What a season! Things that spring instantly to mind are canal pike, perch fishing in a gin-clear Wye, chasing jacks in a little chalk stream (it's not all about big fish), several pound plus roach, a big zed (twice) and monster arapaima. And the Predator & Barbel Challenges.
As well as fishing there was some beautiful locations and being the net-man and photographer for several other angler's cracking fish. And exploring some new venues with James (who took the fishing at the end of the rainbow photo above - shot in a million - thanks).
Here's a breakdown of a brilliant season that included a ton of fish and 6 new personal bests - bream, dace, rainbow, rudd, tench, and zander.
Closed Season: I had planned to get out every two weeks but work had other ideas, I did manage a few trips to Marsh Farm where I caught tench, roach and bream - no monsters but it was great to wet a line. I even managed a few elusive crucians the day before the season opened, love these fish. How did I ever manage sitting it out for the full three months?
The highlight of the closed season was my first canal pike - a proper urban pike from the heart of London - a 15 pounder on a lure - great stuff!
June: I had the opening week off work and hit the local river hard, landing 24 barbel in three trips for over 100lb - sixteen of them on the opening day - a much better start than recent years.
Another trip to Marsh Farm produced two new personal best in the shape of a 1lb 1oz rudd and a 6lb 4oz tench in the same afternoon. A rather splendid week off work.
July: I continued to cram some time in on the local river with Saturday mornings and some short after work sessions while I still had some summer light. And as well as barbel I added chub to my target list, landing quite a few to 4lb 2oz.
I achieved a target I've been after for a few years; a pound plus roach from the local river - a 1lb 2½oz beauty - my fish of the month and perhaps a target for the winter.
August: A trip to The Wye provided a start to the Predator Challenge in the shape of perch, including two over 2lb - I really wanted to beat my PB this season and would love a three pounder.
I also added trout to this season's species list, normally caught while fishing for something else I had a great afternoon targeting them. And took my barbel tally to 70 fish - the mission was now to catch 100 this season.
September: I started the month chasing a monster pike on The Wye, but it wasn't to be. Though I did catch a double and my first Wye barbel in over 10 years - I'll be back for the big girl.
A low water recce to The Royalty will hopefully come in handy for future pike sessions and we made a start on the local zander fishing. And an afternoon on the local river took my total to over 80 barbel, was the 100 target is in sight?
October: A trip to Thailand was the highlight of my month, three full days chasing monster fish in paradise. Four arapaima to 180lb topped off a trip that also included a bunch of catfish as well as other exotic species - I will be back!
Back to the Predator Challenge, landing 3 pike but unfortunately lost a nice mid-double on The Royalty. A new PB rainbow rainbow trout on The Test the next day was some consolation. Predator Challenge: 68lb 8oz
November: Started with a trip to a beautiful Chalk Stream chasing jacks in the clear water, topped off with two 1lb+ roach. Then a trip to Bury Hill provided the start of an obsession with zander and zander rigs. Starting to get a handle on it, I landed 17 zander and a new PB of 9lb 1oz!
A trip to Coventry for Jeff's 'Zebvember' was tough cold fishing but I did land a new venue double figure pike of exactly 10lb - and she was beautiful! Predator Challenge: 169lb 14oz
December: Still mild, I continued my obsession with zeds, experimenting and refining rigs - it took over my whole month, but I did land my PB zed again at the same weight, my second biggest at 7lb 14½oz and took my career total to 52 fish (41 of them this year).
A couple of quick trips to the local river upped my barbel count to 93 fish - 7 left for the century! Predator Challenge: 281lb 10oz
January: A game launch took a lot of my time, and a non-fishing trip to Iceland, but even the few times I did hit the riverbank it was tough fishing. The year opener was a blank and a couple of trips chasing dace produced only trout.
An afternoon on the local river was the main event of the month, landing a 4lb 6oz chub and adding three more barbel to the challenge, followed by a 3lb 3oz chub in a very quick trip the next day. Predator Challenge: 281lb 10oz - Stalled!
February: I did loose a big barbel and a PB roach, but I'm not going to dwell on that. It was a month full of fishing and fish! Exploring a new river, my best brace of roach, new PB dace and I wrapped up both challenges.
Barbel number 100 graced my net for an average of 5 barbel per trip - not bad for short sessions! And bunch of chalk stream jack pike pushed my Predator Challege past the 300lb target. Predator Challenge: 304lb 14oz - Cracked it!
March: The final two weeks. The first of which I watched slip away from the comfort of my office. But the second saw me into the barbel, completing the second part of the Barbel Challenge, 500lb. And had a couple of very enjoyable relaxed trips messing about on rivers before they closed. Predator Challenge: 309lb 6oz
But now we're back in the closed season, our enforced break. I do plan on hitting the ponds when the weather improves but for now I have an office that looks like an explosion in a fishing tackle factory and a very long to-do list... Fantastic season, roll on the next one!
The 300lb Predator Challenge: I have limited time and have to travel to find pike (and the floods are often a pain) so I added other predators to the mix this season. Having failed the previous two challenges I thought some evenings on Bury Hill chasing zeds would push me towards the target and I also hoped to find a pond close by stuffed with fat little perch.
The Barbel Challenge didn't interfere with this one as I only targeted barbel when I didn't have enough time to travel further afield in search of predators.
It didn't go exactly as planned, most of the perch came from The Wye in summer, and I got completely obsessed with zander towards the end of the year - they provided a big chunk of the target weight and a cracking new personal best of 9lb 1oz.
