The jinx of the diaryPallatrax Angling
Since the commencement of this online diary I seem to have been plagued with problems that have resulted in my fishing being very fragmented. That, together with the appalling weather, has led to my worst sequence of fishing results in many years. Two weeks ago, one of my main worries was lifted when Fran was told that she does not need a replacement knee and had a large steroid injection in the joint. The next day she was more mobile than for many months and I was able to plan for my first two day Ouse session. Trouble was, the very next morning I woke in agony and barely able to get out of bed. I have a trapped sciatic nerve that occurred somehow in my sleep. I am now on very powerful morphine pain killers that make driving dangerous as I get very lightheaded. Hopefully, I’ll be all right to get down the Ouse next week but at the moment I have no news to impart. So, what I thought I’d do to keep up the momentum is relate the details of a session on the river from ten years ago that is one of the most memorable I’ve experienced, and not just because of what I landed.
It’s very rare that I write about “the one that got away” because, in truth, it rarely happens to me. Of course it happens occasionally. It is inevitable. Despite our best efforts, strong fish will sometimes find snags, the best hook in the world will find a poor purchase and an unexpected weak spot in even new line will let us down. In my long angling career, though, I cannot remember losing two huge fish on the bounce through unexpected problems, but that’s what happened to me on the session I’m about to describe.
In February 2006, I had perfect conditions on the Ouse for chub fishing, with a foot of extra water over normal level, a tinge of colour and a temperature in the high forties Fahrenheit. I’d arrived on the bank quite late in the day and by the time I’d had a good look round, and put a few freebies in a swim I intended trying at first light the following morning, it was only two hours before dusk. I’d settled into a lovely long glide, where I intended to stay put late into the night. There were two main features to fish at. Under the near bank, a lovely crease extended about thirty yards downstream, alongside a dense alder screen, while the far bank featured a large fallen willow. That willow was in such a position that the main flow along the far bank was diverted across to mid-river about twenty yards upstream. This meant that a bait cast across to lie under the upstream branches of the debris was in a very gentle flow. It was a difficult cast, especially in the dark, needing a heavier than normal flattened lead to hold against the much brisker midstream current, but it was certainly worth the effort. It absolutely screamed chub.
That was the swim I fished first, but I was still fishless an hour after dark, when I wound in and then propelled the first bait down the side of those near bank alders to alight on the inviting crease. It was a black night, heavily overcast, with the beta light glowing brightly in the gloom. It was a perfect night for chubbing, dark, calm and eerily silent. Rats scuttled stealthily in the undergrowth, an owl hooted, and for an hour I sat contentedly in the darkness, soaking up the atmosphere I love so much. And then, without warning, the tip twitched and the glowing rod top plunged towards the surface of the river. Seconds after the strike, I realised two things. First, this was definitely no chub, it was far too powerful. As an obviously huge fish surged downstream, the rod was nearly wrenched from my grasp. This was a barbel, obviously, and a big one. Because of the overhanging alders, and fallen timber further down the run, I couldn’t let the fish have a free rein, and was deliberately fishing with a fairly tight clutch. Even so, the clutch only yielded line in tortured little jerks, instead of a controlled evenly pressured release. So the second thing I realised was that something was seriously wrong at the reel. But there was nothing I could do about it. In the dark, and with a powerful adversary keeping incredible tension in the tackle, I had to make the best of it. I realised that I had to try and land the fish effectively without the aid of a clutch. There was nothing for it but brute force and ignorance. At least I was equipped with 12lb mono and a 12lb Dacron hooklink, over gunned for chub I know but a sensible precaution on stretches of the Ouse where the barbel are so immense.
Over the previous few years, I’d had some huge barbel, but even the biggest had yielded to intense pressure when I’d clamped down to keep it from snags. I’d stopped fish to over 19lbs dead in their tracks with 12lb line when I’d needed to. But this fish was in a different league. With unrelenting power, it surged against the pressure I was exerting, forcing my arms down until I was nearly pointed. There was a horrible rasping from the reel, a sense of inevitability about the outcome and then, with a noise like a pistol shot, the line broke at the reel. I knew I had just lost one serious barbel. To say I was gutted would be a serious understatement; I felt like chucking my rod in the river! It made it worse to know that a barbel had been left towing a long length of mono, although the sliding lead link would have pulled off instantly.
