Definitely needles in a haystack (barbel article and video, entry 365)





Left to right: The best chub of the week….. The river in question…. Another chub poses for the camera…. Switched to M2 on the final session



Definitely needles in a haystack


Forget the glorious twelfth when the grouse get slaughtered in their thousands by the shooting fraternity, what about the wonderful sixteenth when river anglers descend on flowing water after a three month break to try their hand at catching a fish or two. There was a time when even just a few weeks into the close season I was looking forward to the middle of June, and whilst my enjoyment of other venues has taken the edge off that feeling somewhat, nevertheless as the countdown begins I do find myself getting quite excited at the prospect of getting back on a river.

As I so often do, I began the season on the bank for a midnight start. This time I decided to fish a small river, one that although I have been on there before, I have not fished for barbel. I know that there are fish in the section I headed for – because I have seen them on a scouting mission – but apart from that I have no other information whatsoever. And I actually like that, because it really is a time of exploring. And in more ways than one because the access points are so overgrown it was like a jungle as I made my way to the water’s edge in darkness.

And once there it didn’t improve either as one word that instantly came to mind to describe everything was ‘wild’. Trying to settle on very uneven ground, all manner of vegetation enveloping me and the drop down to the river steep and precarious, it was pretty obvious why I’ve never seen an angler along here before. Personally though I love the challenge that this sort of venue throws at you, although I must stress that I didn’t compromise my personal safety regarding the place where I set up. It was a dry evening and I worked out a safe route down to the edge to net any fish. I have talked through my rig and bait approach on the accompanying video so there’s no need for me to repeat myself here.

As a naturalist my day started before midnight as I heard a muntjac deer calling some distance downstream. Their call is often described as a bark and I’m sure that many people hear them and just think ‘dog’, that is if they pick the sound up at all as we are so used to hearing canine noises we don’t even register them. Fishing a deeper section on a bend it was encouraging to get a few indications early on, what I would describe as chub plucks. So it came as no surprise when the rod tip really did come to life and I netted that particular species. With it being such a small river, the commotion of anything other than a simple lift from the water means it’s time to move on.

And quite a hike took me to the next swim that I wanted to fish some way upstream. The spots that look like they will harbour barbel are few and far between. But the positive of that is you have specifics to go at rather than casting and hoping everywhere. This peg proved to be just the second one of the session I fished though, as my catch-and-move plan wasn’t activated. I had a few of the previous chub plucks, but nothing materialised into a fish. I really enjoyed myself though and it was very much a learning curve so I wasn’t disappointed. It was a decent enough night and nice to be out and about. The dawn chorus began at 3.37am with a single bird that very quickly developed into a full-on orchestra.

Back again I did a reversal this time, starting in the swim that I ended in on opening night. Before it was dark I was into a fish but not the desired barbel, instead a small chub. I carried on in that peg for a while afterwards but wanted to see the remainder of the four hour session out in another peg. Making my way through dense vegetation with the clock heading towards midnight I knew that I could have a good hour plus in the swim. I had a few very basic chub plucks but nothing that could even remotely be described as a bite. As I walked back to the car in the early hours I was already getting a picture of the venue after just two sessions. A few barbel, hard to catch, and got to wade through the chub first. That might discourage many but for me I simply rise to the challenge. And when I do catch a barbel what a sense of achievement it will bring.

But first I need to catch one. My third session, although I fished till almost 1.00am, was only three hours in total. The river is small enough anyway and so with the current hot and dry conditions, it’s not worth fishing until well into dusk. I set up in a peg and must have been well and truly hidden in the dense undergrowth because just into dark a barn owl flew directly overhead – and only three feet above me as well. Things like that make my angling so much more pleasurable, being switched on to the wider natural world – and it helps to deaden the impact of blanking.

But that wasn’t the case this time either, as although it wasn’t third time lucky for the barbel, the chub played ball and so I didn’t go home with a dry net. What would happen on my fourth and final visit to the river though? I ventured to a new spot, one that had some reasonably fast water flowing through it. The head of barbel is not big in this section and as they won’t be spaced out in nice even intervals, it’s going to take plenty of adventuring to find them.

I made my first modifications as well, switching from Undercover baits to M2 boilie, both from the SBS range. The fish are not pestered by anglers and so the bites are very confident and can be quite savage. As a result the softer baits are snatched off the rig mercilessly. Hence going for the more traditional harder boilie was a natural progression. And it worked as well, with lots of plucks from small fish meaning that I could leave the rig in the water instead of having to keep pulling in and re-baiting. Although the fish are not wary I still want to cause the minimum of commotion.

No barbel to report on the final session, but I again avoided a blank as the chub were more than willing to surrender themselves. It was another short visit to the river because even though I fished till 1.00am, the long days don’t give much night-time fishing at the moment. But wait until the days start to get shorter, and more importantly, when we finally get some rain. I’ll teach these needles in a haystack a lesson or two then. And finally I hope everyone is enjoying the World Cup. I’ve seen dozens of hours so far yet no sign of football fatigue on the horizon. I was very disappointed to see England go, and almost equally so last night when the Ghanaians went. I’m now rooting for the Netherlands. Hup, Holland, Hup. Unlike Graham Taylor, Ik hou van oranje!






Video number 30 on list


(Originally published July 2010)

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