From one bath to another (barbel article, entry 83)

One of the advantages of being a solitary angler is that you can literally please yourself where you go, without the need to consult someone else. So when I fancied a trip to the River Dove, I simply loaded the car and headed northwards to Derbyshire.

I decided to fish what I would describe as an ‘all or nothing’ swim. I have had a couple of really big barbel from there in the past; on the other hand I have had my share of blanks too! With the water temperature at just six degrees, I suppose the latter was always on the cards, and so it turned out! To spring to my defence though, I was only able to fish until just into dark, as I needed to get back home by the early evening.

Still, the old saying is true, that a bad day’s fishing still beats a good day’s work, and so I’m not complaining at all. Catch or not – although I prefer the former – I still get a thrill from just being out there, and certainly the anticipation whilst waiting for a bite keeps me motivated. Whatever the weather, regardless of what sort of run I am on, the worst part of angling is when I have to pack up!

To round off the week, I headed for the opposite end of the A38 and the Lower Severn, again in pursuit of barbel. There had been a slight raise in water temperature, with the thermometer hitting the dizzy heights of 7.1 degrees! Certainly when you bear in mind that it is February, that reading is more than acceptable. The river itself was low and had a nice colour to it. With mild conditions and an overcast sky, it was with confidence that I set up shop at the water’s edge.

I certainly don’t feed a lot during the winter, and a PVA bag with loose bait is more than enough. The heady days of summer, when I will happily put out thirty or so bait droppers of seeds to fish over, are still some way off just yet. With the average winter temperature you need to have a certain amount of bait to attract and feed fish, but not to overdo it. And if the fish are feeding you can always put more out, but once it’s there you can’t bring it back, so caution is the name of the winter game.

As it happened on this session, the fish were feeding well – certainly the chub to start off with. I had several, all between 1.5 and 2 lb in weight, and every single one gave a rod wrenching bite that I thought was a barbel! I certainly don’t mind catching chub whilst barbel fishing, and that’s a good job I suppose, because in all honesty there is not a lot you can do about it. Chub are to the barbel angler what bream are to the carper!

While it was still light, I connected with the first barbel of the session. Funnily enough, the bite was very tame compared to the previously mentioned chub. But once hit, you certainly notice the difference! It’s quite easy to see why the barbel has grown in popularity in recent years; it certainly provides a challenge when hooked. On the Lower Severn, particularly in the snag-free swims, the angler is always the favourite to land the fish though – providing he’s using the correct tackle of course.

I say that because there are some anglers that target barbel with inadequate gear. Take line, for example. I use a minimum of 10lb on the Severn, but it is not uncommon for some to fish with 4lb whilst barbel angling. Line that light will definitely result in lost fish, and even for the ones that do get caught, the fight will be far too long compared to when using something more substantial. In my current roach fishing campaign, I’ve had a few barbel on light line, and you really do have to tread carefully when playing the fish. Of course there is a difference in accidentally catching a barbel while pursuing other species and purposely setting out to entice one on light tackle. Anyway, less of the lectures on the morals of light lines and back to the fishing!

As darkness set in, it started to rain. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but it was very persistent, and so after an hour, the already wet bank was quite treacherous. Some pegs on the Lower Severn have twelve feet or more of water right at the edge, which is why swim selection is crucial, particularly in adverse conditions. As one who has been ‘in the drink’ on more than one occasion, I certainly have a vested interest in choosing a safe place to fish!

It wasn’t long before I was forced to quit the dry shelter of the umbrella, as another barbel took the bait laid out for it. It was a smaller fish than the first one, but nevertheless still very much appreciated. As you can see from the accompanying photograph, my suit was drenched and I was covered in mud. In fact, as I write this article a day later, even though I have been scrubbing well, my hands still feel ‘grainy’. If you’re a modern man who is interested in his appearance above all things, then forget angling!

I had decided beforehand to fish until 10 p.m. and I stuck it out until the appointed time came round. By now the meadows alongside the river were so wet it was like walking through a marsh. Every step was heavy, as the ground tried to cling desperately to my boots. It was like walking with lead weights tied to the soles of my feet, but eventually I made it to the car.

It was a relief indeed to drop my gear on the ground by the car and take a breather. But the greatest relief was to get home and have a hot bath. I will happily exchange the mud bath for that version any day of the week! Although I don’t mind being subject to everything that nature can throw at me, it is still nice to get home to civilisation sometimes.

 (Originally published February 2005)


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