With just days left for the river season, rather than weeks, I must say I was disappointed to be confronted with such dire conditions, as far as temperature was concerned. Usually, as we push on into March, the conditions look good for a concentrated end-of-season barbel bash. However, this year it just wasn’t to be, as continued cold weather forced my hand to do some chub fishing in the run up to March 15.
Heading for the lower Severn, as soon as I put the thermometer in the water, I was wondering whether I should have gone grayling fishing instead! With a reading of just three degrees, I knew it was going to be a struggle. And so it was.
I had plenty of rod bending though, as there was obviously a clearance of debris going on somewhere upstream, as an endless pile of branches, sticks and other such flood related rubbish continued to flow past me with no let up. In the end I had to position the rod so that the tip was almost touching the water – this was the only way I could avoid getting snagged every thirty seconds.
Talking of floods, there was evidence everywhere of the recent high waters. Three hundred yards from the river where I had parked my car, was the limit of the high water mark, as debris had been deposited right at the base of a small hill that rose up from the flood plain. In addition, every tree along the riverbank was decorated with all manner of things, from carrier bags to tree trunks, dead animals to oil drums!
Fishing wise, even when using maggots, I couldn’t buy a bite. The chub were simply not having it. And with air temperatures plummeting below zero once the sun set it certainly was no hardship to get back to the car and get the heater going!
Of course, I was back again, and just a few days later, the temperature had literally doubled to six degrees. In fact, while I was there it even – just for a moment – hit the heady heights of seven. Suddenly I was concerned in case I caught a barbel, which on my 4lb line would have left me inadequately exposed. You can’t win, can you, with the British weather?
Thankfully, I didn’t catch any barbel, but I did manage a few of my target species. They were only small fish, none over one pound and certainly not big enough for a ‘angler plus fish’ pose. It’s amazing though, whilst fishing for barbel this season I’ve had numerous three, four and five pound chub on the stretch. Yet whenever I’ve targeted them specifically (albeit I admit just a limited number of times) I’ve only had small ones.
Fishing a cage feeder and a big bunch of maggots, I fished well into darkness and arrived home just before the witching hour. I did manage to add the Curlew to my tick list of bird species for the year. I prefer birds that are fairly close and allow me to observe them for long periods of time so that, as a novice, I can identify them correctly. The half dozen birds were actually in flight, but were easy enough to label, and I knew what they were, even before consulting my bird book for final confirmation.
Thinking carefully about what would be my last chub session of the season, I decided to go for an all-or-nothing venue. There is a certain stretch of the Upper Severn where I have only caught one chub below the four-pound mark – and that was 3-9-0. However, the bad news is that I only catch one in every three visits! I was literally hoping to go out on a high, or otherwise a blank!
The stretch in question is quite barren and open, and when the wind blows, as it was doing, it gets very cold. I set my umbrella up and anchored it to the ground, as I didn’t fancy doing any Mary Poppins impersonations! Casting out, I settled back, staring intently at the rod tip for signs of life.
Within the hour I had caught a small grayling. As my wife would say ‘At least you didn’t blank’ Although I was grateful, of course, I really did want to bank a nice chub. And just as darkness began to draw in, my tip pulled round and I struck into a decent fish. However, almost immediately I knew that I had not connected with a chub, but a barbel.
My main fear was that, on four-pound line, I would get broken. But knowing the swim quite well, I knew that there were no major snags, so all I had to do was play the fish carefully, and hopefully it would make the net. In addition, I could feel that, although it was powerful as indeed barbel are, it was no monster. I felt confident that, as long as I gave the fish respect, it would soon be in the net.
And so it was that I drew the fish into the folds of the mesh, after a short, but spirited fight. It went to 5-5-0, and for the Upper Severn, that’s a nice enough fish; although I have had barbel to 9lb – again while chub fishing on 4lb line!
I carried on fishing into dark, but had no more fish. Listening to the weather forecast on the radio it kept mentioning the snow that was working its way across Wales. As I was in the Principality, that was very relevant to me! And as the flakes started to fall, I knew it was time to quit while I could. I was parked alongside a track and any adverse weather would seriously affect my chances of getting home.
By the time I got back to Sedgley, snow was falling quite heavily. And with temperatures hitting below zero, it was a pleasure to get inside the house. So although no chub to rejoice about, I certainly ended my campaign with a surprise in the shape of the Upper Severn barbel, caught in freezing conditions. But looking back, it’s been a decent enough season, with several fours and fives that have graced my net.
(Originally published March 2004)