I needed 54lb of barbel to hit the new 500lb target, but I'm really running out of time. I worked it out; if I could fit four more sessions in I'd need about 14lb a trip...
So on Saturday afternoon I had a couple of hours on the river searching for my fourteen pounds. And I really struggled to spot any fish at all, the water was low and clear and looked entirely devoid of life. They can't have got out, where were they?
After much searching I did spot a couple of barbel, 3½lb and 4lb in consecutive casts. And later added a chub about 3lb which spooked his shoal mates. Seven and a half pounds added, well below the target - still 47lb to go...
With both the barbel and the Predator Challenge wrapped up there was no need to head out into the horrible weather yesterday, getting everything wet especially as I only had a couple of hours - but I did! 3¾lb, 4½lb, 7lb 8oz and 3½lb. Plus a chub - perhaps the 500lb target is achievable - but I think time is against me...
We were on the frozen riverbank just after dawn, James and myself, the target was grayling and roach. James had lent me a Greys Prodigy float rod for the day - and it is a perfect centerpin rod - why don't they make a 3 piece version?
I also took the pike kit, I only needed 2lb 5oz to wrap up the predator challenge - one fish - and I was sure I'd bump into one over the course of the day.
I was soon into the grayling and trying to avoid the kamikaze trout (I caught the same trout with a distinctive black mark three times in ten minutes). But as the morning progressed I couldn't find a pike - where were they?
I abandoned the float rod and wobbled a deadbait in likely looking spots, eventually finding a little jack. Never has a pike of this size been so carefully weighed - 1lb 10oz - turns out I needed more than one pike!
After much more searching I finally spotted a little jack in the shallows - 3lb 9oz - challenge cracked - I breathed a sigh of relief, I've been so close for so long.
I continued chasing grayling catching quite a few (lost count) to about 1½lb and far too many trout to about 4½lb (a nice test for the Prodigy). But we didn't see any more pike, no big grayling and only a handful of roach. James did land a couple of them including the most beautiful one either of us had ever seen - a black roach!
One deadbait left, I flicked it out and it was nailed instantly - a pike about 2lb - with marks where it looked like it had been grabbed by an otter!
It looks like the otters have taken their toll on the river, introduced to an ecosystem that can't sustain them - I really hope I'm wrong and we just couldn't spot the fish - the trout will be restocked but not the roach, grayling and pike.
We only stumbled onto this little slice of paradise last year, it would be such a shame if it's already gone...
Dawn saw me on a new river trotting maggots for chub, and I was soon into some hard fighting fish - especially on light line. It's nice to dip my toe in some new water and 5 chub in a couple of hours was a great result. Somewhere I plan on exploring a lot more of in the summer.
Then home to do an illustration, which probably paid for my day. I was done by 2pm, with three hours of daylight left it was time to hit the local river.
Starting my quest for a bigger barbel (and because I was only 4lb away from 400lb). I was soon into the fish - about 4½lb, 4lb, 8lb, 7lb and 7½lb - starting to find the bigger barbel - still got time to track down a double!
That would be a perfect work / fishing balance if I had my way but I've got a couple of very busy weeks at work ahead - and I've got to find a predator... Wonder if I can hit 500lb of barbel this season?
Cracked it, number 100 above! Starting the afternoon on 98 small river barbel it was time to wrap up the challenge. I hit the river about 2pm for a couple of hours rolling (but let's face it I was going to stay as long as it took). It was over an hour before I hooked 99, a 5lb 2oz fish to put me one fish away.
Next up I hit one about 8lb but something was wrong with the fight, it was coming in tail-first, crap, hooked in the tail... Foul hooked doesn't count so I moved a short distance and hooked another about 8lb - hook pull! But the next fish cracked it, 5lb 8oz was safely (bullied) into the net - challenge cracked!!
I celebrated with a couple of chub and the 7lb 9oz barbel above. And after packing up I was even net-man to a cracking barbel for Stuart - brilliant!
20 trips, 101 barbel for 395lb 15oz - an average of 5 barbel per trip - I'll take that!! Full breakdown is here.
There were a few recaptures, but not many - I fished virtually every square foot of the river. Now I'm going to hang the stats and try and find (and land) a double, even if it does mean static fishing and enduring a few blanks. There is still a month left.
PH: 09 Talking of challenges; I'm 2lb 5oz away from cracking the Predator Challenge - one fish. So I spent 4 hours on Bury Hill last night chasing zander, I wasn't going to fish it while it was cold but the hooks my brother sent me from the States were sat on my desk talking me into it...
With my girlfriend away yesterday, I shot down the river for a couple of hours rolling meat. My target was the big chub I had spotted previously and on route I tried a few barbel holding areas.
I soon had little plucks at the meat before one slammed it, a barbel of about 4lb was safely in the net. On to the chub pegs but they didn't want to play so I continued further down the river and bumped into a mate of mine who always seems to bring me luck.
And this time was no exception, soon I felt a bang and good fish on - thanks Stu for net and photo duties. A nine pounder (above). I forgot to weigh the net after weighing her, she went 10lb 9oz in the net, the net weighs 1lb 8oz when totally soaked - which this time it wasn't, so I'd say about 9lb 4oz.
