Heartbreak Hotel opens its doors once more (barbel article, entry 153)

As you will have gathered from my recent Angling Journal entries, I’ve been pretty much wishing the days away so that the 16th would come round. I had planned for a midnight start on the banks of the River Severn to kick off my barbel campaign, which hopefully will be for the whole season.

I do use the word ‘hopefully’ very carefully though, as much depends on the weather once we hit November onwards. As long as we get a mild winter then I shall continue with barbel, but if we have a cold and frosty one, then chub will take top spot as far as target species are concerned.

The run-in to the glorious 16th saw me like the proverbial kid on Christmas Eve. I do get genuinely excited as the days, and then the hours, start to count down. To be honest, I have found the Severn to be a bit of a slow starter over the years, but still I wanted to be there. Even though I knew that hitting the lower reaches of the river for barbel on opening day was a tad optimistic, in all honesty I still couldn’t stop myself.

And the old saying that you never catch sitting at home is quite true. A couple or so seasons back I had a double figure barbel just after midnight, which the Angler’s Mail ran with the headlines that it could have been the first double of the season in the whole country. So as long as your bait is in the water, then you have a chance. If it isn’t then you definitely won’t catch.

Before I set off for a midnight start though, I had something else that I needed to do – watch the England v Trinidad and Tobago game on TV. I love my football – I’m a season ticket holder at Wolverhampton Wanderers, plus I organise a couple of teams (and also play for them both) and even run a league! So I think it’s true to say that the beautiful game plays a major role in my life. But there is no conflict between it and fishing as I am able to strike a happy medium.

The stretch I headed for on the lower Severn is a new one that I have taken a ticket out for this season. With it being quite late when I arrived, I set up fairly quickly so that everything was all done and dusted by the time darkness fell. Crossing the river on the way to the stretch was my first glimpse of the Severn since last season, and it felt great to once more renew our acquaintance.

Being a new venue I have a lot to learn and every visit will be part of the process of discovery. But that’s the challenge of fishing somewhere new, particularly on the lower Severn, which has been Heartbreak Hotel to more than one barbel angler over the years. It can throw up some big fish – I’ve had them to just under the 14lb mark – but it can also be one of the most frustrating venues around.

As it happened, it was the latter on this occasion. I think I can count the number of ‘blank’ entries in the Angling Journal since 2003 on one hand. And I still can, but I’m now on my thumb for the next one! And to highlight how cruel the lower Severn can be, I didn’t even get a chub or a bream – both species that can reach the level of ‘nuisance fish’ as far as barbel anglers are concerned.

One of the problems with the big lower Severn barbel is that at this time of the year they are very much nocturnal creatures. And with the nights being so short at present, potential catching time is quite limited. I knew all that though, but still had to get out on the 16th. But I’m not complaining at all, as I am looking to do some serious barbel fishing this season.

I’ve set myself the target of 18 doubles, which might sound ambitious, but it’s just two a month. Of course, if the weather dictates that I switch to chub in the winter then that might need to be revised, but I’m confident anyway that I will reach the figure. I’m currently on 32 doubles so that will take me to the half-century mark. So hopefully my stay in Heartbreak Hotel will be a short one rather than a prolonged visit!

(Originally published June 2006)

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