Back to the barbel (barbel article, entry 64)

Kicking off my pike campaign for the season just last week, it wasn’t long before I was getting the barbel rods out again! However, it was nothing to do with missing the latter or even being dissatisfied with the former. No, the explanation was much simpler – the conditions were right for barbel, and so that was the species I decided to fish for. Particularly now that we start to edge towards winter, in order to maximise my chances of getting amongst the fish, I will be switching from one species to another as conditions dictate.

I decided to head for the Lower Severn, for only my third barbel visit of the season. Most venues can be fickle at times, but the Severn below Worcester is in my view, particularly prone to that accusation. It has more mood swings than an adolescent teenager does! Both my previous visits were pretty much identical as far as conditions were concerned. On the first trip I struggled for one chub, yet on the return session I caught three double figure barbel in just over three hours!

Arriving at the river, I was able to choose the peg I wanted as no-one else was on the stretch. However that was not going to be a problem anyway, as the fish are well spread throughout the length of the venue in question. If anything, as I was there to do an overnighter, my choice of swim had more to do with space to erect a shelter and ease of access to the river during the hours of darkness than actual fish location as such.

The first thing I did on arrival at the peg was to bait up. I used a bait dropper and deposited seeds on the riverbed, one batch downstream and the other almost directly in front. The river was low but had a nice colour to it that suited me, although as I was fishing mainly through the night, the issue of river colour wasn’t that important. However, as it turned out, when I did cast out for the first time – while it was still light – I connected very quickly with a barbel that weighed in at just a shade over 6lb.

I was kept very busy during the night, with constant chub and a solitary bream to keep me active and alert. The chub were mostly in the region of 3lb; certainly if I was on a session after the species, then I would have been very pleased indeed with the fish caught. However, on 10lb line they simply did not have the opportunity to do themselves justice. The best of the bunch went 4-4-8 and that certainly did its utmost to resist capture, but even then, on the tackle I was using, the moment I hooked the fish it was all over bar the shouting.

Strangely enough, it was the bream (5lb) that put up the best fight of all the non-barbel fish caught. I use the word ‘strangely’ very carefully of course, as bream are not noted for their fighting qualities. I had a mini-campaign for them this last spring, and intend to do the same in 2005. The thrill of catching bream is not in the fight itself but in the actual capture, as they do tend to be finicky creatures.

However, having said that, I do seem to catch my fair share when after barbel. Maybe the answer is not to call it bream fishing but to tag another species’ name as a pre-fix; that way I’ll be guaranteed a net full of fish! I think carp anglers will verify the logic of that theory!

Apart from the chub and the bream, I did catch another barbel during the night. It came at 11.00 p.m. and was just short of the 9lb mark. It was a fat fish and if it had maintained the same portly nature, just a few inches longer and it would have been knocking on the double door. I took a couple of photographs before releasing the fish back to its watery residence.

The weather was quite mild, and although I had to put my all-in-one suit on as the sun set, I only had a shirt on underneath and was warm enough throughout the night. It won’t be long though before the layers of clothes are measured in fours, fives and sixes! It will be on sessions such as those that I will drape my sleeping bag over me (on overnighters) to keep warm. As it happened on this trip, although I unrolled the bag, it served no other purpose than to provide something soft to stretch out on, as I lay on the bedchair looking at the isotopes.

As morning came round I decided to wait for the rush-hour traffic to die down before travelling home, hence I set the target of 9.00 a.m. as one to begin packing away. As I started the session with a daytime fish, I also ended it with one as well. Right on the appointed hour, I struck into the second eight-pound barbel of the trip, although this was the smaller of the two at 8-6-0.

With three barbel, plus the bream and numerous chub, I had been busy enough during the session, as the fish had been well spread out time-wise. I’m sure over the winter there will certainly be periods when any bite will be something to get excited about. Although of course, as an all-rounder, I’ll probably be chub or pike fishing then rather than specifically targeting barbel.

But to all you die-hards who stick with barbus barbus come what may, respect to you and may you truly get your reward with some nice winter fish. I’ve never caught a barbel with snow on the ground – probably because I’m not fishing for them then, but that would certainly be a pretty exclusive picture. Well, who knows what surprises the forthcoming winter holds for all of us! We shall have to wait and see I guess!

(Originally published October 2004)

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