A 13lb barbel is the icing on the cake (barbel article, entry 66)

After a few days of wet and windy weather hitting the country from the south-west, I had just one thing on my mind – barbel. The river Severn below Worcester was a metre or so above normal level, and that suited me fine. As long as it is in the rim of the banks, then the fishing can be excellent. It can still be very good when it floods into the surrounding fields of course, but access can be a problem. Above all, safety has to be a major issue when tackling flooded rivers.

Driving down the M5, as with all my angling trips, I had already planned which peg I was going to fish in. I do find that preparation is one of the vital keys to a successful session, and location is one of the most important areas to think through. Arriving at the car park there was another vehicle already there, and I guessed the owner would probably be in my chosen swim. Still, on the lower Severn, that is no problem. Whilst some venues can be ‘peggy’ this is not one of them and I was happy to fish anywhere on the meadow.

As I was intending to fish through the night, my concern was more to do with finding enough space to erect the shelter, as opposed to any particular fishing spot. As it was forecast to be a fairly dry night, it was just the odd shower that I had to contend with. But it was quite windy, and it’s always nice to avoid the full force of that if possible. Particularly at this time of the year, the winds can be quite cold.

Depth wise I had about sixteen feet of water literally right under the rod tip. This was also out of the main flow, so much so that I was able to fish with the bait runner engaged. Unless you are focused on your rod at all times, you either need to set the clutch or else fish with a bait runner reel when barbel fishing. One slight distraction, if you then get a bite, then that could be goodbye to your tackle. Although it is thankfully quite rare, nevertheless it is still not unheard of for anglers to lose rod and reel as it is hauled off into the river by a barbel.

I was fishing by early afternoon, and settled down to await some action. I usually fish two rods on the lower Severn, but due to the river being higher than normal level, I was restricted to just the one on this occasion. I was hemmed in by bank-side trees and unable to fish with more than a solitary rod. Still, it’s quality rather than quantity which counts, and almost three hours after casting out, I found myself suddenly alerted to the rod tip as it began to bounce.

Striking, I could feel that this was a good fish. Knowing the swim well, I knew that the only snag was a clump of undergrowth in front of me. As long as I could keep the fish from there I would be fine. It’s important when fishing flooded rivers, that we are familiar with what lies beneath the surface. Otherwise we could be fishing into bushes and all manner of obstructions.

Netting the fish, I estimated it to be a good ‘9’. If anything, I am very conservative when guessing fish, preferring to go lower rather than adding on weight. So I wasn’t really surprised to see the digital read-out show that I had actually caught a double – 10-4-0 to be precise. And in fairness to my original guess, once the fish was on the mat, it did reveal a very fat belly indeed! This was my tenth double figure barbel of the season and certainly was an achievement, as I had originally set myself that figure as a target over the whole nine months. Instead I had reached it less than half that time.

The second barbel of the session came well into dark, with the river falling steadily. This is where you have to be really careful, particularly when fishing in darkness, as wet banks are potentially lethal. Again, this is where swim choice is crucial, and safety becomes the paramount issue.

As the hours edged on it became quite cold. The weather forecasters were predicting an overnight low of 3C, and by the time midnight came round, it was definitely thereabouts. It’s when the conditions are such that the boys are separated from the men! I had come to do an overnighter, and that’s what I was determined to do!

I was very grateful for my ability to stick doggedly at the task, because as the Church bells started to announce 1.00 a.m. my rod also declared that a fish had taken the boilie. As I raised the rod and lifted into what felt like another good fish, the hardships of the conditions seemed irrelevant. At that moment I could have been standing there in shorts and tee-shirt and not felt the cold!

And if the playing of the barbel caused my mind to detract from the cold – when I saw the fish as it surfaced, then that definitely did the trick. One of the most satisfying sights in barbel angling surely must be to witness a big fish as it slips over the waiting landing net, and is safely scooped up and lifted onto the unhooking mat.

What a cracker it was too! Weighing in at 13-8-0, it’s not the biggest fish I’ve had this season, or even my biggest barbel from the Severn, but I was over the moon with excitement nevertheless. At that precise moment, this was the best fish I had ever caught as far as the ‘joy factor’ was concerned. Mind, having said that, isn’t it funny how captors of big fish never seem to have a happy look on their faces?

I must admit I fall into that category on most of my big fish shots, but the facial expression certainly does not reflect on the inner experience. I think most of the time it’s just the absolute thrill of catching a good fish that literally ‘takes our breath away’.

I added a small barbel (just under 6lb) and a bream before packing away the next morning. It had been great to catch the 10lb 4oz barbel, which was my tenth double of the season and therefore a very special fish, but nevertheless it was the ’13’ that was the icing on the cake.

(Originally published October 2004)

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