IT HAS been a strange start to the river season. My pal Les spent a day on the Kennet with two friends, trying to catch barbel from one of the most prolific syndicated stretches on the entire fishery.

In 45 hours of fishing between them, no one had a bite.

Tellingly, towards the end of the day, a barbel jumped clear of the water three times as something boiled below. The witnesses couldn’t be sure, but it didn’t look to them like the usual striking of a pike, and the prospect of an otter on the fishery now seems quite possible. It would explain the slow sport this year.

As catch reports trickle in, I have yet to receive a single competition entry for a river-caught fish. That worries me too; it could be, of course, that we are all enjoying ourselves on the lakes and pits and are waiting for the winter floods. Or, like me, you may have begun to conclude that the rivers present a dismal prospect right now. I hope I am wrong.

I was down in Dorset over the weekend, collecting a new and rather fancy cane landing net from traditional tackle maker Jason White. It’s an indulgence for my imminent trip to Redmire Pool – which I may have mentioned a few times here already.

Anyway, Jason does more than just whittle fine rods and other items from culms of panda food. He also runs two coarse fishing beats on the upper River Stour, and was keen to tell me about them. A hasty scroll through the gallery on his iPhone revealed barbel to over 16lb, chub to nearly 7lb and pike to almost 30lb. All of them were caught last year.

It was inspiring, not least because his river has also suffered from the kinds of predation and neglect that have harmed our rivers here in Wiltshire and the Cotswolds.

Critically, he walks the river every day, usually more than once, and is on the ground to spot early signs of trouble.

And that, perhaps, is the crucial point. If we abandon the rivers in dismay, the likelihood of their recovery may well be reduced. Our presence is in itself a form of protection.

The alternative could be a tragedy – after all, what point is there in an exquisitely crafted net if it remains forever dry?

Catch reports:

Twitter: @jonberrywriter