Checking in at Heartbreak Hotel (barbel article, entry 220)

Those of you that are into your football will know that when a team runs onto the pitch, they do so to a song. For years, my team Wolverhampton Wanderers came out of the tunnel at Molineux to the ska classic, The Liquidator, performed by the Harry J All Stars. And although it’s been a few seasons since the local police banned it, due to the language directed at our rivals down the road, it still remains not only my favourite instrumental of all-time, but also I still get the goose bumps as memories of the years come back as soon as I hear the opening notes.

 But what about a song to accompany anglers as they walk from the car to the riverbank? I suppose there is the obvious and the corny such as ‘The wings of a Dove’, ‘Rebel (Ribble) Rouser’ and the old ‘Avon calling’ theme song, but as I can hear you groaning I will stop right now. Cheese should be restricted to making chub paste, and not woven into an angling article. However, there is a perfect song that really captures the current river I am fishing, and that is ‘Heartbreak hotel’.

 The lower Severn is without doubt one of the top contenders for the title of hard venues. It’s not so much the fact that it’s a tough nut to crack, but rather that it’s just so unpredictable. I have lost count of the number of times I get my first sight of the river and think to myself how perfect it looks. However, I have long passed the point of actually expecting to catch something. Not that I am negative – far from it – but I am realistic. I know exactly what a heartbreaker (now there’s another Elvis song for you) the river is the further you head below Worcester.


On my first session, arriving at the water’s edge, it all looked so good. But by the time the next morning came round, I had drawn a blank – not even a bream. And when you say that about the lower Severn, then it really has been a struggle. However, I find that fishing my favourite flavour boilies definitely cuts down on the number of bream caught, certainly when compared to using halibut pellets which seem to draw them into the swim from all over the river.

 But not deterred, I was back again to round the week off with yet another trip down the M5 motorway. I am aware that a number of people from outside the UK read my Angling Journal, and so for those of you from North America, a motorway is as your Interstate. And whilst a round-trip of 100 miles is a short journey for those of you from the USA and Canada, for us here in the UK, it’s quite the opposite. I can remember my very first visit to Maryland when the Pastor of the church I had been preaching at asked me if I fancied a drive to get a burger. We drove 67 miles to Washington DC. I was amazed. Many British people travel that distance to go on holiday, never mind buy something to eat.

 But the motorway does make it easy access as far as the lower Severn is concerned. I can leave home and just about be fishing within the hour – and that’s keeping within the speed limits, and assuming traffic levels are good of course. Mind you, I do have made-up rods, so that helps, although in reality I probably won’t be fishing as I usually put out seeds before casting baited hooks. But on this second trip, I opted for a minimal approach as far as bait was concerned, and moulded brown crumb and seeds around the hook and that was that. The river itself was about a foot up and there was plenty of colour in it compared to my previous visit. But what surprised me was that I struggled to hold bottom with a three ounce lead and even a switch to a six ounce saw me struggling.


In fact, ‘surprised’ is probably a mild word; I was actually puzzled. There was just a minimal raise in water level and even more in terms of flow, yet the leads were being pulled round and within minutes of casting out, instead of the line heading towards where I had cast, both lines were almost parallel with the bank. In addition I located a snag that saw me lose several items of tackle. And again I was confused, as there had been no floods to bring down anything to mar what had previously been a swim that was totally free of any debris.

 Still, I stuck it out, even though I was tempted to move just on darkness as two complete end rigs including leads were lost. But again I drew a complete blank. There was a slight increase in water level during the night, courtesy of a big tide. The further you fish down any river, the more you will be affected by the movement of the sea. When I was a youngster I can even remember flounders being caught in matches we fished in the Deerhurst area. But now that I am a barbel/boilie man, I doubt whether I will catch any more flatfish.

 There was also a full moon and combined with a cloudless sky, when three calling little owls passed through at 10pm, I was looking through binoculars as if it were dawn. But unfortunately, just like the barbel, they also avoided me. But I will still be back. Whilst ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is definitely the general theme tune for all those that fish the lower Severn, ‘When the going gets tough’ is not far behind, certainly as far as motivational themes are concerned.

(Originally posted September 2007)

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