More haystack than needles – then along comes a sweet sixteen (barbel article, entry 208)

Although it is the title of one of my favourite Tamla Motown tracks, the saying ‘A needle in a haystack’ is better known as describing something that is very elusive indeed. And the current campaign I am conducting for barbel on a small undisclosed river fits the bill perfectly. I made two trips at the start of the week, and both occasions ended up fish-less. Even though she is not an angler, she takes an interest in my hobby, and so I wasn’t surprised when my wife asked me if there are actually any barbel in there.

 My reply was a short ‘Yes’. ‘So why haven’t you caught one yet?’ was the logical question that came back. When I explained that I’ve only done four sessions so far, I think that was when Debby and I parted ways as far as understand angling is concerned. She is totally 100% behind me as far as support is concerned, but she sometimes struggles as to the logic of it all. But of course, as a fellow angler you understand me perfectly. Well at least I hope so anyway!

 On both sessions the river was right at the top of the bank, and even though it had been a full week since the previous deluge, regular and sharp showers had ensured that the waterway was still well topped up. In fact on the first trip I made I had to fish from the field side of the fence that runs beside the river. It felt strange sitting in a field with a wooden fence as a rod rest, but unless I wanted to be standing in three feet of water the other side, then improvisation was the name of the game.

 On the second session, the levels had dropped to the extent that I was able to cross the fence and fish next to the river itself. I had to choose the spot carefully though as the particularly low areas of bank were still flooded. You don’t realise how uneven the ground is until you see how it is affected by excess water. In fact as the river rose again I found myself sitting on soggy grass as the levels started to slowly push up again.

 Tackle wise I am fishing with 12lb Sufix Synergy line and so far have alternated between Drennan Carp Dacron and Double Strength mono as far as hook length is concerned. I am fishing hair rigged boilie as a bait, with the hook being a size 4 Drennan boilie hook. Apart from one session when I used a 6oz lead, I have been able to present the bait with a 3oz flat bomb, although I expect that to be reduced even further once the river gets back to its usual summer condition.


The tackle may seem a little on the optimistic side, but when I do (not if!) hook a barbel then I want to be absolutely sure that I am going to land it. At the moment there is lots of haystack, but I’m sure that a needle or two won’t be that far away! As far as my own personal angling is concerned I am definitely more interested in quality than quantity, and that’s why I am not discouraged in the least by my slow start on the river. I have called it a ‘small undisclosed river’ but the way I am going I may as well name it, I don’t think the crowds are going to hit town. Well, not at the moment anyway.


But of course, like any other angler, I do want to catch something, so I rounded the week off with a trip to a recognised barbel river – the Dove. The river was up and looked perfect, and within two hours of casting out I found myself playing what felt like a real monster of a fish. In fact it felt so big I did wonder whether I had hooked a pike. But when it finally surfaced in the coloured river I knew that my initial suspicions were confirmed and that it was indeed a monster barbel.

 However, my joy quickly turned to disappointment when I noticed that the fish was foul-hooked. It’s up to each individual angler as to what they decide to count as a legitimate catch, but as far as I am concerned it has to be that the hook is in the mouth, or at least very close, with it being obvious that the fish intended to take the bait. But then I also noticed that it had a very distinct and very fresh hook mark on its mouth, and harmonising that with where the hook actually was and the feel of the fight as it progressed, the pieces of the jigsaw dropped into place.

 And so based on the evidence, and dealing with it in a very objective way, I decided to count the fish. The overriding factor was that initially the barbel took the bait in the orthodox way – but then the hook had slipped. Even after the event I continued to think about the legitimacy of claiming the fish and I still felt that it was in order to do so. I understand anyone who says that it isn’t a fairly hooked fish, but my conscience is clear in that it was hooked conventionally as it decided to feed on the bait presented.


There was added confusion with the actual weighing. The first time I weighed it the digital read-out went to 15lb 14oz. However because it was such a beautiful fish I wanted to make sure, but the next three readings came out at 16lb, 16lb 1oz and 16lb 2oz (not in that order). Again I had to be very objective and so settled on the middle of the last three readings, hence I entered the barbel at 16-1-0. Some anglers weigh a fish on cheap scales and take off an estimated figure for the net, but I have expensive kit and take that side of things very seriously. And that’s why I am going to check the battery and then get the scales checked if necessary.

 But in spite of the situations with the hook position and the weight discrepancy, I didn’t let them detract from what was a fantastic fish. And even losing another estimated double later didn’t dampen my emotions. I may have started the week with more haystack than needles but I ended it with a sweet sixteen!

(Originally published July 2007)

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