Getting amongst the barbel on the Severn (barbel article and video, entry 260)

After a carp fishing session last week on the lower Severn, this week I decided to switch back to barbel. Although I am flexible in my angling, as I count myself as a genuine all-rounder, it is difficult to ignore barbel altogether. I don’t want to become so focused that I ignore other species though, but I do find that the draw from our whiskered friends is definitely magnetic to say the least. Call it a barbel fix if you like but that’s the road I headed down this week.

My first session was on a small tributary that flows into a recognised barbel river, so also holds that species as well. I would never mislead in naming venues, but like any other discerning angler, reserve the right to withhold information if necessary. The internet is a powerful tool and can be used for great good within angling but it is also unwise, in my opinion, to give out too much information sometimes. And in the case of specific venues a certain amount of holding back is above all things, common sense.

The river was low

The river in question holds just a small population of barbel, fish that certainly wouldn’t stand any pressure at all. Now of course I could be accused of being selfish by not naming it and that may be considered a valid point. But I prefer to see it as not only self-preservation but more importantly, an issue of fish welfare. But even that of course, could be used against me. If I’m so interested in the well-being of the fish, why target them in the first place. But that could be asked of all anglers, so we need to be careful how far we go with that!

Arriving at the river late afternoon, I was met with a low water level. In fact it was so low that if I had known it was like that I wouldn’t have ventured there. But being as I was standing alongside it, I figured the least I could do was cast a line. I know the stretch and so set up in what is the deepest peg. I had only brought crab and mussel boilies and so it was one of those that was lobbed out into the main flow. The river has plenty of streamer weed but I found a nice clear run and so the bait settled on the bottom without being buried in underwater vegetation.


No barbel but a nice chub on session one

A nice chub

I wasn’t expecting to get any action – if any – at all during the remaining daylight hours and that proved to be the case. But once dusk started to edge in, the fish began to respond to the low light levels. Small fish began to surface and I had a few ‘chub plucks’ where smaller fish picked up the boilie but didn’t get past the hair and so dropped the bait once they felt resistance. Nothing of any size began to show though and the only movement I was getting on the rod tip was from small fish.

But around midnight I had a definite run from a fish. Until you actually lift into it and get an idea of what’s on the end, there is always that anticipation that you have connected with one of the elusive barbel that inhabit the river. But the initial run of excitement didn’t develop as I quickly realised it was a chub and not a barbel that I had hooked. Not that I was disappointed, after all it was a good fish, as you can see from the photograph. But it would have been nice if it was a barbel, that’s all.

To round the week off I fished a place where barbel definitely do reside – and in great numbers too – the middle Severn. And with an overnighter planned, I headed for the same peg that I fished on opening night. It ticks all the boxes for a dusk-through-dawn session, with safe banks and no snags being the top two priorities. One covers the angler’s welfare and the other that of the fish. Both are important. You don’t want to have tethered fish on your hands and you definitely don’t want to be entering into eternity yourself any quicker than you have to either.


Tip of the week

If you’re barbel fishing then make sure that you use the right tackle for the job.

I never go below 10lb breaking strain line.

An oystercatcher drops in the field behind

It was dry as I set up but rain was forecast during the night. There had been reasonable rain in Wales a few days before and this was already taking effect on the river as it had more colour than my previous visit. During the session it would actually rise a few inches and that prospect left me very optimistic as I got ready to cast out. While it was still light I heard a bird calling in the field behind me which I couldn’t identify. Well actually I did know what it was, just that it threw me temporarily, as I wasn’t expecting it to be there. It was an oystercatcher! But by the time I got the camera out and tried to get a photograph it had gone. And whilst on the bird theme, the dawn chorus began the next day at 3.37 am with a blackcap being the first bird to break the silence.

But back to the fishing and what happened from dusk to dawn. As soon as the sun began to drop over the horizon the barbel came on the feed. In fact they came on and never stopped. It was action all through the night, with a fish every half-an-hour – all barbel except for a solitary chub. They weren’t monsters and most of them were the typical shoal fish of the middle Severn, but one or two broke the mould and were above-average in weight. Although it was great fun I would still choose one really good fish over a dozen average ones. But as I often say, that’s the beauty of angling. It can be to us what we want it to be. Stopping out all night might not be to everyone’s taste but I thoroughly enjoy fishing right through the hours of darkness.

Using the right tackle for the job

One point I would really like to emphasise about barbel fishing is that it is so important to use the correct tackle. Starting with the line I never go below 10lb breaking strain. It’s not clever to boast of how many fish you have lost on 3lb line. If you catch a barbel by accident, in the sense that you weren’t targeting them, that’s different. But if you set out to catch them using line that isn’t up to the job, that’s irresponsible really in my opinion. Even on 10lb line an average-sized barbel puts up a tremendous fight as it gives its all.

And we must never forget the importance of rods either. Line has to be backed up by a rod that is up for the job and it’s not just about test curve either but action. But for the record, the rods I was fishing with were 1.5 and 1.10. And it’s a great visual to see one of them suddenly come to life as a barbel picks up the bait and takes off.

My hook length was 10lb Drennan carp dacron and the hook was a size 4 Drennan boilie hook. Not that I am against new stuff in the sense that I’m a Luddite – far from it – but I do very much work on the philosophy that if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it. And those components for the end tackle give me confidence – and they work – so I stick with them.

The nights start to draw in


Getting amongst the fish in session two

With plenty of summer still to go at, we can often forget that we have now passed the longest day and from now on the nights start to draw in. For anglers like me, who really enjoy fishing in darkness, it gets better and better as every day passes. In fact it won’t be long now before you can have a proper night session, as opposed to just a few hours. But until then I will be going with the flow and adapting to whatever the circumstances are, whether that be the fixed of the hours of daylight or the variable of the conditions. The last thing I want to do is start wishing weeks away. What you usually find is that the grass is just as hard to cut once you get there!

Click on the icon for this week’s video clip


The week ahead

With the barbel bug having bitten me this week, that’s where I intend to focus my energies for the coming seven days. Looking at my diary I should be able to manage another couple of sessions and hopefully I will get amongst the fish again. The rivers have had some welcome rain so they are looking good for barbel fishing. I fancy a rare visit to the Teme as well. I don’t fish that river half as much as I ought to, that’s for sure.

(Originally published July 2008)


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