Did I just make that up or did someone else get in first? I'm not sure but whoever said it first, it has more than just an element of truth. My fishing trips this year have been far too few and I've decided that I must either work less or abandon the family a little more often. It was actually a whole month after the season started that I got my first trip to the river this year, all down to that cursed idol of labour.

My fishing pals Pete and Brian had almost given up on asking me along. Come to think of it they never do anyway, I just force myself upon them. And so it was this trip. We arranged to meet at my place and then mosey on down to the Kennet, feasting in a friendly local café on the way. However, we finally arrived at the river at midday in a rather poor humour. Our motorway café brunch had been ruined by the teenage cooking staff. No doubt some human resource manager thought they were a good, cheap investment. I hope the balance sheet shows him the error of his ways. Or that he is forced to eat the same muck we were served up.

To add to our mood, the river was out of sorts. Very low water levels made many of the shallower swims on this part of the river impractical to fish, and the deeper ones also looked less than inviting. Considering we were already four weeks into the season though, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The bankside vegetation was hardly touched, so this stretch had suffered little angling pressure so far. Probably most anglers had dismissed it after a quick glance and walked downstream to the deeper stretch. We almost made the same decision but Brian pulled some cold beers from his pack and sat down. In the midday heat, Pete and I followed suit, our eyes following the progress of the cold beers like donkeys eyeing a carrot.

Brian decided to take the prime swim, and as he had the beers, we didn't argue. Besides, it would be a first, Pete or I always seem to get it usually. This is a swim which is on a sharp bend in the river, shallowing from an inch or two on the inside of the bend to around eight foot deep on the outside and heavily overhung with bushes and trees. It stinks of fish and we have both taken a lot of very big chub and barbel from it. The only other fishable swims were no more than two feet deep and wide open, with no cover at all. Pete and I settled into the two swims upstream from Brian. Or rather, from Brian's cool box and it's occasional beguiling 'chink'. This was one of those days when I wished I hadn't travelled quite so light!

As we feared, the swims Pete and I were in didn't produce in the first few hours. Mind you, neither did Brian's and he was in the prime spot. Whatever; by 3 o'clock I'd lost confidence in my swim so I went for a walk upstream with a trotting rod. Half an hour later I was swinging in a little chub when I noticed that Brian had followed me and was fishing a couple of swims downstream. But… That meant that the 'prime' swim was empty, unless… Yep. There it was in the distance, Pete calling for a net, and I could bet where he'd been fishing too!

Brian had beaten me back and was netting the fish as I arrived. A cracking 8lb golden barbel, taken on a meatball, from 8ft of water right on the bend. Photos taken, the boys settled back to their original swims, with Brian back on the bend swim and Pete on the one above. I was left scratching my head. It was still very clear and bright and I had no confidence in the shallow swims at all whilst it was still bright. I decided to bait the upstream swim and return to it when evening fell. I then went off a-wandering, downstream this time, looking for a fish. Several hours passed to no avail but I returned to find that Pete had just taken another fish from the shallows. That was good enough for me. I settled in above him to my pre-baited swim and cast out into the setting sun.

I spread another carpet of bait across the shallows after making my first cast and watched out of the corner of my eye as Pete shook his head in disbelief, muttering under his breath. I always do this when fishing the shallows. I put in particles upstream and down, right across the river. I deliberately and randomly spread them as wide as I can and as thin as I can. This is about as far from conventional thinking as it is possible to get, I know, but it works for me. I figure that as evening falls, the barbel will be just starting to move out from under the cover of the weeds and from the deeper water where they have been hiding up all day. The last thing I want is for them to find a big tight bed of bait just after leaving their resting place. If they did, I'm afraid they'd scoff the lot and then drift back into the weed to sleep it off. So, what I try to do is the opposite of a 'tight bed' of bait. I spread it wide and thin, so the taste of it is everywhere but there is no actual concentrated area of bait. This, I feel, makes the fish actively look for the bait, searching it out, snatching a bit here and a bit there and keeping them on the move the whole time. I even use this same mass-wide baiting approach in the dead of winter and, as I said, it works for me.

My reasoning is that it will not be just the barbel that will eat the bait, it will be almost every other species too, so I am not worried about over-feeding the swim. Anyway they'll burn almost as much energy looking for it as they'll get from finding and eating it! The only area of concentrated bait that a fish will run across is the spot where my hook-bait is. That's the only place a fish will find a big mouthful of food rather than a titchy taster. But - and here's the big plus, the actual TASTE of the bait is all over the river, turning them on. Under some circumstances, a wide flavour area beats a concentrated one hands down, in my opinion. For what that's worth.

Pete don't think it's worth much. He goes in for the 'accurate tight bed of bait' theory and remarkably, seems to catch just as many as I do. Even more this day because he took another fish, a big chub this time, as I was casting out my second rod. But that was it. From then on I had the fish in my swim.

The first was a powerful little 5lber which was a nice sunset fish. Then a couple of 8lbers followed and at 10.30, just as I was thinking of packing up, I had a cracking great 30lb fish. Well, that's what it looks like in the photos - in fact, it was a shade over 10lb 6oz. Still, not a bad result for my first barbel session of the year!

I walked back across the fields by starlight. My torch had given up the ghost and I had just the silhouette of the trees to guide me. Pete and Brian fished on till dawn, both taking several more fish. Strangely, the prime swim that Brian was fishing didn't produce another fish until gone midnight. But I didn't care. I was away with the fairies by then, sleeping in my own bed; exhausted and happy.