Banging the barbel welfare drum
I would certainly never try to take any high moral ground – after all I stick hooks in fish and then engage them in a battle – but the issue of fish welfare is an important one. And whilst I am not in the Church of the Barbel, where the mighty deity is worshipped and adored, nevertheless there are specific things that we need to bear in mind when fishing for them. One of them is to use the right tackle, and in particular line strength that is up to the job. I remember some years back listening to an angler bragging about how many fish he had lost on a particular river because he was using 4lb. As they say, it’s not big and it’s not clever.
As far as I am concerned, rather than think what is the lightest line that I can get away with, my approach is the opposite. What’s the highest breaking strain that I can use before I start to seriously compromise bites. In practical terms that means that only on one river as far back as I can remember, have I fallen below 10lb. And that was to 8lb. I have even fished 15lb in a few very specific instances where fish were snapping 10lb line on tree branches like it was cotton. And so in this week’s session on the middle River Severn I set up with my reel spooled with 10lb Sufix Synergy. It’s better to have one bite on 10lb line and land it rather than four on 4lb line and lose them all.
The reason we need to consider line strength of this size is that the barbel will not only head for the nearest snag, and so we need the gear to stop it, but it is a fish that never knows when it is beaten. Of course there are times when we will hook a barbel on light tackle whilst fishing for other species, but in my book, intentionally fishing for them on 3lb or 4lb line is irresponsible. I know that’s a strong word, but I stand by that. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel offended by that either, but rather challenged. I don’t want to alienate but to educate. It’s not good when anglers brag about playing a fish for the best part of an hour either, because they specifically targeted barbel on line that I would use for roach fishing.
In the accompanying video, you will see that even on 10lb line, a reasonable size barbel takes a couple of minutes to land. Our aim should be to use tackle that brings the fish in to the net in a short period of time. Obviously we don’t want to tow it in, that’s not what fishing is about. But playing a fish for an hour by choice is not good either. And then there’s what we do with it once it’s on the bank. By all means weigh it and photograph it, and I don’t have any issues with keeping it in the net at the water’s edge in between these actions. As long as the fish is ok and doesn’t need supporting, that’s ok in my book. I know the Barbel Taliban will be up in arms over that and I’ve met a couple of them over the years on a certain river; but if they loved the species as much as they say they do, they wouldn’t be fishing for them!
I know that I have used up more than half of this article going on about barbel welfare, but I make no apologies for that. And I haven’t even mentioned so many other things, such as keepnets, but I’ll leave it for now. There will be plenty of other opportunities to bang the drum. And with the pike fishing season almost upon us, I will definitely have some noise to make there! So this week’s session. The river was dropping and so on occasions like this, as well as fish welfare, we have to consider our own safety. As I intended to fish up to midnight, and so well into dark, it was imperative that where I decided to set up was secure. Dropping into a swim that ticked all the right boxes, my intention was to fish just off the willow tree that hung over the river downstream from where I sat.
There was slack water for a couple of lengths out and then the main flow ran through slightly beyond the branches of the tree. And it was there, in about twelve feet of water that I decided to cast. I have mentioned the rig and bait approach in the video, so I won’t duplicate that in the article. The 3oz lead held the bottom comfortably though, and with a falling river I had no problems with weed or other such debris wrapping around the line. Therefore I was able to cast out when I wanted to, as opposed being forced to due to the rod arched over by a load of junk wrapped around the line. Rising rivers are good to fish, but ones on the fall are easier!
A close-up of the barbel
The water temperature on early evening arrival was 12.1C and the air was 12C. In other words, it was warmer in the water than on the bank! And whilst the air continued to fall steadily during the evening, the water held up quite well. This is a fact that many anglers don’t appreciate, that just because it is chilly this side of the water, don’t assume that the other side will have seen the same percentage fall, because it won’t have. In fact, by the time I caught the only fish of the session, well into dark, it was feeling quite cold and I was in a Sundridge all-in-one fleece and a fleece jacket over the top. But as the rod tip suddenly came to life, all thoughts of the temperature were pushed to one side. There’s nothing like a run of adrenalin to take your mind off the weather.
It was a great feeling to net the fish and although I didn’t weigh it, it was about 8lb. Although the fish have definitely increased in upper limits on the middle Severn in recent years, the smaller fish are still around, and so I’m always happy with a fish of that size. I do set my stall out to catch larger fish of all species, and whilst you can never truly eliminate the ones you don’t particularly want to catch, I am quite fortunate in that I do generally get what I’m after. Definitely a case of quality rather than quantity is what I am aiming for, and driving home as I reflected on the session, I reminded myself again how thin the line is between success and failure. It was yet another trip that had resulted in just one fish.
(click icon above for this week’s video)
(Originally posted September 2009)