It did keep me searching for pike, no monsters but 3 doubles (2 from new venues) was great. It was a shame The Wye was out of condition for most of the pike season - I had hoped to spend some long weekends fishing it this winter.
But I did achieve 300lb, I kept at it (which was the point of the challenge) and a bunch of chalk stream jacks dragging me over the target - it would have been nice to get into the bigger fish - but I love catching pike no matter what size they are.
Research: Over the closed season I'm going to find some new pike venues for next season, I need to find lakes and canals to beat the winter floods, and I'm sure some new rivers are waiting to be discovered...
The 100 Barbel Challenge: A challenge I decided on after several multi-catch sessions at the start of the season - with limited time could I catch 100 small river barbel?
I wasn't after big fish (although if I found one I'd definitely target it), it was all about getting a bend in the rod with mostly 1-3 hour trips.
And I cracked it on February 12, after 20 trips - 101 barbel for 395lb 15oz - an average of 5 barbel per trip - brilliant! Fishing the whole river there were a few recaptures, but not many.
The 500lb of Barbel Challenge: With a month left I had planned on sitting on a couple of swims targeting a double, but then I realised I was only 4lb away from 400lb I decided to keep going (with bigger barbel in the back of my mind).
After all, if I could catch another 10 barbel I'd have a 10% margin which would more than cancel out any recaptures. And I settled on a new target of 500lb.
I managed 6 more trips and cracked it on the last one (and continued fishing for a few hours) - 532lb 11oz - an average of 20lb per trip. What a fantastic season.
Where were the big barbel? I have a theory; in the past the bigger fish, especially the doubles, have mostly been caugh after sunset.
As I only fished in the daytime I think I must have fished over them (especially as I covered so much water) but they simply weren't feeding. Or could it be they just wanted a static bait? Next season a few night fishing trips will be in order...
With my Wye trip cancelled I had one more chance to break the 500lb of small river barbel mark - my last trip to the river this season. I had a lie in, I knew I could crack the remaining 8lb 12oz in a couple of hours or fail to catch enough all day - I wondered if the barbel would be feeding?
Hitting the river just after 11am I had a barbel first cast, 3lb 15oz, they were feeding but it would take another two fish at this rate. I did four rolls in each swim (3 and one for luck) before moving on searching the riverbed with polaroids as I went. Next up was another three pounder, 3lb 12oz, I needed one more.
Then after covering a lot of water something nailed my bait and got stuck in a snag, this doesn't normally end well but after a bit of pulling this way and that she was free, a cracking fight and a 8lb 12oz barbel was in the net - cracked it - get in!!
The target was in the bag - I'm sick of the sight of barbel now, so I chucked the kit in the bag and went to the closest pub.
Just kidding - I love catching these and with half a tin of luncheon meat and 3 hours left I went searching for more.
And found some; 4lb 7oz, 6lb 6oz (above), 5lb 0oz, 3lb 12oz and 5lb 7oz. And to be honest I wish I could have stayed longer - but I had to get to the deadbait shop.
So in total I added 8 more barbel for a total weight of 41lb 7oz. Absolutely brilliant!
I had a plan to fish for roach on Wednesday morning, but the river was in flash flood - after a 5am start and two train journeys I didn't bother to get the kit out of the bag.
I had a plan to catch pike on Thursday afternoon, and although I could find the pike they seemed to have something other than feeding on their minds - watching them hit the bait and spit it out in one motion was frustrating stuff.
So today I planned to fish for roach with James in the morning and have a crack at wrapping up the Barbel Challenge in the afternoon - what could go wrong?
After a very early start we arrived at the river, I had a couple of chub straight away but then the stretch went dead - an hour later we knew it wasn't going to happen.
Still well before 8am, James suggested a move to another river in search of bream. It was like fishing in a bird sanctuary - nine out of ten trots were spoiled by avoiding birds. I didn't bother to fish, and was just happy to be net-man for James - who worked really hard not so much catching bream but not catching birds!
The birds did bugger off for 10 minutes when someone fed them, so I took the opportunity for a few trots and after loosing a bream I landed one. Finally one over my (very low) target weight - 5lb 3oz - a target to smash next season!!
Fed up of fishing in an Alfred Hitchcock film we headed off. But instead of heading home for my barbel gear and 9lb of whiskers, we opted to spend the rest of the day on another little river.
The vague plan was to trot for rudd, but anything that came along was welcome. We caught a bunch chub and trout - no monsters, although a four pound trout at long range on 2.8lb line was a lot of fun. And fished into dark trying (and failing) to catch a gudgeon - a fantastic day messing about on rivers...
With only 30lb to catch before hitting 500lb of small river barbel I thought I'd make a day of it - five hundred or bust, it was happening today! Two problems; I'd broken my landing net and had to wait until the tackle shop opened at 9am - AND all new landing nets are unlucky!!
I was on the river at ten, cursed net in hand - and met James after lunch. By 3pm, despite being photographer twice for James I still hadn't had a bite! James disappeared off to another river in search of dace, I had to christen the net.
Eventually I had a pick-up, first barbel in the net 7lb 8oz, the curse was gone! And to prove it the next cast was nailed by a 7lb 10oz barbel, followed a few casts later with a 6lb 1oz fish. Only 8lb 12oz from my target...
An hour or so later, like it was in the script, I saw one about 9lb grab the rolled meat - but what wasn't in the script was me bumping it off the hook after less than a second - crap! I tried to find another but eventually ran out of daylight...
Well I managed 491lb 4oz of small river barbel this season - 119 fish - am I going to leave it there?