Anyway, best barbel of the season, and it was a brilliant couple of hours fishing.
Almost out of time I made my way back up the river and a quick roll in the chub swims on route. After bumping one fish I landed a chub about 3lb. One last swim…
I hit another fish and it was clearly a barbel, it didn't charge around the swim but it didn't want to meet me. It seemed to get more powerful as the fight went on, and just as I was thinking it must be caught in something it charged across the river, a big swirl and the biggest barbel I've ever seen beached itself in front of me. Abandoning the rod I jumped down and scooped it up with the net.
Or that's what I should have done. Instead I climbed down giving the barbel enough time to right itself and hammer down the river, I felt something rub against the line and all went solid. For 15 agonising minutes I pulled this way and that, I could feel it was still there but stuck - eventually I gave it some slack, hoping it would swim out by itself.
But no. I could no longer feel it, perhaps buried further in the snag or perhaps transferred the hook - I pulled for a break and the line snapped just above the hook. F**K!!
I chucked the kit in the bag, quit fishing forever and went to the pub.
Five or six hours later I decided to un-quit fishing - I'll be back for round two…
I know a bloke who has a specimen roach list longer than my arm, and although we fish together regularly I've never asked where he's caught them, he's never told. But when James asked me to join him on a specimen roach trip I jumped at the chance.
An early start and a train journey into the unknown - I really didn't know where we were going! We arrived at a very unassuming swim and set up in the dark.
No details about the fishing, tactics or location but the first roach was mine. A fantastic 1lb 4½oz fish - what a way to start the day!
Next up James landed one of his customary two pounders, cracking fish - but I'll leave that to his blog - I wanted one.
And after bumping a couple of fish I had my chance, and absolute beast of a roach - which made sure we both got a very good look at her before shedding the hook - agggh!!
The problem it seemed was my hook, both me and James use barbless hooks - but experience has shown James that a micro-barb is the key to keeping big roach on the hook - how I wish I could turn back time.
But to be honest I had my pounder and the day was made. And my next fish provided my best roach brace ever, weighing in at 1lb 10oz. James then beat this one as well!
All too soon our 10am deadline arrived, but four cracking roach between us was better than either one of us had expected. Thanks James, and don't worry your secret fishing spot is safe with me - unless someone out there has a very big bribe!!
But the day was still young and we had our fishing gear so we headed to James' secret rudd spot. Another couple of train journeys found us on a different river and a different spot - but weirdly one I'd fished on my own before - although I had no idea there were rudd in there.
Unfortunately no rudd, so we headed for the secret dace spot. Actually I knew where this was, I've photographed some of James' specimen dace for him here before (they are incredibly difficult to photograph on your own).
And soon found myself photographing one for him again! But I did manage a modest step up in my PB with a 10¼oz dace to round off a fantastic day. Cheers James.
With the end of the season rapidly approaching James and myself decided a mid-week trip to a little chalk stream was in order and we had been counting down the days for more than a week or so...
Then disaster; I couldn't get any red sweetcorn and when I text James to tell him I found out he'd been in a car crash. Apparently an articulated lorry (driven by an Italian) careered across 3 lanes of traffic and hit his van head on, smashing it to pieces and left poor James skidding down the road on his arse with just his Levis for protection.
Then I remembered - I had food colouring at home, I could make my own red sweetcorn, disaster avoided!
It was a 4am start, with no van we took the first train and we were on the river to watch the sunrise. James headed off in search of grayling, I was going to spend the first half of the day chasing jacks.
Wobbling a trout deadbait I hit a pike first cast, about 3lb and as he was ready for the net the hook pulled - it shot past my head as the pike legged-it. Only 3lb but I couldn't help wondering how important he might be to the Predator Challenge.
It wasn't long before I was in again and added three more pike to the challenge weight; 7lb 2oz, 6lb 7oz and 2½lb.
Then I couldn't even spot another pike, and can't help wondering if the new otter population has all-but wiped them out - in the past I have seen up to 20 pike here in one day. I opted to set up a stick and pin and join James chasing grayling for the second half of the day.
James had been struggling to avoid the ever hungry trout, but I caught up with him in time to photograph a lovely grayling - but I'll leave that to his blog. While he was holding it in the water I took the opportunity to poach one from his swim.
I too struggled to avoid the trout, but did eventually find twelve grayling, the best two both going 1lb 5oz, stunning looking fish in their winter colours.
I did hit a salmon which took me on a merry ride around the river on light line, but just as it went in the net - with James shouting "don't loose it, don't loose it" - it turned into a brown trout. We were both totally convinced, and as James had the camera to hand we took the quick snap above.
For the last half of the day we decide we were going to sit on a roach shoal we'd both spotted on previous visits, fishing a variety of static baits on the tip. Watching the odd fish glide over the shallows we knew we were in 'two pounder' territory. I soon had one about 8oz (sending the float through), a beautiful looking roach and an hour or so later James upped the weight with a pounder.
We fished into the dark with high hopes but they were very spooky fish - especially for ones that had never been fished for - I wanted to end this post with a photo of a two, not caring which one of us was holding it (it would probably have been James). But I've said it before and I'll say it again, great day - we'll be back!
Predator Challenge: 297lb 11oz. I knew that lost three pounder would be important!