High as a kite on the River Sow! (barbel article and video, entry 309)



High as a kite on the River Sow!

As I wrote in last week’s Angling Journal entry, although I have thoroughly enjoyed the close season this time round, I was still excited about the rivers opening their doors again. In fact, so excited was I that on the day of June 15th I changed my plans because I couldn’t wait any longer. My original intention was to go fishing on the evening of the 16th, but as the day before wore on and the hours counted down, I found myself making other arrangements for things I had to do that night so that I could be at the river’s edge for a midnight start. It almost didn’t happen though because car loaded and ready to roll I went for my boilies that I had sealed in an air tight container at the end of March.

Opening the container I was greeted with a soft pulp. I’m not sure what had happened exactly (most likely that they had been sealed with moisture) but the bottom line was that I needed a plan b if I was going to be on the river bank that night. And the problem is I don’t like plan b! Because I think my angling through, and very carefully put everything in its place, anything that has to be changed in certain circumstances I see very much as second best. And with bait at the top of the tree in terms of terms of confidence, having to settle for something else is not an ideal way of setting off for a session. I must confess that if it hadn’t been June 15 I may well have unloaded the car and stuck to my original plan. But I still had a pack of home-made boilies in the freezer and my wife (ever-helpful or just wants to get rid of me?) got her coat on and said she would pop to the store around the corner to get me some peperami for the second rod!


So off to the river I did go! I will do some barbel fishing this summer and the river that I have chosen to target is the River Sow. In fact there is some new water that I am going to have great fun exploring over the next few months. I know that barbel are in the Sow because I hold the record for that river! I first held that honour in 2002 and since then have beaten that twice, with the current fish being 12lb 4oz. I’m sure there is someone who has caught bigger though, like the angler who was bragging to me once about the 6lb chub he catches every cast! Then you get the ones who have caught bigger but they don’t like publicity, they say, and prefer to keep everything to themselves. A bit like the angler who once e-mailed me after I caught a barbel from the River Dove to tell me he has caught this that and the other but shuns any sort of publicity whatsoever. Obviously mailing me doesn’t fall into that category! You meet all sorts in life and that applies to angling as well!

One thing you have to have firmly planted in your mind regarding a Sow barbel campaign is realism. It’s no good me thinking that I will turn up and catch fish after fish because I will very quickly become disillusioned. In fact most anglers will catch more in a middle Severn evening session than I will in a whole season. It’s not for everyone, but as I’m up for a challenge and don’t mind far more blanks than fish, it’s definitely my cup of tea. I’ve actually seen more otters on the Sow than I’ve had barbel on the bank and of course the two are obviously linked! And the last time I fished there for a few times I saw more otters in that short time than I had done in the two previous seasons put together. So had the barbel disappeared? Well, there’s only one way to find out (apart from walking the bank in in low water wearing polaroids) and that’s to cast a line. And that’s exactly what I did as the glorious 16th arrived.


I was fishing a familiar stretch – about 10 metres from where I caught the record barbel – so you don’t get any more familiar than that. I was on the bank nice and early at 8pm so I had plenty of time to set up and then walk the river. It was very low, although not that clear as recent rain had at least put some colour in its cheeks. The section I was fishing was just two feet plus deep, so even with the colour it was going to be the hours of darkness that would bring the fish out to feed. That’s if they were there of course. In all the time I spent at the water’s edge prior to casting out I only saw one fish top. The one word that came to mind was ‘dead’. I even had apocalyptic visions of otters having emptied the river of all fish life. But they were dismissed at 12.01 when just sixty seconds into the new river season I had a fish on the left rod, and my one-year old home made boilie as well! It was a good chub and even though I would have preferred such a flying start with a barbel, I was more than happy to catch it.

It was a funny night weather wise. At one stage it looked as if everywhere would be engulfed in a ground mist, which if you’ve been out during autumn you will know the sort of thing I mean; the type of scene that you would see in an old Peter Cushing Dracula movie. Then the skies were so clear that you could pick out the patterns in the heavens (everyone knows the Great Plough I am sure) followed by cloud that blocked everything out. But still the river remained dead. However the surface was not reflecting what was happening on the river bed because at least one fish was feeding. And at 3.05am it took a fancy to another of my home-made boilies that had tempted the chub previously. At first I thought it was another chub, but with barbel tackle, the initial fight of the chub is very quickly subdued. And as this one didn’t give up. I started to have my suspicions that I had indeed hooked my target species.

Water forget-me-nots hiding in the reeds

And that was finally confirmed when I slipped the net under a beautiful fish. Not necessarily stunning because of good looks but based on the belief that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And any Sow barbel is so welcomed, that regardless of size it is guaranteed to get your pulse going, or as the title suggests, make you as high as a kite! I would sooner catch a barbel of any size from the Sow than say a 10lb fish from a more established river, so I think that gives an indication of just how excited I really was. As the world slept, I was wide awake as the adrenaline of a barbel had swept aside any feelings of tiredness I had. I fished on until after 4.00am and then joined the odd car on the A449 as I made my way back home via the city of Wolverhampton, driving past the home of the Black Country’s only Premiership football in the process.

I had enjoyed my session on the Sow and was already planning my next one as I travelled back. As always I had also enjoyed my time on the bank from a naturalist point of view as well. And having time on my hands before fishing I not only did some birding but also flower spotting in the meadow that I was in. The fields were covered with buttercups (I found both meadow and creeping varieties) and white clover was also pretty abundant. And along the water’s edge itself, in amongst the dense green of the reeds that are prolific in certain places were the lovely blue water forget-me-nots and the yellow of a small colony of hedge mustard plants. I kept thinking I ought to see a barn owl hunting over the rough grass in the area, but apart from a brief call from two tawny owls just into dark, nocturnal activity was pretty much non-existent. But I was there to fish first and foremost and the barbel had made my day!


(click icon above for this week’s video)


(Originally published June 2009)

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