I was a little worried about my local river until recently. The barbel seem to have vanished or, at least, remained well hidden. Paul Reddish and I fished it a couple of times last week and it seems to have recovered to its normal self, at least in two of the three parts we visited. The first stretch we explored was clearly suffering from some source of pollution. There was foam on the surface and the river here smelled “iffy”. Unsurprisingly, there was no sign of fish life. It is sad to see this but it is something, unfortunately, that seems to happen most summers when the flows are weak and the various pollutants become more concentrated.

After deciding that this section was pretty much a waste of time we headed a few kilometres further upstream and found that the water quality was much better and there were a few fish knocking around in spite of a lot of activity from heavy vehicles scraping up and transporting river gravels. Clearly we were upstream of whatever foul effluent was entering the water. In spite of the commotion of diggers and trucks and flocks of sheep being driven across our little patch, we managed a few hook ups but, frustratingly, did not land any of the fish. After a while we felt a little dehydrated. The weather was hot and PR had forced me, against my will, to consume a lot of alcohol the previous night.

We rehydrated ourselves in the company of a caged African Grey parrot in my favourite petrol station, Café Europa. This is where we met several years ago. Then it was time to stiffen our upper lips and set forth bravely to do further battle with the elusive Barbo Gitano on my “local” section of the river. Happily between us we managed a few “local” fish and it may be interesting to comment on two of these because it reveals something of the way the gypsy barbel behave and how they can be caught using different approaches.

Paul caught one of these two fish after spotting it feeding steadily in relatively shallow water. I was nowhere nearby and so he filled me in on the details when we met up later. He cast to this fish at least 20 times before he finally managed to hook it on a little nymph. That takes some doing and is testament to his skill and patience. Things were not made easier for him by the strong afternoon wind that very often figures and that can make accurate casting very difficult. This fish, once hooked, went berserk and flew off out of the fast water and into a broad shallow pool upstream where he caught up with it, took a quick snap and released it.

The other fish I caught myself, perhaps a quarter of a kilometre downstream. I did not have any clear view of this fish but settled to observe in a steadily flowing reach just downstream of a broad pool. Fish will hold in this kind of water if it is not too shallow and they can be difficult to spot unless they give the game away by rolling on their sides or disturbing the surface of the water in some way. After a few minutes of observation I could make out the odd smudge and it looked like a couple of fish were in residence. Then it became a case of allowing the nymph to work through the most promising water. I had a small dry on a dropper but the water was moving fast and so I just tried to stay in touch with the nymph. The fish took confidently after quite a few drifts and then all hell broke loose as it turned tail and rushed downstream. There is not a lot you can do when one of these fish run hard and you just encourage it keep the battle honest and not get up to mischief in the snags and branches and canes that fringe the river.

Fish like these two can be great teachers and the lessons we learn from them can be useful to apply in the future here on the river and, perhaps even, elswhere.

Paul´s fish reminds us that if you are careful, as Paul is, you can find a fish that is clearly active and feeding and carefully stalk it. If you do not disturb it and it has its head down you can cast many times to it. It may take many casts before the fish has the little nymph in view. Paul was characteristically modest about catching this one but I know from experience that it is a tough thing to do and that fish like this are very easy to scare and even a gentle touch of the leader will be enough to have them swim away.

My own “unseen” fish was a reminder to trust water that “ought” to hold fish even though there may be little sign of them. If you do not make yourself known to the fish and persevere you might just get lucky!

There was one other fish that might be worth a mention. This one followed closely after the fish just described and was taken a little way upstream. It was caught at the edge of quite fast water on an overgrown bend. The nymph was not cast at all but simply lowered and the fish took more or less at my feet. This happens quite a lot! That fish went nuts too and the only way I could stay in touch with all the trees around was to hop into the river myself and follow it off downstream, keeping it on a short line so it would bury its head in the plants in the margins. It was an subaquatic version of taking a dog for a walk!

This fish was the first to my new Orvis 4 weight fly rod. I was dumb enough to close a car door on its predecessor and the Orvis people sorted me out with no fuss. I was getting frustrated after three fish earlier in the day had parted company with me. I was beginning to think I would have to send the rod back! I didn´t really see this fish but there were, I believe, two fish in promising run of water at the head of the pool. I figured if I didn´t spook them and kept drifting an unweighted nymph through I might get lucky.

I took this picture from where I managed to catch up with the fish and beach it on a gravel bar. It was hooked as far upstream as you can see. Thankfully the fish kept in open water and didn´t bury me in snags. I was very pleased to finally get close to him but the feeling was not reciprocated!