My river is in flood at the moment, receding but still pretty coloured, and the best way I could describe it is as a continuous shallow stream the colour of a cafe con leche. If you wanted to match it for speed, to keep up perhaps with a drifting leaf, you would need to walk downstream at a pretty brisk pace.

Despite the difficulties thrown up when the river is out of sorts, you are still in with a shot at a fish if you don´t mind slopping around in the mud. Most of the fish have the good sense to avoid the stronger flows and move into the shallow margins and seams. They are also happy to explore new shallow temporary flows that, in a few weeks, will be high and dry. They are feeding now in soft sediment that the summer sun will later bake dry and fragment and the weeds that now bend in the flows will stand proud.

There was one place like this that I came across yesterday and, although they were not visible unless they cut the surface with a fin, there were a few barbel in residence. I didn´t realise that these fish were there until I hooked one that was tight to the side and, as it turned downstream into the main river, these other unseen fish swirled and followed it.

Unfortunately this fish came off. It had straightened the hook a little but clearly enough to unhook itself at a respectable distance and, when that happened, I thought that might be my only chance for the day. But sometimes a little luck comes my way and, after resting this stretch for an hour or more I crept back, this time along the opposite side, and found another fish. I lowered a fly right in front of it and it was considerate enough to accept it.

Fish hooked in little flooded marginal streams tend to rush back into the main river and they don´t hang about. Within a few seconds the fish was 20 metres away and pulling my fly line through the weeds at my feet so I followed it into the main flow freeing the line as I went. The main flow here has quite snaggy margins with and I have learned the hard way that you really don´t want the fish anywhere near submerged vegetation and so I walked the fish downstream in the middle of the river until I could find a muddy bank on which to beach it.

Walking downstream with that fish on a short line was, for all the world, like taking a dog for a walk. It pulled this way and that and would then stop for a few seconds before wandering further much like a dog on a lead stops to sniff out something or take a leak. Even though the river was never more than thigh deep, I never had a good look at the fish until it had tired and allowed me to ease it towards the bank.

Yesterday I was walking the real dogs in the early morning and just thinking back over the events at the river. Of course I was pleased to have managed to catch a fish in conditions in which the odds were against me, but what struck me much more forcefully was how fully absorbed I had been by the whole experience. This muddy river is maybe the only place that I can go to empty my mind of all the usual clutter.

I had noticed as I approached the shallow seam in which those few fish were nudging the stems of submerged plants, that the only tracks in the mud, apart from my own, were those of wild boar and that those boar tracks led directly from the shallows in which the fish were now sheltering from the main flows. It seems likely that the barbel were now feeding in the broken ground that the boar had created when grubbing around recently and before recent rains had added a few inches to the river level.

More than anything else, I was thinking about how lucky I am to be able to fish a river like this.

Both fish were hooked in these shallows. The tracks in the foreground were made by boar.
A handsome gypsy barbel
This is the bedraggled “fly” that did the trick.