel.  Hero of the day was without a doubt Danny.  He had setup lower downstream.  After taking a couple of chub we heard his somewhat excited voice on the walkie talkie.  He had caught a very big fish.  The first time he weighed it, it went 9lb 14oz and the second time it went 10lb 4oz but he needed some assistance to weigh the fish properly.  Kevin was the closest and he eventually confirmed the weight at 10lb 4oz.  Danny was over the moon and rightly so.  Doubles from the Wye and comparatively rare, when one considers just how many fish are caught from the river.  We must have had many hundreds of barbel and this was the first double.  So well done Dan.

Danny's 10lb 4oz

Danny’s 10lb 4oz

We decided enough was enough and grabbed some food from Ross before retiring for the night.  The next morning we awoke with the intention of fishing the same stretch.  However about 8am the skies became quite dark and a huge clap of thunder shook the caravan.  Then the skies quite literally opened and the rain came down in stair rods.  It was torrential and lasted nearly 3 hours.  This would ruin the fishing today.  The influx of coloured water would simply make fishing almost impossible.  So we resigned ourselves to a fishing free day and so decided to eat, drink and be merry, well almost.

After the storm had passed

After the storm had passed

We wandered down to the river once the rains abated.  Low and behold there was an angler!  We ventured along the rather soggy banks looking at the deep red/brown raging river.  As I approached the angler I realised it was Trefor West.  After a long chat, we left him in peace to carry on with his fishing.  Before the rain had started he had caught a couple of small barbel.  We saw him again much later and he had given up as the river conditions had worsened.  So at least we had made the right decision.  We were due to be on the river for our last session the following day but it was above Hereford.  After driving up to Hereford we saw that the river was in much better condition here and after talking to Woody, we felt much more confident that we would be able to fish on the last day.

 

 

 

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