When I eventually examined the line at the reel, it had a tight curl at the point of fracture and my theory is that, when I’d cast out in the dark, I’d inadvertently thrown a small loop of line around the pickup. This had allowed the clutch to yield only an inch or two of line under extreme pressure but obviously this would seriously weaken the line. One of those annoying and unavoidable things that happen to us all occasionally, but it had cost me dear.
The next morning, having re-spooled as an added precaution, I settled into the little swim I’d baited on my arrival the previous day. This was a text book chub swim, a riot of fallen timber where a steady glide under the bole of a gnarled old willow emptied into an inviting little pool. There were fallen branches all around and so the clutch was screwed tight. Giving line was not an option. Any hooked chub would have to be hauled out of that snag pit in short order. Only a few minutes after manoeuvring a lump of paste under the willow, the tip pulled round hard and I struck into a solid resistance. It was imperative I get the fish clear of the fallen timber as fast as possible and I exerted maximum pressure to heave it upstream. Grudgingly, the chub gave a yard and then stuck solid. Despite my best efforts, it had found a trailing branch.
For several minutes I tried pulling from various angles and, just as I had resigned myself to pulling for a break, the fish kicked. It was free; I wound down and heaved for all I was worth. Right under the bole of the tree, only feet from safety, the fish rolled and I had my first sight of it. It was huge. I have no hesitation in saying that it was well over seven pounds. But I was not to have the pleasure of weighing it. Moments later, with all the hard work having been done, the hook simply pulled out. It was heart-breaking. It had been perhaps five years since my last fish loss by a straightforward hook pull. Why had it had to happen with that fish? It put me in no better mood when I found that the hook was apparently perfect. It hadn’t opened; the point was still sharp and undamaged. I’d just been unlucky. What a session this had been so far. Best conditions for weeks, and I’d now lost a huge barbel and a huge chub in succession. It could only improve.
By late afternoon, still on a blank, I was back in the swim where I’d lost the barbel. That far bank willow, where I’d been biteless the previous evening, was still drawing me like a magnet. There just had to be chub under there. The first cast, unusually for me, was perfection. The bait landed almost touching the trailing branches upstream of the timber, such that the bait was presented as ideally as if I’d placed it by hand. Just as dusk was closing in the rod suddenly took on a life of its own, hammering round with such force that I was sure a barbel was responsible. But it was a chub all right, and a good one. Thankfully nothing went awry and, after a good scrap, I eventually safely lifted clear a belting chub that I knew would be well over 6lbs. When I’d confirmed 6lb 10ozs, I was recompensed somewhat for the previous losses I’d endured.
Photographs taken, a second bait went back to the same spot, but there was to be no second helping. After two hours there hadn’t been another twitch, and I decided to try down the crease where I’d hooked the big barbel some 24 hours before. I only had minutes to wait. No sooner had the bait settled when the tip rattled a few times as something investigated the boilie offering. For about thirty seconds all was quiet, but I could picture what was occurring. I’ve experienced it so often. The fish picks up the bait, likes what it smells and tastes, but is a little unsure. So it backs off a little, but can’t help itself. It just has to have it. So I knew what was coming. Gripping the rod butt expectantly, I waited. Sure enough, there was another little pluck and then an impressive whack as the fish took off with its prize. Again, the sequence of events was in total contrast to the previous evening. I was in total control from the word go and I was soon weighing another great chub. This one pulled the scales to 6lb 3oz to complete a very welcome brace of six pounders. So, I’d had a happy ending after all, but I’d dearly loved to have landed the two fish I lost.
Two weeks later, I was to land my biggest ever barbel from that stretch, again from the swim alongside the alders, a gorgeous fish of 16lb 6ozs, and had it in the net in five minutes with no problems. It certainly fought well, but when I had to stop it from going in to snags I never felt out of control. Nor did it show any previous hook mark so I’m as confident as I can be that it was not my lost monster.
Only last week, however, I learned that electro fishing the stretch recently turned up several big carp, including a 30lb plus common. Perhaps that could explain the mystery. Whatever the reason, the details of that session are burned in my memory for ever.